Buy Print
Magazine

The Purposes of Arms Control

The Purposes of Arms Control

In this paper, I review three major purposes for arms control negotiations — disarmament, stability, and advantage. In the first part of the paper, I compare the three purposes against the causes of war literature to show that each provides a defensible…

Latest Roundtables

What is a Roundtable?

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.

WP_Query Object
(
    [query] => Array
        (
        )

    [query_vars] => Array
        (
            [error] => 
            [m] => 
            [p] => 2
            [post_parent] => 
            [subpost] => 
            [subpost_id] => 
            [attachment] => 
            [attachment_id] => 0
            [name] => 
            [static] => 
            [pagename] => 
            [page_id] => 2
            [second] => 
            [minute] => 
            [hour] => 
            [day] => 0
            [monthnum] => 0
            [year] => 0
            [w] => 0
            [category_name] => 
            [tag] => 
            [cat] => 
            [tag_id] => 
            [author] => 
            [author_name] => 
            [feed] => 
            [tb] => 
            [paged] => 0
            [meta_key] => 
            [meta_value] => 
            [preview] => 
            [s] => 
            [sentence] => 
            [title] => 
            [fields] => 
            [menu_order] => 
            [embed] => 
            [category__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [category__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_name__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [tag_slug__and] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [post_parent__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__in] => Array
                (
                )

            [author__not_in] => Array
                (
                )

            [ignore_sticky_posts] => 
            [suppress_filters] => 
            [cache_results] => 
            [update_post_term_cache] => 1
            [lazy_load_term_meta] => 1
            [update_post_meta_cache] => 1
            [post_type] => 
            [posts_per_page] => 10
            [nopaging] => 
            [comments_per_page] => 50
            [no_found_rows] => 
            [order] => DESC
        )

    [tax_query] => WP_Tax_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                )

            [relation] => AND
            [table_aliases:protected] => Array
                (
                )

            [queried_terms] => Array
                (
                )

            [primary_table] => 
            [primary_id_column] => 
        )

    [meta_query] => WP_Meta_Query Object
        (
            [queries] => Array
                (
                )

            [relation] => 
            [meta_table] => 
            [meta_id_column] => 
            [primary_table] => 
            [primary_id_column] => 
            [table_aliases:protected] => Array
                (
                )

            [clauses:protected] => Array
                (
                )

            [has_or_relation:protected] => 
        )

    [date_query] => 
    [queried_object] => WP_Post Object
        (
            [ID] => 2
            [post_author] => 6
            [post_date] => 2017-08-17 07:53:05
            [post_date_gmt] => 2017-08-17 07:53:05
            [post_content] => 
            [post_title] => Home
            [post_excerpt] => 
            [post_status] => publish
            [comment_status] => closed
            [ping_status] => closed
            [post_password] => 
            [post_name] => home
            [to_ping] => 
            [pinged] => 
            [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:46:11
            [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:46:11
            [post_content_filtered] => 
            [post_parent] => 0
            [guid] => http://fs.dev/tnsr/?page_id=2
            [menu_order] => 0
            [post_type] => page
            [post_mime_type] => 
            [comment_count] => 0
            [filter] => raw
            [meta] => Array
                (
                    [0] => Array
                        (
                            [acf_fc_layout] => wgt_main_article
                            [main_article] => WP_Post Object
                                (
                                    [ID] => 769
                                    [post_author] => 224
                                    [post_date] => 2018-11-14 05:00:03
                                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-14 10:00:03
                                    [post_content] => After a post-Cold War interlude, arms control among the great powers is once again in vogue. Foreign policy debates increasingly turn on considerations of arms control: whether to scrap the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), whether to continue the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process, whether to include China in negotiations to limit armaments, and how to minimize the expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, these debates are riven by differing assumptions concerning the ultimate purpose of arms-control efforts. For example: Should the United States take preventive military action to limit North Korea’s nuclear capability? Should it instead seek mutual strategic stability with a newly nuclear North Korea? Or should the United States redouble its efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons, everywhere?[1] Proponents of each course of action can credibly lay claim to the mantle of “arms control.” But which is correct? How would we know good arms control if we saw it?

Robert Jervis observed, “If the main objective of arms control is to make war less likely, then any theory of arms control must rest on a theory of the causes of war.”[2] Why wars occur is a vast topic, however, and scholars remain divided over the causes of armed conflict.[3] This division among scholars is reflected in the competing concepts of how arms limitation among great powers can reduce the chances of war. In this essay, I examine three key explanations for the cause of war — influence groups, weapons, and actors — and demonstrate how each leads toward a different approach to arms control: disarmament, stability, and advantage, respectively. I will show that absent a solid consensus on the purpose of arms control, historically successful arms-limitation agreements have managed to serve multiple purposes. My essay concludes with a brief account of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty: specifically, how its creators and supporters managed to advance the purposes of disarmament, stability, and advantage simultaneously over the lifetime of the treaty.

Recognizing the multiple motives that arms-control negotiations aim to serve is vital to understanding arms control’s impact on international security, for at least three reasons. First, scholars and commentators often cite the existence of arms-control negotiations as evidence that states are proceeding on a more cooperative path.[4] Yet the pursuit of arms control is not always a cooperative exercise. States often employ arms-control negotiations as vehicles for advancing their own competitive agendas, all in the name of peace. Treating arms control as purely cooperative risks misunderstanding its impact on international politics. Second, given the paucity of documentary resources from key actors such as the Soviet Union, historians struggle to evaluate the success or failure of particular arms-control negotiations. Understanding the theoretical debates surrounding the purpose of arms control can provide new criteria for understanding whether an arms-control regime succeeded. Third, a historical reconstruction of the multiple meanings of arms control can help to clarify the importance of time as a variable in such arrangements — in particular, how different arms-control rationales may rely on different time horizons and how the purpose of a single agreement may change over time. The manipulation of differing timelines provides opportunities for building consensus on arms control between radically different policy agendas, with some arms controllers receiving benefits in the short term and others over the longer term. U.S. policymakers considering the future of arms control would do well to consider how previous administrations built their complex arms-control policies.

The study of arms control has produced a vast literature, but surprisingly little has examined the specific mechanisms whereby great powers can reduce the chances of war. As a result, scholars and experts often talk past each other — rather than to each other — in arms-control debates. Much of the existing literature describes the goals of arms control in generic terms such as “peace,” “stability,” or “security,” with little emphasis on how limiting specific weapons systems contributes to these hazily defined concepts.[5] Other works insist that there is a single war-preventing logic of arms control, usually downplaying or ignoring other possible motives.[6] Future research on arms control could benefit by placing these differing perspectives in dialogue with each other to foster an understanding of how, exactly, arms control can reduce the chances of war.

Explanations for War and Arms Control

Analysts and advocates of arms control fall into three broad categories, depending on which explanation of the cause of war they embrace. The first category includes those who believe that war is caused by influence groups, especially the military-industrial complex, and the various structures of thought and culture promoted by those groups. The second category involves those who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of weapons, especially weapons that promote first-strike advantages or create conditions of offense-dominance. The third category consists of individuals who believe that war is caused by certain kinds of actors, countries that are especially aggressive, ideological, or revisionist. Each of these explanations for what causes war leads to a different understanding of the purpose of arms control. For those who believe that influence groups create war, the proper purpose of arms control is disarmament: reducing the overall level of weapons and dismantling the organizations and cultures that produce them. For those who believe that dangerous weapons cause war, the purpose of arms control is stability, or limiting especially dangerous offense-dominant weapons while bolstering deterrence by allowing the procurement of defense-dominant weapons. For those who believe that pernicious actors cause war, the purpose of arms control is advantage: preventing dangerous countries from acquiring weapons technologies while preserving a favorable balance of power for trustworthy, status quo countries. Determining which of these three approaches to arms control best prevents conflict is difficult given the lack of consensus on the causes of war. Influence Groups and Disarmament One prevalent explanation for the cause of war is the impact that war-promoting influence groups, often described as the “military-industrial complex,”[7] have on governments. Critics of the military-industrial complex have identified several mechanisms whereby pro-war interest groups create the conditions for war to occur. First, critics claim that the drive for profits causes the military-industrial complex to lobby politicians directly for confrontational policies, which justify purchasing more weapons and also make war more likely.[8] Second, critics claim that the activities of the military-industrial complex shape the thinking of elite decision-makers, normalizing violence and creating the psychological and emotional space for extreme anti-social behavior — like war — to occur.[9] Third, critics argue that the military-industrial complex promotes structures of class, race, and gender that influence broader attitudes toward violence, providing rationales for conflict that leaders and citizens alike deploy to justify war.[10] Both directly and indirectly, military-industrial interest groups explain why governments and societies wage war rather than seek peaceful solutions. For those who argue that war is the result of pro-war interest groups, the primary purpose of arms control is disarmament. While arms-control agreements often reduce the number of weapons available to states, proponents of disarmament argue that the more important function of such agreements is to tame adverse military-industrial complexes and to dismantle old attitudes and cultures of war.[11] In addition to achieving anti-militarist objectives, the promotion of disarmament agreements provides opportunities to create new coalitions in favor of international and social justice while also freeing resources from wasteful military competition to pursue these peaceful agendas.[12] By contributing to the dismantlement of militarist interest groups, arms-control agreements can advance the cause of peace. Historically, disarmament has been an influential determinant of arms-limitation policies in great-power countries, especially through its widespread public appeal. The international disarmament movement can trace its roots to various reform efforts of the late 19th century.[13] Pro-disarmament organizations were especially active during the interwar period, and their aspirations were first given significant form through the League of Nations’ efforts at international disarmament.[14] After World War II, international disarmament efforts refocused on eliminating nuclear weapons, with major waves of anti-nuclear protests in the 1950s and 1980s.[15] The second wave of nuclear disarmament advocacy found willing partners in Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw the elimination of nuclear weapons as a long-term objective.[16] More recently, nuclear disarmament has regained strength via the “Global Zero” movement.[17] Disarmament has thus been an important goal of great powers’ arms limitation throughout the modern period. Proponents of disarmament arms control often take a long-term view of the purpose of arms control, recognizing that dismantling militarist influence groups and redirecting resources toward pursuing social justice will take time.[18] As a result, despite their expansive explanation of the cause of war, proponents of disarmament often support more limited arms-control measures, as long as those measures can be understood as part of a progressive program for dismantling weapons and militarist interest groups more generally.[19] For example, the 1987 INF Treaty is often praised by advocates of disarmament for its “elimination of an entire category of weapons systems,” even though the treaty limits only land-based missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and for only two countries at that.[20] Whatever the treaty’s perceived shortcomings, many disarmament advocates see the INF as a good first step toward the more comprehensive elimination of nuclear weapons. [quote id="1"] Although it rests on a coherent explanation of the cause of war, arms control with the goal of disarmament has its critics. Many proponents of arms control for the purpose of strategic stability and advantage argue that seeking disarmament may make war more likely if the effort dismantles the military capabilities necessary for deterrence.[21] Others question whether martial interest groups really drive international conflict or whether military-industrial complexes instead emerge as a response to preexisting political differences among states,[22] in which case finding a solution to existing political differences would have to precede disarmament.[23] The empirical record on the successes of disarmament is mixed. On the one hand, significant disarmament negotiations in the interwar period failed to prevent the outbreak of World War II, while the “long peace” of the Cold War was marked by high armaments on all sides.[24] On the other hand, proponents of disarmament can credibly argue that disarmament negotiations in the interwar period never went far enough to impede militarism and an arms race and that the nuclear disarmament movement played an important role in regulating and ultimately ending the U.S.-Soviet rivalry during the Cold War.[25] Proponents of disarmament argue that facing such a mixed empirical record, and mindful of the horrible consequences should deterrence fail, the safest path forward is for states to dismantle their weapons and tame hawkish interest groups.[26] Weapons and Stability A second prevalent theory of what causes war relates to the nature of weapons technologies and, especially, their impact on the offense-defense balance. This explanation for war begins with the structural condition of anarchy, in which states procure weapons for security and bargaining purposes.[27] Among the available weapons, some are useful primarily for defensive purposes and others are more useful for offensive purposes. The distribution and balance of these competing types of weapons can have a profound impact on the likelihood of war. In cases where the balance favors the defense, attacking a neighbor is expensive and difficult, thus strengthening deterrence and making states less likely to fight each other. In cases where the balance favors the offense, however, attacking a neighbor appears less costly, which in turn weakens deterrence and makes states more likely to fight each other.