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Rubles, Dollars, and Power: U.S. Intelligence on the Soviet Economy and Long-Term Competition

Rubles, Dollars, and Power: U.S. Intelligence on the Soviet Economy and Long-Term Competition

This response essay explores some of the key areas of agreement and disagreement between two recent articles on Cold War-era assessments of the Soviet economy.

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Editor's Note: This essay is the first of a new feature for the Texas National Security Review. From this point forward, we will be publishing thoughtful and original responses to scholarship and essays published here and in other journals.

  Andrew W. Marshall and Abram N. Shulsky, “Assessing Sustainability of Command Economies and Totalitarian Regimes: The Soviet Case,” Orbis 62, no. 2 (Spring 2018), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orbis.2018.02.011. Marc Trachtenberg, “Assessing Soviet Economic Performance During the Cold War: A Failure of Intelligence?” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 2 (March 2018), http://hdl.handle.net/2152/63942.   The 2018 National Defense Strategy articulates a clear vision that “[t]he central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” with authoritarian Russia and China.[1] Such long-term competition has many facets, but perhaps the most salient component is the economic performance of these competitors. Economic growth, financial power, and technological development are the engines for military capability and diplomatic leverage.[2] To paraphrase Cicero, the sinews of competition are infinite money. As U.S. policymakers consider this new era of long-term strategic competition, it is useful to reflect on the economic component of the last such era: the Cold War. U.S. intelligence analysts struggled to understand the opaque Soviet economic system. How well was it doing compared to the United States’ economic system? Could this authoritarian model sustain or perhaps even prevail in long-term competition? The answers to these questions were difficult, contested, and politically charged, both during the Cold War and in its aftermath.[3] Similar questions are being asked today about the Chinese economy, making this more than an issue of historical interest.[4] Fortunately, two recent articles revisiting Cold War-era intelligence on the Soviet economy provide an accessible entry point for those grappling with such questions today. The first is by two participants in the original debate about the Soviet economy. Andrew Marshall was founding director of the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense after more than two decades as an economist at the RAND Corporation. Abram Shulsky was minority staff director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence before joining the Defense Department during the Reagan administration. The second article was written by Marc Trachtenberg, one of the preeminent historians of U.S. strategy and the Cold War.[5] The two articles are strikingly different in tone: Marshall and Shulsky are critical of U.S. intelligence and Trachtenberg is more laudatory. Nevertheless, a deeper examination shows they are much more complementary than contradictory. This “Response” essay intends to highlight some of the key areas of agreement and disagreement between the two articles and provide additional context for readers. It proceeds in five parts: First, it summarizes the basic arguments put forward in each article. Second, it describes, based on the domestic context and declassified records, the impact that intelligence regarding the general state of the Soviet economy had on U.S. policymaking in the late Cold War (roughly from 1974 to 1989). Third, it examines in more detail the critical question of the Soviet economy’s ability to support its military and foreign policy commitments. Fourth, it highlights an area not addressed substantially by either article, namely Soviet acquisition of Western technology through both lawful and illicit means. Finally, the essay concludes with observations on intelligence, economics, and long-term competition.

The Stansfield Turner Paradox: Opposing Views on Economic Intelligence

The different perspectives of the two articles are encapsulated in the paradox of one former official: the recently deceased retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, who was director of central intelligence under President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981). Marshall and Shulsky quote Turner’s 1991 Foreign Affairs article in their introduction: “We should not gloss over the enormity of this failure to forecast the magnitude of the Soviet crisis.”[6] They later quote Turner’s article again: “Neither I nor the CIA’s analysts reached the conclusion that eventually something had to give: that there would be a political and economic crisis.”[7] Yet Trachtenberg quotes Turner’s testimony to Congress in 1979, in which he said, “The low growth rates we envision for the mid-1980s could squeeze their resources to the point where something has to give.”[8] How could Turner argue in 1991 that the CIA never concluded “something had to give” when he had testified in 1979 using almost exactly those words? Marshall and Shulsky address this paradox by first discussing views within economics on command economies and how they evolved from the 1930s to the 1970s. They report that economists were generally positive about the economic potential of command economies, such as the Soviet Union, into the early 1960s. They then describe some of the challenges for CIA analysts seeking to estimate the size and growth of the Soviet economy. These included reliance on deeply suspect Soviet statistics, which were almost surely inflated intentionally, both by Soviet leaders for propaganda purposes and by Soviet producers, who had incentives to misreport or otherwise “game” the presentation of results. Marshall and Shulsky highlight the example of Soviet glass manufacturers having their output measured in square feet (or meters) of glass and then making the glass thinner to meet planned goals. Never mind that the rate of glass breakage went up. Quotas were met, if not exceeded. Yet how to account for this inflation in estimates? One could apply a discount to Soviet data, but how much? Without hard data, any such adjusted estimate would be subject to attack for being merely “anecdotal.” Marshall and Shulsky quote Anders Aslund’s summation of this problem:
Any specialist is caught in a dilemma: whether to settle for a conservative assessment that can be defended by traditional arguments but is bound to be too high, or to attempt a realistic assessment based more on subjective evaluations and less on hard facts.[9]
Marshall and Shulsky concede that whatever the challenges and limitations of CIA analysis of the Soviet economy, by the 1960s CIA analysts recognized that Soviet economic growth was slowing. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the CIA reported falling productivity as well as other challenges to the Soviet economy. However, Marshall and Shulsky argue that “the numbers did not convey any sense of crisis.”[10] Marshall and Shulsky then turn from analysis of overall Soviet economic performance to specific assessment of the Soviet defense burden — a crucial question for long-term competition. How much of the Soviet economy was being consumed by the Soviet military in order to compete with the United States? Here the CIA faced analytic hurdles at least equal to those faced in assessing the size of the Soviet economy. Prices for Soviet defense goods were set not by the market but by fiat. Prices for Soviet defense labor were likewise decreed (and suppressed by conscription). Some activities that were nominally civilian were, no doubt, underwriting military activities. Marshall and Shulsky also note how difficult cost calculations can be even with official figures, citing a RAND study from the 1950s:
Even with access to official budgetary figures, the [RAND] team discovered it could only account for about half of the USAF [U.S. Air Force] budget; the other half represented various forms of ‘overhead’ that could not be allocated by mission.[11]
These challenges meant that, through the mid-1970s, the CIA persistently underestimated the defense burden on the Soviet Union. In 1976, Marshall and Shulsky note, after obtaining new information, the “CIA doubled its estimate of the defense percentage of Soviet GNP [Gross National Product] from 6-8 percent to 11-13 percent.”[12] Yet, Marshall and Shulsky then quote Robert Gates, the CIA deputy director of intelligence in the early 1980s (who would later serve as defense secretary):
I believed instinctively that, in this communist variant of Sparta, the burden of military-related spending was far greater than the 14-16 percent of Soviet Gross National Product that CIA was saying — perhaps somewhere between 25 and 40 percent.[13]
Marshall and Shulsky conclude their essay with a call for intelligence to exploit non-traditional sources of information, such as émigrés and figures on general standards of living, as a way to improve intelligence analysis of opaque economies. Their answer to the Stansfield Turner paradox is that in 1979 Turner may have used the words “something has to give” but those words did not convey crisis. Since the numbers the CIA produced were not intuitively indicative of crisis (indeed, how could they be?), policymakers believed the Soviets could carry their defense burden for years if not decades to come. Even when the CIA revised its numbers upward, there was still a belief, as Gates indicated, the estimates remained low. There was, however, no way to prove this in a systematically and scientifically defensible manner. Thus, Turner was correct in 1991 despite his words of 1979. Trachtenberg reaches the opposite conclusion about the Stansfield Turner paradox. Citing sources as varied as headlines in the New York Times, declassified CIA products, and a wealth of information from prominent U.S. economists, he demonstrates that the decline of Soviet economic growth after the mid-1960s was well understood. He further shows that, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was generally understood that the Soviet economy was in such dire shape that the entire Soviet system of government was in trouble, if not already in crisis. [quote id="1"] Trachtenberg demonstrates both CIA and academic economists understood why the Soviet economy was stagnating. The answer was that “the Soviets could not sustain a high rate of economic growth just by plowing more and more capital into the economy.”[14] After years of building new plants and opening up “virgin lands” for agriculture, “by the mid-1960s all the low-hanging fruit had been harvested.”[15] Future growth would require improvements in Soviet productivity, which had declined at times in the 1970s. Trachtenberg, again citing both CIA and academic economists, concludes that by the 1970s at the latest it was clear “that the USSR’s economic problems could be expected to worsen unless the Soviet economy changed in fundamental ways.”[16] Neither CIA analysts nor academics could predict whether the Soviets would attempt reform or live with continued stagnation and relative decline. Nor could they determine whether, if the Soviets attempted reform, they would succeed without undermining their entire system. Yet, Trachtenberg argues,
while the analysis might not have enabled people to see precisely how the USSR was going to develop, it did provide a certain window into the future — a hazy and uncertain window to be sure, but one of real value nonetheless.[17]
Trachtenberg concludes by observing that the wide public acceptance of Turner’s view on intelligence and the Soviet economy in 1991, despite the availability of his testimony in 1979 as well as other evidence, illustrates the weakness of the supposed democratic “marketplace of ideas” — the concept that contesting information leads to better decisions. This argument is in keeping with other arguments about the failure of this marketplace, particularly with regard to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[18] Trachtenberg does not speculate why Turner might have contradicted himself, though Turner’s poor relationship with the CIA is a plausible cause. As one CIA history notes, Turner bluntly let the CIA’s analytic cadre know its products were unsatisfactory and he intended to take steps to improve them. This account dryly concludes this “was probably a purposeful instrument of leadership, but it did not foster links between Turner and the professionals in the community, especially in [the] CIA.”[19] At first glance, these two articles appear contradictory — and so one must be right and the other wrong. On the question of intelligence on the overall Soviet economy, however, the two articles are not so far apart. Marshall and Shulsky believe that if CIA analysis were better it could have been less equivocal in predicting crisis (note Turner’s 1979 formulation — “could squeeze,” not “will squeeze”). Trachtenberg concedes that the CIA gave policymakers only a “hazy window” to the future — a more positive assessment than that offered by Marshall and Shulsky, but not wildly divergent. The dispute between the articles is not about the quality of the intelligence per se, which both agree was imperfect. It is instead about the utility of that intelligence to policymakers in assessing and planning long-term competition. The next section addresses this question.

Malaise vs. Stagnation: Policymaker Views of Economic Competition, 1974–1989

Competition is not a one-sided affair. As such, it is important to place analysis of the Soviet economy in the context of the state of the U.S. economy. By the mid-1970s, though the Soviets were mired in what they called the “era of stagnation” (Период застоя), the United States’ problems looked almost as grim.[20] The Bretton Woods economic system was in tatters following President Richard Nixon’s suspension of dollar-gold convertibility.[21] President Gerald Ford was confronted with rising inflation, unemployment, and the 1973 oil shock.[22] Of the late Cold War presidents, President Jimmy Carter confronted the most serious economic challenges. In his famous 1979 “malaise” or “crisis of confidence” speech, Carter declared, “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.” Among his proposed solutions: “I ask Congress to give me authority for mandatory conservation and for standby gasoline rationing.”[23] The U.S. crisis was sufficiently deep that the president sought to impose new elements of a command economy — hardly a ringing endorsement of capitalism’s triumph over communism. Policymakers in the 1970s were unsure whether economic problems in the West were any more soluble than those in the Soviet Union. Moreover, if the United States could reform itself, it was plausible the Soviets might be able to do so as well. Indeed, the communist People’s Republic of China had begun substantial reforms in 1978, which the Soviets monitored closely.[24] As Chris Miller demonstrates, Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempted reforms were, in part, inspired by China’s efforts.[25] This point bears emphasis, as the ultimate impact of such efforts was largely unknowable to both CIA analysts and Soviet leaders before reform was attempted, underscoring the difficulty in predicting Soviet crisis or collapse. It is also important to note that, even within the CIA, views differed about the depth of Soviet problems, with some analysts more pessimistic than others about prospects for the Soviet economy.[26] American intelligence on the overall Soviet economy was, nonetheless, sufficiently compelling to illuminate future, if not immediate, opportunities for U.S. policymakers even in the Carter administration. An August 1977 meeting of Carter’s Policy Review Committee (composed of senior figures including Turner and Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal) concluded,
At the present time, we cannot exert significant influence upon Soviet behavior by economic means. … Yet, we may be missing an important point. If economic growth in the Soviet Union slows as projected, the Soviets will face difficult choices in the 1980’s regarding the allocation of resources. Does this have implications for US policy? Conceivably, our economic leverage may be much stronger than now, and we may have a unique opportunity to use it.[27]
Carter personally recognized the importance of the Soviet Union’s economic challenges. In June 1977, William Hyland, a top Soviet analyst at the CIA serving on the National Security Council staff, wrote to the president on enduring Soviet problems: “While it is always dangerous to project Soviet restraint because of their economic dilemma, it may be true for the first time that long-term problems will impinge on foreign policy decisions.” Carter made a margin note, “may be most important of all,” next to this paragraph.[28] By the early 1980s, the United States had begun its reformation and recovery, while the Soviet Union’s problems were deepening. One example is the taming of U.S. inflation under Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, with inflation rates declining from about 13 percent in 1979 to less than 4 percent in 1983.[29] The Reagan administration began receiving intelligence on the worsening Soviet problem in the context of this U.S. economic recovery. This provided exactly the sort of opportunities the Carter administration thought would come. As early as October 1981, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey sent President Ronald Reagan a CIA paper that underscored the dire straits the Soviets were in:
Slower economic growth will present President Brezhnev and his colleagues with some increasingly tough and politically painful choices regarding resource allocation and economic management. Annual increments to national output in the early 1980s will be too small to permit them simultaneously to meet mounting investment requirements, to maintain growth in defense spending at rates of the past, and raise the standard of living appreciably. Simply stated, something will have to give.[30]
The paper went on to note that Western imports were needed to ameliorate Soviet weaknesses, which could, in turn, create opportunities for pressuring the Soviets. In August 1982, Reagan’s national security adviser, William Clark, wrote to the president reiterating this theme:
The CIA has prepared a report which raises the question whether the Soviet Union, facing mounting economic problems, may at some point decide to shift resources from arms production to civilian uses … Western policies would play a major role in such a development. ‘The credit, goods, food and technology provided by the West have helped Moscow maintain its current resource allocation scheme.’ Denial of such assistance would produce additional pressure on the leadership to shift resources from military to civilian uses.[31]
Things did not improve for the Soviets, and in November 1987 Deputy Director of Central Intelligence Gates wrote to Reagan:
There is general agreement among the Soviet leaders on the need to modernize their economy — not so much for its own sake or to make Soviet citizens more prosperous but to strengthen the USSR at home, to further their own personal power, and to permit the further consolidation and expansion of Soviet power abroad. … The roots of Gorbachev’s dynamic foreign policy are to be found at home and in the need for a prolonged breathing space.[32]
Gates was skeptical that reform and the pursuit of “breathing space” would fundamentally change the nature of the Soviet regime, but he recognized that economic issues were changing Soviet domestic and foreign policy. Hyland’s view in 1977 had been borne out 10 years later. While Gates did not foresee impending collapse, he clearly believed the Soviet system was under pressure. Notably, Reagan absorbed these messages: As Trachtenberg describes, he referred to the Soviet Union as an “ec.[onomic] basket case” in a 1985 diary entry.[33] It is also worth noting that the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy, a bipartisan effort chartered to offer the U.S. government strategic advice on long-term competition, released a final report in January 1988. It argued that Soviet economic difficulties were potentially a major element of a changing security landscape and concluded, “In the long run, the Soviet leaders would have difficulty maintaining the country’s present military position if economic reform fails.” Marshall chaired one of the committee’s working groups, as did other alumni from RAND’s economics department.[34] [quote id="2"] Intelligence on the Soviet economy appears to have been sufficiently accurate and compelling to convince policymakers in the Carter and Reagan administrations that Soviet economic weakness created opportunities for the United States in long-term competition. While it is true that, through 1988, the CIA did not foresee a collapse or fundamental change in the Soviet system, it was nonetheless clear that something had to give — a phrase that appears in multiple sources throughout the period. The available evidence suggests that Trachtenberg’s “hazy window” on the Soviet economy was sufficient to aid policymakers in formulating strategy.

How Weary the Red Titan? The Soviet Defense Burden and Long-Term Competition

If Trachtenberg is correct about the utility of U.S. intelligence on the overall Soviet economy, he says little about the crucial question of the Soviet defense burden. If the Soviet economy was stagnating in the 1980s but the defense burden was relatively small, the Soviet leadership might be able to soldier on with long-term competition as it had in the 1960s and 1970s. The hard choices CIA analysts believed were coming could be put off. In contrast, if the defense burden was high and the economy was stagnating, the Soviet leadership might not be able to delay those hard choices, even if they gained the “breathing space” Gates believed they sought. Marshall and Shulsky are right to highlight the weakness of the CIA’s assessment of the Soviet defense burden through the mid-1970s, echoing arguments Marshall made while in government.[35] These internal critiques were mirrored by external critics, such as former CIA analyst William T. Lee and University of North Carolina professor Steven Rosefielde.[36] The doubling of the CIA’s estimate of the defense burden in the mid-1970s underscores the validity of these critiques, at least to that point. Marshall and Shulsky say little about efforts to improve analysis of the defense burden, which the CIA and the intelligence community generally took as a serious challenge. One of the most notable efforts was the formation, in 1972, of the Military-Economic Advisory Panel. This panel was chartered “to help insure [sic] that intelligence on Soviet defense spending provided to the US decision maker was of the highest quality.” Members of the panel were to be granted “access to the full range of information and methodologies in use and will have full access to all intelligence community resources involved in this work.”[37] The panel was, in 1976, chaired by Herbert Levine, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the leading authorities on the Soviet economy. Other members included Abraham Becker, a Soviet expert at RAND and Lt. Col. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the Air Force Academy who previously had been a military assistant to Marshall at the Office of Net Assessment. Throughout its existence, the panel would maintain a record of distinguished members and consultants, including Ivan Selin, a former RAND and Defense Department analyst; Soviet émigré economist Igor Birman; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Stephen Meyer. Outside expert panels have a mixed track record, but available CIA records, including the panel’s reports to Turner when he was director of central intelligence, seem to indicate that this panel provided helpful recommendations without calling into question the CIA’s basic methodology.[38] One minor note of irony regarding the presentation of information: The CIA’s computer model for estimating the costs of Soviet military expenditures was known as the Strategic Cost Analysis Model, or SCAM.[39] To my knowledge, the Military-Economic Advisory Panel never suggested that this acronym was infelicitous branding. Yet by 1983, after several rounds of reviewing CIA methodologies, the panel concluded that one of the major problems with CIA estimates of the Soviet defense burden was the extent to which those estimates were misunderstood and politicized.[40] The panel made recommendations for changing the presentation of the estimates; these were broadly accepted at a meeting on Soviet defense estimates between Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Director of Central Intelligence William Casey in July 1984.[41] Casey wrote to Weinberger in 1985 to confirm these changes were being implemented.[42] In a 1986 CIA report, these changes are clear: The estimate of the Soviet defense burden displayed the burden in a different format and also counted the costs of Soviet programs related to defense, such as the cost of maintaining the Soviet global position, sometimes referred to as the cost of Soviet empire.[43] The “cost of empire,” which included military and economic assistance to the Soviet bloc, had been defined and explored in research by RAND economist Charles Wolf, funded by the Office of Net Assessment.[44] While some in the CIA debated the magnitude of Wolf’s findings, the eventual inclusion of such costs meant that assessments in 1986 retrospectively showed the Soviets devoting 16 percent to 18 percent of their economy to defense in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[45] In addition to improving analytic methods, CIA analysts also took seriously Marshall and Shulsky’s charge to find new sources of data. One of the most remarkable — though not specific to the defense burden — was undertaken in 1967 by CIA analyst Gertrude Schroeder (later an economics professor at the University of Virginia). Schroeder, on temporary assignment to the U.S. embassy in Moscow, took the opportunity to travel around the capital and other parts of the Soviet Union incognito, relying on her excellent Russian and “a tacky outfit consisting of gray-green skirt, nondescript tan blouse, much-worn brown loafers, and of course head scarf,” with no stockings. After observing life from the perspective of a Soviet citizen during these excursions, she concluded, “[O]ur measurements of the position of Soviet consumers in relation to those of the United States (and Western Europe) favor the USSR to a much greater extent than I had thought. The ruble-dollar ratios are far too low for most consumer goods.”[46] [quote id="3"] Accessing such novel sources was challenging. For example, Vladimir Treml, a Duke University economics professor serving on the Military-Economic Advisory Panel in 1982, recommended the intelligence community explore unpublished material in various Eastern European libraries to collect data deleted from official Soviet publications. While reasonable, collecting the material required “language[-]trained economists,” who were in short supply. Further, CIA leaders concluded that the sources would be compromised by CIA analysts seeking to access them and nongovernment economists were “reluctant to work with us [the CIA].” The director of the Office of Soviet Analysis at the CIA nonetheless cheerfully (if perhaps cynically) concluded, “Somewhere in this mess, however, there must be a pony! We’ll keep looking.”[47] Estimates of the Soviet defense burden remained a challenge through the end of the Cold War and afterward. As William Wohlforth has observed, even after the Soviet Union collapsed there was debate about the size of the defense burden.[48] One of the most authoritative efforts, by Russian historian Irina Bystrova, concludes that the Soviet military-industrial complex accounted for about 25 percent of Soviet gross domestic product in the 1980s while absorbing 75 percent of research and development as well as the best technical people.[49] Although Bystrova’s estimate of the defense burden is significantly higher than the 1980s CIA estimate (16 percent to 18 percent), the goal of making such estimates was not finding the exact figure. As with assessments of the overall economy, the objective was to inform policymakers of how well the Soviet economy could carry the burden of competition. Here, it seems clear by the 1980s the intelligence was telling policymakers that the Soviet Union was struggling under that burden. In a note to Gates two days before the July 1984 meeting between Casey and Weinberger, National Intelligence Officer for Economic Issues Maurice Ernst wrote:
Evidence is accumulating that medium-term projections of Soviet force levels … would require a growth of military expenditures and military procurement in particular that many Soviet analysts believe to be greatly in excess of what the Soviet economy can probably support. Something will have to give. I don’t believe we can hazard an answer at this point, but simply point out to the Director and Weinberger that at a minimum a severe conflict is shaping up in the USSR over the allocation of key resources between defense and other uses, and that the outcome of the conflict remains in doubt.[50]
Marshall and Shulsky’s criticisms of CIA estimates of the Soviet defense burden are thus valid up to a point, but they give too little credit to subsequent efforts to improve those estimates. Indeed, Marshall may be selling himself short — his bureaucratic advocacy and willingness to support outside research seems to have been an important contribution to the improvement in estimates. The result was that, by the mid-1980s, policymakers were well-informed that the Soviet defense burden was becoming unsustainable. That the burden of competition could even be sustained into the 1980s seems to have been due in no small part to Soviet acquisition of Western technology, as described in the next section.

Been Caught Stealing: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Technology Acquisition

As noted earlier, by the late 1970s CIA estimates recognized the extent to which Western exports had supported the Soviet economy. Yet the extent of Soviet reliance on the acquisition of Western technology would not become clear until the early 1980s. A summit in July 1981 between Reagan and French President François Mitterrand was crucial. There, the French revealed intelligence on Soviet acquisition of technology. The “Farewell Dossier” was derived from a French human intelligence source inside Soviet technical intelligence (KGB Line X).[51] By 1982, the U.S. intelligence community described the sprawling scope of the Soviet program, which was directed by the Soviet Military Industrial Commission.[52] It included both the KGB and Soviet military intelligence, which provided clandestine acquisition, and the Soviet State Committee for Science and Technology, which oversaw licit acquisition. The Soviet program was massive. One former Reagan administration official told me that when a new technical endeavor was proposed in the Soviet Union, Soviet practice was to try to obtain the technology from the West, through legal or illicit means, before agreeing to fund any major research and development.[53] This claim was echoed in a CIA assessment from April 1982, which noted, “Soviet military designers carefully choose the Western designs, engineering approaches, and equipment most appropriate to their deficiencies and needs.”[54] A 1985 update on Soviet acquisition of Western technology noted that, by a conservative estimate, the Soviets had saved more than $1 billion in development costs from 1976 to 1980 thanks to their technology theft. The assessment noted the Soviets had saved five years in development due to acquisitions related to the U.S. F-18 fighter-jet radar alone. This undoubtedly helped the Soviet Union continue competing with the United States, even as its economy tottered toward collapse.[55] The Reagan administration’s recognition of the importance of Soviet technology acquisition led to a major counterintelligence and export-control campaign. This effort, which began in early 1982, required extensive coordination among the CIA, the FBI, and military counterintelligence organizations, with the regular involvement of very senior U.S. officials.[56] The campaign had four parts. The first and simplest was for the United States and many of its allies to expel Soviet intelligence officers engaged in technical espionage.[57] The second was to enforce Western export controls more seriously, including acting against the sale of equipment by Norwegian and Japanese firms that enabled Soviet improvements in submarine manufacturing.[58] The third part of the campaign was, apparently, to tailor the focus of other U.S. counterintelligence efforts to protect sensitive programs. For example, a U.S. Air Force officer, approached by Soviet intelligence, became a double agent pretending to provide the Soviets with information on stealth. This led to the arrest and expulsion of the senior Soviet air attaché in Washington.[59] The fourth, and most complex, part of the campaign was allegedly to feed the Soviets faulty technology and false data about U.S. programs, which required careful selection of some real data as “feed material.”[60] [quote id="4"] This campaign was broadly effective, reducing Soviet acquisition of Western technology and, presumably, curtailing the effective subsidization of the Soviet defense burden. While the extent to which cutting off Soviet access to Western technology accelerated the end of the Cold War is probably unknowable, it almost surely contributed by raising the cost of competition for the Soviets.

Long-Term Competition and Economic Intelligence in the 21st Century

The Cold War experience of economic intelligence and long-term competition is instructive. First, in developing strategy for long-term competition, intelligence on competitors’ economic capabilities is just as important as intelligence on their military capabilities. This point underscores the continuing need for robust economic analysis in the intelligence community, ideally drawing on appropriately cleared, outside experts like those on the Military-Economic Advisory Panel. One difference between analysis of the Soviet Union in the Cold War and assessments of China and Russia today is that there is far greater private-sector interest in, and therefore analysis of, the Chinese and Russian economies. This is a mixed blessing for the intelligence community. There are many more experts and sources of data, but many of those experts have a financial (rather than strictly academic) stake in the Chinese and Russian economies and therefore may not be entirely unbiased. Second, it highlights the necessity (and difficulty) of appropriately measuring a defense burden. While Chinese growth will undoubtedly continue to underwrite defense expenditure to some extent, China may, like the Soviet Union (and the United States), face hard choices. For example, Peter Robertson and Adrian Sin argue that China’s defense expenditures, measured with a relative cost-price index, are larger in nominal terms than commonly believed but smaller in real terms due to rising labor costs.[61] Similarly, the Chinese may have “costs of empire,” such as spending on the Belt and Road Initiative, which should not be viewed in isolation from the military burden.[62] Economic growth does not automatically and seamlessly translate to military budgets, much less real military power. Policymakers need a window, however hazy, on the economic future of adversaries. Third, while the U.S. relationship with China is different than that with the Soviet Union, it is likely that the licit and illicit acquisition of Western technology supports the Chinese defense burden at least as much as it did the Soviet burden.[63] Given the recent scrutiny of Chinese trade and espionage by both the Trump administration and Congress, lessons of the anti-Soviet counterintelligence campaign are worth examining. Former national counterintelligence executive Michelle Van Cleave has called for just such a proactive strategic counterintelligence campaign.[64] Paired with greater scrutiny of China’s licit technology acquisition, as called for in pending legislation, such a campaign could make a significant difference in long-term competition.[65] The return of long-term competition is not simply the Cold War redux. Yet neither should the lessons of the Cold War simply be discounted. Marshall, Shulsky, and Trachtenberg have done contemporary analysts a great service in reviewing the critical question of economic intelligence during that long twilight struggle. Acknowledgements: The author thanks Peter Clement, Ken deGraffenreid, and other former government officials who wish to remain anonymous for their insight on this subject and Frank Gavin, Josh Rovner, Bill Wohlforth and an anonymous reviewer for helpful feedback on an early draft.  Austin Long is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Image: serouj [post_title] => Rubles, Dollars, and Power: U.S. Intelligence on the Soviet Economy and Long-Term Competition [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => rubles-dollars-and-power-u-s-intelligence-on-the-soviet-economy-and-long-term-competition [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-05 13:27:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-05 17:27:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=691 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 688 [post_author] => 196 [post_date] => 2018-08-28 05:00:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-28 09:00:31 [post_content] =>

Bobby Inman Award Winner

The Bobby R. Inman Award is a competitive annual prize given by the Intelligence Studies Project, a joint program of the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law and the Clements Center for National Security. It recognizes more than six decades of distinguished public service by Adm. Bobby R. Inman, U.S. Navy (ret.). Adm. Inman served in multiple leadership positions in the U.S. military, intelligence community, private industry, and at the University of Texas. The Inman Award is designed to recognize outstanding research and writing by students at the undergraduate or graduate levels on topics related to intelligence and national security. The Texas National Security Review is proud to publish the prize winning essay.

 

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I believe it is fair to say that, as a group, [19th-century historians] thought their knowledge of the past gave them a prophetic vision of what was to come.[1]

–Sherman Kent

It is no small irony that the man who did the most to develop the U.S. government’s ability to predict the future was, by training, profession, and temperament, a historian. In August 1941, just months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Sherman Kent was recruited to join America’s first comprehensive intelligence agency — the organization that would soon become known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA. At the time, Kent was a 37-year-old professor at Yale, whose Gothic walls had sheltered him for nearly 20 years: as an undergraduate, as a doctoral student, and then as the teacher of “History 10,” the freshman course on European civilization.[2] Kent had no military, diplomatic, or intelligence background — in fact, no government experience of any kind. This would seem to make him an odd candidate to serve William “Wild Bill” Donovan, a man of intimidating martial accomplishment, whom President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recently tapped to set up his spy shop.[3] Of course, Donovan did not want Kent to be a covert operative. Rather, he wanted Kent to run the Mediterranean desk of the OSS’s Research and Analysis Branch. Kent accepted the offer and spent the war churning out reports that, among other things, prepared Allied forces for their 1942 invasion of North Africa. After the war, Kent put off his return to Yale to spend a year at the newly formed National War College, where he wrote Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy, a book that outlined a framework for intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination.[4] The book received wide attention inside and outside government. Famed columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop declared it “the most important postwar book on strategic intelligence.”[5] Decades later, it is still considered one of the field’s foundational texts.[6] It was, in part, on the strength of that book that, in 1950, Gen. Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, who had been Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s wartime chief of staff, asked Kent to join him at the Central Intelligence Agency, which President Harry S. Truman had just appointed him to lead. Kent’s role was “unprecedented in history,” as one CIA historian put it.[7] He would be deputy director and soon director of the Office of National Estimates (ONE), charged not simply with analyzing the events of the Cold War but with anticipating them.[8] The United States had just been surprised by North Korea’s invasion of the South, and with the stakes of the Cold War continuing to rise, another surprise was something that could not be tolerated. In Kent’s words,
The existence of controllable atomic energy and the dead certainty that others besides ourselves will soon possess the technical secrets, place a new and forceful emphasis upon intelligence as one of the most vital elements in our survival.[9]
Kent never returned to Yale after joining ONE. By the time he left the agency, after 17 years, he was a legend. As J. Kenneth McDonald, formerly the CIA’s chief historian, would write, “Sherman Kent is a larger than life figure in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.”[10] Such accolades were hard-earned. When Kent joined the Research and Analysis Branch, U.S. intelligence analysis was a haphazard affair. By the time he left the CIA, it was an orderly process staffed by career analysts who hewed to a strict methodology that prioritized objectivity in the face of ambiguity and neutrality in the face of ideology. Kent’s insistence on disinterested analysis gave ONE a degree of independence from Washington politics, and his reverence for the scientific method legitimized its work on prediction. Such efforts easily could have been dismissed as crystal-ball speculation, but Kent benefited from the postwar scholarly zeitgeist, which held that human systems, like physical systems, were governed by laws that made their behavior predictable. Similar to his academic contemporaries, Kent ardently believed that even complex domains, like geopolitics, were inherently knowable. At ONE, he strove for nothing less than a science of prediction. It is this passion that both complicates Kent’s legacy and makes it particularly relevant today. On the one hand, at a moment in which expertise — indeed the very nature of truth — is under attack,[11] Kent can serve as a much-needed beacon of reason, a venerable model of Enlightenment values and their importance to national security. What’s more, Kent anticipated — by decades — seminal findings in the field of judgment and decision-making, such as the prevalence of overconfidence and the dangers of confirmation bias, that have validated the role of social science in intelligence analysis. On the other hand, Kent’s epistemological enthusiasm turned out to be hubris. In his belief that science could unmask the geopolitical future, Kent overreached. ONE’s estimates were often wrong, the experts he revered underperformed as forecasters, and a science of prediction proved elusive. Today’s world is, once again, intoxicated by the prospect of prediction, hooked this time on a cocktail of Big-Data-enabled machine learning. Artificial intelligence undoubtedly holds great promise, but the excitement about its capabilities feels familiar and feverish. So, although Sherman Kent stands as a beacon, he may prove even more useful as a warning.

The Recruitment

Kent was born in California in 1903, the son of a businessman-politician who served three terms in Congress. In 1921, because nearly every other man in his family had done so,[12] he began his studies at Yale, where he promptly distinguished himself by flunking freshman history. The failure hit him hard. And because the class was mandatory, he feared he would be kicked out. “In fact, I was so pessimistic in my outlook,” he later wrote in a self-published memoir, “that whereas every other freshman bought a big blue Yale banner with the words ‘YALE 1926’ on it, I was so sure that I was not long for the Class of 1926 that I bought a banner that read simply ‘YALE’.”[13] Kent retook and passed the class, but he avoided further history courses until he registered for an introduction to medieval France with John Allison, whom he recalled as “the most interesting and perhaps the most compelling lecturer on the whole faculty.”[14] After graduation, Kent struggled to choose a profession, vacillating between practicing law and teaching high school. It was Allison who suggested that he pursue his Ph.D. at Yale, a goal that might be attainable — despite the fact that his academic record “was no great shakes,” as Kent put it — if he applied while professors still remembered him.[15] He followed Allison’s advice and was accepted. Seven years later, he earned a doctorate in history, specializing in 19th-century French politics, and joined Yale’s history faculty. In 1941, he was teaching the very class he had failed when he got a call from Conyers Read, a historian of Renaissance-era England at the University of Pennsylvania, whom he knew “both personally and professionally.”[16] The purpose of the call was vague. As far as Kent could tell, Read was “mobilizing historians” to compile information for a government propaganda effort. Kent was intrigued enough to get on a train to Washington to meet with Read and William Langer, a famed Harvard professor of diplomatic history. There, the two told Kent that Roosevelt was forming an agency under Donovan — known initially as the Office of the Coordinator of Information and, soon after, as the Office of Strategic Services — that would combine intelligence analysis, operations, counterintelligence, and propaganda. They wanted him to join the analytic branch. As Kent explained in a letter to his mother,
It seems that there is a very enormously great damn deal of information coming in to various governmental agencies — military and naval intelligence, F.B.I., State Dept. etc. — all of it gathered and put together by specialists in the multitude of special fields. As yet there is no one with the training or desire to coordinate the dope for purposes of high policy.[17]
Indeed, the prewar coordination of “dope” was poor. Today, the intelligence community — composed of 17 separate organizations, led by the director of national intelligence — is an integral part of the U.S. national security establishment. But in 1941, there was no such arrangement. The military collected information on foreign forces, as it had during World War I, and the State Department gathered political and economic intelligence, but Roosevelt was happy with neither the soldiers nor the diplomats. Kent explained,
It seemed that Mr. Roosevelt was far from pleased with the kind of intelligence support he was getting from the armed forces and was also inclined to disbelieve or give low credence to the political and economic information that was coming into the Department of State from its many diplomatic missions overseas.[18]
Kent was immediately interested in the job. Although his continuing work on French history was proceeding well, he had been worrying for months about “how remote and useless this sort of research appears in the light of our crisis values,”[19] which is to say that Adolf Hitler’s conquest of Europe made Bourbon France seem a bit arcane. The job with the Office of the Coordinator of Information seemed like a chance to use his skills to participate in the war (or, at this point, pre-war) effort. What’s more, Read and Langer assured him, he would be working alongside some of the most impressive scholars in the country: “Apparently the lure of the work has been enough to get the real top men in history, geography, and economics from all over the country.”[20] He accepted the offer and within two weeks was in Washington, serving as chief of the Mediterranean division in the office’s Research and Analysis Branch, or “R&A.” To understand why a man of action like Bill Donovan was mobilizing historians to supply the president with intelligence may require denizens of the digital age, constantly bombarded as they are by multiple streams of information, to think about what “information” meant in the mid-20th century. In 1941, information was stored on paper, catalogued on cards, and retrieved by people, not computers. What’s more, in contrast with today’s service- and information-based economy, the economy of the early 1940s was dominated by manufacturing and agriculture. Only 5 percent of the adult population had a college degree.[21] That meant that only a tiny sliver of the population could be considered “knowledge workers,” in today’s parlance — people with the skills to find, collate, and process vast amounts of information, especially information on far-flung locales and esoteric subjects. Chief among them were academics. [quote id="1"] After World War I — during which U.S. intelligence efforts had grown substantially — the Army and Navy had been charged with maintaining a “constant flow of information from almost every part of the world,” according to Kent.[22] Had they done so, by the time the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States would have had hundreds of encyclopedic volumes on various countries and topics. Instead, the information gathered did not seem to be enough to fill a single volume. As Kent describes,
From our visits and meetings with the various intelligence officers of the Armed Forces, we had some pretty solid evidence that any active intelligence work must have ended with the First World War. … There could be no speedier way to bring to light the shocking state of U.S. intelligence than the imminent outbreak of war.[23]
The problem the United States faced as it approached a global showdown with the Axis powers was how to collect, synthesize, and present massive amounts of information about foreign countries and potential theaters of battle. That is why, when the Office of the Coordinator of Information was first conceived, Archibald MacLeish, the librarian of Congress, gathered representatives from several tweedy organizations — the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council, and the National Archives — to determine who among them could best advise the new research-and-analysis effort.[24] It was often academics — historians, political scientists, and geographers — who knew the most about the foreign lands the United States would be fighting in, and they knew how to get information they did not have and distill the data into a readable product. However well-prepared his profession was for the task, Kent was shaken by his introduction to R&A:
I’ve been new to many jobs before, but I’ve never been new to a new job. I’ve never been set down (or far better) stood up to do something, anything, not knowing how to do it [and] been unable to find anyone who has more dope than myself. It is a shattering experience.[25]
A set of notes from his first weeks on the job contains questions ranging from the mundane (“Do I need one of those badges. Where do I get it.”) to the fundamental (“Will research carried on be primarily of [a] strategic nature”).[26] As he later recalled,
There were few in Washington who could give any guidance as to how to go about the business at hand. What intelligence techniques there were, ready and available, were in their infancy. Intelligence was to us at that period really nothing in itself; it was, at best, the sum of what we, from our outside experience, could contribute to a job to be done.[27]
One expectation was met, however: Read and Langer’s promise that he would be working with the top scholars in the country was borne out. Many of Kent’s colleagues were at the peak of their profession. James Phinney Baxter was the president of Williams College. John Fairbank was the country’s leading Sinologist. Hajo Holborn was the Sterling professor of history at Yale. There were dozens and dozens more. As historian Robin Winks put it, “The list of historians who worked for the OSS reads like a Who’s Who of the profession.”[28] By contrast, Kent was not yet a full professor. He was probably tapped for the job because, like nearly everyone who was hired, he knew someone — in his case, Conyers Read — who was doing the hiring. But there were one or two other factors that might have pushed him higher on Read’s list. The first was a committee that Kent founded at Yale, in 1939, dedicated to collecting prewar German propaganda and preserving it for the historical record.[29] The second was a talk he gave to the American Historical Association in December 1940 under the heading “The Historian in Time of Trouble,” in which he described historians who, at times of political unrest, had stepped out of the ivory tower to guide the political process: “It was the scholar-statesman who knew the points of reference in the past and could use them as guides to the right regulation of future public affairs.”[30] Both activities broadcast Kent’s desire to do something of grand purpose during a time of global crisis. And, because midcentury academia was an old boys’ club — and because, as a Yale faculty member, Kent sat at one of its most exclusive tables — it may not have taken much prompting for Read to call him that August day in 1941.[31]

Research and Analysis

Whatever the proximate cause of Kent’s hiring, he rapidly distinguished himself at R&A. Kent arrived in Washington with a well-defined way of thinking — or, more accurately, a well-defined way of thinking about how one should think. Kent was not an ideologue — far from it. He was a methodologist. In fact, when Read had called him to service, he had just been wrapping up the proofs of a book on the proper way to do history. Writing History was intended primarily as a primer for undergraduates who had to produce their first history papers. (Reading the book, one gets the sense that Kent was tired of seeing the same mistakes in each iteration of his “History 10” class.) But the volume also serves as a succinct guide to Kent’s faith in reason, the scientific method, and the search for truth. The “most serious” reason to study history, he wrote, is that it brings the student into “intimate contact with the chief philosophical assumptions behind his existence. For if his work [is to] have any merit at all, it will have come from the systematic nature of his research and thought.”[32] He continued: “Chiefly does ‘systematic’ study imply skepticism of things taken for granted.”[33] To Kent, such skepticism — the willingness to criticize assumptions, particularly one’s own — was the essence of history, of estimable thought in general. What’s more, he maintained, rational, systematic thought is what enables social progress. Although Kent stressed the importance of narrative in history, he saw the discipline as “akin to the method of science which Francis Bacon put forth in the early seventeenth century.” Specifically, Kent wrote,
It consists of gathering facts. … It consists of forming hypotheses on the basis of these facts, of testing these hypotheses for traces of one’s own ignorance or bias, of cleansing them if possible. The goal of research is to build better hypotheses than already exist and to establish them as relatively more true: it is to reveal a sharper picture of what happened and to make a closer approach to actuality than anyone has yet contrived.[34]
Writing History was a manifesto for realizing truth through the scientific method, intellectual flexibility, and unrelenting skepticism of the evidence. Kent brought this attitude directly to Research and Analysis, whose purpose, he noted, “was trying by the method of science to approach truth.”[35] As his close colleague Harold P. Ford would later note,
Closely paralleling the theory and practice of professional intelligence were certain of the principles of the historian’s calling Sherman Kent enunciated in his first [sic] book, Writing History, which he had written while at Yale. In many of the passages one need only substitute the words ‘intelligence officer’ for ‘historian.’[36]
In that scholarly attitude, Kent both reflected and contributed to the approach of R&A writ large. The Research and Analysis Branch became known as “the Campus” not simply because it comprised some 900 scholars but because their methods, far from being clandestine, relied so heavily on libraries and other open-source materials, such as government testimony, newspaper articles, and radio reports. Donovan, who lacked no flair for the dramatic, embraced the “Bad Eyes Brigade” because he could see just how much information they could pull from the most prosaic of sources.[37] Kent spent his first day on the job at the Library of Congress retrieving articles from the American Historical Review and the Journal of Modern History “in an effort to discover what Americans have written on the fine red Mediterranean.”[38] It would quickly become clear that the R&A scholars could produce most of what the military (and other elements of the war effort) needed simply by hitting the books. As Winks put it, “R&A controlled the most powerful weapon in the OSS arsenal: the three-by-five index card.”[39] R&A was like a university in another crucial respect: its tolerance, and even encouragement, of free thinking — an approach that was rare in the bureaucracy and the military but that could produce brilliant ideas and reduce the risk of artificial consensus. Kent later explained the need to tolerate idiosyncrasy:
In a sense, intelligence organizations must be not a little like a large university faculty. They must have the people to whom research and rigorous thought are the breath of life, and they must accordingly have tolerance for the queer bird and the eccentric with a unique talent. They must guarantee a sort of academic freedom of inquiry and must fight off those who derogate such freedom by pointing to its occasional crackpot finding.[40]
But R&A was unlike a university faculty in a few important ways — ways that not only helped its work but that also foreshadowed developments in the academy itself by many years. For one thing, R&A did not merely encourage but demanded collaboration among its scholars. Whereas many academics were used to beavering away in solitude on a project for years on end, the breadth of knowledge needed for any one project and the speed with which reports had to be produced required cooperation. That cooperation rankled egos, and some argued that collaboration actually diluted the scientific method since no single person would collect the data, draw hypotheses, test them, and, if necessary, start over.[41] Yet analysts had no choice but to work together given wartime deadlines. As Kent noted, R&A might have had the aura of a university, but it had the pace of a newsroom.[42] R&A also forced its 900 scholars to work across disciplines. The bureau included historians, economists, political scientists, geographers, psychologists, and anthropologists.[43] As Winks notes, “Since intelligence required its own methodology, R&A would derive this methodology from several disciplines.”[44] But such interdisciplinary cooperation was not normal for the time. In particular, the economists, with their mathematical models, chafed at working with colleagues from less quantitative fields and showed a tendency toward bureaucratic expansionism: “We have taken over Europe. We are moving in on the Far East and we will shortly get going on the USSR,” one junior economist wrote.[45] As Jack Davis, a CIA expert on Sherman Kent, quipped, “One of Kent’s legendary achievements was to talk reluctant economists into serving under the direction of an historian.”[46] [quote id="2"] The first real test of such coordination — and of Kent himself — came in August 1942, when Donovan told R&A that the Allies were planning to invade North Africa and needed information on the region immediately. North Africa fell within Kent’s brief, and, in a marathon 50-hour session, he and the R&A staff produced a report on Morocco, followed by reports on Algeria and Tunisia. The military was impressed by both the rapid response and the sheer breadth of the reports, and, Winks writes, “Donovan told the unit that they had produced ‘the first victory’ for R&A’s methodology.”[47] According to Davis, “The North Africa reports helped make R&A’s reputation with the military as a valuable win-the-war asset. The event also made Kent’s reputation as a rising star in the new world of intelligence research and analysis.”[48] Kent continued to make himself useful within the organization, advancing where there were openings, and, by the end of the war, his reputation had spread. Washington had taken notice of R&A’s accomplishments. The volume of information that the analysts processed — during a single week in 1943, the branch was inundated with 45,000 pages of foreign material — was staggering. Their output was even more so — some 3,000 reports on a preposterously wide range of topics.[49] Intelligence historian Jeffrey Richelson describes the scope of their efforts:
The subjects of R&A studies covered a vast number of economic, political, sociological, and military subjects: the status of rail traffic on the Russian front in Japan, the attitudes of the Roman Catholic church in Hungary, Charles de Gaulle’s political ideas, the looting and damaging of art works, the Indian Communist party, trade routes in the Congo basin, Japan’s electric power industry, and the relation of tin acquisitions to airplane production in Japan.[50]
And yet R&A’s prodigious output and its contribution to the Allied war effort did not ensure its organizational survival.[51] Almost immediately after Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Truman fired Donovan, whom he found arrogant, and shelved his plan to create a centralized intelligence service, telling Harold Smith, who directed the Bureau of the Budget, that he had “in mind a different kind of intelligence service from what this country has had in the past.”[52] In the meantime, he disbanded the OSS, placing its clandestine operations within the War Department and the Research and Analysis Branch within the State Department, whose area experts and diplomats were all too happy to sideline a group of scholars whose skills they saw as redundant to their own.

Social Science and the Promise of Prediction

Kent initially joined his colleagues in the State Department, but by May 1946 he had become despondent at their subordination within the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy. In this dark moment, Kent was approached by Vice Adm. Harry W. Hill and Maj. Gen. Alfred Gruenther, respectively the commandant and vice commandant of the newly formed National War College. They asked him to join their civilian staff. It was a prestigious offer: The staff already included such notables as George F. Kennan, who would soon publish his famous “X” article in Foreign Affairs, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,”[53] and Bernard Brodie, who had just published The Absolute Weapon, the first book to explain how the atom bomb had radically changed military strategy.[54] Kent accepted the job and used the time it afforded him to write Strategic Intelligence, a manifesto on “knowledge vital for national survival”[55] and a guide for acquiring and processing it that the intelligence community would come to consider every bit as important as the seminal works by Kennan and Brodie. Meanwhile, despite its burst of wartime activity, U.S. intelligence was once again in danger of underperforming. The problem this time was not a failure of vigilance — the shock of Pearl Harbor remained vivid, and growing tensions with the Soviet Union made it clear that the United States needed a centralized intelligence agency — but, rather, a failure of execution. In 1947, Congress passed the National Security Act, which, among other things, established the CIA. Nevertheless, the United States was surprised when, in June 1950, North Korea invaded the South. At this point, Truman replaced the CIA’s first director with Gen. Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, Eisenhower’s wartime chief of staff. Kent soon received another phone call requesting his service. In the fall of 1950, Kent met with Smith, who explained that he was establishing an Office of National Estimates, whose sole purpose would be to illuminate, as best as possible, the uncertainty of the future, and that he wanted Kent to join — briefly as deputy and then as director (when the inaugural director, Kent’s old R&A boss Bill Langer, would have to return to Harvard). Kent initially demurred, saying that his experience at R&A had concerned research, not prediction, but Smith insisted.[56] So, on Nov. 15, 1950 — the day the Chinese crossed the Yalu River, entering the war and yet again proving the inadequacy of U.S. predictive capabilities — Kent returned to Washington to first help and then lead an effort no one there had attempted before: predicting global affairs.[57] As Kent would later put it, “In short, if there was any office in the United States Government which was and should have been perpetually wondering about the future and where its perils or the opposite lay, we were it.”[58] Why was Smith so keen to hire Kent? For one thing, R&A had amply shown how valuable academics could be to the military and therefore to national security, and Kent had established himself as the scholar/analyst-in-chief during his tenure. In a 1946 memo to Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg, who headed the Central Intelligence Group (a short-lived postwar precursor to the CIA), Kent argued that “university people” were most qualified for research and analysis work. Kent continued,
Most of the R/A type of functions are best performed by people who are experts in the so-called social sciences, i.e., economics, history, international law, international relations, geography, and sometimes even psychology or sociology.[59]
He also argued that a surge in patriotic sentiment had given the U.S. government an opportunity to leverage academia, with young scholars eager to serve their country. Kent saw the CIA’s establishment as an opportunity to lure the most senior faculty to intelligence work, cultivate the next generation of intelligence analysts, and perhaps even change the way universities thought about their responsibility to national security. Kent was a natural bridge between the previous generation of intelligence analysts and the next — between the successes of R&A and the challenges of ONE. Smith was also attracted to Kent because of what he had written in Strategic Intelligence, a book that Smith’s deputy had not only read but also reviewed and discussed with Kent.[60] Among its contributions, the book offered a new taxonomy for intelligence analysis. Whereas previous works might have classified intelligence products according to the intended consumer, the method of collection, or the degree of tactical versus strategic importance, Kent explicitly categorized intelligence analysis by time — that is, whether it focused on the past, the present, or the future.[61] Thus, he divided all intelligence into the “basic descriptive form” (the sort of data one might find in an almanac or, today, in the CIA’s World Factbook), the “current reportorial form” (contemporary information that could come from the day’s newspaper or the report of an intelligence operative), and the “speculative-evaluative form” (analysis of what other states were likely to do and what the United States could do to alter their course of action, if necessary).[62] [quote id="3"] The first two categories involved description, but the third involved the very thing Smith was looking for: prediction. Kent devoted an entire chapter to the practice and promise of prediction — or “estimation” — concluding that, if one had sufficient descriptive and reportorial information, “intelligence ought to be able to make shrewd guesses — estimates they are generally called — as to what [any country] is likely to do in any circumstance whatsoever.”[63] That, itself, was a bold prediction. A key reason for Kent’s confidence was his assessment of the growing abilities of the “university people” he had praised to Vandenberg:
The social sciences have by no means yet attained the precision of the natural sciences; they may never do so. But in spite of the profound methodological problems which they face, they have advanced prodigiously in the last fifty years. Taken as a block of wisdom on humanity their accomplishments are large not merely in the area of description but more importantly in the area of prognosis.[64]
In the event that anyone disagreed, Kent huffily concluded, “If the record did not read thus, this book most emphatically would not have contained a chapter on this element of the long-range intelligence job.”[65] Writing in 1947, Kent was describing radical changes in the postwar academy, both in its practices and in its promises. The social sciences had been trying to identify causal relationships in human behavior for decades, but whereas they had initially been more philosophical in orientation and qualitative in their evidence, by midcentury the social sciences had begun to turn toward a harder, analytic style that used quantitative methods to test hypotheses.[66] They began to treat social systems much like physical systems — that is, subject to discoverable natural laws. As intellectual historian Louis Menand has put it, they adopted a “self-consciously scientific model of research.”[67] Each of the disciplines underwent a paradigm shift that led to a new emphasis on theory, with a particular stress on modeling. As historian of science Hunter Heyck has catalogued,
Before 1940, zero research articles published in the flagship journals of the five largest social sciences in America described what they were doing as “modeling” something. Zero. By the 1970s, half of all articles in those journals did so.[68]
The use of mathematics similarly spiked, as did the tendency to explicitly connect empirical findings to theoretical literature. Effectively, American scholars thought they would soon be able to codify and quantify human behavior. The result was greater faith in social scientists’ ability to explain and predict.[69] Usable findings are what both scholars and policymakers hoped for. With the war, the academy had ceased to be an ivory tower and instead had become an engine of military innovation as scientists and engineers turned out everything from more reliable ammunition to the atomic bomb. Though in not quite as flashy a fashion, social scientists had made their own contributions to the Allied victory, tweaking and even guiding the war effort to maximize American power — for example, by managing production so as to speed the manufacture of materiel and by optimizing the effectiveness of military tactics through operations research. Social science had shown that it could have a concrete impact, not simply philosophical implications. It stood to reason that if the social sciences suddenly had a greater base of scholars to draw from (because of the GI Bill), more funding (because of government contracts), and new tools that allowed for more powerful analysis (computers, data, and statistical models), then they could accomplish even more. Menand wrote, “The idea that academics, particularly in the social sciences, could provide the state with neutral research results on which pragmatic public policies could be based was an animating idea in the 1950s university.”[70] It was an intoxicating idea that recalled the heights of the Progressive Era. Sociologist Daniel Bell captured the enthusiasm of the moment this way:
To put the question grandly, if physics and its allied sciences have given us a greater and more complex understanding of nature so that we have been able to transform nature, what have the social sciences learned about human nature…[that] would enable us to achieve the utopian visions of our forebears? Or to put the issue in the vernacular: if we have been able to engineer E=MC2 into a nuclear bomb, and to put a man on the moon, can we educate our children better, design a more pleasing environment, utilize productivity to conquer poverty, or create an “artificial intelligence” that would extend men’s powers to think, as machines have extended our physical powers? In the mid-twentieth century these were the promises.[71]
It was prediction, however, that most concerned the U.S. national security establishment. Smith established ONE because, having been surprised at Pearl Harbor, the United States had to do everything possible to foresee, and thereby forestall, a nuclear Pearl Harbor. The belief that social scientists — experts — were best equipped to make such predictions reflected the contemporary academic worldview, of which Kent was a proponent. “[S]ome of the problems having to do with national survival involve long-range speculations on the strength and intentions of other states, involve estimates of their probable responses to acts which we ourselves plan to initiate. These cannot be dealt with except by the special techniques of the expert,” Kent wrote.[72] ONE would give him the chance to develop those techniques — and, implicitly, to test the promise of social science.

Toward a Science of Prediction

Smith dubbed ONE the “heart of the CIA.” Unlike R&A with its hundreds of scholars, ONE had a research staff of only 25 to 30 people (most with advanced degrees in the social sciences or history), capped by a board of experts (on which Langer, Kent, and other notables served). In addition to intelligence from the agency itself, the bulk of ONE’s information came not from libraries but from the Army, the Navy, the State Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, the FBI, and, later, the Department of Defense — each of which had its own intelligence operation. An advisory board composed of representatives from each of those agencies decided on what subjects ONE would produce National Intelligence Estimates, or NIEs, which Kent described as one of Smith’s “major innovations” — a tool for fulfilling the CIA’s legal and bureaucratic mandate to coordinate and disseminate intelligence in a manner that best aided national security.[73] ONE thus served a management function — as an office of the only “national” intelligence agency, the CIA — and “had the pen” on all estimates. But its drafts were reviewed by all participating agencies, and the final product was supposed to represent a consensus view.[74] The bureaucratic, cooperative, and consensual nature of NIE production — however agonizing it must have been at times — should have lent the process credibility. If everyone from generals to G-men to nuclear scientists participated in a forecasting exercise, it should have been difficult to dismiss the results out of hand. Instead, Kent often found himself confronting a no-win situation. Policymakers who agreed with the conclusions of a given NIE would find it of little value because they had already made the same projections themselves. Policymakers who disagreed with the conclusions would challenge the NIE’s methodological validity or even the credibility of those who produced it. And because intelligence is sometimes trumped by exogenous factors (like domestic politics), even the best estimate could be prescient but, in the end, worthless.[75] Given such challenges, Kent said, the only thing one could do was to produce the most objective and disinterested product possible. Strive to uncover the truth “until it hurts” and present it credibly, and analysts would have the greatest chance of influencing policy.[76] That is why he endeavored to make estimation a scientific process — and to depict it as such. Kent had spent his entire career lauding the scientific method — in Writing History, during his time at R&A, and in Strategic Intelligence. ONE was no different. In an article he wrote for the in-house CIA journal he helped to establish, Studies in Intelligence, Kent likened the formulation of a “perfect estimate” to building a pyramid. Analysts would start with a base of facts and, using the “classical methodologies” of induction and deduction, reason their way to the peak.[77] The ideal progression would move the analyst from “the known to the unknown with a certain amount of tentative foraying as new hypotheses are advanced, tested, and rejected.” In a final extrapolation, the analyst might estimate the precise location and shape of the apex — that thing to be known — or “leave the pyramid truncated near its apex [which tells] the reader that you have narrowed the range of possibilities down to only a few.” [quote id="4"] This was as good a summation as any of how Kent applied the scientific method to forecasting, but, in addition to the “classical methodologies,” Kent also advanced a number of novel guidelines. If some of them seem today like common sense, it is worth noting that the psychological mechanisms underlying them would not be understood for decades. In these elements of what Davis called his “analytic code,” Kent the historian was something of a savant.[78] He anticipated the dangers of confirmatory bias, the importance of allowing dissent, and the need for precision when estimating probabilities. Beware Bias In addition to being wary of the policy preferences of intelligence consumers, Kent was well aware that analysts could suffer from their own preconceived notions. Armed with (or burdened by) a specific hypothesis, analysts could find themselves all too easily attracted to information that fit, rather than challenged, their beliefs. Kent’s worries about bias can be seen in his admonitions to undergraduates in Writing History: “Willingness to criticize his own judgments, his own conclusions in the light of what he knows or suspects of his own prejudice is the quality that separates the intellectually honest historian from the irresponsible apologist.”[79] One defense against this tendency, Kent advised, was to explicitly consider multiple explanations:
What is desired in the way of hypotheses, whenever they may occur, is quantity and quality. What is desired is a large number of possible interpretations of the data, a large number of inferences, or concepts, which are broadly based and productive of still other concepts.[80]
In his warning against partiality and his suggestion that it could be tamed by considering multiple explanations, Kent anticipated what is now known as the “confirmation bias.” As psychologist Thomas Gilovich puts it, when people encounter evidence that supports their beliefs, they ask “May I believe it?” But when they encounter that which disproves their beliefs, they ask “Must I believe it?”[81] It may seem intuitive that people would prefer information that confirms their beliefs, but it requires a further leap to understand, as Kent did, that disconfirming evidence can be more valuable.[82] What’s more, Kent realized just how pernicious confirmation bias can be. Modern psychologists believe that it contributes to overconfidence, which may be what Max Bazerman and Don Moore have called “the mother of all biases,” with calamitous consequences for decision-making, including national security decision-making.[83] Kent’s solution is the basis for various foresight methodologies, such as scenario planning, that explicitly consider multiple possible futures. Indeed, scenario planning is useful, in part, precisely because it reduces the overconfidence that can degrade predictive accuracy.[84] Encourage Dissent Recognizing that groups could gravitate toward an artificial consensus — what would become known in the 1970s as “groupthink”[85] — Kent actively encouraged dissent. According to Jack Davis,
In Kent’s day, before electronic coordination and review, it was common to assemble in a room 20 or 30 analysts with a wide range of factual expertise and points of view to review a draft assessment, at times fighting their way through the text paragraph by paragraph.[86]
Representatives from different agencies were bound to disagree with one another, and Kent allowed unresolvable disagreements to be included in the texts of NIEs, a practice that continues to this day.[87] More interestingly, he encouraged participants to speak up, even on subjects outside their area of expertise. He recalled,
One ground rule we established very early in the game was that no matter what the nature of the area that a Rep represented, anyone present should feel free to comment on any section of the paper whatsoever. In other words, someone representing the Air Force was free, and actually encouraged, to comment on any of the other areas, say of a political or economic nature.[88]
This was a remarkable management insight. Kent seems to have anticipated, by more than 40 years, the work of organizational behavior scholar Amy Edmondson, who found that the most effective teams encourage an atmosphere of “psychological safety,” in which members feel free to voice opinions without worrying that they might hurt their reputation or career.[89] Psychological safety has since been shown to impact outcomes in a variety of high-stakes domains, such as surgical theaters.[90] It is not hard to see how the quality of intelligence analysis could suffer in a psychologically “unsafe” environment. Be Precise Kent had always been a stickler for precise language — his own prose is so exact as to be turgid — and he insisted upon it at ONE.[91] Particularly given the existential nature of Cold War threats, Kent abhorred the “confusions” that had taken hold in the lexicon of intelligence analysts. These vagaries were particularly insidious when it came to estimating probabilities.[92] One day, he recalled in his memoir, “I asked everybody to write down the numerical odds that he ascribed to the expression ‘serious possibility.’ To my horror, I found that the spread of odds ranged all the way from 80 to 20 to 20 to 80.”[93] To rectify the situation, Kent recommended that estimators provide odds (e.g., two-to-one, five-to-one) of an event occurring instead of using the “infantile imprecision of the language of intelligence” (e.g., “good chance,” “real possibility,” “strong likelihood”).[94] When one colleague complained that phrases like “50-50 odds” would make the CIA sound like a “bookie shop,” Kent replied, “I’d rather be a bookie than a goddamn poet.”[95] Here, again, Kent was ahead of his time.[96] People assign wildly different probabilities to different words. Nevertheless, for decades the U.S. intelligence community resisted assigning quantitative measures to qualitative estimates and, as a result, failed to communicate its forecasts clearly.[97] Recent research has shown, however, that one of the primary objections to quantitative probabilities — that they convey a false sense of precision on the part of the analyst — is unfounded.[98] This is true even of specific probabilities as opposed to ranges.[99] What’s more, in a multiyear geopolitical forecasting tournament sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the best performers were the most granular in the probabilities they assigned their forecasts.[100] Apparently, it really is better to be a bookie than a poet!

