Sunday, October 3, 2021

Responsible Statecraft

Has neo-Orientalism killed our ability to sense the limits of Western influence?

The failure of Afghanistan should open our eyes to the fact that we don’t really know other countries and cultures at all.

by Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Quincy Institute, SEPTEMBER 28, 2021

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his conviction that the people of Iraq would welcome “liberation” by the United States and Britain. He refused to listen to warnings that Britain’s imperial record in Iraq would in fact lead them to regard British military intervention with instinctive distrust and hostility.

Yet Blair was also the first British prime minister to apologize in public for the crimes of the British empire. As with Western liberal internationalists in general, this acknowledgement of past national sins did not qualify in any way Blair’s assumption of the right to lecture other nations on their sins, tell them how they should be governed, and invade them in the name of building democracy. This combination of attitudes is inexplicable in rational terms — but makes perfect sense as a manifestation of secular religion. In a religious context, how often have loud public confessions of personal sinfulness provided the justification for ferocious condemnation of the sins of others? 

This combination is to be found in those American liberal internationalists who have acknowledged and apologized for systematic American support for savage Middle Eastern dictatorships — only to demand that people in the Middle East trust their promises that this time, a U.S. administration is really, truly sincere about bringing democracy to the region. Why on earth, on the basis of all past evidence, should any Arab or Iranian trust such promises? Indeed, on the basis of their past record, would you buy a used car from these drummers for democracy?

Blair’s combination of ideological fanaticism and the total historical illiteracy on which it depends was starkly revealed in his July 2003 speech to the U.S. Congress justifying the invasion of Iraq:

“Ours are not Western values. They are the universal values of the human spirit and anywhere, any time, ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom not tyranny. Democracy not dictatorship.” 

This belief permeated the rhetoric of the Bush administration after 9/11, the U.S. National Security Strategy of 2002, and the “Freedom Agenda” for the Middle East. In the words of that NSS:

“The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom – and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise…People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children – male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society…”

In a somewhat less blatant form, this continues to form the core ideological doctrine of most of the Western media and vast range of Western institutions, including those aid ministries engaged in promoting “governance reform” elsewhere in the world. 

The denial of the importance of local histories and traditions, as well as the lessons drawn from the imperial history of the West, is intrinsic to the American and European sense of ideological mission in the world, which underpins their claims to global and regional hegemony. It is also to some extent intrinsic to how the Western bureaucracies concerned operate. Bureaucracy, as well as ideology, demands universal templates, universally applicable. For the bureaucracy to function smoothly (as opposed to the achievement of actual change), local expertise is more a hindrance than a help. 

Furthermore, the fact that in many parts of the world, the priority of personal safety (known in British officialdom as “The Duty of Care”) means that Western officials can barely travel outside the capital cities, or even outside their own embassies and international hotels. After a couple of years, having failed to develop any serious knowledge of one society, they hop on to try to implement identical programs in another society — which they also fail to study. The result: programs that have only the most tangential relationship to local reality, and consequently, don’t stand the remotest chance of even limited success.

For example, British officers and officials working in Helmand province of Afghanistan were on the most part completely ignorant of the local Battle of Maiwand in 1879, in which Afghans defeated a British army. Every Helmandi knew of this battle, and most were convinced (absurdly, but still) that a key motive for the British military presence today was to get revenge for Maiwand.

Academia has played its own part in undermining the West’s ability to engage meaningfully with political, social and economic developments elsewhere in the world. Recent decades have seen a steep decline in history and area studies (and foreign languages in the United States and UK). Their place has been taken by disciplines based overwhelmingly on Western liberal prejudices masquerading as objective general theories, with “rational choice theory” as the crassest version of this.  

Additional pressure against the serious study of other cultures has been provided by the legions of academics who have adopted crude and conformist versions of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” thesis, whereby every Western attempt to study other cultures on their own terms can automatically be suspected of Western quasi-racist “essentialism” and denounced accordingly. This has had an especially destructive effect in the area of anthropology.

The weird thing about this is that this supposedly “anti-colonial” ideology not only denies any autonomous culture to other peoples in the world, but contains an implicit assumption that all human beings (unless warped by evil Western influences) are at heart Western liberal college professors. This is in fact a nice liberal-sounding version of the famous statement of the U.S. Marine general in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War film Full Metal Jacket: “Inside every Gook there is an American waiting to get out.”

All too often, these illusions are fostered by liberal urban intellectuals and activists from the countries concerned, who have tremendous emotional and practical incentives to present their countries as intrinsically modern (with modern implicitly defined in entirely Western terms). Emotionally, this serves their own passionate desire to be part of the West and treated as equals by their Western colleagues. Practically, they soon learn that if they want Western jobs and money it is a good idea to reinforce Western ideas. As urban intellectuals, they may also be sincerely ignorant of most of their own country, as well as sincerely contemptuous of its population. 

Since such people are often the only ones to whom Western journalists and officials seriously listen, the result can be a sort of copulation of illusions. When I visited Afghanistan in 2002-2003, I was initially deeply amused to hear from newly-arrived Western officials, relying on Afghan information, that Afghanistan in the 1960s had been “a successful democracy”, with strong middle classes. The joke wore pretty thin, however, after I had heard this garbage for the third time, and realized the degree to which it was contributing to these people’s delusions about the prospects for Afghan democracy.

What has happened in Afghanistan should provide the impetus for a soul-searching debate in the West about our entire approach to programs of democratization and “governance reform” in other countries. For while the Western military effort in Afghanistan failed only relatively (in the sense that while Western forces failed to achieve their goals, they were not actually defeated), Western efforts at democratic state-building failed totally and unconditionally. There is literally nothing left of them. Nor were the Afghan classes whom we had trusted and fostered prepared in the last resort to fight and die for the system that we had jointly created.

