19 January 2014

Why War: Einstein and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human Nature

“Every man has a right over his own life and war destroys lives that were full of promise.”

Despite his enormous contributions to science,Albert Einstein was no reclusive genius, his ever-eager conversations and correspondence engaging such diverse partners as the Indian philosopher Tagore and a young South African girl who wanted to be a scientist. In 1931, the Institute for Intellectual Cooperation invited the renowned physicist to a cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas about politics and peace with a thinker of his choosing. He selected Sigmund Freud, born on May 6, 1856, whom he had met briefly in 1927 and whose work, despite being skeptical of psychoanalysis, the legendary physicist had come to admire. A series of letters followed, discussing the abstract generalities of human nature and the potential concrete steps for reducing violence in the world. In a twist of irony, the correspondence was only published in 1933 — after Hitler, who would eventually banish both Einstein and Freud into exile, rose to power — in a slim limited-edition pamphlet titled Why War?. Only 2,000 copies of the English translation were printed, most of which were lost during the war. But the gist of the correspondence, which remains surprisingly little-known, is preserved in the 1960 volume Einstein on Peace(public library), featuring a foreword by none other than Bertrand Russell.

In a letter dated April 29, 1931, Einstein laments to Freud:

I greatly admire your passion to ascertain the truth–a passion that has come to dominate all else in your thinking. You have shown with irresistible lucidity how inseparably the aggressive and destructive instincts are bound up in the human psyche with those of love and the lust for life. At the same time, your convincing arguments make manifest your deep devotion to the great goal of the internal and external liberation of man from the evils of war. This was the profound hope of all those who have been revered as moral and spiritual leaders beyond the limits of their own time and country, from Jesus to Goethe and Kant. Is it not significant that such men have been universally recognized as leaders, even though their desire to affect the course of human affairs was quite ineffective?

I am convinced that almost all great men who, because of their accomplishments, are recognized as leaders even of small groups share the same ideals. But they have little influence on the course of political events. It would almost appear that the very domain of human activity most crucial to the fate of nations is inescapably in the hands of wholly irresponsible political rulers.

Political leaders or governments owe their power either to the use of force or to their election by the masses. They cannot be regarded as representative of the superior moral or intellectual elements in a nation. In our time, the intellectual elite does not exercise any direct influence on the history of the world; the very fact of its division into many factions makes it impossible for its members to co-operate in the solution of today’s problems.

Developing Countries: More Than Economic Rivals and Terror Threats

Developing a new framework for assessing the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world

The cocktail circuit in Washington has a new vision of the developing world—home to six out of seven people on the planet. In some ways, the vision is more advanced than it used to be. During the Cold War, the prevailing image featured a Third World morass of peasant economies run by a small elite who could be bought off and kept out of the Soviet orbit with aid and weapons. Today, there is a new, bifurcated view. On the one hand are failed states and hopeless cases like Afghanistan and Haiti, breeding grounds for instability and terror. On the other are newly rich countries like China, competitors for our jobs and power.

The three worlds used to be capitalist, communist, and the rest. Now they are the West, the failed states, and the emerging challengers. But that's still too simple a view. A small and declining number of developing countries are charity cases. And none are competitors with us in a zero-sum game. Rather than dividing most of the planet into two threatening classes, we need to see states of the developing world as vital partners—both in strengthening the global economy and in preserving the global environment.

For most of the Cold War, and for all the soaring rhetoric about democracy and rights, the U.S. was happy to support pretty much any regime or rebel group that declared itself anti-communist. It was the continuation of a policy summed up by Franklin Roosevelt’s likely apocryphal quote about the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García: “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” The sons of bitches treated as family thanks to their opposition to communism included the apartheid regime in South Africa, the kleptocratic dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the obscenely violent Contras in Nicaragua, and Ferdinand Marcos, whose family made billions from his rule under martial law in the Philippines.

Aid and economic development in the Third World was seen as part of the Cold War fight. In the 1950s, the economist W.W. Rostow penned The Stages of Economic Growth, subtitled “A Non-Communist Manifesto.” It was a riposte to the dependency theory of global underdevelopment, which suggested, based on solid Leninist principles, that the richer West was a cause of the poorer Rest. According to the Dependencias, the Western powers kept all of the manufacturing for themselves, leaving a reserve army laboring unproductively on the smallholder farms of South America, Africa, and Asia. The Stages of Economic Growth was a book about how developing countries could get rich through Western-style capitalism. At that time, in the post-Sputnik era, the Soviet model still looked very attractive as a get-rich quick scheme, and free markets needed some good publicity behind the alternative. On the basis of that book and work with the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Rostow became Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor, where he pushed the idea that U.S. aid could be a powerful tool in winning the Cold War.The terror attacks of 2001 created a growing fear of failed states, fragile states, rogue states, and (even) evil states.

Evolution of Ground-Based Air Defence Weapons

IssueVol. 28.4 Oct-Dec 2013| Date : 18 Jan , 2014
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F-4 Phantom

In the not too distant past, the world’s most powerful military of the US was poised to mount a short duration campaign to punish Syria for allegedly crossing some undefined ‘red line’ of employing chemical weapons against insurgent forces opposing the regime in power. Reports coming out of Washington indicated that the US President was not only determined to degrade Syria’s chemical weapon capabilities but also to take down Bashar Assad’s air force, destroy his air bases and knock out his ground-to-ground ballistic missiles using giant B-52 bombers and B-2 stealth bombers. Some of the bombers were planned to fly in directly from the US, others from a base in Qatar.

Maximum losses of aircraft of the US during WW II were to ground fire…

The F-22 Raptor fighter-bombers were also scheduled to take part in the US air offensive. In all probability, the air attacks would have been preceded by lethal salvos of cruise missiles fired from US naval carrier groups lurking in the vicinity. This expanded inventory of targets portended a broader operation in scope than the initial plan, which was designed only to caution the Syrian ruler of his peril for engaging in chemical warfare. The extension to this plan would have gone a lot further than a deterrent warning and would have seriously downgraded his military and strategic capabilities. But for the efforts by Russia and the UN to find a political resolution, the attacks would have been launched in the latter half of September this year. Like the earlier wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this one too was destined to be a ‘no-contest’. The Syrian air defence capability was no match for the fire-power of the US forces.

