Foreign Policy and National Security

July 23, 2020 2:17PM

Does the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Really Need Urgent Taxpayer Support to Stop China?

Today, the United States Senate approved the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains an amendment passed earlier this week, with little floor debate and by a 96-4 margin, that would provide billions of dollars in new federal support for the U.S. semiconductor industry, most notably tax credits and grants for the construction of new domestic manufacturing facilities. The House passed a similar bill with a similar amendment earlier this week, so the legislation now goes to conference, where the subsidies are expected to survive.  The two main reasons for the Senate and House amendments (formerly a standalone bill called the “CHIPS Act”), as helpfully summarized by House co-sponsor and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX), are (1) to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and jobs and (2) to prevent China from “dominating” the global semiconductor market:

Ensuring our leadership in the future design, manufacturing, and assembly of cutting edge semiconductors will be vital to United States national security and economic competitiveness. As the Chinese Communist Party aims to dominate the entire semiconductor supply chain, it is critical that we supercharge our industry here at home. In addition to securing our technological future, the CHIPS Act will create thousands of high-paying U.S. jobs and ensure the next generation of semiconductors are produced in the US, not China.

Similarly dire, China-centric statements have been issued by other supporters in Congress (see, e.g., these from Senators Doug Jones (D-AL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), or Chuck Schumer (D-NY)), most of whom – unsurprisingly – appear to have semiconductor manufacturers in their states or districts that stand to profit from the new taxpayer funds. (Schumer’s statement, in classic fashion, actually emphasizes how this cash will help New York companies.)

The congressional statements, urgency and near-unanimity would lead a casual observer to believe that the U.S. semiconductor industry is in a truly-desperate position, hobbled by a heavily-subsidized, globally dominant China and in dire need of a massive and immediate injection of government support. That would not, however, be the reality – even assuming (erroneously) that “reshoring” global supply chains advances actually national security. Instead, numerous facts and analyses show the U.S. semiconductor industry to be in pretty good shape and the Chinese industry – while certainly subsidized – to not be the dangerous juggernaut that our elected officials claim.

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July 21, 2020 1:03PM

The People of Portland: DHS’s Involuntary Human Test Subjects

The people of Portland are now experiencing what many people of color–particularly Latinos living on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border–have experienced for decades: out of control DHS agents violating their constitutional rights with apparent impunity.

A few years back, I launched Checkpoint America: Monitoring The Constitution‐​Free Zone, which examined Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints located inside this country–checkpoints which are frequently used to detain, question and sometimes inflict violence on motorists who refuse to answer whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since the Supreme Court misguidedly blessed the use of such checkpoints by CBP in the infamous 1976 U.S. v Martinez‐​Fuerte decision, Congress has taken no action to put real limits on what CBP can and cannot do to people at those checkpoints, despite multiple General Accounting Office reports (2009 and 2017) showing how useless they are, and how they have morphed into generalized crime control checkpoints–something expressly forbidden in the Martinez‐​Fuerte decision.

The lack of oversight and restraints on CBP has created a culture of impunity. The same has been true of its counterpart DHS agency, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for decades. The bitter fruits of the lack of oversight and accountability for those DHS components is now on full display in Portland.

The de facto kidnapping by DHS agents of Mark Pettibone on July 15 should have resulted in the immediate suspension of the agents and a civil rights violation investigation by the Department of Justice. But it is the Department of Justice, in coordination with DHS, that is facilitating these kinds of rights violations.

On May 31, the Justice Department authorized the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to conduct covert surveillance and related activities against Black Lives Matter protestors in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. And following President Trump’s issuance of a “monument protection” executive order on June 26, DHS on July 1 circulated press guidance to its components about how to field inquiries from reporters about pending deployments of DHS law enforcement personnel assigned to its “Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT)” for “potential surge activity to ensure the continuing protection of people and property.”

This isn’t about protecting monuments. It’s about using the people of Portland as involuntary human test subjects for political repression operations carried out under the guise of protecting federal property–operations that DHS, with legal cover and possibly intelligence assistance from DoJ, intends to export to other cities beginning this week.

