This was another busy week in global politics and I'm going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.
I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team -- and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.
None of those victories featured the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:
Just as the international community appeared at long last to be taking a stronger stand against Russia, President Putin upped the ante. Unlike its annexation of Crimea, Russia is now in open warfare with Ukraine on its eastern border. There is fresh evidence indicating not only that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian-aided rebels in eastern Ukraine, but also that the Russian military has been firing missiles and artillery from its own territory at targets inside Ukraine proper. Russia has redeployed over 20,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border.
The SA-11 mobile missile battery was supplied by Russia and crossed into Ukraine in a large Russian military convoy a week in advance of the attack, which included additional missile batteries. Radar information, wreckage from the crash, and intercepted phone calls implicate the rebels directly, as well as Russia’s involvement in the cover-up. The crash site was thoroughly tampered with by the rebels, who delayed releasing the bodies of victims and have yet to release the monitoring officials from the OSCE that they have held captive for months.
Russia decided to up the ante of its double game prior to the shooting down of Flight 17, a response to the recent gains the Ukraine military forces have been making against the pro-Russia rebels. In fact many of these rebels are not just pro-Russian, they are full-fledged Russian citizens—including some notorious bad apples that Russia previously used in not so subtle attempts to destabilize former members of the Warsaw Pact.
But just as the EU is about to drop a new sanctions hammer on Russia, the Russians have taken the Putin Doctrine to a new more dangerous level. They have transitioned from weeks of waging irregular warfare against Ukraine to low grade standard warfare, and they appear to be preparing to raise that grade and potentially invade Ukraine Georgia-style. What more crystal clear evidence could there be that western allies have yet to establish conventional deterrence vis-à-vis Russia?
If only present day global competition were confined to the World Cup. But while eyes have turned back to a new crisis in Iraq—something I’m not exactly proud of predicting here—at least there has been progress on the Ukraine crisis, which has gone from boil to simmer in recent weeks. At this stage it has become clear that Russia has blinked, and thus will not be swallowing eastern Ukraine whole. Just as important, we now have clear as day evidence that President Putin’s gambit has failed: Ukraine has not only signed the EU trade agreement that former President Yanukovych walked away from—sparking the crisis in the first place—newly elected President Petro Poroshenko formally asked the EU to open membership negotiations with his government. In other words Msr. Putin may have purloined Crimea, but he has lost Ukraine proper.
Strategically speaking, it matters less that the EU is no longer as rosy about bringing Ukraine fully into its membership fold. After all, previously doing so was one of the major causes of the now receding crisis. It is more important that the EU signed precisely the same trade deal, with the very ink pen that Yanukovych would have used had he gone through with it last year. More important still is the fact that Ukraine continues to tilt west not east, and in landslide public opinion terms. Not only did Poroshenko achieve an electoral landslide, but there even remains a majority of citizens in eastern Ukraine that do not want to be part of Russia.
But the EU has also done something it previously had not: it threatened that a new round of much more punitive sanctions would be levied against Russia if it did not stop destabilizing eastern Ukraine by sending in mercenaries, ammunition, and major military equipment in continual violation of Ukraine’s porous border—this time with a deadline. Defying a host of predictions both in Europe and back in the U.S., German Chancellor Merkel has actually stepped up to begin providing forceful strategic leadership. The U.S. is also preparing a new more punitive round of sanctions. And Putin has foresworn any direct use of force after—blink—pulling the 40,000 Russian troops back from the border.
Predictably, however, at present the negotiations that were underway to extend the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia—brokered by France, Germany, and the OSCE—have broken down. Poroshenko has rescinded the ceasefire, claiming rightfully that the Russofile separatists have not adhered to it (despite surprising analysts by agreeing to it in the first place). If the Ukrainian military were to make any gains in the fighting, this would lead to additional leverage at the negotiating table—which Russia is already calling for a return to. More importantly, the failure of the ceasefire at this precise point may in fact be good thing. For it will compel the EU and the U.S. to follow through on their sanctions threat, which they may have backed away from had the ceasefire lasted. More spine stiffening in the West is a good thing, something this entire crisis has in fact been good for.
The following is a guest-post by my good friend Dave Kang of USC. Below he complements his recent TNI essay with the full flow of charts and graphics they screened out. This post is an important rejoinder to the constant assertion (think Robert Kaplan) that East Asia is on the brink of war and that everyone is freaked out by China. The thing is, East Asian military spending doesn’t actually suggest that at all…
“In a recent National Interest essay I argued that military expenditures in East Asia do not appear to be excessively high. In this post I’d like to post the figures that informed the TNI essay (for some reason, TNI made me take out all the graphics – isn’t that what the web is for?). The figures are quite vivid, and help explain why I made the fairly straightforward interpretation of the data that China’s neighbors, according to IISS and SIPRI, aren’t balancing it the way everyone says they are.
