Posts Tagged Asia-Pacific
Considering the way Diplomacy is being handled by the Trump Regime, its easy to understand why the rest of the world seems to view the goings on at the White House as being somewhat haphazard, at best. America presents itself to the world through its diplomacy, starting with the President and his State Department. With Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; however, its more or less: Here we are!
Prior to January, Secretary Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon-Mobil. And, If his heart is not still back in the Oil Patch, it’s certainly not into diplomacy! In Donald Trump’s original budget proposal, he had intended to slash the State Department by 31%, and Tillerson didn’t raise Holy Hell! Such acquiescence doesn’t show the leadership that one would expect from a former Captain of Industry—let alone from our Nation’s Top Diplomat!
The most vexing problem with America’s Foreign Policy today centers on the mis-handling of the situation in North Korea. Presidents Xi Jinping, of China, and Vladimir Putin, of Russia, appear more “presidential” than Mr. Trump, in that they have a better grasp of the overall situation. The potential implications of each participating nation’s actions must clearly be considered. But with Trump and Tillerson, the potential explosiveness of the Korean Peninsula seems to be disregarded.
Most importantly, America needs to speak with one voice, preferably that of an experienced diplomat, who can assume ownership of the problem in order to arrive at a peaceful solution. The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is much too important not to give it our complete and undivided attention!
Over the past five months, the Trump Regime has been alternating one person after another, to speak for the U. S; but, without any one person with experience to assume the overall responsibility. And, spurious comments and Tweets by Donald Trump have only escalated the problem to a whole new level.
In his book, “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the brink of nuclear war,” Michael Dobbs corrected the general presumption that Kennedy and Khrushchev were engaged in a cat and mouse game during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Since his book was only published in 2008, however, Dobbs had access to previously unavailable documents from all three nations.
As it turned out, both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev realized, once they had deployed their respective military forces, that they couldn’t insure that the stand-off wouldn’t escalate into a potential nuclear Armageddon. Luckily, the two rational leaders avoided such a possibility! Castro, on the other hand, preached Death with Honor!
Where is our capable diplomat, who can assess the actual intent of North Korea’s original communique, which stated that it would only fire missiles “near Guam,” and there was no threat of a nuclear weapon? A single capable and dedicated envoy would have attempted to interpret what that message really meant! Surely, Kim Jong-Un knew that, if he targets the U. S. or an ally, North Korea would be totally annihilated. Also, if Kim was truly seriously about striking America, wouldn’t he have targeted, let’s say, San Francisco, Seattle or, at least, Honolulu?
America needs a diplomat—a real one—to take charge of solving this problem, and see it through to a final solution. Ignorant comments about “locked and loaded,” and threatening to impede the North’s energy supplies—especially with the harsh North Korean winter approaching—would just lead to mass disruption on the Peninsula. We need that experienced envoy now—to engage with North Korea, along with all interested parties.
As President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev realized: No one wins when we all lose!
CONSIDERING WHAT KIM JONG-UN’S ACTUAL MESSAGE WAS, THE CURRENT DANGEROUS SITUATION MIGHT BE MORE ABOUT TRUMP, THAN NORTH KOREA!
Unfortunately, as American media coverage seems to be stuck in the All-Trump, All Day mode, perhaps we may be jumping to conclusions—fearing that long advertised Nuclear War? That’s the problem with escalating emotions: rational thought can be overlooked. Perhaps, Kim Jong-Un, however, might be the saner man!
North Korea did not boast that it would actually target Guam, nor was a nuclear missile threatened! According to CNN, “North Korean plan(s) to fire four missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam.” It might just be verifying its range capability, are there are still questions about the veracity of its warhead miniaturization efforts! Consider the North’s past missile launches.
On prior occasions, launches have been mostly into the Sea of Japan, between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Following the most recent launch, Japan said thai it might have landed in it’s waters. Territorial infringement aside; however, North Korea hasn’t hit anything, as yet! Does Kim expect to do so with Guam? Maybe, maybe not! Also, let’s not overlook the North’s recent release of a Canadian prisoner as, perhaps, a sign of peace!
