Friday News Roundup — December 17, 2021
Looking ahead to 2020; Putin’s Demands; Russian Domestic Support; Drone Swarms; Reflections on Pearl Harbor & Japan’s Strategic Position
Seasons greetings and happy holidays from all of us at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. What Democrats hoped would be a Christmas gift turned into a lump of coal as hopes for passing either the Build Back Better plan or measures protecting voting rights before the holiday recess came to naught. As business winds down for the year, the Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, while also confirming CSPC Trustee R. Nicholas Burns to be U.S. Ambassador to the PRC. All of us at the Center wish Ambassador Burns the best in Beijing. While we will miss his thoughtful leadership, few are so well-equipped for this important job.
This week, we hosted David Kappos, former USPTO Director, and Laurie Self, Qualcomm Senior Vice President & Counsel, for a discussion on how IP policies impact our national security and the importance of both protecting our IP and encouraging innovators to set the standards for strategically critical technologies.
This week Mike Rogers Center director, Joshua C. Huminski, unveiled his list of the best books of the year for the Diplomatic Courier. A diverse list covering everything from China to cybersecurity, and science fiction to Russia, there is something for everyone to read over this holiday season.
In this week’s roundup, Dan looks ahead to what will drive 2022, and Joshua covers the demands Putin has made of the West. Wes looks at how domestic support is driving Putin, while Ethan looks at defense tech and advances in drone swarm technology. As we head into the holiday recess vacations, Hidetoshi contributes a long-form analysis reflecting on the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and how economic insecurity continues to drive Japan’s relationship with the world. As always we wrap with news you may have missed.
We will be back on January 7, 2022. Thank you to our readers, and safe travels, good health, happy holidays, and happy new year!
Looking Ahead to 2022
Prognostication is always a risky exercise. Writing a column like this in 2019 or even 2015, how many would have foreseen the momentous changes in society or politics, the economy or technology? Looking ahead to 2022, any forecast or prognostication could be based around three trends: First, the continued impact of the pandemic has to be considered in how it reshapes how we work and live — as well as the advances from its impact. Second, inflation and the realization that our supply chain vulnerabilities require greater attention from leaders in government and the private sector. Third, while midterm years are never a time where Congress can agree on much, our politics are further deadlocked — while authoritarians trumpet the success of their systems. How these three factors interact will determine much of 2022 and it’s worth briefly looking at each.
Since the news immediately following Thanksgiving of its discovery, the Omicron variant has raised doubt about the holiday season and plans for 2022. The rapid spike in cases in the UK, hitting a pandemic record, is one warning sign. The other concerning signs are the growing postponements and cancellations as cases grow in sports leagues — where the widespread and regular testing of players, coaches, and staff also provide a signal of how the variants are spreading. On one hand, the breakthrough cases are concerning, but the absence of severe cases tempers that concern. Severe cases or not, the stress on the health care system continues, and burnout among staff has hospitals short-handed.
Beyond these next waves, how we learn to live with the disease as it becomes endemic will change our overall risk tolerance — but what habits and preferences remain? Firm after firm pushing back return-to-office dates bodes poorly for downtowns. America’s boomtowns are not big cities, rather cities of the mountain west and sunbelt. We can be thankful that we have learned to harness technologies further to bridge time and geography, but Zoom fatigue is real. Digital collaboration — be it 2D videoconferencing or a 3D multiverse — neither serves as a total substitute for face-to-face human interaction.
Inflation, once described as transitory but no longer, will be another factor driving the events of 2022. Driven both by the fiscal and monetary support of pandemic response pushing demand up and supply chains’ bottlenecks and interruptions, policymakers are responding. Central bakers are moving in a more hawkish direction, while the prospect of further government spending is unclear as Build Back Better negotiations failed to bring a vote before Christmas. Fed policy, however, cannot undo consolidation in meat packing, food shortages due to drought and other inclement weather, or decades of off-shoring supply chains from children’s toys to critical semiconductors. Solving the supply side of inflation, from supply chains to labor markets and productivity, can take far longer than the political calendar of 2022. Still, it will likely be on the political agenda, as a recent Punchbowl News survey of Congressional staffers found that 61% believe supply chain will be the main focus of Congress in 2022.
