Our Brave New Nuclear World

So now we have a North Korea armed with long-range missiles and thermonuclear weapons. Make no mistake. This is the new normal. Pyongyang will never give them up, and no one can make them do so. 

The follow-on effects of this development will transform global politics and security policy. A wave of nuclear proliferation and military buildup is definitely to be expected. So one must ask: given our knowledge of what was going on in North Korea, how did we ever let this happen? Also we must ask, what realistically can be done to lower the threat of war?

In 1994, when President Bill Clinton announced the “agreed framework” with Pyongyang that he claimed to believe would solve the problem, I found myself in guest quarters at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. with my wife (from China) of just six years. President Clinton said, “North Korea will freeze and then dismantle its nuclear program. South Korea and our other allies will be better protected. The entire world will be safer as we slow the spread of nuclear weapons.”

The American president also stressed that security would be maintained and that United States determination was firm.

Puzzled, my wife asked me, “What is this man saying.” I responded, “This, my darling, is what in America we call an ‘empty threat’”  . . . and indeed it proved to be just that. Within six years, the CIA had detected North Korea’s clandestine program. In 2006, Pyongyang carried out her first nuclear test. “Experts” stated that alone North Korea was incapable of developing delivery systems or increasing the size of her arsenal. 2020 was given as the then conveniently remote date when Pyongyang might pose some rudimentary threat.

What went wrong? Intelligence failure of course. Inability to imagine what was going to happen as well. A failure of policy which sought to use negotiations and incentives (the provision of light water reactors) to bring Pyongyang around. Most important was a failure to take seriously the lessons of history.

Think of WWII. In Hitler’s time, the highest ranks of the military and security apparatus contained many opposed to war. They planned to carry out a coup if the Führer invaded Czechoslovakia. Those involved included Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath; Head of Intelligence Colonel Hans Osler; Head of Counter- Intelligence Admiral William Canaris; Chief of Staff of the Army Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, and  the opposition contained many others—less well organized, from political parties as well as Protestant and Catholic Christians.  When the Czech plans became known by the army, General Beck and others sent envoys to London and Paris who were rebuffed. Not, that is, until British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Édouard Daladier came to terms with Hitler at Munich, in September 1938, sacrificing Czechoslovakia, thus inadvertently destroying the whole plan. Other plans were also made, but this one was perhaps the best chance. Reaching Czechoslovakia required passing through fortified mountain passes, and with the famous Škoda Works munitions factory supplying them, the efficient Czech army might well have broken Hitler’s momentum with a stalemate on difficult ground. It was, in other words, worth a try. The French and British governments should have reacted positively. Terrified, however, Chamberlain and others became intoxicated by a delusional vision of peace through sincere negotiation with Hitler and appeasement—i.e. letting him invade other countries, but not yours. The might-have-beens continue to add literature to an already substantial mountain of speculation.[1]

The historical lesson here is that often prairie fires are started by discarded matches showing almost no flame. Douse the match somehow and all will be well: otherwise, hundreds of thousands of acres may go up in a firestorm.

In geopolitical language, this means force or the credible threat of force are best used the instant a threat is detected. Civilized people, however, tend to place actual force far down the list—after engagement, negotiations, incentives, embargoes, etc. which do not work when a country is genuinely on the warpath.

Possibly, World War II could have been averted as late as 1938, but by 1939, Germany learned that the allies would not resist, so the war could only be fought to the bloody finish.[2]

Likewise, North Korea could have been stopped in 1994 by military threats or even strike operations against their nuclear facilities. Instead, we wasted time heedlessly and profligately. We weren’t even serious. No one had a gut sense of how bad things could really get. Yet, ask our people about how appeasement strengthened Hitler, and many could have given intelligent answers. But to them, this was history; it resided in their brains, but not their bones; they would never have made nor make such mistakes. 

At that time, we also still harbored grave delusions with respect to Beijing’s interest in cooperation on the issue. In fact, one year after Clinton’s speech, China’s government made her first tentative move toward what is now territorial expansion greater in size than even that of the Third Reich at its largest—with the annexation of Mischief Reef from the Philippines.

Had we or the Philippines sent forces simply to demolish this minor maritime feature, China might well have desisted. Likewise, had the allies prepared for war or actually fought over Czechoslovakia, Hitler would never have acquired the aura of invincibility that so benefited his campaigns.

Now, the new situation has ratcheted into place. South Korea and Japan will likely become full nuclear powers. The existing East Asian arms race will pass through India to the western borders of Russia, thus menacing Europe. No solution exists any more, except a balance of terror. Sad nay tragic, but SO human. Welcome to the pre-war period.

[1] See among many others, Peter Hoffmann, The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945 (Cambridge, MA: MIT press, 1997))

[2] See Williamson Murray, The Change in the Balance of Power (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984)

Tags: , , ,

Selling Out the Rohingyas

In the past several weeks, much attention has been devoted to the abject plight of the minority, predominantly Muslim, Rohingya community in Burma’s (Myanmar’s) Rakhine state. They have long been mistreated in the country and are denied citizenship rights despite a claim to have inhabited the Rakhine region since the sixteenth century; their situation has recently taken a particularly adverse turn. On August 25, it is reported that an emergent Rohingya guerrilla group had launched an attack on some Myanmarese army units. The military retaliated with considerable force and massacred substantial numbers of villagers at Tula Toli near the Bangladeshi border. In its wake, thousands of the hapless villagers trekked to nearby Bangladesh swelling an already turgid refugee population.

The harshness with which the Burmese military has responded to the guerrilla attack has generated understandable condemnation in the global community. Some groups have even organized to try to strip the Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of her Nobel Prize. A fellow Nobel Laureate, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, has sharply criticized her deafening silence about the situation of the Rohingyas. Another Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousufzai, has also criticized her silence.

Bangladesh and India’s Response

The focus on the global community’s response to these most tragic developments in Myanmar is entirely warranted and appropriate. Lost in much of the reportage on these events, however, are the reactions of two key regional countries, Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh, which has grudgingly sheltered Rohingya refugees for years, has allowed more of them to enter the country, albeit with much reluctance. The conditions that prevail in the Bangladeshi refugee camps can only be described as being downright squalid. Yet, such dire conditions do not deter the wretched Rohingyas from fleeing the depredations of the Myanmar army. Of course, Bangladesh has little or no incentive and has limited resources to improve the existing state of the camps. Making them more livable is likely to make them a magnet for further refugee inflows. Furthermore, despite much economic progress over the past few decades, it remains a desperately poor country and can ill-afford to provide succor to increasing numbers of refugees even if they happen to be fellow Muslims. Even if substantial inflows of international assistance were available to Bangladesh, it is most unlikely that its regime would alleviate the milieu of these camps for fear that the refugees would seek more permanent residence in the country.

