Vlad Fact #14


Vlad doesn’t tolerate your border dispute – he just cuts your island in half.


Gulliver’s Travels

As some of you may know as the lone American representing the empire here in the MIR program this year i’ve felt obliged to fulfill my patriotic duties to write about my mother/father/homeland and the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific for my 586 essay. My research can be fun to do at times in part because it’s sexy (like a pant suit), topical, current, relevant to New Zealand and this part of the world, and not least of which because people love to wax poetic on the subject. My current favorite comes from Donald Weatherbee and the annual Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia[1] when he describes China and the US as two giant Gullivers, one ensnared by the Lilliputians of ASEAN, the other poked and prodded by the same small actors.

ASEAN’s regionalist strategy to meet the challenge has been two pronged. The first is that of the Lilliputians: to bind the giant Gulliver that is China in a web of ties. Although no thread is alone sufficient to restrict the giant, all the threads together hopefully serve to constrain Gulliver’s freedom of movement. (Weatherbee pg. 3-4)

And on the other hand:

From ASEAN’s perspective, the American Gulliver has been distracted for most of the last decade by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the so-called war on terror. According to most Southeast Asian political analyses, this inattention has led the United States to neglect its broader interests in the region and to fail to defend its great-power turf in the face of a rising China. Rather than tie the American Gulliver down, there has been an uncoordinated but consistent effort to stir it up. (Weatherbee pg. 4-5)

Metaphors are fun, but quips aside Weatherspoon has hit the nail on the head (i guess figures of speech haven’t been set aside), at least from a regional perspective. From the Malacca Strait to the Senkaku’s, China sets the agenda, not the US. The Sleeping Giant (ok, i guess metaphors are back) wasn’t really sleeping, it was busy picking on the neighborhood kids down the street in the Middle East. The slow boat to China loaded with American dollars which set sail at the end of the 1970s finally arrived in port and pivot or no the US must face reality.

The question now becomes what happens when two giants collide? It need not be a clash of titans as traditional power politics would predict.

Better for all involved if they do as Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi described the situation when he said “our two nations are trying to do something that has never been done in history, which is to write a new answer to the question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”[2]

My answer – why not redefine the problem as two regional powers meeting in international space (no Aidan, there will be no Moon Summit hosted by a shirtless Vlad with Laika by his side) to frolic in the economic waters of prosperity and friendship.

*I know this doesn’t get graded David, just posting for fun.

**Weatherbee bio – this guy calls it like it is.

***Procrastinators rejoice – a fun little Easter Egg awaits the curious.

[1] Donald E. Weatherbee, “Southeast Asia’s Security and Political Outlook,” in Regional Outlook: Southeast Asia 2011-2012 (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2011), 3–9.

[2] “Remarks With Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi” (Remarks, Beijing, September 5, 2012), http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/09/197343.htm.

The meaning of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Asia*

Asia-Pacific is big enough to hold only China and the United States

Asia-Pacific is big enough to hold only China and the United States

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on her Asian tour earlier this month. Her discussions touched on many issues, from the South China Sea (SCS) territorial dispute to the crisis in Syria.

In Timor Leste, she sought to advance economic development in the region and issued US$6.5 million in scholarship grants.

While in Jakarta, Clinton urged ASEAN countries to unite in solving territorial issues with China.

She also reiterated strong US support for the regional initiative to ease rising tensions over the disputed island in the SCS.

In China, she was assertive in conveying possible resolutions to the SCS territorial dispute. She also spoke about the Syrian situation, with Clinton asking China, which keeps on blocking the UN Security Council’s move to sanction Syria, to stop backing the regime of President Bashar Assad.

It seems that Clinton’s visit has failed to persuade the Chinese as Beijing remains a staunch supporter of the Assad regime. Beijing also reiterated that the SCC territorial dispute is an issue of Chinese sovereignty and integrity, and isonly willing to discuss it through bilateral talks.

Her tour ended in Brunei in a move to buttress escalating SCS conflict and to coax Brunei in preparation for its ASEAN chairmanship in 2013.

But what is the meaning of her visit to Asia?

First, she is reaffirming the US’s “pivotal” role in the Asia Pacific; the US wants to revive its economic weight in the region.