July 2, 2020 1:49PM

Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act Offers Escape to Persecuted Hong Kongers

A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen have introduced new legislation to facilitate the protection of persecuted residents of Hong Kong. The bill responds to China’s new “national security” law that allows mainland China’s national security agencies to operate in Hong Kong and target proponents of Hong Kong independence with up to life in prison. This is similar to what my colleagues at the Cato Institute have recommended.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would directly support protesters by telling them that they can risk their lives in Hong Kong knowing that they have a backup plan in case they are targeted. The Chinese party is already clearly concerned about this type of offer, denouncing the United Kingdom’s similar proposal to allow up to 3 million Hong Kongers to enter and work in the UK and claim UK citizenship.

This proposal would also benefit the United States by providing it with talented new Americans committed to freedom and democracy (a commitment too few U.S.-born Americans share). The program would support U.S. diplomatic efforts to defend democracy and freedom in Hong Kong, and it would embolden freedom fighters the world over.

Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in the Senate and Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) in the House are leading the effort with more than a dozen other bipartisan cosponsors. They introduced the bill on Tuesday, and the sponsors stated that they were introducing the bill to show support Hong Kongers and hopefully provide them a backup plan if their resistance continues to fail.

The main provisions of the bill force the Trump administration to designate residents of Hong Kong victims of persecution as Priority 2 refugees, allowing them to apply directly to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and not count them against the president’s refugee cap. It would extend the offer to their spouses, minor children, and Chinese parents.

Under prior administrations, the United States accepted refugees usually through U.S. embassy or United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referrals (Priority 1). Priority 2 allows specific groups of refugees to apply directly to the U.S. government without needing an individual referral. It was generally applied to refugees where UNHCR involvement or referral could not be expected, as in the case of Hong Kong.

Any of the 7.5 million Hong Kong residents could qualify if they (or their parents, spouses, or children) demonstrated a “well‐​founded fear of persecution on account of their peaceful expression of political opinion or peaceful participation in political activities or associations.”

The administration would have to establish the technical procedures for Priority 2 applications, which the government has done in several different ways in the past. The administration needs to be very careful because, as the UK has noted, there’s no way to prevent China from stopping someone trying to flee.

Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act grants the president discretion to make all these determinations. But he has almost completely ended the U.S. refugee program. In 2020, he announced the lowest refugee limit in the 40‐​year history of the program, and the 18,000 slots made available were entirely reserved for certain specific groups of refugees—about 40 percent for those approved the year before. There were no slots made available for political refugees such as those from Hong Kong.

The administration has even drastically reduced refugee inflows even for refugees that it claims to support, such as Christians. If the legislation begins to move, however, the president could feel pressure to act. The administration’s most likely choice would be to use some of the existing slots for a few refugees from Hong Kong. The bill foresees and rejects this alternative. It is important that the United States not displace the few refugees still able to access to the program—including many who worked for the U.S. government—or limit the number of Hong Kong residents who can escape. Doing so would completely undermine the purpose of the legislation, which is to guarantee escape to anyone facing the real threat of persecution. 

Ideally, anyone from Hong Kong should be able to get on a plane and fly to the United States using their passports tomorrow, just as anyone from a Visa Waiver Program country can. But this is the next‐​best option. The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would create an escape hatch for Hong Kongers fighting oppression—which is great news for freedom.

June 30, 2020 5:25PM

The Costs and Consequences of the Hong Kong National Security Law

The Hong Kong national security law deals a serious blow to the territory’s unique political freedoms and autonomy. The law is the culmination of Beijing’s efforts to assert greater control over Hong Kong, which has seen both a steady erosion of civil liberties and growing protests against Beijing’s control in recent years.

The national security law achieves the objective of further cementing China’s control over Hong Kong, but this move will have multiple negative consequences for Beijing’s relationships with Hong Kong, the United States, and other countries in Asia. China’s willingness to pay these costs should inform how the United States structures its policies toward China if Washington wants to create effective policies for changing Beijing’s behavior.

