We are starting a new series of posts that we'll run periodically on the CWCP blog. These posts will consist of links to important world news stories, articles on international events/issues that have flown under the radar, and interesting analytical pieces. We might even throw in links to pop culture or sports articles, particularly if they somehow have a connection to international relations. In general, these links are things that have caught our interest and we would like to share them with you.
The NYT conducted an extensive investigation of the deadly Benghazi attacks. The Times found no al-Qeada link to the attacks. "The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker's boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault."
What's happening in Egypt? Considering the Egyptian military is tightening its grip on power and silencing opponents and critics, nothing good, that's for sure.
Of course, because two ASEAN states, notably Philippines and Vietnam, are also embroiled in a border dispute with China, Japan's courting of ASEAN has caused some concern in Beijing. Not surprisingly, Sino-Japanese tensions became a major issue when the Chinese Defense Minister visited Jakarta in mid-December.
In the meantime, South Korea's reactions to China's new Air Defense Zone has been more measured, as it doesn't see China much of a threat and is more concerned with what happens in North Korea.
2. Kim Jong Un Executed His Uncle Jang
As I mentioned in previous post on this blog, there are two main implications over Jang Song Thaek's unexpected demise: notably, a strong signal to China and a warning to North Korean elites not to cross the young dictator.
Recent news reports out of North Korea don't inspire much confidence in the North Korean regime. Apparently Kim Jong Un was drunk when he ordered the execution of his uncle. Not to mention his other antics. As B.R.Myers noted:
For the past two years I’ve been marveling at how bad the propaganda has been. I would call it ill-advised if I thought anyone was stupid enough to advise it. From the first few months of the national mourning period, when Kim Jong Un was laughing it up on the evening news, to his allowing an American basketball player to slouch next to him in cap and sunglasses, it’s been one odd move after another. It might have enhanced his overseas image as a reformer, but that can be done in much safer ways. His father cut his teeth in propaganda work, he had a brilliant grasp of it. He took his wife around with him too, but he had the sense not to put her on the evening news. This young man seems to have lived overseas too briefly to learn anything, but long enough to lose touch with his own country, with the myths that keep him in power.
Granted, North Korea might not collapse in 2014, but I'd expect more purges, especially as the elite grows restless. Should North Korea really collapse, both China and South Korea would be put in difficult position. Would China allow South Korea to sweep in and take over the North entirely? Or would China march to Pyongyang, restore order, and impose a new dictatorship under a malleable figure such as Kim Jong nam, Kim Jong Un's brother?
If that's the case, then South Korea's rather quiet response over China's new Air Defense Zone makes sense. It's better to marshal goodwill in China in order to influence Beijing when the Kim Dynasty finally collapses.
3. Syria, Iran, and the Decline of the Obama's Prestige in the Middle East
On Syria, his "red line" statement backfired. It made Obama a figure of ridicule in the Middle East. Moreover, Obama has alienated American partners in the region. After he was unwilling to act on Syria, the Saudis were royally upset with what it saw as "lamentable" policies on Syria.
What's more damaging, however, is that this has happened at a point when the possibility of a breakthrough in negotiation with Iran is encouraging. Sure, not everyone is happy with the flawed deal with Iran, but this is an important first step in which one cannot burden it with too many expectations lest the process break.
Unfortunately, with Israel and Saudi Arabia, both key players in the region, doubtful of the United States' intentions and commitment to their interests in light of Syrian fiasco, Obama and John Kerry are having a really tough time persuading them to give the deal a chance to succeed. And then there's the tough task of persuading Congress, where figures in both parties remain hostile to any "appeasement" to Tehran.
The biggest problem with the Saudis' approach is that the Riyadh does not differentiate between the various groups in Syria -- anyone is good enough as long as they are working to defeat Assad. Inadvertently, however, this may restrengthen the Global Jihad movement.
Similar to Afghanistan in the 1980s, the current conflict in Syria attracts many Jihadists from all over the world, including my home Indonesia. Already, there are reports of a good number of Indonesians involved in what Abu Bakar Bashir, the jailed leader of Jamaat Ansharut Tauhid, a radical Islamist group, termed "university for Jihad education."
New recruits are trained and new strategists are educated. In essence, the broken links between al-Qaeda and its decimated affiliates around the world are being renewed in Syria and this will have major long term implications.
That, sadly, might be Obama's legacy.
4. The Fall of Erdogan?
This is a terrible year for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. First, his image as a strong democratic leader got hit badly when 50 environmentalists began protesting on May 28, 2013, to prevent the demolition of the Gezi Park in Istanbul, a very small park which was to be turned into a shopping mall.
It was supposed to be a non-issue, but the police overreacted, severely cracked down on the protesters, triggering a popular uproar. The next day, the size of protesters grew and following more missteps by Erdogan (such as calling the protesters "looters" (capulcu)), the originally small protest turned into a huge headache for the government.
While there has been some discontent against Erdogan in the past several years, the Gezi Park protest was the breaking point, completely alienating the liberals, secularists and nationalists from Erdogan, who could then only rely on the Islamists for support.
While France might maintain status quo for a while due to the overall global economic recovery, this situation can't continue indefinitely. French might have to face the music with massive implications to the European Union as a whole.
6. The Snowden Affair
Honestly, the Snowden Affairs is here on the list mostly because this has been such a huge news in 2013, with diplomatic spats and embarrassments as a result of the leak. But overall, the significance of the Snowden affair has been overstated, in my view.