On the global stage, we continue to see the West suffering from democratic inertia while Putin and Xi keep their grip on power. As Joshua has often covered in his analysis of the latest news from Moscow, Putin continues to provoke and destabilize, but out of a sense of his own besiegement and the need to push back against what he perceives is a hostile West. From troops surrounding Ukraine to the growing instability in Bosnia, kinetic flashpoints between the West and Moscow are proliferating, while the cyber domain is fertile ground for Russian disinformation, cyber espionage, and criminal networks. In Beijing, we see how Xi has consolidated his power and launched efforts to reshape the Chinese economy and society, while building a truly global economic and military footprint. In particular, Xi trumpets the decline of U.S. democracy — arguing that recent crises and our politicized responses demonstrate the superiority of the Chinese Communist system. Business leaders will increasingly find themselves caught in the crosscurrents of Beijing’s demands and an American public and political leadership grasping the scope of China’s human rights abuses and the economic and security challenge it poses.
Much of the foreign policy of 2022 will continue to focus on the return to competition with great powers. What is vital is that we approach this challenge clear-eyed — focused on our interests and how they collide with those of Moscow and Beijing; understanding how China and Russia currently exist, not how we wish they would; and marshalling all of the elements of national power in our toolbox to deter their threats and outperform their competition.
Whether the Chinese Communist system has outperformed American democracy will not be solely decided in Beijing. Looking ahead at our politics in 2022, there is a sense of gloom. While it has long been a cliche that little is accomplished in even-numbered years, the hyperpartisanship of our politics will continue through these midterm elections. While there hopefully will be continued agreement on measures related to China competition and national security, the prospects for other major legislative efforts are tenuous at best. The next major political showdown will be over government funding, and, at the same time, the findings of the January 6th investigation will continue to come forward — even as some rewrite the history of that day. Across the country, gerrymandering, changes to election procedures, and the removal and intimidation of election officials have many Americans wondering whether they choose the politicians or politicians simply select their votes.
Like so many books and essays these days looking at U.S. competitiveness or security challenges, it will again be noted here that our domestic capacity for reform and renewal will be the determining factors of our leadership or decline — not just the decisions in Beijing or Moscow. While the challenges ahead and the dysfunction of the system can make the look ahead to 2022 seem one of doom and gloom, this is not the first time doubt has beset the American experiment. Examples of civility, patriotism, and statesmanship abound when you study the leaders who brought America through its toughest challenges. Perhaps, in that sense, it is worth noting, on the darkest and dreariest days of the year, we celebrate with gathering and generosity. Leadership in 2022 will not be about lamenting the challenges ahead, but — in the face of so many who seek to drive them apart — uniting Americans to face them together.
Of course, come next year we could well be writing about the unknown-unknown or black swan that no one saw coming, after all who truly saw the pandemic arriving when and how it did, or the secondary and tertiary effects it unleashed. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Russia Issue Demands to Stem Ukraine Crisis
Joshua C. Huminski
On Friday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a set of demands in order to deter the escalation of the crisis into a full-blown war, including a withdrawal of a verbal agreement to enlarge NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow, less than a week later, issued a pair of bilateral proposals for the NATO and United States, further outlining a proposed agreement resolution, including security guarantees for Russia. These proposals–which are wholly unrealistic–are most likely the continuation of Russia’s political theatre as much as they are aimed at truly resolving the situation and should be seen as part of Moscow’s coercive diplomacy.
Over the last few months Russia has mobilized thousands of troops and prepositioned equipment along Ukraine’s border (including establishing logistics facilities near the border) in a marked escalation of the long-running conflict between the two countries. It should be noted, of course, that Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and proxy war in Donbass (eastern Ukraine) places much, if not all of the onus, for the conflict on Moscow, not Kyiv.
In 2008 a verbal commitment was extended to Tbilisi and Kyiv that, one day, both Georgia and Ukraine would eventually join NATO. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made accession to NATO a cornerstone of his foreign policy, yet with Russia’s ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, accession (however ephemeral of an option) is not on the table. Russia, for its part, sees the enlargement of NATO as a direct threat and any current expansion of the alliance as unacceptable.
The Foreign Ministry demanded legal guarantees that the enlargement was no longer an option, that NATO would not deploy forces near Russia’s borders, hold military drills near the borders, and to establish new territorial limits for the approach of naval vessels. It also called for the re-adoption of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty abrogated by President Donald Trump in 2019.
