Monday, November 16, 2020

US Presidential Election and Japanese Foreign Policy

Every time when the presidential election in the United States, Japanese people from experts to the general public, argue which candidate is better for Japan. Furthermore, some of them insist that Japan shove other American allies worldwide, including European nations, aside to draw Washington’s attention to her vital security interests. However, it does not seem that Japan is good at the zero sum styled rivalries among nations on the global stage. In the prewar era, Japan’s position in the world was stable when she supported Pax Britannica through the alliance with Britain, but she failed in pursuing her own national interests through “sovereign and independent” zero sum diplomacy after repealing the alliance. In the postwar era, Japan upheld the Yoshida doctrine, and tried to pursue mutual economic development and friendship, under the umbrella of Pax Americana. Considering such historical background, it is more suitable for Japan to pursue her own prosperity and stability based on universal principles, rather than winning through state-to-state rivalries.

Among the Japanese, notably the right wing, a substantial number of people argue that they prefer the Trump administration be continued for their ”hardline” approaches against China, even though it makes the relationship between the United States and other allies worse furthermore. However, contrary to their “wishes”, some Japanese intellectuals point out that China actually sees the current administration preferable. Those arguments are founded on fundamental problems of Trump diplomacy. Professor Emeritus Homare Endo of Tsukuba University comments that the emergence of the Trump administration has eroded the credibility of American democracy, which has made the position of the Xi Jinping administration in domestic and foreign policy very advantageous. That is to say, in the Sino-American ideological warfare that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched boastfully in his speech at the Nixon Library, American superiority has been eroded. Professor Endo argues furthermore, that thanks to America’s withdrawal from international agreements one after another, China has more opportunities to expand her influence in the world (“China wishes reelection of Trump”; News Week Japan; October 24, 2020).

With basic understandings of international politics, anyone can agree to the points that she raises. As if in support of her arguments, Marc Champion of Bloomberg News comments about his analysis that along with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the following dictators would face difficulties, if Trump were defeated in the election: President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Supreme Leader Kim Jongun of North Korea, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman oh Saudi Arabia, President Recep Erdoğanof Turkey, and so forth (”Defeat for Trump Would Mean Some Other World Leaders Also Lose Out”; Bloomberg News; October 20, 2020).

Meanwhile, there is a concern that Democrat Biden would be softliner against China, which is more widespread among Japanese conservatives, rather than in the United States. However, Akira Saito, Former Chief of the US Bureau of Yomiuri Shimbun, comments that China is critically alert that ex-Vice President Joseph Biden would be more hardliner over human rights and climate change, and more adept at mobilizing allies to encircle them. In addition, China hawks such as former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy and Senator Tammy Duckworth are top candidates for Biden’s Secretary of Defense (“China is alert to Biden’s foreign and national security policy”; Wedge; October 26, 2020). It is not appropriate to foresee that America’s China policy would turn soft when the Biden administration inaugurates, at least. We should remember that even the Obama administration modified their China policy from the initial G2 approach.

Anyway, Japanese right wingers support current President Donald Trump so passionately, but they are just “anti-Chinese” while hardly sharing common values with American conservatives. Moreover, they are statists and historical revisionists. On the other hand, Red State voters shun governmental intervention, and believe in the “justice of America” in World War II unrepentantly. The only thing that both of them share in common is hatred against China. It is hard to imagine solidarity between them, in view of such a stark gap of values of both. Furthermore, those chauvinists are inherently anti-Ameircan.

The most noticeable failure of Japan’s pro-Trump and zero sum oriented diplomacy is the case of Russia. The Trump administration does not protest the repression of opposition politicians and Journalists by the Kremlin, and also, connived their annexation of Crimea. Among Japanese politicians, there was a growing voice that such an easing of tensions between Russia and the United States would be a boon for the negotiation of the return of the Northern Territories. Nevertheless, no matter how “pro-Russian” Trump is, just a mere personal relation between leaders cannot move interstate relations. As Shigeki Hakamada, Councilor of the Japan Forum on International Relations, comments, Putin rejected Abe’s request because the return of the Northern Territories to Japan as an American ally would put Russian national security in danger. This is Japan’s failure to take benefits without giving consideration to drawbacks of appeasement by zero-sum diplomacy, as if assuming the confrontation of Russia and the West in Europe were none of her concern. This attitude reminds me of prewar Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma, who remarked “The situation in Europe is complicated and mysterious”.