The Hong Kong national security law is the latest in a long list of Beijing’s foreign and domestic policies that are souring China’s relationship with other countries. In June 2020 alone, China has likely launched large‐​scale cyberattacks against Australia and killed Indian soldiers along a contested border. Domestically, the Associated Press reported this week that China’s abusive policies toward the Uyghur people include a massive campaign to reduce Uyghur birth rates through practices like forced sterilization.

Economic relations have not fared any better. The coronavirus pandemic derailed a potential U.S.-China détente on trade issues and the Trump administration announced that it would start rolling back Hong Kong’s favorable trade status due to China’s attempts to reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy.

For all its raw power, Beijing has done a terrible job of managing its domestic and foreign relationships. The Hong Kong national security law will only deepen the perception that China is an increasingly hostile and uncompromising power. In the United States, this will accelerate the development of an emerging consensus for a tougher China policy even if the details of such a policy are up for debate. Furthermore, the steamrolling of the “one country, two systems” model will make it harder for countries to cooperate with Beijing today if it could reverse course and break agreements or mutual understandings tomorrow.

Yet Beijing’s repeated willingness to implement policies that it knows will result in reputational, political, and economic costs should be a wakeup call for U.S. policymakers, especially when it comes to issues that Beijing sees as essential for national sovereignty. If China is willing to hurt itself in the process of asserting greater political control over Hong Kong, then what costs will it be willing to absorb in order achieve similar goals such as establishing control over Taiwan? If Beijing has a fundamentally different assessment of the stakes of its policies, then is it possible for the United States to coerce China into changing course?

These are important questions to consider because much of the discussion about a more competitive U.S. approach to China focuses on imposing costs that can force a change in Beijing’s policies. Competing with China through punishment scratches the “do something” itch, but given China’s recent behavior a U.S. cost imposition strategy is unlikely to produce the changes that Washington seeks.

Noting China’s acceptance for cost absorption doesn’t provide an answer to the question of what U.S. policies can successfully change Chinese behavior. However, as Washington grapples with big questions about how to deal with a rising China it will be important to soberly assess how Beijing reacts to various policies.

The Hong Kong national security law is another data point showing that Beijing is willing to take actions that cause pain for itself in order to achieve a core national interest. A U.S. strategy that is too heavily dependent on raising costs for China may be easy to sell in Washington, but it will probably not change Beijing’s behavior.

June 26, 2020 4:12PM

The Prosecution of Washington’s Kosovo Clients for War Crimes

The United States and its NATO allies launched a military intervention in 1999 that helped the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) win its secessionist campaign against Serbia. U.S. officials justified that intervention on the grounds that Serbian security forces were committing pervasive war crimes against the Kosovar insurgents. American supporters of the KLA also asserted that the secessionists were staunch Western‐​style democrats mounting a noble resistance against Slobodan Milosevic’s corrupt, brutal regime, and that America had a moral obligation to support them. Speaking at a pro‐​Kosovo march in Washington D. C., Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) stated that the “United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles.… Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values.”

There was abundant evidence at the time that KLA leaders did not embody such values. Shortly after Kosovo became independent, KLA‐​supported mobs destroyed Serbian religious sites and waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing that expelled thousands of Serbs, as well as Roma and other minorities. Years later, evidence of utterly barbaric behavior during and after the war emerged. In 2010, an investigative report for the Council of Europe confirmed long‐​standing rumors that the KLA was involved in the trafficking of human organs, including killing Serb prisoners of war to harvest their kidneys and other organs. The lead investigator and author of the report was Swiss Senator Dick Marty, a highly respected champion of human rights. One of the suspects specifically named was Kosovo prime minister (currently president) Hashim Thaci. Yet U.S. leaders in the Bush, Obama, and Trump administration continued to back the KLA alumni who dominated Kosovo’s politics. The flow of foreign aid money from Washington continued unabated.

