Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Foreign Affairs Again: Glaser says sell Taiwan, buy peace

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.

Charles Glaser is the latest in a long line of authors at Foreign Affairs to advocate that everything would be a-ok, if only the US sells out Taiwan, in an article asking Will China's Rise Lead to War? Sometimes it seems like a hamster could get published in Foreign Affairs, if only it were to argue that Taiwan should be sold to China to preserve the peace.

This genre of writing, which downplays the possibility of war along China's frontier and argues that if we make the right concessions war can be averted, has specific characteristics which will be familiar from its most recent iteration at Foreign Affairs, that train wreck from Bruce Gilley on Finlandizing Taiwan.

A key to making pieces like this work is waving that magic wand to make India disappear. I will come back to why that is so crucial in a moment. But in this article, India is mentioned only once, in the opening paragraphs. Natch.

Though there is much to take issue with here, I'm not going to explore the whole paper, but instead focus on the part involving Taiwan.

Glaser's major argument is here:
In fact, however, a more nuanced version of realism provides grounds for optimism. China's rise need not be nearly as competitive and dangerous as the standard realist argument suggests, because the structural forces driving major powers into conflict will be relatively weak. The dangers that do exist, moreover, are not the ones predicted by sweeping theories of the international system in general but instead stem from secondary disputes particular to Northeast Asia-and the security prevalent in the international system at large should make these disputes easier for the United States and China to manage. In the end, therefore, the outcome of China's rise will depend less on the pressures generated by the international system than on how well U.S. and Chinese leaders manage the situation. Conflict is not predetermined-and if the United States can adjust to the new international conditions, making some uncomfortable concessions and not exaggerating the dangers, a major clash might well be avoided.
Glaser's key claims are simple: the problems between the US and China are not world-historical in nature, but merely a few trifles that are unique to the East Asian region and which can be settled amicably among realpolitik friends. By selling out our friends and their territories -- those "uncomfortable concessions" -- wholesale war can be averted. Whew! Where would we be if there was no one to betray?

Ok, I'll stop.

Here's his argument on Taiwan. After discussing the seriousness of the Chinese drive to annex Taiwan, and the military issues, he observes:
Given such risks, the United States should consider backing away from its commitment to Taiwan. This would remove the most obvious and contentious flash point between the United States and China and smooth the way for better relations between them in the decades to come. Critics of such a move argue that it would result in not only direct costs for the United States and Taiwan but indirect costs as well: Beijing would not be satisfied by such appeasement; instead, it would find its appetite whetted and make even greater demands afterward-spurred by Washington's lost credibility as a defender of its allies.The critics are wrong, however, because territorial concessions are not always bound to fail. Not all adversaries are Hitler, and when they are not, accommodation can be an effective policy tool. When an adversary has limited territorial goals, granting them can lead not to further demands but rather to satisfaction with the new status quo and a reduction of tension.

The key question, then, is whether China has limited or unlimited goals. It is true that China has disagreements with several of its neighbors, but there is actually little reason to believe that it has or will develop grand territorial ambitions in its region or beyond. Concessions on Taiwan would thus risk encouraging China to pursue more demanding policies on those issues for which the status quo is currently disputed, including the status of the offshore islands and maritime borders in the East China and South China seas. But the risks of reduced U.S. credibility for protecting allies when the status quo is crystal clear-as is the case with Japan and South Korea-should be small, especially if any change in policy on Taiwan is accompanied by countervailing measures (such as a renewed declaration of the United States' other alliance commitments, a reinforcement of U.S. forward deployed troops, and an increase in joint military exercises and technological cooperation with U.S. allies).
The second paragraph in this excerpt is a cascade of false dichotomies and fallacies that pile into one another like terrified patrons at the exits of a burning theater. Let's look at them.

The key question is not "whether China has limited or unlimited goals" (how could it possibly have "unlimited goals; the Earth is finite) but what its goals are and how they affect the nations around China. In other words, at this point Glaser would have to ask a concrete question about just what territories China wants. But that question never pops up.

Good writing is concrete writing, I often tell my students. If you read the whole paper, there is little concrete about this paper -- history is not referenced -- terms like Senkakus, Diaoyutai, Spratlys, Okinawa, Arunachal Pradesh are not used. People do not exist in Taiwan -- instead only latinate euphemisms that screen the ideas they describe: accommodation, concession.

This lack of concreteness itself functions as a euphemism -- if we don't say Senkakus we don't have to think about the obvious connection between Taiwan, the Senkakus/Diaoyutai, and Okinawa (for example). If we don't say Tibet we don't have to think about how the conquest of Tibet has lead to the current claim on the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.

It is thus easy to see that had Glaser advanced any examples to describe why he thought China might have very limited territorial goals, they would instantly have destroyed his thesis. Taiwan? Claimed only after the beginning of WWII, well, because it was there. The Senkakus? Claimed only after 1968, and related to concurrent claims to Taiwan and Okinawa. The South China Sea? The entire area is claimed by China, and it has recently intensified its claims. Any student of China's claims can easily add more -- China is on a century-long program to inflate itself out to the old Qing borders. The future will be interesting, if only to see what new claims China thinks up.

Then there is India. If Glaser had mentioned India, there is the very obvious refutation provided by Arunachal Pradesh, which is fallout from the conquest of Tibet. The world has basically acquiesced in Chinese sovereignty over Tibet -- but that did not stop Beijing from moving on claim the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds that it contains a lot of ethnic Tibetans who are "Chinese." Very clearly, selling things to China won't result in peace -- it will merely lead to further demands, as it actually has in the historical example of Tibet.

Thus, India must disappear from this kind of essay, because if it appears, it blows holes in the author's thesis.

But India's disappearance causes another problem for Glaser's thesis. In this essay he considers only the problem of feeding the Chinese monster's appetite for territory. But territory is not the only issue between China and its neighbors -- there is the problem of resources. In the China v. India case, Chinese dams on Indian rivers are basically an act of war. Nor is that only a problem for India; Chinese dams on the Mekong are also a problem for the downstream states (themselves busy damming the Mekong). In the future, the growing Chinese presence in Laos is likely to become a problem for Vietnam and Thailand too. And then there is the global fishing presence of China.....

In other words, we could have war along China's frontiers caused by events that have nothing to do with territory. Which implies that handing over territory to China won't solve the problem.

Glaser's argument that Taiwan should be sold out (which is only one section of his paper) also raises the question of what territorial concessions can be made. The Senkakus and Okinawa, the South China Sea islands, parts of India, the Korea border -- these are not places that Washington can simply "back away" from since the US doesn't own them. The US has treaty commitments to Japan, for example.

Thus, Glaser's position is contradictory: he argues that the US can avoid war by handing 23 million Taiwanese to Beijing and then beefing up its remaining alliance commitments to show we're still serious -- but in the case of Japan, that alliance is committed to defending territories Beijing covets. Not much point in selling out Taiwan to avoid war if you signal you are willing to go to war over the Senkakus and then beef up your forces in order to do just that. And having burned 23 million pro-American allies along with their armed forces, who would believe you are willing to nuke Beijing for a few rocks in the ocean?

This contradiction is the fault line through Glaser's argument about Taiwan and the US commitment to the region. It does not apply merely to Japan but to every part of the area -- the nations of the South China Sea are increasingly looking to the US for support. Do we sell Taiwan to get peace, then beef up to reassure those nations confronting China -- inserting ourselves further into another flashpoint? Say what?

Essentially, if we delete one flashpoint but get further involved in others, aren't we right back where we started -- except minus 23 million allies and their armed forces?

All this is moot. Glaser appears to be wrong -- we are headed for hegemonic war at this point, probably more than one. The coming wars perhaps can be averted, but only by beefing up all our alliances, by enhancing our military, economic, diplomatic and political presence in the region, by withdrawing from our insane war against Islam, by making a very obvious redeployment of our military toward Beijing (as Japan is now) and reducing it elsewhere, by investing in the systems necessary to sustain war in the region, especially the logistical tail and forward bases, and by advocating for democratic and humanitarian change -- and being the exemplar of such change ourselves -- until the regime in Beijing disappears from history.

Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

And if the next regime in Beijing is similarly nationalist or aggressive? What then?

Michael Turton said...

One disaster at a time, man.

Morgan F. said...

This is probably one of the best articles you have written in a long time, Michael. I totally agree with you and I believe that America won't be so stupid to concede Taiwan to China. You don't need to be a right-wing hardliner to realize, that it would be disastrous and stupid to do so.

Gilman Grundy said...

I don't even know what possible thing Glaser thinks the USA has to gain from such a cynical sell-out. At the moment, the USA is holding almost all the cards.

What does China have to exchange for such concessions? Peace? But peace is what we have now, without selling anyone out.

And does he really think the situation on the Korean peninsula, in the South and East China seas, and on China's land borders with Vietnam and India are "crystal clear"? Has he forgotten that there are two Koreas, one supported by Beijing and one by the US? Has forgotten that China's claims in the seas around it clash with its neighbours?

The truth is that the US only originally compromised on the ROC because of the Vietnam war and the potential to split the communist world. Neither of these things are an issue any more, even from a position of strict realpolitik a renewed sell-out makes no sense.

Geoff said...

Love the cycling pics Michael.
23 million eh? The same population as Australia. It has been mooted by Islamic militants that Oz should be an Islamic state and part of Indonesia. Would the US sell out this country of 23 million to Indonesia in a conflict? Well we are largely a white Anglo Saxon protestant nation and have lots of strategic resources and lots of foreign investment so I guess the answer is an emphatic no. But times change and historically the "allies" were prepared to concede Australian territory to Japan in WWII. Just like the Palestinians were sold out. Taiwan's security could be further boosted by strategic foreign investment with countries who individually or collectively are strong enough to resist aggression. Problem is most countries are scared stiff of China. Our own Kevin Rudd, educated at Taipei 1 university NEVER mentioned Taiwan and was always very careful to be conciliatory to China.

Marc said...

Glaser is one of the main proponents of defensive realism, which theorizes that if states act rationally they can avoid conflict, or the conditions of miscalculation that lead to conflict.

While avoiding war anywhere is a desirable goal, I agree with you, Michael, that Glaser seems to hypothesize an ideal situation where everyone will be perfectly agreeable, without reaching beyond their stated "core interests." And as you say, he deftly hops over what the core interests are!

This feels like wishful thinking to me, if we judge the patterns of history.

Anonymous said...

we are headed for hegemonic war at this point, probably more than one...snip.......until the regime in Beijing disappears from history.

War in East Asia is very, very unlikely. It can easily be avoided by the US not getting involved and taking a hands-off approach to the situation. The world is more likely to end in a 2012 disaster than there be a major conflict in this region.

War between India and China is also unlikely. Worst case scenario would likely be small scale skirmish. Remember Arunchal Pradesh has only really been part of India for a short time - historically and ethnically the area is more similar to Tibet or Burma.

Michael Turton said...

I am aware of Arunachal's recent addition to India BUT it is not part of China. And if China hadn't annexed Tibet, there would be no claim to Arunachal Pradesh. That claim gives insight into how China is likely to behave if it is given Taiwan.

justrecently said...

I'll give an author credit for a lack of concreteness, when he is testing new waters - and it's hard to deny that Glaser is doing just that.

But even if he was right in believing that a "return" of Taiwan to China could placate Beijing, and China's nationalist public, he would still risk America's standing among its allies. It is an illusion to believe that America had "successfully de-americanized" the conflict by diplomatically "de-recognizing" Taiwan. American loyalty to Taiwan is the litmus test of American reliability, and expanding alliances with other countries in the region only makes sense if America stands by Taiwan.

That said, being a hegemon is costly, and America's wealth is limited. If China's neighbors want America to keep the region secure, they themselves will need to do their share. Having America as the mean bogeyman who "provokes" China, and entering into one free-trade agreement after another with China is an unsustainable business model - for America, that is.

Jade said...

Aside from moral responsibility which the US needs to enforce to assure their allies of her commitment, it just does not make sense to me. Would anyone send a good friend to a lion’s engulfing, so that the lion would not hurt himself?

It just amazes me that anybody would advocate to sell out a country that has possibly the most US-friendly citizens to a country that has citizens educated by a regime to be hostile to the United States.

cephaloless said...

Almost expected to see "peace for our time" somewhere on the page :-)

And since when has the leadership in Beijing acted rationally? (ok, lots of subjectiveness here but its just an opinion). The latest being some last minute reversals of press freedoms. That'll make great impressions. Well, maybe not great but still negative.

Julian said...

Excellent post, Michael! You didn't mention the word 'democracy' even once, removling criticism that you are merely a foreign policy idealist. So there are strong realist as well as idealist reasons why Glaser's advice is badly mistaken. Let's hope some of these get into print in prominent places sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

Some people do not know about China's modern history. They seem to think China is a very peaceful country.

Since the formation of the PRC, they have fought the following countries:

Tibet, Korea, Burma, India, The Soviet Union, and Vietnam.

Hell, 30% of those were communist brothers!

Now, imagine a China with excess male population and hyper-nationalism stoked by an authoritarian government that uses it to stay in power.

The US starts to pull back, watch out.

Red A

Anonymous said...

"but there is actually little reason to believe that it (China) has or will develop grand territorial ambitions in its region or beyond"

Huh? What planet does this meat-stick live on?

Unknown said...

Just today I was re-reading FAR EASTERN JOURNEY, a 1960 travel book by Bernard Newman. In it, he describes his interview with Chiang Kai-shek in Taipei: "...he was apprehensive of the tendencies of some American factions. They appeared to think that they could appease Communist China by persuading the Nationalists to surrender Quemoy and Matsu... The Chinese Communists invite even Conservative members of parliament to Peking and persuade them that if Formosa were surrendered they would have no further territorial ambitions. Hitler used to talk in the same manner."

Cristy Li said...

Very Disturbing--Obama, et al remain committed to 'One China Policy'