Estimating Kent

Despite Kent’s best efforts, ONE often erred in its predictions. One of its biggest mistakes was its insistence, in September 1962, that the Soviets would not place nuclear weapons in Cuba.[101] In fact, the Soviets had already placed intermediate-range missiles and tactical nuclear weapons on the island, and their discovery by U.S. surveillance precipitated what was probably the greatest crisis in human history — one that could have led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. Kent subsequently published an article that critiqued the estimate in detail, assessing how his office got it wrong.[102] There were other errors as well. In 1973, Robert Gates, a young CIA analyst who would go on to become director of central intelligence and secretary of defense, wrote, “We failed to anticipate the construction of the Berlin Wall, the ouster of Khrushchev, the timing of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and other events of importance.”[103] ONE had successes, too, including anticipating the Soviet launch of Sputnik. But evaluating ONE’s record is difficult for several reasons: Some facts remain murky, NIEs contained many different judgments, and those judgments were often presented not as testable predictions but as qualitatively expressed degrees of confidence. That is why Abbott Smith, who succeeded Kent as director of ONE, concluded,
What it comes to is this: a complete, objective, statistical audit of the validity of NIE’s is impossible, and even if it were possible, it would provide no just verdict on how ‘good’ these papers have been. Like the Bible, the corpus of estimates is voluminous and uneven in quality, and almost any proposition can be defended by citations from it.[104]
That ambiguity is, in part, why the Nixon administration abolished ONE in 1973. Henry Kissinger, who was national security adviser at the time, had become enormously frustrated with the documents’ opacity, which he reportedly felt required a “Talmudic” degree of interpretation.[105] He had the National Security Council staff compile its own, competing estimates, and finally CIA Director William Colby replaced ONE with a collection of “national intelligence officers.” Those officers were eventually organized into the National Intelligence Council, which still produces NIEs. The challenge in measuring the accuracy of National Intelligence Estimates makes it difficult to judge Sherman Kent’s career. Kent’s admirers — and there are many — insist that his contributions were significant, noting his development of intelligence as a “profession.” Harold P. Ford paid tribute to his former colleague as “a principal father of the modern intelligence profession.”[106] Donald Steury, a CIA historian and editor of a volume on Kent, similarly lauded the ONE director’s “formative role in the growth of intelligence as a profession.”[107] And Jack Davis concluded, “If intelligence analysis as a profession has a Founder, the honor belongs to Sherman Kent.”[108] This is why, in 2000, CIA Director George Tenet dedicated the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis, saying that it would “prepare generations of men and women for the vital, demanding, and exciting profession of intelligence analysis in the 21st century.”[109] [quote id="5"] By the time Kent retired in 1967, American intelligence analysis certainly had become professionalized, especially compared with the ad hoc approach that had marked the early days of R&A, when Kent knew little and was “unable to find anyone who has more dope than myself.” As early as 1955, he was able to write of the CIA,
We are officered and manned by a large number of people with more than a decade of continuous experience in intelligence, and who regard it as a career to be followed to retirement. By now we have orderly file rooms of our findings going back to the war, and we have methods of improving the usefulness of such files. … Most important of all, we have within us a feeling of common enterprise and a good sense of mission.[110]
Crucially, he continued, intelligence “has developed a recognized methodology; it has developed a vocabulary; it has developed a body of theory and doctrine; it has elaborate and refined techniques.” In that, it met the formal definition of a profession laid out by sociologist Andrew Abbott, who wrote that “professions are exclusive occupational groups applying somewhat abstract knowledge to particular cases.”[111] Or, as Davis put it, “His analytic code … perhaps Kent’s most valuable contribution, was carefully refined to distinguish professional analysts not only from fortune-tellers and policy action officers, but also from academic specialists on national security affairs.” In short, it was a defined, and even rarified, activity. At the same time, Kent had wanted more: As a historian swept up in postwar scholarly excitement, he wanted to turn intelligence into not simply a profession but a discipline — which is to say, a science. His 1955 article claimed that analysis had taken on “the aspects of a discipline,”[112] but Steury, while praising Kent, argues that he was the “practitioner” of a “craft” — never able to transform intelligence analysis into a science because of his innate preference for empiricism over theory:
Intelligence analysis in the CIA never achieved an explicitly, broadly based epistemological and doctrinal structure. … Like most historians of his generation, Kent was uncomfortable with theoretical constructs, preferring in their stead empirical judgments that were founded in an ordered methodology.[113]
Despite his occasional claim otherwise, Kent’s own writings support this critique. The thing he felt intelligence needed most to help it become a discipline was a body of literature, which is why he lobbied for the creation of Studies in Intelligence. Its authors, he said, should grapple with “first principles,” but by “first principles” he meant, “What is our mission?” and “What is our method?”[114] Despite repeated references to theory, in a quarter-century of intelligence work Kent never articulated an intelligence equivalent of, say, political science’s “realism.” He never even attempted such a contribution despite his insistence that intelligence needed the kind of brilliant thinkers — he cited Darwin, Freud, Keynes, and Pareto — who had defined or redefined their fields at the theoretical level.[115] But is such a critique fair? To demand that intelligence analysis, and in particular estimation, be made a discipline is awfully close to asking for Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction concept of “psychohistory” — in which statistics provide a guide to the future — to be made real.[116] Barring a deterministic view of human behavior, that is not possible. As Daniel Bell has written,
Most events, even in the physical world, are not completely deterministic but stochastic, i.e., they involve random or chance probability. We do not live completely in a Newtonian universe, either in the micro-phenomena of quantum physics or in the social world.[117]
Nor are estimates inert observations. Rather, they interact with the policymaking process. An intelligence estimate can be a self-fulfilling or a self-negating prophecy — a hawkish assessment of Soviet policy, for example, could lead to tougher U.S. policy, which in turn could prompt an increase in Soviet military spending. Social sciences with tasks less intimidating than predicting Soviet nuclear intentions could not maintain the epistemological enthusiasm of the 1950s, upon which Kent drew and to which he contributed. Human systems are complex, and unlike other complex systems — such as the weather — there is often inadequate theory and data with which to accurately model them and, therefore, to predict their behavior. Even economics — the “hardest” of the social sciences — has fared poorly. Economists are largely unable to predict recessions, GDP forecasts have a margin of error of more than 6 percent (which can easily mean the difference between contraction and robust growth), and virtually the entire field failed to foresee the 2008 financial crisis.[118] It may be that social science is more useful for explanation than prediction.[119] The forecasts of geopolitical experts, for example, are on the whole no more accurate than those of the average well-informed citizen.[120] The purpose in highlighting the shortcomings in Kent’s efforts is not to suggest that Kent was a failure — far from it — but, rather, to show that intellectual enthusiasms can overwhelm good judgment. The academy is as vulnerable to fads as any profession and must, therefore, exercise a certain conservatism, especially when it comes to subjects as grand as the future. There are, of course, genuine scientific revolutions, but the future will always retain an element of irreducible uncertainty. That uncertainty is both empowering and threatening. Without it, human beings would lack agency. With it, we are vulnerable to surprise. The best way to cope with this danger is by developing resilience, the ability to adapt to unexpected circumstances. But the belief in the predictability of the future is once again on the rise. Today, spurred by Big Data, the social sciences are undergoing a shift akin to the one that marked the postwar years. According to Gary King, the head of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, “The social sciences are in the midst of an historic change… [with] consequences for everything social scientists do and all that we plan.”[121] In King’s view, Big Data will lead to a more thorough understanding of why people do what they do. The result, he claims, will be nothing less than a “renaissance” in knowledge production. It is a renaissance that the U.S. government is supporting through, for example, IARPA and the Pentagon’s Minerva initiative. Already, the law enforcement and intelligence communities have established fusion centers around the country to collate and share data in an algorithm-driven attempt to anticipate, identify, and stop threats to national security. Such efforts are powerful but rife with potential problems. Data-driven correlations can be spurious, algorithms may reflect the biases of their programmers, and a glut of data can decrease the signal-to-noise ratio, diminishing, rather than enhancing, the ability to predict. The enthusiasm for Big Data, however, pales next to that for artificial intelligence, a blanket term for a variety of approaches that enable computers to supplement or surpass human cognition — and even intuition. For example, Bridgewater Associates, the highly successful macro hedge fund, is using artificial intelligence to build a predictive machine. As a statement from the company explains,
We believe that the same things happen over and over again because of logical cause/effect relationships, and that by writing one’s principles down and then computerizing them one can have the computer make high-quality decisions in much the same way a GPS can be an effective guide to decision making.[122]
Within the national security establishment, there is great concern about the threat of AI-enabled weapons, but there is little discussion about the threat of AI-driven prediction. Artificial intelligence can be seen as a primarily predictive technology, in that many of its tasks are intended to anticipate what a human would do, including how a human would make predictions. It is a meta-prediction technology. As three scholars at the University of Toronto have written, “As machine intelligence improves, the value of human prediction skills will decrease because machine prediction will provide a cheaper and better substitute for human prediction, just as machines did for arithmetic.”[123] But that argument is undercut by the irreducibility of uncertainty. If uncertainty is endemic, then imagination — the ability to envision possible futures — becomes a matter of vital national interest. Because the future remains at least partly unknowable, the best defense comes from anticipating multiple futures and working backward to find their antecedents in the present. The greatest limitation comes from the ability (or inability) to imagine such futures. “The danger is in the poverty of expectations,” as Thomas Schelling wrote in his foreword to Roberta Wohlstetter’s classic study of Pearl Harbor.[124] This is why the 9/11 Commission’s report includes a section on the importance of imagination: “It is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination.”[125] Otherwise, surprise — the avoidance of which was the rationale for establishing ONE in the first place — becomes more likely. But imagination is the purview of humans, and in ceding more and more cognitive tasks to machines, the United States risks undercutting its imaginative capacity.[126] That, in turn, threatens its predictive potential and, by extension, American security. None of this is to deny a central role for AI in prediction or to suggest that human forecasting cannot be improved. On the contrary, research has demonstrated how to improve geopolitical prediction, most notably via the work of Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, whose team of scholars participated in IARPA’s multiyear forecasting tournament. That tournament generated a slew of findings on the traits, teams, and training that improve forecasting ability.[127] The best forecasters generated by Tetlock’s method were reportedly able to outperform CIA analysts by a significant margin.[128] And there is hope that even better forecasting may come from a hybrid of AI and human efforts.[129] The key is to test those hopes instead of being swept away by them. This, then, is how Kent is both a beacon and a danger. The danger lies in the hubris of the latest enthusiasm — zeal, after all, is not a methodology — but it is a danger that can be corrected by scientific sobriety, of which Kent is a beacon. In his legacy lies a guide to the promises and the limits of prediction.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Walter Friedman at Harvard Business School for his advice on this article and to thank Peter Bergen, Andrés Martinez, Fuzz Hogan, and the Fellows Program at New America for their support. J. Peter Scoblic, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Business School, is a fellow in the International Security Program at New America and the author of U.S. vs. Them: Conservatism in the Age of Nuclear Terror. Image: CIA [post_title] => Beacon and Warning: Sherman Kent, Scientific Hubris, and the CIA’s Office of National Estimates [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => beacon-and-warning-sherman-kent-scientific-hubris-and-the-cias-office-of-national-estimates [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-12 15:01:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-12 19:01:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=688 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 696 [post_author] => 60 [post_date] => 2018-08-28 05:00:23 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-28 09:00:23 [post_content] => Editorial Note: In light of the public interest in U.S.-Russian relations, especially in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helskinki this summer, the Texas National Security Review will be publishing a series of essays in our “Strategist” section on past U.S. presidents and their engagements with Soviet and Russian leaders. As many were decrying the lack of any formal record of the one-on-one meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, the Clinton Presidential Library in July posted online nearly all of the declassified memoranda of conversation (“memcons”) from the in-person meetings and telephone conversations (“telcons”) between President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin from Jan. 23, 1993, to Dec. 31, 1999, when Yeltsin abruptly resigned from office and made way for Putin. With 18 memcons and 56 telcons available through the library’s website, it is possible to view directly the key discussions between these two leaders over time, from the early days when Clinton publicly backed Yeltsin in his bloody political standoff with the Russian parliament to their later disagreements over NATO enlargement and Kosovo, along with numerous conversations about arms control, Chechnya, Iran, and other global issues.[1] As someone who worked in the Clinton administration and has written about U.S.-Russian relations in this period,[2] I found that the documents allow a much deeper and broader understanding of three core features of the Clinton-Yeltsin interactions. First, the two leaders established a close personal rapport and used those positive feelings to interact effectively even when they were being frank in their disagreements, the most serious of which were over NATO enlargement and the Kosovo War. Throughout, from the 1993 political turmoil in Russia through the 1998 Russian financial crisis and beyond, Clinton offered Yeltsin his full personal support. Second, the two men used their meetings and phone calls to build trust in one another by explicitly referring to delivering on promises made in their prior conversations. This proved particularly important in their discussions of NATO enlargement. Clinton was trying to thread a needle: He sought to keep the issue from harming Yeltsin’s reelection bid in the summer of 1996 while ensuring that the United States responded to Central and Eastern European desires to join the Western alliance. Because Clinton believed the issue would affect his own reelection bid, he wanted to make clear to voters of Central and Eastern European descent in the Midwest before November 1996 that he was moving forward with enlargement. From 1994 to 1996, Clinton reminded Yeltsin often of his assurances about the timing. Third, and perhaps most important when their interactions are compared with those of other U.S. and Soviet (and later Russian) heads of state during the Cold War and after, an enormous power differential existed between the two countries in this period and was the backdrop to their conversations. Yeltsin’s Russia was extremely weak, a country in economic free-fall and strategic decline. Clinton’s America was enjoying its unipolar moment.[3] In no other era before or since has the Russian president been in such a weak position when meeting with his American counterpart, and the declassified memcons and telcons from this period show how that imbalance of power permeates the discussions. The meetings largely consist of Yeltsin agreeing to Clinton’s requests after some back and forth. But also clear is Yeltsin’s desire for Russia to be seen as an equal to the United States, something that was important for his predecessors and successors alike and a factor in U.S.-Russian relations often underappreciated by many in the West.

Clinton’s Support for Yeltsin and the Building of a Personal Rapport

In his first term, Boris Yeltsin needed Bill Clinton’s support as he battled domestic Russian opposition to his policies. It was not just financial support for Russia that was critical, although that assistance was important, including when Clinton publicly endorsed what became a $10.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund announced in the midst of the 1996 Russian presidential campaign.[4] Clinton also offered Yeltsin complete public support when the latter used military force in a standoff with the Russian parliament in the fall of 1993. Clinton did so because he believed he needed Yeltsin — a Russian president committed to good relations with the West who could thereby enable the American president to shrink the U.S. defense budget to pay for cherished domestic programs. One of the first big moments in their relationship came in April 1993, when Yeltsin held a referendum that asked voters whether they trusted him, approved of his socioeconomic policies, and believed new presidential and parliamentary elections should be conducted ahead of schedule. Russia experts in the U.S. government thought that Yeltsin would lose overwhelmingly, and Clinton’s top Russia adviser, Strobe Talbott, wrote later that the president “followed the referendum as though it were an American election.” Remarkably, given the state of the Russian economy, 58.7 percent of voters affirmed their trust in Yeltsin and 53 percent approved his socioeconomic policies. Clinton happily threw his support behind the Russian president.[5] In a call the next day, Clinton told Yeltsin, “I’m about to issue a statement in support of your policies. I want you to know that we’re in this with you for the long haul.” Yeltsin closed the call by saying, “I hug you from the bottom of my heart.”[6] By September, however, parliamentary opposition to Yeltsin grew stronger. Clinton called Yeltsin early that month to convey his continued support amid the standoff in Moscow. In a follow-up call on Sept. 21, Yeltsin told him, “Bill, the Supreme Soviet [the Russian parliament] has totally gone out of control. It no longer supports the reform process. They have become communist. We can no longer put up with that.” He added, “I think there will be no bloodshed,”[7] which turned out to be mistaken. The battle between Yeltsin and the opposition legislators came to a head on Oct. 3, when Yeltsin ordered his military to shell the parliament building. A bloody clash between the executive and legislative branches was not exactly a sign of a healthy democracy, but Clinton phoned two days later to tell Yeltsin, “I wanted to call you and express my support.” Yeltsin responded, “Now that these events are over, we have no more obstacles to Russia’s democratic elections and our transition to democracy and market economy.” Yeltsin even mused that he might hold elections for president at the same time as parliamentary elections in December and told Clinton that he “might end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for standing for election three times in three years.” (He did not carry out this plan.) Yeltsin closed by telling Clinton once again, “I embrace you with all my heart.”[8] [quote id="1"] Clinton continued to emphasize his personal support for Yeltsin over the course of their terms in office. In late 1994, Russia invaded the breakaway province of Chechnya. Clinton expressed concern about the impact of this war on Yeltsin’s image. Referring to an upcoming speech by the Russian president to parliament, Clinton told him, referring to Yeltsin’s pivotal role during the August 1991 coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, “It is also an opportunity to remind the world of why you are the best hope for continued reform in Russia. I want everyone to see you as the person who stood on the tank and stood up for freedom.”[9] In the run-up to the first round of the Russian presidential election in June 1996, Yeltsin was growing desperate for financial assistance. He told the U.S. president, “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion.” Yeltsin explained that he was not seeing results yet from the rescheduling of Russia’s debt by the group of major creditor countries known as the Paris Club, and the bulk of the recently announced IMF loan would not arrive until later in the year. “But the problem,” said Yeltsin, “is I need money to pay pensions and wages.” Clinton assured him, “I’ll check on this with the IMF and some of our friends and see what can be done.”[10] No matter what challenges they faced, domestically or in their relationship, they maintained a strong personal bond. In a telephone exchange in late October 1997, months after the two had met in Denver in June, Yeltsin told Clinton, “You know, I started missing your voice.” Clinton replied, “I miss you too.” (They had a similar exchange in February 1998 only three weeks after their previous call!)[11] Clinton saw Yeltsin as a significant figure in Russian history, and he tried to convey that at various points. At a meeting in May 1998, Clinton said, “You know, Boris, we really are working with the stuff of history here. I’m convinced that 20 years from now, when the Russian economy is booming, people will look back and say we were right; we did the right things. I just hope you get all the credit you deserve while you’re still around, because you’ve done a terrific job of leading your country during one of the two or three most important moments in Russian history.”[12] The greatest test of their personal relationship came during the Kosovo bombing campaign in March 1999. Clinton and his European counterparts believed that NATO needed to carry out airstrikes against Serbia to bring its leader, Slobodan Milosevic, to the bargaining table. Yeltsin was stridently opposed to any use of force, not just because of the close ties between Russia and Serbia but partly because, unlike the situation in Bosnia a few years earlier, this would mean military intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. Russia’s ability to wield a veto in the U.N. Security Council meant that authorization for the war from that body would not be forthcoming.[13] In a phone conversation between the two men as NATO was about to launch airstrikes, Clinton, after rehashing all that Milosevic had done, told Yeltsin bluntly, “Basically, it will be your decision if you decide to let this bully destroy the relationship we worked hard for over six and a half years to build up.” He reminded Yeltsin of all his public and private support over the years, including providing economic assistance to Russia and his multiple visits to Moscow. “You may decide to let this get in the way of our relationship, but I’m not going to because I do not think he’s that important. I’m sorry he is a Serb. I wish he were Irish or something else, but he is not.” Clinton tried telling Yeltsin that maybe after a few strikes, Milosevic would seek diplomacy; after all, he had come to the table in 1995 to end the earlier Balkan war. Yeltsin would have none of it: “[O]ur people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO. I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that. Well, since I failed to convince the President, that means there is in store for us a very difficult, difficult road of contacts, if they prove to be possible.” He signed off with “Goodbye,” with no added embrace.[14] The latter part of the war led to quite an up-and-down in their conversations. In early May 1999, as they were coming to agreement on what needed to be done, Yeltsin told Clinton, “I owe you a bear hug.” Clinton replied, “Yes, I want a bear hug.”[15] Clinton called Yeltsin on June 10, after discussions between Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, and Milosevic appeared to end the conflict, and Yeltsin told him, “I would like to hug and kiss you, and I am sincerely glad that in such a difficult situation our friendship wasn’t broken.”[16] [quote id="2"] Alas, in the next few days, Russian forces occupied the airport in Pristina, and it looked like NATO and Russian forces might come into conflict. Clinton and Yeltsin spoke multiple times by phone. Clinton made clear that a failure to resolve the conflict would harm the upcoming Group of Eight meeting in Germany: “We were about to have in Cologne a celebration of Russia in the peace operation,” an angry Clinton remarked. “Instead, we face day after day, international embarrassment that Kosovo will be wrecked.”[17] Russia’s weakness and Yeltsin’s desire to be feted by his G-8 colleagues in Cologne were key factors in the ultimate resolution of the conflict but so, too, was the importance of the relationship the two presidents had built, a relationship that was tested over the years by the U.S. decision to expand NATO eastward.

Clinton’s Promises on Enlargement

Perhaps no issue provides a greater window into the nature of the relationship between the two presidents than their lengthy discussions from 1994 to 1997 about NATO enlargement. An undercurrent of their exchanges involved Clinton’s efforts to ensure that he did not harm Yeltsin politically while giving him a very bitter pill to swallow. Another recurrence was Yeltsin’s explanation of the damage this issue was doing to him while ultimately going along with Clinton’s various proposals. There was a brief moment in the fall of 1994 when Yeltsin believed that Clinton was reneging on a commitment not to rush the process and exploded at a Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) summit. The huge power imbalance between the two countries hung over the relationship and punctuated the presidents’ interactions.[18] In their meetings and phone calls, Clinton drove the agenda, as he did for nearly all of the issues they discussed over seven years. The two men genuinely got along, partly because they were similar political animals. But at the end of the day, the United States called the shots in the relationship. Clinton was always trying to make sure that Yeltsin knew he was giving him what he could, and Clinton expected Yeltsin to go along with his proposals. Generally, Yeltsin did. Throughout their conversations on enlargement, Clinton was eager for Yeltsin to know that the United States was keeping a promise Clinton made in September 1994 in one of their discussions in Washington (the declassified memcon of this exchange is not among the cache of documents recently released): namely, that he and his NATO colleagues would go slowly on expanding the alliance given Clinton’s (publicly unstated but understood) desire to see Yeltsin safely reelected in 1996. Meanwhile, Yeltsin focused Clinton’s attention on the domestic political ramifications of NATO enlargement. Interestingly, he did not raise the issue (as others later would) that the United States and its Western European allies had assured Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during the 1990 negotiations over German unification that NATO would not expand eastward.[19] In October 1993, when discussions first began in earnest about NATO’s future, the possibility of enlargement seemed quite distant. Secretary of State Warren Christopher explained to Yeltsin at the latter’s country dacha that the United States planned to pursue the “Partnership for Peace,” which would include all members of the former Warsaw Pact, and NATO enlargement would be considered only as a “longer-term eventuality.”[20] Christopher told Yeltsin, “There could be no recommendation to ignore or exclude Russia from full participation in the future security of Europe. As a result of our study, a ‘Partnership for Peace’ would be recommended to the [January 1994] NATO summit which would be open to all members of the [North Atlantic Cooperation Council] including all European and [former Soviet] states. There would be no effort to exclude anyone and there would be no step taken at this time to push anyone ahead of others.” Yeltsin was obviously relieved. “This is a brilliant idea, it is a stroke of genius,” he said. “It is important that there is an idea of partnership for all and not new membership for some.” Yeltsin exclaimed, “It really is a great idea, really great,” adding, “Tell Bill I am thrilled by this brilliant stroke.”[21] In late December, a few weeks before Clinton was to meet Yeltsin in Moscow after the NATO summit, the two men spoke by phone. The primary purpose was to discuss the recent Russian parliamentary elections and for Clinton to remind Yeltsin of how the United States had delivered on the economic assistance announced at their first meeting, in Vancouver, the previous April. Clinton stated simply, “I will be in Brussels for the NATO summit and in Prague before I see you and will want to discuss Russian participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace proposal.” Yeltsin responded that he had recently met with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner: “We discussed a plan of action for the countries of Eastern Europe to cooperate with NATO in a way that would not be at the expense of Russia and also a plan of action for Russia to join NATO.” While Clinton did not respond to Yeltsin’s comment, their discussion was quite cordial; after all, as far as Yeltsin understood, NATO enlargement was not on the table in a serious way.[22] While the Clinton Library collection does not contain the declassified memcon from the presidents’ January 1994 summit in Moscow, nor the specific discussion they had regarding NATO that September in Washington, Clinton’s top Russia adviser, Strobe Talbott, has written that in the latter meeting Clinton told Yeltsin that NATO was going to expand but tried to reassure him that he had no timetable yet. “We’re going to move forward on this, but I’d never spring it on you.” Clinton said there would be “no surprises, no rush, and no exclusion.” He then added, “As I see it, NATO expansion is not anti-Russia. … I don’t want you to believe that I wake up every morning thinking only about how to make the Warsaw Pact countries a part of NATO — that’s not the way I look at it. What I do think about is how to use NATO expansion to advance the broader, higher goal of European security, unity and integration — a goal I know you share.”[23] Clinton knew Yeltsin was not going to be happy, so he kept emphasizing that he was promising not to spring anything on Yeltsin and that “no exclusion” meant that Russia would be eligible to join someday. In reality, it was no exclusion in theory but not in practice. Russia was not going to become a NATO member. Even so, Clinton had reason to believe he was managing the process well; after all, Yeltsin told him in a phone call on Oct. 5, 1994, that “the Washington Summit proved a success.”[24] At their September meeting, Yeltsin asked Clinton to come to the CSCE summit in Budapest that December. The CSCE was being upgraded to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), and Yeltsin wanted to signal that perhaps there could be alternatives to NATO in addressing European security. Clinton agreed to go. He kept that promise even after the 1994 midterm elections resulted in a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades. His White House team scheduled a congressional reception the night of the Budapest summit precisely to try to keep the president from leaving town. But Clinton’s foreign policy team said he had to go, and he did.[25] It turned out to be the most disastrous public encounter the two presidents would have. On Dec. 1, the NATO foreign ministers announced that they would complete a study by the end of 1995 (i.e., a half-year before the 1996 Russian presidential election) on how NATO would enlarge. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who had gone to Brussels to sign Russia’s Partnership for Peace program document and a document on a NATO-Russia dialogue, was ordered by a furious Yeltsin not to sign. At the Budapest summit a few days later, Clinton gave what his deputy secretary of state, Talbott, described later as the “most in your face” manifestation of the U.S. position on NATO enlargement. In remarks Talbott said were drafted not in his office but within the National Security Council (where National Security Adviser Anthony Lake had been pushing NATO enlargement for more than a year), Clinton declared, “We must not allow the Iron Curtain to be replaced by a veil of indifference. We must not consign new democracies to a gray zone.” He added that “no country outside will be allowed to veto expansion.”[26] Yeltsin publicly responded, “Europe, not having yet freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War, is in danger of plunging into a cold peace.”[27] Clinton was stunned and angered by the tone of Yeltsin’s remarks. Talbott, who was not on the trip, thought he might be fired for not having adequately prepared his boss for what would occur.[28] Soon, however, Clinton had things seemingly back on track thanks in part to visits by others in his administration, including Vice President Al Gore, to see Yeltsin. In advance of his own trip to Moscow in May 1995, Clinton called Yeltsin to discuss NATO. “We recognize how sensitive this issue is for you. That is why I want to assure you that this process is proceeding along a path that is consistent with what you and I agreed upon last September and that Vice President Gore reiterated to you when he saw you in December.” Yeltsin responded, “I fully agree with you on that.” Clinton added, “For the future stability of Europe, it is important that Russia is a vital part of the new security structures that are emerging. That means OSCE, the post-COCOM [the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls established by the West after World War II] regime, the new NATO—all of them. None of this can develop normally unless Russia is involved in the process.” Yeltsin stated, “We’ll both have difficult discussions with regards to NATO, but I’m confident we’ll be able to find an acceptable solution for this issue.” Clinton then reported that Secretary of State Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev had just described to him a proposal for the upcoming NATO foreign ministers’ meeting that would again affirm that there would be no acceleration of the enlargement process, announce a strengthening of the Partnership for Peace, and begin discussions about a NATO-Russia special relationship.[29] [quote id="3"] Nevertheless, the issue remained an enormous sore spot for Yeltsin and a domestic political problem. In a three-hour meeting at the Kremlin on May 10, 1995, Yeltsin asked for a better understanding of what Clinton was doing on NATO enlargement “because now I see nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed. How do you think it looks to us if one bloc continues to exist while the Warsaw Pact has been abolished?” He called it a “new form of encirclement” and repeated his plea to develop a new pan-European security architecture. “You and I are heading for elections,” Yeltsin said. “The extremists and hardliners are exploiting this issue for their own purposes — on both sides. I am being attacked from both the right and the left on this. We need a common European space that provides for overall security. So let’s postpone any change in NATO until 1999 or 2000. … But for me to agree to the borders of NATO expanding toward those of Russia — that would constitute a betrayal on my part of the Russian people.” Instead, Yeltsin said in desperation, “Let’s say that Russia will give every state that wants to join NATO a guarantee that we won’t infringe on its security.” When Clinton asked rhetorically whether the United States still needed to maintain a security relationship with Europe, Yeltsin fired back, “I’m not so sure you do.” Clinton tied his approach to the Victory Day ceremony for which he had come to Moscow and the lessons of history. “Our goal is for the U.S. to stay in Europe and promote a unified, integrated Europe.” He was doing that, he said, by trying to make the Partnership for Peace important, keeping open the door to Russian NATO membership, creating a special NATO-Russia relationship, and ensuring that the NATO membership review process was a deliberate one. Clinton reminded Yeltsin of how this process had unfolded, that he had told Yeltsin in January 1994 that NATO was open to taking in new members, and that in December NATO had agreed to study how to do it. Responding to that study would take the first half of 1996, said Clinton. For Yeltsin, this time frame was vital, because, the Russian leader noted, “my position heading into the 1996 elections is not exactly brilliant.” Clinton, however, had his own political concerns. He explained to Yeltsin that the Republicans were using NATO expansion in their effort to win over voters of Central European descent in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio. He suggested to Yeltsin that they accept what each other needed to do politically. Yeltsin would not have to embrace expansion. Clinton would not say he was slowing down the process. And meanwhile Yeltsin should sign the documents for Russia to join the Partnership for Peace and to establish a NATO-Russian dialogue:
So here is what I want to do. I’ve made it clear I’ll do nothing to accelerate NATO. I’m trying to give you now, in this conversation, the reassurance you need. But we need to be careful that neither of us appears to capitulate. For you, that means you’re not going to embrace expansion; for me, it means no talk about slowing the process down or putting it on hold or anything like that.
Then Clinton told Yeltsin to sign the two documents. Yeltsin asked again that NATO move forward only after his election. Clinton reiterated the timetable, trying to reassure Yeltsin that nothing concrete would happen until after the summer of 1996. Yeltsin said they should publicly say they discussed the issue, understood each other, and would discuss the issue further at their next meeting. Clinton responded, “Good. So join PFP.” Yeltsin agreed.[30] A few months before the NATO leaders’ 1997 announcement in Madrid that the alliance was inviting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join, Yeltsin made one last effort to shape the future at a small meeting with Clinton in Helsinki on March 21. He opened by acknowledging the inevitable. “Our position has not changed,” Yeltsin said. “It remains a mistake for NATO to move eastward. But I need to take steps to alleviate the negative consequences of this for Russia. I am prepared to enter into an agreement with NATO not because I want to but because it is a forced step. There is no other solution for today.” Yeltsin sought a legally binding accord, signed by all 16 NATO members, that would make clear that NATO decisions would not be made “without taking into account the concerns or opinions of Russia.” He also wanted assurance that no nuclear or conventional arms would move into the new members’ territory, “thus creating a new cordon sanitaire aimed at Russia.” Then he put on the table what he most wanted. “[O]ne thing is very important: enlargement should also not embrace the former Soviet republics. I cannot sign any agreement without such language. Especially Ukraine.” Recognizing he was unlikely to receive this, he changed tack slightly,
I propose that in the statement we could accept the fact that Russia has no claims on other countries. In fact, regarding the countries of the former Soviet Union, let us have a verbal, gentlemen’s agreement — we would not write it down in the statement — that no former Soviet republics would enter NATO. This gentlemen’s agreement would not be made public.
Clinton responded that he was “trying to change NATO.” He had language in the proposed agreement between NATO and Russia on nuclear and conventional forces. And he wanted to make sure they signed something before the NATO summit “so we can say to the world that there is a new NATO and a new Russia and that’s the right spirit,” to which Yeltsin agreed. But Clinton added that he couldn’t make an agreement on former Soviet republics: “it would be a bad thing for our attempt to build a new NATO, but it would also be a bad thing for your attempt to build a new Russia.” NATO was assisting the process of building an “integrated, undivided Europe,” Clinton argued what Yeltsin was proposing would mean “Russia would be saying, ‘we have still got an empire, but it just can’t reach as far West.’” Clinton didn’t want to come out of the meeting having discussed new lines being drawn in Europe, and he wouldn’t be able to go forward with a treaty because of Senate opposition. Yeltsin tried again, saying that the Duma would likely make this a condition of its ratification of a NATO-Russia charter. He asked Clinton to tell him what he wanted to hear “one-on-one — without even our closest aides present — that you won’t take new republics in the near future; I need to hear that. I understand that maybe in ten years or something, the situation might change, but not now.” Clinton shot back,
If I went into a closet with you and told you that, the Congress would find out and pass a resolution invalidating the NATO-Russia charter. I’d rather frankly that the Duma pass a resolution conditioning its adherence on this point. I just can’t do it. A private commitment would be the same as a public one. … I know what a terrible problem this is for you, but I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO.
Yeltsin tried one last time to get what he wanted, but to no avail, and so they moved on to other items. [31] At their last meeting, in Istanbul in November 1999, Yeltsin said to Clinton, “I ask you one thing. Just give Europe to Russia. The U.S. is not in Europe. Europe should be the business of Europeans. Russia is half European and half Asian. … Bill, I’m serious. Give Europe to Europe itself. We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles.”[32] This was, of course, not a statement the United States would take seriously, and it was hard enough for Russia to be taken seriously by the United States as an equal.

The Imbalance of Power and Russia’s Drive for Equal Status

Yeltsin’s desire to be seen as an equal, and Clinton’s efforts to provide window dressing to help with appearances, permeated their conversations throughout the two presidents’ time in office, and not only during their conversations over NATO enlargement. During the September 1994 Washington summit, Yeltsin said, “[T]here are some people in the White House and Congress who believe that Russia has lost its superpower status. Of course, not you personally, Bill.” Clinton responded, “I have tried in every way to relate to Russia and to you as a great power and to enhance your role, whether in the G-7 or bilaterally.”[33] Still, neither could escape the fact that the two countries occupied completely different status levels in the international system. At their May 1995 meeting in Moscow, Clinton said to Yeltsin, “You have to walk through the doors that we open for you.”[34] The Russians wanted to be treated as equals, and the idea of walking through doors the United States was opening for them made clear that they were not. The dynamic was such, however, that when Yeltsin got spun up on these issues, Clinton would soothe him. In a one-on-one meeting (with Talbott and Yeltsin’s assistant Dmitry Ryurikov as notetakers) in Moscow in April 1996, Yeltsin came into the meeting clearly angry because Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov had told him that the United States was trying to sideline Russia in the Middle East. Clinton said, “That’s not correct. No one’s sidelining anybody.” When Yeltsin said he was not convinced, Clinton reminded him of all they had done together since their first meeting three years earlier: “We’ve done a remarkable job in getting a lot done and also in being honest about our differences. My objectives are first, an integrated, undivided Europe; and second, a cooperative equal partnership with a democratic, economically successful Russia which is influential in the world.” He added, “I want historians fifty years from now to look back on this period and say you and I took full advantage of the opportunity we had. We made maximum use of the extraordinary moment that came with the end of the Cold War.” Yeltsin zeroed in on the one word that mattered to him: “The key word you just used was ‘equal’ partnership. This will restore trust and confidence.” Clinton explained how Russia could play an important role in the Middle East due to its influence with Syria and Hezbollah. Yeltsin appeared mollified.[35] One of the major issues in their relationship was Russia’s ascension to the group of advanced industrialized democracies. The G-7 was to become the G-8. Clinton faced significant opposition to this move from his own Treasury Department, which was concerned about diluting a body of the world’s leading market economies with membership for a country that did not yet have a market economy and whose gross domestic product was quite small.[36] At a larger meeting of the two leaders and their teams in April 1996 at the Kremlin, Clinton explained that the G-7’s work coordinating fiscal policy “among the world’s richest countries” was important and that if Russia were included, countries such as Mexico, South Korea, and Brazil would ask to join as well. Yeltsin argued, “Russia will be on the rise. I cannot agree to the ‘7 plus 1’ formula; I also understand that we cannot reach the level of a full G-8. You have to keep in mind that we are a great power, which affects how people think about this.”[37] A year later, at their March 1997 meeting in Helsinki, Clinton publicly stated:
We will work with Russia to advance its membership in key international economic institutions like the W.T.O., the Paris Club, and the O.E.C.D. And I am pleased to announce, with the approval of the other G-7 nations, that we will substantially increase Russia’s role in our annual meeting, now to be called the Summit of the Eight, in Denver this June.[38]
At a bilateral meeting of the two presidents and a small group of advisers in Paris in advance of the “Summit of the Eight,” Yeltsin raised the issue of how Russia’s economy was labeled. National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger explained that by law, Russia would be far worse off in terms of trade preferences being labeled a market economy than if it were designated a non-market economy or a transition economy. Yeltsin did not care for the designation, seeing it as an insult: “Russia is not a transition economy. We have transformed. It is a market economy.” Labels mattered to him; Yeltsin wanted Russia to be seen as a great power on par with the other leading world powers.[39]

Conclusions

These records are an important reminder that notes of presidential meetings and phone calls are not simply documents for scholars trying to make sense of history. They are critical in real time for officials who need to follow up on what their bosses have discussed. The recently released Clinton White House records show the distribution of these conversations, typically to the secretary of state, Deputy Secretary of State Talbott (who often was with the president for the meetings and phone calls), and the U.S. ambassador to Moscow. The role these documents play in developing policy is a major reason why there was so much concern when Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin one-on-one for more than two hours in Helsinki in July 2018 with no notetakers present.[40] [quote id="4"] Reading these memcons and telcons as a narrative record of the seven years of interactions between Clinton and Yeltsin left me feeling rather sad. The two leaders certainly accomplished a great deal: Yeltsin ensured that Russian troops left the Baltic countries, worked to keep Russian entities from transferring missile technologies to Iran, and participated in the Implementation Force in Bosnia alongside NATO and under American command. The two presidents worked with their counterparts in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to transfer to Russia the strategic nuclear weapons those countries inherited upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is notable that many of their accomplishments occurred during their first terms and were largely issues related to the collapse of the Soviet Union such as the removal of Russian troops from the Baltics and the stationing of strategic nuclear weapons. They had big plans throughout their two terms for new arms-control agreements, but domestic political constraints got in the way. Ultimately, neither the United States nor Russia found a place for Russia in the basic architecture of European security. Meanwhile, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine ended up in a zone of insecurity, not able to join NATO and each with Russian military forces on its territory. A conversation at the end of their time together regarding Yeltsin’s successor was more hopeful than was warranted. In September 1999, Yeltsin informed Clinton by phone,
It took me a lot of time to think who might be the next Russian president in the year 2000. Unfortunately, at that time, I could not find any sitting candidate. Finally, I came across him, that is, Putin, and I explored his bio, his interests, his acquaintances, and so on and so forth. I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner. I am very much convinced that he will be supported as a candidate in the year 2000.[41]
In their in-person conversation in Istanbul in November 1999, Clinton asked who was going to win the Russian presidential election the next year, and Yeltsin did not hesitate: “Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.” He added, “He’s tough. He has an internal ramrod. He’s tough internally, and I will do everything possible for him to win — legally, of course. And he will win. You’ll do business together. He will continue the Yeltsin line on democracy and economics and widen Russia’s contacts. He has the energy and the brains to succeed.”[42] On Dec. 31, 1999, Clinton called Yeltsin just after Yeltsin’s announcement that he was stepping down in favor of Putin, who of course went on to win the presidential election a few months later. In that final call, Clinton said, “You have guided your country through a historic time and you are leaving a legacy that will leave Russians better off for years to come. … Boris, I believe that historians will say you were the father of Russian democracy…” After telling Clinton once again that Putin would win and that he was a strong, intelligent democrat, Yeltsin ended their call as he had done so often over the previous seven years: “I would like from the bottom of my heart to embrace you.”[43]   James Goldgeier is a professor of international relations at American University, visiting senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the 2018-19 Library of Congress chair in U.S.-Russia relations at the John W. Kluge Center. You can follow him on Twitter: @JimGoldgeier. Image: FDR Presidential Library [post_title] => Bill and Boris: A Window Into a Most Important Post-Cold War Relationship [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => bill-and-boris-a-window-into-a-most-important-post-cold-war-relationship [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-12 14:45:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-12 18:45:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=696 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 676 [post_author] => 144 [post_date] => 2018-08-21 12:13:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-21 16:13:58 [post_content] => Within states, the rise of populist, illiberal movements in the democracies of the West[1] and the increasing authoritarianism of China[2] at first appear to be unrelated developments. In the West, governments are losing their prestige, while the stature of China’s government has never been higher. The condition of Russia’s autocracy, meanwhile, continues to plunge. Its economy is growing weakly, and for the fourth year in a row life expectancy has declined. Yet the self-confidence and public approval of the Russian regime appear high. Surely these developments are so various that they could not be related to one another. Internationally, too, things seem to be moving in different directions. For the first time since the founding of the institutions of the current, post-World War II order, a European state has invaded a member of the United Nations and annexed its territory.[3] An East Asian state has relentlessly developed nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions[4] and has successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile[5] in a campaign to expand its territory through the reunification of the Korean Peninsula. In contrast to these centralizing acts of aggression, a leading state has defected from the European Union[6] and secessionist movements are active in several other E.U. member states.[7] To complicate matters, the unity and cohesion of the North Atlantic Alliance is in crisis.[8] Surely these upheavals are so contradictory that their causes could not be similar. Many thoughtful commentators have observed that the apparent retrenchment of the liberal world order is a consequence of developments in the international system: the end of bipolarity,[9] the abandonment of Bretton Woods,[10] the weakening of U.N. Charter rules against intervention,[11] the rise of global terror groups,[12] the upsurge in the number of economic and political refugees,[13] and the novel policies of the Trump administration.[14] These writers are not wrong, exactly, but they have gotten the origins and dynamics of the breakdown of the liberal world order wrong: It’s not that these changes in the international order have prompted reactions in the countries that have commenced trade wars, weakened security alliances, and the rest. Rather, it’s that changes in the constitutional order of the constituent states of the international system have led to decisions and actions that are dismantling the world order that has been in place since 1949.[15] All these developments are, in fact, related to the deep change in the State that is underway. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States, the leading industrial nation-state and the chief architect and defender of the current world order. It is no coincidence that the United States is not alone in experiencing the traumatic unsettling of its constitutional order, but it is difficult to understand the steady weakening of the international order without grasping first what is happening within America.

I. American Exceptionalism

American exceptionalism is usually defined as the rather preening claim that the United States is uniquely virtuous or wise. This is the inference doubtless intended by Ronald Reagan's speechwriter who bowdlerized John Winthrop’s address to his fellow pilgrims about “a shining city on a hill.”[16] This is also probably what President Barack Obama had in mind when he stated that all countries are exceptional[17] — that is, he didn’t mean that they are all paragons but, rather, he wanted to avoid offense by giving out a trophy to every team member who showed up. If the United States is exceptional, what is it an exception to? “The exception provides the rule” because it delimits the boundaries of the rule’s application. To what rule does America’s exception then provide a boundary?[18] The most famous remark in the study of the State and the exceptions to its rules was made by Carl Schmitt, who wrote, “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”[19] That, presumably, is because determining the exception provides the limit of the application of the rule and determining rules and their application is the prerogative of the sovereign. That brings us to the first step in the analysis of “American exceptionalism.” By this hackneyed phrase I do not mean what makes the United States so much better than other states but rather what makes America so American, as opposed to Japanese or South African, and thus the answer must be a cultural, contingent one. If it is true that he who is sovereign determines what is exceptional, then it is striking that it is the United States’ innovative ideas about sovereignty that define the American state and what makes the United States a constitutional outlier among states. The U.S. Constitution reflects the idea that the State is a limited sovereign: There are certain inalienable powers that are reserved to the People and cannot be delegated to the State. Therefore, the State’s power rests on a compact with the empowering people, a contract whose terms limit the scope of the state’s potential as well as its actual authority. As a rule of sovereignty, it might be thought oxymoronic to proclaim a limited sovereign that cannot determine the extent of its own powers. Yet this is precisely what makes the government of the United States exceptional: It cannot determine the boundaries of its authority — these are set by the U.S. Constitution — beyond recognizing that there are some boundaries it cannot cross. This explains the unusual powers given to lawyers and courts in the American system: The rule of law is not merely an instrument of the State but the basis for determining its scope. It is all too common to neglect this remarkably innovative feature of the American state. Louis Hartz, among others, once argued that American constitutional ideas derived from those of John Locke.[20] For Locke,
equality is natural to human beings because at a minimum all people own the same property: their labor. Freedom is preferable to authoritarianism because the best governments are those that win the consent of the people. Religious toleration is a good idea because faiths that are free will be stronger than those that are coerced. [21]
Well, not exactly. Precisely because all people do not own the same property, or rather the property they do own, their labor, has value that varies enormously from person to person, from time to time, from place to place, it is hard to ground equality in the material endowments of human beings. Rather, what made equality seem “natural” in the Western liberal tradition is that all peoples’ natures were held equally subject to divine judgment, redemption, and salvation, a concept that would be nonsensical if every person were not endowed with the freedom of conscience, on the basis of which he or she is to be judged. One might say “all men are created equal because they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” The equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — a document that provides the basis for the U.S. Constitution — is said to be “self-evident,”[22] the Creator of mankind having determined that it is to be so. [quote id="1"] Freedom is not preferable to authoritarianism because the “best” governments win the consent of the people. The term “best” is too vague to support this assertion and can be easily manipulated to prove the opposite proposition (as it often has been). Rather, freedom is preferable to authoritarianism because coercion is incompatible with the exercise of the conscience, which is the ultimate basis for constitutional decision-making in America. Religious toleration is a good idea not because faiths that are free will be stronger than those that are coerced. Much of the history of Christianity and Islam seems to prove just the opposite. Rather, religious toleration is preferable to intolerance because intolerance suppresses the ability to determine facts and also suppresses the faculties of reflection and reconsideration, all of which are essential attributes of the individual conscience if it must make judgments for which it will be held accountable. A recent essay on the U.S. Constitution concluded,
Far from [being] a blueprint for democracy, the Constitution kept real power away from ordinary people while protecting wealthy investors and slave-owners. It had nothing to do with human rights or social equality.[23]
In reality, the U.S. Constitution explicitly provides a blueprint for democracy by creating republican structures far more democratic than anything else at the time and that were designed to protect democracy by enabling it to defend itself against imperial opponents and to keep it from decaying into license and anarchy. Unlike the laws in other states of the late 18th century, the U.S. Constitution does not exempt aristocrats from taxation. To observe that it has “nothing to do with human rights” or equality reveals how little the writer understands the complexity of his subject, in which rights are often inferred from affirmative grants of power — that is, when the rule provides its exception. Such assertions as the one I have quoted, which would have been trite in Charles Beard’s day, are today part of a more general war on the legacy of America’s constitutional history. That war — and that legacy — will be discussed presently. For now, I will take up briefly just why the Constitution, in fact, has everything to do with human rights and equality. To do this will require going beyond the customary claims that the historiography of America’s founding pits liberalism and human rights against republicanism and state power. As I have suggested, the liberal, human rights consensus in America regarding the constitutional status of property rights, social mobility, individual freedom, and popular democracy arose from shared commitments to the decisive role of the conscience in determining the individual’s fate. This might more aptly be called the “Protestant ethic,”[24] which is incompatible with insecure property rights and promises, rigid and inherited class boundaries, and coercive rules that suppress individual expression. It is similarly incompatible with the derivation of legitimate governmental authority from traditions and processes that privilege the few while denying the many equality before the law. In a review tracing the historiography of America’s founding, Michael Millerman described this founding as “Lockean Liberalism versus Republicanism.” According to Millerman, Lockean liberalism
insists that America was founded on principles that recognize an abstract, natural right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of one’s private happiness. These natural rights are liberties that define a private sphere, to be protected from government interference. By contrast, [some argue that] Republicanism informed the Founders’ vision of what America is and should be. Republicanism elevates such notions as, ‘the common good,’ and ‘the public sphere’ above those of, ‘individual liberties’ and, ‘private happiness.’ Indeed, it can justify infringing on the latter for the sake of the former. Hence it is in conflict with Lockean liberalism.[25]
To anchor this in sacred American texts, it is often claimed that the liberal (Lockean) Declaration of Independence conflicts with the Republican (Machiavellian) Constitution.[26] This antinomy between liberalism and republicanism may indeed be relevant to British thought, where popular sovereignty is fully vested in the State and human rights are expressly granted, as in Magna Carta. But it gets wrong the American constitutional settlement and its most important element: that the purpose of putting the State under law is to protect human rights, and that the protection of human rights requires that the State treat its citizens equally. America’s peculiar constitutional innovation is to create a partial sovereign, removing from the State and irrevocably vesting in the People the power to determine the exception to the rules that govern the State. This constitutional structure implies an infinite list of human rights — actions that cannot be taken by the State — that can be inferred from the limited grant of governmental powers. A structure of enumerated powers, where any power not permitted is prohibited, necessarily implies a complement of unenumerated rights. This means the republic enlists Americans’ energies and its collective efforts and mutual obligations on behalf of individual rights. America is neither a conservative nor a liberal state but a state that seeks to conserve a liberal tradition. This is the American constitutional ethos. To understand this, we must see the Constitution as the embodiment, the instantiation, of the Declaration of Independence. Like most law students of my generation, I used to think that the Declaration of Independence had no legal status because it was not ratified like the Constitution. On this, as in so many things, the late Charles Black turned me around. I came to realize that the 1787 Constitution sought to create a state that was based on the Declaration, a state structure that could more perfectly execute the ideas of the Declaration than could the Articles of Confederation. Thus, the ratification of the Constitution also amounted to the ratification of the Declaration, nunc pro tunc. Indeed, this is why Abraham Lincoln alludes to the Declaration of Independence (“Four score and seven years ago”) when he makes the constitutional argument to refute secession. This also explains why the Declaration is a rich source for ethical argument — one of the six fundamental modalities of constitutional argument that collectively form the standard model taught today in first-year law classes[27] — just as the Federalist Papers are an abundant source for historical argument or the U.S. Reports for doctrinal argument. Ethical argument — the argument from the American constitutional ethos — is sometimes called “the argument from tradition.” This fits with my thesis that it is a liberal, human rights tradition that is conserved by the bulwarks and bastions, the watchtowers, moats, and high walls of America’s constitutional architecture. Indeed, you might say that the oath “to preserve, protect, and defend” is a pretty good metonym for “to fortify.” The American constitutional ethos is the United States’ unique paradigm of the liberal tradition that flows from the Reformation and the decisive role the liberal tradition gives to the individual conscience. If this tradition is prefigured in the late Renaissance[28] and the early Reformation,[29] then one might say that communism, with its focus on scientific orthodoxy and prediction, is a child of the Enlightenment two centuries later and that fascism, with its focus on the genetic basis for nationalism and collective behavior, is a child (if an illegitimate one) of Darwinian biology a century after that. The materialism of both these legacies is fundamentally incompatible with human consciousness (as Thomas Nagel has recently argued[30]) and thus with the role assigned to the conscience by parliamentarianism. The imperial state nations[31] that dominated the 19th century were the first modern states to unite the State and the nation. The industrial nation-states that came to dominate the 20th century also fused the constitutional order with nationalism. Thus, Americans whose state descends from a late-18th-century founding tend to forget that what is meant by a nation is a cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, and historic group — not a state. Indeed, there are some nations — like the Kurds, the Palestinians, or the Cherokee — that don’t have states. In the Bible, when Jonah’s fellow seafarers asked him, “Of what nation are you?” they were not inquiring about his citizenship.[32] Americans forget this because, in the United States, we make precisely this inquiry. In America, it is citizenship and not national origin that forms the basis for the nation. This is one important divergence from the constitutional traditions of Europe and one reason why fascism has never had much of a toehold in America. [quote id="2"] Marxism and fascism embrace progress, whether it be the progress of science or the steady winnowing of the survival of the best adapted. Both ideologies claim to rely on science and the social sciences, which are themselves thought to be indicia and drivers of progress. The Anglo-American liberal tradition, by contrast, embraces pluralism, the idea that we can never be too sure of any orthodoxy and must perforce tolerate dissent. It is skeptical of progress but always open to incremental change. This ideology has its roots in tolerance — that we conserve competing values over time by giving them a chance at their turn of Fortuna’s wheel. The liberal tradition assumes that, at any one moment, one not only can be wrong but, to some degree, almost certainly is. Certain progress, however, demands certainty. Thus, Marxism and fascism were illiberal in the sense that they wished to destroy the impediments to progress, which, it was said, included dissent and free debate. The liberal tradition not only had different sources than its enemies in the Long War that began in 1914 and ended in 1990 — it had different constitutional methods and assumptions as well.

