Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia


December 16, 2015

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletin
Number 333 | December 15, 2015
ANALYSIS

Obama Doubles-down on Maritime Capacity Building in Southeast Asia

by Lyle J. Morris

A significant but under-appreciated component that has emerged from the U.S. “rebalance” to Asia has been maritime security capacity building efforts in Southeast Asia. Such efforts came into focus briefly when Secretary of State John Kerry announced the “Southeast Asia Maritime Law Enforcement Initiative” in December 2013, which committed $25 million in U.S. government funds to train, equip, and provide facilities to maritime law enforcement agencies of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At the time, the initiative was lightly covered in the press and quickly forgotten.

It took November’s high-profile visit by President Barack Obama aboard the Philippine Navy flagship vessel Gregorio del Pilar in Manila and the subsequent announcement of an additional $250 million in U.S. aid to the region — to include the transfer of a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and naval research vessel — for the issue to garner the attention it deserves in the media. With this recent announcement, the United States is positioning itself as an indispensable contributor to maritime capacity building and has become the largest and most important partner in coast guard capacity building in the region.

Xi and Obama

The U.S. aid package comes at a particularly opportune time for the region. Archipelagic states such as Indonesia and the Philippines increasingly view with alarm efforts by the Chinese Coast Guard to assert sovereignty over disputed territory in the South China Sea and seek to bolster their own maritime law enforcement fleets to counter the threat.  The United States is thus filling a major need for many countries during a time of uncertainty regarding Chinese actions in the region.

The $250 million aid package will provide training, infrastructure construction, and vessels and other assets to bureaucracies charged with maritime security in the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. According to the White House Fact Sheet released in tandem with Obama’s visit to the Philippines, the capacity building efforts aim to help countries “respond to threats in waters off their coasts and to provide maritime security more broadly across the region.”  The Fact Sheet emphasizes the “software” component of capacity building to “strengthen institutions and enhance practical skills to develop sustainable and capable maritime forces.” Such an emphasis represents an important recognition that human capital needs to remain just as important as hardware within many of these countries.

The aid package builds upon the 2013 initiative but goes several steps further in enhancing capabilities. First, the United States will transfer two large capacity vessels to the Philippine Navy: a high-endurance U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, USCG Boutwell, and a naval marine surveillance and survey vessel, the R/V Melville. The two vessels will nearly double the number of operational high-endurance and large tonnage vessels in the Philippine Navy fleet, and significantly increase its capacity to patrol its exclusive economic zone. The transfer is a major gain for Philippine maritime security as a whole, especially since the Philippine Coast Guard lacks any high endurance cutters of its own. The remaining $79 million in funds is to be allocated for building training and logistical bases for the Philippine Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force, as well as to hold “increased and more complex exercises and training with U.S. government agencies and U.S. Pacific Command to increase interoperability and professionalization.”

Second, as part of a $40 million aid package to Vietnam over two years, the United States will lift the ban on sales of “maritime-related lethal capabilities” to Vietnam. This presumably would pave the way for the United States to sell arms for deployment on Vietnamese Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement vessels, for example. The move marks a significant thaw in relations and builds on the two sides’ landmark 2011 Memorandum of Understanding and 2015 “Joint Vision Statement” between the U.S. Department of Defense and Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense to enhance defense exchanges and capacity-building. During the signing of the 2015 “Statement,” Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also pledged $18 million to the Vietnamese Coast Guard to purchase U.S.-made Metal Shark patrol vessels.

Finally, a heavy emphasis was given to increasing personnel training; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance integration; and inter-agency coordination among all four recipient countries. Inter-agency coordination is a major issue among all maritime law enforcement agencies in the region, but it is particularly daunting for Indonesia, which is to receive $21 million over two years as part of the package. With 17,000 islands and over 54,000 kilometers of coastline, Indonesia has a vast maritime domain to defend and patrol, and has recently created a supra-bureaucracy called the Maritime Security Agency, or BAKAMLA, to integrate over a dozen maritime law enforcement actors. The consolidation process has proven difficult, however, with vested interests and structural inefficiencies forestalling progress. Thus, U.S. assistance that promotes inter-agency coordination will go a long way towards streamlining Indonesia’s maritime agency reforms.

Non-military maritime security and law enforcement capabilities are increasing in significance as countries in the region seek to bolster maritime domain awareness and protect vital marine resources from exploitation. They provide increased presence in contested waters and around maritime features in the South China Sea to counteract concerns over increasing assertiveness and quantitative advantages of China’s coast guard vessels in the region. China’s use of its coast guard as an instrument of statecraft designed to coerce rather than carry out law and regulations enforcement at sea has fundamentally altered security perceptions in the region. Countries are now compelled to develop their own coast guards, as opposed to navies, to counterbalance China, yet many lack the funds to so adequately.

