Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Willful blindness about Chinese aggressive moves

Chinese dragon

Photo by Eva Heinsbroek

It was reported in the Wall Street Journal on February 22 that “an outspoken intelligence officer” for the US Pacific Fleet has ruffled feathers in Beijing and Washington by issuing warnings about belligerent Chinese intentions in the South China Sea.

Captain James Fanell, Director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the Pacific Fleet, stated at a maritime security conference that China is training for a short, sharp war with Japan, and that he expected China to start using its new aircraft carrier to enforce its expansionist territorial claims in the South China Sea.  As a result of his comments, Captain Fanell is described as “one of the US military’s most outspoken hawks on China.”

It is also reported that US defense officials have been debating whether to reprimand Captain Fanell for making these public remarks at a time when the Pentagon is trying to “ease tensions between China and Japan and improve military ties with Beijing.”

Having worked in the government, I well understand the importance of exercising great care in what one says about sensitive security matters when occupying an official position.  But it is irresponsible  that anyone would consider reprimanding Captain Fanell for articulating a very well-founded concern.

Is it “hawkish” to voice what is arguably a very reasonable fear of aggressive behavior by a rising power?

It would be not unreasonable to come to such a conclusion if one were utterly unaware of China’s relentless military buildup, its constant theft of American military technology, its expansionist territorial claims throughout the East Asian region, and its pointedly aggressive actions to enforce those claims in certain key potential flash points.

South China Sea mapA pattern of Chinese aggression

  • China is claiming jurisdiction over the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea in a dispute with Vietnam.

  • It claims the Spratly Islands (also in the South China Sea) in a dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam.

  • As part of its efforts to enforce its claims on the Spratlys, China built structures on Mischief Reef in the 1990s, which could be characterized much more as military installations than the “fisherman’s shelters” that China claimed they were.

  • China has also deployed military vessels to enforce a claim on Scarborough Shoal – also in the South China Sea but very close to the Philippines.  Just a few days ago, Chinese ships fired a water cannon at fishermen in Scarborough.

  • China has been intensifying its claim of an exclusive Economic Zone, particularly in conflict with those of Japan and South Korea.  Among the assets at stake are natural gas fields in the region.

  • Then, just this last November, China unilaterally established an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, which grossly overlaps those of China and South Korea.

  • The ADIZ was intimately associated with China’s claims on the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea (which China calls the Diaoyu Islands) which have been under Japanese jurisdiction since 1895 (with the exception of a period of US control for 27 years after World War II.  Here, China has been regularly deploying naval vessels to challenge Japanese jurisdiction.  In response, Japan has been manifesting a greater spirit of rearmament and determination to resist Chinese expansionism than has been seen in half a century.  If there is a serious potential flashpoint that could erupt into war, this is it.

Downplaying threats: realism or willful blindness? 

When one beholds the totality of Chinese military preparations and expansionist claims, just in the South and East China Seas (let’s not even talk about such Chinese claims as that of the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh), it is by no means hawkish to warn that the Chinese are likely to continue their expansionist behavior in such a way that may even risk armed conflict with one of its neighbors – particularly Japan.  This is only realism.

The problem here is that so few people are aware of what China is doing.  Virtually none of our national leaders are issuing a peep about this.  And so, for the uninitiated, a statement like Captain Fanell’s would seem to be not only undiplomatic but reckless speculation.

In fact, what is reckless is the willful blindness of just about everybody else involved.

Our national strategic leadership is surely aware of Chinese behavior, and to give it some small credit, it did deploy two unarmed B-52s to pass through the Chinese ADIZ in the immediate wake of its announcement.

But what is at stake here is not so much a few rocks, reefs, or even gas fields that may fall within the claimed sea territories.  This happens to be one place in the world where the likelihood of drawing the United States into an unnecessary war is arguably greater than anywhere else on earth.  Should China’s aggressive advances be met with a proportional response from Japan, the possibilities of war would be enormous, and we must not forget that the United States has obligations under the terms of mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.

