Saturday, December 11, 2021

Should We Decide National Defense Spending by GDP ratio?

Ever since the Cold War era, defense spending has been a critical issue of burden sharing between the United States and its allies. Quite frequently, allies has been demanded to increase the spending, based on GDP ratio. In the Japanese prime minister race this autumn, LDP candidates discussed raising the GDP ratio of defense spending to 2% from the current 1 %.

However, Jeffery Hornung of the RAND Corporation recommended election contestants to focus on more important and more realistic measures to strengthen the US-Japanese alliance, rather than GDP ratio and enemy base strike capability, in an interview with Sankei Shimbum (“What will Kishida do in a crisis of the Taiwan Strait?”; Sankei Shimbun; October 21, 2021). According to Hornung, the United States wants Japan to show what it can do in case of a crisis in East Asia, notably in the Taiwan Strait. If it happens, it is the US troops in Japan that defends Taiwan from China. Therefore, Japan needs to make it clear what kind of contribution is possible, for example, whether to send a submarine to the East China Sea, to use JSDF surface to ship missiles deployed in the Nansei Islands, and anything else.

On another occasion, Hornung argued that Japan needs to maintain political stability, because a short-lived administration is frequently forced to prioritize domestic political agendas, and to depend on the help of the bureaucracy to make and implement policies. Furthermore, it would be less guaranteed whether Japan would comply with a bilateral agreement solidly, if the prime minister were to change frequently, which would ultimately pose severe constraints on US foreign policy (“What Instability at the Top Means for Japan's Alliance with the United States”; Nikkei Asia; September 22, 2021).

Above all, the alliance is mutual, not one-sided. Currently, the US-Japanese alliance is multilateralizing, as shown in European participation in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific initiative, and the development of the Quad with India and Australia. In view of this, it is increasingly important for Japan to discuss the division of the role with those global partners, rather than pursuing self-satisfactory measures that arise from domestic political interactions. We have to remember how much we were bewildered with erratic words and deeds by Donald Trump. Why acting like him?

The debate on spending is meaningless, if it is not associated with real strength. Nevertheless, not every decision in politics is rational. Occasionally, it is just symbolical without solid ground, as shown in the case of the Smithsonian agreement in 1971, in which both Japan and the United States agreed to raise the exchange rate from 360 to 308 yen against the US dollar. As to defense spending, its share in the GDP is an easily understandable indicator, but the definition is different from country to country. Therefore, it is not necessarily effective to impose a sweeping target without examining the real capability.

Turning our eyes to the Atlantic area, we notice that defense spending and burden sharing have been a critical issue between the United States and NATO allies, too. Successive administrations in America have frequently urged Europe to spend more on defense in order to strengthen the capability and solidarity of the alliance, since the Cold War with the Soviet Union. On the other hand, obsessed with the amount of expenditure, Trump pressured European nations that he would pull out US troops if they failed to meet the requirement, and continued to criticize his America First foreign policy. Actually, Trump was cutting troops in Germany at the end of his term, which was overturned by current President Joe Biden.

Trump’s vengeful racketeering over the spending has simply damaged long mutual trust between Europe and America. Instead, he should have explored the division of the role within the regional security framework, and discussed necessary armaments for this objective.Ironically, his Republican Party was supposed to be the party of wise and effective spending at home, but in fact, he did not talk with allies how the increased defense budget should be spent. Rather, his foreign policy of "business acumen" had fallen into nasty emotional clashes within the trans-Atlantic alliance. Regardless of the era and the country, leaders have been repeating the same mistake.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Afghan Withdrawal and Western Self-defeatism

The world was pleased when Joseph Biden edged out Donald Trump in the US presidential election last November. The cohesion of Western alliance was reconfirmed at G7 Carbis Bay, and NATO summit in Brussels. Also, Biden successfully lead NATO to stop Russian invasion of Ukraine in April. However, US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and subsequent chaos there have eroded the trust to the Biden administration from the global community. Trump seized this opportunity to blame Biden, but it was he who made the deal with the Taliban for early pullout.

Remember, Trump Republicans endorsed Trump’s withdrawal schedule, which was set much earlier than Biden’s. For example, Former Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daadler criticized Senator Mitch McConnell for blaming Biden’s withdrawal while opposing continual deployment in Afghanistan. Other Trump Republicans such as Representative Kevin McArthy and Representative Jeff Van Drew are more or less as hypocritical as McConnell. After all, Trump himself deleted his comment to endorse the withdrawal from his website. . Therefore, we should be well-balanced to see domestic political clashes in the United States.

There are so many arguments about Western self-defeatism. I would like to refute some of them. Critics of American attack on Afghanistan argue that it was an imperial overstretch, and an anger-driven overreaction to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. But this is just a criticism for criticism. The attacks on the US homeland were assaults on Western democracy, and inaction to their outrageous crime would have just made the world much more insecure. Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations questions anti-war critics as shown in the following.

Other critics also deny the universal value of Western enlightenment and liberalism, as if they were legitimizing the brutal rule of religious fanaticism by the Taliban. In addition to Islamic tradition, they even mention complicated ethno-sectarian and tribal nature of Afghan history to deny Western installed modern nation state. But the Taliban rule is more centralized and monolithic, as Pashtun Islamic extremists monopolize the power. Therefore, it is utterly wrong that rural people prefer the Taliban, unlike urban people. Also, the Taliban brings alien extremists in this country, such as Al Qaeda as their ally before the 9-11 attacks, and IS-K as their enemy after the US troop withdrawal.

