Thursday, April 04, 2024

A Question about Former US Ambassador to Japan Hagerty’s Interview

Former US Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty had an interview with Jiji Press on February 29 to soothe anxiety among Japanese people that the US-Japanese alliance would be destabilized if Trump were to be elected. Currently, he is a Republican senator on the Capitol Hill. He emphasized that Donald Trump understood strategic importance of the alliance with Japan, and commented that the global public misunderstood Trump’s America First and isolationism. Typically, ex-Ambassador says that Trump’s bluff on NATO allies to suggest American withdrawal from the organization is his deal making technique to force some members to increase defense spending to the NATO guideline. Therefore, he says that Trump takes the threat of Russia seriously.

That was a piece of news report, and the detail of interview is not shown to the public. Therefore, it might be premature to respond to Hagerty’s comments, but that was far from being sufficient for Japanese people to embrace moshi-Tora (a possible Trump victory in the election) so favorably as he argues. Trump's bluff of NATO withdrawal, which was famously mentioned “racketeering” in the open letter against his America First by Professor Eliot Cohen of the SAIS, raised bipartisan alert so much that Democratic Senator Tim Kaine and Republican Senator Marco Rubio submitted a bill to stop any US president from withdrawing from NATO without Congressional approval, which has passed at the Senate. That bill could be helpful to maintain a psychological assurance of collective defense, which is essential for deterrence.

However, Trump would curtail US commitment to NATO drastically, despite the Kaine and Rubio bill. Former Deputy Secretary General of NATO and former US ambassador to the organization Alexander Vershbow warns that Trump would obstruct American diplomats to attend various meetings at NATO and cut American budget for Brussels headquarters. In other words, Trump could paralyze NATO legally (“Trump will abandon NATO”; Atlantic; December 4, 2023). Trump may disrespect the rule of law, but he is consummate in exploiting the loophole of the law like Brazilian leftwing populist President Lula da Silva who is inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to the BRICS summit in his country this year despite the criminal charge by the ICC. Remember, Trump successfully let conservative dominated Supreme Court turn down the decision in Colorado and Maine to disqualify his candidacy. That is what populists are, whether right or left. After all, Hagerty did not answer the critical question regarding the sustainability of America’s global network of alliance that Vershbow mentions. In NATO organizational structure, Americans take command of military affairs while Europeans lead civilian bureaucracy. Vershbow raises his deep concerns as one who has experienced the highest position of the organization for American diplomats .

There is no doubt that burden sharing in defense is an old and new problem. Ever since the Cold War era, the United States has been urging its allies to boost defense spending. For mutual trust and confidence, a free rider is not desirable in the alliance, of course. However, that is not the fundamental problem of American national defense. Retired General Jack Keane of the US army commented in FOX News on February 16 that US national security was critically in danger as its military power was slashed during the Trump and Biden era while enemies were building up their offensive capability. Obviously, it is America’s own defense capability that vitally matters. Trump’s bashing on American allies may be cheered among his rock-solid supporters, but a serious military professional like Keane, who talks about US national defense beyond partisanship, has completely different viewpoints, even though he is a commentator of MAGA Republicans’ favorite TV channel. Therefore, any Japanese would question bitterly whether Trump really understands American and global security if he still were to cling to his idiosyncratic idea.

In addition, it is hardly imaginable that some European allies that fail to meet the NATO pledge of defense spending can invest in something of new technology to change the balance of power in our favor. They can just buy a little more US-made weapons by increasing military expenditure. That might be of some help for American defense contractors, and Trump may want to make money for himself through such deals. But his excessive obsession with blaming “small” allies is off the point. Deplorably, Trump does not talk about critical issue like defense manpower and procurement that Retired General Keane mentions, but agitates the angry working class to quibble against the tax to be used for foreign allies and ethnic minorities at home. His isolationism in foreign policy and hate ideology in domestic politics are deeply intertwined. Trump cunningly exploits the small government ideal to provoke fanaticism among his rock-solid supporters. Jiji Press should have asked Senator Hagerty about these points.

From the Jiji interview article, I have an impression that Trump associates are disrespectful to Japan’s multilateral security policy to manage global challenges and to curb Chinese threats in the region. Hagerty’s comment in the interview sounds as if Trump’s bullying on NATO allies were irrelevant to the alliance with Japan. But since Shinzo Abe launched the FOIP initiative, which includes Asian and European stakeholders, his multilateralist legacy has been inherited to the Suga and the Kishida administrations. Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa is enhancing this furthermore as indicated in her foreign policy speech on January 30, stating “The security of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable.” Some Republican isolationists like Senator Josh Hawley are so NIMBY that they are willing to bash China to relieve pent-up frustration among angry working class, while dismissing the Russian threats Ukraine and the trans-Atlantic region as something distant to American national security. That is not in linw with Japan’s global strategy direction. It is vital for Japan to defend current liberal and rule-based world order.

We have to take it seriously that key former cabinet members of the previous administration speak against Trump’s candidacy, as Robert Kagan recommended in his column to the Washington Post at the end of the last year (“The Trump dictatorship: How to stop it”’ Washington Post; December 7, 2023). Following ex-Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to endorse Trump to run for the second in public, top national security officials of his last term administration expressed serious concerns with his poor understanding of America’s global network with allies and constitutional democracy. Those cabinet members include his Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Joint Chief of Staff Mark Milley, and National Security Advisor John Bolton (“Full List of Former Donald Trump Officials Refusing to Endorse Him”; Newsweek; March 23, 2024). Quite noticeably, substantial portion of them are core military professionals of the US armed forces.

Quite interestingly, Trump affiliates justify his gaffs by idiosyncratic phrases. As is often the case, his last term Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the NSC Alexander Gray told to understand Trump by his deeds, not by his words in an interview with a Japanese TV news media. Also, he stressed that America’s alliance with Japan deepened furthermore during the Trump era (“The impact on Japan, if Trump were reelected”; TBS News 23; March 14, 2024). But it was adults in the room and technocrats who modified Trump’s America First, and now, they stand against him. Japanese people and politicians are well-aware of it. Actually, Ex-Sec Defense Esper commented, “The first year of a second Trump term will look like the last year of the first Trump term, in other words, with all the craziness” in ‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ on HBO TV (“Trump’s Former Defense Secretary Tells Bill Maher He Is ‘Definitely Not’ Voting for Ex Boss”; Daily Beast; March 31, 2024).

Ultimately, Trump’s disdain of multilateral alliance is at odds with the views of ex-Army General David Petraeus who made America win the war through multilateral strategic coordination with numerous allies and local leaders. As Trump goes the opposite, it is quite likely that he would make America lose in any war and great power rivalries in this century. Furthermore, his rightwing populism is eroding the legitimacy of American democracy, which invigorates revisionist powers like China and Russia. Some MAGA Republicans like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene spreads Russian propaganda within the Congress as if she were Putin’s spy.

That is inflicting critical damages on the US-Japanese alliance, too. There is no doubt that the Japanese government needs to prepare for moshi-Tora. Meanwhile someone in Japan should resonate with Never Trumpers in the United States, in view of corrosive impacts by Trump. Therefore, the Japanese media should ask much harder questions to Trump associates, rather than treating them so politely like a tea ceremony guest.

Friday, February 23, 2024

The Corrosive Effect of Rightwing Populism on National Security

Notorious rightwing populists: Trump, Netanyahu, and Bolsonaro

Right-wingers frequently boasts their passion for patriotism and devotion to national defense over their political opponents at home. However, their self-righteous way of governing is prone to put the nation at risk. When Hamas invaded Israel to brutally kill and abuse kibbutz residents and music festival participants near the border of the Gaza Strip last October, Professor Yuval Noah Harari of Hebrew University who has written “Sapiens” and “Homo Deus” commented that it was the mismanagement of the government by the Netanyahu administration that created an information vacuum against terrorist intrusion. To begin with, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed his cabinet members based on loyalty, as he prioritizes his personal interests over the national interest. In his sixth term of his cabinet from December 2022, the team had become so extremist and religiously dogmatic that they were obsessed with blaming the “deep state” through agitating political divide and spreading conspiracy theories. Consequently, Netanyahu failed to gather necessary information about impending national security threats from security forces, intelligence agencies, and numerous experts. Through such corroded policy making interactions, Israel failed to take effective measures of deterrence against Hamas (“The Hamas horror is also a lesson on the price of populism”; Washington Post”; October 11, 2023). Former South Korean Unification Minister, Professor Kim Yeonchul at Inje University makes a similar point that the divide and rule technique simply agitates demonization of others among the public and obstructs intersectional communications within the government. In other words, Netanyahu’s failure of intelligence in the Hamas attack is an inevitable consequence of his failure in democracy (“Why is the far right so incompetent at national security?”; Hankyoreh Newspaper; October 30, 2023).