As I mentioned above, Japan is not good at zero sum diplomacy, and continual rule of the Trump administration would put her at a disadvantage in the negotiation of burden sharing in defense. Above all, they pull out US troops from Germany unilaterally, without consulting with the Department of Defense, the EUCOM, and NATO allies. Also, it is not just the US presidential election this year that when Japanese people talk about foreign relations with the United States and the rest of the world, they are liable to expect too much on “politicians with deep contact with Japan” of the counterpart. The most notable example, that such an expectation is betrayed, is Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross of the current administration of the USA, as he is just a sycophant of President Trump. It is not a good idea to snatch something for Japanese national interest so selfishly through zero sum deals. Rather, it would be preferable for Japan to review the ideal and the nature of the regime, and then, to make a decision about her direction of actions through checking whether they are compatible with universal global public interest. Regarding the relationship with Russia that I mentioned previously, America and Europe make their policy through examining the nature of the Putin administration, while the Abe administration made a mistake without giving consideration to the nature of the counterpart regime. We should remember this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Don’t Trust Pompeo’s Cause of Freedom and Democracy

Unlike Europeans, Japanese, particularly right wingers, praise Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s causes for freedom of the Uyghur and Hong Kong. Come to think of it, it seems quite odd, because rightists among the Japanese are not necessarily satisfied with Pax Americana. Rather, they make revisionist cases against the postwar world order. But there is no denying that Japanese people, from nationalists to moderate general public, are increasingly concerned with the threat of China and Beijing’s defiance to the global rules and norms. Geopolitically, there is no reliable multilateral security framework in the Asia Pacific region,. However, it is ridiculous to admire Pompeo as the savior of freedom, simply out of anti-Chinese sentiment.

Pompeo’s speech at the Nixon Library on July 23 draws much attention worldwide, but experts give a poor grade to this. Richard Haass comments that Pompeo’s criticism of American policy on China since the Cold War reveals his fundamental lack of understanding of the Nixon-Kissinger geopolitics (“What Mike Pompeo doesn’t understand about China, Richard Nixon and U.S. foreign policy”; Washington Post; July 26, 2020). Furthermore, Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution criticizes that Trump’s America mishandles the ideological warfare with China. Pompeo portrayed the world in clash between open and free democracy of America, and Marxist-Lenist autocracy of China. However, the Trump administration is destroying liberal and rule-based world order, and exploring a tributary international system that enables predatory great powers to exploit smaller nations, as China does. More problematically, Trump and Pompeo do not denounce human rights abuses in other countries so much, and furthermore, democracy in the United States is falling year by year during their rule, according to Freedom House. That erodes the legitimacy of Pompeo’s coalition of the willing (“Pompeo’s surreal speech on China”; Brookings Institution; July 27, 2020). Therefore, Paul Saunders of the Center for the National Interest caricatures that the Nixon Library speech was just an election campaign for Trump (“Responding to Chinese and Russian Disinformation”; Tokyo Foundation; July 29, 2020).

Above all, above experts unanimously criticize Pompeo’s verbal abuse on allies, which is completely incompatible with his idea of freedom coalition against China. Since the height of the Cold War, successive US presidents have been asking burden sharing of defense for allies. Therefore, it is nothing so outstanding that American Secretary of State urges allies to stand firmly against an adversary like China. However, Pompeo’s offensive remark of NATO allies in the speech is unprecedented, I don’t think it is helpful to forge a coalition. Rather, it would deepen the trans-Atlantic chasm furthermore.

Pompeo pounces on Iran, too. Last December, he denounced the repression of religious minorities in this country (“Human Rights and the Iranian Regime”; Department of State; December 18, 2019). However, his commitment to Iranian freedom and democracy is questionable. Kenneth Pollack at the American Enterprise Institute comments that the diplomatic normalization between Israel and the UAE is not a diplomatic breakthrough. In his view, this is in line with strategic withdrawal from the Middle East of the Trump administration, as shown in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it happened, Israel and the UAE along with other Arab nations would have to fill the power vacuum against Iran, by themselves (“Israeli-Emirati normalization: Be careful what you wish for”; AEIdeas; August 13, 2020). Remember that Trump urged Saudi Arabia and other Gulf emirates to nuclearize to defend themselves from Iran, during the campaign for his first term.

