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.

 

Kool-Aid 101: What is an AR-15?

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

Kool-Aid 101 Note: This is NOT a gun control post. Please don’t go there. This post is about propaganda.

 

CA-legal AR-15 w/Stag receiver and fixed 10-round magazine Image by TheAlphaWolf, public domain.

CA-legal AR-15 w/Stag receiver
and fixed 10-round magazine
Image by TheAlphaWolf, public domain.

 

The AR-15 is a small caliber rifle that looks really scary because it’s black and futuristic in appearance. There is nothing magical about it. It fires .223 caliber ammo. Most firearms and calibers are more powerful. It is considered a starter rifle by many shooters, and it is most often used for target shooting. The kids’ rifle team at my local rifle club uses them for competitions. It is a popular firearm because it is lower caliber and easy to control.

There is nothing that gives the AR-15 special “assault” capabilities.

It is not a good choice for warfare because it has no automatic weapon capabilities. One trigger pull = one shot, as with any other legal rifle. Actual weapons used in war, such as automatic weapons, which fire more than one round per trigger pull, are already illegal.

The term “assault weapon” has no consistent definition and is defined differently by each state. It is a term designed to grab the public imagination and play on public ignorance.

The current focus on the AR-15 is like the focus on marijuana in the 30s. Anyone remember Reefer Madness? That was a propaganda film put out at election time that portrayed marijuana as instantly turning normal people into insane wantons and murderers. The campaign was successful. The politician won the election, and 100 years later, we’re still dealing with the mess.

 

 

Hold whatever opinion you like about gun control (and DO NOT tell us your opinion about it), but please don’t reach your conclusions in ignorance. Whether you want gun control or not, this is an election year mass manipulation campaign. Keep in mind that agreeing with the goal of propaganda does not negate the fact that it is propaganda.

Again, this is NOT a post about gun control. It is a post about propaganda. Gun control comments belong in another venue and will be removed.

All the best to all of you as you navigate the Misinformation Highway during these troubled times.

 

US-Australia Alliance — Rocky Past, Solid Future

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

An important part of the current US Pacific strategy is the US-Australian alliance. Since World War II, both nations have remained allies. On the surface, that alliance appears to be straightforward and reliable from both sides of the alliance. However, while it has been reliable and consistent over time, it has not always been simple, and citizens in both nations have not always viewed it the same way.

 

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and US Pres. Obama Image by US govt., public domain

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and US Pres. Obama
Image by US govt., public domain

 

Both Australia and the US agree that their alliance is important, and while both governments avoid labeling the alliance as being primarily a shared defense against Chinese aggression, both governments work from that assumption in their relations with one another.

The biggest complications in US-Australian relations have generally come from public opinion, as opposed to conflicting policies. One stark example would be World War II.

Australia has only had an independent foreign policy since 1940. Previously, its foreign policy had been controlled by the UK. In spite of this, the Australian and US governments were able to work together very well during the war.

However, many citizens from the two countries did not work together quite so well. When US General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia, at the request of the Australian government, he took over overall command for allied forces for the Southwest Pacific area. MacArthur did a good job in military terms. In public relations terms, he was a disaster.

When Australian troops won important battles under horrible conditions, such as on the infamous Kokoda trail in New Guinea, MacArthur and his staff announced these victories as “AMERICAN (and allies)” victories. This was done loudly on three occasions. The Australian troops deserved the highest praise, but they received mostly criticism from MacArthur and his staff. Also, when joint forces consisting of US, Australian, and New Zealand troops won battles, MacArthur and his staff announced victories as “American” and usually failed to mention the Australians and New Zealanders at all. To make matters worse, thousands of Australian soldiers had been fighting and dying in North African campaigns for many months before the US fully entered the war. With so many young Australian men serving overseas, Australia was very vulnerable to Japanese invasion.

The US merchant marine fleet had already suffered heavy casualties in men, ships, and war materials in the North Atlantic prior to actually declaring war on Japan and its Axis partners. The UK needed fuel and food to survive, as well as millions of tons of war materials to rebuild its army. From the US point of view, committing to defend Australia was a major step requiring a monumental logistical effort. That logistical challenge had to be undertaken without decreasing the flow of supplies to the UK. In light of that difficult situation and Australia’s vulnerability to Japan, members of the Australian government chose not to take issue with MacArthur’s megalomaniacal personality because it assumed that, without a US General in command of the area, the US would be less generous in sending food, weapons, ships, planes, and troops to Australia.

