Monday, November 30, 2009

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

State Under Secretary Hormats at Waseda University

Shortly after the APEC Summit in Singapore, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats delivered a speech entitled "U.S.-Japan Leadership in the New Global Economy" at Waseda University. The event was held in the Okuma Auditorium, which is a historical landmark of Waseda University.

Since the lecture was given just after the APEC Summit, the focus was regional rather than global (See the full text of this lecture.). Quite symbolically, Under Secretary Hormats started his speech by mentioning the normalization of US-Chinese relations in 1972. In those days, Japanese policymakers were upset, because they thought it would lower importance of the US-Japanese alliance in East Asia. However, he said, Japan stayed as the primary ally in the Asia-Pacific region, despite the US-Chinese normalization. Implicitly, Hormats says that the Japanese public not be obsessed with rivalry for regional primacy and dispute on wartime history with China. At the APEC Summit in Singapore, President Barack Obama welcomed the Peaceful Rise of China, which spurred wide spread criticism among conservatives at home.

Under Secretary Hormats’ stance to China is beyond geopolitical consideration. He emphasized that multilateral approaches are necessary to manage transnational issues such as climate change, alternative energy, developing aid, and the global economy. During the lecture, he mentioned G20 cooperation repeatedly, instead of G7 or G8. His foreign policy viewpoints reminds me of a post Cold War essay by Former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, which talked of multi-multilateral policy coordination among state and non-state actors (“Globalization and Diplomacy: A Practitioner's Perspective”; Foreign Policy; Fall 1997). Does the Obama administration envision a Clintonian world where conflicts over ideology and geopolitics end, and global citizens pursue a wonderful dream of fraternity beyond regimes?

As seen in the attitude to Russia and China, the Obama administration is not willing to promote Western liberalism into both authoritarian giants. Instead, current administration pursues engagement with them beyond differences in regimes and political values.

Under Secretary Hormats said that Japan and the United States work closely to manage a world like this, particularly in the Afghan War, environment, and development aid.

At the Q& A session, I said “Please forgive me to ask a critical question to the Obama administration”, because I wanted to express a concern to the Singapore Speech in which President Obama said America would accept the rise of China. I am not obsessed with the Sino-Japanese rivalry, but critically concerned with Chinese ascendancy from “The Return of History” viewpoint. If their illiberal capitalism supplants our liberal capitalism throughout the world, I believe it a threat to free nations, notably, the United States, Japan, and Europe. Moreover, Western experts and media are alert to the rise of radical nationalism in China ("China's rising nationalism troubles West"; BBC News; 17 November 2009). The Singapore Speech sounds like famous apologetic speeches in Prague and Cairo, for me.

In reply to my question, Under Secretary Hormats generously said that he would welcome any questions in democracy. He stressed that China was an important partner for the United States and free allies through G20 and other multilateral frame work, despite numerous disagreements in political values and national interests.

The lecture was a good opportunity to understand the Obama administration’s foreign policy viewpoints. I enjoyed listening to some questions on environment, development, and other transnational and bilateral issues by Waseda students. As more students are involved in international cooperation now than my college days, interactions between students and Under Secretary Hormats were quite stimulating and lively.

Photo: US Department of State

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ACCJ Lecture by the Commander of the US Forces in Japan

On November 5, I attended a luncheon at the Peninsula Hotel in Yurakucho of Tokyo, in order to listen to a lecture by Lieutenant General Edward Rice of the US Air Force. Lieutenant General Rice was appointed to the Commander of the US Forces in Japan in 2008.

Lieutenant General Rice talked about the changing nature of international security environment, and stressed that the US-Japanese alliance transform in order to deal with new challenges. Those challenges are primarily transnational threats, such as terrorism, pandemic, organized crime, climate change, and so forth. Furthermore, he said that such threats have become more important than traditional threats of conflicts between nation states. He said that Japan and the United States develop further partnership to manage these global threats.

It seems to me that the lecture by Lieutenant General Rice reflects foreign policy viewpoints of the Obama administration. Certainly, multilateral security cooperation has become increasingly important in the era of transnational challenges. However, I think that the tone of the lecture could have been different, if Senator John McCain assumed the presidency at present. Regardless of his own political creed, Lieutenant General Rice works for the Obama administration now, just as General David Petraeus does even though he is an icon among Republican supporters. There is nothing strange that the lecture at the Peninsula Hotel was Obamanian.