[28] An offense-dominant military balance can generate crisis instability, where the significant advantage of striking first can push states to escalate conflicts quickly in order to avoid the disadvantages of being attacked.[29] Relations between states in offense-dominant environments are also more likely to be poisoned by “security dilemmas,” in which states procuring offensive weapons for self-defense undermine the security of their neighbors, triggering arms races that ultimately undermine the security of both parties.[30] For these reasons, offense-defense theorists maintain that the balance of offense-defense capabilities determines the likelihood of war. For those who worry that the technological balance between offensive and defensive weapons is a primary driver of war, the proper purpose for arms control is stability, or promoting a defense-dominant international environment. By prohibiting or limiting the deployment of offensive weapons while allowing the deployment of defensive ones, arms control can shape the offense-defense balance, strengthen crisis stability, ameliorate security dilemmas, strengthen deterrence, and ultimately prevent war.[31] In the nuclear era, defense dominance has become closely associated with the strategy of mutually assured destruction, in which (paradoxically) “defensive” forces are aimed primarily at the destruction of the adversary’s country, maintaining deterrence by rendering any meaningful victory in war impossible. By making offensive war impossible, nuclear deterrence effectively privileges the defender, even if no material defense is possible.[32] Capabilities that might undermine mutual vulnerability by threatening an adversary’s nuclear forces directly — whether accurate, fast-striking offensive missiles or effective missile defense systems — are deemed to be “offensive” or “destabilizing,” because the “use them or lose them” dilemma they create generates strong incentives to shoot first in a crisis.[33] Stability arms control thus contributes to the cause of peace by limiting those weapons that might undermine the defense-dominance of great-power politics. Historically, stability has been an important objective of many great powers’ arms-limitation agreements. Some negotiations in the interwar period sought to tailor offensive and defensive forces to establish a more secure balance of power. For example, the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty placed limits on both battleship numbers and fortified bases in order to create a defense-dominant environment in the Pacific.[34] Before its disbandment, the World Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations also placed a high priority on limiting offensive arms.[35] The formal logic of stability took off in the 1950s with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Classical arms-control theorists including Thomas Schelling, Morton Halperin, and Hedley Bull argued that arms-control negotiations could construct a stable balance of terror between the superpowers.[36] In this view, deterrence could be reinforced by restricting access to damage-limiting capabilities, like large and accurate intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ABM defenses.[37] By reducing incentives to limit damage through preemptive attack, this approach to arms control would disincentivize countries from engaging in intentional war while also reducing the danger of accidental escalation in a crisis.[38] By the late 1960s, stability had become entrenched as one of the most important objectives of superpower arms control, with widespread condemnation — among experts and the public — of anti-ballistic-missile systems as well as large and accurate ICBM deployments.[39] Crisis and arms-race stability remain a touchstone for contemporary debates on arms-control policy.[40] Unlike disarmament, the policy prescriptions of stability arms control prefer immediate and permanent solutions to pressing military-technical problems. This is because most proponents of stability arms control locate the problem to be solved in the specific technical characteristics of the weapons and their interaction with other weapons systems. For example, large surface-based ballistic missiles are inherently destabilizing because they can be effectively targeted and destroyed by other large surface-based ballistic missiles. By comparison, the technical capabilities of ballistic-missile submarines, and their relative invulnerability to other weapons, render them stabilizing, rather than destabilizing.[41] As a result, proponents of stability arms control tend to see arms-control agreements as fixed commitments to limit inherently dangerous weapons, whose revision or abrogation would, in their view, be a mistake.[42] To the extent that change occurs, it is primarily driven by the introduction of new, perhaps even more destabilizing, technologies.[43] Advocates of stability arms control also tend to be skeptical of partial measures, which they view as missed opportunities to control the entire military-technical problem.[44] This approach’s focus on producing self-contained, mutually beneficial, and timeless arms-control agreements is distinct from both disarmament and advantage arms control, which often consider individual agreements as components of larger programs to promote peace. As with disarmament, stability arms control is not without its critics. First, a number of scholars have criticized the central claims of offense-defense theory, arguing that weapons cannot be readily divided into “stabilizing” and “destabilizing” camps, that it is too difficult for states to determine whether an adversary’s deployments are stabilizing or destabilizing, or that states do not evaluate weapons types in crafting their foreign policy.[45] Absent the ability to classify weapons as stabilizing or destabilizing, it is difficult to imagine how states could reduce the chances of war by limiting destabilizing weapons. Second, proponents of the nuclear revolution thesis question whether the advent of nuclear weapons has rendered the military balance largely superfluous, creating instead a relatively stable realm of nuclear peace between the great powers. If nuclear weapons automatically eliminate the possibility of war, then negotiations to tailor the specific makeup of armaments may not matter much in reducing the chances of war.[46] Finally, deterrence skeptics call into question whether armed forces, especially nuclear forces, are really an effective tool for preventing war. If even “stabilizing” weapons cannot prevent war, then perhaps broader disarmament is preferable to cooperative tinkering of armed forces.[47] As with disarmament, the empirical record remains ambiguous, with scholars deeply divided over whether the offense-defense balance has driven great powers to war and whether effective engineering of the offense-defense balance through arms control has made the world a safer place.[48] Actors and Advantage A third common explanation for how wars start suggests that some actors are simply more prone to war than others. Scholars have advanced several reasons for why some states may be more likely to cause war. First, some states may be ideologically or culturally predisposed toward war. Nazi Germany is the most obvious and grotesque example,[49] but during the Cold War scholars criticized the United States and the Soviet Union as ideologically driven and especially war-prone.[50] Second, some states may be institutionally predisposed toward war, particularly if their leaders find international military disputes useful for distracting from domestic difficulties.[51] Since the Cold War ended, much attention has been given to “rogue states,” whose rejection of liberal internationalism and unstable domestic politics are said to pose a significant threat to world peace.[52] Third, the anarchic structure of international politics may drive some states to grow more aggressive over time. Scholars of power-transition theory maintain that war becomes more likely as newly rising great powers seek to revise the distribution of goods in their favor, while hegemons attempt to preempt the emergence of new rivals.[53] Under any of these conditions, peace may depend primarily on the ability of relatively peaceful status quo states to maintain a preponderance of military power, to deter aggressive adversaries from attacking.[54] If some states are particularly prone to war, and international peace depends primarily on arraying sufficient forces to deter them, then arms control can contribute to peace primarily through promoting the military advantage of status quo powers. To accomplish this goal, states can structure arms-control agreements to place stricter limits on their adversaries than on themselves, or they can seek to construct symmetrical arms-control regimes that limit weapons technologies more advantageous to their adversaries.[55] Although it is tempting to write off advantage arms control as a cynical ploy, it rests on a clear logic of preventing war: Limiting particularly dangerous actors’ access to advanced weapons technology can strengthen deterrence by reinforcing the military advantages of the status quo powers. [quote id="2"] Historically, advantage has been a chief objective of many arms-limitation arrangements. Early efforts to leverage arms control for advantage occurred at the conclusion of major wars, including Sparta’s destruction of Athens’s walls and navy, Rome’s disarmament of Carthage after the Punic Wars, and the limitations on German military power in the Treaty of Versailles.[56] Interwar naval arms control was also heavily influenced by calculations of relative military and industrial advantage, especially the United States and Great Britain’s imposition of a 10-to-six ratio in naval strength regarding Japan.[57] Although all of the signatories of interwar naval arms limitation agreements pursued advantage within the formal negotiated limits, the Germans and Japanese also sought advantage by cheating on their arms-control commitments.[58] During the Cold War, a number of U.S. political scientists, including Donald Brennan, William Kintner, and Robert Pfaltzgraff, developed more formal arguments concerning how the United States might employ arms control to limit Soviet military advantage, though these ideas never received the same level of attention as those of stability arms-control advocates like Schelling, Halperin, and Bull.[59] Although proponents of advantage arms control had limited impact on the emerging field of political science, their ideas had a stronger influence over U.S. arms-control policy: U.S. leaders privately evaluated arms-control proposals on the basis of the relative advantages they afforded to the United States and the Soviet Union.[60] Furthermore, although the evidence on Soviet motives is limited and mixed, there is also reason to believe that the Soviet leadership continued to seek some margin of nuclear superiority over the United States in arms-control negotiations.[61] To date, much of the discussion concerning arms-limitation negotiations with North Korea centers on the importance of denying its unstable regime the military advantages of possessing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.[62] Like disarmament, and unlike stability, advantage arms control views the value of individual arms-control agreements through the prism of their contribution to a larger peace-promoting agenda: in this case, promoting the military advantage of status quo powers over war-prone revisionist powers. While stability arms control characterizes specific weapons technologies as inherently stabilizing or destabilizing, advantage arms control proceeds by emphasizing the role of various weapons technologies within the structure of long-term competition. For advocates of advantage arms control, agreements may dictate the pace of arms competition, allowing status quo states to put off competition until more favorable circumstances arise. They may push competition into environments more conducive to status quo states, for example by forcing revisionist land powers to compete primarily at sea, or vice versa. They may also shape competition to promote the relative military-technical advantages of status quo states, for example, by shifting competition from quantitative arms racing to qualitative arms racing.[63] Because the mix of political, military, economic, and cultural factors driving long-term competition changes over time, proponents of advantage arms control tend to see arms-limitation agreements as temporary tools whose utility may expire as the larger structure of competition changes. Unlike disarmament arms controllers, advantage arms controllers do not necessarily see arms-control agreements as progressive building blocks toward a larger, peaceful goal. Rather, many advocates of advantage arms control view long-term competition as a normal part of great-power relations in which states compete for marginal military advantages over time. Arms-control agreements are seen as instrumental in shaping this competition, to be concluded and discarded as convenient.[64] Peace is a product of this competitive interaction rather than an end result of a transformative process. While it is difficult to imagine a state concluding an agreement that places it at a disadvantage, scholars studying competitive arms control have suggested a number of scenarios under which advantage arms limitation might occur. First, a state seeking stability might be tricked into an arms-control agreement that undermines its relative security. Cold War theorists of competitive arms control were constantly concerned that the Soviet Union might trick the United States into such an agreement.[65] Second, a leader in a weak political position might agree to a disadvantageous arms-control agreement in order to secure the domestic political benefits of the agreement. Some observers have viewed Gorbachev’s dramatic arms-control concessions in this light.[66] Third, adversaries might conclude an arms-control agreement that promotes different relative advantages for each side. For example, while the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty codified a 10-to-six U.S. advantage in battleship tonnage over Japan, the U.S. agreement not to fortify its bases in the Western Pacific provided Japan with a substantial advantage in Northeast Asia.[67] Finally, adversaries might have different calculations about the long-term implications of an arms-control agreement, with each side seeking to advance its own competitive advantage.[68] The practice of negotiating limitations on complex weapons systems opens up possibilities for creative misunderstandings, generating opportunities for states to seek advantage through arms control.[69] Like both disarmament and stability, the basic assumptions underlying arms control for advantage have been subject to ample criticism. First, many scholars question whether factors such as regime type, ideological orientation, or power transition theory adequately explain the outbreak of war.[70] Even among those who accept that these factors might explain why wars begin, debates rage over which regimes, ideologies, or positions are most prone to war.[71] Second, analysts remain uncertain over how much relative advantage in military capabilities actually improves deterrence when compared with other factors such as the relative interests or resolve of the adversaries involved, or their ability to communicate those interests and resolve to each other.[72] This is especially the case where nuclear weapons are involved: Some scholars argue that even a small nuclear arsenal makes deterrence easy, rendering the balance of capabilities largely superfluous, while others maintain that even marginal advantages in the relative nuclear balance can have outsize effects on the success or failure of deterrence.[73] Third, critics maintain that arms-control negotiations are ineffective in modifying the balance of military capabilities, and instead simply ratify the preexisting balance.[74] In the face of this criticism, it is difficult to determine whether arms control for advantage really makes war less likely. Jervis’ admonition that one’s theory of arms control ought to emerge from one’s theory of war thus presents a serious problem. The multiple, competing explanations for war call for multiple, competing approaches to arms control. The theoretical bases of these competing explanations for war are diverse, focusing on different causal mechanisms and generating very different policy prescriptions. Indeed, these competing approaches to arms control rest on such different theoretical foundations that proponents of each often downplay or even ignore the existence of the others. Yet given the diversity of explanations for war, each approach can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control,” and none can be easily rejected as obviously false. This cacophony of arms-control purposes creates serious challenges for policymakers.

