Sunday, September 18, 2016

Arms, Influence, and the Korean Peninsula

North Korea conducted its fifth and largest nuclear test this month. Outsiders can only guess about the DPRK’s capabilities. Yet, with each blast being larger than the next, the program appears increasingly successful. And while United States and South Korea may be both furious and anxious, the North will likely face little repercussions for its actions. Few experts expect China to punish the DPRK.  In a recent New York Times article, Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing stated, “The United States cannot rely on China for North Korea. China is closer to North Korea than the United States.” China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and main source of food, arms, and energy. It has helped sustain Kim Jong-un’s regime, and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across their 870-mile wide border. The United States along with the UN are pushing new sanctions. However, the numerous sanctions already in place have yet to deter North Korea, mainly because of weak Chinese enforcement. North Korea said a push for further sanctions was “laughable”, and vowed to continue to strengthen its nuclear power.
            This situation brings us to Nobel Prize winning economist Thomas Schelling. “The power to hurt is a kind of bargaining power, not easy to use but used often.”[1] So opens Schelling’s Arms and Influence, which discusses the art of coercion in diplomacy. His works are influential in the field game theory and decision making. Schelling believes that to coerce an opponent, the coercer needs to make their threats credible and acting irrationally helps the opponent believe the threats. This craziness helps the opponent believe the coercer may follow through on a rash decision. Cultivating irrationality at the highest level of government benefits that state’s bargaining power.
            It would appear then that North Korean military leaders are well read in Schelling’s theories. The North’s strategy has been an almost perfect application of coercion. The DPRK has often provoked its enemies, upped the ante in the face of international condemnation, and then negotiated for relief aid or concessions to sanctions. In return, North Korean leaders promise peace. Incapable of improving economically, the North relies on brinkmanship alone to make ground. To a casual observer, the DPRK’s actions appear rash. However, Schelling would recognize this strategy immediately as the art of commitment, which they have used with a master stroke. As Schelling states, “international relations often have the character of a competition in risk taking, characterized not so much by tests of force as by tests of nerve… The perils that countries face are… more like Russian roulette.”[2] The Kim regime has a knack for self preservation and is ultimately concerned with its own survival. North Korean leaders would be hesitant to jeopardize their own position but they have convinced the rest of the world that they could do so to gain an advantage in diplomacy and negotiations. Seen in this light, the North’s pursuit of nuclear capability is a defensive ruse.
The Deer Hunter 1978
            So what is to be done with North Korea? Policymakers could accept the status quo and do nothing. Yet, the status quo of sanctions is largely ineffectual. Therefore, the US and its allies appear to have two options. The first option involves Schelling’s brinkmanship. US officials must persuade North Korea believe the US will not endure further provocations. This option will be hard to achieve. DPRK officials scoffed at the Air Forces’ show of force. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency released a statement saying, “They are bluffing that B-1Bs are enough for fighting an all-out nuclear war.” Clearly the Kim regime does not believe that the US would risk all out war. It appears the US needs to practice better the art of commitment and start behaving more irrationally. Schelling discusses “relinquishing the initiative.” This phrase means leaving no options for retreat or withdraws so that one is forced to respond should the opponent act. This gives the first move to the opponent and forces the enemy to decide to initiate the situation past the point of no return. So according to Schelling then, US leaders’ next move should be rash. The US should mobilize the armed forces on the highest alert, place the eighth US army on the border, and move ballistic submarines off the coast of North Korea. They should then make a significant threat of attack. The conditions of the attack could be the North detonating another nuclear bomb. Another condition could be blocking UN inspectors from coming in to North Korea.
            However, setting the stage in this manner is not guaranteed to work and could be dangerous. North Korean leaders could make the decision that giving up their nuclear program is not an option. After all, possessing nuclear capabilities is the key to their defensive strategy and negotiating tactic. North Korean leaders could simply ignore the US threat as they have done before. Yet, should the Kim regime believe the US threat of attack, DPRK leaders could make the decision to go out with a bang. They have actually stated as much before. The North, then, might attempt a first strike with any nuclear weapons they currently possess to weaken advancing US forces and inflict tremendous hurt against South Korean allies. In choosing this option therefore, if there is even a slight chance that North Korea could launch a nuclear strike, the US has the imperative to stop it. At this point the US should go full Trump. The most effective means are tactical nuclear strikes against the DPRK government, their known nuclear facilities, and ballistic missile sites.
            Turning North Korea into a radioactive wasteland would sure solve the immediate problem. There may even be a slight chance that Chinese leaders would tacitly accept such a move. Eliminating the Kim regime in this fashion removes a pesky problem of dealing with the North’s adventurism while maintaining a large border between China and US forces. China could gain an upper hand internationally by condemning such a drastic unilateral US action. To the delight of China, with the North obliterated, US forces could even leave South Korea. Additionally, China could persuade a South without the constant threats from the North and without a US military presence to strengthen relations and economic ties. Obviously, a nuclear attack against North Korea would have immediate, drastic repercussions for US policymakers. US standing in the world community would be forever tarnished. Allies could turn against the US. Tension and the potential for conflict with adversaries, China in particular, would probably rise to dangerous levels. For these reasons, while this option may be highly effective, perhaps it is too costly and not the best option.
            As discussed, DPRK nuclear ambitions are likely a ruse to secure more international aid so North Korea is not an immediate threat. Thus, the second option is normalizing relations and removing sanctions all together. US policymakers have already chosen this track long ago with China and again, more recently, another cold war adversary. Normalizing relations with Cuba and China opened isolated regions to US businesses and influence. China has hundreds of nuclear weapons with far more potential to hurt the United States and its allies, yet China is one of the United States largest trade partners. The same strategy could apply to North Korea.
            There are a number of benefits to this option for both sides. Removing sanctions would allow the North access to sustain itself financially. US businesses would not only have a new market. Isolation empowers the Kim regime just as it benefited the Castro government. Normalizing relations would open the avenue for North Koreans to wear US brands, to listen to US music, and to play US movies in North Korean theaters. Removing the power of the DPRK government to brainwash its citizens would be a strong win for US soft power. Not to mention this option has the added bonus of averting a nuclear war. Perhaps Schelling’s theories are flawed. Perhaps the situation calls for deterrence over "compellence." Perhaps the world needs less brinkmanship and more reconciliation. After all, Russian roulette is un-American. 

[1] Schelling 1966 page v
[2] Schelling page 94

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Morality We Sacrifice for National Security: Internment of Japanese Americans during WWII

Image result for japanese internment camps

Image result for japanese internment campsHow could this have happened? What events allowed our president to issue Executive Order 9066 and what allowed the American public-at-large to be okay with that? This incredibly dark time in our nation's history seems often glossed over. Why? We are embarrassed. We should be. We treated other human beings, a majority of them citizens, in an exorbitantly unacceptable manner, and for what? The short answer could be national security. In addition, the San Francisco News covering the events at the time said the whole purpose was of military necessity, a concept discussed in the Michael Walzer piece, Just and Unjust Wars. Regardless, it is worth the investigation as to what makes Americans willing to put their morals aside for security.

Image result for japanese internment camps
Early contemporary philosophers, such as Hobbes and Locke, discussed giving up freedom for security within the theory of the social contract. That is to say, the masses give up certain freedoms and privileges for security provided by the governing body and for a functional civilization in general. Citizens give up the right of self-preservation and self-defense and delegate it to government. The government then is supposed to act objectively and impartially when acting as an agent of those rights so that not every member of society acts as their own judge, jury, and executioner. Society as a whole is able to function because we delegate these rights to our government.

Image result for japanese internment campsIt gets a bit tricky when the government oversteps that delegation and starts acting in fear or spite. At one time a portrayer of security, our government, following the attacks on pearl harbor, acted hastily and decided that these Americans who happened to be of Japanese ancestry were no longer worthy of the rights afforded them by our country's founding. There was almost no evidence supporting the reasoning behind the internment. These Japanese-Americans were forced to move from their homes on suspicion of overt loyalty to Japan or being spies for Japan. Most of them were completely loyal to the United States, but the possibility of the threat was enough to put civil liberties aside and force these Americans into captivity.