Similar silence about Soviet aggression

There is a tendency in American diplomacy to downplay major international security threats in hopes that diplomacy can give the aggressor a face-saving exit from the extreme and dangerous positions it has taken.

But this is wishful thinking and it never works as hoped.

I am reminded here of how, during the Cold War, the U.S. Department of State kept as a classified secret the record of years of Soviet aggressive behavior against the U.S. Military Liaison Mission in East Germany (MLM).  Our MLM, which had been established as part of the Quadripartite Agreement over Berlin, involved the deployment of military intelligence personnel to monitor the other powers’ military presence in the region.  Over the course of several years, the Soviets had perpetrated numerous attacks against members of our MLM, including attempts to use heavy trucks to run their smaller vehicles off the road at high speed.

In 1985, the Soviets opened fire on an MLM vehicle and hit Major Arthur Nicholson, a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer.  The Soviets made him bleed to death over the course of eight hours, while preventing his American colleagues at gunpoint from intervening to save his life.

While the consequence of this attack ended up being more severe than those of earlier attacks, this was simply part of a consistent pattern of Soviet aggression which the State Department completely concealed from public knowledge.

Why should this have been a classified secret, except to conceal it from the American people so that we would not erupt in anger over the treatment of our officer?  The hope, of course, was that by keeping it secret, we would reduce tensions with Moscow in such a way that might ultimately result in peace.

The Soviets never paid any price for their criminal aggression.

Why the silence about China?

The same spirit is at work with Chinese behavior.  Not only is our national leadership effectively mute about China’s strategic purposes and the development of massive military capabilities to realize those purposes, but large swaths of the American business community avert their eyes from these strategic realities in the interest of not rocking the boat of their business relationships with the regime and its favorites in the Chinese “private” sector.

A not-insignificant portion of the academic community of China specialists also censor themselves, for fear of not getting a visa to return to China to do fieldwork.

Finally, it should not go without mention that major organs of the American media, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post receive huge subventions from the Chinese propaganda apparatus to publish and distribute “China Watch” supplements to their newspapers, and all too often, we see only a sprinkling of the facts about the almost daily developments concerning Chinese expansionism in East Asia.

As the Chinese accompany their regional moves with a massive military buildup, the U.S. administration is supervising a major reduction in our defense posture.  U.S. action in this sphere only sends a signal of provocative weakness to Beijing.

If this pattern of Chinese behavior is to be stopped, if war is to be deterred, China must be sent signals of strength and national will.  The Japanese are starting to do this.  The question is whether we will.

The first step toward such a policy is for the President and senior Congressional leaders to tell the truth about the strategic challenges that the U.S. faces from China, and that China’s neighbors are facing in the East Asian region.  With no articulation of truth, our leaders will never build a national consensus to develop the kind of deterrent force and credibility necessary to deter war.

The fact remains that telling the truth is never as destabilizing as covering one’s eyes and censoring oneself about strategic developments inimical to the strategic interests of the United States.

I happen to be part of a Google news group on China led by Captain Fanell, and I am exposed to an avalanche of emails on a daily basis from a myriad of credible sources about these Chinese developments. Captain Fanell knows the facts.  The rest of the world barely sees any of them.  If anything, Captain Fanell’s warnings can be considered responsible and moderate, in light of Chinese behavior.  Rather than being reprimanded for having the courage to tell the truth when our national leaders won’t, he should be rewarded for taking a leadership role when true leadership at the national strategic level is missing.

China may be going down the old Soviet path to disintegration

chinaThe repression of Chinese anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong is part of a political crackdown on scores of activists, journalists, and intellectuals.  This crackdown involves increased internet controls and a Marxist-Leninist ideological purification campaign for Chinese journalists on which I have commented earlier.

What is particularly fascinating about this new and predictable round of Chinese communist repression is that it has been accompanied by an official anti-corruption campaign organized by none other than Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping. This is uncannily reminiscent of the official Soviet reaction to corruption within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

Effects of corruption in the USSR

In the Soviet case, this corruption was the tip of an iceberg of a much larger crisis — namely, a crisis of Party discipline.  It was this crisis that was one of the central reasons for the collapse of the communist enterprise in the Soviet Union.

What is the connection between this crisis and the Soviet collapse?

First of all, one must recognize that the CPSU had grown to be a massive bureaucratic monstrosity with over 20 million members.  Most of them were ideological workers — i.e., propagandists and agitators — and prefects, who were non-productive monitors of what productive activity was undertaken in the USSR in order to ensure conformity with the Party line.  The fundamental problem that had developed within this system was that orders issued from the top would suffer from erosion and ultimately would not be implemented efficiently or at all when they reached the lower and local levels.

This lack of discipline was partly a function of bureaucracy and partly the result of corruption.  The corruption, in turn, originated from the black market, which the Party had to tolerate because it was the only vehicle ensuring literally the physical survival of the labor force.  It was the only means by which acute shortages of goods and services could be filled — and this was done through the price mechanism.

The underground economy always existed within the USSR, even during the harshest periods of Stalinist repression.  Over time, the underground entrepreneurs, led by the mafia, gained ever greater influence and freedom of operation because of their success in bribing Party officials.  Eventually, those officials began to invest in illegal underground commercial ventures.

So, both these investments and the bribes meant that ever larger numbers of Party cadre were developing forms of self-interest that were at variance with the Party’s interest.  This was called a crisis of partiinost’ (Party-mindedness).

A crisis of Party discipline

By the time of the General Secretaryship of former KGB Chief Yuri Andropov, the Party leadership had recognized this crisis of discipline and had begun to initiate measures to combat it.  When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, he intensified these measures.  He conducted an ideological purification campaign of the Party membership.  He arrested and prosecuted 250,000 members of the Party and managerial elite for various types of corruption.  He conducted a massive crackdown on the underground economy, during which 800,000 underground entrepreneurs were arrested or fled their jobs for fear of arrest.

Gorbachev launched the glasnost’ campaign, which Soviet propaganda gave Westerners to believe was a campaign of increased openness, transparency, and even freedom of speech, when in fact, it was designed to encourage people to tattle on and denounce Party corruption.  The irony of this situation was that ordinary people took advantage of this campaign, exploiting a critical vulnerability of the Party state. This vulnerability grew out of the crisis in the Soviet military economy, which was unable to remain technologically competitive with the United States.

The only way the Party could remedy that military industrial crisis was to seek an economic bailout from the West.  But to do this, Gorbachev could not present himself and the Party as ruthless oppressors of their own people or active enemies of the West.  So, in one of the few such periods in Soviet history, there opened a window of opportunity for people to criticize the regime, denounce its corruption, and call for radical political change without the usual risk of being thrown into the Gulag.

Let us not be under any illusions, however.  Gorbachev was forced against his will into presenting both an image and a partial reality of liberalism.  But he did invade Lithuania.  His regime incited inter-ethnic conflicts in many of the Union republics as part of a divide-and-rule strategy.  The KGB spurred pogroms by Azeris against Armenians.  His armed forces invaded Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.  His goons used poison gas on freedom demonstrators in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and slaughtered them with sharpened military shovels.  Most of these ruthless measures remain unknown in the West, as they were overshadowed by Gorbachev’s charm campaign.

It is for this combination of reasons that close to a million people could take to the streets of Moscow to demonstrate for radical political change in 1991, putting immense pressure on the regime.

Corruption in China today

The Chinese communist regime has worked mightily to learn from, and avoid, a repetition of this Soviet experience.  It has attempted to make self interest compatible with Party membership as part of its controlled economic reforms, where most major enterprises are under the control of Party officials or People’s Liberation Army officers.

But there is no escaping the corrosive effects that corruption has on Party discipline and the social alienation that this corruption causes.  So long as there is this amazing level of corruption in the Chinese Party, the regime will continue to be the target of anti-corruption activists.  It will continue to suffer from pandemic civil disturbances — over 70,000 of these nationwide on an annual basis.  And it will continue to have to crack down on all of this.

The Chinese communists are riding a tiger that they may not be able to control.  The question for the United States is: should we continue to allow our trade with China to provide the regime with resources that help it survive such pressures?

