Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Chinese Influence in Afghanistan

December 30, 2009

Earlier today, the New York Times published a very interesting article by Michael Wines in which he discusses China’s large investment in Afghanistan’s Aynak copper mine, which is located in Logar Province.  He also analyzes China’s commercial strategy, which is part of its overall foreign policy, and its efforts to secure mineral resources abroad.

One aspect of China’s investments in Afghanistan that Mr. Wines largely ignores is the Chinese  government’s attempt to gain political influence in Afghanistan to counter India’s recent development efforts there.  In fact, five countries are jockeying for power in the war-torn nation: China, India, Pakistan, Iran and the US.  China and India have economic motives for their financial investments, but the geopolitical rivals are also trying to limit the reach of their traditional enemies.  India and Pakistan are even greater rivals, and those two states have political motives for their involvement in Afghanistan; in the case of Pakistan, it seeks to maintain ties to the Taliban in case the group regains power in Kabul, and it also wants to check India’s encroachment into a country that Pakistan considers to be of vital interest to its national security.  Iran meddles in Afghanistan, and it is trying to thwart  US efforts to encircle and contain the Islamic Republic.  America’s presence in Afghanistan is primarily for counterterrorism purposes; it wants to prevent the Taliban from retaking control of the country and giving Al Qaeda a safe haven there, and it needs airbases in Afghanistan from which to launch drone strikes into the tribal regions of Pakistan where anti-American militants are based.

The ongoing geopolitical competition in Afghanistan is complex.  How it plays out will largely depend on the government in Kabul and its ability to establish and maintain security with the help of the US.

Pakistan’s Dilemma

December 8, 2009

Last month, James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, reportedly warned Pakistani officials that the US would escalate attacks against militants in Pakistan if the Pakistani government does not do more to combat them.  The escalation would entail expanding drone strikes into Baluchistan, which is outside the tribal areas where the bombing campaign has been confined to, and launching more cross-border raids by special operations forces.  Leaders of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network are based in the tribal regions of Waziristan, and Taliban leaders are believed to be in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.

The threat of an intensified American campaign poses a dilemma for the Pakistani government.  On one hand, it does not want to sustain high casualties in an offensive against militants who would likely retaliate by bombing civilians and government facilities, nor does it want to alienate Taliban leaders in case they come back into power in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, refusing to act and inviting more American attacks in Pakistan would be problematic because the incursions would likely be perceived as violations of national sovereignty by army leaders and the Pakistani public, a perception which could arouse intense opposition to the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and threaten his hold on power.

The US also faces a dilemma with regard to Pakistan.  America wants to attack Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists based there, but it also fears instability in a country that has nuclear weapons and many Islamic extremists.  If the Taliban and other militant groups continue to have a safe haven in Pakistan it will be extremely difficult for the US to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting since 2001.  But destabilizing Pakistan would be a strategic disaster that might be worse than allowing the Taliban to take over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The prospect that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and anger some Pakistanis enough to join anti-American militant groups also complicates the US decision calculus, although the Obama administration appears to have decided that the benefits of the Predator campaign outweigh the risks.

Brzezinski’s NATO

August 21, 2009

In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times yesterday (, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski presented his vision of how NATO should proceed in the coming years.  His proposal has four main elements: define and pursue a politically acceptable  outcome to the mission in Afghanistan; change NATO’s decision-making process by replacing the “consensus rule”, which requires unanimous agreement before the alliance can take action, with a majority or super-majority voting system, and limit the ability of member states to place restrictions on the types of roles its troops can perform in areas-of-operation; draw Russia into a closer association with NATO via a security-cooperation agreement with the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization; and create a NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization council to promote  joint security undertakings with Asian powers.

Each of the four pillars of Brzezinksi’s proposal are weak.  Defining and pursuing a politically acceptable outcome of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan will be problematic because European members are in more of a hurry to end their commitments to the unstable nation than the US, and they may exit before conditions that American policymakers consider prerequisite for withdrawal exist.

Changing NATO’s decision-making rules will also be difficult.  It is certainly true that restrictions placed on the use of deployed soldiers by their governments have hampered NATO’s ability to combat the Taliban; however, preventing governments from limiting the scope of their troop commitments will simply discourage them from making any boots-on-the-ground contributions to dangerous warzones.  Eliminating the consensus rule is a good idea, but it is uncertain if such an amendment would be acceptable to current members, especially if the ability to delineate mission roles is restricted.

It is doubtful that Russia could be drawn closer to NATO on any substantive level for several reasons.  One is that some NATO members, especially those in Eastern Europe, still view Russia as a hostile power in a historical light.  Russia also strongly distrusts the Western powers and believes that the West is trying to curb Russia’s influence, a belief which is not unfounded.  Another obstacle to cooperation is that Russia and the West have different interests when it comes to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.  Russia considers Eastern Europe and Central Asia part of its sphere of influence, whereas the US and its NATO allies want those regions to have more autonomy for strategic and ideological reasons; and unlike the Western powers, Russia benefits from instability in the Middle East because the resulting higher oil and natural gas prices inject billions of dollars into the Russian economy.  Russia and the US do share certain strategic goals, such as preventing Islamic terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials and reducing nuclear stockpiles, but those objectives can be attained through bilateral agreements.

It is unclear what the benefits of creating a joint security council with the Shangahi Cooperation Organization would be.  America’s alliance with Japan and South Korea has already stabilized relations between them and China.  When it comes to the North Korea issue, the six-party framework has established as much cooperation as is possible between the nations involved.  Tensions between China and the US over Taiwan are best held in check by the existing “one-China” policy and America’s military deterrent.  On a broader geo-strategic level, it is not in America’s interest to encourage Asian powers, even friendly ones, to develop overseas force-projection capabilities that could fuel intra-Asian rivalries and reduce America’s influence in the world.

Clearly, NATO needs to define its role in international affairs, as Brzezinski astutely observes.  However, his recommendations ignore differences in strategic interests that limit NATO’s ability to establishment meaningful and mutually beneficial  relationships with other military-political alliances.

Fight Breaks Out in South Korean Parliament

July 22, 2009

Earlier today, a fight broke out in South Korea’s parliament over a media reform bill that would loosen restrictions on ownership of television networks.  Opposition parties attempted to block legislators from the ruling National Party from entering the assembly room by stacking furniture near the entrance to the chamber.  National Party members managed to overcome the obstacles and enter the room, where they successfully passed the bills and precipitated a melee.  Injuries were reported and one woman was taken to the hospital.

This is not the first time that legislative contoversy has resulted in violence among South Korean parliamentarians.  Last year, opposition party members pounded their way into a committee room with sledgehammers in an effort to prevent the ruling party from drafting a bill to ratify a free trade agreement with the US.

Major confrontation is much more prevalent in legislative assemblies in many foreign countries than it is in the American Congress.  Multiple fights have occured in South Korea.  Earlier this year, there was a physical clash between lawmakers in Malaysia.  Scuffles also broke out in Japan and India last year.  In 2007, Turkish lawmakers got in a fistfight, and a Ukrainian politician was attacked by a member of a rival party after complaining about the vote for prime minister.  In 2006, a fight broke out in the Afghan legislature and violence occured in the Iraqi parliament over a politician’s ringtone on her cell phone.  In 2003,  Venezuelan assemblymen came to blows.  These are just a few examples of literal legislative fights.

There have been no serious physical altercations in the US Congress since the 19th century.  The most infamous one occured in the 1850s, when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane over the issue of slavery and almost killed him.

Obstacles to Climate Change Treaty

July 8, 2009

At a summit meeting held earlier today in Italy, developing nations refused to commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a specific amount. Developed countries, led by the US, Europe and Japan, were hoping to reach a consensus among the world’s top polluters to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming, by 50 percent by mid-century.  In a separate statement, the eight leading industrialized nations embraced the idea of cutting their emissions 80 by 2050, although the resolution was non-binding.

It will be difficult to develop a binding treaty aimed at mitigating global warming for several reasons.  One is that developing countries, particularly China and India, need to consume more and more energy as their economies rapidly develop.  Reducing poverty and improving the standard of living of their citizens is higher on their agenda than tackling global warming.  Many people in those countries believe that global warming is a problem created by the developed nations and should therefore be solved by them. 

Another obstacle is the reluctance of members of Congress to place more financial burdens related to regulation compliance on American corporations, especially in the midst of a major economic recession.  Even though President Obama is pushing for an environmental treaty, it is doubtful if legislators, including those within his own party, will agree to the level of emissions cuts that European governments are seeking.

Leaders around the world have acknowledged the threat posed by global warming and recognize the negative impact it could have on the environment in the coming decades if measures are not taken to reduce emissions.  They will certainly set goals and make non-binding agreements to try to meet them, but it is unlikely that nations outside of Europe and Japan will legally commit themselves to making economically onerous efforts to achieve major reductions in the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.