The critical importance of local history, culture, and tradition applies both to the Western defeat and the Taliban victory. For contrary to years of self-deceiving Western and Afghan government propaganda, a central element in Taliban success was their deep rootedness in Pashtun rural culture and its core values of conservative religion, familial loyalty, and resistance to infidel occupation — including past attempts at conquest by the British Empire. This appears very clearly from Taliban propaganda, poetry, and the recorded conversations of Taliban fighters.

These values are deeply alien to contemporary Western liberal ones; but no honest person can deny any longer either the tremendous resilience and courage they gave to the Taliban struggle, or the fact that in the end, these values and those who held them prevailed over the values and the Afghan people that we had tried to foster.

The final lesson of the Afghan debacle is that while it might be possible in principle to imagine recrafting Western aid institutions and programs so as to be more appropriate to the countries that they are trying to change, this is virtually impossible in the case of counterinsurgency campaigns. The deep local knowledge required to manage the core political element of a counterinsurgency cannot be developed in advance,  and when U.S. forces have actually become engaged in a counterinsurgency, it is impossible to build up this knowledge quickly enough to shape basic policies, even if the will to do it is present in our military, civilian and academic bureaucracies. 

We should have learned this from Vietnam. If we fail to learn it from Iraq and Afghanistan, it will suggest that our political systems and political cultures have become intellectually, morally, and institutionally fossilized to a degree reminiscent of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. We may think that democracy will save us from this fate, but democracy, like God, helps those who help themselves

Monday Asia Events, October 4, 2021

ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Yokosuka Council On Asia-pacific Studies (YCAPS). Speakers: Brian Eyler, Senior Fellow, Stimson; Moderator: John Bradford, Senior Fellow, Maritime Security Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUSTAINABLE POWER DEVELOPMENT IN THE MEKONG. 10/4, 9:30-11:15am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Stimson. Speakers: Dr. Apisom Intralawan, Researcher, Ecological Economics, School of Management, Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand; David Wood, Lecturer, Business Management, Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand; Courtney Weatherby, Deputy Director, Southeast Asia Program, Stimson; Pinida Leelapanang Kamphaengthong, Program Manager, Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, Pact; Rafael Schmitt, Senior Scientist, Natural Capital Project, Stanford University. 

CYBERSECURITY FOR CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE: AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES. 10/4, 9:30-10:30am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: John Costello, Chief of Staff, National Cyber Director; Izabela Albrycht, Chair, CYBERSEC Program Committee; Robert Kośla, Director, Cybersecurity Department, Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland; Sebastian Burgemejster, Managing Partner, BW Advisory; Moderator: James Andrew Lewis, Senior Vice President and Director, Strategic Technologies Program, CSIS. 

10/4, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Speakers: author, Samuel Moyn, Professor, Yale University, Non-Resident Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Humane; Gary Bass, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University; Moderator: Kelley Vlahos, Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Contributing Editor, Responsible Statecraft. PURCHASE BOOK:

HOW BEST TO UTILIZE EXISTING ENERGY INFRASTRUCTURE IN A NET-ZERO FUTURE. 10/4, Noon-1:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University. Speakers: Maria Elena Drew, Director of Research, Responsible Investing, T. Rowe Price; Melanie Kenderdine, Principal, Energy Futures Initiatives; Demetrios Papathanasiou, Global Director for the Energy and Extractives Practice, World Bank; Maarten Westselaar, Director, Integrated Gas, Renewables and Energy Solutions, Royal Dutch Shell. 

ISRAEL AND THE WORLD: A CONVERSATION WITH AMB. YUVAL ROTEM. 10/4, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Amb. Yuval Rotem, Former Director General, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; John P. Walters, CEO and President, Hudson; Moderator: Michael Doran, Senior Fellow, Hudson. 

ENGAGING CHINA: RECONSIDERING THE STRATEGY AND PRACTICE. 10/4, 1:00-2:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: Robert Daly, Director - Kissinger Institute on China and the United States; David M. Lampton, Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies Emeritus - Johns Hopkins University SAIS; Susan A. Thornton, Senior Fellow, Paul Tsai China Center, Yale Law School Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center. 

MAPPING THE CHANGING CLIMATE IN THE POLAR REGIONS. 10/4, 2:00-3:30pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: Polar Institute, Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: Amb. Petteri Vuorimäki, Arctic and Antarctic Affairs & Senior Arctic Official in the Arctic Council, Finland; Dr. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization; Timothy J. Mattimore, Jr., President, Vaisala Inc. and Director of Legal, North America Vaisala Inc.; Evan T. Bloom, Former Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Oceans and Fisheries and Director, Ocean and Polar Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Moderator: Michael Sfraga, Director, Polar Institute. 

THE PLANT-LEVEL VIEW OF AN INDUSTRIAL POLICY: THE KOREAN HEAVY INDUSTRY DRIVE OF 1973. 10/4, 5:00pm (PST) (9:00am in Seoul), ZOOM. Sponsor: Seoul National University and University of California San Diego. Speakers: Munseob Lee, Assistant Professor, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy; Changkeun Lee, Assistant Professor, KDI School of Public Policy and Management; Stephan Haggard, Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. 

ENVISIONING A U.S. STRATEGY OF RESTRAINT IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA AND BEYOND. 10/4, 7:00-8:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Speakers: Mike Mochizuki, Japan-U.S. Relations Chair, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University; Bec Strating, Executive Director, La Trobe Asia, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, La Trobe University; Gregory B. Poling, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, Director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, CSIS; Shuxian Luo, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings; Moderator: Michael D. Swaine, Director, East Asia Program, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Monday Asia Events, September 27, 2021

TRANSATLANTIC COOPERATION: SHAPING THE FUTURE TOGETHER IN UNCERTAIN TIMES. 9/27, 8:30-9:30am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: SAIS, Johns Hopkins University. Speakers: Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President for an Economy that Works for People, European Commission, Trade Commissioner, EU; Moderator: Dan Hamilton, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, SAIS. 

