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.
A new, highly contagious variant could have terrible consequences. But if it ends up causing milder symptoms than Delta, there’s a real upside.
World, meet Omicron; Omicron, meet a lot of people who are very, very anxious to know more about you.
The arrival of the newest coronavirus variant, first identified in Botswana and South Africa and now present in the United States, might be bad news, or it might be terrible news—or maybe it’s just a temporary distraction from Delta. Ultimately, Omicron’s effect on the course of the pandemic will be determined by three factors: its transmissibility; the degree to which it evades our existing immune defenses; and its virulence, or the severity of the disease that it causes. If Omicron turns out to jump between hosts with ease, blow past our neutralizing antibodies, and cause unusually dangerous complications, we’ll all be in deep trouble. But it could also turn out to do a lot of other things, with more subtle implications. If Omicron ends up being super contagious, for example, but mild in its symptoms, that might even be a good thing—a perfect variant, just in time for Christmas.
The Humans turns a difficult Thanksgiving dinner into something grotesque.
The Humans features no ghosts, monsters, or poltergeists. It’s not set inside a haunted house, an abandoned building, or a tract of shadowy woods. And yet, it might be the scariest movie of the year.
Based on Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play, and adapted and directed by Karam himself, The Humans centers on the Blake family as they gather in lower Manhattan for a Thanksgiving dinner. The mood is about as warm as a broken oven. Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell, brilliantly reprising her role from the play) and Erik (Richard Jenkins) have driven hours to visit their younger daughter, Brigid (Beanie Feldstein), at her new apartment, where she lives with her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun)—but all they’ve gotten for their journey are terse thank-yous and cheap champagne in plastic cups. Aimee (Amy Schumer), their older daughter, is still reeling from a recent breakup and career setbacks, while Momo (June Squibb), Erik’s mother, has dementia and must be cared for at all times. The setting doesn’t help: Brigid and Richard’s home is a thin-walled, claustrophobia-inducing space that lets in barely any natural light. Each family member has something to get off his or her chest, and it’s as if their collective dread has permeated the foreboding premises. Or is it the reverse?
Let’s start with a simple mystery: What happened to original blockbuster movies?
Throughout the 20th century, Hollywood produced a healthy number of entirely new stories. The top movies of 1998—including Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, and There’s Something About Mary—were almost all based on original screenplays. But since then, the U.S. box office has been steadily overrun by numbers and superheroes: Iron Man 2, Jurassic Park 3, Toy Story 4, etc. Of the 10 top-grossing movies of 2019, nine were sequels or live-action remakes of animated Disney movies, with the one exception, Joker, being a gritty prequel of another superhero franchise.
Some people think this is awful. Some think it’s fine. I’m more interested in the fact that it’s happening. Americans used to go to movie theaters to watch new characters in new stories. Now they go to movie theaters to re-submerge themselves in familiar story lines.
Amelia Whelan used social media as an accelerant for her sales community. Then things blew up.
So you’ve been scrolling through Facebook for a while—dull, dull, dull—when you hear the sound of tropical bird chatter. You glimpse a 20-something woman floating in a natural pool of water with her eyes closed, and then she starts to talk to you about her passion for “manifesting money” and how every little thing she’s ever wanted is now hers. What’s this? She’s looking out the window of an airplane, through the clouds at a mossy mountaintop; she’s scooping up sand and blowing it at the camera as if the grains were dandelion seeds; she’s biking in a white dress on a secluded path, no handlebars. She has more time and wealth than she knows what to do with—and so now she will pause to bathe an elephant. Wait a minute, you say to yourself. Could this be my life too?
An emerging culture idolizes a twisted version of “toughness” as the highest ideal and despises a false version of “weakness” as the lowest vice.
Last month, at the National Conservatism conference, a gathering of hundreds of leaders and members of a movement that hopes to represent a new, less libertarian American right, one of the speakers, a lawyer named Josh Hammer, delivered a strange denunciation of “fusionism.” For those not steeped in the language of conservatism, fusionism refers to the alliance among economic conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks forged during the Reagan administration. It was designed to confront government overreach at home and the threat of Soviet tyranny abroad.
Fusionism, Hammer said, is “inherently effete, limp, and, as Hillsdale College’s David Azerrad might say, unmasculine.” It “makes for a cowardly way to approach politics” in part because it “ensures never having to face pushback from one’s political opponents on the most contested issues.”
Today’s oral argument signaled that the Court is poised to reverse Roe v. Wade outright.
Anyone listening to today’s oral argument on abortion could not miss that something historic was happening. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks. Such a ban is clearly unconstitutional under current law—Roe v. Wade and its successor case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, recognize a right to choose abortion until fetal viability, which is at roughly 24 weeks. To uphold Mississippi’s law, the Supreme Court’s conservative justices have two options: They can ditch the viability line or get rid of Roe altogether.
Today’s oral argument signaled that the Court is poised to reverse Roe outright when it decides Dobbs, probably sometime in June or early July. That would be one of the most significant reversals of Supreme Court precedent in American history. Roe v. Wade has been the law for 50 years. Even Brett Kavanaugh spent much of his confirmation hearing proclaiming his fidelity to precedent. Today, the attorney for Whole Woman’s Health, the abortion provider challenging the Mississippi law, leaned hard on the idea that the Court must respect its own precedents—a strategic choice given that the Court’s conservative majority was never going to be sympathetic to the idea of abortion rights.
What Peter Jackson’s Get Back reveals about the Beatles breakup
What is happening to the Beatles? Whose idea was this? What is going on? It’s January 1969, and look at them: stuck on a soundstage in Twickenham Film Studios—the Beatles!—sitting around like a bunch of YouTubers, idly generating content. They burble; they dawdle; they pick up their instruments and put them down again. They are of the ’60s and they are above the ’60s. “I think your beard suits you … man,” George says to Paul. Planes of shifting color light up the white screens behind them, viridescent splodges and blooms of moody fuchsia, as if they’re trapped at the end of a rainbow. Everybody’s watching, everybody’s listening: nosy cameras, nudging mics, cables and crew members all over the place.
Both pandemic-origin arguments depend on coincidence.
The evolutionary virologist Michael Worobey is trying to bring the pandemic-origins debate back to where it started: with the notion that the coronavirus made the jump to humans at the Huanan seafood market, in Wuhan, China. Last week, he argued in Science that, contrary to official timelines of infection, the “first known” patient was a market vendor selling shrimp. For Worobey, it’s telling—to say the least—that this confirmed case, and most of the other very early ones, was linked to Huanan. In an interview with Jane Qiu, whose excellent rundown of the new analysis appeared on Friday in the MIT Technology Review, he calls a natural spillover in this spot “vastly more likely than any other scenarios based on what we now know.”
Everything has to go right for the James Webb Space Telescope.
You know that feeling when you’re playing Jenga, and the blocks are stacked remarkably high, and then someone bumps the table? And as the tower wobbles, everyone just watches in wide-eyed panic, willing it to stabilize with a desperate, silent prayer: Please don’t fall, please don’t fall.
I can only assume that’s how it felt last month, when technicians were working on NASA’s new space telescope and a very important clamp suddenly unclamped, sending vibrations coursing through the entire instrument. Officials didn’t provide details about the mood in the room at that moment, but it must have been something along the lines of Oh no, oh no, oh no. This particular Jenga tower is a $10 billion telescope, and NASA has been playing the game for 25 years, carefully arranging piece after piece to produce one of the most sophisticated scientific instruments in human history.