Tag Archives: China

Monday’s Mtg: North Korea – Now what?

Is there a more scary topic for a Halloween eve meeting than this one?

President Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea has been highly irresponsible and reckless.  But, it is hard to judge exactly how dangerous the situation is. War is still unlikely based on what I am reading.

But, honestly.  Trump has threatened to annihilate North Korea’s civilian population in a written speech before the United Nations. He has pledged to attack merely if its leaders don’t stop verbally threatening us – to start a war over words. He has repeatedly tweeted (!) that the end of diplomacy is near and we should stay tuned for the next exciting chapter. Senator Corker’s words of warning about Trump earlier this week are widely interpreted as a warning specifically about the likelihood of his triggering war (either accidentally or deliberately) with Pyongyang. Regarding this irresponsible and dangerous president’s behavior I’m not sure what there is to say or discuss, other than to be horrified.

And, yet. North Korea is a massive problem that must somehow be managed no matter who is president. No one really knows what to do and all of our options are bad. So, I thought it would be useful to get up to speed on those options and those risks so we can all better understand what is going on.

Fortunately, a lot of excellent commentaries on North Korea have been penned recently, at least in my opinion.  Also, in a few weeks President Trump will visit East Asia.

On Monday night I will do a very brief opening update of recent developments and a preview of what experts say to look for in the Trump Asia tour. Then we can vent discuss North Korean policy.


NEXT WEEK: Do we really have a democracy?


Monday’s Mtg: Is This the “Asian Century?”

People all over the world have long anticipated that the 21st century will be “Asia’s century.” According to this point of view, long-term demographic and economic trends already have begun to shift the dynamic center of the global economy from the West to the East. China will keep rising and become Asia’s main hegemon, perhaps challenged by India and other emerging Asian powers. The West will slowly (or maybe rapidly) decline, at least in relative terms, and a new global order will emerge that is anchored in the East, not in Europe or in North America.

CivCon member Aaron (The Younger) asks an important question: Is it all true, or is it just the latest wave of Western declinism? China’s government and people sure believe it, spurred along by the global but U.S.-based 2008-09 financial crisis, from which China was basically immune. President Obama believes it, or at least he has attempted to “re-pivot” American foreign policy towards East Asia and away from our endless preoccupation with the Middle East and a declining Russia.

I have a few questions of my own, as shown below. Here are some of them, and some links on the basic idea of an Asian-centered 21st Century, obstacles to it, and different ways the United States might respond.

With Donald Trump still forming his administration – and his recent bizarre, disturbing phone calls to world leaders, some in direct contravention of longstanding U.S. policy – it’s hard to guess what U.S. policy might be the next four years. Still, global politics tends to follow its own internal logic, plus (the main point of this topic, IMO) is that many things lie beyond U.S. control. So, all of these questions will stay relevant pretty much no matter how badly our foreign relations are screwed up in the near future.


  1. Which major trends presage an emerging Asian century?
  2. What evidence of a shift to the East have we seen so far: Economic/financial activity? Political and diplomatic? “Hard power” military and alliance shifts?
  3. What could Asian powers do to screw it up for themselves?
  4. Specific Countries:
    1. New/old leaders: China? India/South Asia? Japan? SE Asia?
    2. Bad actors: Russia? North Korea?  Iran?
  5. How would a huge shift to Asia harm the USA? Could it benefit us?
  6. How should we and the West react: Bilaterally? Alliances? Militarily? Reforming global institutions?


Have we jumped the gun?

China and India –

Trump and Asia –

Asian-Americans and our future –

Next Week (Nov 28):  What future does the news media have?

Monday’s Mtg: Is China Destined to be Our Adversary?

I love the smell of grand strategy topics during the holidays! I’m not sure why, but I’ve scheduled some big-think foreign policy topics for late December in recent years. (Arab Spring 2014, our post-War on Terror foreign policy 2013, religion’s effect on U.S. foreign policy 2011). But surprisingly, we haven’t discussed China as a separate topic in since 2011.

