YL Blog #54 – Space’s Role in Deterring Conflict

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Deterrence is a cornerstone of U.S. defense policy. This makes the costs of an action against the United States’ interests far outweigh the adversary’s perceived benefits, saves lives, and allows our senior officials to focus their resources on other issues. However, in the age of the second Space Race, the role of satellites, ground systems, and networks in deterring conflict has become an important debate. Can these systems help prevent conflict? If so, what is their role?

Sending a Message

During the 5th Annual Workshop on Space and U.S. Defense Strategy at the Center for Global Security Research within the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a common refrain regarding deterrence focused on the message. What type of message do we want to convey? How can we say it correctly and accurately? How do we know our message was received as intended? When considering deterrence, messaging is a necessity.

First, the message must be truthful and transparent, without revealing unnecessary information, to generate the desired effect. In the days leading up to then-Speaker Pelosi’s planned trip to Taiwan, China threatened to retaliate in response.[1] Their intended effect was to deter her visit to the island. China was truthful since they retaliated; however, their message failed to generate the desired response. Then-Speaker Pelosi’s view of the benefits of her visit outweighed any risk of retaliation. However, in executing their message via military exercises, China offered up a wealth of unnecessary information regarding tactics and maneuvers they would take during a potential blockade of Taiwan.

Second, the message must demonstrate a believable cost imposition, thus frustrating an adversary’s theory of success. U.S. naval deployments worldwide are an example of a believable cost imposition. For example, the United States will send a carrier to a region as a show of force as tensions increase. An aircraft carrier conveys that taking the action could yield a swift response to counter, resulting in the adversary failing to achieve their intended goals.

Lastly, the message must be coherent. In the months leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, messaging was not unified between the United States and Ukraine. The U.S. was warning, using data from commercial and government satellites, about a Russian military buildup.[2] Ukraine was trying to counter that message to prevent fear and panic from setting in. Another example of confusing messaging is within the United States’ divided government. While the President is trying to secure aid for Ukraine, the Speaker of the House vehemently opposes sending more aid. This disagreement allows an adversary to take advantage of the incoherent messaging regarding the support for Ukraine, allowing doubt regarding support to sow among partners and allies.

Using Space Assets for Deterrence

Like messaging, the art of deterrence starts with four questions: who do you want to deter? What actions do you want to discourage? What means do you have? How will you use those means? This framework allows a strategist to devise a plan, whether in defense, diplomacy, or business. The plan to achieve deterrence must make the cost of the opposing decision-maker’s intended action unacceptable or frustrate their theory of success. This section will focus on potential adversarial actions and the means to deter them with space assets.

First, to answer the initial question posed at the start of this article, the space community has limited means to deter unfavorable actions. There are two types of assets to consider in deterrence: space and counterspace. Space is the space vehicles, their ground systems, and the networks transferring data to support operations. Counterspace, a sub-category, focuses on preventing the use of satellites or adjoining systems. Both can impose a cost on an adversary in different ways, though the question that needs to be asked is, “Is this a precedent we want to start?”

Space Assets

Starting with space assets, if an adversary uses commercial remote sensing data to act against U.S. interests, then an option to try to deter them is to prevent the sale of that data or require the provider to send degraded data. However, this does not impose a prohibitive cost. Numerous remote sensing data providers may be willing to sell that information today. A policy requiring degraded data for any actor could reduce global consumer confidence in U.S. providers. Like selective availability with GPS, it will lead other users to find or build alternative sources. Considering this scenario’s 2nd and 3rd order effects, the U.S. would harm its industry and erode its role as a global leader in space through this act.

Additionally, unlike the deployment of carriers—a known symbol of United States power projection—satellites observing overhead do not invoke the same thoughts or potential cost impositions on an adversary. While they are crucial to aiding our decision-makers in times of potential crisis, adversaries may not consider exposure to be enough of a cost to reconsider their actions. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, was not deterred from starting his war by U.S. commercial and government satellite images showing his military buildup.


Another area of deterrence in this field that is more traditional is counterspace. These weapons tend to fall into a few categories but have effects that can deter action. [3] The most visible are anti-satellite missiles. China, India, and Russia have tested these types of weapons in the past 20 years. These tests aimed to deter countries like the United States—with a heavy reliance on space for quality-of-life, economic, and military purposes—from putting those assets at risk. Those tests sent a message, resulting in the DoD focusing on making more resilient space systems and other countries denouncing them as dangerous for future space activity.[4] However, this differs from the message those countries wanted to convey, thus hurting the deterrence effect they wanted.

Counterspace can also lean toward targeting commercial space assets as a means of deterrence. Early in 2022, a cyber-attack from within Ukraine hit one of ViaSat’s broadband services satellites, resulting in thousands of active customers in the region losing services.[5] Using a cyber-attack against a commercial provider may deter them from providing services in a region with no other options. Russia’s ViaSat attack, for example, possibly had a deterrence effect on Elon Musk last year when he refused the use of Starlink during a Ukrainian military operation.[6] Pointedly, Russia announced weeks after they would consider commercial satellites a target if they were involved in the Ukraine war.


Space does have a role in increasing the costs and risks of an adversary’s action. Early on, satellite systems can provide information to build a message and enhance negotiation positions to convince an adversary that their actions will not be tolerated. However, this has limited deterrence value so additional assets might be necessary to achieve an effect. Counterspace weapons, on the other hand, provide a concrete threat that can impose a cost if expertly deployed and frustrate the decision-maker’s theory for success. As countries advance in this second Space Race, no single country has supremacy in orbit anymore. Policymakers must change how they view the use of space assets to deter adversaries and the level of risk they are willing to accept when an adversary threatens those assets. Only after can a proper, coherent message be developed and assets be appropriately utilized in a deterrence plan.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization or the United States Government.