Bangladesh’s response to the emergent refugee crisis, while less than laudable, is at least somewhat understandable. What then has been India’s reaction to the unfolding crisis? The country has a long and storied tradition of not merely accepting refugees, but actually providing them solace. For example, in the wake of the Khampa rebellion in Tibet in 1959, it provided comfort to thousands of Tibetans. It has also sheltered the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of the global Tibetan community, for decades since his flight to India. More recently, in 1971, it opened its borders to nearly ten million Bengalis who fled East Pakistan following a military crackdown during the crisis that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Why then has the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime adopted a mostly uncaring stance? The reasons stem from the imperatives of both regional and domestic politics.

In his visit to Myanmar last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at least in the public domain, scrupulously avoided bringing up the issue of the Rohingyas. Worse still, he concurred with Suu Kyi that Myanmar was confronted with and needed to address a “terrorist problem.” According to reliable Indian newspaper sources, he was able, however, to persuade her that it was necessary to provide substantial economic assistance to the strife-torn region. Whether or not such aid ever materializes and reaches the unfortunate population remains an open question.

What explains Modi’s reticence to criticize the country’s role in precipitating this humanitarian crisis? In considerable part, it stems from a careful calculation of India’s perceived national security interests. Given that the country has long faced and continues to confront a range of insurgencies in its northeastern region abutting Myanmar, it needs to elicit Suu Kyi’s cooperation to prevent them from using bases and sanctuaries in her country.

Additionally, it can also be traced to India’s interest in limiting the influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In earlier decades, Myanmar’s fledgling democracy movement was battling a vicious military dictatorship, and India had been at the forefront of supporting it. However, after watching the PRC make steady inroads into Myanmar in the early 1990s, India started to move away from its unstinted support for democratic reforms. Modi’s muted reaction to the ongoing crisis amounts to a logical culmination of that strategy.

Beyond regional concerns, what are the domestic determinants of this policy? The BJP regime, as is well known, has little or no regard for India’s vast Muslim minority. In fact, elements within the party are known for their active hostility toward India’s Muslim citizenry. Consequently, it should come as little surprise that the regime has no particular regard for the Rohingyas who have sought refuge within India. With complete disregard for customary international law, which calls on states not to deport refugees to countries where they face a reasonable prospect of persecution, Kiren Rijiju, the junior minister for Home Affairs, has threatened to deport the Rohingyas to Myanmar. Without adducing any evidence, he has argued that the refugees pose a potential terrorist threat and thereby should be deported. It is uncertain that the stinging rebukes that he has received from both Indian civil society as well as human rights groups will lead to a suspension of this stated policy.

At a juncture when multiple global crises command the attention of national leaders, there is a strong likelihood that the stance of the two most important regional actors— Bangladesh and India—to this humanitarian crisis will be mostly overlooked. Under those circumstances, the predicament of the Rohingyas will simply be written off as yet another footnote to the many humanitarian tragedies of the new century.

Sumit Ganguly is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Tags: , , , ,

The World May Be Disappointed the Day After the German Election

After last year’s victories for Brexit and Donald Trump, liberals looked to Angela Merkel in Germany for hope. The conservative chancellor was suddenly—and unwillingly—promoted to “leader of the free world.”

She is unlikely to live up to expectations. Merkel has no grand vision. She only phased out nuclear energy and allowed a free vote on gay marriage when public opinion demanded it. Her decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to more than a million refugees stands out because it was so uncharacteristic of her.

Merkel’s pragmatism is both her strength and her weakness: it is the reason she has been able to stay in power for twelve years as well as the reason divisive issues remain unresolved.

Two of Merkel’s three governments have been so-called grand coalitions of the center-left and the center-right. Germany’s multiparty democracy and five-percent threshold to win seats in parliament discourage wild swings to the left or the right. German labor relations are exceptionally harmonious. Employers and trade unions are often reasonable. Strikes are rare. As a result, Germany has largely escaped the populist revolts that swept the Anglo-Saxon world. The Alternative for Germany, a right-wing populist and Eurosceptic party, struggles to get more than 10 percent support.

But stability can turn into sclerosis. All the major parties in Germany agree the country has underinvested in its infrastructure, both digital and physical. Economists have long argued that excessive certification and licensing requirements that protect working-class jobs also make it harder for immigrants to find work. Strategists have warned for years that Germany isn’t spending enough money on defense. Yet nothing changes.

Foreign policy plays only a small role in the current election campaign, but here, too, a status quo bias prevails. Merkel has told Germans they cannot fully rely on the United States for their security anymore. Trump has made clear he expects NATO allies to step up. Yet, German attitudes aren’t changing. Increasing defense spending remains unpopular. Germany has sent 400 soldiers to Lithuania, where they lead a NATO battalion to deter Russian aggression, but opinions on this deployment are divided. Many voters still hope that Europe might reach an understanding with Russia. And Vladimir Putin is trusted more than Trump.

Looking at the Possible Coalition Outcomes

Another grand coalition would have a comfortable majority, but it would mean four more years of muddling through. The center-left Social Democrats want to keep defense spending where it is (1.2 percent of GDP). They argue for a European army, something the United States has historically sought to avoid. And they counsel patience and diplomacy with Russia.

A better outcome for Atlanticists would be a center-right government of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats. Both favor meeting NATO’s two percent spending target. Both see Trump as an aberration and hope transatlantic relations will return to normal in 2020. Neither is particularly Russia-friendly.

The center-right is projected to fall just short of a majority, however, as a result of the Alternative stealing its most reactionary voters. If anything, polls have shown a tendency to underestimate support for the Alternative.

A center-left coalition with the Greens is also likely to fall short. Once considered far left, the Greens have become mainstream in the last two decades. But they aren’t sure if they should ever rule with the Christian Democrats. The pragmatic half of the party thinks so. This part of the party has led the Greens into power-sharing agreements in four of Germany’s sixteen states. Fundamentalists are still wary. The leadership has so far refused to commit either way.

Another possibility is a three-party coalition of Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, and Greens. Such a coalition was formed in Schleswig-Holstein this summer, but it is still more of a cosmopolitan fantasy than a tried-and-tested formula. To lure the Greens into a national government with the right, the Christian Democrats would probably need to promise them significant concessions. For example, a freeze in military spending. Or a shift from counter-Russian operations in Eastern Europe to peacekeeping and reconstruction in the developing world.

All of these options have one thing in common: Merkel. It will be impossible to ignore her (unless the Social Democrats surprise everyone and break their promise and form a government with the formerly-communist Left party). Yet, she is not the decisive factor. The way Germany will conduct itself on the world stage rather hinges on which party, or parties, choose to support her.

The thing to watch on September 24 will not be the scale of Merkel’s victory, but the performance of her juniors. That will determine if liberal internationalists sleep well that night or go to bed worrying.

Nick Ottens is a Dutch political analyst living in Barcelona, Spain. He specializes in political trends in Europe and North America and edits the transatlantic opinion website Atlantic Sentinel.

