Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 12)

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Mitch Blatt in The National Interest on North Korea

Bombs + Dollars editor Mitchell Blatt was published in The National Interest‘s website on U.S.-China relations with regard to North Korea.

Although he put Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments in context, noting that they don’t necessarily mean a vast change in policy, he did say that certain actions the U.S. has already taken, like the deployment of THAAD, and any possible change in policy to be more aggressive, are not acts of provocation but rather responses to growing North Korean provocations.

“But if the Trump administration does up the ante, it will be because proposals to engage in toothless talks with North Korea—like that made this week by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi—have utterly failed, and China hasn’t done its part to try to reign in its rogue frenemy,” he wrote. “Juxtaposed against its vitriolic response to the South Korean deployment of Terminal High Area Altitude Defense, China’s impassive response to multiple North Korean nuclear tests, always predicated on the same “firm opposition” talking point, which makes it look like China hasn’t been taking the threat of a nuclear North seriously.”

He pointed out that China hasn’t been faithfully enforcing some of the sanctions they agreed to against North Korea.

In summary, “As long as North Korea is an out-of-control threat, South Korea will need to take tough actions. China is reaping what it sowed from years of complacency.”

The whole article can be read here: Why China Must Confront North Korea.

The UK’s MoneyWeek also quoted Blatt’s article:

On the contrary, “China has largely itself to blame” if the US now pursues a more militaristic agenda towards North Korea, says Mitchell Blatt in the American magazine The National Interest. Beijing has spent years “turning a blind eye to sanctions violators and keeping the dangerous North Korean regime alive and its leaders well fed”, so it is not surprising that Washington now thinks “enough is enough”. China has also reneged on promises to limit imports of North Korean coal. Overall, “if China wants to avoid instability, then China must take an active role and take responsibility”.

Blatt also has an article about South Korea-China relations coming out in The Korea Times on Tuesday.

John Lee on Korea’s election, North Korea, and why South Korea isn’t “ethnically pure”

John-Lee-copyJohn Lee is the Conservative Columnist at NK News and the writer behind The Korean Foreigner. Born in Brunei to immigrant parents, Lee was educated in English (a legacy of British colonialism) and then went to study in the U.S., before taking up citizenship in his ancestral Korea. As such, he says he feels like “a foreigner in my own country.” I interviewed him about the upcoming Korean elections, policy towards North Korea, Korean politics, and other topics.

Mitchell Blatt: There’s been lots of news about North Korea launching missiles and threatening to test an ICBM that could hit the U.S. South Korea is having elections, and the Trump administration seems to be suggesting that they might take a more aggressive policy towards North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the time for “strategic patience” is over. Do you think that Trump and Tillerson are going in the right direction on this?
John Lee: I don’t think that either Donald Trump or Tillerson are going in any direction regarding North Korea. Just recently they said that all options are still on the table. But that’s the same thing they’ve been saying since the Clinton administration. And anytime you say, ‘All options are on the table,’ what that means is, yeah, we have options, but we haven’t picked one yet. So I think they’re just going with being ‘tough’ on North Korea as far as their rhetoric goes, but I am not convinced that their rhetoric can be backed up by any significant actions.

Blatt: Suppose there was an attempt to go in a new direction. Do you think a new direction is needed?
Lee: If by “new direction,” you mean something more kinetic, then I think that would be a horrible idea. I think deterrence has worked for the past seventy years, and I think it can continue to work. Strong deterrence militarily and economic sanctions, I believe will help contain the situation as much as possible, but something more kinetic would involve a lot of human lives being lost. I think that would be the absolute worst case sanctions.