According to the Kremlin, “Moscow wants “to immediately launch negotiations with the United States and NATO in order to develop international legal guarantees for the security of our country.” The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, warned that “The lack of progress towards a political-diplomatic solution to this problem will lead to the fact that we will respond militarily.” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Moscow’s demands saying “NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is going to be decided by the 30 NATO allies and Ukraine, no one else.” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser said that in the call with Putin, the president “clearly and directly . . . made no such commitments or concessions.”
The demands and proposals from the Foreign Ministry are more political theatre than anything else. Moscow knows that there is simply no way that NATO or the United States would unilaterally agree to them to defuse the crisis — the alliance’s strength rests on its credibility and commitment to its partners, backing down now or rolling back any nominal commitment could well undermine the viability of the alliance in a real crisis. Moreover, Moscow to some degree seems to assume that whatever the United States says, goes, for the NATO alliance. While it certainly carries a preponderance of weight in the bloc, it is not akin to the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact–what Moscow said then was the rule of law.
Equally too, this is about Russia creating conditions and options for itself to be seen as the aggrieved party in the event that action becomes necessary. For months Russia has been portraying itself as the victim of increasing bellicosity from Kyiv, accusing Ukraine of failing to abide by existing agreements. Putin commented, “Every country certainly has the right to choose the most acceptable way of ensuring its security, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t infringe on the interests and undermine security of other countries, in this case Russia.” Here is simply another piece of that growing narrative in which Moscow is not at fault for acting. Were it not for Ukraine’s aggression and NATO’s expansion, Russia would not need to deploy these forces, the argument would go. It follows, then, that if these agreements are acted upon Moscow gets precisely what it wants and, if not, conditions are created whereby a new narrative of culpability is written.
Moscow’s demands should be seen as part of the information battlespace and coercive diplomacy. Creating, shaping, and adjusting narratives for different audiences and less like real, practical demands for action. As Wes Culp describes in his piece, this is as much about domestic political considerations as anything else. No one is under the illusion that Ukraine is a threat to Russia’s sovereignty or security, or that NATO is preparing or structuring itself for offensive operations against Moscow — it is a defensive alliance. To be sure, Moscow has a legitimate gripe that it was, verbally, promised that NATO would not expand, but that the alliance expanded nonetheless, to say nothing of President George Bush’s abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and other perceived and real diplomatic slights. Russia did not simply wake up one day and decide to deploy its forces, and continue to deploy its forces, without a plan–a line from “The Hunt for Red October” spings to mind.
As an opening gambit for negotiations, this is a quite poor hand to play, especially publicly. Putin has asked for everything knowing NATO will not agree to his demands and is not even treating it as a first step in a bilateral dialogue to resolve the increasing tensions; it’s been dismissed out of hand. Moreover, there is no real quid pro quo–the withdrawal of US/NATO weapons from territories bordering Russia would seem to include Estonia, Poland, and other NATO countries, but the inverse, as Mark Galeotti points out in his latest podcast, would require Russia to withdraw all of its weapons from, well, Russia. Moreover, Russian requests to stop bomber overflights, for example, is laughable as Russia is consistently violating territorial airspace across Europe.
It does provide Putin with something to which to point and say “see, I’m being realistic” to both domestic and international audiences (indeed, look at the recent downright bizarre commentary from Tucker Carlson of Fox News on U.S.-Russia/Ukraine relations) while he is assuredly increasing tensions. This equally assumes that everything is moving in a unified direction and that the diplomatic maneuvers are not a cover for something else, a point made by CNA analyst, Michael Kofman. Here, Moscow surely knows they cannot get what they are asking for or in the manner in which they are asking, so one is left wondering, what are they really after?
It remains unclear what Putin hopes to achieve by this bellicosity, coercive diplomacy, and, potentially, open war. As Wes notes, below, it will be key to watch what Putin is saying at home as it may provide some indication of the direction in which he hopes to go. In the main, an expansion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will almost certainly result in the very thing Putin fears most–a united NATO and Europe–and will spark extremely vigorous financial and economic retaliation (including potentially suspending Nord Stream 2). This is to say nothing of the potential domestic repercussions of what is almost certainly to be a violent conflict–far more so than Crimea. As for coercive diplomacy, the United States and NATO will do everything to avoid open war and, as such, may look for a reasonable opening for an off-ramp of hostilities (which is all but absent at the moment).
