Last night I offered a brief reading list about the long-building naval showdown in the South China Sea, plus my own Twitter-scale guide to correct policy there. The latter is a derivative of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” In this case that means continuing to send U.S. naval vessels through traditional sea lanes, but not bragging, taunting, or making a big rhetorical deal of it.
Judah Grunstein, editor of World Politics Review, writes in with these useful elaborations. I turn the floor over to him, with emphasis added by me:
Some thoughts about the right U.S. policy on this, which you sketched out at the end of your post from yesterday.
I'd add that an important component of this policy should be to carry out the very same patrols around similar submerged features claimed by other countries in the South China Sea. Even though China is the only one to have built submerged features into artificial islands, the patrols must be clearly seen as reinforcing the maritime norm involved, without bias or prejudice to who is claiming the features. Otherwise they can be portrayed as the U.S. provoking China, which is in neither side's interest.
This is not as easy as it sounds, by the way, because of the complicated nature of the legal rights accorded various features, and the confusion regarding which SCS [South China Sea] features qualify as what under the UNCLOS [JF note: United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, which the U.S. has not ratified] as this article explains well.
One other point that gets mentioned less in coverage of the disputed territorial claims is that China is also disputing the interpretation of the actual norms involved, namely whether the economic exploitation rights over an an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) accorded by UNCLOS apply to regulating the "innocent passage" and activity of military vessels in the EEZ.
China argues that it has the right to regulate passage of naval vessels, including excluding them, from its Economic Exclusion Zones. The U.S. and most other countries disagree. Their interpretation is a minority one, but it is not that far-fetched when you consider how much of the U.S. Navy activity in the SCS is maritime surveillance and espionage focused on China, and therefore arguably not so innocent. The EEZ interpretation does not apply to the submerged features, but is part of the larger context of who has access to what in the SCS.
Finally, I'd add that another component of the right U.S. policy would be to ratify the UNCLOS upon which all of its policy is based, but good luck with that.
Let me spell out this very important last point. The overwhelming majority of nations in the world, including all of Europe, bigshots like Russia and China, nearly all of Latin America and Africa, all the trade-dependent Asian/Pacific countries, etc, have ratified the Law of the Sea convention. The one huge exception is … the United States.
Pentagon officials have long testified in favor of ratification. So have officials from the State Department. The George W. Bush administration was in favor of it, and the Obama administration is now. But thanks to anti-government, anti-internationalist absolutists in the Senate (think: Sen. Jim Inhofe), the United States has not signed on. You can read more about it here and here.
Why does this matter? It’s one more sign of the nihilist dysfunction we see in the ExIm debate, government shutdowns, and elsewhere. The United States would be on much stronger ground in drawing a line against current Chinese maritime claims, if it had ratified the treaty. The Law of the Sea norms are the ones the U.S. is trying to enforce! But this reality has not penetrated the right-wing opponents of anything that smacks of world government. And we lumber on.
For a completely different approach to the whole topic, you can see Amitai Etzioni’s South China Sea paper, in PDF here. He is wary of any military-based enforcement of Freedom of Navigation norms.
For anyone following the action in the South China Sea, as laid out in the previous posts collected in this Thread, I highly recommend a post at the LawFareBlog on the fine points of the dispute. It’s by Adam Klein and Mira Rapp-Hooper, and it carefully delineates the differing claims that China, the United States, and other countries are making about the rocks/islands/reefs/airstrips in the South China Sea — and the differing ways in which U.S. Navy ships passing through this area can establish freedom-of-navigation principles.
The whole thing is closely argued and worth reading. Here is the payoff point on what they recommend as the highest-payoff approach with the least gratuitous provocation:
According to Klein and Rapp-Hooper, the Navy should conduct “normal operations” — that is, anything they would feel free to do on the open seas — near “low-tide elevations.” These are reefs or other locations that are submerged at high tide and exposed at low tide, and on some of which China has built artificial structures. These low-tide elevations don’t normally convey territorial-water privileges; one of the issues at dispute is whether, by building new islands there, China can create new territorial rights. Klein and Rapp-Hooper say about their recommended strategy, with emphasis added:
What this would entail: A U.S. Navy surface vessel sails within 12 nm of a low-tide elevation, or an artificial island built on a low-tide elevation, such as Mischief, Subi, or Gaven Reefs, while conducting normal operations. Vessels could conduct searches or military maneuvers, indicating that they are not engaging in innocent passage.
What message it would send: This operation would indicate that the United States does not recognize a territorial sea in the area of operations, but rather views the water as the high seas, and is exercising accordingly. This would send the signal that Chinese construction on low-tide elevations does not confer a territorial sea.
Analysis: This seems like the appropriate, and most likely, course of action. It clearly addresses the core legal disagreement between the parties: whether human improvements to a land feature increase the maritime rights that attach to it.
Thanks to the authors for this clarification, and to Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review, quoted here yesterday, for the tip.
The ruling this morning by Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in favor of the Philippines, and very strongly against China in their dispute over the South China Sea, was not surprising in its basic result. Most people following the issue had expected that China’s very sweeping claims would not hold up.