Those inconsistencies in the ideological warfare stem from Pompeo’s view of democracy and human rights. As Robert Kagan argues ("The Strongmen Strike Back"; Brookings institution), he understands these words from the Hazonian perspective of nationalism, not the Lockean perspective of natural law and universal liberalism. This view is more in line with sovereign democracy that is proclaimed by Vladislav Surkov, who serves Putin’s Russia to underpin authoritarian traditionalist rule of this regime, rather than that of liberal democracy among Western allies. Japanese right-wingers may feel common nationalist and revisionist bonds with Pompeo, instinctively. That implies that his coalition of the willing is completely unreliable, and no match for that of John McCain, which is based on the universal value.

Quite problematically, Pompeo’s definition of democracy and autocracy is not fair, and based on his own idiosyncratic geopolitics. When the Department of State released “2019 Country Reports on Human Rights and Practices” this March, he named China, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela the worst violators of civil liberties in his speech, but dismissed other violators mentioned in the report, like Russia, Turkey, North Korea, and so forth. His unfair conduct reveals a deep chasm between the American Foreign Service and himself (“Critics Hear Political Tone as Pompeo Calls Out Diplomatic Rivals Over Human Rights”; New York Times; March 11, 2020). Furthermore, the Trump administration keeps silent to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, while Germany responded quickly to denounce the Kremlin (Nicholas Burns; Twitter; August 25, 2020). Moreover, Michael McFaul points out that US presidents since Ronald Reagan have paid tribute to both the leaders of the Kremlin and the opposition, when they visited Russia. However, Trump and Pompeo remain dismissive to the Novichok attack (“A Russian dissident is fighting for his life. Where is the U.S.?”; Washington Post; August 21, 2020). Similarly, he did not denounce Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Kashoggi in 2018.

In addition to unfairness, we have to review other ethical problems of Pompeo's behavior furthermore. After the adults in the room such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis et. al, have gone, Pompeo has become the leader of Trump sycophants, as Max Boot mentions (“Trump relies on grifters and misfits. Biden is bringing the A Team”; Washington Post; August 23, 2020). Typically, his televised appearance at the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem was bitterly criticized by opinion leaders from Richard Haass to David Rothkopf, because it politicizes diplomacy to please evangelical voters for the Trump campaign. In view of this, Jackson Diehl, Deputy Editorial of the Washington Post, assesses Pompeo the worst Secretary of State. He comments that the morale of the Foreign Service is at historic low, because Pompeo infringes on professional code of conducts reteatedly. Notably, he sold weapons to Saudi Arabia arbitrarily, and fired the inspector general subsequently (“Mike Pompeo is the worst secretary of state in history”; Washington Post; August 31, 2020). Through this way, he corrodes American democracy at home!

Consequently, Pompeo could easily withdraw his freedom and democracy causes, once Trump made a trade deal with China, as John Bolton says in his memoir. Therefore, we should rather not trust his causes naïvely. On the other hand, we should be in close contact with the “Deep State” to understand what the “real will of America” is. Then, allies can explore how to coordinate their policy with the United States. Even Americans face difficulties to handle Mike Pompeo, and diplomatic interactions would remain extremely troublesome, as long as the Trump administration continues.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The Catastrophe of US Troop Withdrawal from Germany

President Donald Trump declared abruptly that he would pull out 9,500 soldiers from Germany this June, which dismayed national security officials of both countries. The focal point is that Trump’s appalling election pledge to pull out US forces from overseas is not a bluff, but real. This is not the first time. Last autumn, he abdicated Syrian Kurds who was a key ally for the United States in the War on Terror. Now, Trump is implementing the core policy of his America First pledge in Europe, when his presidential term is ending.

As Richard Haass mentions, Trump’s foreign policy is based on the “Withdrawal Doctrine”. He pulls America out of multilateral agreements like the TPP, the Paris Accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and other arms control agreements. Also, he abdicates security commitments in Syria and Afghanistan (“Trump’s foreign policy doctrine? The Withdrawal Doctrine”; Washington Post; May 28, 2020). Now, he is slashing American military presence in Germany. In my view, Trump’s America First is an inferior version of Obama’s Nation Building at Home, as it just provokes fears, anxieties, and discomfort among the global public.

