Beijing’s Belgrade Syndrome

China Matters: How It All Began: The Belgrade Embassy Bombing.

This is a superb post, and well worth the read. I do agree that we in the United States – including most of our leaders in Washington – underestimate the psychological impact that the bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade had in certain quarters in Beijing. Nor do we realize, I think, the degree to which this shifted a modicum of power and credibility to the People’s Liberation Army.

That said, to suggest that the Belgrade bombing was the origin point of China’s grand strategy is to overstate, if not ignore history. The plans and doctrine that form the basis of China’s grand strategy were set in motion (at the latest) with the accession of Deng Xiaoping, and more likely traces its roots back to the Zhou Enlai’s Four Modernizations. (Defense, for those who will recall, was the fourth modernization, after agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology.)

China has been on this general course for decades. Have specific goals and force structure evolved as they adapted to new circumstances and opportunities? Certainly. But the tune China is playing today was first set on paper fifty years ago.

China and the Limits of History

Some things we used to know about china’s past and present but, now, not so much” 
Alice Lyman Miller
Proceedings of the USC US-China Institute Symposium, “History and China’s Foreign Relations: The Achievements and Contradictions of American Scholarship”,
Feb. 16-17, 2008

Stanford’s Alice Miller is one of those China scholars who prefers not to mince words. Whether it was her sixteen years with the CIA or the cumulative effect of four decades studying China, she is direct and still unfailingly scholarly in her assessments and, as a result is, a joy to read.

Her paper at a USC symposium above is an excellent example. There is a school of China scholarship that attempts to parse Beijing’s politics and foreign policy through a prism of China’s imperial past. To those scholars, the CCP is just another dynasty in China dynastic cycle, its current leaders just emperors in new clothes, and China wants to turn the rest of the world into tributary powers.  As a history buff with late-life aspirations to historianship, these parallels are appealing to me, and they are clearly appealing to others, else Miller would not feel the need to debunk the approach.

And debunk she does. Offering ample examples from current scholarship and public discourse, she makes a convincing case that while the history has some general value as background in understanding Chinese strategic thinking, past behavior is no template for current or future action.

A must-read for any China-watcher, it surprises me that this paper has not received more attention, but perhaps it shouldn’t: as a longtime purveyor of the “China is more nuanced than that” approach, I know that people are not looking for nuance: they’re looking for easy. Miller makes it clear that this sort of intellectual laziness is a hazard to be avoided.

History, however, is not the bunk that Henry Ford thought. I side with Cicero: ignorance of history is the hallmark of intellectual immaturity. Miller is correct in saying that we should not rely on history too much. It is important to caution that we ignore it at our peril.

China’s Assertiveness: Seven Years in the Making (At least)

Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics? Reading and Re-Reading China’s 2006 Defense White Paper
Mike Metcalf
NI Press
September 2011

Flag ~ China - People's Liberation Army

Flag ~ China – People’s Liberation Army (Photo credit: e r j k p r u n c z y k)

Mike Metcalf, a member of the faculty at the National Intelligence University in the US, has spent a lot of time parsing China’s seminal 2006 Defense White Paper. China has issued such signalling documents in the past. What distinguishes this one, according to Metcalf, is that it points Beijing toward a national security posture that goes beyond territorial defense.

In the publication, Metcalf provides his own overview of the white paper, then offers two translations of the analysis of the paper by the man considered its pricipal drafter, Dr. Chen Zhou of the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, as well as Metcalf’s own analyses of Dr. Chen’s point of view.

It is a rare treat to have an informed and scholarly discussion on Chinese source material made available in a format the rest of us can digest. All the more so given that the import of this book is to prove that China’s assertive nationalism is not a product of Xi Jinping’s making, but something that has been in the works for nearly a decade. As such, it is hard to expect this direction to be fleeting: we are looking at what is likely to be a lasting trend in Chinese international relations.

