Friday News Roundup — September 2, 2022
Shifting Foundations of China Assumptions; Ukraine’s Kherson Counteroffensive; Foreign Military Sales Backlogs; Student Loan Forgiveness and Inflation; EU Russian Visa Ban Debate; Japan’s Unfinished War with Russia
Welcome to this week’s Friday News Roundup. Last night, President Joe Biden delivered a 24-minute speech to warn against extremist messaging of his predecessor Donald Trump as well as “MAGA Republicans” as threats to the functioning of American democracy. Speaking at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, Biden’s speech was intended to set the stage for the midterm election season, which traditionally kicks off in earnest after Labor Day. Leading Republican leaders such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sharply condemned the speech’s message as insulting to Republican voters, demanding in a speech which preceded Biden’s that the President apologize for “slandering” Republicans as “fascists.”
While Republican leaders were quick to condemn the speech, a full spectrum of responses from American political factions and voters is likely. While Trump aligned “MAGA Republicans” have already begun to make their protests known. An important x-factor remains the reaction anti-Trump or otherwise moderate Republican voters (who Biden described as still being a majority of Republicans, despite Trump’s guiding hold over the party). By striking a message already embraced by certain leading anti-Trump Republican figures such as Liz Cheney, Biden is attempting to appeal to moderate Republicans who are uneasy with Trump’s future hold over the party. Biden and Democrats hope to frame November’s midterm elections as a defining vote to reject the anti-system tendencies of certain elements of the Republican party, but it is yet to be seen if this can be maintained as Republicans attempt to zero in on Biden’s record as President. Former President Donald Trump, whose legal troubles related to his possession of classified materials are presenting an increasingly difficult problem, would have an incentive to avoid being in the limelight for too long, despite Democrats’ best efforts. Instead the former president has called to be restored to office and proposed pardons to the January 6th rioters.
According to runoff results announced on Wednesday of August 16’s special election to fill the vacant seat of the late Alaska Representative Don Young, Democrat Mary Peltola has been named the winner of the election, the state’s first use of ranked-choice voting, defeating former Alaska Governor and U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Peltola, who will fill Young’s seat for the remainder of Young’s term, will be the first Democrat to represent Alaska since 1972 and the first woman to ever represent the state. Peltola’s victory bucked many expectations that the deep-red state would elect a Republican once again.
As a former Judge and Alaska House representative, Peltola’s victory was enabled by her receipt of a plurality in the first round of the vote and the fact that 29% of votes which went to Republican candidate Nick Begich III were reallocated to Peltola in the second round, and helped her to surmount the 50% of Begich votes which were allocated to Palin. Interestingly, 21% of Begich votes had no second choice, which further helped Peltola eke out a 51% to 49% win. November’s midterm elections will hold many additional ranked-choice votes, with a variety of votes in Alaska and Maine (both early adopters of ranked-choice voting on a statewide level) to be joined by many municipalities scattered around the country in utilizing the ranked choice system.
Tuesday marked the death of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose economic and political reforms under the slogans of perestroika and glasnost’ would ultimately prove fatal to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was the final man to hold supreme power in the Soviet Union, and as a result, his varied legacy is hotly contested, with Americans generally crediting him with playing a major role in the end of the Soviet Union, while many Russian negatively remember his role in precipitating the collapse of the Soviet Union, which unleashed a period of profound disruption. Despite Gorbachev’s efforts to liberalize and democratize the Soviet Union’s political system, he would ultimately be forced to live through a gradual return of many of the authoritarian tendencies that plagued the late Soviet political system. As the freezing effect of Putin’s leadership on the Russian political system became apparent, Gorbachev increasingly spoke in opposition to growing authoritarianism in Russia.
This week Joshua C. Huminski, the Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs reviewed “Radical War” by Matthew Ford and Andrew Hoskins. The authors’ premise is that the world has changed due to digitalization and the information era, but the concept of war remains irrevocably stuck in the Napoleonic-era. A fascinating premise and thought-provoking argument, “Radical War” doesn’t quite answer the exam question, but is nonetheless an invaluable contribution to the discussion.
