Luttwak attack

For your amusement and edification, a link dump of interviews with, and an essay by, the great strategist Edward Luttwak, aka the Machiavelli of Maryland.

First, an interview with Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun in four parts: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

The interview addresses the emerging US-China Cold War and the role Japan will/can play in it. Excerpt:

Maybe China is trying to make allies and friends through One Belt One Road Initiative?

Good luck to them. Good luck to them because that will not help them with Malaysia — Malaysia has caused them a bit of a problem — nor with Indonesia, nor with the Philippines, nor with Japan.

The only country which the Chinese can get is Korea — South Korea. The South Koreans do not like being independent. They were under Chinese rule, then they were under Japanese rule, then they were under American rule, and they don’t like to be independent. They just don’t.

Not everybody likes to be independent. They are too divided themselves. They are more comfortable having somebody else. So, the South Koreans are willing to go under the Chinese rule.

The only reason they don’t do it is because of North Korea. North Korea is the protector of Korean independence, not South Korea.

If the South Koreans were interested in being an independent power, they would not be quarreling with Japan, given the fact that their security depends on Japan 100%. The Americans could do nothing in Korea without Japanese cooperation. So, the fact that they are anti-Japanese means that they are not interested in real foreign policy, they are not interested in being independent, and so they can afford to shout about comfort women and this and that because they are not serious. They are not serious about it.

One of our problems in Korea is that we don’t like North Korean nuclear weapons, but North Korean nuclear weapons guarantee the independence of North Korea and therefore guarantee that Chinese influence cannot extend over the Korean Peninsula. Because if it were up to South Korea, it would [allow Chinese influence].

You know, the South Koreans are not interested in resisting Chinese domination because they are not interested in being independent. The Vietnamese are determined to be independent of China and they are quite confident that they can defeat any Chinese action against them. The South Koreans are not confident, but also they are not interested in defending. They are really not interested in being independent. Otherwise, they wouldn’t behave the way they do.

Right. That might not be not good news for the United States and Japan. The common perception is that, in order to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, we need some kind of trilateral cooperation including South Korea.

Listen, South Korea faces immediate military dangers from North Korea. For example, their rockets — there are cheap rockets aimed at the Seoul area. Today, there are anti-rocket systems that are not expensive and work very well. South Korea doesn’t buy them. Today, you can buy anti-rocket interceptors.

Like Iron Dome?

Like Iron Dome. You can go and buy it, okay? You can go to Lawson’s and you buy it.

Why don’t they buy it? Because they are not really interested in self-defense.

When they have money, they do something like build a helicopter carrier and call it “Dokdo.” Do they need a helicopter carrier against North Korea? No.

So, in other words, their actions are not the actions of people who either want to defend themselves or to be independent. They don’t.

They just want to transition profitably from being protected by the United States to being protected by China. That is the only thing that they are interested in.

Not everybody wants to be independent. In that sense, the North Koreans are. Because of the politics of the Kim family, they want to be independent.

But South Korea does nothing.

Luttwak’s intriguing conclusion: a divided Korean peninsula with North Korea in possession of nukes may be the best possible scenario for the US.

Next, a review of the book Japan in the American Century in the London Review of Books:

With [Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] that means much more than phrase-making, as Pyle explains in detail: his Japan now accepts real responsibilities, e.g. to repel any attempt by China to act on its fanciful claim to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea instead of begging the Americans to do so, e.g. preserving a dialogue with Putin in order to give him a reason for limiting Russia’s support for China (at one point Obama called Abe to try to persuade him to cancel an upcoming meeting, but he didn’t budge). It was not just a question of asserting personal leadership. To change long-settled habits of passivity, Abe established a National Security Council that is not just a gathering place for representatives of the foreign, defence and intelligence bureaucracies, as in most other countries, but an actual policy-making body operated by its own staff, the National Security Secretariat. It has been remarkably effective from the start, formulating Japan’s first post-1945 national security strategy and leading successful negotiations with the Chinese.

Finally, a lengthy interview on China and the logic of strategy in War on the Rocks. Excerpt:

Brad: So you’re the National Security Advisor to the new president, we see what China has done over the time that Xi has been in power, what should the U.S. policy toward China be?