There is no doubt that the center of economic gravity has now shifted to Asia, and Southeast Asia has a strategic role to play concerning this trend.

Second, it is a way for the US to critically evaluate its choices for crafting a strategy for Asia Pacific in the midst of a rising China.

In my view, there are only three courses; whether the US recapitalizes its forces in the region, encourages its allies to take on larger security responsibilities or limits its commitments.

Third, this may have been seen as a “divide-and-rule” strategy used by the US to weaken China’s political, economic and security influences in the region. As for that case, ASEAN countries have the dilemma of presenting themselves equally to the US and China.

Fourth, encircling China in preparation for a US centered hegemonic order. The US envisages itself as a “pivot” to Asia Pacific, where it can use its leadership in the shaping of the region and its future.

In the new US Defense Strategic Review (January 2012), it is mentioned that the challenge posed by a rising China is at the very heart of America’s new defense strategy in the region.

Fifth, to view the importance of Chinese shipping lanes and Sea Lines of Communication from the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Malacca Strait. With the visit to Timor Leste, it also highlights the geostrategic importance of the eastern flank of Indonesia.

Eighty percent of China’s oil imports still pass through the Malacca Strait and this is why it is a vital choke point. However, the US seems to have a contingency plan in the eastern part of Indonesia if the crisis erupts.

Sixth, the US wants its traditional alliances in the region to relax and feel secure with its growing military capabilities in Asia, and to not appear to be at odds with China.

The US does not want any rivalry within the region as the guarantor of peace and stability. The US’ plans to deploy new missile defenses can be seen from this context.

Last but not least, the US wants to reaffirm its presence and influence in the region, or at least to neutralize China in order to sustain the status-quo.

China’s desire to reduce US influence is an uneasy fact for the US. The “battle” of ensuring order in Asia Pacific then rests on how the US continues and consolidates its current pattern of hegemonic order.

ASEAN countries are at risk of division if they cannot, internally, find solutions to break the “battle” of this regional leadership between US and China.

Outside of intra-ASEAN and the EU; China, Japan and the US continue to be ASEAN’s major trade partners. China is the fastest growing partner with its growth tipping more than 10-fold since the Asian financial crisis in 1998.

While the US and Japan remained to be the top providers of ASEAN inflows for 2010, outside the EU and intra-ASEAN.

It is likely that the visit of the secretary of state will yield a closer relationship with the Asia Pacific

and greater commitment from the US toward the territorial dispute in the SCS.

This can be seen as an extended deterrence of China for the sake of US interest. The structure of competition and cooperation coexist in Asia.

ASEAN has a strategic balancing role within the region to maintain its independent voice and constructive role in the international community. It employs three general strategies, which are bridge building, engagement and hedging to maintain strategic stability and minimize risk.

Indonesia therefore plays a vital role as it must become the glue for the cohesiveness of ASEAN and because of her free and active foreign policy she can give structure and be the bridge between the US and China.

*A published version of this article has appeared under the same title in the Jakarta Post, Tuesday, September 18, 2012. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/09/18/the-meaning-hillary-clinton-s-visit-asia.html

Beware of the Teddy Bear!

Who’s the cuddliest/the scariest?

With the Northern summer came the Olympics and… Belarus. Indeed, the ‘last dictatorship in Europe’ made international headlines several times. While Nadzeya Ostapchuk’s gold medal and her subsequent disqualification on doping grounds probably helped most New Zealanders put the ‘last European dictatorship’ on a map, with Ms Ostapchuk’s downfall pointing to a national performance-enhancing system that recalls Cold War practices, Belarus was and still is in the news following the ‘teddyrist’ attacks that the country suffered on the 4th of July.

Since the terrible ‘teddy bear bombings’(as the event was dubbed by international media), the Belarusian regime expelled all Swedish diplomats from Minsk and removed its own from Stockholm. Organised by a Swedish public relations firm, the stunt, which consisted in the air-dropping of 879 pro-democratic teddies (freedom fighters?) by a small airplane that flew via Lithuania, escalated into a diplomatic row between Belarus, Sweden, and Lithuania, and damaged already strained relations between Minsk and the European Union (the EU has long criticized Lukashenko’s policies and has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on him and other senior officials). An emergency meeting of the EU Political and Security Committee was held on the 10th of August, but the European Union shied away from a mooted mass diplomatic withdrawal. It did say however that it would send a ‘very clear message’ to Minsk.

