PacNet #17 – Ukraine: After invasion, what?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a pressure campaign unprecedented in both speed and severity. Many governments are trying to further pressure Moscow. A few others are discussing off-ramps to deescalate the conflict.

It isn’t clear, however, what this pressure or those off-ramps are meant to achieve because there has been little discussion of goals. This is a problem because without clear and realistic goals, any endeavor risks crumbling under its own weight or having unwanted consequences.

There can be five different goals after an invasion has begun. The first is to limit damage. In its most sweeping form, it means not getting involved, accepting that the invasion will proceed largely unimpeded and that the targeted country’s sovereignty will be sacrificed. The second goal is to stop the aggressor’s advance and reach an agreement that hands over some, but not all, of its anticipated gains. The third goal is to restore the status quo ante. The fourth is to go beyond the status quo and punish the aggressor. Finally, the fifth goal is to destroy–literally or de facto–the aggressor because its very existence has become unacceptable.

Thus far, many governments have suggested that the goal of the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is restoration of the status quo. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, for instance, declared that the United States will “support Ukraine in its talks with Russia to reach a ceasefire and the unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces.”

For several governments, however, restoring the status quo will likely not suffice. Frontline nations believe that Russia must pay a price to make clear to Putin and all would-be aggressors that such actions will not be tolerated. Some go further. No one serious has recommended Russia’s physical destruction, but French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire stated (then walked back) that the goal of the pressure campaign is to “wage all-out economic and financial war on Russia” to “cause the collapse of the Russian economy.”

Others have echoed these themes, suggesting that relations with Moscow cannot return to normal until Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves office and a new regime is in place in the Kremlin. For instance, Ivo Daalder, a former US permanent representative on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has argued for a “robust policy of containment” to “counter Russian expansionism, inflict real costs on the Russian regime, and encourage internal change that leads to the ultimate collapse of Putin and Putinism.”

There is a yawning gap, however, between these desired goals and what can be achieved given the limits that the responding powers have set for themselves. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, US President Joe Biden has insisted that the United States will help Ukraine in every way possible, including by providing military assistance, but that “[US] forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine.” The United States has resisted establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine because such an arrangement would put NATO into a direct fight with Russia. Support for Ukraine, then, is unconditional only until there is a risk of escalation and military confrontation with Russia.

In these circumstances, it isn’t clear that restoration of the status quo–seemingly the bare minimum acceptable for most governments–is within reach. Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia now professor at Stanford University, confessed as much, calling such an outcome “the most desirable but also the least likely.”

The Russian military operation isn’t proceeding smoothly, and Ukrainian forces are resisting, partly thanks to international assistance, but the power balance is unquestionably in Moscow’s favor and Putin appears determined to continue the invasion, indifferent to the consequences, both human and material. Putin seems willing to destroy Ukraine to possess it, using methods not dissimilar to the ones used by Moscow in Chechnya in the 1990s or, under his leadership, Syria this past decade.

For Putin, withdrawal from Ukraine and recognition of its status as an independent state would mean failure, the denial of his conception of Russian identity and the accompanying dream of rebuilding a modern Russian empire. The humiliation would be greater if the outcome entailed acceptance of Ukraine’s complete territorial integrity, i.e., the return of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass, which Moscow recognized as independent before the invasion, and of Crimea, which it annexed in 2014. Make no mistake: many governments demand no less.

More ambitious goals, such as regime change in Russia, are even more elusive, and a new government in Moscow would also not necessarily be an improvement. Besides, pursuing such a goal would likely lead to military escalation–a development the United States, European powers, and others are trying to avoid. Putin, who has long believed that many are out to get him, could feel vindicated and lash out, either by widening the conflict beyond Ukraine or resorting to the use of nuclear weapons.

Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence, recently said that while Putin likely did not anticipate the pushback he is getting in Ukraine and internationally, he “is unlikely to be deterred by such setbacks and instead may escalate–essentially doubling down.” Assume she’s right: now imagine what Putin could do if eliminating him became the policy of many governments (and if that policy galvanized Russians to support him).

Given the power asymmetry between Russia and Ukraine and the redlines that the governments responding to the invasion have drawn for themselves, the outcome of the conflict is likely to disappoint many. At best, Ukraine’s resistance and the pressure campaign will force Russia into a settlement, with to-be-determined terms, possibly short of restoring the status quo. At worst, Russia might succeed in destroying and/or vassalizing Ukraine.

Analysts will soon begin identifying lessons about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. One is already emerging: there are hard limits to how much developments and outcomes can be shaped after a determined major nuclear-armed power has begun invading a weaker nation, especially when the responding powers rule out military engagement.

Admittedly, different situations will present different challenges and opportunities. In response to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, building a coalition to pressure Beijing would likely be more difficult because many countries are much more dependent on the Chinese economy than on the Russian economy. Stopping or rolling back such an invasion, however, might be less challenging because the maritime environment in Asia presents Beijing with a natural barrier that would complicate its operations.

More importantly, whereas the United States refuses to go to war with Russia over Ukraine because it never committed to its defense, it has remained “strategically ambiguous” as to whether it would do so over Taiwan. In that case, then, Washington would not rule out military action, regardless of the escalation risks. Meanwhile, a military response would definitely be on the table in the event of an invasion of a NATO or another US treaty ally; Biden has stressed that “We will defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of a united and galvanized NATO.”

The key takeaway from the current conflict in Ukraine is that it is best to prevent an invasion from ever taking place. Practically, and especially for the United States, that means adapting its military posture and that of nations most exposed to, or worried about, potential invasion in ways that deny would-be aggressors the ability to proceed. It also means reducing and, if possible, eliminating dependencies and vulnerabilities they have with potential aggressors. Doing so will enhance deterrence and, should invasion happen regardless, allow for more effective resistance and, therefore, more flexibility in shaping developments and outcomes.

Had Ukraine worked harder (and been helped more) to adopt such a “denial strategy” after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin might have refrained from invading. If he had chosen to do so anyway, his forces would have encountered more resistance, increasing the prospects of a settlement favorable to Ukraine.