LEADING OIL AND GAS INTO A NET-ZERO WORLD. 9/27, 8:30am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: H.E. Mohammad Barikindo, Secretary General, OPEC; Helima Croft, Managing Director, Global Head of Commodity Strategy, RBC Capital Markets; Majid Jafar, CEO, Crescent Petroleum; Moderator: Alex Dewar, Senior Director, Center for Energy Impact, Boston Consulting Group. 

INTERPRETING THE 2021 GERMAN FEDERAL ELECTION RESULTS. 9/27, 9:00-10:30am (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: Isabelle Borucki, Interim Professor - University of Siegen; Yascha Mounk, Associate Professor of the Practice - SAIS, Johns Hopkins, Senior Fellow - Council on Foreign Relations; Daniela Schwarzer, Executive Director for Europe and Eurasia - Open Society Foundations; Constanze Stelzenmüller, Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe Fritz Stern Chair on Germany and trans-Atlantic Relations; Rieke Havertz, US Correspondent - ZEIT ONLINE. 

WILL THE REVAMPED US TRADE POLICY BE READY FOR GLOBAL CHALLENGES? 9/27, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Global Development Policy Center, Boston University. Speakers: Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, Globalization and Development Strategies, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, Ambassador, South Africa Mission to the WTO; Damon Silvers, Director of Policy and Special Counsel, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO); Todd Tucker, Director, Governance Studies, Roosevelt Institute; Moderator: Kevin P. Gallagher, Director, Global Development Policy Center, Boston University. 

ENERGY MARKETS IN THE MIDDLE EAST. 9/27, 10:00-11:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Michael Cohen, Chief U.S. Economist, Head of Oil Analysis, BP; Carole Nackhle, Founder and CEO, Crystol Energy; Moderator: Karen E. Young, Senior Fellow and Director, Program on Economics and Energy, MEI. 

STATE OF THE SPACE FORCE! 9/27. 10:00am-12:30pm (EDT), DIGITAL EVENT. Sponsor: DefenseOne. Speakers include: General John W. Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, U.S. Space Force; Paul Ferraro, Vice President, Air Power, Raytheon Missiles & Defense; Jeffrey Schrader, Vice President, Raytheon Intelligence and Space; Steve Butow, Director of the Space Portfolio, Defense Innovation Unit; Jim Westdorp, Chief Technologist, Ciena Government Solutions Inc.; Dr. Derek Tourner, Director, Space Development Agency. 

TAIWAN IN THE INDO-PACIFIC REGION 2021 ANNUAL CONFERENCE. 9/27, 11:30am-1:00pm and 6:00-6:40pm (PDT), LIVESTREAM. Speakers: Richard Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations; Lee Hsi-min, Adm. (Ret.), Senior Fellow, Project 2049 Institute; Dr. Jaushieh Joseph Wu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan). 

PAKISTAN’S DESTABILIZATION PLAYBOOK: KHALISTAN AND THE U.S. 9/27, Noon-1:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, Hudson Institute. Speakers: Dr. C. Christine Fair, Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service; Michael Rubin, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; Sam Westrop, Director, Islamist Watch, Middle East Forum. Moderator: Dr. Aparna Pande, Director, Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia, Hudson Institute. 

JAPAN’S DEFENSE EQUIPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S.-JAPAN ALLIANCE. 9/27, 5:00-6:00pm (EDT), WEBCAST. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Atsuo Suzuki, Commissioner, Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency, Ministry of Defense of Japan; Moderator: Dr. Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia, Japan Chair, CSIS.

POLITICAL EXTREMISM IN JAPAN. 9/27, 9:00-10:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsors: Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS). Speaker: Nathaniel M. Smith, Associate Professor, College of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Moderator: Michael Okamoto, Director, Getting to Know Japan Series, YCAPS. 

CHINA'S PERCEPTION OF THE SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN. 9/27, 11:00am-Noon (JDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Speakers: Ichiro Inoue, Professor, Graduate School of Policy Studies, Kwansei Gakuin University; Akio Takahara, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Politics, Graduate School of Law and Politics and Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Tokyo; Bonji Ohara, Senior Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

What election?

While The LDP Battles Intensify In Tokyo, Washington Barely Notices

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, The Oriental Economist, September 22, 2021

American President Joe Biden will host a much touted first time in-person summit meeting of the leaders of the Quad – the U.S., India, Australia and Japan – at the White House on September 24th.

For the American President, this is the frontline of a foreign policy clearly aimed at confronting China. The announcement of a secretly negotiated deal to provide nuclear submarines to Australia only underscores the importance of this event.

No one seems to have noticed, however, that the man representing Japan, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, will be gone from office within days of the White House summit.

Japan is in the midst of one of the most turbulent political moments in recent years, with the leadership of the country completely up in the air. Even after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) makes its choice at the end of September, two elections will follow, with the ruling coalition facing an unhappy electorate and a rejuvenated opposition.

But in the halls of power in Washington, even in the pages of major media, hardly a mention can be found of the events in its most important Asian ally. In discussions with several leading American Japan hands who are in touch with senior officials in the Biden administration, all report an almost complete absence of interest in the events in Tokyo.

“I hope they are paying attention,” says Japan expert Tobias Harris, based at the Washington think tank Center for American Progress. But, he admits, “I don’t know if the administration is really watching this now. I have not heard anything.”

In large part, this is because the attention of the administration is focused elsewhere – first of all on the continued battle against the Covid-19 pandemic and on economic recovery, and even in the realm of foreign policy, on the devastating defeat in Afghanistan and its aftermath.

Of course, Japan is important to the Biden China policy – as one Washington insider put it to me, “Japan is the non-China.” But there is a deeply held belief among American policy makers that their faithful partners in the LDP, backed by the mandarins of the Japanese bureaucracy, will be in power forever.

“The standard view is that we want stability,” says George Washington University Japan expert Mike Mochizuki. “We might not have stability in who is the Prime Minister but the system is stable. Are we entering a period of revolving door Prime Ministers? Isn’t that a problem in terms of developing a partnership? They don’t think so. Basically, it is the same ruling class.”