The Mystery of China’s Naval Strategy

Almost daily, we have news of Chinese military preparations or activities: her new second aircraft carrier, her quantum communications, her ever-increasing power. Serious analysts, however, usually pose a simple question when considering such developments: what is their purpose? What is the geopolitical end-state that the country in question envisions after her operations are completed? After all, no one is going to invade China, so defenses need not be on this scale. Is she seriously thinking of invading someone else? Her most important land neighbors are Russia, Kazakhstan, and India. Most would say that it would not only be pointless for China to attack any of these, but also self-destructive. Consider the bloody defeat inflicted on China in 1979 by little Vietnam (128,000 square miles; Germany is 138,000) in a conflict that still smolders. In the language of strategy: What is China’s policy? Where does she want to get?

Under my maddening, stupid, repetitive questioning, not unlike the below, I finally received the exasperated answer: “No matter what, we will be a great country” (無論如何我們是一個大國家). I had not the energy nor my poor victim any desire to discuss what “great” meant: Coming at the top of Freedom House’s list of countries rated by freedom and democracy? Having the lowest infant death rate? Or the highest literacy and numeracy level? Or most equal Gini coefficient? Cleanest and most beautiful natural environment? Number of Nobel Prizes or Olympic medals per capita? Largest number of people who say they are happy? Largest number of H-Bombs? You can choose lots of metrics, but no matter who you are, you will come out badly on some (e.g. U.S. Gini coefficient, literacy, etc.). To be tops in everything is what the Chinese wish for their country and their children—but it is impossible, and it is childish. 

To the best of my knowledge, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s (1840-1914) works were not translated into Chinese the first time around, in the nineteenth century, when they went into Japanese and many other languages, and are thought by many to have influenced national policies. 1954 appears to be the first Chinese edition of The Influence of Sea Power on History which appeared in the West in 1890. Now, in print in China in better annotated editions than we have, clearly Mahan has influenced the Chinese who are now pouring vast sums into something no Chinese state has ever possessed before: namely, a high seas fleet. I suspect they are attracted not so much by the specifics of Mahan’s theory as by certain stirring generalities, for example:

“It was not by attempting great military operations on land, but by controlling the sea, and through the sea the world outside Europe, that England ensured the triumph of their country.”[1]

A phrase like “by controlling the sea, and through the sea the world outside Europe” may sound like a policy or desired end-state an ambitious country such as China, that feels status deprived. But it is not.

Mahan is not about how to use sea power to conquer the world, but only in how to use it to conquer a specific adversary. He got the ideas that made him famous during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) when he stayed at the Phoenix Club in Lima (still there) and started reading about how Hannibal attacked Rome—crossing the Alps—and reflected on how easier a time he would have had if, like Scipio, he had been able to use ships to land on the coast and win quickly as Scipio did in 202 BC having crossed the sea easily to Zama near Carthage (and also by buying off Hannibal’s chief ally). This led Mahan to coin the phrase “sea power:” something long extant, but never named and examined before.

In both the Napoleonic War and the Second Punic War, maritime operations were direct contributors to the loss of what were essentially land wars. I believe the Chinese now consider sea control to be an element, if not the key element, in her future ill-defined greatness.

One suspects that some top leaders, having a superficial acquaintance with Mahan, think they can realize what was not even Mahan’s topic: control of much in global affairs with sea power. Such a concept is absent from Mahan. He believed that local sea control was necessary against an adversary in order to enforce a blockade that would bring it down. How exactly this would happen Mahan never says. His argument contains no real “theory of victory,” rather it assumes that most states are vulnerable to blockade (he was on service blockading the Confederacy during the Civil War). That may be true for small states, but it makes no sense for large land powers such as China, Russia, India, the United States, etc.

Not fleets, but alliances backed by military power, allow the extension of influence. Truth be told, China has no allies. How can one exercise unilateral hegemony over Asia from the sea as the Chinese are warning their neighbors? It is impossible. The United States aircraft carrier Reagan will visit Camh Ranh Bay in Vietnam next year not by shooting her way in but because the Vietnamese will welcome her. One can begin the conquest of a country with sea power and air power, but how does one get enough troops there by ship to fight on land? Can one rule from horseback, a Chinese general asked two thousand years ago—or rather, from the fleet? No. According to another story, the Germans were asked before World War I what they would do if the British landed on the Baltic Coast. They answered, “Send the gendarmerie and arrest them.”

More than anything else, Mahan emphasized, “never divide the fleet.” His theory of a “fleet in being,” essentially deterrence in nineteenth century diction, states that if a country maintains a fleet certain of victory, that fact will cause other powers not to attack, even though owing to sailing times, it might be two months before their fleet was destroyed. The Chinese seem not to have read this part. For with her numerous acquisitions of naval bases e.g. in Pakistan and coral atolls in the South China Sea, defense will require dividing the fleet. If submarines menace access to one of China’s “coaling stations” or South Sea rocks, several ships will have to be peeled off to deal with the contingency—which will not be easy to do, given the remoteness of these places from China and their proximity to land that can support, among other things, much more air power than they can bring to the theatre. Think how American submarines paralyzed the Japanese in the South Pacific by simply isolating islands holding immense garrisons, and thus taking them out of the war.

Such islets and harbors, however, are unlikely to be the focus of conflict. Russia, a naval power of some magnitude, will never tolerate Chinese dominance of the seas around Vladivostok and Kamchatka. A war started at sea would become a land war China could not win. The Korean peninsula flanks the Bohai Gulf which is the only sea lane into north China; Shanghai faces Kyushu, so it is strategically untenable; only Hainan island has some open water, but it is all either cupped like the island itself by Vietnam, or flanked by the long Vietnamese coast. Finally, let us not forget India which, one suspects, is capable of closing the Strait of Malacca from the Andaman and Nicobar islands: lining up ships, and pulling out those headed for China.

Is China in fact she neglecting land power? For some time before World War I, the Germans spent more on their failed “risk fleet” designed to keep Britain out by menacing her navy, key to the island’s survival. Had they spent that money on their army, they would probably have won the war.

I would count every one of China’s fourteen land neighbors—Pakistan included—as either potentially hostile or hostile. This number does not include offshore powers like Japan, which has immense resources with which to help. So suppose a war began, and as Chinese General Liu Yazhou (劉亞洲), a fervent anti-Japanese nationalist, who also knows his trade, has predicted, the Japanese stealthy submarines sank the eastern fleet in four hours? China would be humiliated and exposed. We lack the space to consider domestic political consequences.

I know a bit about the excellent Singapore navy which controls the Philip Channel, the narrowest part of the Strait of Malacca (1.5 miles). Suppose China, necessarily dividing the fleet, sent a taskforce to subdue Singapore (278 square miles). I have no doubt that Singapore would sink the Chinese. Multiply this scenario by all the contingencies China is creating, and one has an impossible strategic problem.

When it comes to strategic destinations, I use the following image. China is a bus, the biggest in world history. It is carrying more people than any bus has ever before. It is going faster than any bus in history. In what direction? Straight ahead. One steps up and asks the driver, “Where are we going?” The driver responds, “I’m not sure exactly, but as we get closer, I’ll be able to tell you more.” This is a terrible approach to strategy and policy, but it seems to be China’s right now.

