Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Japan and South Korea: The Other Worrisome Spat in East Asia

Considerable attention has focused on the rising tensions between Japan and China, with some experts now warning that we should not underestimate the possibility of war between the region’s two major powers. Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have certainly become hostile over the past year or so. The ongoing, highly emotional dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea has been the principal source of friction, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s late December 2013 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which contains the remains of 14 high-level, World War II war criminals, also infuriated the Chinese.

Washington is understandably concerned about the deterioration of Sino-Japanese relations, but the surging animosity between those two countries is not the only source of worry for U.S. policy makers. Although it has received less attention, relations between Japan and South Korea are also on an ominous trajectory. The reaction in South Korea to Abe’s pilgrimage to Yasukuni was as angry as the response in China. Seoul also has its own territorial disputes with Tokyo, primarily over a chain of small islands called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, and those controversies are intensifying.

All of this might be a matter of limited concern to the United States if it were not for Washington’s defense treaties with Japan and South Korea. U.S. leaders have already taken the dubious step of insisting that the bilateral defense pact with Tokyo applies not only to indisputable Japanese territory but also to the highly contested Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. That stance has drawn sharp objections from Beijing and puts the United States on the front lines of a worsening confrontation between China and Japan.

Although an armed conflict between Tokyo and Seoul is less likely than a Sino-Japanese war, Washington’s defense obligations put the United States in an extremely awkward position if the Japanese-Korean relationship crumbles. Clearly, Washington would not be able to honor its obligations to both parties, if they came to blows. One wag suggested that the U.S. Army could fight alongside the Koreans, while the U.S. Marines (based mainly on Okinawa) could assist the Japanese.

It’s no laughing matter, though, and the current tensions underscore the pitfalls of Washington’s tendency to acquire allies or security clients in a promiscuous manner. At a minimum, such ties cause diplomatic headaches; at worst, they can entangle the United States in unwanted, even irrelevant, conflicts. It’s not a new problem. During the Cold War, Washington repeatedly found itself trying to keep NATO allies Greece and Turkey from going to war against each other.

That history, along with the current turmoil in East Asia, should cause U.S. leaders to conduct a thorough re-assessment of the country’s overgrown alliance commitments. Alliances are supposed to advance America’s interests and enhance its security, not drag this country into unnecessary, dangerous quarrels.

Europeans Debate Creating a Bigger Military Policy with a Smaller Military

A second marriage, it is said, is the triumph of hope over experience.  So is a European Union debate over defense.  At the latest European Council meeting in late December, European leaders again promised to do more than free ride on the U.S. 

It was hard enough to get the Europeans to divert cash from their generous welfare states during the Cold War when there was a plausible enemy.  The financial crisis, enduring recession, and Eurozone imbroglio have sapped what little interest most Europeans had in maintaining real militaries.  Earlier this year a top NATO official admitted at a private luncheon that “there is no chance for budget increases, not even for keeping spending levels as they are.” 

The Europeans have been embarrassed when going to war.  They ran out of missiles when fighting the grand legions of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.  France’s Little Napoleon, Francois Hollande, had to turn to the U.S. for air “lift” to get his forces to Mali in 2012. 

So European leaders have been issuing calls for better if not more spending—in fact, “smart defense” has become a NATO mantra.  But it doesn’t matter how smart you spend if you don’t spend much.

The latest Council meeting delivered what we have come to expect from the European Union: grandiose promises and minimal expectations.  Europe will grow only more dependent on America—at least if Americans allow it.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, only Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain fall within world’s top 20 military spenders.  Even that sounds more impressive than it really is.  London spends 8.9 percent of Washington’s outlays on the military.  Madrid spends 1.7 percent. 

Even the Central and Eastern Europeans, who claim to worry about Russia, are laggards.  As I point out in the American Spectator:

Whatever their rhetoric, these countries either don’t feel threatened or don’t want to be bothered to create even a minimal deterrent capability.  They all prefer that NATO, meaning America, prepare for a war which would be disastrous and would serve no conceivable U.S. interest.

The European Council admitted as much in its discussion of the Common Security and Defense Policy:  “Defense budgets in Europe are constrained, limiting the ability to develop, deploy and sustain military capabilities.”  Instead of urging more outlays, the Council called “on the Member States to deepen defense cooperation.”  But what if even the continent’s “big” powers, Britain and France, are shrinking their militaries? 

Indeed, Council members indicated they weren’t very serious even as they approved the latest communiqué.  First, Great Britain sought to keep Europe dependent on America through NATO.  Prime Minister David Cameron explained:  “It isn’t right for the European Union to have capabilities, armies, air forces and the rest of it.”

Second, France found little support from its fellow EU members for French military operations in Mali and the Central African Republic.  Paris did, however, win a Council call for a report on how the EU could address the “challenges and opportunities arising for the Union.” 

Europe will almost certainly continue its downward military descent.  The Europeans don’t believe they have to do anything, other than the bare minimum necessary to quiet U.S. complaints.  Their only fear is that Washington might eventually tire of playing GloboCop for countries that prefer to devote their resources to economic development and social welfare.

However, the U.S. should start saying no to European dependency.  The American military’s job is to most effectively and inexpensively defend America—its people, territory, liberty, and prosperity.  Safeguarding the European welfare state should not be Washington’s objective.

The U.S. should turn responsibility for Europe’s defense over to Europe and bring America’s troops home.  It’s time to dismantle the Cold War alliance and treaty structure.  And for America to invite Europe to take up its proper military responsibilities in a new and changing world.

Freedom of Thought Under Siege Around the Globe: When You are Not Free to Not Believe

Much of the world has just celebrated the most sacred Christian holiday, yet persecution of Christians has never been fiercer, especially in the Middle East.  Other faiths also suffer varying degrees of persecution. 

Nonbelievers also often are mistreated.  The lack of religious belief is less likely to be punished by communist and former communist regimes.  But such systems penalize almost all independent thought. 

Moreover, atheists and other freethinkers are at special risk in theocratic and especially aggressively Muslim states.  The International Humanist and Ethical Union recently published its second annual report, Freedom of Thought 2013: A Global Report on the Rights, Legal Status, and Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists, and the Non-religious.

America’s Founders enshrined religious liberty in the U.S. Constitution because they understood the imperative of freedom of conscience and thought.  If a state is unwilling to respect a person’s most fundamental and intimate views, it is unlikely to leave them free to act.  Argued IHEU, “when thought is a crime, no other freedom can long survive.”

Freedom of Thought 2013 addresses the status of the non-religious.  Unfortunately, governments routinely violate the liberty not to believe. 

Concluded IHEU:  “the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers.  There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.” 

Restrictions are many. IHEU figured that “in effect you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries,” all Muslim.

Persecution often fades into less virulent but still offensive discrimination.  Noted IHEU:  “Other laws that severely affect those who reject religion include bans on atheists holding public office, and some governments require citizens to identify their religion—for example on state ID cards or passports—but make it illegal, or do not allow, for them to identify as an atheist or as non-religious.” 

Moreover, “Religious privilege is one of the most common forms of discrimination against atheists.”  More controversially the organization includes “religious discrimination, or religious privilege, in this report even when its supporters claim it is merely ceremonial or symbolic.”  The latter is common in the U.S.

Not all persecution emanates from government.  Extra-legal violence is common and governments often do little or nothing in response. 

As I point out in my latest column for Forbes online:

Some religiously faithful may be inclined to dismiss the freedom not to believe.  However, Matt Cherry, the report’s lead author, emphasizes that “the fight for the rights of the non-religious [are] inextricable from the fight for the rights of the religious.”  All possess a fundamental right of belief and conscience, and an equally fundamental right to act on belief and conscience.

Obviously, one can disagree over details, including IHEU’s individual assessments.  Nevertheless, Freedom of Thought 2013 addresses a genuine and very serious threat to liberty.  Governments the world limit the most basic freedoms of belief, thought, and expression.  Moreover, it is easy to ignore the impact on individual lives if one shares the majority’s religious or other worldviews. 

IHEU judges 46 countries (counting the Palestinian territories) as involving “severe discrimination.”  The greatest problems come from the 29 nations categorized as guilty of “grave violations”:  Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Swaziland, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

Americans should review their practices at home.  Moreover, U.S. officials should include the liberty of non-believers in Washington’s human rights dialogue with other nations.