Toward a More Humane PLA

The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges
Lt. Col. Wang Wenjuan
Institute for Security and Development Policy
October 2013

English: A Chinese soldier with the People's L...

English: A Chinese soldier with the People’s Liberation Army waits to assist with American and Chinese delegation’s traffic at Shenyang training base, China, March 24, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even leaving aside the tragic events of June 1989, speaking of the humanitarian record of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems almost an oxymoron. We simply do not think of the PLA in those terms.

Wang Wenjuan does, though, and in her paper she makes a clear case that China’s military leaders are at least going through the motions. She documents the understanding international humanitarian law (IHL) at the highest levels of command, the degree to which it is integrated into PLA training and indoctrination programs, and the fact that the PLA is even engaged in “research” into humanitarian law.

What matters, of course, is the behavior of the force on the battlefield and in the administration of areas captured and occupied in combat, or areas administered under a peacekeeping mandate. In the two decades during which Wang suggests that the PLA has been in compliance with IHL, the force has never faced a true test of its resolve. And there lies the rub.

In language designed carefully not to place her career in jeopardy, LTC Wang makes clear that more effort is needed to ensure that the PLA behaves in the field according to its professed ideals. History has proven that this is a tall order even for the armed forces of democratic powers (Amritsar, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, for example.) The PLA has much to prove, and Wang understands that the PLA has a long way to go before it can face such a test.

Chatham House on the Xi Administration


Xi Jinping - Caricature

Xi Jinping – Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

“The New Leadership in Beijing: Political and Economic Implications”
Kerry Brown
Chatham House
July 2013

If you have grown tired of reading analyses of Xi Jinping and his leadership program, you are not alone. The tea-leaf readers have been out in force this year, and anyone coming to the party at this point is somewhat late. But if you really care about what is going on in China, you are left with little choice but to keep reading. I do. Not necessarily because I expect a revelation with each new document, but because the better ones sharpen the definition of an incredibly fuzzy picture.

Many of my fellow China Condors and I are hoping to get some clarity about the next ten years following the coming plenum of the Party congress. The leaders have been chosen, the theory goes, and now it is time to lay out the policy platform that will guide the country over the next decade. There is much wishful thinking here: none of us are betting that we are going to be any clearer about the new leadership’s priorities then than we are now.

So we keep scouring the literature, and Kerry Brown’s paper is delightful in its brevity and clarity. Of all of his conclusions, the one that is likely to spark the most controversy (see the Eurasia Review link below) is this:

This is a leadership set up therefore for a domestic agenda and that will resist attempts to pull it more deeply into international affairs, which are seen as lying beyond what the elite define as in China’s national interests (preservation of stability, building up economic strength, safeguarding sovereignty), despite the very real pressures that will be put on it to that effect.

Comforting words, if true, particularly to China’s neighbors. Japan and the Philippines in particular are understandably worried about Chinese adventurism. Yet there is a limit implicit in Brown’s statement. The moment that China’s elite define the national interest as a plunge into international affairs – perhaps as a palliative to a restive populace, or in defense of the threatened assets of national enterprises – all bets are off.

A great read, and if you have read nothing else about the new leadership, Brown’s paper is an excellent précis of a vast and growing corpus of analysis.

What is Beijing Thinking?


English: Profile image of Hu Shuli

English: Profile image of Hu Shuli (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

China 3.0
Mark Leonard, et. al.
The European Council on Foreign Relations
November 2012

Those of us watching the goings-on in Chinese politics have been treated to the non-fiction equivalent of a byzantine soap opera over the past two years. The unexpectedly turbulent generational leadership transition has given us opportunity to speculate ad nauseum about who was going to get what seat, a debate doubly invigorated by the drama surrounding Bo Xilai‘s metoric rise and fall.

But the seats are filling, the slate of leaders is falling into place, and our attention turns from personalities to policies. What, exactly, are those leaders going to be doing for the next ten years?