Alex Schiller is a threat model, simulation, and analysis program manager at Space Systems Command and the author of the Indo-Pac Security Chat blog.

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/02/politics/nancy-pelosi-visit-taipei-taiwan-trip/index.html

[2] https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/01/satellite-russia-ukraine-military-518337

[3] For more information, please check out this article from CSIS: https://aerospace.csis.org/aerospace101/counterspace-weapons-101/

[4] https://spacenews.com/dod-wants-resilient-space-systems-but-how-to-get-there-is-still-unclear/

[5] https://www.state.gov/attribution-of-russias-malicious-cyber-activity-against-ukraine/

[6] Elon Musk prevented Ukraine from using Starlink services for an attack on Crimea, causing the maneuver to be cancelled.

YL Blog #42 – Fostering cross-regional thinking in the division of deterrence labor

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Over the past decade, the international landscape in both Asia and Europe has experienced significant transformations. The erosion of stability in both regions has become increasingly pronounced, particularly within the past five years. This rapid change has prompted renewed discussions on the division of deterrence responsibilities among the US and its allies. A notable forum that exemplifies these discussions is the recent workshop titled Toward a New Division of Deterrence Labor Between and Among the United States and its Allies and Partners,  hosted by the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on June 6 and 7, 2023. During this thought-provoking two-day event, participants from diverse institutions and countries engaged in insightful conversations aimed at assessing the current division of deterrence labor and exploring its potential evolution to effectively tackle the risks and challenges faced by the US and its allies, both globally and regionally. While all the topics discussed deserve attention, this article elaborates on a fundamental question that lingered in various formats throughout the workshop: how to conceptualize a division of deterrence labor that synthesizes two distinct regional theaters?

The credibility of US extended deterrence and the division of deterrence responsibilities between the US and its allies have traditionally been viewed as a zero-sum regional affair. Following Obama’s Pivot to Asia in the early 2010s, concerns arose regarding a potential American decoupling from Transatlantic security in favor of the Asian theater. It has since then become evident that the US remains fully committed to European security, a commitment further fortified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, the question of a “transatlantic bargain” remains a central topic of discussion among experts. Some argue that, in the face of an increasingly assertive China, the US must be able to redirect its focus and resources towards the Indo-Pacific region, while Europeans should assume a greater burden of their own defense. Conversely, others advocate for sustained US leadership in both theaters, with allies in both regions intensifying their contributions to deterrence efforts to address the escalating challenge of confronting two major adversaries. In essence, these arguments are grounded in the belief that regional alliances are bound to compete for US attention and resources.

There is, however, a growing recognition that security in either region is intertwined with stability in the other. For one, the success or failure of US extended deterrence in one theater is now recognized as having significant repercussions in the other. The risks and challenges faced by European and Asian allies indeed transcend regional boundaries. This is exemplified by several noteworthy instances. Firstly, while China may not pose a direct threat to US allies in Europe, concerns have emerged regarding Chinese technological and infrastructure penetration in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe, raising apprehensions about the potential risks to the resilience of critical defense infrastructure in allied nations. Secondly, the growing coordination between Russia and China in the Far East has become a shared concern for both regions. Lastly, the elusive nature of cyber and information warfare implies that offensive actions in these domains are unlikely to be confined to the boundaries of a single region. Beyond these shared challenges, there is also a growing recognition that the demands placed on and by allies in one theater have reverberating implications for allies in the other.

However, despite recognizing the growing security interdependence and interconnectedness of these two regional theaters, the division of deterrence labor in these spaces continues to be predominantly treated with an intra-regional oriented thinking. Indeed, the potential for cross-regional integration and/or coordinated action remains hampered by the regional focus of each alliance. Take NATO as an example; the Atlantic Alliance’s traditional scope obviously remains confined to the North Atlantic region. This was recently reiterated by French President Macron when voicing opposition to a proposal for a NATO liaison office in Japan out of concerns about provoking China.

While it is important for the Atlantic Alliance – or Asian alliances – to remain centered on its regional focus and not transform into an alliance with global scope and membership, considering a division of deterrence labor from a cross-regional perspective could yield benefits. As highlighted by one participant in the workshop, ensuring cross-regional connectivity within the US alliance architecture is crucial to developing a more adaptable and responsive deterrence framework. Advocates of such an approach have clarified that its purpose does not entail broadening mutual defense commitments, but rather deepening coordination among cross-regional allies to optimize the allocation of resources for the United States and its allies. This coordination should involve enhanced political and defense diplomacy to explore the existing connections and synergies in the deterrence architecture between theaters.

During the CGSR workshop, some participants raised the need for open discussions regarding the potential role of NATO allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and vice versa. Clarifying and managing expectations over such cross-regional roles appears to be critical considering the uncertainties surrounding the so-called “two-peer problem.” As emphasized by participants, whether allies acknowledge it or not, the two-peer problem is not going to be solely a concern for the United States. Therefore, it is essential to clarify expectations and make adequate preparations in the event of a crisis involving two major adversaries.

However, a cross-regional approach should not solely be aimed at exploring potential physical contributions, which may be limited in nature in light of constrained resources. Instead, it should center around drawing lessons from the deterrence architecture in one theater and their potential application to the other. Considering the differences between the European and Indo-Pacific theaters at both the consultative and operational levels, exchanging knowledge and experiences regarding the challenges and implications faced by each regional deterrence structure could yield novel insights and practical applications. During the workshop, for instance, Asia experts suggested developing NATO-like nuclear planning arrangements tailored to Indo-Pacific allies. Given NATO’s own experience with such arrangements, engaging in a cross-regional discussion about the challenges, opportunities, and applicability of similar approaches in the Asian theater would provide practical guidance for Indo-Pacific allies aiming to establish such arrangements.

