Category Archives: Pacific

Japan’s Right: Going Nuke?

Japan’s Right: Going Nuke?

Dispatches From The Edge

Oct. 16, 2012

 

Behind the current impasse among China, Japan and Taiwan over five tiny specks of land in the East China Sea is an influential rightwing movement in Japan that initiated the crisis in the first place, a crisis it is using it to undermine Japan’s post-World War II peace constitution and, possibly, break the half-century taboo on building nuclear weapons.

The dispute over the islands China calls the Diaoyus, Taiwan the Diaoyutais, and Japan the Senkakus, is long-standing, but it boiled over when the right-wing governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, provoked a confrontation with China by trying to buy the uninhabited islands from their owners. When the Japanese government bought three of the islands, ostensibly to keep them out of Ishihara’s hands, China accused Japan of “stealing” the disputed archipelago.

Ishihara, who has long pressed for building nuclear weapons, is generally portrayed as a bit of a loose cannon—the Economist calls him the “old rogue of the Japanese right”—but he is hardly an anomaly. Toru Hashimoto, leader of the rightwing National Japan Restoration Association and just re-elected mayor of Osaka, is cut from the same cloth.

Hashimoto and Ishihara both deny Japan’s record of brutality during World War II—in particular, the horrendous Nanking Massacre in China and the sexual enslavement of Korean women—sentiments echoed by some of Japan’s leading political figures, many of whom advocate Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.

The recent election of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lead the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a case in point. The LDP is favored to win upcoming elections, and Abe—who would become prime minister— calls for revoking a 1993 apology for the Japanese Imperial Army’s use of sexual slavery. He also seeks to remove Article 9 of Japan’s constitution that forbids Japan from waging war.

And while Abe has recently been vague about nuclear weapons, before he became prime minister in 2006, he argued that Japan’s constitution allowed the country to build nukes so long as they were defensive in nature. Many leading figures in his party openly advocate they do so.

Former foreign minister Taro Aso and Shoichi Nakagawa raised the issue of nuclear weapons back in 2006, when Aso was a member of Abe’s government and Nakagawa was chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council. Abe refused to repudiate Aso’s and Nakagawa’s remarks on nuclear weapons.

But the LDP is not the only section of Japan’s ruling elite that is considering ridding the country of its so-called “nuclear allergy.”

Ichiro Ozawa—once a leader of the now defunct Liberal Party and currently heading the People’s Life First Party, the third largest party in the Diet—says Japan should consider building nukes in order to confront “excessive expansion” by China.

According to Tokyo-based journalist Hiusane Masaki, “…what has long been considered a taboo subject after World War II is now being openly discussed, not just by the rightwing but even in the mainstream.”

In 1970, Japan signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the following year the Diet adopted three “non-nuclear principles” to not build, possess, or host nuclear weapons. Japan currently has enough plutonium to produce about 700 nuclear warheads and the ballistic missiles to deliver them. Most experts think building a bomb would take about a year.

The Japanese right is also waging war on what it calls “treasonous history.”  Its current target is the enormously popular anti-war comic-book novel, or “manga,” Barefoot Gen, by Hiroshima bomb survivor Kakazawa Keiji. The manga has sold millions of copies, been turned into a film, and is used as an educational resource in Japan’s schools. Barefoot Gen is sharply critical of Japan’s military and of the elites that fueled its rise to power.

Writing in Japan Focus, Matthew Penny, a professor of history at Concordia University in Montreal and an expert on Japanese nationalism, says “those with an interest in chipping away at Japan’s anti-war norms…are now pushing for the work to be removed from the classrooms.”

According to Penny, the right has created an organization called the “Association of Atomic Bomb Victims for Peace and Security,” which apparently doesn’t include any real victims. Its spokesmen are two right-wingers, Tamogami Toshiro and Kusaka Kimindo, both of whom deny the Nanking Massacre and “call for nuclear armament of Japan and expanded conventional military capabilities.”

All this nuclear talk comes at a time when Japan is at loggerheads with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyus, with South Korea over the Dokdo/Takeshimas, and with Russia over the southern Kurlies, although the situation for each island chain is different. Japan currently controls the Senkaku/Diaoyus, while South Korea and Russia occupy the other disputed island groups.

Japan’s claim on the Senkaku/Daioyus is shaky at best, dating back to the 1895 Sino-Japanese War. The islands were first claimed by the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) considered the chain part of its western sea border. According to Japanese scholar Unryu Suganuma, “There is no ambiguity about the Diaoyu islands” being part of China, “because the islands belonged to the Middle Kingdom, period!” Suganuma says the US turned the chain over to Japan in 1971 during the Cold War “because they didn’t want the islands to fall into communist hands.”

Some of the right’s rhetoric is aimed at embarrassing the ruling Democratic Party before the upcoming Japanese elections, but some goes further than election eve posturing, reflecting a long-standing illusion by Japan’s right concerning the capabilities of its military.

Kunihiko Miyake, research director of the Canon Global Institute, told the Financial Times that he thought that the crisis would not come to blows because of the strength of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces and its US alliance. “China will not use force because it would lose,” he said.

While it is true that the Washington has said that it will honor Article 5 of the US-Japan Security Treaty and come to Japan’s aid over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, the US is neutral on who owns them and would certainly be reluctant to let Japan draw it into a military confrontation with China.

Which might not stop Japan from trying to do exactly that.

Unless the US gets involved, Japan is no match for China. While Japan has more surface warships (78 to 48) it has far fewer submarines (18 to 71) and its air force is only about a quarter the size of China’s.

The Japanese right likes to invoke the early days of World War II when it crushed British, Dutch and American forces on land and smashed a good part of the U.S.’s Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. But many of those victories were the result of stunning incompetence on the Allied side, rather than the superiority of Japan’s samurai tradition. When Japan provoked a war in 1939 with the Soviet Union at Khalkin Gol on the border between Manchuria and Mongolia, they took a terrible shellacking.

Even in China, where Tokyo had enormous superiority in weapons and equipment, Japan never succeeded in defeating the Chinese, though they killed millions and millions of soldiers and civilians. In the end, of course, Japan was devastated by WW II, its economy shattered, its cities leveled by massive fire bombings and two atomic bombs.

The right is keen to erase those memories and has already managed to whitewash Japanese imperial history by expunging much of it from history books.  Barefoot Gen is its latest target.

The dispute over the islands does not seem to be going away, in part because Japan keeps sending mixed signals. Japan’s economic minister recently said Tokyo “cannot compromise,” but according to Japanese news reports, Japan is preparing to take note of China’s and Taiwan’s claims, some thing they have refused to do in the past.

A drawn-out fight could inflict major damage on both economies, and there is always the chance of stumbling into a military confrontation. The recent US “pivot” toward Asia—which includes a major military buildup—adds to the regional tensions, particularly since it includes the possible collision of two nuclear-armed powers.

Japan’s greatest modern tragedy was the triumph of militarism, but as memories of WW II fade, there are those that would like to take her back down the same road. Adding more nuclear weapons to what is already a dangerous situation could be catastrophic. It would sink the Non-Proliferation Treaty in Asia—South Korea and Taiwan would almost certainly follow suit— escalate an already dangerous regional arms race, and could bring Japan back that moment on the morning of Aug. 6. when, in the words of John Hersey, “the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima.”

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Japan Vs. China: Smoke or Fire?

Japan Vs. China: Smoke or Fire?

Dispatches From The Edge

Sept. 24, 2012

Could Japan and China—the number two and three largest economies in the world—really get into a punch-out over five tiny islands covering less than four square miles? According to the International Crisis Group, maybe: “All the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing.”

That the two Asian superpowers could actually come to blows seems unthinkable, but a devil’s brew of suspicion, anger, ham-handed diplomacy, and a growing US military presence has escalated a minor dispute into something that could turn very ugly if someone makes a misstep.

And so far, the choreography in the region has ranged from clumsy to provocative.

