Archive for March, 2015


March 31, 2015

Is the American Century Over? By Joseph Nye. Polity Press; 152 pages; $12.95

The Economist, London, on March 7, 2015, reviewed Professor Joseph Nye’s new book. “Americans have a long history of worrying about their decline,” notes Joseph Nye. Puritans in 17th-century Massachusetts lamented a fall from earlier virtue. The Founding Fathers fretted that the republic they had created might dissipate like ancient Rome. Modern scholars are a gloomy…,too. Michael Lind of the New America Foundation, a think-tank, has written that, with America’s foreign policy in a state of collapse, its economy ailing and its democracy broken, the American century ended last year. Excerpts below:

Mr Nye, a veteran observer of global affairs, is more optimistic. He expects that America will still play the central role in the global balance of power in the 2040s. What, after all, is the alternative?
Europe is hardly a plausible challenger. Though its economy and population are larger than America’s, the old continent is stagnating.

By 2025 India will be the most populous nation on Earth. It has copious “soft power”—a term Mr Nye coined—in its diaspora and popular culture. But only 63% of Indians are literate, and none of its universities is in the global top 100. India could only eclipse America if it were to form an anti-American alliance with China,

China is the likeliest contender to be the next hyperpower: its army is the world’s largest and its economy will soon be. (In purchasing-power-parity terms, it already is.) But it will be decades before China is as rich or technologically sophisticated as America; indeed, it may never be.

Hu Jintao, the previous president, tried to increase China’s soft power by setting up “Confucius Institutes” to teach its language and culture. Yet such a strategy is unlikely to win hearts in, say, Manila, when China is bullying the Philippines over islands in the South China Sea.

Perhaps the greatest threats to American pre-eminence are domestic. As pundits often point out, young American workers score terribly on cross-country comparisons of numeracy, and Americans are disillusioned with their government. Yet even here, Mr Nye sees hope: 82% of Americans say America is the best place in the world to live. It remains a magnet for foreign talent, and could be an even stronger one if it sorted out its immigration policy.

“Leadership is not the same as domination,” says Mr Nye; influence matters more than military might. This short, well-argued book offers a powerful rebuttal to America’s premature obituarists.


March 30, 2015

Wall Street Journal on March 25, 2015, reported that China is building military bases on artificial islands hundreds of miles off its coast, in waters claimed by six other countries. These new fortresses in the South China Sea raise the risk of war, yet Washington seems to have no strategy to address them. Are the U.S. and its allies ceding the nearly 1.35 million square miles claimed by China without legal merit, including some of the busiest sea lanes on the planet? Excerpts below:

Over the past year Chinese dredging and other landfill techniques have transformed tiny reefs into potential homes for military aircraft, ships, radar facilities and other assets. Formerly underwater during high tide, Johnson Reef is now a 25-acre landmass. Nearby Hughes Reef has grown big enough to host two piers and a cement plant. Gaven Reef is now 28 acres, with a helipad and antiaircraft tower. Fiery Cross Reef has grown 11-fold since August, with what appears to be a three-kilometer airstrip under construction. All are part of the Spratly islands, a cluster of rocks between the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, often some 650 miles from China.

U.S. Senators John McCain, Jack Reed, Bob Corker and Bob Menendez last week wrote a bipartisan letter asking Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerrynot to investigate China’s behavior. At stake, the Senators note, is the security of U.S. allies in Asia, the continued free flow of $5 trillion a year in oil, iPhones and other trade through the South China Sea, and the principle of “peaceful resolution of disputes.”

U.S. executive officials have done little more than politely ask Beijing to stop, citing a 2002 pledge by China and its neighbors to avoid provocative actions.

The Senate letter asks the Administration to report on “specific actions the United States can take to slow down or stop China’s reclamation activities.” It further suggests publicizing relevant intelligence more regularly, calibrating U.S.-China security cooperation to encourage better Chinese behavior, and deepening U.S. partnerships across Asia.

The U.S. would help security in Asia if it began imposing costs on Chinese aggression. That would require accepting greater risk in U.S.-Chinese relations, but the alternative is watching China continue what it intends to be a gradual march to domination of the Western Pacific.

Washington could start by expanding training for the threats posed in the South China Sea, where China uses military, coast guard and civilian vessels to challenge others (such as the Philippine marines on Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys) and extend its military and economic reach (as with the oil rig it planted in Vietnamese waters last year). The U.S. could also jointly patrol the area with forces from the Philippines, Japan or other willing partners. Trying to work through the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations is probably futile.

The U.S. could also invite Taiwanese participation in the next Rim of the Pacific naval exercise set for 2016.

China is imposing its will more forcefully than ever. The U.S. and its partners may not have another five years to dawdle.


