Third Culture Queen vol. 10

Superpower Struggle | America, China and global hegemony

Hey y'all,

Thanks for hanging in there for 10 newsletters! As I said at the beginning, this project is evolving over time and I appreciate you for tagging along.

Going forward, there will be three Third Culture Queens per week, as follows:

  • Monday – Superpower Struggle | America, China and global hegemony

  • Tuesday – Regional Rivalries | Eurasia, the Indo-Pacific, and the Global South

  • Thursday – Modern Thoughts | Commentaries on today’s culture and progress

Doing this allows me to draft all three simultaneously and gives you the reader the chance to tune into (and better find) the stories you’re most interested in. Plus, Substack will stop yelling me for sending such ridiculously long emails. (Whoops!)

If there are any stories you’re following on the global level, reply to this email and or shoot me a tweet. I love a good foreign policy discussion.

Happy reading!

– Kyle (@kgborland)


Don’t hold your breathe – US/China trade talks should start again in “early October.

In historical terms, the Persian Gulf’s 65,000+ American troops is 13 Roman legions.


American Empire

  • A look at foreign military bases across the Persian Gulf (Washington Times)

    The U.S. has stationed some 14,000 troops (plus 8,000 NATO forces) in Afghanistan supporting America’s longest war.

    The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees the region, is based in Bahrain that is home to over 7,000 American troops. (“Major non-NATO ally”)

    The U.S. has 5,000 troops in Iraq in the aftermath of the war against ISIS.

    Kuwait hosts over 13,000 American troops. (“Major non-NATO ally”)

    A few hundred U.S. military personnel are based in Oman.

    The forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command is at Qatar’s sprawling Al Udeid Air Base, home to up to 13,000 American troops.

    More than 500 American troops would return to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base over tensions with Iran.

    The UAE hosts 5,000 U.S. military personnel, many at Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Air Base, where American drones and advanced F-35 jetfighters are stationed.

  • Air Force crew made an odd stop on a routine trip: Trump’s resort (Politico)

    The revelation that an Air Force mission may have helped line the president’s pockets comes days after Vice President Mike Pence was pressed about his decision to stay at Trump’s property in Doonbeg, Ireland, despite its location hundreds of miles away from his meetings in Dublin. The Oversight Committee is also investigating Pence’s stay at the resort.

    Accusations that Trump’s properties are unfairly profiting off of his administration have dogged the president since entering office. Ethics officials and lawmakers have raised concerns about foreign officials staying at Trump hotels, and noted that Trump supporters and industry groups regularly throw bashes at Trump-owned locations. Trump is also considering hosting next year’s Group of Seven gathering of world leaders at his Doral resort in Florida, a potential financial boon for the property, and has previously stayed at the Turnberry property.

    But the involvement of the military takes the issue to a different level.

  • America won Cold War, Russia’s winning info war (The Day)

    "Unfortunately, facts don't come highlighted in yellow. A false sentence reads the same as a true one. It's not enough to battle falsehood with truth; the truth does not always win."

    America is losing the fight for what Russians call the "information space."

    The cruel paradox of the internet, once hailed as a liberating force, is that it empowers governments that control information and enfeebles those that let it run free. This is a tale of how government bureaucracy, inertia and, most of all, the inherent constraints of an open, democratic society made America so vulnerable to covert action via the internet.

    "Let's face it, democracies are not very good at combating disinformation," writes Stengel. Authoritarian governments, in contrast, "have gone from fearing the flow of information to exploiting it. They understand that the same tools that spread democracy can engineer its undoing."

  • No deal: Trump's skills face questions after scuttling of Afghan talks (Politico)

    Trump announced Saturday on Twitter that he was canceling ongoing U.S. peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including scrapping a secret meeting with the Islamist militia’s leaders and the Afghan president at the Camp David presidential retreat outside of Washington. He claimed that it was because the Taliban had been behind a recent attack that killed an American soldier.

