Tag: asia

Could the Youth Protests of the EU, Middle East, Turkey, and Brazil Spread to Asia’s Corrupt Democracies?


Jay Ulfelder and I had a Twitter conversation on this question in the last few days (here and here). But Twitter has such limited space, I thought I would break out our discussion on the blog and ask what others thought.

Watching all these riots – driven heavily by youth dissatisfaction, it seems – is making me wonder if this might spread to Asia’s democracies.

A lot of the problems these protests are identifying exist in spades in Asia: high-handed, out-of-touch governments; election-proof pseudo-technocracies that act as unaccountable oligarchies; shallow, clique-ish political parties that provide no meaningful transmission belt of citizen preferences; massive government and business corruption; wasteful white-elephant spending to capture global ‘prestige’ while everyday services like health care and education are underfunded; closed political opportunity structures that regularly reward insiders and large corporations with crony connections to the state; wealthy, de-linking elites with 1% lifestyles wildly at variance with the rest of the population… That’s Asia too; there’s more than enough sleaze to go around.

Continue reading


Monday Morning Linkage in Space

Duck-o-NautGood mornin’ Duck-o-nauts!  Let’s start the week in …

Space (i.e. Asia’s Playground)

  • India is goin’ to (orbit) Mars with a launch set for November 2013, only a few years after India landed an unmanned probe on the moon and detected water on the lunar surface. (The US is also sending an atmospheric orbiter to Mars this year.)  India is not exactly new to space; it has had 101 successful space missions but mainly with satellites.  The mission to Mars will cost about as much as buying one Boeing passenger airliner.  Yes, India is still poor and beset with numerous problems, but India rarely lets itself be defined only by its poverty.  The real issue is whether or not this bold, new mission has been carefully planned.  It seems to be mainly about retaining prestige in Asia’s space race… which is kind of a recipe for disaster.
  • China will be sending three taikonauts to its temporary space station, Tiangong 1, this summer.  China hopes to establish a permanent space station by 2020.  The European Space Agency can see the future and they’re mulling over a new alliance with China despite several major political hurdles.  Now, if someone could just convince the Chinese to clean up the mess they made with their anti-satellite missile test.
  • South Korea and North Korea: Have both recently demonstrated their ability to put satellites in space and to piss each other off.
  • Japan: JAXA will be studying the atmospheres of Venus, Jupiter and Mars from Earth’s outer orbit.
  • Singapore and Vietnam: Are discovering the advantages of pooling their resources with India and Japan.
  • America: Meanwhile, Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that Americans have stopped dreaming.  Nonsense!  America has just privatized most of its dreams.  Because, nothing is as efficient as having two corporations producing the same thing for NASA that could have been produced in-house by NASA itself.  Yay for mindless neo-liberal economic thinking!

Continue reading


The International Relations Discipline and the Rise of Asia


A few months ago, I was commissioned by the International Relations and Security Network of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology to provide a brief write-up on how Asia’s rise will impact the formal discipline of international relations (IR) within political science. I didn’t get a chance to put it up earlier, and inevitably, the brief means sweeping judgments in just a few pages, but I think it’s a reasonable effort. Here is the version on their website; below it is reprinted:

“It is widely understood that international relations (IR) relies on modern (post-Columbus) and North Atlantic cases as the research base for its general theory. Our graduate students are well-versed in a heavily researched set of cases such as the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. While this is arguably ‘eurocentric’ training – white, western practitioners feigning to build ‘universal’ theory from just the cases and languages they know best from their own civilizational background – it might be also reasonably explained by Western dominance of world politics for so many centuries. So long as the West (including the USSR as a basically Western leftist project) so overawed the planet’s politics, then a modern and Atlantic prejudice was perhaps less narrow than it seems. Whatever the cause, this will likely change in the coming decades.

Continue reading


Australia Embraces the “Asian Century”

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stated last Sunday that every Australian child should learn Mandarin, Hindi, or other regional languages as part of Australia’s embrace of the Asian Century.  While her new agenda set out in a 300 page report has received its share of harsh criticism and questions about funding, one  has to admire the audacity of Gillard’s vision of an Australia that seeks to engage Asian states and societies through an appreciation of their languages and cultures rather than insisting on interfacing with English.  This may represent a shift, to invert Bernard S. Cohn’s phrase, from the language of command to the command of language… well, at least if the Australian mindset toward Asia can be shifted in the process.

