Date: July 5th, 2018
Venue: Millbank Tower
Dr Michael Green:
I’m sorry to keep you waiting, I was the victim of the railway system here, but I am in absolutely no position to complain. If you have been to my part of the United States and you have ridden on Amtrak or Metro in Washington, it is significantly better. Now if this were Tokyo a friend of mine was vice-chairman for railroads in Japan and he consulted for Amtrak in the United States. He told me on the typical day Japan quadruples the wait time. I’m used to it, but I apologize to all of you for keeping you waiting.
I’ll get right to it the book I wrote By More than Providence. It’s a rift off of Bismarck’s line that American’s don’t need strategy and don’t need one because they have special providence. Meaning that the United States was blessed with Canada to the North, Mexico to the South, and two large oceans. The point of the book is if you look at the American history in the Pacific, it’s not just god’s providence or look there was foresight and there was strategy. That in itself was a controversial statement for some because in general most observers of the United States, most experts on Grand Strategy, in particular Americans think that an ultimate Grand Strategy would be that of a Thucydides or a Clausewitz or a Metternich or anyone but an American.
When Tocqueville travelled in the United States he wrote that democracies would not be capable of strategy because strategy requires patience, keeping secrets, tension in continuing sense of purpose and all the things that he observed a system designed to defeat the leader through checks and balances. The word strategy itself is from the Greek word ‘strategos’ the commander and the American system was set up to prevent another king, to prevent the commander. George Washington himself made sure that the President was limited. But in fact when you look back at history there is remarkable foresight and understanding of the challenges in the Pacific. The mean motif of the book begins with Thomas Jefferson and that motif is the United States though often in an inefficient, hypocritical way, the United States will usually in history when confronted with a hegemonic challenger in the Pacific will choose a balance of power strategy. They will formulate a national strategy that pushes back. That began in 1783 I started this book by writing National Security Strategies in the White House and the Pentagon and one day waking up and realizing where did we get all these ideas about former presence in alliances and trade. I thought I would write an intellectual history starting sometime in 1945, maybe 1898. But the first brief introduction before the Spanish American war yielded to us Hawaii and Guam or maybe 1945 where we inherited this responsibility.
What I found and I should have known as a historian was that many of the themes that I struggled with in the Clinton Administration when I was in the Pentagon or in the Bush Administration when I was in the White House had their roots from their roots of American action. So 1783 is the beginning of the book because that is the year Thomas Jefferson had the earliest evidence of strategic thought about the Pacific. That’s the year Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to George Rogers Clarke that year; the American Revolution is still underway, warning that funds were being raised in London not for something benevolent as the Henry Jackson Society, but as a form an expedition into Canada to find a route into the Pacific Northwest before the Americans created their country. He said we can’t allow that and his support for the Lewis and Clark expedition had that as part of its genesis. Balance of Power pushing back against aspiring hegemons not always efficiently but ultimately effectively is the motif from the beginning.
In the 18th and 19th centuries it was pushing back against the imperial powers, the European powers; Britain but also Prussia, Germany. In the early 20th century it was Japan and now the US faces the most complicated challenger in Asia in the form of China. Unlike the European colonial powers, the Soviets, or even the Japanese is not trying to beat the US into Asia it is trying to re-emerge as the centre of Asia which further complicates the problem. That’s the motif I then was quick highlight all the dysfunctional, inefficient, ineffective US strategies that I experienced first-hand and as a practitioner, a historian and a political scientist.
I’ll go through those briefly because if I were right in the head I would not travel all the way to London and talk about Donald Trump. The reviews of the book have been very good and the main question I get is that’s all very fine from 1783 it’s 2016 now Donald Trump is President so America is done right? The last chapter in retrospective on American strategy through the prism of the Obama administration’s policy. I don’t know what I would have written because there is a debate as to whether Donald Trump represents something fundamentally new in American Foreign Policy or is just a footnote. In terms of agency the President’s role there is no precedent for a President who is this disruptive and unpredictable through alliances, trade, pretty much everything that American alliances are built on.
Defenders would be quick to say yes but that disruption and unpredictability will allow him to squeeze more money out of our allies for defence spending and trade deficits, we’ll see. In terms of traditional American Foreign Policy and strategy he is pretty much destroyed and confused all of them except for one which is military power. Actually the Trump Administration has increased defence spending where things that have not gone unnoticed in terms of ammunition, training, readiness are actually going way up. In military they have an acronym, which some of you may know called DIME: Diplomacy, information, military, and economics. Donald Trump has thrown into disarray the “D” the “I” and the “E” but on the “M” there is a reason why 90 percent of military officers voted for Donald Trump because the budget restrictions were really creating challenges. My brother is a Marine and I come from a military family in part. Six-month Navy tours were becoming nine-month navy tours so we’ll give him some credit for the “M”, but the rest of it is in disarray.