Edward: Well it has to be engagement, but of a new kind. It’s an engagement in which United States simply becomes extremely positive on everything positive, and extremely harsh on anything negative. The famous, or perhaps not-so-famous Micron case in Taiwan, where a Fujian regional authority invests money to build a copy of a Micron plant, a shadow plant. And then they go and hire, offer triple salaries to any Micron employee who comes over to them carrying a laptop or server, or memory stick or whatever it is with Micron information. They get caught by doing all …

That should have led to a drastic response while at the same time trying to be positive when anything can be positive. In other words, one has to have a duality.

Brad: What would a drastic response look like?

Edward: Well a drastic response is very simple. To this day, the People’s Republic of China, with its many accomplishments, cannot produce an integrated circuit that is even remotely competitive. No Chinese intellectual property, integrated circuit or chip … as you know super computers, laptops, phones, all of what we call electronics, anything you’re going to build artificial intelligence on, does rest on integrated circuits or microprocessors or chips or whatever you call them. Those things, in order to be competitive, not just commercially but functional, for things like don’t generate so much heat that they melt down your battery kind of thing, those things, the Chinese are not able to do without using foreign intellectual capital and they can’t manufacture them. They have to be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation or the other people who can work on what’s called 7 nm, which is seven nanometers, which is seven billionths of a meter, right? They can’t do it.

The coming scramble for Greenland

Now that the status of Greenland is a live political issue, I wonder if China will make its own play to acquire the world’s largest island before the US does:

It’s not just America who acknowledges the strategic importance of Greenland, either. Look no further than China, which has repeatedly attempted to gain infrastructure on the island.

In 2016, a Chinese company attempted to buy a former U.S. military base in Greenland, and the government in Denmark stepped in, vetoing the deal. At the time, Danish officials were quoted anonymously in the press, saying they had resisted the deal as a favor to its longtime American ally.

Then in 2018, a Chinese government-owned firm was announced as a likely winner for a contract to build a new airport. The 3.6 billion Danish krone (U.S. $560 million) contract would have given China major economic power over the local government, and decision makers in both Washington and Copenhagen worried it could lead to the U.S. being pushed out of Thule – or give Beijing a ready-made airport that could accommodate Chinese military planes in case of a conflict.

Eventually Copenhagen and Nuuk reached an agreement, with generous financial support from Denmark’s coffers, to pick a different contractor. But it is likely that China will continue to push for entry into Greenland, underlining its strategic importance once again.

I can only guess that the US put considerable pressure on the Danes to squash these Chinese attempts at gaining a foothold in Greenland.

More from Reuters:

The Arctic region sits at a geopolitical intersection of renewed rivalry between world powers China, Russia and the United States, and – with its melting ice cap – is a major symbol of the growing impact of climate change.

Russia has been raising its profile in the Arctic, creating or reopening six military bases shut after the Cold War ended in 1990, modernizing its Northern Fleet, including 21 new vessels and two nuclear submarines, and staging frequent naval exercises in the Arctic.

Russia also hopes that as the polar ice cap retreats, a shipping lane north of Russia will develop as an alternative route for goods from Asia to Europe.

The Trump administration last year began re-establishing the U.S. Second Fleet, responsible for the northern Atlantic, to counter a more assertive Russia. […]

China has also shown interest in Greenland after Beijing laid out its ambitions to form a “Polar Silk Road” by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming and encouraging enterprises to build infrastructure in the Arctic.

Greenland, which plans to open a representative office in Beijing later this year to boost trade ties, has courted Chinese investors and construction firms to help expand three airports to allow direct flights from Europe and North America.

Greenland, which is three times the size of Texas, has vast mineral reserves including uranium and rare earths, as well as 50 billion barrels of still-untapped offshore oil and gas reserves, according to the article.

Can every American chip in $171 to “buy” Greenland?

I can’t claim credit for the idea, but it has been suggested that the US would not need to negotiate with Denmark over the purchase of Greenland. Instead, since the Danish constitution recognizes Greenland’s right to decide on its own independence, the US could simply bribe the people of the island to vote for independence from the Kingdom of Denmark.

The US could offer a generous subsidy of, say, a million dollars to every one of Greenland’s 56,000 inhabitants (this is roughly the population of Greenwich, CT) in exchange for Greenland’s permanently binding decision to part ways with Denmark and join the United States. Result: the US obtains more than 836,000 square miles of highly strategic Arctic territory at the low, low cost of $56 billion.

This is assuming of course that Greenland’s residents would agree to be acquired by the US for a million bucks cash per man, woman, and child. I don’t know about you, but it’s a deal I would take.