Meanwhile, America Clings to the “Roman Centuries” …

By way of contrast, America’s supposed “pivot” to Asia continues to lack a serious educational agenda.  As my colleague Robert Kelly has noted, there are still more students studying Latin (205,000) in America’s public schools than Chinese (60,000) — even though the number of students studying Chinese has tripled since 2004.   While the study of Spanish (6.4 million) certainly makes sense in a country where Spanish is spoken by 34 million citizens and most of the Western hemisphere, the continued emphasis on French (1.25 million) and German (395,000) are more questionable, particularly when Chinese is the third most commonly spoken language at home in the United States and French and German are not even in the top ten.  In essence, the emphasis on French and German education is not a reflection of domestic language needs so much as an artifact of a persistent Euro-centrism.

Continue reading


Guest Post: Dave Kang – “Is America Listening to its East Asian Allies?”

REK: I am pleased to guest-post my friend Dave’s longer, fuller version of a book review he wrote for CSIS. My thanks to CSIS as well. If you aren’t reading Dave yet, I’d recommend it.

“Is America listening to its East Asian allies?: Hugh White’s The China Choice

David C. Kang

For all the recent attention on increasing tensions between the U.S., China, and East Asian countries, regional balance of power dynamics remain muted. The past few years have seen increased Chinese assertiveness, which has led many to expect that East Asian states will flock to the side of the U.S. This has not proven to be the case, however, and Hugh White’s thoughtful and bold new book, The China Choice: Why America Should Share Power, provides some clues as to why not. White argues that neither China nor America “can hope to win a competition for primacy outright, so both would be best served by playing for a compromise.” White concludes that the best policy would be an explicit “Concert of Asia” in which the U.S. and China agree to treat each other as equals and create two clear spheres of influence. White is probably right that a U.S. balancing strategy in East Asia is unlikely to succeed – yet a concert of Asia with two clearly defined spheres of influence would appear fairly similar in the eyes of East Asian states. East Asian countries are clearly hoping to find a pathway that avoids taking sides, and the best approach for the U.S. to take is a strategy that helps them achieve that goal.

Continue reading


China’s Counter to the Asian ‘Pivot’ (1): Korea, India

So the US is supposedly going to pivot to Asia and start worrying more about China. This makes sense (which is probably why we won’t do it). The Middle East has become a pretty terrible sinkhole of American power. Increasingly the verdict on the war on terrorism is negative, and we should probably retrench from the Middle East (but we won’t because of the religious right’s interest in the region). Mearsheimer argued that if it weren’t for 9/11 we probably would have focused on China a lot earlier. Kaplan sketched how the US would defeat China in a war. I argued a few years ago, at the height of the ‘China-has-changed-into-a-scary-revisionist’ hype of 2009-11, that containment of China was likely (maybe even desirable Sad smile). And clearly China’s behavior over the last few years has raised the likelihood of at least soft containment; even the Vietnamese and the Filipinos are asking for US agreements now.

But I don’t see much Western discussion of how China would/should respond. So in the tradition of those old CIA A team/B team exercises, here are five ideas for how China should/could respond to its incipient encirclement:

1. Pull Korea into its orbit by dumping NK and supporting finlandized unity.

This is such a no-brainer. China’s big regional political problem is that no one really trusts it. So its allies are lame – NK and Myanmar, and even the latter is drifting now. The best way to head off the encirclement that hammered both the Germans and the Soviets in the 20th C is to break the ring with some decent allies, and nasty, dependent dictatorships are not enough. SK is a pretty central link in any containment ring around China, but one where China has a lot of leverage.

Before the 20th C, Korea was Confucian China’s closest ally/subordinate for a millennium. Korean culture is very close to China (even if modern nationalist Koreans don’t want to admit it): the language is shot through with Sinic roots, the philosophy of Confucianism comes from China, social traditions are similar (food, dress, etc.). Koreans will not tell you that China is a big enemy of Korea, no matter how many Japanese and US scholars, pundits, etc. say it is. I see this in class and at conferences all the time. Structural realism and liberalism both say that Japan and Korea should ally against China and NK. Nope! The average Korean just won’t buy that no matter how many times you repeat your IR logic. Instead, he thinks that Japan, and even the US, is a greater threat to Korea than China. Dokdo activates Koreans a lot more than China’s growth.
Also Korea has a long tradition of anti-Americanism too. Yes, they are a good ally to the US, but mostly because they need us a lot more than most US allies, not because they really like us that much. Lots of Koreans that I meet think that the US is heavily responsible for the division of the country, bullies SK leaders, forces unfair trade deals on the country, sends pot-smoking English teacher to prey on their young girls, etc. All this may or may not be true – hold that thought – but consider what an opening this gives China.

Finally, Koreans really want unity, and China is probably best placed to give it to them (more so than the US actually). I have written about this a lot before, but if we accept that NK is all but dependent on China now, then China could basically force a deal in which Korea got unity on southern terms, but only if US Forces in Korea left. Yes, lots of Chinese see NK as a buffer between the robust democracies of Japan, SK, and the US. But NK is a losing horse. Someday it will crash and burn, and how much does it really help China now anyway? Its elites are so unpredictable than the CCP must always be wondering wth they will do this week. A Chinese-backed finlandized unification would electrify the region, neutralize a major link in the ring, isolate Japan, and confuse the US (would the US oppose unity to keep troops in Korea and Japan?).

2. Keep flattering India.

India and China will never be too close (barring a democratic revolution in China). Their long border and history of tension makes the relationship tough. But China would at least benefit if India did not throw in its lot completely with the US camp in Asia. In 2010, I predicted that India would have US bases within the decade because of the almost tailor-made fit between India and the US. That is, both India and the US share both values (liberal democracy) and security concerns (salafism and China). No other major US ally has that nice contiguity (see the chart below). But a tight Indo-US link would be clearly worsen China’s position, complementing the current tight US-Japan link and providing an obvious anchor on the other side to a ring running from Japan through Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and India. That really would be encirclement along the lines of what happened to Germany before 1914.  But India isn’t really following this script. They’re hedging the US somewhat, and the evolution of the responsibility to protect into triumphalist western regime chagne in Libya looks to New Dehli like neocolonialism all over again. There’s an ‘BRICS solidarity’ opening for China here. Given the India is still pretty soft on American option, a charm offensive, however humbling, would be wise.

Great Britain/NATO
Japan/East Asia

Part two will come in 3 days.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (3): We can’t afford it

Here are parts one and two, where I argued that there is no constituency in the US for the pivot, and that Asia is so culturally distant from the US, that Americans are unlikely to care enough to sustain the pivot. But we also don’t really need to pivot, nor do we have the money for it:

3. The ME is characterized by so many nondemocracies that the US must be heavily invested (at least to meet current US goals – oil, Israel, counterterrorism). Katzenstein noted this; America has no strong subordinate anchor-state in the region (like Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia). This is why the GOP particularly emphasizes an enduring, semi-imperial presence in the Gulf. Besides tiny Israel, we don’t have the friends necessary for things like the dual containment (Iran and Iraq) of the 90s, and or the Iraq war of the 2000s. So we have to do it all ourselves.

By contrast in Asia, we have lots of allies and semi-friends who are strong and functional – Japan, Australia, Korea, and Taiwan most obviously – with improving relations with India and Vietnam too. Now, if we are smart – or maybe just because we are broke – we can push a lot of the costs of our goals onto them. Specifically, much of the pivot has been assumed to be targeted at China. But why should we encircle, contain, or otherwise provoke China, when the frontline states should be it doing it first? In other words, we don’t have to pivot toward Asia unless China threatens to invade everybody, because places like India, Korea, and Japan will work hard to build and maintain a multipolar equilibrium. They don’t want to be dominated by China, and they will suffer a lot more than we will if China becomes the regional hegemon. So we can hover in the background, offshore, over the horizon, as we always have. Given the strength of liberal democracy in Asia (unlike the ME), there is no need for us to be there in strength.

This is why I don’t think the ‘pivot’ language is helpful, because it’s not necessary. We can do what we have always done – provide an offshore balance that keeps the peace and allows trade so we can all buy cheap crap at Walmart. So we don’t need to do anything new; let’s just keep doing the same. And let’s not get ‘neo-conned’ into believing that Asia can’t manage its own affairs unless ‘bound to lead’ America is front-and-center with its hands in everything managing everyone’s choices. That’s the kind of paranoid pseudo-omipotence that got us mired in the Middle East for the last 20 years. We can pivot if we must, but let’s not do it because of our impatient, ‘we-have-to-run-all-big-issues-in-the-world’ foreign policy establishment. We don’t need a ‘pivot,’ unless that is being used as rhetorical cover to justify escaping from the ME (which is not a bad idea actually, if there’s no other way).

My concern here is the globalist ambition of the US foreign policy establishment, especially the Beltway think-tank set which is so deeply vested in American semi-empire. The pivot smacks of one of those ‘big idea’ schemes from places like CFR or CSIS to push America into the frontline of every problem and hotspot on the planet. As US over-involvement in the ME winds down, let’s not get pushed into yet another round of overbasing, overspending, and overhyped threat assessments (this time focused on China or NK) to keep the post-9/11 military boom rolling along and keep think-tank pundits employed.

4. Finally, I think the Asia pivot will be less than we think, simply because the US can’t afford it anymore. It should be pretty obvious to everyone that the US needs to spend less, and that money which could fund domestic entitlements is going to defense instead. The obvious opportunity cost of buying aircraft carriers to semi-contain China is cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. (Defense, plus M/M/SS, comprise around 70% of the US budget now.) The pivot is a classic guns vs butter trade-off. In the 1990s, as we reached the zenith of US dominance over the ME after the Gulf War, we could afford it because the Cold War was over, the US economy boomed in the 90s, and the US budget gap was healing. But in the 2000s, W just borrowed to maintain and expand US dominance. And now, post-Great Recession, American debt is reaching crisis levels. So,  given the size of China, the expense of a pivot-cum-containment would be astronomical. I suppose we could try it; we’d have allied assistance that we didn’t have in the ME for dual containment. But still, China is so big, it is hard to imagine a major US build-up that wouldn’t cost huge sums that just aren’t there anymore. It will become more and more obvious to the median voter in the next 20 years that domestic entitlements are suffering to fund the continuing post-9/11 US military expansion. I don’t think Americans will choose guns over butter (aircraft carriers instead of checks for grandma) if forced, and Ron Paul’s candidacy is proving that even within the GOP, there is an growing constituency for less war, less basing, less military spending. This, plus the Democratic coalition’s general disinterest in the pivot, will handicap any effort to borrow yet further to fund an Asia shift.

Cross-post on Asian Security Blog.


The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (2): We don’t really care @ Asia

This is my Asian pivot.

Here is part one, where I argued that there is no constituency in the US to support an Asian pivot besides the some businesspeople.

2. Connected to the first point is that Americans don’t know much about Asia. Of course, it’s true Americans don’t know a lot about the world generally. We are a superpower, so we don’t have to know about others; others have to know about us. That’s why ‘they’ learn English, and we think Urdu is a country in the Sahara. We are geographically far away, so touring Europe or Asia is very expensive. We don’t (need to) speak foreign languages. But beyond that general ‘ugly American’ stuff, I think Americans are particularly ignorant about Asia. Asia is the most culturally different social space in the world from the US I can think of, with the possible exception of central Africa. Latin America, Europe, Oceania, and Russia are all in, or close enough to, Western Civilization that what we learned in high school civics classes can apply. They look like us (kind of); they eat like us, their languages are fairly similar (Indo-European roots); they dress like us; they worship like us. The tribal cultural gap (how others eat, dress, talk, worship, look, write, etc.) is not that wide .

Even the Middle East is more like the US than China. Islam is an abrahamic monotheistic faith, Israel is pretty western, and decades of western intervention in the Middle East has made it a little easier. And since 9/11, most westerners have learned a lot more about Islam and the Arabs.

Now think about what you know about Asia before Western imperialists arrive in the 19th C. Who was the emperor of China when the Opium War occurred? Do you know even when the Opium War occurred? Do Obama, Romney or Clinton, although I bet they know when the (earlier) French Revolution happened? Do you know anything about India before Clive stole everything he could get his hands on? Did you know that Qianlong was fairly the Napoleon of east Asia? But you know who Napoleon was, right? And if you think that ‘modern’ Asia is what really matters, did you know that most Asian societies have a deeply historical sense of themselves going way back before white people showed up? If you think Tang is an orange drink before you think it’s a Chinese dynasty, then your Asian pivot is over before it started.

