About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

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.

A Silk Glove for China’s Iron Fist

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Iron fist

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

For years, China has sought to encircle South Asia with a “string of pearls”: a network of ports connecting its eastern coast to the Middle East that would boost its strategic clout and maritime access. Not surprisingly, India and others have regarded this process with serious concern.

Now, however, China is attempting to disguise its strategy, claiming that it wants to create a twenty-first-century maritime Silk Road to improve trade and cultural exchange. But friendly rhetoric can scarcely allay concern in Asia and beyond that China’s strategic goal is to dominate the region.

That concern is well founded. Simply put, the Silk Road initiative is designed to make China the hub of a new order in Asia and the Indian Ocean region. Indeed, by working to establish its dominance along major trade arteries, while instigating territorial and maritime disputes with several neighbors, China is attempting to redraw Asia’s geopolitical map.

The strategic dimension of the maritime Silk Road is underscored by the fact that the People’s Liberation Army has led the debate on the subject. The PLA National Defense University’s Major General Ji Mingkui argues that the initiative can help China to craft a “new image” and “win influence,” especially as the US “pivot” to Asia “loses momentum.”

Yet PLA experts remain eager to disavow the Silk Road initiative’s link with the “string of pearls.” Instead, they compare it to the fifteenth-century expeditions of Zheng He, a Chinese eunuch admiral who led a fleet of treasure ships to Africa. According to Central Military Commission member Sun Sijing, Zheng used the ancient Silk Road without seizing “one inch of land” or seeking “maritime hegemony” (though history attests to his use of military force – for example, executing local rulers – to control maritime chokepoints).

In reality, little distinguishes the maritime Silk Road from the “string of pearls.” Though China is employing ostensibly peaceful tactics to advance the initiative, its primary goal is not mutually beneficial cooperation; it is strategic supremacy. Indeed, the Silk Road is integral to President Xi Jinping’s “China dream” ambitions, which entail restoring China’s past glory and status.

China, especially under Xi, has often used aid, investment, and other economic leverage to compel its neighbors to deepen their economic dependence on – and expand their security cooperation with – the People’s Republic. Xi’s use of a $40 billion Silk Road Fund and the new China-sponsored Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to develop the maritime Silk Road reflects this approach.

Already, China is constructing ports, railroads, highways, and pipelines in the region’s littoral states, not only to facilitate mineral-resource imports and exports of Chinese manufactured goods, but also to advance its strategic military goals. For example, China concluded a multi-billion dollar deal with Pakistan to develop the port at Gwadar, owing to its strategic location at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, which more than offsets the port’s limited commercial potential.

Twice last autumn, Chinese attack submarines docked at Sri Lanka’s newly opened, $500 million container terminal at Colombo Harbor – built and majority-owned by Chinese state companies. China has now embarked on a $1.4-billion project to build a sprawling complex roughly the size of Monaco on reclaimed land in Colombo – a “port city” that will become a major stop on China’s nautical “road.”

Zhou Bo, an honorary fellow with the PLA Academy of Military Science, admits that China’s mega-projects “will fundamentally change the political and economic landscape of the Indian Ocean,” while presenting China as a “strong yet benign” power. This is important, because the new Asian order will be determined less by developments in East Asia, where Japan is determined to block China’s rise, than by events in the Indian Ocean, where China is chipping away at India’s longstanding dominance.

India is certainly suspicious of China’s behavior. But China is treading carefully enough that it can continue to advance its goals, without spooking its intended quarry. The American academic John Garver depicted it best using a Chinese fable: “A frog in a pot of lukewarm water feels quite comfortable and safe. He does not notice as the water temperature slowly rises until, at last, the frog dies and is thoroughly cooked.”

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that China has invited India to join the maritime Silk Road initiative. The aim is not only to help calm a suspicious neighbor, but also to slow the development of India’s strategic ties with the US and Japan.

China’s plans for the Silk Road combine economic, diplomatic, energy, and security objectives in an effort to create an expansive network of linked facilities to boost trade, aid strategic penetration, and permit an increasingly potent and active submarine force to play an expanded role. In the process, China aims to fashion an Asian order based not on a balance of power with the US, but on its own hegemony. Only a concert of democracies can block this strategy.

Japan’s constitutional millstone

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY

The Japan Times, February 21, 2015

By underscoring Japan’s powerlessness to act or retaliate, the Islamic State group’s separate beheading of two Japanese hostages recently has brought Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cherished goal of reforming the U.S.-drafted Constitution back into national focus. 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.