A few examples:

On the anniversary of Japan’s brutal 1931 attack on China, Tokyo purchased a handful of islands in the East China Sea—known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China—whose ownership is in dispute. In response, China accused Japan of “stealing” the islands, and anti-Japanese demonstrations and riots broke out in 80 Chinese cities. Several major Japanese companies, including Toyota, Honda, and Panasonic were forced to shut down for several days.

Amidst this tension, Washington announced that it will deploy a second anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) in Japan, supposedly to guard against North Korea, but which the Chinese charge is aimed at neutralizing their modest nuclear missile force.

“The joint missile defense system objectively encourages Japan to keep an aggressive position on the Diaoyu Islands dispute,” charges Shi Yinhong, a professor of international studies at Beijing’s Renmin University. Tao Wenzhao, deputy director of United States studies at China’s Academy of Social Science, adds, “It is highly inappropriate and counter-constructive for the U.S. to make such a move at this highly sensitive time.”

Timing wise, the island purchase and the ABM announcement seem almost consciously provocative, but Tokyo and Washington are hardly the only capitols in the Pacific guilty of inept diplomacy.

Two years ago China declared the South China Sea a “core interest area,” which means Beijing essentially claimed sovereignty over 80 percent of one of the most heavily trafficked waterways in the world. China also insisted that several island groups—the Spratleys, Parcels, and Macclesfield Bank—were Chinese territory, and it backed this assertion up with ships and even a small garrison.

Some in China have gone as far as to claim sovereignty over the Ryukyu chain, which includes Okinawa, an island hosting several major US bases, with a population of 1.4 million Japanese citizens. Japan took control of the island group in 1879, but several hundred years earlier the independent Ryukyu Kingdom had paid tribute to China.

On top of all this, the Obama administration last year announced an Asian “pivot” and beefed up its military footprint in the region, including plans to send 2,500 Marines to Australia—the first time US troops have been deployed on the sub-continent since the end of World War II.

Not to be outdone, China launched its first aircraft carrier, introduced a new stealth fighter, and is apparently upgrading its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Dongfeng-41. According to the Pentagon, China has 55 to 65 ICBMs and 240 nuclear warheads. In comparison, the US has over 1,000 ICBMs, 1737 strategic warheads, and over 5,000 nuclear weapons.

Feeling a little nervous? You should be. The tensions are real even though it is hard to imagine countries in the area letting things get out of hand. But when you combine overheated rhetoric with gunboat face offs, a clumsy move, a misinterpreted act, or plain stupidity could spark something that might be difficult to contain.

So who is to blame for all this sturm und drang?

Depending on your perspective, the crisis is either triggered by the US and Japan trying to smother a rising rival in a resurgent China, or by Beijing’s aggressiveness in the region creating dangerous tensions. Actually, it is a little of both and a lot more complex than it appears. First, China, Japan and the US are not the only actors in this drama. Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Russia and South Korea all have pieces on the board.

South Korea, for instance, is locked in a fight with Japan over the Dokdo Islands (called Takeshima by the Japanese). Taiwan and China have a grievance with the Philippines over the Seaborough Shoal, and Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims on a host of islands, shoals, reefs and tiny coral atolls. Japan and Russia are at loggerheads over the Kuril Island chain that Moscow occupied in 1945.

Nor are issues in the South China Sea the same as those in the East China Sea. In the south the disputes are mainly economic: fishing rights, and energy reserves. In the east, imperial history and the echo of World War II plays an important role. For example, the Senkaku/Diaoyu and Dokdo/Takeshima islands were seized by Japan in its early imperial days, and neither China nor Korea have forgotten or forgiven Japanese occupation of their countries.

Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei view the Chinese as heavy-handed bullies who throw their weight around and routinely arrest their nationals for fishing in disputed waters. They would like Beijing to negotiate boundary issues with them as a group through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while China insists on talking with them individually. This standoff has allowed the U.S. to reassert itself in the region by presenting itself as a “fair broker” (and thus enraging China).

China, on the other hand, sees the US as surrounding it with potentially hostile allies, shifting yet more aircraft carrier battle groups into the region, and drawing up plans to spend $352 billion modernizing its nuclear weapons arsenal. What China doesn’t want is an arms race with the US, which already out-spends the Chinese five-to-one on defense. But the new US ABM system in Japan will force China to respond.

While China’s economy is in better shape than that of the US, its growth rate has plunged further than Beijing had hoped, and increased military spending will come at the expense of economic stimulation, energy efficiency, and infrastructure improvement. The Chinese smell a whiff of the Cold War, when the Americans hobbled the Soviet economy by forcing it to divert many of its resources to defense in order to keep up with the US.

So if the Chinese are feeling a little paranoid these days, one can hardly blame them.

There are a number of ways the current atmosphere of tension in the Pacific can be defused.

First, China should back down from its insistence that it will only negotiate boundary and access issues country by country. It is perfectly valid for smaller countries to collectivize their negotiating strategies, and ASEAN would be the obvious vehicle through which to work. That would have the added benefit of strengthening a regional organization, which can then be used to deal with other issues, from trade to terrorism.

Second, while the US is a Pacific power, it is not a western Pacific power. Putting warships in Beijing’s home waters is asking for trouble, and feeds a strong nationalist current in China. There should be a gradual de-militarization of the region, and a reduction in the number of US bases. And the US has to recognize that ABMs are trouble. They have soured the atmosphere for military reductions in Europe, and they will fuel a military buildup in Asia. The ABM Treaty produced sensible policy until the Bush Administration unilaterally withdrew from it. It should be revived and adhered to.

Third, provocations like China’s bluster over Okinawa, Japan’s purchase of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Washington sending 2,500 Marines to Australia, and general chest-beating via gunboats needs to stop.

On one level it is unthinkable that Japan and China would actually come to blows, a conflict that could draw in the US though its mutual support treaty with Tokyo. China is Japan’s number one trading partner, and Japan is China’s number two partner (the US is Beijing’s first). Polls indicate that the average Chinese and the average American have favorable views of one another. A study by the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American group, found that 55 percent of Americans and 59 percent of Chinese had favorable views of one another.

It is a different matter with Japan and China, which makes the tension between the two countries much more dangerous. Some 70 percent of Japanese had an “unfavorable” view of Beijing, and those figures are matched in China. The islands crisis has brought out a powerful current of nationalism in both countries. It was the rightwing mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishimara, who kicked off the crisis by trying to buy the islands. Rightwing politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have since seized the dispute to bludgeon the current government, and the LDP is likely to win the next election.

Passions are running high, distorted by bitter memories of the past, and fed by fear and political opportunism. “There is a real possibility that if diplomacy fails, there will be a war,” says Kazuhiko Toyo, a former career Japanese diplomat.

One hopes this is smoke, not fire.

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Asia’s Mad Arms Race

Asia’s Mad Arms Race

Dispatches From The Edge

May 18, 2012

Asia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented arms race that is not only sharpening tensions in the region, but competing with efforts by Asian countries to address poverty and growing economic disparity. The gap between rich and poor—calculated by the Gini coefficient that measures inequality—has increased from 39 percent to 46 percent in China, India, and Indonesia. While affluent households continue to garner larger and larger portions of the economic pie, “Children born to poor families can be 10 times more likely to die in infancy” than those from wealthy families, according to Changyong Rhee, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank.

This inequality trend is particularly acute in India, where life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education spotty, and illiteracy widespread, in spite of that country’s status as the third largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. According to an independent charity, the Naandi Foundation, some 42 percent of India’s children are malnourished. Bangladesh, a far poorer country, does considerably better in all these areas.

And yet last year India was the world’s leading arms purchaser, including a deal that will spend $20 billion dollars on high performance French fighter planes. India is also developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying  multiple nuclear warheads, and buying submarines and surface craft. Its military budget is set to rise 17 percent this year to $42 billion.

“It is ridiculous. We are getting into a useless arms race at the expense of fulfilling the needs of poor people,” Praful Bidwai of the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace told the New York Times.