If Mr. Kim did target the island of Guam, North Korea would certainly be bombed, in return—perhaps even the capital of Pyongyang! But, why would Kim risk that? Maybe he’s just an irrational dictator, of a country that has been isolated by the World Community, and wants some recognition for assumedly joining the Nuclear Arms Club!
Let’s suppose, for a moment, that Kim Jong-Un did intend to launch a nuclear missile, and that he realizes that the overwhelming retaliation would annihilate his nation. Why wouldn’t he strike San Francisco, Seattle or, perhaps, Honolulu, instead of Guam?
If Trump ramps-up our Nuclear Arsenal, as he has suggested, what does he think China and Russia will be doing? In the end, Donald seems to be brandishing his childish image of a Tough Guy, as he looks for more and more places to send young Americans “In(to) Harm’s Way!” But this time, he might be endangering the entire World!
NOTE: The U. S. is already bombing insurgents in southwest Philippines, and today he also threatened military attack on Venezuela.
“What Trump should know about the Cuban Missile Crisis”, By Michael Hobbs August 9, The Washington Post
Michael Dobbs is the author of “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.”
Hearing President Trump threatening to bring “fire and fury” down on North Korea because of its nuclear defiance reminded me of an incident during the Cuban missile crisis. The State Department had gotten slightly ahead of the White House by mentioning the possibility of “further action” by Washington — and President John F. Kennedy was irate.
He called State Department spokesman Lincoln White to reprimand him personally and to stress the need to coordinate and calibrate all public statements. Otherwise, an already dangerous crisis could escalate uncontrollably. “We got to get this under control, Linc,” he fumed. “You have to be goddamn careful!”
Studying the 1962 nuclear showdown for my book “One Minute to Midnight,” I concluded that the real risk of war arose not from the conscious designs of Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev or even Fidel Castro. It stemmed from the possibility that the opposing sides could trigger a nuclear conflict that nobody wanted through miscommunication and freak accidents, which became increasingly likely at higher levels of military alert. The same is almost certainly true of the present crisis with North Korea.
The nightmare of an accidental nuclear war was very much on Kennedy’s mind during the “13 days” when the world came closer than ever before, or since, to blowing itself up. He had recently read a book by historian Barbara Tuchman, “The Guns of August,” that described how a previous generation of statesmen had blundered into World War I, with nobody really understanding why. Kennedy was determined to avoid a similar chain of unpredictable events involving atomic weapons.
For a student of the Cuban missile crisis, the fact that our current Twitter-happy commander in chief is surrounded by sensible, highly competent generals is only partly reassuring. The missile crisis showed that there are some decisions that only a president can make. There were times when JFK was in a minority of one in the Excomm, the committee set up to manage the crisis, in his willingness to compromise with Khrushchev. Only the president had the overarching sense of history to consider the interests of future generations of Americans, and ultimately all of humanity.
As is no doubt the case today, the generals assued Kennedy in October 1962 that the United States enjoyed overwhelming nuclear superiority over its adversary and could easily wipe the Soviet Union off the map. But this did not comfort the president, who asked the obvious question: How many Americans would die if just one Soviet missile landed on U.S. soil? The answer was 600,000.
“That’s the total number of casualties in the Civil War,” JFK exploded. “And we haven’t got over that in a hundred years.” He later acknowledged that the 24 intermediate-range Soviet missiles in Cuba constituted “a substantial deterrent to me.”
Given the explosive rhetoric of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, it is understandable that President Trump should be tempted to respond in kind. Classic game theory teaches us that you can gain an advantage over your opponent if you can convince him that you are madder than he is. In the game of chicken, with two cars heading for a frontal collision, the driver who swerves out of the way first loses.
During the Cuban missile crisis, the “crazy man” role was played to perfection by Castro, the only leading actor who was seriously prepared to risk a nuclear war. Patria o muerte — “fatherland or death” — was, after all, the slogan of the Cuban revolution. Asuming the role of madman has always been part of the arsenal of the weak against the strong, whether in the case of Cuba or North Korea or the Islamic State. It gives the weaker player an advantage it would not otherwise have.