By contributing to coast guard capacity building by donating, the United States has found an important and politically viable avenue to bolster maritime security to partners and allies in the region. The United States’ recent aid package signals a desire among U.S. policy-makers to widen its strategic involvement in the region but in a manner that is not overtly confrontational with China. The package will open the door for deeper engagement with coast guard fleets in Southeast Asia going forward.

About the Author

Lyle J. Morris is a project associate at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He can be reached at lmorris@rand.org.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.
APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.   East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

PACOM’s Role in Sustaining Indo-Asia-Pacific Security


November 5, 2015

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 328 | November 4, 2015

ANALYSIS

PACOM’s Role in Sustaining Indo-Asia-Pacific Security 

by Paul Lushenko and Jon Lushenko>

As the successful completion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal–the economic pillar of President Obama’s rebalance to Asia–demonstrates, America’s strategic reorientation continues. Even if the TPP is ratified and implemented, America’s rebalance is beleaguered by competing traditional and human security challenges epitomized by inter-state war and natural disasters. The degree to which US Pacific Command (PACOM)–responsible for operationalizing the rebalance’s security component–can reconcile these countervailing priorities will affect America’s ability to sustain Indo-Asia-Pacific security.

China’s increasingly revisionist approach in Asia underscores America’s need to maintain a warfighting capability while concomitantly casting doubt on the durability of America’s “hub-and-spokes” security system. Budgetary constraints, a reduction-in-force, and Cold War restraints on America’s conventional ballistic missile capability have eroded the US’ ability to wage inter-state war according to some analysts. This is especially evident in the maritime domain.

Beijing’s Anti-Access and Area-Denial (A2AD) strategy is designed to exploit US Navy-specific vulnerabilities. China’s investment in ballistic and anti-ship missile technology, as well as “grey zone” capabilities that exploit the space between war and peace and include cyber attack and exploitation, underpin the A2AD approach. Some regional experts interpret China’s development of more formidable military hardware and skill sets as foundational to its pursuit of a “hub-and-spokes” arrangement with Chinese characteristics. Functional cooperation on non-traditional security challenges, economic interdependence, and heightened social ties between China and its neighbors are said to enable Beijing to supplant Washington as the guarantor of Indo-Asia-Pacific security.

Beyond maintaining a credible deterrent, America and its security system are burdened with the added responsibility of managing human security challenges. Notwithstanding competing definitions of what constitutes a human security challenge, natural disasters, terrorism, and piracy generate instability that threatens regional security. Although this reality helped inform America’s rebalance, the degree to which the policy continues to rely on such considerations is debatable. Most puzzling is the absence of documents that govern how the US and its allies and partners will safeguard the rights and needs of people across the region.

The Pentagon’s recently published Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy lacks serious discussion of non-traditional security concerns, and the Western Pacific Naval Symposium Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea evokes limited confidence based on China’s expanded assertiveness.

Operationally, the rebalance policy has fostered more initiatives to help confront traditional threats despite the prevalence of human security challenges. This trend is best evidenced by “Pacific Pathways,” a program spearheaded by the US Army in 2014. This program enhances responsiveness and interoperability between America and regional armies. It manages the participation of a battalion-sized infantry unit in a succession of exercises over a six-month period. While leveraged to deter threats including China’s putative revisionism, planners seem to also qualify this program as a way to manage the consequences of humanitarian disasters to alleviate suffering and destruction.

However, it is difficult to determine precisely how the US Army and its sister services will achieve these goals. Initiatives seemingly more aligned against human security challenges, including the recent construction of a National Watch Center in the Philippines, are merely intended to provide situational awareness. The high importance regional states attach to human security compels PACOM to determine how to better enable operations that provide for basic needs. Thailand, for instance, increasingly rationalizes its alliance with America based on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support.

PACOM needs to better resolve the tension between maintaining a credible deterrent and resolving human security challenges to sustain Indo-Asia-Pacific security. A two-track approach to reconcile these countervailing priorities is possible. First, PACOM should adopt a more sustainable warfighting approach that both expands offensive capabilities and capitalizes on an organic ability to conduct “grey zone” operations. The former is punctuated by weapon systems affording greater range and lethality, including development of an anti-ship missile. The latter includes increased integration of offensive cyber capabilities as well as command and control systems capable of withstanding A2AD threats.

