My Extended Comments on Potential South Korean/Japanese Nuclearization for the Asian Leadership Conference and Foreign Policy Magazine

imageI spoke at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul a few weeks ago on S Korean/Japanese indigenous nuclearization and then published my basic thinking with Foreign Policy magazine on the topic a few days later.

Both of the venues required a more abbreviated presentation for time/space constraints, so I thought I would put up my full remarks here, at my own site. Here is the 2022 ALC site, and here is my original article for FP.

In brief, my argument is that the US should get out of the way to let Seoul and Tokyo make up their own mind. The US has long opposed ROK/Jpn nuclearization, but increasingly that strikes me as inappropriately hegemonic or strong-arming of them. There is a pretty strong case for SK and Japan to counter-nuclearize against China, Russia, and especially NK. I sketch that in detail after the jump, but the short version is:

1. The US is not going to exchange LA for Seoul/Tokyo. In 1961, de Gaulle asked JFK would he exchange NY for Paris. JFK waffled; de Gaulle was no idiot; he built French nukes shortly afterwards. The logic is the same here. The US is not going to fight a nuclear war solely for non-Americans. This will raise endless, irresolvable credibility debates between the US and its Asian allies. The best way to resolve that is to do what our European allies did – self-insure through indigenous nuclearization.

2. Trump will likely get elected – or ‘elected’ – in 2024, and he will ‘blow up’ the ROK alliance as he promised he would. So ROK nuclearization may happen no matter what we think. And a US retrenchment from SK would probably scare Japan so much that the whole nuclear debate there would shift substantially to the right.

There is a lot of anxiety about this step, and I share it too. So I don’t endorse SK/J nuclearization. But there is SK polling showing high interest in this, and SK is terribly exposed to NK nuclear devastation with few good options as the NKs continue to build relentlessly. (All this I cover below.) So the least we Americans can do is get out of the way and let them debate it themselves.

The original, pre-edited FP essay on this follows below the jump:

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US Foreign Policy Restraint Does Not Mean Abandoning Ukraine, per Kissinger (nor Taiwan); Proxy Wars are Not Direct Wars

M1A2 Live-FirePursuing a restrained US foreign policy is compatible with helping Ukraine, because restraint still takes threats seriously and Putin is pretty obviously one.

This is a re-post of an essay I just wrote for 1945.com.

I am pretty shocked at how quickly Western opinion gravitated toward abandoning Ukraine just because gas prices and inflation went up.Good grief, people. Ukraine is getting taken apart piece by piece by a quasi-fascist aggressor deploying something like death squads behind the lines, and we can’t tolerate some minor lifestyle pain? Are we seriously that decadent?

More broadly, everybody knows the US needs to follow a more restrained foreign policy. I supported the Afghan withdrawal, even as people we losing their mind that is meant the end of the Western alliance. Helping Ukraine as a proxy does not violate that.

And Kissinger’s schtick that we should arm-twist the victim of the war into giving up tells you more about how Kissinger’s creepy fascination with power and might than it does about US or Western interests. (It’s the same reason he’s been sucking up to China under Xi.)

The war is breaking Russia’s claim to be a great power; we don’t need to treat Putin like he has some realist ‘right’ to stomp on his neighbors. And its pretty clear that Putin is a threat. He’s built a quasi-fascist regime at home and his meddled in his neighbors’ sovereignty for decades. Aren’t we supposed to balance power and threat, not fetishize it?

So yes, the US itself should not march into more quagmires. And yes, the US should not be directly militarily involved in Ukraine. But it is a proxy war pretty obviously in Western national interest, because Putin is pretty obviously a threat. And don’t wave Putin’s nukes around in bad faith. He’s not going to go nuclear against the West, nor does he anticipate a war with the West. If he did, he wouldn’t be allowing his army to be ground up just to take the Donbas. This nuclear scare-mongering is just deflection by pro-Russian MAGA pundits like Rod Dreher, Michael Tracey, or Tucker Carlson to undercut Ukraine, whom they want to lose.

Here is that 1945.com essay:

As the war on terror went off the rails in the last two decades, calls for the US to show greater restraint in its foreign policy grew. One hears such language regularly now from both US political parties. Crucially however, greater caution in US foreign policy need not translate into abandoning Ukraine to be slowly taken apart by Russia. Greater ‘realism’ in US – and Western – foreign policy is not the same thing as cynicism. There is a clear prudential case for helping Ukraine.