Furthermore, the Gaza war has revealed that Netanyahu self-deceived that Russia would hold tight grips on Iran, which enabled Israel to air raid Iranian proxies in Syria in 2015. Actually, Russian Predident Vladimir Putin just wanted to demonstrate Russian presence in the Middle East by striking a balance between Israel and its strategic enemies like Iran and Syria. In return, Israel refused to join Western sanction against Russian invasion of Crimea. But his friendship with Russia turned out empty when the war in Ukraine broke out, and the Kremlin was forced to depend on the Axis of Evil, notably, Iran, Syria and Hamas (“Israel and Russia: The End of a Friendship?”; Carnegie Politika; November 11, 2023). Former center left Zionist Union member of the Knesset Ksenia Svetlova comments that isolated Russia today needs Iran more than the other way around, and Israel has no reason to help Putin’s ambition lead the anti-Western bloc geopolitically (“Russia’s priorities are clear after Netanyahu-Putin call, and Israel isn’t one of them”; Times of Israel; 11 December, 2023). Netanyahu pursued pseudo-realism to deepen strategic relations with Russia while maintaining close ties with the United States, which made Israel a useful pawn for Putin’s manipulation to divide the Western alliance (“Putin’s Gaza front”; ICDS Estonia Commentary; October 30, 2023).

In the United States, rightwing populists misidentify the enemy likewise. Just as Netanyahu, Donald Trump is charmed by Putin so much that he even utters withdrawal from NATO. Also, they fondly resort to autocratic measures against democratic rule of law. Trump agitated the January 6 riot, and Netanyahu launched the “judicial reform” to enable the government to override the supreme court decision to implement his policy beyond checks and balances (“Israel judicial reform explained: What is the crisis about?”; BBC News; 11 September, 2023). Netanyahu wanted to advance Jewish settlement in the West Bank along with his coalition partner Religious Zionist Party, without judicial checks. Just as Trump’s credentials for primary candidacy is denied in Colorado and Maine, Netanyahu’s judicial reform has been turned down at the supreme court to defend the foundation of democratic governance of Israel (“Israel Supreme Court strikes down judicial reforms”; BBC News; 1 January, 2024). Remember that rightwing populists denounce responsible stakeholders of democracy the “enemy of the people” as communist revolutionaries do. That leads to critical failure of strategic communication among governmental and national security organizations once they take office, as mentioned by Harari and Kim.

With such mindsets, rightwing populists do not hesitate to prioritize their partisan agendas at the expense of national security. That is typically witnessed in the obstruction of military appointment by MAGA Republicans. The Republican Party had assumed their strength in defense before the Trump era. However, rightwing populists detest political correctness and human rights liberalism so much that they even dare to put critical national interest at risk in exchange for pushing their agendas to overjoy their rock-solid supporters. Notably, Senator Tommy Tuberville delayed military personnel nomination to defend “freedom” of white nationalist thoughts and to stop promotion of anti-abortion officers. As Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations comments, he is not interested in accelerating military personnel arrangement to defeat external threats, but defeating domestic opponents of the culture war within armed forces (“The GOP claims to be strong on defense. Tommy Tuberville shows otherwise.”; Washington Post; June 19, 2023). In addition, Retired Admiral James Stavridis of the US Navy deplores about Tuberville’s pork barreling as he manipulates to attract Space Force headquarters to his district Alabama, in obstruction of the military plan to build the facility in Colorado (“Tuberville slams lack of decision on Space Command headquarters, blames politics”; Stars and Stripes; July 26, 2023).

Much more problematically, far right House Republicans are blocking the budget deal for military aid to Ukraine and Israel in exchange for tightening border control at home. However, as Retired General Jack Keane of the US Army comments, both are different issues of their own, and the risk of Russian victory in Ukraine is critically great to national security (“What would a win in Ukraine look like? Retired Gen. Jack Keane explains.”; Washington Post; March 6, 2023). More deplorably, Representative Troy Nehls objects to Ukraine aid simply because he wants to stop reelection of President Joe Biden (“A border deal to nowhere? House GOP ready to reject Senate compromise on immigration”; CNN; January 3, 2024). Those moves are extremely partisan, and they are the conflict of interest with the state. It is such narrow-sighted partisanship that led to diplomatic vacuum when Hamas attacked Israel, because those right-wingers precluded the appointment of the ambassador to Jerusalem (“Jack Lew, Ambassador to Israel”; Wikipedia).

Furthermore, let me talk about the fallacy of perception on Ukraine, among the American rightwing. Former Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, currently at the Atlantic Council, commented that a Putin victory in Ukraine would embolden Russia to reinfiltrate into the former Soviet republics and former Warsaw Pact nations, many of which are NATO members. He also stressed that it is NATO that has ensured security in Europe after two World Wars, which has ultimately ensured security of the United States. Therefore, Ukrainian victory is a vital national interest of America. Most importantly, he argues that an appeasement so as not to provoke Russia and China is the most provocative diplomacy because they count on weak leadership of America.

In the past, Republicans understood the principle that Herbst mentioned. But MAGA Republicans today have no hesitation to impress such weakness to the enemy as Nehls does in the House. More disastrously, Trump’s long-time desire of withdrawal from NATO raises critical concerns between America and Europe. Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Marco Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill to stop any US President from withdrawing from NATO, which has already passed at the Senate. But the problem is psychological, and allies would see America unreliable if Trump were elected, which would weaken deterrence of the Western alliance. In view of this, Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic quotes her interview with former US Ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow that Trump could paralyze NATO by obstructing meeting attendance of American diplomats and cutting the budget for its headquarters before stopped by the Congress (“Trump will abandon NATO”; Atlantic; December 4, 2023).

Quite importantly, some political scientists and historians in America say that the Republican Party was gradually returning isolationist after the Cold War. In such a circumstance, Dan Caldwell at pro-Trump Center for Renewing America comments that Republicans are increasingly supportive of the changing role of America in the world based on “realism and restraint”, instead of leading the free world. Accordingly, the Heritage Foundation once advocated Ronald Reagan’s “Strong America”, but today, its president Kevin Roberts not just opposes the Ukraine aid, and even argues for defense spending cuts. Such America First momentums has been resurging among conservatives, as typically seen in Pat Buchanan’s repeated bid for presidency in the 1990s, according to Associate Professor Nicole Hemmer of Vanderbilt University. Quite confusingly, some isolationist conservatives like Senator Josh Hawley insist “The problem is not there but here” to urge American foreign policy makers to disengage from Europe and to focus on Chinese infringement on the well-being of the middle class and the working class at home. That is a problem beyond the rivalry between trans-Atlanticist and Asia-Pacificist. China hawk views among those rightwing populists come from Trump-like cost and profit thinking, and thus, they regard allies as the burden to America. Their strategic shift to China just reflects the anger of the working class who feel themselves victimized by globalization. Foreign policy internationalists including Robert Kagan rightly refute their stupid idea (“A Republican ‘civil war’ on Ukraine erupts as Reagan’s example fades”; Washington Post; March 15, 2023). Also, ex-General David Petraeus spoke against their pseudo realism and fake small government thinking, both of which are based on property dealer’s cost and profit mindsets, when he visited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The man who made America win in the War on Terror urges defense planner to upgrade the procurement system to manage multifaced threats around the world.

Rightwing arguments on China sound so NIMBY as those of Japan bashers from the 1960s to the 1980s. Asian allies should not trust those NIMBY China hawks who are willing to appease Putin and to abandon Ukraine and the whole of European allies. The Kishida administration of Japan is right not to bandwagon with them, as Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa correctly stated “the security of the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable”, which is naturally interpreted “the security of Ukraine and East Asia are inseparable”, in the foreign policy speech at the Ordinary Session of the House on January 30. Deplorably, late Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a pseudo-realist mistake as Netanyahu of Israel did to befriend with that bloodthirsty Moscovite autocrat to counter the Chinese threat. The war in Ukraine has revealed that his assumption was wrong from the beginning.

