When drama undercut diplomacy

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BY , The Japan Times

downloadIt has taken just weeks for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy to break down, thanks to his peace overture generating a boomerang effect. Modi thought he was making history by paying a surprise visit to Pakistan on Christmas Day. Few in India dared to ask whether visiting an adversary state unannounced and unprepared could really bring peace.

Today, Modi’s silence on Pakistan underscores the dilemma haunting his government — how to fix a broken Pakistan policy. New Delhi seems to be at a loss as to what to do next.

After Modi’s much-publicized hug of his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in the Pakistani city of Lahore, it took the terror masters who rule the roost in Pakistan barely a week to thank him for his visit by carrying out terror attacks through their surrogate Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group on an Indian air base at Pathankot and on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The Pathankot attack, which killed seven Indian troops, was the military equivalent of the 2008 Mumbai strikes on civilian targets by terrorists from Pakistan.

Now, as India presses the Sharif government for action against Azhar Masood and other JeM terrorist leaders for carrying out the New Year’s terror attacks at Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif, Pakistan has let loose Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 2008 cataclysmic Mumbai terrorist strikes. The United States in 2012 put a $10 million bounty on the head of Saeed, a United Nations-designated terrorist who founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba group.

In an example of how the Pakistani military, including the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, uses terrorist surrogates, Saeed has justified the Pathankot attack and warned India of more terror strikes.

Saeed’s very public life mocks not just the Obama administration’s bounty but also the Modi government’s fond hope that Sharif — Pakistan’s impotent prime minister who has ceded key powers to the military — would rein in his country’s terrorist proxies. Indeed, Saeed’s latest actions, including staging rallies across Pakistan, including one that he himself led in the Pakistani capital, have helped to highlight the Modi government’s strategic naivete. They also show that the U.S. bounty on his head is just to placate New Delhi and buy its cooperation on Pakistan.

Pakistan has never honored international norms or its own solemn commitments. For example, when Sharif visited the White House in October, the joint statement said the visiting Pakistani leader apprised Obama about Pakistan’s resolve to take “effective action against U.N.-designated terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliates, as per its international commitments and obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).”

U.S. President Barack Obama did not question Sharif about the public activities of Saeed, Azhar and other terrorist proxies or about Pakistan’s violation of the Security Council and FATF requirements in the case relating to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, a Lashkar-e-Taiba leader whom Pakistan arrested and charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan failed to investigate the source of funds used to bail out Lakhvi in April 2015.

Modi took office in May 2014 with a prudent approach toward Pakistan — inviting Sharif to his inauguration but sidelining the Pakistan issue so as to keep the focus on foreign policy priorities where progress could be made. In September 2014, while addressing the U.N., Modi made clear that “a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan” was only possible “without the shadow of terrorism,” urging that country to “create an appropriate environment” for talks.

But later Modi succumbed to pressure from the lame-duck U.S. president, who has not only shielded Pakistan from international sanctions but has also boosted American aid significantly to that renegade state. The U.S. heavily funds the Pakistani military even as sections of the Pakistani Army and intelligence actually work against it, including aiding the killing of American troops next door in Afghanistan through their surrogates, the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

After Obama’s New Delhi visit in early 2015, Modi’s Pakistan policy transformed conspicuously. He resumed bilateral dialogue unconditionally, only to invite new terror attacks in India’s Punjab and Kashmir states. Still, he paid a surprise visit to Pakistan.

The attack on the Pathankot air base by Pakistani gunmen constituted an act of war. Yet Modi’s only public comment thus far on that attack has been to blame it on “enemies of humanity.” Even when he visited the air base after the attack, he said nothing. If Obama had said nothing when he visited San Bernardino, California — where a married couple of Pakistani origin killed 14 people in December — he would have been roasted by his critics.

It was naive of Modi to think that by supplying Pakistan communication intercepts and other evidence linking the Pathankot attackers with their handlers in that country, the terror masters there would go after their terror proxies. Pakistan is currently carrying out investigations into the Pathankot strike, not to prosecute those behind it but to identify the attack’s operational deficiencies so that the next attack by its terrorist proxies is better planned. That is why it is seeking even more evidence from India.

According to a flawed argument, the only choice for India is between continuing useless talks with Pakistan and waging a full-fledged war. Worse still, some Indians believe that India has no choice but to keep battling Pakistan’s unconventional war on Indian territory. This means treating cross-border terrorism as an internal law-and-order problem and bringing yourself under siege.

Wisdom lies in fighting an unconventional war with an unconventional war that is taken to the enemy’s own land so as to drive home the message that the foe’s aggression is not cost-free.

Today, however, Modi’s Pakistan policy lies in tatters. Modi’s Pakistan visit, in fact, illustrated the difference between diplomacy and drama. By putting the emphasis on drama, Modi undermined Indian diplomacy.

The Indian public is sick and tired of the national leadership’s acts of commission and omission that have made the country repeatedly relive history. According to Indian Army chief Gen. Dalbir Singh, 17 terrorist-training camps in Pakistan close to the border with India are still operating. So, India must brace itself to further cross-border terrorism. The enemy will strike at a time and place of its choosing.

With Modi’s credibility at stake, it is difficult to believe that he will continue with a business-as-usual approach toward Pakistan. But if his government wants history to stop repeating itself, it must develop a credible counterterrorism strategy.

Long-time Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of nine books, is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© The Japan Times, 2016.

China Flexes Its Naval Muscles to Project Power Far Beyond Its Shores

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Since 1949, China has been redrawing its frontiers. This still remains an unfinished task for its rulers.

Brahma Chellaney, China-US Focus

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Boosting naval prowess and projecting power as far away as the Middle East are at the center of China’s ambition to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia. This will be at the back of U.S. President Barack Obama’s mind when he hosts ASEAN leaders at a February 15-16 summit in Sunnylands, California, with his secretary of state John Kerry already urging Southeast Asia to show unity in response to Beijing’s territorial encroachments in the South China Sea.

Several developments underscore China’s determination to take the sea route to achieve regional dominance — from its frenzied creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea and its rapidly expanding submarine fleet, to its recent admission that it is establishing its first overseas military base in the Indian Ocean rim nation of Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa. The Middle East base at Djibouti represents a transformative moment in its quest for supremacy at sea, a goal highlighted by its official white paper “China’s Military Strategy,” which last summer outlined a plan for the navy to shift focus from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection.”

After China’s inroads into strategically located Indian Ocean nations like Sri Lanka and the Maldives, President Xi Jinping’s latest trip to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt point to the broader Chinese ambitions in the Middle East, a region where political turmoil and Russia’s military intervention in Syria are already altering the delicate balance of power. China has thrown down the gauntlet to the U.S. by deciding to set up its base in Djibouti, which serves as the Pentagon’s main intelligence-gathering post for the Arab world and the critical shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

China boasts one of the fastest-growing undersea fleets in the world. It has already surpassed the U.S. submarine fleet in quantity but not quality. But as it works to further expand its force of diesel and nuclear attack submarines, its territorial and maritime assertiveness and muscular actions are prompting neighboring countries, from Japan to India, to strengthen their anti-submarine capabilities.

Beijing’s increasing submarine forays into the Indian Ocean — the bridge between Asia and Europe — draw strength from its more assertive push for dominance in the adjacent South China Sea, where it continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no power has done before elsewhere.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and Beijing understands that very well, especially because its claim of historic right over virtually all the resource-endowed South China Sea is weak and legally untenable. China thus has set out to achieve effective control, a key principle in international law for determining legitimate ownership of a territory.

This is exactly the same strategy the People’s Republic employed in the past to advance its territorial claims elsewhere, such as the Himalayas. In fact, no sooner had the communists seized power in Beijing than China began gobbling up the then-independent Tibet — a conquest that enlarged its landmass by more than one-third and changed Asia’s water map. Decades later, the redrawing of national frontiers remains an unfinished task for the rulers in Beijing.

The artificial islands in the South China Sea — a global trade and maritime hub — not only arm China with a great bargaining chip but allow it to forward deploy military forces hundreds of miles from its shores. In the process, China is positioning itself at the mouth of the Indian Ocean.

Indeed, Beijing appears to be using the South China Sea as a testing ground for changing the Asian geopolitical map. To advance its larger geostrategic interests, China is assertively using geoeconomic tools, such as the Maritime Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which was launched January 16 by Chinese President Xi Jinping at a ceremony in Beijing. The Maritime Silk Road — designed to link China’s eastern coast with the Indian Ocean region and the Middle East — presents itself as a benign-sounding new banner for the country’s “string of pearls” strategy.

Make no mistake: China’s expanding submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters. This explains why China is setting up a naval hub in Djibouti, building a naval base at Gwadar, Pakistan, and wanting access to port facilities around India, like it has already secured in Sri Lanka.

China’s territorial expansions in the South China Sea, without incurring any international costs, are whetting its growing interest in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. This shows that the South China Sea is critical to the contest for influence from the Middle East to the Pacific.

Yet, the Obama administration has focused its concern on safeguarding freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, not on finding ways to stop China from altering the status quo in its favor. ASEAN disunity has also aided China’s strategy.

Emboldened by international inaction and a series of crises that have helped divert global attention, Beijing has been feverishly turning low-tide elevations in the South China Sea into small islands by dredging seabed material and then dumping it using pipelines and barges. In the process, it has been creating new “facts on the ground,” including military facilities, for enforcing an air defense identification zone without having to declare one.

China’s militarization of the South China Sea not only threatens freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but is also encouraging aggressive Chinese coastguard patrolling. Hanoi, for example, has accused Chinese patrols of frequently intercepting Vietnamese fishing boats, ramming them, damaging equipment, and beating up crews.

Against this background, the South China Sea has emerged as the symbolic center of the international maritime challenges of the 21st century. The region is important even for countries in the Middle East and Europe because what happens there will impinge on larger maritime security. Indeed, developments in the South China Sea — the world’s newest maritime hot spot — carry the potential of upending even the current liberal world order by permitting brute power to trump rules.

The sea’s centrality to the international maritime order should induce likeminded states to work closely together to positively shape developments, including by ensuring that continued unilateralism is not cost-free. Only sustained pressure can persuade Beijing that its future lies in cooperation and not confrontation.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War.” He is also Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research.

Why a Stable Balance of Power in Asia Calls for a Resurgent Japan

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The international spotlight on Japan’s prolonged economic woes has helped obscure one of Asia’s farthest-reaching but least-noticed developments – the political rise of the world’s third-largest economy. By initiating national-security reforms and seeking a more active role in shaping the evolving balance of power in Asia, Japan wants to stop punching below its weight and take its rightful place in the world.

Japan’s quiet political resurgence is reflected in various ways – from the government strengthening security arrangements with the United States and building close strategic partnerships with other major democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, to a grassroots movement at home pressing for changes in the country’s U.S.-imposed pacifist constitution.

Tokyo’s recent landmark deal with South Korea to settle a bitter history dispute over wartime “comfort women” promises to open up greater diplomatic space for it in East Asia.

Already, Japan’s passive chequebook diplomacy is giving way to a proactive approach focused on the Asian mainland and the oceans, including the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Japan is shoring up ties with other major Asia-Pacific democracies, from Canada and Australia to India and Indonesia.

The single biggest factor driving Japan’s political rise is the ascent of a muscular China.

Japan is the world’s first constitutionally pacifist nation. The constitution’s Article 9 says, “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” No other national constitution in the world goes so far as to bar acquisition of the means of war or to renounce “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

The American postwar success in disarming Japan by disbanding its military, imposing a 1946-drafted constitution and overhauling its education system, however, engendered its own challenges. It did not take long for the United States to realize that it had gone too far in creating a demilitarized Japan.

In 1953, then-U.S. vice-president Richard Nixon called the constitution “a mistake.” That reflected a changing U.S. approach toward Japan, owing to America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Communist takeover in China and the protracted Korean War. Through a major reinterpretation of the very constitution it had imposed, the United States encouraged Japan to reconstitute its military as “Self-Defence Forces” in order to make the country the linchpin of America’s Asian strategy.

Japan’s recent constitutional reinterpretation to assert its right to collective self-defence is small in comparison. Tokyo has also relaxed its long-standing, self-imposed ban on export of arms, thus opening the path to building closer security co-operation with other Asia-Pacific democracies.

With Japan’s nationalist impulse to play a bigger international role now rising, its domestic debate on national-security and constitutional reform is set to intensify. However, further national-security reform beyond what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has carried out is linked – from a legal standpoint – to constitutional reform.

The Japanese constitution is unique in that it defines no head of state. It stripped the emperor of all but symbolic power. This was by design: The United States wanted to have the emperor as merely the symbol of Japan so that it could use him during the 1945-52 occupation years without the monarch being able to rally his people.

Likewise, the force-renouncing Article 9 was designed to keep Japan as America’s client state so that it would never pose a threat to the United States again.

But today, U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defence and for regional security.

The Japanese constitution, however, is among the hardest in the world to revise. It is doubtful that any proposed constitutional change – even after winning approval with the mandated two-thirds vote in both chambers of parliament – can secure majority support in a national referendum in order to take effect.

The large protests against Mr. Abe’s 2015 security legislation permitting the Self-Defence Forces to engage in “collective defence” were a reminder that the U.S.-instilled pacifism remains deeply rooted in Japanese society. A 2014 survey revealed that just 15 per cent of Japanese (compared with almost 75 per cent of Chinese) were willing to defend their country – the lowest figure in the world.

Make no mistake: Enduring peace in Asia demands a proactive Japan. If Japan fails to carry out further reforms of its postwar institutions and policies to meet the new regional challenges, it could erode its security.

Having spawned the problem that Japan now confronts – how to cast off the constitutional albatross – the United States must be part of the solution. Its own geostrategic interests demand that Tokyo play a proactive role in regional affairs and do more for its own defence, within the framework of the U.S.-Japan security treaty. If the United States were to openly support constitutional revision in Japan, it would help blunt criticism from the country’s powerful pacifist constituency and from China.

Constitutional and national-security reform in Japan will help underpin the central goal of America’s Asia-Pacific strategy – a stable balance of power. Although rising powers tend to be revisionist powers, a politically resurgent Japan, strikingly, is seeking to uphold the present Asian political and maritime order.

Washington thus ought to aid the continued political rise of this status quoist country, which is determined to reinvent itself as a more competitive and secure state.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research and author, most recently, of Water, Peace and War.

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

It is déjà vu all over again

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, February 2, 2016

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India’s hug-then-repent penchant

Spanish-born US philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. India’s propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure has run deep in its personality-driven foreign policy since independence. Even on an issue that poses an existential threat to it — Pakistan-sponsored terrorism — India finds that history is repeating itself.

Despite the unending aggression flowing from Pakistan’s foundational loathing of India, New Delhi has failed to evolve a coherent, long-term policy toward that country. If anything, India’s Pakistan policy has zigzagged under virtually every prime minister. In stark contrast, Pakistan has maintained the same policy since its creation — to spotlight Kashmir and undermine Indian security in every way possible.

Since Narendra Modi’s unannounced Christmas Day visit to Pakistan, New Delhi is relearning one fundamental reality — no amount of Indian hugging of Pakistan’s civilian leadership can blunt the Pakistani military’s strategy to bleed India through a “war of a thousand cuts”.

Consistency in policy or goals has never been India’s forte, given its hug-then-repent penchant. Indeed, successive Indian leaders have assumed that other nations will do what India is adept at pulling off — change beliefs and policies overnight. India has also distinguished itself by reposing trust in foes and then crying “betrayal” when they deceive it, as happened in 1962 and 1999 (Kargil). Another reason India relives history is that virtually every prime minister has sought to reinvent the foreign-policy wheel rather than learn the essentials of statecraft or heed past national mistakes.

Other than the tool of dialogue, India has little direct leverage over Pakistan. The dialogue instrument thus must be employed judiciously to help improve Pakistan’s conduct. For Islamabad, by contrast, talks with India are essential not to help normalize political and economic relations but to aid its hardball tactics to spotlight the revisionist issue that still serves as the glue to prevent a dysfunctional Pakistan from unravelling — Kashmir. Talks also provide Pakistan the equivalence with India it craves.

But with each Indian prime minister ingenuously thinking that he can make peace with Pakistan, successive governments have played into Islamabad’s hands by blundering.

Jawaharlal Nehru internationalized the Kashmir issue by taking it to the United Nations and implicitly accepting Pakistan’s takeover of more than one-third of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent magnanimously returned Haji Pir, now a key staging ground in Pakistan’s war by terror. Indira Gandhi’s folly at Simla in securing nothing concrete from a vanquished Pakistan helped lay the foundation for Pakistan’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts.

The sphinx-like Atal Bihari Vajpayee took Nawaz Sharif by surprise by embracing him at Wagah and then signing the Lahore Declaration that singled out J&K by name as a bilateral issue awaiting resolution. Not surprisingly, Kashmir and terror dominated Vajpayee’s tenure.

Vajpayee never learned from his serial blunders, which is why he paid another Pakistan visit just months before voters swept him out of office. It was under him that an ignominious episode unparalleled in modern world history occurred, with the Indian foreign minister flying to known terrorist territory to hand-deliver three leading terrorists from Indian jails. Just the way the terrorists-for-Rubaiya Sayed swap a decade earlier helped fuel the Pakistan-scripted Kashmir insurrection, the Kandahar cave-in before hijackers led to a qualitative escalation in cross-border terrorism, including on national emblems of power.

And just as Vajpayee’s 1999 bus journey to Lahore produced the Kargil War and the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, Modi’s Christmas hug of Sharif in Lahore yielded a quick payback from Pakistan as New Year’s gift: twin terror attacks, outsourced to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) — one on the Pathankot airbase (in what was the military equivalent of the 2008 Mumbai strikes on civilian targets) and the other on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Indeed, JeM — an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) front organization — typifies why India relives history. India jailed Masood Azhar for taking Western hostages in J&K in 1994 and then forgot about him until the IC-814 hijackers demanded his release. Once Azhar and the other two terrorists were traded for the hostages, the ISI brought him to Pakistan, arranging a hero’s welcome and installing him as the JeM head.

It did not take Azhar’s sponsors long to thank Vajpayee for his release by sending JeM gunmen to kill India’s elected leadership. The 2001 Parliament attack led India to mobilize its armed forces for war and demand that Pakistan shut down its state-run terrorist complex or face punishment. However, after keeping its forces in war-ready mode for months, India backed down meekly without securing anything from Islamabad.

Now, JEM’s sponsors have thanked Modi for his Pakistan visit by carrying out the Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif strikes. What has been Modi’s response? To supply Islamabad, even before the airbase siege ended, evidence of the Pathankot attackers’ Pakistani footprints and to tamely put up with Sharif’s charade of “preventively detaining” JEM leaders. If anything, the ISI will use the evidence to ensure that its next attack leaves no similar telltale signs.

By providing evidence and by offering to welcome Pakistani investigators, India has played into Pakistan’s hands by buying the myth that terror groups like JEM are independent of the Pakistani state. Any Indian policymaker who thinks this approach will help contain Pakistani terrorism has probably been spending more time than he should have reading about Alice in Wonderland. Pakistan’s terror masters will focus any Pakistani investigation on identifying their latest attack’s operational deficiencies.

After each terror attack, it is déjà vu all over again, with Pakistan promising to assist Indian investigations, only to take India round and round the mulberry bush. It is past time for India to recognize that escapism as policy is an invitation to never-ending trouble. Moreover, maintaining a peace dialogue with a renegade neighbour only lends legitimacy to its roguish ways because that nation will use such talks as a cover to undermine India’s security.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Upholding the Asian Order

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Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

China's President Xi Jinping meets with the guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

China’s ambition to reshape the Asian order is no secret. From the “one belt, one road” scheme to the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, major Chinese initiatives are gradually but steadily advancing China’s strategic objective of fashioning a Sino-centric Asia. As China’s neighbors well know, the country’s quest for regional dominance could be damaging – and even dangerous. Yet other regional powers have done little to develop a coordinated strategy to thwart China’s hegemonic plans.

To be sure, other powers have laid out important policies. Notably, the United States initiated its much-touted strategic “pivot” toward Asia in 2012, when India also unveiled its “Act East” policy. Similarly, Australia has shifted its focus toward the Indian Ocean, and Japan has adopted a western-facing foreign-policy approach.

But coordinated action – or even agreement on broadly shared policy objectives – has remained elusive. In fact, a key element of America’s Asian pivot, the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, does not just exclude China; it also leaves out close US allies like India and South Korea.

That is not the only problem with the TPP. Once the lengthy process of ratifying the deal in national legislatures is complete and implementation begins, the impact will be gradual and modest. After all, six members already boast bilateral free-trade agreements with the US, meaning that the TPP’s main effect will be to create a free trade area (FTA) between Japan and the US, which together account for about 80% of the TPP countries’ combined GDP. The conclusion of the ASEAN-initiated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – which includes China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, but not the US – is likely to weaken the TPP’s impact further.

Compare this to the “one belt, one road” initiative, which aims to boost China’s financial leverage over other countries through trade and investment, while revising the maritime status quo, by establishing a Chinese presence in areas like the Indian Ocean. If President Xi Jinping achieves even half of what he has set out to do with this initiative, Asian geopolitics will be profoundly affected.

In this context, Asia’s future is highly uncertain. To ensure geopolitical stability, the interests of the region’s major players must be balanced. But with China eager to flex the political, financial, and military muscles that it has developed over the last few decades, negotiating such a balance will be no easy feat.

As it stands, no single power – not even the US – can offset China’s power and influence on its own. To secure a stable balance of power, likeminded countries must stand together in backing a rules-based regional order, thereby compelling China to embrace international norms, including dispute settlement through peaceful negotiation, rather than military intimidation or outright force. Without such cooperation, China’s ambitions would be constrained only by domestic factors, such as a faltering economy, rising social discontent, a worsening environmental crisis, or vicious politics.

Which countries should take the lead in constraining China’s revisionist ambitions? With the US distracted by other strategic challenges – not to mention its domestic presidential campaign – Asia’s other powers – in particular, an economically surging India and a more politically assertive Japan – are the best candidates for the job.

Both India and Japan are longstanding stakeholders in the US-led global order, emphasizing in their own international relations the values that America espouses, such as the need to maintain a stable balance of power, respect the territorial and maritime status quo, and preserve freedom of navigation. Moreover, they have demonstrated their shared desire to uphold the existing Asian order.

In 2014, while visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, took a veiled swipe at Chinese expansionism, criticizing the “eighteenth-century expansionist mindset” that was becoming apparent “everywhere around us.” Citing encroachment on other countries’ lands, intrusion into their waters, and even the capture of territory, Modi left little doubt about the target of his complaint.

Last month, Abe and Modi took a small step in the direction of cooperation. By jointly appealing to all countries to “avoid unilateral actions” in the South China Sea, they implicitly criticized China’s construction of artificial islands there, which they rightly regard as a blatant attempt to secure leverage in territorial disputes – and gain control over sea lanes of “critical importance” for the Indo-Pacific region.

Clearly, both Japan and India are well aware that China’s ambitions, if realized, would result in a regional order inimical to their interests. Yet, while they are committed to maintaining the status quo, they have failed to coordinate their policies and investments in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, both strategically located countries vulnerable to Chinese pressure. This must change.

Asia’s main powers – beginning with Japan and India, but also including the US – must work together to secure a broadly beneficial and stable regional balance of power. To this end, naval maneuvers, such as the annual US-India-Japan “Exercise Malabar,” are useful, as they strengthen military cooperation and reinforce maritime stability.

But no strategy will be complete without a major economic component. Asia’s powers should move beyond FTAs to initiate joint geo-economic projects that serve the core interests of smaller countries, which would then not have to rely on Chinese investments and initiatives to boost growth. As a result, more countries would be able to contribute to the effort to secure an inclusive, stable, rules-based order in which all countries, including China, can thrive.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

An oceanic threat rises against India

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The rapid rise of a Chinese threat from the Indian Ocean risks completing India’s strategic encirclement by China

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, January 20, 2016

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China’s rapidly growing submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters.

China’s recent acknowledgement that it is establishing its first overseas military base in the Indian Ocean rim nation of Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa, represents a transformative moment in its quest for supremacy at sea. With Chinese submarines now making regular forays into India’s maritime backyard right under the nose of its Andaman & Nicobar Command, New Delhi must now face up to a new threat from the south.

China’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean — the bridge between Asia and Europe — draws strength from its aggressive push for dominance in the adjacent South China Sea. Without incurring any international costs, it belligerently continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no power has done before. Its modus operandi to extend its frontiers in the South China Sea involves creating artificial islands and claiming sovereignty over them and their surrounding waters. In just a little over two years, it has built seven islands in its attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.

For India, still grappling to deal with the trans-Himalayan threat following China’s gobbling up of buffer Tibet, the rise of a Chinese oceanic threat signifies a transformative change in its security calculus. By building military facilities on disputed Spratly and Paracel islands, China is positioning itself at the mouth of the Indian Ocean. A Beijing-based defence website, Sina Military Network, last year claimed, even if implausibly, that 10 Chinese attack submarines could blockade India’s eastern and western coastlines.

Make no mistake: China’s rapidly growing submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters. This explains why China is setting up a naval hub in Djibouti, building a naval base at Gwadar, and wanting access to port facilities around India, like it has secured in Sri Lanka. China’s consolidation of power in the South China Sea will have a direct bearing on India’s interests in its own maritime backyard.

With New Delhi slow to add teeth to its Andaman & Nicobar Command, Beijing is assiduously chipping away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. The longer term strategic risk for India is that China, in partnership with its close ally Pakistan, could encircle it on land and at sea. After covertly transferring nuclear-weapon, missile and, most recently, drone technologies to Pakistan, China has publicized a deal to more than double the size of that country’s submarine force by selling eight subs to it.

More broadly, the South China Sea has become critical to the contest for influence in the Indian Ocean and the larger Indo-Pacific region. Beijing views the South China Sea as a testing ground for changing the Asian maritime map.

The world has been astounded by the speed and scale of China’s creation of islands and military infrastructure in the South China Sea. Yet the international response to China’s expansions hasn’t gone beyond rhetoric. For example, the US, even at the risk of handing Beijing a fait accompli, has done little to challenge China’s expanding frontiers, focussing its concern just on safeguarding freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. As in the Himalayas and the East China Sea, the US has refused to take sides in the South China Sea in the territorial disputes between China and its neighbours. ASEAN disunity has also aided Beijing’s aggression.

Let us be clear: The South China Sea has emerged as the symbolic centre of the international maritime challenges of the 21st century. The region is important for India and even distant countries because what happens there will impinge on Asian power equilibrium and international maritime security. Indian Ocean security is linked to the South China Sea, which, Chinese Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai claimed in September, “belongs to China”. In fact, developments in the South China Sea carry the potential of upending even the current international liberal order by permitting brute power to trump rules.

The South China Sea’s centrality to the international maritime order should induce like-minded states to work closely together to positively shape developments there, including by ensuring that continued unilateralism is not cost-free. In fact, the “US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region”, signed a year ago, and the Pentagon’s subsequent “Asia-Pacific Maritime Strategy” emphasize greater maritime cooperation among democratic powers.

China’s neighbours, however, bear the main responsibility. India, for its part, is working to revitalize relationships with Indian Ocean Rim states. It has also stepped up its military diplomacy and is doling out billions of dollars in credit to key littoral states, including in East Africa. But with accidents and project delays blunting its naval power, India needs to speed up its naval modernization. Trade through the Indian Ocean accounts for half of India’s GDP and the bulk of its energy supplies, underscoring the imperative for India to strengthen its naval capabilities on a priority basis.

If ASEAN states and regional powers like Japan and India do not evolve a common strategy to deal with the South China Sea dispute within an Asian framework, the issue will be left to China and the US to address through a great-power modus vivendi, sidelining the interests of the smaller disputants. A unified strategy must give meaning to the recent appeal to all countries by Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, the Indian and Japanese prime ministers, to “avoid unilateral actions”, given the “critical importance of the sea lanes in the South China Sea” for the Indo-Pacific region.

Failure to evolve a common strategy could create a systemic risk to Asian strategic stability, besides opening the path for China to gain a firm strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean and encircle India.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research. 

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Pathankot terror attack: 26/11 again, in different mode

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint

Make no mistake: The four-day terrorist siege of the Pathankot air base was the equivalent of the 26 November 2008 Mumbai terror strikes. In both cases, the Pakistani terrorists were professionally trained, heavily armed, and dispatched by their masters for a specific suicide mission. The main difference is that in Mumbai, the terrorist proxies struck civilian sites, while, in the latest case, their assigned target was a large military facility.

After the widespread anger and indignation triggered by the recent Paris and San Bernardino attacks, a Mumbai-style strike on civilian targets was not a credible option for the Pakistani military, especially because such an attack would risk Indian retaliation. So, it chose a military target in India, orchestrating the attack through a terror group it founded in 2000 by installing as its head one of the terrorists the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government unwisely released to end the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814.

That a pivotal Indian air base against Pakistan came under an extended siege represented a bigger hit for the terror sponsors than the earlier coordinated attacks on soft targets in Mumbai. And this hit occurred without the international spotlight and outrage that the Mumbai strikes drew.

It was not an accident that the Pathankot attack coincided with a 25-hour gun and bomb siege of the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan. The twin attacks, outsourced to Jaish-e-Muhammad, were designed as a New Year’s gift to India.

How did India come out from the crisis? Put simply, not looking good.

Leadership is the key to any country effectively combating the scourge of terrorism. India, however, has faced a protracted crisis of leadership for more than a generation since 1989. In this period, Pakistan has gone from inciting a Jammu and Kashmir insurrection, which ethnically cleansed the Kashmir Valley of its 300,000 Pandit residents, to scripting terror attacks across India.

Narendra Modi’s election win reflected the desire of Indians for a dynamic leader to end political drift. Yet, since Modi’s victory, cross-border terrorists have repeatedly tested India’s resolve — from Herat to Pathankot via Gurdaspur and Udhampur. And each time India flunked the test, as it has done since the Vajpayee era.

The Pathankot strike, above all, constituted an act of war, presenting Modi with his first serious national security challenge. Modi’s leadership, however, was found wanting in nearly every aspect — from leading from the front to reassuring the Indian public.

For almost the first two days of the siege, Modi chose to be away in Karnataka. And the only statement he made during the entire siege seemed to signify euphemism as escapism. Just as he called the Paris strikes an “attack on humanity,” he said the Pathankot terror siege was by “enemies of humanity” (he could not bring himself to even say “enemies of India”). Not a single meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security was held during the crisis.

Operationally, the action to kill the terrorists in the air base stands out as a textbook example of how not to conduct such a mission. Despite New Delhi receiving advance intelligence of the attack, the terrorists not only gained entry to the base but the operation to flush them out was also poorly conceived and executed, without a unified operational command.

War needs good public relations. But the Modi government doesn’t appear to even have a peacetime communication strategy. During the Pathankot siege, officials gave confusing and conflicting accounts.

The crisis, if anything, highlighted the government’s strategic naïveté. While the gunbattles were still raging inside the base, the government supplied Islamabad communication intercepts and other evidence linking the attackers with their handlers in Pakistan. This was done in the fond hope that the terror masters will go after their terror proxies, despite India’s bitter experience in the Mumbai case where it presented dossiers of evidence to Pakistan.

More laughable was New Delhi’s disclosure on the siege’s final day that, in a telephone call from Nawaz Sharif, Modi asked Pakistan’s toothless prime minister for “firm and immediate action” on the “specific and actionable information” provided by India and that Sharif promised “prompt and decisive action against the terrorists.”

Decisive power in Pakistan rests with the military generals, with the army and Inter-Services Intelligence immune to civilian oversight. India is in no position to change Pakistan’s power dynamics. Yet the critical issues that India wants to discuss with Pakistan — terrorism, infiltration, border peace and nuclear security — are matters over which the Pakistani military has the final say.

So, how can Modi hope to buy peace with a powerless Pakistani government that has ceded its authority in foreign policy and national security to the military?

If Pakistan wants a détente with status-quoist India, it can easily get it. Its military, however, cannot afford peace with India. It employs terrorist surrogates as a highly cost-effective force multiplier to undermine India’s rise and regional clout, which explains why Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan have repeatedly been attacked and why Bangladesh and Nepal have become new gateways to India for Pakistan’s proxies.

Yet India, as if expecting the Pakistani security establishment to turn over a new leaf, supplied almost real-time evidence in the Pathankot case.

Modi’s Christmas gift to Pakistan in the form of a surprise Lahore stopover yielded, in return, a New Year’s terror surprise for India. Rather than heed the mistakes of his immediate two predecessors — who learned the hard way how peace overtures to Pakistan, by signalling weakness, invited cross-border aggression — Modi chose to commit the same folly, reposing his faith in Sharif who backstabbed Vajpayee.

Of the 35 countries visited by Modi in his first 19 months in office, no nation has provided a payback to India as quickly as Pakistan. In fact, in modern history, no head of government before Modi visited an enemy country without any preparatory work and with nothing to show in results. Grabbing international spotlight through a brief surprise visit just to have tea does not befit the leader of an aspiring power.

Sadly, Modi is showing that showmanship is to his foreign policy what statecraft is to the diplomacy of great powers.

The recent terror attack in San Bernardino, although not an act of international terrorism, has shaken up American politics. By contrast, multiple cross-border terror attacks have failed to galvanize India into devising a credible counterterrorism strategy. With the ISI using narcotics traffickers to send opiates and terrorists into India’s Punjab, the Pathankot killers — like the Gurdaspur attackers — came dressed in Indian army uniforms through a drug-trafficking route. The influx of narcotics is destroying Punjab’s public health.

When the next major terror strike occurs, India will go through the same cycle again, including a silly debate on whether to talk to Pakistan or not. As Army chief General Dalbir Singh emphasized, “India needs to change its security policy towards Pakistan. Every time Pakistan bleeds us … we just talk about it for a few days and after that it is business as usual.”

Indeed, New Delhi, forgetting Mumbai, wants Pakistan to act in the Pathankot case. And when the next major cross-border attack occurs, Pathankot will be forgotten. With New Delhi focused on the last terror strike, Pakistan has still to deliver even in the 1993 case internationally known as the Bombay bombings — the bloodiest terrorist attack in India.