But you say, nobody but tiresome, preening academics like you, Kelly, learn historical names and dates any more, but you love Chinese take-out. Ok, so what do you know of Asian culture, in even the broadest terms? Have you seen an Asian movie besides Crouching Tiger? Do you know the difference between sushi and sashemi? Can you name one Asian author? Do you know who Ganesha is? Can you read any non-latinate Asian script? Did you know that the CIA rates Korean, Chinese, and Japanese at its hardest acquisition level (4)? How many Americans do you know who speak those languages? Do you in which millennium Angkor Wat was built? Can you even use chopsticks? Do you honestly think evangelical voters in the GOP primary even care about any of this? Even worse, do you think your average neo-con, ‘America has a duty to police the world’ think-tanker could answer these questions without Wikipedia?

Now if you, a reader of this specialty blog, couldn’t answer these questions without struggling, what does that say about the American electorate’s cultural-intellectual ability sustain this pivot? When we got involved in Western Europe in the 50s, the US public, mostly descended from European immigrants, had a pretty good idea of what Europe was, so a ‘North Atlantic community’ was a coherent concept. When we became the hegemon of the Middle East in the 1990s, the deeply religious attachment of many Americans provided a strong foundation for that commitment (however much it may have lead us astray). Now, what exactly is our cultural, intellectual, linguistic, religious, etc. connection to Asia that will sell this to a public wary of more wars and interterventions? So if you wonder why tiny Iran is so much more important to Americans than huge China or India, well here you go – the cultural distance distance between Asia and the US is massive. (Or, if this is boring you, just go watch Gran Turino and Borat again).

And I will admit to struggling with this too. I have been here too many years to speak Korean as badly as I do. I don’t know my Korean dynasts as I should. Asia is hard. Absolutely. But that is my whole point. For Americans, for whom travelling means the Eiffel Tower and a foreign language means ‘Spanglish,’ Asia is like another planet. The cultural differences – language, food, writing, religion, music – are wider than any other I can think of, with the possible exception of Bantu Africa. I highly doubt Americans will empathize with Asians the way we do with Europeans, Israelis, Australians, and to a lesser extent, Latin Americans.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.


The US will not ‘Pivot’ much to Asia (1): We don’t really Want to

I found this image here.

So the US pivot toward Asia is all the rage in foreign policy now. Obama and Secretary Clinton genuinely seem to believe in this, and there good reasons for it. Briefly put, Asia has the money, people, and guns to dramatically impact world politics in a way that no other region can now. But I think the US Asian pivot won’t happen much nonetheless, because: 1) Americans, especially Republicans, don’t care about Asia, but they really care about the Middle East (a point the GOP presidential debates made really obvious); 2) Americans know less about Asia than any part of the world, bar Africa perhaps; 3) intra-Asian soft balancing (i.e., almost everyone lining up informally against China) means we don’t really need to be that involved, because our local allies will do most of the work; 4) we’re too broke to replicate in Asia the sort of overwhelming presence we built in the Middle East in the last decades.

On the face of it, a US pivot seems like a good idea, and if the US followed secular, rationalist, (realist-defined) national interest criteria, we would indeed pivot. Looking at global regions, Asia pretty clearly outweighs the rest. Europe and Latin America are mostly democratic, fairly prosperous, and at peace. We don’t really need to be in these places, and we shouldn’t either abet Euro-free-riding or worsen our already bad history in Latin America. Getting out serves our (and their) interests. Africa, sadly, remains a backwater of US interest, with no clear (national security) reason for an already overstretched US to do much. The Middle East, to my mind, is wildly overrated for us. Like Walt, Sullivan, Friedman, and so many others now, I think it’s fairly obvious, ten years after 9/11, that: our relationship with Israel has become unhealthily close, almost obsessive; Islamic terrorism is a wildly overrated threat to the US which we risk worsening by the inevitable blowback to all our action in the Middle East; and we should be moving toward alternative energy so that we can get out of the Gulf. In short, Europe and the Western Hemisphere are basically democratic peace zones, Africa is (sorry) irrelevant, and the ME needs to be cut down to size in our foreign policy phobias.

That leaves Asia, and the reasons for attention should be blindingly obvious. Asia’s economies are growing fast, almost uniformly so. Even place like Cambodia and Vietnam are clocking 5+% growth now. Asian savers and banks fund the ridiculous US budget deficit and export lots of stuff we buy. The number of people Asia has added to the global labor pool (2 billion in the last 25 years) has kept global inflation down for a generation (the largest ever one-time shift in the ratio of capital to labor). Asian markets are now major export destinations for American industries (including academia).

