All posts filed under: Security

China and the Question of Taiwan

There is no reasoning with someone who has built an entire worldview around the conviction that, as George Bernard Shaw put it, a particular country is the best in the world because they were born in it.1 Shaw’s stinging put-down was actually meant as a definition of patriotism, but it works just as well, or better, when applied to what Orwell once called “the great modern disease of nationalism.” No honest debate on world affairs is possible with an interlocutor who keeps switching into competitive mode, deciding in favour of their nation from the outset, and looking only for evidence to support that nation’s supposed superiority. In most situations, this is mildly frustrating; a benign disease. But when heads of state are suffering from the malignant version, then these failures of logic can become everyone’s problem. In modern-day China, nationalism is at its strongest when dealing with the idea—almost an article of religious faith—that the independent island nation of Taiwan is in fact a Chinese state and must be unified with the mainland as soon …

Stop Sensationalizing the Threat of Right-Wing Political Violence

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced that President Joe Biden had ordered intelligence agencies to conduct a “comprehensive threat assessment” regarding domestic terrorism. “The [January 6th] assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known,” Psaki said. “The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat.” It’s beyond question that the riot at the Capitol building—in which crowds of incensed Trump backers invaded Congress, interrupted the certification of the presidential election, ransacked offices, and provoked deadly fights—was an unprecedented security failure. And a thorough investigation should be completed into why 2,300 members of the Capitol Police weren’t able to protect the building and its occupants. But it’s also worth examining Psaki’s claim that the riot at the Capitol proves that domestic violent extremism in the United States is a “serious and growing national security threat” that could be used to justify the expansion of censorship, surveillance, and possibly new anti-terror laws. Simply put, this is an example of what …

Will Biden Resurrect the Iran Deal?

President Elect Joe Biden has stated his intention to return the United States to the multilateral deal hatched during the Obama administration to constrain Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief for Iran. The terms of the deal were laid out in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), 159 pages of the kind of tortured diplomatic language and technical annexes you’d expect from people who would use a title like Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The JCPOA faced strong opposition from US Republicans, and because of that opposition, the JCPOA could not be submitted in 2015 as a treaty to be ratified by the Republican-controlled Senate. It instead took the form of multilateral pact monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for Iran to cap the amount of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) on hand, not enrich uranium above a certain level, and to allow IAEA Safeguards inspectors access to Iranian nuclear facilities. The US President was required to certify to Congress quarterly that Iran was in compliance with the deal to avoid …

Is China the Governance of the Future?

In his 2009 book When China Rules the World, Martin Jacques notes with satisfaction that “as a Chinese world order begins to take shape, the American world order is eroding with remarkable speed.” His widely praised book is highly complimentary to the present Chinese polity and to its president, Xi Jinping—Jacques sees the huge nation as an example to developing countries, especially in its creation of what he calls a “proactive, competent, and strategic state.” Jacques is one of the most enthusiastic boosters of China in the West, and his book aims to show that an increasingly dynamic China will soon lay a claim to global hegemony. Since its publication, he has increasingly acted as the country’s promoter, welcoming its growing strength and hoping it will take its rightful throne as soon as may be. His commentary does make clear, although without adverse comment, that China lacks democratic institutions. Nevertheless, his emphasis is on its efficiency and its strategic thinking—an ability, he writes, that the US, “locked in old ways of thinking” and with “hardened …

Saudi Arabia: The Pragmatic Case for Constructive Engagement

There’s a compelling case that the US and UK should completely cut ties with one of the world’s most repressive regimes that institutionalizes the second-class status of women, outlaws any religion other than Islam and practices “kafala”—a system where migrant workers are relegated to a status that is often not much superior to slavery. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is a country that in the 21st century hosts public beheadings and crucifixions for “crimes” such as blasphemy, apostasy, and sorcery. Dissidents can be indefinitely imprisoned and are routinely tortured for even the most constructive of criticisms. It’s often argued that the West’s close relationship with the Kingdom makes a mockery of the freedom and democracy we claim to stand for. When it became apparent that the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul was most likely ordered by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself, Germany, Denmark, and Finland announced that they would cancel all exports of military equipment to the country. Other European nations such as Norway, the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden …

A Europe Divided and Unfree

Since the end of the Cold War, Europe has believed it is more resilient than it is, and less vulnerable. It has indulged the conceit that it will never again find itself at daggers drawn with its Russian neighbor. In the European imagination, post-communist Russia posed no threat, a convenient interpretation that remained intact even after the rise of the KGB’s mafia state and the projection of Moscow’s imperial designs on its “near abroad.” At the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Vladimir Putin spoke of a “unipolar world”—meaning one dominated by the United States—that would prove “pernicious not only for all those within this system but also for the sovereign itself.” America’s “hyper use of force,” declared the Russian president, was “plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.” At the time, with an unpopular Republican president at the helm in Washington—unpopular, that is, in Europe, though also in America—Europeans extended a generous reception to Putin’s remarks. Many Europeans retained their traditional skepticism of American power and remained committed to the idea of a “different” …

The Russia Report

A report released this July by the UK’s House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee is more concerning than its relatively restrained prose appears to indicate. It shows us that Russia is an enemy determined to undermine liberal values and institutions, and it exposes a galaxy of details of Russian malignity—an alarming reminder of just how deep and how dangerous the threat is. Much of the report rehearses what is already known about Russian efforts to hack into democratic states’ networks to influence citizens’ voting, and to produce results which will benefit Russia’s foreign strategy—that is, whatever is bad for the West is considered good for Russia. These hacks included intervention in the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence, where a vote for secession would have meant the break-up and weakening of the United Kingdom—a plus for Russia denied by a substantial vote to remain in the union, at 55–45 per cent. Then, in 2017, hackers entered the networks of the new French party, République En Marche, and leaked a large number of emails which were …

The Passing of the Second Imperial Age

In the half-millennium of modern European imperialism, from the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century to the withdrawing roar of the British and French empires in the 20th, there was one truth on which all of these powers, often at war with each other, could agree. That was, land which could be designated terra nullius (“no-one’s land”) could be taken—indeed, had to be taken—by one of the powers, or another power would get it. So empires conquered large swathes of territory in Africa, India, the Middle East, South-East Asia, North America, and Australasia, most of which was regarded as unoccupied. They did so in pursuit of precious metals and stones, for settlement and defence (of other lands already seized), for points of supply to their ships, in order to demonstrate their power, and—the most cited reason in polite society, even more polite if put into French—for the mission civilatrice or the mission religieuse. That last of these—the obligation to deliver Christianity to uncivilised heathens—is sometimes dismissed as merely the hypocrisy of pious icing layered over …

From India’s Himalayan Border to Our Local Cell Networks, It’s Time to Push Back Against China

High in the Himalayan mountains, Chinese soldiers ambushed Indian troops this week, resulting in a brutal battle on the Indian side of their shared border. Twenty Indians were killed, while China won’t disclose its losses. It was the deadliest confrontation on the border in over 40 years. As a result, some Indian strategists are openly discussing recognizing Taiwan and providing more visibility to the Dalai Lama, state-owned telecoms are blocking Chinese equipment from 4G upgrades, and millions of Indians downloaded an app that helps remove Chinese apps from their phones (before Google removed it). All of this comes at a time when much of the world remains angry at China’s leaders for their initial handling of the COVID-19 crisis. This week’s apparent provocation is part of a larger recent pattern with China. From the South China Sea, to Taiwan, to Hong Kong, Beijing has been seeking to change facts on the ground in a way that benefits its own strategic and economic interests. In a recent Atlantic Council discussion of the India-China border issue (convened …

Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy?

The world is awash with predictions about the impact of COVID-19 on life in the liberal democracies—from more online shopping to less globalisation, from higher taxing governments to more working from home. But most analyses compare 2020 with 2019 and examine the immediate changes wrought by the pandemic alone. Long-term, COVID-19’s impact may turn out to be considerably greater. To fully appreciate the potential consequences of this pandemic we need to examine it in the wider context of the last two decades. It must be seen as part of a series of developments over that period that, collectively, could transform liberal democracy more dramatically than is currently predicted. Those developments have driven the physical and economic insecurity of citizens to levels never previously experienced in the modern liberal democratic state. COVID-19 may be a tipping point for insecurity. Self-preservation may be the new priority that triggers a radical transformation of what the citizens of liberal democracies demand from the state and what the state delivers. Taken too far, that transformation of the citizen/state relationship could …