Lowy Institute

Earlier this week Anthony Bubalo suggested that a debate is needed about how to properly counter terrorism in liberal democracies, and more specifically how to achieve the proper balance between security and civil liberties when confronting violent extremism. This is part 1 of my response.

The post-9/11 security environment has been dominated by the spectre of terrorism mostly, if not exclusively, of the Islamic-inspired sort.

In many liberal democracies the response to the threat of this type of extremist violence has been the promulgation of a raft of anti-terrorism laws and organisational changes in national security agencies, the sum total of which has been an erosion of civil liberties in the pursuit of better security.

Some have gone so far as to speak of a 'war' on terrorism, arguing that Islamist terrorism in particular is an existential threat to Western societies that demands the prioritisation of security over individual and collective rights.

Although ideological extremists see themselves as being at war, this response on the part of democratic states, and the characterisation of the fight against terrorism as a 'war' marshaled along cultural or civilizational lines, is mistaken.

The proper response is to see terrorism not in ideological terms, with the focus on the motivation of the perpetrators, but in criminal terms, where the focus is on the nature of the crime. Those who practice terrorism can then be treated as part of a violent criminal conspiracy much like the Mafia or international drug smuggling syndicates. This places the counter-terrorism emphasis on the act rather than the motivation, thereby removing arguments about cause and justification from the equation.

There is no reason for Western democracies to go to war.

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Whatever its motivation, terrorism poses no existential threat to any stable society, much less liberal democracies. Only failed states, failing states and those at civil war face the real threat of takeover from the likes of the Islamic State or al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. For Western democracies under terrorist attack, the institutional apparatus of the state will not fall, society will not unravel and the social fabric will not tear. The consent of the majority will be maintained. If anything, the state and society will coalesce against the perpetrators.

But there is a caveat to this: both the democratic state and society must beware the 'sucker ploy'. 

Terrorism is a weapon of the weak that is not only a form of intimidation but a type of provocation as well. Terrorist attacks against defenceless targets may be designed to punish or retaliate against the larger society, but they are also attempting to lure the target into taking security measures out of proportion to the threat. In other words, the weaker party commits an atrocity or outrage in order to provoke an overreaction from the stronger subject, in this case Western liberal democracies. 

The overreaction victimises the group from which the perpetrators are thought to come, and thus legitimises the grievances of the terrorists. Thus the democratic state plays into the hands of terrorists by expanding their struggle and providing grounds for recruitment. When democratic societies, panicked by fear, begin to retaliate against domestic minority populations from whence terrorists are believed to emanate, then the sucker ploy will have proven successful.

The sucker ploy has been at the core of al Qaeda's strategy from the beginning.

Enunciated by Osama bin Laden, the idea behind the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, then the Bali, Madrid and London bombings, was to cause the West to overreact by scapegoating all Muslims and subjecting them to security checks, mass surveillance, warrantless searches and arrest, and detention without charge. With the majority supporting such moves, Muslim minorities in the West become further alienated, reinforcing the al Qaeda narrative that the West is at war with the entire Muslim world.

Bin Laden and his acolytes hoped would generate a global conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims, and the US and UK duly obliged by using 9/11 as one of the pretexts for invading Iraq, which had nothing to do with the events of that day and which had no Islamic extremists operating within it at the time. It does now.

After the possibility of staging spectacular large-scale attacks like 9/11 became increasingly difficult due to Western countermeasures, al Qaeda 2.0 emerged. Its modus operandi, as repeatedly outlined and exhorted by the online magazine Inspire, is to encourage self-radicalised jihadists born in the West to engage in low-level, small cell (2-5 people) or so-called 'lone wolf' attacks by single individuals on targets of opportunity using local knowledge of the cultural and physical terrain in which they live.

In recent years the Syrian civil war and rise of the ISIS have given recruits the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge of weaponry, tactics and combat skills with an eye towards future use at home. With reportedly 15,000 foreign fighters joining Syrians and Iraqis in the ISIS ranks and a number of Westerners gravitating towards al Qaeda, there are plenty of returning jihadists to be concerned about, especially given the availability of soft targets in open societies.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Mark Radford.

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Earlier this month, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argued for a US invasion of North Korea.

Thankfully, the general response has been quite negative (here, here and here). Invading North Korea is a terrible idea, and it is worth laying out why in some detail. I do not intend this as a particular shot against Gobry – I do not know him personally – but rather against this general idea, as it does come up now and then. 

In 1994, the Clinton Administration came close to launching a massive air campaign against the North (well-discussed here). Then in the first term of President George W Bush, regime change was the watchword and North Korea was on the 'axis of evil'. If the Iraq invasion had worked out, it appears other states were on the Bush hit list. Neoconservatives (neocons) love to loathe North Korea.

I should note however, that in my seven years working in Korea on Korean security issues, I have never heard a reputable Korean analyst argue for preemptive attack in an op-ed, at a conference, on TV, and so on. Nor have any of my hundreds of students over the years argued for this. This is a Western debate that has little resonance with the people who would mostly carry the costs – already a big problem for Gobry's argument.

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1. Moral revulsion is not enough

Gobry, and President Bush who placed North Korea on the axis of evil, both share an admirably strong moral revulsion towards North Korea which motivates their hawkishness.

Certainly that revulsion is warranted. There is little dispute that North Korea is the worst country on earth, although perhaps the emerging ISIS 'state' is giving it a run for its money. The moral argument against North Korea became clear as early as the 1950s, when Kim Il-sung solidified control of the North and turned it into a cult of personality so servile and vicious scholars began using the neologism 'Kimilsungism' to describe it.

But there are of course many nasty, awful dictatorships. Perhaps none as awful as North Korea, but certainly huge numbers of people have suffered in many other states, both powerful and weak. Mao's China comes to mind, as does Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Zimbabwe and Syria-ISIS today. 

For a brief moment under George W Bush, after his second inaugural address, it looked as if 'promoting freedom around the world' might actually become US foreign policy, thereby justifying widespread global military pre-emption. But that was always wildly impractical, and the American public rejected it immediately. And if there is anything we have learned from regime change in places like Iraq and Libya it is that the unintended consequences and bloodletting can be extreme.

