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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Halloran

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Halloran

Last Build Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2009 23:45:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009

North Korea Acts With Impunity

Sun, 12 Apr 2009 23:45:00 -0600

Kim Jong Il went to the launch site on the east coast to watch the liftoff, then had himself reelected by acclamation. At midweek, according to the official Korean Central News Agency, 100,000 people jammed a plaza in Pyongyang to celebrate. KCNA crowed: "The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) succeeded in launching the satellite despite the enemies' unprecedented political and military pressure."

Before the missile launch, President Barack Obama and leaders of other powerful nations warned North Korea not to do it. Afterward, the president asserted that North Korea "must be punished," and was echoed in Tokyo, Seoul, Western Europe, and the United Nations. By weekend, however, little but nattering was seeping out of the UN, the White House, and foreign offices around the globe.

Moreover, the Obama administration through the Pentagon imposed a news blackout despite having erected an elaborate system of missile tracking radars, computers, and communications in Japan, the Aleutians, Alaska, Hawaii, and California, US and Japanese warships at sea, and satellites above the Pacific Ocean. That cost the taxpayers $56 billion over the last seven years.

The Pentagon's Northern Command, with headquarters in Colorado, which is responsible for the defense of the US homeland, published a terse press release with few details, concluding: "This is all of the information that will be provided...pertaining to the launch."

In contrast, after a missile defense test in December 2008, the Pentagon produced Lieutenant General Patrick O'Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, to open a press briefing: "What I would like to do is go over exactly what happened this afternoon." The Army general proceeded to do just that.

In the North Korean case, rather than inform the citizens the Pentagon is paid to defend, it withheld information evidently for one or both of two reasons:

1) Political: The Obama administration, having decided there would be no response or retaliation for the defiant missile shot, calculated that it would be best to divert public attention by ignoring it.

2) Technical: Something went wrong in tracking the North Korean missile in this first realistic test of missile defense; other tests have been staged. Rather than admit failure, the Pentagon ducked.

The North Korean missile shot was but the latest act of a rogue state. In 1968, North Korea seized the US intelligence ship Pueblo in international waters; 36 hours later, North Korean commandos sought to kill South Korean President Park Chung Hee. The following year, North Korea shot down a US EC-121 electronic surveillance plane, killing 31 Americans.

From that day to this, the North Koreans have mounted assassinations, abductions, bombings, and illicit drug operations, all without drawing effective response from the US, Japan, or South Korea. In the 1980's, Pyongyang began developing nuclear arms; that led to the Six-Party Talks in 2003. The US, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia have sought, unsuccessfully, to dissuade Kim his nuclear ventures.

In 2006, North Korea detonated a nuclear device. The-Six Party Talks are currently stalled and Kim's missile shot suggests they will recede further toward the horizon.

A More Candid Report on China's Military

Sun, 29 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Throughout the report, China is more sharply criticized for "creating uncertainty and increasing the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation." Corruption "remains pervasive, structural, and persistent." In the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which comprises all of China's military forces, corruption includes "bribery for advancement and promotion, unauthorized contracts and projects, and weapons procurement." The annual report, which was mandated by Congress, has grown to 78 pages from 56 pages in 2002 and reflects the Pentagon's increased attention to China, the improved ability of US analysts to discern trends in China, and a greater anxiety that China potentially poses a serious threat. An unnamed senior official who briefed the press on the report in Washington acknowledged the greater apprehension. China's military modernization, he said, "is of growing concern to us." China's response was swift and bitter. Hu Changming, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, was quoted in the government-controlled China Daily: "China is strongly dissatisfied with it and resolutely opposes it. China unswervingly sticks to a path of peaceful development and pursues a national defense policy which is purely defensive in nature." "We urge the United States to stop issuing such a report on China's military strength and immediately take effective measures to dispel the baneful influence caused by the report so that bilateral military ties will incur no further damage," Hu added. Hu said issuing the report would block resumption of military exchanges with the US that China broke off in October after Washington announced the US would sell $6.5 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. The US has been trying to get the Sino-US exchanges started again, asserting that dialogue helps to prevent miscalculation. Xinhua, the government-controlled news agency, quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang: "We have lodged solemn representations to the US side." He said the US continued to disseminate the "Chinese military threat" theory and interfered in China's internal affairs. The new report emphasizes the secrecy in China's military affairs: "The PLA draws from China's historical experience and the traditional role that stratagem and deception have played in Chinese doctrine." The Chinese have shown renewed interest, the report says, in classical thinkers such as Sun Tzu, who wrote 2500 years ago: "All war is based on deception." "There is a contradiction," the analysis says, "between the tendencies of China's military establishment, which favors excessive secrecy, and the civilians' stated goal of reassuring neighbors and existing powers about the peaceful nature of China's development. The CCP's (Chinese Communist Party) own institutional emphasis on secrecy could also lead to miscalculation or misunderstanding by outsiders of China's strategic intentions." "Conversely," the report continues, "overconfidence among China's leaders in the uncertain and unproven benefits of stratagem and deception might lead to their own miscalculation in crises." Excessive reliance on secrecy or deception "may serve to confuse China's leaders as much foreigners about China's capabilities, doctrine, and strategic environment." The report points to passages in Chinese military writing as examples of the Chinese saying one thing and doing another: "These passages illustrate the ambiguity of PRC strategic thinking as well as the justification for offensive - or preemptive - military action at the operational and tactical level under the guise of a defensive posture at the strategic level." Several commanders at the Pacific Command, with headquarters in Hawaii, have quietly cautioned Chinese military leaders not to miscalculate US capabilities and intentions. The new report brings that out into the open, saying Chinese leaders should realize "that a conflict over Taiwan involving the United States would lead to a long-term hostile relationship betwe[...]