In 1929, US Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson might have declared that "Gentlemen do not read each other's mail." In today's world, however, this would border between naivety and incompetence by the state's intelligence agency.
While there has been some short-term backlash from aggrieved states--such as Indonesia halting military cooperation with Australia, Brazilian President snubbing Obama, and Angela Merkel berating Obama and comparing NSA with Stasi--in the long run, however, this will just be a small bump on the road, as states on all sides (both the spied and those doing the spying) will surely weigh what will fit their interests and behave accordingly.
Moreover, with Snowden behaving more like Carmen Sandiego than a real whistle-blower, the debate has shifted, no longer focused on how to reform an out-of-control agency, but on how do you solve a problem like the prima-donna Snowden, who jumped first to Hong Kong and then Russiain order to defend freedom.
As the result, Snowden's revelations may keep coming and keep embarrassing the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, etc., but the long term impact will likely be limited, not unlike the Wikileaks fiasco.
In essence, the Middle East is well aware that, unlike Obama, Putin's actions are louder than his words. As long as Putin wants, Assad will remain the dictator in Syria, and with the Syrian opposition disunited and in shambles, there's no way Assad will agree to hold an election (unless he can manipulate it) or give any concessions of consequence to his opponents.
While Russia will not be able to supplant the United States due to the United States' massive economic and military power advantage, Obama's prestige and credibility problems mean that there is an opportunity that Russia can exploit, and Putin has exploited it masterfully.
If the United States does withdraw from Afghanistan, I expect to see Karzai, should he fail to decamp, to face the fate of his predecessor, Muhammad Najibullah.
9. The Revenge of Qaddafi: the Libyan Arms
In the past couple months, violence has re-emerged in Africa and struck many weak states such as Mali, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. There are many reasons, such as inequality, weak state bureaucracy, etc. Most importantly, however, is the role that Libyan arms are playing throughout Africa.
After the fall of Qaddafi, the new Libyan government was unable to maintain control over the entire country, as the formerly rebel movement splintered into local warlords. In the meantime, the huge stockpile of Qaddafi's weapons were looted. The government tried to get them back, but in general was powerless to disarm the entire population.
In the past 12 months, the proliferation of weapons from Libya has continued at a worrying rate and has spread into new territory: West Africa, the Levant and, potentially, even the Horn of Africa," the panel said. Illicit flows from the country are fueling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-state actors, including terrorist groups.
In the past few years, conflicts in Africa have subsided due to the weaknesses of both the government and rebel forces. But with the huge influx of cheap Libyan weapons now coming into the equation, rebel groups have been strengthened. They have managed to launch attacks that threatened or even deposed some weak governments.
Expect more bad news coming from Africa in the next few years.
ASEAN has long been modeled after the European Union (EU),
the most successful regional bloc in existence. Like its European mentors,
ASEAN countries have made it a priority to remain autonomous and independent,
continually aligned and linked, and a constructive force in regional and world
politics, bolstering cooperation between southeast Asian countries and
fostering linkages between Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.
Moreover, much like the EU, ASEAN strives for close regional
coop and integration. ASEAN is a bloc that pools its power, enabling it to be a
major player in world politics. And like the EU, ASEAN aspires to speak with
one voice on a wide range of issues. Of course, with the ASEAN Economic
Community (AEC) set to take the stage in 2015, ASEAN leaders are also
positioning the bloc as an economic powerhouse, potentially a rival to the EU
down the line.
Keep in mind, though, the EU has accomplished quite a bit
since the days of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the 1950s. It
is a relatively cohesive entity on economic and legal affairs. The European
Commission has substantial political power. ASEAN has far to go to reach these
levels of regional integration. Indeed, within ASEAN, concerns about
sovereignty, lingering bad feelings about colonialism, varied political
systems, manifold conceptions of identity and self-interests, along with
deficiencies in the rules and structure of ASEAN--the institution itself--create
massive roadblocks to regional unity.
Despite all that, the respect for and standing of ASEAN has
arguably equaled if not surpassed that of the EU. The flow of power from west
to east, the rise of China, the maritime disputes in the South and East China
Seas, and Southeast Asia's massive economic growth has all enhanced ASEAN’s
standing in foreign capitals. Southeast Asia is where it's at in the 21st
century. Russia, India, Japan, China, and the U.S. have invested considerable
time, effort, resources, and energy in cultivating strong ties to ASEAN
members. By contrast, the EU feels old, retrograde, unwieldy, and in decline,
its best years in the past. The future is Asia, and Southeast Asia, represented
by ASEAN, is an essential reason for all the optimism.
I get a sense that ASEAN leaders and diplomats, in some
respects, would like the bloc to be a supercharged version of the EU. This is
particularly the case on foreign policy and security issues. The EU has been a
nice consultative body, a good tool to create connections to other states and
international organizations, and a powerful economic community, which are good
contributions to international relations. And recently, Foreign Policy Chief
Catherine Ashton did a nice job in helping to push through the interim nuclear
deal with Iran. But overall, it has been a failure on defense and security
affairs. In particular, over the last twenty years, the EU has struggled with
ethnic conflict, extremism, terrorism, and other security threats on its
doorstep and inside member countries. Instead, ASEAN wants to move and operate
like a well-oiled machine on foreign policy matters.
