Afghanistan: Keep our eye on the Exit

Wrote an article at (   Gist is that we need to focus on building out the Afghan (and Pakistani) government.   Helping people, killing Taliban, educating girls or building roads may be good things to do, but if we do these things ourselves, it just perpetuates a stalemate.   Our exit strategy, from the beginning, has rested on building an Afghan government that can control its territory and prevent foreign fighters from installing themselves.

Thus, we need to spend our money directly through the Afghan government so that they deliver services and security to the population.  We should build their fighting capability.  If we want to do something right, DON’T do it ourselves.

As frustrating as it is to deal with Pakistan, they have the same problem:  control of territory and border.  We can work with them to monitor the border and to expand government control into the tribal areas, where they have recently imposed military order.

Only by supporting local capability will we be able to leave.   We need to keep our focus on the exit.


Screw you guys, I’m going home

Wrote an article for TheCipherBrief (see on Trump and the Europeans.  They tried to “educate” him yet he persisted in his views.  Whatever the discord, we’re stuck with each other on issue after issue:    “Together, we face digitization, automation, terrorism, Middle East turmoil, Russian belligerence, and Chinese resurgence.  From ISIS to cod to laptop bans to data privacy, neither the U.S. nor Europe can make policy alone….“Go it alone” won’t work for either Americans or Europeans and the sooner we accept our fate and mollify our pretensions to independence, the better off we’ll be. ”

Detached analysis aside, Trump’s visit reminds me of two memes from South Park.  When the new President was shown the Pentagon last season, he marveled at the toys:   nukes, satellites, drones.  When he opened the door marked “Diplomatic negotiations” he blurted out:  “Oh jeez, this doesn’t look like fun.”    That kind of sums of Donald’s trip to Europe.   Whereupon, he departs muttering Eric Cartman’s refrain  and pulls out of the Paris Accords on his return.

Diplomacy on the Rocks: Disputes and Solutions over Rocky Outcroppings from the South China Sea to the Arctic

We (Brown Junior Sophie Purdom and I) organized a great workshop last Friday in Providence.  We had a wonderful cast of participants and the variety of experts gave us insights that we might have otherwise missed.

The incredible speakers ranged from Law of the Sea Experts (U of Maine Law School’s Charles Norchi), to Naval War College academics (James Kraska, Walter Berbrick) and scholars from Brown’s Environmental Institute (Caroline Karp, Siri Veland and Ewige Cavan).   The Coast Guard Academy (Becca Pincus) contributed more ideas on the Arctic, and we enjoyed the presence of the Thai Navy (Kovit Talasophon), the Korean Coast Guard (Sukkyoon Kim) and, last but not least, diplomats like Ambassador Chas Freeman and Icelandic DCM Erlingur Erlingsson.

All were accomplished in their fields and lively presenters; together, they created a dialogue that looked at these issues from all angles, legally, environmentally and practically.    The icing on the cake, or at least the rainbow of sprinkles, were Brown student presentations on specific issues, and one big idea:  An Arctic Peace Park!   The whole proceedings are at this link.Wrap up

Summary:    Disputes over rocks grow from law of the sea claims (but remember islands have fresh water, rocks do not; islands convey economic zones, rocks do not) and spin dreams of hydrocarbons and fish or just of power and control.   These disputes are unlikely to find solutions in legal arguments, including the Philippines case against China at the tribunal over the south China sea, but the problems can be managed. We all have an interest in seeing them resolved, or at least shelved continentally, because we all need environmental standards and navigation regulations to apply, especially in sensitive areas like the Arctic.   The Arctic council does a very good job of expanding standards and promoting cooperation, but we shouldn’t expect it to tackle sovereignty and other claims.    In the South China sea, just about all the features that can be occupied have been occupied, so it’s time to accept that the “Go” board is full and see what we can do about settling things in place.   In the end, we need the political will to manage the resources and opportunities jointly and move away from sterile disputes about who owns what.

Santa Clara Law

Just catching up before I post some latest thoughts.   I participated in a symposium at Santa Clara Law School in February.   It was an lively (really!) and interesting (yes!) discussion of developments in international law and standards for corporate compliance.   I gave a keynote with my big theory of the world:

Value Chains –>  Exploding Middle Class –> Demands for fairness and impartial services –> Revolts when they don’t get it (Arab Spring, Occupy, Tea Party, Indian demonstrators) –> Companies need to keep clean –> Governments had better deliver good governance and efficient services or risk global instability.

Full length version:   SpeechforSantaClaraLawCenter

Ten Rules for Press from 20 years ago

I did the new eight rules because I couldn’t find my old ten rules — they’re essentially the same because the underlying truth (keep your mouth shut unless you know what you are saying) remains constant. Still for those who prefer an aged version, here are the Old Ten once known as Words of Wisdom.


Credit to Caitlin for finding these first but she’s not the only one.


Foreign Policy Article on Central Asia

Just got published on   an article I wrote about Central Asia. Summary:   Shanghai cooperation isn’t where the action is; it’s on the ground with pipelines and electric lines.  Russia is being pushed back and China is pushing into a region where they’ve been absent for 200 years.   China benefits as well from lowering its dependence on the (US- and India-controlled) straits of Malacca and Indian Ocean.   The countries of the region benefit from having multiple options and outlets. The US needs to stay active even as we withdraw from Afghanistan.

Party Wimps out at Plenum — not with a bang but a whimper

The widely ballyhooed Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Central Committee didn’t live up to inflated expectations.  We were all hoping, some predicting, that it would announce a new set of reforms that would lead China away from the export oriented, state run model that is petering out, and into a time when Chinese consumers would benefit from and drive economic growth.   Unfortunately, the new leaders of China avoided bold reforms, consolidated the security apparatus and probably moved backward on citizens rights.   It was unrealistic to expect a major breakthrough from a collective leadership that rose to power by relying on state organs, state enterprises and exporting coastal provinces. However, all is not lost: they laid a basis for underhanded reforms.  They missed their first real chance, but not their last.

The first good news was how many times their communique mentioned markets. The most important market now is interest rates and Zhou Xiaoquan, retained as governor of the central bank, has been moving to free up rates. Market rates can help discipline the big state enterprises, who’ve been gorging themselves on cheap state capital, and help savers achieve their targets for education and health savings thus boosting the undernourished consumer side of growth. A supporting announcement was the emphasis on more flexible use of private capital and private investment, including an inroad into market pressure inside the big corporations. Again, a bit of market discipline could go a long way.

What to watch for in coming weeks:
— Who will be on the leading group for economic reform that they announced? Real reformers with power or just another interministerial, intra-party, inter-provincial squabble?
— Will there be a serious implementation plan with details?
— What will the leaders do to change regulatory process, as they’ve now promised, curbing state interference with the market?
— What will they do to change the nature of ownership of state enterprises? Announcing that private capital can come into state enterprises implies there will have to be a clearer share structure of state and private ownership. Will private investors influence the boards or will the party still control leadership? Will the state and other investors start getting dividends?

Reform is still possible even without the big bang type changes that came from Deng Xiaoping’s 3rd plenum of the 11th Central Committee in 1978. The 3rd of the 18th may not measure up in history, but it might be the start of some transformative, but less stunning, change for the Chinese economy.

In the final analysis, China is investing more and growing less, while trying to make a transition to a creative modern economy. The elements that are missing are the democratic ones:    fair competition, accountable leaders, open information, freedom to invent and create ideas.    Absent those big changes, we might see enough to keep the economy growing and tilt it more towards the Chinese people as the drivers of growth.  If they get more bread and circuses, this leadership will hang on to reform another day.