Pro-Russian demonstrations, Moldova, 2015
Moscow may have updated a plan to move into Europe’s poorest country, Moldova. The timing is partly because of a Presidential election there on October 30th and partly because of what it sees as Britain’s increased hostility against Russia.
One source cited foreign secretary Boris Johnston’s encouragement of anti-Russian protests outside the London embassy, senior Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell’s calling for NATO confrontation of Russian air power over Syria, and Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for tougher sanctions.
Moldova is sandwiched between troubled Ukraine and EU-NATO member Romania. Riddled with corruption and with a GDP per capita of only $5,000 (a third of that of China), its three million population has benefitted little from the free market system. People are equally divided between the West and Russia. The Moldovan president has limited powers so the election will be a vivid test of support in the tug of war in popularity between Russia and the European Union. Moscow is backing the highest polling candidate, the Socialist Party’s Igor Dodon, to win.
Russia already controls a swathe of Moldovan territory, Transnistria, which split off after a civil war in 1992. It is governed along strict Soviet lines with subsided fuel prices and secure pensions envied by many other Moldovans. Russia deploys 1,500 troops in Transnistria. United States troops have been carrying out exercises in Moldova.
Unlike the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Moldova has no protective military treaty with NATO. If Moscow did move in, NATO would not be obliged to react and Russian troops may well be greeted with flag waving supporters lining the streets. The Moldovan plan was last poised for implementation during the 2014 Ukraine crisis and since then the question of Russian troop supply and rotation to Transnistria has become a tense issue. My source says it could be this that is used to trigger some form of military intervention, probably with highly-trained plain-clothed militia as were used in Crimea.
Superpower conflict in Asia 1975 by the late, great Hubert Van Es.
In conversation with Toshi Yoshihara, Professor of Strategy and Policy, Asia-Pacific Studies, U.S. Naval War College.
YOSHIHARA:- China has undergone a transformation of its naval power and is now a much more capable naval force. It has grown very rapidly in the past few decades. One element is the growth of its surface fleet by investing in new class of surface combatants that will rival those of the U.S. and the Japan
HH:- What is Japan’s role?
YOSHIHARA:- Japan hosts a whole series of forward bases for the U.S. without which it cannot achieve its regional aims in the region. The formal U.S. Japan military alliance treaty raises a host of issues and everyone is looking at how U.S. responds to China’s provocation against Japan and using that a measure as to how committed the U.S. is to the security of the region.
HH:- Japan is also building up its military.
YOSHIHARA:- Japan is responding to China’s rise. Since 2010, it has engaged in submarine expansion, from 16 to 22 boats, and this is a substantial increase. It is engaging in selective modernisation of its surface fleet and other capabilities in direct response to China’s modernisation.
HH:- How does what you teach here impact on a commander taking critical decisions on the bridge of a warship?
YOSHIHARA:- Firstly, we teach what happens when there is a rising power comes up against an established status quo power and that fits into the rise of China and its challenge to the U.S.. Second, we highlight the problem of risk. How do naval commanders think about risk and how do they think about risking their fleet? And third, we use historical cases to talk about the logic of strategy. China’s anti-access capabilities are similar to those previous powers have developed, whether during Russo-Japanese War, World War Two, the Cold War. All of those players have at one-point thought of capabilities that are very similar to what China is doing in its own neighbourhood.
HH:- How do you see it unfolding in East Asia?
YOSHIHARA:- My reading of history makes me rather pessimistic about the future course of Sino-U.S. relations. If you look at past rising powers, it has tended to create the kind of security dilemmas we are seeing today and, in the past, it has been more likely than not that a rising power’s challenge to a status quo power has led to war. So, looking at history makes me much more pessimistic about the future of Asia.
Anti-Japanese protests in China
In conversation with Nicholas Lardy, Peterson Institute for International Economics and author of Markets over Mao
HH:- What impact is the South and East China Sea tension having on China’s economic growth?
