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US-North Korea Crisis Decision- Making: Growing Risks Of Inadvertent Or Unintended Nuclear War In Asia

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“We fell in love!”-US President Donald Trump, referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un after Singapore Summit (June 2018)

Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” While US President Donald Trump continues to express inexplicable confidence in his North Korean counterpart  (and a simultaneous lack of faith in his own intelligence community), he also fails to understand something rudimentary: The stability of any upcoming crisis decision-making process between Washington and Pyongyang will have less to do with “loving” leader relations than with Kim Jung Un’s unmistakably  core commitment to personal military power.

 In this increasingly worrisome conflict “dyad,” one of the most understated and under-referenced risks to the United States concerns inadvertent or unintended nuclear war.

On such urgent risks, words matter. Initially, in seeking to fashion a coherent security policy, President Trump and his strategic advisors should approach all pertinent issues at the primary or conceptual level. Inter alia, it will soon become necessary for Mr. Trump to understand that the various nuclear war risks[1] posed by inadvertence must be differentiated from the expected hazards of a deliberate nuclear war. These latter perils could stem only from  those Washington-Pyongyang hostilities that had been (1) intentionally initiated with nuclear weapons; and/or (2) intentionally responded to by express retaliation with nuclear weapons.

This is the case whether such unprecedented military actions were undertaken to achieve strategic surprise,[2] or instead as the result (expected or unexpected) of enemy irrationality.[3]

 Prima facie, these are distinctly  many-sided and “dense” calculations. In any deliberate nuclear war scenario, and before any presidential ordering of an American preemption,[4] the designated North Korean leadership would first need to appear(a) nuclear-capable and (b)  irrational. Without this second expectation, any US preemption against an already-nuclear adversary would be irrational on its face[5]. Washington, therefore, must continuously monitor not only tangible North Korean nuclear assets and capabilities, but also the substantially less tangible mental health characteristics of Kim Jong Un.

Although some might mock this second intelligence imperative as unnecessary or “clinically impossible,” it remains conceivable that the dictator in Pyongyang could at some point pretend irrationality.

The decipherable differences here would not be narrowly academic or entirely linguistic.

Factually, moreover, it is Kim Jong Un’s counterpart in the White House (and not Kim himself) who has publicly mused about the potential rationality of pretended irrationality, and who takes  oddly conspicuous comfort from his assessment that the two presidents “fell in love” back in Singapore.

This is not the sort of “romance” upon which to build a core US national security policy.

There is more. When the US president and his national security advisors consider the co-existing and fearful prospects of an inadvertent nuclear war with North Korea, their principal focus should remain oriented toward more institutional directions – that is, to the expected stability and reliability of Pyongyang’s command, control and intelligence procedures. Should it then be determined that these “C3I” processes display unacceptably high risks of mechanical/electrical/computer failure; indecipherable pre-delegations of nuclear launch authority; and/or unpredictable/unreliable launch-on-warning procedures (sometimes also called “launch-on-confirmed-attack”), a still-rational American president could feel the more compelling need to consider a plausibly appropriate preemption option.[6]

Another complex factor in any such prospective decision-making process would be (a) the apparent advent of hypersonic weapons in North Korean arsenals; and (b) the extent to which this emergence were paralleled in American arsenals and/or strategic calculations.

At this already advanced stage in North Korean nuclear military progress, the probable  costs to the United States and certain of its allies accruing from  a defensive first-strike would be more-or-less overwhelming and thus potentially “unacceptable.” This foreseeable understanding seems to have escaped Trump, who first stated publicly at the end of May 2019 that North Korean tests of short-range missiles “do not worry” him. This blithe and manifestly ill-conceived observation suggests that the American president (c) is erroneously focused only on direct (long-range) missile threats to the United States, and (d) is unmindful of conspicuously challenging escalatory possibilities, especially the immediate importance of shorter-range missile threats.

Why so urgently important?

 In the first place, North Korea’s short-range missiles could target US allies South Korea and Japan; also, US military forces in the region. While an attack on these forces would carry a near-automatic assurance of a more or less measured American retaliation, aggression against regional US allies would almost certainly call for such a reprisal. In essence, therefore, Kim Jung Un’s short-range missiles could sometime bring the United States into a full-blown war, even though these missiles would never have been launched against the American homeland.

In the second place, it is improbable but not inconceivable that South Korea could wittingly or unwittingly initiate a conventional conflict with North Korea,  thereby realistically mandating a US military involvement in the conflict. Were this to happen, Seoul would have effectively “catalyzed” a North-Korea-US war. In any such many-sided belligerency, even nuclear weapons could be fired. Also worth studying in the unprecedented realm of catalytic nuclear war would be a narrative wherein an altogether different state or sub-state could arrange an anonymous first-strike against South Korea, Japan and/or regional US forces.