FM Kamikawa adresses foreign policy of the Kishida administration at the Japanese diet.

Also, American right-wingers mishandled the Israel-Hamas war. When terrorists invaded Israel, Trump relinquished Netanyahu bluntly for his poor deterrence and preparation to fight against them. It has turned out that Netanyahu’s loyalty to Trump for shared rightwing values was one-sided, while Biden helps Israel’s fight against Hamas (“Trump’s turn against Israel offers stark reminder of what his diplomacy looks like”; CNN; October 13, 2023). But the problem was actually created by the Abrahams Accord which Trump boasts of his success. While urging Israel and Arab emirates to normalize diplomatic relations to encircle Iran, Trump aggravated Israeli-Palestinian tensions by endorsing Israeli right-wingers’ expansionism, notably, approving Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and the annexation of Golan Heights. Meanwhile, he cut American aid to Palestinians. Therefore, Max Boot commented in his Washington Post column that those Arab-Israeli normalizations do not resolve other grave conflicts in the Middle East, including those in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and more importantly, the Israeli-Palestinian clash itself (“So much for the Abraham Accords. Trump made things worse in the Middle East.”; Washington Post; May 12, 2021). Despite that, Trump irresponsibly blamed Netanyahu when the war broke out. Trump and Netanyahu appeared like-minded, when the accord was reached, but their clash is a natural consequence of right-wing nature, which is to pursue maximum self-gain at the expense of others. That is not in fit for bilateral or multilateral partnership.

Some anti-globalists naïvely argue that rightwing populists are better than those of leftwing to deter China. That is too superficial. See what happens in Brazil. It was rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro who endorsed the Chinese plan to build the railway and the highway passing through Amazonian forests to Peru for the Belt and Road Initiative, which could be too destructive for the ecosystem for local flora and fauna and the livelihood of indigenous uncontacted peoples (“Proposed Brazil-Peru road through untouched Amazon gains momentum”; Diálogo Chino; March 10, 2022). Again, I have to stress that right-wingers are obsessed with pseudo-realism to edge out others for their tribal maximum gain, even though at the expense of indigenous people and ecosystem. Consequently, there is no reason for them care about security of other nations and the global community. It was leftwing President Lula da Silva who demanded China to reconsider those plans when he was reinaugurated in January last year (Opinion: Brazil can make green gains from China’s ‘ecological civilisation’ aims; Diálogo Chino; October 3, 2023). I do not necessarily favor leftist Lula over rightist Bolsonaro, as he revealed his indulgence in outdated anti-colonialism ideology to invite Putin to G20 and BRICS summits in Brazil this year. Remember even South Africa’s ANC-bound President Cyrill Ramaphosa gave up inviting that Russian criminal to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, in face of fierce litigation by the Democratic Alliance to demand the government to abide by the rule of the International Criminal Court (“Lula invites Putin to Brazil, sidesteps on war crimes arrest”; Politico; December 4, 2023). It seems that both Bolsonaro and Lula are disrespectful to the rule of law, in view of their handling of Amazonian development and the BRICS summit in each. Actually, both populists are headaches for the Brazilian foreign service as they do not want unnecessary frictions with the West and indiscreet tilt to revisionist powers (“Can Brazil become a major power in international politics? Lula’s questionable tilt to authoritarian powers”; Brasil Nippou; September 26, 2023). After all, we have to bear in mind that the fear of China is no reason for taking side with rightwing populists.

Among rightwing populist threats worldwide, the US presidential election is the most critical case. How can America stop Trump from being reelected? Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution warns of pro-Trump fervors among Republican voters. No Republican rivals are capable of destroying Trump’s rock-solid base in the primary as he mentions. More problematically, MAGA Republicans justify everything of Trump, including the January 6 riot and other criminal cases on legal charges. Much more absurdly, they blame Biden for their supposed failure in Ukraine, Israel, and Afghanistan, although it is actually Trump who is really responsible for those fiascos. Sane Republicans are completely sidelined, and the “adults in the room” of the last Trump administration are reluctant to denounce him in public (“A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable. We should stop pretending.”; Washington Post; November 30, 2023). In order to stop Trump, Kagan comments that Republicans, notably Nikki Haley, should question his electability for his disdain to the constitutional democracy. But all the Republican rivals think nothing of denying Trump’s credential, as they stress partisan loyalty if he were nominated. Quite noticeably, the more Trump portrays himself a victim of persecution, the more infuriated his supporters are with American judicial system and elite as a whole. Therefore, it is risky for Republicans to provoke those MAGA voters. In view of this, Kagan urges veteran Republican politicians such as Mitt Romney, Liz Cheyney, Condoleezza Rice, and James Baker, and also, former cabinet members like Mike Pence and John Kelly to lead a nationwide campaign to defend democracy in America (“The Trump dictatorship: How to stop it”’ Washington Post; December 7, 2023). After all, the key to stopping Trump is the will of orthodox Republicans. They have already launched such movements like the Lincoln Project, the Republican Accountability project, Republicans for the Rule of Law. How will veteran politicians join them?

The key to curb rightwing populism is the resilience of democracy. Last October, Keio Center for Strategy hosted an online dialogue between Professor Yuichi Hosoya of Keio University and Professor Maiko Ichihara of Hitotsubashi University to explore security implication of democratic recession in the world. In the dialogue, both scholars focused extensively on the vulnerability of Western democracy to disinformation by revisionist powers. Currently advanced democracies in Europe and North America are plagued with the rise of populism, which typically appears in the form of anti-establishment outrage and anti-immigrant nativism. Most notably, MAGA Republicans misapply small government ideals to boost hate ideology and to attack such socio-economically and culturally deprived people. Those who feel themselves victimized by globalization applaud rightwing demagogues for tough and resolute postures. But such “I alone can fix it” approaches simply make the government dysfunctional and the nation unsecured as Harari argues.

In the dialogue, Ichihara explained how Russia and China seize those opportunities of disinformation to manipulate domestic politics in the West through effective use of digital technology. Both scholars agreed that democracies need countermeasures to defend themselves from enemy manipulation. Meanwhile, we have to notice that some democracies such as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, are relatively successful in curbing rightwing populism. Particularly in Japan, people still trust the government, media, and established intellectuals, which deters dubious conspiracy theories from being propagated, as Hosoya mentioned.Also, I would call an attention to both Commonwealth dominions, as they are in the sphere of Anglo-American political culture, but not facing serious upsurge of demagogy. Can the three Pacific democracies show some hints of how to manage populism to the global community?

Monday, October 02, 2023

The question of Britain’s tilt to the Indo Pacific and its relationship with China

Britain is one of the key partners of the multilateral coalition to enforce FOIP operations to defend the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly in view of maritime challenges by China. Ever since the Johnson administration released the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy entitled “Global Britain in a competitive age” in March 2021, the United Kingdom has been proceeding strategic tilt to the Indo Pacific. In accordance with this strategy, Britain is deepening strategic partnership with Japan and India. Particularly with Japan, Britain signed the RAA (Reciprocal Access Agreement) this year to faciilitate access to mutual troop facilities and bilateral operational and training cooperation between their armed forces. Also, both countries conduct joint research and development of the GCAP (Global Combat Air Programme) with Italy. With India, Britain provides technological assistance for its indigenous next fighter project to supplant Russian sponsored FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft). Furthermore, the United Kingdom singed the AUKUS deal with the United States and Australia. In view of those agreements, Britain is supposed to be deeply committed to the FOIP against China along with regional powers like Japan, India, and Australia, and most importantly, through the “special relationship” with America. However, some restraints of domestic politics, notably the Labour Party and the financial lobby, could erode Britain’s solid commitment to the deterrence against China. Also, the Sunak administration is not necessarily harmonious in their stances against China, unlike their approaches against Russia.