This view of Japan leads to a lack of interest in who might succeed Suga that might surprise some Japanese. “There is a complacency that the LDP is not going anywhere,” says Harris, the author of the first biography of former Premier Abe Shinzo published in English. There is a belief that “we don’t have to worry about Japan.”

But Harris cautions against that overconfidence, pointing not only to the possible challenge from the opposition alliance but also from extremist elements within the conservative party, now mobilized around the candidacy of Takaichi Sanae, backed by Abe. “Questions about the underlying stability of Japan should not be underestimated,” he warns.

Who Does Washington Favor in the LDP battle?

Now that the field of candidates in the LDP is set, does Washington, or at least the small circle of Japan hands, have a preference? Two of the leading candidates are well known there – former Foreign Ministers Kishida Fumio and Kono Taro. Given his popularity and his command of English, there is a presumption that American policy makers would prefer Kono as Prime Minister. But that may be wrong.

“I don’t sense any preference for Kono,” says James Schoff, a former senior Obama administration defense official who has recently moved from the Carnegie Endowment think tank to the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Washington.

“Basically, American policy makers would be happy with either Kishida or Kono. The number one concern is political strength and sustainability. There was a little bit of a collective sigh when Suga decided not to run, a concern about momentum lost and nervousness about where Japanese politics is going.”

There is a belief that Abe established a blueprint that is now firmly established – both in the realm of basic economic policy and a foreign policy that is anchored in the alliance with the U.S., improvement of relations with Europe and a broad consensus on seeing China as a strategic competitor. “None of them is deviating from that,” says Harris. The differences are more a “question of style and execution.”

The exception to that may be Takaichi whose hardline views on wartime history, vowing to visit the Yasukuni shrine to Japan’s war dead, would effectively end hopes in Washington to restore trilateral cooperation between the U.S., Japan and South Korea. “That door would shut,” says Harris. A Takaichi Premiership would be a “propaganda boon for China…and make Japan a more challenging partner for Washington to work with.”

While Takaichi’s prospects are still considered slim, if a runoff is forced between Kono and the rightwing stalwart, there is some worry that the mainstream faction leaders Abe and Aso Taro might unite behind her. Unlike Kono, who has widespread personal appeal, an LDP led by such a hardliner might lead to a serious setback in the upcoming elections for the Lower and Upper houses of the Diet (parliament). “If Takaichi wins, that means more trouble,” says Schoff.

American experts are unclear why Abe put his weight behind Takaichi. In part, this is seen as reward for her personal loyalty to Abe, and an attempt to position himself as the shadow power behind whoever emerges as the Prime Minister.

More troubling is the sense that this reflects Abe’s own ideological views, some of which he had to submerge or put aside when he was Prime Minister for both political reasons and also in response to American pressure.

“There are two Abes,” says Professor Mochizuki. “the pragmatic Abe and the ideological Abe. Now that he is out of power, this is the ideological Abe talking. This has put a monkey wrench into the process.”

Abe, in his view, was unhappy with Suga for his failure to push constitutional revision and his reluctance to embrace a doctrine of carrying out retaliatory attacks on adversary bases in North Korea and even China. When Takaichi declared her candidacy, Mochizuki noted, she went out of her way to endorse both policies. And while Kishida has tried to appeal as well to the conservative wing, “Abe doesn’t trust Kishida that he will follow through on this,” he observes.

Who is Kono Taro?

While American policy makers would be most clearly troubled by a Takaichi-led LDP, in some ways Kono may pose the greatest potential challenge. He has a well-deserved reputation as a bit of a maverick, very attuned to public opinion in Japan, and with an independent streak.

While Kono is a strong supporter of the security alliance, he has shown that he does not unquestionably yield to American views. The clearest evidence of this was his decision, as Defense Minister, to cancel the controversial Aegis Onshore missile defense system contract after it ran into serious domestic opposition.

In his own book, Kono embraces the concept of “strategic autonomy” for Japan, including in areas like economy, energy and technology policy. “I don’t think he will be as assertive on offensive strike and on Taiwan commitments,” believes Schoff, who has met him a number of times, “but I don’t know if Kishida would be either.”

Within the ranks of the more hardline conservatives of the LDP, there is a fear that Kono shares the views of his father, Kono Yohei, a former LDP leader. The elder Kono is reviled on the right for his efforts to acknowledge responsibility for Japan’s wartime coercion of Korean, Chinese and other women to serve in the brothels of the Imperial Army.

“There is a suspicion that he is like his father,” says Mochizuki. “He is aware of that and went out of his way to show that he is not soft on China, not soft on Korea. Abe appreciated that but instinctually, Kono has a more balanced foreign policy.”

Uncertainty ahead

No matter who wins the LDP election, policy makers in Washington foresee a period of uncertainty in Japan which may slow the implementation of the kind of grand strategies that will occupy the Quad meeting. Down at the level of officials who are seeking to forge concrete policies on science and technology innovation, supply chain cooperation, cybersecurity and economic security more broadly – the key building blocks of the competition with China – things are already stalled.

“We have had a lot of meetings but I haven’t seen a whole lot of momentum,” says Schoff, who will lead a new initiative on alliance relations at Sasakawa’s Washington office. People are now waiting to see who the next cabinet minister will be and little is getting done.

“We can’t sit around for two months waiting for this to be settled,” he worries. “We are already late to get out of the gate.”

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Monday Asia Events, September 20, 2021

RESPONDING TO THE UYGHUR GENOCIDE: ASSESSING POLICY AND LEGISLATIVE OPTIONS FOR THE U.S. 9/20, 9:00am (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention at Binghamton University. Speakers: Rushan Abbas, Executive Director, Campaign for Uyghurs; Brett Hansen, Foreign Service Officer, United States Department of State; Ewelina Ochab, Co-founder, Coalition for Genocide Response; Sophie Richardson, China Director, Human Rights Watch; Nury Turkel - Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute. 