In 2012, the Syrian air defence system shot down a Turkish Phantom F-4 reconnaissance aircraft but the same system could do nothing when the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes near Damascus. The Syrian Air Defence Force comprises 25 Air Defence (AD) Brigades each equipped with Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) batteries equipped with SA-2, SA-3 and SA-5 launchers. There are 200 mobile SA-8 and SA-11 launchers. The AD force has around 3,500 to 4,000 Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns of varying calibre. There are also two independent SA-8 and SA-10 regiments with 48 mobile SAMs. The detection system is based primarily on radars of Russian origin though some long-range Chinese radars have been added to the inventory.

Saab’s BAMSE Ground-Based Air Defence Systems


The ‘cat-and-mouse’ game between attacking aircraft and Ground-Based Air Defence Systems (GBADS) has not always been so one-sided. GBADS have been involved in nearly all conflicts where air power has been employed and in many cases, the outcome of the conflict has been decided by the effectiveness or otherwise of GBADS. The evolution of GBADS has concurrently impacted aviation and weapons technology, strategy and weapon-delivery tactics, innovations and military leadership.

First Wold War (WW I)

During World War I, both the Allied and Axis powers employed aircraft and airships for bombing each other’s cities but mostly in support of the land forces. Improvised guns were used against enemy aircraft and AA batteries and claims ran into hundreds of aircraft downed. The guns used were generally of the three inch calibre with acoustic locating devices for determining the direction of approaching aircraft. During the war, several improvements were made to increase the effectiveness of the AA batteries.

Responding to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: A Strategy for India

Manpreet Sethi

ICSSR Senior Fellow affiliated with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

In Pakistan’s nuclear strategy, the primary task of its nuclear weapons is not to deter India’s nuclear weapons, but to avoid an engagement with a superior military capability. Rawalpindi is aware of the risk of having to confront India till such time as it supports terrorism. But, it believes that its nuclear weapons constrain India from militarily punishing it. India has responded to this strategy by suggesting and illustrating (with Kargil) that there is space to fight a conventional war even in the presence of nuclear weapons. Over time, India has also tweaked its military doctrine to make this viable. This has obviously disturbed Pakistan. If an Indian conventional response could still be tailored to remain below Pakistani redlines, then its nuclear weapons become useless. 

Pakistan cannot afford this. It has to keep its nuclear weapons relevant and in-the-face of India, and the world, if it has to prevent a military offensive provoked by self-sponsored terrorism. It is in this context that the tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) – small yield nuclear weapons delivered by very short range ballistic missiles over military targets -- come in handy. The objective is to reclaim the space that India maintains exists for a conventional war even in the presence of nuclear weapons. 

In playing this game, Pakistan is not seeking to exploit the military utility of the TNW. It has no illusions about the military effectiveness of the weapon on the battlefield. And, it is aware that by using them, it would invoke a nuclear response triggering tragic consequences. But, in its plan, it would not really have to use the TNW because the inherent risk of nuclear escalation would deter. 

The threat implied by Pakistan’s TNWs is based on two assumptions. One, Pakistan believes that the use of TNW would bring about such a material and psychological shift in hostilities as to stun India into a halt. Confronted with the prospect of further escalation, the nature of Indian polity and the ‘softness of the state’ would make India choose war-termination over escalation. So, Pakistan believes that India would be deterred from using its superior military capability since it would not have the will or the motivation to act. He doubts whether India, with a strategic culture of military restraint, would find it prudent to inflict damage (and risk more on itself) in response to a threat that is not itself mortal. Second, Pakistan assumes that the battlefield use of a small nuclear weapon would not be seen as provocation enough by India, or the rest of the world, to merit massive retaliation. It tends to assume that the international community will stop India from continuing its conventional campaign or undertaking nuclear retaliation. Therefore, in Pakistani perception, the TNW is a deterrent at best, and a war termination weapon at worst.

India and Pakistan Continue Trade Talks

India and Pakistan are engaged in trade talks, intended to maintain bilateral momentum ahead of India’s elections.
January 18, 2014

Earlier this week, India and Pakistan resumed secretary-level trade talks in New Delhi. According to Pakistan’s DAWN, the meetings are being held for the first time in 16 months and are limited in nature. Both sides agreed to the talks in order to sustain “momentum” but foresee detailed and substantive talks after India’s general Lok Sabha elections, which will take place in May 2014.

Pakistan’s Minister of State for Commerce and Textiles, Khurram Dastgir Khan, told his Indian interlocutors that Pakistan desired increased market access, an easing in non-tariff barriers, and a free flow of investment and goods between India and Pakistan.

Speaking with The Hindu, Khan also stated that the above requests were more important than Most Favored Nation (MFN status, which Pakistan is expected to grant to India in the future), calling the MFN issue a “red herring.” According to Khan, MFN “distracts us [India and Pakistan] from what is the real issue which is non discriminatory access and as [sic] well as a level playing field for both countries.”

Khan will meet with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma on January 18 to discuss a host of matters related to trade and investment between India and Pakistan.

A preliminary meeting on trade issues took place on January 15 between Indian Commerce Secretary S R Rao and his Pakistani counterpart Qasim M Niyaz. According to reports by The Economic Times, the meeting allowed both sides to frankly exchange views on trade matters–particularly for the Pakistani secretary to convey the position of Nawaz Sharif’s government to the Indian side.

Currently, little formal direct trade occurs between India and Pakistan, despite their large land border and several major Indian and Pakistan metropolises being in close proximity to each other. The majority of trade between the two neighbors thus uses Dubai as an intermediary node, increasing costs and inefficiencies.

Grabbing the Wolf's Tail

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Keep Foreign Troops in Afghanistan


GARDEZ, Afghanistan — “The Taliban are still here,” a pharmacist who sells medicine to remote villages in the southeast told me last month in this shabby frontier town. “People are anxious about 2014 because the troops are leaving.”

After his customers started to understand recently that the United States and its allies will pull out most of their forces this year, he said, his sales of medication for anxiety, depression and insomnia increased 30-fold. Fear of a Taliban resurgence is so widespread that it is hurting property prices and the value of Afghanistan’s currency, scaring investors away and impelling Afghans to seek foreign asylum. Worries about the year ahead are a kind of pathology here.