2. South Koreans really, really don't want to invade North Korea

Much of the Western debate on North Korea assumes that South Korea will simply go along with whatever decisions emerge from Washington.

I thought the same before I moved to Korea. Like many, I figured that the ROK was a democratic ally standing 'shoulder to shoulder' with the US for freedom, democracy, and so on. But South Korean foreign policy is far more realist. I have been arguing for a long time that South Koreans are not neocons and that they really don't want to up-end the status quo if it is likely to be costly.

Polls have shown for years that South Koreans fear the cost of unification, increasingly don't see North Koreans as a fellow people (for whom they should make a huge sacrifice), and don't think North Korea is a huge threat. The polls also show they dislike Japan almost as much as, if not more than, North Korea, they dislike conscription, and worry a lot that the US might do something rash and provoke a war.

Neocons like Gobry may see this as a moral failing – South Koreans slacking on the defence of democracy and their historic responsibility to end the world's worst tyranny. I will admit myself that I think South Koreans need to step up more on this. But that is ultimately for South Koreans to decide.

Far more South Koreans would like to see the two Koreas slowly grow together after North Korea has changed on its own (for example, by a coup, by Chinese pressure, or by internal breakdown). There are lots of hawks in South Korea (try here and here), but not even the most extreme argue for a preemptive invasion.

3. North Korea has nuclear weapons

If the first two reasons are a little soft, this one strikes me as a show-stopper. The US has never fought a sustained conflict against a nuclear power.

Indeed, the very reason North Korea built nuclear weapons was to deter US offensive action. It is hardly a leap of logic to think that the North would launch once US ground forces arrived on its territory. Gobry assumes, far too blithely, that the US could find all the missiles and hit them before they launch. That is a helluva gamble, and certainly not one South Korea or Japan, the likely targets, want to make. At the very least, we cannot go over the heads of Seoul and Tokyo if we choose to seriously strike the North.

4. The (North) Korean People's Army would probably fight

This is a tricky debate, because we have no good opinion data on KPA morale. We guess at readiness based on drills and the ferocious-looking marches through Kim Il-sung Square and so on. But we don't know.

The neocon position in such situations is to again assume the best – that rogue state armies are paper tigers and would collapse quickly. Certainly the Iraqis did in 1991 and 2003. And I would agree that KPA would suffer revolts if pushed into an offensive against the South. But a US invasion would justify all the propaganda Northern soldiers have heard for decades. Overnight they would go from a conscript army used primarily as slave labour on construction projects to defenders of the nation against a long-foretold invasion.

Do we have any sense that the US military would be 'greeted as liberators'? That is yet another huge gamble, because if we are wrong, it is a war against a state where almost every able-bodied male has extensive military training. Even in Iraq, the insurgency showed how tenacious third-world nationalism is and how easy it is for such feelings to ignite when faced with armed foreigners, however noble their intentions.

5. The People's Liberation Army might fight too

A US invasion would also set US-Chinese relations back by decades, and almost certainly push the US and China into a larger, violent, heavily militarised cold war throughout Asia.

Neocons who loathe China's repressive oligarchy might not care, but post-Iraq, that frightening insouciance about the world's second largest economy would almost certainly be a minority opinion in the West, and definitely would be among America's Asian allies who would carry most of the costs of militarised Sino-US competition.

Indeed, if the US invasion spun out of control – which is easy to envision given the North's nuclear weapons and the size of the KPA – China (and Japan) could easily get chain-ganged in. China went to war in 1950 to keep the Americans off the Yalu River, and that was a war the North started. If the US were to invade, America would suddenly look like an aggressive, aggrandising power. It would be easy to see the PLA fight once again for essentially the same reasons.

6. Reconstruction would fall to the US

Here is yet another Iraq lesson neocons seem blind to. When regimes like Libya or North Korea are decapitated, something new needs to be put in place.

Gobry's assumption is simply that South Korea would absorb ex-North Korea. And it probably would in more traditional collapse scenarios. But if the US were to proactively invade North Korea, it would be easy to see Southern and global opinion arguing that this is yet another mess made by belligerent Washington that it should clean up. And there is also the potential for a nasty insurgency by Kimist dead-enders, a point Gobry does not even consider.

Neocons really need to learn a few lessons from Iraq and the war on terror about the use of American force. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Command.

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Nicole George's perceptive pointer to 'La Haine' on The Interpreter as a way into the fraught world of the contemporary France's banlieues is a reminder of the fact that a sizeable section of French society is alienated from the social mainstream by a combustible mix of religion, ethnic origin and the historical experience of colonialism.

This has been the case for many years.

A more recent, if flawed, examination of what this means for France and the French is David Hussey's The French Intifada: The Long War between France and the Arabs, published last year. I say flawed because Hussey's book, although full of useful insights, suffers from a number of problems, many of which are noted in The Guardian.

But there is much that is worthwhile in this book, not least the opening section, 'State of Denial', with its dramatic account of a riot Hussey observed at the Gare du Nord in 2007 involving 'mainly black and African youths' and 'a level of violence that would have shaken most European governments, but here in France the incident seemed unremarkable, even banal.' The rest of his book is an attempt to analyse what it is that makes young men such as the rioters he observed 'soldiers in a "long war" against France and Europe'.

Hussey's book is as much an account of French colonialism in North Africa as a record of the contemporary world and one wishes that his discussion of the Muslims who make up so many of France's prison population went beyond its sketchy characterisation. But in present terms it is well worth reading, as other reviewers in the Financial Times and the New York Times attest.

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Of all the ink spilled on Tony Abbott's 'knightmare' over the course of the week, Greg Sheridan had what was, for me, the definitive take. I agree with every word.

It truly was a diabolically poor piece of judgment, as was the original decision to re-introduce knighthoods. Abbott may have believed that both initiatives were consistent with his conservative principles, but it was really the act of, at best, a nostalgic, and at worst a reactionary. It's true, to paraphrase William F Buckley, that occasionally the job of the conservative is to stand athwart history yelling 'Stop!' But true conservatives never hit reverse. Conservatism is not about undoing change but  about accommodating inevitable change within a stable and familiar social order. In that sense, Australia's evolving relationship with Britain is a case-study of conservatism done right: there was no revolution, and there has been no breach. Instead the connection with Britain has loosened gradually, organically, in line with the temper of society. Abbott's attempt to reverse that tide questions the wisdom not only of Australians today but of at least the last four generations (I'm counting from World War II, when Australia switched its primary foreign policy allegiance from the UK to the US). In short, it was a highly un-conservative act.