Other counter-targeting measures, such as dispersal and shifting of America’s regional military footprint, will further sustain PACOM’s combat-power in the event of a Sino-US war. Likewise, distributed lethality, a concept first introduced in early 2015, is designed to shift naval operations from a defensive mindset while signaling a renewed emphasis on warfighting.

Second, PACOM should advance the transformation of America’s exclusivist “hub-and-spokes” system into an open security architecture capable of resolving the broad scope of regional security objectives through cooperative action. Some experts contend that enhanced regionalism including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can lead to a “security community” to manage regional challenges. However, PACOM can also take two mutually reinforcing actions that will enable it to create an inclusive security arrangement beyond a still emerging ASEAN-led community building project.

While modernizing alliances and broadening partnerships, PACOM should leverage these relationships to achieve greater cooperation among geographically and culturally disparate states. Trilateral initiatives including the India-Japan-US, Australia-Japan-US, and Korea-Japan-US dialogues promise to institutionalize what has heretofore been episodic cooperation on natural disasters across some if not all of these countries as observed during the India Ocean Tsunami in 2004, Japan Tsunami in 2011, Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and Nepal earthquake in 2015. Meanwhile, PACOM should extend America’s bilateral alliances and partnerships into regional security fora. Marketed as the region’s preeminent security mechanism, the ASEAN Regional Forum constitutes a favorable candidate. Even more promising is the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus).

By fostering greater indigenous capacity to resolve vulnerabilities, PACOM can transfer the costs and responsibilities of managing Asia’s non-traditional security challenges to regional states. This would enable PACOM to channel a greater portion of its limited resources towards high-end threats.

An open security architecture has an additional advantage. It positions the evolving Sino-US relationship in a cooperative framework anchored by international law and norms to help ameliorate bilateral misunderstanding and miscalculation that can lead to war.

Unfortunately, Beijing’s South China Sea reclamation efforts, and American naval operations near China’s artificial islands, threaten to exacerbate a security dilemma. A sustainable warfighting approach for PACOM constitutes an insurance policy allowing America to deter continued revisionism and reassure its allies and partners.

About the Author (s)

The authors’ views do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Naval War College, Army and Navy, Department of Defense, and Government. Paul Lushenko is a Major in the US Army. He can be reached at paul.lushenko@gmail.com. Jon “Shank” Lushenko is a Lieutenant Commander (sel) in the US Navy. He can be reached at jlushenko@gmail.com.

Related Articles
 India-Japan-U.S. Trilateral Dialogue Gains Additional Traction, by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Sylvia Mishra, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 327, October 22, 2015.

China’s Non-Military Maritime Assets as a Force Multiplier for Security, by Justin Chock, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 322, September 22, 2015.

Indian Navy Role in Yemen and Beyond Highlights Range of Objectives, by Sarosh Bana, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 317, July 28, 2015.
The complete Asia Pacific Bulletin series can be accessed here.
The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington. D.C.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Ho

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.   East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111

East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

Foreign Policy: Obama Deifies American Hegemony


October 3, 2015

Obama Deifies American Hegemony

by Paul Craig Roberts

http://www.opednews.com

Obama at UN2015Today (September 28) is the 70th anniversary of the UN. It is not clear how much good the UN has done. Some UN Blue Hemet peacekeeping operations had limited success. But mainly Washington has used the UN for war, such as the Korean War and Washington’s Cold War against the Soviet Union. In our time Washington had UN tanks sent in against Bosnian Serbs during the period that Washington was dismantling Yugoslavia and Serbia and accusing Serbian leaders, who tried to defend the integrity of their country against Washington’s aggression, of “war crimes.”

The UN supported Washington’s sanctions against Iraq that resulted in the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. When asked about it, Clinton’s Secretary of State said, with typical American heartlessness, that the deaths of the children were worth it. In 2006 the UN voted sanctions against Iran for exercising its right as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty to develop atomic energy. Washington claimed without any evidence that Iran was building a nuclear weapon in violation of the non-proliferation treaty, and this lie was accepted by the UN. Washington’s false claim was repudiated by all 16 US intelligence agencies and by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors on the ground in Iran, but in the face of the factual evidence the US government and its presstitute media pressed the claim to the point that Russia had to intervene and take the matter out of Washington’s warmonger hands. Russia’s intervention to prevent US military attacks on Iran and Syria resulted in the demonization of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. “Facts?!, Washington don’t need no stinkin’ facts! We got power!” Today at the UN, Obama asserted America’s over-riding power many times: the strongest military in the world, the strongest economy in the world.

The UN has done nothing to stop Washington’s invasions and bombings, illegal under international law, of seven countries or Obama’s overthrow by coup of democratic governments in Honduras and Ukraine, with more in the works.