The foreseeability of that outcome is precisely why the Chinese government has preemptively been pooh-poohing the court and its legitimacy over the past few weeks, and lining up a ragtag set of allies to support its cause. This group includes none of the countries most affected by China’s expanded maritime activities, and it features those reliant on Chinese aid or trade. (Eg Cambodia, Liberia, Senegal, etc.)
But the sternness of the ruling, and its explicit criticism of the basic premises of China’s arguments, was more than most people expected. For the moment this is a placeholder note on ways to learn more about the ruling, its consequences, and China’s dismissive initial response:
Andrew Erickson, of the Naval War College, has been on this subject for a long time. You can read his initial assessment here, with links to related items.
ChinaFile has kicked off a conversation today with Erickson and a number of other China luminaries, which is very much worth reading. Sample from Peter Dutton, also of the Naval War College:
“This decision is much more than a pyrrhic victory for the Philippines as some will be tempted to suggest. This opinion will have normative power that over the long run will and should affect the way every state thinks about the South China Sea in the future. Ultimately, the ruling’s power is not in its direct enforceability, but in the way it will inevitably alter perceptions about right and wrong actions in the South China Sea. Coercion will no longer stand with moral impunity. Even if indirectly, the opinion should therefore serve as the basis for improved bilateral negotiations in the future. It has significantly narrowed the scope of what is in reasonable and justifiable dispute and therefore should help the parties move closer to a final resolution of their differences.”
At the Lawfare site, Julian Ku of Hofstra offers his quick take. Sample:
“Is it possible to win by too much? The complete and sweeping nature of the Philippines legal victory may make it harder for China to agree to any negotiations that do not exclude the award’s effects as a precondition. This could be a problem going forward.”
The Interpreter, an always-valuable international-affairs site from the Lowy Institute in Sydney, has not yet analyzed the ruling itself (time zones etc). But yesterday it had this preview article, about expected results of the ruling, by Derek Lundy.
A final note on that evergreen theme, the destructive paralysis of national-level U.S. politics. The Philippines took China to court under the terms of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, often known as the Law of the Sea Treaty. As a matter of practical policy, the U.S. government says it adheres to terms of the treaty — and as presidents both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have supported the treaty and urged its ratification.
But treaties require a two-thirds vote of the Senate for ratification. And over the years enough Senators have opposed it to keep either the Bush or Obama administrations from moving ahead. Here is a sample of the latest big showdown, which occurred in 2012 while the Democrats still held a Senate majority. At that time 34 Senators, all Republicans, said they’d vote against the treaty, which means it couldn’t pass.
As of today, 34 U.S. Senators are on record promising to oppose the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea if it comes to the Senate floor. Because two-thirds of Senators present and voting are required to ratify any treaty, the long-stalled Law of the Sea Treaty is effectively dead.
Heritage Action, which led the conservative lobbying push, released the following statement from CEO Michael A. Needham:
America had little to gain through accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty – but much to lose. Rather than affirming existing practices, it would have instituted a radically new, international legal regime. The demise of the Law of the Sea Treaty not only represents a victory for American sovereignty, but also the American people. For months, constituents have called and emailed their Senators, requested meetings, submitted letters to the editor, and organized in an effort to sink this dangerous treaty. We commend the 34 Senators who stood with their constituents on the side of freedom.
Below is a list of Senators who have signed the letter or otherwise stated opposition:
1. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
2. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
3. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO)
4. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS)
5. Senator David Vitter (R-LA)
6. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)
7. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
8. Senator Jim Demint (R-SC)
9. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
10. Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
11. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)
12. Senator Jim Risch (R-ID)
13. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT)
14. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
15. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID)
16. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
17. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY)
18. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)
19. Senator John Thune (R-SD)
20. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
21. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
22. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN)
23. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND)
24. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS)
25. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
26. Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS)
27. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)
28. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
29. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
30. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
31. Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE)
32. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
33. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)
34. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Just to spell this out: the set of international rules that both the Bush and Obama administrations felt would strengthen the U.S. hand, and which successive panels of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have endorsed, and which is the main limit at the moment on China’s territorial claims, is something the U.S. Senate cannot ratify, because of bloc opposition from one party.
As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.
Several weeks ago, I met up with a friend in New York who suggested we grab a bite at a Scottish bar in the West Village. He had booked the table through something called Seated, a restaurant app that pays users who make reservations on the platform. We ordered two cocktails each, along with some food. And in exchange for the hard labor of drinking whiskey, the app awarded us $30 in credits redeemable at a variety of retailers.
I am never offended by freebies. But this arrangement seemed almost obscenely generous. To throw cash at people every time they walk into a restaurant does not sound like a business. It sounds like a plot to lose money as fast as possible—or to provide New Yorkers, who are constantly dining out, with a kind of minimum basic income.
As the impeachment inquiry intensifies, some associates of the president predict that his already erratic behavior is going to get worse.
The country is entering a new and precarious phase, in which the central question about President Donald Trump is not whether he is coming unstrung, but rather just how unstrung he is going to get.
