Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stability in Iraq and Dark Influences of Iran

While the global public is preoccupied with recent unrests in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, a reminder article on Iraq was released by Frederick Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, President of the Institute for the Study of War (“Stand with Iraq”; Weekly Standard; April 18, 2011). On one hand, the Arab Spring is a great opportunity to advance democracy throughout the Middle East. But on the other hand, the collapse of the balance of power can provoke Iran’s ambition to expand its influence in the Gulf area and furthermore. Therefore, stable and strong democracy in Iraq is vital to lead Arab Spring movements to more favorable direction.

Both Kagans criticize a preoccupation with ending the war in Iraq and a notion that the US-Iraqi relations should focus on nonmilitary fields. Actually, the United States has not made meaningful progress in developing nonmilitary ties with Iraq, while Iran penetrates there through trade and investment businesses, many of which are tied to the Revolutionary Guard. Moreover, Iran deepens ties with Iraqi leaders drawing little attention from the United States. Both authors argue that the United States cannot develop bilateral partnership with Iraq by simply relying on soft power. They say that continuous presence of US peacekeeping forces will foster Arab-Kurd peace. Also, Iraqi security forces are still weak to curb Iranian-backed militias and Sunni insurgents including Al Qaeda. The United States played significant roles to manage such security challenges in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Therefore, I agree with them that the Obama administration be psychologically involved in Iraq to make continuous commitment to maintain security there. Furthermore, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “We are still in Kosovo, South Korea and other post-conflict zones that are far more stable. We need to be in Iraq too” (“It's in America's Interest to Stay in Iraq”; Real Clear World; April 18, 2011).

American political and military presence is the key to stop Iranian ambition in the Middle East and Central Asia. Particularly, Iran is keen to penetrate its influence into the Gulf area. Bahrain is a primary target, as populated by Shiite majority. Iran sponsors Hezbollah-led uprisings there, which intensifies tensions with Arab emirates and the United States (“Bahrain Sees Hezbollah Plot in Protest”; Wall Street Journal; April 25, 2011).

Radical Shiites like Hezbollah is not the only organization sponsored by Iran. Sunni networks, notably Al Qaeda, receive substantial assistance from Iran to pursue their destructive activities throughout the Middle East. Stephen F. Hayes, Senior Writer of the Weekly Standard, and Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, talk of dreadful cases of Iran-Al Qaeda ties. In 2009, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia told President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan that Iran hosted Saudis to agitate uprisings in his country. In 2007, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan agreed Iran provided small fire weapons to Afghan insurgents. More importantly, CIA Director Michael Hayden said such support had been approved “at the highest levels” of the Iranian regime in 2008 (“The Iran Connection”; Weekly Standard; December 13, 2010).

Considering Iran’s ties with terrorists and radicals, stability in Iraq is interconnected with successful political transitions in the Middle East from Morocco to Pakistan. As terrorist networks are so widespread and so deeply connected with autocrats, it is utterly wrong to insist that we focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, while leaving Arab dictatorship like Libya and Syria as they are. American presence and leadership are essential to help the Arab Spring and defeat terrorists. The Obama administration’s excessive modest stance on Libya is counterproductive to the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, I agree with Charles Krauthammer’s comment “Leading from behind is not leading” (“The Obama doctrine: Leading from behind”; Washington Post; April 29, 2011).

Meanwhile, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would announce how many US troops stay after December this year in several weeks. The challenge posed by a radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is a key issue of US-Iraqi security talks before Maliki decides the status of US forces (“Iraq must decide in "weeks" on U.S. troops: Mullen”; Reuters; April 23, 2011). Don’t forget Iraq. Democracy promotion, along with the War on terror and nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East started from here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Think again Our Relations with China

Despite political rivalries with free nations, business societies regard China as an indispensable partner for growth opportunities. Moreover, some policymakers see China a locomotive for the world economy while developed nations are aging. However, relations with the Beijing regime need to be reconsidered both in terms of politics and the economy. Is it really our interest to “bow down and praise” autocrats as President Barack Obama did in his speech at APEC summit in Singapore?

First, let me talk about political aspects. Ellen Bork, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, criticizes that the Obama administration’s engagement policy has not changed repressive nature of the Communist China. Since the Jasmine Revolutions in the Arab world, the Chinese authority has been arresting numerous activists, lawyers, and bloggers for freedom. While American human rights lawyer organizations such as the New York City Bar Association and the American Bar Association demand the Chinese government to release them, human rights issues are not the agenda at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington this May. Bork says that the Obama administration puts too much emphasis on the economy over democracy (“Meanwhile, in Beijing ...”; Weekly Standard; April 11, 2011). In view of Western pressure to release Ai Weiwei (“Amid crackdown, U.S. groups strive to improve China's legal system”; USA Today; April 14, 2011), Chinese police accuses Ai of evading tax, committing bigamy, and spreading pornography (“China police building tax case against detained artist”; Reuters; April 14, 2011). As China is manipulating criminal cases against human rights activists just to crackdown Jasmine movements at home, the Obama administration needs to reconsider business first diplomacy with Beijing.

