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Foreign Entanglements: Jules Your Verne

[ 1 ] February 8, 2017 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Christa Blackmon and I struggle to escape the  dystopia of Trump’s America:

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Evaporated

[ 32 ] February 6, 2017 |

scottMy friend and former student Tyler Scott has published an op-ed on Trump’s immigration order in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

With the stroke of President Donald Trump’s pen, the message of equality and goodwill evaporated. It doesn’t matter if the courts overrule the travel ban against seven Muslim countries, or if the administration changes course, or if every American abroad is able to reassure acquaintances that we don’t all agree.

It may not be an outright Muslim ban, but it sends the message to the very people we need to continue the fight on our side that we don’t see them any differently than our common enemy.

As an infantryman patrolling the streets of Baghdad, every day was a battle for hearts and minds. We had to persuade a populace that a western, well-fed, predominantly Christian military — who received more in care packages from home in a month than their own children may see in a lifetime — truly empathized with and shared their burdens.

Monday Links

[ 60 ] February 6, 2017 |

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From the comment threads it seems like everyone experienced a degree of trauma during last night’s game that is, frankly, unbecoming.  Here are some links to help you move on:

 

 

Flying Wing!

[ 40 ] February 3, 2017 |

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Latest at the National Interest is a look at the YB-49:

As the United States approached World War II, it enjoyed the luxury of many innovative aircraft companies, and a ton of money to spend.  Part of this bounty went to pursuit aircraft, part to tactical attack planes, and part to long-range bombers. This last generated one of the most interesting failures ever to emerge from the U.S. aviation industry; the Northrop YB-49 “flying wing” bomber.

Keep Mexico Weird!

[ 108 ] February 2, 2017 |

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A few brief thoughts on Mexico, and especially misperceptions of Mexico that seem common in the United States, but that particularly appear to animate Trump’s thinking.

  • Mexico has 119 million (127 million according to World Bank data) people, making it the 11th most populous country in the world.
  • Mexico’s PPP adjusted GDP is $2.193 trillion, making it the world’s 11th largest economy. Countries with smaller economies include Italy, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Australia, et al.   Per capita is $18857, putting Mexico firmly into the range of middle-income countries; on a per capita basis, Mexico would be the poorest large country in the EU, but on average Mexicans are wealthier than Chinese.
  • Mexico’s GINI coefficient (to the extent this is a useful metric) is far from good, at 48.2, but isn’t much higher than that of China, and is below that of Brazil.
  • Adult literacy in Mexico is 93%, behind Russia, slightly behind China, ahead of Brazil, and way ahead of India.
  • Mexico’s Democracy Index score is 6.47, making it a “flawed democracy.”  In comparison, this would put Mexico at the bottom of the EU and behind Brazil, but ahead of such countries as Ukraine and Georgia.

Nothing staggering here.  Mexico is a really big middle income country, which makes it one of the world’s largest economies in aggregate.  The population is relatively well-educated.  Inequality is high, although this is exacerbated by stark geographic differences across the Mexico (big, diverse countries will generally have significant inequality).

Where Mexico stands out is in foreign relations.  Despite having an economic profile broadly similar (in overall heft) to the BRICS, Mexico has made no substantial effort to re-write the rules of the international economic order.  Mexico is not part of NATO, despite participating in World War II from May 1942. Mexico has observer status in the Non-Aligned Movement, and has never been regarded as a leader of international organizations outside of the Americas. Even in the OAS, Mexico has only rarely wielded its economic and demographic heft to steer the organization in preferred directions.

This low profile extends to the military sphere.  Mexico devotes .677% of its GDP to defense, which is…. really, really, really low. Military expenditure as part of government expenditure is 2.3%, which is also really, really low; less than half that of Brazil, and would be in the bottom rung (though not the absolute bottom) of NATO. In terms of equipment, the Mexican armed forces are severely undercapitalized.  The fighter fleet of the Mexican Air Force (formally part of the Mexican Army [ed.- yay!]), consists of three F-5s.  Three. The primary combat vessels of the Mexican Navy are mostly in excess of fifty years old, and include veterans of the Second World War. The primary military tasks of the Mexican armed forces are internal; fighting insurgents, and managing (in various ways) the drug trade.  Mexico does not participate widely in UN peacekeeping missions; in 2016, it deployed a total of 23 personnel abroad. Mexico does not normally make substantial military contributions to regional multilateral operations, such as Haitian earthquake relief.