II. The Outer Critique

This description of the American constitutional ethos has lately been under attack, both as to its outer manifestations abroad and its inner legacy for the American people. These critics deny that America’s values, political system, and history — the American constitutional ethos — are really unique and worthy of admiration. While conceding that the United States possesses certain exceptional traits — some dubious, it is said, like gun ownership; some mystifying and inexplicable (to their critics), like high levels of religiosity — this critique asserts that U.S. action abroad has nothing to do with this ethos. Instead, America’s international history, like that of every other state, has been determined primarily by power and the competitive context of the international system. This is the “outer” assault. (The “inner” assault will be dealt with in the next section.) The indictment has six counts. First, it is said that while Americans claim they are exceptional and indispensable — two different points, by the way — many states and many nations have made this claim. In fact, according to one such critic, “Among great powers, thinking you’re special is the norm, not the exception,”[33] and it is true that American “exceptionalism” is rarely carefully defined beyond the most general and anodyne terms. Second, although Americans like to think their country behaves better than other states, and certainly better than other great powers, this is false. The United States has an expansionist history that began with its conquest of the North American continent. The Allied strategic bombing campaigns in World War II killed 353,000 Germans,[34] and approximately 330,000 Japanese civilians were killed by American bombs.[35] The United States dropped more than seven million tons of explosives during the war in Indochina[36] and should be held responsible for the more than 600,000 civilian deaths in that war.[37] In the past three decades, U.S. military action has been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of 250,000 Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans.[38] U.S. drones tracking terrorists in at least five countries have killed an unknown number of innocent civilians. Third, while the United States proclaims its devotion to human rights and international law, it has refused to sign most human rights treaties, including the Ottawa Landmines Treaty,[39] and is not a party to the International Criminal Court.[40] Nor has the United States energetically moved in the direction of decommissioning its vast nuclear arsenal, as it committed to do, in principle, when it acceded to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In the face of such facts, how dare the United States claim to be devoted to the rule of law. Fourth, the United States has often made common cause with some of the worst dictators and human-rights-abusing regimes. Nor has its own record been without blemish: The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the Bush administration’s reliance on torture and preventive detention are well-known. President Obama’s decision to conduct drone warfare without judicial warrants and even to wage war with questionable congressional authority suggests that such abuses are not a partisan or unusual matter. How dare the United States claim to be committed to human rights and due process. Fifth, U.S. claims to have defeated aggression in the 20th century ring hollow when the history of 20th-century conflicts is actually consulted. Although Americans tend to congratulate themselves for winning World War I, there are scholars who think the U.S. entry into the war only once the great European empires were thoroughly depleted was really aimed at succeeding those empires as the master of the international scene.[41] Woodrow Wilson may have proclaimed the war a fight to make the world “safe for democracy,”[42] but anyone can see in retrospect — it is asserted — that it was really the opening salvo in an effort to build an American empire in Europe. Critics also argue that, although Americans similarly congratulate themselves for having won World War II, most of the fighting was done in Eastern Europe and the main burden of defeating Hitler’s war machine was borne by the Soviet Union.[43] And while Americans also tend to think they won the Cold War all by themselves, they ignore the contributions of the courageous dissidents whose resistance to communist rule produced the “velvet revolutions” of 1989.[44] Sixth, although President Bill Clinton said that the United States was “indispensable to the forging of stable political relations,”[45] and his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, even referred to the United States as “the indispensable nation,”[46] we will soon find out whether this is really true. Like the little boy who finds himself at the head of a marching band and thinks he is leading it through the streets, should the little boy turn down an alleyway, the band will go on without him. What states look to the United States for moral and political leadership today, critics ask? As Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, remarked, today America doesn’t have “that many” friends.[47] Thus runs what one may call the “outer critique”: the exposé of the true history (it is said) of America’s interaction with the international system. Now let us engage these critiques, seriatim. It may be best to concede that every society and every state not only claims to be exceptional but is, in fact, exceptional. However, they are exceptional not in the way that Obama proclaimed: that every state, like every child, is “exceptional.”[48] Instead, what makes a society exceptional is simply what defines it in contrast to other societies. What makes a Japanese or an Australian not a Frenchman or a Ugandan is a function of his or her country and its culture and history. What makes a state exceptional is its unique constitutional ethos — the way it deploys its sovereignty to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of its people and territorial integrity in the face of its adversaries. This account of exceptionalism does not make the United States or any other state uniquely virtuous or successful, although the constitutional institutions that each state creates will channel the virtue of its citizens and martyrs and can accelerate its successes. It really does not say much at all except that it is important to determine the “nature of the exception” — how the state determines who will decide the ambit of law. In the case of the United States, this is its greatest legacy — not the hamburger, not the Corvette, not jazz or baseball — but the daring constitutional innovation by which the State was put under law. That America has sometimes failed to live up to that legacy only means that it is fallible. Indeed, the self-criticism that points out these flaws is actually a necessary part of such a pluralist, yet individualist, system. Now let us try a thought experiment as we work our way through the various charges of the “outer” indictment against the United States. Let us imagine the present as if the past simply omitted the role of the United States in world affairs. Such a thought experiment is merely a heuristic device to overcome the Anachronistic Fallacy that underlies so much of both the outer and inner critiques of American behavior. That Fallacy occurs when we transport our current context — not just its technology and wealth but its attitudes and mores — to earlier periods. Why, for example, didn’t earlier societies treat infectious diseases more successfully? Koch’s postulates weren’t “discovered”; they were formulated using ideas that had been present in many cultures for centuries. Should we reproach our ancestors for not having figured this out earlier? Or must we concede that without something like these postulates, the causal connection between disease and germs isn’t apparent? The Anachronistic Fallacy enshrines itself in an attitude that everything about the present can be held fixed and imported into the past even though the present is a result of the past.[49] [quote id="3"] It is true that by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France and by pacifying lands through countless aggressions and defensive battles against the native population of the continent, the United States created an empire on our island continent. It is also true that along with these strategic accessions, including those of the Mexican War, the United States brought the American political culture westward. Would the West and Southwest have been better off today if California and Texas had remained under a European emperor like Napoleon or the Mexican dictator Santa Ana, even if we assume that his attitude toward slavery was preferable? Even if we concede that the life of the Native Americans was better before their defeat, despite their own internecine campaigns of ethnic cleansing against each other,[50] would this way of life have prevailed against the Spanish conquistadors? It didn’t in South America, where the native populations were better armed and organized to resist invasion than their northern counterparts. Have those states fared better with the legacy of Iberian colonial culture? Has the rule of law prospered as a guiding principle in politics even at the hortatory level? I am aware of the critique that American meddling and exploitation in Latin America have given rise to a structure of plunder that is responsible for the chronic poverty and underdevelopment there. Without addressing the economic merits of this description — which is sometimes reduced to “We’re poor; it’s their fault”[51] — does it lead to the conclusion that the U.S. presence in the hemisphere prevented its liberal practices and traditions from flourishing in Latin America? Those revolutionary leaders who expelled the European colonialists in the early 19th century felt otherwise.[52] The strategic bombing campaigns against Germany and Japan had elements that today one might think of as war crimes — the pitiless attacks against urban populations, for example. But those campaigns, fought with less precision and with cruder aerial weapons than are now deployed, played a crucial role in the defeat of the fascist dictatorships. Would those wars have been won without the Americans (and without their sometimes ruthless tactics)? If it is true, as I believe, that the atomic weapons used against Japan discredited Japanese fascism in the eyes of its own people, what would have been the outcome had there been no Manhattan Project? Besides the United States, only Germany had the technology, organized technocracy, and wealth to create nuclear weapons during World War II — suppose it had? If the Americans had not fought in the Pacific, would China and Korea have been liberated? If so, by whom? It is worth recalling that the Soviet Union did not even declare war against Japan until the Americans had used the atomic bomb against Hiroshima.[53] The U.S. mission in Vietnam did not achieve its war aim of preserving the South Vietnamese regime, but it did buy time for the other states in the region. No less an authority than Lee Kuan Yew[54] stated many times that without the U.S. effort in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and perhaps even the Philippines would have become communist states.[55] His point is that the widely assumed discrediting of the “domino theory” only possesses a superficial credence because the United States did in fact intervene in Southeast Asia. The American occupation of Iraq was a fiasco, but can it really be assumed that the world would be safer today if Saddam Hussein and his psychopathic dynasty were still in power in Baghdad? Based on the testimony of his own scientists, Saddam planned to seek nuclear weapons at the earliest possible moment after sanctions were loosened[56] — sanctions that were themselves unraveling before the U.S. invasion.[57] Is it even conceivable that there would have been an agreement with Iran to cease production of nuclear weapons if Saddam were still in power? With respect to the suffering of the Iraqi people that the invasion and its aftermath brought, it seems highly relevant that, however much they rightly condemn the U.S.-led coalition’s failures during the occupation, a large majority of Iraqis, when polled in the early months of the occupation, supported the coalition’s invasion and removal of Saddam, saying it was “worth it.”[58] U.S. drones and special operations forces do inadvertently kill civilians. But are the number of civilian casualties not dramatically reduced by using drones and special forces instead of high-altitude bombing?[59] Is it true that countries that suffer from terrorist attacks, countries that implore the United States to aid their armed struggles, would be better off if America ceased trying to cripple those malevolent and savage terror networks? Would there be fewer Muslim deaths if the Islamic State still reigned over much of Iraq and Syria? Is Syria today better off because the United States chose not to intervene in force? What about the claim that the United States is hypocritical in its promotion of human rights and international law? It is true that America, along with other democracies, has refused to sign a number of human rights treaties that have been signed by dictators. However, scholars have persuasively argued that this is because the United States actually enforces those treaties in its domestic courts and therefore has to be very careful about its commitments.[60] Dictators, on the other hand, can sign whatever they please, knowing that such treaties amount to nothing but scraps of paper in their judicial systems. Is it really the case that the cause of human rights around the world would be further advanced today without the American efforts that fostered these rights? Without the Helsinki Accords?[61] Without the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Landmines are useful in military defense because they persist — that is, they do not fail when a tactical position is lost, and they do not require the presence of troops to maintain a position in order to give fire. This is also why landmines pose a humanitarian problem. Long after the battle is over, they continue to explode when innocent civilians set them off. As a matter of technology, however, this does not have to be the case. Timing mechanisms can be used that cause landmines to deactivate within as little as a few hours or as long as 30 days, which is the maximum allowed under the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which the United States is a party.[62] By contrast, the Ottawa Convention of 1997, the Landmines Treaty, to which the United States is not a party, bans only anti-personnel mines and freely permits all types of anti-vehicular mines.[63] Yet few members of the public seem to realize that anti-vehicular mines can be every bit as dangerous to civilians as anti-personnel mines. Indeed, persistent anti-vehicular mines kill innocent civilians trying to use roads, thus preventing refugees from returning to their homes and keeping humanitarian assistance from reaching them. The public seems to be generally unaware that this treaty bans only one class of explosives or that the U.S. policy of deploying time-sensitive mines — mines that effectively turn themselves off — would do far more to reduce civilian casualties if it were universally adopted. In any case, it has been U.S. policy not to use any persistent landmines since 2010 and this policy covers all mines, those that target persons and as well as vehicles.[64] But why doesn’t the United States simply cease using landmines? To do so would mean removing mines from the 38th parallel that separates North from South Korea — virtually the only place where the United States currently deploys mines. It is a no man’s land where a highly dangerous and unpredictable regime has more than one million active soldiers in its military, with 70 percent of its ground forces positioned south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line, most less than 100 miles from Seoul.[65] Without mines, no realistic conventional force could protect South Korea’s capital — which is less than 35 miles from the Demilitarized Zone — from a surprise attack by North Korean forces. Would it really be a step toward peace on the peninsula to remove this barrier? Suppose the United States stopped trying to defend South Korea. Would the Canadians and Swedes, who have been the most critical of the American deployment of landmines, be willing to take up these responsibilities with their own forces? Would South Korea long be content to remain a nonnuclear power when it becomes clear, as it will, that North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons has been in service of that state’s aggrandizement? Would Japan? Surely the resulting nuclear proliferation to these states would not bring about a safer and more humane world. [quote id="4"] What about the International Criminal Court? What is America afraid of? That it would lose its impunity to commit war crimes? In the first place, it is important to remember that even if the United States were a party to the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, the jurisdiction of that tribunal would engage only when the United States fails to prosecute its war criminals. Yet, in 2005, U.S. military tribunals handed down stiff sentences to prison guards who abused Iraqi prisoners.[66] Of course, there is more to it than that. In fact, the U.S. government fears prosecutions by the court — unlike those prosecutions that are authorized and instructed by the U.N. Security Council, whose tribunals the United States supports — because it fears these would tip the balance against American intervention in marginal theaters, eroding the already vanishing public support in America for humanitarian intervention. Today, the world order depends upon American soldiers to protect human rights in Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, and many other places. The spectacle of U.S. soldiers being tried before a foreign tribunal for acts committed while in the service of such interventions should give pause to anyone who wishes to persuade Washington to undertake those missions. It is difficult enough to muster public and congressional support for such deployments. The tragedies in Somalia, for example, led directly to the horrors in Rwanda because once American soldiers had been murdered and mutilated in Mogadishu there was no political will to engage them again in an African humanitarian mission. U.S. missions only make things worse, it is often said. So, suppose the Americans didn’t go abroad. Consider what life would be like now in the Balkans. When President Lyndon B. Johnson overruled the unanimous opinion of his advisers to press for the creation of the NPT regime, he may well have hoped that someday the world would be rid of nuclear weapons. This hope is enshrined in the treaty. But would the world be safer — would there be fewer states with nuclear weapons — if the American nuclear deterrent that protects so many other states was withdrawn? For technological and economic reasons, the United States may be the one nuclear power that could dispense with its nuclear arsenal. If it did, would the net number of nuclear powers actually decrease in the frenzy of rearmament that would ensue? The fourth charge of this “outer” indictment implies that war crimes, torture, and extrajudicial killings are as American as apple pie. Many states have resorted to torture — Britain in Ireland, France in Algeria, Israel in Palestine — and often on a scale considerably greater than the American abuses. It seems worth noting that the U.S. abuses, at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo for example, were not exposed simply by intrepid journalists and litigators but by the U.S. Armed Forces themselves. The point isn’t that the American constitutional ethos ensures that the United States will not commit terrible wrongs but that it makes it possible — indeed depends upon — the United States owning up to its errors and attempting to avoid their repetition. In fact, a nuanced and accurate assessment of American action, when it succeeds in upholding the professed values of its ethos as well as when it fails, is both consistent with our constitutional principles and a necessary guide to a stronger footing in establishing a global order that reflects those values. The charge that drone warfare amounts to extrajudicial killing not only misunderstands changes underway in the nature of warfare,[67] it also fails to comprehend the constitutional system by which actors other than courts play a role in waging wars and in ensuring their lawfulness. Addressing the fifth charge that the United States entered World War I to further its economic interests and to provide the basis for an American imperial role in Europe, it is hard to credit that anyone familiar with Wilson’s policies truly believes him to have been seeking such a role in Europe (or anywhere else). The suggestion is not only ahistorical, it is laughable. The principle of self-determination with which Wilson is most prominently associated is anathema to the very concept of empire, as the empires that began World War I discovered for themselves. Nor is it germane to the question of the American contribution to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II to observe that the great sufferings and sacrifices of the Soviet Union are also responsible for the defeat of Germany. Again, consider a counterfactual: Is there a military strategist or historian alive who believes the Soviet Union could have successfully resisted Germany without American aid, without a second front, and without American strategic bombing? Aerial bombing of German cities forced Germany to move its fighter aircraft away from the Russian front, giving Soviet arms air superiority. Perhaps equally important, Germany was compelled to move its 88mm anti-aircraft guns back to Germany when these were the most effective anti-tank weapons against Russian forces.[68] As for the Cold War, the United States, of course, did not win it alone. Far from it. Indeed, U.S. strategy was to build alliances so that it could win with the help of others. But rather than solicit the opinion of critics who decried the American policy of containment at the time, why not ask the dissidents themselves in the states that were liberated? Do they believe that without the American presence in Germany the Berlin Wall would have come crashing down? Why not ask Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany?[69] Finally, although it may seem hubristic to cast the United States as “the indispensable nation,”[70] to use this claim as a slur raises many questions. For example, indispensable to what? I’ve tried to give a number of examples in which American participation abroad, often in the face of powerful domestic opposition, has proved a decisive force for good. But perhaps the more important question today is, if not the United States — if not U.S. leadership of the world order that was established with America’s allies after World War II — then to which state should that leadership be committed? To the European Union? To China? To Russia and Iran? To a deadlocked U.N. Security Council? Perhaps the proffered answer is that there should be no leader, that the world we seek should be multipolar. Well, that has been tried. The multipolar world brought us both World War I and World War II. No single state was powerful enough to prevent either of those conflicts. Is it just a coincidence that the number of wars in the world, and the number of deaths both of soldiers and civilians, has dramatically declined since America took up its role as leader of the Alliance?

III. The Inner Critique

This essay began by discussing the subject of constitutional law and now has strayed into strategy. Such is the stuff of the “outer critique” because it claims that America’s diplomatic and strategic initiatives have been a sham, that it’s just old-fashioned rent-seeking, in contrast to the inspiring claims made by the architects of the current world order. Thus, it should not surprise anyone that the “inner critique” focuses on discrediting the heroic myths of America’s own history. For law, strategy, and history are intertwined in a way that the separated academic disciplines tend to obscure. As disciplines, each has its own understanding of causal dynamics, and practitioners are loath to increase, rather than reduce, the multiplicity of causal accounts by suggesting that some factor outside their own field is at work. Within each subject — law, strategy, and history — academics and analysts expect economic or political or perhaps sociological causes to account for developments. They are unlikely to see any necessary relations among these three classical ideas themselves. They do not appear to depend upon each other. Historians record how events in one arena can affect events in another. A war is won, and the peace conference that ends the war writes the ensuing international law in the victor’s terms. Or a war is lost, and a new constitutional structure is imposed. The first happened after World War II in San Francisco;[71] the second, at about the same time, in Tokyo.[72] Thus, the outcomes of strategy change law — and it becomes history. Or, a revolution changes the constitutional order of a state, replacing the aristocratic armies of the 18th-century territorial state with the mass armies of conscripts of the imperial state nation, enabling Napoleon to conquer Europe. Thus, constitutional law shapes strategy, and this too is called history. Or, new developments come into play — a new religion drives migration across a continent or technological innovation creates a mobile cannon — and an empire falls, and with its strategic collapse, its laws also die. While such examples are familiar, we are inclined to see their inter-relationship — the relationship among law, strategy, and history — as the byproduct of cause and effect, the result of developments of which history is simply the record. But history is not brought into being by context, whether strategic or legal. History brings context into being. And as this context unfolds, strategy and law are made manifest in events. It is therefore hardly surprising that the “inner critique” would be an attack on the American perception of its own history.
For law and strategy are not merely made in history — a sequence of events and culminating effects — they are made of history. It is the self-portrayal of a society that enables it to have an identity. Without this self-portrayal, this identity, a society cannot establish its rule by law because every system of laws depends upon the continuity of legitimacy, which is an attribute of identity. Furthermore, without such a self-portrayal, no society can pursue a rational strategy because it is the identity of the society that strategy seeks to promote, protect, and preserve. One might say that without its own history, its self-understanding, no society can have either law or strategy, because it cannot be constituted as an independent political entity.[73]
The view of American history that forms the basis for the “inner critique” claims that the U.S. national narrative is born in original sin, three sins, actually: slavery, the theft of land, and genocide. On this telling of the American story, the United States has grown powerful owing to monstrous crimes. That history cannot provide Americans with a common morality, or common heroes, or a common etiquette where national symbols, like the American flag or an unsingable national anthem, are concerned because to make common cause with these cultural artifacts is to drink the draughts that have poisoned U.S. history from the founding. This account has significant implications for world order and for the U.S. defense of that order. Indeed, the connection between the inner and outer critiques now becomes clear: They are a combined effort to dismantle the foundation of America’s international behavior, which is America’s confidence in the constitutional ethos that makes the United States exceptional. As the writer I quoted at the outset of this essay put it,
The American myth is at a crossroads. Our old stories will not save us. We need a new way to understand ourselves … Our new story would admit that much of our democracy has grown despite the rules and myths of the Founders and the frontier, not because of them. Freed of those rules and myths … we would be less eager to use our war machine and to spend so much of our wealth upon it. More aware of our own sins, we would feel less driven to avenge them abroad.[74]
One seldom sees such a frank admission of the synergy of outer and inner critique. And it’s not hard to see the sort of constitutional rules the author has in mind. At one point in his essay, he complains that the Constitution forbids legislatures from abrogating private contracts as if this was a telling exposé of the class bias of the Constitution’s ratifiers (very few of whom were creditors) and not in fact a rule that actually protects the availability and lowers the costs of credit in a developing economy. In any case, this is hardly what is exceptional about the U.S. Constitution. What made the Constitution unique among modern states is the decisive role it gives to law and, in constitutional law, to the individual conscience. It is true that the Constitution forbids the federal and state governments from coercing the press or establishing religious orthodoxy, including requiring a religious test for office; that it protects free speech and requires the equal protection of the laws for all persons — not just citizens — and insists on due process in the application of its rules. The constitutions of many countries do these things. More importantly, America’s Constitution limits the scope as well as the application of state power. It does not allow the State to determine where its citizens shall live, whom they shall marry, how many children a family can have, or what profession or trade to pursue not through the granting of rights but through the withholding of power. It does not define the “nation” as an ethnic or religious or racial group but as a body of citizens. It does not enshrine a popular democracy with the power to oppress by means of the law but, instead, aims to protect democracy with complicated structures — like the protection of civil contracts, including marriage[75] — that safeguard human rights. By these means it seeks to transmute deadly political questions into legal ones. [quote id="5"] The original, unamended Constitution was written in the context of a particular way of life that was shared by the European societies that had colonized the Americas. That worldview was patriarchal, racist, and imperialistic, and America lives with its consequences and, for some few, even its ideology — although that worldview is no longer widely held in those countries. The Three-Fifths Compromise, for example, is often cited as a constitutional concession to the Southern states that allowed for counting slaves in determining the census, which was the basis for representation in the House of Representatives.[76] But it is also true that this provision, similar to the decision to count children and women in the census, aligns with the idea that a male head of family represents the household — including any slaves who lived there. That slaves were counted only as three-fifths of a person was resented and objected to by white Southerners,[77] only 5 percent of whom ever owned a slave. Indeed, this figure underscores the conclusion that racism and patriarchy, rather than mere slavery, were at the heart of the dispute that divided the Union: Perhaps as many as a third of white Southerners were members of households that owned slaves and thus subordinated them regardless of ownership.[78] This does not exonerate that generation but simply gives a clearer description of the cultural basis for American constitutional practices. A Constitution cannot be better than its people, but it can provide for the ways in which the People can change because their values are not only reflected in law, they are shaped by it. Bear in mind that, in the 18th century, when the original constitution was drafted, most of the world’s slaves were owned by Europeans, Africans, and Ottoman Muslims. Many more slaves were brought through the trans-Atlantic slave trade to European colonies elsewhere (especially Brazil) than to North America.[79] Slavery itself — the conquest of captives who were sold into bondage and traded like chattel — was an ancient practice that thrived in many countries and in the empires of native peoples in the Americas. American and British opinion that despised slavery was a notable advance. What made American slavery both so odious, however, and has left such a pernicious legacy was the racial element in American slavery, a result of 18th-century globalization and the slave trade with Africa, something that was deplored in the Declaration of Independence. There was no room in such an institution for an Epictetus. Thus, even freedmen were held by the U.S. Supreme Court to be ineligible for citizenship because race came to determine rights.[80] Yet in other ways, the United States appeared more progressive than its peer countries at the time, for instance, in imposing no property ownership requirement to vote in federal elections.[81] It required an internal war, the most costly in American lives of all U.S. wars combined, to correct this terrible and degrading defilement, but correct it the Americans did. Would the American continent have remained unsettled by Europeans if the Anglo-Dutch colonies had never been established? Even assuming harmony among Native American tribes, such an assumption seems uninformed. Is it reasonable to suppose that the other powers that coveted an American empire for themselves would have forborne the conquest of land from the Native Americans they found here? Or that slavery would not have come to the continent when those powers arrived with their own customs and practices? Were those countries less patriarchal, racist, and imperialist than Britain and the Netherlands? Was that the lesson of the French in Haiti or the Spanish in Latin America? And what exactly does “land theft” mean for states for whom conquest was legitimate under the law of nations, and for those native tribes whose nomadic practices defied the conventional concept of land ownership? Let me be clear: My plea for historical realism cannot excuse slavery or genocide, acts that have been condemned for millennia. It cannot condone Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s or President Andrew Jackson’s racist policies. But it might give us a fuller picture of the intentions of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who detested slavery but shrank from the civil war he believed would attend immediate abolition,[82] and President Sam Houston, who was a protégé and supporter of Jackson’s but who was adopted by the Cherokee and fought to expose the behavior of government agents against them.[83] For the purposes of this essay, the question is not whether America’s history is pristine but whether that history would have been better in some other country’s hands and, given how history unfolded, what efforts America has made to overcome its negative legacies because that overcoming is an essential element in the ethos I have described above. If a people lose confidence in or despise or become disgusted by their history, it will result in their national enervation. It is evident that that is what the writer quoted above and many other critics of U.S. national security policy want. Perhaps this might be wise in some instances. You may want an aggressive society enervated, as the Germans and Japanese were after World War II. But a world order cannot be led or protected by a psychologically enfeebled society. With its allies, the United States created the current world order — the Charter of the United Nations, the Bretton Woods international financial system, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The United States did not act alone and could never have succeeded by trying to impose a post-war order. The United States sought, by benefiting others, to secure itself. Thus, the enervation of the United States can be costly to many states and is not just a matter of one actor sitting out the dance. That is why the criticism that U.S. policy has been self-serving is so beside the point. Of course U.S. policy was self-serving; it would have been unsustainable otherwise. U.S. leadership attempted to serve American interests, however, by embedding the interests of other states in the United States’ calculus of costs and benefits. Such leadership imposes costs that will not be willingly borne by a society that believes its principal legacy is shame. In fact, such a society will turn inward toward the accumulation of material advantage because this is the surest means by which it can reassert its self-respect. Because of its pessimism and self-loathing, it will come to resent other states and hold them in contempt as the only way of salvaging its own history. With its allies, America has created and led the current world order because it has been strategically successful — it is rich and powerful — and because it has put that leadership in service of democratic and humane principles — the source of its reliance on law. To give an unrealistic and fanciful account of America’s history — for the fancy of some of its critics reflects their resentments and obsessions as fancies do — is to deny the true sources of that order to undermine it. And because strategy and law are made of history, this process works both ways: If the critiques are historically uninformed and naïve, then the defenses must take care not to degenerate into cheerleading,[84] but must be historically well-formed and sophisticated enough to avoid anachronism. This is not simply a matter of research; it also requires imagination, for most peoples in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been spared and can scarcely imagine the atrocities that would have befallen them without U.S. leadership.[85] This is not to say — I emphasize — that American history is unblemished, or a more morally admirable one than that of other societies. Far from airbrushing the past, America must take its historic wrongs — for example, against African Americans and Native Americans at home and against Southeast Asians and Filipinos abroad — and study them to create a future that is more humane and more inclusive. When it functions as it was designed to work, the operation of the American constitutional ethos requires criticism, debate, and decisions according to conscience.

IV. Disillusion Leads to Dissolution

Unfortunately, the loss of common ground — even the willingness to engage in debate and discussion with those with whom one disagrees — can be facilitated by the decentralized U.S. constitutional system with as-yet uncalculated consequences. Thoughtful analysts such as the liberal James Fallows[86] and the conservative David Brooks[87] have celebrated the regeneration of the United States through the renewal of localities. While there are many inspiring stories — and not just in the United States,[88] because the devolutionary change in the constitutional order I have described elsewhere[89] is not limited to America — there are also grounds for concern about the “new localism.”[90] Fission is what happens when the nucleus of a large atom splits into smaller nuclei. When an atom undergoes nuclear fission, a few neutrons are ejected from the reaction. These free neutrons then react with other isotopes, like uranium 235, and cause more fissions. This is the phenomenon known as a chain reaction. This “fissioning” is what is happening, at a varying but often accelerating pace, within the political society of the United States. In 2004, the writer Bill Bishop described a development he called “the Big Sort,”[91] which traced the self-segregation of Americans into like-minded, evermore ideologically polarized communities. At the regional level, the sorting has been distinctly bicoastal, with New England, the mid-Atlantic, and Pacific regions growing more Democratic, while the West, Texas, and the South grew more Republican. At the same time, America’s coastal cities are becoming better educated, wealthier, and more cohesive while much of the center of the country is hollowing out. In most states, this trend has picked up momentum in the last 25 years. Just three states had less political polarization in 2012 than in 1992.[92] Like-minded people are clustering together, and clustering together seems to make people even more like-minded. Data from the 2016 presidential election show that this sorting is actually increasing: Although the Democratic candidate decisively won the popular vote, she carried only 487 of the 3,141 counties.[93] Four years before, Barack Obama won 689.[94] In 20 years, one-half the population will live in eight states; the 16 most populous states will have about 70 percent of the population. This means that 34 states will have about 30 percent of America’s people. [quote id="6"] This raises concerns that the people in two-thirds of the states (34) — the number required to call a constitutional convention or propose constitutional amendments — could amount to far less than two-thirds of the population and, similarly, that the population of three-quarters of the states — 38 states — could ratify the results even though they contain far less than three-quarters of the population. Whatever the formal consequences of this demographic and political sorting, there is a real threat to America’s common tradition when states that have become overwhelmingly representative of particular minorities — and I include white Anglo-Saxon Protestants — achieve overwhelming political power in the various states. For one thing, this could bring about a reversal of the constitutional dynamic of the last century and a half by which human rights were made uniform across all the states. Right now, a shoplifter or a bank robber arrested in Wyoming is read the same Miranda rights as one arrested in Florida. The same standards are applied banning prayer in schools, or forbidding the criminalization of abortion, or prohibiting the use of narcotics. This could change. Already, some states practice capital punishment while others do not — even though in most foreign states there is a uniform rule with respect to this question. In some instances, this fissioning of the national project might encourage welcome reform — I am thinking of the decriminalization of certain drug use. But there is also deadly risk to the American constitutional project in such market-driven variation, which treats the citizen more like a consumer than a member of the national polity. For example, I need hardly observe that racializing discourse would add an accelerant to this fissioning that could prove fatal to the American project.

V. Overcoming

Reflecting on the effort to create a world order after World War II, Dean Acheson wrote that his task was “just a bit less formidable than that described in the first chapter of Genesis. That was to create a world out of chaos; ours, to create half a world, a free half, out of the same material without blowing the whole [thing up] in the process.”[95] Acheson’s hope was to craft political and economic arrangements that would bind the anti-communist world through the benefits conferred by free trade, stable currencies, and the example of liberal democracies that flourished in the atmosphere of tolerance and open debate. Since the end of World War II, this world order has achieved more, perhaps, than Acheson could have hoped for. The United States has contributed money and ideas to expand trade, fight disease, encourage the development of new technologies, and increase the scope and lower the cost of global transport. Most importantly, America has risked its own safety to guarantee the safety of other states. It was American leadership of that world order that ended the Cold War, that reversed the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait, that finally halted the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and that brought peace between Israel and Egypt. It is hardly implausible to say that had the American state not developed as it has, the world would be poorer, less free, and, above all, less hopeful. America can vindicate its role in defending the world order if it can maintain confidence in its constitutional and strategic values. Those values reflect the American assumptions that alliances are a strategic asset (America’s first foray into world affairs was the Monroe Doctrine, guaranteed by the British Royal Navy[96]); that public policy abroad, like policy at home, must reflect America’s values, because the assertion of U.S. interests is the assertion of U.S. values; that security, wealth, and freedom flourish in environments that aim to nurture them and therefore are not the result of a mercantile competition that assumes that one person’s gain is another’s loss. America will succeed because constitutional innovation and free markets and ingenious technology are endeavors America is good at. But if America betrays its constitutional ethos — what makes it exceptional but cannot by itself make it exceptionally virtuous or good — it will lose confidence and won’t even try. The weakest link in U.S. national strategy is a growing lack of confidence in America’s institutions, its heritage, and its goals. When America has succeeded as a country, it is because it has relied on a sense of purpose and a shared belief that it can and will do the right thing because — not in every case and every time — it has subscribed to the ideals of the American constitutional ethos, and it has taken pains to convince others that it would act in accordance with that ethos. Without this sense of past achievements and of struggles overcome, America will necessarily fail, because it will have defeated itself. Other states, motivated by different principles, will take up this role. As William Burns, former deputy secretary of state, put it, “We can shape things or wait to get shaped by China and everybody else.”[97] Indeed, one can already see in the backlash that triumphed in the 2016 presidential election, the disabling of those steps — like the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement— that would have been positive steps in countering the de-stabilizing rise of China.

•          •          •

The rise of populist movements in the West, the rise of China in the East, and the growth of social media all have converged to undermine America’s commitment to democratic republics, which are the structural form of the U.S. constitutional ethos, an ethos of liberal values that the United States has championed in the international system. The rise of these movements is widely taken to be an implicit criticism of that system. As has been observed earlier in this paper, it is an illiberal reaction to the unresponsiveness of the democratic political process. This reaction is supercharged by the growth of social media that bypasses the traditional processes of party politics and representative government. Perhaps equally important, social media platforms also bypass the intellectual gatekeepers of the mainstream media, upon which Americans have relied for a factual consensus to ground political debate. Champions of this development claim to be disenchanted with the corruption of the republican structure of representation. Thus, both populism and its developmental companion, social media, are fueled by disgust. As Jack Balkin has put it, populists are angry about the democratic shortfall of government,[98] and social media reflects anger about the unrepublican shortcomings of representation. The evidence, however, might be characterized differently. One might say that only a few political scientists care about democracy per se — or republicanism for that matter — and, while they obsess about the unrepresentative nature of the Senate and the loss of civic virtue in politicians, the public is not similarly preoccupied. Rather, what motivates contemporary populists and social media movements are the expectations that their members should be treated like customers and consumers rather than citizens, and thus that they bear no responsibility for reforming the system through their own participation, other than simply going on to another carrier or vendor to satisfy their needs. This attitude, reflected in various surveys, is especially worrying among the young.[99] Not only is there an illiberal “cohort shift,” with young citizens today being more skeptical about democracy than their parents were at the same age, but Millennials are also more likely to denigrate democratic institutions and to express a preference for a shift — to the right in some places, to the left in others — away from their liberal democratic heritage. In such a situation, the legitimacy of the State is put into play. It is a commonplace to say that the governments of the West are dysfunctional, but are there agreed-upon ends they are not functioning to achieve? A debate between Sanford Levinson and Balkin on this subject quickly revealed that “dysfunctional” was largely a label for “unable to pass the legislation I favor and that, I concede, is widely opposed.”[100] The admiration and confidence accorded the governing operating systems of the democratic republics are waning, but it is not their functionality as operating systems so much as their legitimacy — the relationship of the State to the People — that is responsible for this. The industrial nation-state is increasingly unable to make the claim that it will improve the material well-being of its people, and this claim has been the basis of the legitimacy of this constitutional order for more than a century. In fact, with regard to the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons; the growth of global terror networks, international criminal conspiracies, and hacking threats; the frequency and virulence of epidemics; climate change; the fragility of national financial institutions; the protection of national morals and culture; and the use of law to enforce moral codes, the State seems increasingly to be at a loss. [quote id="7"] This is why the rise of China is salient for the constitutional order of democratic republics. China provides an alternative, undemocratic, unrepublican form of government that does seem to be able to affirm its basis for legitimacy. The Chinese regime appears capable of increasing the total wealth of society steadily, consistently, even dramatically, while increasing the economic opportunities available to its people. As such, it is a harbinger of the new constitutional order of states that tends to treat its citizens as consumers.[101] Globally, Millennials are much more positive about President Xi Jinping and his ability to invest in the future, and they appear less troubled by his repression of political opposition and debate.[102] China’s rise in the international order is directly proportional to its success domestically, a success that depends upon jettisoning the basis for legitimacy that undergirds the other great states of the world. By contrast, in the United States the increase in racial antagonism and alienation, increasing income inequality and hostility to leading elites, considerable illegal immigration and the largest levels of legal immigration since 1890, and the executive’s increasing reliance on discretionary law enforcement all testify to an unraveling of the compact that forms the basis of democratic republics, the triumphant variant of the constitutional order of industrial nation-states. Calling this “dysfunction” is a misnomer. It is instead the transition from one constitutional order to another. One dreadful consequence of these developments is the growing, concomitant hatred of various groups within society. The white supremacists at Charlottesville are indeed more vile than the antifa mob at Berkeley, because racial and religious prejudice is uniquely odious, but both are marinated in hatred for the other. The threat to the rest of society arises, as Machiavelli observed, from the fact that tyranny comes to power by promising to crush the elements that the people hate. So what is to be done? The first step is to recognize that what is happening in the United States is happening everywhere and that it is a fundamental, not a transient, development. That development is the challenge to the current constitutional order of the United States and other dominant states by a new form of the State.[103] Absent this recognition, America is condemned to dealing with its problems piecemeal and ineffectively. But armed with this awareness, America can instead craft its own version of the coming constitutional order, just as it did with its predecessor within which we now live. Second, America must recognize those common threats that beset the world order: climate change, networked terror, an increasingly febrile and fragile international financial system, and the proliferation of technologies of mass destruction that could lead to the use of nuclear and biological weapons. Failure to deal with all of these matters is destroying the legitimacy of the industrial nation-state. Third, the United States must use those techniques it is best at: assimilation and tolerance against terror; the ingenuity of markets and innovative technology to manage climate change and global financial connectedness; deterrence and — if necessary — intervention by an alliance against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. America knows that it knows how to do these things because it has done them successfully in the past. If it is true that the international order is shaped by the most successful and dynamic constitutional order, then America must look to its domestic polity to begin these initiatives. As much as such efforts may cause unease, America must find a way to bring together the concerns of protesting students, grieving and outraged African-Americans who are victims of state violence, marginalized sexual groups of varying self-identification, working-class persons frustrated by apparently unstoppable immigration and evaporating economic opportunity, families discouraged by the coarsening of American life, and religious communities that feel themselves at war with the larger culture, along with the currently dispirited liberal advocates of tolerance, dispassion, and debate. That will mean inventing a constitutional order based on the traditional values of America’s democratic republic and legitimating its structure through an equal responsiveness to the concerns of those currently alienated from that structure and to those who are alienated from the apparent shifts in that structure. In this task, the sheer bloody-mindedness of the current administration may be a solvent, dissipating the hardening molds of distrust and making possible a new era of faith in the American enterprise. As a start, the United States should consider some regime of reparations for African-Americans — who regardless of their relationship to the practice of racial slavery still labor under its legacy — and Native Americans whose treaties with the United States remain to be honored. It is not simply a matter of obligation to these groups so much as it is a matter of self-respect. The way to redress foreign wrongs is to recover American self-confidence so that the United States can lead the international order to a prosperity and security that embraces all states that wish to participate in that order. Although it has been routinely misinterpreted by American politicians — or perhaps because it has been so misinterpreted — I want to close with a reflection on John Winthrop’s famous speech charting a vision for the American colonists in 1630. He said to the passengers of the Arbella, “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”[104] By this Winthrop emphatically did not mean that the excellence of America’s example would be the marvel of the age or that the virtue of the immigrants he addressed would make their enterprise a success. On the contrary, he knew that Europeans expected this experiment to fail. This is what Winthrop meant when he warned that “the eyes of all people are upon us.” His words were a caution to the new Americans to behave themselves, to take up their grave responsibilities and face their equally grave challenges with a decent respect for the opinions of mankind. An elected legislature was established. Ministers were prohibited from holding political office. Harvard College was founded six years later.[105] All this was done without a formal charter from the British government. No one can say where the American experiment is headed. Its strife and failures have also been a part, perhaps an indispensable part, of its triumphs. Its legacy — the American constitutional ethos — has redeemed its history. Now that ethos must create history anew.

Conclusion

In this essay I have argued that what makes the United States exceptional is also what makes it indispensable going forward as the states of the world adapt a new constitutional order to cope with the challenges that are overwhelming the industrial nation-state. The alternative is not a return to the halcyon days of national identity secured by laws that privileged a dominant ethnic or national group’s values in the governance of the State, not because these laws were morally wrong, though in some places and at some times they certainly were by the contemporary standards of today (for what other moral standards can we authentically apply?), but because such constitutional regimes cannot manage the challenges of the 21st century. The alternative is an illiberalism of both the left and the right that will infect the emerging market-states of the world just as fascism and communism infected the industrial nation-states of the last century. American exceptionalism does not make the United States uniquely virtuous or especially virtuous, for that matter; it merely makes the American state capable of adaptation according to rules that rely on the conscience. The constitutional challenges that currently beset states are responsible for the various, seemingly contradictory, crises that are occurring globally; these challenges can be resolved favorably to the values of the liberal tradition that ground the American constitutional ethos. Only a recognition of that ethos and its reinvigoration will enable the United States to play a positive role in leading the world to that resolution.   Acknowledgements: I should like to thank two remarkable research assistants, Andrew Elliott and Philippe Schiff, for their outstanding efforts on this essay; and I would also like to thank Megan Oprea, Autumn Brewington, and Ryan Evans for their editorial assistance at the Texas National Security Review. Of course, any errors of fact or judgment that remain, despite their help, are mine alone. Philip Bobbitt is Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence and Director of the Center on National Security, Columbia Law School and Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas. Image: Wikipedia Commons [post_title] => America’s Relation to World Order: Two Indictments, Two Thought Experiments, and a Misquotation [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => americas-relation-to-world-order-two-indictments-two-thought-experiments-and-a-misquotation [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-10 14:45:52 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-10 18:45:52 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=676 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) ) ) [2] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_articles [wgt_type] => manual [qty] => 3 [posts] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 677 [post_author] => 194 [post_date] => 2018-08-21 12:21:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-21 16:21:32 [post_content] => The U.S. National Security Strategy, published in December 2017, marked a historic break in U.S. policy toward China. The White House explicitly judged the policies of previous administrations to be a failure and closed the door on engagement as the primary mode of U.S.-Chinese relations. Before the Trump administration, U.S. policy was based on the assumption that a China governed by the Chinese Communist Party could be socialized within the international institutions of the West. Engagement at all levels — commercial, scientific, military, diplomatic, educational, and people-to-people — was expected to convince Chinese leaders of the benefits of accepting a liberal international order and persuade them to become, in the words of then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, a “responsible stakeholder” in that order.[1] This assumption had endured through seven U.S. presidencies, but the National Security Strategy explicitly judged, “This premise turned out to be false.”[2] The Trump administration’s new, more confrontational direction has generated more controversy than consensus. The emerging contours of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy reflect a muscular commitment to enduring U.S. interests in a stable Asia-Pacific and to pushing back against Beijing’s revisionism. The statements Defense Secretary James Mattis made at the Shang-ri La Dialogue in June appear to be coming to fruition as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced $300 million for security assistance on top of $113 million for technology, energy, and infrastructure initiatives.[3] Many observers would support such measures, but other aspects of the administration’s policies have caused unease among some even as they achieved results. To begin with, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration had made the signature economic initiative of its Asia-Pacific rebalance. Meanwhile, the Trump administration successfully pressured China to enforce sanctions on North Korea but also generated fears of war. The administration’s trade actions and tariffs may not resolve the U.S.-China trade imbalances, but they appear to be pressuring China’s leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, in novel ways.[4] The strategic shift, however, has not yet addressed the first-order questions that have dogged U.S. policy in Asia under past administrations: Is the United States willing to use force in the region, and how feasible are U.S. objectives while the Communist Party governs China? The strategic shift in U.S. policy toward China has not been locked in either bureaucratically or politically. Although the Trump administration has reopened an important conversation that had been closed for decades, it ultimately may not be the one to build a new policy consensus on China. Washington’s friends in Asia worry that American partisanship may prevent future policymakers from recognizing the Trump administration’s achievements in the region.[5] Nevertheless, Washington and Beijing will not return to the old status quo. This moment in time marks a transition from seven administrations’ policy of engagement to a nascent, emerging position. Because the United States is not yet ready to resolve first-order questions about its policy aims, any strategy is transitory. For now, the best answers can only describe the tools and considerations that must be a part of the U.S. recalibration. To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. Chinese power is an issue the United States will grapple with for years to come, and the relative difference in power between the two countries is shrinking, especially along China’s periphery. Washington needs to be able to maximize its leverage and make the most of opportunities to affect the Chinese Communist Party-state. Taking advantage of political leverage will require affecting party leaders at a personal level. The vicious politics of the Chinese Communist Party opens up fissures among the leadership at least once every political generation. Such openings can and should be exploited to advance U.S. interests. Improving U.S. understanding of China and orienting the U.S. government toward identifying and exploiting opportunities will require paying greater attention to the ways the Communist Party seeks to shape foreigners’ understanding of China. Washington needs to be prepared to act and must reengage in a discussion of values that has been left on the sidelines for too long. Even if the Trump administration’s more competitive course of action is not maintained by subsequent administrations, an engagement-oriented approach will still require adjustments to better protect U.S. interests.

An Inevitable Break

A dramatic shift in U.S.-Chinese relations was on the horizon no matter who won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. The assumptions underpinning bilateral relations had long strained against day-to-day realities. The two most important assumptions were that U.S. engagement would lead to a more liberal China (if not the demise of the Chinese Communist Party) and that shared long-term interests would lead to cooperation.[6] The 2017 National Security Strategy was explicit about the failures of this approach. Most notably, American aspirations for a more liberal — even if not democratic — China collided with the hard facts of what the Chinese Communist Party was willing to do to survive. The National Security Strategy stated, “For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China.” Even Richard Nixon justified engaging the Chinese Communist Party on the basis of hoped-for, long-term political change.[7] This hope became entrenched after the end of the Cold War removed the strategic logic of using U.S.-China relations as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Commercial, rather than strategic, engagement would supposedly moderate and ultimately liberalize China’s politics and economy.[8] Signs that the Chinese Communist Party was resisting the direction U.S. policymakers had envisioned arose early in the post-Cold War era, but the rise of Xi Jinping has brought American hopes of political reform crashing down. Early on, the party relentlessly shut down discussion of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 and jailed the movement’s student leaders. Chinese leaders also studied how best to use and shape market forces for the benefit of the Communist Party, giving the impression of regulatory liberalization while some in the business community became party members.[9] Signs of retrogression soon became unmistakable under Xi. The playbook for Xi’s leadership leaked out in what is known as Document No. 9 in the spring of 2013. The document identified perceived threats to the regime from, among other sources, universities, civil society, and the news media. Each has received special attention from the Xi government, and new regulations or legislation have expanded on the activities that must receive prior approval. The creation of concentration camps for Uighurs, the arrest of relatives of journalists who reported the story for a U.S.-government-funded news outlet, and the detention of Uighurs who are in contact with people outside China mark the extreme end of the party’s internal repression.[10] Lest readers think the Uighurs suffer from oppression by the Han Chinese majority rather than that of the party specifically, it should be noted that Beijing’s repression is broad. The party has cracked down on Chinese Christians while pressuring the Vatican to cede its authority to appoint church leaders in China.[11] Moreover, all Chinese citizens are subject to the ever-more invasive and comprehensive electronic surveillance slowly being integrated into a policy framework for inducing and coercing behavior the party wants.[12] Critics of the Trump administration’s aggressive approach argue that U.S.-Chinese relations after the Cold War were driven primarily by U.S. interests rather than a naïve hope that the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize. There was nothing wrong with past policy, these critics say, and U.S. presidential and policy statements about political liberalization did not represent what policymakers were actually thinking. As former U.S. ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy observed about today’s debate, “Such critiques often fail to distinguish between the way Washington publicly justifies its policies, by referring to values, and the way it actually formulates them, by putting national interests first.”[13] Those interests, however, seemingly became formulaic assumptions that went untested as China evolved. U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. For years, they proclaimed the same areas of overlapping interest: maintaining a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, arresting climate change, working for non-proliferation, and building commercial ties. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger highlighted these points in a 1997 speech entitled “Building a New Consensus on China.” Engagement, he argued, was needed to maintain cooperation on “the spread of weapons of mass destruction; our increasingly complex commercial ties; stability on the Korean peninsula; and the health of the global environment.”[14] More than 20 years have passed since Berger’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, yet the same areas remain singled out for cooperation despite Beijing’s changing behavior, growing military power, and increasing internal political repression.[15] And among those cited interests, the record is mixed. [quote id="1"] Cooperation on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction yielded uneven results, but key takeaways from U.S.-Chinese agreements never materialized. As Berger said in 1997, “China is neither as bad as some portray — [n]or as good as we would like.”[16] In 1985, Beijing and Washington signed a Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement — a so-called 1-2-3 Agreement — to facilitate the transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear expertise and equipment to China to help modernize its nuclear industry. The agreement included a Chinese commitment to build an export control system to monitor and certify the export of sensitive and dual-use technologies. That system remains unbuilt more than 30 years later. Instead, U.S. officials work through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs that often is outranked and outgunned politically by the companies it must regulate, and that is assuming the ministry is even prepared and able to act on a U.S. request. Commercial ties between American and Chinese firms have grown increasingly complex. Both sides have benefited from continued expansion, but Chinese political pressure has also mounted on U.S. companies. Surveys of foreign multinational companies in China have found growing pessimism regarding the regulatory and policy environment despite confidence in the country’s economic future.[17] Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative in the Trump administration who was also deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration, argued nearly a decade ago that many of the promised benefits of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) had failed to materialize. Proponents had argued that the trade deficit would shrink, that U.S. companies’ market access would improve, and that there would be no downside for the United States. Instead, the trade deficit grew. And while U.S. companies did get more access to Chinese markets, they continued to pay for that access through joint ventures and technology transfers. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in a sharp decline that began after China joined the WTO.[18] One of the most significant failures following in the wake of China’s incorporation into the WTO has been the persistence of intellectual property theft and its movement up the value chain from cultural products, such as movies, to telecommunications and semiconductors.[19] When Robert Kapp, then president of the U.S.-China Business Council, testified before Congress in support of granting China permanent normal trade relations and supporting its WTO ascension, he argued that leverage would be gained rather than lost by integrating China. Beijing’s participation in the WTO, he said, would give companies recourse to “such offensive habits as the requirement that foreign companies transfer technology in order to do business in China.”[20] Today, however, forced transfer remains a key element of Beijing’s strategy to acquire foreign technology, and the scale of China’s intellectual property theft arguably has increased.[21] Sustained Chinese cooperation on North Korea, meanwhile, has been at least as much a product of U.S. pressure as solicitation and persuasion. Since the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has consistently prioritized North Korea’s stability over preventing its nuclearization. The U.S. sanctions on Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, in late 2005, put pressure on Beijing and Chinese banks even as the equivalent of $24 million to $25 million of North Korean money — a small sum in the context of international relations — was frozen. The sanctions implicitly threatened Chinese banks doing business with North Korea and significantly restricted North Korea’s access to the international financial system, despite its access to China.[22] This pressure helped bring about another round of six-party talks. As pressure and scrutiny eventually lifted, Chinese companies renewed their efforts to skirt and undermine the sanctions regime.[23] The latest round of official Chinese cooperation began in April 2017 with the presidents’ meeting at Mar-a-Lago, during which Xi pledged to work with the Trump administration on North Korea. Beginning in June 2017, Beijing supported stronger sanctions in the U.N. Security Council five times, most notably in September and December.[24] As further cooperation failed to materialize, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, linked possible U.S. trade actions against China to outcomes on the Korean Peninsula, and implied that Chinese banks that continue to do business in North Korea also would be sanctioned.[25] Chinese cooperation on climate change has also been less than forthcoming. Although a number of agreements have been signed, rarely have funding commitments to back U.S.-Chinese initiatives for climate change and energy cooperatives been present.[26] The much-heralded 2016 climate agreement with the Obama administration committed Beijing to meeting benchmarks that it had already established domestically.[27] This has left cooperation mostly to the private sector, with mixed results, both because of Beijing’s industrial policies and its condoning of intellectual property theft. For example, in 2005, the Chinese state-owned company Sinovel began working with the American company American Superconductor (AMSC) on wind turbines and electricity distribution. The relationship fell apart in 2011, however, when Sinovel paid a former AMSC employee to steal the U.S. company’s source code and Sinovel then reneged on $800 million in contracts with that same company.[28] Taken together, what does all this mean? It is not that U.S.-Chinese cooperation was a fiction but, rather, that the areas of cooperation were intrinsically problematic. Pretending that these joint efforts were genuine or were anything other than a U.S. vision of China’s interests resulted in a frail superstructure. U.S. policymakers and commentators had to overlook Beijing’s failure to honor its commitments and pretend that the absence of Chinese actions was not a deliberate choice but, instead, a sign that decisions had not been made.

Obstacles to a New Approach

Locking in a new approach to U.S. policy toward China will be more difficult than many critics of the past engagement policy seem to think. Americans disagree about not only the degree to which the policy must change but also the degree of competitiveness that will be required. Former State Department officials Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner have suggested that the way forward begins simply: “The first step is relatively straightforward: acknowledging just how much our policy has fallen short of our aspirations.”[29] Many old hands, however, dispute the assertion that U.S. policy toward China has fallen short or failed to deliver on its promises. The policy basically worked, in their view, and few adjustments are necessary.[30] Even supposing, however, that U.S. experts on China and U.S.-Chinese relations agreed on the need for new policy initiatives or even a fundamentally different approach, more significant barriers must be overcome to move forward with new plans. The first such barrier is the relatively low degree of knowledge about China and the Chinese Communist Party at senior levels of the U.S. government and among American society in general. Ratner noted in a podcast interview this year that while senior U.S. officials seem to understand Ukraine and Syria in fairly granular detail, they repeatedly need to be reminded about basic geography and policy regarding China. The constant need for education wastes time and energy, and it inhibits a more far-reaching discussion about how to address the illiberal challenges of a China led by its Communist Party.[31] Such limited knowledge also makes it difficult for the president and others to appreciate the quality (or lack thereof) of China-related materials. They would have to rely almost entirely on instinct to evaluate the arguments presented to them. [quote id="2"] The low level of knowledge also leads to analogizing about China rather than assessing China for what it is. Analogies are unavoidable in the absence of direct knowledge. But the carefulness required in structuring useful comparisons has not been employed when China is likened to Weimar Germany or Xi Jinping to Charles de Gaulle.[32] The late Ernest May and Richard Neustadt argued that historical analogies had limited value unless they were structured deliberately. Because historical analogies rip events out of their context, such analogies may mislead more than they inform.[33] Americans’ relatively low level of knowledge about China leads to a second barrier: the Chinese Communist Party’s messaging about U.S. policy toward China. The party presents the policy options for dealing with China as a binary choice. Yet, only occasionally are such decisions truly so limited. Even the most glaring choice, recognizing the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan (Republic of China), is not so clear-cut, in part because many countries maintain ostensibly informal, but robust, diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As Singapore’s former senior-most diplomat, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan, described in a recent speech, “This technique of forcing false choices on you and making you choose between false choices is deployed within a framework of either overarching narratives or specific narratives. … The purpose is to narrow the scope of choices.”[34] One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces and propagandists regularly accuse the United States of containing China, employing a “Cold War mentality,” and stirring up the “China threat theory” to encourage other countries to demonize China. A final barrier to reaching a new policy position is that the United States — and presumably other countries that do not have as substantial a China-watching community — does not have a team to take the field. This is not so much a question of China-specific knowledge on the part of policy practitioners but, rather, the marriage of knowledge about China, policy tools, and competitive strategy. Too much of the existing talent has been conditioned by the long-held engagement policy. Engagement and competition require fundamentally different mind-sets and thinking through a different set of questions. Engagement as a policy direction presupposes that interaction is fundamentally good and that opening China to academic, business, and civil-society ventures is beneficial to U.S. interests. Competition, by contrast, raises first-order questions, such as whether there are long-term benefits to U.S. businesses operating in China or whether Beijing’s policies are incompatible with U.S. long-term interests. Building this team while transcending partisanship will not be easy. Americans inside and outside government have knowledge about China, policy, or strategic competition, but there are very few with expertise in all three. Ensuring that people with expertise in one or two of these areas gain the necessary additional knowledge requires not only time but also taking such individuals out of active roles while they focus on acquiring additional expertise.

A Toolkit for the Transitional Phase

Until a new China policy is more firmly locked in bureaucratically and a new consensus about China is reached, proposing an overarching strategy and set of objectives is premature. The U.S. discussion may be more open than it has been in years, but first-order questions about the ultimate objectives of China policy have not yet been reassessed and answered. The United States sits in a transitional phase, at least until the Trump administration solidifies bureaucratic policy guidance and a subsequent administration builds from its foundation. What directions succeeding administrations take, of course, may vary, regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican. For the near future, it is more appropriate to assess U.S. policy tools and how to maximize leverage rather than trying to pin down an overall strategy. Washington needs to expand its toolkit beyond the military dimension, regardless of what the future holds for U.S. policy and U.S.-Chinese relations. U.S. economic and military predominance has maintained stability in East Asia for decades. In recent years, Beijing has undermined and challenged the credibility of U.S. power — or at least Washington’s willingness to use it. Beijing’s steady expansion and consolidation in the South China Sea from 2012 onward exposed the gaps in U.S. military power in the region and Washington’s policy of deterrence. The Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal and subsequent island construction showed that Washington was not prepared to use military force or to place U.S. sailors and pilots in harm’s way to push back against China. These dilemmas also highlight the necessity of strengthening Americans’ psychological willingness to use leverage wherever it might be found. Refrains about the limitations of U.S. influence have more to do with a lack of conviction than a lack of ability. Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Marco Rubio of Florida put forward at least one alternative to using military force in China’s maritime periphery, but their bipartisan legislation to sanction Chinese firms engaged in island-building never went anywhere.[35]  Building U.S. capacity to compete with China more comprehensively and effectively will require a political-power-centric and opportunity-oriented research agenda, a concentrated effort to build leverage, and counterintelligence and counter-interference efforts to preserve the integrity of U.S. policymaking. A power-centric research agenda would evaluate the Chinese Communist Party’s susceptibility to pressure. Opportunities are fleeting, and attitudes change. One day, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party may not have the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army. Another day, he may have installed loyalists at the upper ranks. Leverage should be built over time and prepared for the moment when it can have the most impact. To make use of leverage at the point Chinese leaders are most vulnerable, the integrity of the U.S. policymaking system must be secure so that Washington can be ready to act when opportunity knocks. Each of these points is outlined more fully below.  A New Analytical Approach  First, U.S. policymakers need a different way of ordering their knowledge and thinking about China issues. Opportunities to influence the Chinese Communist Party in a significant way come along only once or twice in a political generation. The vicious “you die, I live” (你死我活) kind of politics that is practiced in China inevitably opens up leadership fissures. U.S. policymakers need to better understand how political power is wielded within the Communist Party. Shaping and responding to Beijing’s behavior requires influencing the individuals who decide policy. U.S. policymakers must understand the sources of Chinese political power to understand which ones Chinese leaders must control or neutralize in order to succeed and how, exactly, they do so. Understanding these leadership dynamics will facilitate Washington’s efforts to cajole or coerce Beijing by seeing opportunities as they arise. Most U.S. analysts examine the Chinese Communist Party through an institutional lens that largely excludes the human element of politics from the equation. The amount of rumor-mongering and deliberate disinformation fed to journalists makes it difficult to evaluate that human component of Chinese politics. Rather than try to sift the wheat from the chaff, those practicing the institutional approach focus on authoritative sources and the kinds of information that can be tracked through official media.[36] For example, in the discussion of Xi Jinping’s political power in 2014, one institutionalist narrowly evaluated Xi’s power according to how he had changed (or not changed) party slogans about the leadership core and collective leadership, concluding that Xi’s power was simply gifted to him by the party.[37] This approach ignored many of the reasons other analysts considered Xi powerful, because they related to subjective measures about elite networks, purges, and symbolic politics. It is critical to understand party institutions, but analysts cannot stop there on the assumption that Chinese politics has become institutionalized. The basic structure and guidelines within which the Communist Party operates are merely a starting point. The Chinese Communist Party is still ruling a country, and politics cannot be avoided. Resources — such as time, attention, and money — are limited, and they must be allocated according to political considerations. Wherever humans operate, there will be personal politics. The robust academic literature of organizational studies expresses the truism that no matter how meritocratic or rules-based an organization becomes, decisions about personnel at the leadership level will always be political. A healthy organization produces more potential leaders than it has positions to fill. Institutions, training, and promotion guidelines ensure a minimum level of competency and open the opportunity for promotion. Deciding who gets what position necessarily depends on personality, power, and networking.[38] The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. The age-old questions of “who decides?” and “who benefits?” are as important as the party lines in official propaganda and the content of party documents. Party leaders have empowered and undermined different party and state institutions, depending on the needs of the moment and their competitors’ strengths. Institutional arrangements to control state power, such as the Central State Security Commission, have also been created when organizational and technological change has given the party-state new capabilities to monitor, influence, or hurt the leadership. The institutions of the Chinese party-state need to be evaluated as more than mere technocratic expressions of rational governance.[39] [quote id="3"] Power also cannot be separated from individual politicians. Some Chinese leaders possess an intuitive sense of political symbolism and propaganda. Others know how to work the party bureaucracy. Still others carry meetings with the force of their personality. Human virtues and frailties are as much a part of the Chinese system as any other. Although no approach will describe a leader’s political instincts accurately and authoritatively every time, this human element cannot be dismissed. At the very least, important questions about how leaders exercise influence must be part of the discussion of contemporary China. Building Leverage Second, if political power is as personal as it is institutional within the Chinese Communist Party, then building leverage means focusing on what matters to individual leaders and the institutions that support them. The U.S. government has not pursued this path with any sort of regularity. The most obvious target is the vast wealth of Chinese party leaders. Not all of this wealth is tied up inside China. Some of it is entwined with China’s most significant multi-national companies or hidden in foreign banks, making the party leaders vulnerable to financial sanctions. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed in 2016, provides legal authority to target Chinese Communist Party leaders and their agents. The act allows Washington to block or revoke visas as well as to sanction the property of those who are responsible for, or acted as an agent of someone responsible for, “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Individuals can also be targeted if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.” Chinese abuses that qualify as gross violations and significant corruption have grown rapidly in the past several years, with examples including the detention and torture of the “709” rights lawyers — so named for the July 9, 2015, crackdown on lawyers and activists — as well as the detention of several hundred thousand Uighurs in concentration camps. Given the kind of direct pressure that could be brought to bear on Chinese leaders, such leverage must be used judiciously, if at all, on a day-to-day basis. Whether the stakes are sufficiently high depends on how clearly the administration outlines its objectives. Even within the previous engagement framework, a genuine opportunity to pressure the Chinese system toward liberalization — such as might have appeared in the early days of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang — could have constituted worthwhile use of such direct means to discredit opponents of political liberalization. Ultimately, the United States must build the knowledge and capacity to influence individual Chinese leaders knowing that such information could work under multiple policy frameworks, not simply the Trump administration’s strategic shift. The usefulness of such leverage also depends on what actions China may take in response. The same vulnerability of the Chinese system that creates opportunities for U.S. influence also creates risk. Communist Party leaders’ paranoia and self-awareness are filters for their perceptions: They see the United States as their principal foreign adversary and they know when they are exposed. They will act to shore up their position as Mao Zedong did with the Taiwan crisis in 1958 and by exploiting the Nixon-Kissinger gambit in 1971 and 1972, or as Deng Xiaoping did with Vietnam and the United States in 1978 and 1979 and in rebuffing American pressure after the June 4 incident at Tiananmen in 1989. Counterintelligence and Counter-Interference Third, any long-term strategy — especially one built around the idea of exploiting opportunities when they arise — must ensure the integrity of U.S. policymaking. This requires effective counterintelligence to prevent the penetration of U.S. policy circles for intelligence collection and building influence. The public record suggests that the state of U.S. counterintelligence — or that of other allied states — on China leaves much to be desired. Effective counterintelligence is not merely a question of capability but also one of integration with national strategy. As I and others in the U.S. intelligence community saw firsthand, counterintelligence functions are almost entirely separate from the rest of intelligence and policymaking.[40] Engagement as the dominant strain of China policy played down the need for counterintelligence — if interaction is good, the thinking went, then risk assessment of U.S.-China engagement is mostly unnecessary except in rare cases where U.S. laws were broken. The absence of a counterintelligence perspective meant that the Chinese Communist Party’s robust and comprehensive system for shaping foreigners’ perceptions went largely unnoticed, despite its demonstrable importance to party leaders.[41] The U.S. government has failed to prosecute or has bungled investigations into Chinese espionage often enough to warrant concern. The failures of counter-espionage may not, at first glance, appear relevant to the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference. Yet, the elements of the U.S. intelligence community and the Justice Department that perform counterespionage are the same ones that will take the lead on countering Chinese interference. If they have difficulty prosecuting (relatively-speaking) straightforward Chinese espionage cases, then countering Chinese Communist Party interference is likely to be too complicated for them.[42] Successful espionage prosecutions are the analytical, investigative, and legal training ground for the capabilities the U.S. government needs to deploy in order to counter the party’s covert, corrupting, and coercive interference. Failure to handle possible espionage cases well alienates many Chinese-Americans, who have reasonable concerns about rushes to judgment but whose cooperation is essential when Beijing tries to exploit the Chinese diaspora. Moreover, such weaknesses let those breaking the law in support of Communist Party interests know that the risk of consequences for their behavior is low. The U.S. government cannot be the only actor countering Chinese Communist Party interference. A democratic government’s resources focus on purely illegal activity. This means that academics, think tank researchers, and journalists have a significant role when it comes to exposing these operations and informing public debate.[43] In Australia, a handful of journalists reporting steadily since 2014 brought the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference in domestic politics to light and pushed it into the public discussion.[44] In New Zealand, one scholar cracked the news threshold by releasing a paper on the Communist Party’s united front work on the eve of last year’s election.[45] In the United States, a smaller number of people — primarily reporters for Foreign Policy (now at the Daily Beast) and the Washington Post[46] — helped put the party’s interference operations into public consideration. Without this attention, Australia arguably could not have overhauled its counter-espionage laws and passed legislation this summer aimed at transparency for elections and consequences for acting as a foreign agent.[47]

A New Starting Point

The toolkit outlined above reflects the requirements of crafting a long-term, competitive strategy. But rethinking the toolkit is only a beginning. A larger conversation is needed about this new period in U.S.-China relations. The past policy of engagement promoted ties of all kinds and at all levels, with only a few restrictions legislated by Congress or treaty commitments. Moving away from this approach will require new modes of thinking as well as reapplying American values to the question of how to engage with the Chinese party-state. First, recalibrating engagement with China requires a deliberate discussion of U.S. values, what those values mean, and how Washington should be prepared to act based on them. There is no substitute for this conversation. Vague assertions of supporting a liberal international order have proven insufficient as a lodestone for action. The absence of a U.S. response to Chinese aggression — not merely in the South China Sea but also with regard to intellectual property theft and coercion against U.S. citizens in the United States — emboldens the Chinese Communist Party. These issues demonstrate Beijing’s rejection of core democratic and capitalist values, suggesting the basic incompatibility of the two systems. Even if it were desirable to regulate all aspects of American interactions with the People’s Republic of China, public discussion would still be necessary. As noted above, government resources will focus on the illegal side of Chinese Communist Party activities, rarely if ever monitoring the broader scope of interaction. In a democratic state, there is no justification for sweeping government surveillance. This means that what is appropriate — rather than what is illegal — should be a matter of public debate. Is academic freedom in U.S. universities compatible with the values of the Confucius Institutes?[48] Should U.S. research labs collaborate with Chinese companies that work with the Chinese military? What degree of distance should Chinese organizations have from the party-state to be considered potential partners for U.S. organizations? These and similar questions cannot be divorced from American political and civic values. Second, the United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. Far too often in this bilateral relationship, agreements and commitments have been allowed to slide. Statements of what cannot be are forgotten in the face of Beijing’s willingness to act, while U.S. leverage has been undermined by an unwillingness to act. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong eloquently made this argument about the trade regime:
[Y]ou have to enforce the rules of free trade. You have to ensure that nations cannot abuse the rules, cannot force technology transfer, cannot prize their national champions, can’t steal intellectual property. If you don’t do this, if you don’t enforce the rules of free trade, what ends up happening is that over time, the free, fair, and reciprocal trading regime is weakened, and that’s to the detriment not just of the United States’s prosperity but to the prosperity of the region and the world as a whole.[49]
The most egregious example of not upholding standards is the lack of response to intimidation and coercion against U.S. citizens and residents on U.S. soil. During the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, Chinese security officials orchestrated violence against protesters and coordinated efforts to divert or block demonstrators in San Francisco. The U.S. government passed the identity of some of these Chinese officers to Australia so that Canberra could deny entry visas to them. But that appears to be the end of the U.S. response.[50] Rumors and reports of violence against practitioners of Falun Gong surface periodically, including at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. Education counselors from Chinese diplomatic missions visit Chinese students at U.S. universities or contact family members to intimidate them or request that they tell their child to take down social media posts. Yet, the full scale of the situation is difficult to ascertain. Many of the stories that come to journalists, scholars, and officials cannot be publicized, partly because the people involved fear retribution and it is often impossible to scrub identifying details while retaining the sense of injustice. Third, U.S. policymakers — as well as international affairs analysts and commentators — will need to become accustomed to the idea of asymmetric or sometimes disproportionate responses to Beijing. Reciprocity has gained traction, but the concept has little applicability beyond trade disputes.[51] The most contentious areas of U.S.-Chinese relations do not feature proportionate or reciprocal responses because the U.S. government and American society do not have a parallel structure to the Chinese party-state. For right and proper reasons, the U.S. government will not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in coercing overseas Chinese to adopt pro-U.S. behaviors. Unlike Beijing, Washington will not arbitrarily detain family members or seize business assets. Beijing’s denial of visas for foreign journalists does not lend itself to a tit-for-tat response. There are far fewer American journalists in China than Chinese journalists working for official media outlets in the United States. To create corresponding effects when an American journalist faces visa trouble would require alternative and probably disproportionate responses. [quote id="4"] Fourth, recalibrating U.S. policy toward China will entail costs. Individual, corporate, and even government interests almost certainly will be affected. The Chinese Communist Party was born out of a struggle, and its leaders fought their way up competitive ranks. Close to a million people enter the party each year after an arduous testing and interviewing regimen, and they continue to be evaluated throughout their careers.[52] Those who make it to the Central Committee are the .01 percent of party cadre. Beyond the rigorous evaluation and performance requirements, officials also need to worry about ambitious colleagues and blackmailers who seek to discredit them as they climb the greasy pole.[53] They and their willingness to compete should not be taken lightly. Already, in what appear to be the opening stages of a trade war, Beijing’s response to Trump administration actions has targeted U.S. farmers in areas supportive of Trump.[54] Simply put, competing effectively with China requires serious consideration; in particular, identifying America’s ultimate objectives in order to assess whether the sacrifices necessary to attain those goals are warranted.