One of this weeks big news items in international relations was the progress that China and the United States had made in their bilateral climate
"The hour is getting late...all along the watchtower, princes kept the view...two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl."
America and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is playing the global menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe need to take more aggressive action to prevent the annexation of eastern Ukraine, and time is short. Beyond this crisis the West needs an updated defense posture, but for now the road ahead is clear.
Russia will take as much of Ukraine as the West allows, nothing more, nothing less. Yet few in Washington and Brussels seem to understand this. In recent weeks the view among the cognoscenti was that the crisis over Ukraine was largely over. Yet little in the U.S.-European response has changed. Hence, the incentive structure that failed to prevent the Crimea annexation is not likely to prevent further dismemberment. President Putin views the West as weak, which has kept him emboldened.
The U.S. and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is clearly playing the geopolitical menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe are going to need to up their game to keep Vladimir Putin’s hands off the rest of Ukraine. Beyond this crisis the West needs a new defense posture, as the world just entered a new era of international relations.
Just weeks ago numerous observers dubbed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi “Putin’s Triumph,” when it was anything but that. Russia may have barely edged the U.S. in total medals, but the price for Putin’s orderly Olympics was serious repression, severe environmental damage, and seismic corruption. Then came Ukraine.
The so-called Pivot to Asia, or "rebalance" in official parlance, has been one of the Obama Administration's signature strategic moves on the global chessboard. But for all the serious engagement of the Pacific Rim countries, the core of the pivot has always been about China and responding to its rise as a regional and proto global power. U.S. intentions aside, China has accused the U.S. of using the pivot as a form of neo-containment of itself. The containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War ultimately proved to be a stabilizing strategic move by the U.S. and its western allies. Whether the pivot ends up bringing about a similar outcome in the Pacific Rim in essence constitutes the strategy's ultimate test.
People may have wondered why spend so much time thinking about what pop culture says about international relations. They have have pondered whether dedicating entire class sessions to Harry Potter and the International Relations of Ethnic Conflict might be misguided.
Did you see the photos like the one above out of Shanghai? For the first time ever, Shanghai's air pollution, like Beijing's before it, exceeded the scale for particulate matter. For the past seven days, the air quality has been so bad that schools and flights were cancelled, cars were forced off the roads, industries were shut down (Though a marathon last Monday went on as planned. Runners complained that their lungs hurt. Go figure!).
This post follows up my previous one a couple of weeks ago on whether China can gets its air quality problems under control. That was essentially the text for my contribution to the first half of a webinar sponsored by the outstanding ChinaFAQS, an initiative sponsored by the World Resources Institute to provide U.S. policymakers on the latest state of play in China, energy, and the environment. This post is a revised version of the second set of remarks I made and deals with whether or not China is meeting its energy-related commitments under its 12th five year plan.
If you haven’t yet seen the zone’s geography, here it is to the left, complete with its overlap with the Korean and Japanese zones. The most important conflict of course is over Senkaku, but Korea watchers will also note that the Ieodo submerged reef, which Korea claims, is also in the zone. Gotta wonder what the Chinese were thinking by giving Korea and Japan common cause over anything. Foolish.
Dan Drezner asked the question I think pretty much everyone is wondering now: did the PRC really expect the US, Japan, and SK to just accept this out of the blue? Obviously they’re not, and it’s hard to find anyone besides the
Fox News of Asia Global Times who thinks they should. The following are some quick ideas for where this suddenly came from. Each is more-or-less tied to a level of analysis, but the prose is laymen-style because it was originally written for media
1. Belligerence (anarchy, straight-up realism): the Chinese really are picking a fight with Japan. This is the worst possible reason. They may figure that the Hagel visit to Japan a couple months ago has made Japan into an open challenger to China now. And that is kinda true. America is hedging China, ducking and weaving, trying hard to avoid an open confrontation with it. But Japan is increasingly unabashed that is it balancing China directly as a threat. Abe is increasingly willing to call out China openly. So Asia is becoming a serious bipolar contest, and maybe the Chinese are thinking: 'to hell with it; Abe's playing tough; we have too also.' Certainly my Japanese colleagues in this area increasingly talk about China this way.