What about a US preemption? In principle, at least, certain calculable preemption options could not be dismissed out of hand in any balance-of-power world system.[7] More precisely, any residual American resort to “anticipatory self-defense”[8] could be nuclear or non-nuclear and could be indicated without any express regard for Kim Jung Un’s presumed rationality. Still, the well-reasoned cost-effectiveness of any US preemption would almost certainly be enlarged by including such carefully calculated presumptions.

What would be the most plausible reactions concerning a Trump-ordered preemption against North Korea? When all significant factors are taken into account, Pyongyang, likely having no meaningful option to launching at least some massive forms of armed response, would intentionally target certain designated American military forces in the region and/or high-value South Korean armaments and personnel. President Trump, still assuming enemy rationality, should then expect that whatever North Korea’s precise configuration of selected targets, Kim Jung Un’s retaliatory blow would  be designed to minimize or avoid any massive (including even nuclear) American counter-retaliations.

There is more. All such high-consequence calculations would involve adversarial policy intersections which could be genuinely “synergistic”[9] and assume perfect rationality on all sides. If, for example, the American president should sometime decide to strike first, the response from Kim Jung Un should then expectedly be proportionate; that is, more-or-less similarly massive. In this particular escalatory “game,” the willful introduction of nuclear weapons into any ensuing conflagration might not be dismissed out of hand by either “player.”

What then?

 Noteworthy, too, at least at that markedly uncertain and unstable point, any such a game-changing introduction would more likely originate from the American side. This sobering inference is based upon the understanding that while North Korea already has some nuclear weapons and missile delivery vehicles, it is also still rational and not yet prepared operationally to seek “escalation dominance” vis-à-vis the United States. For the moment, at least, it would seemingly be irrational for Pyongyang to launch any of its nuclear weapons first.

Sometime, at least in principle,  Mr. Trump, extending his usually favored stance of an argumentum ad bacculum (an appeal to force)  could opt rationally for a so-called “mad dog” strategy. Here, the American president, following his just-ordered preemption, would deliberately choose a strategy of pretended irrationality.

Any such determined reliance, while intuitively sensible and arguably compelling, could backfire, and thereby open up a slippery path to a now unstoppable escalation. This self-propelling competition in risk-taking could also be triggered by the North Korean president, then pretending to be a “mad dog” himself. Significantly, any feigned irrationality stance by Kim Jong Un might be undertaken exclusively by the North Korean side, or in an entirely unplanned tandem or “synergy” with the United States. In all conceivable variants of crisis bargaining between Washington and Pyongyang, even those without any synergies, the highest-level decision-making processes would be meaningfully interdependent.

This means still greater levels of complexity and still lesser significance assignable to any presumptive “love” relationship between the two presidential adversaries.[10]

Regarding complexity, in absolutely all of these plausible bargaining postures, each side would have to pay reciprocally close attention to the anticipated wishes and intentions of  Russia and China. Accordingly, one must now inquire, does President Trump actually believe that China would find it gainful to support him in any still-pending nuclear crisis with North Korea? To answer such a query, it ought to be quite plain that Mr. Trump’s ongoing and potentially accelerating trade war with China would be manifestly unhelpful.

Regarding further complexity, what transpires between Washington and Pyongyang in crisis decision-making circumstances could be impacted by certain other ongoing or escalating wars in Asia. In this connection, most portentously relevant would be any substantial escalations of the Kashmir conflict, especially those that might involve an introduction of nuclear weapons. Unquestionably, any correlative crossing of the nuclear threshold in that India-Pakistan conflict dyad would fracture a longstanding taboo in world politics, and presumptively heighten the likelihood of a US-North Korean nuclear exchange.

Notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s exaggerated confidence in basing foreign policy decision-making upon extrapolations from commerce, it is all genuinely complex, stunningly complex,[11] even bewilderingly complex. Also reasonable to assume is that in any such many-sided circumstances, the North Korean president would no longer be pretending irrationality. He could, at some point, have become authenticallyirrational. Regardless of difficulty, however, the differences here would be well worth figuring out.

Relevant scenarios must soon be posited and examined dialectically. If President Donald Trump’s initial defensive first strike against North Korea were less than massive, a still rational adversary in Pyongyang would likely take steps to ensure that its own preferred reprisal were correspondingly limited. But if Trump’s consciously rational and calibrated attack upon North Korea were wittingly or unwittingly launched against an irrational enemy leadership, the response from Pyongyang could then be an all-out retaliation. This unanticipated response, whether  non-nuclear or non-nuclear-nuclear “hybrid,” would be directed at some as yet indeterminable combination of US and allied targets.

