China and Non-Proliferation: Can England Help?

English: This is the latest, authorised versio...

English: This is the latest, authorised version of the RUSI logo. RUSI, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forging UK-China Consensus on a Strengthened NPT Regime
Andrea Berger and Malcolm Chalmers, eds.

Royal United Services Institute
March 2012

As a nuclear power new to global leadership, China should play a key role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The question is what role it will play: team player or enabler of the legion of nuclear wannabees.

At the moment, China is something of a disruptive influence, in part because it sees the issue of non-proliferation through a different cultural and political prism than does the west. But a group of Chinese and British scholars have assembled a study that lays out areas where China and the west agree, and areas where there is actually more common ground than either side realizes.

This is an admirable work and an important one, and given that two of the authors, Shi Yongming and Guo Xiaobing, are members of influential think-tanks in Beijing, there is a chance that these ideas may well take hold in parts of the Chinese government.

We should not be too Pollyannish. In this year of transition, when the PLA is apparently pushing hard for a greater role in foreign affairs, getting China to commit to international norms of behavior is a long shot. But the effort has to start someplace, and the RUSI has done a service by creating a trans-national forum where the discussions on “how” might take place.

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A Swiss University Looks At Global Conflicts

English: Main building of the Swiss Institute ...

The Swiss Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strategic Trends 2012
Andreas Wegner and Daniel Möckli, eds.
Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich, 126pp. 

Each year, the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology takes an unselfconsciously Eurocentric look at the major issues in international affairs. For those of us fed on American and Australian security analyses, it is a help to get an occasional viewpoint-check from a transatlantic source.

This year is of particular interest, as China is front-and-center. The first chapter of the work is “China’s Uncertain Peaceful Rise,” written by CSS scholar Prem Mahadevan. While Dr. Mahadevan does not specialize in China, there is some brain-tickling thinking happening here. Specifically, he describes China as being divided betwen the “Core” and the “Frontiers,” and the way he divides the nation is fascinating. According to his analysis, less than half of China – the traditionally Han regions – are part of the nation’s core. There are profound implications of his analysis, and it is worth understanding and debating.

Other issues covered are Europe’s “strategic weakening” (a fascinating read after the NATO success in Libya), regional conflicts in the Horn of Africa, the shifting geopolitics of energy (with a heavy focus on China, naturally), and a fascinating look at how the world of cybersecurity is being taken over by the military.

In all, a superb read with fewer pages than your average issue of Foreign Affairs. Download at the link above.

Russian Nukes and European Security

Victory Day Anniversary Parade dress-rehearsal...

Image via Wikipedia

Over the past 22 years, the world has grown accustomed to thinking of the Russian military as a decrepit relic of the Cold War. For those who are watching carefully, there are growing signs that the bear is stirring from its post-Soviet hibernation. A recent naval deployment to the Caribbean, resumed long-range bomber patrols, and the conflict in Georgia several years ago are signs that Russia seeks to once again wield a respectable sword.

Part of that sword is Russia’s nuclear arsenal, now considerably smaller than that sported by the USSR, but substantial nonetheless. In 2010, the Russian armed forces laid out a doctrine under which such weapons would be used in the defense (broadly defined) of the motherland. That Russian leaders are once again contemplating the use of such weapons in combat has put Europe on alert.

In Nuclear Deterrence in Europe: Russian Approaches to a New Environment and Implications for the United States, James Quinlivan and Olga Oliker examine Russia’s new nuclear doctrine in the context of how Russia sees itself and its interests in modern Europe. In a post Cold War environment, the nuclear tripwire in Europe is no more as sensitive as it once was, and arguably it rests much further East. At the same time, as the authors point out, Russia sees its interests extending well beyond its geographic borders to countries with which it has “historic” ties.

The questions seem esoteric, but they define the extent to which a conflict with Russia in or around Europe would deteriorate into an atomic slugfest, even of a mere “tactical” nature. Does Russia see its interests extending into the former republics of the USSR, or indeed further into Europe? What is more, as Russian conventional forces are little match for its possible opponents, does this make it more likely that Russia will employ nuclear weapons in a future conflict?

The authors offer no easy answers, but they provide a path forward that makes it possible to act without seeing into the minds of the Russian leadership. Winston Churchill once wrote that, “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”

To their credit, Quinlivan and Oliker recognize that the formulation of Russian policy and action is no more transparent today than it was in Stalin’s Russia. By eschewing an updated version of the Kremlin-watchers craft from the Cold War and focusing instead on Russia’s stated interests, the authors begin to frame Europe’s response to a revived bear.

One final quibble I have with the authors is in their limiting the scope of their report to Russia’s policy vis-a-vis Europe. While they did so in order to keep the scope of the book manageable, or to ensure they did not venture beyond the ken of their own expertise, in so doing they create the illusion that Russia calculates its interests and actions one hemisphere at a time.