Still, for all the damage this does to Prime Minister Abbott at home, I'm not convinced by the idea advanced by Nick Bryant yesterday that this debacle damages Australia's reputation overseas, particularly in Asia.

For one thing, Nick doesn't really offer evidence for this judgment (although Crikey has a nice collection of overseas media stories one could point to). Secondly, it neglects the fact that many of these Asian societies are much more culturally conservative than Australia. Some of them are themselves monarchies (Japan, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia [sort of]), and most are more socially hierarchical, less individualist and more reverent towards institutions than is liberal Australia. I doubt it would shock them to see an honour conferred on a social elder, even if he is a foreigner.

But those are really secondary points. As an overseas media story, it's a one-day wonder, a curiosity. I suspect that what's really going on here is a case of projection: republicans who would like to see Australia sever its bonds with the monarchy are projecting their own views onto the governments and people of Asia.

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Here's a test: would we hear the same level of concern for Australia's overseas reputation if some other issue was at stake?

Take marriage equality, for example. I happen to be strongly in favour of gay marriage, and it looks like I'm in the majority in Australia. It seems inevitable that the country will over time move towards marriage equality. Yet in socially and religiously conservative Southeast Asia, we can expect a decision like that to be quite unpopular. If gay couples in Asia began to travel to Australia to get married, it might even cause some tensions in regional relations.

Should we expect critics of Australia's constitutional monarchy to display the same level of concern for our international reputation in that event as they are showing at present? It seems unlikely. The same point could be made about the death penalty, which is in the news at the moment. I'm not hearing many people worry that our opposition to the death penalty is damaging our relations with Indonesia, and nor should there be. We are right to protest this barbarism.

So no, Tony Abbott's 'knightmare' is not a story about Australia's reputation abroad. But, as both Nick and James Curran have argued on The Interpreter, our constitutional arrangements and our attitude to the monarchy do say something about how the nation faces the world. Australia's gradual and halting move toward establishing a republic will, when it happens, reinforce the sense that Australia has evolved into a nation not just in Asia but of Asia.

Nick Bryant cites Tony Abbott's Anglosphere speech as evidence of the Prime Minister's reluctance to grasp this future, but that's a one-dimensional reading. I really can't add much to what I have said before on this topic, which is that Abbott's alleged sense of Western 'superiority' needs to be balanced with other comments he has made about non-Western cultures, and also that Abbott's 'Anglosphere' exists mainly in the realm of ideas — it is a liberal-conservative worldview or, if you like, a personal philosophy. As a cursory glance at the Abbott Government's record will attest, the 'Anglosphere' does not describe this government's foreign policy.

Photo courtesy of @TonyAbbottMHR.

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The Asia Pacific is the most dynamic digital landscape in the world, home to the fastest adopters of new technologies, the largest concentration of social media and mobile users, and some of the world's most innovative tech companies. The rise of mobile messenger apps, use of big data and online activism are shaping the region's engagement with the world.

  • As Taiwan struggles with its role as the 'testing ground' for Chinese cyber attacks (some have labeled it as one of, if not the most, hacked place on earth) the Government is ramping up its focus on cyber defence amid calls for greater cyber security cooperation between the US, Japan and Taiwan.
  • It is perhaps awkwardly fitting that as Prime Minister Abbott described social media as 'electronic graffiti', India's soft power savvy leader was tweeting his best wishes to Australians on Australia Day (to his 9.7 million followers).
  • Recent comments by Vietnam's Prime Minister suggest the country may ease up on internet censorship. But commentators caution against optimism, and it's worth noting that there are 27 bloggers in Vietnam's prisons.
  • In a decision apparently sparked by the Snowden revelations, China's cyber regulator has announced security screenings of foreign-produced ICT products will begin this year. The new rules, which are said to include demands for source code and back-doors into hardware, have heightened concerns foreign companies are being forced out of the world's most populous tech market.
  • A Bangladeshi mobile app, 'Doctor in a Tab', which connects rural residents with doctors, has won a major USAID award. The app, which is planning an expansion into Myanmar, is worthy of the attention of DFAT's new (rather mysterious) 'innovation hub'.
  • As the skirmish intensifies between e-commerce giant Alibaba and the Chinese Government over the sale of counterfeit goods (public support is said to be with the company), it's worth taking a look at recent profiles of both Alibaba and its less well-known competitor JD.com
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The view from Tokyo

In the last week, digital graphic designers such as Isaku Ogura have suddenly found themselves in strong demand for media commentary on the plight of two fellow Japanese taken hostage by ISIS. Broadcast media have given exhaustive attention to doubts over the authenticity of several disturbing ransom videos released by is depicting hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto. The initial video of 20 January showed them kneeling in the desert in orange robes; an aesthetic chillingly familiar from previous is videos depicting the imminent execution of American and British hostages that their governments had refused to pay monetary and policy ransoms to spare.

A man walks past a screen displaying an image of ISIS hostage Kenji Goto. (REUTERS/Yuya Shino.)

Between the two Japanese stood a menacing ISIS figure brandishing a knife and threatening their lives if a ransom equivalent to US$200 million was not paid by the Japanese Government within three days.

The huge demand mirrored the figure Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had just pledged, during a visit to the Middle East, for humanitarian assistance for those displaced by the rise of ISIS. The confronting imagery and ominous outlook for Yukawa, self-styled military consultant, and freelance journalist Goto meant an intense level of media interest. Yet the inevitable information void as urgent diplomatic overtures were made in private left the mass media with little to work with.

Doubts about the veracity of the video became central to media coverage. Expert opinion suggested that inconsistencies in the appearing patterns of shadows and wind, and the nature of their gazes, made it likely that the scene in the video was a digitally constructed composite. The two hostages appeared to have been filmed separately, in perhaps quite different locations and conditions. Isaku Ogura concurred and also observed that the vivid orange colour, widely judged to be an ironic ISIS reference to the prisoners' garb warn by Islamist militants incarcerated by the US in Guantanamo Bay, also made digital manipulation easier.