OCEAN NATIONS: AN INDO-PACIFIC ISLANDS DIALOGUE - DAY 2. 9:30am-5:45pm (EDT) New York, NY and Virtual. Sponsor: Carnegie and Sasakawa Peace Foundation. Speakers Include: Jayanath Colombage, Foreign Secretary, Sri Lanka; Atsushi Watanabe, Senior Research Fellow Ocean Policy Institute, Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Teburoro Tito, Permanent Representative, Republic of Kiribati; Hiroyuki Suzuki, Chief Representative of the Washington Office, Japan Bank for International Cooperation; Inia Seruiratu, Minister of Defense and National Security, Fiji; Randall G. Schriver, Chairman of the Board, Project 2049 Institute. Location: Japan Society, 333 E 47th St. 

INVESTIGATING COVID-19 AND THE CHINA COVERUP. 9/20, 9:45-10:45am (EDT), Online. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Kevin Brock, Senior Fellow, Center For Financial Stability; Diane Cutler, Detailee, House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Tom Dinanno, Adjunct Fellow, Hudson Institute; David Asher, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; John P. Walters (Moderator), President and CEO, Hudson Institute. 

THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT AND THE ROLE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN ATROCITY PREVENTION. 10:00am-Noon (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsors: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect; Government of Costa Rica; Government of Croatia; Government of Denmark. Speakers: Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide; Wai Wai Nu, Burmese human rights activist, Founder, Executive Director, Women’s Peace Network; H.E. Mr. Rodolfo Solano Quirós, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Costa Rica; H.E. Mr. Gordan Grlić-Radman, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs, Republic of Croatia; H.E. Mr. Jeppe Kofod, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Denmark. Moderator: Savita Pawnday, Deputy Executive Director, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. Contact: Ms. Juliette Paauwe,

AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IN ADVANCING THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS. 1:00-2:30pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsors: Brookings; UN Foundation. Speakers: Cynthia Yue, UNA-USA Youth Observer, United Nations; Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO, Chicago Community Trust; Michael McAfee, President and CEO, PolicyLink; Carmen Villar, Vice President, Social Business Innovation, Merck. Moderator: Ana Marie Argilagos, President and CEO, Hispanics in Philanthropy. 

ELECTIONS, PROTEST, AND AUTHORITARIAN REGIME STABILITY: RUSSIA 2008–2020. 2:00-3:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: Kennan Institute, Wilson Center. Speaker: Regina Smyth, Professor, Political Science, Indiana University. Moderator: William E. Pomeranz, Deputy Director, Kennan Institute. PURCHASE BOOK:

UNCONTROLLED SPREAD. 5:30-6:30pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Speakers: author, Scott Gottlieb, Senior Fellow, AEI; Robert Doar, President, AEI. PURCHASE BOOK:

CHINA, THE US AND CLIMATE DIPLOMACY: A CONVERSATION WITH FORMER PRIME MINISTER KEVIN RUDD. 6:00-7:00pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Center on Global Energy, Columbia SIPA. Speaker: Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Australia. 

PINK GLOBALIZATION: CHALLENGING HELLO KITTY’S TREK ACROSS THE PACIFIC. 8:00-9:00pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: 21st Century Japan Politics & Society Initiative, Indiana U. Speaker: Christine Yano, Professor, Anthropology, University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Moderator: Prof Adam P. Liff, Associate Professor of East Asian International Relations, Founding Director of its 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (“21JPSI”), Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, Indiana University; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Associate-in-Research, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. PURCHASE BOOK:

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Monday Asia Events, September 13, 2021

9:30-11:00am (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsors: Institute for China-America Studies (ICAS); Carter Center. Speakers: Paul Triolo, Practice Head, Geo-Technology, Eurasia Group; Amy Karam, Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Instructor, Stanford University and Duke Corporate Education; Yang Nan, Assistant Research Fellow, Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science; Denis Simon, Senior Advisor to the President for China Affairs, Professor, Duke University; Moderator: Dr. Yawei Liu, Director, China Program, Carter Center. 

U.S. INNOVATION COMPETITIVENESS SUMMIT - DAY 1: BOOSTING INNOVATION. 11:00am-3:00pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Dr. Walter Copan, Senior Adviser and Co-Founder, Renewing American Innovation Project, CSIS, former Director of National Institute of Standards and Technology; Dr. Lisa Cassis, Vice President for Research, University of Kentucky; Dr. Betsy Cantwell, Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of Arizona; Dr. Kevin Gardner, Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of Louisville; Erik Iverson, CEO, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation; Almesha Campbell, Assistant Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Jackson State University; Christina Orsi, Associate Vice President for Economic Development, University of Buffalo; Ian McClure, Associate Vice President for Research, Innovation and Economic Impact, University of Kentucky. Additional Speakers TBA. 

FUTURE SECURITY FORUM - DAY 1. Noon-4:45pm (EDT), WEBINAR. Sponsor: New America. Speakers Include: Anne-Marie Slaughter, DPhil, CEO, New America, former Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State; General John W. "Jay" Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, United States Space Force; Dustin Gard-Weiss, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Policy and Capabilities, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Sir David Omand, Visiting Professor, King's College London, Former Director, U.K. Government Communications Headquarters; Commander (ret) Theodore Johnson, DLP, 2017 Eric & Wendy Schmidt Fellow, New America, Director, Fellows Program, Brennan Center for Justice, Former Speechwriter to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

RETHINKING AMERICAN GRAND STRATEGY. 4:00-5:30pm (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Wilson Center (WWC). Speakers: co-author, Christopher McKnight Nichols, Director, Center for the Humanities, Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor, Oregon State University; co-author, Andrew Preston, Professor of American History and Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge University; Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program, WWC; Eric Arnesen, Former Fellow, WWC, Professor of History, George Washington University, Director, National History Center, American Historical Association; Julia Irwin, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of History, University of South Florida; Daniel Bessner, Joff Hanauer Honors Associate Professor of Western Civilization, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington. PURCHASE BOOK:

Monday, August 30, 2021

Foreign Influence and Academic Integrity - the Comfort Women


Foreign Influence and Academic Integrity By Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Emeritus Professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, and a past President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, April 22, 2021, Australian Institute of International Affairs.