Looking to Asia where the power balance is shifting fast in China’s favor, this line of thinking should drive actions about Taiwan. No one wants to look back in a few years thinking that more should have been done to prevent or complicate a Chinese invasion. The time to act–and act fast–is now.

David Santoro (david@pacforum.org) is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. He is the editor of US-China Nuclear Relations: The Impact of Strategic Triangles (Lynne Rienner, May 2021). Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

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.

Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

PacNet #15 – Ukraine: A turning point in Japanese foreign policy?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted an unprecedented global response. Despite their geographic distance, many Asian countries have joined the United States and Europe in imposing a wide range of sanctions. Japan surprised many with its condemnation of the invasion, in contrast to its hesitancy to take action against Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea or following the Myanmar coup.

But while these moves reflect shifts in Japan’s approach to the international order and its relations with both Russia and Europe, the specifics of the Ukraine crisis suggest that this trend may not necessarily apply to Japan’s foreign policy in the future.

Japan’s response to Russia

Prior to the invasion, Japan monitored the situation in Ukraine closely and took small steps to signal its alignment with the West. For example, Japan announced on Feb. 9 that it would divert some its liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to Europe, where supply was tight. As Russia amassed troops near the Ukraine border, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Feb. 15 that he would extend at least $100 million in emergency loans, and Japan signed on to a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement expressing concern on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 23, after Russia ordered troops into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Japan joined Western nations in imposing sanctions and threatening to go further if Moscow launched an all-out invasion. Japan’s initial sanctionsincluded prohibiting issuance of Russian bonds in Japan, freezing the assets of specific Russian individuals, and restricting travel to Japan.

After the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Japan ramped up its response in tandem with G7 countries and other partners. Kishida joined with other G7 leaders in condemning Russia’s actions as “a serious threat to the rules-based international order, with ramifications well beyond Europe.” Japan’s sanctions have since expanded to include restrictions on transactions with Russia’s central bank, freezing assets of Russian entities and individuals, excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, imposing export controls on goods such as semiconductors, and suspending visa issuance, among other things. Japan has also imposed sanctions on Belarus and provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, at least $100 million in loans, visa extensions, and basic supplies for its military. It also announced steps to accept refugees.

Japan coordinated its actions closely with the United States and others. It took many steps simultaneously with Washington and other first movers, although Tokyo has sometimes been a day or so behind, as in the blocking certain Russian banks’ access to SWIFT. Still, Japan’s stance on Russia has emerged as one of the toughest in the Indo-Pacific.

Motivations and limitations

Several factors combine to motivate Japan’s response, and also offer insights into the limitations to generalizing from this case to predict Japan’s responses to other crises.

First, the scale and nature of the conflict differ dramatically from the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea or other cases in which Japan displayed much more hesitancy. There is little ambiguity to the current situation: the conflict is far more intense, and Russia’s role as aggressor is undeniable. Moreover, the Ukrainian people’s resistance in the face of the invasion has inspired the sympathy of governments and publics around the world, including a growing segment of the Japanese population. Poll data suggests that the proportion of Japanese people supporting alignment with US sanctions has grown from 43% in January to 61% in late February after the start of the conflict.

Second, Russia’s actions undermine the rules and norms governing the international order, as Kishida has declared. Japan has been a major beneficiary of the post-World War II international order, and over the past decade has taken an increasingly high-profile role in defending its principles and institutions, from its leadership on trade to its promotion of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. If countries violate the fundamental principle of state sovereignty without consequences, it destabilizes international relations in a way that threatens Japan’s national interests, with potential parallels to China looming large. Elites as well as the Japanese public fear such spillover. For example, a Nikkei poll released Feb. 28 showed that 77% of Japanese respondents were concerned that the Ukraine invasion increases the odds of China using force against Taiwan.

Third, while it was once common to treat events in Europe and Asia as separate, the importance of developments in one region for the other are now clearly understood. Japan welcomes increased engagement by Europe in the Indo-Pacific as a way to build coalitions with like-minded partners to help address thorny regional problems. By displaying solidarity with Europe on Ukraine, Japan helps amplify the effect of other countries’ sanctions and signals to its European partners in hopes they will reciprocate in the event of a similar contingency in the Indo-Pacific—such as in the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea.

Fourth, Japan’s economic interdependence with Russia is limited. In 2020, Russia was Japan’s 13th-largest import partner and accounted for about 1% of Japanese exports. Under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, the Japanese government attempted to build a closer relationship with Russia in hopes of negotiating a favorable resolution to the territorial dispute over the Northern Territories/Kuril Islands. Although Japanese companies were encouraged to do business with Russia as part of this process, Russia ranked only 31st as a destination for Japanese outbound investment in 2020. Japan’s most significant economic connections with Russia come in the field of energy: imports of LNG, coal, and crude oil, plus Japanese involvement in the Russian energy sector. Japan has discussed banning Russian energy imports with the United States and Europe, a step that Washington decided to take on March 8. However, many in Japan are concerned about energy prices and shortages, despite Kishida’s reassurances that the country has sufficient reserves of oil and LNG to avoid a significant impact on supplies in the short term.

Finally, the failure of Japan’s conciliatory policy toward Vladimir Putin to produce improvements in their territorial dispute during previous administrations paved the way for Kishida’s harder line. Japan’s recent actions vis-à-vis Russia likely dashed any hopes of regaining the Northern Territories—at least while Putin remains leader—but this was already recognized as a lost cause by the final days of Abe’s time in office. Over the last year reports of increased activity in Russian military planes and warships around the disputed territories have prompted additional concern. Kishida was foreign minister under Abe and helped promote this prior agenda. The current crisis, however, is Kishida’s opportunity to break with past precedent and distinguish himself from Abe, while demonstrating solidarity with the West.

Still, Japan is unlikely to endorse a values-based diplomacy and will instead likely continue its traditional pragmatic approach. When the nature of a conflict is more ambiguous or its economic stakes higher, Japan is likely to display more hesitancy—both conditions are likely with China, with which Japan is highly interdependent, and which tends to favor gray zone conflict over outright aggression.

Even with Ukraine, it remains to be seen how far the United States and Europe will go with sanctions, and to what extent Japan will follow. As pressure mounts to extend sanctions to the energy sector, Japan will face difficult decisions.