While the Pakistani military has made the country’s government impotent by appropriating key powers, the Indian government, through inaction, is rendering its powerful military impotent to defeat terrorism. This was apparent even in the Pathankot siege, with precious time lost due to the government’s bungled decision to airlift National Security Guard commandos to the scene rather than immediately press readily available army commandos into action.

India’s biggest threat is from asymmetric warfare, waged across porous borders or gaps in Indian frontier defences. This asymmetric warfare takes different forms — from Pakistan’s proxy war by terror and China’s furtive, salami-style encroachments into the Himalayan borderlands, to Nepal serving as a conduit for India’s foes to funnel militants, arms, explosives and fake currency to India.

Yet India, far from focusing on neutralizing the asymmetric warfare, has sought to prepare for a full-fledged conventional war through improvident arms imports. Modi alone has sunk billions of dollars in such mega-deals. The more weapon systems India imports, the more insecure it feels.

There are several things India can do against the terror sponsors short of war. But first, it must have political will and clear strategic objectives. Today, unfortunately, there is no long-term strategic vision or even a Pakistan policy. Under Modi, India has already made at least six U-turns on Pakistan. For example, its October stance that “talks and terror cannot go together” lasted barely 10 weeks. Almost every season in New Delhi brings a new Pakistan policy.

An unconventional war must be countered with an unconventional war. Nuclear weapons have no deterrence value in an unconventional war. Nor can they guarantee Pakistan’s survival. The Soviet Union unravelled despite having the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal in mega-tonnage. Why should India allow itself to be continually gored when it is seven times bigger demographically than Pakistan, almost 12 times larger in GDP terms, and militarily more powerful?

Let us be clear: No nation gets peace merely by seeking peace. To secure peace, India must be able to impose deterrent costs when peace is violated in order to tell the other side that the benefits of peaceful cooperation outweigh hostilities.

India, unfortunately, has shied away from imposing costs, although the right to retaliate is a right enshrined in international law. Defending one’s interests against a terrorism onslaught, in fact, is a constitutional and moral obligation for any self-respecting country. The right of self-defence is embedded as an “inherent right” in the United Nations Charter. India did not impose costs on the terror masters in Pakistan even for the bloody Mumbai attacks. Will it allow them to go scot-free again?

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.

© Mint, 2016.

Beijing’s Asia Pivot in 2016

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In its own “pivot” of sorts, China looks set to pursue broader ties in the Asia-Pacific region in 2016, advancing initiatives such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and ramping up maritime and land trade corridors. Seven experts assess the challenges and opportunities in China’s relations with Southeast Asia, Japan, Central Asia, South Asia, the Korean Peninsula, and Australia in the next year.

Authors: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, Council on Foreign Relations Sheila A. Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies, Council on Foreign Relations Alexander Gabuev, Senior Associate and Chair, Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program, Carnegie Moscow Center Brahma Chellaney, Professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research James Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Northeast Asian Politics, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations Merriden Varrall, Director, East Asia Program, Lowy Institute. Interviewer(s): Eleanor Albert, Online Writer/Editor

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Soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army march during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Beijing, China. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of strategic studies, Centre for Policy Research

China has embarked on major initiatives to change the region’s geopolitical map with its own Asian pivot. The Silk Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank epitomize Beijing’s efforts to reshape Asia’s security and financial architecture. In 2016, China appears determined to step up its efforts to fashion a Sino-centric Asia in place of the present regional order centered on a stable balance of power.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has articulated a more expansive role for China than any leader since Mao Zedong. His One Belt, One Road project, an expansive initiative to build up land and maritime trade routes,  is intended to extend the country’s commercial and strategic interests. The Maritime Silk Road and the overland Silk Road encompass Southern Asia and are linked by the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run the Chinese-built port at Gwadar for forty years, which, given its location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, is expected to become a critical outpost for the Chinese navy. Beijing, in turn, has finalized the sale of eight submarines to Islamabad, a transfer that would more than double the size of Pakistan’s submarine force. China is clearly using Pakistan as a launch pad to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean are also reflected in its submarine forays in the region, which began in 2014, and the announcement that it would establish a naval hub in Djibouti, which overlooks the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Sina Military Network, a Beijing-based defense website with ties to the People’s Liberation Army, has claimed that ten Chinese attack submarines could blockade India’s eastern and western coastlines. The question of whether the Maritime Silk Road is just a benign-sounding new name for Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy can no longer be dismissed.

Make no mistake: China’s strategic maneuvering in the Indian Ocean and Southern Asia draws strength from its muscular actions in the South China Sea, where it has incurred no international costs for creating artificial islands to host military facilities and expand its sea frontiers. Beijing’s territorial nibbling in the Himalayas and its damming of international rivers on the Tibetan plateau are also part of its effort to change the status quo.

© Council on Foreign Relations, January 5, 2016.

Nepal’s democracy on the brink

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The crisis of democracy in communist-led Nepal raises a fundamental question: Can a democratic transition succeed where communists dominate?

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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Nepalese Prime Minister Oli, dubbed “Oily Oli” by his critics

Landlocked Nepal has lurched from one crisis to the next for a quarter-century. Now the country is on the edge of toppling into dysfunction. The turmoil also carries major implications for India, with which Kathmandu has traditionally maintained an open border. 

Nepal has been in a state of severe political flux since 1990, when it embarked on a democratic transition. But recent developments in the country — which lies between India and the Chinese region of Tibet — are a reminder that democracy means more than just holding elections. In Nepal, an absence of sound institutions has been compounded by constitution-making without political consensus or proper attention to the interests of minority groups.

This constitutional mess is at the root of violent protests and political upheaval that are accelerating spiraling prices for essential items in the impoverished Himalayan country. In the latest crisis ethnic groups have been polarized by a new constitution and a blockade of the border with India is preventing imports of essential goods, including fuel and medicines. The political and economic turmoil comes on top of last April’s devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks — the country’s worst natural disaster in more than eight decades.

Nepal adopted a new constitution in September, a whole generation after its democratic transition began with the introduction of a multiparty democracy within the framework of a constitutional monarchy in 1990. That experiment opened the door to a bloody Maoist insurrection that ended only when a peace accord in 2006 paved the way for the insurgent leaders to come to power.

The current constitution emerged from a tortuous eight-year constitutional drafting process that involved two elected constituent assemblies. The first abolished the monarchy in 2008, but became gridlocked by political infighting and missed a mid-2012 deadline set by the country’s Supreme Court. The second assembly, elected in 2013, drafted the constitution and, when it came into effect, was transformed into a legislative parliament.

A constitution must represent all the country’s citizens — the U.S. constitution, for example, begins with the words “We the people.” But multiethnic Nepal’s latest constitution reflects the will of the hill elites that have long dominated its power structures, discriminating against the people who inhabit the country’s southern plains along the 1,872km border with India — an area known as the Terai. Further complicating the issue, the Madhesi ethnic group that dominates the plains has historical, cultural and family links with India.

The constitution creates a federal republic divided into seven new states, merging parts of the ancestral homelands of the Madhesis with those of the hill states. The gerrymandered boundaries leave the plains people politically weaker, while giving the hill people greater political representation than their population size merits.

Disaffected minorities

Minority groups contend that the constitution also undercuts federalism by granting little provincial and local autonomy, and diluting affirmative action. No democracy can be stable and safe if it does not protect minorities. In Nepal, the disaffected minorities are large, making up nearly a third of the population.

For any country, the implementation of a new constitution signifies a promising new beginning. But Nepal’s constitution has provoked a virtually open revolt by the plains people. Since the constitution’s adoption, two damaging divides have emerged: one between Kathmandu and the Terai, and another between Kathmandu and New Delhi, which has called for a more inclusive constitution.

To end its prolonged political instability and arrest its deteriorating internal security, Nepal needed a unifying figure. Alas, what it got in a political upheaval in October was the appointment as prime minister of Khadga Prasad Oli, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) — a divisive figure who spent years in jail in the 1970s and 1980s for waging war against the state.

Oli’s maneuvers have deepened Nepal’s ethnic and political fault lines. Dubbed “Oily Oli” by his critics, he has publicly mocked protesters and their demands, fueling civil strife. He has also stoked tensions with India, feeding deep-seated suspicions about India’s intentions that often surface when internal problems intensify. Mistrust of India flows in part from the tensions generated by the disparity in the power and size of the two countries, and in part from overlapping ethnic and linguistic identities.

Oli’s communist-dominated government has blamed India for Nepal’s crippling fuel shortages and political crisis. Seeking to deflect attention from its own role in triggering the crisis, it has accused India of imposing an “unofficial blockade” on the cross-border movement of oil and other supplies to Nepal. In reality, the disruption in supplies has been caused by mass protests against the constitution by the Madhesi and other minority groups.

Police have shot and killed dozens of protesters blockading highways or staging other confrontations. But they have failed to evict protesters from the key border junction at Birgunj that accounts for 70% of the volume of trade with India. The protesting groups say they will not lift the blockade unless the constitution is amended to safeguard their interests.

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Nepalese foreign minister meets his Chinese counterpart on Christmas

Meanwhile, the Oli government has tried to play the China card against India, trumpeting a commercial agreement with Beijing and a Chinese gift of 1,000 tons of fuel. The gift was enough to meet barely two days’ requirements. More importantly, it demonstrated that Nepal’s dependence on India for essential supplies is a matter of geography. China could replace India as Nepal’s main supplier only if the Himalayas were shifted.

Passport free

India is increasingly concerned that Nepal’s turmoil could spill over into its northern plains. Moreover, some 6 million Nepalese work and live in India. Before Nepal’s latest crisis flared, New Delhi repeatedly told Kathmandu that China and Pakistan were taking advantage of the open Indo-Nepalese border — which remains a passport-free crossing, despite the blockade — to engage in activities detrimental to India’s security. Nepal has also become a transit point for the flow of counterfeit currency and narcotics into India.

India has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a political settlement in Nepal, despite past experience of being blamed for interference in the internal affairs of its smaller neighbor. India recently hosted Nepalese Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa, who brought a proposal to introduce two constitutional amendments. Talks were then held in New Delhi with the Terai protest leaders, who said the two suggested amendments did not go far enough to address their main concerns. India is urging both sides to show “maturity and flexibility to find a satisfactory solution to the constitutional issues.”

Britain recently joined India in calling for “a lasting and inclusive constitutional settlement in Nepal,” reflecting fears that the current crisis could provide an opening for China to extend its influence in Nepal, while the Terai movement could become radicalized and secessionist. India and other outside powers want to see a stable, united Nepal focusing on economic growth.

Water-rich Nepal has the potential to become a prosperous state. The country boasts one of Asia’s highest levels of water resources per inhabitant, with up to 83,000 megawatts of potential hydropower reserves. If it harnessed the natural bounty of the Himalayas to produce renewable electricity for export, Nepal could turn water into “clear gold,” generating hydro dollars to fuel development.

Today, Nepal produces less than 800MW of electricity from all energy sources for its 30 million citizens. Extended power outages are common, even in Kathmandu, and Nepal imports electricity from India even though it controls the upper waters of several rivers suitable for hydroelectric power generation that flow south across the border.

Such has been the rapidity of political change in Nepal that democracy has yet to take root. The democratic transition, far from being the curative that the Nepalese had hoped for, has engendered unending disorder, puncturing Nepal’s reputation as a Shangri-La. The crisis of democracy in a country where the two main communist parties and smaller Marxist groups can between them secure the largest share of the popular vote raises a fundamental question: Can a democratic transition succeed where communists dominate?

If Nepal remains battered by political upheaval, it clearly risks becoming a failed state — a development that will have major trans-Himalayan implications. Before it is too late, a tottering Nepal must accommodate its minorities so that its constitution produces peace, not violence that derails democracy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author. He is currently professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi; a fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin; and an affiliate with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. 

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2015.

Saudi Arabia’s Phony War on Terror

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Like a drug cartel claiming to have launched a counternarcotics drive, the Saudi-led “anti-terror” coalition includes all the world’s terror sponsors

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

downloadBERLIN – Containing the scourge of Islamist terror will be impossible without containing the ideology that drives it: Wahhabism, a messianic, jihad-extolling form of Sunni fundamentalism whose international expansion has been bankrolled by oil-rich sheikhdoms, especially Saudi Arabia. That is why the newly announced Saudi-led anti-terror coalition, the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism, should be viewed with profound skepticism.

Wahhabism promotes, among other things, the subjugation of women and the death of “infidels.” It is – to quote US President Barack Obama’s description of what motivated a married couple of Pakistani origin to carry out the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, California – a “perverted interpretation of Islam,” and the ideological mother of jihadist terrorism. Its offspring include Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State, all of which blend hostility toward non-Sunnis and anti-modern romanticism into nihilistic rage.

Saudi Arabia has been bankrolling Islamist terrorism since the oil-price boom of the 1970s dramatically boosted the country’s wealth. According to a 2013 European Parliament report, some of the $10 billion invested by Saudi Arabia for “its Wahhabi agenda” in South and Southeast Asia was “diverted” to terrorist groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Western leaders have recognized the Saudi role for many years. In a 2009 diplomatic cable, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton identified Saudi Arabia as “the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Thanks largely to the West’s interest in Saudi oil, however, the Kingdom has faced no international sanctions.

cwwaaiaxiaa7fidNow, with the growth of terrorist movements like the Islamic State, priorities are changing. As German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in a recent interview, “We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over.”

This shift has spurred the Kingdom to announce a “crackdown” on individuals and groups that fund terror. But, according to a recent US State Department report, some Saudi-based charities and individual donors continue to fund Sunni militants.

From this perspective, Saudi Arabia’s surprise announcement of a 34-country anti-terror alliance, with a joint operations center based in Riyadh, is a logical step, aimed at blunting growing Western criticism, while boosting Sunni influence in the Middle East. But, of course, the alliance is a sham – as a closer look at its membership makes clear.

Tellingly, the alliance includes all of the world’s main sponsors of extremist and terrorist groups, from Qatar to Pakistan. It is as if a drug cartel claimed to be spearheading a counternarcotics campaign. Listed as members of the alliance are also all of the jihadist citadels other than Afghanistan, including war-torn Libya and Yemen, both of which are not currently governed by a single authority.

Moreover, despite being touted as an “Islamic” alliance, with members coming from “all over the Islamic world,” the group includes predominantly Christian Uganda and Gabon, but not Oman (a fellow Gulf sheikdom), Algeria (Africa’s largest country), and Indonesia (the world’s most populous Muslim country).

The failure to include Indonesia, which has almost twice as many Muslims as the entire Middle East, is striking not only because of its size: Whereas most countries in the alliance are ruled by despots or autocrats, Indonesia is a robust democracy. Autocratic rule in Islamic countries tends to strengthen jihadist forces. But when democracy takes root, as in tolerant and secular Indonesia, the clash between moderates and extremists can be better managed.

Saudi Arabia’s dysfunctional approach is reflected in the fact that some alliance members – including Pakistan, Malaysia, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority – immediately declared that they had never actually joined. The Kingdom seemed to think that it could make that decision on behalf of the major recipients of its aid.

Add to that the unsurprising exclusion of Shia-governed Iran and Iraq, along with Alawite-ruled Syria, and it is clear that Saudi Arabia has merely crafted another predominantly Sunni grouping to advance its sectarian and strategic objectives. This aligns with the more hardline policy approach that has taken root since King Salman ascended the throne in January 2015.

At home, Salman’s reign so far has meant a marked increase in the number of sentences of death by decapitation, often carried out in public – a method emulated by the Islamic State. Abroad, it has meant a clear preference for violent solutions in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

A smaller Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombing Yemen since March, with the goal of pushing back the Shia Houthi rebels who captured Sana’a, the capital, after driving the Saudi-backed government from power. Saudi warplanes have bombed homes, markets, hospitals, and refugee camps in Yemen, leading critics to accuse the Kingdom of deliberately terrorizing civilians to turn public opinion against the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia’s solutions have often controverted the objectives of its American allies. For example, the Kingdom and its Arab partners have quietly slipped out of the US-led air war in Syria, leaving the campaign largely in American hands.

But beyond Saudi Arabia’s strategic manipulations lies the fundamental problem with which we started: the Kingdom’s official ideology forms the heart of the terrorist creed. A devoted foe of Islamist terrorism does not promote violent jihadism. Nor does it arrest and charge with “terrorism” domestic critics of its medieval interpretation of Islam. Saudi Arabia does both.

This speaks to the main shortcoming of today’s militarized approach to fighting terrorism. Unless the expansion of dangerous ideologies like Wahhabism is stopped, the global war on terror, now almost a generation old, will never be won. No matter how many bombs the US and its allies drop, the Saudi-financed madrassas will continue to indoctrinate tomorrow’s jihadists.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Unaccountable China

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate. 

ac770042b59cb2a99b45442629188250.landscapeLargeHO CHI MINH CITY – Since late 2013, China has been engaged in the frenzied creation of artificial islands and the militarization of the South China Sea. This amounts to an alarming quest for control over a strategically crucial corridor through which $5.3 trillion in trade flows each year. But what is even more shocking – not to mention dangerous – is that China has incurred no international costs for its behavior.

Of course, the international community has a lot on its plate nowadays, not least a massive refugee crisis fueled by chaos in the Middle East. But the reality is that, as long as China feels free to maneuver without consequence, it will continue to do so, fueling tensions with its neighbors that could easily turn into all-out conflict, derailing Asia’s rise.

A key component of China’s strategy in the South China Sea is the dredging of low-tide elevations to make small islands, including in areas that, as China’s deputy foreign minister for Asian affairs, Liu Zhenmin, recently acknowledged, “are far from the Chinese mainland.” In China’s view, that distance makes it “necessary” to build “military facilities” on the islands. And, indeed, three of the seven newly constructed islets include airfields, from which Chinese warplanes could challenge the US Navy’s ability to operate unhindered in the region.

By militarizing the South China Sea, China is seeking to establish a de facto Air Defense Identification Zone like the one that it formally – and unilaterally – declared in 2013 in the East China Sea, where it claims islands that it does not control. China knows that, under international law, its claim to sovereignty over virtually all of the resource-endowed South China Sea, based on an “historic right,” is weak; that is why it has opposed international adjudication. Instead, it is trying to secure “effective control” – which, under international law, enhances significantly the legitimacy of a country’s territorial claim – just as it has done in the Himalayas and elsewhere.

But China’s ambitions extend beyond the South China Sea: It aims to create a strongly Sino-centric Asia. Thus, the country recently established its first overseas military base – a naval hub in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa – and it has repeatedly sent submarines into the Indian Ocean. Moreover, China is engaging in far-reaching economic projects – such as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which entails the construction of infrastructure linking Asia to Europe – that will strengthen its presence in, and influence over, a number of countries, thereby recasting regional geopolitics in its image.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama’s administration remains hesitant to back up its much-publicized “pivot” toward Asia with meaningful action – especially action to constrain China. Instead of, say, imposing sanctions or exerting localized military pressure on China, the Obama administration has attempted to pass the buck. Specifically, it has stepped up military cooperation with other Asia-Pacific countries, encouraged other claimants to territory in the South China Sea to shore up their defenses, and supported a more active role in regional security for democratic powers like Australia, India, and even Japan.

To put it bluntly, that is not enough. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, unlike natural islands, China’s constructed islands – which were built on top of natural features that did not originally rise above the water at high tide – do not have sovereignty over 12 nautical miles of surrounding sea. Yet it was not until recently that the United States sent a warship within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island. And even then, it was just a sail-through that an official Chinese mouthpiece dismissed as a “political show.” The US did not challenge China’s territorial claims directly, or demand that China halt its island-building program.

In fact, even as China persists with its fast-paced dredging, which has already created more than 1,200 hectares of artificial land, US officials insist that the South China Sea issue should not be allowed to hijack Sino-American relations. This feckless approach to China’s quietly emerging hegemony in the South China Sea has heightened concerns of the region’s smaller countries. They know that when two great powers bargain with each other, it is countries like them that usually lose.

Some already have. In 2012, China seized the disputed Scarborough Shoal, located well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The US, which had just brokered an agreement requiring Chinese and Filipino vessels to withdraw from the area, did nothing, despite its mutual-defense treaty with the Philippines.

But Asia’s smaller countries are not the only ones that should be worried. Given the South China Sea’s strategic importance, disorder there threatens to destabilize the entire region. Moreover, if China gets its way, it will become more assertive in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific. Perhaps most important, if Chinese bullying enables it to ignore international rules and norms, a very dangerous precedent will have been set. One can easily think of other countries that would be sure to embrace it.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

How not to combat terror

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By The Japan Times

imagesA terror attack by a married, Pakistan-origin couple in California has shaken up American politics and the presidential contest, setting in motion stricter restrictions on grant of some U.S. visas and prompting candidate Donald Trump to propose a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. But the attack and the reactions also raise a larger question: Has the U.S. evolved a clear and credible counterterrorism strategy after spearheading the global war on terror since 2001?

President Barack Obama’s first Oval Office address in five years, while aimed at calming a jittery American public after the California attack, has only widened the gap between U.S. rhetoric and the challenge of effectively combating the international spread of Islamist extremism and terrorism.

Obama admitted that, in recent years, “the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase” and sought to reassure Americans that “we will overcome it.” Yet, as if to underscore his incoherent and ineffectual approach, his Dec. 6 speech was conspicuous by its omission of any reference on how to combat increasing Muslim radicalization, which is spawning violent jihadists.

The radicalization is linked to the role of some Gulf sheikhdoms in spreading Wahhabism, the source of modern Islamic fundamentalism. By exporting this fringe form of Islam, these petrodollar-laden states have gradually snuffed out more liberal Muslim traditions in regions extending from Asia and Africa to the Americas.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the two officially Wahhabi states, and the United Arab Emirates still continue to fund madrassas (Islamic schools), mercenaries and militants in other places.

In his speech, Obama said the U.S. is “at war” with the Islamic State (IS) and vowed to “destroy” that terrorist organization. How does he plan to do that? He said by sticking, in essence, to his present, 1½-old strategy that has allowed IS to thrive.

Despite the U.S. military carrying out more than 8,000 airstrikes thus far, it has failed, in the absence of ground forces, to score major gains.

To America’s embarrassment, its Arab allies have gradually sneaked out from the air war, leaving the campaign as a largely American effort — now supplemented by French and Britain bombing raids and Obama’s dispatch of special operations troops in support of CIA-trained Syrian rebels.

Some 10 million people are currently living under IS rule in Syria and Iraq in an area the size of Britain. By strategically capturing oil fields and towns along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers — the region’s lifelines — IS has sought to control oil and water resources. Yet Obama’s speech did little more than repackage a foundering strategy with tougher rhetoric.

Indeed, Obama’s missteps contributed to IS’ dramatic rise. Even as IS rapidly gained sway from 2013, Obama’s strategy remained focused on overthrowing Syria’s secular ruler, Bashar Assad. Obama’s glib dismissal of IS in early 2014 as a local “JV team” trying to imitate al-Qaida but without the capacity to directly threaten America allowed the group to become a monster. In fact, just a day before the recent Paris attacks, Obama claimed IS had been “contained.”

How can IS be contained when the Obama administration has failed to make Turkey seal its frontier to deny IS oil-export revenue and new foreign fighters and weapons? Russia has accused Turkey’s pro-Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his family of profiting from the illicit oil trade with IS. Obama himself has acknowledged that a 98-km open stretch of the Turkey-Syria border permits IS to flourish.

Consider another element: Repeated U.S. failures to organize and arm a rebel force in Syria have been compounded by the defection of the vast majority of CIA-trained rebels to IS.

Obama said the couple involved in the California mass shooting “had gone down the dark path of radicalization, embracing a perverted interpretation of Islam that calls for war against America and the West.” But his speech shied away from identifying the main international imperative today — to get the sheikhdoms to stop financing the overseas spread of their fundamentalist, jihad-extolling strain of Islam.

It is the U.S.-backed Wahhabist monarchs that have funded the international spread of the “perverted interpretation of Islam.” The House of Saud in particular has used its custodianship of Islam’s holy places as a license to export the Wahhabi ideology.

The killer-couple in California — Syed Rizwan Farook, the U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and Pakistani national Tashfeen Malik — had been radicalized by Wahhabi ideology before IS gained prominence. Malik attended a Saudi-funded madrassa in Multan, the main city in Pakistan’s southern Punjab region. Multan is a historical center of Sufism, a liberal, mystical form of Islam that has come under open assault from the rapid spread of petrodollar-funded Wahhabism.

On the day Obama made his speech, it was the second-ranking official of one power that isn’t bombing Syria — Germany — that identified the key issue in the global war on terror. In a newspaper interview, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the era of the West ignoring the Saudi sponsorship of radical Islam must come to an end.

“From Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi mosques are financed throughout the world,” Gabriel said, adding: “We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over.”

The reality is that the proliferating, petrodollar-financed Wahhabi mosques and madrassas in several countries have become incubators for terrorist and other militant groups. IS is just the symptom of a disease spawned by Wahhabism.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia shares a lot in common with IS, its ideological offspring. Wahhabism serves as the “complete ideology” of IS and “contributes in other countries to radicalization of moderate Muslims,” as the head of Germany’s Social Democratic Party parliamentary group, Thomas Oppermann, recently put it.

Like IS, Saudi Arabia is on a beheading spree. This year, under the new king Salman, Saudi executioners have been unusually busy as the number of public decapitations, according to Amnesty International, has reached the highest in two decades, with at least 151 executions having taken place as of November. While Saudi Arabia leads the world in barbaric execution practices, IS flaunts the lopped-off heads of its victims as trophies.

Against this background, how can the U.S. positively influence the ideological war now raging in Islam between moderates and extremists without bringing the jihad-exporting states to heel?

It must stop being in thrall to Gulf money and reconsider its long-standing alliance with tyrannical Arab monarchs wedded to jihadism. By backing the 2011 Saudi military intervention in Bahrain, which crushed the pro-democracy movement of the majority Shiite community, and by now aiding the Saudi-led bombing campaign in conflict-torn Yemen, the U.S. has allowed short-term calculations to trump long-term interests.

More fundamentally, without the U.S. embracing a holistic, long-term strategy, the global war on terror — already in its 15th year — has little chance of containing the growing threat from violent jihadism.

Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney is the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2015.

The geopolitical hub of international maritime challenges

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The U.S. naval and air force base at the British-controlled atoll of Diego Garcia is located strategically in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

The emerging centrality of the Indian Ocean for global trade and energy flows and for a stable balance of power in Asia is sharpening geopolitical competition in the wider region, home to prominent strategic chokepoints such as the Malacca and Hormuz straits. More than half of the world’s container traffic, 70% of its seaborne petroleum trade and a third of all maritime traffic traverses the Indian Ocean, the world’s third-largest body of water, which connects Asia with Africa and, via the Middle East, with Europe.

No less important, the Indian Ocean Rim may be poised to emerge as the world’s fastest-growing region in economic terms over the next decade, according to a recent assessment by the Center for International Development at Harvard University. After two centuries of Atlantic domination followed by the rise of the Pacific Rim, the Indian Ocean Rim could become the next growth engine, amid relatively slow growth in the mature economies and a relentless slowdown in China.

Meanwhile, as outside and local powers joust for access, influence and relative advantage in the region, the Indian Ocean is witnessing a maritime version of the 19th century Great Game — the rivalry between the British and Russian empires for influence in Central Asia. Four national strategies — China’s Maritime Silk Road project, America’s “pivot” to Asia, Japan’s western-facing approach, and India’s Act East Policy — intersect in the Indian Ocean.

China’s Maritime Silk Road — a catchy name for Beijing’s “string of pearls” policy of advancing strategic interests along its trade routes — is centered in the Indian Ocean, with China employing aid, investment and political leverage to pursue geostrategic objectives. A pet project of President Xi Jinping, its larger goal is to redraw Asia’s geopolitical map by pulling strategically located states closer to China’s orbit. It also seeks to deal with China’s problem of overproduction at home by winning lucrative overseas contracts for its state-run companies to build seaports, railroads, highways and energy pipelines in states located along the great trade arteries.

The U.S. has the largest military footprint of any power in the Indian Ocean, including a major naval and air force base at the British-controlled atoll of Diego Garcia, which is located halfway between Africa and Indonesia and serves as a logistic-support center for American military missions in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. America’s much-publicized “pivot” to Asia has drawn attention to the ocean’s critical importance. Preoccupied with the Middle East, Washington has yet to provide strategic heft to its pivot, but it has encouraged both India’s Act East policy of building economic and strategic partnerships with likeminded Asian countries and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pursuit of a western-facing policy focused on mainland Asia and the Indian Ocean. Over the last few years, the U.S. has signed approximately $10 billion in defense sales to India, according to Rich Verma, U.S. ambassador to India.

Japanese reforms

Japan, which imports 96% of its energy requirements, has become increasingly concerned about maritime security in the Indian Ocean, through which three-fifths of its energy supplies pass. Japan’s ongoing national security reforms are opening the path for it to collaborate closely with friendly Indian Ocean Rim countries such as India and Indonesia, and to play a more active role in ensuring the security of the region’s critical sea lanes. Tokyo has already eased its long-standing self-imposed ban on arms exports and reasserted its right to exercise “collective self-defense.”

One manifestation of the increasing geopolitical competition in the Indian Ocean is a naval arms race, especially under the waves. China boasts one of the fastest-growing undersea fleets in the world. It has already surpassed the U.S. submarine fleet in quantity, although not quality. But as it works to further expand its force of diesel and nuclear attack submarines, China’s territorial and maritime assertiveness and muscular actions are prompting other countries to acquire submarines as well as submarine-hunting aircraft.

About a year ago, Chinese attack submarines undertook their first known voyages to the Indian Ocean, with a Song-class diesel-electric submarine and then a Type 091 Han-class nuclear-powered boat docking at a new Chinese-majority-owned container terminal in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. This year, a Chinese submarine docked at the Pakistani port of Karachi. Earlier, Beijing conveyed to New Delhi its decision to deploy a Type-093 Shangclass nuclear-powered attack submarine for Indian Ocean patrol.

For New Delhi, China’s increasing naval forays into India’s maritime backyard carry long-term strategic implications. Just as China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951 created a northern, trans-Himalayan military threat for the first time in Indian history, its Maritime Silk Road promises to open an oceanic threat from the south for the first time since the European colonial depredations of the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, a Beijing-based defense website, Sina Military Network, claimed earlier this year that 10 Chinese attack submarines could blockade India’s eastern and western coastlines.

The larger strategic risk for India is that China, in partnership with its close ally Pakistan, could encircle it on land and at sea. Although trade through the Indian Ocean accounts for half of India’s gross domestic product and the bulk of its energy supplies, accidents and project delays have left its diesel submarine fleet severely depleted. India has one nuclear-powered sub on lease from Russia and is completing another domestically as it seeks to bolster its anti-submarine capabilities.

India has also stepped up its military diplomacy and is doling out billions of dollars in credit to key littoral states. At the recent India-Africa summit in New Delhi, attended by leaders of 54 African nations, India pledged $10 billion in new credit and $600-million grant aid, in addition to $7.4 billion in soft loans and $1.2 billion in aid provided since the first such summit in 2008.

Cultural Affinity

At the same time, New Delhi is working to revitalize relationships with Indian Ocean Rim states in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, including neighboring Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, whose northern tip is close to India’s Nicobar Islands territory. Using cultural affinity — an asset China lacks in region — India has sought to revive linkages along the ancient Spice Route, which had the Indian peninsula as its hub. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been conveying the message: “Our destinies are linked by the currents of the Indian Ocean.”

Meanwhile, China has finalized the sale of eight diesel-electric submarines to Pakistan, a transfer that would more than double the size of that country’s submarine fleet. Thailand is also poised to buy Chinese submarines, paying more than $1 billion for three. Indonesia, like Vietnam previously, is procuring Kilo-class vessels from Russia. It was this class of Russian boats that launched China’s own submarine modernization program.

Indian Ocean security is also linked to developments in the South China Sea, where threats to freedom of navigation and maritime security have arisen from China’s creation of artificial islands, its effort to establish a major military base on one of them, and its declaration of an expansive exclusive economic zone. Indeed, Chinese Vice Admiral Yuan Yubai claimed on Sept. 14 that the South China Sea “belongs to China.”

The U.S., aware that China’s maneuvering in the Indian Ocean draws strength from its muscular actions in the South China Sea, has been working with its allies and partners to address these challenges. The U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region — signed during President Barack Obama’s New Delhi visit in January — and the Pentagon’s subsequent Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy emphasize the importance of greater maritime cooperation among democratic powers.

Yet, even at the risk of handing Beijing a fait accompli, the U.S. has restricted itself to lodging diplomatic protests over China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea. It has thus far shied away from, on a regular basis, carrying out “freedom of navigation” flyovers or sail-throughs within a 12-nautical-mile zone of China’s recently constructed or expanded outposts. A recent symbolic sail-through does not change the larger picture.

The contest for influence in the Indian Ocean is pivotal to determining the direction of Asian security and shaping the international maritime order. As U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear has noted, two-thirds of the world’s 300 submarines that are not part of the U.S. Navy (which deploys 73) are already in the Indo-Pacific region. This is a game that democratic powers must positively influence to underpin peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean and the wider Indo-Pacific region.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author. He is currently professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi; a fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin; and an affiliate with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2015.

China’s rush to dam rivers flowing to other nations

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Brahma Chellaney, Hindustan Times, November 28, 2015

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As if to underscore the contrast between an autocracy and a democracy, China’s recent announcement that all six power-generating units at the world’s highest-elevation dam in Zangmu, Tibet, are now fully operational coincided with protesters stalling movement of trucks to Lower Subansiri, India’s sole large dam project currently under construction. After finishing the $1.6 billion Zangmu project on the Brahmaputra ahead of schedule, China is racing to complete a series of additional dams on the river. These dams, collectively, are set to affect the quality and quantity of downstream flows.

The water situation in India is far worse than in China, including in terms of per capita availability. China’s population is just marginally larger than India’s but its internally renewable water resources (2,813 billion cubic meters per year) are almost twice as large as India’s. In aggregate water availability, including external inflows (which are sizeable in India’s case), China boasts virtually 50% larger resources than India.

Yet, even as China’s dam builders target rivers flowing to India, including the Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej and Arun (Kosi), New Delhi has failed to evolve a strategic, long-term approach to the country’s pressing water challenges. The flash floods that ravaged Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh between 2000 and 2005 were linked to the unannounced releases from rain-swollen Chinese dams and barrages.

