Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The threat to US is rising China, rising Asia

US Navy is not in the ‘peaceful coexistence’ business in Asia any more

Over at Foreign Policy, J. Randy Forbes, Representative, Virginia, and Chairman of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, opined on June 17 : “As of now, the military component to the rebalance amounts to shifting 2,500 Marines to the region while increasing America’s naval presence by three ships per year, to a total of 67 ships by the end of the decade. That response is so modest that, even if it is achievable, it is more a sign of weakness than strength.”

As to what an adequately muscular response would be, on June 23 Mark Thompson, Time magazine’s national security correspondent tweeted: “Navy finally decides how many ships it needs.”

And he reproduced testimony from Rear Admiral Paul Fanta before Forbes’ committee: If we had a choice, we would walk across the Pacific on the deck of a destroyer, occasionally stubbing our toes stepping down onto a submarine, and up onto an aircraft carrier.”

US, not PLAN, warships, it’s safe to assume.  Indisputably, the pivot is the Navy’s chance to shine and justify its massive Asian footprint by doing something bigger and better than facing down Kim Jung Il and chasing tsunami and typhoon relief.

As part of the new pivot regime, the new head of PACCOM, Admiral Harry Harris, has ditched the conciliatory stylings of the previous office-holder, Admiral Locklear, in favor of a more pro-active middle-finger posture to emphasize that the US Navy is not in the “peaceful coexistence” business in Asia any more.

The Marines also have a big pivot role thanks to their island-assaulting-and-conquering experience in the Pacific.  Even though the U.S. Marines are compared to the Harlem Globetrotters in terms of their abilities to run rings around their opponents in the amphibious warfare biz, there’s always cause for concern and room for improvement, per Reuters : “With some 80,000 personnel or almost half its strength in Asia, the U.S. Marines are the biggest amphibious force in the region. Most are based on Japan’s Okinawa Island on the edge of the East China Sea. …With around 12,000 marines, China is a formidable potential foe, say military experts.”

How to deal with this “formidable potential foe”?  More funding needed, as their commandant, General Joseph Dunford, stated : “Of particular concern is the disaggregation of forces in the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations. Once the ‘preferred laydown’ in the Pacific is fully implemented, the Marines will have a presence on mainland Japan and the island of Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and Australia – all falling under the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force structure.

“On a day-to-day basis, that kind of distribution will provide us more effective theater security cooperation, working with our partners and so forth. But conversely, providing the lift capability so the Marines aren’t stranded on an island will be a challenge, given the shortfall in amphibious ships.

“My priority right now would be, we’ve got over a thousand Marines in Australia; I would like them to have routine access right now to a platform that they can use to conduct engagement in the area,” he continued. “But it isn’t just about one ship and it’s just not about one location; it’s about dealing with a logistics challenge, a training challenge, a war-fighting challenge in the Pacific with a shortfall of platforms.”

Unsurprisingly, Commandant Dunford was sharing his anxieties with the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.

The Air Force would also like a word, per a Reuters article under the heading ‘China aims to challenge U.S. air dominance: Pentagon : “China is mounting a serious effort to challenge U.S. military superiority in air and space, forcing the Pentagon to seek new technologies and systems to stay ahead of its rapidly developing rival, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said on Monday.

“The Pentagon’s chief operating officer, speaking to a group of military and civilian aerospace experts, said China was ‘quickly closing the technological gaps,’ developing radar-evading aircraft, advanced reconnaissance planes, sophisticated missiles and top-notch electronic warfare equipment. Work said the United States has relied on technological superiority for the past 25 years, but now ‘the margin of technological superiority upon which we have become so accustomed … is steadily eroding.'”

If the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is as big a boondoggle as its critics say, and its best use will be as a gravity bomb dropped from a USAF dirigible, maybe our air superiority is really eroding. However, if the PRC stealth fighters are really built on a foundation of stolen F-35 technology, maybe we don’t have that much to worry about.

And the Army, too?

US Army Chief says their #SouthChinaSea presence maintains normalcy amid China’s ‘disruptive’ behaviour.

