7 September 2013

How Geopolitics Doomed the Clash of Civilizations

By Zachary Keck
September 7, 2013.

Foreign Affairs has published a new ebook to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” essay.

I have mixed feelings about the Clash of Civilizations. On the one hand, it was an important essay that has helped frame the debate on the post-Cold War era which reflects on the genius and importance of Huntington himself. On the other hand, the popularity of the essay outside of academia has meant that it has come to completely overshadow Huntington’s more impressive works, like The Solider and the State and Political Order in Changing Societies. It’s a shame, in some sense, that Huntington’s legacy won’t be defined by his best works.

Make no mistake, although Clash of Civilizations has been popular, Huntington’s bold thesis has not proven correct. Back in 2010 Richard Betts argued that three books more than any others have shaped the debate about the post-Cold War era: Huntington’sClash of Civilizations, Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man Standing, and John Mearsheimer’s Tragedy of Great Power Politics. It seems indisputable that Huntington’s has been the least accurate, and will be in the decades to come. 

No universal ideological challenge has been put forth to challenge liberal democracy, and even the most illiberal states in the world still adopt aspects of liberal democracy like (unfair) elections to enhance their legitimacy. Similarly, while the U.S. has failed to act as an offshore balancer during unipolarity, there are already myriad signs that China’s rise will mark a return to the tragedy of great power politics (Mearsheimer’s updating the book to include a new concluding chapter on China’s rise).

While Huntington’s thesis may have seemed prescient in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that was an illusion. Al-Qaeda was always more a battle within a civilization than one between them, and the dozen years since 9/11 have made that unmistakably clear. This is not to say that nothing from the “Clash of Civilizations” has come to pass. Recent events in Libya and Syria have demonstrated that the West and the rest often come out on different ends on the question of whether sovereignty is absolute or can be trumped by human rights abuses.

More notably, Huntington’s acknowledgment that none of the conflicts in the post-Cold War era at the time of his writing had constituted a “full-scale war between civilizations, but each involved some elements of civilization rallying,” has often continued to hold true. Still, the clash of civilization has not dominated world politics in the post-Cold War world and the fault lines between civilizations have not been the battle lines of the era, nor do they appear likely to be in the future.

So why was Huntington’s thesis so off-mark? A number of factors had an impact. For instance, the spread of communicative technology has resulted more in the decentralization of power than in the centralization Huntington foresaw, and upon which a theory of civilization required. 

But one factor more than any other doomed the clash of civilizations: geopolitics.

1913-2013: How Russia Botched an Entire Century

Could Russia have been as successful as the United States?

September 5, 2013

Russian Tsar Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917)

Takeaways

A century ago, before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Russia was on the verge of becoming the China of the day..
Pre-revolutionary Russia was developing into a major global economic power naturally and consistently.
Russia had abolished serfdom in 1861, 2 years before President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in the US.
Russia still suffers from Soviet legacies. It is among the poorest & technologically backward European states.

In a serf-like state, Russia's raw material riches benefit small, kleptocratic elites, who shift assets abroad.

Russia has wasted its resources, especially human ones. It literally killed off many talented people.

Russia has been driven into the ground, but even now it has much unrealized potential and may yet rise up.

To meet its potential, Russia will need to change its Soviet-inherited kleptocratic political system.

One hundred years ago, shortly before the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Russia was on the verge of becoming the China of the day. It had embarked on the path to industrial capitalism two or three decades after the United States and Germany.

By the start of World War I, it was developing dynamically enough to get on track to catch up with the leading industrial powers of the day.

The Russia of that era was an enormous country, even larger than the Soviet Union at its peak, because it included both Poland and Finland within its borders. It also boasted tremendous natural resources and a vast, diversified population.

Russia featured remarkably modern elements. For example, it abolished serfdom in 1861, two years before President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.

In the countryside, a class of prosperous peasants was emerging. And in Russia’s southern provinces and in Ukraine, there were large, productive farms — similar to those later found in the American Midwest.

These farms made Russia the breadbasket of the world, accounting for around one-third of the global wheat trade before World War I. In fact, Russia’s early 20th century wheat traders were so sophisticated that they initiated hedging prices and used financial markets in London and New York for their crops.

In the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, coal and steel production was expanding, also using British investment and knowhow.

The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway, inaugurated in 1890, linked European Russia with the Pacific Coast. This made the economic development and exploration of Siberia possible, a move from which even today’s Russia benefits most handsomely.

POLITICIANS AND PLURALISM

The inclusive ideals of the republic must not be lost sight of now
Politics and play

By Ramachandra Guha

Indian pluralism was always hard won. The riots during Partition produced an enormous sense of insecurity among India’s minorities. Mahatma Gandhi’s death, by creating a sense of shock and outrage, allowed Jawaharlal Nehru’s government to isolate extremist Hindus, and bring the mainstream towards a more moderate, inclusive, plural sense of what it meant to be Indian. Through the 1950s there were no major communal riots. This allowed the government to unite the nation by framing a democratic and federal Constitution, allowing each major linguistic group its own state, and beginning the process of economic development.

This extended period of social peace was broken in 1963 by riots in Jabalpur and in Rourkela. For the next 20 years, many towns in north and central India witnessed sectarian strife between Hindus and Muslims. Each of these incidents was discrete, unconnected to any other. But each polarized Hindus and Muslims, creating suspicion, fear, and paranoia in the towns where the violence had taken place. Then, in the early 1980s, there was conflict between Hindus and Sikhs, first in the Punjab (promoted by Khalistani terrorists), and later in Delhi and other towns in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s death, when thousands of Sikhs were butchered by mobs led by Congress leaders.