Playing chicken is, however, a dangerous indulgence for the leader of a nuclear superpower. During the 1962 crisis, the two “rational” players — Kennedy and Khrushchev — ended up making common cause against the “madman” Castro. Despite everything that divided them, they had a sneaking sympathy for each other, an idea expressed most poignantly by Jackie Kennedy in a handwritten letter to the Soviet leader following her husband’s assassination.
“You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in a determination that the world should not be blown up,” she wrote Khrushchev. “The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones. While big men know the needs for self-control and restraint, little men are sometimes moved more by fear and pride.”
As President Trump girds for a possible nuclear confrontation with North Korea, we can only hope that he will prove to be a big man rather than a little one. Out-crazying Kim Jong Un is a scary proposition. Game theory also teaches us that, if neither driver swerves, everybody goes up in flames.
AS AMERICA SEEMS TO HAVE SHIFTED AWAY FROM ASIA-PACIFIC, CHINA FILLS THE VOID—BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS, INFRASTRUCTURE AND ENHANCING ITS ENERGY SECURITY
The U. S. role in the Asia-Pacific Region has been cooling over the past couple of years, and Donald Trump’s announced exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has accelerated that process. Trade and Defense Alliances go hand-in-hand! So, if we exit, that means that the U. S. would basically be handing-over the leadership role in the TPP to China, which had previously been excluded.
China has established a $1 trillion global infrastructure campaign, called “One Belt, One Road”, to help nations of strategic interest, thereby building partnerships. In the initial stages, that initiative seems to be focused primarily on Southeast Asian nations. It’s short and long-term strategic interests seem to be Energy Security and Control of the Regional Seaways, respectively!
Currently, China imports 85% of its crude oil from the Persian Gulf, and it must past through the Malacca Strait—between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore—as does its other imports. In a prior post, I had already described the importance of that major “choke-point”, since 50% of all global sea commerce passes through that narrow strait.
In wooing many of America’s friends in the region, with its One Belt. One Road initiative, China has directed its attention first on Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Additionally, it has seaports under construction in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and is awaiting approval of one in Bangladesh. The location of all three of these projects, around the Indian Subcontinent, might be of long-term strategic importance; since, India is considered by some experts to be the rising power in the Region.
No country is as important to China, however, than is Myanmar, which was formerly known as Burma. Myanmar is nestled between India and China, and has an open seafront. Chinese President Xi Jinping is building a seaport in Myanmar, which would provide an oil terminal to connect the pipeline, which China already has under construction. That pipeline would avoid the Malacca Strait and insure China’s energy security.
NOTE: The linked article from the NY Times describes China’s efforts to woo Myanmar, as well as build partnerships with other nations in the Asia-Pacific Region.
AMERICA NEEDS TO MAINTAIN A LEADERSHIP ROLE IN SOUTHEAST ASIA—TRADE-WISE AND MILITARILY—TO KEEP THE SEA LANES OPEN AND FREE!
In my last post, I made several points, which I wish to clarify, and enhance. The U. S. should: shift its focus to the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans, rather than the Atlantic; remain in the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and avoid local, internecine military engagements. Let me explain why each of those points are still appropriate.
Russia, with its economy in a shambles, will not be able to continue funding an aggressive military, while providing the domestic programs that its people need. The Eurasian Economic Union, of former Soviet satellites, adds nothing whatsoever to its global strength. Also, its primary external target, Europe, is integrated militarily, and geographically concentrated.
China, on the other hand, is on the ascent, both economically and militarily. Although it’s economy is currently showing its growing pains, it is still projected to surpass that of the U. S., within the next decade or two. Also, China’s economy further benefits from its location in the moist dynamic, fastest-growing Region on earth. The growth of the Chinese Navy seems to be a major element of its military growth, since any engagements in Asia-Pacific would be mostly naval battles
While China’s Military Budget pales when compared to that of the U. S., it is more concentrated. It is primarily focused, first, in Southeast Asia, and then second, in the the Asia-Pacific Region. It doesn’t patrol all the oceans of the world, as the American Navy does, and therefore, it isn’t diluting itself by acting as the Traffic Cop to the World, We need our allies to step-up, and share the load—financially and militarily.