With thousands of US servicemen roaming the streets of Australian cities and spending more money than most Australians could afford to spend, friction between the locals and the US troops increased.

On November 26, 1942, tensions boiled over in Brisbane, resulting in two days of rioting between US troops on one side and Australian troops and civilians on the other. One person was killed, and dozens were seriously injured before military and civilian police were able to regain control. Fortunately, despite the obvious animosity between many of the troops and civilians, the alliance between the US and Australian governments kept right on rolling.

While I have no reason to fear any further rioting between Australians and Americans, the public perceptions of the voters in Australia don’t always seem to be in step with Australia’s foreign policy toward the US. Like the US, Australia is a democracy and opinions change over time. With opinions, foreign policy and defense policies change as well. This is normal for any democracy.

For Americans, it can seem as though Australians don’t hold a favorable view of the US and its citizens. The issue is likely less serious than it may appear from the US point of view.

We Americans should consider that Australians may share the same basic language, but we do not share the same basic culture. For outsiders, Australians often don’t seem to like anyone including other Australians. Australians understand it differently. They simply have very different social norms than Americans do.

What most Australians do share in common with most Americans is an increasing concern over Communist China’s behavior in the South China Sea, and this is reflected in their changing defense policies. Australia is increasing its defense spending and has committed to several major defense programs. Australia is involved in the F-35 fighter program. Like many Americans, cost increases and testing delays have made some Australians wonder about the wisdom of the F-35 program. In spite of whatever rhetoric and soft-speak diplomacy we might hear from Australia, the F-35 program is strong evidence of a shared defense commitment between the US and Australia.

Much of the political rhetoric in Australia is designed with the People’s Republic of China in mind.

Communist China has made a strong career of being easily offended, outraged, and otherwise rabid and irrational whenever anyone from any country says anything that might be even slightly out of step with its dictatorship. China loves to pretend to expect everyone on the planet to cower toward its authority in the same way its own citizens must cower.

So why does Australia care if China gets upset? There are several reasons.

The obvious one is trade. China remains an important trade partner for Australia. For American observers, the less obvious reason is geography. We all know where Australia is on the map, but it’s not easy for Americans and Europeans to quite grasp how important Asia is in the minds of Australians. Australians recognize and accept the importance of their military and economic alliance with the US. They just don’t want it to be the single issue in their foreign policy. The US administration is in an election year, and naturally, the fanfare that accompanies any foreign policy substance is important. The Australians almost always prefer less fanfare.

While maintaining close relations with the US, Australia is also actively seeking better relations and trade with its Asian neighbors.

The Australian Ministry of Defense recently considered purchasing new submarines from Japan. Last month, the final decision was made to purchase French-made submarines. Ten years ago, it would have been politically difficult for any Australian politician to openly discuss the possibility of such a purchase from Japan. The fact that Australia is pursuing a broad foreign policy strategy is in no way a hindrance to US-Australian relations.

The current US-Australian alliance is healthy, and my best guess is that it will continue to improve. Australia will not always provide the political rhetoric that we might hope it would, but its foreign policy agenda for the Pacific region closely resembles the US agenda. This alliance is strong and will remain so in substance, regardless of changing political tides and rhetoric.

Next week, we will look at how US-Vietnamese relations are changing.

US/Asia-Pacific Alliances — Decision Time in Jakarta

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

As part of overall US strategy in the Pacific region, the US is attempting to forge a closer economic and military relationship with Indonesia. The Obama administration made improving ties with Indonesia a major priority when President Obama first took office in 2009. The White House and US State Department have maintained that priority during Obama’s seven years in office.

 

Indonesia Pres. Joko Widodo and US Secy. of State John Kerry (center) Image by US State Dept, public domain

Indonesia Pres. Joko Widodo
and US Secy. of State John Kerry (center)
Image by US State Dept, public domain

 

The White House has always been quick in declaring diplomatic victories following overseas trips by the President as well as after meetings with visiting heads of state and their ministers. In reality, the US-Indonesia “new alliance” remains a work in progress.

