The Erudite and Prolific Noam Chomsky: A Man of Conviction

September 29, 2016

The Erudite and Prolific Noam Chomsky: A Man of Conviction

Knowledge and Power–A Documentary

Manufacturing Consent is my favorite Noam Chomsky book. It reminds me of the awesome power of government in shaping public perception and influencing the way we think about public and foreign policy.

The media dominates our lives for as long as I can remember. When I was very much younger in 1950s I relied on the media and the radio for news and views and never realised that I was being manipulated by Big Brother to support causes which I would not  have agreed to if I had access to sources of information other than what the government was sending out through the airwaves for public consumption.

Fortunately, to day I can no longer be led to accept “official truths”from my government and its controlled media. I have always maintained a posture of doubt and will not accept anything I read without subjecting them to careful scrutiny. Naom Chomsky’s books have influenced the way I think.–Din Merican

A Trump Presidency possible: Preparing for Donald J. Trump

September 24, 2016

A Trump Presidency possible: Preparing for Donald J. Trump

Embassies that once assumed Clinton would win struggle to know what to expect from her rival

Image result for donald trump the next president of the united states

The End of Obama’s Neo-Liberalism–It was good while it lasted

Donald Trump’s September surge in the polls has set off alarm bells in capitals across Europe and Asia that are ill-prepared for a Republican victory in November.

Although he was barely present in New York this week as world leaders descended on the UN, the Republican candidate was a constant theme of conversation on the sidelines of this year’s General Assembly.

“Everyone is freaking out that he might actually win,” said one senior European official in New York this week. “It would make Brexit seem easy to deal with.”

Many governments in Europe, Asia and Latin America have been openly critical of some of Mr Trump’s foreign policy positions, with French president François Hollande going so far as to say last month that the Republican nominee “makes you want to retch”.

However, until recently they were working under the assumption that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably in the autumn. Now, with Mrs Clinton holding a lead of little over two points in the polls, they suddenly find themselves having to adjust to a very different election, where a Trump victory is at least a possibility.

“Until recently, the main question we were asking was what sort of impact the election rhetoric would have on a Clinton administration, in terms of trade deals, military intervention and so on. But the polls are telling us we have to at least seriously entertain the idea that he has a chance to win,” said one Australian official.

Image result for Can we trust Hillary Clinton

My Answer: Why not? She is no different from Mr Trump. It’s Politics–Din Merican

If Mr Trump’s views on Russia have been the most controversial aspect of his foreign policy approach in the US, in Europe and Asia it is his scathing criticism of traditional alliances that has garnered the most attention. At various stages in the campaign, the Republican candidate has suggested the US might not defend NATO allies and has said Washington should spend much less on defending Japan and South Korea.

Diplomats in Washington say that in the run-up to the Republican convention in July, representatives from the Trump campaign, including co-chairman Sam Clovis and then campaign manager Paul Manafort, told them that Mr Trump’s statements about America’s allies were less policy proposals and more opening statements in a negotiation.

In recent weeks, however, embassies in Washington have been receiving instructions to get a more precise understanding of the priorities of a Trump White House and who would be the senior officials in the administration.

“We have been told we need much more detailed planning about what a Trump administration would mean, the specific policies we should expect and who the key players would be,” said one Asian official. “But even at this stage, this is almost impossible to say.”

One of the complications in this election for foreign governments has been the rift between Mr Trump and large parts of the Republican foreign policy establishment, a section of which is openly supporting Hillary Clinton. Most of the small group of foreign policy advisers currently working with Mr Trump are much less well-known, giving diplomats in Washington little insight into the campaign’s thinking.

Mr Trump did receive some praise from the one leader who he met this week in New York, Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who said the Republican candidate would “no doubt” make a strong leader. Asked about Mr Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, Mr al-Sisi said that “during election campaigns many statements are made and many things are said; however, afterwards, governing the country would be something different.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned on Tuesday about the consequences of the US pulling back from its global role in ways that Mr Trump has often proposed.

