About Chellaney

Professor, strategic thinker, author and commentator

Sri Lanka vote deals blow to China

Featured

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

CMb73DxWsAA7qbk

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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.