Friends & Colleagues:
We inhabit a world of tragic farce – and we do not appreciate fully either facet. That is what makes our dilemma so peculiar.
You decide which category this falls into.
Michael Brenner, PhD
Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh
Employment History & Professional Achievements
I have been approached by agents from Biden’s transition team inquiring as to a possible interest in contributing to a task force on foreign policy. A preliminary briefing made it clear that on January 21 the new administration would pick up where the Obama administration left off on January 19, 2017. Most of the same people: inter alia Susan Rice, Tony Blinken, Samantha Power, Jake Sullivan, Ash Carter, McDonough et al. Most of the same policies: total deference to Israel as pledged by avowed dual citizen Joe Biden, hand-in-hand collaboration with the Saudi Crown Prince, continued participation in the war against the Yemeni Houthis accompanied by encouragement for peace by (their) surrender, tougher sanctions against Syria, permanent military presence in Iraq and northern Syria, attempted revival of a modified JCPOA with Iran tempered by reviling words about what nasty people they are, redoubled backing for Ukraine, pressure on Russia to stop thinking like Russians, equivocation on whether to engage or confront China, unrestrained defense build-up including the trillion dollar nuclear upgrade program, beefed up surveillance at home and abroad, and reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership dear to the neo-liberals.
This agenda struck me as uncongenial; so, why were they bothering to enlist a critic of all the above? Well, it seems that there is one area where they feel short-handed: Micronesia. Somebody at the bottom of the task force’s food chain recalled having once seen a policy paper I had written that laid out the strategic significance of the region for U.S. national security. The two recognized experts on the region were unavailable. One was launching a start-up at Waikiki to tap the market for customized, Southern Cross surfboards featuring a retractable keel; the other was preoccupied producing Gauguin forgeries for the London and New York art markets. That left me – faute de meilleur.
Anyway, I managed to retrieve the paper – below. In anticipation of doing some fine-tuning before passing it on to the wannabes, I think it prudent to run it by people who might actually know something about that part of the world. I’d very much appreciate your thoughts and criticisms.
Emerging Threats Program
This is the second in a series of reports commissioned by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and prepared by the Council On Benign Globalism. It is the product of a series of workshops organized under CBG auspices at our Dupont Circle headquarters with contributions from several notable persons whose modesty prevents us from naming. Generous funding was provided by the Going Forward Foundation and the ERGO Trust. The Executive Summary that follows was produced by our team of Rapporteurs who tirelessly annotated the entire 97 hours of meeting transcripts.
Melvin Syntak, Director
Prudent security planning should be guided by the principle first enunciated by the great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu: The Worst Is Yet To Come. Sun’s formulation distilled a wisdom that it as pertinent today as it was in his day. To look only over one’s shoulder at the past is to confuse a retrograde thinking with the learning of lessons from recollected memory. The past is behind us – as it always is. The companion error is to be so absorbed with the present that its particular features are taken to be eternally true and to prefigure the future. The sage planner thinks of tomorrow as well as today. It is the future that is before us.
That future is now more uncertain than ever. The acceleration of change is a feature of our times. Powerful forces are at work that are as yet little understood but are already beginning to reshape the environment that we will have to negotiate in order to preserve freedom and liberty for our children and to fulfill our national mission to lead others along the path of democracy and progress. Globalization, the IT revolution, and cultural diversity are remaking the world. It is this generation’s task to anticipate the opportunities as well as the challenges that face us as a people and as world citizens.
The pace and direction of the transformation varies from region to region. Indeed, we must consider the prospect that regions previously on the margins of the international system may come to the forefront. Our limited knowledge of them, therefore, could become a serious liability for the strategic policy-makers of the future. The future may be elsewhere. With this admonition in mind, the task force set out to illuminate why and how the United States should come to terms with the emergence of Micronesia as a theater of political and economic engagement.
We have identified the following threats that could endanger the vital interests of the United States down the road.
1. Atavistic Piracy
A little known truth about contemporary Micronesia is the recrudescence of hostile elements that stem from pockets of surviving WW II Japanese veterans of the Imperial Army. The progeny of inter-marriage with native women have been raised as irredentists who are imbued with a fanatical dedication to restoring the honor of their grand-fathers. Numbering in the double figures, there are disturbing signs that they are organizing into commando size pirate units with plans to prey on commercial shipping in the Tonga Straits along the inter-island trade routes. There is a potential for major disruption of the outrigger traffic vital to the economic life of the islands. Moreover, 72% of the world’s seaborne coral commerce passes through the Straits. We can expect a rapid ascent up the learning curve of piracy as these units exploit social media to gain access to the recorded experience of the Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea – another troubling sign of how globalization can work against us as well as for us.
2. Cyber Warfare
The salubrious climate of the region is a natural draw for footloose and fancy free nerds of the socially alienated type. Clusters have been sighted in Tahiti, Fiji, Pago Pago and even Western Samoa. The last mentioned’s proximity to United States administered Eastern Samoa is a reason for exceptional concern about this territory. In addition, American football teams find there a valuable supply of players who enrich the national pastime at both the collegiate and professional level. From these locations, hackers would be able to reach sensitive computer systems anywhere in the world – even Cupertino. Currently, surveillance of Micronesia’s shifting vocational dynamics is inadequate for monitoring the movement of these suspect itinerant populations. Sequestration will further limit the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to mobilize and apply technical and human resources on a scale commensurate with the developing threat.
3. Global Warming
Micronesia has a hot climate. In this sense, it is on the cutting edge of the global warming phenomenon. Peoples and cultures have long confronted a watery environment where the absence of seasonal changes has instilled in the populace an unusual sensitivity to even small alterations in sea levels. Learning how to keep your feet dry is part of the local culture. The methods by which pro-active, constructive behavior patterns have been routinized could provide lessons of singular heuristic value. In regard to strategic security threats, the United States should be alert as to the negative consequences of a rise in sea levels. A couple of degrees hotter, and the Micronesian islands could be just a romantic memory. Geostrategic realities underscore the importance of the islands as stepping stones to New Zealand and Australia. Although a superficial assessment offers no compelling reason why one would want to island hop from the United States to the marsupial lands, common sense points to the existential value of keeping our options open.
4. Chinese Expansionism
The gravest threat associated with Micronesia is that it could become the next arena of Sino-American competition for world dominance. We should bear in mind a few elementary yet essential facts. Micronesia covers a vast part of the globe and the Chinese think big. That is one. Some food ingredients central to the Chinese diet could grow in the Micronesian climate. That is two. While arable land is limited, and would be reduced by the effects of global warming, every acre counts. In addition, Chinese advances in hydroponic agriculture make it a world leader. Furthermore, the Micronesian islands could be used as stepping stones to South America and the entire Western hemisphere. What goes West could go East – especially in the Southern Hemisphere where things move in reverse direction. Let us bear in mind Mahan’s forecast that in the twenty-first century, Patagonia will emerge as the soft underbelly of the Americas. That is three. There are indications already of a growing Chinese presence in the region. Human intelligence sources call attention to a three-fold increase in the number of Chinese restaurants in the region between 2000 and 2018 (the last year for which there is a reliable number of reports). It is noteworthy that the majority offer Beijing and Hunan cuisine, and the flagship in Papeete promotes itself as the LONG MARCH Pacific Fusion Cuisine.
5. Drug Trafficking
Americans have recognized that addictive drugs (other than alcohol) constitute a threat to the nation’s well-being. That is why the United States has been conducting a long and costly war on drugs for decades. Victory is not yet in sight but the struggle must go on lest the moral fiber of Americans experience further weakening. To date, the ‘war on drugs’ has spread from Southeast Asia to Colombia to Mexico with a stopover in Afghanistan. The steady progress that has been made in braking the transnational cartels’ momentum and reducing their operational capacity is forcing them to seek new locales to serve as laboratory sites and transport hubs. Micronesia may be in their sights as the cartels are evicted from locations closer to the United States. Fragmentation of police jurisdictions and a lack of experience in dealing with the sophisticated methods of the drug dealers translate into advantages for the cartels. Recently, the first signs have appeared of a Micronesian – drug cartel connection. DEA agents report the presence of Zeta jefe Luis Jesús Sarabia Ramón, in a Nuevo Laredo sports bar cheering loudly for two Samoans playing for the San Francisco 49ers. More ominously, he was munching Persian pistachios while draining his Pacifico beer.
6. Islamic Terrorism
The Global War On Terror is the paramount security concern of the United States. Its eradication is our number one priority. Micronesia is part of that globe – actually a bigger part than is Iraq, Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia or Mali. Moreover, there are lots of places to hide given the plethora of small islands, hidden beaches, jungle and foreclosed condos. Most troubling is the possible merging of the multiple threats we have identified. Al-Qaeda refugees, Japanese irredentists, technically proficient computer nerds and clever Chinese agents using restaurants as fronts – together constitute a potential threat to the security of the United States of the first order. When we add the funding that could be provided by the drug cartels, the menace is magnified.
This state of affairs calls for a comprehensive inter-agency approach involving the Pentagon, the State Department, Homeland Security, a dozen or so of our Intelligence agencies, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI, the Treasury, and Jared Kushner. In addition, the Pentagon should consider creating a dedicated regional command to fill in this keystone patch on the DOD’s strategic map. Fort Bligh on the Cook Islands suggests itself as an appropriate location.