The rest of us also should promote freedom of conscience abroad.  Not by coercing and invading other countries, but by convincing, encouraging, pestering, pushing, pressuring, and embarrassing.  Everyone, from citizens to policymakers, has a stake in expanding liberty for those around us. 

Ratifying NSA Spying, a Court Calls FISA ‘Courts’ Into Question

Two weeks ago, when D.C. District judge Richard Leon ruled that mass government surveillance of Americans’ telephone calling was likely unconstitutional, there was some well-poisoning about his opinion being “passionate.” The implication, of course, was that he was not being suitably judicial. The same could be said of this week’s ruling by Judge Pauley of the U.S. District Court in New York. When the first sentence intones: “The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is,” and when the first citation is a “See generally” to the 9/11 Commission report, these are not signs that you’re about to get dispassionate application of law to facts.

Judge Pauley’s use of the 9/11 Commission report to argue that NSA data collection could have foiled the 9/11 plot is belied by the report’s clear statement with respect to Khalid Al-Mihdhar: “No one was looking for him.” (page 269) In our paper, “Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining,” Jeff Jonas and I detailed ways many of the 9/11 terrorists could have been found had anyone been looking. The argument that NSA spying would have prevented 9/11 is not a strong one.

But passions pitted against one another is just one of the symmetries between the two rulings. Judge Leon distinguished Smith v. Maryland. He believes that the Supreme Court case allowing the use of phone call information to convict a suspected burglar and obscene phone caller does not ratify the collection of phone calling information about every innocent American. Judge Pauley treated Smith v. Maryland as controlling. If one burglar in Baltimore doesn’t have a Fourth Amendment interest in his phone calling data, 200 million Americans don’t either. We have appeals to sort these things out, and Judge Pauley’s ruling makes it more likely that such an appeal will reach the Supreme Court, which is good.

The interesting thing in Judge Pauley’s ruling is ammunition he offers to critics of the panels of judges created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. People often refer to them as the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court” or “FISC.”

While the FISC is composed of Article III judges, it operates unlike any other Article III court. Proceedings in Article III courts are public. And the public enjoys a “general right to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.” (citation omitted) “The presumption of access is based on the need for federal courts, although independent—indeed, particularly because they are independent—to have a measure of accountability and for the public to have confidence in the administration of justice.” (citation omitted)

Later, he writes:

The two declassified FISC decisions authorizing bulk metadata collection do not discuss several of the ACLU’s arugments. They were issued on the basis of ex parte applications by the government without the benefit of the excellent briefing submitted to this Court by the Governent, the ACLU, and amici curiae. There is no question that judges operate best in an adversarial system. “The value of a judicial proceeding … is substantially diluted where the process is ex parte, because the Court does not have available the fundamental instrument for judicial judgment: an adversary proceeding in which both parties may participate.” (citation omitted) … As FISA has evolved and Congress has loosened its individual suspicion requirements, the FISC has been tasked with delineating the limits of the Government’s surveillance power, issuing secret decision [sic] without the benefit of adversarial process. Its ex parte procedures are necessary to retain secrecy but are not ideal for interpreting statutes.

This echoes an argument Randy Barnett and I offered in our brief to the Supreme Court about NSA spying. These so-called ‘courts’ that administer NSA spy programs lack many of the hallmarks of a true court, and their use to dispose of rights that protect our privacy is a violation of due process.

There will be much more to come in the judicial path of the NSA spying debate. The legitimacy of FISA panels should be a part of that discussion.

Reviewing the Review Group: Practice What You Preach

The “President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” has issued their report. Convened in late summer to advise the president on what to do in the wake of the Snowden revelations (without mentioning Snowden), the group was rightly criticized for its ‘insider’ composition. The report has beaten the privacy community’s low expectations, which is good news. It advances a discussion that began in June and that will continue for years.

Some observations:

- Contrary to expectations, the report is outside the White House’s “comfort zone.” That’s good, because, as noted, this group could easily have decided to ratify the status quo, handing the administration and the National Security Agency a minor victory. The report positioned Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to say: “The message to the NSA is now coming from every branch of government and from every corner of our nation: You have gone too far.”