At the Q & A session after the lecture, attendants asked a broad range of questions on US-Japanese relations and East Asian security, such as North Korea, US bases in Futenma of Okinawa, the East Asian Community, and interest in national security among the Japanese public.

Regarding the East Asian Community, Lieutenant General Rice said that it was necessary to see what it was, and told the attendants not to judge it prematurely. As to public attention to national security, the USFJ (US Forces in Japan) Commander commented that Americans were not necessarily more well-aware of security issues than Japanese.

The USFJ Commander was so cautious that he did not say something like, "the hardest thing right now is not China, it's Japan", as I quoted an anonymous comment in the Washington Post before. Unlike the media, Lieutenant General Rice did not say something provocative about the Hatoyama administration.

My Question to Lieutenant General Rice was whether the role of nation state was declining in global security in view of the rise of radical nationalism in Russia and China. Ever since I wrote a post on the discussion between Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, top opinion leaders from America and Europe, I have been watching both illiberal capitalisms very closely. I quoted phrases back to the old Soviet Union for Russia and Peaceful rise for China, to ask policy implications of their challenges to free industrialized nations like the United States, Europe, and Japan.

In reply to my question, Lieutenant General Rice said that traditional power games between nation states still mattered, even though transnational challenges were getting increasingly important. Also, he said that a combination of engagement and containment approaches were necessary to deal with the Russo-Chinese challenge. If the Western alliance depends solely on hardliner measures, radical nationalism in Russia and China will be invigorated furthermore, he says.

I was impressed that Lieutenant General Edward Rice replied to every question sincerely. The USFJ Commander also said that it was a good opportunity to know interest of everyone at the forum. It was a very good opportunity for me to participate in mutual interaction between the guest speaker and distinguished attendants.

Note: This blog post reflects my personal view points, and not those of the ACCJ and the USFJ. The author is entirely responsible for everything mentioned in this post.

Photo: US Forces in Japan

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Commentary by a Top CFR Analyst on Iran

Currently, the P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) nuclear negotiation with Iran is in progress. I would like to talk of the Iran problem further in detail in forthcoming posts. In this post, I would like to review an interview to Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, on November 11. Takeyh insists that the Iran issue needs broader approaches, beyond focusing on nonproliferation.

This interview is valuable, because Takeyh points out that Iranian foreign policy is defined by domestic politics, rather than identifying its national interests on the global stage. Therefore, he says that the United States and other stakeholders take broad ranged issues into account, and not simply focus on nuclear negotiations.

This is critical to discuss Western approaches to Iran in a political turbulence since the presidential election this June. The Vienna talk in this October may be a progress in nonproliferation negotiation, but Takeyh says that domestic politics makes Iranian attitude erratic and unpredictable. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may suggest counterproposals to the P5+1, but they are not necessarily based on well-defined national interests. Therefore, I have to say that economic incentives for the theocratic regime regarding uranium enrichment do not necessarily work.

Instead of focusing entirely on nuclear issues, Takeyh comments that the P5+1 find common goals with Iran in broader issues like Iraq, Gulf security, and the Middle East peace process. An agreement with Iran in other issues will help advance nuclear talks, according to him. I agree to this point, because these security issues are closely intertwined with Iran’s nuclear ambition. Also, I would like to mention that Libya abandoned the nuclear project because Khadafy needs Western help to curb domestic threats of Islamic radicals.

As Takehy mentions influence of domestic politics on Iran’s attitude to nuclear negotiations, it is logical to use the Cold War tactics to pressure Iran for human rights issues. The Obama administration was too cautious to blame Iran for the repression associated with the presidential election this year.

Ray Takeyh suggests helpful guidelines to deal with Iran in such a brief interview. Iran has been one of the most critical threats since the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Therefore, I would like to talk of Iran furthermore in forthcoming posts.

It appears that the Obama administration hesitates to provoke Iran on other issues, and focus entirely on nuclear negotiations. But such a low risk diplomacy is no pain and no gain.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Role of Vice President Biden to Control Damages in the Obama Foreign Policy

Vice President Joseph Biden seems to have the special role in foreign policy of the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has launched new diplomatic campaigns to improve relations with adversaries and challengers to America, such as Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, and so forth. Some US allies claim serious concerns with such appeasement. Vice President Biden tries to soothe such worries when he visited Ukraine and Georgia in July, and Poland and Czech in October. Is Joseph Biden playing a supplementary role to Barack Obama?

As I mentioned in a previous post, Russia Today commented that the United States would not sacrifice the reset relation with Russia for the sake of Ukraine and Georgia while Biden was on a trip to both countries. They used a word, pecking order, to emphasize that President Obama’s visit to Russia was more important than Vice President Biden’s visit to Ukraine and Georgia.

As if suggesting that Russia saw America weak, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denounced pro-Western Yushchenko administration to impose pressure on Ukraine. Obama may be popular among doves across the world, but his soft line stances and apologism to the American hegemony make loyal allies that face the threat of gigantic adversaries like Russia and China critically worried. For allies such as Poland and Czech, Barack Obama looks too naïve and inexperienced to deal with consummate challengers. Therefore, Joseph Biden is expected to placate their concerns.

Prior to Biden’s visit to Eastern Europe in October, Ewa Blaszynscaya, Research Analyst at the Center European Policy Analysis, insisted that the Polish government use this opportunity to reemphasize Polish contribution to NATO forces in Afghanistan, and urge Biden to reconsider the Missile Defense issue, on her blog affiliated with the Warsaw Business Journal (“Vice President Biden’s Poland visit more than just damage control”; CEE Policy Watch; 20 October 2009).

Though the missile shield was scaled down, the Obama administration showed their willingness for continual commitment to New Europe. Vice President Joseph Biden talked with Polish President Lech Kaczyński and Prime Minister Donald Tusk longer than scheduled to soothe their concerns. It was a damage control to President Obama’s clumsy announcement that the United States would withdraw the Missile Defense System from Poland and Czech. However, the opposition criticizes the agreement a hoax as no timetable to implement the alternative plan was shown (“Biden does damage control”; Warsaw Business Journal; 26 October 2009).

Biden did the same damage control diplomacy to talk with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer. While Czech contribution to the Afghan War was praised, both sides did not agree how to implement the new plan: whether NATO based or bilateral (“Biden reassures ČR of defense role”; Prague Post; October 28 2009). Furthermore, former Czech President Vaclav Havel criticized Obama for rejecting to meet Dalai Lama, even though Biden explained it “logically” (“Havel: US foreign policy aware of threats”; Prague Daily Monitor; 26 October 2009).

Artemy Kalinovsky, Fellow at the London School of Economics, says Joseph Biden is the best choice to soothe Central European allies. Biden has a brilliant career to endorse NATO expansion to Eastern Europe during the 1990s, and he has extensive personal contacts in this region. However, both Poland and Czech will be discouraged, if Biden fails to meet their expectation. As Kalinovsky says, “In the end, the Obama administration might learn that, as with domestic politics, it is impossible to be friends with everybody.” (“The Man for the Job in 'New Europe'?”; National Journal; October 20, 2009)

Obama was premature to express his hope of reconciliation with challengers and adversaries at one of the most sensitive time, which has raised serious concerns among loyal allies. As both the Warsaw Business Journal and the Prague Post pointed out, President Obama did not give sufficient consideration to the provocative remark by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at the 70th anniversary of the Soviet-German invasion to Poland. Putin’s pro-Stalin speech chilled the spine of people across Central and Eastern Europe. Also, Biden did not tell detailed information about the alternative missile interceptor SM3. Joseph Biden needs to do more to complete his damage control mission and restore trust among allies of New Europe.

Obama cannot heal all stakeholders. The Prague and the Cairo Speeches were hailed, but he needs to face savage reality of global power games. The Vice President will play a vital role to take care of concerns from US allies, just as a manager of the customer service center does. In any case, the role of Joseph Biden in the Obama foreign policy is beyond New Europe and Former Soviet nations. Vice President Biden has substantial jobs to do in the Obama administration for America to fulfill the role of the global superpower.