06 October 2014

Highlights of Dr. Jonathan Pollack’s China/Asia-Watching Career

An interesting interview with my respected mentor, and former Princeton dissertation committee reader and Naval War College colleague, Dr. Jonathan Pollack. Anyone who knows Jonathan knows that he always forms his own conclusions and clearly says what he thinks, without fear or favor! He was a pleasure to work for, and with, in Newport, and was a favorite professor of the students, who could never get enough of his lectures and stories. If you haven’t yet read “No Exit,” you should—it offers a rare, captivating window into geopolitically pivotal but opaque North Korea. W. Straub’s review of the book sums it up brilliantly: it “offers the soundest analysis available of why North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons and why it is very unlikely to negotiate them away.” I’m glad that someone made an effort to document some of the highlights of Jonathan’s fascinating career, and look forward to his future contributions to the field.

Jonathan D. Pollack and Chen Weihua, “A Lifetime of Keeping an Eye on China,” Interview, China Daily, 12 September 2014.

When Jonathan Pollack was an undergraduate at Rutgers University in New Jersey in the lat[ter] half of 1960s, the Vietnam War was raging, and China had just been thrown into a chaotic “culture revolution” (1966-1976). …

As a political science major, young Pollack was curious to learn more.

“So that was the first time I got interested in China,” said Pollack, now a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings [Institution] and the center’s former director. …

after more than 20 years at Rand, Pollack started looking for alternatives. He moved to the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in 2000 when the school wanted to build a civilian department to focus on big international issues.

Pollack spent most time there on research while serving as professor of Asian and Pacific studies and also chairman of the strategic research department. It was also then that the China Maritime Stud[ies] Institute was created in the school.

Pulling several booklets from the bookshelf, Pollack tried to show that not all the studies at the war college are military, such as one on commercial shipbuilding in China.

He dismissed it as a misperception that military officers are all eager to go to war. “When you talk about war, more often than not, it’s not the uniformed personnel who wants to get you into war, it’s civilians. I am quite serious about that,” he said.

Though on a government payroll at the war college, Pollack said he never felt that he was inhibited because “if I cannot do my own thinking and my own writing, there is no point my being there,” he said. …

Pollack’s 2011 book No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security, in which he discusses the Korean Peninsula since 1945, the various scenarios and China’s role, has won rave reviews. …

Pollack believes the agenda for the discussions between Xi and Obama will need to encompass a wide array of issues, including hopes to reenergize the negotiations of a bilateral investment treaty on which the prospects for longer term economic integration will depend.

Other issues regarding global security include the tensions in the Middle East, Ukraine, the South and East China seas and North Korea.

“The opportunities for candid discussion between both leaders on such pressing issues do not often occur, and must be grasped,” said Pollack, now already a grandfather of six.