China’s centralized, megaprojects-driven approach to water resources, reflected in its emergence long ago as the world’s most dam-dotted country, is the antithesis of the policy line in India, where water is a state (not federal) subject under the Constitution and where anti-dam NGOs are powerful. The Narmada Dam remains incomplete after decades of work. The largest dam India has built since independence — the 2,000-megawatt Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi — pales in comparison to China’s giant projects, such as the 22,500-megawatt Three Gorges Dam and the new Mekong mega-dams like Xiaowan, which dwarfs Paris’s Eiffel Tower in height, and Nuozhadu, which boasts a 190-square-km reservoir.

India’s surface-water storage capacity — an important measure of any nation’s ability to deal with drought or seasonal imbalances in water availability — is one of the world’s lowest, in per capita terms. Amounting to 200 cubic meters yearly, it is more than 11 times lower than China’s. The 2030 Water Resources Group has warned that India is likely to face a 50% deficit between water demand and supply by 2030.

In 1960, India generously reserved more than 80% of the Indus basin waters for its adversary Pakistan under a treaty of indefinite duration. This pact remains the world’s most generous water-sharing arrangement. (The volume of waters earmarked for Pakistan — by way of comparison — is over 90 times greater than the 1.85 billion cubic meters the U.S. is required to release to Mexico under a bilateral treaty.)

India’s 1996 Ganges water-sharing treaty with Bangladesh guarantees specific cross-border flows in the critical dry season — a new principle in international water relations. This provision means that even if the river’s flows were to diminish due to reasons beyond India’s control — such as climate change or the planned Chinese damming of a key Ganges tributary, the Arun (Kosi) that contributes significantly to downstream Ganges water levels — India would still be obligated to supply Bangladesh with 34,060 cubic feet of water per second of time (cusecs) on average in the dry season, as stipulated by the treaty. Bangladesh’s share of current downstream flows is about 50%.

But China is not India: With its frenzied dam building, Beijing refuses to enter into a water-sharing arrangement with any co-riparian nation, even though its control over the Tibetan Plateau (the starting place of major international rivers) and Xinjiang (the source of the transnational Irtysh and Ili rivers) has armed it with unparalleled hydro-hegemony. There is deep concern among its riparian neighbours that, by building extensive hydro-engineering infrastructure on upstream basins, it is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon. China pays little heed to the interests of even friendly countries, as its heavy upstream damming of the Mekong and Salween illustrate.

New Delhi has to brace for China moving its dam building from the upper and middle reaches to the lower, border-hugging sections of the rivers flowing to India. The Brahmaputra is particularly a magnet for China’s dam builders because this river’s cross-border annual discharge of 165.4 billion cubic meters into India is greater than the combined trans-boundary flows of the key rivers running from Chinese territory to Southeast Asia. As China gradually moves its dam building to the Brahmaputra’s water-rich Great Bend — the area where the river takes a horseshoe bend to enter India, forming the world’s longest and steepest canyon in the process — it is expected to embark on Mekong-style mega-dams.

Only five rivers in the world carry more water than the Brahmaputra and only one — mainland China’s Yellow River — carries more silt. The Brahmaputra is the world’s highest-altitude river. It represents a unique fluvial ecosystem largely due to the heavy load of high-quality nutrient-rich silt it carries from forbidding Himalayan heights. The Brahmaputra annual flooding cycle helps re-fertilize overworked soils in the Assam plains and large parts of Bangladesh, where the river is the biggest source of water supply. The likely silt-movement blockage from China’s upstream damming constitutes a bigger threat than even diminution of cross-border flows.

India must get its act together, both by treating water as a highly strategic resource and by shining an international spotlight on China’s unilateralist course. Just as China — through a creeping, covert war — is working to change the territorial and maritime status quo in Asia, its dam frenzy is designed to appropriate internationally shared water resources. No country faces a bigger challenge than India from China’s throttlehold over the headwaters of Asia’s major transnational rivers and its growing capacity to serve as the upstream controller by reengineering trans-boundary flows through dams.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War.”

© Hindustan Times, 2015.

How alliances of convenience spur deadly terrorism

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Brahma ChellaneyWith the horrific Paris attacks refocusing global spotlight on the scourge of international terrorism, we should not forget the factors that continue to aid the rise of jihadist forces. The international fight against transnational Islamic terrorism can never succeed as long as short-term geostrategic interests prompt Western powers to form alliances of convenience that strengthen fundamentalist forces extolling violence as a sanctified tool of religion.

Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat to liberal, pluralistic states everywhere, not just in the West. So, the interventionist policies of some powers that unwittingly bolster Islamist forces threaten not just their internal security but also that of other democracies with sizable Muslim populations.

Make no mistake: The war on terror cannot be credibly fought with treacherous allies, such as jihadist rebels and fundamentalism-exporting sheikhdoms. Indeed, the pursuit of near-term geostrategic goals at the cost of long-term interests has created an energized international jihadist threat and fostered greater transnational terrorism. The focus on securing short-term gains is helping to inflict long-term pain on the international community.

The notion that Western powers can aid “moderate” jihadists in faraway lands — training them in how to make and detonate bombs and arming them with lethal weapons — and yet not endanger their own security has repeatedly been shown to be false. The training and arming of such militants in collaboration with reactionary Islamist sheikhdoms has only allowed these countries’ cloistered royals to play double games and bankroll Muslim extremist groups and madrasas in many countries.

In fact, it is the state and non-state allies of convenience since the 1980s — when the CIA trained and armed thousands of anti-Soviet Afghan rebels with Arab petrodollars and the help of Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency — that have come to haunt the security of Western and non-Western democracies alike.

In 1985, at a White House ceremony attended by several Afghan top-ranking “mujahedeen” — the jihadists out of which Al Qaeda emerged — President Ronald Reagan gestured toward his guests and declared, “These gentlemen are the moral equivalent of America’s Founding Fathers.” It was the Reagan administration’s use of Islam as an ideological tool to spur jihad against the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan that created Al Qaeda, undermining the security of several regional states.

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton admitted in a 2010 ABC News interview that, “We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama bin Laden. And then when we finally saw the end of the Soviet Army crossing back out of Afghanistan, we all breathed a sigh of relief and said, okay, fine, we’re out of there. And it didn’t work out so well for us.”

Today, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has emerged as a new international monster because the lesson from Al Qaeda’s rise has been ignored. This is apparent from President Barack Obama’s recent decision to ramp up U.S. support to Syrian rebels with nearly $100 million in fresh aid. The decision has come despite the vast majority of the CIA-trained “moderate” jihadists having defected with their weapons to ISIS. Now, ISIS wages its terror campaigns largely with Western weapons and with many Western-trained fighters.

France finds itself increasingly in the crosshairs of terrorism in large part because of President François Hollande’s interventionist impulse. A political lightweight who became president by accident in 2012, Hollande has shown himself to be one of the world’s most interventionist leaders, despite being a socialist. Serial interventions have come to define the “Hollande doctrine.”

Under Hollande’s leadership, France has conducted military operations in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic and the Sahel, provided assistance to Syrian rebels as part of a U.S.-led effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad and, more recently, launched airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. When U.S. President Barack Obama considered sending the U.S. military into combat in Syria in 2013, one foreign leader egging him on was Hollande.

Hollande’s happy interventions, especially in the Middle East, have angered radical elements in France’s sizable Arab immigrant community. Hollande was singled out by name by some of those who carried out the November 13 attacks in Paris. Despite several new security measures being implemented after the Charlie Hebdo attack, including a sweeping surveillance law in the supposed cradle of liberty, France has become more vulnerable to terrorist strikes. Hollande now wants the French Constitution amended.

More broadly, almost every Western intervention in the wider Middle East has triggered unforeseen internal and cross-border consequences. Creating a vicious circle of action and reaction, the unintended effects have then prompted another Western intervention in due course to control the fallout.

For example, many of the Arab and other jihadists trained by the CIA in Pakistan, as part of the Reagan administration’s clandestine war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, later returned to their homelands to wage terror campaigns against governments they viewed as tainted by Western influence. Such Al Qaeda-linked militants were linked to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s assassination and to terrorist attacks on several U.S. targets in the Middle East in the 1990s. Large portions of the multibillion-dollar covert U.S. aid for anti-Soviet Islamic guerrillas were siphoned off by the conduit — Pakistan’s ISI — to ignite a bloody insurgency in the Jammu and Kashmir state of India, which bore the brunt of the unintended consequences of the Russian and U.S.-led interventions in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

More than a decade after its proxy war drove Soviet forces out of Afghanistan, the U.S. — following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks at home — invaded Afghanistan. Over 14 years later, it is still embroiled in that war.

Take another example: The U.S.-French-British toppling of strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 has turned Libya into a battle-worn wasteland that now serves as a happy hunting ground for ISIS, Al Qaeda and other jihadists. This has opened the door to the flow of arms and militants to other countries, leading to the French military’s antiterrorist operations from Mali to the Sahel.

No state has unravelled faster and become a terrorist haven due to foreign intervention than Libya. Yet the U.S. has endlessly debated the 2012 killing of four Americans in Benghazi, including its ambassador, but sidestepped the Obama-made disaster that Libya represents. Indeed, one of the first acts of the short-lived successor regime that the Western powers installed in Tripoli was to introduce Shariah — Islamic law rooted in the ultra-extreme Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam.

Today, a lawless Libya continues to export jihad and guns across the Sahel and undermine the security of fellow Maghreb countries and Egypt. As a jihadist stronghold, it also poses a potential threat to European security.

Likewise, the operation led by the U.S., France and Britain to overthrow Assad not only contributed to turning the once-peaceful, secular Syria into a jihadist bastion and vast killing field but also enabled ISIS to rise from its base in northern Syria as a powerful, marauding army that has gained control over vast swaths of territory extending to Iraq.

That, in turn, prompted Obama more than 14 months ago to launch an open-ended bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to Henry Kissinger, the “destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence.”

Obama’s ineffectual air war, however, has done little to contain ISIS but prompted Russia to launch its own airstrikes. The bomb-triggered crash of a Russian jetliner over the Sinai Peninsula and the ISIS-linked Paris attacks now threaten to deepen outside powers’ military involvement in Syria and Iraq and thereby set off a fresh circle of action and reaction.

More fundamentally, the toppling of secular despots in Iraq and Libya and the attempt to overthrow a similar autocrat in Syria have paved the way for the rise of violent extremists in the Sunni arc that stretches from the Maghreb-Sahel region of North Africa to the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt. Several largely Sunni countries, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan, have become de facto partitioned, while Jordan and Lebanon face a similar spectre of succumbing to Sunni extremist violence.

In fact, the U.S.-French-British campaign to oust Assad — with the support of Wahhabi sheikhdoms like Saudi Arabia and Qatar — began on the wrong foot by seeking to speciously distinguish between “moderate” and “radical” jihadists. Those waging jihad by the gun can never be moderate, which is why many CIA-trained Syrian rebels have joined ISIS.

Western powers must reconsider their regional strategies, which have long depended on allies of convenience ranging from despotic Islamist rulers, as in the Persian Gulf, to Islamist militias of the type that were used to drive out Soviet forces from Afghanistan or to overthrow Gaddafi. By continuing to shower Pakistan with generous aid and lethal arms, the U.S. unwittingly enables Pakistani export of terrorism to India and Afghanistan.

The West’s dubious allies, ranging from Qatar to Pakistan, have made the international terrorism problem worse. How can the international community combat the ISIS ideology when a major Western ally like Saudi Arabia has played an important role in funding the spread of such ideology and Salafi jihadism?

Western powers must shine a light on their past mistakes so that they don’t repeat them. The Western focus ought to be on securing long-term goals rather than on achieving short-term victories through alliances of convenience.

The larger lesson that should not be forgotten is that unless caution is exercised in training and arming Islamic militants in any region, the chickens could come home to roost. Jihad cannot be confined within the borders of a targeted nation, however distant, as Afghanistan, Syria and Libya illustrate. The involvement of French and Belgian nationals in the Paris attacks indicates how difficult it is to geographically contain the spread of the jihad virus.

© Mint, 2015.

How the U.S. Bolsters China’s Pakistan Strategy at Its Own Expense

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The U.S. highlights the rot in its Pakistan policy by feting Gen. Sharif in Washington, where he held talks with Vice President Biden, the secretaries of state and defense, and the CIA chief. The visit showed how the U.S. coddles Pakistani generals at the expense of Pakistan’s elected government.

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Brahma Chellaney, China-US Focus

Strategic weapon transfers, loans, and political support allow China to use Pakistan as a relatively inexpensive counterweight to India. Yet, oddly, America also extends unstinted financial and political support to Pakistan, a country that has mastered the art of pretending to be a U.S. ally while hosting those that kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Washington’s present approach bolsters China’s Pakistan strategy but undercuts its own interests.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to sell an additional eight nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan is just the latest example of America persistently rewarding a country that still refuses to snap its ties with terrorists or observe other international norms. By showering Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid annually, the U.S. has made the financially-struggling country one of this century’s largest recipients of American assistance.

Terrorists reared by the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency continue to train inside Pakistan for cross-border operations in India and Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban’s top leaders remain holed up in Pakistan, which also hosts sanctuaries for those waging hit-and-run campaigns in Afghanistan. Pakistan has not come clean even in regards to who helped Osama bin Laden hide for years in a military garrison town near its capital.

Yet, the U.S. has allowed itself to be repeatedly duped by Pakistan’s false promises. U.S. policy has not only turned Uncle Sam into Uncle Sucker but also made it easy for Pakistan to merrily run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds.

Over the past 13 years, the U.S. has given Pakistan more than $31 billion in aid and other financial support. And like China, it has been arming Pakistan with lethal weapons.

Under Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, the weapon systems that have flowed to Pakistan or are to be provided include eight P-3C Orion maritime aircraft, 18 new and 14 used F-16s, one Perry-class missile frigate,six C-130E Hercules transport aircraft, 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 2,007 TOW anti-armor missiles, 500 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, 500 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, 1,450 2,000-pound bombs, six AN/TPS-77 surveillance radars, 115 M-109 self-propelled howitzers, 20 AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters, and 15 Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles.

More recently, Washington, in a nearly $1 billion deal with Pakistan, agreed to supply 15 AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters, 1,000 Hellfire II missiles, and targeting and positioning systems. The U.S. justification for arming Pakistan with such sophisticated weapons has been that they are needed for counterterrorism, as if the “bad” terrorists that Pakistan seeks to battle (while taking care of the “good” ones) have acquired naval, air, and ground-force capabilities.

Consider another issue: Despite Pakistan’s duplicity in the fight against terrorism, Washington continues to extend carrots to Pakistani military commanders in hopes of convincing them to sever their ties with all terrorist groups and to bring the Taliban to Afghanistan peace talks. Hope seems to spring eternal.

Yet, the U.S.’s Pakistan policy has also failed to deliver on other fronts, including reining in Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program and promoting a genuine democratic transition there. With the development of a robust civil society remaining stunted, jihad culture is now deeply woven into Pakistan’s national fabric. And despite an elected government in office, the military rules the roost in Pakistan.

Indeed, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been forced to let the military take charge of foreign policy and national security. Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif (not related to the prime minister) calls the shots on key issues. The government’s main responsibility is now limited to the economy, yet it cannot touch the financial prerogatives of the military, which, according to some estimates, consumes 26% of all tax receipts.

With the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishments not answerable to the government, Pakistan has been frenetically expanding its nuclear arsenal, building even low-yield tactical nukes for use on the battlefield against India. The arsenal provides the generals the nuclear shield to harbor terrorists without inviting military retaliation from India.

More than ever, Pakistan stands out as a military with a country, rather than a country with a military.

Against this background, if Pakistan is to become a moderate, stable country, the military’s viselike grip on power must be broken and the ISI made accountable. However, the U.S., far from seeking to address Pakistan’s skewed civil-military relations, has been mollycoddling Gen. Sharif, awarding him the U.S. Legion of Merit for his contributions to “peace and security.” Shortly, the general will pay another high-profile visit to Washington for talks with top officials.

More ominously, the U.S. has explored the idea of cutting a nuclear deal with Pakistan. Dangling the offer of a “nuclear mainstreaming” Pakistan — as advocates of the exploratory talks call it — carries a double risk: Incentivizing breach of norms by a state sponsor of terrorism, andlegitimizing a nuclear program built through theft of technology, deception, and clandestine transfers from China. A deal would also whitewash the biggest nuclear-proliferation scandal in history, known as the A.Q. Khan affair.

As long as Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program remains outside government control, any American attempt to limit it would fail.

The U.S.’s Pakistan strategy, despite a long record of failure, remains focused too much on carrots and too little on sticks or disincentives.Obama has spurned congressional advice to suspend some aid to Pakistan and impose travel restrictions and other sanctions on Pakistani officials known to have ties to terrorists.

Worse still, Obama’s recent move to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, leaving a withdrawal decision to his successor, means that the U.S. will continue to fight the war on the wrong side of the Afpak border while still rewarding the Taliban’s backer, Pakistan.

It is time for America to stop getting duped and fix its broken Pakistan policy, which permits the Pakistani military to nurture more transnational terrorists and Islamists. The policy also plays into China’s hands by unwittingly aiding Beijing’s designs and helping to cement the Sino-Pakistan nexus. Pakistan is a valued asset for China to keep India boxed in, but a burden for America’s geostrategic interests.

Washington must balance its carrots by employing an appropriate level of sticks to force change in Pakistan’s behavior. Sustained U.S. pressure is vital to encourage a reformed Pakistan at peace with itself.

© China-US Focus, 2015.

The Western Roots of Anti-Western Terror

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By Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

unnamedThe Islamic State’s horrific attacks in Paris provide a stark reminder that Western powers cannot contain – let alone insulate themselves from – the unintended consequences of their interventions in the Middle East. The unraveling of Syria, Iraq, and Libya, together with the civil war that is tearing Yemen apart, have created vast killing fields, generated waves of refugees, and spawned Islamist militants who will remain a threat to international security for years to come. And the West has had more than a little to do with it.

Obviously, Western intervention in the Middle East is not a new phenomenon. With the exceptions of Iran, Egypt, and Turkey, every major power in the Middle East is a modern construct created largely by the British and the French. The United States-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 represent only the most recent effort by Western powers to shape the region’s geopolitics.

But these powers have always preferred intervention by proxy, and it is this strategy – training, funding, and arming jihadists who are deemed “moderate” to fight against the “radicals” – that is backfiring today. Despite repeated proof to the contrary, Western powers have remained wedded to an approach that endangers their own internal security.

It should be obvious that those waging violent jihad can never be moderate. Yet, even after acknowledging that a majority of the Free Syrian Army’s CIA-trained members have defected to the Islamic State, the US recently pledged nearly $100 million in fresh aid for Syrian rebels.

France, too, has distributed aid to Syrian rebels, and it recently began launching airstrikes against the Islamic State. And that is precisely why France was targeted. According to witnesses, the attackers at Paris’s Bataclan concert hall – where most of the night’s victims were killed – declared that their actions were President François Hollande’s fault. “He didn’t have to intervene in Syria,” they shouted.

To be sure, France has a tradition of independent-minded and pragmatic foreign policy, reflected in its opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. But after Nicolas Sarkozy became President in 2007, France aligned its policies more firmly with the US and NATO, and participated actively in toppling Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011. And after Hollande succeeded Sarkozy in 2012, France emerged as one of the world’s most interventionist countries, undertaking military operations in the Central African Republic, the Ivory Coast, Mali, the Sahel, and Somalia before launching its airstrikes in Syria.

Such interventions neglect the lessons of history. Simply put, nearly every Western intervention this century has had unforeseen consequences, which have spilled over borders and ultimately prompted another intervention.

It was no different in the late twentieth century. In the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, the US (with funding from Saudi Arabia) trained thousands of Islamic extremists to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The result was Al Qaeda, whose actions ultimately prompted President George W. Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and provided a pretext for invading Iraq. As then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in 2010, “We trained them, we equipped them, we funded them, including somebody named Osama bin Laden….And it didn’t work out so well for us.”

And yet, disregarding this lesson, Western powers intervened in Libya to topple Qaddafi, effectively creating a jihadist citadel at Europe’s southern doorstep, while opening the way for arms and militants to flow to other countries. It was this fallout that spurred the French counter-terrorist interventions in Mali and the Sahel.

Having barely stopped to catch their breath, the US, France, and Britain – with the support of Wahhabi states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar – then moved to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, fueling a civil war that enabled the Islamic State to seize territory and flourish. With the group rapidly gaining control over vast areas extending into Iraq, the US – along with Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – began launching airstrikes inside Syria last year. France joined the effort more recently, as has Russia.

Though Russia is pursuing its military campaign independently of the Western powers (reflecting its support for Assad), it, too, has apparently become a target, with US and European officials increasingly convinced that the Islamic State was behind October’s crash of a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula. That incident, together with the Paris attacks, may spur even greater outside military involvement in Syria and Iraq, thereby accelerating the destructive cycle of intervention. Already, the danger that emotion, not reason, will guide policy is apparent in France, the US, and elsewhere.

What is needed most is a more measured approach that reflects the lessons of recent mistakes. For starters, Western leaders should avoid playing into the terrorists’ hands, as Hollande is doing by calling the Paris attacks “an act of war” and implementing unprecedented measures at home. Instead, they should heed Margaret Thatcher’s advice and starve terrorists of “the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

More important, they should recognize that the war on terror cannot credibly be fought with unsavory allies, such as Islamist fighters or fundamentalist-financing sheikhdoms. The risk of adverse unintended consequences – whether terrorist blowback, as in Paris, or military spillovers, as in Syria – is unjustifiably high.

It is not too late for Western powers to consider the lessons of past mistakes and recalibrate their counterterrorism policies accordingly. Unfortunately, this appears to be the least likely response to the Islamic State’s recent attacks.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Murky politics hobble progress on climate change

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review

A cow grazes in a parched rice field in Makassar, Indonesia. (Photo by Getty Images)

A cow grazes in a parched rice field in Makassar, Indonesia. (Photo by Getty Images)

Humanity is altering natural ecosystems more rapidly than it is reaching an adequate scientific understanding of the implications of such change. It is widely known that the overuse of energy, water, land, minerals and biological resources is contributing to climate change. But human activities that deplete natural resources and degrade ecosystems are also threatening international, regional and local security.

Moreover, the growing gap between near-term development objectives and long-term human aspirations means that the costs of development are being passed onto future generations.

Yet the international agenda to combat global warming has become politically loaded. Important actors have tacked onto the agenda their own economic and other interests — which explains why the process to negotiate a successor regime to the Kyoto Protocol has been painfully long. Such factors will no doubt be evident at the forthcoming United Nations climate change conference in Paris.

Make no mistake: The future of human civilization hinges on sustainable development. There are several historical examples of societies fatally undermining their ecological security, with the resultant eco-meltdown leading to their fall. Two examples are the early Sumerian civilization, which emerged in the lower basin of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and Central America’s Maya civilization. In both cases, land and water degradation stunted food production, setting the stage for their downfall.

Today, the threat from unsustainable human practices has reached global proportions. Indeed, human-induced changes of natural systems have become so profound that the Earth has entered what Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen calls the Anthropocene, a new geological age in which human civilization — not nature — is the dominant force, driving major alterations in the planet’s ecosystems.

As rising regional temperatures clearly illustrate, climate stability is becoming a casualty of such anthropogenic transformations.

Forward and backward

The 20th century brought unprecedented progress but also profound damage to ecosystems, with humans altering or degrading up to 50% of the Earth’s land, modifying natural flows of about two-thirds of all rivers, and driving one-quarter of all bird species and many large mammal species to extinction. Populations of large herbivores like elephants, hippos and rhinos are dwindling at a startling rate.

According to U.N.-Water, a United Nations agency, about half the world’s wetlands have been lost since the early 20th century, while aquatic ecosystems have lost 50% of their biodiversity since just the mid-1970s.

Human-induced climate change creates a vicious spiral. For example, a warmer climate reduces the amount of highly reflective snow cover, which in turn allows more radiation from the sun to be absorbed by the ground and water, further increasing temperatures.

Global emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases, however, continue to grow at more than 1% yearly. Every 24 hours, the world dumps over 90 million tons of such gases into the atmosphere, treating it like an open sewer.

Effectively controlling the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere demands fundamental policy and lifestyle changes. But as seen over the nearly quarter-century since the conclusion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, setting out international goals on paper is easier than faithfully implementing them.

The binding targets set under the UNFCCC-linked Kyoto Protocol, which took effect in 2005, required a manageable cut of around 5% in emissions of six greenhouse gases to bring them below the participating industrialized countries’ 1990 levels over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012. The specific targets varied from country to country. But many of the industrialized economies and countries in transition that voluntarily became parties to the Kyoto Protocol failed to live up to their respective obligations.

Not surprisingly, climate-related challenges have become more acute. We are now at a crunch point. And yet climate politics are only becoming murkier.

Global warming is eating away at Greenland’s ice sheet. (Photo by Getty Images)

To be sure, there are continuing gaps in our scientific understanding of the phenomenon of climate change. Climate science is still young and offers no clear answers to some critical questions.

Thanks to focused research on human activities and their impact, the public now knows more about the anthropogenic factors contributing to global warming than about the Earth’s own natural climatic variations. What, for example, caused the “little ice age” from about the 15th to the 19th centuries? Further scientific research is needed to understand the phenomenon of natural climatic shifts, which usually extend over several centuries.

In view of such gaps, it is easy to either exaggerate or underestimate the impact of climate change. Yet its effects are likely to be serious, even according to the most conservative estimates.

Some water-related implications of global warming are already beyond dispute. Shifts in precipitation and runoff patterns will lead to greater hydrological variability, negatively affecting food production in some regions. Meanwhile, water stress is set to intensify and spread to new areas, owing to accelerated glacial thaw, more-frequent cycles of flooding and drought, and degradation of watercourses.

New criteria needed

But, as negotiations ahead of the Paris conference illustrate, the subject of climate change has become highly politicized, with competing interests seeking to shape — to their own advantage — the outcome of a new international agreement on climate. This trend serves as a reminder that climate change is not just a matter of science but also a matter of geopolitics.

Beyond negotiating specific targets in a new climate pact aimed at building a low-carbon future, the world confronts a more fundamental question — how to break the link between economic development and adverse impacts on the environment and climate. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the measure of economic growth in our world is ever-increasing production and consumption.

The concept of development is actually broad-based and encompasses far more than just economic growth rates. The widely acknowledged benchmarks of comprehensive development include protection of the biological and physical environments, public health, low income disparity, social equity, resource conservation and environmental sustainability. Likewise, national progress must be measured not merely in terms of gross domestic product but also in terms of how well human needs are met, using other measures of comprehensive development.

The world, unfortunately, has made the mistake of overemphasizing GDP growth, which demands more and more consumption, even as many societies are becoming more unequal and facing popular discontent.

At the same time, climate change is challenging the world’s ability to innovate and live in harmony with nature. But we do not have to wait for new technological innovations to open up potential solutions. Changes in human practices and preferences could readily create a more sustainable world right now.

At the national and international level, this means making the right energy and development choices. And at the individual level, it means embracing a more sustainable lifestyle that makes for better and healthier living.

Given that climate change is likely to spur more frequent and intense natural disasters, building resilience — the ability to avoid significant disruptions due to global-warming-driven changes or shocks — is also essential.

To lessen the effects of climate change, countries must also strategically invest in ecological restoration — by growing and preserving rainforests, conserving wetlands, shielding species critical to ecosystems and restoring rivers and other natural heritage sites. Such programs can even help regulate regional climate, slowing soil and coastal erosion and controlling droughts and flooding.

Global warming starkly illustrates how the most pressing challenges today are international in nature and thus demand collective international responses. Geopolitical games and growing international divisiveness, however, are hindering effective action on the global challenges.

If we are to preserve our planet for future generations, we must move from the Anthropocene epoch to the “Sustainocene” age. But such a transition will require development and energy policies anchored in the goal of environmental and climate protection.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© Nikkie Asian Review, 2015.

China’s freshwater grab

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BY

The Japan Times, November 2, 2015
yunnan_dam_1422405c

Just as China is working to change the territorial or maritime status quo from the western Himalayas to the East China Sea, its dam-building frenzy is designed to appropriate internationally shared water resources. Beijing is seeking to present a fait accompli to its downstream neighbors by quietly building dams on the transnational Amur, Arun, Brahmaputra, Illy, Irtysh, Mekong and Salween rivers.

In the latest development, Beijing has announced that it has completed — ahead of schedule — the world’s highest-elevation dam at Zangmu, Tibet. It said that all six power-generating units of the $1.6 billion project on River Brahmaputra have become fully operational.

China is now racing to complete several additional dams located in close proximity to each other on that river. This cascade of dams is likely to affect the quality and quantity of downstream flows into India and Bangladesh.

Only five rivers in the world carry more water than the Brahmaputra and only one — China’s Yellow River — carries more silt. The Brahmaputra is the world’s highest-altitude river. It represents a unique fluvial ecosystem largely due to the heavy load of high-quality nutrient-rich silt it carries from forbidding Himalayan heights.

The Brahmaputra’s annual flooding cycle helps fertilize overworked soils in northeast India’s Assam plains and large parts of Bangladesh, where the river is the biggest source of water supply. The silt-movement impediment by China’s upstream dam projects constitutes a bigger threat to the biophysical vitality of the river and downstream plains than even diminution of cross-border flows.

Several factors have whetted China’s drive to increasingly tap the resources of international rivers, including an officially drawn link between water and national security, the country’s emergence as the global center of dam building, the state-run hydropower industry’s growing clout and the rise of water nationalism at a time of increasing water stress in the northern Chinese plains. With dam building reaching virtual saturation levels in the ethnic Han heartland, the hydro-engineering focus has shifted to minority homelands, from where rivers flow to other countries.

China’s centralized, mega-project-driven approach to water resources has turned it into the world’s most dam-dotted country. This approach is the antithesis of the policy line in India, where water is a state (not federal) subject under the Constitution and where anti-dam nongovernmental organizations are powerful. India’s Narmada Dam project, which remains incomplete decades after its construction began, symbolizes the power of NGOs.

The largest dam India has built since its independence — the 2,000-megawatt Tehri Dam on River Bhagirathi — pales in comparison to China’s giant projects, such as the 22,500-megawatt Three Gorges Dam and the new mega-dams on the Mekong River like Xiaowan, which dwarfs Paris’s Eiffel Tower in height, and Nuozhadu, which boasts a 190-sq.-km reservoir.

The water situation in India, however, is far worse than in China. China’s population is just marginally larger than India’s, but its internally renewable water resources (2,813 billion cubic meters per year) are almost twice as large as India’s. In aggregate water availability, including external inflows (which are sizable in India’s case), China boasts virtually 50 percent larger resources than India.

India’s surface-water storage capacity — an important measure of any nation’s ability to deal with drought or seasonal imbalances in water availability — is one of the world’s lowest. Amounting to 200 cubic meters per head per year, it is more than 11 times lower than China’s. The 2030 Water Resources Group, an international unit, has warned that India is likely to face a 50 percent deficit between water demand and supply by 2030.

Yet, even as China’s dam builders target rivers flowing to India, including the Brahmaputra, Indus, Sutlej and Arun (Kosi), New Delhi has failed to evolve a strategic, long-term approach to the country’s pressing water challenges. In fact, no country faces a bigger challenge than India from China’s throttlehold on the headwaters of Asia’s major transnational rivers and from its growing capability to be the upstream controller by re-engineering trans-boundary flows through dams.

New Delhi has to brace for China moving its dam building from the upper and middle reaches to the lower, border-hugging sections of the rivers flowing to India. The Brahmaputra is particularly a magnet for China’s dam builders because this river’s cross-border annual discharge of 165.4 billion cubic meters into India is greater than the combined trans-boundary flows of the key rivers running from Chinese territory to Southeast Asia. China is expected to embark on Mekong-style mega-dams as it gradually moves its dam building on the Brahmaputra to the area where the river takes a horseshoe bend to enter India, forming the world’s longest and steepest canyon in the process.

To be sure, China’s riparian dominance poses a wider challenge in Asia as it remains impervious to the interests of downstream states and to international norms. Backed by its political control over water-rich minority homelands and by its rapid expansion of upstream hydro-engineering infrastructure, China’s riparian ascendancy is creating a tense and potentially conflict-laden situation where water allocations to co-riparian states in the future could become a function of its political fiat. Indeed, Beijing pays little heed to the interests of even friendly countries, as illustrated by its heavy upstream damming of the Mekong and Salween — Southeast Asia’s largest rivers.

The situation serves as a reminder that power equations are central to riparian relations. If upstream actions are undertaken by a power armed with superior military and economic capabilities and geopolitical influence, the lower riparian state can do little more than protest, unless a water-sharing agreement between the two countries provides for international adjudication or arbitration at the request of one side.

China, however, has refused to enter into a water-sharing arrangement with any co-riparian nation, even though its control over the Tibetan plateau (the starting place of major international rivers) and Xinjiang (the source of the transnational Irtysh and Ili rivers) has armed it with unparalleled hydro-hegemony. Such refusal means it can persist with its frenetic construction of upstream dams, barrages, reservoirs and irrigation systems on international rivers flowing to Central, South and Southeast Asia and to Russia.

By contrast, treaties, agreements or arrangements relating to major shared rivers govern relations between riparian neighbors in South, Southeast and Central Asia.

A balance between rights and obligations is at the heart of how to achieve harmonious, rules-based relations on water-resource issues. Transparency, collaboration and sharing are the building blocks of water peace. China’s unilateralist course on shared freshwater resources, however, indicates that — as in the South China Sea — it wants and insists on getting its own way.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist, is the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Why Japan Should Rearm

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Ensuring long-term peace in Asia requires an active role for Japan. By pursuing reforms that enable it to defend itself better, Japan would enhance its capacity to forestall the emergence of a destabilizing power imbalance in East Asia – with far-reaching benefits for Asia and the rest of the world.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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Japan’s political resurgence is one of this century’s most consequential developments in Asia. But it has received relatively little attention, because observers have preferred to focus on the country’s prolonged economic woes. Those woes are real, but Japan’s ongoing national-security reforms and participation in the new 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership have placed it firmly on the path to reinventing itself as a more secure, competitive, and internationally engaged country.