“Can you imagine the soccer game where the referee decides to go back in the changing room? The first few moments, everyone says that’s great, and they’re away. After a time, it’s chaos,” Mr Blair told a Reuters event in New York. He added that Mrs Clinton was someone of “enormous wisdom, common sense and integrity.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang took the diplomatic route. “No matter who gets elected, I believe China-US ties will grow steadily and in a positive direction,” he told the Economic Club of New York.

Indonesian Islam: Neither White Knight nor Damsel in Distress

September 22, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 354 | September 22, 2016


Indonesian Islam: Neither White Knight nor Damsel in Distress

by Benjamin Nathan

In the fifteen years since 9/11, the attitude of the American media and foreign policy community towards Indonesian Islam has followed two parallel paths. The first is that Muslims in Indonesia have the potential to influence the thoughts and actions of Islamic extremists in the Middle East. The reasoning behind this viewpoint is easy to see: Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, an overwhelming majorityof whom reject acts of religious violence. American policymakers from both parties naturally see this state of affairs as a useful diplomatic tool for combating extremism in the Middle East.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Wolfowitz echoed this theme in 2009, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Indonesia Is a Model Muslim Democracy” that “if [Indonesia] continues to make progress on religious tolerance, it can point the way for other majority Muslim countries.” In November 2015, The New York Times described a recent anti-ISIS media campaign led by the Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) as a “welcome antidote to jihadism” and as a solution to the problem that “Western leaders often lack credibility with those most susceptible to jihad’s allure.”

The second path of American thinking about Indonesian Islam is that Islamic extremists in the Middle East have the potential to influence the thoughts and actions of Muslims in Indonesia. This is an idea of Indonesia as a teetering domino, a fortress of religious moderation under internal siege from a worldwide pox of Islamic fundamentalism. In this view, the fact that 90% of Indonesians are Muslims makes the country vulnerable to radicalization, moderate as Indonesia’s mainstream form of Islam may be. In its 2016 budget, the State Department listed Indonesia as a “focus country” for its Antiterrorism Assistance and Countering Violent Extremism programs. The United States provides financial and technical support for Detachment 88, Indonesia’s most prominent antiterror group, and also funds organizations deemed capable of “grass-roots counter-messaging” against extremism.

These twin perspectives assume the potential for widespread, persuasive communication between Indonesian Muslims and their coreligionists around the world. This assumption is largely off base. Chief among its flaws is that cultural and religious disparities between Indonesia and the Middle East, while impossible to measure precisely, are stark.Indonesians speak not Arabic but Malay, an Austronesian language whose resemblance to Arabic consists only of a scattershot of shared vocabulary. Indonesian Muslims generally make a point of distinguishing themselves from inhabitants of the Arab world. The Indonesian term kearab-araban, roughly equivalent to “over-Arabness,” is not a term of respect.

Even if they could easily communicate with other Muslims around the world, Indonesians would have few opportunities to do so. Indonesians are simply not well-placed around the globe to influence the ideological tide of worldwide Islam. Indonesia’s diaspora, aside from those who live in neighboring Malaysia, is small relative to population size. Of the Indonesians who travel to the Middle East, most are female domestic workers. The Saudi government caps the number of Indonesians allowed to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage at 168,800 per year –just .08% of the country’s Muslim population.

And even if it were conceivable that Indonesian anti-extremist rhetoric could dissuade Muslims around the world from joining groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, it would still be misleading to claim that organized Islam in Indonesia is an outstanding example of peace and tolerance that transcends historically-bound political conditions. The New York Timesarticle that called attention to Nahdlatul Ulama’s anti-ISIS efforts made no mention of the fact that the group played a central role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of suspected communists from 1965 to 1966. Its popular reputation as a moderate organization that “stresses nonviolence, inclusiveness and acceptance of other religions” is the result of an astonishingly narrow focus on the present day.