In accordance with such views of the world, the Trump administration handles Germany vitriolically. From cabinet members like Vice President Mike Pence to nationalist scholars like Jakub Grygiel of the Heritage Foundation and Michael Anton of Hillsdale College, Trump conservatives denounce that Germany freerides the alliance selfishly, and makes use of the EU to fend off their sovereign nation bilateralism (“Trump treats Germany like “America’s worst ally”; Brookings Institution—Order from Chaos; May9, 2019). Furthermore, recently stepped down ambassador Richard Grenell wrongly said "A troop reduction would take place as a tit for tat for Germany’s continued trade surplus" (“Trump ‘to withdraw thousands of US soldiers from Germany by end 2020”; Local; 6 June, 2020). Some sources even say that Trump’s abrupt US troop withdrawal is a personal revenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel, as she declined to attend the G7 that he hosts this July. As a former national security advisor to ex-Vice President Joseph Biden, Julianne Smith of the German Marshall Fund comments that it will just hurt US interests (Twitter; @Julie_C_Smith; June 6). Yes, this is a conflict of interest.

Quite problematically, Trump made this decision without consulting without consulting with the Department of Defense and the EUCOM. However, Grenell denies this, and says that Trump has been in preparation since last year (“National security officials unaware of Trump's decision to cut troops in Germany: report”; Hill; June 9, 2020). The process shows the inherent danger of this administration, that is, vital national security decision is made only by the president and his personal loyalists. Grenell has no military expertise, and he cannot specify which troops to leave. Security experts on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned that Trump is just committed to “Make Russia Great Again” in European geopolitics (“Real or Not, Trump’s Germany Withdrawal Helps Putin”; Chatham House Expert Comment; 8 June, 2020). The real problem is that he prioritizes his reelection campaign to diplomacy. His isolationist base regards his coercive negotiation style to allies as a splendid art of the deal, and they do not care its terrible consequences on US diplomacy (“Opinion: Trump is playing election games with US troops in Germany”; Deutsche Welle; 7 June, 2020).

For American defense planners, Germany is a strategic hub of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Therefore, the US forces maintain a huge military presence in this country. Among those bases, Stutsgart accommodates the headquarters of the EUCOM and the AFRICOM; and Ramstein accommodates the headquarters of the US air force in Europe and Africa, the Allied Air Command of the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers Europe of NATO, and the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center where wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are cured. Just as in Afghanistan (“The Aftermath Plan for Afghanistan”; National Interest; June 6, 2020), Trump thinks that US troops can be redeployed in Germany immediately when necessary. However, from a military point of view, dynamic force employment like this is relatively easy for the air force, but not so for the army and the navy (“The German Drawdown Debacle”; American Interest; June 10, 2020).

Finally, geopolitical consequences need to be considered. Robert Kagan points out that the German problem would reemerge in Europe, after the power vacuum of US pullout. That is, with the largest economy and population in the region, Germany could overwhelm her neighbors, which might destabilize the regional balance of power in Europe, as it happened in the early 20th century (“Interview with Robert Kagan: Permanence of Liberal Democracy 'Is an Illusion'”; Spiegel International; 8 November, 2019). British Prime Minister-then Margaret Thatcher raised the same concern so acutely, when Germany was reunified after the Cold War.

The German problem poses more extensive implications to global security. Like Germany, Trump has been pushing Japan and South Korea to pay more for US troops in their territories (“From Germany to Japan, Trump seeks huge premium from allies hosting US troops”; Straits Times; March 8, 2019). According to James Schoff at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Trump treats Japan more favorably than Germany, as she does not brandish multilateral security framework. Therefore, he says that the problem of nasty pressure over the payment, which is stated in the memoir of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, is not so serious (“U.S. demanded Japan pay $8 bil. annually for troops: Bolton”; Kyodo News; June 22, 2020 and “Bolton memoir raises concern over Japan alliance if Trump re-elected”; Mainichi Shinbun; June 24, 2020). Nevertheless, Trump clings to his idiosyncratic election pledge over the payment and withdrawal, whether it is feasible or not. A second term of this administration would inflict fatal damages on America’s global alliance network.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Russia’s Constitutional Amendment and Foreign Policy

Russian Duma and the Constitutional Court approved the constitutional amendment by President Vladimir Putin last March (“Russian Lawmakers Adopt Putin’s Sweeping Constitutional Amendments”; Moscow Times; March 11, 2020 and “Russia's constitutional court clears proposal to let Putin stay in power beyond term limits”; ABC News; 17 March, 2020). Much attention was drawn to Putin’s presidential term and his status after the amendment. However, I would like to mention furthermore, which is the impact of this amendment on Russian foreign policy. Putin’s nationalist diplomacy is closely intertwined with his domestic traditionalism of tandem rule with the Russian Orthodox Church. I would like to explore how will Putin advance Russian presence in the world through this amendment.