Greater Restraint

By now the case for greater restraint in US foreign policy is well understood. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the sole superpower, far ahead of any potential rivals. While the administration of President Bill Clinton did not fully grasp just how distinct the US had become, the next administration of President George W. Bush did. And in the wake of the 9/11 terror strike, it launched a massive effort to re-make the Middle East, something only a state with the extraordinary leverage the US had would even contemplate. This led to exorbitant claims fifteen years ago that the US was an ‘empire.’

Read the rest here.

Support for Ukraine is Not ‘Pro-War’, because Some Things, like Sovereignty and Freedom, are More Important than Peace

Sniper RifleCalling Western support for Ukraine ‘pro-war’ is grossly manipulative and deceptive with its implication that Western elites ‘like’ war. That is obviously not the case. Does Ursula von der Leyen strike anyone as ‘pro-war’? Gimme a break.

The following is a re-post of an essay I wrote for 1945.com.

The most nauseating part of the Ukraine war in the West has been the pro-Kremlin ‘anti-war’ set – Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, Glenn Greenwald, Michael Brendan Daugherty, and so on. To be ‘anti-anti-Putin’, at this point, is to be effectively pro-Putin and pro-fascist, just as being anti-anti-Trump at this point basically means your MAGA. You’d think the left would not go to the lengths of supporting Russian fascism in order to oppose US imperialism, but that’s where Michael Tracey, who denies the Bucha massacre, has landed.

The usual anti-imperial leftist tropes are meaningless here: Ukraine is not Iraq; this is not a US foreign policy issue; the military-industrial complex is not profiteering off the war; Hillary Clinton, the CIA, Goldman Sachs, the IMF, Davos, and all your favorite neoliberal shills are just irrelevant. Putin has built a semi-fascist regime at home, launched an aggressive war against a weak, democratic neighbor, and tolerated, if not endorsed, war crimes. That’s what matters, not relitigating the American empire debate of 20 years ago.

It is ironic that the anti-imperialist left, which wants to bemoan American empire, makes the same Amero-centric error as the neocons they hate so much: both read US choices as the only thing that matters in world politics. Foreigners have no agency; the Ukraine war is apparently about the US, not Ukraine and Russia. So the war in Ukraine becomes about NATO expansion rather than Putin’s own bluntly stated explanation that it’s because Ukraine is a fake country and really part of Russia. Good grief.

Here is that essay for 1945.com:

“Western Support for Ukraine is Not ‘Pro-War’” – Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a small but vocal clutch of Twitter and television personalities have argued that Western support for Ukrainian resistance is ‘pro-war,’ a worsening of the conflict via the provision of aid which prolongs the fighting. This posture might be best described as ‘anti-anti-Putin.’ That is, these voices read Western dislike for Russian President Vladimir Putin since February as overwrought and exaggerated, thereby deepening the war.

To critics, this position is nearly indistinguishable from a pro-Kremlin posture that refuses to admit Putin’s apparent agency in launching the war.

The most prominent voices in the group are Tucker Carlson, the highly-rated Fox News host, and his frequent guest Glenn Greenwald. Others include former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and Substack gadflies Michael Tracey, Michael Brendon Dougherty, and Matt Taibbi. All seem to suggest that the West should cut off aid to Ukraine, on the premise that the war would end sooner.

Please read the rest here.

Putin is now a Fascist, Imperialist War Criminal. He Himself – his Continuance in Office – is now the Biggest Issue in Any Ukraine Peace Negotiations

Tanks Belarus PutinThe death squad war crimes in Ukraine now mean that Putin himself is the biggest obstacle to a peace deal. He won’t agree to leave power, but with him still office, neither Ukraine nor the West is likely to accept the full re-normalization of Russia, by which I mean the rollback of the war sanctions and the re-entry of Russia into normal diplomatic intercourse with West.

This post is based on an op-ed I wrote at 1945.com.

Just as the Kaiser had to abdicate in Germany after WWI, and the Japanese military junta had to step aside after WWII, so will there be enormous pressure to insist on regime change as part of a sanctions relief deal. Biden already blurted this out last week, and now, after the revelation of the war crimes, it is almost impossible to imagine the West interacting with Russia normally again while Putin is still in charge.