With the Philippines, Japan, and to a lesser extent Malaysia, we can clearly measure progress in the formation of a transpacific alliance in response to increased aggression from the People’s Republic of China. It is much more difficult gauge Indonesia’s intentions toward the US, its Pacific neighbors, and Communist China.

To interpret the foreign policy news from Indonesia, we need to consider a few critical facts concerning the Indonesian national identity.

First, like the Philippines and Malaysia, and unlike Japan, Indonesia lacks cultural unity.

Indonesia’s 250 million citizens are quite diverse and, in many areas, quite parochial. The official language is Indonesian, but tribal languages still persist in rural regions. When Indonesian President Joko Widodo wakes up in the morning, he doesn’t need to hear a morning report to know what his priority for the day is. That priority has been the same for every Indonesian President since the country achieved its independence in 1945 – to “unite the people.”

Foreign policy is important to Indonesia, but internal issues remain their day-to-day first priority. This does not mean that we cannot build real cooperation with Indonesia. It means we can’t expect it to be represented the same way in the Indonesian media as it would be in other countries in the region.

Second, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, but it is a secular democratic state.

Over 85% of Indonesians describe themselves as practicing Muslims, but Islam in Indonesia is far less “centralized” and regimented than in Saudi Arabia. The national legal system is secular. Radical Islamic groups do exist, but they lack anything approaching popular support. Indonesia acts independently of their fellow Muslim countries in the Mideast, but the country is never comfortable publicly disregarding “Muslim interests” in favor of US-Indonesia relations. The White House should not expect Indonesia to trumpet US-Indonesian cooperation loudly.

Indonesia is showing clear signs of growing cooperation against China and growing cooperation with its neighbors, but it has to handle the public relations battle in the way that best suits its government and its people. Indonesia’s neighbors seem to understand this better than the US does. While the US and Japan are always concerned with the public message that is delivered to the People’s Republic of China, we cannot expect Indonesia to pursue a similar public relations strategy in the near future. The good news is that it is quietly willing to increase military cooperation with its neighboring states and the US.

A third fundamental fact concerning Indonesian national identity is that Indonesia sees itself as being the leader of the region.

Indonesia was instrumental in founding the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The headquarters for ASEAN is in Jakarta, Indonesia. ASEAN remains a major point of pride for the Indonesian government and people. It is something that they accomplished without the US, the UN, or anyone outside of the region. ASEAN is, in a sense, a symbol of Indonesian power and political identity.

Rather than disregard ASEAN, the US can work with ASEAN on the same issues over which the Obama administration has been trying to gain Indonesian cooperation for the last seven years. The US sees itself as being the leader in improving regional security against growing Communist Chinese aggression in Southeast Asia. The US strategy in the Pacific is based on shared concerns, but it relies heavily on US technology, military expertise, and US cash to improve defense capabilities in the region.

 

US & Indonesian Troops in Joint Training Exercise Image by USMC, public domain

US & Indonesian Troops in Joint Training Exercise
Image by USMC, public domain

 

In the case of Indonesia, the US will have to remain patient and allow that country the opportunity to redefine a US-Indonesian relationship that can fit into its national agenda. If that includes Indonesia being less publicly supportive of US-led initiatives in the area, then so be it. The White House must measure Indonesian policy and actions and ignore Indonesian rhetoric. In Indonesia, the rhetoric will never align with real policy quite the same way as it does in the Philippines or Japan.

A fourth major formative issue in Indonesia’s relations with the US is the People’s Republic of China.

China has lots of cash, and Indonesia needs Chinese trade and investment. We are asking Indonesia to abandon investment and trade from China at a time when the US national debt does not present a bright promising picture of economic perfection. This is not 1960, when the US was able to present a breathtakingly brilliant comparison to the dismal economies of the USSR or Communist China. Like any government, Indonesia cannot ignore its own business sector when conducting foreign relations. When it comes to economics, ASEAN can help bring Indonesia and the US closer in economic terms. Healthier regional and transpacific trade will help allow Indonesia to more confidently decrease economic ties with China.