The UN does provide a forum for countries and populations within countries that are suffering oppression to post complaints — except, of course, for the Palestinians, who, despite the boundaries shown on maps and centuries of habitation by Palestinians, are not even recognized by the UN as a state.

On this 70th anniversary of the UN, I have spent much of the day listening to the various speeches. The most truthful ones were delivered by the presidents of Russia and Iran. The presidents of Russia and Iran refused to accept the Washington-serving reality or Matrix that Obama sought to impose on the world with his speech. Both presidents forcefully challenged the false reality that the propagandistic Western media and its government masters seek to create in order to continue to exercise their hegemony over everyone else.

What about China? China’s president left the fireworks to Putin, but set the stage for Putin by rejecting US claims of hegemony: “The future of the world must be shaped by all countries.” China’s president spoke in veiled terms against Western neoliberal economics and declared that “China’s vote in the UN will always belong to the developing countries.”

In the masterly way of Chinese diplomacy, the President of China spoke in a non-threatening, non-provocative way. His criticisms of the West were indirect. He gave a short speech and was much applauded.

Obama followed second to the President of Brazil, who used her opportunity for PR for Brazil, at least for the most part. Obama gave us the traditional Washington spiel:

The US has worked to prevent a third world war, to promote democracy by overthrowing governments with violence, to respect the dignity and equal worth of all peoples except for the Russians in Ukraine and Muslims in Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Obama declared Washington’s purpose to “prevent bigger countries from imposing their will on smaller ones.” Imposing its will is what Washington has been doing throughout its history and especially under Obama’s regime.

All those refugees over-running Europe? Washington has nothing to do with it. The refugees are the fault of Assad who drops bombs on people. When Assad drops bombs it oppresses people, but when Washington drops bombs it liberates them. Obama justified Washington’s violence as liberation from “dictators,” such as Assad in Syria, who garnered 80% of the vote in the last election, a vote of confidence that Obama never received and never will.

Obama said that it wasn’t Washington that violated Ukraine’s sovereignty with a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. It was Russia, whose president invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimera and is trying to annex the other breakaway republics, Russian populations who object to the Russophobia of Washington’s puppet government in Ukraine.

Obama said with a straight face that sending 60 percent of the US fleet to bottle up China in the South China Sea was not an act of American aggression but the protection of the free flow of commerce. Obama implied that China was a threat to the free flow of commerce, but, of course, Washington’s real concern is that China is expanding its influence by expanding the free flow of commerce.

The US has worked to prevent a third world war, to promote democracy by overthrowing governments with violence, to respect the dignity and equal worth of all peoples except for the Russians in Ukraine and Muslims in Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.

Obama declared Washington’s purpose to “prevent bigger countries from imposing their will on smaller ones.” Imposing its will is what Washington has been doing throughout its history and especially under Obama’s regime.

Obama denied that the US and Israel employ violence. This is what Russia and Syria do, asserted Obama with no evidence. Obama said that he had Libya attacked in order to “prevent a massacre,” but, of course, the NATO attack on Libya perpetrated a massacre, an ongoing one. But it was all Gaddafi’s fault. He was going to massacre his own people, so Washington did it for him.

Obama justified all of Washington’s violence against millions of peoples on the grounds that Washington is well-meaning and saving the world from dictators. Obama attempted to cover up Washington’s massive war crimes, crimes that have killed and displaced millions of peoples in seven countries, with feel-good rhetoric about standing up to dictators.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West was released previously. His latest book is  How America Was Lost.

A Critical Look at Obama’s UN Speech: Diplomacy as Cover for Aggression

by Michael Pollack

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/01/diplomacy-as-cover-for-aggression-obamas-un-speech/

Words can be playthings for war criminals, as is the case here. Michael Hudson and Paul Craig Roberts provided excellent context for Obama’s UN appearance (CounterPunch, Sept. 29); my own follow-up textually analyzes the lies and contradictions behind Obama’s splendiferous rhetoric, a display of hypocrisy and cant worthy of Woodrow Wilson in transmogrifying the meaning of democracy—as now, does Obama—to fit an hegemonic foreign policy dedicated to counterrevolutionary ends. In both cases, Russia is the central object of attention, Obama the Wilsonian of US exceptionalism brought up to date, post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, interventions and multiple covert actions, attempts at regime change, and drone assassination, as well as embargoes, boastfulness of military and economic might, in sum, the exultation and use of force characterizing America’s role in international politics. The speech reeks with premises of a double standard exempting the US from the rule of law.