China, too, is in the middle of an arms boom that includes beefing up its navy, constructing a new generation of stealth aircraft, and developing a ballistic missile that is potentially capable of neutralizing U.S. carriers near its coast. Beijing’s arms budget has grown at a rate of some 12 percent a year and, at $106.41 billion, is now the second largest on the planet. The U.S. budget—not counting the various wars Washington is embroiled in—runs a little over $800 billion, although some have estimated that it is over $1 trillion.

While China has made enormous strides in overcoming poverty, there are some 250 million Chinese officially still considered poor, and the country’s formerly red-hot economy is cooling. “Data on April spending and output put another nail into hopes that China’s economy is bottoming out,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics told the Financial Times.

The same is true for most of Asia. For instance, India’s annual economic growth rate has fallen from 9 percent to 6.1 percent over the past two and a half years.

Tensions between China and other nations in the region have set off a local arms race. Taiwan is buying four U.S.-made Perry-class guided missile frigates, and Japan has shifted much of its military from its northern islands to face southward toward China.

The Philippines are spending almost $1 billion on new aircraft and radar, and recently held joint war games with the U.S.  South Korea has just successfully tested a long-range cruise missile. Washington is reviving ties with Indonesia’s brutal military because the island nation controls the strategic seaways through which pass most of the region’s trade and energy supplies.

Australia is also re-orientating its defense to face China, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has urged “that India play the role it could and should as an emerging great power in the security and stability of the region.”

But that “role” is by no means clear, and some have read Smith’s statement as an attempt to rope New Delhi into a united front against Beijing. The recent test of India’s Agni V nuclear-capable ballistic missile is largely seen as directed at China.

India and China fought a brief but nasty border war in 1962, and India claims China is currently occupying some 15,000 square miles in Indian territory. The Chinese, in turn, claim almost 40,000 square miles of the Indian state of Arunachai Pradesh. While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says that “overall our relations [with China] are quite good,” he also admits “the border problem is a long-standing problem.”

India and China also had a short dust up last year when a Chinese warship demanded that the Indian amphibious assault vessel Airavat identify itself shortly after the ship left the port of Hanoi, Vietnam. Nothing came of the incident but Indian President Pratibha Patil has since stressed the need for “maritime security,” and “the protection of our coasts, our ‘sea lines of communications’ and the offshore development areas.”

China’s forceful stance in the South China Sea has stirred up tensions with Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia as well. A standoff this past April between a Philippine war ship and several Chinese surveillance ships at Scarborough Shoal is still on a low simmer.

China’s more assertive posture in the region stems largely from the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis that saw two U.S. carriers humiliate Beijing in its home waters. There was little serious danger of war during the crisis—China does not have the capability to invade Taiwan—but the Clinton Administration took the opportunity to demonstrate U.S. naval power. China’s naval build-up dates from that incident.

The recent “pivot” by Obama administration toward Asia, including a military buildup on Wake and Guam and the deployment of 2,500 Marines in Australia, has heightened tensions in the region, and Beijing’s heavy-handedness in the South China Sea has given Washington an opening to insert itself into the dispute.

China is prickly about its home waters—one can hardly blame it, given the history of the past 100 years—but there is no evidence that it is expansionist. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in February “No country, including China, has claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.” Nor does Beijing seem eager to use military force. Beijing has drawn some lessons from its disastrous 1979 invasion of Vietnam.

On the other hand, Beijing is seriously concerned about who controls the region’s seas, in part because some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through maritime choke points controlled by the U.S. and its allies.

The tensions in Asia are real, if not as sharp or deep as they have been portrayed in the U.S. media. China and India do, indeed, have border “problems,” but China also describes New Delhi as “not competitors but partners,” and has even offered an alliance to keep “foreign powers”—read the U.S. and NATO—from meddling in the region.

The real question is, can Asia embark on an arms race without increasing the growing gulf between rich and poor and the resulting political instability that is likely to follow in its wake? “Widening inequality threatens the sustainability of Asian growth,” says Asian Development Bank economist Rhee. “A divided and unequal nation cannot prosper.”

More than half a century ago former General and President Dwight Eisenhower noted that “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies…a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…this is not a way of life at all…it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.”

Americans have ignored Eisenhower’s warning. Asian nations would do well to pay attention.

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The U.S., Indonesia & the NY Times

The U.S., Indonesia & The Times

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 20, 2012

Why is the New York Times concealing the key role that the United States played in the 1965 coup in Indonesia that ended up killing somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people? In a story Jan. 19—“Indonesia Chips Away At the Enforced Silence Around a Dark History”—the Times writes that the coup was “one of the darkest periods in modern Indonesian history, and the least discussed, until now.”

Indeed it is, but the Times is not only continuing to ignore U.S. involvement in planning and carrying out the coup, but apparently doesn’t even bother to read its own clip files from that time that reported the Johnson administration’s “delight with the news from Indonesia.” The newspaper also reported a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk supporting the “campaign against the communists” and assuring the leader of the coup, General Suharto, that the “U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing.”

What the Indonesian Army was doing was raping and beheading communists, leftists, and trade unionists. Many people were savagely tortured to death by the military and its right-wing Muslim allies in the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah. A number of those butchered were fingered by U.S. intelligence.

According to a three-part series in the July 1999 Sydney Morning Herald, interviews with Indonesian political prisoners, and examinations of U.S. and Australian documents, “Western powers urged the Indonesian military commanders to seize upon the false claims of a coup attempt instigated bu the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in order to carry out one of the greatest civilian massacres of the 20th century and establish a military dictatorship.”

General Suharto claimed that the PKI was behind the assassination of six leading generals on the night of July 30, 1965, the incident that ignited the coup. But the Herald series included interviews with two of the men involved in the so-called September 30 putsch, both of who claim the PKI had nothing to do with the uprising. At the time, the PKI was part of a coalition government, had foresworn violence, and had an official policy of a “peaceful transition” to socialism. In fact, the organization made no attempt to mobilize its three million members to resist the coup.

The U.S. made sure that very few of those communists—as well as the leaders of peasant, women, union, and youth organizations— survived the holocaust. According to U.S. National Security Archives published by George Washington University, U.S. intelligence agents fingered many of those people. Then U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, said that an Embassy list of top Communist leaders “is being used by the Indonesian security authorities that seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership at the time…”

The U.S. was well aware of the scale of the killings. In an April 15, 1966 telegram to Washington, the Embassy wrote, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure [of PKI killed] is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000, but believe it wiser to err on the side of the lower estimates, especially when questioned by the press.”

Besides helping the military track down and murder any leftists, the U.S. also supplied the right-wing Kap-Gestapu movement with money. Writing in a memo to then Assistant Secretary of State McGeorge Bundy, Green wrote “The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.”

States News Service reporter Kathy Kadane interviewed several former diplomats and intelligence agents and found that the list turned over to the Indonesian security forces had around 5,000 names on it. “It was really a big help to the Army,” former embassy political officer Robert J. Martens told Kadane. “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that is not all bad. There is a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

At the time, Washington was beginning a major escalation of the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration was fixated on its mythical domino theory that communists were about to take over Asia. The U.S. considered Indonesia to be a strategically important country, not only because it controlled important sea passages, but also because it was rich in raw materials in which U.S. corporations were heavily invested. These included Richfield and Mobil oil companies, Uniroyal, Union carbide, Eastern Airlines, Singer Sewing Machines, National Cash Register, and the Freeport McMorRan gold and copper mining company.

At the time, Indonesian President Sukarno was one of the leaders of the “third force” movement, an alliance of nations that tried to keep itself aloof from the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The 1955 Bandung Conference drew countries from throughout Asia and Africa to Indonesia to create an anti-colonialist, non-aligned movement. It also drew the ire of the U.S, which refused to send a representative to Bangdung.

