The high-handed [Chinese] demand that the American side “correct its mistakes” leaves the CCP [Chinese govt] well positioned to claim that its stern response forced an aggressive hegemon to back down.
At least one US official has described the patrols are “routine“, suggesting there will be more to come. Even if the US patrols happen, say, once a month from now on, it will be up to the CCP to decide how often Chinese mass audiences hear about this. Having established a high level of domestic publicity on this occasion, the CCP might well be able to (implicitly or explicitly) encourage the perception that it forced the US to back down, simply by not affording the publicity to future FoN [Freedom of Navigation] patrols.
FON operations are intended to challenge maritime claims that the United States considers excessive under international law…. This particular operation was intended to assert that the United States does not recognize a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea or any other maritime entitlements generated by reefs that were originally submerged but on which China has built artificial islands. It was not meant to challenge China’s claim to Subi Reef itself.
FON operations are not primarily about military deterrence or diplomatic messaging, though in a politically charged atmosphere like the South China Sea those play a role. At its root, FON operations are legal exercises to reinforce the United States’—and in this case the overwhelming majority of the international community’s—interpretations of international maritime law. They are a means to ensure that U.S. naval, coast guard, and civilian ships, and by extension those of all nations, maintain unrestricted access to their rights at sea.
"The action by the U.S. warship has threatened China’s sovereignty and security interests, endangered the safety of personnel and facilities on the islands and damaged regional peace and stability," said Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry. Kang urged the U.S. government to "correct its wrongdoing immediately" and to avoid further "dangerous and provocative actions."
Whatever the protestations from Beijing and others, this will no doubt be just the first of many freedom of navigation operations in and around the Spratly Islands.
The right U.S. policy, in my view, is continuing to send ships through these traditionally international sea lanes*, as a reminder that China has not annexed them; but without gloating or chest-bumping China about it, an approach that has no record of having paid off. You’ll see more of the rationale in these articles.
Update: Read this followup note, “The Right Way to Enforce Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea.”
* Clarification I’ve heard from readers who point out that there are technical maritime connotations to the term “sea lanes,” along with the related concept of SLOCs, Sea Lines of Communication. I am using the term here in an everyday sense of navigable waters that had traditionally been considered international, rather than as a technical maritime term.
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.
The second known visitor to our cosmic neighborhood from another star is making quite an entrance.
No one knows where it came from, but it’s here now. And the chase is on.
Astronomers around the world are monitoring an interstellar comet hurtling through the solar system, known for the moment as C/2019 Q4. It’s the second time in less than two years they’ve seen an object from another star swing through our cosmic neighborhood. The first time around, the discovery kicked off a worldwide sprint to inspect the object before it got away. It was mysterious enough that some astronomers even began to consider whether it was dispatched by an advanced alien civilization.
This second interstellar object was spotted in late August by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea. Borisov has a reputation for catching never-before-seen comets with his telescopes, but they’re from around here; like everything else in the solar system—the planets, the moons, a sea of asteroids—they trace an orbit around the sun. And over the last few weeks, it’s become very clear that this comet does not.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
Two journalists detail the results of their reporting on the Supreme Court justice’s past.
Years ago, when she was practicing her closing arguments at the family dinner table, Martha Kavanaugh often returned to her signature line as a state prosecutor. “Use your common sense,” she’d say. “What rings true? What rings false?”
Those words made a strong impression on her young son, Brett. They also made a strong impression on us, as we embarked on our 10-month investigation of the Supreme Court justice. We conducted hundreds of interviews with principal players in Kavanaugh’s education, career, and confirmation. We read thousands of documents. We reviewed hours of television interviews, along with reams of newspaper, magazine, and digital coverage. We studied maps of Montgomery Country, Maryland, as well as housing-renovation plans and court records. We watched Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings multiple times.
Scientists taught rats to play hide-and-seek in order to study natural animal behavior—but it was also fun, for both the researchers and the animals.
Annika Reinhold says that she likes playing with animals (she has two cats) and “doing unconventional things that no one has done before.” When the chance came up to teach rats to play hide-and-seek, she was a natural candidate.
One might question the wisdom of training rats to hide, but there’s a good reason to do so. In neuroscience, animal research is traditionally about control and conditioning—training animals, in carefully regulated settings, to do specific tasks using food rewards. But those techniques aren’t very useful for studying the neuroscience of play, which is universal to humans, widespread among animals, and the antithesis of control and conditioning. Playing is about freedom and fun. How do you duplicate those qualities in a lab?
After 20 years, has the author’s formula at last been exhausted?
It’s a bit embarrassing to finish a book by Malcolm Gladwell—master of the let me take you by the hand prose style, dealer in the simple and unmistakable thesis—and realize you don’t quite know what he’s driving at.
Gladwell’s method is well established and, you would think, fail-safe. It’s one of the reasons his books have sold millions of copies. Among his other talents, he’s one of those “professional communicators” that public-speaking coaches always say we should emulate: First he tells his audience what he’s about to tell them, then he tells them, and then he tells them what he just told them. He should be impossible to misunderstand. I must be an idiot.
Another possibility is that nearly 20 years after The Tipping Point, his best-selling debut, the Gladwell formula is at last exhausted.
The pursuit of money from wealthy donors distorts the research process—and yields flashy projects that don’t help and don’t work.
The MIT Media Lab has an integrity problem. It’s not just that the lab took donations from Jeffrey Epstein and tried to conceal their source. As that news was breaking, Business Insiderreported that the lab’s much-hyped “food computer” didn’t work and that staff had tried to mislead funders into thinking it did. These stories are two sides of the same problem: sugar-daddy science—the distortion of the research process by the pursuit of money from ultra-wealthy donors, no matter how shady.
Historically, research has been funded by grants. Government agencies and foundations announce that they want to fund X, and you, the scientist, write a proposal about why you’ll be awesome at X. If they agree, they give you money to do X.
On Sunday, The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. The snippet focused on the story of Deborah Ramirez—a classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Yale, who alleged he had exposed himself to her at a college party. While Kavanaugh angrily waved off reports of such behavior during his confirmation hearing, Pogrebin and Kelly wrote that they found both Ramirez’s claim, and Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of a drunken attempted assault by a high-school-aged Kavanaugh, to be credible.
That was all it took. The president punched out tweet after tweet demanding retribution for the “lies” told about the justice. By the end of Monday, several Democratic presidential candidates had called for Kavanaugh’s impeachment.
The senator from Massachusetts, they argue, is proffering a gentler version of progressivism that is simple to understand and compelling enough to attract a broad swath of voters.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders described the Working Families Party (WFP), a grassroots progressive organization, as “the closest thing there is” to his “vision of democratic socialism.” The group endorsed him in his primary race against Hillary Clinton, and it’s grown more powerful in the past three years, as it has sought to build a multiracial populist movement nationwide. But this time around, with Sanders taking another shot at the White House, the group is throwing its weight behind someone else: Elizabeth Warren. The group’s surprising decision could be an early indicator of how progressives—including those who backed Sanders in the past—are planning to organize and vote next year.
“The political conditions are different” in this election, Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the WFP, told me earlier this week, after the group announced that 61 percent of its members had voted to back Warren, compared with 36 percent for Sanders. Unlike in 2016, there is more than one progressive candidate in the race to choose from, Mitchell said. Warren “has a track record of finding that nexus between visionary structural change and also the tools to operationalize it.”
The people of pre-colonial Puerto Rico did not disappear entirely—a new study shows that the island’s residents still carry bits of their DNA.
In the 15th century, when Europeans first reached the island now named Puerto Rico, it was home to between 30,000 and 70,000 people, sometimes known collectively as Taíno. They came from various ethnic groups descended from several waves of ancestors who came to the island in succession, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C. But a century after the colonizers arrived, official traces of these indigenous peoples were all but impossible to find.
Under a regime of forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery, their numbers plummeted. At the same time, colonial officials elided their existence, removing them as a distinct group from the census and recategorizing many—from Christian converts to wives of colonists—as Spanish or “other.”
Millennial movers have hastened the growth of left-leaning metros in southern red states such as Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. It could be the biggest political story of the 2020s.
Liberals in America have a density problem. Across the country, Democrats dominate in cities, racking up excessive margins in urban cores while narrowly losing in suburban districts and sparser states. Because of their uneven distribution of votes, the party consistently loses federal elections despite winning the popular vote.
The most famous case was in 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election despite her 2.4-million-vote margin. Clinton carried Manhattan and Brooklyn by approximately 1 million ballots—more than Donald Trump’s margins of victory in the states of Florida, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania combined.
But 2016 wasn’t a fluke. Neither was 2000, when Al Gore lost the election despite winning 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush. A recent paper from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin concluded that Republicans are expected to win 65 percent of presidential contests in which they narrowly lose the popular vote.