As an example, earlier this year, Indonesian Foreign
Minister Natalegawa proposed the idea of an Indo-Pacific
Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. It’s an idea that builds off and
arguably improves a previous
proposal by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, namely because it
emphasizes open communications and confidence and trust building. Natalegawa
believes that while Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia and Pacific-Asia
has benefited from regional peace and stability, those things should not be
taken for granted, particularly given the fluctuating power trends between
China and the U.S., the ongoing violence in Myanmar, and the maritime disputes
in the East and South China seas. In his words, the region needs “a preemptive
mechanism for conflict prevention and resolution.” In essence, Natalegawa wants
to replicate the model of ASEAN over a wider swath of area in Asia by including
not only ASEAN members but also external powers like China, Japan, India, and
But there are complications. As I’ve
already written, ASEAN is a bloc of middle powers that lacks a clear
leader. of all ASEAN members, Indonesia—with its large population, rising
economic base, strong military, and functioning and stable democracy—is best
suited to be the leader of the bloc, but is unwilling to strongly and
consistently assert itself. And even if Indonesia did make a bid for the
leadership mantle, there is no guarantee it would go over well. Other ASEAN
members could very well reject such moves and push back against them.
Additionally, there are divisions within ASEAN on foreign
and security policy. At this point, ASEAN members are still competing with each
other on security, as the rapid rise in military budgets and acquisitions
across ASEAN attests. There are competing visions on how the bloc should cope
with the maritime disputes, nuclear proliferation, and China and the U.S.
Moreover, I'm not certain that ASEAN members walk lock-step on how the bloc
should look and act like in the future.
For reasons mentioned above, internal reform—either within
ASEAN countries or the institution—is probably an unlikely source of foreign
policy change. Instead, security exigencies within Asia are what will likely
drive ASEAN countries closer together. That’s only thing that, in my view, will
stimulate better unity and cohesion on ASEAN foreign policy. Currently, ASEAN
countries, for the most part, are fairly content with their place in the world
and the overall progress the bloc has made. And I don’t see ASEAN citizens and
governments loudly clamoring for their home states to harmonize more
effectively their foreign policies across Southeast Asia. National politics,
and national interests, still rule the day.
It’s possible that the maritime issues in the East and South
China Seas are the external security shocks that ultimately engender greater
uniformity in ASEAN foreign policy. It seems pretty clear that all ASEAN
countries are aware of the seriousness the various maritime disputes throughout
Asia, and there is a sincere desire to develop and implement a code of conduct
to manage relations on the high seas. A growing number of countries have
emphasized to China that the maritime disputes ought to be settled
diplomatically and free from coercion and the use of force.
Indeed, one element of last
weekend’s joint ASEAN-Japan statement expressed support for “Free and safe
maritime navigation and aviation.” Although the statement didn’t specifically
mention China, it’s obvious that certain passages of the statement were crafted
with China in mind. It’s possible that these parts were mentioned only at
Japan’s insistence. Still, even if that’s the case, the basic point is that
maybe ASEAN members are staring to view what’s happening in their backyard in increasingly
similar terms. It's possible.
Of course, even if all of this turns out to be something
significant, there’s another set of obstacles: the ever difficult step of
translating common interests and ideas into concrete actions. Such actions are
the product of tough negotiations, persuasion, and political will, among many
other things. This part is much harder than finding consensus on foreign
policy, and that’s already a difficult endeavor. The reason?
Here are a few things to consider: implementing and
executing new actions means that individual countries, as well as the entire
bloc, necessarily move from the status quo, which can bring discomfort as
countries head into the unknown. There is the risk of domestic political
backlash from internal opportunists. Making a commitment means ASEAN members
and the institution itself put their reputations on the line, which, if things
go badly, could leave them weakened and vulnerable. There is the prospect of
international costs as a result of responses from foreign groups/countries.
Plus, are ASEAN countries motivated enough to act? Are there sufficient
benefits to executing specific regional policies.
Of course, the question now is: what are the implications for North Korea, its neighbors and the United States? Below is my take.
I really doubt that Jang Song Thaek really wanted to stage a coup. I might be wrong here, but that's just not in the psychology of a regime survivor like Jang. The majority of coup-plotters are people outside the inner circle of the regime. Why bring down a regime from which he benefitted? Granted that North Korea is different, but had Jang really wanted to bring down the regime and become the new dictator, he should have done it right after Kim Jong Un's ascension, when Kim was still seen as new and untested and Jang's position was strong -- or when Kim made a really bad mistake, giving Jang a pretext to strike.
Rather, I think, based on all the supposed crimes that Jang did, this is a very strong signal to the Chinese. While one could say that this is somewhat akin to "cutting off one's nose to spite the face," it looks to me that Kim Jong Un really despises what he saw as Chinese interventions on North Korean politics, or maybe that he just didn't welcome the Chinese embargo in light of North Korean nuclear test.
Moreover, Jang and China are basically nice scapegoats for all the shortages in North Korea. By denouncing Jang for selling resources cheaply, Kim basically blamed Jang for North Korea's economic mess.
Does this show weaknesses in Kim's regime? Yes and no. Yes, in that it is a very strong signal to North Korean elites that nobody is safe anymore, thereby notching up the fear factor significantly. Should the elite really able to settle on one person to succeed Kim, then Kim's regime is numbered. But then again, Stalin literally almost eradicated the entire Soviet elite and he died naturally on his bed, still holding his power. Thus it depends on Kim's ability to play political elites against each other. In this case, though, I really doubt that Kim Jong Un is as adept in politics as either Stalin or even his father, Kim Jong Il. In fact, the execution of Jang could be the fatal mistake that Kim made, the straw that break the camel back. I'd expect some regime disturbances in near future.
Does this mean that the regime might launch provocations to rally everyone around the flag? I expect to see a nuclear or missile test next year, but I really doubt that Kim would send his troops to provoke or even invade South Korea. You never to go war bringing people you don't trust.
What about China? China will seethe, but as long as it doesn't find any political elite to co-op, it can't do anything short of widening the embargo. In any case, after the Jang episode, it's probably impossible for China to find anyone in North Korea willing to cooperate. This, then, shows the limitations of China's supposed "levers" on North Korea.
What about the North Korean economy? It will remain dysfunctional. Even though Jang's execution means that the regime is getting rid its best financier, as Jang was involved in practically every aspect of North Korean trade with outside world, Kim can still survive and find enough people to do business with, though these deals will be probably be worse than the ones Jang could produce.
What should the United States do? Nothing. It can't do anything anyway. This is a purely internal matter, though the United States should expect some signals from Kim, such as asking for food in exchange for stopping its nuclear development. Meaning, business as usual.
Since we launched CWCP in 2011, I've done quite a bit of research and writing on Indonesia. It's a fascinating country, one that's central to a host of important international relations issues and questions. Along the way, I've noticed something rather puzzling: Indonesia is rarely discussed in America. Sure, Team Obama, with its pivot to Asia, has paid enormous attention to Indonesia. But when we look elsewhere, at American publications, including mainstream news outlets, pundits, and analysts, Indonesia is virtually ignored.
For instance, flip through any number of prominent newspapers and journals, such as the LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, Foreign Policy Magazine and Foreign Affairs, and you'll find scant attention given to Indonesia. The same goes for the reporting on national and cable "news" networks. When Indonesia is mentioned, it's usually in the context of the latest regional natural disaster or terrorist incident. The recent hubbub over Australia's spying on SBY, his wife, and other Indonesian officials did get some press in America, but, I suspect, that's mostly because there's a U.S. connection to the overall series of events.
In the States, one has to go out of his/her way to find information and/or analysis on Indonesia. Of course, with the Internet, that's not difficult these days. But the point here is that if you're not an expert or have a strong interest in Indonesia, Southeast Asia, or Asia-Pacific, then news on Indonesia will easily elude your attention. That's a shame.
At first thought, it's strange, perhaps more than strange, that Indonesia has been so grossly omitted from American debates and discussion on foreign policy. After all, in terms of population, Indonesia is the fourth largest in the world, the biggest Muslim country, and the third largest democracy. Its democracy, while far from perfect, has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. Indonesia sits in a major geostrategic area. It has a powerful, emerging economy. It has good ties to the U.S., and cooperates with the America on a raft of issues. Importantly to the U.S., which has been so preoccupied with its war on terror, Indonesia, via its Detachment 88, has made great strides in thwarting and containing Islamic radicalism and terrorism. I could go on, but you get the point: Indonesia is important, to world politics, Asia, and the U.S.
So what's going on? Why don't the chattering classes talk more about Indonesia? After thinking about it, I've come up with several factors. The common thread in these factors is that Indonesia is a complex case that doesn't easily fit into any of the major themes that are often covered by journalists, pundits, and analysts. (In a sense, then, Indonesia is an outlier case, which by itself makes the country interesting and ripe for examination.)
1. Indonesia lacks the negative characteristics that are usually attendant to countries that are often covered in the States. It's not an internally troubled, chaotic country. It is not a regional or world troublemaker. And it isn't currently involved in a major dispute with another foreign country.
2. Indonesia's general foreign policy orientation places a great emphasis on making friends--hence, the slogan "a thousand friends and zero enemies--which is great for cooperation, peace, and stability in Southeast Asia, Asia more broadly, and around the world. The rub, as you might guess, is that nice and friendly is appreciated in Washington and in other foreign capitals, but those things don't make for sexy headlines or news/analytical articles. People like to read and write about drama in IR, and Indonesia--at least under SBY--just doesn't get mixed up in those kinds of situations.
3. Arguably, the most-discussed countries in America are the great powers and aspiring great powers, such as India, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, and Japan. Indonesia doesn't fit that profile. It's not a aspiring peer competitor to the U.S., nor is it looking to dethrone the u.s. in Asia. Yes, in part, that's because of Indonesia's benign intentions. But the other part has to do with Indonesia's power capabilities. In short, it lacks the combined military, economic, and soft power heft to compete with the world's big dogs.
4. Lastly, it's not an American ally. Lots of words and ink has been spilled on countries like Britain, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. While Indonesia is friendly with the U.S., it's not a formal, true ally. Actually, it's a non-aligned country that seeks to keep its policies autonomous and free from foreign powers. It avoids tight alliances with the world's powers.
The waiting is over, as the P5+1, in Geneva early Sunday morning, finally
sealed an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. It looks like the P5+1
got a pretty good deal. At a minimum, the deal pushes back the clock in which
Iran possesses “breakout capability.” And at a maximum, the deal paves the way
for Iran to create nuclear power in way that’s trusted and accepted by an
overwhelming majority of the international community.