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have begun to lay out their policy priorities, but there are few surprises or insights to be gleaned from public positions. Of far greater interest are the debates taking place within government and the nation’s intelligentsia over the path to take in the future. As James McGregor summarizes in his recent book No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers, for the first time in generations the path forward for China is unclear, there are contending schools of thought at the top of the Party organization, and China lives under the threat of indecision and paralysis in Beijing.

Which is why this slim volume, edited by Mark Leonard, c0-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, is such a valuable survey. Rather than focusing on the dramatics, Leonard’s line up of scholars and observers (including Caixing’s Hu Shuli and blogger Michael Anti) focus on how the debates around finding that way forward are playing out.

In the course of a dozen pithy essays we are treated to a glimpse of how the nation’s leaders are thinking about the future of domestic politics, the economy, foreign policy, and the search for models from which China can glean its own pathway to the future. Most of us will never get a chance to sit in the halls where these decisions are being made, but in China 3.0 Leonard and the ECFR have given us a chance to sit outside the door and listen at the keyhole, all while being treated to the perspectives of 17 of China’s own most astute observers.

Reign in the Drones

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR...

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR STATION, FALLON, NEVADA (NV) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies
Micah Zenko

Council on Foreign Relations
January, 2013

Have drones become the hammer that has turned every U.S. foreign policy challenge into a nail? Micah Zenko isn’t ready to go quite that far, but he does suggest that the lack of a policy framework to regulate their use hurts the U.S., and that we are best served long-term by helping to promulgate a set of international rules and norms to govern their use.

The piece is not directly China related, but given China’s active effort to develop its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) force, Zenko’s calls for international norms should bring China immediately to mind.

Greening China’s Grid

“China’s Great Green Grid”
Laurence Brahm

PacNet 71A
Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 14, 2012

I have been a longtime follower of Beijing-based attorney and author (and now, apparently, political economist) Laurence Brahm. Over the years, the longtime China hand has been a source of some thoughtful thinking on how to approach the challenges of China. He’s also invested in a couple of decent restaurants in the capital.

True to form, in a recent paper for the Pacific Forum CSIS, Brahm calls for China to dump coal for renewable energy. Dismissing the issues with wind and solar as “merely simple or technological issues that can be addressed through finance and investment,” Brahm calls on China’s leaders to shove the politically powerful coal interests aside and embrace (and finance) a wholesale shift to renewables.

Admirable goals, indeed. Unfortunately, the problems with the proposals as laid out in his paper are substantial. Brahm offers scant evidence that the political will exists in Beijing (or, more important, in the provinces) to sideline powerful coal interests, nor does he hint at what might incite such a will. Are the technical challenges constraining solar and wind really just a matter of money, or are there brutal problems of basic science, politics, and weather that will not easily yield even to the biggest of all checkbooks? What does that massive SOE, China Grid, think about all of this?

And the really big elephant in the room: can conservation, solar, and wind ever satisfy China’s demand, and what would it take in terms of changes in lifestyle and expectations for that to happen?

Admittedly, it is a little unfair to ask a political economist, even one with the credentials of Mr. Brahm, to address all of these issues in under a thousand words. Yet somehow I feel the author would have been better off listing the barriers to a green grid and a pathway around or through them rather than suggesting that money and a good five-year plan was the answer.

Why China Still Needs Fast Trains

High speed rail, hangzhou

High speed rail, hangzhou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“China’s High-Speed Rail: A Reassessment”
David Wolf

Wolf Group Asia
September 30, 2012

China’s massive investments in high-speed rail (HSR) have come under intense scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the fatal collision in Wenzhou last year and continuing revelations of graft, waste and mismanagement in the construction effort.

In this paper, the first in a series, I argue that despite the systemic failures that have dogged the system, China’s particular circumstances make the construction of the HSR network not only defensible but farsighted – not unlike the construction of America’s transcontinental railroads. The problem is in the details, not the general direction. Discussions on the future of the system should focus on the measures China must take to eliminate the graft, ensure safety, efficiency, and success.