While the Ukraine crisis may not herald a sea change in Japan’s overall foreign policy, it does mark a turning point in its policy toward Russia. Japan’s actions thus far also reveal important changes in the way Tokyo sees its role and its willingness to confront new global challenges.

Kristi Govella (kgovella@gmfus.org) is senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia Program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States and an adjunct fellow at Pacific Forum. She is an expert on the intersection of economic and security policy in Asia, as well as Japanese politics and foreign policy. Her publications include Responding to a Resurgent Russia: Russian Foreign Policy and Responses from the United States and the European Union (2012). Follow her on Twitter @KristiGovella. 

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.

Photo: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a press conference on February 25, 2022. Source: Cabinet Secretariat Cabinet/Public Relations Office/Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

PacNet #10 – Is the US capable of shaping a rules-based international order?

An earlier version of this article was published in The Hill.

It is repeated endlessly: US foreign policy is about defending the “rules-based order.” That’s a codeword for the challenge from China, which is trying to rewrite the rules. Fine. But if the US can’t even design its own rules on, for example, the urgent issue of digital privacy or regulating Big Tech, how can it play on that larger stage?

No question, the wisdom that created the Bretton Woods system (the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc.) was based on well-conceived rules that were mutually beneficial. Relatively open trade and finance generated unprecedented wealth and power over the past 70 years. But as the rise of China demonstrates, the United States must now grapple with the dilemmas of its success. It is an increasingly multipolar world.

And it is not just about China. The European Union, with a very different approach to trade and tech rules than the United States, sees itself as the superpower of regulation, trying to leverage its $15 trillion economy and 516 million consumers to create global standards. Its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has forced Big Tech to respect its privacy standards or face billion-dollar penalties. While the United States still lacks federal standards, several states, most notably California, have laws like GDPR.

More recently, the European Union is legislating a Digital Marketing Agreement (DMA) aimed mostly at US Big Tech to level the playing field for all digital companies. It is also launching a Digital Services Agreement (DSA) to regulate responsibilities of digital services to consumers in the European Union, and a new initiative to influence setting standards in emerging tech.

Why does this matter? We are in the midst of an unprecedented technology revolution (e.g. artificial intelligence, robotics, 5G, 3D printing, synthetic biology), and innovation will be the key driver of economic growth in the decades ahead. All aspects of our economy and lives are increasingly digitized. The Federal Reserve is even considering a digital dollar. Data and its cross-border flows have become the lifeblood of world trade.

The World Bank estimates that the digital economy is already 15.5% of global GDP. E-commerce hit $25.6 trillion in 2018. This trend was accelerated by COVID-19: From Zoom to telemedicine, digital services are rapidly growing in importance. The United States typically runs a massive trade deficit in goods but large surpluses in services—$290 billion in 2019. Combine that with US status as a leading global innovator in information and communications technology, and the United States may be well positioned to thrive in the digital universe.

That’s where the rules and standards, still wanting for new tech, come in. They will shape markets and facilitate growth and jobs. Yet, for all the public outrage at Big Tech, a deeply polarized Congress has so far failed to pass federal privacy or substantive anti-trust legislation. Not for want of trying: Over the past several years, there have been dozens of tech bills offered. But only a handful get very far in the dance of legislation.

Even bills that have strong bipartisan support have stumbled. Versions of the $250 billion America COMPETES legislation foundered over the past two years. The bill would boost high-end semiconductor manufacturing in the United States as well as tech research and development. Finally, last June, it passed the Senate with a solid bipartisan vote (68-32). The House haggled over it for months, attaching dozens of amendments, and finally passing it last week. Reconciling the different bills will drag the dance out to spring. This is not an inspiring way to compete with China.

package of anti-trust bills that would make it harder for Big Tech to buy or merge with smaller firms and level the playing field on apps passed House committees last year. But differences within and between the two political parties make it problematic for any to reach President Biden’s desk this year. And with Republicans projected to take the House in November, many assess that if anti-trust bills don’t pass this year, it will become more difficult to do so in the future.

Similarly with international technical standards in global standard-setting bodies like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). China aggressively floods the zone with its own representatives, while Washington lags in mobilizing private sector stakeholders and US allies to push back against efforts to shape standards to Beijing’s preferences.

The picture is even more troubling regarding trade rules. As Europe and Asia sign a plethora of trade agreements, the United States has taken itself out of the game. In part because of a backlash to job losses to China earlier this century, both political parties are averse to the United States advancing new market-access accords and leaning in a protectionist direction.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations launched and negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) accord, a 12-nation pact that would have covered 40% of the world economy. The idea was to fashion a high-standards regional agreement to gain leverage to write the rules and press China to reform or lose markets. China is the number one trade partner of all US Indo-Pacific allies and partners.

But President Trump withdrew from TPP during his first week in office. Japan carried the accord forward, and, ironically, now China has applied to join. In addition, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) signed by 15 Asian nations—including US Asian allies—went into effect last month. The United States remains the outlier.

Some in the administration are trying to fashion a region-wide digital commerce accord, in effect regionalizing high-standards accords the United States already has in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and US-Japan bilateral accord. But that effort has been blocked by divisions within the bureaucracy.

All told, unforced errors have put the United States in an awkward position to shape the rules-based order it seeks. One hopeful sign, however, is the recently formed US-EU Trade and Technology Council. It is an effort to coordinate positions on things such as WTO reform and emerging technologies like 5G and AI. To the extent that the United States and European Union can harmonize their positions, they will gain leverage with China to shape norms.

The situation is less than reassuring. But as tech legislation creeps its way through Congress and the United States and European Union intensify efforts to find policy consensus, I am reminded of the sardonic quip attributed to Winston Churchill that Americans can always be counted on do the right thing—after exhausting all other possibilities.

Robert A. Manning (rmanning@atlanticcouncil.org) is a senior fellow of the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He was Director of Asian Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations (1997-2001), a senior counselor to the under-secretary of State for Global Affairs from 2001 to 2004, a member of the US Department of State Policy Planning Staff from 2004 to 2008 and on the National Intelligence Council (NIC) Strategic Futures Group from 2008 to 2012. Follow him on Twitter @Rmanning4.  

