US Foreign Policy: A distracted America in a dangerous world


October 19.2016

US Foreign Policy

A distracted America in a dangerous world

The next three months will be a perilous time from Mosul to the South China Sea

by Gideon Rachman

https://www.ft.com

The assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul that began this week underlines the fact that the next three months will be a perilous period in international politics. Fighting is intensifying in the Middle East. Tensions are rising between Russia and the west. And relations between China and its Asian neighbours are getting edgier. All this is happening while the US is diverted by the Trump-Clinton melodrama and the transition to a new president.

 

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For Russia and China — two countries that are openly unhappy with the US-dominated world order — a distracted America will look like an opportunity. Both Moscow and Beijing regard Hillary Clinton with suspicion and believe that her probable arrival in the Oval Office would herald a more hawkish US foreign policy. They may be tempted to act swiftly, before she has a chance to settle into the White House.

A temporarily preoccupied America might not matter much in normal times. But big and dangerous decisions are looming. In the Middle East, the bombardment of Aleppo by Russian and Syrian government forces has led to a near-breakdown in relations between Moscow and the west. Without a common diplomatic project to hold them together, the two sides may slide into outright confrontation in Syria. Further sanctions on Russia are in the offing and the west’s military options are also being reviewed.

President Vladimir Putin may calculate that a US administration that has refused to take military action against the Assad regime since 2011 is unlikely to reverse course in President Barack Obama’s last few months in office. But if the Russians push too hard, they could miscalculate and provoke an American reaction. That is particularly the case because the Obama administration is angered by Russian cyber warfare, aimed at influencing the US presidential election. Joe Biden, the vice-president, has already signalled that America intends to retaliate in cyber space.

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Even without a worsening of the situation in Syria, fighting in the Middle East will intensify in the coming weeks. The Iraqi government, backed by the air power of a US-led coalition, has begun a major push to retake Mosul from Isis. With one eye on his legacy and another on the presidential election, Mr Obama would be delighted to notch up a significant victory against Isis in the coming weeks.

Going on the offensive in Iraq, rather than Syria, is also more attractive for America because there is less chance of an accidental clash with the Russians. A successful US-backed assault on Mosul could also counteract the impression of American weakness in the Middle East. But the comparisons between Mosul and Aleppo are also a warning. There are more than 1m civilians living in and around Mosul who could be caught up in the fighting. The battle for the city could also lead to a clash between the Turkish and Iraqi governments, both nominally American allies.

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Who is Right–One Shoe Fits all?

The Russians may also feel that the next few months offer an opportunity in eastern Europe and Ukraine, with the EU distracted by Brexit and the run-up to the French presidential election. Moscow had hoped that, by now, the EU would have eased the economic sanctions that were imposed in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Instead, the west has collectively strengthened its stance by moving more Nato troops into the Baltic states that border Russia. In response, the Russians have moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad, a Russian territorial enclave that lies between Lithuania and Poland. Russia’s nuclear posturing is clearly intended to unnerve but it is dangerous for all that.

The Chinese government is more controlled and ambiguous in its belligerence than Moscow. Nevertheless, Beijing’s actions in recent months have set the nerves of its neighbours on edge. The Chinese were enraged by an international tribunal’s ruling in July that Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are largely specious. Since then the official media in Beijing has become ever more ferocious, berating and threatening otherwise friendly countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Australia for following America’s line on security issues. The Japanese say that they have seen a recent increase in Chinese activity in the disputed waters of the East China Sea.

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As Mr Obama prepares to pack his bags in the White House, he may look back wryly at the foreign-policy goals that he set eight years ago.

There was to be a “reset” that would lead to better relations with Russia. There would also be a new and closer working relationship with China. And there would be an end to war in the Middle East. None of those policies has come to fruition. Instead, Mr Obama will be fortunate if he can negotiate his last three months in office without presiding over a major international crisis.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

 

 

Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea


October 15, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 358 | October 13, 2016

ANALYSIS

Australia’s Contentious Strategy in the South China Sea

By Orrie Johan

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Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop

Considerable disagreement persists over an ideal Australian policy response to China’s actions in the South China Sea (SCS). In recent days, the Opposition Defense Minister from the Labor Party challenged current government policy by arguing that Australia should begin staging freedom of navigation exercises (FONOPs) in the fiercely contested South China Sea. This view was criticized not only by senior figures in the current government, which holds a razor-thin parliamentary majority, but also by a number of highly influential former leaders of the Labor Party. Australia does not have a direct sovereignty stake in the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. However, as an island nation which is heavily reliant on regional and global trade, Australia’s economic and military security are reliant on the region remaining stable and open.

