Friday News Roundup — June 17, 2022

Friday greetings from Washington where the weather can best be described as soupy. The outlook is equally hazy for Senate compromise in the wake of recent mass shootings. With the bipartisan group of Senators agreeing to the framework for a deal, there is a window for success, but the proverbial devil is in the legislative details over red-flag programs and provisions barring domestic abusers from buying firearms. Still, negotiations continue.

The hearings into the January 6th insurrection have also continued with chilling detail about the danger posed to Vice President Pence on that fateful day, as well as the pressure placed on him in the lead-up to that joint session of Congress to violate the law and the Constitution. Part of the Vice President’s legacy will be how he, under duress, upheld his oath of office.

European leaders met in Kyiv with President Zelensky, endorsing Ukraine’s bid for the European Union and promising weaponry — while Ukrainian officials continued to beg for heavy weaponry, faster and in greater quantity. At the same time, reports from Russia indicate difficulty with recruitment and mobilization of manpower. The lack of manpower, for now, does not limit Russia’s destructive power through the massed artillery now seen in the Donbas.

This week Joshua C. Huminski, the Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs reviewed Oliver Bullough’s “Butler to the World”, published this week from St. Martin’s Press. Bullough explores how the United Kingdom became an enabler to the global offshore economy, and how it came to be a destination of choice for the world’s kleptocrats.

Bullough joined CSPC on Thursday of this week to discuss his book, the UK’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and what’s needed to combat the global kleptocracy. A video of this interview will be available on CSPC’s YouTube page, soon.

CSPC Senior Fellow Sherman Katz’s oped on the slow pace of U.S. and EU measures to counter Chinese industrial subsidies was featured in The Hill’s Congress Blog on June 12. Ethan also wrote in the Diplomatic Courier how the military could be better used to augment diplomatic efforts.

In this week’s roundup, Dan laments a lack of strategy by the West. CSPC Intern Yazmine-Gizelle Ali looks at BioNTech’s plans to build a vaccine factory in Rwanda and the implications for vaccine equity and African self-reliance. Hidetoshi looks at how Japan is re-wielding its regional power, and Ethan reflects on a journey across America. We wrap with news you may have missed.

This weekend, we want to recognize, first, the Juneteenth holiday — marking in 1865 when U.S. forces announced the emancipation of slaves in Galveston, Texas — as we remember the continuing struggle to bring freedom to all Americans. We also want to extend Father’s Day greetings to all those celebrating.

A New Geostrategic Order

Dan Mahaffee

What other stock photo can you use?

If the Russian invasion of Ukraine marks the beginning of a new geostrategic era, then we better start acting like it. Certainly, we have seen an unprecedented response to Russia’s aggression. Europe is moving away from the economic ties that were once thought to bring Moscow closer to Europe. It has been remarkable leadership on both sides of the Atlantic that has kept the NATO alliance this unified — and now welcoming Finland and Sweden as new members. Still, tough questions remain: how long will this unity last as the war goes on? How fast can Europe reduce its reliance on Russian energy? Will the economic pain from this conflict bring disunity to the West before it brings Russia to its knees? The challenge in answering these questions comes from a lack of western strategic vision. How we develop such a vision, unify our public around it, and reach out to the globe are all the foundation of this 21st century competition.

While the western response to Russia is indeed of a greater scope and impact than we once thought possible, it has still been largely piecemeal. Furthermore, the West has had limited success in bringing the powers of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and Latin America together in addressing Russia’s aggression. The truly cynical among us will believe that the only reason this response against Moscow was so strong was because of the initial failure of the invasion. Had Kyiv fallen early in the war, what would the West’s response have looked like? And now, despite the rhetoric from European capitals, Washington is providing much of the aid.

