Articles – Richard Nixon Foundation Discover how Richard Nixon's legacy continues to shape our world at the Nixon Library. Thu, 14 Dec 2017 22:18:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Transcript: Waking Up to the China Challenge: Are the U.S. and China Destined for War? Mon, 20 Nov 2017 20:12:13 +0000 Waking Up to the China Challenge: Are the U.S. and China Destined for War? Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum November 17, 2017  Synopsis • Video Participants Dr. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. He […]

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Waking Up to the China Challenge:
Are the U.S. and China Destined for War?
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
November 17, 2017

 Synopsis • Video


Dr. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. He is the founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has advised every secretary of defense from the Regan administration to the Obama administration. He’s also served as the Senior Advisor to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans during the Clinton administration. He’s the best-selling author of several books including “Lee Kuna Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World,” and “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”

Jonathan Movroydis is the director of research at the Richard Nixon Foundation.


Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you every one for being here. My name is Jonathan Movroydis [inaudible 00:00:04]. Welcome to the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. Allow me to introduce our distinguished speaker today. He’s one of America’s most respected and perceptive China watchers. Dr. Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Belter Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government.

Among other accomplishments, Graham Allison is the founding dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has advised every secretary of defense from the Regan administration to the Obama administration. He’s also served as the Senior Advisor to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans during the Clinton administration.

He’s the best-selling author of several books including “Lee Kuna Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States and the World.” And a new and very influential book, which he’ll speak about today and he’ll sign copies, which are available in our store for purchase. It’s called “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”  The book has been hailed by many. Several people have taken the stage, including Dr. Henry Kissinger, and Niall Ferguson, and also by General David Petraeus, who will be here on November 28. So, I suggest you check out, look for tickets at

Before we start our event, we thought it would be appropriate to hear from President Nixon regarding China, which is related very much to the premise of this book.

President Nixon: If anybody would read my article in Foreign Affairs and other statements I have made prior to and since that initiative was undertaken, they would note that I always come through with the theme. Even if there were not Soviet Union, it was essential that the United States move now, and move when it did, I should say, in rapprochement with China. And the reason for that is, fundamentally, that one fourth of all the people in the world live in the People’s Republic of China. It has enormous natural resources, and the Chinese people, as Chinese, are among the most capable in the world.

Look what they’ve done in Taiwan. Look what they…in non-Communist areas, in Taiwan, and Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, San Francisco, you name it. And once that power is mobilized, it is going to be enormous force in the world, for good or for bad. I think de Gaulle hit it, in his usual way, in 1969, most effectively when he said cryptically, “Better for you to recognize China now when they need you, than wait until later when their power is such that you will need them.”

And so, in order to build the kind of a world that we want our grandchildren to live in the 21st century, it was essential that the United States, the most powerful and prosperous in the free world, have a new relationship with the People’s Republic of China. And finally, I would say, for some of those who object to that initiative, if it had not been undertaken, and if China, due to the fact that they did not have any guarantee of their security from the United States vis-à-vis the Soviet, had been forced back under the Soviet umbrella, the geopolitical relationship and balance in the world would be almost hopelessly against us at this time. It was necessary to do it for that reason, but apart from that, it was essential to do for the next century.

Jonathan Movroydis: Nixon commenting on the next century that engaging China was very important. But, yet, reading from the cover of your book, it could prove otherwise, destined for war. I like to start by asking just as a basis, who is Thucydides and what is the Thucydides’s Trap, and are the U.S. and China really destined for war?

Graham Allison: First, let me say it’s a great honor for me to be here and I’d appreciate you all for coming for this session. And secondly, I think that, as the Nixon comments, I don’t remember when they were made, but I’m really update as the article was. If you look back at this 1967 Foreign Affairs article, it was really prescient. So, and his preposition that China is gonna be China at some point, and the issue is gonna be whether we have a good relationship with them or a bad relationship, was that correct. So, that’s for sure.

Let me back up to your question and then I’ll come forward. So, first, today, you’re having an opportunity to meet a great thinker. And I wanna… I hope it’s to re-introduce you to him. But if you haven’t been introduced before, let me introduce you to him. And his name is Thucydides. So, I published this book about five months ago, and I’ve discovered in the interim that many Americans are not familiar with Thucydides. Some even have trouble pronouncing his name. So, in unison, one, two, three we will say…one, two, three…

Together: Thucydides.

Graham Allison: One more time…

Together: Thucydides.

Graham Allison: If you want a fun…look at the website and one of the tabs is Look Who’s Talking About Thucydides. Xi Jinping, the president of China, speaks about Thucydides’s Trap often and has trouble pronouncing the name, Thucydides. So, you can see and other people. 

But Thucydides was the father and founder of history. He wrote the first ever history book. That was what it was called, ” The History of the Peloponnesian War,” which was the account, in 25,000 years ago of what happened in classical Greece when Athens, which was becoming one of the pinnacles of civilization, rose to challenge Sparta, which has been the dominant power in Greece for a hundred years. So, Thucydides is the first person to do, to write a history defined as giving the facts right, what actually happened, what choices did human beings make, and what were the consequences, without the benefit of any external mythology, or spirits or otherwise. So, just the consequences of human being’s choices in difficult conditions. 

And you can go download for free “The History of the Peloponnesian War.” Read the first hundred pages, that Book 1. And if every other page doesn’t knock your socks off, check your pulse. Now, this is a big serious, great thinker who should be part of your mental library. And you’ll learn a lot. Every chapter of the book, actually, I have a little quote from Thucydides because he had many wonderful ideas. In this book, I’m trying to make vivid one of them. 

So, Thucydides’s Trap, your second question, is the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power like Athens, impacts the ruling power like Sparta; rising power like Germany in the decades before 1940 impacts Britain, which has been ruling the world for a hundred of years during that time; or China over the past generation impacts the U.S., which has been the dominant international power. So, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, in general, poop happens.

So, in this book, I look at the last 500 years of history. I find 16 cases, 1-6, in which a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. Twelve of the cases end in war, four of the cases end in not war. So, to your final, you’ve given me three questions here, the third question is, can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap? That is, is the war between U.S. and China inevitable or not? And in the book, I say the answer is, like a professor would say, no and yes.

So, let me explain. No, it’s not possible to escape Thucydides’s Trap if we insist on business as usual. So, business as usual, which is what we’ve seen for the last 20 years, in this case, will likely produce history as usual. And history as usual would be catastrophic war and nobody wants but that happens. But on the other hand, yes, we can escape Thucydides’s Trap is we take the heart and great insight from Santayana, which is, “Only those who refuse to study history are condemned to repeat it. 

But is not an obligation for the U.S. and China to make the same mistakes that Kaiser Wilhelm did in 1914, or even that Pericles made in the breakdown of the long peace that produced the Peloponnesian War. So, if we learn from history, we might do better. And the purpose of the book, therefore, to be clear, is not fatalism about a war between U.S. and China, because make no doubt about it, a war between U.S. and China would be catastrophic for China and its dream will be vanished. And will be catastrophic for the United States and what we’re trying to do with our country. 

So, this is a crazy idea and nobody in China wants a war in the U.S., thank for this. And nobody in the U.S. wants a war with China. But that does not mean that a war can’t happen. So, the book is about understanding that we’re in extremely dangerous conditions as a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power. That generally, in those circumstances, third party’s actions that neither of us want and that would otherwise be inconsequential, can trigger a reaction by one of us that requires a reaction by the other, in which then, one thing leads to the other and pretty soon, we’re dragged into something that we didn’t want. So, think, how in the world did the assassination of Archduke in 1914 kiln the wood that burned down the whole house of Europe. And that’s incredible.

I studied this when I was a student, a graduate student. We wrote an essay in that and I simply can’t understand it. And I’ve been interested in it since. I have a good chapter on my book on it. And the conclusion is, I don’t know how this could end. This makes no sense. Everybody lost what he cared about most. But each felt obliged to react to something that somebody else did and one thing led to the other. So, the purpose of the book is not fatalism, not pessimism, but to say extremely dangerous conditions require extremely imaginative and adaptive responses. And I think that’s actually very consistent with what President Nixon was saying.

Jonathan Movroydis: I’m going to this idea of the rising power displacing the established power, and reading your book, you say that China is doing in hours what the United States takes years to do. Can you illustrate the magnitude of what China is capable of accomplishing today?

Graham Allison: So that for those of you who have been watching the China story, interestingly enough, did not include former President Nixon, who up until the end of life watched China every day. I’ll even say something about that just in a second because, as usual, he was very, very, you know, thoughtful about what was happening. So, if you haven’t been watching, you should read the first chapter of the book, which is called “The Rise of China.” 

Never before has a country risen so far, so fast in so many different images. So, basically, it’s stunning. Just over the past 25 years, a country that was nowhere, and if you take quote from Nixon, in 1971, China had a lot of people and they were all poor. They were really a serious player anywhere. His proposition was if they ever get their act together, this was gonna be impressive because they’re extremely talented people. But they generally had governments that messed them up. 

So, in any case, in the period since the opening to China, that jump ahead, just the last 25 years, just the last the 25 years, China came from nowhere to revival the U.S. and even to surpass us in many domains. I have a quiz I give to my students at Harvard, it has 46 indicators, and the title of the chart is called When Did China Become Number One? So, largest middle class, largest number of billionaires, largest trading company, biggest producer of smartphones, the fastest supercomputers, largest national economy, take one down the list, 46. In the book, I have a little short version of that list. And students have to write in the answer, 2030, 2040, not in my lifetime.

Then I gave them the second chart with the title of the chart, Already All of These 46 Things Have Already Happened. Today, there’s more billionaires in China than there is in the U.S. Today, China has, in to the contest, which is held every year for supercomputers, China won four to the top five places last year. They didn’t even enter the contest 10 years ago. So, basically, today, China has the largest national economy. Again, not all Americans know this. But if you go to the IMF website, work on the CIA website, and look at the yardstick, they both agree as single best yardstick for comparing national economy, China’s economy in 2014 became the bigger than the American economy. Why didn’t anybody tell us? Well, since we haven’t been watching lately. 

So, to your particular question, in the book, I’d give you an illustration. I’m sorry, I didn’t bring the slide, but there’s a bridge at Harvard that cross the Charles River between the Kennedy School and the Business School. Those of you who know Cambridge Bay, would have crossed this. It’s called the Anderson Bridge. I can see it out of my office. But the renovation of this bridge, the discussion of it begin when I was dean. And I quit being dean in 1989. The project began in earnest in 2012. It was a two-year project. In 2014 they said it was not finished, it would take another year, in 2015, they said, “Not yet, there will be one more year,” 2016 they said, “We’re not telling you when it will be finished.” Yeah, that was three times over budget.

In Beijing, there’s a similar bridge. It’s called a Sanyuan Bridge, S-A-N-Y-U-A-N. You can look it up. In 2015, the Chinese decided they want to renovate that bridge. It actually has twice as many traffic lanes as the Anderson Bridge at Harvard. How long did it take for the Chinese to renovate this bridge? Let’s take a guess.

Man: [Inaudible 00:16:42]

Graham Allison: How many years?

Man: Twenty.

Graham Allison: Twenty, okay.

Man: One.

Graham Allison: One? What else? Answer, 43 hours. Excuse me, 43 hours. You go to YouTube and look it up. Sanyuan Bridge or 43-hour bridge, you’ll see the video of it that speed it up, 43 hours. Now, I know, that’s in Cambridge. Well, I’m in California, for example, you have the only high-speed rail project that the U.S. has been constructing for 10 years. When was that gonna be finished? How long is it?  Five hundred miles, so, you know LA to San Francisco. When was it to be finished? Twenty seventeen. I think it’s 2017 already. The announcement was recent that it was gonna be 2029. And I have some friends who say they don’t think they’re gonna see it in their lifetime.

In the same 10 years, we’ve been building these 500 miles. How many miles high-speed rail does China laid that’s operating today? Yes? Sixteen thousand. You can get on their high-speed rail in Beijing and be in Shanghai 1 hour and 45 minutes. And before the California 500 miles is finished, how many more miles of high-speed rail in China it would be? My bet, if it takes 10 years, another 16,000, maybe more.

So, basically, if you haven’t been looking at China, you should look at it and be astonished. And if you haven’t seen China in your face and in your space, either you haven’t been looking or just wait.

Jonathan Movroydis: Going to how that economic growth translates into military capacity. In your book, you make reference to a chart from the RAND Corporation. In every conceivable way about 20 years ago, the U.S. had military superiority. Today, that, when you get closer to the China mainland, you see greater parity between U.S. and China forces, even some advantage to China. With that said, the United States still has, we still have air superiority in terms of technology, we have a ratio of 20 to 1 in terms of aircraft carriers. What does China’s economic advancement…does it translate to military parity or even military superiority in the future?

Graham Allison: Okay. It’s a very good question. I was over at RAND yesterday, wrestling with people about this and related issues. So, in the book, I have illustration of a seesaw as a very simplistic illustration of what happened economically in which this is something I have to use as a cartoon for the Senate Armed Services Committee back from 2014. This just let them see what was happening economically. 

In 2004, which most of us here can remember, China’s GDP was 20% the size of U.S. So, I represent this with on a seesaw with the U.S. in one end, the size of whatever GDP, and China on the other. By 2014, this seesaw has lifted to the point that we’re roughly equal. China’s little bit bigger. And by 2024, on the current thin line, China would be 40% larger GDP than the U.S. So, the purpose of this was the Senate Armed Services Committee was trying to put in context, the debate and discussion about the big initiative of the Obama administration in Asia, which was called… What? Remember? The Pivot or sometimes called the Rebounds.

And what was that about? It was an argument that said we are putting too much of our weight around left foot, in the Middle East, fighting wars. When the future is in Asia. So, we should lighten up on the left foot so we can put more weight on our right foot. Makes good sense. But I said, we weren’t noticing that while this debate has been going, the seesaw is just being lifting both feet off the ground.

So, basically, economics in not everything. But it’s the substructure of power in most dimensions. As China’s economic strength has grown, it’s defense spending is actually grown faster than its economy. So, whereas, if you go back to 2004 or if you go back to 1996, in the Clinton administration, when I was in the Pentagon, China wanted to intimidate Taiwan because there was a movement for…towards the independence in Taiwan. So, they conducted a missile test, they called it, essentially, bracketing Taiwan to intimidate. The he Clinton administration, President Clinton decided this is unacceptable and we moved two aircraft carriers up into the zone to force China to back down. And the Chinese military found this hugely humiliating because they had to back down.

They then began a very determined spending program to force our carriers out of that zone. So, there’s something in naval terms called the first island chain, you look at the water from the Chinese border out the first island chain goes from Japan right around to the Philippines. So, now, they have missiles, very good missiles on that land that can attack and kill American carriers. So, the U.S. Navy carriers have now moved out beyond the first island chain. In deed, but so far, out from China that the aircraft on the American carriers cannot fly to attack the Chinese mainland. So basically, what the military balance about in the region is been about pushing the U.S. back from their borders, from their adjacent seas, and back in the first instance behind the first island chain. 

At the meeting last week…no, this week, in Beijing, between Xi and President Trump, at one point, President Xi said, you know, “We think the Pacific is big enough for both of us.” It’s a good line. Where do you think he thinks the dividing line should be? And I think he thinks maybe Hawaii for now. Okay. So, we’re not challenging your claim to Hawaii. And so, you can have Hawaii to California, but the space on this side is where we want to become predominant. Then I think their true objective, and I think that’s actually what’s happening in the world and in the sea.

Jonathan Movroydis: As you mentioned earlier, you illustrate several case studies and above from the Peloponnesian War to World War II to the Franco-Prussian War in which war might have been inevitable or not have been inevitable. Can you give a case study on how two powers escape the Thucydides’s Trap?

Graham Allison: Okay. Good question. So, let me just be clear to reformulate the question just a little bit. So, inevitable, which is a word that Thucydides uses and which then replayed too often. I disagree with it completely. In fact, I give it account in the book where I believe Thucydides is basically misinterpreted on this point. He does have this famous line, often quoted, that I quote in the book, in which he says, I quote, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made the war inevitable.”

But if you read it in context, and you read the whole book in Greek language in which it was written, he doesn’t mean inevitable 100%. He means very likely. It’s like if you would say… You know, I’m accused of crime and I go before the judge and I say, “He made me do it.” And the answer is he created conditions in which you thought you had to do it, but you exercised some choice. So, there’s always the structure and then the agency. And Thucydides is not about denying agency. He believes that the choices that people made have consequences and they could have made different choices. So, it’s not “inevitable” in the sense like 100%, it’s like under these conditions, my options have narrowed, but I have the more difficult choices. So, both in the cases of the 16 cases, the 12 that lead to war, human beings made decisions that had consequences and they could’ve made different decisions. But in the Thucydidean dynamic, they find themselves pulled in race so they’re at risk of making mistaken choices.

So, if I take a case that lead to war, World War I, and contrast that with a case that was successfully navigated, the Cold War, which is called war, but counts in my list as no war, since it was competition in every dimension, except bombs and bullets killing each other directly, massacre. So, in 1914, just to remind you, Archduke is assassinated visiting Sarajevo by a Serbian terrorist. Honestly, you know, you can make this up in a movie script. Okay. So, Archduke is the successor to the throne in Vienna, which is the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. So, his father, the emperor, thinks, “Well, we have to punish the Serbs for doing this,” which is appropriate and everybody agree. And he begins to punish them.

The Russians fear that the Austrians are gonna overdo it. So, they’re gonna be too mean, too brutal to the Serbians, who are Orthodox, as are the Russians. So, the Czar is supporting the Serbs. The Kaiser in Germany has only won a lot, the Emperor in Vienna, so he supports him. The French has a military alliance with the Russian. The English have become entangled with the French. So, one thing leads to the other and pretty soon everybody is at war. 