The reason why Nahdlatul Ulama and similar organizations no longer coordinate mass violence is that their institutional legitimacy is now secure-they face no challenge to their influence that compares to the threat they once faced from organized communism. Their professed tolerance is a result of political stability, not a cause. The historical record on this point is clear: when immersed in the power struggle of the 1960s, NU proved just as susceptible to the temptations of political violence as the extremist groups its leaders denounce today. It is therefore hard to imagine how Indonesia’s present-day brand of tolerance could take hold in such politically unstable regions as Syria and Nigeria.

The same factors that limit the usefulness of Indonesian Islam as a counterweight to extremist groups in the Middle East apply with equal strength to attempts by extremist groups in the Middle East to make inroads in Indonesia. The wide political and cultural reach of groups like NU and Muhammadiyah have provided resistance against the ideological incursions of Salafi proselytizers and the recruitment efforts of the Islamic State. Even as mainstream Indonesian Islam grows more conservative in areas like LGBT rights and inter-religious tolerance, its institutions constrain foreign radicalization.

ISIS, for its part, seems both unable and unwilling to carry out major terrorist attacks in Indonesia. In a January 2016 report for USAID, political scientist Greg Fealy estimated that only 250 to 300 Indonesian citizens-roughly one for every million-have traveled to join ISIS. Neighboring Australia’s per capita rate is five times as high. While the attacks that killed four people in Jakarta on January 14 were widely interpreted as a sign that ISIS had expanded its focus to Indonesia, evidence suggests that central ISIS leadership in Iraq and Syria did not have a planning role. The attack was an amateurish and homegrown operation with no proven connection to ISIS beyond hazy funding links and an impossible-to-disprove link of ‘inspiration.”

Indonesia today faces issues that dwarf the threat of terrorism in their scope and significance, such as the economy and institutional political weaknesses. According to the Global Terrorism Index, Indonesia would not match Nigeria’s 2014 casualty count from terrorism if an equivalent to January’s Jakarta attack occurred five times a day for an entire year. The US foreign policy community should not let the strategic priority of preventing the spread of terrorism distort their view of Indonesia’s own pressing needs. A strong Indonesia, after all, fits well within the policy interests of the United States. The world’s fourth-most populous country is an important economic and strategic partner, not least because of China’s increasing ambitions to establish its influence in Southeast Asia.

There is a risk, moreover, that funding local counter-terrorism efforts will incur more than just an opportunity cost. The Indonesian military, sidelined since Suharto’s downfall in 1998, views access to counter-terrorism funding as a potential wedge for reestablishing its influence in national politics. A remilitarization of Indonesian society would surely damage the country’s young democratic institutions. It could also thwart key American policy goals like the protection of religious freedom and human rights. The military has recently been involved in programs like bela negara (“defend the nation”), a training program for lay citizens that aims to target such social ills as latent communism and homosexuality. If American policymakers insist on enlisting Indonesia in the fight against terrorism, they must take care to avoid treatments that cause more harm than the targeted disease.

About the Author

Benjamin Nathan is a former researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated from Williams College in 2015 and is an alumnus of the Critical Language Scholarship program in Malang, Indonesia. He can be contacted at
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

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

Proud to be American in the Land of the Brave and Free–Madeleine Albright

September 21, 2016

REMINDER: All are welcome to The University of Cambodia. Listen to Ms Elizabeth Fisher Martin (pic) for her insights on the ongoing Presidential 2016 Campaign featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. America’s choice affects us all in ASEAN and Asia. See  you on our campus tomorrow at 9.oo am.–Din Merican

Betsy Fischer Martin

Proud to be American in the Land of the Brave and Free, says Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Image result for Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright

I came to the United States as a refugee when I was 11 years old. My father was a diplomat and a strong supporter of democracy in Czechoslovakia, so when the Communists took over, we were forced into exile as refugees. In November 1948, we were welcomed to the United States of America.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is the most important thing that ever happened to me. My father said that when we were in Europe during WWII people would say, “We are sorry for your troubles and hope that you have everything you need; by the way, when will you be leaving to go back home?”