In this context, the US concept of integrated deterrence may provide a valuable framework for leveraging NATO-Asian connections more effectively. According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, integrated deterrence “entails developing and combining our strengths to maximum effect, by working seamlessly across (…) our unmatched network of Alliances and partnerships.” In essence, integrated deterrence emphasizes close coordination and collaboration with allies through a whole-of-government approach aimed at integrating traditional and new tools of deterrence.

A cross-regional approach to deterrence upholds two fundamental logics of integrated deterrence. Firstly, it embraces the logic of collective cost imposition, the idea that “aggression will be met with a collective response.” Secondly, it sustains the logic of resilience, the “ability to withstand, fight through, and recover quickly from disruption.” Indeed, close collaboration among allies across regions enables the pooling of capabilities, knowledge-sharing, and identification of best practices, thus facilitating the establishment of resilient networks. This approach may prove particularly valuable for generating innovative responses to challenges that may not be effectively deterred through the traditional conventional and nuclear deterrence tools, such as gray zones or hybrid challenges that fall below the threshold of overt aggression.

Cross-regional collaborations are indeed starting to take shape, as demonstrated, for instance, by NATO’s growing ties with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan or by the latter’s participation in GCAP. Rather than restricting these collaborations, they should be embraced and nurtured. These cross-regional partnerships not only enable meaningful comparative insights from allies on the deterrence architecture in both regions but also project a unified and cohesive front that has the potential to reshape the strategic calculus of adversaries. Outside of these governmental initiatives, the CGSR workshop, by convening experts from diverse allied and partner nations to engage in thoughtful discussions on the challenges and opportunities associated with a new division of deterrence labor, serves as a compelling testament to the value of cross-regional thinking

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Alice Dell’Era () is an Assistant Professor of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach Campus. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and an MA in International Studies from FIU. Dr. Dell’Era is also part of the inaugural cohort of the “Mansfield Next Generation of U.S.-Japan Nuclear Policy Experts Training Program”.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, WP5 – Understanding Alignment Decisions in Southeast Asia: A Review of U.S.-China Competition in the Philippines

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Executive Summary

The United States and China are engaged in an ongoing struggle for the alignment commitments of Southeast Asian governments, employing a variety of measures to entice, cajole, and threaten states to alter their policy behavior. Caught between this competition, countries in Southeast Asia weigh their alignment options in search of the strategy viewed by the ruling regime as most likely to ameliorate risk and increase its prospects for survival. While nonalignment through hedging is a sought-after option, most often smaller states align with the major power that offers inducements (over coercion), as the material and diplomatic benefits bolster regimes’ claim to performance-based legitimacy and its domestic stability and security.

A review of the Philippines’ geopolitical positioning during the Benigno Aquino III (2010–2016) and Rodrigo Duterte (2016–2022) administrations reveals that inducements and coercion have played a significant role in the country’s alignment decisions. During the Aquino administration, coercive measures taken by China in the South China Sea and continued security and diplomatic inducements from the United States underscore the respective approaches of Beijing and Washington. The candidacy and election of Duterte, however, switched this dynamic, and the new president courted and received promises of Chinese economic assistance to support his domestic growth strategy and downplayed U.S. ties in pursuit of a more independent foreign policy. In the end, continued Chinese provocations in the South China Sea and domestic security challenges led Duterte to call upon U.S. assistance once again, and Duterte was unable to initiate a full reconsideration of Manila’s position. Still, his strategic flirtation with China underscores the importance of performance-based legitimacy and the impact of inducements and coercion in shaping the foreign policy choices of smaller states.

The findings of this study suggest that Washington’s focus on great power competition and sanctions handicaps U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia and beyond. The Philippines’ leaders focused on securing their domestic political prospects and legitimacy; criticism and coercive measures were largely ineffective for the United States or China in gaining influence over policy decisions. Washington should more often consider the promise and provision of inducements—while remaining sensitive to human rights concerns, governance issues, and liberal norms—to support the needs of Southeast Asian states, incentivize more transparent behavior, and increase the likelihood that these states will support U.S. interests in the future.

Download the full volume here.

Table of Contents


Alignment and Hedging: A Brief Introduction

Great Power Competition in Southeast Asia

Inducements and Coercion as Important Factors in Alignment Decisions

The Philippines’ Alignment: From Aquino through Duterte (2010-2022)

Considerations for U.S.-China Competition

Policy Implications for the United States

Final Thoughts

About the Author

William Piekos is a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania, where his research focused on alignment decisions in Southeast Asia, U.S.-China relations, and East Asian security issues. He was previously a non-resident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Pacific Forum.

Friend-shoring battery supply chains

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Download the full publication here.


The production of electric vehicle batteries is among the greatest vulnerabilities in the global supply chain as China enjoys a near monopoly at the top of a hierarchical network. To adequately counter China’s dominance over the sector, the US should turn to allies in East Asia, Rob York and Akhil Ramesh write in a report for the Hinrich Foundation.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, SR3 – Strategic Competition and Security Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

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There is a growing acceptance among countries in the Indo-Pacific region that strategic competition between the United States and China is changing perceptions about security and the adequacy of the existing security architecture. While some have characterized the competition between the two as a new Cold War, it is clear that what is happening in the region is far more complex than the competition that characterized the original Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. First, the economic integration that has taken place since the early 1990s makes it much more difficult to draw bright ideological lines between the two sides. Further, the Asian context of the emerging competition is one where the two competitors have grown to share power. As the dominant military power, the United States has been the primary security guarantor in Asia and beyond. China, on the other hand, has emerged over the past decades as the primary economic catalyst in Asia and beyond. Currently, each side seems increasingly unwilling to accept that arrangement.