In the second half of the 1980s, violence between Hindus and Muslims intensified. The Ayodhya movement led to a series of riots, small and large, across northern and western India. These claimed tens of thousands of lives and rendered several million people homeless. As numerous studies by scholars, journalists and civil liberties groups have shown, in these riots Muslims suffered disproportionately. There was, however, a significant exception — the state of Jammu and Kashmir, where, in the late 1980s, a secessionist movement took on an increasingly fundamentalist and jihadist cast, leading to the forced expulsion of perhaps 300,000 Pandits from the valley.

Through the 1980s and 1990s I lived mostly in north India. I witnessed, with an increasing sense of horror, the alienation between Hindus and Muslims. I visited Bhagalpur in 1989, and saw how mobs, encouraged by activists of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, had set upon Muslim homes and Muslim villages. I was also dismayed by the bigotry displayed by highly educated professionals. On December 6, 1993 — the first anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid — I was part of a selection committee in New Delhi, choosing a new director for the G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. The other experts were the secretary of the ministry of environment, a distinguished Himalayan botanist, and a scientist teaching in a university in south Delhi. An hour after the scheduled time, the last-named had not arrived. This may have been because he carried a Muslim name, and feared that the streets had been taken over by Hindutva goons in a celebratory mood. While the secretary and I expressed empathy with our absent colleague, the botanist gleefully used a Hindi expression whose very inadequate English translation would be: “The b....r is shit scared.”

Is China Occupying 640 km of Indian Territory?

By Zachary Keck
September 6, 2013

China’s People’s Liberation Army has “incrementally” occupied 640 km of Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) that demarches the Sino-Indo border, Indian media sources reported this week, citing a report by an official advisory body.

According to reports in the Hindustan Times and Headlines Today, Chinese military forces have gradually assumed control over an aggregate of 640 km across three sectors along the border in Depsang, Chumar and Pangong Tso. The media reports also said that after a PLA incursion into Indian territory on April 15, Indian forces have been prevented from patrolling the Depsang Bulge.

The media outlets based their stories on a report they had obtained by the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), an official advisory board, which was submitted to the Prime Minister’s office on August 10 (Headlines Today said August 12). According to the Prime Minister’s office, the NSAB is “is a multi-disciplinary body comprising persons of eminence form outside Government with the principal function of providing long- term prognosis and analysis to the National Security Council and recommending solutions and policy options to the issues raised by them.”

The report was authored by Shyam Saran, the NSAB chairman, who was visiting the area from August 2 through August 9 at the request of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Saran, a former foreign secretary, was one of the leading architects of India’s plan to build up its infrastructure along the border in order to better protect it from Chinese forces.

The issue sparked a heated debate in India’s parliament, the Lok Sabha. Yashwant Sinha, a senior Parliamentary leader from the opposition party, BJP, said this week: “Parliament appears to be unaware of the situation there [along the border] and the defense minister should clarify the actual position.”

Defense Minister A.K. Antony, however, refused to comment on the report when approached by Headlines Today.

When asked about the report by Headlines Today, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said:

“Actions are taken on the basis of information that is received. It is not possible to keep forces everywhere permanently. We take action if we get to know something. There is nothing to worry about. We have acted on all information.”

Khursid refused to comment on the specifics of the NSAB report, however.

Raghuram Rajan: A New Posterboy for Indian Leadership?

By Shreyasi Singh
September 6, 2013

Amid fanfare usually reserved for movies stars and rock bands, Raghuram Rajan, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country’s central bank, earlier this week. Rajan moved from the United States to India a little over a year ago when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed him as Special Economic Advisor to the Government of India.

Rajan came to India with a formidable reputation, having served as the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund between 2003 and 2007. He was touted as one of the few economists to have forecast the global financial crisis of 2008. His appointment as Chief Economic Advisor was much tracked even then, with India Inc. hoping he would be a sane, logical voice for market and financial reforms in a government that seemed to be struggling unsuccessfully to plot the right economic path.

But ever since he was named the next governor of the RBI, media coverage of Rajan has been equal parts nauseating and bemusing. In article after article, gushing journalists have cited his long list of academic achievements. His preppy, good looks have also received disproportionate coverage. The country’s leading business newspaper, The Economic Times had no less than six photographs and illustrations of Rajan on the day after he took over from his predecessor D. Subbarao, including one that cast him as a cool James Bond-esque figure poised to reclaim the Indian rupee’s “stolen” value and bring the mojo back to India’s spluttering economy (low growth, high inflation, a treacherous current account deficit).

In his address at the press conference during the handover ceremony—broadcast ad nauseam on all major news channels—Rajan struck just the right notes in his inaugural conference as India’s youngest RBI governor, saying he would award long-pending bank licenses by January 2014, improve financial inclusion, and “sustain confidence in the value of the money.”

Mumbai-based business journalist Ankush Chibber called the attention “the media’s giant crush on Rajan.” Even top industrialist Anand Mahindra tweeted, “Raghu Rajan gave a master class in how to handle your first day in a new leadership role during a crisis. Be calm, collected and communicative.”

These reactions made me wonder if the intensity of the effusive media coverage was really more about India’s hunger for progressive, credible and communicative leadership. Rajan is a good public speaker; somebody clearly trained in the American way of speech who puts a premium on communicating complex ideas in a simple idiom with a casual, friendly air of authority. It’s a combination of leadership skills mostly lacking in several of our government institutions. Take the Congress Party. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is conspicuous with his silence—and even when he does address the press, or the nation, he usually sticks to an uninspired script of platitudes.

Chinese violations of the LAC (Line of Actual Control) border with India continues.

September 6, 2013

Most of the recent Chinese intrusions are in the northwest and have, in effect, taken control of 640 square kilometers of territory on the Indian side of the border. There are three separate areas where Chinese troops have made these incursions. In response India announced it is expanding its network of border bases along the 3,488 kilometer Tibet frontier. Currently there are 150 of these small, fortified bases. Most (98) of these outposts will be enlarged and improved while 35 new ones will be built over the next four years. Negotiations to settle the dispute are stalled.