US-Russian relations and the strategic importance of an independent Ukraine

SovietThe protests in Ukraine that have been proceeding for many weeks have major strategic implications. The proximate question is whether Ukraine will become an integral part of the Western economic community and, by extension, the Western security community, or whether Russia will succeed in co-opting it into its own political and economic space. The larger issue is whether Ukraine will remain an independent country, or whether it will eventually be fully absorbed into the Russian empire.

It is no secret what Vladimir Putin and the bosses of his power ministries want. They are suffering from an intense imperial nostalgia. They lament the collapse of the USSR and its breakup into its various constituent parts. They continue to celebrate on an annual basis the founding of the Cheka, which later became the OGPU, the NKVD, the KGB, and today a combination of several agencies, most notably the FSB and the SVR — organizations that are completely incompatible with democracy.

Ever since Russia articulated the first versions of its post-Soviet national security doctrine, starting as early as 1992, it has reserved for itself the right of military intervention into any neighboring country to protect “Russian-speaking people” whom it considers have been mistreated. The problem is that most people in the former Soviet republics speak Russian — and so, how does one distinguish between a Russian citizen is from a non-Russian? In any event, this particular doctrine is incompatible with international law, and it represents an ongoing threat to each of those countries in what the Russians call “the near abroad.”

Russia’s attempts to re-absorb many of its surrounding territories involve numerous maneuvers, most notably its infiltration of these lands with its agents of influence, many of whom are associated with major Russian corporations that are associated with Putin’s oligarchy. Sometimes these corporations buy or control companies in these neighboring lands. Insofar as some of these corporations are mafia-controlled, they use strong-arm tactics to assert their influence or control. The SVR and FSB have dossiers on hundreds if not thousands of individuals in the near abroad whom they can manipulate to serve Russian strategic interests.

Russia also has long used energy blackmail as means of extending its influence, particularly against Ukraine. It uses divide-and-conquer tactics that principally involve pitting different ethnic and religious groups against one another in neighboring lands. This is what it has done in most of its neighboring countries, with the most dramatic example being in Georgia, where Russia has aggravated relations between the Abkhazians and the Ossetians on the one hand and the central Georgian government on the other.

They also famously use propaganda and “active measures” (i.e. disinformation, forgeries, and covert influence operations) to influence opinion and policy in those countries.

And they work mightily to resist any attempts by these countries to associate themselves with the NATO alliance.

If Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia have been able to see clearly the geostrategic implications of the expansion of the Russian political and economic space, why cannot the United States?

One of the reasons why the new NATO members from the former communist countries of East/Central Europe are so committed to the NATO alliance is their fear of Russian revanchism and their intense desire to retain that liberty which was so long denied them when they were under the Soviet yoke.

Two world wars centered heavily around geostrategic competition for the lands between Western Europe and the USSR/Russia. The decision to expand NATO into these lands was precisely with an eye to preventing that strategic competition from continuing: namely, by placing those lands firmly in the sphere of the West without being under the thumb of any imperial power.

The United States would do well to support Ukrainian independence. Failure to do so will only encourage Russia’s expansionism and instability surrounding its borders. It could threaten the independence of our East-Central European NATO allies, and ultimately distract the United States from other major security threats. Supporting Ukraine means abandoning feckless attempts to “reset” relations with Russia on the basis of ignoring its regional expansionist ambitions. If U.S.-Russian relations are to improve, it will have to be on the basis of exploring and cooperating on areas of genuinely mutual national interests, such as resistance to Islamist terrorism and Chinese expansionism.

Surprise! China still is a communist regime

Great Wall of ChinaA couple of days ago, the Washington Post reported the latest episode of an ongoing story about ideological control in the Chinese media.  This story should be — but is not — familiar to those who are hoping that economic growth in China will translate into political reform.  With regrettable regularity, the Chinese Communist Party cracks down on the Chinese news media.

The latest crackdown, which involves a sharp intensification of the Party’s efforts to control journalists — is designed to enforce political conformity in order to protect the Party’s monopoly on power.  The enforcement mechanism is Marxist-Leninist ideology.

In the last months of 2013, reporters from all across the country were compelled to attend Marxist ideological training sessions.  Meanwhile, Chinese journalism schools are being compelled to host Communist propaganda officials in senior management positions to ensure that the Party line is enforced in journalistic education.

It is not well understood in the West how an ideology can continue to be operational if most people don’t believe in most of its tenets.  It was well known in the last years of the Soviet empire that ideological fealty was in a state of decay.   On top of this, official Soviet propaganda endeavored to portray the USSR as a country where the ideology was effectively dead or obsolete.  Why?  Because if the USSR was no longer communist, then, by definition, it could no longer harbor unlimited global strategic objectives, including the radical political transformation of the United States.  In addition, if its strategic goals were now limited, then its limited desires could not only be accommodated, but it could be seen as much less of a threat.

For all of that Soviet propaganda, how, then, could one explain why longtime Soviet Politburo member and later Russian President Boris Yeltsin could describe Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR as a “totalitarian” state?  What did Yeltsin know that few people in the West seemed to understand?  It was precisely this: That the ideology was installed as such an integral part of the Soviet system that people had to march according to its drumbeat, whether they believed in it or not.

The ideology was the key element of the internal security system of the state, setting the standard against which deviationism was measured.  It was the drum beating for the soldiers marching, and anyone who failed to conform with the tempo could be easily identified by the “sergeants” and appropriately punished.

What this means is that the Chinese Communist Party continues to use a totalitarian method.  What the Party requires is not even necessarily loyalty, but most importantly, submission.  It doesn’t care which, because both have the same operational result.

Marxism-Leninism also continues to be the legitimizing principle of the Party’s governing authority.  There is no other credible argument by which the Party can legitimize itself in power.  For illegitimate regimes, which rule without the consent of the governed, legitimacy is a very big deal.  In contrast, we in the West take it for granted.  But without legitimacy, a regime knows that it has a very big internal security problem.  Therefore the central fact of political life in China, just as it was in the USSR, is the regime’s fear of its own people and its fear of democratic ideas.

This is why China, as currently constituted as a Marxist-Leninist regime, will always see the United States as its greatest enemy.  This is not because of what we do, nearly so much as who we are and the ideas which we represent — ideas which offer a compelling alternative legitimizing principle that is a mortal threat to Chinese Communist internal security.

The desire to do business with this regime and its front companies is widespread in the United States, and it has produced a willful blindness about these ideological realities.  As China’s military buildup proceeds apace, and threatens the peace and stability in East Asia and potentially elsewhere in the world, as well as U.S. vital interests, we would do well to be more realistic about the ideological genetic code of the regime that considers itself in a cold war with the United States.

Sources of Soviet Perestroika

Originally published in 1989, this monograph surveys the 1989 political landscape of the Soviet Union’s apparent reforms and new freedoms, but instead of lauding the Soviets for their efforts, Dr. Lenczowski views them cautiously.

Remarks at the William J. Casey Centennial

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, The Institute of World Politics and the Sophia and William Casey Foundation co-hosted The William J. Casey Centennial in honor of the 100th birthday of the late William J. Casey, former Director of Central Intelligence and father-in-law of IWP board chairman Owen Smith.

John Lenczowski begins speaking around the 33 minute mark, and discusses the Reagan administration’s dealings with the Soviet Union.

WSJ: William Clark, Freedom Fighter

William Clark, Freedom Fighter
The judge fought alongside Reagan in the long twilight struggle of the Cold War.
The Wall Street Journal
August 14, 2013
by John Lenczowski

When William P. Clark died on Saturday at age 81, his family and colleagues mourned his passing—and recognized that the world had lost one of its greatest champions of freedom.

Judge Clark, as he was known to one and all, served as a justice of the California Supreme Court from 1973 until 1981, and later as President Ronald Reagan’s deputy secretary of state, national security adviser and secretary of the interior. In his foreign-policy roles, Judge Clark became one of the figures outside the Soviet empire most responsible for its collapse and for the liberation of millions from the tyranny of communism.

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