March 27, 2015

Fox News on March 26, 2015, published an AP report on Cambodian officials having inaugurated a memorial at the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum to remember at least 12,000 people tortured and killed at the site when it was a Khmer Rouge prison. Excerpts below:

The museum, formerly a high school in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, was turned into S-21 prison after the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975. Of the estimated 16,000 men, women and children who passed through its gates, only a handful survived.

An estimated 1.7 million people died as a resulted of the Khmer Rouge radical polices from 1975 to 1979.

The Buddhist stupa replaces a similar memorial that disintegrated inside the Tuol Sleng complex.


March 26, 2015

Swedish Cold War Premier Olof Palme, a social democrat, was a prominent supporter of Communist “liberation movements” in the developing world. Did he support freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe? The Palme Commission in the 1980s had prominent Soviet propagandists as members like Georgiy Arbatov. Former Swedish counter-intelligence officer Olof Franstedt in the early 21st century revealed that Olof Palme was in contact with a KGB-agent in Stockholm.

Palme was also a friend of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Once the Swedish premier gave a public speech in Havana in the presence of Castro expressing great sympathy and understanding for the regime on Cuba. In the same speech he said that the struggle of the Vietnamese and Cambodian peoples had achieved victory. This was at the same time as the genocide of Pol Pot had been initiated in Cambodia.

He was never critical of the communist dictatorship in China. In the beginning of the 1980s Olof Palme visited East Germany publicly speaking of “peace” and “friendship” with the communist dictator Honecker. Not a single word about democracy and freedom. Under Palme’s premiership never a critical word about Libya’s dictator Khadaffi, whom he called his “friend”. At the same time there were numerous insults of Israel by members of Palme’s government

In The Palme Commission the Swedish premier was surrounded by Soviet experts in the field of disinformation such as Georgi Arbatov and General Mikhail Milstein of the Institute of the USA and Canada in Moscow. Georgii Kornienko, Soviet first deputy foreign minister, and Marshal Sergei Akhromeev, first deputy chief of the General Staff, also participated in the efforts of the commission. The goal was so called “common security” between the West and the Soviet Union. Had Palme had his way there would still have been a Soviet Union, that could subjugate the peoples of Eastern Europe. Olof Palme was a supporter of communist regimes and so called “liberation movements” around the world.


March 26, 2015

Fox News on March 25, 2015, reported that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, speaking to a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, called on Muslims around the world to speak out against extremist groups — declaring “silence is not acceptable.” Excerpts below:

In an impassioned address, Ghani said groups like the Islamic State pose a “terrible threat” to the region and said their hatred must be challenged from “within the religion of Islam.”

“We are willing to speak truth to terror,” Ghani said of the Afghan people.

Ghani’s message to the Muslim world aligns with recent appeals from…other moderate leaders in the region, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. While he warned of what he described as a “darker cloud” of extremism looming over the region, Ghani also voiced hope about Afghanistan’s future.

He said Afghanistan is “uniquely positioned” to block the spread of extremism. “After all, we defeated most of the empires,” he chuckled, to laughter from the congressional audience.

Ghani vowed that, together, America and Afghanistan would “finish the job” that began on 9/11. “Afghanistan will be the graveyard of Al Qaeda and their foreign terrorist associates,” he said, pledging Afghanistan will “never again” be host to terrorists.

Ghani said a key goal will be rooting out the “cancer” of corruption, which he pledged to do. The new Afghan president, capping his visit to Washington, repeatedly pledged that his country will eventually be self-sustaining, not reliant on outside aid. Saying he doesn’t want Afghanistan to be like a dependent family member, he said: “We are not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe.”

The visit was designed in part to turn the page in the once-rocky relationship between his government and Washington. The White House said Ghani’s speech was indeed an opportunity to mark a new chapter in U.S.-Afghanistan relations.

In a shift from his previous plan, Obama said the U.S. would leave its 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in place rather than downsizing to 5,500 by year’s end. The size of the U.S. footprint for next year is still to be decided, Obama said…

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the U.S. cannot allow ISIS militants to rise in Afghanistan as they did in Iraq. He criticized Obama’s earlier plan for a faster withdrawal, saying the president was “dictating policy preferences divorced from security realties.”

California Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the U.S. cannot afford to see Afghanistan spiral back into lawlessness and re-emerge as a safe hub for terrorists. He said keeping troops there will also help maintain intelligence on the ground.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.