Putin is a fascist, imperialist war criminal. He has built an near-fascist regime at home. He has openly invaded another country in an enormous land war not seen in Europe in decades. He has tolerated death squads systematically killing hundreds of civilians to terrorize his opponents.

Because of this, no Western leader will likely ever meet Putin again, and the sanctions will stay on Russia even if it ends the war. Russia under Putin is just too dangerous.

Here is that essay for 1945:

Russian Re-Normalization with Putin in Charge is Likely Impossible after His War Crimes – At some point, the Ukraine war will end. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the war will last years. Even if true, the war will conclude eventually. A part of the settlement will be the ‘re-normalization’ of Russia. This means rolling back the sanctions and permitting Russia to resume normal economic and diplomatic interaction with the sanctioning states.

After World War I, France famously inhibited Germany’s resumption of normal intercourse with the world via the Versailles Treaty. This is now widely seen as an enormous error. Versailles crippled the Weimar Republic and opened space for both rightist revanchist and Marxist revolutionary movements. In time, fascism destroyed a weak interwar German democracy.

A core challenge of any final settlement with Russia be the terms of its re-normalization. Russia is a large, nuclear-armed, consequential power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Even if the war reduces it to middle power status, it will retain enormous potential to cause trouble. We are already seeing the difficulties of fully de-linking from the Russian economy. It owes debt payments to western institutions who do not wish to lose those monies; it supplies natural gas to Europe which has struggled to find alternatives; it, and Ukraine, are food exporters, and those prices look set to rise.

Please read the rest here.

The Post-War Re-Normalization of Russia Increasingly Turns on Whether Putin Stays in Power, especially after the War Crimes

Putin RussiaAt some point the war in Ukraine will end, and Russia will seek to re-enter diplomacy and the world economy, and shed the heavy sanctions and isolation on it. This will be a major part of whatever the final peace deal emerges. (This is a local re-post of an essay I wrote at 1945.com.)

The model of what not to do is, of course, Weimar Germany. France particularly fought the re-normalization of post-WWI Germany. This fired a revanchist far right which eventually destroyed the Weimar Republic. Any final status deal on Ukraine shouldn’t punish Russia so harshly that we drive its domestic politics toward even more radical right voices than Putin’s.

Conversely, this was pretty clearly a war of choice. Russia has to be punished in someway. Also, Russia is now pretty clearly a threat to its neighbors. There is a case against re-normalization – to leave sanctions and diplomatic isolation on belligerent Russia after the war to keep it weak.

This will be a tough balance to find, especially since Putin will likely stay in power which will insure a continuing informal isolation: western leaders will probably never meet Putin personally again; western companies will likely never return with Putin in power.

My own thoughts on the terms a peace deal are here. In short, I think Ukraine should get an indemnity, EU membership, a military, and territorial integrity, while Russia gets Ukraine out of NATO, sanctions rollback, diplomatic re-normalization, Crimea, and Putin in power.

Here is that essay at 1945:

It is now apparent that Russia will not conquer Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has significantly over-reached. His defense ministry recently scaled back its war aims. The army now claims to only seek to gain the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. If Putin follows through on this change, it should take pressure off the Ukrainian capital and the Black Sea coastline.

The War is Stalemated, Perhaps even Turning against Russia

There is obviously much cause for skepticism. Putin has limited his goals because Russia is stalemated in the war, perhaps even on the cusp of losing. It is highly unlikely that Putin has changed his beliefs that Ukraine is a fake country that should be controlled by Russia.

Nevertheless, this partial de-escalation is the first step toward resolving the conflict. Now that Putin’s offensive has culminated, he is unlikely to make any major new gains.

Please read the rest here.

South Korean President-Elect Yoon Suggested Preemptive Strikes on N Korea. There will be a Lot More of that Talk if the NKs Don’t Slow Down, which They Won’t

North Korean MissileThis was accepted and then withdrawn by a SK newspaper as too controversial even though the SK president himself suggested this. I don’t get that…

So I sent it to 1945.com instead. Basically the problem is that neither missile defense nor negotiations are dependable enough to protect South Korea against what is emerging as an existential threat to SK from North Korea’s spiraling missile program. Missile defense does not work well and is very expensive. Negotiations might reduce the North Korean arsenal but almost certainly not enough to eliminate the state- and society-breaking threat of the North’s nuclear missiles

Yoon’s answer is preemptive strikes on NK missile sites in event of a crisis. He got a lot criticism as a reckless war-monger earlier this year, and his suggestion is obviously hugely risky. It could provoke the very war it is trying to defend against. But he is ‘thinking the unthinkable’ as they used to say. Presidents must think about this stuff; that’s Yoon’s job, and if you don’t like his answer, come up with something else.

North Korea increasingly has the ability to rapidly devastate South Korea. The North Korean missile program is mature – more missiles, faster, longer-range, more easily fueled, more maneuverable, and so on. Its nuclear program is maturing too. Kim Jong Un now wants to develop tactical nuclear warheads and MIRVs. And this frightening arsenal is unsupervised. There are no inspectors, no NPT, no IAEA.

So yes, let’s keep talking. And yes, let’s keep throwing money at missile defense and pray it works. But when your facing an orwellian tyranny right next door who has aggressively threatened you for decades, you inevitably start thinking about options which might otherwise seem extreme.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

South Korea’s Debate over Preemption is the Inevitable Result of North Korea’s Rapid Missilization – As a presidential candidate, South Korean President-Elect Yoon Seok-Yeol suggested that South Korea might need to preemptively strike North Korea because of its spiraling missile development. This was criticized as provoking the very conflict it seeks to avoid. Obviously, no one but the most belligerent hawks seeks confrontation with North Korea. A second Korean War would be devasting, which Yoon clearly knows. Instead, Yoon is identifying, correctly, a growing strategic threat to South Korea – one which might become genuinely existential if left unchecked.

The North Korean Missile Challenge:

The conventional inter-Korean stalemate is deadlocked on the ground. In fact, North Korea is gradually losing that stand-off as American and South Korean technological prowess outstrip its large but antiquated conventional forces. The North knows this too. It has therefore invested for decades in nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. These capabilities help it level the playing field.

Please read the rest here.

The Ukraine War is a Stalemate. What if Putin Escalates to Try to Win?

Russia Su-34Russia is not going to win unless it escalates. So what do we do if it uses a really horrific weapon?

This is a re-post of a column I wrote recently for 1945.com. When I wrote it, it still looked like Russia would win by sheer weight. As we come up on April, a Russian victory is increasingly unlikely. The Russian military, as structured, is too heavy, too poorly supplied, too corrupt, and too reliant of sheer firepower to win.

By winning, I mean something like Russia’s original war aims – replacing the Ukrainian leadership, annihilating its military, or taking territory (Donbas, the Black Sea coast). If you define down ‘winning’ to mean just blowing the place to hell, I guess Russia is ‘winning.’

But Putin has tied his legacy to this war; he’s macho, self-possessed, and desperate for Russia to be ranked as a great, consequential power in world politics. He is likely to escalate to try to win rather than withdraw, even as this war reduces Russia’s claim to great power status even more.

So what do we do if Russia uses a chemical or even tactical nuclear weapon to break the battlefield stalemate? The pressure from the Western public to do something in response would be overwhelming. At minimum, I think much of the objection to a no-fly zone would dissipate. That, in turn, would become a low-intensity NATO-Russian shooting war with the ever-present possibility of it spiraling out of control.

We need to start thinking, now, what we would do if Russia uses non-conventional weapons in a desperate bid to win. Naturally, all our options are bad. Here’s that 1945 essay:

The war in Ukraine is devolving into a grind of limited, costly Russian advances and ferocious Ukrainian counterattacks. It still looks as if Russia will win – if only because it will relentlessly pound Ukrainian cities with artillery – but there is now a reasonable chance Ukraine will fight Russia to a stalemate.

It is now painfully clear that Russia expected a blitzkrieg victory, a quick, in-and-out invasion similar to its ten-day war in Georgia in 2008. A modernized, high-tech Russian military was to roll over a poorly-armed and -trained Ukrainian army fighting for a weak state with low public legitimacy. The plan was, apparently, to impose a Russian stooge in the place of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then go home before the West could organize a response.

Read the rest here.