Domestic Support Drives Russia-Ukraine Crisis
Domestic support for Russia’s driving role in this fall’s escalation in tension between Ukraine and Russia may be more durable and widespread than previously thought. A poll of 1603 individuals aged 18 years and over across 50 Russian federal subjects by the Levada Center, an independent Russian polling organization, found that 66% of Russians attribute blame for the crisis either to a combination of the United States and NATO, or to Ukraine. 50% of those surveyed blamed the United States or NATO countries for the deteriorating situation in the survey, whose second largest share was the 16% of Russians who held Ukraine responsible. Only 4% and 3% believed that Russia or the Russian-backed separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” entities, respectively, held primary blame.
This widespread belief that the United States is responsible for a spike in tensions between the United States and Russia closely mirrors the Kremlin’s position on the issue. Moscow hopes to deal with the United States as its principal interlocutor on the issue of Ukrainian integration with the West, since it believes that the ultimate decision-making on the Ukrainian side is done in Washington. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried was presented with a physical list of Russian demands for security guarantees that Ukraine will never formally or informally join NATO or Western security architecture in general, which illustrated the belief of Russian policymakers that it can only accomplish its diplomatic objectives through direct engagement with the United States. However, Assistant Secretary Donfried flatly rejected in Kyiv the claim that the United States would act to pressure Ukraine to make concessions in a way that some in Moscow might hope the United States could. This is not the first time such a mismatch of understandings between Moscow and Washington has emerged, which gives the Kremlin the cover it seeks to publicly lay the blame for escalation at the feet of the United States and NATO when their demands are inevitably unable to be fulfilled to their satisfaction. While the West is an intended target of these particular demands, Russian state media ensures that such demands are disseminated domestically, too.
With this in mind, it is clear why Russian public opinion would hold the United States and its NATO allies responsible for the current situation on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Recent messaging from Russian policymakers such as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accuses the United States and NATO of pursuing what it sees as counterproductive policies of NATO expansion while also bemoaning a lack of “progress” in such issues regarding Moscow’s relationship with Washington. Ryabkov additionally articulated Russian willingness to militarily confront the West if its demands for a permanent halt of NATO’s “expansion” eastward are not halted, which narrows the space in which Western and Russian negotiators can work with in resolving the crisis at hand. Continuous and dangerous signaling from the most senior levels of the Russian government that Ukraine’s modern statehood is a deviation from the historical norm of its inclusion in the Russian or Soviet state also dominates the Kremlin’s messaging on Ukraine. The latest iteration of this was delivered this past weekend on Russian state TV, where President Vladimir Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the collapse of “Historical Russia”, which was framed as a tragedy in need of resolution. It appears that this signaling has reached domestic Russian audiences easily and has helped enlist at least partial support for Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine. Echoes of President Putin’s July 2021 essay entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” are seen in these recent communications, all of which are tied together by the assertion that the separation of Russia from Ukraine and other former Soviet countries is an aberration in history to be corrected. This emotional basis for Moscow’s relationship with Kyiv is both its justification to the Russian people for Russia’s actions towards its southwestern neighbor and a “firm belief” of President Putin and his circle.
The aforementioned polling also suggests that Kremlin state media messaging has introduced the possibility for outright conflict into Russian public imagination. Only 15% of respondents to the survey entirely ruled out the possibility that tensions between Russia and Ukraine on their shared border would result in war. While only 3% thought war was inevitable, 36% thought that the outbreak of war was “quite likely”. The remainder either were undecided or did not think war was likely, but did not exclude its possibility. As a result of the Kremlin’s frequent messaging on the subject, it has acclimatized the Russian population at least to the simple idea of open conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s signaling about Ukraine and its supposed historical place as a tightly linked neighbor of Russia is frequently first broached with domestic audiences, often on state-controlled media outlets. These messages inevitably reach Western policymaking audiences too, but their first audience is always intended to be the Russian people. Widespread belief in Russia that blame for today’s crisis lies in Washington gives implicit support for the Kremlin position that its dispatching of significant armed formations to the Ukrainian border are defensive in nature. While 50% of Russians attribute blame to the United States and NATO for the crisis at hand, it should be noted that November polling by the Levada Center suggests that 45% of Russians have a positive perception of the United States, up from a January 2015 nadir of 12%.