To comply with the deal, according
to the BBC, Iran is expected to do the following: stop high-grade
enrichment of uranium, dilute or convert its stocks of 20%-enriched uranium,
forgo installing new centrifuges or building new enrichment facilities, cease construction
at Arak and not seek to produce plutonium there, disclose information on the
Arak nuclear site, and grant IAEA inspectors daily access to Natanz and Fordo
In exchange for these concessions, as noted by Yochi
Dreazen, “Iran would gain some relief from the punishing economic sanctions
that had been leveled by Washington and its allies in recent years, freeing up
roughly $6 billion. Tehran also won a commitment that the so-called P5+1
nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain -
wouldn't impose any new sanctions for the next six months. That was an
important win for the Iranians since the existing measures have cut its oil
exports in half and driven the price of its currency down to a historic low."
Of course, as secretary of state John Kerry said, there is “more
work now.” The agreement is an interim deal, subject to possible renewal, as
all sides work toward a final, comprehensive pact, one that all parties have
agreed to try to complete within one year. Those upcoming negotiations will be
very difficult, tedious, and there’s no guarantee that a final accord will be
struck. Lots can go wrong.
Both sides can fail to sufficiently compromise to get a
final deal done. Iran can fail to uphold its end of the deal, which would place
everyone back at square one. The U.S. Congress can slap more sanctions on Iran,
prompting Tehran to walk away from the bargaining table. A concerned Israel—incensed
that the deal doesn’t require Iran to disable any of its 19,000 centrifuges,
the core of Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons program, or prohibit Iran from enriching uranium up to 3.5%—could make a move that
disrupts future negotiations (air strikes, killing Iranian nuclear
To be clear, Iran and the U.S. aren’t friends. But there is
a thaw in their relations, as the recent flurry of negotiations and discussions
between Iran are by far the deepest and most substantive in 30 years. An
interesting thing is that the U.S. had been working on a two-track
path with Iran: Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Pol Affairs led
the multilateral talks, while Ben Burns, Deputy Secretary of State, conducted
secret direct bilateral communications with Tehran. Both avenues worked in
tandem to get an interim deal done. Are all these discussions the first steps
on a path to normal U.S.-Iran relations? In the future, will we look back at the interim nuclear agreement as Barack Obama’s “Berlin
Surely, for academics and analysts, right now it's a guessing game. But keep in mind that talks can become a way of life, routinized,
between states. And that, in turn, can reduce the levels of misperception and
tensions between Tehran and Washington, which can lead to even deeper, better ties. Indeed,
the Geneva accord might even provide the foundation for productive U.S.-Iran talks
on pressing issues like Syria, Afghanistan, etc. Certainly, pessimists and
skeptics will scoff at such thoughts. But what we know at this point is that
Iran-U.S. relations are on the upswing; for the sake of Middle East and
international politics and security, let’s hope they continue to improve.
Europe remains the single largest market for Russia’s
energy exports. Russia’s use of energy as a political weapon in Central and
Eastern Europe, however, has prompted the latter to pursue alternate energy
sources and supply routes. The Russian economy has failed to sufficiently diversity
its exports, and still relies heavily on energy exports for income. As Russia’s
economic growth slows and Central and Eastern European states seek energy
partners besides Russia, there is a geopolitical risk that Russia could react negatively
to prevent its customers in these sub-regions from taking their business
February, 2013 the World Bank predicted that Russia’s GDP would grow by 3.3%, .3%
lower than it predicted in October, 2012. Russia’s GDP growth has fallen since
2011, from 4.3% to 3.4% in 2012. It is currently projected to grow 3.6% in
2014, yet another .3% drop in the original estimate for that year. This reduced
growth is attributed in part to the lowering of global oil prices.
that Russia may simply shift its market focus to other countries or regions,
such as China. Yet a decisive shift from the European market is unlikely for
economic and security reasons. Economically, turning away from Europe would
limit Russia’s much-needed customer base. From a security standpoint, Russia needs
a buffer zone to protect it from the West, and a customer base of countries
dependent upon Russian energy is a sure way to maintain this protective belt.
Russian security is partly jeopardized by the Central and Eastern European
search for alternate energy sources. It’s implausible that Russia would use its
old tactic of temporarily shutting off energy supplies to Europe, since this is
what prompted the Central and Eastern European search for alternate sources in
the first place. Nevertheless, Russia will likely attempt to reverse this
trend, and possibly with methods that include some form of military action.
states--Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine--provide excellent examples of the
search for alternate energy supplies in Central and Eastern Europe, and may
represent the main factors in the geopolitical risk to Russia’s Central and Eastern
European energy market, and any related security risks to the region.
energy minister Arvidas Sekmokas has stated that Lithuania possesses 100
billion cubic meters (bcm) of shale gas, which would last the country between
30 and 40 years. Juozas Mockevičius, director of Lithuania’s Geological Survey,
however, has misgivings about the idea, and states he isn’t sure if the estimates
are correct. Still, the potential for energy production is there, and may
represent a risk for Russia in the Baltics, as Lithuania could become not only
relatively energy-independent, but a source of energy imports for Estonia and
Latvia as well.
oil accounts for 26% of the country’s energy imports, 95% of which is imported
from Russia via the Druzhba pipeline. In 2009, Poland produced 5.9 billion
cubic meters of natural gas, which satisfied 37% of energy needs. While still a
net importer of energy from Russia, Poland is determined to develop natural gas
as its main energy source, as Poland will
only have to pay around USD 100 per thousand cubic meters for LNG. A
port for LNG brought by tanker is currently under construction at Świnoujście on the Baltic Sea. Poland’s
national gas company, PGNiG, signed a deal with Qatargas to purchase 1.5 bcm of
LNG a year starting in 2014. The Świnoujście terminal will handle up to 5 bcm
of gas, and while Poland may not use all the energy the facility will be
capable of processing, it will nonetheless significantly reduce Russia’s
ability to exert pressure on the country. If Poland so chooses, it could even sell
some of the unused LNG to neighboring countries.
