Cyber defense and Snowden

One of the casualties of the Snowden revelations will certainly be a planned cyberdefense from the NSA. In the short term this is a set-back for US defense, as cyber threats continue to emerge.  It might take a dramatic episode, at least causing the lights to go out in half the US or something, for the public to accept the need for a robust cyber defense that would include wholesale sifting of metadata in realtime.

In the longer-term, the Snowden drama may be good news for the US defense efforts. Just as the Snowden revelations are causing some needed public scrutiny of the NSA, they may force the US to take a more constitutional-friendly approach to US cyber-defense. Eventually, policymakers may possibly embrace the Schneier model, which is more about robust defense, less about the ability to strike out. The problem, Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is that the US public just doesn’t trust you – and with good reason. Sure, the US needs you in war-time, but the US should not be put in a permanent wartime footing.

Another underlying factor in the cyberwar between the US and China is that neither country can afford to destabilize the other. Neither the US nor China want to grind each others’ economies to a halt through aggressive action for the impact it would have back on their own economy. (That’s not to say China won’t try to siphon off as much IP as they can get). But given the tug-of-war behind the scenes, and recent revelations against constitutionalism by China’s leadership should be a lesson for free trade utopianists in the US. You can be assured that once either the US or China wrest themselves free of the other’s economic dependence, trouble may increase.

In this way, the need for cyber defense is there. And the need for a coordinated approach is there too. It just must find a way to sit well with US law and the culture of law (this blog has argued this before).

But the Snowden revelations, while sparking the debate with in the US, are simply damaging the US abroad.

Just look at the US-Brazil relationship – and look at the impact that could have on Silicon Valley.

His single-mindedness in the pursuit of his goal, to me, shows the fault of the oh-so-simple ideology of libertarianism, which is built around the individual while disregarding the importance of society. And Ed Snowden, if he ever gets back to the US, can have a nice drive over some crumbling US bridges and have a nice informed conversation with some of the product of the US’s failing public school to see the benefit of a philosophy that treats its own government with contempt.

You might argue that the relative attractiveness of an overly-simple philosophy rises as the general level of education
falls. People aren’t capable of embracing contradictions – the need to protect the individual while supporting the group,
say. Instead, it’s an overly simple ideal. And that’s some impact for a political philosophy which didn’t even rate a
mention in the 1982 World Book Encyclopedia.

Russia and China will meet on sidelines of G20…to discuss Egypt?

The same meeting where Obama and Putin won’t meet. As Reuters explains:

“Both countries now say they need a counterweight to U.S. influence in the world.”

Presumably they won’t be talking about how to halt violence in Egypt.

China has been circumspect about the recent violence in Egypt for a good reason – it may need to have a similar crackdown itself one day. 1989 wasn’t that long ago.

But recall that Morsi’s first visit as president of Egypt was to China in 2011, which was followed by increased trade to between the countries. But Morsi, now out of power, means the military may not be in such a forgiving mood to China.

As Zachary Keck points out, in one possible scenario

The Egyptian military could quickly restore order and maintain power, perhaps exercising it through civilian, non-Islamists leaders. China would hardly be enthusiastic about this prospect, given the possibility that the military would hold a grudge against Beijing for its eager embrace of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the Egyptian military is the institution in the country with the strongest ties to the United States. Thus, U.S. influence in Egypt is likely to be greatest under military rule (or indirect military rule).

So, as much as the US abhors the violence and diplomats urged against it, their best chance for influence in Egypt is the military – even though Obama has scrapped the sale of fighter jets and halted planned joint exercises. If the “state of emergency” just imposed in Egypt last another 30 years like Mubarak’s did, then the US may have some influence there to
come. But the reality is- and its clear in the past few weeks – with the US pivot to Asia on, Washington doesn’t have the same time or patience for all of the Middle East as it once did. If Egypt can’t rely on the US, as much, it will have to look elsewhere.

China feeding a resurgent nationalism with mischief-making: New York Times

Do I detect another faint new geopolitical border etching its way across the world? Have the US elites who held out for a better world with China had a change of heart?

The New York Times on China’s role in the South China Sea in August 2013

A confrontational approach is unwise for a country that prizes stability and development and needs to focus on its serious domestic problems, including an increasingly troubled economy. Instead of feeding a resurgent nationalism with mischief-making, Beijing should be working with its neighbors to ease competing claims and to pursue joint development of natural resources.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Gray Lady was urging the US allow China to join the WTO because (provided China adhere to rules) the whole world would benefit.

“For Americans to reject a trade agreement that benefits everyone is misguided. Provided China meets all the conditions, a deal could actually improve the possibility of dialogue on other contentious issues.”

When did the New York Times learn? When they found out their computers were being hacked constantly by the PLA? Tremendous irony here – and I hate to lay it all at the feet of the New York Times – but now the wealthy and elites of America can make out the shape of the leviathan that the working class and middle class of American saw a good decade earlier and protested against. (Yes, the last link is also from the New York Times, which is to their credit).  


Why China might be exaggerating their military’s development

Anyone who cares about China’s potential military threat should read this article by Gregory Kulacki, who raises the possibility that China is exaggerating its military power to gain a strategic advantage over the US. While some believe China uses ‘un- witting’ pro-Beijing US analysts to manipulate policy, it’s just as likely other analysts in the US are overestimating China’s military power.

Kulacki helpfully divides the US analysts into a “blue team” that “claim they see through” China’s deceptions to a much larger military, and a “red team”…”of U.S. experts who are either coerced or duped into downplaying the China threat.”

He then gives the example of an ancient Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang who used “straw boats to catch arrows,” and by tracing the provenance of a particular piece of “exclusive” US reporting on China’s defense capabilities, shows how threats can be hyped.

I have long wondered about this possibility. Obviously, secrecy is central to the authoritarian regime, and what one leader says, may not necessarily be so.

But there are three other things at work with Kulacki’s ideas that make his hypothesis possible.

1) There is a natural US tendency to overemphasize a country’s military hardware threat, while underplaying the political resolve of an adversary. You can see this in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan right back to Vietnam. All of those countries inferior militaries and hardware and look what happened.

2) China’s top leadership is reportedly obsessed by not making the mistakes the Soviet Union made leading to its collapse.

One of those mistakes would surely be plowing too much money into the military at the expense of the domestic economy. If China wants to avoid that outcome, they would need to assure they don’t overspend on a military, particularly when 500 million people are still waiting to move up on the economic later.

3) Conversely, studying the downfall of the USSR, one can’t help but make parallels to the US whose government is hugely indebted after two long and costly wars. It could be possible that the Chinese, by telegraphing huge new weapons capabilities, would hope to dupe the US into costly spending that would eventually weaken it permanently.

It could be a case that China realizes its power is actually greater by not spending too much on the military. Ironically, the exact same is true for the US.