    The decision has imperiled what was, in the scope of Trump’s presidency, a relatively successful diplomatic effort so far to bring an end to the 18-year war in Afghanistan. It also adds to a growing list of Trump’s negotiating shortfalls — from Iran to North Korea to China — that gives ammunition to Democrats seeking to unseat him. The fact that the meeting could have happened the same week as the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks especially outraged Trump critics. (Related: Reuters)

  • Putin is the greatest gift to NATO since the end of the Cold War (CNBC)

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has given NATO a “reason to live again” and is one key factor behind the resurgence and improved capability of the military alliance.

    Speaking at the Ambrosetti Forum in Italy on Friday, Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, said that recent friction between member nations had actually galvanized cooperation and led to increased spending on defense, but he also said there were two other major factors at play.

    “One is the greatest gift to NATO since the end of the Cold War and that’s Valdimir Putin and his aggressive actions which have given NATO a reason to live again, if you will, in a very significant way.”

    Petraueus said that China was actually the biggest focus for the U.S., despite Russia inadvertently causing a revival for NATO.

    “I think the single biggest development in the world this century has been the continued rise of China,” saying its 40-plus year history of achievement was unequaled in the mankind’s history. (Related: Washington Examiner)

  • Senior Officials Concede Loss of U.S. Clout at U.N. Summit (Foreign Policy)

    “The two most severe challenges to the multilateral order today are the relative decline of American power, and the emergence of China as a rival power to the US in global organisations,” according to a recent policy paper by Richard Gowan and Anthony Dworkin of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “[O]ver the last decade, there has been an observable decline in America’s capacity to shape multilateral affairs.”

    Asia experts say that the lax U.S. response to China’s growing diplomatic influence in multilateral institutions is inconsistent with its own effort to contain the rise of a rival power. 

    “The Trump administration has been all about sharpening the U.S. foreign-policy establishment’s focus on China,” said Kristine Lee, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security. “But to ignore a major component of this equation, of China’s rise in international organizations and multilateral institutions, is shooting yourself in the foot.” 

    Chinese nationals have seen increasing success competing for top jobs in the U.N. and other international organizations. In June, China outmaneuvered the United States in the campaign for the top job at the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, delivering Washington a humbling defeat that U.N. watchers say is emblematic of Beijing’s growing clout in the international institutions the United States has pulled back from under Trump. Beijing’s favored candidate, Qu Dongyu, a Chinese vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs, won a rare first-round victory, receiving 108 of the 191 votes in secret balloting. 

  • The Fog of Intervention (The New Republic)

    “A Problem From Hell” had two main arguments. First, it claimed that throughout the twentieth century “the United States has consistently refused to take risks in order to suppress genocide” and, by not acting, had failed the people of Armenia, Cambodia, and Rwanda, among other places. Second, the book maintained that in the future, U.S. decision-makers should take steps to prevent or halt atrocities along “a continuum of intervention” that would range “from condemning the perpetrators or cutting off U.S. aid to bombing or rallying a multinational invasion force.” Power did not, as many critics later avowed, unthinkingly advocate military intervention; rather, she considered intervention as the final in a series of graduated steps intended to avert or stop genocide. But as Power herself would soon learn, when Americans were presented with the hammer of military force, many atrocities began to look like nails. (Related: The Federalist)

  • The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran (The New York Times Magazine)

    The story of how this simmering crisis began is in many ways a story about the complexities of America’s relationship with Israel, a story that has never been fully told. It is the story of a war narrowly averted, an arms agreement negotiated behind Israel’s back, two bedrock allies spying on each other and a battle over who will ultimately shape American foreign policy. Interviews with dozens of current and former American, Israeli and European officials over several months reveal the startling details of how close the Israeli military came to attacking Iran in 2012; the extent to which the Obama administration felt required to develop its own military contingency plans in the event of such an attack, including destroying a full-size mock-up of an Iranian nuclear facility in the western desert of the United States with a 30,000-pound bomb; how Americans monitored Israel even as Israel monitored Iran, with American satellites capturing images of Israel launching surveillance drones into Iran from a base in Azerbaijan; and previously unknown details about the scope of Netanyahu’s pressure campaign to get Trump to leave the Iran deal.

    “Bibi identified with the Republicans, and that was a mistake. His speech in Congress was poking a finger in the eye of the president of the United States. I said all of this to Bibi, but he told me: ‘Forget it. You don’t get it.’ In his view, no one understands America but him and Ron Dermer.”

    Netanyahu still thinks that’s the case, wryly noting that none of his critics understand “the big secret” of American politics. He says that some of his former cabinet members and generals seemed to believe that the United States consisted of little more than the Pentagon and the White House, but they were wrong. American public opinion was the key, and the ability to shape it in some ways cut to the very heart of Netanyahu’s political persona. “In the last 30 years, I appeared innumerable times in the American media and met thousands of American leaders,” he says. “I developed a certain ability to influence public opinion, and that is the most important thing: the ability to sway public opinion in the United States against the regime in Iran.”

    Once again, more than a decade after they first raised the subject with American officials, Israeli officials have been considering the possibility of a unilateral strike against Iran. Unlike with Bush and Obama, there is greater confidence that Trump wouldn’t stand in the way. Netanyahu has recently been flexing Israeli muscle around the Middle East — launching hundreds of raids into Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah arms stores and troop concentrations, and undertaking an even bolder operation in July against a base in eastern Iraq that, Israeli intelligence believed, was being used to store long-range guided missiles en route to Iranian forces in Syria.

    The threat of war could be a bluff, or an election ploy. But it also represents a dangerous confluence of interests: an American president often reluctant to use military force and an Israeli prime minister looking to deal with unfinished business. “I think that it’s far more likely that Trump would give Netanyahu a green light to strike Iran than that Trump would strike himself,” Shapiro says. “But that, you know, is a big risk.”

  • Top US Official in Talks With Houthis in Bid to End Yemen War (VoA)

    "We are narrowly focused on trying to end the war in Yemen," David Schenker, assistant secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters during a visit to Saudi Arabia, according to Agence France-Presse. "We are also having talks to the extent possible with the Houthis to try and find a mutually accepted negotiated solution to the conflict."

    A U.S. State Department official told VOA Thursday the U.S. is engaged in talks with "all Yemenis to further U.S. objectives in the country."

    The official said the United States is continuing "to work with our international partners to bring peace, prosperity and security to a unified Yemen" and is "focused on supporting a comprehensive political agreement that will end the conflict and the dire humanitarian situation. (Related: Reuters)

  • What if the US Military Neglects AI? What happens? (War on the Rocks)

    AI Explosion: The year is 2040 and the 2034 Kargil war between India and Pakistan proved the efficacy of AI as a force of war. The war was fundamentally a contest of doctrine and adaptation. The victor used AI and autonomous systems to generate mass and speed throughout the conflict, throwing wave upon wave of self-organizing robots upon adversary forces. Their entire defense industrial base was structured to support the strategy — machine-learning techniques optimized every aspect of the acquisition system. AI systems helped coordinate deployments and logistics and optimize maintenance cycles. The loser subordinated AI to humans. The losing state also embraced autonomous weapon systems, but focused on human-machine teaming. The human element made the teams more flexible and they achieved some clever tactical victories, but the robotic masses proved too much. Off the battlefield, personal initiative drove ad hoc adoption of AI-enhanced processes.

    AI Trinity: The year is 2040: AI and robotics threaten nuclear deterrence and dominate the battlefield. Swarms of drones guard national borders with a mixture of advanced air and missile defenses, while massive undersea swarms rove the sea in search of nuclear submarines. Cheap drone-mounted sensors virtually eliminated costly advantages in stealth, made the ocean vastly more transparent, and created significant uncertainty in submarines as reliable second-strike platforms. Other AI capabilities help manage the system, optimize processes to keep costs low, and reduce false positives and negatives. A series of short but bloody conflicts between the United States, China and Russia in the late 2030s raised specters of new great power conflict unconstrained by nuclear weapons.

    AI Fizzle: The year is 2040 and dreams of a robotic future remain a fantasy. During the early 2020s, implementation of machine learning and data analysis techniques expanded, creating some organizational and logistical efficiencies and reduced costs. But those changes were not transformative. Some states developed AI-powered autonomous platforms, but the battlefield impact was limited. A well-placed jammer or microwave weapon could defeat even large masses of autonomous systems.

China’s Belt and Road

  • China injects $126 billion into the economy w/ reserve-ratio cut (Market Watch)

    China’s central bank will unleash roughly 900 billion yuan ($126 billion) into the financial system, in an effort to boost lending as the world’s second-largest economy faces increasing pressure from a trade war with the U.S.

    The People’s Bank of China said Friday that it plans to reduce the amount of reserves that commercial banks are required to keep with the central bank by half a percentage point, starting September 16, in a bid to spur lending and economic activity.

    In addition to the cut in the reserve requirement ratio, the central bank said, it will also lower the ratio for smaller banks by 1 additional percentage point, in a bid to enhance financing support for small and private firms.

  • China lodges tariff case at WTO against the U.S. (Reuters)

    China has filed a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization over U.S. import duties, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said.

    The lawsuit is the third Beijing has brought to challenge U.S. President Donald Trump’s China-specific tariffs at the WTO, the international organisation that limits the tariffs each country is allowed to charge.

    On Friday the United States published a written defence in the first of the three legal cases, asserting that China and the United States agreed the issue should not be judged at the WTO.

    “China has taken the unilateral decision to adopt aggressive industrial policy measures to steal or otherwise unfairly acquire the technology of its trading partners; the United States has adopted tariff measures to try to obtain the elimination of China’s unfair and distortive technology-transfer policies.”

  • Foreign aid for the Bahamas could spark a new China threat (Axios)

    Administration sources say it's too soon for detailed conversations on how the China rivalry could play out in the hurricane's aftermath. But officials involved in diplomacy, national security and foreign assistance understand that will be part of the equation after the initial response. 

    The big picture: The official Bahamas tourism site has a whole page on "Our Proximity to the United States," with one island "[j]ust 50 miles off the coast of Florida" and Nassau, the capital, a "45-minute plane ride from Miami."

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative intertwines his nation with countries throughout Asia, Europe and Africa by investing in ports, railways, power grids, gas pipelines, oil pipelines and other massive infrastructure developments.

    • Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis was among the Caribbean leaders who visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago in March after agreeing to stand with the U.S. in supporting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

    • In exchange, Trump promised enhanced U.S. lending and investment. The White House previewed the summit by saying Trump is "working with countries in the region to strengthen our security cooperation and counter China’s predatory economic practices."

  • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to withdraw extradition bill (BBC)

    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she will withdraw the highly controversial extradition bill which has triggered months of protests.

    The proposal, introduced in April, would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The bill was suspended in June but Ms Lam stopped short of scrapping it.

    Full withdrawal was one of five key demands of protesters, who also want full democracy. Some rejected Ms Lam's move and vowed to keep on protesting.

    In a televised address on Wednesday, Ms Lam also announced other measures that appeared to be designed to soothe unrest.

    She said two senior officials would join an existing inquiry into police conduct during the protests. An independent investigation into alleged police brutality against protesters is another of the activists' key demands. (Related: BuzzFeed)

  • Hong Kong protesters appeal to Trump for help (BBC)

    Sunday's crowd waved US flags and chanted pleas for the US to "liberate" Hong Kong from China.

    They are asking the US to pass a proposed "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act", which Democratic Senators are pushing for consideration next week.

    The law would require the US to certify Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy on an annual basis to justify its special trade status.

    It could also expose Chinese officials to US sanctions if they were found responsible for suppressing Hong Kong's freedoms.

    Protesters sang the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, and a new rallying cry of "five demands, not one less" - after one of their long-standing conditions for ending demonstrations was met earlier this week.

  • Xi says China facing a period of 'concentrated risks' (Reuters)

    Speaking at the Central Party School, which trains rising officials destined for higher office, Xi said there must be a “resolute struggle” against any risks and challenges to the party’s leadership, the country’s sovereignty and security and anything that threatens the country’s core interests.

    “As long as it comes, we must carry out a resolute struggle, and we must achieve victory,” state media cited Xi as saying.

    “At present and in the future, China’s development has entered into a period where risks and challenges continue to increase or are becoming concentrated. The major struggles to be faced will not become less,” he added.