Inevitably, and by any sensible measure, this response could inflict grievous  harms.

It is now worth considering that a North Korean missile reprisal against US interests and personnel would not automatically exclude the American homeland. However, should the North Korean president maintain a determinedly rational “ladder” of available options, he would almost certainly resist targeting any vulnerable civilian portions of the United States. Still, should he remain determinably willing to strike targets in South Korea and/or Japan, he would incur very substantial risks of an American nuclear counter-retaliation.

In principle, any such US response would follow directly from this country’s assorted treaty-based obligations regarding “collective self-defense.”[12]

There is more. Such risks would be much greater if Kim’s own aggressions had extended beyond hard military assets, either intentionally or as unwitting “collateral damage” brought to various soft civilian populations and/or infrastructures.

 Even if the unimaginably complex game of nuclear brinksmanship in Northeast Asia were being played only by fully rational adversaries, the rapidly accumulating momentum of events between Washington and Pyongyang could still demand that each “contestant” strive relentlessly for escalation dominance. It is in the notably unpracticed dynamics of such an explosive rivalry that the prospect of an “Armageddon” scenario could be actualized. This outcome could be produced in unexpected increments of escalation by either or both of the dominant national players, or instead, by any sudden quantum leap in destructiveness applied by the United States and/or North Korea.[13]

Looking ahead, the only foreseeable element of the “game” that is predictable in such complicated US-North Korean calculations is the contest’s inherent and boundless unpredictability. Even under the very best or optimal assumptions of enemy rationality, all relevant decision-makers would have to concern themselves with dense or confused communications, inevitable miscalculations, cascading errors in information, unauthorized uses of strategic weapons, mechanical, electrical or computer malfunctions and certain poorly-recognized applications of cyber-defense and cyber-war.

Technically, one further analytic distinction is needed between inadvertent nuclear war and accidental nuclear war. By definition, an accidental nuclear war would be inadvertent, but reciprocally, an inadvertent nuclear war need not be accidental.[14] False warnings, for example, which could be spawned by mechanical, electrical or computer malfunction (or by hacking)[15] would not signify the origins of an inadvertent nuclear war. Instead, they would fit under clarifying narratives of an accidental nuclear war.

“Everything is very simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but the simplest thing is still difficult.” With this seemingly banal but profound observation, the classical Prussian strategist makes plain that serious military planning is always problematic. Largely, this is because of what he famously called “friction.” In essence, friction describes “the difference between war as it actually is, and war on paper.”

Unless President Trump is able to understand this core concept and prepare to manage unpredictable risks of an unintentional war with North Korea, any future “love letters” from Kim Jung Un would be beside the point. While the specific  risks of a deliberate or intentional  nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea should remain front and center in Washington, these risks ought never be assessed apart from these closely associated hazards of crisis decision-making. All of these risks could be overlapping, mutually reinforcing or even synergistic, daunting circumstances in which the plausible “whole” of their effect would be tangibly greater than the simple sum of their constituent “parts.”

There is one last matter to be clarified. This has to do with the nature  of “superpower” relations within the underlying balance of power structure of world politics.[16] Whatever the differences in preferred nomenclature, it is apparent that we are now entering (wittingly or unwittingly) an era of “Cold War II.”[17] Depending upon the dominant configurations of this new Cold War, US-North Korea nuclear decision-making will be more-or-less destabilizing. It follows, for President Donald Trump and the United States, that Washington-Pyongyang nuclear bargaining must takes its dominant cues from two different though intersecting directions.

In the end, a great deal will depend upon the American side’s willingness to base relevant policies upon intellectual or analytic foundations.

In the end, such willingness will trump any alleged benefits of having fallen “in love.”


[1] Whatever these particular risks, they could be intersecting, “force multiplying” or even “synergistic.” Where an authentic synergy were involved, the “whole” of any attack outcome could then be greater than the tangible sum of its component “parts.”

[2] In his seminal writings, strategic theorist Herman Kahn introduced a further distinction between a surprise attack that is more-or-less unexpected, and one that arrives “out of the blue.” The former, he counseled, “…is likely to take place during a period of tension that is not so intense that the offender is fully prepared for nuclear war….” A total surprise attack, however, would be one without any immediately recognizable tension or signal. This particular subset of the surprise attack scenario would be very difficult to operationalize for national policy benefit. See: Herman Kahn, Thinking About the Unthinkable in the 1980s (Simon & Schuster, 1984).

[3] Recalling the 20th-century German philosopher, Karl Jaspers: “The rational is not thinkable without its other, the non-rational, and it never appears in reality without it.” This insight can be found in Jaspers’ “Historical Reflections” on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche.

