Sunday, August 31, 2008

Book Review: Those who helped break the oppressors’ back

For many who, for one reason or another, choose to make it their home, Taiwan is part opportunity and part love affair. From its weather, natural beauty, history, culture, food and wonderful people to the cross-strait reflection of what it chose not to be, Taiwan is a muse that over the years has transformed many a transitory visitor into a permanent friend fully committed to protecting it from the many ills — environmental, political — that threaten its existence. While the principal threat to Taiwan today is China’s designs upon it and Beijing’s political isolation of Taiwan on the international scene, not so long ago enemy No. 1 was at home, under the form of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) regimes, both supported financially, politically and militarily by the US in their repression of Taiwanese as part of Washington’s crusade against communism.

Then as now, many expatriates who came to Taiwan chose not to remain silent and did what they could to help give Taiwanese a voice. A Borrowed Voice: Taiwan human rights through international networks, 1960-1980, which I review in today’s issue of the Taipei Times, is their story. Readers can access the full article, titled "Those who helped break the oppressors' back," by clicking here (Features pages are now available in .pdf for original print format).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why the US does not want a nuclear Iran

While almost every day we are told that the US, the UN and the West in general oppose a nuclear Iran because of the belief that Tehran could use enrichment to turn a peaceful nuclear energy plan into a nuclear weapons program, or that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defying the international community on the matter because he is irrational, seeks confrontation or wants to “destroy” Israel,* the real reasons why the West opposes Iran’s nuclear ambitions rather lie in economics. In fact, we must look back to the 1970s to find the seeds of the current crisis, when powerful US and British oil and banking interests launched a campaign to increase the price of oil while, through funding to environmental groups and security think tanks, seeking to discredit nuclear energy as a safe, clean source of energy and creating fears of nuclear proliferation (the bid worked, as our continued reliance on the black gold shows us). Later on, Western powers used the UN Security Council to block certain states from going nuclear while allowing allies to pass the threshold, even when those states were not signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), such as Israel and India.

When it comes to oil-rich Iran, the US and its allies have argued that it makes no sense — aside from nuclear weapons ambitions — for Tehran to seek nuclear energy precisely because it has so much oil. What this rationalization fails to consider, however, is that Iran, just like any other country, seeks to maximize its oil profits by exporting it rather than reserving it for domestic consumption, all the more so when prices are so high. If Iran managed to produce enough nuclear fuel to feed its reactors, a mere 1-gigawatt reactor would produce enough power to accommodate an industrial city of 1 million people. Add a few of those and Iran could soon be self-sufficient and therefore in a position to export more oil and use the money to develop its infrastructure.

But this the US will not allow. Why? Because it has long been Washington’s policy (and before it, London’s) to keep oil-producing states in the Middle East relatively weak so that they will never be able to challenge Western interests. While Tehran’s supposed intransigence on the issue is used by the West and its media mouthpieces to explain the lack of progress in talks and the attendant series of economic sanctions, the truth is that the West does not want a nuclear Iran and will continue to move the goal posts to stall the process indefinitely (this would explain the US’ refusal to even consider closely monitored minimal uranium enrichment in Iran as an alternative to full-cycle enrichment, while Western support for the proposal that Russia provide Iran with nuclear fuel now looks dead in the water, given the strained relations between the West and Russia following the latter’s invasion of Georgia earlier this month).

“Lack of transparence” on Tehran’s part is currently the reason given to justify sanctions and Western opposition. However, even if tomorrow Tehran were to become the epitome of transparency, nuclear power would still remain beyond its reach and new reasons would be found to account for the lack of developments, from enmity with Israel to support for terrorism (Hezbollah, Hamas) to meddling in Iraq or Afghanistan and so on.

As in the past, a lot can be explained by looking at who’s behind declarations and which institutions are funding whom in the battle of ideas. From think tanks to oil companies to big banks to publishing houses, many have an interest in ensuring that Iran remains relatively weak.