Japan has historically punched above its weight in world affairs. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan became Asia’s first modern economic success story. It went on to defeat Manchu-ruled China and Czarist Russia in two separate wars, making it Asia’s first modern global military power. Even after its crushing World War II defeat and occupation by the United States, Japan managed major economic successes, becoming by the 1980s a global industrial powerhouse, the likes of which Asia had never seen.

Media tend to depict Japan’s current economic troubles in almost funereal terms. But, while it is true that the economy has stagnated for more than two decades, real per capita income has increased faster than in the US and the United Kingdom so far this century. Moreover, the unemployment rate has long been among the lowest of the wealthy economies, income inequality is the lowest in Asia, and life expectancy is the longest in the world.

In fact, it is Japan’s security, not its economy, that merits the most concern today – and Japan knows it. After decades of contentedly relying on the US for protection, Japan is being shaken out of its complacency by fast-changing security and power dynamics in Asia, especially the rise of an increasingly muscular and revisionist China vying for regional hegemony.

Chinese military spending now equals the combined defense expenditure of France, Japan, and the UK; just a decade ago, pacifist Japan outspent China on defense. And China has not hesitated to display its growing might. In the strategically vital South China Sea, the People’s Republic has built artificial islands and military outposts, and it has captured the disputed Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines. In the East China Sea, it has unilaterally declared an air-defense identification zone covering territories that it claims but does not control.

With US President Barack Obama hesitating to impose any costs on China for these aggressive moves, Japan’s leaders are taking matters into their own hands. Recognizing the inadequacy of Japan’s existing national-security policies and laws to protect the country in this new context, the government has established a national security council and moved to “normalize” its security posture. By easing Japan’s longstanding, self-imposed ban on arms exports, boosting defense spending, and asserting its right to exercise “collective self-defense,” the government has opened the path for Japan to collaborate more actively with friendly countries and to pursue broader overseas peacekeeping missions.

To be sure, Japan’s security-enhancing efforts have so far been limited in scope, and do not open the way for the country to become a militaristic power. Restrictions on deployment of offensive weapons, for example, remain in place.

Nonetheless, the government’s moves have proved divisive in a country where pacifism is embedded in the constitution and widely supported by the population. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 23% of Japanese want their country to play a more active role in Asian security. Another survey last year revealed that only 15.3% of Japanese – the lowest proportion in the world – were willing to defend their country, compared to 75% of Chinese.

But the reality is that ensuring long-term peace in Asia demands a stronger defense posture for Japan. Indeed, reforms that enable Japan to defend itself better, including by building mutually beneficial regional partnerships, would enhance its capacity to forestall the emergence of a destabilizing power imbalance in East Asia.

It is now up to Japan’s government to win over its own citizens, by highlighting the difference between pacifism and passivity. Japan would not encourage or support aggression; it would simply take a more proactive role in securing peace at the regional and global levels.

A more confident and secure Japan would certainly serve the interests of the US, which could then depend on its close ally to take more responsibility for both its own security and regional peace. Americans increasingly seem to recognize this, with 47% of respondents in the Pew survey supporting a more active role for Japan in Asian security.

But there remain questions about precisely how self-sufficient Japan would have to be to carry out this “proactive pacifism” – a term popularized by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – consistently and effectively. Would Japan need to become a truly independent military power, with formidable deterrent capabilities like those of the UK or France?

The short answer is yes. While Japan should not abandon its security treaty with the US, it can and should rearm, with an exclusive focus on defense.

Of course, unlike the UK and France, Japan does not have the option to possess nuclear weapons. But it can build robust conventional capabilities, including information systems to cope with the risk of cyber warfare. Beyond bolstering Japanese security and regional stability, such an effort would likely boost Japan’s GDP and yield major profits for American defense firms.

As a status quo power, Japan does not need to match Chinese military might. Defense is, after all, easier than offense. Still, the rise of a militarily independent Japan would constitute a game-changing – and highly beneficial – development for Asia and the rest of the world.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Bottled risk

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

BottledOver the last 15 years, the bottled-water industry has experienced explosive growth, which shows no sign of slowing. In fact, bottled water – including everything from “purified spring water” to flavored water and water enriched with vitamins, minerals, or electrolytes – is the largest growth area in the beverage industry, even in cities where tap water is safe and highly regulated. This has been a disaster for the environment and the world’s poor.

The environmental problems begin early on, with the way the water is sourced. The bulk of bottled water sold worldwide is drawn from the subterranean water reserves of aquifers and springs, many of which feed rivers and lakes. Tapping such reserves can aggravate drought conditions.

But bottling the runoff from glaciers in the Alps, the Andes, the Arctic, the Cascades, the Himalayas, Patagonia, the Rockies, and elsewhere is not much better, as it diverts that water from ecosystem services like recharging wetlands and sustaining biodiversity. This has not stopped big bottlers and other investors from aggressively seeking to buy glacier-water rights. China’s booming mineral-water industry, for example, taps into Himalayan glaciers, damaging Tibet’s ecosystems in the process.

Much of today’s bottled water, however, is not glacier or natural spring water but processed water, which is municipal water or, more often, directly extracted groundwater that has been subjected to reverse osmosis or other purification treatments. Not surprisingly, bottlers have been embroiled in disputes with local authorities and citizens’ groups in many places over their role in water depletion, and even pollution. In drought-seared California, some bottlers have faced protests and probes; one company was even banned from tapping spring water.

Worse, processing, bottling, and shipping the water is highly resource-intensive. It takes 1.6 liters of water, on average, to package one liter of bottled water, making the industry a major water consumer and wastewater generator. And processing and transport add a significant carbon footprint.

The problems do not stop when the water reaches the consumer. The industry depends mainly on single-serve bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the raw materials for which are derived from crude oil and natural gas. In the 1990s, it was PET that turned water into a portable, lightweight convenience product.

But PET does not decompose; and, while it can be recycled, it usually is not. As a result, bottled water is now the single biggest source of plastic waste, with tens of billions of bottles ending up as garbage every year. In the United States, where the volume of bottled water sold last year increased by 7% from 2013, 80% of all plastic water bottles become litter, choking landfills.

Of course, higher rates of recycling could improve this situation substantially. For example, Germany has successfully promoted recycling with a combination of smart regulations and incentives, such as machines at supermarkets that return deposits in exchange for bottles (often brought in by the poor). But recycling entails the use of even more resources.

Some might argue that the safety and health benefits of bottled water offset these environmental consequences. But those benefits are little more than a marketing ploy. Although tap water in the West occasionally has quality problems, so does bottled water. The industry’s own production process sometimes causes contamination and forces major recalls.

Indeed, tap water is often healthier than bottled water. Chemical treatment means that processed bottled water may lack fluoride, which is naturally present in most groundwater or is added in tiny amounts to municipal water supplies to promote dental health.

There are also health concerns over the potential leaching of chemical compounds from PET bottles, as well as from the large reusable polycarbonate containers in which bottlers deliver water to homes and offices. Suboptimal storage conditions – which include, for example, prolonged exposure to sunlight and heat – can cause potent estrogenic activity in bottled water, exposing consumers to chemicals that alter the function of the endocrine system by mimicking the role of the body’s natural hormones.

To be sure, these consequences are not going unnoticed. In the US, environmental concerns have prompted some university campuses and at least 18 national parks to ban the sale of bottled water.

The bottled-water industry sees the danger as well – and is doing everything possible to keep public opinion on its side. To that end, big water bottlers like Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola Company have taken a page out of the playbook of energy behemoths like ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, by pursuing “green” initiatives.

But make no mistake: Bottled water is compounding the world’s resource and environmental challenges. It is making it harder to deliver potable water to the world’s poor. It delivers no health benefits over clean tap water. And it does not even taste better; indeed, blind taste tests reveal that people cannot tell the difference between bottled and tap water.

Obviously, tap water needs an image overhaul. Unfortunately, it lacks the marketing muscle and advertising budgets that have powered the dramatic growth of the bottled-water industry. When a product that is cheaper and better does not prevail, that is bad news for consumers. When the product is water, we all lose.

© 1995-2015 Project Syndicate.

Sri Lanka vote deals blow to China

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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China’s political investment in Sri Lankan strongman Rajapaksa, in the expectation that he would be a long-lasting autocrat, has backfired.

The crucial Aug. 17 parliamentary election in Sri Lanka — what increasingly looks like a “swing state” in the sharpening geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region — was a close contest, giving no party an absolute majority and thus ensuring the next government will be coalition-based. But in one respect, the poll outcome was decisive: By thwarting pro-China ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political comeback bid, it represented a defeat for Chinese diplomacy.

Sri Lanka, located virtually at the center of the Indian Ocean, straddles some of the world’s busiest sea lanes. Beijing has already pumped billions of dollars into this small, strategically located island-nation, seeking to turn it into a pivot of its “Maritime Silk Road” to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Maritime Silk Road is the new name for China’s strategy of building a so-called “string of pearls” along vital Indian Ocean shipping routes. Sri Lanka — where China has already built the large Hambantota port — is central to the Maritime Silk Road initiative.

The Chinese diplomatic drive in Sri Lanka, however, faces an uncertain future following two setbacks this year. The first came in January, with the shock defeat of Rajapaksa the first time around, to one-time ally Maithripala Sirisena in the presidential contest. Rajapaksa, during his nearly decade-long rule marked by increasing authoritarianism and accusations of nepotism and corruption, cozied up to China, awarding Beijing major contracts designed to make his country a key stop on the Chinese nautical “road.”

On Sri Lanka’s terms

When Sirisena won the presidency, however, he suspended the Chinese construction of a $1.4 billion, Dubai-style city on reclaimed land off Colombo, the capital. Several other Chinese projects have also been put off or delayed as Sirisena has ordered investigations into corruption and environmental breaches. Investigations are also underway into an alleged $1.1 million bribe paid by a Chinese state-run company to Rajapaksa’s failed presidential re-election campaign and the alleged role of his two brothers and his wife in misappropriating public funds.

Now, with the latest election results thwarting Rajapaksa’s bid to return to power as prime minister, China faces difficult choices in Sri Lanka. Pro-Western Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose United National Party has emerged as the largest party in the 225-member parliament, falling just short of an absolute majority, has promised to continue investment ties with Beijing but on Sri Lanka’s own terms, saying he welcomes “competitive” foreign direct investment proposals from all countries.

Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have also underscored the imperative to “rebalance” relations with China. Under their leadership, Sri Lanka’s once-flagging relations with the U.S., India and Japan have significantly improved. Still, most of the stalled Chinese projects in Sri Lanka are likely to eventually resume after incorporating environmental safeguards, which might see some of them eventually scaled back.

China’s larger strategic ambitions in Sri Lanka, however, appear to have dimmed. Without Rajapaksa at the helm, China will be hard put to pursue “dual-use” infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka that serve both military and civilian purposes. One classic example of a dual-purpose project is Colombo’s new Chinese-owned commercial seaport, where two Chinese nuclear submarines and a warship docked last year during Rajapaksa’s family-dominated reign.

Plan B — the Maldives

With Sri Lanka slipping from its strategic grasp, Beijing might be forced to focus on its “Plan B” — the Maldives. China has been interested in leasing one of the 1,200 islands of the politically torn Maldives — the flattest state in the world and the smallest country in Asia in terms of population.

The Maldives recently adopted a constitutional amendment allowing foreign ownership of land, raising concern in New Delhi that the new law could open the path to the establishment of a Chinese naval base in India’s strategic backyard. But Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, in a recent letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said his government had no intention of allowing any country to set up a military base there.

The fact is that, with the international spotlight on its land reclamation and building of outposts in the South China Sea, China has quietly turned its sights to the Indian Ocean, the world’s new center of geopolitical gravity. China’s determination to take the sea route to gain regional hegemony was underscored by its new defense white paper, which outlined a plan for its navy to shift focus from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection.” In fact, the international attention on China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea has deflected attention from the artificial island it began building off Colombo before Sirisena suspended the megaproject to create a metropolis on 233 hectares of reclaimed land, with 108 hectares of the real estate to be owned by the state-owned company, China Communications Construction.

China’s heavy political investment in Rajapaksa, in the expectation that he would be a long-lasting autocrat, has clearly miscarried. Rajapaksa has been a war hero for many in the country’s dominant Sinhalese community but a war criminal for others: He is accused of presiding over war crimes while ruthlessly crushing a 26-year ethnic-Tamil insurgency in 2009 — a success that cost the lives of up to 40,000 civilians in the government’s final offensive against Tamil rebels. But his ouster in January revealed that many of his supporters seemed to have tired of the man for many reasons, not least the accusations of brazen nepotism, steady expansion of presidential powers, muzzling of civil liberties and favoring of China — even at the cost of national sovereignty.

“The dictatorial ways of Rajapaksa”

His successor, Sirisena, besides lifting restrictions on the media and the judiciary, has shed some of the Rajapaksa-expanded powers of the president and restored a two-term limit for an incumbent. This has strengthened the position of the prime minister, prompting Rajapaksa, ironically, to bid for that post. The choice for voters in the parliamentary election was between a return to the dictatorial ways of Rajapaksa, who blamed his political rivals for slowing economic growth by putting on hold the mainly China-backed infrastructure projects, and strengthening the “people’s revolution” that led to full-fledged democracy being restored in January — or as the campaign posters of Wickremesinghe’s UNP put it, between “jungle law” and “good governance.”

The outcome of the election, held peacefully with high voter turnout, represents a triumph of democracy. By handing Rajapaksa his second electoral defeat in eight months, it ensures that Sri Lanka will chart an independent foreign policy. It shows that genuine democracy works as a bulwark against the state mortgaging its sovereignty to become a key component of an external power’s regional strategy. By the same token, the erosion of democracy in the Maldives — where the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was forced to resign at gunpoint in 2012 and who is now serving a 13-year jail term — creates risks for the state to get sucked into great-power rivalries in the Indian Ocean region. With Sri Lanka’s election over, it seems a good time to reflect on that point.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of nine books, is professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. 

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2015.

Too much, too little, too dirty

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Asia’s water woes take many forms — and they’re about to get worse

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Nikkie Asian Review

20150723Freshwater_article_main_imageThe centrality of water is a recurring theme in various religions. The Bible — largely written amid water scarcity — associates drought with the wrath of God. “By means of water,” says the Quran, “we give life to everything.” Hindu gods and goddesses related to water are tied to fertility or to new beginnings.

Asia, the world’s driest continent per capita, symbolizes the paradox of water: a giver of life that can also be a destroyer when it becomes a carrier of deadly microbes or takes the form of a flood.

Asia struggles with water problems of almost every kind. The region’s biggest natural disasters this century have been water-related: The tsunami that struck Japan’s northeastern coast in 2011 caused a triple nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami left behind a huge swath of death and destruction.

Flooding this summer has caused fatalities and widespread damage in parts of southern China and eastern India, and a serious drought is ravaging countries as disparate as North Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Contaminated water, meanwhile, continues to be a major problem across much of Asia, which has some of the world’s worst water pollution.

Unfortunately for Asia, these problems are set to become even worse. Global warming and El Nino — a warm, irregularly occurring current in the Pacific Ocean that can cause significant changes in temperature and rainfall — are triggering more frequent droughts and flooding, especially in the summer monsoon season.

El Nino events occur at unpredictable times, sometimes more than five years apart. The current El Nino threatens to inflict serious economic damage in South and Southeast Asia. The agriculture sector, the leading employer in many countries, is particularly vulnerable. According to a Citigroup report, prolonged drought and the resultant crop losses could lead to higher food prices in several Asian nations.

Over the longer term, freshwater supplies are likely to come under increasing strain as oceans rise and the intensity and frequency of storms and other extreme weather events increases. Cycles of severe flooding and drought brought on by climate change will render the availability of potable water even more uncertain. This could exact significant human and economic costs, especially in financially strapped countries such as densely populated Bangladesh — the world’s seventh- most populous nation.

Parched field

A parched field in North Korea

North Korea says an unparalleled drought is currently exacerbating its food crisis. Pyongyang, having learned from a famine in the late 1990s that killed at least 600,000 people, has improved its agricultural management and set aside stockpiles of food, putting it in a somewhat better position to deal with the latest drought. But because copious amounts of water are needed for energy extraction, processing and production, North Korea’s severe water shortages have hit electricity generation, leading to frequent blackouts.

In much of Southeast Asia, parched conditions and above-average temperatures have forced farmers to leave their fields fallow. A prolonged drought has affected all five provinces in Vietnam’s coffee- producing Central Highlands. As a result, the country’s coffee exports have dropped 40% compared with last year.

In Thailand, the government has unveiled a $1.77 billion aid package for farmers affected by drought. About 1 million farmers have received loans so far. The drought is concentrated in seven of the country’s 67 provinces, but its wider impact on rivers and lakes has prompted water rationing in nearly a third of the country.

Drought conditions have also affected rice cultivation in parts of neighboring Laos and Cambodia, where some water sources have dried up, though a partial rebound in rainfall in July has brought respite to some drought-stricken regions. At the opposite extreme, heavy flooding this year has affected up to 4 million people in China, while torrential monsoon downpours displaced many in eastern India.

Australia’s extremes of drought and flooding, which seesaw with the cycles of El Nino and its cold-current counterpart La Nina, should serve as a warning for Asia. The country’s longest drought in more than a century lasted from 1996 until 2010 (even longer in some areas) and was followed by serious flooding in 2010 and 2011.

Global warming threatens to increase morbidity and mortality.

As floods and droughts become more severe and runoff patterns shift, variations in Asia’s hydrological cycle — the sequence of precipitation, evaporation and transpiration — are set to grow. This could threaten food production in some countries, unless crop varieties emerge that are more drought- and flood-resistant.

The accelerated melting of snow in mountain ranges and faster thawing of glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas will likely trigger serious flooding in downstream countries in the warm months, followed by an irreversible depletion of river flows.

At the local level, persistent water scarcity is already leading to the use of strong-arm
tactics. Villagers in some parts of South and Central Asia now hire private security guards to protect their wells, tanks and ponds from water thieves. In these parched areas, water has become a precious resource worth fighting for.

Solutions needed

Given the current situation, Asia must begin finding ways to mitigate its water challenges through intelligent, efficient resource management. Without such efforts, the region could become trapped in a vicious cycle of increasing water stress, environmental degradation and conflict. Large numbers of subsistence farmers would
also be forced into cities and other areas with relatively better water availability.

20150723Waterstorage_article_main_imageFor starters, Asian governments must change policies that are exacerbating human impacts on ecosystems. Water subsidies, for example, keep prices low, encouraging wasteful use, while subsidized electricity and diesel fuel for farmers has
promoted the uncontrolled extraction of groundwater, causing wetlands, lakes and
streams to dry up.

Overexploitation of coastal aquifers, meanwhile, allows seawater to intrude and replace the lost freshwater. The failure of governments to check deforestation and the depletion of swamps — important natural water absorption and storage systems — contributes to cycles of chronic flooding and drought and spurs the desertification of grasslands.

Asian countries must enhance their water infrastructure to increase distribution efficiency and mitigate imbalances in water availability. Storing water in the wet season for release in the dry is one way to ease seasonal imbalance. But most nations in Asia, with the exception of dam-dotted China, have a relatively low per capita water storage capacity by global standards.

Because warmer air carries more moisture, the increase in average temperatures has helped to raise global rainfall, especially in the tropics. Asia’s monsoons are projected to strengthen further. To compensate for decreased river flows, rainwater capture on a large but environmentally sustainable scale will likely be critical.

Rainwater harvesting is, in fact, an ancient and relatively low-cost technique invented in Asia. Its revival in cities ranging from Singapore to the southern Indian metropolises of Bangalore and Chennai makes it one of the most promising frontiers in the battle to ease local water shortages.

Water stress is often accompanied by a fall in water quality. But when water quality is maintained, the impact of water scarcity can be better managed. If the region’s water-stressed economies are to raise their water productivity levels, they must begin by increasing their water quality.

Asia needs new market mechanisms, public-private partnerships, innovative practices, conservation and astute water management to advance affordable solutions. Increasing the diversity of water supply for agriculture and energy should be a key goal of improved water management. The power sector’s role in contributing to water stress, for example, could be curtailed by utilizing non-freshwater sources — including seawater, impaired groundwater and recycled water — for cooling.

The close nexus between water, energy and food demands that these three critical resources be integrated into national policy frameworks to promote synergistic approaches. Asian governments cannot afford to waste time to address their pressing resource and environmental challenges.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” is currently a Richard von Weizsaecker fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Nikkie Asian Review, 2015.

The forgotten nuclear deal

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

a-chechen-woman-holding-h-0015The current international attention on the nuclear deal with Iran obscures another much-trumpeted nuclear accord signed a decade ago — between the United States and India. On the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, six words sum it up: Built on hype, deflated by reality. Indeed, it has become the forgotten nuclear deal.

When it was unveiled by U.S. President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington on July 18, 2005, the deal was touted as a major transformative initiative — one that would serve as a “basis for expanding bilateral activities and commerce in space, civil nuclear energy and dual-use technology.” Bush, while leaving office, declared: “We opened a new historic and strategic partnership with India.”

The deal indeed symbolized warming ties between the once-estranged democracies. The deal also became a legacy-building issue for Bush and Singh, just as U.S. President Barack Obama sought the Iran nuclear accord as the biggest diplomatic achievement of his presidency.

At its core, the Indo-U.S. deal-making centered on finding a compromise between an India determined to safeguard its nuclear military program and an America that insisted on imposing stringent nonproliferation conditions. As part of the deal to bring India into the international nuclear mainstream, New Delhi opened the sizable Indian civilian nuclear program to permanent international inspections, signed an additional protocol with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, dismantled its Cirus plutonium-production reactor, and harmonized its export policies with the guidelines of U.S.-led technology-control regimes.

But a decade later, the deal’s much-advertised energy, technological and strategic benefits for India still seem elusive. Indeed, the deal has yet to be commercialized. The premise on which it was founded — that India could build energy “security” by importing high-priced, foreign fuel-dependent reactors — was, in any case, a pipe dream. For the U.S., however, the deal was more geostrategic in nature, designed to make India a major U.S. arms client and coopt it as a quasi-ally.

The deal did help place the U.S.-India relationship on a much-higher pedestal. But bilateral ties had begun to significantly improve much before the deal. And the strategic rationale that has brought the two countries closer remains independent of the deal. For the U.S., displacing Russia as India’s largest arms supplier has been a diplomatic coup.

Given the heavy political investment in it, the deal eventually will be operationalized, however belatedly. It will, however, take a minimum of 10 years thereafter for the first nuclear power reactor under the deal to come on line in India.

After all, the international plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, now averages at least a decade, with the vast majority of reactors currently under construction in the world plagued by serious delays and cost overruns. For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, is running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost projected to rise from €3.2 billion to €8.5 billion. The Russian-origin plant at Kudankulam, at the southern tip of India, took 13 years to be completed, with the second of its two reactors yet to be commissioned. In this light, the U.S.-India deal is expected to deliver its first commissioned reactor a generation after being signed.

If India’s reactor imports were governed by “technical and commercial viability” — in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words — not a single contract would be feasible. The stalled Indian negotiations with the French firm, Areva, over the price of power suggest that the deal’s commercialization would be dictated neither by technical nor commercial viability but by the extent to which India is willing to fork out subsidies to support high-priced imported reactors.

Indeed, it is a moot question whether the deal will ever yield substantive energy benefits, given the exorbitant price of foreign-origin reactors, the concomitant need to heavily subsidize electricity generated by such plants, and the grassroots safety concerns over the Fukushima-type multi-plant nuclear parks that India has earmarked for Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi and Areva, each of which is to sell prototype Light Water Reactor (LWR) models presently not in operation anywhere in the world. The accident-stricken Fukushima reactors were also the first of their kind.

Adding to India’s risks from proposed import of prototype models is its plan to induct a multiplicity of different LWR technologies from the U.S., France and Russia. Given the several different reactor technologies already in operation or under development in India, such imports will likely exacerbate the country’s maintenance and safety challenges.

The nuclear power dream has faded globally. The crash of oil and gas prices, coupled with skyrocketing reactor-construction costs, has made nuclear power’s economics more unfavorable than ever. Few new reactors are under construction in the West, with the troubled nuclear power industry desperate for exports.

Even as the global role of nuclear power appears set to become marginal, India stands out today as the sole country in the world wedded to major reactor-import plans.

Washington has long pandered to the Indian weakness for the deal’s consummation, with its decade-long negotiations characterized by shifting goalposts.

Gone is the pretense of Washington extending India “full” nuclear cooperation or granting it “the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the U.S.,” as the 2005 deal stated. Gone also is the original accord that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as America.

Instead of meeting its commitment to adjust domestic laws and guidelines of U.S.-led multilateral regimes to “enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India,” the U.S. actually worked with its Congress and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to bar exports to India of what New Delhi really needs — civilian enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, even though such transfers would be under international safeguards.

As a senator, Obama helped insert an important provision in the India-specific Hyde Act of 2006. The so-called Obama Amendment stipulates that the supply of nuclear fuel to India be “commensurate with reasonable operating requirements.” This amendment negated Singh’s pledge to India’s Parliament — that India intended, with U.S. support, to develop “a strategic reserve of nuclear fuel to guard against any disruption of supply for the lifetime of India’s reactors.”

Consider another issue: Years after the U.S. pledged to bring India into the four American-led technology-control cartels — the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement — India is still pleading for its admission. It is now filing a formal application for admission to each regime, in the hope that the U.S. would be more forthcoming in its support than it has been so far.

Even in the event that India is admitted to the regimes, the technology controls it still faces will not go away. These regimes are designed to harmonize export policies, not to promote technology trade among member-states.

The key fact is that U.S. nonproliferation policy has yet to treat India on a par with another nuclear-armed country outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) fold, Israel.

Against this background, India’s diplomatic overinvestment in the deal has already made it harder for it to address more fundamental issues in its warming relations with the U.S., including an increasingly one-sided defense relationship and munificent U.S. aid implicitly subsidizing the Pakistani military’s export of terrorism.

Could the deal with Iran follow the trajectory of the deal with India — a great strategic move, followed by protracted negotiations on follow-up steps, moving goalposts, and the gradual diminution of the original accord? It is possible, but in one fundamental aspect, the two situations are different: Even without a nuclear accord, the U.S. and India would still have become close partners.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist, author and longtime Japan Times contributor.

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Saving Tibet’s unique heritage

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Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

China's gripThe Dalai Lama is the Tibetans’ god-king and also the embodiment of India’s leverage on the core issue with China — Tibet. But with the longest-living Dalai Lama having just turned 80, the future of both Tibet, and the leverage that India has shied away from exercising, looks more uncertain than ever. Beijing is waiting for the Tibetan leader to die in exile in India to install a puppet as his successor, in the way it has captured the Panchen Lama institution.

The Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday came just weeks after the 20th anniversary of China’s abduction of the Tibetan-appointed Panchen Lama, one of the world’s youngest and longest-serving political prisoners. And it will be followed by the 50th anniversary of the founding of what China deceptively calls the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region.’

This, in reality, is a gerrymandered and directly ruled Tibet, half of whose traditional areas have been taken away and incorporated in Chinese provinces. Tibet was almost the size of western Europe before it came under Chinese rule.

China’s conquest of the sprawling, resource-rich Tibet enlarged its landmass by more than 35 percent, turned it into India’s neighbor, armed it with control over Asia’s major river systems, and gave it access to a treasure-trove of mineral resources.

The Chinese name for Tibet since the Qing Dynasty of the Manchus — Xizang, or “Western Treasure Land” — underscores the great value that this restive region, strategically located in the heart of Asia, holds for China. With its galloping, often-improvident style of economic growth, China has depleted its own natural resources and now is avariciously draining resources from Tibet, the world’s highest plateau known as ‘the Roof of the World.’

Tibet — holding China’s biggest reserves of 10 different metals and serving as the world’s largest lithium producer — is now the focal point of China’s mining and damming activities, which threaten the fragile ecosystems and endemic species of the Tibetan plateau.

Tibet is one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions, with the rarest medicinal plants, the highest-living primates on Earth, and scores of bird, mammal, amphibian, reptile, fish, and plant species not found anywhere else. As a land that includes ecological zones from the arctic to subtropical, this plateau has a range of landscapes extending from tundra to tropical jungles, besides boasting the world’s steepest and longest canyon as well as its tallest peak, Mount Everest.

Serving as Asia’s main freshwater repository, largest water supplier, and principal rainmaker, Tibet plays a unique hydrological role. With its vast glaciers and permafrost, Tibet is called the “Third Pole” because it has the Earth’s largest perennial ice mass after the Arctic and Antarctica.

No development since India’s independence has carried greater implications for its long-term security than the fall of Tibet. Indeed, China’s military and resource advantage from capturing Tibet — which has led to the Tibetan plateau’s increasing militarization and the Chinese damming of its rivers, such as the Mekong, the Salween and the Brahmaputra — is turning into a strategic and environmental nightmare for downstream countries in Southeast and South Asia.

Yet for China, capturing the Dalai Lama institution has become a priority, as if it were the unfinished business of its takeover of the then-independent Tibet.

The aging 14th Dalai Lama, while coping with bouts of ill health, has publicly discussed a range of reincarnation possibilities that break from tradition, including his successor being a woman or being named while he is still alive.

To avert a Panchen Lama-type abduction, he has even suggested that he be the last Dalai Lama or that the 15th Dalai Lama be found in the “free world” — among Tibetan exiles or in the Tibetan Buddhism citadels of Ladakh and Tawang in India. He, however, has yet to issue clear-cut guidelines on his reincarnation, raising the question whether it is a calculated move or a risky hesitation.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful that things would go China’s way in Tibet merely by its installation of a marionette as the next Dalai Lama. Given how most Tibetans despise the China-appointed Panchen Lama as a fake, Beijing would be hard pressed to make its Dalai Lama appointee acceptable to them. Its bigger problem, however, would likely be different.

The present Dalai Lama, with his espousal of nonviolence and his conciliatory “Middle Way” approach of seeking Tibet’s autonomy without independence, has kept the Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule peaceful. But once he passes away, it is far from certain that the movement would remain peaceful or seek only autonomy. His “Middle Way” approach may not survive, thus closing Beijing’s window of opportunity to resolve the Tibet issue by conceding genuine, meaningful autonomy.

The Tibetan resistance movement, for its part, would become rudderless without the current Dalai Lama. This would fuel greater turbulence in a region that China has tried hard to pacify.

The 15th Dalai Lama chosen by Tibetans to take on Beijing’s doppelgänger appointee would be a small child. It was such a power vacuum that China exploited to invade and occupy Tibet when the present Dalai Lama was just 15. After the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933, Tibet remained leaderless and wracked by fierce regent-related intrigues until the present Dalai Lama was hurriedly enthroned when the Chinese invasion started in 1950.

The next power vacuum in the Tibetan hierarchy could be historically momentous in sealing the fate of the Dalai Lama lineage, shaping Tibet’s destiny, and having an impact far beyond.

Given that China’s actions in Tibet pose a bigger challenge to India than any other country, New Delhi must not remain a mere spectator. India — home to a large Tibetan exile community, including the Tibetan government-in-exile, and directly bearing the impact of China’s activities on the Tibetan plateau — has a legitimate stake in Tibet’s future.

Tibet is to India against China what Pakistan is to China against India. But in sharp contrast to India’s qualms about playing the Tibet card, Beijing has had no hesitation to employ the Pakistan card against India, including by building Pakistan as a military and nuclear balancer on the subcontinent. Beijing also plays the Kashmir card against an inordinately defensive India.

Even as China politically shields Pakistani terrorism against India — exemplified by its recent step to block United Nations action against the Pakistani release of UN-designated terrorist Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi — it has stepped up its own engagement with insurgent groups in India’s northeast, including funneling arms to them via the Myanmar route and encouraging them to coalesce.

Tibet is India’s only important instrument of leverage against a muscular China bent upon altering the territorial, river-waters and geopolitical status quo and fomenting terrorism in India’s vulnerable northeast, which is sandwiched between Myanmar, Bangladesh, Tibet and Bhutan. Yet, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India unfortunately has resumed doing what his supposedly “weakling” predecessor Manmohan Singh had halted since 2010 — referring to Tibet as part of China in joint statements with Beijing.

Tibet, ever since China eliminated it as a buffer with India, has been at the heart of the Sino-Indian divide. It will remain so until Beijing pursues reconciliation and healing there.

Modi, given his dynamic, forward-looking foreign policy, must work to gradually reclaim India’s Tibet leverage against a China that openly challenges India’s territorial integrity by claiming Indian areas on the basis of their alleged ecclesial or tutelary links with annexed Tibet. China’s attempt at expanding annexation in this manner draws encouragement from India’s imprudent acceptance since the 1950s of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is India’s strategic asset and ultimate trump card. If India is to safeguard its Tibet leverage for use, it must plan to act as a pivot in the Tibetan process to find, appoint and shield the next Dalai Lama.

In fact, with China’s mega-dams, mines and military activities in Tibet set to increasingly affect Asian environment and security, the world’s leading democracies must consider playing a role to help save the Tibetan plateau’s unique cultural and natural heritage from becoming extinct.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Built on hype, deflated by reality

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, July 14, 2015

imagesUnveiled with great fanfare on July 18, 2005, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was touted as a major transformative initiative. But on its 10th anniversary, the deal’s much-advertised energy, technological and strategic benefits for India still seem elusive. Indeed, the deal has yet to be commercialized. The premise on which it was founded — that India could build energy “security” by importing high-priced, foreign fuel-dependent reactors — was, in any case, a pipe dream.

The deal, given the heavy political investment in it, will eventually be operationalized, however belatedly. It will take a minimum of 10 years thereafter for the first nuclear power reactor under the deal to come on line. After all, the international plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, now averages at least a decade, with the vast majority of reactors currently under construction in the world plagued by serious delays and cost overruns.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, is running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost projected to rise from €3.2 billion to €8.5 billion. The Russian-origin plant at Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu, took 13 years to be completed, with the second of its two reactors yet to be commissioned. In this light, the deal is expected to deliver its first commissioned reactor a generation after being signed.

But if reactor imports are to be governed by “technical and commercial viability,” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared, not a single contract would be feasible. The stalled negotiations with Areva over the price of power suggest that the deal’s commercialization would be dictated neither by technical nor commercial viability but by the extent to which India is willing to fork out subsidies to support high-priced imported reactors of a kind that do not even mesh with its three-phase nuclear power programme.