Those comments against the War on terror are riddled with anti-Westernism and lopsided favor of Third World autocrats and terrorists. In fact, the rule of the Karzai and the Ghani administrations was not so bad, though the media report about corruptions in this era. Civil liberties index was gradually improving from the least free of 7 to 5 since US invasion, according to Freedom House. Also, female school attendance rose from almost zero in 2001 to 83% at primary school, and 40% at secondary school in 2018. More impressively, GNI per capita rose from $820 in 2001 to $2,229 in 2019. On the other hand, the Afghan government failed to curb the area of opium cultivation and the number of civilian casualties (“The Legacy of the U.S. War in Afghanistan in Nine Graphics”; Council on Foreign relations; August 17, 2021).

In view of such successful aspects of the pro-Western regime, it is necessary to see why the United States decided to withdraw regardless of partisanship, although the subsequent chaos and geopolitical power vacuum were easily foreseeable. Some people argue that America abandoned Afghanistan to prioritize her national interest. But how and who defines that? Despite bipartisan reluctance of the long war in Afghanistan, Kurt Volker of the Center for European Policy Analysis comments, "America’s most senior career military and diplomatic officers have consistently briefed political leaders during the past decade on the certainty that a US withdrawal would lead to the fall of the Afghan government, a humanitarian disaster, and the perception of a defeated U.S. abandoning its allies" (“Afghanistan’s End Portends a Darker U.S. Future”; CEPA; August 13, 2021). He tells us how much both Trump and Biden alienated the foreign policy establishment to win favor from populists of right and left, regarding Afghanistan.

The above view is widely shared among renowned American foreign policy makers. However, Biden withstands their criticism because voters are annoyed with the “long war” in Afghanistan, and his priorities are given to domestic issues and strategic rivalries against China (“Here's Why Biden Is Sticking With The U.S. Exit From Afghanistan”; NPR News; August 14, 2021). Former National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comments that Biden should have been more compassionate to Afghan people struggling for their nation building, and he should reinforce commitment to Ukraine, Iraq, and Taiwan to restore trust to America from the world. Also, she told American voters that the war in Afghanistan was not intolerably long, as the Korean War was still ongoing, technically (“Condoleezza Rice: The Afghan people didn’t choose the Taliban. They fought and died alongside us.”; Washington Post; August 17, 2021).

In terms of military strategy, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute comments that Biden could have repealed the fatal deal that Trump had made with the Taliban, but he did not (“Biden could have stopped the Taliban. He chose not to.”; AEI ; August 14, 2021). Likewise, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticizes Trump’s hypocrisy and Biden’s dull response to the Taliban advancement (“The Biden administration’s response to the Taliban offensive is delusional”; Washington Post; August 12, 2021 and “Trump & Co. engineered the pullout from Afghanistan. Now they criticize it.”; Washington Post; August 19, 2021). Under the 2020 deal between the Taliban and the Trump, both sides agreed not to allow terrorists to use Afghanistan for their heaven to attack the US homeland. However, terrorism by other extremists such as IS-K is reinvigorated under the Taliban rule of this country. Furthermore, rather than complying with the deal to proceed the peace talk with the Ghani administration, they overthrew the previous regime from Kabul (“U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal: What to Know”; Council on Foreign Relations; March 2, 2020). As mentioned by numerous experts, Trump pressured Ghani to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, in return for a three month ceasefire. Biden did not repeal the deal, which resulted in the abdication of an American ally.

The pullout plan was objected within Biden’s own administration, too. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the president not to withdraw the troop prematurely, but he did not listen, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their recent book “Peril” (“Biden ignored Austin, Blinken warnings on Afghanistan withdrawal: Woodward book”; Hill; September 15, 2021). Also, at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and Chief of the US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie testified that both Trump and Biden made the same “strategic failure”, as they did not keep at least 2,500 troops on the ground to stop the Taliban’s such rapid takeover of Kabul from the Afghan government (“Military leaders, refusing to fault Biden, say troop withdrawal ensured Afghanistan’s collapse”; Washington Post; September 28, 2021).

Clearly, Biden and Trump sidelined the cabal of national security architects. Let me quote critical opinion from Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on behalf of the global community. He made out a case against the withdrawal from Afghanistan, because the decision was based on domestic politics, not strategic consideration. In addition, he argues that wrong priority would leave Western democracies vulnerable to the threat of Islamic extremists, which also invigorates China and Russia (“Why We Must Not Abandon the People of Afghanistan – For Their Sakes and Ours”; Tony Blair Institute for Global Change; 21 August, 2021). In view of such isolationist drag down of the foreign policy establishment in the American home turf from both right and left, Blair told that Europe and NATO should develop the capability to act on their own to defend the Western democracy (Speech at the RUSI; 6 September, 2021). Quite importantly, his independent defense is based on universal values, and unlike that of Japanese Yasukuni nationalists, there is nothing revisionist in his idea.

Historically, Americans easily get excited with an international crisis that infringes on their country, but soon calm down when it passes away, as shown in the Lusitania incident in World War I, according to Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution. Having defeated Germany, they lost enthusiasm to engage with the world. Just as in those days, Americans were outraged by the 9-11 terrorist attacks, but they did not want to rebuild the world order from the damage. They were driven by fear of another jihadist attack when they devotedly supported the War on Terror. However, as voters perceive another attack unlikely during the long war, they have become skeptical of the war, and even suspicious of conspiracy by national security élites. That is the reality of war fatigue (“It wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear.”; Washington Post; August 26, 2021). From his view, we understand why Muslim hate rose then, just as Asian hate after COVID-19. Also, voters kept Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian instincts, while foreign policy establishment pursued Wilsonian visions. Trump, who was supposed to be Jacksonian or even Devisonian, seized this opportunity in 2016. Biden does not have the will and capability to overturn this trend, even though he has overthrown Trump.