[1] Mahan, Alfred T., The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1895). Volume 2, p. 402 quoted in

Tags: , , ,

Afghanistan Again: What’s Different This Time

On August 21, President Donald Trump outlined his strategy for U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. While fully admitting his reluctance to increase current levels of support for the Afghan government and army, the president identified America’s core interests there. The “honorable and enduring outcome” that he mentioned in the speech is open to multiple interpretations, but the risk of a rapid withdrawal is not. It would lead to the collapse of the country’s central authority, thereby expanding fallow soil for global terror networks’ operations. Politically, the stakes are high. Significant gains against the Taliban and cohorts in Afghanistan would give Trump’s record a boost. After this speech, the fruits of victory or the spoils of defeat in Afghanistan rest squarely on Trump’s shoulders.

Aware that he is among the majority of Americans weary of this war, Trump proceeded to cite what will be different from past administrations. The U.S. will not publicly release timetables or air plans for adversaries’ consumption. It will hold the Afghan government accountable through a “conditions-based approach.” The U.S. will integrate “all instruments of American power . . . toward a successful outcome.” The Pakistani government in Islamabad will find that sponsorship or even tacit support for the Taliban and related entities will come with ever-greater political and financial burden. Washington will also push the Indian government in New Delhi to increase their economic and development assistance.

It is clear that Trump and his advisers have learned from the Obama administration’s failures in Afghanistan. Actions such as publically committing to timetables and trumpeting battlefield intentions bore tragic consequences, as the Taliban leadership, foot soldiers, and their backers settled in to wait out Western political timetables. The past two administrations’ reluctance to exert greater pressure on the Pakistani establishment has shown how little carrots alone can earn east of the Durand Line. Despite concerns that greater Indian involvement may hinder more than help by potentially antagonizing Pakistan, Afghanistan needs a strong regional actor that can help balance its neighbors’ often competing interests.

But do these changes amount to a new strategy? After all, haven’t we been employing “all instruments of American power” for the past 16 years? Americans witnessed a massive surge of tens of thousands of their soldiers that didn’t bring the war’s end; what difference will a re-deployment of several thousand make? Talk of greater accountability in Kabul has led to few tangible results. To some, the president’s “strategy” may seem simply as a modified “approach” to “obliterating ISIS, crushing al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

What’s Different This Time Around?

This administration is showing respect for lessons learned. To date, there is no planned surge of tens of thousands of soldiers, as the Afghans themselves will be waging war on the frontlines. President Trump did not mention a civilian strategy in his remarks, underlying his assertion that “nation building” is off the table. While Trump expressed hesitancy to order Americans to continue fighting in Afghanistan, he unequivocally campaigned on effectively fighting terrorism. With the counsel of a number of generals absent in the previous administration, he’s doing just that, regardless Congressional support or skepticism. And Pakistan, it appears, is a state relation to be managed, distinct from a partnership based on “mutual interests, [and] mutual respect” as envisioned by Obama.

Second, Hamid Karzai is no longer in charge of Afghanistan. The ex-president managed the most remarkable feat of cowling the international community into possibly incalculable investments of money and manpower while effectively denying them any genuine say in the country’s political management. Consequently, international calls to stem systemic cronyism and take a stand against corruption went unheeded by Karzai. Accountable to personal networks and political expediency over the Afghan people, he effectively fanned the flames of Taliban propaganda and anti-government sentiment. This happened in part due to the then-surplus of international goodwill towards the Afghan people and Karzai’s fundamental misconception that the U.S. saw Afghanistan as prime geopolitical real estate.

Not so today. The international community’s priorities have moved on. Meanwhile, the Taliban and terror groups either control or are present in vast swathes of Afghan territory, placing the elected government in Kabul in palpable jeopardy. Since 2001, Afghanistan has depended on foreign aid for 70% of its annual budget. The national unity government (cobbled together by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014) is hardly united and dysfunctions accordingly. While insurgent control continues to grow, the current government is nowhere near completing the agreed-upon electoral reforms and schedules, much less the roadmap to a new constitution. Encouragingly, President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah together boast years of experience in Washington, which when combined could lead to clearer, effectively mutual relations compared to those mercurial years under Karzai. This renewed U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is an opportunity for genuine cooperation towards our common goal of denying terrorists sanctuary there.

Third, the Trump administration is set to push Pakistan harder than the previous administrations. It would be disingenuous to argue that the Taliban would pose the threat that they do (if even still exist) were it not for Pakistan’s willful harbor of and aid to various insurgent groups. Islamabad has yet to effectively change course on this policy. Continued decreases in aid—specifically of the military variety—together with a review of the country’s status as a non-NATO ally can help to realign the rudder towards more stable ports.

The fear of having an Indian-allied adversary to its west makes Pakistani interests in having a friendly and reliable government in Kabul respectable. Islamabad’s nearly dogmatic distrust of New Delhi and its desire to have a compliant government in Kabul complicate part of Trump’s plan. Current relations between Pakistan and India have led to skepticism about Trump’s solicitation of more pronounced involvement from India, which could be a potential leveraging point in U.S. relations with Pakistan’s leadership. Nonetheless, there is no regional solution without New Delhi any more than there is without Islamabad or other Eurasian actors. Indeed, as the U.S. footprint erodes, direct support for the Taliban has only increased from Tehran and Moscow, categorically demonstrating the extent of their own interests in who governs Afghanistan.

Last, herein lies one of the greater—and newer—threats to a sustainable resolution of the conflict. A decade ago, the road to peace primarily went eastward from Kabul. This is no longer the case. Today’s resurgent Russia and regionally emboldened Iran cannot be consigned as diplomatic afterthoughts vis-à-vis the Afghan war. These countries have provided cash and arms to elements of the Taliban, as well as significant funds to various political and religious actors to forward agendas often at odds with the elected government. Both share common goals of preventing Afghanistan from becoming a base for Islamic extremists in Central Asia and minimizing American presence in the region. Peace negotiations without due representation of their concerns would be short, as the likely response would be the disruptive mobilization of local spoilers.

With these issues in mind, we are left with one component of the president’s strategy that hasn’t changed: the full use of American military, diplomatic, and economic power. Trump asserted that “we are not nation-building again.” A few years ago, a senior Pentagon official told me that this was never U.S. policy (My follow-up review of official public statements confirmed this). Call it what you will; however, if the U.S. is to exercise all its powers towards a successful endgame in cooperation with a more accountable government in Afghanistan, shoring up its floundering governmental institutions is unavoidably necessary. And as daunting a task as this will be, it is not Panglossian to envision a better-fortified foundation for a democratic Afghan state. After the U.S. shores up these domestic weaknesses, we can then let the Afghans build their nation up from there. In my view, that would qualify as an honorable and enduring outcome.

