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Foreign Policy

Archive | Foreign Policy

U.S.-China Cyberwar Row: Will the United States Step Up its Active Cyber Defense Posture?

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FBI
FBI

FBI

The indictment of five Chinese military hackers by a grand jury in the Western District of Pennsylvania illustrates the increasing importance of cyberspace in the great power relationship between the United States and China. It also shows that four years of talking about cyber-espionage, including at the presidential level, have lead nowhere. All five of the alleged offenders are purported to be members of the secretive Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army in Shanghai. They are accused of computer hacking, economic espionage and other offenses targeting the U.S. private sector. According to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder: “This is a case alleging economic espionage by members of the Chinese military and represents the first ever charges against a state actor for this type of hacking.”

Any serious analysis on cyber-espionage has to be caveated with the fact that we have to evaluate evidence based on primarily open source intelligence, which does not provide us with an entirely accurate picture of the China-US cyber competition – much of it is happening in the shadows and outside the public’s view. However, it is evident that the Department of Justice indictment was partially announced to assuage the U.S. private sector and to demonstrate that the United States government is boosting its efforts to stop Chinese cyber attacks. Likewise, we can make a few additional deductions based on the history of China-US cyber relations.

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U.S. Shift on ICC and Syria Gives Hope but Skeptics Remain

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EPA
EPA

EPA

The Obama administration has decided to back a push to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) open a formal, United Nations-sanctioned investigation into potential Syrian war crimes, according to a report by Foreign Policy.

Last Monday, it was reported that France had circulated a draft resolution to UN Security Council members to refer the ongoing war to the ICC for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. This news has been greeted with a mixture of surprise, relief and a tinge of scepticism. The United States has had an ambivalent relationship with the ICC. The Bush administration infamously “unsigned” the Rome Statute yet later supported a Security Council resolution indicting Sudanese leader Omar Al-Bashir.

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Obama’s Incredibly Shrinking Foreign Policy Vision

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Bill Ingalls
Bill Ingalls

Bill Ingalls

President Obama’s trip to East Asia last month was all about shoring up America’s position in a region where a resurgent China is steadily engaged in revising the status quo. But the most memorable part of the visit ended up being the diminished vision Mr. Obama projected of his own foreign policy. Speaking at a press conference in Manila, Obama defended his conduct of foreign affairs in a way that was at once impassioned and uninspiring. His approach, he argued, “may not always be sexy. [It] may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows. But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.”

The minimalist vision Mr. Obama articulated was incongruous coming amid a tour designed to impress upon U.S. allies that the strategic shift to Asia, his signature foreign policy initiative, was still very much on track. All the more so at a gathering alongside Philippine President Benigno Aquino, whom he ostensibly wanted to reassure about U.S. steadfastness in the face of China’s revanchist behavior. Indeed, his words were a far cry from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strong rebuke of Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea four years earlier.

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Ukraine, a Perversely “Good” War for the GRU

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Anastasia Vlasova
Anastasia Vlasova

Anastasia Vlasova

It would seem on the surface that the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff–in other words, Russian military intelligence–is coming in for some flak for its operations in Ukraine. Kyiv has just outed and expelled a naval attache from the Russian embassy, Kirill Koliuchkin, as a lt. colonel in the GRU, while the GRU’s chief, Lt. General Igor Sergun, was on the latest EU sanctions list. Personally, I’d assume the ‘Aquarium’–the GRU’s headquarters at Khodinka–must be delighted. After all, this was a service whose very status as a Main Directorate was until recently in question.

Lest that sound like a trivial question of nomenclature, had the GRU become simply the RU, the General Staff’s Intelligence Directorate, it would have meant a massive diminution of the service’s prestige, access and, by extension, role and budget. As was, in 2009-11, it went through a savage round of cuts, losing over 1,000 officers, and of 100 or so general-rank officers in the GRU, fully 80 were dismissed, retired or transferred to other department. Meanwhile, of the eight Spetsnaz commando brigades, three were disbanded and the rest transferred again to regular military commands. As for the GRU’s “residencies”–the separate intelligence offices it ran inside Russian embassies abroad–some had been closed down, or reduced to a single officer working as a military attaché.