That’s kind of a bad oversight. I mean, for at least 20 years everybody has been saying the 21st century will be an Asian Century. They argue that we are in the early years of a big shift in the center of gravity of the world’s economic, political, diplomatic, and maybe even military power. As Asian countries grow even richer and more powerful, the U.S. and the West’s ability to shape global events, agreements, and governing institutions to our main benefit may fade away even more quickly. Most analysts I read say these fears are exaggerated and they doubt that even mighty China will ever actually eclipse the United States.

Yet, China’s rise is a reality and it will have to be accommodated, balanced, or contained, depending on one’s point of view. The big grand strategy-level worry re China arises out of what every World History 101 student should know: The world has a bad track record of peacefully accommodating rising, aggressive new powers. (Think Germany and Japan in the 20th century, or Holland in the 1600s.) Emerging powers tend to want to disrupt or abolish the existing international political order, while status quo powers fight to keep what they have. Will China’s rise be easier or turn out better? How can we help that come to pass?

I will open our meeting on Monday with some analytical framing of the main strategic questions concerning China, as I understand them. Then we can discuss the following questions and other issues.

Discussion Questions –

  1. TODAY: How does China rate today as a world power and why? What issues do we have with China? What have we done so far to manage China’s arrival as a global power?
  2. What are U.S. strategic interests in Asia? What matters to us the most?   Does China actually threaten vital American and/or global interests?
  3. TOMORROW: Will China’s power just keep growing indefinitely? What could prevent that?
  4. CHINA’S POV: What does China want in its international relations? Do they want the responsibility of global power or just its benefits?
  5. STRATEGIES: Should we accommodate China’s power, balance it, contain it, or what? How will “the system” have to be changed to accommodate China?


Next Week: Conservatives’ “religious conscience” movement and the culture wars.

Monday’s Mtg: Climate Change – Are Nations Starting to Cooperate?

This year may end up being a very important year for global action to combat climate change. To quote the first article linked to, below, 2015 may turn out to be the year of “…not just good news, but transformational good news, developments that have the potential to mitigate the worst effects of climate change to a degree many had feared impossible.” Some of the optimism is based on unexpectedly-rapid advances in clean energy technologies. But, international political cooperation is starting to look very, very real. The United States, China, the European Union, and about 140 other countries already have pledged to reduce their future greenhouse gas pollution. Starting on November 30, a major, month long negotiation begins under UN auspices in Paris. Almost every nation on earth will attend.

Yet, these negotiations, like all climate wrangling, will be tricky. Major obstacles remain to getting a tough agreement, much less seeing one actually faithfully implemented over the next few decades. In my opening remarks on Monday night, I will summarize the large-scale (but maybe iffy) commitments that major countries have made recently, focusing on the United States, China, India, and the European Union. Then, I’ll discuss the Paris negotiation, trying to identify the biggest obstacles to an agreement and to smooth implementation. It’s not my field, but I think with the help of the articles below and some other materials, I can do that much.

In discussion, we can expand on these points or get into other areas. One of these should be, IMO, how we can make binding commitments in the face of so many uncertainties – and how we can afford not to.  Another, I’m afraid, will have to be whether the Republican Party – the only major political party in the western world that advocates doing nothing about this problem – can successfully sabotage these negotiations. As two articles below make clear, they are trying to do exactly this.

Discussion Questions –

  1. What climate commitments have nations already made? The U.S.? China? The EU? India and other big developing nations?
  2. How bold are these commitments and how firm and how truly binding are they?
  3. What negotiations are ongoing? What can we expect from the UN confab in Paris in December? What are the biggest obstacles to reaching agreement?
  4. Will these commitments be enough to head off the worst climate consequences even if they are met?
  5. How can we make firm commitments in the face of so many uncertainties; e.g., about the amount of GHG that is too much, the nature of future technologies, other countries’ ability to keep their commitments, the GOP’s ability to renege on our promises, etc.?
  6. Will this be an election issue in 2016? Would a GOP unified govt really end all climate negotiations and renege on all of our commitments?


Next Week:  Torture – Will we ever do it again?