Tags: , , ,

Hacking Hotels . . . and Their Guests

Travelers have come to depend on WiFi networks in hotels, and businesspeople have come to expect high speed wireless access in both private rooms and public spaces, including lobbies, meeting rooms, and even the hotel gym. Predictably, cyberspies and cybercriminals have inhabited some of these virtual spaces as well. Hotel lobbies are often seen to sprout open networks with identifiers intended to trick users into logging on. (“FreeOpenWiFi,” “Hilt0n,” and “MarriottL0BBY” have all been seen in the past month.) Security firm FireEye, however, has recently documented a new and more dangerous threat in the hotel space: a hacking campaign attributed to the Russian government sponsored, GRU-affiliated group known as “Fancy Bear” or “APT28.” (One of the two Russian groups known to have penetrated the Democratic National Committee in 2015-6.)  This campaign, evident in hotels in Europe and the Middle East, is potentially more dangerous than prior exploits, and may spread rapidly to other regions. Travelers need to be aware of the dangers, and need to take immediate steps to protect sensitive information.

The activities of these Russian-sponsored hackers are widespread and sophisticated. The name “APT” is an abbreviation of “Advanced Persistent Threat,” and is the term used in the cybersecurity community to denote an actor that is especially thorough and patient in the infiltration of computer systems and exfiltration of information. Fancy Bear has been implicated in cyber attacks against the World Antidoping Agency, the Dutch government, and against political parties in this year’s French and German elections. Information stolen in these hacks has been distributed through WikiLeaks, other web sites, and by transmitting it to media outlets such as Sputnik, RT, and others.

Briefly, the new campaign is initiated by an email “spearphishing” campaign using an attached document that appears to be a room reservation form in a Microsoft Word document file. Once opened by hotel staff, that document installs malware onto the target Windows computer that then uses exploits stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency (EternalBlue) to move laterally to infect other computers in the target network. The malware, known as GAMEFISH, is capable of stealing logon credentials and other information from the network, and communicating this information over the internet to command and control servers controlled by unknown actors. Because GAMEFISH can attack the very computers that control the hotel wireless network, it may be able to steal information from guest computers simply using that network, even if those computers are never directly attacked or compromised. This information may then be used to attack the guest computers directly, perhaps even at a remote location and time.

This threat is by no means the only hotel-based hacking to be seen. For some time, networks in Russian and Asian hotels have been infected with computer worm and virus files of various types. During the Iranian nuclear talks in 2014-15, Duqu 2.0 malware was seen in the networks of the hotels that hosted the delegations and the talks themselves. It was believed that Duqu was an information stealing worm, capable of turning on computer microphones and cameras covertly, as well as stealing computer files. According to the Guardian, this worm is related to Stuxnet, and was thought to be used by the government of Israel as a way of gaining intelligence about the nuclear negotiations.

Because guests cannot be sure that hotel systems have not been compromised, it is advisable that such systems be avoided if possible, in favor of data carried over cellular networks which, while not immune to attack, are at least monitored more closely than commercial wireless systems in hotels. Even then, care should be exercised, and secure communications should be avoided because it is not possible to guarantee the security of cellular communications. Governments use devices called “stingrays” to intercept cellular signals. Not only can they listen to voice communications, but they are able to see text messages and in some instances, spy on data communications as well. While the sale and use of stingray devices is severely restricted in the United States, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world, and thus, care is necessary.

If a hotel network must be used, access should only be through a virtual private network (VPN), preferably one that is operated under private and trusted control, or a reputable commercial service. Virtual Private Networks are a type of data transmission service that ensures that all data flowing from a secured device goes only to a known computer system, and is encrypted from “end-to-end” as it flows to and from that trusted system. Once the encrypted information reaches the trusted VPN “server,” it may then be forwarded onward over the internet, if the VPN is configured to do so. In this manner, the VPN impedes eavesdropping on data communications because the secure link is the first thing set up during an online session.

For more information about commercial VPN services, see,2817,2403388,00.asp

We all seem to depend more every day on the electronic devices in our pockets and bags, and we carry ever-greater amounts of personal and business information in them. Governments and criminals know this, as well, and have set traps for the unwise and the unwary. Hotels are just the latest venues made dangerous for us and our data. The savvy traveler will now ask, first and always, whether access to a particular system is really worth the risk involved, if it must be done over connections that are likely to have been compromised. It may be better, after all, to forego checking one’s accounts, and just to relax and have an aperitivo.

Tags: , , , , ,

What North Korea’s Statement against Trump Really Means

It would be hard to deny that rhetoric on and around the Korean peninsula is at a high mark. United States President Donald Trump’s words about “fire and fury” aimed at North Korea sounded almost like the typical rhetoric coming from North Korea. North Korea’s response, seemingly implying a threat of bombing Guam, was unusually direct and concrete.

Still, it is important to remember one key fact that has gotten lost in the bluster and chatter: Neither Trump’s statement, nor North Korea’s response, imply any change of the status quo.

Trump’s words were dangerously crude, and struck a tone that previous American presidents have not taken toward North Korea. At the end of the day, however, striking North Korea has never not been an option for the Unites States. Within the strategic confines of the North Korean nuclear issue, it has always been implied that the U.S. would consider striking North Korea should it sense serious, imminent and tangible threats against itself or its allies. That is what overflights of bombers over the Korean peninsula—which the U.S. has often conducted after North Korean provocations and did only a few days ago—intends to signal. Trump’s statement was reportedly spontaneous, rather than a result of newly calculated U.S. language or new red lines. In other words, it was not intended to signal a change of policy. 

Similarly, North Korea’s threat against Guam was not a shift of position. The whole point of North Korea demonstrating its ICBM-capacities is to show the U.S. that it has the capacity to strike its mainland, or islands such as Guam. It is worth re-reading the central passages in full:

The KPA Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base in which the U.S. strategic bombers, which get on the nerves of the DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above south Korea, are stationed and to send a serious warning signal to the U.S.

The plan is to be soon reported to the Supreme Command soon after going through full examination and completion and will be put into practice in a multi-concurrent and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPRK, makes a decision.

The execution of this plan will offer an occasion for the Yankees to be the first to experience the might of the strategic weapons of the DPRK closest.[1]

Note the following:

  1. The KPA (Korea People’s Army, North Korea’s military) is, according to KCNA, “carefully examining the operational plan” for striking Guam. That’s not exactly a threat of imminent bombing. Rather, it is simply stating that North Korea has plans readily available for how it would attack Guam, should it choose to do so. Anything else would be surprising given North Korea’s tense relationship with the United States, and its heavy emphasis on missiles in its strategic doctrine.
  2. That the plan is to be reported to Kim Jong-un, and will be put into practice if Kim Jong-un decides it should be, is also not a change of policy. Remember: Kim Jong-un is the supreme commander of the North Korean military. He could order any attack he wants at any time. This fact was true yesterday, and will likely be true tomorrow as well. Of course, the wording of the statement makes it sound as if though North Korea might launch an attack in the near future. But North Korea threatens its neighbors and adversaries in regular intervals. Consider the following paragraph from a news report in the spring of 2013, another time when tensions ran high between North Korea and the U.S., citing a North Korean statement:

“We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its reckless nuclear threat will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK and that the merciless operation of its revolutionary armed forces in this regard has been finally examined and ratified,” it said. “The U.S. had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation.”