As has been widely reported in the Western media, on Friday, China’s state media finally officially announced two changes in human rights policies: (a) an end of the “Laojiao” policy of “re-education through labor” and (b) a change in the one-child policy in China, allowing two children per family if at least one of the parents was a single child (before both parents had to be only children). Other, somewhat underreported, changes coming from the same official media report about the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China included a reduction of crimes punishable by death and efforts “to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.” Also in the news last week concerning Chinese human rights: China will have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the New Year.
What do these changes mean for the human rights situation in China? Are they a sign of things to come or are these changes just “window dressing,” meant to divert attention away from the very pressing human rights problems within the state? Many experts have highlighted that it is the latter: for example, Steve Tsang, although saying that the steps are an “important step forward,” said that it would be “naive to think this effort will seriously address the human rights problems in China.” The famously negative NGO UN Watch also indicated that it was a “black day for human rights” when China and other human rights offenders were elected to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
In the northern city of Harbin, China, air quality was so bad ten days ago that concentrations of particulate matter reportedly reached 1000 micrograms per cubic meter at their peak, exceeding the World Health Organization's daily safe levels by a factor of 40 and shrouding the city in a fog so dense that commuters had trouble finding their way and a numbers of schools were forced to close. As China's pollution has reached intolerable levels, the air quality problem may pose an opportunity for China to address not only its dirty air but also its greenhouse gas emissions, as actions to reduce air pollution may produce co-benefits for climate change.
China's awful pollution situation and whether action to address climate change were the main subjects of discussion for a number of scholars and practitioners last Friday in a Webinar hosted by ChinaFAQs*. I was fortunate to be among the presenters, and though the event itself was subject to Chatham House rules, I'm making the first of my two contributions to the event available as a blog post (the second will follow shortly).
I've written on China, climate change, and energy in the past for CNAS and RFF. For me, this Webinar was timely, as I have just started a year long MA class on sectoral greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies by the major economies. Our class has a group blog which we hope is a great resource for those interested in the domestic implementation challenges of climate change policies by the world's major emitters. In the comments that follow, I take up the issue of whether China can get its act together on air pollution and what this might mean for climate change.
I was just in China for a work thing, when I checked the Duck for something. Turns out the Duck is screened out by the
The following is a re-up of a piece I wrote for the Diplomat last month as part of an informal back-and-forth series with the National Interest this summer on the US pivot to Asia and AirSea Battle. (Here and here are some of the other entries.) That pic, which has got to be the grossest river in all China, is from here.
In brief, I increasingly think that ASB is a mistake, because it’s almost impossible to read it as anything other than hugely provocative from the Chinese point of view, no matter what we say to them about our peaceful intentions. (Read this, and tell me reasonable Chinese wouldn’t flip out.) It’s a classic example of the security dilemma, but as I argue below, I am not really convinced that we actually need this high-tech, super-fearsome-sounding ASB right up in their face. More generally though, the pivot to Asia – a sharpening of American attention on the region - is probably a good idea. China is vastly more influential on American life than Israel or Iran. But the Middle East and Islam activates belligerent American religiosity so much, that I doubt we’ll really be able to pivot. In any case, the essay follows the jump and is written in an op-ed style.
In the old old question of why the weak occasionally beat the strong, my favourite metaphor is the Ham Omelette. In a Ham Omelette, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.
In a clash over the Taiwan Strait, who would be the pig, who the chicken? This matters, because in the end predicting the outcome of a China-Taiwan clash would not be about the absolutes of military victory narrowly conceived, but about the issue of cost tolerance and the fear of a Pyrrhic result.
The conventional wisdom on the US presence in Asia is that we re-assure all players. Specifically, US allies don’t need to arms race local opponents, because the US has extended deterrence to cover them. Hence Japan and South Korea don’t need to go nuclear, for example. Among academics, this logic pops in the work of Christensen, Ikenberrry, and Nye; among policy analysts, here is the US military saying this, and here is the DC think-tank set.
But there’s flip-side to this logic that really needs to be investigated – whether the US presence also freezes conflicts in place, by reassuring Asian elites against their own reckless nationalist rhetoric, racially toxic historiographies, and Fox News-style inflammatory media (just read the Global Times op-ed page occasionally). I think the Liancourt Rocks fight is a particularly good example of this ‘moral hazard’ mechanic, as is the recent comment by no less than the South Korean foreign minister (!) that Abenomics’ threat to Korean export competitiveness is a greater danger to SK than North Korea’s nuclear program. That kind of preposterous, reckless myopia can only be explained by taking the US security umbrella for granted.