This suggests a different trajectory for US foreign policy, but as a social scientist I teach students about agency and structure. What I’ve just described is agency. Alliances are structural and what I think is a privilege. The structural factors bear some very brief review. Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016 in public opinion polls in the United States support for Europe has been flat, support for NATO has been flat, but support for the US-Japan and US-ROK alliances have gone up. When asked if should we defend these countries if they got attacked? They have gone up. Support for trade has gone up in Pew, Chicago Council, and other polls support for global engagement has gone up. In a democracy that has to count for something. I would also add, this is harder to measure though at CSIS we are trying to measure it through surveys of members of Congress that the congressional views on engagement, particularly in Asia, are robust as they have ever been. There are outliers on the Right and the Left, but when it comes to alliances and engagement there is quite a bit of consistency in Congress which you don’t normally see. What Donald Trump is doing is in some ways a defiance of institutions American agriculturalists, the American Congress, almost all think tanks are. I would argue it’s not a new trajectory, but it’s a new experience which will affect the trajectory.
Very briefly I have mentioned in the book these five tensions. Things that have confounded American strategy towards Asia. The function of geography of the American system of government, the political culture. The first is the American strategy in Asia has always been second or third fiddle to Europe. Decisions were made in World War I and World War II that privileged British power. Woodrow Wilson in World War I allowed Japan to expand because Japan was allied with Britain and Wilson realized that. As his National Security Advisor put it, Britain was the gyroscope of the International System that America, though it took us one hundred years to realize it, depended on that. In World War II Roosevelt agreed with Churchill to attack Germany first even though 80% of the American public, the US Congress, especially the US Navy wanted to go after Japan first. That has been great for global US strategy but that has led to shortcuts in the states in Asia frankly as America privileged British Power. That is less the case today. About seven or eight years ago American public opinions have started to say Asia is more important than Europe. Interestingly one of the big changes since Trump became President is last year since that question was asked by the British martial fund although the secular trend was for America to say Asia is more important, but in the latest poll showed Europe won again. In the 2017 poll more Americans think Europe is important. But that has been a tension in US-Asia strategy and it’s a reality for Donald Trump who in his National Security Strategy emphasized the Pacific. In his National Security Strategy, he emphasized China in 18-font and Russia in 15-point font. The challenges from Russia in Iran will make for a global power like the US strategy difficult.
The second tension is whether the centre of American strategy should be China or Japan: continental or maritime? Americans preference China often because from an American perspective it was the collapse to the Qing Empire that invited European or Japanese or Soviet threats to American aspects. The natural inclination for most naval strategists and diplomats was to favour Japan the first island chain in the maritime. Culturally inherited from Britain we did not want to, say as Mahan put it, be entangled on the Continent. Trump is interesting, or at least his administration is, because the National Security Strategy especially the free and open Indo-Pacific is unambiguously Mahanian. The guys who wrote it told me they read this book, advertisement on the book. Although they quickly point out that I didn’t have to own that if I didn’t want to. The free and open Indo-Pacific strategy is a repudiation strategy of Xi Jinping’s proposal for a new power a Sino Centric-US realm at the expense of our allies. In that sense there is a lot of continuity and I would argue that Hillary Clinton had she become President would have had a maritime Mahanian, I have no doubt about this, would have had a Mahanian allies first strategy and there is some continuity. The question is does the President think that way? Not at all clear. What the security team thinks may not be what the President thinks.
A related tension the third one in the book is where we draw our forward defensive line. I’ll spare you all the history, but the classic example and it relates to the question of where America has these interests on the continent or not. The classic example is Dean Mathis’ famous statement in January 1950 that America’s defensive line in the Cold War, after China fell to communism was going to be in between Japan and Korea, it did not include Korea. Of course, the North Koreans, Soviets and Chinese saw that and Kim Il-Song got the green light to invade. The trouble is constantly where that defensive line should be. Most strategic thinkers in Washington expected the question would revolve around the island chains and Chinese military build-up, but Donald Trump has now with the June 12th Summit thrown into complete doubt our presence on the Korean peninsula. This worries me because historically American strategists have had a real blind spot for the Korean peninsula. If our national security strategy is based on the premise, which I think is right, that great power tension with China is the biggest challenge we face in the Pacific. A little historical sensibility would say the Korean peninsula has always been the focus of great power rivalry, but not in Donald Trump’s mind. As you know in Singapore he said, “I want off the peninsula eventually.” He cancelled our military exercise in North Korea based off the suggestion of Xi Jinping in a meeting with Kim Jong Un without telling Japan and Korea big question marks there.