To begin with, I would like to mention ideological resonance with the Western far right. Through the experience of post-Soviet confusion, Putin had become highly alert to socio-cultural and geopolitical challenges of Western liberalism to Russia. His return to Russian Orthodox traditionalism to overcome such political anomie is highly applauded by White Christian nationalists in Europe and North America, because they are also dismayed with liberal globalism. They believe in common Christian traditions with post-Soviet Russia. Quite importantly, Putin’s constitutional amendment mentions faith in god and straight marriage, based on Russian Orthodox values (“Russia's Putin wants traditional marriage and God in constitution”; BBC News; 3 March, 2020). But that is a complete infringement of the principle of the modern nation state, that is, separation of church and state. Fundamentally, it echoes with the argument of the Christian Right-wing in the United States, who demands the Genesis creation narrative of the Bible be taught at school, rather than the theory of evolution.

Putin’s czarist Christian value was put into practice soon after the corona outbreak. Russia provides an extensive corona aid to Italy. The Kremlin seizes this opportunity to boost their influence in this country. Geopolitically, Italy has been the soft belly of NATO, since the Cold War era. The Communist Party in Italy was the largest in Western Europe, and she had close economic ties with the Soviet Union to import oil and to build a car factory there. Even after the fall of the Soviet Union, such strong ties continue. Whether far right or far left, Italian populists have been dissatisfied with strict European standard of transparency of governance, thus, they are willing to embrace Russia and China, rather than their fellow EU nations and organizations (“With Friends Like These: The Kremlin’s Far-Right and Populist Connections in Italy and Austria”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; February 27, 2020).

Particularly in the north, the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, which is sponsored by a Russian Christian ultra-rightist Alexey Komov, who is deeply associated with the American far right organizations, including the WCF (World Congress of Families) and the NRA, serves as the gateway of Russian influence (“A major Russian financing scandal connects to America’s Christian fundamentalists”; Think Progress; July 12, 2019). As if in consort with the Kremlin, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán seized the opportunity of the corona crisis to suspend the parliament and cement his dictatorship furthermore (“Orbán Exploits Coronavirus Pandemic to Destroy Hungary’s Democracy”; Carnegie Endowment --- Strategic Europe; March 31, 2020). In view of those actions of Putin’s Russia and European far right, the corona outbreak accelerates the power game before the incident, rather than changing the framework of international politics completely.

In addition, the proposed amendment defies international norms. It states that domestic law is superior to international law. In practice, Russia has violated international law, such as invading Georgia in 2008, annexing Crimea in 2014, and frequent human rights abuses at home. Also, the Kremlin has not been committed to trade liberalization since joining the WTO in 2012. However, this amendment sends a clear message to Putin’s domestic supporters that Russia stands firmly against the West (“Russian law will trump international law. So what?”; AEIdeas; January 16, 2020). Putin also proposes a ban on territorial cession, which would complicate the relationship with Russian neighbors, particularly, with Japan and Ukraine (“Putin wants constitutional ban on Russia handing land to foreign powers”; Reuters; March 3, 2020).

It is quite likely that these amendments are based on sovereign democracy, which is advocated by Vladislav Surkov, the closest advisor to Putin. The fundamental idea of this ideology is that democracy in Russia is deeply rooted in her sovereignty and cultural tradition, thus, the West should not interfere in domestic issues like human rights and checks and balances (“Putin's "Sovereign Democracy"; Carnegie Moscow Center; July 16, 2006). Open Democracy comments that it is not an intellectually inspiring ideology, and just a propaganda (“'Sovereign democracy', Russian-style”; OpenDemocracy; 16 November, 2006). Interestingly, Surkov’s sovereign democracy resonates with Yoram Hazony’s nationalist democracy among the Western far right, which influences the thoughts of some Trump staff of the United States, notably, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting DNI Richard Grennell, who was the Ambassador to Germany until quite recently. Therefore, Putin’s constitutional amendment poses critical implications globally, much more than commonly understood. Meanwhile, the national referendum on this constitutional amendment, that was scheduled on April 22, was postponed, because of the corona crisis (“Kremlin Mulls Date for Post-Virus Vote on Putin's Constitution Reform”; Moscow Times; April 22, 2020). It is not clear how much it delays Putin’s foreign policy schedule.