Huminski also reviewed Joseph Chapa’s “Is Remote Warfare Moral?” for George Mason University’s National Security Institute. Chapa successfully grounds the concepts of remote warfare, exploring how the Predator and Reaper platforms have challenged our understanding of the ethics surrounding warfare. This grounding shows that the questions about remote warfare are more about the nature of war than the character of war by unmanned system.
On September 8 from 2–3 PM EST, tune in for a conversation between CSPC President and CEO Glenn Nye and Institute for Political Innovation founder Katherine Gehl. Nye and Gehl will discuss Gehl’s Final-Five Voting (FFV) Initiative as a possible solution to intense political partisanship which paralyzes and defines American politics today. FFV-style voting has already been pioneered in Alaska’s special congressional election, and is also under consideration by several other states.
In this week’s roundup, Dan Mahaffee analyzes disruptions to the foundations of the U.S. relationship with China, Wes Culp and Ethan Brown discuss Ukraine’s reported counteroffensive towards Kherson, Ethan delves into the backlog in Foreign Military Sales, Robert Gerber analyzes possible second-order economic effects of President Biden’s college loan forgiveness plan, Veera Parko considers Europe’s debate over granting EU visas to Russians, and Hidetoshi Azuma talks about reconsidering 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration and Russia’s control over the southern Kuril Islands.
The Shifting Sands beneath our China Assumptions
The second half of the summer has been a remarkable time in U.S.-China relations, with Speaker Pelosi’s visit (and subsequent CODELs to Taiwan) marking a more acute phase in a longer shift between Washington and Beijing. This comes too as Xi Jinping consolidates power ahead of the October party congress, facing China’s own headwinds. Taken together, we see the shift in the underpinnings of the assumptions that have undergirded relations with China, and the questions about our future strategy and approach to China remain. Understanding how the foundations of the U.S.-China relationship are changing will be key to shaping our policies — but first we must also agree on the nature of the relationship with China we seek.
First, the gradual shift in our approach to Taiwan — whether we admit it or not — as well as China’s militant response to the Speaker’s visit have shown the world that the current circumstances regarding Taiwan are growing increasingly untenable, all while the world’s economic dependence on Taiwan has grown. What had once been assumptions about gradual reunification under a “one country, two systems” arrangement à la Hong Kong were shattered by Xi’s crackdown on the city statelet. Additional assumptions about whether Taiwan would defend itself are being reevaluated in light of Ukraine’s resistance — though even as we change our technological and doctrinal assumptions we have to remind ourselves of very different factors of geography, access, and support.
Robert Daly of the Wilson Center used an apt comparison in describing the challenge now faced:
Several years after his wife died, I had lunch with a friend in a crab shack in Annapolis and noticed that he no longer wore his wedding band. When I asked why, he said “If I wear the band, it sends a signal to society that I don’t quite intend, and if I take it off, that sends a different signal, which I also don’t intend, but my only options are to wear or not wear the ring.”…That’s the problem with enforced binary symbols: no nuance, no evolution, no explanations allowed…The United States and China are now struggling with the results of the most successfully navigated binary in our diplomatic history. Both sides were set on rapprochement when they wrote the Shanghai Communique in 1972. All they needed was a plausible rationalization for the Opening. China had forced a binary choice — against our inclinations, we must go with either Beijing or Taipei — and we accepted it, swallowing the inherent contradictions and lurking dishonesty in order to counter the Soviet Union. To borrow a famous phrase from the USSR: China pretended that we embraced the One China Principle and we pretended to respect the pretense, sort of. This kept the peace and enabled the prosperity of Taiwan and China for almost 50 years…It was an extraordinary record, but it couldn’t last.
There are many other pretenses and assumptions that are showing their age this summer. The world’s assumptions about China as a reliable supply chain come into question, especially as we find ourselves ever more dependent on China. Each time a Chinese city goes into lockdown, we hear the companies that will be affected as their Chinese suppliers are disrupted. Geopolitical tensions and zero-COVID policies have been acute factors more recently, but there has also been China’s long shift away from an export-led economy. Xi and his economic planners openly discuss moving away from this model to a more high-tech, domestic consumption-led economy — with crackdowns on private capital and independent entrepreneurs. They will likely reiterate this at the October congress. At the same time, this push for domestic-led growth comes as Chinese households look at a dire economic landscape. Zero-COVID and the collapse of the real estate bubble have many households worried about their future livelihood — breaking another domestic assumption, that the Chinese people could enjoy continued economic growth under the CCP, as long as they were quiet about their political demands.