Catching Famine Early

Chinese officials engaged in famine relief, 19...

Chinese officials engaged in famine relief, 19th C. engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Famine Early Warning and Early Action: The Cost of Delay
Rob Bailey

Chatham House
July 2012

Famines are tragedies that have been with mankind since before recorded history. What is different today, however, is that there are a growing number of systems and tripwires that can warn the world when and where a famine will strike long before it does.

The problem, finds Chatham House’s Rob Bailey, is that such warnings are greeted not by action on the part of NGOs and the UN, but delay and prevarication. Examining past cases, Bailey isolates why, despite advanced notice, people were allowed to die, and he offers a blueprint to improving the process between warning and response.

With China’s growing appetite and the specter of global warming hovering over the world’s agricultural output during this long, hot summer, Bailey’s could not have come at a more apt time.

Radio, Television, and Public Diplomacy

A reporter for RFE/RL's Afghan Service intervi...

Image via Wikipedia

BBG’s Strategic 5yr Plan: to inform, engage and connect.

In the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States focused considerable effort on bringing to the world what can either be described as “the truth,” or “the truth according to the United States government ” with services like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. We can argue about the value of these broadcasts to the people of Latin America, but it seems clear these broadcasts provided a critical information lifeline to the people of China and the countries locked behind the USSR’s Iron Curtain.

In the years since the opening of China and the end of the Cold War, however, these services have lacked the kind of clear mission they once had, and the rise of the Internet calls into question the value of broadcast services generally. I would argue, though, that America’s global broadcast assets remain a critical part of public diplomacy. Commercial enterprises like CNN and Fox News have their place, but they are not in the business of conducting information activities in support of US foreign policy.

The BBG spells out exactly why it should continue to receive funding over the next four years in its 2012 strategic plan. Admittedly awash in bureaucratese, the concrete steps it outlines take the organization a big step toward regaining the relevance it once had. Even given the glacial speed of governmental organizations, the plan is realistic and doable.

If the plan lacks anything it is a clearer vision of where the organizations need to be in 10 years. More needs to be done than what is outlined here, and both what and why need to be made clearer.

Nonetheless, even die-hard net-heads like myself cannot help but see the value of broadcast in America’s public diplomacy after reading this.

China’s Future: The World Bank Chimes In


SHARM EL SHEIKH/EGYPT, 19MAY08 - Robert B. Zoe...

Image via Wikipedia

China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society.

That China’s economy and polity are at an historic crossroads is so often repeated these days that it has become a truism. The question that faces prognosticators is what China should do about it. Even if the lessons of economic development of one country could be applied to another, the scale, speed, and urgency of China’s economic challenges seem push the nation’s leaders onto an uncharted course.

So what to do?

In joint effort with the Development Research Center of the State Council, The World Bank has produced a China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society laying out a series of macro-level recommendations to address the issues China’s economy is facing over the next 20 years. What the framers of that report mean, of course, is that China faces these challenges today, but it is impolitic to suggest as much. (To suggest that the United States could also use such guidance would be similarly impolitic but no less accurate.)

What is compelling (read “different”) about this report is the participation of the Chinese government in the process. For that reason alone, the report is worth the read for the insights it should give into the kind of forward thinking that is “permissible” in the current policy environment.

The work has already been criticized for not addressing CCP politics and the role of the Party in the policy process. What I wonder about is the extent to which the World Bank was compelled to pull its punches on its recommendations

in order to retain the government’s participation. At a conference reported by Bob Davis ofThe Wall Street JournalWorld Bank Group President Robert Zoellick was fairly optimistic about both the resilience of the Chinese economy (“stress points will expand over time rather than turn into a crisis”) and about the possibility that some if not all of the reports recommendations would be carried out (“I think that in some form you’ll see this move ahead.”) That does not sound like a man doling out bitter medicine.