Monday’s (8/3/15) Mtg: Cyber Security Threats and Responses

Until very recently, one seldom could find coverage of cybersecurity issues in general interest news publications, except in response to specific huge and hugely-embarrassing data breaches of both governments and corporations that have become routine lately. As one analyst I read observed, studies of cybersecurity resemble studies of nuclear strategy of the 1950s that were “unclear about the meaning of offense, defense, deterrence, escalation, norms, and arms control.” Cyber threats are so new and evolving so fast that even the best experts struggle to keep up.

Still, I think Bruce is right that this is too important a topic to keep ignoring. My modest goal for Monday – unless Bruce knows this area well – is for us to et a basic understanding of what is at stake in cyber security. The experts disagree on that, too, mind you. But, at least we can get a basic idea of what may be going on in this hidden realm, how major advocates view the threat(s), and what our government is at least trying to do about it. Also, cyber security relates to other, very, very important issues, such as who will control and regulate the Internet n the future and whether we can create any international norms of behavior for cyberspace and/or cyber-arms control..

Way outta my league. I’ll just start us off on Monday with a bit of term-defining of cyber-crime, cyber-security, and cyber-warfare. Bruce?


Next Week: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Monday’s Mtg: Territorial Disputes in the 21st Century

I picked up a New York Times earlier this week and it was like it was 1933 or something. Nothing but territorial disputes and dueling nationalisms. Japan is about to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to allow more military freedom of action to counter China, with which it has territorial disputes. Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites were busy drawing the borders of Iraq’s successor states. More saber rattling by Putin over Ukraine. Israelis and Palestinians murdered in the streets. You get the idea.

Ron suggested we devote an evening to how territorial disputes are supposed to be resolved these days, and it certainly seems well-timed. International institutions and law have matured enough that there’s usually a forum in which to resolve a territorial beef peacefully if the parties really want to. Globalization is supposed to make going to war over such things more unwise than ever. Yet, almost every country in the world – including the United States and plenty of developed countries – still have festering territorial disputes. So, what gives? Why do these things linger?

Beats me. Many of the worst such conflicts are unsettled for good reasons, like those islands that China claims that sit on vast mineral or energy wealth or in Palestine, where both sides want the other not to exist. Still, is building stronger transnational institutions going to help what the disputants can’t do themselves?

After I do my reading on this one I’ll open Monday with a brief introduction, probably just highlighting the most contentious territorial disputes. I think we may have to lean on our resident international relations types like Bruce and Zelekha.


  1. Where are the worst ongoing territorial disputes between nations? What are they about? Do they have any common features that give us insight into the phenomenon?
  2. Why have the worst disputes not been settled? Security? Access to natural resources? Politics and nationalism?
  3. What formal mechanisms exist for resolving territorial disputes? Why are they not used more?
  4. How has globalization changed the picture? Can we expect more wars over territory in the future (see link below that says we can) or fewer? Are we entering the 21st century or, with no hyper-power, another 19th or even 17th?


NEXT WEEK – Homelessness What can be done, in San Diego and beyond?

Monday’s Mtg: Why Do Great Nations Fail? Will We?

Talk of the United States’ looming decline is a hardy perennial in politics and social science, especially in pop history.  These waves of declinism tend to correspond with periods of crisis, either internal to us or involving the rise of a perceived major external threat.   In the 1920s and the Depression, Marxist-oriented thinkers said the United States was archaic and doomed.  Decades later, 1970s’ stagflation, deindustrialization, and a “growing” Soviet threat led a lot of conservatives to worry the West was going to lose the Cold War.  In the 1990s, we all enjoyed a decade of triumphalism (the “end of history” and democracy’s inevitable ascent) after the Soviet Union collapsed and Japan’s economic miracle sputtered while ours reignited.

Now, declinism is back again, brought on by a grim decade wars, recession, growing poverty and inequality, a paralyzed political system, and the rise of China and other countries.  This time it’s coming from both the Left and the Right, and even from more middle-dwelling analysts.  Are these just more premature obituaries, premised on ahistorical, short-term pessimism?  Or, could the declinists be on to something this time?   Even if they overstate their cases, can we learn anything important about ourselves from this way of thinking?