At one webinar, just before the presidential election, some renowned Japanese experts discussed the real meaning of Biden’s “foreign policy for the middle class”, but I regret to have belittled his words. That was primarily because the foreign policy establishment endorsed Biden almost unanimously, for fear of Trump’s reelection. Also, Trump even defamed American democracy in his term, as if coordinating with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his Russian affairs advisor Fiona Hill told that he was a bigger threat to national security than Russia (“Trump is a bigger threat to the US than Russia: Former foreign policy expert”; Raw Story, October 10, 2021). In view of the above aspects, I was deeply impressed that Wilsonian experts of both right and left were devoted to support Biden. Furthermore, his campaign team showed a photograph of his bipartisan efforts at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with John McCain, so frequently. But I should have realized that Biden is Biden, not McCain.

While the abrupt withdrawal startled European allies, Japanese people somewhat embrace American defeatism, because they desperately want America’s strategic refocus on China, but that is possible only if the Middle East is stabilized. Today, China is not just a giant in East Asia, as shown in the Belt and Road Initiative. Actually, China is filling the vacuum of power in the Af-Pak region through the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), and India is critically concerned with that. This is a vital point, regarding the reliability of the Quad, the counter-Chinese security partnership in the Indo-Pacific. Indian geostrategist Brahma Challeney tweets as the following, when he contributed an article to Nikkei Asia (“Biden's Afghanistan fiasco is a disaster for Asia”; Nikkei Asia; August 30, 2021).

Remember that Former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster has been firmly against the withdrawal, while he made the national defense strategy to shift the focus of the War on terror to great power rivalries against China and Russia in 2017.

In addition to geopolitics and battleground situations, we have to think again, whether we can talk with the Taliban. A few years ago, Robert Kagan criticized Trump’s close ties with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, despite worldwide condemnation for his murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The point is that dictators are inherently repressive, even if they appear reformative (“The myth of the modernizing dictator”; Washington Post; October 24, 2018). As to the Taliban, we may have to make some humanitarian deals with them, but we should not recognize their legitimacy simply because they appear to become moderate. McMaster says, it does not make sense to talk with the Taliban when the West concedes, as shown in their boast after the successful retake of Kabul (“H.R. McMaster Warns Against 'Self-Delusion' That Afghanistan Withdrawal Means War's End”; News Week; August 21, 2021).

We have to bear in mind that so many strategists in America and the global community from Europe to Asia are against the Trump-Biden withdrawal. Don’t be an irresponsible observer of history to accept the concession of Western democracy to Middle Age barbarianism. Watch responsibly what the Biden administration and global stakeholders will do to Afghanistan to calm down subsequent chaos..

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Japanese Prime Minister on the Global Stage

This June was a monumental season of big diplomatic events, from the G7 Carbis Bay to the US-Russian summit. However, it appeared that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga behaved clumsily and unconfidently during informal interactions with foreign leaders at the G7, which somewhat disquieted Japanese people and media. They worry that his mediocre knowledge and experience in foreign affairs, and furthermore, his moderate proficiency in English are hurdles to boost Japan’s political presence on the global stage. But in my view, what really matters is neither English nor the diplomatic experience, but awareness sharing of every global agenda that is discussed at the G7.

Japanese media are exuberant with the communiqué that mentions the Taiwan Strait for the first time in G7 history. This is a memorable achievement of long Japanese effort to persuade Western allies to raise alert over China. However, this issue is stated in a few lines in clause 60, and more words are spent on other global issues, such as the environment, the digital economy, development and empowerment in the third world, human rights, and infrastructure initiatives to counter China’s BRI, in the joint statement. Not all of those agendas are necessarily familiar to Japanese politicians in their daily work, compared with G7 counterparts in the Atlantic sphere. For example, third world issues in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, are relatively unfamiliar to Nagatacho politicians.

Russia was also an important agenda, particularly when US President Joe Biden was meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, shortly after the G7. However, besides Crimea, it is quite doubtful whether Suga shared common awareness on human rights and election interference with other leaders. That is not simply because Putin did not interfere in Japanese elections. Postwar Japan has prioritized economic relations with foreign nations, and embraced third world autocrats, under the Yoshida doctrine. Russia is also no exception. More noticeably on human rights, Suga worried that hardline denunciation against the Uyghur oppression, would fatally damage Sino-Japanese relations.

Nevertheless, any Japanese prime minister shall not have so much difficulty to discuss global issues in the formal talk, with the help of bureaucrats. But without sharing common awareness by him or herself with foreign leaders, unofficial talk would be extremely difficult, no matter how fluent he or she is in English or other foreign language. It is the mindset that really matters. A narrow-sightedly Japan First politician would behave awkwardly at international conferences, and fail to win credits from the global community.

Domestically, Suga may not be flamboyant and charismatic, but he is consummate in Nagatacho politics and a calm and steady executive. This was typically seen in his job as the Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Abe administration. As the prime minister, he shows a kind of political ideal in his words, “self help, family help, and public help”, which can be interpreted a small government philosophy. Whether big government or small government, this is quite uncommon in Japanese politics, which is predominated by fractional power politics, rather than ideological rivalry. However, Suga’s handling of the Tokyo Olympics is too clumsy to meet the global criteria, as it is scandalized with misogynist and anti-Semitist gaffes by some administrative staff.