Next, there are a lot of Asians. This seems trite, but if you consider that there are only around 500 million people stretching from Rabat to Islamabad, but 3 times that just in India (!), you quickly get a sense that sheer demographics plays a role. Half the world’s population lives in South, Southeast, and Northeast Asia. And unlike many people in the greater Middle East, Africa, or even Latin America, these people participate in the global economy a lot – as low-cost labor, big savers, importers, exporters, etc.

Third, lots of people means inevitable friction, and lots of money means lots of weapons. Especially NE Asia sometimes feels like Europe before WWI: big, tightly-packed, fast-growing economies; lots of money for bigger and bigger militaries; lots of nationalism and territorial grievances to create sparks. Regional conflict in Asia would dwarf anything since the Cold War. And specifically, China’s rise to regional hegemony would have very obvious security ramifications for the US.

So all this says Asia’s important, but the trends of US domestic politics run strongly against this. I think the Asian pivot for the US won’t take off, at least not for another decade:

1. Who is the constituency for a US shift to Asia? Who in America actually cares about this region enough to drive a major realignment away from long-standing US interests in Europe and the Middle East? I guess the business community cares; they pushed PMFN for China 15 years ago, but they’re souring on China today because of its relentless mercantilism. Perhaps Asian-Americans would like to see this, in the same way that Hispanic-Americans impact US south-of-the-border policy. But there aren’t that many Asian-Americans (4-5%), and they don’t strike me as an organized voice loudly demanding this pivot. Perhaps foreign policy elites want this, but to my mind the think-tank/op-ed pages set (AEI, WSJ, NYT, Fox, Heritage) still seem more interested in the Middle East – when is the last time you read an op-ed about US basing in Japan or Korea, or US CT cooperation with Indonesia? The relevant Asian security stuff regarding the pivot is still scarcely on the radar of the regular media (compared to the coverage of US domestic politics or the Middle East). Finally, does Obama’s electoral coalition care about or want this? As a rule of thumb, the less wealthy you are, the less you care about far-off issues like foreign policy, so it’s unlikely that the underprivileged and youth who helped Obama win want or even care about this. While college educated whites, who also broke for Obama, likely support this, the rest of the Democratic coalition traditionally focuses on domestic issues like education, social mobility, the courts, redistribution and safety nets, etc. Maybe labor unions care a bit, but their trade concerns are dated and generic, rather than Asia-specific, and they probably want less not more engagement with Asia.

But most importantly, the Republican Party, which I think worries about foreign policy a lot more than the Dems, really cares about the Middle East. Remember that something like 30-40% of Americans claim to have had a born-again experience. For them, Israel is, easily, America’s most important ally. Their post-9/11 Kulturkamp with Islam is a central value; they know that worshipping Allah is blasphemous. In that fetid Christianist mindset, what are Korea or China but factory floors far away who make stuff for Walmart? Asia doesn’t activate or mobilize these ‘Jacksonian-Christianist’ voters. When Santorum said in the New Hampshire debate that Iran’s nuclear program is the most important issue in US foreign policy, he was channeling probably one-third of the electorate. Romney and Gingrich too discuss Iran constantly and pledge ‘no daylight’ with Israel. By contrast, what does the Tea Party know or care about China or India? At least Islam looks like a ‘heathen’ analogue to Christianity (a book, similar godhead, prophets) to the US right, but what to make of Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism? Does anyone really believe Joe Tea-partier cares a wit about that stuff? It’s all about culture and religion to the base of the American right these days, and Asia is like outer space to those voters. Where is the ideology, the excitement, the fervor that created the wild paranoias like ‘WWIV’ or the ‘long war’ regarding Islam, in regard to Asia? Zippo…

In short, the Democrats don’t really care about Asia one way or another, besides a vague sense that China is ‘cheating,’ and Republicans want to keep the focus on the Middle East.

More in a few days.

Cross-posted on Asian Security Blog.


What I Learned Teaching IR in Asia (2): Show me the Policy Relevance!