Yet if Afghans are too scared about the withdrawal of American troops, the United States government may not be scared enough. In its latest report to Congress, the Pentagon said that fighting had eased in 2013, reporting a 12 percent drop in security incidents over the previous summer.

The United Nations, by contrast, found an 11 percent increase between May to August 2013, compared with the same period in 2012. During my visits to seven Afghan provinces over the last year, I saw no sign of the war cooling down.

In the short term, the Taliban are very unlikely to take over the country, or even march on major cities, but trouble should be expected in smaller outposts. Peace negotiations with the Taliban have stalled. This, combined with the imminent pullout of foreign forces, has given insurgents renewed confidence that the military balance of power will shift in their favor. In Kandahar last summer, one Taliban supporter (and sometime participant) confidently predicted that the insurgents would soon capture Kabul, repeating the northward sweep that brought them to power in 1996.

Wilfully blind in Pakistan

Khaled Ahmed | January 18, 2014

Pakistan ex-army chief and president Pervez Musharraf. (Reuters)

Public discourse driven by revenge and populism would want Musharraf hanged and the Taliban engaged in ‘peace talks’.

Pakistan’s majority opinion says the ex-army chief and president, Pervez Musharraf, must hang. He had deposed the democratically elected incumbent prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999; acted against the Pakistan Peoples Party because he had allowed its leader, Benazir Bhutto, to be assassinated by the deep state in cahoots with the Taliban; against the Taliban and al-Qaeda by surrendering their terrorists to the US; against religious parties and other non-state actors by calling off jihad against India; against the judges and an aggressive lawyers’ community because he had dismissed the Supreme Court; and against the media, which has swung extreme right and, intimidated by the Taliban, is baying for his blood. Who is left out?

Given this kind of universal loathing, Musharraf’s friends had advised him not to return to Pakistan. Not even his lackeys wanted him back, knowing how public opinion had swung. The judges, once shunning public opinion as part of their code of conduct, had become populist in their approach. The last chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry, crudely grandstanding on public occasions, was sharpening his knives. But Musharraf, a risk-taker by habit and full of hubris as an ex-commander, rebuffed sane advice and returned to Pakistan last year thinking that the common man would hail him because he had run a good economy with tolerable inflation and a flourishing job market.

When he toppled Sharif and put him in jail, people were out on the street distributing sweets. He didn’t learn the lesson then. Sharif had done the most popular thing in history: he had tested the country’s first nuclear bomb in 1998, which answered to the nationalist rhetoric of “greatness” otherwise unattainable without the bomb. Pakistani nationalism is attached to the textbook hatred of India and to the bomb, which is supposed to destroy India, miraculously without destroying Pakistan.

Sharif thought he would rule for ever after testing, but he had read populism wrong. The day after the test at Chaghai in Balochistan, the Karachi stock exchange, the only one that counts, was padlocked. The economic sanctions that followed pauperised Pakistan in short order and its foreign exchange reserves sank to $3 billion, barely enough for a week’s imports. Lesson: don’t sacrifice vital economic interests to the populism of uvula-showing screams of the common man in the street.

Fear, Hope and Determination: Afghanistan and the 2014 Syndrome

Author: Martine van Bijlert Date: 10 January 2014

"2014 - Year the Afghan war will be 'over,' according to Obama" - a sarcastic illustration for an article published at Bloomberg.com. It is one of many shades of pessimism expressed over this new year. Our author Martine van Bijlert sees it differently.

Ever since in 2011 President Obama announced his timeline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the prospect of 2014 has been looming ominously over the country. And now we are here, at the beginning of this almost mythical year. There is nervousness and fear, but also pushback, with some Afghans believing that the rest of the world is patently wrong to be so pessimistic about their future. AAN’s Martine van Bijlert looks at the questions that have been on the minds of so many: What will happen next? And: Will Afghanistan be all right?

For years now, ever since Obama first brought it up, 2014 has been a constant subject in conversations about Afghanistan’s future. So much so that the word 2014 – do hezar o chardah – became a code word for uncertainty and possible chaos, in a country that doesn’t even follow the Gregorian calendar.

Obama’s announcement detailing how he would be bringing troops home, was mainly meant to reassure his own public that the US was extricating itself from what was becoming a costly and complicated entanglement. But the world has become a single audience and his words sent shockwaves throughout Afghanistan. Although many Afghans found it difficult to believe the US was really leaving – in fact, the idea that the war is artificially kept going to give the Americans an excuse to stay is fairly widespread – the announced disengagement did confuse many people and made them nervous, given that the talk of departure was couched in a narrative that suggested that their country was in a much better shape than it looked from close up. And if the international community had been unable to protect Afghanistan’s population against a violent insurgency, predatory governance and meddling neighbours while it was still present, what was life going to look like without that level of international involvement and oversight?

Drawing a Red Line for China

 A U.S.-Japan joint military exercise in the Pacific Ocean.
A U.S.-Japan joint military exercise in the Pacific Ocean.

By JEFF SMITH, January 15, 2014

In recent months, the world's attention has been focused on China's provocative behavior in its Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with Japan, and for good reason. That dispute demands our utmost attention, and poses a tangible risk of for interstate conflict in the years to come.

However, the issue of maritime sovereignty in the East and South China Seas encompasses more than simply China's territorial disputes with its neighbors. It also involves a volatile disagreement between the U.S. and China over the type of sovereignty China is claiming in its 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, and specifically the right of the U.S. military to conduct surveillance operations there.

Our dispute derives from differing interpretations of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, a treaty the U.S. has not signed but whose maritime boundary distinctions we observe in practice. Under Beijing's interpretation of the treaty, China enjoys expansive sovereign rights in its EEZ, including the right to deny the U.S. military access to conduct surveillance operations. China is not alone in this interpretation – at least 16 other countries share Beijing's position – but China is the only country that has operationally challenged U.S. forces, leading to more than a half-dozen dangerous confrontations at sea over the past decade.

The U.S. and most countries of the world reject this interpretation of UNCLOS, arguing that China cannot treat the Exclusive Economic Zone as if it were China's sovereign territorial sea. And U.S. scholars have thoroughly debunked Beijing's reading of the treaty.


The Sunday Guardian : January 17, 2014
Monika Chansoria

Arguing that a Syrian-led political transition is the "only viable way out of Syria's problems", China has called for a peace conference on Syria — the Geneva II conference at an earliest date. China's permanent representative to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi expressed disappointment that the progress on the Syrian issue has not been smooth. China has maintained that relevant sides ought to negotiate without pre-conditions and that the eventual goal of the Geneva II conference would be to achieve a political solution to the conflict.

The key lies in implementation of the Geneva communiqué, which involves steps to bringing an end to violence and calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body, with full executive powers, constituting members of the present government and the other opposition factions. Assuming the rotating council presidency for November, China announced that Chinese experts will join inspections and destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. More importantly, Beijing has stated that it will provide financial aid for this purpose.

With the United Nations Security Council adopting a resolution aimed at eliminating chemical weapons from Syria as a follow up of the plan by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to destroy Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles by mid-2014, China has actively facilitated the adoption of decisions and resolutions relating to Syria. There is a discernible shift in the Chinese position on Syria from an initial stance of not "taking sides", to that of taking a proactive role in bringing about a resolution to the crisis. Staunchly opposed to the threat or use of force, Beijing has been urging the Bashar al-Assad government to talk to the dissident opposition forces and address the legitimate desire of the Syrian people in favour of reform and development. China's staunch disapproval of external military intervention to force a regime change in Syria is rooted in its discomfort with meddling in the sovereignty and internal political affairs of Syria — considered by Beijing as a violation of norms regarding legitimate international conduct. China has been a constant advocate of upholding the principle of state sovereignty against arbitrary external military interference.

What China brings to the world

January 18, 2014

The defining features of present-day China are reform and opening-up.


Even as Beijing steps up its proactive diplomacy, it does not believe that strength inevitably aspires to hegemony.

Nearly one year into the current government’s tenure, China, which has enjoyed stability and steady progress, is attracting increasing attention. Many are eager to see what China will bring to the world. My answer: a better China will make for a better world. As the Report to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China said, China will remain committed to peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, unswervingly follow the path of peaceful development, get more actively involved in international affairs, play its due role as a major responsible country, and continue to promote friendship and partnership with its neighbours and consolidate amicable relations with them. This is the pledge China has made to the world.

A China that constantly deepens reform and opens still wider to the outside is an important force for peace and stability in the world. The defining features of present-day China are reform and opening-up. To achieve modernisation, China needs to secure a peaceful international environment to develop itself, and safeguard and promote world peace with its development. It needs to enlarge the convergence of interests of all parties and work towards a harmonious world of lasting peace and common prosperity. That is why our diplomacy flatly rejects the law of the jungle, embraces equality of all countries irrespective of size and stands against hegemonism. China has the confidence to prove, with its own actions and by working with other countries, that a country growing stronger does not inevitably seek hegemony. As the world’s largest developing country and largest grouping of developed countries, China and the EU should respect each other’s development paths as chosen in line with respective realities and work together to maintain world peace and stability.

A China that upholds win-win cooperation is providing a strong impetus to global prosperity and development. “A single flower does not make spring.” China is ready to join the rest of the world to share opportunity and seek prosperity. China and the US have agreed to build a new model of major-country relationships, featuring non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. China and Russia, by vigorously deepening their comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination, have set a good example of mutual trust and cooperation between major countries. Committed to the right approach to morality and interests, China is willing to give greater consideration to the interests of other developing countries. We are also happy to see developed countries sharing in the dividends of China’s development. The recently concluded Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee has put forth specific goals for a comprehensively deepened reform in the political, economic, cultural, social and ecological fields. In all these areas, Europe is our important cooperation partner. We hope to see a combination of China’s ongoing programme of urbanisation, industrialisation, IT application and agricultural modernisation with Europe’s project of economic recovery. We would also like to see the Chinese and European markets reinforce each other to boost our respective development and provide fresh impetus to a dynamic, sustainable and balanced growth of the world economy.


Strategypage : January 16, 2014.

The first Chinese combat aircraft built specifically for aircraft carrier use, the J-15, appears to have been equipped with the in-air refueling pod. These pods contain additional fuel and the hose and drogue refueling gear for getting the fuel to other fighters. Thus when a carrier launches four fighters, two can be equipped with the refueling pod and transfer their fuel to the other two, providing those two with more range and time in the air. This reflects the fact that carrier aircraft can carry more weight in the air than they can when taking off.

This refueling system is particularly useful for carriers (like the Chinese one) that use the STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) system that substitutes a “ski jump” flight deck to replace the catapult. The CATOBAR (catapult) system is used by American carriers and allows aircraft to take off carrying more weight (of fuel or weapons) than STOBAR launched aircraft. The U.S. and Russia have such a pod system but it has never been seem on Chinese aircraft before.

The J-15 started mass production in late 2013, a year after some J-15s were seen making touch and go landings on the new carrier Liaoning. After that several J-15s have were seen at navy air bases painted as combat (gray), not development (yellow), aircraft. By the end of 2013 about twenty J-15s had been built for testing. The first five were exclusively for testing while those built after that were apparently intended to become service aircraft once they had all the tweaks and modifications (for problems discovered during testing) applied. This allowed China to get moving with training pilots and deck crews to handle actual carrier operations. This process could take up to a decade in order to create a core of experienced officers and NCOs (petty officers) who can safely and efficiently supervise these inherently very dangerous operations.

It’s long been noted that the J-15 can’t take off from the Liaoning carrying a lot of bombs or anti-ship missiles because of its STOBAR launching system. Ski jump decks are okay for fighters flying air defense missions but not anything requiring heavy loads. In contrast the new Chinese carrier under construction appears to be designed for catapult (flat, not ski jump deck) operations. Moreover, the front wheel of the J-15 is of the type required to handle catapult launches. Meanwhile the Liaoning J-15s can use the refueling pods if they have to carry out some long-range attack mission (with smart bombs or anti-ship missiles)

U.S.-China Relations and the Western Pacific

Maritime assertiveness in 2013 appears to have dashed hopes for a “new kind of great power relations.”
By Denny Roy
January 16, 2014

The middle of 2013 brought the possibility of a reset in U.S.-China relations, as new Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of his desire for a “new kind of great power relations” as he enjoyed relaxed, heart-to-heart talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at a California resort. The year ended, however, with further evidence that strategic friction between Beijing and Washington is serious and long-term. The Chinese declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, a new demand that foreigners get China’s permission beforefishing in the South China Sea, and the incident involving the U.S. Navy cruiser Cowpens and a Chinese naval vesselreinforced the suspicion that despite explicit denials, Beijing intends to impose a sphere of influence over the seas off the Chinese coast.