The risks of improper foreign influence on academic research have become a topic of growing concern in many parts of the world over the past year or so. Much of this concern has focused on efforts by China to restrict the freedom of expression of academics and students abroad as well as at home, or to obtain access to research findings. Anxiety about the role of China is very well-founded, but this issue clearly goes further than any one country. Many national governments or overseas interest groups seek in one way or another to exert their influence on research being carried out beyond the boundaries of their own nation.

Professor Morris-Suzuki uses as an example the Government of Japan's activities to influence the discussion and academic work on the Comfort Women--sex slaves to Imperial Japan's military and colonial administrators. Most of these women and girls were forced into this service. The government currently contends that no official Japanese participated in coercing anyone. This is contrary to fact.

Japan's government and its supporters have cultivated a network of history denialist groups that want to change the history narrative of aggressive industrialization and imperialism to one of innovative opportunity cut short by the victimization of the West. The war was forced upon Japan and war crimes were inventions of the Allies.

Morris-Suzuki focuses on the flawed Mark Ramseyer journal article that claims the Comfort Women were simply commercial prostitutes. She points out how this Harvard Law School professor ignored traditional scholarship and current documentation. It is alarming that he is promoted and defended by the Japanese government and well-known rightists as an example of the assault on free speech. As a result, she believes this is the "worst crisis of academic integrity" in her lifetime.

Japan's "weaponization of research" is a model followed by many. Scholars are not necessarily being paid to say something, but support is forthcoming to those who are already sympathetic. Money amplifies denier history, that she likens to Holocaust denial. What was once ignored backwater arguments are now promoted above rigorous scholarship and historical truth.

Morris-Suzuki was asked for specific examples of Japanese pressure. She could not cite any other than to say that implicit pressure is exerted by Japan. A good example of this, however, was the title and description of her presentation by the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Nowhere is there mention of Japan or Comfort Women or Ramseyer. AIIA protected itself by simply giving an anodyne title of foreign influence suggesting the talk is about China. 

Only those who attended the event would know, and they were few.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Monday Asia Events, August 23, 2021

SPACE POLICY TRENDS IN THE INDO-PACIFIC. 8/23rd, 6:00-7:45PM (JST), ZOOM. Sponsors: Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies, Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) and Japan US Military Program (JUMP). Speakers: Senior Analyst Dr Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has been invited to participate in a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Stephen Nagy a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo. 
. 8/23, 8:00-9:00am (EDT), VIDEO WEBCAST. Sponsor: Asia Society. Speakers: Toshi Arimura is a professor of Political Science and Economics, and Director of the Research Institute for Environment Economics and Management at Waseda University; Mika Ohbayashi is Director at the Renewable Energy Institute;Jackson Ewing, Ph.D. holds appointments as a Senior Fellow at Duke University's Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions. 

AFGHANISTAN’S COLLAPSE & THE IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL JIHADISM AND COUNTERTERRORISM. 10:30am-Noon (EDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Middle East Institute (MEI). Speakers: Karen Joy Greenberg , Director, Center on National Security, Fordham University School of Law; David Kilcullen, President and CEO, Cordillera Applications Group, Inc., Director, Thesigers and Native Data; Anne Likuski, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI); Asfandyar Ali Mir, Senior Expert, United States Institute of Peace (USIP); Moderator: Charles Lister, Senior Fellow and Director, Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism programs, MEI.

GROUND TRUTH: LOCAL VIEWS ABOUT THE TALIBAN'S RETURN. 8/23, 11:00am-Noon (EDT), ONLINE. Sponsors: Central Asia Program at George Washington University and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Present. Speakers: Malali Bashir, Radio Free Afghanistan; Tohir Safarov, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and Mélanie Sadozaï, George Washington University.  

SUSTAINING US MICROELECTRONICS LEADERSHIP. Noon-1:00pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Vice-Chair, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, House Armed Services Committee; Dr. Victoria Coleman, Chief Scientist, U.S. Air Force; Jay Goldberg, CEO, D2D Advisory; Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow, Director, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, Hudson; Dr. Dan Patt, Adjunct Fellow, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, Hudson. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

No Sign, yet,

Of Afghan fallout in Korea and Japan

By Daniel Sneider, Lecturer, International Policy at Stanford University and APP member

Toyo Keizai, August 20,2021

In the middle of April, 1975, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung hurried to Beijing to meet with Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist leadership. Phnom Penh had just fallen to the Khmer Rouge, the North Vietnamese were marching toward victory in Saigon, and the U.S. seemed to be in retreat around the globe. Now was the time, Kim told his Chinese patrons, to liberate South Korea.

America’s allies in Northeast Asia were undoubtedly shaken by the events in Indochina, beginning from the late 60s. The U.S. had withdrawn the 7th Infantry division from Korea and Nixon told allies to rely more on their own resources to defend themselves.

South Korea’s Park Chung-hee embarked on a clandestine program to develop nuclear weapons, as did Taiwan. Japan pondered that choice but opted instead to reach out to China, moving quickly to normalize relations after Nixon’s shocking opening of ties to Beijing.

Comparisons between the fall of Saigon and the stunningly rapid collapse of the American-backed government in Kabul are now the fodder of front pages from Beijing to Washington. In the U.S., pundits claim that U.S. allies in Europe and Asia are again questioning American resolve and reliability, while China and Russia rush to fill the strategic vacuum.

European angst is clearly visible, not surprisingly since NATO allies committed their own military forces to the war in Afghanistan and had to rush to remove their troops, diplomats and Afghan support staff. But in Korea and Japan, now the largest concentration of U.S. overseas military power -- almost 85,000 American naval, air and ground troops – there is not yet the same level of anxiety.