Purpose and Policy: The ABM Treaty, 1972–2001

While scholars may agree to disagree about arms control, political leaders can enjoy no such luxury. In order to conduct effective negotiations, a government must develop an arms-control policy to guide its negotiators. Absent a clear and uncontested understanding of the purpose of arms control, how can such a policy be constructed? In theory, one might expect a government to select from the approaches outlined above and to pursue it as the primary objective of negotiations. In practice, however, leaders often produce arms-control policy that seeks to compromise among the competing goals. This sort of compromise allows leaders to build the domestic coalitions necessary to prevail in the “two-level game” of arms control, where leaders must conclude international and domestic bargains at the same time.[75] It also allows leaders to hedge their bets between competing theories. Analyses assuming a single, obvious rationale for arms control have generally viewed these sorts of compromises as a dilution of true purpose.[76] Once one accepts that arms control can have multiple purposes, however, it becomes easier to appreciate that these compromises serve as the building blocks of success. A key example is the 1972 ABM Treaty, a single agreement that ultimately came to embody the hopes and fears of all three approaches to arms control — disarmament, stability, and advantage. The idea of a treaty to limit anti-ballistic missiles originated in the Johnson administration in the mid-1960s. Already facing the double challenge of waging the Vietnam War while advancing the Great Society program, President Lyndon Johnson was eager to avoid an ABM arms race with the Soviets, which threatened to be both costly and politically unpopular. Johnson also feared that conservatives would punish him politically if he unilaterally limited America’s ABM deployments. So, Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara sought to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the Soviet Union limiting these missiles, an approach that would avert the costs of their deployment while also bolstering the U.S. strategy of assured destruction, which sought to convince the Soviets of the futility of further arms racing.[77] The Soviets initially rebuffed Johnson’s proposal for arms limitation but ultimately agreed to talks. Soviet willingness to begin Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) came too late for Johnson, who, by 1968, was already on his way out of office.[78] Unlike Johnson, incoming President Richard Nixon remained committed to deploying some kind of ABM system. Nixon had wooed conservative voters in 1968 with promises of restoring America’s strategic superiority over the Soviet Union, including some form of ABM deployment.[79] Moreover, Nixon appointed a cadre of competitive arms controllers to the Defense Department and National Security Council staff who saw ABM technology as a crucial area of U.S. advantage that should be fully exploited. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard believed that U.S. advantages in precision manufacturing, advanced electronics, and digital computing would ultimately allow the United States to deploy an ABM system far superior to anything that the Soviets could produce.[80] In March 1969, Laird proposed that the United States deploy an ABM system known as “Safeguard” — which included a dozen major ABM sites across the United States — that was capable of providing a limited defense of U.S. cities and strategic forces from a Chinese or Soviet attack.[81] In addition to its own merits, many within the defense establishment saw Safeguard as a first step toward an even more capable ABM system.[82] From the beginning, conservatives in the Nixon administration were determined to use ABM technology to promote U.S. military advantage over the Soviet Union. For Nixon, the test would be finding ways to exploit those advantages while also bolstering strategic stability. The Nixon administration blended arms-control purposes for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious was that policymakers were unsure as to which logic was best or whether some combination of them might be preferable. For example, in approaching SALT, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger was of two minds. In a May 1969 memo to Nixon on SALT options, Kissinger outlined the major U.S. objective in arms-limitation negotiations with the Soviet Union as such: “An agreement could freeze or codify strategic relationships in a manner which preserves ‘equality’ at worst and a U.S. edge at best.” Kissinger sought an agreement that would broadly stabilize the arms race while allowing for U.S. advantages on the margins, the better to strengthen “an American President’s resolve in a crisis.”[83] In doing so, Kissinger personally combined both the stability and advantage approaches to arms control. [quote id="3"] Arms-control purposes are further blended through the domestic policy process as officials with differing preferences build coalitions to support their own views and compromise with other coalitions to produce policy. On the issue of anti-ballistic missiles, Nixon could not do as he pleased because his government was deeply divided over the merits of ABMs. While proponents in the Defense Department and White House insisted on moving forward with ABM deployments, opponents in the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, including Secretary of State William Rogers and agency Director Gerard Smith, insisted that any ABM deployment would undermine the strategic equilibrium with the Soviet Union. Rogers and Smith instead promoted a stability approach to arms control, arguing that the United States should seek an agreement with the Soviets to ban ABMs as soon as possible.[84] The conflict between advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department and proponents of stability arms control at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency would define the Nixon administration’s approach to SALT.[85] The division between proponents and opponents of ABMs initially led the Nixon administration to an impasse regarding SALT. Proponents of advantage arms control, like Laird, Packard, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Earle Wheeler, argued that any SALT agreement would need to allow the full 12-site Safeguard deployment. Meanwhile, stability arms controllers, including Smith and Rogers, called for an immediate freeze on all ABM construction.[86] Internal debates about the wisdom of ABM deployment quickly spilled into public view as congressional opponents of the missiles organized to block the first phase of Safeguard’s deployment. Constant leaking from the administration, as well as awkward public controversies between government officials, repeatedly undermined Safeguard’s chances.[87] After a bruising congressional battle, funding for the first phase of Safeguard squeaked through the U.S. Senate in August 1969 on a 50-50 split, with Vice President Spiro Agnew casting the tie-breaking vote.[88] Challenged by Congress and unable to control his subordinates, Nixon’s strategic arms policy was off to an inauspicious start. Congressional opposition to Safeguard shaped the U.S. position on SALT. By the fall of 1969, the intensity of congressional opposition convinced advantage arms controllers like Laird and Packard that the United States would not be able to deploy the full 12-site Safeguard system in the near future. Not coincidentally, they began to promote a much more stringent ABM agreement that would, in effect, confine the Soviets to the level of ABM deployment that the U.S. Congress would allow — the two ABM sites authorized in the first phase of Safeguard.[89] The Defense Department’s shifting priorities lined up with the State Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency’s continued advocacy of a zero- or low-level ABM agreement.[90] As a result, the initial U.S. proposals on SALT in April 1970 sought to limit ABMs to very low levels, with only one or two bases allowed per side.[91] The Soviets immediately accepted, in principle, the idea of maintaining low-level ABM deployments, setting the basic terms for the ABM Treaty that would be concluded in Moscow two years later.[92] The ABM “compromise” in the Nixon administration was itself the result of some creative misunderstanding between advocates of advantage and stability arms control. While Smith and Rogers saw the ABM limitations as preventing widespread proliferation of a destabilizing weapons technology, Laird and Packard saw these limitations as necessary to prevent unlimited Soviet deployments, which, for political reasons, the United States would not be able to match. We know that advocates of advantage arms control in the Defense Department continued to see ABM technology as an area of relative U.S. advantage because they continually attempted to push the envelope on ABM deployments. Although by late 1969 Laird and Packard had despaired of further ABM deployments by the United States, at least in the short term, Senate debate in the summer of 1970 suggested that Congress might fund a more extensive ABM deployment if it were limited to defending ICBM fields in the Midwest. This, in turn, rekindled Laird and Packard’s interest.[93] The realization that Congress might fund more than two ABM sites caused Laird and Packard to have serious buyer’s remorse over the April 1970 SALT proposals limiting ABM deployments, which the Soviets had already accepted. In 1971, in the face of deadlock with the Soviets over how to limit offensive forces, the Defense Department began insisting that any SALT agreement provide the United States with a four-to-one advantage in ABM bases, driven by Laird and Packard’s conviction that Congress would eventually fund four ABM sites.[94] The U.S. and Soviet SALT delegations spent the better part of a year wrangling over this new ABM proposal, with the U.S. delegates eventually falling back to two-for-one, while the Soviets continued to insist on the April 1970 proposal for equal bases.[95] By that point, the Defense Department had already moved on from its interest in Safeguard ABM “bases” and was, instead, proposing a new ABM modality in which several short-range interceptors would be co-located with each ICBM silo, resulting in the distributed deployment of thousands of interceptors and hundreds of networked radars. True to form, Laird and Packard pushed for a new ABM arms-control proposal under which the United States would be able to deploy such an expansive ABM system while the Soviets would remain limited to their single ABM facility in Moscow.[96] This was too far even for Nixon, who, along with Kissinger, had concluded that anything other than ABM equality would be non-negotiable with the Soviets.[97] As a result, the ABM Treaty concluded by Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev in May 1972 allowed each side two ABM bases, later reduced to a single base for each.[98] The Defense Department’s efforts to reformulate the ABM negotiations have received little attention from historians because the final agreement dictated an equal number of bases. However, these behind-the-scenes efforts indicate that many within the U.S. government continued to view ABM technology as an area of U.S. relative advantage and sought to use the ABM Treaty as an opportunity for gaining strategic advantage over the Soviets. Even in establishing numerical parity, the 1972 ABM Treaty contained several concessions to proponents of advantage arms control.[99] First and foremost, the United States was allowed to deploy an ABM base, which Laird and Packard hoped would provide the opportunity to gain real experience in operating ABM technology, if only on a small scale.[100] But even this small-scale deployment was not guaranteed: Stability arms controllers had argued on numerous occasions that the United States ought to push the Soviets for a zero-ABM agreement.[101] The crux of the issue was not so much the immediate ABM deployment but, rather, the long-term implications of ABM research and testing. In addition to the perceived wastefulness of ABM deployments, stability arms controllers argued that a zero-ABM agreement would be easier to verify, since it would prohibit not only ABM deployments but also testing of ABM system components, making covert cheating by the Soviets all but impossible.[102] Advantage arms controllers generally agreed that a treaty that allowed limited ABM deployment and testing would be harder to verify but argued that the United States needed to retain its basis for ABM testing to enable possible future deployments.[103] Rather than a simple ban on deployment and testing, the 1972 ABM Treaty allowed testing at specified ranges, with verification enabled by a series of definitions concerning “ABM system components,” including the allowed power-aperture ratio for search radars and the permitted testing configuration of surface-to-air missiles.[104] The complexity and risk involved in this scheme demonstrate the value that advocates of advantage arms control placed on retaining ABM testing facilities — Laird, Packard, and others were willing to run higher risks of Soviet cheating if it meant the United States retained the ability to test and deploy new ABM technologies. In addition to allowing deployment and testing of ABM system components, the ABM Treaty contained two other important concessions to advocates of advantage arms control. First, although the treaty banned testing and deployment of “exotic” ABM technologies, it did not ban research short of testing. As a result, even under the treaty the United States would be able to push the envelope of ABM technology, pursuing new sensors and interceptors considerably more advanced than the Safeguard components of the early 1970s.[105] Second, the ABM Treaty contained explicit withdrawal provisions, providing each party with the right to terminate the treaty should its “supreme interests” be on the line.[106] Stability arms controllers, as well as the Soviet SALT delegates, argued that such language was unnecessary, but advantage arms controllers in the National Security Council staff and Defense Department insisted on its inclusion, creating a backdoor for possible future abrogation.[107] As a result, while stability arms controllers could praise the ABM Treaty for placing limits on a dangerous technology in perpetuity, advantage arms controllers saw the treaty as a temporary measure designed to hold off Soviet deployments while the United States made progress on ABM technology, awaiting a more propitious domestic political environment when full ABM deployment would be possible.[108] The compromise at the heart of the ABM Treaty rested on the different time horizons of the proponents of stability and competitive arms control. Advocates of stability arms control insisted that ballistic missile defenses were, by nature, destabilizing. Their insistence on technology’s unchanging nature meant that their time horizon was short: Because the technology’s meaning was fixed, what was good for the moment was assumed to be good in perpetuity. By comparison, proponents of advantage arms control believed that the meaning of ABM technology might evolve organically as the technology itself matured and as the political context changed. The resulting ABM Treaty succeeded by juggling these differing time horizons: Stability arms controllers received concrete restrictions in the present, while advantage arms controllers satisfied themselves with possibilities for the future. By exploiting the two time horizons of the opposing schools of arms control, Nixon and Kissinger were able to build a historic compromise. Imbued from its creation with multiple purposes, the ABM Treaty did not remain static in meaning but evolved over time. Originally a compromise between the stability and advantage schools of arms control, by the 1980s the ABM Treaty also gained a substantial disarmament logic, as proponents of disarmament embraced the treaty as a tool for reducing nuclear arsenals. Nuclear disarmers argued that the mutual vulnerability enshrined in the ABM Treaty provided the context in which steep cuts to offensive nuclear forces could take place.[109] Much like advantage arms controllers, disarmers came to see the ABM Treaty as an important first step — however flawed — in a much longer contest, allowing them to join advantage and stability arms controllers in supporting the same arms-control regime, albeit for radically different reasons. [quote id="4"] Around the same time, advantage arms controllers began questioning whether the moment had come for the United States to cast off the ABM Treaty and rush ahead in ABM technology. Advantage arms controllers in the Reagan administration tested the treaty’s limits in order to pursue more advanced ABM technology through the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), arguing that the text of the ABM Treaty technically allowed the testing of certain “exotic” ABM system components, even if the negotiating record was ambiguous.[110] Debate over SDI between the disarmament, stability, and advantage factions was fierce. Nevertheless, the new “exotic” ABM technologies offered by SDI were insufficiently mature to warrant testing or deployment. When Reagan left office, the ABM Treaty remained in place even as the United States continued to develop new ABM concepts and components.[111] Over time, however, the ABM Treaty’s appeal to advantage arms controllers diminished, much as its initial pro-advantage authors had intended. By the late 1990s, many proponents of advantage arms control believed that new ABM technology had matured to the point where it was ready for serious testing and deployment.[112] At the same time, evolving threats from the smaller missile arsenals of “rogue states” increased the incentive to develop even a small ABM system.[113] These changes in context convinced many conservatives that the period in which the ABM Treaty contributed to U.S. national security had passed. In another example of the U.S. search for advantage in arms control, the Clinton administration initially attempted to modify the ABM Treaty to allow for further U.S. deployments.[114] When Russia proved unwilling to modify the treaty to allow such deployments, the George W. Bush administration announced its intention to withdraw in December 2001, setting off a wave of ABM testing and deployment that continues today.[115] The ABM Treaty’s greatest long-term strength was its ability to encompass multiple arms-control agendas, which gave it significant staying power and even allowed additional rationales to be added to the treaty over time. However, it could not survive the wholesale defection of advantage arms controllers in the 1990s and, as such, was abrogated. Proponents of stability arms control saw leaving the ABM Treaty as a betrayal of its original principles, allowing an inherently dangerous technology back into the world.[116] In some ways, however, abrogation of the ABM Treaty was not a betrayal of its founding principles but, rather, their natural culmination. From the advantage point of view, the treaty had stalled any Soviet or Russian ABM program, allowing continued U.S. progress on ABM technology while waiting for a domestic political circumstance more favorable to deployment. Whether the ABM Treaty was a failure or success depends largely on one’s perspective.

Conclusion

To understand the history or the contemporary practice of arms control, one must recognize that arms-limitation agreements often serve multiple and contradictory purposes. In the quest to prevent war, arms limitation may assist in disarmament, stability, or advantage, each of which is rooted in a plausible explanation for what causes war and each of which can credibly claim the mantle of “arms control.” Absent consensus on which approach is most effective at preventing war, the formation of arms-control policy has been difficult. In practice, policymakers have juggled the differing time horizons of competing arms-control constituencies to produce compromises capable of advancing all three arms-control aims simultaneously, at least for a time. Recognizing the multiple purposes of arms control has critical implications for scholars and policymakers. For scholars, recognizing arms control’s multiple goals is important for expanding an understanding of arms control and international politics more broadly. Arms control is not always a cooperative enterprise: Such agreements have served as vehicles for promoting the relative military advantages of great and minor powers. Studies that treat arms control as a purely cooperative endeavor will inevitably capture only half of the picture. For political scientists, this may involve recoding cases in which the existence of arms-control negotiations is treated ipso facto as evidence of improving cooperation between states rather than a different form of competition.[117] For historians, this will require reconsidering the success or failure of arms-control negotiations in light of their ability to advance multiple agendas rather than a single logic.[118] For both political scientists and historians, the flexibility of what arms control means may pose deeper questions concerning the nature of cooperation and competition in international politics and whether those concepts are mutually exclusive or interrelated. Given the difficulties entailed in producing a unified theory of arms control, scholars would do well to consider lessons from the practical world of statecraft, where theoretical rigor is often less important than political necessity. This is especially the case when arms-control arrangements must be cobbled together out of multiple competing purposes, assembling the parallel coalitions required to prevail in complex two-level negotiations. Under these circumstances, one of the most important resources available to a would-be arms controller is time. Competing interests with different time horizons can be assembled into arms-control compromises in which each side gets what it wants but at different points. Furthermore, initial compromises on the meaning of arms control are open to reinterpretation and revision over time, as arms-control regimes gain new meanings and contexts. Recognizing that arms-control agreements can serve multiple purposes, and that these objectives might change over time, can lead to a better understanding of why some agreements last, why some end, and why those that end break down when they do. The longest-lasting arms-limitation agreements are likely to be those that can continue to embody multiple agendas while also adapting to new contexts. An agreement is unlikely to last when it no longer appears to serve a sufficiently large range of purposes and when leaders become disillusioned with the utility of arms control for achieving their objectives. For policymakers, recognizing the existence of multiple arms-control agendas is both good and bad. The bad news is that understanding the policy implications of existing and notional arms-control agreements is extremely difficult, because agreements often serve several purposes and may have different meanings for different actors. As a result, the State and Defense Departments may have radically different understandings of a given agreement’s purpose, while foreign interlocutors are likely to have views of their own.[119] Balancing these competing views is tremendously difficult, especially in periods of significant international and domestic political confusion and rancor. As in the Cold War, the goal of enacting arms control is likely to remain very challenging. The good news is that significant opportunities exist in the contemporary U.S. political scene for effective coalition building in favor of arms-control proposals, with figures as far apart politically as John Bolton, Bill Clinton, and Derek Johnson all calling for an arms-control solution to the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.[120] There is strong reason to suspect that Bolton, Clinton, and Johnson each prefer an arms-control solution to the North Korean nuclear threat for different reasons.[121] Nonetheless, the fact that three prominent figures with such different views about national security affairs have arrived at a similar policy aim, even in a period of tremendous partisan division, is surely cause for hope. As the example of the ABM Treaty demonstrates, appeals to cooperation and normative leadership are unlikely to be sufficient to advance a successful policy of arms control. Proponents of arms-control solutions would do better to cast a “big tent” on any such policy and seek to justify their prescriptions to multiple constituencies based on multiple logics. In doing so, considerable advantage can be derived by emphasizing that each constituency can receive what it wants, just at different times. Some good work has been done concerning how “progress” on arms-control issues might be organized into timelines,[122] which could provide different benefits to different arms-control constituencies at different times. Such an approach stands a chance of succeeding, even in the face of tremendous division over America’s proper role in the world. The future of arms control, much like its past, will depend on effective compromise between competing purposes.   John D. Maurer is the Henry A. Kissinger Postdoctoral Fellow at International Security Studies (ISS) and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. His current book project focuses on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) in the Nixon administration, drawing on the Kissinger Papers at Yale to examine how academic ideas on the nature of arms control shaped U.S. arms control policy. His work has appeared in Diplomatic History, the National Interest, and War on the Rocks. He would like to thank Fritz Bartel, Ian Johnson, Paul Kennedy, Keir Lieber, Nicholas Meyers, Nuno Monteiro, Kathryn Olesko, David Painter, Eric Sand, Evan Wilson, Remco Zwetsloot, the participants in the Yale ISS Colloquium, and the three anonymous readers at Texas National Security Review for their useful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.   Image: Ford Library Museum [post_title] => The Purposes of Arms Control [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-purposes-of-arms-control [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:52:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:52:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=769 [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] => 763 [post_author] => 223 [post_date] => 2018-11-06 04:00:36 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-11-06 09:00:36 [post_content] =>

Those people — the map people, the logistics people, the intelligence people — have always been accused, by operational commanders, of thinking more than is good for them, but this time they’ve got it right.”

– Alan Furst, Kingdom of Shadows

  In 2018, both the Russian Federation and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conducted their largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War. The role of such maneuvers in the larger geostrategic context has been brought to the fore by these activities and President Donald Trump’s decision, announced at his summit in Singapore with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to suspend the U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise.[1] Official statements about these military exercises typically stress their specified purpose of improving training, readiness, and interoperability among services and multinational forces.[2] But military exercises also convey powerful geopolitical messages intended to demonstrate how the capabilities on display enhance regional stability, deter aggression, and reinforce foreign policy goals.[3] However, I argue in this essay that they can instead do the opposite, in the sense of the classic security dilemma, as real or potentially adversarial states ratchet up the size and scope of their exercises and push exercise venues into militarily problematic areas. In other words, the risk of geopolitical instability that such exercises imply may not bring a corresponding deterrence reward. This is especially true across the increasingly tense NATO-Russia divide in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, which is the focus of this paper. The elusive line between deterrence and provoking aggression has been explored in depth in analyses of tabletop war games or simulations in the German kriegsspiel style. The most notable are those conducted by the RAND Corporation involving a hypothetical Russian invasion of the NATO-member Baltic states. The results provided the impetus for a more robust alliance military presence in that region and in Poland.[4] Michael Kofman has discussed at length whether this shift from “reassurance” to “deterrence” makes sense and, importantly, posits that a critical variable in this calculation is the perception of the Russian threat. He also questioned whether “conventional deterrence by denial is possible on NATO’s eastern flank.”[5] Through my experience as an intelligence officer at the tactical and national levels, I became — and remain — acutely aware of the role that the threat, or at least the United States military’s assessment of the threat, plays in both planning and executing military operations. That includes exercises, a number of which I participated in. Later, as an academic researcher in geopolitics, I came to appreciate the influence of what Gerard Toal refers to as “thick geopolitics,” a concept that “strives to describe the geopolitical forces, networks, and interactions that configure places and states.”[6] Combining these two perspectives, in this paper I examine the strategic implications of NATO’s ongoing efforts to extend its reach eastward and, in some cases, northward,[7] by shifting its military exercise venues forward and including non-NATO “partners” in the alliance’s military operations and exercise agenda. The symbolism of these highly visible activities — which precede the Crimean crisis — is difficult to ignore, especially as they contribute to Russia’s geopolitical angst as regards its immediate neighborhood. Certainly, as Toal avers, the many multi-layered influences of location, distance, and place come into play here, especially given that some of these NATO-sponsored and member-state exercises take place along the Russian land frontier or its adjacent maritime zone and airspace. The reverse is also true, as Russia conducts large-scale exercises and other military demonstrations — what Mark Galeotti terms “heavy metal diplomacy”[8] — in that same contact zone. These exercises are viewed as threatening by many NATO states, some of which harbor unhappy memories of when this “thick geopolitical” landscape was dominated by Russia in its imperial or Soviet form.

Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging

Military exercises do not take place on tabletops. Instead, warships, troops, aircraft, armored vehicles, and logistical and engineer support units maneuver across land, sea, and airspace overseen by headquarters staffs practicing command, control, and communications. A combination of live firing of weapons; cyber activities; collection, processing, and dissemination of target information and intelligence data; and after-action assessments all make for a complex and demanding undertaking, often at considerable expense and some element of danger to the participants. These exercises also involve considerable fanfare in the host countries and, especially, strong visualization elements. As Roland Bleiker notes, “Images shape international events and our understanding of them.”[9] Certainly, images of warships, tanks, and live firing make for dramatic coverage, especially as they have become more incorporated in and widely disseminated via social media. These messages and images complement official foreign and security policy narratives and those of nongovernmental groups (e.g., think tanks and human rights organizations), and they should be seen as part and parcel of the larger geopolitical discourse. The Exercise Is the Message The annual Foal Eagle joint and combined forces maneuvers,[10] conducted by the United States and the Republic of Korea, are an excellent example of how military exercises can be used to message strategic posture. In addition to the complexity and scope of these maneuvers, conducting them on and around the Korean Peninsula has become a highly contentious element in relations between these two allies and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.[11] In its press release announcing the 2017 iteration, the Defense Department stated that Foal Eagle “is designed to increase readiness to defend South Korea, to protect the region, and to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”[12] This is the template for the manner in which militaries typically describe their exercises and signal their import. And that language is understood to mean that readiness involves training, that protecting the region implies a specific geographical focus, and that stability (or, frequently, deterrence) is a desired strategic outcome. Geopolitical messaging is conveyed via military exercises through several means by the exercise planners and their superiors. First, is the decision of whether to hold exercises. That means that starting, suspending, or terminating them is a foreign policy and security policy statement in and of itself. This is certainly true in long-standing military relationships such as that between the United States and the Republic of Korea, wherein the form and scale of exercises have evolved since their inception shortly after the end of the Korean War. In fact, the major U.S.-South Korea exercise, Team Spirit, was canceled four times in the 1990s to facilitate negotiations to limit North Korea’s nuclear program.[13] Notably, the Bright Star exercises co-sponsored by the United States and Egypt since 1980 were suspended by President Barack Obama in 2013 in the wake of the military takeover of the elected Egyptian government. They have, however, since been reinstated.[14] The U.S. Central Command press release for Bright Star 2017 made no mention of the hiatus.[15] The Malabar naval exercises initiated by the United States and India in 1992 (and joined by Japan in 2015) presaged increased American interest in the Indian Ocean and Indian concerns regarding China’s growing presence in South Asia. Although these exercises have recently expanded significantly, they were suspended for a period after India tested nuclear weapons.[16] [quote id="1"] The same cyclical pattern of scaling down and ramping up military exercises as political circumstances change is evident in the U.S.-Philippines Balikatan exercise, which recently concluded its 34th iteration.[17] Disinviting the People’s Liberation Army Navy from the U.S.-sponsored 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise was intended to signal U.S. displeasure at China’s increasing militarization of islands in the South China Sea. (The Chinese navy had participated in RIMPAC in 2014 and 2016.)[18] Meanwhile, Russia and China announced that their two navies would conduct a second round of joint exercises in the Yellow Sea, and the huge Vostok 2018 exercises involved Chinese troops for the first time as part of a long-term plan of greater military cooperation between the two countries.[19] Once it has been decided that exercises are to take place, geopolitical messaging is conveyed in several ways in their actual execution: Where the exercises are conducted, how many personnel are involved, what countries they are drawn from, and the types of weaponry employed are all key elements in strategic positioning or, one might say, posturing. Further complicating matters, the number, size, and scope of military exercises are growing — in some regions dramatically so — and at a time of heightened stress in the international system.[20]

The NATO-Russia Military Exercise Dynamic

Nowhere is this expansion of military exercises more evident and potentially de-stabilizing than in the NATO-Russia arena. Since Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, tensions have risen steadily between Moscow and the West, with economic sanctions, mutual expulsions of diplomats and the closure of legations, and a barrage of mutual recriminations not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War. Russia’s interference in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, including the insertion of regular units of the Russian army into the fighting there,[21] and at least one major cyberattack on the Ukrainian power grid, banks, and government agencies, has exacerbated what was already a full-blown international crisis and catalyzed fears in the West — warranted or not — of a new and more capable Russian threat. Russia, meanwhile, harbors long-standing grievances concerning NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet states (the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and former members of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe, which acceded to NATO from 1990 to 2004. Actions by NATO in the Balkan conflicts, especially the bombing campaign against Serbia, also invoked Russian fears of Western encroachment into what Moscow considers its sphere of influence. [22] These increasingly contentious relations have resulted in a significant expansion of military operations on both sides. Russian forces continuously operate close to NATO forces in and around Europe as well as in the Middle East, especially Syria. Partly, this is because the NATO alliance now adjoins Russia along a longer frontier. Four of the newer NATO member states have land borders with Russia proper (Estonia and Latvia) or its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave (Poland and Lithuania), whereas previously only Norway directly bordered Russia, and that was in the very remote far north. All of these new eastern frontiers have become increasingly militarized. For example, almost from the moment of their accession to NATO, the three Baltic countries — with no combat aircraft of their own — received air defense cover from their NATO allies, a continuing mission that involves frequent intercepts of Russian military aircraft transiting Baltic Sea airspace.[23] The alliance also agreed at its Warsaw summit in 2016 to rotate “battalion-sized battlegroups” into Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in what it termed an “enhanced forward presence.”[24] Samuel Charap argues that Russia has likewise raised the ante in its standoff with NATO by using “its military beyond its borders with unprecedented frequency since the invasion of Crimea in February 2014,” referring to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and by its “brinksmanship in the skies and sea with NATO and other Western militaries.”[25] Finally, Russia’s extensive buildup of forces in Kaliningrad has significantly altered the military landscape in the Baltic Sea region.[26] As Dmitry Gorenburg has noted, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its Crimea bases have been significantly upgraded, with more resources expected in the coming years. [27] Closing the Exercise Gap The upshot of this heightened military activity is that deconfliction and avoidance of the kinds of catastrophic accident that could lead to hostilities has become an increasingly serious matter. As will be discussed below, military exercises involving these forward-deployed units are an inevitable consequence of their placement.[28] That is to say, if one forward-deploys or bases forces in a given region, exercising them in these locations is imperative — and the chances of miscalculation or accidents rise commensurately. These exercises have generated considerable attention in both the mainstream media and in the national security and geopolitics commentariat. The Russian Federation and its allies have undertaken a number of large-scale military maneuvers designed to test their troops and weapons, demonstrate their ability to defend the homeland, and convey a message of resoluteness in so doing. Russia’s large Zapad (“West”) 2017 maneuvers generated unprecedented coverage in Western media, think tank analyses, and official sources. They provided a prime example of how these events shape the national security discourse between Moscow and NATO.[29] In keeping with the universal exercise rationale template, the Russian Ministry of Defense described Zapad 2017 as “a final stage of joint training of the Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces [involving] interoperability of staffs [in the defense of] territories of the Republic of Belarus and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation [to prevent] their destabilization.”[30] Both in terms of its regional scope (the Baltic Sea region, western Russia, and Belarus) and the number of personnel and different weapons systems involved, Zapad 2017 certainly deserved the attention it received. But the ensuing frenzy, including concern that the exercise was intended to mask an actual invasion of the Baltics and Poland, exacerbated tensions throughout Europe even though that exercise occurs every four years.[31] Even before Zapad 2017, at least one American national security think tank raised the specter of an “exercise gap” between Russia and NATO, arguing that the former enjoyed a significant advantage.[32] Vostok (“East”) 2018, another quadrennial Russian capstone military exercise, has likewise received extensive coverage in Russia and in Western media, mainly, but not exclusively, because the numbers of troops and equipment engaged may have exceeded Zapad 2017 (there is some dispute about the numbers directly involved[33]), which would make it the largest since the end of the Cold War. But it also involved an “interstate-conflict scenario” with coalition adversaries,[34] closely resembling what Russia would face should it wind up in a fight with NATO, though the maneuvers took place at a far remove from NATO territory. As such, the geopolitical message conveyed by the exercises, in particular the added element of participation by Chinese military units, was more subtle, involving what could be characterized as an in-house assessment of how well Russian armed forces could generate and manage a large-scale conflict from the command-and-control perspective. [quote id="2"] Not to be outdone, NATO and its member states and partners likewise sponsor an expanding series of large and complex military exercises in close proximity to Russia’s western border and its adjacent seas and airspace.[35] Not surprisingly, this has provoked a negative reaction from Moscow. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, the schedule of military training events involving NATO and its member states, as well as non-NATO partners, has become increasingly ambitious.[36] As a consequence, the “exercise gap” has narrowed.[37] This was underscored by the alliance’s top leadership at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014,[38] reemphasized at the Warsaw summit in 2016,[39] and reaffirmed at the 2018 Brussels summit: “We continue to ensure the Alliance’s political and military responsiveness, including through more regular exercises.”[40] As is true in general of military exercises, these recent NATO exercises are intended to act as both training events and indicators of security policy and posture. That is, they signal the alliance’s determination to defend its member states. Thus, several major exercises were conducted in 2017 with the aim of “assuring” NATO states bordering or near Russia (especially strategically vulnerable Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) and thereby “deterring” Russian aggression. The evolution of the annual Saber Strike exercise series is a good example. Initially, from 2011, this exercise involved about 2,000 personnel, with a focus on training troops from the Baltic countries to NATO standards as a means of integrating them into the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.[41] By 2018, Saber Strike had grown to 18,000 participants, with a clear focus on “validating our [NATO’s] collective capability to rapidly respond to and reinforce Allies in a time of crisis.”[42] From whence that crisis might emerge is not stated, but reference is made to the fact that the exercise is “not a provocation of Russia,” leaving one to imagine another major external threat to the alliance. In the same vein, the biannual Anakonda exercises organized by Poland have grown enormously since their inception in 2006. The 2016 edition numbered 31,000 troops from 23 countries with the intent “to check the ability of NATO to defend the territory of the eastern flank of the Alliance.”[43] Again, absent an attack from Belarus or Ukraine, the obvious aggressor state would be Russia. But the clearest message yet that NATO intends to push the geopolitical envelope by means of military exercises came via Trident Juncture 2018, the alliance’s premier format. Not only is this the largest post-Cold War NATO exercise, with some 50,000 participants, but the venue, mainly in Norway, further extends the field of play. Hitherto, Norway, a founding NATO member state, had been careful to avoid antagonizing Moscow by allowing maneuvers in its far northern region, but, as Azita Raji notes, the mood in Oslo has clearly shifted toward taking a much stronger stance against what is perceived as an increasingly serious Russian threat.[44] Thus, Trident Juncture 2018 sends three geopolitical messages: that Norway takes its NATO commitment very seriously, that it will push back hard against Russian pressure, and that the alliance supports both of those positions. [45]

Can Anybody Play?

Significantly, over the past decade NATO has sought to integrate some non-NATO partners into operations and exercises, and in certain cases it has conducted large-scale NATO-, U.S.-, or European-sponsored events (including live-fire practice) on the territory of those non-member states, with resultant geopolitical implications. In the Nordic region, for example, Swedish and Finnish forces have participated in exercises with NATO, and NATO ground forces and aircraft have operated in Sweden and Finland proper in the two countries’ respective maneuvers.[46] Finnish and Swedish ground, naval, and air-force units participated in Trident Juncture 2018, with some NATO events taking place in both countries.[47] Such exercises and other steps that the two countries have taken to bolster their militaries have significantly altered the strategic situation in NATO’s favor vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic Sea area while, predictably, provoking a negative response from Moscow.[48] Likewise, NATO has dramatically strengthened its military relationship with the Republic of Georgia through training assistance programs and major exercises. The highlight of these is the Noble Partner series, wherein U.S. Army forces (including tanks and other armored vehicles) recently deployed to Georgia from bases in Germany. Through participation in such exercises, some units of the Georgian army have met NATO operational standards and are included in NATO’s Response Force, a readily available and deployable contingency command for insertion in emerging-crisis situations.[49] Previously, Georgian troops had been involved in a number of NATO operations. With 32 of its soldiers killed in support of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, Georgia’s casualty rate in that conflict is higher than that of any NATO country.[50] In the Black Sea region, the U.S. Navy has bolstered its presence both in exercises with Ukraine and NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria and through freedom-of-navigation visits. This was particularly evident in the Sea Breeze 2017 exercise, during which two advanced U.S. warships participated and also conducted a port call in the Ukrainian port city of Odesa. Russian news sources have featured prominent coverage of these NATO-Ukraine military maneuvers in the Black Sea. For example, Sea Breeze 2017 was not covered in the mainstream U.S. media (although it did appear in defense-related news outlets and on social media), whereas both Sputnik and RT (formerly Russia Today) had features on the maneuvers. Sputnik posted eight features on another U.S.-Ukraine exercise, Rapid Trident 2017, including articles in its German, Polish, Lithuanian, and Moldovan outlets. One can reasonably conclude that the signaling of military partnership, if not treaty obligation, is being received by Russia, and not favorably.