The Constitution prohibits Japan from acquiring the means of war and bars its purely defensive military, called the Self-Defense Forces, from staging rescue missions or other overseas operations to free Japanese hostages. Indeed, to set up wholly defensive armed forces in the 1950s, Japan had to loosely interpret the Constitution’s force-renouncing Article 9, which says “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

Yet Japan has clung to that 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 — has incorporated 99 amendments thus far. There have been fewer amendments — 27 — to the U.S. Constitution since its enactment in 1787.

AbeNo constitution can be perfect. A constitution, like the democratic system it embodies, should be open to improvements. In this light, Abe has made an impassioned appeal for constitutional reform, suggesting that the time may have come to emulate the same kind of far-reaching change that allowed Japan to rise from the ashes of its World War II defeat. Addressing the Diet, he asked: “For the future of Japan, shouldn’t we accomplish in this Diet the biggest reform since the end of the war?”

Abe’s contention that the Constitution no longer reflects the realities now facing Japan and thus needs to be updated is strengthened by another fact: Germany, also defeated in World War II, has made 59 amendments to its Basic Law, or constitution, which it adopted when it was under Allied occupation.

Japan and Germany regained sovereignty from military occupation only after embracing constitutional guarantees against any future threats from them to peace. West Germany’s new constitution, while outlawing a war of aggression, authorized military force in self-defense or as part of a collective security agreement. However, Japan’s Article 9 went further, stating that “the Japanese people forever renounce … the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” By forcing Japan to renounce war as “a sovereign right of the nation,” the Constitution imposed stringent restraints.

The constitutional fetters were a punishment for the policies of Japan’s wartime government and designed to forestall Japan from ever again engaging in militarist expansion. Although the Constitution was readily embraced by a war-weary Japanese public and continues to enjoy popular support today, it will be unrealistic to expect its exceptional restraints to last forever.

Abe indeed has seized on the terrorist beheadings to refocus on constitutional revision, signaling that he would push in that direction after elections to the Diet’s upper house, scheduled for the summer of 2016.

Cementing his grip on power after his party’s victory in a snap national election in December, Abe wants to reshape Japan by helping it to break free from the fetters of the past and by making it more competitive. He has tied his constitutional-reform agenda to Japan’s “normalization” as a nation at a time when the ascent of an increasingly muscular China has exacerbated the regional security environment, posing a direct challenge for Tokyo.

Abe has already reinterpreted the Constitution on “collective self-defense,” a step that would allow Japan to come to the aid of its allies. The move has been criticized by some in Japan as well as by Beijing, which frets about potential recrudescence of militarism in Japan, although it is China’s own military buildup and pressure on Tokyo that is prompting the Japanese government to reappraise national defense.

The United Nations charter recognizes individual and collective self-defense as an “inherent right” of nations. The Abe Cabinet’s U.S.-supported constitutional reinterpretation of the “collective self-defense” issue last July actually amounts to little more than a tweak — permitting Japanese forces, for example, to shield an American warship defending Japan but without arming Tokyo with the right to initiate offensive attacks or participate in multilateral military operations. Legislation to put this reinterpretation into practice is to be submitted in the current Diet session, which will last up to June.

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.

Indeed, a poll by the World Values Survey last year revealed that Japanese rank the lowest in their “willingness to fight for the country,” with only 15.3 percent of Japanese — and just 9.5 percent of Japanese under 30 — expressing readiness to defend their nation, compared with 74.2 percent of Chinese and 57.7 percent of American.

In an extension of this attitude, many Japanese regard the Constitution as sacrosanct and unchangeable. Such constitutional sanctity zeal in Japan 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.

Given such entrenched attitudes, the Abe government took recourse to reinterpreting Article 9 on the collective self-defense issue. However, any actual amendment of Article 9 does not seem feasible at present, especially as long as the small Komeito party remains part of the ruling coalition.

In fact, 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 Article 9′s modification to a successor government. Yet accomplishing even that limited goal remains uncertain. Given the strongly pacifist sentiment in society and the power of constitutional fundamentalists, 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. Abe must lobby President Barack Obama’s administration to lend support to his constitutional reform agenda. U.S. support for constitutional revision 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.

Japan is the only power that can block China from gaining ascendancy in the region. America’s Japan policy, however, remains more geared to keeping that country as a U.S. protectorate than allowing it to directly aid the central U.S. policy objective in the Asia-Pacific — a stable balance of power.

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 that 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.

Meanwhile, Japanese must engage in an open and free debate on their Constitution. Such a debate should focus on what provisions in the Constitution need to be updated, improved, upgraded or expanded given new security, economic, social and political realities. Only such a debate can set the stage for reform that helps Japan to free itself from its constitutional millstone.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Japan 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.