In the polarized world of the Cold War, non-alignment was not acceptable to Washington, and the U.S. began using a combination of diplomacy, military force and outright subversion to undermine countries like Indonesia and to bring them into alliances with the U.S. and its allies. The CIA encouraged separatist movements in the oil-rich provinces of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The British and the Australians were also up to their elbows in the 1965 coup, and France increased its trade with Indonesia following the massacre.

The relations between Jakarta and Washington are long and sordid. The U.S. gave Indonesia the green light to invade and occupy East Timor, an act that resulted in the death of over 200,000 people, or one-third of the Timorese population, a kill ratio greater than Pol Pot’s genocidal mania in Cambodia. Washington is also supportive of Indonesia’s seizure of Irian Jaya (West Papua) and, rather than condemning the brutality of the occupation, has blamed much of the violence on the local natives.

The Cold War is over, but not U.S. interests in Asia. The Obama administration is pouring military forces into the region and has made it clear that it intends to contest China’s growing influence in Asia and Southeast Asia. Here Indonesia is key. Some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through Indonesian-controlled waters, and Indonesia is still a gold mine—literally in the case of Freeport McMoRan on Irian Jaya—of valuable resources.

So once again, the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the brutal and repressive Indonesian military that doesn’t fight wars but is devilishly good at suppressing its own people and cornering many of those resources for itself. The recent decision by the White House to begin working with Kopassus—Indonesia’s equivalent of the Nazi SS—is a case in point. Kopassus has been implicated in torture and murder in Irian Jaya and played in key role in the 1999 sacking of East Timor that destroyed 70 percent of that country’s infrastructure following Timor’s independence vote. Over 1500 Timorese were killed and 250,000 kidnapped to Indonesian West Timor.

It appears that Indonesians are beginning to speak up about the horrors of the 1965 coup. Books like Geoffrey Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” and Robert Lemelson’s documentary film, “40 Years of Silence: an Indonesian Tragedy,” are slowly wearing away at the history manufactured by the military dictatorship.

But the U.S. has yet to come clean on its role in the 1965 horror, and the New York Times has apparently decided to continue that silence, perhaps because once again Indonesia is pivotal to Washington’s plans for Asia?

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Cyber War: Hype or Reality?

Cyber War: Reality or Hype?

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 10, 2012

During his confirmation hearings this past June, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Senate, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack that cripples our grid, our security systems, our financial systems, our governmental systems.” It was powerful imagery: a mighty fleet reduced to smoking ruin, an expansionist Asian power at the nation’s doorstep.

But is “cyber war” really a threat? Can cyber war actually “cripple” the U.S., and who might these computer terrorists be? Or is the language just sturm und drang spun up by a coalition of major arms manufacturers, the Pentagon, and Internet security firms, allied with China bashers aimed at launching a new Cold War in Asia?

The language is sobering. Former White House Security Aide Richard Clarke, author of “Cyberwar”, conjures up an apocalyptic future of paralyzed U.S. cities, subways crashing, planes “literally falling out of the sky,” and thousands dead. Retired Admiral and Bush administration National Intelligence Director, Mike McConnell grimly warns “The United States is fighting a cyber war today and we are losing.”

Much of this rhetoric is aimed at China. According to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, the Chinese government has launched a “predatory” campaign of “cyber theft” that has reached an “intolerable level.” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) charges that a “significant portion” of “cyber attacks” on U.S. companies “emanate from China.” Former CIA and National Security Agency director Michael Hayden told Congress, “I stand back in awe of the breadth, depth, sophistication, and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the United States of America.”

China has been accused of hacking into the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund, the French government, the CIA, and stealing information from major U.S. arms maker Boeing, and the Japanese firm Mitsubishi. The latter builds the American high performance fighter, the F-15.

The Pentagon has even developed a policy strategy that considers major cyber attacks to be acts of war, triggering what could be a military response. “If you shut down our power grid,” one Defense official told the Wall Street Journal, “maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”

But consider the sources for all this scare talk: Clarke is the chair of a firm that consults on cyber security, and McConnell is the executive vice-president of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Both are currently doing business with the Pentagon.

Arms giants like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other munitions manufactures are moving heavily into the cyber security market. In 2010, Boeing snapped up Argon ST and Narus, two cyber security firms with an estimated value of $2.4 billion. Raytheon bought Applied Signal Technology, General Dynamics absorbed Network Connectivity Solutions, and Britain’s major arms firm, BAE, purchased Norkom and ETI.

“There is a feeding frenzy right now to provide products and services to meet the demands of governments, law enforcement and the military,” says Ron Deibert, director of the Canada Center for Global Security Studies.

There are big bucks at stake. Between the Defense Department and Homeland Security, the U.S. will spend some $10.5 billion for cyber security by 2015. The Pentagon’s new Cyber Command is slated to have a staff of 10,000, and according to Northrop executive Kent Schneider, the market for cyber arms and security in the U.S. is $100 billion.

But is cyber war everything it is cracked up to be, and is the U.S. really way behind the curve in the scramble to develop cyber weapons?

According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in his New Yorker article “The Online Threat,” the potential for cyber mayhem has “been exaggerated” and the Defense Department and cyber security firms have blurred the line between cyber espionage and cyber war. The former is the kind of thing that goes on, day in and day out, between governments and industry, except its medium is the Internet. The latter is an attack on another country’s ability to wage war, defend itself, or run its basic infrastructure.

Most experts say the end-of-the-world scenarios drawn up by people like Clarke are largely fiction. How could an enemy shut down the U.S. national power grid when there is no such thing? A cyber attack would have to disrupt more than 100 separate power systems throughout the nation to crash the U.S. grid.

Most financial institutions are also protected. The one example of a successful cyber attack in that area was an apparent North Korean cyber assault this past march on the South Korean bank Nonghyup that crashed the institution’s computers. But an investigation found that the bank had been extremely remiss in changing passwords or controlling access to its computers. According to Peter Sommer, author of “Reducing Systems Cybersecurity Risk,” the cyber threat to banks “is a bit of nonsense.”

However, given that many Americans rely on computers, cell phones, I-Pads, smart phones and the like, any hint that an “enemy” could disrupt access to those devices is likely to get attention. Throw in some scary scenarios and a cunning enemy—China—and it’s pretty easy to make people nervous.

But contrary to McConnell’s statement, the U.S. is more advanced in computers than other countries in the world, and the charge that the U.S. is behind the curve sounds suspiciously like the “bomber gap” with the Russians in the ‘50s and the “missile gap” in the 1960s. Both were illusions that had more to do with U.S. presidential elections and arms industry lobbying than anything in the real world.

The focus on the China threat certainly fits the Obama administration’s recent “strategic pivot” toward Africa and Asia. China draws significant resources from Africa, including oil, gas, copper, and iron ore, and Beijing is beginning to reassert itself in south and east Asia. The U.S. now has a separate military command for Africa—Africom—and the White House recently excluded U.S. military forces in the Asia theatre from any cutbacks. Washington is also deploying U.S. Marines in Australia. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the National Defense University this past August, “We know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means.”

But James Lewis, an expert on Chinese cyber espionage, told Hersh that the Chinese have no intention of attacking U.S. financial services since they own a considerable portion of them. According to Lewis, “current Chinese officials” told him “a cyber-war attack would do as much economic harm to us as to you.” The U.S. is China’s largest trading partner and Beijing holds over a trillion dollars in U.S. securities.

There is also a certain irony to the accusations aimed at China. According to the New York Times, the U.S.—and Israel—designed the “Stuxnet” virus that has infected some 30,000 computers in Iran and set back Teheran’s nuclear program. The virus has also turned up in China, Pakistan, and Indonesia. In terms of cyber war, the U.S. is ahead of the curve, not behind.

What all this scare talk has done is allow the U.S. military to muscle its way into cyber security in a way that could potentially allow it to monitor virtually everything on the Internet, including personal computers and email. In fact, the military has resisted a push to insure cyber security through the use of encryption because that would prevent the Pentagon from tapping into Internet traffic.