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That Islamic State would risk diminishing its credibility through resorting to computer graphics after so brutally and effectively cultivating a reputation for both determined action and media management raised various questions, not least whether its physical operational scope had been heavily constrained.

Yet the issue of the video's authenticity was largely a sideshow. There was little doubt that both men had fallen into the hands of ISIS, a fact soon confirmed by the Abe Government. Yukawa had been depicted in another video being interrogated by ISIS fighters the previous August, while Goto had been considered missing since December. A small response team had been formed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs well before the ransom video was released, and at that point it was upscaled to a full crisis management operation, with regional headquarters in Japan's Amman embassy. While several Arab studies academics and other critics soon suggested that Abe might have further endangered the two hostages through his strong anti-ISIS stance during his Middle East trip, criticism was generally muted.

Rather, media coverage and political discussion became more sombre and guarded when, four days later, ISIS released a subsequent video showing only a still image of Goto holding what appears to be a picture of Yukawa's decapitated body. The Abe Government had made no statement on the payment of a ransom but commentators were hesitant to link Yukawa's probable death to non-payment. Neither were any about to endorse publicly the Anglo policy position of not paying ransoms, especially when it emerged that Kenji Goto's second daughter had been born only two weeks ago. The Abe Government affirmed the probability that Yukawa was indeed murdered, although doubts were cast by technical experts on whether it really was Goto narrating, in English, the video that announced it.

Media and political actors immediately sought to project gravitas. Television stations have engaged in what some critics described as self-censorship, dropping segments that might be vulnerable to claims of insensitivity. Fuji Television chose not to screen an episode of a crime series that depicted an assailant wielding a knife, and Asahi Television dropped a new music video by popular group KAT-TUN with the English song title 'Dead or Alive'. Nippon Television subbed one comedy act for another as their material was considered sensitive in the circumstances.

The Abe Government has been careful to avoid giving weight to past impressions that Japan will pay a ransom, while vowing to make all efforts to end to the crisis through diplomatic endeavours. To this end, Abe was helped directly by Islamic State's dropping of a demand for a cash ransom in favour of demanding an exchange for Sajida al-Rishawi, facing a death sentence in Jordan since 2006 for a failed suicide bombing on an Amman hotel. Jordan's priority, though, is securing the return of one of its own citizens, captured pilot Maaz al-Kassasbeh, whose F-16 crashed on 24 December while carrying out an airstrike against ISIS.

ISIS's savvy was affirmed with the release of a third video, a still image showing Goto holding a picture of the pilot, accompanied by a purported recording of Goto speaking in English. In it he specifies that the Jordanians had only 24 hours to release Rishawi, and that the Japanese Government should pressure the Jordanians to do so, or both he and the pilot would die. ISIS thereby put in place a mechanism for a trade, with the possibility of Japan paying ransom through Jordanian channels in way that is publicly deniable.

While a US State Department spokeswoman has said that an exchange of prisoners would be 'in the same category' as ransom payment that it opposes, the Israelis have a long history of hardheaded prisoner exchanges. It was in while in Jerusalem that Abe was confronted with Islamic State's initial ransom demand.

With the 24 hour deadline for a trade having passed late yesterday (the 28th), the media and Japanese audiences now await developments.

It is likely that, longer term, the hostage-taking will be used by some Japanese critics of the US alliance; China's Global Times has already done in a predictable editorial critique of Abe's foreign policy. A comment by one junior Japan Communist Party Diet member to the effect that Abe had shown insufficient regard for the lives of Japanese was promptly withdrawn under pressure from the party leadership.

A more focused line of criticism is the Government's ostensible failure to anticipate such a crisis, given the prior knowledge within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the likelihood of Yukawa and Goto being held by Islamic State. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan was already hinting at that yesterday, though it's tone today was more bipartisan terms as hopes rise that a deal involving Jordan might be in the offing.

A shared sense of decorum has made politicisation of the crisis off limits while the fate of the hostages remains uncertain. Meanwhile, the mass media struggles to find something new to report within the tight bounds of these sensibilities. 

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On Monday, Barack Obama became the first US president to be the guest of honour at India's Republic Day parade. His visit to New Delhi was the latest in a series of headline-grabbing diplomatic initiatives by Narendra Modi, beginning with his invitation to all South Asian leaders, including Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif, to attend his inauguration as prime minister back in late May 2014.

Although the US President had to cut short his time in India to fly on to Saudi Arabia to meet the new king, most commentators have interpreted the visit as a great success, with both the American and Indian media waxing lyrical about the new warmth in US-India relations supposedly generated by what they called Obama's 'bromance' with Modi.

But for all the bear hugs and bonhomie, the visit didn't yield much.

True, Modi promised to remove liability clauses applicable to firms operating nuclear power plants in India, which were major obstacles to American corporate investment in that sector. True also, the two sides agreed to once more upgrade their defence cooperation, renewing a Defence Framework Agreement, sharing more information and engaging in further joint exercises, and recommitting to the transfer of military technology. These agreements are welcome, of course, but they hardly signal a step-change in relations.

In search of something more substantive, some commentators heralded the language of the US-India joint statement, arguing that it signals a new toughness on China and a new willingness to work together on issues of shared concern.

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In reality, the document was a disappointing mish-mash in which the joins between Ministry of External Affairs and State Department drafts were all too visible. The call for 'sustainable, inclusive development' was practically cut-and-pasted from Modi's speech to the UN General Assembly; the section on the need for states to adhere to the law of the sea a boilerplate statement found in almost every joint declaration made by the US and its regional friends and allies.

In fact, what was really significant about the joint statement was what it left out. There was no mention of climate change or the upcoming Paris summit, despite Obama urging India to acknowledge what the US sees as India's obligation to accept binding limits on its carbon emissions. This particular failure to cut a deal, or even agree to a sentence on the issue in the joint statement, is telling, as the more perceptive media outlets recognised. It speaks to a continued inability on Washington's part to get India to be the kind of stakeholder in the liberal democratic international order the US has long hoped it would become.

The causes of this failure are complex, and there is fault on both sides. The Obama Administration has never afforded India the status its predecessor did, and India's sluggish rate of growth over the past decade, combined with the poor performance of the second United Progressive Alliance government, gave plenty of ammunition to India sceptics in Washington happy to see the relationship deliquesce. For its part, India's foreign and security policy elite remains divided about the US and its role in the world, and importantly about its handling of China's rise and the challenges it generates. Like other states in the region, India is hedging when it comes to China, and is wary about aligning itself too closely with a far-away superpower that might be on the wane.

Yet this is only part of the story of why US-India relations remain attenuated, despite the leaders' 'bromance'. The other factor is that Modi has suitors lurking in the wings with arguably bigger dowries.

Since Modi became PM, Japan has promised $35 billion in investment over five years, as well as a possible deal for amphibious aircraft, China has promised $20 billion over the same period and opened the door for India to join its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and Russia has concluded tens of billions of dollars' worth of nuclear, hydrocarbon and defence deals along with a renewed pledge to help secure Indian membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. These kinds of incentives make India's multidirectional foreign and security policy look smarter than alignment with a distant superpower, regardless of the mood music at the Republic Day parade.

Photo courtesy of the White House.

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The Nusra Front, al Qaeda's official Syria branch, is playing a long game in Syria, and will be best placed to fill the vacuum should ISIS collapse in rebel-held northeastern Syria.

The claim of responsibility by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) for the deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris on 7 January has temporarily shifted attention back to what for some had become the lesser of two evils in comparison to the headline grabbing Islamic extremist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

ISIS has emerged as a rival to al Qaeda since a split in Syria in April 2013. ISIS declared a merger between it and Nusra but that claim was quickly rebuffed by Nusra leader Abu Mohammed Golani. And al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahri ruled that the merger was a rogue move, later formally disassociating al Qaeda from ISIS and effectively sanctioning Nusra as al Qaeda's legitimate arm in Syria.

While the Nusra Front and ISIS share a common end goal of forming an Islamic state, they differ in method and scope, and, critically, in the implementation of Shariah.

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How ISIS plans to build an Islamic state

ISIS has adopted a top-down approach, declaring the existence of the caliphate in June 2014 and imposing its form of governance through a combination of fear and incentive. It has wrested control and administration of a vast swathe (up to 65%) of Syrian territory across the country's north east.

Both ISIS and Nusra have capitalised on Sunni sympathies among the majority Sunni population in Syria who feel aggrieved and targeted by the ruling Alawite-dominated Assad regime and its Shiite supporters from Lebanese Hezbollah, Iranian and Iraqi militias. ISIS managed to consolidate control among a more sympathetic population in July 2014 in Iraq, where the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki had fermented sectarianism, and where ISIS's parent organisation, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), already had a strong presence.

Syrian Sunnis have tended to be more moderate in their interpretation of Islam and ISIS initially encountered greater resistance there to its brutal administration. Nonetheless, as conditions became more desperate in Syria, ISIS consolidated control of territory, securing oil and other funding sources. The group has provided education and medical services, bread and oil, as well as paying civil servants and fighters salaries that exceeded those provided under Assad rule, while also suppressing resistance through a brutal campaign of fear and punishment.

Interviews with civilians from Raqqa indicate many Syrians are adapting to ISIS rule and in some cases, actively support the group in the absence of any alternative. Lightening offensives in Iraq secured cash, arms and other revenue sources, allowing ISIS to gain primacy over Nusra in Syria in 2014. The slash and burn campaign has seen ISIS grow exponentially to some 50,000 fighters, also attracting members of the Nusra Front.

How Nusra plans to build an Islamic state

Nusra, on the other hand, has taken a bottom-up approach to establishing a caliphate, working to secure local support through effective administration in areas it controls, and working with other armed militias, particularly early on in the war when the Assad regime was the primary enemy. Nusra adopted methods such as suicide bombings and IEDs against the Syrian regime almost as soon as its formation was announced in January 2012, but it has been careful to avoid civilian casualties. Critically, while ISIS imposes harsh punishments for crimes including theft and adultery in areas it controls, Nusra adopts the policy that 'hadud' should not be imposed during times of war. This gradual and more lenient imposition of Islamic law has led to the perception of Syria's al Qaeda branch as the 'more moderate Islamic extremists'.

The fact that a greater proportion of Nusra fighters, unlike ISIS, are Syrian rather than foreigners has garnered a lot of local popular support for the group. As one humanitarian worker operating in Syria from southern Turkey described it: 'I support Nusra because they are Syrian and they are fighting Assad. I am a Muslim, I want an Islamic state, but not like ISIS.' When originally designated a terrorist organisation by the US in December 2012, thousands of Syrians demonstrated under the banner 'We are all Nusra'. In recent weeks, however, Nusra has stepped up more brutal punitive responses, notably in the de-facto 'emirate' it has imposed in northern Idlib, in what may be a harbinger of the style of its governance in any eventual Islamic State, or a sign the the group feel the need to compete with ISIS by mimicking its more successful tactics.

The effect of the US air campaign

It was such tactics, including the beheadings of American and British journalists and aid workers, that prompted US President Barrack Obama to announce in September an international coalition to 'degrade and ultimately destroy' ISIS, using a four-part approach: airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq; cutting off funding and improved intelligence to stem the flow of foreign fighters to the group; the bolstering of humanitarian assistance to civilians; and, crucially, strengthening support of partners on the ground to fight ISIS.

The airstrikes, which began in September 2014, will help erode ISIS administrative capacity, increasing the likelihood of internal division. But without a viable partner on the ground to fill the vacuum created by ISIS erosion, US success will be limited. Any partner will need to both tap into Sunni support and be armed and organised enough to administer territory. They must also be Islamic enough to gain the support of those who want a state based on Shariah, and moderate enough to encourage resistance to authoritarianism.

This is a tall order. The US and its allies have announced that a program to vet, arm and train an army of 5000 'moderate rebels' to fight ISIS is underway, but to date it looks woefully inadequate. These efforts were stepped up last week with the announcement that the US will send 400 troops to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS in Iraq. Illustrating the challenges and urgency of the task, the two opposition brigades picked as the best option for a proxy force to fight against both ISIS and the regime — the Hazm Movement and the Syrian Revolutionary Front — were disastrously routed by Nusra in Idlib in November. Media reports said many fighters defected to Nusra.

