Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, December 30, 2013

CWCP Links: 12/30 edition

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.

Terrorist attacks have hit southern Russia the past two days. Is Doku Umarov the mastermind of the violence?

Last Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Yasukuni War Shrine. As expected, China and South Korea are upset. In addition, the U.S. is not pleased with Abe. Sheila Smith, of the Council on Foreign Relations, takes a look at the implications of Abe's visit to Yasukuni.

As you may recall, CWCP's Yohanes Sulaiman recently blogged on the most important events of 2013. In a twist on the usual end of year recap, Harvard's Stephen Walt looks at the major non-events, as he gives his list of most important events of 2013 that didn't happen.

Here's a look ahead to what might happen in 2014. And here's what to watch for in the Asia-Pacific in the coming year.

According to Jay Ulfelder, an independent scholar and researcher, 2013 was a bad year for mass killing.
In memoriam: ten American thinkers and practitioners of foreign policy who died in 2013; and ten "world figures" who passed away in 2013.
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.

My former grad school colleague at Ohio State, Bridget Coggins, tries to figure out the signals Kim John Un is sending by executing his uncle.
Bonus link: What is going on here? Snoop Dogg and John Kerry sharing a fist bump?!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Most Important Events in 2013

This is the time for our annual list of most important events in 2013--events that will have strong implications for the world in 2014 and beyond. Here it goes.

1. The East is Messy

China's aggressive posturing in both South and East China Seas (the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and China's Air Defense Zone) has begun to spark a backlash. Japan has formed its first National Security Council and started to significantly boost its military spending, adding more than $230 billion to its military expenditure for the next five years. It has also courted ASEAN, trying find an ally in ASEAN, with which it has a long, cordial relationship, in its troubles with China.

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.

However, I question whether Kim Jong Un is competent enough to actually play the deadly games of politics in North Korea, and I expect some disturbances sooner or later.

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

Cartoon by a Syrian soldier. The cat in the image is saying: "Where are these American battleships?"

Obama has made so many policy blunders, from the Halls of Pharaohs to the Shores of Libya and to the mountains of Syria, that his prestige is at all-time low in the Middle East.

Al-Bayan (UAE), August 25, 2013

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.

Assad gets a scolding: "Bombard, shell and kill, but no more chemical weapons!", August 30, 2013

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.

At this point, the Saudis seem to remain skeptical of the United States' efforts. Already, the Saudis announced that they were ready for unilateral action on Syria (and by extension, Iran) "with or without West."

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.

When the Islamists themselves were split, between supporters of Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen, a popular Moslem spiritual leader in exile in Pennsylvania, the crack in Erdogan's armor grew. With a major corruption scandal that might implicate Erdogan exploded in December, Erdogan's grip on power seems tenuous.

Should Erdogan fall from power, the regional implications are huge. The Syrian rebels would lose its patron, and considering the cost of the Syrian conflict to the Turkish economy and stability, the next government might be unwilling to support the rebels anymore. More importantly, this might be a major blow to the Ikhwanul Muslimin brand. Already the Moslem Brotherhood was deposed and branded as terrorist group in Egypt. Should the Turkish branch also fall due to the corruption scandal, it could be a while before the Moslem Brotherhood could regain its credibility as an alternative to the corrupt regimes in the Middle East.

5. Euro: France as a Wild Card

The European Union is staggering along to recovery, with Germany in general picking up the slack while France has been a hindrance to growth. France remains the most serious threat to the European economy due to its unwillingness to reform its labor market, its high tax rate, and lack of strong leadership (except in international affairs, as evidenced by French actions involving Iran, Mali, and the Central African Republic).

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 Russia in 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.


The Time Magazine might have put Pope Francis as "Man of the Year" and Edward Snowden as the runner up, but from my perspective, it should go to Vladimir Putin. He managed to humiliate the United States twice, over Snowden and then Syria, allowing Russia to actually return as a pivotal player in the Middle East, which is not unnoticed in the streets of Arab:

"We're going to intervene in Syria" After thinking of Iran, Russia"...without toppling Assad" 
Al-Ittihad (UAE), August 29, 2013

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. 