Even the possibility of a threat to national security put an entire ethnicity at odds with the "American" public. The concept of military necessity has been used for years as a justification of unjustifiable acts, as we can see in this case. We must not get so caught up in protecting the security of one person that we jeopardize the human rights of another. Hopefully we have learned from this grave mistake and can move forward into the future of international relations without the fear of complete cultural discrimination of this magnitude again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Moral Question of Nuclear Deterrence OR Maybe Nukes Are Punk After All

Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars examines the application of moral philosophy to warfare. In a later chapter, Walzer explores the morality of nuclear deterrence. As the entire framework of nuclear deterrence rests on the fundamental threat of killing millions in a terrifying fireball, Walzer argues that deterrence is inherently immoral, even if nations never intend to make good on the threat. Apparently Walzer believes a world leader's humanity should win out over their desire to rule over a post-civilization wasteland a la Mad Max.

My face when ethicists won't let me live out my dreams.

For those not in the know, nuclear deterrence is a theory in international security stating that nuclear armed states will refrain from using their nuclear arsenals if they believe that retaliation for such use will be unacceptable. Simply put, I won't nuke you if I think you have the ability to hurt me badly. So it's in your best interest to keep me scared, and in my best interest to keep you scared. But only a little scared. Here's where the idea gets complicated and somewhat circular: I don't wanna scare you too much, because then you become more likely to nuke me, and vise versa. On the flip side, if I try to protect myself from nuke attacks too much, that might make you nervous; why am I so worried about being nuked? Am I planning to do something that would make you attack me? You see how this logic can easily devolve into something resembling that old Abbot and Costello bit Who's on First. Likewise, you can see that when more than one country has nukes, everyone else at the table gets nervous.


Walzer points out, quite correctly, that deterrence can never be fully proven as effective. There are no case studies for philosophers or strategists, so they make up imaginary scenarios and simulations. Whether these have any relationship to what would happen in reality is entirely unknown, and herein lies an important point: We never ever want to find out. Once a nuke goes off in aggression, deterrence theory has failed, and we really can't be sure what would happen next. Maybe nothing. Maybe the aggressing nation is immediately invaded and its leaders brought up on war crimes charges. Maybe everyone launches all their nukes on everyone. Maybe everyone launches their nukes on the original aggressor. Paging Dr. Strangelove.

So here's where we come to a place where I think Walzer might not have the full nuance of the argument. Certainly, the existence of such weapons is regrettable. Certainly, threatening (implicitly or explicitly) to kill millions of innocent people if you are attacked is morally reprehensible. But it might be better than the alternative. Whatever we might wish, and whatever disarmament we might work towards, these weapons exist, and a lot of countries have them. Until such as time as they no longer exist, they have to be accounted for in strategy.

Now we'll see who gets chewing gum put in their hair on the playground.

Let's say I'm the leader of a large Western nation. As their leader, one of my top priorities (perhaps my highest priority) is the security of my constituents. I have a legal and moral obligation to protect these people as best I can. Certainly, threatening to kill millions in an instant is inherently immoral. But my first moral obligation is to my people. Nuclear weapons are one of the chief threats to them. I wish they didn't exist. I wish I lived in that world, but I don't. I live and lead in this world, and for me, it would be a greater moral violation to allow my people to be dominated or exploited by a nuclear power. To keep that from happening, I engage in another moral violation, but it is the lesser of the evils I am faced with.

Maybe in the future, humanity can move past nuclear weapons. Maybe we can go to global zero. But until then, we have to make compromises to protect ourselves. It's not so much about compromising morality away as it is about compromising for as much morality as is realistic. Change comes in small steps. Real world leaders don't get the luxury of clean hands. The goal has to be not to let them get too filthy. That's a blurry line at best, and it's one that world leaders will likely never get down perfectly. But we're all we've got, and we can only do what's possible. The good news is, we have a lot of smart people with strong moral compasses. It may take a century or two, but I like our odds.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

                     The War on Terror: Fifteen Years after 9/11

Fifteen years ago, I was getting ready for school and yelling at my big brother for hiding my Sleeping Beauty backpack from me when my mom turned on the TV, and I witnessed an airplane slam into the side of a building. I was too young to understand why it happened or how this was a turning point in world history, but I did understand what just happened was horric; no one just attacks the United States. In the minds of many watching the Twin Towers collapse, this was war even before Congress passed one of the shortest most vague bills in history authorizing the use of force against terrorism.