So if you want to identify an area in which Mexico is really weird, look no further. Mexico stands out even in comparison to Canada, which despite having a quarter of the population and a smaller economy, manages to spend twice as much on defense in raw, non-PPP adjusted terms. It stands out in contrast to other Latin American countries of similar economic and demographic stature, such as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, or Brazil.

The explanation for Mexico’s weirdness seems simple; the overwhelming power of the United States effectively dictates Mexican national security policy.  Mexico cannot hope to build a military capable of resisting the United States, much less protecting its emigrant populations or recovering lost territories.  At the same time,  no state other than the US can plausibly threaten Mexico’s security. Consequently, Mexico doesn’t face any very serious choices regarding national security policy; it can afford to have a very small defense budget and a non-activist foreign policy. This policy pays dividends insofar as it allows Mexico to allocate financial resources more efficiently than otherwise, to avoid costly entanglements, and (not least) to avoid some of the civil-military difficulties that have afflicted other Latin American countries.

As an explanation for Mexican security policy, that’s fine as far as it goes, but it only goes so far.  There are plenty of countries in positions structurally similar to that of Mexico that do not make the same choice.  As noted, Canada has historically adopted a much more activist military and foreign policy (explainable by Canada’s position within the Anglosphere and the Atlantic community, but still).  Ukraine and Poland have not adopted “Mexican” strategies with respect to Russia, instead preferring internal and external balancing.  Vietnam has constructed its security policy around measured resistance to China, rather than accommodation. Indeed, for the first hundred years of its existence Mexican security policy assumed (on and off, to be sure) an antagonistic United States. Brazil and Argentina also rely on implicit and explicit security guarantees from the United States, but carry out much more activist foreign and military policies than Mexico.

It is better to think of Mexico’s accommodationist foreign policy as a choice, rather than as a structural dictate.   It is almost certainly a good choice; antagonism would cost more and invite more extensive US intervention, internal balancing (military buildup) would cost a lot more, external balancing (alliance with foreign powers) is extremely difficult on the multilateral side and not all that productive even in bilateral terms.  But Mexico is surely large enough, and wealthy enough, to consider alternative choices.

Mexico’s accommodationist strategy also places some obligations (mostly implicit) on the United States.  These include (relatively) decent treatment of the Mexican diaspora, an end to efforts to chip away at Mexico’s territory, a minimum of active subversion of the Mexican government, a degree of respect for Mexican sovereignty, and a degree of protection against the military or subversive ends of foreign powers.  As long as these obligations are met (in broad terms), the United States gets a deal; it does not have to worry, at all, about the large, wealthy, potentially powerful country with latent but compelling irredentist claims along its southern border.

That’s a pretty good deal.

If I were in a senior policymaking position in the United States government, one of my central objectives would be to keep Mexican foreign and security policy “weird.”  Mexico can afford to expend a much greater portion of its economy on defense; it can easily undertake a much more activist foreign policy.  Mexico can afford a lot of Russian Su-27s and MiG-29s, or Saab Gripens, or Eurofighter Typhoons, or Chengdu J-10s. It can afford to upgrade its navy with submarines and modern surface warfare vessels, including missile-armed patrol boats that would give the USN headaches. It can afford to suspend or modify a wide range of cooperative security programs with the United States.

Mexico probably won’t do any of these things, partially because of inertia, and partially because balancing would require a major resource allocation.  But then previous US Presidents have tended to shy away from hinting at pogroms against the Mexican diaspora, or at suggesting that the US military will intervene directly in Mexico’s sovereign territory.

“Are My Methods Unsound?”

[ 106 ] January 30, 2017 |

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It turns out that a strong commitment to stark, raving racism is bad for business:

President Donald Trump’s next target in his administration’s immigration policy will focus on what Silicon Valley fears most: the work-visa programs that tech companies rely on to hire tens of thousands of workers each year, according to a report by Bloomberg.