[4] Worth noting here too is that any such ordering of a preemptive attack by an American president would be exceedingly problematic under US law (especially under pertinent US Constitutional constraints). There are, therefore, critical jurisprudential as well as strategic implications involved.

[5] Nonetheless, the American president could conceivably still benefit from a preemption against an already nuclear North Korea if refraining from striking first would allow North Korea to implement certain additional protective measures. Designed to guard against preemption, these measures could involve the attachment of “hair trigger” launch mechanisms to nuclear weapon systems and/or the adoption of “launch on warning” policies, possibly coupled with identifiable pre-delegations of launch authority. This means, increasingly, that the US could be incrementally endangered by steps taken by Pyongyang to prevent a preemption. Optimally, this country would do everything possible to prevent such steps, especially because of the expanded risks of accidental or unauthorized attacks against its own or allied armaments and populations. But if such steps were to become a fait accompli, Washington might still calculate correctly that a preemptive strike would be both legal and cost-effective. This is because the expected enemy retaliation, however damaging, could still appear more tolerable than the expected consequences of enemy first-strikes  –  strikes likely occasioned by the failure of “anti-preemption” protocols.

[6] From the standpoint of international law, it is necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative is to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, however, is launched not out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance.  In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here for the United States is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence can be acknowledged could prove “fatal” or existential.

[7] The core concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a particular variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. Significantly, it has never had anything to do with creating or ascertaining “equilibrium.” Moreover, as such balance is always a matter of individual and subjective perceptions, adversary states can never be sufficiently confident that pertinent strategic circumstances are actually “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, inter alia, each side to any conflict must “normally” fear that it will be left behind; accordingly, the perpetual search for balance generally produces ever-wider patterns of national insecurity and global disequilibrium.

[8] This term is drawn from customary international law, an authoritative source of world legal norms identified at Art. 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice.  Already, international law, an integral part of the legal system of all states in world politics, assumes a general obligation to supply benefits to one another, and to avoid war at all costs. This core assumption of jurisprudential solidarity is known formally as a “peremptory” or jus cogens expectation, that is, one that is not even subject to question. It can be found in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis, Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace (1625) and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations or Principles of Natural Law (1758).

[9] In any synergistic intersection – whether in chemistry, medicine or war – the “whole” of any result would exceed the simple sum of its policy-determining “parts.”

[10] Pertinent synergies could clarify or elucidate the world political system’s current state of disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists prefer to call “entropic” conditions), and could themselves be dependent upon each national decision-maker’s own subjective metaphysics of time. For an early article by this author dealing with interesting linkages between such a subjective metaphysics and national decision-making (linkages that could shed additional light on growing risks of a US-North Korea nuclear war), see: Louis René Beres, “Time, Consciousness and Decision-Making in Theories of International Relations,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. VIII, No.3., Fall 1974, pp. 175-186.

[11] Reciprocally, of course, the White House has been seeking to persuade Americans and others by way of very deliberate simplifications.  See, on the plausible consequences of any such deceptive measures, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s pertinent observation in On Certainty:  “Remember that one is sometimes convinced of the correctness of a view by its simplicity or symmetry….”

[12] For the differences between “collective self defense” and “collective security,” see this writer’s early book: Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (University of Denver Monograph Series in World Affairs)( (1973).

[13] This brings to mind the philosophical query by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett in Endgame: “What is the good of passing from one untenable position to another, of seeking justification always on the same plane?”

[14] Reminds Herman Kahn in his On Escalation (1965): “All accidental wars are inadvertent and unintended, but not vice-versa.”

[15] This prospect now includes the plausible advent of so-called “cyber- mercenaries.”

[16] For a related conceptual argument by this author concerning Israel’s security in the Middle East, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/mideast-security-and-policy-studies/israeli-nuclear-deterrence/

[17] In essence, postulating the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting the world system to become once again bipolar. For early writings, by this author, on the global security implications of such an expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The Forgotten Analogy: World War II

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Pundits are searching for adequate analogies to explain the growing China-U.S. rivalry and predict its future direction. Two main ones appear: the pre-World War I era and the Cold War. Both have their merits. The early twentieth century pitted Germany, a rising power, against status quo Britain and France. The Cold War also shares similarities to the current situation. The United States engaged in a prolonged struggle to contain a nuclear-armed great power. However, neither the Cold War nor the First World War offers an entirely appropriate analogy to make sense of the current world order.

Wilhelmine Germany was a formidable power but it largely stood alone, cornered in the center of Europe. London, Paris, and Saint Petersburg had an easy time concentrating their forces to balance against Berlin. Although it had Asia as secondary and the rest of the globe as tertiary theaters, the heart of the Cold War was also Central Europe. There were only two great powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, wholly occupied checkmating each other. 