I’ll open on Monday night by explaining a little bit about what these theorists are saying.  At the risk of oversimplifying, theories of impending American decline tend to emphasize one or more of three basic causes:

  1. Economic causes,
  2. Political causes, or
  3. Cultural origins.

Liberal-oriented theorists emphasize #1 and #2, and conservative commentators (especially recently!) are very big on #3 as well as, of course, too much government.  While most of these theories focus on American elites as the source of the problem, others shift more of the blame onto regular people.  But, first, I’ll ask the obvious but important questions, What makes any nation “great” and what it would mean for the United States to “decline.”

I have not read any of the recent swarm of declinism books (the links below are to some of them).  But I am familiar with their basic theses.  Most of them are not nearly as pessimistic or simplistic as the term I’m using, “declinism,” makes them sound.   But, they all sound warnings that the United States is at least partially on the wrong track and that important things need to change if we are to maintain our widely-shared prosperity and national power and influence.



  1. “Greatness” — What makes a nation “great?”  Is it global power and influence; i.e., the ability to get its way and protect its interests?  “Hard” (military) power?  “Soft” (economic, diplomatic) power?  Great wealth and security for its citizens?  Widely-shared prosperity?  Democracy, or at least a well-functioning political system?  Education?
  2. “Decline” – What is national decline?  What does history tell us about what causes it?  What would American decline look like?  So what if we did lose hegemony; would that really hurt us?
  3. Theories — Why do some theorists say we face impending decline?  What/who do they finger as the culprits?  What evidence do they use?  Do Left and Right see any of this in the same way?
  4. Merit — Are these arguments persuasive to you?   Why?
  5. So?  What should we do about it?


  • FYI, here is a list of the better-selling books on why nations rise and fall and whether the U.S. might become one of the latter.
  • A few of them summarized:

    • Why Nations Fail,” says it’s all about having inclusive rather than extractive political and social institutions.  I recommend.
    •  Collapse, by the Guns Germs and Steel guy, says it’s usually been because of environmental collapse or resource depletion.
  • Will we be next?
    •  “Are We Rome?”  Maybe we are.  I recommend.
    • No, not really; it’s just becoming a more multipolar world.  “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria.
    • No, not at allLong, conservative, but very good.

This Week’s Mtg: Does China’s Past Predict Its Future?

Our relationship with China will be one of the most important — maybe the most important –international relationships of the 21st century.  So, what do we do?  Maybe history can teach us something.  Jim Z., our resident China historian (PhD) will take us through this one.  He will discuss how China’s past leaves clues to predicting the rising giant’s future development.  Will China stay inward-looking?  Will it stay stable?  Will its rulers yield power peacefully?  Will China expand political participation to the point of democracy, or will a more disruptive process have to occur?

We await Jim’s presentation.


And, from me here are a few short, generalist-oriented articles on China’s rise.


Follow-Up: Buddhism And Americans’ Attitudes Towards Religion

Thirteen of us turned out to hear a very nice lecture from Jim Z. on Buddhist beliefs and history, including several newbies.  Huzzah to Jim.  Also, it was good to see a few regulars we had added during the summer months come back, like Joan and Mike.

For follow-up, here are some links to more details on early Buddhist history that Jim briefly outlined, plus the recent poll that Pete alluded to on Americans’ views towards the worlds’ major religions.

Oops!  I can’t find the survey that ranked Americans’ attitudes towards the major world religions.  I looked all over: Google, Pew, Think Progress, Religion Dispatches, etc.  Pete:  Any ideas where to look?

This Week’s Mtg: Understanding Buddhist Beliefs

Our own Jim Z. will be presenting and moderating this topic.  Below is some background on Buddhism, which comes in many forms, as we all know.  I invited several local Buddhist organizations to the meeting, and perhaps we will get someone — other than Jim – who knows a lot about the topic.


Jim: I think it would be interesting to learn about the various forms Buddhism takes; e.g., Theravada and Mahayana.