The boiling mind of Trump has spawned a cottage industry for cognitive experts who have questioned whether he is, well, all there. But as the impeachment inquiry barrels ahead on Capitol Hill, several associates of the president, including former White House aides, worry that his behavior is likely to get worse. Angered by the proceedings, unencumbered by aides willing to question his judgment, and more and more isolated in the West Wing, Trump is apt to lash out more at enemies imagined and real, these people told me. Conduct that has long been unsettling figures to deteriorate as Trump comes under mounting stress. What unfolded Wednesday inside the West Wing’s walls might be only a foretaste of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described that day, after a meeting with Trump, as a presidential “meltdown.”
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
Just under a century ago, the Soviet Union embarked on one of the strangest attempts to reshape the common calendar that has ever been undertaken. As Joseph Stalin raced to turn an agricultural backwater into an industrialized nation, his government downsized the week from seven to five days. Saturday and Sunday were abolished.
In place of the weekend, a new system of respite was introduced in 1929. The government divided workers into five groups, and assigned each to a different day off. On any given day, four-fifths of the proletariat would show up to their factories and work while the other fifth rested. Each laborer received a colored slip of paper—yellow, orange, red, purple, or green—that signified his or her group. The staggered schedule was known as nepreryvka, or the “continuous workweek,” since production never stopped.
Common infections such as strep throat might have a mysterious link to anorexia and bulimia.
In 2007, Carlo Carandang, then an attending physician at a hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, saw a most unusual patient: an 8-year-old boy who had recently adopted some strange beliefs, all while losing 18 pounds. The boy thought that nurses were “evil,” and that he could inject other people with his fat cells simply by walking past them.
The boy’s symptoms had begun a few months prior. After his school held a lesson on healthy eating, he started to scrutinize food labels and avoid fat and carbs, according to Carandang, who now works as a data scientist. The boy worried that he was too fat, and he would examine his stomach in the mirror throughout the day. He grew suspicious of what his mother might be putting in his food and began preparing all of his own meals. Before long, he was eating just 200 calories a day.
President Trump’s third chief of staff seemed destined for the door until impeachment came along.
Mick Mulvaney's job was in danger even before his disastrous press conference yesterday, and his equally disastrous attempt to walk that performance back. The fumble could not have been more poorly timed: According to multiple current and former White House officials, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to relay private conversations, Trump has been steadily souring on Mulvaney for weeks.
In his maiden briefing-room appearance yesterday, the acting White House chief of staff acknowledged that the Trump administration had held up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a politically motivated investigation—a quid pro quo that Trump has repeatedly insisted never took place, and is the subject of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
White House and Justice Department attorneys work for the government and the public—but are acting in Trump’s personal interest instead.
Legal ethicists no doubt cringed earlier this year when Attorney General William Barr preempted Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report by announcing that “no collusion” had occurred between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. That was not what Mueller had actually said. Instead, the special counsel emphasized that “collusion” is not a legal concept and therefore made no finding on that point. As the top prosecutor in the nation, Barr had an ethical obligation to describe the law and the facts accurately to the American people.
But Barr’s misrepresentation was only the first of several legal abominations from federal-government attorneys—whose duty is to the American public and the agencies that act on the public’s behalf—behaving instead like Trump’s personal lawyers. This is no small ethical lapse.
The extremely common treatment might be causing more harm than previously thought.
After giving birth to a baby, a young woman told her nurses at Boston Medical Center that she was having pain in her hip. That happens sometimes after births, says Ali Guermazi, one of the doctors involved. As he recounts the case from a few years ago, he looked at X-rays and saw a small amount of extra fluid in the joint. Otherwise things looked normal. “We injected her hip with steroids, hoping to help with the pain,” Guermazi says. They seemed to help, and the women went home with her baby.
Guermazi didn’t think more of it until the woman returned to the hospital six months later, unable to walk. “The head of her femur was gone,” says Guermazi, who is now the chief of radiology at VA Boston Healthcare System. The bone appeared to have simply vanished. The new mother needed a total hip replacement. “We didn’t know what happened, and still can’t know for certain,” Guermazi says. “But I feared it was related to the injection.”
Donald Trump’s narcissism makes it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.
On a third-down play last season, the Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith stood in shotgun formation, five yards behind the line of scrimmage. As he called his signals, a Houston Texans cornerback, Kareem Jackson, suddenly sprinted forward from a position four yards behind the defensive line.
America has a great deal at stake in the negotiations, but has gone entirely AWOL.
Gordon Sondland is a busy man. He recently testified to Congress about his role in President Donald Trump’s attempt to extort campaign dirt from the government of Ukraine. That testimony follows from Sondland’s previous deft maneuvering to insert himself as Trump’s point man on Ukraine. All of these many plots and schemes appear to have left Sondland with little time to do his actual job: representing the United States as ambassador to the European Union, of which Ukraine is not a member.
This is the week, and now the weekend, when the Brexit negotiations have reached their decisive moment: the U.K.’s last clear chance to reach a withdrawal agreement with the European Union. It’s a big moment for the U.K. You’d never know it, but it’s also a big moment for the United States.