At the end of the war, what does happen? Every one of the leaders is gone. And every one of the leaders’ ambition have been destroyed. So, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, out. Empire, dissolved, finished. The Russian Czar, he’d been overthrown by the Bolsheviks. His own regime is gone. Kaiser, out. France, [inaudible 00:29:12] it’s youth for a whole generation, society never recovers as a great player. And Britain, which has been a creditor for a hundred years, has turned into a debtor and on it’s slow slide for decline. 

So, if you’d given people for a do over, nobody would have chosen the way they did. But they did, and it happened. So, that’s a bad news story. So, what happens is, dynamic, rising versus ruling and not that one or the other decide, “This is a good time for war.” But some third-party action or provocation leads somebody to think they have to do something. When somebody else feels they have to do something, and one thing leads to the other. 

Now, take an alternative, a success story. In the Cold War, many people thought, “Well, the Soviet Union is rising. It’s gonna rival the U.S., maybe overshadow the U.S. We need to get to war with the Soviet Union.” And then, people think, “Wait a minute. That’s a crazy idea, especially after the Soviets came to have a nuclear arsenal. This seems insane.” So that’s on the one hand. 

We created great Cold War strategy. I have a good chapter about that in the book that’s worth of people remembering. This was for the remarkable achievements ever in the story of statecraft, for any country, and especially for the U.S. But 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis, this is agreed by historian to have been the most dangerous episode ever in recorded history. In that episode, Jonathan Movroydis Kennedy took what he thought was a one and three chance of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, that would have killed a hundred million people at that time, to prevent the Soviets placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. There was this 13-day intense confrontation.

Then there was a lot of care and adaptability. I write about that in another book, though I have a little bit of that in this book. You’d have to look to see. But in any case, once that people got focused, and especially Kennedy and Khrushchev, they managed to maneuver in a situation that would have been likely to have dragged them to war, if they hadn’t been exercising extreme imagination and extreme adaptability. So, I think that’s a good illustration of where… And then after having lived through this, you know, almost falling off the brink, the two of them decided, “We better constrain the competition in the Cold War.” And the Cold War became to be more regularized in a way that then President Nixon actually participated in creating a set of arms control arrangements that constrained things even further.

So, I think we should remember that in both of these cases, it’s not that the rising power decides, “I’m big enough. I should fight you know.” Or you’re thinking, “He’s getting so big. I better fight him now because he might be stronger tomorrow.” It’s that in this dangerous dynamic, some third-party action drags us somewhere where we don’t want to be. And if we were looking, if we were doing central casting…I’ve yesterday with some movie people here in LA, and somebody said, “You know, if we were doing central casting, we could not make up Kim Jong-un and North Korea.” I mean, that’s just, you know, okay, he’s very unavailable. A “little rocket man” as Trump calls him. Yeah.

Jonathan Movroydis: In chapter 5 of your book, you asked your readers to imagine if China were just like us. And if we use the case study of Teddy Roosevelt, you write that he called the westward expansion of the United States, the crowning and greatest achievement of the English-speaking people march to civilization over the world’s waste spaces. In 1890, the U.S. had no battleships, and by 1905, we had 25, and became the world’s leading naval power in just a span of 15 years. And then you continued to say that TR’s ambition didn’t end with the Pacific Coast.

Over a century, on this, China, a rapidly growing nation with expanding military capabilities harbor similar ambitions. What is China’s…what’s their governing philosophy of their foreign policy? And just as a corollary to that question, how does the U.S. view it?

Graham Allison: Okay. So, as usually, you have about three questions you got yourself. Let me part some and then go through it. So, I have a delicious chapter, at least I think, chapter 5 that you referred to, but that many Americans will find uncomfortable. So, I’m warning you.

Teddy Roosevelt is one of my heroes, always been one of my heroes, and but the chapter asked, what if Xi Jinping and his China was just like us? And not just like us as we imagine ourselves to be today, but just like us as we were emerging to claim a century, which Teddy Roosevelt was supremely confident was gonna be the American century, the first American century. So, it’s 1897, Teddy Roosevelt, 37 years old, and he comes to Washington as the number 2 person at the Department of the Navy. In the decade that follows, what happens? 

First, there’s a mysterious explosion in Havana Harbor, in the main, and we take it as occasion to declare war on Spain and liberate Cuba, and take Puerto Rico, and we take Guam as a spoil of war. That’s how the U.S. came to have Guam. Secondly, we support and sponsor a coup in Colombia and create a whole new country. It’s called Panama, which the next day gives us a contract for our canal, which the Colombians wouldn’t give us, so Teddy’s ships can go from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Next, we’ve threatened war, first with Germany and then with Britain, unless they back off of a territorial dispute in Venezuela. And then the piece that I think is the most delicious, we steal the part of the fat tail of Alaska from the Canadians. You have to read about it. So, basically, if look, Alaska is this big chunk of land and then there’s a tail, a fat tail that goes down about 600 miles that cuts Canada off from the sea. And most of that we stole from the Canadians. So, fair and square, as Senator Hayakawa once said about the Panama Canal. 

Okay. So, basically, if China should behave like that, then for sure we’ll have a war. For sure, because we’re not gonna adopt to the justice edgily as the British did under those circumstances, I think. So, what does China want? Again, I have a chapter called What Does Xi’s China, Want. They’re pretty explicit about this. And if you listened last week and the week before, to the 19th Party Congress in Beijing, he laid out in this three and half work plan, a very explicit. So, question, is or Xi and his colleagues, serious about displacing the U.S. as a dominant power in the Western Pacific in the foreseeable future? It’s a good question.

If you read Dr. Kissinger’s book on China, 700 pages, it says, “on the one hand, on the other hand.” It’s complicated. So, I asked the world’s premier China watcher, he is one of my tutors for this book, as well as him, yeah, Kissinger. Now, this is Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew was the founder and builder of Singapore. He took a little corrupt port and he became the head of it. And in one generation, brought it to being one of…a first-world megalopolis. That’s a wonder.

So, what is China’s ambition? They wanna displace the U.S. in Western Asia. I’ll quote in the book. He says, “Of course, why not? Who can imagine otherwise? How could they not aspire to be the dominant power in Asia in the foreseeable future? And in time, maybe beyond that.” So, I then, “Will they succeed?” I go through the list of questions here but I… Are they serious about the notion that China, which in their view and their history, and this is roughly right, they exaggerate, but still, their history is China was the dominant power in the world for 4,000 or 5,000 years, way before anybody thought of America.

We use to dominate everything we could see. And everybody else related to us, the Chinese, as satellites to sun. We’re the sun, everybody revolves around us, or as tributaries to the emperor. So the relationship between China and everybody else is defined by kowtow, which is you bow to me because I’m the big guy. That’s it. And that’s the way we relate to each other.

So they think, in their story, and I think this is roughly right, about 200 years ago, some Westerners show up, especially from Europe, with technology. And that became what they call the centuries of humiliation, because we exploited them. Oh, yes, we probably did. Okay. Westerners.

So, what was the Opium War about? Who let this thing in? It’s hard to believe. Okay. It’s a war that the British fought mostly with the Chinese. What was it about? It was about the British right to sell opium to Chinese. That’s a fact. So, they use to call that a Century of Humiliation. And they say, now we’re big and strong, that’s over. You’ve been here for a long time, I understand that, but that was then. Now is now, time for you to go.

So that’s their aspiration. is the U.S. about to leave the Western Pacific? I don’t think so. So, we adapt and adjust in many ways? I hope so. So, I don’t think it’s inevitable that we have to fight about this. But I think under these conditions, it’s quite possible that a third party like North Korea, or a third party like Taiwan, or third party and an accident, unintended event in the South China Sea or the East China Sea, or some action by the Japanese, with respect to their Senkaku Islands, could produce the spark like the assassination of the Archduke, in which one thing leads to the other, and at the end of the day, we find ourselves somewhere where we don’t want to be.

Jonathan Movroydis: Getting back to that incident, in the South China Sea. You illustrate in your book that U.S. and Chinese allied warships are greater proximity than ever before. And that the U.S. Navy regularly sends guided missile destroyers to conduct freedom of navigation operations near the Chinese-controlled islands. You write that a seemingly mundane operation could lead to an incident of grave proportions. Could you explain?

Graham Allison: Well, if you have ships and planes in close proximity every day, which we do, and you have the temptation of the people who, or the captain of these ships, let’s say, to engage in what they call, shouldering in the both the U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy do this. So shouldering mean is you’re coming on this path, so I come on a path that will collide with you unless you move over a little bit. And then, the question is, we get closer and closer, which one of us is gonna swerve a little bit? And if we fail to swerve, we crash. We should remember that at the beginning of the Bush administration in 2001, a Chinese fighter aircraft crashed into an American spy plane in the C131, and the plane collapsed. So, the likelihood of accidents with military operating in close proximity is quite high. 

The question is then, how does the…what comes in the next step? We would hope that there’s an enough circuit breaker [SP] and they both calm down and quiet down. But I sketch in a book, in the chapter, From Here to War, the ways in which that could escalate to somewhere where you don’t want to be. So, for example, you and I are playing this game. Okay. And I just decide, “Okay. I’m not swerving.” And you decide you’re not swerving. So, the two ships collide. So, a destroyer sinks with several hundred people are killed, the commander of the unit that’s operating there may well respond against the other ships in the zone. The aircraft in the area may come to the rescue with one of the other.

So, you could easily see how one step leads to the other, up the escalation ladder. And I mention in the book that if there were such a local conflict, and especially if it was adjacent to some of the islands that the Chinese has built and militarized, that they feel strongly about, or if it was close to Taiwan, you could get aircraft and even a carrier operating in the zone. If a carrier were destroyed, were sunk, we’re talking about 5,000 or 6,000 Americans that would be killed. So, any president is gonna respond to that in a fairly substantial way.

And then, two great new accelerants in the picture that make it possible to slide up the escalation ladder, our…first satellites and any satellite weaponry, so the U.S. in particular, has asymmetric vulnerability with respect to satellites because we use these big expensive military satellites for everything. They produce our intelligence, so that’s how we know where targets are. They produce our intelligence so we know what’s going on in the region. They produce our ISR, which is our surveillance and reconnaissance, without which we can’t operate our military systems. They are connected in the web to, actually to the offensive systems, and they do our command and control. So, actually, absence of satellites, is pretty hard for the two ships to talk to each other, which we are now practicing using signals, which people use to do before there were electronics. So, you can have the U.S. with no eyes and ears early in the campaign. And certainly, the Chinese were planners, they think about that a lot. And then the question is, well, do you want to keep going forward or do you want to stop now?

Similarly, cyber produces another new accelerant. So, if a Chinese missile on the Chinese homeland will launch and struck an American carrier and sunk it. American SOPs call for attacking whatever offensive capabilities struck us. So, we would then attack the Chinese homeland, wherever these batteries and missiles are. So, now…and we’re away, we’re on the other side of the world.

Well, traditionally, you would say, “Well, it will have to be a local war.” But, what’s the likelihood that the Chinese let us strike their, mainland, and don’t something on our mainland? And, I think the answer’s not very likely. So, what could they do? So, a cyber-attack that basically took down the electrical grid, without electricity, Americans will become pretty unhappy, pretty fast. So, you could see how that… And then, again, you hope that it stops in some point that people say, “Wait a minute. This is an escalation ladder we don’t wanna play. So, we need to stop now.” But it could accelerate into something that will be a full-scale war between the U.S. and China. If that were to happen, God help us.

Jonathan Movroydis: Moving on to the 19th Party Congress recently in the news, President Xi has been reported that he has emerged from that event more powerful than ever, probably they say, he might rule beyond 2020. He said in his speech with the Congress that he envisioned China to be a modern socialist strong power by 2035. What does he mean by that?

Graham Allison: So, good, so for those of you who weren’t watching carefully, and I’m sure and hope that you didn’t try to listen to this three and a half hour workplan speech, which is a mouthful and a was done in the elaborate form of, you know, Chinese ritual. But if you look at it and studied it. It’s very instructive.

So what happened last week and the beginning of this week? Basically, in a word, we saw the… This wasn’t the Xi Jinping being re-elected for a second five-year term as president. I wrote a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” the week before the Party Congress, which I said, “Watch for the coronation of the new 21st century Emperor of China.” So, Xi Jinping is now the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. His thought has been written into the constitution. So, if you’re a Chinese party member, you have to study his thought and take its guidance or else you fight the party and that’ll be bad for you. Okay.

He, very conspicuously, has no plausible successor. So, in the tradition, the standing committee, which is the next group, with which the president shares his power, includes somebody who would be the successor. And he’s trained up over the five years of the second term of the last guy, the way Xi was. This one includes nobody who could take that role. So, the presumption is that Xi’s gonna rule well beyond the end of his next five-year term. So, his next five-year term starts in 2018 and ends in 2023 or 2024, but beyond.

So, he has announced, I think he is very, very confident, and very powerful, and also very ambitious, but also very confident, almost as, I wrote in the book, a Napoleonic-style confidence. So, there’s saying among the politicians, which is, if you wanna survive, never say a target number as an objective and the date in the same sentence. It’s perfectly fine to say, “We’re gonna reduce our carbon emissions by 90%,” but don’t say when. It’s also safe to say, “Something is gonna happen in 2025,” but don’t say what. But don’t put those things in the same sentence. That’s what most politicians, if you listen, you know, if you listen carefully.

He is perfectly prepared to say and he said earlier, “In 2021, the GDP of China will have doubled in the period between 2010 and 2020.” Actually, they have already achieved that objective. He then enunciated that, several months ago, China is called Made in China in 2025. So, by 2025, he identified 10 industries that China’s gonna dominate. So that’s self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing, so all the modern industries, China is not just gonna be participating, but wants to dominate those industries by 2025. By 2035, they wanna be the dominant source of innovation in the world, just as you were saying. And 2049 is the big target, 2049 is 100th anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China, and by then, they wanna be the biggest, strongest country in the world. From that, their work will.

Jonathan Movroydis:
This month, President Trump made a widely-publicized five-nation tour of Asia. And the operative words he used for five-nation tour, he told delegates at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Danang, Vietnam that he had the honor of sharing our vision for a free and open Indo Pacific region. Do you think that the Trump administration has given a clear indication of what their Asia policy will be?

Graham Allison: So, in a word, no. So, basically, this trip was initially about the president showing up in Asia. And this was American trip, 5 countries 10 days, that’s a lot of travel, even if you have Air Force One. And, but the principal objective in this trip was North Korea. So, basically, I don’t know how vividly the members of the audience have been watching this, but by this time next year, if we have the good fortune to meet this time next year, one of three things is gonna have happened. 

One, North Korea, Kim Jong-un, will have completed the set of ICBM tests that he has been conducting and that he was about to complete last month but stopped to pause a little bit. That will give him a credible capability to strike Los Angeles or San Francisco with a nuclear warhead. Let me say it again. A year from today, one possibility of the three is that Kim Jong-un has what CIA will call credible threat to strike Los Angeles with a nuclear weapon. Option two, President Trump will have attacked North Korea to prevent that happening. And option three, there will be a minor miracle. Well, I’m praying for option three.

If I were making my bets, I run a piece, actually, last week in “POLITICO” if you wanna go look it up, in which I would say, the most likely outcome is the first, if Kim Jong-un wins. That’s not a very good world to live in, but as Steve Bannon said when he was doing his exit interview from the White House, “If you look at the realities by the time Trump got there, he’s goners.” Now, there’s logic in there. But option two, I think, is the next most likely, and I would make it at least 25%, 20% or 25%, because President Trump has said he is not gonna let Kim Jong-un have a capability to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons, this is crazy. And it makes no sense. 

So, he told Xi Jinping, first at Mar-a-Lago, when he met him, when he invited him for the first meeting in April and now, last week, when they’ve met. He said, “I’m telling you, and I told you as clearly as I could, you can stop this guy. And you have to stop this guy, because if you don’t stop this guy, I will stop him. And you’re not going to like the way I do it.” Actually, at Mar-a-Lago he didn’t serve him chocolate cake with their opening dinner. He said, “I’m gonna go next door for a second.”  He went to the room next door and announced that the U.S. was just launching cruise missiles against Syria. Just to kinda make the point, so if you have an idea on how could we do this.

So, the purpose and point of this whole trip and the really centerpiece was North Korea and trying to get the other pieces in place, but the dominant piece being Xi. And getting Xi to attack to stop Kim Jong-un. Xi has always said, “We can’t do this.” And Trump tells him, “You can do this. This is not that hard.” And, actually, he said to him, if you watch the language Trump used, he’s very interesting, he said, he started off and he said, “You are an extraordinary individual.” And that’s showing great respect. And then he said to him, “You are a strong man.” And then he said, “This is not hard to stop this guy. This is easy.” And then he said, “This fellow, I know him, President Xi, when he puts his mind on something and works on it, he solves the problem.” So, he has set him up there.

Xi says, whenever he is talking in public, he says, “I can’t solve this problem. Nobody has solved this problem for all these years, now you’re coming to me?” And I think that’s the Chinese position that they’ve taken. But in fact, I believe, I think he’s right about this, if Xi squeezes the oil lifeline that Kim Jong-un is dependent upon, he’ll get his attention. And maybe can cause him to stop, for now, not forever, to start with, but how about for a year. No, ICBM test for year. No nuclear test for a year. That’s my minor miracle. That’s not the end of the story, it’s not to solve everything, it only is for a year, to start with.

But if we we’re able to this for a year, to start with, and especially if trump and Xi had done this together, and then they all think of, “Maybe if they did a minor miracle or helped produce a minor miracle, they can do more things. So that would be my…of the three options, I think that’s the least likely, but I think that’s the most, that I can hope for here.

Man: May I add?

Graham Allison: Sure.

Man: Sorry to interrupt.

Graham Allison: Go ahead. Please.

Man: I came here to ask this question.

Graham Allison: Please.

Man: Why did he do it? Do you think, and I agree with everything you said about Trump having set this meeting up with those five leaders, I think Xi is going to be his fall guy. And I think that will be [inaudible 00:58:06] if he doesn’t act according to what’s required. Because this is…my point is, I think Trump… Would Trump say, “Look.” Will he use the law [inaudible 00:58:15] of that position if you will clean up this mess in North Korea?

Graham Allison: So, in the piece that I wrote in “POLITICO,” which you should all please just download and so you can read it, I talk about the minor miracle, as I call them. So, the minor miracle would be that in their private meeting, all the public ceremonies for the trip were fine, everything worked fine. But that’s the, you know, ceremonies, and pomp and ceremony and words, that’s just show. Behind the scenes, people will do business or they don’t do business. And since it’s behind the scenes, you and I don’t know what happened, so I have no idea what they did when they were meeting in private. 

But if I were hoping, in private, they sat down and they said, “Look. This jerk who neither of us like.” Xi Jinping calls Kim Jong-un “little fatty.” He does not care about this guy at all, at all. If he could strangle him, he would. Okay So, they say, “This is guy is gonna pull us from where we don’t want to go. He can have you and me in a war. This will be insane.

So, let us figure out what can do.” Okay. So, I then, you think, “What can you do?” “I don’t know.” What can you do?” “I don’t know.” “Here, I got an idea. Let’s each pick one or two people that we trust.” So, I pick, I’m Trump, I say, “Here’s Mattis and somebody else. And you pick two people, tell them go off in a corner of the room, three days, two days, not more, they have to come back with three solutions. Each one of those we’re not gonna like, as they’re gonna involve me having to do something I don’t want to do. And you having to do something that you don’t want to do. But that’s okay. They only have to be better than what we now have. They don’t have to be good, just better.”

So, one of those options, would come back and I would say, “Look, Xi, if you can fix this. We’re gonna do this.” What could that involve? Well, could we adjust have military exercises we do in Korea?” The Pentagon says, “No, we can’t possibly do that.” “Of course, we can.” “Can we adjust the arms sale we make for Taiwan?” “No, if we do that because of…” “Of course, we can.” “Can we be more aggressive or less aggressive on what’s happening in the South China Sea?” “No, we’re not gonna let our Navy be determined by whatever the Chinese…” “Of course, we can.”

Now all of those involve compromises. And we would be criticized. None of these are things that we would otherwise, but they may be things that we do if we were forced to try to think about, what are better options than the one we’re watching to play out? So, I would say yes.

Jonathan Movroydis: Final question we’ll get to… We’ll get to your questions. You talked a little about President Xi and President Trump. And you couldn’t have asked for a better a story from central casting. You also actually say that in your book. You make a couple of points in your book, you say that both Trump and Xi are driven by common ambition for their countries. They identified the nation ruled by the other as an obstacle to their dream. They take pride in their own leadership capabilities. They see themselves in the central role revitalizing their nation. They have announced daunting domestic agendas with radical changes. They fired up a populous national support and to drain the swamp of corruption in the country. What do you think the relationship holds in store for both these gentlemen?

Graham Allison: Okay. That’s a good question. So, this book was five years in the making. Thucydides did not have come for Xi Jinping and Mao. So that the story line of this book ends up analysis is not about Trump or Xi. This is about something fundamental that’s happening in the real world, independent of both. If this so happens, that now we have Xi as the leader of the rising power and Trump as the leader of ruling power. I think, again, if Thucydides was here, he would say, “This is exactly what I would expect. They both look like people that we might have chosen to play their roles, especially if things were gonna go bad, especially is things were gonna go bad.” 

Xi is a, I would say, the most remarkable leader on the international stage today. He’s established himself as the unipolar leader of China. They used to have a collective leadership, he’s taken everything into his own hands. Chinese say, “You know, you talk about CEOs. When we have the COE. COE is the chief of everything.” Every line runs to Xi. He now has consolidated his position. As I say, virtually, as the new emperor. And long before Trump talked about making America great again, in 2012, when Xi became president, he unfolds his banner for China. It’s called colloquially, make China great again. It’s called the great rejuvenation of the great Chinese people, that’s the words.

So, and it is the case that they could each see each other as the obstacle or their other’s country is the obstacle to achieving what they want. Chinese see us in their face. If you look at Trump’s campaign, China was the villain. So, now comes North Korea. I’d say to Trump’s credit, he at least has got it that something terrible is gonna happen in the next year on the North Korean shore. I mean, none of the outcomes is gonna be a good outcome, but two of them are gonna be very bad. One is we’re gonna attack him. And then he’s probably gonna attack Seoul. And then, we’ll probably gonna have a second Korean War. And Secretary Mattis has testified three times, each time before Congress. He says, “This war will be catastrophic.” Don’t think of this like the Iraqi war or something like that. Think of tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans getting killed in such a war. That’s what we’re talking about.

So, in the first Korean War, tens and thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Chinese, and millions of Koreans were killed. So, that’s what happened in 1950. And most of the Chinese were killed by Americans, and most of the Americans were killed by Chinese. So, we already had a war once before. So, there won’t be any other illusions, this is gonna be a terrible, terrible outcome. 

Is it better than having Kim Jon-un with nuclear weapons that he can deliver against San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in time, against Washington? So damned if you, damned if you don’t. These are two very bad outcomes. I think most of us will choose not war because war is so horrific, but we shouldn’t have any illusions about the first option. It’s not a very good option either. Which is why, again, the third option of China and U.S. working together somehow is the crucial one. Is it possible? 

Both of these folks have been historically underestimated. Xi Jinping rose quietly, in effect, in disguise. He was chosen to be president of China by a group. He thought he was just gonna be the spokesman for the standing committee. And lo and behold, pretty soon he had taken control of everything. 

Trump is the wildest wild card that we’ve seen in as an American president, at least in the recent event. But I think he’s frequently underestimated for the fact that… Look, this guy did beat Hillary Clinton. And before that, he beat all of the Republicans stalwarts to get the nominations. And before that, he created and manned an extremely successful reality TV show, which is, I’m sorry, that’s a very competitive business. Ask Arnold Schwarzenegger. He inherited the program for him, he is a great actor, politician, and he couldn’t make it work. So, again, I’m just…whether being a reality TV star and producer is good training for being president, that’s another subject, but this is a person that has got some savvy and wild, that he’s not generally, I think…they’re not generally appreciated. So, and he want to do a great job as president. He wants to make America great.

So, a war with China is not the way to do that, you can be sure. [Inaudible 01:08:11] and certainly Mattis, and McMaster, who’s the national security adviser tell him, “Mr. President, war would be catastrophic.” So, could he become inventive? You know, maybe. So, I would say, I’m still in the hopeful camp, even though I appreciate that that’s not the most likely.

Jonathan Movroydis: Graham Allison has agreed to answer some of your questions.

Graham Allison: Or to try it.

Jonathan Movroydis: First question right here.

Man: Great. Do you think that the Chinese president has the power to control the Koreans if he felt it was in his best interest?

Graham Allison: So, the answer, again, is yes and no. Let me then be specific. So, can he simply tell the North Koreans or Kim Jong-un, “do this, do that,” and they’ll do it? No. Is the relationship between the two extremely strained? Yes. No love lost by either of them. As I say, Xi called him “little fatty.” These two people have never spoken in five years. No person from Xi has gone and seen Kim Jong-n. He sent three or four emissaries and when they get there, he didn’t see them. Kim Jong-un has tried to visit China, which is, you know, he knows China is bigger than he is and is the big guy. He tried to visit there two or three times. Each time, they haven’t let him come. So, this is a stressed relationship. On the one hand… So, it’s not kinda like I just give you a command and then you do something. 

But on the other hand. If the oil that comes from North Korea to Pyongyang in this one oil pipeline is reduced, 90% of all the oil comes from there. The oils run their planes, their tanks, their trucks, their cars, their industry, everything. So, this will get their attention. Once before, in 2006, the Chinese that “interruption,” they called it. It was a technical thing, they said. But it was at a very critical moment for 36 hours where the oil, they said there was a problem and there’s not… Kim Jong-un’s father jumped to attention. he came very agreeable.

So, I think, yes, that if they were determined to do this, they could get him to stop testing, like, something limited. Now, if you said, “How about can he get him to eliminate all of his nuclear weapons?” I don’t think so. That could be a real mistake. I don’t think so. If I were Kim Jong-un’s adviser, I would say, “Don’t even think about it.” You can talk, talk, talk and say, “Maybe in the long run,” and whatever, whatever. But we’re gonna be dealing with this. This is a hard and complicated problem for a long time to come. But I still think, the difference between the North Korea that does not have the capability to strike the American homeland with nuclear weapons, and the one that does, is a difference worth working very hard to achieve.

Jonathan Movroydis: Next question. Front row? Over here.

Man: About six, eight years ago, I was in a meeting such as this, and Tony Blair was the speaker. And he spoke about 45 minutes about world affairs. He was not prime minister at that time. And then the Q & A came and he had…and the question, the very first question, he had not mentioned China in his entire talk, and the first question came up, “What about China?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know if I should worry about them a little bit or if I should worry about them a lot.” What do you think the prime minister would say today?

Graham Allison: I would say his question has been answered. I’ll even give you a Nixon line, which I have in the book. So, President Nixon was the crucial actor in the opening to China. Kissinger was his…Kissinger, one of my mentors, was his closest associate and Kissinger did most of the operational work, but the impulse came from Nixon. It was in an article even before he became president. So, excuse me, he had this idea for a long time. He explained the reasons why, I think he is also correct, that was crucial in, ultimately, the defeat of the “evil empire” in the Cold War, absolutely.

But after the end of the Cold War, after the Soviet Union disappeared, the U.S. just continued trying to build a bigger, stronger China. So, Nixon, the last year of his life, had his colleague, friend and speechwriter, Bill Safire, to come talk to him. And he said, “Safire, do you think maybe we created a Frankenstein in China?” So, he was already thinking, “Hey, wait a minute, these guys are gonna be big and strong. And, yes, we would like to have been nice to them when they were…” Look and see how big and strong they are. And look and see what they want to do and this is gonna be compatible with our vision. I would say, this is a good question.

Man: Thank you very much. I have a question. As you’re introducing your book that the Thucydides’s Trap have created the structural threat between the U.S. and China. And my question is that, how much of this structural threat do you think comes from the fact that China is catching up? And how much of them are just like miscommunication, misconceptions, between the two powers as you argued at the end of your book? And as the ideological difference also play a role in this? Thank you much.

Graham Allison: Thank you, very good question. So, Thucydides’s proposition is about the structural realities. And I think the structural realities in this case are the dominant story line. So, basically, it is the case that China is getting bigger and stronger relative to the U.S. It is the case whenever anybody perceive or doesn’t perceive the seesaw is shifting. And it is the case that China is building up its military capabilities to be able to push the American navy and the American military forces back from its borders, just in a very normal fashion. 

And it is the case that the Americans believe, I believe, that the order that the U.S. created in Asia in the aftermath of World War II, both the economic and the security order, was the best thing that ever happened to Asia in all of its history. So, that created the environment for all of the Asian miracles. And nobody benefited more from this than China. So, I’ve given speeches when I was in the government to Chinese and Korean, in fact, I say, “Wait. You folks should be appreciative of this. You would not have grown up to be big and strong but for what we did in providing this order. And actually, you should have supported, you should’ve helped pay for it.”

And Chinese say, “Well, even if I agreed with you,” and I think this serious Chinese understands that. He says, “It’s true. The U.S. did create this order. This order has been the best thing for Asia in all of its history in terms of people’s economic growth and their freedom.” But Chinese say, “Well, okay. Thank you very much. That was the end. Now is now We’re here now. So, butt out.” So, I would say that’s the structural reality now.

Secondly, Thucydides would say, in these conditions, where I know I know what you’re really about is trying to displace me. And you know that what I’m really about is trying to constrain you. Misperceptions, magnify, multiply. So then, even when you’re trying to be helpful, I suspect that you have an ulterior motive so I don’t really believe it. And when I’m trying to be helpful, you don’t really believe it. So, that, if you imagine the conversation between Xi and Trump, or between their advisors, do they believe what each other is saying? Do they believe what each other is suggesting?

I was in Beijing about eight weeks ago as in China since Xi Jinping talks about Thucydides’s Trap a lot, all of the policy community is a buzz with the topic. And I’m talking to a Chinese security official that I’ve known for a long time, and he says, “You know, to tell the truth, there would be no problem on the Korean Peninsula, except that you’re there.” I say, “That’s right. Kim Jong-un is the problem?”

He said, “No. Look at it. If the Americans were not there, this problem would not exist.” So, I said, “Tell me how do you make this out? He says, “If you weren’t there, there would be a unified Korea. And it would have a government that would be a tributary of ours. And we would not let them to have nuclear weapons any more than we will let Vietnam or Myanmar or some of the others. Of course, we would not let somebody have nuclear weapons, in our state, in our territory. So, you’re the problem.”

So, I said, “Well, thank you. I appreciate that view. But let me tell you my story. Hear me. My story is we didn’t volunteer to be in Korea. Your ally North Korea to attack South Korea in the 1950. We came to the rescue at the last minute. They almost captured the whole peninsula. We pushed North Koreans right up back to the peninsula, maybe we were a little exuberant and so we went across the 38th Parallel. We were punching your border, you came and attacked us. That was a tragedy. But we end up having to settle at the armistice, at the back of the 38th Parallel. But look and see what happened the last 60 years? Our guy is one of the wonders of the world. And your guy is one of the armpits of the world. So South Ko

rea is one of the most successful countries in the last 60 years. And so, market economy, it’s the 13th largest economy in the world. It’s a vibrant democracy. We’re very proud of South Korea. And North Korea is a good example of what happens in the communist totalitarian, you know, nuthouse.”

And he said, “Well, that’s the problem.”

Jonathan Movroydis: Any questions?

Man: I do. You talked about the inevitability of things that continue business as usual. So, what is not doing business as usual? What should we do different?

Jonathan Movroydis: Good question, very good question. So, I was testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the…it was Tuesday or Wednesday. And I said, felt the book and, I said. “This book would be very frustrating for Washingtonians, especially. Because in Washington, the day the template says you have to propose a solution in the same sentence in which you identify the problem.” and I said, “In my view, that’s one of our problems.”

So, this book is about diagnosis. Let’s get the facts of the situation or the analysis of the situation and face the structural conditions right. That’s the primary and overall writing objective here, not to propose a solution. In fact, and then in the conclusion I say, “I don’t think there’s a fix for this problem or there’s a “new strategy” that if just did this and did that, the problem goes right. I think we should think of this like a condition, like a chronic condition that you’re gonna have to cope with for a generation.” 

So, but then in the final chapter I say, “But, any case, therefore, what is your question?” And I say, “Extreme conditions of danger require extreme responses, including in particular, extreme imagination and extreme adaptability.”  And I hope that we can learn the lessons from both the failures and the successes to stimulate that process. So, I have the next to the last chapter called Twelve Clues for Peace that were extracted from the successes as well as the failures.

But just to be very specific, I think what we now need is a real burst of strategic imagination in addressing the problem. And I’m hoping that the book will contribute to that process. In which, we’ll start thinking of things way beyond the orthodox solution that we’ve been accustomed to with China, way beyond the box, in fact. And we should think of things far to the left of anything that’s currently in the public debate and far to the right of anything. So, I actually sketch a little spectrum and say, “Here’s something that will scare you to death on the left, and here’s something that’s gonna scare you to death on the right, and I’m not recommending either one of those, because I don’t know what the answer is. But I think, we should be thinking that far out, not just the one that we’ve been doing.

And if this didn’t seem to, “Oh, my God, that’s too hard.” We can’t do that. I’ll remind that this is exactly what we did in creating the Cold War strategy and that was one of the great, great moments of statecraft ever of any battle, certainly of us, but in any battle historically. So, just remind you with a footnote, April of 1946, so this is just one year after the end of World War II, George Kennedy, who was the ambassador in Moscow writes back something that historians know as the so called “long telegram.” And this is a brilliant piece of analysis that says, the Soviet Union will now pose a larger existential threat to America, the U.S. Then the Nazis did. This is April of 1946.

So, Truman reads this and he says, “This person must be ought of his mind. We just got through World War II. We just defeated the Nazis and the Japanese. We’re exhausted. We’re bringing the troops home.
We’ve stretched ourselves further than we can stretch ourselves. We’re even gonna try to have healthcare and then try to get well at home. So, don’t ever tell me about this kind of stuff. Go away,”

But this started a conversation. And within four years, we’d invented the most amazing strategy ever imagined. So, we have built the IMF and the World Bank and the global trading system with GATT, the global economic order. Truman had the Marshall Plan in 1947. Imagine somebody giving a speech, two years after the war, “I got another good idea. Why don’t tax people for 1.5% of our whole GDP per year for three years and send it to these Europeans including Germans who were just killing us.” You’re crazy, nobody is gonna do this. NATO, we created an alliance, George Washington tell us, “Stay away from alliances, they’ll get you in trouble.” An Article 5 of NATO says an attack on one is an attack on all.

We build the American military, the standing military, where before, you know, we had wars and then we went away then we come back. Basically…and there’s a political dimension. The whole thing was really…if anybody had proposed the whole Cold War strategy that emerges by 1950, so it’s a 3- or 4-year conversation that we get there in 1947, they would be put in an asylum. Okay. You’d say, “That’s completely crazy.”

So, I should say, now, we should hope, as a society, especially for the younger people here. This is a conversation that younger people are gonna make real contributions to because we should start thinking about things that are, at first blush, seem slightly crazy. That’s okay. They may not… You know, we can debate them, we can discuss them, we’re not gonna do anything, you know, quickly. So, I think the task is really for a surge of imagination.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you, Graham Allison for the fascinating talk. Please give Graham Allison a round of applause. As I said earlier, Graham Allison will be available in the lobby to sign your copy of “Destined for War.” You can pick them up in the museum store. Thank you again.

Graham Allison: I hope you read it and like it. Thank you.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you.

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55 Years Ago — “The Last Press Conference” Tue, 14 Nov 2017 21:52:16 +0000 6 November 1962: Vice President Nixon gives his concession following his loss to Edmund “Pat” Brown in the 1962 California Gubernatorial race. He admonished the press in attendance for their disproportionate negative coverage of his campaign, and that this was his “last press conference.” (Richard Nixon Foundation) By Jason Schwartz After losing the presidency to […]

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6 November 1962: Vice President Nixon gives his concession following his loss to Edmund “Pat” Brown in the 1962 California Gubernatorial race. He admonished the press in attendance for their disproportionate negative coverage of his campaign, and that this was his “last press conference.” (Richard Nixon Foundation)

By Jason Schwartz

After losing the presidency to John F. Kennedy in 1960, the rising political star of Richard Nixon seemed to fell into a state of limbo. Already having served in a variety of capacities in Washington, he finally decided to challenge incumbent California Democrat Pat Brown for his gubernatorial seat in 1962. Brown’s strong victory in 1958 and sustained popularity throughout his first term would make it difficult to construct a victory on Election Day. Trying to campaign on substantive issues, the press became increasingly attached to Nixon’s political past. The 1962 California campaign was the worst he had endured during his nearly two decade political career. “Every press conference brought questions about the personal attacks being made against me–I must have answered the question about the Hughes loan at least a hundred times,” Nixon would thereafter lament. “Reporters never tired of asking if I had repudiated the John Birch Society, or of having me reiterate my refusal to support Rousselot and Hiestand. There was no morning, afternoon, or evening that I did not deny that I was planning to use the governorship as a stepping-stone to a presidential candidacy in 1964.”

A young fan writes a letter of encouragement to President Nixon following his defeat in the 1962 California Gubernatorial race.

The overall campaign had lacked the dynamism of those in the past and Nixon had very little expectation of victory. Awaiting the election results at the Beverly Hilton Hotel through the night of 6 November, the next morning confirmed the worst. Indeed, the defeat had been sound. Following the council of his advisors, Nixon planned to release the text of his congratulatory telegram to Governor-elect Brown and while leaving the concession statement to his Press Secretary Herb Klein. Campaign frustrations combined with consecutive electoral defeats compounded into an especially emotional atmosphere. While embracing the staff who had tirelessly campaigned for him, Nixon caught a glimpse of reporters harassing and interrupting Klein as he struggled to give a statement. The press had not been satisfied. “Where’s Nixon?” they tirelessly demanded. Nixon had always had a special affinity for Klein. “He’s a gentleman in a business where there are damned few gentleman,” he later reminisced. Reaching a boiling point, Nixon headed to the lobby to confront those he believed had wrong him and disrespected his colleague.

Taking the elevator to the first floor Nixon turned and grieved to his accomplices, “Oh hell. It was a pretty good fight. We fought hard. We fought clean…Losing California after losing the Presidency – well, it’s like being bitten by a mosquito after being bitten by a rattlesnake.” There was no prepared statement. Channeling the turmoil of the unfair media treatment he had felt all of political life, what followed was a laundry list of complaints from the coverage of the campaign trail. In Conclusion, he foretold of a possible finality to his career in public service.

I leave you gentlemen now, and you will write it. You will interpret. That’s your right. But as I leave you I want you to know—just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore, because gentlemen, this is my last press conference, and it will be the one in which I have welcomed the opportunity to test wits with you. I have always respected you. I have sometimes disagreed with you. But unlike some people, I’ve never cancelled a subscription to a paper, and also I never will.

I believe in reading what my opponents say, and I hope that what I have said today will at least make television, radio, and the press, first recognize the great responsibility they have to report all the news and, second, recognize that they have a right and responsibility, if they’re against a candidate, give him the shaft, but also recognize if they give him the shaft, put one lonely reporter on the campaign who will report what the candidate says now and then. Thank you, gentleman, and good day.

The transcript of Vice President Nixon’s “last press conference.”

In a predictable fashion, Nixon’s criticism of the media was not well received by those in the crosshairs. Painted as a personal and political disaster, the press jumped at the opportunity to pound the final nail into his professional coffin. “Barring a miracle,” one Time Magazine editorial prophesized, “his political career ended last week.” Airing on the Sunday following the election, ABC ran a half-hour segment titled “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon” – which included a poorly received interview with his adversary Alger Hiss. The aggressive tone covering his defeat turned him from a loser to an injured party in the public eye. Nixon received thousands of letters praising his display of defiance, each one celebrating “someone finally had the guts to tell the press off” he wrote in his memoirs. Spending the subsequent years undergoing a philosophical deepening while refining his political stature, Nixon would engineer one of the greatest political comebacks in American history in 1968. From the depths of defeat he would ascend to the highest office in the nation, becoming the President of the United States.

In an 25 August 1992 memorandum to daughter Julie and son-in-law David Eisenhower, President Nixon reflects on his political comeback.

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Middle East 1973: Setting the Stage for Diplomacy Fri, 10 Nov 2017 20:36:54 +0000 By Jason Schwartz After several weeks of fighting in October 1973 between Israel and the adjacent Arab nations, the Yom Kippur War had reached conditions which threatened further escalation. Each side had respectively been resupplied by their ideological benefactor-with Israel siding with the United States and Arabs with the Soviet Union. While initially facing the […]

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By Jason Schwartz

After several weeks of fighting in October 1973 between Israel and the adjacent Arab nations, the Yom Kippur War had reached conditions which threatened further escalation. Each side had respectively been resupplied by their ideological benefactor-with Israel siding with the United States and Arabs with the Soviet Union. While initially facing the threat of losing territory acquired during the Six Day War 1967 in the initial days of combat, the subsequent fighting allowed Israel to regain and even expand the territory which it controlled. The Arab nations had created a much stronger negotiation position than in past conflicts due to their early strong military showing and united response.

For the Nixon administration, the outcome of the war had to equally account for the need to bolster a longtime ally while also simultaneously taking into account regional aspirations of improved relations with those nations historically hostile to Israel. Taking effect by the adoption of measures largely negotiated by the United States and Soviet Union, UN Security Council Resolutions 338 and 339 prohibited all further military activity. In addition, the resolution mandated a return to the territorial boundaries of 22 October. The American response demanded a calculation of the contrasting but equally important objectives of securing a strong alliance with Israel which also furthered regional stability. Though the Israeli Defense Forces had advanced and carved a path towards Cairo unopposed, the United States used leverage gained through its massive resupply efforts to effectively halt further advancement. Seeing a reasonable negotiation partner in Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, American policymakers wanted to avoid any conclusion that may cause embarrassment or threaten the future legitimacy of Sadat’s rule in the eyes of the Arab world.

In preparation of meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, an NSC memorandum addressed to Henry Kissinger outlined the need to restrain Israel’s military gains against the larger geopolitical picture:

If this war has demonstrated that Israel needs US support and could lead to a US-USSR confrontation, then the US has a right to participate in determining the issues on which it is prepared to confront the USSR for Israel’s sake. Although it must be put delicately, the point must be made that the issue on which we will focus our attention is Israel’s survival and not its expansion. We are prepared to let Israel try to negotiate border changes, but we are not optimistic that Israel will succeed and we are not convinced that territory is the only way to provide security.

The mutual ceasefire would demonstrate an unprecedented level of cooperation between Israel and Egypt. The two exchanged prisoners and allowed for the resupply of essentials to the encircled Egyptian Third Army, with both sides later adopting the full conditions of the UN Resolution 339. Nixon would later visit the region in the last months of his presidency, cementing a new degree of dialogue between the historically hostile nations. The events lead to the 1978 Camp David Accords, returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and creating the Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty – the first to exist between Israel and an Arab state.

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Middle East 1973: Calculating a Careful Response Fri, 10 Nov 2017 19:39:41 +0000 President Nixon arrives in Israel on June 16, 1974. By Jason Schwartz Ripe with political and ideological tension, outstanding disputes between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations once again came to blows on 6 October 1973. The expansion of Israeli controlled territory during the Six-Day War in 1967 had furthered regional animosity. However, the conflict’s […]

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President Nixon arrives in Israel on June 16, 1974.

By Jason Schwartz

Ripe with political and ideological tension, outstanding disputes between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations once again came to blows on 6 October 1973. The expansion of Israeli controlled territory during the Six-Day War in 1967 had furthered regional animosity. However, the conflict’s implications stretched far outside the immediate actors involved. Due to the fragile nature of many of the nation-states, the Middle East had developed into one of the most important ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War. Though the United States intended to sustain a longstanding support for Israel, the Nixon administration had centered their efforts for regional stability by improving relations with typically hostile actors. “While we had to keep the interests of the Israelis uppermost during this conflict in which they were the victims of aggression,” Nixon indicated in his memoirs, “I hoped that we could support them in such a way that we would not force an irreparable break with the Egyptians, the Syrians, and the other Arab nations.”

Understanding this conflict to be deeply rooted in Cold War politics, the Nixon administration treaded lightly before rushing to support Israel with military means. The Soviet Union also had interests in the region to defend. Any American response demanded a calculated weighing of every conceivable Soviet countermeasure. Kissinger’s memorandum to President Nixon immediately following the outbreak of hostility exhibited a careful consideration of the American interests in play. Maintaining the safety of citizens residing within the Middle East and continuing the supply line of petroleum to the United States were critical.

The negotiation of a ceasefire needed to run concurrent to conditions that would allow for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Contemporary circumstances were far different than 1967, as the military capabilities of the Arab nations had since reached equilibrium with those of Israel preventing either side from reaching a decisive victory. It appeared that a stalemate would be reached drawing out the war- as the Arabs sought to reclaim territory that Israel was unwilling to concede. Meeting with various leaders of the Arab world, President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger sought to broker a deal that would lead to further negotiation beyond the immediate conflict– forgoing the immediate gratification that a simple ceasefire would bring. Resolution would finally come at the end of October, with both sides reaching a loose agreement while also avoiding any direct confrontation between the United States and Soviet Union. The finale began what would ultimately become a successful dialogue between Israel and Egypt, leading towards the signing of the 1978 Camp David Accords.

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Rallying the Silent Majority and Articulating a Foreign Policy Vision Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:34:40 +0000 President Nixon with chief-of-staff H.R. Haldeman the day after the president’s November 3, 1969 speech on the Vietnam War. The Oval Office desk was stacked with hundreds of telegrams and letters of support from the general public. By Jason Schwartz The Vietnam War elevated political and civil tension within the United States in ways not […]

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President Nixon with chief-of-staff H.R. Haldeman the day after the president’s November 3, 1969 speech on the Vietnam War. The Oval Office desk was stacked with hundreds of telegrams and letters of support from the general public.

By Jason Schwartz

The Vietnam War elevated political and civil tension within the United States in ways not experienced since the Civil War. Mass demonstrations on city streets and college campuses became more frequent throughout the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, provoking frustrations which eventually influenced wartime policy and disqualifying himself from a second bid for the Oval Office. Giving ample consideration the surrounding discourse, President Richard Nixon was determined to establish decree and maintain a flexible approach in Vietnam unlike his predecessor. “It is becoming more obvious with every passing day,” the Washington Post reported on October 7, “that the men and the movement that broke Lyndon Johnson’s authority in 1968 are out to break Richard Nixon in 1969.” Both at home and abroad, the continuation of unrest demonstrated the need for a defining gesture to distinguish the current Vietnam approach from those applied in the past. Against the backdrop of a 15 October 1969 gathering of 250,000 person demonstration on Washington, Nixon began preparation for a previously announced statement concerning Vietnam scheduled for 3 November.
Determined to outline his desire for peace under terms that satisfied the interests of American geopolitical credibility and maintaining the sovereignty of South Vietnam, the President weighed each and every factor while constructing what would become the “Silent Majority” speech. Members of the White House staff, Cabinet members, and congressional leaders were all consulted. Unlike others that have occupied the Oval Office, Nixon took pride in the active role and continuous involvement throughout the writing process of his major presidential addresses. Taking a long weekend to Camp David, the President worked fourteen hour days in a continual pursuit of perfection – eventually totaling twelve drafts in all. “The baby’s just been born,” Nixon reported to his Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman during an early morning phone call immediately following its completion.

Many defining elements of the Nixon presidency emerged the 3 November 1969 address. Contesting what he believed to be a defiant vocal minority who dominated the Vietnam conversation, he called upon the “Silent Majority” to support staying the course until a favorable peace could be won. Dubbed a “political masterstroke” of language reinvention by Nixon biographer Evan Thomas, the phrase remains in contemporary political vernacular. Exceeding just rhetoric, concrete policy foundations were additionally put into place. Appeasing those concerned with the level of American military entanglement abroad, the President articulated a strategy to bolster regional forces through a process called “Vietnamization.” Through the supply of arms and training, the South Vietnamese could begin to rely on themselves for security in due time. Clarifying comments Nixon made at a 25 July press conference on the island of Guam, the initiative was part of shifting principles of foreign policy which became known as the “Nixon Doctrine.” Indeed, the United States would uphold responsibilities assured through treaties and alliances. Providing a nuclear shield and conventional weapons to deter communist aggression, the United States would no longer supply manpower to resolve local matters.

The public response was enormous. Flooded by tens of thousands of telegrams and letters, the White House struggled to keep pace with the level of incoming correspondence. Striking a nerve with the matter in which he addressed national unrest and the warm, Gallup polls tracked the President’s approval rate at an impressive 68 percent. Such popular support demonstrated a much needed mandate to carry out directives. Achieving its primary objective, Nixon had simultaneously wrestled directive control of the Vietnam War from the opposition and outlined his forward vision for the United States.

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Transcript: The U.S., China, and the Geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula Thu, 09 Nov 2017 18:54:25 +0000 Endgame in Pyongyang: The U.S., China, and the Geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum October 25, 2017 Program Synopsis  •  Video Participants Dr. Bruce W. Bennett is a senior international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation who works primarily on research topics such as strategy, force planning, and counterproliferation within the […]

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Endgame in Pyongyang:
The U.S., China, and the Geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
October 25, 2017

Program Synopsis  •  Video


Dr. Bruce W. Bennett is a senior international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation who works primarily on research topics such as strategy, force planning, and counterproliferation within the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center and the RAND Arroyo Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program.

Bennett’s work applies war gaming, risk management, deterrence-based strategy, competitive strategies, and military simulation and analysis. He specializes in “asymmetric threats” such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and how to counter those threats with new strategies, operational concepts, and technologies. He is an expert in Northeast Asian military issues, having visited the region more than 100 times and written much about Korean security issues. He has also done work on the Persian/Arab Gulf region.

Dr. Marco Milani is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Dornsife College – Korean Studies Institute, University of Southern California. He received his doctoral degree in History and International Relations of Asia with a dissertation on the cooperation between North and South Korea. Previously, he has been visiting research fellow at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies (South Korea) and at the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (Holland), and research fellow at the University of Bologna. He is currently working on a book manuscript based on his research titled, ‘The Evolution of Inter-Korean Cooperation: History, Theory and Practice.’ His research interests include: Inter-Korean relations, History and International Relations of East Asia, Korean Studies and IR Theory.

Dr. Dorothy Solinger is Professor of Politics and Society at the the University of California, Irvine. She is a leading expert on political change and Chinese domestic politics focusing on social and economic policy. She uses a comparative approach to issues such as industrial policy, urban welfare and democratization processes. She teaches courses on Chinese politics, introduction to comparative politics, East Asian politics, regime change in East Asia, and theories of the state. She is the author and editor of several books including, “China’s Transition from Socialism?”, “Contesting Citizenship in Urban China,” and “From Lathes to Looms: China’s Industrial Policy in Comparative Perspective, 1979-1982).


Chris Nordyke: Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Nixon Library, my name is Chris Nordyke, I’m the Nixon Foundation events director. It’s a pleasure to have you all here for this very topical, very fascinating, very interesting subject.

In April 1969, President Nixon was confronted with the first foreign policy crisis of his administration. On the morning of April 15, Nixon’s beside phone began to ring. It was national security advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger. He informed the President that North Korean jets had shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane with 31 one men aboard. Nixon had debated making a strike on North Korean airfields, or continuing with reconnaissance flights with the help of escorts. He opted for the second option because he didn’t want to involve the US in potentially another war in Asia. Nixon would later say that he was dismayed the Pentagon had delayed the order to continue the flights, and was troubled by the response they failed to make. He told Kissinger, “They got away with it this time, but they’ll never get away with it again.”

North Korea was a challenge nearly 50 years ago for the Nixon administration, and it remains one today. Here today to give comment is a distinguished group of experts who shape conversation on U.S. defense, the way we think about China, and the North Korean challenge. Introducing these experts and moderating this discussion is the Richard Nixon Foundation’s director of programming and research, Jonathan Movroydis. Jonathan.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you all for being here. Just as sort of an introductory question. Each of you can answer this. I’ll start with you Dr. Bennett. From each of your perspectives, what challenges do the Kim’s regime nuclear ambitions bring to the current state of U.S.-China relations?

Bruce Bennett: The Kim family regime is looking for nuclear weapons as a means of decoupling South Korea from the United States, and through that achieve U.S. removal of its forces from Korea and U.S. removal from the region. They would like to see the United States not dealing with North Korea, South Korea, or China. They want us out. But in the meantime, they also want to be recognized as a peer of the United States. While their economy is generously referred to as third world; they want to be declared the peer of the United States because Kim Jung-un needs that for internal political purposes. He’s weak, his economy is in bad shape, not growing very much, and growing only because of capitalism in North Korea.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Milani.

Marco Milani: I think that in terms of U.S.-China relations, the main problem regarding North Korea is the fact that the U.S. and China have different interests on the peninsula, so I think that this threat from North Korea can also be considered as an opportunity to cooperate.

Marco Milani: This threat from North Korea can be also considered as an opportunity to cooperate between China and the U.S., but only if the two countries can really cooperate. That means taking into account the different interest of both sides. Because, my opinion, China is very concerned about the possibility of a collapse of the regime. They don’t really like Kim Jong-un, but they really like the North Korean regime that can maintain a sort of stability on the peninsula. Because one big problem is the fact that China fears the possibility of a reunification under South Korean terms, so with the possibility of the U.S. troops move to the border with China.

But I think that China is also very concerned about possible instability from a collapse of the regime. They already have nuclear weapons. Who’s gonna take care of the nuclear weapons if the regime collapse? Who can predict what happens after the collapse of the regime? What will happen? I mean, Chinese troops might go into the country from the north, American from the south, but nobody really knows. So, the collapse of the regime might create a lot of instability on the region. So, I think that the main concerns for China is instability, more than North Korea’s buffer state. So, my opinion is that if China and the U.S. want to do something on this issue, they have to start to really cooperate, then take into account the interest of both sides on the issue.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Solinger?

Dorothy Solinger: Well, it’s a complex situation. In the first place, as Marco just mentioned, the two sides, the U.S. and China, need to cooperate. But underlying that, there’s a lot of animosity on this issue. Because, China, there are a lot of Chinese scholars and political leaders who feel that the U.S. is pushing too hard and causing tensions. Also, blaming the U.S. for the tension, feeling that because of Trump’s remarks and the unpredictability at the top in the U.S., there’s undue tension on the U.S.-China relationship and on North Korea, and that the U.S. is to blame for the situation. And at the same time, most policymakers in the U.S. have refused to think about China’s own national interest, which as you’ve just heard, is stability and a buffer on its north, on the border there.

So, even though they need to cooperate, there’s still tension with each side blaming the other, with Trump blaming China for not acting to control North Korea, which is not really possible, and the U.S. blaming China for not controlling the situation, but China blaming the U.S. for intensifying the tensions. However, within China, there is at least two standpoints. A diminishing standpoint claims that North Korea continues to be somewhat of an asset to China by serving as a buffer and by combining potentially with Russia against the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.

There’s another faction which is growing with time whose members are very frustrated with North Korea and they don’t want to see nuclear weapons, they don’t wanna see force against North Korea. But at the same time, they actually are this more, I guess you’d say, moderate faction, would like to potentially collaborate internationally, even with the U.S. and South Korea, to try to ameliorate all the tension and rhetoric. So, probably with time, there’s going to be more of a movement within China toward a stance that could cooperate more with the U.S. And it’s quite remarkable, the whole range of opinions within China, which maybe I can go into later.

Jonathan Movroydis: Sure. Let’s talk about the challenge at hand, the seriousness of the threat. In the early 1990s, the then leader’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, called together senior military officers and he asked them if they could win a war with the United States. He followed-up asking them, “If we lost, what do we do?” Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, spoke to him, said, “If we lose, I’ll be sure to destroy the earth. What good is the earth without North Korea?” In terms of seriousness of the threat, can we take the Kim regime at its word and how rational is the current leader, Kim Jong-un? I’ll start with you, Dr. Bennett.

Bruce Bennett: A lot of people think that Kim Jong-un is irrational. They call him crazy in cases. I think we’ve learned with his ability to outfox the United States that he tends to be crazy as a fox. He cuts through our red lines and we don’t really do very much. So, he’s been able to accomplish a lot.

This statement that you just said, this is posted in “Pyongyang,” talking with defectors, they say this is a fundamental part of the North Korean philosophy. And note that when he said, “I will be sure to destroy the earth,” he did not exclude China. The Chinese know he is prepared to target them with nuclear weapons. His weapons don’t just fly south, they can also fly west. If you don’t believe that, look at what China is doing now. They have bitterly, bitterly complained about the U.S. THAAD missile defense system put in Korea. They’ve already cost South Korea over $10 billion in economic warfare they’ve been doing against South Korea because of the THAAD system. But there is a lookalike to the THAAD that China has deployed, called the HQ-19. And where have they deployed it? They’ve deployed it on the peninsula in between Pyongyang and Beijing, exactly where you would put it to defend the Chinese capital.

So, the Chinese know that the North Koreans don’t like them. In fact, under Kim Jong-un, he has told his military, even though China is theoretically an ally, he’s told his military, “Don’t you dare do anything with the Chinese, you are forbidden to interact with the Chinese.” So, ally, well, not in any kind of term of ally that we have or that we know. The tensions, they’re substantial, and I think we have to recognize that, indeed, the Chinese are gradually swinging in the direction of “we have to do something.”

Xi Jinping, the leader of China, has recently said on a number of occasions, “I will not allow war or chaos to breakout on the peninsula.” Well, okay, he can’t stop North Korean missile launches, how is he gonna stop war or chaos? And the answer is, it’s called putting Chinese forces into North Korea. I think, in many ways, that was what caused the death, caused Kim Jong-un to kill his older brother in February, because he was worried that sooner or later, the Chinese could take him out and replace him with his brother, and he didn’t want that to happen.

There was no faction for the brother in North Korea. He’d already eliminated all of those people. If you were in the elites and you even knew Kim Jong-nam, the brother, Kim Jong-un started executing all of those people in 2010 when he was declared the successor. There was no faction for the brother in North Korea, was other reasons he took him out.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Milani, how about you, in terms of the seriousness of the threat of North Korea and the rationality of the regime?

Marco Milani: I mean, if you talk about the rationality of the regime, I totally agree with Dr. Bennett. I mean, I think we’re past the point we still think that Kim Jong-un or Kim Jong-il are crazy or was crazy. Just think about, what’s the goal of the regime, the main goal? The main goal right now of the regime is survival. And if we talk about, in security terms, what’s the referent object for this survival? It’s the regime itself. It’s not the North Korean population. Because there is a total overlap in North Korea between the survival of the regime and the survival of North Korea as a state, as an independent state. Because this is part of the whole philosophy, of the Juche philosophy of North Korea. So, the most important thing to protect is to protect the regime, and in particularly, to protect the leader of the regime.

So, what has Kim Jong-un been doing in those years, from like early 2012, when he took power after Kim Jong-il’s death? Two things, consolidate the power inside the country, like with purge, with killing all the possible adversaries, like Jang Song-thaek, for example. And on the other side, try to achieve a strong position on the international environment to protect the country, first of all, but also to be in a stronger position for possible negotiations.

Because North Korea never said that they don’t want to talk with the United States or the international community, but mainly the United States. They don’t want to talk about nuclear weapons right now. This is out of the table. They repeated it like two, three days ago in Moscow, for example, but they want to talk and negotiate with U.S. from a stronger position. North Korea, right now, is in a much stronger position than 10 years ago, during the Six-Party Talks, or 23 years ago when North Korea and the U.S. signed the Agreed Framework. So, in this sense, I think that Kim Jong-un’s regime is very rational because he had the goal of consolidate the power inside the country and be in a stronger position outside the country, and I think he’s doing really well on both sides. So, I think the threat is serious, but we have to treat this threat as a threat from a normal country and a rational leader and regime. I think that’s a very important point.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Solinger, in terms of rationality and the seriousness of this threat, what are your thoughts?

Dorothy Solinger: Well, definitely, I don’t think that Kim Jong-un is crazy. I think he’s got a very strategic approach to the situation. I think there’s probably no genuine danger of him attacking anybody, except with words. The real dangers are accidents or misperceptions or even setting off a volcano, whose name I don’t know how…

Bruce Bennett: Mount Paektu.

Dorothy Solinger: Say it again.

Bruce Bennett: Mount Paektu.

Dorothy Solinger: There was another one…Chang…maybe that’s a Chinese name, Changbai-something.

Marco Milani: You’re right, that’s the Chinese.

Dorothy Solinger: Yeah. Okay. So, the threat is an escalation of rhetoric or a pure accident, not an intentional attack. And, of course, our leader is intensifying that threat by playing back and forth with Kim. So, I hate to say this but I think the irrationality is more on our side than on the side of North Korea. At least North Korea and its leadership appear to have a very clear idea of what they intend to achieve, which is the perpetuation of the Kim dynasty and the security of the regime. They absolutely will not jettison their nuclear capacity, and as has already been said, recognition as an equal security guarantee from the U.S., all very rational objectives. Now, people may say the way Kim treats his own people shows that he’s crazy, the way he kills relatives. Well, I don’t know if it’s crazy, it’s certainly criminal, but it’s not irrational, given his objectives.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Bennett, for the audience, can you give a brief history of the North Korea nuclear program? And also, specifically, the U.S. has offered a range of…over the past couple decades, carrots and sticks and trying to get them to denuclearize. What exactly have U.S. leaders done and what has been the outcome of the policy from the past two decades or so?

Dorothy Solinger: Excuse me, one minute. Is it possible to shift that light a little bit? It’s directly in our eyes.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thanks.

Dorothy Solinger: Maybe on a diagonal angle or something like that.

Bruce Bennett: All right, history of the nuclear program…

Dorothy Solinger: Oh, that’s much better.

Bruce Bennett: I’m good, I’m good.

Dorothy Solinger: Even my sunglasses don’t help.

Bruce Bennett: I’m good with that. History of the nuclear program. You have to remember, there were many Koreans who were in Japan during World War II. They had been brought into Japan as slave laborers. So, when the World War II ended, many of those Koreans went back to Korea, especially to North Korea, with stories of what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of the nuclear weapons going off, very dramatic stories that really raised interest in Korea.

So, as Kim Il-sung took authority in North Korea, even before the Korean War, he started pestering the Russians about, “I wanna get some of these weapons, I wanna get my people trained,” and so forth. After the Korean War, he really turned up that pressure. Why? Because at the end of the Korean War, President Truman and then Eisenhower put a fair amount of pressure on North Korea saying, “This war stops or maybe we use nuclear weapons.” And so, North Korea had been threatened with the weapons and they thought they needed their own.

In the ‘50s, they pressured and pressured and pressured the Russians. They eventually got the Russians to accept some of their scientists into graduate school training programs in nuclear engineering in Russia. They weren’t being trained how to build a nuclear weapon, they were just in nuclear engineering. That increased over time and eventually, they got more and more capabilities. Well, meanwhile as these people came back in the 1960s, they created their own research reactor. Small reactor, but where they could test nuclear reactions, learn how to do things with nuclear reactions, and they built that and they got the fuel for that from Russia.

Fast-forward, early 1980s. The North Koreans had been pestering the Eastern Europeans as well and the Russians, “We want our own real reactors,” and they got rebuffed, so they decided to build their own nuclear reactor. Now, this is still a fairly small nuclear reactor, roughly about 1% of the electrical capacity of the standard U.S. or Japanese or South Korean nuclear reactor today. They built it largely on their own. We can’t tell for sure how much it was truly on their own and how much they may have gotten individual scientific assistance. And then, as they move forward, they got to the point where they were starting to then test nuclear explosions.

To create a nuclear weapon, you got two ways. You can slam together two pieces of uranium that are below a critical mass. That’s called a gun type implosion, and it creates an explosion, not very efficient. The second way is to surround the nuclear material with a high explosive and have it explode in. That was what they were focused on in the 1980s. They did many tests, dozens of tests of that. Into the 1990s, they acquire uranium enrichment capability. They have their reactor already working.

The International Atomic Energy Agency comes out to inspect their reactor, because finally in the 1980s, to get more fuel from the Russians, the Russians had insisted they joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Well, they get inspected and, of course, the inspectors conclude they’ve been reprocessing plutonium, probably trying to prepare it for nuclear weapons. First nuclear crisis in 1993 occurs as a result of that, where the U.S. talked about going to war with North Korea and actually got relatively close. Eventually, former President Jimmy Carter went to North Korea, got an agreement called the Agreed Framework, was supposed to shutdown the North Korean nuclear reactor and other activities, only, sort of, kind of.

The North Koreans view agreements as something that’s the baseline for your activity, and you don’t really have to stick with them, you can kind of do what you want. So, if we’re looking for an agreement with North Korea, North Korea has already agreed in 1992 with South Korea not to produce uranium, highly-enriched uranium, not to reprocess plutonium, not to [inaudible 00:19:43] nuclear weapons. That’s still an agreement that’s in place and, of course, they’re violating it royally.

They build up their program. By the time they get into the 2000 timeframe under President Bush, they’re challenged about uranium enrichment. They had gotten from Pakistan, capability to do uranium enrichment, probably had a little bit before they even got it from Pakistan in the mid-90s. And then, they go ahead, the U.S. starts putting more and more pressure on them. And by 2006, they do their first nuclear test, it’s a half-kiloton test, roughly 4% the size of the Hiroshima weapon. And most American said, “That’s a fizzle, no big deal.” Then, their next test was a two-kiloton test. “Oh, well, no big deal.” Next test was an eight-kiloton test. “Oh, well, no big deal.” Now, they’re up to 250 kilotons with the latest test and people are still kind of saying, “No, big deal.”

The North Korean approach is incremental and conditioning. They gradually condition us to new capabilities and we don’t react in most cases, or if we do, it’s far less than would be required to get them to do something. So, sorry, but that’s the history.

Dorothy Solinger: Can I say something?

Jonathan Movroydis: Sure.

Dorothy Solinger: I defer to my colleague who’s a specialist and I’m not, but I have been reading about all this and my adviser, John Wilson Lewis, who died last month, went to North Korea and met with leaders there on multiple occasions and went with Siegfried Hecker in 2010 and was given a tour of their nuclear effort, and he puts this a little differently. And my understanding is the 1994 agreement was that North Korea was supposed to stop with its plutonium processing and it did. And eventually, the agreement was also that the United States would recognize North Korea and provide, I think it was two light-water reactors, but on the U.S. side, we didn’t follow through.

And within a fairly short time, I don’t know exactly when, North Korea did acquire the capacity to process uranium, I think with help from Pakistan, and that was discovered in the U.S., I think in ’01. And then, Bush Jr. came into power, in his presidency, and completely tore up the agreement, charging that North Korea hadn’t fulfilled its side, but we hadn’t fulfilled our side either. And it’s all somewhat about timing. When did North Korea renege, and why didn’t the U.S. supply light-water reactors? And I heard recently that, well, we were ready to do it, but North Korea didn’t have the port facilities to bring them into the country. I don’t know if that’s true, but from North Korea’s side, it looks like we didn’t do what we said we would do. So, it’s a little ambiguous.

It’s true that by processing uranium, North Korea was going against its promise to stop creating a nuclear capability. But to the letter, it was doing what it said. And I think, up until…well, certainly up until the time that Bush Jr. came to be president, there were no nuclear weapons in North Korea. And had it not been for the framework of ’94, the agreement, North Korea certainly could have achieved much more on the nuclear side than it did. So, I think I saw some agreement here. Did you agree with me? Well, Mark, I’m sorry, I forgot your last name.

Marco Milani: Milani.

Dorothy Solinger: Milani?

Marco Milani: Milani.

Dorothy Solinger: So, I don’t know. I mean, in a way, we’re two against three, but I’m not a specialist, so I’m glad one of the specialists is nodding.

Marco Milani: I mean, I…

Jonathan Movroydis: I’m sorry, go ahead.

Marco Milani: To my understanding, the whole issue of the Agreed Framework is controversial, at least. It’s not that North Korea violated the agreement 100%, so the U.S. decided to withdraw from the agreement. It’s a little bit more complicated. Because from the U.S. side, for example, the construction of light-water reactor, it’s true that the Korean Energy Development Organization was created and in some way financed, but the work for the construction of the reactors was slowed down in a way. And it’s also true that the Agreed Framework specifically address the issue of plutonium. Of course, this is like violating the substance of the agreement. And I think that President Bush said something like that, that North Korea is violating the spirit of the agreement.

But, yeah, I think that the whole issue of the Agreed Framework is controversial, at least. My opinion is that…it’s not that North Korea violated it, while the U.S. was fulfilling it 100% so the U.S. decided to withdraw. And my opinion is also that, as Professor Solinger was saying, having a way to, in a way, manage or control or supervise a program is better than do nothing. Because in the past 10 years, we saw that North Korea had all the time to develop their nuclear weapons and missile technologies, because basically, the U.S. government was not really caring about it. And now, we are at a point where we are today.

So, my opinion is that the Agreed Framework was not that bad. It’s not something that you can replicate right now, especially because North Korea now has nuclear weapons, so they don’t want to sign anything like that anymore. But my opinion is that, was not totally a bad agreement. It has some good points to like, try to limit, at least, the North Korean nuclear program.

Dorothy Solinger: And just one last thing, is that my adviser was hosting second track negations or informal talks with North Koreans and South Koreans as long ago as 1990. So, he found people he could talk with way back then. And he had…there was an oral interview, oral, what is it called when you…oral history, that he gave two years ago, and he simplified this a lot, but it really struck me. He said, “We didn’t respect the agreement, and so as a result, the North Koreans went nuclear,” and he said, “It gets worse every day.” That was in 2015. On September 3rd this year, as you all probably know, North Korea had its major sixth nuclear test. My adviser died the next day. And he was told right before that that he had up to six months to live. So, I think that killed him.

Bruce Bennett: If I may, we have to recognize that there were two agreements actually, North Korea had made. They’d made a bilateral agreement in 1992 with South Korea. That agreement prohibited any uranium enrichment, any plutonium reprocessing, any possession of nuclear weapons. Any of those kinds of things were totally opposed to that agreement, and North Koreas was doing all of those things at the time when it made the agreement and it didn’t stop doing those things.

The Agreed Framework came two years after, on top of it. Part of the Agreed Framework is that North Korea would abide the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It didn’t specify exactly what those were because they’re pretty clear. But the North Korean activities over the subsequent 10 years regularly violated the requirements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So, this is a pattern of behavior. Yes, the Agreed Framework did not specifically say, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” It did say a few things.

But North Korea didn’t do the Non-Proliferation Treaty requirements. Were the U.S. fully compliant with the agreement? No, we were not. Congress refused to provide some of the money we were to pay to North Korea at the timing that we were to pay it because Congress was unhappy with the president about the agreement. We eventually did, but we didn’t in a timely manner.

Did we try to build the nuclear plants? Yes, but we got South Korea and Japan to agree to pay for the plants. The U.S. was not paying for the plants. And they were not as prompt in carrying things out, and the North Koreans made it a miserable experience. You know, think, have you ever tried to build a house? How the zoning people and the building inspectors can cause you immense trouble. Well, North Korea had that about a 100 times over. They didn’t allow things to happen so they could make an excuse about not abiding by the agreement. So, this is a case of, “Yeah, we didn’t build it. We were to build to two reactors in 10 years. We weren’t even close to doing that, so we didn’t accomplish it, but we didn’t accomplish it for a lot of reasons, many of which were North Korea’s faults, some of it were South Korea’s, some of it were U.S.” So, there was other faults there. But North Korea did not abide the terms of the agreement in any way, shape, or form of either of the agreements they were under.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you. Moving on to the U.S., China, and East Asian perspectives on the Korean Peninsula, starting with you, Dr. Milani. On the one hand, China profits in a trade relationship with North Korea and enjoys the buffer against South Korea, as we talked about earlier, which is also the home of 29,000 U. S. troops and marines. However, China’s also been willing to put sanctions on Pyongyang and has bolstered relations with Seoul. How do you think China has been walking this tight rope in their pulse between, you know, bolstering North Korea regime, but also branching out and trying to be more diplomatic?

Marco Milani: Well, I think that currently, the strategic interest of China, regarding North Korea, did not change. They still need North Korea as a buffer zone, as we already said, and also because they feel the instability that can come from a collapse of the regime. We already talk about this. At the same time, I think that implementing sanctions has a twofold goal. First of all is to…both sides are signals, in my opinion. The first signal they want to send this to the U.S. and the international community, saying, “We are a responsible, great power in the region, so we implement the resolution of the UN Security Council that we voted.” And at the same time, they want to tell new American president, “We are doing something, okay, so we are trying to implement the sanctions. Now, it’s your turn to do something.” Because Chinese governments said, “Okay, sanctions and pressure on one side, but also dialogue on the other side.”So, our part is to help the U.S. with pressure and sanctions. At your side is to open some form of dialogue with North Korea.

And the other signal is toward North Korea, saying we are very unhappy with what’s happening. But I don’t think that implementing the sanctions means that China is changing its strategy or national interest priorities in North Korea. And it’s very interesting also, the relationship with South Korea, because it started to change a bit during Park years especially, because we saw that the South Korean president, former President Park, went to China as her second trip after coming to the U.S., and then in 2014, she was the only head of state of an American allies who went to Beijing for the military parade, or was it 2015.

Bruce Bennett: 2015.

Marco Milani: 2015, you’re right, yeah. So, I think that China tried to develop a very good relation with South Korea, mainly because they saw there was an opportunity to try to drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S. But when North Korea, in early 2016, started again with nuclear tests and missile tests, everything came back to normal right away because President Park agreed to deploy THAAD on the peninsula, like one month after the…or a couple of months after the test in January.

So, I don’t think that anything really changed, in terms of strategy for China and both Koreans. They’re trying to find an opportunity with South Korea, and at the same time, they had tried to do something with North Korea, something different, like sending signals to North Korea and to the U.S. But I don’t think that Chinese strategy really changed on the peninsula in the last few years.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Solinger, do you have any thoughts on how China has been dealing with the North Korea threat, in terms of both the, you know, diplomacy with South Korea and its natural relationship with North Korea?

Dorothy Solinger: Yeah. China’s playing a number of games. One of them has to do with its treatment of South Korea since the agreement on the THAAD. Let’s see, what’s the T for…?

Marco Milani: Terminal.

Dorothy Solinger: Terminal High Altitude.

Marco Milani: Aerial Defense.

Dorothy Solinger: Aerial Defense, thank you. Since that begun, China stopped a lot of its trade with the South and closed down Korean department stores in China. And a friend of mine was in South Korea this past summer, and she said it was really difficult because a lot of businesses in South Korea that dealt with China had been closed down and she couldn’t buy a lot of things she wanted to buy. And Chinese have also banned cultural products from South Korea.

And an interesting analysis is, which I’m not…and I don’t have the expertise to evaluate, but that the THAAD really can’t stop anything critical, that’s not China’s complaint. China’s worry is that it’s a means of the U.S. and South Korea’s military defense system becoming more integrated. And China’s fear that instead of the U.S. having a hub and spokes policy where it’s one-on-one with the various countries in the region, it may become an integrated defense system such as NATO and lead to a more deeply involved United States in East Asia, which China doesn’t want to see.

So, even though China as a country is treating South Korea in a negative way, at the same time, like I indicated before, there are scholars in China who think that China’s most significant means of dealing with the situation is to ally with South Korea, and Japan, and the U.S. against North Korea. And that group of voices is getting stronger. There are even people in China who are advocating…in the same group…advocating tearing up the agreement with North Korea, which was signed saying that China would come to the aid of North Korea if attacked. China will not support North Korea if North Korea were to initiate an attack.

But China, according to this agreement, would help North Korea if attacked. But there are now people in China saying, “Let’s not even promise that anymore.” But on the other hand, there’s voices in China saying, “Let’s support a unification of the whole peninsula,” which is really surprising because that was something that was very much opposed by China very recently with the fear that it could lead to a stronger U.S. presence in Korea. So, there’s voices all over the place within China with regard to the situation, blaming North Korea, some people blaming the U.S., other people. Meanwhile, the U.S. is blaming China. So, it’s a really complex situation. And it’s not enough to say, “What’s the stance of…,” as you may know, even within our government, we have Trump constantly bellowing out for using force, using any option, whereas his top advisers, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, have a much more reasoned, measured approach. So, it’s hard for China or North Korea to figure out what we stand for. We have more than one position. China has more than one position. Who knows, maybe North Korea does too. Maybe, one of these gentlemen knows that. South Korea certainly must. It’s not enough to just think it’s all settled between three players. And Japan, with the recent victory of Abe, I think is going to bolster its own capabilities.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Bennett, do you have any thoughts on this?

Bruce Bennett: Sure. Happy to. We have to recognize that President Xi has said on multiple occasions…

Dorothy Solinger: Xi Jinping?

Bruce Bennett: Yeah.

Dorothy Solinger: Xi.

Bruce Bennett: Xi, all right. President Xi Jinping has said on multiple occasions that when he has met with the South Korean president, he’s met with eight times since he came to power and never with the North Korean leader, his ally. He said that he supports full Korean unification if it is done peacefully. Now, almost impossible for it to happen peacefully today, but he said he supports unification under those conditions. But meanwhile, he has indeed, just as Professor Solinger said, strongly opposed the THAAD missile system undoubtedly because he’s concerned about the strengthening U.S. alliance. South Korea has now taken him to the World Trade Organization for carrying on economic warfare against South Korea. They have banned tourists from going to South Korea in many cases. They’ve given real trouble to stores in China. Cost a lot of difficulty for the South Koreans. The South Koreans estimate that the damage that’s been done, even months ago, was over $10 billion. So, huge damage in this, economic, and that’s a violation of the World Trade Organization, and South Korea has questioned China.

So, there is a split of opinions in China. Some people in China are strongly favoring North Korea still, but many are moving in the direction of change. And you can see that in the sanctions, China has been prepared to implement. We don’t know how far they are prepared to go because they’re still trying to balance this situation. And quite truthfully, a lot of the trade that goes on between North Korea and China is illegal trade. It’s smuggling. And China has been gradually trying to rein that in but it’s hard. I mean, think about smuggling across our borders, it’s hard to rein in. So, some of that will still go on even if China is trying to stop it.
I think I’ll stop there and let you proceed.

Jonathan Movroydis: Okay. Dr. Milani, in terms of American interest, historically and I guess from a military and diplomatic perspective, what are U.S. interests in South Korea mainly?

Marco Milani: Well, South Korea is relevant for different reasons for the United States. First of all, abandoning South Korea would mean abandon North East Asia, I mean, because one of the major allies of the U.S. in the region is South Korea. And we don’t really know what Trump’s gonna do in East Asia. But under President Obama, with the [inaudible 00:43:30] strategy, South Korea was a very important point of the whole strategy. So, this is for strategic interest.

And another important point is that in some way, the U.S. are concerned about China rising in some way in the region. And for this reason, they’re trying to balance China in different ways, and one of this balancing action is external balancing, reinforce the alliance with South Korea, pan, and possibly with other countries in Southeast Asia, for example, Vietnam or the Philippines, even if it’s not going to so well in the Philippines after the result of the election. These strategic reasons are crucial for U.S. interest in Northeast Asia.

So, this is the first reason why the U.S. cannot abandon South Korea through [inaudible 00:44:32]. And also, the U.S. has 30,000 troops in South Korea. So, they have to defend these troops. They cannot just let North Korea attack in some way, South Korea, and put in danger the lives of millions of Koreans and also of American troops in the region. And this is the reason why, my opinion is that deterrence is still working on the peninsula today because the U.S. doesn’t really have a military option right now with North Korea. Trump administration is saying that they are preparing or they already have options to attack North Korea and limit the damage that North Korea can do to South Korea or Japan. I strongly doubt this because Seoul is a city of the 25 million people if we consider the whole area and its 40 miles from the border, so I don’t think that the U.S. can take down all the nuclear and conventional artillery, and all of their military facilities from the border.

So, I think that the U.S., right now, doesn’t really have a viable military option with North Korea, and that’s why deterrence is still in place. It’s a different kind of deterrence from what was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But still, this is the situation we are in here, right now, on the peninsula and between North Korea and the United States.

Jonathan Movroydis: And just as a follow-up to that, Dr. Milani, what is the perspective of the other countries in the region on the Korean Peninsula, for example, Tokyo, the Philippines, and other East Asian countries?

Marco Milani: Me?

Jonathan Movroydis: Yes.

Marco Milani: Okay. Well, I don’t think that Southeast Asian countries are really interested in what’s going on in the region, in the Southeast, on the peninsula. But for sure, Japan is interested in that and is kind of using the North Korean threat right now. Professor Solinger just mentioned the recent election in Japan, and I think that Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is using this threat, because its final goal from the beginning, he said that was to turn Japan into a normal country. That means change the Article 9 of the Constitution. And North Korea is a perfect excuse for that. And I also think that somehow, the United States is using North Korea also as an excuse to balance China, military speaking, with these external balancing [inaudible 00:47:19] South Korea and Japan.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Solinger, do you have any thoughts on U.S. interests on the Korean Peninsula and that of East Asian allies?

Dorothy Solinger: I think a very major motivating factor for the U.S. is to sustain its own credibility, which is under threat because of Trump’s unpredictability. And I think, if the U.S. doesn’t do something decisive, it’ll look bad, not just right there in that region, but beyond, including Australia, and possibly even Europe and Philippines, and other allies.

On the other hand, it’s really difficult to talk about a strategy in the U.S right now because it’s changing all the time and there’s contradictions among people making statements, so it’s difficult to see where things are heading. I don’t think anybody can be clear about that. Also, before all this began, South Korea and China were very strong trade partners beginning in 1992 when China recognized South Korea. So, this is all something very sudden that draws starker lines within the region with the U.S., Japan, and South Korea on one side, and in some ways, China having some agreement with Russia on the other end, that makes the situation more dangerous for the U.S. and for its alliance system.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Bennett, do you have any thoughts on this?

Bruce Bennett: Sure. The United States does about a third of its worldwide trade with three countries, South Korea, Japan, and China. If the region is destabilized, if nuclear war were to break out, if something disastrous happens, that is really detrimental. I mean, think of it, how many of you have cell phones or TVs or other electronics made by Samsung or LG or other companies in Korea? Let alone from Japan, Sony. And many of us get lots of our goods from China. We may not think about it. We may not recognize it, but we do.

So, from a trade perspective, the region is critical. And if the U.S. were to give up its South Korean ally, a country we have maintained troop presence in and therefore paid substantially for for six decades, how would our other allies feel? Wouldn’t they feel like, “Gee, the U.S. may be giving us up next?” And so, you can’t start this process of unraveling our alliances unless you’re going to raise questions with others of our allies.

There are 140,000 American citizens who live in South Korea. These are not tourists visiting. These are people who live there. With tourists and other short-term visitors, numbers are probably over 200,000. So, there’s also an American interest of that kind. And our troops are not there to have to be defended. Our troops are there to guarantee to the South Koreans that if North Korea were to ever attack, the U.S. is all in. You know, North Korea will kill Americans if they attack.

But think, one other part. I just said we probably have 140,000 American citizens living in South Korea. There are one million Chinese living in South Korea, 3% of the population of the greater Seoul metropolitan area is Chinese. North Korea cannot attack South Korea without killing lots and lots of Chinese. So, there’s some degree of security and stability built into that. North Korea, all the time, threatens to turn Seoul into a sea of fire with artillery or nuclear weapons. That’s gonna get them in trouble with their big neighbor ally if they ever do that. So, these things are a little bit more complicated than on the face we might consider.

North Korea regularly deters by bluff, let’s face it. They’ve said, for example, if South Korea fires one artillery shell at North Korea, they’re going to decimate Seoul. If they decimate Seoul, Kim Jong-un will not survive. He will be dead. Because the U.S. and Iraq will retaliate and will respond, and the regime will not survive. Is he really going to shell Seoul if one artillery round lands on North Korean territory? Will we worry about that? It deters us from taking action. But in reality, he’s probably not going to do that, but probably is the uncertainty that helps deter us.

The other kind of thing to think about is the sanctions that China has put on South Korea have a boomerang effect. Think about it, South Korean companies, other Asian companies have heavily invested in China and now all of those countries have seen that if China decides politically to take you out, all your investments in China to make them unprofitable, they can do that. And so, a lot of South Korean companies and other companies from Asia are now diverting their investments into Southeast Asia. So, China will pay a price for what they’ve been doing and they’re just starting to recognize that apparently. I’ll stop there.

Jonathan Movroydis: Final question, and we’ll get to the audience’s questions. But throughout the course of this conversation, we’ve looked at a couple of scenarios on how this ends. United States could do nothing. The North Koreans could be incentivized to denuclearize. There could be regime change. There could also be reunification of the North Korean Peninsula on whose terms, we don’t know. But just in terms of prognosticating, how do you think, Dr. Milani, if we’re on the current course, how do you think this standoff ends?

Marco Milani: Well, I mean, right now, things are very complicated. I don’t think that the U.S. has many very good options on North Korea right now, and I don’t think that what happened, the last few months, is helping. Because President Trump’s responding to North Korean regime with this very strong and provocative rhetoric. Basically, it’s a game that he cannot win because this is North Korean game of making this kind of threat, and be very tough and insulting, and all this kind of nicknames and things like that. They cannot win this kind of game, because as I said before, I don’t think the U.S. has military options, a viable military option for North Korea, something that can do without a reaction of North Korea that would kill hundreds of thousands of South Korean, American citizens in the region, and maybe Japanese.

So, the first question is that, what the U.S. can do? Okay. But the other thing is that, what if the U.S. do nothing, like they did in the past, what’s going on? Probably, North Korea is gonna build more nuclear weapons or missile. And probably, they can build reliable ICBM that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States, and they are not at that point right now. Okay. And they can start like sell technology. This is gonna be a big problem for nuclear proliferation in the region and in the world.

So, one thing, in my opinion, is that the U.S. government can start thinking about something that the Chinese government proposed some months ago. Take the denuclearization of North Korea out of the table temporarily and start to think about a different approach, like for example, freeze-for-freeze approach. So, North Korea can freeze nuclear missile test, and at the same time, the U.S. can freeze the joint military exercise with South Korea. This is just an option that the Chinese government proposed a few months ago.

Anyway, I think that it’s better to try to negotiate with North Korea right now without putting the denuclearization as the main goal right now for the United States than doing nothing. Because if you keep on doing nothing, North Korea, already in past, show that they can go on building more nuclear weapons, and more reliable missiles, and things like that.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Solinger.

Dorothy Solinger: Yeah. Well, actually, this proposal that Dr. Milani just mentioned is called in China the “dual suspension,” that is, the U.S. in South Korea suspend their military joint exercises and suspend the THAAD defense system. Meanwhile, the North Korea suspends its nuclear program. And there are people, scholars in China now saying, “That’s not gonna work either.” And it’s been called a “non-starter” in the U.S.

The best proposal I’ve seen is one made by Siegfried Hecker about two months ago, and he was formerly the head of the Los Alamos Research Facility. He’s been to North Korea seven times and he’s seen their nuclear facilities. He’s very knowledgeable about these things. And he said, “Negotiations really aren’t something we can do at this stage. Neither side really has something it’s going to give up. But what we should do is meet with them and send a few sort of realistic, calm leaders from the U.S., maybe Mattis, maybe McMaster, sit down with top leaders in North Korea and just come to an understanding of how dangerous the situation is for everybody.” And he said, “This has worked. It worked with Reagan and Gorbachev. It worked with Chris Chuff and the U.S. at the time. Just try to come to an understanding that we’re going to have to cool it. And we can’t offer to trade anything yet, maybe later.”

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Bennett.

Bruce Bennett: The former U.S. Secretary of State, George Schultz, made a presentation four years ago to the Council and Foreign relations in New York. As part of that presentation, he said he learned several things as the Secretary of State. One of the things he said he learned was, “Never want an agreement. Because if you want an agreement, the other side will hand your head to you.” It’s exactly what he said. We have to create a condition where both sides want an agreement. In 2015, that happened in Korea. North Korea had set up land mines which injured two South Korean soldiers. South Korea turned on propaganda broadcasts into North Korea. Right, you have this image, a propaganda broadcaster saying what a lousy guy Kim-Jong-un is. No, no. These were propaganda broadcasts of KPop, Korean Popular Music. And most of the North Korean soldiers in the frontline are from the elite class in North Korea, because they don’t want them to defect across the border. So, they were broadcasting right into elites, and that message was undoubtedly getting to Pyongyang fairly quickly. North Korea made an agreement in two days. Both sides have to want an agreement.

Now, I agree with my colleagues. We want an agreement with North Korea, but we have to make sure they want one too. How do we stimulate that? It seems to me that information is the key to that. Kim Jong-un doesn’t want information getting into his country about what kind of person he is, about how poor they are and so forth, and it does to a certain extent. The South Koreans love…or the North Koreans love South Korean soap operas, just love them because they show a lifestyle they will never have. So, that kind of vehicles is something that could create some motivation.

I’ve argued with my colleagues, we oughta make a soap opera on the life and times of Kim Jong-un, showing how he lives, wine, food, women, purges, executions, and all truthful, no propaganda, as truthful as we can make it. Because I think it would have an incredible impact in North Korea and Kim Jong-un would probably be willing to give some things up to trade for it. We have to create a condition where both sides want an agreement. We need to be working on that. There are options for doing that. They are not military attack options, as my colleagues suggest. We have to be more subtle. I think if we do that, it’s important…

Now, let me conclude by saying, most people in the diplomatic community are very harsh about statements that the U.S. Government has been making and especially President Trump. Let me tell you, about three days after President Trump’s General Assembly speech, Kim Jong-un wrote a personal response to President Trump. This is very unusual. He doesn’t write personal responses. And he said two critically important things. Number one, he said, “I hadn’t expected President Trump to say that.” Now, you have to understand, Kim Jong-un is the wannabe-God of North Korea. For him to say he didn’t expect it, he’s fallible. He’s not the God. That was an important thing to have come out. Second thing he said was, “Frightened dogs bark louder,” speaking about President Trump. Well, okay, yeah. President Trump had barked louder in that speech. But the whole rest of his personal statement is a statement about criticism of Trump, threats to the United States, threats to South Korea. He was barking louder. So, who else is a frightened dog? We have to create that balance if we want a good agreement. I think we do want a good agreement. We need to move towards it. That would be my objective.

Jonathan Movroydis: We have a time for a couple of questions.

Audience Member: Good morning. Thank you for your informative presentation. I’m James Bong [SP]. I walked out for a cup of coffee, so I missed some portion of the presentation coming from the panelist. Before I ask a question, I like to…oh, just the question? Well, I was part of a negotiation team among other things visiting Buyang[SP] Mountain up on North Korea, when it comes to supplying the light-water reactors to North Korea. Because I missed the portion of the presentation, I only can say a supplemental comment. We did perform our part of the obligation, in my opinion. They preached the spirit of the cooperation. I wanna be very clear on that, if there is ambiguity. My question to you is, do you see a possibility, rather, not a possibly, can you see a unilateral military action on the part of U.S. when it comes to preemptive surgical strike on North Korea nuclear sites?

Jonathan Movroydis: You want to take that one?

Bruce Bennett: Yeah. I think it’s a possibility. The Trump administration has not dismissed surgical strike as a possibility, but I think we have a bigger concern in that regard. South Korea has a doctrine which they implemented in roughly 2011 called the “Kill Chain,” which is a counterforce capability, a capability designed to destroy the North Korean missile and nuclear forces. They always, always, always talked about it as being preemptive. Okay. And what is the basis for that preemption? The basis is if North Korea ever takes their missile launchers out of their underground facilities.

So, there is a chance that the preemption could actually be by South Korea, as opposed to by the United States. That’s a possibility that could occur. The U.S. could decide to try to destroy something. I will give you an example though. North Korea’s foreign minister has threatened to fire a nuclear weapon over Japan into the Pacific and detonate it to demonstrate that North Korea is a nuclear power. Well, if you detonate a nuclear weapon over the Pacific, there’s a fairly good chance you’re going to shoot down some aircraft or sink some ships, because the pacific has a lot of traffic over it. If they kill Americans or Japanese or South Koreans in doing that, how does the U. S. respond? I think that’s the more likely case, if they are foolish enough to do that, where there could be a preemptive strike. And it’s not really preemptive at that point. I think we need to worry about the fact that North Korea is really the country that often makes the more extreme threats, the more extreme name calling, and we tend to dismiss that because we’re used to having them do it.

Jonathan Movroydis: Dr. Milani and Dr. Solinger, any thoughts on the idea of a unilateral preemptive strike?

Dorothy Solinger: I think it’s terribly dangerous. I think North Korea would certainly retaliate. And I don’t think it wants to destroy Seoul, but I think it’s escalating. There’s too much danger of escalation. I think it’s a very dangerous idea.

Marco Milani: I totally agree with Professor Solinger.

Bruce Bennett: I’ve actually written an article on there being no such thing as a surgical strike against North Korea. You can’t destroy enough with an aircraft attack or something like that for it to be really meaningful.

Dorothy Solinger: And I’ve also seen that we don’t know where all the nuclear capabilities are located within North Korea, so it’s not as if they’re all in one place that could be wiped out all at once.

Jonathan Movroydis: Our next question.

Audience member: Thank you. To the whole panel, I would appreciate it very much if you could comment on a question that was formulated to me years ago by a leader of the government in China. He said to me, “To us, North Korea is like a troubled child.” Now, how do you deal with a troubled child? And I’m trying to convert that question into the entire presentation of today. Do you make an agreement with him? How long would that agreement last? Do you threat? How long that threat lasts on a troubled child? Do you act and punish? How long that punishment will last? What are the consequences if that troubled child happens to have nuclear weapons?

Dorothy Solinger: Well, I can say that at present, what the Chinese government is doing is very gradually increasing its punishment. I don’t think China is willing to go to the extent of bringing down the regime, and furthermore, as it’s already been suggested, North Korea has ways of making money that don’t depend on China, even though it has depended a lot on China. It’s capable of smuggling. There’s other countries who would help. So, I think China has to be careful, and I think China knows the limits of the punishment.

Marco Milani: Yeah, I totally agree with Professor Solinger on this. And I think that North Korea, probably today, is not a child anymore. I mean, it’s not that easy to control North Korea from China in the way that they cannot control China…China cannot control North Korea as a child, I mean. They are finding new ways to get hard currency, even with this, grow with these kinds of sanctions, and they have nuclear weapons. So, I don’t think that’s very important because it’s not that China can rein in North Korea like a parent with a child, so they have to be very careful right now.

Bruce Bennett: As the parent of kids who are 20 to their 30s, they’re still my children and I still will tell them things. But they’re actually much better behaved now. I think the problem is maybe the 15-year-old that has decided he is independent and knows a whole lot more than his parents do, which is in some ways the way Kim Jong-un has acted, I think you have to take a multidimensional approach. We tend to like to play the one key in the piano, that is not a concert make. So, economic sanctions has a role, but why don’t we play a few other keys? There are many things that we could do, relative to North Korea, that the North would hate. And it seems to me that we need to do what North Korea has, this incremental conditioning kind of escalation, to make it clear that we’re not gonna turn over and play dead. You know, we did that with strategic patience during the previous administration. North Korea generally and culturally does not respect weakness. They respect strength. And in the end, most 15-year-olds also respects strength. Not all.

Dorothy Solinger: I just wanna say that the idea of a child is kind of shortsighted because North Korea has its own objectives and it behaves in order to meet those objectives. We don’t like the way it behaves, but that doesn’t make it into a child. It’s an adult with objectives that we don’t agree with. I think that’s a better way to look at things.

Bruce Bennett: My 25-year-old children.

Jonathan Movroydis: Thank you, guys. Please give our distinguished panel a round of applause. Thank you again all for being here. Please look on our calendar for future events. Thank you very much.

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Video: The United States, China and Russia: Relations Between The World’s Great Powers Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:32:07 +0000 The United States, China and Russia: Relations Between the World’s Great Powers in the Age of Trump July 27, 2017 Richard Nixon Presidential Library Program Synopsis  • Program Transcript • Key Quotes Dr. Henry Kissinger said that President Nixon “created a set of international policies whose main outlines survive to this day.” One of the most […]

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The United States, China and Russia:
Relations Between the World’s Great Powers in the Age of Trump

July 27, 2017
Richard Nixon Presidential Library

Program Synopsis  • Program TranscriptKey Quotes

Dr. Henry Kissinger said that President Nixon “created a set of international policies whose main outlines survive to this day.” One of the most important is triangulation; by improving relations with China, the U.S. carved out favorable negotiating positions with the Soviet Union — while improving relations with both countries.

Is the concept of triangulation between China, Russia and the U.S. still relevant in today’s world, and what can Americans expect the Trump administration’s policies toward Russia to be?


Karl Eikenberry is the Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow, Director of the U.S.-Asia Security Initiative and faculty member at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University. He is a Stanford University Professor of Practice, and an affiliate at the FSI Center for Democracy, Development, and Rule of Law, Center for International Security Cooperation and The Europe Center. Prior to his arrival at Stanford, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from May 2009 until July 2011, where he led the civilian surge directed by President Obama to reverse insurgent momentum and set the conditions for transition to full Afghan sovereignty.

Thomas Fingar is a Shorenstein APARC Fellow and was the inaugural Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. He was the Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford during January to December 2009. From May 2005 through December 2008, he served as the first deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and, concurrently, as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. He served previously as assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (2004–2005), principal deputy assistant secretary (2001–2003), deputy assistant secretary for analysis (1994–2000), director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific (1989–1994), and chief of the China Division (1986–1989).

David Holloway is the Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History, a professor of political science, and an FSI senior fellow. He was co-director of CISAC from 1991 to 1997, and director of FSI from 1998 to 2003. His research focuses on the international history of nuclear weapons, on science and technology in the Soviet Union, and on the relationship between international history and international relations theory. His book Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 (Yale University Press, 1994) was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 11 best books of 1994, and it won the Vucinich and Shulman prizes of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Kathryn Stoner, Moderator, is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University and at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, as well as (since 2010) the Faculty Director of the Ford Dorsey Program in International Policy Studies at Stanford University. She teaches in the Department of Political Science at Stanford, and in the Program on International Relations, as well as in the Ford Dorsey Program. Prior to coming to Stanford in 2004, she was on the faculty at Princeton University for nine years, jointly appointed to the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School for International and Public Affairs.

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Asia After Viet Nam – Fifty Years On Fri, 27 Oct 2017 16:30:30 +0000   By Conrad Black   It is difficult now to resurrect how revolutionary and improbable it seemed fifty years ago to envision a reconstructed normal relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In 1967 the Cultural Revolution was in progress, distinguished people were being frog-marched through the streets wearing dunce-caps, reviled […]

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By Conrad Black


It is difficult now to resurrect how revolutionary and improbable it seemed fifty years ago to envision a reconstructed normal relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In 1967 the Cultural Revolution was in progress, distinguished people were being frog-marched through the streets wearing dunce-caps, reviled by disorderly mobs. Deng Xiaoping himself, one of China’s greatest leaders, and the author of the partial liberalization of its economy and its immense economic progress, was soon to be banished to become a provincial tractor factory worker for four years. Deng’s son would be thrown out of a fourth story window and permanently handicapped.

The second figure in the political apparatus, after Mao himself, Lin Biao, a drug addict who had to inhale motorcycle fumes to clear his mind, would die mysteriously in an airplane crash in 1971, and is generally thought to have fled after attempting a coup, and to have been shot down in flight by loyalists in the Chinese air force on Mao’s orders. When Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin used the emergency telephone line to try to make contact with Mao, or failing him, Premier Zhou Enlai, the Chinese operator refused to put his call through, declaring Kosygin to be “a revisionist,” and hanging up on the Soviet leader. It was hard to imagine that much progress could be made in developing relations with such a chaotic and preposterous regime, uneasily governing such an immense population.

Richard Nixon wrote “Asia After Viet Nam” shortly after a three-month period of extensive foreign travel where he met the government leaders of many countries on several continents, and renewed and reinforced his always active and informed thinking about the strategic relationship of the United States with almost every important country in the world. In his thorough canvass of East Asian leaders in the countries around China, Mr. Nixon confirmed that, as he had concluded before, the war in Vietnam could not be won by the methods then being followed.

The Johnson administration was conducting a war of attrition while permitting North Vietnamese penetration of South Vietnam through neutral Laos and Cambodia via the Ho Chi Minh trail.  American air power was punishing the North for its aggression, but nothing was being done to seal off South Vietnam, and little was being done to train and equip its forces to defend themselves.

Nixon ratified his opposition to President Johnson’s method of incremental escalation in conversations with General Eisenhower, as he had in earlier years of the decade with General Douglas MacArthur. Nixon and his eminent military counselors believed it was essential in war to strike hard at the outset and maintain the level of military pressure, and not ambivalently to raise and lower it as President Johnson had done, always seeking a peace of compromise.

Nixon confirmed on his tour around East Asia that most of the countries in the region, after the sanguinary defeat of Indonesian communism in the brief but horrible civil conflict of 1965-1967 that killed approximately 750,000 Indonesians, were not so preoccupied with the outcome in Vietnam, as long as it was not a direct defeat for the United States.

It was clear from Ho Chi Minh’s rejection of President Johnson’s peace proposal that emanated from his meeting with South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu in Manila in 1966, that Hanoi sought the clear military defeat and humiliation of the United States, as well as the consolidation of South Vietnam into a unified, communist Vietnam.  Johnson had offered a timetable withdrawal of all forces from outside South Vietnam. Obviously, if Ho had accepted this, he could have waited for a brief interval after the withdrawal of the Americans and then reinvaded, confident that the United States would not have reintroduced forces in large numbers.

But Ho Chi Minh had become fevered with the idea that it was his distinction to turn a decisive point in the triumph of international communism over its ideological enemies by humbling and defeating, for the first time in its history, the supreme capitalist power, the United States. To this cause he was prepared to commit practically unlimited numbers of casualties.

Former Vice President Nixon, then preparing his charge to the 1968 Republican nomination and another crack at the presidency which he had so narrowly, (and even questionably) lost in 1960, updated his views of the main foreign policy issues in the world.  He set out just a hint of what he envisioned in “Asia After Viet Nam,” the still very original and widely admired essay published fifty years ago this month in Foreign Affairs.

In “Asia After Viet Nam,” Nixon presciently saw, though he clearly could not speculate about it publicly, that the war could be conducted differently, so that Americans gradually withdrew as South Vietnam was trained and reequipped, and that it would soon become clear to the sponsors of the North Vietnamese in Beijing and Moscow that no defeat of the United States was going to be possible. At that point, and when the public discord in China had subsided, given the extreme antagonism between the Moscow and Beijing governments, it might be possible for the United States to triangulate that relationship, and to develop better and more productive relations with both the USSR and the People’s Republic than they had with each other.

Nixon  saw that as renewed relations with China began, America’s traditional allies in the Far East would need reassurance that improving Sino-American relations would not be at their expense. He foresaw that no country could continue indefinitely in such a state of disorder as China was in, and that when it emerged, as it focused on internal challenges and deficiencies, there would be an advantage to develop a strategic relationship with the United States, especially given the threat of a complete breakdown in relations with the Soviet Union.

In almost orientally subtle terms, Mr. Nixon hinted at just part of this in Foreign Affairs fifty years ago. His imaginative conception of a realignment in the Far East so profound that it would lead to radical and generally positive strategic developments in the whole world, was the beginning of one of the decisive transformations of modern world history. China would invent a form of ostensible communism that is in fact largely capitalist, and has boot-strapped that immense country upward economically to the second greatest economic power in the world, with plausible ambitions to challenge for world leadership.

None of this could have been imagined as remotely possible fifty years ago, except by a man of exceptional mastery of global grand strategy, from its greatest potentialities to its slightest details. Richard Nixon was such a man, and as an authority in international affairs who has also led the government of a Great Power, he is in the company of very few and very distinguished statesmen: Richelieu, Bismarck, and in the English-speaking world, at the most, Chatham, Palmerston, Disraeli, Churchill, and Roosevelt.

On a personal note, I had the privilege of discussing these subjects with Mr. Nixon in his last five years, and at great length with his closest collaborator, my dear friend Henry Kissinger, and it is an honor to be invited to contribute to the observation of this anniversary. When the cant, emotionalism, and fiction that obscured Mr. Nixon’s later career have finally subsided entirely, his great stature as a foreign and domestic policy conceptualist and executive, will be fully appreciated. “Asia After Viet Nam” raised this curtain.


Photo: Richard Nixon is greeted by Lt. Gen. Lewis W. Walt at Da Nang Air Base, April 1967.

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After Viet Nam: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the Search for a Strategy to End the Vietnam War Thu, 26 Oct 2017 19:31:51 +0000   By Niall Ferguson   On December 10, 1967, Clare Boothe Luce decided to bring together Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon at a pre-Christmas cocktail party in her elegant apartment at 933 Fifth Avenue. It was the first meeting between the two men who, more than any others, would bring the Vietnam War to a […]

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By Niall Ferguson


On December 10, 1967, Clare Boothe Luce decided to bring together Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon at a pre-Christmas cocktail party in her elegant apartment at 933 Fifth Avenue. It was the first meeting between the two men who, more than any others, would bring the Vietnam War to a conclusion. Kissinger arrived early and (as she later recalled) “with his limited talent for small talk, the ‘objective conditions,’ to use a favorite phrase of his, indicated a hasty disengagement.” Just as he was about to leave, Nixon appeared. They spoke for “no more than five minutes”—not about politics but about Kissinger’s writings, specifically his book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (which, as we have seen, Nixon had read and admired at the time it was published).[i] This was their one and only meeting before November 25, 1968, when Nixon (somewhat obliquely) offered Kissinger the job of national security adviser. What is not recorded is whether the two men also discussed Nixon’s writings, specifically the article he had just published in Foreign Affairs. It is inconceivable that Kissinger had not read it or appreciated its significance.

“Asia After Viet Nam” was published in October 1967 and is more frequently cited than read by people who see in it a harbinger of Nixon and Kissinger’s opening to China in 1971–72.[ii] That is not at all what the article is about. Nixon’s main point is in fact that China represented a mortal “danger” to the rest of Asia, and that, in the wake of Vietnam, the United States could not contain that threat single-handedly. “During the final third of the twentieth century,” wrote Nixon, “Asia, not Europe or Latin America, will pose the greatest danger of a confrontation which could escalate into World War III.” The “American commitment in Vietnam” had been “a vital factor in the turnaround in Indonesia . . . [and had] diverted Peking from such other potential targets as India, Thailand and Malaysia.”[iii] As Nixon put it, in an incongruous comparison, “Dealing with Red China is something like trying to cope with the more explosive ghetto elements in our own country. In each case a potentially destructive force has to be curbed; in each case an outlaw element has to be brought within the law; in each case dialogues have to be opened; in each case aggression has to be restrained while education proceeds.”[iv] True, Nixon wrote the famous lines “[W]e simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors. There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.”[v] True, he spoke of “the struggle for influence in the Third World [as] a three-way race among Moscow, Peking and the West.” But Nixon’s proposal was not diplomatic engagement with China. The United States should not be “rushing to grant recognition to Peking, to admit it to the United Nations and to ply it with offers of trade—all of which would serve to confirm its rulers in their present course.” Rather, China had to be “persuade[d] . . . that it must change” by placing the other nations, backed by the ultimate power of the United States[,] . . . in the path of Chinese ambitions.” And that meant building up the Asian and Pacific Council (ASPAC), a grouping of countries that already included Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand—not forgetting South Vietnam and Laos. All were acutely conscious of the Chinese threat, and all except Malaysia had military ties with the United States.

ASPAC sank without a trace. But in one crucial respect Nixon’s argument was brilliantly perceptive. As he said, the spectacular growth of economies like of Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, represented “a new chapter . . . in the winning of the West: in this case, a winning of the promise of Western technology and Western organization by the nations of the East.” The rapidly industrializing Asian economies had indeed “discovered and applied the lessons of America’s own economic success.”[vi] And this was the key reason why—though Nixon did not say it explicitly—ultimate American failure in Vietnam did not really matter that much. Communism had won in China, North Korea, and North Vietnam. South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos still hung in the balance. But everywhere else it had lost. Not only that, but capitalism was succeeding in what would come to be called the East Asian “tigers” as it had never succeeded anywhere before, as Western technology was combined with an Asian work ethic to generate some of the highest growth rates ever recorded. The dogmatic anti-materialist Henry Kissinger could hardly ignore the statistics Nixon cited. Rapid growth might not translate into spiritual fulfillment, especially for teenagers; but for their parents, who remembered the miserable poverty of the entire region in 1945, it was vastly preferable to the alternative. Nixon was right: this was the fantastically good news about Asia that their fixation on Vietnam was causing Americans to overlook.

A year later, if Kissinger had been remotely aware that, if elected, Nixon might invite him to join his administration, it seems unlikely that he would have written another classic article on the subject, “The Viet Nam Negotiations,” which appeared in Foreign Affairs in the very month of Nixon’s inauguration, and which must therefore have been written at around the time of the 1968 presidential election, during which—for the third time—Kissinger served as a foreign policy adviser to Nixon’s rival for the Republican Party’s nomination, Nelson Rockefeller. Indeed, when he realized that Nixon wanted him in the White House, Kissinger tried vainly to stop the article’s publication, for the obvious reason that it would be seized upon by the media as a blueprint for the new administration’s policy.[vii] In fact the article had the unanticipated effect of validating Nixon’s decision to hire Rockefeller’s adviser. For it proved to be one of the most brilliant analyses of the American predicament in Vietnam that anyone has ever written.[viii]

Written with a brio Kissinger had seldom achieved since the publication of his classic dissertation, A World Restored, the article began by defining what he called “the Vietnamese syndrome: optimism alternating with bewilderment; euphoria giving way to frustration,” based on the fundamental problem that “military successes . . . could not be translated into permanent political advantage.”[ix] Why was this? Partly, he acknowledged, it was because of a “vast gulf” in cultural terms: “It would be difficult to imagine two societies less meant to understand each other than the Vietnamese and the American.”[x] But mainly it was because American strategy had all along been misconceived. From the outset of military intervention under Kennedy—as Morgenthau had seen, but he had missed—there had been a “failure . . . to analyze adequately the geopolitical importance of Viet Nam,” by which Kissinger subtly implied its relative unimportance.[xi] Then there was the fundamental problem that the American military had sought to wage a conventional war against guerrillas, following “the classic doctrine that victory depended on a combination of control of territory and attrition of the opponent.” The generals had reasoned that defeating the Vietcong’s “main forces would cause the guerrillas to wither on the vine.” They would achieve victory by “inflicting casualties substantially greater than those we suffered until Hanoi’s losses became ‘unacceptable.’” But this strategy was doubly flawed. First, it misunderstood the nature of guerrilla warfare.

Guerrillas rarely seek to hold real estate; their tactic is to use terror and intimidation to discourage cooperation with constituted authority. . . . Saigon controlled much of the country in the daytime . . . the Viet Cong dominated a large part of the same population at night. . . . The guerrillas’ aim was largely negative: to prevent the consolidation of governmental authority. . . .

We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process, we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win. The North Vietnamese used their main forces the way a bullfighter uses his cape—to keep us lunging in areas of marginal political importance.[xii]

Second, the “kill-ratios” of U.S. to North Vietnamese casualties, while pleasing to the systems analysts in the Pentagon, were “unreliable indicators. Even when the figures were accurate they were irrelevant, because the level of what was ‘unacceptable’ to Americans fighting thousands of miles from home turned out to be much lower than that of Hanoi fighting on Vietnamese soil.” [xiii]

The line about guerrillas winning if they do not lose has justly become one of Kissinger’s most quoted. But his article made an equally telling point about the nature of American assistance to South Vietnam that repeated a point he had made often enough in the past: economics is not everything.

In Viet Nam—as in most developing countries—the overwhelming problem is not to buttress but to develop a political framework. Economic progress that undermines the existing patterns of obligation—which are generally personal or feudal—serves to accentuate the need for political institutions. One ironic aspect of the war in Viet Nam is that, while we profess an idealistic philosophy, our failures have been due to an excessive reliance on material factors. The communists, by contrast, holding to a materialistic interpretation, owe many of their successes to their ability to supply an answer to the question of the nature and foundation of political authority.[xiv]

Kissinger also exposed the principal defect of American diplomacy, showing how “our diplomacy and our strategy were conducted in isolation from each other”—Johnson’s mal-coordinated left and right fists in the prizefight of his imagination. Hanoi, by contrast, did not “view war and negotiation as separate processes.” Misunderstanding that war and diplomacy form part of a continuum, the president had made multiple unforced errors. First, Johnson “had announced repeatedly that we would be ready to negotiate, unconditionally, at any moment, anywhere. This, in effect, left the timing of negotiations to the other side.” Then he had got sucked into point-scoring: “Hanoi announced Four Points, the NLF {National Liberation Front, i.e. the Communists in South Vietnam] put forth Five Points, Saigon advanced Seven Points and the United States—perhaps due to its larger bureaucracy—promulgated Fourteen,” as if lengthening the agenda for talks would somehow help get them started.[xv] Third, in putting out his peace feelers, Johnson had failed to anticipate how the North Vietnamese would coquette with him—“many contacts with Hanoi which seemed ‘abortive’ to us, probably served (from Hanoi’s point of view) the function of defining the terrain.”[xvi] Fourth, the United States had failed—partly for its own systemic reasons—to formulate a coherent negotiating position. “Pragmatism and bureaucracy,” as Kissinger put it, had “combine[d] to produce a diplomatic style marked by rigidity in advance of formal negotiations and excessive reliance on tactical considerations once negotiations start.” Americans prepared for talks by engraving preconditions in stone; but as soon as they sat down at the conference table, they began splitting the difference. Fifth, Johnson had simply been too unsubtle to appreciate the significance of changes of tense and mood in Hanoi’s communications. Sixth, Johnson had agreed to suspend the bombing of North Vietnam on a condition—never accepted by Hanoi—that the talks would be productive. But if they were not, could bombing actually be resumed without a domestic political uproar? Finally, by bringing Saigon into the talks, Johnson had inadvertently exposed “the potential conflict of interest between Washington and Saigon,” a new weakness for his foes to exploit.

What now? Kissinger ruled out unequivocally a unilateral withdrawal, using terms that would define the next four years of American foreign policy:

[T]he commitment of 500,000 Americans has settled the issue of the importance of Viet Nam. For what is involved now is confidence in American promises. However fashionable it is to ridicule the terms “credibility” or “prestige,” they are not empty phrases; other nations can gear their actions to ours only if they can count on our steadiness. The collapse of the American effort in Viet Nam would not mollify many critics; most of them would simply add the charge of unreliability to the accusation of bad judgment. Those whose safety or national goals depend on American commitments could only be dismayed. In many parts of the world—the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, even Japan—stability depends on confidence in American promises. Unilateral withdrawal, or a settlement which unintentionally amounts to the same thing, could therefore lead to the erosion of restraints and to an even more dangerous international situation. No American policymaker can simply dismiss these dangers.[xvii]

One can readily imagine the joy with which those words were read in Saigon—though it must also be recognized that they were read with considerable enthusiasm in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, too, as well as in Israel and at least some quarters in West Germany. This much, then, was clear: Kissinger would not cut and run. He also indicated that he would favor bilateral negotiations rather than involving the NLF and Saigon (to keep the vexed question of South Vietnam’s political future off the agenda); that he would not agree to a cease-fire that, given the “crazy quilt” of current territorial holdings, would “predetermine the ultimate settlement and tend toward partition”; and that he would not be “party to an attempt to impose a coalition government” including the NLF on Saigon, as this would likely “destroy the existing political structure of South Viet Nam and thus lead to a communist takeover.”[xviii] He did, on the other hand, favor a “staged withdrawal of external forces, North Vietnamese and American”—a position that he had already set out for Nelson Rockefeller the previous July. He at least implied that he would be reluctant to resume bombing. And he also repeated Rockefeller’s recommendation for “an international presence to enforce good faith” in South Vietnam as well as an “international force . . . to supervise access routes” into the country, ideally equipped with “an electronic barrier to check movements” across its borders (McNamara’s old and characteristically technocratic fantasy).

The most positive recommendation Kissinger made, however, was to step back and locate the Vietnamese negotiations in their broader context, taking account of the world’s other crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Here there were at least some grounds for hope: “[T]he Soviet doctrine according to which Moscow has a right to intervene to protect socialist domestic structures [has] made a Sino-Soviet war at least conceivable. For Moscow’s accusations against Peking have been, if anything, even sharper than those against Prague. But in case of a Sino-Soviet conflict, Hanoi would be left high and dry.”[xix] The fact that hostilities broke out along the Ussuri River within just two months did much to confirm the strategic direction Kissinger and Nixon would take. “However we got into Viet Nam, whatever the judgment of our actions,” Kissinger concluded, “ending the war honorably is essential for the peace of the world. Any other solution may unloose forces that would complicate prospects of international order. A new Administration must be given the benefit of the doubt.” [xx] Kissinger little realized as he wrote those words that he was requesting that benefit for himself and Richard Nixon.

(From Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist)

Photo: Richard Nixon being briefed during his visit to Da Nang Air Base, April 1967.



[i] Marvin and Bernard Kalb, Kissinger (Boston: Little, Brown, 1974)., 14f.

[ii] Richard M. Nixon, “Asia After Viet Nam,” Foreign Affairs (Oct. 1967), 111–25.

[iii] Ibid., 111f.

[iv] Ibid., 123.

[v] Ibid., 121.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Hedrick Smith, “Kissinger Has Parley Plan: Nixon Adviser’s Article Asks 2-Level Talks,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 1968.

[viii] Henry A. Kissinger, “The Viet Nam Negotiations,” Foreign Affairs, 11, no. 2 (1969): 38–50.

[ix] Ibid., 211f.

[x] Ibid., 220.

[xi] Ibid., 218.

[xii] Ibid., 213f.

[xiii] Ibid., 214.

[xiv] Ibid., 215.

[xv] Ibid., 216.

[xvi] Ibid., 221.

[xvii] Ibid., 218f.

[xviii] Ibid., 227f.

[xix] Ibid., 230.

[xx] Ibid., 234.

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Parallel Lives: Richard Nixon and George Allen in Washington Thu, 12 Oct 2017 22:24:10 +0000 November 23, 1971. President Nixon with Redskins Coach George Allen, Redskins football players and the coaching staff. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library) By Charles Cauffman Football season has come once again. With millions of viewers tuning in to Sunday and Monday night football it is not surprising that football continues to be one of the most […]

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November 23, 1971. President Nixon with Redskins Coach George Allen, Redskins football players and the coaching staff. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library)

By Charles Cauffman

Football season has come once again. With millions of viewers tuning in to Sunday and Monday night football it is not surprising that football continues to be one of the most popular sports in America. Interestingly, Presidents have had a close relationship with professional football. Presidents have invited football teams to the White House, have made picks for highly anticipated football games, and have even made vocal endorsements of their favorite team. However, no President has had a more intimate relationship with professional football than Richard Nixon.

When Nixon was President, he maintained a close personal relationship with NFL Hall of Famer and Washington Redskins football coach, George Allen. In many ways Nixon and Allen shared parallel lives in regards to personality and career trajectory. The two men came from humble beginnings and had worked hard to rise to the pinnacle of their professions, ultimately leaving legacies that would define and shape their respective professions.

George Allen and Richard Nixon had become friends long before Richard Nixon had assumed the presidency. They met at a NCAA conference in 1951 where Congressman Richard Nixon was guest speaking. Nixon took a personal interest in George Allen, who at the time was coaching Nixon’s alma mater, Whittier College, where Nixon also played football for the Poets. After talking briefly about football stratagems and Whittier College football history, they hit it off becoming long time friends. They would continue to write each other throughout their lives, encouraging each other through thick and thin. “Rest and exercise sustain the body, but the loyalty of friends when the road is rough sustains the spirit…” Nixon wrote to Allen in May 1974. By 1972, both men had reached the zenith of their careers: By late November 1972, President Nixon had won re-election in a historic landslide victory over George McGovern, and George Allen, in only his second season as coach, had clinched the NFC title, and were set to take on the Miami Dolphins in Super Bow VII.

“Rest and exercise sustain the body, but the loyalty of friends when the road is rough sustains the spirit…” –Richard Nixon to George Allen (May 14, 1974)

Nixon and Allen’s friendship was such that Allen would let the President attend their practice games. On one occasion, Nixon recommended a reversal play in practice that turned out to be the winning play in the scrimmage, which impressed the head coach. There is a rumor that Nixon had even called in a play during the 1973 Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins, but this cannot be confirmed. Nixon often called Allen, congratulating him in his victories and consoling him in his defeats. George Allen would often write Nixon in support for his policies regarding Vietnam and even helped campaign for him in 1972. George Allen even gave Richard Nixon a historic signed football from the Los Angeles Rams, whom he coached from 1961-1966. Nixon would often-invite George Allen to the White House, and wanted to throw a party in his honor. After long and successful careers, the two men even stayed in contact as they approached retirement.

“I liked your decision and to Hell with the second guesses!” – George Allen to Nixon (May 10th 1972)

In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency and by 1977 George Allen had stepped down as head coach of the Red Skins after failing to reach an agreement with his contract. The two giants struggled with retirement initially, found purpose in their later lives. Nixon would go on to be a prolific writer and statesman, occasionally advising presidents with international affairs, particularly China. George Allen would go on to coach several other teams, ending his career with a winning season coaching Cal State Long Beach in 1990. In retirement, President Nixon often invited George Allen to his beach house in San Clemente, La Casa Pacifica, to recount old times, old battles, and lasting legacies.

Further Reading

Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; November 22, 1972; box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA

Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; January 19, 1970; Box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA

Correspondence; George Allen to Richard Nixon; May 10, 1972; Box 9; White House Central Files: Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA

Correspondence; Richard Nixon to George Allen; May 15, 1972; Box 9; White House Central Files; Subject Files: George Allen; Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, CA

Anderson, Dave. “George Allen: Won Games, Lost Jobs.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 1991

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