February 09, 2018

Belt and Road and the battle for global investment standards



A new battle is taking shape on the world scene. It does not contemplate the use of cannons, warships, bombs or any other weaponry. Neither does it provide for the physical occupation of enemy territories and positions. It actually sees China and the West compete in affirming their respective investment standards around the globe.

Beijing is considering the creation of “international” tribunals to manage trade and investment disputes arising from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan to boost connectivity throughout Eurasia and beyond.

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The Asian giant’s Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform, a political body chaired by Xi, recently approved guidelines about the establishment of BRI courts in Beijing, Xian and Shenzhen by the Supreme People’s Court of China.

It is said the three tribunals would be modeled after the International Commercial Court in Singapore and the Dubai International Finance Center Courts. But the Leading Group emphasized that they should be based on China’s existing mediation, arbitration and judicial institutions.

Controversies between foreign investors and host countries are currently regulated by bilateral and multilateral investment treaties. Existing agreements and practices stipulate that the arbitration/litigation venue in a cross-border investment dispute, as well as which laws to apply, must be chosen through negotiations between the concerned parties.

It is usually a third-party jurisdiction, namely a specialized investment tribunal that applies rules on arbitration set by the United Nations or the World Bank, that is called to decide on these kind of cases. This evidently goes against China’s plan to set up BRI courts at home and promote internationally recognized Chinese legal standards.

Views from Europe

The European Union, which has often voiced concern about Beijing’s practices in the implementation of its Silk Road projects, particularly when it comes to the protection of Chinese state-owned investors, could find it difficult to accept China’s BRI tribunals.

The EU is committed to the BRI through the European Investment Bank, and many EU member states participate in the BRI-related Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Speaking to Asia Times, a senior European diplomat in Beijing said it came as no surprise that China, a rising political and economic power, wanted to have a say in drafting rules and procedures for the handling of international trade and investment controversies. He said European stakeholders would have to pay great attention to this process so as not to be caught off guard in the future.

Asked if the EU was ready to support China’s efforts to set up a BRI dispute-settlement mechanism adopting Chinese legal procedures and standards, an EU official told this writer that “for the time being we are still in the process of analyzing the decisions recently made public in Beijing regarding the resolution of disputes related to the BRI.”

The official added that “when looking at these initiatives, the EU will pay particular attention to their contribution to strengthening the rules-based global order, international institutions and standards, the rule of law as well as multilateralism.”

CETA standards

Aside from the European bloc’s carefully crafted wording, provisions contained in the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) offer clues about Brussels’ possible response to Beijing’s promotion of its BRI courts.

The free-trade agreement between the EU grouping and Canada came into force provisionally last September. When CETA takes full effect, a new investment court system will replace the mechanism that currently regulates investment-related disputes between the two sides.

This will be a permanent tribunal appointed in advance by Brussels and Ottawa. Presided over by professional and independent judges, it will hold public hearings and publish documents relating to the single cases. What’s more, the EU and Canada will define “clearly specified grounds on which an investor can challenge a state.”

If the EU is consistent with the approach used toward Canada, BRI disputes involving European or Chinese investors will have to be handled along the lines of a negotiated scheme. The problem is that talks between Brussels and Beijing on a bilateral investment agreement are not making progress, most notably after the EU’s recent moves to protect its marketfrom what it considers China’s unfair policies.

BRI courts vs EU-sponsored multilateral tribunal

China could have a hard time persuading countries along the new Silk Roads to agree to its dispute-settlement framework. Beijing will possibly get the nod for its BRI courts from developing countries heavily reliant on its loans and investments.

For its part, the EU will try to turn the CETA investment court into a multilateral tool. Japan, which finalized with the European bloc negotiations for a free-trade deal last December, could be the next country to join the new mechanism.


So the stage is set for a potential Sino-European battle for the global primacy of their own investment and commercial standards. It remains to be seen whether the standard-bearer of the Western world, the United States of President Donald Trump, will enter this contest or remain committed to building bilateral trade and investment relations while opposing multilateral dialogue

February 08, 2018

Review of Andrew J. Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History” 

Forty Years of Failure

A Review of Andrew J. Bacevich’s “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History” 

Jeb Smereck

The Middle East is an erratic, tangled web of tense relationships, and by the time the average American picks up today’s newspaper, the world described within its pages could differ greatly from what they read last week. Currently, ISIS is losing power and territory, Iran threatens Europe with potential long-range missiles, and Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to sponsor civil war in Yemen and Syria. Americans generally show little interest in Middle Eastern politics. Consequently, looming questions remain unanswered or ignored: Why has the U.S. military fought here for 40 years? What has the U.S. done in the past to create its current enemies? Will the U.S. military stay here for the next 40 years? Can the U.S. even win? Andrew J. Bacevich, in his latest book, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” answers these questions in a harsh and thorough analysis of American policy regarding this region.

Bacevich is a former U.S. army colonel and Vietnam War veteran who retired from the military in the 1990s. He attended West Point before entering the army, earned a doctorate from Princeton in American Diplomatic History, and taught at Boston University from 1998-2014. His son, Andrew Bacevich Jr., was killed in Iraq in May 2007, a war which his father had actively opposed since its initiation four years earlier. As a man who served in the military, studied military history, and lost a son in battle, Bacevich has strong incentive for reviewing American policy. As a high school student with no military background, I agree with his conclusions.

The War for the Greater Middle East, the region between North Africa and Pakistan which includes the Balkans and Somalia, began when U.S. President Jimmy Carter deemed the area a vital American resource due to its oil reservoirs. Previous to Carter’s administration, the U.S. government had “…forged ill-advised relationships and made foolhardy commitments while misconstruing actual U.S. interests--even while treating the region as a strategic afterthought.” More specifically, America helped the Shah of Iran stay in power. Carter, inheriting Iran as an ally, overestimated the country’s ability to stabilize the Greater Middle East. The U.S. had funneled millions of dollars worth of weapons into the country, but circumstances changed in 1979, when the Shah fled Iran following a national revolution. Later that year, Iranian students invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held American workers hostage. In April 1980, Carter authorized Operation Eagle Claw, a mission intended to rescue the captive Americans. U.S. planes landed in a remote Iranian area called Desert One, but were attacked nonetheless. The mission was then called off, but while flying away in the low visibility, two of the planes collided, killing eight Americans and causing national embarrassment. Bacevich states that “as the action that initiated the war, Operation Eagle Claw...was a portent of things to come: campaigns launched with high hopes but inexplicably going awry.”

Bacevich claims that the United States only creates more disorder when intervening in the Greater Middle East, mainly due to its ignorance of ethnic and religious tensions, inability to commit to long-term missions, and choosing to engage in conflicts between anti-American regimes. The American government took none of these sensitive issues into account when planning operations, and paid the price. “Simply trying harder is unlikely to produce a different outcome,” writes Bacevich, arguing that “...only by remembering and confronting what we have largely chosen to disregard will Americans be able to choose a different course.”

Understanding ethnic and religious tensions is key to operating in the Greater Middle East. Few of the local factions and governments subscribe to western ideology, and strongly despise those who try and convince them otherwise (Great Britain’s failure in the area, for example). Because of this, the U.S. government often worked with dangerous, anti-American groups in order to thwart less favorable anti-American groups. In Operation Cyclone, America provided Afghan jihadists with weapons with which to resist the Soviets during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from 1980-89. While the United States managed to remove the Soviets, it later re-entered Afghanistan twenty years later to fight the successors of the groups they supported in the 1980s. During the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-88, the United States favored anti-American Iraq (Saddam Hussein’s regime) against anti-American Iran. Even though the war ended in a standstill, Iraq would return as a global enemy two years later when it invaded Kuwait and seized oil fields. U.S. President George H. W. Bush, with the support of the United Nations, sent U.S. troops into Kuwait who quickly removed the Iraqi military. In 2003, the United States would attack Iraq again by invading the country and overthrowing Hussein. After initially allying with Saddam Hussein, the United States later fought two wars against him. This political complexity commonly happened in America’s War for the Greater Middle East.

When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, the Serbs, the Bosnians, the Croats, and the Kosovars all fought against each other for political control. The creation of Bosnia-Herzegovina led to Serbia, backed by Bosnian Serbs, invading the country and attacking its capital, Sarajevo. Presidential hopeful Bill Clinton, while criticizing President Bush for not responding to tensions in the Balkans “was no more eager than his predecessor to plunge into any Balkan quagmire.” Once Clinton became president, though, he fought against Serbia through relatively ineffective American and NATO air attacks between 1993-95. The war only stopped when Croatia annexed land from Serbia, resulting in a 1995 peace treaty. Eventually, the Serbian region of Kosovo, full of ethnic muslims, fought for its independence through the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which gained traction in 1998. To the KLA, the influx of Serbian, Bosnian, and Croat refugees overwhelmed the Kosovar cultural identity. Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević denied Kosovo’s request for independence, and began fighting against the KLA. President Clinton put General Wesley Clark in charge of preventing Milošević from ethnically cleansing the Kosovars. While he managed to accomplish that, “Clark gave the impression of viewing himself either as an independent potentate or as an agent of the alliance, rather than as someone who took his marching orders from Washington.” His defiance cost him his job. Kosovo eventually gained independence in 2008, which Bacevich labels a “remarkable collaboration between the KLA and NATO--the one employing terror, the other habitually condemning its use--had enabled Kosovars to achieve their long-sought political goal." Members of the KLA returned to Kosovo only to later ethnically cleanse Serbians from the country. This was the level of difficulty the United States often dealt with in its missions in the Greater Middle East.

        Along with ignoring ancient regional tensions, the United States struggled to mend them, engaging in either missions that changed nothing or worsened the conditions of the country it entered. Bacevich writes that while America focuses on one problem, it has a tendency “to exacerbate a second and plant the seeds of a third.” The United States stopped helping Afghanistan after the end of the Soviet occupation, and did nothing afterwards to rebuild Afghanistan or foster a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, leaving it prone to Islamic radicalization under the control of the anti-American groups the U.S. funded for nine years.

Americans had little patience for the time needed to defeat enemies and rebuild a country. The United States either pulled out before total victory or left feeling triumphant while ignoring long-term problems. U.S. President Ronald Reagan initiated a peacekeeping campaign in Lebanon in 1982 intending to halt the war between Lebanese factions and the Israeli government. The mission ended in 1984, driven by a 1983 terrorist attack where a truck bomb exploded outside of two buildings in Beirut (Lebanon’s capital) which housed American and French peacekeepers, killing almost 300 people. Another example concerns Operation El Dorado Canyon, where the United States in 1986 tried to deter Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from radicalizing the Greater Middle East. Bombing operations occurred, which killed few and damaged little in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, leaving Gaddafi unharmed and unfazed. “U.S. policy makers clung to their belief that armed might could somehow provide the ultimate solution to terrorism. Here was an illusion destined to last for decades to come.”

Bacevich writes that the success of Operation Desert Storm (the removal of Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait between 1990-91), further instilled American aggression towards the Greater Middle East. The United States believed it could win conflicts quickly, and with this mindset came unilateral decision-making and little patience for long-term warfare. Americans wanted a quick and easy war. Soon after Operation Desert Storm, it was clear that America had left a defiant and potentially volatile Saddam Hussein still in total control of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds used the current political instability to try and create their own country, only for the Iraqi government to respond by trying to ethnically cleanse them. The U.S. government began Operation Provide Comfort, a mission aimed to help the Kurds, and while the U.S. did provide aid, the long-term benefits of Operation Desert Storm became harder to see.

With military overconfidence came American hubris. The native Somali warlords and foot soldiers the U.S. faced in the 1993 Somalia intervention outmaneuvered American troops in combat and with landmines. Bacevich writes that “In the end, Americans overlooked even the most obvious lesson, namely, don’t pick a fight with well-armed, highly motivated irregulars in a large city that they own.” The American soldiers did not fare well, and, along with this, “the Somalia campaign revealed severe deficiencies in American generalship that went far beyond such obvious lapses as acting without adequate intelligence, allowing tortuous command relationships, and disregarding basic operation security.”

The Somalia intervention convinced Osama bin Laden that America was powerless and weak. He decided that he and his organization, Al Qaeda, must stop the United States, the country he deemed most responsible for despair in the Middle East. America failed to recognize how much of a threat Al Qaeda was. Before 9/11, the most notable Al Qaeda attack blew up the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998. The U.S. also made questionable security decisions. The U.S.S. Cole, for example, allowed an unverified ship to approach in 2000. This unknown ship contained a bomb, which exploded and almost sank the Cole.


After the September 11th attacks (which bin Laden planned) that destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush responded with a“war on terror,” and eventually invaded Iraq in 2003, thinking that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. While the American military found no such weapons, it overthrew Hussein, demolished the Iraqi government, and continued to occupy Iraq for the rest of Bush’s presidency, along with Afghanistan. The American military failed to stabilize Iraq or Afghanistan during its tenure in either country. When the United States stayed long-term, it still accomplished little.

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama campaigned to remove the military from Iraq and Afghanistan. He then further sent U.S. troops into Afghanistan after taking office in 2009, but outlined that all troops would leave by late 2014. During Obama’s tenure, America increasingly used drones to attack targets due to their easy ability to enter enemy territory along with little risk in death for U.S. military members. The drones, while effective, fought long, endless wars with anti-American factions that never disappeared and grew stronger due to local resentment after drone attacks killed innocent civilians. Due to instability in Iraq caused by American intervention ten years earlier and the Syrian Civil War, the vacuum of power allowed the jihadist nation-state of ISIS to form. Bacevich finished and published “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: a Military History” by early 2016, and so this history ends in late 2015.

Anyone interested in American history or the Middle East should read this book. It is a poignant and blunt history of the United States’ involvement in destabilizing an already tense region further. America’s habit of entering and exiting wars with little thought for consequences continue to damage the credibility of America’s War for the Greater Middle East. As someone with little previous knowledge of this topic, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History alerted me to an important and overlooked section of American history. My review does not cover all the conflicts contained in this book, nor does it fully explain Bacevich’s opinions on high-level generals and the media during this crisis. My review only hints at the book’s amount of information. What I can say is that Andrew J. Bacevich cares deeply about the future of the United States, and hopes that “One day the American people may awaken to this reality...For now, sadly, Americans remain deep in slumber.”

Post-hostilities planning: British India

Under the cryptic heading ‘PHP’ (post-hostilities planning), certain War Staff files (IOR/L/WS/1/983-988) address the subject of India’s future. The discussions dwelt upon the country’s strategic importance. Government feared that British withdrawal would leave the wider region exposed: “History has shown that nature abhors a vacuum and if the British step out, we can expect the Russians to step in”. (L/WS/1/985, f. 87). Britain’s oil supplies in the Gulf, its Indian naval, army, and air bases, its access to India’s military forces: all were at risk if a post-Independent India were to turn hostile. To predict the future at this stage, as officials admitted, was next to impossible. The files include standard orders for action and confidently signed-off approvals. But the overwhelming sense that they convey is one of apprehension.

Top Secret., Printed for the War Cabinet, 6 June 1944.

P.H.P. (44) 13 (O) Final., Copy No. 2


Post-Hostilities Planning Sub-Committee


Report by the Sub-Committee

1. We were instructed to appreciate the probable long-term impact of the policy of the U.S.S.R. on British strategic interests, with the object of formulating basic principles on which the Chiefs of Staff should found their military advice when called upon to express an opinion upon questions of policy affecting the U.S.S.R. We were told that the basis of this appreciation should be that it remains the policy of His Majesty’s Government to foster and maintain the friendliest possible relations with the U.S.S.R..

2. Our full appreciation is attached, and our conclusions are set out below. These have been prepared in close consultation with the Foreign Office, and have taken account of all available evidence of Russia’s post-war intentions. It should be noted, however, that no attempt has been made to deal with the possibility that Soviet Russia might attempt to extend her influence over Western Europe and thus dominate the whole continent. Nor has any attempt been made to deal with the possibility that the Russia of the future, as a result of the development of Siberia, might attempt to dominate the continent of Asia. Obviously, if either of these situations were to arise, there would be a serious threat to British interests, but the evidence at present available does not in any way suggest that the desire for the wholesale domination of this sort is in the mind of the Soviet leaders or their people.


Impact of Soviet Policy on British Strategic Interests.

3. The following are vital British strategic interests which might be threatened by the U.S.S.R. :

(а) Middle Eastern oil supplies; for, if our oil supplies were cut off in Iraq and Persia, our position in war would be precarious. The United States have very considerable interests in this general area, however, and the fear of American intervention might act as a deterrent to the U.S.S.R.

(b) Mediterranean communications; by way of Turkey. Such a move would also constitute a threat to our Middle Eastern oil supplies.

(с) Our vital sea communications; if the U.S.S.R. were to become a first-class Naval and Air Power.

(d) The concentrated industrial areas of the United Kingdom; if the U.S.S.R. built up a large strategic bomber force.

British Policy

4. We conclude, therefore, that the following basic principles should govern the military advice given by the Chiefs of Staff on policy affecting the Soviet Union:

(а) A real endeavour to secure the full and friendly participation of the U.S.S.R. in any system of world security appears to be the best means of avoiding friction between us. Failing the establishment of such a system, we must endeavour to perpetuate and strengthen our existing Treaty of Alliance with the U.S.S.R. and our present relations with the United States and China.

(b) In furtherance of the above aims we should not oppose any reasonable demands of the U.S.S.R. where they do not conflict with our vital strategic interests as indicated in paragraph 3. In exchange we should expect the U.S.S.R. not to oppose our claims in areas vital to us.

(с) Since there exists the possibility of a threat from the U.S.S.R. to our vital oil interests and communications in the Middle East, our policy should be directed towards ensuring that the United States are on our side in the event of such a threat developing (vide P.H.P. (44) 3 (O) (Final)).

(d) The general weakness of the countries of Europe after this war will leave a vacuum which the U.S.S.R., if she wishes, might be in a position to fill. It would be to our strategic disadvantage to leave her free to do so, though we could not entirely prevent it. We can only insure against it by close collaboration with the Western European States, more especially France, as will in any case be necessary in order to prevent the possibility of a new German aggression.

(е) The British Commonwealth should maintain adequate naval superiority and our air strength should be related to Russian air power. Owing to our relatively small resources of British man-power our strategic reserves must be so organised as to be capable of rapid concentration in strength in any vital area, and particularly in the Middle East. Indeed, it is reasonable to argue that our major strategic reserves should be stationed in the Middle East. All our forces must be maintained at a high standard of efficiency.

5. An appreciation, such as this, based largely upon deduction, will require continual modification in the light of further information regarding the policy of the U.S.S.R.

H.M.G. Jebb

C.C.A. Allen

F.C. Curtis

P. Warburton

[TNA, FO 371/43384]

Keywords: Inter-allied relations, post-war order

February 06, 2018

Destined for Competition: An Analysis of Graham Allison’s Thucydides Trap


Declan Sullivan 

 January 24, 2018

The ‘Thucydides Trap’ is a term coined by Harvard professor Graham Allison to ostensibly describe the tensions and conflict that occur when an existing great power is confronted with a rising state. According to Allison, as the new power rises, the two are more likely to engage in violent conflict as the new power displaces the old.[1] He cites sixteen cases of power transition since the late 15th Century, of which twelve resulted in war between the two powers. Allison also cites Thucydides, and in particular the ancient Athenian author’s conclusion that the war between Athens and Sparta, chronicled in his History of the Peloponnesian War, began:

“…because they [the Spartans] were afraid of the further growth of Athenian power.”[2]

Allison argues that the United States and China now face a Thucydides Trap scenario, as rising Chinese power challenges US hegemony. His thesis is evocatively outlined in his recent book, Destined for War.[3] Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ concept, however, is deeply flawed. Allison misinterprets Thucydides and his conception of power, and ignores important nuance in his analysis of the sixteen cases he considers, and thus comes to potentially incorrect conclusions on the Sino-US relationship and the likelihood for war. Instead, conflict is likely to occur between powers only when one power has expanded its territory aggressively against other states. Military expansionism, not merely a change in the balance of power, is the trigger for Thucydides Trap.

Allison begins his assessment of the Sino-US Thucydides Trap by describing China’s meteoric economic and geo-political rise over past 30 years.[4] He notes, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China is now the world’s largest economy,[5] and China has passed the US in other indicators, such the production of ships, steel, and computers, and the consumption of automobiles and cell phones.[6] Since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, China has been world’s primary engine of growth.[7]China is a powerhouse of construction[8] and technological investment.[9] China has also similarly grown in military power, with new focuses on military reform and new platforms. According to a 2015 RAND study, China now has advantage or parity with the US in six of nine areas of military capability.[10] China’s economic and military growth has been translated into new assertiveness in foreign policy to pressure other countries to follow its lead.[11] Thus, Allison concludes that China is increasing in power relative to the US. This may be true using a modern definition of the word ‘power’, but it is not a definition that Thucydides would have used.

Mike Blake / Damir Sagolj / Reuters / alessandro0770 / Shutterstock / Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

In The Pentecontaetia, Thucydides describes Athens’ rise following the Persian War, but little attention is paid to growth in Athenian strategic capabilities.[12] There are only two instances where Thucydides cites a material increase in Athenian capabilities – the building of walls around their new city,[13]and growing naval dominance at the expense of ‘allies’.[14] Most of The Pentecontaetia is instead devoted to describing growing Athenian dominance over its ‘allies’ in the Delian League, and military operations abroad. Following issues with their commanders, Sparta withdrew from leadership of the League in favour of Athens.[15] The League was originally made up of independent city-states, but increasing Athenian control over it turned it into a de facto Athenian Empire.[16] Thucydides then describes the evolving nature of alliances in Greece, and Athens’ increasingly audacious military operations, including conflict with Corinth over Megara,[17] and a military intervention into Egypt.[18] Thucydides seems to have firm numbers of ships and forces deployed in these operations, but does not include an overall number for Athens as a whole. This focus on alliance politics and actual military operations, rather than latent economic or military capabilities, stands in contrast to Allison’s description of China’s rise.

As tensions between Sparta and Athens escalate, the Spartans hold a conference of their allies, including Corinth, to decide a course of action. During the meeting, Athenian representatives, as recorded by Thucydides, actually reference what they believe is their growth in ‘power’ as the growth in their imperial control, not economic or military capabilities.[19]Thucydides does provide some descriptions of capabilities at the outset of the war, including a request by Sparta for its allies to provide 500 ships[20] and two-thirds of their forces.[21] He finally gives a detailed account of Athenian finances and military forces.[22]Importantly, however, he gives these details while citing a speech made by the Athenian statesman Pericles, and makes no attempt to compare them to the forces or finances of Sparta. The only place where a clear comparison between Athens and Sparta is given is in the speech given by the Spartan King Archidamus against the war.[23] The inclusion of these comparisons in a speech, rather than Thucydides own analysis, is telling. Even if Thucydides was not quoting Archidamus directly, he nonetheless did not want to appear to make such comparisons himself, or considered them important enough to have in his own analysis.


While it’s clear that Athenian power rose relative to Sparta in the time since the Persian Wars, Thucydides was most interested in coalescing Athens’ imperial-alliance system and its newfound military confidence. Unlike Allison, Thucydides pays little attention to the material capabilities of either Sparta or Athens, and does not compare the two. Instead he focuses on the extent of their alliances, making sure to outline what states were aligned to which power at the war’s outset, but not the strength of militaries.[24]A Thucydidean definition of power then is not merely growth in economic, technological, or military capability, but a focus on influence and demonstrated power projection.

This interpretation actually provides a more nuanced understanding of the cases cited by Allison as Thucydides Trap scenarios. In focusing on the growth in relative capabilities in each case, Allison misses the more critical factor - state behaviour. In each case, Allison describes the changes in economic and military strength of each state to demonstrate the ‘rising’ power in contrast to the ‘ruling’ power.[25] He also notes the immediate behaviour and precipitating conditions for conflict, and the conflicts themselves. Allison’s focus on the capability changes between the ruling and rising powers, however, overshadows the more important factor in determining whether or not conflict will occur - territorial expansion.

British and French Cavalry engaged at the Battle of Warburg, 1760.

In eleven of the twelve cases that resulted in war, the rising power or both powers had expanded in territory, usually through violence, in the preceding years. In the remaining case, France and Great Britain in the late 17th to Early-18th Centuries, the ruling power, France, was the expanding power.[26] In the case of the rise of England relative to the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century, England’s expansion was an assertion of sovereign control over the seas and ports, not land.[27] In the four cases that did not result in war, territorial expansion either did not occur or was more of a proximate, rather than primary cause of conflict.

Portugal and Spain avoided war in the 15th Century even as Spain expanded because Spain’s major territorial expansion, the unification of Castile and Aragon, was peaceful and consensual. Its conquest of Grenada was of a small, Muslim state, and so far less threatening from Portugal’s perspective. Portugal’s main issue was with Spanish expansion into the New World. Concerned with the potential conflict, Spain sought mediation from the Spanish-aligned Pope Alexander VI. While Portugal rejected the Pope’s proposed solution, the suggestion formed the basis of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided territorial hemispheres at the 46th Meridian.[28] Even though this case concerned Spanish expansion, from Portugal’s perspective the expansion wasn’t violent, as the one conquest was against an ‘illegitimate’ Muslim Emirate. While there was the real potential for conflict over claims in the New World, the extent and shape of the New World was largely unknown in 1494, and thus such expansion by either party remained entirely hypothetical.

The second case where war was avoided was between the rising power of the US and the ruling power of the United Kingdom in late-19th to early-20th Centuries. As American wealth grew over the 19th Century, so too did its foreign policy aspirations. In 1898 it fought against Spain principally over Cuban independence, freeing the colony from Spanish rule and seizing possessions elsewhere.[29] Under the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the US began to seriously enforce the Monroe Doctrine, seeking to limit the presence of European powers in the Americas. While President Roosevelt was a nationalist expansionist, most Americans were not.[30] Instead America pursued a relatively benign policy of seeking dominance in the hemisphere, rather than actual expansion. The US confronted Britain over its boundary dispute with Venezuela, demanding it submit to neutral arbitration rather than simply bully Venezuela, and to saw off German imperial ambitions in the region.[31] A boundary dispute over Eastern Alaska sparked tensions but was submitted to arbitration.[32] While America certainly did expand territorially, violently in the case of Spain, the scale and manner was far less imperialist or confrontational than the standard of the time, and importantly did not clash with actual British security interests.[33]While some in the UK were concerned about a future war with America,[34] American expansion of influence and arbitrated confrontation with Britain stood in sharp contrast to the aggressive and confrontational expansion of Imperial Germany at the time.


In both of the above cases, the potential costs of a war were no doubt also a factor in the avoidance of war. Both Spain and Portugal wished to avoid a repeat of the brutal War of Castilian Succession in the 1470s, and so were open to arbitration.[35] US naval build-up had begun to alarm Britain, and it was recognised that while the US was weaker globally, it had a crucial advantage in naval operations in the Caribbean that Britain could not defeat.[36] Nevertheless, it was the absence of clear territorial aggression against vital interests that avoided war. Without the danger of aggressive territorial expansion, the threat posed to the ruling power by the rising power was lessened, and the pressure to directly confront them lower.

Students battle the tanks in Czechoslovakia, 1968.

The remaining two peaceful cases are modern. The Soviet Union’s challenge to America was precipitated by aggressive territorial expansion as it subjugated Eastern European countries into its sphere and fomented Communist expansion elsewhere.[37] Allison himself argues that these conditions were enough for war between the US and Soviet Union, but it was prevented by the threat posed by nuclear weapons.[38]Allison’s contention that the US and Soviet Union were not in conflict over the Cold War is also a bit of a stretch, and it should be noted that where conflict did occur, it was almost always over Soviet-backed Communist territorial expansion. The case of the rise of post-Cold War Germany to political prominence in the EU, at the expense of Britain and France, is also a case without aggressive territorial expansion. It is worth noting that it was Germany’s unification (and thus expansion) that most alarmed Britain and France in 1990.[39]

Returning to Thucydides, we see a similar dynamic between Sparta and Athens. Over the period covered by The PentecontaetiaAthens growing control over the Delian League can be considered de facto imperial expansionism. Its operations in Egypt and then in defence of Corcyra can also be considered aggressive military actions.[40]The fact that the war was largely precipitated by Corinthian territorial expansion against Epidamnus and Corcyra is also highly illustrative. Thucydides notes that during the Spartan debate over whether to declare war:

Most people’s views tended to the same conclusion – namely, that Athens was already acting aggressively and that war should be declared without delay[41][emphasis added]

The importance of this comment is the focus on Athenian actions, not capabilities, on Spartan thinking. A Thucydides Trap, if it exists, is thus defined not simply by a rising state’s growing capabilities relative to a ruling state, but by aggressive, expansionary behaviour, particularly by the rising power, and especially when that behaviour intersects with the ruling power’s security interests. In all of the cases surveyed by Allison that led to war, aggressive expansion by one party directly threatened or would have threatened the other’s security interests. In the cases that did not, expansion did not affect security interests or did not occur at all, except in the case of the US and Soviet Union, where the constraining factor was nuclear weapons. Capability growth in isolation does not create a Thucydides Trap, but only when it is joined with aggressive behaviour.

Applying this nuance to the modern case of the US and China, we see a clear link between increasing tensions and aggressive, territorial assertions by China, but also hope for peace. While China’s economic growth since the 1980s has been great, and its more recent military build-up significant, neither contributed to growing Sino-US tensions over that period. Peaks in tensions instead occurred around aggressive Chinese actions, such as the 1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis, when China threatened the independence of the breakaway state, or the collision between a Chinese MiG and US spy plane in 2001. If Allison’s thesis was correct, then tensions between the two powers should have grown commensurate with growing Chinese capabilities, rather than risen and fallen according to actions. Rather than stifle Chinese economic growth, the US helped facilitate it by normalising trade relations and supporting China’s joining of the World Trade Organisation in 2001.


Tensions between the US and China grew significantly post-2009, the same time China began more aggressively asserting territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea. In 2009 China issued its ‘9-Dash Line’ claim to the South China Sea, and began its land reclamation efforts and build-up around the Spratly Islands, and incidents of confrontation between Chinese vessels and others rapidly increased in number as it increased its claim of an economic exclusion zone around this area. The same is true of the East China Sea, where Japan and China dispute ownership over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Incursions into the waters by China were rare prior to 2011, but have surged in frequency since then. China’s territorial assertion led the US to respond with its ‘Pivot to Asia’ in late-2011, which included moving more US military forces to Asia. Since then tensions have increased, just as China has continued to assert dominance over its territorial claims and become more confrontational in asserting them.

Will these tensions lead to war? It will depend on how aggressively China asserts expansionary aspirations. Military annexations of Taiwan or the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands are likely war triggers, but both are also unlikely. Keeping a lid on tensions is the high cost of a war to both parties, and the presence of nuclear weapons. In order to avoid war, China must avoid aggressive, territorially expansionist policies or military adventurism, while the US must allow peaceful, consensual Chinese expansion where possible, while also tolerating increased Chinese military and economic capabilities.

The ‘Thucydides Trap’ isn’t simply about a ruling power facing the growing economic and latent military power of a rising power. Instead, conflict is caused by the actual behaviour of the parties in question, and whether or not one of them, especially the rising power, aggressively asserts territorial claims. Doing so directly threatens the interests and perhaps integrity of the ruling power, either in the immediate or foreseeable future, and thus triggers conflict. Where no such aggressive expansion occurs, or it is caveated by other factors making it less threatening, no war occurs. Even where no war occurs, the peaks in tensions are around territorial growth, not general economic, technological, or military growth. Allison misinterpreted Thucydides, and thus has misunderstood the tensions between the US and China today, and the likelihood for war.

Declan Sullivan has just completed a Masters of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University and holds a Masters of Law from Texas Tech University. He has written for the Center for the National Interest and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Failure to Communicate: U.S. Intelligence Structure and the Korean War


Christian H. Heller 

 February 6, 2018

The seventeen different civilian and military intelligence organizations of the United States vary in coverage (collection targets and methods) and depth (from strategic, to operational, to tactical objectives). A variety of organizations working towards different purposes ensure that the intelligence community provides national decision-makers the best picture possible about situations around the world.

Intelligence at all levels is an art form. Sources, corroborating or contradicting information, unknowns, and delays in time all result in varied levels of analytical confidence. Information coming from different means, methods, and areas requires a functioning structure to ensure senior national leaders have the best information to make the decisions. While strategic intelligence drives operations and national goals, military decision-makers—especially in combat zones—rely on tactical intelligence to help win battles. For the Department of the Navy, “tactical intelligence support is the primary focus of naval intelligence.”[1] Marine Corps intelligence also focuses almost exclusively on the tactical level to support Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) maneuvers since tactical intelligence is, “the level of intelligence Marines need, generate, and use most often.”[2] When strategic missteps occur, tactical intelligence can provide a needed capability to keep front-line forces winning, creating breathing room for new strategic plans. A functioning intelligence structure encompassing all levels of intelligence is needed to enact this goal.

Strategic intelligence analysis and the national intelligence structure failed during the Korean War on two well-known occasions: anticipating the initial North Korean invasion and ignoring the signs of large-scale Chinese intervention.[3] Inadequate manning and skill sets, erroneous target prioritization, and a failure to integrate tactical collection into strategic analysis all played a role in these missteps. Perhaps the most significant intelligence failure was the inability to separate personal opinions and the desire to please superiors when presenting intelligence:

The Yalu disaster was completely predictable. The intelligence failure was the result of a policy maker’s determination that intelligence support his preconceived views, not challenge them. It is a timeless lesson.[4]

Policy-makers in Washington and military planners throughout the Pacific continuously prepare for situations on the Korean Peninsula. Four mistakes from the Korean War showcase why tactical and strategic intelligence must coordinate and integrate to ensure battlefield success. As we contemplate the possibility of renewed open hostilities in Korea, the services must learn from prior experience. Success on the battlefield is a prerequisite for theater victory in the type of conventional conflict most likely to emerge in Korea.


The Korean War had three distinct phases. The first phase began with the North Korean invasion across the 38th parallel in June 1950. North Korean armor divisions and infantry funneled south into Seoul, driving back both U.S. and South Korean soldiers en route to the southern tip of the peninsula. U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) forces established a defense around the port of Pusan—the Pusan Perimeter—while rushing reinforcements into the line and planning for a counterattack at Inchon. In September 1950, the amphibious landing at Inchon cut off North Korean lines and initiated the second phase of the war. U.S., ROK, and U.N. forces drove a demoralized and unsupplied North Korean army nearly back to the Chinese border. MacArthur’s decision to invade North Korea led to the third phase of the war—the Chinese decision to commit forces into the conflict. The costs of this misstep resulted in Truman’s decision to relieve General MacArthur and the U.N. retreat back to the 38th parallel. The war ultimately dissolved into a stalemate with battles back and forth across the border for two years until the armistice was declared in 1953.

Mistake 1. Post-WWII Manning and Capability Reductions

Each of the military services sustained severe manning reductions after the conclusion of WWII. Military intelligence services were no different. For example, the US 7th Fleet had only one intelligence officer in the Far East Command and massive manpower increases were required to fill the required staff positions.[5] Many American cryptologic personnel left or were forced out of the service. The reductions in personnel and funding led to increased competition between the Army, Navy, and Air Force cryptologic agencies.[6] In order to appease political superiors, the agencies voluntarily joined the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA), an umbrella Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) organization. However, the half-hearted merger resulted in an agency with no Korean linguists, Korean language typewriters, or Korean-English dictionaries.[7] These inefficiencies resulted in a near complete lack of SIGINT support until three months after the North Korean invasion. In fact, the first actual U.S. SIGINT-dedicated unit did not arrive in Korea until December 1950, almost six months after the war began.[8]


The entire intelligence command structure in Asia was severely degraded at the outbreak of the war. Major General Willoughby, General MacArthur’s Far East Command senior intelligence officer, had only minimal personnel available. On paper, he managed two staffs out of Tokyo for the Far East Command and the Supreme Commander Allied Powers. In reality, from 1945 to 1950 the staff was reduced from 3,872 to 898 for analysis, operations, and administration.[9] These inadequate personnel numbers, insufficient regional specialists, and failure to work together laid the groundwork for a national structure incapable of providing timely and accurate intelligence to decision-makers.

Mistake 2. Over-Concentration on Strategic Requirements

Tactical-level intelligence capabilities were almost non-existent on the Korean Peninsula at the outbreak of the war. The Cold War and nuclear deterrence policy shifted the intelligence community focus to strategic intelligence collection on the Soviet Union, and, to a minimal extent, Chinese communism.[10] The few analysts working in Asia concentrated on strategic Soviet issues and proved insufficient to fill the needs of maneuver commanders on the battlefield.

The prioritization of targets was reflected by the published intelligence requirements. The Recurrent Intelligence Requirements List organized the collection topics for intelligence assets from ‘A’ items to ‘C’ items. ‘A’ items were most important, then ‘B’ items, and finally ‘C’ items. The ‘A’ list consisted of 20 requirements, one of which involved North Korea: “Soviet activities in North Korea”. Of the ‘B’ list’s 58 requirements, only two involved North Korea: “North Korean-Chinese Communist relations” and “North Korean-South Korean relations, including actions of armed units in border areas.”[11] The result of this prioritization was that front-line commanders of the initial forces in Korea arrived in country with little understanding or insight into the peasant Korean army pushing them back to the ocean.[12]

Another example of over-reliance on strategic targets was the use of communications-intelligence units. Available collection units were geographically spread throughout the Pacific theater but remained focused on the Soviets. The 111th Signal Service Company was in Korea up until July 1948 collecting on Soviets located directly across the 38th Parallel. When the Soviets left, so did the 111th, reducing U.S. communications-intelligence coverage on North Korean military and diplomatic radio traffic.[13]


Structural failure and strategic prioritization seriously hindered prisoner-of-war (POW) interrogations. A basic HUMINT function, interrogation of POWs is an ample source of intelligence in conflict. During the Korean War, in late 1950 as North Koreans surrendered en masse, the POW system “fell apart.”[14] POWs were misidentified, improperly registered, and could not be relocated for follow-on questioning.[15] Interrogations during the war took place largely at the strategic level with a focus on strategic requirements. However, many POWs had ample access to tactical information that was improperly or under-exploited.[16] Strategic interrogations lasted weeks and in some instances months, as interrogators focused on higher-level requirements at the expense of time-sensitive tactical intelligence. Reporting pipelines for transferring tactical reports and field interrogation notes from line units to rear area interrogators were often slow or non-existent.[17] On many occasions, POWs with valuable tactical intelligence were seized by units who did not report their existence to senior interrogators for extended periods of time.[18] 

Mistake 3. Perception Bias and Improper Analysis

Marines under cover of large boulder engage enemy forces who were unsuccessful in trapping the Marines | Wikimedia Commons

For years before the war, analysts and officials warned policymakers about the problems in Korea. However, while much of this analysis provided indicators and warnings that an invasion was possible, it disregarded the invasion due to the commonly held belief by decision makers that the Soviet Union controlled North Korea’s decisions. Accurate tactical intelligence masked by poor strategic analysis became the “preferred art form” for intelligence reporting from the peninsula.[19]

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported in a Weekly Summary in late 1948 that a North Korean attack was possible, citing new roads towards the border along with troop movements, but stated that Moscow made decisions for Pyongyang, a claim the CIA previously presented in 1947.[20] Almost 10 months before the war, CIA director Rear Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter testified that the South Korean army was incapable of stopping a North Korean invasion.[21] The CIA published analysis in June 1950 stating that North Korean forces were deploying along the 38th parallel. They repeated Rear Admiral Hillenkoetter’s warning that the South Korean army was ill prepared for war, but the warnings were ignored in Washington and in the Far East Command due to a disbelief in the aggression, independence, and capabilities of Asian militaries.[22]


Shortly before the North’s attack, U.S. SIGINT identified at least six of the nine Chinese armies relocating to Manchuria in preparation for crossing the Yalu River, but U.S. decision makers downplayed the reports.[23] CIA reporting at the time also indicated that more than 200,000 Chinese soldiers were prepping along the North Korean border.[24] However, the widespread belief that the Soviet Union would not allow the North Korean or Chinese forces to attack took precedence to the mounting evidence on the ground.[25]

Senior civilian leaders in Washington and senior military leaders in Asia refuted reporting which could have altered the war due to groupthink and preconceived opinions. These two intelligence errors—the North Korean attack and Chinese intervention—are possibly two of the gravest mistakes in U.S. intelligence history. The North Korean invasion, which could have been prevented with posturing and deterrence, cost hundreds of thousands of lives and dragged a reluctant America back into a large-scale war in Asia. The second, which could have been avoided by heeding the warning signs from intelligence agencies, third-party diplomats, and the Chinese themselves, escalated the war and laid the groundwork for three decades of Chinese-American hostility that followed.

Mistake 4. Interagency Competition and Personalities

The individual opinions of the generals in Asia led to additional intelligence errors. Their beliefs influenced not only recommendations to civilian leadership but altered the structure and channels of intelligence between Asia and Washington. General MacArthur and his staff did not believe that any Asian country would risk fighting the United States for fear of certain defeat:

Washington’s strategic theme [of Soviet control] also played well in Tokyo, where General MacArthur and his staff refused to believe that any Asians would risk facing certain defeat by threatening American interests…This belief caused them to ignore warning of the DPRK military building and mobilization near the border…It was a strong and perhaps arrogantly held belief, which did not weaken even in the face of DPRK military successes against US troops in the summer of 1950.[26]

The warnings were blatant. Zhou En-Lai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, issued a public declaration that China would intervene on 30 September—the day after President Truman authorized the war—stating, “The Chinese People…will not supinely tolerate seeing their neighbors being savagely invaded by the imperialists.”[27] The Chinese sent multiple warnings to the U.S. about an invasion of North Korea via the Indian Ambassador in China and the British Ambassador in Washington.[28] Both the British and Dutch ambassadors in Moscow told the U.S. that China would intervene if UN troops crossed the 38th parallel. Despite the warnings, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State encouraged MacArthur to push north.[29] The intelligence, generally, was accurate but ignored. Thrown into the frontlines of war in Korea, tactical commanders faced an uphill fight to hold the line.

On some occasions intelligence wasn’t just ignored, but altered or minimized by restructuring. Strong evidence exists showing that senior military leaders, including General Willoughby, were involved in these activities.[30] For instance, when CIA reporting indicated the large-scale movements of the Chinese army long the Manchurian border, Willoughby ordered the intelligence reports suspended and ordered the CIA to cease passing intelligence directly to Washington.[31] On another occasion in November, Willoughby minimized order of battle numbers by only counting prisoners as being from four different battalions instead of the four different armies which interrogation reports stated.[32]

The primary reports used by senior civilian leaders to make decisions in Korea were Daily Intelligence Summaries (DIS). General Willoughby supervised the construction of the DIS and created a narrow intelligence pipeline through which information would reach Washington. Ninety percent of the Pentagon’s intelligence flow came from such reports, and Willoughby prevented tactical and operational intelligence regarding the Chinese and American setbacks from making its way into the DIS.[33] American and UN policymakers based countless decisions on intelligence which did not properly depict the situation on the ground or the indications and warning of escalation.


Military leaders in the Pacific also mistrusted each other and the young civilian intelligence agencies. Willoughby and MacArthur refused to cooperate with the CIA and denied them access to Army reporting and facilities.[34] The Air Force and Army refused to combine human intelligence efforts in Korea, specifically with regards to interrogations. The Air Force created their own interrogation team that competed with the Army’s Korean Liaison Office (KLO) and CIA for intelligence, each meeting with limited success.[35] The Navy had no interrogators in Korea and interrogation reports from other services answered few naval intelligence requirements despite many of the POWs coming from port areas.[36] Tactical HUMINT operations lacked a structure for coordination and intelligence sharing which hindered operations and intelligence sharing.


While policy-makers in Washington analyzed less-than-accurate information from MacArthur’s intelligence services, accurate and timely tactical intelligence helped win battles in Korea that were necessary to provide time for strategic plans to develop. Despite their limited numbers and capabilities, especially at the beginning of the conflict, on-the-ground intelligence assets on the Korean Peninsula provided usable information to supported commanders.

Repatriated POW Capt. Frederick Smith is greeted by his father on his arrival at Fort Mason, California, on board the USNS Marine Phoenix, September 14, 1953.

Peninsula-based SIGINT assets proved vital at the Pusan Perimeter and helped commanders relocate forces to best defend against North Korean attacks.[37] SIGINT identified the locations of enemy infantry battalions, ammunition deliveries, radio outages, and new aircraft runways and shelters. During lulls in the fighting, tactical SIGINT identified the locations of the next attacks through requests for river-crossing equipment.[38] This information allowed U.N. forces to defend the 140-mile line with significantly fewer troops and free up more men for the landing at Inchon. Tactical SIGINT’s value was proven time after time by identifying Chinese attack locations in such instances as the Battle of White Horse Mountain, Battle of Old Baldy, and Pork Chop Hill.[39] At White Horse Mountain:

Intercepted Chinese communications gave the Americans warning of the attack. ASA rushed an intercept unit to the spot, and it fed American commanders with hard intelligence as the battle progressed. The Chinese lost 10,000 troops out of the 23,000 they had committed.[40]

Tactical HUMINT was exploited throughout the war, especially during the preparation for Inchon. Operation Trudy Jackson, a joint CIA-Navy operation, prepared the environment for the invasion. One naval officer, two Korean operatives, and three others landed on Yonghung-do Island west of Inchon and trained guerilla fighters, launched raids, and gathered intelligence. At one point up to 150 guerillas conducted island-hopping operations around Inchon.[41] The intelligence gathered was vital to the landings and included the numbers of Chinese personnel crossing the Yalu River, tide times and levels, soil compositions, seawall heights and locations, current flows, and enemy locations.[42],[43]


The intelligence failures from Korea demonstrate the downstream effects from changes in national policies and an inefficient intelligence structure. When Washington became solely focused on Soviet nuclear weapons, the intelligence community adjusted in stride. When senior leaders re-organized and over-emphasized reporting which supported their biases, analysis and reporting fell in step. The result was not one, but two blindsides in Korea to begin the Cold War. Korea demonstrates three intelligence lessons for planners to consider.

First, an inability to properly integrate strategic and tactical intelligence leads to weak analysis and, thereby, poor decision-making. Second, multiple reporting outlets to senior leaders must exist to prevent stove piping. Decision-makers in Washington need varied and sometime contradicting analysis to ensure a single senior intelligence leader cannot alter decision-making by downplaying or overemphasizing different sources. Finally, a robust and responsive tactical intelligence capability is necessary to hold the line when higher analysis and leaders make mistakes. Accurate and timely tactical intelligence provides the space in which operational and strategic leaders can alter and execute plans. Ultimately, these four failures of U.S. intelligence led to an unfinished war with the next steps still being hypothesized today.

Christian H. Heller is an officer in the U.S. Marine CorpsHe is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Oxford University, and was a Rhodes Scholar. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the United States Marine Corps, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government

Are Europe and Turkey on board with China’s New Silk Road initiative?




Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron started his trip to China from the city of Xian. Macron is known for his apt use of symbolism and his choice of the historic Silk Road city was no different. This has to do with the Belt and Road Initiative, the central piece of President Xi Jinping’s mandate, a project aiming to connect the Eurasian supercontinent through infrastructure projects estimated to be worth up to $4 trillion by the Economist.

The narrative surrounding the Belt and Road Initiative places it in a relation of continuity with the Ancient Silk Road, which lost its prominence when Europeans discovered sea routes to Asia. Currently, trade between China and Europe overwhelmingly takes place through sea routes and few land options exist. The Belt and Road Initiative is set to bring the Silk Road back. Both British Prime Minister Theresa May and Macron put the Belt and Road Initiative at the center of their visits to China last month.

The initiative also occupied a prominent place at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, which took place last week. In May 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin were present at the Belt and Road Initiative summit in Beijing while several other countries involved in the project such as Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian republics have been on board for a few years.

On the other hand, the increase in attention from European business people and political leaders is relatively new. This is certainly linked to the current state of affairs in the United States. Just like last year, the key theme of the Davos summit was the rising political threat against globalization. Most speeches, including the opening one by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressed the issue. Obviously no direct reference was made but the elephant in the room was the United States under President Donald Trump. Both the Transpacific and Transatlantic trade partnership plans died when Trump came to power. In sharp contrast, the Chinese leadership has successfully embraced a pro-globalization discourse and the Middle Kingdom emerged as an even more crucial player in global trade than it previously was.

Similar to what happened with climate change after the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris talks, global trade has become a subject in which the new key country is China. European countries have come to the realization that perhaps their most important outside relationship will become the one with China.

Still, one should stress that several worries about the initiative are also expressed. Notably, Macron said “the Silk Road should not be one-way,” implicitly referring to the high tariff barriers of the Chinese market for all products apart from raw materials. In addition, the political economies of China and Europe are still quite incompatible, with the latter not even formally recognizing the former as a market economy. Trade is always a matter of delicate negotiation and China is currently conducting it with European countries within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.

It is hard to put this better than the way Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser did recently: “The China One Belt, One Road is going to be the new [World Trade Organization] WTO — like it or not.”

Surprisingly, the Belt and Road Initiative has still not really been brought to the fore as a central issue yet. However, the extent to which it may transform the world is obvious to keen observers. Indeed, many projects currently underway in Turkey - such as the tunnel under the Bosphorus and the Kars-Tblisi-Baku railway line - have something to do with the Belt and Road Initiative and Turkey’s ambition to become a central hub within the newly emerging Eurasian trade network.

Silk RoadChinaXi JinpingEurasiatradeeconomy



Jan 29, 2018


Conrad Turner

Public diplomacy students often ask me if I think now is a good time to join the Foreign Service. The answer is, “Of course.” The next question is trickier: how does one get in? The usual uninspiring response is, “Take the annual Foreign Service test.” But there are many ways to get a foot in the door and gain precious experience while trying to land a permanent career.

Chief among them is to be both stubborn and patient. I’m convinced that if you watch for opportunities, bust your butt, and are willing to do just about any kind of work to get in, you’ll succeed. That’s how I did it. You may have to temporarily park your higher degree, but everything in this career requires a long-term view.

So getting in isn’t really the issue. It’s being effective once you’re there and finding ways to enjoy your job so you don’t burn out. It’s also standing out from the Foreign Service mob to get promoted and stay employed.

Accordingly—this being the era of lists—here are my top six things to do now as a student that will pay off for you later, once you’ve been sworn in:

1. Learn. Learn anything and everything. Whatever you learn, you will use it in a PD career, in one way or another. I’m not talking about diplomacy or foreign policy—you’re already cramming that into your brain. Instead, read books on science. Literature. Philosophy. Vegan cooking. Teach yourself to dance or play an exotic instrument. Indulge your inner renaissance person. And don’t kid yourself you’re learning lots from articles or videos, they go through you like prunes. Instead, immerse yourself in topics and hobbies. Volunteer somewhere. Go deep—that’s where value is.

2. Learn a language. I mean really learn it. Get good and have fun with the accent and memorize popular sayings or poetry. Maybe that’s easy for me to say, since I’ve done it. But you want to be a public diplomat, right? Now, you don’t need to be completely fluent to draw a paycheck—you might get by, depending on your job. But if you want to do good things and win people over and like your work and stand out, then get comfortable in a foreign language. If you learn the right “hard” language, you can parlay it into many assignments, develop regional expertise, and earn more money. I’m thinking Chinese, Arabic or Russian. Still, if French or Spanish or Hungarian is your thing, go for it.

3. Cultivate the light side of the force: practice being a nice person. If you can’t, please find another career. The world has enough stiff, distant, even unfriendly bureaucrats. Americans need to be different. A foreign national colleague once told me, “Americans are known to be efficient with no interest in anything except work.” Others note how some of us pass them in the hallway without saying hello. Really? Folks, this is Humanity 101. Cultivate the niceness they taught you in kindergarten. If nothing else, it will come in handy later, when you go asking for 360 evaluations and people decide if they’d want to work with you again… Also the quickest way to get thrown out while you’re untenured is to be a jerk.

You don’t need to wait three years until your first PD tour to start: you can practice now. 

4. Beat your smartphone addiction. There’s nothing more annoying to a contact or boss (or professor) than to be talking to people who can’t stop checking their phones. You say everyone’s doing it? Well they’re not. You’ll be working in countries where people still go to cafes to converse, not write reports or status updates or check their mail. In any case, I don’t care what others at the table are doing when you get there: be the one who is fully present. This is how you get diplomacy done where others fail. Fight the addiction now.

5. Go beyond your syllabus, job description and other forms of conventional wisdom. Remember that one project you did in school or college that nobody asked you to do, but you thought it would be interesting and fun and worthwhile and others benefited? That, in a nutshell, is the ideal of public service. The policymakers tell us what the goals are, but we use our brains and internal compasses to find the best way to do it. We take initiative and help others pursue their ideas. You don’t need to wait three years until your first PD tour to start: you can practice now. What might that be at your university? Damned if I can tell you. Campuses are huge with tons of committees and clubs and problems that you care about that need fixing and undergrads who need tutors. You have skills and just may be the person to help out.

6. Learn to write. Sorry to sound condescending, but I’ll put it this way: professors and senior diplomats have noticed that writing skills haven’t exactly improved over the decades. Writing well gives you influence in the State Department, its embassies, and in foreign countries. It is also how you get promoted past people who don’t write well. Writing is a learned skill, but you have to write to learn. So write.

Those are just a few things you can double down on today. There are many others. For example, most people are lousy public speakers. So join Toastmasters. I’m totally not kidding. It’s first-rate experience, and you’ll be addressing audiences nonstop as a PD officer.

Also stay healthy; you can’t be a strong student, let alone travel as a diplomat around countries on packed schedules, if you are physically and emotionally unwell. And be ethical: integrity is the bottom line for public service and governs everything from administration and leadership to policy implementation.

The main thing is to prepare now so that, once you are assigned to represent the American people overseas, you will be one of our finest examples—and you’ll be ready to find real enjoyment in the best career ever invented.

Note from the CPD Blog Manager: The opinions represented here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government. For more information on public diplomacy careers with the U.S. Department of State, visit careers.state.gov.

Photo: Conrad Turner speaks with USC Master of Public Diplomacy candidates

February 05, 2018

Regional connectivity stressed to benefit from CPEC



ISLAMABAD: Businessmen on Monday emphasised improvement in regional connectivity ahead of the 72nd executive meeting of SAARC CCI scheduled today.

Industry officials said China-Pakistan Economic Corridor gives an immense opportunity to improve regional connectivity and enhance trade among member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

“The SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) has been striving to boost the trade and investment among members since its inception, but without much success as the intra-regional trade figures continue to remain disappointing,” a chamber’s statement said.

Intra-regional trade constitutes only 1.4 percent of the total world imports and 1.2 percent of exports, whereas merchandise trade is only 27.9 percent of GDP, the lowest in the world. SAARC comprises around three percent of the world’s area, 21 percent of the world’s population and 3.8 percent or $2.9 trillion of the global economy.

“South Asia can become super economic hub if all indigenous resources are fully exploited and through ironing out of political and geographical differences among the SAARC member countries,” the statement added. “Especially result-oriented parleys between two nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan will make the region a driving engine for the world economy.”

Ghazanfer Bilour, president of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Vice President SAARC CCI Iftikhar Ali Malik will welcome the delegates from SAARC countries in the capital of Pakistan.

Vice presidents from member countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Pakistan along with their delegations will attend the meeting.

The meeting will discuss the initiatives of SAARC CCI in 2018 and strategies to grow regional cooperation to the new levels. The upcoming event of SAARC CCI, SAARC Business Leaders Conclave, planned from March 16-18, 2018, will also be discussed during the meeting along with other milestone events of SAARC CCI throughout the region.

The meetings will finalise the chamber’s proposed initiatives to be undertaken in the current year, while the formation of a China business council will also be approved after taking all the stakeholders into confidence.

Furthermore, the SAARC delegates will visit the SAARC CCI building site and witness the project’s construction progress. The SAARC CCI headquarter building is the flagship house of SAARC, which will be the hub of information for all the initiatives of SAARC regional economic cooperation.


GCSC convenes in Lille

January 31st 2018 - 11:44

The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace (GCSC), initiated by The HagueCentre for Strategic Studies, conducted its fifth meeting in Lille, France, on January 25, 2018.

“We had a most productive session, deepening our commitment to international peace, security, and stability, exploring means of enhancing the general availability and integrity of the Internet, and setting out priorities for 2018,” said Marina Kaljurand, the GCSC’s Chair.

The one-day meeting produced a commitment to elaborate on the “Call to Protect the Public Core of the Internet” which the Commission issued at its November meeting in New Delhi.

“The Call to Protect is generating support from a variety of national and international public and private sector organizations,” said Michael Chertoff, GCSC Co-Chair. “We decided to increase buy-in by further explaining the implications of this foundational policy.” The Commissioners also examined the ways to promote the norm in capitals and board rooms around the world as well as with other international bodies.

The Commission charted its agenda for the coming year, including developing international norms to reduce the danger from technical vulnerabilities in information and communications technology (ICT), protect electoral systems, prevent the takeover of civilian consumer devices for offensive purposes, and discourage offensive cyber activity by private sector entities.

Finally, the Commission approved funding for six research proposals in response to the GCSC Call for Research issued in December 2017. The research will help inform the Commission’s deliberations.

The Commission selected Lille as its venue in order to participate in the 10th International Cybersecurity Forum. The GCSC co-chairs provided the Forum with valuable perspective on avenues to achieve international consensus on policies that will increase cyberspace stability and security. Other commissioners, advisors, and members of the management board and secretariat participated in panels discussing hacking back, international cooperation in capacity building and the Balkanization of the Internet.

The GCSC will convene in May 2018 on the margins of the GLOBSEC Forum in Bratislava, Slovakia. In the run-up to this meeting, the GCSC welcomes input from other organizations and institutions that are concerned with norms of responsible behavior and international cyberspace security and stability. Comments may be sent to info@cyberstabililty.org or cyber@hcss.nl.

Liberal Societies: Comparative chart

10 Years HCSS: Stability in Cyberspace since 2007: Quo Vadis?

February 5th 2018 - 11:52

Ten years ago, in the early summer of 2007, Estonia set out to remove a World War II memorial commemorating Soviet soldiers from the capital’s downtown, and inadvertently triggered what has been sometimes called the first strategic cyberattack in history. Over a three-week period, one of Europe’s most wired countries was paralyzed by a series of DDoS attacks against its government, media agencies, and financial institutions. It marked a watershed moment in the use of state-sanctioned cyberattacks to advance foreign policy goals. It also introduced a model for conflict in cyberspace fought by proxy to retain some degree of plausible deniability – even  when there is an overall consensus saying otherwise. 

In the following years, more news about strategic cyberattacks events made headlines; ranging from events in Georgia in 2008, Stuxnet in 2011, attacks against Sony Pictures in 2014, Tele5 (2015), a German steel mill or against the Ukrainian Power Grid (2015), and the most recent wave of ransomware attacks including WannaCry and NotPetya (2017), to name only a small sample. This indicates that cyberattacks are becoming the new normal and therefore join the already highly charged new reality of seemingly omnipresent cyberespionage. Behind this backdrop lies the concern that a catastrophic cyber exchange between nation states could occur. In recent years this threat has often been described as a major threat in national security threat assessments. While this dire outlook is partially connected to the overall level of geopolitical tension, there is a significant and widespread concern that the ability of governments to successfully manage the threat of major conflict in cyberspace is hampered by the difficulties in attribution, the dominant role of non-state actors in all shapes and forms (attacker, victim, media or carrier of attacks) as well as their unclear relationships with the government, and the rapid development of the technology itself, creates unseen future shocks that have significant impact on national security concerns.  

Both bilateral and multilateral interstate discussions have attempted, and in some cases managed, to address some of the risks involved in inadvertent escalation as well as a loss of escalation control. However, attempts to find a workable interstate dialogue seem to have reached an impasse. The failure of the “UN Group of Governmental Experts” to reach a consensus in 2017 and stalemates in other diplomatic fora show that governments alone will not be able to fix the problem. Despite their traditional dominance over all questions related to international peace and security, governments only make up one of three actor groups in the overall cyberspace regime complex. The Internet is governed by a complex ecosystem of stakeholders, each with its own set of standards, norms, rules and processes. The ability of the private sector, which owns and runs most of its digital and physical assets in any conceivable form, and the civil society, which is largely responsible for coding and running the most basic Internet functions, to create norms of behaviour is therefore paramount. Governments alone cannot decide on all aspects of cyberspace – instead their ability to draft own norms is largely contingent on the norms that others have already established. Given this complex landscape, it is unlikely there can be a singularly encompassing legal solution that is both enforceable and inclusive. Instead, developing norms of behaviour acceptable to all relevant stakeholders is essential.

In an effort to facilitate global multi-stakeholder engagement to help develop norm and policy initiatives related to international peace and security in cyberspace, HCSS decided to launch the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace at the 2017 Munich Security Conference with the support of many partners. The Commission does so by connecting traditional state-led dialogues with those of the Internet communities. Recently, in New Delhi, the Commission released its Call to Protect the Public Core of the Internet – an appeal for a new norm to apply to both state and non-state actors to refrain from activity that intentionally and substantially damages the general availability or integrity of the Internet itself.

HCSS seeks help from others working towards this shared mission and will continue to pursue the multi-stakeholder approach into its second decade, the end of which will hopefully lead to more answers to questions we have yet not fully addressed.

Louk Faesen, Associate Strategic Analyst, Cyber Policy and Resilience Program

This post is part of a series on the HCSS 10 year anniversary. Throughout the year analysts, experts and former colleagues will publish a post reflecting on the past 10 years. 

Read the post by Paul Sinning, Executive Director

Read the post by Rob de Wijk, founder and non-Executive Director 

Read the post by Sijbren de Jong, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Stephan De Spiegeleire, Principal Scientist 

Read the post by Michel Rademaker, Deputy Director Market and Operations

Read the post by Karlijn Jans, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Willem Oosterveld, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Erik Frinking, Director of the Strategic Futures Program

Read the post by Hannes Rõõs, Data Scientist

Read the post by Reinier Bergema, Strategic Analyst

Read the post by Frank Bekkers, Director of the Security Program 

Louk Faesen

Louk Faesen is a Strategic Analyst at HCSS. He holds a Master’s degree in Law and Politics of International Security (LLM) from the VU University of Amsterdam