This is disheartening, but not unexpected, the Bush-Obama continuity in national-security policy, part of the larger pattern from the World War II aftermath forward, reaching an apogee of Reaction, that is, until the next stage of political-ideological consolidation of nascent fascism becomes evident. America has been the leading force in global conflict and disruption, the two areas Obama singles out for special comment in the speech, Ukraine and Syria, both showing its unilateral drive for unrestricted dominance. On the former, a coup in Kiev installed through US effort a Far Right hooliganism disguised as government, and as for the latter, one queries, what gave America the right to consider the Middle East an exclusive zone of control and military penetration? This last has been going on for some time, and interestingly, in all the discussion, planning, and concrete activity to displace Assad, there is no mention of Israel’s possible role in guiding or supporting US policy in this regard—nor, of course, giving reasons for demonizing him. If Assad has gone against his people, evidence of atrocities has thus far been sketchy, and the tenor of the discussion smells like old fish given America’s penchant for strengthening and on occasion installing dictatorial regimes—for what else defines the CIA’s purpose in being?

Big-3

Let’s look, then, at the speech, the caveat being: words are measured by the record presumably supporting them. In self-congratulatory mode, Obama credits the US since the UN’s founding with “prevent[ing] a third world war—by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of a foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.” As though there had never been a Cold War with the US immune from criticism, beginning with Bretton Woods, then the Marshall Plan, the support of Chiang, Korea, atomic diplomacy, the poisonous cultural atmosphere of McCarthyism—and we’ve barely gotten out of the early 1950s. Each of his boasts is qualified by history, the last, “an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people,” not even applying to the US itself, where massive surveillance hardly bespeaks respect for the people—nor the saturation bombing, whether in Vietnam or Iraq. And who but America, “choose[s] conflict over cooperation”?

There have been setbacks, to be sure, “but we [he refers to the UN, yet implicitly puts America at the forefront] have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.” In fact, quite the opposite, the US in flagrant violation thereof in shaping international alliance systems and practicing regime change, in the Hemisphere, for starters, but extending worldwide wherever governments give signs of disobedience or ingratitude. America, like Wilson also proclaimed, is the foundation of world order—internationalism then, globalization now. Yet, Obama warns, beware: “the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.” The reference, unmistakably, is first to Russia, the center of Obama’s animus, and also, never far behind, China.

Syria becomes the test of America’s beneficence in international politics. The US must never forsake its moral obligation to advance democracy. “Today,” he states, “we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an epic scale. Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum.” In other words, Assad is to blame for ISIS and the refugee problem, America’s pressures toward regime change in Syria nonexistent. However, Russia and China are not far behind as culprits in defaming (American-sponsored) world order. Older ground rules, e.g., “might makes right” and “strong states must impose their will on weaker ones,” are no longer acceptable: “On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law. We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s [UN’s] mission…. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.” Actually, despite the straight-line projection from Russia to Assad to bombing innocent children, one senses that Obama is more anti-Assad than anti-ISIS and acts accordingly.

Granted, the world sees “greater polarization,” to which America “is not immune,” but under his leadership Obama charts the path forward (a pardonable braggadocio given what he has to offer): “As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.” An open admission of US impunity in the violation of international law! To which he adds, “We cannot look backwards,” precisely the phrase he used to explain away his refusal to investigate the Bush administration for possible war crimes—we must go forward, not backwards (he uses it whenever his administration has been caught red-handed in its arrogance of power).

From here we enter Obama’s topsy-turvy world in which he proclaims America’s abidance with international law, renunciation of repression, and commitment to the role and power of ideas. Examples: “Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed.” “I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed.” “You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth.” All noble words, but contradicted at every turn by his and USG’s actions, as when he said above, “unilaterally and by force where necessary.” There is much more to the speech, layers on layers of hypocritical gibberish, but let me stop here with this extended nugget, a renunciation of imperialism, repression, aggression: “Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory. Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials.”

He continues: “The strength of nations depends on the success of their people—their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity—and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security.” High school spread-eagle oratory at its best—never mind surveillance, mass incarceration, the militarization of state and local police, pressures exerted on the media for abject conformity, a tightening of political discourse, far worse than under McCarthyism, because now internalized by the citizenry, with ethnocentric, xenophobic beliefs and values receiving widespread assent in the political arena, and the self-righteous praise of Exceptionalism conferring license to act as though inhabiting a solipsistic world of grace as launching pad for global pillaging. He concludes the passage: “Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.” Yes, and America has excelled in both.