The LAC is also known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line and is the unofficial border between India and China. The LAC is 4,057 kilometers long and is mostly Tibet on the Chinese side. China claims much territory that is now considered part of India because when Tibet was independent in the early 20th century Tibet agreed to the MacCartney-MacDonald Line. When China reconquered Tibet in the 1950s that border agreement was renounced as “unfair”. China has never backed away from its claims on Indian territory and its violation of the LAC is a major crises for India (which has a defense budget one third that of China’s).

The Chinese believe that the Indians are militarily weaker and not willing to confront a gradual and persistent Chinese effort to take control of contested area. Sometimes this attitudes shows up in the Chinese media, Over the last week Chinese state controlled media has been mocking the capabilities of the Indian Navy, using the August 14th explosion that sank a Russian built Indian Kilo class sub while docked near Mumbai as an example. The 16 year old submarine had recently returned from Russia after an $80 million refurbishment. Eighteen sailors were killed as the sub sank at dockside. The Chinese media also criticized the earlier launching of India’s first Indian built aircraft carrier as essentially foreign made because the vessel used French blueprints, Russian aircraft and American engines. This harsh commentary ignored that fact that China has had similar problems with its warships in the recent past and that Chinese built warships use lots of foreign technology (usually stolen). This public disparagement angered many Indians and in response India has cancelled the visit of a senior air force general, in response to a Chinese invitation last month.

India is alarmed at growing Chinese and Pakistani investment in neighboring Sri Lanka. Chinese firms are more experienced and effective at arranging these foreign investments and India’s smaller neighbor feels more comfortable with investment from distant China rather than neighbor (and sometimes big bully) India. The Chinese economic investments often have military implications, like China building satellite ground stations in Sri Lanka. There is also growing Sri Lankan military cooperation with China and Pakistan.

As a good will gesture both nations meanwhile agreed to hold joint counter-terrorism drills in November. This would be the third time this has been done, although it hasn’t happened for the past five years because of the growing Chinese aggressiveness along the LAC. These counter-terrorism drills only involve 150 special operations troops from either country and are mostly for show.

Rural eastern India continues to suffer from a low-level war with Maoist rebels. These armed leftists have been involved in incidents that have left over 200 dead so far this year. For the last few years the Indian national police have been using a special force of nearly 100,000 para-military troops and civilians to destroy the Maoist organization (which has about 11,000 armed followers and three times as many unarmed supporters).

War in Afghanistan: Campaign Progress, Political Strategy, and Issues for Congress, August 29, 2013


Myanmar: Bust to Boom or Bust to Bust?

By Peter Birgbauer
September 5, 2013

Walking down the street in Yangon, the feeling of change is palpable. New buildings are being constructed and you cannot help but notice the influx of foreign tourists visiting the local sites. There is a lot to like about the opening of one of the world’s last frontiers, especially given its size, geography and vast raw materials. At close to 60 million people, Myanmar is the size of France and shares a border with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Its geographic proximity to India and China alone makes Myanmar an intriguing economic and geopolitical partner and it is clear that the United States has taken notice. Relations between Myanmar and the United States have escalated rapidly after years of sanctions, isolation and Chinese based-influence in the country formerly known as Burma. According to a June 2013 McKinsey report, Myanmar’s GDP is poised to quadruple by 2030 and foreign direct investment (FDI) may total close to $100 billion by the same time. But what exactly does Myanmar’s opening mean for foreign investors? 

Companies from multinational corporations to private equity firms seem to be chomping at the bit to get into Myanmar, hoping to establish a first mover advantage in one of the world’s last economic frontiers. Many companies are sending in teams to do market research, due diligence and to establish relationships with potential local partners. However, very little American capital is actually being deployed inside the country. There are many potential reasons for this but taking a look at some large multinational corporations might give potential investors a better understanding of the current marketplace.

Where are the multinationals? 

Bootlegged from Singapore and Thailand, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have long been in Myanmar, and can be found on the shelves of grocery stores throughout the country. Additionally, Ford Motor Company recently became the first American automaker to launch operations in Myanmar with the opening of a new showroom and service center in Yangon. Ford entered the Myanmar market through a partnership with Capital Automotive, a subsidiary of one Myanmar’s largest companies. Companies like GE, Chevron and Caterpillar have operations in Myanmar and are competing for market share with Asian counterparts who have been in the market much longer.

However, none of the big multinationals have announced any landmark deals or transactions that indicate that U.S.-Myanmar economic relations are going at the same speed as U.S.-Myanmar political relations. This might signify a larger problem of dealing with the complex web of networks and bureaucracy that is the Myanmar government. Additionally, if these large companies are having trouble navigating the bureaucracy what does this mean for small and midsize companies looking to enter the Myanmar market? They don’t have government-relations arms or consulting firms aiding their market entry, which makes them increasingly reliant on finding local partners. However, finding a reliable local partner in a country that is opening after fifty years of military rule is a challenge that has undoubtedly scared some companies away.

Why Is Prosperous China So Anxious?

September 6, 2013

For those who look at China from afar, or see it on a visit through the lens of the towering new buildings, stunning airport terminals, state-of-the-art high-speed rail systems and dazzling architecture of monuments, museums, concert and municipal halls that dot cityscapes, it may seem counterintuitive that the leaders who guided this economic counter-revolution should be so sensitive on so many issues.

A continuous sense of anxiety radiates throughout endless remedial political campaigns despite an economic miracle of incomparable dimensions, one unequalled by any society at any other time in the history. Do Chinese leaders not - as John Delury and I chronicle in our new book, "Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the 21st Century" - find themselves, at last, on the verge of attaining a long sought holy grail, restoration of China to a state of relative prosperity and strength, if not greatness? After such accomplishment, are these leaders and their citizens not deserving of a moment of victorious respite?