LARDY:- It has a negative effect. How big it is, you can’t say, but it is certainly raising eyebrows not just in the U.S. government, but also in private corporations that are thinking: Do we want to invest more money in a country that is adopting expansionist and nationalistic positions with its nearby neighbours? China will ultimately pay a price if they continue down the current path.
HH:- The Chinese government must have war-gamed how this will play out.
LARDY:- I don’t think there’s going to be a military confrontation. There’s too much on both sides to get to that extreme. But I think the underlying reality of the South China Sea sovereignty claim is much more important to them than it is to the U.S. We want Freedom of Navigation. Nothing the Chinese have done so far suggests that’s an issue. But they do want to have more control and at the end of the day they are likely to get it.
HH:- And the friction between China and Japan?
LARDY: Japanese companies are much more reluctant to invest in China. There have been boycotts of Japanese products and the Chinese government stirs up anti-Japanese sentiment from time to time. The likelihood is that Japanese companies will invest less and become less involved. So instead of creating a more dynamic integrated East Asia, they are getting potential disintegration and fragmentation that will not be good for long term growth.
HH:- How much is China’s reaching out to the world impacting its growth?
LARDY:- I am sceptical that investment activity under the ‘one belt, one road’ policy is enough in this to make a big difference. The tens of billions a year going into ‘one belt one road’ is a drop in the bucket compared to the magnitude of domestic investment, that is running at $5 trillion a year.
HH So is it more a political imperative of flying the Chinese flag, influence, exporting soft power?
LARDY. I think it’s more motivated by politics and soft power as you suggest — not a pure economic play. They are looking to build relations with countries by land and sea routes and this is their way of doing it.
HH: What is the outlook for the Chinese economy over the next five to ten years?
LARDY:- There is the potential for fairly rapid economic growth, but achieving that will demand reform, particularly of state owned companies.
HH: What sort of reforms?
LARDY:- The main emphasis is merging bigger state companies to form even larger ones. A recent example is two big rail car locomotive producers, China North Rail and China South Rail. But the record of the last decade is that these mergers don’t really improve efficiency. Productivity fell by almost half to a very low level, a little more than 3 per cent if measured by return on assets.
HH:- Why then would they be doing it?
LARDY:- Politics has a great deal to do with it. Xi Jinping, the leader now, wants bigger companies that are referred to as national champions. They seem to be of the mentality — without having the evidence to support it — that the bigger the better. It is part of the emphasis on political control, having party committees in state enterprises playing a bigger role and that sort of thing.
ROEHRIG:- The Korean peninsula is crucial because the same players are involved in the South and East China Sea issues that are having a serious impact on the ability of these governments to cooperate.
HH: To what extent, if relations deteriorate between U.S. and China, could North Korea be used?
ROEHRIG:- If they deteriorate significantly North Korea might decide there is an opportunity to do something because they feel the U.S. is distracted.
HH:- And what is the possibility of a sudden collapse of the regime?
ROEHRIG:- There could be a circumstance where North Korea conducts a small-scale action against which it believes there won’t be a response. If South Korea does retaliate, there is a danger of something escalating that could draw China’s response — if a nuclear test or ballistic missile test went awry you could draw China in.
HH: Is there a plan between China, the U.S. and South Korea?
ROEHRIG:- To my knowledge, there is not a great deal of planning. There may be at other levels that I am not aware of. It is a delicate issue because from a U.S. or South Korean perspective planning for a collapse means you may be interested in encouraging a collapse and that could be diplomatically problematic
See more from Dr. Terence Roehrig http://bit.ly/2eiu5q5
HH:- Given new tension, could there ever be a NATO of Asia between American allies?
KELLY:- I don’t see that happening. There are long memories in the Asia Pacific. There are tremendously long, bad relationship even though things have been peaceful for a number of years.
HH:- More mistrust than in Europe?
KELLY:- I think that’s a fair statement.