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PacNet #8 — Back to the past: The significance of Russia and China’s joint statement

Of his 11 official visits to China as Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s nine-hour stop in Beijing on Feb. 4 was the shortest, perhaps barely adequate to refuel his huge Ilyushin Il-96-300PU Russian Air Force One.

From Russia, with love, and more…

This Blitzkrieg-style visit to Russia’s largest neighbor and the most valuable “strategic partner,” however, meant not only  Russia’s “love” (support for the Beijing Winter Olympics) but was also loaded with substance. Before attending the opening ceremony, Xi and Putin lunched together, held talks, and inked 16 agreements in energy ($117.5 billion), trade (up to $250 billion in a few years), space, and digital sectors. The two sides also discussed “military-technical cooperation” to enhance their “special” relationship.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of Putin’s visit was the signing of the “Russia-China joint statement on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development.” In it, the two spelled out a similar worldview, bolstered by a non-alliance that will nonetheless allow for very close coordination.

The world according to Moscow and Beijing

The last time the two leaders met in person was 25 months earlier, in Brazil, for the annual BRICS summit. Since then, the world has changed so much—post-Trump, post-Afghanistan, protracted pandemic—and yet so little: relations with Washington continued to worsen, particularly in areas of their “core national interests” (such as Ukraine and Taiwan). Despite differences in these two interests, Moscow and Beijing now perceive Washington as unreliable and even dishonest in living up to its diplomatic commitments: “no NATO expansion to the east” as spelled out by James Baker in 1990 and the “one-China principle” that Beijing argues Washington has retreated from.

“No state can or should ensure its own security separately from the security of the rest of the world and at the expense of the security of other states,” says the statement. The Russian side reaffirmed its support for Beijing’s “One-China principle” and its opposition to AUKUS, which both Moscow and Beijing have argued is an anti-China alliance in the Indo-Pacific. China reciprocated with its opposition to NATO enlargement. There is no mention of Ukraine (a “strategic partner” of China), but Beijing “is sympathetic to and supports” Russia’s proposal “to create long-term legally binding security guarantees in Europe.” For Moscow and Beijing, the UN-based world order, not the US-led NATO alliance, should be key to world peace and prosperity.

At the onset of the Biden administration, Moscow and Beijing expected something different, after a Trump administration that labeled them both “strategic competitors.” Biden’s hardball approach of alliance-building, democracy promotion, and enduring sanctions ended their limited expectations for a moderate “reset” of relations with Washington.

Even the chaotic Afghan exit last August produced some uncomfortable outcomes for Beijing and Moscow: an unsettling Taliban-run Afghanistan with ripple effects for Central Asia; more resources for Washington to counter its major-power rivals; and a United States more determined to avoid another loss similar to the fall of Kabul.

A league of their own

For those who believe that every interaction between Russia and China aims at undermining the West, the new 5,400-word statement offers a full plate. For those who try to regain a pivotal US posture within the “strategic triangle” pioneered by President Nixon exactly 50 years ago, however, there is little optimism: the document suggests much closer ties between the two. Both alarmists and realpolitik practitioners, however, miss some important dynamics between China and Russia—and within them.

From time to time, Moscow and Beijing declare that their strategic partnership is not an alliance. Nor do they intend to build one. “The new inter-state relations between Russia and China are superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era,” says the statement. These public declarations to transcend traditional military alliances need to be taken more seriously for at least two reasons.

First, China and Russia are among the few genuinely independent large civilizational entities that value their independence and sovereignty above anything else. Traditional military alliances with interlocking mechanisms for security would deprive them of their freedom of action. The West now seems to forget the rigid and binding alliances that produced the fateful “Guns of August” of 1914. Within a week of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, major powers in Europe declared war on each other largely because of their alliance commitment (see Scott Sagan’s “1914 Revisited”).

More important is the shadow of their past. The Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950s, though brief, produced both friendship and friction. There is no question that massive Soviet assistance laid the foundation for China’s modernization, for which the Chinese are still grateful. It was nonetheless an asymmetrical relationship with considerable Soviet intrusion into China’s domestic affairs.

Over time, their shared political ideology of communism did not prevent them from pursuing different priorities at home and abroad, leading to both polemical and military confrontations in the 1960s and 1970s. Ideology exaggerated the friendship during their “honeymoon” (1949-59) and amplified disagreements during their 30-year “divorce” (1960-89). As such, the first step of their rapprochement in the 1980s was to de-ideologize their relationship. Since then, the two have transformed this asymmetrical, highly ideological, and dangerously militarized relationship into one of pragmatic coexistence. In a way, the current Russia-China “strategic partnership” is a normal relationship after the “best” and “worst” times.

The non-aligned nature of the current Sino-Russian relationship, however, does not preclude close coordination. If anything, it allows open-ended and flexible strategic interaction. “Friendship between the two states has no limits” and “there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation,” declares the joint statement. Ultimately, it is the vast and stable strategic depth between the two large land powers, or the so-called “back-to-back” posture, that guarantees their national security. It is highly unlikely that either Moscow or Beijing would trade this anchor of stability for any tactical overture from Washington.

Back to the past?

A considerable portion of the joint statement is devoted to the democracy issue, as a response to the US-sponsored “Democracy Summit” in October 2021. For China and Russia, democracy should be chosen and administered by local peoples, just as the West has done, and not imposed from outside; the global system, too, should be democratized, rather than subject to hegemony.

This parallel democratic mechanism at both domestic and international levels, no matter how unrealistic in the eyes of the West, may reflect the national trajectories of Russia and China.

Three decades after the Cold War, China and Russia have returned, to different degrees, to their cultural/religious heritage of Confucianism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite their vastly different national experiences (China’s steady rise and Russia’s historical decline), they have managed to maintain stable relations thanks to their historical return to the Westphalianism of noninterference in each other’s domestic affairs, the foundation of the modern world system of sovereign states pioneered—and now largely discarded—by the West.

How Russia and China’s back-to-the-past approach will interface with Washington’s alliance/democracy-promotion strategy remains to be seen.

Yu Bin (byu@wittenberg.edu) is a professor of political science at Wittenberg University in Ohio and a regular contributor to Comparative Connections on China, Russia and Central Asia since 1999. 