In conversations this writer has had in recent days with senior Korean and Japanese former officials and current advisors, the events in Kabul seem to have actually strengthened the belief in the importance of the alliance with the U.S. Those policy makers in Northeast Asia echo President Joe Biden in pointing to the failure of the Afghan government and military to be willing to fight in their own defense.

“The fall of Kabul may not damage our alliance with the U.S. as much as you may imagine,” Miyake Kuni, a former senior Foreign Ministry official who advises Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide, told me.

“Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his friends did not help the Afghans, and they had to pay the price. For Japan, if we don’t have the will to fight and defend ourselves, we will be like Afghanistan.”

As for the chaotic events in Afghanistan and the decision of the Biden administration to withdraw, Miyake and others do not see a loss of American credibility at stake, but rather the consequence of bad policy decisions made long ago.

“America should have known that Afghanistan has been, and will be, like this forever and it should not have stayed there for 20 years, or even a year,” said Miyake, who was in charge of Afghanistan for the foreign ministry in the late 1990s.

“The fall of the Afghan government is seen as the failure of the Afghan government, in spite of 20 years of international help, rather than the loss of credibility of the U.S. commitment,” Umemoto Kazuyoshi, who recently retired as the senior Foreign Ministry official directing relations with the U.S, told me as well.

So far, Japanese policy makers reject facile comparisons between Afghanistan and potential flash points in their own region, particularly Taiwan and the disputed territory in the East China Sea.

The risks of the failure of the U.S. to respond to Chinese aggression in either case are far higher than the danger of a possible return of terrorists to Afghanistan, which triggered the U.S. intervention there. “With Taiwan,” a former senior official said privately, “it would affect the world order immediately if the U.S. did not intervene.”

The view from Seoul

In South Korea, facing potential escalation from a North Korean regime that is under growing internal pressure, the view is a bit more cautious, though still far from panicked.

Confidence in the U.S. commitment is not yet shaken, Korean policy makers from across the spectrum agree. “On the contrary, this event invoked for many people the importance of the Korea-U.S. alliance,” former senior Foreign Ministry official Kim Sook, who also served as deputy director of the National Intelligence Service, told me.

Koreans were particularly reassured by the statement from U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that troop withdrawal from Korea was not on the Biden agenda. In conservative circles in Korea, where a presidential election is looming next March, the Afghan events have been used to bolster the criticism of the current progressive government of Moon Jae-In.

“The situation in Afghanistan shows how important it is to maintain a strong military,” the conservative daily JoongAng Ilbo wrote. “North Korea continues ratcheting up its nuclear capabilities. Under such circumstances, the decades-old Korea-U.S. alliance cannot be overemphasized.”

Even among progressives, the focus has been on the failed effort to transform Afghanistan rather than American retreat. The defeat doesn’t do much to shake confidence in the U.S, security commitment to Korea, says Paik Hak-soon, the executive director of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Forum.

“We know why the U.S. was defeated and decided to pull out its forces, and also why it keeps its forces in Korea, even though we’re reminded that the U.S. forces cannot stay forever in foreign lands.”

“Many Koreans understand that there are more differences than similarities between the two cases,” agrees former senior foreign ministry official, Amb Wi Sung-lac.

Still, the corrosive impact of the images from Kabul touches nerves in Korea, where dependence on the U.S. is still deeply felt.

“The notion that the US may abandon an ally depending on the capabilities of the allied partner will linger in the memory of Koreans,” adds Wi, who was formerly in charge of relations with the U.S. and led the South Korean delegation to the Six-party talks with North Korea.

“In that sense, the messy nature of the retreat in Afghanistan will not be helpful to strengthen the US message on the alliances,” he cautions.

Will Kim Jong Un Follow his Grandfather?

The view from Pyongyang is far more difficult to discern. Kim Jong Un is struggling to cope with a severe economic crisis, triggered by the border closure measures taken to avoid the spread of Covid-19 and compounded by severe weather conditions.

Rather than take up offers of humanitarian aid from the Moon government in South Korea, the North Korean regime has engaged in vague threats to escalate tensions in response to the decision to go ahead with joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has long modeled himself on his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. It raises the question of whether he too will see the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan as another opportunity to undermine the U.S.-South Korean alliance. Kim might, for example, test the alliance by carrying out a cross-border attack of the type seen in 2010 when North Korean forces shelled a South Korean-held island off its shores.

“I don’t think Kim Jong Un will do anything particular because of what happened in Afghanistan,” says Paik, who was a long-time North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute.

“These days, he's totally focused on domestic economic survival, and has no reason whatsoever to engage in provocations when the Moon and Biden Administrations are not provoking towards North Korea.”

Even more conservative analysts tend to agree with that assessment. “Pyongyang knows that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is not identical to the one in Afghanistan,” Amb Wi says. “Pyongyang wouldn't see this as an opportunity to test the US.”

But the Korean experts are careful not to rule out the possibility of escalation. But they see that not as a consequence of events in Afghanistan but as an attempt to restart the stalled negotiations following the breakdown of the Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi in 2019.

The role of China is also a large question mark. When Kim Il Sung pleaded for backing for his revolutionary dreams in 1975, the Chinese Communist leadership, according to the archives of East European diplomats, turned him away. They were not interested at that moment in risking a confrontation with the U.S. and triggering a potential war on their frontier.

Beijing is now locked in a strategic competition with Washington. Will China now be ready to turn Pyongyang loose? “On one hand, they know the Americans have gotten their comeuppance in Afghanistan – they look inept and feckless and the Chinese can be heartened by that,” observes Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Pollack, who has written extensively on the Sino-North Korea relationship.

But, he adds, “at these moments of definitive strategic change, the Chinese have a tendency to think very carefully about where they find themselves.”