With this bill, the United States declared war on an ideology.  According to Clausewitz, declaring war on terrorism is acceptable because the War on Terror, at the time, had a clear political objective. The political object, directly after 9/11, aimed to protect the United States by eradicating the group responsible, and many other countries joined the U.S’s War on Terror. With Al Qaeda’s numbers all but decimated, the world’s War on Terror continues. Though a valid war with a strict political objective fifteen years ago, countries are now abusing the War on Terror as an unacceptable excuse to use excessive violence and destruction for political means outside the objectives of the declaration of war.

The “War on Terror” is now a failsafe term countries use to forgo reasonable justifications for violence and to disregard human rights. Russia attacks non-ISIS rebels in Syria in the name of killing terrorist even though the rebels were not terrorists. The rebels had only the distinct misfortune of standing on the opposite side of Russian backed Assad. Turkey’s uses its ISIS bombing initiatives as an excuse to also bomb the Kurdistan's Workers' Party (PKK) who are major actors in fighting against ISIS in Iraq. China continually oppresses separatists and government dissenters by monitoring social media and using violence such as executing Uighurs separatists in the streets while they protest.  The United States’ “targeted killings” of terrorists has left over 800 civilians dead. Countries, in the name of eradicating terror, carried out all these acts of terror.
Though all these countries actions are politically motivated, the world has wandered far from its original objective of protecting their home countries from attacks like 9/11. The world stepped onto a path of using preventing terrorism as an excuse for violence to advance their governments’ agenda. Fifteen years ago, the world fought to protect ourselves from watching another plane fly into another tower. Now, the world fights terrorism for further political gain. The world is no longer fighting 9/11’s “War on Terror.” The question is “Were we ever?”


Saturday, September 10, 2016

What is ... Strategy, War, and Coercion?

In preparation for Patterson’s comprehensive exams in December, I decided it would be advantageous if I formulated a logical and consistent philosophical outlook concerning strategy, war, and politics.  For what could possibly be more disheartening (and annoying) to Dr. Farley and his colleagues than my confession that I am incapable of answering any question about Syria because of my lack knowledge concerning strategic thought.   

Therefore, in order to diminish my fear of failure in December, I read numerous books this summer by strategic thinkers and reviewed relevant IR theories.  I was certain that my research and intellect would produce a foolproof worldview that would be unassailable from any professor’s attack.  Alas, I am afraid that my confidence to articulate a mature and scholarly foreign policy was dashed to pieces this week.  Instead of finding myself ready to write an incisive blog post on war, politics, and coercion, I am writing to confess that I am more confused than ever about geopolitics and that I have no idea what should be done in Syria, if anything at all.  At least I am intellectually honest, right?

And yet, after examining the United States’ foreign policy during the War on Terror, I wish our governmental leaders would be more intellectually honest and admit that like me they have no idea what to do.  Nor do our leaders seem to have a consistent and logical foreign policy, the very thing I seek after.  For whatever we have been doing in international affairs has not worked, and from the statements made from our two presidential nominees, it seems we can expect much more of the same in the future.  But I think therein lies the problem — America is consumed with doing.  That is, our country has always believed that the answer to every problem is more action.  We target a problem by throwing everything we have at it.  

U.S. inaction is not the problem; it is action born out of hubris that is the problem.  Less pride and more humility is needed in our leaders.  Our leaders must realize that the U.S. does not possess the answer to every problem, and that this is okay.  So, what should we do about doing too much?    

Enter Gary Johnson.  Last week, in an interview with MSNBC, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson was asked: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”  To the horror of his supporters Johnson replied, “What is Aleppo?”  Although it is unfortunate and astounding for a presidential candidate to not know what is “Aleppo,” I mysteriously found his answer refreshing.  Here is someone who admitted that he did not know the answer to a particular question.  And honestly, “what is Aleppo” sounds better than “I alone can fix it.”  

Maybe it is not the policy wonk the U.S. needs, but someone with enough humility and courage to publicly admit that the U.S. government does not have all the answers and that the best thing to do is nothing. 

I still believe it would be advantageous for me to go into comps with a worldview that can offer a credible answer to any question.  But I also must prepare for questions that may reveal inconsistencies in my thought process.  Will I have the courage and humility to admit that this is so?  

Disclaimer: I am not a Gary Johnson supporter.