You can’t read or listen to the news without stumbling upon the story that the United States and a coalition of powers have just signed a comprehensive nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Pundits on all sides of the ideological spectrum are lining up to give their two cents’ worth on what the deal means for U.S. national security interests, the Middle East, U.S.-Iran relations, U.S.-Israeli interests and U.S. foreign policy in general. The discussions of the merits of the deal bring up historic analogies to make sense of this agreement: Is it historic in its transformation of the international system and twenty first century international relations? Or is it historic in that it represents a disastrous moment in which the United States has just taken a few steps toward armageddon? [Read more…]
In the Spring of 1998 I sat nervously in a conference room at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University. This was the day that I would defend my dissertation and enter the ranks of the scholarly.
Professor Charles Doran, my thesis advisor entered into the room, pointed to the food at the table and said “Better eat up! In about an hour you will have no appetite!” The topic of my dissertation was “Peaceful Transfers of Foreign Policy Roles in International Systems“, a mouthful then as it is now. But in short it was about how major powers could work with rising challengers to jointly manage the international system.
History does not provide many positive examples of such successful international cooperation. In fact, the record is downright abysmal. In most instances hegemonic powers, those powers who dominated the international system, set the rules, and punished countries who violated them, and rising challengers, those countries who seek to revise the status quo and seek to enhance their stature and position in the system, tend to enter into major conflicts with each other leading to systemic wars. [Read more…]
Last week the East-West Center published research that Patrick McNulty and I conducted for the National Defense University between 2012 and 2014. The article entitled “Claimant Tactics in the South China Sea: By the Numbers” was an effort to collect empirical data which characterized claimant actions in defense of, or to advance territorial claims. You can see the article here at this link. To summarize, we conducted internet searches of claimant activity between 1995 and 2013. We placed the different actions that these countries undertook into nine categories (Military, Paramilitary, Economic, Legal, Informational, Administrative and Diplomatic, (Diplomatic actions got divided into three sub-categories, Negotiation actions, Coalition Diplomacy, and Dispute Management)). For a full description of these categories and the analysis of these actions please see the above link and previously published work linked here.
For this blog I want to bring the reader’s attention to something that I found equally interesting: foreign audience reactions to this research. [Read more…]
In recent weeks a number of commentaries have emerged sounding the alarm that conflict between the United States and China are inevitable or at least increasingly likely. In particular these commentaries are quick to point to the confrontation between the Chinese Navy and the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in the South China Sea; China’s land reclamation activities in the Spratlys which has served to heighten tensions in the region; the Chinese press, notably The Global Times commentary that “if the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, the U.S.-China War is inevitable in the South China Sea”; the continued build up of China’s military and navy to increasingly operate further from China’s shores; the recent news of cyber hacking of the U.S. Federal Government originating in China; the increasingly pointed words coming from the political leadership of both countries; the recent news of the U.S.S. Shiloh pulling into Subic Bay; and China’s bellicose behavior over the past two years in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea (standoffs with Japan, the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, China Maritime Law Enforcement vessels confronting the fishing vessels and law enforcement vessels of claimant countries, and the China-Vietnam Oil Rig Stand off of the Spring of 2014). For many observers these examples portend a dark future between the United States and China. These events are indeed troubling and do signal the possibility of turbulent relations between the two great powers, but the likelihood of all out conflict between the two countries is unlikely. Here’s why: [Read more…]
Professor James Holmes and I are in the middle of the usual public back and forth that takes place between academics who disagree strongly. In a January piece here at War on the Rocks, Holmes took issue with an article I wrote that was published in the Diplomat, which itself was a rejoinder to his article criticizing our National Defense University (NDU) report, “Not An Idea We Have to Shun: Chinese Overseas Basing Requirements in the Twenty First Century” (NDU Press, October 2014). Holmes first takes me to task for not responding to the substance of his argument that a fictitious Spanish NDU would have concluded in 1897 that the United States would not build bases and engage in conflict with the Spanish Empire. His larger conclusion is “Never Say Never!” Next, he accuses the NDU report of “cherry picking” its definition of the “String of Pearls” concept, essentially creating a “straw man” and then shooting it down. He prefers the definition laid out in the original Booz Allen Hamilton Report to the Office of Net Assessment in 2004, which hypothesizes that China will form commercial and strategic partnerships in the Indian Ocean to ensure continued access to facilities there to protect China’s overseas shipping and access to energy and raw materials.