Actually, General Brooks was talking up mil-mil engagement with the PLA, not another land war in Eurasia, a good thing since the Army’s over-the-top mission-and-budget hogging over the last two decades is apparently a source of some jealousy and resentment in the other uniformed services.

And the chances that the PRC will continue its island-building ways until the South China Sea is paved over so the U.S. Army can drive an armored division across it seem rather remote.
There are, I think, three factors at work here.

First, everybody likes money.  Now that the PRC has been officially designated as the big threat, it’s time to muscle up to the “better-safe-than-sorry” limit in Asia, it’s up to the Pentagon to grow the budget pie, and it’s up to every armed service to fight for the biggest possible slice.

Second, threat and budget-inflation imperatives aside, the PRC is big and it’s getting bigger.  Right now, the US occupies 22 percent or so of global GDP, and the PRC’s down at 14 percent.  Unless the PRC spectacularly and catastrophically falls on its behind, those numbers will flip-flop and the PRC’s economy will account for 20 percent of the world’s GDP in 2050, as opposed to 14 percent for the US.

Keeping up with PRC military expenditures in its own backyard will be expensive for Mr. and Mrs. American taxpayer over the next few decades, so better get used to it.

The third, less obvious factor is that the pivot to Asia is, in my mind, fundamentally flawed because it is built upon the premise of US leadership in Asian security, and ‘US leadership’ looks to be a wasting asset.

It’s not just the PRC.  Everybody’s getting bigger, and the US’s relative share is shrinking.
PricewaterhouseCoopers took the IMF’s 2014 GDP numbers and worked the spreadsheet magic using projected growth rates.

In 2050, here’s how they see the GDP horserace playing out, in trillions: China 61; India 42; USA 41; Indonesia 12; Brazil 9; Mexico 8; Japan 7.9; Russia 7.5; Nigeria 7.3 and Germany 6.3. Poodlicious Euro-allies UK, Italy, and France will be out of the top ten in 2050.  Australia drops from 19th place to 28th.

Put it another way, the US will have 14 percent of the world’s GDP and Asia, the region we’re purporting to lead, will have 50 percent.

Don’t just look at the US vs. PRC numbers, 41 trillion vs. 61. Look at India+Indonesia+Japan+South Korea+Malaysia+Philippines+Thailand+Vietnam, the ‘pivot partners’ actual or aspirational that neighbor the PRC. Their cumulative GDP today: about the same as the US. In 2050: 77 trillion. More than the PRC. Way more than the United States.

And no, you can’t add those numbers to the US ‘anti-PRC’ coalition total for a big, reassuring number. Not even today.

To be unkind about it, the experience of the Middle East has not shown the US to be a particularly reliable and responsible steward of local well being in a volatile region. Countries with sufficient wealth and opportunities are unsurprisingly working to assure their own security futures instead of relying on the U.S.

All of the pivot partners are already feeling their Asian oats and most of them are pursuing hedging strategies between the US and the PRC as a matter of enlightened self-interest.  US says ‘TTP’, most say ‘TTP + RCEP’.  They are happy to take arms and military assistance from the US, but they also buy from Russia and France.

The only country that’s close to all-in on the pivot on the US side is the Philippines.  And it is deepening its engagement with Japan, not just the United States.

In a Guardian article  titled, ‘We have short memories': Japan unites with former foes to resist China’s empire of sand, a bilateral Japanese-Philippine patrol in the South China Sea is described and it is clear — perhaps worryingly clear to US military planners — that the Philippines is not about to put all its eggs in the American basket:

“The Philippine defence secretary, Voltaire Gazmin, said this week that Japan should become further involved with Manila’s military, arguing for a visiting forces agreement which would allow Japanese troops to be stationed in the Philippines, similar to a deal with Washington, which has naval ships in Filipino ports.

“It would be ironic if we cannot do exercises with Japanese forces when Japan is one of the only two countries – the other one being the United States – which are strategic partners of the Philippines,” Gazmin said on Wednesday.