My New York Times Comment to one of several article on the topic, (Sept. 28), follows:

Obama criticizes Putin, ignoring his own role and that of the US in global interventions, covert actions, and regime change. America does not have clean hands; Obama especially, with his massive surveillance at home, should be the last to criticize either Putin or Assad–his own record of confrontation with Russia and China, his boast that America has the strongest military, his militarization of trade (TPP), his general demeanor, mark him as the most belligerent, officious president in modern memory.

Putin and Xi have a firm grasp of international politics, while Obama is the cowboy/braggart thoroughly at home with the use of force, not to say, drone assassination. To hear him criticize the others is sheer phoniness, as he brings America lower in the world’s estimation.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Obama-Xi Summit Trade-Off


September 27, 2015

Obama-Xi Summit Trade-Off: China’s Power Over N. Korea, South China Sea

by Donald Kirk

Academic World Ignores Southeast Asia (ASEAN) to its Peril


September 11, 2015

Academic World Ignores Southeast Asia (ASEAN) to its Peril

by Philip Bowring@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/academic-world-ignores-southeast-asia-peril/

Southeast Asia has always been, like Europe, politically fragmented but a culturally connected, maritime focused world. It will remain so, which makes it a poor target for a centralized continental country like China. China experts who lack understanding of the histories and interests of Asian countries from Iran to Japan, Kazakhstan to Indonesia are worse than useless as guides to the Asian future.–Philip Bowring

Philip-BowringDiscourse in the west and Australia about Asia is so dominated by academics and assorted pundits who have or claim expertise on China, that the rest of Asia is often forgotten. In their world only two countries seem to matter, the US and China.

It is a fault that applies both to those who urge greater US involvement as well as those who see China’s regional hegemony as inevitable.

This is perhaps not surprising given the neglect of Southeast Asian studies in US and British universities. In the UK, for example, Cambridge University’s Asian studies faculty has 12 people devoted to China studies and not one to Southeast Asia, let alone the wider Malay world of 400 million people.

The discourse, particularly in an Australia dependent on commodity exports to China, is currently weighted toward the view that as China is on the way up and the US on the way down so sooner or later US allies will fall away and China assume its supposedly natural position as hegemon of Asia. This argument combines a weak grasp of Asian history with apparent contempt for the interests and power potential of other Asian states.

It is a matter of fact, obvious to those who live there or follow their media, that Vietnamese, Filipinos, Malaysian and Indonesians are all to a greater or lesser degree worried about China’s expansionist moves in the South China Sea. Yet according to one of Australia’s best known pundits, Professor Hugh White of the Australian National University writing in the Australian journal The Monthly they have got it wrong. Island building in the sea, Hughes says, “is driven not by territorial claims, nor by resource extraction, but by the desire to humiliate America. The bases are a public challenge: Either America forces China to back down — or America itself backs down, and lose the confidence of its Asian allies

admiral_zheng_he-Such a comment in effect sets up the argument that the US has no practical way to confront China’s moves and hence other countries will learn that depending on the US and its allies is a poor bet. Other countries, Australia included, must draw the conclusion that they have no choice but gracefully to concede China’s dominance of the region and hence allow it to make good on its so-called “historical” claims over almost the whole South China Sea.

China-focused commentators in Australia seem often to reflect the fear that with its tiny population and vast resources it is a more attractive target for China, than Indonesia with its 250 million. Thus instead of standing with its neighbors, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines they counsel what amounts to appeasement.

The fact is that China has been making these maritime claims since long before expanding its island seizures to accommodate air strips. These not only ignore the real historical claims to the sea of the littoral states but flout UN Law of the Sea rules on Exclusive Economic Zones. But rather than regarded as legitimate defenders these rights these countries are seen as pawns in a US-China struggle for control dominance in Asia.

Given that Australia’s own history since the British conquest is so short, it is perhaps understandable that its pundits are insufficiently aware of the previous 2,000 years of history of the South China and adjacent seas in which China played a minor role until quite recently.

Yet when Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo makes a point of emphasizing that Indonesia is a maritime nation which must defend its waters, it is criticized by China-focused pundits, attacking Joko’s high-profile efforts to capture and destroy foreign vessels fishing illegally in its waters and spending money to beef up a tiny navy. This, we are told, is not good neighborly conduct and threatens relations with China and others.

Given the history of trading states from Maluku to Aceh via Makassar, Majapahit, Banten and Sri Vijaya spawned by the Indonesian archipelago and the islands role in settling Madagascar and developing trans-Indian ocean trade, is it not natural that it should seek to defend its waters? Or are (generic) Malays only supposed to be servants of the Middle Kingdom and exploited by businesses run by Sino businessmen from the safety of Singapore?

Possession of strategic weapons capable of equaling or surpassing those of the US and obliterating Los Angeles is anyway of little relevance in the context of an Asia with one largish nuclear and rocket power, India, and several middling ones either small but highly developed like Korea or relatively poor but populous Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Anyone who doubts that India has at least as much long-term interest in the South China Sea as China should read their history. It is not one of invasion from the west when the Europeans arrived, but of traders and the religious and cultural influences they brought to the Austronesian speaking islands. The main expansion of the ethnic Chinese role in the region came centuries after Indian and other impacts. It reached its peak when Southeast Asia was under European colonial rule when China was over-populated and Southeast Asia was not. Times have changed. Demographics have reversed, access via colonial regimes is closed.

As for China’s supposed past domination of the region via “tributary” states, that was mostly a matter of trade interests on the Southeast Asian side and empty but grandiose “submissions” to appeal to the vanity of Chinese emperors on the other. The one brief occasion when China sought to impose itself on the maritime zone to the south – the imperialistic voyages of Zheng He’s vast fleets around the South China sea and Indian ocean in the early 15th century – achieved “awe” but little else. They were abandoned for the good reason that they were very costly and irrelevant to China’s main strategic interests.

The same may well apply today. The Chinese state is almost at the largest extent it has ever been. There were times when it stretched a little farther west but those were before Manchuria, Mongolia and Taiwan were added during the Qing dynasty. Today China’s vulnerability lies not – despite its nationalistic show of rockets and tanks a la Pyongyang – vis-a-vis the US but on its own fractious borderlands. The lands which produced Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu states which once struck fear into Han hearts are yet not still.

Demography now dictates that these are no more securely Chinese than Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan were Russian. Then there is the question of relations with Russia and Korea, all with their own histories and grudges over vast territories which really belong to none of them.

The vulnerability of western borderlands links to another issue: the vulnerability of India, Bangladesh and most of mainland Southeast Asia to water supply from the Tibetan plateau. To date China has seen little willingness to listen to downstream concerns. Whatever may be the result of this fact of geography, its potential to be a focus of future conflict is clear, whether or not the US still has fleets in the South China sea. Beijing’s ability to make enemies of its neighbors has been shown as clearly as its ability to make intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The US became a world power partly by the accident of European wars. Its decline doesn’t mean China replaces it even if it surpasses it economically and militarily. It simply means that China faces not the ring of states lined up by a faltering US in an attempt to stem Chinese influence – the current Chinese theory of encirclement – but by a bevy of independent states of varying degrees of power. These may not love each other, and some of which may become temporary, opportunistic allies of China. But they have no interest in being any more subservient to China than the Javanese who tricked and defeated the Yuan dynasty invaders in 1293.

The idea that China can impose some “Monroe Doctrine” to keep foreign powers out of Southeast Asian waters is absurd if only because this maritime zone has for millennia one of the major thoroughfares of international commerce. China can no more succeed than did the mighty Ottomans succeed in making the Mediterranean a “Turkish lake.” Latin America never was thus – nor were more than small pieces ever controlled by the US and the continent mostly traded with Europe.

Southeast Asia has always been, like Europe, politically fragmented but a culturally connected, maritime focused world. It will remain so, which makes it a poor target for a centralized continental country like China. China experts who lack understanding of the histories and interests of Asian countries from Iran to Japan, Kazakhstan to Indonesia are worse than useless as guides to the Asian future.

Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers


June 16, 2015

EWC AP BulletinNumber 314 | June 16, 2015

ANALYSIS

Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers

By Christopher Yung and Patrick McNulty

About the Authors

Christopher Yung is an independent consultant and Senior Advisor at Asia Taktik, LLC. He was formerly a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University. He can be reached at cdyung@aol.com. Patrick McNulty, at the time of writing, was a contract researcher at the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs, National Defense University. He now works at the George Washington University’s Language Center. He can be reached at pmcnulty@gwmail.gwu.edu.

IN 2012 the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University embarked on a year-long effort to examine the tactics of the rival claimants to the South China Sea maritime dispute. NDU collected data on and categorized the types of tactics being employed by the various claimants between 1995 and 2013 through an extensive open source internet search. The data were then entered into a comprehensive data base and the results analyzed to discern patterns of claimant behavior. The results provide important findings as tensions in the South China Sea continue to be acute.