The last two tensions I’ll touch on briefly; one is trade and basically Mahan of all people naval strategists wrote that free trade and free trade agreements would be the key to American hegemony. It’s what Steven Krasner calls hegemonic stability theory. Opening your large market creates dependence on you which was the whole American strategy with Britain Post WWII and TPP, but of course Donald Trump ran against that. It’s hard to say what the trade strategy is of Donald Trump but there has always been a tension of American politics about free trade. The free traders have pretty much consistently won since 1945 until now. What the Trump administrations trade strategy is about six strategies that are in complete contradiction with each other and it’s more of a political gesture and temper tantrum than a strategy but it definitely hurts in Asia. And then finally human rights and democracy, Americans from the beginning knew and Thomas Jefferson knew this Mahan wrote this, MacArthur argued this coming back from Japan, Ronald Regan argued this that the United States had an interest in states in Asia. Emerging from empires, defining what a nation-state is from scratch. Competing with other visions: colonialism, Japanese anti-imperialism, and European imperialism, communism and from Jefferson on people have noted we have an interests, not just and idealistic pursuit of, but an interest in well-regulated republics that would resist coercion. We especially do now because what China has been doing with Belt and Road that is not in Donald Trump’s mind at all. This uninterested democracy, well certainly not in Post war period so it’s a big mystery. I’ll just end there and say the comfort gives some comfort and points to some continuities in the structure of American politics and international relations in Asia you can see very familiar themes coming out of this administration themes you can see from any administration [inaudible]. The other penny will drop to mix my British and American metaphors, the other shoe will drop for Asia, actually at the NATO summit. That is where we will find out what our President thinks of our alliances.
Dr John Hemmings:
On that happy note Alessio over to you.
Dr Alessio Patalano:
I will try to make my comments very brief and focus mostly on the book before I do so I understand a small story. It is a Mike Green story that doesn’t involve Mike but it involves how it all started for me and it’s the reason that I was very delighted when John mentioned that he was coming to town and rose an idea to do a session. In the Summer of 1999 I was completing my research for my undergraduate dissertation and it was my first time ever in Japan. I spent a Summer there and on a Sunday afternoon I was just coming back from a visit to the naval base where I had been on board the last series of missile guided missile destroyers class of 1968. I was coming back with a sense of confidence in terms of the Japanese military traditions. I was coming back and I was in one of the largest bookshops at the time and as it was usual during my stay in Japan I went there to try and look for the section on Japanese defence and as you can imagine it was a very small section. There I found a strange thing in Japan, it was the only English book on Japanese defence matters and I thought if it is here it must be important. After that I spent the following two days and something struck me: I knew nothing about what I thought I knew a lot about and there was Japanese defence matters but secondly how there was scholarship in great depth of Japanese security matters which at the same time did not cover in my visit which was how steeped in tradition the Navy in Japan was. Not spending everything we knew at the time about Japan’s military. In a way if I went on to go finish my dissertation and do the rest things with my PHD actually is the source of the book I was reading and how that impacted me and how I move forward in depth. At the same time into a deeper knowledge of the time.
What struck me was three things really: first of all, it was interesting that use diplomatic history and then used an intellectual history and then used a strategic history. Even though perhaps it’s not the best way to find it. All the characterizations are right because on one hand it is steeped into archival documentation, there is a greater sense of depth. The history of American engagement with the Asia Pacific comes through [inaudible]. You can probably sense what these people were discussing about whether it was private sector leaders or American presidents or the occasional corridor going down the Pacific, which at the time was a bit of a feast, it was very challenging activity to come. You have that kind of depth which is remarkable because if you think about we are talking about a very long period of time and one of the things that really struck me in terms of that intellectual and diplomatic dimensions you have a great depth that runs through the entire book from the beginning up to now. If anyone, like myself, knew Mike from before as an excellent political scientist and as a leader in policy making discussions in DC one of the greatest parts was how great the writing style in history was, it was really enjoyable.
If anything there is great depth, but it’s easy to read you can form a narrative quite well and I think the book framework, that’s the second thing why I call it the strategic history of diplomatic history. These are about the ideas and perceptions of America about Asia Pacific, but the framework itself is very important because it does something that most diplomatic history books don’t do. It tells you the parameters along which the debate in the United States moved across time. So this dimension of Europe versus Asia, continental versus maritime, you had to draw the line of defence for American policy towards Asia, self-determination versus promotion of universal values and protectionism versus free trade. That framework is very strong and in a way that allows you to understand to give it meaning to give it sense the systems in coherence throughout an otherwise a very long period of time. At the same time, I call it strategic history, and that’s my third point, what runs through the book is a point Mike made himself when he talked about how he got to write the book in the first place. There are a few elements I can see are recurrent in our policy action. Where do they come from and do they come from a place where we engage in our past and we are trying to understand what kind of lessons suggest. There is a sense in the book that underlying question seems constantly what are the questions we can draw from this long history of engagement with part of the world. To me if you ask this question the may like some remarkable observations that came out throughout the long term assessment of the book.
First of all, American Grand Strategy one could argue has perhaps has been tested and defined with an engagement in Asia and a particular engagement with Europe. Asia was the far West and was the place far away, if you go there you really need to know why and the first part of the book, the so called rise of the US for me it was really interesting for that reason. One of the core discussions across the different Presidencies and the agents that are engaging with that there is this underlying sense of we are going there.
How important it is and the thing is the period under Roosevelt you have this coming together of national ideology which is a combination of economic expansionism and manifest destiny and is this idea of power which is defined by a fiscal state and a strong navy. In a way you got a summary of the story of the ground work, the core of the relationship between the core of the American-Asia relationship ever since. Which are the ideals that underpins American policy economic engagement and military might in some sense are the three pillars that defined the extent to which American grand strategy engages with that part of the world. I would be even more bold in that statement and say once I started reading this book that American perception of grand strategy emerges because of this need to engage with Asia because there is this cultural affinity and historical affinity. You don’t think practically about it, but the book gives a story about how important it is. The second takeaway in this sort of way the balance between economic engagement and military might and the writing that makes it possible. To be able to see what is interesting is how in particular the later parts of the book, particularly the rise of China section. This last section is one of the most interesting tensions that comes to the fore. There is an unresolved position as to how to square away the continental versus maritime approach with the economic versus power. If you’re going continental that economic matters are the forefront and you have to reduce the power element to this. If you stay maritime it’s about power and less about economic prowess. What you say about President Trump seems to be reinforcing this as in the Pacific we are looking at it from a military perspective, not so much an economic perspective. My only experience in Asia would suggest that the United States pulling out of TPP encapsulates these fears if we stay with China then economic matters need to be at the forefront then the military might side. Whereas the previous history is really about balancing less than the narrative now.
The last point is the question that brings together the universe’s Asia and defending the forward defence line. You can boil it down to alliance management and bilateral versus multilateral about the structural question. It seems to me very interesting that is somehow the novelty of the framework of the book. For the first time alliance management and the role of Japan in the United States presence into the pacific and the foreword presence Roosevelt that core component is represented by Japan. This is the first time Japan is relatively strong and so there is a clear sort of push to engage with the question so how do you remain a forward presence in the Asia Pacific? Maintain that maritime power that is at the heart of the Pacific and manage the most single important alliance in that world and how do you square that away with a relationship with China. It seems to me that this is the one novelty. The book itself I find it very useful to start out with that mental engagement to engage with it the examples you provide are coming to clash with each other and that’s an interesting place to be. Lastly because we were in Europe the place to be with the alliance is also about Europe because up until the rise of the Soviets it’s clear that Japan and Europe is a competitor in Asia that comes part of the balancing presence in Asia now it is absent. Where do we go from here? How do we bring Europe back into Asia? Is the past going to give us some kind of direction in terms of where Europe should be? As a balancing actor? If so by what ways would they be doing their duty to this part of the world or trying to come closer to the Indo-Pacific maybe in the Western India Ocean or even trying to reach out further in the South and East China Seas. There are good questions that the book raises in an informed way. At the end of the day it is also going back to the original point of what the book is about it really provided me with an idea of strategic history.
Dr John Hemmings:
Mike do you want to respond first, I have a few thoughts but do you want to respond first? I just thought I would say the Japan-China aspect was the most interesting thing about the book that you find the US divided about the Mahanian approach. I would say since we are in London there is a very strong British strand throughout this book which I found very interesting and fascinating you know Mahan very influenced by Julian Corbett by Sir John Laughton appeared Mahan’s own influence I found that really fascinating. The Philippines Manila Bay story we had [inaudible] come here and tell that story of the British fleet sailed between the Americans and Germans and that was the deciding factors of the Americans going into Philippines. One things that I found useful not only when I was doing my PHD and learning from you how the continental decision, how you understood that as a policy maker that those strategic decisions were around these policy and bureaucratic coalitions. That’s a very deep insight for those of us who are trying to figure out how government works that there are these groups of individuals and peppered throughout the whole book is not just the most recent years, you know guys like Willard Straight the China lobby within the state department and how they influenced policy under Taft so I found it very fascinating. With that I will keep my remarks fairly short and you can respond to both of us as you see fit and you can respond to us as you see fit.
Dr Michael Green:
Alessio your observations were really interesting and I think you’re right I wish I had this discussion with you before because I could have made it a book about American strategy globally. The argument the United States is isolationist is an argument in Europe. George Washington’s famous farewell address where he said avoid entangling alliances he meant alliances with Britain and France, it was not about Asia in the Pacific at all. Walter LaFeber who I cite the famous [inaudible] I guess of 30s 40s 50s and 60s wrote that America was isolationist with respect to Europe but not Asia. In 1940 I cite a poll in September or October 1940 where two thirds of Americans said stay out of the war in Europe and two thirds of Americans said embargo Japan even if it means risking war with Japan so clearly I made the argument that the isolationist charge doesn’t fit even the American First argument in the 30s in the Post War variant with Taft were pro Taiwan/anti-communist with Japan. I thought about it mainly differentiating Asia strategy from Europe, you make a more interesting point in a way that it really was the experiment and some of the best American strategist in the pre-war period cut their teeth on Asia. That’s very good I think I will get someone to put that on a jacket cover for me.