That intention is not surprising; it is typical behavior for a great power, and China sees itself as a rising great power in a region where the long-dominant power, the United States, is declining. Furthermore, China is a returning great power that for centuries dominated or attempted to dominate its periphery. This sets expectations and provides a familiar pattern for modern-day Chinese, who view the Sinocentric tributary system of the past as a confirmation that China’s destiny is to lead the region in the future.

Neither, however, is China’s apparent intention a cause for celebration for most of the region. Most Chinese have a sanitized view of China’s historical leadership in the region: that China exercised influence through cultural, scientific and economic prowess rather than through coercion or expansionism. Neighboring states – like Vietnam, forcibly occupied for a thousand years by the Chinese – often have a different, darker view of historical Chinese pre-eminence.

The promise that China will never seek hegemony or a sphere of influence has become a mantra of PRC leaders and diplomats. Hegemony means domination: a strong country forcing weaker countries to do what is in the strong country’s interest, as the Chinese often accused the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. of doing during the Cold War. A sphere of influence means a strong country has exclusive supervisory and veto power over international affairs in the areas near its borders.

Making things worse in the Middle East

By Fareed Zakaria, Published: January 17

Over the past few months, the Middle East has become an even more violent place than usual. Iraq is now once again home to one of the most bloody civil wars in the world, after Syria of course, which is the worst. Watching these horrors unfold, many in the United States are convinced that this is Washington’s fault or that, at the very least, the Obama administration’s “passive” approach toward the region has allowed instability to build. In fact, the last thing the region needs is more U.S. intervention.

The Middle East is in the midst of a sectarian struggle, like those between Catholics and Protestants in Europe in the age of the Reformation. These tensions are rooted in history and politics and will not easily go away.Gallery

Three factors have led us to this state of affairs. First, the structure of Middle Eastern states. The modern Middle East was created by the colonial powers at the end of World War I. The states the British and French created, often with little forethought, were composed of disparate groups that had no history of being governed as one entity. Iraq, for example, was formed by putting together three Ottoman provinces that had little in common.

The colonial powers often chose a set of rulers who came from a minority group. (It was a cunning strategy. A minority regime always needs the help of some outside force to rule.) Thus the French, when facing a nationalist insurgency in Syria in the 1930s and 1940s, recruited heavily from the then-persecuted Alawite minority, which came to dominate the army and, in particular, the officer corps of the country.

The second factor at work has been the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism. Its causes are various — the rise of Saudi Arabia and its export of puritanical Wahhabi ideas, the Iranian revolution and the discrediting of Westernization as the secular republics in the region morphed into military dictatorships.

The most important states in the Middle East — Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, for example — were not sectarian; in fact, they stressed their secular mind-set. But over time, as these regimes failed, they drew increasingly from particular tribes that were loyal to them. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq went from mildly sectarian to rabidly so by the 1990s.

Often the new sectarianism reinforced existing patterns of domination. When you travel in the Middle East, you often hear that these Sunni-Shiite differences are wholly invented and that people always lived happily together in the old days. These comments are almost always made by Sunnis, who assumed that their Shiite brethren, who were rarely seen or heard in the corridors of power, were perfectly content with their subordinate status.

The third factor is one involving Washington deeply: the invasion of Iraq. If a single action accelerated the sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, it was the decision of the George W. Bush administration to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, dismantle all structures in which Sunnis had power and then hand over the Iraqi state to Shiite religious parties.

Washington in those days was consumed with the idea of transforming the Middle East and paid little attention to the sectarian dimensions of what it was unleashing. I met with the current prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, in 2005 when he held no office. I described him then as “a hard-line Shiite, unyielding in his religious views and extremely punitive toward the Sunnis. He did not strike me as a man who wanted national reconciliation.” It was also clear that, having lived in exile in Syria and Iran for almost two decades, Maliki was close to both those regimes, which had sheltered him and his colleagues. Bush administration officials dismissed these concerns and told me that Maliki believed in democracy and pluralism.

The consequences of these policies are now clear. The Shiites proceeded to oppress the Sunnis — seemingly with Washington’s blessings. More than 2 million Iraqis — mostly Sunnis and Christians — fled the country, never to return. The Sunni minority in Iraq, which still had delusions of power, began fighting back as an insurgency and then became more extreme and Islamist. These tribes are all tied by blood and kinship to Sunni tribes in their next-door neighbor, Syria, and those Syrian Sunnis were radicalized as they watched the Iraqi civil war.

As violence has flared up in Iraq again, a bevy of Bush administration officials has risen to argue that if only the United States were more actively involved in Iraq, had a few thousand troops there, fought against Sunni militants while pressing Maliki more firmly, things would be very different. Not only does this perspective misunderstand the very deep nature of the conflict in the Middle East but it also fails to see that Washington choosing one side over another made matters substantially worse. One more round of U.S. intervention, in a complex conflict of religion and politics, will only add fuel to the fires in the Middle East.

Understanding Iran's Nuclear Goals

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 17, 2014

The West may be implementing an interim nuclear deal with Iran. But it still doesn’t get what makes Iran tick. Why does Iran want a nuclear program? What does it seek as it negotiates? If the United States and its allies can’t answer those questions, it will be extremely difficult to work out a comprehensive, final deal.

What lurks beneath the surface of the Iran nuclear dispute stems from the two sides’ different concepts of national security. Israel and the Arab sheikhdoms have portrayed a realist, zero-sum attitude towards security issues related to the nuclear program—physical security is the central goal. Yet Iran’s narrative of security hinges on a nonrealist concept of national security, namely ontological security. Here, nuclear capacity provides an important symbol of Iran’s modernity and identity. And that is why keeping the enrichment program active was a critical goal for Iran in Geneva. Iran's leaders view the country's ability to make nuclear fuel as a source of national pride. Concepts like pride and independence, rather than mere physical safety, are Iran’s real nuclear motives. That is why Iran continues a nuclear program that has not provided any deterrence, but rather has endangered Iran’s physical security.

Indeed, one can argue that nuclear weaponization would likely intensify Iran’s security anxieties rather than assuage them. The nuclear program is already Iran’s main source of insecurity. As Trita Parsi, the president of National Iranian American Council (NIAC), has argued [3], “The Iranians are well aware that a decision to weaponize would likely weaken rather than advance Iran’s strategic position. As long as the Middle East is kept as free as possible from nuclear weapons, Iran will enjoy a conventional superiority vis-à-vis its neighbors because of its size and resources. However, if Iran weaponizes, it will risk sparking a nuclear arms race that may lead small states such as Bahrain and Kuwait to opt for a nuclear capability as well. In such a Middle East, Iran would lose its conventional superiority and find itself at strategic parity with states less than one twentieth its size.”

So why has Iran sacrificed so much to pursue its nuclear program if it won’t make Iran physically safer? As Mohiaddin Mesbahi, the director of Middle East Studies at Florida International University, told me, “one cannot understand the origin, dynamics, and trajectory of the nuclear program without getting knowledge of indelible ties between Iran’s ontological security and non-material issues, i.e., honor, dignity, and awe.” These concepts challenge the centrality of physical concepts of security, namely survival. This means that while much ink has been spilled on the Iranian nuclear program, mainstream scholars have wrongly explained Iran’s focal intentions on the maintenance and expansion of its nuclear program through the lens of survival. This narrative has led other powers to pursue strategies that include political, military and economic threats. These strategies haven’t fully succeeded because they don’t engage with Iran’s most central concerns. Iran’s insecurity is more rooted in situations whereby Iran is uncomfortable with who it is.

From this perspective, emphasizing the nuclear program is a rational pursuit in the drive for ontological security. Here, ontological security is [4] “a sense of continuity and order in events”, and insecurity occurs when states “are uncomfortable with who they are”; consequently, “ontological security, as opposed to security as survival, is security as being.” For Iran, ontological security affirms its identity; Iran isn’t merely concerned with preserving its physical existence, but also with how it sees itself and is seen by others.

And beneath Iran’s nuclear program are concepts of dignity, honor, and identity. “To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world,” Rouhani said in his article published in the Washington Post. “Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.”

The End of Erdogan’s Islamization?

JANUARY 18, 2014

Turkey’s widespread corruption scandal has Erdogan’s party and the Islamists splintering.
By Alex Alexiev

Big-time trials in Turkey are rarely without some kind of political intrigue, but by now it has become clear that the vast corruption scandal involving several dozen people close to the very top of the Turkish power elite, including members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personal coterie, could well end up a watershed event in modern Turkish history.

Informed observers generally agree on its significance, but there is a curious silence about the events from the mainstream media and the pinstripes at Foggy Bottom.

This is understandable in part because the corruption scandal has also laid bare the dismal failure of the Obama administration’s policy toward Ankara — a policy based on the wishful assumption that Turkey is a successful Islamic democracy and a model for other Muslim countries to follow. This sanguine, delusional hope had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praising the Erdogan government for having made “tremendous progress in freedom of speech and freedom of religion and human rights” in March 2009, just as Turkey was in the midst of the world’s largest campaign of jailing journalists.

Revelations from the investigations confirm beyond a doubt the transformation of our NATO ally into both a sponsor of jihadis in Syria and an accomplice of Tehran’s regime. Just this week, on January 14, Turkish police units raided the offices of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation — a group linked to Syrian jihadists and, via its involvement in the infamous Gaza flotilla, known to be friendly with Erdogan. Among the arrested were said to be two major al-Qaeda operatives, including a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. Hours after the arrests, the two police chiefs directing the raids were dismissed from their jobs by Erdogan’s government (just the latest of more than 500 police officials and prosecutors fired since the corruption probe began).

The event is enough to confirm the still-powerful Erdogan’s sympathy for radical Islamism and jihadi terror, but it also hints at a serious problem for him: The coalition that’s promoted his Islamizing campaign could be splitting into two.

Unexpectedly, on December 25, the minister of environment and urban planning, Erdogan Bayraktar, was forced to resign and pointed the finger directly at the prime minister, claiming that it was Erdogan himself who had “ordered all the construction projects that are questioned by the probe.”

Erdogan, as is his wont, angrily denied all accusations and fingered “external conspirators” and their domestic “subcontractors,” all as part of a sinister anti-Turkish plot.

It is the “subcontractors” that present the thorniest problem for Erdogan, because unlike the “external conspirators,” they are real, powerful, and on the warpath. Observers of the Turkish political scene have known for a long time that the Fethullah Gulen movement plays a crucial role as a reliable partner of the AKP in the steady Islamization of the country. It was also widely known in Turkey, though not in the West, that Gulen followers were a huge presence in the security organs, the justice system, and the police — according to U.S. diplomats, as early as 2006, 80 percent of senior police posts were filled by Gulen supporters. They played a dominant role in key Erdogan achievements, such as suppressing the military, curtailing freedom of speech, and brutally putting down the Gezi protests.

Eight Ways You're Wrong About Iran's Nuclear Program

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 17, 2014

Oft repeated but false assertions about Iran's nuclear program—and the [3]recent deal to tamp it down [3]—may end up being more dangerous than the program itself. These wrong statements reinforce each other, get amplified in the media, and are [4]fueling a march to military action [4].

Such use of force would further inflame the Middle East and could push Iran to start a full-scale nuclear weapons project. US national security would further erode as a result—just like it has with the Iraq debacle. The 'aluminum tubes', 'mobile biological-weapons labs', and 'yellow cake from Niger' memes fueled the march to that war. Let's examine some of the current false Iran nuclear memes before we’re led [5]down the yellow-cake road again [5]:

Meme 1: “If the world powers fail to reach a deal with Tehran the alternative is bombing.”

