Duterte, Dating, & Diplomacy in the Nuclear Age

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Dating and Diplomacy in the Age of Nuclear Missiles…

Part ten million one of a seemingly infinite series.

Note: For the deepest emotional experience, please play “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics as you read this article.

Diplomacy is at times a bit like dating. We’ve all felt that thrilling infatuation. Sometimes it leads to a great night or weekend, or, if you’re very lucky, a few good decades. But in romance, as in foreign policy, some relationships start poorly and go to hell all too quickly. At least in those cases, when the first date is horrific, you have a chance to avoid a bad marriage with an abusive creep. Don’t pass on the chance.

 

Philippine Pres. Rodrigo "Rody" Duterte Image by Gvt. of the Philippines, public domain

Philippine Pres. Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte
Image by Gvt. of the Philippines, public domain

 

Many of our readers are now quite familiar with the challenges and problems facing the US and other nations in the South China Sea. The short description of those problems is “China.”

Many readers are also familiar with that colorful new celebrity on the world stage, Rodrigo “Rody” Roa Duterte. Normally, sensible people avoid weird-acting dudes called “Rody,” but this particular weird dude is now the leader of one of our key Asian allies, the Republic of the Philippines.

Most Americans and Westerners became aware of Rody this summer when, within a matter of a few weeks, he publicly called the US Ambassador to the Philippines a “gay son of a bitch” and then, for an encore, he called US President Obama “that son of a whore.” Foreign policy gurus the world over are all prompted to ask the same obvious question. I can answer that obvious question here and now. US Intelligence services have definitive evidence that, in spite of the strong similarities between them, Rody Duterte is not the long lost brother of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Rody’s anti-American outbursts were prompted by the fact that the US government, in an underwhelming response to the alleged 3,000+ recent murders by Rody death squads, had suggested to him that he might please consider following the Philippines constitution when conducting his campaign against “crime, corruption, and drugs.”

The Philippines does indeed have serious problems with violent crime, corruption, and drug addiction. When Rody Duterte was the mayor of Davao City, he gained fame, and infamy, by conducting a violent campaign against criminals. Some questioned if, while killing drug dealers and drug addicts, he hadn’t accidentally murdered a few innocent Philippines citizens that happened to oppose his political career. Accidents do happen. In Davao City and Manila, they seem to happen a lot.

While Duterte has only recently become an annoying clown to Americans and Westerners, he’s been aggravating folks in the Philippines and neighboring states for a few years.

As Mayor of Davao City, when journalists questioned him about possible connections to extrajudicial death squads, he casually responded “Yeah, I am death squad.” Prior to being elected to the presidency of the Philippines, Duterte bragged to reporters that he would kill up to 100,000 criminals if elected President.

In May of 2015, New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of being involved in more than a thousand killings. It accused him of being what he said he was. In a television interview, Duterte responded by saying that the group should go ahead and file a complaint with the UN, and then he would show the world how stupid they are by killing them.

In 1989, a 36-year-old Australian lay minister named Jacqueline Hamill was held hostage, raped, had her throat slashed, and was shot during a prison riot in the Philippines. In April of 2016, during his Presidential campaign, Duterte, referred to the rape and murder of Jacqueline Hamill, saying, “I was angry because she was raped, that’s one thing. But she was so beautiful, the mayor should have been first. What a waste.” Yes, the mayor that he was referring to was himself. He thought he should have been the first to rape Jacqueline Hamill.

So what are the impacts to Rody’s ignorant and barbaric behavior?

It depends on whom we ask. During a recent social call on American Artist John Alexander, I asked him to describe Duterte. John described him as “A Post-Modernist Head Hunter.” That seemed reasonably artistic to me.

When asked what they thought of Rody Duterte, the Philippine people responded by electing him President. We should not ignore this obvious evidence of the Philippine people’s desperation concerning rampant crime and corruption in the Philippines.

For China, Rody had to seem like a wonderful opportunity.

A week before the September 6, 2016 Asian Summit in Laos, Rody dramatically warned China that it would “face a reckoning” for its aggression in the “Philippine Sea.” Then, a couple of days before the summit, he switched over to his Anti-American rhetoric, demanding that the US stay out of Philippine domestic policy. After returning from the summit, Rody seemed to have experienced a Chinese-style epiphany. Rody then said that the Philippines remained committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict in the South China Sea, and he urgently advised “the US to not escalate matters in the South China Sea.” The wording sounded like vintage Chinese diplomatic dogma.

So what caused the wild vacillation in Rody’s passionate political opinions?

The Chinese government does not believe in the “prayer and meditation method” of achieving epiphanies. They do believe in cash and ruthless pragmatism in the shameless pursuit of unrestrained self-interest when conducting diplomacy. I can only wonder what China might have whispered to Duterte during the Asian Summit in Laos.

For the current US administration and for any future US administration, Duterte adds to the complexity of dealing with China in the South China Sea.

The US obviously hopes to continue to help the Philippines build a credible defense capability. The US has pursued this goal by sending military aid, investing many millions of dollars in military base construction for the Philippine military, and sending military advisors in large numbers to the island nation. Those US military advisors are not happy with the Philippine government’s glib attitude concerning the casual murder of civilians in the Philippines. Duterte loves the American cash, free military equipment, and the advisors as long as the advisors don’t attempt to advise him to be civilized.

Any US President will have to worry about Rody Duterte’s wild behavior.

For his part, Rody seems thrilled at the prospect of taking advantage of the US desire to resist Chinese hegemony in the West Pacific. At the same time, he cozies up to China. Older Americans will recognize the similarity to the routine Cold War diplomatic dilemma. The US often showered cash and military equipment on pathetically bad despots in order to simply keep those countries from allying with the USSR.