Deciphering US-Indonesian relations takes some work, but one important positive fact gives reason for optimism. Indonesian democracy is stronger and more stable today than it was ten years ago, and the practice of democracy seems to be growing more complete each year. The Indonesian people know that their democracy is not perfect, but for the majority of Indonesians, expectations for democracy appear to be growing. In assessing the current state of US-Indonesian relations, there are reasons to be optimistic.

One of the greatest forces driving a closer US-Indonesia relationship is China itself.

Communist China has consistently shown itself to be unable to resist using intimidation and brute force when dealing with its Pacific neighbors. In theory, China believes in the “carrot and stick” method of diplomacy, but it has shown itself to be unskilled with the carrot and impatient to use the stick. Until very recently, Indonesia was carefully hedging its diplomatic strategies with regard to China. Recent news reports from Indonesia indicate a reluctance to see the US take a leading role in regional security. Indonesian actions tell a different story.

Indonesia recently (again) warned the People’s Republic of China that Chinese fishing boats illegally fishing in Indonesian waters would be detained. When Indonesia recently attempted to seize a Chinese fishing boat that was illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, the Chinese Coast Guard intervened and prevented the seizure. Indonesia was publicly outraged by the incursion and has filed a formal complaint against the People’s Republic of China. China will ignore the complaint, but in exchange for proudly saving one illegal fishing vessel, it has seriously damaged relations with Indonesia.

If the Obama administration has been somewhat clumsy in its attempts to expand the US-Indonesian alliance, it can at least count on its one sure bet – China enjoys flaunting its increased military ability in the Pacific. It plays well in the government-controlled media in China, but it undermines China’s own foreign policy goals.

In my estimation, relations and economic ties between Indonesia and the US will improve and, more importantly, Indonesia will focus on improving relations with its own neighbors in the region.

Next week we will consider US-Australian relations and the part that Australia plays in regional security in the Pacific.

US-Malaysia Alliance — Stronger Under the Surface

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

A key part of the evolving US strategic response to communist China’s nouveau-imperialist agenda in the Pacific is to strengthen its alliance with democratic Malaysia.

 

Malaysian P.M. Razak and US Secy. of State Kerry Image by US State Dept., public domain

Malaysian P.M. Razak and US Secy. of State Kerry
Image by US State Dept., public domain

 

At first glance, the relationship between the two nations can appear painfully complex and riddled with unresolvable contradictions.

Human rights issues and human trafficking in Malaysia remain the two major sticking points for the US congress in its outlook on Malaysia. On the other side, Malaysia is concerned about the successive US administrations’ bungling in Iraq. In reality, both governments have consistently maintained a clear understanding of each other’s motives, values, and actions.

Since the independence of Malaysia from the United Kingdom in 1957, a majority of Malaysians have considered the US to be Malaysia’s most important and reliable ally.

Overall, the US and Malaysian governments have done a good job in building a strong relationship between the two nations. The two countries don’t always agree on major policy issues, but neither has allowed those differences to prevent friendly cooperation.

The average Malaysian adult probably understands more about the US than the average US citizen understands about Malaysia. For Westerners to understand US-Malaysian relations, it is worth first considering how Malaysians view their own sense of political and cultural identity.

Religion is a big factor in Malaysian culture.

Malaysia is a majority Sunni Muslim nation, and Sunni Islam is the official national religion. However, its constitution guarantees freedom of religion. According to Malaysia’s last national census, 61% of Malaysians identify as practicing Sunni Islam. The rest of Malaysians are 19.8 % Buddhists, 9.2 % Christians, 6.3 % Hindus, 1.3% percent practitioners of traditional Chinese religions, and 0.5% Jews. Understanding Malaysian Muslim’s sense of religion is critical to understanding Malaysian foreign relations.

The Malaysian interpretation of Sunni doctrine is quite different from the Saudi Arabian or Pakistani interpretations.

The fact that Malaysians included freedom of religion in their constitution clearly sets them apart from most Sunni majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, where practice of all religions except Islam is outlawed. Radical Sunni jihadis can be found in Malaysia, but they are a small minority, and they receive far less sympathy in Malaysia than they do in other Islamic nations. However, individual Malaysians choose to define their own personal sense of their Sunni practice, and the net effect is clear. Overall, Malaysians are far better equipped to deal with the non-Muslim segments of their own society and with the larger world beyond Malaysia than are other Islamic nations.