Australia’s approach to the SCS is also shaped by its relations to the region’s major players, each of which has differing views of how they would like Australia to engage in the South China Sea. Australia has traditionally relied on the U.S. as its primary ally to protect against external threats and the two countries share strong cultural, economic, and defense ties. But U.S. dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and the stability which it has provided is increasingly challenged by China’s rise. Australia’s economic prosperity relies heavily on China’s rapid economic growth to sustain demand for Australian exports — particularly natural resources and services.

Australia faces expectations from the U.S. to assist its efforts to uphold the current regional order. These efforts include support for arbitration cases like that of the Philippines and conducting FONOPs in disputed areas. From China, Australia faces pressure to refrain from challenging China’s approach of using unilateral or bilateral means to resolve many of these disputes. This would undoubtedly include Australia refraining from conducting U.S.-style FONOPs.

Australia’s domestic debate on how to respond to China in the South China Sea is mostly dominated by two competing schools of thought. The first is that Australia should stay in lock-step with the U.S. in challenging China’s unilateral moves in the South China Sea, while the second group recommends supporting the U.S.’s position, but moderating Australia’s responses at the same time to avoid Chinese repercussions. Proponents of each view can be found in both the left-leaning Labor party and the right-leaning Liberal party, as can be seen by the criticism of the Opposition Defense Minister’s recent comments from figures linked to both major parties. The question of whether Australia should participate in U.S. FONOP exercises or even conduct its own represents one of the major fault-lines between these two camps. An additional minority view held by the Greens party and some others proposes reducing Australia’s ties with the U.S. Public opinion in Australia meanwhile has strongly positive views of both the U.S. and of China.

Supporters of Australia’s participation in FONOPs tend to emphasize the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia and the threat of Chinese unilateralism to Australia’s strategic neighborhood. They maintain that Australia relies on the U.S. not only for its security from external attack, but also to maintain the stability of the region and the international law regime that secures Australia’s economic trade. They argue that Australia should firmly support the U.S. in its dealings with China and should conduct FONOPs because doing so furthers both Australian and U.S. interests. They also argue that Australia has the capabilities to conduct FONOPs, as U.S. FONOPs have used just a single ship in the past. Australia could spare a P-3 Orion aircraft or a frigate for this purpose. Support for this view predominately comes from Australia’s defense and security communities and is also supported by senior figures in both major Australian political parties.

The mainstream opponents of FONOPs agree on the importance of the U.S. alliance to Australia, but they also emphasize China’s importance to Australia and focus on potential risks from Chinese retribution to an Australian FONOP. Australia’s economy relies heavily on China and the Chinese government has punished other countries economically for taking stances which China strongly opposes. Opponents to FONOPs often also argue that Australia supports the U.S. in other ways and that it does not make sense for Australia to conduct FONOPs since no country other than the U.S. has conducted them thus far. This group supports increased flexibility within the U.S.-Australia alliance when cooperation would affect relations with China. Support for this perspective predominately comes from Australia’s diplomatic and business communities, as well as senior figures in both major Australian political parties. A minority of members of Australia’s defense community supports it as well.

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The Australian government’s actions in the South China Sea thus far fall in the “flexible alliance” camp. Prime Minister Turnbull has built stronger security ties with regional neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam, a trend which the U.S. and other regional powers support as a way of preserving the rules-based regional order and reducing China’s unilateral leverage in the region. His government has also voiced support for U.S. FONOPs in the South China Sea and has been one of the few countries that has consistently and openly supported the Philippines’ use of an arbitration tribunal to challenge China’s claims in the SCS, despite Chinese opposition to both measures. However, the Turnbull government has thus far decided not to conduct a freedom of navigation operation close to disputed islands in the South China Sea, indicating that they believe such an action risks escalating tensions with China. While Australian military forces periodically patrol the South China Sea in the name of regional stability and intelligence gathering under Operation Gateway, Australian forces thus far have not publicly traveled within the limit of territorial waters that China claims in order to replicate U.S. FONOPs. Instead the Turnbull government has stated its support for a diplomatic approach to encourage China to compromise.

Australia is not facing a binary choice between a security partner (the U.S.) and an economic partner (China); the U.S. is a major economic partner for Australia as well. Australian prime ministers over the last two decades have therefore often stated that Australia does not have to choose between the U.S. and China. Turnbull seems to be following this approach by showing the U.S. that it supports American freedom of navigation operations and by showing China that Australia will not participate in any FONOPs itself. If Turnbull remains in office, then this policy is unlikely to change unless Australia begins to feel that Australian civil and military assets risk losing their ability to travel safely through the South China Sea.

Orrie Johan is a researcher at the East-West Center in Washington. He recently obtained a master’s degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University.

