There was quite a bit of attention on the Hill yesterday as Senator Chuck Hagel, the president’s nominee to succeed Leon Panetta as defense secretary, met with the Senate Armed Services Committee in a daylong confirmation hearing. But while observers were captivated by the proceedings, other events on the Hill made headlines and are worth noting.
Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Mark Begich (D-AK) introduced new legislation that could foster U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade with U.S. strategic partners. According to The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog: “The ‘Expedited LNG for American Allies Act’ would put NATO allies and Japan, which is seeking to expand imports as most of its nuclear capacity remains offline, on equal footing with the formal free-trade partners.”
While the proposed legislation names Japan and NATO countries in particular, The Hill also reported that the law could facilitate LNG trade with other strategic partners as well: “In addition to Japan and NATO countries, the new Senate bill would also require DOE to approve exports to other countries if the State Department, in consultation with the Defense Department, determines that it would promote U.S. security interests.”
Senator Barrasso issued a statement about the bill, noting that: “This will expand economic opportunities across America and help lower our nation's trade deficit. Our bill will also promote the energy security of key U.S. allies by helping reduce their dependence on oil and gas from countries, such as Russia and Iran.”
I noted in my January 9 post on the “Top U.S. Security and Foreign Policy Trends to Track in 2013” that U.S. policymakers are likely to develop a clearer position on the future of U.S. natural gas exports. Developments on this issue could happen faster that I initially suspected and are worth watching closely.
Natural resource trends topped international headlines in 2012 – from illicit resource trade in Afghanistan to energy competition in the South China Sea. Which ones should readers track in 2013? Here’s a list of the five international trends I’ll be watching in 2013, in no particular order.
With the continuing dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea, don’t forget to tune into CNAS’s Flashpoints page, an online web portal for those studying security in the East and South China Seas. Flashpoints not only has the latest developments from the region, but offers insights into the rich history surrounding the ongoing territorial disputes in the Asia Pacific.
Photo: Courtesy of CNAS.org.
Yesterday, CNAS released a new policy brief exploring how the United States can make better use of space technologies to improve disaster warning and response.
Sentries in the Sky: Using Space Technologies for Disaster Response explores some of the challenges with sustaining America’s disaster warning and response services by relying solely on ground-bases sensors to collect information about natural disasters and other events that could threaten U.S. communities. Alternatively, space technologies – which have not yet reached their full potential in disaster warning and response services – can complement existing ground-based sensors by combining new modes of data collection and delivery from space to improve the ability of first responders and others charged with protecting the United States to respond to natural and man-made disasters.
The policy brief focuses specifically on advancing tsunami detection through space-based services as just one of many ways that space technologies can advance disaster warning and response capabilities. But despite this narrow focus on tsunami detection, the policy brief is intended to encourage policymakers and others to think more creatively about ways to leverage space technologies to enhance U.S. national security missions, particularly unconventional (but increasingly important) missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
The policy brief builds on a broader body of work at the center on the role of Earth monitoring satellites in national security and foreign policy making. In August 2011, Christine Parthemore and I published Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. More to come from us in this research area.
Photo: An artist concept of the Ocean Surface Topography Mission/Jason 2 Earth satellite. Courtesy of NASA.
All eyes are on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her visit to the Asia Pacific this week.
On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with officials of the Association of South East Asian Nations, or ASEAN, in Jakarta where she encouraged ASEAN leaders to work cooperatively with China to resolve the longstanding territorial dispute in the South China Sea. “The United States does not take a position on competing territorial claims ... but we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force," Secretary Clinton said, according to a report on CBSNews.com. "That is why we encourage ASEAN and China to make meaningful progress toward finalizing a comprehensive code of conduct in order to establish rules of the road and clear procedures for peacefully addressing disagreements."
The New York Times published a report this morning differentiating between the underlying issues driving competition in the East and South China Seas.
As readers of this blog know well, concerns over access to natural resources are an important driver of competition in the South China Sea. States ringing the sea are competing for territorial claims to potentially rich reserves of oil, natural gas and other mineral deposits.
But in the East China Sea, other issues are in play. The New York Times reminds us: “Unlike in the South China Sea, where the frictions center on competition for natural resources, the East Asian island disputes are more about history, rooted in lingering — and easily ignited — anger over Japan’s brutal dominance decades ago.”
The latest dispute over the uninhabited island group near Taiwan – known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China – began in earnest earlier this year when Tokyo’s Governor Shintaro Ishiara announced that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was negotiating with private landowners to purchase the islands by the end of 2012. “Under pressure not to look weak in advance of elections, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda quickly said the central government would buy the islands instead,” The New York Times reports. “That set off a tit-for-tat between activists from both countries.”
While there has been a lot of attention given to China’s territorial contests with its Asian neighbors in the South China Sea, just as important is the dispute between Japan and China in the East China Sea, where both countries lay claim to an uninhabited island group near Taiwan – known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China – that are rich with fish stocks, as well as potentially undersea energy and mineral resources.
Until recently, Japan has managed to avoid drawing Beijing into a more aggressive dispute over the island group. Although the islands are technically administered by Tokyo, the government has promoted a strategy that avoids the perception that Japan is attempting to nationalize the islands by renting them from a private landowner and avoiding commercial or private development on the islands.
But this “hands off” strategy has been criticized by nationalist leaders in Japan who are looking to change the current arrangement. According to an April report in the Japan Times, Tokyo’s Governor Shintaro Ishiara said that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was negotiating with the landowners to purchase the islands by the end of 2012. “Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands. No matter which country dislikes it, no one should have a problem,” Governor Ishiara said in April. Since then, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government “has set up a bank account to collect donations for the purchase,” according to The Washington Post, which by some reports collected nearly a billion yen ($13 million) in one month.
The U.S. Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Republic of Korea Navy conducted trilateral exercises in the East China Sea on June 21, 2012. According to the U.S. Navy, the exercises are intended “to improve interoperability, readiness and the capability to respond quickly to various situations in the region, ranging from disaster relief to maritime security activities.”
Like the neighboring South China Sea, the East China Sea is prone to territorial disputes, including competing claims from China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.
Photo: Courtesy of Lieutenant Commander Denver Applehans and the U.S. Navy.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cautioned on Friday that Japan could not afford to keep its nuclear reactors offline. “Cheap and stable electricity is vital. If all the reactors that previously provided 30% of Japan's electricity supply are halted, or kept idle, Japanese society cannot survive,” Noda said in a televised address.
During the 10-minute speech, Prime Minister Noda emphasized the national security concerns of relying more on imported energy to compensate for the decline of domestic power generated from its nuclear reactors. Noda said that, “Japan needed nuclear power to avoid relying too heavily on oil and natural gas from the politically volatile Middle East,” The New York Times reported.
Since last year’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident, Japan has burned about 135.5 percent more oil, the International Energy Agency reports. The increased oil consumption has likely contributed to a greater dependence on Middle East petroleum – although imports may also be coming from Southeast Asia neighbors, like Brunei.
Japanese officials shutdown the last of 50 nuclear reactors late Saturday evening, taking the country off of nuclear power for the first time in more than four decades. Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors will remain idle for the foreseeable future as they undergo stress tests to determine their ability to stand up against a major disaster, a measure introduced after the March 2011 triple disaster that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and left the country’s nuclear-power future in a tailspin.
Japanese officials remain concerned that the country could experience electricity shortages during the peak summer months without nuclear power, which previously provided approximately 30 percent of Japan’s total electricity demand. A panel of experts reported to Japanese policymakers in April that nine utilities could see electricity shortfalls in August. As a result, Japanese officials may power up two reactors during the summer in order to meet electricity demand. The Japanese Times reports that “Last month, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and key members of his Cabinet decided that firing up the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi power station is essential to ensure a stable supply of electricity in the Kansai region in summertime,” even as the country continues to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. It is not clear if those two reactors will be back online by the summer.