Earlier this year, Ukraine held
discussions with Hungary and Slovakia on the transportation of
gas through their territories into Ukraine, at a volume of 7 billion cubic
meters per year (in 2011, Hungary held talks with Turkmenistan about
transporting natural gas into Central Europe via the Southern Corridor).
Ukraine’s national gas company, Naftogaz, announced that it plans to buy 18-20
billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia in 2013, a significant decrease
in the volume set to be purchased from Russia in 2012 (52 bcm). When Ukraine petitioned
Gazprom to reduce the purchase contract from 52 bcm to 27 bcm, Russia refused,
and subsequently billed Ukraine USD $7 billion under the “take it or pay”
however, still no facilities in Central or Eastern Europe to process
non-liquefied natural gas, limiting the ability of states in the region to seek
alternative sources, thus continuing their dependence on Russian pipelines for
their energy needs, least for the near future.
How far Central and Eastern European states are from
developing alternate energy sources depends upon issues such as financial
capital and outside technological assistance. While Russia cannot prevent
regional governments and firms from establishing contracts with outside bodies,
Russia does have the military projection capabilities to make importing
alternate energy difficult. This is the case for Lithuania and Poland in
particular, which border Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, home of the Russian
This raises the issue of NATO’s role in Central and Eastern
Europe’s energy security. Former NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
first discussed the NATO’s role in the issue in February, 2006, and U.S.
Senator Richard Lugar has called Russian manipulation of energy supplies a
“weapon” (which, in his estimation, could lead to the invocation of NATO’s Article
Five). All this creates a risk of Central and Eastern Europe’s energy market
becoming a militarized issue for Russia seeking to maintain its economic hold
on regional energy, and to keep peripheral states subdued in order to maintain
a cordon sanitaire. It remains to be
seen how much of the Central and Eastern European market Russia is willing to
sacrifice, and if movements toward energy independence could provoke a military
reaction from Russia.
Below is the script of a presentation I gave last week at a seminar
co-sponsored by Ikahan and Indonesia Defense University. Held at Hotel Borobudur, in Jakarta, the seminar was titled "After the Arab Spring: Lessons for the Indonesia-Australia Defence Relationship."
Presenters reviewed the Arab Spring, discussed the lessons for multilateralism, and distilled the implications for Australian-Indonesian shared interests. Speakers included Prof. Amin Saikal and Dr. Rodger Shanahan, of the Lowry Institute.
Arab Spring, which erupted more than two years ago after a fruit seller in
Tunisia committed suicide by self-immolation, began with so much promise.
People in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, rose and deposed aging autocrats
that ruled for years. Many believed, with much enthusiasm, that the region
was taking the first steps toward democracy. While
there were initially some holdouts, notably Qaddafi in Libya, Ali Abdullah
Saleh in Yemen, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, at that time the majority of
talking heads in the media predicted that these autocrats would soon fall, especially after the international community seemed to prepare to
intervene on the side of the people, after the besieged autocrats began to crack down on the rebelling
instance, in Libya, international intervention managed to tip the scale in
favor of the rebelling populace. Qaddafi was overthrown and executed in 2011,
thanks to the intervention by the United Kingdom and France, which was supported by the
United States and approved by the United Nations Security Council. In
fact, Fareed Zakaria, a respected journalist and scholar on international relations, made an
argument that the Libyan case offered a new model of international
intervention. We might continue to see a combination of strong demand for outside intervention from locals and regional and international legitimacy that
allows a multinational coalition to assemble and to intervene. Today,
however, what many believed as a spring period of blossoming democracies has
given way to the Arab Winter. In Egypt, the population went to the street,
supporting the return of a military dictatorship that deposed the unpopular yet democratically elected Moslem Brotherhood government. Libya is close to
anarchy, with the central government unable to actually rule the entire
nation. In Syria, the popular revolt has been hijacked by jihadists and Bashar
al-Assad’s regime seems to be regaining strength, even though it will
take a lot of time and resources before the rebellion is quashed. In the
meantime, the international community stays silent, even though the death toll
in Syria has passed over 100,000 and is still growing. So
what went wrong? Why is the international community suddenly impotent in light
of the Arab Winter? Why isn't there an international coalition to help the
beleaguered rebels in Syria? Here
we see the limitations of international institutions. International
institutions only work when the power-holders in the institution are in accord
on what to do and what not to do. In Libya, France, the United Kingdom, and the
United States were able to convince both Russia and China that the intervention
on Libya was only limited, solely to protect civilians. At the same time, Libya
was not that critical to the interests of both Russia and China. Granted that
Libya has oil, but Libya only produces two percent of global oil
however, is different, even though Syria is not an oil-producing country. It is
geo-strategically important for both Iran and Russia. For Iran, Syria provides a
link to its Hezbollah client in Lebanon that allows Iran to project its power
to entire Middle East and threaten Israel. For Russia, Syria is too close for
comfort. Any chaos in Syria could spill into Russia’s restive Caucasian Republics
of Chechnya and Dagestan. Thus, for Putin, it is much more preferable to
strengthen Assad, keeping him in power. While
China doesn't really have a dog in Syria, it watched with dismay as its
silence in Libya was seen as a blank check for regime change. As it always
opposes any international intervention in foreign states' domestic affairs, fearing that
it would create a precedent that would pave the way for international interference in its restive
provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang, China then ganged up with Russia to prevent
direct international military intervention in Syria. Moreover,
in Libya the risk-averse Obama could rely on both the United Kingdom and France
to supply the muscle, while the United States, due to domestic opposition to
international interventions, provided support, such as 75% of aerial refueling
flights, 70% of intelligence and surveillance flights, and munitions. In Syria,
however there is no state willing to provide the necessary military power for such an
in Libya, the rebels managed to unite, perhaps only temporarily, but long enough
to create a united front called Transitional
National Council; meantime, in
Syria, the rebels don’t speak with one voice. In fact, there are many internal
fights, squabbles, and not to mention, infiltration by al-Qaeda linked
international jihadists that actually reduce the international support to the
rebellion. In fact, in the United States, Senator Ted Cruz, in his opposition
to any intervention by the United States in Syria, acidly declared that the
United States “is not Al Qaeda’s air force.” It is
only after Assad (most likely his underlings) used chemical weapons on the
civilians that the world and Obama finally, half-heartedly, reacted, leading to
Nicholas Kristof’s observation on Twitter that, basically, the message to dictators is
“when you slaughter your people, don’t use gas.” While the Arab League was united in supporting the rebellion by
awarding Syria’s seats to a coalition of Syrian opposition, and both Saudi and
Qatar have gave military and financial contributions to the rebels, the
assistance remains limited, as none of the Gulf States are willing to intervene
directly. They share the same dilemma the United States faces, as they are unsure who they
loathe more: the rebels, who are partially comprised of members of the Moslem Brotherhood and
jihadists, or Assad, who is backed by Iran, and thus a threat to
Saudi Arabia’s security interests. What
are the lessons for ASEAN, beyond not using gas to kill civilians? First,
it has to be noted that both ASEAN and the Arab League shares many common
characteristics, notably in their lack of enthusiasm for a much closer union
similar to the European Union. Both ASEAN and Arab League nations are fiercely
independent, unwilling to have other states interfere in their domestic
affairs. As a
result, similar to the Arab League, it is very difficult for ASEAN members to
create a strong united front when there is no common interest in responding to
international organizations are seldom prepared for unexpected and yet
predictable challenges to the status quo (which is often termed as "known
unknowns"). Granted, the timing of Arab Spring was unexpected. Yet
there had been a lot of indications that beneath the calm imposed by the
authoritarian governments, the people were restive and dissatisfied with status quo. This
brings me to a third lesson: location matters. Both Egypt and Syria's strategic
locations prevented forceful international interventions due to competing
interests from their powerful neighbors. Libya, on the other hand, is not
surrounded by powerful states with clear goals and a vested interest in
maintaining the status quo, and that allowed the international community to
intervene once they were able to agree on at least some sort of goals and course of
international organizations are only as important as how its strongest members
want it to be. The lack of action from the United Nations in Syria was due to
the inability of the Big Five in the Security Council to reach an accord. Saudi fears of Iran prevented Riyadh from using the Arab League to pursue
stronger military options in Syria, even though Saudi Arabia didn't have qualms about intervening strongly, militarily in Bahrain. In
ASEAN, the most important state is Indonesia, which has a vested interest in
maintaining peace and stability in the region and preventing neighboring powers
from intervening in Southeast Asia. Therefore, Indonesia needs to show its
leadership and start asking the question: what does it want with ASEAN?
Zakaria, “How the Lessons of Iraq Paid Off in Libya,” Time
Magazine (September 5, 2011)
As you might expect, given that my last post on Japan
discussed the sunny side of Tokyo’s security policies, this piece explores
their downside, particularly from the perspective of American interests and
values.Let’s start with the least
serious and move toward the gravest danger of Japan’s foreign and defense
First, there is the risk that Japan’s shift in security
policy might turn off the U.S. The logic is that the U.S. could grow concerned
that Japan’s foreign and defense policy appears too assertive, too aggressive
to its neighbors, thereby unnecessarily dialing up the hostilities and tensions
in the region, especially in East Asia. All of which would place the U.S. in a precarious
situation, on a number of levels. There is evidence that some American
officials already harbor, at least to a limited extent, these concerns.
U.S. officials have expressed concern to their Japanese
counterparts over Tokyo’s plans to develop the capability to conduct offensive
assault operations against other countries in the region.
“One of the American officials attending bilateral talks on
foreign and defense policy cooperation late last month in Tokyo asked the
Japanese side to consider the possible negative fallout on neighboring
countries if the Abe administration embarks on such a policy shift,” Kyodo
quoted an unidentified Japanese official as saying.
The report went out to say that U.S. officials asked for
clarification on which countries Japan would develop the capability to attack,
and asked Japan to not worsen tensions with China and South Korea.
All of that said, however, fears of souring U.S.-Japan ties
are a long way off. The U.S. views Japan as a useful bulwark against the rise
of China, really, a key pillar of the so-called Pivot. And the U.S. seems
fairly enthusiastic about Japan’s intention to move toward more muscular security
policies. As outlined in my last post, Team Obama has strengthened its
cooperation with the supposedly hawkish Abe government, arguably rewarding
Tokyo for taking measures to create a more equal security partnership.
Second, Japan’s security policies could fracture the
U.S.-led alliance in Asia. Most notably, there is the chance that changes in
Japanese foreign and defense policy might create huge rifts between Tokyo and
Seoul, which could hamper the ability of the liberal, Washington-leaning
coalition to balance and contain China’s moves throughout the region.