But in America, people said: “We are sorry for your troubles and hope that you have everything you need; by the way, when will you become a citizen?”

America resettles more refugees than any other nation because it reflects one of our noblest traditions as a nation: providing support to those who are most vulnerable.

With the world facing the largest mass displacement on record since World War II, it has never been more important for world leaders to follow America’s example and work together to do more to support refugees.

Today, President Obama is hosting a Refugee Summit meeting to encourage more world leaders to step up and make new commitments to support the critical work of resettling refugees and helping them rebuild their lives. You can watch the President’s speech here at 3:35 PM Eastern.

Under President Obama, we’ve increased the number of refugees resettling this year to 85,000 – including 10,000 Syrian refugees. Starting next week, the United States will commit to resettling 110,000 refugees from around the world over the coming year.

And with refugees undergoing the most rigorous screening of any kind of traveler, he’s shown that we can welcome refugees while ensuring our own safety.

As a former Secretary of State, I can tell you that President Obama’s leadership in this global crisis is critical to our national security.

When countries with insufficient resources take in refugees, it creates more instability, not just at the frontlines of this crisis, but around the world. If we were to slam the door in the faces of refugees with certain religious backgrounds, we would defy our history and our principles of pluralism and diversity. As we talk to other nations about what more needs to be done to tackle this crisis, it’s important that President Obama is setting this example.

When I came here as a child, I will never forget sailing into New York Harbor for the first time and beholding the Statute of Liberty. I did not have to face refugee camps or the kind of danger that many refugees endure. But like all refugees, I shared a hope to live a safe life with dignity and a chance to give back to my new country.

Together, we can help refugees rebuild their lives and live with dignity once again.

Thank you,

Madeleine Albright
Former U.S. Secretary of State

Image result for The White House logo

Book Review: War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft.

September 18, 2016

There isn’t much grand about America’s post-Cold War grand strategy. Such is the consensus among the academic scholars, think-tankers, pundits, and many former national security officials who have chastised U.S. foreign policymakers for lacking strategic sophistication, or worse, failing to craft a coherent grand strategy at all.[1] For the last twenty five years, these critics claim, Washington has sought the wrong goals, under-resourced its efforts, and failed to anticipate the likely second-order effects of its policies.[2] In the main, these critical assessments have understandably focused on the military-security dimension of grand strategy. America’s national security policies since the mid-1990s cost much blood and treasure, degraded regional security environments, and inspired hostile reactions by other powers.[3]

In their well-crafted and important new book, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft, Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris join this discussion orthogonally, arguing that the United States has altogether abandoned the economic dimension of grand strategy. Since the mid-1960s, Washington has been gripped by a debilitating neoliberal (or, neoclassical economic) dogma that works as an ideological firewall separating the operation of markets from the pursuit of international political objectives. As a result, America’s substantial and diversified economic resources have been woefully underutilized as tools of grand strategy. At the same time, the United States’ most formidable challengers (China, Russia, and Iran) are all effective practitioners of economic statecraft. To secure its national interest in the years to come, Washington must relearn how to employ economic resources in the service of its geopolitical objectives. To do otherwise would cede the contest to states whose interests and actions will continue to undermine American security and prosperity.

War by Other Means is structured around three main themes. In the first three chapters, Blackwill and Harris examine economic statecraft generally, defining “geoeconomics” as “the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests and to produce beneficial geopolitical results; and the effects of other nations’ economic actions on a country’s geopolitical goals.”[4]  The authors argue that rising powers now turn first to economic statecraft because it effectively buttresses their geopolitical objectives while mitigating the risk of armed conflict.  Unlike past eras, state-capitalist challengers to the prevailing liberal order have many more economic instruments at the ready. Due to the expansion of global markets and their structural transformations over time, economic factors now impinge substantially on states’ geopolitical choices. By way of example, the authors note that “the fate of the European Union—perhaps the West’s greatest foreign policy achievement of the twentieth century and the closest U.S. foreign policy partner—for several years rested at least as much in the hands of bond markets as in European political capitals.”[5]  In sum, the current international system entails new economic and financial challenges and opportunities, offering states many powerful geoeconomic assets to employ against targets large and small.

Among the most insightful sections in these early chapters is Blackwill and Harris’s in-depth examination of the geoeconomic instruments available to states, including: trade policy, investment policy, economic sanctions, cyber, foreign aid, monetary policy, and energy and commodity policies. Not content merely to catalog these policy tools, the authors offer a valuable discussion of the interrelations among them—noting where synergies can be found and where tensions may lie. Most important is the authors’ argument pertaining to the sources of geoeconomic effectiveness. Blackwill and Harris maintain that effectiveness is in part a function of four “geoeconomic endowments”: the ability to control outbound investments, the particular features of domestic markets, the influence over commodity and energy flows, and the centrality of the state in the global financial system. Beyond these structural attributes are the contextual features that must factor into a state’s decision making process: the number and types of geoeconomic targets, the goals sought, and the selection of the proper economic tools that can deliver those goals.

China’s geoeconomic approach to statecraft is the second general theme taken up by Blackwill and Harris. The PRC has demonstrated remarkable capacities to employ explicit and implicit economic coercion to orient weaker states’ foreign policies in ways that support Beijing’s geopolitical objectives, to hedge against the actions of other regional competitors (namely, India and Russia), and to mount a challenge to American preeminence in the global economy. Blackwill and Harris maintain that China’s approach is a soft strategy of economic domination through its investment, natural resource extraction, development, and monetary policies. Not only does this approach pose a direct challenge to the U.S., but the indirect economic and security threats are substantial. China has “… locked up significant quantities of global energy resources, grown the coffers of dictators unfriendly to the United States; lent new momentum to domestic proponents of China’s own military buildup, and arguably have increased the odds of resource-based conflict.”[6] All of this while staying out of other states’ wars.

Compounding these challenges to the U.S. are self-imposed constraints on America’s practice of geoeconomics, the subject of the book’s third theme. Despite their overall dissatisfaction with American geoeconomic performance, Blackwill and Harris’s account of America’s dismal track record can be read as cautiously optimistic. The U.S. is, after all, the largest of the world’s economies, centrally positioned in global markets, and of monumental importance, the beneficiary of technological and geological endowments that are spurring a revolution in its energy portfolio (their chapter “The Geoeconomics of North America’s Energy Revolution” is alone worth the book’s sticker price). Moreover, the United States has a rich history of successfully practicing geoeconomics. The purpose of the Marshall Plan, for example, was quintessentially geoeconomic. As George Kennan argued in 1947, American aid to the war-ravaged states in Western Europe should attempt to redress “the economic maladjustment which makes European Society vulnerable to exploitation by any and all totalitarian movements and which Russian communism is now exploiting.”[7] Despite this and many other examples from its past, Blackwill and Harris maintain that the American foreign policy establishment has long since forgotten that the U.S. was once an avid and successful practitioner of geoeconomics.

The authors point to two causes of this strategic amnesia: the presumption that military-security affairs constitutes the most important component of grand strategy, and the “…widely held world view that markets are somehow apolitical, to be kept free from geopolitical encroachments, and in any case not a proper arena for state power politics.”[8] These assumptions, Blackwill and Harris argue, were not held for most of America’s history (becoming prominent only at the time of the Vietnam War), are rejected by the states that are posing the most salient challenges to America’s position in the world, and undermine the United States’ ability to forge an effective grand strategy in response. To properly rebalance its grand strategy, the U.S. must redress a number of challenges: a bipartisan deficit in presidential leadership, the reflexive overuse of economic sanctions, and the transfer of bureaucratic authority of geoeconomic policymaking out of the State Department. Most importantly, the U.S. must cultivate the intellectual capacities within the foreign policy establishment necessary to reincorporate economics into grand strategy.

Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris discuss War by Other Means (Council on Foreign Relations)

Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris discuss War by Other Means (Council on Foreign Relations)

War by Other Means is a well-reasoned and important book that offers useful alternatives to stale nostrums that have long dominated American statecraft. Notwithstanding its strengths, the book’s analysis suffers at times by not engaging fully with the literature it challenges. For example, Blackwill and Harris contend that the economic dimension of statecraft has been largely buried by an overriding focus on military-security considerations since the 1960s. This view is not universally shared, however. According to both Christopher Layne and Andrew Bacevich, American foreign policy has long sought to keep “economic open doors” ajar, a policy objective requiring the conjoined use of military and economic resources to make states and regions amenable to American economic and geopolitical influence.[9] Economic open door logic was evident in America’s Cold War grand strategies and was later manifest in Washington’s response to the crises in the Balkans in the 1990s. Further, as Richard Haass points out, “The U.S. interest in the [Middle East] region’s oil is strategic, one of ensuring American and world access to adequate supplies, not tied in any way to gaining financial advantage.”[10] This strategic imperative informed the first Bush administration’s decision to wage war against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. In sum, economic instruments and objectives are seen, in this line of reasoning, as mainstays of U.S. statecraft, working hand in glove with military power.

Further, Blackwill and Harris lament the removal of American economic instruments from its grand strategic toolbox. Not only has this contributed to the winnowing of the range of responses the U.S. can make in response to geopolitical challenges, but the widespread belief that economic logic is fundamentally apolitical has done real strategic damage. The authors are on solid ground in diagnosing the current problems confronting the U.S. Still, a case can be made that by giving markets a freer hand (liberal trade and financial policies), the American economy benefitted both absolutely and relatively vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in Cold War’s final years. In particular, liberal economic policies championed by the U.S. fostered globalized inter- and intra-firm alliances that enhanced the efficiency of supply chains, allowed for greater access to capital, distributed risk, and fostered innovation. The results were profound: a decrepit and uncompetitive Soviet economy forced the Kremlin into retrenchment and strategic reorientation toward the West. As Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth pithily note, “globalization was not global: it took sides in the Cold War.”[11] Geoeconomics, as Blackwill and Harris understand it, was not explicitly practiced in this case.  But in light of the international economic determinants of Soviet behavior in the late 1980s, it is difficult to argue that a wiser approach was on offer.

However one may quibble with its historical analysis, War by Other Means is fundamentally a book about present challenges and future responses. According to the authors, American policymakers must come to terms with a stark reality, that the “rules-based system… is delivering less and less in the way of strategic returns as rising powers (often through geoeconomic attempts of their own) undercut it.”[12] Furthermore, the present order does little to enhance U.S. strategic interests because it is flimsy and disproportionately advantages a growing China.

G. John Ikenberry on illiberal alternatives to the present order: “…on a global scale, such a system would not advance the interests of any of the major states, including China.”

Yet to effectively make the case that an explicit and assertive brand of geoeconomic statecraft is necessary because the American-led liberal order is failing to deliver, that global architecture needed to be thoroughly analyzed and shown to be wanting. Specifically, Blackwill and Harris needed to tackle the arguments which understand the liberal international order to be both durable and powerful in its socializing effects on rising challengers. According to this view, the order fashioned by the United States and its allies in the aftermath of World War II is loosely rules-based, nondiscriminatory, and densely institutionalized. Within this order, rising powers can gain substantially—but in ways that powerfully shape their interests and limit their revisionist tendencies. In other words, because it has grown within the order, China can neither abandon it without substantial penalty nor induce others join an alternative Sino-centric order. As G. John Ikenberry notes, there is no illiberal alternative to the present order, “…on a global scale, such a system would not advance the interests of any of the major states, including China.”[13] While the terms of ownership of the order may need renegotiation, the underlying logic is stable and mutually beneficial.[14]

Furthermore, the existence of the liberal order adds to China’s current strategic dilemmas.  As Edward Luttwak posited, the PRC’s simultaneous pursuit of economic growth, military expansion, and international political influence, will ultimately be met with a forceful geoeconomic reaction.[15] Should Beijing’s case of “great state autism” not be mitigated over time, other states will find intolerable Beijing’s selectively coercive and discriminatory brand of economic statecraft, and the existing liberal order more attractive. The upshot is that China’s economic statecraft may prove successful, but only for a time. Far better for the U.S. to demonstrate to China’s geoeconomic targets that the prevailing order offers them more benefits and less costs over the long term. The point is not to say that Blackwill and Harris are wrong in their descriptions of how China is using geoeconomics to challenge the U.S. Rather, that there are good reasons to believe that China is hemmed in by broad normative, institutional, and strategic features. In short, a more thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the prevailing liberal order would have benefited the authors’ arguments in a number of ways.

Spencer Bakich is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Virginia Military Institute and the author of Success and Failure in Limited War: Information and Strategy in the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq Wars.


[1] For a sampling of the debate, see contributors to “Obama’s World,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 94, no. 5 (September/October 2015), 2-78; contributors to “Obama’s World: Judging His Foreign Policy Record,” H-Diplo/ISSF Forum, no. 14 (2016); Barry R. Posen, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014; and Colin Dueck, The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

[2] Richard K. Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).; Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Knopf, 2014); and Vali Nasr, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat(New York: Doubleday, 2013).

[3] Martin Indyk, “The End of the U.S.-Dominated Order in the Middle East,” The Atlantic(March 13, 2016).

[4] Robert D. Blackwill and Jennifer M. Harris, War by Other Means: Geoeconomics and Statecraft(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016), 9.

[5] Ibid., 37-38.

[6] Ibid., 151.

[7] Ibid., 163.

[8] Ibid, 153.

[9] Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006); Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

[10] Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), 75.

[11] Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, “Power, Globalization, and the End of the Cold War: Reevaluating a Landmark Case for Ideas,” International Security, vol. 25, no. 3 (Winter, 2000-2001), pp. 5-53.

[12] Blackwill and Harris, 186.

[13] G. John Ikenberry, “The Future of the Liberal World Order: Internationalism After America,”Foreign Affairs, vol. 90, no. 3 (May/June 2011).

[14] G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[15] Edward N. Luttwak, The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).

Indonesia’s ASEAN leadership lost at sea

September 17, 2016

Indonesia’s ASEAN leadership lost at sea

by Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto

Indonesia likes to portray itself as first among equals in ASEAN. But it’s fundamentally wrong to conceive of ASEAN as a flock of sheep with Indonesia as the shepherd. Every ASEAN nation has its own set of interests and priorities with Beijing, which has become more influential in dictating their South China Sea policies.–Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto

Image result for ASEAN Leaders at Laos Summit 2016

As ASEAN meetings in Vientiane concluded in September 2016, an air of anxiety was already beginning to settle over the Southeast Asian nations. Further resistance against China’s maritime assertiveness in the South China Sea is provingincreasingly futile. Nothing displays this conviction better than ASEAN’s muted acquiescence towards Beijing’s rejection of a legally binding Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) decision in July 2016; ignoring calls from the United States andothers. And it’s wrong to assume that Indonesia’s diplomatic heft in ASEAN could change that.

Prior to the PCA decision, Indonesia had been consistently arguing about the illegality of China’s ‘nine-dash’ or ‘U-shaped’ line claim. This stems from its critical stake in the UNCLOS-based global maritime order — a point Indonesia made clear in its 2010 UN note. It thus begs the question why Indonesia’s foreign ministrystatement did not explicitly support the decision, although President Joko Widodo’s parliamentary address reiterated the statement’s call for conciliatory efforts among claimants. Indonesia could have at least amplified its diplomatic concerns on the illegality of the U-shaped line. But it didn’t, despite plenty of opportunities to do so.

