Tag: International Relations

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Last month, a group of students at Belmont Abbey College and I had an online discussion about the situation in Ukraine. Those who participated are current or graduated students in the International Relations program. During the academic year, students and interested faculty meet periodically in an open forum known as the “Informal Policy Working Group,” […]

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‘You Two Deserve Each Other’: Russia, China, and the Impending Fight Over Vladivostok


It seems that Xi Jinping’s move to a more openly aggressive foreign policy is extending in every direction, not just to his Southwestern neighbor India, but to his Northern ally, Russia. The PRC is now claiming past (and hinting at proper present) ownership of one of Russia’s major Pacific port cities, Vladivostok (Владивосток), on the basis of Qing rule in the territory. (For those who are unfamiliar with Chinese dynasties, the Qing were the final emperors of China and ruled from 1644 until 1912, but the territory under question was annexed by Russia in the 1860 Treaty of Beijing and Han people, who constitute(d) the majority of China’s population, had long been banned from entry by their Manchu rulers. Additionally, the Chinese Empire was not the first or last territorial entity to claim or assert ownership in the region). What does this bode for Russia and China individually, and their mutual relations?

>As a disclaimer, I understand very little Chinese, basically nothing beyond the ability to politely navigate a grocery store/restaurant and introduce myself, so my analysis will mostly fall on the Russian side of the issue, where I have a far superior linguistic arsenal. But, let’s begin by situating this (maybe) surprising turn of events within a broader context. For the sake of some minimal amount of brevity, I’ll summarize the pre-1949 relationship by saying that it was a mixed bag at the official level (borders were not firmly set in the pre and early modern worlds, and even beyond then people at a local level generally continue to interact regardless of their government’s wishes), and by the late 19th century favored Russia as the richer and more Westernized/militarily superior power.

Skipping a bit ahead, relations between the PRC and the USSR were often about as cosy as the climate of the Russian Far East. Naturally, the two largest Communist powers in the world were allies, and the Soviets sent aid to Mao when he was fighting the Kuomintang, but even then Stalin was stingy in the amounts that he sent, and as the years went on he hardly became more friendly. Mao, when he visited Russia, was made to feel like a lesser entity in all of his meetings with Uncle Joe, something that was particularly damaging to relations when the Chinese despot had such singular control, and in general the Soviets did not hesitate in displaying a paternalistic attitude towards the newer members of the Marxist-Leninist camp, encouraging technological and educational exchange programs but also emphasizing their superiority as longer standing, stricter communists and a more advanced society. 

The Emperor Has Retired, Long Live the Emperor


http://www.pioneernews.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/8ljkgii8_naruhito-new-japan-emperor-afp_625x300_30_April_19.jpgThe son has risen in Japan, as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko bowed out gracefully in favor of their son and daughter-in-law, now the Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako. What, you missed this on May Day? You are not alone. The Japanese head of state, like the British monarch, has an important public role, but no real political power.

President Trump thanked the outgoing Emperor and Empress on 29 April, then sent greetings and congratulations to the incoming emperor and empress on 30 April. This abdication was a new thing for Japanese emperors since the Meiji Restoration, when the emperors reassumed real power:

Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, formally ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne today. His 85-year-old father, Akihito, yesterday became the first leader in two centuries to step down, citing ill health. He is now Emperor Emeritus.

Richard Epstein considers the pros and cons of America’s newfound diplomatic engagement with North Korea, and discusses related issues of trade, human rights, and presidential power.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America devote all three martinis to the Trump-Kim summit. They are happy that President Trump did not promise to revoke any of the North Korean sanctions and that Kim reportedly made concessions on his missile program. They also rip the deal over Trump agreeing to end joint military exercises with South Korea, while only getting a vague promise from Kim to move towards denuclearization. They also berate Trump for lavishing public praise towards Kim, calling it a great honor to meet with him and suggesting Kim loves his people.

Richard Epstein analyzes Donald Trump’s recent gambits on North Korea and Iran, contrasts the Trump Administration’s approach to foreign policy with the Obama Administration’s, and explains how contract theory should inform negotiations with Pyongyang.

Richard Epstein analyzes President Trump’s new plan for Afghanistan, the threat from
North Korea, and how the US should respond to trade tensions with China.