What is also frustrating about this approach is that many of our adversaries also appear to have a strategy of their own. While the conflict in Ukraine has been a military failure, it does reflect a broader Russian strategy for its western borders with the EU and NATO; its so-called “near abroad”; and, as one looks at the writings and thoughts of Russian leadership, a broader strategy for global commodity markets, energy, and the future balance of military and economic power. Perhaps we are fortunate that the corruption, mismanagement, and outright cruelty of the Russian military have made it incapable of achieving its aims. Still, what is our plan for the duration of this war in Ukraine? A war that is becoming increasingly costly and will likely resemble a no-man’s land of World War One with the range and precision of modern weaponry. We are also naive to ignore China’s long-term strategy, as it has long focused on technological advancement beyond the West, the expansion of its military capabilities, co-option of elites around the world, increasingly forceful rhetoric around the reunification of Taiwan, and leaders that speak of the contrast between Beijing’s model and the democracies of the West in increasingly ideological terms.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, it does make sense for the Biden administration to rewrite the draft national strategy. However, what we have seen in the economic domains — especially in finance and energy — demonstrates that the future of this competition and the tools that we will wield are not solely military in nature. in some ways this will require a strategic rethink, and a willingness to jettison the strategic baggage that has marked the drift of the immediate post-Cold War and War on Terror decades. This will require reshaping our capabilities, the deepening of alliances, and, particularly with Europe, encouraging a greater burden sharing by our allies.

Another part of this strategy will be to heed the calls that we have heard from our friends and partners in Southeast Asia, India, Oceania, and elsewhere across the global South. While it is easy for us in the West to see this competition in ideological terms, for many around the world it is a question of which system is easiest and most reliable with which to do business. Talk of values and principles will always be inspiring and we should never betray our values, but for building partnerships around the world we have to deliver results. To achieve this, we need to wield all the tools of national power: military, intelligence, economic, diplomatic, and cultural, as well as the resources we can bring to the table with allies and partners. Finally, we must understand what an asset our private sector innovators are, as we have to demonstrate both the superiority of our economic system as well as prevail in a technological competition.

How we bring about such a strategy is the challenge for the remainder of Biden’s first term, and the foremost foreign policy challenge that the new Congress will face following the midterms. Addressing this, I remember once when I was asked while speaking on the presidency “what was the most important presidency that never happened?” After some thought to this query, I replied, “the second term of George HW Bush.” Following his loss to Bill Clinton, we never saw the same level of geostrategic thought applied to the global stage by U.S. leadership. We were distracted while Russia was retaken by its KGB thugs and China bided its time. Perhaps we can use the same type of thinking of a “new world order” to look back at the map of geostrategy — recognizing the competition we face and the tools we need.

German BioNTech builds vaccine factory in Rwanda

Yazmine-Gizelle Ali

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando) (Lisa Ferdinando)

German business BioNTech announced it would begin building an mRNA vaccination factory in Rwanda on June 23. BioNTech is well known for developing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The governments of Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa struck an agreement in 2021 with BioNTech to build start-to-finish vaccine factories in these respective countries. To date, only Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa have been capable of producing vaccines in Africa.

The Rwanda agreement is a momentous development for Africa, since it marks the first time mRNA, a key component of the COVID-19 vaccine, will be produced on the continent. The majority of these vaccinations are produced in Europe and the United States. The driving force for this factory is both vaccine equity and the need to develop an appropriate price system for African countries. Access pricing would enable consumers in Africa to purchase similar goods at much reduced prices that are within their financial means. The desired goal is that African nations would be able to develop their own network and assume a leading position in the effort to vaccinate people all over the world.

Throughout the pandemic, pharmaceutical corporations and manufacturers prioritized vaccines for high-income countries, leaving a limited quantity of vaccines for underdeveloped countries. As a result, just 20% of Africans have received at least one vaccination. World leaders set a goal of vaccinating 70% of their populations by December 2022 during the UN COVID-19 Summit. While many countries are on schedule since they already have the means to fulfill this objective, African countries have been largely unable to do so. Countries agreed to this objective, but there was no plan for how underdeveloped or impoverished nations would acquire the resources necessary to achieve it. Groups like the African Alliance have led the vaccination equity effort. The Alliance works to address the concerns of underserved and impoverished communities throughout Africa, and the Alliance recently formed a partnership with the Peoples Vaccine Alliance; a coalition that promotes vaccine equality awareness. Vaccine equity can stop this pandemic, but African nations alone cannot drive their own improvement efforts. International cooperation still is crucial.

Sadly, there is a history of Western and European institutions going into Africa to offer aid, only to leave behind incomplete projects that put the country in worse shape than before. Media portrayals of a struggling, impoverished Africa have contributed to the presumption that Africa needs whole-scale health system remedies sourced from other countries. This has led to bad development policy: too often, governments, corporations and NGOs seek changes that fail to ask the community what they need or what would be efficient enough to last. When assisting nations, corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should build on what the country has, taking into account who they are, and what they already do. This strategy helps build effective local capacity, thereby strengthening both local providers and the circumstances for individuals in need, and thus ensuring long-term and sustainable benefits to communities. It would appear that BioNTech has made what may be a significant step along the direction of good development. BioNTech proposed continuing to run the facility during the early stages of the company’s development while simultaneously educating local partners to assume control. This will help African scientists receive training, and will also create opportunities for employment in the health sciences sector. Through this approach, the African nations would have the ability to build their own ecosystem, occupy a leadership role in global vaccination efforts, and demonstrate their sovereignty through the realization of this vaccine factory.