(In)stability: One Is Easy; the Other, Not So Much

If geopolitical “stability” is a stated goal of most military exercises, a working description of how such stability might be measured in the NATO-Russia context is necessary. Although there is no universally accepted definition to reference, the specifics of where the exercise takes place, how many personnel are engaged, which countries participate, and how certain types of weapons are involved can be used to make at least a rough assessment of the extent to which these events might be de-stabilizing. Using military exercises to advance the forward deployment of troops, naval vessels, and aircraft has been a feature of both NATO and Russian military planning and posturing since the Crimean crisis unfolded, and it show no signs of abating.  Incorporating more advanced weaponry in maneuvers in forward areas is especially destabilizing as it alters the military status quo ante. For example, NATO used the Tobruk Legacy exercise in July 2017 to deploy the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system to Lithuania, the first time that such an advanced system had been positioned in the Baltic region.[51] Not surprisingly, Russia viewed that move as provocative.[52] The missiles were withdrawn after the exercise concluded, but the idea of permanently basing them in the region remains very much alive. During a state visit to the White House on April 3, 2018, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid advocated placing Patriots in her country.[53] On the other hand, since 2014, Russia has periodically moved its Iskander tactical ballistic missiles forward to Kaliningrad during exercises, prompting a warning from NATO that this presented a serious threat to the alliance and constituted a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”[54] As it developed, these exercise deployments were, in fact, the prelude to the permanent basing of an Iskander brigade in Kaliningrad, a move that the chairman of the Russian Duma’s defense committee called “the answer to the deployment of military assets in neighboring territories.”[55] U.S. Navy vessels equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System have participated in the Sea Breeze exercise in the Black Sea to which, according to one U.S. Defense Department official, “the Russians are particularly sensitive.” That same official stated that the Russians must be “desensitized.”[56] For years, Russia has expressed this “sensitivity” by conducting low-level passes over NATO warships operating on the Black Sea, often dangerously close to the vessels, and by intercepting and approaching NATO maritime patrol and intelligence collection aircraft. Obviously, these incidents carry a very high risk of collision or might provoke hostilities. On April 19, 2018, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the chief of the Russian general staff held a rare face-to-face meeting to discuss “issues related to military posture and exercises … to foster predictability and transparency.”[57] Yet, despite previous such meetings, these encounters continued. Fight Where You Train? By pushing military exercise venues further forward, is NATO signaling that it is prepared to fight early in a conflict with Russia in exposed regions such as the Baltic countries? The viability of changing the NATO/U.S. imperative from “reassurance to deterrence” in that context has been extensively critiqued as problematic at best.[58] Yet, this has not forestalled the view among exercise planners and think tank analysts that it makes good sense to demonstrate at least some capability to engage the threat far forward (e.g., Saber Strike) despite the realities of military geography.[59] As I have written apropos the challenges of a high-end fight with Russia from an airpower perspective, conducting military exercises close to Russia’s heavily defended territory where NATO forces are at a serious disadvantage is a singularly bad idea: Airfields are static targets, and most of those closest to the eastern borders of NATO countries do not possess facilities hardened to withstand the inevitable attacks against them. They are also within easy range of any number of Russian offensive threats.[60] Moreover, because Russia has put in place the much-discussed anti-access/area-denial “bubbles” of sophisticated defenses around its western perimeter and extending well into NATO’s eastern flank, the alliance must confront a difficult question:[61] Is the geopolitical message that these exercises send essentially a bluff easily recognized by Russia as such and, therefore, unnecessarily provocative? Along these same lines, what is the point of conducting military exercises with non-NATO countries if the alliance is not treaty-bound to assist them in the event that they are attacked by Russia? One could argue that the increasingly tight bonds between NATO and Sweden and Finland bolster the alliance’s Baltic Sea flank and that both of those countries have capable militaries and long-standing cultural, political, and economic ties with many NATO states by virtue of their membership in the European Union.[62] To some extent, Russia facilitates this drawing together for common defense by sending mixed military-exercise messages of its own: In the Zapad 2013 exercise, Russian aircraft simulated what appeared to be an attack on military targets in Sweden, a charge denied by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. More recently, a Russian special forces operation on an island 24 miles from the Finnish coast signaled to Moscow’s neighbor that the threat is close by, a point about which the Finns hardly need to be reminded. [quote id="3"] Ukraine and Georgia present an altogether different geopolitical and strategic agenda that NATO and the United States seem determined to advance by, among other means, carrying out increasingly more complex military exercises in those countries. Certainly, the exercises and the official statements made about them also form an integral part of the messaging from NATO and its member states to Russia. NATO places a high premium on supporting these two partner states and is determined to assist them in deterring Russian aggression. The exercise messaging would suggest that the maneuvers are for training (especially interoperability), defense, and promoting stability. But is that how it is interpreted in Moscow? Do the exercises in Ukraine and Georgia suggest that NATO or the United States is prepared to fight there? Does that make any sense from a military perspective? Finally, does conducting such exercises promote regional stability? Interoperability between NATO and non-NATO members (in this case, Ukraine and Georgia) is a consistent element of messaging, appearing in the mission statement for Sea Breeze, Rapid Trident, Noble Partner, and other exercises conducted in the Black Sea region. Promoting interoperability with partner militaries such as those of Ukraine and Georgia makes a significant statement that the alliance is extending its remit and creating, de facto, an expanded military frontier into an unstable area with thick geopolitics. Simply put, why work toward greater interoperability unless the intent is to interoperate? The suggestion that these partners already operate with NATO outside the area and therefore should be able to operate by NATO standards makes sense. But when exercises are conducted in areas bordering Russia, that distinction will not be appreciated in Moscow. Among other things, such exercises involve actual combat units of participating NATO countries, bringing with them heavy and sophisticated weaponry. Sea Breeze 2017, for example, included a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, among the most powerful warships afloat. These provided an opportunity for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to visit (and be photographed on) one of the ships at port in Odesa, where he could “emphasize … that this joint training is our response to ideologists, organizers and sponsors of hybrid wars” and that the “Head of State [Poroshenko] is confident that the training will become another resolute step towards achieving stability in the region.”[63] The parties fomenting hybrid wars and instability were not named, but, from where Poroshenko stood, the air distance to the Russian naval base at Sevastopol is only about 200 miles and is easily within the Crimean anti-access/area-denial zone that the Russians have since put in place.[64] Again, citing Dmitry Gorenburg, Russia is “mak[ing] it clear that the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet and the concurrent strengthening of Russian military presence in the Black Sea region [is] a priority to counter the threat it sees emanating from NATO and its partners in the region, including Ukraine.”[65] In a similar fashion, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence noted during the opening ceremony of Noble Partner 2017 in Georgia that “The strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever, and this joint exercise is a tangible sign of our commitment to each other to make it stronger still.”[66] Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili used the occasion of the Noble Partner 2018 kickoff to denounce Moscow for its role in the 2008 conflict that resulted in the secession of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saying that the participating troops “are standing on the territory of a country, 20 percent of which is absolutely occupied by our neighbor Russia.”[67] After Noble Partner began, perhaps responding to Margvelashvili’s statement (although he did not refer specifically to the exercise), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned that admitting Georgia to NATO could trigger a “terrible conflict,” suggesting, at the least, that the presence of combat troops, including tanks and other armored vehicles from NATO countries, in a “frozen conflict” zone is viewed by Moscow as unacceptable and highly destabilizing.[68]

Conclusion: Is Exercise Always Good?

Despite the vast increase in the number and scope of NATO and associated exercises, in Western think tanks some still advocate “more big exercises.”[69] There is a strong contingent of exercise advocates within the U.S. national security establishment and among many allied governments.[70] Yet, as Michael O’Hanlon suggested in regard to the Korean theater, cutting back or even eliminating large-scale exercises can be offset by conducting more frequent training at the tactical level, using “state-of-the-art simulations,” or by conducting exercises outside the immediate vicinity, including in the United States.[71] The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercises in Nevada and Alaska, which usually include units from other countries, are a good example of the latter. Although the lower visibility involved in small-scale exercises or those remote from geopolitically fraught regions reduces the demonstration effect in deterring an aggressor, they are also much less de-stabilizing, precisely because they lack the hyperbolic rhetoric surrounding highly publicized exercises such as Zapad 2017 and Trident Juncture 2018. Military exercises in Europe since early 2014 have frequently involved bringing troops, naval vessels, and aircraft from opposing sides within increasingly closer proximity to one another, and have introduced newer and more capable weaponry as part of the fielded forces. The official messaging behind these maneuvers usually makes reference to the need to train in real-world conditions and ensure that units from different militaries can operate efficiently with one another. Moreover, the defensive nature of the exercise is stressed, often with the claim that greater capability will promote geopolitical stability and deter aggression. But by incorporating non-member militaries in its exercises and other missions, NATO has ratcheted up the operational tempo of its forces in areas that Russia views as buffer zones and that are too close for its strategic comfort. Not surprisingly, Russia responds in kind and raises anxiety levels among NATO members and key non-NATO partners and, in some cases, increases the likelihood of inadvertent actions that could escalate into hostilities. Explaining the Russian rationale behind the huge Vostok 2018 exercise and other Russian maneuvers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “The country’s ability to defend itself in the current international situation, which is frequently quite aggressive and unfriendly toward us, is absolutely justified and has no alternative.”[72] Not surprisingly, U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, who commanded NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018, said that the rationale from his perspective is much the same: “NATO is a defensive Alliance. We’re not looking for a fight, but we are committed to defense and deterrence. That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”[73] Certainly, both NATO and Russia have legitimate interests in maintaining readiness, exercising command and control of complex military operations, and assuring both their citizens and allies that they are capable of defending against external aggression. But the danger here is that the two sides are caught in an increasingly complex and dynamic upward spiral of military brinkmanship that will be difficult to manage if present trends continue. If there is a way out of this dangerous course of events it might lie within the framework of the Vienna Document 2011, the latest version of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agreement to which the United States, other NATO countries, and Russia (among others) are signatories. The document is “composed of politically binding confidence and security-building measures designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application,”[74] which is essentially all of Europe (including Russia as far east as the Ural Mountains). It requires all participating states to notify other parties of military events above a certain threshold and to invite observers to these events. The central problem here, as articulated by Olivier Schmitt, is that the heightened level of geopolitical tension in Europe effectively precludes the necessary updates and modifications to the OSCE document that would make it a more effective instrument for containing, among other things, the unbridled growth of military exercises.[75] In Europe, a region with very thick geopolitics, the messaging incorporated into both NATO and Russian military exercises “risk[s] inducing a self-righteous bubble of understanding that is too far removed from the ground-level actualities in [the] post-Soviet space.”[76] NATO, in response to the entreaties of its eastern allied states and even non-member states, and at times because of ill-advised moves by Russia, has leveraged itself into territory that it would be hard-pressed to defend against a large, conventional Russian attack. Using their military exercises to message their interest in bolstering defenses in this inherently unstable geopolitical zone is a risky proposition, at best, for both NATO and Russia.   Acknowledgements: The author wishes to thank Gerard Toal for reading an earlier version of this paper, and Ryan Evans and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on the draft. Megan Oprea and Autumn Brewington provided much-needed editorial advice. Any shortcomings remaining are solely the author’s responsibility.   Ralph Clem is emeritus professor of geography and senior fellow at the Steven J. Green School of Public and International Affairs at Florida International University. He also served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major general.   Image: North Carolina National Guard [post_title] => Military Exercises as Geopolitical Messaging in the NATO-Russia Dynamic: Reassurance, Deterrence, and (In)stability [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => military-exercises-as-geopolitical-messaging-in-the-nato-russia-dynamic-reassurance-deterrence-and-instability [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=763 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [1] => Array ( [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 745 [post_author] => 222 [post_date] => 2018-10-26 04:30:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-10-26 08:30:15 [post_content] => The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty is remembered as one of President Ronald Reagan’s most important strategic accomplishments. By deploying land-based intermediate-range cruise and ballistic missiles to Europe, Reagan was able to get Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to the negotiating table and eliminate that class of nuclear weapons, thereby making America’s European allies more secure as well as boosting comparative U.S. advantages in air and sea domains. And while the INF Treaty deserves its hallowed place in American Cold War history, “history” is the key word. Today, the treaty forces strategic liabilities on the United States that are increasingly unacceptable — especially given the rise of Chinese military power.[1] These liabilities seem to be understood in the White House. President Donald Trump has said that he intends to withdraw the United States from the treaty, citing Russian violations of the agreement dating to 2014.[2] How and whether this would occur is still unclear, but, crucially, the president also expressed a willingness to remain committed to an INF-type treaty, if Russia agrees to return to compliance and China finally becomes a signatory.[3] National Security Adviser John Bolton has reportedly expressed a similar sentiment.[4] The White House arrived at this position after Congress and military leaders publicly voiced concerns about the treaty. In light of Russian violations of its treaty obligations and China’s growing asymmetric advantage in land-based missiles threatening U.S. interests in Asia, the latest National Defense Authorization Act requires the president to determine if the “prohibitions set forth in Article VI of the INF Treaty remain binding on the United States as a matter of United States law.”[5] In April 2018, the incoming commander of U.S. Pacific Command (what soon became U.S. Indo-Pacific Command) told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”[6] A year earlier, his predecessor told the same committee that the INF Treaty, signed in 1987, was one of the primary reasons for Chinese dominance in the disputed waters.[7] Reagan and Gorbachev agreed in the treaty to prohibit their militaries from possessing, producing, and flight-testing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could hit targets at distances of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.[8] This prohibition applies to both nuclear and conventionally armed missiles. China possesses an arsenal of land-based conventional and nuclear intermediate-range missiles that threaten U.S. basing facilities and ships in the Western Pacific.[9] These missiles are also a threat to U.S. allies and partners in the region that allow American military forces to operate from their territory. If China were a signatory to the INF Treaty, approximately 95 percent of these missiles would be illegal as they fall within the range prohibition.[10] Beijing is not a signatory, however, and has made clear that it has no desire to be.[11] Hence, China has a strategic asymmetric advantage over the United States in the Western Pacific.  

Map 1: How China's Land Attack Capacity Has Grown Between 1996 and 2017 [12]

Many scholars and analysts of international security have joined the growing number of senior U.S. military leaders publicly acknowledging this Chinese threat.[13] Members of Congress have voiced concerns as well.[14] Before the president’s October comments about withdrawal, such discussions had not generated a sense of urgency to act. And even since President Trump’s intent to withdraw from the INF Treaty was reported, arms control advocates have continued to push for the United States to remain committed without adequately accounting for the treaty’s debilitating impact on U.S. security interests in Asia.[15] This must change if the United States is to regain its military dominance and associated deterrent capabilities in the Western Pacific. To be clear, China’s ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles are among the U.S. military’s core conventional-warfighting challenges in Asia today. Beijing has exploited Washington’s compliance with the 31-year-old INF Treaty in three primary ways. First, it has fielded thousands of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that put at risk the U.S. military’s forward-basing posture in the Western Pacific, along with American ships at sea in the region. These include around 2,000 conventionally armed, land-based short-range ballistic missiles (those with a range of 300 to 1,000 kilometers), medium-range ballistic missiles (1,000 to 3,000 kilometers), intermediate-range ballistic missiles (3,000 to 5,500 kilometers), and ground-launched cruise missiles (range of more than 1,500 kilometers).[16] Second, while China has fielded relatively inexpensive ground-launched missiles, the U.S. military has attempted to counter or offset them with exponentially more expensive missile-defense systems, as well as short-range, low observable tactical aircraft, ships, submarines, and long-range bomber delivery-based platforms. In other words, the United States is on the wrong side of an exponential cost-curve imbalance when it comes to trying to deter China conventionally. This approach would not have been as problematic in 1987, when the United States' gross domestic product was 18 times the size of China’s.[17] It is today though. The United States' gross domestic product is now only one and a half times the size of China’s. Worse, except for the option of limited-capacity long-range bombers, employing the other capabilities would require putting thousands of Americans in harm’s way well within range of China’s ground-launched missiles. [amcharts id="chart-12"]

(Data taken from the World Bank)

 

[amcharts id="chart-11"]

(Data taken from the World Bank)

Third, China is simultaneously leveraging its asymmetric advantage in ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles to increasingly build and occupy key terrain within what Beijing considers its “blue soil” marked by the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. That includes emplacing advanced area-denial systems such as HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles and YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles. China views this terrain as vital to its interests for military and economic purposes and claims historical rights to it. These claims continue despite the Philippines — a U.S. mutual defense treaty ally for 67 years — and multiple U.S. partner nations doing the same, despite the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruling in Manila’s favor in Philippines v. China.[18] With Russia continually refusing to return to compliance and China unlikely to become a party to the INF Treaty, the Trump administration had four policy options. First, Washington could have continued to surrender U.S. conventional warfighting superiority in the Western Pacific and leaned ever more heavily on its nuclear deterrent. Second, the United States could have deepened and broadened investments in sea- and air-launched missile delivery platforms — which are not proscribed by the INF Treaty — in an attempt to regain conventional superiority. Third, Washington could have looked to emerging technologies, such as hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, as possible alternative solutions. Finally, the United States could have sought to somehow renegotiate the INF Treaty or, failing that, exercised its right to withdraw from the treaty in order to field ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. It seems that the Trump administration determined the fourth option was the soundest, including leaving the renegotiation option on the table.[19]

Map 2: China is increasingly militarizing artificial islands in the South China Sea.[20]

Given where things stand, U.S. policy responses going forward should be anchored in three main goals: First, seek to maximize America’s alliances and security partnerships in Asia, which represent asymmetric advantages.[21] Second, when doing so, appreciate that for the $13 billion cost of a single new U.S. Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier, China can field an estimated 1,227 DF-21D “carrier killer” medium-range ballistic missiles.[22] By shifting U.S. military acquisition priorities away from “few and exquisite” to “small, many, and smart” systems,[23] America could complicate Chinese targeting processes and political leaders’ calculus of risk escalation as well as increase interoperability opportunities with allies. Third, as part of the shift in acquisition strategy, prioritize relatively low-cost and quickly fieldable long-range, conventionally-armed, ground-launched weapons systems, including ones capable of operating autonomously after a human “starts the loop.”[24] To achieve these goals, the United States should remain open to renegotiating the INF Treaty to account for an increasingly multipolar world. If such efforts prove untenable, the United States should finalize the president’s tentative decision to withdraw from the treaty. As President Trump has indicated,[25] this is certainly not the optimal course, but it is still a better option than the status quo. U.S. policymakers should also clarify the intent of Defense Department Directive 3000.09, “Autonomy in Weapons Systems.[26] Specifically, they should clearly define what is meant by “human judgment” when the policy says that “[a]utonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.”[27] Simultaneous with these efforts, the United States should work with treaty allies and potential partners in Asia to leverage these types of weapons to offset Chinese asymmetric advantages. Washington will also have to enhance its strategic communications and operational war plans to account for the increased capabilities. Some critics might argue that these suggestions merely replicate what China is doing to the United States and its allies. This is not the case. Instead, the proposed solutions are based on a multipolar international system in which the Western, rules-based international order that has existed since the end of World War II is in jeopardy. While appreciating these realities, the strategy seeks to ensure that the United States can maintain its mutual defense treaty obligations, assure regional partners, and deter further Chinese military aggression in the Western Pacific.[28] Simultaneously, the strategy seeks to provide increased escalation options for U.S. policymakers with the continued goal of securing American interests and maintaining peace in Asia. [quote id="1"] The remainder of this article proceeds in six parts. Before looking ahead, I begin with a history of how the United States arrived at its disadvantageous position. Only then can one fairly analyze possible options to enable the American military to restore full-spectrum conventional — in parallel with nuclear — warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific in accordance with the latest National Security Strategy.[29] Next, the four potential options discussed above must be weighed. Based on that analysis, I recommend a new strategic approach for the U.S. military in the Western Pacific rooted in renegotiating or exercising America’s right to withdraw from the INF Treaty. Then, I consider possible objections to the recommended strategic approach. Finally, this paper summarizes the recommended way forward to provide policymakers with the best chance for achieving America’s security interests in Asia.