* Ahmadinejad’s supposed calls for the “destruction” of Israel are hotly contested and are probably more the result of mistranslation or manipulation than a heartfelt wish for the Jewish state’s destruction, which in any case would inevitably result in the annihilation of Iran by either Israel (which has nuclear weapons) or the US. Ahmadinejad and his cabinet do not have a death wish, nor is Ahmadinejad in a position where he can make unilateral decisions that would affect the future of his state. Ahmadinejad is a populist in the same mold as Mohammed Mossadegh, whom the US and British intelligence helped overthrow in 1953 (again mostly over oil).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Now the real games begin

Despite the unfortunate stabbing of a US national on day one, a few questions about possibly under-aged Chinese divers and the occasional pro-Tibet demonstrations and subsequent arrests, it could be said that Beijing successfully weathered the Olympic storm that, as many had claimed, would take the Chinese leadership to the mat. None of Beijing’s predictions of Uighur or Tibetan “terrorists” attacking Olympic venues materialized, while the world’s response to its failure to allow the media to act freely and for protests to be held at a predetermined venue was conspicuous in its meekness.

Maybe the twin security-charm offensive paid dividends, managing to hold dangerous elements at bay while dazzling the world with proof of China’s economic development. All in all, Beijing must be delighted with the outcome.

But as the air clears of canon powder and the athletes start returning home, China finds itself with challenges of Olympian proportions — the interplay between a cooling economy and continued social discontent. Reports have it that during the Games, the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met daily to discuss the economy and that a meeting is scheduled next month to discuss means to address growing unemployment and an exports sector — the core of its economy — that is threatened by a global economic slowdown.

Locked in a feedback loop with threats to the economy is people’s resistance to forced evictions, corruption and environmental catastrophes, none of which will have disappeared despite the illusion of modernity the Games may have created. In fact, cognizant of the amount of money Beijing spent on the event, people all over China whose needs for employment and security are not met may be justified in turning their criticism of the CPP up one notch — especially if, as analysts have predicted, the economy takes a turn for the worst.

Expect to see the first showdowns in parts of China where the twin factors of a weak economy and ethnic tensions are prevalent. Xinjiang, where most minority Muslim Uighurs reside and which remains one of the poorest provinces in the country (it falls in the “impoverished” category in Business Week’s survey of Chinese per capita income), could soon turn into the greatest threat to China’s stability. In fact, last week Chinese authorities were hinting at the need to deal swiftly with what they perceive as an existential threat to China in Xinjiang (separatism), which for Uighurs could mean mass preventive detentions and, in the extreme, more bloodshed.

The Olympics were all about illusion and reality-defying human feats of determination. But ultimately this was a bubble, and once that bubble has deflated, reality quickly creeps in to fill the vacuum. While Beijing staked its international reputation on them, it will soon realize that well-coordinated ceremonies that leave the audience breathless did not immunize it from having to address pressing socioeconomic challenges.

Despite the image of modernity and unity that China sought to broadcast to the world by hosting the Games and the tremendous financial expenditure that went into ensuring such an outcome, China is no better off today and it continues to face the very challenge it faced before the Games opened earlier this month, that of maintaining social stability.

This time around, however, the restraints on its behavior created by the world’s attention in the lead-up to the Games no longer exist and carrots and sticks will not as readily dissuade the CCP from choosing the path of violence to deal with domestic problems.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beggars and choosers

In light of his track record on the US-led “war on terrorism” and conservative policies in general, it is rather unusual for me to defend Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. By further involving Canadian troops in the deadly Afghan quagmire and bending over backwards to display Ottawa’s subservience to the US and Israel, Harper and his Cabinet have damaged Canada’s hard-earned image abroad as a peace-loving, law-abiding country worthy of emulation.

One area where Harper deserves some praise, however, is in his policies vis-à-vis China, with whom he has taken a “strong” stance on human rights — at least when compared with his position on allied human rights violators, such as the US and Israel. Harper’s criticism of Beijing’s track record on human rights culminated (or so it seems) with his decision not to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing, which many world leaders had also threatened to boycott amid a crackdown by Chinese security forces in Tibet this summer. While most heads of state have since come back on that decision and ended up attending the Olympics, Harper chose not to, claiming, if perhaps unconvincingly, that he had a “busy” schedule. Given the magnitude of the event and the fact that we have known for years that the Games would be held in August this year, it would have been easy for Harper to make time for Beijing. His decision not to do so cannot but have been meant to send a political message to Beijing.

While the leadership in Beijing has its hands full ensuring the success of the Olympics, the attack on Harper came from unexpected quarters — former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien, who during his long tenure did his utmost to cozy up to China and reap the financial benefits.