Today’s international politics differs by the number and locations of the main protagonists. Although China legitimately attracts most of the attention, Russia remains a great power. Both China and Russia are the sole great powers of their respective regions — Asia and Europe. Both are bent on correcting the balance of power to their advantage and pushing the United States out of their neighborhood. On its side, Washington has a deep-seated interest in making sure that no great power competitor dominates Asia or Europe because both regions concentrate a big share of the world’s wealth and advanced industries. Indeed, a regional hegemon in possession of such resources would be strong enough to potentially overpower the United States. 

Washington found itself in the same position during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Nazi Germany had become the strongest power on the European continent and seemed bound to dominate all of it. Imperial Japan’s bid for Asian hegemony was unfolding unabated. The Americans had a vested interest in ensuring that neither Berlin nor Tokyo would seize control of their neighborhood because local powers were unlikely to get the job done on their own. It is now Beijing and Moscow occupying these roles.

Asia and China

China is the strongest state in Asia by a wide margin. No regional state can counterbalance Beijing on its own. Even a coalition of current U.S. partners — say Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea — would likely be too weak to seriously deter China without America’s support and strength. If Washington wants to prevent a Chinese bid for regional hegemony, it needs to throw its weight behind the balancing effort.

During the World War II era, America had to work alongside allies with widely divergent interests (notably Britain, Free France, and the Soviet Union) against the would-be German and Japanese hegemons. In a similar vein, the United States needs to help repair the relations between Japan and South Korea and accommodate those who have had rocky relations with Washington (India, Vietnam) or that are non-democracies (Singapore). The sheer power of China and the challenge of putting together a working balancing coalition imposes to the United States an “Asia First” strategy in the same way that the Third Reich’s superior military and industrial capabilities forced “Europe First” during World War II.

Another similarity with the World War II era is that power dynamics are rapidly changing. In Europe, the primary focus of American planners, Germany was with little doubt the strongest power on the continent. But the balance of power was evolving and the Soviet Union, still reeling from its civil war and Stalin’s purges, appeared to the Germans as a rising threat. Today, Beijing is growingly wary of India, a state as populous as (and very soon, probably more than) China and enjoying economic growth rates superior to China’s.

Europe and Russia

While most Asian states are directly exposed to Chinese military power, the states of Western and Southern Europe are separated from Russia by several other states in-between. Therefore, many European states feel less threatened by Russia and have been slow to balance against Moscow. Although France has been increasing its military spending and Britain vowed to redeploy heavy forces to Germany, these small incremental changes do little to correct the overwhelming military superiority of Moscow. No Western European state is ready or willing to confront Russian power head-on. Europe needs American leadership for that. It is not unlike the late 1930s, when the Soviet Union, separated from Germany by Poland, readily passed the buck of containing Berlin to London and Paris, with disastrous results.

On paper, European states — most notably Britain, France, and Germany — have enough latent capabilities to counterbalance Russian power. But geography and the collective action problem stand in the way. Indeed, Russia is not an immediate threat to Western Europe like the Soviet Union was. Today’s Russian army is unable to threaten the survival of France or Germany due to the East-Central European states acting as a buffer. Even if the Western Europeans acknowledge the resurgence of Russian power and are slowly rearming, they just do not feel the same sense of urgency as in Eastern Europe.

Collective action is difficult when many actors have to provide for a common good. An instinct is to do as little balancing as possible and wait for others to take the mantle of deterring Russia. Also, with no clear leader, effective decision-making is unlikely. Berlin, London, Paris, and others will push for their own preferences, thus resulting in lowest-common-denominator policies and under-balancing. Russia would then be free to cherry-pick its small neighbors and subjugate opposition. Eventually, Western Europeans would balance more effectively; but by the time they do so, Russia will have grown its power base and will already dominate Eastern Europe, thus representing a far more formidable challenge.

NATO is a powerful but imperfect tool to contain a Russian aspirant hegemon. The misaligned interest between many western and southern states and those closest to Russia stands in the way of effective balancing. A potential cure would be to form an additional smaller and more focused alliance system of Poland as the main bulwark, the Czech Republic, Romania, the three Baltic states, and maybe Sweden. In any case, to overcome buck-passing tendencies and problems of coordination, American political leadership is inescapable.

No Easy Fix

Historical analogies are always risky and no situation ever recurs in the exact same way. Yet, if we are to compare the current international situation with a past example, the World War II analogy appears more powerful than the World War I and Cold War ones.