Download the full volume here.

Table of Contents


Carl Baker

Chapter 1 | Southeast Asia Faces Its Boogeyman – Great Power Competition Returns to Southeast Asia in the 21st Century

Drew Thompson

Chapter 2 | Geoeconomics and Geopolitics in Southeast Asia

Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Chapter 3 | Economic Aspects of National Security

Brad Glosserman

Chapter 4 | China as a technological power: Chinese perspectives and the quantum case

Hoo Tiang Boon

Chapter 5 | Minilateral groupings as an alternative to multilateralism in an era of strategic competition

Thomas Wilkins

Chapter 6 | The Role of Indo-Pacific Economic Institutions in Shaping Security Competition

Prashanth Parameswaran

Chapter 7 | Economic Development Cooperation amid Indo-Pacific Strategic Competition

Gong Xue

Chapter 8 | Regional Security Cooperation in the US-China Strategic Competition

Kei Koga

Chapter 9 | Strategic Competition and Security Cooperation

Raymund Jose Quilop

PacNet #41 – Another “hotline” with China isn’t the answer

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When US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met his Chinese counterpart, Minister Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of the Shangri-la Dialogue in June, he reportedly urged the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to participate more proactively in crisis communications and crisis management mechanisms.

As the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) enter a period of “strategic competition,” US officials apparently see these lines of communications as “guardrails” to “keep both sides from veering off the road toward escalation.”

While well-intentioned, another hotline isn’t the answer. It would give false hope that the United States and PRC will resolve disputes more rapidly during a crisis. The PRC does not hold the same value and goals for hotlines as the United States: it views them as tools to manipulate rather than to solve crises.

The United States is better off changing its expectations, understanding how the PRC views crisis communications, and shifting the focus to the internal, inter-agency process by which US policymakers would coordinate in a crisis with Beijing.

Incompatible goals

Secretary Austin is one of several senior leaders within the Biden administration calling for more US-PRC hotlines. Current and former US officials believe that US-PRC crisis communication mechanisms are under-developed.

As one article put it: “Their inadequacy constitutes a clear and present danger of potential miscommunication that could fuel a dangerous U.S.-China military confrontation at a time of heightening bilateral tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.”

However, the United States and PRC hold different assumptions and goals about hotlines.

The United States views them as a tool to deconflict and de-escalate and communicate between forces during a crisis. The PLA harbors deep suspicion about crisis communications with the United States, and perceives US proposals for new channels as an excuse to engage in provocative military activities near PRC-claimed waters and territory.

Beijing regards crisis communications as subservient to broader political goals of “crisis management,” which encompass exploiting crises to its advantage and manipulating risk calculations. Hotlines are not meant to resolve the crisis but to empower higher level organs within the PRC to signal resolve, assign blame, and stall until Beijing stakes out a position of maximum pressure and leverage over the United States during negotiations.

This incompatibility has not stopped senior US defense officials from holding out hope that hotlines and personal relationships with PLA leaders might ease tensions. In his recent book, for instance, former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says he could rapidly contact his “counterpart,” Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe, to clear up misunderstandings.

Such hopes could be misplaced. Not only could hotlines fail to solve crises, but they might also not perform as intended. As Kurt Campbell, the Biden administration’s National Security council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, has said: hotlines tend to “ring endlessly in empty rooms.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The United States has signed two hotline agreements with the PRC. The first, dating back to 1997, is a hotline at the presidential level. During a joint press conference with Jiang Zemin, President Clinton said at the time that it would “make it easier to confer at a moment’s notice.”

However, this hotline was not used during the 2001 EP-3 accident, when a PRC fighter jet crashed into a US aircraft, forcing it to land on Hainan Island with US service members onboard. The PRC did not answer any calls for 24 hours, prompting John Keefe, who then worked in the US Embassy in Beijing, to state it was “the day of phone calls not returned.”

A second hotline, called the Defense Telephone Link (DTL) was established in 2008 at the secretary-of-defense level. The DTL is utilized on a regular basis, but only for routine bilateral communications. During incidents, such as the 2016 PLA seizure of an unmanned underwater vehicle in the South China Sea, it appears the DTL was not utilized.

US desires for a “red-phone hotline” with the PRC may not meet US expectations because senior PLA leaders are not empowered to speak to foreign militaries during crises. Only after civilian Chinese Communist Party leaders in Beijing have vetted and approved talking points can the PLA communicate. Another red phone is unlikely to accelerate this dynamic on the PLA’s side.

Understanding PRC concepts of crisis communication

The United States should consider broadening its understanding of PRC approaches to “crisis management” as distinct from “crisis communications.” Understanding and accepting the PRC perspective (and not attempting to change its mind) could help US leaders adjust their expectations.

The PLA’s 2020 Science of Military Strategy dedicates a chapter to the “Prevention and Handling of Military Crisis.” It states that “smart crisis management does not lie in the ability to intervene after the crisis has formed and erupted, but whether it can avoid the occurrence of unfavorable crises.” The goal, then, is to avoid the conditions leading to a crisis—what Michael Brecher and Jonathan Wilkenfeld call the “catalysts” to crises. For the PLA, these catalysts are US military actions and posture near the PRC. So, the United States is responsible for eliminating them.

In the section on “handling active crises,” the PLA says that while communication is important, they must:

The handling of military crises should attach great importance to the use of military coercion methods, and appropriately demonstrate strength, determination, and will. In the case that deterrence cannot make the enemy yield, appropriate actual combat methods should be adopted to further deter the enemy, so as to achieve the effect of stopping the war or preventing the escalation of the crisis with a small battle.