HH:- In naval terms, how difficult might it become?
KELLY:- It depends on which bridge of which ship your standing on and which country you’re playing with. It’s very delicate. With the navies of the world, people are wearing a uniform and serving their nations and being extremely professional. But there is a lot of room for miscalculation if you throw in the other actors taking it down further to the fishing fleets that are being used as a proxy navy certainly by China. Now, you’re getting into a different level.
HH: What is the main danger?
KELLY:- We have a lot of forces working in waters that are not recognised by the international community. You’ve got to drive the ships pretty carefully there. If the leaders of those forces in close proximity to each other are not talking to each other bridge-to-bridge by whatever means necessary you could have something go on that’s not going to make people happy. When you get the mix of all those things going, on you’ve got a lot of room for miscalculation
In conversation with Mark E. Rosen, international maritime and security lawyer at the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses @markerosen1
ROSEN:- The Chinese have been members of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) since 1995. The U.S supports it, even though it has not ratified it.
HH: How does it work when the U.S. carries out a Freedom of Navigation in Chinese-claimed areas of the South China Sea?
ROSEN:- The way it would happen is that a commander in the field would work with folks in Washington and look at an area where there are excessive claims and look for targets of opportunity to make an operational assertion to protest that claim. A U.S. warship or aircraft would go through the territorial sea claiming innocent passage. It would be peaceful and non-provocative, like no training of weapons or anything of that sort.
HH:- How carefully scripted is it?
ROSEN:- The actual transits are heavily scripted because military planners in the U.S. don’t want insertions to be regarded as provocative and warlike. The crews are given talking points for when they are challenged or queries. Basically they say: “We are operating innocent passage in accordance with the 1983 United National Law of the Sea Convention.”
HH:- Have any gone off script and ended up with hostilities?
ROSEN:- No (In the South China Sea). The item that comes to mind is in 1989 in the Gulf of Sidra (off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean) where Gaddafi had established an illegal claim. The U.S. sent in airplanes and the Libyans sent up fighter interceptors and two Libyan fighters were shot down.
HH:- Who green lights a Freedom of Navigation operation? Does it go as high as the White House?
ROSEN:- The missions are planned in the field and coordinated in the upper branches of the U.S. government.
Listen here to China challenging a U.S. Freedom of Navigation operation:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaKbZW0pqkM
In conversation with Rear Admiral, Jeffrey Harley, President of the U.S. Naval War College.
HARLEY:- A conflict with China is certainly not inevitable, as some people say. When a power continues to rise, we can find space in the world as long as all follow international law.
HH: From a naval point of view, what is the difference between the rise of China and the rise of the Soviet Union.
HARLEY:- When you look at Soviet Union as an ally in the 2nd World War and then a Cold War competitor for many decades, after that you see a different type of force in China.
HH: An economic ally?
HARLEY:- Yes and all the more reason why instead through mutual cooperation and respect of law we can together ensure that no conflict occurs.
HH:- And what’s changed in projecting maritime power today?
HARLEY:- What’s made it different are the capabilities enabled by incredible technology and this creates enormous challenges. We’re talking about the ability to provide anti-access with extraordinary ranges with extraordinary lethality. The college provides (war) games that cover the entire strategic environment for which we must be ready. We look at issues like anti-access and how our forces can use our own technologies to ensure we have that sea control when we need it. We are global power. We will operate around the world in accordance with international law and we won’t modify it to have other constructs and other characteristics based on what other nations believe is their right.
HH:- You mean not the rule-of-law with Chinese characteristic?
HARLEY: Exactly right
In conversation with a South East Asia military attache at a London national day reception.
ATTACHE: The situation in the South China Sea is getting very difficult.
Frosty relations between Russia and West and the rise of China in Asia have brought to some worries about a global or regional war with academics and specialists convening around the world to discuss how it might be prevented. One recent conference with experts from Europe and the Unites States was held in the South Korean capital Seoul to examine threats on the Korean peninsular and throughout the Asia Pacific. One of the panellists was Humphrey Hawksley who found that a key solution being advocated was far removed from the weighty and intricate discussion of rogue states and the international balance of power.
“Thank you all for your insightful and interesting contributions,” announced former US Congressman, Dan Burton, until recently a Foreign Affairs Committee heavy hitter, fixing his eyes on the banner above him that read Prospects for Peace in North East Asia. “Now, before the next session — lunch.”
“What’s in store next?” I flipped through the programme. James Wolsey Jnr, a former CIA director, wandered over to chat and scattered about the room were luminaries on international issues.
“Uhhh-oh!,” said one of the panellists, pointing to a section that said Foundation Day Program. “It looks like we might be going to a wedding.”
Eyes bulged with surprise. “We’re doing what?” exclaimed an analyst from the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington. She had just spoken on the future of Asian economies.
A wedding ceremony was being held in a stadium outside the South Korean capital, Seoul, run by the Unification Church, famous for its mass weddings between couples who had been matched and barely knew each other.
Inside, a vast tiered chequered landscape stretched back and up, brides in white, grooms in black, a peppering of colour from yellow flowers in button holes and bright headphones, their wires coiling out from translations sets so everyone — whatever language — could understand the vows. Most of thos tying the knot were young and a good many Americans and Europeans who had been paired off – essentially – to strangers.
“I soon as I saw his picture, I knew we would be suited,” said Anna, a petite brunette who had flown over from the States to marry a serious bespectacled South Korean computer programmer.
“And where are you honeymooning?” I asked him, but I he didn’t speak English. Nor did Anna speak Korean.
“Oh we’re not yet.” She explained that even after the wedding there would be no sleeping together for forty days. “It’s in case anything goes wrong.” She blushed, then squeezed his hand. “But with us it won’t.”
The Unification Church was founded in 1954 by the late and controversial Reverend Moon who said when he was 16 years old Jesus asked him to continue work left unfinished because of the crucifixion. He claimed a special gift for matching couples from different races, saying it helped understanding between cultures, and now it has spawned a myriad of businesses and international organisations, one of which had set up our conference.
It’s also had a rocky relationship with the establishment. Moon himself was jailed in America for tax evasion and many Christians reject his theology outright. I wasn’t clear how this wedding ceremony fitted in with our security conference or with a conservative politician like Dan Burton who was also an ordained pastor.
All was to be revealed later.
One of our conference helpers, Ke Sung Anderson, had been matched through his parents some years earlier.
“How does it work?” I asked. “Do you date first, go to the movies?”
“Not really.” He creased his brow. “Dating is like holding hands and you’re not supposed to do that. When I was 19 and going to college I knew it would be impossible to keep my virginity so to stay out of trouble I signed up.”
The reverend Moon’s widow, Mother Moon, as she’s affectionately called, presided over the ceremony, sitting on a throne-like chair with an empty one next to it in remembrance of her late husband. Together they’re referred to as the True Parents and she is the True Mother.
And with her came a flurry of activity, processions, music, couples chosen to receive gifts, while non-stop Mother Moon walked on and off stage in glittering robes, colourful trouser suits, changing her outfits as fast as a catwalk model.
Then, suddenly, a spotlight snapped on and the former US Congressman Dan Burton was at the podium congratulating the couples. “Samia and I are honoured to join you in renewing our wedding vows led by the True Parents,” he said, “with the ideal to protect marriage and the family and to reject socialism and atheism.”
And then it turned out our jovial conference organiser, Larry Moffitt, was himself matched in the early Eighties and I had to ask him what any of this had to do with prospects for peace in North East Asia.
He must have seen my sceptical look. “You gotta remember, Humphrey, marriage is a crapshoot,” he said. “We all find it difficult. But one thing’s for sure – and if you get this right everything starts falling into place – world peace begins in the bedroom.”