Indeed, the United States faces the same conundrum of having to deal with two formidable rivals on two different continents. World War II had Germany as the most powerful opponent and Europe as the theater concentrating the most resources. Now, both the strongest competitor and the main loot are in Asia. During World War II, U.S. policymakers wanted to focus their forces on taking down Germany but they also had to cope with Japan out of fear that Tokyo would successfully absorb much of East and Southeast Asia and become a far greater threat than it already was. Today, although Russia lacks the power potential of China and Asia has now more wealth than Europe, with potential hegemons in both Asia and Europe, Washington is forced into a gigantic act of dual containment. Therefore, the same dilemma that plagued the United States eight decades ago plagues the Americans of today. 

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There is no roadblock in the way of improving Sino-US ties

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photo: Tehran Times

According to my long-term observations, the challenge that the US strategic circle has been confronted with in assessing Sino-US ties is: How to comprehend China? What is the best strategy for dealing with China? What is the proper topic for researching Sino-American relations? If they have a more objective perspective of China and a more reasonable understanding of China’s growth, there will be less friction between China and the US, and bilateral ties will develop more smoothly. Otherwise, there will be additional difficulties and twists and turns.

Of course, the United States has no shortage of discerning and young people. Nixon and Kissinger, for example, ventured to question American society, “Should the United States open the door to China?” “Should US-China relations be broken?” They had the “Ice-Melting Theory” because the questions they presented were valid. Despite the fact that diplomatic ties have not yet been established, Nixon has decided to visit China as President of the United States.

Such an accomplishment is still remarkable and admirable. Because the topic they propose is appropriate, their efforts will live on in the annals of history and will be remembered in perpetuity. In truth, the Chinese did not have the present degree of awareness of the United States at the time, and the “Cultural Revolution” had not yet finished. Even if the sign on the edge of the Beijing airport welcoming President Nixon remained “Down with US imperialism.”

Despite the removal of the Beijing Airport tagline, Nixon’s successors have always had a swinging perception of China, whether clear or muddy, straight or crooked, and floating. As a result, Sino-American ties have been bumpy along the road. Because some Americans misunderstood the subject of China studies, the ensuing misconceptions appear to be a black cloud in the sky of Sino-US relations; when the dark cloud appears, the US and China will lose ground in their interactions with China.

The current challenges in Sino-US relations are likewise similar: there are both black clouds of the so-called “China threat theory” and aggressive actions continually unleashed by the US administration, which throws a shadow on US policy toward China while also casting a shade on the US itself. There are several impediments to growth. In truth, the different “evidences” of the so-called “China Threat Theory” are not difficult to understand and do not need profound knowledge or secrets that cannot be made public.

Viewing China’s peaceful development trend honestly and logically is not an insurmountable challenge for Americans. Nixon and Kissinger of the United States strove hard 50 years ago not to “hide from the clouds.” Today, the US likewise has no need to invent a slew of fictitious “reasons for China threats” in order to keep Sino-US ties from improving!

Otherwise, I’m not sure whether future Americans will be able to answer the question, “Who lost China?” However, as the adage goes, “the house leaks and rains,” referring to the ongoing epidemic of the new crown epidemic, which prevents direct face-to-face connection. The hurdles, which include psychological and emotional barriers, have exacerbated the difficulty of removing these black clouds.

Expressions like “I am in you, and you are in me,” “Everything is thriving, and everything is lost,” and “Global Village” are also taught from American scholars, and they reflect true developments in Sino-US ties. As far as I am aware, virtually few researchers over the age of 40 in American academic circles have not been inspired by the thesis of “interdependence.” As a result, they recognize the importance of interdependence and will not turn a blind eye to the breadth and depth of dependency between China and the United States today.

The United States and China’s interdependence today is extensive, multi-layered, and multi-faceted. It is a network structure system that is vertically and horizontally interwoven and coexists peacefully. What exactly is “hehe”? It is designed to meet the demands of both China and the United States. If the difficulties of matching and matching between the two nations via peace and collaboration is unique in history, then the matching and matching accomplished between the two countries after a half-century of hard effort is also exceptional. There are few countries in the world that can be compared to it, and none that can replace it.

To put it another way, the compatibility that China and the US require may be achieved through hard work. Even though China and the United States do not share the same destiny or synergy for the time being, the American people’s everyday lives are nearly inextricably linked to China. Based on this, I’ve understood the truth: the mutual relationship’s ability to shift from danger to safety is due to their interdependence, and no one can abandon others. This is the heart and soul of Sino-American ties. There is no justification for anybody to overlook this basic due to the disagreement between them, let alone dig out the roots and harm the truth!

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. The author has firsthand knowledge of the development process that occurred after the “hard ice” of Sino-US ties was cracked. I’ve witnessed both the flowering spring and the dismal winter that appears to be on its way. Even if “apes on both sides of the strait couldn’t cry,” they can nonetheless show up. Situation in which “the light boat has crossed ten thousand huge mountains.” Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement.