Conclusion

Whatever the future holds for U.S.-Chinese relations, the status quo has been broken. The unaddressed inadequacies of engagement eroded the policy consensus around bilateral relations to such an extent that, even without a clear policy alternative, engagement has ended. Henry Kissinger, one of the original architects of the U.S. policy toward China that persisted through seven administrations, aptly described the current moment: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”[55] Although it would be useful to begin building a new consensus, the partisan climate of U.S. politics seems to preclude the sort of meaningful discussion that would lock in a sustainable bipartisan consensus, even though the next generation of policy hands in both parties think a new China policy is needed. Americans can discuss the tools and animating ideas that are needed to manage U.S.-Chinese relations and protect U.S. interests from a “revisionist China.” The conversation has moved to the point where concrete ideas of how to better understand the Chinese Communist Party and China, and how to be more competitive, must be fleshed out and debated. For many years, the critiques of U.S.-Chinese relations may have been on point, but the recommendations fell short of offering something distinct from U.S. policy at the time.[56] The approach outlined above is simple. Opportunities should be sought to apply effective leverage on Communist Party officials leading China. The barometer for these opportunities measures the ebb and flow of power across party leaders and institutions. When these opportunities arrive, Washington needs to be prepared to act and to do so in ways that go beyond reciprocity as a guiding principle. Ensuring that everything is prepared for these moments is a job for counterintelligence. Without secrecy to preserve U.S. leverage and the psychological willingness to use it, no one will be prepared to pull the trigger on pressuring China. If any particular theme runs through the failure of U.S. policy toward China, it is the U.S. government’s unwillingness to act to uphold American values and Chinese commitments. The stakes and interests involved in resolving this problem surely outweigh partisan considerations.   Peter Mattis is a research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a contributing editor to War on the Rocks. Mr. Mattis previously worked as a counterintelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency before leaving government service to work as editor of the China Brief and to be a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. Image: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command [post_title] => From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => from-engagement-to-rivalry-tools-to-compete-with-china [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-03 16:28:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-03 20:28:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=677 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 663 [post_author] => 193 [post_date] => 2018-08-14 05:00:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-14 09:00:56 [post_content] => In 2011 and 2012, Israel repeatedly indicated that it was fast approaching the point when it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s advancing nuclear program, before Iranian capabilities became resilient to an Israeli attack. In a shift from its previous policy, which characterized Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a global challenge, Israel now strongly indicated that it might be forced to take it upon itself to stop Iran’s nuclear advances — and that an attack could be imminent. Led and articulated almost exclusively by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — himself a former prime minister — this new posture created deep concern in Washington, where it was thought that an Israeli attack could ignite a regional war and jeopardize key U.S. interests. Indeed, Israel had created a war scare, which was designed to enhance its bargaining power with the United States. Israel then tried to leverage its enhanced position to get its senior ally to urgently make an explicit, credible, and binding commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — by military force if necessary — beyond what President Barack Obama had already stated.[1] Israel effectively attempted to influence, and even force, the United States to realign according to Israeli interests and strategic constraints, thus producing one of the tensest periods in the history of the two countries’ relationship. Drawing on open-source material and original interviews with former senior Israeli and U.S. officials, this article seeks to explain the ultimate outcome of that strategic interaction. The overarching theme of international relations and foreign affairs pertains to actors’ efforts to shape their strategic environment and control outcomes. Alliances are one of the major tools states employ in this regard,[2] whether to accumulate power, deter adversaries,[3] pursue their quest for security in the international system,[4] or restrain others.[5] Although all alliances function “in the shadow of war,”[6] scholars distinguish between two major categories — defensive peacetime alliances and offensive wartime alliances. Whereas peacetime alliances are designed to aggregate military power to deter and prevent aggression, wartime alliances are formed to fight a common adversary. Of course, the same alliance can engage in defensive and offensive missions.[7] The 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerstone famously asserted that the United Kingdom had neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies but eternal and perpetual interests.[8] Indeed, at the core of alliance politics is the fact that no two states, including close allies, share eternal, perfectly overlapping interests.[9] Yet, alliances require some measure of commitment to use force. This means that alliance formation and management are shaped by a bargaining process animated by the willingness and ability of the actors involved to offer or extract credible commitments. Whether in the context of threats or promises, to be perceived as credible, commitments require self-enforcing obligations that visibly undercut an actor’s flexibility in a way that convinces another actor (friend or foe) that the one making the commitment is, without question, tied to a certain course of action. To appear credible, commitments require measures that decision-makers will often hesitate or refuse to take. These can include explicit public statements and inherently costly military moves, such as alerting forces, canceling leave for military personnel, and moving units closer to a potential theater of operations.[10] Classic, symmetric alliances between states of roughly equal capability are used as tools for aggregating capabilities against a threat, meaning that both partners receive security from their alliance.[11] To appear meaningful, allies engaged in symmetric alliances are required to undercut their own freedom of action through self-enforcing obligations and realignment according to their partner’s interests.[12] This renders alliances a source of concern for their members, who often fear that their allies’ preferences and interests might ultimately come at the expense of their own. A state entering into an alliance could become the victim of entrapment by an ally deliberately seeking to embroil it in war. Conversely, having trusted the ally and counted on its support, a state could be abandoned in a time of need.[13] Alliance commitments could also inadvertently embolden an otherwise risk-averse ally and result in what Glenn Snyder describes as an alliance security dilemma: This occurs when states provide an ally with too sweeping a reassurance in order to deter a third actor, only to become entrapped in war.[14] This inherent tension between allies’ interests and preferences constitutes the essence of alliance politics. These perceived problems are further exacerbated in asymmetric settings. If symmetric alliances provide their members with security, asymmetric alliances provide the weaker ally with security and the stronger partner with autonomy.[15] While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. Entrapment — or “chain-ganging” — looms large in such relationships, with both sides afraid of falling prey, albeit for different reasons. Having traded its autonomy, the weak ally fears that its partner’s military superiority provides overwhelming leverage and jeopardizes its independence.[16] By contrast, the senior ally worries that its counterpart might exploit its superior capabilities, initiate a crisis, and manipulate it into coming to its aid. This concern, however, appears greatly exaggerated given the variety of ways strong allies are capable of mobilizing their resources and exploiting their leverage to shield themselves from entrapment or rein in a weaker ally. Jeremy Pressman has found that when strong allies mobilize their superior resources to restrain a weaker ally, they prevail.[17] Also, powerful allies use their stronger bargaining power to introduce escape clauses into their alliance agreements and arm-twist their partners into compliance.[18] In this vein, Michael Beckley has found that, while the fear of entrapment may be prevalent in international relations literature, in reality, it is rare. Drawing on an extensive empirical analysis of the vast U.S. alliance network, Beckley has shown that the United States successfully dictates the terms of its security commitments.[19] This finding is congruent with Tongfi Kim’s argument that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power.[20] The historical record indicates that Israel, which greatly depends on the United States, fits into this pattern.[21] After all, as Henry Kissinger remarked, “For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the U.S. would be a monumental decision.”[22] [quote id="7"] This, of course, does not mean that weak allies lack ways of influencing their senior allies. As Robert Keohane has pointed out, superior capabilities do not guarantee full or automatic small-ally compliance with the interests and desires of senior allies. Weak allies are sometimes capable of exploiting mutual dependence to generate bargaining power. If the weaker ally is sufficiently important to its partner, it could deny benefits to its senior ally and even “threaten collapse if not aided sufficiently.”[23] Writing about the U.S. alliance system during the Cold War, Keohane argued that U.S. perception of its weak allies’ importance gave them “a degree of influential access to American decision-making and decision-makers far out of proportion to their size.”[24] Keohane identified three avenues through which America’s weaker allies shaped U.S. policy: formal state-to-state negotiations, bargaining with separable elements of the U.S. government, and using private interest groups to influence domestic public opinion.[25] Notably, Keohane focused on relatively limited small-power influence, and some scholars argue that entrapment has caused major wars, namely World War I, in which the European powers chain-ganged one another into disaster.[26] Israel’s relationship with the United States has attracted special scholarly attention given the power disparity between the two countries and Israel’s perceived capacity to punch above its weight. Expanding on Keohane’s work, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attribute the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to its influence over Congress.[27] That the empirical record does not reveal unambiguous cases of entrapment is of little relevance or consolation for states fearing future entrapment. Leaders are afraid of becoming the exception to this rule. Moreover, the prevailing fear of being chain-ganged to a reckless ally can be deliberately manipulated by a weaker ally in a purposeful effort to bolster its bargaining position and improve the terms of the alliance. This effort could even have coercive attributes. Ultimately, this means tying the other ally into a stronger commitment and limiting its freedom of action. The literature on alliance politics so far has overlooked the manner in which a country might seek to deliberately exploit an ally’s fear of entrapment as an instrument of bargaining. This article tells the story of just that. The episode analyzed in this article offers an exceptional opportunity to advance an understanding of coercive bargaining in an asymmetric alliance. After all, Israel and the United States are considered extremely close, and both were opposed to Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. When it came to confronting the Iranian challenge, however, not only did their interests, constraints, and preferences not overlap, but the issue was also one in which the stakes were extremely high for both sides — potentially even existential for Israel. This led both parties — perhaps Israel more than the United States — to bring their influence to bear on the other. In this article, I offer a rigorous examination of the strategic interaction and the intense bargaining that took place between Israel and the United States in 2011 and 2012. Ultimately, neither country attacked Iran, but this result was not preordained. Nor was Tehran’s and Washington’s preparedness to engage in direct diplomacy inevitable, though this led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nonetheless, this outcome cannot be fully understood without first understanding the strategic interaction that preceded diplomacy. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this topic is of acute relevance.

Israeli and U.S. Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Question

Different states, including close allies, do not view threats in the same way. Interests and preferences in international politics diverge because all countries operate under disparate strategic circumstances, confront different threats, possess specific military capabilities to cope with those threats, and face unique constraints. Allies are no different. Rarely will allies feel equally threatened by the same challenge. These structural tensions were on full display over the Iran nuclear issue. Although Israel and the United States generally shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining military nuclear capability, the prospect of a nuclear Iran posed a graver threat to Israel than to the militarily preponderant and geographically distant United States. The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Importantly, they differed on what constituted the nuclear threshold. For Israel, the threshold represented the stage at which Iran — having hardened and dispersed its nuclear program to render it resilient to an Israeli strike — could, if it so chose, “break out” and produce a bomb in a short period of time. For Obama, however, the threshold represented not Iran’s potential to break out, but the act itself.[28] The United States had been imposing sanctions on Iran unilaterally since 1979 and through the U.N. Security Council since 2006. However significant and painful for Iran, these sanctions were nonetheless relatively limited in scope, focusing primarily on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[29] Israel, however, called for the urgent imposition of far-reaching sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. In early 2010, for example, Netanyahu demanded that “crippling sanctions” be imposed “right now.”[30] [quote id="1"] Although Obama had entered the White House determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including, he said, with military force if necessary, he was determined to achieve this outcome through diplomacy and direct engagement.[31] As part of this approach, the U.S. financial pressure campaign on Iran, begun in 2006, was put on hold in 2009 and not fully resumed until mid-2010.[32] Weeks into his presidency, having already secretly reached out to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the election campaign, Obama sent two additional letters to Khamenei. While Iran’s leader responded to Obama’s first letter, he never replied to the second letter, in which the president had proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.[33] Meanwhile, quiet efforts were being exerted by Oman to establish a secret line of communication between the United States and Iran. While Oman’s efforts with the State Department reached an impasse, Sen. John Kerry used Oman to convey messages to Tehran in 2011 and the first half of 2012.[34] Israel, which had picked up on these secret contacts and found them troubling, leaked them to the Israeli press in April 2012.[35] As Barak would later tell this author, “We knew quite a bit about the informal, indirect contacts between the Americans and the Iranians. ... I was very concerned that the American tone was not sufficiently clear so as to bring the Iranians to a decision.”[36] It was not until March 2013, however, that a direct and permanent diplomatic back-channel in Oman was established between Iran and the United States.[37] All this time, Iran continued to develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. In late September 2009, Obama publicly disclosed that Tehran had been constructing a secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant near Fordow, a village northeast of the city of Qom.[38] This “constituted the final straw for the administration, which now had no choice but to go into pressure mode again,” according to former senior Treasury official Juan Zarate. In the fall of 2009, Obama sought to restart the financial pressure campaign on Iran but decided to first seek a new U.N. resolution mandating tougher sanctions — a process that lasted several months.[39] In June 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which constituted the strictest round of sanctions up to that point. The resolution noted “the potential connection between Iran’s revenues derived from its energy sector and the funding of Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”[40] This language would eventually pave the way for a full EU embargo on Iranian oil.[41] It was against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive international pressure on Iran that the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. Placing significant new restrictions on Iran’s energy sector, the legislation stipulated that banks conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran could not do business in the United States.[42] Still, at this stage in 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department was pursuing a “gradualist constriction campaign” designed to avoid “blunt steps that would upset the balance of the international financial system” or cause U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who depended heavily on Iranian oil imports, to resist cooperation with tougher sanctions.[43] As I discuss later in this article, additional pressure would be needed to influence the White House to unleash measures long referred to by the Treasury as the “final bullet” and “the nuclear weapon” in its arsenal: an oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.[44] At least part of this pressure and its outcome can be attributed to Israeli influence. Divergence of Interests Within the U.S.-Israel Alliance In November 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Barak began stressing that, in less than a year, “probably three-quarters,” Iran’s nuclear program would enter a “zone of immunity,” effectively rendering it resilient to an Israeli attack.[45] Unlike Israel, the United States possessed advanced munitions capable of penetrating Iran’s fortified installations, as well as the bomber jets to deliver them. Therefore, the United States would remain capable of executing a decisive military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities long after they had become invulnerable to an Israeli assault. Or, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Barak, whereas Israel could give the Iranians only “a black eye,” the United States had the military capability to “deliver the knockout punch” and “take out Fordow.”[46] The two allies were thus operating on different timetables. In March 2012, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu warned,
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.[47]
Days later, he explained, “The biggest difference is between the American clock ... and the Israeli clock,” adding that, “America is big and far away; we aren’t as big and are more nearby. We have different capabilities — nothing to belittle — but nonetheless different.”[48] Washington’s opposition to a military strike was driven by indisputable strategic constraints. The United States was engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. With two military commitments already underway, Obama — now entering an election year — was averse to risking a third war involving an oil-rich country in a particularly sensitive part of the world, with potentially ominous implications for global energy markets. As the United States was well aware, these constraints were not lost on Israel. In August 2012, the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, ran a front-page report by its two most senior columnists in which they argued that, if it were up to Netanyahu and Barak, a military strike would take place “before the November elections in the United States.”[49] Obama was therefore particularly vulnerable to Israeli manipulation and exploitation. According to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, “The perception in Washington was that the Israeli leadership — especially Netanyahu — saw their leverage as greatest in the run-up to the 2012 elections.”[50] The United States was clearly concerned that its junior ally might simply present it with a fait accompli, a worry exacerbated by Israel’s determination to keep the United States at arm’s length. In March 2012, after a U.S. official had already warned, “We don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal or calculations,[51] the Washington Post cited U.S. officials as noting that “no formal agreement has been reached with Israel over how a strike would be conducted — or when Obama would be informed about it.” Other officials added that the “assumption inside the White House and the Pentagon is that Israel would not give the United States warning, allowing the administration to deny prior knowledge but also limiting its ability to defend U.S. military assets in the region.”[52] [quote id="2"] From a U.S. perspective, if Israel was indeed planning unilateral action in a deliberate attempt to entrap the United States in the ensuing conflict, the question of whether Israel possessed the military capability to achieve a substantial delay in Iran’s nuclear program was of less importance. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has noted that if Israel attacked the “disbursed and hardened” Iranian nuclear program, “there would be many of us in government thinking that the purpose of the raid wasn’t to destroy the Iranian nuclear system, but the purpose of the raid was to put us at war with Iran.”[53] Indications of U.S. fear of entrapment appeared in real time. In February 2012, a front-page New York Times article cited defense analysts in Washington as questioning “whether Israel even has the military capacity” to attack Iran. The report said, “One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks.”[54] The following month, Panetta told U.S. troops that “if Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”[55] Was Israel indeed contemplating such an attack only to embroil its senior ally in a war? It seems that way. According to Barak, in the summer of 2012 he was approached by a Netanyahu confidant who sounded him out on launching a strike on Iran two weeks before the U.S. elections. Barak recalls the person explaining that, politically, Obama would feel “compelled to support Israel’s action, or at the very least to refrain from criticizing it. In other words, we would be setting a political trap for the president of the United States.”[56] From a U.S. standpoint, Israel was militarily capable of dodging its surveillance capabilities and presenting it with an established fact. Panetta, who had served as CIA director before being appointed secretary of defense, noted in this regard that, although the United States “had sources that could provide some pretty good intelligence on whether or not that kind of attack was being prepared for,” a country “as sophisticated as Israel” could have found ways to “effectively cover up that kind of possibility, because they know that we have those kinds of sources.”[57] Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, added, “We were pretty certain that if they didn't give us warning we would not have advance warning. They were fully capable of surprising the U.S. and give us not more than an hour or two’s notice."[58] While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. Jerusalem was especially concerned that, as Tehran’s nuclear program became increasingly dispersed and resilient, Israel would become dependent upon others — namely the United States — for the elimination of a potentially existential threat. Yet, this was precisely what Israel’s senior ally was asking. As Panetta would later write, “Israel had to trust that we would act if the time came, that we would not flinch at the moment of truth even if the graver threat was not to the United States but to Israel. That’s a lot of trust to place in an ally, even a close and historic ally.”[59] From Israel’s perspective, even if Obama was sincere about not removing any option from the table, he was still, in a sense, bluffing. As Barak reported telling Obama in 2012,
There are no future contracts in statesmanship. There’s no way that you, or any leader, can commit yourself to what will happen in a year or two. When the moment of decision arrives, nothing will be able to free you from your responsibility to look at the situation as it is then, with American interests in mind.
Barak further told Obama that when “it comes to issues critical for the security and future of Israel, and in a way for the security of the Jewish people … we can’t afford to delegate responsibility even to our best friend and ally.” Alluding to the United States, Barak went on to stress: “Our problem, Mr. President, is that we can’t be sure our friend will show up.”[60] From Israel’s vantage point, if Israel were ever to lose its credible military option against Iran, it “would no longer be an actor” in the Iranian context.[61] In other words, having lost its military options, leverage, and bargaining power, Israel’s interests would become less of a factor, including in U.S. policy considerations. As Barak later put it, while stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was a “vital interest” for Israel, it was only “an important interest” for the United States.[62] Given the stakes for each country, this made for an impossible situation for both sides. With limited direct leverage over Iran, Israel sought to harness the militarily superior United States in the service of forcing Tehran to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and risking devastating economic sanctions and possibly even a military attack. Israel thus sought to limit Obama’s flexibility and wrest an explicit, credible U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — in other words, a commitment Iran would take seriously. Of course, given the prerequisites for credibility in international relations, Obama was essentially being asked by the United States’ junior ally to restrict his maneuverability and control. This perception was precisely why the Obama administration resisted Israel’s efforts. Israel’s leaders proceeded to present the United States with two explicit demands. First, Israel wanted Washington to lead an international effort to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. As noted, Israel demanded broad sanctions that would go beyond those that had already been implemented. Jerusalem wanted sanctions that would cripple Iran’s energy and financial sectors. To prod its ally into action, Israel’s defense minister declared in November 2011, “We are probably facing the last opportunity for internationally coordinated deadly sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” Specifically, Barak called for “sanctions on the financial transactions, on the ability to carry out international financial deals, including the Central Bank, sanctions that stop — physically if needed — the import and export of oil and refinements.”[63] That Israel was expecting the United States to lead this effort was reflected in the words of a “senior Israeli official” cited the next day as having said, “The name of the game now is the ability of U.S. President Obama to gather the leaderships of important countries such as Germany, France, Canada, and Australia in a coalition, and rein in Russia and China to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”[64] That same demand was repeated in a coercive, yet informal, fashion, which implicitly threatened to entrap the United States in a conflict with Iran: Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Israel was communicating an “important signal” to Washington, Moscow, and Beijing: “Either you impose truly painful sanctions to block Iran’s race to a bomb, with minimum cost to all of us, or we will be forced to act and then we will all pay the price.”[65] Coming from a well-connected analyst, these words almost certainly reflected a briefing by a senior official. Second, Israel expected the United States to establish a credible military threat against Iran or, in the words of Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, to take measures that would make “the Iranian regime understand that if it does not stop its military nuclear program someone will attack it.”[66] Referring to the U.S. position toward Iran, an Israeli official asked, “There are a lot of general statements they [the United States] think we want to hear… How are the Iranians to understand that if they don’t stop then they will eventually get hit?”[67] On another occasion, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, in reference to the Obama administration, that “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they [the Iranians] have to hear it publicly and clearly.”[68] From Israel’s standpoint, a credible U.S. military threat that Iran would take seriously required a credible Israeli military threat that the United States would take seriously.

A History of the Iran Debate Before October 2011

Israeli concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of nuclear-weapons capability dates to the 1990s. Although in subsequent years, especially during President George W. Bush’s second term, U.S. concern would emerge regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, no stage was as intense and urgent as that of late 2011. Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. Nor had the United States engaged in such forceful dissuasion efforts toward Israel as it would in the period discussed in this article. Although Iran’s perceived quest for military nuclear capability had long been a topic of debate and concern, Israel deliberately presented it as a global challenge rather than a challenge for Israel alone. Israeli policy maintained that the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be led by the entire international community.[69] At the same time, however, Israel was also investing in a military option against Iran. In mid-2008, media reports began to emerge about atypically large-scale, Israeli aerial exercises. These were widely interpreted as rehearsals for a preventive strike on Iran. But if these drills were designed to create the impression that Israel might be preparing to target Iran, such intentions were undercut by statements that Israel was still giving precedence to diplomacy and economic sanctions and that it would not surprise its U.S. ally with a unilateral military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In May 2008, Bush reportedly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.[70] That same month, Israel presented the United States with several arms requests, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates saw as presaging a military attack on Iran. “I recommended saying no to all the Israelis’ requests,” Gates later recalled. “Giving them any of the items on their new list would signal U.S. support for them to attack Iran unilaterally.”[71] Gates also worried that U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s arms requests would have provided it with a dangerous degree of autonomy to act independently against Iran and thus grant it leverage over the United States. “I said we would be handing over the initiative regarding U.S. vital national interests to a foreign power,” he noted.[72] Gates believes it was “probably not coincidental” that on June 2, 2008, the Israeli Air Force conducted a major exercise that included more than a hundred fighter jets, helicopters, and refueling tankers.[73] On June 20, the New York Times reported the unusual Israeli aerial mission and cited U.S. officials as describing the exercise, in which the planes had flown from Israel to Greece and back, as a multi-pronged Israeli signal. “They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” a Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”[74] Whether the exercise was intended as an Israeli signal to its principal ally, it was perceived as such in Washington. As Gates later wrote,
The Israelis held a military exercise they knew would be monitored by many nations. … The distance the fighters flew was 862 nautical miles. The distance from the Israeli airfield to the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was 860 nautical miles. Israel wanted to signal that it was prepared for a strike and could carry it out.[75]
At the same time, however, U.S. officials ruled out an imminent Israeli attack on Iran.[76] Moreover, Israel signaled it would adhere to diplomacy,[77] confirming that military action was not in the offing.[78] Still, Israel’s efforts to establish a military option persisted. In 2009, a French weekly revealed that the Israeli Air Force carried out another large-scale military rehearsal — this time, over the Strait of Gibraltar, some 1,800 miles from Israel.[79] However, an Israeli intelligence official commenting on the matter just two weeks before the French report said that it was unlikely Israel would attack Iran without receiving at least tacit U.S. approval.[80] Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remarked that Israel would not attack Iran militarily even if sanctions failed. Saying that the most effective means to stop Iran were “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” he added, “We are not talking about a military attack.” Towing Israel’s official line, Lieberman stressed, “Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world's problems. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, assume responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.”[81] [quote id="3"] That Israel was honing its military option undoubtedly generated concern in Washington. But still, this was a general worry about the possibility that Israel would ultimately feel compelled to act unilaterally. At times, this broad concern led the United States into taking greater risks than it may have otherwise in order to reassure and restrain the Israelis. One such example is Operation Olympic Games (“Stuxnet”), in which the United States and Israel joined forces in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Although not the only reason, anxiety about the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran reportedly played an important role in persuading the United States to engage in the attack.[82] On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu returned to the office of prime minister, a post he had left a decade earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who portrayed Iran as a global challenge, Netanyahu described Iran as analogous to Nazi Germany.[83] As prime minister, Netanyahu would gradually “take ownership” of the Iranian issue. In 2009 and 2010, however, Israel remained committed to working together with the United States to deal with the perceived Iranian threat.[84] In July 2010, Obama was asked whether Israel might unilaterally attack Iran. He responded that Netanyahu was “committed” to a coordinated approach.[85] A year later, when Shapiro began his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel, he too found that the two countries’ national security establishments shared a “coordinated approach” toward Iran.[86] This would change within three months.

Israel’s Pressure Campaign: Generating a War Scare

The possibility of an Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities had long been a topic of speculation and concern.[87] This is not surprising given Israel’s history of preventing other countries in the Middle East from developing nuclear capability, as well as the sort of military exercises described above. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force conducted a surprise attack in which it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak. In 2007, Israel carried out a similar attack, this time destroying a nuclear facility secretly being built in Syria.[88] The Iranian case is factually different — Israel never attacked. But it is also qualitatively different: Rather than attacking, Israel deliberately created the impression of an impending unilateral attack and then harnessed this perception in a deliberate effort to limit Obama’s flexibility, influence U.S. policy, and alter Iran’s strategic calculus. It was not until late 2011, however, that general concern about an Israeli attack on Iran turned into genuine alarm. As one television report in Israel put it, “After years of just threats, it seems that the ground has started to shake.”[89] U.S. intelligence agencies detected stepped-up activity by the Israeli military that appeared to presage a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.[90] On Oct. 3, 2011, Panetta arrived in Israel for what was described as an “urgent discussion” on Iran.[91] That the main impetus for his trip was U.S. alarm about a potential Israeli strike was reflected in Panetta’s public statement in Israel that “the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis.”[92] The United States and Israel, he added, must confront all challenges “together.”[93] In his private meetings, Panetta demanded — and was refused — early warning in the event that Israel decided to attack.[94] The U.S. sense of urgency manifested in numerous other ways. In early November, a U.S. military official said that Washington had enhanced its “watchfulness” of both Israel and Iran.[95] The United States then bolstered its contingency military planning in the Middle East and augmented its intelligence-gathering on Israel. Obama, Panetta, and other top officials conveyed a string of private messages to Israel, warning of the “dire consequences of a strike.”[96] In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies began to closely monitor Israel’s military bases and eavesdrop on its secret communications for indications of a forthcoming strike. The United States detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for a strike.[97] Other U.S. surveillance activities included spying on the prime minister’s office and hacking into Israeli drone and fighter-jet surveillance feeds in search of indications of preparations for a strike.[98] In December 2011, Shapiro drafted a cable in which he later recalled stressing that the United States “could not in any way rule out the possibility” of an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.[99] That month, Panetta publicly warned that if Israel attacked Iran,
The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. ... the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.[100]
In January 2012, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon informed Panetta that Obama’s twin foreign policy goals for that year were to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and “to avoid a war in the Middle East,”[101] the latter being the scenario the administration feared would result from an Israeli strike.[102] As senior New York Times correspondent David Sanger wrote, the “outbreak of a public debate in Israel over whether to strike soon clearly shook the Obama administration.”[103] In February 2012, Panetta spoke of a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike before June.[104] It was against this backdrop that the Associated Press wrote, “For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear program, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent.”[105] This sense of urgency was confirmed in later interviews with multiple senior Obama administration officials, including Panetta,[106] Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,[107] National Security Council member and senior Obama adviser Gary Samore,[108] and Shapiro.[109] The following section analyzes the various tactics Israel employed to create the perception of an impending military strike, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and limit Obama’s room to maneuver. 

How Israel Generated and Harnessed the War Scare

This section explores the primary methods by which Israel exacerbated the Obama administration’s concerns and led its senior ally to infer that a unilateral military assault on Iran could be imminent. Military Moves Designed to Be Picked Up by U.S. Intelligence Israel’s efforts to manipulate Washington into thinking a strike could be imminent included sensitive military activities designed to be intercepted by the United States, as well as actions bearing an intelligence signature too noticeable to conceal. For example, according to one Israeli report citing multiple sources, Israel carried out a significant covert measure in early October 2011 that pertained to the “diplomatic-security” realm, and was widely perceived by the sources as a sign that preparations for an attack had “shifted up a gear.”[110] The report did not detail the exact nature of the covert measure, but, since then, it has been revealed that, in 2011, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were ordered to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days.[111] It was also in late 2011 that U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly had detected Israeli aircraft entering and exiting Iran’s airspace, supposedly probing the country’s air defenses. This appeared to be a dry run for a commando raid on a nuclear site and was sufficiently alarming to merit the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region.[112] On another occasion, multiple U.S. intelligence sources said the United States had learned that Israel, through a series of quiet understandings, had been granted access to airbases across Iran’s northern border in Azerbaijan.[113] Barak himself would later acknowledge instances in which Israel was “on the verge” of an attack and units “had entered a state of preparedness,”[114] but a senior military analyst later revealed that some of these instances “were designed to motivate the U.S. administration and the Europeans to increase the pressure on Iran and bring the Americans to a stage in which they would wield a military option and would be ready to use it.”[115] Tamir Pardo, then-director of the Mossad, similarly raised the possibility that, when he was instructed in 2011 by the prime minister to enter a state of preparedness and stand ready for an attack on Iran within 15 days, Netanyahu was “signaling” to the United States “to do something.”[116] Given that the United States, as Panetta later noted, had “fail-safe methods of determining whether or not in fact planes and pilots and crews were all being prepared for action,”[117] Washington was likely receiving real-time indications of such activities. Barak later admitted that Israel was acting on the premise that Washington was capable of monitoring its activities and that the United States inferred from Israel’s intelligence efforts that “we were getting ready.”[118] Explaining the perception of an imminent strike, Barak said, “The atmosphere was a reflection of our actual real preparations. The Americans were following us, watching what we were doing and what the Air Force was rehearsing.”[119] Strict Secrecy to Achieve Message Discipline  A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences — namely Israel’s defense establishment, the cabinet, and the United States — at arm’s length. From Barak’s vantage point, keeping Israel’s establishment in the dark was crucial for the success of the campaign. Israel’s security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike, and, as Barak would later reveal, he and Netanyahu knew that some of them were talking to their U.S. counterparts “on a daily basis.”[120] By holding their cards extremely close, Netanyahu and Barak prevented leaks, maximized their message control, enhanced their credibility and bargaining leverage, and kept their various audiences guessing. Barak and Netanyahu made all cabinet members sign an additional protocol of secrecy prohibiting them not only from making statements on Iran but also from giving strictly-off-record briefings.[121] As National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror put it, “Nothing leaked because … the ministers knew nothing.” Although Amidror claims to have been one of a handful of Israelis who were truly in the know, his statement that “I personally believe they were serious, I truly believed they were not bluffing” implies that the national security adviser, too, was in the dark about Netanyahu and Barak’s actual intentions.[122] And he was not the only senior Israeli official to find himself in that position. Asked in January 2012 whether Netanyahu and Barak were truly serious about an attack, a “very high-ranking intelligence source,” likely the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, replied, “I don’t know, there are only two people who know the answer to this question, and they are Netanyahu and Barak.”[123] Two months later, a senior Israeli official said of the two men, “Together, they control this issue.”[124] [quote id="4"] When asked about the possibility that a unilateral attack was never truly intended to take place, then-Mossad Director Pardo retrospectively admitted, “The same doubts that you raise now — I had them all along.” Pardo hypothesized that “a deception at this level requires that no more than one or two people be in the loop,” meaning that, if the Israeli campaign was intentionally deceptive, the deception was conducted either by “the prime minister alone, or the prime minister and Barak. And all the rest, including yours truly, were among those who were being duped.”[125] Even if Pardo had his doubts and, referring to the possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack, “did not believe that this could happen,” he still admits that when the prime minister “tells me to commence the countdown, you realize that he is not playing games with you. These things [entering a state of preparedness] have enormous implications. It’s not something he is allowed to do only as a drill.”[126] Cabinet member Dan Meridor, who served as Israel’s intelligence minister at the time, and theoretically should have been in the know, admitted that he had “spent nights and days” with the intelligence chiefs “asking ourselves what was going to happen. … I could not just assume that it was all a show.”[127] Amos Gilead, then-Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, similarly admits that “we will never be able to know” if Netanyahu and Barak “really meant it,” although “according to every parameter they acted as if they did.”[128] Beyond the message clarity gained by such tactics, this information asymmetry made it significantly more difficult for the United States to affect Israel’s decision-making. Israeli Refusal to Provide Advance Warning Diplomacy was the basic means by which Israel first indicated to the United States the shift in its approach toward the Iranian issue and its refusal to coordinate its moves with its senior ally. In November 2011, a top U.S. military official said that Israeli reassurances to Washington that it would receive early warning if Israel decided to strike Iran no longer seemed “ironclad.”[129] This implies that Israel had previously provided such an assurance to the United States.[130] Later that month, when Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if Israel would alert the United States ahead of an attack on Iran, he replied, “I don’t know.”[131] In January 2012, the United States received yet another powerful signal when Barak informed Panetta of Israel’s decision to call off a joint military exercise scheduled for May. A biography of Barak claims that this exercise was delayed ahead of a “decisive session” regarding Iran.[132] In his memoir, Panetta recalls pressing Barak “to reconsider the cancellation,” to which the Israeli defense minister replied that, although Israel had not yet made a decision about whether to strike Iran, “I can’t in good conscience hide the fact from our best ally that we are discussing it.”[133] Barak later recalled, “Panetta realized that Israel was serious, and asked for a two-week early warning. I told him, no. Not two weeks, and not even 24 hours. However, I did tell Panetta that we would give them a sufficiently long early warning so as to not jeopardize any American soldier in the Middle East.”[134] Whereas the cancellation was likely designed to alarm Washington, an entirely different signal was conveyed to the Israeli public. Domestically, the cancellation was falsely portrayed as a joint decision resulting from U.S. budgetary constraints and a mutual desire to avoid sending a bellicose signal to Iran.[135] Two days later, Barak told IDF Radio that an Israeli decision to attack Iran was “very far off.”[136] In other words, Barak tailored different signals to different target audiences. If Israel had intended to set off alarm bells in Washington and manipulate its anticipation of violence, it succeeded. Within days, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff landed in Israel for high-level discussions,[137] and Panetta told the Washington Post that there was a “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack on Iran before spring 2012.[138] Media Campaign Israel’s public media campaign dates to Oct. 12, 2011, a day when the entire Israeli media agenda was dominated by the dramatic announcement of a prisoner-exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas. One particular analysis stands out: In a column with the headline “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot veteran military analyst Alex Fishman argued that the main impetus behind the prisoner swap was Netanyahu’s desire to “clear the desk” and “set the stage for something different, bigger, and more important.” When one looks for signs of worry in Netanyahu and Barak, Fishman continued, “it somehow always has to do with Iran. … What is happening exactly with respect to the Iranian issue? It is unclear. But it is clear that this is going to be the next hot story.”[139] Fishman’s column was the bellwether of an official effort to spark an intense public debate about Iran.[140] An especially interesting case in point is the apparent use of the daily Yisrael Hayom, known for its intimate ties to Netanyahu, as a signaling device. In March 2012, the paper published as its banner headline a lengthy opinion column by its editor-in-chief, Amos Regev, who strongly advocated for an Israeli attack. The article concluded, “With the Americans or without them, it will be hard. It will be bold. It is doable.” A photo of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz accompanied the article.[141] Alarmed by the column, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn posted a reaction piece later that morning in which he argued that Netanyahu’s signals “are indeed preparations for war and not a bluff,” adding that Regev “is writing what Netanyahu cannot say in speeches.”[142] International media outlets also played a role in Israel’s pressure campaign. In January 2012, the New York Times Sunday supplement dedicated its cover story to the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran. The article, by well-connected Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, concluded, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”[143] The following day, Bergman’s conclusion prompted a debate in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Asked about the article, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commented that this “is a matter that we are very, very concerned about.”[144] Clapper, who later characterized the Israeli campaign as an “attempt to pressure the United States,” suspected the article was in some way an Israeli initiative:
When you’ve got rhetoric like that, you have to wonder how did that article get planted. The Israelis know us, they play us like a fiddle. They know how our Congress works — they play to that. They know how our media works — they influence that. So, sure, every time you have rhetoric like that, you have to be concerned. I didn’t think it was appropriate to blow it off.[145]
Public Statements Israel’s public statements regarding a possible strike on Iran, made almost exclusively by Netanyahu and Barak, featured a single recurring theme: Israel was entitled, capable, and prepared to look after its vital interests. For instance, on Nov. 1, 2011, Barak remarked that “events in the Middle East over the past year” show that “there can emerge situations in which Israel will have to protect its own interests” by itself and not rely on “other powers.”[146] Although he would later claim to have been referring to the events of the Arab Spring, Barak’s statement was widely perceived as a signal that Israel might strike Iran unilaterally.[147] The following month, speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu alluded to the ongoing debate over Iran. Ben-Gurion, he said, had "a very hard time gaining support" within pre-state Israel for the declaration of independence in 1948. “Huge pressure,” he said,
was exerted on Ben-Gurion, from within and from without, not to make this move. … Everyone told him: this is not the time, not now. Among those pressuring him were important statesmen and friends. … All of us are here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. … I want to believe that we will always act with responsibility, courage, and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security.[148]
These remarks coincided with a statement by Barak stressing that “Israel cannot exempt itself from making decisions as a sovereign [country]. If the [Iranian] program can be stopped with diplomacy, that’s great, but all options are on the table. ... Israel is responsible for its own security, future, and existence.”[149] Clearly, Israel’s goal was to signal to the United States that it had the sovereign right to safeguard its vital interests. Lobbying U.S. Congress To impact U.S. decision-making on Iran, Israel harnessed multiple Washington-based, pro-Israel organizations.[150] But Israel also worked directly with members of Congress to influence the Obama administration. Visiting Israel in November 2011, a group of U.S. lawmakers updated their interlocutors about a new initiative — legislation urging the White House to support Israel’s “right” to employ “any means necessary” to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.[151] In February 2012, Netanyahu discussed the Iranian issue with a group of U.S. senators, headed by Sen. John McCain.[152] It was reported that Netanyahu had asked senior senators and members of Congress to exert pressure on Obama regarding the Iranian issue.[153] In early 2013, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United States to support and “stand with Israel” if Jerusalem is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”[154] Congress’s role in promoting tough sanctions — and essentially forcing them upon a more reluctant White House — is discussed in more detail later in the article. Israel used the above-discussed tactics to create the perception of a potentially imminent military attack on Iran, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and push the Obama administration to adopt a tougher approach toward Iran than it would have pursued otherwise. How did this play out, and how effective was Israel’s pressure campaign? Was Israel able to get its way, despite clear U.S. superiority, or did the senior ally essentially prevail? These questions are the focus of the remainder of the article. The next section analyzes the manner in which the United States, in reaction to Israel’s pressure campaign, leveraged elements of its overwhelming influence to restrain its junior ally.

U.S. Counter-Pressure: Dissuasion, Dissociation, and Reassurance

Far from being a passive receiver and perceiver of Israeli signals and pressure tactics, the United States engaged in measures of its own to dissuade its junior ally from attacking Iran. This had become a top U.S. foreign policy priority, one that Panetta would describe as his primary task as secretary of defense.[155] Going even further, Samore claimed that “Much of U.S. strategy at that time was built around ‘how do we stop the Israelis from attacking.’ In some ways, that became the more immediate objective than stopping Iran.”[156] Some of this played out in public view as the crisis unfolded, such as when a senior administration official said, “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[157] To resist Israeli pressure and ensure compliance, the United States utilized a variety of dissuasion instruments. What follows is a discussion of the most salient ones. Publicly Questioning the Prudence of an Israeli Attack U.S. opposition to an Israeli attack was expressed by senior officials from the outset of the Israeli campaign. With time, this sentiment grew increasingly blunt. In February 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page article citing U.S. experts as casting doubt on Israel’s military capacity to successfully attack Iran.[158] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey publicly described an Israeli attack as both “destabilizing” and “not prudent,” saying Israel would fail to achieve its “long-term objectives.”[159] Seeking to undermine the credibility of Israel’s military option, Dempsey later said that an Israeli attack would "delay but probably not destroy” the Iranian program.[160] In August 2012, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a U.S. warning to Israel to the effect that Saudi Arabia would forcefully resist any Israeli attempt to use its airspace to attack Iran.[161] Signaling Potential Dissociation from Israel In reference to a unilateral Israeli strike, Dempsey alluded to the possibility of U.S. military dissociation from Israel, saying at a press conference: “I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."[162] Days later, Yediot Aharonot reported that the United States had informed Iran that it would not back an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities — as long as Iran steered clear of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.[163] Stalling for Time For several months, Washington kept a steady flow of senior American officials traveling to Israel in part of what U.S. officials depicted as a deliberate strategy to forestall such an attack. According to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, “We used all the dissuasion tactics and tools of dissuasion we could think of,” including high-level visits. “You buy yourself three weeks at a time. The week or two before the visit, the week or two after the visit. That tempo was all relevant to us. There were other factors, but it was definitely part of our strategy."[164] Samore noted in this regard that the administration was “certainly watching Israel very closely. That’s part of the reason why people went every two weeks. Because they figured that Israel couldn’t launch an attack when the vice president was on his way, or Tom Donilon was on his way, or Gen. Dempsey was on his way.” Samore described this as “a very conscious, deliberate strategy to stop the Israelis from attacking.”[165] Amplification of Domestic Opposition in Israel to a Strike The United States also worked to influence Israeli public opinion by exposing the fact that Israel’s own security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike. In July 2012, the banner headline of Yediot Aharonot cited “sources in the United States” as saying that Israel’s military and security chiefs were unanimous in their opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.[166] The Obama administration also leveraged its influence with Israel’s president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres. In June 2012, Obama honored Peres at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[167] The next month, Peres began to express scathing opposition to a unilateral attack and to underline his trust in Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb.[168] In mid-August, Peres said that “after having talks with” Obama he was “convinced” that Israel could trust the U.S. president on the issue of Iran. “Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. … It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”[169]

Israel’s War Scare Ends: Assessing its Strategic Impact

These measures were designed to restrain Israel while also maintaining flexibility for Obama. To the degree that an Israeli attack was genuinely being planned, U.S. pressure ultimately prevailed without the United States having to resort to far-reaching threats or taking action. Although it is difficult to identify a specific time when Israel’s military option came off the table, one can point to September 2012 as a turning point in terms of Israel’s credibility with the United States, which practically collapsed in the wake of a reassuring message that Barak privately conveyed to Obama. According to several accounts, Barak met with Obama’s confidant Rahm Emmanuel and told him, without having updated Netanyahu, that he no longer favored a strike.[170] Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Netanyahu delivered a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which he publicly drew a red line to Iran but also pushed the critical stage of Iran’s nuclear program to “next spring” and possibly even “next summer.”[171] It was with these last words, widely interpreted as a “nod to Obama,” that Netanyahu removed the possibility of an imminent Israeli military strike on Iran.[172] By “next summer” the United States and Iran were already deeply engaged in diplomatic talks and, for all intents and purposes, the military option was off the table. Acceleration of Crippling Economic Sanctions on Iran On the core issue of preventing an Israeli strike, especially in the critical run-up to the U.S. elections, the United States clearly got its way. The United States neither greenlighted an Israeli strike nor unleashed an attack of its own. Nor did Obama severely limit his latitude by making a binding commitment to use military force against Iran. If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. In some respects, however, Washington’s counter-campaign appears not to have been entirely successful. To forestall an Israeli attack, Obama was compelled to pursue measures he otherwise probably would not have — and at a faster pace than he otherwise would have chosen. This means Israel succeeded in influencing U.S. policy. [quote id="5"] Most notably, perhaps, the United States led an unprecedented international effort to cast Iran into economic isolation — an Israeli demand that the Obama administration initially was reluctant to pursue and had tried to keep in reserve.[173] Wary of measures that could destabilize global markets, the executive branch, in the words of senior Treasury official Zarate, sought to strike a balance between increasing economic pressure and “not spooking the oil markets and spiking prices,”[174] a sentiment expressed in real time.[175] To force the Obama administration to escalate sanctions on Iran, Israel engaged in heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. Sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and Central Bank were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011. So strong was its support of Israel that the entire Senate unanimously voted in favor of sanctions.[176] Against this backdrop, Obama imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and an embargo on Iran’s oil exports.[177] David Sanger of the New York Times noted that, although “few in Washington are persuaded” that the sanctions would force Iran’s supreme leader to fold, “most go along with the assumption because the more forceful alternatives are too unpleasant to contemplate.”[178] The European Union soon imposed its own economic sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo.[179] These sanctions would result in a 60 percent drop in Iranian crude oil exports from their pre-2011 rate.[180] And, in March 2012, in an unprecedented move enabled by the U.S. and EU sanctions, Iranian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT international financial system.[181] Netanyahu would later attribute Iran’s economic isolation to Israel’s “projection of genuine resolve.”[182] It is hard to definitively say whether Israel can claim the credit for this outcome. However, the initial impetus for the toughest of U.S. sanctions came from a Congress strongly aligned with Israel. Consider the words of Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the driving forces behind the legislation. In December 2011, he said, “The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?”[183] Was rigorous implementation of the economic sanctions hastened as a result of Israel’s pressure and the perceived threat of a unilateral Israeli attack? Lending credence to this argument, Dennis Ross, who served as a senior director at the National Security Council and as special assistant to Obama, has written,
Israel was very much a factor in this approach. To forestall Israeli military action against what Israel perceived as an existential threat, the president understood we needed to show we could apply meaningful pressure on the Iranians that would alter their nuclear program.[184]
For his part, Deputy Secretary of State Burns said that, although Obama would have eventually imposed sanctions regardless of Israel’s actions, Israel’s campaign “accelerated” the process. “Maybe [otherwise] it would have taken another year or so.” According to Burns, Obama “moved at a faster pace because of the concern of a potential Israeli military strike and the very real political pressure that existed in Washington in part because of the depth of the Israeli Government's concern.”[185] Making a similar argument, Shapiro said the United States “was motivated to go the extra mile in part to show the Israelis that they didn't need to do something on their own, that we were serious. … It’s fair to say that Israel probably did push us to go farther, faster on sanctions.”[186] Pointing to another important effect that Israel’s threat had on U.S. policy, senior Obama administration officials said the United States, while genuinely pressured by Israel’s signals, harnessed the perception of a credible Israeli strike in the service of persuading other actors to implement the debilitating sanctions on Iran. This included China, which had long opposed such measures.[187] Burns added,
We used it [the threat of an Israeli attack] with the Russians, we used it with the Chinese, with the Europeans, we used it with the Indians and those we were trying to persuade to curb oil purchases from Iran. It was a useful tool … to maximize the economic pressure on the Iranians and to get other countries — mostly quite grudgingly — to go along with this, because it wasn't in their economic interest in the short term in any way.[188]
According to Shapiro, the perceived Israeli threat
was also in some way a useful tool for us in our discussion with other countries. ‘Hey, you know, the last thing you want is these crazy Israelis to go and do something, so let’s show them that there’s a better way. Let’s make these sanctions stick.’ I think it definitely affected the Chinese. ... There’s no question the Chinese would sit up in their chairs and listen intently if you would present this possibility of a serious Israeli strike.[189]
In sum, according to Samore, “It sure helped to have the Israeli threat out there.”[190] This could be described as an amplification effect that may result from a relatively weak ally’s ability to establish a credible threat in the eyes of a much more powerful actor and influence its behavior. Obama Toughens Rhetoric, But Stops Short of Red Line for Iran Israel’s campaign succeeded, albeit to a lesser degree than it had hoped, in wresting a public commitment to resort to military force against Iran from the U.S. president. Most notably, in March 2012, Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that "as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” Obama added, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”[191] Addressing AIPAC two days later, Obama said, “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” That, he said, “includes all elements of American power,” including “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”[192] This was the first time the United States publicly drew a distinction between prevention and containment of a nuclear Iran.[193] These two statements, directed more to Israel than to Iran, would remain Obama’s most explicit reference to the military option. Both statements were later described by Panetta as “carefully crafted” gestures to the Israelis, designed to “reinforce their confidence that we would not abandon them.”[194] While Barak was convinced that the United States possessed a credible and realistic military option to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, he remained unconvinced by Obama’s political reassurances. For instance, after Obama said that “as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” the Israeli defense minister privately wondered whether Obama’s statement was itself a bluff.[195] As Barak himself told this author, he remained “highly skeptical” about the U.S. commitment to ever pursue the military option against Iran.[196] Barak later explained, “Though the president intermittently declared that ‘all options’ remained on the table, I knew from senior administration members that it was extremely unlikely to happen.”[197] In September 2012, the clash between Israel’s desire for a clear U.S. commitment and Obama’s determination to secure his latitude entered a new stage, with Netanyahu openly urging the president to publicly draw a “red line” for Iran that, if violated, would be met with “consequences.” The administration rejected the demand on the grounds that “we need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,”[198] which was precisely what Netanyahu wanted Obama to have less of. The exchange took a fiercer turn when Panetta implicitly accused Israel of attempting to coerce the United States. “Red lines,” he asserted, “are used to try to put people in a corner.”[199] To this, Netanyahu responded, “I know that people value flexibility. … but I think that at this late stage of the game, Iran needs to see clarity.”[200] Israel’s efforts were designed to limit Obama’s freedom of action and pin him down to an explicit use-of-force commitment. Given this, Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. According to Burns, “There was certainly concern in Washington that the object of this Israeli effort was not so much to get a green light to launch a unilateral Israeli strike as it was to box Obama into launching a U.S. military strike, with the kind of second-best option being an even more intense effort to build sanctions.”[201] [quote id="8"] Israel’s pressure campaign had yet another important effect on the United States, which is that Washington, in an attempt to reassure Israel, accelerated its efforts to enhance the credibility of its own military option. In January 2012, U.S. officials said the Pentagon was ramping up its efforts to improve the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon specifically designed to penetrate Iranian and North Korean fortifications.[202] In August, an Israeli daily newspaper disclosed in its lead story details of the U.S. military plan for an attack on Iran, as discussed in Panetta’s visit to Israel just days before. The report maintained that the United States would potentially launch its attack “in a year and a half.”[203] Shedding further light on Washington’s reassurance efforts, Panetta later remarked,
We in the United States were developing a weapon that could in fact be able to penetrate and do serious damage to their [Iran’s] capability, and it was in the effort to kind of show him [Barak] what we had developed and its capability that, I think, he recognized that we indeed did have a weapon that could, in fact, do some real damage to their enrichment capability.[204]
Lending credence to Panetta’s account, Barak recalled that, during the first two years in which Israel prepared its military option, the United States “was no more ready” than Israel. The existing U.S. military plan, Barak wrote, was “so obviously prone to lead to a wider conflict, that it would never have received the go-ahead from President Obama, or probably any president.” By 2012, however, “that had changed …an intensive research-and-development effort and enormously improved planning and testing had yielded results. The Americans now had high-precision heavy munitions we couldn’t dream of.”[205]

Conclusion

In late 2011, Israel deliberately led the United States to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could be imminent — a scenario that deeply alarmed the Obama administration. The stakes involved one of the core issues animating asymmetric-alliance politics: the possibility that a junior ally — Israel — might present its senior strategic ally — the United States — with a fait accompli and entrap it in a military confrontation. With two military commitments already underway and a presidential election on the horizon, the United States strongly opposed an Israeli attack, which it deemed unnecessary, and had little interest in a confrontation with Iran. More importantly, Iran did not pose the same threat to the militarily superior United States as it did to Israel. It was for these reasons that a fierce intra-alliance bargaining episode occurred. As noted in the outset of this article, asymmetric alliances represent a trade-off: The weaker ally trades its autonomy for security. In essence, Israel attempted to retain its autonomy in a way that the United States deemed extremely detrimental to its own interests. Ultimately, neither Israel nor the United States attacked Iran. This implies that, at the most overarching level, the stronger ally prevailed. How can this outcome be understood? And what are its implications for international and alliance politics? Any attempt to discuss these questions must begin with the fact that, in the year under discussion, Israel purposefully created the perception of a potentially imminent military attack. This granted Israel more leverage than it otherwise would have wielded over the United States. Israel then harnessed this leverage in a calculated effort to force its senior ally to more closely align with Israeli constraints and interests. This meant influencing Washington into adopting measures it otherwise would not have — steps that nudged the United States closer to a confrontation with Iran. These measures included the economic isolation of Iran, a credible presidential commitment to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, and the development of a more effective and “realistic” U.S. military option. Israel employed this strategy as a form of extended coercion — that is, in an attempt to manipulate Iran’s strategic calculus via a powerful third party with considerable leverage over Tehran. Put differently, although the direct target of Israel’s campaign was its primary ally, its ultimate target was Iran, which Israel sought to prevent from further developing its nuclear program. At a minimum, Israel strived to keep Iran’s nuclear capabilities sufficiently vulnerable to its own military option, meaning that Israel would not have to rely on the United States for the removal of a potentially existential threat and that it would retain its autonomy despite its alliance with the United States. It may also be the case that Israel sought to influence the United States into tacit compliance with an Israeli attack or even to persuade it to unleash its own military option against Iran. It is also possible that Israel never genuinely intended to execute a unilateral attack against Iran. Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. Having instilled a sense of urgency in its major ally, Israel implicitly threatened the United States with a fait accompli, doing little to allay obvious U.S. fears of entrapment. And still, at the most overarching level, the fact that Israel’s perceived threat never materialized implies that the senior ally in this relationship got its way and that superior U.S. bargaining power overwhelmed Israeli decision-making. The United States proved capable of avoiding entrapment, of resisting its ally’s demand for an explicit commitment to attack Iran, and of restraining its ally. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that the United States was, by far, the more powerful actor in the relationship. This structural reality becomes all the more pronounced given that, whereas Israel had reached the pinnacle of its bargaining power and exerted extraordinary pressure on its senior ally, Obama appeared to be in a particularly vulnerable situation. Especially because it was an election year, Obama sought to avoid a brutal clash with a close ally wielding considerable political influence. The balance of interests seemed to favor Israel, whose prime minister had consistently depicted Iran as an existential threat. Furthermore, the United States did not come close to exploiting the full range of dissuasion tactics at its disposal. Although Israel implicitly threatened its senior ally with entrapment, Washington neither reciprocated with a threat of abandonment nor threatened Israel with a “reassessment” of relations — steps that the administration may have dismissed as politically prohibitive. Ultimately, the United States prevailed in this atypically intense episode. The broader implications for coercive bargaining in an asymmetric relationship are that, even at the height of its bargaining power, a weaker ally will find it extremely difficult to entrap a superior ally or otherwise cause it to move in a direction it deems incompatible with its national security interests. This basic reality does not preclude the weaker ally from wielding surprising leverage or from exploiting its ally’s fear of entrapment for coercive purposes — something Israel appears to have done in this case. Indeed, to reassure Israel and forestall an attack, the Obama administration took measures it otherwise probably would not have, namely meeting Israel’s demand for unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran and tougher rhetoric from the U.S. president. In the final analysis, however, the United States proved capable of restraining its particularly influential ally. This conclusion squares with the findings of scholars such as Jeremy Pressman, Michael Beckley, and Tongfi Kim, cited in the outset of this article. One can, perhaps, draw even wider conclusions about patterns of power and influence in international politics. Scholars have suggested the current era is characterized by accelerated “power diffusion,” which ultimately favors the weak.[206] The outcome of this case study suggests that, even when the weak punch above their weight, the basic balance of power persists. In other words, the weak may be getting stronger, but the strong still get their way. [quote id="6"] This case study also lends itself to a more nuanced appreciation of the second-order effects that occur when an actor introduces a credible threat to use military force. For instance, while genuinely worried by Israel’s perceived threat, the United States, according to several Obama administration officials, harnessed Israel’s threat to persuade major actors like China to join the sanctions effort as an alternative to what appeared to be a credible scenario — a unilateral Israeli strike. This speaks to the way weak actors might be capable of amplifying their influence by impacting third parties — in this case the United States — and motivating them to use their leverage with other actors. By establishing the perception of a credible threat, Israel, in a sense, provided the United States not only with motivation but also with leverage it previously lacked, which the United States then used vis-à-vis other countries, like China. Attempting to achieve desirable outcomes in foreign affairs can, of course, have unintended consequences. While Israel’s pressure campaign produced several achievements — namely the economic isolation of Iran — it also helped to create the conditions for direct talks between its strategic ally and its archenemy. If Israel had hoped to influence Washington toward a more belligerent posture regarding Tehran, the opposite occurred, as the diplomatic channel culminated in a nuclear deal that Netanyahu denounced as a “historic mistake.”[207] Former Mossad director Meir Dagan claimed to be speaking from personal knowledge when he asserted that by “signaling to the entire world” that Israel was preparing to attack Iran, Netanyahu motivated the United States to “search for an alternative in the form of an agreement.”[208] Echoing Dagan’s assertion is this point from Burns, who, along with Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top policy adviser (and later national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden), initiated the secret talks between the United States and Iran in the wake of Israel’s pressure campaign:
The increased decibel level of the potential Israeli preparations for a strike accelerated the interest of the administration in pushing this diplomatic track simply because it certainly seemed as if we were getting closer and closer to the point of a real military conflict and that added a sense of urgency to this.[209]
And as Panetta noted,
There is no question that there’s nothing like a military attack to get your attention. So, I'm sure that it heightened activity both in terms of what we were trying to do militarily as well as what the administration was looking at diplomatically. … There was this effort to push on these other buttons to see if there might be a diplomatic solution to that threat.[210]
This article sheds important light on a key topic for the theory and practice of international relations, namely the question of credibility. In their statements, Barak and Netanyahu stopped short of explicit threats to attack Iran. When he was asked, at the height of Israel’s campaign, whether Jerusalem intended to attack Iran, Barak responded, “I think it should remain behind closed doors as part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the background.”[211] And, as he tellingly pointed out toward the end of the campaign, “The prime minister and myself have never come out and announced what it is we are interested in.”[212] Nonetheless, their various statements — and Israel’s calibrated signals and military moves — created a context that appeared less like a “vague understanding” and more like an alarmingly credible military threat. This was made possible by two elements, the first of which corresponds with Thomas Schelling’s assertion that, to appear credible, actors must “make it true.” Barak himself would retrospectively attribute the belief that Israel was serious to “the fact that it was all real, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have done it.”[213] The second, and less explored, element pertains to secrecy. If Israel’s campaign contained an element of deception, the strict secrecy and message discipline made it impossible to prove. Nowhere was this more evident than in the words of Pardo, the Mossad director, who noted that if Israel’s pressure campaign was a bluff, at most two people knew it. Asked about the painstaking efforts exerted by the United States to unveil Israel’s genuine intentions, Barak confided, “It is not as if there was some secret chamber that if only you could penetrate you would discover everything was a bluff. And if nobody can tell you it is a bluff, you have to assume it is real.”[214] While the potential costs and implications of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran seemed too immense to be credible, Israel’s preparations for such a strike seemed too real and costly to be dismissed as mere deception. The combination of Israel’s genuine military moves and strict message discipline made the incredible look credible, and the unbelievable, believable. As things stand, and in sharp contrast to the period discussed in this article, Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump appear to be tightly coordinated with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue. It is inescapable, however, that the challenge Iran poses to Israel is considerably graver than any threat it may pose to the militarily powerful and geographically distant United States. With the United States no longer part of the Iran nuclear deal, and in the absence of a new agreement, this challenge may present itself sooner than expected. Further down the line, this divergence of interests between Israel and the United States might yet again produce a political clash similar to the one explored in this article. Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and advice, the author wishes to thank Graham Allison, Oren Barak, Shai Feldman, Charles Freilich, Kelly Greenhill, Robert Jervis, Arie Kacowicz, Morgan Kaplan, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Steven Miller, Karen Motley, Michael Poznansky, Galia Press-Barnathan, Henry Rome, Amit Sheniak, Susan Rosenberg, Stephen Walt, Alec Worsnop, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the 2016–2017 International Security Program seminar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Israel Institute during his appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => restraining-an-ally-israel-the-united-states-and-irans-nuclear-program-2011-2012 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-11 18:13:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-11 22:13:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [2] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 606 [post_author] => 180 [post_date] => 2018-05-05 14:26:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-05 18:26:43 [post_content] =>