The Changing U.S. - South Korean Alliance

Mon, 23 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

Sharp and other Americans credited President Lee Myung Bak, who came to office in Seoul a year ago, for making a genuine effort to put new life into the alliance. And they and Korean officials have been intent on seeing what sort of new policies would come from President Barack Obama in Washington.

Much of the fault for the strain in the alliance has been laid at the feet of two former presidents, Roh Moo Hyun in Seoul and George W. Bush in Washington. Roh came to office in 2003 with an explicitly anti-American posture. Bush made little attempt to hide his contempt for Roh.

Said a report from academic and other civilian specialists on Korea gathered at Stanford University in California: "It is no secret that the alliance has been under stress during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Roh Moo Hyun."

Further, the specialists pointed to differences over responding to North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons; Bush officials took a hard line in negotiations with North Korea while Roh saw the North Koreans as brothers who would not use nuclear arms against South Koreans.

Another issue has been the transfer of wartime command of South Korean forces from the US to Seoul, scheduled for 2012. The US commanded South Korean forces during and after the Korean War of 1950-53 but shifted peacetime control to South Korea 15 years ago.

Still another issue has been the negotiation of a free trade agreement that has been signed but not ratified by either government. While an economic rather than a military issue, the ill feelings it has generated have spilled over into realm of security.

Thus, the report said, "support for the U.S.-ROK alliance, so long an unchallenged part of the foreign policy of both countries, has been eroding."

An analyst at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, Jonathan Pollack, has written that South Korea today has three options: To revitalize a strategy centered on the US; to pursue an autonomous strategy of self-reliance; or to devise a "hedged" strategy in which Seoul would retain loose ties with Washington but forge new security posture in Asia.

President Lee evidently favors a stronger alliance with the US but lacks a national consensus behind him. A scholar at Chung Ang University, Hoon Jaung, has written: ""South Korea is now a highly divided society between pro-American conservatives and anti-American liberals."

General Sharp acknowledged the difficulties: "The realignment of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula has frequently been contentious between the ROK and US governments," referring to South Korea's formal name, Republic of Korea

The US has insisted on turning over wartime control of South Korea's troops to make South Koreans responsible for defending themselves-and freeing US forces for expeditions elsewhere. General Sharp was firm: "It is both prudent and the ROK's sovereign obligation to assume primary responsibility for the lead role in its own defense."

Those Koreans who have resisted the transfer of wartime command of their forces, many of them in the older generation who remember American troops fighting for South Korea in the Korean War, fear that the transfer of operational control will lead the US eventually to abandon South Korea.

In a compromise, the US has trimmed its forces in Korea to 28,500 from 37,000, and is consolidating them in posts south of Seoul from which they will support South Korea if needed. To keep US forces in Korea, Seoul is paying for 90 percent of the $2.5 billion cost of current construction at a post in Pyongtaek. Who will pay for the rest of the $13 billion in total costs is being negotiated.

China's Harassment of the Chung-Hoon

Sun, 15 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

That warship could outrun, out-maneuver, and outgun the Chinese ships on the scene but arrived after the incident to warn the Chinese not to return. The surveillance ship Impeccable resumed her mission of mapping the floor of the treacherous sea filled with islands, atolls, rocks, banks, and reefs, and gathering intelligence on Chinese submarines based on the island of Hainan, 75 miles away.

This confrontation, however, was far more than a skirmish at sea. It has turned into an early test for President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to meet with President Hu Jintao of China at the G-20 economic summit meeting in London in April. Sino-US military relations are certain to be on the agenda.

A question being addressed in the Pacific Command's headquarters above Pearl Harbor was whether the Chinese assault had been ordered by the political authorities in Beijing or had been mounted by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that comprises all of China's armed forces.

"It's hard to tell," said an American analyst. "But the PLA sometimes goes off on its own without telling anyone." The educated consensus held that the confrontation was authorized by Beijing because it was conducted so deliberately and was timed to test the new American president.

In addition, spokesmen for China's leaders were immediately prepared to assert that the US had intruded into China's territorial waters. In contrast, when Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was in Washington to meet with President Obama all the White House would say was that the national security advisor, General James Jones, had "raised the recent incident in the South China Sea."

The concern among US military officers in the Pacific was that the Chinese would miscalculate in the future and overtly threaten to attack an American warship. Since the ship's captain would have the inherent duty to defend his ship, he could order his crew to fire at the Chinese. The consequences would be incalculable.

A White House press release said President Obama "stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents." The Chinese broke off those meetings after the Bush Administration announced in October that the US would sell $6.5 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

The Pacific Command, led by Admiral Timothy Keating, has been trying to revive that dialogue, with staff officers saying the South China Sea incident makes such contacts imperative. The admiral met quietly with senior Chinese officers in Hong Kong last month, but to no avail. A Pentagon official, David Sedney, was in Beijing on a similar mission but went home empty handed.