The point about Britain, I’m a bit of an Anglo-phile to be honest but even if I weren’t I would be putting a lot of these race notes in the book about Britain. The last major study of American foreign policy in Asia is not much, there are a lot of good histories of bilateral relations with China and Japan and India, the last big archival study like this was written in 1922 it was written by Tyler Dennett at John Hopkins and if you’ve been in policy debates you always write history with a contemporary in mind which is true in my case because I was trying to think about lessons in the past for lessons going forward.
Dennet did that in 1922 published in ‘22 but he was writing during the Washington naval treaties, he was basically making the case for Anglo-American common strategic action in the Pacific and his story and his tension and his history from the 1780s to 1920. His story was how the Americans could not bring themselves to work with Britain in the pacific and only had we done it sooner could we have had a better strategy. The tragedy is when Japan rose in the ‘30s we did anything but, the Admiralty proposed that the US Navy and the Royal Navy send 8 battleships in China cruising in the Pacific together and FDR said no because he was so worried about isolationism in America. Had the British and American fleets done that it might have tipped the balance in the debate in Japan so the British peace in the story is pretty important and I think it brings us to the present where if the French Navy does FONOPS now in the position in the South Pacific because of Chinese encroachment. Where the Royal Navy wants deployment which is perfectly timed by the way for a major tsunami or typhoon because the Royal Navy brings its own disasters to prove its worth in the Pacific, the Philippine case.
That’s great and the most important but the part about Europe is most important is the cohesion of the neoliberal order or whatever we now call it. Unfortunately, the Chinese view Europe and the EU as extremely convenient and where Europe can play the biggest role is in the West. The US is not particularly helpful; I will readily acknowledge for European cohesion is like asking for Aussie cohesion I know. If there is a role for Europe in Asia and surface action groups which appear periodically which is good. It’s really upholding the system and Japan’s response to Trump on Abe’s side his people are quite a bit happier with Trump than they were with Obama because it’s a more muscular position and they like Mattis. The return of Trump 1.0 as the Prime Minister office calls it, not officially of course. The Trump they saw in the campaign beginning with the G-7 Summit and the June 12th Singapore Summit. I think what you’ll see from Japan is an acceleration of what Abe is already doing and more strike weapons, a hedge and more jointness. International Relations theorist think you have to choose one, Abe is doing both. New offensive capabilities that were never there like hedging. Hedging by the way forces the US to consider that Japan could take action so we have to listen. Hedging and abandonment and entrapment, theorists get it all wrong they are two sides of the same coin. The other thing I think you’ll see close with Japan, especially what happens with the NATO summit and the Putin summit I think you’ll see more Anglo-Japanese and European-Japanese efforts to hold the system together till the US gets its act together. Europe will be very important to Japan, especially Britain with France and Germany too. That is because of the US.
Dr Alessio Patalano:
Do you think the TPP model [inaudible] will the Japanese pick up the slack and work together with trade?
Dr Michael Green:
I think the Japanese strategy, which is smart, is to keep TPP alive. With the TPP eleven it is not as influential with Chinese decision making or Japanese economic growth without the US but it’s nevertheless smart and to keep working with the Europeans and others to create costs on the US. And the talks, talking about structure the most important voters for Republicans are the Christian vote, which is very loyal to Donald Trump because of the Supreme Court and agriculture. Agriculture is really unhappy right now because of TPP and NAFTA and all these things. I think Japan’s strategy, which is also Canada’s strategy, which is also going to be the European strategy, we are creating counterbalances on trade, but most American internationalists welcome it because we have to get out of this rut we are in.
Dr John Hemmings:
We recently had Admiral Foggo here who on the record tried to reassure us about NATO saying that General Mattis was a good Mahanian and it was all very good, but we all realize he’s not the President. I do see a few UK officials in the room, I’m not going to put them under pressure to ask questions, let’s just open it up to the floor please say who you are and perhaps keep it fairly short. We’ll go James, Andrew, and then Euan please.
James Hardy I’m from the Foreign Office, I’m not on official capacity. My question would be about the current experience from the US in the Indo-Pacific: how married is the US to the pivot and the rebalance? What similarities and differences you find?
My name is Andrew Lam, I’m an independent strategist. I would like to follow up on the title of the book: By More than Providence and reference to manifest destiny in the sense that when the term manifest destiny was first mentioned it was seen as all the early colonialists in the United States expanding their territory occupation throughout the continent. But now other souvenirs is now being used as a term to project American power to guard against the world order. My question to you is to what extent is this manifest destiny in the sense of preeminent American Power as the Guardian of the World order how much is this shared by the American electorate and the American electorate now after Afghanistan and Iraq and so on and so forth prepared to spend blood and treasure to extend this American path?