My best guess is that this US administration and the next will try to deal with Duterte as best they can without being suckered into a spending competition with China.

The Philippine people have elected and tolerated Rody Duterte in the hope of reducing corruption, crime, and drugs in the Philippines. If Rody pulls that off, then the Philippines will have an opportunity to prosper, but if his brutal methods don’t create real results, then the Philippine people will tire of him and elect someone else.

Buying an ally with cash and free military equipment is never a sound basis for a reliable alliance. Buying that ally and only getting an enemy for your cash is worse. We in the US will have to dispassionately evaluate Rody Duterte and the Philippines and act accordingly. This is no time for the US to “lead with the check book.”

Gaza — An Exercise in Subtle Intelligence

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Intelligence work is usually thought of as being conducted by costly and sometimes high tech methods. A glance at the intelligence budgets of the US, Russia, China, and a few others would confirm that view.

For the most part, that view is accurate.

 

canstock-2016-sep-spy-satellite

We expect our intelligence agencies to use extravagantly expensive satellites, planes, drones, submarines, ships, and listening stations. They do, and those methods often lead to obtaining critical intelligence.

We also expect agencies to conduct Human Intelligence, or “HUMINT.” HUMINT requires vast amounts of personnel around the globe and at home to penetrate the governments, military, and industries of states that are of concern to us. It’s expensive, but it does indeed get results. It never gets as many results as we would like, but it gets a lot more than if we didn’t try.

Teams of analysts rely on these and other sources to create best guesses about what is going on in the world. With so much data of various forms arriving all day, every day, every week at the desks of various teams, it’s not always easy to sift through the chaff to find the best wheat. The collective experience of an analytical team is a huge factor in this. Modern computers with good software help improve the results.

With so much high dollar, high tech spying going on, it’s easy to miss subtler pieces of intelligence that become available to us. Yet sometimes, these seemingly mundane, inglorious bits of information can give us important insights.

One current example of an important subtle bit of information is staring us in the face in the Gaza Strip.

In a land where bombs, missiles, assassinations, and kidnappings are daily events, sets of well-proven expectations enter into our judgements about the current situation in Gaza. One clearly verifiable phenomena occurring in Gaza today is the change amongst Palestinian voters regarding the upcoming elections, which will possibly be held this October.

In the 2005 elections, Hamas ran on a We Hate Israel So You Must Love Us platform. That platform plank was supported by another tried-and-true Hamas marketing method, the Love Us and Vote for us or We Kill You method.

 

canstock-2016-sep-burning-flags-of-palestine-and-israel

Unlike the Palestinian West Bank, where the Fatah political group held sway, in Gaza, Hamas had most of the guns and controlled most of the local media so Hamas got the votes. The Vote for Us or We Kill You method is effective for winning elections. It’s far less effective at governing. Hamas has demonstrated the difference very clearly.

Thanks to Hamas, Gaza is an economic disaster, a health disaster, and a hellish place for Palestinian children to live.

The basic fact that Hamas is even worse than the governments in places like Chicago or DC when it comes to completing the basic tasks of government is no great intelligence coup. As long as Hamas could show that they were hurting Israel, they could keep their outside financial support from Europe, various fellow terrorist governments, the UN, etc. The question of whether or not Hamas would govern anything other than the usual Kill the Jews program was generally ignored by many Palestinians and many outsiders.

So here is the good news.

Unlike during the 2005 campaign, Palestinians are frequently and sometimes openly speaking against Hamas. Hamas’s chief rival, Fatah, is happy about that. But when we look more closely, the Palestinians in Gaza are not expressing much love for Fatah either.

The most important piece of intelligence data in Gaza today has to do with the Palestinian people in Gaza.

They are less impressed than ever with suicide bombs in Israel, missiles fired into Israel, kidnapping of Israelis, etc. The majority of the Palestinian public in Gaza is now most concerned with fixing Gaza. They want real schools, real health care, jobs, and reconstruction of the many bombed out areas of Gaza. Crushing Israel is not on most of their wish lists.

Both Fatah and Hamas are aware of this shift in their respective voters.

Both groups have responded with massive social media campaigns. Both parties have adopted newer platforms, or at least are presenting them in social media. In fact, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get a few Gaza trolls attacking this article.

The problem for both groups, but especially for Hamas, is that few Palestinians are buying Hamas’s shiny new You’re Better Off Today Than You Were Six Years Ago campaign.

Palestinians are openly laughing at Hamas’s ridiculous claims of having improved life in Gaza. It hasn’t, and the folks in Gaza know it and admit it.  In particular, young Palestinian adults are mocking Hamas’s social media campaign. They routinely convert Hamas campaign videos into dark comedy.

None of this means that we should expect a sudden and dramatic change in life in Gaza after the October elections.

The Palestinian public may not be able to exercise a democratic choice. A panicking Hamas is capable of anything. But an important implication for intelligence on Gaza should not be ignored. The Kill the Jews sales pitch is no longer a sufficiently popular product with the voters in Gaza.

canstock-2016-sep-palestine-and-israel-flags

Over time, this may lead to improvement in Gaza and a lessening of the conflict with Israel. A few decades ago, an Israeli woman told me, “There will be peace in Israel and Palestine when Palestinians love their children more than they hate Israeli children.” I have always been certain that she was right. That day may be arriving in Gaza.

The F-16 Offer to India — India Might Refuse It, But Pakistan Can’t Ignore It

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

For the last few years, military and foreign policy aficionados around the world, not to mention very excited governments and corporate accountants, have been following the Indian government’s fighter procurement plans.