Other Japanese leaders also failed to share a common awareness with the global community. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is the most notorious example. As the President of the Organising Committee of the Tokyo Olympic Games, Mori carelessly made a gaff, “"If we increase the number of female board members, we have to make sure their speaking time is restricted somewhat, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying," which forced him to resign (“Facing Backlash For Sexist Remarks, Tokyo Olympics Chief Apologizes But Won't Resign”; NPR News; February 4, 2021). It is not just misogyny that matters. In the face of harsh criticism from the world, Mori made an excuse that he was terribly scolded by his wife and daughters to show that he was neither paternalistic nor machismo at home (“The Tokyo Olympics; Shukan Bunshun; February 11, 2021). Clearly, he did not understand the point. The global community questioned his views on gender issues as a public official, but he confused his private life with public affairs, whether willingly or unwillingly.

Even some Western leaders failed to meet international credential. Typically, Republican candidate’s running mate Sarah Palin disappointed the global audience during the US presidential election in 2008 with her comment on Russia, which hurt the prospect of Senator John McCain’s victory. The Republican Party claimed that Palin had a unique foreign policy experience as the governor of Alaska, adjacent to Russia and Canada. But that was taken skeptically among the public (“Palin not well traveled outside US”; Boston Globe; September 3, 2008). Katie Couric asked her about this point in “CBS Evening News” (“New Sarah Palin Clip: Keeping An Eye On Putin”; CBS News; September 25, 2008). She stressed that Alaska was the first target when Russia attacks the United States. That was not American allies and others in the world wanted. In those days, America and Russia were bickering each other, regarding missile defense system deployment in Eastern Europe, the election in Ukraine, and the conflict in Georgia. Clearly, she failed to share understanding and awareness with foreign policy makers in the United States and allies.

In view of these examples, Japanese politicians and opinion leaders should exonerate themselves from an inferiority complex about English. It is already the 21st century, and we have to evolve from the mindset of the 1970s and the 1980s. Nevertheless, we do not have to worry about it so much. On daily job, American and European leaders are also preoccupied with domestic affairs, as typically seen in the case of Palin. However, a substantial portion of G7 agendas, such as development, empowerment, public health, and so forth, are strongly related to the quality of life of individual citizens, rather than state-to-state relations. Therefore, Suga, or any other Japanese prime minister, would be able to behave a little more confidently, if he or she could interrelate daily domestic affairs to global agendas. Finally, it is a pity that Mori failed to utilize his skill of managing domestic issues in his family for the global public interest.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Asian Hate and Awareness of International Affairs among the Japanese

In America and Europe, Asian hate has risen sharply since the corona outbreak from Wuhan of China in December in the year before the last year, and the Biden administration signed the COVID 19 Hate Crime Act in the United States on May 20 (”Here's What The New Hate Crimes Law Aims To Do As Attacks On Asian Americans Rise”; NPR; May 20, 2021). However, we should bear in mind that the hate is deeper than anxieties of the pandemic. Behind that, there are anti-globalism and domestic political divide, as seen in Brexit and the Trump phenomenon. Ultimately, it is very unlikely that Japanese and other East Asian peoples are safe, while discrimination and violence are rising against blacks, Mulims, Jews, Mexicans, and refugees of other ethnicities.

Since I have mentioned Russian sponsorship of Western far right repeatedly on this blog, it is too late that Japanese people and opinion leaders are awakened about the peril of white Christian nationalism by the corona outbreak. Right-wing populism in the Euro Atlantic sphere has swept over, from Eastern Europe to Italy, and ultimately to Britain and America, the core of the Western alliance. Quite strangely, some people defend that ringleaders of those far right politicians, such as Putin, Trump, and Farage, are actually not racists. Certainly, they may have some non-white, non-Christian friends. However, it is difficult to judge whether someone is racist deep in the heart or not, without academic expertise in psychology. Rather, from political observation and analysis point of view, we should be aware of the malicious nature of those far right politicians that they exploit racist emotion among the grassroots for their political objectives.

As widely known, these far right politicians try to achieve their political goals to the maximum level through agitating social divide and anxieties. Racism is a “convenient tool” to mobilize the masses. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a typical example of such a politician, because his nation governing based on traditional ties with the Russian Orthodox Church and hardline posture against Islamic extremists are highly compatible with white Christian nationalism in Europe and North America from cultural perspectives. Even though Trump lost the election, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concerns with reverse discrimination against the white to provoke dissidents in the United States (”Russia Warns of Anti-White 'Aggression' in U.S.”; Moscow Times; April 1, 2021). However, right-wing populism in the West arose from domestic politics in those countries, not created by Putin. Above all, it is quite unlikely that Putin feels sympathy for white trash in the West. The Kremlin’s sponsorship for the Western far right is an asymmetric warfare to make Western democracies disunified internally and weakened, both in terms of geopolitics and ideology.

Actually, Putin does not cling to race and ideology. While supporting the far right in the West, Russia aids socialist nations such as Cuba and Venezuela in Latin America, and Baa’thist Syria in the Middle East. Also, the Kremlin interfered in the Brexit vote to aid the far right, while sponsoring the left in the Scottish independence movement. We have to bear in mind that the old Soviet Union itself sponsored the Western far right to weaken liberal democracy, even though she assumed the leadership role in global communist movements. Putin is a former agent of the KGB, that carried a vital role in such political manipulation.