Image result for ASEAN Leaders at Laos Summit 2016

Having been embroiled in fishing skirmishes with China recently, Indonesia’s ‘soft’ response towards the PCA decision is surprising indeed. China consistently supports Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty over the Natuna Islands but it remains ambiguous over the maritime boundary. In June, China broke this ambiguity by stating that its ‘traditional fishing grounds’, as part of the U-shape line, overlap with Indonesia’s claimed exclusive economic zone near the Natunas. In spite of Widodo’s ostentatious display, Indonesia is aware of its limitations in the South China Sea, including a disunity of efforts among its government ministries and agencies.

Indonesia’s response to the PCA decision appears to reflect ASEAN’s general tone. During the ASEAN meetings in July, the PCA decision wasn’t mentioned at all in their joint statements. Still, ASEAN foreign ministers were ‘seriously concerned over recent and ongoing developments’, including ‘land reclamation that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea’. They also issued a joint statement with China, with both parties pledging ‘to exercise self-restraint’, including refraining from ‘inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner’.

Image result for ASEAN Leaders at Laos Summit 2016

To be fair, the foreign ministers’ statement is noticeably strong, implicitly aiming at China’s ongoing reclamation activities. But the joint statement is a bit disingenuous, given the PCA decision that none of the Spratly features legally constitute islands. The recent Vientiane talks also stopped short of targeting the core issues. For instance, it adopted the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, or CUES, for naval forces, despite the fact that paramilitary forces such as coastguards lead much of the maritime assertiveness, especially from China.

At heart is the question of whether ASEAN is able to coalesce vis-à-vis China when its largest member, Indonesia, is fixated on its domestic front. Amid budget cuts, trickling foreign investment, and a depreciating rupiah, the economy is what every sensible Indonesian would care about first and foremost. Simply put, Indonesia just doesn’t feel it has the luxury of options, at least for now. Sweet talking is enough to persuade Jakarta about the prospect of Beijing funding Widodo’s maritime vision. Jakarta doesn’t want the South China Sea to overshadow its relationship with Beijing.

Yet Indonesia’s present approach towards China isn’t unique. Once the most confrontational of all, the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte is now doing something similar. And then there’s Cambodia and Laos. Why should Indonesia confront Beijing when others in ASEAN appear either unwilling or unable to do so?

Indonesia likes to portray itself as first among equals in ASEAN. But it’s fundamentally wrong to conceive of ASEAN as a flock of sheep with Indonesia as the shepherd. Every ASEAN nation has its own set of interests and priorities with Beijing, which has become more influential in dictating their South China Sea policies.

Consequently, a wait-and-see approach towards China appears to have prevailed in ASEAN. They ‘wait’ until the other makes the first move towards China, and ‘see’ how favourable China’s response is before making the next move. No ASEAN country is willing to lay all their cards on the table as a precursor to crafting a concerted strategy towards China. And it’s wishful thinking to argue that Indonesia could make that happen.

Indonesia’s ASEAN leadership isn’t about forging a unity among discords, much less building coalitions. Rather, it’s about cobbling together a consensus from the lowest common denominator or low hanging fruit. If and when discords do arise, at most Indonesia tries to mediate or facilitate rather than enforce consensus. Indonesia to ASEAN is not what the United States is to NATO or even what India is to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Indonesia’s diplomatic aura reveals more strategic weakness than geopolitical dominance. In short, its ‘big country’ syndrome belies a middle power capacity trying to project itself globally through the use of diplomatic apparatus rather than, say, military expeditionary forces.

Asking Indonesia to lead ASEAN on the South China Sea would be too much and too soon. It’s too much because Indonesia doesn’t think of its leadership as such, and too soon because it doesn’t have the capacity to do so — at least not yet. This is why Indonesia sticks to the Declaration of Conduct and the Code of Conduct — because that’s what it can realistically do. If China decides to disregard international law, intimidate its neighbours or continue reclaiming the ocean, there’s little Indonesia can do through ASEAN.

Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto is an Indonesian Presidential PhD Scholar with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University.