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PacNet #7 — China’s growing confidence in drone warfare

After a decade of extensive research and development, China has begun demonstrating growing confidence in drones’ manufacture—and their use in warfare.

Although many militaries around the world use drones in military operations, none integrate them in such a comprehensive a manner as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). While US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan limited drone use to specific targets and individuals, the PLA, particularly its air force and navy, considers drones to be as important as any other offensive combat system. It does not see drones as mere auxiliaries, but a crucial combat component to compensate for some of its weakness.

For example, even though China has begun deploying modern combat carriers such as the J-20 stealth fighter and nuclear-armed submarines, it does so in relatively small amounts, and many believe its capabilities remain inferior to the United States’. To compensate, the PLA has adopted an asymmetric strategy. Thousands of missiles are deployed near the coast of Taiwan that can strike US aircraft carrier battle groups and reach US military bases as far as Guam. Drones complement the strategy of missile strikes in combination with modern fighter jets, submarines, and surface ships operating closer to China’s coast, which would be deadly for American forces.

Chinese sources report that a twin-seat version of the J-20 is under development. The extra pilot will allow the aircraft to perform more tasks, including operating several air drones which could be used for recognizing and partaking in attack missions, providing a protective barrier to the J-20 and improving its odds against superior American fighters. The Chinese air force’s most ambitious project is the “flying aircraft carrier,” a mother ship air drone that would carry several drones to be used in swarm attacks against enemy aircraft and air defense systems. Airshow China 2021 displayed the GJ-11 stealth air drone, designed for reconnaissance and attack missions in heavily defended air space. The GJ-11 is the most advanced drone of its kind; more advanced than anything the United States currently has in its inventory.

The Chinese air force is not merely relying on state-of-the-art drones. It is also converting obsolete fighter jets such as the J-7 into drones. Some analysts have speculated that these conversions have been used for incursions into Taiwan’s Air Identification Zone. Though no match for Taiwan’s modern fighters, when used in large numbers and mixed with modern fighters, they can confuse an opponent’s air defenses.

The PLA Navy (PLAN), just like the US Navy, believes that the odds of war between China and the United States will increase in the coming years and that naval warfare will be crucial. To counter US aircraft carriers, nuclear-armed submarines, and modern fighters, the PLAN is also investing heavily in drones. In July, one source reported that China was testing a “cross medium UAV,” a drone that can operate both underwater and in the air. The United States operates such drones, but those developed by China are far more sophisticated.

China’s Yunzhou Tech is developing a drone ship carrying six smaller water drones to attack the surface of enemy ships. The six-armed drones are to work in a coordinated manner to surround and proceed with its offensive operations. The growing sophistication of Chinese technology suggests that these ship drones will become more powerful and carry greater numbers of smaller attack drones. Chinese scientists have also developed a shark-shaped drone to attack submarines. In December 2020, for instance, an Indonesian fisherman found a Chinese underwater drone off the coast of South Sulawesi, close to northern Australia.

In September, several media reports claimed that China successfully landed a hypersonic drone. If such reports are accurate, China will be the first nation to achieve such prowess, placing it ahead of the United States in both drone and hypersonic technology.

If a conflict were to break out with the US Navy over Taiwan, the PLAN has no intention of fighting the United States in an open conventional naval battle, like the Battle of Midway. US forces will have to come closer to China’s coast, where the PLAN and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) enjoy the advantages of proximity to their logistic base and the protection of its missile umbrella. That means reaching Taiwan will be a difficult and bloody operation for the United States.

The US military has the upper hand in many areas, such as aircraft carriers, stealth fighters, nuclear-armed submarines, and satellites. However—and such a possibility is by no means certain—if China were to acquire the lead in hypersonic missiles, hypersonic and stealth attack drones, cruise and ballistic missiles, and cyber warfare, it is no longer clear that the balance of power favors the United States.

What’s clear is that the PLA believes that drones are the future of modern warfare, which is why it has embraced it. The United States would be well-advised to invest more in drone technology and the means to counter it.

Loro Horta (embajadorlorohorta@gmail.com) is an academic and diplomat from Timor Leste. The views expressed here are strictly his own.

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PacNet #6 What happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine

Russia’s recent ultimatum to both the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Ukraine and European security could set a dangerous precedent, with effects that reach far beyond Europe.

The ultimatum, issued in two draft agreements (one between Russia and the United States, one between Russia and NATO) follows an unprecedented Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian-Russian border. In them, Moscow demands US and NATO guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.

Moscow wants to resolve an issue, pertaining to European security, by concluding an agreement with the United States, without Europeans and other powers in the room. This mentality is reminiscent of the Cold War, when global affairs were managed by just two countries: the United States and the Soviet Union.

The world has changed, however. Today, we live in a globalized, interconnected world, and what happens in Europe will not stay there. There can no longer be just “European” security. For instance, some 40% of European trade traffic transits through the South China Sea, and cross-Strait relations have direct implications for the economic security of the United States and Europe, as well as Japan and the Republic of Korea.

What’s more, the world is connected by vast networks of underwater communication cables serving as the nerves and blood vessels of the digital age-world economy. There is also a net of free trade agreements, logistic highways, and energy supply routes going beyond the oceans and the continents.

Significantly, more than half of the world’s nuclear powers are in the Indo-Pacific. Security concerns include the long list of territorial claims between states in the Indo-Pacific, not to mention the regular testing of ballistic missiles in this region.

So, how can security issues in Europe be addressed in isolation of developments in Asia?

If Russia gets its way, and the United States and its partners honor Moscow’s demands, there will be consequences for the Indo-Pacific security environment that the United States and its regional partners have been busy reshaping. The Quad, AUKUS, and recent bilateral agreements between Japan and Australia exemplify these efforts. Strengthened US security guarantees to several key states in the region serve as a backbone of regional security.

So, if Moscow is serious about obtaining security guarantees, then the scope and format of negotiations must be extended. At minimum, the countries of the G7, plus Russia, China, India, and Australia should be involved in such talks; these countries, after all, cover 70% of the world’s GDP and half of its population. All cards should be on a table, including territorial claims, maritime issues, and the security of logistic networks and communication lanes. This may be ambitious, but the time is right to shape a new world order. A good first step would be to compare notes; no disease can be cured without proper diagnosis.