Jared Kushner: A Weak Link


Many of us are very pleased with the choices that President Trump has made for his cabinet and for SCOTUS. Many of those selected are familiar with the ins and outs of government, and those who aren’t are experienced with working with sensitive and global issues and leaders. So I’d like to explain my reservations with the president’s selection of Jared Kushner as a senior adviser who is now taking on the management and/or leadership of a number of projects, both domestic and international.

First, I’d like to list the roles he has been assigned with a limited description  of his duties and responsibilities:

  1. White House Office of American Innovation—this work entails coordinating between the public and private sector to streamline government.
  2. Shadow diplomat—according to the Washington Post, he is “the primary point of contact for presidents, ministers and ambassadors from more than two dozen countries.”
  3. Middle East Broker—working on a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
  4. Reforming care for veterans—it isn’t clear what his role will be.
  5. Fighting opioid addiction—again, his role has not been defined publicly.

It’s been pointed out that he has many other duties in the White House, but these are the ones that have been identified.

Richard Epstein weighs the merits of President Trump’s decision to strike Syria after the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

Richard Epstein argues that a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is destined to fail (at least in the short-term) and that the uneasy status quo may actually be the best option available to both sides.

Richard Epstein responds to the controversy over Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, Donald Trump’s national security team, and the president-elect’s skepticism of the One China policy.

ISIS: Our Non-Strategy and Our Too-Calm Republican Candidates


screenshot 2015-03-17 12.38.59I was flabbergasted to read this morning that we are “embracing a new approach” in the battle against ISIS:

In a major shift of focus in the battle against the Islamic State, the Obama administration is planning to establish a new military base in Anbar Province and send 400 American military trainers to help Iraqi forces retake the city of Ramadi.

Point 1: With all respect to our highly accomplished and experienced men and women in uniform, at this point a force of 400 military trainers in Anbar Province should properly be described as “next month’s hostages.” How could anyone of even cursory familiarity with this region — or the history of warfare, for that matter — fail to think of that immediately?

Grand Strategy Podcast: James Fearon on Rethinking Failed States


What is a failed state? When do they pose legitimate threats to American national security? Has America overestimated its capacity to impose order on far-flung parts of the globe? Those are some of the questions animating a new series of podcasts we’re releasing at the Hoover Institution featuring interviews with scholars from Hoover’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy. In this first installment, I talk with James Fearon, who wears many hats at Stanford: Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, a professor of political science, and a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. James’ argument: that the U.S. needs to be much more circumspect in taking on nation-building projects overseas. Listen in below:

The Strategika Podcast: Victor Davis Hanson on Understanding Putin


victor_davis_hansonAt the Hoover Institution, we’ve just released a new set of podcasts from our Strategika series on military history and foreign policy (subscribe to Strategika on iTunes here). We begin this series — which focuses on Russia and Ukraine — with a conversation with the great Victor Davis Hanson, who, amongst his many other accolades, chairs the Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group at Hoover that produces Strategika. In this episode, Victor attempts to get inside Vladimir Putin’s mind: analyzing his motivations, his ultimate goals, and the possible means of deterring him.

More on the Cotton Letter


XXX 3D7A4398.JPG AIn regard to Tommy De Seno’s comments on my previous post about Tom Cotton’s letter, we should all recognize that there is a difference between the policy of any agreement with Iran and the constitutional law that governs the agreement. We can have different views about the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions without having to disagree on the constitutional foundations of sole executive agreements or a senator’s right to voice his or her personal views about the Constitution. For what it’s worth, one fix for the controversy would be for Senator Cotton to offer a resolution on the floor of the Senate opposing any nuclear deal with Iran that does not undergo advice and consent.

Some are criticizing the Cotton letter for attempting to interfere with the president’s “sole organ” authority to conduct the diplomacy of the nation. But I don’t think the president’s sole organ authority, first articulated by John Marshall (as a congressman) and approved by the Supreme Court (in U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp in 1936), prohibits senators from making clear their positions on foreign policy matters. Senators can take votes that might oppose an executive branch policy. For example, the Senate passed a resolution opposing the Kyoto Accords, which effectively killed any chances of that treaty, and the American Servicemen’s Protection Act, which essentially defeated any hope for the International Criminal Court’s ratification by the U.S.

