Posts Tagged ‘US’

Is GM American or Chinese?

February 4, 2009

There are all sorts of extenuating circumstances, from different seasons to CNY to yes, the extraordinary fireball that is the US auto-market right now, but still, this has some significance, from the NYT:

“For the first time, more vehicles were sold in China last month than in the United States, according to figures from General Motors.”

Later today what I want to check is whether GM produces more cars in the US or China. Now if those two numbers crossed it’d mean the US were bailing out a Chinese company …

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UPDATE : whoops, GM was comparing total vehicle sales in China to passenger sales in the US. Guess they were just trying to make a splashy point. Still doesn’t say much for their market analysis team though.

The US and North Korea’s shifting challenge

February 2, 2009

NKeconwatch has a great summary of how observers – in particular the markets – are shrugging off the latest sabre rattling, which, together with recent reports of military malnutrition (anecdotally confirmed by myself as an eyewitness in NK) means a diminishing conflict threat.  At the same time, I side with those who see the recent erratic posturing of NK as evidence of severe tension in Pyongyang (coupled with Kim’s known illness).

The CFR has now also rung the alarm bell, though one hopes that the US is far, far more prepared than this report would imply, i.e., its recommendations really should be moot. I mean, if the US has not talked to China about what to do in the event of failed succession, then God help us all.

It should go much further though; the report says that if the NK govt fails, “rapid absorption by South Korea is widely viewed as the inevitable next step”. Anyone who believes the Chinese would let this happen is living in a fantasy world. A US ally, with US troops on its soil, with a border that close to Beijing? Seriously now.

My American friends often tell me that there are institutional contexts which mean we shouldn’t read too much into something like this CFR report. I don’t know, but I sure hope they’re right.

Still no NK envoy from Obama. At least he gave Hu Jintao a courtesy call though. That was nice.

Nukes and robots

January 30, 2009

A fascinating article on robotic warfare by Peter Singer.  He raises a number of good questions about it, notably how much easier it will make it for America to go to war.  I think this is also very troubling when you start doing the calculus from the other side.  Let’s say you’re a nuclear power but you haven’t been able to keep up with the US deployment of robots.  Now a conflict starts, and you’re faced with two problems: first, your forces are probably overmatched; second, and more importantly, since you inflict mostly robot casualties but they are killing people, the political cost to you becomes much greater and to them much lower.  At the extreme, even if you win a battle, no one cares.  So there are very few ways to force the US to the bargaining table.  What is left? The nuclear gamble.

There are lots of ‘what ifs’ here. Of course no-one right now seriously thinks they can really beat the US in a conventional war. But plenty of leaders will believe they can inflict enough political damage by killing a sizeable number of soldiers that they can get to the table.  If the US military pursues this path of limiting human damage too much, the unintended consequence may be the paradoxical outcome of much greater death and destruction.

Beware forcing your enemies into desperation.

Obama and Asia: to be forgotten?

January 23, 2009

The FEER publishes a bold, clever OpEd from Michael Auslin at the AEI. The agenda he proposes for Obama in Asia is a good one, and would at a stroke restore momentum and strategic thrust to the US here. However that would require Asia being a strategic priority, which would in turn require strategic clarity on the region. I just don’t think this is widely present in Washington. So we’ll probably just have to accept that this administration will be fire-fighting everywhere else, and hope that the region doesn’t slip away completely in the interim.

I remember an interview with Obama in Time in the ‘Man of the Year’ issue. He listed his priorities, and Asia was right at the end, like “Oh shit, I forgot about Asia, better talk about that”. Then complete absence from the Inaugural. Let’s see what the travel schedules for him and Hillary look like, but I’m not optimistic.

China’s Military White Paper

January 21, 2009

Haven’t got hold of it yet, hope to do so soon. One thing’s for sure : the timing was no accident (there were no ‘coincidences’ of political timing on Jan 20 this year). What I don’t know, is whether the intent was to release the report to counter the transparency critics, but bury it below the inaugaration coverage, or whether to get the attention of the new President ‘on day one’. My money’s on the latter, but with China’s military there may even be a third option : they’re just playing games.

Favourite inauguration factoid

January 20, 2009

Enough ink will be spilled, so I’ll keep this short: I never realized until this morning that the VPs share a car. Obama and Bush will be polite to each other. God but what I’d give for a mike in Biden and Cheney’s though …