Let’s narrow the focus, from the two-ocean WorldAtlas map, to one of the Southeast China Sea (Middleburg-SCS map). The Strait of Malacca lies between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (just left of word “INDONESIA”, north-left of Australia), and it is a major choke-point, through which 50% of all global sea commerce passes, as well as 85% of China’s crude oil. Also, as might be imagined, control of that one location—11 miles across, at its narrowest point, near Singapore—is of strategic importance.
More and more, Energy Security is of primary concern for most nations. And, as China’s military power increases, the nations of Southeast Asia are concerned for several reasons. China has been building “islands” in the middle of the Southeast China Sea, while citing historical claims, which have no relationship to any coastal shelf, or any other geological proof. These claims might be used to take possession of valuable oil and mineral rights, as well as vital fisheries. Also, there is concern that China might use them for military purposes, or to block vital waterways—such as The Strait!
Several of the Southeast Asian nations invite U. S. ships to visit their major ports frequently, and they have even upgraded their ports to accommodate them. Realistically, however, they realize that America is half a world away. They should transform ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) into a mutual defense pact, patterned after NATO, but with an Asian character. They are all upgrading their military; but, properly coordinated, their might be strength in numbers—if they are integrated.
As China continues to grow its military—both in size and technological capacity—it might begin to become more offensive in asserting its alleged rights and, perhaps, even enforcing them militarily. Even though the U. S. currently has a larger Defense Budget—and a larger Navy—we might still lose the advantage. That’s because China’s somewhat smaller Military would have the geographic advantage. This is why we need to remain engaged; not only in a military capacity, but in trade and diplomatic involvement, as well. We also need all of our allies to meet their Defense Funding Obligations.
LEAVING THE TPP IS DUMB! CHINA WOULD JOIN, ASSUME THE LEADERSHIP ROLE, AND EVENTUALLY CONTROL THE REGION’S SEA LANES.
Prior to the formation of the European Common Market, which grew into the current 28-member European Union, there were intra-continental wars—neighbor against neighbor—in Europe, every twenty years or so. In the 70 years since World War II, after which the E. U. was formed; however, there haven’t been any wars on the Continent. Familiarity and economic cooperation breeds peaceful coexistence!
The twelve-member Trans-Pacific Partnership would have included members from both sides of the ocean, and from four continents. Due to the huge size of the U. S. Economy—and the exclusion of China—America would, most certainly, have held a leadership role. With the formation of this trade pact, it could evolve somewhat along the lines of the E. U., but with its own Asia-Pacific character.
Now, let’s consider TPP as a military strategy. China and Russia are the American Military’s two main adversaries. Global powers require two characteristics: a strong military; and a large, growing economy. The importance of the economy, in projecting global power, is two-fold: domestic needs must be met in order to prevent political turbulence, back at home; and a strong economy is necessary to finance a large, technologically-powerful military.
China’s economy is second only to that of the U. S., and it is growing, although it has recently shown the normal growing pains of a young economy. It also has the additional advantage of being located in the most dynamic, fastest-growing region of the world! Although its defense budget lags that of the U. S. in total size, it has been continuing to
accelerate its spending to strengthen its military–both in size and technologically..
Russia, on the other hand, appears to be stymied. It’s poorly diversified economy, was decimated by the economic sanctions of the Atlantic Alliance, and the 50% decline in global oil prices, which accounts for 70% of Russia’s hard currency. Geopolitically, it has entangled itself in local wars, both in Eastern Ukraine and, more recently, in Syria. Lastly, it seems to have been rebuffed in its plan to break-up the E. U., by decimating fake news and hacking the political polls in various European National Elections.
With three-quarters of the world covered by seas, and the global landmass already set, at least for the most part, President Obama’s idea of the Asian Pivot was an important one. In fact, he personally preferred the term: “Indio-Pacific Pivot.” With Russia apparently in somewhat of a decline, the U. S. needs to change the focus from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to the Indian and the Western Pacific. In fact, three-quarters of the American Navy was deployed in that Region when he left office.