A second major factor in Malaysian culture is its internal diversity.

Malaysia was formed from several different and distinct kingdoms, each with its own unique history and culture. Malaysians have always accepted that their fellow countrymen are not all the same in cultural terms. This seems to have left Malaysians with a fairly cosmopolitan outlook. For a Malaysian, being different is not synonymous with being “bad” or “wrong.” Malaysia’s ability to accept other religions and cultures has had a major influence on its foreign policy.

When the US is in conflict with other Sunni Muslim nations such as Iraq, the Malaysian government feels a need to publicly appear to be uncooperative with the US. In the case of Iraq, Malaysia has publicly disagreed with US foreign policy while quietly maintaining very close relations with the US.

Malaysian Prime Minister Naijib Razak has made it clear that a critical aspect of Malaysia’s response to communist China’s aggression in the South China Seas is to further strengthen Malaysian-US relations.

Razak is now facing new and substantial allegations of financial corruption, but thus far, they have not distracted him from his goal of further strengthening the US-Malaysian ties. On the US side, the US congress remains unhappy with human trafficking and human rights issues in Malaysia, but the White House has chosen to ignore those issues in order to further strengthen the US relationship with Malaysia.

While communist Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is a major factor in US-Malaysian relations, it is not a new factor in the relationship. Malaysia has always been leery of communist China. When other issues such as trade imbalances or the US war in Iraq have caused friction between Malaysia and the US, the “China factor” has been an overriding influence that keeps the two countries close.

A second major factor for Malaysia’s consistency in seeking close relations with the US is Indonesia.

Malaysia’s much larger Indonesian neighbors have consistently resisted close relations with Malaysia. Indonesia serves as a second near-guarantee that Malaysia will remain close to the US, but from the US point of view, it complicates efforts at building a strong regional cooperative response to China’s current imperialist agenda.

In practical terms, the strengthening alliance between the US and Malaysia will manifest itself in increased joint training and an increase in Malaysian military spending. Malaysia’s concern over the US war in Iraq will not derail US-Malaysia relations. The current US administration and the two major candidates for the next presidency will not allow human rights issues in Malaysia to define US-Malaysian relations. The US-Malaysian relationship will continue to appear fragile and complex, while in reality, it will remain strong. Communist Chinese dictator Xi Ping will continue to use intimidation as his primitive and blunt diplomatic tool of choice. Unfortunately for China, Malaysia is listening and taking him seriously.

In our next installment, we will consider the US-Indonesian relationship.

Chinese Aggression Spurs New Alliances for Japan

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is causing Japan to strengthen its alliance with the US and build new and unlikely partnerships with some traditional enemies.

 

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito Image by State Dept., public domain

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito
Image by State Dept., public domain

 

Building a stronger defensive alliance with Japan is the least challenging foreign policy task faced by the Obama administration. It is also the easiest foreign relationship from the point of view of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

Modern Japan and the US share similar political and social values, and both countries are strongly independent and democratic in structure and outlook. At times in the past, trade imbalances and the vast US presence in Okinawa have stressed the US-Japan relationship, but those issues never prevented strong military and diplomatic cooperation. The two countries have shared a consistently solid relationship since the founding of modern Japan in 1947.

To understand the US-Japan relationship, we should consider Japan’s geographic and political dilemmas.

Japan imports most of its fossil fuels and about sixty percent of its food. Free navigation of the seas is critical to Japan’s prosperity, and even to its very existence. To varying degrees Russia, China, and North Korea all pose serious threats to Japan’s national security. In a sense, Japan is the “Israel” of the Pacific. They have no allies in their region. Fortunately, this may be changing.

China remains bitter for the brutal invasion and occupation carried out by Imperial Japan during the first half of the twentieth century.

 

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Image public domain.

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
Image public domain.

 

China’s communist government has found it convenient for its political mythology to foment hatred toward Japan rather than seek reconciliation. Fifty years ago, Japan could afford to be less concerned with China’s hatred.