All of this has the world rethinking their approach to China, and how they might hedge, even if they are not happy that steps by Washington and American politicians seem to accelerate a decoupling between China and the west. There, it is important for U.S. leaders to emphasize that in many ways we are responding to China’s course change. The UN-backed report on the torture of Uighurs is just the example of the kind of international opprobrium that is increasingly focused on China. News that Apple, most prominently, looks to build products in Vietnam is an example of a quieter economic shift. While the marketplace will find ways to adapt, what policymakers can focus on — building on recent successes like the CHIPS Act — is the competitiveness of the United States and the strengths coming from working with key allies and partners.
How we work with China is the question of the 21st century. We cannot put the China genie back in the bottle, and a predetermined path toward conflict serves neither side. That does not mean that we forsake the necessary reforms and investments needed for real military deterrence and support for Taiwan, but we also need to reiterate the vision for a China that we can work with. The old concept of the “responsible stakeholder” may be buried six feet deep now, but our policies should reflect both carrots and sticks, especially as the party weighs the consequences of Xi’s policies. It’s one thing when he’s on a glidepath to a third term, its another when has consolidated power. Nothing in this should weaken Xi overnight, but demonstrate that China’s current path is far off course from that which brought about its remarkable success of the past three decades.
Ukraine’s Kherson Counteroffensive Kicks Off — Where Will it Go?
Wesley Culp and Ethan Brown
While the frontlines around the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson have remained largely static since spring, the start of what some have described as a Ukrainian counterattack has grabbed the attention of local and international observers alike. Although a Ukrainian counteroffensive towards the Russian-occupied city — which stands as the largest city seized by Russia during its 2022 invasion — has been promised for weeks by Ukrainian political and military leaders(if not months), the announced start of this week’s operations on August 29 coupled with unconfirmed reports of local Ukrainian advances has given credence to assertions that Ukrainian forces may have entered the opening stages of a true counteroffensive.
Military offensives are simple, though not easily executed endeavors. Sun-Tzu always astutely advised outnumbering the opponent and attacking in strength where the adversary is weak, but in Ukraine, the former tenet hasn’t been an option from the onset of Russian aggression. Rather, Ukrainian forces have been forced to carefully plan their shots, exploit asymmetric tactics against high-payoff targets, and avoid the attrition game against the superior numbers — albeit unmotivated and poorly led — of Russian forces.
The offensive to retake Kherson has all the makings of a brilliant tactical maneuver and builds on a few basic principles of warfare. Those key pillars include economy of effort — putting your forces in an arranged advantage; mass — consolidating firepower and personnel at the decisive place and time to overwhelm the defense; maneuver — achieving superior mobility and limiting adversary reaction; and objective — a clear outcome for which to assemble one’s capabilities.
Clausewitz famously asserted that if you seek to redoubt your forces behind fortifications, then you compel your adversary to seek a solution elsewhere. Russia has backed itself into a poorly fortified corner near the Black Sea, where Ukraine’s counteroffensive has checked every principle of warfare box so far: objective (retake the port districts), economy of force (degrade Russian logistics and mobility through precise artillery strikes), maneuver (by destroying key bridges north of Kherson, Russians are rooted in place and unable to mutually support) and mass (consolidate forces to overwhelm what remains around Kherson).
Early reports of this week’s Ukrainian offensive — which are unconfirmed much like Russian disparaging of the counter offensives success — allege that Ukrainian forces have seized key urban sites near Kherson, Beryslav, and Kakhovka districts, critical in the envelopment of whatever Russian forces remain in Kherson city proper. And perhaps more figuratively significant, those new front lines would put Ukraine’s forces right on the banks of the Dnieper river equally a major loss of functional terrain once held by Russia.
However, it is difficult to build a conclusive picture of Ukraine’s apparent thrust near Kherson because of information controls which Kyiv has sought surround the operation with. While the head of Kherson’s regional council noted Ukrainian operational successes in the previously mentioned districts, he also declined to discuss the specifics of Ukraine’s operational successes near Kherson, and instead asked for support for Ukraine’s forces as they conduct their operations in the environs of Kherson. Nataliya Gumenyuk, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s Operational Command South insisted that “every military operation requires silence” and asked for patience as part of her August 29 announcement that the offensive had begun.
Ukrainian officials have attempted to temper expectations for the future course of the operation. In a message posted to his Telegram channel, Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych characterized this week’s counteroffensive towards Kherson as a “slow operation to grind the enemy,” and cautioned that a lightning recapture of Kherson was unlikely. U.S. officials themselves described Ukraine’s military actions near Kherson as “shaping” operations designed to prepare the battlefield for a coming offensive.
Despite Ukraine’s preference for a media blackout on the operation (as promoted by officials such as Gumenyuk), Russia has sought to downplay reports that anything particularly out of the ordinary is happening in the Kherson sector of its invasion. Despite the fact that some Russian non-state media sources have acknowledged Western reports that Ukraine has begun to shape the battlefield for a significant future counteroffensive, Russian state media outlets such as RIA Novosti, TASS, and Rossiyskaya Gazeta have largely remained mute on the status of fighting in the environs of Kherson as of Thursday.
In addition to its downplaying or plain ignorance of Ukraine’s breakthroughs near Kherson, Russian state media sources have also claimed successes elsewhere in Ukraine, such as around the settlement of Kodema in Donbas. In contrast to state media, Russian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Igor Konashenkov indirectly denied reports of Ukrainian advances by claiming that Russia had broadly pushed back and inflicted heavy losses on attacking Ukrainian troops around to the north and west of Kherson in his August 31 briefing. Such claims were additionally boosted by a selection of pro-Kremlin Telegram channels.
While the future course of Ukraine’s offensive operations to the north and west of Kherson is yet to be decided, it is clear that Ukraine’s forces do not intend to let Russia’s invasion force settle in to a stalemate or long occupation in the near and medium term future.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul in Foreign Military Sales
All efforts to effect the Ukraine crisis and push back Russia aggression have begun to impact other critically important national defense initiatives, most notably, the continued export of munitions and military technology to partners not named Ukraine. The loser in this seemingly zero-sum affair has been Indo-Pacific security partners with whom the United States has a much more long-term interest, notably Japan, Australia, and perhaps most-critically: Taiwan.
It was reported in Defense News this week that the backlog of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Taiwan has only grown more stark since U.S. military aid to Ukraine became a seemingly bottomless pit. Unfortunately, this is not a new development, for as of this past April, there was a recorded backlog of $14.2 billion to Taiwan as the surge of resources being diverted to Eastern Europe was only just ramping up. Included in the systems that Taipei has been waiting for — in some cases by as many as three to four years — are the HIMARS artillery systems (the alleged difference-maker in this war of attrition in Ukraine), Paladin Howitzers, reconnaissance and information sharing telecommunications systems, an a comprehensive package of ground- and air-launched anti-radar Harpoon and SLAM-ER missiles. While some of those components have indeed been borrowed from the Taiwan shelf (our operative Peter euphemism) and re-designated as critical aid for Ukraine (Paul), many of those FMS components were specifically requested and confirmed as a once-top priority export for Taipei. This backlog not only includes the more recent Ukraine aside, but much of the blame is due to the infernal supply-chain impact of COVID.
All told, Taiwan is currently at a $17 billion tally with approved FMS equipment with the United States government, most of which has already been vetted by the State Department yet an untold amount of the delays are owed to congressional review…a curious holdup when support for Taiwan seems to be a consistently bipartisan issue on the chambers of the upper and lower congressional haunts.