If the medium is the message, though, and this report does have legs, it may be as important as China’s own vaunted 12th Five Year Plan in helping to divine the future of China’s economic policy.

Japanese Science: Anything but Foreigners

Kyoto University, one of the most prestigious ...

Image via Wikipedia

“Revamp Math and Science Education, Kazuo Nishimura, AJISS-Commentary

The Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies, a conservative think-tank in Tokyo, has published this op-ed by Kazuo Nishimura, a Professor of Mathematical Economics at Kyoto University.

In the op-ed, Nishimura calls for starting science education earlier, changing the structure of elementary courses, and keeping high-school kids in compulsory science courses longer in High school. More controversially, he also calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s grading system.

All of these are good proposals, especially the latter, but the one policy Nishimura shies form is the one most likely to make a difference in the near term: allowing greater numbers of foreign scientists to come into Japan to work and offer their efforts to Japanese companies. Indeed, he believes this is the problem.

A fascinating article.

Indigenous Innovation and Globalization

Is China’s Indigenous Innovation Strategy Compatible with Globalization? by Liu Xielin and Cheng Peng; Honolulu:  East-West Center, 2011.

Much ink has been spilled over the correct path to turn China from the world’s contract manufacturer into an innovator on a par with the United States. Indeed, there are those who suggest that such an evolution is probably impossible given the straightjacket of Chinese culture.

As tempting as it is to go with the skeptics, there is mounting evidence that Chinese can and do innovate, and that innovation can happen with the backing of the government. (If you disagree, it would be worthwhile to review the funding source for many of America’s storied postwar innovations: if you follow the money, you wind up on Capitol Hill or the Pentagon as often as Wall Street or Sand Hill Road.)

The authors of this short book, Liu Xielin and Peng Cheng, argue that China is indeed beginning to innovate in part because the government is underwriting China’s effort to close the technical gap between its enterprises and engineers and those of the west. If they stopped there, it would be easy to dismiss both as government stooges.

They are not: once they have acknowledged the merit of government involvement, they then assess its limitations. Specifically, they note that in addition to putting China into policy conflict with nations that should be customers for Chinese innovations, government involvement (read “micromanagement”) of the innovation process closes it off from the overseas markets that are the real target of the indigenous innovation policy in the first place.

Turning China into an innovation powerhouse is neither a matter of letting markets do their thing, nor of government control: it is a matter of striking a careful balance between the two. Ascribing the best possible motives to China’s policymakers, the Party and government are looking for the best way to strike that balance. But old habits die hard: the received myth in Beijing is that the government that has brought a half-dozen major industries to near-parity with their global counterparts through vigorous funding and protective policies. Why, then, should things be done differently going forward?

Liu and Cheng do an admirable job at answering that challenge, but the problem is in the received myth. China’s homegrown industries succeed in the marketplace (both at abroad and at home) in inverse proportion to government involvement, not as its result. It is only when the government alters the rules of the market that local companies in innovative industries achieve success. Such heresy may be too dangerous for the authors: Liu is at the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Cheng at the Beijing University of Forestry. Nonetheless, their analysis hints in the right direction, and hopefully their thinking will enter the political discussion in Beijing.

Holding Burma Together

The 14 states and regions of Burma

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond Armed Resistance: Ethnonational Politics in Burma (Myanmar) by Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung; Honolulu: East-West Center, 2011

Sitting as it does at the geographic crossroads between India, China, and Southeast Asia, Burma (Myanmar) plays a role in the stability of the region that goes overlooked outside of a small circle of Asia wonks. Most of us have forgotten that Burma broke the back of the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II, made up one corner of the infamous Golden Triangle in the opiate trade, and, as a relic of a colonial era, houses ethnic separatism that often erupts into violence. In some ways, Burma is the Iraq of Southeast Asia.

Most of us see the challenge of Burma as a a matter of easing the Military Junta from power and allowing free elections. It is, apparently, not that simple, and Beyond Armed Resistance gives us a glimpse into the complexities of Burma’s politics via a review of the aspirations of the Kachin, Karen, Mon, and Shan ethnic groups.

Deliberately setting aside armed ethnic uprising, including the Karen people‘s longstanding resistance to the Burmese government, Dr. Thawnghmung argues that the non-violent political activity of these groups is more important to the evolution of the Burmese state than civil conflict. Reading her book also offers an unintended insight into why the military feels obliged to keep such tight control over the country: dormant ethnic tensions could easily sunder the nation. What is more, we begin to see how  Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy would face formidable challenges simply holding the country together if they were to come to power. No doubt, this prospect troubles the leaders of India, China, and Thailand: it should trouble Americans as well.

The junta has become the entire focus of western policy toward Burma. That focus, however correct, has masked the deeper challenges and rifts that plague the country. It must be no longer. Instead, our focus must become the fundamental challenges the country faces on its path to stability and development. Dr. Thawnghmung has argued in other venues that the first focus must be on establishing a national identity under-girded by a shared ideology and vision.

As Asia’s nations begin to expand their influence beyond their borders, weak states will become political and diplomatic (if not military) battlegrounds among the region’s powers. If Burma is to avoid this fate, it must emerge from its current transitional phase as a united, independent, and prosperous country. The well-meaning people around the world campaigning for the NLD would do well to heed the warning implicit in Dr. Thawnghmung’s writings: think beyond liberation, and do so now.

Fixing Chinese Investment in the U.S.


united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web

Image by kevindean via Flickr

China’s Expanding Role in Global Mergers and Acquisitions Markets by Charls Wolf, Jr,, Brian G. Chow, Gregory S. Jones, and Scott Harold: Santa Monica, RAND, 2011.

Over the last four months I’ve been involved in a research project that delves into the nature of one of China’s most important industries. What set off this somewhat Quixotic effort was the question of whether Chinese investment abroad, and in particular in the United States, was a good thing or a bad thing.

As I pursue the question on an industry-specific level, the authors of China’s Expanding Role in Global Mergers and Acquisitions Markets take a different approach to the question. Rather than evaluate Chinese outward foreign-direct investment through based on corporate merit, they propose a framework for evaluating the desirability and risk implicit in Chinese investment.

Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, their book comes at a propitious time. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), for all of its strengths, has some glaring weaknesses, not least that its processes are unnecessarily opaque. What Wolf, Chow et. al. offer the CFIUS and Congress is the first draft of a more transparent set of criterion by which to evaluate investment.

As close as RAND is to the US government, its conclusions are not a cipher for US policy. This book, therefore, should be seen as the starting point of a larger debate about where and how Chinese investment in the US should be welcomed, and where it should be restricted. As such, the book is a welcome and much-needed addition to the wider debate.

Climate Change: What About the Crops?

Rice Farmer, Cambodia

Image by Jonathan Burr via Flickr

Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options
Asian Development Bank
September 2011

In the debates around climate change, one of the frequently overlooked issues is what will happen to the food security of specific nations should temperatures rise enough to dislocate cultivated crops and alter fishing and livestock patterns. It would, indeed, seem a minor matter compared to the nightmare scenario of inundation.

Yet apocalyptic Waterworld predictions aside, crops and livestock are sensitive to temperature changes, and this is a matter of concern for countries of all sizes, even landlocked ones. This book offers some basic policy suggestions to help the nations of the APAC region, from the Pacific islands states to mainland Asia, prepare for the uncertain consequences of climate change.

Water on Hot Politics: The Plan to Evaluate Washington’s School Reforms

Over the past decade, the battle over the future of public elementary and secondary education in the United States has been fought in the microcosm of the nation’s capital. In the face of union resistance and vocal parental opposition, the city engaged Chancellor Michelle Rhee in a crash program to redesign the way the entire school system was operated, making it more focused on students and outcomes than on the institution itself. Rhee has moved on, the results are a matter of ongoing controversy, and it will probably be decades before we truly understand whether the kids have really benefitted.