As the People’s Republic of China has begun to overcome its long history of inept and self-destructive government, it has been able to develop its massive population and considerable natural resources.

Having established a stronger economy and a stronger military, China has made itself more “relevant” in the Pacific. Unfortunately for them and for everyone else, they have chosen to seek “relevancy” and legitimacy through increased aggression toward their neighbors. As China’s military strength and aggressive attitude grows, so grows Japan’s concern for self-defense.

The one challenge that remains in US-Japan relations is Japan’s poor relationships with other US allies in the Pacific.

The US has had a close, though rather one-sided, relationship with South Korea since WWII. That relationship has been based on the US’s willingness to defend South Korea against its communist neighbors. While North Korea remains a menace and a constant nuisance to both South Korea and Japan, until recently that has not been enough motive to bring the two nations closer. Both South Koreans and North Koreans remain angry over the Japanese occupation prior to and during WWII.

However, there are now signs of a thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan.

To a degree, North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s increasing aggression are motivating Japan and South Korea to cooperate more on issues of trade and defense. It may take several more decades for South Koreans to form a more favorable view of Japan, but if the Japanese exercise some diplomatic skill, they may eventually be able to change their image in South Korea. This would enable more effective military cooperation against the growing threats from the North Koreans and China.

A similar three-way dilemma exists between Japan, the Philippines, and the US.

For the same historic reasons, Japan remains unpopular in the Philippines while the US maintains close relations with both countries. As with South Korea and Japan, the US has long hoped for and attempted to promote closer relations between the Philippines and Japan.

In the case of the Philippines, there have been strong signs of growing cooperation with Japan.

Recently, a Japanese warship took part in naval exercises with the US and the Philippine navies. Even as recently as two years ago, the presence of a Japanese warship in Philippine coastal waters would have been completely unwelcome in the Philippines. In another clear sign that China’s aggression is forcing Japan and the Philippines together, Japan is selling jet trainer aircraft to the Philippines. This sale is a major event in Philippine-Japan relations.

By quietly acting as a go-between, the US has been able to help Japan begin to build better relations with its Western Pacific neighbors.

In military terms, relations between Japan and the US are very good and getting better. Japan continues to allow the US to maintain considerable air and naval forces in Japanese territory, and the working relationship between US and Japanese forces is excellent. Senior military officers from both nations have a high degree of trust in each other’s ability and integrity. When the US and Japanese militaries make an agreement, both sides are confident that the agreement will be carried out.

Perhaps the single greatest impact thus far from China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea can be seen in Japan.

The Japanese constitution limits Japan to a relatively small self-defense force. While the Japanese self-defense force is small, it is high in quality. Whenever the Japanese government has committed to building ships for its maritime self-defense force, the ships have been well designed, well built, and delivered on time. Japanese politicians and voters are starting to consider expanding their military both in budgetary and doctrinal terms. In budgetary terms, Japan has made small increases in expenditures, and they are now developing their own stealth fighter. This new stealth fighter is in addition to Japan’s participation in the expensive US led F-35 program.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

In doctrinal terms, Japan was willing to participate in naval exercises in the Philippines.

Until recently, the Japanese government and Japanese voters would have considered such a deployment unacceptable. The Japanese voters still have a deep aversion for involving themselves in another war of aggression, but they are beginning to accept that the security of the Philippines directly impacts their own national security.

Over eighty percent of Japan’s oil comes from the Mideast. Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak disaster in 2011, Japan’s oil import requirements have increased. Free navigation of the international waters of the South China/West Philippine Sea is even more critical to Japan than it is to the Philippines.

The US has announced that the linchpin for US strategy in the Pacific will be the Philippines.

In reality, that only appears to be the case because of how little Japan needs to improve its self-defense as compared to how desperately the Philippines needs to build a credible military. For diplomatic reasons, both the US and Japan prefer to publicly keep the focus on the Philippines.

The relationship between Japan and the US has evolved in to one of equality, shared values, and genuine mutual respect. Whatever problems might arise between the US and Japan, the relationship will remain strong.

The Japanese people have no desire to create a Japanese hegemony in the Pacific, but China’s expansionist agenda has forced them to accept a greater role in international affairs in the region.

In our next episode, we will consider the changing US-Malaysian relationship.