As Russia continues its buildup on its border with Ukraine, it will also continue its messaging to the Russian people to justify its course of action. While outside observers cannot predict what actions Moscow might take next, attention paid to the Kremlin’s public messaging can help identify directions which Moscow’s policy is trending towards.
Signs of the Swarm: levels of automation portend DoD force multipliers
The last few weeks of this column have analyzed the ongoing NDAA process with regards to future funded programs and initiatives for the defense enterprise, with the preponderance of these budget and effort items squarely focused on China competition. While those high-level discussion points are always a quality indicator of defense posturing, I tend to lean towards coverage of the tools and techniques that those initiatives produce — the equipment, capabilities, and technologies which are the result of those budgetary discretions. One of the main thrusts of my analysis over the last couple of years here has always been with an eye towards how defense tech aims to regain and sustain the capabilities gap. For our readership, I’ll also divulge a factoid about how I make my bit of sausage for this roundup — I seldom write this column in silence, it’s usually accompanied by the kind of heavy, angry music that is usually only applied in the gym. Thus, it was happenstance and coincidental that earlier this week, I downloaded the full catalog of Pittsburgh’s deathcore band “Signs of the Swarm” ahead of covering — you guessed it — new drone swarm and autonomous technology for DoD warfighting efforts.
Enough about Friday Roundup sausage making, respecting the remonstration of Otto von Bismarck on those matters, it’s time to dive into those automation defense tools mentioned earlier, while the song “Lifeless Visitors” by SotS provides background noise, apropos for this narrative (and that will be the last of my terrible analogous musical correlations).
Remote-Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) have certainly made their mark on air power history with their proliferation throughout the Global War on Terror. By the end of my 11 years as a forward air controller, the preponderance of airstrikes I controlled actually employed RPAs like the MQ-9 Reaper far more often than their ‘manned’ counterparts like the F-16s and A-10s who made Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria their rotational home for years. The MQ-9 was a package and capabilities upgrade from the progenitor of all kinetic-capable RPAs, the MQ-1 Predator, who was among the first aircraft to put munitions into Afghanistan in late 2001 ahead of the U.S.-led invasion by CIA and Special Forces. While these systems revolutionized the air power paradigm, they did have their limitations — payload, austere operational constraints, and logistics dependency.
General Atomics is pitching a revised version of the Gray Eagle platform to the Army with the aim of overcoming these deficiencies and providing a new medium for multi-role operations including forward strike, ISR collection, and indeed, austere operational capability. This new platform has been dubbed the “Mojave”, and reimagines the flight aesthetics with a new high-lift wing design, a 450-horsepower Rolls Royce turboprop engine, and ruggedized landing gear which enables the Mojave to perform take off and landing operations on unimproved airfields. While the pros of the RPA platform lie in its increased loiter (most mission times from the MQ-9 platform exceed 18 hours from takeoff to touchdown), those systems lose a great deal of mission time to the transit from ‘warm’ bases — typically in the greater Middle East and crossing the Indian ocean into Afghanistan, as an example — before being in mission zones. With the Mojave offering the capability to function from forward bases, unimproved landing sights, while affording an improved 3,600lb payload capacity — equaling a total of 16 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles over the six hard points found on the MQ-9 — something of particular appeal to the Army who is looking to improve close air support and austere operationality in the wide-open swaths of the Pacific region. The Mojave can reportedly be set up by a four-person team within 90 minutes of unboxing and ready to perform mission duties. Further, the Army has already been pushing its established Gray Eagle systems as a hub component to Project Convergence, the Army offering for the DoD’s JADC2 mandate. Remember, despite the Air Force leading these All-Domain Operations Command and Control efforts, including how swarming RPAs extend the connected networks, the other services are expected to provide options and interoperability to a still-developing data-sharing standard. The Mojave is an extension to those efforts, while further adding the kinetic strike option to its increased loadout; the low-cost production of these systems combined with their field-expediency means the Army could push a ‘swarm’ of these lethal collection assets deep into enemy territory and concern themselves less with attrition, more with achieving effects.