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

  "Here we go again." "It’s Groundhog Day with North Korea." "We’ve seen this script before." These sorts of refrains have been common among North Korea watchers — and those who play them on TV — ahead of the summit slated for June 12 in Singapore between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump. After significant brinkmanship over whether the meeting would take place, the on-again, off-again summit looks likely to be held as originally planned. The United States has engaged North Korea in two major denuclearization processes, not to mention separate inter-Korean and multilateral efforts, over the past quarter-century. All have failed to produce the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that the United States has sought on the Korean Peninsula.[1] Some skeptical of the bilateral summit charge that this history of failure is likely to repeat itself. Meanwhile, optimists suggest that something new in the upcoming process has opened the possibility of a different outcome.[2] History can be a useful guide to avoid repeating mistakes, but events are rarely as neat and tidy as a sound bite seems to suggest. The history of nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as multilateral discussions such as the six-party talks, is far more complex than most voices in the media and policy circles acknowledge. This history offers cause for pessimism, optimism, and caution about current prospects for denuclearization.[3]

Pessimism: Denuclearization Is Harder Now Than During Past Efforts

Many of those who are pessimistic about the Trump-Kim summit point to failed efforts to achieve complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization and ask why this time should be any different. In one sense, the pessimists are not pessimistic enough. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last major diplomatic efforts at denuclearization. In the intervening years, the possibility of denuclearization has become even more distant. This section contrasts the situation today with the state of the North Korean nuclear threat when the 1994 Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the 2005 six-party talks were reached. Seen through that lens, contentions that history may repeat itself underestimate the current challenge. In Brief: The Agreed Framework and Six-Party Talks There have been two major diplomatic efforts to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. In the early 1990s, North Korea initiated an international crisis by taking provocative steps toward developing a nuclear bomb: removing fuel rods from its five-megawatt plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and initiating its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which North Korea had legally pledged to forego nuclear weapons. The United States engaged Pyongyang in an effort to resolve the crisis, and the two sides signed the Agreed Framework in 1994. In short, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, and political promises, including specific efforts toward the normalization of bilateral relations.[4] The Agreed Framework faced challenges in implementation, however, and collapsed in late 2002 and early 2003. The United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia initiated the six-party talks later in 2003.[5] Seeking to distinguish between the 1994 framework’s temporary freeze on nuclear production and a more comprehensive and lasting goal, the six countries announced, after two years and four rounds of negotiations, that they “unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”[6] The 2005 joint statement of those talks laid out the basic principles of a nuclear deal that would be refined more specifically in a pair of implementation agreements two years later. In late 2008, however, the participating countries reached an impasse over important technical verification issues. Whereas in 1994 North Korea had pledged to freeze its nuclear program, in 2005 Pyongyang promised to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, normalized diplomatic relations, and negotiations toward a “permanent peace regime.”[7] Although the two sets of negotiations were different in important ways, the broad structure was consistent: North Korea promised to move away from nuclear weapons in exchange for a similar basket of incentives. Denuclearization Today The North Korean nuclear program of 2018 is not the nuclear program of 1994, when Washington and Pyongyang negotiated the Agreed Framework. It is not even the nuclear program of 2005, when the six-party talks produced its joint statement. Since these diplomatic milestones, Pyongyang’s nuclear development and long-range missiles have advanced in major ways, crossing a series of critical technical barriers. These programs have grown significantly more difficult to reverse since earlier denuclearization efforts were underway. Since the 1990s, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown from a theoretical capability to an actual one. North Korea’s first nuclear test occurred in 2006, a year after the joint statement of the six-party talks was released. Before this, the North Korean leadership could not be confident that their efforts to build a nuclear bomb would actually work. Indeed, the North’s first nuclear test produced more of a whimper than a bang. The explosion yielded less than one kiloton, prompting a variety of theories about why it had been a low-yield test. As such, the fundamental challenge for these earlier negotiations was to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear weapon and to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its attendant programs. These efforts resembled something like the more recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in the sense that American negotiators and their allies could capitalize on North Korea’s uncertainty about whether it could succeed in building a bomb and crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold. Today, by contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un controls a nuclear arsenal that has benefited from six tests. His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. After the 2006 nuclear test produced a lower-than-expected yield, then-leader Kim Jong Il ordered a second test, in 2009, that erased any doubt about North Korea’s basic ability to build and detonate a nuclear weapon.[8] North Korea’s third nuclear test, in 2013, came amid Pyongyang’s pronouncements that the test provided critical information that would help the regime’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear weapon in order to mount it on a missile. The third test may also have utilized uranium in its bomb design. The regime’s previous tests used plutonium, thus, testing weapons using this second path to the bomb expanded its capabilities. North Korea’s fourth test, in 2016, demonstrated the country’s thermonuclear capability for the first time.[9] The fifth and sixth tests, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, sought bigger yields still.[10] Rather than preventing North Korea from crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold, the denuclearization challenge has become much harder: Somehow, the genie must be put back in the bottle. [quote id="1"] Meanwhile, North Korea has steadily advanced its ability to develop, test, and field operational ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons. Critically, the regime has diversified its ballistic missile force to create a survivable second-strike capability, thereby securing an essential element to deter its primary adversary, the United States.[11] In 1994, North Korea was capable of striking some American bases and allies but not the U.S. homeland. That year — the same year Washington and Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework — North Korea began producing its Nodong medium-range ballistic missile and fielded the missile the following year. The Nodong could strike South Korea and most of Japan but still not the United States.[12] In 1998, North Korea flight-tested its Taepo Dong-1 prototype, which flew over Japan, rattling the Japanese government in particular and accelerating Tokyo’s cooperation with Washington on missile defense. The flight test ushered in a new round of missile diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang maintained a unilateral moratorium on long-range-missile flight tests for six years, refraining from launching another Taepo Dong rocket until 2006.[13] As the two sides negotiated the Agreed Framework and, later, the joint statement of the six-party talks, North Korea did not have the capability to hit the United States with its missiles. Today, however, North Korea is perilously close to having a demonstrated delivery vehicle to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Since coming to power in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has ordered scores of missile launches, including long- and short-range ballistic missiles. Both long- and short-range ballistic missiles can test technologies used in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[14] In 2017, North Korea conducted three ICBM flight tests. After the third test, Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear deterrent complete.[15] While this claim was probably premature,[16] Kim expressed confidence that his country had attained a complete package of miniaturized nuclear weapons and survivable delivery vehicles that could reach the continental United States.[17] The main components of North Korea’s fissile material production have also shifted significantly. In the leadup to the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea had only one fissile material production site: the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The site was known, surveilled, and, in theory, could have been verifiably frozen with reasonable confidence. By the time of the six-party talks, the United States was aware of a nascent and covert North Korean uranium enrichment program that violated its Agreed Framework pledges. The CIA publicly disclosed to Congress its judgment that North Korea had started this program in 2000.[18] Other assessments date the origins of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment as early as 1996.[19] Regardless of whether Pyongyang started its uranium enrichment program then or in 2000, plutonium production was North Korea’s sole route to the bomb in 1994 and its primary but not exclusive nuclear production capability in 2005. Today, North Korea acquires substantially more fissile material for weapons from its well-established uranium enrichment facilities than it does from its plutonium program. Pyongyang’s uranium program also has more growth potential than its plutonium program in absolute terms. One unclassified research project estimated that by 2020, North Korea’s only five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon could produce 14 nuclear weapons from plutonium, while two centrifuge plants could produce about 56 weapons from uranium.[20] Put another way, the North Korean uranium enrichment program produces far more fissile material for nuclear weapons today, and its higher annual output is central to the growth of Pyongyang’s arsenal over time. When it comes to trying to negotiate verifiable denuclearization, the distinction between the plutonium and uranium routes to the bomb is critical. In 2010, North Korean officials showed the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to a prominent U.S. nongovernmental delegation. The manner and speed of the facility’s construction suggested strongly that this was not the country’s first enrichment facility.[21] Commercial satellite imagery and other publicly available sources offer no proof of a third enrichment facility, but that should not provide much comfort. It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. [quote id="2"] This should concern American policymakers as verification was the shoal upon which the six-party talks foundered.[22] During those talks, Washington wanted to conduct soil and nuclear waste samples to verify North Korea’s claims; Pyongyang refused. The “Second Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” agreed to on Oct. 3, 2007, outlined what would be required of North Korea to disable its five-megawatt reactor. The agreement did not explicitly require North Korea to allow these samples to be taken but stipulated that disablement would proceed in a “verifiable” manner.[23] Washington interpreted this to mean it could use sampling to verify Pyongyang’s actions under the second-phase agreement before it proceeded. Pyongyang, however, saw things differently: It wanted to save the issue of sampling for a “third phase” agreement, at which point it could either demand additional concessions and use the sampling issue as a bargaining chip, or not agree to sampling at all.[24] Verification is, of course, central to any sustainable agreement. And the devil is in the details. These kinds of technocratic aspects, which political leaders tend not to ponder, have derailed high-level, multiyear diplomatic initiatives. Diplomatic efforts could again sink over critical technical details if negotiators do not learn from the past. While Kim Jong Il may have hoped during negotiations in the 1990s and again during the six-party talks that his and his father’s decades-long efforts to develop nuclear weapons would someday provide a deterrent against U.S. invasion, his son, Kim Jong Un, has this capability. In the past, North Korea’s nuclear program was aspirational. Today, it is an active part of the country’s national defense. Before, verifying a deal focused primarily on a plutonium program was difficult. Now, the prominence of the uranium program in addition to the plutonium program makes the challenge even greater. It is not the same river.

Caution: New Leaders on Both Sides

In addition to the technical advancements in Pyongyang’s nuclear program since the last two major diplomatic efforts, important political changes have taken place in North Korea and the United States. During the Agreed Framework negotiations and the six-party talks, Kim Jong Il was effectively at the helm. Although North Korea’s founder and charismatic leader, Kim Il Sung, was in power until his death in 1994, and famously held important roles such as receiving former President Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang amid the crisis, Kim Il Sung told a Western reporter that by 1992 his son was running the country.[25] Kim Il Sung tapped his son as his successor in 1980 and gradually shifted power to him. As such, the Agreed Framework and six-party talks were, for North Korea, essentially a Kim Jong Il production. Today, Kim Jong Un is in charge and his personal stamp can be seen on nuclear diplomacy. Kim the youngest differs substantially in ruling style and approach from his father, something that matters greatly for the current round of summits. Kim Jong Il was an introverted micro-manager. Living in the shadow of his larger-than-life father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il closely controlled process and avoided public appearances. While Kim Il Sung was known for his charisma, Kim Jong Il could not even manage to give the annual new year’s day address. Instead, he instituted a policy of publishing the annual statement as an editorial in three newspapers.[26] Imagine if an American president decided to forego the annual State of the Union address and instead published his views on the White House website. That would be less of a break from past precedent than Kim Jong Il’s decision. Kim Jong Il gave one — or possibly two — extremely short speeches in his entire tenure. He was also absent from public view during the first three years of his formal reign, citing the traditional mourning period after his father’s death. Kim Jong Un is a different kind of leader. He has explicitly modeled himself after his still-revered grandfather rather than his relatively unpopular father.[27] He has brought back the annual new year’s day address. He appears in public with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, something Kim Jong Il had avoided. Kim Jong Un has also resurrected the Korean Workers’ Party, restarting the long-defunct party congresses. Tapes smuggled out of North Korea in the 1980s showed Kim Jong Il privately expressing insecure views of his personal stature that are consistent with his psychological profile.[28] In contrast, Kim Jong Un exudes confidence and has shown himself ready to personally lead the current round of nuclear diplomacy through a series of summits with South Korea, China, and the United States. It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. On the critical issue of his ruling style, Kim Jong Un has parted ways with his father. It stands to reason, then,[29] that his priorities and methods concerning nuclear diplomacy may not be a carbon copy of his father’s approach. Kim Jong Un proposed summit diplomacy with Trump, rather than having lower-level officials work toward a possible capstone summit by hashing out the details first. The younger Kim has taken the political risk upon himself and made it more difficult to blame subordinates for possible diplomatic failure. Leaders are always important in high-stakes diplomacy, but the summit approach makes their personality and predilections even more central to the outcome. The United States is only at the head of a long trail of diplomacy, and it is not at all clear that previous journeys foreshadow the current one. On the American side, there is also a new sheriff in town. The United States negotiated the Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the six-party talks under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Their administrations had different views on diplomacy with North Korea. Senior members of the Bush administration criticized the Agreed Framework negotiated under Clinton, which suffered a number of implementation challenges, including — but not limited to — the revelation of North Korea’s nascent uranium enrichment program.[30] The differences between the two U.S. administrations were stark enough that some insiders dubbed the Bush administration’s approach “ABC — Anything But Clinton.”[31] The Bush administration, however, quickly shifted to its own diplomatic effort with the North Koreans after the final collapse of the Agreed Framework. This time around, there were more seats at the table, different areas of emphasis, and intra-government intrigue,[32] but two things remained constant: the basic parameters of seeking a complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea, and recognition that this would require some reciprocal and unpopular concessions. With a few notable exceptions, the two U.S. administrations operated — at the most general level — alike. [quote id="3"] Donald Trump fashions himself a new kind of political leader. His engagement in tit-for-tat rhetorical barbs in 2017 — such as when he threatened to bring down “fire and fury”[33] on North Korea, or when he called Kim Jong Un “little rocket man”[34] — marked an outlier for American presidential behavior. Trump’s public comments about military options — including limited military strikes that could not denuclearize North Korea by force but, it was hoped, would push Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table — prompted substantial criticism about the wisdom of such an approach.[35] Trump quickly shifted gears in 2018, however, by accepting Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, conveyed through the South Korean president. He has sent Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang twice — first as director of the CIA and secretary of state-designate and then as secretary of state — to advance the summit and secure the release of three unjustly imprisoned Americans.[36] Trump’s policy tools, including carrots, such as peace regime negotiations and sanctions relief, and sticks, including renewed sanctions and military moves, remain roughly the same as those available to his predecessors. But his willingness to meet Kim Jong Un early, to call off the summit, and to recommit to it within days demonstrates the greater element of uncertainty as to how the United States will begin and sustain a diplomatic process with the North Koreans. The men entering the river are different.

Optimism: Allies, Peace Regime, and Learning

Achieving complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a tall order. Getting it on the cheap or for free is taller still. If success is framed in these terms alone, there is little room for optimism. If, however, progress is defined as concretely minimizing the North Korean nuclear threat and moving toward an ultimate goal of denuclearization in such a way that the benefits to national interests outweigh the costs of concessions, then there is room to be optimistic. In short, optimists can argue that a successful agreement is one that leaves the United States and its allies better off than they are in the current situation and on the current trajectory. The U.S.-South Korean combined approach, serious consideration of creating a peace regime, and the real possibility of learning from past agreements together provide reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way forward in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. The U.S.-South Korean Combined Approach North Korea gains tactical advantage when it can split the United States from its Northeast Asian allies, specifically South Korea. The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. North Korea has long favored bilateral diplomacy with the United States in hopes of sidelining South Korea and Japan. Tensions in the U.S.-South Korean alliance have also challenged previous efforts to maintain a united front against North Korea. Han Sung-joo, who served as South Korea’s foreign minister during the Agreed Framework negotiations, noted that then-South Korean President Kim Young-sam wanted to ensure the Americans were not “too soft” on the North Koreans. At the same time, the South Korean president did not want to raise the risk of military conflict that threatened to destroy his capital. The conservative South Korean president, worried about his domestic political support, also needed to assure his people that the United States was closely consulting him at every turn.[37] He wanted to make sure the American approach was neither too hot nor too cold at each stage of negotiations and sought to communicate this to South Koreans. The United States and South Korea were not in lockstep during the Agreed Framework, and Seoul worried about not having direct access to the North Koreans on a matter central to its national security. Kim Young-sam’s successor, Kim Dae-jung, came from the opposite end of the South Korean political spectrum and wholeheartedly endorsed engaging North Korea. Kim Dae-jung made history with the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 — just five months before the election of George W. Bush. Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy” sought to change North Korean behavior through unconditional engagement, while Bush settled on a more confrontational approach to North Korea’s objectionable actions. Alliance managers sought to keep the two sides linked, but it remained an ongoing challenge.[38] Differences among allies are inevitable, but the combined approach provides reasons for optimism that this time may be different. Never before has an inter-Korean summit, let alone two, been explicitly set up ahead of a U.S.-North Korea summit. The South Korean presidential office recognizes that it cannot push North Korean denuclearization alone and has sought to influence U.S. engagement with the North Koreans as well as its own. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met early success with balancing his policy of engaging North Korea while keeping the United States firmly invested in the process. The road is long, and it will become even more difficult. The two sides will face tough choices and trade-offs as the North Koreans begin to articulate their core demands. Nevertheless, Washington and Seoul have gotten off to a solid start. Peace Regime In contrast to previous diplomatic rounds, North Korea’s long-held demand to negotiate a peace treaty to replace the armistice and formally end the Korean War seems to be on the table. The Agreed Framework did not mention a peace regime or peace-treaty negotiations, but it opened the door to four-party talks —among the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China — on these topics.[39] The Agreed Framework contained U.S. security guarantees to Pyongyang but lacked a specific and concrete quid pro quo on denuclearization and a peace regime. The 2005 joint statement promised to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”[40] The Russians convened the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group in Moscow three times. It was one of the five working groups of the six-party talks, but it did not produce concrete outcomes. The United States favored discussing a peace regime after North Korea denuclearized, and Pyongyang did not want to wait.[41] The six-party talks, in practice, produced an agreement for denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief and aid. Demanding that North Korea denuclearize amounts to asking it to voluntarily relinquish the world’s most powerful weapons. And reminders that its nuclear development violates international law do not move Pyongyang. Likewise, sanctions relief and aid can contribute to North Korea’s economy but would not supplant the security that it believes nuclear weapons provide. Declassified documents from Pyongyang’s socialist-bloc allies demonstrate that, in the 1970s, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung saw peace-treaty negotiations as a means to try to reduce and ultimately end the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. One of his senior party officials told a friendly foreign delegation in 1972,
The international public sees as just and honest our proposal to conclude a peace treaty between the two Koreas, to withdraw American forces and to reduce the militaries. If we conclude a peace treaty, the Americans would have no reason to stay there.[42]
The intervening four decades have produced varying assessments of North Korea’s intentions and objectives regarding peace regime negotiations. The United States will have to wait for Kim Jong Un’s articulation of his specific demands to adjudicate between competing assessments. One thing, however, is fairly certain: North Korea will seek to supplant its perceived security losses from denuclearization with phased and reciprocal adjustments to the U.S. military presence on and around the Korean Peninsula. How is this good news? Most analysts say that North Korean denuclearization is simply impossible.[43] Kim Jong Un does not want to go the way of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, who, lacking a nuclear deterrent, met their violent deaths after U.S.-led or -supported military operations. The peace regime issue brings to the fore difficult trade-offs and options for the highest-level decisions by elected U.S. leaders and American allies. After hearing the North Korean demands, seeking to negotiate them down, and considering the verifiable implementation measures, the United States and its allies will face a basic decision: Is the trade-off worth it at any stage? Elected leaders may have to consider difficult adjustments to the U.S. military presence on the peninsula, such as the size and scope of military exercises, strategic asset deployment, and the nature of the permanent presence in exchange for verified, late-stage steps toward denuclearization. They may decide that whatever deal is on the table with North Korea is not worth the cost, but an acceptable deal might be laid out as well. Having North Korea’s demands communicated directly from its leader to America’s is superior to wading through the many contrasting assessments of what North Korea really wants. Learning The Trump administration has the benefit of being able to learn from the past. Secretary of State Pompeo has noted repeatedly that he has read the CIA’s history of negotiations with North Korea and vowed not to repeat past mistakes. Unlike the Agreed Framework negotiators, Pompeo has historical points of reference on negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear program. One lesson is the importance of blocking North Korea from pocketing concessions. If Pyongyang can reverse its concessions, the United States and its allies must be able to do the same. This simple lesson has not been followed in earlier negotiations. In 2007, the six parties agreed to “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” which laid out in specific terms the first round of reciprocal steps to implement the 2005 agreement. North Korea pledged to disable its Yongbyon reactor, allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the disablement, and issue a “list of all of its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement.” The “parallel” action from the United States included removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, lifting sanctions imposed through the Trading with the Enemy Act, and providing an initial tranche of heavy fuel oil as energy assistance.[44] North Korea’s disablement procedures were temporary, reversible, and intended to elicit further implementation protocols that did indeed come. When the six-party talks failed in 2008 over verification issues, North Korea was in a position to expel IAEA inspectors and move to restart the Yongbyon reactor immediately, though it delayed the restart for several years. After North Korea expelled the inspectors, the United States quickly reimposed by executive order the same authorities found in the Trading with the Enemy Act,[45] and North Korea lost out on deliveries of heavy fuel oil. The United States could not, however, reinstate North Korea on the terrorism list immediately. Once removed, relisting legally required North Korea to commit another terrorist act, and the United States did not reimpose this designation until 2017.[46] While some have argued that the United States could have relisted North Korea earlier under certain legal interpretations, the sort of “snapback” sanctions like those embedded in the Iran nuclear agreement did not exist to discourage North Korea from trying to pocket concessions in the first place. In the absence of an external enforcement mechanism or a broader relationship that keeps other international agreements on track, carefully crafted quid pro quos that have equal degrees of reversibility and importance can help sustain lasting agreements by maintaining the same incentive structure for both sides to continue abiding by the terms. [quote id="4"] Learning from history also requires a balanced understanding of past events. Since writing history is the practice of selecting which past events are significant enough to merit recording, there is always room for author bias. A one-sentence history of North Korea-related nuclear negotiations could simply note that no effort has achieved North Korea’s complete denuclearization. At this most basic level, American and allied negotiators failed to meet their core objective. If one delves more deeply, however, the history quickly becomes more complex. Both nuclear agreements delayed and degraded North Korea’s nuclear program — and a reciprocal price was paid for these concessions. The Agreed Framework verifiably froze for eight years North Korea’s plutonium program, which was its only fissile material production facility at the time of the negotiations. North Korea had three plutonium reactors under construction ahead of the Agreed Framework — one five megawatts, one 50 megawatts, and one 200 megawatts. The smallest of the three was the most developed, but the Agreed Framework effectively put the nail in the coffin of the other two.[47] Some point to a counterfactual to highlight the value of this nuclear agreement: “Experts estimate that without the Agreed Framework, North Korea could have hundreds of nuclear weapons at this point.”[48] But the Agreed Framework was a nuclear agreement, not a plutonium agreement, and North Korea cheated by initiating a uranium enrichment path to the bomb during the framework’s shaky years of implementation. The United States provided North Korea with more than $400 million in energy assistance. South Korea and Japan contributed additional significant sums through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).[49] Concurrently, the United States and its international partners provided humanitarian assistance to North Korea during its late 1990s famine, which was never explicitly linked to the nuclear agreement. Critics charged that the aid propped up the regime amid its greatest existential crisis since the Korean War.[50] Likewise, the six-party talks verifiably shut down North Korea’s plutonium reactor for six years. It did not concretely address, however, the nascent but growing uranium enrichment threat. North Korea also received sanctions relief, some of which was not reversed until last year. Pyongyang was returned its unfrozen assets from a Macau bank and, more significantly, changed its banking practices to limit America’s ability to impose the same type of financial pain using the same tool.[51] Proponents and opponents of engagement argue about what would have happened without these agreements. But counterfactuals are a dangerous analytical tool. It is impossible to know what would have happened if one historical variable had shifted. Would North Korea have more than 100 nuclear weapons today with three functioning plutonium reactors had there been no Agreed Framework? Or would the regime have collapsed under its own weight without the Western aid? It is impossible to say. Everyone has preconceived ideas and biases, but critical readers of this history who seek to genuinely learn from the past should be equally wary of counterfactuals that support or oppose preconceived ideas.

Conclusion

History is messy. Neither proponents nor opponents of the Trump-Kim summit should feel confident that history is on their side. History reveals reasons for pessimism, optimism, and caution. Attempting to critically engage the history of these nuclear negotiations can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. Given the paucity of concrete data on Kim Jong Un and his decision-making, humility in analysis is warranted. Confident statements about what the North Korean leader seeks before he tells us are misplaced. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last nuclear deals, but the two sides seem to be getting closer to a formula for a possible deal. Any deal — if one is indeed possible — is likely to involve difficult trade-offs for both sides. Experts can help illuminate public debate on the merits of these trade-offs, but elected leaders will ultimately need wisdom for the hard decisions ahead. Patrick McEachern is an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is co-author of North Korea, Iran, and the Challenge to International Order (Routledge: 2018). The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Roman Harak [post_title] => Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => marching-toward-a-u-s-north-korea-summit-the-historical-case-for-optimism-pessimism-and-caution [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-02 12:06:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-02 16:06:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=606 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) ) ) [3] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_newsletter [mc4wp] => 61 ) [4] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_textblock [main_title] => Latest Roundtables [intro_title] => What is a Roundtable? [intro_text] => Roundtables are where we get to hear from multiple experts on either a subject matter or a recently published book. These collections of essays allow for detailed debates and discussions from a variety of viewpoints so that we can deeply explore a given topic or book. ) [5] => Array ( [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_featured_roundtables [wgt_type] => auto [qty] => 3 [posts] => ) ) ) [queried_object_id] => 2 [request] => SELECT wp_posts.* FROM wp_posts WHERE 1=1 AND wp_posts.ID = 2 AND wp_posts.post_type = 'page' ORDER BY wp_posts.post_date DESC [posts] => Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 677 [post_author] => 194 [post_date] => 2018-08-21 12:21:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-21 16:21:32 [post_content] => The U.S. National Security Strategy, published in December 2017, marked a historic break in U.S. policy toward China. The White House explicitly judged the policies of previous administrations to be a failure and closed the door on engagement as the primary mode of U.S.-Chinese relations. Before the Trump administration, U.S. policy was based on the assumption that a China governed by the Chinese Communist Party could be socialized within the international institutions of the West. Engagement at all levels — commercial, scientific, military, diplomatic, educational, and people-to-people — was expected to convince Chinese leaders of the benefits of accepting a liberal international order and persuade them to become, in the words of then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, a “responsible stakeholder” in that order.[1] This assumption had endured through seven U.S. presidencies, but the National Security Strategy explicitly judged, “This premise turned out to be false.”[2] The Trump administration’s new, more confrontational direction has generated more controversy than consensus. The emerging contours of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy reflect a muscular commitment to enduring U.S. interests in a stable Asia-Pacific and to pushing back against Beijing’s revisionism. The statements Defense Secretary James Mattis made at the Shang-ri La Dialogue in June appear to be coming to fruition as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced $300 million for security assistance on top of $113 million for technology, energy, and infrastructure initiatives.[3] Many observers would support such measures, but other aspects of the administration’s policies have caused unease among some even as they achieved results. To begin with, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration had made the signature economic initiative of its Asia-Pacific rebalance. Meanwhile, the Trump administration successfully pressured China to enforce sanctions on North Korea but also generated fears of war. The administration’s trade actions and tariffs may not resolve the U.S.-China trade imbalances, but they appear to be pressuring China’s leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, in novel ways.[4] The strategic shift, however, has not yet addressed the first-order questions that have dogged U.S. policy in Asia under past administrations: Is the United States willing to use force in the region, and how feasible are U.S. objectives while the Communist Party governs China? The strategic shift in U.S. policy toward China has not been locked in either bureaucratically or politically. Although the Trump administration has reopened an important conversation that had been closed for decades, it ultimately may not be the one to build a new policy consensus on China. Washington’s friends in Asia worry that American partisanship may prevent future policymakers from recognizing the Trump administration’s achievements in the region.[5] Nevertheless, Washington and Beijing will not return to the old status quo. This moment in time marks a transition from seven administrations’ policy of engagement to a nascent, emerging position. Because the United States is not yet ready to resolve first-order questions about its policy aims, any strategy is transitory. For now, the best answers can only describe the tools and considerations that must be a part of the U.S. recalibration. To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. Chinese power is an issue the United States will grapple with for years to come, and the relative difference in power between the two countries is shrinking, especially along China’s periphery. Washington needs to be able to maximize its leverage and make the most of opportunities to affect the Chinese Communist Party-state. Taking advantage of political leverage will require affecting party leaders at a personal level. The vicious politics of the Chinese Communist Party opens up fissures among the leadership at least once every political generation. Such openings can and should be exploited to advance U.S. interests. Improving U.S. understanding of China and orienting the U.S. government toward identifying and exploiting opportunities will require paying greater attention to the ways the Communist Party seeks to shape foreigners’ understanding of China. Washington needs to be prepared to act and must reengage in a discussion of values that has been left on the sidelines for too long. Even if the Trump administration’s more competitive course of action is not maintained by subsequent administrations, an engagement-oriented approach will still require adjustments to better protect U.S. interests.

An Inevitable Break

A dramatic shift in U.S.-Chinese relations was on the horizon no matter who won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. The assumptions underpinning bilateral relations had long strained against day-to-day realities. The two most important assumptions were that U.S. engagement would lead to a more liberal China (if not the demise of the Chinese Communist Party) and that shared long-term interests would lead to cooperation.[6] The 2017 National Security Strategy was explicit about the failures of this approach. Most notably, American aspirations for a more liberal — even if not democratic — China collided with the hard facts of what the Chinese Communist Party was willing to do to survive. The National Security Strategy stated, “For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China.” Even Richard Nixon justified engaging the Chinese Communist Party on the basis of hoped-for, long-term political change.[7] This hope became entrenched after the end of the Cold War removed the strategic logic of using U.S.-China relations as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Commercial, rather than strategic, engagement would supposedly moderate and ultimately liberalize China’s politics and economy.[8] Signs that the Chinese Communist Party was resisting the direction U.S. policymakers had envisioned arose early in the post-Cold War era, but the rise of Xi Jinping has brought American hopes of political reform crashing down. Early on, the party relentlessly shut down discussion of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 and jailed the movement’s student leaders. Chinese leaders also studied how best to use and shape market forces for the benefit of the Communist Party, giving the impression of regulatory liberalization while some in the business community became party members.[9] Signs of retrogression soon became unmistakable under Xi. The playbook for Xi’s leadership leaked out in what is known as Document No. 9 in the spring of 2013. The document identified perceived threats to the regime from, among other sources, universities, civil society, and the news media. Each has received special attention from the Xi government, and new regulations or legislation have expanded on the activities that must receive prior approval. The creation of concentration camps for Uighurs, the arrest of relatives of journalists who reported the story for a U.S.-government-funded news outlet, and the detention of Uighurs who are in contact with people outside China mark the extreme end of the party’s internal repression.[10] Lest readers think the Uighurs suffer from oppression by the Han Chinese majority rather than that of the party specifically, it should be noted that Beijing’s repression is broad. The party has cracked down on Chinese Christians while pressuring the Vatican to cede its authority to appoint church leaders in China.[11] Moreover, all Chinese citizens are subject to the ever-more invasive and comprehensive electronic surveillance slowly being integrated into a policy framework for inducing and coercing behavior the party wants.[12] Critics of the Trump administration’s aggressive approach argue that U.S.-Chinese relations after the Cold War were driven primarily by U.S. interests rather than a naïve hope that the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize. There was nothing wrong with past policy, these critics say, and U.S. presidential and policy statements about political liberalization did not represent what policymakers were actually thinking. As former U.S. ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy observed about today’s debate, “Such critiques often fail to distinguish between the way Washington publicly justifies its policies, by referring to values, and the way it actually formulates them, by putting national interests first.”[13] Those interests, however, seemingly became formulaic assumptions that went untested as China evolved. U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. For years, they proclaimed the same areas of overlapping interest: maintaining a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, arresting climate change, working for non-proliferation, and building commercial ties. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger highlighted these points in a 1997 speech entitled “Building a New Consensus on China.” Engagement, he argued, was needed to maintain cooperation on “the spread of weapons of mass destruction; our increasingly complex commercial ties; stability on the Korean peninsula; and the health of the global environment.”[14] More than 20 years have passed since Berger’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, yet the same areas remain singled out for cooperation despite Beijing’s changing behavior, growing military power, and increasing internal political repression.[15] And among those cited interests, the record is mixed. [quote id="1"] Cooperation on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction yielded uneven results, but key takeaways from U.S.-Chinese agreements never materialized. As Berger said in 1997, “China is neither as bad as some portray — [n]or as good as we would like.”[16] In 1985, Beijing and Washington signed a Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement — a so-called 1-2-3 Agreement — to facilitate the transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear expertise and equipment to China to help modernize its nuclear industry. The agreement included a Chinese commitment to build an export control system to monitor and certify the export of sensitive and dual-use technologies. That system remains unbuilt more than 30 years later. Instead, U.S. officials work through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs that often is outranked and outgunned politically by the companies it must regulate, and that is assuming the ministry is even prepared and able to act on a U.S. request. Commercial ties between American and Chinese firms have grown increasingly complex. Both sides have benefited from continued expansion, but Chinese political pressure has also mounted on U.S. companies. Surveys of foreign multinational companies in China have found growing pessimism regarding the regulatory and policy environment despite confidence in the country’s economic future.[17] Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative in the Trump administration who was also deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration, argued nearly a decade ago that many of the promised benefits of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) had failed to materialize. Proponents had argued that the trade deficit would shrink, that U.S. companies’ market access would improve, and that there would be no downside for the United States. Instead, the trade deficit grew. And while U.S. companies did get more access to Chinese markets, they continued to pay for that access through joint ventures and technology transfers. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in a sharp decline that began after China joined the WTO.[18] One of the most significant failures following in the wake of China’s incorporation into the WTO has been the persistence of intellectual property theft and its movement up the value chain from cultural products, such as movies, to telecommunications and semiconductors.[19] When Robert Kapp, then president of the U.S.-China Business Council, testified before Congress in support of granting China permanent normal trade relations and supporting its WTO ascension, he argued that leverage would be gained rather than lost by integrating China. Beijing’s participation in the WTO, he said, would give companies recourse to “such offensive habits as the requirement that foreign companies transfer technology in order to do business in China.”[20] Today, however, forced transfer remains a key element of Beijing’s strategy to acquire foreign technology, and the scale of China’s intellectual property theft arguably has increased.[21] Sustained Chinese cooperation on North Korea, meanwhile, has been at least as much a product of U.S. pressure as solicitation and persuasion. Since the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has consistently prioritized North Korea’s stability over preventing its nuclearization. The U.S. sanctions on Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, in late 2005, put pressure on Beijing and Chinese banks even as the equivalent of $24 million to $25 million of North Korean money — a small sum in the context of international relations — was frozen. The sanctions implicitly threatened Chinese banks doing business with North Korea and significantly restricted North Korea’s access to the international financial system, despite its access to China.[22] This pressure helped bring about another round of six-party talks. As pressure and scrutiny eventually lifted, Chinese companies renewed their efforts to skirt and undermine the sanctions regime.[23] The latest round of official Chinese cooperation began in April 2017 with the presidents’ meeting at Mar-a-Lago, during which Xi pledged to work with the Trump administration on North Korea. Beginning in June 2017, Beijing supported stronger sanctions in the U.N. Security Council five times, most notably in September and December.[24] As further cooperation failed to materialize, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, linked possible U.S. trade actions against China to outcomes on the Korean Peninsula, and implied that Chinese banks that continue to do business in North Korea also would be sanctioned.[25] Chinese cooperation on climate change has also been less than forthcoming. Although a number of agreements have been signed, rarely have funding commitments to back U.S.-Chinese initiatives for climate change and energy cooperatives been present.[26] The much-heralded 2016 climate agreement with the Obama administration committed Beijing to meeting benchmarks that it had already established domestically.[27] This has left cooperation mostly to the private sector, with mixed results, both because of Beijing’s industrial policies and its condoning of intellectual property theft. For example, in 2005, the Chinese state-owned company Sinovel began working with the American company American Superconductor (AMSC) on wind turbines and electricity distribution. The relationship fell apart in 2011, however, when Sinovel paid a former AMSC employee to steal the U.S. company’s source code and Sinovel then reneged on $800 million in contracts with that same company.[28] Taken together, what does all this mean? It is not that U.S.-Chinese cooperation was a fiction but, rather, that the areas of cooperation were intrinsically problematic. Pretending that these joint efforts were genuine or were anything other than a U.S. vision of China’s interests resulted in a frail superstructure. U.S. policymakers and commentators had to overlook Beijing’s failure to honor its commitments and pretend that the absence of Chinese actions was not a deliberate choice but, instead, a sign that decisions had not been made.

Obstacles to a New Approach

Locking in a new approach to U.S. policy toward China will be more difficult than many critics of the past engagement policy seem to think. Americans disagree about not only the degree to which the policy must change but also the degree of competitiveness that will be required. Former State Department officials Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner have suggested that the way forward begins simply: “The first step is relatively straightforward: acknowledging just how much our policy has fallen short of our aspirations.”[29] Many old hands, however, dispute the assertion that U.S. policy toward China has fallen short or failed to deliver on its promises. The policy basically worked, in their view, and few adjustments are necessary.[30] Even supposing, however, that U.S. experts on China and U.S.-Chinese relations agreed on the need for new policy initiatives or even a fundamentally different approach, more significant barriers must be overcome to move forward with new plans. The first such barrier is the relatively low degree of knowledge about China and the Chinese Communist Party at senior levels of the U.S. government and among American society in general. Ratner noted in a podcast interview this year that while senior U.S. officials seem to understand Ukraine and Syria in fairly granular detail, they repeatedly need to be reminded about basic geography and policy regarding China. The constant need for education wastes time and energy, and it inhibits a more far-reaching discussion about how to address the illiberal challenges of a China led by its Communist Party.[31] Such limited knowledge also makes it difficult for the president and others to appreciate the quality (or lack thereof) of China-related materials. They would have to rely almost entirely on instinct to evaluate the arguments presented to them. [quote id="2"] The low level of knowledge also leads to analogizing about China rather than assessing China for what it is. Analogies are unavoidable in the absence of direct knowledge. But the carefulness required in structuring useful comparisons has not been employed when China is likened to Weimar Germany or Xi Jinping to Charles de Gaulle.[32] The late Ernest May and Richard Neustadt argued that historical analogies had limited value unless they were structured deliberately. Because historical analogies rip events out of their context, such analogies may mislead more than they inform.[33] Americans’ relatively low level of knowledge about China leads to a second barrier: the Chinese Communist Party’s messaging about U.S. policy toward China. The party presents the policy options for dealing with China as a binary choice. Yet, only occasionally are such decisions truly so limited. Even the most glaring choice, recognizing the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan (Republic of China), is not so clear-cut, in part because many countries maintain ostensibly informal, but robust, diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As Singapore’s former senior-most diplomat, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan, described in a recent speech, “This technique of forcing false choices on you and making you choose between false choices is deployed within a framework of either overarching narratives or specific narratives. … The purpose is to narrow the scope of choices.”[34] One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces and propagandists regularly accuse the United States of containing China, employing a “Cold War mentality,” and stirring up the “China threat theory” to encourage other countries to demonize China. A final barrier to reaching a new policy position is that the United States — and presumably other countries that do not have as substantial a China-watching community — does not have a team to take the field. This is not so much a question of China-specific knowledge on the part of policy practitioners but, rather, the marriage of knowledge about China, policy tools, and competitive strategy. Too much of the existing talent has been conditioned by the long-held engagement policy. Engagement and competition require fundamentally different mind-sets and thinking through a different set of questions. Engagement as a policy direction presupposes that interaction is fundamentally good and that opening China to academic, business, and civil-society ventures is beneficial to U.S. interests. Competition, by contrast, raises first-order questions, such as whether there are long-term benefits to U.S. businesses operating in China or whether Beijing’s policies are incompatible with U.S. long-term interests. Building this team while transcending partisanship will not be easy. Americans inside and outside government have knowledge about China, policy, or strategic competition, but there are very few with expertise in all three. Ensuring that people with expertise in one or two of these areas gain the necessary additional knowledge requires not only time but also taking such individuals out of active roles while they focus on acquiring additional expertise.

A Toolkit for the Transitional Phase

Until a new China policy is more firmly locked in bureaucratically and a new consensus about China is reached, proposing an overarching strategy and set of objectives is premature. The U.S. discussion may be more open than it has been in years, but first-order questions about the ultimate objectives of China policy have not yet been reassessed and answered. The United States sits in a transitional phase, at least until the Trump administration solidifies bureaucratic policy guidance and a subsequent administration builds from its foundation. What directions succeeding administrations take, of course, may vary, regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican. For the near future, it is more appropriate to assess U.S. policy tools and how to maximize leverage rather than trying to pin down an overall strategy. Washington needs to expand its toolkit beyond the military dimension, regardless of what the future holds for U.S. policy and U.S.-Chinese relations. U.S. economic and military predominance has maintained stability in East Asia for decades. In recent years, Beijing has undermined and challenged the credibility of U.S. power — or at least Washington’s willingness to use it. Beijing’s steady expansion and consolidation in the South China Sea from 2012 onward exposed the gaps in U.S. military power in the region and Washington’s policy of deterrence. The Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal and subsequent island construction showed that Washington was not prepared to use military force or to place U.S. sailors and pilots in harm’s way to push back against China. These dilemmas also highlight the necessity of strengthening Americans’ psychological willingness to use leverage wherever it might be found. Refrains about the limitations of U.S. influence have more to do with a lack of conviction than a lack of ability. Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Marco Rubio of Florida put forward at least one alternative to using military force in China’s maritime periphery, but their bipartisan legislation to sanction Chinese firms engaged in island-building never went anywhere.[35]  Building U.S. capacity to compete with China more comprehensively and effectively will require a political-power-centric and opportunity-oriented research agenda, a concentrated effort to build leverage, and counterintelligence and counter-interference efforts to preserve the integrity of U.S. policymaking. A power-centric research agenda would evaluate the Chinese Communist Party’s susceptibility to pressure. Opportunities are fleeting, and attitudes change. One day, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party may not have the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army. Another day, he may have installed loyalists at the upper ranks. Leverage should be built over time and prepared for the moment when it can have the most impact. To make use of leverage at the point Chinese leaders are most vulnerable, the integrity of the U.S. policymaking system must be secure so that Washington can be ready to act when opportunity knocks. Each of these points is outlined more fully below.  A New Analytical Approach  First, U.S. policymakers need a different way of ordering their knowledge and thinking about China issues. Opportunities to influence the Chinese Communist Party in a significant way come along only once or twice in a political generation. The vicious “you die, I live” (你死我活) kind of politics that is practiced in China inevitably opens up leadership fissures. U.S. policymakers need to better understand how political power is wielded within the Communist Party. Shaping and responding to Beijing’s behavior requires influencing the individuals who decide policy. U.S. policymakers must understand the sources of Chinese political power to understand which ones Chinese leaders must control or neutralize in order to succeed and how, exactly, they do so. Understanding these leadership dynamics will facilitate Washington’s efforts to cajole or coerce Beijing by seeing opportunities as they arise. Most U.S. analysts examine the Chinese Communist Party through an institutional lens that largely excludes the human element of politics from the equation. The amount of rumor-mongering and deliberate disinformation fed to journalists makes it difficult to evaluate that human component of Chinese politics. Rather than try to sift the wheat from the chaff, those practicing the institutional approach focus on authoritative sources and the kinds of information that can be tracked through official media.[36] For example, in the discussion of Xi Jinping’s political power in 2014, one institutionalist narrowly evaluated Xi’s power according to how he had changed (or not changed) party slogans about the leadership core and collective leadership, concluding that Xi’s power was simply gifted to him by the party.[37] This approach ignored many of the reasons other analysts considered Xi powerful, because they related to subjective measures about elite networks, purges, and symbolic politics. It is critical to understand party institutions, but analysts cannot stop there on the assumption that Chinese politics has become institutionalized. The basic structure and guidelines within which the Communist Party operates are merely a starting point. The Chinese Communist Party is still ruling a country, and politics cannot be avoided. Resources — such as time, attention, and money — are limited, and they must be allocated according to political considerations. Wherever humans operate, there will be personal politics. The robust academic literature of organizational studies expresses the truism that no matter how meritocratic or rules-based an organization becomes, decisions about personnel at the leadership level will always be political. A healthy organization produces more potential leaders than it has positions to fill. Institutions, training, and promotion guidelines ensure a minimum level of competency and open the opportunity for promotion. Deciding who gets what position necessarily depends on personality, power, and networking.[38] The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. The age-old questions of “who decides?” and “who benefits?” are as important as the party lines in official propaganda and the content of party documents. Party leaders have empowered and undermined different party and state institutions, depending on the needs of the moment and their competitors’ strengths. Institutional arrangements to control state power, such as the Central State Security Commission, have also been created when organizational and technological change has given the party-state new capabilities to monitor, influence, or hurt the leadership. The institutions of the Chinese party-state need to be evaluated as more than mere technocratic expressions of rational governance.[39] [quote id="3"] Power also cannot be separated from individual politicians. Some Chinese leaders possess an intuitive sense of political symbolism and propaganda. Others know how to work the party bureaucracy. Still others carry meetings with the force of their personality. Human virtues and frailties are as much a part of the Chinese system as any other. Although no approach will describe a leader’s political instincts accurately and authoritatively every time, this human element cannot be dismissed. At the very least, important questions about how leaders exercise influence must be part of the discussion of contemporary China. Building Leverage Second, if political power is as personal as it is institutional within the Chinese Communist Party, then building leverage means focusing on what matters to individual leaders and the institutions that support them. The U.S. government has not pursued this path with any sort of regularity. The most obvious target is the vast wealth of Chinese party leaders. Not all of this wealth is tied up inside China. Some of it is entwined with China’s most significant multi-national companies or hidden in foreign banks, making the party leaders vulnerable to financial sanctions. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed in 2016, provides legal authority to target Chinese Communist Party leaders and their agents. The act allows Washington to block or revoke visas as well as to sanction the property of those who are responsible for, or acted as an agent of someone responsible for, “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Individuals can also be targeted if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.” Chinese abuses that qualify as gross violations and significant corruption have grown rapidly in the past several years, with examples including the detention and torture of the “709” rights lawyers — so named for the July 9, 2015, crackdown on lawyers and activists — as well as the detention of several hundred thousand Uighurs in concentration camps. Given the kind of direct pressure that could be brought to bear on Chinese leaders, such leverage must be used judiciously, if at all, on a day-to-day basis. Whether the stakes are sufficiently high depends on how clearly the administration outlines its objectives. Even within the previous engagement framework, a genuine opportunity to pressure the Chinese system toward liberalization — such as might have appeared in the early days of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang — could have constituted worthwhile use of such direct means to discredit opponents of political liberalization. Ultimately, the United States must build the knowledge and capacity to influence individual Chinese leaders knowing that such information could work under multiple policy frameworks, not simply the Trump administration’s strategic shift. The usefulness of such leverage also depends on what actions China may take in response. The same vulnerability of the Chinese system that creates opportunities for U.S. influence also creates risk. Communist Party leaders’ paranoia and self-awareness are filters for their perceptions: They see the United States as their principal foreign adversary and they know when they are exposed. They will act to shore up their position as Mao Zedong did with the Taiwan crisis in 1958 and by exploiting the Nixon-Kissinger gambit in 1971 and 1972, or as Deng Xiaoping did with Vietnam and the United States in 1978 and 1979 and in rebuffing American pressure after the June 4 incident at Tiananmen in 1989. Counterintelligence and Counter-Interference Third, any long-term strategy — especially one built around the idea of exploiting opportunities when they arise — must ensure the integrity of U.S. policymaking. This requires effective counterintelligence to prevent the penetration of U.S. policy circles for intelligence collection and building influence. The public record suggests that the state of U.S. counterintelligence — or that of other allied states — on China leaves much to be desired. Effective counterintelligence is not merely a question of capability but also one of integration with national strategy. As I and others in the U.S. intelligence community saw firsthand, counterintelligence functions are almost entirely separate from the rest of intelligence and policymaking.[40] Engagement as the dominant strain of China policy played down the need for counterintelligence — if interaction is good, the thinking went, then risk assessment of U.S.-China engagement is mostly unnecessary except in rare cases where U.S. laws were broken. The absence of a counterintelligence perspective meant that the Chinese Communist Party’s robust and comprehensive system for shaping foreigners’ perceptions went largely unnoticed, despite its demonstrable importance to party leaders.[41] The U.S. government has failed to prosecute or has bungled investigations into Chinese espionage often enough to warrant concern. The failures of counter-espionage may not, at first glance, appear relevant to the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference. Yet, the elements of the U.S. intelligence community and the Justice Department that perform counterespionage are the same ones that will take the lead on countering Chinese interference. If they have difficulty prosecuting (relatively-speaking) straightforward Chinese espionage cases, then countering Chinese Communist Party interference is likely to be too complicated for them.[42] Successful espionage prosecutions are the analytical, investigative, and legal training ground for the capabilities the U.S. government needs to deploy in order to counter the party’s covert, corrupting, and coercive interference. Failure to handle possible espionage cases well alienates many Chinese-Americans, who have reasonable concerns about rushes to judgment but whose cooperation is essential when Beijing tries to exploit the Chinese diaspora. Moreover, such weaknesses let those breaking the law in support of Communist Party interests know that the risk of consequences for their behavior is low. The U.S. government cannot be the only actor countering Chinese Communist Party interference. A democratic government’s resources focus on purely illegal activity. This means that academics, think tank researchers, and journalists have a significant role when it comes to exposing these operations and informing public debate.[43] In Australia, a handful of journalists reporting steadily since 2014 brought the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference in domestic politics to light and pushed it into the public discussion.[44] In New Zealand, one scholar cracked the news threshold by releasing a paper on the Communist Party’s united front work on the eve of last year’s election.[45] In the United States, a smaller number of people — primarily reporters for Foreign Policy (now at the Daily Beast) and the Washington Post[46] — helped put the party’s interference operations into public consideration. Without this attention, Australia arguably could not have overhauled its counter-espionage laws and passed legislation this summer aimed at transparency for elections and consequences for acting as a foreign agent.[47]

A New Starting Point

The toolkit outlined above reflects the requirements of crafting a long-term, competitive strategy. But rethinking the toolkit is only a beginning. A larger conversation is needed about this new period in U.S.-China relations. The past policy of engagement promoted ties of all kinds and at all levels, with only a few restrictions legislated by Congress or treaty commitments. Moving away from this approach will require new modes of thinking as well as reapplying American values to the question of how to engage with the Chinese party-state. First, recalibrating engagement with China requires a deliberate discussion of U.S. values, what those values mean, and how Washington should be prepared to act based on them. There is no substitute for this conversation. Vague assertions of supporting a liberal international order have proven insufficient as a lodestone for action. The absence of a U.S. response to Chinese aggression — not merely in the South China Sea but also with regard to intellectual property theft and coercion against U.S. citizens in the United States — emboldens the Chinese Communist Party. These issues demonstrate Beijing’s rejection of core democratic and capitalist values, suggesting the basic incompatibility of the two systems. Even if it were desirable to regulate all aspects of American interactions with the People’s Republic of China, public discussion would still be necessary. As noted above, government resources will focus on the illegal side of Chinese Communist Party activities, rarely if ever monitoring the broader scope of interaction. In a democratic state, there is no justification for sweeping government surveillance. This means that what is appropriate — rather than what is illegal — should be a matter of public debate. Is academic freedom in U.S. universities compatible with the values of the Confucius Institutes?[48] Should U.S. research labs collaborate with Chinese companies that work with the Chinese military? What degree of distance should Chinese organizations have from the party-state to be considered potential partners for U.S. organizations? These and similar questions cannot be divorced from American political and civic values. Second, the United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. Far too often in this bilateral relationship, agreements and commitments have been allowed to slide. Statements of what cannot be are forgotten in the face of Beijing’s willingness to act, while U.S. leverage has been undermined by an unwillingness to act. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong eloquently made this argument about the trade regime:
[Y]ou have to enforce the rules of free trade. You have to ensure that nations cannot abuse the rules, cannot force technology transfer, cannot prize their national champions, can’t steal intellectual property. If you don’t do this, if you don’t enforce the rules of free trade, what ends up happening is that over time, the free, fair, and reciprocal trading regime is weakened, and that’s to the detriment not just of the United States’s prosperity but to the prosperity of the region and the world as a whole.[49]
The most egregious example of not upholding standards is the lack of response to intimidation and coercion against U.S. citizens and residents on U.S. soil. During the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, Chinese security officials orchestrated violence against protesters and coordinated efforts to divert or block demonstrators in San Francisco. The U.S. government passed the identity of some of these Chinese officers to Australia so that Canberra could deny entry visas to them. But that appears to be the end of the U.S. response.[50] Rumors and reports of violence against practitioners of Falun Gong surface periodically, including at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. Education counselors from Chinese diplomatic missions visit Chinese students at U.S. universities or contact family members to intimidate them or request that they tell their child to take down social media posts. Yet, the full scale of the situation is difficult to ascertain. Many of the stories that come to journalists, scholars, and officials cannot be publicized, partly because the people involved fear retribution and it is often impossible to scrub identifying details while retaining the sense of injustice. Third, U.S. policymakers — as well as international affairs analysts and commentators — will need to become accustomed to the idea of asymmetric or sometimes disproportionate responses to Beijing. Reciprocity has gained traction, but the concept has little applicability beyond trade disputes.[51] The most contentious areas of U.S.-Chinese relations do not feature proportionate or reciprocal responses because the U.S. government and American society do not have a parallel structure to the Chinese party-state. For right and proper reasons, the U.S. government will not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in coercing overseas Chinese to adopt pro-U.S. behaviors. Unlike Beijing, Washington will not arbitrarily detain family members or seize business assets. Beijing’s denial of visas for foreign journalists does not lend itself to a tit-for-tat response. There are far fewer American journalists in China than Chinese journalists working for official media outlets in the United States. To create corresponding effects when an American journalist faces visa trouble would require alternative and probably disproportionate responses. [quote id="4"] Fourth, recalibrating U.S. policy toward China will entail costs. Individual, corporate, and even government interests almost certainly will be affected. The Chinese Communist Party was born out of a struggle, and its leaders fought their way up competitive ranks. Close to a million people enter the party each year after an arduous testing and interviewing regimen, and they continue to be evaluated throughout their careers.[52] Those who make it to the Central Committee are the .01 percent of party cadre. Beyond the rigorous evaluation and performance requirements, officials also need to worry about ambitious colleagues and blackmailers who seek to discredit them as they climb the greasy pole.[53] They and their willingness to compete should not be taken lightly. Already, in what appear to be the opening stages of a trade war, Beijing’s response to Trump administration actions has targeted U.S. farmers in areas supportive of Trump.[54] Simply put, competing effectively with China requires serious consideration; in particular, identifying America’s ultimate objectives in order to assess whether the sacrifices necessary to attain those goals are warranted.

Conclusion

Whatever the future holds for U.S.-Chinese relations, the status quo has been broken. The unaddressed inadequacies of engagement eroded the policy consensus around bilateral relations to such an extent that, even without a clear policy alternative, engagement has ended. Henry Kissinger, one of the original architects of the U.S. policy toward China that persisted through seven administrations, aptly described the current moment: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”[55] Although it would be useful to begin building a new consensus, the partisan climate of U.S. politics seems to preclude the sort of meaningful discussion that would lock in a sustainable bipartisan consensus, even though the next generation of policy hands in both parties think a new China policy is needed. Americans can discuss the tools and animating ideas that are needed to manage U.S.-Chinese relations and protect U.S. interests from a “revisionist China.” The conversation has moved to the point where concrete ideas of how to better understand the Chinese Communist Party and China, and how to be more competitive, must be fleshed out and debated. For many years, the critiques of U.S.-Chinese relations may have been on point, but the recommendations fell short of offering something distinct from U.S. policy at the time.[56] The approach outlined above is simple. Opportunities should be sought to apply effective leverage on Communist Party officials leading China. The barometer for these opportunities measures the ebb and flow of power across party leaders and institutions. When these opportunities arrive, Washington needs to be prepared to act and to do so in ways that go beyond reciprocity as a guiding principle. Ensuring that everything is prepared for these moments is a job for counterintelligence. Without secrecy to preserve U.S. leverage and the psychological willingness to use it, no one will be prepared to pull the trigger on pressuring China. If any particular theme runs through the failure of U.S. policy toward China, it is the U.S. government’s unwillingness to act to uphold American values and Chinese commitments. The stakes and interests involved in resolving this problem surely outweigh partisan considerations.   Peter Mattis is a research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a contributing editor to War on the Rocks. Mr. Mattis previously worked as a counterintelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency before leaving government service to work as editor of the China Brief and to be a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. Image: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command [post_title] => From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => from-engagement-to-rivalry-tools-to-compete-with-china [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-03 16:28:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-03 20:28:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=677 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [T]he United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 194 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For a comprehensive summary of these views, see, James Mann, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), especially 1–28. [2] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, December 2017, 3, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905-2.pdf. [3] “U.S. Pledges Nearly $300 Million Security Funding for Indo-Pacific Region,” Reuters, Aug. 3, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-usa-security/u-s-pledges-nearly-300-million-security-funding-for-southeast-asia-idUSKBN1KP022. [4] Mark Leonard, “The Chinese Are Wary of Donald Trump’s Creative Destruction,” Financial Times, July 24, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/f83b20e4-8e67-11e8-9609-3d3b945e78cf; Xu Yimiao, “China Should Cut Its Losses in the Trade War by Conceding Defeat to Donald Trump,” South China Morning Post, Aug. 10, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/united-states/article/2158963/china-should-cut-its-losses-trade-war. [5] For example, Bilahari Kausikan, “Trump’s Global Retreat Is an Illusion,” Nikkei Asian Review, Jan. 31, 2018, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Trump-s-global-retreat-is-an-illusion. [6] Other lesser, but nonetheless important, assumptions included that the Chinese Communist Party could accept the U.S.-led international liberal order, that a more prosperous China would be a more peaceful China, that Chinese Communist Party leaders are persuadable and could put down their Leninist view of world politics, and that the party’s propaganda apparatus would remain a domestic actor, not an international subversive threat. [7] Richard M. Nixon, “Asia After Viet Nam,” Foreign Affairs, October 1967, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/1967-10-01/asia-after-viet-nam. [8] Mann, The China Fantasy, 101–12. [9] Yasheng Huang, “How Did China Take Off?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 147–70, http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jep.26.4.147; Kellee S. Tsai, Capitalism Without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007); and David Shambaugh, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2008). [10] Adrian Zenz, “New Evidence for China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, May 15, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/evidence-for-chinas-political-re-education-campaign-in-xinjiang; Simon Denyer, “China Detains Relatives of U.S. Reporters in Apparent Punishment for Xinjiang Coverage,” Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/china-detains-relatives-of-us-reporters-in-apparent-punishment-for-xinjiang-coverage/2018/02/27/4e8d84ae-1b8c-11e8-8a2c-1a6665f59e95_story.html. [11] Wesley Rahn, “In Xi We Trust — Is China Cracking Down on Christianity?” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/in-xi-we-trust-is-china-cracking-down-on-christianity/a-42224752 ; Eva Dou and Francis Rocca, “Abide in Darkness: China’s War on Religion Stalls Vatican Deal,” Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/abide-in-darkness-chinas-war-on-religion-puts-vatican-deal-in-doubt-1525858496. [12] Samantha Hoffman, “Social Credit: Technology-Enhanced Authoritarian Control with Global Consequences,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, June 28, 2018, https://www.aspi.org.au/report/social-credit. [13] J. Stapleton Roy, “Engagement Works,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018): 185. [14] “Remarks by Samuel R. Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Before the Council on Foreign Relations,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 6, 1997. [15] For example, Roy, “Engagement Works,” 185; Thomas J. Christensen, “The Need to Pursue Mutual Interests in U.S.-China Relations,” U.S. Institute of Peace, Special Report no. 269, April 2011, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR269.pdf; Nina Hachigian, Michael Schiffer, and Winny Chen, “A Global Imperative: A Progressive Approach to U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century,” Center for American Progress, Aug. 13, 2008, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2008/08/13/4817/a-global-imperative/. [16] Berger, “Remarks.” [17] Yoko Kubota, “U.S. Firms Say China’s Business Climate Is Warming, Survey Finds,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-firms-say-chinas-business-climate-is-warming-survey-finds-1517274000; “USCBC 2017 China Business Environment Member Survey,” U.S.-China Business Council, 2017, https://www.uschina.org/reports/uscbc-2017-china-business-environment-member-survey. [18] Robert E. Lighthizer, “Evaluating China’s Role in the World Trade Organization Over the Past Decade,” testimony before the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission, June 9, 2010, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/6.9.10Lighthizer.pdf. [19] Derek Scissors, “Sino-American Trade: We Know Where This Is Headed,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/04/sino-american-trade-we-know-where-this-is-headed/. [20] “Accession of China to the WTO,” hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, May 3, 2000. [21] “Report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property,” National Bureau of Asian Research, May 2013, http://ipcommission.org/report/IP_Commission_Report_052213.pdf. [22] Josh Meyer, “Squeeze on North Korea’s Money Supply Yields Results,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2, 2006, http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-macao2nov02-story.html; Jay Solomon and Neil King Jr., “How U.S. Used a Bank to Punish North Korea,” Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB117627790709466173. [23] Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1874, U.N. Security Council Report No. S/2016/157, Feb. 24, 2016, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=s/2016/157. [24] Laura Zhou, “United Nations Agrees More Sanctions on North Korea, But Is the World Running Out of Options?” South China Morning Post, Dec. 23, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2125548/united-nations-agrees-more-sanctions-north-korea-world; “China to Enforce UN Sanctions Against North Korea,” Guardian, Sept. 23, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/23/china-to-enforce-un-sanctions-against-north-korea. [25] David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey, “Trump Says China’s Stance on North Korea Influences His Trade Policy,” Reuters, Dec. 28, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-china-trump/trump-says-chinas-stance-on-north-korea-influences-his-trade-policy-idUSKBN1EM1IY. [26] Joanna I. Lewis, “The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change: Examining the Bilateral and Multilateral Relationship,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, China Environment Series (2010/2011), 7, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Feature Article The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change.pdf. [27] Mark Landler and Jane Perlez, “Rare Harmony as China and U.S. Commit to Climate Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/world/asia/obama-xi-jinping-china-climate-accord.html. [28] Janan Hanna, Christie Smythe, and Chris Martin, “China’s Sinovel Convicted in U.S. of Stealing Trade Secrets,” Bloomberg, Jan. 24, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-24/chinese-firm-sinovel-convicted-in-u-s-of-trade-secret-theft. [29] Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-13/china-reckoning. [30] For example, Jeffrey A. Bader and Ryan Hass, “Was Pre-Trump U.S. Policy Towards China Based on ‘False’ Premises?” Brookings Institution, Dec. 22, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/12/22/was-pre-trump-u-s-policy-towards-china-based-on-false-premises; Wang Jisi, J. Stapleton Roy, Aaron Friedberg, Thomas Christensen and Patricia Kim, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Eric Li, and Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “Did America Get China Wrong? The Engagement Debate,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2018) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-06-14/did-america-get-china-wrong. [31] Kelly Magsamen, Ely Ratner, and Ryan Evans, “To Compete with China, Can America Get Out of Its Own Way?” War on the Rocks, podcast, Feb. 7, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/war-rocks-compete-china-can-america-get-way/. [32] Rana Mitter, “Forget Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping Is More Charles de Gaulle,” South China Morning Post, Oct. 28, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2117364/opinion-forget-mao-xi-jinping-more-charles-de-gaulle. [33] Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1988). [34] Albert Wai, “S’pore Should Guard Against False Binary Choices in Chinese Public Diplomacy: Bilahari Kausikan,” Today [Singapore], June 27, 2018, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/spore-should-guard-against-false-binary-choices-chinese-public-diplomacy-bilahari-kausikan. [35] “Rubio, Cardin Introduce Bill Targeting Chinese Aggression in South China Sea,” Office of Marco Rubio, March 15, 2017, https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=643BAF13-9F8D-470D-BB66-86057B828A80. [36] For a practical discussion of authority in Chinese sourcing, see Paul H.B. Godwin and Alice L. Miller, “China’s Forbearance Has Limits: Chinese Threat and Retaliation Signaling and Its Implications for a Sino-American Military Confrontation,” China Strategic Perspectives, no. 6 (Washington: National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013): 29–37, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/717729/chinas-forbearance-has-limits-chinese-threat-and-retaliation-signaling-and-its/. [37] Alice L. Miller, “How Strong Is Xi Jinping?” China Leadership Monitor, no. 43 (Spring 2014), https://www.hoover.org/research/how-strong-xi-jinping. [38] For a general reference, see, Charles Perrow, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 14–20. For a Chinese Communist Party-specific reference, see Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph, and Mingxing Liu, “Getting Ahead in the Communist Party: Explaining the Advancement of Central Committee Members in China,” American Political Science Review 106, no. 1 (February 2012): 166–87, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055411000566. [39] Samantha Hoffman and Peter Mattis, “Managing the Power Within: China’s State Security Commission,” War on the Rocks, July 18, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/07/managing-the-power-within-chinas-state-security-commission. [40] For example, Michelle Van Cleave, “The Question of Strategic Counterintelligence: What Is It and What Should We Do About It?” Studies in Intelligence 51, no. 2 (2007): 1–14, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol51no2/strategic-counterintelligence.html. [41] Peter Mattis, “An American Lens on China’s Interference and Influence-Building Abroad,” Asan Forum, April 30, 2018, http://www.theasanforum.org/an-american-lens-on-chinas-interference-and-influence-building-abroad/; Anne-Marie Brady, Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). [42] Examples of potential failures to prosecute successfully include incidents involving former FBI informant Katrina Leung and University of Management and Technology President Yanping Chen. Examples of apparent rushes to judgment include allegations involving Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi, and National Weather Service hydrologist Sherry Chen. [43] As a matter of disclosure, I should note that I have played a small, but long-standing, role in public conversations related to the Chinese Communist Party’s interference efforts, especially in Australia and the United States, since 2014. I have spoken with reporters and been cited in numerous related articles published by, among others, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Broadcast Corp., the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, the Economist, and Financial Times. [44] Kelsey Munro, “A Free Press Is a Magic Weapon Against China’s Influence Peddling,” Lowy Institute Interpreter, Dec. 18, 2017, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/free-press-magic-weapon-against-china-influence-peddling. [45] Matt Nippert and David Fisher, “Revealed: China’s Network of Influence in New Zealand,” New Zealand Herald, Sept. 20, 2017, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11924546. [46] Respectively, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Josh Rogin. [47] Matt Coughlan, “Parliament Passes Sweeping New Foreign Influence Laws,” Sydney Morning Herald, June 29, 2018, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/parliament-passes-sweeping-new-foreign-influence-laws-20180628-p4zofb.html; John Garnaut, “Australia’s China Reset,” Monthly (August 2018), https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2018/august/1533045600/john-garnaut/australia-s-china-reset. [48] Ethan Epstein, “How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms,” Politico, Jan. 16, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/16/how-china-infiltrated-us-classrooms-216327. [49] “Briefing on the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” State Department, April 2, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/04/280134.htm. [50] Zach Dorfman, “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies,” Politico, July 27, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/27/silicon-valley-spies-china-russia-219071. [51] Task Force on U.S.-China Policy, “U.S. Policy Toward China: Recommendations for a New Administration,” Asia Society and University of California San Diego, March 9, 2017, https://asiasociety.org/center-us-china-relations/us-policy-toward-china-recommendations-new-administration. [52] Jun Mai, “The Long, Arduous Process to Joining China’s Communist Party,” South China Morning Post, July 1, 2016, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1984044/long-arduous-process-joining-chinas-communist-party. [53] Dan Levin and Amy Qin, “True or Faked, Dirt on Chinese Fuels Blackmail,” New York Times, June 17, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/world/asia/true-or-faked-dirt-on-chinese-fuels-blackmail.html. [54] Alexander Kwiatkowski, “Trade War Hits Trump Heartland, With Mines, Farms as Targets,” Bloomberg, June 15, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-15/u-s-commodities-in-china-s-crosshairs-as-trade-war-escalates. [55] Edward Luce, “Henry Kissinger: ‘We Are in a Very, Very Grave Period,’” Financial Times, July 20, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/926a66b0-8b49-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543. [56] Peter Mattis, “A Shaky Case for Chinese Deception,” War on the Rocks, Feb. 19, 2015, https://warontherocks.com/2015/02/a-shaky-case-for-chinese-deception-a-review-of-the-hundred-year-marathon/. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 663 [post_author] => 193 [post_date] => 2018-08-14 05:00:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-14 09:00:56 [post_content] => In 2011 and 2012, Israel repeatedly indicated that it was fast approaching the point when it might take unilateral military action against Iran’s advancing nuclear program, before Iranian capabilities became resilient to an Israeli attack. In a shift from its previous policy, which characterized Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a global challenge, Israel now strongly indicated that it might be forced to take it upon itself to stop Iran’s nuclear advances — and that an attack could be imminent. Led and articulated almost exclusively by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak — himself a former prime minister — this new posture created deep concern in Washington, where it was thought that an Israeli attack could ignite a regional war and jeopardize key U.S. interests. Indeed, Israel had created a war scare, which was designed to enhance its bargaining power with the United States. Israel then tried to leverage its enhanced position to get its senior ally to urgently make an explicit, credible, and binding commitment to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon — by military force if necessary — beyond what President Barack Obama had already stated.[1] Israel effectively attempted to influence, and even force, the United States to realign according to Israeli interests and strategic constraints, thus producing one of the tensest periods in the history of the two countries’ relationship. Drawing on open-source material and original interviews with former senior Israeli and U.S. officials, this article seeks to explain the ultimate outcome of that strategic interaction. The overarching theme of international relations and foreign affairs pertains to actors’ efforts to shape their strategic environment and control outcomes. Alliances are one of the major tools states employ in this regard,[2] whether to accumulate power, deter adversaries,[3] pursue their quest for security in the international system,[4] or restrain others.[5] Although all alliances function “in the shadow of war,”[6] scholars distinguish between two major categories — defensive peacetime alliances and offensive wartime alliances. Whereas peacetime alliances are designed to aggregate military power to deter and prevent aggression, wartime alliances are formed to fight a common adversary. Of course, the same alliance can engage in defensive and offensive missions.[7] The 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerstone famously asserted that the United Kingdom had neither eternal allies nor perpetual enemies but eternal and perpetual interests.[8] Indeed, at the core of alliance politics is the fact that no two states, including close allies, share eternal, perfectly overlapping interests.[9] Yet, alliances require some measure of commitment to use force. This means that alliance formation and management are shaped by a bargaining process animated by the willingness and ability of the actors involved to offer or extract credible commitments. Whether in the context of threats or promises, to be perceived as credible, commitments require self-enforcing obligations that visibly undercut an actor’s flexibility in a way that convinces another actor (friend or foe) that the one making the commitment is, without question, tied to a certain course of action. To appear credible, commitments require measures that decision-makers will often hesitate or refuse to take. These can include explicit public statements and inherently costly military moves, such as alerting forces, canceling leave for military personnel, and moving units closer to a potential theater of operations.[10] Classic, symmetric alliances between states of roughly equal capability are used as tools for aggregating capabilities against a threat, meaning that both partners receive security from their alliance.[11] To appear meaningful, allies engaged in symmetric alliances are required to undercut their own freedom of action through self-enforcing obligations and realignment according to their partner’s interests.[12] This renders alliances a source of concern for their members, who often fear that their allies’ preferences and interests might ultimately come at the expense of their own. A state entering into an alliance could become the victim of entrapment by an ally deliberately seeking to embroil it in war. Conversely, having trusted the ally and counted on its support, a state could be abandoned in a time of need.[13] Alliance commitments could also inadvertently embolden an otherwise risk-averse ally and result in what Glenn Snyder describes as an alliance security dilemma: This occurs when states provide an ally with too sweeping a reassurance in order to deter a third actor, only to become entrapped in war.[14] This inherent tension between allies’ interests and preferences constitutes the essence of alliance politics. These perceived problems are further exacerbated in asymmetric settings. If symmetric alliances provide their members with security, asymmetric alliances provide the weaker ally with security and the stronger partner with autonomy.[15] While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. Entrapment — or “chain-ganging” — looms large in such relationships, with both sides afraid of falling prey, albeit for different reasons. Having traded its autonomy, the weak ally fears that its partner’s military superiority provides overwhelming leverage and jeopardizes its independence.[16] By contrast, the senior ally worries that its counterpart might exploit its superior capabilities, initiate a crisis, and manipulate it into coming to its aid. This concern, however, appears greatly exaggerated given the variety of ways strong allies are capable of mobilizing their resources and exploiting their leverage to shield themselves from entrapment or rein in a weaker ally. Jeremy Pressman has found that when strong allies mobilize their superior resources to restrain a weaker ally, they prevail.[17] Also, powerful allies use their stronger bargaining power to introduce escape clauses into their alliance agreements and arm-twist their partners into compliance.[18] In this vein, Michael Beckley has found that, while the fear of entrapment may be prevalent in international relations literature, in reality, it is rare. Drawing on an extensive empirical analysis of the vast U.S. alliance network, Beckley has shown that the United States successfully dictates the terms of its security commitments.[19] This finding is congruent with Tongfi Kim’s argument that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power.[20] The historical record indicates that Israel, which greatly depends on the United States, fits into this pattern.[21] After all, as Henry Kissinger remarked, “For Israel to go to war at the known displeasure of the U.S. would be a monumental decision.”[22] [quote id="7"] This, of course, does not mean that weak allies lack ways of influencing their senior allies. As Robert Keohane has pointed out, superior capabilities do not guarantee full or automatic small-ally compliance with the interests and desires of senior allies. Weak allies are sometimes capable of exploiting mutual dependence to generate bargaining power. If the weaker ally is sufficiently important to its partner, it could deny benefits to its senior ally and even “threaten collapse if not aided sufficiently.”[23] Writing about the U.S. alliance system during the Cold War, Keohane argued that U.S. perception of its weak allies’ importance gave them “a degree of influential access to American decision-making and decision-makers far out of proportion to their size.”[24] Keohane identified three avenues through which America’s weaker allies shaped U.S. policy: formal state-to-state negotiations, bargaining with separable elements of the U.S. government, and using private interest groups to influence domestic public opinion.[25] Notably, Keohane focused on relatively limited small-power influence, and some scholars argue that entrapment has caused major wars, namely World War I, in which the European powers chain-ganged one another into disaster.[26] Israel’s relationship with the United States has attracted special scholarly attention given the power disparity between the two countries and Israel’s perceived capacity to punch above its weight. Expanding on Keohane’s work, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt attribute the effectiveness of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States to its influence over Congress.[27] That the empirical record does not reveal unambiguous cases of entrapment is of little relevance or consolation for states fearing future entrapment. Leaders are afraid of becoming the exception to this rule. Moreover, the prevailing fear of being chain-ganged to a reckless ally can be deliberately manipulated by a weaker ally in a purposeful effort to bolster its bargaining position and improve the terms of the alliance. This effort could even have coercive attributes. Ultimately, this means tying the other ally into a stronger commitment and limiting its freedom of action. The literature on alliance politics so far has overlooked the manner in which a country might seek to deliberately exploit an ally’s fear of entrapment as an instrument of bargaining. This article tells the story of just that. The episode analyzed in this article offers an exceptional opportunity to advance an understanding of coercive bargaining in an asymmetric alliance. After all, Israel and the United States are considered extremely close, and both were opposed to Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon. When it came to confronting the Iranian challenge, however, not only did their interests, constraints, and preferences not overlap, but the issue was also one in which the stakes were extremely high for both sides — potentially even existential for Israel. This led both parties — perhaps Israel more than the United States — to bring their influence to bear on the other. In this article, I offer a rigorous examination of the strategic interaction and the intense bargaining that took place between Israel and the United States in 2011 and 2012. Ultimately, neither country attacked Iran, but this result was not preordained. Nor was Tehran’s and Washington’s preparedness to engage in direct diplomacy inevitable, though this led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Nonetheless, this outcome cannot be fully understood without first understanding the strategic interaction that preceded diplomacy. Given the recent U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, this topic is of acute relevance.

Israeli and U.S. Perspectives on the Iranian Nuclear Question

Different states, including close allies, do not view threats in the same way. Interests and preferences in international politics diverge because all countries operate under disparate strategic circumstances, confront different threats, possess specific military capabilities to cope with those threats, and face unique constraints. Allies are no different. Rarely will allies feel equally threatened by the same challenge. These structural tensions were on full display over the Iran nuclear issue. Although Israel and the United States generally shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining military nuclear capability, the prospect of a nuclear Iran posed a graver threat to Israel than to the militarily preponderant and geographically distant United States. The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. Importantly, they differed on what constituted the nuclear threshold. For Israel, the threshold represented the stage at which Iran — having hardened and dispersed its nuclear program to render it resilient to an Israeli strike — could, if it so chose, “break out” and produce a bomb in a short period of time. For Obama, however, the threshold represented not Iran’s potential to break out, but the act itself.[28] The United States had been imposing sanctions on Iran unilaterally since 1979 and through the U.N. Security Council since 2006. However significant and painful for Iran, these sanctions were nonetheless relatively limited in scope, focusing primarily on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.[29] Israel, however, called for the urgent imposition of far-reaching sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector. In early 2010, for example, Netanyahu demanded that “crippling sanctions” be imposed “right now.”[30] [quote id="1"] Although Obama had entered the White House determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, including, he said, with military force if necessary, he was determined to achieve this outcome through diplomacy and direct engagement.[31] As part of this approach, the U.S. financial pressure campaign on Iran, begun in 2006, was put on hold in 2009 and not fully resumed until mid-2010.[32] Weeks into his presidency, having already secretly reached out to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during the election campaign, Obama sent two additional letters to Khamenei. While Iran’s leader responded to Obama’s first letter, he never replied to the second letter, in which the president had proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.[33] Meanwhile, quiet efforts were being exerted by Oman to establish a secret line of communication between the United States and Iran. While Oman’s efforts with the State Department reached an impasse, Sen. John Kerry used Oman to convey messages to Tehran in 2011 and the first half of 2012.[34] Israel, which had picked up on these secret contacts and found them troubling, leaked them to the Israeli press in April 2012.[35] As Barak would later tell this author, “We knew quite a bit about the informal, indirect contacts between the Americans and the Iranians. ... I was very concerned that the American tone was not sufficiently clear so as to bring the Iranians to a decision.”[36] It was not until March 2013, however, that a direct and permanent diplomatic back-channel in Oman was established between Iran and the United States.[37] All this time, Iran continued to develop its uranium enrichment capabilities. In late September 2009, Obama publicly disclosed that Tehran had been constructing a secret nuclear fuel enrichment plant near Fordow, a village northeast of the city of Qom.[38] This “constituted the final straw for the administration, which now had no choice but to go into pressure mode again,” according to former senior Treasury official Juan Zarate. In the fall of 2009, Obama sought to restart the financial pressure campaign on Iran but decided to first seek a new U.N. resolution mandating tougher sanctions — a process that lasted several months.[39] In June 2010, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1929, which constituted the strictest round of sanctions up to that point. The resolution noted “the potential connection between Iran’s revenues derived from its energy sector and the funding of Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”[40] This language would eventually pave the way for a full EU embargo on Iranian oil.[41] It was against the backdrop of increasingly aggressive international pressure on Iran that the U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. Placing significant new restrictions on Iran’s energy sector, the legislation stipulated that banks conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran could not do business in the United States.[42] Still, at this stage in 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department was pursuing a “gradualist constriction campaign” designed to avoid “blunt steps that would upset the balance of the international financial system” or cause U.S. allies in Europe and Asia, who depended heavily on Iranian oil imports, to resist cooperation with tougher sanctions.[43] As I discuss later in this article, additional pressure would be needed to influence the White House to unleash measures long referred to by the Treasury as the “final bullet” and “the nuclear weapon” in its arsenal: an oil embargo and sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran.[44] At least part of this pressure and its outcome can be attributed to Israeli influence. Divergence of Interests Within the U.S.-Israel Alliance In November 2011, Israeli Defense Minister Barak began stressing that, in less than a year, “probably three-quarters,” Iran’s nuclear program would enter a “zone of immunity,” effectively rendering it resilient to an Israeli attack.[45] Unlike Israel, the United States possessed advanced munitions capable of penetrating Iran’s fortified installations, as well as the bomber jets to deliver them. Therefore, the United States would remain capable of executing a decisive military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities long after they had become invulnerable to an Israeli assault. Or, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Barak, whereas Israel could give the Iranians only “a black eye,” the United States had the military capability to “deliver the knockout punch” and “take out Fordow.”[46] The two allies were thus operating on different timetables. In March 2012, addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Netanyahu warned,
Israel has waited patiently for the international community to resolve this issue. We’ve waited for diplomacy to work. We’ve waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live under the shadow of annihilation.[47]
Days later, he explained, “The biggest difference is between the American clock ... and the Israeli clock,” adding that, “America is big and far away; we aren’t as big and are more nearby. We have different capabilities — nothing to belittle — but nonetheless different.”[48] Washington’s opposition to a military strike was driven by indisputable strategic constraints. The United States was engaged militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan and was still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis. With two military commitments already underway, Obama — now entering an election year — was averse to risking a third war involving an oil-rich country in a particularly sensitive part of the world, with potentially ominous implications for global energy markets. As the United States was well aware, these constraints were not lost on Israel. In August 2012, the Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, ran a front-page report by its two most senior columnists in which they argued that, if it were up to Netanyahu and Barak, a military strike would take place “before the November elections in the United States.”[49] Obama was therefore particularly vulnerable to Israeli manipulation and exploitation. According to former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, “The perception in Washington was that the Israeli leadership — especially Netanyahu — saw their leverage as greatest in the run-up to the 2012 elections.”[50] The United States was clearly concerned that its junior ally might simply present it with a fait accompli, a worry exacerbated by Israel’s determination to keep the United States at arm’s length. In March 2012, after a U.S. official had already warned, “We don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal or calculations,[51] the Washington Post cited U.S. officials as noting that “no formal agreement has been reached with Israel over how a strike would be conducted — or when Obama would be informed about it.” Other officials added that the “assumption inside the White House and the Pentagon is that Israel would not give the United States warning, allowing the administration to deny prior knowledge but also limiting its ability to defend U.S. military assets in the region.”[52] [quote id="2"] From a U.S. perspective, if Israel was indeed planning unilateral action in a deliberate attempt to entrap the United States in the ensuing conflict, the question of whether Israel possessed the military capability to achieve a substantial delay in Iran’s nuclear program was of less importance. Former CIA director Michael Hayden has noted that if Israel attacked the “disbursed and hardened” Iranian nuclear program, “there would be many of us in government thinking that the purpose of the raid wasn’t to destroy the Iranian nuclear system, but the purpose of the raid was to put us at war with Iran.”[53] Indications of U.S. fear of entrapment appeared in real time. In February 2012, a front-page New York Times article cited defense analysts in Washington as questioning “whether Israel even has the military capacity” to attack Iran. The report said, “One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks.”[54] The following month, Panetta told U.S. troops that “if Israel decides to go after Iran and we have to defend ourselves, we could be engaged sooner than any of us want.”[55] Was Israel indeed contemplating such an attack only to embroil its senior ally in a war? It seems that way. According to Barak, in the summer of 2012 he was approached by a Netanyahu confidant who sounded him out on launching a strike on Iran two weeks before the U.S. elections. Barak recalls the person explaining that, politically, Obama would feel “compelled to support Israel’s action, or at the very least to refrain from criticizing it. In other words, we would be setting a political trap for the president of the United States.”[56] From a U.S. standpoint, Israel was militarily capable of dodging its surveillance capabilities and presenting it with an established fact. Panetta, who had served as CIA director before being appointed secretary of defense, noted in this regard that, although the United States “had sources that could provide some pretty good intelligence on whether or not that kind of attack was being prepared for,” a country “as sophisticated as Israel” could have found ways to “effectively cover up that kind of possibility, because they know that we have those kinds of sources.”[57] Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel at the time, added, “We were pretty certain that if they didn't give us warning we would not have advance warning. They were fully capable of surprising the U.S. and give us not more than an hour or two’s notice."[58] While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. Jerusalem was especially concerned that, as Tehran’s nuclear program became increasingly dispersed and resilient, Israel would become dependent upon others — namely the United States — for the elimination of a potentially existential threat. Yet, this was precisely what Israel’s senior ally was asking. As Panetta would later write, “Israel had to trust that we would act if the time came, that we would not flinch at the moment of truth even if the graver threat was not to the United States but to Israel. That’s a lot of trust to place in an ally, even a close and historic ally.”[59] From Israel’s perspective, even if Obama was sincere about not removing any option from the table, he was still, in a sense, bluffing. As Barak reported telling Obama in 2012,
There are no future contracts in statesmanship. There’s no way that you, or any leader, can commit yourself to what will happen in a year or two. When the moment of decision arrives, nothing will be able to free you from your responsibility to look at the situation as it is then, with American interests in mind.
Barak further told Obama that when “it comes to issues critical for the security and future of Israel, and in a way for the security of the Jewish people … we can’t afford to delegate responsibility even to our best friend and ally.” Alluding to the United States, Barak went on to stress: “Our problem, Mr. President, is that we can’t be sure our friend will show up.”[60] From Israel’s vantage point, if Israel were ever to lose its credible military option against Iran, it “would no longer be an actor” in the Iranian context.[61] In other words, having lost its military options, leverage, and bargaining power, Israel’s interests would become less of a factor, including in U.S. policy considerations. As Barak later put it, while stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon was a “vital interest” for Israel, it was only “an important interest” for the United States.[62] Given the stakes for each country, this made for an impossible situation for both sides. With limited direct leverage over Iran, Israel sought to harness the militarily superior United States in the service of forcing Tehran to choose between pursuing its nuclear program and risking devastating economic sanctions and possibly even a military attack. Israel thus sought to limit Obama’s flexibility and wrest an explicit, credible U.S. commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — in other words, a commitment Iran would take seriously. Of course, given the prerequisites for credibility in international relations, Obama was essentially being asked by the United States’ junior ally to restrict his maneuverability and control. This perception was precisely why the Obama administration resisted Israel’s efforts. Israel’s leaders proceeded to present the United States with two explicit demands. First, Israel wanted Washington to lead an international effort to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. As noted, Israel demanded broad sanctions that would go beyond those that had already been implemented. Jerusalem wanted sanctions that would cripple Iran’s energy and financial sectors. To prod its ally into action, Israel’s defense minister declared in November 2011, “We are probably facing the last opportunity for internationally coordinated deadly sanctions that will force Iran to stop.” Specifically, Barak called for “sanctions on the financial transactions, on the ability to carry out international financial deals, including the Central Bank, sanctions that stop — physically if needed — the import and export of oil and refinements.”[63] That Israel was expecting the United States to lead this effort was reflected in the words of a “senior Israeli official” cited the next day as having said, “The name of the game now is the ability of U.S. President Obama to gather the leaderships of important countries such as Germany, France, Canada, and Australia in a coalition, and rein in Russia and China to impose paralyzing sanctions on Iran.”[64] That same demand was repeated in a coercive, yet informal, fashion, which implicitly threatened to entrap the United States in a conflict with Iran: Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ron Ben-Yishai said Israel was communicating an “important signal” to Washington, Moscow, and Beijing: “Either you impose truly painful sanctions to block Iran’s race to a bomb, with minimum cost to all of us, or we will be forced to act and then we will all pay the price.”[65] Coming from a well-connected analyst, these words almost certainly reflected a briefing by a senior official. Second, Israel expected the United States to establish a credible military threat against Iran or, in the words of Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, to take measures that would make “the Iranian regime understand that if it does not stop its military nuclear program someone will attack it.”[66] Referring to the U.S. position toward Iran, an Israeli official asked, “There are a lot of general statements they [the United States] think we want to hear… How are the Iranians to understand that if they don’t stop then they will eventually get hit?”[67] On another occasion, a senior Israeli official told the New York Times, in reference to the Obama administration, that “For the Iranians to understand that they really mean it, they [the Iranians] have to hear it publicly and clearly.”[68] From Israel’s standpoint, a credible U.S. military threat that Iran would take seriously required a credible Israeli military threat that the United States would take seriously.

A History of the Iran Debate Before October 2011

Israeli concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of nuclear-weapons capability dates to the 1990s. Although in subsequent years, especially during President George W. Bush’s second term, U.S. concern would emerge regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, no stage was as intense and urgent as that of late 2011. Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. Nor had the United States engaged in such forceful dissuasion efforts toward Israel as it would in the period discussed in this article. Although Iran’s perceived quest for military nuclear capability had long been a topic of debate and concern, Israel deliberately presented it as a global challenge rather than a challenge for Israel alone. Israeli policy maintained that the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be led by the entire international community.[69] At the same time, however, Israel was also investing in a military option against Iran. In mid-2008, media reports began to emerge about atypically large-scale, Israeli aerial exercises. These were widely interpreted as rehearsals for a preventive strike on Iran. But if these drills were designed to create the impression that Israel might be preparing to target Iran, such intentions were undercut by statements that Israel was still giving precedence to diplomacy and economic sanctions and that it would not surprise its U.S. ally with a unilateral military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In May 2008, Bush reportedly rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s request for a green light to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.[70] That same month, Israel presented the United States with several arms requests, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates saw as presaging a military attack on Iran. “I recommended saying no to all the Israelis’ requests,” Gates later recalled. “Giving them any of the items on their new list would signal U.S. support for them to attack Iran unilaterally.”[71] Gates also worried that U.S. acquiescence to Israel’s arms requests would have provided it with a dangerous degree of autonomy to act independently against Iran and thus grant it leverage over the United States. “I said we would be handing over the initiative regarding U.S. vital national interests to a foreign power,” he noted.[72] Gates believes it was “probably not coincidental” that on June 2, 2008, the Israeli Air Force conducted a major exercise that included more than a hundred fighter jets, helicopters, and refueling tankers.[73] On June 20, the New York Times reported the unusual Israeli aerial mission and cited U.S. officials as describing the exercise, in which the planes had flown from Israel to Greece and back, as a multi-pronged Israeli signal. “They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know,” a Pentagon official said. “There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels.”[74] Whether the exercise was intended as an Israeli signal to its principal ally, it was perceived as such in Washington. As Gates later wrote,
The Israelis held a military exercise they knew would be monitored by many nations. … The distance the fighters flew was 862 nautical miles. The distance from the Israeli airfield to the Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was 860 nautical miles. Israel wanted to signal that it was prepared for a strike and could carry it out.[75]
At the same time, however, U.S. officials ruled out an imminent Israeli attack on Iran.[76] Moreover, Israel signaled it would adhere to diplomacy,[77] confirming that military action was not in the offing.[78] Still, Israel’s efforts to establish a military option persisted. In 2009, a French weekly revealed that the Israeli Air Force carried out another large-scale military rehearsal — this time, over the Strait of Gibraltar, some 1,800 miles from Israel.[79] However, an Israeli intelligence official commenting on the matter just two weeks before the French report said that it was unlikely Israel would attack Iran without receiving at least tacit U.S. approval.[80] Moreover, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman remarked that Israel would not attack Iran militarily even if sanctions failed. Saying that the most effective means to stop Iran were “severe sanctions, very severe sanctions,” he added, “We are not talking about a military attack.” Towing Israel’s official line, Lieberman stressed, “Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world's problems. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, assume responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.”[81] [quote id="3"] That Israel was honing its military option undoubtedly generated concern in Washington. But still, this was a general worry about the possibility that Israel would ultimately feel compelled to act unilaterally. At times, this broad concern led the United States into taking greater risks than it may have otherwise in order to reassure and restrain the Israelis. One such example is Operation Olympic Games (“Stuxnet”), in which the United States and Israel joined forces in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz. Although not the only reason, anxiety about the prospect of an Israeli strike on Iran reportedly played an important role in persuading the United States to engage in the attack.[82] On March 31, 2009, Netanyahu returned to the office of prime minister, a post he had left a decade earlier. Unlike his predecessors, who portrayed Iran as a global challenge, Netanyahu described Iran as analogous to Nazi Germany.[83] As prime minister, Netanyahu would gradually “take ownership” of the Iranian issue. In 2009 and 2010, however, Israel remained committed to working together with the United States to deal with the perceived Iranian threat.[84] In July 2010, Obama was asked whether Israel might unilaterally attack Iran. He responded that Netanyahu was “committed” to a coordinated approach.[85] A year later, when Shapiro began his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel, he too found that the two countries’ national security establishments shared a “coordinated approach” toward Iran.[86] This would change within three months.

Israel’s Pressure Campaign: Generating a War Scare

The possibility of an Israeli military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities had long been a topic of speculation and concern.[87] This is not surprising given Israel’s history of preventing other countries in the Middle East from developing nuclear capability, as well as the sort of military exercises described above. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force conducted a surprise attack in which it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear plant at Osirak. In 2007, Israel carried out a similar attack, this time destroying a nuclear facility secretly being built in Syria.[88] The Iranian case is factually different — Israel never attacked. But it is also qualitatively different: Rather than attacking, Israel deliberately created the impression of an impending unilateral attack and then harnessed this perception in a deliberate effort to limit Obama’s flexibility, influence U.S. policy, and alter Iran’s strategic calculus. It was not until late 2011, however, that general concern about an Israeli attack on Iran turned into genuine alarm. As one television report in Israel put it, “After years of just threats, it seems that the ground has started to shake.”[89] U.S. intelligence agencies detected stepped-up activity by the Israeli military that appeared to presage a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.[90] On Oct. 3, 2011, Panetta arrived in Israel for what was described as an “urgent discussion” on Iran.[91] That the main impetus for his trip was U.S. alarm about a potential Israeli strike was reflected in Panetta’s public statement in Israel that “the most effective way to deal with Iran is not on a unilateral basis.”[92] The United States and Israel, he added, must confront all challenges “together.”[93] In his private meetings, Panetta demanded — and was refused — early warning in the event that Israel decided to attack.[94] The U.S. sense of urgency manifested in numerous other ways. In early November, a U.S. military official said that Washington had enhanced its “watchfulness” of both Israel and Iran.[95] The United States then bolstered its contingency military planning in the Middle East and augmented its intelligence-gathering on Israel. Obama, Panetta, and other top officials conveyed a string of private messages to Israel, warning of the “dire consequences of a strike.”[96] In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies began to closely monitor Israel’s military bases and eavesdrop on its secret communications for indications of a forthcoming strike. The United States detected when Israeli pilots were put on alert and identified moonless nights, which would give the Israelis better cover for a strike.[97] Other U.S. surveillance activities included spying on the prime minister’s office and hacking into Israeli drone and fighter-jet surveillance feeds in search of indications of preparations for a strike.[98] In December 2011, Shapiro drafted a cable in which he later recalled stressing that the United States “could not in any way rule out the possibility” of an uncoordinated Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.[99] That month, Panetta publicly warned that if Israel attacked Iran,
The United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases. ... the consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.[100]
In January 2012, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon informed Panetta that Obama’s twin foreign policy goals for that year were to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and “to avoid a war in the Middle East,”[101] the latter being the scenario the administration feared would result from an Israeli strike.[102] As senior New York Times correspondent David Sanger wrote, the “outbreak of a public debate in Israel over whether to strike soon clearly shook the Obama administration.”[103] In February 2012, Panetta spoke of a “strong likelihood” that Israel would strike before June.[104] It was against this backdrop that the Associated Press wrote, “For the first time in nearly two decades of escalating tensions over Iran's nuclear program, world leaders are genuinely concerned that an Israeli military attack on the Islamic Republic could be imminent.”[105] This sense of urgency was confirmed in later interviews with multiple senior Obama administration officials, including Panetta,[106] Deputy Secretary of State William Burns,[107] National Security Council member and senior Obama adviser Gary Samore,[108] and Shapiro.[109] The following section analyzes the various tactics Israel employed to create the perception of an impending military strike, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and limit Obama’s room to maneuver. 

How Israel Generated and Harnessed the War Scare

This section explores the primary methods by which Israel exacerbated the Obama administration’s concerns and led its senior ally to infer that a unilateral military assault on Iran could be imminent. Military Moves Designed to Be Picked Up by U.S. Intelligence Israel’s efforts to manipulate Washington into thinking a strike could be imminent included sensitive military activities designed to be intercepted by the United States, as well as actions bearing an intelligence signature too noticeable to conceal. For example, according to one Israeli report citing multiple sources, Israel carried out a significant covert measure in early October 2011 that pertained to the “diplomatic-security” realm, and was widely perceived by the sources as a sign that preparations for an attack had “shifted up a gear.”[110] The report did not detail the exact nature of the covert measure, but, since then, it has been revealed that, in 2011, the Mossad and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were ordered to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days.[111] It was also in late 2011 that U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly had detected Israeli aircraft entering and exiting Iran’s airspace, supposedly probing the country’s air defenses. This appeared to be a dry run for a commando raid on a nuclear site and was sufficiently alarming to merit the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier to the region.[112] On another occasion, multiple U.S. intelligence sources said the United States had learned that Israel, through a series of quiet understandings, had been granted access to airbases across Iran’s northern border in Azerbaijan.[113] Barak himself would later acknowledge instances in which Israel was “on the verge” of an attack and units “had entered a state of preparedness,”[114] but a senior military analyst later revealed that some of these instances “were designed to motivate the U.S. administration and the Europeans to increase the pressure on Iran and bring the Americans to a stage in which they would wield a military option and would be ready to use it.”[115] Tamir Pardo, then-director of the Mossad, similarly raised the possibility that, when he was instructed in 2011 by the prime minister to enter a state of preparedness and stand ready for an attack on Iran within 15 days, Netanyahu was “signaling” to the United States “to do something.”[116] Given that the United States, as Panetta later noted, had “fail-safe methods of determining whether or not in fact planes and pilots and crews were all being prepared for action,”[117] Washington was likely receiving real-time indications of such activities. Barak later admitted that Israel was acting on the premise that Washington was capable of monitoring its activities and that the United States inferred from Israel’s intelligence efforts that “we were getting ready.”[118] Explaining the perception of an imminent strike, Barak said, “The atmosphere was a reflection of our actual real preparations. The Americans were following us, watching what we were doing and what the Air Force was rehearsing.”[119] Strict Secrecy to Achieve Message Discipline  A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences — namely Israel’s defense establishment, the cabinet, and the United States — at arm’s length. From Barak’s vantage point, keeping Israel’s establishment in the dark was crucial for the success of the campaign. Israel’s security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike, and, as Barak would later reveal, he and Netanyahu knew that some of them were talking to their U.S. counterparts “on a daily basis.”[120] By holding their cards extremely close, Netanyahu and Barak prevented leaks, maximized their message control, enhanced their credibility and bargaining leverage, and kept their various audiences guessing. Barak and Netanyahu made all cabinet members sign an additional protocol of secrecy prohibiting them not only from making statements on Iran but also from giving strictly-off-record briefings.[121] As National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror put it, “Nothing leaked because … the ministers knew nothing.” Although Amidror claims to have been one of a handful of Israelis who were truly in the know, his statement that “I personally believe they were serious, I truly believed they were not bluffing” implies that the national security adviser, too, was in the dark about Netanyahu and Barak’s actual intentions.[122] And he was not the only senior Israeli official to find himself in that position. Asked in January 2012 whether Netanyahu and Barak were truly serious about an attack, a “very high-ranking intelligence source,” likely the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, replied, “I don’t know, there are only two people who know the answer to this question, and they are Netanyahu and Barak.”[123] Two months later, a senior Israeli official said of the two men, “Together, they control this issue.”[124] [quote id="4"] When asked about the possibility that a unilateral attack was never truly intended to take place, then-Mossad Director Pardo retrospectively admitted, “The same doubts that you raise now — I had them all along.” Pardo hypothesized that “a deception at this level requires that no more than one or two people be in the loop,” meaning that, if the Israeli campaign was intentionally deceptive, the deception was conducted either by “the prime minister alone, or the prime minister and Barak. And all the rest, including yours truly, were among those who were being duped.”[125] Even if Pardo had his doubts and, referring to the possibility of a unilateral Israeli attack, “did not believe that this could happen,” he still admits that when the prime minister “tells me to commence the countdown, you realize that he is not playing games with you. These things [entering a state of preparedness] have enormous implications. It’s not something he is allowed to do only as a drill.”[126] Cabinet member Dan Meridor, who served as Israel’s intelligence minister at the time, and theoretically should have been in the know, admitted that he had “spent nights and days” with the intelligence chiefs “asking ourselves what was going to happen. … I could not just assume that it was all a show.”[127] Amos Gilead, then-Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense, similarly admits that “we will never be able to know” if Netanyahu and Barak “really meant it,” although “according to every parameter they acted as if they did.”[128] Beyond the message clarity gained by such tactics, this information asymmetry made it significantly more difficult for the United States to affect Israel’s decision-making. Israeli Refusal to Provide Advance Warning Diplomacy was the basic means by which Israel first indicated to the United States the shift in its approach toward the Iranian issue and its refusal to coordinate its moves with its senior ally. In November 2011, a top U.S. military official said that Israeli reassurances to Washington that it would receive early warning if Israel decided to strike Iran no longer seemed “ironclad.”[129] This implies that Israel had previously provided such an assurance to the United States.[130] Later that month, when Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked if Israel would alert the United States ahead of an attack on Iran, he replied, “I don’t know.”[131] In January 2012, the United States received yet another powerful signal when Barak informed Panetta of Israel’s decision to call off a joint military exercise scheduled for May. A biography of Barak claims that this exercise was delayed ahead of a “decisive session” regarding Iran.[132] In his memoir, Panetta recalls pressing Barak “to reconsider the cancellation,” to which the Israeli defense minister replied that, although Israel had not yet made a decision about whether to strike Iran, “I can’t in good conscience hide the fact from our best ally that we are discussing it.”[133] Barak later recalled, “Panetta realized that Israel was serious, and asked for a two-week early warning. I told him, no. Not two weeks, and not even 24 hours. However, I did tell Panetta that we would give them a sufficiently long early warning so as to not jeopardize any American soldier in the Middle East.”[134] Whereas the cancellation was likely designed to alarm Washington, an entirely different signal was conveyed to the Israeli public. Domestically, the cancellation was falsely portrayed as a joint decision resulting from U.S. budgetary constraints and a mutual desire to avoid sending a bellicose signal to Iran.[135] Two days later, Barak told IDF Radio that an Israeli decision to attack Iran was “very far off.”[136] In other words, Barak tailored different signals to different target audiences. If Israel had intended to set off alarm bells in Washington and manipulate its anticipation of violence, it succeeded. Within days, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff landed in Israel for high-level discussions,[137] and Panetta told the Washington Post that there was a “strong likelihood” of an Israeli attack on Iran before spring 2012.[138] Media Campaign Israel’s public media campaign dates to Oct. 12, 2011, a day when the entire Israeli media agenda was dominated by the dramatic announcement of a prisoner-exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas. One particular analysis stands out: In a column with the headline “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot veteran military analyst Alex Fishman argued that the main impetus behind the prisoner swap was Netanyahu’s desire to “clear the desk” and “set the stage for something different, bigger, and more important.” When one looks for signs of worry in Netanyahu and Barak, Fishman continued, “it somehow always has to do with Iran. … What is happening exactly with respect to the Iranian issue? It is unclear. But it is clear that this is going to be the next hot story.”[139] Fishman’s column was the bellwether of an official effort to spark an intense public debate about Iran.[140] An especially interesting case in point is the apparent use of the daily Yisrael Hayom, known for its intimate ties to Netanyahu, as a signaling device. In March 2012, the paper published as its banner headline a lengthy opinion column by its editor-in-chief, Amos Regev, who strongly advocated for an Israeli attack. The article concluded, “With the Americans or without them, it will be hard. It will be bold. It is doable.” A photo of three Israeli fighter jets flying over Auschwitz accompanied the article.[141] Alarmed by the column, Haaretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn posted a reaction piece later that morning in which he argued that Netanyahu’s signals “are indeed preparations for war and not a bluff,” adding that Regev “is writing what Netanyahu cannot say in speeches.”[142] International media outlets also played a role in Israel’s pressure campaign. In January 2012, the New York Times Sunday supplement dedicated its cover story to the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran. The article, by well-connected Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, concluded, “After speaking with many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012.”[143] The following day, Bergman’s conclusion prompted a debate in the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Asked about the article, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commented that this “is a matter that we are very, very concerned about.”[144] Clapper, who later characterized the Israeli campaign as an “attempt to pressure the United States,” suspected the article was in some way an Israeli initiative:
When you’ve got rhetoric like that, you have to wonder how did that article get planted. The Israelis know us, they play us like a fiddle. They know how our Congress works — they play to that. They know how our media works — they influence that. So, sure, every time you have rhetoric like that, you have to be concerned. I didn’t think it was appropriate to blow it off.[145]
Public Statements Israel’s public statements regarding a possible strike on Iran, made almost exclusively by Netanyahu and Barak, featured a single recurring theme: Israel was entitled, capable, and prepared to look after its vital interests. For instance, on Nov. 1, 2011, Barak remarked that “events in the Middle East over the past year” show that “there can emerge situations in which Israel will have to protect its own interests” by itself and not rely on “other powers.”[146] Although he would later claim to have been referring to the events of the Arab Spring, Barak’s statement was widely perceived as a signal that Israel might strike Iran unilaterally.[147] The following month, speaking at the annual memorial ceremony for Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu alluded to the ongoing debate over Iran. Ben-Gurion, he said, had "a very hard time gaining support" within pre-state Israel for the declaration of independence in 1948. “Huge pressure,” he said,
was exerted on Ben-Gurion, from within and from without, not to make this move. … Everyone told him: this is not the time, not now. Among those pressuring him were important statesmen and friends. … All of us are here today because Ben-Gurion made the right decision at the right time. … I want to believe that we will always act with responsibility, courage, and determination to make the right decisions to ensure our future and security.[148]
These remarks coincided with a statement by Barak stressing that “Israel cannot exempt itself from making decisions as a sovereign [country]. If the [Iranian] program can be stopped with diplomacy, that’s great, but all options are on the table. ... Israel is responsible for its own security, future, and existence.”[149] Clearly, Israel’s goal was to signal to the United States that it had the sovereign right to safeguard its vital interests. Lobbying U.S. Congress To impact U.S. decision-making on Iran, Israel harnessed multiple Washington-based, pro-Israel organizations.[150] But Israel also worked directly with members of Congress to influence the Obama administration. Visiting Israel in November 2011, a group of U.S. lawmakers updated their interlocutors about a new initiative — legislation urging the White House to support Israel’s “right” to employ “any means necessary” to confront the Iranian nuclear threat.[151] In February 2012, Netanyahu discussed the Iranian issue with a group of U.S. senators, headed by Sen. John McCain.[152] It was reported that Netanyahu had asked senior senators and members of Congress to exert pressure on Obama regarding the Iranian issue.[153] In early 2013, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the United States to support and “stand with Israel” if Jerusalem is “compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”[154] Congress’s role in promoting tough sanctions — and essentially forcing them upon a more reluctant White House — is discussed in more detail later in the article. Israel used the above-discussed tactics to create the perception of a potentially imminent military attack on Iran, instill a sense of urgency in the United States, and push the Obama administration to adopt a tougher approach toward Iran than it would have pursued otherwise. How did this play out, and how effective was Israel’s pressure campaign? Was Israel able to get its way, despite clear U.S. superiority, or did the senior ally essentially prevail? These questions are the focus of the remainder of the article. The next section analyzes the manner in which the United States, in reaction to Israel’s pressure campaign, leveraged elements of its overwhelming influence to restrain its junior ally.

U.S. Counter-Pressure: Dissuasion, Dissociation, and Reassurance

Far from being a passive receiver and perceiver of Israeli signals and pressure tactics, the United States engaged in measures of its own to dissuade its junior ally from attacking Iran. This had become a top U.S. foreign policy priority, one that Panetta would describe as his primary task as secretary of defense.[155] Going even further, Samore claimed that “Much of U.S. strategy at that time was built around ‘how do we stop the Israelis from attacking.’ In some ways, that became the more immediate objective than stopping Iran.”[156] Some of this played out in public view as the crisis unfolded, such as when a senior administration official said, “We’re trying to make the decision to attack as hard as possible for Israel.”[157] To resist Israeli pressure and ensure compliance, the United States utilized a variety of dissuasion instruments. What follows is a discussion of the most salient ones. Publicly Questioning the Prudence of an Israeli Attack U.S. opposition to an Israeli attack was expressed by senior officials from the outset of the Israeli campaign. With time, this sentiment grew increasingly blunt. In February 2012, the New York Times ran a front-page article citing U.S. experts as casting doubt on Israel’s military capacity to successfully attack Iran.[158] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey publicly described an Israeli attack as both “destabilizing” and “not prudent,” saying Israel would fail to achieve its “long-term objectives.”[159] Seeking to undermine the credibility of Israel’s military option, Dempsey later said that an Israeli attack would "delay but probably not destroy” the Iranian program.[160] In August 2012, an Israeli daily newspaper cited a U.S. warning to Israel to the effect that Saudi Arabia would forcefully resist any Israeli attempt to use its airspace to attack Iran.[161] Signaling Potential Dissociation from Israel In reference to a unilateral Israeli strike, Dempsey alluded to the possibility of U.S. military dissociation from Israel, saying at a press conference: “I don't want to be complicit if they choose to do it."[162] Days later, Yediot Aharonot reported that the United States had informed Iran that it would not back an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities — as long as Iran steered clear of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf.[163] Stalling for Time For several months, Washington kept a steady flow of senior American officials traveling to Israel in part of what U.S. officials depicted as a deliberate strategy to forestall such an attack. According to Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador, “We used all the dissuasion tactics and tools of dissuasion we could think of,” including high-level visits. “You buy yourself three weeks at a time. The week or two before the visit, the week or two after the visit. That tempo was all relevant to us. There were other factors, but it was definitely part of our strategy."[164] Samore noted in this regard that the administration was “certainly watching Israel very closely. That’s part of the reason why people went every two weeks. Because they figured that Israel couldn’t launch an attack when the vice president was on his way, or Tom Donilon was on his way, or Gen. Dempsey was on his way.” Samore described this as “a very conscious, deliberate strategy to stop the Israelis from attacking.”[165] Amplification of Domestic Opposition in Israel to a Strike The United States also worked to influence Israeli public opinion by exposing the fact that Israel’s own security chiefs opposed a unilateral strike. In July 2012, the banner headline of Yediot Aharonot cited “sources in the United States” as saying that Israel’s military and security chiefs were unanimous in their opposition to an Israeli strike on Iran.[166] The Obama administration also leveraged its influence with Israel’s president and elder statesman, Shimon Peres. In June 2012, Obama honored Peres at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[167] The next month, Peres began to express scathing opposition to a unilateral attack and to underline his trust in Obama’s determination to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear bomb.[168] In mid-August, Peres said that “after having talks with” Obama he was “convinced” that Israel could trust the U.S. president on the issue of Iran. “Now, it’s clear to us that we can’t do it alone. … It’s clear to us we have to proceed together with America. There are questions about coordination and timing, but as serious as the danger is, this time at least we are not alone.”[169]

Israel’s War Scare Ends: Assessing its Strategic Impact

These measures were designed to restrain Israel while also maintaining flexibility for Obama. To the degree that an Israeli attack was genuinely being planned, U.S. pressure ultimately prevailed without the United States having to resort to far-reaching threats or taking action. Although it is difficult to identify a specific time when Israel’s military option came off the table, one can point to September 2012 as a turning point in terms of Israel’s credibility with the United States, which practically collapsed in the wake of a reassuring message that Barak privately conveyed to Obama. According to several accounts, Barak met with Obama’s confidant Rahm Emmanuel and told him, without having updated Netanyahu, that he no longer favored a strike.[170] Then, on Sept. 27, 2012, Netanyahu delivered a speech before the U.N. General Assembly in which he publicly drew a red line to Iran but also pushed the critical stage of Iran’s nuclear program to “next spring” and possibly even “next summer.”[171] It was with these last words, widely interpreted as a “nod to Obama,” that Netanyahu removed the possibility of an imminent Israeli military strike on Iran.[172] By “next summer” the United States and Iran were already deeply engaged in diplomatic talks and, for all intents and purposes, the military option was off the table. Acceleration of Crippling Economic Sanctions on Iran On the core issue of preventing an Israeli strike, especially in the critical run-up to the U.S. elections, the United States clearly got its way. The United States neither greenlighted an Israeli strike nor unleashed an attack of its own. Nor did Obama severely limit his latitude by making a binding commitment to use military force against Iran. If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. In some respects, however, Washington’s counter-campaign appears not to have been entirely successful. To forestall an Israeli attack, Obama was compelled to pursue measures he otherwise probably would not have — and at a faster pace than he otherwise would have chosen. This means Israel succeeded in influencing U.S. policy. [quote id="5"] Most notably, perhaps, the United States led an unprecedented international effort to cast Iran into economic isolation — an Israeli demand that the Obama administration initially was reluctant to pursue and had tried to keep in reserve.[173] Wary of measures that could destabilize global markets, the executive branch, in the words of senior Treasury official Zarate, sought to strike a balance between increasing economic pressure and “not spooking the oil markets and spiking prices,”[174] a sentiment expressed in real time.[175] To force the Obama administration to escalate sanctions on Iran, Israel engaged in heavy lobbying on Capitol Hill. Sanctions against Iran’s oil sector and Central Bank were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act in December 2011. So strong was its support of Israel that the entire Senate unanimously voted in favor of sanctions.[176] Against this backdrop, Obama imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and an embargo on Iran’s oil exports.[177] David Sanger of the New York Times noted that, although “few in Washington are persuaded” that the sanctions would force Iran’s supreme leader to fold, “most go along with the assumption because the more forceful alternatives are too unpleasant to contemplate.”[178] The European Union soon imposed its own economic sanctions on Iran, including an oil embargo.[179] These sanctions would result in a 60 percent drop in Iranian crude oil exports from their pre-2011 rate.[180] And, in March 2012, in an unprecedented move enabled by the U.S. and EU sanctions, Iranian banks were disconnected from the SWIFT international financial system.[181] Netanyahu would later attribute Iran’s economic isolation to Israel’s “projection of genuine resolve.”[182] It is hard to definitively say whether Israel can claim the credit for this outcome. However, the initial impetus for the toughest of U.S. sanctions came from a Congress strongly aligned with Israel. Consider the words of Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the driving forces behind the legislation. In December 2011, he said, “The clock is ticking. Published reports say we have about a year. Whenever you’re going to start our sanctions regime robustly, six months before the clock has been achieved? Before they get a nuclear weapon?”[183] Was rigorous implementation of the economic sanctions hastened as a result of Israel’s pressure and the perceived threat of a unilateral Israeli attack? Lending credence to this argument, Dennis Ross, who served as a senior director at the National Security Council and as special assistant to Obama, has written,
Israel was very much a factor in this approach. To forestall Israeli military action against what Israel perceived as an existential threat, the president understood we needed to show we could apply meaningful pressure on the Iranians that would alter their nuclear program.[184]
For his part, Deputy Secretary of State Burns said that, although Obama would have eventually imposed sanctions regardless of Israel’s actions, Israel’s campaign “accelerated” the process. “Maybe [otherwise] it would have taken another year or so.” According to Burns, Obama “moved at a faster pace because of the concern of a potential Israeli military strike and the very real political pressure that existed in Washington in part because of the depth of the Israeli Government's concern.”[185] Making a similar argument, Shapiro said the United States “was motivated to go the extra mile in part to show the Israelis that they didn't need to do something on their own, that we were serious. … It’s fair to say that Israel probably did push us to go farther, faster on sanctions.”[186] Pointing to another important effect that Israel’s threat had on U.S. policy, senior Obama administration officials said the United States, while genuinely pressured by Israel’s signals, harnessed the perception of a credible Israeli strike in the service of persuading other actors to implement the debilitating sanctions on Iran. This included China, which had long opposed such measures.[187] Burns added,
We used it [the threat of an Israeli attack] with the Russians, we used it with the Chinese, with the Europeans, we used it with the Indians and those we were trying to persuade to curb oil purchases from Iran. It was a useful tool … to maximize the economic pressure on the Iranians and to get other countries — mostly quite grudgingly — to go along with this, because it wasn't in their economic interest in the short term in any way.[188]
According to Shapiro, the perceived Israeli threat
was also in some way a useful tool for us in our discussion with other countries. ‘Hey, you know, the last thing you want is these crazy Israelis to go and do something, so let’s show them that there’s a better way. Let’s make these sanctions stick.’ I think it definitely affected the Chinese. ... There’s no question the Chinese would sit up in their chairs and listen intently if you would present this possibility of a serious Israeli strike.[189]
In sum, according to Samore, “It sure helped to have the Israeli threat out there.”[190] This could be described as an amplification effect that may result from a relatively weak ally’s ability to establish a credible threat in the eyes of a much more powerful actor and influence its behavior. Obama Toughens Rhetoric, But Stops Short of Red Line for Iran Israel’s campaign succeeded, albeit to a lesser degree than it had hoped, in wresting a public commitment to resort to military force against Iran from the U.S. president. Most notably, in March 2012, Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that both Iran and Israel should take seriously the possibility of U.S. action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, stressing that "as president of the United States, I don't bluff.” Obama added, “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”[191] Addressing AIPAC two days later, Obama said, “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.” That, he said, “includes all elements of American power,” including “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”[192] This was the first time the United States publicly drew a distinction between prevention and containment of a nuclear Iran.[193] These two statements, directed more to Israel than to Iran, would remain Obama’s most explicit reference to the military option. Both statements were later described by Panetta as “carefully crafted” gestures to the Israelis, designed to “reinforce their confidence that we would not abandon them.”[194] While Barak was convinced that the United States possessed a credible and realistic military option to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, he remained unconvinced by Obama’s political reassurances. For instance, after Obama said that “as president of the United States, I don't bluff,” the Israeli defense minister privately wondered whether Obama’s statement was itself a bluff.[195] As Barak himself told this author, he remained “highly skeptical” about the U.S. commitment to ever pursue the military option against Iran.[196] Barak later explained, “Though the president intermittently declared that ‘all options’ remained on the table, I knew from senior administration members that it was extremely unlikely to happen.”[197] In September 2012, the clash between Israel’s desire for a clear U.S. commitment and Obama’s determination to secure his latitude entered a new stage, with Netanyahu openly urging the president to publicly draw a “red line” for Iran that, if violated, would be met with “consequences.” The administration rejected the demand on the grounds that “we need some ability for the president to have decision-making room,”[198] which was precisely what Netanyahu wanted Obama to have less of. The exchange took a fiercer turn when Panetta implicitly accused Israel of attempting to coerce the United States. “Red lines,” he asserted, “are used to try to put people in a corner.”[199] To this, Netanyahu responded, “I know that people value flexibility. … but I think that at this late stage of the game, Iran needs to see clarity.”[200] Israel’s efforts were designed to limit Obama’s freedom of action and pin him down to an explicit use-of-force commitment. Given this, Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. According to Burns, “There was certainly concern in Washington that the object of this Israeli effort was not so much to get a green light to launch a unilateral Israeli strike as it was to box Obama into launching a U.S. military strike, with the kind of second-best option being an even more intense effort to build sanctions.”[201] [quote id="8"] Israel’s pressure campaign had yet another important effect on the United States, which is that Washington, in an attempt to reassure Israel, accelerated its efforts to enhance the credibility of its own military option. In January 2012, U.S. officials said the Pentagon was ramping up its efforts to improve the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon specifically designed to penetrate Iranian and North Korean fortifications.[202] In August, an Israeli daily newspaper disclosed in its lead story details of the U.S. military plan for an attack on Iran, as discussed in Panetta’s visit to Israel just days before. The report maintained that the United States would potentially launch its attack “in a year and a half.”[203] Shedding further light on Washington’s reassurance efforts, Panetta later remarked,
We in the United States were developing a weapon that could in fact be able to penetrate and do serious damage to their [Iran’s] capability, and it was in the effort to kind of show him [Barak] what we had developed and its capability that, I think, he recognized that we indeed did have a weapon that could, in fact, do some real damage to their enrichment capability.[204]
Lending credence to Panetta’s account, Barak recalled that, during the first two years in which Israel prepared its military option, the United States “was no more ready” than Israel. The existing U.S. military plan, Barak wrote, was “so obviously prone to lead to a wider conflict, that it would never have received the go-ahead from President Obama, or probably any president.” By 2012, however, “that had changed …an intensive research-and-development effort and enormously improved planning and testing had yielded results. The Americans now had high-precision heavy munitions we couldn’t dream of.”[205]

Conclusion

In late 2011, Israel deliberately led the United States to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program could be imminent — a scenario that deeply alarmed the Obama administration. The stakes involved one of the core issues animating asymmetric-alliance politics: the possibility that a junior ally — Israel — might present its senior strategic ally — the United States — with a fait accompli and entrap it in a military confrontation. With two military commitments already underway and a presidential election on the horizon, the United States strongly opposed an Israeli attack, which it deemed unnecessary, and had little interest in a confrontation with Iran. More importantly, Iran did not pose the same threat to the militarily superior United States as it did to Israel. It was for these reasons that a fierce intra-alliance bargaining episode occurred. As noted in the outset of this article, asymmetric alliances represent a trade-off: The weaker ally trades its autonomy for security. In essence, Israel attempted to retain its autonomy in a way that the United States deemed extremely detrimental to its own interests. Ultimately, neither Israel nor the United States attacked Iran. This implies that, at the most overarching level, the stronger ally prevailed. How can this outcome be understood? And what are its implications for international and alliance politics? Any attempt to discuss these questions must begin with the fact that, in the year under discussion, Israel purposefully created the perception of a potentially imminent military attack. This granted Israel more leverage than it otherwise would have wielded over the United States. Israel then harnessed this leverage in a calculated effort to force its senior ally to more closely align with Israeli constraints and interests. This meant influencing Washington into adopting measures it otherwise would not have — steps that nudged the United States closer to a confrontation with Iran. These measures included the economic isolation of Iran, a credible presidential commitment to prevent Iran’s nuclearization, and the development of a more effective and “realistic” U.S. military option. Israel employed this strategy as a form of extended coercion — that is, in an attempt to manipulate Iran’s strategic calculus via a powerful third party with considerable leverage over Tehran. Put differently, although the direct target of Israel’s campaign was its primary ally, its ultimate target was Iran, which Israel sought to prevent from further developing its nuclear program. At a minimum, Israel strived to keep Iran’s nuclear capabilities sufficiently vulnerable to its own military option, meaning that Israel would not have to rely on the United States for the removal of a potentially existential threat and that it would retain its autonomy despite its alliance with the United States. It may also be the case that Israel sought to influence the United States into tacit compliance with an Israeli attack or even to persuade it to unleash its own military option against Iran. It is also possible that Israel never genuinely intended to execute a unilateral attack against Iran. Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. Having instilled a sense of urgency in its major ally, Israel implicitly threatened the United States with a fait accompli, doing little to allay obvious U.S. fears of entrapment. And still, at the most overarching level, the fact that Israel’s perceived threat never materialized implies that the senior ally in this relationship got its way and that superior U.S. bargaining power overwhelmed Israeli decision-making. The United States proved capable of avoiding entrapment, of resisting its ally’s demand for an explicit commitment to attack Iran, and of restraining its ally. This outcome is perhaps not surprising given that the United States was, by far, the more powerful actor in the relationship. This structural reality becomes all the more pronounced given that, whereas Israel had reached the pinnacle of its bargaining power and exerted extraordinary pressure on its senior ally, Obama appeared to be in a particularly vulnerable situation. Especially because it was an election year, Obama sought to avoid a brutal clash with a close ally wielding considerable political influence. The balance of interests seemed to favor Israel, whose prime minister had consistently depicted Iran as an existential threat. Furthermore, the United States did not come close to exploiting the full range of dissuasion tactics at its disposal. Although Israel implicitly threatened its senior ally with entrapment, Washington neither reciprocated with a threat of abandonment nor threatened Israel with a “reassessment” of relations — steps that the administration may have dismissed as politically prohibitive. Ultimately, the United States prevailed in this atypically intense episode. The broader implications for coercive bargaining in an asymmetric relationship are that, even at the height of its bargaining power, a weaker ally will find it extremely difficult to entrap a superior ally or otherwise cause it to move in a direction it deems incompatible with its national security interests. This basic reality does not preclude the weaker ally from wielding surprising leverage or from exploiting its ally’s fear of entrapment for coercive purposes — something Israel appears to have done in this case. Indeed, to reassure Israel and forestall an attack, the Obama administration took measures it otherwise probably would not have, namely meeting Israel’s demand for unprecedented economic sanctions on Iran and tougher rhetoric from the U.S. president. In the final analysis, however, the United States proved capable of restraining its particularly influential ally. This conclusion squares with the findings of scholars such as Jeremy Pressman, Michael Beckley, and Tongfi Kim, cited in the outset of this article. One can, perhaps, draw even wider conclusions about patterns of power and influence in international politics. Scholars have suggested the current era is characterized by accelerated “power diffusion,” which ultimately favors the weak.[206] The outcome of this case study suggests that, even when the weak punch above their weight, the basic balance of power persists. In other words, the weak may be getting stronger, but the strong still get their way. [quote id="6"] This case study also lends itself to a more nuanced appreciation of the second-order effects that occur when an actor introduces a credible threat to use military force. For instance, while genuinely worried by Israel’s perceived threat, the United States, according to several Obama administration officials, harnessed Israel’s threat to persuade major actors like China to join the sanctions effort as an alternative to what appeared to be a credible scenario — a unilateral Israeli strike. This speaks to the way weak actors might be capable of amplifying their influence by impacting third parties — in this case the United States — and motivating them to use their leverage with other actors. By establishing the perception of a credible threat, Israel, in a sense, provided the United States not only with motivation but also with leverage it previously lacked, which the United States then used vis-à-vis other countries, like China. Attempting to achieve desirable outcomes in foreign affairs can, of course, have unintended consequences. While Israel’s pressure campaign produced several achievements — namely the economic isolation of Iran — it also helped to create the conditions for direct talks between its strategic ally and its archenemy. If Israel had hoped to influence Washington toward a more belligerent posture regarding Tehran, the opposite occurred, as the diplomatic channel culminated in a nuclear deal that Netanyahu denounced as a “historic mistake.”[207] Former Mossad director Meir Dagan claimed to be speaking from personal knowledge when he asserted that by “signaling to the entire world” that Israel was preparing to attack Iran, Netanyahu motivated the United States to “search for an alternative in the form of an agreement.”[208] Echoing Dagan’s assertion is this point from Burns, who, along with Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top policy adviser (and later national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden), initiated the secret talks between the United States and Iran in the wake of Israel’s pressure campaign:
The increased decibel level of the potential Israeli preparations for a strike accelerated the interest of the administration in pushing this diplomatic track simply because it certainly seemed as if we were getting closer and closer to the point of a real military conflict and that added a sense of urgency to this.[209]
And as Panetta noted,
There is no question that there’s nothing like a military attack to get your attention. So, I'm sure that it heightened activity both in terms of what we were trying to do militarily as well as what the administration was looking at diplomatically. … There was this effort to push on these other buttons to see if there might be a diplomatic solution to that threat.[210]
This article sheds important light on a key topic for the theory and practice of international relations, namely the question of credibility. In their statements, Barak and Netanyahu stopped short of explicit threats to attack Iran. When he was asked, at the height of Israel’s campaign, whether Jerusalem intended to attack Iran, Barak responded, “I think it should remain behind closed doors as part of a vague understanding that there is a big stick in the background.”[211] And, as he tellingly pointed out toward the end of the campaign, “The prime minister and myself have never come out and announced what it is we are interested in.”[212] Nonetheless, their various statements — and Israel’s calibrated signals and military moves — created a context that appeared less like a “vague understanding” and more like an alarmingly credible military threat. This was made possible by two elements, the first of which corresponds with Thomas Schelling’s assertion that, to appear credible, actors must “make it true.” Barak himself would retrospectively attribute the belief that Israel was serious to “the fact that it was all real, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we would have done it.”[213] The second, and less explored, element pertains to secrecy. If Israel’s campaign contained an element of deception, the strict secrecy and message discipline made it impossible to prove. Nowhere was this more evident than in the words of Pardo, the Mossad director, who noted that if Israel’s pressure campaign was a bluff, at most two people knew it. Asked about the painstaking efforts exerted by the United States to unveil Israel’s genuine intentions, Barak confided, “It is not as if there was some secret chamber that if only you could penetrate you would discover everything was a bluff. And if nobody can tell you it is a bluff, you have to assume it is real.”[214] While the potential costs and implications of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran seemed too immense to be credible, Israel’s preparations for such a strike seemed too real and costly to be dismissed as mere deception. The combination of Israel’s genuine military moves and strict message discipline made the incredible look credible, and the unbelievable, believable. As things stand, and in sharp contrast to the period discussed in this article, Israel and the administration of President Donald Trump appear to be tightly coordinated with respect to the Iranian nuclear issue. It is inescapable, however, that the challenge Iran poses to Israel is considerably graver than any threat it may pose to the militarily powerful and geographically distant United States. With the United States no longer part of the Iran nuclear deal, and in the absence of a new agreement, this challenge may present itself sooner than expected. Further down the line, this divergence of interests between Israel and the United States might yet again produce a political clash similar to the one explored in this article. Acknowledgements: For helpful comments and advice, the author wishes to thank Graham Allison, Oren Barak, Shai Feldman, Charles Freilich, Kelly Greenhill, Robert Jervis, Arie Kacowicz, Morgan Kaplan, Sean Lynn-Jones, Martin Malin, Steven Miller, Karen Motley, Michael Poznansky, Galia Press-Barnathan, Henry Rome, Amit Sheniak, Susan Rosenberg, Stephen Walt, Alec Worsnop, three anonymous reviewers, and participants in the 2016–2017 International Security Program seminar at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Israel Institute during his appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. Daniel Sobelman is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => Restraining an Ally: Israel, the United States, and Iran’s Nuclear Program, 2011–2012 [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => restraining-an-ally-israel-the-united-states-and-irans-nuclear-program-2011-2012 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-11 18:13:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-11 22:13:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=663 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => In asymmetric alliances, a superior state provides security to a weaker ally, who in exchange surrenders its autonomy to its stronger protector. But what happens when the weaker state’s vital interests clash with its stronger ally’s preferences? In 2011 and 2012, as Iran continued to develop and harden its nuclear program, Israel feared becoming dependent upon the United States to defend it against this potentially existential threat. To escape this scenario, and to enhance its leverage over the United States, Israel led its principal strategic ally to infer that a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran could be imminent. Israel then attempted to force the United States to realign more closely with Israel’s strategic interests and constraints. Determined not to get “chain-ganged” into a conflict, the United States increased its pressure on Iran, but also brought restraining influence to bear on Israel, thus producing one of the tensest chapters in U.S.-Israel relations. The following article explains the outcome of this strategic interaction. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The two allies thus disagreed on the urgency of the situation and on the proper means and level of economic pressure required to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While the United States feared entrapment, Israel feared abandonment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Even when Israel was working on a military option, it did not engage in a concerted, strategic pressure campaign against the United States until 2011. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => A core element of Israel’s pressure campaign pertained to the way Netanyahu and Barak deliberately kept their various alarmed audiences...at arm’s length. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => If entrapment was ever a genuine possibility, the United States clearly evaded being chain-ganged into a military confrontation. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Israel pursued its goal in an effort that, at times, met the definition of coercion. ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While all allies fear becoming embroiled in someone else’s wars, asymmetric alliances worsen actors’ fear of entrapment. ) [7] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => Obama administration officials viewed Israel’s campaign as intended to motivate, if not push, the United States itself to launch an attack. ) ) [style] => scholarly [type] => Scholarly [style_label] => The Scholar [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 193 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama vowed to “use all elements of American power to pressure Iran” and to “prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” including through keeping “the threat of military action on the table.” See “Transcript: Obama's Speech at AIPAC,” NPR, June 4, 2008, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91150432. As president, however, Obama struck a more cautious tone, stating generally, and without explicitly invoking the threat of military action, that no option was off the table. For instance, in late 2011, he said, “I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table.” See “President Obama Holds a Press Conference at the APEC Summit,” White House, Nov. 13, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/11/13/president-obama-holds-press-conference-apec-summit?page=12. According to former Obama adviser Dennis Ross, only in 2012 did the president state publicly that he was determined to prevent the prospect of a nuclear Iran. Until then, the United States had made do with describing Iran’s potential nuclearization as “unacceptable.” See Dennis Ross, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015), 369. [2] Stephen M. Walt, The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 12. [3] Brett Ashley Leeds, “Do Alliances Deter Aggression? The Influence of Military Alliances on the Initiation of Militarized Interstate Disputes,” American Journal of Political Science 47, no. 3 (July 2003), https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-5907.00031; Brett B. Benson, “Unpacking Alliances: Deterrent and Compellent Alliances and Their Relationship with Conflict, 1816–2000,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 4 (October 2011), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381611000867. [4] Glenn H. Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36, no. 4 (July 1984): 461, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010183. [5] Paul W. Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945: Weapons of the Power and Tools of Management,” in Historical Dimensions of National Security Problems, ed. Klaus Knorr (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1976); Jeremy Pressman, Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008); Victor D. Cha, “Powerplay: Origins of the U.S. Alliance System in Asia,” International Security 34, no. 3 (Winter 2010), https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2010.34.3.158. [6] James D. Morrow, “Alliances: Why Write Them Down?” Annual Review of Political Science 3 (2000): 63, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.3.1.63; Schroeder, “Alliances, 1815–1945,” 230. [7] Patricia A. Weitsman, Waging War: Alliances, Coalitions, and Institutions of Interstate Violence (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), chap. 2. [8] “Lord Palmerston 1784–1865 British statesman; Prime Minister, 1855–8, 1859–65,” in Oxford Essential Quotations, ed. Susan Ratcliffe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). [9] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. Stephen Walt notes that allies share only “some level of commitment.” Walt, Origins of Alliances, 1. [10] According to Thomas Schelling, “to take advantage of the usually superior credibility of the truth over a false assertion,” actors need to “make it true,” make an irrevocable, binding and “unambiguously visible” commitment. Put differently, for threats to be credible the threatener must remove all easy and cheap options from the table and visibly destroy his own escape routes. Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1981) chap. 2; and Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 99–105. Branislav L. Slantchev, Military Threats: The Costs of Coercion and the Price of Peace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), chap. 3. [11] James D. Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry: An Alternative to the Capability Aggregation Model of Alliances,” American Journal of Political Science 35, no. 4 (November 1991): 904, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2111499. [12] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry,” 930. [13] Thomas J. Christensen and Jack Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multipolarity,” International Organization 44, no. 2 (Spring 1990), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0020818300035232. [14] Snyder, “Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics.” [15] Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry.” [16] Galia Press-Barnathan, “Managing the Hegemon: NATO Under Unipolarity,” Security Studies 15, no. 2 (2006): 283–84, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636410600829554. Tongfi Kim argues that victims of entrapment are more likely to be weaker allies with little power, as “stronger states have stronger bargaining power,” in “Why Alliances Entangle but Seldom Entrap States,” Security Studies 20, no. 3 (2011): 357, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2011.599201. [17] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121. [18] Morrow, Alliances: Why Write Them Down, 79; Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015), https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00198. [19] Michael Beckley, “The Myth of Entangling Alliances: Reassessing the Security Risks of U.S. Defense Pacts,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 11, https://doi.org/10.1162/ISEC_a_00197. [20] Kim, “Why Alliances Entangle,” 357. [21] Pressman, Warring Friends, 121–22. Perhaps most strikingly, on the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson minced no words when warning Israel not to initiate war with Egypt, stressing that “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go it alone.” See “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19. [22] “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, 588, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v26. [23] Robert O. Keohane, “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy, no. 2 (Spring 1971): 162, 164–72, https://www.jstor.org/stable/1147864. [24] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 162. [25] Keohane, “Big Influence,” 165–66. On this, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), chaps. 5 and 6. [26] Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks”: 137–68; Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979), 166–67. [27] Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby, 152. [28] Asked if he would have taken military action against Iran, Obama said, “I actually would have. If I saw them break out. Now, the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting [the bomb]. This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu.” See Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” Atlantic, April 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-obama-doctrine/471525/. [29] Gary Samore, Sanctions Against Iran: A Guide to Targets, Terms, and Timetables (Cambridge, Mass.: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, June 2015), 3–11. [30] Douglas Hamilton, “Israel Urges ‘Crippling’ Sanctions Now Against Iran,” Reuters, Feb. 9, 2010, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran-netanyahu/israel-urges-crippling-sanctions-now-against-iran-idUSTRE6181Z020100209. [31]Obama had indicated this explicitly throughout his campaign. See “Interview With Barack Obama,” New York Times, Nov. 1, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/politics/02obama-transcript.html. [32] Juan C. Zarate, Treasury’s War: The Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), 324.  It was not until July 2012, however, that a direct diplomatic back-channel would be established between Iran and the United States, in Oman. See Mark Landler, Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power (New York: Random House, 2016), 252; and Jay Solomon, The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals that Reshaped the Middle East (New York: Random House, 2016), 242–44. [33] Christiane Amanpour, “Obama Sent Letter to Iran Leader Before Election, Sources Say,” CNN, June 24, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/06/24/iran.obama.letter/index.html. [34] Landler, Alter Egos, chap. 10. [35] In April 2012, the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot cited a senior Israeli source as saying that Israel had found out that semi-official U.S. figures had been in contact with the Iranian government in a bid to reach a compromise on the nuclear issue. The official said, “The Iranians are convinced that given the secret channel and the United States’ request that Israel does not attack Iran, Israel will not dare do it, at least for the time being. The Iranians believe they’ve achieved at least a postponement of the attack, if not more than that.” Ronen Bergman, “An All-Clear Siren for Tehran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 8, 2012. [36] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [37] Landler, Alter Egos, 253–54. [38] Karen DeYoung and Michael D. Shea, “U.S., Allies Say Iran Has Secret Nuclear Facility,” Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/25/AR2009092500289.html. [39] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 328. [40] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, adopted June 6, 2010, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1929%282010%29. [41] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 6. [42] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 336–37. [43] Zarate, Treasury’s War. [44] Washington had regarded sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and oil sector as the “final bullet” in the U.S. arsenal. See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16. In the Treasury Department, such sanctions were referred to as the “nuclear option” and were thus held in reserve. See Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [45] “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” CNN, Nov. 20, 2011. Declaring that 2012 was “a very important year,” Barak argued, “After 2012 it will become difficult to achieve a meaningful delay in the Iranian nuclear project by any means.” Channel 2 TV, Feb. 23, 2012. [46] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace (New York: Penguin, 2015), 404. [47] “Netanyahu’s Speech at AIPAC (Full Text),” Times of Israel, March 6, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-speech-at-aipac-full-text/. [48] Channel 2, March 12, 2012. Two months later, Barak noted with respect to the Israel-U.S. debate about Iran’s nuclear program, “There are obviously differences between us — in the approach, in the speed at which our clocks are ticking. It is no secret that our clock is ticking faster.” See Institute for National Security Studies Annual Conference, Tel Aviv, May 30, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oZ1X6WspMM. [49] Dan Williams, “Israel Wants to Attack Iran Before U.S. Vote: Israeli Report,” Reuters, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/israel-wants-to-attack-iran-before-us-vote-israeli-report/article4473446/. [50] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [51] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Iran Raid Seen as a Huge Task for Israeli Jets,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/middleeast/iran-raid-seen-as-complex-task-for-israeli-military.html. [52] Scott Wilson, “In Meeting, Obama to Warn Netanyahu Against Military Strikes on Iran,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-meeting-obama-to-warn-netanyahu-against-military-strikes-on-iran/2012/03/02/gIQA5Wf0mR_story.html. [53] “Zero Days,” directed by Alex Gibney (New York: Magnolia Pictures, 2016). [54] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [55] “Secretary Panetta All Hands Call USS Peleliu,” Department of Defense, March 30, 2012, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=5004. [56] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018), 435–36. In a separate interview, Barak noted, “In 2012 Netanyahu was playing around with all sorts of ideas. I was opposed to them. I reemphasized my position: we will not endanger the life of even one American soldier.” See Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. [57] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [58] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [59] Leon Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [60] Ehud Barak, My Country, My Life, 433–34. [61] Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/magazine/1.1797127. [62] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [63] “Hakol Diburim,” Voice of Israel, Nov. 1, 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkCwM1fG0so&feature=youtu.be. [64] Shlomo Tsezna, “Israel: The World Must Stop Tehran,” Yisrael Hayom, Nov. 10, 2011, http://digital-edition.israelhayom.co.il/Olive/APA/Israel/SharedView.Article.aspx?href=ITD%2F2011%2F11%2F10&id=Ar00700&sk=000DD7E1&viewMode=text. [65] Ron Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011, https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4143344,00.html. [66] “Ha-Nivharim with David Ben-Bassat,” Hot TV, Aug. 31, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPzaY-lduE4&feature=youtu.be. [67]Barak Ravid, “The Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [68] Jodi Rudoren, “U.S. Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran,” New York Times, May 17, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/world/middleeast/united-states-ambassador-dan-shapiro-to-israel-speaks-of-military-option-for-iran.html. [69] As Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert stressed in a 2006 interview that Israel should not stand “on the forefront of this war.” Iran, he added, was a “major threat” to “Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel.” See Romesh Ratnesar, "Israel Should Not Be on the Forefront of a War Against Iran," Time, April 9, 2006. [70] Jonathan Steele, “Israel Asked US for Green Light to Bomb Nuclear Sites in Iran,” Guardian, Sept. 25, 2008, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/sep/25/iran.israelandthepalestinians1. [71] Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), 190–91. [72] Gates, Duty. [73] Gates, Duty, 192; “Israeli Air Exercise Probably Message to Iran, U.S. Official Says,” CNN, June 20, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/meast/06/20/israel.exercise/index.html. [74] Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran,” New York Times, June 20, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/20/washington/20iran.html. [75] Gates, Duty, 192. [76] Gordon and Schmitt, “U.S. Says Israeli Exercise Seemed Directed at Iran.” [77] Commenting on the report, an Israeli official urged Tehran to “read the writing on the wall … this was a dress rehearsal. … If diplomacy does not yield results, Israel will take military steps to halt Tehran's production of bomb-grade uranium.” Sheera Frenkel, “Israeli Jets in Long-Range ‘Test Mission’ for Airstrike on Iran,” Times (London), June 21, 2008. [78] Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, stated, "We are not planning any attack against Iran." See “Top US Military Officer Heads to Israel With Iran on the Agenda,” Agence France-Presse, June 25, 2008. When Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, previously the minister of defense and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, warned that if Iran continued its plans to produce a nuclear weapon, “we will attack it,” he was promptly reprimanded by Barak, who characterized his statements as “harmful.” Mofaz, Barak said, “knows there is a decision that when it comes to the Iranian issue Israel does not stand at the forefront.” Barak Ravid, Yossi Verter, and Mazal Mualem, “Defense Minister Barak: Mofaz Statements on Attack on Iran Irresponsible,” Haaretz, June 8, 2008. [79] “L’Express: IAF Held Iran Strike Drill Above Strait of Gibraltar,” Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2009; “IDF Staged Drills Over Gibraltar, in Preparation for Iran Strike,” Haaretz, May 3, 2009. [80] Sheera Frenkel, “Israel Stands Ready to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites,” Times (London), April 18, 2009. [81] Ofer Aderet, “Lieberman: Israel Will Not Attack Iran — Even if Sanctions Fail,” Haaretz, April 26, 2009. [82] David E. Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” New York Times, June 1, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html; and David E. Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (New York: Broadway Paperbacks, 2012), 188–225. [83] Peter Hirschberg, “Netanyahu: It’s 1938 and Iran Is Germany; Ahmadinejad Is Preparing Another Holocaust,” Haaretz, Nov. 14, 2006; and Shmuel Rosner, “Playing the Holocaust Card,” New York Times, April 25, 2012, https://latitude.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/25/netanyahu-cant-go-wrong-claiming-that-iran-is-planning-another-holocaust/. [84] For instance, in late July 2009, standing alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Barak once again reaffirmed that “at this stage, the priority should be given, still, to diplomacy and probably sanctions.” See “Defense Minister Barak meets with US Secretary of Defense Gates,” Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 27, 2009. Asked about a potential Israeli attack on Iran, Gates replied that, in his meetings in Israel, “I had every sense that the Israeli government is prepared to let our strategy play out in terms of trying to use a combination of diplomatic pressures, economic sanctions and other peaceful means to try to get the Iranian government to change its mind in terms of its nuclear ambitions.” See Jim Garamone, “Gates Praises U.S., Jordan Strategic Partnership,” Department of Defense, July 27, 2009, http://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=55267; “Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Barak,” Ministry of Defense, April 27, 2010. In the joint press conference between Gates and Barak in March 2011, the topic of Iran was overshadowed by the events of the Arab Spring. See “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister Barak from Tel Aviv, Israel,” Department of Defense, March 24, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4797. [85] “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, July 8, 2010, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/interview-president-yonit-levi-israeli-tv. [86] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [87]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Point of No Return,” Atlantic (September 2010), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/09/the-point-of-no-return/308186/; Emily Alpert, “Will Israel Attack Iran? It's Been Asked Before,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 3, 2012, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/02/will-israel-attack-iran-its-been-asked-before.html. [88] As Panetta noted, “Everybody understood that when you look at the history here, Israel was a nation that if it thought that its existence was threatened in any way it would take action with or without the United States.” The former defense secretary cited Israel’s attacks on the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 and the Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981 as indicative of Israeli determination to remove potential existential threats. Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [89] “Meet the Press,” Channel 2, Dec. 3, 2011. [90] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 197–98. [91] Amos Harel and Reuters, “U.S. Defense Secretary to Arrive in Israel to Discuss Iran Nuclear Program,” Haaretz, Oct. 3, 2011. [92] “Israel 'Increasingly Isolated' in Middle East: US,” Agence France-Presse, Oct. 3, 2011, https://gs.geo.tv/latest/31185-israel-increasingly-isolated-in-middle-east-us. [93] Yaakov Katz, “International Community Needs to Cooperate on Iran,” Jerusalem Post, Oct. 4, 2011. [94] Ron Ben-Yishai, “IDF Is Already Prepared to Attack in Iran,” Ynet, Nov. 3, 2011; Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu and Barak Refused to Commit to Not Attacking Iran Without Coordinating with the United States,” Haaretz, Nov. 6, 2011; and author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [95] Barbara Starr, “U.S. Concerned Israel Could Strike Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Nov. 4, 2011, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/04/u-s-concerned-israel-could-strike-iran/. [96] Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon, “U.S. Warns Israel on Strike,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204409004577159202556087074. [97] Adam Entous, “Spy vs. Spy: Inside the Fraying U.S.-Israel Ties,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/spy-vs-spy-inside-the-fraying-u-s-israel-ties-1445562074. [98] Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, “U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress,” Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-spy-net-on-israel-snares-congress-1451425210; Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke, “Spies in the Skies,” Intercept, Jan. 28, 2016. [99] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. In an indication of the credibility he attributed to this scenario, Shapiro noted that he disseminated the cable to an especially broad audience so as to “protect myself” in case Israel indeed attacked Iran. [100] “Remarks by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta at the Saban Center,” Department of Defense, Dec. 2, 2011, http://archive.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937. [101] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 404. [102] Thom Shanker, Helene Cooper, and Ethan Bronner, “U.S. Sees Iran Attacks as Likely if Israel Strikes,” New York Times, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/world/middleeast/us-sees-iran-attacks-as-likely-if-israel-strikes.html; and Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker, “U.S. War Game Sees Perils of Israeli Strike Against Iran,” New York Times, March 19, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/20/world/middleeast/united-states-war-game-sees-dire-results-of-an-israeli-attack-on-iran.html. [103]David E. Sanger, “Confronting Iran in a Year of Elections,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/sunday-review/confronting-iran-in-a-year-of-elections.html. [104]David Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-israel-preparing-to-attack-iran/2012/02/02/gIQANjfTkQ_story.html. Another U.S. official said later that month, “We believe that Israel has not yet decided whether to attack or not, but it is clear to us that the matter is being weighed seriously.” See Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya, “National Security Adviser Visiting Israel,” Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2012. [105] Dan Perry and Josef Federman “Just a Bluff? Fears Grow of Israeli Attack on Iran,” Associated Press, Feb. 5, 2012, http://www.staradvertiser.com/2012/02/05/breaking-news/just-a-bluff-fears-grow-of-israeli-attack-on-iran/. [106] Panetta said, “My conclusion, and I think the conclusion of the National Security Council and the president, was that Israel was giving serious consideration to this possibility.” Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [107] Burns added, “There was a genuine concern that the Israeli government might launch such a strike.” Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [108] Author interviews with Gary Samore, Obama’s coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, counterterrorism, and arms control, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016 and March 9, 2017. According to Samore, with the exception of Vice President Joseph Biden, “who thought it was all a big bluff,” the most senior members of the administration, including Obama and Panetta, felt “pressured” by Israel’s signals. [109] Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. According to Shapiro, “We did take it seriously; Obama took it seriously.” [110] Yossi Verter, “Iran, Who Knows,” Haaretz, Nov. 4, 2011. [111] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [112] Entous, “Spy vs. Spy.” [113] Mark Perry, “Israel’s Secret Staging Ground,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/03/28/israels-secret-staging-ground/. [114] Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life] (Tel Aviv: Kinneret Zmora-Bitan, 2015), 330. [115] Ron Ben-Yishai, “Israel Has Understood: Only the U.S. Will Stop Iran,” Ynet, Aug. 3, 2012. [116] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. According to the program, the Mossad and the IDF were ordered in 2011 to begin preparations for a possible military strike on Iran within 15 days. Referring to this step, Pardo said when a leader orders such a move, “It can serve one of two purposes. The first is that he really means it. The other possibility is that he is signaling so that somebody out there will know about it — maybe even that someone in the United States will find out about it in one way or another — and that someone will be motivated to do something.” [117] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [118] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [119] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [120] Nahum Barnea, “Why We Did Not Attack Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, April 27, 2017. Shedding more light on this point, Shapiro noted that the United States knew that Israel’s security chiefs opposed a military attack: “Without being disloyal to their political leadership they found ways of conveying to us that they were not advocating for it and to some degree were resisting it. This was knowable.” Interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 11, 2018. [121] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [122] Author telephone interview with Yaakov Amidror, June 9, 2016. [123] Rachel Nolan, “Behind the Cover Story: Ronen Bergman on Whether Israel Will Attack Iran,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 2012, https://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/behind-the-cover-story-ronen-bergman-on-israeli-plans-to-strike-iran/. See also Ethan Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders Make the Iran Issue Their Own,” New York Times, March 27, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-and-barak-bond-over-israels-iran-crisis.html. [124] Bronner, “2 Israeli Leaders.” [125] Author interview with Tamir Pardo, Cambridge, Mass., May 2, 2016. That the Mossad chief himself was kept at arm’s length can be inferred from his assertion that whether or not a unilateral attack was genuinely in the cards was an “irrelevant” question for him as Mossad director: “For an operational organization, it makes absolutely no difference if it is a deception or not. I have to play along to the fullest extent, because I do not know.” [126] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, June 2, 2018. [127] Author telephone interview with Dan Meridor, June 7, 2016. [128] Author interview with Gen. (Ret.) Amos Gilead, Herzliya, July 29, 2018. [129] Starr, “U.S. Concerned.” [130] For instance, asked in July 2010 whether he was concerned Israel might decide to unilaterally attack Iran, Obama replied that relations were “sufficiently strong” that neither would “try to surprise each other.” He went on to say, “We try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern. And that approach is one that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to.” See “Interview of the President by Yonit Levi, Israeli TV.” [131] Phil Stewart, “U.S. Uncertain Israel Would Advise Before Iran Strike,” Reuters, Nov. 30, 2011, https://ca.reuters.com/article/topNews/idCATRE7AT2TT20111130?sp=true. [132] Kfir and Dor, Barak: Milkhamot Hayay [Barak: Battles of My Life], 319­–20. [133] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 406. [134] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. [135] Attila Somfalvi and Yoav Zitun, “Israel-U.S. Aerial Defense Exercise Postponed,” Ynet, Jan. 15, 2012; Shlomo Tsezna and Lilach Shoval, “The Exercise Was Postponed So As ‘Not to Warm Up the Region,’” Yisrael Hayom, Jan. 16, 2012. [136] “Ma Bo’er With Razi Barkai,” IDF Radio, Jan. 18, 2012. [137]Isabel Kershner, “U.S. General Urges Closer Ties With Israel,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/world/middleeast/joint-chiefs-chairman-martin-dempsey-visits-israel.html. [138] Ignatius, “Is Israel Preparing to Attack Iran?” [139] Alex Fishman, “It’s All Because of Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Oct. 12, 2011. [140] Senior Israeli military affairs analyst Ben-Yishai would later note that the Israeli government itself had initiated this debate. See Ben-Yishai, “The IDF Is Already Prepared for Attack on Iran.” Moreover, a Haaretz military affairs analyst later alluded to Barak as the source behind these messages. See Amos Harel, “Barak Reveals in the United States Considerations for Possible Israeli Strike on Iran,” Haaretz, Jan. 27, 2012. [141] Amos Regev, “Difficult, Courageous, Doable,” Yisrael Hayom, March 15, 2012. [142] Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu Issues Order 8 to Himself and the Public,” Haaretz, March 15, 2012. [143]Ronen Bergman, “Will Israel Attack Iran?” New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/magazine/will-israel-attack-iran.html. [144] “Current and Projected National Security Threats to the United States,” Hearing Before the Select Committee on Intelligence, 112th Congress, Second Session, Jan. 31, 2012. [145] Author telephone interview with James Clapper, May 12, 2017. Clapper recalls interpreting Israel’s signals as “a combination of genuine concern and an attempt to pressure the United States. ... I thought this had more to do with information warfare, if you will, information influence.” [146] Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011. [147] Barak Ravid, “Netanyahu Consolidating Majority in the Cabinet for Military Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities,” Haaretz, Nov. 2, 2011; Evening Newscast, Channel 10, Nov. 1, 2011; “In Israel, Speculation Over Strike on Iran Grows,” Agence France-Presse, Nov. 2, 2011. [148] “Prime Minister’s Speech at the David Ben-Gurion Memorial Ceremony,” [YouTube], Dec. 4, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGyHmhkMqqg. [149] Shlomo Tsezna, “Netanyahu Drops Heavy Hints in Speech,” Yisrael Hayom, Dec. 5, 2011. [150] For example, see Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, “How the Anti-Iran Lobby Machine Dominates Capitol Hill,” Nation, July 15, 2014. [151] Mati Tuchfeld and Boaz Bismuth, “Congressional Initiative: United States Will Support Israeli Attack on Iran,” Israel Hayom, Nov. 16, 2011. [152] Raphael Ahren, “John McCain says US and Israel Drifting Apart on Iran Issue,” Times of Israel, Feb. 21, 2012, https://www.timesofisrael.com/john-mccain-says-us-and-israel-drifting-apart-on-iran-issue/. [153] Barak Ravid, “Prime Minister to Ask Obama to Threaten to Attack Iran,” Haaretz, Feb. 29, 2012, https://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1652900. [154] “S. Res. 65 — A resolution strongly supporting the full implementation of United States and international sanctions on Iran and urging the President to continue to strengthen enforcement of sanctions legislation,” 113th Congress, May 22, 2013. [155] David Samuels, “The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru,” New York Times, May 5, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/magazine/the-aspiring-novelist-who-became-obamas-foreign-policy-guru.html. [156] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [157] Wilson, “In Meeting.” [158] Bumiller, “Iran Raid.” [159] “US' Dempsey says Premature to Attack Iran Now,” Reuters, Feb. 19, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-usa/us-dempsey-says-premature-to-attack-iran-now-idUSTRE81I0K420120219. [160] Richard Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack on Iran 'Would Not Stop Nuclear Programme,’” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2012, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/30/israeli-attack-iran-not-stop-nuclear. [161] Shimon Shiffer, “The Message Israel Received via the United States — Saudi Arabia Says: We Will Intercept Israeli Aircrafts on Way to Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 9, 2012. [162] Norton-Taylor, “Israeli Attack.” [163] Shimon Shiffer, “'Iran Must Steer Clear of US Interests in Gulf,'” Ynetnews, Sept. 3, 2012. [164] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [165] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [166] Shimon Shiffer, “Not to Attack in Iran,” Yediot Aharonot, July 31, 2012. [167] “Remarks by President Obama and President Peres of Israel at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 13, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/06/13/remarks-president-obama-and-president-peres-israel-presentation-medal-fr. [168]Ronen Bergman, “Shimon Peres on Obama, Iran and the Path to Peace,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/shimon-peres-on-obama-iran-and-the-path-to-peace.html. [169]Jeffrey Heller, “Israel’s Peres Against Any Solo Iran Attack, Trusts Obama,” Reuters, Aug. 16, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-iran/israels-peres-against-any-solo-iran-attack-trusts-obama-idUSBRE87F0M620120816. [170] Attila Somfalvi, “The Crisis With the U.S.: Barak Holds Secret Meeting With Rahm Emmanuel,” Ynet, Sept. 20, 2012; and Attila Somfalvi, “Netanyahu Summons Barak to Reprimand: Demands Clarifications,” Ynet, Oct. 6, 2012. [171] “PM Netanyahu’s Speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York,” Prime Minister’s Office, Sept. 27, 2012, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA_Graphics/MFA Gallery/2012/9/TRANSCRIPT_UN270912.pdf. [172] Rick Gladstone and David E. Sanger, “Nod to Obama by Netanyahu on Iran Bomb,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/28/world/middleeast/netanyahu-warns-that-iran-bombmaking-ability-is-nearer.html. [173] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314–16; Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [174] Zarate, Treasury’s War, 307–9, 314­–16. [175] In October 2011, U.S. officials expressed fear that “any crackdown on Iranian oil exports could drive up oil prices when the United States and European economies are weak.” As one senior official noted, “You don’t want to tip the U.S. into a downturn just to punish the Iranians.” See David E. Sanger and Mark Landler, “To Isolate Iran, U.S. Presses Inspectors on Nuclear Data,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/world/middleeast/white-house-says-data-shows-iran-push-on-nuclear-arms.html. The following month, the New York Times reported, “No one in the administration is willing to risk a step that could send prices soaring and, in the worst case, cause a confrontation at sea over a blockade.” David E. Sanger, “America’s Deadly Dynamics with Iran,” New York Times, Nov. 5, 2011. In January 2012, Sanger noted, “Obama has stopped short of advocating a global total embargo, which could lead to confrontations at sea.” Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [176] Jennifer Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0; Obama Objects (Really),” Washington Post Right Turn Blog, Dec. 2, 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/senate-passes-iran-sanctions-100-0-obama-objects-really/2011/12/02/gIQA7yELKO_blog.html. [177] Interestingly, a pattern recurred in which, in the words of former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, “The White House pushed back on sanctions bills, and then, once they passed, took credit for them.” See Michael B. Oren, Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (New York: Random House, 2015), 274. See also Josh Rogin, “White House Opposed New Iran Sanctions,” Foreign Policy, Nov. 30, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/11/30/white-house-opposed-new-iran-sanctions/. [178] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [179] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 194–95. [180] Samore, Sanctions Against Iran, 15. [181] “Payments System SWIFT to Cut Off Iranian Banks,” Reuters, March 15, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-eu-iran-sanctions/payments-system-swift-to-cut-off-iranian-banks-idUSBRE82E0VR20120315. [182] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, Nov. 5, 2012. [183] Solomon, The Iran Wars, 200; Rubin, “Senate Passes Iran Sanctions 100-0,” Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2011. [184] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 366–67. Zarate made the same point, noting that in early 2012, “The talk of preemptive war by Israel — which began to impact the public debate within Israeli society and in Washington, DC — made clear that more aggressive steps were necessary to avert war. … The Israeli strategy was clear — it would use saber rattling to impel greater international economic and financial pressure. The world was moving into maximalist financial pressure mode on Iran to avoid war. Financial constriction needed to move to economic strangulation.” See Zarate, Treasury’s War, 338. [185] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [186] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [187] Sanger, “Confronting Iran.” [188] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [189] Author interview with Daniel B. Shapiro, Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2018. [190] Author interview with Gary Samore, Cambridge, Mass., March 21, 2016. [191] Jeffrey Goldberg, “Obama to Iran and Israel: ‘As President of the United States, I Don’t Bluff,’” Atlantic, March 2, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/obama-to-iran-and-israel-as-president-of-the-united-states-i-dont-bluff/253875/. [192] “Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 4, 2012, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference-0. [193] Ross, Doomed to Succeed, 369. [194] Panetta, Worthy Fights, 405–7. [195] Goldberg, “Obama Doctrine.” [196] Author interview with Ehud Barak, Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 8, 2016. See also Barak, My Country, My Life, 432–33. [197] Barak, My Country, My Life, 429. [198] Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Obama Rebuffs Netanyahu on Setting Limits on Iran’s Nuclear Program,” New York Times, Sept. 13, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/world/middleeast/obama-rebuffs-netanyahu-on-nuclear-red-line-for-iran.html. [199] Lois Farrow Parshley, “A Whole New Era,” Foreign Policy, Sept. 17, 2012, https://foreignpolicy.com/2012/09/17/a-whole-new-era/. [200]“Netanyahu Urges U.S. to Set ‘Red Line’ for Iran,” CNN Security Clearance Blog, Sept. 16, 2012, http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/16/netanyahu-urges-u-s-to-set-red-line-for-iran/. [201] Telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. This may have been the case. In August 2012, Haaretz published an extensive interview with a “senior decision-maker” whom it indirectly identified as Barak. Linking the probability of a U.S. attack to a perceived, credible Israeli military option, the senior decision-maker — that is, Barak — added, “If Israel gives up and it becomes clear that it can no longer act, the likelihood of an American operation will decrease.” See Ari Shavit, “The Decision-Maker Is Warning: U.S. Cannot Be Trusted to Attack Iran on Time,” Haaretz, Aug. 10, 2012. [202] Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, “Pentagon Seeks Mightier Bomb vs. Iran,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 28, 2012, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970203363504577187420287098692. [203] Shimon Shiffer, “The Plan of Attack,” Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 3, 2012. [204] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [205] Barak, My Country, My Life, 433. [206] See Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008); Joseph S. Nye Jr., The Future of Power (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011); Moises Naím, The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be (New York: Basic Books, 2013). [207] Isabel Kershner, “Iran Deal Denounced by Netanyahu as ‘Historic Mistake,’” New York Times, July 14, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran-nuclear-deal-israel.html. [208] “Uvda with Ilana Dayan,” Channel 2, May 6, 2016. [209] Author telephone interview with William Burns, June 15, 2017. [210] Author telephone interview with Leon Panetta, Aug. 12, 2016. [211] “Amanpour,” With Christiane Amanpour, CNN, April 19, 2012. [212] “Hakol Diburim,” With Ayala Hasson, Voice of Israel, Aug. 9, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4RAuOR8IhU. [213] Author telephone interview with Ehud Barak, April 26, 2016. [214] Author interview with Ehud Barak, New York, May 31, 2016. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 606 [post_author] => 180 [post_date] => 2018-05-05 14:26:43 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-05-05 18:26:43 [post_content] =>

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. –Heraclitus

  "Here we go again." "It’s Groundhog Day with North Korea." "We’ve seen this script before." These sorts of refrains have been common among North Korea watchers — and those who play them on TV — ahead of the summit slated for June 12 in Singapore between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and President Donald Trump. After significant brinkmanship over whether the meeting would take place, the on-again, off-again summit looks likely to be held as originally planned. The United States has engaged North Korea in two major denuclearization processes, not to mention separate inter-Korean and multilateral efforts, over the past quarter-century. All have failed to produce the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization that the United States has sought on the Korean Peninsula.[1] Some skeptical of the bilateral summit charge that this history of failure is likely to repeat itself. Meanwhile, optimists suggest that something new in the upcoming process has opened the possibility of a different outcome.[2] History can be a useful guide to avoid repeating mistakes, but events are rarely as neat and tidy as a sound bite seems to suggest. The history of nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, as well as multilateral discussions such as the six-party talks, is far more complex than most voices in the media and policy circles acknowledge. This history offers cause for pessimism, optimism, and caution about current prospects for denuclearization.[3]

Pessimism: Denuclearization Is Harder Now Than During Past Efforts

Many of those who are pessimistic about the Trump-Kim summit point to failed efforts to achieve complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization and ask why this time should be any different. In one sense, the pessimists are not pessimistic enough. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last major diplomatic efforts at denuclearization. In the intervening years, the possibility of denuclearization has become even more distant. This section contrasts the situation today with the state of the North Korean nuclear threat when the 1994 Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the 2005 six-party talks were reached. Seen through that lens, contentions that history may repeat itself underestimate the current challenge. In Brief: The Agreed Framework and Six-Party Talks There have been two major diplomatic efforts to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program. In the early 1990s, North Korea initiated an international crisis by taking provocative steps toward developing a nuclear bomb: removing fuel rods from its five-megawatt plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and initiating its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in which North Korea had legally pledged to forego nuclear weapons. The United States engaged Pyongyang in an effort to resolve the crisis, and the two sides signed the Agreed Framework in 1994. In short, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, and political promises, including specific efforts toward the normalization of bilateral relations.[4] The Agreed Framework faced challenges in implementation, however, and collapsed in late 2002 and early 2003. The United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia initiated the six-party talks later in 2003.[5] Seeking to distinguish between the 1994 framework’s temporary freeze on nuclear production and a more comprehensive and lasting goal, the six countries announced, after two years and four rounds of negotiations, that they “unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.”[6] The 2005 joint statement of those talks laid out the basic principles of a nuclear deal that would be refined more specifically in a pair of implementation agreements two years later. In late 2008, however, the participating countries reached an impasse over important technical verification issues. Whereas in 1994 North Korea had pledged to freeze its nuclear program, in 2005 Pyongyang promised to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for energy and economic assistance, security guarantees, normalized diplomatic relations, and negotiations toward a “permanent peace regime.”[7] Although the two sets of negotiations were different in important ways, the broad structure was consistent: North Korea promised to move away from nuclear weapons in exchange for a similar basket of incentives. Denuclearization Today The North Korean nuclear program of 2018 is not the nuclear program of 1994, when Washington and Pyongyang negotiated the Agreed Framework. It is not even the nuclear program of 2005, when the six-party talks produced its joint statement. Since these diplomatic milestones, Pyongyang’s nuclear development and long-range missiles have advanced in major ways, crossing a series of critical technical barriers. These programs have grown significantly more difficult to reverse since earlier denuclearization efforts were underway. Since the 1990s, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown from a theoretical capability to an actual one. North Korea’s first nuclear test occurred in 2006, a year after the joint statement of the six-party talks was released. Before this, the North Korean leadership could not be confident that their efforts to build a nuclear bomb would actually work. Indeed, the North’s first nuclear test produced more of a whimper than a bang. The explosion yielded less than one kiloton, prompting a variety of theories about why it had been a low-yield test. As such, the fundamental challenge for these earlier negotiations was to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear weapon and to persuade Pyongyang to roll back its attendant programs. These efforts resembled something like the more recent nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany in the sense that American negotiators and their allies could capitalize on North Korea’s uncertainty about whether it could succeed in building a bomb and crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold. Today, by contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un controls a nuclear arsenal that has benefited from six tests. His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. After the 2006 nuclear test produced a lower-than-expected yield, then-leader Kim Jong Il ordered a second test, in 2009, that erased any doubt about North Korea’s basic ability to build and detonate a nuclear weapon.[8] North Korea’s third nuclear test, in 2013, came amid Pyongyang’s pronouncements that the test provided critical information that would help the regime’s effort to miniaturize a nuclear weapon in order to mount it on a missile. The third test may also have utilized uranium in its bomb design. The regime’s previous tests used plutonium, thus, testing weapons using this second path to the bomb expanded its capabilities. North Korea’s fourth test, in 2016, demonstrated the country’s thermonuclear capability for the first time.[9] The fifth and sixth tests, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, sought bigger yields still.[10] Rather than preventing North Korea from crossing the nuclear-weapons threshold, the denuclearization challenge has become much harder: Somehow, the genie must be put back in the bottle. [quote id="1"] Meanwhile, North Korea has steadily advanced its ability to develop, test, and field operational ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons. Critically, the regime has diversified its ballistic missile force to create a survivable second-strike capability, thereby securing an essential element to deter its primary adversary, the United States.[11] In 1994, North Korea was capable of striking some American bases and allies but not the U.S. homeland. That year — the same year Washington and Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework — North Korea began producing its Nodong medium-range ballistic missile and fielded the missile the following year. The Nodong could strike South Korea and most of Japan but still not the United States.[12] In 1998, North Korea flight-tested its Taepo Dong-1 prototype, which flew over Japan, rattling the Japanese government in particular and accelerating Tokyo’s cooperation with Washington on missile defense. The flight test ushered in a new round of missile diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang maintained a unilateral moratorium on long-range-missile flight tests for six years, refraining from launching another Taepo Dong rocket until 2006.[13] As the two sides negotiated the Agreed Framework and, later, the joint statement of the six-party talks, North Korea did not have the capability to hit the United States with its missiles. Today, however, North Korea is perilously close to having a demonstrated delivery vehicle to strike the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Since coming to power in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has ordered scores of missile launches, including long- and short-range ballistic missiles. Both long- and short-range ballistic missiles can test technologies used in the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).[14] In 2017, North Korea conducted three ICBM flight tests. After the third test, Kim Jong Un declared his nuclear deterrent complete.[15] While this claim was probably premature,[16] Kim expressed confidence that his country had attained a complete package of miniaturized nuclear weapons and survivable delivery vehicles that could reach the continental United States.[17] The main components of North Korea’s fissile material production have also shifted significantly. In the leadup to the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea had only one fissile material production site: the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The site was known, surveilled, and, in theory, could have been verifiably frozen with reasonable confidence. By the time of the six-party talks, the United States was aware of a nascent and covert North Korean uranium enrichment program that violated its Agreed Framework pledges. The CIA publicly disclosed to Congress its judgment that North Korea had started this program in 2000.[18] Other assessments date the origins of Pyongyang’s uranium enrichment as early as 1996.[19] Regardless of whether Pyongyang started its uranium enrichment program then or in 2000, plutonium production was North Korea’s sole route to the bomb in 1994 and its primary but not exclusive nuclear production capability in 2005. Today, North Korea acquires substantially more fissile material for weapons from its well-established uranium enrichment facilities than it does from its plutonium program. Pyongyang’s uranium program also has more growth potential than its plutonium program in absolute terms. One unclassified research project estimated that by 2020, North Korea’s only five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon could produce 14 nuclear weapons from plutonium, while two centrifuge plants could produce about 56 weapons from uranium.[20] Put another way, the North Korean uranium enrichment program produces far more fissile material for nuclear weapons today, and its higher annual output is central to the growth of Pyongyang’s arsenal over time. When it comes to trying to negotiate verifiable denuclearization, the distinction between the plutonium and uranium routes to the bomb is critical. In 2010, North Korean officials showed the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon to a prominent U.S. nongovernmental delegation. The manner and speed of the facility’s construction suggested strongly that this was not the country’s first enrichment facility.[21] Commercial satellite imagery and other publicly available sources offer no proof of a third enrichment facility, but that should not provide much comfort. It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. [quote id="2"] This should concern American policymakers as verification was the shoal upon which the six-party talks foundered.[22] During those talks, Washington wanted to conduct soil and nuclear waste samples to verify North Korea’s claims; Pyongyang refused. The “Second Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” agreed to on Oct. 3, 2007, outlined what would be required of North Korea to disable its five-megawatt reactor. The agreement did not explicitly require North Korea to allow these samples to be taken but stipulated that disablement would proceed in a “verifiable” manner.[23] Washington interpreted this to mean it could use sampling to verify Pyongyang’s actions under the second-phase agreement before it proceeded. Pyongyang, however, saw things differently: It wanted to save the issue of sampling for a “third phase” agreement, at which point it could either demand additional concessions and use the sampling issue as a bargaining chip, or not agree to sampling at all.[24] Verification is, of course, central to any sustainable agreement. And the devil is in the details. These kinds of technocratic aspects, which political leaders tend not to ponder, have derailed high-level, multiyear diplomatic initiatives. Diplomatic efforts could again sink over critical technical details if negotiators do not learn from the past. While Kim Jong Il may have hoped during negotiations in the 1990s and again during the six-party talks that his and his father’s decades-long efforts to develop nuclear weapons would someday provide a deterrent against U.S. invasion, his son, Kim Jong Un, has this capability. In the past, North Korea’s nuclear program was aspirational. Today, it is an active part of the country’s national defense. Before, verifying a deal focused primarily on a plutonium program was difficult. Now, the prominence of the uranium program in addition to the plutonium program makes the challenge even greater. It is not the same river.

Caution: New Leaders on Both Sides

In addition to the technical advancements in Pyongyang’s nuclear program since the last two major diplomatic efforts, important political changes have taken place in North Korea and the United States. During the Agreed Framework negotiations and the six-party talks, Kim Jong Il was effectively at the helm. Although North Korea’s founder and charismatic leader, Kim Il Sung, was in power until his death in 1994, and famously held important roles such as receiving former President Jimmy Carter in Pyongyang amid the crisis, Kim Il Sung told a Western reporter that by 1992 his son was running the country.[25] Kim Il Sung tapped his son as his successor in 1980 and gradually shifted power to him. As such, the Agreed Framework and six-party talks were, for North Korea, essentially a Kim Jong Il production. Today, Kim Jong Un is in charge and his personal stamp can be seen on nuclear diplomacy. Kim the youngest differs substantially in ruling style and approach from his father, something that matters greatly for the current round of summits. Kim Jong Il was an introverted micro-manager. Living in the shadow of his larger-than-life father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il closely controlled process and avoided public appearances. While Kim Il Sung was known for his charisma, Kim Jong Il could not even manage to give the annual new year’s day address. Instead, he instituted a policy of publishing the annual statement as an editorial in three newspapers.[26] Imagine if an American president decided to forego the annual State of the Union address and instead published his views on the White House website. That would be less of a break from past precedent than Kim Jong Il’s decision. Kim Jong Il gave one — or possibly two — extremely short speeches in his entire tenure. He was also absent from public view during the first three years of his formal reign, citing the traditional mourning period after his father’s death. Kim Jong Un is a different kind of leader. He has explicitly modeled himself after his still-revered grandfather rather than his relatively unpopular father.[27] He has brought back the annual new year’s day address. He appears in public with his wife, Ri Sol Ju, something Kim Jong Il had avoided. Kim Jong Un has also resurrected the Korean Workers’ Party, restarting the long-defunct party congresses. Tapes smuggled out of North Korea in the 1980s showed Kim Jong Il privately expressing insecure views of his personal stature that are consistent with his psychological profile.[28] In contrast, Kim Jong Un exudes confidence and has shown himself ready to personally lead the current round of nuclear diplomacy through a series of summits with South Korea, China, and the United States. It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. On the critical issue of his ruling style, Kim Jong Un has parted ways with his father. It stands to reason, then,[29] that his priorities and methods concerning nuclear diplomacy may not be a carbon copy of his father’s approach. Kim Jong Un proposed summit diplomacy with Trump, rather than having lower-level officials work toward a possible capstone summit by hashing out the details first. The younger Kim has taken the political risk upon himself and made it more difficult to blame subordinates for possible diplomatic failure. Leaders are always important in high-stakes diplomacy, but the summit approach makes their personality and predilections even more central to the outcome. The United States is only at the head of a long trail of diplomacy, and it is not at all clear that previous journeys foreshadow the current one. On the American side, there is also a new sheriff in town. The United States negotiated the Agreed Framework and the joint statement of the six-party talks under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Their administrations had different views on diplomacy with North Korea. Senior members of the Bush administration criticized the Agreed Framework negotiated under Clinton, which suffered a number of implementation challenges, including — but not limited to — the revelation of North Korea’s nascent uranium enrichment program.[30] The differences between the two U.S. administrations were stark enough that some insiders dubbed the Bush administration’s approach “ABC — Anything But Clinton.”[31] The Bush administration, however, quickly shifted to its own diplomatic effort with the North Koreans after the final collapse of the Agreed Framework. This time around, there were more seats at the table, different areas of emphasis, and intra-government intrigue,[32] but two things remained constant: the basic parameters of seeking a complete and permanent denuclearization of North Korea, and recognition that this would require some reciprocal and unpopular concessions. With a few notable exceptions, the two U.S. administrations operated — at the most general level — alike. [quote id="3"] Donald Trump fashions himself a new kind of political leader. His engagement in tit-for-tat rhetorical barbs in 2017 — such as when he threatened to bring down “fire and fury”[33] on North Korea, or when he called Kim Jong Un “little rocket man”[34] — marked an outlier for American presidential behavior. Trump’s public comments about military options — including limited military strikes that could not denuclearize North Korea by force but, it was hoped, would push Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table — prompted substantial criticism about the wisdom of such an approach.[35] Trump quickly shifted gears in 2018, however, by accepting Kim Jong Un’s summit invitation, conveyed through the South Korean president. He has sent Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang twice — first as director of the CIA and secretary of state-designate and then as secretary of state — to advance the summit and secure the release of three unjustly imprisoned Americans.[36] Trump’s policy tools, including carrots, such as peace regime negotiations and sanctions relief, and sticks, including renewed sanctions and military moves, remain roughly the same as those available to his predecessors. But his willingness to meet Kim Jong Un early, to call off the summit, and to recommit to it within days demonstrates the greater element of uncertainty as to how the United States will begin and sustain a diplomatic process with the North Koreans. The men entering the river are different.