Why Hasn’t the ‘Imminent’ Russian Invasion of Ukraine Happened? Likely bc Putin – and the Russian Military especially – Fear a Quagmire, Worsened by Decades of Putin’s Own Misrule

UkraineThis is a re-post of an essay I recently wrote for 1945.com. Putin still hasn’t pulled the trigger on a Ukraine invasion, almost two months into this ‘imminent’ crisis. That increasingly prompts the question, why? What’s the delay?

The answer, I bet, is that Russia just can’t afford a quagmire war like it (barely) could in the 1980s in Afghanistan, in great part because of how badly Putin himself has misgoverned the country. To stay in power, he has run down Russian power, turning the country into a hugely corrupt, stagnant petro-dictatorship.

A country like that just can’t handle the stresses or costs of a ‘forever war.’ Stupid, unwinnable wars are expensive and generate lots of domestic stress. The US struggled to contain the dislocations generated by the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan Wars. The USSR’s disastrous counter-insurgency in Afghanistan in the 1980s helped brought the country down. Putin – with far less national power at his disposal, ironically because of his own catastrophic misrule of Russia – now faces a war which could shake his regime at home if it turns into a quagmire.

To be sure, it still seems like Putin will invade. If I had to guess, he will. Staging all those force in the cold is costing him a fortune. If he backs down know, he’ll think he looks like a wimp. And Putin loves macho posturing, so he’ll probably just invade to prove what a tough guy he is after getting trolled so much by the Biden administration.

But since he is still shilly-shallying, I’d say he is starting to realize that an invasion would a huge disaster for Russia. It does have the size and weight anymore for even a limited operation like this. That’s Gangster Putin’s own fault and a delicious irony we should all enjoy.

Here’s that 1945.com essay:

A Russian invasion of Ukraine has appeared imminent for almost two months now. Yet it has not happened, and the window for it is closing. When the spring rains hit in the next month or so, maneuver warfare on the Eurasian plain will be substantially harder. Armored and tracked vehicles will struggle in the mud. Also, maintaining a large force in staging locations at high readiness is expensive, especially in the cold. Russian troops must be fed and housed in the field in temporary facilities at cost. In short, if Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to invade Ukraine, it must be soon. And yet he has not.

Read the rest here.

Don’t Bet on a Biden Breakthrough with North Korea – but Trump was Never Serious about it Anyway

ABCDEFGHIJK

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote last month for The National Interest, but since Biden just became president, this seems like a good time to put it up here.

The short version is that America’s North Korea policy options are poor, so now that the adults are back in charge, US policy toward North Korea will probably snap-back to pre-Trump form. Trump tried all sorts of hijinks – threatening war, then cozying up to Kim Jong Un – but none of it was ever serious and all of it failed, because Trump was buffoonish dilettante.

And yes, the status quo with NK is bad, but the options are worse – war or appeasement, basically – so this is why the containment and deterrence of North Korea has basically been our North Korea policy for decades even though no one likes it. I figure that is what is coming back now.

The full essay follows the jump:

American North Korea Policy under the Next President 2: Trump – He will just Drop North Korea

Biden calls North Korean leader a 'thug' but says he'd meet Kim if  denuclearization is agreed - Pacific - Stripes

This is the second part of a series for The National Interest on North Korea policy under the next president. Here is my first essay on Biden and North Korea.

I am of the school that says Trump’s outreach to North Korea was a great big nothingburger. More dovish analysts will tell you that there was a window there for a few years (2018-2019) to forge a deal. I don’t buy that, mostly because of Trump himself – his laziness, disinterest, unwillingness to prepare, and so on.

Instead I think Trump went into this solely for the symbolic imagery and a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama won a Nobel. Trump loathes Obama, so he had to get one too. I think it’s really as simple as that. That’s why there was no deal. The Trump team had not thought through the concessions which would be necessary to strike a deal. The North Koreans were going to ask for way more than just sanctions relief. Trump had nothing greater to offer – and bureaucratic resistance at home would have fought a serious concession like a US drawdown.

So my prediction for Trump and North Korea in a second Trump term is that he will do nothing. Trump has the pictures he wanted. He won’t get a Nobel, and he won’t fight the battles in Washington to offer concessions which NK might actually go for.

The full essay follows the jump: