Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't Politicize American Defense!

While Western democracy was taking holidays from history, challengers like Russia and China reemerged from post Cold War peace. And also, religious extremism rose to eclipse nation states in the Middle East. Furthermore, nuclear proliferators like North Korea and Iran are emerging one after another. The global security picture today has become more complicated than that of the bipolar era. Naïvely believed the end of history as shown in defense spending debate at NATO’s Wales summit, the Western alliance failed to manage multiple rising threats. It is not American “decline” but poorly prepared defense that really matters.

For a peaceful world order, lofty ideals and security strategy must be substantiated with raw hard power. The war against ISIS is dependent on an ad hoc coalition of the willing, instead of established security alliance like NATO. In addition, it is necessary to rebuild American defense beyond partisan and ideological stand points. In order to rebuild defense power, it is necessary to rebuild national security policy.

Currently American security policy is shattered by inter and intra party politics. Michelle Flournoy, CEO, and Richard Fontaine, President, both at the Center for New American Security, presents an overview of politicization of American defense. During the 1970s and 80s, crossover voting was commonly seen, which helped the formation of bipartisan foreign policy consensus. However, strict partisanship prevents it these days. Intra party split is also serious. As to Republicans, Defense hawks and budget hawks bicker each other. On the Democratic side, the far left deviates from mainstream as they regard robust American economic and military presence around the globe simply sacrifices domestic issues like growing inequality (“Rebuilding Bipartisan Consensus on National Security”; June 9, 2014; Defense One).

We must bear in mind that so many Americans are tired of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they are drawn to isolationists of either right or left wings. This is the very background to help Barack Obama win the presidential elections for two terms. As Flournoy and Fontaine argued, well-aware people must explore bipartisan national security consensus through various venues. So many things need to be considered to rebuild American defense, including right assessment of threats, right defense size, right defense budget, and so forth. But what really matters is the leadership of the president. As shown in Obama’s comment that he underestimated ISIS threat at the end of this September (“Obama: U.S. Underestimated ISIS, Overestimated Iraqi Army”; NPR News; September 28, 2014), presidential leadership in American defense is extremely questionable.

How Obama’s leadership harmed American defense? Bobby Jindahl, Governor of Louisiana, outlined fundamental fraud of Obama’s defense policy in his lecture on October 6 at the American Enterprise Institute. The fundamental point of his argument is that current world insecurity is the consequence of Obama’s foreign policy viewpoint that denies America’s special role as the provider of global public good and its moral authority in world order. Also, Obama’s disengagement is undermining trust to the United States among the allies. As Jindahl mentions, Obama’s foreign policy is nothing but “don’t do stupid things”, which is simply in denial of Bush’s approach. The most fatal mistake that Obama made was spending cut in defense when multiple threats were rising, from traditional ones like Russia and China to asymmetric ones like Al Qaeda and ISIS. As widely known, Jindahl is one of the prospective candidates for Republican presidential nominee in 2016. The vital point is that he tries to fill the intra party gap between budget hawks and defense hawks by emphasizing himself as a fiscal conservative who advocates wise defense spending while increasing the total amount of it. See the video below.

More importantly, criticism to Obama’s defense policy is rising even from his own camp. When former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates published his memoir, he commented that Obama had no confidence in his Afghan strategy and did not trust his military staff regarding Iraq. According to Gates, Obama was obsessed with nothing but early withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan (“Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty’”; Washington Post; January 7, 2014). It is somewhat expected that Republican Gates is critical to Obama’s defense policy. Also, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounces Obama’s failure to sponsor the Free Syrian Army, which permitted the rise of jihadists there. Though a Democrat, she is running for the 2016 election, and needs to differentiate herself from Obama. However, Leon Panetta’s rebuke to Obama this fall is startling, because he is a long term Democrat, and held top positions such as the Director of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense under the current administration. Unlike Clinton, Panetta has never been a presidential rival, and supposed to be more loyal to Obama than Gates and Clinton.

In his memoir, Panetta says that Obama was preoccupied with immediate withdrawal from Iraq, although he strongly recommended the president to keep 24,000 troops there (“Obama ignores Leon Panetta’s warning”; Washington Post; October 6, 2014). Along with Panetta, Under Secretary of Defense-then Michele Flournoy and military commanders raised critical concerns with post withdrawal turmoil. However, Obama dismissed their analyses just “bogus and wrong”. That permitted current vandalism by ISIS (“Leon Panetta criticizes Obama for Iraq withdrawal”; CBS News; October 2, 2014). This is partly due to Obama’s lack of understandings in defense and his failure to assess security threats, but more fundamentally, his obsession with stepping down from superpower. In other words, Obama politicized American defense as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ironically, Obama’s inept handling of defense can be of some help to nurture bipartisan consensus. Obama said, “There is no liberal America and conservative America, but the United States of America” during the 2008 presidential election. Now, he is appalled by both liberal America and conservative America. Will common understandings among the foreign policy circle overcome war weary public and intra party splits of both parties? Hopefully, that will help the next president whoever he or she is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Japan Should Explore UNSC Reform rather than Permanent Membership

Japan has not abandoned the aspiration for the permanent membership in the UN Security Council, despite a failed bid for this seat during the Koizumi era. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made it clear that Japan would continue to bid for the permanent membership, in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 26. I appreciate such “Never give up” attitude, but is it a worthy quest for Japan? The fundamental problem of the Security Council is not liberating Japan and Germany from the yoke of defeat in World War II, but the veto that precludes the Council from making decisions and acting against threats to global security. Therefore, Japan should propose something fundamental to resolve malfunction of the UNSC, instead of reconfirming its position of the 6th or 7th greatest power in the global pecking order, following established P5.

