Friday News Roundup — October 1, 2021

Fumio Kishida & Opportunities for the U.S.-Japan Alliance; Gen. Milley and the Post-Facto Politicization of Command; U.S.-EU Trade & Tech Council

The calendar has turned to October, and despite the sunny fall weather in Washington, the headlines would suggest storm clouds over the Capitol. One deadline has been resolved, or at least pushed to December, as the deal to keep the government open via continuing resolution moved through Congress. In the Democratic caucus, last night’s scheduled vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package has been delayed as negotiations continue between leadership, key moderates, and key progressives. While the self-imposed deadline of yesterday’s vote has passed, Democrats of all stripes see the need for political and legislative momentum for, first, the increasingly close Virginia gubernatorial race and then the major challenge of the 2022 midterms.

As for a more near-term and serious deadline, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated that the debt ceiling would be hit on October 18th, or perhaps a few days thereafter, a new deadline has emerged as Republicans dig in and Democrats look at various approaches. While hoping that pressure from markets and business leaders might swing some GOP lawmakers, other discussions look at the precedent set in 2011, where a deal allowed for President Obama to raise the debt limit under presidential authority, and Congress could register resolutions of disapproval — which the president can, in turn, veto.

This week Joshua took a look at peace-building initiatives from the bottom up in his Diplomatic Courier review of Séverine Autesserre’s “The Frontlines of Peace”. On our YouTube page, the latest events are available, including our discussion with former CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulous.

In this week’s roundup, our Senior Fellow Hidetoshi Azuma joins with Dan to look at how the election of Fumio Kishida as the new leader of Japan’s LDP bodes well for deepening the U.S.-Japan alliance. Ethan weighs in on the continuing controversy surrounding Gen. Milley following the 2020 tell-all books and testimony before Congress. Our new intern Brian Byrne reports on the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council’s first meeting in Pittsburgh. Please welcome Brian and fellow intern Stella Delgado, both from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Their writing and analysis contributions will grace these pages over the fall semester. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.

A Leadership Transition in Tokyo Bodes Well for Deeper U.S.-Japan Ties

Hidetoshi Azuma & Dan Mahaffee

On September 29, the leadership election for Japan’s ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), took place, with Representative Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister and Lower House lawmaker from Hiroshima, prevailing in the contest. Having won the party leadership contest, Kishida will now lead the LDP into the autumn general election. As the LDP has been in power since 1955, except for periods in 1993–1994 and 2009–2012, Kishida is presumed to be the next Prime Minister of Japan, and the ruling party is poised to win the supermajority in the upcoming general election on his watch. The emerging Kishida administration would be in a robust position to help steer deepening U.S.-Japan ties, greater cooperation on Geotech and economic security, and the next steps in Japan’s changing role in the Indo-Pacific.

Kishida is slated to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on October 4 after the Diet votes to nominate the next Japanese premier. Suga — who went ahead with the Tokyo Olympic Games, despite deep public opposition — had faced historical unpopularity among the Japanese public before announcing that he would step down. Suga had also continued to deepen ties and cooperation with the United States and the other Quad partners of Australia and India, but economic cooperation continued with Beijing. Suga signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement with China, South Korea, and the ASEAN countries in November 2020 while the Diet ratified the regional trade deal in April 2021. Some saw this as a Beijing-led trade bloc, and how Japan can serve as a balancing counterweight remains to be seen.

How Kishida came to win the top post also reflects this tension between factions in the LDP that lean toward Beijing versus those toward Washington. The greater focus on both traditional national security — Japan’s rearmament in the face of growing Chinese belligerence — and relatively novel economic security has strengthened those arguing for deepening the U.S.-Japan alliance. Still, economic ties with China serve as a powerful temptation for many — as well as the outright influence and largesse that Beijing is willing to throw to its knowing and unknowing allies.

Senior kingmakers in the party — including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso — put their significant influence and mobilization power behind Kishida, while more Beijing-aligned forces within the party led by the former LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai had sought to promote Taro Kono, who had been running on a more populist platform as well as his current role in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout.

Still, that Japan’s vaccine rollout is ongoing reflects the many challenges that Kishida inherits as he takes the reigns from Suga. The pandemic and its impact on the Japanese and regional economies continues. The disruption to regional supply chains because of the delta variant weighs on major companies; concerns about the virus keep consumers at home; and both industry and consumers are feeling the pinch from rising energy prices.