The schools are such a political football that the district and the US Government have appointed an independent committee just to come up with a plan on how the schools should be evaluated. The most important conclusion: take politics out of the evaluation process, a difficult job in one of the most politicized cities on the planet. Nonetheless, the plan offers a way to de-politicize evaluation and, hopefully, take a step that will also de-politicize the reform process itself.

The D.C. schools controversy is worth watching. To some extent, whither goes Washington, so goeth the nation, and if the schools of the District can enjoy high-profile success in rejuvenating its education system, other cities will follow suit. The pity is that, in the meantime, the students in the District become some of the highest-profile guinea pigs in education. One can only hope that the reforms Rhee made serve them well, and that something can ensure that they are relieved of the burden of political pawnship and returned to their rightful place as well-served, curious, and capable kids.

The book itself is a model of how to insert objective process into a politically charged situation. Anyone who has ever fought such battles will appreciate both the tone and the approach the authors take.

Saving the Kurds

House of Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah.

Image via Wikipedia

If things go as currently planned, the U.S. military will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Regardless of the other issues facing Iraq as a nation, one that concerns the U.S. and most countries in the region is the matter of how to help the Arab peoples and the Kurds in the region find a modus vivendi.

In Managing Arab-Kurd Tensions in Northern Iraq After the Withdrawal of US Troops, Larry Hanauer, Jeffrey Martini, and Omar Al-Shahery point out that the modest pace of Iraqi reconstruction politics makes it unlikely that a domestic political solution will come in time. They make clear that the U.S. will need to maintain involvement in Northern Iraq to manage the issue until Iraq can craft a federalist system that will allow for a degree of Kurdish autonomy.

The authors advocate using a series of “Confidence Building Measures” (CBMs) to keep inter-communal tensions low enough in the interim to allow for a longer-term solution to come out of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein’s solution to the problem of Kurds within his borders was to kill as many as possible and thrust the rest on Turkey and Syria as refugees. The authors are trying to save Iraq’s current government from having to go down that path simply because nobody was paying attention after the last American dogface was flown out of the region. They understand that failure to do so will have a polarizing effect on the politics of the entire region for decades to come.

The Ripple Effects of “Collateral Damage”

If there is a single factor driving the U.S. armed forces and militaries around the world to explore airborne and surf unmanned combat vehicles, it is the growing political cost of battlefield casualties. What those technological marvels have been unable to do, however, is eliminate unintended casualties to civilians in wartime – a phenomenon commonly and somewhat coldly referred to as “collateral damage.”

As part of making a case for finding new ways to reduce or eliminate casualties among non-combattants in wartime, Eric Larson and Bogdan Savych wrote Misfortunes of War: Press and Public Reactions to Civilian Deaths in Wartime. In the book, the authors look at the communications aspect of the problem, not only assessing the different responses to the issue in Europe, the US, and elsewhere, but also urging military leaders to address the problem and specific incidents with the public in a more forthright manner.

This is going to continue to be an issue with all armed forces around the world, especially in an age where the Internet has altered the political and psychological effects of conflict. Indeed, the authors note that the challenge is likely to get worse with time, as incidents that would once have been buried in the scale of the conflict are magnified and twisted for the purposes of one side or the other. Part of the solution is finding ways to eliminate such damage altogether, but in a day of precision weapons and tactics, mistakes are still unavoidable.

Save eschewing “wet works” altogether, governments and non-state actors are going to find themselves enmeshed in a war of words over every mistake, and the states have the most to lose. The communications war will thus grow in importance, so this book is an essential read for anyone communicating – or being communicated to – such tragedies.

Fixing Europe’s Income Inequality

As part of a wider policy response to the Global Financial Crisis, the European Union is in the process of forming policies designed to reduce income inequality in the region. In a growing number of countries, the threat of severe poverty is starting to emerge.

Social welfare programs come easily to the fore in Europe, as the EU lacks the kind of concerted political opposition to such programs as grew in the U.S. during the Cold War. Domestic political coalitions in Scandinavia, Germany, France, Spain and Greece have helped make government largess the primary means of delivering economic justice. As Greece has discovered, down that path lies danger.

In the book Life after Lisbon, Christian van Stolk and his colleagues suggest that the EU would be unwise to rely on forced income redistribution as a means of addressing the problem. Instead, the authors urge Brussels to focus instead on maximizing opportunity and productivity for individuals, and they offer a course of action to achieve that.

As Europe’s budgets come under pressure, approaches like these are likely to have a greater effect on policy than they might have had even five years ago. As such, this book provides an interesting look into how Europe my rethink its labor, economic, and industrial policies in the coming years.

Why It Is So Hard for the U.S. Military to Buy a Truck

Destroyed Humvee in Iraq

The U.S. military is looking for a few good trucks. Again.

In 1940 the United States armed forces needed to replace its sidecar motorcycles and Model-T Fords with something that could go anywhere on a modern battlefield. The result of a brief but thorough process was the Truck, 1/4 ton, 4×4, known commercially as either the Willys MB or Ford GPW, and known to the rest of us as the Jeep.

The U.S. manufactured some 650,000 of these vehicles during the war, and the design was so versatile that it remained, with modifications, in the U.S. military’s inventory for over 40 years. It was replaced in 1984 by the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, better known as the Humvee, and older brother of the civilian Hummer.

Today, a quarter century after its induction into US service, the Humvee appears headed for the great convoy in the sky. Its  many virtues notwithstanding, the past two decades have revealed a list of battlefield shortcomings that argue for its replacement.

The U.S. Department of Defense, prodded by Congress, has turned to the RAND Corporation to help figure out how the U.S. Army and Marine Corps should rebuild their combat vehicle fleets. To us laymen, this would seem to be a simple proposition. Reading U.S. Combat and Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Fleets, however, offers offers a sickening glimpse into how hard it is today for the Pentagon to buy a truck.

Based a continent away from the Beltway, the analysts at RAND have the distance as well as the brains and chutzpah to tell the Department of Defense when it is asking the wrong damned question. So along with a superb analysis of which vehicles the military should buy, the RAND team unravels the ossified hairball of Pentagon procurement and makes bold recommendations for changing the system altogether.

The one person who must read this book is whomever replaces Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. The folks at RAND have delivered an emphatic message: if somebody does not fix the Pentagon’s procurement processes, and soon, the U.S. military will seize up like an oil-starved engine.

China would like that.

Rethinking U.S. Policy in Southwest Asia

Immediately before Richard Amitage passed away earlier this year, he chaired an independent task force on Southwest Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The result was U.S. Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, a book that provides both a nuanced look at the US policy choices in the region and recommendations to fix what is broken.

The book is not a meditation on whether the US and NATO have any business in the region, nor does it offer an endorsement to the Obama Administration’s policies. Instead, the report offers qualified support, suggesting that the problem is not the policy but how we are executing on the ground.

I pay attention to Pakistan and Afghanistan because China does. The next four years in Pakistan and Afghanistan will define the limits of U.S. power and its ability to influence events in Asia. As much as China would like to see American influence circumscribed, having the countries slide into a chaotic power-vacuum or serve as the cradle of a fundamentalist caliphate would threaten China’s stability more directly than it would harm U.S. security.

On his deathbead, Richard Armitage was haunted by fears of chaos in the region. What haunts me is the prospect of a new great game between India, China, Russia, and Iran, all focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the anger of tribes sick to death of living on a battleground. Read this short book: it offers a narrow path away from that future.