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.

Malaysia is a Garrison State–Fijian soldiers died in Vain


 

NOTE:

A few days ago I sent an old friend and a Ph. D colleague – Dr. James Anthony who now lives in Hawaii – a copy of a forum article on the sources of UMNO’s hegemony in the country. The article was written for Sahabat Rakyat, an NGO on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. See http://sahabatrakyatmy.blogspot.my/.

Jim worked on urban politics in Malaysia for his dissertation and has kept up a keen interest in Malaysia. This is his sharp and chastening reply reproduced with his permission.Ending on a dismal note, Jim is among many foreign friends who are concerned about the train wreck happening to our beloved country.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Malaysia is a Garrison State–Fijian soldiers died in Vain

by James Anthony

Hegemony of this kind–or indeed any kind–is hard to dislodge with logic and appeals to reason.

In Malaysia there is a hardened (ossified is a better word), foundation of hegemonic systemic units in place and have been in place for close to six decades. That a while. Besides, consider the contextual political situation: For all intents and purposes UMNO’s long-standing position is that Malaysia is a Muslim country — all of the disinformation and blather and lip service to “democratic ideals” aside.

The Federal Treasury is UMNO’s piggy bank (bad metaphor for a so-called Muslim country). Deep pocket is a more value neutral metaphor. Old law of politics: Those who control the purse strings are effectively in control of the country. UMNO is not going to voluntarily give up on its stranglehold. In all likelihood UMNO will do whatever it can get away with to strengthen its stranglehold. People in power do not just give their power away to be nice and gracious. That is not the way the world works. You know that.

So what to do?

1.You keep talking about it as you are now doing and have been doing. Not much happens.

2. In a vague way reformers HOPE that something will happen to change things. HOPE IS NOT A PLAN

3. Any type of structural reform is not in the cards. You have a domestic army, stitched together from top to bottom with members of one ethnic group in control. Well armed and well-trained.

4. The Malaysian version of Islam is part of an Pan-Islamic movement very much on the move world-wide.

5. Push too much and what? –back to 1969?

6. If you expect too much from the Opposition you are headed for heartbreak. The Opposition is tied to the “system” — jobs, bread, money, some crumbs to distribute to followers.

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You are on site, in the belly of the beast. Do you sense that the walls of Jericho are beginning to develop cracks, fissures? I do not sense that. The Malaysian elite is dug in. UMNO is dug in? The Judiciary is toothless, I think. There is no evidence from 1948 till now of the UMNO Malays giving in to anything–they are in power and intend to remain in power. I think they know that the Opposition, such as it is, –for want of a better term – is a limp penis.

Can Malaysia Be a Mature Democracy?

Malaysia does not act in its own best self interest by tenaciously clinging to anti human rights legislation that has been on its books since 1948. Malaysia needs to grow up and cast aside old myths and face new realities.

Malaysia’s repressive legislation, including the latest, does not enhance its standing in the world and — and this is of great importance — it also left-handedly taints Islam’s standing in the world. From the years of the ‘Emergency’ through the immediate post Emergency period when local government in both Kuala Lumpur and Penang were eviscerated by the then UMNO-MCA-MIC government (I know. I wrote a PhD dissertation on the subject based on CONFIDENTIAL files I pored over for more than a year). This slippery slide continued well into the tragic events of 1969 and on into the 21st century, Malaysia seems to be governed by sleight of hand and by double talk, worse than anything that Orwell could ever imagine.

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Malaysia has become more of a Garrison State papered thinly over by paper-thin democratic forms which are symbolic and not much more.

Sad. Very sad. Malaysia’s assault on the human rights of its citizens makes it look shabby, cheap and unworthy of Islam’s great truths. Malaysia’s record of anti human rights legislation demeans and diminishes the best and the brightest of its citizens (and many others) and in that process demeans, diminishes and belittles its own image in the eyes of the world.

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Hundreds of soldiers from the land of my birth (Fiji) fought in Malaysia’s jungles against freedom fighters dubbed “Communists” by the foreign regime which had been unceremoniously driven out by the Japanese at the outbreak of World War II. Fijians were told that they would be fighting to establish democracy in what was still then Malaya. Fijian soldiers fought and died for an empty promise. What they fought for was a lie. What you have in Malaysia today is anything but democracy. The big lie of the late 1940s is still a lie, a cancerous growth that has grown … and grown … and grown.

It is reasonable and plausible to argue that Malaysia has long been in the tightening grip of a religio-political-ethnic elite deeply committed to xenophobic religio-cultural–ethnic parochialism.