In my next post, I will add more detail as to why the shift in focus, from the Atlantic and Pacific, to the Indian and Western Pacific. Just consider where the current global hot spots are: the Horn of Africa; the Arabian Peninsula; the Persian Plateau; the Subcontinent of India; the South China Sea; Taiwan (Republic of China) and the Korean Peninsula. This area also has the two choke-points through which global sea commerce passes: the Strait of Hormuz (40% of global crude oil), between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Strait of Malacca (50% of all global sea commerce, and 85% of China’s oil), between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
Parts of this region, mostly toward the South China Sea are very dynamic, both intellectually and economically, while others, more toward East Asia (left on the WorldAtlas Map), are not advancing either intellectually or economically. Many analyst predict that the future will be one of the two Asian Giants—China and India—confronting each other in their quest for Oil Security.
NOTE: Welcome to my readers from the Republic of China, A/K/A Taiwan!
Who can be certain that North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, can restrain himself from escalating the current tension with the United States? But then, can we trust Donald Trump to attempt a peaceful solution either? Each man has lived his whole life in a privileged environment, is conceited, and appears to love the exhilaration of power. Also, both have surrounded themselves with loyal Yes-Men!
Given Donald Trump’s recent outlandish attacks on Syria and Afghanistan—both of which were unconstitutional, and violations of the UN Charter—I am concerned that, he believes he’s on a roll! A very dangerous one, at that! China, on the other hand, has appealed to both sides to show restraint, and it has reportedly cut-off coal shipments to North Korea. I can only believe that it is a sorry state of affairs when I can take more comfort in what Chinese President Xi Jinping might do, as compared to our own “Fearless Leader”.
The Korean Peninsula is a dangerous region, at present. The Kim Dynasty has purposely kept anyone, but the Kim line, from leading the country. And yet, some sort of re-unification of the Two Koreas—similar to Germany in 1990—would never work. The Soviet Union had collapsed by then; so, the German re-unification was successful.
China doesn’t wish to assume responsibility for a failed North Korea, if it were to invade it. Similarly, I doubt that some sort of U. S. military attack on the North would work either, since Mr. Kim just might begin firing missiles. Also, President Xi doesn’t wish to become America’s next door neighbor, nor should we want that. either. But, the Trump Regime doesn’t plan ahead for such contingencies.
China is North Korea’s only source of (mostly) humanitarian goods; but, it has recently stopped the shipment of coal. Food and medicine can hardly be denied to the North Korean People. The American deployment of a Carrier Task Force, led by the USS Carl Vincent, accompanied by three guided missile destroyers and support ships, hardly diffuses the situation—especially given Mr. Kim’s apparent instability. So, what is the solution?
Expecting rational thoughts or actions from someone, like Supreme Leader Kim, whose very being is treated as godlike, is hard to comprehend. He doesn’t seem to be especially concerned about his People, since they are barely given a semblance of human needs as it is. I firmly believe that, if Kim were asked the proverbial Guns vs Butter question—the balance between Military vs Consumer needs—Mr. Kim would surely respond: Butter?
Although I have no experience in National Security, there are several things that I would suggest: stop the shipments of military supplies; deny North Korea access to all manufacturing equipment and supplies; and also eliminate the import of any luxury supplies, which Mr. Kim and the privileged class receive from somewhere. And then, surround the Korean Peninsula with a U. N. flotilla, plus aircraft, including AWACS!
The blockade armada could be deployed under a U. N. Resolution. Besides acting as a blockade against all incoming supplies, other than humanitarian necessities. The global armada would also eliminate any rational “Fields of Fire”, for North Korean missiles. Lastly, have the Chinese Navy, as a North Korean Ally, take the lead, in order to provide additional buy-in from Mr. Kim.
NOTE: Since this action would be under a U. N. Resolution, Congressional Approval of U. S. participation should be easily approved.
NOTE #2: Welcome to my visitors from Israel and Trinidad & Tobago, and of course the U. S.
NOTE #3: WHOOPS! It now appears that the Carrier Task Group had not been deployed to the Sea of Japan, as the White House first announced. Rather, it had been deployed into the Indian Ocean, for joint naval exercises with the Australian Navy. The ships are, however, now headed in the right direction–the Korean Peninsula, some 3,500 miles away.
A more in-depth description this last Trump Regime misadventure, is provided by a NY Times article