On the other hand, former US President Donald Trump exploited racism to exhilarate his rock-solid base, through agitating the political divide at home. Dusing the presidential election in 2016, he exhibited his discriminatory emotion against Mexicans and other immigrants. Even after the inauguration, he did not denounce violent behaviors by white supremacists in the Charlottesville riot. He went beyond that in the presidential in 2020 to remark something that could be taken an agitation of uprising for a notorious racist group, Proud Boys, which even upset the moderator Chris Wallace of conservative FOX News. Furthermore, Trump’s abetting for the January 6 riot just before his step down from the president was so malicious that Twitter suspended his account. The UKIP, which served as Nigel Farage’s platform in the Brexit campaign, had become too racist, particularly too anti-Islam, and that forced Farage himself to leave the party. That is what the supporters of a far right party are, which agitates political divide of the people.

In view of the trend of the Western far right that I mentioned above, the surge of Asian hate was inevitable, even without the corona outbreak. Quite strangely, so called “Japaese Trumper” insist that attacks on Asians come from blacks rather than whites. However, this is the consequence of rising interracial hatred by social divide, and therefore, their argument is completely meaningless. Generally speaking, Japanese people are highly aware of business related affairs such as economic impacts of Brexit, regarding the Euro Atlantic sphere, but not so much interested in an issue like this, which is deeply intertwined with multiple aspects, including culture, religion, and security. After all, we should not think of everything from the mindset of victimhood for anxiety of something that happens everyday, regarding Asian hate. If we thought in that way, we would fall into the same mindset as those who were infatuated with the far right, mainly white working class.

Friday, May 07, 2021

What is Biden’s Foreign Policy Red Line?

In the previous post, I quoted a column by Max Boot, that presents insightful views about Biden’s red line against Iranian attacks on US interests in the Middle East (“Opinion: Biden actually has a strategy for the Middle East, not just a Twitter account”; Washington Post; February 27, 2021). President Joe Biden may be the greatest conciliator, but a compromise can be made through drawing a clear red line. Biden does not have the charisma of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, but according to Professor Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University, he is a president to do his job business as usual in a professional manner (“Unlike Obama and Trump … Why Did Biden Won the Most Votes in History?”; Shukan Bunshun; January 21, 2021).

In my view, Biden’s uncharismatic professionalism comes from his balance taking and red line drawing skills. Actually, both Obama and Trump were so amateur that they had failed to defend vital national interests from the enemy several times. Among them, both predecessors made terrible mistakes in Syria. In 2013, Obama failed to launch retaliatory air strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attacks on civil war oppositions and civilians (“The problem with Obama’s account of the Syrian red-line incident”; Washington Post; October 5, 2016). Trump is in no position to blame his predecessor. In 2018, he withdrew troops from there, since he believed prematurely that the War on Terror was over. As a result, local Kurds were abdicated, despite years of alliance with the United States, which led to vehement criticism from the Pentagon (“Trump orders US troops out of Syria, declares victory over ISIS; senators slam action as mistake”; USA Today; December 19, 2018). Also, French President Emmanuel Macron remarked the famous phrase, "What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO” (“NATO alliance experiencing brain death, says Macron”; BBC News; 7 November, 2019). Since then, it has turned out that Trump was wrong, as security in Syria has not improved.

In view of diplomatic failures of Obama and Trump, how does Biden draw red lines to defend vital interests of the United States around the world? To begin with, I would like to mention Russia, because President Vladimir Putin crossed the line more outrageously than any other leaders in the world. As mentioned in the NIC report this March, Russia intervened the presidential election of the United States again in 2020 to boost the Republican candidate Donald Trump. Obviously, Russia has crossed the red line to attack the American homeland repeatedly. In other words, this is another 9-11 attacks. Even China hesitated to resort to such an aggression. According to the report, Putin collaborated with Trump’s election staff, along with launching cyber attacks.

Remember that the Kremlin has been intervening elections in Europe long before Brexit and Trump to delegitimize liberal democracy of the West. Far right politicians, such as Putin, Trump, and Nigel Farage of the UKIP, have utilized anger and racism among the white working class in Europe and America to achieve their political objectives. A Ukrainian journalist Anton Shekhovtsov says that Russian sponsorship of the Western far right is more deep rooted than Putin and his siloviki fellows, and it dates back to the Soviet era. Deplorably, people in Japan and other East Asia raise concerns with the rise of Asian hate in the West now, which is a natural consequence of Russian support of White Christian nationalists, while they were almost unaware of the threat of the Kremlin’s political manipulation in the Euro-Atlantic sphere.

In response to Russian aggression, Biden draws clear red line. Following the release of the NIC report, he tightened sanctions on Russia with strong support from allies (“Biden administration imposes significant economic sanctions on Russia over cyberspying, efforts to influence presidential election”; Washington Post; April 16, 2021). In addition, Biden pressured Putin to withdraw troops from the border area with Ukraine in close cooperation with NATO allies, and its success is impressive enough to discard Trump’s America First (“Russia to Withdraw Troops From Ukraine Border, Crimea”; Moscow Times; April 22, 2021). Remember, Obama failed to defend America’s red line when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. Trump was even worse. Not only did he admit the Russian annexation, he said the he trusted the intelligence of the Russian side rather than that of the American side, regarding the Kremlin’s interference in the presidential election that he won, at the Helsinki summit with Putin. That revealed Trump has no understanding of presidential duties. We have to bear in mind that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounces Russian interference in the Brexit vote, even though that enabled him to become the prime minister. He understands Britain’s red line.