Yet the stunning levels of economic success are not accompanied by a greater sense of self-confidence. Instead, China's newly enthroned leaders seem compelled to keep elevating levels of political control, even when doing so is such an impediment to China attaining that other goal, much yearned for but elusive, global respect.

These attributes rarely derive from state control, manipulations or official propaganda campaigns. Instead, like soft power, they arise almost alchemically from societies and cultures left free to innovate and incubate new ideas. But, these attributes also derive from how a government interacts with its own people, depending on whether it has enough confidence in its legitimacy to afford the level of freedom necessary to generate a culture that is truly self-inspired and thus winsome to the rest of the world.

The right balance between necessary societal controls and freedoms is always extremely difficult to attain, and thus one must have certain sympathy for China's leaders who now find themselves riding a particularly challenging and insubordinate tiger, one that metaphorically might be said to have had a long and complicated history of abuse by its various serial keepers. Indeed, contemplating all the perfidies and savageries that the 20th century afflicted on this particular tiger is enough to make one marvel that it is alive and well at all, much less so successful!

Having accomplished one epic stage in a grand drama of development, what President Xi Jinping has taken to referring to as the "China Dream," Chinese leaders find themselves confronting a new and as yet unwritten next act, but one on which the curtain has already risen. The new script must be written not only with the actors already on the stage, but it will almost certainly require a different compact with "the people," one that does not depend so heavily on control.

In this regard, Document 9, released several months ago from the General Office of the Central Committee, which calls on Communist Party members to heighten vigilance against such trends as constitutionalism, civil society, democracy, human rights, press freedom and more is unsettling. The document may not be an expression of the president himself and could simply be the Communist Party's conservative side expressing itself. The truth is, we do not know. But whatever its provenance, the challenge for the party and current leaders is to figure out how to protect the country's past successes by sketching out a plan that plots a more enlightened political path.

Here, leaders are in uncharted territory in which old standby practices of applying more controls whenever the going gets tough will probably not suffice. This was something that Deng Xiaoping came to understand as he regained power in the late 1970s. By acting boldly during the early 1980s, he dramatically shifted the nation's gears and - at least until 1987 - generated a considerable new fount of popular support. Consider the spontaneous "Nihao, Xiaoping?" sign held aloft by fans in Tiananmen Square in 1984 during the 35th anniversary of the PRC?

Is Air-Sea Battle Irrelevant?

By Mira Rapp-Hooper
September 6, 2013

One of this summer’s most popular strategic studies topics was the opening round of what is sure to be a continued debate over the Air Force and Navy’s Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept. 

Critics have asserted that Air-Sea Battle is dangerously escalatory, as its first phase emphasizes blinding, rapid strikes to disable adversary C4ISR, which would, in China’s case, presumably include deep strikes on the mainland. They also argue that ASB lacks a credible theory of victory.

Proponents, on the other hand, argue that ASB provides a better prospect of victory over anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategies than other proposed alternatives, such as so-called “Offshore Control” (a distant blockade). An obvious difficulty in evaluating these claims is that ASB is not a specific military strategy—it is a broad, operational concept whose details are not yet transparent enough to allow for careful scrutiny.

But as recent debates push military and civilian strategists to consider the merits and pitfalls of ASB, one key set of considerations has been obviously absent: What are the political ends with which this military concept will be coupled? And does it suit them? These questions must be front and center as we consider whether ASB is the United States’ best hope for achieving its regional defense and deterrence goals.

The primary reason the United States would need to face down A2/AD challenges would be if it became involved in a Pacific conflict on behalf of an ally. For the last several decades, the most-likely conflict, and the one for which the bulk of China’s military capabilities has been developed, is a China-Taiwan war. In a contingency like this one, the ASB concept may make some sense. China’s significant short-range missile capabilities (stationed just across the Strait from the island over which it claims sovereignty) would mean that this conflict would be high-intensity from day one. These capabilities could be used to try to impede the United States from coming to Taiwan’s aid by cutting the runways of vital air bases and preventing carrier battle groups from moving into the Straits. If China managed to prevent or delay U.S. entry for a week or so, this could make a significant difference in Taiwan’s fate. 

In a scenario like this one, the United States may therefore have ample incentive to strike C4ISR and other targets on the Chinese mainland in order to kick the door open to aid its ally. Is the China-Taiwan contingency a vote for ASB? Perhaps. But we would be remiss to forget the adage that the (potential) adversary is also enfranchised. Of late, the interests over which China has projected power are farther out to sea, and are much more limited in their scope.

In its most recent Defense White Paper, Beijing noted that “cross-Straits relations are sustaining a momentum of peaceful development,” although Taiwan’s independence was still considered a serious threat. Prominent on the PRC’s 2013 defense agenda were both the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute (with Japan), and China’s claims in the South China Sea (which pit it against several other claimants, including one U.S. treaty ally, the Philippines). Beijing has met word with deed, and significantly increased its maritime patrols of both the East and South China Seas in the past year. It has also fortifiednew naval outposts in the latter.

Aircraft Carriers or Not? Flattops in the Pacific

By Mike Yeo
September 06, 2013

A number of countries are building amphibious ships with the potential to operate fixed-wing aircraft. Could an arms race ensue?

The Pacific region—for this article, the line of nations bordering the Pacific Ocean stretching from Australia to Japan and the Korean Peninsula—has in the past decade or so witnessed a surge in the number of naval ships sporting a “through deck” design to allow flight operations to be conducted from their flight decks. Usually classified as amphibious ships or helicopter destroyers/cruisers, they had mostly escaped serious scrutiny in the mainstream consciousness. Until the past few weeks, that is, when a series of events thrust these vessels into global news headlines.

Excluding the United States’ two forward-deployed flattops—the USS George Washington and the USS Bonhomme Richard—in Japan, there are now at least eleven such ships planned, being built or in service among the Asia-Pacific’s navies as of today. These ships are officially described as being designed for amphibious operations, while their ability to operate helicopters will also be useful in anti-submarine warfare and to provide aid in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. Still, most are a refit away from (or in China’s case, already capable of) operating fixed-wing aircraft, sparking fears of an arms race against the backdrop of simmering territorial disputes in the region.

Australia

Australia is currently building two 27,800-ton Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) under Joint Project 2048. The ships, HMAS Canberra (LHD-02) and HMAS Adelaide (LHD-01) are based on the Spanish Navy’s Juan Carlos I built by Spain’s Navantia. The design was the winner of a competition with France’s Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN), which offered a larger version of the Mistral class design.

The HMAS Canberra is currently being completed at BAE Systems – Maritime in Melburne after having been initially laid down in Spain and transported by sea to Australia. She will enter service with the Royal Australian Navy in 2014 while her sister ship will join her two years later. The LHDs will replace the HMAS Tobruk and the Kanimbla-class ships in mainly conducting amphibious operations with a secondary HADR brief.

The Canberra class vessels boast a length of 230.82 metres (757.3 ft), with a maximum beam of 32 metres (105 ft) and maximum draught of 7.08 metres (23.2 ft). Maximum speed is 20 knots, and the LHDs will sport four Rafael Typhoon 25 mm remote weapons systems, six 12.7 mm machine guns, an AN/SLQ-25 Nixie towed torpedo decoy, and a Nulka missile decoy.

The LHDs will be able to carry 1,046 soldiers and their equipment. Two vehicle decks (one for light vehicles, the other for heavy vehicles and tanks) can accommodate up to 110 vehicles. Each ship has a well deck for landing craft, while the flight deck has landing spots for six NH90-class helicopters or four CH-47 Chinook-class helicopters to operate simultaneously. The ships are equipped with a 13° ski jump retained from the Juan Carlos I design, although Australia has no plans to operate fixed-wing aircraft from these ships. The standard air group will typically be a mix of MRH-90 transport helicopters and S-70B Seahawk anti-submarine helicopters. The hangar can accommodate up to 18 helicopters, but eight will be the standard complement.

Why the West Should Relax About China

By Robert E. Kelly
September 06, 2013

Air-Sea Battle and the pivot seem an overreaction to China’s rise, given the number of challenges Beijing already faces.

Westerners are nothing if not breathless about China. Books describing its rise often have titles like When China Rules the World, Contest for Supremacy, Eclipse(of the U.S. by China), and so on. China is such a preoccupation that the U.S. has now “pivoted” to Asia. And the U.S. Department of Defense, eager to cash-in on the China hype in an era of sequestration and domestic exhaustion with the “Global War on Terror,” tells us now that the U.S. must shift to an Air-Sea Battle concept (ASB).

In a not-so-amazing coincidence, ASB is chock of full of the sorts of costly, high-profile, air and maritime mega-platforms the military-industrial complex adores. China’s single, barely functional aircraft carrier—the second one is not due for awhile—is a god-send to hawks and neo-cons everywhere. Even as the U.S. scales back in the Middle East, defense can seemingly never be cut. Indeed, the terrible irony of the pivot to Asia from the Middle East is that ASB platforms like satellites, drones, up-armored aircraft carriers, stealth jets and littoral ships will cost so much that staying focused on the Middle East may well be less expensive. (For a running debate on ASB, start here.)

Before the U.S. goes down this path, with the obvious tit-for-tat arming spiral it may provoke, it is worth noting how many other hurdles China’s rise faces beyond the U.S. military in the western Pacific. Richard Haas recently argued that “foreign policy begins at home.” As the U.S. pivots out of the Middle Eastern quagmire, perhaps America can take some time off to “nation-build at home,” as the president promised, before it rushes headlong into this expensive, provocative ASB posture. The U.S. foreign policy community’s zeal to always find something to do with U.S. power should not blind us to the many local obstacles China faces. The pivot to Asia, like the war in Iraq, is not a necessity; it is a choice. And U.S. voters who would like resources to go to schools, health care, infrastructure, deficit reduction, and so on, should know this:

1. Japan. This is the most obvious reason China will never become hegemon in Asia, much less genuinely challenge the U.S. at the global level. Westerners tend to downplay Japan, because of its terrible deflationary funk over the last two decades. It is true that Japan has slipped far from its glory days when Paul Kennedy put it on the cover the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. But Japan is still the world’s third-largest economy. Its military, although numerically smaller than China’s, is far better trained and technologically proficient. And China’s recent replacement of Japan as the world’s second-largest economy seems to have galvanized Japanese voters to a new level of seriousness about getting Japan back on track under Abe.

Sino-Japanese competition goes back to the 19th century, or arguably the Ming dynasty when Japan was the troublesome, badly behaved “little brother” to Confucian China. This hardly means that the two nations are fated to come into conflict. But it does suggest that Japan will not acquiesce to anything like Chinese hegemony or a Sinic Monroe Doctrine. For all the talk about the Middle Kingdom coming back, recall that only one Japanese shogun (Yoshimitsu) ever acknowledged Japan’s inferior status in the older tributary order. Certain Chinese officials, unaccustomed to speaking in front of responsible media, may say foolish things, but in a strictly balance-of-power sense, we can expect the Japanese to go eye-to-eye before accepting Chinese regional primacy.

Why Convergence Breeds Conflict

Growing More Similar Will Push China and the United States Apart


Great powers think alike: greeting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Beijing, May 2012. (Shannon Stapleton / Courtesy Reuters)

Many fear that in the not-too-distant future, the world will be torn apart as the gulf that separates China and the United States grows ever wider. How, they ask, can a communist dictatorship and a capitalist democracy bridge the gap between them? But it is time to stop thinking that the two countries come from different planets and that the tensions between them are the product of their differences. In fact, until relatively recently, China and the United States got along quite well -- precisely because their interests and attributes differed. Today, it is their increasing similarities, not their differences, that are driving the two countries apart.