In other words, North Korea regularly makes it a point to remind its adversaries of its capabilities. In terms of pure language, this time appears to be no different.

None of this is to say that the current tensions are not dangerous. Words eventually need to be backed up by action for them to carry any meaning. In situations like this one, the danger of escalation beyond the point of no return, and of miscalculation, is grave and serious. That is precisely why words and rhetoric must not be overblown, and understood in their proper context. 

[1] Source: Korean Central News Agency, “U.S. Should Be Prudent under Present Acute Situation: Spokesman for KPA Strategic Force,” August 9, 2017. North Korean outlets always write Kim Jong Un’s name in bold, and in a larger font.

Tags: , , ,

After North Korean Missile Test, South Korean President Takes a Stance  

North Korea’s latest ICBM test—conducted on July 28—was not as big of a shock as the one preceding it. The message North Korea sent with its initial test on July 4 was loud and clear: the country can hit the United States mainland with its missiles, and perhaps soon with nuclear weapons. The second missile launch primarily served to drive home that point, and to do it with a vengeance. The missile North Korea launched in the late evening hours of Friday, July 28 reached an altitude of 3.7 kilometers and flew 998 kilometers, metrics that Pyongyang claims shows its ability to hit the entire territory of the United States. On Tuesday, August 1, evidence surfaced that North Korea may have carried out another test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) during the preceding weekend, proving the mobility of its missile-launching capabilities.

North Korea’s ICBM capacities means that when it threatens to annihilate its enemies for various reasons (as Pyongyang does from time to time), these words carry force. But overall, it does not change the strategic environment very much. It has long been known that North Korea’s ICBM- and nuclear-capacities are advanced, and as U.S. officials have pointed out, for the past few years, it has only been a matter of time before North Korea displays these capacities in a credible way.

In fact, one of the most important implications from the ICBM-test came from South Korea. When South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed in the day after the test to deploy more interceptor missile launchers for the country’s controversial anti-missile defense system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, more commonly known by its acronym, THAAD, it was a radical turnaround from his previous positions. North Korea had probably hoped to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea through its missile tests and other provocations in the months following the election of a left-leaning government in South Korea. As of now, it looks like those ambitions have failed.

Only a few weeks ago, this outcome seemed far from certain. Moon is a leftist politician, and his skepticism of THAAD’s deployment is well known. Donald Trump calling on South Korea to pay hefty amounts for the system earlier this year also did not help. The South Korean left has historically been wary of too much U.S. influence and presence in the country, and the left in South Korea has long favored cooperation, exchange, and negotiation with North Korea over sanctions.

A sign at Dorasan station pointing toward the crossing into Kaesong, North Korea. (Source: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, July 2017)

At times, divergent attitudes on the North Korea question has caused significant strain between the two countries. For example, in the early 2000s, when South Korea was governed by the liberal Roh Moo-hyun and the U.S. by George W. Bush, the two often differed in their approaches to North Korea. While Bush had branded North Korea part of the “Axis of Evil,” Roh was an avid proponent of the “Sunshine Policy” of cultural and economic collaboration with North Korea, with the long-term goal of peaceful unification of the two countries.

To put it very mildly, Trump and Moon also differ in their approaches to North Korea. Trump has often vowed to pressure North Korea into making concessions on its nuclear and missiles programs, while Moon is a known advocate of talks and exchange with North Korea. Just to name a few examples, Moon Jae-in has pledged to re-open the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, where South Korean firms operate factories with North Korean employees, which was closed under the Park Geun-hye administration in February 2016 in response to North Korea’s nuclear test and satellite launch in the preceding weeks. The administration has a long and ambitious wish list for economic cooperation projects with North Korea. Moon’s administration has repeatedly asked North Korea for military talks, only to be met with silence. Moreover, accusations surfaced in the run-up to the elections that Moon, as chief presidential secretary for Roh Moo-hyun, accepted the suggestion that South Korea ask North Korea for its opinion before abstaining from a vote on a UN resolution condemning human rights violations in North Korea.

Moreover, one should not underestimate the desire among significant portions of the South Korean governmental bureaucracy and other institutions for closer ties with North Korea. Within the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, which is a ministry dedicated wholly to matters related to North Korea, there seems to have been cautious hope that finally, those programs of cooperation with North Korea that died under the two preceding conservative presidents would once again be started under President Moon. Though often seen as a long-term, distant goal, the very idea of unification with North Korea is rarely questioned in the general political debate in South Korea.

Customs clearance form for travelers coming back to South Korea from North Korea, waiting to be filled out. (Source: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, July 2017)

Near the North Korean border in South Korea, symbols abound of the currently broken dreams of inter-Korean exchange. At the Dorasan train station and inter-Korean transit center near the border, for example, where South Koreans working in the Kaesong Industrial Complex would pass through on their way to North Korea, all is set up for traffic to resume. When I visited the Dorasan transit center a few weeks ago, the customs transit forms were neatly piled up, and metal detectors and immigration inspection desks were all in place. There was only one thing missing: people in inter-Korean transit.

In other words, ambitions and hopes for closer relations with North Korea have long been present in South Korea, and the newly elected president carries them as well. North Korean strategists had likely hoped that their missile tests this spring and summer—one only a few days after Moon Jae-in’s election in May—would force Moon to eventually indicate through his response (or perhaps lack thereof) that better relations with North Korea are more important than the alliance with the U.S. Moon’s response to the latest ICBM-test went the opposite direction, with the decision to employ more THAAD units. Not only that—Moon’s administration has requested talks with the U.S. about allowing South Korea to boost its own arsenal of missiles, which it is currently barred from doing under a bilateral treaty. Perhaps President Trump will pronounce this a victory for his own policy of pressuring allies with U.S. troops stationed in their countries to pay for larger shares of their own defense costs.

Empty immigration counters ready for inspections of travelers going to the Kaesong Industrial Complex from South Korea. (Source: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, July 2017)

It may not have been North Korea’s intention, but its ICBM-tests have helped Moon Jae-in clarify where South Korea stands. This clarification may not change anything regarding North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programs in the immediate term. But for those who worried that the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. would suffer with presidents of diametrically opposed political camps, it is a welcome development.




Tags: , , ,

U.S. LNG In Central and Eastern Europe – Taking Diversification Seriously

Last week President Trump met in Warsaw with Polish officials and Central and Eastern European (CEE) leaders at the Three Seas Initiative Summit. The event brought together countries from the Adriatic, Black and Baltic seas to discuss development of regional infrastructure necessary to reduce their energy dependence on Russia and ensure energy security. This happened shortly after the first cargo of U.S. LNG, carried by the 162,000 cbm-capacity “Clean Ocean, entered the Polish port of Swinoujscie. Both the U.S. and Polish governments lauded the cargo and, following the meeting with Donald Trump in Warsaw, Polish President, Andrzej Duda declared a possibility of signing a long-term agreement (LTA) for the supply of U.S. LNG into Poland.