Timing is of course, everything when it comes to major geopolitical and strategic initiatives. But timing shouldn’t always outweigh the price tag, and this phenomena echoes the short-sightedness of U.S. policy and strategy planning. It’s a simple comparison, the Taiwan equipment obligation, as mentioned, totals $17 billion transacted as of this writing, which is more than double the $7 billion suddenly and haphazardly scraped together in 15 separate aid packages over the last six months in Ukraine; actually, the Ukraine total has bumped up to roughly $10 billion as of a new aid package announced last week, but the point stands on investments with Taiwan versus Ukraine. And the Eastern European crisis, while compelling and valuable for its significance in NATO strategy, is a short-term affair, at least when compared to the long-term strategic risks compounding by failure to provide Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific partners with deterrence capabilities.
Other Indo-PACOM partners are getting into the FMS game at a much higher clip as well, and if Taiwan has demonstrated a trend for exporting that technology, it’s a problem. The State Department recently announced the formal decision and confirmation to send $2 billion worth of U.S.-made UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters to Australia which will replace its aging fleet of MRH-90 TAIPAN rotary wing platforms. Also on the works and at risk of backlogging — more than $300 million JASSM and HARM anti-radiation (radar seeking) missiles to expand the Australian defense capability to counter Chinese maritime threats.
So what is the underlying issue besides the short-term crisis in Ukraine? Much of it boils down to simple bureaucratic process: while the State Department initiates the process for foreign states to acquire U.S. military technology, and the back-end of commercial production is always a factor, the in-between — congressional vetting and approval to process/release contracts to vendors — is where all of the minutiae slows everything down.
As simply as possible, FMS is a process where partners, currently 189 countries approved by the office of the President, are allowed to obtain military equipment. There is also the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) process, but that is a whole other kettle of fish and not enough time in this blog to cover. Under Section 36 of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, approved-transactions (those negotiated by diplomatic channels) requires congressional notification for any item sold to NATO, Israel, or key Pacific partners exceeding $25 million for major defense equipment, services exceeding $100 million, or construction exceeding $300 million. Those articles incur a 15-day statutory notification period for that congressional review/vetting process, upon which the conclusion is supposed to concur the exchange unless an issue arises from review. But reviews of any such ilk never take that 15-day review timeline, as few things in congress can ever be expected to be so efficient.
So that review process becomes backlogged. Then more and more FMS exchanges are negotiated, which adds to the pile. Then partisan bartering and antagonism employs foreign policies as domestic chips in a game of influencing the floor, and of course, the possibility that negotiated prices by diplomats, congressional approvals, and final price tags by defense vendors don’t line up…such as the case of the Aegis Ashore batteries which Japan ultimately backed out of once the cost doubled after formal agreement. The list for how this simple process of reinforcing an ally or partner goes on, and compounded by the impact to commercial production as the world jumps from one pandemic-frying pan into another blazing hot economic crisis like Ukraine, and the Taiwan deterrence vector must suffer for it.
Multiple efforts for review and revision to the FMS approvals have been proposed within the house and senate, including a repository of grants and loans as standing pre-approval checks in the vetting process for reliable and unquestioned partners. But so long as the knee-jerk answer to supporting allies means robbing Peter to pay Paul, then this issue is unlikely to improve or resolve the challenge of reinforcing partners in other critical areas of U.S. security interests.
Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Would Shift Inflation Burden to the Fed
By Robert W. Gerber
Last week President Biden announced $10k in forgiveness for federal student loan holders who earned less than $125k per year in recent years. Pell Grant holders, who tend to be lower income, would get up to $20k debt relief. Federal student loan payments, suspended because of COVID, will resume in December 2022. The plan would also change the income-based repayment rules.
The White House announcement this week follows a long decision process over how to fulfill a campaign promise. Twitter is full of criticism from those who think Biden is not providing enough relief and from those on the who think this move is unfair and creates moral hazard. Regardless, this policy appears to have eschewed negotiation with Republicans or moderate Democrats like Senator Manchin. Senator McConnell said the plan was “a slap in the face to every family who sacrificed to save for college, every graduate who paid their debt and every American who chose a certain career path or volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces in order to avoid taking on debt.”