Unlike Russia, China did not intervene in the election, but this country is the primary challenger to Pax Americana. China sets her own red lines in her neighboring waters unilaterally in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and around the Taiwan Strait, which is commonly called the Chinese Monroe Doctrine. Meanwhile, the United States is imposing red lines of global rules and norms, regarding freedom of Uyghur and Hong Kong. For China, the latter may sound US-led aggression on her homeland. Actually Foreign Minister Wang Yi demanded Japan not join the US-UK-EU-Canadian coalition to defend human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong (“China tells Japan to stay out of Hong Kong, Xinjiang issues”; Straits Times; April 6, 2021). Also, China and America bicker over the hegemony of information technology.

In view of these contentions, the fact that China hesitated to interfere the 2020 election is quite remarkable, though Russia did it for Trump and Iran did it for Biden. Like Iran, China considered assisting Biden to weaken the populist hawk in the election. However, neither China nor Iran was so wishful as to believe that a Democrat president would be dovish. Some realists talk about Sino-American unrevealed ties behind the curtain, despite serious rivalries between both countries in public. When we talk about mutual interdependence between China and liberal democratic nations, we tend to focus on our vulnerabilities to this country, but everything is vice versa.

Therefore, let me review the China part of the NIC report. Though Beijing launched negative propagandas against Trump’s foreign policy and corona crisis management through the state media, that was business as usual, and those did not target the election. The point is that China feared the risk of interference, which could fatally damage her relations with the United States. Even if Trump won the election, China needed to improve the relationship. More importantly, there was no prospect of an emergence of a pro-Chinese administration, since America’s China policy was bipartisan. Xi Jinping learned a lesson from Putin’s interference in the election in 2016, that had turned Russo-American relations worse. Also, it is vital to bear in mind that China did not feel an acute threat of Trump’s unilateralism as Iran did. Beijing even thought Trump would be more convenient than Biden in some senses, in hope of isolating the United States from her allies. China is redrawing red lines of geopolitics and values, but still, this country does not dare to infringe on America’s ultimate red line.

Though Biden is rebuilding US foreign policy, his red line regarding Afghanistan is questionable. He may postpone the schedule of withdrawal from Trump’s initial plan, but that does not fix the problem, as the Taliban could retake Kabul sooner or later. In that case, every achievement that America made will be ruined. Isolationist voters, whether right or left, easily fall into cost and benefit thinking of Trump, and Biden needs to reorient such mindsets among the public to defend America’s national security red line. Richard Haas of the Council on Foreign Relations comments that Afghan policy needs to be understood from long term views, notably, avoiding the local government's defeat at an acceptable cost, rather than a clear-cut victory against terrorists.

Furthermore, Tom Tougendhat, British MP and an army veteran of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, insists that enemies elsewhere will also be emboldened to see that the United States and NATO allies are unwilling to sustain even a small presence.

Their concerns are shared among American national security community as expressed in the report by the SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) this March. The SIGAR report articulates that Afghanistan is far from self-reliant to maintain security with her own funding resources, and it raises critical risks associated with troop withdrawal. Since the US-Taliban agreement on February 29 last year, terrorist attacks on the ANDSF (Afghan National Defense and Security Forces) have risen sharply. Despite this, the number of US troops and the amount of the budget to support the local security forces are restrained, today. Since the prospect of the peace negotiation is uncertain, a cut of civilian and military presence of the United States would deteriorate the security environment, which could jeopardize US-led reconstruction programs, such as anti-corruption measure, socio-economic development including public health, anti-narcotics operation, and women’s rights.

In view of such insecurity and problems of the troop pullout, the SIGAR report recommends that the United States and major aid donors upgrade oversight capability of the program through structural reform of the aid system and increased funding. But that does not resolve the fundamental problem of the power vacuum. It seems that Biden is making a dangerous compromise with the fatigue of the long war among domestic voters as Trump did. That makes America’s red line fragile, regarding Afghanistan. Democracy originates from the rule of taxpayers by themselves, but paradoxically, taxpayers are not necessarily responsible and well-aware of public affairs. Occasionally, they are liable to sacrifice national or global public interests for their own narrow benefit. With a long career in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden is more professional to lead American diplomacy than Obama and Trump were, but still, his red line on Afghanistan needs to be reconsidered .

Monday, March 29, 2021

Biden’s Sense of Balance in His Diplomacy

The global community is keenly watching how much President Joseph Biden is going to shift his country away from America First of Donald Trump. This February, he delivered his first foreign policy speech at the Department of State, and subsequently, at the Munich Security Conference. Scholars and commentators elaborate to foresee his foreign policy through interpreting the text word by word. Meanwhile, we have to compare his words and his deeds from comprehensive viewpoints.

Let me review his speeches first. In the speech at the State Department, Biden consistently defends the human rights of political oppositions and ethnic minorities in Russia, China, and the Middle East. Also, global well-being issues like the environment are vital. Meanwhile, regarding China, Biden balances moral high ground of American idealism and geoeconomics of realism. That is not the case with Russia, since she has been intervening public voting in Europe and America, notably for Brexit and Trump. According to a recently publicized report by the National Intelligence Council, Russia interfered in the presidential election to boost Trump in 2020 again, through hacking and personal contacts with his team. While China also considered such interference to defame Trump, she abandoned the idea in the end (“Putin targeted people close to Trump in bid to influence 2020 election, U.S. intelligence says”; Washington Post; March 17, 2020). Since the threat of election intervention has grown so serious that Britain has decided to overturn her long established nuclear strategy, and she is rebuilding the stockpile of warheads to retaliate asymmetrically against cyber attacks by the enemy (“Boris Johnson warns Tories off cold war with China”; Times; March 16, 2021 and here).

Subsequently, at the Munich Security Conference on February 19, Biden stressed that America was in full respect of Article V of NATO, thereby managing regional and global security issues mutually, including emerging challenges of China, Indo-Pacific navigations, and the corona outbreak. While Europeans welcome his willingness to overturn Trump’s isolationism, some of them like Germany and France, may pursue trans-Atlantic multilateralism via their own strategic autonomy, rather than via close partnership with the United States (“Opinion: Message from Munich: Resilience is the foundation of trans-Atlantic security”; Deutsche Welle; 19 February, 2021). Meanwhile, in Asia, as Professor Joseph Nye at Harvard University comments, Xi Jinping’s China has grown excessively assertive in regional security and trade, but the United States cannot sever ties with this country, due to interdependence in the economy and ecological issues. Therefore, he argues that the United States needs a staunch alliance with Japan more than ever (“Biden’s Asian Triangle”; Project Syndicate; February 4, 2021). That was typically illustrated in the two plus two meeting in Tokyo the other day.

According to Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, the core of Biden’s foreign policy consists of rebuilding at home, working with allies, embracing diplomacy, participating in international institutions and advocating for democracy. However, domestic troubles that Trump has left, such as political polarization and racism that typically appeared in the January 6 riot, as well as failure in handling the corona crisis, are hindering Biden from success in his foreign policy (“Whither US Foreign Policy?”; Project Syndicate; February 9, 2021 and here). The most critical constraint to American engagement with the world is public perception at home, according to Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution. Americans are reluctant to assume their burden as the superpower, because they underestimate the power of their country. This is typically seen in the fatigue of limited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan among the public. They yearn the days when the United States kept herself aloof from Old World political manipulation, and pursued her own economic prosperity. Yet, public awareness of world affairs rises keenly, when an international crisis breaks out. The Trump administration, that arose from such naïve anti-globalism, was a stress test for American internationalism, but people are realizing that 19th century isolationism is not helpful for the country. Kagan stresses that it is America’s vital interest to meet the noblesse oblige of the superpower, and voters should understand this (“A Superpower, Like It or Not: Why Americans Must Accept Their Global Role”; Foreign Affairs; March/April 2021).

Despite those domestic and global constraints, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Biden “the greatest conciliator” as his old friend, in “BBC Breakfast” on November 9 last year. Throughout Biden’s long career in the Senate, his sense of balance was an asset. As the Vice President of the Obama administration, he settled the budget dispute in 2013 to avoid sequestration. In diplomacy as the president, a typical case of his balancing skill is seen in his handling of Saudi Arabia. He publicized a long-withheld U.S. intelligence report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on February 26, that attributes the murder of Jamal Kashoggi to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). While Biden has imposed the Kashoggi ban on 76 Saudis to deny entry visas to the United States, the Crown Prince was exempted from the ban, despite strong requests from human rights groups and his fellow Democrats such as Senator Ron Wyden. However, unlike the Trump administration, which had direct contacts with MBS regularly, the Biden administration keeps communications with him within professional necessity, that is, to treat him just as the defense minister rather than the de facto supreme leader, and does not to invite him for a bilateral meeting for the time being (“FAQ: What Biden did — and didn’t do — after U.S. report on Khashoggi’s killing by Saudi agents”; Washington Post; February 28, 2021).

In contrast with “pragmatic realism” of Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Biden foreign policy team gives high priority to human rights. Meanwhile, as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations calls Saudi Arabia a “frenemy”, simplistic sanctions would just embolden Iran in Middle East geopolitics. He mentions Biden’s way of balancing and reconciliation concisely. Besides condemning the murder of Kashoggi, Biden ended military support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen. Furthermore, he argues that while Biden is making Saudi Crown Prince more controllable, he takes more resolute actions to Iranian aggressions in the region than Trump did in his term. In response to their missile, rocket, and drone attacks on US and allied facilities in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Iraq, since the inauguration, Biden launched critical airstrikes in Syria to destroy pro-Iranian militias, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyd al-Shuhada on February 25. Thereby, he sends a red line message to Iran that his administration is willing to talk with them, but the United States shall not tolerate any kind of their attacks on US interests (“Biden administration conducts strike on Iranian-linked fighters in Syria”; Washington post; February 26, 2021).

Meanwhile, Trump did not respond so steadfastly to Iran and Houthis’ attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq from 2019 to late 2020, despite his notorious and squalid verbal abuses on Twitter and withdrawal from the JCPOA. Actually, he left the job of containing Iran and her proxies to Saudi Arabia, as he declared in his 2016 election pledge (“Opinion: Biden actually has a strategy for the Middle East, not just a Twitter account”; Washington Post; February 27, 2021). The sense of balance that Biden shows in his Middle East policy is likely to be the key to his foreign policy, vis-à-vis China, and similarly, vis-à-vis Russia. Also, he would strike a sensitive balance of intertwined interests, in dealing with global allies and domestic stakeholders.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

How should America restore trust from the World?

The presidential election this November resulted in the loss of Donald Trump, who advocated America First. Though foreign policy was not a top issue for voters in general, his illiberal, zero sum and deal-oriented isolationism was flatly rejected. However, the victory of centrist Joseph Biden is just the beginning to reinvigorate American leadership in the world.Prior to the election, former Secretary of State George Shultz in the Reagan era showed a guideline to nurture trust to US foreign policy from the global community. Most importantly, Shultz explores the meaning of trust in diplomacy through comparing the Reagan-Gorbachev interactions with myopic zero sum diplomacy today (“On Trust”; Foreign Service Journal; November 2020). He does not blame specific president, but the Washington Post understands his article implicit criticism to the Trump administration.

To begin with, Shultz makes a clear distinction between personal friendship and intergovernmental relations, regarding the trust. In interstate relations, trust is beyond honesty, and it arises from the will of commitment to implement the agreement. He recalls the day when the Reagan administration found that Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev shared common concerns with nuclear weapons, and he is trustworthy to undertake the common goal to implement the mutual agreement. The Washington Post editorial call an attention to “After nearly four years of an administration that seems to have assumed that American relations with the rest of the world is a zero-sum game and that the game is based largely on the personal relations between national leaders, distrust abounds internationally” in his article (“George Shultz, elder statesman, laments distrust of U.S. abroad under Trump administration”; Washington Post; October 31, 2020), because that has limited the capability of the government to implement foreign policy, since decision making process has become increasingly incoherent. The president's sporadic tweets worsened it furthermore.

In view of the transition of international systems due to new challenges of economics, technology, and pandemics, Shultz argues that the United States needs skillful diplomacy and visionary leadership to stay influential to make a “free and open” world. He mentions furthermore, that the United States needs strategic thinking to facilitate to shape the course of history in line with her values and interests. However, current America relies on military intimidation rather than dedicated diplomatic efforts, which provokes anti-American sentiment globally, while the Cold War II against China and Russia is nearing.

How is Joseph Biden going to rebuild trust from the world? Though the global public is frustrated with Trumpism, they are still examining whether Biden’s foreign policy priorities are compatible with their critical interests. Unlike Europeans, Asians take impending threats of China more seriously than climate change, democracy, human rights, etc. Let’s review Biden’s vision of the world spoken by himself (“Why America Must Lead Again”; Foreign Affairs; March/April, 2020). At the beginning of the essay, he tells ambitiously to restore American leadership through overthrowing Trumpian isolationism, thereby checking challengers such as China and Russia. The article gives an impression to readers that Biden prioritizes global issues of civic wellness in his foreign policy, such as global warming, mass migration, pandemics, and so forth. Also, he reconfirms that democracy promotion is the keystone of US foreign policy, which Trump sidelined so scornfully. This would be helpful to rebuild trust between the United States and the global community, notably with European allies.

However, those lofty agendas are “luxuries” for many of Asian and Gulf Arab nations, as they are on the front line of savage geopolitical confrontations against China and Iran respectively. Biden’s multilateralism and international cooperation sounds conciliatory to their enemies, vis-à-vis, Trump’s reality show like tough posture, even though John Bolton criticizes it harshly. Also, there is still a concern that the United States will be continually preoccupied with domestic affairs, even though Biden upholds American leadership. Actually, he gives high priority to rebuild democracy at home. But it is too simplistic to take it domestically-oriented, because autocratic rivals make use of the political divide in the United States to erode democratic ideals in the world. Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin disinforms the Western public and sponsors far right movements in the West, in order to discredit Western liberalism and weaken the trans-Atlantic alliance. Regarding his “foreign policy for the middle class”, it is intended to defend the American quality of life from China, through uncompromising rivalries in the economy and technology. Therefore, it is premature to equate Biden’s foreign policy with Obama’s dovish “Nation building at home”.

For further understanding of Biden’s foreign policy, let’s see an article by his Secretary of State nominee Anthony Blinken and Robert Kagan a year before the election, in which they jointly argued that Trump’s America First had ruined Foreign Service efforts for preventive diplomacy and deterrence (“‘America First’ is only making the world worse. Here’s a better approach.”; Washington Post; January 2, 2019). The American Foreign Service has been preventing wars between regional powers such as India and Pakistan, Israel and the Arab states, China and Japan, and so forth. Contrary to prevention and deterrence, Trump has triggered geopolitical competition among great powers furthermore, through recognizing the spheres of influence of strategic challengers, notably as shown in Russian annexation of Crimea. As both experts mention, American voters should know, “properly empowered, U.S. diplomacy can save trillions of dollars and many thousands of lives that would otherwise be spent responding to crises that explode because we ignored problems while they were still manageable.” The diplomacy that Blinken and Kagan advocate would help America restore trust from the global public.

Finally, we must bear in mind that the trust between the United States and the global community, both friends and foes, is mutual. Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fough Rasmussen speaks from a European perspective that the United States needs to reassure her engagement with the democratic world, while European allies should be more proactive to take responsibilities for global security, so as not to provoke isolationist mindsets of victimhood among American voters of the right and the left (“A New Way to Lead the Free World”; Wall Street Journal; December 15, 2020). The notion of trust that Shultz upholds in his article is vital for both America and her allies around the world. Also, we should bear in mind that Trump has shattered mutual trust with America’s best partners with his vulgar words and phrases. Deplorably, Trump Republicans belittle this just a matter of his style. They are appallingly ignorant, as opposed to a Reagan Republican Shultz.