Much of Duda’s statement is political rhetoric given that LTAs are not signed between governments. Instead these contracts are commercial decisions made by individual companies. But the strong rhetoric coming from both governments in support for U.S. LNG exports to CEE is an indicator that beyond economic aspect, this trade has strong geopolitical dimension.

Given competitiveness of Russian gas and willingness of Gazprom to defend its market, it is highly unlikely that U.S. LNG imports would grant CEE (or Europe as a whole) full and unconditional natural gas independence from Russia. However, standing ability to deliver U.S. (or other non-Russian) gas to Europe provides “credible threat” and changes the bargaining positions of all parties involved. In such scenario Russia stands to lose not as much market share as geopolitical influence that it has derived from CEE’s dependence on its gas. And while LNG exports will not give the U.S. more geopolitical power in Europe per se (given the increasingly competitive global LNG market), Russia’s loss in this regard is a strategic gain for the U.S.

But can the U.S. and CEE governments truly affect the outcome of essentially commercial transactions? Can they effectively facilitate the ‘credible threat’ of U.S. LNG exports? And if so, how?

This ability depends on several factors. These include the usual: pricing and, given competitiveness of Russian gas, the willingness of the CEE governments to support a security premium on natural gas from a non-Russian supplier. Also, policy makers should pay close attention to current policy decisions within the EU that relate to infrastructure and antitrust law, as these decisions may not only impact profitability but also feasibility of LNG imports well into the future.

Forces that Influence Europe’s Natural Gas Market

The European market, while not expected to be as robust as Asia over the coming years, will remain an important source of demand for natural gas suppliers. As reported by Eurogas, going forward Europe will need to import much more natural gas than suggested by demand growth alone (Figure 1). In addition, the region is attractive given dependability of the market and reliability of European governments and customers.

Figure 1. EU Natural Gas Demand through 2030.
Source: Eurogas, “Natural Gas Demand and Supply: Long term Outlook to 2030.”

Much of the future makeup of European natural gas supply might be determined not only by market forces but also by geopolitical considerations and European Union legal and antitrust decisions.

The two main decisions currently on the agenda that will have broad and direct consequences for LNG trade in Europe are: 1) permitting of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, and 2) antitrust decisions by the European Commission related to Gazprom abusing its monopoly position in the CEE.

European Diversification and What It Means to Different Parties

Natural gas market diversification has become a hot topic in Europe following several breaks in Russian gas deliveries between 2005 and 2009. The 2014 crisis in Ukraine and complete shut off of natural gas supply flowing from Russia added urgency to the matter. In principle, all EU members agree that diversification is needed. But there is a visible rift between how diversification efforts are envisaged by the West versus the CEE countries.

Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics in particular are pushing for diversification away from Russia. Their efforts include a buildup of LNG infrastructure, with the already functioning LNG terminal in Lithuania and the aforementioned LNG terminal in Swinoujscie. Plans are drawn already to expand the existing terminals, and new LNG terminals are planned in Estonia. Small-scale LNG projects are also in the works in the Baltics. In addition, the region is considering facilities for regasification, storage, rebunkering, and reloading, as well as investment in rail transport to support future LNG imports.

It goes without saying that such imports will never be realized unless the price of LNG is competitive. But it is worth noting that although the price of LNG brought to Swinoujscie by U.S.-based Cheniere Energy has not been disclosed, it was lower than Russian and German EEX natural gas prices, according to the Polish trader, PGNIG.

In addition, many CEE countries may be willing to pay a certain security premium for LNG to sustain diversification efforts away from Russian natural gas. Regardless their willingness to pay such a premium rate, these countries also actively seek non-LNG market opportunities to diversify supply, including onshore projects like the Baltic pipe. This means that the ability to pay excessive prices by those countries may be moderated in the future, as the CEE gas market becomes more competitive.

The strong push toward diversification within CEE is related to two main factors. First, dependency rates on Russian natural gas have been historically very high, with some CEE countries previously entirely dependent on Russian imports (Figure 2 below). This led to uncertainty in terms of reliable gas supplies and higher prices. If non-Russian supplies of natural gas are readily available, Gazprom loses ability to charge monopoly prices. Second, there is a strong sentiment that Russia is ready and willing to use energy dependence to achieve political goals regarding its relations with CEE countries. Much of this feeling is informed by the Soviet past, but some of the uneasiness stems from more current events, including Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and annexation of Crimea. Particularly, Poland and the Baltics see LNG imports as a way to dilute the Putin Regime’s economic influence over their countries and to parry Russian attempts at undermining the democratic process and social unity.

Figure 2. Europe’s Dependency on Russian Gas, 2014.
Data Source: Eurogas, Statistical Report 2015.


On the other hand, Western European countries are generally content with diversifying natural gas supply routes away from Ukraine that they see as a high-risk transit territory. They are less interested in diversifying supplies away from Russia and are focused rather on lowering cost than on geopolitical implications of dependence on Russian natural gas. This is related to lower dependency rates in that region (Figure 2) and to long-standing collaboration between Western Europe’s utilities and Gazprom that is seen as reliable partner and supplier. There is much less concern about possible monopolization of the European gas market by Russia and its geopolitical implications.

Nord Stream 2, EU Antitrust Decisions & “Credible Threat” of U.S. LNG Imports

Whether CEE countries will be able to achieve their goal of natural gas market diversification and whether U.S. and other LNG producers will have access to the European market will depend as much on price as on other factors. When it comes to price Russia has significant and undisputed advantage. But EU’s policy framework, infrastructure buildup and willingness of countries to support non-Russian supplies will define boundaries within which market forces operate. As such, these factors will determine whether Russian gas dominance in Europe (particularly in CEE) will be strictly commercial or whether it will continue to yield geopolitical power. Construction of Nord Stream 2 and EU antitrust decisions are currently the two decisions that will have a bearing in this regard and where government’s, and not companies, can influence the outcomes.

Nord Stream 2 (NS2) is planned to cross directly from Russia to Germany. The new pipeline is supposed to accompany the already existing Nord Stream 1, reducing the need for the Ukrainian transit route. The plan is constituent with Western Europe’s efforts to diversify natural gas routes away from the risky transit territory. CEE countries argue against the pipeline, which in their view would damage their efforts geared toward diversity of supply and reducing dependence on Russian gas. If recent research is correct, these fears may be well substantiated. The research shows that NS2 would allow Gazprom to pre-empt diversification measures by using the entire capacity of current pipeline infrastructure. With pipelines committed to Russian gas, Gazprom could deter other potential sources of supply from entering the market and keep prices in CEE countries high.

Gazprom current commitments in the Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) antitrust investigation may have similar consequences. Considered soft, regarding the time and scale of alleged anticompetitive practices that affected trade in the CEE, they would possibly result in eliminating competition from other sources of natural gas supply (though, as opposed to NS2 they do not seem to increase prices of natural gas in the CEE or elsewhere in Europe). And while these commitments may be changed in the course of further proceedings, a soft response from the EU indicates general tendency and provides a precedent for future decisions.

