The US, Russia and China: a twisted tale of personal ego, profound mistrust and foolish nationalism



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In Russia and China, Donald Trump now faces two centres of power that are no longer willing or feel the need to comply with America’s interests and priorities.
Reuters/Carlos Barria

Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Alarm bells are ringing a mere three months into Donald Trump’s presidency. The two global flashpoints, Syria and North Korea, are worrying enough. The Conversation

More troubling still are America’s relations with Russia and China. These are now mired in angst, uncertainty and mutual suspicion. They underlie the failure to create a viable system of crisis prevention and crisis management.

Global power shift

Trump’s first 100 days as president have dramatically demonstrated this failure. For all the rhetoric about “making America great again”, Trump is rapidly discovering that the US has limited capacity to impose its will on the rest of world.

The trend is visible everywhere – in international trade and finance, diplomacy, and numerous conflicts around the world.

In Russia and China, the US now faces two centres of power that are no longer willing to comply with America’s interests and priorities.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has been busy reasserting its influence after years of humiliation following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Starting from a low base, China has sustained over the last three decades the most remarkable rate of economic growth in modern history. Now it is seeking to exert the political influence commensurate with its new economic status.

America’s relative political decline goes back to its military defeat in Vietnam. Temporarily obscured by the end of the Cold War, it became fully apparent during the Bush and Obama years. But Trump is the first president to have run on a platform openly stating that the US is in decline and promising to reverse the trend.

Militarism not isolationism

In his inauguration speech, studded by more references to “America” than any inauguration speech in US history, Trump vowed:

We will make America strong again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again.

The nationalist card – the one unifying plank of his otherwise chaotic discourse before and since his election – is meant to strike a chord with the many disenchanted Americans hankering for a “golden age” that has long since passed. Trump now faces the immense challenge of delivering on this pledge despite intractable problems at home and abroad.

On the international stage, he has chosen to rely on showing off America’s unmatched military might. This position is supported by some of the most powerful voices in the US military and political establishment.

Soon after taking office, Trump gave the military expanded authority in the conduct of operations against Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. In support of the Saudi bombing campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen, the US carried out 70 airstrikes in March alone. This is more than twice the number for all of 2016.

In the first two weeks of April, the Trump administration:

Yet the utility of military power is diminishing. As one centre of power declines and another rises, new faultlines and tensions emerge, and with them new uncertainties. This helps explain why the US finds it so difficult to set a clear policy direction for relations with Russia and China.

The Russia conundrum

In the case of Russia, Trump’s task has been greatly complicated by the findings of the US intelligence community that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election.

Hoping to deflect attention from his campaign’s links with Russia, Trump has allowed relations with Russia to continue on their downward slide. Perhaps it was never his intention to reset the US-Russia relationship.

In any case, he is under considerable pressure from his most senior security advisers to act tough with Russia. Almost certainly, he failed to appreciate that his actions and statements on Syria would provoke Putin’s fury.

The end result is clear. In Trump’s words, US relations with Russia have reached “an all-time low”. Not surprisingly, he has now reversed his previous position on NATO, and announced the alliance is “no longer obsolete”.

Russia, for its part, remains unbending in its support of the Assad government in Syria. It has mercilessly denounced the illegality of the US missile attack, and used its veto power to block a UN Security Council resolution condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons.

And now Russia has forced the US to accept a significant watering down of the UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea’s latest missile launch.

Russia has been busy reasserting its global influence under the leadership of Vladimir Putin (left).
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

China’s rise

During his election campaign, Trump repeatedly lambasted China for its currency manipulation and threatened to apply tough restrictions on Chinese exports. Before and immediately after his election he flaunted America’s commitment to Taiwan’s security, and challenged China’s military build-up in the South China Sea.

Yet the tone has since changed markedly. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US became an occasion to discuss differences on trade and agree to a 100-day plan for reducing the current US trade deficit with China.

At least in public, Xi stuck to his script about the virtues of bilateral co-operation. Trump presented the talks as forming the basis for “an outstanding relationship”.

The North Korea crisis has exposed the limits of US power. Neither increased US economic sanctions nor the threat of military action are likely to force the North Korean regime into submission.