Until then, there must be agreement that Russia’s demand—that European security be decided on a purely bilateral basis—is unacceptable.

Accepting this would signal that countries can get away with blackmail, intimidation, and even force to achieve their goals. China would likely be emboldened to proceed with its own goals—and not just vis-a-vis Taiwan, but also in the East and South China Seas.

The nations of the world, therefore, must unite and reject the idea that major powers are entitled to spheres of influence. No major power should have the right to rule over smaller states they deem to be in “their” sphere. While we in Ukraine busily study possible routes of Russian invasion, major powers should realize that the real distinction should be between states which want to live in peace and those which seek illegal advantages over others in their neighborhood. Rules should matter more than power.

Neither of the two biggest knots of tension in world politics—Ukraine and Taiwan—should be resolved by force, and if they are, expect the international order to change significantly as it would open the floodgates to more aggressive actions.

Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky is the Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan.

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PacNet #3 Abe was key to the Indo-Pacific’s evolution

This is a transitional moment for the Indo-Pacific. Regional governments are forging new security relationships—the Japan-Australia partnership is the leading edge, as various European governments jostle for inclusion—and new institutions are emerging—from AUKUS to the Quad in the security sphere and at the same time, economic configurations include CPTPP and RCEP.

How did we get here? There are several explanations. Realists insist that rising powers create instability, triggered either by their ambition or the hegemon’s insecurity. For others, the unraveling of the architecture of coexistence, in which China provided markets and the US provided security, was the problem. To my mind, there are still more basic explanations.

First, you need a threat, a source of instability big enough to motivate states to act. With all due respect to John Mearsheimer, China doesn’t fit the bill—at least, not until recently. China has been rising for decades and while that created concern, there wasn’t concerted action to balance against it until Xi Jinping took power. He inherited a powerhouse economy and a modernizing military and married them to ambition and vision—a Belt and Road Initiative that girdled the globe—to pursue the China dream. His ascension and his muscular foreign policy unnerved governments worldwide. If the dream belonged to the nation, it is Xi who acted to make it real: The elimination of rivals, the consolidation of power, and efforts to entrench himself in office make plain that he is a singular world-historical individual who drives decision making in Beijing.

That security threat has been magnified by perceived unreliability on the United States. It’s tempting to blame Donald Trump for this. He created considerable unease with his disdain for alliances, contempt for multilateralism, and narrowly defined view of US national interests, but concern predates his administration. The US refusal to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a strategic agreement masquerading as a trade deal that Washington was instrumental in negotiating, is the most glaring example, and that was President Obama’s fault. The failure to ensure that China honored the purported agreement to withdraw its forces from Scarborough Shoal was another blow to US credibility.

Trump’s mercurial and transactional approach to policy crystalized fears and left allies and partners wondering what might be next. While the worst predictions did not come true, the damage was done. Governments around the region know that even if Trump departed, Trumpism remains, and his foreign policy mindset could reassert itself in Washington even if he did not return to power.

More alarming, though, is a realization that a “mainstream,” traditionally minded president like Joe Biden can still unsettle the status quo. The withdrawal from Afghanistan rattled even those allies who approved of the decision but were alarmed by the incompetence of its execution and the lack of consultation. The persistence of Trump’s thinking about economic security, manifest most plainly in tariffs that remain in place against allies, is another source of concern. Other moves, such as the abrupt cancellation of the France-Australian submarine agreement and the substitution of a UK-US deal, reinforce a belief that Washington’s field of vision is narrowing and that allies and partners play increasingly bit roles.

A third factor that shaped the region’s evolution was the tenure of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. His was one of the most remarkable second acts in world politics. After a brutal failure during his first term as prime minister, he returned to the Kantei for a period of stability, energy, and creativity unrivaled in Japan’s modern history.

The fact that Abe stayed in office as long as he did—he claimed the record for the longest-serving PM in the country’s history—transformed perceptions of Japan. His determination to modernize the country’s national security bureaucracy and subsequent commitment to using that power and purpose to support a wobbling regional order yielded institutions—the CPTPP and the Quad, to name but two—pillars of the emerging architecture.

A fourth and final key factor is a conceptual framework, the Indo-Pacific. Abe championed this concept, but it deserves recognition on its own. While the idea of an Indo-Pacific strategic space had been employed by US Pacific Command combatant commanders from the late 1980s, Abe elevated that idea to a guiding principle in his 2007 speech to the Indian Parliament in which he spoke of “the confluence of two seas.” Obama’s “rebalance” incorporated the concept, but it didn’t assume prominence until the Trump administration adopted the framework in 2017.

The Indo-Pacific is a curious geographical space. China is physically in the middle, but it’s bracketed between two democratic powers. The inclusion of India as a geopolitical counterweight to China is one of the most obvious intentions of its proponents. More important, that Indo-Pacific frame is a predominately maritime domain and links the strategic space to the trade routes that run through its heart. In addition, the inclusion of the Indian Ocean invites European countries with an African presence to be engaged. These considerations expand the number of countries that can claim an interest in events within that region. It is thus an inherently inclusive framework, which allows more countries to participate in regional security affairs.

The key variable appears to have been Abe—which means that our current moment may well result from considerable luck. Abe was a break with history, and Japan appears to be resorting to kind. His successor was in office for just a year. His successor, Kishida Fumio, is popular, but he is a traditional Japanese politician who mediates among factions and plays down his own opinions. There is mounting evidence that the Japanese public is increasingly inward-focused, cautious, and risk-averse. It can be led, but Kishida will have to have vision, charisma, competence, and luck, especially given the challenging circumstances—COVID, China, and a distracted ally.

Still, trajectories have been set, and that will allow bureaucracies to follow through. Headwinds will grow, but there is enough momentum and energy to believe that a genuine regional security architecture will emerge.

Brad Glosserman (brad@pacforum.org) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior adviser (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of “Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions” (Georgetown University Press, 2019).