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UMNO has the national government on a very short leash that has grown shorter over the years. Instruments that have had the net effect of diminishing human rights have been on the rise and continue to rise. Under these circumstances it appears that the national government can neither rule fairly nor govern in a way that remotely resembles democracy.

The instruments of accountability are weak, anemic might be a better word.. It might even be argued to good effect that the national government is running out of time. The national government might be well advised to do what train crossings advice: ‘Stop, Look, Listen.” There’s a train coming.

Obama’s Pivot to Asia Policy: It’s a Solid Double


September 16, 2016

Obama’s  Pivot to Asia Policy:It’s a Solid Double

by Jeffrey Bader, Brookings Institute

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

On rare occasions, international issues are resolved by a dramatic, decisive development. Much more often, progress is incremental. As United States President Barack Obama has said, an administration hits more singles and doubles than home runs. This has certainly been the nature of the United States’ recent achievements in Asia.

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Unlike the Middle East, which is in seemingly permanent turmoil and crisis, or Europe, whose unity and institutions are threatened, Asia is economically dynamic and generally stable. It is the fastest growing region in the world, the home of many of the companies and much of the technology driving the global economy, and the source of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade and investment.

Obama believed US interests lay in deeper engagement in a part of the world marked by success stories rather than failed states, much as throughout US history its deepest overseas ties have been with a prosperous and dynamic Europe. That has meant neither lazy affirmation of the region’s status quo nor efforts at destabilising transformation. It has required the right balance in dealing with a China whose growing economic, military and political strength is viewed with anxiety by many of the region’s peoples and as a potential strategic rival by the United States.

Obama’s policy towards China has built on the efforts of every presidential administration since Richard Nixon and is grounded in several fundamental principles. These include accepting the increased influence of a China that plays by international rules, building an extensive network of connections with Chinese elites and ordinary people, and providing assurance to the region of the enduring nature of the US’ security commitments. The US also aims to maintain a formal framework of multilateral cooperation encompassing the United States, China and various regional states.

Major achievements have included the establishment of democracy in Myanmar; the US’ decision to join the East Asia Summit and begin efforts to turn it into a significant regional security forum; and the measurable strengthening of security relationships with Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN nations.

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Obama with Putin and Xi –What’s next with the next POTUS?

With China, Obama has taken steps to improve cooperation and transparency, along with measures to strengthen the security of the United States and its regional allies. The United States and China have concluded military-to-military agreements designed to avoid incidents on the high seas and in international air space. The Obama administration has worked with China to successfully freeze Iran’s nuclear weapons program, place caps on greenhouse gases and halt cyber theft of US companies’ intellectual property.

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The United States has also ramped up its naval presence in the South China Sea and, for the first time, comprehensively laid out its principles there — which were largely validated by the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the China–Philippines dispute. It has overseen a transfer of some of the US’ most advanced naval and air force systems to the Pacific, and it has reaffirmed US defence assurances to Japan covering Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea challenged by China.

With President Obama having just held his last official meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, there are two principal challenges to the generally positive trajectory of US policy towards Asia.

The first is the continuing difficulties in managing and reacting to China’s rise. Will China address territorial conflicts peacefully in the South China Sea, cooperate in rolling back North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, build a normal relationship with Japan and manage its differences with Taiwan? Will China work towards a politically sustainable trade and investment regime and dismantle nationalist and mercantilist policies that encourage other countries to erect retaliatory barriers and decrease global prosperity?

Message to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton–Bungle Asia at your own peril

China, not the United States, will answer these questions, but the kind of relationship that the United States has with China will help shape the answers. Neither an American policy of containment nor one of isolationism will produce the desired outcomes to these challenges. None have been resolved during Obama’s time, but he has made ample progress and laid out a realistic and balanced framework that the next president would do well to heed.

The second is the domestic mood in the United States. Casual proposals by Donald Trump to allow Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, to abandon US alliances if its partners don’t pay their ‘fair share’, and to impose 45 per cent tariffs on China would individually and collectively undo the achievements of President Obama and his predecessors.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) negotiations, a signature achievement of Obama’s Asia policy, may be a casualty of American domestic politics. If Congress doesn’t approve the TPP this year then approving some form of the TPP will become a priority for  the next administration. Otherwise, people in Asia who have long looked to the United States as an essential partner may conclude that its interests do not include them.

Jeffrey Bader is a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton Center, Brookings Institute. From 2009–2011, he served as special assistant to the president of the United States for national security affairs at the National Security Council. 

This article was first published here on Brookings.

 

Indonesia: Reassessing ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)


September 7, 2016

Indonesia: Reassessing  ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)

Book Review: ‘War Porn’


August 10, 2016

Review: ‘War Porn’ Widens the Field of Vision About the Costs in Iraq