It now will—or at least should—be very difficult for Washington to persist in that policy. On June 24, Thaci and nine other former separatist military leaders were indicted on a range of crimes against humanity and war crimes charges by an international prosecutor probing their actions against ethnic Serbs and others during and after Kosovo’s 1998–99 war for independence against Serbia. The prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, a court based in The Hague, said Thaci and the nine others “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders” involving hundreds of Serb and Roma victims, as well as Kosovo Albanian political opponents. At the time of his indictment, Thaci was about to depart on one of his many trips to Washington to consult with U.S. officials on Balkan affairs.

This case is yet another shameful episode in which U.S. leaders have embraced thuggish geopolitical clients and portrayed them as committed democrats. At times, the United States has even gone to war on behalf of such odious clients. Washington’s support for Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress played a major role in America’s decision to wage the ill‐​advised military crusade in that country. More recently, Obama administration officials and many of their allies in the media have portrayed Islamic jihadists in Syria as freedom fighters seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and, therefore, are worthy of U.S. backing.

Such chronic misrepresentations should not only cause U.S. leaders acute embarrassment, there needs to be a fundamental reexamination of America’s foreign policy to prevent such fiascos in the future. A good place to start is with a repudiation of the leaders Washington helped bring to power in Kosovo.

June 25, 2020 2:30PM


In these increasingly grim Days of Rage and COVID, you have to take your laughs where you can find them, sometimes from unusual sources. It has come to my attention that the Republican Study Committee—the nearly 150‐​strong caucus of House conservatives—recently released a comprehensive national security strategy entitled, “Strengthening America & Countering Global Threats.” The “product of over 1.5 years of policy development,” this 120‐​page manifesto is “a conservative, solutions‐​oriented plan” that “advances the interests of the American people at home and abroad,” according to RSC Chairman Rep. Mike Johnson (R.-LA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-SC). 

Emphasis on “Global”

Have they got a solution for you!

One of those purported solutions involves constitutional war powers. The RSC report acknowledges that the congressional resolutions the president currently relies upon to wage war—the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs)—are “outdated,” have been “stretched,” and therefore “some conservatives may be concerned with increasingly degraded congressional war powers.” What’s needed, the RSC says, is a new AUMF “giving the President sufficient authority to go after terrorist organizations for a definitive length of time without granting vague and indefinite war powers.” But what the House GOP brain trust has come up with would empower the president to wage war in, among other places, Peru, Sri Lanka, Japan, Spain, and—why not?—Northern Ireland. In (God help me) nearly two decades of following the war powers issue, it’s the most ridiculous proposal I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the RSC’s bright idea: replacing the 2001 and 2002 resolutions with “an AUMF that authorizes the President to engage in operations against any currently designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) that is on the Department of State’s list at the time of enactment.” Granted, it would be nice to have a fixed, public list of terrorist organizations Congress has empowered the president to target. What we’ve got instead is runaway mission creep, as successive presidents have expanded the war on terror to new theaters and new jihadist groups under the rubric of “[Al Qaeda‐] associated forces.” Along the way, they’ve been extraordinarily cagey about which groups we’re at war with and which ones we might target next. As a result, nearly two decades after 9/11, the U.S. is engaged in combat operations in some 14 countries, bombing half a dozen of them on a semi‐​regular basis.

And, true enough, the State Department has a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations that it’s maintained since the late ‘90s, following criteria outlined in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. You can take a look at the FTO list here. It includes some 67 groups in 30 countries.

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June 24, 2020 11:52AM

Reflections on “Nuclear Alarmism: Proliferation and Terrorism”

In October 2014, Cato published the book, Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security, which Christopher Preble and I edited. I also contributed a chapter, Nuclear Alarmism: Proliferation and Terrorism,” and this is now being made available online as part of Catos Project on Threat Inflation.

The chapter argues that the obsession with nuclear proliferation over the last three‐​quarters of a century has been unwarranted. The few countries that have acquired the weapons have used them simply to stoke their egos or to deter real or imagined threats, and that continues to be the case. Moreover, nuclear proliferation has proceeded at a remarkably slow pace and the nuclear club has remained a small one, confounding the somber prophesies of generations of alarmists: even the supposedly optimistic forecasts about nuclear dispersion have proven to be too pessimistic. When North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, alarm had been voiced that this would unleash a proliferation cascade, or, in the words of Mohammed El‐​Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that it would signal the beginning of the end of our civilization.” These predictions have gone unfulfilled. There was little sign of the warned‐​about cascade in 2014, and that remains so today: thus far, no country in the region has altered its commitment to remain a nuclear‐​weapons‐​free state.