Optimism: Allies, Peace Regime, and Learning

Achieving complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a tall order. Getting it on the cheap or for free is taller still. If success is framed in these terms alone, there is little room for optimism. If, however, progress is defined as concretely minimizing the North Korean nuclear threat and moving toward an ultimate goal of denuclearization in such a way that the benefits to national interests outweigh the costs of concessions, then there is room to be optimistic. In short, optimists can argue that a successful agreement is one that leaves the United States and its allies better off than they are in the current situation and on the current trajectory. The U.S.-South Korean combined approach, serious consideration of creating a peace regime, and the real possibility of learning from past agreements together provide reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way forward in U.S.-North Korean diplomacy. The U.S.-South Korean Combined Approach North Korea gains tactical advantage when it can split the United States from its Northeast Asian allies, specifically South Korea. The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. North Korea has long favored bilateral diplomacy with the United States in hopes of sidelining South Korea and Japan. Tensions in the U.S.-South Korean alliance have also challenged previous efforts to maintain a united front against North Korea. Han Sung-joo, who served as South Korea’s foreign minister during the Agreed Framework negotiations, noted that then-South Korean President Kim Young-sam wanted to ensure the Americans were not “too soft” on the North Koreans. At the same time, the South Korean president did not want to raise the risk of military conflict that threatened to destroy his capital. The conservative South Korean president, worried about his domestic political support, also needed to assure his people that the United States was closely consulting him at every turn.[37] He wanted to make sure the American approach was neither too hot nor too cold at each stage of negotiations and sought to communicate this to South Koreans. The United States and South Korea were not in lockstep during the Agreed Framework, and Seoul worried about not having direct access to the North Koreans on a matter central to its national security. Kim Young-sam’s successor, Kim Dae-jung, came from the opposite end of the South Korean political spectrum and wholeheartedly endorsed engaging North Korea. Kim Dae-jung made history with the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 — just five months before the election of George W. Bush. Kim Dae-jung’s “Sunshine Policy” sought to change North Korean behavior through unconditional engagement, while Bush settled on a more confrontational approach to North Korea’s objectionable actions. Alliance managers sought to keep the two sides linked, but it remained an ongoing challenge.[38] Differences among allies are inevitable, but the combined approach provides reasons for optimism that this time may be different. Never before has an inter-Korean summit, let alone two, been explicitly set up ahead of a U.S.-North Korea summit. The South Korean presidential office recognizes that it cannot push North Korean denuclearization alone and has sought to influence U.S. engagement with the North Koreans as well as its own. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met early success with balancing his policy of engaging North Korea while keeping the United States firmly invested in the process. The road is long, and it will become even more difficult. The two sides will face tough choices and trade-offs as the North Koreans begin to articulate their core demands. Nevertheless, Washington and Seoul have gotten off to a solid start. Peace Regime In contrast to previous diplomatic rounds, North Korea’s long-held demand to negotiate a peace treaty to replace the armistice and formally end the Korean War seems to be on the table. The Agreed Framework did not mention a peace regime or peace-treaty negotiations, but it opened the door to four-party talks —among the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China — on these topics.[39] The Agreed Framework contained U.S. security guarantees to Pyongyang but lacked a specific and concrete quid pro quo on denuclearization and a peace regime. The 2005 joint statement promised to “negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.”[40] The Russians convened the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism Working Group in Moscow three times. It was one of the five working groups of the six-party talks, but it did not produce concrete outcomes. The United States favored discussing a peace regime after North Korea denuclearized, and Pyongyang did not want to wait.[41] The six-party talks, in practice, produced an agreement for denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief and aid. Demanding that North Korea denuclearize amounts to asking it to voluntarily relinquish the world’s most powerful weapons. And reminders that its nuclear development violates international law do not move Pyongyang. Likewise, sanctions relief and aid can contribute to North Korea’s economy but would not supplant the security that it believes nuclear weapons provide. Declassified documents from Pyongyang’s socialist-bloc allies demonstrate that, in the 1970s, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung saw peace-treaty negotiations as a means to try to reduce and ultimately end the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula. One of his senior party officials told a friendly foreign delegation in 1972,
The international public sees as just and honest our proposal to conclude a peace treaty between the two Koreas, to withdraw American forces and to reduce the militaries. If we conclude a peace treaty, the Americans would have no reason to stay there.[42]
The intervening four decades have produced varying assessments of North Korea’s intentions and objectives regarding peace regime negotiations. The United States will have to wait for Kim Jong Un’s articulation of his specific demands to adjudicate between competing assessments. One thing, however, is fairly certain: North Korea will seek to supplant its perceived security losses from denuclearization with phased and reciprocal adjustments to the U.S. military presence on and around the Korean Peninsula. How is this good news? Most analysts say that North Korean denuclearization is simply impossible.[43] Kim Jong Un does not want to go the way of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, who, lacking a nuclear deterrent, met their violent deaths after U.S.-led or -supported military operations. The peace regime issue brings to the fore difficult trade-offs and options for the highest-level decisions by elected U.S. leaders and American allies. After hearing the North Korean demands, seeking to negotiate them down, and considering the verifiable implementation measures, the United States and its allies will face a basic decision: Is the trade-off worth it at any stage? Elected leaders may have to consider difficult adjustments to the U.S. military presence on the peninsula, such as the size and scope of military exercises, strategic asset deployment, and the nature of the permanent presence in exchange for verified, late-stage steps toward denuclearization. They may decide that whatever deal is on the table with North Korea is not worth the cost, but an acceptable deal might be laid out as well. Having North Korea’s demands communicated directly from its leader to America’s is superior to wading through the many contrasting assessments of what North Korea really wants. Learning The Trump administration has the benefit of being able to learn from the past. Secretary of State Pompeo has noted repeatedly that he has read the CIA’s history of negotiations with North Korea and vowed not to repeat past mistakes. Unlike the Agreed Framework negotiators, Pompeo has historical points of reference on negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear program. One lesson is the importance of blocking North Korea from pocketing concessions. If Pyongyang can reverse its concessions, the United States and its allies must be able to do the same. This simple lesson has not been followed in earlier negotiations. In 2007, the six parties agreed to “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” which laid out in specific terms the first round of reciprocal steps to implement the 2005 agreement. North Korea pledged to disable its Yongbyon reactor, allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to monitor the disablement, and issue a “list of all of its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement.” The “parallel” action from the United States included removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, lifting sanctions imposed through the Trading with the Enemy Act, and providing an initial tranche of heavy fuel oil as energy assistance.[44] North Korea’s disablement procedures were temporary, reversible, and intended to elicit further implementation protocols that did indeed come. When the six-party talks failed in 2008 over verification issues, North Korea was in a position to expel IAEA inspectors and move to restart the Yongbyon reactor immediately, though it delayed the restart for several years. After North Korea expelled the inspectors, the United States quickly reimposed by executive order the same authorities found in the Trading with the Enemy Act,[45] and North Korea lost out on deliveries of heavy fuel oil. The United States could not, however, reinstate North Korea on the terrorism list immediately. Once removed, relisting legally required North Korea to commit another terrorist act, and the United States did not reimpose this designation until 2017.[46] While some have argued that the United States could have relisted North Korea earlier under certain legal interpretations, the sort of “snapback” sanctions like those embedded in the Iran nuclear agreement did not exist to discourage North Korea from trying to pocket concessions in the first place. In the absence of an external enforcement mechanism or a broader relationship that keeps other international agreements on track, carefully crafted quid pro quos that have equal degrees of reversibility and importance can help sustain lasting agreements by maintaining the same incentive structure for both sides to continue abiding by the terms. [quote id="4"] Learning from history also requires a balanced understanding of past events. Since writing history is the practice of selecting which past events are significant enough to merit recording, there is always room for author bias. A one-sentence history of North Korea-related nuclear negotiations could simply note that no effort has achieved North Korea’s complete denuclearization. At this most basic level, American and allied negotiators failed to meet their core objective. If one delves more deeply, however, the history quickly becomes more complex. Both nuclear agreements delayed and degraded North Korea’s nuclear program — and a reciprocal price was paid for these concessions. The Agreed Framework verifiably froze for eight years North Korea’s plutonium program, which was its only fissile material production facility at the time of the negotiations. North Korea had three plutonium reactors under construction ahead of the Agreed Framework — one five megawatts, one 50 megawatts, and one 200 megawatts. The smallest of the three was the most developed, but the Agreed Framework effectively put the nail in the coffin of the other two.[47] Some point to a counterfactual to highlight the value of this nuclear agreement: “Experts estimate that without the Agreed Framework, North Korea could have hundreds of nuclear weapons at this point.”[48] But the Agreed Framework was a nuclear agreement, not a plutonium agreement, and North Korea cheated by initiating a uranium enrichment path to the bomb during the framework’s shaky years of implementation. The United States provided North Korea with more than $400 million in energy assistance. South Korea and Japan contributed additional significant sums through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).[49] Concurrently, the United States and its international partners provided humanitarian assistance to North Korea during its late 1990s famine, which was never explicitly linked to the nuclear agreement. Critics charged that the aid propped up the regime amid its greatest existential crisis since the Korean War.[50] Likewise, the six-party talks verifiably shut down North Korea’s plutonium reactor for six years. It did not concretely address, however, the nascent but growing uranium enrichment threat. North Korea also received sanctions relief, some of which was not reversed until last year. Pyongyang was returned its unfrozen assets from a Macau bank and, more significantly, changed its banking practices to limit America’s ability to impose the same type of financial pain using the same tool.[51] Proponents and opponents of engagement argue about what would have happened without these agreements. But counterfactuals are a dangerous analytical tool. It is impossible to know what would have happened if one historical variable had shifted. Would North Korea have more than 100 nuclear weapons today with three functioning plutonium reactors had there been no Agreed Framework? Or would the regime have collapsed under its own weight without the Western aid? It is impossible to say. Everyone has preconceived ideas and biases, but critical readers of this history who seek to genuinely learn from the past should be equally wary of counterfactuals that support or oppose preconceived ideas.

Conclusion

History is messy. Neither proponents nor opponents of the Trump-Kim summit should feel confident that history is on their side. History reveals reasons for pessimism, optimism, and caution. Attempting to critically engage the history of these nuclear negotiations can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. Given the paucity of concrete data on Kim Jong Un and his decision-making, humility in analysis is warranted. Confident statements about what the North Korean leader seeks before he tells us are misplaced. North Korea’s nuclear program has advanced significantly since the last nuclear deals, but the two sides seem to be getting closer to a formula for a possible deal. Any deal — if one is indeed possible — is likely to involve difficult trade-offs for both sides. Experts can help illuminate public debate on the merits of these trade-offs, but elected leaders will ultimately need wisdom for the hard decisions ahead. Patrick McEachern is an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is co-author of North Korea, Iran, and the Challenge to International Order (Routledge: 2018). The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State or the U.S. government. ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Roman Harak [post_title] => Marching Toward a U.S.-North Korea Summit: The Historical Case for Optimism, Pessimism, and Caution [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => marching-toward-a-u-s-north-korea-summit-the-historical-case-for-optimism-pessimism-and-caution [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-02 12:06:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-02 16:06:50 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=606 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => The history of denuclearization efforts on the Korean peninsula gives reason for pessimism, caution, and optimism. Attempting to critically engage that history can help the United States narrow uncertainty, prepare for a long diplomatic process should one transpire, and perhaps learn some tactical lessons. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 3 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => His is not a start-up business seeking proof of concept but, rather, an established enterprise with a demonstrated ability to detonate increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => It is not clear how many uranium enrichment sites North Korea has because they are easier to hide than their plutonium counterparts. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => It is natural and appropriate to look to the history of U.S.-North Korean and multilateral denuclearization efforts for insights into the upcoming talks. First, however, one must consider whether Kim Jong Un is following his father’s playbook. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The United States, South Korea, and Japan have many more shared interests and values than differences, but North Korea knows where to find natural cleavages and has traditionally sought to exploit them. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 639 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 180 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] The effort toward complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization is known as CVID. [2] The South Korean government has been at the forefront of the optimists, arguing that this round of summits could portend a different outcome than past attempts. See its website dedicated to the series of summits — called Peace, A New Start — and articles such as that by Xu Aiying and Sohn JiAe, “Inter-Korean Summit Makes Headlines Around the World,” Peace, A New Start: 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, May 1, 2018, http://www.korea.net/Government/Current-Affairs/National-Affairs/view?affairId=656&subId=640&articleId=158382. For a critique arguing that history suggests greater pessimism around the summits, see Bruce Klingner, “Nice Try, North Korea and South Korea, But Your Pledges Are Airy, Empty Confections,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-klingner-north-korea-declaration-is-mostly-empty-promises-20180501-story.html. [3] “Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is standard language that has been used throughout post-Cold War diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear program. It is in the 1992 “Joint Declaration of South And North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the 1994 Agreed Framework, the 2005 “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” and the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, among other agreements. As operationalized in these agreements and pursued in practice, the phrase refers to the elimination of North Korean facilities that can produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons and verified removal of any nuclear weapons on the peninsula. [4] For a more thorough overview of the 1994 Agreed Framework, see Kelsey Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, August 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/agreedframework. [5] For an overview of the six-party talks, see Kelsey Davenport, “The Six-Party Talks at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, July 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/6partytalks. [6] Department of State, “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” Sept. 19, 2005, https://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm. [7] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks.” [8] For more on North Korea’s first nuclear test, see Emma Chanlett-Avery and Sharon Squassoni, North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Motivations, Implications, and U.S. Options (Washington: Congressional Research Service, Oct. 24, 2006), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL33709.pdf. [9] Thermonuclear weapons, also known as hydrogen bombs, utilize fusion and can produce a more powerful blast, while atomic weapons utilize fission. For a short and readable article on the difference and its application to North Korea, see Stephanie Pappas, “Hydrogen Bomb vs. Atomic Bomb: What’s the Difference?” Live Science, Sept. 22, 2017, https://www.livescience.com/53280-hydrogen-bomb-vs-atomic-bomb.html. [10] “North Korea Nuclear Tests: What Did They Achieve?” BBC, Sept. 3, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-17823706. [11] Patrick McEachern, “North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine Under Kim Jong Un,” APLN Policy Brief, Dec. 21, 2017, http://www.a-pln.org/_mobile/briefings/briefings_view.html?seq=1030. [12] “No Dong 1,” Center for Strategic and International Studies Missile Defense Project, accessed June 1, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/no-dong/. [13] Alex Wagner, “Albright Visits North Korea; Progress Made on Missile Front,” Arms Control Association, November 2000, https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2000_11/albrighttalks. “North Korea Test-Fires Several Missiles,” New York Times, July 4, 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/04/world/asia/04cnd-korea.html. [14] The U.N. Security Council has criticized North Korea’s ballistic missile development and demanded the suspension of “all ballistic missile related activity” in a series of resolutions since North Korea’s 2006 Taepo Dong-2 launch. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695, adopted in 2006, demands that North Korea suspend “all ballistic missile related activity.” The Security Council’s demand is not limited to missiles of a certain range given the ability to test components of long-range missiles using short-range launches. Likewise, the resolutions’ wording effectively demands the cessation of rocket launches configured as a space launch for satellites as these launches also can be used to test and refine technologies for long-range ballistic missiles. [15] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [16] Kim’s claim is probably premature given some additional technical hurdles and unfinished business on some systems such as the GORAE-class ballistic missile submarine. [17] Korean Central News Agency, “Kim Jong Un Guides Test Fire of ICBM Hwasong 15,” Nov. 29, 2017. [18] CIA, Untitled Unclassified Estimate, Nov. 19, 2002, GALE Document Number KQUSOP990053924. Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf later noted that Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan delivered centrifuges to North Korea in 2000, as recounted by Sigfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Siegfried S. Hecker, “What I Found in North Korea: Pyongyang’s Plutonium Is No Longer the Only Problem,” Foreign Affairs, Dec. 9, 2010, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/northeast-asia/2010-12-09/what-i-found-north-korea?page=show. [19] A prominent North Korean defector claimed that a decision to enrich may have been made as early as 1996, and the South Korean foreign minister asserted the same. North Korean imports of the critical components followed in subsequent years. Kim Yong Hun, “North Korea Obtained HEU from Pakistan,” DailyNK, Aug. 11, 2010, http://english.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02200&num=6680. Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Started Uranium Program in 1990s, South Says,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/07/world/asia/07korea.html. [20] For an excellent technical discussion, see David Albright, “North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities: A Fresh Look,” Aug. 9, 2017, http://isis-online.org/isis-reports/detail/north-koreas-nuclear-capabilities-a-fresh-look-power-point-slides/10. Albright cautions that these estimates are “rough” and require a variety of informed assumptions about North Korea’s nuclear operations, bomb design, and other variables. Numbers cited here are rounded to the nearest whole nuclear weapon and reflect median estimates for “weapons equivalents.” [21] Siegfried S. Hecker, “Nuclear Developments in North Korea,” (Stanford University: Center for International Security and Cooperation, Mar. 20, 2012), https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/HeckerPBNCfinal.pdf. [22] Condoleezza Rice, No Higher Honor (New York: Crown Publishers, 2011). [23] Department of State, “Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement,” Oct. 3, 2007, https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2007/oct/93217.htm. [24] Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Limits Tests of Nuclear Site,” New York Times, Nov. 12, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/world/asia/13korea.html. [25] Kim Hakjoon, Dynasty: The Hereditary Succession Politics of North Korea (Stanford, CA: Walter Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2015), 101. [26] Patrick McEachern, Inside the Red Box: North Korea’s Post-Totalitarian Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 43–44. [27] Andrei Lankov, “NK’s Founding Father, Kim Il-Sung,” Korea Times, Apr. 17, 2016, http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2016/04/638_202760.html. [28] Barbara Demick, “Secret Tape Recordings of Kim Jong Il Provide Rare Insight into the Psyche of his North Korean Regime,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 27, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-kimtapes-snap-20161026-story.html. [29] For a more in-depth discussion of differences in ruling style and approach between Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, see Patrick McEachern, “Centralizing North Korean Policymaking Under Kim Jong Un,” Asian Perspective (forthcoming). [30] Charles Kartman, Robert Carlin, and Joel Wit, “Policy in Context: A History of KEDO, 1994–2006” (Stanford, CA: Center for International Security Cooperation and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, June 2012), https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/A_History_of_KEDO-1.pdf. [31] James B. Steinberg, “The Bush Foreign Policy Revolution,” Brookings Institution, June 1, 2003, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-bush-foreign-policy-revolution/. [32] Mike Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008). [33] Noah Bierman, “Trump Warns North Korea of ‘Fire and Fury,’” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 8, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-trump-warns-north-korea-of-fire-and-1502220642-htmlstory.html. [34] “Trump Calls Kim Jong Un ‘Little Rocket Man’ on Twitter,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 30, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-updates-everything-president-trump-calls-kim-jong-un-little-rocket-1512093131-htmlstory.html. [35] For the most comprehensive and succinct criticism of the idea of limited military strikes, see Abraham M. Denmark, “The Myth of the Limited Strike on North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, Jan. 9, 2018, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-korea/2018-01-09/myth-limited-strike-north-korea. [36] Carol Morello, Anna Fifield, and David Nakamura, “North Korea Frees 3 American Prisoners Ahead of a Planned Trump-Kim Summit,” Washington Post, May 9, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pompeo-north-korea-can-haverichly-deserved-opportunities-in-return-for-peace/2018/05/09/b51febfa-51a4-11e8-b00a-17f9fda3859b_story.html. [37] “Living History with Former ROK Foreign Minister Han Sung-joo,” Beyond Parallel, Dec. 5, 2016, https://beyondparallel.csis.org/living-history-han-sung-joo/. Choe Sang-hun, “Korean Crisis Is Different This Time,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2009, https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/world/asia/04iht-letter.html. [38] Charles L. Pritchard, Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2007). [39] James L. Schoff and Yaron Eisenberg, Peace Regime Building on the Korean Peninsula: What’s Next? (Cambridge, MA: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, May 2009), 3, http://www.ifpa.org/pdf/PeaceRegimeInterimMay09.pdf. [40] “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” https://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/c15455.htm. [41] R. Michael Schiffer, “Envisioning a Northeast Asian Peace and Security Mechanism,” in Understanding New Political Realities in Seoul, ed. L. Gordon Flake and Park Ro-byug (Washington: Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, 2008), 59–78. [42] P. Urjinlhundev, “Protocols of the Talks between Mongolian and North Korean Government Delegations,” Mar. 17, 1972. [43] For a sophisticated statement of this position and its implications for policy, see Sung Chull Kim and Michael D. Cohen, eds., North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2017). [44] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” Feb. 13, 2007, http://www.mofa.go.jp/region/asia-paci/n_korea/6party/action0702.html. [45] The White House, “Letter – Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to North Korea,” Jan. 2, 2015, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/02/letter-imposing-additional-sanctions-respect-north-korea. [46] Michael D. Shear and David E. Sanger, “Trump Returns North Korea to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/us/politics/north-korea-trump-terror.html. [47] Federation of American Scientists, “Yongbyon,” Mar. 4, 2000, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/facility/yongbyon.htm. [48] Davenport, “The U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework at a Glance.” [49] Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth D. Nikitin, Foreign Assistance to North Korea (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 2014), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40095.pdf. [50] For a succinct and contemporary review of competing arguments for and against aid, among other considerations, see Robert A. Manning and James Przystup, “Starve North Korea — Or Save It? Right Now We’re Doing Both,” Washington Post, June 23, 1996, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1996/06/23/starve-north-korea-or-save-it-right-now-were-doing-both/97ea3f5d-511b-4286-b743-be7e6ef1efa9/. [51] John Park and Jim Walsh, Stopping North Korea, Inc.: Sanctions Effectiveness and Unintended Consequences (Cambridge, MA: MIT Security Studies Program, August 2016), 16, https://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/Stopping%20North%20Korea%20Inc%20Park%20and%20Walsh%20.pdf. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 1 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 677 [post_author] => 194 [post_date] => 2018-08-21 12:21:32 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-08-21 16:21:32 [post_content] => The U.S. National Security Strategy, published in December 2017, marked a historic break in U.S. policy toward China. The White House explicitly judged the policies of previous administrations to be a failure and closed the door on engagement as the primary mode of U.S.-Chinese relations. Before the Trump administration, U.S. policy was based on the assumption that a China governed by the Chinese Communist Party could be socialized within the international institutions of the West. Engagement at all levels — commercial, scientific, military, diplomatic, educational, and people-to-people — was expected to convince Chinese leaders of the benefits of accepting a liberal international order and persuade them to become, in the words of then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, a “responsible stakeholder” in that order.[1] This assumption had endured through seven U.S. presidencies, but the National Security Strategy explicitly judged, “This premise turned out to be false.”[2] The Trump administration’s new, more confrontational direction has generated more controversy than consensus. The emerging contours of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy reflect a muscular commitment to enduring U.S. interests in a stable Asia-Pacific and to pushing back against Beijing’s revisionism. The statements Defense Secretary James Mattis made at the Shang-ri La Dialogue in June appear to be coming to fruition as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced $300 million for security assistance on top of $113 million for technology, energy, and infrastructure initiatives.[3] Many observers would support such measures, but other aspects of the administration’s policies have caused unease among some even as they achieved results. To begin with, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration had made the signature economic initiative of its Asia-Pacific rebalance. Meanwhile, the Trump administration successfully pressured China to enforce sanctions on North Korea but also generated fears of war. The administration’s trade actions and tariffs may not resolve the U.S.-China trade imbalances, but they appear to be pressuring China’s leaders, particularly Xi Jinping, in novel ways.[4] The strategic shift, however, has not yet addressed the first-order questions that have dogged U.S. policy in Asia under past administrations: Is the United States willing to use force in the region, and how feasible are U.S. objectives while the Communist Party governs China? The strategic shift in U.S. policy toward China has not been locked in either bureaucratically or politically. Although the Trump administration has reopened an important conversation that had been closed for decades, it ultimately may not be the one to build a new policy consensus on China. Washington’s friends in Asia worry that American partisanship may prevent future policymakers from recognizing the Trump administration’s achievements in the region.[5] Nevertheless, Washington and Beijing will not return to the old status quo. This moment in time marks a transition from seven administrations’ policy of engagement to a nascent, emerging position. Because the United States is not yet ready to resolve first-order questions about its policy aims, any strategy is transitory. For now, the best answers can only describe the tools and considerations that must be a part of the U.S. recalibration. To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. Chinese power is an issue the United States will grapple with for years to come, and the relative difference in power between the two countries is shrinking, especially along China’s periphery. Washington needs to be able to maximize its leverage and make the most of opportunities to affect the Chinese Communist Party-state. Taking advantage of political leverage will require affecting party leaders at a personal level. The vicious politics of the Chinese Communist Party opens up fissures among the leadership at least once every political generation. Such openings can and should be exploited to advance U.S. interests. Improving U.S. understanding of China and orienting the U.S. government toward identifying and exploiting opportunities will require paying greater attention to the ways the Communist Party seeks to shape foreigners’ understanding of China. Washington needs to be prepared to act and must reengage in a discussion of values that has been left on the sidelines for too long. Even if the Trump administration’s more competitive course of action is not maintained by subsequent administrations, an engagement-oriented approach will still require adjustments to better protect U.S. interests.

An Inevitable Break

A dramatic shift in U.S.-Chinese relations was on the horizon no matter who won the U.S. presidential election in 2016. The assumptions underpinning bilateral relations had long strained against day-to-day realities. The two most important assumptions were that U.S. engagement would lead to a more liberal China (if not the demise of the Chinese Communist Party) and that shared long-term interests would lead to cooperation.[6] The 2017 National Security Strategy was explicit about the failures of this approach. Most notably, American aspirations for a more liberal — even if not democratic — China collided with the hard facts of what the Chinese Communist Party was willing to do to survive. The National Security Strategy stated, “For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China.” Even Richard Nixon justified engaging the Chinese Communist Party on the basis of hoped-for, long-term political change.[7] This hope became entrenched after the end of the Cold War removed the strategic logic of using U.S.-China relations as a counterweight to the Soviet Union. Commercial, rather than strategic, engagement would supposedly moderate and ultimately liberalize China’s politics and economy.[8] Signs that the Chinese Communist Party was resisting the direction U.S. policymakers had envisioned arose early in the post-Cold War era, but the rise of Xi Jinping has brought American hopes of political reform crashing down. Early on, the party relentlessly shut down discussion of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989 and jailed the movement’s student leaders. Chinese leaders also studied how best to use and shape market forces for the benefit of the Communist Party, giving the impression of regulatory liberalization while some in the business community became party members.[9] Signs of retrogression soon became unmistakable under Xi. The playbook for Xi’s leadership leaked out in what is known as Document No. 9 in the spring of 2013. The document identified perceived threats to the regime from, among other sources, universities, civil society, and the news media. Each has received special attention from the Xi government, and new regulations or legislation have expanded on the activities that must receive prior approval. The creation of concentration camps for Uighurs, the arrest of relatives of journalists who reported the story for a U.S.-government-funded news outlet, and the detention of Uighurs who are in contact with people outside China mark the extreme end of the party’s internal repression.[10] Lest readers think the Uighurs suffer from oppression by the Han Chinese majority rather than that of the party specifically, it should be noted that Beijing’s repression is broad. The party has cracked down on Chinese Christians while pressuring the Vatican to cede its authority to appoint church leaders in China.[11] Moreover, all Chinese citizens are subject to the ever-more invasive and comprehensive electronic surveillance slowly being integrated into a policy framework for inducing and coercing behavior the party wants.[12] Critics of the Trump administration’s aggressive approach argue that U.S.-Chinese relations after the Cold War were driven primarily by U.S. interests rather than a naïve hope that the Chinese Communist Party would liberalize. There was nothing wrong with past policy, these critics say, and U.S. presidential and policy statements about political liberalization did not represent what policymakers were actually thinking. As former U.S. ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy observed about today’s debate, “Such critiques often fail to distinguish between the way Washington publicly justifies its policies, by referring to values, and the way it actually formulates them, by putting national interests first.”[13] Those interests, however, seemingly became formulaic assumptions that went untested as China evolved. U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. For years, they proclaimed the same areas of overlapping interest: maintaining a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, arresting climate change, working for non-proliferation, and building commercial ties. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger highlighted these points in a 1997 speech entitled “Building a New Consensus on China.” Engagement, he argued, was needed to maintain cooperation on “the spread of weapons of mass destruction; our increasingly complex commercial ties; stability on the Korean peninsula; and the health of the global environment.”[14] More than 20 years have passed since Berger’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, yet the same areas remain singled out for cooperation despite Beijing’s changing behavior, growing military power, and increasing internal political repression.[15] And among those cited interests, the record is mixed. [quote id="1"] Cooperation on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction yielded uneven results, but key takeaways from U.S.-Chinese agreements never materialized. As Berger said in 1997, “China is neither as bad as some portray — [n]or as good as we would like.”[16] In 1985, Beijing and Washington signed a Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement — a so-called 1-2-3 Agreement — to facilitate the transfer of U.S. civilian nuclear expertise and equipment to China to help modernize its nuclear industry. The agreement included a Chinese commitment to build an export control system to monitor and certify the export of sensitive and dual-use technologies. That system remains unbuilt more than 30 years later. Instead, U.S. officials work through a Ministry of Foreign Affairs that often is outranked and outgunned politically by the companies it must regulate, and that is assuming the ministry is even prepared and able to act on a U.S. request. Commercial ties between American and Chinese firms have grown increasingly complex. Both sides have benefited from continued expansion, but Chinese political pressure has also mounted on U.S. companies. Surveys of foreign multinational companies in China have found growing pessimism regarding the regulatory and policy environment despite confidence in the country’s economic future.[17] Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative in the Trump administration who was also deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration, argued nearly a decade ago that many of the promised benefits of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) had failed to materialize. Proponents had argued that the trade deficit would shrink, that U.S. companies’ market access would improve, and that there would be no downside for the United States. Instead, the trade deficit grew. And while U.S. companies did get more access to Chinese markets, they continued to pay for that access through joint ventures and technology transfers. Between 2000 and 2009, the United States lost a third of its manufacturing jobs in a sharp decline that began after China joined the WTO.[18] One of the most significant failures following in the wake of China’s incorporation into the WTO has been the persistence of intellectual property theft and its movement up the value chain from cultural products, such as movies, to telecommunications and semiconductors.[19] When Robert Kapp, then president of the U.S.-China Business Council, testified before Congress in support of granting China permanent normal trade relations and supporting its WTO ascension, he argued that leverage would be gained rather than lost by integrating China. Beijing’s participation in the WTO, he said, would give companies recourse to “such offensive habits as the requirement that foreign companies transfer technology in order to do business in China.”[20] Today, however, forced transfer remains a key element of Beijing’s strategy to acquire foreign technology, and the scale of China’s intellectual property theft arguably has increased.[21] Sustained Chinese cooperation on North Korea, meanwhile, has been at least as much a product of U.S. pressure as solicitation and persuasion. Since the 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party leadership has consistently prioritized North Korea’s stability over preventing its nuclearization. The U.S. sanctions on Macao-based Banco Delta Asia, in late 2005, put pressure on Beijing and Chinese banks even as the equivalent of $24 million to $25 million of North Korean money — a small sum in the context of international relations — was frozen. The sanctions implicitly threatened Chinese banks doing business with North Korea and significantly restricted North Korea’s access to the international financial system, despite its access to China.[22] This pressure helped bring about another round of six-party talks. As pressure and scrutiny eventually lifted, Chinese companies renewed their efforts to skirt and undermine the sanctions regime.[23] The latest round of official Chinese cooperation began in April 2017 with the presidents’ meeting at Mar-a-Lago, during which Xi pledged to work with the Trump administration on North Korea. Beginning in June 2017, Beijing supported stronger sanctions in the U.N. Security Council five times, most notably in September and December.[24] As further cooperation failed to materialize, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, linked possible U.S. trade actions against China to outcomes on the Korean Peninsula, and implied that Chinese banks that continue to do business in North Korea also would be sanctioned.[25] Chinese cooperation on climate change has also been less than forthcoming. Although a number of agreements have been signed, rarely have funding commitments to back U.S.-Chinese initiatives for climate change and energy cooperatives been present.[26] The much-heralded 2016 climate agreement with the Obama administration committed Beijing to meeting benchmarks that it had already established domestically.[27] This has left cooperation mostly to the private sector, with mixed results, both because of Beijing’s industrial policies and its condoning of intellectual property theft. For example, in 2005, the Chinese state-owned company Sinovel began working with the American company American Superconductor (AMSC) on wind turbines and electricity distribution. The relationship fell apart in 2011, however, when Sinovel paid a former AMSC employee to steal the U.S. company’s source code and Sinovel then reneged on $800 million in contracts with that same company.[28] Taken together, what does all this mean? It is not that U.S.-Chinese cooperation was a fiction but, rather, that the areas of cooperation were intrinsically problematic. Pretending that these joint efforts were genuine or were anything other than a U.S. vision of China’s interests resulted in a frail superstructure. U.S. policymakers and commentators had to overlook Beijing’s failure to honor its commitments and pretend that the absence of Chinese actions was not a deliberate choice but, instead, a sign that decisions had not been made.

Obstacles to a New Approach

Locking in a new approach to U.S. policy toward China will be more difficult than many critics of the past engagement policy seem to think. Americans disagree about not only the degree to which the policy must change but also the degree of competitiveness that will be required. Former State Department officials Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner have suggested that the way forward begins simply: “The first step is relatively straightforward: acknowledging just how much our policy has fallen short of our aspirations.”[29] Many old hands, however, dispute the assertion that U.S. policy toward China has fallen short or failed to deliver on its promises. The policy basically worked, in their view, and few adjustments are necessary.[30] Even supposing, however, that U.S. experts on China and U.S.-Chinese relations agreed on the need for new policy initiatives or even a fundamentally different approach, more significant barriers must be overcome to move forward with new plans. The first such barrier is the relatively low degree of knowledge about China and the Chinese Communist Party at senior levels of the U.S. government and among American society in general. Ratner noted in a podcast interview this year that while senior U.S. officials seem to understand Ukraine and Syria in fairly granular detail, they repeatedly need to be reminded about basic geography and policy regarding China. The constant need for education wastes time and energy, and it inhibits a more far-reaching discussion about how to address the illiberal challenges of a China led by its Communist Party.[31] Such limited knowledge also makes it difficult for the president and others to appreciate the quality (or lack thereof) of China-related materials. They would have to rely almost entirely on instinct to evaluate the arguments presented to them. [quote id="2"] The low level of knowledge also leads to analogizing about China rather than assessing China for what it is. Analogies are unavoidable in the absence of direct knowledge. But the carefulness required in structuring useful comparisons has not been employed when China is likened to Weimar Germany or Xi Jinping to Charles de Gaulle.[32] The late Ernest May and Richard Neustadt argued that historical analogies had limited value unless they were structured deliberately. Because historical analogies rip events out of their context, such analogies may mislead more than they inform.[33] Americans’ relatively low level of knowledge about China leads to a second barrier: the Chinese Communist Party’s messaging about U.S. policy toward China. The party presents the policy options for dealing with China as a binary choice. Yet, only occasionally are such decisions truly so limited. Even the most glaring choice, recognizing the People’s Republic of China or Taiwan (Republic of China), is not so clear-cut, in part because many countries maintain ostensibly informal, but robust, diplomatic ties with Taiwan. As Singapore’s former senior-most diplomat, Ambassador Bilahari Kausikan, described in a recent speech, “This technique of forcing false choices on you and making you choose between false choices is deployed within a framework of either overarching narratives or specific narratives. … The purpose is to narrow the scope of choices.”[34] One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces and propagandists regularly accuse the United States of containing China, employing a “Cold War mentality,” and stirring up the “China threat theory” to encourage other countries to demonize China. A final barrier to reaching a new policy position is that the United States — and presumably other countries that do not have as substantial a China-watching community — does not have a team to take the field. This is not so much a question of China-specific knowledge on the part of policy practitioners but, rather, the marriage of knowledge about China, policy tools, and competitive strategy. Too much of the existing talent has been conditioned by the long-held engagement policy. Engagement and competition require fundamentally different mind-sets and thinking through a different set of questions. Engagement as a policy direction presupposes that interaction is fundamentally good and that opening China to academic, business, and civil-society ventures is beneficial to U.S. interests. Competition, by contrast, raises first-order questions, such as whether there are long-term benefits to U.S. businesses operating in China or whether Beijing’s policies are incompatible with U.S. long-term interests. Building this team while transcending partisanship will not be easy. Americans inside and outside government have knowledge about China, policy, or strategic competition, but there are very few with expertise in all three. Ensuring that people with expertise in one or two of these areas gain the necessary additional knowledge requires not only time but also taking such individuals out of active roles while they focus on acquiring additional expertise.

A Toolkit for the Transitional Phase

Until a new China policy is more firmly locked in bureaucratically and a new consensus about China is reached, proposing an overarching strategy and set of objectives is premature. The U.S. discussion may be more open than it has been in years, but first-order questions about the ultimate objectives of China policy have not yet been reassessed and answered. The United States sits in a transitional phase, at least until the Trump administration solidifies bureaucratic policy guidance and a subsequent administration builds from its foundation. What directions succeeding administrations take, of course, may vary, regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican. For the near future, it is more appropriate to assess U.S. policy tools and how to maximize leverage rather than trying to pin down an overall strategy. Washington needs to expand its toolkit beyond the military dimension, regardless of what the future holds for U.S. policy and U.S.-Chinese relations. U.S. economic and military predominance has maintained stability in East Asia for decades. In recent years, Beijing has undermined and challenged the credibility of U.S. power — or at least Washington’s willingness to use it. Beijing’s steady expansion and consolidation in the South China Sea from 2012 onward exposed the gaps in U.S. military power in the region and Washington’s policy of deterrence. The Chinese seizure of Scarborough Shoal and subsequent island construction showed that Washington was not prepared to use military force or to place U.S. sailors and pilots in harm’s way to push back against China. These dilemmas also highlight the necessity of strengthening Americans’ psychological willingness to use leverage wherever it might be found. Refrains about the limitations of U.S. influence have more to do with a lack of conviction than a lack of ability. Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Marco Rubio of Florida put forward at least one alternative to using military force in China’s maritime periphery, but their bipartisan legislation to sanction Chinese firms engaged in island-building never went anywhere.[35]  Building U.S. capacity to compete with China more comprehensively and effectively will require a political-power-centric and opportunity-oriented research agenda, a concentrated effort to build leverage, and counterintelligence and counter-interference efforts to preserve the integrity of U.S. policymaking. A power-centric research agenda would evaluate the Chinese Communist Party’s susceptibility to pressure. Opportunities are fleeting, and attitudes change. One day, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party may not have the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army. Another day, he may have installed loyalists at the upper ranks. Leverage should be built over time and prepared for the moment when it can have the most impact. To make use of leverage at the point Chinese leaders are most vulnerable, the integrity of the U.S. policymaking system must be secure so that Washington can be ready to act when opportunity knocks. Each of these points is outlined more fully below.  A New Analytical Approach  First, U.S. policymakers need a different way of ordering their knowledge and thinking about China issues. Opportunities to influence the Chinese Communist Party in a significant way come along only once or twice in a political generation. The vicious “you die, I live” (你死我活) kind of politics that is practiced in China inevitably opens up leadership fissures. U.S. policymakers need to better understand how political power is wielded within the Communist Party. Shaping and responding to Beijing’s behavior requires influencing the individuals who decide policy. U.S. policymakers must understand the sources of Chinese political power to understand which ones Chinese leaders must control or neutralize in order to succeed and how, exactly, they do so. Understanding these leadership dynamics will facilitate Washington’s efforts to cajole or coerce Beijing by seeing opportunities as they arise. Most U.S. analysts examine the Chinese Communist Party through an institutional lens that largely excludes the human element of politics from the equation. The amount of rumor-mongering and deliberate disinformation fed to journalists makes it difficult to evaluate that human component of Chinese politics. Rather than try to sift the wheat from the chaff, those practicing the institutional approach focus on authoritative sources and the kinds of information that can be tracked through official media.[36] For example, in the discussion of Xi Jinping’s political power in 2014, one institutionalist narrowly evaluated Xi’s power according to how he had changed (or not changed) party slogans about the leadership core and collective leadership, concluding that Xi’s power was simply gifted to him by the party.[37] This approach ignored many of the reasons other analysts considered Xi powerful, because they related to subjective measures about elite networks, purges, and symbolic politics. It is critical to understand party institutions, but analysts cannot stop there on the assumption that Chinese politics has become institutionalized. The basic structure and guidelines within which the Communist Party operates are merely a starting point. The Chinese Communist Party is still ruling a country, and politics cannot be avoided. Resources — such as time, attention, and money — are limited, and they must be allocated according to political considerations. Wherever humans operate, there will be personal politics. The robust academic literature of organizational studies expresses the truism that no matter how meritocratic or rules-based an organization becomes, decisions about personnel at the leadership level will always be political. A healthy organization produces more potential leaders than it has positions to fill. Institutions, training, and promotion guidelines ensure a minimum level of competency and open the opportunity for promotion. Deciding who gets what position necessarily depends on personality, power, and networking.[38] The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. The age-old questions of “who decides?” and “who benefits?” are as important as the party lines in official propaganda and the content of party documents. Party leaders have empowered and undermined different party and state institutions, depending on the needs of the moment and their competitors’ strengths. Institutional arrangements to control state power, such as the Central State Security Commission, have also been created when organizational and technological change has given the party-state new capabilities to monitor, influence, or hurt the leadership. The institutions of the Chinese party-state need to be evaluated as more than mere technocratic expressions of rational governance.[39] [quote id="3"] Power also cannot be separated from individual politicians. Some Chinese leaders possess an intuitive sense of political symbolism and propaganda. Others know how to work the party bureaucracy. Still others carry meetings with the force of their personality. Human virtues and frailties are as much a part of the Chinese system as any other. Although no approach will describe a leader’s political instincts accurately and authoritatively every time, this human element cannot be dismissed. At the very least, important questions about how leaders exercise influence must be part of the discussion of contemporary China. Building Leverage Second, if political power is as personal as it is institutional within the Chinese Communist Party, then building leverage means focusing on what matters to individual leaders and the institutions that support them. The U.S. government has not pursued this path with any sort of regularity. The most obvious target is the vast wealth of Chinese party leaders. Not all of this wealth is tied up inside China. Some of it is entwined with China’s most significant multi-national companies or hidden in foreign banks, making the party leaders vulnerable to financial sanctions. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, passed in 2016, provides legal authority to target Chinese Communist Party leaders and their agents. The act allows Washington to block or revoke visas as well as to sanction the property of those who are responsible for, or acted as an agent of someone responsible for, “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Individuals can also be targeted if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption.” Chinese abuses that qualify as gross violations and significant corruption have grown rapidly in the past several years, with examples including the detention and torture of the “709” rights lawyers — so named for the July 9, 2015, crackdown on lawyers and activists — as well as the detention of several hundred thousand Uighurs in concentration camps. Given the kind of direct pressure that could be brought to bear on Chinese leaders, such leverage must be used judiciously, if at all, on a day-to-day basis. Whether the stakes are sufficiently high depends on how clearly the administration outlines its objectives. Even within the previous engagement framework, a genuine opportunity to pressure the Chinese system toward liberalization — such as might have appeared in the early days of Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang — could have constituted worthwhile use of such direct means to discredit opponents of political liberalization. Ultimately, the United States must build the knowledge and capacity to influence individual Chinese leaders knowing that such information could work under multiple policy frameworks, not simply the Trump administration’s strategic shift. The usefulness of such leverage also depends on what actions China may take in response. The same vulnerability of the Chinese system that creates opportunities for U.S. influence also creates risk. Communist Party leaders’ paranoia and self-awareness are filters for their perceptions: They see the United States as their principal foreign adversary and they know when they are exposed. They will act to shore up their position as Mao Zedong did with the Taiwan crisis in 1958 and by exploiting the Nixon-Kissinger gambit in 1971 and 1972, or as Deng Xiaoping did with Vietnam and the United States in 1978 and 1979 and in rebuffing American pressure after the June 4 incident at Tiananmen in 1989. Counterintelligence and Counter-Interference Third, any long-term strategy — especially one built around the idea of exploiting opportunities when they arise — must ensure the integrity of U.S. policymaking. This requires effective counterintelligence to prevent the penetration of U.S. policy circles for intelligence collection and building influence. The public record suggests that the state of U.S. counterintelligence — or that of other allied states — on China leaves much to be desired. Effective counterintelligence is not merely a question of capability but also one of integration with national strategy. As I and others in the U.S. intelligence community saw firsthand, counterintelligence functions are almost entirely separate from the rest of intelligence and policymaking.[40] Engagement as the dominant strain of China policy played down the need for counterintelligence — if interaction is good, the thinking went, then risk assessment of U.S.-China engagement is mostly unnecessary except in rare cases where U.S. laws were broken. The absence of a counterintelligence perspective meant that the Chinese Communist Party’s robust and comprehensive system for shaping foreigners’ perceptions went largely unnoticed, despite its demonstrable importance to party leaders.[41] The U.S. government has failed to prosecute or has bungled investigations into Chinese espionage often enough to warrant concern. The failures of counter-espionage may not, at first glance, appear relevant to the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference. Yet, the elements of the U.S. intelligence community and the Justice Department that perform counterespionage are the same ones that will take the lead on countering Chinese interference. If they have difficulty prosecuting (relatively-speaking) straightforward Chinese espionage cases, then countering Chinese Communist Party interference is likely to be too complicated for them.[42] Successful espionage prosecutions are the analytical, investigative, and legal training ground for the capabilities the U.S. government needs to deploy in order to counter the party’s covert, corrupting, and coercive interference. Failure to handle possible espionage cases well alienates many Chinese-Americans, who have reasonable concerns about rushes to judgment but whose cooperation is essential when Beijing tries to exploit the Chinese diaspora. Moreover, such weaknesses let those breaking the law in support of Communist Party interests know that the risk of consequences for their behavior is low. The U.S. government cannot be the only actor countering Chinese Communist Party interference. A democratic government’s resources focus on purely illegal activity. This means that academics, think tank researchers, and journalists have a significant role when it comes to exposing these operations and informing public debate.[43] In Australia, a handful of journalists reporting steadily since 2014 brought the issue of Chinese Communist Party interference in domestic politics to light and pushed it into the public discussion.[44] In New Zealand, one scholar cracked the news threshold by releasing a paper on the Communist Party’s united front work on the eve of last year’s election.[45] In the United States, a smaller number of people — primarily reporters for Foreign Policy (now at the Daily Beast) and the Washington Post[46] — helped put the party’s interference operations into public consideration. Without this attention, Australia arguably could not have overhauled its counter-espionage laws and passed legislation this summer aimed at transparency for elections and consequences for acting as a foreign agent.[47]

A New Starting Point

The toolkit outlined above reflects the requirements of crafting a long-term, competitive strategy. But rethinking the toolkit is only a beginning. A larger conversation is needed about this new period in U.S.-China relations. The past policy of engagement promoted ties of all kinds and at all levels, with only a few restrictions legislated by Congress or treaty commitments. Moving away from this approach will require new modes of thinking as well as reapplying American values to the question of how to engage with the Chinese party-state. First, recalibrating engagement with China requires a deliberate discussion of U.S. values, what those values mean, and how Washington should be prepared to act based on them. There is no substitute for this conversation. Vague assertions of supporting a liberal international order have proven insufficient as a lodestone for action. The absence of a U.S. response to Chinese aggression — not merely in the South China Sea but also with regard to intellectual property theft and coercion against U.S. citizens in the United States — emboldens the Chinese Communist Party. These issues demonstrate Beijing’s rejection of core democratic and capitalist values, suggesting the basic incompatibility of the two systems. Even if it were desirable to regulate all aspects of American interactions with the People’s Republic of China, public discussion would still be necessary. As noted above, government resources will focus on the illegal side of Chinese Communist Party activities, rarely if ever monitoring the broader scope of interaction. In a democratic state, there is no justification for sweeping government surveillance. This means that what is appropriate — rather than what is illegal — should be a matter of public debate. Is academic freedom in U.S. universities compatible with the values of the Confucius Institutes?[48] Should U.S. research labs collaborate with Chinese companies that work with the Chinese military? What degree of distance should Chinese organizations have from the party-state to be considered potential partners for U.S. organizations? These and similar questions cannot be divorced from American political and civic values. Second, the United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. Far too often in this bilateral relationship, agreements and commitments have been allowed to slide. Statements of what cannot be are forgotten in the face of Beijing’s willingness to act, while U.S. leverage has been undermined by an unwillingness to act. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Wong eloquently made this argument about the trade regime:
[Y]ou have to enforce the rules of free trade. You have to ensure that nations cannot abuse the rules, cannot force technology transfer, cannot prize their national champions, can’t steal intellectual property. If you don’t do this, if you don’t enforce the rules of free trade, what ends up happening is that over time, the free, fair, and reciprocal trading regime is weakened, and that’s to the detriment not just of the United States’s prosperity but to the prosperity of the region and the world as a whole.[49]
The most egregious example of not upholding standards is the lack of response to intimidation and coercion against U.S. citizens and residents on U.S. soil. During the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Summer Games in Beijing in 2008, Chinese security officials orchestrated violence against protesters and coordinated efforts to divert or block demonstrators in San Francisco. The U.S. government passed the identity of some of these Chinese officers to Australia so that Canberra could deny entry visas to them. But that appears to be the end of the U.S. response.[50] Rumors and reports of violence against practitioners of Falun Gong surface periodically, including at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago in 2017. Education counselors from Chinese diplomatic missions visit Chinese students at U.S. universities or contact family members to intimidate them or request that they tell their child to take down social media posts. Yet, the full scale of the situation is difficult to ascertain. Many of the stories that come to journalists, scholars, and officials cannot be publicized, partly because the people involved fear retribution and it is often impossible to scrub identifying details while retaining the sense of injustice. Third, U.S. policymakers — as well as international affairs analysts and commentators — will need to become accustomed to the idea of asymmetric or sometimes disproportionate responses to Beijing. Reciprocity has gained traction, but the concept has little applicability beyond trade disputes.[51] The most contentious areas of U.S.-Chinese relations do not feature proportionate or reciprocal responses because the U.S. government and American society do not have a parallel structure to the Chinese party-state. For right and proper reasons, the U.S. government will not compete with the Chinese Communist Party in coercing overseas Chinese to adopt pro-U.S. behaviors. Unlike Beijing, Washington will not arbitrarily detain family members or seize business assets. Beijing’s denial of visas for foreign journalists does not lend itself to a tit-for-tat response. There are far fewer American journalists in China than Chinese journalists working for official media outlets in the United States. To create corresponding effects when an American journalist faces visa trouble would require alternative and probably disproportionate responses. [quote id="4"] Fourth, recalibrating U.S. policy toward China will entail costs. Individual, corporate, and even government interests almost certainly will be affected. The Chinese Communist Party was born out of a struggle, and its leaders fought their way up competitive ranks. Close to a million people enter the party each year after an arduous testing and interviewing regimen, and they continue to be evaluated throughout their careers.[52] Those who make it to the Central Committee are the .01 percent of party cadre. Beyond the rigorous evaluation and performance requirements, officials also need to worry about ambitious colleagues and blackmailers who seek to discredit them as they climb the greasy pole.[53] They and their willingness to compete should not be taken lightly. Already, in what appear to be the opening stages of a trade war, Beijing’s response to Trump administration actions has targeted U.S. farmers in areas supportive of Trump.[54] Simply put, competing effectively with China requires serious consideration; in particular, identifying America’s ultimate objectives in order to assess whether the sacrifices necessary to attain those goals are warranted.

Conclusion

Whatever the future holds for U.S.-Chinese relations, the status quo has been broken. The unaddressed inadequacies of engagement eroded the policy consensus around bilateral relations to such an extent that, even without a clear policy alternative, engagement has ended. Henry Kissinger, one of the original architects of the U.S. policy toward China that persisted through seven administrations, aptly described the current moment: “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.”[55] Although it would be useful to begin building a new consensus, the partisan climate of U.S. politics seems to preclude the sort of meaningful discussion that would lock in a sustainable bipartisan consensus, even though the next generation of policy hands in both parties think a new China policy is needed. Americans can discuss the tools and animating ideas that are needed to manage U.S.-Chinese relations and protect U.S. interests from a “revisionist China.” The conversation has moved to the point where concrete ideas of how to better understand the Chinese Communist Party and China, and how to be more competitive, must be fleshed out and debated. For many years, the critiques of U.S.-Chinese relations may have been on point, but the recommendations fell short of offering something distinct from U.S. policy at the time.[56] The approach outlined above is simple. Opportunities should be sought to apply effective leverage on Communist Party officials leading China. The barometer for these opportunities measures the ebb and flow of power across party leaders and institutions. When these opportunities arrive, Washington needs to be prepared to act and to do so in ways that go beyond reciprocity as a guiding principle. Ensuring that everything is prepared for these moments is a job for counterintelligence. Without secrecy to preserve U.S. leverage and the psychological willingness to use it, no one will be prepared to pull the trigger on pressuring China. If any particular theme runs through the failure of U.S. policy toward China, it is the U.S. government’s unwillingness to act to uphold American values and Chinese commitments. The stakes and interests involved in resolving this problem surely outweigh partisan considerations.   Peter Mattis is a research fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and a contributing editor to War on the Rocks. Mr. Mattis previously worked as a counterintelligence analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency before leaving government service to work as editor of the China Brief and to be a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. Image: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command [post_title] => From Engagement to Rivalry: Tools to Compete with China [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => from-engagement-to-rivalry-tools-to-compete-with-china [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-03 16:28:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-03 20:28:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=677 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [meta] => [lead] => To arrive at a new consensus, the United States needs to address the weaknesses in Americans’ knowledge of China while rethinking the connections between the ways China is analyzed and how policy is made. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 4 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => U.S. policymakers and analysts had assumed or hoped that if the two countries shared long-term policy interests, cooperation would eventually result. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => One of the most notable false choices reinforced by Beijing’s messaging remains that between engagement and containment. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The Chinese political landscape cannot be understood without reference to power. ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => [T]he United States needs to hold up the standards that flow from U.S. values and policies. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 194 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] For a comprehensive summary of these views, see, James Mann, The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), especially 1–28. [2] National Security Strategy of the United States of America, The White House, December 2017, 3, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905-2.pdf. [3] “U.S. Pledges Nearly $300 Million Security Funding for Indo-Pacific Region,” Reuters, Aug. 3, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-usa-security/u-s-pledges-nearly-300-million-security-funding-for-southeast-asia-idUSKBN1KP022. [4] Mark Leonard, “The Chinese Are Wary of Donald Trump’s Creative Destruction,” Financial Times, July 24, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/f83b20e4-8e67-11e8-9609-3d3b945e78cf; Xu Yimiao, “China Should Cut Its Losses in the Trade War by Conceding Defeat to Donald Trump,” South China Morning Post, Aug. 10, 2018, https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/united-states/article/2158963/china-should-cut-its-losses-trade-war. [5] For example, Bilahari Kausikan, “Trump’s Global Retreat Is an Illusion,” Nikkei Asian Review, Jan. 31, 2018, https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Trump-s-global-retreat-is-an-illusion. [6] Other lesser, but nonetheless important, assumptions included that the Chinese Communist Party could accept the U.S.-led international liberal order, that a more prosperous China would be a more peaceful China, that Chinese Communist Party leaders are persuadable and could put down their Leninist view of world politics, and that the party’s propaganda apparatus would remain a domestic actor, not an international subversive threat. [7] Richard M. Nixon, “Asia After Viet Nam,” Foreign Affairs, October 1967, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/1967-10-01/asia-after-viet-nam. [8] Mann, The China Fantasy, 101–12. [9] Yasheng Huang, “How Did China Take Off?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 26, no. 4 (Fall 2012): 147–70, http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jep.26.4.147; Kellee S. Tsai, Capitalism Without Democracy: The Private Sector in Contemporary China (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007); and David Shambaugh, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2008). [10] Adrian Zenz, “New Evidence for China’s Political Re-Education Campaign in Xinjiang,” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, May 15, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/evidence-for-chinas-political-re-education-campaign-in-xinjiang; Simon Denyer, “China Detains Relatives of U.S. Reporters in Apparent Punishment for Xinjiang Coverage,” Washington Post, Feb. 28, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/china-detains-relatives-of-us-reporters-in-apparent-punishment-for-xinjiang-coverage/2018/02/27/4e8d84ae-1b8c-11e8-8a2c-1a6665f59e95_story.html. [11] Wesley Rahn, “In Xi We Trust — Is China Cracking Down on Christianity?” Deutsche Welle, Jan. 19, 2018, https://www.dw.com/en/in-xi-we-trust-is-china-cracking-down-on-christianity/a-42224752 ; Eva Dou and Francis Rocca, “Abide in Darkness: China’s War on Religion Stalls Vatican Deal,” Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/abide-in-darkness-chinas-war-on-religion-puts-vatican-deal-in-doubt-1525858496. [12] Samantha Hoffman, “Social Credit: Technology-Enhanced Authoritarian Control with Global Consequences,” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, June 28, 2018, https://www.aspi.org.au/report/social-credit. [13] J. Stapleton Roy, “Engagement Works,” Foreign Affairs 97, no. 4 (July/August 2018): 185. [14] “Remarks by Samuel R. Berger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Before the Council on Foreign Relations,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, June 6, 1997. [15] For example, Roy, “Engagement Works,” 185; Thomas J. Christensen, “The Need to Pursue Mutual Interests in U.S.-China Relations,” U.S. Institute of Peace, Special Report no. 269, April 2011, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/SR269.pdf; Nina Hachigian, Michael Schiffer, and Winny Chen, “A Global Imperative: A Progressive Approach to U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century,” Center for American Progress, Aug. 13, 2008, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2008/08/13/4817/a-global-imperative/. [16] Berger, “Remarks.” [17] Yoko Kubota, “U.S. Firms Say China’s Business Climate Is Warming, Survey Finds,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 29, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-firms-say-chinas-business-climate-is-warming-survey-finds-1517274000; “USCBC 2017 China Business Environment Member Survey,” U.S.-China Business Council, 2017, https://www.uschina.org/reports/uscbc-2017-china-business-environment-member-survey. [18] Robert E. Lighthizer, “Evaluating China’s Role in the World Trade Organization Over the Past Decade,” testimony before the U.S.-China Security and Economic Review Commission, June 9, 2010, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/6.9.10Lighthizer.pdf. [19] Derek Scissors, “Sino-American Trade: We Know Where This Is Headed,” War on the Rocks, April 18, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/04/sino-american-trade-we-know-where-this-is-headed/. [20] “Accession of China to the WTO,” hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, May 3, 2000. [21] “Report of the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property,” National Bureau of Asian Research, May 2013, http://ipcommission.org/report/IP_Commission_Report_052213.pdf. [22] Josh Meyer, “Squeeze on North Korea’s Money Supply Yields Results,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 2, 2006, http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-macao2nov02-story.html; Jay Solomon and Neil King Jr., “How U.S. Used a Bank to Punish North Korea,” Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2007, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB117627790709466173. [23] Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1874, U.N. Security Council Report No. S/2016/157, Feb. 24, 2016, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=s/2016/157. [24] Laura Zhou, “United Nations Agrees More Sanctions on North Korea, But Is the World Running Out of Options?” South China Morning Post, Dec. 23, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2125548/united-nations-agrees-more-sanctions-north-korea-world; “China to Enforce UN Sanctions Against North Korea,” Guardian, Sept. 23, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/23/china-to-enforce-un-sanctions-against-north-korea. [25] David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey, “Trump Says China’s Stance on North Korea Influences His Trade Policy,” Reuters, Dec. 28, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-china-trump/trump-says-chinas-stance-on-north-korea-influences-his-trade-policy-idUSKBN1EM1IY. [26] Joanna I. Lewis, “The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change: Examining the Bilateral and Multilateral Relationship,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, China Environment Series (2010/2011), 7, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Feature Article The State of U.S.-China Relations on Climate Change.pdf. [27] Mark Landler and Jane Perlez, “Rare Harmony as China and U.S. Commit to Climate Deal,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/04/world/asia/obama-xi-jinping-china-climate-accord.html. [28] Janan Hanna, Christie Smythe, and Chris Martin, “China’s Sinovel Convicted in U.S. of Stealing Trade Secrets,” Bloomberg, Jan. 24, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-24/chinese-firm-sinovel-convicted-in-u-s-of-trade-secret-theft. [29] Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, “The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations,” Foreign Affairs (March/April 2018), https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2018-02-13/china-reckoning. [30] For example, Jeffrey A. Bader and Ryan Hass, “Was Pre-Trump U.S. Policy Towards China Based on ‘False’ Premises?” Brookings Institution, Dec. 22, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/12/22/was-pre-trump-u-s-policy-towards-china-based-on-false-premises; Wang Jisi, J. Stapleton Roy, Aaron Friedberg, Thomas Christensen and Patricia Kim, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Eric Li, and Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner, “Did America Get China Wrong? The Engagement Debate,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2018) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-06-14/did-america-get-china-wrong. [31] Kelly Magsamen, Ely Ratner, and Ryan Evans, “To Compete with China, Can America Get Out of Its Own Way?” War on the Rocks, podcast, Feb. 7, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/02/war-rocks-compete-china-can-america-get-way/. [32] Rana Mitter, “Forget Mao Zedong, Xi Jinping Is More Charles de Gaulle,” South China Morning Post, Oct. 28, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2117364/opinion-forget-mao-xi-jinping-more-charles-de-gaulle. [33] Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1988). [34] Albert Wai, “S’pore Should Guard Against False Binary Choices in Chinese Public Diplomacy: Bilahari Kausikan,” Today [Singapore], June 27, 2018, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/spore-should-guard-against-false-binary-choices-chinese-public-diplomacy-bilahari-kausikan. [35] “Rubio, Cardin Introduce Bill Targeting Chinese Aggression in South China Sea,” Office of Marco Rubio, March 15, 2017, https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=643BAF13-9F8D-470D-BB66-86057B828A80. [36] For a practical discussion of authority in Chinese sourcing, see Paul H.B. Godwin and Alice L. Miller, “China’s Forbearance Has Limits: Chinese Threat and Retaliation Signaling and Its Implications for a Sino-American Military Confrontation,” China Strategic Perspectives, no. 6 (Washington: National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2013): 29–37, http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/717729/chinas-forbearance-has-limits-chinese-threat-and-retaliation-signaling-and-its/. [37] Alice L. Miller, “How Strong Is Xi Jinping?” China Leadership Monitor, no. 43 (Spring 2014), https://www.hoover.org/research/how-strong-xi-jinping. [38] For a general reference, see, Charles Perrow, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 14–20. For a Chinese Communist Party-specific reference, see Victor Shih, Christopher Adolph, and Mingxing Liu, “Getting Ahead in the Communist Party: Explaining the Advancement of Central Committee Members in China,” American Political Science Review 106, no. 1 (February 2012): 166–87, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055411000566. [39] Samantha Hoffman and Peter Mattis, “Managing the Power Within: China’s State Security Commission,” War on the Rocks, July 18, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/07/managing-the-power-within-chinas-state-security-commission. [40] For example, Michelle Van Cleave, “The Question of Strategic Counterintelligence: What Is It and What Should We Do About It?” Studies in Intelligence 51, no. 2 (2007): 1–14, https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol51no2/strategic-counterintelligence.html. [41] Peter Mattis, “An American Lens on China’s Interference and Influence-Building Abroad,” Asan Forum, April 30, 2018, http://www.theasanforum.org/an-american-lens-on-chinas-interference-and-influence-building-abroad/; Anne-Marie Brady, Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003). [42] Examples of potential failures to prosecute successfully include incidents involving former FBI informant Katrina Leung and University of Management and Technology President Yanping Chen. Examples of apparent rushes to judgment include allegations involving Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, Temple University physics professor Xiaoxing Xi, and National Weather Service hydrologist Sherry Chen. [43] As a matter of disclosure, I should note that I have played a small, but long-standing, role in public conversations related to the Chinese Communist Party’s interference efforts, especially in Australia and the United States, since 2014. I have spoken with reporters and been cited in numerous related articles published by, among others, the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Broadcast Corp., the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, the Economist, and Financial Times. [44] Kelsey Munro, “A Free Press Is a Magic Weapon Against China’s Influence Peddling,” Lowy Institute Interpreter, Dec. 18, 2017, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/free-press-magic-weapon-against-china-influence-peddling. [45] Matt Nippert and David Fisher, “Revealed: China’s Network of Influence in New Zealand,” New Zealand Herald, Sept. 20, 2017, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11924546. [46] Respectively, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Josh Rogin. [47] Matt Coughlan, “Parliament Passes Sweeping New Foreign Influence Laws,” Sydney Morning Herald, June 29, 2018, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/parliament-passes-sweeping-new-foreign-influence-laws-20180628-p4zofb.html; John Garnaut, “Australia’s China Reset,” Monthly (August 2018), https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2018/august/1533045600/john-garnaut/australia-s-china-reset. [48] Ethan Epstein, “How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms,” Politico, Jan. 16, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/16/how-china-infiltrated-us-classrooms-216327. [49] “Briefing on the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” State Department, April 2, 2018, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/04/280134.htm. [50] Zach Dorfman, “How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies,” Politico, July 27, 2018, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/27/silicon-valley-spies-china-russia-219071. [51] Task Force on U.S.-China Policy, “U.S. Policy Toward China: Recommendations for a New Administration,” Asia Society and University of California San Diego, March 9, 2017, https://asiasociety.org/center-us-china-relations/us-policy-toward-china-recommendations-new-administration. [52] Jun Mai, “The Long, Arduous Process to Joining China’s Communist Party,” South China Morning Post, July 1, 2016, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1984044/long-arduous-process-joining-chinas-communist-party. [53] Dan Levin and Amy Qin, “True or Faked, Dirt on Chinese Fuels Blackmail,” New York Times, June 17, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/world/asia/true-or-faked-dirt-on-chinese-fuels-blackmail.html. [54] Alexander Kwiatkowski, “Trade War Hits Trump Heartland, With Mines, Farms as Targets,” Bloomberg, June 15, 2018, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-15/u-s-commodities-in-china-s-crosshairs-as-trade-war-escalates. [55] Edward Luce, “Henry Kissinger: ‘We Are in a Very, Very Grave Period,’” Financial Times, July 20, 2018, https://www.ft.com/content/926a66b0-8b49-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543. 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