8. Karzai Can Say "No."

In late November, Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign a deal that would allow the United States to leave thousands of US and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014. Even though many warned him of the perils of not signing the deal, Karzai doubts the United States will leave Afghanistan, and thus, in his view, by holding out he can extract more concessions from the United States. That, I think, is his main goal.

Karzai's gamble, I think, will backfire. The United States is tired of himSupport for war in Afghanistan is at an all time low. While a slim majority of people (55%) are in favor of leaving some troops in Afghanistan, I think that's due to the wording of survey questions (e.g., American troops will be used for "training and anti-insurgency operations.")

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. 

Not surprisingly, some enterprising figures, like warlords desperate for cash, criminal groups or even jihadists, have decided to sell weapons abroad. The United Nations Security Group of Experts' report notes that Libyan weapons are fueling conflicts all over the place:
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.

10. Obama's Very Bad Year

2013 was a terrible year for Obama -- both domestically and internationally. Domestically, the fallout from Obamacare and other scandals, such as the IRS' targeting of the Tea Party and the NSA imbroglio, keeps hurting the credibility and popularity of both Obama and the Democrats. 

In fact, the majority of Americans no longer find Obama to be trustworthy or honest. In the past few years, the media and people in general gave Obama a pass on his missteps he made because they believed that Obama was sincere and trustworthy. But at this point, with the press in uproar over what they see as Obama's Orwellian tendencies and his "Lie of the Year" award, it should not be surprising that Obama has the worst approval rating at this point since Richard Nixon

As a result, Obama needs to spend more political capital to get anything done domestically.

This has major implications on US foreign policy. Like it or not, Obama's domestic preoccupations means that other states may feel neglected by the United States, such as when Obama cancelled his plan to attend APEC Summit in Bali in order to focus on the government shutdown. This, in turn, has arguably given openings to China, Russia, and other smaller regional powers such as Iran, to play a much bigger role in international affairs to the detriment of the American interests.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ASEAN and the EU

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 the U.S.

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.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Fall and Execution of Jang Song Thaek

Jang Song-thaek

On Friday, North Korea announced the execution of Jang Song Thaek, formerly the second most powerful person in the country and the head of National Security Protection Bureau, the North Korean secret police organization that "runs North Korean prison camps and arrests people for political crimes." Oh, and he's Kim Jong Un's uncle.

Lots of ink have been spilled analyzing this unfolding development, though the best analyses so far that I've found are from One Free Korea, which you can find here and here, and the Weekly Standard. 

Of course, the question now is: what are the implications for North Korea, its neighbors and the United States? Below is my take.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
What do you think?

Why Don't Americans Talk About Indonesia?


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.

What do you think? Have I missed anything?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Iran-P5+1 Nuclear Deal

John Kerry at Iran talks in Geneva
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

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 facilities.
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 scientists, etc.)
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 Wall” moment?
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.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Geopolitical Risk in Russia’s Central and Eastern European Energy Market

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 elsewhere.
In 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.
Some argue 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.
Thus, 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.
Three 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.
Lithuania’s 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.
In Poland, 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” formula.
There are, 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 Baltic Fleet.
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.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When You Slaughter Your People, Don’t Use Gas: States’ Interests and the Limits of International Institutions

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.

The 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 populations.

For 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.[1]

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 production.

Syria, 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 intervention.

Furthermore, 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 threats.

Second, 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 actions.

Fourth, 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?

[1]Fareed Zakaria, “How the Lessons of Iraq Paid Off in Libya,” Time Magazine (September 5, 2011)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Japan's Foreign and Defense Policy Under Abe, Part III

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 policy.

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.
As pointed out by Zachary Keck in The Diplomat:
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.