The future of conflict, as the tea leaves of DoD prioritization indicate, has been trending toward offsetting the loss of personnel for the ‘attritable’ systems — meaning autonomous platforms can be fired and forgotten by combatant commanders at a less-risk averse rate than throwing manned missions at denied environments like China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) near a contested zone like Taiwan or international shipping lanes in the South Pacific and South China Sea. Keeping those maritime themes intact for this column, the Navy is also pushing its own programs to build a swarm capacity that augments the line-of-sight capabilities for its maneuver fleets. In the Mediterranean, unmanned drones capable of cheaply pushing out sensor and electro-optical visibility could well resemble a rich-man’s small sailing yacht — the Saildrone Explorer unmanned vessel is being tested in the Gulf of Aqaba with new AI and machine-learning technology to act as an extension of the radar, avionics, and offensive sensor postures found aboard the fleet underway. For all intents and purposes, a swarm of these drones would act as a wide-sweeping net that could offer target-reporting and early warning; and best of all, its solar powered and thus #ecofriendly defense tech.
While the Mojave and Saildrone should be considered ‘strategic’ or ‘operational’ level assets, the use of autonomous technology applies to the tactical level as well and continues to voice the intention of future defense tech. In recent weeks, Fort Benning (GA) hosted a shooters expo that fielded a variety of individual soldiers kits based on autonomous principles — small UAVs (think recreational quadcopters) mounted with stabilized small arms and target-distinguishing cameras, mounted turrets with similar intelligent designation video, and self-correcting target-acquisition optics and carriage assembly’s that improve the individual shooters rifle accuracy. Notably, every single weapon platform tested with these different autonomous systems were suppressed — even the M2 .50 caliber and the M240B heavy machine guns. Why would that matter? For one thing, as ground forces will have a difficult task in the event of South Pacific campaigning, and maintaining noise discipline would be even more critical when facing an adversary on limited real estate. Thus, equipping highly mobile ground units with autonomous weapons that can provide perimeter security, reducing volume while doing so, is a significant leap forward into patrol base operations when the services are developing their denied capabilities.
Autonomy, in its many forms, is going to dominate how the U.S. and her allies engage hostile actors in future conflicts, both against near-peer and non-state aggressors, and the simple reality is that there aren’t enough friendly forces to act out the deterrence, denial and counter-pressure that Beijing and Moscow are actively proliferating their technologies against. While the ability to operate with low-tech signatures and function in the absence of integrated data is still a surefire means of retaining the upper-hand against a technologically superior foe, ensuring the tech-gap remains the going forward plan for defense stratego’s and policy makers alike, and these new tools are the prototype waves of that future paradigm.
Pearl Harbor and Japan’s Perennial Economic Insecurity
Japan’s fateful attack on Pearl Harbor marked its 80th anniversary last week. While today’s burgeoning US-Japan alliance scarcely evokes woeful memories from the last century, the sunken USS Arizona continues to awe the living as a vivid reminder of the bilateral tragedy. It is also a visual admonishment chronicling prewar Japan’s failed grand strategy pursued to a catastrophic end in its perennial search for economic security. In fact, Pearl Harbor was largely the denouement of Tokyo’s stumbling efforts to remedy its economic insecurity stemming from its domestic resource scarcity. It was also a catalyst for a country born again under the aegis of the US, an accidental fate which ironically guaranteed the resurrection of the defeated power and its economic security. Therefore, Pearl Harbor marked the start of a period of tragic purgatory in the history of the US-Japan relations, a cautionary tale for Japan as it once again seeks to bolster its economic security in a new era.
Japan is a thin, crescent-shaped archipelago in the Far East which emerged as a result of regional tectonic activities. Largely due to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and the rapid currents circulating the Sea of Japan, Japan has never been successfully invaded in history, and even the US opted to lay siege to the country by denying sea control instead of a full-on amphibious invasion of the Japanese archipelago during WWII. Therefore, Japan has historically remained insular, and its rugged, resource-poor terrain led to perennial domestic power struggles for the control of sparse arable land, which is merely 12% of the total area. Therefore, Japan has oscillated between the extremes of centralization and decentralization of power throughout history, often generating periods of political inertia dominated by parochial interests at the expense of greater good.