Does China really pose a threat to the U.S.? There is no question that China-based computers have hacked into a variety of governmental agencies and private companies (as have Russians, Israelis, Americans, French, Taiwanese, South Koreans, etc.—in short everyone spies on everyone), but few observers think that China has any intention of going to war with the much more powerful U.S.

However, Beijing makes a handy bug-a-boo. One four-star admiral told Hersh that in arguing against budget cuts, the military “needs an enemy and it’s settled on China.” It would not be the first time that ploy was used.

If the Pentagon’s push is successful, it could result in an almost total loss of privacy for most Americans, as well as the creation of a vast and expensive new security bureaucracy. Give a government the power to monitor the Internet, says Sommers, and it will do it. In this electronic field of dreams, if we build it, they will use it.

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Pakistan: Anatomy Of A Crisis

Pakistan: Anatomy Of A Crisis

FPIF Blog

Conn Hallinan

Dec. 2, 2011

In the aftermath of the Nov. 26 NATO attack on two border posts that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, the question being asked is whether the assault was a  “fog of war” incident or a calculated hit aimed at torpedoing peace talks in Afghanistan? Given that the incident has plunged relations between Washington and Islamabad to a new low at a critical juncture in the 10-year war, the answer is vitally important

According to NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire from the Pakistani side of the border and retaliated in self-defense. American officials have suggested that the Taliban engineered the incident in order to poison U.S.-Pakistani relations. But there are some facts suggesting that the encounter may have been more than a “friendly fire” encounter brought on by a clever foe, an ill-defined border, and the normal chaos of the battlefield.

Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Samiullah Rahmani denies they were even in the area—and the insurgent group is never shy about taking credit for military engagements (of course, if deception was involved that is what the Taliban would say). However, this particular region is one that the Pakistani army has occupied for several years and is considered fairly “cleansed” of insurgents.

The incident was not the case of a drone attack or bombing gone awry, a common enough event. For all the talk of “precision weapons” and “surgical strikes,” drones have inflicted hundreds of civilian deaths and 500 lb bombs have very little in common with operating rooms. Instead, the NATO instruments were Apache attack helicopters and, according to Associated Press, an A-130 gunship. In short, the assault was led by live pilots presumingly indentifying targets to their superiors.

Those targets were two border forts, architecture that has never been associated with the Taliban. It is true the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is porous and not always clearly defined, but the Afghan insurgents don’t build concrete posts. A “fort” is duck soup for a drone or a fighter-bomber, which is why the Taliban favor caves and hidden bunkers.

Naturally enough, both sides disagree on what happened. The Americans say they took fire from the Pakistani border, engaged in a three-hour running fight, and called in the choppers at the end of the battle.

But, according to the Pakistanis, there was no fire from their side of the border, and helicopters started the battle, which went on for a little less than two hours. Pakistan also says there were two Apache attacks. The first struck outpost Volcano, and when the fort’s nearby companion, outpost Boulder, fired on the helicopters, it also came under assault. Pakistan claims that its military contacted NATO to warn them they were attacking Pakistani troops, but the firing continued. The helicopters finally withdrew, only to reappear and renew the attack when the Pakistanis tried to reinforce the besieged forts.

Might it have been a matter of bad intelligence?

According to the Pakistanis, Islamabad has been careful to identify its posts to NATO in order to avoid incidents exactly like this. Pakistan Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem said, “it is not possible” that the “NATO forces did not know of the location of the Pakistani posts.”  Pakistan Gen. Ashram Nader called the attack a “deliberate act of aggression.”

Could it have been “deliberate”? Mistakes happen in war, but the timing of this engagement is deeply suspicious.

It comes at a delicate moment, when some 50 countries were preparing to gather in Bonn, Germany for talks aimed at a settling the Afghan War. Central to that meeting is Pakistan, the only country in the region with extensive contacts among the various insurgent groups. If the U.S. plans to really withdraw troops by 2014, it will need close cooperation with Pakistan.

“This could be a watershed in Pakistan’s relations with the U.S.,” Islamabad’s high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, told the Guardian (UK). “It could wreck the time table for the American troop withdrawal.”

Pakistan has now withdrawn from the Bonn talks, and relations between Washington and Islamabad are as bad as they have ever been. The Pakistanis have shut down two major land routes into Afghanistan, routes over which some 50 percent of supplies for the war move. Islamabad has also demanded that the CIA close down its drone base at Shamsi in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.

Who would benefit from all this fallout?

It is no secret that many in the U.S. military are unhappy about the prospect of negotiations with the Taliban, in particular the organization’s most lethal ally, the Haqqani Group. There is an unspoken but generally acknowledged split between the Defense Department and the State Department, with the former wanting to pound the insurgents before sitting down to talk, while the latter is not sure that tactic will work. Could someone on the uniformed side of the division have decided to derail, or at least damage, the Bonn meeting?

It is also no secret that not everyone in Afghanistan wants peace, particularly if it involves a settlement with the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, made up of mostly Tajiks and Uzbeks, want nothing to do with the Pashtun-based Taliban that is mainly grouped in the south and east, and in the tribal regions of Pakistan. The Afghan Army is mostly Tajik, who not only make up the bulk of the soldiers, but 70 percent of the command staff. President Hamid Karzi is a Pashtun, but he is largely window dressing in the Northern Alliance-dominated Kabul government.

There are broader regional issues at stake as well.

It was no surprise that China immediately came to Pakistan’s defense, with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechu expressing “deep shock and strong concern” over the incident. China is not happy about the NATO deployment in Afghanistan and less so about the possibility of permanent U.S. bases in that country. At a Nov. 2 meeting in Istanbul, China, along with Pakistan, Iran and Russia, opposed a long-term American deployment in the area.

Iran is worried about the threat of U.S. military power on its border, Islamabad is concerned that prolonging the war will further destabilize Pakistan, and Beijing and Moscow are suspicious that the Americans have their sights set on Central Asia gas and oil resources. Both Russia and China rely on Central Asia hydrocarbons, the former for export to Europe, and the latter to run its burgeoning industries.

China is also anxious about the Obama administration’s recent strategic shift toward Asia. The U.S. has openly intervened in disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, and recently signed an agreement to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia. Washington has also tightened its ties with Indonesia and warmed up to Myanmar. To China, all this looks like a campaign to surround Beijing with U.S. allies and to keep its finger on the Chinese energy jugular vein. Some 80 percent of China’s oil moves through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

A key ingredient in any formula to offset Beijing’s growing power and influence in Asia is the role of India. New Delhi has traditionally been neutral in foreign policy, but, starting with the Bush administration, it has grown increasingly close to Washington. China and India have a prickly relationship dating back to the 1962 border war between the two countries and China’s support for India’s traditional enemy, Pakistan. China claims on part of India’s border area have not improved matters.

India would also like a Taliban-free government in Kabul, and anything that discomforts Islamabad is just fine with New Delhi. There are elements in the American military and diplomatic community that would like to see Washington dump its alliance with Pakistan and pull India into a closer relationship. A fair number of Indians feel the same way.

So far, the White House has refused to apologize, instead leaking a story that showing any softness vis-à-vis Pakistan during a U.S. election year is impossible.

In the end, the border fight may turn out to be an accident, although we are unlikely to know that for certain. Military investigations are not known for accuracy, and much of what happened will remain classified.

But with all these crosscurrents coming together in the night skies over Pakistan, maybe somebody saw an opportunity and took it. In a sense, it is irrelevant whether the attack was deliberate or dumb: the consequences are going to be with us for a long time, and the ripples are likely to spread from a rocky hillside in Pakistan to the far edges of the Indian Ocean and beyond.

Conn Hallinan can be read at middleempireseries.wordpress.com

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Arms, China and the Obama Administration

Arms, China & the Obama Administration

Foreign Policy In Focus Blog

Conn Hallinan

Sept. 20, 2011

The recent decision by the Obama Administration to sell $5.8 billion in arms to Taiwan is a bit of a head scratcher, rather like the hunter who goes into the woods with one bullet. Seeing a deer to his left and a turkey to his right, he shoots in the middle. It will annoy Taipei, irritate Beijing, stir up the China bashers in the U.S., and increase tensions in a region of the world that is already pretty tense.

