Sunday, November 1, 2015

November 1 2015. Bones of contention—and some are islands. Others are U.S. corporations.




The more I research, analyze, and write, the more it is clear that we don’t do nearly enough to avoid war. Neither, do we seem to appreciate the true dreadfulness of such conflicts. Instead, the human psyche seems to regard such destructive brutality as predictable, inevitable, and a simple fact of life.

History would suggest that such is a reasonable assumption. True or not, I feel we should question it.

I don’t feel innocent in that regard myself. I was born towards the end of WW II, was brought up hearing much about the war and reading numerous adventure stories (many of which featured combat in some form or other), have been involved with the military one way or another for much of my life (associations which continue) and write action thrillers for a living.

In fact, I enjoy writing action—and if my fan e-mail is to be believed (my daughter likes to joke that she writes it  all) am good at it—and am also deeply interested in both the art of war itself, and its tools and weapons.

I do arcane things like reading books on military logistics for fun—and it is a rare day that I don’t spend an hour or two keeping up with defense issues. I have been reading military history for well over 60 years.

So what gives me the right to complain that we don’t do enough to avoid war? Am I not just being a hypocrite?

Well, partly because I know so much about it—and have some experience at the sharp end—including living with terrorism, and its consequences, for many years.

Anyway, I’m a writer—and writing about whatever takes our fancy is just what we do! We really don’t feel we need to justify our choice of subjects. But, I’m also particularly concerned about the U.S.-China situation. We are not talking here about the potential for a minor regional skirmish—although it could be limited to that—but a global conflagration.

Unfortunately, wars, once started, have a tendency to spiral out of control and to develop a momentum of their own—and to spread like a cancer. We think and talk in terms of nation states and borders, but wars are rarely that neat—and non-state actors have their own agendas.

Such concerns apart, a conflict between the U.S. and China has the potential to be particularly dreadful because of the sheer size and power of the protagonists, the fact that both are nuclear powers armed with highly sophisticated weapons, both are highly active in space and equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles, because of historical enmity, and because regional spillover seems absolutely inevitable.

In sum, we are facing the very real prospect of WW III within a fairly short time-frame of, perhaps, a decade, or less.

Do I believe such a war is inevitable? No, certainly not. I’m not even sure it is probable. I merely believe it is highly possible—and that we should be much more pro-active in preventing such an outcome than we are now, or have been in the past.

Certain factors worry me particularly.

  • China’s quite remarkable success in gaining access to the U.S.’s advanced technology over the decades. Part of this has been accomplished through classic industrial espionage—facilitated greatly by computerization and the internet—but a great deal has been accomplished by cutting deals with U.S. corporations who were willing to train their longer-term competitors in the interests of short-term profitability. The effect of this combination has enabled the Chinese to develop militarily—and industrially—with astonishing speed. They probably haven’t caught up with the U.S. as yet, but they are heading in that direction—and may even be ahead in some areas.
  • The unceasing propaganda of the MICC—the U.S. Military Industrial Congressional Complex—linked to the Right Wing of the Republican Party which is creating the kind of climate of fear (and threat) that sets the conditions for war. This pattern of criminally irresponsible behavior is now so endemic to the disturbingly militarized American Way of Life that it is rarely questioned—but it comes across to the Chinese as being downright hostile. As a consequence, given a long history of U.S aggression towards China going back to the 19th century (and other countries), the result is mutual suspicion—and an arms race. The historical context is important because the subjugated tend not to forget. The U.S. may regard its support for anti-Communist Chiang Kai-Shek, Taiwan, South Korea, and South Vietnam as no more than righteous—but that is not how the Chinese see it. They see a pattern of U.S. aggression and imperialism going back to the Boxer Rebellion—and scant sign that the U.S. has changed.
  • Chinese nationalism. The Chinese government fans its flames to promote unity and to distract from the fact that it is a one-party system—not to mention other flaws. Add in the fact that the West has not treated China as being worthy of equal status until relatively recently, and you have a volatile situation.
  • Chinese economic problems. The Chinese economy is now growing less fast than it has—and needs to—and there are grounds for believing that it’s real growth is even lower than its stated figures. Such a situation is leading to considerable internal stresses and difficulties—of the kind which tends to encourage politicians to look for a distraction. Historically, war has proven to be the ultimate distraction because, apart from anything else,  it enables the party in power to adopt the most extreme measures to suppress any opposition.
  • The Chinese successful focus on Anti-Access/Area Denial weaponry. The Chinese have long been concerned about the threat of U.S. carrier battle groups—particularly a factor whenever Taiwan comes up—so have focused on ways of rendering such powerful U.S. forces ineffective. To this end, they have concentrated on missile technology with considerable success. Their development of near unstoppable hypersonic missiles is particularly significant. It is already questionable as to whether the U.S. Navy has the capability to counter such weapons (though various laser systems look promising).
  • The U.S.’s provocative habit of surrounding all its perceived enemies with military bases. I have the strongest doubts about this practice because it comes across as being overly aggressive—while also being exceedingly expensive and dissipating U.S. combat power. As matters stand, the U.S. maintains over 800 foreign bases, few of which contain strong enough forces to be militarily effective in themselves. Such behavior comes across as being threatening—in a very real sense—especially as some of these bases have, in fact, been used for hostile acts against America’s enemies.
  • China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea. China’s claim to the Spratly Island, is a stretch, to put it mildly, yet there they are actually turning reefs into man-made islands and otherwise asserting their sovereignty. This has all the signs of a test to determine the resolve of the U.S. and other nations. It is the kind of provocative action which almost certainly needs to be resisted—yet it seems like far too trivial a matter to go to war over.