Friday, March 20, 2020

US Presidential Election and the Middl East

It is anticipated that the rapid increase of shale oil and gas production could accelerate American isolationism and disengagement from the Middle East. History tells us that isolationism is not viable, despite energy self-sufficiency. Shortly before the United States joined the Allied Forces, her industrial and mining output was overwhelming, producing 60% of world oil output (“Timeline: Oil Dependence and US Foreign Policy”; Council on Foreign Relations). Americans were barely awakened by the Pearl Harbor attack. Obviously, they underestimated savage power interactions of international politics, in those days. Even if the United States is totally disengaged from the Middle East, the mindset among adversary regimes and terrorists shall not change. They educate the youth to blame that the “axis” of the United States, Britain, and Zionists, is responsible for the misfortune of their fellow Muslims. This bigotry has been inherited for generations. Disengagement from this region would just prompt another Pearl Harbor or 9-11 terrorist attacks.

In the midst of the presidential election campaign, the Council on Foreign Relations sent a questionnaire to the candidates about foreign policy. 4 out of 12 questions are Middle East issues, such as, the nuclear deal with Iran, withdrawal from Afghanistan, the murder of Kashoggi by Saudi Arabia, and the peace talk between Israel and Palestine. Voters may be fed up with long wars in the Middle East, but for foreign policy experts, this region is still strategically important. Remember that the Middle East has been the crossroads of civilizations and great power rivalries for centuries. Among the four questions, Afghanistan is the most imminent.

At the end of last February, Donald Trump announced that he made a peace deal with the Taliban to pull out troops from there. Appallingly, Trump has kept his election promise so indiscreetly, to conclude this “Make Taliban Great Again” deal. The United States will create the power vacuum through withdrawing forces in just 14 months, and also, release Taliban terrorists from the prison. Ultimately, that will reinvigorate them (“President Trump's Disgraceful Peace Deal with the Taliban”; Time; March 3, 2020). Furthermore, Trump repeats Barack Obama’s mistake in Middle East policy to withdraw troops from Iraq and Syria prematurely, and Bill Clinton’s mistake in Afghanistan. In 1997, the Clinton administration expected the Taliban to stop sponsoring terrorism, in return for an oil pipeline project in their realm, but that deal failed to prevent the 9-11 attacks. Trump’s deal with the Taliban is similarly dangerous (“Trump’s bad Taliban deal”; Washington Examiner; February 27, 2020). How dare can he blame Democrats?

To prevent another 9-11 attacks, the United States need to engage with the Afghan government continually, through development aid (“The Riskiness of the U.S. Deal to Leave Afghanistan”; Council on Foreign Relations; March 2, 2020). Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, argues furthermore, that the United States conclude a more detailed security pact with the Afghan government separately, regarding the conditions of troop withdrawal and long-term support for them, from economic development to national security. That would assure the continual US presence in Afghanistan (“How Not to Leave Afghanistan”; Project Syndicate; March 3, 2020). Afghanistan has been dependent on US brokering to conclude the results of presidential election since the overthrow of the Taliban, partly because the Afghan constitution assumes unitary rule of the president, while the nation is actually fragmented by tribes and warlords. They do not accept the results straightforwardly (“Afghanistan’s Election Disputes Reflect Its Constitution’s Flaws”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; March 12, 2020).

While rival candidates tell almost unanimously that Trump respect multilateralism and American moralism, on the Iran nuclear deal, Saudi Arabian human rights, and the Israeli-Palestine peace talk, they do not show compelling ideas to refute his irresponsible retreat from Afghanistan. It seems that American leaders and public have no articulate vision of post-911 Middle East yet. Among the candidates, Bernie Sanders is obsessed with an antiwar leftist vision to blame the military-industrial complex and oil business for America’s long wars in the Middle East. That is just another kind of America First. Voters may not be interested in Afghanistan, but the Democrat needs to show a strong alternative to Trump’s way.