- There is no reason to treat the report as a reform “bible.” This was a problem with the 9/11 Commission report, for example, which was held up as sacrosanct even when it was wrong. The Review Group report is right about some things, such as eliminating administratively issued National Security Letters, it is wrong about some things, and it omits some key issues, such as the government-wide penchant for secrecy that created the current problems.

- Weaknesses are more interesting than strengths, and a particular weakness of the report is its call for retaining the phone calling surveillance program. Recommendation Five calls for legislation that “terminates the storage of bulk telephony meta-data by the government under [USA-PATRIOT Act] section 215, and transitions as soon as reasonably possible to a system in which such meta-data is held instead either by private providers or by a private third party.” The debate over data retention mandates ended some years ago, and the government was denied this power. The NSA’s illegal excesses should not be rewarded by giving it authorities that public policy previously denied it. Outsourcing dragnet surveillance does not cure its constitutional and other ills.

- The data retention recommendation is in conflict with another part of the report, which calls for risk management and cost-benefit analysis. “The central task,” the report says, “is one of risk management.” So let’s discuss that: Gathering data about every phone call made in the United States and retaining it for years produces only tiny slivers of security benefit, the NSA’s unsupported claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Considering dollar costs alone, it almost certainly fails a cost-benefit test. If you include the privacy costs, the failure of this program to manage security risks effectively is more clear. The Review Group’s conclusion about communications surveillance is inconsistent with its welcome promotion of risk management.

Most legal scholars and most civil liberties and privacy advocates punt on security questions, conceding the existence of a significant threats, however undefined and amorphous. They disable themselves from arguing persuasively about what is “reasonable” for Fourth Amendment purposes. Concessions like these also prevent one from conducting valid risk management and cost-benefit analysis. Some of us here at Cato don’t shy from examining the security issues, and we do pretty darn good risk management. The Review Group should practice what it preaches if it’s going to preach what we practice!

Germany Lurches Left: Sacrificing German Liberty and Germany’s Future

BERLIN—Germany’s Christian Democrats and Social Democrats have formed another “Grand Coalition.”  The political center in Europe’s wealthiest and most populous state now swallows most of the ideological spectrum. However, the entire political spectrum has lurched to the left.

The Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union combination (sister parties which run as one) is a pale version of the Republican Party.  The CDU-CSU long ago made peace with Germany’s generous welfare state. 

Even less inclined to act is CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel. She pulled her party leftward in 2005 into a Grand Coalition with the Social Democratic Party, which went on to do essentially nothing. 

She won a second term in 2005 but did little more to liberate German life. Her latest reelection campaign was based on keeping everything the way it was.

The CDU-CSU fell only five votes short of a majority. However, the poll was a disaster for the CDU-CSU’s coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party. Created in 1948 out of the ruins of the Third Reich, the FDP emphasized civil liberties, economic freedom, and entrepreneurship. In 2009, the Free Democrats enjoyed their best showing ever, 14.6 percent, and their support made Merkel Chancellor.

However, they proved to be less adept in governing. As the September election approached, the Free Democrats lacked any noticeable achievements. 

A new political competitor, Alternative for Germany criticized the endless Euro bail-outs while backing the same market-oriented economic policies as the Free Democrats. Many FDP voters shifted allegiance.   

The FDP fell just short of the five percent threshold, receiving 4.76 percent of the vote. It went from 93 Bundstag seats to none. The Free Democrats still hold some seats in regional parliaments and the European Parliament, but have no obvious path back to national power. The AFD came in just behind the FDP, with 4.7 percent, and also won no seats. However, it is well-positioned to advance, putting the FDP’s survival at risk.

The Free Democrats’ collapse left the Bundestag with a narrow left-wing majority.  However, both the SPD and Greens pledged not to join forces with Die Linke, or Left party, since it was the successor to the Communists who once ruled East Germany. 

As I pointed out in my Forbes online column:

Although the CDU-CSU was much stronger in the Bundestag, the Social Democrats demanded specific concessions, such as a national minimum wage, which will reduce Germany’s employment advantage over its European neighbors, limitations on temporary employment, which will cut job opportunities, expanded pension benefits, which will add to the financial burden of an aging society, higher than necessary state pension contributions, which will be looted to fund political initiatives, and urban rent controls, which will discourage apartment construction and maintenance.