Part one is here, where I noted how teaching IR in Asia taught me how to stop worrying and love American empire, and that American social science’ monolinguism is actually a highly responsible research technique. Here are a few more:

4. Imperial Star‘Fleet Professors, or why everyone seems to want to work for MOFAT. In his essay in Cooperation under Anarchy (btw, was that sorta the bible for anyone else in their first year of IR grad school?), Van Evera had that good remark about ‘fleet professors.’ The German navy, in the race with the Royal Navy, coopted professors, through money, access, and prestige, to make an intellectual case for expansion and competition. We used that term in grad school to indicate PhDs who wanted to work for the government or DoD, or more generally, had possible conflicts of interest because of relations with the state. Yet connection to the state is fairly common in Korea and smiled upon by university administration. Everyone (yes, me too) seems to have some relation to government-affiliated think-tanks and such (here, here, here). Conferences routinely and explicitly invite policy-makers and expect academics to comment on current issues. I worry about this, because government preferences inevitably influence positions, and it is so easy to get pulled into predictions for which you have little knowledge beyond a few articles you’ve read. I am regularly asked when NK will collapse, e.g., or who should own the Liancourt Rocks, but as Saideman noted, it’s so easy to put your foot in your mouth when you reach like that. It’s also kind of easy for this to turn into an academic food-fight, as it did the first time I debated a Chinese IR academic. By contrast, I find Korean colleagues quite excited to engage in the policy-making joust. 

The idea that this might damage the ‘speaking truth to power’ role of the professoriate is generally not worried about. (Read this on the issue.) Instead, following the yangban legacy (similar to the Chinese mandarins), the idea is that PhDs, with all their accumulated wisdom (hah! somebody call the Tea Party!), should help guide the state better. On the one hand, this is terribly flattering. Koreans, and east Asians generally, respect academics in a way I was wholly unprepared for, especially given the widespread American attitude that we are either overintellectualized ballonheads who lose our glasses on our foreheads, or a liberal atheist threat to the good values of Christian America. I get invited to speak at think-tanks and public events, talk on the radio, and write in newspapers in way I never was at home. On the other hand, it does raise the next issue…

5. Enough of your model-building, Poindexter! We need policy relevance! Walt regularly laments that IR, and political science generally, are too abstract and too distant from reality (certainly grad school was). Korea and China (although not Japan so much in my experience) are the opposite. Political science is so policy relevant that it often threatens to become public policy prescription instead. I remember this issue of ISR which pretty much found that outside the US and a few other places, political science isn’t really about basic research at all. I understand in Korea, with the enormous pressure of NK on everything we do in IR here, why this is so; bizarre and terrifying, NK inevitably dominates a huge amount of my teaching and conference time. But I do think this impoverishes Korean IR theoretically. (Here is the best IR journal to come out of Korea; let me know what you think.) And with Chinese colleagues, it is worse. It is hard to tell how much of their policy edge comes from ties to the state, and how much is ‘overseen’ by the state or required by the party (although like most people, I have found Chinese scholars in private to be far less ideological and aggressive than at the conference table). My experience is that Chinese political science is pretty much public policy, not what Duck methodologists would consider social science. At some point, this will have to change in order to address issue 3 (American IR dominance). In the Korean case, given the enormous amount of time devoted to NK in IR here, I can’t see this until after unification.

6. Springer’s Final Thought: Nobody wins when IR theory cheats on its cases. Dave Kang once told me that East Asia is a ‘candy store’ of cases for IR, and they are terribly under-researched. Teaching here has really shown me that. Forget all your standard (i.e., western) IR examples like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the inter-war period, or Napoleon. Undergrads here only know this stuff vaguely, and you can’t connect with them if all you’ve got are stories about white guys. Start thinking about the Imjin War or Qianlong, and if you don’t know what that means, that’s the whole point. There are lots of good puzzles. For example, why don’t Japan and SK ally balance against China as realism/balance of power theory says they should? What about a pre-modern Confucian peace? It is unfortunate that Asian work on this is underdeveloped. Asian history has many good cases that we don’t know about, because we are overfocused on conflicts that are both modern (after Columbus) and Western.  That space-time limit (Western, post-1500) has really struck me most as an IR theorist living here. Just within the West, consider that Rome and Carthage have scarcely been explored a as bipolar system, even though modern IR is pretty much built on cold war bipolarity. Then think about the fact that China has been a reasonably coherent entity for something like 2200 years. The room for IR theory application and improved generalizability is huge.

Cross-posted at Asia Security Blog.


What I Learned Teaching IR in Asia (1): Learning to Love US Hegemony

I’d like to thank Duck contributors/editor, especially Vikash, for soliciting my contribution. The Duck is a great site, one I link to a lot on my own blog, so I am happy to come aboard. Thank you.