The first noteworthy finding is that China is the most extensive user of the tactics identified by this research. In terms of sheer volume of numbers of actions, China accounted for over 500 actions dating back to 1995. The Philippines registered just over half of that number with just over 300 actions. Vietnam undertook about 150 actions, and Taiwan, about the same, whereas Malaysia took just over fifty and Brunei registered the smallest number of actions with fewer than twenty. China is also the most active user of both military and paramilitary actions to protect its maritime territorial claims. The research found 89 and 59 uses of military and paramilitary actions respectively in support of China’s maritime territorial claims between 1995 and 2013. This comprised 55% of the total incidents of the use of military and paramilitary actions in support of maritime claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines registered 43 and 17 uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same period and Vietnam registered under 15 combined uses of military and paramilitary actions in the same time period. We recorded Malaysia as using military and paramilitary actions 9 times and Brunei 5 times. Taiwan was recorded to have used paramilitary actions 10 times and the military 22 times. In evaluating this data it is important to recall that this is unclassified data. It is likely that many more military and paramilitary actions have taken place and these have not been publicly recorded. The one category of action where China’s actions are exceeded by one of its rivals is in the legal sphere. The Philippines initiated sizeably more legal actions than did China between 1995 and 2013.

One of the persistent topics of hot debate is: what is the origin of the tensions in the South China Sea? The Chinese argue that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia emboldened China’s rivals to act provocatively in the region, thus triggering Chinese actions. U.S. observers have argued that in the 2009 time frame (prior to the “Rebalance to Asia” policy announced in 2011) China started acting aggressively. The data bear out this latter assertion. The Chinese claim that it was responding to greater aggressiveness of its rivals is not borne out by the data . Although the Philippines registered more actions in 2008 than in previous years, the specific actions recorded do not suggest they would prompt China to ramp up military/paramilitary actions in the South China Sea.

When the research team examined both the ADMM+ and the DoC/CoC negotiations it found a wide array of diplomatic activity being employed. China vigorously pursued an approach that we labeled “Coalition Diplomacy” in which it either sought to build coalitions or break up coalitions against it (Vietnam and Philippines seeking to have ASEAN issue a joint statement identifying the South China Sea as a security problem needing resolution). China was eventually successful in preventing the issuing of such a communique.

The smaller states of Malaysia and Brunei actively supported ASEAN statements and positions on the territorial disputes, even though they were reluctant to specifically state these positions themselves. All of the claimants actively pursued “dispute management” diplomacy by agreeing in principle that maritime territorial disputes should be resolved peacefully, but China would not agree to a binding code of conduct.

A number of U.S. policy implications are derived from this research. The broad policy instruments that China seems to have been willing to use to advance China’s claims suggests that the U.S. must be prepared to be equally nuanced in its policy response. At a minimum, a greater inter-agency approach to U.S. management of the South China Sea appears to be in order. Also, given the Chinese use of a wide range of tools to advance China’s claims, the United States and its partners in the region will need to think through the possible repercussions and benefits of using a wide range of policy instruments of their own as sticks as well as carrots; or to put it another way, whether there is something to be gained from horizontal escalation if China’s behavior becomes too aggressive.

“The U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law.”

Second, and related to this first point, the U.S. may need to think carefully how it might utilize the U.S. Coast Guard as a possible response to Chinese extensive use of maritime law enforcement vessels to advance China’s claims. This policy recommendation is much more complex than it sounds because at present the U.S. Coast Guard enjoys a very good relationship with the Chinese Coast Guard and the former will not want to needlessly sacrifice the good working relationship.

A third implication is that China appears to be willing to take action to bolster its position in the SCS while eroding or directly challenging U.S. credibility in the region. This strongly suggests that the United States needs to pay particularly close attention to its alliance partnerships and emerging relationships with friends in the region. It also strongly suggests that in order to forestall the erosion of U.S. credibility the United States national security establishment should internally engage in thinking through thresholds of Chinese activities, beyond which the U.S. would need to consider a more forceful response.

Fourth, China appears to have one “soft spot”–legal actions. That suggests that the U.S. can and probably should be even more encouraging to put these territorial disputes before international courts and the U.S. should strongly consider directly aligning its policy stance on management of South China Sea territorial disputes directly with international law. The recent State Department paper on its legal analysis of the South China Sea claims is a solid step in this direction.

Finally, since it is apparent that China’s diplomatic efforts are designed to keep the ASEAN states divided and off-balance, it is in American interest to promote the exact opposite. Anything the United States can do to assist the ASEAN countries in increasing the political and diplomatic costs to Chinese intransigence is a good thing.

Related Articles:

China’s Grand Strategy is not Absent, Just Contradictory, by Denny Roy, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 292, December 3, 2014

Asia’s Importance, China’s Expansion and U.S. Strategy: What Should Be Done?, by Robert Sutter, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 283, October 28, 2014

China’s New Calculations in the South China Sea, by Yun Sun, Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 267, June 10, 2014

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