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement. On January 24, 1992, excellent news came out of Chinese diplomacy in the midst of such a “severe winter”: Following a brief conversation with Israel, they agreed to formally establish diplomatic ties without any impediments, based on the strong affinity forged in the history of the Chinese and Jewish peoples. The two countries’ long-awaited wish. The positive news of the creation of diplomatic relations between China and Israel has taken the Jewish world by surprise and has had a significant impact on the inclination of the American media to report on China issues.

There are many Chinese in the United States, and most Chinese expect Sino-US ties to strengthen. Only until Sino-American ties improve will Chinese people have a place and be appreciated in the United States. Foreigners will also consider a person’s “birth background,” which is natural and nothing strange; if the “birth background” is favorable, they will be “admired.” China is also the “birthplace” of Chinese people in the United States. Chinese in the United States have put in a lot of effort and made significant contributions to the establishment of stable and seamless Sino-US ties. This tradition is not only alive and well, but also thriving.

There are a considerable number of Americans who rely on China-related employment, business, and investment, whether in China or the United States. Only until Sino-US ties improve will they be able to focus only on China-related professions, business, and investment, and they despise “McCarthyism.” As a result, they anticipate that Sino-US ties will improve, which is unavoidable.

For example, in July 1990, at the invitation of the “National Committee on U.S.-China Relations,” then-Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji led a delegation of Chinese mayors to the United States, aiming to dispel U.S. government and opposition to China’s reform and opening up through the development of Pudong.

The Sino-US relationship, which was harmed by the late 1980s instability, also sought an agreement from the US Congress to prolong China’s most-favored-nation status. According to Zhu Rongji’s suggestion, Shanghai organized a delegation of scholars led by Ding Xinghao from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Hong Wenda from the Department of Economics at Fudan University, Yao Tinggang from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and Yao Tinggang from the Department of International Politics at Fudan University. Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade’s Zhou Dunren and Zhou Hanmin are made up of five persons.

These five people’s round-trip travel expenditures were not covered at the time. When the National Committee on US-China Relations learned about the situation, they quickly said that they would offer it in its entirety. American friends are very ruthless! At the time, Sino-US ties were exceedingly tense, but China had made many American friends via bilateral exchanges with the US, as well as diplomatic assets for the growth of Sino-US relations. Trusted friends will provide genuine assistance in times of need.

As a result, the Chinese mayor delegation led by Zhu Rongji’s tour to the United States outperformed expectations. Friends such as the “National Committee on US-China Relations” are not only there, but numerous. This decision should be practical and in line with objective reality. Furthermore, the US still has a vast number of international challenges that cannot be managed by one country alone and necessitate China’s assistance. There are still many shared interests between China and the United States that must be pursued in order for individual interests to be realized. There are several elements that benefit both China and the United States. The challenge is how to make the most of these advantageous circumstances. The overarching theme is how to persuade Americans to view China’s peaceful growth trend objectively and rationally.

In sum, their concept of the character of the United States has been constantly painted and has not been in place for a long time. The examination of the character of the United States, on the other hand, differs from the policy of international affairs in the United States. The primary purpose of US strategy is to enable the US to comprehend China objectively and logically. There is still a lot of opportunity for improvement.

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The impact of Biden’s policies on China

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

The main Indications of US policy towards China have begun to become clear, and this policy reflects an American approach based on dialogue, without abandoning the militancy adopted by the administration of former President “Donald Trump”. In this context, the Egyptian researcher will analyze what (the shift in the language of China’s political discourse towards the policy of the new US administration and its impact on the Middle East, and the corresponding Chinese policy determinants). On the other hand, the scholar will shed light on the position of the Middle East countries, especially in the Gulf region, with the intensification of competition between the two major powers.

  The moves of US President Joe Biden’s administration, since he formally took office on January 2021, have focused on building a policy toward China based on alliances. This policy includes:

Trying to coordinate with Washington’s allies to confront China’s foreign policies.

Re-enhancing the influence of the United States in international organizations.

This trend also shows that the determinants of the US administration’s policy towards China are not exclusively related to Washington’s management of bilateral relations with Beijing, as much as they are affected by the management of its relations with other countries as well.

The “Biden administration” stems from a position of weakness in the East Asian region following the isolationist policies of the previous “Trump’s administration”, and the impact of the Corona pandemic.

Chinese officials and analysts have pointed to a crisis (the failure of the Trump administration’s pressure on Japan and South Korea to increase their defense spending).

On the other hand, China’s success in persuading most countries in the region to join the (Regional Comprehensive Economic Agreement) was the biggest blow to American influence.