While the regime and the Americans have been distracted by fighting in the north around Raqqa and Aleppo, Nusra has continued to consolidate its support base in the central provinces of Homs and Hama, also extending control in Idlib. Nusra is now the dominant force in southern Syria, along the border with Jordan and Israel along the Golan, securing not only territory but local support through functional local administration. The Israelis have maintained an uneasy truce with Nusra on the border, but it is unlikely to hold.

For now, Nusra will avoid further armed confrontation with ISIS, biding its time and positioning itself as the prime beneficiary should airstrikes and local resistance contribute to a crumbling of ISIS administration.

Where Nusra faces a significant disadvantage is in public affairs and international recruitment. ISIS has proven adept in this field, using highly sophisticated recruitment and propaganda campaigns to attract foreign fighters, tapping into Sunni marginalisation and presenting itself as the pre-eminent anti-Western jihadist terror outfit. In this context, the Paris attacks, and al Qaeda's quick claim of responsibility, could be seen as an attempt by al Qaeda to re-affirm its anti-Western credentials and tap into the ready number of recruits spawning in Europe and abroad.

The prospect of Nusra replacing ISIS as the only viable alternative with administrative capacity over large swaths of Syrian territory presents a policy nightmare for the US. While the group may appear more moderate, al Qaeda is al Qaeda. Nusra may have taken the strategic decision to limit its policy of expansion now, but the time will come when the establishment of the caliphate is prioritised, and it will not adhere to the democratic and pluralistic Syria the US hopes for.

Reuters/Hamid Khatib

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The Indo-Pacific is a strategic system encompassing the Indian and Pacific oceans, reflecting the expanding interests and reach of China and India as well as the enduring role of the US. The Lowy Institute's International Security program presents a weekly selection of links illuminating the changing security picture in this increasingly connected super-region.

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This one is nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar. Gorgeous trailer: 

Synopsis:

Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow. He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants. 

(H/t Slashfilm.)

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This will go down as the gong heard round the world. On a national day that already has a distinctly 18th century feel – it celebrates the moment of British colonisation, after all — Tony Abbott appeared to doff his cap to the Mother Country again in making Prince Philip an Australian knight.

The re-introduction of a heraldic honours system that many Australians viewed as a museum piece was met last year with incredulity. His choice of the Duke of Edinburgh, ahead of thousands of deserving Australian women and men, has unleashed even more mockery. It was a 'captain’s call', said Mr Abbott, and arguably the worst since Greg Chappell asked his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to New Zealand's Brian McKechnie. That damaged Australia's international sporting standing. The surprise knighthood could have the same effect on the country's international reputation, especially in the region.

In any objective cost-benefit analysis, Abbott surely loses on all fronts. As a politician, it brings into question his judgment and could, in coup-addicted Canberra, lead eventually to his ouster. As a constitutional conservative, he runs the risk of turning small 'r' republicans into more troublesome rebels and imperiling the very institution he seeks to protect. As prime minister of a country supposedly seeking better ties with its neighbours, it makes him look more Anglo than Asian in his orientation. As historian James Curran observed in these pages earlier in the week, this move brings to mind what Paul Keating said about the 'ghost of empire' that 'remains debilitating...to our destiny as a nation in Asia and the Pacific.'

It is also worth revisiting what became known as the 'Anglosphere speech' that Tony Abbott delivered in Oxford in December 2012, before becoming prime minister.

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The setting was his old college, which, appropriately enough, is called Queen's. 'China, Japan, India and Indonesia are countries that are profoundly important to Australia', he said. 'Size, proximity and economic and military strength matter. Of course they do; but so do the bonds of history, of shared values, and of millions of familiar attachments.' This seemed to imply that Australia's relationship with its Asian neighbours would primarily be transactional, whereas the relationship with Britain and America would be brotherly, emotional and thus always more meaningful.

What gave the speech its controversial edge, however, was the insinuation that Anglo culture was superior. Abbott said his 'insatiable curiosity' came from studying at Oxford, and was 'the hallmark of Western civilization (especially in its English-speaking versions) and provides our comparative advantage among the cultures of the world.' Does not the knighthood for Philip send a similar message from the Australian prime minister to the rest of Asia? That the epitome of civilization is to be found in Anglo history and institutions?

Will this controversy reverberate beyond the Australian Twittersphere and talk-back stations? Is it just a storm in a Royal Doulton tea cup? My sense is that the knighthood does create a national image problem, because it heightens the sense of confusion about the country's global positioning. It revives the seemingly unresolved question: 'Advance Australia Where?' It projects a sepia-tinted Australia to the rest of the world rather than the thrusting economic, commercial and cultural powerhouse that modern Australia has become.

It would also be a mistake to think that this kind of symbolism does not matter. Just witness the damage to America wrought by Barack Obama's failure to attend the solidary march in Paris in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Or the sneering at US Secretary of State John Kerry, who attempted to mend that particular diplomatic fence by getting James Taylor to sing 'You’ve got a friend'. The international press, Fleet Street especially, looked on the knighthood as a gift horse, if only because it could re-run Prince Phillip's most famous gaffes. But it also makes the Australian prime minister a cartoonish figure of fun – an '...And finally' story.

Australian diplomacy will take a hit, and so, too, the already battered reputation of Australian democracy.

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For the past twelve months I have highlighted statements by Lao officials indicating the Vientiane government's determination to build its controversial dam at Don Sahong in the far south of the county (most recently in my Interpreter post of 10 November 2014). In a 19 January Voice of America interview, Director-General of the Lao Department of Energy Policy and Planning Daovong Phonekeo bluntly rejects environmental criticisms of the dam, saying: 'We are now very sure that (with) the mitigation measures we are going to do, (the dam) would have a very small impact to the downstream, or even the upstream, about fish migration.'