The process has been more dramatic and colorful than the average major defense purchase. Given the profit potential of any contract to supply modern fighters to the Indian Air Force (“IAF”), we would expect fierce competition from fighter jet manufacturers accompanied by massive propaganda campaigns from both government and corporate sources. We would not be disappointed.

 

UAE F-16 Block 60 Similar to F-16 Block 70 Offered to India Image public domain, wikimedia commons

UAE F-16 Block 60
Similar to F-16 Block 70 Offered to India
Image public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The technical aspects of the competition have been debated by millions of passionate aviation “experts.”

Unfortunately, most of those “experts” either have no experience in piloting or aerospace engineering, or they work for companies connected to the competition. My purpose in publishing this article is not to add to the technical and political debates. My hope is to consider some interesting geopolitical/geo-corporate questions that have arisen from the long and dramatic procurement process. My spellchecker is resisting the term “geocorporate,” but I fear that the time has come when the term is both fair and depressingly relevant.

The IAF wants a new fighter.

It wants a fighter that is better than their current hodgepodge mix of aircraft from a slew of countries and manufacturers. For both domestic and foreign political reasons, the IAF also wants guarantees of parts and weapons availability without interference from the governments where the aircraft is manufactured each time the political climate changes in those governments.

For domestic political reasons, the Indian government wants major technology transfer and local work cost offsets of 50%.

For those who are not acquainted with industry jargon, that means the Indian government wants the ability to use the same or similar technology to produce the same or similar products, and it wants half of the cost of production to be spent in India.

The serious competitors for India’s fighter deal were France’s Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Sweden’s Gripen. Other competitors offered their products but were, justifiably, seen as dark horses in the race for the huge contract.

US Boeing half-heartedly offered the F-18 Super Hornet, but perhaps did so with the hope of eventually convincing the IAF to consider them for use on future Indian carriers. The F-18 would not seem to be ideally suited for the IAF’s particular requirements.

US Lockheed Martin offered the F-16 C/D. Given the age of the airframe design and India’s desire for a massive technology transfer, it seemed unlikely that India would choose the F-16. It didn’t.

Russia straight-facedly tried to offer up everything in their inventory, along with a few things not actually in their inventory.

Given the IAF’s torturous troubles in dealing with Russian aircraft companies Mikoyan and Sukhoi on previously purchased fighters, there seemed little chance of the IAF choosing a fighter from Russia. The IAF has been sold too many lemons over India’s decades of purchasing Russian military equipment, and the Russians have refused to uphold warranty promises. Russia may have saved money in the short term by screwing India on these deals, but in the process, it pretty well lost a customer.

The IAF has been pleased with the performance of the Dassault Mirage 2000s that they previously purchased from France.

The Mirages have performed well for it. Also, when the rest of the West embargoed weapons sales to India in response to nuclear weapons tests or conflicts with Pakistan and China, France continued to supply weapons and parts to India. Naturally, India has remembered this. Likewise, the IAF is confident that unless it starts bombing the very best restaurants and art museums in Paris, Dassault will remain willing to take their cash.

Without even considering technical arguments, the Swedish Gripen relies on critical parts from other nations, making it unlikely. Getting those nations to agree to a Swedish export of their technologies to India was going to be about as easy as getting all of France to switch to a Swedish cuisine diet. If you’ve ever eaten in Sweden, you will recognize this proposition as absurd humor.

Note to Swedish people: I like you. You are lovely people. Most of your food sucks.

But back to fighter planes…

The Eurofighter Typhoon might have met the technical requirements set forth by the IAF, but India would be at the mercy of the governments of Germany, the UK, and Italy for parts and weapons if they ever tried to do something crazy with those Eurofighters like perhaps fight with anyone. The Eurofighter, like the Grippen was a bad political choice.

In January 2012, to nobody’s real surprise, the Indian Government announced that the Dassault Rafale had won the competition for the huge contract of 126 multirole fighters.

It was a slam dunk for Dassault. Almost. As my grandma told me, the devil’s in the details.

Dassault was anxious to deliver the Rafales. The IAF was anxious to receive them. I was not going to hold my breath waiting for the first Rafale to be delivered to the IAF.

The small matters of price and warranties remained to be settled. Dassault vacillated on the price as India pressed for more technology transfer.  The pricing started high, then got lower, then got higher again, then lower, etc. As the months and years passed, the first Rafale fighter was never delivered because the parties could never agree to details on price, warranty, and technology transfer. Unlike the average American tourist in Paris, the IAF was willing to argue about the bill.

Finally in March 2014, India and France announced that the first 18 aircraft would be delivered to India in flying condition – off the rack, so to speak – at a cost of $200 million + per fighter. Another 108 would be 70 percent built by HAL Corporation of India. The 18 seemed to me like a very high priced improbability, and building more with 70% construction by Hal in India struck me as more fanciful than home fusion generator trash disposal units.

In April of 2015, India indeed announced that the purchase had advanced to the long anticipated “Hell no, we won’t buy any” stage of the negotiations.  No cash, no new fighters, nothing.

And then Lockheed Martin slipped in and knocked on the back door with a very interesting proposal.

Lockheed Martin offered to move its entire production of F-16s to India if India would upgrade the order to the F-16 Block 70 model.

Instead of technology transfer debates, Lockheed Martin will let India build the fighters on a Lockheed Martin system installed for less than $30 Million per fighter.

And as grandma would say, again, the devil is in the details.

Lockheed Martin can propose all they want, but the US government will have to completely agree to all the details of any transfer of F-16 technologies and production to India.

Many US allies fly the F-16.