In mid-March 2021, a “Quad Summit” was held, which brought together the leaders of (the United States, Japan, India, and Australia), and focused on China. The summit showed that “Biden” wanted to expand the scope of cooperation among the group’s members, to include elements of “soft power”, in addition to its military dimension.

We also note the tours of the US Secretary of State, “Anthony Blinken” and the US Defense Minister “Lloyd Austin” to Japan and South Korea as well to coordinate US efforts against China.

Washington has announced the holding of a high-level meeting in Alaska between Secretary of State “Anthony Blinken” and National Security Adviser “Jack Sullivan” on the one hand, and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Communist Party of China “Yang Jiechi” and Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” on the other hand.

On the bilateral level with China, we note that (the Biden administration has adopted a parallel dimension based on a balance between diplomacy in issues on which the two parties agree, and deterrence in controversial files).  The US strategic objective of this approach is to adopt dialogue, but to a lesser degree than the administration of former President “Barack Obama”, in conjunction with maintaining the policy of confrontation, but to a lesser degree than the Trum’s administration.

One of the most important contentious issues that is expected to occupy the agenda of the two countries, and which is witnessing the intensification of competition between them, is “technological competition”. Chinese Professor (Wang Da), Deputy Director of the American Institute at Jilin University in China, analyzes the course of this technological competition between Washington and Beijing, saying:

The United States will continue to adopt a hard policy towards China in certain areas, such as 5G networks, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, but it will reduce the policy of “aggressive detachment in other less sensitive areas”.

We note here the Biden campaign pledge during the US election battle to allocate $300 billion for innovation, and this will be the main driver behind US policy, in parallel with (Washington’s endeavor to undermine China’s capabilities in the field of science and technology).

On the (political level), the Biden administration seems to have no options but to be tough on China. One of the most important strategic goals of President Biden is to end the internal political division.  It is understood from this that adopting a different approach from the Trump administration towards China may deepen the division further, and this complex position for the American administration means that at a time when “the files that might produce consensus between Democrats and Republicans are almost absent”. Here, we can see that the “Chinese threat” appears to be the most important consensual issue on the American political scene at the moment.

American analyzes indicate that between a quarter to a third of men in the United States may lose their jobs by the middle of this century. In addition, the expansion of globalization and the accelerating digitization process caused great pressure on the working class in some crucial states, which are called (Rust Belt states), in which Biden achieved a hard or hard victory in the last presidential elections in the face of his opponent, “Trump”. These are the states of (Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin), which means that this class will determine the outcome of the US presidential election again in 2024.

Based on this complex political equation towards the US tightening policy against China, the Biden administration announced its intention to tighten trade policy with China, with the “Joe Biden administration”, stressing the need to “reconsider the agreement of the first phase of trade negotiations with China and not to rush to lift trade sanctions against it”.

On the (security level), the White House issued guidelines for all US agencies in the month of March 2021, we note that it “mentioned China’s security risk more than 20 times”.

President “Biden” pledged the importance of (strengthening the US military presence in the Indo-Pacific region), and obtaining the support of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia in the face of “China’s hostile practices in the Northeast Asia and the South China Sea”, in addition to the support of NATO,  As essential components of the American alliance against Chinese policies in that region, according to the new American vision.

The US security document also pledged the importance of “strengthening the US partnership with India, Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam and the rest of ASEAN countries” to undermine and besiege China.

In order to undermine and besiege Chinese influence, Washington announced in March 2021 several plans to build (a network of guided and high-precision missiles along the so-called “first island chain”, which constitutes the first strategic defense line for China), and includes mainly “Taiwan and the Philippines”, and as well as several islands disputed between Japan and China.

The Biden’s administration’s tendency to double (media and diplomatic pressures on China in connection with the human rights file in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and with regard to the international investigation of the source of the spread of the Corona virus, as well as the file of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea) was also clearly shown.

On the other hand, there are files around which the views of China and the United States of America converge together, according to the same American vision, and among the files of: (controlling nuclear arms, climate change, and combating epidemics), which are the foundations for points of cooperation between the two sides, as it focused  Biden made his first call with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” in February 2021.

But the main dilemma that will face the “Biden administration” lies in (the different visions of most Southeast Asian countries for the security approach to confront China from the American vision itself), and the inability of the Asian countries allied to Washington to withstand Washington’s strategic pressures to confront Chinese influence, which is mainly supported by policy interactions.  interior in the United States. These mainly Asian countries share a common destiny with China politically, economically, geographically and historically.  Moreover, most do not view US-China relations as a “zero-sum” as in Washington.

  Here, we note from the foregoing, the contradiction of the policies and vision of the American administration with its allies regarding China, and therefore, the United States will have to (invent new formulations in its dealings with each country separately according to its interests), and this is the most important obstacle in Washington’s relations with its allies in dealing with China.

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