Yes, there are historical factors that make relations
between Toyko and Seoul sometimes complicated and difficult. For instance, the two sides have failed to
resolve the issues arising from Japanese colonial rule over the Korean
Peninsula. And both sides are engaged in a longstanding territorial
dispute over the Takeshima/Dokdo islands in the Sea of Japan. But there are contemporary factors in play as well. Since
Shinzo Abe re-entered office, Japanese-South Korean ties have been frayed. There
is the perception within the Park Geun-hye administration that Japan, under
Abe, is veering to the hard right, that it’s hawkish, increasingly
nationalistic, and insensitive to the extent of its oppression of its former
colonial subjects. In fact, according to Via Meadia, “The legacy of the women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese
soldiers has been a difficult sticking point in relations between Seoul and
Tokyo. Several Japanese politicians and Abe himself have wondered what the fuss
is all about, and the mayor of Osaka even said that comfort women were ‘necessary.’”
All of this has taken its toll on political and strategic
cooperation between Japan and South Korea. Consider these things: while new
South Korean leaders usually head to Japan on their first overseas trip, Park
travelled to China instead. “Later she proposed building a monument in China to
the South Korean soldier who assassinated former Japanese Prime Minister and
then-Resident General of Korea Ito Hirobumi in 1909.” It seems Abe was
unwelcome in Seoul for Park’s inauguration, so his deputy, Taro Aso, went in
his place. The almost agreed upon security-intelligence pact of 2012 remains
stalled, with no final deal in sight. An upcoming trilateral meeting between Japan, China, and South Korea looks like it won't be held because of "strained ties." And it doesn't look like Abe will meet his counterpart in either country anytime soon. According to a Japanese government source, "Taking into account the Chinese and South Korean attitudes, and the schedules of the leaders of the three countries, it will be difficult to arrange a Japan-China-South Korea summit by the end of this year."
Of course, as many international relations scholars, particularly realist academics, would expect, it's very possible that the exigencies of balance of power politics will override any rough patches between Japan and South Korea. In other words, fears of a rising, dominant China might well force Tokyo and Seoul to push aside their differences to work together to balance against Beijing. But even if this does happen--something that's likely, but not guaranteed, by the way--both sides will have to swallow their pride. This is definitely something to watch.
Third, as suggested above, Japan's foreign and defense policy could trigger an escalation of tensions and tit-for-tat actions that proves unmanageable and difficult to contain.
We already know that China is concerned about Japan's muscular security policies, as various officials have made on- and off-the-record comments expressing such sentiments. Just check out the Global Times for a healthy dose of these views. China is fully aware that a beefed up, more assertive Japan makes life more difficult for it within Asia--tougher to expand its influence, get its way on maritime issues, and pressure neighbors or local institutions, among other things.
With this in mind, it's possible that China might try to consolidate various gains sometime soon, before Japan fully implements all parts of the planned changes in its foreign and defense policy--in short, the point at which Japan would be better equipped to challenge China. So as one example, China could attempt to press further, perhaps more aggressively, its claims in the South and East China Seas. But already, China has made a few recent moves that have, in my view, taken the wind out of Abe's sails.
It has strengthened its relationship with South Korea, which, combined with its good ties to North Korea and improving relations with Taiwan, squarely backs Japan into a corner, maybe even laying the groundwork to isolate Japan in the future. The recent trips by Xi and Li Keqiang to southeast Asia is an example of China wooing countries on the sideline like Indonesia and entrenching its influence over institutions like Asean and Apec. Given these moves by China, perhaps it's not surprising that Japan has sought to bolster its military ties to the U.S.
So what we are seeing is a cycle of retaliatory moves by China and Japan. Sure, we've seen such moves in the East China Sea, where both sides have engaged in a game of chicken with their patrols, vessels, and aircraft. But in a broader sense, on strategic matters, both China and Japan have engaged in tit-for-tat moves. For now, this hasn't led to too much danger. But keep in mind that neither side is backing down. And the longer this continues unabated, with cycle likely escalating in intensity over time, the likelihood of something bad happening increases.
And adding to the complexity of this relationship is the rise of Chinese and Japanese nationalism. Political activists in Japan and China have criticized, engaged in protests, and even dabbled in hate mongering and criminal activity against the other side. But hard feelings aren't restricted just to the small class of activists. As stated in Walter Russell Mead's blog: "According to a poll in August, an astonishing 93 percent of
Chinese and 90 percent of Japanese have negative opinions of the other country." It is these pervasive attitudes that could make it difficult for Japan and China to de-escalate their words and actions if tensions spiral out of control. Even worse, as the riots and protests last year in China illustrate, nationalists--on either side--could directly contribute to hostilities.
All of this suggests a worrisome caldron of toxic forces between China and Japan, and they require the U.S. to walk a fine line in its relations with both states. Certainly, Washington wants to support Japan's security and encourage efforts--whether by Japan or others in Asia--to hem in a Chinese bid for regional hegemony. At the same time, though, the U.S. can't push Japan too hard to contain China, for that would only antagonize Beijing and prompt China, feeling encircled and threatened, to resist more vigorously the coalition aligned against it. After all, China could attempt to squeeze the U.S. out of the region entirely. All of this would put Team Obama (and its successors in the White House) in the unenviable position of having to defend American interests in Asia while managing heightened tensions in East Asia with a very formidable rival.