Some fly newer, recently-built versions and will be flying them for a long time. In fact, without any new orders, Lockheed Martin will be busy turning out F-16s for at least another year to satisfy current orders. Neither Lockheed Martin nor the US government wants to aggravate these allies by telling them to get their parts from India.

The Pakistan Air Force flies F-16s.

For Pakistan, which is in a state of perpetual low level war and near-war with India, hating India is central to its dogma. How many parts will India send to Pakistan? Maybe a few nylon seat covers and some cool looking decals. That’s about it. In effect, Lockheed Martin is telling the Pakistan government to piss off.

The Lockheed Martin offer is not officially coming from the US government.

If John Kerry visited Pakistan tomorrow, he would swear to them that he loves Pakistan, roots for the Pakistani national cricket team, loves Pakistani food, and that some of his best friends are Pakistanis. John would not believe any of it, and neither would anyone in Pakistan.

Though the Lockheed Martin proposal has not yet received US government approval, it’s hard to believe that the Lockheed Martin tail is wagging the US government dog.

The Lockheed Martin proposal to India represents a major shift in US foreign policy toward both India and Pakistan. Is the US finally accepting that Pakistan has never been and never will be anything like an ally? Are we offering a closer relationship to India?

My guess is that Lockheed Martin and India will not conclude the deal in its current form. At this point, the proposal can be withdrawn for any number of reasons, but the message to both India and Pakistan will stand. India might not take the Lockheed Martin offer seriously, but Pakistan must.

Turkey and The Little Coup That Couldn’t

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

One of the most pressing national security issues for the US and NATO is the recent coup disaster in Turkey. Along with the people of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, NATO state citizens, Americans, and the Putin gang are all pondering the same questions. . . . What really happened in Turkey, and what does it mean for us?

 

Turkish No-Coup Protest Image by Pivox, wikimedia commons.

Turkish No-Coup Protest
Image by Pivox, wikimedia commons.

 

The coup attempt resembled another poorly directed episode from a comically bad Mexican telenovela. Much speculation and media frenzy has focused on the “who,” “what,” and “why” aspects of the coup.

The “who” depends on whom you ask.

Some Westerners are certain that Putin quietly sponsored the coup. I am always happy to blame dastardly schemes on Putin and his thugs. However, while in many cases “Putin” is the right answer, in this case I don’t think it is.

I have two reasons for not blaming Putin.

The first is that although the Erdogan government in Turkey is suspected of helping Islamic terrorists in Russia, and although Erdogan wants Syria for himself rather than for the Russians or Iranians, Putin does not take him very seriously as a threat.

Putin does not like the Erdogan Circus, and he sees Erdogan as an ineffective and inept clown. If Erdogan were to be replaced, then nearly any Turk would be a more formidable opponent. Erdogan is an effective conqueror, but he’s only effective at conquering Turkey. Beyond Turkish borders, Erdogan is a run-of-the-mill inept political hack. Putin would not wish to spin the dice for a new leader in Turkey. There are scenarios that we could imagine where Russia would hand pick a successor to Erdogan, but that would involve risky gambling that Putin does not find necessary.

The second reason for doubting that there are Russian weasels at the bottom of the Turkish coup disaster is that the Russians are better at running a coup than the coup organizers were in Turkey.

Other folks are certain that the CIA is behind the coup attempt.

It is not. Lots of folks are certain that the CIA gives orders to Obama. It doesn’t, and neither Obama nor the CIA would wish to throw Turkey into instability or civil war by instigating a coup.

Like the Putin gang, the US has enough reasons to be disgusted with Erdogan. He has stabbed the US in the back on more than one occasion, and he is a one way “ally” for NATO. Erdogan’s NATO motto is, “All for Erdogan, and to hell with you guys.” The US and NATO could easily conduct better relations with almost any randomly selected Turkish citizen over the age of twelve.

The problem is that the CIA and the State Department are very aware that Erdogan has spent over a decade crushing opposition and making himself coup-resistant by using the tried-and-true “Stalin purging” method of government. Any coup in Turkey could easily have ended up looking like another Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lansing, etc. The US wants a Turkey that is stable enough to allow the US to operate from bases in that country. It’s easier and a little cheaper to bomb ISIS idiots from bases in Turkey rather than having to conduct all operations from further afield.

The second reason why you can be certain that the US did not organize a coup attempt in Turkey is that, like the Russians, the CIA is better at it.

The CIA is not big on the “find ten thousand co-conspirators” method of coup organizing. Any coup attempt involving so many conspirators will always have a security problem, and that makes success less likely.

Personally, I would never conduct a coup, but theoretically speaking, if my evil twin were to throw a coup, I am certain that he would use the “dispose to depose” method. I know. It’s so old fashioned and makes for dull reading, but it’s way more effective than the silly modern “tell him he’s deposed, and maybe he’ll let us depose him” method.

All in all, it’s sad that a nation like Turkey, with such a proud tradition of quick and effective military coups, ended up with such a half-assed coup. It’s damned embarrassing for the international coup fraternity.

As for the “who,” the Western media is fascinated with the question of how much Fethullah Gulen was involved in organizing the failed coup.

 

 

Gulen was Erdogan’s ally until he realized that Erdogan was perfectly capable of jumping in bed with jihadis – which Erdogan did. Since the two men parted ways, they have been opponents. Erdogan targeted and marginalized Gulen’s friends and supporters within Turkey, but Gulen remains popular with the people. In spite of that remaining popularity, the coup organizers did not need Gulen or his supporters to get the ball rolling because Erdogan has done such a good job inciting a coup against himself by just being Erdogan.

The remaining question of “who” is not all that important. The “what” ended up being damned sloppy, and the “why” is the easiest part of this shallow mystery.