As a matter of fact, I was in the midst of patriotic fervor when the Koizumi administration bid for the permanent membership, which resulted in a failure. I believed so naïvely that Japan step up to a political great power, in addition to its status as the second largest economy in those days. But time has passed since then, and it is necessary to reconsider whether continual bidding will be real Japanese interest or not. Outrageous lobbying will consume a considerable amount of money and energy. Should Japan give pork barrel aid to Asia and Africa, just in order to placate them to vote for itself? To win the bid, Japan asked regional powers such as Brazil and India to make a joint application for the permanent membership. So called G4 applicants, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and India, included emerging powers, in order to charm BRICS nations (“Why Japan Will Never Be a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council”; National Interest; August 4, 2014). However, it is quite doubtful whether regional powers like Brazil and India are prepared to assume global responsibility.

If regional balance is so important, then, the African Union has the right to claim their seat in the Security Council. There is no wonder why both the United States and China, supposed to be at odds each other, vetoed G4’s bid (“Editorial: Abe should clarify objective in seeking permanent UN Security Council seat”; Mainichi Shimbun; September 27, 2014). Moreover, Japan’s enduring aspiration for the permanent seat simply gives a good chance for Chinese propaganda. Shortly after Abe’s speech, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reminded all attendants at the General assembly of the fact that it would be the 70th anniversary of Chinese victory over Japanese fascism, next year(“China admonishes Japan in U.N. speech, warning history should not be falsified”; Japan Times; September 28, 2014). If Japan can override the Chinese veto, it is worthy of bidding. Unfortunately, China would block every Japanese endeavor for honorary and prestigious seat, in quest of geopolitical balance in favor of them, and degrade Japan as that target of negative campaigns regarding wartime history, for this objective. In addition, Mainichi Shimbun comments critically that there is no momentum to change the UN Charter, just to accommodate Japan as a new permanent member of the Security Council.

Therefore, I argue that Japan propose something that urges fundamental change of currently indecisive and inactive UNSC, instead of lobbying to satisfy its vanity. I am not in flat denial of benefits to be a permanent member. Prior to the Scottish referendum, former British Prime Minister John Major raised a critical concern, "We would lose our seat at the top table in the UN," if Scotland voted for independence (“What would Scottish independence mean at the UN?”; BBC News; 10 September, 2014). However, Japan’s position is starkly different from those of existing P5 nations, as it must consume so much energy to overcome tough hurdles to win the top seat. Above all, what can Japan do, if it were granted for the permanent membership? Does Japan dare to use veto power at the UNSC to turn the entire world against itself in the worst case? Will Japanese promotion to the honorary seat change the world? Rationally speaking, these are utterly not.

Remember Saudi Arabia stepped down the nonpermanent seat at the Security Council on October 17 last year, because it is so indecisive and so inactive in critical Middle East security issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and the crisis of ISIS. Saudis see current UNSC useless, helpless, and valueless ("Sit on the UN Security Council?"; Weelky Standard; November 4, 2013). Considering burden, benefits, and campaign effort, UNSC membership does not necessarily serve Japan’s national interest. As far as this issue is concerned, I agree with the government of Saudi Arabia completely. We have to keep in mind that the current status of P5 was endowed from the beginning. Therefore, Major’s anxiety on the eve of the Scotland vote makes sense for Britain. But the nations of the rest of the world other than P5 need to struggle to bid for the membership in the Security Council even if it is a nonpermanent one, and not to mention a permanent seat. Japan’s struggle will be vetoed by China in the end. Should Japan repeat such a fruitless attempt?

An initiative for fundamental and universal agenda can create a momentum for change. It is commonly known that the United States is more inclined to the coalition of the willing rather than UN resolutions, because it is the most annoyed with Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council that have been precluding urgent actions even after the Cold War era. This is typically illustrated in the appointment of John Bolton to the Ambassador to the United Nations by the Bush administration, even though he is a vocal critic to this organization. Whether Democrat or Republican rule, such distrust to current UN decision making system is widespread among American policymakers. It is a deadlocked UNSC that really matters to the global community, rather than the pecking order of the nations.

If Japan really were to change the Security Council, focus on fundamental and structural problem. That will draw more support from the world. Regarding the veto problem, I would suggest a change from a single vote veto system to a two or three vote veto system by permanent members. Even if the permanent seat were granted, Japan cannot act alone. A single veto system will not be of much help for Tokyo. Whoever the prime minister is, Japan’s money and diplomatic labor must be spent properly for the right objective. Any action, simply based on patriotic passion and vanity, isuseless and valueless.