For the US, the transaction would be a no-brainer. One of the nice things about being the US in its current state of decline is that federal spending is already so nonsensically vast that a one-time payment of $56 billion barely moves the needle. For perspective, this amount is less than 1.4% of total federal spending in fiscal year 2018. Considering that the ongoing war in Afghanistan is bleeding the US of an estimated $45 billion per year, the cost of Greenland would equal about 15 months’ worth of military engagement in the country aptly described as the “graveyard of empires.”

In other words, the purchase of Greenland could be paid for by simply withdrawing from Afghanistan, or ditching some other equally worthless program within America’s sprawling, $4 trillion budget.

And considering that the US population is >327 million, the cost of Greenland would be a mere $171 per US resident, or a bit more than the price of a new pair of Apple AirPods. Get it while the getting is good.

Strategic real estate?

Why the hell would the US want to own Greenland? The semi-autonomous Danish territory is already home to the US military’s northernmost installation, Thule Air Base, which hosts a vital space monitoring system as well as a deep-water seaport and airfield. What would be the advantage in actually owning 836,300 square miles of empty, mostly ice-covered land?

I’m thinking there could be a strategic advantage, and it has something to do with this:

In 2016, a Chinese company attempted to buy a former U.S. military base in Greenland, and the government in Denmark stepped in, vetoing the deal. At the time, Danish officials were quoted anonymously in the press, saying they had resisted the deal as a favor to its longtime American ally.

Then in 2018, a Chinese government-owned firm was announced as a likely winner for a contract to build a new airport. The 3.6 billion Danish krone (U.S. $560 million) contract would have given China major economic power over the local government, and decision makers in both Washington and Copenhagen worried it could lead to the U.S. being pushed out of Thule – or give Beijing a ready-made airport that could accommodate Chinese military planes in case of a conflict.

Eventually Copenhagen and Nuuk reached an agreement, with generous financial support from Denmark’s coffers, to pick a different contractor. But it is likely that China will continue to push for entry into Greenland, underlining its strategic importance once again.

See also my previous post. If the US owned Greenland, it could put the kibosh on any attempted Chinese (or Russian) projects in the territory, no questions asked. That could throw a serious wrench in the “Arctic strategies” of America’s principal rivals in the decades ahead.

Besides, we’d have Canada surrounded.

In the mood for war

Looks like world is gearing up for a major conflagration:

  • Israel is now striking Iranian military targets in Iraq (the first Israeli strike in Iraq since 1981).
  • China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs has described the protests as a “color revolution” and apparently suggested that the PLA could be deployed.
  • India has decided to revoke the autonomous status of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, a move that Pakistan deems illegal.
  • “Turkey has threatened to re-open the floodgates of mass migration to Europe unless Turkish nationals are granted visa-free travel to the European Union.”

Better get to work on that home fallout shelter…

A step forward

Always impossible to know what’s going on behind the scenes, and results matter more than gestures, but this seems like a good thing. As the saying goes, jaw, jaw is better than war, war. And it’s not all theatrics; grand symbolic gestures can create political space for outcomes that would otherwise be hard to imagine.

I also view it as a positive sign that Mr. “Troika of Tyranny” was off in Mongolia during this event.

Japan’s Belt and Road

Abe and Modi in 2016

In light of a certain state visit ongoing in Tokyo, I nominate this as the fact of the day (emphasis mine):

While Japan’s “lost decades” and China’s rise have led most observers to overlook Japan’s role in Southeast and South Asia, the country has remained an important source of development assistance, public lending, and private investment across the region, particularly as Japanese companies have extended their supply chains deeper into Asia. At the end of 2016, Japan’s stock of foreign direct investment in major Asian economies (excluding China and Hong Kong) was nearly $260 billion, exceeding China’s $58.3 billion. It is undeniable that Japan has increasingly had to jockey with China for high-profile projects as China’s footprint across Southeast and South Asia has grown. But Japan’s longstanding relationships and its long record of private and public investment across the region make it a worthy competitor with China.

Japan’s Belt and Road, particularly with US backing, could give China’s massive trade and infrastructure strategy a serious run for its money. And Japan is still the world’s third-largest economy…

Good news: Rare earths ain’t so rare

Well, this is an actual relief. Rare earths may not, in fact, be America’s Achilles heel (as China appears to think and as I previously thought):

Experts in the field, though, are much less concerned about such a chilling scenario. They say that while a restriction on rare earth exports would have some immediate adverse effects, the US and the rest of the world would adapt in the long run. “If China really cuts off supply entirely then there are short term problems,” Tim Worstall, a former rare earth trader and commodities blogger tells The Verge. “But they’re solvable.”