Indeed, it is a moot question whether the deal will ever yield substantive energy benefits, given the exorbitant price of foreign-origin reactors, the concomitant need to heavily subsidize electricity generated by such plants, and the grassroots safety concerns over the Fukushima-type multi-plant nuclear parks that India has earmarked for Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi and Areva, each of which is to sell prototype Light Water Reactor (LWR) models presently not in operation anywhere in the world. The accident-stricken Fukushima reactors, in Japan, were also the first of their kind.

Adding to India’s risks from proposed import of prototype models is its plan to induct a multiplicity of different LWR technologies from the U.S., France and Russia. Given the several different reactor technologies already in operation or under development in India, such imports will likely exacerbate the country’s maintenance and safety challenges.

The Indo-U.S. deal — with its many twists and turns — has hogged the limelight at virtually every bilateral summit. The deal took centre-stage even during U.S. President Barack Obama’s January visit. In its arduous journey toward implementation, the deal has spawned multiple subsidiary agreements. Each auxiliary deal has been hailed by an overzealous New Delhi as an important breakthrough and a diplomatic success, regardless of the concessions it had to make or the new obligations thrust upon it. Indeed, it has employed smoke and mirrors to camouflage its concessions.

Consider the latest “breakthrough” announced during Obama’s visit: India agreed to reinterpret its own law so as to effectively transfer reactor vendors’ nuclear-accident liability to Indian taxpayers. India is also reinterpreting a provision of domestic law in order to bar victims of a nuclear accident in India from suing for damages in America.

Does this yielding indicate that India has learned anything from its bitter experience over the 1984 gas leak from an American-owned Bhopal chemical plant that killed about as many people as the Fukushima disaster? Indeed, Japan’s law, which indemnifies reactor suppliers and makes plant operators exclusively and fully liable, should serve as a sobering lesson for India: GE built or designed the three Fukushima reactors that suffered core meltdowns; yet, despite a fundamental design deficiency in the reactors, the U.S. firm escaped penalties or legal action after the disaster.

Supplier liability is a well-established legal concept, applied in many business sectors around the world to deter suppliers from taking undue risks. In fact, U.S. law allows suppliers, designers and builders of nuclear plants to be held legally liable in the event of accidents, although the 1957 Price-Anderson Act channels economic liability, but not legal liability, to plant operators. Internationally, however, America has pushed an opposite norm — that importing countries channel all liability to their plant operators and limit all claims to the jurisdiction of their own courts so as to free suppliers of any downside risks.

The nuclear power dream has faded globally. The crash of oil and gas prices, coupled with skyrocketing reactor-construction costs, has made nuclear power’s economics more unfavourable than ever. Few new reactors are under construction in the West, with the troubled nuclear power industry desperate for exports. Even as the global role of nuclear power appears set to become marginal, India stands out today as the sole country wedded to major reactor-import plans.

Surprisingly, Modi has placed the nuclear deal, like his predecessor, at the hub of the relationship with America. Washington has long pandered to the Indian weakness for the deal’s consummation, with its decade-long negotiations characterized by shifting goalposts.

It made the Modi government yield some ground even on its demand that India accept nuclear-material tracking and accounting arrangements that go beyond the safeguards system that the International Atomic Energy Agency has approved and applied to India’s civilian nuclear programme. In other words, establishing an elaborate bilateral safeguards system, on top of IAEA inspections, in which India will separately track and account for nuclear materials “by flag” (that is, by each national origin).

For its part, the U.S. has reneged on several of its 2005 commitments. Gone is the pretence of Washington extending India “full” nuclear cooperation or granting it “the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the U.S.” Gone also is the original agreement that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as America. Instead of meeting its commitment to adjust domestic laws and guidelines of U.S.-led multilateral regimes to “enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India,” the U.S. actually worked with its Congress and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to bar exports of what India really needs — civilian enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, even though such transfers would be under international safeguards.

Consider another issue: Years after the U.S. pledged to bring India into the four American-led technology-control cartels — the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement — India is still pleading for its admission, with Obama in New Delhi merely reiterating America’s support for India’s “phased entry” into these groups. In anticipation of membership, India had largely harmonized its export controls with the four cartels’ guidelines. It is now filing a formal application for admission to each regime, in the hope that the U.S. would be more forthcoming in its support than it has been so far.

Even in the event of India being admitted to the regimes, the technology controls it still faces will not go away. These regimes are designed to harmonize export policies, not to promote technology trade among member-states. Despite the vaunted U.S.-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, the U.S. side refused early this year to accept any of the six joint high-technology projects proposed by India, insisting that New Delhi first sign “foundational agreements” on military logistics and communication interoperability that America has designed for its allies in a patron-client framework. The four joint projects announced during the Obama visit were for relatively modest defence products.

The key fact is that U.S. non-proliferation policy has yet to treat India on a par with another nuclear-armed country outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty fold, Israel.

Against this background, why an import deal to generate an increasingly expensive source of energy is critical to Indian interests has never been elaborated by deal pushers in India. They have peddled only beguiling slogans, such as “End of nuclear apartheid against India” and “A place for India at the international high table.” India would be foolhardy to saddle its taxpayers with uneconomical reactor imports, making the Enron dud look small. India’s diplomatic overinvestment in the deal has already made it harder for it to address more fundamental issues with the U.S., including an increasingly one-sided defence relationship.

It is past time for India to reduce the salience of the deal in its relations with America. Without being weighed down by the nuclear-deal millstone, India would be better placed to forge a closer, more balanced partnership with Washington. The warming U.S.-India relationship has gained momentum independent of the deal’s future.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, is the author, among others, of “Nuclear Proliferation: The U.S.-India Conflict.”

© The Hindu, 2015.

Tibet After the Dalai Lama

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.
China’s atheist government says only it has the authority to appoint the next Dalai Lama. It is as if Mussolini had claimed that only he could appoint the pope.
Dalai Lama at the  George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas on July 1, 2015

Dalai Lama at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas on July 1, 2015

On the 80th birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama, who has been in exile in India since 1959, Tibet’s future looks more uncertain than ever. During his reign, the current Dalai Lama has seen his homeland – the world’s largest and highest plateau – lose its independence to China. Once he dies, China is likely to install a puppet as his successor, potentially eroding the institution.

China already appointed its pawn to the second-highest position in Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama, in 1995, after abducting the Tibetans’ six-year-old appointee, who had just been confirmed by the Dalai Lama. Twenty years later, the rightful Panchen Lama now ranks among the world’s longest-serving political prisoners. China also appointed the Tibetans’ third-highest religious figure, the Karmapa; but in 1999, at age 14, he fled to India.

This year marks one more meaningful anniversary for Tibet: the 50th anniversary of the founding of what China calls the “Tibet Autonomous Region.” The name is highly misleading. In fact, Tibet is directly ruled by China, and half of its historic territory has been incorporated into other Chinese provinces.

With its conquest of Tibet in 1950-1951, China enlarged its landmass by more than one-third and fundamentally altered Asia’s geostrategic landscape. China became neighbors with India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and gained control over the region’s major river systems. Rivers that originate in water-rich Tibet are vital to support the world’s two most populous countries, China and India, as well as the arc of countries stretching from Afghanistan to Vietnam.

For China, capturing the 437-year-old institution of the Dalai Lama appears to be the final step in securing its hold over Tibet. After all, since fleeing to India, the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s rightful political and spiritual leader (though he ceded his political role to a democratically elected government in exile in 2011) – has been the public face of resistance to Chinese control of Tibet. In recent years, however, China has employed its growing influence – underpinned by the threat of diplomatic and economic pain – to compel a growing number of countries not to receive the Dalai Lama, thereby reducing his international visibility.

China’s government, having issued a decree in 2007 that bans senior lamas from reincarnating without official permission, is essentially waiting for the current Dalai Lama to die, so that it can exercise its self-proclaimed exclusive authority to select his successor. China’s leaders seem not to be struck by the absurdity of an atheist government choosing a spiritual leader. It is as if Mussolini had claimed that only he, not the College of Cardinals, could appoint the pope.

The aging Dalai Lama has publicly discussed a range of unorthodox possibilities for the future disposition of his soul – from being reincarnated as a woman to naming his successor while he is still alive. Moreover, he has suggested that the next Dalai Lama will be found in the “free world,” implying that he will be reincarnated as a Tibetan exile or in India’s Tawang district, where the sixth Dalai Lama was born in the seventeenth century.

Such declarations have motivated China to claim, since 2006, India’s entire Arunachal Pradesh state as “South Tibet” and to press India, in the negotiations over the long-disputed Himalayan border, to relinquish at least the part of the Tawang district located in that state. But the declaration that has most infuriated China was the one he made last December, suggesting that he would be the last Dalai Lama.

China knows that there is every reason to expect that restive Tibet, whose people have largely scorned the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as a fraud, would not accept its chosen Dalai Lama. If the Dalai Lama issued clear guidelines about his own reincarnation, Tibetans would be even less likely to accept China’s appointment. The question is why the Dalai Lama has hesitated to do so.

The biggest risk stemming from the Dalai Lama’s passing is violent resistance to Chinese repression in Tibet. As it stands, the Dalai Lama’s commitment to nonviolence and conciliation – exemplified in his “middle way” approach, which aims for Tibet to gain autonomy, but not independence – is helping to ensure that Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule remains peaceful and avoids overt separatism.

Indeed, over the last 60 years, Tibetans have pursued a model resistance movement, untainted by any links with terrorism. Even as China’s repression of Tibet’s religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage becomes increasingly severe, Tibetans have not taken up arms. Instead, they have protested through self-immolation, which 140 Tibetans have carried out since 2009.

But, once the current Dalai Lama is gone, this approach may not continue. Younger Tibetans already feel exasperated by China’s brutal methods – not to mention its sharp rebuff, including in a recent white paper, of the Dalai Lama’s overtures. Against this background, a Chinese-appointed “imposter” Dalai Lama could end up transforming a peaceful movement seeking autonomy into a violent underground struggle for independence.

Given that the rightful Dalai Lama would be a small child, and thus incapable of providing strong leadership to the resistance movement, such an outcome would be all the more likely. China exploited just such a situation, when the current Dalai Lama was only 15, to invade and occupy Tibet.

After the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933, a leaderless Tibet was plagued by political intrigue, until the present Dalai Lama was formally enthroned in 1950. The next power vacuum in the Tibetan hierarchy could seal the fate of the Dalai Lama lineage and propel Tibet toward a violent future, with consequences that extend far beyond that vast plateau.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

World’s geopolitical center of gravity shifts to Indian Ocean

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review

The Indian Ocean Rim is set to eclipse the Pacific Rim

Indian Ocean Rim is set to eclipse Pacific Rim

As a bridge between Asia and Europe, the Indian Ocean has become the new global center of trade and energy flows, with half the world’s container traffic and 70% of its petroleum shipments traversing its waters. But there is a very real danger of this critical region becoming the hub of global geopolitical rivalry.

The region includes the entire arc of Islam, extending from the Indonesian archipelago to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Competition between key political powers for its resources is intensifying, even as threats to maritime security grow.

A fragile center?

According to several assessments, including a study by Harvard’s Center for International Development, the Indian Ocean Rim is likely to eclipse the Pacific Rim as the most important economic region in the world.

Growth in China and developed economies is slowing, and India and East Africa are expected to become the new drivers of global growth over the next decade. As a result, the Indian Ocean region will likely become both a global maritime hub and an economic growth center — and as such strategic jockeying by great powers will undoubtedly increase in the years ahead.

At the same time, the region also has the world’s largest concentration of fragile or failing states — from Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan and the Maldives. Moreover, it is wracked by the world’s highest incidence of transnational terrorism. Security in the Indian Ocean is a pressing concern given the increasing importance of its maritime resources and sea lanes.

The region’s rim states may share a number of common interests — sea-lane security, environmental protection, regulated resource extraction, and rules-based cooperation and competition, to name a few — but they are far from becoming a community with common values. In fact, in no part of the world is the security situation so dynamic as it is along the Indian Ocean Rim.

Against this background, threats to navigation and maritime freedoms are increasing.

One source of threats comes from cross-border disputes related to maritime boundaries, sovereignty and jurisdiction. Myanmar and Bangladesh, and India and Bangladesh, have set an example by peacefully resolving their maritime-boundary issues through international adjudication or arbitration. But unresolved disputes involving other countries in the region carry serious potential for conflict.

Several states restrict freedom of navigation in their exclusive economic zones while engaged in military activities, such as surveillance by ship. The threats to navigation and maritime freedom in the Indian Ocean can be countered only through adherence to rules agreed upon by all parties and through monitoring, regulation and enforcement.

Challenges of gatekeeping

Another regional concern centers directly on sea-lane security, given the Indian Ocean’s importance to global trade and energy flows and the potential vulnerability of the chokepoints around it. These chokepoints include the Strait of Malacca, situated between Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman, the Horn of Africa, between Djibouti, Eritrea and Yemen, and the routes to and from the Cape of Good Hope through the Mozambique Channel.

Safeguarding the various gateways to the Indian Ocean is thus a vital security issue, and outside powers have sought to secure these points by pursuing strategic cooperation with key coastal states. Such cooperation extends to naval training, joint military exercises and anti-piracy operations.

At the same time, the paucity of land-based natural resources in the Indian Ocean Rim has stoked competition over ocean resources, such as seafood and mineral wealth.

Deep seabed mining has emerged as a major new strategic issue and competition over such minerals is intensifying. Even an outside power like China has secured a block in the southwestern Indian Ocean from the International Seabed Authority to explore for seabed minerals.

At stake is a treasure trove of minerals, from sulfide deposits containing valuable metals such as silver, gold, copper, manganese, cobalt and zinc, to phosphorus nodules, mined for the phosphor-based fertilizers used in food production. The competition for these resources underscores the need for a regulatory regime that ensures environmental protection and safeguards the region’s common heritage.

The Indian Ocean region is a microcosm of the global challenges of the 21st century. In addition to terrorism, piracy and other threats to the safety of sea lanes, those challenges extend into nontraditional maritime-security domains.

For example, 70% of the world’s natural disasters occur in the Indian Ocean Rim, typically floods, cyclones, droughts and tsunamis, but also geological events such as earthquakes and landslides. These disasters present a high humanitarian risk.

No less significant is the fact that the region is on the front line of climate change. It has states whose very future is imperiled by global warming, including the Maldives, Mauritius and Bangladesh. With many megacities, energy plants and industries located in densely populated areas near the sea, the vulnerability of its coastal infrastructure has emerged as an important concern.

Put simply, this is a region where old and new challenges converge. It is also a place where the old world order — as epitomized by the Anglo-American military base at Diego Garcia and the French-administered islands — coexists uneasily with the emerging new order.

Power plays

Great-power rivalries are clearly compounding maritime-security challenges in the Indian Ocean. India may be the largest local power, but China has started challenging it in its maritime backyard. In response, India is working to revive linkages along the ancient spice trading route that once stretched from Southeast Asia to Europe, with southern India as its hub.

China has become the most active outside player in the region and is challenging the existing balance of power. This is in keeping with the greater maritime role it is openly seeking for itself. Its newly released defense white paper says that the Chinese navy will shift focus from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection.” One example of China’s increasing interest in the Indian Ocean is its move to set up a naval base in Djibouti, which overlooks the narrow Bab al-Mandeb straits.

Determined to take the sea route to world-power status and challenge the U.S.-led order, China is likely to step up its strategic role in the Indian Ocean. These ambitions are reflected in China’s submarine forays there since last autumn and in its Maritime Silk Road trade route initiative. Whether this “Maritime Silk Road” is just a benign-sounding new name for China’s “string of pearls” strategy is an important question that cannot be dismissed.

The Indian Ocean routes

The Indian Ocean routes

There are other maritime-security issues in the Indian Ocean as well. For example, some important players, including the United States and Iran, are not yet party to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. China is a party, but it refused — in a case brought against it by the Philippines — to accept the convention’s dispute-settlement mechanism, as represented by the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. In 2013, Iran seized an Indian oil tanker and held it for nearly a month, but India had no recourse, as Tehran had not ratified UNCLOS.

In this light, the 1971 U.N. General Assembly resolution declaring the Indian Ocean a “zone of peace” has become more important than ever. Indeed, in coming years, the Indian Ocean is likely to determine the wider geopolitics, maritime order and balance of power in Asia, the Persian Gulf and beyond. Developments in East Asia, where the power balance is unlikely to fundamentally change, will likely be of less importance than those in the Indian Ocean Rim, where the power balance is under threat.

Given this reality, the U.S., Japan, India, Australia and other important players must recalibrate their Indian Ocean policies and put greater focus on ensuring peace, safeguarding sea lanes and guaranteeing access to the global commons.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

© Nikkie Asian Review, 2015.

A Healthy, Climate-Friendly Diet

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

livestock-production-1351694005

How we are slowly killing the planet with our love of meat.

This December, world leaders will meet in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where they will hammer out a comprehensive agreement to reduce carbon emissions and stem global warming. In the run-up to that meeting, governments worldwide should note one critical, but often overlooked, fact: the single biggest driver of environmental degradation and resource stress today is our changing diet – a diet that is not particularly conducive to a healthy life, either.

In recent decades, rising incomes have catalyzed a major shift in people’s eating habits, with meat, in particular, becoming an increasingly important feature of people’s diets. Given that livestock require much more food, land, water, and energy to raise and transport than plants, increased demand for meat depletes natural resources, places pressure on food-production systems, damages ecosystems, and fuels climate change.

Meat production is about ten times more water-intensive than plant-based calories and proteins, with one kilogram of beef, for example, requiring 15,415 liters of water. It is also an inefficient way of generating food; up to 30 crop calories are needed to produce one meat calorie.

At any given time, the global livestock population amounts to more than 150 billion, compared to just 7.2 billion humans – meaning that livestock have a larger direct ecological footprint than we do. Livestock production causes almost 14.5% of global greenhouse-gas emissions and contributes significantly to water pollution.

Moreover, livestock production consumes one-third of the total water resources used in agriculture (which accounts for 71% of the world’s water consumption), as well as more than 40% of the global output of wheat, rye, oats, and corn. And livestock production uses 30% of the earth’s land surface that once was home to wildlife, thereby playing a critical role in biodiversity loss and species extinction.

It took more than a century for the European diet to reach the point at which meat is consumed at every meal, including breakfast. But, in large parts of Asia, a similar shift has occurred in just one generation. Meaty diets have created a global obesity problem, including, of all places, in China, whose expanding international clout is accompanied by expanding waistlines at home.

Americans consume the most meat per capita, after Luxembourgers. Given the size of the US population, this is already a problem. If the rest of the world caught up to the United States – where meat consumption averages 125.4 kilograms per person annually, compared with a measly 3.2 kilograms in India – the environmental consequences would be catastrophic.

Already, the signs are worrying. The demand for meat is projected to increase by 50% from 2013 to 2025, with overall consumption still rising in the West and soaring in the developing world, especially Asia.

In order to meet this demand, meat producers have had to adopt an extremely problematic approach to raising livestock. In order to ensure that their animals gain weight rapidly, meat producers feed them grain, rather than the grass that they would naturally consume – an approach that is a major source of pressure on grain production, natural resources, and the environment.

Making matters worse, the livestock are injected with large amounts of hormones and antibiotics. In the US, 80% of all antibiotics sold are administered prophylactically to livestock. Yet this has been inadequate to stem the spread of disease; in fact, with many of the new and emerging infectious diseases affecting humans originating in animals, veterinarians, microbiologists, and epidemiologists have been trying to understand the “ecology of disease” (how nature, and humanity’s impact on it, spreads disease).

Though the environmental and health costs of our changing diets have been widely documented, the message has gone largely unheard. With the world facing a serious water crisis, rapidly increasing global temperatures, staggering population growth, and growing health problems like coronary disease, this must change – and fast.

For starters, to ease some of the resource pressure, livestock producers should switch to water-saving technologies, including drip irrigation. At the same time, governments and civil-society groups should promote healthier diets that rely more on plant-based proteins and calories.

According to recent research, if the world stopped producing crops for animal feed or diverting them to biofuels, it could not only end global hunger, but also feed four billion extra people – more than the number of projected arrivals before the global population stabilizes. Meat consumption actually leads to more greenhouse-gas emissions annually than the use of cars does.

This is not to say that everyone must become vegetarian. But even a partial shift in meat-consumption habits – with consumers choosing options like chicken and seafood, instead of beef – could have a far-reaching impact. Indeed, beef production requires, on average, 28 times more land and 11 times more water than the other livestock categories, while producing five times more greenhouse-gas emissions and six times more reactive nitrogen.

Adopting a balanced, largely plant-based diet, with minimal consumption of red and processed meat, would help conserve natural resources, contribute to the fight against human-induced global warming, and reduce people’s risk of diet-related chronic diseases and even cancer mortality. Just as governments have used laws, regulations, and other tools with great success to discourage smoking, so must they encourage citizens to eat a balanced diet – for the sake of their health and that of our planet.

© 1995-2015 Project Syndicate.

Understanding China’s Indian Ocean strategy

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times

downloadWhat are Chinese attack submarines doing in the Indian Ocean, far from China’s maritime backyard, in what is the furthest deployment of the Chinese Navy in 600 years?

Two Chinese subs docked last fall at the new Chinese-built and -owned container terminal in Colombo, Sri Lanka. And recently a Chinese Yuan-class sub showed up at the Pakistani port city of Karachi.

The assertive way China has gone about staking its territorial claims in the South and East China seas has obscured its growing interest in the Indian Ocean. This ocean has become the new global center of trade and energy flows, accounting for half the world’s container traffic and 70 percent of its petroleum shipments.

China’s newly released defense white paper, while outlining regional hegemony aspirations, has emphasized a greater focus on the seas, including an expanded naval role beyond its maritime backyard. The white paper says that, as part of China’s effort to establish itself as a major maritime power, its navy will shift focus from “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection” — a move that helps explain its new focus on the Indian Ocean, with the Maritime Silk Road initiative at the vanguard of the Chinese grand strategy. To create a blue water force and expand its naval role, China is investing heavily in submarines and warships, and working on a second aircraft carrier.

President Xi Jinping’s pet project is about expanding and securing maritime routes to the Middle East and beyond through the Indian Ocean, which is the bridge between Asia and Europe. Xi’s dual Silk Road initiatives — officially labeled the “One Belt, One Road” — constitute a westward strategic push to expand China’s power reach. Indeed, Xi’s Indian Ocean plans draw strength from his more assertive push for Chinese dominance in the South and East China seas.

The Chinese maneuvering in the Indian Ocean — part of China’s larger plan to project power in the Middle East, Africa and Europe — aims to challenge America’s sway and chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Xi has sought to carve out an important role for China in the Indian Ocean through his Maritime Silk Road initiative, while his overland Silk Road is designed to connect China with Central Asia, the Caspian Sea basin and Europe.

The common link between the two mega Silk Road projects is Pakistan, which stands out for simultaneously being a client state of China, Saudi Arabia and the United States — a unique status.

During a visit to Pakistan in April, Xi officially launched the project to connect China’s restive Xinjiang region with the warm waters of the Arabian Sea through a 3,000 km overland transportation corridor extending to the Chinese-built Pakistani port of Gwadar. This project makes Pakistan the central link between the maritime and overland Silk Roads. The Xi-launched corridor to Gwadar through Pakistan-held Kashmir — running in parallel to India’s Japanese-financed New Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor — will hook up the two Silk Roads.

Indeed, a stable Pakistan has become so critical to the ever-increasing Chinese strategic investments in that country that Beijing has started brokering peace talks between the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban and Kabul. This effort has been undertaken with the backing not just of Pakistan but also of the U.S., thus underscoring the growing convergence of Chinese and American interests in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt.

More broadly, with China’s officially disclosed defense budget soaring from $35 billion in 2006 to $141 billion in 2015, Xi has not only emphasized “active defense” but also articulated a more expansive role for his country than any modern Chinese leader other than Mao Zedong. His maritime goal is to redraw the larger geopolitical map by bringing within China’s orbit regional countries, especially those in the Indian Ocean Rim, which extends from Australia to the Middle East and Southern Africa. This region has the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest concentration of fragile or failing states.

The Maritime Silk Road initiative, with its emphasis on high-visibility infrastructure projects, targets key littoral states located along the great trade arteries. At a time of slowing economic growth in China, infrastructure exports are also designed to address the problem of overproduction at home.

By presenting commercial penetration as benevolent investment and credit as aid, Beijing is winning lucrative overseas contracts for its state-run companies, with the aim of turning economic weight into strategic clout. Through its Maritime Silk Road — a catchy new name for its “string of pearls” strategy — China is already challenging the existing balance of power in the Indian Ocean.

Beijing, while seeking to co-opt strategically located states in an economic and security alliance led by it, is working specifically to acquire naval-access outposts through agreements for refueling, replenishment, crew rest and maintenance. Its efforts also involve gaining port projects along vital sea lanes of communication, securing new supplies of natural resources, and building energy and transportation corridors to China through Myanmar and Pakistan.

One example of how China has sought to win influence in the Indian Ocean Rim is Sri Lanka. It signed major contracts with Sri Lanka’s now-ousted president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to turn that country — located along major shipping lanes — into a major stop on the Chinese nautical “road.” The country’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena, said on the election-campaign trail earlier this year that the Chinese projects were ensnaring Sri Lanka in a debt tap, with the risk that “our country would become a colony and we would become slaves.”

Another example is China’s current effort to set up a naval base in Djibouti, which overlooks the narrow Bab al-Mandeb straits. This channel, separating Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and constituting one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, leads into the Red Sea and north to the Mediterranean.

In February 2014, Beijing signed a military accord with Djibouti allowing the Chinese Navy to use facilities there, a move that angered the U.S., which already has a military base in that tiny Horn of Africa nation. Now, according to the county’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, China wants to establish its own naval base at Obock, Djibouti’s northern port city.

Beijing is also interested in leasing one of the 1,200 islands of the politically torn Maldives. Xi has toured several of the key countries in the Indian Ocean Rim that China is seeking to court, including the Maldives, Tanzania and Sri Lanka.

From China’s artificially created islands in the South China Sea to its ongoing negotiations for a naval base in Djibouti, the maritime domain has become central to Xi’s great-power ambitions. Yet it is far from certain that he will be able to realize his strategic aims in the Indian Ocean Rim, given the lurking suspicions about China’s motives and the precarious security situation in some regional states.

One thing is clear though: China wants to be the leader, with its own alliances and multilateral institutions, not a “responsible stakeholder” in the U.S.-created architecture of global governance. It is building naval power to assert sovereignty over disputed areas and to project power in distant lands. Determined to take the sea route to secure global power status and challenge the U.S.-led order, China is likely to step up its strategic role in the Indian Ocean — the world’s new center of geopolitical gravity.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist, author and long-standing contributor to The Japan Times.

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Beijing’s bendable principles

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China claims neighbors’ territories by inventing the ingenious principle “what is ours is ours and what is yours is negotiable.”

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, June 13, 2015

c307762e-1da4-453b-85aa-8be9c65c59e4wallpaper1Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to publicly identify China on Chinese soil as an obstacle to closer bilateral ties by asking Beijing to “reconsider its approach” on some key issues. In a similar vein, his national security advisor, Ajit Doval, has classified China’s border stance as a “complete contravention of accepted principles,” pointing out that the Chinese agreed to the McMahon Line in “settling the border with Myanmar” but say “the same line is not acceptable in the case of India, particularly in Tawang.”

Don’t be surprised by this illogicality: In none of its disputes with neighboring countries has China staked a territorial claim on the basis of international law or norms. Rather, its claims flow from its revanchist view of the past — a shifting standpoint that reinterprets history to legitimize claims to territories long held by other countries. Because China does not apply the rule of law at home, it does not recognize its value in international relations.

For China, principles have always been bendable. And when it cannot bend a principle, it creates a new one.

Take its territorial disputes with India: Content with its Switzerland-size land grab (Aksai Chin) in India’s western sector, China pursues expansive claims in the eastern sector that highlight its ingenious principle to covet neighbors’ territories — “what is ours is ours and what is yours is negotiable.”

Having just articulated regional-hegemony aspirations in its defense white paper, China — an outside power — wants to carve out a major role for itself in the Indian Ocean. It has invited India to collaborate with it on deep seabed mining there and join its Maritime Silk Road. Yet it opposes any Indian involvement in the South China Sea. “My sea is my sea but your ocean is our ocean” seems to be a new Chinese saying.

Since 2006, Beijing has claimed the Austria-size Arunachal Pradesh, in northeastern India, as “South Tibet.” To draw attention to the state’s purported Tibetan identity, it has cooked up Tibetan names for subdivisions of Arunachal Pradesh (which includes the Tawang Valley, the gateway to the Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape from his homeland). In border negotiations in recent years, it has pressed India to cede at least Tawang.

China originally fashioned its claim to resource-rich Arunachal Pradesh — a territory almost three times larger than Taiwan — as a bargaining chip to compel India to recognize its occupation of the Aksai Chin plateau. For this reason, China withdrew from the Arunachal areas it had invaded in the 1962 war but retained its territorial gains in Aksai Chin, which provides the only passageway between its rebellious regions — Tibet and Xinjiang. But now, by ratcheting up the Arunachal issue with India, China is signaling that Arunachal (or at least Tawang) is the new Taiwan that must be “reunified” with the Chinese state.

The Dalai Lama, however, has said publicly that Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang, was traditionally not part of Tibet. Tawang indeed is a Monpa tribal area, and was separated from Tibet by a well-recognized customary line. The Monpas, like several other Himalayan communities, practice Tibetan Buddhism. They belong to the Gelukpa (“Yellow Hats”) sect.

Significantly, China made its specific claim to Tawang not before it waged war against India in 1962 but decades later as part of a maximalist boundary-related stance extending to several other neighbors. For example, China has not only escalated its challenge to Japan’s century-old control of the Senkaku Islands, but is also facing off against the Philippines since sneakily seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

The India-China border negotiations have dragged on for 34 years — a world record. With no headway on reaching a frontier settlement, Modi in Beijing rightly emphasized the imperative to resume the process — derailed by China 13 years ago — to clarify the line of actual control (LAC). If the LAC remains ill-defined, can confidence-building measures be effective? To facilitate its cross-border military forays, China, however, still opposes clarification, even though the clarification can be done, as Modi pointed out, “without prejudice” to either side’s “position on the boundary question.” In 2002, after more than two decades of negotiations, China reneged on a promise to exchange maps with India covering the two main disputed sectors — Aksai Chin, along with its adjacent areas, and Arunachal Pradesh — located at either end of the Himalayas.

Doval has done well to highlight China’s hypocrisy in accepting the watershed principle — and thus the McMahon Line — with Myanmar but not with India.

Watershed (also called “river basin,” “drainage basin,” and “catchment”) is the total land area that drains surface water into a watercourse like a river, lake, pond, or aquifer. A watershed, easily identifiable on topographic maps, is delineated by a ridge or drainage divide marking the runoff boundary. Below a ridge line, all water will naturally flow downhill. A watershed boundary is identified on a topographic map by first locating the lowest point, or watershed outlet, and then establishing the highest runoff point.

The colonial-era McMahon Line was drawn on the watershed principle — a well-established international norm for boundary demarcation. Many countries have settled their boundaries on the watershed principle.

In its October 1, 1960, boundary pact with Myanmar, China settled by acquiescing in the McMahon Line, which delineated the customary border on the basis of the watershed principle. Any deviation from the McMahon Line in the accord was minor and largely necessitated by the task of producing maps of the entire 2,200-km border at 1:50,000 scale, in contrast to the thickly-marked McMahon Line.

Make no mistake: While China settled with Myanmar with a few relatively minor rectifications, it is not seeking slight adjustments with India in the eastern sector. Rather, it covets major chunks of real estate — its largest territorial claims against any nation. Myanmar, of course, poses no threat to China. But the 1960 settlement was also driven by Chinese foreign-policy compulsions, underscored by an insurrection in Tibet since 1959 and border tensions and skirmishes with India.

In deference to Beijing, the pact did not mention the McMahon Line but referred to it euphemistically as the “traditional customary line.” According to the Australian academic Brendan Whyte, “While the McMahon Line was followed here, it was used not because it was the McMahon Line, but because it happened to be a sensible boundary.” More importantly, if China openly acknowledged a line agreed to by the Tibet and British Indian governments, it would be admitting that Tibet was independent then — a historical reality Beijing remains loath to accept.

In fact, just six months after Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that China would never accept the McMahon Line, Beijing bestowed implicit respectability on that line by signing the Myanmar pact. The accord came in record time — in just nine months after a joint committee was set up to define the border and frame a treaty. The pact settled the boundary in alignment with the watershed between the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers and the “traditional customary line” (the McMahon Line).

For China, the boundary question with India is not just a territorial issue but, more fundamentally, a means to keep its peer rival under pressure and on the defensive constantly. Modi’s visit, unlike President Xi Jinping’s India trip, passed without any reported frontier intrusion, yet the danger remains — given China’s risk-taking muscularity — that a border faceoff could plunge the relationship into renewed antagonisms.

India should do what it can to prevent the frontier disputes and tensions from escalating, while factoring in the likelihood that China will not settle the border with it unless the Chinese communist system or economy crashes. But just as China plays all its cards against India and rears even new ones, India must shed its reticence and do likewise. Without building countervailing leverage, India cannot hope to tame Chinese intransigence and belligerence.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2015.

The Global Pragmatist

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Seven features of Modi’s non-doctrinaire foreign policy that is taking
India from non-alignment to multi-alignment

By Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine, June 1, 2015

18626.globalprotagonist1In the one year that he has been in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has animated Indian foreign policy by taking a proactive approach on some critical issues and departing often from conventional methods and shibboleths. Modi’s recent China visit illustrated all the trademarks of his foreign policy—from pragmatism and lucidity to zeal and showmanship. It also exemplified his penchant for springing diplomatic surprises, with his announcement to grant Chinese tourists e-visas-on-arrival catching by surprise even his foreign secretary, who had just said at a media briefing that there was ‘no decision’ on the issue. Earlier, in Paris, Modi pulled a rabbit out of a hat by announcing a decision to buy 36 French fighter-jets.