Japan’s Historic Resurgence in the Indo-Pacific

By Hidetoshi Azuma

(Photo Credit: The Cabinet Secretariat of Japan)

Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida’s keynote speech was perhaps the most significant highlight of the 19th Shangri-la Dialogue held in Singapore last week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) after a two-year hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. His introduction of Tokyo’s new vision for the Indo-Pacific at the region’s foremost security summit symbolized Japan’s accelerating security normalization. In fact, Japan is once again resurgent as a regional leader evoking historical memories of Imperial Japan’s ascendancy in the western Pacific after WWI spanning from the South China Sea to the Marshall Islands. If history is any guide, the control of the entire western Pacific is prerequisite to extending geopolitical influence across the Indo-Pacific. In other words, the real test of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision is to be found in its implementation in the western Pacific.

Japan’s resurgence in the Indo-Pacific runs parallel to the regional rise of its pre-WWII predecessor. Imperial Japan first secured its foothold in the northwestern by incorporating the Ryukyu islands in 1879 and further thrusted southward by acquiring Formosa in 1895 after defeating the Qing dynasty China. The geostrategic significance of Formosa lies in its strategic position in the middle of the first island chain whose control would allow for the extension of influence over the second island chain and,ultimately, throughout the western Pacific. Indeed, Imperial Japan once vied for control over the Kingdom of Hawaii without controlling Formosa and yielded its budding influence over the Pacific islands to the US in 1893 after Washington’s successful coup against the local royal family. By contrast, Imperial Japan’s subsequent acquisition of Formosa enabled Tokyo to assault the Germans from the southwestern Pacific during WWI and extend its sphere of influence farther into the region by obtaining the South Seas Mandate entrusted by the League of Nations in 1922. Almost two decades later, Imperial Japan launched its attacks on American, British, and Dutch colonies and territories during WWII while simultaneously attacking Pearl Harbor. In short, the control over Formosa enabled Tokyo to momentarily dominate both the first and second island chains and even the whole western Pacific, if not the Indo-Pacific at large.

Of course, postwar Japan did not need to emulate its imperial predecessor in controlling the western Pacific thanks to its alliance with the US, but its geopolitical imperatives remained the same. Indeed, US victory in WWII consolidated the expansion of American power throughout the western Pacific, leading the country to become the uncontested regional hegemon in the Indo-Pacific as a whole after the withdrawal of the British Far Eastern Fleet in 1971. This allowed Tokyo to remain comfortably ensconced in the US-led rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific without security commitment for decades while opportunistically exploiting the fruits of its economic byproducts in the region. The alliance with the US thus removed Japan’s need for geostrategy and allowed Tokyo to essentially free ride Washington’s regional commitment indefinitely. This was the formula inherent in postwar Japan’s grand strategy known as the Yoshida Doctrine. In other words, US willingness to defend the rules-based order alone fulfilled Tokyo’s regional geopolitical imperatives once pursued by its predecessor to a catastrophic end.

Therefore, US security commitment in the region has been the center of gravity of the Yoshida Doctrine, and Kishida’s speech in Singapore underscored his growing recognition of this sober reality. Notably, Kishida unveiled the “Kishida Vision for Peace” founded on the following five pillars: 1) maintaining and strengthening the rules-based free and open international order in the Indo-Pacific; 2) enhancing regional security by expanding the scope of the US-Japan alliance and partnerships with other countries; 3) promoting denuclearization; 4) strengthening the functions of the United Nations, including UN Security Council reform; 5) strengthening international cooperation in new policy areas such as economic security. Kishida’s vision emphasized Japan’s commitment to the broader rules-based order in the region and provided an essential upgrade of the previous versions promoted by his predecessors with a marked focus on enhancing the US-Japan alliance. In other words, Kishida upgraded the Yoshida Doctrine for the new era in which US security commitment in the region increasingly became dubious.