Let me mention the Labour Party first. Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey questioned Tory national security strategy of the tilt to the Indo Pacific initiated by the Johnson administration, in view of growing threat of Russia since the outbreak of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Secretary Healey said that Britain should focus its limited budgetary resource on the defense of its home turf and the Euro Atlantic, as commented "The first priority for Britain's armed forces must be where the threats are greatest, not where the business opportunities lie” (“Labour defence chief questions using UK's 'scarce resources' in Indo-Pacific”; Forces Net; 8 February, 2023). The point of Labour argument is that Britain should rearm to meet the requirement to defend Europe, the Atlantic and the Arctic, while its military stockpile at home is depleting to support Ukraine (“Labour calls for UK rearmament and end to military cuts”; UK Defence Journal; February 7, 2023). But does the Labour Party belittle the threat of China, although it encroaches Britain’s homeland via secret agents, cyber manipulations, etc? Current party leader Keir Starmer assumes himself a Blairite, but his party’s defense initiative seems more like Harold Wilson’s who decided to withdraw British troops from east of Aden in 1968, rather than Tony Blair’s whose global trotting foreign policy explored to let Britain punch above its weight.

If the Labour Party is not obsessed with anti-colonialist woke ideology, how would they strike a balance between Britain’s strategic necessity around the globe? Rather than denying the tilt to the Indo Pacific, Veerle Nouwens of the RUSI (Royal United Services Institute) suggests that the Labour Party tailor the tilt to their priorities. Geographical distance is no reason to disengage from the Indo Pacific. After all, the Tory defense plan does not argue that Britain keep solid permanent military presence in Japan or Australia. The Labour should bear in mind that the Indo Pacific strategies of France and Japan stretch from East Africa to the South Pacific. Furthermore, she comments that Britain does not necessarily keep military presence to the furthest in the Indo Pacific, but it has to make full use of existing UK facilities in Indian Ocean, ie, the Middle East, East Africa, and Singapore. That would be helpful for the British troop to react to an emergency in the Far East, when China or North Korea defy global rules and norms such as freedom of navigation, territorial integrity, and nuclear nonproliferation in this region. While Shadow Defence Secretary Healey stresses limited budgetary resource, Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy does not deny the tilt, but proposes the “three Cs”. That is, Britain should challenge and compete against China geopolitically, but cooperate with them on some issues such as climate change when necessary (“How Labour Can Reform, Rather Than Do Away With, the UK’s Indo-Pacific Tilt”; RUSI Commentary; 14 February 2023). After all, I would argue that Healey’s vison is a sheer denial of Britain’s historical status as a maritime trade nation.

For diplomatic consistency, Britain’s Indo Pacific partners, notably Japan and Australia, need to talk with the Labour shadow cabinet to reconfirm the imperative of the FOIP for global security and common interests in this region. Quite importantly, the general election in Britain is scheduled no later than January 28, 2025, which is quite closely dated to the US presidential election on November 5, 2024. According to the latest opinion poll by Ipsos from August 11 to 14, 56% of UK voters think that Starmer will defeat Sunak in the forthcoming election. While Starmer leads 9 out of 12 points, particularly on being in touch with ordinary people, understanding the problems facing Britain, and being an experienced leader, Sunak leads on being good in a crisis (“Majority of Britons think it is likely Keir Starmer will become Prime Minister”; Ipsos Political Pulse; 24 August, 2023).

The FOIP is multilateral by nature, and Quad members and other regional and global stakeholders need to send a message so that a Labour Britain would not fall into radical anti-colonialist. Above all, Starmer needs to outline a Labour national security strategy, around the world. He told that his cabinet would seek a bilateral security and defense treaty with Germany quickly if he were elected (“UK Labour would seek security and defense treaty with Germany”; Politico; May 16, 2023). But it is not clear how he would adjust Healey’s Euro-Atlantic focused defense and Lammy’s three Cs against China in the Indo Pacific.

The left is not the only problem. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne who was an architect of the Anglo-Chinese Golden Era under the Cameron administration, has become a fintech lobbyist to embrace money from China and Russia to the London financial market, after his retirement from politics. Even though David Cameron quit his political career after the Brexit referendum, Osborne remained in the House of Commons as a backbencher. However, he was forced to resign as he was appointed to the editor of the Evening Standard though he was an MP. Ever since he was the chancellor, Osborne wanted to make London a global hub of fintech (“Osborne wants London to be 'global centre for fintech”; Financial Times; November 11, 2015), but his policy was critically concerned, because it seemed that he prioritized the relationship with China at the expense of human rights and US-UK relations. Also, Cameron refused security commitment Britain’s traditional allies in South East Asia when he visited Singapore in 2015 so as not to provoke China (“In for a Yuan, in for a Pound: Is the United Kingdom Making a Bad Bet on China?”; Council on Foreign Relations Blog; October 20, 2015). Osborne also had some dubious ties with Russia, as he accepted donations from a Russian oligarch in 2008 (“George Osborne admits 'mistake' over Russian oligarch”; Guardian; 27 October, 2008). Brexit is a disaster for Britain and the global community, but had Cameron stayed in the office, Osborne would have advanced his pro-Sino-Russian fintech policy at the expense of national security.

As if representing the financial lobby led by Osborne, Sherard Cowper-Coles, head of public affairs at HSBC Holdings PLC, criticized the British government so “weak” as to follow America to curtail business ties with China (“HSBC Executive Slams ‘Weak’ UK for Backing US Against China”; Bloomberg News; August 7, 2023). His remark is “too market-oriented”. Certainly, London has been an offshore financial market where traders can deal with currencies out of American regulation, notably the Eurodollar from the Soviet Union and the petrodollar from OPEC nations. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine shattered Cold War notions of rational deterrence, and the financial market is required to reject politically risky foreign money more strictly today. Nevertheless, it is quite hard to keep Britain’s open economy, while stopping money laundering by China, Russia, and other revisionist powers (“Why Britain’s Tories are addicted to Russian money”; Politico; March 7, 2022). Regarding the supply chain with China and energy dependence on Russia, Germany and France are frequently criticized, but we have to watch Britain’s handling of these issues as well.

The Sunak administration may not explore the Golden era with China, but the prime minister’s background is business oriented. Having graduated from Oxford University with a BA in PPE, Rishi Sunak acquired an MBA from Stanford University, where he met his wife Akshata Murty whose father is an Indian IT business tycoon Narayana Murty. Sunak himself made his career in hedge fund business before entering politics. In view of his business instinct, he could be tempted to prioritize economic interests with China and take lukewarm attitudes to its threats in the Indo Pacific and the UK homeland, although he declared the end of the Golden Era (“Rishi Sunak: Golden era of UK-China relations is over”; BBC News; 29 November, 2022). Therefore, House Foreign Affairs Committee MPs raised critical concerns with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, when he visited China at the end of this August. This backlash was led by Conservative MP Alicia Kearns who chairs the committee, arguing that he should have been tough on Chinese espionage in the UK homeland, human rights abuse in Xinjian Uyghur and Tibet, and UK security role in the FOIP operation (“James Cleverly urged to be ‘crystal clear’ with China on ‘the rule of law and human rights’”; Politico; August 30, 2023). Criticism comes not only from Sunak’s party, also from his own cabinet. Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat has been a renowned China hawk, and he was banned from entering the country in 2021 (“Cleverly asks Bryant to withdraw ‘Chinese stooge’ claim amid row over Beijing”; Independent; 13 June, 2023). As an HM army veteran, he was so alert to China’s overseas police station in the United Kingdom that he eliminated them, because they were not permitted by the British government (“Chinese 'police stations' in UK are 'unacceptable', says security minister”; Sky News; 6 June 2023).

China appeasers are witnessed beyond partisanship. On the left, there are anti-colonialist wokes. On the right, there are financial lobbyists and their sympathizers. Old fashioned right-left dichotomy is meaningless to analyze correlation of foreign and domestic policy. Britain’s Indo Pacific partners need to be deeply in contact with both ruling and opposition parties to reconfirm security environment in this region and international agreements such as the G7 declaration and the UK-Japanese accord in Hiroshima. Also, it is necessary to reexamine Britain’s own security guidelines like the Integrated Review of Security in 2021, the Strategic Review in 2023, and House Foreign Affairs report led by Kearns this August. Most importantly, Britain’s military presence in Asia would be helpful in the special relationship with the United States, which would ensure a successful Global Britain. At the House of Lords, ex-Foreign Secretary Lord David Owen argued that Americans were more concerned with military adventurism of China than ongoing war in Ukraine, and it would be advantageous for Britain to show its shared security objectives with them in the Pacific (“British carrier in Pacific bolsters US-UK alliance”; UK Defence Journal; September 30, 2023). Though Lord Owen was a secretary of state in the Callaghan administration of the Labour party, his views on the Indo Pacific tilt is completely different from that of current Shadow Defence Secretary Healey. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lammy upholds the “three Cs”, but it is still unclear. After all, it is not ideological label or partisanship, but views and understandings on the Indo Pacific tilt and the Chinese threat that critically matter. Beware of domestic politics in Britain.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Democracy in Africa and Western countermeasures against Russian penetration

The global community has been astonished at unexpected influence of some pro-Russian and autocratic nations in Africa at UN General Assembly vote on the Ukrainian crisis. However, the African Union reaffirmed to suspend the membership of pro-Russian military dictatorship regimes in the Sahel region, that is, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Sudan to show zero tolerance against unconstitutional changes of government at the 36th AU summit in Addis Ababa in February this year. Just before this summit, the ECOWAS also (Economic Community of West African States) announced to maintain halting the membership of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea (“African Union reaffirms suspension of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea and Sudan”; Africa News; 20 February, 2023). Those actions by the AU and the ECOWAS are hopeful signs for democracy in Africa. Therefore, we should not fall into “pessimistic realism” to embrace the fall of democracy and the fall of the West in a supposedly forthcoming multipolar world. In a revisionist world order that Russia and China uphold, our history would devolve and degrade into repression and chaos. The consequence of our defeatism would be fatal to the global community. We have to reconfirm that values of democracy, freedom, and human rights are not restricted within the West, and not completely alien to Africa.

To begin with, we have to understand the overview of democracy in Africa. According to Freedom House, freedom index in Africa has been declining for years recently, as with the case of the trend worldwide. That is in resonance with penetration of Russia and China in this region. However, “African countries have also showed signs of improvement and resilience”, according to Tiseke Kasambala, Director of Africa Programs, though resurgence of military dictatorship, particularly in the Sahel, destabilizes the continent. Quite importantly, the AU adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1981, which is supposed to be very progressive to defend human rights, but many member states are reluctant to implement it. Meanwhile, the government is weakening constitutional rule of law in South Africa, although it was invited to the Democracy Summit by US President Joe Biden both in 2021 and 2023. However, the judiciary, civil society, and media barely manage to maintain democracy collectively, against populist autocratic attempts by the ruling ANC (“How African Democracies Can Rise and Thrive Amid Instability, Militarization, and Interference”; Freedom House Perspectives; September 1, 2022). In view of long one-party rule after the fall of apartheid, more attention needs to be paid to the Ramaphosa administration’s invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg this August, to assess the rule of law in this country as a member of the International Criminal Court.

Interestingly, a reverse of world history is witnessed in Africa, that is Russian penetration. Remember that shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East European nations including some former Soviet republics jumped into joining the EU and NATO. That is entirely their own sovereign preference. Rationally, nothing of Russia is appealing in view of its poor governance, economy, technology, and also, its anachronistic neo-Eurasianism. But strangely, African countries do not necessarily think so. At the UN General Assembly on Russian invasion of Ukraine in March last year, nearly half of African nations did not support the resolution to condemn the aggression. Some ruling élites in southern Africa feel nostalgic of their cooperation with the Soviet Union in their struggle against colonialism and apartheid during the Cold War era, but that is merely at the governmental level. Unlike commonly believed, Africans are not necessarily obsessed with anti-colonialism today. Also, they are not concerned with the great power conflict on geopolitics and ideology in Europe and Asia. They choose partners through their perceived self-interest, whether Russia, China, or the West. Regarding African views on Russia and the ongioing invasion of Ukraine, the Economist and Premise conducted opinion polls in six leading African nations including Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali, which reveals that people in those countries do not necessarily agree to foreign policy direction of their government. While South Africa, Uganda, and Mali abstained from the UNGA vote to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, the rest of them approved it. Among those ruled by pro-Russian government, South Africa is a sample of democracy in southern Africa where the ruling party is engrossed in anti-apartheid nostalgia, while Mali is a sample of military dictatorship in the Sahel where anti-Western regime depends on Wagner in counterterrorism.

As shown in Table 1, the approval rate of Russian invasion of Ukraine is the lowest in democratic South Africa, but highest in Wagner sponsored Mali. Also, as shown in Table 2, people in Mali are the most likely to blame the West for the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, those in South Africa are the least likely to blame NATO and the United States (“Why Russia wins some sympathy in Africa and the Middle East”; Economist; March 12, 2022).



After the military coup d’état in 2020, Mali has been isolated from the global community, as France withdrew counterterrorism troops and the membership of the AU and the ECOWAS was suspended. Wagner seized this opportunity to infiltrate there. Impoverished and poorly educated people are easily misled by propagandas that Russia and the military regime spread.

That is not the case with South Africa, where checks and balances by parliamentary opposition, the judiciary, and the media are balking the ANC’s revisionist foreign and domestic policies. Particularly, the Democratic Alliance (DA) which succeeds from anti-apartheid white liberal Progressive Party, is launching a fierce campaign against President Cyril Ramaphosa’s invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the BRICS summit in Johannesburg this August. The DA applied for litigation so that the Gauteng High Court can enforce the ICC rule to arrest Putin upon his arrival to South Africa to attend the BRICS summit (“DA launches court application to compel the arrest of Putin in South Africa”; DA News; 30 May, 2023). Also, DA leader John Steenhuisen even warned that the ANC administration sent some weapons to Russia in an interview with CNN, according to Briefly News, a South African digital media, which displays “Stand with Ukraine” banner on its web site (“John Steenhuisen Says President Cyril Ramaphosa Is a “Political Swindler” Who Fooled the Country”;; June 1, 2023). Furthermore, he criticizes Ramaphosa’s intermediation between Russia and Ukraine as a waste of taxpayers’ money and diplomatic stunt. More importantly, the DA blames the ANC’s close association with autocracy like Putin’s Russia (“How much did South Africans pay for Ramaphosa’s failed diplomatic PR stunt?”; DA News; 17 June, 2023). As shown in the recent draft of race quotas for water use, which would impose huge burden on farmland owners that consume 60% of the resource, the ANC seems to be obsessed with an ideology of class struggle and victimhood (“Parched Earth: ANC introduces Race Quotas for water use”; DA News; 1 June, 2023). Right or left, such victimhood minded populists would easily befriend dictators like Putin.

We should also discuss the Russian presence in Africa from Russian perspective. Joseph Siegle at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies testified about Russian activities in Africa at the hearing of the US House of Representatives. He mentioned three main pillars of Russian strategy in Africa. The fist pillar is to gain influence on the sea lane from southern Mediterranean to the Red Sea through Suez and Djibouti. The second pillar is to remove Western influence from the continent. Wagner activities in Central Africa and Mali are one of the most noticeable. The third pillar is to reshape rule-based world order, by disrespecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of member states, which is displayed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin’s involvement in Africa pleases only autocrats and disinformed people, as its strategy of those pillars just destabilizes political economy of this region (“Russia’s Strategic Objectives and Influences in Africa”; Africa Center for Strategic Studies; July 14, 2022). After all, Russia hardly cares about local development, empowerment, and well-being and simply wants to make use of Africa for siloviki’s perceived national interests. That is entirely at odds with the ideal of the AU, the ECOWAS, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Most fundamentally, Paul Stronski at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace quotes a speech by US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills that Wagner presence in the Sahel aggravates human sufferings without resolving real causes of instability, such as poor governance, broken institutions, long term displacement, and armed groups proliferation (“Russia’s Growing Footprint in Africa’s Sahel Region”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; February 28, 2023).