Erdogan is a creep, and lots of folks in and out of Turkey wish that he would vanish. No news there. Hating Erdogan is more popular than playing Pokémon in Turkey.

This leaves us all with the more important question, “Now what?”

Unfortunately, the answers are as ugly as they usually are when one asks a Mid-Eastern region question.

I know that a lot of folks on the Middle Eastern teams at the CIA will be aghast at my willingness to simplify the Turkish picture. But let’s compare it for a moment to a Kandinsky painting. Is another gallon of spilled house paint or a gallon less of spilled house paint really going to improve the picture? It is ugly, and it will remain ugly. It hurts to look at it, and it will still hurt tomorrow. Just like a Kandinsky painting, if you think about it at night, you won’t sleep.

As we all know, and as any reasonable soul would predict, Erdogan is using the coup flop to conduct his biggest Stalinist purge ever.

He’s enjoying it. His poor wife is probably happy that he finally found something that helps his marital life better than all those blue pills that he tried. (Word on the street is that it’s been a long time since Erdogan has been able to bring this much enthusiasm to his home life.) Unfortunately, along with her husband, she and Erdogan’s unfortunate mistresses are the only ones seeing any “up tick” from this lousy coup.

Erdogan will continue to scream at the US and make all sorts of demands.

 

Recep Tayyip Erdogan & Barack Obama Image by State Dept., public domain.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan & Barack Obama
Image by State Dept., public domain.

 

Secretary of State John Kerry will continue to fuss over his hair and try to look like a male model when he gets off the plane in Turkey. Kerry will make his regular meaningless statements when dealing with Turkey. The President (this one or the next) will look “deeply concerned” and not do much.

Europe will continue to respond with another frightening “Euro-frown,” and Turkey will continue to not care.

The good news for the West is that even a dope like Erdogan knows that in the final analysis, since he lives next to Iraq, Syria and Russia, and we don’t, he can only push his snotty temper tantrums so far.

Erdogan has always wanted a bigger, more powerful military to make him more relevant. Despots hate being laughed at when they make threats. He has planned for and tried to finance that better military, and he fantasizes about an indigenous 5th generation fighter for Turkey. It won’t happen under an Erdogan government.

Unfortunately for Turkey, Erdogan has always been more effective at destroying his own military than destroying his foreign enemies. If Erdogan had a campaign slogan to share with the US audience, it would be “don’t hope for any change.” The future of Turkey, Turkish-NATO relations, and Turkish-US relations will continue to look a lot like the last ten years, just slightly worse.

People’s Republic of China — The Pirate of the South China Sea

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On July 12, 2016, a landmark event occurred for the South China Sea — the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against the People’s Republic of China in a case filed by the Philippines under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, rejecting China’s claims to western Philippine islands.

 

China's Maritime Claim (red) UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue) Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

China’s Maritime Claim (red)
UNCLOS Exclusive Economic Zones (blue)
Image by Goran Tek-en, wikimedia commons.

 

In 2013, the Philippines filed the case as a direct challenge to Communist China’s expansive territorial claims that stretch to within a hundred miles of the Philippines west coast.

The court’s ruling makes it clear that the international community has rejected China’s imperialist aggression in the South China Sea. There are no enforcement provisions in the UN convention, so the court ruling against China does nothing to directly prevent it from continuing to expand its presence in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the ruling is a major diplomatic and public relations disaster for China’s imperialist agenda.

The ruling matters to several countries for several different reasons.

It completely validates the positions of Communist China’s opponents in the dispute. Since the ruling, Indonesia, Malaysia, and to a lesser extent Borneo have experienced an increase in public interest in opposing the China’s aggression.

In the Philippines, the public celebrated the ruling while protesting against China.

Interestingly, the current administration in the Philippines has, with less fanfare, increased its efforts to negotiate economic sharing of the South China Sea. China is happy to play along with negotiations, but their word will be about as good as it usually is, which is not at all.

In Vietnam, the response has been less public.

Vietnam continues to oppose the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea dispute, but it has been careful this week to not allow public anger against China to manifest in the form of protests at Chinese diplomatic facilities in Vietnam. For the moment, Hanoi is taking a quiet but determined approach in dealing with China and is happy for the conflict to be framed as a Philippine-China problem on public relations terms. Vietnam’s caution is understandable. The closest points of land between the Philippines and Communist China are over 500 miles away from each other. The distance from China to Vietnam is only an inch.

The government of France made what might appear to be a surprising, or perhaps comical, move by announcing that it will support free navigation in the South China Sea by conducting freedom of passage exercises.

France has stated that it remains devoted to international law and order . . . Right. Maybe so. But for the moment, I’ll view France’s “freedom of navigation plans” in the South China Sea with a bit of historical context.

For reasons of free trade, France, along with nearly everyone on the globe, has a legitimate interest in the free navigation of the South China Sea. Additionally, France understandably wants to maintain maritime communications through the South China Sea between its colonial outposts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. However, as far as France’s noble and rather sudden religious devotion to global peace law and order, I remain skeptical. This is the same nation that wanted to deliver two Mistral class carriers to Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Currently, the French government is continuing to do all that it can to support the French defense industry through the export of warships, fighter planes, air transports, armor, artillery etc. If it could convince anyone that croissants or French lingerie were useful defense products, they’d be busy boxing some up at this very moment. Come to think of it, French lingerie would be a major improvement at all those damned boring European defense industry expos. I’ll take a French lingerie model over a skanky Airbus 400 any day.

French freedom of navigation exercises won’t do much to dissuade Beijing’s imperialist agenda, but they might drum up some nice weapons sales for French corporations.