Given such a domestic reality, Japan’s historical introversion was a strategic choice, but the advent of Western imperialism in the mid-19th century forced the country to end its centuries-long isolation. Japan’s integration into the global economy provided the nascent imperial power with frontiers for economic growth while also burdening it with ever-increasing geostrategic imperatives to secure the country’s growing national interests. Such frontiers provided Japan with access to natural resources needed for rapid industrialization to support its war machine. Inevitably, economic security was the heart and soul of Tokyo’s strategic calculus, and most of Japan’s military campaigns across Asia resembled resource extraction operations.
By 1920, Japan had defeated the Chinese and Russian empires with territorial gains spanning from Korea to Manchuria and even become one of the four permanent members of the League of Nations with its imperial reach spanning from Siberia to the Marshall Islands. The Japanese empire had already matured with its sphere of influence growing far larger than its original archipelago, and the country faced a stark choice in its geostrategic orientation: an emerging sea power promoting international trade backed by naval might or a semi-land power anchored in the Far East with maritime ambitions. The US-led Washington Naval Conference in 1921–22 was a watershed moment in which Japan had a rare opportunity to become a full-fledged sea power by pursuing an alliance with another emerging sea power, the US. Instead, the uneven ratio of the naval tonnage deal reached among the US, Britain, and Japan invited a political backlash at home, leading Tokyo to increasingly pivot to Eurasia to compensate for the country’s lack of strategic depth for what it perceived to be a coming final showdown with the US in the Pacific.
What subsequently transpired was more than a decade of veritable politics by assassination at home in support for militarism. Japanese militarism was largely a product of the emerging political dynamics driven by a motley crew of various elements, ranging from radical ultranationalists to even wealthy industrialists, who promoted a jingoist foreign policy for more robust resource extraction from Eurasia, particularly China. In fact, their primary interests lay in recovering the perceived loss of respective opportunities in the Pacific after the Washington Naval Conference. The construction of the gargantuan battleship Yamato in the age of aircraft carriers epitomized the absurd political drama of the time. By the 1930s, tribalism had eclipsed strategy with catastrophic effects in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.
With the Army seeking to carve out additional Eurasian land masses and the Navy preparing for an imaginary decisive naval battle with the US in the Pacific, Japan gradually lost its control over the domestic national security discourse, leading the country astray on an inexorable path toward becoming a semi-Eurasian land power seeking to expel the American sea power in the Pacific. Indeed, having been waging an all-out war throughout China, allied itself with Nazi Germany, and signed a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union by mid-1941, Japan had consummated its pivot to Eurasia and was about to begin its maritime thrust into the Indo-Pacific in its indefatigable search for economic security.
Such a trajectory irreversibly put Japan on a collision course with the US, and Pearl Harbor was essentially the culminating point of the country’s desperate efforts to achieve economic security. Unlike the US where industry is the foundation of war, Japan must first wage war to build its industry. In other words, Tokyo’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor was a tactical gamble designed to rectify a strategic predicament incurred by the Allied Powers’ economic siege of Japan with oil embargoes. Yet, tactical gains rarely rectify strategic errors. Indeed, the US simply continued its economic strangulation of Japan by wielding its vast industrial power until Tokyo’s unconditional surrender in 1945.
While Japan’s unconditional surrender undid its geopolitical gains accumulated since 1894 and even threatened its domestic political power due to the US-led allied occupation, the cataclysmic event itself was a blessing in disguise for the vanquished. Indeed, Japan’s total defeat resulted in its integration into the US sphere of influence and later the US security umbrella as the US-Soviet Cold War intensified. In other words, it freed up Japan’s geostrategic imperatives for the US to defend while allowing Tokyo to focus exclusively on economic reconstruction.
This peculiar bilateral division of labor laid the foundation for the former Japanese prime minister Shigeru Yoshida’s eponymous national security doctrine known as the Yoshida Doctrine. The Yoshida Doctrine promoted Tokyo’s neo-mercantilist economic policy while almost entirely delegating its national security commitments into Washington’s hands. In fact, the Yoshida Doctrine was the perfect solution to Japan’s geostrategic imperatives which its prewar predecessor ultimately risked its national survival to fulfill. Therefore, Yoshida took advantage of postwar Japan’s subordination to the US to firmly position the defeated country to be born again as a nascent sea power enjoying access to the global economy and even exploited its peace constitution to resist Washington’s growing demands for remilitarization.
Apart from his geostrategic perspicacity, Yoshida’s real genius lay in his sober recognition of the perpetual danger of tribalism in domestic Japanese politics. Tribalism in the 1920s and 30s was largely responsible for undermining Japan’s transition to an sea power. Indeed, the inter-service rivalry drove the Army and the Navy to essentially fight two different wars in China and the Pacific during WWII. Yoshida sought to check such tribalism in national security discourse and essentially set the grand strategic framework for postwar Japan by institutionalizing his doctrine through domestic legislation and bilateral treaties, such as the 1951 US-Japan Security Treaty.
Yoshida’s framework ensured postwar Japan’s fundamental geostrategic orientation as a semi-sea power under the protection of the US. In fact, no domestic opposition succeeded in mounting a substantial challenge to Yoshida’s legacy during the Cold War. The first real challenge emerged when Washington threatened to no longer underwrite Japan’s neo-mercantilist economy at the height of US-Japan trade friction beginning in the 1980s. Tokyo then opted to acquiesce in US economic pressure while resolutely preserving the Yoshida Doctrine’s principle of minimal defense. The Yoshida Doctrine continued to overshadow Japan’s national security policy well into the 21st century even as Tokyo attempted to expand the scope of its defense roles in the evolving geopolitical landscape. By all measures, the Yoshida Doctrine succeeded in securing postwar Japan’s economic security while preventing domestic tribalism from derailing the country’s newfound sea power orientation.
Against this backdrop, the incumbent Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida’s signature economic security agenda could become a much-needed essential upgrade of the Yoshida Doctrine. The core assumption of the Yoshida Doctrine is that Japan’s economic security, especially resource security, would remain secure as long as US-Japan alliance endures. Yet, the Cold War-era doctrine is increasingly becoming ill-suited to meet novel geopolitical challenges, such as China’s unrestricted warfare, in today’s hyper-connected world. Indeed, Tokyo is now discovering its crippling dependence on China, ranging from industrial bases to data governance. Moreover, China’s economic security challenges, such as economic espionage, are well beyond the traditional scope of the Yoshida Doctrine originally devised to prevent Japan from diverting away from its sea power orientation. In other words, today’s economic security challenges are no longer just about sea lanes of communication but involve delicate socio-economic relations directly affecting the very economic well-being of ordinary Japanese citizens. In short, Japan finds itself having to defend its own economic security at home and abroad for the first time in its postwar history, and Kishida’s initiative reflects this newfound geostrategic imperative.
While the new prime minister’s economic security initiative is timely, it currently lacks a coherent strategic framework comparable to the Yoshida Doctrine. Kishida’s enthusiasm for the revival of Japan’s semiconductor industry could be a boon for the country’s economic security, but his selective focus on the specific industry may end up favoring special interests rather than strategy. Such a parochial approach could once again allow tribalism to erode strategy as in the case with BBC the construction of the battleship Yamamoto on the eve of Pearl Harbor. After all, as long as the Yoshida Doctrine continues to shape Tokyo’s grand strategy, Japan’s economic security policy must soberly reflect its geostrategic posture as a semi-sea power underwritten by the US and the ways in which the country can further bolster the bilateral alliance.
Economic security is fundamental to Japan’s grand strategy. Meanwhile, the peculiarity of Japan’s economic insecurity is that the country’s domestic resource scarcity fostered a political culture dominated by tribalism. Therefore, Japan’s grand strategy is perpetually at risk of disruption by its domestic politics. Pearl Harbor was Japan’s last-ditch gamble to revamp its economic security despite the arrested grand strategy that had already gone irreversibly awry. After WWII, the Yoshida Doctrine emerged as Japan’s best solution to its economic insecurity as an a priori framework built into the country’s grand strategy as a semi-sea power allied with the US. Yet, today’s changing geopolitical environment is increasingly exposing the limits of the Cold War-era doctrine. Kishida’s economic security agenda is his answer to this new problem. The measure of success for the new Japanese prime minister’s initiative would be his ability to recognize the historical significance of the Yoshida Doctrine and provide an essential upgrade to it, without distraction by parochial interests.
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The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.