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PacNet #1 The limits of a securitized Japanese FOIP Vision

Critics of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision conflate it with an anti-China containment strategy. They see it as an extension of the former Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Others see the “free and open” aspect of FOIP as hypocritical as Japan actively courts non-democratic states to support its FOIP vision, such as through the recent Japan-Vietnam summit and activities with countries considered flawed democracies, such as India.

These interpretations misread FOIP’s strategic imperatives. First, conceptualizing FOIP as an anti-China containment strategy overlooks deep and mutually beneficial Sino-Japanese economic ties. To illustrate this, in 2020, a year in which China’s unfavorably ratings remained at record lows in Japan, we saw deepening Japanese exports to China, equivalent to $141.6 billion (and 22.1% of total Japanese exports).

If we include the $44.4 billion (6.9%) of Japan exports to Taiwan and the $32 billion (5%) of exports to Hong Kong, exports to greater China represent at least $218 billion or 33.1% of Japan’s total exports, nearly twice that of the US at $118.8 billion (18.5%). Economic decoupling is not possible nor desirable, a sentiment shared by most of China’s trading partners.

We have also seen Japan’s willingness to cooperate with China on infrastructure and connectivity in third countries based on the principles of transparency, fair procurement, and economic viability, to be financed by repayable debt and to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

In surveys conducted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), China returned to its position as the most promising country in terms of trade in FY2020 survey. Its return to the top of the JBIC survey ranking was related to COVID-19 policies that kept supply chains mostly intact and operational, allowing for the resumption of economic activity. China compared very favorably to India, which experienced a severe nationwide lockdown and the associated disruption in the economy.

Second, FOIP’s “free” and “open” do not reference democracy or freedom of press advocacy; they refer to trading regimes, sea lines of communication, and the digital economy being rules-based, transparent, and arbitrated by international law and/or multilateral agreements. Japan has a long track record of working with partners regardless of their political system, commitment to democracy, or human rights track record. Japan-Iran, Japan-Vietnam, and Japan-China energy and economic cooperation are cases in point.

Participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement alongside China further illustrates Japan’s reticence to sever its economic ties with its largest trading partner.

Third, Japan’s expanded defense procurement continues to be incremental both in terms of budget but also capabilities. For example, according to Janes Defense Budgets forecasts an increase to $49.6 billion in 2022 is slightly larger than 1% of Japan’s GDP. Compared to China, spending approximately $209.16 billion in 2021 (approximately 1.34% of GDP), Japan’s spending increase remains modest and focused on the acquisition of cyberspace, electromagnetic, and over-the-horizon radar capabilities, as well as satellites to enhance space and maritime domain awareness. Beyond these capabilities, the 2022 defense budget aims to secure funding for the deployment of around 570 Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF) and to deploy surface-to-air and anti-ship missile batteries on Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island.

 In contrast, while China is committed to expanding its nuclear arsenal and testing hypersonic delivery systems, Tokyo is still wrangling over constitutional reform and whether it should increase defense spending to 2% of GDP.

If FOIP was a containment strategy, we would see a substantial increase in deterrence capabilities, including submarine acquisitions, lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWs), and the acquisition of mid- to long-range missile systems that would be able to target threats in the region.

Instead, Tokyo’s FOIP vision continues to be multifaceted. Key features continue to include trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity, and investment in resilient supply chains. Together, these core features are inculcating a rules-based predictability into critical sea lines of communication (SLOCs) through an adherence to international law.

For Tokyo, the focus on SLOCs, trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity and investment in resilient supply chains is tangentially related to Japan’s economic security. A disruption in SLOCs through a regional conflict, incident, or Taiwan contingency would cut off Japan’s economy from the critical arteries for the import and export of goods and energy resources.

Trade promotion, development, the expansion of infrastructure and connectivity and investment in resilient supply chains is about enmeshing Japan into the Indo-Pacific’s economy, its burgeoning institutions, and its rules-making process. Tokyo wants to lock itself into the region’s political economy to ensure that it evolves in a form favorable to Japanese interests. This means strategic partnerships, multilateral cooperation and agreements, and socio-economic tools rather than military tools being the primary means Tokyo wishes to achieve its strategic priority.

The Japan-EU Economic Partnership, Japan-EU Infrastructure and Connectivity agreement, and the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI), which include Japan, India, and Australia, are all examples of Tokyo’s efforts to enmesh itself in a series of multilateral agreements that anchor Japan into the national interests of other regions and countries and to anchor those countries and regions into the Indo-Pacific.

This multilateral approach does not eschew strategic partnerships, defense agreements, and the centrality of the Japan-US alliance in Japan’s FOIP vision. Japan is continuing to deepen its relationship with the US while moving towards a defense treaty with Australia.

Discussions are also on their way towards the Japan-UK Reciprocal Access Agreement, 2+2 ministerial security talk between Japan and France, and on May 3, 2021 Japan and Canada announced their “Shared Japan-Canada Priorities Contributing to a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

The latter announcement stresses cooperation in six key areas including: 1) the rule of law; 2) peacekeeping operations, peacebuilding, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; 3) health security and responding to COVID-19; 4) energy security; 5) free trade promotion and trade agreement implementation; and 6) environment and climate change.

This is an agenda that speaks to Japan’s comprehensive approach to achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. It also illustrates the limits of a securitized Japanese FOIP vision focused on confronting or containing China directly.

Policymakers in Washington should understand that Japan’s FOIP approach resonates with many regional stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific as it aims to invest in regional institutions such that they are more resilient, transparent, and rules-based. Critically, Japan continues to engage with China economically from a position wedded to both multilateral engagement and deepening cooperation within the US-Japan alliance.

Dr. Stephen Nagy (nagy@icu.ac.jp) is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a senior fellow with the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI), a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1.

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PacNet #58 – Why the UK was the Big Winner of AUKUS

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Diplomat.

The diplomatic and media spat has only now begun to die down since the announcement on Sept. 15 of the AUKUS security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While the agreement has been presented as allowing Australia access to sensitive US technology to acquire eight nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, the agreement also involves cooperation in other sensitive areas. AUKUS meant the concomitant cancellation of Australia’s contract with the French Naval Group to build 12 conventionally-powered submarines.