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Interventionists’ Attack Obama’s Foreign Policy Restraint

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President Barack Obama making remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 12, 2011

The barrage of criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy has cast a new and favorable light on the president and his role in the generally grisly parade of foreign policy cockups that have characterized his two administrations.

President Barack Obama making remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 12, 2011

President Barack Obama making remarks at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 12, 2011

Particularly, it has highlighted the dissatisfaction of the neoliberal and neocon interventionists with President Obama’s chariness in committing military power to advance their cherished initiatives. And that’s a good thing for Obama. I discussed this issue when I characterized the president’s position as “don’t use stupid actions to follow up on stupid policies.” Remarkably, given the considerable energy and intellectual power exhibited in America’s non-stop overseas jiggery-pokery, US geopolitical strategy has abounded in stupid policies.

And, in my opinion, that’s no accident. I think it has to do with the mindset of the interventionist caucus in the US foreign policy government and private sector apparatus, which has been dragging or guiding the US government into wars (and enhancing its own power, profits, and influence) for generations. The gold standard for ham-fisted intervention is still Iraq War II, but it seems there is an inexhaustible supply of wonks, pundits, advocates, and agitators within the Beltway ready to be “heroes in error” for the next US crusade. A few points about interventionism in the Age of Obama.

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War Among the Proxies: Multi-Polar Cold Wars

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Egyptians celebrating when Mubarak stepped down in Tahrir Square, Feb. 12, 2011

New War Theorist scholars have tried to identify and predict new lines of international conflict following the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, the subsequent collapse of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Egyptians celebrating when Mubarak stepped down in Tahrir Square, Feb. 12, 2011

Egyptians celebrating when Mubarak stepped down in Tahrir Square, Feb. 12, 2011

No longer did explanations of bipolarity, proxy wars and spheres of influence explain the types of conflict that dominated news headlines. Instead, classroom discussions began to be peppered with different terms, like hearts and minds, non-state actors, and economic globalization. We love to put war in boxes to help define it, teach it and fight it, so War Colleges began to consider whether Martin Van Crevald, Mary Kaldor and/or Rupert Smith had more relevance in the classroom than Karl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu and Mao Tse Tung. But have we gone too far in our shift in perceptions? Is there a limit to what “new war theory” can explain?

The problem is that - as John Lennon sort of said once - war is what happens to you when you are busy making war plans. And while we’ve been busy trying to put existing conflict in boxes that we can understand, new conflict continues to pop up and it defies our desire for a linear framework. We suggest that 9/11, the so-called Arab Spring, the rise of new world powers and the awakening of old powers, drives a need for a re-think. We offer a solution that new-new war is “War Among the Proxies: Multi-Polar Cold Wars.”

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NATO and the New War: Dealing with Threats before they become Kinetic

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Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

I’m enjoying the privilege of attending this year’s Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn and already there have been fascinating discussions in both formal sessions and informal conversations.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Needless to say, despite the intention on focusing on the Baltic as a potential “mare nostrum,” Ukraine hangs heavily over the whole event. Many who were once considered hawks are able to, if I may extend the analogy, preen a little and feel that Moscow has justified their concerns admirably. And I cannot blame them. If once the divide was between those who saw Russia as a problem, even a potential partner, rather than a threat and those who simply saw the threat, then I wonder if now the divide that is opening up is between those who think purely in terms of “old wars” rather than new.

In Ukraine we have seen a distinctive evolution of old forms of political-military, covert-overt conflict. To be sure, the Ukrainian situation was distinctive and extraordinary: a state in virtual collapse, a large Russia-looking minority, a disgruntled and scared eastern elite looking for a new krysha (‘roof’ – protection) and seeing it in Moscow. We do not see this in Europe. If Cossacks or Night Wolves motorcycle gangers rolled into Narva tomorrow, not only would the Estonian security forces be perfectly able to deal with them, but it they would have the support of the overwhelming majority of Russophone Estonians in doing it, too.