As Japan and the United States look to deepen their ties, there are avenues for further cooperation in both the traditional fields of national security as well as the growing emphasis on economic security and Geotech. U.S.-Japan cooperation in naval operations, air patrols, missile defense, and intelligence cooperation would send a powerful signal to Beijing. So too would possible Japanese participation in a possible expansion of AUKUS or perhaps the deepening of a defense cooperation component to the Quad. These multilateral security developments would be Beijing’s worst fears, but they also would require changes to Japan’s pacifist constitution to become a reality. The political headwinds facing those changes makes it unlikely that Kishida could bring about such constitutional reforms, which require a two-thirds majority in the Diet followed by a national referendum. Furthermore, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may see a pathway to return to power — and constitutional reform has been one of his lifetime goals.

At the same time, the traditional economic avenues of trade agreements, especially multilateral agreements, have been deprived of U.S. leadership. The U.S.-Japan trade agreement during the Trump administration is one success, but the U.S. remains absent from the follow-on to the Transpacific Partnership, and China continues to push its economic influence alongside its muscular military expansion and wolf warrior diplomacy. Despite this, politics in Washington make movement on any major trade deal unlikely.

Thus, the relatively novel domains of U.S.-Japan economic security and Geotech cooperation remain the most promising. Both have paid greater attention to critical technologies, strategic supply chains, and the competition to set technology standards. Transpacific cooperation on Geotech can be better coordinated with the nascent transatlantic cooperation described in the following article on the U.S.-EU summit in Pittsburgh. Tokyo could serve as a fulcrum between Washington and Brussels. A future Prime Minister Kishida would also likely be overseeing Japan’s participation in a summit of democracies and the deepening of both Quad and G7 cooperation on economic security and Geotech. A growing pro-Washington, economic security and Geotech-focused caucus in the Diet could serve as a promising conduit for interparliamentary dialogue with the American Congress, especially as competition with China and addressing economic security and Geotech challenges remains a continued area of bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill.

Ultimately, both Tokyo and Washington face similar challenges. In the U.S. Congress, sweeping proposals to address competition with China remain gridlocked behind the ongoing, highly partisan confrontations over the debt limit and Biden agenda. Domestic dysfunction inhibits the American response to China’s challenge. Japan’s challenges come from its own pacifist constitution, Chinese influence, and demographic challenges. Kishida’s inbox will be full of many challenges, but his seizing the emerging opportunity to deepen the essential U.S.-Japan alliance will be the touchstone of Japan’s global leadership in the new decade.

Hidetoshi Azuma is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress (CSPC) where he supports US-Japan legislative dialogue in Washington and Tokyo.

What will retroactively politicizing the military achieve?

Ethan Brown

I’m currently working my way through Robert Costas and Bob Woodward’s book “Peril” via Audible right now. If you haven’t read it, the piece generally picks up where the second book in the trilogy, “Rage”, left off…the rising COVID pandemic crises, a tumultuous federal government operation, and general torrential milieu that inevitably branded the Trump administration.

At the opening sequence of the book, the authors key in on General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who recently has been fixed as the center point for rhetoric and partisan haranguing this week. I’ll be fully transparent here, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Woodward/Costas collaboration to date, but this third installment, and in particular, the opening salvo regarding the Chairman, smacks of sensationalism, the likes of which General Milley has been working relentlessly to curb and contract since the rhetoric began a few weeks ago. That sensational first reading recalls a conversation between a seemingly manic Speaker Nancy Pelosi (who at no point seems anything but stolid, collected and calculating) grilling the Chairman about nuclear weapon launch processes and authorities. The reading goes on to make General Milley appear to be the unflappable shadow governor, wielding the power of self-determined providence to diffuse a nuclear holocaust.

On Tuesday, Gen. Milley testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, primarily on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and then on the widely reported account of his activities in the months following last year’s election through the transition to the Biden administration. Chief among those activities was his outreach to his Chinese counterpart, General Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army, to diffuse tensions and concerns of the U.S. first strike with nuclear weapons. I watched the Senate hearing on CSPAN via twitter live stream, and what I saw there echoes one issue I have decried since my policy wonk career began: politicizing the military. Far too many live tweets lambasted the Chairman and laid the blame for U.S. service member deaths at the feet of the Chairman. What most fail to realize or understand is the crushing weight that a service member of higher ranks must carry, sworn to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, especially when faced with the known chaos of the previous administration and increasingly complex global environment.

“Countless of us suffer the invisible wounds of war” he told the Senate committee as he opened his statements regarding the withdrawal from Afghanistan. General Milley served this nation for 42 years and serves at the Chairman at the pleasure of the President, after executive nomination and approval by the Senate in that four-year term. The Chairman’s role is to advise the President on all military matters. That member does not possess a role in any military chain of command. This is done deliberately to enable the Chairman to make recommendations to the President in an objective manner, further enabling the combatant commanders and service chiefs to operate unilaterally and cohesively, at their discretion, executing the policy and strategies defined by our elected leaders.