EU decisions on NS2 and antitrust will have a profound impact on creating favorable conditions for U.S. LNG in European markets and whether it will be able to provide the ‘credible threat’ to Russian natural gas dominance. Poland and the Baltics are pushing hard against NS2 in an effort to advance their diversification efforts. The U.S. government is also acutely aware of the problem and has engaged in anti-NS2 sanctions and anti-NS2 diplomacy in the region. But there is a noticeable lack of involvement from other CEE countries. Thanks to recent infrastructure and regional cooperation agreements these countries feel more secure when it comes to natural gas deliveries not realizing the potential negative effects NS2 may have, once completed.

This lack of engagement, together with Western Europe’s limited view of diversification may well be responsible for Russia regaining its position as Europe’s dominant natural gas supplier, a position that has been seemingly slipping away from Russia in recent years as LNG technology took off (Figure 3). This is critical especially now as the European Commission (EC) seeks member-state approval to negotiate with Russia on NS2 with an intent to extent at least main provisions of the EU natural gas legal framework (Third Party Access, unbundling) onto NS2.

Figure 3. Origin of Primary Energy Imports to the EU (% Non-EU Imports).
Source: Eurostat


Is There a Hope for U.S. LNG Exports to Europe?

The first U.S. LNG cargo to Poland is a result of a one-off transaction between Chenier and a newly established Polish trading office in London. Although it is probable that future LNG deals will be concluded later this year, the problem of the long-term profitability of U.S. exports of this commodity to the EU is still open. Governments have little say as to what contracts are signed but they have the power to affect market conditions within which companies operate. Currently, NS2 and to a smaller extent, EU antitrust decisions are factors, which governments should consider if they want to affect future access to Europe’s natural gas market.

When it comes to the U.S., its government has been active in supporting European energy diversity in many ways, including active opposition to the NS2 pipeline via unilateral U.S. sanctions against Russia and diplomatic assurances in the Baltics and Poland. But this may not be enough. There also may be a value in the U.S. focusing on issue diplomacy in those European (CEE and non-CEE) countries that are currently quiet or in support of NS2 but would ultimately lose if NS2 comes to be.

That being said any success of CEE and U.S. efforts does not guarantee unobstructed flow of U.S. (or any other) LNG to the European market. However, ability to access that market by any non-Russian supplier will provide an effective check on both, Russia’s pricing policy and the influence that country has historically derived from its monopoly over the CEE market.

This article was originally published on and can be viewed here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Why We Must Recognize North Korea

The reason that negotiations over North Korea have never achieved anything is simple. Their avowed goal is impossible to achieve. It is well-past time to accept that no means, political or military, exists to eliminate North Korean nuclear weapons. Their continued existence is certain, as will be explained. That being the case, it is time for the United States in particular to adopt a new approach.

This approach would be to recognize North Korea diplomatically, as a state, and as one having nuclear capability. Washington and Pyongyang should each build embassies and exchange ambassadors. This is the best alternative now available. It will not restore peace to Asia but it will bring partial progress that is real, rather than the total solution on which all agree, but that is simply impossible.

On June 21. 2017  United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that Washington and Beijing agreed to “a complete and irreversible denuclearization of Korean Peninsula.” [1] Two weeks later, on July 7, 2017 it was reported that Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump had also agreed on such“ a complete and irreversible denuclearization.”[2] South Korea has already agreed repeatedly to this idea.

But how could such a situation ever be created? No country possessing nuclear weapons is ever again going to give them up. Ukraine did so, trusting to the pledges of the Budapest Memorandum (4 December 2004) in which “The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” That was proven a worthless scrap of paper when Russia invaded (2014-present) and annexed Crimea.

No one could miss the lesson nor will North Korea: keep your nuclear weapons and no one will dare invade you. Give them up and your position is vulnerable.

Suppose, however that North Korea solemnly agreed to denuclearize under treaty provisions, perhaps similar to those of Budapest. Proving that Pyongyang had complied would be impossible. North Korea is 48,000 square miles; under her surface are labyrinths of tunnels, factories, and military facilities of which we have no clue. To hold back and conceal  a substantial nuclear strike force would be easy, nor could any inspection regime, up to and including a military occupation, detect it if the concealment were competently done. Even a military holocaust over the country would not surely eliminate such weapons.

Note too that even a residual North Korean nuclear force would probably range from 49 to 100 (author’s estimate), as compared to 7,000 Russian bombs, China’s perhaps 1,000 (author’s estimate), India’s 130, Pakistan’s 140, Israel’s 80, France’s 300, Britain’s 215, and the United State’s 6,600. Her threat is deeply concerning, but the region is far more worried by China.[3]

At worst North Korea will flatly turn down our offer of recognition, in which case we should state that it remains open. If embassies having secure conference facilities, and able ambassadors are created, then for the first time the United States and Pyongyang will have a secure means of communicating ideas, however sensitive. This too may lead nowhere. But as the advantages of closer ties with the United States and her world of allies become clear, it is equally possible that Pyongyang will come to see that they can offer much more than their current shaky alignment with Russia and China.

No quid pro quo should be offered for this standard diplomatic procedure. Nor should anyone imagine that, if successfully accomplished, it will bring peace to hand. The greatest threat to Asia is not North Korea but China’s illegal expansion and militarization over millions of square miles into territories to which she has no claim, seas to her east and mountains of or near north India.

This fact of Chinese aggression means that the U.S. and her allies must continue to be strong; indeed stronger than they are at present. If a recognized North Korea continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, our only option will be further to increase the armaments and missile defenses of our Asian allies.  My own view is that if South Korea finds the North unresponsive to her peace overtures, she will develop her own nuclear weapons, regardless of American opinion. The same is almost certainly true for Japan, which China is forcing into a remilitarization that she does not want. When the Japanese do things, though, they tend to do them well, so we may assume that, if China does not change the situation radically, she will soon face a Japan possessing a nuclear deterrent—I argue only for minimal nuclear deterrents for our allies, perhaps no more than nuclear tipped torpedoes or nuclear cruise missiles that can be launched near shore—as well as and an air force as good as any.

Finally, what of North Korea? She will no longer be glued in place, attached to China of which she is not fond. With her independent forces she will also be too strong for China to intimidate. lest she cause nuclear attack. By the same token, North Korea will no longer be forced to ally only with  rogue nations.  She will have the option of moving into a more central and multipolar position globally, both diplomatically and economically. The possibility of trading in real world markets may afford her the opportunity to change.

These are only hopes. For now we extend our hand of formal recognition. But we offer nothing in return, nor do we diminish our relations with South Korea and other allies. Not a trail whose terminus is visible. But a rail at least that we can begin to walk.

Arthur Waldron is a Senior Fellow in FPRI’s Asia Program and is the Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania.



[3]  This is the source for all figures save those labeled “author’s estimate”.

Tags: , , , , , ,