In fact, Kishida now increasingly finds himself doubting Washington’s security commitment in the region. In fact, the emerging consensus in Tokyo has recently been that US president Joe Biden would likely withhold using force to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack on the island despite his repeated rhetoric to the contrary. This is understandable in light of Ukraine’s ongoing plight under Russia’s yoke despite Washington’s repeated rhetorical support for the troubled country. Indeed, before Biden pledged to use force to defend Taiwan in Tokyo in May, Kishida had already suggested Japan’s similar role in the event of a crisis. Kishida’s insinuation underscored Tokyo’s growing recognition of the changing geopolitical dynamics in which American power is no longer assumed. Because American power is indispensable to the Yoshida Doctrine, Kishida’s insinuation in Tokyo and his recent speech in Singapore were his attempts to remedy the growing obsolescence of postwar Japan’s grand strategy.

Kishida’s recent diplomatic maneuvers signify the return of geostrategy in Tokyo’s national security discourse. Indeed, Japan is now grappling with the possibility of Taiwan’s potential subjugation to Beijing’s sphere of influence. A Taiwan under Beijing’s imperium would undo the very foundation of the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific, let alone Japan’s own geopolitical imperative in the region. Therefore, Tokyo’s deepening obsession with Taiwan’s troubled fate is understandable. Meanwhile, another significance of Kishida’s emerging grand strategy is to be found in its growing focus on the western Pacific islands, such as Palau and the Marshall Islands, which were once parts of the Japanese South Sea Mandate a century ago and are now increasingly coming under China’s geoeconomic influence. The upshot is that Kishida’s Japan now finds itself having to demonstrate regional leadership absent Washington’s clear commitment to regional security. At stake are Japan’s geopolitical imperatives which the country can no longer rely on the US to fulfill and increasingly looks to resort to influence, if not force, to secure.

Tokyo has long been preparing to meet the consequences of Washington’s receding commitment in the Indo-Pacific and is now adjusting the Yoshida Doctrine to the emerging era. Kishida’s speech last week epitomized such an emerging trajectory and the return of geostrategy to Tokyo’s strategic calculus. As a result, Japan is once again vying for regional leadership in the Indo-Pacific which it once dominated and is now increasingly coming under China’s influence. Taiwan remains the Achilles Heel of regional security while the western Pacific islands are becoming the world’s latest frontier for geoeconomic competition. Japan is now fully back in the ring and increasingly ready to defend its regional interests. Yet, the country will soon face the price of being responsible as in 1922. The first test of Japan’s regional leadership is once again taking place in the western Pacific. The task is monumental for Kishida, but an illiberal western Pacific under Beijing’s influence would effectively seal the fate of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.

From the road across America

Ethan Brown

Ethan’s truck is far bigger

We often fail to appreciate the things that we have. More so, we take for granted the simplest of everyday things in our modern society, things like mobility, for example. That is to say, freedom of movement, to go from one place to another without fear of denial, confinement, restriction, or repression. We get the option — the right and privilege — of sitting in traffic or on the tube, to go to our jobs in which we voluntarily trade our labor for compensation without those options being dictated by a predesignated system. And the people around us during those times of transit, we are often likely to ignore, pre-suppose, or otherwise avoid further exploration even though we live in the most connected society in human history.

Obviously this roundup entry is quite unlike my usual offering; I typically gravitate towards whatever new tech, exploit, incident, or policy referendum involves the military (ours or our competitors abroad). But for the faithful readers of the roundup who weren’t aware, I am currently in the midst of a cross-country move from one corner of this great nation (Georgia) to the total opposite (the Pacific northwest). Don’t fret, my contributions to the policy work we do here at the Center will go on unimpeded and my pithy, sometimes wandering columns will persist apace. I wasn’t planning on making an entry for this week, but I’ve been struck by something compelling in the course of my journey north-westward and wanted to share in written form, something that I hope our supporters will appreciate by proxy. This column isn’t so much (read: utterly not) policy related, but having seen so many new and fascinating places that many of us don’t take the opportunity to explore or realize, I wished to expound on this topic in depth.