Besides those four questions of the CFR questionnaire, Republican Bill Weld, who runs against Trump, replies to the question on Africa in connection with Middle East terrorism, while other candidates simply mention development aid and empowerment. Actually, the Middle East is deeply intertwined with other foreign policy issues. Some people say that the United States focus more on Asia to curtail rising threats of China. But I would argue that the return of American internationalism is more vital than America’s strategic emphasis by region. Disengagement from the Middle East is still reckless and premature.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Ambiguity of the Indo-Pacific Strategy

At the end of the last year, I had some opportunities to attend a couple of public forums on the Indo-Pacific strategy to defend the freedom of navigation and the rule of law in this huge region. Literally speaking, the Indo-Pacific region means the area beyond the east of Suez, but policy debates focus on managing Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea so much that it seems to me that this grand design is confused with, or even contract into the Asia-Pacific strategy. That may be why most of the debates sound rather reactive to Chinese expansion, than proactive to take an initiative for the new order in this region. Therefore, I would like to review the background of the Indo=Pacific strategy from the beginning.

The genesis of the Indo-Pacific strategy today was presented by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) Nairobi in 2016. Abe stressed importance of the sea lane that connects Asia and Africa, and stated that Japan would endorse freedom of navigation and the rule of law for African development and security ("Address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at TICAD VI"; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan; August 27, 2016 and TICAD Yokohama Declaration states the "Indo-Pacific Initiative"; Nihon Keizai Shimbun; August 30, 2019).Abe’s idea is nothing new. Historically, there were some precursors. In the Middle Age, Arab-Muslim merchants dominated trade of goods and slaves from Africa to the Far East on the sea. In the colonial era, the British Empire defended the sea lane from Suez to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Also, the Royal Navy enforced the rule of law to stop slave export from Africa. More recently, the Bush administration launched the Greater Middle East Initiative to fight the War on Terror against Islamic extremism, and to promote democracy throughout the region.

Compared with these historic precedences, it seems to me that current Indo-Pacific strategy lacks panoramic views and consistency. China is a critical challenge, but I would argue that it is necessary to manage threats in the Middle East and Africa like Iran and terrorism, in connection with Chinese geopolitical ambition. Also, we need to consider the multilateral framework for this objective. Actually, Professor Ken Jimbo of Keio University comments that America’s Pacific strategy had evolved virtually into the Indo-Pacific strategy, when the 7th fleet began to fill the vacuum in the Indian Ocean after British withdrawal from the east of Suez in the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, we witness how the Western strategy against Iran is poorly coordinated these days. In view of such multidimensional aspects, let me talk about the involvement by regional stakeholders beyond the Asia-Pacific.

Just as Asia-Pacific nations have different interests and priorities each other, so do the nations of the Indian Ocean. Most noticeably, India wants to maintain strategic autonomy from the United States, though she assumes China as the primary threat in her “Look East” defense strategy. Meanwhile, African nations wonder how much they can embrace China’s BRI. While they do not want the West to preach democracy and human rights, some countries like Kenya worries that China would dominate them through 5G telecommunication systems and tied aid, and even drag them into East Asian conflicts in which they are hardly interested (“Focus: the Potential of the Indo=Pacific Initiative”; JIIA International Affairs; December 2019). Also, we have to accommodate major powers outside the region into the Indo-Pacific strategy. From this point of view, US-European partnership is quite important. However, as President Donald Trump courts conservative base at home to prioritize his reelection to diplomacy, the transatlantic clash of values over new human rights, such as abortion rights and LGBTQ issues, grows further. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mocks them “unreliable rights” ("The Case for Transatlantic Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific"; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Decomber 18, 2019).

As policy coordination among allies stall, another challenger to the Indo-Pacific strategy emerges. Strobe Talbott of the Brookings Institution, comments that Russian influence in the Middle East is growing, while America and Europe split over Iran (“The only winner of the US-Iran showdown is Russia”; Brookings Institution; January 9, 2020). Abe has launched an ambitious initiative to show Japanese political presence in the absence of American leadership. But today, everything has become more complicated than in the days of Arab traders and British imperialists, to implement a grand design to connect Africa and Asia that Abe stated at the TICAD 6 in Nairobi. On one hand, we have to manage specific and imminent problem like Chinese expansionism, but on the other hand, we have to review the concept of the Indo-Pacific strategy in the whole region.