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.
Simone Biles is the greatest athlete in the world today.
For me, this isn’t a debate. It’s a statement of fact. On Sunday, she won a record seventh United States gymnastics championship, continuing her jaw-dropping winning streak in every all-around competition she’s entered since 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t lost in eight years. Typical gymnasts her age aren’t beating all their rivals by the big margins that, for Biles, have become routine.
Although Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl at age 43, he is no longer in his prime, and other Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, are arguably more physically talented. Unlike the current greats in other sports, Biles has no peer. Serena Williams is the greatest female tennis player of all time and among the greatest athletes of all time, but her career is winding down, and Naomi Osaka is in position to unseat her as the face of women’s tennis. LeBron James won’t get a chance to defend the NBA title he won with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, because the Phoenix Suns eliminated his team in the first round of this year’s playoffs.
High-income workers at highly profitable companies will benefit greatly. Downtown landlords won’t.
This year, two international teams of economists published papers that offer very different impressions of the future of remote work.
The first team looked at an unnamed Asian tech company that went remote during the pandemic. Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Working hours went up while productivity plummeted. Uninterrupted work time cratered and mentorship evaporated. Naturally, workers with children at home were the worst off.
The second team surveyed more than 30,000 Americans over the past few months and found that workers were overwhelmingly satisfied with their work-from-home experience. Most people said it exceeded their expectations. “Employees will enjoy large benefits from greater remote work” after the pandemic, the paper’s authors predicted. They said that productivity would surge in the post-pandemic economy, “due to re-optimized working arrangements” at some of the economy’s most successful white-collar companies.
No one should believe that Omar thinks the United States is identical to the Taliban.
By the time Republicans and centrist Democrats had united late last week to scold Representative Ilhan Omar for a tweet—one of the few pastimes that still draw the two parties together, and something those selfsame chiders would doubtlessly decry, under different circumstances, as cancel culture or censorship—it no longer mattered what, exactly, Omar had said. They had already managed to make a news cycle out of it: mission accomplished.
Now, following Democratic outrage and Republican calls for a floor vote to strip Omar of her committee assignments, let me record the following for posterity: Omar demonstrably did not say what she’s been accused of having said; what she did say was true; and every politico using this opportunity to take a swing at her likely knows those two things—they just think you don’t.
People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, history, or meaning. Is reconciliation possible?
Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride, shame, self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality—when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity. The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.
As Russia tries to expel Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Joe Biden must show that he’ll protect media rights in ways his predecessor didn’t.
When Joe Biden meets with Vladimir Putin tomorrow, huge numbers of news outlets will cover the story. One, however, stands to be part of the story.
Russia’s effort to expel Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which is funded by, though editorially independent of, the United States government) from the country has received widespread attention. As the two presidents prepare to converge on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, the news service’s leaders are expecting—hoping—that Biden will take a stand on the threats facing it and other independent media in Russia in a way that his predecessor, Donald Trump, did not.
It’s an undesirable position for any news organization to be in, though not one that RFE/RL is unfamiliar with. The outlet spent much of last year defending itself from the Trump administration’s concerted effort to wrest control of America’s international news broadcasters. Around the same time, the Kremlin began ramping up its own long-standing war with the service, mandating that it label all of its online content as being the product of a “foreign agent” and imposing hefty fines for its failure to comply, increasing the literal cost of the service remaining in Russia so much that it would have to consider withdrawing.
Six months on the line in one of America’s most dangerous industries.
This article was published online on June 14, 2021.
On the morning of May 25, 2019, a food-safety inspector at a Cargill meatpacking plant in Dodge City, Kansas, came across a disturbing sight. In an area of the plant called the stack, a Hereford steer had, after being shot in the forehead with a bolt gun, regained consciousness. Or maybe he had never lost it. Either way, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The steer was hanging upside down by a steel chain shackled to one of his rear legs. He was showing what is known in the euphemistic language of the American beef industry as “signs of sensibility.” His breathing was “rhythmic.” His eyes were open and moving. And he was trying to right himself, which the animals commonly do by arching their back. The only sign he wasn’t exhibiting was “vocalization.”
It is a public-health problem, not a security issue.
In the two decades since September 11, the U.S. has fought terrorism and extremism by concentrating on law-enforcement and intelligence readiness, with experts focused on disrupting fringe groups before they carry out violence. This Band-Aid approach is ill-suited to combatting modern far-right extremism, which has spread well beyond fringe groups and into the mainstream.
The extremism we’re now seeing in the U.S. is “post-organizational,” characterized by fluid online boundaries and a breakdown of formal groups and movements. Violence is mostly perpetrated by lone actors who are influenced by ideas online rather than by plots hatched by group leaders in secret gatherings. Most successfully executed far-right terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the past 20 years—including in Charleston, South Carolina; Pittsburgh; and El Paso, Texas—were carried out by men who were not official members of any groups. Even though the January 6 insurrection was a mass gathering, it included thousands of individuals mobilized through online disinformation campaigns and propaganda. Just 14 percent of those arrested to date are members of extremist groups.
This article was published online on June 15, 2021.
In 1983, the Swedish aerospace and auto company Saab ran an ad with an old premise—sports cars are sexy—and a new twist: Saab’s cars, the ad suggests, are as sexy as its fighter jets. The spot makes its case by splicing slo-mo shots of a car and a plane emerging from their respective hangars. The soundtrack is orchestral, the effect vaguely voyeuristic. The crescendo comes when the car and the plane meet on a shared runway, the jet hovering over the car, each pulsing with raw power.
The ad was the handiwork of the British director Tony Scott. On the strength of it, he was hired to create another ode to high-velocity machismo, this one at feature length. Top Gun premiered in May 1986, when the pain of Vietnam had receded, the Cold War was on the wane, and people had embraced the hope that it was morning in America. Scott’s film answered the moment by attempting to sell not a car, but a country: Love the U.S. again. Buy the U.S. again.
John Marshall not only owned people; he owned many of them, and aggressively bought them when he could.
John Marshall is America’s most important jurist. Biographers are universally laudatory of the “Great Chief Justice.” A recent documentary about him (in which I am interviewed) is subtitled The Man Who Made the Supreme Court.
This icon of jurisprudence is central to America’s constitutional development. For nearly three and a half decades, longer than any other chief justice, he led the Court and shaped constitutional law. A bronze statue of him sits outside the Supreme Court Building, and a marble one stands inside. He has appeared on four postage stamps, a commemorative silver dollar, a $20 Treasury note, and a $500 Federal Reserve note. Two centuries after he wrote them, Marshall’s opinions are still read and cited. Five of the 10 opinions most cited by the Court itself are Marshall’s.
Images of the dogs and their handlers during the three-day competition and preliminary activities
The 145th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place over the weekend, hosting about 2,500 dogs consisting of more than 200 different breeds or varieties. COVID-19 safety protocols prevented spectators, apart from dog owners and handlers, from attending. This year’s Best in Show was awarded to a Pekingese named Wasabi. Below are images from the three-day competition and preliminary activities held at the Lyndhurst estate, in Tarrytown, New York.