The US needs China’s help to have any chance of reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. China’s response has been to increase pressure on North Korea while issuing a stern warning to both parties.

And so, the relationship remains at best unpredictable. As much as China and the US need each other, the hawks in the Trump administration – and there are many – will not easily abandon their plans to contain China, challenge its claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea, and maintain the US military’s pre-eminence in the region.

However, none of this will halt China’s rise.

What does the future hold?

The months ahead are less than promising. The use and threat of force will do nothing to resolve any of the longstanding conflicts in the Middle East or east Asia.

The projection of military muscle and modernisation of nuclear arsenals are far more likely to produce greater local and regional instability, and heighten the risk of miscalculation from any of the three major centres of power.

Trump and Putin lead countries that hold some 14,000 nuclear weapons, or close to 95% of global stockpiles. These arsenals cast a shadow over US-Russian security, which seems likely to darken with the advent of new technologies and rising levels of mistrust and suspicion.

Pursuing “America First” or “Russia First” policies in conditions of such mutual vulnerability is an exercise in futility.

A more profitable course for these three centres of power is to recognise each other’s legitimate interests, expand the opportunities for economic and diplomatic co-operation, and develop a co-ordinated approach in the management of actual and potential flashpoints.

To bear fruit, such efforts need to have solid foundations – in particular decisive steps to eliminate nuclear weapons, enhance the effectiveness of international law, and strengthen the UN’s capacity for conflict management and peace-building.


Professor Camilleri will explore these issues in depth at a keynote lecture to be delivered at St Michael’s on Collins, Melbourne, on May 9 and 16.

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Trump and North Korea: military action will be a disaster, so a more patient, thoughtful solution is required



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North Koreans react as they march past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a military parade.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

Pundits often cite the North Korean regime’s crimes against its citizens as proof of Kim Jong-un’s irrationality as a leader. These crimes, as exhaustively documented by former High Court justice Michael Kirby for the UN Human Rights Council, are monstrous and inexcusable. The Conversation

Grave as they are, they do follow a discernible logic from the perspective of Kim’s efforts to consolidate his regime’s hold on power. Perversely, US President Donald Trump’s sabre-rattling plays into Kim’s logic of domestic power that positions the US as a dire threat, justifying the regime’s political repression.

William Perry, US under secretary of state during the Clinton administration, has contended that Trump’s military brinkmanship increases the likelihood of coercing North Korea back to denuclearisation negotiations. This is the ground that a heightened threat of American attack will prompt Kim to recalculate the benefits of continued nuclear proliferation.

But this scenario is only credible if Trump intends following through on the threat. This now appears more questionable given the controversy over the exact location of the USS Carl Vinson.

Having established the foolishness of attacking North Korea in my previous article, I’d now like to prompt discussion on a couple of points.

The first is how the “irrational Kim” rhetoric limits our ability to understand the complexity of the crisis in North Korea. This creates risks that perversely would compromise human rights and humanitarian goals.

The second is to explore other options for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for North Koreans beyond the threat and application of military force.

There is much emotion in debates over North Korea, and rightly so. Many North Korenas have experienced much suffering and trauma, as well as the lingering anguish of the Korean War and the separation of families by the partition of Korea.

This is precisely why analysts need to carefully weigh up the risks and rewards of policy choices: to do justice to that suffering, and to ensure we do not recommend misadventures that could add further misery to the North Korean people.

First, don’t make things worse

Considering the risks to civilians posed by a war of regime change, it is difficult to mount a case for war as a vehicle for improving human rights and humanitarian outcomes for the North Korean people.

The discourse on human rights in North Korea has long been framed through the lens of national security. Policy issues become “securitised” when proponents of an issue area frame it as an existential security threat, of high priority, that requires extraordinary measures and rapid action to tackle.

Because such issues become framed in the language of security, military-based solutions often come to dominate policy prescriptions. The “crazy Kim” argument has been central to the security rhetoric around human rights in North Korea. This locks possible solutions into a narrow spectrum focused on military force and coercion.

Just as doctors undertake to “first do no harm”, so too should foreign-policy-makers be wary of strategic choices that carry a high risk of making things worse.