Modi, however, is a realist who loves to play on the grand chessboard of geopolitics. He is clearly seeking to steer foreign policy in a direction that would significantly aid his strategy to revitalise India’s economic and military security. At least seven things stand out about his foreign policy.

First, Modi continues to invest considerable political capital—and time—in high-powered diplomacy. No other prime minister since independence participated in so many bilateral and multilateral summit meetings in his first year in office. The Congress party has criticised his frequent overseas tours, forgetting that Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, also loved to go abroad frequently. Critics, however, may have a point that Modi’s exceptionally busy foreign- policy schedule leaves him restricted time to focus on his most-critical responsibility: domestic issues, which will define his legacy. Indeed, some of his trips could have been better timed.

Take his Sri Lanka visit in March, the first by an Indian prime minister to that country in 28 years. India’s neglect of Sri Lanka and the larger Indian Ocean region has become the strategic gain of China, which is now seeking to challenge India in its own maritime backyard. A prime ministerial visit to Sri Lanka was long overdue. But Modi chose to travel to Colombo barely a month after President Maithripala Sirisena’s India tour. Modi could have delayed his trip to Sri Lanka until after the forthcoming parliamentary elections there had cleared up the political scene.

Similarly, what was the need for Modi to undertake a China tour barely eight months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit, a trip that was marred by a major Chinese military incursion into the Chumar region of Ladakh? The early return visit left limited time for preparatory work to achieve tangible and enduring results. The reason Modi went to China is that he had sentimentally promised Xi in India that he would visit China before the end of his first year in office. In that sense, Modi was chasing his own artificial deadline, which left little time for groundwork to make his trip authentically path-breaking.

Modi has lined up several more foreign tours in the coming months, including an important visit to Bangladesh, which under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed is standing up to jihadism. Sheikh Hasina, a friend of India, is one of the few leaders in today’s world unafraid to take on violent Islamists, even as she fights to retain control of the country.

Second, pragmatism is the hallmark of the Modi foreign policy. Nothing better illustrates this than the priority he accorded—soon after coming to office—to adding momentum to the relationship with America, despite the US having heaped visa-denial humiliation on him over nine years. He has also gone out of his way to befriend China, negating early assumptions that he would be less accommodating of Beijing than his predecessor. He even delayed his Japan visit by several weeks so that his first major bilateral meeting was with Xi on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil.

Modi has sought to rope in China, with its overflowing foreign-exchange reserves, as an important partner in India’s infrastructure development, like Japan. But it is unclear whether Modi’s gamble will pay off, given China’s interest in pushing exports, not investment, which remains insignificant in India. The much- publicised contracts signed during Modi’s visit are largely about Chinese state-owned banks financing Indian companies to buy Chinese equipment. This would likely widen India’s already-mammoth trade deficit with China, now nearing $50 billion.

Third, Modi is shaping a non-doctrinaire foreign-policy approach powered by ideas. He has taken some of his domestic ideas (such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’) to foreign policy, as if to underscore that his priority is to revitalise India’s economy.

By simultaneously courting Xi, US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders, Modi wants to demonstrate his ability to forge partnerships with rival powers and broker cooperative international approaches in a changing world. This suggests that the Modi foreign policy is geared to move India from its long-held non-alignment to a contemporary, globalised practicality. In essence, this means that India, a founding leader of the non-aligned movement, could become multi- aligned. Building close partnerships with major powers to pursue a variety of interests in diverse settings will not only enable India to advance its core priorities, but will also help it preserve strategic autonomy in keeping with its long- standing preference for policy independence.

Non-alignment suggests a passive approach, including staying on the sidelines. Being multi- aligned, on the other hand, permits a proactive approach. A multi-aligned India will tilt more towards the major democracies of the world. Yet a multi-aligned India will continue to be scrupulously autonomous in its foreign policy. An example of how India freely charts its own course is its continued refusal to join American- led financial sanctions against Russia.

A multi-aligned India also will not shy away from building strategic partnerships with countries around China’s periphery to counter that country’s India-containment strategy. Modi’s early focus was on diplomatically recouping India’s regional losses by re-engaging countries in the nation’s strategic backyard. Even as that goal remains a priority, India is seeking to advance its ‘Act East’ policy, as Modi’s Mongolia and South Korea visits signal.

Fourth, zeal is to Modi’s diplomacy what Sun Tzu precepts are to Chinese diplomacy. In that sense, Modi is following in the footsteps of his predecessors, other than Indira Gandhi. Talleyrand, the illustrious foreign minister of Napoleon and the Bourbons, prescribed one basic rule for a sound foreign policy: ‘By no means show too much zeal.’ Gushy expectations and oozing zealousness, however, have been the bane of Indian foreign policy almost since independence.

Modi wore his zeal on his sleeve during the China visit. While his hosts uttered a couple of carefully crafted sentences on why India-China cooperation would be mutually beneficial, Modi waxed eloquent on this theme ad nauseum at every public event, including while addressing the expatriate Indian community. The Prime Minister effectively turned Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ jingle into ‘Modi-Chini bhai bhai’, among other things, by describing his friendship with Xi as ‘plus one’.

Modi’s zeal also tends to translate into diplomatic showmanship, reflected in the kind of big- ticket speeches he has been making abroad to chants of ‘Modi, Modi’ from the audience. Like a rock star, he unleashed Modi mania among Indian diaspora audiences by taking the stage at New York’s storied Madison Square Garden in September 2014, at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in November, and then in April at Ricoh Coliseum, a hockey arena in downtown Toronto. When permission was sought for a similar speech in Shanghai, an apprehensive Chinese government, which bars any public rally, relented only on the condition that the event would be staged in an indoor stadium.

Fifth, Modi has injected a personal touch to propel Indian foreign policy. Indeed, Modi has used his personal touch with great effect, addressing leaders ranging from Obama to Xi by their first name and building an easy equation with them. Indian diplomacy now bears Modi’s distinct imprint.

In keeping with his personaliszed stamp on diplomacy, Modi has relied on bilateral summits to open new avenues for cooperation and collaboration. At the same time, as if to underscore his nimble approach to diplomacy, he has shown he can think on his feet. The speed with which he rushed aid and rescue teams to quake-battered Nepal, as well as the Indian forces’ evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Nepal and conflict-torn Yemen, helped raise India’s international profile, highlighting its capacity to respond swiftly to natural and other disasters.

Sixth, against this background, it is scarcely a surprise that Modi has put his stamp on foreign policy faster than any predecessor other than Nehru. The paradox is that Modi came to office with little foreign-policy experience, yet he has demonstrated impressive diplomatic acumen, including the bold steps taken and vision charted to reclaim India’s lost strategic clout.

Seventh, to be effective, diplomacy must operate on the principle of give-and-take. But successive Indian prime ministers have chosen to operate lopsidedly on the half principle of ‘give’. There are plenty of examples of how unilateral magnanimity has backfired, saddling future Indian generations with serious strategic problems— from taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations to reserving more than 80 per cent of the waters of the six-river Indus system for Pakistan by signing a treaty of indefinite duration. Even a strategy-minded Indira Gandhi blundered at the Simla Peace Summit in spite of holding all the cards.

Modi can certainly take credit for crafting a sensible and shrewd foreign policy. Yet, despite having cultivated a muscular image, he is no exception to the Indian itch to concede unilaterally. To flaunt a bilateral summit as a ‘success’, Modi is at times willing to abandon—at the altar of diplomatic expediency—the basic tenets of statecraft, including reciprocity (the first principle of diplomacy) and leverage.

Examples of Modi being a Mr Giver range from concessions to America on the nuclear-accident liability of reactor vendors to reversing course and permitting the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi to meet Hurriyat separatists on any occasion other than when official Indo- Pakistan talks are about to begin. His China visit also illustrates this chink in his armour.

The Chinese side did not yield on any issue, but Modi did. Overruling objections by the Indian security establishment, Modi announced the grant of e-visa-on-arrival on a non-reciprocal basis to Chinese tourists. So, even as China issues stapled visas to Indian citizens living in Arunachal Pradesh, India has agreed to reward it with that facility. The announcement, made at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, made Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi so happy that he asked the assembled students to loudly cheer and thank Modi for the ‘gift’.

As in September during Xi’s visit, Modi also yielded on Tibet, with the joint statement in Beijing referring to the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China’ in the context of Indian pilgrims’ visits to the sacred Kailash-Mansarovar site. ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ is China’s official name for truncated Tibet, even though there is nothing autonomous about a region that is brutally repressed and ruled directly by Beijing. Referring to Tibet as part of the PRC undercuts India’s revised policy since 2010 to refrain from such a depiction in any joint statement as long as China persists with its cartographic aggression against India.

The urge to project a summit as a resounding success or to please the other side is often the main driver for India to yield. This is an urge Modi must learn to resist. After all, he is pursuing a foreign policy that, taken as a whole, is smart, realistic and forward-looking.

Modi’s astuteness and perspicuity were on open display in his press statement in Beijing, in which—in a nuanced and sophisticated manner—he held China responsible for impediments in the development of bilateral ties and identified all the key issues for India. Describing his discussions with the Chinese leadership, he said: “We covered all issues, including those that trouble smooth development of our relations. I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising the full potential of our partnership. I suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations.”

Modi must bear in mind that institutionalised and integrated policymaking are essential for India to have a robust diplomacy and to be able to stay its course. Without the health of these processes, policy will tend to be ad hoc and shifting, with personalities at the helm having an excessive role in shaping thinking, priorities and objectives. If foreign policy is shaped by the whims and fancies of personalities who hold the reins of power, there will be a propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure, as has happened in India repeatedly since the Nehruvian era.

Diplomacy is largely about negotiations. India must develop a tradition and culture of hard bargaining. Also, no country’s diplomacy can afford to confound tactics with strategy or marginalise its national-security establishment.

The political ascent of Modi, a man known for his decisiveness, can be a game-changer for Indian foreign policy if diplomacy is anchored in goal-oriented statecraft. After a decade of drift and neglect, India, under Modi’s leadership, is actively involving itself regionally to help influence developments in its strategic backyard. Modi realises that big-bucks corruption can enfeeble internal security and crimp foreign- policy options, and is seeking to bring this scourge under control. The Prime Minister seems to recognise that he can sustain a dynamic foreign policy only on the foundation of a strong domestic policy, a realm where he must overcome political obstacles to shape a transformative legacy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of Water, Peace, and War (Rowman & Littlefield, USA).

© Open, 2015.

Modi in China

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

China and India have a fraught relationship, characterized by festering disputes, deep mistrust, and a shared ambivalence about political cooperation. Booming bilateral trade, far from helping to turn the page on old rifts, has been accompanied by increasing border incidents, military tensions, and geopolitical rivalry, as well as disagreements on riparian and maritime issues.

Since taking office last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to transform his country’s relationship with China, arguing that Asia’s prospects hinge “in large measure” on what the two countries – which together account for one-third of the world’s population – “achieve individually” and “do together.” But, as Modi’s just-concluded tour of China highlighted, the issues that divide the demographic titans remain formidable.

Modi XiTo be sure, China’s leaders fêted Modi in style. When Modi arrived in Xian – one of China’s four ancient capitals and President Xi Jinping’s hometown – Xi took him on a personal tour of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. (Modi subsequently boasted of his close “plus one” friendship with Xi.) In Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang posed for a selfie with Modi outside the Temple of Heaven.

What China’s leaders did not do was yield on any substantive issue – and not for lack of effort on Modi’s part. Despite Modi’s pragmatic and conciliatory tack, his request that China “reconsider its approach” on some of the issues that are preventing the partnership from realizing its “full potential” went unheeded.

Consider discussions relating to the ongoing dispute over the two countries’ long Himalayan frontier. Alluding to a series of Chinese military incursions since 2006, Modi declared that “a shadow of uncertainty” hangs over the border region, because the “line of actual control” that China unilaterally drew after defeating India in a 1962 war that it had initiated was never mutually clarified. Modi proposed resuming the LAC clarification process, but to no avail.

In fact, the reason for the continued ambiguity is that, in 2002, after more than two decades of negotiations, China reneged on a promise to exchange maps with India covering the two main disputed sectors – the Austria-size Arunachal Pradesh and the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin, along with its adjacent areas – located at either end of the Himalayas. Four years later, China revived its long-dormant claim to Arunachal Pradesh, and has since breached its border several times. It fulminated against Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in February.

Nonetheless, in his zeal to build the bilateral relationship, Modi announced that Chinese tourists are now eligible to receive electronic visas on arrival in India – blindsiding his foreign secretary, who had just told the media that no such decision had been made. China’s foreign minister hailed the measure as a “gift” – an accurate description, given that China has yielded nothing in return. On the contrary, China has aimed to undermine India’s sovereignty, by issuing stapled visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh.

Moreover, China – which, by annexing water-rich Tibet, has become the region’s hydro-hegemon – also declined to conclude an agreement to sell India hydrological data on transboundary rivers year-round, rather than just during the monsoon season. So China is not only refusing to create a water-sharing pact with any of its neighbors; it will not even share comprehensive data on upstream river flows.

Making matters worse, there is an unmistakable air of condescension in the pronouncements, contained in the joint statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit, that China “took note of India’s aspirations” to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and “understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council.” China is the only major power that has not backed India’s bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council.

Economic outcomes were similarly unequal. Many of the deals Modi made with business leaders in Shanghai – supposedly worth $22 billion – entail Chinese state-owned banks financing Indian firms to purchase Chinese equipment. This will worsen India’s already massive trade deficit with China, while doing little to boost China’s meager investment in India, which totals just 1% of China’s annual bilateral trade surplus – a surplus that has swelled by one-third since Modi took office and is now approaching $50 billion.

Indeed, China and India have one of the world’s most lopsided trade relationships. Chinese exports to India are worth five times more than its imports from India. Moreover, China mainly purchases raw materials from India, while selling it mostly value-added goods. With India making little effort to stem the avalanche of cheap Chinese goods flooding its market – despite Modi’s much-touted “Make in India” campaign – China’s status as the country’s largest source of imports appears secure.

China is well practiced in using trade and commercial penetration to bolster its influence in other countries. In India’s case, it is leveraging its clout as a major supplier of power and telecommunications equipment and active pharmaceutical ingredients, not to mention as a lender to financially troubled Indian firms, to limit the country’s options. By allowing the trade distortions from which China profits to persist – and, indeed, to grow – India is effectively funding this strategy.

As hard as Modi tries to put a positive spin on his recent visit to China, highlighting the 24 mostly symbolic agreements that were concluded, he cannot obscure the harsh strategic realities affecting the bilateral relationship. Without a new approach, the Sino-Indian relationship seems doomed to remain highly uneven and contentious.

© 1995-2015 Project Syndicate.

Obama’s lesson in how to not make peace in Afghanistan

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

p9-Chellaney-a-20150513-870x593The just-concluded exploratory “peace” talks in Qatar between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban militia obscure the continuing combat role in Afghanistan of the United States, which facilitated these discussions. Months after U.S. President Barack Obama declared an end to America’s “combat role” in Afghanistan, U.S. troops are still regularly carrying out strikes on Taliban positions, while U.S. special operations forces continue to raid suspected insurgent hideouts.

The U.S., after militarily toppling the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001, has spent 14 years battling this militia in a still-raging war whose goal in recent time has turned farcically to making peace with the enemy. The result is that America’s longest war in history is getting even longer, with Obama’s overtures to the Taliban exposing fatal flaws in his Afghan policy.

Amending the name of the U.S.-led NATO intervention in Afghanistan from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support with effect from Jan. 1 has changed little, despite the Afghan forces shouldering increased warfighting responsibilities.

The White House claims that U.S. strikes now are essentially for protection of American soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan and for combating al-Qaida remnants. In truth, it is the Taliban’s advances that are triggering everyday U.S. combat missions, including warplane and drone attacks and Special Operations raids.

Ghani, who has yet to appoint a defense minister, allows the U.S. to run the war, content to play second fiddle to Gen. John F. Campbell, the top American commander in Afghanistan.

The Taliban militia, despite its recent talks with the Afghan government, has stepped up attacks on members of Afghanistan’s military and police. One such attack, which inflicted heavy casualties on a police unit in Badakhshan province, occurred while the talks were under way in Qatar.

Civilians, however, continue to bear the brunt of the fighting. The United Nations documented 10,548 civilian casualties — a record — in increased ground fighting just last year.

Obama has already missed the 2014 deadline he himself laid down for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Now he is set to miss his revised deadline to pull out U.S. troops by January 1, 2016. Scrapping the scheduled halving by this year-end of the about 10,000 U.S. troops still deployed, the White House recently decided to maintain the current force level into 2016. Indeed, the duration of U.S. military presence has become open-ended.

The war, which has left 2,315 American troops killed and 20,000 wounded, has already cost nearly $1 trillion.

Obama’s premature declaration that America’s long military campaign against the Taliban is over will be remembered much like his predecessor George W. Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech on the Iraq war. It was Obama that ended Bush’s Iraq war. Yet by 2014, Obama was back at war in Iraq, relying on the same 2002 congressional authorization that Bush secured for military action there.

In Afghanistan, the main enemy of U.S. forces is the Pakistan-backed Taliban, which has already inflicted far more casualties among American and allied forces than al-Qaida and the Islamic State have managed to do in the countries where they operate. Yet Obama refuses to treat the medieval-theology-hewing Taliban as a terrorist organization. Indeed, the White House has sought to paint the Taliban as a moderate force that can be politically accommodated in Afghanistan’s power structure as part of a peace deal.

Obama’s plans, however, have been upset by the Taliban continuing to play for time. The militia, for example, has rebuffed the idea of a ceasefire.

Still, Obama’s pursuit of a peace deal led him to release top Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay last year and to allow the Taliban in 2013 to set up in Qatar’s capital Doha a virtual embassy in exile, complete with a flag and other trappings of a diplomatic mission.

Five hardened Taliban militants (two of them wanted for war crimes) were freed not so much to secure the release of a U.S. soldier — Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has now been charged with desertion — as to set the stage for talks with the Taliban, which had sought their freedom as a precondition for direct talks. The release of the five — the “hardest of hard core,” according to Senator John McCain — belied U.S. claims that it doesn’t negotiate with militants over hostages or seek a deal with terrorists. Two of them, Mohammad Fazie and Mullah Nori, are suspected of carrying out massacres of Sunni Tajiks and Shiite Hazaras in Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Doha office, which was shut after its opening angered then Afghan President Hamid Karzai, has become active again, as the U.S. has eased some restrictions on the Taliban leadership, including travel bans.

Tragically, Obama’s overtures to the Taliban have yielded little more than talks about talks, with the militia dragging its feet on negotiating a peace deal. The May 3-4 “unofficial” talks in Qatar — hosted by the Qatari government and the Pugwash Council — produced only broad thoughts, including that “foreign forces have to leave Afghanistan soon,” that Afghanistan will have an “Islamic” government, and that more discussions are necessary to sustain the “peace process.”

The Obama policy has failed to get the Pakistani military to stop sheltering Taliban’s top leadership or to cease treating the militia as an invaluable asset for gaining “strategic depth” in Afghanistan against India. Obama has showered Pakistan with generous aid to secure its cooperation, unveiling $1 billion recently in new assistance flow and another $1 billion package of missiles, helicopters and other weapons.

More fundamentally, Obama’s faltering strategy to win over the Taliban serves as a cautionary tale of how not to make peace with an enemy. Indeed, in a reflection of America’s shrinking options, its success or failure in Afghanistan now hinges on a limited issue — whether it can prevent the Taliban from marching into Kabul.

Despite Obama’s decision to put off a further drawdown of U.S. forces, the Taliban continues to incrementally gain ground. For example, its forces have advanced to the outskirts of the capital of the northern province of Kunduz.

The Taliban, with its top leadership ensconced in Pakistan, no longer has a centralized command and command. Its field commanders are becoming increasingly autonomous.

Worried about desertions from its ranks to the ISIS, a new player in Afghanistan that claimed responsibility for the April 18 series of deadly explosions in the eastern city of Jalalabad that left at least 34 people dead, the Taliban knows that a peace deal offering Obama what he wants — a way to declare victory before his exit from office — will be its death knell. In fact, to stop the erosion in its support, the Taliban is seeking to match the brutal tactics of the ISIS.

The Taliban’s larger strategy to return to power is simply to wait out the Americans.

Before it is too late, Obama must replace his wishful peace-deal pursuit with a clear focus on bolstering the Afghan security forces and finding ways to eliminate the Taliban’s cross-border sanctuaries in Pakistan.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award.

© The Japan Times, 2015.

China and Pakistan: Little in common yet the closest of allies

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Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

pakistan470080792President Xi Jinping’s recent Islamabad visit, by unveiling agreements valued at $28 billion, shows that China has made Pakistan the central link between its dual Silk Road initiatives. While the maritime Silk Road is the meretriciously benign name for China’s “string of pearls” strategy, the overland Silk Road project has been designed to advance Chinese interests in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea basin and beyond.

These initiatives are part of China’s larger strategy to break out of the East Asia mold and become a more global power.

Xi has now embarked on connecting China’s restive Xinjiang region with the Arabian Sea through a 3,000-kilometer overland transportation corridor to Pakistan’s Chinese-built Gwadar port. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, this $46 billion project through Pakistan-held Kashmir will hook up China’s maritime and overland Silk Roads and increase Pakistan’s pivotal importance for Beijing.

When an Indian prime minister visits the Myanmar-bordering Arunachal Pradesh (a large Himalayan territory whose control by India only China questions), or India and Vietnam jointly explore for offshore oil in the South China Sea, China protests loudly, claiming it is “disputed territory.” But the Xi-pushed corridor will traverse an internationally recognized disputed region — Pakistan-held Kashmir — where China has been enlarging its military footprint.

An influx of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops into the Pakistani Kashmir’s Shiite-majority Gilgit-Baltistan region in recent years, to supposedly guard Chinese strategic projects there, has resulted in Chinese military presence close to Pakistan’s line of control with India in Kashmir.

The scenario presents India with a two-front theater in Kashmir in the event of a war with either country. This threat is also being highlighted by PLA officers conducting field exercises close to Pakistan’s line of control with India to train Pakistani army troops in the use of Chinese-supplied weapons.

More fundamentally, India is contained geopolitically by the longstanding axis between China and Pakistan, involving, among other things, covert nuclear, missile and intelligence cooperation. With serious strains emerging in Beijing’s relationship with North Korea, Pakistan is now clearly China’s only real ally.

China’s nexus with Pakistan has long been likened to the closeness between lips and teeth, with Beijing recently calling Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two often boast of being “iron brothers.” Of late, though, their description of their relationship has become more flowery — “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

Paradoxically, China and Pakistan have little in common, yet boast one of the closest relationships in international diplomacy. Their axis has been built on a shared objective to tie India down, as former state department official Daniel Markey says in his 2013 book, No Exit From Pakistan. Weapon transfers, loans and infrastructure projects allow China to use Pakistan as a cost-effective counterweight to India.

Pakistan, for example, developed its nuclear-weapons capability with Chinese aid and U.S. indulgence, highlighting the fact that no other state has received Chinese and American support in parallel on a sustained basis extending for decades. Indeed, the more Pakistan has become a jihadist snake pit, the greater has been China’s leeway to increase its strategic penetration of that country.

For India, the implications of the growing nexus are particularly stark because both China and Pakistan stake claims to substantial swaths of Indian land and continue to collaborate on weapons of mass destruction.

Significantly, as China’s involvement in strategic projects in Pakistan-held Kashmir has grown, it has openly started needling India on Kashmir, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation. It has employed innovative ways to question India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and stepped up military incursions into Indian Kashmir’s Buddhist Ladakh region.

China is clearly signaling that Kashmir is where the Sino-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India. Its military pressure on Arunachal Pradesh, located at the other end of the Himalayas, seems more intended to distract from its Kashmir designs.

Xi’s visit indeed was a reminder that Pakistan-held Kashmir serves as the artery of the Sino-Pakistan nexus.

Xi, who has articulated a more expansive role for China in the world than any modern Chinese leader other than Mao Zedong, showed how high-visibility infrastructure projects drive China’s promotion of commercial and strategic interests. Much of the Chinese funding unveiled during Xi’s visit will be for power projects, including the $1.4-billion Karot Dam, located on the Pakistan-held Kashmir’s border with the Punjab province. This dam is the first project to be financed by China’s new $40-billion Silk Road Fund.

As if to highlight that China treats Pakistan as its newest colony, Xi’s package of power projects will be Chinese-owned, including the Karot Dam station, with the Pakistani government committed to buying power at a preset rate. The power projects, in essence, are to use Pakistan’s resources for Chinese state-run companies to generate profits for repatriation.

In another example of the puppet-puppeteer equation and the risk of Pakistan turning into a Chinistan, Islamabad has given Beijing 40-year exclusive rights to run the port at Gwadar, which is likely to double up as a key outpost for the Chinese navy and serve as China’s first overseas naval station.

The Xi-launched corridor — a network of roads, railway and pipelines — will give China access to the Indian Ocean, thus challenging India in its maritime backyard and opening a new threat for it. The corridor’s transportation links will also allow China to rapidly come to Pakistan’s aid in the event of a war with India.

Moreover, by transforming Pakistan into a client state of the Chinese economy, the corridor will tighten China’s grip over that country, thus preventing it from emulating the example of Myanmar or Sri Lanka to escape Beijing’s clutches. In return for the contracts and other concessions, China will offer Pakistan protection, including diplomatic cover at the United Nations.

However, Pakistan’s insurrection-torn sprawling province of Baluchistan — home to Gwadar — stands out as the Achilles heel of China’s corridor initiative, despite the Pakistani decision during Xi’s visit to create a special security force to protect Chinese projects.

China thinks in the long term. Pakistan — set to get delivery of eight Chinese attack submarines — is now China’s launch pad for playing a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and Middle East, besides serving as a linchpin of its India-containment strategy. China’s land corridor to the Arabian Sea will extend India’s encirclement by the PLA from the Kashmir land borders to the Indian Ocean sea lanes.

No country in the world other than India confronts a strengthening nexus between two revisionist nuclear-armed neighbors with a proven track record of covert actions in breach of international norms. The corridor constitutes China’s new pincer strategy. India — like the proverbial frog in a gradually heating pot of water not realizing the danger until it is too late — can stay silent and passive at its own peril.

Brahma Chellaney, a long-standing contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award. His latest book is “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Why the U.S. must support constitutional reform in Japan

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U.S. security interests will be better served by a more confident, secure Japan free from its constitutional fetters.

Brahma Chellaney

us_news_obama_3_aba_1135298_34228639In keeping with Japan’s interest to play a more robust international role, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s U.S. visit has yielded new guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation — the first such revision since 1997. But it is also in U.S. interest to help Japan free itself of its constitutional millstone so that global military cooperation becomes truly feasible. Japan’s antiwar Constitution must be amended to allow its “Self-Defense Forces” to become a full-fledged military.That will allow Japanese forces to play an expanded role, as envisioned by the revised guidelines.

Let’s face it: No other country in the world is bound by the kind of constitutional restrictions that were imposed on vanquished Japan by occupying American forces in 1947.

U.S. policy toward Japan must change with the changing geopolitical circumstances in East Asia. While China will prefer a Japan that remains dependent on America for its security than a Japan that can play a more independent role, the post-1945 security system erected by the United States is more suited to keep Japan as an American protectorate than to allow Tokyo to effectively aid the central U.S.-policy objective in the Asia-Pacific — a stable balance of power. An American policy approach that subtly encourages Tokyo to cut its overdependence on America and do more for its own defense can assist Japan in shaping a new strategic future for itself that contributes to Asian power equilibrium, thus aiding U.S. interests.

Japan’s current Constitution prohibits it from acquiring the means of war and bars its Self-Defense Forces from staging rescue missions or other overseas operations, even to free Japanese hostages. To set up wholly defensive armed forces in the 1950s, Japan had to loosely interpret the Constitution’s Article Nine, which says “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

Japan has clung to this Constitution for 68 years without so much as carrying out a single amendment or changing even one word. Many other democracies regard their constitutions not as cast in stone but as open to change so that they stay abreast with new social, technological and economic developments. For example, India — whose Constitution is almost as old as Japan’s — is set to enact its 100th amendment. Even Germany — also defeated in World War II — has thus far made 59 amendments to its Basic Law, or Constitution, which it adopted when it was under Allied occupation.

If Japan were to break free from its constitutional fetters, it will aid its “normalization” as a nation at a time when the ascent of an increasingly muscular China has exacerbated the Asian security environment. In East Asia, Japan is the only democracy that can balance the power of rising China.

The United Nations charter recognizes individual and collective self-defense as an “inherent right” of nations. Yet Japan did not have this right, until the Abe government last year reinterpreted the Constitution on “collective self-defense” — a step that would allow Japan to come to the aid of its allies. The U.S. wisely supported this reinterpretation.

Abe’s larger constitutional-reform push, however, faces major obstacles at home. For one, the Constitution places a high bar to the enactment of any amendment, making it among the hardest in the world to revise. Any amendment must win support of two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Diet and be ratified by more than half of voters in a public referendum. For another, the majority of citizens, including most of the young, remain comfortable with the present Constitution. After all, pacifism remains deeply ingrained in Japanese society, in part because of the painful legacy of Japan’s prewar militarism.

In fact, many Japanese regard the Constitution as sacrosanct and unchangeable. Such constitutional-sanctity zeal is virtually akin to the religious fundamentalism sweeping elsewhere in the world. To regard every word or provision in the Constitution as sacred is like defending the literal truth of a religious scripture.

Such are the current obstacles to constitutional revision that what Abe can hope for in his term is effecting, at best, a relaxation of amendment procedures, leaving the modification of the force-renouncing Article Nine to a successor government. Yet accomplishing even that limited goal remains uncertain. It is an open question whether any proposed amendment of Article 96 to lower the revision bar — even if it were to clear both houses of the Diet with two-thirds majority — would win public support in a referendum.

If there is one factor that can make a meaningful difference, it is American support. If President Barack Obama’s administration were to lend support to Abe’s constitutional-reform agenda, it will not only blunt Chinese criticism but also assuage many Japanese that amending the Constitution will not mean repudiating the postwar order that America established in Japan or abandoning pacifism.

U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defense and for regional security. In the way America backed Abe’s reinterpretation of the collective self-defense right, it ought to support constitutional reform in Asia’s oldest liberal democracy, which has an enviable record: Japan has not fired a single shot against an outside party since World War II and has been a major donor of economic and humanitarian aid and promoter of global peace. Today, Japan is the only power that can block China from gaining ascendancy in the region.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and the author, among others, of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the Bernard Schwartz Award.

© China-US Focus, 2015.

China reinvents ‘string of pearls’ as Maritime Silk Road

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In contrast to Deng’s “lie low, bide your time” dictum, Xi’s approach is xiong xin bo bo (full of big ambitions)

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review

For years, China has pursued a “string of pearls” strategy to create a network of infrastructure projects and staging posts stretching from its eastern coast to the Middle East along the great trade arteries in order to gain strategic clout and naval access. But more recently, China has worked to ease growing concerns in Asia and beyond over its geopolitical aims by rebranding “string of pearls” — a term coined by U.S. consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton in a 2005 report for the Pentagon — as the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” initiative. But can a simple name change allay suspicions that China’s true goal is regional domination?

Stripped of its rhetoric, the Maritime Silk Road initiative — just like the “string of pearls” project — is designed to make China the hub of a new order in Asia and the Indian Ocean region. And just as the “string of pearls” focused on the great trade arteries, the initiative targets key littoral states that sit astride major access routes or are located near choke points. It follows the same route from which, historically, these countries drew wealth and strength.

Coining a name to shake off a foreign-imposed term allows Beijing to market the initiative as a “win-win” trade connectivity project. For small, internationally neglected states, it opens the way for an infusion of major Chinese aid and investment. And for China, it is opening lucrative contracts for its state-run companies and aiding its strategic penetration of regional states. Chinese construction of ports, railroads, highways and pipelines helps project China’s image as a strong but benevolent power. It also permits Beijing to pull regional countries closer to its orbit through economic leverage and soft power.

More broadly, China aims to use the Maritime Silk Road project to counter U.S. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, even though the “pivot” remains more rhetorical than real, largely because of American foreign policy’s preoccupation with the Muslim world. For China, economic development is a key drawcard card to help carve out a steadily enlarging sphere of influence in the region.

Silk_routeThe initiative bears the stamp of President Xi Jinping, who is pushing it with a $40 billion Silk Road Fund and the new China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Xi announced the Maritime Silk Road initiative during a trip to Indonesia in October 2013, just a month after he unveiled an overland “Silk Road” project to connect China with Central Asia, the Caspian Sea basin and Europe. The new AIIB, according to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, would finance infrastructure construction under both initiatives.

The Maritime Silk Road — to be ultimately protected by Chinese warships — is part of Xi’s focus on the seas that includes employing gunboat diplomacy to challenge Japan in the East China Sea, enlarging China’s control over some of the world’s most strategic waterways in the South China Sea, and making China an important player in the Indian Ocean region. Xi, who has articulated a more expansive role for China than any modern Chinese leader other than Mao Zedong, is using overseas infrastructure projects to extend China’s commercial and strategic interests.

Xi’s call last November for China to establish “big country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics” served as a fresh reminder that he is abandoning Deng Xiaoping’s dictum “hide your brightness, bide your time.” Deng’s “hide and bide” approach was designed to allow China to focus on economic growth and political stability, while Xi’s approach is xiong xin bo bo (full of big ambitions).

Under Xi, China has moved to a proactive posture to shape its external security environment. It is pursuing a muscular approach by boosting its military buildup, asserting territorial claims against its neighbors, and using trade and investment to expand its sphere of influence to the strategic domain.

China’s efforts to disturb the territorial and maritime status quo are best illustrated by the remarkable speed with which it has been building up land mass in the South China Sea, hundreds of kilometers from its mainland. By converting tiny, largely submerged reefs into islands that can host military facilities and personnel, China has highlighted the scale of its ambition to hold sway over vital sea lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Added to this is China’s frenzied submarine-building program, with the country now boasting more diesel- and nuclear-powered vessels than the U.S., according to Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, U.S. deputy chief of naval operations for capabilities and resources. Mulloy recently told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee that China is extending the geographic areas of operation for its submarines and keeping them at sea for longer periods of deployment.

