21 February 2018   Leave a comment

The media typically frame the dispute over control over the South China Sea as one that pits sovereignty against international law.  International law is fairly clear on the status of the South China Sea:  it is an international sea that does not have natural islands to grant sovereignty to any of the countries in the region.  China has built up reefs in order to assert its sovereignty over them, but international law forbids the use of artificial islands to make such a determination.  The US uses this interpretation to justify sending its naval vessels past these artificial islands within the 12-mile limit recognized by international law as territorial.  As long as China and the US hold these mutually exclusive definitions of international rights and obligations.  Yet, in the background, other countries are trying to forge different solutions based on different principles.  It is an encouraging development in ad hoc diplomacy that perhaps offers a way out of an adversarial relationship.


The political constellations in Syria continue to defy my ability to analyze.  There are a variety of different alliances in the conflict depending on specific circumstances.  One can be sure that the Turks will oppose the Kurds, even if that means that it has to test its alliance with the US.  One can also be sure that Russia will support Syrian President Assad.  But there are a very large number of different rebel groups all of whom have different sponsors.  The US has different objectives with respect to ISIS vs. Assad, Iran vs. ISIS, and the Kurds vs. Assad.  Choreographing the conflict has always seemed to be within Russian control, but it seems clear that Russia is beginning to lose control as well as it depends on official Russian troops and unofficial Russian mercenaries who act at cross purposes depending on specific circumstances.  It also appears as if the Russians are being drawn into a long-term presence in Syria, an outcome not anticipated by President Putin, as Assad’s hold on power is very weak.  War only makes sense if there are clear political objectives.  Now, however, the Syrian civil/international war is degenerating into what seems to be a demolition derby.  Under such circumstances the chances for unplanned escalation increase dramatically.

The Bombing of Gouta


Eliot Cohen is not one of my favorite authors–I have often disagreed with his analyses.  However, he has written an essay for The Atlantic that made me think.  The argument of the essay is that the current people in charge of foreign policy today do not seem to be highly distinguished.  His comments are based on his understanding of the proceedings of the recent Munich Security Conference.  I tend to be suspicious of those who believe that the “best and the brightest” create good foreign policy.  That phrase was the title of a book by David Halberstam by the US security experts that forged the disaster that was the Vietnam War.  However, while it may be true that smart people cannot guarantee good foreign policy, it is probably also true that uninformed people are highly unlikely to produce good foreign policy.  One part of the essay that grabbed my attention was this paragraph:

“This political entropy seems to be a near-universal phenomenon in the Western world; why this is so is unclear, and probably has many explanations. But the nicely tailored generation represented in Munich this year seemed baffled by the re-entry into history of today’s authoritarians and fanatics. One wonders whether the attendees possess the steel of the earlier generation that took part in World War II, and in the subsequent struggle with Communism.”

There is a new world order in the wings, but I agree with Cohen that we do not at this time have the people that have the vision to see it.

Posted February 21, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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