Harper’s “snub,” the former leader said from Quebec City, had damaged Sino-Canadian relations, and by breaking the “bridge” ostensibly built between Ottawa and Beijing when the Liberals were in power, he had put Canadian firms seeking to do business in China at a disadvantage. “We are [now] at the bottom of the ladder in terms of having any influence with China,” he said. “Ask any businessman who has been to China [of late] and he will tell you the same thing.”

Chretien then said that “We do business with Saudi Arabia and they’re not a big democracy,” which rather incongruously implies that Harper’s refusal to attend the Games meant the same thing as not wanting to do business with China.

The problem with his salvo, however, is that while Chretien claims to understand how the Chinese think — “You know, they have a collective memory there that is very important” — it is based on a complete misreading of the Chinese leadership, the Chinese business sector, as well as the ability of world leaders to distinguish between politics and business. If trade relations between countries were predicated on warm political relations, then very few countries nowadays would be doing business with the US, or Israel, Russia or Pakistan — or even China, for that matter. In fact, even the absence of official diplomatic relations, as is the idiosyncratic case of Taiwan, has not prevented it from doing business with others, or from other countries to seek trade relations with it.

While Beijing continues to wield the political stick, the fact remains that it is not about to end trade relations with a G8 country over a prime minister’s failure to show up at a sports event. At most, Beijing will bark, perhaps recall an official in retaliation, but the long-term consequences will, as always, be inconsequential, because China just cannot afford to make them bite. Furthermore, while the Chinese private sector is not entirely independent of the Chinese Communist Party, in recent years it has increasingly gained a voice of its own, and if establishing new business partnerships with Canadian firms is in the best interest of the private sector, company chiefs are not about to abandon those for the sake of politics or allow the CCP to dictate business decisions. Chretien’s understanding of the Chinese business sector is at least 30 years out of date and harkens back to a time when the CCP had complete control over every aspect of the country, including international trade.

In the end, it all boils down to this: The hypocrisy that taints relations between the world and China works both ways. While critics of China’s human rights record can be accused of undermining their argument by continuing to do business with it, China suffers from the same myopia and continues to do business with its critics, even with the US and Taiwan. What this means, therefore, is that the argument that Canada could somehow “lose out” in the Chinese market over “undiplomatic” criticism of Beijing’s domestic policies — as Chretien made clear on Tuesday — has no credibility whatsoever, as I am sure “the businessman who has been to China” in recent years would tell us.

At best, this was Chretien playing politics ahead of a possible election call. At worst, this was a former prime minister who couldn’t even be bothered to criticize a gross violator of human rights, even when he knows that doing so carries little risk.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why South Ossetia matters to Taiwan

As the world holds its breath and awaits confirmation that Russian troops have pulled out of Georgia, it is becoming clear that Europe has entered a new era of big power competition, with Russia trying to salvage what is left of its influence and the US/NATO continuing to fill the vacuum left following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But while the hostilities over South Ossetia seem to have ceased, the underlying factors — US hegemony and Russia’s counterbalancing strategy, oil, separatism — remain and will continue to threaten the region. With the US set to sign a missile defense site deal with Poland on Wednesday and Russia seeking to establish a permanent military base in South Ossetia, the likelihood of a flare-up remains high.

Beyond this are the risks to international stability that Russia’s massive response in Georgia engendered, especially when it comes to Beijing’s stance on the Taiwan issue. In "The wider implications of Georgia," published today in the Taipei Times, I argue that the precedent set by Moscow — an increasingly close ally of the People’s Republic of China — in Georgia could have serious implications for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The ugly illusion

For those who live far away from China or who do not focus on its domestic politics on a regular basis, China seems to be coterminous with “rise,” an economy growing in the double digits, and the center of gravity of the future. All the media hype about Asia’s “new miracle” — exacerbated in recent weeks by TV and magazine features about its rich history and gigantic cities — could give the uneducated mind the impression that all is well in China.

But it’s all illusion. Away from the media — which Chinese authorities continue to hound, despite promises to open up for the Olympics — is a state that, for some China watchers, barely hangs by a thread and could collapse on its own weight at any moment. Poverty is rampant and discontent widespread, as entire groups of people are uprooted by force or evicted for mega construction projects, millions work in subhuman conditions in factories, and ethnic groups, from Tibetans to Mongols to Uighurs, are crushed under the heel of a state that will not recognize their identity or religious beliefs. All of this the Chinese authorities do not want you to see. Worse, Mao Zedong (毛澤東), responsible for the death of tens of millions of Chinese, remains an icon, his portrait omnipresent in key areas, his crimes beyond scrutiny, a taboo subject, as if even the ills of the past cannot bear scrutiny.

For the more optimistic analysts, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has things under control, but this comes at a price: Repression of dissidents, pervasive censorship, double-speak and propaganda. In other words, a police state. For visitors to China — especially diplomats — CCP minders ensure that the guests are only allowed to see what the state wants them to see (call this the “Gorbachev detour,” after his drive from the airport in 1989 was rerouted so he would not see the demonstrations and, later on, the massacre at Tiananmen Square). As a result, visitors to China usually return home with flattering stories about how well China is doing and how developed it has become. But it's a lie.

Though seemingly innocuous, Beijing’s latest illusion epitomizes everything that is wrong with China.

Her name is Yang Peiyi (杨沛宜), whose voice was heard by hundreds of millions of people all over the world during the Olympic Games opening ceremonies. Perfect looking, the essence of a beautiful Chinese child with an angel-like voice. The problem is that while little Peiyi’s voice moved us, the beautiful child we were fawning over wasn’t her and didn’t sing a single note. As it turns out, during a rehearsal, CCP officials ruled that Peiyi wasn’t good-looking enough for the nation; her lips were crooked and she was a little chubby (pictured right, with Lin Miaoke, her stand-in, on the left). So, like everything else in China, the state served the world an illusion to mask its true self.

When a government deems a talented child unworthy because of her physical appearance (and she is a perfectly fine looking child), there is something terribly wrong with it indeed. And it begs the question: If it can stoop so low, how could we ever believe it when it promises a “peaceful rise,” or “peace” across the Taiwan Strait? Or that it will act responsibly as it sells weapons to murderous regimes, from Sudan to Zimbabwe to Myanmar? Or that, come the next epidemic, it will do what it must to ensure global health? Or do its part on global warming?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In Memoriam: Anthony Russo

There were many occasions during my long struggle to complete Smokescreen, my expose of Canadian security intelligence follies and incompetence, when I almost gave up, believing that the project was either impossible or, worse, that publishing the verboten would land me into trouble with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), my former employer.

But whenever I found myself on the brink of giving up and flushing the manuscript down the toilet, something would happen (call it fate, or just plain luck) that would convince me that I shouldn’t. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the arrest of 17 individuals in Toronto in June of that year over an alleged terrorist plot, Canadian soldiers killing and getting killed in Afghanistan, and the long march, inch by inch, to war with Iran — all intensified the chorus inside my head telling me that my book had to see the light of day, that what I had to say as a former intelligence officer and individual of conscience mattered.

Another thing that encouraged me to bring this painful project to fruition was reading Daniel Ellsberg’s book Secrets: A memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, which depicts the intellectual and emotional journey of an earnest Cold Warrior in Vietnam. After returning from Southeast Asia on a fact-finding mission, Ellsberg went back to work as an analyst for RAND Corporation, a think-tank with ties to the US Air Force, where he had been employed in the early 1960s. Soon afterwards, then-US secretary of defense Robert McNamara commissioned a study of the conduct of the Vietnam War, to which Ellsberg participated. Completed in 1968, the documents came to be known as the Pentagon Papers.

A year later, Ellsberg had become convinced that the Vietnam War not only couldn’t be won, but that it was wrong, and that the entire adventure was built on layer upon of layer of lies to the American public. Over time, and as Ellsberg befriended anti-war protesters, he reached the conclusion that it was his duty, as someone from the "inside," to do everything he could to end the war, risking his career — and the safety of his family — in the process. After failed attempts to gain the ear of sympathetic US senators, Ellsberg’s quest culminated in his decision to leak the Pentagon Papers, all of 7,000 pages, to the New York Times.

One person who helped him in the process, and who also risked his career, was Anthony Russo (pictured right), also at RAND. Soon after the first excerpts were published, the US government took the Times to court in an attempt to embargo publication. The paper ultimately won the case (New York Times Co. v. United States) and publication of the Papers continued, prompting the Nixon administration to target Ellsberg via the FBI, wiretap his conversations, break into his psychiatrist’s office and, in 1973, Ellsberg’s and Russo’s trial. Given the subsequent exposure of gross government misconduct, all charges against the duo were eventually dropped. The rest is history, with Nixon soon forced out of office and the entire Vietnam War discredited.

Anthony Russo, whom Ellsberg called a “courageous collaborator” and who defied the all-powerful defense apparatus and system of silence of which he was part to expose the truth about an unjust war, died in Suffolk on Wednesday. He was 71. His name may have been unknown to most, and his death unnoticed by many, but we all owe him a debt of gratitude. I know I do, as it is people like him who gave me the strength and courage to complete what would become my own version of the Pentagon Papers (minus the classified material) and to keep striving to tell truth to power. May others carry on.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

It’s the Cold War all over again

Anyone who has followed (even if only remotely) developments in Eastern Europe in the past few years would have seen it coming. In fact, no sooner had the Iron Curtain crumbled than US policymakers were planting the seeds of a future in Europe that could not but lead to the violence that exploded between Russian and Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia on Friday, which as of Sunday evening had reportedly claimed as many as 2,000 lives — mostly civilians — and forced as many as 30,000 people to leave their homes.

Not that any of this was inevitable, mind you. In fact, there is reason to believe that on their own, ethnic and political tensions within Georgia could likely have been managed, and large-scale violence avoided. What happened, however, is that Georgia became caught in a Cold-War-like battle of influence between the “West” — the US plus NATO — and Russia, which for good reasons has in recent years felt increasingly isolated, following the creeping expansion of NATO into areas, such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia, that historically had been in Russia’s sphere of influence. To which we might add Washington’s plans to implement a nuclear-defense system in Russia’s backyard. US claims that the system only targets “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea has failed to attenuate Moscow’s protestations and prompted it to seek to counterbalance US expansionism by striking alliances with Beijing and Tehran, blocking resolutions at the UN and, as recently as last week, proposing an ominous return to the Cold War by seeking the reinvigorate its ties with Havana, which could include military assistance. Moscow did not even attempt to mask the fact that its most recent overture to its old ally in the Caribbean was in response to NATO/US activity in its neighborhood.

Within this context, it is not surprising that Moscow would interpret the “Velvet Revolution” of 2003 in Georgia as having been backed, if not altogether orchestrated, by the US and its allies (a view shared by the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing). Given Georgia’s strategic location as a major pipeline for Caspian oil to the Mediterranean and the US’ designs on energy sources, it is easy to understand Moscow’s paranoia and why it would construe Georgia’s decade-old move to distance itself from Moscow as an outright land grab by the US. This was highlighted by the US’ and the West’s immediate support for Georgia in the current conflict, while the blame was lain fully on Moscow, which has supported separatists in South Ossetia since a civil war in the early 1990s created the de-facto enclave. A more nuanced reaction by the West could have help mitigate Moscow’s apprehensions.

To demonstrate how a seemingly localized conflict had its roots in (and in turn influences) the international system, Israel, a staunch ally of the US and clearly in the Western camp, was announcing yesterday that it could cease all weapons sales to Georgia lest its continuance prompt Moscow to increase its support for Syria and Iran. Ukraine, meanwhile, which has plans to join NATO, announced on Sunday night that it could prevent Russian warships involved in the Georgia operation from returning to port in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

The current crisis in Georgia is only a symptom of things to come, as the pressure cooker of the post-Cold War system had reached a point where it needed to let out some steam. Sadly for the victims in Georgia, it did not have to come to this. The fall of the Berlin Wall had presented us with a golden opportunity to start anew and erase the long-standing divisions that for half a century had held the world hostage to nuclear war, in which even the most local of conflicts — Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, to name a few — were subsumed into the ideological/economic clash between the East and the West. While there is no doubt that Russia has retained some of its past imperialist reflexes and, as it fell back on its feet, sought to regain some of what it had “lost” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was mostly the US’ thirst for hegemony that prompted countries like Russia, China and Iran to seek to counterbalance it and led to the renewed East/West divide that now appears to be upon us yet again today. As every political scientist in the realist camp would tell you, a unipolar world does not remain so for very long, as other states or groups of state will seek to tie it down a la Gulliver. The US had its uniploar moment, but that could be ending soon.