So what’s the point here?

The plan would upgrade Taiwan’s 140 U.S.-made F-16 A/B jet fighters, plus supply Taipei with Blackhawk helicopters and anti-ballistic missiles. The Obama administration has more than doubled the Bush administration’s arms sales to Taiwan, and this sale would bring that figure to slightly more than $12 billion.

Taipei had asked to buy 66 new F-16 C/Ds, but the White House turned that down, annoying the Taiwanese. “These years, China is showing stronger and stronger reaction to U.S.-Taiwan arms sales,” complained Taipei’s deputy defense minister Andrew Yang, and that has turned Americans “more wary with arms sales.”

While PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing “firmly opposes the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan,” China’s reaction was generally low key, certainly more so than when a similar arms sales went through in 2008. Then Beijing canceled joint military consultation with the U.S. and put capitol-to-capitol relations into a deep freeze for many months. After a similar arms sale in 2010, Chinese military leaders went as far as to suggest that China cash in some of American’s $1.1 trillion debt to Beijing.

While the White House can’t get bi-partisan agreement on the budget, it brought Republicans and Democrats together on this issue. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx) have joined hands to introduce legislation demanding that the administration sell the new F-16s to Taiwan. The Taiwan Air Modernization Act cites the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which calls for providing defensive weapons to Taipei and resisting any effort by the PRC to forcibly reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

Cornyn thundered that the decision to upgrade rather than sell was “capitulation to Communist China” and a “slap in the face to a strong ally and a long-time friend.” In language straight out of the Cold War, a Coryn-Menendez letter to Obama—signed by 13 Democrats and 23 Republicans—warned that a failure to sell the new fighter aircraft means “Taiwan will be dangerously exposed to Chinese military threats, aggression and provocation, which pose significant security implications for the United States.”

A similar letter, signed by 181 House members, also demanded that Washington approve the sales of new F-16s.

Tucked in amidst the “red dragon” scare rhetoric is pork: “We are deeply concerned that further delay of the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in closure of the F-16 production line,” the letter argues. Lockheed Martin, maker of the aircraft, has a plant in Cornyn’s Texas, and the company employs 750 workers in Menendez’s New Jersey. The company is the largest arms manufacturer in the world and has a formidable lobbying presence in Washington.

In many ways the whole matter seems mired in the past, particularly the letter’s warning that Taiwan risked losing its “qualitative advantage in defensive arms.” Taipei has not had a “qualitative advantage” over the PRC in any category for the past two decades. Even the Taipei Times writes that “Taiwan would have at most only a few days to hold off China and get help from the outside, most likely the U.S., if they were going to stand any chance.”

According to the Pentagon, the PRC’s fighter aircraft fleet outnumbers Taiwan’s 1,680 to 388, and many of the latter’s planes are obsolete. Besides the 140 F-16 A/Bs, Taipei’s forces include 1962 vintage F-5s (its day is long past), 60 aging French Mirage 2000s (vintage 1982), and 130 domestically produced, but underpowered, Indigenous Defensive Fighter, the “Ching-Kuo.”

The PRC’s fleet features Sukhoi-27 and Sukhoi-30—the latter a match for the U.S.’s premier fighter, the F-15—and China’s domestic fighter, the J-10. A J-20 stealth fighter is in the testing phase but will not be deployed until 2017. Upgrading the F-16s, or even selling Taiwan new ones, will not alter this balance.

The PRC maintains that Taiwan is part of China (and virtually no country in the world, including the U.S., disagrees) and reserves the right to use military force if Taipei tries to establish independence. But “reserves the right” is very different than ramping up the landing craft. Indeed, China has carefully lowered nationalist rhetoric around Taiwan and cross-straits ties are warmer than they were three years ago.

Current Chinese President Hu Jintao has pushed rapprochement with Taipei, but as the Financial Times points out, “his approach to Taiwan is not uncontested within the Chinese Communist Party,” and it notes that “the Party is also preparing to elect a new generation of leaders next year.”  That new generation tends to be more nationalistic than the older generation.

The PRC’s armed forces mirror currents in the Communist Party, with a wing that advocates a more assertive role—at least in local waters like the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea—and a more cautious wing that wants to avoid a confrontation with the U.S.

Similar currents exist within the U.S. military establishment, although the Pentagon’s “caution” wing has recently gone silent because of all the talk about cutting military spending. Much of the recent “China threat” talk is aimed at derailing efforts to cut the huge military budget, and, to that end, generals and admirals have closed ranks behind “the dragon is coming, the dragon is coming” gang. One suspects the American hawks have counterparts among the Chinese chiefs of staff.

The arms deal will make President’s Hu’s job more difficult, although he will probably portray the F-16 upgrade as a compromise. Of course, all bets are off if Congress throws a monkey wrench into the deal and insists on new aircraft that won’t change the military balance, but will worsen an already charged diplomatic atmosphere.

The White House is nervous about January elections in Taiwan, which will pit the nationalist Kuomintang Party against the more independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP’s leader, Tsai Ing-Wen, apparently had a recent falling out with Obama administration officials over the independence issue. One U.S. official told the Financial Times, “that while she [Tsai] understood the need ‘to avoid gratuitous provocations’ of China, it was ‘far from clear…that she and her advisors fully appreciate the depth of [Chinese] mistrust of her motives and DPP aspirations.’”

DPP leader Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan’s president from 2000 to 2008 pushed for formal independence and cut off formal negotiations with Beijing during his administration.

If this all seems like a terrible muddle, that’s because it is.

On one hand Washington insists on a robust military presence on China’s doorstep, and continues to supply arms to Taiwan. These are not minor matters. If there is a confrontation between Taiwan and the PRC, and it pulls in the Americans, it will pit two nuclear powers against one another.

The growth of the Chinese navy—Beijing got its first aircraft carrier this year, albeit one half the size of a U.S. flat top—is being portrayed in Washington as a threat to U.S. naval power in the Pacific and Indian oceans. But the PRC’s buildup is about protecting its oil and gas supplies—80 percent travel by sea—and recent history.

The PRC is still smarting over having to back down when the U.S. sent two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits in 1995 during a particularly tense standoff between Taipei and Beijing. The increase in China’s military spending dates from that confrontation, although Beijing’s budget is still only about one eighth of what the Americans spend.

On the other hand, the White House is leaning on the DPP not to push independence and watering down the arms package to Taipei.

Bi-polar diplomacy anyone?

It is clear that Washington and Beijing are of two minds about their relationship. Both are riding conflicting internal political currents, and over the next decade, threading a path between cooperation and competition promises to be tricky. Arms sales accomplish little more than pushing China’s nationalist button. The jobs they create in the U.S. are marginal (and the same amount spent on civilian projects produce more employment), and the tensions they create are real.

It is time to revisit the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, a piece of legislation that reflects a very different world than the one we live in now.

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

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Pakistan’s Nukes: The U.S. Connection

 

Pakistan’s Nukes :The U.S. Connection

Dispatches From The Edge

March 8, 2011

 

Washington—New American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Obama came to office…for the Obama administration the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the President’s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world.”—New York Times

 

The above words, written this past February, were followed by a Times editorial, titled “Pakistan’s Nuclear Folly,” decrying that “the weapons buildup has gotten too little attention,” and calling on Washington to “look for points of leverage” to stop it.

 

Well, the administration and the Times may be unhappy about Pakistan’s nuclear buildup, but it certainly should not have come as a surprise, nor is there much of a secret to the “points of leverage” that would almost certainly put a stopper on it: scupper the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement between the U.S. and India.

 

Back in 2003, Douglas Feith, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in the Bush Administration, pulled together a meeting of the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group to map out a blueprint for pulling New Delhi into an alliance against China. The code word used during the discussions was “stability,” but as P.R. Chari of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies noted, “What they really mean is how to deal with China.”

 

The Bush administration changed the Clinton Administration’s designation of China as a “strategic partner” to “strategic competitor,” and in its U.S.-China Security Review concluded that Beijing is “in direct competition with us for influence in Asia and beyond” and that in “the worst case this could lead to war.” Another Pentagon document revealed by Jane’s Foreign Report argued that both India and the U.S. were threatened by China, and that “India should emerge as a vital component of US strategy.”

 

One of the obstacles to that alliance was the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which blocks any country that is not a signer from buying nuclear fuel on the world market. Since neither India nor Pakistan has signed the Treaty, they can’t buy fuel from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group. That has been particularly hard on India because it has few native uranium sources and has to split those between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. The ban, however, is central to the NPT, and one of the few checks on nuclear proliferation.

 

But the Bush administration proposed bypassing the NPT with the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement that permitted India to purchase nuclear materials even though New Delhi refused to sign the Treaty. India would agree to use the nuclear fuel only in its civilian plants and open those plants for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But the Agreement also allowed India to divert its own domestic supplies to its weapons program, and those plants would remain off the inspection grid. In short, India would no longer have to choose between nuclear power and nuclear weapons: it could have both.

 

In July 2008, Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Khurshid Kusuri predicted that if the 1-2-3 Agreement went through, “The whole Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will unravel,” and, in a letter to the IAEA, Pakistan warned that the pact “threatens to increase the chances of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.”

 

However, neither the Bush administration nor the Obama administration paid any attention to Pakistan’s complaints. The results were predictable.  Pakistan ramped up its nuclear weapons program and may soon pass Britain as the fifth largest nuclear weapons nation in the world.

 

It also dug in its heels at the 65-nation 2011 Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and blocked a proposal to halt the production of nuclear weapons-making material.  The 1-2-3 Agreement and the push to bring India into the Nuclear Suppliers group, warned Ambassador Zamir Akram, were “undermining the validity and sanctity of the international non-proliferation regime” and would “further destabilize security in South Asia.” The Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) is a priority for the Obama administration.

 

Islamabad is not alone in its criticism of the 1-2-3 Agreement or the FMCT. A number of nations are challenging NPT signers, including the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France, to fulfill Article VI of the NPT that requires the elimination of nuclear weapons. While the U.S. and Russia have reduced their arsenals, both still have thousands of weapons, and the Americans are in the process of modernizing their current warheads.

 

Pakistan is a far smaller country than India, and would likely face defeat in a conventional conflict. It has already lost three wars to India. Its ace in the hole is nuclear weapons, and some Pakistanis have a distressingly casual view of nuclear war. “You can die crossing the street, or you could die in a nuclear war,” remarked former Pakistan army chief Gen. Mirza Aslem Beg. A BBC poll found that the Pakistani public has an “abysmally low” understanding of the threat.

 

Many Indians are not much better. Former Indian Defense Minister Georges Fernandes commented that “India can survive a nuclear attack, but Pakistan cannot.” And that same BBC poll found that for most Indians “the terror of a nuclear conflict is hard to imagine.”

 

Both countries have recently rolled out cruise missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Pakistani Hatf-7, or “Babur,” has a range of almost 500 miles and a speed of 550 miles. It appears to have been copied from the U.S. BGM-109 “Tomahawk,” several of which crashed in Pakistan during 1998 air strikes against Afghanistan. The Indian PJ-10 BrahMos cruise has a shorter range—180 miles—but a top speed of 2100 mph. India and Pakistan also have ballistic missiles capable of striking major cities in both countries.

 

In its editorial declaiming Pakistan as guilty of “nuclear folly,” the Times pointed out that “Pakistan cannot feed its people [or] educate its children.” Neither can India. As a 2010 United Nations Development Program report discovered, as bad as things are in Pakistan, life expectancy is lower in India, and the gap between rich and poor is greater. In fact, neither country can afford large militaries—Pakistan spends 35 percent of its budget on arms, and India is in the middle of a $40 billion military spending spree—and a nuclear war would not only destroy both countries, but also profoundly affect the entire globe.

 

Nuclear weapons are always folly, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The U.S. currently spends in excess of $1 trillion a year on all defense and security related items, while our education system is starving, our infrastructure is collapsing, and hunger and illiteracy are spreading.  If the Times wants to ratchet down tensions in South Asia, let it call for dumping the 1-2-3 Agreement and beginning the process called for in Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measure relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty of general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

 

 

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China and the US: Things That Go Bang

China and the US :Things That Go Bang

Dispatches From the Edge

Feb. 24, 2011

Reading the headlines about U.S.-China relations might lead one to conclude that current tensions between the two have less to do with political differences than chemical imbalances: “The Chinese Tiger Shows Its Claws” vs. “China Helps Defuse Korea Crisis”; or “America is far too soft in its dealings with Beijing” vs. “Blaming China will not solve America’s problems.” What comes to mind is a dose of Thorazine, or maybe a Lithium regime?

In fact, there are both real differences and common ground, but sorting through them can be a taxing exercise in deep analysis.  Are the tensions over an increasingly aggressive Beijing beginning to assert itself in a world formerly dominated by the Americans? Or is Washington encircling China with allies and military bases aimed at blocking the rise of an up-and-coming international rival?

On the surface this antagonism resembles the imperial competition between Britain and Germany at end of the 19th century, but the world of 2011 is very different than in 1914, far more connected, far more interdependent, and yet still dangerous. What does seem clear is that every time either side brings in its military, tensions increase and solutions turn elusive.

The partnership between Beijing and Washington is built on money and trade. China currently holds almost a trillion dollars in U.S. Treasury Securities, and yearly trade between the two is over $400 billion.  In comparison, China’s trade with the entire European Union is about the same.  Both economies are interdependent, and trouble in one generally means trouble in the other.

But as the number one and number two economies in the world, China and the U.S. are also competitors for markets and raw materials.

China is currently the number two energy user in the world, and, to fuel its explosive industrialization, it will require 11.3 million barrels of oil a day (bpd) by 2015. Since it only produces 3.7 million bpd on its own, much of China’s foreign policy in aimed at insuring a steady flow of energy. How that energy gets to China, and who supplies it, is the rub.

China’s major suppliers are Saudi Arabia, Angola and Iran, which means about 80 percent of its energy supplies travel by sea through two choke points, the Straits of Hormuz and the Malacca Straits. Both are controlled by the U.S. Navy.

Beijing has adopted a two-pronged strategy to deal with its energy insecurity. First, it is increasingly moving its energy supplies via pipelines from Russia and Central Asia. The Turkmenistan-Xingjian pipeline is up and running, as is the huge Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline from Russia.

Secondly, it is beefing up its sea borne forces and establishing a “string of pearls”: a series of Chinese navy-friendly ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Gwadar, Pakistan. The Gwadar port could also serve as the jumping off point for an Iran-India-Pakistan-China pipeline. Iran and Pakistan have already signed on, and India and China have signaled their interest. If the U.S. successfully pressures India to keep out, China will step in with investment money.

But the naval buildup is only partly due to Chinese nervousness over its sea routes. A major impetus behind the increase came out of a 1996 incident, when the Clinton administration sent two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Taiwan Straits during a tense standoff between Formosa and the mainland. Since the Chinese did not have an aircraft carrier, or much in the way of weapons that could challenge them, Beijing was forced to back off. It was a humiliation in their home waters that the Chinese were not about to forget.

China’s navy, however, is a long way from presenting any serious challenge to the U.S. For instance, China’s lone aircraft carrier was originally constructed by the Russians in the 1980s, and is half the size of a Nimitz-class carrier, of which the U.S. has 10.

Much has been made of a new Chinese ballistic missile that U.S. Admiral Robert Willard recently claimed was a major threat to U.S. carriers. But the missile is not yet operational, and no one really knows what its capabilities are.