The executive order is still a draft, according to the report, but if enacted, it could mean major overhauls in the way tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon recruit their employees. Under the order, companies would have to prioritize hiring American workers, and if they must hire foreign workers, then they must prioritize the most highly compensated, according to the report.

“Our country’s immigration policies should be designed and implemented to serve, first and foremost, the U.S. national interest,” the draft says, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg.  “Visa programs for foreign workers … should be administered in a manner that protects the civil rights of American workers and current lawful residents, and that prioritizes the protection of American workers — our forgotten working people — and the jobs they hold,” the draft states.

It turns out that a strong commitment to stark, raving racism is also bad for geopolitics:

Domestically, one of the big obstacles to Indian support for Trump will come down to his position on H-1B visas for skilled immigrant workers. Indian citizens and companies benefit disproportionately from this program. In 2013, U.S. government data showed that Indian citizens received nearly two-thirds of all H-1B visas, abetted in part by Indian outsourcing firms. Though Trump has vacillated on his H-1B position, as he has on so many of his other positions, his website currently cites the program as a major point of grievance with existing U.S. immigration provisions.

An H-1B crackdown could potentially affect India’s economy as well. India is the top remittance receiving country, accounting for just over 12 percent of world remittances in 2007. In 2012, remittances to India stood at $70.39 billion and represented 4 percent of the country’s GDP. Non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the United States sent nearly $11 billion in remittances in 2012, representing the second greatest source of remittances after the United Arab Emirates. India’s current political leadership has shown that it is attuned to the interests of the vast Indian diaspora living abroad, particularly in the United States. U.S. immigration policies have important economic effects for India and New Delhi will take note of what Trump is promising.

In the past week and a half, Donald Trump has made clear his interest in confronting China.  He has also pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which (whatever its bevy of problems) was part of a containment strategy against China, and is now preparing to open a rift with one of the key countries that the United States will need to balance the PRC.  When given a choice between racism and geopolitics, Trump and Bannon strongly prefer racism.  This is something that Tulsi Gabbard should probably think about…

Bannon-Bibi

[ 119 ] January 30, 2017 |
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Erez Crossing, Israel-Gaza

Bibi embraces his one true commitment: walls that keep brown people out.


For Bibi, there is apparently no limit to the how much you can hate Jews, as long as you hate Muslims more. And Mexicans?  Well, it’s so hard to tell…

Defectors

[ 116 ] January 27, 2017 |
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By Sarah Ewart – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

I wish to dissent in part from my distinguished colleague, but only in part.

  • The norm of offering a degree of deference to executive cabinet nominations is a good norm.  It helps to ensure that governmental agencies will function normally even during periods of mixed government.
  • “Degree of deference” includes the option to fight hard against particularly problematic nominees.
  • The Republicans have largely held to this norm with respect to cabinet nominations, both in the minority and the majority (Ash Carter was confirmed 93-5 in February 2015).
  • The Republicans have demonstrated that it is possible to conform to this norm (as they did in 2009), while also pursuing a broader strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism.

Largely because of this, I am unmoved by arguments that votes for Trump cabinet nominations represent “capitulation,” or that they portend a future of Democratic surrender. For Senate Democrats these are wholly symbolic votes, but they offer multiple symbolic meanings; on the one hand, opposition to Trump, and on the other a commitment to the normal continuation of government. Both of these are important.

That said, I certainly agree that there are specific nominees who should engender more scrutiny and opposition from the Democrats.  I would target both Sessions (on general ideological grounds) and Devos (on grounds of utter incompetence, as well as ideology). And if the Democrats were in a position to block either nominee, I would concur with Erik’s formulation; a defector voting for Sessions or Devos should be presumed to draw a primary challenge with substantial support from the DSCC, national-level funding should be steered away from the defector, and the defector should suffer consequences in committee assignments.

But for a vote against Jeff Sessions that has purely symbolic consequences?  I can’t motivate myself to much enthusiasm for vigorous, costly counter-measures.  And in more general terms, I would caution against concluding, based on evidence of cabinet nomination votes, that the Democrats as a whole or in particular are likely to “surrender” or “capitulate” on substantive legislative matters.

