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Ely Ratner

Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow in China Studies

Expertise

U.S. national security policy in Asia; U.S.-China relations; East Asia regional security

Bio

Ely Ratner is the Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow in China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. His work focuses on U.S.-China relations, regional security in East Asia, and U.S. national security policy.

From 2015 to 2017, Ratner served as the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, covering the global portfolio with particular focus on Asia and China policy, the South China Sea, North Korea, and U.S. alliances in Asia. From 2011 to 2012, while a CFR international affairs fellow, he served in the office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the State Department covering China’s external relations in Asia. He also previously worked in the U.S. Senate on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in the office of Senator Joe Biden. Outside of government, Ratner has worked as a senior fellow and deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and as an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

Ratner has testified before Congress and published widely on U.S.-China relations and U.S. national security strategy in Asia. His commentary and research have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Washington Quarterly, The National Interest, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Chinese Journal of International Politics

Ratner received his BA from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and his PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and children.

All Publications

Article

Tillerson Bumbles Around Asia

Author: Ely Ratner
Politico

The Trump team’s early forays into Asia couldn’t have gone better. In early February, Defense Secretary James Mattis received high praise for his trip to Tokyo and Seoul, reassuring nervous allies that the Trump administration would continue decades of American leadership in Asia. A week later, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe braved a visit to the White House and was rewarded with President Donald Trump reaffirming the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

See more in China; United States; Politics and Strategy

Op-Ed

Don’t Buy China’s Peace Plan For North Korea

Author: Ely Ratner
Fortune.com

In a matter of weeks, all of China’s fears have come to a head on the Korean Peninsula. At an airport in Malaysia in mid-February, the exiled half-brother of North Korea’s ruler was assassinated with a nerve agent, reminding the world that the Hermit Kingdom is run by a paranoid and violent regime. Closer to home, North Korea conducted two rounds of ballistic missile tests in stark violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

See more in North Korea; Politics and Strategy

Article

More Willing and Able: Charting China's International Security Activism

Author: Ely Ratner
Center for a New American Security

China’s external behavior has entered a period of profound evolution. The rapid expansion of Chinese economic, political, and security interests around the world, backed by greater capabilities to advance and defend those interests, is driving Beijing to become increasingly active in international security affairs. Although the ultimate character of China’s future foreign policy remains uncertain – including to leaders in Beijing – China has already begun deviating from long-standing foreign policy practices in ways that reflect its changing constellation of interests and capabilities.

See more in China; Defense and Security

Article

A Trade Deal With a Bonus For National Security

Authors: Michèle Flournoy and Ely Ratner
Wall Street Journal

On the Big Island of Hawaii beginning Monday, U.S. officials will host trade negotiators from 11 nations spanning Asia and the Americas to work toward completing what could be the most significant trade deal in a generation. Five years in the making, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would cover 40% of global gross domestic product and a third of world trade.

See more in China; Economics

Article

How the United States Can Counter the Ambitions of Russia and China

Author: Ely Ratner
The Washington Post

The unraveling of the Middle East under the weight of the Sunni-Shiite rivalry and the rise of the Islamic State is enough of a national security challenge to keep the United States busy for a decade or more. But with more and more American advisers on the ground in Iraq — and a steady stream of videotaped atrocities on the Internet — there is a risk that Washington will once again revert to a foreign policy focused disproportionately on that region.

See more in Russia and Central Asia; Development

Article

Straight Talk on the South China Sea

Author: Ely Ratner
Defense One

President Obama’s second daylong summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping will be the best chance this year to clarify some fuzzy lines on Asia’s biggest potential flash point: the South China Sea. This is the time to further clarify U.S. interests, including whether the United States cares about possible outcomes to the region’s many territorial disputes.

See more in China; Defense and Security

Article

A Plan to Counter Chinese Aggression

Author: Ely Ratner
Wall Street Journal

With China drilling for oil in contested waters off Vietnam and building artificial islands off the Philippines, U.S. policy clearly isn't curbing Beijing's ambitions to redraw Asia's geographic boundaries. Restraining Chinese revisionism is no easy task, and the Obama administration can be applauded for enhancing the U.S. military presence in Southeast Asia and deepening engagement with Asia's multilateral institutions. But these long-term shifts could be buttressed by additional policy measures that Washington can pursue as...

See more in China; Defense and Security

Article

Far Eastern Promises: Why Washington Should Focus on Asia

Author: Ely Ratner
Foreign Affairs

The United States is in the early stages of a substantial national project: reorienting its foreign policy to commit greater attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region. This reformulation of U.S. priorities has emerged during a period of much-needed strategic reassessment, after more than a decade of intense engagement with South Asia and the Middle East. It is premised on the idea that the history of the twenty-first century will be written largely in the Asia-Pacific, a region that welcomes U.S. leadership and rewards U.S. engagement with a positive return on political, economic, and military investments.

See more in Asia and Pacific; Development

Article

The False Cry of the Pivot Deniers

Author: Ely Ratner
Foreign Policy

Former Vice President Al Gore told a crowd at the University of Hawaii on April 15 that using fake science to mislead the public on climate change is "immoral, unethical, and despicable." Currently on a weeklong trip to Asia, President Barack Obama can probably sympathize, as he faces a cadre of skeptics committed to the idea that one of his leading foreign policy priorities — the pivot to Asia — is somehow an illusion.

See more in Global; Global Governance

Article

Learning the Lessons of Scarborough Reef

Author: Ely Ratner
The National Interest

On the evening of June 15, 2012, the Philippines conceded a dramatic ten-week standoff to China by withdrawing its maritime vessels from the waters surrounding Scarborough Reef, a group of tiny outcrops 120 miles west of Subic Bay. Like many islands and rocks in the South China Sea, the sovereignty of Scarborough Reef is contested by multiple claimants, in this case China, the Philippines and Taiwan. And although Asian leaders are quick to eschew notions of zero-sum competition, there was no question that Beijing had scored a tactical victory at Manila’s expense by successfully seizing and occupying the disputed area.

See more in Asia and Pacific; Defense and Security

Article

America’s Not in Decline — It’s on the Rise

Author: Ely Ratner
Washington Post

It’s been a banner month for the oracles of American decline. The shutdown of the federal government, the prospect of a default on the country’s debt, and the political dysfunction that made the United States seem rudderless on Syria and forced the cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia seemed to confirm that the end of American preeminence is finally upon us.

See more in United States; Development

Recent Activity from Asia Unbound

Press/Panels

Radio Interview

Trump talks tough on North Korea ahead of talks with Xi

Ely Ratner contextualizes the Trump-Xi summit at Mar-a-Lago and remarks for KCRW's "To The Point" that the Donald J. Trump administration's Asia policy is uncoordinated, subject to competing centers of power within the White House and in the executive agencies.

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Article

Why Trump Should Play the Human Rights Card With Xi

Ely Ratner is quoted by Slate to express that publically and privately nudging Chinese officials can help to improve the lives of Chinese people campaigning for more political freedom.

Article

Stable Sino-US ties can aid Trump presidency

Sun Xihui, associate professor with the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, quotes Ely Ratner in his argument in favor of a stable U.S.-China relationship in China's Global Times.

Article

Tillerson tells N. Korea it has nothing to fear from U.S.

Bloomberg report on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's remarks on the changing direction of North Korea policy draws on Ely Ratner's recent writing, which asserted that it would be extremely difficult to verify a cessation of North Korean nuclear activities, and that U.S.-South Korea military drills are justified to ensure readiness to fight.

Article

Trump’s China Policy: ‘This Is How You Stumble Into a Crisis’

Foreign Policy quotes Ely Ratner on the uncertain U.S. policy toward the South China Sea. Ratner emphasizes that the Donald J. Trump administration's policy is still forming and urges principals such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Vice President Mike Pence to travel to Asia to send a clear message to the region.