Soft and hard tactics

China’s construction of seaports, railroads and highways in littoral states contrasts with its broader military assertiveness. Such construction, however, is integral to a strategy that fuses soft and hard tactics to convince regional states that it is in their interest to join forces with China and accept it as the regional leader. In fact, the Maritime Silk Road does little more than attempt to recast the “string of pearls” strategy in meretriciously benign terms.

Paradoxically, China’s whipping up of nationalism at home goes hand-in-hand with its project to globalize and build a vast trading network along the ancient Maritime Silk Road. And even as China works quietly to alter the territorial and maritime status quo with several neighbors, it presents itself to regional states as a partner in their development.

How China blends its economic and military interests was illustrated last autumn by the separate docking of two Chinese attack submarines at the new Chinese-built container terminal at Sri Lanka’s Colombo Harbour. The $500 million container terminal is majority owned by Chinese state companies.

Beijing has been attracted by Sri Lanka’s strategic location, close to the world’s busiest sea lanes. After China completed building Sri Lanka’s southern port of Hambantota, Xi inaugurated construction of a $1.4 billion Chinese-funded project to create a city roughly the size of Monaco on reclaimed land off Colombo, the capital. The planned sprawling complex — currently embroiled in a major political and environmental controversy in Sri Lanka — is intended to become a major stop on China’s nautical “road,” for whose security Chinese warships will increasingly turn up at harbors.

Meanwhile, China’s desire for a permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean — where it has already carried out three deployments — is being whetted by its control of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, near the Iranian border. Located strategically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, a gateway for a third of the world’s traded oil, the deep-water port epitomizes how an increasingly ambitious China, brimming with hard cash from blazing economic growth, is building new transportation, trade, energy and naval links to advance its interests.

The Gwadar Port Authority chairman recently revealed that Pakistan has granted China 40-year rights to operate the Chinese-built port. Beijing is investing another $1.62 billion in new infrastructure, including a container terminal, an international airport, and an expressway linking the harbor with the coastline.

Strategic corridors

As Xi’s April 20-21 Pakistan visit attested, China is working to connect its restive Xinjiang region with the Arabian Sea by building a 3,000-kilometer overland transportation corridor to Gwadar through Pakistan-held Kashmir. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, this $46 billion project will hook up China’s maritime and overland Silk Roads. Contracts worth $28 billion were unveiled during Xi’s visit under the corridor plan.

The strategic corridor will allow Beijing to shorten the route of its oil imports from the Middle East and Africa to barely one quarter of the current 12,000km. The oil will be offloaded at Gwadar for transport by pipeline to western China. Beijing is building a similar network of highways, railroads and energy pipelines from Myanmar’s coast to southern China.

China has operationally taken over Gwadar Port to develop not just its commercial value but also its potential as a naval outpost overlooking Gulf shipping lanes. Having insisted that Gwadar’s role was purely commercial, Beijing was deeply embarrassed when Ahmed Mukhtar, Pakistan’s then-defense minister, disclosed in 2011 that Pakistan had asked China to begin building a naval base there. “We have asked our Chinese brothers to please build a naval base at Gwadar,” he said.

Given China’s proclivity for strategic stealth, its work even on the commercial port at Gwadar was launched quietly. The planned naval base is now being projected as a refueling and works station, which China’s own submarines could use to extend their range in the Indian Ocean.

China has also sought to court the Maldives, a group of strategically located islands in the Indian Ocean where the first democratically elected president was forced at gunpoint to resign in 2012. Xi, during a visit last September, unveiled new Chinese-run infrastructure projects there, calling the Maldives “an important stop” on the Maritime Silk Road. China remains interested in leasing one of its 1,200 islands.

The Indian Ocean is central to Beijing’s intent to fashion a Sino-centric Asia. China’s quiet maneuvering, chipping away at India’s natural geographic advantage, draws strength from its more assertive push for dominance in the South and East China Seas.

In this light, China’s aggressive maritime strategy has emerged as the biggest challenge in the Indo-Pacific region. Just as the U.S. dominates the Western hemisphere, China wants to gain pre-eminence in Asia by widening the power gap with its most formidable neighbors — Japan, Russia and India. It believes the maritime domain holds the key to achieving its goal, thus prompting the launch of the Maritime Silk Road initiative. But success will elude Beijing if other important players in Asia establish a strategic constellation with the aim of inducing China to accept the status quo.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the 2012 Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award.

© Nikkie Asian Review, 2015.

Why is Narendra Modi going to China?  

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, April 30, 2015

oped--621x414Barely eight months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India trip, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will shortly make a return visit to China. China’s intrusion into Chumar—one of its biggest incursions ever—coincided with Xi’s arrival, representing his birthday gift for Modi, who turned 64 on that day. Given that Beijing has only hardened its border stance and taken other unfriendly actions since, why is Modi paying a return visit so soon after Xi’s trip?

Normally, a return visit to any country should be undertaken only after preparatory work indicates the trip could tangibly advance the bilateral relationship. Modi’s trip, however, holds little prospect for achieving a more balanced and stable relationship or making progress on resolving land and water disputes and correcting an increasingly lopsided trade relationship. Given the limited time, no real groundwork has been done to ensure that the visit yields enduring results.

Beijing has only been queering the pitch for Modi’s visit. Its reaction to Modi’s Arunachal Pradesh tour in February to open two development projects was unparalleled. Over two days, China fulminated against India, with the Indian ambassador being summarily summoned, the Chinese vice foreign minister speaking scathingly, and the Chinese foreign ministry posting a condemnatory press release on its website.

Worse still, Beijing, in a little-noticed action, used this occasion to escalate its stance on Arunachal. The Chinese vice foreign minister brusquely told the Indian ambassador that the Modi visit undermined “China’s territorial sovereignty, right and interests” and that it “violates the consensus to appropriately handle the border issue.” In other words, Beijing claimed that Arunachal was no longer just a “disputed territory” but China’s sovereign territory, and it contrived a “consensus” against an Indian leader visiting that northeastern state.

Actually, China’s creep began in 2006 when, for the first time, it claimed Arunachal as “South Tibet.” It has since cooked up Tibetan names for invented subdivisions of Arunachal to draw attention to the state’s purported Tibetan identity, even though the Dalai Lama has publicly said that Arunachal historically was not part of Tibet. In its February 20 admonition to India, Beijing alleged the “so-called Arunachal Pradesh” was established largely in the “three areas of China’s Tibet—Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul” and claimed these “had always been Chinese territory.”

What was India’s reaction to Beijing’s serially grating statements on Arunachal, including accusing Modi of breaching an ostensible “consensus”? Conspicuous silence. Modi’s government, however, went ahead and scheduled its maiden round of border talks with China in New Delhi in March, instead of postponing it. Emboldened, Beijing mounted pressure on two fronts — just before and after the border talks, intruding Chinese forces had face-offs with Indian troops in Ladakh’s Depsang plateau; and, without cause, China raked up the Arunachal issue again.

In April, Beijing claimed it is an “undeniable fact” that there is a “huge dispute” over Arunachal. The undeniable fact is actually the converse: that the “huge dispute” is really about Tibet since all Chinese claims flow from that. Sprawling Tibet, the world’s largest and highest plateau, remains at the core of the India-China divide.

Consider yet another hostile action: Chinese intelligence, playing an active role, got nine insurgent groups from India’s northeast recently to meet in Myanmar and form a united front. And just before hosting Modi, Xi has travelled to Pakistan where he signed agreements valued at $28 billion and unveiled the development of a Kashgar-Gwadar land corridor to the Indian Ocean that will challenge India in its own maritime backyard.

Yet, mum’s the word for India. It would seem that safeguarding Modi’s visit has trumped the strategic imperative to respond diplomatically to China’s antagonistic actions. These actions cannot but embarrass Modi, who is still courting Beijing.

For example, how is India planning to respond to China’s stapled-visa policy towards Arunachal residents? Not in kind, such as by introducing stapled visas for the Tibetan plateau’s Han settlers, but by bestowing a reward: e-visa on arrival for Chinese nationals. Such an overture, even if continuing the Indian tradition since 1949 of going overboard to befriend China, signals that India remains hobbled by low self-esteem and a subaltern mindset.

A resurgent India would shine a spotlight on the core dispute by slowly reopening the Tibet issue and reclaiming its lost leverage. After all, China has trampled on its pledge to respect Tibet’s autonomy. Yet, without inviting any reprisal, China continues to squeeze a defensive India. The fact that India does not take its claim to Aksai Chin or Pakistan-held Kashmir seriously encourages China to enlarge its strategic footprint in the Pakistani part of Kashmir and to step up incursions into Ladakh from the Chinese-occupied portion of Kashmir.

In the absence of goal-oriented statecraft, Indian diplomacy has long been shaped by personalities at the helm. Their propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure has been legendary, as India has ignored the sound advice of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s famous foreign minister: “By no means show too much zeal.” Zeal, especially in the form of diplomatic surprises and unilateral gestures, is a trademark of the Modi foreign policy. Indeed, Modi is going to China because he gratuitously told Xi he would pay a return visit before completing his first year in office. With such a schmaltzy approach, can India stand up for its interests and make China walk its talk?

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

© Mint, 2015 

Why India needs to reformulate its China policy

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, April 14, 2015

Xi Jinping in AhmedabadThe hype over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China visit next month is likely to obscure the underlying strategic dissonance and tensions between the world’s two most populous countries on issues extending from land and water to geopolitical aims.

Two issues stand out: An increasingly asymmetrical trade relationship and a gradually rising pattern of Chinese border incursions in several regions since 2006, when China for the first time claimed Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’.

India-China commerce constitutes one of the world’s most lopsided trade relationships: China’s exports are 3½ times greater in value than its imports, and it buys mainly primary commodities from India but exports value-added goods to it. For example, China’s steel producers find India an easy dumping prey, with Chinese dumping of steel items rising almost fourfold under Modi’s watch in 2014. New Delhi, by tamely allowing China to rake in growing profits through such trade, in effect funds the Chinese strategy to encircle India.

Despite rising border provocations, Indian policymakers have still to get their act together. To Modi’s credit, he has stressed that border peace and tranquillity is a prerequisite to the continued growth of India-China relations. But with his government, like his predecessor’s, preoccupied with fire-fighting on several fronts, policymakers are missing the significance of what China is up to.

There is a clear pattern, backed by an identifiable strategy, to the Chinese incursions. With the aid of progressively increasing or recurrent incursions in each coveted area, the strategy aims to create a dispute where no dispute has existed so that China can subsequently demand that it be settled ‘peacefully’ on give-and-take terms. This pattern and strategy are apparent, for example, from repeated Chinese intrusions in Ladakh’s two strategic regions — Depsang and Chumar — where the geography favours Indian forces, lending a distinct military advantage.

Neither Chumar nor Depsang was in dispute earlier. Yet Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India arrival last September coincided with a Chinese intrusion into Chumar — one of the biggest incursions ever, representing Xi’s birthday gift for Modi, who turned 64 on that day. And Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit followed a Chinese encroachment into Depsang, with the intruding troops setting up camp in an area that extended beyond the ‘line of actual control’ (LAC) that China itself unilaterally drew when it defeated India in the 1962 Chinese-initiated war.

The tense, intrusion-triggered military standoffs notwithstanding, incursions remain business as usual for China. For example, on the eve of the recent border talks, and then soon thereafter, intruding Chinese forces had face-offs with Indian troops in two separate areas of the Depsang plateau. In both the cases on March 20 and March 28, the Chinese attempt to reach India’s Old Patrol Point base was foiled. In response to an incursion, Indian forces hold a banner drill to get the intruding troops out — a task that might also necessitate one or more flag meetings. But no sooner has one face-off ended than another incursion occurs. After all, Chinese border ‘transgressions’, as government figures reveal, now exceed more than one per day.

One novel method the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has employed is to bring ethnic Han pastoralists to the valleys along the LAC and give them cover to range across it, thus driving Indian herdsmen from their traditional pasturelands. In the absence of a strategy to thwart such PLA-assisted ‘civilian’ encroachments (one of which occurred during Xi’s visit), India has been incrementally losing land, especially in Arunachal and Ladakh.

Why blame China for employing means — fair or foul — to alter the LAC bit by bit when Indians remain confused as ever on how to respond? To thwart encroachment by regular PLA troops, India’s first line of defence remains a thinly stretched police force. The home ministry-administered Indo-Tibetan Border Police is no match for the PLA guile and capability. Beefing up its strength alone won’t suffice; it must be placed under the army’s operational command.

The focus on high-level visits and the border talks proceeding for 34 years — a world record — distracts attention from India’s strategic imperatives while emboldening China to furtively nibble at Indian territories.

The Modi government’s recently concluded maiden border talks with China dashed hopes of these negotiations being reoriented to produce results. The two countries in September recommitted to ‘an early settlement of the boundary question’, with Modi urging Xi to “resume the stalled process of clarifying the LAC” — a process derailed by China’s breaking of a 2001 promise to exchange maps with India. The recent discussions, however, represented no earnest effort to restructure the talks, under way since 1981.

India’s choice is not between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking a war. India has a hundred different options between these extremities, as China’s own actions attest. Yet national security adviser Ajit Doval said after the latest round that holding border negotiations was itself valuable, even if the talks yielded no progress, because their absence would mean “conflict is the only means of resolution”. Such logic that the sole choice for India is between staying stuck in futile talks and entering into conflict only encourages a revanchist China to take India round and round the mulberry bush.

India must stop seeing options only at the extreme ends and build a credible counter-strategy. China indeed is trying to limit India’s options by leveraging its economic clout, including as a major supplier of power and telecom equipment and active pharmaceutical ingredients and as a lender to financially troubled Indian firms. China is already India’s largest source of imports.

With creative gradualism his forte, Modi must evolve a China policy that errs on the side of caution, not meekness. Caution averts problems but timidity, as the past decade has shown, invites more problems. Prudence demands denying China the leeway to continue distorting commerce and boosting its trade surplus year after year, even as it keeps India under mounting strategic pressure without incurring political costs.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

(c) The Hindustan Times, 2015.

History holds Asia hostage

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BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Nikkie Asian Review, April 6-12, 2015

A failure to come to terms with history weighs on all the important bilateral relationships in Asia. As the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, some nations in the region are resurrecting the ghosts of history.

China, for example, is planning a grand military parade in Beijing on Sept. 3 to commemorate what it calls Victory over Japan Day. In announcing the parade, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, said it will display China’s military prowess and “make Japan tremble.” An increasingly muscular China, however, is rattling not only Japan but also its other neighbors.

How diplomatic relationships are held hostage to history is best exemplified by the strained ties between America’s closest regional allies — South Korea and Japan. Following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-election, these two countries were presented with a stark choice: find ways to stem the recrudescence of bitter disputes over history or stay frozen in a political relationship that plays into China’s hands.

Playing the history card, China has made ultranationalism the legitimating credo of Communist rule. In recent years, China has sought to draw attention to the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II by expanding and renovating war museums memorializing the 1931-1945 invasion, as well as through other government projects and subsidies. As though to stir its people into a frenzy of patriotism, China has also declared two new national days to remember Japanese aggression.

But what if the victims of China’s aggression followed its example and commemorated Chinese attacks on them? China, while seeking to obscure its own aggressions and occupations since the communist “revolution,” including the 1951 annexation of the sprawling Tibetan plateau and invasions of India and Vietnam in 1962 and 1979, respectively, has long called on Japan to take history as a mirror and demonstrate greater remorse for its past aggressions.

When nationalisms collide

History is rarely an objective chronicle, in keeping with the dictum that it is written by the winners. Yet history greatly shapes national narratives. In Asia, the “history problem” has spurred a resurgence of competing and mutually reinforcing nationalisms. Squabbles over history and remembrance remain the principal obstacle to political reconciliation in Asia, reinforcing negative stereotypes of rival nations and helping to rationalize claims to territories long held by other nations. A country’s commemoration is usually linked with its national identity.

Honoring one country’s heroes and history can be done without seeking to alienate, provoke or rub salt in the wounds of another nation. In an economically integrated but politically divided Asia, however, relations between nations remain trapped in a mutually reinforcing loop: Poor political relations help magnify and accentuate the history problem, thus chaining diplomatic ties to history.

Breaking out of this vicious cycle demands forward-looking leadership and the will to pursue political reconciliation. At present, though, the trend is in the opposite direction. For example, attempts in East Asia to rewrite or sugarcoat history, including by revising textbooks or erecting memorials to newfound heroes, are inciting greater regional rancor and recrimination. A potent mix of domestic politics, growing geopolitical competition and military tensions has turned history into a driver of corrosive nationalism.

Disputes between South Korea and Japan and between China and Japan over territories, war memorials, textbooks and natural resources are the result of an entangled history. The Sino-Indian relationship is also a prisoner of the past. This is especially evident in the context of China’s elimination of the historical buffer — Tibet — and its subsequent war with India. Even the Chinese-South Korean relationship carries the baggage of history, burdened  by China’s more recent revisionist claim to the kingdom of Koguryo, one of the three kingdoms in ancient Korea.

Missed opportunity

The recent commitment of U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to work with like-minded states to establish a power equilibrium and a rule-based order in Asia can make little headway if history continues to hinder relations even between democracies. Take Japan and South Korea: As export-oriented powerhouses with traditionally close cultural ties, the two share many values. But resurgent history issues between them have dimmed hopes of a concert of democracies to rein in China’s assertiveness.

The century-old case of Korean activist Ahn Jung-geun illustrates history’s divisive hold. Considered a terrorist in  Japan, where he was hanged, but a hero in South Korea, Ahn assassinated four-time Japanese Prime Minister and the first Resident-General of Korea Hirobumi Ito in 1909 at the Harbin railway station in China.

The case resurfaced after China opened a memorial hall in Harbin in January 2014 commemorating Ahn, prompting Japan to denounce China for glorifying a terrorist. The hall was built at the suggestion of South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jinping in the summer of 2013.

South Korea, a hyper-nationalistic state, has sought to eliminate all signs of Japanese colonial rule. But not all Asian states seek to obliterate their colonial past. India continues to transact much of its key government business from British-era edifices, and some  of its major criminal and civil laws date from the colonial period. Taiwan — a former Japanese colony — also has a tolerant view of its period of subjugation.

Many nations, however, blend historical fact with myth. For example, China, as the fairy-tale Middle Kingdom, claims to be the mother of all civilizations, weaving legend with history to foster a chauvinistic Han culture centered on regaining lost glory. The Communist Party projects great-power status as China’s historical entitlement. Indeed, by embellishing China’s past, it wants to make real the legend that drives Chinese revisionist history — China’s centrality in the world. This is reflected in President Xi’s goal to build what he calls the “Chinese dream.”

Stirring up the past

Harmful historical legacies create serious impediments to rational policy choices. Park, for example, has sought closer ties with China even though South Korea’s natural regional partner is Japan. Japan — Asia’s oldest liberal democracy, which has not fired a single shot against an outside party since World War II — has been a major donor of economic and humanitarian aid.

Since coming to power more than two years ago, Park — the daughter of the military general who served as South Korea’s dictator for 18 years until 1979 — has not held a single one-on-one meeting with Abe, insisting that Japan first address lingering issues over its annexation of Korea more than 100 years ago. Japan declared Korea a protectorate in 1905, and officially annexed it in 1910.

Abe’s re-election places him on strong political ground to reach out to Park and find ways to put history behind them through negotiation. But this will be a challenging task for two reasons. First, South Korea clings to the past while Japan, which has acknowledged and apologized several times for its war crimes, wishes to forget the past. In the last century, Japan was a victor and a loser, as well as an oppressor and a victim, making its historical narrative complex and difficult, especially in relation to China and South Korea.

Second, Park has persisted in raking up the past even at the expense of the bilateral relationship. She has sought to pander to nationalist sentiment at home by being tough on Japan, clearly in part to play down her father’s collaboration with the Japanese Imperial Army. For example, Park recently again called on Japan to acknowledge the historical truth by resolving the “comfort women” issue, a reference to the sexual slavery of Korean and other women by the Japanese Imperial Army.

A grand bargain between the two East Asian neighbors would require Japan to more clearly and fully express regret and remorse over its militaristic past and South Korea to agree not to keep dredging up historical grievances.

If South Korea and Japan take the lead to put their shared past behind them, they could set an example for other relationships in Asia that are burdened by historical differences and distortions.

Asian states cannot change the past, but they can strive to shape a more cooperative future. As a Russian proverb puts it pithily, “Forget the past and lose an eye; dwell on the past and lose both eyes.”

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of the award-winning book Water: Asia’s New Battleground, Georgetown University Press.

India’s Pakistan policy adrift

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, March 26, 2015

sharifmodi--621x414In his first eight months in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi impressed many with his foreign-policy skills. For example, he signalled that India’s response to Pakistan’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts will no longer be survival by a thousand bandages; rather the response will be punitive so as to have a deterrent effect and help reform Pakistan’s conduct. Pakistan’s stepped-up ceasefire violations were met with a punishing mortar-for-bullet response.

Yet today, Modi’s Pakistan policy looks barely different from his predecessor’s. Since U.S. President Barack Obama’s New Delhi visit, there has been a major transformation in India’s Pakistan policy. Obama pitched strongly for India’s re-engagement with Pakistan, dwelling on that theme at great length during his famous chai per charcha with Modi. His line of reasoning manifestly left a deep impression on Modi.

This is apparent from India’s policy somersaults on two critical issues. The first U-turn — resumption of bilateral dialogue — raises troubling questions about the logic behind it. Such re-engagement even as Pakistan exports terror encourages it to persist with its roguish conduct. Few thus should be surprised by the return of terror attacks to Jammu and Kashmir. Since the Obama visit, Modi’s conciliatory gestures have included a telephone call to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and then a letter to him — hand-delivered by the Indian foreign secretary — in which the Indian leader said he looks forward to visiting Islamabad early next year for the SAARC summit.

The second U-turn is no less puzzling: India conveyed to Pakistan last month that its high commissioner in New Delhi can meet Hurriyat separatists on any occasion other than when official talks are about to begin. In other words, Modi has yielded ground even on the issue that led him to cancel talks with Pakistan last August. The Pakistani high commissioner, in keeping with the Indian advisory, met first with Hurriyat’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani immediately after the foreign secretary-level talks in Islamabad and then this week with a seven-member Hurriyat delegation led by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.

Now consider another issue — the government’s dispatch of a reluctant minister, General V.K. Singh, to the Pakistan Day event. General Singh is not just any minister of state. As a former Army chief, he deserves due respect. In the Indian system, even civil servants at times try to ride roughshod over service chiefs. In this case, it was the government itself that did not accord due respect to a former Army chief by sending him as its representative to an event bristling with the presence of Pakistan’s Hurriyat surrogates. Look at the paradox: Just months after Modi broke off talks with Pakistan over its high commissioner’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders, he sends Gen. Singh to the Hurriyat-infested Pakistan Day event.

Modi swept to power in India’s biggest election victory in a generation because voters expected him to usher in qualitative change. The hope was that he would be a transformative leader. Today, ironically, the lack of self-respect that permeated Manmohan Singh’s Pakistan policy risks seeping into the Modi government’s actions.

With Modi’s policy adrift, Pakistan feels emboldened not just by his U-turns, but also by other political developments in India, including the Bharatiya Janata Party sacrificing principles at the altar of political expediency by entering into an alliance with the People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir and the Modi government putting up with the J&K government’s release of the pro-Pakistan militant Masarat Alam. The opportunistic political alliance in J&K is between the architect of the cave-in in the December 1989 Rubiya Sayed kidnapping — a case in which the release of five jailed Kashmiri extremists triggered overt militancy, fuelling terrorism — and the party whose government at the centre hand-delivered top terrorists to hijackers in Kandahar in final hours of 1999, resulting in India entering the new century with ignominy.

Other than the tool of dialogue, India has little direct leverage over Pakistan. The tool of dialogue thus must be employed judiciously to help change Pakistan’s conduct. If talks are held even when Pakistan’s belligerence remains intense, it will blunt the instrument of dialogue.

Yet India has long had difficulty staying its course. For example, just months after the unparalleled Mumbai attacks by 10 Pakistani gunmen, Manmohan Singh not only reengaged Pakistan at the highest level but signed a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh in which a reference to Baluchistan was included as if to implicate India in fomenting the insurrection there. Modi’s own suspension of talks lasted barely seven months. India’s unconditional resumption of dialogue each time only reinforces Pakistan’s conviction that its provocations carry no costs because even if the dialogue process were suspended again, India will reopen talks for two reasons — U.S. pressure, and Indian foreign policy’s blow-hot-blow-cold traditions.

Today, Islamabad has reason to gloat over how its unbending intransigence has again brought India to the negotiating table and gained Pakistan a licence for interacting with Kashmiri separatists. Pakistan’s Hurriyat stooges are there to take diktats from their Pakistani handlers, not to ensure peace and stability in the Kashmir Valley.

After 10 months in office, Modi needs to fix the broken Pakistan policy he inherited from Manmohan Singh, rather than concoct a mirror image of the same policy. It is high time for India to abandon the notion that it has no option but to stay stuck in the old failed policy of holding dialogue even as Pakistan remains intransigent. And it must stop facilitating Pakistan’s interactions with Hurriyat separatists. Will Pakistan allow any Indian official to meet Baloch secessionists or the protest leaders in Shia-majority Gilgit-Baltistan? If an Indian diplomat defiantly met any Pakistan-based separatist, that secessionist would either disappear for good or be quickly tried before a military court and executed.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

© Mint, 2015.

Great powers surf to conquer

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, March 12, 2015

indian-ocean-bases-180c4Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation Indian Ocean tour attests to this region’s critical importance for Indian security, including preventing India’s encirclement by hostile powers. If China were to gain the upper hand in the Indian Ocean region, it will mark the end of India’s great-power ambitions. India thereafter will be seen as merely a sub-regional power whose clout does not extend across South Asia, with Pakistan challenging it in the west and China in the north and south.

India’s tactical and strategic disadvantages along its land frontiers are more than compensated by its immense geographic advantage in the Indian Ocean. Such is peninsular India’s vantage location in the Indian Ocean — the world’s premier energy and trade seaway — that the country is positioned dominantly astride vital sea lanes of communication (SLOCs), including China’s emergent Maritime Silk Road.

Despite India’s inherent maritime leverage, its land-frontier compulsions have instilled a landlocked mindset. With its attention fixated on the disputed land borders, India — far from exploiting its advantage on the maritime front — often has difficulty facing up to the fact that it is a major maritime country. Worse still, India diplomatically neglected the Indian Ocean region in the 25-year period from 1989 when it was governed by coalitions. Tellingly, Modi is the first prime minister to visit Seychelles in 34 years and Sri Lanka in 28 years.

India’s long neglect has become China’s strategic gain. China’s quiet manoeuvring in the Indian Ocean, where it is chipping away at India’s natural-geographic advantage through multibillion-dollar projects along the great trade arteries, draws strength from its more assertive push for dominance in the South and East China Seas.

The Indian Ocean promises to shape the wider geopolitics and balance of power in Asia and beyond. India, however, finds itself on the back foot in its own strategic backyard. According to Jawaharlal Nehru, “History has shown that whatever power controls the Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea-borne trade at her mercy and, in the second, India’s very independence itself.” The irony is that this is the only ocean in the world named after a single country.

China has been assiduously pursuing a strategy to build a “string of pearls” across the Indian Ocean so as to gain strategic clout and naval access. By rebranding the “string of pearls” strategy as a “21st-century maritime silk road” project, China has now sought to disguise its real intentions. This signature initiative of President Xi Jinping merely recasts the “string of pearls” strategy in meretriciously benign terms. Stripped of its rhetoric, the Silk Road — just like the “string of pearls” — is designed to redraw Asia’s geopolitical map by making China the preeminent power.

The Silk Road indeed exemplifies China’s use of aid, investment and other leverage to pull littoral states closer to its orbit, including through the construction of seaports, railroads and highways. Such construction may provide a counterpoint to China’s military assertiveness. Yet it is integral to a strategy that fuses soft and hard tactics to bind countries to China’s economy and security and to convince them that it is in their interest to accept China as Asia’s alpha power.

How China blends its economic and military interests was illustrated last autumn by the separate docking of two Chinese submarines at the newly opened, Chinese-majority-owned container terminal at Colombo Harbour. China’s desire for permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean, where it has carried out three deployments, is being whetted by its control of Pakistan’s Gwadar port, located strategically at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. China has operationally taken over the port it built at Gwadar to develop not its commercial value (which remains unpromising) but its potential as a key naval outpost.

Given the emerging challenge to India in its maritime backyard, Modi must develop a credible strategy to counter it. His charm-offensive tour of regional states with offers of new economic and defence tie-ups marks just a beginning. Modi did well to drop the Maldives from his itinerary, given the political mess there. But he could have delayed his Sri Lanka trip until after the forthcoming parliamentary elections there, especially given the fact that his visit comes barely a month after President Maithripala Sirisena’s India tour.

In keeping with his highly personalized imprint on diplomacy, Modi thus far has relied on bilateral summits to open new avenues for cooperation and collaboration. Diplomacy alone will not suffice. Sirisena, for example, makes his first official visits to Beijing and Islamabad soon after hosting Modi.

To prevent Chinese military encirclement, India needs to significantly accelerate naval modernization. It must build sufficient naval prowess to potentially interdict Chinese SLOCs in the Indian Ocean and hold the Chinese economy hostage if a Himalayan war were thrust upon it again. A major holdback of tanker traffic in wartime would be a crippling jolt to the Chinese economy, though it might not alter the war’s outcome.

Even as the Chinese military keeps Indian ground forces busy in peacetime by staging Himalayan border incursions and other flare-ups, the oil and liquefied gas flowing from the Gulf and Africa to China pass through the Indian Ocean unmolested and unimpeded. Over 80% of China’s oil imports pass through the Malacca Strait chokepoint. Boosting SLOC interdiction capability would allow the Indian Navy to dominate key maritime routes and help improve the Chinese military’s behaviour along the Himalayas.

The contest for major influence in the Indian Ocean is pivotal to the success of China’s strategy to fashion a Sino-centric Asia. This is a contest India cannot afford to lose.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2015.

Modi’s risky Pakistan gambit  

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Brahma Chellaney, Hindustan Times, February 18, 2015

05e72e3c-1844-451c-a1b4-d7787ddfa22fwallpaper1After nuclear concessions to America on accident liability and parallel safeguards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now opening talks with Pakistan, as sought by U.S. President Barack Obama. The charade of sending the foreign secretary on a SAARC tour so as to create a cover for discussions in Islamabad cannot obscure the fact that Modi has reversed course and agreed to reopen talks with Pakistan unconditionally. His move, oddly, came right after hostile statements on India by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz.

The sequence leading to the resumption of talks undergirds the Obama effect: Separately in January, US Secretary of State John Kerry at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and Obama in New Delhi exhort Modi to reopen talks with Pakistan. Then this month, Modi sends his petroleum minister to Pakistan for discussions on the planned U.S.-backed gas pipeline from Turkmenistan. Soon thereafter, Obama telephones Sharif, who rails against India. Just hours later, Modi calls Sharif and sings peace, conveying his decision to send his foreign secretary to Islamabad.

At the chai per charcha with Modi, Obama focused largely on one issue: Pakistan. A defensive Modi, instead of questioning the U.S. policy of propping up Pakistan with munificent aid and arms and thereby emboldening its hostility toward India, explained to Obama that he wanted to open talks with Pakistan after the Peshawar killings but was compelled to put off the decision due to continued Pakistani ceasefire violations and the attempt to free U.N.-designated terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. Modi even pointed out that, as a friendly signal, he telephoned Sharif after the Peshawar attack and made Indian schools honour the victims with a two-minute silence.

Among Obama’s first actions after returning home from India were to unveil more than $1 billion in fresh aid to Pakistan in his budget proposals and to invite Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit, while his ambassador in India made clear that the U.S. will work with India and Pakistan to promote “constructive dialogue” between them. Pakistan remains a top recipient of US aid. Unable to certify to Congress that Pakistan is preventing its territory from being used for terror attacks, Obama has used a national-security waiver to keep aid flowing to the world’s Terorristan. Such aid has encouraged Pakistan’s generals to nurture terrorist surrogates, rapidly expand their nuclear arsenal, and call the shots in domestic policy.

Consider this jarring paradox: Obama twice lectured a secular and diverse India in recent weeks on religious tolerance, only to get Modi to open talks with the Islamic republic where non-Sunni minorities are methodically being decimated. But what prompted Modi — who has projected a nimble, non-doctrinaire foreign policy with pragmatism as its trademark — to yield to pressure that he could have resisted?

Modi is opening talks at a time when the Sharif government is very weak. Pakistan’s power balance has titled decisively in favour of the other Sharif who is the Army chief, with the military savouring its triumphs in a series of bruising clashes with the government. The military is firmly back in the driver’s seat without staging an overt coup. The politically impotent Sharif is in no position to pursue rapprochement with India.

Yet Modi has yielded ground even on the issue that led to the cancellation of the last round of talks, with his government conveying to Pakistan that its high commissioner in New Delhi can meet Hurriyat separatists on any occasion other than when official talks are about to begin. Modi’s zigzag suggests that, despite his proactive diplomacy, he has yet to fully fix the broken Pakistan policy that he inherited from Manmohan Singh, whose 10-year tenure was marked by escalating cross-border terrorism even as Singh sought peace with Islamabad at any price.

The Pakistani military, as its intense ceasefire violations since last summer have shown, is intent on shining an international spotlight on the Kashmir issue, not on altering the India-Pakistan dynamic through improved bilateral relations. Talks with India under a tottering civilian government that is in no position to compromise on any issue suit the generals’ agenda. By reviving pairing with India, bilateral talks allow the country that risks failing to regain strategic relevance, including by highlighting the issue closely tied to its generals’ extraordinary power and privilege — Kashmir.

In this light, the renewed “peace process” can produce more process but no peace. Fresh talks are unlikely to alter the calculus of the Pakistani establishment, which is determined to checkmate India’s rise by whatever means — fair or foul — it deems advantageous. Terrorism is one favoured instrument.

In statecraft, talks are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. However, the Modi government is focusing just on the means — the process of talks — knowing well that India can secure no end in a situation where Pakistan’s generals are wielding increasing power and the Pakistani foreign ministry is a weak actor. Opening talks without any prospect for meaningful progress is not sound diplomacy. It risks sending the wrong message and inviting greater aggression. Modi’s Pakistan gambit could embolden the sponsors of terror to step up cross-border attacks, as happened under the cover of previous “peace” talks. Army chief Dalbir Singh recently cautioned, “The terror infrastructure in Pakistan is still intact,” with new terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir showing “Pakistan’s desperation.”

Modi’s dynamism and motivation in diplomacy in the past months has spurred hope of Indian foreign policy finally gaining a distinct geostrategic imprint and direction. His recent actions, however, highlight what has long blighted foreign policy — ad hoc and personality-driven actions that confound tactics with strategy. To advance long-term national interests, Modi must embrace institutionalized, integrated policymaking.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist, author and professor.

© The Hindustan Times, 2015.

India’s diplomatic overinvestment in the civil nuclear deal with America: Why it makes little sense

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
The Japan Times

p6-Chellaney-a-20150212-870x655During U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent India visit, a stalled, decade-old civil nuclear deal took center-stage, with the two sides announcing a breakthrough on the contentious issues blocking its implementation — a development that promised to potentially open the path for a Japan-India nuclear deal. It now appears that the breakthrough was more hype than reality and that there is little prospect of the U.S.-India deal’s early commercialization.

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by his side, Obama announced that “we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation.” The two issues identified were nuclear accident liability and the administrative arrangements to govern the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement — the successor to an accord the United States unilaterally terminated after India detonated a nuclear device in 1974.

U.S. officials said India agreed to address American concerns over its liability legislation by setting up a $245 million nuclear insurance pool and issuing a “memorandum of law” — essentially an executive action. The Indian foreign ministry, for its part, said “the deal is done,” with the two sides having “reached an understanding on civil nuclear liability and finalized the text of the administrative arrangements.”

But it has now become apparent that the U.S. and India are still locked in negotiations to tie up loose ends and that the much-trumpeted breakthrough was little more than an effort to project a substantive advance during a presidential visit rich in pageantry and symbolism. Obama was the chief guest at India’s Jan. 26 Republic Day parade, a year after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had that honor.

While claiming a breakthrough, neither side released any details, including on how another sticking point had been resolved: a U.S. demand that New Delhi accept nuclear-material tracking and accounting arrangements that go beyond the safeguards system that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has approved and applied to nuclear-armed India’s civilian nuclear program. The U.S. demand entails establishing, on top of the IAEA inspections system, a bilateral safeguards system — an elaborate and expensive arrangement in which India would separately track and account for nuclear materials “by flag” (that is, by each national origin).

The same stumbling block over parallel safeguards in perpetuity has held up India’s conclusion of nuclear deals with Japan and Australia but not with Canada, which dropped that demand. Shortly after Modi took office last May, the Indian foreign ministry conveyed to Tokyo that concluding a nuclear deal must take centerstage during a Modi visit to Japan. Even though Modi postponed his Japan visit by several weeks for unrelated reasons, negotiations failed to yield a deal.

Australia has no nuclear power program, despite holding the world’s largest uranium reserves, and can only offer to export yellowcake, which India is already sourcing amply from other suppliers. Japan’s importance, by contrast, is underscored by two facts: It is the world’s leading supplier of heavy nuclear forgings, with just one Japanese company — Japan Steel Works — controlling 80 percent of the global market for large forged components for light-water reactors (LWRs); and the U.S.-based Westinghouse is owned by Japan’s Toshiba, while another reactor vendor, GE-Hitachi, also headquartered in the U.S., is jointly owned by America’s GE and Hitachi of Japan.

India, pointing out that IAEA safeguards guarantee that all its imported materials are accounted for and devoted to peaceful purposes, has resisted the demand for establishing additional safeguards with America (and Japan) bilaterally, saying this would amount to assuming onerous obligations not envisaged even in the original U.S.-India nuclear deal of 2005.

While the “flagging” arrangements sought by the U.S. and Japan are strictly a government-to-government issue, nuclear liability has become a bone of contention between the Indian government and the firms seeking to export commercial reactors to it — the two U.S.-Japanese private companies, France’s state-controlled Areva and Russia’s Rosatom. The U.S. government, however, has also weighed in against the Indian liability law, calling it an obstacle to the deal’s commercialization.

To be sure, India and the U.S. have made considerable progress in recent months on resolving the sticking points, although a final deal has yet to be clinched. Progress has come mainly due to Indian concessions. But as U.S. Assistant Secretary for State Nisha Biswal admitted last week, the two sides are still “trading paper” and working to stitch up the deal.

The Modi government has yielded ground, even at the risk of facing criticism at home. For example, it has agreed to reinterpret domestic law so as to effectively transfer reactor vendors’ nuclear accident liability risks to Indian taxpayers. Indian law allows suppliers to be held liable in case of an accident. The government is also reinterpreting another provision of the law to bar victims of a nuclear accident in India from suing for damages in the U.S.

These actions are likely to prove controversial, given India’s bitter experience over the 1984 gas leak from an American-owned Bhopal city plant that killed about as many people as the Fukushima disaster. Indeed, Japan’s dual liability laws, which indemnify suppliers and make plant operators exclusively liable, should serve as a sobering lesson for India: GE built or designed all the three Fukushima reactors that suffered core meltdowns in 2011, yet the U.S. firm went scot-free, despite a fundamental design deficiency in the reactors.

To deflect supplier liability, New Delhi — besides creating a nuclear insurance pool to cover suppliers — is issuing a “memorandum of law” incorporating its legal reinterpretations and authoritative clarifications as well as the understandings it has reached with America. But this raises a basic legal question: How can a “memorandum of law,” with no legislative imprimatur and backed merely by the Indian attorney general’s opinion, reinterpret a statute in a way to effectively gut it? Given that such reinterpretation could be challenged in Indian courts, U.S. officials are advising Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi to make their own risk assessment to decide whether to enter the Indian nuclear market.

On the issue of parallel safeguards, New Delhi has agreed to go more than half-way to meet America’s demand, which springs from its Henry J. Hyde Act, enacted in 2006 to govern the nuclear deal unveiled the year before. The Hyde Act calls for a “detailed system of reporting and accounting” of exports to and retransfers within India, including an annual independent audit about the form, amounts and location of exported items.

India will establish a data-sharing and material-accounting mechanism with America. Its “flagging” of materials by nationality will also involve tracking items sourced from third countries but used in U.S.-origin reactors. Yet U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce has criticized this arrangement as not adequate.

With complex legal, pricing and other issues still pending, the deal’s commercialization is anything but imminent. In fact, the two sides are yet to sign the administrative arrangements, which they announced had been “finalized.”

It is an open question whether the deal will ever yield substantive energy benefits for India, given the exorbitant price of foreign-origin reactors, the concomitant need for India to heavily subsidize the electricity from such plants, and grassroots safety concerns over the Fukushima-type multi-plant nuclear parks earmarked by India for Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi and Areva, each of which is to sell prototype LWR models presently not in operation anywhere in the world. The accident-stricken Fukushima reactors were also the first of their kind.

Adding to India’s risks is its plan to induct a multiplicity of different LWR technologies from the U.S., France and Russia. This will also exacerbate its maintenance challenges.

Consider another issue: Years after the U.S. pledged to bring India into four American-led technology-control cartels — the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement — India is still pleading for its admission, with Obama merely reiterating America’s support for India’s “phased entry” into these groups. India now intends to file a formal application for admission to each cartel, in the hope that the U.S. would be more forthcoming in its support than it has been so far.

The Obama visit was a testament to how hyping the nuclear deal obscures more important issues. For example, despite the vaunted U.S.-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the U.S. side refused to accept any of the six joint high technology projects proposed by India, insisting that New Delhi first sign “foundational agreements” on military logistics and communication interoperability that America has designed for its allies in a patron-client framework. India, which seeks a level-playing field, is America’s strategic partner, not its ally. The four joint projects announced during the visit are for relatively modest defense products.

photo from TNuclear power faces an uncertain future, with few new reactors under construction in the West. Yet India has continued to place the nuclear deal at the hub of its relationship with America. Washington has obligingly pandered to this Indian weakness, entering into protracted implementation-related negotiations. The original deal had already spawned multiple subsidiary deals before Obama announced a “breakthrough” on two more auxiliary deals. Each deal has been hailed by New Delhi as a diplomatic success, regardless of the concessions it had to make or the new obligations thrust upon it.

It is past time for India to reduce the salience of the nuclear deal in its relations with America and prioritize other issues concerning its core interests. Why a deal to import reactors to generate an increasingly uneconomical source of energy is critical to Indian interests has never been elaborated by the deal pushers in India other than through beguiling slogans, such as “End of nuclear apartheid against India” and “A place for India at the international high table.” Such imports will create thousands of jobs for American workers but will be out of sync with Modi’s “Make in India” initiative to expand domestic manufacturing base.

India’s diplomatic overinvestment in the nuclear deal has only made it harder for it to address more fundamental issues in its ties with the U.S., including an increasingly one-sided defense relationship. Rarely before has America acquired a major arms client of the size of India so rapidly. It will take concerted efforts, without being weighed down by the nuclear deal millstone, to forge a true, enduring U.S.-India partnership.

Brahma Chellaney, a longtime contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of the award-winning “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Japan’s Constitutional Albatross

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

downloadThe approach of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II has sparked much discussion – and lamentation – of East Asia’s resurgent historical feuds. But recent tensions in the region may partly reflect a lack of progress in another, overlooked area: Japanese constitutional reform. Indeed, despite the powerlessness so vividly highlighted by the Islamic State’s beheading of two Japanese hostages, Japan has not adopted even one amendment to the “peace constitution” that the occupying American forces imposed on it in 1947.

At first glance, this may not be altogether surprising. After all, the constitution served an important purpose: by guaranteeing that Japan would not pose a military threat in the future, it enabled the country finally to escape foreign occupation and pursue rebuilding and democratization. But consider this: Germany adopted an Allied-approved constitution under similar circumstances in 1949, to which it has since made dozens of amendments.

Moreover, whereas Germany’s constitution, or Basic Law, authorized the use of military force in self-defense or as part of a collective security agreement, Japan’s constitution stipulated full and permanent relinquishment of “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” Japan is the only country in the world bound by such restrictions – imposed not just to prevent a militarist revival, but also to punish Japan for its wartime government’s policies – and continued adherence to them is unrealistic.

That is why Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made constitutional reform a high priority. Having cemented his authority in December’s snap general election, in which his Liberal Democratic Party won a decisive victory, Abe is determined to pursue his goal of building a stronger, more competitive Japan – one that can hold its own against an increasingly muscular China.

Abe’s effort to “normalize” Japan’s strategic posture began with a reinterpretation of Article 9 of the constitution, according to which the country would henceforth be allowed to engage in “collective self-defense.” Japan’s government approved the change last summer, and the United States backed the move as well. With the Islamic State’s attempts to leverage the lives of two Japanese hostages, legislation to implement the reinterpretation is set to be submitted to the Diet.

Yet the reinterpretation has faced some resistance at home and abroad. Chinese critics, in particular, have expressed concern that Japanese militarism could reemerge, though they neglect to mention that it is China’s military buildup that prompted Japan’s government to reassess its national defense policy.

In fact, the reinterpretation amounts to little more than a tweak: Japanese forces can now shield an American warship defending Japan, but they remain prohibited from initiating offensive attacks or participating in multilateral military operations. Given that the United Nations charter recognizes individual and collective self-defense as an “inherent right” of sovereign countries, the change should be uncontroversial.

But significant obstacles continue to block wider constitutional reform. Amendments require a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Diet, and a majority in a popular referendum, making Japan’s constitution one of the world’s most difficult to revise. To facilitate his ambitions, Abe hopes to scale down the requirement to simple majorities in both chambers or eliminate the need for a public referendum.

Given popular resistance to change, Abe’s task will not be easy. Whereas citizens of most democracies regard their constitutions as works in progress – India, for example, has amended its constitution 99 times since 1950 – the Japanese largely treat their constitution as sacrosanct. As a result, rather than ensuring that their constitution reflects social, technological, economic, and even ideological developments, they zealously uphold its precise provisions, like religious fundamentalists defending the literal truth of scripture.

Moreover, pacifism is deeply ingrained in the Japanese psyche, even among young people, largely owing to the painful legacy of Japan’s prewar militarism. Indeed, a poll conducted by the World Values Survey last year revealed that only 15.3% of Japanese – compared with 74.2% of Chinese and 57.7% of Americans – would be prepared to defend their country, the lowest rate in the world. Just 9.5% of Japanese under the age of 30 said that they would be willing to fight.

Given such opposition, an actual revision of Article 9, rather than just a reinterpretation, does not seem feasible, especially while the avowedly pacifist Komeito party remains part of the ruling coalition. Even if Abe manages to relax the amendment requirements – no easy feat, given the likelihood that a popular referendum would reveal weak public support – he will probably have to leave the change to his successor.

But one factor could bolster Abe’s cause considerably. Explicit US support for Japanese constitutional reform might not only blunt Chinese criticism, but could also reassure many Japanese that updating Article 9 would not amount to rejecting the postwar order that the Americans helped to establish in Japan.

Such a move would also serve US security interests. A more confident and secure Japan would be better able to block China from gaining ascendancy in the western Pacific, thereby advancing the central US policy objective of ensuring a stable balance of power in Asia. No other country in the region could act as a credible counterweight to China.

Today’s Japan – a liberal democracy that has not fired a single shot against an outside party in nearly seven decades, and that has made major contributions to global development during this period – is very different from the Japan of 1947. Its constitution should reflect that.

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Don’t believe the hype on U.S.-India civil nuclear deal

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review

43675476.siA “breakthrough understanding” on the stalled civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. took center-stage in a recent summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. It stands out as the only substantive advance in a presidential visit heavy on pageantry and symbolism. But the publicity surrounding the supposed breakthrough was overblown, and the celebrations can only be described as premature.

The deal was portrayed internationally as opening the path for U.S. companies to bag multibillion-dollar reactor contracts, and for Japan and Australia to sign similar deals with India, which plans to ramp up its capacity to generate nuclear power by importing two dozen commercial reactors within the next decade. Currently, nuclear power represents barely 2% of India’s total installed power capacity.

Since it was unveiled in 2005, the U.S.-India nuclear deal — with its many twists and turns — has hogged the limelight at virtually every bilateral summit between leaders of the two countries. In its arduous journey toward implementation, the deal has spawned multiple subsidiary agreements, each of which has been hailed as an important breakthrough.

The latest understanding centers on two issues — nuclear accident liability, and administrative arrangements to govern the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement required under Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act. Obama announced that “we achieved a breakthrough understanding on [the] two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation.” However, there is still little prospect of early commercialization of the deal.

The newest “breakthrough” is short on specifics and raises troubling questions. It contrives a model that shifts the liability risks for nuclear accidents to Indian taxpayers, thus undermining India’s domestic law, the 2011 Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, which holds suppliers, designers and builders liable in case of an accident. The breakthrough compromise has been designed to circumvent the central principle enshrined in that law — the right to bring civil legal action for damages against suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident caused by defective equipment, components or designs.

Remembering Fukushima

Consider Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster. General Electric of the U.S. built or designed the three Fukushima reactors that suffered core meltdowns, yet GE escaped penalties or legal action after the disaster, despite a fundamental design deficiency in the reactors, because Japan’s law indemnifies suppliers, making plant operators exclusively and fully liable. It was to avert such a situation that India’s law armed the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, the state-run plant operator, with the right of recourse to suppliers. India’s sensitivity on this point reflects its bitter experience over a 1984 gas leak from a chemical plant in Bhopal that killed as many as 3,000 people shortly after the accident. The plant was owned by Union Carbide of the U.S.

Supplier liability is a well-established legal concept, applied in many business sectors around the world to deter suppliers from taking undue risks. But the 2011 Act makes India an outlier in terms of current international standards on civil nuclear liability. The global nuclear power industry is controlled by a powerful group of a few state-controlled or state-supported companies that push an opposite norm — that plant operators assume absolute liability so that suppliers face no downside risks.

Too many conventions

Globally, the liability issue has been muddied by a multiplicity of international conventions, protocols, and supplementary conventions introduced since 1960. A majority of the 34 states with civil nuclear power generation capacity have signed one or both of two main conventions, or revised versions of the two. Some of the states that did not sign these conventions, including heavyweights such as the U.S., Canada and Japan, have signed the 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, seen by some as a step toward a unified global liability treaty.

This network of overlapping international arrangements makes liability a complex issue. Some important nuclear power states have not signed any international agreements, including China, South Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan and Iran. India has signed but not ratified the CSC. But the conventions have some key points in common, including assigning exclusive liability to plant operators, mandatory insurance coverage of the operators’ liability, and exclusive jurisdiction of the courts in the country where the accident occurs. India’s domestic law follows this template, but also gives the operator the right to recover damages from suppliers.

     The paradox is that U.S. domestic law allows suppliers, designers and builders of nuclear plants to be held legally liable in the event of accidents, although the 1957 Price-Anderson Act restricts economic liability to operators. Yet the U.S. has sought to shield its exporting firms from claims made by foreign customers by insisting that India and other importing countries accept operators’ strict liability and limit all claims to the jurisdiction of their own courts.

Under the compromise worked out by Obama and Modi, U.S. concerns about India’s legal approach are to be addressed through a legal contrivance called a “memorandum of law” — essentially an executive order — and a $245 million “India Nuclear Insurance Pool,” which is to be set up jointly by India’s state-run insurance companies and its federal government. A number of countries have nuclear insurance pools, but most do not have a legal framework that makes suppliers potentially liable for accidents, as India’s 2011 Act does. For this reason, the memorandum calls for an insurance pool that would address both operator and supplier liability, preventing damages claims against foreign supplier companies.

This arrangement, although claimed by New Delhi to be “squarely within our [Indian] law,” constitutes “a risk-transfer mechanism,” as the Indian foreign ministry has admitted. Under the arrangement, the Indian government is effectively scrapping the right of recourse to foreign suppliers provided by Indian domestic law and transferring the liability risk to Indian taxpayers, offset partly by the modest insurance pool. U.S. officials say the two governments are in agreement over India’s memorandum plan, which they view as a creative solution. But how can a “memorandum of law,” with no legislative imprimatur, reinterpret a statute in a way that effectively guts it?

First, the contrivance being fashioned as part of the understanding between the two leaders threatens to open a legal can of worms. U.S. officials are advising American companies to do their own risk assessments, even though Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, affirmed in New Delhi that “in our judgment, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us an assurance that the issues are resolved and that there is a path open to implementation and investment here.” No details have been announced by either government on the resolution of another sticking point: a U.S. demand that India accept nuclear-materials tracking and accounting arrangements that go beyond the safeguards system approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The same obstacle has held up conclusion of a Japan-India nuclear deal. It is now up to U.S. companies to decide whether to do nuclear business in India.

Second, at a time of skyrocketing reactor construction costs, the crash of oil and gas prices has made nuclear power’s economics more unfavorable. Nuclear power is already the world’s most subsidy-fattened energy industry. Since the 1980s, average international costs for nuclear power have jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to nearly $8,000. Few new reactors are under construction in the West, and the International Energy Agency has warned that “uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear.”

Modi has emphasized that reactor imports will be governed by “technical and commercial viability.” The deal’s commercialization, however, will be dictated not by the market but by the extent to which the Indian government is willing to fork out subsidies to support high-priced electricity generated from imported reactors.

India is in negotiations with four foreign supplier companies — Areva of France, Russia’s Atomstroyexport, Westinghouse, owned by Toshiba of Japan, and GE-Hitachi, jointly owned by GE and Hitachi of Japan. The latter two are both based in the U.S. Under the plans, the companies will each be confined to a single site, on which they will build multiple reactors that will be operated by the state-owned nuclear power company, thus freeing the foreign vendors from the problem of producing electricity at marketable rates. Currently, negotiations are stuck over the price of power. India has offered Areva, with which negotiations are most advanced, a price of 11 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour — more than twice the average price of electricity from indigenously built reactors. The state-controlled French company is holding out for a much higher price.

Not in our backyards

20150104_india_nuclear.jpg_middle_320

The U.S.-built Tarapur atomic power station, located near Mumbai, is India’s oldest nuclear power plant.

Finally, grassroots opposition is growing to new nuclear power plants in India, especially against the Fukushima-type multi-reactor parks earmarked for foreign vendors. Building six to eight giant reactors in a single complex raises additional safety issues, as highlighted by the triple Fukushima meltdown. Local communities want nuclear power plants to be located in someone else’s backyard.

Worse still, India plans to import — as Japan did at Fukushima — prototype reactors that are not in operation anywhere in the world, including GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, which only recently received U.S. regulatory approval, Westinghouse’s AP1000, criticized in the U.S. for supposed design failings, and Areva’s Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor, which is under construction in France and Finland but has suffered major cost overruns and delays. Prototypes usually face major teething troubles and carry greater long-term risks.

     If a serious accident were to occur, India would be saddled with staggering long-term costs. Japan’s Fukushima disaster bill has been conservatively estimated by an Osaka City University study at $105 billion, or 429 times higher than the Indian insurance pool’s capital. Japan is now establishing a state-backed compensation institution to be funded with government bonds totaling 5 trillion yen ($42 billion) and by utilities. This fund surpasses the $13.6 billion cover currently provided by the U.S. Price-Anderson Act, with another $10 billion pledged by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Price-Anderson Act, which provides subsidies to the U.S. nuclear power industry by underwriting insurance costs, has been mocked by independent U.S. groups as “Half-Price Anderson.” India’s contrivance can be labeled “Free-Ride Anderson.” Yet it is unlikely to resolve all the tricky issues bedeviling the nuclear deal’s commercialization.

BrahmaChellaney-icon_small_150Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award.

(c) Nikkie Asian Review, 2015.

East Asia’s Historical Shackles

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

flagsTOKYO – Diplomatic relationships in East Asia have long been held hostage by history. But the region’s “history problem” has been intensifying lately, with growing nationalism among major actors like China, Japan, and South Korea fueling disputes over everything from territory and natural resources to war memorials and textbooks. Can East Asian countries overcome their legacy of conflict to forge a common future that benefits all?

Consider the relationship between America’s closest East Asian allies, Japan and South Korea. Though historical disagreements have long hampered bilateral ties, the increasingly nationalistic stance of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye has aggravated festering tensions. If they fail to work together to stem the revival of bitter historical disputes, their relationship will remain frozen, playing into China’s hands.

And nobody plays the history card with quite as much relish as China, where President Xi Jinping is also relying on nationalism to legitimize his rule. Last year, China introduced two new national memorial days to commemorate China’s long battle against Japanese aggression in World War II: “War against Japanese Aggression Victory Day” on September 3 and “Nanjing Massacre Day” on December 13. What would happen if countries like Vietnam and India dedicated days to remembering China’s aggression toward them since 1949?

By reinforcing negative stereotypes of rival countries, such squabbles over history and remembrance sow fragmentation and instability, and have certainly fueled the region’s recent territorial disputes. Indeed, the politicization of history remains the principal obstacle to reconciliation in East Asia. Repeated attempts to rewrite history – sometimes literally, through textbook revisions – along nationalist lines make it nearly impossible to establish regional institutions.

This should not be the case. Japan and South Korea, for example, are vibrant democracies and export-oriented economic powerhouses, with traditionally close cultural ties and many shared values. In other words, they are ideal candidates for collaboration.

US President Barack Obama recognizes this potential, and has promoted increased strategic cooperation between South Korea and Japan in order to underpin a stronger trilateral security alliance with the US that can balance a rising China. But Japan and South Korea refuse to let go of history.

To be sure, there is some truth to South Korea’s accusation that Japan is denying some of its past behavior. But it is also true that Park – who has refused to meet formally with Abe until he addresses lingering issues over Japan’s annexation of Korea – has used history to pander to domestic nationalist sentiment. Indeed, adopting a hardline stance has enabled her to whitewash some inconvenient family history: Her father, the dictator Park Chung-hee, collaborated with the Japanese military while Korea was under colonial rule.

Abe, too, has stoked tensions, particularly by visiting Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine – a controversial memorial that honors, among others, Class A war criminals from World War II. Though Abe visited the shrine only once – in December 2013 – he felt compelled to do so in response to China’s unilateral declaration of an air-defense identification zone, covering territories that it claims but does not control.

Of course, the divergences between Japanese and South Korean historical narratives go back further than WWII. More than a century ago, the Korean activist Ahn Jung-geun assassinated Japan’s first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, at the railway station in the Chinese city of Harbin, cementing Ahn’s status as a hero in Korea and a terrorist in Japan. Ito’s image can be seen on Japan’s 1,000-yen note; Ahn has appeared on a 200-won postage stamp in South Korea.

A visitor looking at exhibits at the Chinese memorial to the Korean assassin who killed Japan's first PM. © AFP

A visitor looking at exhibits at the Chinese memorial to the Korean assassin who killed Japan’s first PM. © AFP

Last year, Park asked Xi to honor Ahn. Xi seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between America’s two main Asian allies, and built a memorial to Ahn. Japan responded by blasting China for glorifying a terrorist and propagating a “one-sided” view of history – a move that, Japan asserted, was “not conducive to building peace and stability.”

Such conflicts have a clear catalyst: Asia’s rising prosperity. As their economies have expanded, Asian countries have gained the confidence to construct and exalt a new past, in which they either downplay their own aggressions or highlight their steadfastness in the face of brutal victimization.

All countries’ legitimizing narratives blend historical fact and myth. But, in some cases, historical legacies can gain excessive influence, overwhelming leaders’ capacity to make rational policy choices. That explains why Park has sought closer ties with China, even though South Korea’s natural regional partner is democratic Japan. One source of hope stems from Abe’s landslide victory in the recent snap general election, which gives him the political capital to reach out to Park with a grand bargain: If Japan expresses remorse more clearly for its militaristic past, South Korea will agree to leave historical grievances out of official policy.

Japan and South Korea cannot change the past. But they can strive to shape a more cooperative future. As a Russian proverb succinctly puts it, “Forget the past and lose an eye; dwell on the past and lose both eyes.”

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Reshaping India’s diplomacy

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY

January 18, 2015, The Japan Times

Building closer ties with important democracies has become the leitmotif of his foreign policy. For example, his much-photographed bear hug with Abe in Kyoto has come to symbolize the dawn of an alliance between the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s oldest (and richest) democracy. Likewise, Modi is enhancing defense and economic cooperation with Israel, with India ordering more Israeli arms in the past six months than in the previous three years.

When Modi won the election, his critics claimed the nationalist would pursue a doctrinaire approach in office. However, one trademark of Modi’s diplomacy is that it is shorn of ideology, with pragmatism being the hallmark.

Nothing better illustrates his pragmatism than the priority he has accorded to restoring momentum to India’s relationship with America.

There was concern in Washington that Modi might nurse a grudge against the United States and keep American officials at arm’s length. After all, the U.S. continued to deny Modi a visa over his alleged involvement in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in his home state of Gujarat even after he had been cleared of any wrongdoing by an inquiry appointed by India’s Supreme Court. Yet, when he won the election, Obama was quick to telephone him and invite him to the White House — an invitation Modi gladly accepted, given the critical importance of America to India.

Modi’s White House visit last September helped him to establish a personal rapport with Obama. Obama’s impending India visit represents both a thank you to Modi for rising above personal umbrage and an effort to lift the U.S.-India relationship to a higher level of engagement through the major new opportunities being opened up for American businesses by Modi’s commitment to pro-market economic policies and defense modernization.

The U.S. already conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country. And in recent years, it has quietly overtaken Russia as the largest arms supplier to India.

Another example of Modi’s pragmatism is his effort to befriend China. He has invited Chinese investment in his plan to modernize India’s infrastructure, especially railroads, power stations and industrial parks. China’s foreign direct investment in India, however, remains trifling, with Chinese companies preferring to import primary commodities from India while exporting an avalanche of finished products.

China represents Modi’s diplomatic gamble, as was highlighted when Xi’s visit to India four months ago coincided with Chinese military incursions into India’s Ladakh region and a Chinese submarine’s visit to Sri Lanka. The submarine visit underscored an emerging new threat to Indian security from the Indian Ocean, a region where China has been building ports and other infrastructure projects to extend its strategic clout and build naval presence.

Another regional adversary, Pakistan, poses a different set of challenges for Modi, given the Pakistani military’s use of terrorist proxies. More than six years after the horrific Mumbai terrorist attacks, Pakistan has yet to begin the trial of the seven Pakistani perpetrators in its custody. Adding insult to injury, Pakistani authorities recently helped United Nations-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed — the architect of the Mumbai attacks — to stage a large public rally in Lahore city, including by running special trains to ferry in participants.

Modi’s Pakistan policy blends a firm response to border provocations with friendly signals. For example, he invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, to his inauguration and asked Indian schools to honor the victims of the recent Peshawar attack in Pakistan with a two-minute silence.

At home, Modi has shaken up the diffident foreign-policy establishment with his proactive approach and readiness to break with conventional methods and shibboleths. By taking bold new tacks, Modi is charting a course to boost India’s strategic influence both in its neighborhood and the wider world.

Indeed, Modi has put his stamp on foreign policy faster than any predecessor, other than the country’s first post-independence prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet Modi appears to have no intent of enunciating a Modi doctrine in foreign policy. He wants his actions to define his policy trademarks.

His actions have already started speaking for themselves — from his moves to engineer stronger partnerships with Japan and Israel (countries critical to Indian interests but which also courted him even as the U.S. targeted him) to his mortars-for-bullet response to Pakistan’s ceasefire violations. His firm stand at the World Trade Organization on food stockpiling, central to India’s food security, demonstrated that he will stand up even to a powerful, rich nations’ cabal.

More significantly, Modi’s policy appears geared to move India from its long-held nonalignment to a contemporary, globalized practicality. This means from being nonaligned, India is likely to become multialigned, even as it tilts more toward the U.S. and other democracies in Asia and Europe. Yet, importantly, India will continue to chart its own independent course. For example, unlike Japan, it has refused to join American-led financial sanctions against Russia.

After a long era of ad hoc and reactive Indian diplomacy, the new clarity and vision Modi represents is widely seen as a welcome change for India.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

Pakistan’s New Leaf?

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Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

As U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton bluntly told Pakistan in 2011 that “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.” But her warning (“eventually those snakes are going to turn on” their keeper), like those of other American officials over the years, including presidents and CIA chiefs, went unheeded.

17pakistan-hp-slide-03-articleLarge-v2The snake-keeper’s deepening troubles were exemplified by the recent massacre of 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar by militants no longer under the control of Pakistan’s generals. Such horror is the direct result of the systematic manner in which the Pakistani military establishment has reared jihadist militants since the 1980s as an instrument of state policy against India and Afghanistan. By continuing to nurture terrorist proxies, the Pakistani military has enabled other militants to become entrenched in the country, making the culture of jihad pervasive.

The Peshawar massacre was not the first time that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism became a terror victim. But the attack has underscored how the contradiction between battling one set of terror groups while shielding others for cross-border undertakings has hobbled the Pakistani state.

As a result, the question many are asking is whether, in the wake of the Peshawar killings, the Pakistani military, including its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, will be willing to break its ties with militant groups and dismantle the state-run terrorist infrastructure. Unfortunately, developments in recent months, including in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack, offer little hope.

On the contrary, with the military back in de facto control, the civilian government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in no position to shape developments. And, despite the increasing blowback from state-aided militancy, the generals remain too wedded to sponsoring terrorist groups that are under United Nations sanctions – including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network – to reverse course.

Reliance on jihadist terror has become part of the generals’ DNA. Who can forget their repeated denial that they knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden before he was killed by US naval commandos in a 2011 raid on his safe house in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad? Recently, in an apparent slip, a senior civilian official – Sharif’s national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz – said that Pakistan should do nothing to stop militants who do not intend to harm Pakistan.

The nexus among military officers, jihadists, and hardline nationalists has created a nuclear-armed “Terroristan” that will most likely continue to threaten regional and global security. State-reared terror groups and their splinter cells, some now operating autonomously, have morphed into a hydra. Indeed, as the country’s civilian political institutions corrode, its nuclear arsenal, ominously, is becoming increasingly unsafe.

Pakistan is already a quasi-failed state. Its anti-India identity is no longer sufficient to stem its mounting contradictions, which are most apparent in the two incarnations of the Taliban: the Afghan Taliban, which is the Pakistani military’s surrogate, and the Pakistani Taliban – formally known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – which is the military’s nemesis. Pakistan also provides sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban’s chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar (and also harbors a well-known international fugitive, the Indian organized crime boss Dawood Ibrahim).

Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the ISI’s largest surrogate terror organization, LeT, remains the generals’ darling, leading a public life that mocks America’s $10 million bounty on his head and the UN’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list. Earlier this month, Pakistani authorities aided a large public rally by Saeed in Lahore, including by running special trains to ferry in participants, so that the architect of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack (among many others) could project himself as some sort of messiah of the Pakistani people.

Yet none of that stopped Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Raheel Sharif, and ISI Director-General Rizwan Akhter from rushing to Kabul after the Peshawar attack to demand that President Ashraf Ghani and the U.S.-led military coalition extradite TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah or allow Pakistani forces to go in after him. In other words, they seek the help of Afghanistan and the U.S. to fight the Pakistani Taliban while unflinchingly aiding the Afghan Taliban, which has been killing Afghan and NATO troops.

Such is the generals’ Janus-faced approach to terrorism that six years after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has yet to try the seven Pakistani perpetrators in its custody. Indeed, under the cover of indignation over the Peshawar attack, the leading suspect in the case – UN-designated terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who served as LeT’s operations chief – secured bail. International outrage soon forced Pakistan to place him in preventive detention for up to three months.

Those who believe that the Peshawar massacre might serve as a wakeup call to the Pakistani military should ask why the generals have ignored hundreds of earlier wakeup calls. Despite the blowback imperiling Pakistan’s future, the generals show no sign that they have tired of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

The international community should stop placing its hope in some abrupt change of heart on the generals’ part. Creating a moderate Pakistan at peace with itself can only be a long-term project, because it hinges on empowering a feeble civil society and, ultimately, reining in the military’s role in politics. As long as the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishments remain unaccountable to the civilian government, Pakistan, the region, and the world will continue to be at risk from the jihadist snake pit that the country has become.

© Project Syndicate, 2014.