Dr Euan Grant:
Thank you very much. Euan Grant Institute of Statecraft also speaking personally. My interpretation of the Admiral’s recent speech is very Hemmingnist, I very much endorse John Hemmings. My question is given I have a copy of Ghost Fleet on my phone and I’ve read it. Where do you see the current level giving China of American and Japanese naval technology leadership of which are particularly underwater in the form of nuclear and AI? Where do you see that in twenty years times with all the implications of that.
Dr Michael Green:
Nice easy questions (laughter). Thank you. On the Indo-Pacific, free and open Indo-Pacific strategy versus the rebalance of the pivot. I in my capacity as Vice President at CSIS co-led two reviews of the pivot for the Congress. These were required by Congress under the Defense Authorization Act of 2010 and 2014 I think. So CSIS was asked to do an external audit, not a numerical audit but a strategic audit. We did a classified version which I imagine you could get access to in your official capacity and an unclassified version which you could get on both reports the idea of shifting towards the Pacific are especially maritime resources is not new to the Obama administration. And even as I point out in my book President Obama’s first national security strategy didn’t mention Asia. It mentioned climate change and things like that.
So the actual label pivot and the label rebalance were unveiled in November 2011 with very little prior coordination or spinning of think tanks or allies. The cynical interpretation which is at least fifty percent right which is President Obama announcing that fall that we were setting that timeline. He campaigned on Iraq as the bad war and Afghanistan as the good war. For political reasons he wanted to show muscularity. This was at a time when China was throwing its weight around in the South China Sea. The Pentagon meanwhile wanted to make the case in the National Defense Strategy for Defense spending in especially the Air Force and the Navy wanted to grab that moment. That’s much more an Air Force and Navy thing. There was inter-service rivalry at play so Hillary Clinton ruled out the pivot in a Foreign Magazine article and Obama ruled out rebalancing in a speech in Australia. In November 2011 and so the labels don’t mean that much.
After they announced the rebalance the White House asked the Chief of the Naval operations, by the way what is the Navy doing to rebalance to the Pacific? As it happens the Admiral said we have a plan to go from 55% to 65% of our surface fleet in the Pacific and the Air Force said we also will move our best F-22s and F-35s to the Pacific so it became like any government document, I’m sure this never happens with FCO. Like every government document it became the label that everybody wanted to glom onto and the Army, poor Army, they did it by creating a Four Star position in the Pacific. It’s a little bit gimmicky and it presents a structural reality and structural challenges and about the need to repurpose or better balance US military after a decade of fighting counterinsurgency. The National Security Strategy in this White House in the sense that they prioritize great power rivalry especially over China over counterinsurgency. McMasters and Mattis some of the leaders in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were the ones that pen to paper saying counterinsurgency is no longer our highest priority. I
n that sense it is real, but in that sense the other problem with the Obama administrations, to his credit President Obama grew up in Indonesia and he cared about the Pacific he really did. He was pretty good at Southeast Asia the criticism would be there was not strategy in the rebalance. One reason CSIS was asked to read these strategies was Congress was not willing to fund the mundane military construction in Guam or elsewhere and the Administration was not making the case. I think people in the Pentagon at the end were acknowledging that. They were tripping up on the fact that President Obama announced core interests and all of these G-2 comings with China, there was no clear world view with his ways and means even though the President himself had exactly the right instinct having known the region very well. The last thing I’ll say about the rebalance if there was a rebalance ideally rebalance to the Southeast Asia front there isn’t that much new about Japan and Korea in the White House. What was new was the stepped up engagement with Aussie and Southeast Asia which is a perfectly logical next step. Joe Nye in the mid ‘90s upgraded the US Japan alliance to deal with China’s problem of China and Taiwan. The Bush Administration created a strategic partnership and I was hired in the White House to do Japan and history. To continue that out of the India initiative, but the next piece was a balance of power strategy. Filling the gap in Southeast Asia left by the Guam doctrine.
Manifest Destiny you asked in America willing to shed blood for our allies in Asia? Yes. Is America ready to spend treasure? No. We are still as Winston Churchill would say bloody minded, but we are a little bit cheaper than in the past. Abe doesn’t mind this, Abe wants increased defence spending but as I said polls are willing to spend blood to defend Japan and Korea 60% which is remarkably high, it is not as high for NATO. Americans are much more sceptical about NATO. As far as alliances in Asia, East Japan they are pretty strong. There are much larger about the American public and the American congress value our leadership. I think the answer is yes in Congress and in the Public. Where there is the most doubt is not trade or alliances, it’s the value of democracy. There is a new poll from the George W. Bush Institute and the Biden Center that shows Americans really doubting the value of democracy. It is still their favourite form of government by far, so many Churchill quotes. By far the best form of government but real doubt about can we sustain it? There is a new study that has been done in the Washington Post that people living under democracies that are sliding into autocracies is increasing. That piece is a real problem.