As with every bombings there were casualties: The ‘last dictator of Europe’ Alexander Lukashenko fired the nation’s air defence chief, the head of the Border Guards service, and lately his foreign minister. Belarusian authorities also arrested a journalism student who posted pictures of the teddy paratroopers on his website and a real-estate agent who offered accommodation to the Swedes behind the stunt. They are both accused of assisting border violators and face up to seven years in prison if convicted (Amnesty International is already on the case).

Beyond the ridicule of the situation and the questionable effectiveness of the European response to the event (are ‘clear messages’ ever effective in the international realm?), to me, the most interesting aspect of the teddy-bear gate was the role played by Per Cromwell, the owner of Swedish PR company Studio Total, who with the help of his co-workers Thomas Mazetti and Hannah Frey, started the whole row in the first place. ‘What we have managed is that public awareness of the state of affairs in Belarus has skyrocketed. Hundreds, thousands, of news articles have emerged,’ he said. The owner of the PR company admitted, however, that he did not know what the Swedish Foreign Ministry thought of the operation (probably not much, if you ask me).

Interestingly the stunt, which cost 150,000 EUR (232,000 NZD), was financed through the company: ‘Studio Total is a Swedish advertising agency specializing in generating buzz for brands such as Canal+, Clarion Hotels or Corona (to mention the ones  beginning with the letter C). The money we make from this we use for issues we believe in.’ Although some have dismissed the whole operation as a marketing stunt, this might be a new business model for activism, which merges the interests of a company (profitability) and an ethical commitment to values and norms, thus bypassing the funding conundrum. In the same vein, after meeting the director of Médecins sans frontières, the CEO of Lexcelera, a private translation company, set up Traducteurs sans frontières to provide free translations to the NGO sector.

Are these new forms of activism? Or is this only a feel-good strategy to enhance a company’s image and attract more clients? Either way, does it matter?

Per Cromwell’s goal was to ridicule the Belarus regime and support Belarusian human rights advocates. It certainly managed the former; I’m not so sure about the latter, especially if you consider the reactions of humiliated Lukashenko. The stunt also put the European (lack of effective?) policy towards Belarus into the spotlight. A review of the EU strategy to Lukashenko’s regime is due in October. Let’s see what happens then.

AFP, ‘Affaire des ours en peluche : trois Suédois convoqués par le KGB au Bélarus’, http://www.lexpress.fr/actualites/1/monde/affaire-des-ours-en-peluche-trois-suedois-convoques-par-le-kgb-du-belarus_1148677.html (accessed 27/08/12).

Andrej Dynko, ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship’, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/17/opinion/belarus-europes-last-dictatorship.html (accessed 27/08/12).

Catherine Ashton, ‘Statement following the meeting of Political and Security Committee on Belarus’, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/132159.pdf (accessed 27/08/12).

European Union External Action, section about Belarus, http://www.eeas.europa.eu/belarus/index_en.htm (accessed 27/08/12).

Stacey Kirk and Paloma Migone, ‘Ostapchuk tries to smear Valerie Adams’, http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/olympics/7480504/Ostapchuk-tries-to-smear-Valerie-Adams (accessed 27/08/12).

Studio Total, http://www.studiototal.se/teddybears/pics—vids.html (accessed 28/08/12).


The ferocity and scale of this week’s demonstrations in China, instigated by the activities of Chinese and Japanese activists on disputed territories within the South China Sea, are strong a reminder of the importance of the region for International Relations.

This week’s skirmishes are the latest in a series of power plays being played out in the region as regional and global powers attempt to assert dominance.  These ongoing disputes threaten to destabilise the region and risk an escalation in aggressive behaviour and conflict.   Recent behavior from Beijing seems to indicate a moderated approach – the signing of a Declaration on Conduct between China and the ten ASEAN countries; the agreement to “exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes” in the region; and China’s discussions with Indonesian naval counterparts to enter into defence co-operation in the region.

However, China’s peace-building rhetoric does not follow China’s more aggressive actions of late, including deliberate incursions into territories disputed by the Philippines and other neighbours and the announcement that China intends to establish a military post to oversea the disputed Paracel Islands.  These actions indicate a more adversarial attitude than China wishes to promote, and one which China’s neighbours, if they continue to acquiesce to or rely merely on ASEAN and diplomatic channels for security, will surely give Beijing the ability and audacity to continue its pursuit of regional dominance.  There is no doubt that China will aggressively pursue its claim to the region;  described as “the new Persian Gulf”, undisputed control of the region would ensure access to trade routes and oil and mineral resources worth trillions of dollars.  Already the world’s largest consumer of oil, China’s ability to establish sovereignty over the region would be a determining factor in its future economic and military growth and position of regional hegemony.

This conflict is set to escalate in the coming decade as China and the US focus their military and diplomatic resources on the region.  Obama has announced an increased US military presence in the region and plans for half of the US fleet to be stationed in the Pacific by 2020.  Combined with a major expansion of US missile defenses in Asia, this strategy is intended to curtail China’s “string of pearls” and diminish its strategic expansion into the region.  China’s behavior is in direct response to this US military focus on the region.  What will be outcome?  At best, a new cold war; at worst, global conflict.  The US cannot risk open warfare with such a powerful adversary, but this may be the inevitable result of Obama’s current actions.  China’s President Hu Jintao has (supposedly) claimed that “war is imminent with the United States, Vietnam and the Philippines”, which is far from idle rhetoric – a war against the US would overshadow China’s economic and political problems and refocus domestic discontent on an external enemy.  The resulting wave of Chinese territorial nationalism, economic boom (as a result of the military industrial complex) and the legitimization of the Communist Party’s stance against foreign opposition to Chinese power and sovereignty are surely justification enough for China to pursue a confrontation over the South China Sea rather than acquiesce to calls for resource sharing within the region.

The US is preparing itself to face this confrontation, and consequently the world is progressing inexorably towards a conflict of which will determine global power structures and will be the defining feature of the 21st century.  A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies assessment on the situation declares that “the underlying US geostrategic objective in the Asia-Pacific region has been to prevent ‘the rise of any hegemonic state from within the region that could threaten US interests by seeking to obstruct American access or dominate the maritime domain. From that perspective, the most significant problem for the United States in Asia today is China’s rising power, influence, and expectations of regional pre-eminence’.” While a conflict between China and the US is “unthinkable” (in both economic and military terms), the “U.S. force posture must demonstrate a readiness and capacity to fight and win, even under more challenging circumstances associated with A2AD [anti-access/area denial] and other threats to U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific”.  So, both sides are preparing for a war that neither can win alone, and both are seeking to strengthen diplomatic and military ties within the region (Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, NZ etc).   These actions risk the heightening of tensions and the creation of a new arms race, with the South China Sea being as likely a flash-point as any for such a conflict to occur.

WikiLeaks and the Boy who cried Wolf


Let’s consider for a moment the events now occurring in London and the media coverage of Julian Assange’s exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The Union of South American Nations has come out in support of Ecuador’s stance on Assange, which has been harbouring the WikiLeaks founder in their London embassy since June.  The British Government’s threats to storm the embassy and snatch Assange is classic British bullying and could well create problems for Britain in its foreign relations with countries beyond Ecuador.  Under the terms of the 1961 United Nations Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, embassies remain under the jurisdiction of the nation they represent, meaning that British police have no authority within Ecuador’s embassy. The Convention is the cornerstone of international relations, and has been signed by more than 200 countries.

UK Foreign Minister William Hague’s recent statement that “the United Kingdom does not recognise the principle of diplomatic asylum” and threat to use the 1987 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act to remove the diplomatic status of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, thereby allowing the police to enter the building and extract Mr Assange has the potential to open a whole can of worms.  Britain, as with most countries in the world, does not accept the principal of diplomatic immunity if it goes against international law – in this case, if a wanted criminal were to claim asylum in the nearest embassy. Conversely, Ecuador and a number of its South American neighbours, do recognise the right to diplomatic immunity, putting it at odds with much of the Western world.

The British behaviour is best explained by their current status as pandering to their US counterparts.  What we are seeing is the first truly high profile challenge to the steady erosion of international norms and human rights that has been accelerating since 9/11 and the war on (drugs/terror/the economy/the environment) was begun at the turn of the century.  Established norms of the right to free speech and press are under attack as well as the diplomatic sovereignty of states.

The interesting aspect for me is the parallels which this situation has with that of the blind Chinese legal activist Chen Guangcheng, who took refuge in a US embassy in Beijing in May this year.  Although Chen left the Embassy just 6 days later, the US’ actions in granting Chen asylum was seen as an affront to Chinese sovereignty on their own soil, for which Beijing demanded an apology.   These cases raise questions about the relevance of territorial boundaries and state sovereignty and are vital issues in terms of the way states observe international law and international relations.

Perhaps Assange and Ecuador will try to have his case heard by the International Court of Justice to get the status of diplomatic asylum universally recognised and established as a basic international law norm.  Despite what Ecuador, the UK, Sweden and the US decide to do, the decisions will reverberate throughout international law and norms and this case sets to test the strength of international norms and could set an unwelcome precedent which would invite a political and perhaps even violent response from other nations.  The UK has painted itself into a corner as it can now either raid the embassy and risk international retribution, or lose face by letting Assange leave the embassy and the country.  Personally, I feel that if Assange doesn’t capitulate and face his accusers in Sweden, the best thing the UK could currently do is let Assange slip out of the country under the cover of darkness and live out his days in a dark Ecuadorian bar in Quito while the rest of the world focuses on the Paralympics. Mojitos anyone?

Is a declining Hegemon bad?

In the recent article Hegemony and After, Robert O. Keohane offers a scathing rebuke to the recent works of Robert Kagan and Robert Liebers (too many Robert’s I know) which discuss the gradual decline in U.S. hegemony. According to Keohane, both authors claim that U.S. hegemony is desirable (the alternative of no hegemon being a “more disorderly and dangerous world) and has existed for the past 60 years not as a result of multilateralism and the creation of institutions which the U.S. led, but because other states “approve of American values and goals and believe they may need American power down the road”.

To this Keohane claims their arguments do not engage in any serious analysis of what the U.S. would need to do in order to ensure hegemony, and that their critique of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations do not account for the successes of peacekeeping, trade, etc. Keohane argues that their books fail “to distinguish between what is known and what is unknowable” (a claim that would ultimately bring me completely off topic if I broke down) and that there are six things we do know which somewhat discredit Kagan and Lieber.

They are as follows: (1) with absence of leadership world politics suffers, without alliances or other institutions helping provide reassurance, uncertainty generates security dilemmas. (2) Leadership is exercised most effectively by creating multilateral institutions that enable the sharing of responsibilities and burdens. (3) Leadership is costly and other states have incentives to shirk their responsibilities (or cheat as we called it in class). (4) In democracies such as the U.S. people pay little attention to domestic policy and less to foreign. (5) Autocracies are less stable than democracies. (6) Among those democracies in the world today, only the U.S. has the material capacity (here I assume he means military) and political unity to exercise consistent global leadership (which is needed due to (1)).

I feel as if points (1), (2), and (3) are reiterations of those arguments we discussed in class, even if (1) is a put more strongly than we ever discussed, and that the other points are Keohane’s extrapolations of real world consequences.

Overall I found Keohane’s piece an interesting argument, which gives me no desire to read the works of Kagan or Lieber (making this an unbalanced assessment of their work). I did however find there is one argument he left unaddressed (perhaps as it was not the aim of his article) in that he does not mention whether he is a declinist (pessimist) or antideclinist (optimist) of American hegemony. Personally I would assume that a liberal institutionalist could easily fathom a decline in U.S. hegemony despite its apparent need to guide a multilateral world. Surely a state would recognise that creating international institutions centred on spreading equal rights and the rule of law would lead to ceding sovereignty to the institution and empowering others? Thus a decline in U.S. hegemony is more than expected, and perhaps in no way not desirable, as the tools for the World to continue to cooperate have been established, and assuming that states continue to use them (unlike certain neocons within the U.S.) they can continue to develop and be shaped by ideas by their members. Thus a decline in U.S. hegemony does not necessarily mean a rise in Chinese hegemony, rather it could mean that institutions such as the UN now have the chance to be influenced by other cultures and take on a slightly less Western-centric flavour.