At issue, moreover, is freedom of the seas, which is critically important to the US. China claims most of the South China Sea as territorial waters under Beijing's control. The US and most Asian nations disagree; much of their economic lifelines pass through that sea. That passage is also vital to US warships sailing between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

China and the US agreed in 1998 to set up a consultative mechanism so that warships that encountered each other would have procedures to communicate, interpret the rules of the nautical road, and avoid accidents. It was signed by Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Minister of National Defense Chi Haotian.

With this incident and others such as a Chinese fighter plane buzzing a US intelligence aircraft in the same area in 2001 only to collide with it and drop out of the sky, that agreement appears to have been thrown overboard.

Some Refreshing JOE

Mon, 09 Mar 2009 00:30:00 -0600

The Joint Forces Command, with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, has published an appraisal of what it terms the "Joint Operating Environment" that is intended to provide "a perspective on future trends, shocks, contexts, and implications for future joint force commanders and other leaders and professionals in the national security field." True to the US military addiction to acronyms, it is perhaps better known as JOE.

On China, JOE says that the advice of Beijing's late leader Deng Xiaoping for China to "disguise its ambition and hide its claws" may represent a forthright statement. The Chinese think long-term, JOE says, "to see how their economic and political relations with the United States develop." The Chinese calculate that "eventually their growing strength will allow them to dominate Asia and the Western Pacific."

While cautioning that JOE is speculative and does not predict exactly what will happen, it says "history provides some hints about the challenges the Chinese confront in adapting to a world where they are on a trajectory to become a great power. For millennia, China has held a position of cultural and political dominance over the lands and people on its frontiers that has been true of no other civilization."

Although JOE doesn't say so, this accords with the Chinese concept of the Middle Kingdom that reaches back to the Han Dynasty 2200 years ago. From then on, the Chinese saw themselves as the suzerain to which leaders of neighboring nations paid tribute in exchange for Chinese protection and sufferance. In some cases, such as Vietnam, Chinese forces occupied part of the neighbor's territory for long periods.

The Joint Forces Command, whose task is to help soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to operate together, says in JOE that the continuities in China's civilization have a negative side: "To a considerable extent they have isolated China from currents and developments in the external world. China's history for much of the twentieth century further exacerbated that isolation."

JOE points to civil wars, the Japanese invasions of the 1930s and 1940s and "the prolonged period of China's isolation during Mao's rule," referring to the late revolutionary and dictatorial leader Mao Zedong. The former US ambassador to Beijing, James Lilley, has written: "It was tricky keeping China engaged when its leadership seemed content to shut itself off."

JOE continues: "Yet, one of the fascinating aspects of China's emergence over the past three decades has been its efforts to learn from the external world. This has not represented a blatant aping nor an effort to cherry pick [select] ideas from history or Western theoretical writings on strategy and war, but rather a contentious, open debate."

Some China hands, however, would argue that the Chinese are still ignorant of the outside world and that could cause them to miscalculate military power. Leaders of the US Pacific Command have, one after the other, cautioned their Chinese opposite numbers against misjudging-and underestimating--American capabilities and intentions.

"Above all, the Chinese are interested in the strategic and military thinking of the United States," JOE asserted. "In the year 2000, the PLA [People's Liberation Army, which includes all of China's military forces] had more students in America's graduate schools than the U.S. military, giving the Chinese a growing understanding of America and its military."

"As a potential future military competitor," JOE concluded, "China would represent a most serious threat to the United States, because the Chinese could understand America and its strengths and weaknesses far better than Americans understand the Chinese." Maybe that's the reason American political leaders have repeatedly urged the Chinese to be more transparent while the Chinese have said they have gone as far as they will go.

America's New Base in Asia

Mon, 02 Mar 2009 00:00:00 -0600

The mission of this garrison and the air base will be less focused on the threat from North Korea, which can be met by South Korea's increasingly strong forces, and more on threats elsewhere in this region. "Our mission is to provide the Army the installation capabilities and services to support expeditionary operations in a time of persistent conflict," said David Frodsham, a senior civilian official overseeing the garrison's expansion.

A senior military officer at US Forces Korea in Seoul said that consolidating American military units into US Army Garrison Humphreys would provide "increased strategic flexibility" to respond to crises elsewhere. The project will cost $13 billion, of which 90 percent is being funded by South Korea to persuade the US to keep its troops here. If the US ever decides to withdraw those forces, the South Koreans will inherit the modern base.

These changes in Korea are part of a realignment of US forces throughout the Pacific. Nearly half of the 17,000 Marines in Okinawa, Japan, are to be moved to Guam. That central Pacific island, which is US territory, is being built into a major air and naval base. A small base in Singapore is coming in for more use, US forces train more in Australia, and the US hopes someday to gain access to Indonesian bases.

Over the next few years, the headquarters of the United Nations Command led by an American four-star general will move here from Seoul as will the headquarters of US Forces Korea and those of its Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and special operations components. The Air Force headquarters is already in Osan. The UN command has been here since it fought the Korean War of 1950-53.

The Army's 2nd Infantry Division, its brigade combat team, artillery, helicopter, and other units will move from posts north of Seoul to this garrison 55 miles south of Seoul and 85 miles from the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea. So will a long list of intelligence, signal, medical, engineering, and logistics units.

The date around which many moves are planned is April 2012, when South Korea assumes wartime operational control of its forces now under a combined US-South Korea command, which will free US forces to concentrate on contingency plans elsewhere. South Korea already has peacetime operational control of its troops.

In Pyongtaek, US Army engineers have undertaken what they say is their largest project ever. The size of the post is to be tripled, to 3600 acres. Since the expansion lies in a flood plain barely above sea level, the engineers have begun covering it with dirt to raise the plain eight feet that will be protected by a levee ten feet high. In all, it will take one million loads in dump trucks to complete the task.

The new post must accommodate the troops, headquarters, motor pools, and firing ranges, plus 35,000 members of families expected here. Until now, troop tours in Korea have been for one year, unaccompanied by families. That is being extended to three years accompanied by families, which requires new housing, schools, medical clinics, sports fields, and movie theaters.

The engineers are building high-rise offices for commanders, barracks for troops, and buildings with spacious family apartments. That housing, plus recreational facilities that include a gym with basketball courts worthy of the pros, an Olympic swimming pool, and world class exercise equipment, are intended to make Pyongtaek a choice assignment.

U.S. and China Resume Military Dialogue

Sun, 22 Feb 2009 00:30:00 -0600

Backed symbolically by the 97,000 ton US aircraft carrier John Stennis anchored for a port visit in Hong Kong's harbor, Keating also met informally with senior officers of China's People's Liberation Army in garrison here. Hong Kong, after a century of British colonial rule, was turned over to China in 1997 and became nominally an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China.

Further, the admiral disclosed that an initiative was underway to forge an agreement intended to prevent hostile incidents between the US and PRC warships at sea. The US and the Soviet Union had an agreement during the Cold War that each navy would not train its guns on the other's warships or to fly fighters over each other's ships. Keating said the new effort was in its earliest stages.

Sino-US military exchanges, which had been expanding in fits and starts for more than a decade, were abruptly broken off by the Chinese in October after the US announced that it would sell $6.5 billion worth of arms to Taiwan, the self-governing island over which Beijing claims sovereignty. The US is obliged, under the Taiwan Relations Act, to provide Taiwan with weapons to defend itself.

The impasse appeared to have been broken when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on the eve of her current trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China that the US and China "will resume mid-level military-to-military discussions later this month." She was scheduled to be in Beijing today.

Clinton's disclosure caused mild surprise in the Pentagon and at the Pacific Command in Hawaii where defense officials wondered why such an announcement had not come from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates or from Admiral Keating, who is responsible for military exchanges with the Chinese. One official shrugged it off as a "rookie mistake" from an administration still getting its feet on the ground.

In any event, the admiral argued vigorously for a resumption of military dialogue with China, asserting that it would be "very much in our mutual benefit" and would lessen the chances of a confrontation degenerating into a crisis or even into armed conflict.

Keating, on a journey through Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, recalled that a Chinese officer had once suggested that the US and China divide the Pacific Ocean, with China responsible for keeping the peace west of Hawaii while the US was confined to the waters east of Hawaii. "I said," Keating reported, "no thanks."

Instead, the admiral asserted, the US and China "should work more together." He noted that three Chinese warships had been patrolling in the Gulf of Aden against pirates who preyed in Chinese merchant vessels. He said Chinese ship captains often communicated with the commander of a US naval task force in that region.

On the other hand, Keating said, the US and China had a "hot line" for communication and he had used it when the US was delivering relief supplies to China after a devastating earthquake. But, he said, "I don't have a phone number yet" so that he could call a Chinese officer directly.

Responding to fresh reports that China sought to build four aircraft carriers, two with conventional power and two with nuclear power, over the next quarter century, Keating was skeptical. "It's not as easy as it looks," said the naval aviator with 5000 hours of flight time and 1200 landings aboard aircraft carriers. "Operating an aircraft carrier is a very demanding discipline."

"It will take them a long time," he contended, "and it will be harder than they think."

Regional Security a Priority on Clinton's Asia Tour

Sun, 15 Feb 2009 00:00:00 -0600

In Beijing, senior officers in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) have been testing US resolve for at least a dozen years. One after another commander of US forces in this region has felt it prudent to caution the Chinese neither to miscalculate nor to underestimate American determination to remain a power in the Pacific. Moreover, the government of President Hu Jintao and the Communist Party are beholden to the PLA to stay in power. They have become uneasy because the international economic crisis, China's own faltering economy, and repeated outbreaks of civil unrest have brought into question their mandate to hold office. Ms. Clinton has indicated she plans to take a firm line with the Chinese. In written answers during her confirmation hearings, she said: "This is not a one-way effort. Much of what we will do depends on the choices China makes about its future at home and abroad." The Japanese government is even weaker, having had three prime ministers since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stepped down in 2006. The approval rating of the incumbent, Taro Aso, hovers around 20 percent and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party may be voted out within this year. That has almost paralyzed Japan's ability to respond to American appeals that Tokyo play a greater role in regional security. For their part, Japanese officials say they are worried about President Barack Obama's commitment to Japan and are concerned that the new president will bypass Japan in favor of improved ties with China. In South Korea, recent governments, including that of President Lee Myung Bak, have not decided whether to continue their nation's alliance with the US or to complete a free trade agreement with the US. Nor have they determined what sort of relations they want with China. In addition, South Koreans no longer seem intent on reunifying the peninsula because absorbing North Korea would be enormously expensive. Only on hatred and distrust of Japan do a majority of South Koreans seem to agree. Japan's foreign minister, Hirofumi Nakasone, met with his Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-whan, in Seoul on Wednesday but they did little except to issue platitudes on economic cooperation, with a vague reference to a Korea-Japan research program "to deal with Korean-Japanese history." This animosity constitutes the weakest link in the US security posture in Asia as the US has defense treaties with both nations-whose military forces barely talk to each other. This is not a trilateral alliance. Not on Ms. Clinton's itinerary is North Korea but it will be lurking in the background. It has become clear that Kim Jong Il, Pyongyang's leader, has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons. Moreover, he may order the test of another ballistic missile soon. And he has renewed his belligerence toward South Korea. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, may turn out to be the brightest stop on Ms. Clinton's journey. Jakarta's politics seem to be settling down after much turbulence, economic damage is no worse than elsewhere, and President Obama lived there as a child. Perhaps most important, US and Indonesian military services have begun to rebuild good working relations and Indonesia has been cooperating with Singapore and Malaysia to fight terror and piracy. A footnote: Most presidential and cabinet level excursions abroad go directly from point to point. Secretary Clinton, however, will fly 3600 miles south from Tokyo to Jakarta, then fly 3300 miles north to Seoul, before veering off to China. (It's 2570 miles from New York to San Francisco.) A spokesman said the route was dictated by the availability of Asian hosts. Maybe there's another explanation: An old Chinese tactic for dealing with foreigners is to "keep the barbarians waiting at the gate." Beijing may have inconvenienced Ms. Clinton to put the American supplicant in her place.[...]

Where China Stands with Obama

Sun, 25 Jan 2009 23:30:00 -0600

Clinton, who was confirmed as secretary the day after President Obama's inauguration, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "We want a positive and cooperative relationship with China." She added, however, that "this is not a one-way effort. Much of what we will do depends on the choices China makes about its future at home and abroad." In a written report, Clinton answered earlier questions from the committee and elaborated on what the US expects: "We can encourage them to become a full and responsible participant in the international community-to join the world in addressing common challengers like climate change and nuclear proliferation-and to make greater progress toward a more open and market-based society. But it is ultimately up to them." An interesting sequence here: On Jan. 8, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was in Beijing to mark 30 years of Sino-US diplomatic relations but evidently was not informed of the forthcoming white paper, which took months to prepare. On Jan. 13, Clinton testified and her written report was made public. On Jan. 20, the Chinese released their white paper, the same day President Obama took office. In substance, Clinton's testimony suggested that President Obama's policy toward China would continue that of President George W. Bush. But the firm tone, challenging China to respond without ambiguity, was new. Clinton was non-committal on dialogue with Beijing, saying in her written report: "We are looking carefully at the question of how to develop this important engagement with China. We expect high-level engagement to continue in some form." The new secretary, however, was clear on the issues of Taiwan, Tibet, and human rights in China. On Taiwan, the self-governing island off the coast of China, Clinton followed precedents set earlier. "The administration's policy will be to help Taiwan and China resolve their differences peacefully while making clear that any unilateral change in the status quo is unacceptable." China's leaders have insisted that Taiwan is part of China and have threatened to use force to capture the island, particularly if it declared independence. The former government of President Chen Shui-bian nudged Taiwan toward independence while the current government of President Ma Yong-jeou has pledged to maintain the status quo. Clinton said the new administration "will speak out for the human rights and religious freedom of the people of Tibet. If Tibetans are to live in harmony with the rest of China's people, their religion and culture must be respected. Tibet should enjoy genuine and meaningful autonomy." Beyond Tibet, Clinton said, the administration will "press China on our concerns about human rights at every opportunity and at all levels, publicly and privately, both through our mission in China and in Washington." In response, China's white paper asserted: "Separatist forces working for 'Taiwan independence,' 'East Turkistan independence' and 'Tibet independence' pose threats to China's unity." East Turkestan refers to Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang in western China. They are related to other Muslims in neighboring central Asia. China, the defense paper contended "faces strategic maneuvers and containment from the outside." American presidents, secretaries of state and defense, commanders of US Pacific forces, and US ambassadors in Beijing have sought for much of the last thirty years to persuade Chinese leaders that the US poses no threat, apparently without success. The white paper contends: "In particular, the United States continues to sell arms to Taiwan in violation of the principles established in the three Sino-US joint communiqués, causing serious harm to Sino-US relations as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits." The three communiqués, of 1972, 1979, and 1982 were intended to defi[...]

Blair an Experienced Choice

Sun, 18 Jan 2009 00:00:00 -0600

• Second, he intended to warn the Chinese against miscalculation, the message being: "Don't mess with us." Thus it is not hard to imagine the tall, lean, and plain-spoken retired admiral, who has been nominated by President-elect Barack Obama to be the nation's top intelligence officer, looking the president right in the eye during a crisis and delivering a candid report: "Mr. President, here are the facts as best we know them." As Director of National Intelligence and the president's principal adviser on intelligence, Blair would be responsible for setting objectives and standards for 16 disparate agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency, and for coordinating their sometimes conflicting operations. Blair, who must be confirmed by the Senate, began his intelligence career as a young officer whose collateral duties included taking pictures of other nation's ships in ports his destroyer visited or encountered at sea. As a senior officer, he was an associate director of intelligence at the CIA, with a desk in the executive offices on the seventh floor at Langley, the agency's headquarters across the Potomac from Washington. Blair's main link with intelligence, however, has been as a consumer. He absorbed intelligence on the staff of the National Security Council (NSC) in the White House, as director of the Joint Staff in the Pentagon, and especially as commander of the Pacific Command. From the headquarters in Honolulu, he ran the world's largest command with 300,000 people operating from the west coast of the US to the east coast of Africa. Blair's experience includes extensive exposure to Asia, having travelled widely as Pacific commander, and some to Europe as a member of the NSC staff. He majored in Russian studies as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He has had less contact with issues in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America and will necessarily rely on others in those fields. A recent essay Blair wrote for the National Bureau on Asian Research in Seattle provides clues to Blair's thinking on military power in Asia. "China, India, and Japan will not match the power projection capability of the U.S.," he wrote. Even so, they are "all developing the ability to deploy forces with the military capacity to threaten U.S. power projection task groups." Blair asserted that "rather than initiating a scramble for power and influence in the region, the major nations in Asia seem more likely to use their power projection capabilities for symbolic purposes." He cautioned, however, "a scramble for power and influence among major Asian powers would be likely if a drawdown of the U.S. forward deployed military presence occurs in Asia." After he took charge of the Pacific Command's headquarters in Honolulu in 1999, Blair showed that he was a demanding, if quiet, taskmaster. Dissatisfied with the command's war plans, he ordered them updated to account for China's acquisition of modern Russian warplanes and ships. "That was laborious stuff," said one officer. "It took thousands of man-hours. Some of the staff had to work so hard they started calling it the "Blair Witch Project,'" the name of a popular horror movie. Blair retired from the Navy in 2002. In contrast, even though he is considered by some to be an intense, aloof workaholic, Blair has occasionally shown a playful streak. As captain of the destroyer Cochrane, with home port in Japan, he tried to water ski behind the ship after she had been at sea for many weeks. Blair has told friends he thought the crew needed a bit of entertainment. Blair went over the side and was fed a rope by the crew of a gig, or small boat, then got into position aft of the ship to be pulled up on the water skis. When the destroyer started to speed, howe[...]

The Fatigue of Fighting

Sun, 11 Jan 2009 23:30:00 -0600

And they are tired of writhing faces on TV spewing hatred for America. When those people shout: "Yankee, go home," many Americans would like to reply: "Stop the world, we want to get off." President-elect Barack Obama may be aware of this fatigue, having campaigned on a promise of hope. Whether he confronts this weariness in his inaugural address will reveal much about his administration. So will the testimony of Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton in Senate confirmation hearings. The signs of fatigue show up in poll after poll: One says only 13 percent of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going. In another, 64 percent say America is on the wrong track. Of the looming conflict between India and Pakistan, 81 percent say the US should stay out. In the clash between Israelis and Arabs, 51 percent say hands off. Iraq, say 64 percent, is not worth fighting for. Of the United Nations, 65 percent saying it does a poor job. Free trade agreements, say 61 percent, cause Americans to lose jobs. Another 56 percent contend that the US spends too much on foreign aid. National defense spending, 44 percent assert, is too high. The lack of American interest in foreign affairs is reflected in declining international news coverage except for eruptions. A survey showed extensive reporting on the financial crisis, President-elect Obama, the political shenanigans of the Illinois governor, and problems in the auto industry-but little from outside the US. American travel abroad has also leveled off. Isolationism has deep roots in America. Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson warned against "entangling alliances." The US kept much to itself until the Spanish-American War of 1898 and World War I in 1917-18. Not until World War II did the US really come out of its isolationist shell. The fundamental security posture of the postwar period was set by a National Security Council document called NSC-68 drawn up in President Harry Truman's administration. It set diplomatic, economic, and military foundations for containing the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1991. After the Korean War ended in 1953, the high point of America's stance was set by President John Kennedy in his inaugural address in 1961: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." That seemingly unlimited commitment, however, lasted only eight years. President Richard Nixon, seeing the US bogged down in Vietnam, declared the US would provide a nuclear shield over nations vital to US security. Beyond that, he said: "We shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense." President Jimmy Carter in 1980 was slightly more expansive on potential threats to oil resources near the Persian Gulf: "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." President Ronald Reagan focused on assisting anti-communist movements to "roll back" Soviet influence. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, American leaders floundered. President George Bush the elder sent troops to expel Iraq from Kuwait but had no overarching strategy. President Bill Clinton said the US would remain "actively engaged" and emphasized: "Durable relationships with allies and friendly nations are vital." He added, however: "Our strategy is tempered by recognition that there are limits to America's involvement in the world." After the [...]

Obama Faces World of Conflict

Mon, 05 Jan 2009 00:30:00 -0600

Moreover, the new president's task will be hard because only 33 percent of the eligible voters in America cast their ballots for him. The rest either didn't vote, or voted for Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican candidate, or voted for Ralph Nader or Bob Barr or another third party candidate. Mr. Obama cannot claim a mandate to ram through his proposals. Nevertheless, all Americans, even those who didn't vote for him, should wish President Obama well and hope that his presidency is successful, if for no other reason that America cannot afford another four or eight years of discordant, second-rate government. The same wish should be true for allies and friends of the US, particularly in Asia. Despite America's troubles, the constructive application of American power is still vital to the well-being of nations from Britain to South Africa to Japan. Further, potential adversaries such as China should hope that President Obama can steer a course that serves America's interests as well as preclude an armed conflict with them. It won't be easy. Witness the apparently corrupt schemes of Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Mr. Obama. The governor has been charged with conspiracy and bribery and driven the already turbulent politics of Chicago to a new low as he has defied widespread calls for his resignation, including that from Mr. Obama. Or the bitter parting shot from Bob Herbert, a liberal columnist for The New York Times who wrote this week: "I don't think he [President Bush] should be allowed to slip quietly out of town. There should be a great hue and cry - a loud, collective angry howl, demonstrations with signs and bullhorns and fiery speeches - over the damage he's done to this country." In sharp contrast, there are signs that civility might return to American public life. From all reports, President Bush has gone out of his way to have officials of his administration brief those of new administration and to help them get started. For his part, Mr. Obama has been careful not to presume on Mr. Bush's responsibilities and prerogatives as president. More than once he has said America can have only one president at a time. Similarly, Bill Kristol, a conservative with unquestioned credentials, said in another column in The New York Times: "I look forward to Obama's inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer." Noting that Mr. Obama will be sworn in with President Abraham Lincoln's Bible, Kristol said: "Obama could do a lot worse than study Lincoln and learn from him." In Asia, the incoming administration will be confronted immediately with a looming crisis between India and Pakistan caused by the attack in late November on Mumbai, the financial center of India, presumably by Pakistani terrorists. "If there's another Mumbai, India will have to respond," said an informed US officer. Both sides have moved troops to the border between them. A conflict between India and Pakistan would jeopardize US military operations in Afghanistan. A main supply route from the Pakistani port of Karachi through Peshawar in northwest Pakistan thence through the mountains via the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan has already been cut either by Taliban terrorists or Pakistani troops pursuing the terrorists. In a larger context, several US administrations have tried to treat India and Pakistan in an even-handed manner but have not acquired enough influence to restrain either. A complication is the posture of China, long an ally of Pakistan and a rival with India for prominence in Asia. Moreover, both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and a nuclear exchange would have unpredictable consequences. So far, Mr. Obama has said little about South Asia. On his we[...]

How to Walk Away from North Korea

Sun, 21 Dec 2008 23:30:00 -0600

Cutting through the diplomatic verbiage enveloping what is known as the Six-Party Talks, there's enough fault to go around: • North Korea has had no intention of giving up its nuclear program, has tested a weapon, and has indicated that it plans to test again. Pyongyang's purpose has been to string out the negotiations to see what it could get in oil and other economic bribes. • China, praised for hosting the talks, has done little to press North Korea. Rather, Beijing has allowed the talks to muddle along while claiming that China has little influence over North Korea. That contention from a rising power is increasingly hard to believe. • The United States has negotiated as if North Korea was governed by rational people susceptible to Western logic. Instead, the North Koreans have scorned US pledges of diplomatic recognition, economic benefits, and a peace treaty to replace the truce that ended the Korean War of 1950-53. • South Korea, no matter what government is in power, has been lukewarm toward the talks because a) a large majority believes that their North Korean cousins will not use nuclear weapons against them and b) reunification will mean the South will inherit the North's weapons. • Japan, although anxious about North Korean belligerence, nuclear weapons, and missiles, has been hampered by weak governments and an obsession with North Korean abductions of Japanese snatched from their homeland. • Russia, a patron of North Korea in the days of the Soviet Union, has been trying to reestablish itself as an Asian power by cleaning up its rusting navy, promoting arms sales, and fostering trade and economic aid. So far, however, that has not translated into political influence. President George W. Bush held out hope this week that the Six Party Talks could be revived. While flying from Iraq to Afghanistan, he told reporters: "A success of this administration is to put a framework in place that has China, the United States, and South Korea and Russia and Japan all at the table, all saying the same thing." The president asserted that the process of the negotiations had been reversed. "It used to be, we will give you what you ask for and hope that you respond," the president said. "Now it is, here's what you must do if you want our help." He contended the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, "is trying to test the process." The president acknowledged, however, that the Six-Party Talks are over for his administration and would be passed to President-elect Obama. "The key," the president said, "is to be firm and patient with a structure that will enable the next President or the next President after that to be able to solve the problem diplomatically." President-elect Obama has been cagey about North Korea's nuclear weapons, perhaps to avoid responsibility before he moves into the White House. He says on his web site,, that "the gravest danger to the American people is the threat of a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon and the spread of nuclear weapons to dangerous regimes." Mr. Obama says his administration "will pursue tough, direct diplomacy without preconditions with all nations, friend and foe." He pledges he "will forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements, such as the six-party talks on North Korea." No direct mention of resuming the talks. Considering everything with which the new president must cope, such as the economy, energy, immigration, the environment, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, Russia, relations with the European Community and NATO, Israel and the Middle East, Canada and Mexico, and finding a new dog for his daughters, setting aside the No[...]

Setting Priorities in Asia

Sun, 14 Dec 2008 23:30:00 -0600

Today, among the thousands of recommendations being thrust upon President-elect Barack Obama comes one urging him to perform a virtual kowtow to the leaders of China by going to Beijing shortly after his inauguration. The proposal is most ill-advised and shows little understanding of China, past or present. Rather, the new president should invite the Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, to Washington with full honors at an appropriate time. Jeffrey Garten, an undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton Administration, has asserted: "Barack Obama's first overseas trip should be to China, and it should occur within a month after his inauguration on January 20. He should bring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and his ambassador to Beijing." "Such a trip would be a showstopper, breaking all precedents," Gartner, a professor at Yale, wrote in Newsweek last weekend. "The trip would not be designed to negotiate or resolve specific issues. Instead, Obama would be setting the style and the tone of a new U.S. approach to China." The Chinese, however, would see that visit as the young, new, and relatively inexperienced president coming, like the envoys of old, to pay tribute to China. In Asia, where symbols command more attention than in the West, an early Obama journey would be seen as the "western barbarian" submitting to the power of the Chinese court. American presidents since Richard Nixon have made the mistake of going to China before inviting a Chinese leader to Washington. In Chinese eyes, and those of many other Asians, that put the president in the position of supplicant. It reinforced the Chinese belief that they are reviving the Middle Kingdom as the center of the world, destined to be superior to all others. A picture of Chairman Mao Zedong and President Nixon in Mao's study in 1972 had Mao slouched back and relaxed in an easy chair while Nixon sat up straight on the edge of his chair like a schoolboy before the headmaster. Asians everywhere saw that as evidence that Nixon had come to seek favor from Mao. President Clinton may have been the worst offender in travel to China. He journeyed through China for nine days in 1998, longer than his trips to other nations, and was seen by the Chinese as the leader of the western barbarians being dazzled by the splendor of China. Further, he was enticed into publicly taking a position on Taiwan that appeared to favor China, which claims sovereignty over the self-governing island and has threatened to take it with force. The US asserts that any resolution of the Taiwan issue must be acceptable to the people on Taiwan and be peaceable. It is the most troubling issue between China and the US. Against this backdrop, President Obama should take the initiative and invite President Hu to Washington where he would be received with honors. In a not-so-subtle way, that would indicate that President Obama considered President Hu to be his equal, not his superior. The message would be that the new government in Washington has new ways of doing things. During President Hu's visit, President Obama could make points about mutual respect, peaceful resolution of issues, and America's military posture. He could drop the "One China Policy" as being outdated and subject to differing interpretations. He could reemphasize the peaceable settlement of the Taiwan issue. Beyond that, perhaps President Obama's first trip to Asia should take place in November, 2009, when he would attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Singapore. In an even-handed approach, he would meet most of Asia's leaders there. On the way to Singapore, the pres[...]

Ma Tries to Reassure Taiwanese

Sun, 07 Dec 2008 00:00:00 -0600

In office for six months, Mr. Ma's approval ratings have been running under 30 percent. Ratings for Premier Liu Chao-shiuan, the cabinet, and members of the legislature from the Kuomintang have been about the same. Disapproval ratings have been close to 60 percent all around. Like other industrial nations, Taiwan's economy is limping with unemployment rising and inflation threatening. The repercussions are strong as Taiwan, along with South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore, has been among the Four Tigers that have enjoyed surging economic progress. A political scandal has undermined Taiwan's fledgling democracy with former President Chen Shui-bian having been arrested on suspicion of corruption. Chen responded with a two week hunger strike that landed him in the hospital and gave Taiwan a black eye. Recent negotiations with China seem to have gone well and the Kuomintang's honorary chairman, Lien Chan, had a cordial meeting with President Hu Jintao of China at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Peru last week. But that has aroused strong protests from Taiwanese who accuse President Ma of conceding too much to China. Taiwanese who advocate independence for their island fear that Mr. Ma may be succumbing to the lures or demands of China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and has repeatedly threatened to use force if Taiwan declared formal independence. Politics in the US make Taiwanese nervous. They see Chinese leaders urging President-elect Barack Obama to abide by what the Chinese define as the "one-China policy" and to cease arms sales to Taiwan. They also see the pro-China lobby of American liberals and business executives imploring Mr. Obama to adopt policies favoring China. The president-elect's web site at has so far been silent on this issue. President Ma sought to be reassuring on the economy: "We have encountered a financial crisis that has not been seen in a hundred years. We should not be afraid. Taiwan has experienced financial crises before, including two oil shocks and the Asian financial crisis, and we overcame all of them." The president distanced himself from the investigation into Chen Shui-bian's alleged corruption: "I will not interfere with the investigation and the justice system, but my determination to eliminate corruption from the government will never change." On sovereignty, President Ma was direct: "As President, I have the responsibility to defend the sovereignty and dignity of the Republic of China," Taiwan's formal name. "The ROC is a sovereign country. The future of Taiwan shall be decided commonly by the 23 million people on Taiwan..Please do not worry about it." Speaking forcefully, Mr. Ma said: "Mainland China is, of course, a threat to Taiwan; 1400 guided missiles are targeted at Taiwan." He reiterated his inaugural pledge that there would be no unification with Mainland China, no formal declaration of independence, and no use of force during his administration. On that third point, China will decide whether force is to be used. Unlike his predecessor, President Ma said he adopted a different approach on Taiwan's participation in the United Nations, which has been blocked by mainland China for forty years. "We do not intend to join or return to the UN under any name," he said. "But we hope that the right of Taiwan to participate in the activities of the specialized agencies of the UN can be fully guaranteed. He also said Taiwan would continue to buy arms from the US to strengthen the island's national defense. The US, after seven years of off-and-on discussions, announced in October that the US would sell Taiwan $6.5 billion worth of arms and equipme[...]