I, of course, have defended the sole organ authority of the president, probably more vigorously than any other law professor and few other government officials. But here the senators are not trying to negotiate with Iran or even trying to set out any terms for a deal. I thought the letter tried to avoid any substantive terms of the deal, but only went as far as stating clearly what U.S. constitutional law was (which I expect the Iranians already knew — or for which they paid advisors who could tell them). As a description of our constitutional law on international agreements, the letter was correct. What is the effective difference between sending the Constitution to the mullahs in an envelope, giving a speech reminding President Obama of the law of treaties, or publishing an op-ed criticizing the sole executive agreement? What would be best now would be for Senator Cotton to offer a Senate resolution opposing any sole executive agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability.

The Libertarian Podcast: The Cotton Controversy


We’ve been having a lively discussion here on the site about the propriety of the open letter to Iran sent by Tom Cotton and 46 other Republican senators. In the newest installment of The Libertarian podcast from the Hoover Institution, I ask Professor Epstein to weigh in: was the Cotton letter a breach of protocol…or law? Is President Obama right to pursue an executive agreement rather than a treaty with Iran? And what does it all mean for American national security? Find out by listening below or by subscribing to The Libertarian through iTunes or your favorite podcast service.

Iraq: What Might Have Been


290165818_4058f117ce_bIn a previous thread, Ricochet member Majestyk expressed a major complaint that he has about libertarians, liberals and even conservatives who gripe about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: What is your alternate scenario?

If we could unwind the clock of history and place you inside George W. Bush’s head (a la Being John Malkovich) what is your preferred policy prescription for U.S. foreign policy in the days following 9/11?

I never hear that question answered and I barely hear it asked.

What Ukraine Should Do Now


Vladimir_Putin_12024In a new piece I have up at Forbes, I lay out exactly what’s at stake for the West with Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine. In short, Putin wants nothing less than to unravel NATO. The U.S. has been decidedly unhelpful in assisting Ukraine, even though our allies there are much more reliable than the ones we’ve been arming in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. So what should Ukraine do now? My suggestion:

If I were Ukraine, I might concede Donbass and Crimea on a de facto but not de jure basis. Russia will not let them go under present circumstances. Let the Donbass (or that part that it presently holds) be a problem for Russia and the separatists to contend with; don’t let its self-appointed leaders dictate Ukrainian policy. When the time is right, the Donbass can come back into the fold. I would maintain a formidable standing army to defend the remaining Ukrainian provinces that have come to hate Putin’s Russia with a vengeance. I imagine that Odessa, Kiev, Zaporozhe and Lviv will make short change of self-appointed Muscovites when they arrive to proclaim new people’s republics. Who knows? If active hostilities ended, maybe even Barack Obama would supply defensive weapons. He’s good at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The upshot:

The Lesson(s) of Iraq


Iraq-Mp2 Though the situation is still very fluid, there’s a real chance that our efforts at nation building in Iraq will soon come to naught. Given our investment of time, treasure, and blood in the country — to say nothing of the prospect of a wicked and hostile Islamic state taking its place — this is deeply depressing. It’s bad enough for those of us who are simply patriots. I can only imagine how those who fought there must feel.

On the assumption that things don’t turn around, it’s important that we figure out what led to this. As I see it, our failure is likely attributable to one of three causes: 1) That we left too early because we were insufficiently committed; 2) That our humanitarian scruples prevented us from fighting with sufficient violence; or 3) That Iraqis never had it in them to transition to a modern, small-l liberal state.

The first possibility has merit, especially in light of President Obama’s promise to leave as soon as soon as possible. At the very least, it made things worse. That said, this narrative is remarkably convenient for those of us who supported the war. Self-serving claims always warrant scrutiny, especially when they point blame at one’s political enemies. It might be true — or part of the truth — but it shouldn’t be accepted without considering other options.

Saving Ukraine … with Night Vision Goggles


shutterstock_31342912President Obama’s National Security Council has announced the allocation of $5 million for Ukraine amid the ongoing armed conflict in the southeastern part of the country, money that’s going to go to the purchase of things like night vision and body armor. This gesture is similar to the announcement after Crimea’s annexation that several hundred U.S. troops would take part in maneuvers in Poland and the Baltic States.

If Ukraine uses the entire $5 million to buy top- of-the-line night vision goggles, its hard-pressed army could get exactly 556 pairs … to fight a Russian mercenary army that numbers in the thousands.

Perhaps the president kept the number small so as not to upset Vladimir Putin? Do we still need his help in finding solutions to Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear weapon? Doesn’t Obama understand that the U.S. is already blamed in Russian propaganda for being behind the whole Ukraine mess? If we’re going to be vilified either way, why not give poor Ukraine some assistance worthy of the name?