Many Korea analysts have pointed to Seoul’s vulnerability, and the risk to millions of South Koreans, posed by a cascading escalation of US military action into full-scale war. That risk also applies to people living in population centres north of the demilitarised zone.

As the Iraq example again illustrates, removing a dictator in a war of regime change is not a guarantee that human rights and humanitarian outcomes will improve.

According to the Iraq Body Count project, 119,915 Iraqi deaths were verifiably attributed to the conflict in that country from 2003 to 2011. Another study published in PLOS Medicine journal put the death toll at half-a-million Iraqi civilians.

Either way, this death toll and suffering escalated well beyond the scale of human rights abuses and deaths that occurred under Saddam Hussein’s regime. This is not to downplay the suffering of those persecuted under Hussein, but to recognise that the invasion of Iraq made a bad situation worse.

Could we see similar casualty numbers in a war in North Korea?

North Korea is an urbanised country. Approximately 60% of people are concentrated in larger urban centres. In the event of full-scale escalation, air strikes are likely to target critical infrastructure in an effort to weaken the fighting and logistical capacity of the Kim regime. Many of these targets will be in urban centres, exposing civilians to attack.

We should be mindful of the humanitarian cost of the damage of war to the North Korean economy, industry, agriculture and key infrastructure. Targeting of critical energy, transportation and sanitation infrastructure will no doubt weaken North Korea’s fighting capacity, but also eliminate those critical services for civilians. Food production and distribution networks are likely to be disrupted.

For a country that is already chronically food insecure, any damage to food production and distribution systems will have immediate impacts on increasing malnutrition and starvation. Consider that estimates of deaths from North Korea’s “Arduous March” famine in the mid-1990s sit at approximately 600,000 after the collapse of the country’s food production and distribution system.

The elimination of services for civilians is likely to increase the risk of non-combat casualties from malnutrition, disease, and the elements – particularly during North Korea’s harsh winter.

If such a war ends quickly and an occupation force arrives in North Korea to restore security, casualty figures will be still be high. However, some of the longer-term impacts of human insecurity might be avoided.

However, in the event the post-regime environment is unstable, then casualty figures for North Koreans on a scale similar to Iraq become more likely.

Creating an environment for positive human rights outcomes

Removing Kim Jong-un as the head of the regime does not automatically translate into a win for human rights. A lot of post-conflict nation-building has to take place if a war scenario is to transcend the immediate humanitarian disaster and create an environment in which human rights for the North Korean people can be improved.

Human rights are best guaranteed by stable governance, strong political institutions, legal protections, active civil society, and broad material wellbeing. A post-conflict North Korea in which the Kim regime has been removed would effectively be a failed state. None of these facilitating conditions for human rights guarantees would yet exist.

It takes time and resources to cultivate the institutions of a stable state. It requires many years of patient networking, conversation and compromise to develop a social movement that could evolve into an active civil society. It takes even longer to cultivate a political culture in which the citizenry respects the integrity of the political system even when their faction is not in power.

Without this social infrastructure, Kim Jong-un’s removal is likely to lead to the disintegration of North Korea into a failed state, paving the way for the emergence of another authoritarian strongman.

In South Korea, it took more than 40 years after the conclusion of the Korean War, an ongoing American military occupation, and the development of a broad-based pro-democracy movement, for an imperfect democratic political system to evolve.

To suggest this process could be circumvented in North Korea does not accord with the findings of research into democratisation and social movements. These norms, rules and institutions should ideally be developed by the North Korean people over time, not impatiently imposed from outside by other powers.

It is doubtful that Trump – and, more importantly, his core political support base – has the stomach for the massive long-term, high-cost commitment that nation-building in a post-Kim North Korea would entail.

Where to from here?

One could be forgiven for observing the current US-North Korea standoff as a game played by privileged men in suits on either side, gambling with the lives of ordinary citizens. Millions of lives on both sides of the demilitarised zone and beyond are placed at unnecessary risk through such high-stakes brinkmanship.

It is easy for leaders to talk tough on non-proliferation and human rights enforcement. But it is quite another to bring about international norms in these fields in such a tricky strategic context as the Korean Peninsula.

Unfortunately, Trump’s penchant for military posturing does little to increase the likelihood of denuclearising North Korea, or improving human rights outcomes for its citizens.