The Economist magazine warned of “Die Grosse Stagnation” likely to come. Europe’s largest economy faces slow labor productivity, falling investment, and minimal reforms since the start of the Euro crisis. 

It is not just the government which has moved left. During the last Grand Coalition the FDP was the largest opposition party, leaving its leader the unofficial opposition leader. In this Bundestag the largest opposition party will be Die Linke. Just behind will be the Greens, traditionally known for their environmental commitment but of late pushing leftist economic nostrums as well. 

Nor does the drift stop with the left-wing parties. The Free Democrats held a special party congress in Berlin and responded to the election debacle by making Christian Lindner of North Rhine-Westphalia the new party chairman. Lindner is seen as less committed to the party’s liberal principles.

Like Americans, the German people have worked hard to prosper despite an ever-expanding regulatory welfare state. But they will find it ever more difficult to succeed as their government moves further left.  Then they will come to miss having a voice for economic and social liberty in the Bundestag. 

North Korea’s Kim Dynasty Consumes Its Own: No Love in this Family

North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il has been dead not quite two years, but his son, Kim Jong-un, appears to have taken control.  And in a much bloodier fashion than predicted, with the execution of his uncle and one-time mentor Jang Song-taek.  However, no one knows whether the regime is stabilizing or destabilizing.

The ascension of Kim fils never seemed certain.  Not yet 30 when his father passed, Kim had had little time to secure the levers of power.  Moreover, Pyongyang is a political snake-pit. 

Over the last two years hundreds of officials, many in the military, have been removed from office.  Until Jang the most dramatic defenestration was of army chief of staff Ri Yong-ho.  His departure in July 2012, alleged for reasons of health, was dramatic and sudden. 

Of greater concern to the West was North Korean policy.  The country had established a reputation for brinkmanship and confrontation.  The new government reinforced this approach. 

For instance, rhetorical attacks on and threats against South Korea and the U.S. rose to unprecedented heights.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently detained an 84-year-old American Korean War veteran and tourist for six weeks on bizarre charges.

Equally important, there is no evidence of reform, either economic or political.  Observed Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation:  Kim Jong-un “has increased public executions, expanded the gulags for political prisoners, and increased government punishment for anyone caught with information from the outside world.” 

Now comes Jang’s ouster.  There is no reason for the West to mourn his passing.  But previously family members only disappeared. 

Jang’s execution could demonstrate that Kim Jong-un is solidifying his rule.  Removing another minder appointed by his father would seem to leave Kim more securely in charge.  Moreover, a willingness to execute likely deters anyone but the most determined or desperate from challenging the leadership. 

Nevertheless, the DPRK could be heading for further instability.  The episode is unprecedented, which suggests that something is amiss in paradise.  Jang could have been the casualty of a messy power struggle likely to grow worse.  If he can be taken down, no one is safe.  Fear may widen leadership divisions, spur internal resistance, and draw in the military. 

As I point out in my latest article in National Interest online:

Political uncertainty in Pyongyang almost certainly will reduce the already minimal likelihood of domestic reform and foreign engagement.  If Kim truly has consolidated power, he might feel freer to act.  However, even then orchestrating a wider purge would absorb time and effort.  And if he fears continuing opposition to his reign he probably will put off any potentially controversial policies, especially if they conflict with the interests of the military, which still potentially wields ultimate power.

Further, Jang was associated with economic reform and China relations.  After his death Jang was criticized for his economic activities.  It is hard to imagine economic reform speeding up in a government sundered by a power struggle in which a top economic official was just executed.

The greatest danger is that Kim Jong-un’s apparent ruthlessness may be less constrained internationally than that of his father and grandfather.  If the younger Kim is taking on full dictatorial power, he might misperceive domestic authority as translating into international strength.  Or if his authority is under challenge at home, he might be tempted to provoke a foreign crisis. 

The DPRK long has been the land of no good options, the geopolitical problem with no good answers.  Even if Jang’s execution changes nothing, it reminds us that North Korea remains a threatening yet mysterious presence in Northeast Asia.  And the ongoing leadership transition—whether solidified or unsettled—isn’t likely to bring peace or stability to the region.