Here in the United States, we do not have a singular culture or national identity. In some ways, this is arguably the source of much of our struggles as a nation–partisan politics and the sensitive issue of racial discrimination are the first divisive issues that come to mind–and one of the easier vectors for adversaries and competitors to exploit in our collective mindset. Our respective sense of self is so dramatically different–unique is a better label–when you cross state and regional boundaries (abstract or notional though they may be). When you sit down at a restaurant in the south and ask for Iced tea, rest assured it will feature copious amounts of sugar for taste, and don’t ask for it unsweetened unless you want to catch some dirty looks from the service staff. Further up north, sweet and unsweetened varieties of tea are a matter of course, and the waiting staff are just as likely to confirm one’s preference as not. Across the continental divide, pickup trucks are more likely than not to feature lift-kits and off-road enhancements on account of the rural and often austere terrain, whereas the pickup trucks across the Midwest and great plains are configured for towing trailers, where a lift-kit and over-sized tires would be a prohibitive modification. These are just a handful of small characteristics observed during the long slog from one end of the country to another.

But one thing every one of those holistically different people can agree on? That the United States which we live in today is both flawed, and still the greatest place on earth to have been fortunate enough to have been born into. And some of those seemingly gratuitous, available things we don’t think about were major destination milestones in this journey I’ve been on: The Appalachian Trail, Niagara Falls, the Museums and historical sites in and around Cleveland, Ohio (like the Rock and Roll and pro football Halls of Fame, the U.S.S. Cod exhibit), Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower in Wyoming (the first American National Monument), and many others. I had to get tires replaced on my truck and stopped at a small-town shop in Northern Wyoming, where the mechanic was happy to squeeze us in despite the full schedule on account of our road trip — no talk on party politics there, just humans being kind to each other. We take for granted that we live in such a complicated, diverse, and colorful nation, awash with the vibrant history of our rise from a repressed colony to the bastion of liberty and inclusion that it (generally) is today. Further, we spend so much time considering all of the things that make us different and opposed to one another. It’s one of the great things about the work we do here at the CSPC: everything is about bridging political barriers and crafting solutions by collaboration.

If you simply spend time outside of the normal bubble of life, and enjoy the variety of this country, you start to realize that we have so much more in common with each other than one might ever think. It’s almost like politics are the source of many of our domestic problems.

In total, it will have been a 3,359-mile convoy of two vehicles, four humans and three dogs. A brief and rather shameless plug, the next time you find yourself plotting a road trip or destination event, I would encourage you to consider staying at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) instead of a hotel. Most campgrounds have cabins (meaning you don’t need to own a camper or pitch the old tent), with a variety of amenities like superior pools/hot tubs, playgrounds abundant, activities for the entire family, and Wi-Fi that was (usually) reliable. Turns out you have to actually interact with other people at these things too, unlike when most of us are tooling through our hotels, plugging in headphones in the elevator, and generally ignoring the people around us as we busy ourselves with whatever the immediate needs of the moment are.

So that’s the bulk of my entry for this week, not a strategy thesis or critique of some new defense apparatus, but a wholesome re-discovering of the spectacular place most of us call home. The United States is, and remains, the best place on earth to live. It is a land of opportunity, although we have to do a better job of quelling discrimination when we see it. It is a place where we live in peace and without fear of oppression, even though some elements of our society fear the incorporation of different thoughts and beliefs. It’s a place that those of us fortunate enough to live in should spend more time exploring, investigating, and experiencing rather than clicking about from the black mirrors glued to our palms.

And most importantly, it’s a place that is full of incredible people who aren’t that different from you or I, and perhaps if we spent a little more time focusing on the things that make us similar yet unique, rather than different and ‘the other side’, we’d move forward to a better tomorrow.

News You May Have Missed

Dangerous heat, humidity kill at least 2,000 head of Kansas cattle

With unseasonal and dangerously high heat and humidity baking the midwest, state officials in Kansas reported that at least 2,000 head of cattle had died of heat illness in feedlots. High overnight temperatures and the lack of wind contributed to the heat stress in the herds. The worst-affected are cattle nearing slaughter, as they have the most fat and muscle. This also has the most impact on farmers, as these cattle have the most investment in time, feed, medicine, etc. Combined with other disruptions to the food supply, including from the war in Ukraine, it reflects stress for consumers and the growing impact of climate change on America’s heartland.

Dutch intelligence intercept Russian spy infiltrating war crimes court

The Netherland’s General Intelligence & Security Service (AIVD) announced that it had intercepted and deported Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, a Russian spy. In a scheme dating back years, Cherkasov had developed the identity of Viktor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian national seeking an internship at The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC). AIVD chief Erik Akerboom told reporters, “this was a long-term, multi-year GRU operation that cost a lot of time, energy and money.”

The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.

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