Sadly, however, nearly six years after the books publication, hysteria about nuclear proliferation remains about as strong as ever, and in result, so do the destructive consequences of the anti‐​proliferation regime. In recent years, it has been focused on North Korea—evolving into a full‐​fledged food fight between North Korean leader Kim Jong‐​un and President Donald Trump in 2017.

The chapter argued that alarmed anti‐​proliferation efforts, as in the U.S. war in Iraq, have proved to be exceedingly costly, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. In an important sense this has continued for the North Korean case. Indeed, a recent United Nations report contends that widespread food shortages and malnutrition,” caused in part by efforts to deal with the Covid 19 pandemic in which the border with China has been cut off, are currently being exacerbated by the sanctions.

Moreover, the U.S. governments demand that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons and the sanctions that accompany that demand stand in the way of a highly desirable development. Specifically, there is a reasonable prospect that North Korean leader Kim Jong‐​un is genuine about wanting to see his country become developed—he has already instituted some notable, if limited, reforms. In this atmosphere, it seems likely that relations between the North and South can gradually be normalized, a development that could become permanent. This does not mean unification is in the offing, nor does it mean that the regime and the privileged elite in the North will cease to exist or even necessarily be weakened. But the prospect of armed conflict in the area would decrease substantially following normalization. In turn, the plight of the North Korean people—the chief victims of the current stalemate—would markedly improve.

Given the current state of tensions and distrust, the removal of North Koreas nuclear arsenal is essentially a nonstarter for the North under just about any condition, and the sanctions seem to be having little or no effect except to make the North Korean people even more miserable. Whatever happens, the regime is likely to remain in control while passing on any negative consequences to its people. In addition, the sanctions include a set of secondary sanctions on other countries that hamper efforts in the South to reach out to the North at this crucial time. The sanctions, then, are doubly foolish. I have written a Cato Policy Analysis paper on this issue, published on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

If destructive concerns about nuclear proliferation have not abated since 2014, there does seem to have been something of a diminishment in hysteria about nuclear terrorism. As the chapter notes, it was once widely predicted that, because al‐​Qaeda operatives used box cutters so effectively on 9/11, they would, although under siege, soon apply equal talents in science and engineering to fabricate nuclear weapons and then detonate them on American cities. For example, President Barack Obama urged in a speech on April 11, 2010, that The single biggest threat to U.S. security, short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” A popular estimate was that such a disaster might well happen by 2014—the year of the publication of A Dangerous World?

In contrast, the chapter argues that, given the decidedly limited capabilities of terrorists, this concern was substantially overwrought: terrorist groups have exhibited only limited desire and even less progress in going atomic. That lack of action may be because, after a brief exploration of the possible routes, they—unlike generations of alarmists—have discovered that the tremendous effort required is scarcely likely to be successful.

At any rate, concern about atomic terrorism seems to have declined. This is particularly impressive in that the period since the publication embraced the alarming rise and fall of Islamic State, or ISIS, in the Middle East, an especially vicious group that occupied territory, had a great deal of (confiscated) wealth, was competently organized and run, and seemed to have worldwide allure. The group generated very considerable alarm at its peak: a poll conducted in the spring of 2016 asked the 83 percent of its respondents who said they closely followed news stories about ISIS whether the group presented a serious threat to the existence or survival of the US” and fully 77 percent agreed, more than two‐​thirds of them strongly. Additionally indicative, perhaps, is an episode in 2015 in which a woman in Salem, Illinois, misunderstood a telephone message stating that retired minister Michael Ice and his wife were coming to her church, and called the Sheriff to report with alarm that the ISIS” were coming.

Polls suggest that there has not been much change in the degree to which people voice concern about international terrorism. But, despite the alarming experience of ISIS, it does seem that the once‐​routine concerns about the atomic terrorist have waned some.