“China’s military rise is not to attack America, but to make sure that China is not attacked by America,” says Chinese military analyst Liu Mingfu.

However, China’s push to keep the U.S. out of areas it considers “core” has also put it in conflict with a number of south Asian nations that have equal claims on islands in the South China Sea. Some of that tension is the result of some serious high handedness by Beijing. In responding to protests over China’s claims, Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, sounded almost imperial: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact.”

The spat gave Washington an opportunity to extend its support to countries in the region, including Vietnam, which as welcomed U.S. naval vessels back to Cam Ranh Bay and carried out joint military maneuvers with their old enemies.

Beijing views U.S. efforts to “mediate” disputes in its core areas as part of a campaign to encircle China with hostile bases and allies. The U.S. has more than 100 bases in Japan, 85 in South Korea, plus ones in the Philippines, Guam, and even a few in Central Asia.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

But, in the case of the1996 Taiwan incident and the recent South China Sea brouhaha, military threats ended up backfiring on both China and the U.S. The Clinton administration’s gunboat diplomacy ignited a naval building program by China that now presents a local challenge to the U.S. And China’s cavalier approach to its south Asian neighbors ended up giving Washington an opening and handing Beijing a diplomatic setback.

Likewise China’s prickliness with India over their mutual border has given the U.S. greater influence in New Delhi, and a recent dustup between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyus islands has pushed Tokyo closer to Washington.

In short, military threats, even veiled ones, generally end up blowing up on whoever makes them.

In part this is a reflection of the difference between the world of 1914 and today. Back then imperial adventures generally brought benefits. Today the terms “adventures” and “overreach” are almost synonymous.

The U.S. has the most powerful military in the world, but its sojourn in Iraq has been a strategic disaster, and it is bogged down in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. The U.S. could probably win any conventional battle on the planet, but it increasingly finds that it cannot win a war. It could flatten Iran, but does anyone believe the Iranians would then surrender? It would be far more likely that the consequent jump in oil prices would topple economies across the globe.

In contrast, the Chinese have recently cut a deal for Iraqi oil, and Afghan minerals, all without losing a single soldier.  They have also invested $120 billion in Iran’s energy and become Teheran’s number one trading partner. While the U.S. was building new military bases in Central America and firing up its Fifth Fleet to rattle sabers in Latin America, China was toppling the U.S. as the continent’s major trading partner.

The recent U.S.-China summit went smoothly, countering much of the rhetoric that the two giants were on a collision course. But while Washington and Beijing found much to agree on (and tip-toed past some of what they did not), the tension is still there.

What both sides must avoid is letting their respective general staffs have a say in what relations between the two nations should be. Irrespective of the language they speak, every admiral wants a new ship, and every general wants a new missile. The job of the military is to win wars and that requires lots of things that go bang.

But these days things that go bang are increasingly expensive and more likely to cause grief than win laurels.

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Vang Pao, Drugs, the CIA and the Media

Vang Pao, Drugs & the CIA

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 12, 2011

Cynicism, as the late Molly Ivins once noted, is the death of good journalism, but reading through the New York Times and the Associated Press’ obituaries of Laotian-Hmong leader General Vang Pao made that sentiment a difficult one to resist.

Vang Pao, who died Jan. 6 in Clovis, a small town in California’s Central Valley, was described in the Times as “charismatic” and in AP as a “fabled military hero” who led a Hmong army against the communist Pathet Lao during the Laotian civil war. Van Pao’s so-called “secret army” was financed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency as part of the U.S.’s war against North Vietnam and the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam.

Well, “financed” is a slippery word, and while, it was true Vang Pao got a lots of money and arms from the CIA, a major source of his financing was the opium trade run out of Southeast Asia’s “Golden Triangle.”  That little piece of history never managed to make it into the obits, which is hardly a surprise. The people the CIA hired to run dope for Vang Pao went on to run dope for the Contras in the Reagan Administration’s war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. And talking about close ties between drugs and the CIA in Southeast Asia and Central America might lead to some very uncomfortable questions about the people we are currently supporting in Afghanistan.

Readers should search out a book by Alfred McCoy called “The Politics of Heroin in South East Asia,” and pull up a Frontline piece entitled “Drugs, Guns and the CIA” by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn. What they will find is not in the Times and the AP obits.

A major source for the Frontline piece was Ron Rickenback, who headed up the U.S. Aid and Development Program (USAID) in Laos. Rickenback says he witnessed drugs being transported from outlying areas in Laos aboard U.S. Air America aircraft, which was then put on larger aircraft for shipment to southern Laos and Thailand. Air America was on contract with the CIA.

Rickenback says the CIA knew drugs were being run on their airplanes, but that the drug trade helped finance the war against the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese. To cover their tracks, the CIA took an Air America C-47, painted it, named it Sing Quan Airlines, and gave it to Van Pao. Sing Quan quickly became know as “Opium Air.”

Frontline also tracked down several pilots that flew Sing Quan and Air America planes (some of them were in jail for running cocaine out of Central America), who confirmed that opium was a major part of their cargo. Journalist John Everingham’s investigation also linked Vang Pao to the opium trade.

Leslie Cockburn also managed to land an interview with Tony Poe, the CIA’s key man in Laos, and the model for the out-of-control CIA agent in Apocalypse Now. Poe, who was driven out of the Agency when he refused to go along with the dope dealing, confirmed Van Pao’s central role in drug running.

The trade in opium and heroin in Laos was linked in turn to the U.S. supported regime in South Vietnam led by President Nguyen Van Thieu. Much of that heroin ended up in the bodies of American GIs—during the height of the war there were between two and three fatal overdoses a day—and decimating neighborhoods back in the U.S.

The history of drugs and U.S. foreign policy is a long and dark one. At the end of World War II, the Agency made common cause with the Corsican Brotherhood and the La Cosa Nostra to drive the Left out of the Port of Marseilles. Drug running was a major source of money for the two Italian criminal organizations.

The same people who ran the CIA’s drug operation in Southeast Asia turned up running drugs and guns for the rightwing Contras in the 1980s Nicaraguan civil war. Cocaine money was used to by weapons and supplies for the Contras, with anti-Castro Cubans acting as organizers and middlemen.

And lest we think this is all ancient history, maybe Congress should take a close look at our current allies in Afghanistan: the Karzai government and the Northern Alliance.

First, a few facts.

The United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crimes estimates that the Afghan opium trade generates about $3.4 billion a year, of which about 4 percent goes as taxes to the Taliban. There is some dispute over how much cash this represents: the UN says $125 million a year; U.S. intelligence agencies estimate $70 million a year. Some 21 percent goes to the farmers. What happens to the 75 percent left over?

According to Julian Mercille, a lecturer at University College, Dublin, the bulk “is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers.” This includes President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and Northern Alliance general, Nazri Mahmad.

Mercille argues that the U.S. has an “historical pattern of toleration and empowerment of local drug lords in [its] pursuit of broader foreign policy goals.”

The pattern—established after the Second World War in Europe, and then later in Southeast Asia and Latin America—is that drugs are a handy way to generate lots of off-the-books money, and an easy way to buy loyalty. It is also good business. That UN report also found that between 90 to 95 percent of illegal opium sales over the past several years—some $400 to $500 billion—were laundered through western banks. Part of that money ended up being used to keep some of those banks from going under during the recent economic meltdown.

What these policies leave in their wake are ruin and destruction. Over 35,000 members of Van Pao’s army were killed fighting a losing war with the Pathet Lao, and some 200,000 Hmong were re-settled in the U.S., mainly in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. Nicaragua is still trying to recover from the Contra War, and Afghanistan has turned into a bleeding ulcer.

Vang Pao was a pawn, first of the French, in whose colonial army he served, and later of the U.S. In the global chess game called the Cold War, he and his people were disposable. So were the Nicaraguans, and so are the Afghans.  The dead are at peace; the living should remember, and the media should help preserve, not obscure, those memories.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Asia, FPIF Blogs, Latin America, Military, Pacific