I’m not at all opposed to France competing in the world arms market. For one thing, people that are forced to share a planet with the likes of Communist China, North Korea, Russia, and the various Jihadistans have a right to defend themselves. Some of the less fortunate countries don’t have a Lockheed Martin, an Airbus, or a Finmeccanica on which to lavish trillions of dollars or euros. These less fortunate nations must lavish their paltry billions on foreign suppliers.

When the capitalist warmongering US or the holier-than-thou peace loving European nations manage to sell their defense products on the international market, it enables their defense industries to maintain higher quality and innovation in the weapons that their own militaries use.

France is, after all, an ally of the US and an important member of NATO. So that’s fine if the French can drum up another big defense contract. I just don’t want to gloss over France’s arms sales campaigns with anything like “…devoted to international law and order,” or any other pseudo socialist pabulum.

In China, the response has been predictable and highly managed as ever.

The People’s Republic of China has allowed an egg throwing festival-type protest against the demon aggressor Obama. The government provided members of its public with large quantities of eggs and posters of Obama to use as targets. If China didn’t have nuclear weapons, they’d be so damned funny.

In Beijing, no protests were allowed at the US or Philippine embassies. Also, China has minimized the rage factor against Obama and the Philippines on the internet. The interesting thing is that China is choosing not to overextend its credibility with the Chinese public by overplaying the old “rage against the capitalists” routine.

That restraint tells us something important — Communist China is not as confident as it likes to pretend to be about its ambitions in the South China Sea.

While swearing that it will never back down an inch, it in fact is hoping to negotiate a face saving way out of its South China Sea public relations disaster. Otherwise, it would be encouraging a much more toxic rage in the Chinese public.

The People’s Republic of China routinely relies on manufactured outrage to try to manage public and international policy. It’s a tough habit to break, even momentarily. For Communist China, its most dangerous and vicious opponent in the South China Sea remains Communist China. That is perhaps the one thing that it and the US have in common in the South China Sea.

So what does all this mean to US taxpayers?

The US administration won’t gloat about the ruling against China. Along with everyone else, the US expected this result, but the US will continue to encourage Communist China’s neighbors to better develop their own defenses to deal with that country’s imperialist agenda.

The US will continue freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, but at the same time, this administration and congress won’t take the obvious steps for opposing China’s imperial agenda by withdrawing its “most favored nation” status.

Corporate America and American consumers will continue to support Communist China’s economy by purchasing low quality overpriced junk from it. The trade balance between the US and China will remain hideously unfavorable to US taxpayers and the US economy, but don’t expect this congress or this administration to do anything about it. They won’t.

The important silver lining to all this is that although the People’s Republic of China will never admit it to the Chinese people, it clearly does not intend a major military escalation in the Pacific.

Its usual temper tantrums are not working, and in China, as on Wall Street, money talks. The shrill Communist Chinese rhetoric will continue, but expect some quiet back alley diplomacy from the Chinese in the next few years.

The People’s Republic of China will demand everything, but it will take what it can get.

US-India Alliance — The Joker in the South China Sea Poker Game

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

One of the most important US-Asia relationships is that of the US and India. Like the US, India has no territorial claim in the South China Sea. However, because of its size and its location on oil trading routes, India has the potential to greatly impact any strategic balance in the South China Sea region.

 

US Pres. Obama & India Prime Minister Modi Image by Pete Souza, public domain.

US Pres. Obama & India Prime Minister Modi
Image by Pete Souza, public domain.

 

The US is the oldest democracy. With approximately 1.3 billion people, India is the largest democracy.

India’s population is currently only slightly smaller than that of the People’s Republic of China, and it is trending to surpass Communist China in 2028. Both countries’ national economies have grown substantially during the past twenty years, but Communist China’s economic growth, much of it fueled by the US and other Western consumers, has outstripped India’s by nearly three times. Indian politicians and business leaders are aware of that, and their desire to increase trade with the West is impacting foreign policy debates in India.

While India has no territorial claim in the South China Sea region, it needs to freely navigate the South China Sea to reach markets in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

Freedom of navigation in that region directly impacts India’s ability to increase exports and potentially import energy and food. As a result, what happens in the South China Sea matters in the corporate boardrooms of Mumbai and in the homes of the Indian people, giving India a keen interest in the region.

Historically, the US and India have always maintained civil, if not always friendly, relations, and most Americans and Indians hold favorable views of each other in spite of the two nations’ other alliances.

Shortly after its independence, India established strong diplomatic relations with the USSR, and the USSR, now Russia, has traditionally been India’s biggest supplier of technology and military hardware. India’s close relations with Russia were driven by two major factors. One factor was India’s continuous multi-border disputes with China in conjunction with Moscow’s break with Communist China during the East-West Cold War. The other factor was, and remains, Pakistan.

Pakistan vacillates between near-war and low-intensity war with India.

That constant hostility has at times been much larger in the minds of Pakistanis than in the minds of most Indians, but coupled with terror strikes by Pakistani-controlled groups, the continuous enmity makes it impossible for Indians to ignore US military aid to Pakistan.

In spite of this, most Indians are willing to establish an equitable peace with Pakistan.

For Indians, the center of the universe is not located anywhere in Pakistan. For many important Pakistani power brokers, the center of the universe must continue to appear to be in India. By remaining in or near a state of emergency, the Pakistani intelligence establishment and some Pakistani military leaders have been able to maintain an inordinate and unhealthy influence over Pakistani politics.

Given India’s conflicts with China and Pakistan, along with US support for Pakistan, it’s easy to understand how India built strong ties with Russia.