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Dragon v. Godzilla: How Far will the U.S. go to Reassure Japan?

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President Barack Obama speaking in Japan. Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Bloomberg

US President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan this week came at an opportune time, given the growing friction between Asia’s two largest military powers over disputed territories.

President Barack Obama speaking in Japan. Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama speaking in Japan. Junko Kimura-Matsumoto/Bloomberg

Just last week, Japan began its first military expansion in more than 40 years by breaking ground on a radar station on Yonaguri, a tropical island off Taiwan. Japan intends to send 100-150 soldiers to man its new military lookout station on Yonaguni, which is home to 1,500 people and just 150 km (93 miles) from the disputed Japanese-held Senkaku islands claimed by both China and Taiwan. Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, who attended a ceremony on Yonaguni island to mark the start of construction, suggested the military presence could be enlarged to other islands in the seas southwest of Japan’s main islands. Perhaps in retaliation, the Shanghai Maritime Court seized a Japanese vessel for failing to respond to a compensation order stemming from a wartime contractual dispute. The action was taken just prior to Obama’s visit and appears to be the first time that an asset of a Japanese company has been confiscated in a lawsuit concerning wartime compensation.

Faced with the dilemma of choosing sides during his visit to Tokyo, President Obama reiterated Washington’s backing of the US-Japan security treaty, stating “Article five covers all territories under Japan’s administration including (the) Senkaku islands,” referring to the archipelago which Beijing calls the Diaoyus and the Taiwanese refer to as the Tiaoyutai. Clearly not wishing to be drawn into a military conflict, Obama called for a peaceful resolution to the territorial dispute over the islands, adding “We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally, and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.”

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Has Putin Overplayed his Hand in Ukraine?

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Maxim Dondyuk
Maxim Dondyuk

Maxim Dondyuk

Until recently, Vladimir Putin has had to contend with little more than targeted sanctions and threats from the Obama administration that Russia will feel the pain for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Threats have failed to persuade Russia to pull back; Western antagonism and land reclamation have only boosted Putin’s domestic popularity. In the end, the Kremlin has likely overplayed its self-perceived position of strength in Ukraine. As Western leaders plot ways to punish Putin, there is little they can conceivably do to stop him.

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Obama Arrives in Asia Empty-Handed

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President Barack Obama pictured with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in March. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Last fall, President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative, the so-called “Asia pivot,” suffered a big setback when the budget mess in Washington forced him to cancel a long-scheduled trip to Asia.

President Barack Obama pictured with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in March. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Barack Obama pictured with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in March. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The trip was supposed to reassure U.S. allies and partners about the administration’s commitment to the region. I argued back then that while Mr. Obama would always be able to reschedule, the key question is whether he will have anything substantive in hand once he shows up. As the president begins a week-long tour of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines, we now know the answer: No. The strategic shift to Asia, which Washington launched with much hoopla two years ago, is premised on two key efforts: 1.) the buildup of U.S. military forces that is plainly directed against China, and 2.) the ambitious set of trade and investment negotiations known as the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that would contest Beijing’s economic hegemony in East Asia. Both initiatives are currently in deep trouble.

Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security advisor, contends that the pivot remains “a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s foreign policy” and calls the president’s trip “an important opportunity to underscore our continued focus on the Asia-Pacific region.” But many question whether the administration has the budgetary resources to back up its rhetoric. As one commentator observes, “The whole exercise risks looking like an inversion of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous advice to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ The pivot has generated plenty of loud talk – but the stick looks rather small.”

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Clausewitzian Perspectives on Russia’s Actions in Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Are the musings of Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th century general, relevant to a 21th century crisis? Great works are defined by their characteristic of capturing unchanging human experiences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Norgler/Wikimedia

Clausewitz’s work has a timeless quality as it deals with the theory of war analyzing its characteristics and internal structures and not generation specific events. His concern with the root causes of war instead of the manifestations of it makes his framework of analysis relevant to the present day. The present crisis in Ukraine is rooted in the forced departure of the corrupt regime of Viktor Yanukovych. The departure of the pro-Moscow president was viewed by Russia as part of the long running NATO expansion eastwards contrary to their previous agreement. Coupled with Russia’s historical strategic imperative to expand outwards one better understands Russia’s actions.