The U.S.-Chinese relationship stands in stark contrast to the one between the United States and the Soviet Union, the last country to rival American power. During the Cold War, when geopolitics was above all a clash of ideologies, increasing contact and growing convergence between the two disconnected societies fostered détente.

But the contemporary era of international interdependence has reversed that dynamic. Today, competition has more to do with status than ideology. As a result, differences between great powers frequently lead to complementarity and cooperation, whereas convergence is often at the root of conflict. As they rebalance their economies and recalibrate their foreign policies, Beijing and Washington are increasingly fighting over shared interests. And as Sigmund Freud could have predicted, the more similar China and the United States become, the less they like each other. Freud called this “the narcissism of small differences”: the tendency of essentially similar people to fixate on minor distinctions between themselves in order to justify hostile feelings. Of course, the two countries are hardly identical. But the chasm that divided them a generation ago has narrowed, and as they converge they are becoming more conflict-prone.

When U.S. President Barack Obama came to power in 2009, he hoped to integrate China into global institutions and encourage it to identify its interests with the preservation of the postwar, Western-led international system. But almost five years later, according to a U.S. official with whom I spoke earlier this year who is familiar with the president’s thinking, Obama’s attitude toward the Chinese is best described as “disappointment.” According to the official, Obama feels that the Chinese rebuffed his attempt to forge an informal “G-2” arrangement during his first trip to China, in November 2009, and disagreements between Beijing and Washington on climate change, maritime issues, and cybersecurity have convinced Obama that China is more of a problem than a partner.

According to one U.S. official, Obama’s attitude toward the Chinese is best described as “disappointment.”

The Chinese, for their part, do not feel inclined to uphold a Western-led international order that they had no role in shaping. That is why, in the run-up to his meeting with Obama in June at the Sunnylands estate in California, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the establishment of “a new type of great-power relationship” -- a coded way for the Chinese to tell the Americans to respect China as an equal, to accommodate China’s territorial claims, and to expect that China will define its own interests rather than support Western-led international agendas.

As the two biggest global powers indulge their neuroses, the rest of the world is getting anxious. On a range of important economic and geopolitical issues, Beijing and Washington are increasingly trying to bypass each other rather than investing in common institutions. The effect on the world will be profound. Although global trade will expand and global institutions will survive, international politics will be dominated not by powerful states or international organizations but rather by clusters of states that will flock together because they share similar histories and levels of wealth and believe their interests are complementary. These pragmatic, somewhat ad hoc groupings will seek to strengthen themselves from the inside out, and their interactions with one another will eclipse the formation of the unified, multilateral liberal order that the United States and its allies have sought to build since the end of the Cold War.

Blink and You Will Miss It: Obama’s Quiet Pivot Progress

By Elizabeth C. Economy
September 6, 2013

Amidst the din of Syrian intervention talk and Fed picks, the Obama administration is pushing forward quietly, but determinedly, to flesh out the pivot to Asia. While most of the critical attention on the pivot or rebalance is paid to what is transpiring on the security front, there is real, albeit slow, progress on the trade front and the potential for significant advances in other areas such as environmental protection.

Washington is pushing hardest to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which if successful could be one of the signal achievements of the Obama administration’s second term. The high-end trade agreement involves negotiations among twelve countries over twenty-one widely disparate areas, such as government procurement and fishing subsidies. A meeting of the chief trade negotiators in Washington is scheduled for mid-September, and there is a continuous stream of thorny issues such as intellectual property on medicine and tariffs that must be waded through before a final agreement can be achieved. Washington is putting significant energy behind its efforts to get an agreement by the end of the year, but by most accounts this is overly ambitious.

The administration’s efforts to promote regional security are also moving forward. Secretary of Defense Hagel recently traveled to Brunei for a meeting of the ASEAN defense ministers and along the way visited the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In the Philippines, there were further discussions of a framework agreement that would promote closer cooperation between the Philippine and U.S. armed forces and allow for a rotational presence of U.S. troops, much in the same way as there is in Singapore and Australia.

Finally, Congress held hearings over the summer to explore ways in which the United States could enhance the rebalance through stronger U.S. action in areas such as environmental protection. The United States is already engaged in a number of cooperative efforts with the Lower Mekong Delta region and a particular area of new focus in this environmental partnership could well be Burma/Myanmar, where biodiversity and timber resources are under severe threat and could benefit significantly from U.S. assistance.

Critics of the U.S. rebalance nonetheless continue to abound. The TPP comes under fire for the opaque nature of the negotiations as well as its exclusion—not deliberate or permanent—of China. Washington’s efforts on the security front—which are often mistaken as the sole element of the rebalance—have been blamed for sparking “an Asian arms race” and accelerating the “militarization of states.” Some also criticize the unstated focus on China as misplaced. Amitai Etzioni argues, for example, that the Obama administration’s decision to plan for Air-Sea Battle is an over-reaction to China’s development of its anti-access/area denial capabilities; moreover, in Etzioni’s view, China has used legitimate channels to resolve more recent trade and territorial disputes, so why is the United States creating a problem where none exists? It remains far from clear that Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and Japan would agree with such an assessment.

Syria and the Byzantine Strategy

September 5, 2013

In March 1984, I was reporting from the Hawizeh Marshes in southern Iraq near the Iranian border. The Iran-Iraq War was in its fourth year, and the Iranians had just launched a massive infantry attack, which the Iraqis repelled with poison gas. I beheld hundreds of young, dead Iranian soldiers, piled up and floating in the marshes, like dolls without a scar on any of them. An Iraqi officer poked one of the bodies with his walking stick and told me, "This is what happens to the enemies of Saddam [Hussein]." Of course, the Iranians were hostile troops invading Iraqi territory; not civilians. But Saddam got around to killing women and children, too, with chemical weapons. In March 1988, he gassed roughly 5,000 Kurds to death. As a British reporter with me in the Hawizeh Marshes had quipped, "You could fit the human rights of Iraq on the head of a pin, and still have room for the human rights of Iran."

The reaction of the Reagan administration to the gassing to death of thousands of Kurdish civilians by Saddam was to keep supporting him through the end of his war with Iran. The United States was then in the midst of a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and as late as mid-1989 it wouldn't be apparent that this twilight struggle would end so suddenly and so victoriously. Thus, with hundreds of thousands of American servicemen occupied in Europe and northeast Asia, using Saddam's Iraq as a proxy against Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran made perfect sense.

The United States has values, but as a great power it also has interests. Ronald Reagan may have spoken the rousing language of universal freedom, but his grand strategy was all of a piece. And that meant picking and choosing his burdens wisely. As a result, Saddam's genocide against the Kurds, featuring chemical weapons, was overlooked.

In fact, the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, coterminous with the life of the Reagan administration, was a boon to it. By tying down two large and radical states in the heart of the Middle East, the war severely reduced the trouble that each on its own would certainly have caused the region for almost a decade. This gave Reagan an added measure of leeway in order to keep his focus on Europe and the Soviets -- and on hurting the Soviets in Afghanistan. To wit, only two years after the Iran-Iraq War ended, Saddam invaded Kuwait. Peace between Iran and Iraq was arguably no blessing to the United States and the West.

Likewise, it might be argued that the Syrian civil war, now well into its second year, has carried strategic benefits to the West. The analyst Edward N. Luttwak, writing recently in The New York Times, has pointed out that continued fighting in Syria is preferable to either of the two sides winning outright. If President Bashar al Assad's forces were to win, then the Iranians and the Russians would enjoy a much stronger position in the Levant than before the war. If the rebels were to win, it is entirely possible that Sunni jihadists, with ties to transnational terrorism, will have a staging post by the Mediterranean similar to what they had in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan until 2001, and also similar to what they currently have in Libya. So rather than entertain either of those two possibilities, it is better that the war continue.

Of course, all of this is quite cold-blooded. The Iran-Iraq War took the lives of over a million people. The Syrian civil war has so far claimed reportedly 110,000 lives. Even the celebrated realist of the mid-20th century, Hans Morgenthau of the University of Chicago, proclaimed the existence of a universal moral conscience, which sees war as a "natural catastrophe." And it is this very conscience that ultimately limits war's occurrence. That is what makes foreign policy so hard. If it were simply a matter of pursuing a state's naked interests, then there would be few contradictions between desires and actions. If it were simply a matter of defending human rights, there would similarly be fewer hard choices. But foreign policy is both. And because voters will only sustain losses to a nation's treasure when serious interests are threatened, interests often take precedence over values. Thus, awful compromises are countenanced.

Making this worse is the element of uncertainty. The more numerous the classified briefings a leader receives about a complex and dangerous foreign place, the more he may realize how little the intelligence community actually knows. This is not a criticism of the intelligence community, but an acknowledgment of complexity, especially when it concerns a profusion of armed and secretive groups, and an array of hard-to-quantify cultural factors. What option do I pursue? And even if I make the correct choice, how sure can I be of the consequences? And even if I can be sure of the consequences -- which is doubtful -- is it worth diverting me from other necessary matters, both foreign and domestic, for perhaps weeks or even months?

America's Emerging Luca Brasi Strategy in Syria

September 5, 2013

Barack Obama made the biggest gamble of his presidency on Saturday. By saying that he'd seek Congressional authorization to wage air strikes on the Syrian regime in response to its use of chemical weapons, he quite literally put the geopolitical standing of the United States to a vote. If he loses, then Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un will have discovered that America's fatal flaw is a commander-in-chief who wants to line up behind legislators before taking what he himself acknowledges is necessary military action. This will not be that wondrous paradox of "leading from behind," it will be a you-first deferral of leadership altogether, and to a body notoriously riven between and amongst war-weary centrists, a handful of ardent hawks, and not a few Tea Party ignoramuses and libertarian isolationists. (Public opinion has a greater collective taste for sending cruise missiles into Syria than it does for congratulating the national legislature on anything.)

For those who already believe that Congress is little more than a rubber-stamp assembly for America's most powerful lobby groups, the failure to secure a war vote will suggest that if a totalitarian wishes to gas 1,400 people to death in his capital city, he need only check with the special interests. Syrians have already noticed the sudden efflorescence, like algae at the bottom of a pool, of various "peace" campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, most of which are nakedly pro-Assad in their orientation. The Kremlin is said to be mulling whether or not to dispatch a Duma delegation to pressure Congress against military action, a strategy the United States need never repay in kind when it comes to persuading the Duma to change its mind on institutionalizing homophobia or American adoption bans. Meanwhile, the Russian state-owned media want us all to know that they're hip to what really makes the world go round; they've been warning of a massive Syrian retaliation against Israel should the U.S. intervene. Herein lies another easy backfire in Obama's Hill initiative. As Jeffrey Goldberg has pointed out, there's a nervous irony in seeing this president deputizing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to sell a policy whose long-term consequence may be the toppling of an Arab dictatorship that is more and more becoming a suzerain of Iran.

These are my criticisms of the president's approach. But there is also much to be said for his gamble if the vote passes. He'll have made every elected representative, and therefore the American people who elected them, co-owners of his Syria policy. He will have also achieved far greater legitimacy in confronting Assad and dispelling any suggestion that this undertaking was cowboyish or adventurist in nature. (Even Rand Paul, who professes to care only for Syria's Christian minority and seems to believe that the mullahs are still undecided about whether or not to get involved in this conflict, gets to have a vote).

So what are Obama's odds? So far, Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi all support the president. Yet there are mutterings that this may not be sufficient. According to Politico, "[s]everal lawmakers and aides who have been canvassing support say that nearly 80 percent of the House Republican Conference is, to some degree, opposed to launching strikes in Syria. Informal counts by Obama allies show that support in Congress for Obama's plans is in the low dozens." And yet, the G.O.P. never likes to look a squish on matters of national security, particularly when it's the guy they see as the second coming of Jimmy Carter sending warships to the Middle East. The White House can effectively marshal the argument that if sheer hatred for Obama or suspicion of his incompetence is motivating a "no" vote, then it will be the Republicans explaining to their constituencies why they gave succor to a mass murdering tyrant and emboldened Iran in its quest for a nuclear bomb. Even the socialists in France are sounding more macho.

The more pressing question I have is this: Where is the president ultimately going on Syria and does he have an actual strategy not just for winning the argument for intervention but for waging a worthwhile and successful campaign?

Last week, the White House line was all about preparing the nation for a quick and easy "punitive" strike against Assad, a "shot across his bow," as the president put, meaning essentially a Tomahawk-delivered demarche and nothing more. As far as deterrence is concerned, this simply wouldn't work: Assad would weather the missiles, and then start right back up again, probably using WMD -- a fact now well appreciated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Yet even in nothing-to-see-here mode, the administration was sending flirtatious hints that it was purposefully downplaying its own war plan to win maximum domestic and international support. First, you do not need two or three days of bombardment to make a point. But this was the circulated timeframe for proposed airstrikes, based on anonymous leaks from "senior officials" to the press. Second, the draft text of the war bill the White House released to Congress was remarkably expansive: "the objective of the United States' use of military force in connection with this authorization should be to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction." The new draft of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee version, said to be a curtailment of executive war powers, still gives the president a full three months to finish the job, two without notifying Congress of his intentions.

Is "Limited and Surgical" the Syrian War's "Cakewalk"?

By Greg Scoblete 
September 05, 2013

Washington interventionists have a bad habit of blundering blindly into foreign adventures, overly confident in their ability to shape events at the end of a bayonet. Prior to the Iraq war, we were assured the affair would be a "cakewalk" (which it technically was, until the decision to stick around and rebuild the country).

For the looming intervention in Syria, we're being assured that any U.S. action would be "limited" and "surgical." (Secretary Kerry went so far as to claim, in language equal parts Orwellian and risible, that the U.S. would not even be going to "war" with Syria, just, you know, bombing it.) Clearly, that's the Obama administration's preference, but once the missiles start to fly, they're not the only ones calling the shots.

In fact, there are a number of plausible scenarios in which a "limited" action could spiral into something altogether different:

1. The Syrian regime could respond by attacking U.S. allies, either covertly or overtly.

2. The regime could resume chemical weapon strikes, goading the U.S. to act again and more comprehensively.

3. Iran and Hezbollah could retaliate against the U.S. or Israel.

4. The attacks could succeed in breaking the chain of command that governs Syria's chemical weapons, leaving them vulnerable to theft by al-Qaeda-aligned militants or Hezbollah agents.

5. The attacks could lead to the collapse of the Syrian regime and lead, in turn, to a failed state that leads to even more violence spilling across Syria's borders.

Do I think any of these are likely to happen? Probably not. If I had to guess, I'd bet most of the consequences would be more of the long tail variety. But the idea that Washington can ensure that any intervention in Syria will be "limited" is absurd. There are plenty of ways it could be anything but.



Pick Your Poison






September 5, 2013

America Has Many Options in Syria, None are Good

Martin Dempsey, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel testifying before Congress. (Courtesy Reuters.)

The reason that U.S. President Barack Obama passed the buck on authorizing a military strike on Syria to Congress is not because getting congressional approval is the constitutional thing to do. It always has been, although presidents have regularly denied it. Rather, Obama passed the buck to Congress because it was the only way out of the dilemma that he imposed on himself when he declared the use of chemical weapons to be a red line, without having thought through whether or how to go to war if the line was crossed.

When the red line was crossed, the administration’s belated search for military options faced two contradictions. The first was between the strong incentives to retaliate against the government of Bashar al-Assad and the wide opposition in both the United States and outside world to U.S. military action. The second was between the amount of force that would have a chance of producing useful strategic results and the amount that is politically tolerable. Even among those who demand action, pressure to use U.S. military power is exceeded by pressure not to use very much of it, for fear of entanglement that clearly does mean war.

A responsible choice for Congress and the president must at least be one that does not make things worse. All things considered, that could mean backing away from the threat of action so clearly implied by Obama weeks ago, even though that would be an embarrassing retreat. By accepting the embarrassment, those members of Congress who vote against authorizing the use of force can resolve the two contradictions. But those members who choose to back the president must also, in effect, endorse the intent to use modest amounts of force. That endorsement should, in principle, rest on a sober comparison of what all the potential strategies, including those already rejected out of hand, can be expected to accomplish at an acceptable price. What any strategy can do depends on the fit between political objectives and military operations designed to achieve them.

Logically, there are at least six potential objectives, some of which overlap. These include a symbolic statement against war crimes; punishment of the Assad regime for its crimes; coercion of the regime to change its policy; ending the war, eventually, by helping to defeat Assad; demonstrating credibility to foreign audiences; and demonstrating credibility to domestic audiences. And assuming that the United States has no intention of marching into Damascus, the operation’s half of the equation rests on precisely how limited the air strikes will be. “Limited” air action can range from a few symbolic strikes with minor material impact to a seriously destructive campaign against dozens of targets over the course of several weeks.

Obama made clear before passing the ball to Congress that attacks near the mild end of the spectrum would be the only ones he would countenance. In truth, American air strikes on any scale may not serve some of these objectives. But the most limited attacks are likely to be the least effective for any of the six objectives except the first and the last -- which are the least strategically valid ones. Indeed, the lightest strikes could prove not just ineffective for the most important purposes but counterproductive.