Such analysis aligns with strategies that General Secretary Xi Jinping has emphasized to use a “small war to deter a large war” (以武止戈). So, while the United States approaches crisis communication as a means to de-escalate, the PLA views it as part of a broader PRC campaign to stall, manipulate, and possibly use the threat of escalation to coerce Washington to back down.

A new conceptual approach to crisis communications?

The United States should reconceptualize “crisis communications” as a component of a broader concept of “crisis management.” US policymakers should reframe crisis management as a type of deterrence rather than an instrument to de-escalate. Of the four priorities listed in the 2022 National Defense Strategy Fact Sheet, for example, two relate to deterrence. Crisis management should be utilized as a supporting function of US deterrence and coercion strategy, not separate from it. Plainly, rather than conceptualize crisis communications as a way (in the ends-ways-means construct) to an end of de-escalation, crisis communication should be a means to the crisis management ways, supporting the NDS ends of deterrence. Crisis communication mechanisms would thus signal US resolve in the face of PRC pressure or manipulation, instead of trying to resolve the problem.

Second, the United States should streamline internal government bureaucratic processes by which decisions are made during a crisis with the PRC. Joint Publication 3-28, Defense Support of Civil Authoritiesdefines “crisis management” as “measures, normally executed under federal law, to identify, acquire, and plan the use of resources needed to anticipate, prevent, and/or resolve a threat or an act of terrorism.” US national security organs are currently under-equipped to coordinate timely policy responses in a crisis with China. While the National Security Council could be the default coordination hub, manpower limitations may bottleneck efforts to achieve synchronization across the Indo-Pacific Command, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of State, and the US Embassy in Beijing. Establishing a clearly defined chain of command and points of contact across the various US agencies¾including public messaging courses of action¾that can be rehearsed and stress-tested would enhance US crisis communication capabilities.

Finally, the United States and PRC should discuss definitions of “crisis management.” Words have different meanings to different people, especially across different languages and cultures. The United States and PRC should explore differing ideas and concepts of “crisis” to avoid misperceptions. In October 2020, the Department of Defense (DoD) and PLA held their first Crisis Communications Working Group “to discuss concepts of crisis communications, crisis prevention, and crisis management.” This dialogue should resume, perhaps renamed as the “Crisis Management Working Group.” This group should look beyond the US “ways” of crisis communications, and instead focus on the “ends” of crisis prevention and crisis de-escalation.

Lyle J. Morris is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

Colonel Kyle Marcrum is a student at the United States Army War College. The views/statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are strictly our own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, or the US Government. Review of the material does not imply DoD or US Government endorsement of factual accuracy or opinion.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #38 – China’s “containment” policy against America

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Chinese officials and government media constantly decry what they call the US “containment” policy against China. They allege that Washington’s intention is to prevent China from becoming relatively stronger or more globally influential, lest Beijing impede the pursuit of the US agenda in international affairs.

Calling a policy “containment” when it tolerates China having an annual bilateral trade surplus of $350 billion is questionable, to say the least. More importantly, such Chinese propaganda obscures the fact that the PRC also tries to limit America’s influence. When it comes to containment, China gives as good as it says it gets.

The PRC tries to contain the United States in several ways.

First, Beijing has sought to maintain an anti-US coalition, even if there are few takers. The main basis for Sino-Russian cooperation is a common interest in blocking and, where feasible, rolling back US strategic influence. As an example, China’s diplomatic position on the war in Ukraine prioritizes containment of America. Beijing blames the war on Washington, accepting the reputational cost of refusing to condemn Russia and blowing off China’s previous profession of support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The Chinese see North Korea, as well, as a partner in countering the United States. North Korea often repeats PRC and Russian anti-US propaganda. Kim Jong Un reportedly told Xi Jinping earlier this year that the DPRK and China “are strengthening strategic cooperation and unity to destroy the undisguised hostile policy and military threat of the United States.”

Second, Beijing pressures third party governments, particularly US friends and allies, to not support Washington’s agenda. Xi and other Chinese officials have repeatedly implored Europe to “to pursue an independent policy towards China,” meaning independent of the United States. In March, PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi metaphorically warned Japan against military cooperation with the United States, saying Tokyo “should not pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire.” In May, Wang told his Japanese counterpart that “people [are] on alert” because of “the view that Japan and the United States were joining hands to confront China.”

When Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou at Washington’s request, the Chinese government punished Ottawa by detaining two Canadians in China as political hostages. Even after Canada freed Meng, the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs re-emphasized the broader message: “Canada should draw lessons and act according to its own interests”—i.e., not America’s interests.

One form of Chinese pressure is attempting shame US partners as exploited pawns. PRC officials and government media have recently called AustraliaCanada, and Lithuania US “running dogs.” In October 2021, the French representative at a UN meeting read a statement signed by 43 countries condemning China’s persecution of Chinese Uyghurs. The PRC ambassador to the United Nations responded, “To France and other followers of the US: what you are doing is submitting your independence and autonomy, and serving as the henchmen of the US…[Y]ou are giving up your own dignity, and will win no respect from others.”

Another PRC method is threats. The Chinese government warned the United Kingdom and Sweden that if they heeded US pressure to exclude Chinese IT infrastructure builder Huawei, these countries would stop getting Chinese investment. Similarly, the Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times said that “Australia will have to pay an economic price if the South Pacific nation, blinded by lust to act as a US attack dog, opts to destroy ties with its most important trade partner.”

The threats are not limited to the economic sphere. China has warned Australia, for example, that if it hosts US troops, “Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire.”

Conversely, Beijing praises governments that appear to decline security cooperation with Washington as admirably “independent.”

Third, China promotes alternative international institutions that will be vehicles for Chinese rather than US influence. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between China and the European Union, for example, would have pulled Western Europe closer to China and farther from the United States had implementation of the agreement not halted in 2021. China was more successful with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). To counter the US-supported Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Beijing put its weight behind RCEP, which suited Chinese preferences with its weak provisions for the protection of labor, the environment, and intellectual property. America’s withdrawal from the TPP along with the accession of 15 countries, including China, to RCEP in 2020 handed regional economic rule-making leadership to Beijing.

China is also changing the character of pre-existing institutions such as the United Nations to re-orient them away from reinforcing the US-sponsored liberal international order. The PRC is successfully prodding UN human rights agencies toward holding abusive individual governments less accountable to the international community. At the same time, the Chinese government has used the UN Human Rights Council to criticize US actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Having provided investment and economic assistance to many UN member developing countries, Beijing can call in favors from business partners to thwart US objectives in the United Nations. In 2019, for example, China offered economic gifts to buy the votes necessary to defeat the US-backed candidate for the position of head of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

In May, China vetoed a US-sponsored proposal in the UN Security Council for additional sanctions against North Korea. China’s fundamental North Korea policy goal is to protect the Kim regime from collapsing in order to keep the US bloc from expanding (via a united, Seoul-led Korean Peninsula) up to the Chinese border.

Finally, Beijing works to discredit US regional and global leadership. Since 2020, when many Americans criticized Beijing’s initial non-transparency about the coronavirus outbreak in China, Chinese officials have tirelessly pushed the narrative that the United States is unworthy to wield international influence. “For the US politicians,” goes a representative criticism from the PRC foreign ministry, “democracy is their tool to seek personal and partisan gains at home, and a weapon to serve US hegemony abroad.” The delegitimization of US global leadership includes much Chinese government effort to highlight social and political problems inside the United States, a task made easy for Chinese speechwriters by the open and critical US press.

The much-hyped “Global Security Initiative” attributed to Xi is largely a statement of opposition to the US alliance system (expressed in phrases such as “Cold War mentality,” “bloc confrontation,” and “pursuit of one’s own security at the cost of others’ security”). The criticism of alliances does not apply to China itself, of course, because China’s relationship with Russia is a “partnership” rather than an alliance, albeit one with “no limits.”

This is not the first time China has accused the United States of doing what China itself is doing. Questions about the role of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the outbreak of Coronavirus in China led to Chinese government accusations that the virus started in a US Army laboratory in Maryland. Washington’s publicity of the persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang led to a vigorous PRC campaign of criticizing injustices in the United States.

What China and the United States do to each other is standard for rival great powers in a period of tense peace. The Xi cult of personality, however, restricts China from describing its own external behavior in terms other than hyper-exceptionalism, benevolence, victimization, and righteous indignation. As a sad consequence, the Chinese don’t give themselves enough credit their own containment policy.

Denny Roy ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the East-West Center, Honolulu. He specializes in strategic and international security issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Issues & Insights Vol. 22, SR 3 – South Korea’s Place in the Indo-Pacific: A Research Showcase for Pacific Forum’s Korea Foundation Fellows

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About this Volume

Papers by the Pacific Forum’s current and previous Korea Foundation Fellows examine pressing issues facing the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century. These include the Great Power Competition between the US and China, North Korea and nuclear security, critical new technologies, and energy security. These papers by emerging leaders in the Korean Studies field offer fresh perspectives on Korean security issues – both well-known and emerging – useful for watchers of the peninsula both inside and out of Northeast Asia.

Authors of this volume participated in the Pacific Forum’s Korea Foundation Fellowship program between 2019-2022, with the generous support of the Korea Foundation 

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. Pacific Forum’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its staff, donors and sponsors.

Click here to download the full volume.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Fostering Conversations on Emerging and Enduring Security Challenges | Rob York
  2. Choose to Win: Two Scenarios on Future Weapons and their Implications for Korea, the US, and Asian Security | Seongwon Lee
  3. South Korea’s Role Amid US-China Strategic Competition | Su Hyun Lee
  4. Between Rhetoric and Practice: Yoon Suk Yeol’s Choice for South Korea and the Indo-Pacific | Eun A Jo and Jae Chang
  5. South Korean Semiconductors: The Crux of Yoon Suk Yeol’s Long-Term Strategy toward Technological Leadership | Kangkyu Lee
  6. Exploring the Opportunities for Comprehensive Response to Disinformation in the Indo-Pacific: Cases of the Republic of Korea and the United States | Jong-Hwa Ahn
  7. The Politics of Multilateral Energy Cooperation in Northeast Asia: The Implications for South Korea, Japan, and China | Juyoung Kim

About the Authors

Rob York is Program Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum. He is responsible for editing Pacific Forum publications, including the weekly PacNet series, the triannual Comparative Connections journal, and the in-depth Issue & Insights series. Prior to joining Pacific Forum, Rob worked as a production editor at The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. A PhD candidate in Korean history at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Rob has established himself as a commentator on inter-Korean and Hong Kong affairs, as a regular contributor to NK News and The Daily NK and having been published at The South China Morning PostWar on the Rocks, the Foundation for Economic Education, Korean Studies, and The Journal of American-East Asian Relations, as well as conducting numerous interviews in various media outlets. His research agenda at Pacific Forum includes trade and its relationship with security, media analysis, countering disinformation, and human rights.

Seongwon Lee is a lecturer at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University. Previously, he was a non-resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum (2020), deputy director for international cooperation at the Ministry of Unification, and interpretation officer at the Republic of Korea Marine Corps. He earned his BA at Stanford University, MA at University of North Korean Studies, and is currently finalizing his PhD dissertation titled “Future Weapons: An Evolutionary History” at the Graduate School of Future Strategy, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

Su Hyun Lee is the 2021-22 resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum. She holds a BA in East Asian International Studies and MA in International Cooperation both from Yonsei University. 

Eun A Jo is a PhD candidate in the Government Department at Cornell University and an incoming 2022-2023 predoctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. She is interested in political narratives, memory, and the domestic politics of international relations, with a focus on East Asia. Her dissertation, “Narrating Enemies in World Politics,” explores how post-conflict states narrate their former enemies and what implications these narratives hold for policies of peace and reconciliation. To this end, she compares the narrative trajectories of postcolonial, postwar, and post-authoritarian Taiwan and South Korea, using an interdisciplinary theoretical framework and a mixed-method research design. A paper from this research, titled “Pasts that Bind,” is forthcoming in International Organization.

Jae Chang is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Government and China & Asia-Pacific Studies. His primary research interests are Northeast Asian multilateralism and the role of identity politics in international relations. Additionally, he is interested in the impact of South Korean pop culture, especially in Korea’s partnership with Netflix.

Kangkyu Lee is a research fellow with the Humane AI Initiative at the East-West Center. He is also a consultant in Korean and Japanese affairs for Blackpeak. He is an incoming PhD student in International Affairs, Science, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and was formerly (2020-21) a resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum where he researched the implications of AI and other frontier technologies on international relations and global security.

Jong-Hwa Ahn is an expert in international security and strategic planning. Recently, he worked for the United Nations on policy planning and is currently a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow for media and journalism. At Pacific Forum, he was a Korea Foundation Fellow for foreign policy and regional strategy and, as an army officer in the Republic of Korea, he served in the Korean Demilitarized Zone and with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. He also worked on public diplomacy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Korea Institute of Sport Science and received his Master’s in International Peace and Security from Korea University.

Juyoung Kim is a non-resident Korea Foundation fellow at Pacific Forum, where her research focused on the politics of multilateral energy cooperation in Northeast Asia. She has nearly five years of policy research experience in several think tanks in South Korea including the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, Future Resources Institute and East Asia Institute and her research interest in natural resource governance, the geopolitics of energy and multilateral energy cooperation has evolved gradually from her work experiences. Juyoung recently defended her PhD thesis on the politics of governing Mozambique’s LNG industry at King’s College London, and she received her MSc in International Relations Theory from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

PacNet #2 Balancing accessibility and quality in Blue Dot Network infrastructure finance

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An earlier version of this article appeared in East Asia Forum.

While US-led Bretton Woods Institutions have supported infrastructure projects since the 1940s, there has been criticism in recent years that the United States has been inadequate in responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Biden administration should utilize the Blue Dot Network (BDN) to incentivize private investments in sustainable infrastructure projects in conjunction with the existing Bretton Woods Institutions.

By striking the right balance between accessibility and quality, the BDN would create a unique opportunity to narrow the infrastructure gap while also responding strategically to the BRI through coalition building.

In November 2019, Australia, Japan, and the United States launched the BDN, a voluntary program aiming to certify infrastructure projects that would meet high standards of transparency, sustainability, and developmental impact to help countries pursue quality infrastructure investments. Given that there is currently no certification process to assess quality infrastructure projects, the BDN could also be used by the Bretton Woods Institutions to evaluate existing projects, including those under the BRI.

The BDN is seen as a way to provide project finance alternatives to China’s BRI. One of the major differences often highlighted between the Bretton Woods Institutions and the BRI relates to the lower than optimal lending criteria of the BRI. Since Chinese government-owned banks have the backing of the state, BRI partner countries can receive loans even if the projects are not expected to be profitable.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank estimated that nearly one-third of BRI partner countries were at high risk of debt distress. However, the low emphasis on environmental and social impact assessments by the BRI has meant the World Bank and other lending institutions have struggled to promote high-quality infrastructure projects. The BDN certification process must be a driver for projects with better commercial lending viability while still maintaining an openness that will invite a critical mass of private investment to guide quality infrastructure goals.

While the BDN has received $2 million from the US State Department, no specific projects for certification have been announced. The undersea fiber optic cable to Palau has been the only project that has attracted financing from all three BDN countries Still, it is unclear whether it will be a test case for receiving certification by the BDN.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has pointed out that the United States does not have the appetite to compete on a dollar-to-dollar basis with the BRI, and should instead focus on promoting rules that reflect US values. But efforts to promote “the highest standards” have been criticized for only reflecting the values of developed countries. To avoid such criticism, the BDN will have to be implemented in a way that captures the characteristics and needs of recipient countries rather than applying a one-size-fits-all standard.

Given that the BDN is expected to invite private investment, the emphasis on accountability might be more focused on the investors seeking a better rate of return than the people affected by the policy. Therefore, It is imperative to see how the BDN will balance promoting high-quality infrastructure projects while also being accessible enough to shrink the infrastructure gap, which is projected to be about $94 trillion over the next two decades.

In recent years, there has been exponential growth in environmental, social, and governance related assets, with approximately one-third of global assets in sustainable investments. Norway, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, recently released its plan to impose stricter ethical and environmental guidelines on its investments and stated that it would not be adding more emerging markets to its portfolio. While surveys show that a certification program for quality infrastructure projects would increase the likelihood of private sector participation in infrastructure projects, the standard-setting efforts will need to be structured in a way that promotes infrastructure projects in places of need as well.

These factors underscore the importance of standard creation through a multi-stakeholder mechanism. The OECD has provided technical support by building a multi-stakeholder design process for the BDN certification framework. The aim is to build in sustainability as an objective both at the design and the implementation phases, signaling to the financial markets that the risks have been managed, which would make it more attractive for private sector investment.