March 25, 2015

The Diplomat on March 23, 2015, published an article by Francis P. Sempa on the great British geographer’s last update of his Heartland theory. During the Second World War, the editor of Foreign Affairs asked the great British geopolitical thinker Sir Halford Mackinder to update his global worldview, which had been set forth largely in two works: his 1904 paper “The Geographical Pivot of History” and his 1919 book Democratic Ideals and Reality. Mackinder, then 82, responded with “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” which appeared in the July 1943 issue of Foreign Affairs and constitutes his last published words on the global balance of power. Excerpts below:

Scholars of Mackinder and his geopolitical concepts too often ignore or downplay the significance of “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace.” In that article, Mackinder not only updated his Heartland concept, but identified other geographical features, including the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Monsoon lands of India and China, which he predicted would play an important role in the future global balance of power.

In both 1904 and 1919, Mackinder identified the northern central core of the Eurasian landmass as the “pivot region” or “Heartland” of the world from which a sufficiently armed and organized great power or alliance of powers could bid for global hegemony.

In 1904, Mackinder wrote that “The oversetting of the balance of power in favour of the pivot state, resulting in its expansion over the marginal lands of Euro-Asia, would permit the use of vast continental resources for fleet-building, and the empire of the world would then be in sight.” This might happen, he warned, if Germany allied with Russia or China allied itself to Japan.

In 1919, Mackinder wrote that had Germany conquered Russia and France “she would have established her sea-power on a wider base than any in history, and in fact on the widest possible base.” He then warned, “must we not still reckon with the possibility that a large part of the Great Continent might some day be united under a single sway, and that an invincible sea-power might be based upon it?”

Mackinder began this article by explaining that the idea for the Heartland resulted from two events: the Boer War in South Africa and the Russo-Japanese War. He noted the contrast presented by Great Britain waging war against the Boers six thousand miles across the ocean and Russia fighting a war against Japan across a comparable distance on land. This suggested to him “a parallel contrast between Vasco de Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope on his voyage to the Indies, near the end of the fifteenth century, and the ride of Yermak, the Cossack, at the head of his horsemen, over the Ural range into Siberia early in the sixteenth century.” This, in turn, according to Mackinder, led him to review the nomadic raids of the Steppe tribes against the peoples of Europe, the Middle East, the Indies and China, and suggested the possibility of attempting to correlate historical events with geographical conditions in an effort to understand geography’s impact on history, contemporary events, and the future.

Geographically, the Heartland was equivalent to the territory of the Soviet Union, minus the land east of the Lena River. If the Soviet Union defeats Germany, he wrote, “she must rank as the greatest land Power on the globe,” and “[f]or the first time in history” the Heartland will be “manned by a garrison sufficient both in number and quality.”

A second great geographical feature that Mackinder judged to be of almost equal significance to the Heartland was the Midland Ocean, which he described as “the North Atlantic and its dependent seas and river basins.” It consisted of a bridgehead in Western Europe, “a moated aerodrome in Britain,” and the United States and Canada. This was a remarkable prophecy of the North Atlantic Alliance that was created six years later.

Mackinder then described a “girdle of deserts and wilderness” including the Sahara, Arabian, Tibetan and Mongolian deserts, Lenaland in Siberia, Alaska, parts of Canada, and “the sub-arid belt of the United States.” Outside that girdle, Mackinder wrote, was the “Great Ocean (Pacific, Indian, and South Atlantic) and the lands which drain to it (Asiatic Monsoon lands, Australia, South America and Africa south of the Sahara).”

His final geographical feature was the “Monsoon lands of India and China.” He described this region as holding “a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilization” that will “grow to prosperity” and balance the remaining great geographical regions. “A balanced globe of human beings,” he wrote. “And happy, because balanced and thus free.”

Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century (Transaction Books) and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War (University Press of America). He is also a contributor to Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics (Potomac Books). He has written on historical and foreign policy topics for Joint Force Quarterly, American Diplomacy, the University Bookman, The Claremont Review of Books, The Diplomat, Strategic Review, the Washington Times and other publications. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.


March 24, 2015

Wall Street Journal on March 23, 2015, published an article by Bret Stephens on under Obama friends are enemies, denial is wisdom and capitulation is victory. The humiliating denouement to America’s involvement in Yemen came over the weekend, when U.S. Special Forces were forced to evacuate a base from which they had operated against the local branch of al Qaeda. Excerpts below:

So who should Barack Obama be declaring war on in the Middle East other than the state of Israel?

There is an upside-down quality to this president’s world view. His administration is now on better terms with Iran—whose Houthi proxies, with the slogan “God is great, death to America, death to Israel, damn the Jews, power to Islam,” just deposed Yemen’s legitimate president—than it is with Israel. He claims we are winning the war against Islamic State even as the group continues to extend its reach into Libya, Yemen and Nigeria.

He treats Republicans in the Senate as an enemy when it comes to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, while treating the Russian foreign ministry as a diplomatic partner. He favors the moral legitimacy of the United Nations Security Council to that of the U.S. Congress. He is facilitating Bashar Assad’s war on his own people by targeting ISIS so the Syrian dictator can train his fire on our ostensible allies in the Free Syrian Army.