I have been teaching IR in Korea for almost 4 years. Generally, it’s a lot like teaching it in the West. The same theories get circulated, and we read the same journals. My university, a big state school, is organized a lot like any Big U in the US – dozens of departments, huge faculty, growing administration, a large middle class student body (but no student athletics). As at home, my department has theorists, internationalists, comparativists, and Koreanists. In fact, given how far away the Western system is geographically, it is almost a little too easy, too seamless. I guess this means political science really is a globalizing discipline.

So here are a few macro-lessons I have picked up teaching and conferencing IR in Asia:

1. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the American Empire, young PhD. Ron Paul voters and retrenchers beware. If you think America is an empire, bullying hegemon, overbearing interventionist, or otherwise enjoy Steve Walt’s blog, you’ll be a lot more struck by the obviousness of the US presence than in Europe. I lived in Germany in the 90s, but the US footprint here is a lot more outstanding. Korea is pretty much ground zero for the ‘empire of bases’ argument of Chalmers Johnson, and the State Department couldn’t care less about your hotshot PhD from the People’s Republic of Berkeley. At conference after conference, you see the American influence everywhere. I meet people from Heritage, CSIS, Brookings, the US State Department, and the US military on the rubber chicken circuit regularly, and the party-line on the American presence in Asia is enforced pretty vigorously. Even though there’s a deep IR consensus now that the US uses too much force and faces retrenchment due to overstretch, the US community here studiously avoids mention of things like the implications of the staggering US debt on its alliances. There is real collision between what I read as an IR guy, and what I hear on the policy conference circuit.

My own feelings are mixed: I worry a lot about overstretch and the growing excesses of the national security state, but I can think of few uses of US force more noble than defending a democracy like SK against the worst country on earth. Still, the commitment to forward basing and extended deterrence is all but universal, and don’t dare call it empire (as, ironically, do neocons when they’re candid, as well as a lot of my students). You can ask why the US should spend 5% of GDP on defense (actually its closer to 8%) when Japan spends less than 1%. You can ask if perhaps we should be ‘nation-building at home’ (Obama) with 9% unemployment, instead of semi-encircling China.You can ask if the massive US global footprint, including 28k warfighters plus another 100kcontractors and family members in Korea, might chain-gang the US into an unwanted Asian war even though SK’s GDP is 26x NK’s. But you’ll get no good answer other than suspicion that you like Neville Chamberlain. The think tank-industrial complex ‘fusion’ around endless engagement is deeply entrenched
2. English, English ueber alles. Cultural imperialism abets my laziness, or, as a professor in grad school once told me, ‘you don’t need to learn languages, because it all gets translated anyway.’ Ah, yes, luxuriate in your Anglo-American social science supremacy, because thankfully Asians actually tolerate your linguistic lameness on your behalf! My colleagues’ patience with my atrocious Korean is legend, but English is everywhere – conferences are offered with simultaneous translation (try to imagine that at APSA), journals will double-print with translations, Korean colleagues all speak English and don’t even bother to expect you to try anymore (so embarrassing that), support staff too speak fluently, and, perhaps my favorite, you can watch Korean, Chinese, and Japanese scholars duke it out among each other in English at the conferences (that was a real shock the first time I saw it – I guess I had a vague sense they would all speak Chinese). So if you think that culture is a tiresome linguistic quirk blocking your equations and Verstehen is ‘soft,’ Asian IR is here to vindicate your monolinguistic laziness masquerading as universalist rationalism!
3. One American IR ring to rule them all. Somewhere in grad school, I remember that whole discussion about IR as an American social science. Once again, you can really see that here. Korean PS journals are filled with regular laments about how little indigenous Korean political theory there is, and how concepts simply get pulled over from the US and maybe they don’t fit. IR here is most definitely that way. I’m 12 time zones away, but everyone around me still reads IO, IS, ISQ, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, OUP, etc., etc. In the same way I am uncomfortable with the cultural imperialist undertones of the ubiquity of English, I find the overwhelming dominance of US IR somewhat disheartening (as do many of my colleagues). In what had to be the most surreal and disturbing moment in this vein, I was in Beijing for a conference on China’s rise. A Chinese IR grad student was walking me around (showing me the Forbidden City and such). When the conversation turned to her training, there I was recommending to her what to read (Friedberg, Kang, Ross, and Hui), in English, on her own country! All I could think of was how much more this woman would ever know about China than me, and here I was telling her what to read – and it was a bunch of Americans. So embarrassing.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.
Part two will go up in a few days.


© 2021 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