Deciding when to act, and when to show restraint is no easy matter—and I don’t pretend to know the answers.

Personally, I have always thought we should make more use of the U.N. than we do. It is widely derided in the U.S., but actually has quite a good record—and could be made vastly more effective if the U.S. was fully behind it.

What is clear is that U.S. corporations have made—and are continuing to make—a significant contribution to Chinese military strength.

It is worrying, indeed, when your own economic system has a greater loyalty to profit than to the National Interest. That would appear to be increasingly the case where the current American Business Model is concerned.

It is allied to a further issue—Transnational Corporate Power—which may well pose an even greater threat to world peace than the U.S.—China situation.

The damage being done to the public interest by corporation after corporation—particularly in the financial sector, but certainly not confided to it (consider Volkswagen recently) should remind us that nation states do not have a monopoly of power, technology, or global reach.

You may well find the following NYT report disturbing.i

U.S. Tech Giants May Blur National Security Boundaries in China Deals

  • by Paul Mozur And Jane Perlez NYT
  • Oct. 30, 2015

HONG KONG — One Chinese technology company receives crucial technical guidance from a former People’s Liberation Army rear admiral. Another company developed the electronics on China’s first atomic bomb. A third sells technology to China’s air-to-air missile research academy.

Their ties to the Chinese military run deep, and they all have something else in common: Each Chinese company counts one of America’s tech giants —IBM, Cisco Systems or Microsoft — as a partner.

Such links, which are generally not well publicized, are now at the center of a debate among some in the American defense community, including former United States military officials, analysts and others. While the cross-border partnerships, under which American tech companies share, license or jointly develop advanced technologies with Chinese counterparts, are a growth area for business, security experts are increasingly questioning whether the deals harm United States national security.

While the capabilities shared in the partnerships are commercial in nature, such technologies have also become more critical to defense. That is spurring concerns that widespread cooperation with Chinese companies could quickly increase China’s fundamental technological capabilities in a way that could easily help military research and operations.

A closer look at recent partnerships that United States technology companies have formed with Chinese firms that have ties to the military.

A report made public this week from a security firm with longstanding ties to the Department of Defense, the Defense Group Inc., said IBM’s partnerships in China, which are part of a global initiative that the company calls Open Power, are already damaging American national security.

“IBM is endangering the national and economic security of the United States, risking the cybersecurity of their customers globally, and undermining decades of U.S. nonproliferation policies regarding high-performance computing,” the report said.

Edward Barbini, an IBM spokesman, rejected the report’s conclusions, saying Defense Group Inc. “wholly mischaracterizes IBM’s initiatives in China.”

But other security experts defended the study by the firm, which was founded in 1987 by a former Defense Department official, James P. Wade, who was one of the authors of the military doctrine known as “shock and awe.” Defense Group Inc. is known to be tough on China but is used by the government to produce classified military analysis and intelligence, and works with groups including the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which examines the national security implications of trade between the United States and China.

The Defense Department did not respond to requests for comment on the report.

“We need to pay more attention to the judgments on whether advanced technology should be sold,” said Adm. Dennis C. Blair, who was the United States director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010 and who headed the Pacific Command. “If you don’t pay attention, you can have damage to your national security.”

Admiral Blair said the United States government operates on the principle that companies should be able to sell technology that is generally available on the world market but that they should be prohibited from selling advanced technology that can be put to military use. Government agencies in charge of foreign acquisition of technology need to be strengthened, he said.

The Department of Defense did not immediately return a request for comment.

There is nothing to suggest that the partnerships have broken American laws. With IBM’s program, many elements have been vetted and approved by the United States government, which is empowered through a review process to decide whether American tech companies are giving away too much advantage to military rivals.

Still, the reviews have resulted in two decisions this year that commercial technology could threaten national security. In February, the Department of Commerce said that four supercomputer sites in China receiving chips from Intel through its Chinese partner, Inspur, “have been involved in activities contrary to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” Intel has said it stopped selling the chips in China and that it was in compliance with United States law.

In May, the United States Navy also said that it needed new server computers for one of its systems after the server provider, IBM, sold the computing unit to the Chinese company Lenovo. IBM said the sale had passed the United States government’s review.

The issue is tricky because cooperation between American companies and Chinese ones allied with the military is a natural outgrowth of globalization. Any policies that limit American companies’ work on commercial technologies with Chinese partners could damage their competitiveness, analysts said.

“It’s so difficult to keep tech away from China commercially given how large China’s market is,” said Scott Kennedy, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

IBM and other American tech companies said they are not harming national security through the partnerships, they follow United States laws carefully and they treat the endeavors the same as for any commercial venture in a foreign country.

Mr. Barbini, the IBM spokesman, said the Open Power program was not specific to China, and the technology provided through it “is commercially available, general purpose, and does not require a U.S. export license.”

He added that “all IBM sales and technology licensing agreements comply with U.S. export regulations and require that partners in any country do so as well.”

Microsoft has said it is handling its partnership with a Chinese government-owned defense company as it would other system integrators globally. A Cisco spokesman said technology developed in a new Chinese partnership would be done with approval from the American and Chinese governments.

While American tech companies have long worked with the Chinese government, Beijing has over the last two years pushed companies for tighter relationships, like joint ventures and agreements to transfer technology, with Chinese companies. Chinese officials have used the carrot of market access to spur more American corporate collaboration.

That has led to a rising number of partnerships. IBM began working with Chinese companies including CCore, Beijing Teamsun Technology and Inspur. Each Chinese company works to develop advanced technology for the government and sells to military clients, according to information on their websites and other public sources.

Last month, during a visit by China’s president, Xi Jinping, to the United States, Cisco also announced a joint venture with Inspur, a server maker that counts China’s air-to-air missile research academy as a client.Microsoft unveiled a partnership with the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, or C.E.T.C., a government-owned defense company overseeing the former military-run research institutes that developed the electronics for China’s first nuclear bomb.

Other American tech companies have signed similar deals. Intel took a stakelast year in a subsidiary of Tsinghua Holdings, China’s emerging microchip national champion. Hewlett-Packard sold a majority stake in its Chinese networking unit to a separate subsidiary of Tsinghua this year, and Dell said it would spend $125 billion in China through 2020.

Inspur, C.E.T.C., Tsinghua and CCore did not respond to requests for comment. Intel, H.P. and Dell declined to comment.

“The Chinese companies are required to do the best for their government. American companies say they are only answerable to their shareholders,” said James McGregor, chairman of the greater China region of the consulting firm Apco Worldwide. “So who is looking out for the United States?”

The report on IBM last month from Defense Group Inc., which provides intelligence to the United States government and private clients that pay for the research, said Big Blue had gone too far with its Chinese collaborations. The report, using publicly available information, chronicled the military ties of the Chinese beneficiaries of IBM’s program, through which IBM licenses intellectual property for microchips, servers and software to partners.

In one case, the report said, a former Chinese rear admiral, Shen Changxiang, who is also a member of a Communist Party committee on the Internet headed by Mr. Xi, oversees the integration of IBM’s technology at one of the partners, Teamsun.

Another partner, CCore, provides specialized microchips for weapons control, the report said. Inspur, also a partner, sells products to the Chinese military, including a rugged hand-held computer and messaging software, said the report, which is titled “Open Power, Hidden Dangers: IBM Partnerships in China.”

Defense Group Inc. declined to say if the report was made at the request of a private client or a government group. The firm said that as a matter of policy, it does not reveal its funding sources; it declined to say why.

“The information in the report is a matter of public record and the analysis is our own,” the firm said in a statement. “Regardless of sources of our funding, it’s absolutely critical for our reputation to always be unbiased in our reports.”

Admiral Blair said it was “useful to have a check” and have the report spotlight IBM’s initiative. Defense Group Inc., with an intelligence unit headed by James Mulvenon, a former researcher at the RAND Corporation, has a staff that includes linguists and digital experts with American government security clearances, he said.

While Defense Group Inc.’s report focuses on IBM, analysts said a blurring of the lines among many companies that supply military and commercial technology makes it difficult to know what cooperation might result in technology ultimately being used by China’s military.

“We’ve seen major efforts in China to push the boundaries of civil-military integration, so this does make it increasingly difficult to work out what’s military and what’s commercial,” said Tai Ming Cheung, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who specializes in Chinese defense issues.

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