Instead, the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric inadvertently legitimises North Korea’s justifications for its nuclear weapons program, along with the domestic coercive apparatus that persecutes North Korean citizens.

Guaranteeing human rights in North Korea will ultimately require new institutions, new laws, a domestic civil society, cultural change, and a process of justice for past abuses.

This is a project far beyond the scope of military action, requiring patience, innovative thinking and disciplined strategic restraint on the part of policymakers. And they must recognise the unique strategic circumstances of the Korean Peninsula.

Benjamin Habib, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China: Persecution and Christianity News Update


The link below is to an article that takes a look at Christianity in China.

For more visit:
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/what-christianity-in-china-is-really-like

Loose-cannon Trump enters the tinderbox of US-Russia-China relations


Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Donald Trump’s inauguration speech had one simple message: “America first”. His was an inward-looking vision of the future in which America would set about regaining all that has been stolen from it.

His one promise was to restore America to its former wealth, power and security – to recreate a past that has long since gone.

But ours is an increasingly interdependent world, in which America’s relations with its arch-rivals, Russia and China, now less than cordial, are precariously poised. It is a world in which the wider economic, security and political environment is in a state of radical flux.

Neither Trump nor his cabinet nominees appear to grasp how far-reaching these changes are, how severely they limit America’s room for manoeuvre, and how serious are the dangers of miscalculation and overreach.

For all three countries, bilateral ties weigh heavily. Trade looms large in Sino-American relations, and US sanctions against Russia are a major bone of contention. But in reviewing relations between these three centres of power, we need to ask larger questions that go to the heart of regional and global security.

A key question is whether the US and Russia can find ways of accommodating each other’s legitimate interests without provoking European divisions and anxieties. Another is whether they can avoid the proliferation of proxy wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. Importantly, they face the task of averting a renewed nuclear arms race.

It also remains to be seen if China and the US are of a mind to contain, if not resolve, conflicts in East Asia. As the world’s two largest economies, they have to decide whether they will actively promote an orderly system of trade, institutions that can better guard against periodic financial crises, and a climate-change regime that is equal to the task.

We also wait to see whether the three most powerful members of the UN Security Council will allow the UN to play the constructive security and peace-building role assigned to it. Importantly, will they give UN reform the attention it so desperately needs?

Sadly, nothing on the public record suggests these challenges are uppermost in the minds of the new president or his advisers. Tellingly, on all these questions Trump’s inauguration speech maintained a deafening silence.

How will a Trump administration deal with Russia?

Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to be tougher with China’s Xi Jinping.

But what is it that helps explain his approach? In each case, it seems his main preoccupation is to maximise business opportunities for the US corporate sector, and by extension for the US economy.

In decoding Trump’s chaotic use of language, we should not underestimate his ability to surprise and confound his critics. The greater risk would be to overestimate his capacity to control events, or the coherence of his anti-establishment rhetoric.

When it comes to Russia, we should not assume the Trump administration will speak with one voice. Nor should we assume that it will always command the support of the Republican majority in Congress, or that it will be able to disregard entrenched bureaucratic ways of thinking about Russia or the preferences of the immensely powerful US security and intelligence apparatus.

Several prominent Republicans are known for their hostility to Putin’s policies and advocacy of even stronger sanctions against Russia. Already the Senate Intelligence Committee has announced it will conduct a review of Russian hacking in the 2016 election and examine any intelligence “regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns”.

Even among his cabinet nominees, anti-Russian sentiment is strong. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for defence secretary, cited Russia as a major threat to US interests:

I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr Putin and we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance.

With Mattis as Trump’s defence secretary, what chance a reset in Russian-American relations?

Even if Trump is given to periodic denunciations of NATO allies – for doing too little rather than too much – how likely is it that his administration will review NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe, or withdraw the thousands of troops that have just arrived in Poland as part of an ongoing rotational deployment?

In any case, Trump will sooner or later have to address the animosity he has aroused in the US intelligence community, and by extension in the American conservative establishment.

Recent allegations that Russian spies have gathered compromising material on Trump’s links with Moscow will make for added caution. Accurate or not, the leaked dossier will have the effect of subjecting his relationship with Putin to the closest scrutiny.