This may be changing somewhat, but don’t expect a complete halt to the import of Russian military equipment. India has shown a desire to reduce its reliance on Russian military hardware, but its goal is not to replace Russian suppliers with Western suppliers. Its goal is to replace Russian suppliers with Indian suppliers. The trick is, of course, developing adequate Indian suppliers.

With a massive labor surplus and high unemployment in India, the political pressure to “buy Indian” is now a major factor in Indian politics.

And remember, unlike Communist China, India is a democracy, and the public’s concerns drive foreign and domestic policies. As in other democracies, that linkage is never as direct as the voters would prefer, but no Indian politician can ignore major domestic concerns and survive in office.

Ideally, India could do whatever is needed and take however long it needs to accommodate the powerful “buy Indian” agenda. Unfortunately, India is not in an “ideal world,” but rather in a world that finds them next door to Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China – a very “un-ideal” neighborhood, indeed.

India has access to European military equipment. To the displeasure of the ruling Pakistani junta, India has now also been granted nearly the same level of access to US-made military hardware as that enjoyed by close US allies. At the same time, for a variety of well-founded reasons, Pakistan has been facing more difficulty in acquiring high tech US military hardware.

To the displeasure of US military suppliers, India has yet not showered cash on them. Deals with the US and other Western suppliers are announced with much fanfare. Those deals usually die at the cash register with far less fanfare.

In one concrete sign of closer US-India relations, India and the US are “cooperating” in the construction of new Indian aircraft carriers and other new Indian Navy ships. What “cooperating” will end up looking like precisely is difficult to say, but if real cooperation occurs in these projects, then that may be a clear indicator of growing ties between India and the US.

It’s not surprising that in a nation of 1.3 billion people, not everyone agrees about the direction that Indian foreign policy should take.

China and Russia’s willingness to improve their relations enough to forge a massive natural gas deal has many Indians wondering about the possibility of improving relations with China and eventually receiving much-needed natural gas from Russia via Chinese pipelines. China is currently paying much less for Russian natural gas than India is paying for Middle East natural gas.

On paper, the concept of a Russia-China pipeline looks good to India, unless that paper is being viewed in China.

China had a huge motive for accepting a gas deal from their old enemies to the north. China feels fragile and insecure about its short term and long-term energy needs. And it should. Increased energy costs could throw the Chinese economy into near chaos. Helping India gain access to cheaper natural gas would make India a competing consumer for Russian natural gas. It would also help India realize its dreams of military modernization, and it would help that country compete for a larger share of Western export markets. China wants to help India improve its military and its economy about as much as I want to live in Syria – not one damned bit.

Overall, we will likely see closer economic and military ties between the US and India, but it will not happen overnight.

Most Indians are politically rational. They neither wish to become “pro-American,” nor “pro-Western.” They simply wish to find a way to be effectively “pro-Indian.” India’s desire to pursue a pro-Indian agenda in no way conflicts with US or European goals in Asia.

While it is unlikely that India will want or be able to exert much military influence in the South China Sea over the next decade, India remains a critical factor for any Chinese military strategy. Just as India needs to freely navigate the South China Sea, China even more critically needs to navigate the Indian Ocean.

The world champion diplomatic double talkers in Beijing love pretending to ignore India’s influence in Asia. That plays well to the captive Chinese audience, but not so well in the geopolitical reality. India’s slowly growing strength in the Indian Ocean will act as an indirect but strong deterrent to Communist China’s escalation of hostilities in the South China Sea.

In our next article we will consider the overall geopolitical realities in the South China Sea.

US-Vietnam Relations — The Healing Power of Cash

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Due to Communist China’s aggression in the South China Sea, or as the Vietnamese call it, the Eastern Sea, the US has become interested in building a closer relationship with Vietnam. Despite strong emotions on both sides, the changing relationship with Vietnam is less complicated and less subtle than the relationships that the US has with other South Pacific nations. However, it is not without obstacles.

 

US Pres. Obama & Vietnam Pres. Tran Dai Quang Presidential Palace, May 23, 2016 Image public domain.

US Pres. Obama & Vietnam Pres. Tran Dai Quang
Presidential Palace, May 23, 2016
Image public domain.

 

Understanding the forces that drive the US/Vietnam relationship is easy if we consider a few key events since the end of the US involvement in the Vietnam War in 1973.

From the point of view of many US citizens, building a working relationship with the communist Vietnamese government is something new and innovative. From Hanoi’s point of view, it is something natural that should have happened a long time ago.

It might surprise many Western Cold War survivors to know that Hanoi fully expected to quickly normalize relations with the US once it was able to capture and control South Vietnam. US President Richard Nixon had ordered an increased bombing campaign against North Vietnam to force Hanoi to return to the Paris Peace Talks. Both the North Vietnamese government and the US government understood that those peace talks were pure theater and without any potential lasting value, but Nixon felt he needed to create the appearance of a peaceful settlement to the conflict. All Nixon really wanted was for the US to pull out of South Vietnam.

When President Nixon told the South Vietnamese government that the US military would return if North Vietnam broke the peace treaty, he knew that he was lying. The South Vietnamese government knew it, as well, but there was nothing it could do about it. Years of blatant corruption and criminality in the South Vietnamese government, combined with the thousands of deaths of young Americans, had left much of the American public unwilling to continue to support South Vietnam. Nixon fully understood that the US public was done with Vietnam.

Westerners understood that Nixon was clearly using a “big stick” approach against the North Vietnamese government in order to force them back to the transparently farcical Paris Peace Talks, but most were unaware that Nixon and his soon-to-be Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were also quietly holding out a large carrot to the North Vietnamese government. That carrot was a normalization of relations with the US, trade agreements, and US influence to allow North Vietnam access to the International Monetary Fund.

