This month, the MacArthur Foundation started a blog to support their Asia Security Initiative (ASI). They are paying selected bloggers $10,000/year to blog about the research supported by the Initiative. (I am not making this up.)
This blog, according to their website is to host "a discussion of current events and security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, drawing from the policy research of the Asia Security Initiative network. Anchored by six expert bloggers, the blog also includes contributions from leading Asia Security Initiative-supported experts."
As of yet, there is no Northeast Asia expert for the blog, but the Foundation is in the process of selecting him. Reporting on this region, for now, is by one of the MacArthur Foundation's ASI program administrators.
It is probably a good thing that this position is still unsettled. The primary job of the blogger is to promote the research of the specific think tanks ASI supports. This can run into a few difficulties.
For one, most of the research and writing in Washington think tanks are mediocre reiterations of common knowledge by undergraduates hoping to please their status-seeking bosses. Another problem is that the think tanks selected feature people who have promoted a failed policy with Japan and the Northeast Asian region. They are all members of "Team Armitage." Last, the entire question asked by MacArthur, which is focused on constructing a "security architecture" in Asia may be wrong. It is a tired question that merely continues an old discussion rather than starts a new one.
Frankly, many of the reports to be blogged upon deserve the inattention they ordinarily would have gotten.
Thus, blogging on the ASI is fraught with all sorts of dangers. The poor blogger is forced into the traditional Washington game of "log-rolling"--you mention me, I will mention you. Objectivity may become skewed as the blogger understands the price of a "bad" review. You either enrage the powerful (albeit unworthy) or embarrass the Foundation for having selected such posers. Having MacArthur's grant administrator blog on his grantees might actually be the safest tack.
The think tanks selected for the Northeast Asia policy blogger to follow are well-known. They house the top tier of policy insiders. Unfortunately, their opinions are culled more from access than knowledge, and their prose is more glib than analytical. They are heavily funded by foreign sources, dependent upon the information given them, and inbreed. Oh yes, they are all heavily alpha male driven.
These think tanks are safe and not known for innovative policy analysis or scholarship. NBR gives the impression that it works with scholars. In truth, it selects prominent scholars and policy officials to head its studies, but the research and writing is done by young RAs. CSIS and the CSIS Pacific Forum have no world-class scholars involved in their programs and rely on former government officials-in-waiting to select the right interns and RAs to do their work.
The Peterson Institute, although having a better quality of scholarship than most in DC, is poor on Japan and North Korea. Their North Korea fellow is well-known simply because there is no one else; presentable that is. Also they are savvy enough to get substantive outside experts to assist or actually do the work. Peterson simply rebrands the outsiders' research--co-authors matter here. Peterson's Fellows have more the benefit of being in Washington and available than of really knowing anything--then again anything one says on North Korea can be right. The Peterson Fellows, however, are yet to be right on Japan or North Korea.
In Japan, the Japan Center for International Exchange is one of oldest governmental institutions to manage gaijin. It is the granddaddy of Japan's mutual understanding machine. I am intrigued that it is taking foreign funds. JCIE has played an important role in cultivating the Japan hands at CSIS and the Council on Foreign Relations as well as being a back channel to Japan's Foreign Ministry.
For the members of Team Armitage, especially at CSIS and CSIS Pacific Forum, the MacArthur grant may have come at an opportune time. Their traditional sources of funds have been Japan, Korea, and Taiwan as CSIS has been viewed as a backdoor to the White House and American Asia policy. Once this relationship is perceived to be broken, it is likely their funding and "specialness" in Japan will fade as well.
So important CSIS was viewed by Japan, that Japan's conservative nationalists positioned disgraced, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to begin his reentry into politics by speaking at their conference on maritime security in Asia.* Although Team Armitage members such as Kurt Campbell and John Steinberg hold key positions in the State Department, most of the Team members and believers have been shut out.
The nomination of John Roos, an unknown to these men, as ambassador to Japan was a wake up call to CSIS's supporters in Japan. The Japanese were convinced that it would be their friend and Team Armitage member Joseph Nye. As an article in the July issue of the conservative Bungei Shunju notes:
...media reports were based on the impression of "Japan experts" like Armitage and former National Security Council director for Asia Michael Green [now CSIS]. These Japan experts monopolize contacts with Japanese companies and politicians and form a small circle of close acquaintances in a kind of "mutual admiration society." Even after the turnover from a Republican to a Democratic government, theirs is a mechanism to protect mutual interest by dispatching officials on Japanese affairs from their exclusive circle. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell is also a member of this inner circle.Since they do not have any connections with Roos, both the so-called "experts on the U.S." and the "experts on Japan" are dissatisfied, calling his appointment a "downgrade." Yet, these very people are the culprits for the lack of stability in the Japan-U.S. relationship. Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to this inner circle. [emphasis added]
*The only thing funnier than that, was one of the conference's the keynote addresses by Vice Admiral William Douglas Crowder, which liberally quoted from a "futuristic" book about the coming war with a Japan allied with Turkey against the US allied with Poland.