Ballistic Missiles, and the Missile Defenses that Love Them

[ 26 ] January 27, 2017 |
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Standard Missile III SM-3 RIM-161 test launch. By U.S. Navy Public Domain.

Interesting new work out there on missile defense:

How has missile defense technology, considered globally, developed over the past four decades? A recent book, co-edited by Catherine Kelleher and Peter Dombrowski, traces the development and current status of missile defense projects around the world. Reviewed here by Pavel Podvig, Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective offers accounts of the modern (since the 1980s) history of missile defense, and frames extant missile defense (and counter-missile defense) programs in regional context.

Next Step in the SCS

[ 20 ] January 26, 2017 |
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PLAN Type 52C Destroyer Haikou. By U.S Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Manda M. Emery – Public Domain.

 

Some thoughts on the US Navy in the South China Sea:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s South China Sea comments during his confirmation hearings raised more than a few eyebrows. Tillerson seemed to suggest a blockade of newly constructed military installations in the SCS, an action that could, at the extreme, be seen as an act of war. Some attempted to explain away Tillerson’s comments as uninformed, or the result of a long day testifying before Congress. At Lawfare, however, international maritime law specialist James Kraska argued that Tillerson’s proposals had a strong foundation in maritime practice and might well represent good policy.

 

My Campaign for SECAF Has Ground to an Ignominious End

[ 39 ] January 23, 2017 |

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With his choice for Secretary of Air Force, Donald Trump had yet another opportunity to fill a cabinet position with someone who a) would be hopelessly overwhelmed by the job, and b) believed that the agency in question should be abolished. But instead of hiring me, he went with someone merely likely to be incompetent:


For shame, President Trump. With respect to Wilson’s actual credentials, she’s not that far off the norm for such positions- long-term connections with Air Force, service in Congress, some high-level national security policymaking experience- but she has  less experience at the Pentagon and in industry than the last few individuals to fill the job.

On Manning

[ 238 ] January 17, 2017 |
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Portraits of Periodical Offering, a 6th-century Chinese painting portraying various emissaries; ambassadors depicted in the painting ranging from those of Hephthalites, Persia to Langkasuka, Baekje(part of the modern Korea), Qiuci, and Wo (Japan).

 

Stepped Pyramids frames it well:

A state cannot have secrets without having classes of people who are entrusted with secrets, and it cannot maintain that trust without enacting penalties for violating it. I object to the nature of Manning’s imprisonment — solitary confinement is torture, and denying prisoners necessary medical treatment is a crime against humanity. I object to its absurd duration. I believe some of the material she leaked was in the public interest.

But I cannot object to the existence of a law prohibiting leaks, nor to her prosecution under such a law. She did commit an actual crime. I am happy that her sentence is being commuted and it is long overdue. But “Chelsea Manning did nothing wrong” cannot be true from the perspective of the state.

Manning did not review the information that she shared with Assange with any degree of due scrutiny; indeed, it was impossible for her to do so, because she lacked sufficient expertise in the subject matter to tell the difference between material that was properly and improperly classified. And much of the information that she leaked easily met the bar for classification. This includes the many frank, full assessments of foreign leaders that US diplomats gave, as well as accounts of meetings with foreign governments that depended for their existence upon secrecy. An example of the latter were the cables that revealed the existence of discussions between the United States and China over contingency planning in the event of a North Korean collapse. The public benefits immensely from such talks, but the talks would not have happened had Beijing not been assured of their secrecy.

Indeed, much of the work of the US diplomatic corps over the past six years has been repairing the damage caused by the leakage of properly classified material by Wikileaks. It turns out that corrupt autocrats don’t like it when US diplomats point out (in secret) that they are, in fact, corrupt autocrats. And as such, it is simply incredible to claim that Chelsea Manning “did nothing wrong.” She caused significant damage to entirely laudable US (and international) foreign policy efforts. The best we can argue is that a) the good outweighs the ill, and in any case b) the circumstances of her detention are pointlessly inhumane. Manning’s own account of her wrongdoing, for me, shifts the balance of deliberation towards mercy, and I do agree that Obama has made the correct decision by commuting her sentence. A pardon, on the other hand, would go too far.

I also think that the folks at Lawfare get this one about right.

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