Japan, the linchpin of the US pivot strategy —  and a source of orgasmic pleasure to US China hawks when it revised its defense guidelines to permit joint military operations in East Asia with the United States — already plays its own hand in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar, as well as the Philippines.

Historically inclined readers might note 1) these are all countries that Japan invaded and/or occupied as a matter of national interest in World War II and 2) Japan is run by the spiritual heirs—or in the case of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the direct heirs — of people who ran Japan back then and implemented that policy until the United States defeated them.

People with long memories will also recall that, when the PRC was a small, weak player, the justification for the US presence in Japan was to restrain Japanese militarism for the sake of Asian peace of mind … which is why the PRC kept harping on the Potsdam Declaration, the World War II victor’s justice dispensation, and the implications for the US leadership position in Asia when Shinzo Abe took office for his second term and started nibbling away at the “Peace” Constitution imposed by MacArthur.

Nowadays, US pretensions to act as “honest broker” in Asia as an alternative to Japan have been subordinated to the need to construct a PRC-containment regime. When you anoint Japan as a theater-wide anti-PRC military ally, you’re not getting the same ally you had when Japan’s main job was hosting US bases and poking around in its own territorial waters and airspace.

Nope, America’s Pacific Century (Hillary Clinton’s term) is not going to be pushing around overmatched, grateful, and anxious allies like the UK, Poland, and Germany while trampling on small borderline failed states in the Middle East.  It’s going to be contending with half a dozen rising Asian nations, all with experiences of empire and aspirations to at least local hegemony…and on top of them, there’s China.

So the urgent threat to US leadership in Asia isn’t just rising China; it’s rising Asia.
And I think US planners have also looked at the numbers and decided there’s a limited time window for the United States, during which it can use its military superiority, its wealth, the economic, technological, and cultural vitality of its system, and its domination of international financial and security institutions to occupy a central position in Asia…

…and avoid confronting the possibility that the United States will no longer enjoy recognition as the world’s leading military and economic power, a title it has enjoyed during the living memory of almost every living person on the planet, and a role that is an existential folly for any American politician, pundit, or military officer to question.

But to me, hyping the China threat in order to muscle up the Pacific presence, leverage American strengths, and prolong US predominance is something of a Hail Mary. It may postpone the US decline to “one among equals”, but I don’t think it can prevent it.  And it’s going to make the process very expensive and, perhaps, very messy and painful.

Peter Lee runs the China Matters blog. He writes on the intersection of U.S. policy with Asian and world affairs.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inside the West Papua Resistance-In the jungles of West Papua with the military wing of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka.

In the jungles of West Papua with the military wing of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka.for The Diplomat

The Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) was first created in the 1960s by a group of comrades who called themselves West Papuan Freedom fighters. The organization was created to fight the Indonesian Army, which had occupied large parts of West Papua after the Dutch colonialists withdrew.

The movement grew rapidly in the late 1970s with fighters joining its ranks in all major provinces of West Papua. Their operations mainly consisted of attacking Indonesian patrols. Over the years it started to carry out more sophisticated  attacks on foreign mining companies, such as blowing up pipelines in the Grasberg mine in Freeport.

It carried out assaults on civilian aircrafts in Timika, targeted foreign migrant workers, and kidnapped foreigners and journalists during the infamous Mapenduma incident.

The militant wing of the OPM allegedly had ties to former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddaffi, who had also supplied weapons to the group. Some senior OPM Commanders underwent training in Libya in the 1990s.

The diplomatic wing of the OPM also received support from the government of Senegal in the 1990s and were permitted to open a mission in Dakar.

Today, the military wing has many splinter groups who operate independently.

Some factions have agreed to a truce with the Indonesian government; others continue to wage their guerrilla campaign. By Rohan Radheya

The Diplomat offers full photo coverage on their site.


Explaining Kazakhstan’s Mysterious Sleeping Sickness

The latest theories look to carbon monoxide poisoning to explain Kalachi’s bizarre sleeping sickness.