For the United States, the strategic benefits of AUKUS are symbolically important, but otherwise modest. Upon celebrating the 70thanniversary of the ANZUS alliance with Australia and New Zealand, the United States extolled Australia as its historic partner, the only country that has been involved in every war—from the justified to the ill-considered—that Washington has fought since 1917.

Today, Australia is completely on the US side in its rivalry with China. Having a fellow member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement (dating from World War II) and, more recently, a member of the Quad as an even closer ally in the Indo-Pacific is a plus for Washington. More concretely, having an Australian submarine force of some eight vessels as an auxiliary fleet to the US Navy in the South China Sea makes good, if marginal, strategic sense for the Pentagon.

However, whether the perceived loss of autonomy and sovereignty is in Australia’s own interest is a cause of some debate Down Under. While supporting, in principle, the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS, the opposition Labor Party has criticized the government for the 10-year gap in submarine capacity that will result from waiting till 2040 for the first of the yet-to-be-designed vessels to arrive.

It is also unlikely that the submarines will be built in the United States for two reasons. On the one hand, as things stand today, the specialized US shipyards already have their order books full over the next decades producing vessels in much larger numbers—and in absolute priority—for the US Navy. On the other, Australian requirements would seem to be for a smaller hunter-killer submarine than those produced for the US Navy, and rather for something akin to the Royal Navy’s existing Astute-class submarine.

US manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin were already set to provide the weapons systems for the 12 Australian submarines commissioned under the aborted project with the French; they will now do so for the eight vessels planned under AUKUS. US companies will, however, more fully benefit from other aspects of AUKUS with the development and manufacture of high-technology weaponry. Still, these cooperative arrangements were already underway prior AUKUS. For example, the emblematically named Loyal Wingman unmanned aerial vehicle developed by a subsidiary of Boeing in Australia had its first flight in February of this year.

So, if in economic terms the United States is not the major beneficiary of AUKUS, this leaves the United Kingdom. Somewhat surprisingly the role and, above all, the economic interests of the United Kingdom in the pact have been left unexamined. Britain has not suffered from any of the diplomatic blowback that has occurred since Sept. 15. For example, while Paris recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, its ambassador in London remained in place. At the time this was interpreted as a subtle way of pooh-poohing the importance of the United Kingdom. Perhaps, also, given the parlous state of relations across the Channel as the unfortunate but predictable consequences of Brexit are worked through, it may have seemed unhelpful to add another area of contention.

Most commentators have essentially highlighted the symbolic value of AUKUS for London. At worst, this means reviving a kind of Anglosphere with echoes of Churchill and Roosevelt or even shades of a return of the British Empire in the Indo-Pacific. At best, it involves giving some substance to the post-Brexit trope of a Global Britain, returning as a major security actor in the region almost 60 years after the withdrawal from “east of Suez.” From this perspective, the timing is not inconsequential. The AUKUS announcement was made the day before the presentation by the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, to the European Parliament of a Franco-German-inspired major policy paper on the EU Strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

The timing of the announcement may have been prompted by London to eclipse any European foreign policy grandstanding. If so, it was quite effective: the EU Strategy went largely unreported. However, for Canberra it seems not to have been clever to offend a key European country while in negotiations for an EU-Australia free trade agreement.

Beyond the symbolism, and the post-Brexit one-upmanship, the importance of AUKUS for Britain lies elsewhere. A recent post from International Institute for Strategic Studies in London traces the genesis of AUKUS to a request made by the chief of the Royal Australian Navy to his British counterpart. This request is understandable: Historically the Australian submarine fleet has been dependent on expertise from the Royal Navy and several senior officers are from Britain. But other than questions of comradeship, for very rational reasons, the British seemed to have jumped on this opportunity. At a practical strategic level, AUKUS will enable Britain to have more permanent basing rights for its own nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. This would enable a more sustained naval presence in the Indo-Pacific rather than the fleeting deployment, as at the moment, of a naval group around the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Nevertheless, the most important benefit of AUKUS for Britain is for what former US President Dwight Eisenhower famously described as the military-industrial complex. A mere two days after AUKUS was announced, the British government awarded two contracts to BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce for initial design work on a new generation of nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines for the Royal Navy. It makes a great deal of industrial sense to share design costs with a reliable partner-client, i.e., Australia, especially as BAE Systems already has a significant presence there.

Given the issues of technical specifications and industrial capacity mentioned above it would appear that, by default at least, most of the production will occur in the United Kingdom. This would involve a lower level of local production in Adelaide compared to that under the contract with the French. Moreover, the yet-to-be designed class of submarines for Australia would enter service in the 2040s, the same timeframe as that mooted for the British subs. This is a decade after both the next generation of US nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, as well as the initially planned entry into service of the conventionally powered submarines envisaged in Australia’s contract with the French. Thus, a major motivation for Britain is in the industrial logic of economies of scale. Such economies would benefit most of all the United Kingdom.

Beyond this understandable industrial logic, there are also electoral concerns that underpin the AUKUS announcement. In his short declaration on Sept. 15 with the US president and his Australian counterpart, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on the jobs that would be created in his country. He somewhat heavy-handedly insisted these industrial jobs would be created in those poorer, pro-Brexit constituencies in northern England that swung to the conservatives in the 2019 elections, but which cannot be considered as permanent Tory territory.

As European middle powers and important arms manufacturers, France and Britain share a similar approach. While appealing to historic ties, such sales of weaponry are designed to tie the buyer into a degree of international partnership. The difference, however, is that France, unlike Britain, is a resident middle-power in the Indo-Pacific. The French territory of New Caledonia is Australia’s closest eastern neighbor, so in that sense France’s now much-damaged partnership with Australia also has a domestic dimension.

It is therefore not surprising that the loss of the submarine contract has engendered not merely recriminations, but a concerted reevaluation in the last two months of French—and even European—strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and the place of Australia within that framework. It remains to be seen whether Canberra’s decision to throw in its lot with the United States, to the detriment of damaging relations with other partners, is in the county’s national interest.

David Camroux (david.camroux@sciencespo.fr) is an honorary senior research fellow within the Centre for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po.

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

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 (ron.huisken@anu.edu.au) is Adjunct Associate Professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU and Editor of the CSCAP Regional Security Outlook.

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