An incarnation of this shopworn meme appears in [4]Matthew Kroenig's recent piece in Foreign Affairs [4]. He states “A truly comprehensive diplomatic settlement between Iran and the West is still the best possible outcome, but there is little reason to believe that one can be achieved. And that means the United States may still have to choose between bombing Iran and allowing it to acquire a nuclear bomb.” Er, no. That's a false choice. Iran is not acquiring a nuclear bomb—the [6]US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has a “high level of confidence” [6] that no decision to weaponize has yet been taken in Tehran. This conclusion of the DNI is not based on an absence of evidence but on actual information [7] that whatever weaponization research Iran may have been doing up to about 2003 has been wrapped up a decade ago.

The P5+1 nations—the five permanent members of the Security Council: the US, UK, France, Russia and China, plus Germany—are not negotiating with Iran to stop it from making a nuclear bomb. They are negotiating with Iran on how to continue to keep its nuclear program peaceful. The discussion is about the methods used to verify that Iran continues its peaceful nuclear program. Even if the nuclear talks fall apart the IAEA inspectors would still continue to inspect Iranian nuclear facilities.

Hillary Clinton's Iraq War Vote Still Matters

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 19, 2014

Hillary Clinton seems destined to run for president in 2016. Her chances of capturing the Democratic nomination are once again taking on that familiar quality of inevitability, redolent of the runup to the primary contest in 2008. Prominent Democrats are already pledging [3] to stay out of the race in 2016 to make way for another Clinton candidacy while others have begun to offer premature endorsements [4], hoping not to be left behind when the Clinton Express begins its journey to Pennsylvania Avenue. In spite of these developments, Brian Schweitzer, the former Democratic governor of Montana and a potential rival to Clinton in 2016, took a not-so-subtle jab [5] at the former Secretary of State and senator from New York. Schweitzer seemed to suggest that, without citing names, anyone who voted for the Iraq War was still, more than eleven years out from that controversial vote, disqualified from holding the office of the president. Whether or not Schweitzer himself is a credible alternative to Clinton is peripheral to the issue he raises, an issue that deserves to be relitigated, both because of the catastrophic consequences the Iraq War entailed for the United States and the relatively recent resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Iraq, more than the economy, was the paramount issue that framed the contest and sealed the respective fates of the two major candidates vying for the nomination: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Clinton tried everything to distance herself from the affirmative vote she cast for the Iraq War Resolution [6] of 2002, a resolution that gave President Bush carte blanche in determining when and how to remove the regime in Baghdad. The measure passed both Houses of Congress with strong bipartisan support and put members of Congress on the record less than a month before contentious off-year elections were to take place.

The Democratic primary electorate, however endeared it was to Clinton on other issues, was incredulous at best of Clinton’s election year conversion into an anti-Iraq War crusader. Clinton lost the nomination because of her vote to give President Bush the authorization to use force in Iraq. Obama won the nomination, and subsequently the presidency, largely because of that same vote. The issue that Schweitzer raised deserves to be examined and debated just as rigorously in 2016 as it was in 2008, given that the war, which presently isn’t even close to concluding, resulted in the deaths of more than four thousand U.S. service members, cost over a trillion dollars, exacerbated the volatility of a crucial region for U.S. national interests, gave impetus to Iranian hegemony, introduced Al Qaeda, suicide terrorism, Zarqawism [7], and sectarian violence in Iraq, eroded American credibility in the world, and led to pervasive, chronic, and ultimately tragic misfortune for the Iraqi populace.

The Mideast Is Overshadowing Obama’s Pivot to Asia

Beina XuJanuary 10, 2014

A range of crises in the Middle East dominated the U.S.foreign policy agenda in 2013, raising questions about the vigor of President Obama’s Asia “pivot.” Four experts offer perspectives on how the region is reacting to U.S. moves in Asia. China has reacted with “assertive authoritarianism,”CFR’s Elizabeth Economy writes, while Southeast Asian governments remain ambivalent to the supposed shift, according to Tim Huxley of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove says without a strong U.S. presence in the Pacific, the region runs the risk of a destabilizing rivalry. And CFR’s Sheila Smith says despite some promising developments, the Obama team may be misreading cues on Japan.

Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Beina Xu is an online writer/editor for CFR.org Full Bio

China has struggled to reply effectively to the U.S. pivot or rebalance to Asia. After all, how do you respond to a policy welcomed by most countries in the region? While Beijing has complained about an enhanced U.S.role, in practical terms it has appeared stymied.

Over the past few months, however, Beijing appears to have found its answer to the pivot in the form of “assertive authoritarianism.” On the home front, this means that President Xi Jinping is pursuing his own “China Dream” by actively consolidating his political power: cracking down on corruption—particularly against senior Chinese officials, whose loyalty to Xi is questionable; limiting dissenting voices on the Internet; and grasping the reins of both security and economic policy in his own hands through two new organizations under his direct control.

In foreign policy terms, assertive authoritarianism means bringing the region more in line with Xi’s vision of a China-centered Asia Pacific. Preaching a “community of common destiny”—led by China—Beijing has pledged significant new infrastructure investment to connect the region through railways, roads, and pipelines, the establishment of a Chinese maritime partnership with ASEAN, and enhanced regional trade and financial cooperation. At the same time, Beijing is expanding and enforcing Chinese sovereignty claims in the region, rewarding those who fall in line and punishing those who do not.

The challenges to Xi’s approach are significant. As difficult as it is for the Chinese leadership to control events within China, it will be even tougher to control them externally. To begin with, as long as Xi adopts diplomatic, economic, and security policies that divide rather than unify the region, few of China’s neighbors will be willing to trust his leadership and the sincerity of his efforts to enhance ties. Xi must also contend with a newly revitalized Japan that is asserting its own economic and diplomatic leadership. Moreover, even as Xi attempts to find new supporters, China’s most reliable client states are becoming unreliable. Myanmar is transitioning to a full-fledged democracy; there are stirrings of political change in Cambodia; and the DPRK has become frightening and unpredictable, even to Beijing.

At heart, there is a singular flaw in Xi’s policy that is inherent in its very design. As Global Times journalist Ding Gang writes, “China’s new leadership has proposed building a ‘community of common destiny’ with its neighboring countries. Such a community cannot be simply established through a connection of rails, highways and airplanes. Spiritual connection is equally important…. The exchange and compromise of interests cannot make a country’s diplomacy resonate; its charisma can only be amplified through ethical strength.” Certainly a Chinese polity and foreign policy rooted in ethical strength would be a “China Dream” the world could sign onto.

Tim Huxley, Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Asia

Two years into the Obama administration’s ‘rebalance to the Asia-Pacific’, Southeast Asian governments remain ambivalent to this supposed major shift in the U.S. strategic focus.

(Related: Finally Futenma: The Air Base Deal’s Place in The Pivot)

Facing complex evolving strategic circumstances—particularly China’s ever-growing power and assertiveness—U.S. allies and security partners are naturally predisposed to welcome the United States’ reassurances that it remains a resident power in their region and that it is still committed to their region’s security and stability. Even those Southeast Asian states less closely aligned with United States in the past—including Vietnam—generally welcome the rebalance: they are hedging against an uncertain future strategic environment, especially the dangers that may attend China’s rise.

That said, all Southeast Asian states harbor some reservations about the rebalance. Some of these doubts relate to its substance, including concerns about the impact of financial constraints on America’s capacity to sustain its military deployments in Asia. There is also some anxiety about U.S.attention being drawn back to the Middle East.

More important, though, is the question of how far Southeast Asian governments are willing to intensify their security and defense relations, and overall alignment, with the United States. There is much evidence that governments in the region recognize that maintaining balance in their relations with the major powers is important for their security. And there is particular concern to maintain equable relations with China that goes beyond a wish not to jeopardize expanding economic benefits.

While the Philippines’ relations with China have deteriorated because of their territorial dispute in the South China Sea, most other Southeast Asian states have maintained cordial links with Beijing despite their reservations about China’s regional behavior. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are even tentatively developing defence and security links with China. Vietnam’s concerns over the Spratlys are partly managed through a strong party-to-party link with Beijing. Southeast Asian governments are, in other words, ‘hedging their hedging’.

Michael Fullilove, Executive Director, Lowy Institute for International Policy

The most important foreign-policy initiative in President Obama’s first term was his attempt to ‘pivot’ U.S. policy away from the Middle East and toward Asia.

The elements of the pivot, conceptualized most clearly in Obama’s Canberra address in November 2011, include more regular attendance at meetings of the various Asian multilateral organizations, the deployment of U.S. Marines to Darwin in northern Australia, increased ship visits to Singapore and closer military ties with the Philippines.

The pivot largely is about China. There is an uneven quality to China’s present foreign policy: usually quiet but occasionally strident; usually cautious but occasionally combative; always prickly. President Obama seeks to cooperate with China, but he also intends to renew America’s presence in Asia and maintain a balance of forces there at a time when there is significant uncertainty about China’s future behavior. The pivot makes sound strategic sense.

Yet some in Asia are wondering whether the pivot was last year’s story. Secretary of State John Kerry has been an infrequent visitor, with a focus on an Iran nuclear deal and Middle East peace. The military elements of the rebalance are underwhelming. Some of the pivot’s main proponents—including Hillary Clinton, Kurt Campbell and Tom Donilon—have have left. And some U.S. policymakers are still drawn to the Middle East like iron filings to a magnet.

One reason for the sluggishness of the shift is that it is remarkably difficult to pivot a country as large and diverse as the United States. Arguably, the last successful pivot took place from 1939 to 1941, between the outbreak of the European fighting and the U.S. entry into the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. During this period, America transformed itself from a nervous, isolationist, middle power into an outward-looking global leader.

President Obama’s challenge may not be as urgent or as deadly as that facing America in 1941. Plainly, a rising China is in no way analogous to the rise of the Axis regimes. Indeed, a strong and prosperous China is in everyone’s interest.

Yet the stakes are high. Without a strong U.S. presence in the Pacific, the region faces strategic uncertainty, power imbalances and the risk of destabilizing rivalry. President Obama, who once declared an ambition to be ‘the Pacific president’, must show the world that the pivot has not run out of puff.

Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Among Washington’s regional allies, Japan most welcomed the United States’ assurance that it was upping its game in Asia, where Chinese influence seems ever-present and ever-worrisome. In that regard, 2013 started out well. The year ends, however, with Tokyo feeling somewhat ambivalent about the Obama administration’s “pivot.”

In February, newly-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington for a bilateral summit with President Obama that succeeded on two fronts. First, Abe promised that Japan would remain calm in the face of growing Chinese pressure on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, and Obama pledged continued U.S.support. Second, Abe said Japan would join the Transpacific Partnership, a decision the United States long favored. Abe then returned to Tokyo and got to work on the politics. U.S. and Japanese trade negotiators crafted an understanding that would address Congressional concerns, and the stage was set for Japanese participation in the multilateral trade talks later in the year.

Less fanfare attended Abe’s effort to get the stalled relocation of a U.S. Marine base on Okinawa back on track, but by the fall, Japan and the United States held high-level security talks (2+2), with Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visiting Tokyo for the first time to announce revised guidelines for bilateral military planning.

At the moment, some of these policies seem like heavy lifting for the Obama Administration, mostly because of the difficulties on Capitol Hill. The TPP negotiations seem wobbly, China’sADIZ puts greater pressure on alliance readiness, and difficult economic reforms are needed in both capitals.

Still, there are signs the Obama team may be misreading cues on Japan. For example, when senior U.S. officials warn both sides in the island dispute to exercise caution, they imply equivalent behavior by Chinese and Japanese decision-makers, which belies the facts and unsettles Tokyo. However, one bright spot for U.S.-Japan relations in 2013 has been unequivocal admiration for the President’s new ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Beijing seems intent on keeping the alliance off-kilter, but the last thing the Obama Administration wants is to make the “pivot” all about China. U.S. alliance first priorities must be more effectively grounded in the way Washington coordinates its Asia strategy. Japan’s new National Security Council offers a venue for close and high profile consultations with the White House, as well as a mechanism for coordinating an allied response to the unpredictable events likely to shape Washington’s Asia policymaking.

This post appears courtesy of CFR.org.