In the end, Trump may be happy to settle for improved economic relations and the easing of sanctions, but little more than that. Pleasant surprises are possible, but reversing the dangerous path on which Russian-American relations are currently set remains a distant prospect.

Donald Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Reuters

Troubling stance on China

Trump’s announced intention to play tough on China is even more troubling.

Having accused China of being a currency manipulator, of engaging in unfair trade practices, and of stealing American jobs and intellectual property, he could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions.

Given the large US balance of payments deficit with China, he could impose import surcharges of up to 15% for up to 150 days. He could also lodge a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation.

But such measures are unlikely to produce the desired result, and each is open to costly retaliation. This may help to explain why Trump has, with characteristic clumsiness, made a point of raising two highly sensitive issues: relations with Taiwan, and the South China Sea dispute.

Acceptance of the One China policy has been the cornerstone of Sino-American relations for close to four decades. By threatening to review it, a Trump administration may hope to extract trade and other economic concessions from China. In return, it would agree to retain the status quo on Taiwan.

The same thinking may have inspired Trump’s brief post-election comment on the South China Sea, considerably amplified by Rex Tillerson, his nominee for secretary of state. Having likened China’s building of a militarised island in the Spratlys to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he issued a rather extraordinary warning:

We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.

Is this a real threat or mere bluff? Either way, the signs are ominous. And although the official Chinese response has been measured, the Chinese media’s reaction was predictably swift and furious.

Donald Trump could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions on Xi Jinping’s China.
Reuters/Ruben Sprich

What do the next four years hold?

Trump and his team have yet to think through the implications of their statements. Far from “making America great again”, their sloganeering will deepen mistrust of US motives and irreparably damage any prospect of co-existence, let alone a more co-operative world order.

Perhaps the greatest casualty will be the loss of anything approaching a moral compass.

Support for torture, disregard for the rule of law, almost complete indifference to the human rights agenda, and erection of physical and legal walls to keep the victims of war, persecution and economic hardship at bay will merely serve to encourage authoritarianism the world over, not least in Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China.

Assuming Trump lasts the journey, the next four years offer an unprecedented opportunity for America’s friends and allies, both the people and their governments, to exercise a newly found independence of thought and action. Collaboratively and with humility, they may need to assume the moral leadership that has become the great imperative of our time.

The Conversation

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

China: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from China (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/evangelicals.celebrate.release.of.detained.christian.missionary.kevin.garrett/95978.htm
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=30961
http://chinachristiandaily.com/2016-09-13/church/-exclusive-interview–divergent-paths-taken-by-two-preachers–urban-ministry-vs-village-ministry–part-1–_2520.html
http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/66474/20160912/chinese-pastor-imprisoned-opposing-cross-demolition-campaign-released.htm
https://www.mnnonline.org/news/registered-church-problem/
http://thediplomat.com/2016/09/chinas-latest-crackdown-is-not-its-worst/
http://www.chinaaid.org/2016/09/guangdong-house-church-evicted-after.html

China: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from China (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/66366/20160906/chinese-parents-begging-schools-to-teach-children-about-jesus-as-gospel-continues-to-spread.htm
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/church.defies.chinese.government.orders.to.stop.meetings.remove.religious.signage/94436.htm
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Zhang-Kai%E2%80%99s-criticism-of-jailed-activists-was-%E2%80%9Cforced-out-of-fear%E2%80%9D-38451.html
http://www.csw.org.uk/2016/08/31/news/3239/article.htm
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-un-rights-idUSKCN10Z0WT
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.in.house.church.in.china.pledge.to.defy.authorities/93733.htm

China: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from China (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.chinaaid.org/2016/08/christians-save-church-from-demolition.html
http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/monitor-08192016104723.html
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/After-the-crosses,-Zhejiang-bans-religion-from-hospitals-38343.html
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/joshua.wong.christian.activist.who.took.on.the.chinese.government.sentenced.in.hong.kong/93151.htm
http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/chinese-activists-families-face-house-arrest-travel-bans-lawyers-08122016113741.html
http://christiantimes.com/article/china-highly-criticized-for-trial-against-house-church-leaders-and-activists/60457.htm