He was prepared to embrace a Muslim Brother as president of Egypt but maintains an arm’s-length relationship with his popular pro-American successor…The deeper that Russian forces advance into Ukraine, the more they violate cease-fires, the weaker the Kiev government becomes, the more insistent he is that his response to Russia is working.

To adapt George Orwell’s motto for Oceania: Under Mr. Obama, friends are enemies, denial is wisdom, capitulation is victory.

The current victim of Mr. Obama’s moral inversions is the recently re-elected Israeli prime minister. Normally a sweeping democratic mandate reflects legitimacy, but not for Mr. Obama.

Maybe that’s true, but if so it only underscores the point Mr. Netanyahu was making in the first place—and for which Mr. Obama now threatens a fundamental reassessment of U.S. relations with Israel.

And so on. For continuously rejecting good-faith Israeli offers, Mr. Abbas may be about to get his wish: a U.S. vote for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. For tiring of constant Palestinian bad faith—and noting the fact—Israel will now be treated to pariah-nation status by Mr. Obama.

Here is my advice to the Israeli government, along with every other country being treated disdainfully by this crass administration: Repay contempt with contempt. Mr. Obama plays to classic bully type. He is abusive and surly only toward those he feels are either too weak, or too polite, to hit back.

The Saudis figured that out in 2013, after Mr. Obama failed to honor his promises on Syria; they turned down a seat on the Security Council, spoke openly about acquiring nuclear weapons from Pakistan and tanked the price of oil, mainly as a weapon against Iran. Now Mr. Obama is nothing if not solicitous of the Saudi highnesses.

The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue: Let’s hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful U.S. patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months.


March 23, 2015

Wall Street Journal on March 22, 2015, commented on the U.S. withdrawal from Yemen as a victory for Iran and al Qaeda. Another week, another victory for disorder in the Middle East. This time the meltdown is in Yemen, where this weekend the U.S. withdrew the remaining U.S. special forces from a base where they were waging a drone war against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The withdrawal comes amid growing chaos in the country after Houthi militants deposed the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the capital, San’a, for Aden last month. The Houthis belong to the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam and are receiving help from Iran. They are at war with Sunni jihadists, who struck back in bombings on Friday that killed 152 people in San’a and Saada province. An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility.

The U.S. retreat is a major loss in the fight against AQAP, which has been the al Qaeda branch most focused on hitting the U.S. mainland.

As recently as September, President Obama hailed Yemen as an antiterror model. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years,” he said. That wishful thinking has now been exposed.

Supporters of leading from behind are hoping, or rationalizing, that the Sunni radicals and Houthis will kill each other and burn themselves out. But the risk is that they will turbocharge each other with outside help, and the resulting chaos will spread.

That’s the lesson of Syria’s civil war, which the Obama Administration also said would burn out.

The U.S. should help the Saudis and Mr. Hadi, but mark this down as another strategic fiasco.


March 21, 2015

The Copenhagen Post on March 21, 2015, reported that Danish warships could end up as targets for Russian nuclear missiles if Denmark joins the NATO missile defence shield, according to Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark. Excerpts below:

“I do not think that the Danes fully understand the consequences if Denmark joins the US-led missile defence shield,” Vanin told Jyllands-Posten. “If that happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles.”

Vanin said that Denmark would become “part of the threat to Russia and relations with Russia will be damaged”. Vanin warned that joining the defence shield would be “Denmark’s decision” and that the country would “lose both money and security”.

Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister, was not pleased with Vanin’s comments.


March 20, 2015

The Press Service of the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybaskaité on March 19, 2015, reported that for the first time, on Lithuania’s initiative the European Council has discussed counter-measures against Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign. EU leaders have tasked High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini with preparing together with the member states and European institutions an action plan on strategic communication to counter information attacks. The action plan should be ready by June. Excerpts below:

President Grybauskaitė underlines that in a changed geopolitical situation Russia has launched a fierce information war to spread misinformation, to turn Europeans against each other and to undermine the unity of member states, therefore a unified response is needed from the European Union.

“We must fight, together and consistently, against Russian disinformation. We cannot allow misleading people, diminishing European values and spreading lies in the EU public space,” the President said.
According to the President, we need to explicitly identify propaganda and to know that it exists. We also need to expose lies and to invest into alternative information sources.

In Lithuania, the President has initiated amendments to the Law on the Provision of Information to the Public, providing for strict responsibility for the instigation of war and also for proportionate fines with respect to all broadcasters and re-broadcasters. More powers will be given to the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission which performs regulatory and supervisory functions.