Davong Phonekeo is also frank in outlining the Lao construction program:

We expect to start this dry season (author note: the dry season has already begun, but many areas around the dam site will only be fully dry by the end of January), after the prior consultation (with representatives of Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam) has been completed. The prior consultation will be completed by 25 January, 2015. After that the company (Mega First) will sign some contract agreements with the contractors...There will be some mobilisations within the (construction) camp, which takes maybe to more months. After that, they can start with the excavation and construction work. The project will be completed by 2018.

Ominously, Daovong Phonekeo also says that, in conjunction with Thailand, Vientiane has 'seven projects that are feasible to develop.'

This strikes to the heart of environmental concerns about the Mekong's future. As Phil Hirsch of the University of Sydney's Mekong Resource Centre has pointed out, once one dam has been built on the Mekong's mainstream below China, the likelihood is that others will follow.

These concerns underline the extent to which the Mekong has already been dramatically altered in character in the space of a mere thirty years.

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Before the 1980s there were no dams on the river, neither in China nor in Southeast Asia after the Mekong flows out of Yunnan province. But since that time China has constructed no fewer than five dams on the upper reaches of the river and is building of a further two dams with the possibility of two more to come.  And Chinese clearing of the river from northeastern Thailand to Yunnan province at the beginning of the century has opened that section of the river to navigation, which previously was very limited.

Construction of the Xayaburi dam in Laos — the first dam to be built on the Mekong below China — is already well under way.

All this is taking place at a time when there is growing concern about Chinese control of the major river systems with their origins in Tibet: the Yangtze, the Salween, the Mekong and the Brahmaputra. Brahma Chellaney discusses this in strategic terms, particularly in relation to the Indian subcontinent, in his 2012 book, Water: Asia's New Battleground, while recently Michael Buckley has focused on the environmental issues in his Meltdown in Tibet: China's Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia.

It is hard to overstate the likely damage being done to the Mekong. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion argues that the long-term effects of the Chinese dams will be negative for the countries downstream of China, though it may be decades before their full effects are obvious. With the dams Laos is planning and those which China is already constructing, the damage could be more immediate. More than 60 million people live in the Lower Mekong Basin below China and they are heavily dependent on the river for food and agriculture. One striking figure makes the point: almost 80% of the Cambodian population's annual protein intake comes from fish caught in the Mekong and its tributaries. Just as importantly Vietnam's Mekong delta region relies heavily on the Mekong for its agricultural production.

Dam building that trades future fish stocks and agricultural production against more immediate returns from the sale of electricity from hydro dams is a poor bargain.

Photo by Flickr user US Mission to the UN Rome.

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Early last week, China's GDP data for 2014 was released. Many of the headlines focused on overall growth, but I want to focus on investment, and specifically on why the Chinese devote so much of their GDP to investment. I'm going to argue that the high cost of investment in China accounts for at least some of this 'imbalance'.

First, the facts. For some time now, the share of Chinese GDP devoted to investment has been high (see graph below). In fact, it has been in the high 40s as a percentage of GDP, which is basically a world record. Most developed countries have a share in the 20%-30% range.

This high level of investment is the source of a lot of angst.

Commentators are concerned that this investment is wasted (we've all heard the stories about ghost cities). The importance of debt financing has added to the hand-wringing, and there are genuine fears the situation will end up pear-shaped.

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However, an often unconsidered influence on all of this is the price of investment goods. The increase in the share of investment in GDP could be driven by either an increase in the quanitity of investment (eg. the number of buildings built), or an increase in the price of investment goods (the cost of those buildings). The price of investment goods is indicated by the investment price deflator*. Below I show the investment price deflator divided by the GDP deflator, thus showing the price of investment in China relative to the price of everything produced in the Chinese economy. [fold]
The line is upward sloping. Big deal, right? Well, yes it is.
 
In most countries that line slopes down. See the graph below for some examples (although, interestingly the lines slope up for Korea and Japan over the last decade). Those lines generally slope down because things like computers and other goods used for investment have been getting relatively cheaper. Why would the line slope up in China? One possible answer is the mix of investment. My guess would be that a lot more investment in China takes the form of buildings and structures than in other countries. And I would wager that building a tall residential tower in Shanghai or a subway in Chiongqing is much more expensive than it used to be.

So what? Below I show the first two lines I plotted – investment share of GDP and the relative price of investment – on the same graph. The correlation is striking. And I am not talking about the trend. It's very easy to get trends to be correlated! No, I'm talking about the wiggles away from the trend, which line up very well. So when the price of investment goes up, its share of GDP goes up, and this seems to help explain why the share of investment in GDP has increased.

Let's think about this a little deeper.

Total expenditure on investment is price times quantity. If price increases, it is not mathematically necessary that total expenditure increases – quantities may fall. What the above graph suggests is that quantities do not fall that much in China. In fact, if we were to assume that quantity is unresponsive to price, then price changes would account for 10 percentage points of the shift in the red line. That's nearly all of it.

But in other countries, it looks like investment is responsive to price. Below I show the same prices/shares graph for Australia. It is difficult to see a strong correlation between the two lines, suggesting that the quantity of investment is responsive to price, and overall expenditure is little changed.
Gazing into the crystal ball, I can't help but think that if I am right about the relationship between prices and the investment share in China, then the falls in commodity prices will help rebalance the economy. All those buildings, tunnels, and bridges will become less expensive, and thus account for less expenditure.

*The investment price deflator is available in most countries' national accounts. Unfortunately China does not provide an investment price deflator, but we can back it out at an annual frequency. (For the wonks: China provides the investment contribution to real GDP growth, and we know that real Chinese GDP is calculated using a Laspeyres index, with 1980, 1990, 2000, 2005 and 2010 used as base years. Using this information, we can calculate the investment deflator)

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Last week, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a raft of new government spending on security in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. The plan included the creation of more than 2500 new jobs in the law, justice and defence sectors, and the ongoing surveillance of roughly 3000 individuals.

This hard-line response drew appreciative commentary in France.

Days earlier, the same media outlets were reflecting on the meaning of the 'Je suis Charlie' marches across the country and the symbolic message of unity they seemed to embody. Ironically, all this deliberation seems have to pushed to one side any commentary on the widespread political alienation felt among French migrant populations, and the extent to which this has become a wellspring for violent radicalisation.

To understand something of this alienation it is necessary to consider the marginal social and economic standing of France's second and third generation of post-war Arab and African immigrant populations.

These communities are often concentrated in the infamous banlieue neighbourhoods of France, a shorthand reference to suburbs which fringe many of France's major urban centres and are characterised by uniform and soulless public housing edifices. In media discourse les banlieues are frequently stigmatised as migrant enclaves, plagued by epidemics of crime, gang violence and rioting. The youth in these places describe their neighbourhoods as the 'occupied territories', voicing the idea that French state authority is unrecognised there, an intrusion that is resisted in the same way Palestinian populations respond to the imposition of Israel authority.

These tensions were explored in La Haine, a film directed by Mathieu Kassovitz which was released to critical acclaim in 1995.

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The film provides us with an entrée to life in the banlieu through the experiences of three young men: Vince, of Jewish origin, Saïd of Arab origin and Hubert of African origin. It opens with the voice of Hubert recounting the story of a man falling from the top of a 50-storey building. 'So far so good, so far so good' (jusqu'ici tous va bien), he repeats, to reassure himself as he falls through the air. But as Hubert concludes, its not how you fall that matters, its how you land (Mais l'important n'est pas la chute, c'est l'atterrissage). 

In the 24 hour period that we follow this trio, they move through their local neighbourhood and travel to central Paris. We watch them walking (or are they falling?) through streets which are policed not only by suspicious law officials but also violent neo-Nazi extremists, all of whom treat them with violence.

The tension mounts as we see the consequences of trio's small acts of resistance such as the spray-can tagging of public signs and train fare evasion (so far so good). But events build towards an armed stand-off with police and the final, terrible, point of violence that is their inevitable landing. The film's subtext, evident in more subtle and sometimes ironic form, expresses the profound lack of opportunity experienced by migrant populations in France, who sense that they have been betrayed by the republican ideals of a fraternal and indivisible citizenry. Billboards stating 'Le monde est à vous' ('the world is yours') seem to mock them. This sense of exclusion is captured neatly by Saïd who observes at one point, 'nous sommes enfermés dehors' ('we are locked out').

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks this observation seems particularly pertinent. In the many hours of French media coverage since the attack, French public intellectuals have ruminated over the challenge France now faces as it maintains commitments to liberty and solidarity, but also to security. 

Some of these themes are neatly captured in a media clip airing on all French free-to-air television stations commemorating the victims of the events of 6 January and to emphasise the importance of unity. This clip builds on the 'Je Suis Charlie' meme but adds names which represent the diverse groups — religious, cultural and ethnic — of France's contemporary population. It concludes with the words 'Bien differents. Bien ensemble'.

This tribute is moving at one level. But it is also deceptively simple.

It seems to gloss too easily over the political alienation of those whose lives are shaped by discrimination and inequality. And it seems to ignore how this violence might be explained as a form of resistance against forms of French republican authority experienced by many in France. It may seem strange that a self-declared 'anti-establishment' outfit like Charlie Hebdo would be viewed as synonymous with regularised systems of state authority and somehow become the target of resistance-oriented violence. But for some parts of the French population, the work of Charlie Hebdo is undoubtedly seen as simply one more place where they are diminished and belittled, emulating a pattern that is felt to be well rehearsed by other parts of French state authority.

My contention here is that this attack has its origins in the experience of marginalisation and inequality that is the lot of French immigrants and their descendants.

We too easily efface those motivations if we understand it only as an expression of Islamic radicalisation. Likewise, well-meaning slogans about the benefits of unity in the aftermath of this violence will do little to heal the wounds borne by the generations of citizens who became French as result of their forefathers' migration but live in circumstances characterised by profound exclusion.

So many times in the last two weeks, the French commentariat has reflected with puzzlement on the fact that in some schools, students refused to take part in the national commemorative minutes of silence for the Charlie Hebdo victims.

It may be 20 years since La Haine debuted in France but in this film's poignant depiction of the constrained opportunities of the French banlieue there is an answer to this puzzle. It is a work which remains as relevant today as it ever was. Many have been inspired by the sombre message of unity encapsulated in the 'Je Suis Charlie' protests. But others, indeed Kassovitz himself, have expressed discomfort with this movement even while taking part. It is an appeal masking much that deserves critical attention in French society.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user cwangdom.

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Via The Browser, I find this excellent short essay on US China policy from former US diplomat and Assistant Defense Secretary Chas Freeman. This is powerful, persuasive stuff:

So far, Chinese have been considerably more deferential to international law and opinion than we Americans were at a similar stage of national development.

Around 1875, the United States passed the U.K. to became the world’s biggest economy. Soon thereafter, we pressed the ethnic cleansing of our country to a conclusion, engineered regime change in Hawaii and annexed the place, seized the Philippines and Puerto Rico from the Spanish Empire, forced Cuba to grant us Guantánamo in perpetuity, detached Panama from Colombia, and launched repeated military interventions in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. To date, by contrast, China has leveraged the upsurge in its power to step up its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping and to use its coast guard, construction companies, and other nonlethal means to buttress century-old claims to islands, rocks, and reefs in its near seas against more recent counterclaims by neighbors.

It says more about us than about China that we have chosen to treat its rise almost entirely as a military challenge and that we have made countering Chinese power and perpetuating our quasi-imperial, post-1945 dominance of the Western Pacific the organizing principles of our Asia policy. China’s capacity to defend its periphery is indeed growing apace with its economy. The military balance off the China coast is therefore inevitably shifting against us. This is certainly a threat to our long-established dominance of China’s periphery. It promises to deprive us of the ability to attack the Chinese homeland from there at will, as Air-Sea Battle envisages. But greater security from foreign attack for China does not imply a greater risk of Chinese or other foreign attack on the United States.

Even more important, the notion that Americans can indefinitely sustain military supremacy along the frontiers of a steadily modernizing and strengthening China is a bad bet no sober analyst would accept. Extrapolating policy from that bet, as we do in the so-called “pivot to Asia,” just invites China to call or raise it. We would be wiser and on safer ground, I think, to study how Britain finessed the challenge of America’s emergence as a counter to its global hegemony. It viewed us with realistic apprehension but accepted, accommodated, and co-opted us.

Read the whole thing.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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