Then there is the inflationary nature of student loan forgiveness. The plan would inject an estimated $500 billion into the economy. Former Obama economic official Jason Furman tweeted August 24, “Pouring roughly half trillion dollars of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning is reckless.” Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who predicted the inflation crisis, has also expressed concerns about the inflationary nature of the plan. If these experts are credible, then the plan seems to undermine President Biden’s July 13 sentiment when said “Inflation is our most pressing economic challenge… Tackling inflation is my top priority.” (Note: gasoline prices have dropped somewhat since that statement but annualized inflation is at record highs.) CNN reported the cost ($300-$500 billion) of debt cancellation effectively “will be picked up by taxpayers just when deficit reduction had suddenly become a bipartisan trend in Washington,” noting that the plan effectively cancels out the budget deficit reduction in the Inflation Reduction Act. Furthermore, the student loan forgiveness plan does not address costs of higher education, which grew from 1993 to 2022 at an average annual rate of 4.48%, vastly outpacing inflation (the rate has tapered since 2020). Much of this price growth is attributable to the utilization of federal loans, which acted as a subsidy that removed market forces from the higher education sector that would have otherwise tempered prices. The inflationary nature of the plan now places more burden on the Federal Reserve to tackle inflation, which could translate into further rate increases, which in turn heighten the risk of recession in 2023 and beyond.
The plan is certainly a challenge to Congressional budgetary authority, and for this reason it will most likely be subject to lawsuits, as CBS news reported. The White House claims it has the power to forgive student loans under authorities granted by Congress to the Department of Education, as well as some COVID-era emergency authorities. Some legal scholars argue that student loan forgiveness is akin to a tax cut (which should be authorized by Congress), and that the Department’s mandate does not extend to forgiving taxpayer-funded loans. Democrats could lay blame on conservative courts or Republicans if the Administration’s plan suffers defeat.
Without a doubt, student loan debt is a problem for many Americans, as the chart above illustrates. But ultimately, for a federal expenditure this large, it would make more sense in terms of future precedents to have Congressional authorization — something Rep. Pelosi argued when President Trump tried to divert national defense funds for border security. Furthermore, during a time of budget deficits and inflationary pressures, the government should be very cautious about taking on new and significant federal spending that neither boosts American competitiveness nor addresses a true national emergency.
EU countries divided over travel ban from Russia
On Wednesday 31 August in Prague, European Union foreign ministers decided to suspend the 2007 EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement with Russia over the war in Ukraine. According to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the suspension will significantly reduce the number of EU visas given to Russians. Falling short of a full travel ban, the change will mean that the visa process for Russian citizens will become longer, more expensive and more complicated. It is worth noting that the suspension would not apply to students, journalists and those fearing for their safety in Russia.
Despite the apparent successful compromise, divisions inside the EU when it comes to punishing Russia for the ongoing war became visible, once again. The suspension of the agreement came after pressure from member states sharing a border with Russia: Estonia, Lithuania, and Finland, for example. Estonia and Lithuania have long advocated a full travel ban for Russian tourists, and Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto stated that his country would not want to allow Russians to enter the Schengen area — with passport-free travel through 22 EU countries — via Finland.
EU countries rallying for a full travel ban often base their arguments on the moral problems with well-off Russian tourists holidaying in Europe: “I personally find it deeply provocative that Russian tourists can spend their vacation in Europe, while Ukrainian cities are being shelled and destroyed, and war crimes are being conducted in Ukraine as we speak”, said Danish foreign minister Jeppe Kofold, according to Politico.
France and Germany, in contrast, saw a full travel ban as counterproductive and “feeding the Russian narrative”, punishing ordinary Russians and “estranging future generations” in Russia. At the same time, countries bordering Russia argued that a full ban would do just the opposite: send a clear signal and truly hurt ordinary Russians and, consequently, Putin´s regime. As for the US, officials reiterated the Biden administration´s positions against blanket travel bans on Wednesday 31 August, making the case for distinguishing ordinary Russian citizens from the Russian government.
EU negotiations on the visa issue highlight potential difficulties the bloc may soon be facing. With soaring inflation and electricity prices, European governments may find it harder and harder to agree on subsequent sanctions against Putin´s regime. In Europe, many fear that the EU´s internal cohesion on Ukraine is, in fact, fading away. In his policy speech in Prague on 29 August, Germany´s Chancellor Scholz proposed moving away from unanimity when the EU votes on, for example, foreign policy matters. In practice this would mean that one EU country would not be able to block decisions on, say, sanctions against Russia. But — ironically — changing the EU´s voting rules requires changing the Union´s basic treaties and, therefore, unanimity.
The approaching winter will be a test for Europeans in many respects, not least on how to maintain a united front against Russian aggression in Ukraine. We might well see some EU nations form regional blocs to deter Russian tourism, for example. This may be a short-term fix, but in the long term, falling short of a united European response will not be enough to prevent Russia´s attempts to divide and destroy.
Japan’s Unfinished War with Russia
Today marks the 77th anniversary of Imperial Japan’s unconditional surrender on the late hot summer day of September 2, 1945. While peace finally appeared to descend upon Japan’s scorched soil with General Douglas MacArthur’s magisterial declaration of the Allied victory on USS Missouri, war actually raged on around the country’s northern flank for the next three days. The Soviet Union flagrantly disregarded the instrument of surrender and seized the four southern Kuril Islands, or the Northern Territories in the process, laying the foundation for the lingering frozen conflict in the Far East. Fast forward to 2022, the specter of war once again looms over Japan’s northern borderland as Ukraine fell prey to renewed Russian aggression. After all, war has and will likely remain the permanent state surrounding Japan’s relationship with Russia, demanding a fundamental rethink of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration.
To this date, a peace treaty does not exist between Japan and Russia, signifying that WWII has not officially ended between the two countries. In fact, this reflects both a legal fact and a geopolitical reality simultaneously. Indeed, while both countries have indefatigably sought a peace treaty for decades, they have done so with divergent aims in mind, invariably leading to arrested peace talks with no end in sight. This has been the case largely because of Tokyo’s perennial delusions about Moscow’s agenda. For Russia, a peace treaty precedes a future invasion as with the case of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In other words, it is a mere instrument supporting Russia’s territorial expansion. By contrast, Japan has viewed a peace treaty with Russia as the ultimate diplomatic prize with scarce regard for those on the end of the negotiating table.
In fact, the Joint Declaration emerged against the backdrop of such an irreconcilable perception gap. The then-Japanese prime minister Ichiro Hatoyama indefatigably led the efforts for the signing of the bilateral agreement largely for his own personal legacy as he sought to surpass his arch nemesis, former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida. Defying Yoshida’s doctrine of “non-engagement” with the Soviet Union, Hatoyama unmistakably laid the foundation for a future peace treaty with Russia. In particular, the Joint Declaration held that the smaller two of four southern Kuril Islands be returned to Japan after concluding a peace treaty. This provision alone effectively undermined Yoshida’s call for the reversion of the all four islands while simultaneously inducing Tokyo’s compromise on its own territorial claims. In short, the Joint Declaration was a diplomatic victory for Russia and was in fact a trap ensnaring Japan in Moscow’s relentless pursuit of territorial gains.
Therefore, the real significance of the Joint Declaration was that it effectively concealed Russia’s real agenda under the veneer of peace talks. In other words, Russia has been preparing for an invasion while Japan has been offering an olive branch at the negotiating table. This asymmetry was most evident when the then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev suddenly visited Japan for continued diplomatic talks in April 1991 as the Soviet military vacated the Northern Territories due to the country’s collapsing economy. The Kremlin’s fear of losing the islands was obvious as the power vacuum in the Far East provided Japan with a historic opportunity to retrieve them even without force. Yet, Japan embraced Gorbachev’s visit and agreed to continue the questionable peace talks with Moscow. Gorbachev in Japan epitomized the height of Tokyo’s folly of blind faith in diplomacy for the sake of supposed international goodwill.
While the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war has galvanized Japan into fundamentally rethinking its relationship with Russia, Tokyo continues to demonstrate strategic ambiguity on its northern neighbor largely due to the Joint Declaration. To be sure, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has shifted former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s policy of rapprochement with Russia to that of confrontation immediately after Russia’s launch of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Yet, the devil is in the details, and Kishida has so far done nothing about many of Abe’s questionable legacies, such as the ministerial post in charge of economic cooperation with Russia. Indeed, Kishida has been defying the Group of Seven (G-7) energy solidarity against Russia by adamantly retaining Japan’s stakes in the Sakhalin 1 and 2 projects. The incumbent Japanese leader’s superficial about-turn on Russia underscores Tokyo’s continued faith in diplomatic engagement with Russia as enshrined in the Joint Declaration. Such an approach would risk the perpetuation of the vicious circle of engagement and inertia with no end in sight.
A simple solution would rectify Japan’s decades-long problem with Russia: the abrogation of the Joint Declaration. Withdrawing from the Joint Declaration would free up Japan’s room for maneuver particularly in thinking about the very territorial issue. The Joint Declaration has unnecessarily bound Japan to endless diplomatic talks with no obvious benefit in sight. Diplomacy is merely an option in the toolkit of statecraft. Limiting Japan’s action to diplomacy inevitably accords Russia a strategic advantage while Moscow remains unrestricted and has long been using its military to occupy the islands. By contrast, an unfettered Japan would allow Tokyo to drastically increase its pressure on Russia. Such pressure would of course include a military option, which would be perfectly constitutional under the pacifist Japanese constitution precisely because Tokyo views the Northern Territories as part of Japan. Moreover, the emerging geopolitical landscape increasingly favors such an option for Japan. Indeed, Russian president Vladimir Putin himself withdrew Russia from the bilateral peace talks with Japan in February, underscoring Moscow’s focus away from the Far East. A military option must therefore remain on the table as the war in Ukraine continues to drain Russia’s economy to a catastrophic end.
To be sure, Japan’s dispatching an expeditionary force to reconquer the Northern Territories would strike as a preposterous proposition today. The Japanese leadership in Tokyo would spurn such an idea with disdain. Yet, the starting point for thinking the impossible is not a military option, but the possible abrogation of the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration. The Joint Declaration has been the proverbial Russian yoke on Japan which legitimized and consolidated Moscow’s last-minute territorial pillage in September 1945. With Russia itself walking away from the peace talks, the very raison d’etre of the Joint Declaration is all but nil. A Japan unfettered from the Russian yoke would be the first step toward achieving its full reconciliation with its imperial past. As another September 2 arrives, Japan must rethink the Cold War-era pact and its geopolitical place in the emerging world driven by the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism.
News You May Have Missed
Speaking on the 81st anniversary of the start of the Second World War, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s right-wing ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), claimed that the value of damages endured by Poland in the war was 6.2 trillion zlotys ($1.3 trillion), and promised that Poland would officially demand reparations. While Poland has made smaller damage claims for reparations in past years, Germany’s stated position is that all claims from the war have been conclusively settled. In response to Poland’s claims, Germany’s foreign ministry highlighted Poland’s waiving of all present and future claims of damages in 1953, while Poland’s PiS, who critics have accused of using the issue of reparations to build domestic support at the expense of Warsaw’s relationship with Berlin, has claimed that Poland was forced to give up its claims under duress by the Soviet Union.
After a handgun was pointed at Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner at an appearance in Recoleta, a neighborhood of Bueno Aires. Argentina’s government labeled the incident an assassination attempt. While authorities have not yet provided information on whether the handgun, which can be seen being shoved directly in Fernández de Kirchner’s face unexpectedly before failing to fire, was a real firearm. Fernández de Kirchner previously served as President of Argentina between 2007 and 2015, and was first lady of the country when her husband Néstor was president.
On Thursday, Russian state media reported that the chairman of the Russian energy company Lukoil, Ravil Maganov, had died after falling from a sixth-floor hospital window. According to Lukoil, which is Russia’s second-largest oil producer, Maganov had passed away after struggling with “severe illness, while Russian state media claimed that he had entered the hospital as a result of a heart attack, and was being treated for depression. However, there have been a slew of strange deaths among leading figures of the Russian energy industry since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Lukoil’s board of directors had previously called for a “fast resolution” to the war in Ukraine and expressed its “support a lasting cease-fire and a settlement of problems through serious negotiations and diplomacy,” a break from the Kremlin line.
The views of authors are their own, and not that of CSPC.