The villagers of Kalachi say it all began in the spring of 2013. People, seemingly at random, began dozing off, slipping into comas–sometimes for weeks–experiencing dizziness, headaches and nausea. Over 150 cases have been reported, with some people experiencing the illness more than once. The Moscow Times reported a surge in cases through the winter and in January, the government began working to relocate the villagers.

Kalachi is a village in northern Kazakhstan’s Akmola region, roughly 230 miles northwest of the capital, Astana. Its population is between 582 (a figure cited by Interfax and the BBC) and 680 (the number used by the Moscow Times and RFE/RL). Not all of them are willing to relocate.

Viktor Kazachenko, who has lived in Kalachi for more than 40 years, told Eurasianet in March: “I’m not going anywhere…Why should I go? I’ve been here for 40 years. I’m going to die here.”

In January, the governor of the northern Akmola region, Sergey Kulagin, said that all the villagers would be relocated by May. But the Astana Times reported today that as of June 19, only 176 people have been relocated–65 families, including 54 children.

Neighboring districts have offered to take in the people of Kalachi. The heads of nine nearby districts visited the village in January–offering places to live and new jobs. Interfax reported that Saule Agymbayeva, the deputy head of the Esil district where Kalachi is located, said that it is older people who are the most worried about relocating “since jobs are being offered at farms.”

The village’s mayor, Asel Sadvokasova, said the relocations were voluntary but that scientists are still baffled by the sickness. “On this sleeping sickness, we don’t have the results of the studies in our hands yet,” he told Eurasianet.

One theory ties Kalachi’s ailment to the defunct Soviet uranium mine nearby. But the Krasnogorskiy mine closed over two decades ago. A television crew from RT claimed it found radiation levels almost 17 times higher than normal at one filled-in mine shaft, but they found normal levels in other sites closer to the village and quoted a former miner as saying “People worked in mines for so many years, and no one fell asleep.” The Astana Times cited scientists as saying the radiation levels in the area are normal.

The Astana Times reported that preliminary reports from the current investigation point to slightly abnormal levels of carbon monoxide  and hydrocarbon in Kalachi’s air. Sergey Lukashenko, Deputy Director General of Kazakhstan’s National Nuclear Center, gave an overview of the authorities’ present theory which still contains the mine, but not because of the uranium. After the mine, which contained a number of wooden structures underground, was shut, it was filled with water and “wood in contact with water created carbon monoxide. Then, it started to leak outside the mine gradually to the surface.”

This theory is similar to that of Leonid Rivkhanov, a professor of geological and mineralogical sciences at Tomsk Polytechnic University, who told Siberia Times in February that “the mines left open spaces underground which were slowly filled with water that has risen upwards, driving pockets of gas inside them to the surface.”

Kalachi’s mysterious sleeping sickness and its periodic resurfacing in the international media has led to both global curiosity and wild rumors. Most accounts mention the uranium mine, understandably. The local water and soil, or an illness like meningitis, have been suspected but generally ruled out. At one point in time rumors pointed to bad vodka as the culprit, but doctors dismissed the idea in 2013 when none, out of six people affected at the time, had had any. The Diplomat


Indonesia’s Deadly Air Force Plane Crash

Over a hundred people are dead in the country’s latest air tragedy.

An Indonesian military transport plane crashed into a hotel and residential area in the country’s third largest city of Medan on Tuesday, killing dozens of people in one of the deadliest accidents for the country’s air force.

The C-130 B Hercules aircraft crashed just two minutes after it took off from an air force base, hitting a busy road. The death toll has been climbing and is now over 50. Though cause of the crash is still unknown, Air Force chief Air Marshal Agus Suprianta revealed that the pilot had told the control tower that the plane needed to turn back because of engine trouble and was in the process of returning back to the airport.

“The plane crashed while it was turning right to return to the airport,” he said.

Supriatna said there were 12 crew and more than 100 passengers on board the plane, which took off from the capital Jakarta. However, it was not clear how many people were on board when the plane crashed, since it made two stops along the way in Pekanbaru and Dumai.

Indonesian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya confirmed that the aircraft had been inspected and cleared to fly before taking off. Nonetheless, in response to the incident, Indonesia’s air force has temporarily grounded its remaining eight Hercules aircraft, which were received from the United States.

This is not the first time a C-130 Hercules plane has been involved in a deadly crash. In May 2009, a plane crashed into homes, skidded into a rice paddy and erupted in flames, killing nearly 100 people. As was the case then, the crash is likely to raise questions about the aging plane’s record and the air force’s underfunded capabilities more generally.

Beyond the immediate incident, Indonesia has had a chronic problem with aviation safety. In April, as The Diplomat reported, an F-16 fighter jet malfunctioned and caught fire during a ceremony to honor President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (See: “Will Indonesia’s Fighter Jet Malfunction Affect its Defense Policy?”). In response, Suprianta ordered the temporary grounding of the F-16 fleet for evaluation due to safety reasons. Last December, in a more high-profile civilian incident, AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea with 162 passengers on board en route from Surabaya – Indonesia’s second most populous city – to Singapore.
By Prashanth Parameswaran

Vietnam Gets Fourth Submarine from Russia amid South China Sea Tensions

                                       Another one of Hanoi’s Kilo-class subs arrives.

The fourth of six Kilo-class submarines Vietnam bought from Russia arrived on Tuesday amid continued tensions in the South China Sea, local media sources reported.

According to Thanh Nien News, the submarine, codenamed HQ-185 Da Nang, arrived at Cam Ranh Port in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa on Tuesday morning transported by the Dutch-registered cargo ship Rolldock Storm. It was part of a deal Vietnam reached with Russia’s Admiralty Shipyards for six Project 636 Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines for $2 billion back in 2009. Under the agreement, signed during Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to Moscow, Russia agreed to provide the submarines, train Vietnamese crews and supply necessary spare parts.

The HQ-185 was reportedly launched on March 28, 2014 at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg, Russia, and had a trial run on the Baltic Sea. It set sail for Vietnam in the middle of May this year.

The remaining two submarines are expected to be delivered to Vietnam by 2016. The fifth, codenamed HQ-186 Khanh Hoa, underwent a trial run in the Baltic Sea on June 8.

The latest delivery comes amidst simmering disputes in the South China Sea, where both Vietnam and China are claimants alongside the Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. In just this month alone, Vietnamese fishing craft have clashed with Chinese boats near the disputed Paracel Islands, while reports last week indicated that Beijing had redeployed an oil rig near contested waters. On Tuesday, China also announced that its some of its land reclamation projects had been completed, and that the focus would now shift to the construction of facilities on these features, which, as I emphasized previously, would also include military equipment (See: “The Truth About China’s South China Sea Land Reclamation Announcement“).

The Kilo-class submarines are some considered to be one of the quietest diesel submarines in the world, and are designed for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface-ship warfare. Several analysts, including Carlyle Thayer at The Diplomat, have explored how Vietnam People’s Navy (VPN) may use them to counter Chinese naval capabilities in the South China Sea. By Prashanth Parameswaran for The Diplomat

This is the way the world ends, not from a nuke but from a court ruling (The same-sex marriage debate)


In the race for global dominance, the world is being drawn closer every day to the brink of war. The rivalry casts Russia and China on the one side, and the United States, Japan and the NATO members on the other. War could start in Europe or in Asia either by design or by mistake.

But wherever it starts, should it ever start, it could be an unlimited war. With nuclear weapons sufficient to kill the entire human race 20 times over, perhaps not even the denizens on the deepest ocean floor would survive.

It could be a war to end all wars. Civilization, and the world itself as we know it, would end. Such therefore is the need for all men and all nations to work together to prevent it.

Yet without exploding a single nuclear device on any nation, the United States, through its Supreme Court, has sought to render meaningless the most important element that had held human society together from the very beginning of time–the natural family founded on the permanent and exclusive union of one man and one woman for the purpose of propagating the human race. This is matrimony or marriage.

In legalizing “homosexual marriage” all over the United States, regardless of any American state law prohibiting it, Justice Anthony Kennedy and four others of the nine SC justices air-brushed the truth first revealed in Genesis, that God created man and woman–male and female He created them–so that from the marital bond of one man and one woman may spring forth children.

The justices based their ruling on the so-called “right to marry,” but they failed to examine the issue at depth. Without question, this is a sacred and inviolable right. But the right to marry exists only in relation to marriage, properly understood. Marriage is a natural human institution, created at the beginning of time, for the preservation and propagation of human life. “Same-sex union” totally excludes new life .

To the various faiths, matrimony is a sacred rite; to the Catholic Church, it is one of the seven sacraments. No Congress or court of law has the right or authority to fiddle with it. Although nothing and no one can prevent a male from being sexually attracted to another male, or a female from being sexually attracted to another female, or prevent any two males or any two females from living together as same-sex “partners,” neither the State nor the Church can call that partnership a marriage, just because a male who has the “right to marry” wants to “marry” another male, and a female wants to “marry” another female.

Were we to accept the ruling as morally and legally valid, what would prevent the next fellow from insisting that he be allowed to marry his own brother or sister or widowed mother or aunt, or even his own pussy cat, dog, python or parrot? “Same-sex marriage” means a formal approval of disordered sex, which sodomy is. For a very long time, sodomy was criminally punishable in many places. Now the crime has been abolished, and the only punishable crime now is to talk irreverently about sodomy and sodomists. This is the sexual revolution, and as in all revolutions, what begins as a crime soon dictates the rules as soon as it believes it has prevailed. Apparently,the dictatorship of relativism believes it has.

HOW WILL “same-sex marriage” affect the whole fabric of American society? How will it affect those who follow the lead of the US? How will it affect what the Church teaches? In Chapter 18 of Leviticus, the third book of the Pentateuch, which contains ritual laws for the priests of the tribe of Levi, built around the central command, “You shall be holy because I, the Lord, am holy,” the Lord says the following to Moses, in continuation of their conversation on Mount Sinai:

“6 None of you shall approach a close relative to have sexual intercourse with her… 7 You shall not disgrace your father by having sexual intercourse with your mother… 8 You shall not have sexual intercourse with your father’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your father. 9 You shall not have sexual intercourse with your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, for that would be a disgrace to your own family… 10 You shall not have intercourse with your son’s daughter or your daughter’s daughter, for that would be a disgrace to your family. …12 You shall not have intercourse with your father’s sister, since she is your father’s relative. 13 You shall not have intercourse with your mother’s sister, since she is your mother’s relative. 14 You shall not disgrace your father’s brother by being intimate with his wife, since she, too, is your aunt. 15 You should not have intercourse with your daughter-in-law; she is your son’s wife, and therefore you shall not disgrace her. 16 You shall not have intercourse with your brother’s wife, for that would be a disgrace to your brother. 17 You shall not have intercourse with a woman and also with her daughter, nor shall you marry and have intercourse with her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter; this would be shameful because they are related to her. 18 While your wife is still living you shall not marry her sister as her rival; for thus you would disgrace your first wife… 20 You shall not have carnal relations with your neighbor’s wife, defiling yourself with her…22 YOU SHALL NOT LIE WITH A MALE AS WITH A WOMAN, SUCH A THING IS AN ABOMINATION. 23 You shall not have carnal relations with an animal, defiling yourself with it; nor shall a woman set herself in front of an animal to mate with it; such things are abhorrent.

How much of this, after the same-sex ruling, could still withstand the justices’ appreciation of an individual’s “human and constitutional right” to satisfy his disordered sexual appetite?

With the US judicial “legislation” on same-sex “marriage,” are we now seeing the same corrupted sexual morality which, in a distant age, had foreshadowed the decline and fall of the Roman empire? Are we? While remaining the lone political and military superpower in the world, have America’s morals not sunk to the level of its troubled economy?

In its declaration of independence on July 4, 1776, America proclaimed its loyalty and allegiance to a Creator who has endowed its people with certain inalienable rights, among which are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. So impressed was the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of “Democracy in America,” with the depth and fervor of its religious vocation that he described religion as America’s “first political institution.” Until the US banned public prayer and every sign of religious practice and expression outside the churches, America was proud to proclaim as its national motto, “In God We Trust.”

What happened to all that? Does same-sex “marriage” make America “a more perfect union,” as Barack Obama claims it does, or does it make it simply a more dangerous place? Some of my best friends are Americans. I have young grandchildren who are Americans. And Filipinos, according to a Pew Research study, are more pro-American than any other nationality. I am not ready to give up on the US as a lost paradise. But, as in my own country, I grieve over the kind of moral, political and judicial leadership that is in charge.

During the Cold War, we identified moral and political goodness with America and the West and moral and political evil with the Soviet Union and the communist bloc. The first Cold War is over, and the second may have already begun. Has the paradigm shifted? In 1821, Connecticut became the first state to pass an anti-abortion law to supersede the inherited English Common Law, which had forbidden abortion, as my dear friends Dr. John and Barbara Willke of happy memory record in their excellent book, “Abortion and the Pro-Life Movement.” On the other hand, Russia under Lenin became the first country to legalize abortion in November 1920, three years after the Russian revolution. This was temporarily forbidden during World War II, then legalized again in 1955.

But today the once officially atheist Russia has turned pro-life, pro-family and pro-God while the once strongly Christian and Protestant USA has officially turned anti-life, anti-family and apostate. In 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the US Supreme Court struck down America’s first state law against contraceptives, by invoking an unwritten “right to marital privacy.” A US Family Research Council paper quotes Justice William O. Douglas, who wrote the decision, as saying he had discovered the right to privacy in “penumbras formed by emanations” of a panoply of Bill of Rights guarantees under the Constitution.

In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the court invoked the same right to privacy to legalize the destruction of the unborn fetus inside the mother’s womb. Since then America has killed more innocent and unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs than all the men and women it had lost in all its wars. And now, this same-sex ruling promises to remove children completely and forever from the vocabulary of “same-sex” couples.

Thus even Vladimir Putin has found the courage to wonder why the Obama government has forsaken God and the family while the rest of humanity is trying to embrace them. Such a reversal of roles.

Russia knows whereof it speaks. For it has paid the price for its folly as far as its population policies are concerned. Its birthrates have been the lowest in the nation’s history, and as Steven Mosher says in his book, “Population Control,” its population has been decreasing by three-quarters of a million people each year; Ukraine’s by a quarter million. The country’s population is projected to decrease from 143 million in 2005 to 112 million in 2050.

So while stupid Filipino policymakers and lawmakers break their bones trying to implement the discredited directives of the foreign population controllers, the whole of Russian society, beginning with Putin, is trying to reenergize family life everywhere. Since 2011, I have been invited to Moscow, first to participate in the world demographic summit that sought to address the global demographic winter that has spread ageing and dying without new life in all of Europe as well as in some parts of Asia, like Singapore and Japan.

The year after, I helped to launch the Russia Parents Association, a coalition of parents’ organizations across the Russian Federation, to encourage families to beget more children. In September last year, I was a plenary speaker at a huge family conference at the Kremlin, which looked to “large families” as a key to the future. My participation at the Humanum colloquium in Rome in November prevented me from attending the Stavropol Family Forum of the Russian People’s Assembly that same month, but one topic that caught my eye in that proposed forum was “Training Boys to Become Men.” This telegraphed Russia’s position on the same-sex question.

My heart goes out to the American people. I do not believe they are marked for destruction like Sodom, just because of the same-sex ruling. But like the Filipinos, they are victims of a Godless regime. We must find common cause with them. by FRANCISCO S. TATAD

Context Is Key to Australia-Indonesia Ties


Hardly had the dust of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran settled than there was a new spat between Indonesia and Australia. Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry is now hard on Canberra’s heels for an official “explanation” of the alleged bribery of human traffickers turned back by Australian border officials. Relations between the two neighbors have long been prone to crisis and the current standoff represents another nadir.

Indonesia’s very bullish, public demand for an explanation is unusual in its directness. It is almost as if Jakarta is trying to give Canberra a taste of its own medicine, given the latter’s “megaphone” diplomacy in the lead up of the executions of the “Bali Nine” duo sometime ago.

The perennially fragile relationship between the two countries can also be understood through the concept of “high-context culture” and its opposite “low-context culture,” first introduced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book “Beyond Culture.”

In general, a low-context culture is more individualistic, allowing differences and diversity in opinions among its members which in turn force them to develop better communications skills to avoid conflict. It follows that a low-context culture tends to see vigorous dialog as a means of problem solving.

By contrast, members of a high-context culture tend to avoid explicit discussions, preferring symbols and subtle gestures to convey meaning. A high-context culture likes to preserve harmony and peace among its members through complex social etiquette. This is an understandable ploy when arguments are often personalized.

However, no culture is wholly high-context or its opposite; any culture can produce both high-context and low-context behavior. Indonesia is predominantly high-context but, as its recent badgering of Australia  shows, it can also act in a low-context mode. On the other hand, Australia is largely a low-context culture, as most English-speaking countries are.

As a rule, a high-context culture can turn out low-context behavior when extraordinary intimacy between two parties develops or, more ominously, when sufficient offense is perceived to have been committed by one party. Unfortunately, in the context of Indonesia-Australia relations, the latter seems to be the case this time. Jakarta acts as if all the necessary niceties have been deployed, but to no avail, and hence it no longer troubles to observe the usual elaborate etiquette with its southern neighbor.

Indonesia is currently bent on showing its displeasure with Australia more openly. No longer  burdened by having to rationalize its behavior, Jakarta for example deliberately excluded Australia from the recently approved list of 45 countries whose passport-bearers can now enter the country without a visa.

Throughout the furor over the alleged bribery of human traffickers, Indonesian officials have been anything but diplomatic. Arrmanatha Nasir, the spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, couldn’t refrain from a jibe aimed at Australia, saying “My point is this: countries that are parties to the convention on refugees have a responsibility to ensure they believe in what they sign.” Though Arrmanatha correctly denied he had specifically referred to Australia, it was difficult to avoid such a conclusion since Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, while Indonesia isn’t.

The divide between high-context Indonesia and low-context Australia couldn’t be more evident than throughout the row over the death penalty earlier this year. Both the Australian government and media  conducted a public campaign to have the death sentences for Chan and Sukumaran commuted, which didn’t sit well at all with Indonesia.

The options Australia proposed of paying for their upkeep or alternatively carrying out an exchange of prisoners were also openly discussed, much to Jakarta’s apparent consternation. Indeed, Canberra’s offers  might have been more palatable to Jakarta if they had been made using less explicit language or not announced publicly at all.

It is definitely time that Canberra restructured  its strategy towards Jakarta. Yet this needn’t mean that everything has to be on Jakarta’s terms. While the delivery should certainly be more suited to a high-context culture, total acquiescence to Indonesia at the expense of Australian values hasn’t always yielded satisfactory results.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s meeting with president Suharto in 1974, during which he reportedly lent support for the latter’s belief that Timor Leste should join Indonesia, was a high-context act of appeasement, in the sense Whitlam placed the relations between the two countries above other considerations. However, it put Australia on the wrong side of history; and when Timor Leste seceded from Indonesia in 1999, Indonesian nationalists conveniently forgot the 1974 tacit support and even went as far as suggesting that Australia had vested interests in seeing an independent Timor Leste.

An example of engagement between two low-context cultures was perhaps Whitlam’s 1972 cable to US president Richard Nixon, protesting against the “Christmas bombings” by US forces of Hanoi and Haiphong, in Vietnam. The letter did strain relations between Australia and the United States but it also produced some of the most intense two-way discussions between the two allies.

One thing is clear: a high-context culture such as Indonesia’s shouldn’t be treated as if it were low-context, even with a seemingly down-to-earth informal president like Joko Widodo.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya.