Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power?

Sun Tzu- The Art of War

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the oldest known strategic manual about war fighting, with estimates about time of authorship ranging from the third to fifth century.[1] Sun Tzu’s work has been a key part of Chinese military thinking from ancient to modern history. The Shang dynasty incorporated the Art of War with six other strategic manuscripts, circa A.D. 1078, to form the seven military classics that became the foundation for government examinations in military affairs as well as for strategic thinking.[2] Sun Tzu has not lost its relevance, during the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950) Communist leader Mao Zedong read and based much of his strategic thinking on The Art of War, despite the Communist party fighting against most of Chinese traditional culture.[3] Sun Tzu’s language is sparse and contains lines that can easily convey ideas independent of the rest of The Art of War. This style allows for multiple interpretations, and for the independent use of key lines to convey meanings unrelated to war and strategy. However, at its core, the book is about using grand strategy and deception to win military victories with the minimum necessary application of force.  In modern times, there has been a trend to reinterpret The Art of War’s warnings against excessive force as in line with China’s peaceful development strategy. However, this reading ignores the existential nature of war that Sun Tzu writes about as well as the fact that The Art of War instructs generals to exploit enemy weakness to gain victory rather than advising them to peacefully co-exist.

Chinese Thinking on War in the Spring and Autumn Period

Before about 500 B.C. warfare in China was ritualistic, only fought during specific seasons, and involved relatively small armies of a few thousand men. By the time Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War technology had changed allowing for the use of iron weapons, and agriculture had become more efficient allowing for a stronger concentration of state power and armies ranged from 100,000 up to nearly a million men. The Art of War was written to advise rulers during a time when war was an ongoing and existential concern for Chinese states. Sun Tzu highlights the existential nature of the warfare in this period saying, “For while an angered man may again be happy, and a resentful man again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.”[4] For many states, being proficient in warfare was the only way to ensure survival in the Spring and Autumn period, during which more than one hundred independent Chinese states were exterminated.[5]  The Art of War’s strategy based on deception reflected an evolution from earlier periods of warfare and represented a new way to achieve victory.[6]

The type of traditional rules of warfare that stand in contrast to the deception advised by Sun Tzu are described in The Methods of the Ssu-ma, another one of the collected seven military classics collected by the Shang Dynasty. Like The Art of War, The Methods of the Ssu-ma is of uncertain origin, but is thought to date back to the fourth century and contain materials dating back into antiquity.[7] The difference between the two works is made clear on the first page of The Methods of the Ssu-ma, which offers advice like “Neither contravening the seasons nor working the people to exhaustion is the means by which to love our people. Neither attacking a state in national mourning nor taking advantage of natural disaster is the means by which to love their people.”[8] While Sun Tzu advises generals to treat captive soldiers well, he does not do this out of love for the enemy’s people, but to gain advantage over the enemy. Also, Sun Tzu’s strategy depends on shaping the enemy’s moral strength and taking advantages of weaknesses, so he would be more likely to advise using natural disasters or national mourning as an opportunity for a victory rather than urging restraint.

During Sun Tzu’s time, there were also several important political and moral thinkers in China whose work considered warfare from a moral and political perspective rather than a strategic one. The two most famous Chinese thinkers that were roughly contemporary with Sun Tzu are Guan Zhong and Confucius. Confucius’ view of warfare is more similar to the attitudes described in The Methods of the Ssu-ma than Sun Tzu’s reliance on deception. For example, rather than rely of clever stratagem, Confucius advises leaders that “If distant people do not submit, then cultivate benevolent virtue so as to attract them.”[9] Confucius acknowledges that war has existed as long as humanity, but unlike Sun Tzu, he stresses the importance of a superior morality rather than strategic victory as the necessary factor to become a hegemon.[10] Guan Zhong saw war as being unvirtuous, but also as a tool a leader could use to become a hegemon. Guan Zhong shares a similar existential view of war with Sun Tzu, writing that “If war is not won and defense is not firm, then the state will not be secure.”[11] However, like Confucius and unlike Sun Tzu, Guan Zhong stressed the importance on leaders practicing virtue among feudal lords to gain trust and employ political authority.[12] In ancient China, warfare and the use of force was generally disdained and bureaucrats and leaders often preferred to believe in the idea of cultural superiority as an attractive force, however the ubiquitous warfare of the Spring and Autumn period made skilled generals and strategists valued personnel.[13] Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was unique for its focus on the necessity of the use of strategy and deception rather than superior morality to ensure state survival and victory.

Sun Tzu’s Core Concepts

One of Sun Tzu’s most famous aphorisms is “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”[14] Rather than a call for peace, Sun Tzu recognized the inherent risk of armies entangled in protracted war fighting that depresses soldier’s willpower, drains state resources, and presents third party states with an opportunity to take advantage of your weakness. According to Sun Tzu, even if a state is able to win many battles and master tactics, if it engages in protracted warfare it will not benefit.[15] In order to win with a minimal use of force, The Art of War encourages generals and princes to use deception to shape circumstances so that they are able to win the war before the first battle. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu describes four offensive tactics in order of effectiveness. The first tactic is to attack the enemy’s strategy, the second tactic is to disrupt an enemy’s alliances, the next tactic is to attack the enemy’s army, and the least preferred tactic is to attack the enemy’s cities.[16] In Sun Tzu’s list, the two most effective strategic choices do not depend on the use of force, but instead rely on adroit diplomacy and deception.

To carry out Sun Tzu’s higher order offensive tactics, it requires a deep knowledge of both the enemy and of one’s own capabilities. Sun Tzu makes the vital importance of such knowledge clear, warning, “If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.”[17] Unlike Clausewitz, perhaps the only equally renowned strategic thinker, Sun Tzu puts high value on the gathering of intelligence and the use of spies.[18] The importance of intelligence gathering is so high that Sun Tzu devotes the whole last chapter to the use of secret agents, and delineates a variety of agents by purpose and origin. For example, some agents are to be used as traditional spies that gather information and return it to the general, inside agents who are enemy officials, enemy spies which are bribed into becoming double agents, and expendable agents which are unknowingly given false information that they give up to the enemy after being captured. With knowledge of the enemy, and knowledge of one’s own capabilities, the general and the sovereign are able to make plan carefully and shape the enemy’s perceptions so that they weaken themselves through their own actions. In this way, secret agents are vital, and akin to an army’s eyes and ears.[19]

Sun Tzu clearly put deception above the use of force in warfare, but The Art of War also includes instruction about the best manner to fight a war. Sun Tzu advocates an indirect form of warfare that is dependent on maneuver rather than focusing on attacking and destroying the enemy’s army like Clausewitz advocates.[20] This strategy depends on restraint and timing, shaping the situation so that when the enemy makes a mistake or presents a weakness it is possible to strike so that the battle is won as soon as it starts. Even when engaged in fighting, the actual outcome depends on the use of deception and psychological factors.  In this way, it is more important to attack an enemy’s will power than to win a tactical battle. Sun Tzu describes this as the moral factor, and advises to “avoid the enemy when his spirit is keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers homesick.”[21] Of course as a corollary to this point, it is necessary to maintain the moral of your own troops through fair treatment and proper administration of rewards and punishments to maintain loyalty.[22] The attention to moral factors, deception, timing, and diplomacy are necessary to preserve the state and to prevent prolonged war that is costly and enervating and threatens state survival is the core of Sun Tzu’s strategic thought.

Sun Tzu and the Art of Soft Power?

In China, there has been a recent trend to use Sun Tzu and The Art of War as a source of soft power and an explanatory tactic for China’s peaceful development strategy. This trend is present in the 2014 9th International Symposium on Sun Tzu’s Art of War hosted by the Chinese Academy of Military Science titled “Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Peace, Cooperation and Development.”[23]  According to the conference description, “Sun Tzu’s Art of War show us that seeking safety through development, cooperation and win-win growth is the right way toward world peace.”[24] From this description, it would be easy to imagine Sun Tzu as a modern day CCP official describing China’s peaceful development policy. Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, also sought to use The Art of War to explain Chinese strategic thinking and to build trust during a 2012 speech to UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, saying “China has the deterrence and wisdom to win without fighting. But if needed, China has the courage and capability to win through fighting. This is the essence of The Art of War and the soul of China’s military strategy today.”[25] Perhaps it is this image Hu Jintao had in mind when he gave President George W. Bush a silk copy of The Art of War in 2006, or when Beijing’s Renmin University gave a copy of the book to Admiral Michael Mullen during his visit in 2011.[26]

The Chinese are not the only people who have sought to portray Sun Tzu as a source of soft power. In his book The Powers to Lead, Joseph Nye describes Sun Tzu as a smart warrior who understood the importance of the soft power of attraction.[27] Another example comes from former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who gave a speech at the 2014 Sun Tzu conference in Qindao. In his speech, Rudd urged China and the U.S. to avoid the Thucydides’ trap of rising power-status quo power conflict and to form a new kind of great power relationship based on common interests, cooperation and building trust over time. In order to tie this call for trust and cooperation between the U.S. and China with The Art of War, the closing lines of the speech references Sun Tzu’s warning that “The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry that can on no account be neglected,” and then subsequently suggested that in modern times the word “state” should be swapped with “world.”[28] While Sun Tzu did believe that war was a risky proposition that could imperil a state, Rudd’s substitution overlooks the fact that Sun Tzu was not an internationalist, but someone who clearly believed in the importance of achieving decisive victory over enemies.

It is easy to make the case that Sun Tzu rejected the use of force if you take lines from The Art of War out of context. The line most commonly used to this effect is “to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”[29] It is true that force plays a much lesser role in Sun Tzu’s strategy than Clausewitz or other comparable writers, but this usage mistakenly puts the stress on “without fighting,” and ignores that the objective is to subdue an enemy. Another issue with this interpretation is that deception is the most frequently discussed theme in The Art of War. [30] With the context added back in, claiming that Sun Tzu’s The Art of War shows a path to cooperation and win-win solutions actually has an ominous overtone. Claiming to be peaceful while preparing for war is a tactic that follows Sun Tzu’s advice that “when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.”[31] Recent assertive Chinese maritime actions in the South and East China Seas have caused doubt about China’s professed peaceful intent. Atlantic Council senior fellow Robert Manning has admonished Beijing to follow The Art of War’s counsel to “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.”[32] As Manning points out, rather than hiding their strength, China’s expansive territorial claims and maritime harassment of other powers has resulted in other countries in the region bandwagoning with the United States to contain China’s rise.

Sun Tzu for the Modern Age

Throughout The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasizes that mastering strategic warfare is a matter of survival for states. This perception is shaped by the constant warfare during the Spring and Autumn period during which The Art of War was written. Rather than a book of philosophy or international relations based on moral attraction like other works from that period, The Art of War is about how to win decisive victories over enemies with deception, secret agents, and well-timed uses of overwhelming force. While Sun Tzu advocates using force sparingly, The Art of War is not a good choice of a vehicle to promote Chinese soft power or to advocate for cooperative great power relationships. This does not mean that Sun Tzu is not applicable to the modern world, as former Naval War College professor Michael Handel noted, Sun Tzu’s grand strategy approach to warfare is more relevant today then Clausewitz’s tactical approach to warfare.[33] Considering the costs of modern protracted wars undertaken with poor or incomplete intelligence, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on knowledge, caution, diplomacy, and strategic patience and efficacy in the use of force are still highly relevant.

[1] Richard D. Sawyer, The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China (Boulder: Westview Press, 1993), 150.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Samuel B. Griffith, The Art of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 45.

[4] Griffith, 143.

[5] Sawyer, 9-11.

[6] Derek M. C. Yuen, Deciphering Sun Tzu: How to Read the Art of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 52.

[7] Sawyer, 111.

[8] Sawyer, 126.

[9] Yan Xuetong, Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 37.

[10] Ibid, 34.

[11] Ibid, 34-37.

[12] Ibid, 43.

[13] Sawyer, 2.

[14] Ibid, 77.

[15] Ibid, 73.

[16] Ibid, 77-78.

[17] Ibid, 84.

[18] Michael I. Handel, Masters of War: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Jomini (Portland: Frank Cass, 1992), 111.

[19] Griffith, 149.

[20] Handel, 42.

[21] Griffith, 108.

[22] Griffith, 66.

[23] “9th International Symposium on Sun Tzu’s Art of War kicks off,” China Military Online, August 26, 2014,

[24] Ibid.

[25] Liu Xiaoming, “Sun Tzu’s Wisdom Behind China’s Diplomacy and Defence Policy” (Speech, UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, UK, February 2, 2011),

[26] Sun Tzu and the art of soft power,” The Economist, December 17, 2011,

[27] Joseph S. Nye, The Power to Lead (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11.

[28] Kevin Rudd, “How Ancient Chinese Thought Applies Today,” Huffington Post, February 6, 2015,

[29] Griffith, 77.

[30] Handel, 102.

[31] Griffith, 66.

[32] Robert A. Manning, “Sun Tzu Would Disapprove of China’s Strategy,” The National Interest, August 3, 2013,

[33] Tony Corn, “Peaceful Rise through Unrestricted Warfare: Grand Strategy with Chinese Characteristics,” Small Wars Journal, 2010, 14.

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Book Review: Edward Luttwak, The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy

In his book The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy author Edward Luttwak presents a stark thesis based on what he describes as the logic of strategy. Throughout the book Luttwak tells the reader that China is simply too big to be able to continue to rise economically and militarily without causing regional and global powers to align against China. In this formulation, as China increases military spending, its diplomatic and political powers will wane as other states work to constrain China out of fear for their own independence. This dynamic will continue unless China reaches some unspecified tipping point where it has enough power to impose subjugation on its neighbors, which will cause them to accept China’s dominance. Luttwak articulates his thesis well in the introduction and conclusion, however, the middle section of the book weakens due to misreading of dynamics in individual countries, and by demonstrating that each country acts based on individual idiosyncratic reasons based on things like culture, history, and national self-perceptions rather than an overarching strategic logic.

The value add of The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy is its update on the premise of the Thucydides trap. Normally IR realists use this concept to explain the high probability of a rising power and a status quo power conflicting during the transition phase, harkening back to Thucydides famous line “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The book acknowledges the logic of the trap, but goes further than most writers by claiming that there is a way out, however unlikely it is that China will take the offered escape route. Unlike structural realists, Luttwak believes things like intentions, regime type, and military spending matter, and that even with a high base of potential power that China could convert into military might it is still possible for China to reduce the fear that its rise is causing in the region. The main prescription is simple: rapid economic growth and rapid military growth will cause conflict, so if China wants to avoid conflict and tragedy it needs to maintain a smaller military force than it is capable of. The author acknowledges the paradoxical need to reduce defense spending to achieve security will be hard for the Chinese leadership or the Chinese people to accept, but argues strongly that it is the only way to continue their economic rise without causing fear.

One particularly interesting concept is that there is a threshold of what other states are willing to accept in terms of Chinese power before they try to constrain it and an upper threshold where China becomes powerful enough that other states are no longer able to challenge China but must submit to a Chinese led order. Early in the book, the author states that China has already passed the first threshold, and that states are starting to balance against China’s rise, in particular by aligning with the United States. This is certainly the case for countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, which are currently strengthening naval cooperation with the United States as China becomes more aggressive on expansive maritime territorial claims. The author makes the case that there are several ways for China to increase this threshold, such as being more transparent about decision making or even democratization, however the logic of strategy will still apply and economic and military growth together will trigger counter-balancing. Importantly, however, after China crosses the threshold of acceptable growth, it does not mean that there will be military conflict, which would be a disaster due to the presence of nuclear weapons, but that the balancing could take on a geo-economic form. This argument is more convincing than the standard realist ones about the possibility of armed conflict, which ignores how reluctant states are to be involved in possible nuclear warfare or even at the possibility of great powers war. It is refreshing to have this reality plainly stated by a strategic speaker, and it makes sense in the context of China’s rise, which has been driven by rapid economic growth.

Mr. Luttwak acknowledges his lack of specialized knowledge about the region that he writes about is this book, and when he goes into individual country cases his writing falters. This is particularly clear in the chapter on South Korea. This chapter describes South Korean refusal to deter North Korean actions through proportionate responses as a peculiar sign of subservience to China, which requests both parties to return to talks and tranquility after each North Korean provocation. The chapter goes as far to say that this lack of strategic reaction on the ROK’s part damages U.S. interests because the U.S would be responsible for defending the ROK in the case of an invasion or major attack. This misguided analysis ignores that the U.S. has wartime operational control of the ROK forces, and any retaliatory action would need to be jointly approved and enacted. Also, more importantly it ignores the long historical role that the United States has played in restraining the ROK military force- for which it has had complete operational control for most of the ROK’s history. Indeed, if there is any peculiar actor in the U.S.-ROK alliance it is the United States. In Victor Cha’s book Alignment Despite Antagonism Cha notes how frequently concerned ROK presidents have been by the lack of U.S. reaction to DPRK provocations including seizing the USS Pueblo from international waters and holding and mistreating U.S. sailors resulting in a U.S. apology rather than anything that could be described as deterrence.[1] The South Korea chapter is not an integral part of the thesis, but I have treated it in detail because the level of basic misunderstandings suggests the possibility that in having a non-specialist cover a range of countries might leave the reader with misunderstandings caused by the author’s confidence in their superficial portrayals.

Aside from misunderstandings about the countries Luttwak profiles, after reading the eight chapters detailing the reactions to China’s rise of countries as varied as Japan and Norway it becomes clear that each country responds based on its own history, culture, and perception of interest. In the strategy of logic, as opposed to realism, countries are not treated as black boxes with no history or cultural preference. For example, the author compares Korea’s perceived cultural “servility” to China with Vietnam’s culture of opposing China as a mechanism to explain why both countries will likely react in different ways to China’s rise. However, Luttwak does mention how since both Vietnam and China are ruled by communist parties, there will be instances of cooperation, as when China successfully convinced Vietnam to boycott the Nobel Prize ceremony for the “criminal” Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. There is a interesting argument to be made about how culture, history, geography and other things affect different countries perceptions of the rise of China, but at no point is it made explicit how they affect the basic thesis about the logic of strategy at the core of the book. It is undoubtable that myriad things like South East Asian resentment at native Chinese wealth in their countries to Norwegian concern about market access for their fish not all affect views on China, but it is clear how these disparate things fit into a theoretical framework, or why a strategic, not regional, specialist chose to highlight them.

Despite the books flaws, The Rise of China vs. The Logic of Strategy is more compelling than the standard Thucydide’s trap formulation made popular by realist thinkers. When the author focuses narrowly on the logic of strategy and on the relationship between the United States and China the book is sharp and its predictions unsettling. Unlike many strategic writers, Luttwak moves beyond military strategy and focuses on geo-economic maneuvering as a way for the two nuclear powers to balance and counterbalance one another. In this vein, in the name of strategic logic the U.S. and China are admonished to give up seemingly common sense goals. For the United States, instead of adhering to free market ideology and trade with China they are advised to stop economically fueling China’s rise and to use economic containment. For China, they are warned not to increase their military power concurrently with their economic power in order to not antagonize other powers, going against the realist truism that countries are power maximizers and will seek to increase hegemony to gain more security. These are novel ideas that deserve to be considered on their merit, however in a globalized world where U.S. allies in Asia are increasingly delinking their economic and security interests and where Chinese nationalism has become a way for the CCP to maintain legitimacy, neither would be easy to accomplish and would entail great risk to any politician wanting to put them into place.

[1] Cha, V. (1999). Alignment despite antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan security triangle. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

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Managing Priorities in a World (that seems) on Fire

I am glad that I am not Barack Obama, Ashton Carter, John Kerry, and the many other American officials that are crafting our foreign policy in this currently very complicated world. One of the biggest challenges in foreign policy is establish priorities and ranking importance in terms of time, funding and resources. None of this happens in a sterile, lab like environment, but is influenced by misinformation, biases, public pressure and legislative pressure. The American people, allies, and the legislature itself is demanding decisive action on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Russia, etc. at the same time there is a self declared Strategic Rebalance to Asia and a self imposed austerity through sequestration.

At the moment ISIS is a clear and present threat to Middle Eastern and global stability, but the President has declared that there will be no American boots on the ground. Currently we are at war with ISIS, which is depressing considering how many times we have declared mission accomplished in Iraq and were ready to go home not too long ago. America is in an awkward moment in the Middle East where it is not clear who are friend or our enemies are, or if it is even possible to make such clear distinctions. Degrading ISIS empowers Assad and Iran, and realistically defeating ISIS without without help (whether tacit or not) from Assad and Iran is not possible. What is America’s role, beyond stopping the slaughter of Kurds and minority people and stopping Baghdad from being overrun, what is left salvaging in Iraq and Syria, and how can it be put back together without the people there wanting to put it back together as it was before- which is increasingly doubtful. We have been at Iraq in one war or another for more than half my life.

Russia- What is our strategic goals here besides standing up to Russia and letting them know what they did is not acceptable? How much stomach do our NATO allies have for anything besides sanctions, and what happens if we send weapons to Ukraine and confirm (in many people’s minds) Putin’s rhetoric about a new cold war, and what if we don’t send weapons and lose the confidence of Europe? Is there a good outcome, and what really can/should the U.S. being doing?

These two crises both touch on long and short term interests, but while they are going on, in the back ground East Asia has become the most important region in the world in terms of economic power- and at the same time is becoming more tense as Japan debates getting rid of article 9 of their pacifist constitution and China is more and more able and willing make expansive territorial claims. America has core security goals in the area, and the Rebalance policy is important to avert further instability or arms races.

These are three major strategic goals, but it is impossible to make them all the number one priority, or to address one without limiting resources available to another, all while trying to deter or reassure key audiences with different interests. The Obama administration is walking on a tightrope with only less bad choices to make that will inevitably disappoint most people.This is clear domestically when Obama was recently harshly criticized for failing to criticize radical islam harshly, ignoring that fighting ISIS relies on muslim allies, or the ongoing hawkishness towards Iran that seemingly wants the U.S. to fight all sides of the current conflict in the Middle East all at once. I wish I had some good advice for this, but for now, I just wanted to highlight the difficulties.

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You can now follow Small Crowded World on Twitter

Not sure how much I will actually be using this, but I’ve finally done it and joined twitter. You can find me here and you can comment to me at @leon_whyte. Thought I would never do this, it is a brave new world after all.

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My last semester at Fletcher

All things must end, and ending my time at Fletcher is something I am looking forward to, yet I know I will miss my time here (but not the week before midterms or finals- that I am glad to leave behind). My mind is divided between thinking about my last semester classes, activities and thesis and the all important job search and career that is coming next. It will be a very busy time- I am still a senior editor at the Fletcher Security Review and Professor Sung-yoon Lee has asked me to be his Research Assistant for the semester.

Here is my class schedule:

1: Korean 120b- Finally I am taking a Korean language class. It is at Harvard college, so it is mostly undergraduates. The atmosphere is great, casual but worthwhile. The only downside is that it is everyday at 9am.

2: The Political Economy of China with Professor Tony Saich (Harvard Kennedy School)- Good class so far, but it has only met twice. It will be a good complement to other classes that have looked at China’s external actions. It is all about China’s domestic development. Interesting thing, the professor is British and he went to university in China during the Cultural Revolution. This means that he had to (along with the other foreign students) go work in the field and in Chinese factories and do manual labor once a week to make sure that he had correct ideological development.

3: The Classics of International Relations with Professor Daniel Drezner- Prof. Drezner is entertaining, to say the least, if you doubt me then follow his twitter feed. He is also demanding. This class is going to take a lot of my time. Each week we read a classic, or in Thucydides case over two weeks (which I am trying to finish now) and then we talk about it. If you don’t read the whole thing and the Prof. can tell, you fail. It is basically a book club, very good so far- it has taught me a lot about theory and the intricacies of Thucydides. Also, I learned why it has endured- as Prof. Drezner notes. “because it is Awesome.”

4: The Strategic Dimensions of the Rise of China with Prof. Toshi Yoshihara- My HKS class is all about China domestically, but this one is all about Chinese and American security policy. The beginning of the class has been about setting up a foundation in IR theory to use as a framework to think about the questions related to China’s rise. The prof. is even-handed and a great lecturer.

5: North Korea State and Society with Prof. Sung-yoon Lee- I am just auditing this class, so it means I can come and learn without worrying about assignments or a grade. Because of the schedule and last weeks snowstorm, I have only had one class. Prof. Lee is my advisor and has just hired me as a Research Assistant, so I wanted to have one more chance to learn from him- it promises to be interesting.

Other than classes, there are two upcoming events in February to look forward to. First is the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) that will be examining  Asia’s Blueprint for Growth: Building an Inclusive Future over four days with students from all over the world. During the last week of February I will be heading down to D.C. with Fletcher for a career trip- trying to find a job or at least get a better idea of what is available.

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My new article- Enough to Go Around? Money Matters Complicate U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia-Pacific

My new article was just published in the Fletcher Security Review. It was co-written by Richard Weitz- Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

I.  State of the “Asia Pivot”

The U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia – also known as the “Asia Pivot” – has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s foreign policy since 2011. Hillary Clinton offered a detailed explaination of the concept in a 2011 Foreign Policy article.[1] The basic idea behind the Rebalance is that many U.S. core economic and security interests are increasingly centered in the Asia-Pacific region, so the United States needs to allocate more diplomatic, economic, military, and other assets towards the region.

The Strategic Rebalance would do just that. The Defence Strategic Guidance relaeased by the Defence Department in January 2012 made supporting the rebalance a key Pentagon objective. The Obama Administration accordingly plans to increase the percentage of naval assets in the Pacific to 60 percent by 2020[2] in addition to stationing 2,500 Marines in Darwin, Australia, and 4 littoral combat ships in Singapore.[3][4] Given the region’s economic importance, this makes sense. The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 40 percent of global economic growth in 2013. In 2012, the U.S. exports to the region totaled $555 billion, which supported 2.8 million U.S. jobs.[5]

The economic and security aspects of the rebalance policy are interconnected. The U.S. strategic presence in the region has contributed to the stability that has enabled the amazing growth of Asian economies over the past 60 years. As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter noted in 2012: “If that (U.S.) security were ever to go away… all of the people in the Asia-Pacific region that have been lifted up into prosperity in the post-War period, would be set back significantly. The global economy would be set back significantly… that is partly why we are rebalancing our efforts in the region.”[6] If the Rebalance works as promised, then the United States would continue to provide the region with security, which would in turn promote stability and continued economic growth, a significant win-win for the United States and its Asian partners.

However, U.S. economic weaknesses and the Budget Control Act of 2011 – which mandates cuts in U.S. government spending (known as “sequestration”) – have constrained the U.S. government’s ability to resource the Rebalance adequately and meet its regional security commitments.[7] The sequestration process was deliberately devised to present the Congress with an unacceptable outcome if the mebers failed to balance the budget through a combination of tax hikes and targeted spending cuts. But the congressional compromise has failed to occur, and now sequestration is threatening to wreck havoc throughout the government with arbitrary percentage-driven spending cuts. Complicating matters further in the defense domain are the Taliban’s resilience in Afghanistan and the stunning emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. During the initial planning and unveiling of the Rebalance, the United States assumed it would be possible to shift more resources to Asia as it curtailed its commitments in the Middle East and South Asia,[8] yet U.S. engagement in these areas is steadying or growing. New challenges have also emerged in Europe due to Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Among other steps, the Obama Administration will need to find common ground with the new Republican-controlled Congress to reassure allies that U.S. strategic commitments will be matched with U.S. means based on strategic considerations, rather than domestic partisan battles.

 Read the rest of the article here:!whyte–weitz/c1wp1

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North Korea: The Myth of Maxed-Out Sanctions article

Here is a great new article in the Fletcher Security Review by Joshua Stanton about North Korean sanctions:!stanton/c1vgi

On December 19, 2014, President Obama publicly blamed North Korea for the cyberattack against Sony Pictures and for the subsequent cyberterrorism against the American people, and promised to “respond proportionally.” Almost immediately thereafter, one could hear a familiar narrative repeated, typified by New York Times correspondent David Sanger, who wrote that “North Korea is under so many sanctions already that adding more seems futile.” One could have heard similar arguments in 2006, after North Korea’s first nuclear test, and in 2013, after its third nuclear test. Avariation of this argument is that “Washington … can do little … without the cooperation of China.”

For years, journalists have quoted “experts” who insisted that U.S. sanctions options against North Korea were exhausted and had failed as an instrument of policy. As a matter of both fact and law, however, that is false; it even suggests that these experts have not read and understood the sanctions authorities. Why does this view persist, then? Some scholars may accept and propagate it because they oppose sanctions as a matter of policy. Others have simply ceased to question a myth that has entered the received wisdom.

 More at the link.

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New Issue of Fletcher Security Review- War and Money

Everyone should go and check out the new issue of the Fletcher Security Review, the theme is War and Money and we will be rolling out a new article everyday for the next two weeks. Take a look.!money-and-war/c5xh

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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U.S.-North Korea postal relations?

Today I went to the post office to mail a package to South Korea. When I asked the clerk about prices, he first showed me the prices to mail my package to North Korea out of confusion. I had never thought about it, but I find it interesting that North Korea is an option on post office computers, and am wondering how relations between the two countries postal services work. Maybe a paper topic…

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