Russia is too opportunist in its charm offensive in Africa, because its influence is declining in former Soviet CIS, Eurasian Economic Union, and CSTO, since the invasion of Ukraine, but the Kremlin still wants to display their diplomatic power in a multipolar rivalry of geopolitics in this century. That is the background of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to seven African countries including South Africa, Eswatini, Mali, Mauritania, and Sudan early this year. However, Vadim Zaytsev, an independent expert on Russian policy in Africa, comments that most of the African nations take cautious neutrality, and do not want to risk their ties with the West, although they rhetorically resonate with Russia’s contradictory denouncement of neocolonialism that dismisses the colonial nature of the invasion of Ukraine (“What’s Behind Russia’s Charm Offensive in Africa?”; Carnegie Politika; 17 February, 2023). It is not only Western experts who are critical to Russian penetration. African experts also warn the danger of Russian presence. Peter Fabricius at a South African think tank Institute for Security Studies (ISS) comments that Russia deepens its relations with Africa through military dimensions, rather than increasing the amount of trade and investment. He argues that Russia penetrates in Africa through exploiting instability in the target country. In Mali and Burkina Faso, Wagner filled the vacuum after the withdrawal of French troops. That weakens AU deterrence against military dictatorship. Meanwhile in Cameroon, Russia provokes separatists in the Anglophone region. It is likely that they want to overturn the regime to use this country a gateway to export natural resources from the Central African Republic. Such natural resource export is one of the means for Russia to finance its war in Ukraine and elsewhere, along with organized crimes such as trade of illegal weapons and drugs, money laundering, hacking to cryptocurrency, etc (“Africa shouldn’t ignore Russia’s destabilising influence”; ISS Today; 24 February, 2023). Fabricius is a white South African, and submitted some policy recommendations on African development to the World Economic Forum from African point of view.

After the Prigozhin mutiny, the foresight of Wagner activities and Russian influence in Africa is unpredictable. Kimberly Marten at Columbia University comments that it would be relatively easy for the Russian defense establishment to replace Yevgeny Prigozhin with someone else. Meanwhile, Jędrzej Czerep at the Polish Institute of International Affairs argues that everything depends on whether African clients perceive Russia strong and reliable enough to achieve their goals (“What next for Wagner’s African empire?”; Economist; June 27, 2023). Either way, what should America and its allies do to edge out Russia from Africa? Last August, the Biden administration released “US Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa” to address new opportunities and partnership between the United States and African nations. Joseph Sany at the US Institute of Peace comments the following. Not only does it pledge aid surge to resolve regional problems such as food security, agriculture, supply chains, and climate change, but also stresses the necessity of listening to Africans. Thus, US embassies need sufficient work force led by accredited ambassadors. Furthermore, he argues that America enable African nations to resolve their problems by their own initiative (“The New U.S. Africa Strategy Is a Moment We Must Seize”; USIP; August 11, 2022). Regarding Wagner presence, Sany says that moral condemnation does not work. African clients are forced to sign with brutal Wagner out of desperation because international counterinsurgency operations have not wiped-out terrorism. But he mentions that bipartisan American policymakers have found past US policies are too myopic and too narrowly focused on military aspects, without giving sufficient consideration to governance and the economy of target countries (“In Africa, Here’s How to Respond to Russia’s Brutal Wagner Group”; USIP; April 6, 2023).

Despite Russian penetration through Wagner, Africa shares our values of freedom and democracy. At G7 Hiroshima, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida may have had to invite AU Chairman Azali Assoumani and South African DA leader John Steenhuisen to confirm this, rather than Wagner supported Mozambiquan President Filipe Nyusi. In order to deepen partnership with this region, the Western alliance needs to upgrade their diplomatic presence. For this objective, the United States should reconsider the Jacksonian system of political appointment of ambassadors. Senate confirmations are delayed frequently, and appointed ambassadors are not necessarily well qualified. One of such examples is Lana Marks, a handbag designer, whom the Trump administration nominated to the ambassador to South Africa for her contribution to their election campaign. Remember, those who make great contribution to the campaign are not necessarily well-acquainted with foreign policy. Some of them are narrow-sighted vote grubbers. I would like to talk about such an example from my experience. In the past, I had some opportunity to see a Japanese LDP diet member’s office from inside. One day, when a senior staff of the office was watching TV news during the lunch break, and he paid keen attention to reports about Nagata-cho politics and domestic election, but no sooner had the news reported about international affairs than he shut out information from the TV with contempt. It was very startling, and he appeared quite a strange creature for me. Though he graduated from Kyoto University, he behaved like a poorly educated bumpkin. Therefore, any US president should abstain from appointing such an irresponsible vote grubber to the ambassador. After all, it is our firm commitment that would enable us to outcompete with Russia in Africa.

Monday, May 22, 2023

China’s Notion of Sovereignty Could Split the Sino-Russian Axis

China is a vocal critic of current international rules and norms, because they regard the rule-based world order today as being based on Western values. Accordingly, Chinese policymakers claim idiosyncratic notions of national sovereignty and international law, which leads them to face frequent territorial dispute with their neighbors and philosophical conflict with the global community. In view of this, there is some possibility of a future conflict between China and Russia despite their common defiance against the Western liberal world order, as Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye made a gaffe that the sovereignty of post-Soviet republics was questionable (“China’s ambassador to France questions 'sovereign status' of former Soviet nations”; France 24; 23 April, 2023). In other words, the Sino-Russian axis is breakable, and the notion of sovereignty is one of the causes to accelerate the split.

The ambassador’s remark was so controversial that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning responded quickly to deny this to soothe criticism from the global community, and emphasized that China respected the sovereignty of former Soviet countries (“China affirms ex-Soviet nations’ sovereignty after ambassador comments”; PBS News; April 24, 2023). However, Masanobu Abe, a Japanese journalist based in Paris, argues that Western experts regard Ambassador Lu’s comment as common understanding of post-Soviet national sovereignty among Chinese foreign policy makers (“China’s Real Intention? Why the Ambassador to France Casted Doubt on Ukrainian Sovereignty?”; Toyo Keizai; April 27, 2023). Lu may have wanted to deny Ukrainian territorial legitimacy in Crimea, but theoretically, it implies that China does not recognize the sovereignty of Russia as well. Potentially, that could trigger a Sino-Russian clash in Outer Manchuria or the Russian Far East. For China, this is a historical range of Manchurian Qing Empire, but taken forcibly by Russia through the treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the treaty of Peking in 1860. At the end of the 1960s when the Sino-Soviet border conflict broke out, relations between both countries turned worse.

In view of such historical context, recent remark by Chinese President Xi Jinping could provoke a bilateral territorial dispute in the Russian Far East again, as he demanded that Russian geographical place names in this region be renamed in Chinese, such as Vladivostok into Haishenwai. That implicitly suggests China’s deeply rooted territorial grudge against Russia, although Outer Manchuria was out of the Han Chinese sphere throughout history. Despite the anti-Western axis, China wants to prompt Russian decline in the economy and demography, to make this country more dependent on them to gain more access to natural resource in Siberia (“Goodbye Vladivostok, Hello Hǎishēnwǎi!”; CEPA; July 12, 2022). Xi’s remark insinuates China’s hidden territorial zeal to retake this area as Russia is exhibiting in Ukraine now, which could spark a bilateral conflict in the future.

The potential territorial dispute could develop into a further problem. Currently, Russia exports oil and gas to China and India through huge discount to alleviate the impact of Western sanctions on its economy since the invasion of Ukraine. The export price of Russian oil from Baltic ports is deducted by $11 per barrel for China and $14 to 17 for India (“India and China snap up Russian oil in April above 'price cap'”; Reuters; April 19, 2023). But that sort of bargain sale is self-defeating and unsustainable in the long run, from a fair-trade point of view. Particularly, China would also exploit other natural resource in Far Eastern Siberia, at the expense of the taiga environment. Actually, Chinese lumbermen were notorious for illegal logging there, even long before the war in Ukraine (“Corruption Stains Timber Trade”; Washington Post; April 1, 2007). As Russia loses bargaining power through the ongoing war, China’s selfish appetite for natural resource would devastate the local ecosystem and livelihood of the people. Experts of international politics focuses on state-to-state power interactions so much that they do not pay sufficient attention to conflicts related to global commons. Also, Western environmentalists should be more active to defend Siberian forests as they were to defend Amazonian forests in the 1980s. The issue of natural resource and territorial sovereignty in the Russian Far East is deeply interconnected each other. This is another cause to split the Sino-Russian axis.

Both countries do not abide by the rule-based world order, and therefore, they often behave disrespectfully to mutual accords. Though China and Russia share anti-Western and revisionist views of the world, Russia fears Chinese expansionism in its Far East territory, leading to the Kremlin's imperfect compliance with bilateral trade and investment deals (“The Beijing-Moscow axis: The foundations of an asymmetric alliance”; OSW Report; November 15, 2021). On the other hand, China claims that current international law is insufficient to protect their core interests, and therefore, they have to defend the interest through domestic legislation even if that law is incompatible with global rules. One of the most critical examples of China’s defiance to international law is its infringement of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Professor Emeritus Shigeki Sakamoto of Kobe University denounces that such arbitrary interpretation of international law would inflict tremendous damage on international maritime order. The focal point is that China does not clarify the condition to prioritize domestic legislation to global rules and norms (“The Anatomy of Chinese Maritime Strategy: Violation of International Maritime Order through Domestic Legislation and Arbitrary Interpretation of UNCLOS”; JFIR; February 13, 2023) If China goes its own way so aggressively, it would face bitter frictions with other countries throughout the world, including Russia. Remember the Sino-Soviet split since the denunciation of Stalinist cult by Soviet Communist Party First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. Just being anti-American cannot keep the solidarity of both countries.

The Sino-Russian axis has been splitting our alliance and democracy, and their manipulations have grown more invigorated after the Cold War. Particularly, Russian election intervention for Brexit and Trump has shaken the foundation of Western democracy. Now, China is intervening the Taiwanese presidential election through inviting Kuomintang candidate Ma Yingjeou to the mainland (“Ma Ying-jeou’s historic trip: Can former Taiwan president help ease cross-strait tensions?”; Japan Times; April 7, 2023). Therefore, we must find every weakness of the Sino-Russian axis to retaliate against those crafty actions. Their solidarity is breakable. While G7 nations made efforts to rift the Global South from China and Russia at the Hiroshima summit, it is more important to drive a wedge between these great powers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

America’s Ukraine Policy after President Biden’s Visit to Kyiv

US President Joseph Biden made a long-awaited visit to Kyiv on February 20 in order to show that the United States would be firmly committed to help Ukraine from Russian invasion. In his subsequent visit to Warsaw, he re-emphasized that Russia would never win in Ukraine, and its neo-czarism was destined to fail (“Biden in Warsaw: ‘Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia’”; Hill; February 21, 2023). Though the Biden administration sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Kyiv before, and Biden himself met Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky in Washington, they were so cautious as not to provoke Russia to resort to nuclear warfare. Also, antiwar voices driven by MAGA Republicans and the woke left, frequently under the influence of the conspiracy theory, were hurdles to American commitment to Ukraine.

Despite such foreign policy constraints by extremist isolationist populists the right and the left, it is essential to know how American experts, who understands American role on the world, see the prospect of the ongoing war after Biden’s visit. Quite noticeably, some of those who are skeptical to help Ukraine refer to ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Professor John Mearsheimer of Chicago University frequently, to disguise themselves as consummate realists, thereby propagandizing their views that the United States is reluctant to get involved in this war and allied nations be careful enough not to be drawn into the war caused by a handful of warmongers among the Washington establishment. But, no matter how great their reputation is, neither Kissinger nor Mearsheimer represents the whole Americans. Self-styled realists, MAGA Republicans, and the woke left do not either. I do not know the background of each one of those disengagement advocates, but some of them behave as if they synchronized with specific ideological groups in America, whether right or left. In any case, it is wrong to believe that the majority of the public and policymakers in the United States are against helping Ukraine. I would like to mention viewpoints of American foreign policy opinion leaders to deny such disinformation, without partisan bias.

Regarding diplomatic implication of Biden’s visit, Professor Eliot Cohen at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, comments that Biden came to Ukraine at the critical moment when China was rumored to send weapons to Russia, and Russia was launching massive offense in Donbas to retake occupied lands to commemorate the anniversary of the “Special Military Operation” (“Biden Just Destroyed Putin’s Last Hope”; Atlantic Daily; February 21, 2023). Russian President Vladimir Putin counted on reluctance and political divide on the Western side to help Ukraine, but Anne Applebaum of the Atlantic mentions that his poorly-grounded hope was shattered when Biden finally visited Kyiv to meet Zelensky (“Biden Went to Kyiv Because There’s No Going Back”; Atlantic Daily; February 21. 2023 or here). This is the precedence for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit there as the last leader of G7 nations, which posed restraints to Putin’s diplomatic demonstration of strong Sino-Russian solidarity through hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Moscow meeting (“Japanese and Chinese leaders visit opposing capitals in Ukraine war”; BBC News; March 22, 2023).

Also, we have to understand its domestic implication against “TrumPutin”. As commented by David Rothkopf of the Daily Beast, people around the world reconfirmed the Helsinki US-Russian summit in 2018 that President-then Donald Trump favored Putin’s Russia over American and allied national security organizations, and was willing to abandon Ukraine (“Biden’s Trip to Kyiv is the Ultimate Humiliation for Putin—and Trump”; Daily Beast; February 20, 2023). Why? That is because he detests "the world America made", and takes a hostile view of the “neocon globalist establishment” in the Department of State, the department of Defense, and intelligence agencies. Furthermore, he blames them warmongers who plot World War III of nuclear powers. That real estate agent has no understanding of Russian infringement of rule-based world order and territorial integrity. Ex-Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger raised a critical concern with Trump’s malicious attack on American national security agencies and outrageous praise for Putin. Actually, Kinzinger did not run in the last midterm election, because his party was taken over by rightwing extremists. We have to watch carefully, how Biden and his centrist fellows beyond partisanship strike back those ideocratic isolationists.

Those isolationists and disguised realists need to understand why a lukewarm compromise with Putin’s Russia is more dangerous than Ukraine’s unyielding resistance to squeeze out invaders. When Putin’s invasion had become increasingly imminent, Robert Kagan, who was a foreign policy advisor for the presidential election campaign of John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton, commented that his assault on Ukraine would be just the beginning of his ambition to reestablish historical Russian sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe, when Baltic states and Poland were nonexistent, and Warsaw Pact nations were virtually ruled by the Soviet Union (“What we can expect after Putin’s conquest of Ukraine”; Washington Post; February 21, 2022). Therefore, we understand that an immediate ceasefire while Russo-Ukrainian territorial issues unresolved would just destabilize the whole of the region, and it is by no means any step toward peace. Rather, China would be prompted to impose critical pressure on Taiwan and other East Asian nations. In view of this, Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul of the Obama era, tells explicitly that a half-way peace is an illusion, because Putin is firmly determined to conquer Ukraine by all means, and believes that Russian endurance will prevail over Western guile and technology, as he sees Americans and Europeans are unenthusiastic and divided. It seems to me that his success in the election interference for Brexit and Trump seems to have emboldened him excessively. Therefore, McFaul argues incremental military support to Ukraine does not work, and also, sanctions on Russia should be as coercive as possible (“How to Get a Breakthrough in Ukraine”; Foreign Affairs; January 30, 2023).

Since it is almost impossible to settle a peace agreement through diplomatic talks, we have to explore how should the United States crack down Putin’s bigoted ambition from military perspectives. Regarding the strength and capability of the Russian armed forces, ex-US Army General David Petraeus commented that their exercise prior to the invasion was irrelevant to supposed operation in Ukraine, and they were poorly trained to implement inter-service coordination within their own forces (“What We’ve Learned from the War in Ukraine”; Foreign Policy; January 10, 2023). That implies the failure of Putin’s nation building for decades implicitly, and the Western alliance should consider how to help Ukraine defeat such a dull and inept Goliath Russia. Currently, Ukraine is on the second stage to retake in the east and the south. Though anti-interventionists are skeptical of further military aid to this country, in an interview with CNN, Petraeus evaluates highly of their morale and competence to restore their territory in this war, because Ukrainian soldiers understand the objectives of this war clearly, while it is questionable whether Russian soldiers understand that as they are disproportionately recruited from ethno-sectarian minorities of Dagestan, Buryatia, and Krasnodar. Also, he says that Ukraine has made substantial achievements in recruiting, training, equipping, organizing and employing additional forces, with the support of the US-led Western alliance.

From his comment, we can infer the following points. The opinion poll may show high approval for Putin’s illegitimate invasion, but that is quite unreliable, because most of the Russky do not mind the plight of those ethno-sectarian minorities as long as they manage to live normal life every day. The Russky are not determined to sacrifice their life for their mother land. In addition, the governance in Ukraine can be improved after the war potentially, in view of rapid organizational restructuring of its military in parallel with Western support. Consequently, Petraeus supports Biden’s determination, though he comments that the president should have sent next stage weapons such as tanks and fighter jets much earlier (“Gen. David Petraeus: How the war in Ukraine will end”; CNN; February 14, 2023). It was Britain that provoked Germany and other NATO allies to make up their mind to send tanks to Ukraine. Also, the Sunak administration is the first among trans-Atlantic stakeholders to train Ukrainian pilots for NATO standard fighter jet. Meanwhile, America vacillated whether to boost military aid before Biden’s visit to Kyiv. Remember, General Petraeus defeated terrorists in Iraq through the surge. His viewpoints as a military strategist are combat-proven, which is not the case with Mearsheimer.

Even from MAGA Republicans’ favorite FOX News, ex-Army General Jack Keane argues against isolationism. He is completely at odds with rightwing populist anchorman Tucker Carlson at this TV station. Keane helped Petraeus plan the 2007 surge in Iraq along with Frederick Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War. Regarding the ongoing war in Ukraine, he agrees with Petraeus, mostly. Furthermore, he argues against isolationist obsession with nation building at home. Fiscal conservatives do not tolerate massive but necessary spending for Ukraine, but Keane tells them that a Russian victory in this war would embolden China and Iran. Also, he refutes xenophobic right-wingers who believe that America should care more about the US-Mexican border, rather than the Russo-Ukrainian border. That is because both issues are completely irrelevant each other, and the border control problem at home cannot be resolved through an abandonment of Ukraine (“What would a win in Ukraine look like? Retired Gen. Jack Keane explains.”; Washington Post; March 6, 2023). Like Petraeus, Keane is also a combat-proven military strategist.

As the United States and NATO allies are providing further military aid, there are some issues to be considered in the phase of Ukrainian counteroffensive. The most critical one is whether Putin would resort to nuclear attack on Ukraine, if he saw the war disadvantageous for Russia. Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, points out that the Biden administration has taken effective measures. They told directly to Russia that a use of nuclear weapon would bring fatal consequences, because the Western alliance would resort to further measures on Russia through various economic, diplomatic, cyber, and conventional military responses. Also, China and India would not tolerate a nuclear attack, despite their long friendship with Russia (“Why Hasn’t Putin Used Nuclear Weapons?”; Daily Beast; February 9, 2023). Regarding such sensitive Sino-Russian relations, ex-Ambassador McFaul questions Putin’s deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, because it contradicts with the joint statement of the Moscow meeting between China and Russia, which denies the use of nuclear weapons in this war. Putin may have broken international promises frequently. Therefore, McFaul argues that the United States drive a wedge between both countries (“Are Putin and Xi as Close as Everyone Assumes?”; McFaul’s World; March 28, 2023). Meanwhile, China exploits Russia’s preoccupation with Ukraine, as President Xi Jinping demanded Russia to rename Russian Far East geographical names into Chinese ones, such as Vladivostok into Haishenwai, for example (“Russia will never recover from this devastating collapse”; Daily Telegraph; 1 April, 2023 or here, and “China Challenges Russia by Restoring Chinese Names of Cities on Their Border”; Kyiv Post; February 26, 2023).

Another issue is strategic value of Crimea. Ex-Commanding General of the US Army Europe and Africa Ben Hodges (Lieutenant General) talks about this repeatedly. Come to think of it, this war has not begun in February 2022, but March 2014. Hodges says that Russia could obstruct Ukrainian export of food from Odesa and Mariupol as long as it occupied Crimea, even if the whole of Donbas were liberated. Also, massive missile launch from there would continue to be a critical threat for Ukraine (“Russia’s Nuclear Weapons More Effective as Propaganda, Retired US Lieutenant General Says”; VOA News; February 1, 2023). Hodges is also a veteran of America’s most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his opinion is combat-proven as well. Quite interestingly, Hodges refers to an article by Professor Rory Finnin of Cambridge University on Twitter, which articulates historical legitimacy of Ukrainian sovereignty in Crimea and other Russian occupied areas in the east and the south.

According to Finnin, Crimea has been persistently plagued with ethnic cleansing, violence, and so forth throughout the Romanov Russian and the Soviet rule in history. Therefore, the majority of the residents preferred to stay in Ukraine before the 2014 invasion. Finnin reviews history since the Crimean Tatar Khanate, which dominated Crimea and neighboring steppeland along the coast of the Black Sea and Azov Sea, before the conquest by Catherine II. In the 19th century, Alexander II Russified this peninsular by sending immigrants from the mainland. After repressive Stalin rule, Prime Minister-then Nikita Khrushchev decided to transfer impoverished Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 (“Why Crimea Is the Key to Peace in Ukraine”; Politico; January 13, 2023). From such backgrounds, if Ukraine retakes Crimea from Russia, historical and cultural implication of it will be insignificant.

Nevertheless, we still need to be cautious of MAGA Republicans, no matter how they are bigoted and poorly aware of international affairs. William Kristol, Director of Defending Democracy Together, mentions repeatedly that the Republican Party today has become too Trumpified, and increasingly America First. Typically, he criticizes a recent article of National Review Online defends cold-blooded and fake realism Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine is just a territorial dispute and irrelevant to American national interest (“What Ron DeSantis Got Right in His Ukraine Statement”; National Review Online; March 18, 2023).

Deplorably, DeSantis does not even strike back constant verbal abuses by Trump. It seems that the Florida Governor is afraid of the risk to challenge the former president who has become the standard bearer among MAGA Republicans (“Why Does DeSantis Keep Letting Trump Take Shots at Him?”; Bulwark; March 29,2023) (“Trump widens lead over DeSantis in 2024 GOP presidential nomination showdown: poll”; FOX News; March 22, 2023). Rather than winning the presidential election by himself, DeSantis may think of solidifying his position in the party through assisting Trump as Chris Christie did in the 2016 election. Moreover, MAGA Republicans are so infuriated with recent indictment of Trump by the Manhattan District Attorney of New York County that they deny due process of law in this procedure through agitating the fear of “liberal establishment” (The unhinged GOP defense of Trump is the real ‘test’ for our democracy; Washington Post; March 31, 2023). Such conspiracy theory can easily lead to Lindbergh isolationism, and we must be vigilant how much will those MAGA Republicans obstruct serious foreign policy effort to help Ukraine, in view of the 2024 presidential election.

Those who are skeptical of Western support for Ukraine, including fake realists who actually synchronize with the far right and the far left in the United States, seem to worship Mearsheimer so much. But America is the land of the free, and opinions there are diversified. The keypoint to understand America’s Ukraine policy is to review such diversified opinions beyond partisanship, but focus on highly professional ones. There is no partisan bias in my choice of pundits. Robert Kagan was a foreign policy advisor for presidential candidates of both parties. Michael McFaul was the Ambassador to Russia in the Obama era, and is currently a Senior Fellow at conservative Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Also, pay more attention to combat-proven opinions and analyses. Among some of such ex-generals whom I mentioned, David Petraeus has made unrivalled achievements in the battle field. He is also a renowned scholar of military strategy who received a Ph.D. degree from Princeton University. He is due to publish "Conflict: The Evolution of Warfare from 1945 to Ukraine" this October, which is coauthored with British historian Andrew Roberts. More importantly, ex-General is completely unbiased against the Biden administration.

John Mearsheimer may be a big name, but I would rather say that a careful observer of American foreign policy should "stop admiring him" for his academic fame. We must think again how much his opinions and analyses represent those among policymakers and the public in America. Most importantly, I wonder why so many experts and people in the media do not take combat-proven viewpoints more seriously to foresee American strategy in Ukraine. This is a war, and there is no prospect of immediate diplomatic negotiation for ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, or Russia and the West.