The North Vietnamese government carefully considered the offers from Nixon, and after about two minutes fully agreed. What could be more splendid than the US showering North Vietnam with cash instead of bombs? In response to Nixon’s offers, Hanoi suggested that the US quickly develop offshore oil reserves in Vietnamese territory with a perfectly reasonable revenue sharing formula. The communists in Hanoi were clearly in love with capitalism.

Hanoi wanted to become something like a new Saudi Arabia.

The automobile-addicted Yankees would get more oil, and Vietnam would get cash. And here is the subtle little detail that mattered most in all this. Hanoi expected its “capitalist Yankee dog” enemies to become Vietnam’s beloved allies against Vietnam’s problematic neighbor, the People’s Republic of China.

It might be difficult for Americans that remember the Vietnam War to believe that the Hanoi government would have been capable of an alliance with the US after the Vietnam War.

If we consider the North Vietnamese view for a moment, it’s a little easier to understand how they might have hoped for our bombing campaigns to be converted to cash-dropping operations. From Hanoi’s perspective, the US had spent more than a decade lavishing cash, equipment, and young American blood on a wildly corrupt South Vietnamese government in exchange for nothing.

So why then would the Yankees not do the same for a wildly corrupt communist Vietnam in exchange for oil rights?

It made perfect sense to the pragmatic Kissinger, the impatient Nixon, and to everyone else involved in the Vietnam quagmire. It would have worked except for another critical event. To the surprise of no sober adult in Vietnam or the US, the North Vietnamese could not resist invading and conquering South Vietnam after the US military went home. They miscalculated. Oil or not, the US was not going to become close friends with Hanoi once Hanoi so completely violated the Paris Peace Treaty.

So, all “that” explains why communist Vietnam would pretend to be our friend now. Now let us consider why the US government might be willing to pretend it believes that the Vietnamese are our friends.

The answer is simple enough to express in one word – China.

It is easy for the Vietnamese communists to abandon their own dogma and do business with their old “Imperialist Yankee dog” enemies in the face of the more avaricious Communist Chinese imperial aggression. In the face of that same Chinese Imperialist campaign in the Pacific, the US government is willing to cooperate and even aid its old “communist terrorist” enemies.

Vietnam understands that the USA does not wish to install a “Pax Americana” in the South Pacific. It understood that we weren’t even willing to install a “Pax Americana” in South Vietnam, and it counted on that fact in its strategy in the 1960s and 1970s. For other South Pacific nations, an escalated conflict with China is future possibility to be avoided. For the Vietnamese, it is a reality that they have experienced many times over, and as recently as 1979, when China again invaded Vietnam. For the Obama administration, convincing the Vietnamese to take the Chinese Imperialist agenda seriously is about as difficult as convincing a teenager that sex is good.

Changes in the US-Vietnam relationship can be measured by key steps the two countries have taken.

On January 13, 1993, the US Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs gave a favorable final report that cleared the way for the Clinton Administration to resume IMF and World Bank lending to Vietnam. For Americans such as me, who were still waiting for a loved one to return from Vietnam, the fact that Vietnam had conducted a visible long-term effort to account for all US MIAs in Southeast Asia mattered a great deal. For the Vietnamese, access to the IMF and World Bank mattered a great deal financially.

On February 3, 1994, US President Bill Clinton partially lifted the trade embargo on Vietnam. This was a boon for the Vietnamese economy and provided US corporations with an alternative to cheap Chinese manufacturing labor.

On July 11, 1995, US President Bill Clinton announced the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In November 2003, the USS Vandergrift became the first US Navy vessel to make port call in Ho Chi Minh City since 1975. This initiated a regular schedule of US Navy calls at Vietnamese ports.

The US Congress approved Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Vietnam in January 2007. This further boosted US Capital investment in Vietnam.

In early October 2014, the United States approved a relaxation of its arms embargo on Vietnam.

In May 2016, President Obama announced the full lifting of the embargo during his visit to Vietnam.

Thus far, there has been little practical impact from lifting the embargo because Vietnam prefers to purchase less expensive weapons and systems from their Russian allies. However, one sign that that the trade agreement might benefit the US economy is the $11.3 billion pending Vietnamese agreement with Boeing for the purchase of 100 airliners. It is not clear to me where the cash will come from to make this deal a reality, but time will tell. There is also optimistic chatter about Vietnam purchasing P-3 Poseidon maritime reconnaissance planes, but I can’t see Congress and the DoD signing off on the sale of such high tech military systems to a close ally of Russia.

Many human rights groups feel betrayed by the Obama administration.

Critics of the lifting of the embargo feel that Obama could easily have demanded human rights reforms in Vietnam in exchange for such a lucrative agreement for Vietnam. Vietnam has clearly demonstrated that it is in no rush to improve human rights for their citizens. From a political point of view, Vietnam remains very similar to Communist China. The one difference is that Vietnam is reliably anti-Chinese, and, therefore, this administration and previous administrations have been willing to ignore Vietnam’s transparently horrible human rights record.

It’s tough to not see the parallel between current US Pacific strategy and the US strategy in Central America during the Cold War.

Then, as now, we have often been willing to tolerate wildly corrupt governments when they have opposed major enemies of the US. The philosophical and moral questions surrounding the current US administration’s willingness to do business with a despotic Vietnamese government are beyond the scope of this article and this series of articles. In the European tradition of “Realpolitik” and in step with the worldwide practice of self-interested political policies, the US has chosen to strengthen ties with Vietnam.

In my estimation, the relationship between the US and Vietnam will continue to grow. The next US presidential election will not likely disrupt this trend, regardless of which candidate wins.

In our next article, we will consider the relationship between the US and India, and India’s huge potential influence on South Pacific affairs.