While there is extensive reporting amidst the surprising revelations from the “Peril” book related to General Milley’s actions, those leading up to the transition of American presidential power, it must be stated that we do not know the full dynamic at play. After four years of chaotic and transactional performance, we may never fully understand the full depth of discord, although the lack of cohesion remains one reliable constant. One other constant has shown through — General Milley’s stolid deference to the constitution as his guidepost for how to conduct his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

At the end of the day, Gen. Milley did precisely what the senior-ranking member of the U.S. armed forces is supposed to do: advise the President of the United States on military matters, ensure that processes were adhered to as defined by regulation, oversight mandates, and legal precedent, and throughout the ordeal of his service under the Trump administration — held the constitution of the United States as the supreme mandate of his decisions related to military activities.

Where we fail as a nation, where we undermine the legitimacy of the defense department — symbolized by that sacred relationship between civilian control of the military and the very institution of Americans who serve in uniform, is by attempting to codify every single action as fitting into a partisan mold. Perception and its molding of public opinion is what brings us to yet another episode of politicizing the U.S. military. The actions of General Milley adhere to the defined role of the Chairman. He held aloft the constitution, the regulations and mandates established by congressional and DoD guidance, as his guiding principle in those months of potential crisis. Did General Milley make mistakes? Certainly, humans tend to do that. His accompanying the President across Lafayette square in June 2020 is certainly one of those missteps in his role as the Chairman, a mistake he accounted for publicly to his own professional peril.

We, the people of the United States, enjoy the right and privilege to inquire and question the actions of our leaders. It is important for our elected leaders to inquire as to the legitimate activities undertaken by the Chairman to communicate, deescalate, and mitigate tensions or potential outbreak of hostilities between other powerful nations when the need may arise. However, despite a long career of expert reporting and extensive journalistic prowess, “Peril’s” hype connected to Gen. Milley’s actions, that portrays the chairman as a lone agent shadow governor circumventing the chain of command, serve as politicizing sensationalism.

A copied transcript of the Chairman’s remarks to the Senate committee are below, which I transcribed with some audio lapses:

I know there are issues in the media of concern that I would like to comment on. I have served this nation for 42 years. I have buried many troops in that time. My loyalty to this nation, to its people, to the constitution, will never change so long as I have breath to give. My loyalty is absolute. With respect to the Chinese calls, I routinely communicated with my counterpart Gen. Li, with the knowledge and coordination of civilian oversight. I am specifically directed to communicate with the Chinese with DoD guidance.

These military-to-military communications at the highest level are critical to the security of the United States, in order to deconflict military actions, manage crisis, and prevent war between great powers that are armed with the world’s deadliest weapons. The calls were done in coordination before, and after, with the awareness and guidance by Secretary Mark Esper and then acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. I know, I am certain, that President Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese. My message was consistent, stay calm, stay steady, and deescalate. Speaker Pelosi inquired about the President’s nuclear launch ability, and I assured her that there are procedures to control the launch of nuclear weapons. The President has the sole authority to employ nuclear weapons, but there are procedures in place to control the launch of those weapons. But I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the President.

By Defense department guidelines and by law, I am not in the chain of command. However, by those directives, I am involved in the communications chain as the President’s military advisor. At no time was I attempting to change the process, usurp authority, or influence the chain of command. But I am required to advise the President on military matters. My oath is to support the constitution of the United States. And I will never turn my back on that oath. I believe in the civilian control of the military.

Attempts by lawmakers, including House Speaker Pelosi’s call to the General asking him to make a determination on the President’s efficacy and suitability to employ his sole authority for use of nuclear weapons, is politicization. Placing the blame for a decades-long debacle of strategy in Afghanistan and calling for his resignation as the scapegoat, is politicizing the military. Senator Tom Cottons inquiry during this week’s testimony, when he asked Gen. Milley why he did not resign in response to President Biden’s response to the Chairman’s military recommendations, is politicization. Creating a perception of crises, or exacerbating a potential crises, as occurred in “Peril’s” opening pages, is retroactively politicizing the military.

One of my first Roundup columns from November 2019, when I was still active duty and fortunate to have participated in a Military Fellowship here at the Center, featured analysis where I decried the perception of U.S. service members as mindless automatons, unquestioningly subservient to orders. I did not expect to circle back to that early piece by talking about how the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs could be politicized, but here we are. General Milley did what he asserts was his understanding of his role as the Chairman. Undermining his commitment to the constitution and not the president — retroactively no less — is not a path towards rebuilding faith in our institutions. It’s politicization.

First Meeting of U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council

Brian Byrne

September 29 marked the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) in Pittsburgh. Established in a joint statement at the U.S.-EU Summit in Brussels in June 2021, the TTC is an effort to forge common ground in a number of areas important to transatlantic technology trade. These include semiconductor supply chains, future standards governing artificial intelligence, trade enforcement, investment screening, and cyber security — all of which are important to economic security of the United States and EU member states. The subtext is, of course, competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Beijing seeks to dominate the global technology supply as well as set the technological standards that will govern the future of the digital economy. It has pursued these goals through a number of means including subsidizing domestic industry (e.g. Huawei and ZTE), theft of intellectual property, assertive engagement with international standards-setting bodies, and coercive economic diplomacy. The premise of the TTC is that by remaining united on this front, the world’s two largest digital trade partners can preserve and advance standards and rules rooted in free-market, democratic principles.

Both sides sent high-level delegations to the meeting, which signalled the political importance of the event. The U.S. delegation was co-led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. The European Commission was represented by Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis. The meeting was an opportunity to present a message of transatlantic unity in the face of recent challenges to the U.S.-EU relationship. The Trump administration largely shunned constructive dialogue with European partners and abandoned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, which had included negotiations on rules for digital trade. More recently, the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal has strained relations with France to the point where French leaders pressured EU officials to withdraw from the TTC. The TTC marks an intention to move past these tensions and step forward with solidarity in the face of common challenges.

One criticism of the TTC has been its deliberate omission of two major areas of contention. The first is how to ensure fair competition in a digital economy where a handful of online platforms dominate. EU authorities have been particularly aggressive in going after the U.S. “digital giants” for alleged violations of EU competition law. For this arena, there will be a separate U.S.-EU Joint Technology Competition Policy Dialogue. The second area of friction not handled by the TTC is the impasse over transatlantic data transfers that have affected U.S.-Europe business relations for almost a decade. The EU considers America’s data protection rules to be inadequate. In 2016, the U.S. Commerce Department and the European Commission enacted the Privacy Shield Framework, which allowed companies to transfer customer data from the EU to the United States under certain conditions. In 2020, however, the EU Court of Justice ruled against the agreement, thus invalidating it and creating uncertainty around the legality of such data flows. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a Washington-based industry group, released a statement on the TTC saying that securing data flows must be a top transatlantic priority: “Without clarity for ongoing data transfers, the TTC will lack a solid foundation and risks being hobbled before the real work on the broader agenda can begin.”

In avoiding these pressing matters (competition and data flows), it is likely that U.S. and EU leadership sought to avoid uncommon ground and stick to unifying issues that drive a message of consensus. It is clear, however, that the partners must eventually establish an effective data transfer policy — and perhaps extend it to include other like-minded countries such as Japan and South Korea — if they are to truly pose a united front against China.

The TTC meeting established 10 working groups tasked with continuing the dialogue until TTC’s next meeting, scheduled for the spring of 2022. It remains to be seen how much progress can be made by these working groups, and whether the United States and Europe can overcome political differences to tackle data flows and competition policy too on a parallel track. Executive VP of the Internet and Technology Industry Council Rob Strayer said:

We welcome the TTC’s commitment to growing bilateral trade and investment while strengthening global cooperation on areas including digital policy, data flows, international standards, and supply chains… Further, given that data flows underpin the transatlantic trade and tech relationship, we believe that advancing a successor agreement to the Privacy Shield as soon as possible will bolster the TTC’s ongoing work and lay the foundation for future success.

The stakes are certainly high for the competitiveness and economic security of the United States and our European partners, as well as the prospect for advancing free markets and democracy in third countries. We hope the experts get to work like our (intertwined) economic futures depend on it.

News You May Have Missed

U.S. Postal Service Changes Take Effect on October 1, Slowing Mail Delivery

As part of the range of cost-saving measures rolled out by controversial Postmaster General Louis DeJoy first-class mail will now operate on a five-day standard for nationwide delivery, up from the three-day standard previously used. Experts estimate that this would slow up to 40% of the nation’s mail, returning to delivery speeds seen in the 1970s. Those in favor of the changes say that it is one of the measures needed to address the USPS’s financial footing.

Ethiopia Expels UN Officials as Concerns Mount over Tigray

United Nations officials reacted with shock as the Ethiopian government declared senior in-country UN officials persona non grata and demanded their departure in 72 hours. The move followed comments by UN officials expressing concern about the humanitarian situation in Tigray, with the officials accusing the Ethiopian government of a blockage on the war-torn region.

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