That is not the case. Russia and its leaders see themselves as much an Asia power as a European one, and the economic importance of Siberia, the Pacific, and the ‘Stans is now at least on a par with that of Europe. Russian irredentism is as strong in Asia as it is in the Black Sea, and even at the height of the German invasion of the USSR during World War II, Stalin never calculated his next move against Hitler without taking the situation in Asia into consideration. As such, a more encompassing study is in order, one that offers a full appreciation of why Russia sometimes sees itself as beset from all sides, and the strategic calculus that has developed as a result.

This is, however, a quibble. What the authors have wrought is the first of many studies we are likely to see of a re-emergent Russia and the new role it will play on the world stage.

The Road to Catalonia

Cover of "The Battle for Spain: The Spani...

Cover via Amazon

There are probably any number of reasons someone of my vintage might not know much about the Spanish Civil War.

Perhaps it is because I grew up in America, and there were probably far less than 10,000 Americans involved in the conflict, making it defensible to gloss over in courses on modern European history. Perhaps it is because the intervening years have seen Spain relegated to the back bench of European powers, thus making the civil war easy to ignore. Or perhaps it is because the conflict, waged between Franco’s facists on one side and the anarcho-socialist-communist Republic on the other, gave us anti-Facist and (after 1945) anti-Communist Americans no easy heroes?

In his masterful The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939, Anthony Beevor, who has written some of the best popular histories of World War II campaigns like Stalingrad, Crete, and the fall of Berlin, has taken on a far more complex conflict than the others. His task is thus ambitious: given a nation with whom few of us are familiar and a vast cast of characters who are all but alien and irrelevant to your average English speaker, allow us to follow the course of the conflict sufficiently to reach our own conclusions about it.

While there were moments about halfway through the book that I despaired of ever getting it all straight, not long afterward it was all coming together, even without the benefit of a good map or a scorecard of the major and minor characters. Along the way, Beevor makes it painfully clear that the war was inevitable. Spain needed to be yanked out of its somnambulant neo-feudalism, but a democratic republic could not accomplish the necessary changes against the opposition of the church and the landowners, and the radicals that captured and led the republic provoked an inevitable reactionary response.

There are few heroes, but Beevor hesitates just short of making either Franco or his radical opponents into villains. The Caudillo was as vain and power-hungry as the worst Latin despots and a mediocre commander, but one is left believing that if it had not been Franco, it would have been someone else, perhaps Jose Sanjurjo de Sacanell or Gonzalo Quiepo de Llano, Franco’s fellow generals and co-conspirators in the plot to overthrow the republic. The leaders of the republic, portrayed as fractious, squabbling, and mutually-distrustful, are tragic figures.

If there were evildoers in this saga, Beevor subtly points beyond Spain: at the Germans and Italians, who honed their arsenals and armies for World War II in supporting Franco; at the Russians, who supported the Republic but exacerbated its centrifugal politics; at the British and French, who feared giving Hitler an excuse to go to war more than they feared facism in Spain; and to the Vatican of Pope Pius XII, who framed the war as a Catholic jihad and mobilized the faithful around the world against helping the Republic.

Beevor’s other conclusions are even more provocative, but I will leave you to read the book and decide for yourself.

One last thought.

The framers of the Declaration of Independence understood that, at some point, even the most downtrodden of peoples must rise up and replace the government that has kept them there. The history of the past three centuries is replete with examples of successful revolutions, and these have framed our political thinking. But if we learn more from our failures than our successes, it behoves those of us who believe in the value of a modern, participatory state to spend more time studying the failed revolutions than the successful ones.

The Spanish Civil War was a failed revolution. With peoples from Malaysia to Tunisia rising up against their leaders, we must remember Catalonia, the Republic, the Spain that might have been, and we must understand why it was not. Only then can we comprehend the dangers of spontaneous risings as well as we do the opportunities.

The Iraq Effect: The Middle East After the Iraq War

More compelling Chinese New Year reading.

In this excellent analysis, researchers have pieced together what remains the most important untold story out of Operation Iraqi Freedom: American arms and blood have opened the door for opportunities for Russia and China.

This study raises some critical questions about who should be policing the global system – America, or an international consortium.

Contemporary Chinese Views of Europe

Seemingly lost amid all of the recent news coverage around the visit by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the PRC have been stories noting how China’s deputy prime minister, Mr. Li Keqiang,  has been quietly moving through Europe and signing a host of trade, investment, and aid deals. Added to China’s recent efforts to support some of the sagging economies of Europe, and to ensure the continued viability of the Euro zone, this recent spate of deals seems to mark a turning point in China’s relationship with Europe.

For those trying to get a better perspective on the thinking that is driving China’s new approach to the old world, this PDF book by Karine Lisbonne-de Vergeron will be of great interest.  The author, who is not a China specialist, but an international relations analyst, manages to do an excellent job pulling together an overview of how China views Europe economically, politically, and culturally.