On Ghost Fleet in our report and including in the unclassified part we emphasize the undersea advantage the US and its allies have. China doesn’t have allies, China can push around Laos and Sri Lanka maybe and can count Pakistan and North Korea as allies, but that is more headaches than allies. The US in Asia unlike Europe bilateral alliances not a collective security system and its very separate. The Japanese by opening up Article 9 the interpretation to allow collective self-defence with the US that John wrote about. The examples given in the Diet about how the interpretive regime worked included by name Australia. As I understand implicitly Britain and other like-minded maritime states. Although the only example given in Diet interpretation was Australia, but the Japanese also talk about India and the Quad. If you add up the undersea warfare capability of the US, Japan, Australia, and India that is I would argue an undersea defensive perimeter that it would be very hard for the Chinese to break out of for twenty years or more.
The harder challenge is above the surface and the Chinese series of ballistic missiles which could target carrier battle groups. The large numbers of Intermediate range ballistic missiles targeting Japan and now Guam. The first island chain is seriously contested for the first time since 1943 or 4 and I think that is going to force a new debate about military strategy and you will hear a lot of this. Should we do denial? Is the strategy to deny China access, is that sufficient? Should we target air-sea battle a few years ago think-tanks said we ought to continue targeting China downtown so we can hold their cities at risk? These are the kind of debates that are going to come up, it’s not for the first time. We dealt with this War Plan Orange and the Japanese build-up for World War II. We dealt with it with the Soviet build-up in Vietnam. We came up with some pretty innovative ways to prevail we had to use carrier, oil replenishment at sea. The Royal Navy in 1945 could steam at port for two weeks, the US Navy could go for months because of innovations forced on the Navy on 20s and 30s we lost bases with the Washington naval treaties. There is one of the things if you do a strategic history adversity is the mother of innovation if we are smart about it. I think undersea is our advantage we are going to have to think about ballistic missiles and tactical air and threats to bases.
Dr John Hemmings:
Space war as well, before we go to the next round I am just going to, because you talked about the first island chain has been contested since the 40s. How serious is the situation in the South China Sea? Is this the first time really the US guarantee of fuel lines from the Middle East to its allies? Is it risk or are there ways to alleviate that tension? I’ll throw that to you and basically how bad is it? Two questions from the audience this gentleman with the glasses and that gentleman also.
I’m an incoming PHD on Chinese naval power at the University of Sheffield. No official capacity to speak in. Two questions: What are your findings with regard military commitments to alliances with land powers in Asia? Given that the alliances tend to take on institutional interests with their own and the policy interests that they have is it really necessary to commit to South Korea in that way because South Korea is perfectly superior to North Korea at least on paper. There is still the problem that can seem to be overstretched. Therefore, the resources are not there to commit to land. My question is having you seen any feedback institutional interests within alliances and should we not stick to sealing of the Pacific according to Spickman?
The collapse of the Qing Empire was preceded by the British trade defensive with China which led to them importing opium which led to them getting involved in wars that basically led to the collapse of the Qing Empire. We are still living with that legacy because China would never lose control of that structure. Particularly China has a massive trade surplus with the EU and with the USA. How do we undue their toxic legacy to bring their balance back into to world in terms of commerce?
The question about alliances and communication and does China pose a new threat. Yes there is something of a new threat I think China is what used to be called new-sea doctrine, denial of the first island chain towards the second island chain Guam with complete control over the first island chain. With any expansionist China exposes China to risks as well. China is still heavily dependent on sealing sea lanes to the Middle East. Sea lanes which pass through the underwater capabilities I just mentioned of the US, Australia, Japan, and India. The Royal Navy if available.
China is creating its own vulnerabilities and its own opportunities for counter leverage and counter pressure. By the way everything I’m discussing we’ve done studies on at CSIS you can check our website. One of the studies we did was a very detailed 400-page case study of nine maritime efforts by China in the Pacific. We looked at the most detailed by far is in the public domain. We came to the conclusion in the tactical sense it is very hard to stop China to deploying things to these islands. But you can impose a very serious cost on China for that action in terms of the larger balance of power. As China takes these steps if the result is an American bilateral alliance and it starts to become collective security arrangements it comes as serious costs for China which may begin to develop a real argument within Beijing about whether these little island fortifications are worth it.
Already I think the TSD- the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue as it’s called- that is moving very quickly and its John’s area of expertise. India and the Quad is a sort of outlier and the trend is India is going to fall and not blend in as much. There are lots of costs in position strategies on China at a strategic level and also at a tactical level that China is exposing itself to. One of the problems I have with these linear projections of China dominating Asia is it assumes there are no consequences for China’s own strategy and you can see it from the strategy. You know the Quad was proposed by Abe and all four governments the White House, the PMs office, the National Security Advisor all wanted to do it, but the state’s department and foreign office said this time around all four foreign ministries were very enthusiastic. Why? China is creating the measures of counterbalancing; the career question is a real interesting one. I was very worried and not surprised by Donald Trump’s statement that he wants to leave Korea.
The American public opinions show strong support for defending Korea. There is no serious support for Congress in pulling out of Korea. In fact, there is more support than there has been in decades for our support in Korea, but it is very soft. Within the Pentagon there is and what you just said I hear in the Pentagon, I hear it from retired service chiefs usually and I hear it from contemporary thinkers in the Pentagon. Not the mainstream view, but it’s there. The logic is if we are going to take on China in the maritime domain why don’t we simplify our lines of communication on our front by untangling ourselves in the Korean Peninsula, which if you are a fan of American football is like saying, before the whistle blows let’s retreat to our own five-yard line so we can meaten up our offensive line. It doesn’t make any sense, first of all if Korea is allied with us and we have forces that complicates Chinese planning for any contingency. We can’t count on and perhaps shouldn’t count on being able to use the US-Korea alliance in a Taiwan contingency. That would be a huge mistake as Donal Rumsfeld to get Korea to sign onto that China fight. China cannot assume that the flank is completely safe. It would be in a military sense be self-defeating. Setting aside the war fighting scenarios in peace time what the peace time what the Pentagon likes to call phase zero of the war plan.
In faze zero China is aiming the centre of gravity for US power in Asia is really our alliances. China is aiming for that and Korea is the main target. It’s not the Philippines, it’s not Thailand, but it’s Korea. The clearest evidence of that, I’ll just give a quick example. In 2014 the Chinese hosted a summit in Shanghai the acronym is three pages long, but the short version is SICA. In Uzbekistan initiated Summit in continental Eurasia China hosted in Shanghai in 2014. The Chinese foreign office circulated a draft joint statement to all the participants. In it the participants agreed there should be no foreign blocs in Asia. “Foreign blocs” is the same language Gorbachev used in 1985 in a speech to say no US alliances. Turkey signed onto it, our NATO allies, thanks guys. Israel signed onto it, I asked the Israeli ambassador why did you sign it, it’s against American alliances and he said you don’t get invited to many of these things. The Korean Foreign Minister is a good friend of mine because he was a PHD candidate at SAIS at John Hopkins when I was there. I had dinner with him afterwards and he was very proud of the fact that Korea refused to sign. Ultimately it did not become a joint-statement it became a speech at the end of the meeting. I asked my friend aren’t you worried that the foreign ministry might sign it?
Exhibit two when we the United States wanted to deploy THAAD the Chinese put a multimillion dollar on Korea to block it. I can give you more examples but the Korean peninsula is the centre of strategic power in Asia. The Russians haven’t forgotten that. If you read my book one of the things in foreign policy that we are the worst at is Korea. It’s our maritime, and the Brits too by the way, in the mid-1850s an American diplomat because of Hong Kong an American diplomat said the British have Hong Kong we need something. We don’t want Korea let’s give Korea to the French and we’ll take Okinawa or something maritime like the Brits because that’s the way to do it. That’s why there is not a very robust constituency for Korea in the Pentagon and if you read the National Security Strategy or the National Defense Strategy or the Free and Open Indo-Pacific very carefully Korea is not a rational, it’s not clear. Your argument I worry is going to find new life because of the President. Army not the commander of Korea, but the guys who are in charge of commanding brigades who are ready to fight have the training in the National Training Center in the US ready to blow up anybody, often Korea. The training is harder and I’m worry about this point you raised because there is some consistency. The Qing, well there is an interesting debate to bring China into the World Trade Organization, it is actually a debate. Even the main negotiator on the US side was questioning whether it was worth it. Does the massive job losses and cheating balance out? I think China can be brought into this system. I think the mercantilist strategies that Xi Jinping is espousing, Made in China 2025 and so forth. I don’t think they would be possible if the US did TPP. TPP would have caused a hundred billion dollars in trade diversion from China to Vietnam and would have put pressure on China.
If the US had followed the Trans-Atlantic-Agreement and then with a bilateral investment treaty with the US. Which Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton would have done. Clinton was very happy to have TPP passed just before she almost became President. Then you would have a rule making system in Europe and the Pacific and a bilateral negotiating style that China would have followed that would have given us a pretty good chance. We are off that now, we are not there, and it’s an open question whether we can regain that ground, I hope we can.
Dr John Hemmings:
I’m acutely aware we have a cab that is coming to pick up Dr Green quite soon. It doesn’t give them much time to go get books, buy them, and get them signed. We are going to finish our remarks now if he didn’t get to your question, why don’t you get a book of his bring it over get him to sign it and maybe you can get some of those answers. I do apologize it has been a bit poorly timed on our part and we are so pleased you all came. Can we thank both Alessio and Mike for a great discussion? (Applause)