Far from being an ace in the hole, it turns out rare earths are more of a busted flush.

The reasons for this are numerous, and span geography, chemistry, and history. But the most important factor is also the simplest to explain: rare earths just aren’t that rare.

They can be mined in other places, like Australia, India, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S. China only mines about 80% of the global supply (not the 95% we often hear about). The Mountain Pass mine in California is apparently up and running again. And all is right in the world.

CIA raid on North Korean embassy in Spain?

Story from El Pais, the second most-read daily newspaper in Spain, presented without comment (well, okay, just one comment – WTF?):

Investigators from the Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) have linked an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Sources believe the goal of the attack embassy was to get information on the former North Korean ambassador to Spain

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”

If it is proven that the CIA was behind the attack, it could lead to a diplomatic spat between Madrid and Washington. Government sources say that it would be “unacceptable” for an ally to take such action. Not only would it mean that the US agency had operated on Spanish soil without asking for authorization or informing the authorities, it would also be a violation of the international conventions that protect diplomatic delegations.

What’s more, unlike other intelligence activities – such as cyberattacks, which are characterized by their discretion, the attack on the North Korean embassy was especially violent. On February 22 at 3pm, 10 masked men carrying alleged imitation weapons broke into the embassy, located north of the capital in the residential area of Aravaca. They tied up the eight people inside and put bags on their heads. The victims were beaten and interrogated. A woman managed to escape from a window on the second floor and her screams for help were heard by a neighbor, who contacted the police.

A new bloc on the block

Sergey Karaganov

Sergey Karaganov

The day (in 2000) when Putin suggested that Russia would be willing to join NATO if it was treated as an equal partner seems like a very long time ago. Of course, the offer was never made, and NATO proceeded to expand eastward to within 100 miles of St Petersburg.

In retrospect, shutting Russia out of the Western alliance was a colossal mistake, possibly one of the great strategic blunders in all of history. Because now Russia is hellbent on forging an alliance with China:

Russia’s view of China has shifted significantly over the past five years. Moscow has abandoned any hope that the Chinese economy is an example it might emulate. Instead, foreign policy experts now talk of how Russia can use China to further its geopolitical goals.

There was no doubt at Valdai that China knows how to do economic growth, and that Russia does not. Russia’s elite — always so ready to resist any sign of Western hegemony — have no problem admitting China’s economic superiority. Their acceptance reminded me of the way Britain gave way to the United States as the world’s dominant economic power.

Seen from Moscow, there is no resistance left to a new alliance led by China. And now that Washington has imposed tariffs on Chinese exports, Russia hopes China will finally understand that its problem is Washington, not Moscow.

In the past, the possibility of an alliance between the two countries had been hampered by China’s reluctance to jeopardize its relations with the U.S. But now that it has already become a target, perhaps it will grow bolder. Every speaker at Valdai tried to push China in that direction.

Both Russia and China have obvious shortcomings, but the fact is that the US, Russia and China are the world’s foremost military powers; and an alliance of two of those powers against the third could prove to be a geopolitical game-changer.

This alliance, if it becomes concrete, would overturn how we do global politics. Imagine an international crisis in which Russia and China suddenly emerge as a single bloc. The impact would be considerable, and to some extent unpredictable: Psychologically, in the mind of the West, it would combine the fear associated with Russia with the apparent invulnerability of China. Washington would feel under attack; Europe, intimidated and unsettled.

The old Continent would also face the threat of a split between Western Europe and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which could turn their focus east under the influence of a cash-happy China ready to invest in the region.

The author, a former Europe minister for Portugal, describes a scary meeting between former Putin adviser Sergey Karaganov and some Chinese officials and think tank people:

There, a number of Chinese participants said they doubted Russia’s assertions that the world is in the midst of a new Cold War.

Karaganov dedicated himself to convincing them otherwise, arguing with increasing passion that China is deluding itself if it thinks issues between Beijing and Washington can be conveniently resolved to the benefit of both sides.

If Beijing places its bets on peace and cooperation, the great Chinese adventure will come to an end, and China will have to live in the shadow of the U.S. for another generation — perhaps forever, Karaganov said. Chinese authorities, he argued, have no more than five years to make a decision.

The clock is ticking.