While the OECD indicated that BDN certification would be based on existing criteria such as the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment, the OECD stated that stakeholders from 96 countries had been engaged in finalizing the BDN certification framework, including China as an observer. Given that the Biden administration has shown a keen interest in mobilizing allies and like-minded countries for various standard-setting initiatives, the BDN is a great opportunity to showcase US commitment to multilateralism.

Even though the BRI has been criticized for being poorly coordinated and too fragmented, the Trump and Biden administrations have perceived the BRI as a tool for achieving Beijing’s geopolitical goals. Countries, especially in Southeast Asia, have often shown reluctance to align with either the United States or China. However, some ASEAN members have expressed interest in pursuing financing opportunities with the trilateral partners.

The Biden administration needs to emphasize to developing countries that the BDN will be utilized for the common objective of achieving Sustainable Development Goals, rather than being perceived as another means to contain China.

John Taishu Pitt ([email protected]) is a foreign associate at a law firm in Washington DC and a Fellow in the Institute of International Economic Law at the Georgetown University Law Center.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #56 – America and China: Seeking an Updated Foundation for Enduring Engagement

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The following is drawn from the introduction to the Regional Security Outlook 2022, prepared by the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific 

The US and China bookend the core bilateral axis in the contemporary world. This relationship became increasingly distant over the last 20 years and went into free-fall in 2017-18 when the Trump administration openly stepped away from the broad posture of engagement that had underpinned US policy toward China since 1972. The incoming Biden administration therefore inherited a badly fractured US-China relationship.

Somewhat ironically, as concerns about US-China relations mounted, a widespread propensity to re-assess alignments and policy settings emerged as a helpful source of restraint on the behavior of key states. The proximate trigger for this propensity was, of course, Biden’s election win over Trump. There was some speculation that Beijing also faced new and difficult judgements. This stemmed from international polling suggesting that its policy settings and style of implementation were alienating many global audiences.

From the outset, the Biden administration made clear it agreed that the US posture of engagement toward China had run its course. The new administration believed that China was presenting itself as an ideological alternative to the prevailing liberal order and suggested that US-China rivalry could be characterized as centered on alternative systems of governance. As always, the cumulative stresses and strains of the past rolled over into 2021 and continued to develop as well as to interact with new events and developments. Above all, the COVID-19 pandemic continued its relentless erosion of stability, prosperity, and optimism around the world. Other, more specific concerns included, in particular, Taiwan but also the South China Sea, Myanmar, the Korean Peninsula, and Afghanistan.

The Biden administration could not easily suppress the major qualms about America that political leaderships around the world were grappling with. Although there was unmistakably hesitation in some quarters, Washington encountered a strong residual interest in re-engagement among its allies.

The so-called rules-based order has established itself as something of a lightning rod in the dispute between the US and China. At an initial meeting of senior officials in Alaska in March 2021, the Biden administration sought to have the relationship viewed as a package of selected, broadly agreed, areas of cooperation alongside areas of regulated or bounded competition centered on economic performance. China had for a number of years flagged its reservations about the rules-based order simply by pointing out that it had not been present when the order was framed. In Alaska, however, it expressed a broader and sharper view, characterizing the order—which even Xi Jinping acknowledged had been a decisive factor in China’s spectacular economic success—as a hegemonic construct that precluded fair competition and looked to the building of a new order devoid of these hegemonic characteristics.

This prospective insight into at least one aspect of China’s difficulties with the rules-based order seemed to be confirmed in July 2021 when China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi formally presented US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman with a package of two lists and three “bottom lines.” The first of these “bottom lines” reportedly reads: The United States must not challenge, slander, or attempt to subvert the path and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. This statement confirms that China seeks formal acknowledgement of and acceptance that systems of governance other than liberal democracy/market economies can be fully effective across all criteria and should be assessed without prejudice.

What we have, therefore, is both the US and China saying that the rules-based order has been subverted, with the US highlighting, inter alia, the unqualified concentration of power in the Chinese Communist Party constitutes as an unacceptable threat to fair competition with private enterprise in the West while China insists, also inter alia, that Western notions of democracy and human rights are now so entrenched that they cast a pejorative cloud over its own system of governance even though it performs effectively against “collective” variants of these essential qualities.

All things considered, China and the United States spent the greater part of 2021 posturing and probing for the high ground rather than engaging substantively on practical solutions to the problems bedeviling their relationship. The outlook, therefore, remained somewhat fraught, with the scope for further serious deterioration looking rather stronger than the prospects for constructive engagement.

We cannot delude ourselves. The differences in values and priorities, the associated differences in what is expected of the state and in the sources of the state’s authority are real and deep. The judgement of political, economic, and security commentators is all but unanimous: the events and trends of the recent past appear to have placed the tools, processes, and mindsets that sustain order and stability in the Indo Pacific under alarming cumulative stress. The Cold War resulted in the Indo-Pacific hosting formidable nuclear and conventional military capabilities. Then China emerged and engineered the fastest sustained expansion of its military power to major power proportions in recorded history. And all sides are deploying these capabilities to prevent or provoke change. Both sharp surprises like AUKUS and the persistent calculated brinkmanship in the East and South China Seas can be seen as warning signs that the potential rate of change to the status quo is exceeding the region’s absorptive capacity.

It is imperative that the policy community in the Indo-Pacific region demands, encourages, and facilitates efforts to probe, dissect, and unravel the policy settings of the major powers and to develop the space for a coexistence that is stable, peaceful, and competitive—in that order. Above all, this is a task that the ASEAN-managed multilateral security processes—especially the ARF and EAS—should and must be a prominent part of, not least because their inclusive membership is an inherent antidote to the forces of divergence that are currently so strong.

Ron Huisken ([email protected]) is Adjunct Associate Professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU and Editor of the CSCAP Regional Security Outlook.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.