What does this mean for the future? Chances are that conflicts everywhere will once again be regionalized or internationalized, and thus rendered more difficult to resolve as they are inextricably involved in the power plays between the US/NATO and the Russo-Sino axis, with swing states in between.

It took humanity 18 years. Welcome to the past, to Cold War 2.0.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Right words, wrong person

US President George W. Bush has “deep concerns” about the human rights situation in China, and he intends to say just that during a speech in Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday, just before he arrives in China for the Olympic Games starting on Friday. “America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,” Bush is expected to say, based on transcripts of his speech released by the White House on Wednesday. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights … because trusting [Chinese] people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

This is all nice and well, except for one thing: Bush is the one making the speech. Given his own atrocious track record on respecting human rights both at home and abroad — to wit, the imprisonment of thousands of Muslims, the great majority of whom were innocent, in the US following 9/11, domestic antiterrorism laws that have seriously undermined the liberties and freedoms of US citizens and people transiting through the US, the Guantanamo Bay prison system, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the normalization of torture — Bush is hardly the right person to lecture the Chinese Community Party (CCP) on freedoms and liberties.

This is not to say that China does not have a huge human rights mess on its hands — it certainly does — and the entire global community should be saying similar things to the CPP leadership. The problem with Bush’s plea it that it will fall on deaf ears, as he has no credibility whatsoever and no one in Beijing will take him seriously, just as Pakistani President (or dictator) Pervez Musharraf, or Uzbek President (or dictator) Islam Karimov, to name just two of the US’ allies in the “war on terror,” continue to ignore Bush’s lectures on democracy while his government continues to give them billions in military aid. It is akin to a mass murderer telling a prison cell mate “Thou shalt not kill,” or a bank robber telling a car thief that the latter’s chosen profession is reprehensible.

The Associated Press may editorialize that Bush’s speech is likely to “anger” China, and Beijing will likely oblige by expressing that “anger” and continue claiming that China’s behavior domestically is no one’s business, but in the end this is all shadow boxing, the games cynics — democratically elected and authoritarian alike — play over the heads of enfeebled populations.

The speech is fine. The lecturer is a fraud.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Condi’s prescription for failure

One can almost feel the static in the air around academics whenever Foreign Affairs magazine is set to publish a major article by a top US government official or renowned expert, a tradition that goes back to George Kennan’s famous "X" article, “The sources of Soviet conduct,” in 1947. Weeks are spent in anticipation, with barrages of e-mails speculating on the expected breakthroughs or enlightened paradigm shifts that are to be found in the piece. Such excitement may have preceded the publication of soon-to-be national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s article in 2000, and certainly did before she recidivated in the current issue of the influential magazine. Sadly, however, Rice’s “Rethinking the national interest” does very little rethinking and instead advocates more of the same foreign policies that turned the George W. Bush administration into a synonym for calamity.

Readers can access my long response to Rice’s article in "Condoleezza Rice's prescription for a future of disaster and chaos," published today in the Taipei Times.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Taking a step back on the ‘arms freeze’

Followers of developments in the Taiwan Strait have all been in suspense as they wait to see whether the US arms package (which includes the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, seen left) sale to Taipei will proceed or not. Absent clear signals from Washington, pundits, in the US and elsewhere, have come up with a number of theories as to why the administration of George W. Bush would choose to go against the spirit of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and “freeze” already approved arms sales to Taiwan, from a desire to appease an increasingly influential China in Washington to fear that the arms package could disrupt ongoing “peace” efforts between Taipei and Beijing. What the great majority of op-ed pieces and talking heads have failed to take into account, however, is US grand strategy, realism as a guiding principle, as well as the history of the US “empire,” which, in Europe as well as in Asia, provides clues as to what may be behind the current “freeze.”

In "Hegemonism behind arms 'freeze,'" published today in the Taipei Times, I attempt to kick-start debate in that direction and argue that US policy on preventing the emergence of multipolarity in the international system is what is preventing the arms sale from materializing. It also provides, I hope, a key to reading future US arms sales to the region.