Blunted Edge: How America Lost Its Conventional Dominance in the Western Pacific

To understand America’s perilous position in Asia, one has to wind back the clock 40 years to explore the INF Treaty, which was a product of strategic challenges in Europe. The late 1970s and early 1980s ushered in one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. Most Americans of a certain age and those who work in national security likely have seared in their minds images of U.S. helicopters lifting evacuees from a rooftop in Saigon in 1975. America’s defeat in Vietnam was followed a year later by the Soviet Union fielding the SS-20 “Saber” intermediate-range ballistic missile in Europe.[30] The Soviet military leadership believed that deploying this advanced missile system was essential to ensuring that the Warsaw Pact had equal or greater ability than the United States to deliver nuclear strikes in the European theater. This would enable the Soviet Union to undermine “the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to Western Europe.”[31] After extensive debates and deliberations, NATO’s leadership announced a dual-track decision on Dec. 12, 1979, in response to the Soviet SS-20 fielding: The United States would deploy 108 Pershing II intermediate-range ballistic missiles and 464 Tomahawk ground-launched cruise missiles in Britain, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, unless the SS-20s were removed.[32] Five weeks earlier, 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in Tehran, starting their 444-day detention inside an Iran that had just transitioned from a strategic Western ally to a fierce opponent.[33] Twelve days after NATO’s announcement on the Pershing II and Tomahawks, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.[34] Cold War tensions were arguably higher than at any point since the Cuban missile crisis. After campaigning on increasing military might and statements such as “peace is not obtained or preserved by wishing and weakness,” Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. president on Nov. 4, 1980. He received 489 electoral votes, the highest number in history by a non-incumbent.[35] Between 1981 and 1987, the Pentagon’s budget increased in real terms by 45 percent.[36] On March 23, 1983, Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative, the bold and controversial proposal often referred to as “Star Wars,” which he described as having the “ultimate goal of eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles” by “means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”[37] On Sept. 1, 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 departed New York en route to Seoul via Anchorage. The Korean flight veered 360 miles off course and into Soviet airspace,[38] where a Soviet Sukhoi-15 and MiG-23 intercepted it. Shortly thereafter, KE007 crashed into the Sea of Okhotsk, killing on impact all 269 passengers, including 61 Americans, one of whom was U.S. Rep. Larry P. McDonald.[39] Reagan described the incident as “an act of barbarism” and a “crime against nature.”[40] Soviet leaders suggested that the event was a “pre-planned American provocation” and that the United States was “on a collision course with the Soviet Union.”[41] Tensions escalated even higher later in 1983. NATO exercise Able Archer, executed Nov. 2 through Nov. 11,[42] focused on practicing the coordination requirements within the alliance’s command structure to authorize the use of nuclear weapons. In a key difference from previous exercises, this one involved actual U.S. and NATO leadership.[43] Soviet intelligence closely followed these leaders’ movements and assessed that they indicated a U.S. intent to “ensure a reliable first nuclear missile strike.”[44] Soviet leaders responded by ordering the forward-loading of tactical nuclear weapons onto aircraft in East Germany capable of striking into West Germany.[45] The situation escalated to the point where one analyst described the United States and Soviet Union as “apes on a treadmill,” inadvertently stumbling ever closer to nuclear war. Further intensifying matters, the first 16 Tomahawk missiles that were part of the 1979 dual-track decision arrived in England on Nov. 14.[46] Eight days later, the first Pershing II missiles arrived in West Germany. Soviet leaders responded by walking out of pre-scheduled INF talks and lifting a voluntary moratorium on their own intermediate-range nuclear weapon deployments.[47] Fortunately, the tensions never reached a boiling point. Reagan’s fervent beliefs that “no one can ‘win’ a nuclear war” and his desire to engage with Soviet leadership were the primary reasons.[48] From his initial days in office, Reagan wanted to reduce the risks of nuclear war, including by cutting U.S. and Soviet arsenals, eventually to zero. As early as November 1981, he offered Soviet leaders a zero-zero plan to eliminate all INF-range missiles in Europe.[49] When the Soviets continued to refuse these offers, however, Reagan, together with NATO leaders, shared that the alliance would proceed with the Tomahawk and Pershing II deployment. Reagan became increasingly convinced, as he explained to the British Parliament in June 1982, that “our military strength is a prerequisite to peace.”[50] In logic that is almost inconceivable more than three decades later, the tension-filled stumbling toward nuclear war in November 1983 helped provide for the United States what Reagan later described as “its strongest position in two decades to negotiate with the Russians from strength.”[51] This position of strength was soon reinforced by a key change within the Soviet Union. In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party.[52] Similarly to Reagan, Gorbachev believed that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”[53] He also believed, perhaps in part due to the Soviet Union’s deep economic challenges, that these facts “made meaningless the arms race and the stockpiling and modernizing of nuclear weapons.”[54] When he made these comments, Washington and Moscow possessed the combined equivalent of “1.5 million Hiroshimas” worth of nuclear weapons.[55] And on the central front in Europe, roughly 975,000 Warsaw Pact troops stood opposite NATO’s 814,300 soldiers.[56] Something had to give. [quote id="2"] In April 1985, Gorbachev announced that he was suspending SS-20 missile deployments in Europe.[57] He met with Reagan for the first time at the Geneva summit in November.[58] Five months after this breakthrough summit, tragedy struck in the Soviet Union when a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl power plant.[59] The explosion caused more than 4,300 casualties.[60] The accident reinforced for Reagan and Gorbachev just how tenuous the proposition of mutually assured destruction really was and why it was so important to make serious progress on nuclear weapons reductions.[61] This belief served as the foundation for their signing the INF Treaty in December 1987.[62] Over the next four years, the Soviet Union and United States eliminated 1,800 and 800 ground-launched missiles, respectively, with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.[63] After the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, the United States decided to maintain the treaty with the Russian Federation and the other Soviet successor states, and the compliance inspection regime continued until 2001.[64] Of note, due to concerns from Japan that the Soviet Union might remove missiles aimed toward Western Europe east of the Urals and turn them toward Tokyo, American negotiators insisted that the treaty ban both signatories from possessing a single missile within these ranges anywhere in the world.[65] Additionally, in the late 1980s, China’s emergence as a major world power — one that would eventually field around 2,000 missiles banned by the INF Treaty — was not anticipated.[66] Thus, China’s inclusion as a treaty signatory was never considered. Nearly 30 years after Reagan and Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty, the U.S. State Department determined in July 2014 that Russia had violated its commitment when developing the SSC-8 ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile.[67] Since then, Russia reportedly has deployed the illegal missile system on training exercises.[68] In March 2017, U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the violation and deployment in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.[69] He also explained that there is no reason to believe that Russia intends to resume compliance with the INF Treaty, which arguably should not have been a surprise given that as early as 2005, then-Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov proposed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that both countries should jointly withdraw from the treaty as it was no longer consistent with contemporary security conditions.[70] A month later, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about Chinese ballistic and cruise-missile developments, the head of Pacific Command reconfirmed the Russian violation of the INF Treaty and agreed with Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas when he stated, “that means the United States is the only country in the world — the only country in the world — that unilaterally refuses to build missiles that have a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.”[71] A year after this exchange, when commenting on the INF Treaty language in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Republican Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio said that “you cannot have a treaty with oneself, and that’s the situation we’re in … we need to recognize reality.”[72] China’s Strategy Over the past two decades, China has aggressively pursued and heavily invested in land-based missiles as part of an anti-access/area-denial strategy.[73] This strategy has focused on countering U.S. military capabilities in the Western Pacific, including forward bases throughout Japan and Guam, as well as locations of frequent rotational positioning in the Philippines and Australia.[74] Pentagon estimates indicate that China possesses around 1,200 conventionally armed short-range ballistic missiles, 200 to 300 conventionally armed medium-range ballistic missiles, an unknown number of conventionally armed intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and 200 to 300 conventionally armed ground-launched cruise missiles.[75] In 2015, RAND estimated that China’s ballistic missiles have improved guidance systems that allow them to strike within minutes fixed targets accurate to within only a couple of meters.[76] These missiles are all part of China’s “projectile-centric strategy,” which includes close integration of cyber, counterspace, counter-air, and electronic warfare capabilities. It seeks to take advantage of China’s geographic “home turf” position relative to the United States, to exploit U.S. and allies’ lack of depth (particularly given the concentration of forces in Japan), and to leverage financial asymmetries such as the aforementioned “carrier killer” medium-range ballistic missile versus U.S. aircraft-carrier cost imbalance.[77] Notably, this strategy also seeks to exploit the United States’ obligation to abide by the INF Treaty, while China has no such hindrance. Put another way, China has successfully employed a relatively inexpensive “projectile-centric strategy” against America’s cost-prohibitive and transitory platform-based delivery (i.e., aircraft, ship, and submarine) alternative.[78] Additionally, China is executing this strategy with a PLA Rocket Force (PLARF), the strength of which is around 100,000 people, which is approximately 10 times the size of the U.S. 20th Air Force, America’s main ballistic-missile unit.[79] What does all this mean when it comes to potential conventional military conflict between the United States and China? In 2017, Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez, two active-duty U.S. Navy fellows assigned to the Center for a New American Security and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, respectively, conducted an extensive modeling and simulation effort to find out. The results showed the “potential for devastation of U.S. power projection forces and bases in Asia.”[80] While using only about 20 percent of the PLARF’s short-range ballistic missiles, 25 percent of its medium-range ballistic missiles, and 34 to 95 percent of its ground-launched cruise missiles (depending on source), the simulation demonstrated that within minutes after launch the following U.S. capabilities in Japan could be struck: all major command fixed headquarters, almost all U.S. ships in port, nearly every runway at all U.S. airbases, and more than 200 aircraft that were trapped due to runway cratering.[81] Shugart and Gonzalez’s realistic modeling and simulation effort confirmed this 2013 assessment of China scholar Ian Easton:
The Chinese military may achieve strategic effects that until recently were only achievable through the use of nuclear weapons . . . during the Cold War, both NATO and Warsaw Pact forces tasked nuclear missile units with the mission of destroying the other’s key air bases. The PLA plans to achieve the same effect with a relatively small number of ballistic missiles armed with conventional runway penetrating submunitions.[82]
Such dire predictions are likely why the incoming and outgoing heads of U.S. Pacific Command expressed in congressional testimony their serious concern with America’s continued commitment to the INF Treaty. In conjunction with implementing its “projectile-centric strategy,” China is steadily increasing its economic and military influence in the South China Sea and beyond. The most recent electronic warfare, HQ-9 surface-to-air missile, and YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise-missile deployments in the Spratly Islands are just a few examples of the influence extension. A recent fleet naval exercise, including a Chinese aircraft carrier sailing near Taiwan, was another.[83] Beyond these military actions, China is leveraging its growing economy to buy influence in key locations in Asia as well. After U.S. special forces helped the Filipino Marine Corps destroy the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL)/Islamic State Province in East Asia in Marawi last year, Chinese investors swooped in to help rebuild the town.[84] Further south, Chinese businesses are heavily investing in Darwin, Australia.[85] Darwin is home to a deep-water port and multiple nearby strategic airfields and bases that the U.S. military uses and that were used extensively in World War II. Additionally, in April 2018, Chinese investors bid to build an airfield and shopping mall complex on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.[86] Between August 1942 and February 1943, in the first offensive U.S. land battle in the Pacific during World War II, 1,490 Americans were killed in action, with 4,804 others wounded, seizing Guadalcanal from the Japanese.[87] One of the mission’s main purposes was to establish an airfield to enable the Allied “island hopping” campaign to continue further to the west. Cumulatively, China’s steady pressure over multiple decades, steps often just short of instigating a war, have left U.S. policymakers in an extremely tenuous position. In response to China’s increasingly aggressive actions, they have had three options: They could begrudgingly accept Chinese gains; protest by means of increasingly less effective and more dangerous freedom-of-navigation exercises; or hope that America’s nuclear superiority alone will prevent China from ever attempting to seize Taiwan, disputed territory within the Senkaku Islands, or other claimed territories in the South China Sea.[88] Unipolar Moment, Counterterrorism, and U.S. Priorities, 1991 to 2017 After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the decisive U.S.-led military victory expelling Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, numerous scholars and foreign policy analysts argued that the bipolar order of the Cold War had been replaced with America’s “unipolar moment.” In a Foreign Affairs article titled “The Unipolar Moment,” Charles Krauthammer wrote:
It has been assumed that the old bipolar world would beget a multipolar world with power dispersed to new centers in Japan, Germany (and/or “Europe”), China and a diminished Soviet Union/Russia. [This is] mistaken. The immediate post-Cold War world is not multipolar. It is unipolar. The center of world power is an unchallenged superpower, the United States, attended by its Western allies.[89]
Such unipolar euphoria continued throughout the 1990s and into the early 21st century. Part of this euphoria included U.S. officials’ desire to further integrate China into the global economy. At the time, China’s military expansion was not a major concern. Instead, further opening the Chinese economy to Western markets was a top priority.[90] For this reason, the U.S. encouraged and welcomed China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization in November 2001. In the winter of 2001, the United States was newly engaged in war in Afghanistan. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, countering terrorism was America’s foremost national security priority. Terrorism remained the steady priority for nearly 17 years, consistently consuming a preponderance of U.S. policymakers’ attention and budgeting resources in campaigns that expanded from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Niger, Mali, and other undisclosed locations. The U.S. Navy’s senior intelligence officer in the Pacific recently described the Defense Department’s priorities since 2001 in an article titled “How We Lost the Great Pacific War”:
Moving limited resources from the desert to the fleet was a challenge. Every year brought a new fight in the Mideast, which, while never an existential issue for the nation, carried the urgency of real-world operations. Saying no to U.S. Central Command for anything required steeling the soul for bureaucratic battle.[91]
Given the primary national security focus in U.S. Central Command and the Middle East since 2001, combined with enduring INF Treaty constraints on the United States and the overly lengthy celebration of America’s unipolar moment, China could not have picked a more appropriate strategy to deliberately and patiently reassert itself in the Western Pacific.