Geopolitical conflicts like the Senkaku dispute also need attention. I suspect that China has been emboldened to see apologetic global policy of the Obama administration. This is not only in East Asia, but worldwide. Regarding Libya, Lluís Bassets, Vice-Director of a Spanish daily El Pais, argues that President Obama is too modest to take leadership for Western democracies, which disappoints European allies (“EU and NATO in a tail spin”; Presseurop; 15 April, 2011). Quite regretfully, both Japanese and American opinion leaders blame Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for allowing China to make use of worsening relations between both countries, but they hardly analyze critically on President Obama’s China policy. Hatoyama advocated the regular triangle relationship among Japan, the United States, and China. Also, he tried to overturn the bilateral deal on Futenma Air Base. The Washington Post is right to call Hatoyama loopy. However, speculation to Hatoyama has obscured faults on the Obama side. Had Obama acted steadfast, China would not have committed dangerous adventure to provoke the US-Japanese alliance, however loopy Japanese leaders were.

Moreover, we need to cast doubt to widely spread opinions among many economists and businessmen that China’s economic growth will contribute to our economy, and market opportunities there should not be missed. The Economist discusses the balance of gains and losses from trade between the United Sates and China on its blog. As Adam Smith and David Ricardo insist, free trade with China brings economic gains to the United States. However, this is offset by unemployment. As this blog argues, American welfare system may have to adjust to global economic competition (“Better safety nets needed”; Economist—Free Exchange; February 22, 2011). However, I would argue that cheap and massive labor of China poses compelling threats to workers in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Finally, 3-11 earthquake and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident has brought us home that Japan is in no position of meddling America and China. It has turned out that Hatoyama’s vision of the regular triangle is utterly wrong, and the Operation Tomodachi reminds Japanese people that a strong US-Japanese alliance is the vital and foremost national interest. Furthermore, in the nuclear accident, the United States and France offered technological help to manage the crisis, and Russia proposed new governance for nuclear energy based on the Chernobyl experience. Has China done anything? In the area of knowledge, China is no rival for the West and Russia. Remember this, my fellow Japanese.

We must think again when we evaluate real power of China and its importance to our national interest. Applying the theory of Susan Strange, Chinese power is relational, not structural. China can hard power muscle to impose its will on others, but it unable cannot set international norms and show solutions to global challenges. We should never kowtow to Red China for the sake of short term economic interests. Bear it in mind, businessmen and “pragmatic” politicians. China is not necessarily the savior to boost our economy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Shut down Nuclear Plants? Wait!: Peaceful Use and Non-proliferation

After the Fukushima shock, an increasing number of people insist that nuclear power plants be shut down immediately to avoid radioactive pollution to the environment. Some say that renewable resource such as biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and tidal energy, supplant atomic power as post-petroleum energy resource. However, we should remember that technological assistance to build nuclear reactors for peaceful use is a bargaining tool for nonproliferation. Atomic energy and nuclear weapons are deeply correlated. Therefore, complete elimination of nuclear power plants can remove constraints to rising proliferators, which will lead to more nuclear tests and more radioactive contamination. This paradox is very important when we think of peaceful use of nuclear energy and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons after Fukushima.

Relations between peaceful use of atomic energy and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons can be described from the following points. First, established nuclear great powers like P5 and developed nations offer technological assistance for otherwise proliferators to build nuclear reactors. In return, countries accepting the assistance are demanded to stop developing or proliferating nuclear weapons. Once developed nations shut down nuclear power plants, they will lose this vital bargaining tool. Second, providers of technological assistance can demand verification, even though the customer country is out of the NPT regime.

The US-Indian nuclear deal is the most successful case of reactor for nonproliferation. In return for technological help, India accepted to stop nuclear tests. This deal has become a paradigm for other industrialized and emerging economies keen to pioneer the Indian market. Among them, Japan finally decided to shed anti-nuclear sentiments through Hiroshima-Nagasaki experience, and join the nuclear deal with India. Despite pacifist emotion, Japanese companies such as Hitachi, Toshiba, and Japan Steel Works subcontract General Electric and Areva to build nuclear reactors (“U.S., France press for Japan-India nuclear deal – Nikkei”; Reuters; June 9, 2010).

Reactor for nonproliferation deal is also explored in negotiations with Iran and North Korea. Whether we can talk with them or not, helping reactor building is one of carrots accompanied by a stick of economic sanction. As nuclear power plant projects are suspended in developed countries, negotiations with Iran and North Korea will be stalled.

It is too naïve to demand nuclear power plans be shut down immediately. Once we shut down, we will lose a means to bind potential nuclear proliferators. While the tsunami was a natural disaster once in a thousand years of Japanese history, nuclear testing is an act of human will that can happen anytime. Rising proliferators have poor technological solutions to manage the testing site, which would result in more serious radioactive pollution on the earth.

If we stop peaceful use of nuclear power, the problem will grow beyond energy and the environment. It is regretful that opinion leaders fail to discuss the impact of the Fukushima accident on nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.