Blatt: China is talking about trying to open up four party talks. What kind of role does China play in this, and is there any possibility for China to play a bigger role in keeping North Korea in check?
Lee: I think China’s role is more limited than people think it is. It has been proven repeatedly that the North Koreans do not listen to China all that much. China does not want the North Koreans to conduct these missile tests, but they’re conducting them anyway. Recently, because of the unofficial sanctions that the Chinese has imposed on South Korea, China has lost a lot of good will with the South Koreans, too. Four party talks might be enticing for the next progressive government, but I think they will have a hard time juggling the economic interests of China with the military alliance of the United States. The military alliance, as much as they [the progressives] disdain it, is not something that they can just ignore. It would just be irresponsible.

Blatt: One of the big sticking points there is THAAD, and most of the Minjoo Party candidates over the past year have opposed it, but now they seem to be shifting their positions. Do you think in the end, they are going to—if not support THAAD—support the status quo, which is the deployment of THAAD?

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Trump’s North Korea policy causes Trump to withdraw campaign pledges

If Donald Trump wants to turn the heat up on North Korea and China, as recent statements by himself and his administration leaders suggest, then he’s going to have to fail to implement many of his campaign promises.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on his visit to Seoul,”Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of security and diplomatic measures. All options are on the table.” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley two weeks ago said there was no time for talks, which she doesn’t expect would go anywhere, with North Korea.

Trump weighed in on Twitter: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been “playing” the United States for years. China has done little to help!”

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The implications of Park’s removal from office for Korea

Korean president Park Geun-hye was officially removed from office this morning, Korea time, three months after she was impeached in a bribery scandal. New elections are scheduled for before May 9. The opposition is almost certainly going to win–either the Minjoo Party, which is currently the plurality in the legislature, or the People’s Party. Moon Jae-in is the frontrunner for the Minjoo Party nomination and thus probably the frontrunner for the presidency.

Korean parties fuse and change and rebrand all the time, so of course Park’s Saenuri party has already rechristened itself the Liberty Korea Party. It stands little to no chance. In the last poll released before Park’s impeachment, Park’s approval rating was 5 percent, and the Saenuri/LKP’s support dropped from 34 percent in November 2016 to 12 percent in January 2017.

What this means for the future of THAAD’s deployment is uncertain. (Maitra: THAAD deployment will not soothe Korean tensions.) The Korean opposition had opposed THAAD for the past year, but in January both Moon and People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo expressed that they might be reconsidering their opposition on the basis that it would hurt U.S. relations to retreat from a decision that was already made (by Park’s administration).

Bombs + Dollars will have more coverage of Korea and its elections over the next weeks and months from editor Mitch Blatt, who is on the ground here. For now, enjoy this article I wrote for my travel blog, which explains some of the divides in Korean politics and society: Why some Koreans are still supporting Park Geun-hye at a March 1 Independence Day rally.

And enjoy these photos from the scene of the celebration by Park’s opposition:
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Your weekend long reads, Sweden, Migrants, Trump and Russia

Some of you must remember Swedish foreign minister trolling Donald Trump’s all male lineup during a signature of a bill cutting random funding to NGOs providing abortion worldwide. That act alone doesn’t tell us anything, it might be very well a part of America First and cutting additional expenditure. Boy, the reaction was swift. The Dutch started a fund to compensate the American funding cut, prompting the question, what were they waiting for so long? Also, shouldn’t they be spending the money in NATO? But never mind. Let’s stick to Sweden. When the Swedish FM penned an opus in Guardian, named “What Donald Trump could learn from the Feminist government of Sweden“, punching questions like, “The question remains: who should decide over a woman’s body, if not herself?” (Or Iranian mullahs maybe), irony died laughing clearly. In other news, Swedish Secretariat of Gender Studies, an organisation as notorious as the Soviet politburo in their promotion of unscientific dogma, called for an academic boycott of US. I personally think the yanks dodged a bullet there. The Swedish gender research is a laughing stock in mainstream academic community, and is essentially unverifiable, unfalsifiable dross anyway.

My critique on the myth of Sweden’s Feminist foreign policy as well as my book review of Professor Tom Nichols’ “The Death of Expertise” is out in Quillette. Read them here.

Also, my first piece for “The Conversation” on threat inflating Russia came out recently. I try to provide some realism and nuance amidst the ongoing hysteria.

 

 

 

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Will Trump change US-Russia relation?

I was interviewed by Radio Sputnik, Moscow, yesterday. 

The audio clip is not very good, but I am attaching it here

The transcript is below.

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Source: Google Public Data Explorer

Tariffs are falling everywhere but in America — 12 charts to explain the economy

Economic charts to explain some aspects of Trump’s economic policy.

Donald Trump has proposed a 20 percent tariff to pay for his proposed barrier on the border with Mexico. During the campaign, he often proposed raising tariffs on China up to 40 percent and renegotiating or leaving trade deals. Among his first executive orders was one to call for “renegotiating” NAFTA and leaving the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Trump’s argument for doing so rests on the case that America imports a lot of goods and thus has a high trade deficit and that he and some of the economists he has surrounded himself with, such as Peter Navarro, believe that America’s trade deficit is causing manufacturing jobs to be lost to countries with low wages, like China.

Trump is right that the U.S. has a high trade deficit, though he often espouses false and exaggerated numbers. In one debate he said the U.S. had an $800 billion trade deficit. In fact, the U.S. had a $484 billion trade deficit (deficit in current account balance) in 2015. Canada and Mexico were also among the top seven.

However, the United States also has the largest economy in the world. America’s trade deficit is nearly the same as that of Canada and Mexico as a percentage of GDP. Indeed, according to the IMF, the three countries rank consecutively.

Tariffs around the world have been falling for years as countries embrace free trade. While Mexico’s average tariffs remains higher and more volatile than Canada’s or America’s, it has fallen since 1990.

Source: Google Data Explorer

Source: Google Data Explorer

Tariffs in important Asian countries have fallen “bigly.” China’s average tariff fell from over 30% in 1992 to less than 5% by 2014. When China joined the WTO in 2001, its tariff fell from close to 15% to 10% the next year.

Source: Google Public Data Explorer

Source: Google Public Data Explorer

Along with a decrease in tariffs, major Asian countries have also seen increases in imports.

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Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

At China.org.cn, I analyze Trump’s foreign policy and why it doesn’t fit into traditional frames of reference:

The discourse over whether Donald Trump is “anti-interventionist” or a militant warmonger is misguided. Trump is neither, and yet he’s also both. Indeed, he has put forward arguments — contradictory as this may sound — for both ways of thinking.

The media and ideological analysts like narratives, and this has led them to seek to place Trump in one or other ideological camp. For instance, after he made noises that suggested he favored isolationism, many Americans on that side of the political spectrum considered Trump as one of their own.

A cohort of academics involved in international relations studies, including Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University, argued that Trump’s self-proclaimed anti-interventionism should be understood as “realism;” meanwhile, most respected realist scholars, such as Harvard’s Steven Walt, argued Trump wasn’t a realist at all.

The latest shot in the academic debate comes from George Washington University professor Henry Nau, who argued in The American Interest, just in time for Trump’s inauguration, that his traditional nationalism represents a dire threat to the longstanding American policy of “nationalism of internationalism,” which Nau defines as “intervention abroad to defend democratic allies, defeat terrorism, and trade freely.”

Embedded in his argument, however, some assumptions, derived from the view that Trump is an isolationist, simply don’t stand up to scrutiny. America will fall apart, Nau argues, if it reverts to “fighting terrorism at home because the United States is no longer willing to fight it on the ground abroad.” (“Fighting terrorism abroad” so Americans don’t have to face it at home is a neo-conservative argument for sending troops to Iraq or Afghanistan to fight ISIS, al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups).

It’s a misnomer, however, that Trump doesn’t want to send American troops abroad to fight terrorist and insurgent groups. After all, he’s repeatedly said he wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS in Syria. In March, he even paid lip-service to the need to send in up to 30,000 ground troops.

Read my full article: Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist

Trump applies the lessons of Iraq backwards

The false choice between “intervention” and “restraint”

A survey by the Charles Koch Institute and the Center for the National Interest is being touted as showing Americans want “restraint” in their foreign policy. According to the write up, 52 percent believe that U.S. foreign policy has made America less safe over the past 15 years, and twice as many want the U.S. to pull troops out of Europe compared to those who want to increase troop levels. (60 percent chose to keep troop levels the same or had no opinion.) Daniel DePetris a fellow at Defense Priorities, an organization that advocates for a “more prudent, restrained foreign policy that assesses the world as it exists,” writes this means “Americans want restraint.”

His view is supported by a growing trend towards anti-interventionist sentiment amongst Americans over the years, illustrated in Donald Trump’s campaign promises to renegotiate trade deals and demand changes to America’s defense treaty obligations with his allies, and playing down the threat of Russia—even to the point of denying that Russia hacked into the DNC’s and Hillary Clinton’s servers (while saying on the trail that Russia should hack Hillary’s server).

There’s one narrative about Barack Obama’s presidency that he intervened in too many countries—causing Libya to become destabilized, fueling war in Syria, and inflaming relations with Russia.

On the other hand, there’s another opposite narrative about Obama that Obama wasn’t interventionist enough. By staying out of Syria, ignoring ISIS until it was too late, and failing to see the threat of Russia (remember he would have more “flexibility” in dealing with Russia after his reelection, he told Dmitry Medvedev), he projected “weakness” and emboldened America’s enemies.

Donald Trump buys into both narratives. Even as Trump has put Article 5 defense of NATO allies into question, he has also called for “bombing the shit” out of ISIS in Syria and invading to steal Iraq and Syria’s oil. Barack Obama smartly didn’t send large numbers of ground troops to Syria or Iraq to get stuck in another quagmire. Trump has said about sending troops, “We really have no choice. … I would listen to the generals, but I’m hearing numbers of 20,000 to 30,000.”

The lesson in Iraq should be that wars in unstable Middle Eastern countries are rarely quick and easy. Trump has apparently not learned that lesson. Instead, he appears to buy into into the argument that Obama was “weak” for either not overthrowing Assad or not taking on ISIS with a ground war.

A related lesson should be to not overreact to terrorist attacks. For all the attention to ISIS, there have been no attacks directed by ISIS in the United States and only five attacks inspired by ISIS between October 2015 and July 2016, resulting in 53 of the more than 16,000 murder that occur in the country every year. The amount of Americans who would be killed directly in battle and indirectly as a result of massive American war in Syria could easily exceed the number killed by terrorism each year by many factors.

On the other hand, Trump takes the critique of Iraq and applies a broad “anti-interventionist” messages to parts of the world that are comparatively safe—namely Europe and Northeast Asia. Because Russia isn’t invading Poland, we should pull back from NATO. But America’s commitment to NATO hasn’t cost the U.S. anywhere near as much as its previous attempts to bomb the shit out of the Middle East and destroy terrorism have. NATO expansion, I have argued, unnecessarily lead to Russia feeling antagonized, and NATO countries could contribute more, but that implies reforms, not scraping the project. Trump’s plan amounts to pulling down your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.

The American public is fickle and poll questions are not made for capturing nuance. Politicians will use any kind of argument they can think of to hit the other party; hence Republican House Majority Leader Paul Ryan praising Obama’s Russia sanctions while slamming him for doing too little, too late—while ignoring that his party’s leader wants even less to be done. The solution, then, isn’t a false choice between “intervention” and “restraint” but a smarter foreign policy. Trump, as it stands, espouses the wrong answers for both sides of the equation.

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Don’t listen to the false prophets of humanitarianism

Must be hearing how Middle East civil wars are exactly like Jews being persecuted by Nazis in Europe during the 1930s?

I wrote on Quillette, why that is a lie. An excerpt.

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Read the whole thing here.

 

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