Russia under Putin has been striving to secure its ‘privileged sphere of interests’ in post-Soviet states, which it perceives as its Near Abroad. This initiative is part of the conception of foreign policy in Russia as a tool for stabilizing the regime by generating consensus for strong and assertive Russian behaviour abroad. This legitimizes the highly centralized form of government in Moscow which is struggling to do the same in a nation experiencing terrible economic conditions and a worrying demographic crisis. In light of the humiliation endured by Russia over the Libyan vote at the United Nations, the loss of Ukraine to a pro-Western government would have greatly threatened the stability of the Russian state.

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Tanks in Cyberspace

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

Wikimedia

What are the similarities between tanks and cyberspace? What lessons can be identified and learned? When the British first used the tank in combat at Flers-Courcelette in April of 1916 and then more successfully at the Battle of Cambrai in November a year later, there was likely little further thought given to the larger implications of this new weapon system capability, beyond the hope and investment in the belief that the trinity of its firepower, protection and mobility would be decisive in breaking the stalemate of trench warfare.

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Shootout in Sloviansk: First Confirmed Death and Several Wounded

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Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

A military standoff between Russian SOF soldiers, commonly called “pro-Russian insurgents” and Ukraine’s military led to the first death in Sloviansk, Ukraine.

Russian troop carrier. Source: Kiev Post

One man was killed and several others were wounded in a shootout near a roadside checkpoint, under Ukrainian military control. The Russians approached the checkpoint in a civilian car and started shooting at Ukrainian soldiers. According to a local witness, who hid his identity, a man wearing a black uniform, who was killed, was later identified as an SBU officer. “One killed and two wounded,” he explained. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s police chief, confirmed the SBU officer’s death and added five people were injured. As reported by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, there are dead and wounded on both sides while Reuters reported that one man on the Russian side has been killed in action.

The death of the SBU officer could justify the movement of Ukrainian soldiers towards Sloviansk. In fact, Interim President Oleksander Tuchinov said Ukraine is on the verge of launching a full-scale anti-terrorist operation against pro-Russian insurgents, increasing the risk of a military confrontation with Moscow. Free Ukraine, @Ukrainolution, who monitors the situation closely, agreed to the fact that the military movement could be due to the SBU officer’s death.

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Are Russian Troops Operating in Eastern Ukraine?

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Ethnic Russian paramilitaries. But are they under Moscow's orders?

Some, probably, but I don’t think that’s really the point.

Ethnic Russian paramilitaries. But are they under Moscow’s orders?

As western Ukrainian security forces reportedly seek to dislodge ethnic Russian paramilitaries from government buildings in Slaviansk (although that’s now being questioned) and anti-Kyiv forces muster in other eastern Ukrainian cities, allegations are flying thick and fast about the presence of Russian troops in these disturbances. (I should mention that The Interpreter‘s liveblog is an invaluable service in keeping track of all the claims, counterclaims and reports on the ground.)

The facts on the ground are confused, the claims are often overblown, but there does seem to be some basis for believing that limited numbers of Russian agents and special forces are present. However important that undoubtedly may seem, I think focusing on actual bodies on the ground misses the main point: Russia’s real role in this new Great Game is not so much direct but to incite, support and protect the local elites and paramilitaries who are driving the campaign against Kiev.

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Continental Drift: Europe’s Breakaways

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Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

“Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Independence marches in Scotland, Crimea and Catalonia

The opening to Tolstoy’s great novel of love and tragedy could be a metaphor for Europe today, where “unhappy families” of Catalans, Scots, Belgiums, Ukrainians, and Italians contemplate divorcing the countries they are currently a part of. And in a case where reality mirrors fiction, they are each unhappy in their own way.

While the U.S. and its allies may rail against the recent referendum in the Crimea that broke the peninsula free of Ukraine, Scots will consider a very similar one on Sept. 18, and Catalans would very much like to do the same. So would residents of South Tyrol, and Flemish speakers in northern Belgium.

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