China may see more advantage in being ready to insert itself as a mediator between the two Koreas, perhaps in the wake of an exchange of fire across the border, suggests a former senior State Department official who was involved in managing the 2010 crisis. The Afghan events “open up opportunities for China,” the former official told me. “I bet they are thinking about it.”

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Monday Asia Events, August 2, 2021

10:00-11:30am (PHDT), ZOOM WEBINAR. Sponsor: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) – Yusof Ishak Institute; Speakers: Datuk P. Kamalanathan, Chairman, Labuan Port Authority, Member, Central Working Committee, Malaysian Indian Congress; Mr. Gan Ping Sieu, Founder and Senior Partner, Gan and Zul Advocates & Solicitors. 

IMPLEMENTING A NEW MARITIME STRATEGY. Noon-1:00pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Representative Elaine Luria (D-VA), Vice Chair, House Armed Services Committee; Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, Hudson Institute. 

A CONVERSATION WITH DR. ANTHONY FAUCI ON THE ANTIVIRAL PROGRAM FOR PANDEMICS. 3:00-4:00pm (EDT), LIVESTREAM. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; J. Stephen Morrison, Senior Vice President and Director, Global Health Policy Center, CSIS. 

Japan Challenges Russia in Antarctic

Sparking Concern in Moscow About West’s Plans

First printed in the Eurasia Daily Monitor, July 27, 2021 -- Volume 18, Issue 119
The Japanese government’s National Institute for Polar Research (NIPR) released four reports so far this month (July 2021) outlining Tokyo’s view that Japan should be among the countries allowed to exploit the oil and natural gas resources lying below the surface in Antarctica and to make territorial claims there once the current treaty regime expires or is modified ( cited by Rambler, July 24). That has sparked outrage in Moscow. Russian commentaries have characterized the NIPR proposals as a threat to Russian rights in the Antarctic; as a challenge to the 1959 international accord that governs the activities of countries there; as a new move on the geopolitical chessboard intended to put pressure on Moscow to sign a peace treaty with Tokyo and return the Kurile Islands; and even as a trial balloon to test out analogous plans the United States may try to employ against Russia in the Arctic in the immediate future (, July 24;, July 25).
The NIPR reports, in fact, do not speak about any immediate Japanese actions but rather appear designed to set the stage for Tokyo’s participation in talks planned to revise the 1959 international accord, which limits the activities of the signatory countries to only scientific research in the Antarctic. That accord is set to expire in 2048; but already, Russia and other countries have been talking about its revision so as to permit exploitation of oil and gas reserves there (see EDM, June 9, 2020June 24, 2020January 19, 2021). Japan raised this issue before, in 2012, but its legal position is different; and so its announcement then was largely ignored in Moscow and the West. Tokyo made expansive claims regarding Antarctica in 1939, but the post-World War II settlement forced the Japanese government to give them up in 1951. That has had two consequences. First, it has meant that Japan’s claims to the southern polar region are invariably wrapped up in the issues of the revision of the outcome of that war, something Russian President Vladimir Putin is especially sensitive to (not least because of the Kurile Islands dispute—see EDM, November 27, 2018 and January 24, 2019). And second, it has meant that whenever Japan does make a claim, however far in the future it may be, Moscow-based experts tend to see it as a stalking horse, either to make demands for a return of the Kuriles or as an action taken on behalf of the US against Russia (Svobodnaya Pressa, July 25).
Most of the coverage in Moscow over the last few days about the Japanese reports has been dismissive, viewing them as, at most, Japan’s latest effort to pressure Russia to return the Kurile Islands. Moreover, these commentaries collectively suggest that the real competition in the Antarctic is in the seas around it rather than on land, at least for now. But some Russian analysts, like Igor Shatrov of the Strategic Development Council, see what Japan has done as having far broader implications. For Shatrov, it represents a sign that Tokyo increasingly wants to act without regard to the post–World War II settlement and is an indication that Japan is working hand-in-glove with the US to come up with a strategy in the Antarctic in the distant future that the two countries can apply against Russia in the Arctic now. He and others argue Russia must work more closely with China to counter this Japanese-US move (Svobodnaya Pressa, July 25).
One who makes this case is Andrei Koshkin of the Russian Economics University, who has argued in the past that anything Japan does is the implementation of US plans and that whatever Tokyo is saying about the Antarctic provides a glimpse into what Washington intends to do in the Arctic. Because that is so, he contends, any manifestation of Japanese interest in Antarctica must be of immediate concern to Moscow. This is not so much because Japan or the US can do anything in the world’s southernmost region now or that Russia could not block them (see EDM, January 19, 2021; Meduza, December 16, 2020; N+1, December 7, 2020; Kommersant, November 26, 2020; Znak, January 28, 2020) but rather because of its implications for what is likely to happen in the Arctic in the near future (Svobodnaya Pressa, October 26, 2020).
Of course, a critical difference exists between the Arctic and Antarctic as far as international politics is concerned. A global accord restricts development in the Antarctic until mid-century; and disputes there are primarily about fishing in the seas around the continent rather than over natural resources locked away underground. But the Japanese NITR reports suggest that the differences between policies regarding the areas around the poles are narrowing. As long as the issue in the Antarctic is about fishing, the US has real advantages because many countries, including Japan, want to restrict Russian fishermen there. If the dispute shifts to land, Russia may be able to use the 1959 treaty and exploit the fears of many countries that they will be left out in a scramble for resources beneath the Antarctic ice. That means Moscow must be concerned about any territorial claims there, ally itself with China, and use their common objections to block them, Koshkin says, all while recognizing that the US is developing policies around the South Pole that it intends to use in the North (Svobodnaya Pressa, October 26, 2020).
Thus, what might appear to many as a tempest in a Moscow media teapot is anything but. It is a sign of Russian concern about Japan’s new international activism not only in the Antarctic but more generally; and it is a reflection of a broader Russian judgment that whatever the West does in Antarctica is first and foremost not about that continent but about the polar region in the north—an area Vladimir Putin has made central to his plans to project Russian power in order to defend Russian national security.