U.S. Goals in the Indo-Pacific in the Future

During a January 2018 speech at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced, “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”[92] Mattis’s remarks came on the heels of the National Security Strategy released in December 2017 that specifically calls out China (and Russia) for wanting to shape international affairs in ways that are antithetical to America’s values.[93] Additionally, the strategy explicitly states that “China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region … and reorder the region in its favor.”[94] The strategy also recognizes that those who believed that welcoming China’s rise and encouraging its integration into the global economy would lead to Beijing liberalizing and accepting the post-World War II international order have, unfortunately, been proven mistaken. After describing how China is openly challenging U.S. values and interests in Asia, the National Security Strategy describes multiple broad objectives for addressing the problem. First, the strategy directs that the United States must retain overmatch against potential great-power competitors. Overmatch is explained as a combination of “capabilities in sufficient scale to prevent enemy success and to ensure that America’s sons and daughters will never be in a fair fight.”[95] The United States has a clear overmatch against China in nuclear weapons capability; however, as Adm. Davidson, Thomas Shugart, and Javier Gonzalez have cautioned, this overmatch does not extend to the most important conventional warfighting capabilities in the Western Pacific. This is critical because the strategy further states that the United States “must convince adversaries that we can and will defeat them — not just punish them if they attack the United States.”[96] [quote id="3"] As things stand, however, it is highly unlikely, for all the reasons described in Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, that Chinese leaders fear the United States and its allies defeating them in a traditional conventional sense. Further, given the ongoing U.S. failure to stop Beijing’s expansionary efforts in the South China Sea — which since early 2017 have included building “about 72 acres, or 290,000 square meters, of new real estate at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief Reefs in the Spratlys, and North, Tree, and Triton Islands in the Paracels” — along with not being willing to include Filipino claims in these disputed waters as part of the U.S.-Philippines mutual defense treaty, it is also likely that Chinese leaders do not believe American policymakers will resort to nuclear war to halt future expansion.[97]

Image 1: China's militarization of Fiery Cross Reef [98]

Options for Ensuring a Favorable U.S. Military Balance in Asia in the Future

The preceding sections’ analysis makes clear that the United States and its allies no longer have full-spectrum conventional overmatch in the Western Pacific. Additionally, the analysis describes how China maintains an increasingly dominant advantage in the conventional capabilities that arguably matter most in the region given geography: ground-launched short-range ballistic missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and ground-launched cruise missiles. The National Security Strategy directs that the Pentagon “will maintain a forward military presence capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating any adversary, while strengthening our long-standing military relationships and encouraging the development of a strong defense network with our allies and partners.”[99] This section analyzes the four primary options available for achieving these goals: prioritizing a favorable nuclear warfighting capability balance without seeking to regain conventional overmatch against China; seeking to regain conventional warfighting overmatch under the current INF Treaty restrictions; seeking advantages in potential leap-ahead technologies, such as hypersonic weapons and AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, to offset inferiority in traditional conventional warfighting; and the United States renegotiating the INF Treaty or exercising its right to withdraw. Depend on Nuclear Superiority In his new book, The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy, Matthew Kroenig argues that states that possess nuclear superiority over others “are more likely to achieve their goals in international crises and less likely to be targeted with military challenges in the first place.”[100] This argument is the foundation of Kroenig’s “superiority-brinksmanship synthesis theory”:
A robust nuclear posture reduces a state’s expected cost of war, increasing its resolve in international political disputes, and thus providing it with a coercive advantage over states more vulnerable to a nuclear exchange. When political conflicts of interest emerge, nuclear inferior opponents are less likely to initiate a military challenge and more likely to back down if the crisis escalates.[101]
Kroenig’s book provides more than 70 years’ worth of insightful analysis to support his argument. This analysis includes comparisons between the impact of nuclear versus conventional warfighting superiority in determining outcomes of international crises. Kroenig concludes by explaining that “conventional military power matters in international politics, but not to the exclusion of the nuclear balance.”[102] Kroenig further emphasizes that in crises among nuclear-power states, “the nuclear balance was generally more central than the conventional balance.”[103] Beijing’s ongoing grab for power and influence in the South China Sea presents an interesting case study for Kroenig’s theory. It appears that China is consistently accomplishing its goals against the United States and its allies despite Washington having an advantage of approximately 2,000 nuclear warheads when it comes to either nation’s ability to strike the mainland of the other.[104] Why might this be the case? Five points can help explain why the ongoing China case might be an outlier to Kroenig’s theory. First, Chinese leaders appear to have mastered the concept of brinkmanship as explained by former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles: “The ability to get to the verge without getting into the war is the necessary art … If you try to run away from it, if you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”[105] This ties directly into the second matter: For the past 17 years, Chinese leaders have known that the U.S. military has been focused on the Middle East and that the South China Sea has not been a vital American security interest. Further, between 2008 and 2016, U.S. political leaders went out of their way not to identify China as a potential rival and great-power strategic competitor in the South China Sea, including when President Barack Obama refused Filipino requests to confirm that the bilateral mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Philippines applied to the Spratly Islands similarly to what Obama had agreed to do “for the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty and the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.”[106] Third, given the analysis within Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, Chinese leaders know they can destroy the majority of U.S. power-projection capabilities in the Western Pacific within days, if not minutes, of a conflict breaking out, regardless of their nuclear inferiority. Fourth, Chinese leaders know that the United States has a limited capacity of long-range conventional bombers. While these bombers can be launched from outside the PLARF’s missile range and still reach the Chinese mainland, most are vulnerable to China’s increasingly advanced integrated air-defense systems. This assumes, of course, that U.S. policymakers believe the stakes involved in countering a given Chinese action are worth risking American lives. And thus far, they have not been.[107] Fifth, and specific to China’s nuclear inferiority relative to the United States, Chinese leaders have avoided crossing thresholds that they know are more likely to trigger nuclear retaliation, such as attempting to invade Taiwan. All five points have allowed China to methodically expand its military, economic, and even diplomatic influence in the Western Pacific. If the United States and its allies do not pursue a fundamentally different approach, there is no justifiable reason to believe Beijing will halt its aggressive expansionary actions in the South China Sea. Significant nuclear inferiority alone has yet to slow China’s actions. Seek Conventional Warfighting Overmatch Within INF Treaty Restrictions   In a recent article titled “America Is Well Within Range of a Big Surprise, So Why Can’t It See?” T.X. Hammes describes a hypothetical scenario in 2020 that leaves the United States helpless, outside of employing nuclear weapons, to respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.[108] Similar to Shugart and Gonzalez’s “First Strike” report, Hammes describes how easily U.S. forward bases and port facilities could be eliminated within the opening phase of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. A graphic within his article illustrates China’s overwhelming long-range, ground-launched conventional strike advantage over the United States — even if U.S. aircraft carriers are already at sea. Beyond this range imbalance, Hammes focuses on the value of relatively inexpensive, ground-launched cruise missiles, of which China has approximately 200 to 300 with ranges in excess of 1,500 kilometers. He assesses that the ease in moving and hiding these missiles would make them “immune to most pre-emptive strikes.”[109] His article concludes with a disturbing warning:
By remaining focused on offensive operations employing air, land, and sea legacy systems that have been dominant in their domains for over 70 years, the Pentagon risks going the same way as the armored knights and battleships. Rather than continue to invest in systems which are already range obsolete, it is essential for defense analysts to rethink their current procurement strategy.[110]
While range obsolescence is a serious concern for these U.S. conventional capabilities, their cost perhaps provides reason to be even more worried. The Hammes graphic includes the approximately 625-mile range of the F-35 “A” and “C” variant jets. These aircraft cost around $95 million (F-35A) to $122 million (F-35C) per plane.[111] The Marines’ F-35B, not shown in the graphic likely due to range limitations, costs around $122 million each. The F-35As are intended to operate from air bases well within range of Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles. The F-35Cs are envisioned to operate from the Navy’s new $13 billion Gerald Ford-class aircraft carriers.[112] The Marines’ shorter-range F-35Bs are projected to operate from $3 billion amphibious assault ships and, assuming the aircraft’s high maintenance and sustainment costs can be greatly reduced, expeditionary advanced bases that will, in theory, be harder for China to target due to anticipated difficulty in locating the sites.[113] Each service’s F-35 operating concept briefs well until challenged with realistic assessments of Chinese ballistic- and cruise-missile capabilities. When these assessments are incorporated, it quickly becomes apparent how illogical the Pentagon’s F-35 procurement plans are. Moreover, given that the U.S. national debt recently eclipsed $21 trillion, the F-35’s range obsolescence and cost,[114] along with the even more expensive ships required to bring them to the fight (F-35B/C) and land- and sea-based missile-defense systems required in hopes of protecting the F-35s, one cannot help but wonder whether there are better options to counter China’s growing conventional warfighting superiority.[115] Potential Leap-Ahead Technologies In addition to describing the benefits of land-based missiles that are easy to disperse and hide, the Hammes article emphasized the importance of investing in autonomous systems and other emerging technologies, such as AI and additive manufacturing. “The convergence of advances in task-specific AI, advanced manufacturing, and drones,” Hammes wrote, “are creating a new generation of small, smart, and cheap weapons that have significant range advantage over America’s current arsenal of few but exquisite weapons.”[116] Other observers have come to similar conclusions when focused specifically on military operational challenges in the Western Pacific.[117] Semi-autonomous and autonomous systems, including AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, have great potential to help the United States and its allies regain their conventional military superiority in the South China Sea. This, of course, assumes that China does not gain overwhelming overmatch first, which could happen given reports suggesting Beijing has already fielded a reverse-engineered, 500-kilometer-range lethal autonomous weapons system to target adversary radars.[118] China has also already demonstrated a 56-unmanned boat swarm focused on targeting ships and has an exhibit at its military museum depicting “a UAV swarm combat system with swarms used for reconnaissance, jamming, and ‘swarm assault’ targeting an aircraft carrier.”[119] Hypersonic weapons are another promising innovation on the horizon. These weapons are envisioned to be able to reliably travel at speeds greater than five times that of sound.[120] The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is already working with the U.S. Air Force on multiple hypersonic weapons programs. Flight testing is expected to start in 2019, with initial prototypes built in 2022. If these weapons meet their potential, they will be able to defeat all current missile-defense systems while traveling at multi-thousand-mile ranges.[121] China claims to have successfully tested its first hypersonic weapon in August 2018.[122] A month earlier, Russia released a video purportedly showing its own hypersonic weapon test.[123] The potential upside of emerging technologies such as AI, AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, and hypersonic weapons is enormous. Successfully developing these capabilities is essential for future U.S. security interests, particularly given how heavily China and Russia are investing in them already. Specific to the ongoing problem in the South China Sea, though, it would be unwise to place in these new technologies all hopes of the United States regaining competitive conventional warfighting advantage in the near term. Most of the technologies are in their initial development phases. How they will perform in live combat conditions is far from certain. As has been described when discussing the potential of hypersonic weapons, “[I]t is nearly impossible to predict how a bunch of interconnected metal and electronics are going to behave moving at those speeds.”[124] In the case of AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, Defense Department Directive 3000.09 even appears to prohibit their development, as described earlier when highlighting the confusion over the “appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” criterion.[125] While some have suggested the directive could permit AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems with approved waivers, the confusion alone has already delayed their development and is likely to continue to do so.[126] For this reason, it is essential to clarify Directive 3000.09 to ensure that the military services — particularly officials in requirements and acquisitions — understand that “human start the loop” lethal autonomous weapons systems are authorized. The potential for such systems to raise adversary escalation costs is immense, especially if fielded to the nation’s close-combat forces operating in thick vegetation and complex terrain within the “first island chain.”[127] [quote id="4"] Even if the U.S. military already had access to proven hypersonic weapons and AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, military innovation literature consistently highlights that technology alone is not sufficient to produce an increase in capability. How new technologies are integrated throughout military organizations, from doctrine development to employment concepts to manning and training, are ultimately what prove decisive.[128] For all of these reasons, the United States should continue to invest in developing these emerging capabilities, aggressively experiment with prototypes, war-game potential operational concepts, and seek to field the best technological innovations as quickly as possible. At the same time, however, U.S. policymakers should develop a plan that sets America and its allies on course to regain full-spectrum conventional warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific within the next few years. These emerging capabilities can then add to this dominance. Renegotiate or Exercise the Right to Withdraw from the INF Treaty The final option involves doing what the president recently ordered since Russia refuses to return to compliance with the treaty and China continues to express no interest in joining it: Make clear that America will exercise its legal right to withdraw while expressing a desire to renegotiate the treaty should Moscow and Beijing choose to be responsible members of the international community.[129] To be sure, the INF Treaty’s Euro-centric focus has had a net-positive impact in Europe over the past 31 years, and most NATO allies strongly support maintaining the INF regime in some form. It is past time to address the treaty’s debilitating impacts on U.S. security interests in the Western Pacific. As Adm. Harry B. Harris explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2017:
I think there’s goodness in the INF Treaty, anything you can do to limit nuclear weapons writ large is generally good … But the aspects of the INF Treaty that limit our ability to counter Chinese and other countries’ cruise missiles, land-based missiles, I think is problematic … I would never advocate unilateral withdrawing from the treaty because of the nuclear limitation part of it, but I do think we should look at renegotiating the treaty, we should consider it, because … there’s only two countries that signed on to it and one of them doesn’t follow it, so that becomes a unilateral limitation on us.[130]
What are the best ways to go about accomplishing Adm. Harris’s goals? Pursuing INF Treaty renegotiation would inevitably be a complex and multifaceted endeavor. Reaching a bilateral agreement on the treaty in 1987 took more than six years and involved inching ever closer to nuclear war, complex alliance negotiations with NATO, and a nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. Regardless of the likely challenges to renegotiation, continuing to express a willingness to pursue such an endeavor is worthwhile, if for no other reason than as a good-faith gesture by the United States to the rest of the world. In the long run, this endeavor might be the only way to save the spirit of the INF Treaty from meeting the same fate as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. When exercising America’s legal right to withdraw from this treaty in 2002 for reasons of U.S. national security, President George W. Bush explained that “we no longer live in the Cold War world for which the ABM Treaty was designed.”[131] President Bush’s observation is similarly applicable today regarding the INF Treaty. We live in a multipolar world, and it includes two revisionist, strategic-power competitors that routinely challenge U.S. interests. One of these powers, Russia, has ignored its obligations under the INF Treaty for nearly four years.[132] The other power, China, refused U.S. and Russian offers in 2007 and 2008 to become a treaty member and has fielded around 2,000 missiles that are not compliant with the INF Treaty and are holding at risk U.S. and allied forces in the Western Pacific. These hard truths should form the foundation of renegotiation efforts. Specifically, U.S. policymakers should make clear these three points going into such talks: To address these points, the United States could initially request a trilateral summit on the future of the INF Treaty.[134] At such a summit, Washington should offer five potential paths forward:
  1. All three nations advocate a worldwide ban on the missiles and launchers currently prohibited by the INF Treaty. This would require Russia to return to compliance and China — as well as other countries, such as India, Pakistan, and South Korea — to eliminate its inventories of these systems.[135]
  2. A new INF Treaty with three signatories: the United States, Russia, and China. This treaty would maintain the 1987 restrictions, as well as requiring Russia to return to compliance within a period of six months. China would have to begin destruction of missiles and launchers immediately, with all non-compliant missiles eliminated within four years, similar to the timeframe for the United States and Soviet Union to destroy all of their systems. All signatories would also participate in regular compliance inspections for a period spanning no less than 15 years.
  3. A three-signatory treaty akin to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT) focused on numerical limitations on missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, capping each nation’s inventory at no more than 100 weapon systems. This quantity would provide each nation a credible deterrent capability without giving any country an asymmetric offensive advantage.[136]
  4. A modified and re-ratified U.S.-Russian bilateral INF Treaty that permitted, as per Jim Thomas’s recommendations, relaxing limitations on land-based missile capabilities outside of Europe.[137] These modifications would also include permitting deployment of “forward-based, ground-launched systems (conventional weapons delivery only) outside that geographic area with ranges between 500 to 2,000 kilometers.”[138] These two steps would allow adequate targeting range to potentially counter the most pressing Chinese threats while still prohibiting land-based missiles with ranges of 2,000 to 5,500 kilometers. This latter constraint would likely address anticipated concerns of European allies by preventing Russian missile units from being permitted to move west of the Ural Mountains. Simultaneously, the constraint would likely allay Russian concerns that any future conventionally armed U.S. (or U.S. ally) ground-launched missile deployment would threaten Moscow.[139]
  5. If none of these pathways is deemed acceptable, an understanding that the United States will follow through on President Trump’s announcements and withdraw from the INF Treaty in 2019. Should this be the only pathway, the United States will then field ground-launched missile capabilities commensurate to those China currently employs. Additionally, the United States will be open to providing these weapons systems to mutual defense treaty allies and strategic partners in Asia. This path would also include a dual-track component similar to the one offered by NATO in 1979: If Russia and China ultimately agree to a new INF Treaty, then the United States would eliminate its newly fielded missiles while encouraging its treaty allies to do the same.
Unfortunately, it would not be a surprise if the proposed U.S. good-faith effort met outright resistance from Russia and China. Both nations’ actions over the past decade provide plentiful reasons to consider with skepticism the first four proposed pathways. Regardless of the low probability that Russia and China would agree with any of the four proposals, the United States would be well-served by one last good-faith attempt. U.S. allies and partners would likely welcome this approach as responsible and understandable. Additionally, achieving a decision on any of these five pathways would give the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and policymakers in Washington the opportunity to enhance U.S. deterrence capabilities in the Western Pacific.[140] All of these pathways would also provide U.S. policymakers the ability to conduct diplomacy regarding Chinese economic and military expansion efforts from a position of conventional strength, which they do not possess today. And of the four potential options considered within this section — depend on nuclear superiority, seek conventional warfighting overmatch within INF Treaty restrictions, pursue potential leap-ahead technologies, and renegotiate or withdraw from the INF Treaty — to achieve the National Security Strategy’s goals, renegotiation or withdrawal is the only viable option in the near term. Adding a layer (or layers) to this option over the next five years with capabilities such as AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems, focused specifically against potential adversary assault support platforms required to conduct a conventional military force invasion, should be a goal as well.

New U.S. Military Strategic Approach in the Western Pacific, 2018 and Beyond

While it would be ideal if Russia and China agreed to a three-party INF Treaty, or advocated a comprehensive worldwide INF Treaty or even a SALT-like one, this section proceeds with the assumption that both Russian and Chinese behavior over the past decade provide plenty of evidence to suggest that they would deem none of these pathways acceptable. This, then, leaves pathways four and five as the most likely probabilities. In either of these cases, the recommended military strategic approach for the United States in the Western Pacific would be similar. The overarching goal would be to increase U.S. conventional deterrence capabilities by drastically raising escalation costs should China contemplate attacking key American allies or continuing expansion efforts in the South China Sea.[141] Decreasing China’s probability for success calculus would be a concurrent goal. Simultaneously, the new strategy would make unmistakably clear to mutual defense treaty allies and regional partners that the United States has every intention of not merely maintaining but expanding its commitments in Asia. Further strengthening U.S. security relationships with treaty allies Japan and the Philippines would be central pillars of the strategy. For Japan, this would involve locating new ground-launched missiles within Okinawa Prefecture that could threaten Chinese military forces in the Western Pacific. Due to China’s ongoing military build-up and aggressive behavior, Japan’s Self-Defense Force is currently taking actions that would have been unthinkable to many only 10 to 15 years ago.[142] For example, the Japanese Self-Defense Force now has a surveillance radar site at Miyako, within Okinawa Prefecture; the Japanese are in the process of installing anti-ship missiles throughout their southwestern islands; and they are already working closely with U.S. units to ensure that these types of capabilities are interoperable between both nations’ militaries.[143] The new missile units would be in thickly vegetated areas or underground, and they would be road-mobile to complicate Chinese targeting efforts. Finding missile systems that routinely move within thickly vegetated areas would compel China to commit extensive intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance resources to the task. It would also incentivize China to invest in more missile-defense capabilities. Ultimately, for the U.S.-Japanese alliance, the long-term goal would be for these forces to be partnered and fully interoperable such that both nations’ military units possessed the capabilities and are able to deter and, if required, respond to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea as well as in the East China Sea.[144] Given recent tensions between the United States and the Philippines — which include President Rodrigo Duterte openly stating that America “cannot be trusted to fulfill its treaty commitments” — bolstering the U.S. security relationship with Manila would likely prove harder than doing so with Tokyo.[145] “Harder” is not hopeless, however. If new land-based missiles can provide U.S. policymakers with warfighting capability deemed strong enough to warrant granting the Philippines’ territorial claims in the Spratly Islands as part of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, the Filipino president might welcome this type of cooperation. [quote id="5"] Assuming this enhanced capability, combined with America’s nuclear superiority relative to China, achieves this Duterte goal, then multiple options exist for how the land-based missiles could be employed. A permanently based U.S. missile unit in the Philippines is likely to be a non-starter for Manila. Rotating such units into the Philippines on training exercises as part of the 2014 U.S.-Philippines’ Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement could be welcomed in concert with other confidence-building steps.[146] After all, Article 1 of the agreement explains that the pact is intended to ensure that both countries can satisfy mutual defense treaty obligations to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack,” and Duterte recently began allowing U.S. multi-domain task forces to conduct training exercises with the Filipino military toward this end.[147] He also approved further increasing exercises with U.S. military forces.[148] China is the only potential state-actor threat to the Philippines in the South China Sea. Perhaps even more welcome than only rotating U.S. land-based missile units through would be if Washington provided the capabilities for the Filipino military. On multiple occasions, Duterte has expressed displeasure with the quantity and quality of U.S. military aid to the Philippines.[149] Receiving new, conventionally-armed ground-launched missiles would almost certainly bolster Duterte’s confidence in the U.S. commitment to the Philippines. Once in the Philippines, missiles would ideally be deployed to Palawan Island, which ranges from approximately 333 to 750 kilometers from the Spratly Islands and is home to one of the agreed-upon coalition bases for the United States to use.[150] Deploying missiles underground or within Palawan’s thickly vegetated areas would, much like doing so in Okinawa Prefecture, greatly complicate Chinese targeting efforts. These missiles would also provide the Philippines an enduring ability to hold Chinese military forces in the South China Sea — such as the ones on Subi Reef — at risk. That is a significant capability gap typically only filled when a U.S. aircraft carrier is deployed in the region.[151] Even during these times, depending on U.S. aircraft carriers for support in or near the Spratly Islands is an increasingly risky proposition due to the PLARF’s increasing DF-21 capabilities.[152] Changing the INF Treaty would not require major modifications in relationships with U.S. allies and partners in Asia outside of Japan and the Philippines, although such changes could potentially create opportunities to strengthen those bonds. The new missile units could participate in routine joint exercises and coalition training. They would also reassure allies and partners of how seriously the United States is committed to maintaining peace and security in the Western Pacific.

Image 2: China's Militarization of Subi Reef [153]

This reassurance applies to potential U.S. missile units positioned in American territories in the Pacific as well. Moreover, this reassurance would apply for easily maneuverable U.S. close-combat units that are hard to track and locate and that are equipped with AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems designed to destroy adversary landing craft and other platforms required to conduct an invasion.[154]

Possible Objections

Before considering likely objections from critics, it is important to emphasize — again — that the strategic approach proposed in this article assumes China will continue to refuse, at least initially, any effort to globalize the INF Treaty and that Russia will not resume compliance.[155] Since the 2007 and 2008 offers to China to join the INF Treaty, Beijing has expanded the PLARF’s land-based missile capabilities.[156] Further, this article assumes that China will not unilaterally decide to eliminate its thousands of ground-launched missile capabilities. These baseline assumptions are important when considering possible objections. Some will argue that modifying the INF Treaty as described in the fourth pathway or withdrawing from it altogether would lead to an arms race in Asia. But China has already decided to pursue this option and was not satisfied with a missile advantage in the tens or even hundreds. Beijing has obtained an estimated 2,000 missiles — the clear majority of which fall within the parameters banned by the INF Treaty. If China continues to refuse to globalize the treaty or to unilaterally and voluntarily eliminate its 2,000 missiles, then the United States has no choice but to pursue withdrawal from the treaty. Others are likely to argue that U.S. allies will not welcome Washington renegotiating, or worst case, withdrawing from the treaty, nor will they allow American ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles to be forward-based in their countries. In the case of Europe, NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg has supported the United States’ decision, stating, “[T]he treaty is not working if it’s only being respected by one side. The problem, the threat, the challenge is Russian behavior, which has been ongoing for a long time.”[157] Such an argument may have merit in South Korea amid ongoing “de-nuclearization” talks.[158]  However, given all that Japan is investing in its military, including for missile-defense systems, F-35As, long-range surveillance aircraft, land-based anti-ship missiles, naval combatant vessels, amphibious ships, and even creating an “Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade,”[159] it is  unlikely that Tokyo would deny such a request.[160] While Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Saga, recently described potential U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty as “undesirable,” he also said, “[C]hanges in the global security environment, such as Russia’s significant violation … are serious issues in light of our country’s peace and stability.”[161] It is more likely that Japan would eventually ask to partner with the United States, having their own interoperable systems. As previously mentioned, the government in Manila might request an interoperable capability for the Filipino army, while possibly allowing new U.S. systems to participate in training exercises such as the recently completed Balikatan or KAMANDAG.[162] Australia, like Japan, has heavily invested in new advanced capabilities to help counter China’s aggressive actions. These capabilities, including an amphibious brigade, ships for this force, F-35As, and long-range surveillance aircraft, were carefully chosen to ensure maximum interoperability with the U.S. military.[163] Additionally, Australia has welcomed a semi-permanent, multi-thousand-personnel U.S. Marine force operating out of Darwin.[164] The proposed land-based missile units could become part of this semi-permanent force in the future, operated by the United States alone, in partnership with the Australian Defense Force, or possibly by only the Australian force. The U.S. military could also forward-base new capabilities in Guam, as it already does with long-range bombers, surveillance aircraft, submarines, and a variety of other capabilities, or position them in other U.S. territories in the Pacific.[165] Other critics might argue that renegotiating or following through and withdrawing from the INF Treaty in 2019 would risk stalling or even derailing “de-nuclearization” efforts with North Korea. In fact, the world will know in the coming months how committed Kim Jong-un is to dismantling his nuclear weapons program. If it is clear that he is serious and that the United States renegotiating or withdrawing from the INF Treaty could cause him to change course, then perhaps the United States might want to delay such efforts by a few months, while prioritizing elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula first. Even if this path is pursued, initial development efforts for a new Pershing II or similar missile should commence in 2019. After all, the United States is the only major power abiding by the INF Treaty. Simultaneously, the United States should set concrete timelines with North Korea on dismantling its nuclear program. If, within a year, Kim Jong-un has not demonstrated major dismantlement on the path toward complete elimination, and allowed international inspectors to confirm this, the United States should proceed with INF Treaty renegotiation or withdrawal efforts. [quote id="6"] Another potential objection is that renegotiating or withdrawing from the INF Treaty and creating new integrated ground-launched cruise- and ballistic-missile concepts of employment are not necessary to accomplish U.S. security objectives in the Western Pacific. Instead, those holding this belief might argue that all that is necessary to stop Chinese aggression and expansionary efforts is for the United States to confirm publicly that Filipino territorial claims within the Spratly Islands are part of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty.[166] As such, if China were to violate Filipino sovereignty, it would automatically be declaring war on the United States (and its superior nuclear arsenal). In other words, those making this argument would say that the United States simply needs to make clear to Beijing that Filipino claims in the Spratly Islands are the equivalent of American claims. And if these claims are violated, Matthew Kroenig’s “superiority-brinksmanship synthesis theory” directly applies, which China likely does not account for absent this public commitment from Washington.[167] Of the four possible objections, this one is the most interesting because it is all but impossible to know whether it would work. Kroenig’s historical analysis suggests that it would. Yet if public recognition by the United States of Filipino claims in the South China Sea were all that is needed to halt China’s expansion and militarization efforts in the disputed waters, then why hasn’t Washington already done so? It is likely that growing gaps in U.S. conventional warfighting capability relative to China are the primary reason this has not happened. U.S. policymakers likely believe, given the geography and relative differences in conventional combat power in the South China Sea, that depending on nuclear superiority alone is too risky.

Peace Through Strength

So where does the United States go from here on the INF Treaty? This article argued that the United States should continue to try to make a deal on a renegotiated INF Treaty while also making clear that if Moscow and Beijing do not both commit to doing so then Washington will, as the least preferred option, exercise its right to withdraw from the treaty in 2019. Simultaneously, the United States should field AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to its military forces. These capabilities are critical to restoring America’s full-spectrum conventional military warfighting dominance in the Western Pacific. I also reviewed how the United States and its treaty allies lost this dominance over the past few decades — how China took advantage of U.S. overconfidence in its unipolar moment and, since 2001, the overwhelming U.S. focus on counterterrorism operations in the Middle East to exploit gaps in the INF Treaty. China has fielded around 2,000 ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles — around 95 percent of which would violate the INF Treaty if China were a signatory — that hold at risk all U.S. bases, ports, and even deployed ships in the Western Pacific. China has also fielded a 500-kilometer range lethal autonomous weapon system. With this overwhelming advantage in conventional-strike capability, China subsequently embarked on an aggressive campaign to build and occupy islands in the South China Sea to expand its economic and military influence. Next, I described the National Security Strategy’s intent to restore American dominance in the Western Pacific. The article considered four potential options for the United States to regain its conventional warfighting advantage, alongside its nuclear superiority, in the region. I ultimately recommended the path that America is headed down, a dual-track withdrawal from the INF Treaty as the only viable near-term path to achieve the National Security Strategy intent, while encouraging fielding specifically focused AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to U.S. close-combat units as quickly as possible. Finally, the article considered the most likely objections to this recommendation. To be sure, it is unfortunate that China’s pursuit of a “projectile-centric” anti-access/area-denial strategy, in conjunction with Beijing’s increasingly aggressive economic and military expansion efforts in the South China Sea, has forced the United States into a position requiring INF Treaty renegotiation or withdrawal, as well as embracing AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems. After welcoming and even encouraging China’s acceptance into the global economy shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and later offering to “globalize” the INF Treaty, one might have hoped that Beijing would have taken a different path. But China did not. It is also increasingly clear that China seeks to dominate the South China Sea, erode U.S. military alliances in Asia, and threaten the post-World War II rules-based international order, including with autonomous weapons. For the United States to achieve the objectives described in the National Security Strategy, thereby stopping China from achieving its goals, it must renegotiate or exercise its right to withdraw from the INF Treaty immediately. Simultaneously, the Pentagon should move as quickly as possible to equip close-combat units with AI-enabled lethal autonomous weapons systems to add another key layer to its deterrent capabilities. These actions are essential to future U.S. security interests in the Pacific. Scott A. Cuomo is a Marine infantry officer and operational planner currently participating in the Commandant of the Marine Corps Strategist Program at Georgetown University. Image: Department of Defense [post_title] => It's Time to Make a New Deal: Solving the INF Treaty's Strategic Liabilities to Achieve U.S. Security Goals in Asia [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => its-time-to-make-a-new-deal-solving-the-inf-treatys-strategic-liabilities-to-achieve-u-s-security-goals-in-asia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-14 08:51:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-14 13:51:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=745 [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. [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] => ) ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 1 [max_num_pages] => 0 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => 1 [is_archive] => [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => 1 [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 4152b146e3eab6919c4497c3c9241d19 [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )