Averting an accidental war on the Korean Peninsula

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times, March 21, 2017

North Korea’s rapid nuclear and missile advances and America’s rushed deployment of a ballistic missile defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea have increased the risks of a war on the Korean Peninsula by accident or miscalculation.

U.S. President Donald Trump may be battling the “deep state” at home but, in hastening THAAD’s deployment, his administration has acted proactively to present a fait accompli to the next South Korean president. The new president is to be elected in a snap poll in May after South Korea’s Constitutional Court recently upheld the National Assembly’s impeachment of President Park Geun-hye over alleged corruption. It was the conservative Park who agreed last July to the THAAD placement, triggering grassroots protests, especially in the area where the system was to be deployed.

The THAAD issue increasingly has become divisive in South Korean politics, and the liberals’ presidential hopeful, Moon Jae-in, has said the system’s deployment unnecessarily escalates tensions on the peninsula. However, anticipating that the Constitutional Court would oust Park and that Moon could win the presidential election, the Trump administration began THAAD’s placement early this month.

Trump, during his own election campaign, gleefully challenged diplomatic orthodoxy, including American foreign policy’s long-standing principles and shibboleths. Yet by implementing his predecessor’s THAAD decision with enthusiasm to speed up the system’s deployment, Trump has offered an example of how he is embracing key pillars of the previous administration’s foreign policy.

Two fundamental issues raised by the THAAD placement, however, cannot be obscured.

First, the deployment has been necessitated by the abysmal failure of the U.S.-led strategy to squeeze North Korea with ever-increasing international sanctions while shunning any diplomatic engagement with it. The sanctions-only approach, far from stymieing North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction, has only encouraged it to single-mindedly advance its nuclear-weapons and missile capabilities.

In the decade since the United States froze all diplomatic contact with North Korea, that reclusive communist nation has gone from possessing rudimentary WMD capabilities to testing advanced systems that pose a regional threat. For example, it tested a nuclear device last September whose yield, as recorded by outside seismic monitoring stations, was twice as powerful as the atomic bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Since last year, Pyongyang has also tested solid-fueled missile systems, including one that can launched from a submarine.

And second, the THAAD deployment, although arising from a failed American strategy, is no plausible answer to North Korea’s nuclearization. Indeed, this is a case of the supposed remedy being worse than the disease.

The deployment could counterproductively lead to North Korea (and China, which fears that THAAD’s sophisticated X-Band radar could track its missile forces) aiming to defeat the defensive system by developing greater offensive capability. In fact, China and Russia believe that the THAAD placement is part of a larger American plan to establish a fence of antimissile systems around them and thereby undermine their nuclear deterrents.

Let’s be clear: THAAD cannot credibly protect South Korea from the North’s tactical or short-range ballistic missiles. Designed for high-altitude intercepts, THAAD is geared mainly to interdict medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Given South Korea’s relatively small land size, an attack by the North may not necessitate the use of medium- or intermediate-range missiles. Metropolitan Seoul, which has almost as many residents as North Korea’s total population of 25 million, is located just 40 km from the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas.

North Korea has a virtual artillery choke-hold on Seoul that THAAD cannot neutralize. This is why the U.S. lacks a realistic option to militarily degrade the North’s nuclear and missile capabilities without provoking Pyongyang to unleash its artillery power against Seoul or triggering an all-out war. The absence of credible techno-military options against North Korea is also underscored by the reported failure of the U.S. to undermine Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs through coordinated cyber and electronic strikes in recent years.

In this light, THAAD’s political symbolism is greater than its military utility. The system, in any case, has never been battle-tested.

But rather than enhance South Korea’s security, including by reassuring its citizens, the THAAD deployment threatens to make South Koreans more insecure through an action-reaction cycle. For example, the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang may now plan, in a combat scenario, to fire many missiles simultaneously so as to defeat THAAD.

Against this background, a new strategy is needed to stem the growing risk that a small mishap could escalate to a full-fledged war. U.S. President Barack Obama employed sanctions with engagement to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran yet, throughout his eight-year tenure, pursued a completely different approach toward North Korea — sanctions without engagement.

Given that the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction has reached a level defying solution through technological or military means, diplomacy must come into play to reduce tensions. For long, North Korea has sought direct talks with Washington. Trump, during his campaign, said that he would be willing to meet with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un over a hamburger.

If the THAAD placement is not to prove counterproductive, Washington must shift to a policy of sanctions with engagement toward Pyongyang, with the ultimate goal of clinching a WMD deal as part of a comprehensive peace treaty replacing the Korean War armistice. South Korea has even a bigger stake in engagement with the North in order to reduce the costs it will bear if Korean Peninsula reunification were to occur.

Brahma Chellaney, a longtime contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War.”

© The Japan Times, 2017.

Shed the Indus albatross

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Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, March 20, 2017

At a time when India is haunted by a deepening water crisis, the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) hangs like the proverbial albatross from its neck. In 1960, in the naïve hope that water largesse would yield peace, India entered into a treaty that gave away the Indus system’s largest rivers as gifts to Pakistan.

Since then, that congenitally hostile neighbour, while drawing the full benefits from the treaty, has waged overt or covert aggression almost continuously and is now using the IWT itself as a stick to beat India with, including by contriving water disputes and internationalizing them.

A partisan World Bank, meanwhile, has compounded matters further. Breaching the IWT’s terms under which an arbitral tribunal cannot be established while the parties’ disagreement “is being dealt with by a neutral expert,” the Bank proceeded in November to appoint both a court of arbitration (as demanded by Pakistan) and a neutral expert (as suggested by India). It did so while admitting that the two concurrent processes could make the treaty “unworkable over time”.

World Bank partisanship, however, is not new: The IWT was the product of the Bank’s activism, with US government support, in making India embrace an unparalleled treaty that parcelled out the largest three of the six rivers to Pakistan and made the Bank effectively a guarantor in the treaty’s initial phase. With much of its meat in its voluminous annexes, this is an exhaustive, book-length treaty with a patently neo-colonial structure that limits India’s sovereignty to the basin of the three smaller rivers.

The Bank’s recent decision was made more bizarre by the fact that while the treaty explicitly permits either party to seek a neutral expert’s appointment, it specifies no such unilateral right for a court of arbitration. In 2010, such an arbitral tribunal was appointed with both parties’ consent. The neutral expert, however, is empowered to refer the parties’ disagreement, if need be, to a court of arbitration.

The uproar that followed the World Bank’s initiation of the dual processes forced it to “pause,” but not terminate, its legally untenable decision. Stuck with a mess of its own making, it is now prodding India to bail it out by compromising with Pakistan over the two moderate-sized Indian hydropower projects. But what Pakistan wants are design changes of the type it enforced years ago in the Salal project, resulting in that plant silting up. It is threatening to target other Indian projects as well.

Yet Indian policy appears adrift. Indeed, India is backsliding even on its tentative moves to deter Pakistani terrorism. For example, after last September’s Uri attack, it suspended the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) with Pakistan. Now the suspension has been lifted, allowing the PIC to meet in the aftermath of the state elections.

In truth, the suspension was just a charade, with the PIC missing no meeting. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reversed course in time for the PIC, which meets at least once every financial year, to meet before the current year ended on March 31 in order to prepare its annual report by the treaty-stipulated June 1 deadline. But while the suspension was widely publicized for political ends, the reversal happened quietly.

Much of the media also fell for another charade that Modi sought to play to the hilt in the Punjab elections: He promised to end Punjab’s water stress by utilizing India’s full IWT-allocated share of the waters. His government, however, has initiated not a single new project to correct India’s abysmal failure to tap its meagre 19.48% share of the Indus waters.

Instead, Modi has engaged in little more than eyewash: He has appointed a committee of secretaries, not to find ways to fashion the Indus card to reform Pakistan’s conduct, but farcically to examine India’s own rights under the IWT over 56 years after it was signed. The answer to India’s serious under-utilization of its share, which has resulted in Pakistan getting more than 10 billion cubic meters (BCM) yearly in bonus waters on top of its staggering 167.2 BCM allocation, is not a bureaucratic rigmarole but political direction to speedily build storage and other structures.

Despite Modi’s declaration that “blood and water cannot flow together,” India is reluctant to hold Pakistan to account by linking the IWT’s future to that renegade state’s cessation of its unconventional war. It is past time India shed its reticence.

Pakistan’s interest lies in sustaining a unique treaty that incorporates water generosity to the lower riparian on a scale unmatched by any other pact in the world. Yet it is undermining its own interest by dredging up disputes with India and running down the IWT as ineffective for resolving them. By insisting that India must not ask what it is getting in return but bear only the IWT’s burdens, even as it suffers Pakistan’s proxy war, Islamabad itself highlights the treaty’s one-sided character.

In effect, Pakistan is offering India a significant opening to remake the terms of the Indus engagement. This is an opportunity that India should not let go. The Indus potentially represents the most potent instrument in India’s arsenal — more powerful than the nuclear option, which essentially is for deterrence.

The writer is a geostrategist and author.

© The Times of India, 2017.

A rising power without allies

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

The more power China has accumulated, the greater has been its difficulty in gaining genuine allies, underscoring that leadership demands more than brute might. Contrast this with the strong network of allies and partners that the United States maintains in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere. The withering of China’s special relationship with North Korea, once its vassal, illustrates Beijing’s dilemma.

Last year, Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said “we have allies, friends and partners where China does not,” while U.S. Secretary for Defense Ash Carter asserted that Beijing is “erecting a great wall of self-isolation.”

The rapid deterioration in Beijing’s ties with North Korea — which boasts good reserves of iron ore, coal, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc and other minerals — is sure to increase China’s sense of being alone.

Indeed, when Pyongyang recently accused China of “mean behavior” and “dancing to America’s tune,” it underscored not only its ruptured relationship with its powerful neighbor but also the fact that Beijing is now left with just one real ally, Pakistan. Quasi-failed Pakistan, although a useful tool for Beijing to contain India, is a dubious ally for China in the larger context.

China’s rift with Pyongyang has followed the considerable weakening of Beijing’s once-tight hold on Myanmar, another country rich in natural resources — from oil and gas to jade and timber. Today, the Beijing-Pyongyang relationship is at its lowest point since the founding of North Korea in 1948.

The reported fatal poisoning of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, represents a major setback for China. Beijing valued him — a faded playboy with residences in Macau and Beijing — as a key asset against the North Korean dictator.

To be clear, China’s vaunted “blood relations” with North Korea have been souring since Kim Jong Un came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

Since then, Kim Jong Un has been trying to show that North Korea is no client-state of China, including by rekindling the “juche” ideology of self-reliance. He has defied Beijing by repeatedly conducting nuclear and missile tests and signaled that he wants North Korea to escape from China’s clutches through better relations with the United States — an appeal that has gone unheeded in Washington.

Kim Jong Nam’s death, of course, is a blow not just for China but also for South Korea and the U.S., which had milked him for any intelligence he could provide on the inner workings of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang. These three countries, recognizing the importance of the Kim family bloodline in dynastic North Korea, had indeed cultivated him as a potential replacement for his half brother. The North Korean ruler thus had ample reason to get rid of Kim Jong Nam.

Earlier in 2013, Pyongyang executed China’s most valued friend in the North Korean power hierarchy — Jang Song Thaek, a four-star general who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle by marriage. Jang, a mentor to Kim Jong Nam and Beijing’s main link to Pyongyang, was accused by the regime of abusing his power to favor China, including by underselling resources like coal, land and precious metals.

At the center of the growing China-North Korea tensions, however, is the bad blood between Kim Jong Un, who at 33 remains the world’s youngest head of state, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, nearly twice as old as him.

When Xi paid a state visit to South Korea in mid-2014, he overturned decades of tradition in which Chinese leaders always visited North Korea first. Xi has yet to travel to Pyongyang, just as Kim Jong Un has refused to visit Beijing. Paying obeisance in Beijing, however, was customary for Kim’s grandfather and father: Kim Il Sung, the founder of the state, paid 37 official visits to China, while his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, went nine times.

The young ruler’s effort to chart an independent course has sparked a sustained propaganda campaign against him in recent years by China’s state media, which has accused him of pursuing “de-Sinification” of his country and seeking to unlock ties with the U.S. and Japan.

Despite its exasperation, China’s options against the Kim regime are limited, given the fact that it does not want the North Korean state to unravel — a scenario that will result in a reunified and resurgent Korea allied with the U.S. The prospect of American troops on its border is a nightmare for China, which explains why it intervened in the Korean War when the U.S. Army crossed the 38th parallel and threatened to advance toward the Chinese border.

For centuries, China has seen the Korean Peninsula as its strategic Achilles’ heel — a region that offers foreign powers an attractive invasion route or a beachhead for attacking China.

Today, China has territorial and resource disputes with North Korea that a reunified Korea would inherit and rail against. The territorial disputes center on Chonji, the crater lake on Mount Paektu (where a 33-km stretch of the Sino-Korean boundary has not been settled) and certain islands in the Yalu and Tumen rivers, whose courses broadly define the frontier between the two countries.

Indeed, as if to signal that its present border with North Korea is not final, China has posted a revisionist historical claim that the ancient kingdom of Koguryo — founded in the Tongge River basin of northern Korea — was Chinese, not Korean, as believed by international historians. A 2012 U.S. Senate report warned that China “may be seeking to lay the groundwork for possible future territorial claims on the Korean Peninsula.”

Against this background, China sees status quo on the Korean Peninsula as serving its interest best. It will likely accept Korean reunification only if it leads to a “Finlandized” Korea making permanent strategic concessions to it.

China’s strongest action against North Korea to date — the recently imposed suspension of coal imports — can be ascribed to the “Trump effect.” U.S. President Donald Trump’s less predictable line, reflected in his wavering on the “one-China” policy and his tougher stance on Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, has prompted Beijing to take this action to blunt U.S. criticism that it is not doing enough to implement United Nations sanctions.

But China’s growing tensions with Pyongyang mean that the value of the North Korea card in Beijing’s dealings with the U.S. is likely to erode. For years, the U.S. has outsourced the North Korea issue to Beijing by offering it concessions. Today, far from credibly serving as Washington’s intermediary with North Korea, China is smarting from Pyongyang’s open disdain for it.

Still, China must grapple with the larger question of whether it can be a peer rival to the U.S. without any allies.

Brahma Chellaney, a longtime contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War.”

© The Japan Times, 2017.

Time to stop the backsliding on Pakistan policy

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Brahma Chellaney, Mail Today, March 11, 2017

hqdefaultLast year was an unusual year: Never before had so many Indian security bases come under attack by Pakistan-based terrorists in a single year. For example, the terrorist strike on the Pathankot air base was New Year’s gift to India, while the strike on the Indian Army’s Uri base represented a birthday gift for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Furthermore, the number of Indian security personnel killed in gunbattles with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016 was the highest in years.

In this light, it is remarkable that Modi is seeking to return to business as usual with Pakistan, now that the state elections are over in India and Pakistan-related issues have been sufficiently milked by him for political ends. Modi’s U-turn on the Permanent Indus Commission (PIC) issue could mark the beginning of India’s backsliding.

After the Uri attack in September, his government, with fanfare, suspended the PIC. Now, quietly, that suspension has been lifted, and a PIC meeting will soon be held in Lahore. In reality, the suspension was just a sham because the PIC missed no meeting as a result. Its annual meeting in the current financial year is being held before the March 31 deadline.

The PIC was created by the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty, the world’s most generous (and lopsided) water-sharing pact. The PIC decision indicates that Modi, despite vowing that “blood and water cannot flow together,” is not willing to abandon the treaty or even suspend its operation until Pakistan has terminated its proxy war by terror. The World Bank, in fact, is pressing the Modi government to use the PIC to reach a compromise with Pakistan over the latter’s demand for fundamental design changes in India’s Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower plants that could make these projects commercially unviable. Construction of the Ratle project has yet to begin.

The observable backsliding is also evident from other developments, including the appointment of a retired Pakistani diplomat, Amjad Hussain Sial, as the new secretary general of SAARC after India withdrew its objection. Modi is even keeping open the option of holding talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in June on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The Modi government’s reluctance to back up its words with action became conspicuous when it persuaded Rajeev Chandrasekhar to withdraw his private member’s bill in the Rajya Sabha to declare Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism. If India, the principal victim of Pakistani terrorism, is reluctant to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, can it realistically expect the U.S. to take the lead on that issue? Other powers might sympathize with India’s plight but India will not earn their respect through all talk and no action. The battle against Pakistan’s cross-border terrorism is India’s fight alone.

To be clear, the confused Pakistan policy predates the Modi government. Despite Pakistan’s unending aggression against India ever since it was created as the world’s first Islamic republic in the post-colonial era, successive Indian governments have failed to evolve a consistent, long-term policy toward that renegade country. Consequently, waging an unconventional war against India remains an effective, low-cost option for Pakistan.

A major plank on which Modi won the 2014 general election was a clear policy to defeat Pakistan’s proxy war. His blow-hot-blow-cold policy toward Pakistan, however, suggests that he has yet to evolve a coherent strategy to reform Pakistan’s roguish conduct. The key inflection point in Modi’s Pakistan policy came on Christmas Day in 2015 when he paid a surprise visit to Lahore mainly to grab international spotlight. If it yielded anything, it was the twin terrorist attacks just days later on the Pathankot base and the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, setting in motion the ominous developments of 2016.

To be sure, Modi sought to salvage his credibility when in late September the Indian Army carried out surgical strikes on militants across the line of control in J&K. But it was always clear that a one-off operation like that would not tame Pakistan. India needs to keep Pakistan off balance through sustained pressure so that it has little leeway to pursue its goal to inflict death by a thousand cuts.

It is not too late for Modi to develop a set of policies that aim to impose punitive costs on Pakistan in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner, including through diplomatic, political and economic tools. If Pakistan can wage an unconventional war with a nuclear shield, a nuclear-armed India too can respond by taking the unconventional war to the enemy’s own land, including by exploiting Pakistan’s ethnic and sectarian fault lines, particularly in Baluchistan, Sind, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Pushtun regions. India must also up the ante by unambiguously linking the future of the iniquitous Indus treaty to Pakistan’s cessation of its aggression so that Islamabad no longer has its cake and eat it too. Like Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, no amount of Indus water can “wash this blood clean” from the hands of the Pakistani military generals.

© Mail Today, 2017.

Japan’s Senkaku challenge

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lee_photo_a2Japan Times

 

At a time of shifting power dynamics in Asia, Japan faces pressing security challenges. Of the 400 remote islands that serve as markers for determining Japan’s territorial waters, only about 50 are inhabited. But no group of islands poses a bigger challenge for its security than the Senkakus, a clutch of five uninhabited islets and three rocks.

This challenge is compounded by demographic and military trends. Japan has barely one-tenth the population of China’s. Moreover, its population is not just aging but also shrinking significantly; it declined by nearly a million just between 2010 and 2015.

About a decade ago, Japan’s defense budget was larger than China’s. But now China’s military spending surpasses the combined defense expenditure of Japan, Britain and France.

To make matters worse, China’s increasing territorial assertiveness and muscular foreign policy are contributing to a sense of insecurity in Japan.

President Xi Jinping declared much of the East China Sea, including the Senkakus, to be a Chinese air defense zone in 2013, and since then China has stepped up its challenge to Japan’s control over those islands, including through repeated intrusions by its military aircraft and warships. Beijing has hardened its stance by elevating its claim to the Senkakus to a “core interest,” while some in China have gone to the extent of questioning Japan’s sovereignty over even Okinawa.

Against this background, many Japanese have wondered whether the United States would come to Japan’s defense in the event of a Chinese attack on the Senkakus. The 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty states that an armed attack on either country in the territories under Japan’s administration would prompt joint action “to meet the common danger.”

Then U.S. President Barack Obama’s contradictory rhetoric instilled a sense of skepticism in Japan. Obama publicly affirmed that the U.S.-Japan security treaty covered the Senkakus. But in the same breath he refused to take a position on the islands’ sovereignty and advised Tokyo and Beijing to sort out their dispute peacefully.

Obama said the U.S. security treaty with Japan covered the Senkaku Islands because they “are under Japanese jurisdiction,” yet “we also stress that we don’t take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands.”

At his April 2014 joint news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Obama, while unveiling his position on the Senkakus, urged Japan to refrain from “provocative actions” and emphasized that his administration was committed to encouraging China’s “peaceful rise.”

He stated: “We don’t take a position on final sovereignty determinations with respect to Senkakus, but historically they have been administered by Japan and we do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally … In our discussions, I emphasized with Prime Minister Abe the importance of resolving this issue peacefully — not escalating the situation, keeping the rhetoric low, not taking provocative actions, and trying to determine how both Japan and China can work cooperatively together. And I want to make that larger point. We have strong relations with China. They are a critical country not just to the region but to the world. Obviously, with a huge population, a growing economy, we want to continue to encourage the peaceful rise of China.”

How could such doublespeak reassure Japan? In fact, such statements sowed doubt over America’s willingness to go to war with China to back Japan’s territorial rights, in the event of a surprise Chinese invasion of the Senkakus. The Obama administration responded by simply saying that “we do not envision that this current tension will rise to that level in any foreseeable scenario.”

Add to the picture Obama’s conspicuous inaction and silence on China’s 2012 seizure of the disputed Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines, despite America’s longstanding mutual defense treaty with Manila. That development served as a wakeup call for Japan and other U.S. allies in Asia.

By contrast, the new U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump has taken a more clear-cut stance in reassuring Japan that the U.S. would defend it in any confrontation with China over the Senkakus. It has done so without the Obama-style caveat — that Washington does not take sides in the sovereignty dispute and calls on China and Japan to resolve their dispute peacefully through dialogue.

In fact, the recent Trump-Abe summit marked the first time that the U.S. commitment to defend Japan’s control over the Senkakus was recorded in a joint statement.

The Feb. 12 Trump-Abe joint statement came out strongly for Senkakus’ defense: “The two leaders affirmed that Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security covers the Senkaku Islands. They oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands … The United States and Japan oppose any attempt to assert maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force.”

This unambiguous commitment should be seen as an important success of Abe’s proactive diplomacy in seeking to build a personal connection with the new U.S. president. Abe was the first foreign leader Trump hosted at Mar-a-Lago, which he calls “The Southern White House.” Earlier, just after Trump’s unexpected election victory, Abe met face-to-face with him by making a special stop in New York en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru.

Let’s be clear: The Senkaku issue is not just about a seven-square-kilometer real estate or the potential oil and gas reserves that lie around it. The strategically located Senkakus, despite their small size, are critical to maritime security and the larger contest for influence in the East China Sea and beyond.

China is seeking to wage a campaign of attrition against Japan over the Senkakus by gradually increasing the frequency and duration of its intrusions into Japan’s airspace and territorial waters. In doing so, it has made the rest of the world recognize the existence of a dispute and the risks of armed conflict.

To be sure, changing the territorial status quo is nothing new for Beijing. The People’s Republic of China has been doing that ever since it was founded in 1949. The early forcible absorption of the sprawling Xinjiang and Tibetan Plateau more than doubled China’s landmass.

In the 21st century, Chinese expansionism has increasingly relied upon “salami tactics” — a steady progression of small, furtive actions, none of which serves as a casus belli by itself, yet which help to incrementally change facts on the ground in China’s favor.

Unlike China’s success in expanding its frontiers in the South China Sea, it has found the going tough in the East China Sea. Indeed, Beijing’s actions have shaken Tokyo out of its complacency and diffidence and set in motion the strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities, including arming its far-flung island chain in the East China Sea with a string of anti-ship, anti-aircraft missile batteries.

At his joint news conference with Trump at the White House, Abe pledged that Japan will play a “greater role” in East Asian security. It was as if he was responding to Trump’s campaign rhetoric that Japan, which hosts about 50,000 American troops, should do more to defend itself.

One effective way the Trump administration can encourage Japan to do more for its own defense is by lending full support to the Abe-initiated national security and constitutional reform process. Such reforms could help forestall the emergence of a destabilizing power imbalance in East Asia. Japan is already working to constrain China with its own version of Beijing’s “anti-access, area denial” doctrine against the U.S.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War.”

© The Japan Times, 2017.

Trump’s China Challenge

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Photo of Brahma ChellaneyOver the last eight years, as China’s posturing in Asia became increasingly aggressive, many criticized US President Barack Obama for failing to stand up to the Asian giant. It was on Obama’s watch, after all, that China captured the disputed Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines and built seven artificial islands in the South China Sea, on which it then deployed heavy weapons – all without incurring any international costs.

Many expect Obama’s tough-talking successor, Donald Trump, to change all of this. He is not off to a good start.

During the campaign, Trump threatened to retaliate against China for “raping” America on trade, to impose massive tariffs on Chinese imports, and to label China a currency manipulator on “day one.” Soon after his victory, Trump took a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan, thereby breaking with nearly 40 years of diplomatic orthodoxy. Trump then took the matter a step further, publicly suggesting that he would use the “One China” policy as a bargaining chip in bilateral negotiations over contentious economic and security issues – from import taxes to North Korea.

But Trump backed down. Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear that he would not so much as talk to Trump on the phone without assurance that the US president would pledge fidelity to the One China policy. The call happened, and Trump did exactly what Xi wanted, ostensibly without extracting anything in return. If China now perceives Trump to be all bark and no bite, he will undoubtedly find it harder to secure concessions from China on trade and security issues.

Trump is not the only figure in his administration to stake out a bold position on China, and then retreat meekly. During his Senate confirmation process, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the US should “send China a clear signal” by denying it access to its artificial islands in the South China Sea. China’s expansionism in the region, Tillerson asserted, was “akin to Russia’s taking Crimea” from Ukraine – an implicit criticism of Obama for allowing the two developments.

But Tillerson, like his new boss, soon backed down. The US, he now claims, merely needs to be “capable” of restricting China’s access to the South China Sea islands, in the event of a contingency.

And yet China’s behavior merits stronger US action now. The country is attempting to upend the status quo not only in the South China Sea, but also in the East China Sea and the Himalayas. It is working to create a large sphere of influence through its “one belt, one road” initiative. And it is reengineering transboundary river flows. All of this is intended to achieve Chinese leaders’ goal of re-establishing the country’s mythical “Middle Kingdom” status.

Flawed US policy has opened the way for these efforts, in part by helping to turn China into an export juggernaut. The problem isn’t that China has a strong economy, but rather that it abuses free-trade rules to subsidize its exports and impede imports, in order to shield domestic jobs and industry. Today, China sells $4 worth of goods to the US for every $1 in imports.

Just as the US inadvertently saddled the world with the jihadist scourge by training Afghan mujahideen – the anti-Soviet fighting force out of which al-Qaeda evolved – it unintentionally created a rules-violating monster by aiding China’s economic rise. And it sustained its China-friendly trade policy even as China’s abuses became bolder and more obvious.

It is ironic that China, which has quietly waged a trade war for years, has responded to Trump’s threats to impose punitive tariffs by warning – notably, at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos – of the risks of protectionism and trade wars. But not everyone is falling for China’s story. A growing number of countries are recognizing that reciprocity should guide their relations with China.

Trump himself may yet challenge China. When he agreed to abide by the One China policy, he said that he had done so at Xi’s request, suggesting that his commitment to the policy should not be taken for granted.

Moreover, even without defying the One China policy, Trump has ample room to apply pressure. He could start by highlighting increasing Chinese repression in Tibet. He could also expand political, commercial, and military contacts with Taiwan, where the One China policy has had the paradoxical effect of deepening people’s sense of national identity and strengthening their determination to maintain autonomy.

In any case, as China continues to pursue its hegemonic ambitions, Trump will have little choice but to pivot toward Asia – substantively, not just rhetorically, as Obama did. To constrain China and bring stability to Asia, he will have to work closely with friends. His efforts to establish a personal connection with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – the first foreign leader he hosted at Mar-a-Lago, his “Winter White House” – and the high priority his administration is assigning to relations with India and South Korea are positive signs.

By failing to provide strategic heft to his Asia pivot, Obama left it unhinged. Trump has the opportunity – and the responsibility – to change this. If he doesn’t, China will continue to challenge US allies and interests, with serious potential consequences for Asia and the world.

Taliban’s strange new foreign friends

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Brahma Chellaney, DNA

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India has an important stake in the future of Afghanistan, its natural ally and close friend for long. India, under successive governments, has been a major aid donor to Afghanistan. As the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, recently told his country’s Senate Armed Services Committee, “With over $2 billion development aid executed since 2002, and another $1 billion pledged in 2016, India’s significant investments in Afghan infrastructure, engineering, training, and humanitarian issues will help develop Afghan human capital and long-term stability.” Recent developments, however, do not augur well for Indian or Afghan interests.

Despite being ravaged by successive wars for the past 36 years, Afghanistan remains a playground for the foreign powers that have fomented or engaged in hostilities there. The latest developments suggest that the Afghanistan-related geopolitics is only getting murkier. In the process, the Taliban is acquiring strange new friends.

Russia and Iran, the traditional patrons of the Northern Alliance, are now openly mollycoddling the Taliban and giving it political succour. In this effort, they have the cooperation of China and Pakistan, thus creating a regional axis. This development represents a shot in the arm for the Taliban’s fight against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul.

Pakistan, of course, fathered the Taliban and remains its principal benefactor, providing safe havens on its territory to the militia. China, for its part, was just one of three countries along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that recognized the Taliban regime in Kabul until it was overthrown in 2001 following the U.S. invasion. In fact, China and the Taliban announced a memorandum of understanding for economic and technical cooperation on the day two planes crashed into New York’s World Trade Center. Beijing is now again courting the Taliban. It has hosted at least one Taliban delegation and offered to mediate between Kabul and the rebels.

It is Russia’s U-turn on the Taliban, however, that stands out because it is strategically the most significant development. From a terrorist foe, the Taliban has become a potential ally for Moscow.

Russia’s apparent aim is to turn up the heat and raise the costs for the U.S. military’s continuing role in Afghanistan. It has even sought to obstruct the Afghan government’s U.S.-backed peace deal with a faded warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. While China has frustrated India’s moves to place the Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar on the UN sanctions list, Moscow recently blocked Hekmatyar’s removal from the same list.

What makes the emerging regional axis more surprising is that Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, continues to bankroll the Taliban. Another paradox is that two of America’s allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, are still aiding and abetting the U.S. military’s main battlefield enemy, the Taliban, which has killed hundreds of American soldiers.

As for Moscow, it has sought to underpin its policy shift by warming up to Pakistan. In order to cultivate ties with the Taliban, whose top leadership remains holed up in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Russia is befriending Islamabad. Russia has held its first ever military exercise with Pakistan and is selling attack helicopters to it. Moscow is also negotiating a $2 billion natural gas pipeline contract with Islamabad.

The new developments in the Af-Pak belt carry major implications for Indian security.  Although India and the Afghan government were invited to a round of discussions in Moscow this month, Russia is shaping its new Afghanistan policy not in cooperation with New Delhi and Kabul. Indeed, at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar in December, Russia’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, made some critical comments about New Delhi and Kabul. Subsequently, after discussions with Pakistan in Moscow, Russia and China called for  “flexible approaches” toward the Taliban and the removal of some its leaders from the UN sanctions list.

The Russian cooperation with the Taliban, while putting a damper on American efforts to reach a peace deal with that militia, is likely to exacerbate the security dynamics in the Afghanistan-Pakistan belt, which already boasts, as Gen. Nicholson pointed out, “the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world.” Put simply, Moscow’s new stance represents a setback for counterterrorism and for India’s Afghanistan policy.

© DNA, 2017.

Engagement over Antagonism

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Sanctions alone will not curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. A healthy dose of diplomacy is needed too.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, February 27-March 5, 2017

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For North Korea, reeling under severe United Nations sanctions, conducting missile tests has become a regular expression of political defiance and technological progress. Just last year, showing its continuing contempt for UN resolutions, it tested almost two dozen missiles, including a submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Yet its first missile test since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November has been speciously portrayed as a major challenge to the new administration in Washington, with some analysts like ex-CIA chief James Woolsey even calling North Korea the top national security problem at present.

The fact is that the Feb. 12 test did not involve a long-range ballistic missile, which North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un had said in his New Year’s Day speech was almost ready for launch. The fired missile, which traveled 500km, was just a medium-range type that Pyongyang has tested multiple times in different variants. And although North Korea said the test involved a new missile model with a solid fuel-powered engine — a technological advance that facilitates mobility and rapid launch — this is not the country’s first solid-fueled missile. As Pyongyang admits, the new surface-to-surface missile is based on its solid-fueled submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Lost in the alarmism over the new missile is the fact that the test occurred just after Trump called North Korea a threat. Kim had been on good behavior ever since Trump’s unexpected election triumph, hoping that the new American president would adopt a fresh tack, in keeping with what Trump had said during the campaign — that he would be willing to meet with the North Korean leader over a hamburger.

Kim — the world’s youngest head of state — tested a nuclear device, purportedly a hydrogen bomb, two days before his Jan. 8 birthday in 2016. International media speculated that this year Kim would celebrate his birthday by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, although he had referred to a long-range missile, not an ICBM, in his New Year’s Day speech. Kim, however, delayed his first missile test since Trump’s victory until much later — conducting it less than 36 hours after Trump, in a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House, said that “defending against the North Korean missile and nuclear threat” was “a very, very high priority” for him.

Trump’s tempered response to the missile test drew cynical comments from critics citing his bombastic Jan. 3 tweet. Relying on misleading media reports that Kim had threatened to test an ICBM, Trump posted on Twitter: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Truth be told, North Korea is far from developing an ICBM, as the latest missile test underscores.

Still, Trump is being publicly advised to ratchet up military pressure on Pyongyang, prompting him to declare: “Obviously, North Korea is a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly.”

BIG-PICTURE ISSUES  

The debate on how to tame North Korea’s nuclear and missile ambitions should not obscure the larger issues involved. Three key matters stand out.

Firstly, the sanctions-only approach toward North Korea spearheaded by the United States has been a conspicuous failure, encouraging Pyongyang to rapidly advance its nuclear and missile programs. With little to lose, North Korea has responded to heavy sanctions by testing nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice in 2016. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world to conduct nuclear tests in the 21st century. North Korea has also considerably enhanced its missile capabilities, though they remain subregionally confined in range.

Sanctions without engagement have never worked. In the North Korean case, the sanctions-only approach has done exactly the opposite of its intended goal — instead of halting or retarding nuclearization, slapping on additional sanctions after every major test has only egged Pyongyang on.

Secondly, Kim has repeatedly signaled that he wants his internationally isolated nation to escape from the clutches of its millennial rival, China. Significantly, he has not visited China since assuming power in 2011, although paying obeisance in Beijing was customary for his father and grandfather, who ruled before him.

Mao Zedong famously said China and North Korea were as close as lips are to teeth. But when China last March joined hands with the U.S. to approve the toughest new U.N. sanctions in two decades against North Korea, it highlighted its virtually ruptured relationship with Pyongyang.

At a time when China’s state media has accused Kim of pursuing “de-Sinification” and seeking improved ties with the U.S. and Japan, the fatal poisoning of Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport has increased the sense of alarm and frustration in Beijing. Kim Jong Nam, a reputed playboy with residences in Beijing and Macau, was a virtual Chinese pawn against Kim.

Yet, oddly, Washington has attempted to push Kim further into the Chinese dragnet, instead of seizing on the opportunity created by his desire to unlock frozen ties with America. Some U.S. scholars have even suggested a grand bargain with Beijing on North Korea. Given that North Korea has sought direct engagement with Washington to offset Chinese leverage over it, nothing is more galling to Pyongyang than U.S. efforts to use Beijing as a diplomatic instrument against it. In effect, American policy has handed Beijing the North Korea card to play against South Korea, Japan and the U.S. itself.

In truth, China is already putting the squeeze on North Korea, especially since that country carried out its most powerful nuclear test last September. But its enforcement of U.N. sanctions in a controlled way has failed to change Kim’s calculus. Beijing, of course, values North Korea as a buffer state and does not want a reunified and resurgent Korea allied with Washington, because that will open a new threat, including bringing American troops to China’s border. Make no mistake: Chinese and American interests diverge fundamentally.

And thirdly, the U.S. has no credible military option against North Korea. Any military strikes to degrade the North’s nuclear and missile capabilities will provoke Pyongyang to unleash its artillery-barrage power against the South, triggering widespread destruction and a full-fledged war involving America. The planned U.S. deployment in South Korea of the anti-missile Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD — which has never been battle-tested — is no real answer to North Korea’s nuclearization or to the North’s artillery choke-hold on Seoul. China, with some justification, sees the THAAD plan as essentially directed against it.

If there is any credible U.S. option to deal with Pyongyang, it is to give diplomacy a chance, with the goal of forging a peace treaty with the North to formally end the Korean War — which has officially been in a state of cease-fire since 1953. Denuclearization should be integral to the terms of such a peace treaty. But if denuclearization is made the sole purpose of engagement with the North, diplomacy will not succeed. President Barack Obama’s administration simply refused to talk unless Pyongyang first pledged to denuclearize. The North’s only leverage is the nuclear card, which it will not surrender without securing a comprehensive peace deal.

When repeated rounds of tight sanctions not only fail to achieve their objectives but counterproductively trigger opposite effects, the need for a new approach becomes inescapable.

Through a carrot-and-stick approach of easing some sanctions and keeping more biting ones in place, diplomacy can, by persisting with what will be difficult and tough negotiations, clinch a deal to end one of the world’s longest-lingering conflicts and eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2017.

China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

If there is one thing at which China’s leaders truly excel, it is the use of economic tools to advance their country’s geostrategic interests. Through its $1 trillion “one belt, one road” initiative, China is supporting infrastructure projects in strategically located developing countries, often by extending huge loans to their governments. As a result, countries are becoming ensnared in a debt trap that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence.

Of course, extending loans for infrastructure projects is not inherently bad. But the projects that China is supporting are often intended not to support the local economy, but to facilitate Chinese access to natural resources, or to open the market for low-cost and shoddy Chinese goods. In many cases, China even sends its own construction workers, minimizing the number of local jobs that are created.

Several of the projects that have been completed are now bleeding money. For example, Sri Lanka’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, which opened in 2013 near Hambantota, has been dubbed the world’s emptiest. Likewise, Hambantota’s Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port remains largely idle, as does the multibillion-dollar Gwadar port in Pakistan. For China, however, these projects are operating exactly as needed: Chinese attack submarines have twice docked at Sri Lankan ports, and two Chinese warships were recently pressed into service for Gwadar port security.

In a sense, it is even better for China that the projects don’t do well. After all, the heavier the debt burden on smaller countries, the greater China’s own leverage becomes. Already, China has used its clout to push Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to block a united ASEAN stand against China’s aggressive pursuit of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Moreover, some countries, overwhelmed by their debts to China, are being forced to sell to it stakes in Chinese-financed projects or hand over their management to Chinese state-owned firms. In financially risky countries, China now demands majority ownership up front. For example, China clinched a deal with Nepal this month to build another largely Chinese-owned dam there, with its state-run China Three Gorges Corporation taking a 75% stake.

As if that were not enough, China is taking steps to ensure that countries will not be able to escape their debts. In exchange for rescheduling repayment, China is requiring countries to award it contracts for additional projects, thereby making their debt crises interminable. Last October, China canceled $90 million of Cambodia’s debt, only to secure major new contracts.

Some developing economies are regretting their decision to accept Chinese loans. Protests have erupted over widespread joblessness, purportedly caused by Chinese dumping of goods, which is killing off local manufacturing, and exacerbated by China’s import of workers for its own projects.

New governments in several countries, from Nigeria to Sri Lanka, have ordered investigations into alleged Chinese bribery of the previous leadership. Last month, China’s acting ambassador to Pakistan, Zhao Lijian, was involved in a Twitter spat with Pakistani journalists over accusations of project-related corruption and the use of Chinese convicts as laborers in Pakistan (not a new practice for China). Zhao described the accusations as “nonsense.”

In retrospect, China’s designs might seem obvious. But the decision by many developing countries to accept Chinese loans was, in many ways, understandable. Neglected by institutional investors, they had major unmet infrastructure needs. So when China showed up, promising benevolent investment and easy credit, they were all in. It became clear only later that China’s real objectives were commercial penetration and strategic leverage; by then, it was too late, and countries were trapped in a vicious cycle.

clipboard01Sri Lanka is Exhibit A. Though small, the country is strategically located between China’s eastern ports and the Mediterranean. Chinese President Xi Jinping has called it vital to the completion of the maritime Silk Road.

China began investing heavily in Sri Lanka during the quasi-autocratic nine-year rule of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and China shielded Rajapaksa at the United Nations from allegations of war crimes. China quickly became Sri Lanka’s leading investor and lender, and its second-largest trading partner, giving it substantial diplomatic leverage.

It was smooth sailing for China, until Rajapaksa was unexpectedly defeated in the early 2015 election by Maithripala Sirisena, who had campaigned on the promise to extricate Sri Lanka from the Chinese debt trap. True to his word, he suspended work on major Chinese projects.

But it was too late: Sri Lanka’s government was already on the brink of default. So, as a Chinese state mouthpiece crowed, Sri Lanka had no choice but “to turn around and embrace China again.” Sirisena, in need of more time to repay old loans, as well as fresh credit, acquiesced to a series of Chinese demands, restarting suspended initiatives, like the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City, and awarding China new projects.

Sirisena also recently agreed to sell an 80% stake in the Hambantota port to China for about $1.1 billion. According to China’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, Yi Xianliang, the sale of stakes in other projects is also under discussion, in order to help Sri Lanka “solve its finance problems.” Now, Rajapaksa is accusing Sirisena of granting China undue concessions.

By integrating its foreign, economic, and security policies, China is advancing its goal of fashioning a hegemonic sphere of trade, communication, transportation, and security links. If states are saddled with onerous levels of debt as a result, their financial woes only aid China’s neocolonial designs. Countries that are not yet ensnared in China’s debt trap should take note – and take whatever steps they can to avoid it.

Obama’s legacy: More war than peace

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Obama’s regime-change policy, like Bush’s, showed that the United States has the “reverse Midas Touch” — whatever it touches turns to chaos.

 

BY The Japan Times

 

What is the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize not for his accomplishments as U.S. president but for the expectations that his presidency aroused? Obama is receiving glowing tributes from many Democrats and establishment commentators for his record in clinching deals like the Paris climate change agreement, the nuclear accord with Iran and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But these deals are already under threat from his successor, Donald Trump.

More significant is the fact that even many of his supporters believe, as Nobel committee secretary Geir Lundestad has written in his memoir, that the Nobel prize to him was “a mistake.” The Nobel committee awarded Obama the prize less than nine months after he assumed office in the hope that he would be fundamentally different from President George W. Bush, whose invasion and occupation of Iraq created a failed state.

The paradox is that Obama, the supposed peacemaker, turned out to be a mirror image of Bush on foreign policy.

To set himself apart from Bush’s aggressive “hard power” approach, Obama campaigned to become president on a foreign policy platform of “smart power.” Yet in office, Obama relied heavily on raw power, waging serial military campaigns from Somalia and Yemen to Iraq and Syria and initiating “targeted killing” of even U.S. citizens with suspected ties to terrorism.

Obama championed “a nuclear-free world” only to quietly pursue an extensive expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, already the world’s costliest and most sophisticated.

Indeed, if one disregards his softer tone in comparison with Bush’s strident rhetoric, Obama’s record shows him to be even more interventionist than Bush. Last year, for example, the United States, according to an analysis of military data, dropped more than 26,000 bombs in seven countries. This happened under a president who, while deploring the ethos of “might makes right,” told the United Nations that “right makes might.”

In truth, Obama, like Bush, paid little heed to international law — or even American law — when it came in the way of his overseas military operations.

For example, Obama did not seek U.N. or U.S. congressional authorization before launching an air war in Syria. In fact, he speciously justified his bombing campaign in Syria by relying on the unrelated congressional authority that Bush secured to go after those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The 2011 U.S.-led operation against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi began as a supposed humanitarian mission, only to quickly turn into a regime-change exercise, whose success quickly bred chaos and mayhem in Libya. Although goaded into the Libyan operation by his hawkish secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, Obama will be remembered in history for demolishing Libya in the same way that Bush unraveled Iraq. The collapse of the Libyan state has created a jihadist citadel at Europe’s southern doorstep.

Obama’s CIA-led regime-change operation in Syria, although unsuccessful, contributed to plunging another secular Muslim autocracy into jihadist upheaval.

Obama indeed presided over the birth of the most potent terrorist organization in modern history — Islamic State — which still controls large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq even 29 months after Obama began an air war against it. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has admitted, the Obama team viewed the rise of IS as a possibly useful development to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, only to see it grow into a monster.

Flush with his success in overthrowing Gadhafi — an operation that involved orchestrating an Islamist insurgency in Benghazi city and then launching a NATO aerial-bombardment campaign in the name of “responsibility to protect” — Obama turned his attention to toppling Assad. The main IS force was born in Syria out of the CIA-trained, petrodollar-funded “moderate” rebels who crossed over with their weapons to the hydra-headed group.

The rise of IS represented just the latest example of how successive U.S. presidents since the 1980s have been fighting the consequences of their own shortsighted policies. The U.S. has first trained and armed nonstate combatants in breach of international law, calling them “freedom fighters” or “the opposition.” Then it has branded the same militants as “extremists” and “terrorists” and waged war on them. This was the story of al-Qaida, made up largely of CIA-trained “freedom fighters” who, led by Osama bin Laden, turned on the U.S.

U.S. presidents, however, rarely learn from history, one of whose lessons is that the U.S. possesses, as one U.S. analyst has said, “the reverse Midas Touch” — whatever it touches “turns to mayhem.” Obama’s own creation of “moderate” rebel forces to topple Gadhafi has badly backfired, destabilizing not just Libya but also some other states in the Maghreb and the Sahel. Obama’s legacy also includes millions of uprooted Syrian, Libyan and Iraqi refugees, many of whom have flocked to Europe.

Stuck in the old paradigm, Obama did not seek to alter the geopolitical framework governing U.S. foreign policy. For example, to save America’s long-standing alliance with the Persian Gulf’s jihad-bankrolling Islamist monarchs, the Obama administration helped the oil monarchies, even the most tyrannical, to ride out the Arab Spring.

Obama did not change even the Bush-era Afghanistan strategy to use inducements — from billions of dollars in aid to the supply of lethal weapons — to prod the Pakistani military to go after the Haqqani network and get the Afghan Taliban to agree to a peace deal. With Washington clinging to a failed Pakistan policy, the longest war in U.S. history still rages in Afghanistan.

Obama’s legacy will clearly be defined as more war than peace. Obama embraced drone attacks with such alacrity — authorizing 506 known strikes, compared with the 50 strikes under Bush — that he was dubbed “the drone president.” By dramatically boosting U.S. weapon exports, Obama also distinguished himself as the greatest arms exporter since World War II.

From torture and drone strikes to regime change, Obama’s troubling legal legacy, however, is no different than Bush’s. In fact, both Obama and Bush dramatically expanded the executive branch’s power and authority in the realm of national security, including waging war.

During Obama’s tenure, as during Bush’s, the world not only became less peaceful but also America’s relative decline appeared to intensify. For example, in handling China — America’s principal long-term geopolitical rival — Obama’s policy unmistakably advertised U.S. weakness, including allowing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea to go scot-free.

Unlike Russia, which despite its continued decline has remained the top concern of the Washington elites, China sees itself as superior to the rest of the world and seeks to regain its fabled “Middle Kingdom” status.

Ominously, Obama has handed down to Trump more theaters of war than he inherited from Bush. Add to the picture the deep political polarization in America over Trump’s election and the threat the establishment perceives from Trump’s out-of-the-box thinking on several sensitive subjects — from Russia and NATO to trade and the “one-China” policy.

Rarely before has a president assumed office in a major democracy with the deep state and mainstream media so unwelcoming to him. If critics succeed in crimping Trump’s presidency, Obama’s legacy will look better than the actual record.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Japan Times, 2017.

Nepal’s water curse

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Nepal needs bridge over troubled waters

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People ride on a boat to reach the bank of the Rapti River at Sauraha in Chitwan, south of Kathmandu. © Reuters

By Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

Nepal sits on vast water resources. The United Nations describes the landlocked Himalayan state as “one of the Asian countries with the highest level of water resources per inhabitant.” Water can potentially be to Nepal what oil is to Arab sheikhdoms.

Nepal’s renewable water resources are estimated at 7,372 cubic meters per capita annually, or several times higher than those for the two demographic titans between which it is sandwiched — China and India. Yet Nepal, oddly, seems afflicted by a water curse. A failure to adequately harness water resources has left the nation acutely energy-starved, and water shortages are endemic in major Nepalese cities, including the capital, Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, as it increasingly becomes a theater of geopolitical competition between China and India, Nepal is tilting more toward Beijing and away from India, its main partner through the centuries. China, blending economic and security policies, is steadily making strategic inroads. Beijing’s latest deal with Nepal to build another largely Chinese-owned dam there highlights its growing success in clinching major infrastructure contracts in India’s backyard to advance its foreign policy and commercial interests.

Had India tried to secure a contract to set up a largely Indian-owned dam in Nepal, it would likely have faced a nationalistic backlash. Maoists, communists and nationalists in Nepal portray India as a regional hegemon and have seriously impeded its hydropower development plans. China, however, does not face such opposition in communist-dominated Nepal. This helps to explain why the new deal over the planned 750-megawatt West Seti Dam is not the first Chinese hydropower project in the country.

China, through construction projects by Chinese state-run companies and large loans to finance them, is quietly enlarging its presence in and leverage over the increasingly indebted Nepal, which risks becoming its client state. Already, Beijing has used its clout to push Nepal to crack down on Tibetans traveling through Nepal to India, where the Dalai Lama is based.

While dressing its investments in the cloak of economic aid, China is imposing stiff commercial terms on Nepal, plus taking majority project ownership upfront. For example, its state-run China Three Gorges Corporation has picked up a 75% stake in the West Seti Dam project.

Nepal holds up to 83,000 megawatts of hydropower reserves, which, if tapped partially, can make it a major exporter of electricity. By harnessing the natural bounty of the Himalayas to produce renewable electricity, Nepal could emulate the success of Bhutan in generating the hydro dollars to fuel its rapid economic development. Small Bhutan has effectively turned its rich water resources into “blue gold,” achieving the highest per capita income in South Asia.

Power shortages

Nepal, however, produces barely 800 megawatts of electricity for its 30 million citizens from all sources of energy, with the result that long power outages are common even in Kathmandu. Nepal controls the headwaters of, or serves as the corridor for, several rivers that flow into India, yet it imports electricity from that country.

As opposed to China’s water megaprojects at home, smaller and ecologically friendly projects in the Himalayas — if properly planned and designed and conforming to thorough and impartial environmental impact assessments — can yield major benefits without carrying significant environmental and social costs. Environmentally sound hydropower is particularly attractive because, despite the high upfront capital costs, a hydropower plant has a life span almost double that of a nuclear power reactor and generates electricity with no fuel cost.

India, as the subcontinent’s largest energy consumer, has sought to incentivize a subregional energy grid. Yet the vast majority of its own Himalayan hydropower projects have been delayed, suspended or shelved, largely due to grass roots opposition.

India has employed water collaboration as a tool of its diplomacy with Nepal and Bhutan. In Bhutan, India has subsidized the development of environmentally friendly hydropower by providing 60% of the investment for each project as a grant and the remaining amount as a low-interest loan. The projects have helped power Bhutan’s success story.

By contrast, the political dividends from Indo-Nepalese water cooperation have declined over the years, partly because of political constraints in Nepal and partly because India has not been sensitive to Nepalese concerns. Several joint projects have either not been completed or failed to live up to their promise, leaving a troubled legacy that has increasingly weighed down bilateral cooperation.

Bangladesh has actively sought the start of water projects in Nepal to augment the lean-season flows of the Ganges River at Farakka, the critical downriver point where the waters are equally shared between India and Bangladesh under a 1996 treaty. The treaty — which coincided with the 25th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Indian-assisted independence — has set a new principle in international water law by guaranteeing delivery of specific water quantities to downstream Bangladesh in the critical dry season.

Hundreds of rivers, some them originating in Tibet, crisscross Nepal. The country has five major river basins, from the Mahakali in the west to the eastern Kosi. All its river systems empty into the Ganges basin in India. Nepal is also rich in groundwater resources in the southern plains along its long border with India.

Resource curse

Whereas countries afflicted by what development economists call the “resource curse” find it difficult to break out of slow rates of economic growth and high levels of income inequality, despite relying on major exports of natural resources, Nepal’s water curse has come without exploiting its resource reserves for its own needs, let alone exporting hydropower.

No less significant is the fact that Nepal has several water treaties with India but none with China, which has dammed the Karnali River just before it enters Nepal. China is also planning to build a cascade of five dams on the upper reaches of the Arun River. The construction of that cascade, by diminishing flows into the Ganges, could potentially affect India’s Ganges water-sharing arrangement with Bangladesh.

Nepal’s water curse has been compounded by severe political turmoil for the past quarter century. It remains today in a politically shaky position — wracked by underdevelopment, poverty, poor governance and lawlessness and increasingly divided by its murky politics.

The sorry state of affairs in Nepal has seriously hampered its hydropower and irrigation expansion, even though progress in these areas is essential to obtain much-needed revenue and development and to help tame the transboundary rivers that often overrun their banks in Nepalese and Indian areas during the monsoons.

Indeed, the integrated development of the Ganges basin demands trilateral institutional collaboration between the three basin states — Nepal, India and Bangladesh — with cooperation extending to energy, transit and port rights. However, the entry of a non-basin state, China, is muddying the waters. Both through its unilateral dam-building activities in Tibet on the rivers that flow to Nepal, India and Bangladesh, and its entry in the Nepalese hydropower sector, China is compounding the challenges of regional integration.

Breaking the water curse is critical to Nepal’s future. While the mighty Himalayas separate it from Chinese-ruled Tibet, Nepal is tied to India by geography, including multiple shared river basins. Water cooperation with India and Bangladesh can help harness the waters of the common rivers for shared benefit.

But if Nepal remains battered by political turmoil, it risks becoming a failed state — a development that will carry major security implications for India, given the open Indo-Nepalese border that permits passage without documentation or registration.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2017.

MOUNTAINS OF TROUBLE

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A bolder India could rein in China’s dangerous antics in Tibet

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, January 23-29, 2017, pages 56-57

download-1While it has become fashionable to pair China and India as if they were joined at the hip, it is often forgotten that the two have little in common politically, economically or culturally.

Comparatively speaking, the countries are new neighbors. The vast Tibetan plateau, encompassing an area greater than Western Europe, separated the two civilizations throughout history, limiting interaction to sporadic cultural and religious contacts.

It was only after China’s annexation of Tibet in 1951 that Chinese army units appeared for the first time on India’s Himalayan frontiers. This was followed 11 years later by a war in which China’s battlefield triumph sowed the seeds of greater rivalry.

Today, Tibet remains at the center of the China-India divide, fueling territorial disputes, diplomatic tensions and feuds over river-water flows. For example, Beijing was harshly critical of New Delhi in December for allowing the exiled Dalai Lama — who has lived in India since fleeing Tibet in 1959 — to visit the presidential palace for a public event and meet President Pranab Mukherjee, India’s head of state.

Further diplomatic protests from Beijing are expected in coming weeks when the Dalai Lama begins a religious tour of Arunachal Pradesh, a sprawling Indian state famous for its virgin forests and soaring mountain ranges. China claims the territory, which it has called “South Tibet” since 2006.

Tibet is an issue of relevance far beyond China and India. With its lofty terrain, featuring the world’s tallest mountain peaks and largest concentration of glaciers and riverheads, the Tibetan plateau influences atmospheric circulation — and therefore climate and weather patterns — across the northern hemisphere.

China has turned this resource-rich but ecologically fragile plateau into the center of its mining and dam-building activities. With the plateau warming at a rate nearly twice as fast as the rest of the world, glacial recession in the eastern Himalayas and the thawing of permafrost (permanently frozen ground) in Tibet are increasingly apparent.

Wedge issue

The environmental crisis haunting the plateau threatens the ecological well-being of multiple nations, including those dependent on the 10 major Asian river systems that originate on the Tibetan massif. But the environmental problems are dwarfed by political strains in the region.

China lays claim to vast tracts of Indian Himalayan land on the basis of purported Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links. Tibet’s long shadow over China-India relations is also apparent from the Dalai Lama’s lengthy abode in the Indian hill resort of Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

The fall of Tibet represented the most far-reaching geopolitical development in modern India’s history. It gave China borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal for the first time, and facilitated a Sino-Pakistan strategic axis by opening a common land corridor.

The impact has been exacerbated by Indian blunders that have compounded the country’s “China problem” and undercut its leverage. New Delhi was one of the first capitals to embrace the Mao Zedong-led regime in Beijing after the Chinese Communist Party seized power in 1949. But just months later, Mao began annexing the historical buffer of Tibet, eliminating India’s outer line of defense by 1951.

Led by Jawaharlal Nehru, a romantic who viewed China sympathetically as a fellow postcolonial state, India went on to surrender extraterritorial rights in Tibet inherited from the U.K., its former colonial master. It also acknowledged the “Tibet region of China,” without getting Beijing to recognize the existing Indo-Tibetan border. Ironically, the pact that recognized China’s rights in Tibet was named after the Tibetan Buddhist doctrine of Panchsheela, the five principles of peaceful coexistence.

Almost half a century later, India went further still, using the legal term “recognize” in a document signed by the heads of government of the two countries in 2003 that formally accepted Tibet as “part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Dictating terms

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Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is helped by attending monks as he arrives at the inauguration of a four-day seminar in New Delhi, India on Dec. 9, 2016. © AP

Meanwhile, China has sought to crimp the Dalai Lama’s freedom within a democratic India. Initially, Beijing objected to official discussions between the Dalai Lama and foreign heads of state or government. But China has progressed over the years to protesting his presence at any state-linked event, and even his visits to other countries, such as a purely religious trip to Mongolia in November.

The New Delhi event that riled Beijing in December was organized for children’s welfare by Nobel laureates, a group that includes the Dalai Lama. Demanding that India respect China’s “core interests” and refrain from causing “any disturbance” to bilateral ties, China couched its protest in imperious terms. Instead of censuring Beijing for seeking to dictate terms to India, New Delhi responded almost apologetically that the meeting was a “non-political event.”

The more accommodative that India has become of China’s claims and concerns over Tibet, the more assertive Beijing has been in upping the ante. For example, in ratcheting up the Arunachal Pradesh issue in recent years, Beijing has contended that the region — almost three times larger than Taiwan — must be “reunified” with the Chinese state to respect Tibetan sentiment. The flimsy basis of its historical claim has been exposed by the Dalai Lama, who has publicly declared that Arunachal was never part of Tibet.

By bringing its Tibet position into alignment with China’s claim, India has not won Chinese gratitude; rather it has boosted Beijing’s clout and encouraged Chinese re-engineering of transboundary river flows, on which India is critically dependent.

According to Aquastat, a database maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 718 billion cubic meters of surface water a year flows out of the Tibetan plateau and the Chinese regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia to neighboring countries. Of that amount, 48.33% runs directly into India. In addition, Nepal’s Tibet-originating rivers drain into India’s Gangetic basin. So no country is more vulnerable than India to China’s current focus on building cascades of large dams on international rivers.

India can reclaim its Tibet leverage by emphasizing that its acceptance of China’s claim over Tibet hinged on a grant of genuine autonomy to the region. Instead of autonomy, Tibet has experienced tightening political control and increasing repression, triggering grassroots desperation and a wave of self-immolations.

A braver Indian approach would include showing Tibet in its official maps in a different color from the rest of China and using expressions such as “the Indo-Tibet border,” instead of “the India-China border.” Using measures such as this, India can subtly reopen Tibet as an outstanding issue without having to renounce formally any of its previously stated positions.

Whatever it does, India must not shy away from urging China to begin a process of reconciliation and healing in Tibet. Having ceased to be a political buffer between China and India, Tibet can still become a political bridge between the world’s demographic titans if Beijing initiates a process of genuine reconciliation there to ease Tibetans’ feelings of estrangement. Otherwise, Tibet will remain at the core of the China-India divide.

India has played an important role in aiding the survival of Tibetan culture by funding Tibetan schools for the large number of Tibetan exiles it hosts. By recalibrating its Tibet policy, India could elevate Tibet as a strategic and environmental issue that impinges on international security and climatic and hydrological stability.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2017.

Halting China’s free ride

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Trump won’t abide Obama’s fawning approach to trade.

By Brahma Chellaney, Washington Times

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President-elect Donald Trump ran an election campaign that challenged American diplomacy’s long-standing principles and shibboleths. Since his election triumph, Mr. Trump is already rewriting the rules of the presidency and signaling that his foreign policy approach will be unconventional.

Even before assuming office, Mr. Trump has moved away from President Obama’s foreign policy approach by staking out starkly different positions on several sensitive subjects, including China, Taiwan, Israel, terrorism and nuclear weapons. A Trump presidency may not bring seismic shifts in American policy but it is likely to lead to significant change in U.S. priorities, geopolitical focus and goals as well as in the tools Washington would be willing to employ to help achieve its desired objectives.

No country faces a bigger challenge from Mr. Trump’s ascension to power than China, which has been flexing its military and economic muscles more strongly than ever. After the Obama administration’s obsequious stance, Beijing must brace up and face an assertive new national security and economic team in Washington that is unlikely to put up with its covert territorial expansion and trade manipulation.

Mr. Trump has signaled a need to recalibrate foreign policy by shifting its geopolitical focus from Russia, a declining power with a contracting economy, to the increasingly muscular and openly revisionist China. Unlike Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, China’s territorial revisionism, as illustrated in the South China Sea and the Himalayas, is creeping and incremental yet relentless.

Mr. Trump’s focus on China and Islamic radicalism indicates that, far from retreating from Asia and the Middle East, America is likely to play a sharper, more concentrated role. For example, the U.S. military could carry out more significant reconnaissance and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea to help deter Chinese aggression.

To countries bearing the brunt of China’s recidivist policies, the Obama administration’s reluctance to challenge Beijing forced several of them to tread with excessive caution around Chinese concerns and interests. A wake-up call came with Mr. Obama’s silence about the 2012 Chinese capture of the Scarborough Shoal, located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. Washington did nothing in response to the capture, despite its mutual-defense treaty with the Philippines.

That inaction helped spur China’s frenzied creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea. In late 2013, when China unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone covering territories it claims but does not control in the East China Sea, Mr. Obama again hesitated, effectively condoning the action. And recently, his meek response to what Mr. Trump called “an unprecedented act” — China’s daring seizure of a U.S. underwater drone — advertised American weakness.

In the dying days of the Obama administration, an emboldened China is rushing more missiles to its man-made islands in the South China Sea, where, on Mr. Obama’s watch, it has built seven islands and militarized them in an attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.

China has demonstrated that defiant unilateralism is cost-free — but it knows that its free ride is about to end, with Mr. Trump willing to adopt a tougher and less predictable line toward it. This is apparent from Mr. Trump’s suggestion, after taking a phone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, that a “one-China” policy is no sacred cow for him. Mr. Trump’s economic nationalism also holds greater implications for China than probably for any other country.

By subsidizing exports and impeding imports, China has long waged an economic war against other major economies. The Obama administration’s announcement last April of a deal under which China would scrap export subsidies on some products, largely agricultural items and textiles, drew skepticism in the markets because it did not cover major exports, including steel. It also left intact other forms of state support to the Chinese industry.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to give China a free pass on its trade manipulation. Trade is one area where Mr. Trump must deliver on his campaign promises or risk losing his credibility with the blue-collar constituency that helped propel him to victory. He is threatening to slap punitive tariffs on China for what he described during the campaign as “the greatest theft in the history of the world”.

Mr. Trump is unlikely to be deterred by the specter of a trade war with China for the simple reason that Beijing is already waging an economic war. In fact, Mr. Trump’s likely argument for a tough China stance will be that Beijing’s one-sided economic war must be halted. Such a policy approach is also apparent from some of his appointments, including economist Peter Navarro, the author of “Death By China,” “The Coming China Wars,” and “Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the Rest of the World.”

U.S.-China ties could be in for a rough patch for another reason: Mr. Trump could pivot to Asia in a way Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Obama’s failure to provide strategic heft left his Asia pivot unhinged.

To be sure, Mr. Trump is likely to face resistance to recalibrating U.S. foreign policy from two powerful lobbies in Washington — a large tribe of “panda huggers” and the old establishment figures who spent their formative years during the Cold War obsessing with the Soviet threat and now see Russian President Vladimir Putin as the epitome of evil.

Mr. Trump’s task is made more onerous by a mainstream media that remains hostile to him despite its epic failure to anticipate or predict the election outcome.

Still, a determined Donald Trump is likely to reorient U.S. foreign policy in potentially momentous ways.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Reclaiming India’s leverage on Tibet

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, January 4, 2017

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Central governments come and go in New Delhi but India’s instinctive chariness and reserve on the issue of Tibet still persist, despite an increasingly muscular China upping the ante against it. Tibet’s annexation has affected Indian security like no other development, giving China, for the first time under Han rule, a contiguous border with India, Bhutan and Nepal and facilitating a Sino-Pakistan strategic axis through a common land corridor.

Even as the then-independent Tibet’s forcible absorption began just months after the 1949 communist victory in China, India — despite its British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet — watched silently, even opposing a discussion in the UN General Assembly on the aggression. Since then, India has stayed mum on increasing Chinese repression in Tibet. But now it is allowing itself to come under Chinese pressure on the Dalai Lama’s activities and movements within India.

Consider the recent development when the Dalai Lama attended a public event at the Rashtrapati Bhawan and met with President Pranab Mukherjee: The government did the right thing by permitting the Dalai Lama to participate in the event, especially since it was organized for children’s welfare by Nobel laureates, a group that includes the Dalai Lama himself.

But after China protested the Dalai Lama’s presence at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, India gratuitously responded rather than disregarding Beijing’s silly gripe, which was couched in imperious terms.

Demanding that India respect China’s “core interests” to avoid “any disturbance” to the bilateral ties, the Chinese foreign ministry stated, “China has urged India to clearly recognize the Dalai Lama’s anti-Chinese and separatist nature, to respect China’s core interests and concerns, to take effective measures to eliminate the negative influences of the incident, and to avoid disturbing China-India ties,” adding: “Recently in disregard of China’s solemn representation and strong opposition, the Indian side insisted on arranging for the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian presidential palace, where he took part in an event and met President Mukherjee.”

The ministry of external affairs responded not to censure China for seeking to interfere in India’s internal affairs or for dictating terms to it; rather, it responded to explain the matter to Beijing, saying: “India has a consistent position. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, is a respected and revered spiritual leader. It was a non-political event organized by Nobel laureates dedicated to the welfare of children.”

Where was the need for India to explain apologetically that it was “a non-political event” — that too to a country that has no compunction in blocking UN sanctions on Pakistan-based terrorists or in frustrating India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group? The way to deal with China on such an issue is to ignore its protests and keep doing more frequently what it finds objectionable so as to blunt its objections. This approach is necessary in order to send a clear message that China cannot arrogantly lay down terms for India to follow.

Just as China has perfected the art of creeping, covert warfare through which it seeks to take one “slice” of territory at a time, by force, its objections regarding the Dalai Lama have similarly advanced in a crawling form. From objecting to official discussions between the Dalai Lama and a foreign head of state or government, China’s opposition has progressed to protesting his presence at any state-linked event or even his purely spiritual visit to another country, as to Mongolia recently. It has also sought to crimp his freedom within a free India.

Take Mongolia, which has had close links with Tibet ever since the great Mongol king, Altan Khan, converted to Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, the fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia. But when Mongolia in November stood up to China by permitting the Dalai Lama to undertake a four-day religious tour involving no official meeting, Beijing responded as a typical bully by freezing ties and seeking to throttle its economy — dependent on commodity exports to China — by slapping punitive tariffs and shutting a key border crossing point. And it kept up the coercive pressure until Mongolia, battling a recession, agreed not to allow the Dalai Lama in again even for a religious tour.

Far from being vulnerable to Chinese economic blackmail, India is in a position to employ trade as a political instrument against China, given the lopsided nature of the bilateral commerce. Fattened by a rapidly growing trade surplus with India that now totals almost $60 billion yearly, China has been busy undermining Indian security, either directly or through its surrogate Pakistan. China’s surplus has actually doubled just since Narendra Modi assumed office.

India not only needs to fix the increasingly asymmetrical trade relationship with China but must also reclaim its leverage on the Tibet issue. Tibet is a major instrument of leverage that India has against China. Yet India remains very reluctant to exercise that leverage. Had China been in India’s place, it is unthinkable that it would have shied away from employing the Tibet card or the trade card.

Tibet is to India against China what Pakistan is to China against India. But China has had no hesitation to play the Pakistan card against India, including by building Pakistan as a military balancer on the subcontinent through continuing transfers of nuclear-weapon, missile and conventional-weapon technologies.

Way back in 1965, then education minister and soon to be external affairs minister M.C. Chagla declared, “The conditions under which we recognized China’s suzerainty no longer exist.” Yet today India recognizes Tibet as part of China even as Beijing openly challenges India’s unity and territorial integrity, including by occupying the Aksai Chin plateau and claiming an entire Indian state.

Without India asserting itself by reopening the Tibet issue, China will continue to breathe down its neck and seek to dictate terms. For example, when the Dalai Lama tours Arunachal Pradesh shortly, Beijing will again unleash its diplomatic fury by hectoring India.

© Mint, 2016.

India may be parched yet it is remarkably short-sighted on water resources

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Brahma Chellaney, Mail Today, December 30, 2016

imagesThe inter-ministerial task force set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for correcting India’s under-utilization of its allocated share of waters under the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) has just held its first meeting. The water-related issue facing India, however, is much larger: The continuing absence of institutionalized, integrated policymaking in India, which has prevented proper management of the country’s increasingly scarce water resources. Indeed, India stands out for its lack of a national action plan to build water security.

When the Indian Republic was established, the framers of its Constitution did not visualize water scarcity in the decades ahead, given the relative abundance of water resources then. Therefore, they left water as a state-level subject, rather than making it a federal issue.

Similarly, the IWT, under which India bigheartedly agreed in 1960 to the exclusive reservation of the largest three of the six Indus system rivers for Pakistan, was negotiated in a period when water shortages were uncommon in most parts of India. This led India to sign an extraordinary treaty whose terms commit India to indefinitely reserve over four-fifths of the total waters of the Indus system for Pakistan.

The treaty uniquely parceled out entire rivers to Pakistan. It granted Pakistan virtually exclusive rights to use the waters of the Chenab, the Jhelum, and the main Indus stream — known together as the “western rivers”. The average replenishable flows of the three western rivers total 167.2 billion cubic meters (BCM) per year. As its own share, India settled for a mere 40.4 BCM, or the total yearly flows of the three so-called eastern rivers — the Sutlej, the Beas, and the Ravi.

Four of these six rivers originate in India (three of them in Himachal Pradesh), and two (the main Indus stream and the Sutlej) originate in Tibet. Only the Jhelum originates in Jammu and Kashmir.

clipboard01Today, the national water situation in India is far worse than in China. China’s population is not even 10 per cent larger than India’s but its internally renewable water resources (2,813 BCM) are almost twice as large as India’s. In aggregate water availability, including external inflows (which are sizeable in India’s case), China boasts virtually 50 per cent larger resources than India.

Yet India serves as a case study of how a disjointed policy approach and lack of vision on managing water resources can exact serious costs by creating water shortages across much of the country. In a sense, India’s fragmented approach is exactly the opposite of China’s highly centralized approach centred on mega-projects.

The startling fact is that the responsibility for water issues is so fragmented within India’s central government that 12 different departments or ministries deal with different segments of water resources. To promote clear responsibility and accountability in national water management and to facilitate integrated policymaking, India must end its present fragmented approach on water issues.

As for India’s under-utilization of its IWT-allocated water share, the task facing the task-force is formidable. For example, the waters of the three eastern rivers not utilized by India aggregate to 10.37 BCM yearly according to Pakistan or, according to the UN, 11.1 BCM. These bonus outflows to Pakistan alone amount to six times Mexico’s total water share under its treaty with the US, and are many times greater than the total volumes spelled out in the Israel-Jordan water arrangements.

Although the IWT permits India to store 4.4 BCM of waters from the Pakistan-reserved rivers, a careless India has built no storage. And despite the treaty allowing India to build hydropower plants with no dam reservoir, India’s total installed generating capacity in J&K currently does not equal the size of a single new dam in Pakistan like the 4,500-megawatt Diamer-Bhasha, whose financing for construction was approved recently.

Against this background, the task force set up by Modi, with his principal secretary as its chairman, may be a step in the right direction. But constituting this committee is hardly an adequate response to fixing the anomaly as reflected in India’s under-utilization of its water share.

Made up of senior bureaucrats who are already busy attending to other tasks, the committee cannot by itself remove the bureaucratic hurdles in the proper utilization of water resources. India’s political negligence on this issue has been so deep and extensive that it can be remedied only through hands-on political direction and in coordination with the state chief ministers.

More fundamentally, water scarcity is a looming challenge across India. The water wars between various Indian states are highlighting how the competition over shared water resources is sharpening in an alarming manner.

India must treat water as a strategic resource for its own well-being. If the current compartmentalized approach to managing water resources persists, water shortages are going to exact growing economic and social costs in India.

© Mail Today, 2016.

From Russia With Unrequited Love

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has assiduously courted Russian President Vladimir Putin, meeting with him more than a dozen times in four years. This month he hosted Putin in Tokyo and in his hometown of Nagato (famed for its onsen, or natural hot springs). But Abe’s courtship has so far yielded little for Japan, and much for Russia.

Abe’s diplomatic overtures to Putin are integral to his broader strategy to position Japan as a counterweight to China, and to rebalance power in Asia, where Japan, Russia, China, and India form a strategic quadrangle. Abe has already built a close relationship with India, and he sees improved relations with Russia – with which Japan never formally made peace after World War II – as the missing ingredient for a regional power equilibrium.

But Abe’s trust-building efforts with Russia are not aimed only at checking Chinese aggression. He also wants Russia to return its southernmost Kuril Islands – a resource-rich area known as the Northern Territories in Japan – which the Soviet Union seized just after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. In exchange, Abe has offered economic aid, investments in Russia’s neglected Far East, and major energy deals.

Abe has, however, encountered several obstacles. For starters, Japan is a participant in the US-led sanctions that were imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea in March 2014. These sanctions have pushed Russia closer to its traditional rival, China; and Putin has publicly identified the sanctions as a hindrance to concluding a peace treaty with Japan.

In response to Abe’s overtures, Putin has doggedly tried to drive a hard bargain. Russia has bolstered its defenses on the four disputed islands, and, just prior to this month’s summit, he told the Japanese media that the current territorial arrangement suits Russian interests. “We think that we have no territorial problems,” he said. “It’s Japan that thinks that it has a territorial problem with Russia.”

The US-led sanctions regime and low oil prices have battered the Russian economy, which is expected to contract by 0.8% in 2016. Thus, Putin is more reluctant than ever to offer territorial concessions, lest it tarnish his domestic image as a staunch defender of Russian national interests.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Abe left the recent “onsen summit” with dashed hopes of resolving the territorial dispute, while Putin returned home with 68 new commercial accords. Many of the new agreements are symbolic, but some are substantive, including deals worth $2.5 billion and an agreement to set up a $1 billion bilateral-investment fund.

Under the latter agreement, Japan and Russia are supposed create a “special framework” for joint economic activities on the disputed islands. But the plan has already run into trouble. Peter Shelakhaev, a senior Russian official who leads the government’s Far East Investment and Export Agency, has indicated that there are legal hurdles to establishing such a framework, and that Japanese firms doing business on the Kurils would have to pay taxes to Russia. If Japan did that, however, it would effectively be recognizing Russia’s jurisdiction over the islands.

Abe has thus been denied the legacy that he sought, while Putin has succeeded in easing Russia’s international isolation. Abe was the first G7 leader to hold a summit with Putin after Russia annexed Crimea, and now Russia has won Japan’s economic cooperation, too.

Japan is the only G7 country that has a territorial dispute with Russia, and it is clearly more eager to reach a deal than the Kremlin is. But this has only strengthened Russia’s hand. While Japan has softened its position, and signaled that it may accept only a partial return of the islands, Russia has grown only more intransigent. After the recent summit, Abe revealed that Putin now seems to be reneging on a 1956 agreement between Japan and the Soviet Union, which stipulates that the smaller two of the four islands will be returned to Japan after a peace treaty is signed.

As it happens, this year marks the 60th anniversary of that joint declaration, which was widely viewed as a breakthrough at the time. The Kremlin is now suggesting that its commitment to fulfilling the declaration was conditional on Japan not joining any security alliance against Russia. And Putin has expressed concerns that the 1960 Japan-US Security Treaty would extend to the disputed islands if they were returned, thus allowing the US to establish a military presence there.

Japan is in no position to address Russia’s concerns. It cannot opt out of the US-led sanctions regime; and it cannot exempt the disputed Kurils from its security treaty with the US, especially now that it has been urging the US to provide an explicit commitment to defend the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, over which China claims sovereignty.

Putin, for his part, appears smugly content with his negotiating position. Not only did he arrive almost three hours late to the onsen summit, in keeping with his habit of leaving foreign leaders waiting; he also declined a Japanese government gift – a male companion for his native Japanese Akita dog, which Japan gave him in 2012.

There is little hope now that Abe will see tangible returns on the political capital he has invested in cultivating Putin. And Japan’s dilemma will only deepen. US President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia may give Abe leeway to continue wooing Putin; but if Russia gets the US in its corner, it won’t need Japan anymore.

The Great Water Folly

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

imagesThe linkages between water stress, sharing disputes and environmental degradation threaten to trap Asia in a vicious cycle. In a continent where China’s unilateralism stands out as a destabilizing factor, only four of the 57 transnational river basins have a treaty on water sharing or institutionalized cooperation. Indeed, the only Asian treaties incorporating specific sharing formulas are between India and its downriver neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

When Pakistan was carved out of India as the first Islamic republic of the post-colonial era, the partition left the Indus headwaters in India, arming it with formidable water leverage over the newly-created country. Yet India ultimately agreed under World Bank and US pressure in 1960 to what still ranks as the world’s most generous (and lopsided) water-sharing pact.

The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) reserved for Pakistan the largest three rivers that make up more than four-fifths of the Indus-system waters, leaving for India just 19.48% of the total waters. After gifting the lion’s share of the waters to the congenitally hostile Pakistan, India also contributed $173.63 million for dam and other projects there. The Great Water Folly — one of the major strategic problems bequeathed to future Indian generations by the Nehruvian era — began exacting serious costs within a few years.

Far from mollifying an implacable foe, the IWT whetted Pakistan’s territorial revisionism, prompting its 1965 military attack on India’s Jammu and Kashmir. The attack was aimed at gaining political control of the land through which the three largest rivers reserved for Pakistani use flowed, although only one of them originates in J&K. The 1965 attack was essentially a water war.

India’s naïve assumption that it traded water munificence for peace in 1960 has backfired, saddling it with an iniquitous treaty of indefinite duration and keeping water as a core issue in its relations with Pakistan. As for Pakistan, after failing to achieve its water designs militarily in 1965, it has continued to wage a water war against India by other means, including diplomacy and terrorism. Put simply, 56 years after the IWT was signed, Pakistan’s covetous, water-driven claim to India’s J&K remains intact.

Pakistan has cleverly employed the IWT to have its cake and eat it too. While receiving the largest quantum of waters reserved by any treaty for a downstream state, it uses the IWT to sustain its conflict and tensions with India. Worse still, this scofflaw nation repays the upper riparian’s unparalleled water largesse with blood by waging an undeclared, terrorism-centred war, with the Nagrota attack the latest example.

Pakistan has recently succeeded — for the second time in this decade — in persuading a partisan World Bank to initiate international arbitral proceedings against India. Seeking international intercession is part of Pakistan’s ‘water war’ strategy against India, yet it is the World Bank’s ugly role in the latest instance that sticks out. This should surprise few.

After all, it was the World Bank’s murky role that spawned the inherently unequal IWT. Whereas the British colonial government was the instrument in India’s 1947 land partition, the Bank served as the agent to partition the Indus-system rivers, floating the river-partitioning proposal and ramming it down India’s throat. India’s full sovereignty rights were limited to the smallest three of the six rivers, with the Bank uniquely signing a binational treaty as its guarantor.

Since then, World Bank support enabled Pakistan not only to complete mega-dams but also to sustain its ‘water war’ strategy against India by seeking to invoke international intercession repeatedly. Now, in response to Pakistan’s complaint over the design features of two midsized Indian hydropower projects, the World Bank has sought to initiate two concurrent processes that mock the IWT’s provisions for resolving any ‘questions’, ‘differences’ or ‘disputes’ between the parties: It is appointing both a court of arbitration (as sought by Pakistan) and a neutral expert (as suggested by India), while admitting that “pursuing two concurrent processes under the treaty could make it unworkable over time”.

India says it “cannot be party to actions” by the World Bank that breach the IWT’s terms, implying that it might not accept the arbitral tribunal. India’s bark, however, has always been worse than its bite. While protesting the Bank’s “legally untenable” move in the latest case, India has shown little inclination to respond through punitive counter-measures.

Had China been in India’s place, it would have sought to discipline the Bank and Pakistan. Indeed, it is unthinkable that China would have countenanced such an egregiously inequitable treaty. While mouthing empty rhetoric, India still allows Pakistan to draw the IWT’s full benefits even as Pakistan bleeds it by exporting terrorists.

The truth is this: The IWT symbolizes India’s enduring strategic naiveté and negligence. Despite water shortages triggering bitter feuds between Punjab and some other states, India has failed to tap even the allocated 19.48% share of the Indus Basin resources.

For example, the waters of the three India-earmarked rivers not utilized by India aggregate to 10.37 billion cubic metres (BCM) yearly according to Pakistan, and 11.1 BCM according to the UN. These bonus outflows to Pakistan alone amount to six times Mexico’s total water share under its treaty with the US, and are many times greater than the total volumes spelled out in the Israel-Jordan water arrangements. Although the IWT permits India to store 4.4 BCM of waters from the Pakistan-reserved rivers, a careless India has built no storage. And despite the treaty allowing India to build hydropower plants with no dam reservoir, its total installed generating capacity in J&K currently does not equal the size of a single new dam in Pakistan like the 4,500-megawatt Diamer-Bhasha, whose financing for construction was approved last week.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

A Water War in Asia?

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Tensions over water are rising in Asia — and not only because of conflicting maritime claims. While territorial disputes, such as in the South China Sea, attract the most attention — after all, they threaten the safety of sea lanes and freedom of navigation, which affects outside powers as well — the strategic ramifications of competition over transnationally shared freshwater resources are just as ominous.

Asia has less fresh water per capita than any other continent, and it is already facing a water crisis that, according to an MIT study, will continue to intensify, with severe water shortages expected by 2050. At a time of widespread geopolitical discord, competition over freshwater resources could emerge as a serious threat to long-term peace and stability in Asia.

Already, the battle is underway, with China as the main aggressor. Indeed, China’s territorial grab in the South China Sea has been accompanied by a quieter grab of resources in transnational river basins. Reengineering cross-border riparian flows is integral to China’s strategy to assert greater control and influence over Asia.

China is certainly in a strong position to carry out this strategy. The country enjoys unmatched riparian dominance, with 110 transnational rivers and lakes flowing into 18 downstream countries. China also has the world’s most dams, which it has never hesitated to use to curb cross-border flows. In fact, China’s dam builders are targeting most of the international rivers that flow out of Chinese territory.

Most of China’s internationally shared water resources are located on the Tibetan Plateau, which it annexed in the early 1950s. Unsurprisingly, the plateau is the new hub of Chinese dam building. Indeed, China’s 13th five-year plan, released this year, calls for a new wave of dam projects on the Plateau.

Moreover, China recently cut off the flow of a tributary of the Brahmaputra River, the lifeline of Bangladesh and northern India, to build a dam as part of a major hydroelectric project in Tibet. And the country is working to dam another Brahmaputra tributary, in order to create a series of artificial lakes.

China has also built six mega-dams on the Mekong River, which flows into Southeast Asia, where the downstream impact is already visible. Yet, instead of curbing its dam-building, China is hard at work building several more Mekong dams.

Likewise, water supplies in largely arid Central Asia are coming under further pressure as China appropriates a growing volume of water from the Illy River. Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash is now at risk of shrinking substantially, much like the Aral Sea — located on the border with Uzbekistan — which has virtually dried up in less than 40 years. China is also diverting water from the Irtysh, which supplies drinking water to Kazakhstan’s capital Astana and feeds Russia’s Ob River.

For Central Asia, the diminished transboundary flows are just one part of the problem. China’s energy, manufacturing, and agricultural activities in sprawling Xinjiang are having an even greater impact, as they contaminate the waters of the region’s transnational rivers with hazardous chemicals and fertilizers, just as China has done to the rivers in its Han heartland.

Of course, China is not the only country stoking conflict over water. As if to underscore that the festering territorial dispute in Kashmir is as much about water as it is about land, Pakistan has, for the second time this decade, initiated international arbitral tribunal proceedings against India under the terms of the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty. The paradox here is that downstream Pakistan has used that treaty — the world’s most generous water-sharing deal, reserving for Pakistan more than 80% of the waters of the six-river Indus system — to sustain its conflict with India.

Meanwhile, landlocked Laos — aiming to export hydropower, especially to China, the mainstay of its economy — has just notified its neighbors of its decision to move ahead with a third controversial project, the 912-megawatt Pak Beng dam. It previously brushed aside regional concerns about the alteration of natural-flow patterns to push ahead with the Xayaburi and Don Sahong dam projects. There is no reason to expect a different outcome this time.

The consequences of growing water competition in Asia will reverberate beyond the region. Already, some Asian states, concerned about their capacity to grow enough food, have leased large tracts of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa, triggering a backlash in some areas. In 2009, when South Korea’s Daewoo Logistics Corporation negotiated a deal to lease as much as half of Madagascar’s arable land to produce cereals and palm oil for the South Korean market, the ensuing protests and military intervention toppled a democratically elected president.

The race to appropriate water resources in Asia is straining agriculture and fisheries, damaging ecosystems, and fostering dangerous distrust and discord across the region. It must be brought to an end. Asian countries need to clarify the region’s increasingly murky hydropolitics. The key will be effective dispute-resolution mechanisms and agreement on more transparent water-sharing arrangements.

Asia can build a harmonious, rules-based water management system. But it needs China to get on board. At least for now, that does not seem likely.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut, Water: Asia’s New Battleground, and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

BRICS falls under China’s sway

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There’s a real risk that BRICS could unravel under the weight of the BRICS wall of China that Beijing is busy erecting
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BY The Japan Times

Adding concrete content to a catchy acronym has become a pressing challenge for BRICS, which brings Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together. BRICS presents itself meretriciously as a powerful grouping. After all, its member-states together represent more than a quarter of the Earth’s landmass, 42 percent of the global population, almost 25 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, and nearly half of the global foreign exchange and gold reserves.

However, as the October BRICS summit in Goa highlighted, there is little in common among its member-states. Although these five emerging economies pride themselves on forming the first important non-Western global initiative, the grouping is still searching to define a common identity and build institutionalized cooperation.

Six years after it expanded from a four-member BRIC to the five-nation BRICS by adding South Africa, it has yet to unveil a common action plan to help bring about fundamental changes in the architecture of global finance and governance or to accelerate the decline of the era of Atlantic dominance.

BRICS lacks the shared political and economic values that bind together the Group of Seven members, who are also tied by security arrangements with the United States. In BRICS, differences outweigh commonalities. As the Goa summit highlighted, China, which is milking BRICS for tangible benefits, represents the biggest challenge to the grouping’s future. Just as China dominates the other new institutions of which it is a founding member — from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) — it is using BRICS to assertively push its own interests.

China also dominates the first tangible challenge to the Bretton Woods system, as symbolized by the BRICS-created New Development Bank (NDB) and China’s own initiative, the AIIB.

BRICS has fashioned two instruments — the New Development Bank, which has been given $50 billion in initial capital, and the $100-billion Contingent Reserve Arrangement, or CRA, meant to provide additional liquidity protection to member countries during balance-of-payments problems. Both these instruments have come under China’s sway.

For example, China outmaneuvered India to host the NDB at Shanghai, offering New Delhi a consolation prize — an Indian as the bank’s first president. The CRA — unlike the pool of initial capital to the BRICS bank, with each of the five signatories contributing $10 billion — is being funded 41 percent by China, 18 percent from Brazil, India, and Russia, and 5 percent from South Africa.

Today, China is in the happy situation of overseeing the NDB and the AIIB, not to mention the CRA. Leading two new multilateral banks fits well with Beijing’s strategy to create an “economic hub-and-spoke system” via energy pipelines, strategic highways and ports, and railroad networks. In this scheme, China, as the hub, seeks to draw in raw materials and other natural resources from the spokes, while exporting industrial and consumer goods to them.

China’s “economic hub-and-spoke system” is to parallel America’s military hub-and-spoke system. But it is an “economic hub-and-spoke system” with a strategic mission. China’s infrastructure development in other states is driven, as during the European colonial era, by a specific interest — to advance its own interests while saddling local communities and governments with heavy debt and human and environmental costs.

Against this background, it is not a surprise that China is a revisionist power with respect to the global financial architecture, but a status quo power in regard to the United Nations system. In other words, China supports international institutional reforms that give it a greater say but blocks measures that will dilute its existing status.

So it is an obstacle to restructuring and democratizing the Security Council. It wants to remain Asia’s sole permanent member of the Security Council. And as underscored by its 2016 presidency of the Group of 20, China values the G-20 as a vehicle to enlarge its role in global economic governance while seeking to retain those elements of the present trade and financial architecture that have facilitated its dramatic economic rise.

Meanwhile, it is using BRICS to expand the international role of its currency as part of its quest to build the yuan as a global currency that could one day rival the dollar or euro. So it is lending and trading in yuan with the other BRICS members.

China’s hidden export subsidies, for their part, are steadily undermining manufacturing in the other BRICS states, even as its adept use of tariff and non-tariff barriers shuts out, from its own market, goods and services in which they have a comparative advantage. For example, China’s trade surplus with India has doubled since 2014 alone to nearly $60 billion, threatening India’s domestic manufacturing base. An article last month in China’s state-run Global Times mockingly said: “Let the Indian authorities bark about the growing trade deficit with China. The fact of the matter is they cannot do anything about it.”

At the Goa summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping flexed his muscles to keep the South China Sea issue out of the Goa Declaration and to shield Pakistan from its sponsorship of terrorism, with the declaration citing U.N.-designated terrorist groups in the Middle East but not the ones based in Pakistan.

China’s “core leader” in Goa called for “political solutions” to “regional hotspots” even as his government adds fuel to regional fires through a relentless territorial creep in the South China Sea and by embarking on a $46 billion corridor to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir, a U.N.-recognized disputed region. How can BRICS create rules-based cooperation among its members if international norms of conduct are flouted in such a manner?

The Goa summit indeed was a reminder of China’s lengthening shadow over BRICS. As China uses the grouping to push its own agenda, BRICS has been left carrying the can. The risk is real that the grouping could collapse under the weight of the BRICS wall of China that is being erected.

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Trump could ‘pivot’ to Asia like Obama never did

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Trump may well launch his own ‘Asian pivot’ in the vacuum of Obama’s lackluster effort.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, November 21, 2016

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U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” toward Asia, unveiled in 2012, attracted much international attention but did little to tame China’s muscular approach to territorial, maritime and trade disputes. Indeed, with the United States focused on the Islamic world, Obama’s much-touted Asian pivot seemed to lose its way somewhere in the arc between Iraq and Libya. Will President-elect Donald Trump’s approach to Asia be different?

In his first meeting with a foreign leader since his surprise Nov. 8 election triumph, Trump delivered a reassuring message to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who, in turn, described him as a “trustworthy leader.” In a smart diplomatic move, Abe made a special stop in New York on Nov. 17, en route to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, to meet face-to-face with Trump, who shares his conservative, nationalistic outlook.

Today, Asia faces the specter of power disequilibrium. Concern that Trump could undo Obama’s pivot to Asia by exhibiting an isolationist streak ignores the fact that the pivot has remained more rhetorical than real. Even as Obama prepares to leave office, the pivot — rebranded as “rebalancing” — has not acquired any concrete strategic content.

If anything, the coining of a catchy term, “pivot,” has helped obscure the key challenge confronting the U.S.: To remain the principal security anchor in Asia in the face of a relentless push by a revisionist China to expand its frontiers and sphere of influence.

Trump indeed could face an early test of will from a China determined to pursue its “salami slicing” approach to gaining regional dominance. In contrast to Russia’s preference for full-fledged invasion, China has perfected the art of creeping, covert warfare through which it seeks to take one “slice” of territory at a time, by force.

With Obama having increasingly ceded ground to China in Asia during his tenure, Beijing feels emboldened, as evident in its incremental expansionism in the South China Sea and its dual Silk Road projects under the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The Maritime Silk Road is just a new name for Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy, aimed at increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, without incurring any international costs, China aggressively continues to push its borders far out into international waters in a way that no other power has done.

Indeed, boosting naval prowess and projecting power far from its shores are at the center of China’s ambition to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia. Boasting one of the world’s fastest-growing undersea fleets, China announced earlier in November that its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, is ready for combat. Such revanchist moves will inevitably test the new U.S. administration’s limits.

Tougher approach

In this light, it is difficult to see how Trump can afford to cut back on U.S. military deployments and assets in the Asia-Pacific region. What seems more likely is that Trump will live up to his election campaign promise to invest greater resources in the military. By relaxing some of the Obama-era constraints, Trump, in keeping with his “tough guy” image, could permit the U.S. navy and air force to initiate more aggressive reconnaissance and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea. He could also invite China’s wrath by getting Japan to join U.S. air and sea patrols in the disputed waters.

Trump is also expected to be more assertive diplomatically than Obama, who refused to speak up even when China occupied the Scarborough Shoal, located well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. The 2012 takeover occurred despite a U.S.-brokered deal under which both Beijing and Manila agreed to withdraw their vessels from the area. Yet the U.S. did nothing in response to China’s move, despite its mutual-defense treaty with the Philippines. That inaction helped spur China’s frenzied creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

In late 2013, when China unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone covering territories it claims but does not control in the East China Sea, Obama again hesitated. Indeed, Washington, far from postponing Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Beijing to express disapproval of the Chinese action, advised U.S. commercial airlines to respect the ADIZ — an action that ran counter to Japan’s advice to its carriers to ignore China’s demand for advance notice of flight plans through the zone. In effect, the U.S. condoned China’s move to establish the ADIZ.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s much-criticized action to cut his own deal with China, involving billions of dollars in Chinese investment pledges, should be seen in this context. The deal, however, is likely to hold only until the next major Chinese incursion.

The paradox here is that Beijing’s rising assertiveness helped the U.S. return to Asia’s center-stage — yet, even as China became more aggressive with its neighbors, the Obama administration dithered over how to rein in such expansionism or reassure America’s jittery Asian allies. In fact, the more assertive China has become in pressing its territorial and maritime claims, from the East China Sea to the Himalayas, the more reluctant the Obama administration has been to take sides in Asia’s territorial disputes — although they center on Beijing’s efforts to change the status quo with America’s strategic allies or partners.

No less significant is Obama’s failure to provide strategic heft to his Asia pivot. By studiously avoiding disputes with China while working to balance America’s relationships with key Asian states, his administration shied away from tough strategic choices. Indeed, no sooner had the pivot policy been unveiled than a course correction was effected, with the administration tamping down the pivot’s military aspects and laying emphasis instead on greater U.S. economic engagement with Asia. Even the modest measure to permanently rotate up to 2,500 U.S. marines through Darwin, Australia, is yet to be fully implemented.

To countries bearing the brunt of China’s recidivist policies, this lack of clarity has not only raised doubts about the U.S. commitment, but also left them effectively at the mercy of a regional predator. That, in turn, has forced several of them to tread with excessive caution around Chinese concerns and interests.

Shoring up alliances

Far from retreating from Asia, the U.S. under Trump is likely to bolster alliances and partnerships with states around China’s periphery. His administration may even support constitutional and national security reforms in Japan, on the assumption that a Japan that does more for its own defense will help to forestall the emergence of a destabilizing power imbalance in East Asia. Such support will also fit well with Trump’s top priority to halt the erosion of America’s relative power through comprehensive domestic renewal, including reining in the mounting U.S. budget deficit.

Trump’s election, however, has dimmed prospects for full implementation of the 12-nation, Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The TPP, which excludes not only China but also America’s close friends like India and South Korea, has been presented by Obama as the most important component of his unhinged pivot to Asia. In truth, the TPP is hardly a transformative initiative: With half its members already boasting bilateral free trade agreements with Washington, the TPP’s main effect would have been to create a free trade agreement between Japan and the U.S., which together account for about 80% of the gross domestic product of TPP signatories.

Trade is one area where Trump must deliver on his campaign promises or risk losing his credibility with the blue-collar constituency that helped propel him to victory. His administration not only will seek to renegotiate parts of the TPP — to the discomfit of Abe, who has made the trade deal a pillar of his economic reforms — but also is unlikely to give China a free pass on its trade manipulation. For this and many other reasons, U.S.-China ties could be in for a rough patch.

At a time when the very future of the Asian order looks uncertain, Trump could pivot to Asia in a way Obama did not. But today, no single power, not even the U.S., can shape developments on its own in Asia, including ensuring a rules-based order. His administration will have to work closely with likeminded states — from Japan and Australia to India and Vietnam — to build a stable balance of power in Asia.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

China’s sole ally in Asia might get more than it wished for

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BY The Japan Times, November 8, 2016

sino-pak-imageWhen China joined hands with the United States earlier this year at the United Nations Security Council to approve the toughest new international sanctions in two decades against North Korea, it implicitly highlighted that Beijing now is left with just one real ally in Asia — Pakistan. Indeed, China has forged with Pakistan one of the closest and most-enduring relationships in international diplomacy.

Mao Zedong famously said China and North Korea were as close as lips are to teeth. Similarly, Beijing now compares its strategic nexus with Pakistan to the closeness between lips and teeth, calling that country its “irreplaceable all-weather friend” and boasting of an “iron brotherhood” with it.

In reality, this is largely a one-sided relationship that is turning Pakistan into China’s client and guinea pig.

For example, Beijing has sold Pakistan outdated or untested nuclear power reactors and prototype weapon systems not deployed by the Chinese military. The two AC-1000 reactors currently under construction near the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi represent a model China has adapted from French designs but not built at home.

According to a recent Pentagon report, Pakistan is not just “China’s primary customer for conventional weapons,” but also is likely to host a Chinese naval hub geared toward power projection in the Indian Ocean region. It is well documented that China helped build Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, with covert Chinese nuclear and missile assistance still persisting.

Pakistan is the linchpin of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dual Silk Road projects, officially known as “One Belt, One Road.”

By launching work on a $46 billion “economic corridor” stretching from Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Chinese-built and-run Gwadar port, Xi has made that country the central link between the twin Silk Road initiatives, which aim to employ geoeconomic tools to create a “Sinosphere” of trade, communications, transportation and security links. The corridor will link up Beijing’s maritime and overland Silk Roads, thereby shortening China’s route to the Middle East by 12,000 km and giving it access to the Indian Ocean, where it would be able to challenge India in its own maritime backyard.

Not surprisingly, Xi has gone out of his way to shield Pakistan, including from accusations that its intelligence service was behind recent grisly terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. For example, Xi ensured that the final communique issued at the end of the Oct. 14-15 summit of the five BRICS countries — Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa — omitted any reference to state sponsorship of terror or to any Pakistan-based terrorist group, even as it mentioned organizations like the Islamic State and al-Nusra.

A more potent reminder of such support was China’s action last month in blocking proposed U.N. sanctions on a Pakistan-based terrorist leader Masood Azhar, who heads Jaish-e-Mohammed, a covert front organization for Pakistani intelligence service. It was the sixth time since September 2014 that China singlehandedly thwarted sanctions against Azhar, despite support for the move by all other members of the Security Council’s Resolution 1267 committee, including the United States, Britain and France. Resolution 1267 mandates U.N. sanctions on the Islamic State, al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities.

The Security Council proscribed Jaish-e-Mohammed way back in 2001, yet the group operates openly from its base in Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab. The need for U.N. sanctions against the group’s chief has been underscored by evidence linking him and his group to two terrorist attacks this year on Indian military bases that killed 27 soldiers.

Despite repeatedly vetoing U.N. action against Azhar, China seems unconcerned that it could be seen as complicit in the killing of the Indian soldiers.

Previously, China also blocked U.N. action against some other Pakistan-based terrorist entities or individuals. For example, it came in the way of the U.N. proscribing United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin and probing how U.N.-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed is still able to raise funds and organize large public rallies in major Pakistani cities. With China’s help, Pakistan escaped U.N. censure for freeing on bail Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi, the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes.

In fact, with China boosting its strategic investments in Pakistan, Beijing is stepping up its diplomatic, economic and military support to that country. In the process, it is seeking to cement Pakistan’s status as its client.

For example, China has already secured exclusive rights for the next 40 years to run Gwadar, which could become a hub for Chinese naval operations in the Indian Ocean. The Shanghai Stock Exchange, for its part, is poised to take a 40 percent stake in Pakistan’s bourse.

Some analysts like the American author Gordon G. Chang believe that the tide of new Chinese strategic projects, including in divided and disputed Kashmir, is turning Pakistan into China’s “newest colony.”

Indeed, Beijing has persuaded internally torn Pakistan to set up special security forces, including a new 13,000-strong army division, to protect the Chinese projects. Still, the growing security costs of the “economic corridor” to the Indian Ocean prompted a Chinese state paper in September to warn that China “be prepared for potential setbacks,” adding that “it would be unwise to put all its eggs in one basket.”

The fact is that the corridor will cement Pakistan’s status as Beijing’s economic and security client. By tightening China’s grip over the country, it will preclude Pakistan from possibly emulating the example of Myanmar or North Korea to escape Beijing’s clutches.

Indeed, several years before China unveiled its plan to build the corridor, it started stationing its own troops in the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir, ostensibly to shield its ongoing highway, dam and other projects in the mountainous region.

The implications of China’s growing strategic penetration of Pakistan are ominous for the region and for Pakistan’s own future. Concern is increasing in Pakistan that, thanks to the Chinese projects, the country is slipping into a massive debt trap that could compromise its sovereignty and future.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including “Asian Juggernaut,” “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” and “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.” He is a long-standing contributor to The Japan Times.

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s diplomatic balancing act

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Sustaining “neutrality” in foreign policy will likely prove a challenge for Myanmar’s de facto leader

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

aung-san-suu-kyiIn keeping with the untrammeled power she enjoys in her ruling National League for Democracy party, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi is rapidly putting her imprint on her country’s international relations. She has shaken up Myanmar’s diffident foreign policy establishment by proactively seeking to build partnerships with multiple powers. But rather than pronouncing a “Suu Kyi doctrine” in foreign policy, she is allowing her actions to define her approach.

Suu Kyi’s approach is unmistakable — a nondoctrinaire vision with pragmatism as the hallmark, that aims to build equilibrium in relations with major powers and underscore Myanmar’s potential role as a bridge between different regions, cultures and powers. Myanmar’s geographic and geostrategic position makes it the natural bridge between South and Southeast Asia and between the demographic titans, China and India.

Myanmar is as large as Britain and France combined. Yet by coming under severe U.S.-led sanctions, Myanmar was strikingly left out of Asia’s economic boom of the past generation. Since 2011, its democratic transition — cemented by NLD’s landslide election victory nearly a year ago — has reversed its fortunes, with a number of countries jockeying to exploit the economic opportunities it offers.

Suu Kyi seems to believe that, through a dynamic foreign policy, she not only can advance Myanmar’s economic and security interests but also play the role of a facilitator between rival powers, including between China and Japan. Myanmar’s economic and political vulnerability, however, crimps Suu Kyi’s ambitious diplomacy, forcing her to perform a delicate balancing act between major powers vying for influence.

Take China, with which Myanmar shares a 2,129km border: As if to signal that her country’s pro-China tilt and dependence on Beijing was an aberration fostered by crippling U.S.-led sanctions for nearly a quarter century, Suu Kyi committed, soon after coming to power, to revive the country’s tradition of pursuing a neutral foreign policy. Yet, her first visit to a major capital was to Beijing in August.

The plain fact is that even though China impeded the Suu Kyi-led democracy movement by siding with Myanmar’s military rulers, its aggressive pursuit of strategic and resource interests has left it with considerable clout in the country. It accounts for about half of Myanmar’s foreign investment and 40% of its trade, with new multibillion-dollar oil and gas pipelines leading from Myanmar’s western coast to southern China.

Pecking order

Four weeks after her China trip, Suu Kyi visited the U.S., leading her country’s delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in New York and then meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. The White House meeting led to Obama’s Oct. 7 executive order lifting U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar.

Now, after a recent tour of the world’s largest democracy — next-door India — Suu Kyi is set to visit Asia’s oldest, and richest, democracy, Japan, from Nov. 1. That Suu Kyi prioritized visits to Beijing and Washington over trips to New Delhi where she was educated, and Tokyo, Myanmar’s largest provider of debt relief, showed that she regards India and Japan as of lesser importance to her country’s interests than China and the U.S.

Yet the fact is that Japan and India, with traditionally close ties to Myanmar, have played key roles in helping to end the country’s pariah status and reintegrating it regionally. Myanmar indeed was a province of India until 1937 in the British Indian empire before it become a separate colony, only to be occupied during 1941-45 by Japan, which established the country’s first postcolonial state and army. After Myanmar gained independence from Britain in early 1948, Japan played a major role in Myanmar’s economic development by allocating war reparations and official development assistance.

Suu Kyi’s Oct. 16-19 India tour was part of New Delhi’s invitation to member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation for a joint summit in the beach resort of Goa with Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, collectively known as BRICS. The Bay of Bengal Initiative, which brings together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, is seen as a better alternative than the China-proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor because it is more inclusive and seeks to reintegrate the region along its historical axis.

Even before her party formed a new government on Mar. 31, Suu Kyi appealed for more aid from Japan, which, since the start of Myanmar’s democratic transition, has dramatically increased its official development assistance, besides forgiving large amounts of debt and investing in ambitious projects. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government responded to Suu Kyi’s appeal through additional loans and grant assistance.

A huge debt write-off by Japan, totaling about $3.3 billion, has helped Myanmar to clear its arrears to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, opening the path for aid donors to support the country’s reform process. By setting up the giant Thilawa special economic zone, southeast of Yangon, the largest city, Japan has made major investments to establish Myanmar as a regional manufacturing hub. It has also invested in infrastructure and urban-development projects, including in Yangon’s water, sewage and electricity facilities.

However, the sluggish pace of reforms in Myanmar, including liberalizing land rights, tightening fiscal management and opening the financial sector, has impeded the Abe government’s larger strategy to reduce the Mekong region’s dependence on China by strengthening intraregional trade links. Suu Kyi’s five-day Japan visit offers her an opportunity to allay Japanese concerns over Myanmar’s reform process and her own “neutral” foreign policy.

China, however, represents the biggest test of Suu Kyi’s diplomacy. How long will she be able to walk the tightrope on a country that poses the most complex challenge for Myanmar?

China, by strategically penetrating Myanmar, has not only armed itself with formidable leverage but also sought to turn the country into its corridor to the Indian Ocean. Having established a firm foothold in Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukp hyu, Beijing is seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy, which flows south from near the Chinese border to the Andaman Sea.

China holds the keys to ending decades of ethnic conflict in Myanmar, including by cutting off the flow of arms to guerrilla groups and exercising its clout over several key insurgent leaders. But it is unclear whether Beijing, despite being invited by Suu Kyi to play mediator, will genuinely aid her effort to build ethnic peace or use its role as a broker between the government and guerrilla groups to merely underpin its own leverage. A crucial peace conference hosted by Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyitaw ended in early September without any tangible progress.

Meanwhile, to deflect Chinese pressure to resume the Beijing-sponsored Myitsone Dam project, Suu Kyi has appointed a 20-member commission to review the previous government’s decision to suspend it. The $3.6 billion project was designed to generate electricity largely for export to China while saddling Myanmar with human and environmental costs. But its 2011 suspension carried major strategic ramifications: While representing a slap in the face to China, it became a watershed moment for Myanmar, accelerating its democratic transition and ending the country’s international isolation.

Politically speaking, Suu Kyi can ill afford to revive a dam project that she slammed as the opposition leader. The project indeed is despised in Myanmar as an epitome of China’s neocolonial policies toward smaller countries. Through the commission, however, Suu Kyi can help China save face, if Myanmar agrees to pay compensation. Beijing could plow that compensation into new deals for smaller, environmentally friendly hydropower plants.

In concept, Suu Kyi’s “neutrality” in foreign policy seems attractive, potentially allowing her to carefully balance cooperation with all the major players in a way that advances Myanmar’s interest, without the country being forced to choose one power over another. Building such multidirectional collaboration can definitely help Myanmar to advance its development and security.

In reality, though, it might be difficult for an aid-dependent, internally torn Myanmar to sustain a neutral foreign policy. Despite her diplomatic balancing act, Suu Kyi’s approach faces major challenges, including an arc of insurgencies in Myanmar and the attempt by various powers to treat the country as a chessboard of geopolitics.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books.

 

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Asia’s megacities are running out of water

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clipboard01Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

Asia’s cities are ballooning, and the accompanying upsurge in the consumption of water and production of waste in urban areas is placing new pressures on the environment.

Home to 53% of the world’s urban population, Asia has the highest concentration of megacities, including Shanghai, Tokyo, Karachi and Beijing. Not only are Asia’s cities big and numerous, they are among the most polluted. The urban explosion has made providing safe water and sanitation a massive challenge for the region.

Historically, the availability of local water resources has determined not only where major cities have been established but how well they have fared. But in Asia, rapid — and often unplanned — urban growth in recent decades has overwhelmed water systems.

20161006freshwaterhoriz_article_main_imageAsia’s per capita water availability is already the lowest of any continent. Fast economic growth, coupled with breakneck urbanization and changing lifestyles, has made a difficult situation worse. In 2012, slightly over half of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, that ratio is projected to jump to more than two-thirds, with much of that growth taking placing in Asia.

The region’s urbanization is fueling demand for water not just for municipal use but also for manufacturing and agriculture. And changing diets, especially an increased preference for meat — the production of which is notoriously water-intensive — are compounding water challenges. Asia needs to make substantial water savings in agriculture to quench the thirst of its expanding cities. Some of the largest urban centers — from Beijing and Manila to Jakarta and Dhaka — are already at risk of running out of water.

The challenge of providing safe drinking water is compounded by the growing incidence of floods and droughts in Asia. According to the Asian Development Bank, people living in the Asia-Pacific region are “four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe or North America.” Most Asian megacities are in coastal areas, making them vulnerable to global warming-induced rises in ocean levels.

As cities across the region struggle to access adequate water supplies, many of their residents are beginning to rely on bottled water. This practice, however, has fueled a serious waste-management problem. Due to very low recycling rates, billions of plastic bottles end up as garbage every year, taking up increasing space in landfills or even littering the landscape. Some cities are running out of places to put those bottles.

The environmental problems do not end there: The retreat of megadeltas due to China’s upstream damming of rivers originating on the Tibetan Plateau has become a serious issue. According to several scientific studies, heavy upstream damming, which can obstruct the flow of silt to plains and estuaries, is contributing to the retreat and subsidence of Asia’s big deltas, which are home to such megacities as Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, Kolkata and Dhaka. This development, in turn, is causing seawater to flow into coastal freshwater aquifers, affecting municipal supplies.

UNCOVENTIONAL SOLUTIONS

Yet despite this deepening crisis, a water-stressed Asia continues to live beyond its means environmentally, overexploiting water resources while hoping to postpone the day of reckoning. Some countries have responded to these challenges by implementing grand but environmentally questionable projects, from China’s South-North Water Transfer Project (the world’s biggest hydraulic initiative) to India’s now-stalled proposal to link up its most important rivers.

With the first two of its three legs already operational, the $62 billion Chinese undertaking is aimed at moving water from the south to the parched north, all the way to Beijing and Tianjin. But the environmental costs are mounting: Energy-hogging treatment plants along the transfer routes seek to tackle water degradation and pollution, even as water quality deteriorates in the source river, the Yangtze. Given the project’s energy intensity, swelling costs and environmental impact, a better alternative for China would have been desalination, wastewater treatment and recycling, and reduced irrigated farming in its arid north.

Asian cities have little choice but to tap unconventional sources for their water supply. One such option is recycled — or “reclaimed” — water. Singapore has embraced, on a commercial scale, the use of chemical processes to turn wastewater into clean water. The water-scarce city-state has found this option to be less expensive than desalinating seawater.

The toilet-to-tap concept has long been in use in manned spacecraft. Still, the public is far less keen on recycled water than on desalinated water. To help ease the “yuck factor” among reluctant citizens, Singapore — like London and San Diego — mixes treated wastewater with conventional water in the city’s supply system.

Even if the reclaimed water is channeled strictly for nonportable uses, such as gardening, flushing toilets and doing laundry, it can help alleviate a city’s water crisis. Reclaimed water can also be used to artificially replenish aquifers, rivers and reservoirs and for ecological purposes, such as restoring or enhancing wetlands and riparian habitats. With many Asian cities increasingly desperate for additional water resources, more metropolises will likely be forced to recycle wastewater to augment their supplies.

Another option for Asian cities is rainwater harvesting, a relatively low-cost technique invented in Asia in the 9th or 10th centuries. Some cities are already trying it. For example, new apartment complexes and commercial buildings in the southern Indian metropolises of Bangalore and Chennai are required to have rainwater-harvesting systems. In much of Asia, heavy rains in the monsoon season make it easier to trap and store rainwater for dry-season use.

Most Asian cities also need greater public and private investment to upgrade and maintain water-distribution networks so as to plug leakages and prevent contamination. In Asia, losses of treated water from leaky distribution were conservatively estimated at $9 billion in 2011, according to the Asian Development bank.

Water scarcity is set to become Asia’s defining crisis, creating an obstacle in the continent’s path toward continued economic growth. Competition between cities, industries and farms over limited water resources is already intensifying. Addressing these challenges demands new skills, technologies, management practices and approaches, including building demand-side efficiency and tapping nontraditional water sources.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why Japan and India must be partners in Myanmar

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A Japan-India partnership on major projects in Myanmar can help reduce the salience of Chinese influence there.

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times, October 19, 2016

Myanmar’s de factor leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is seeking to carefully balance relations with major powers as part of her commitment to revive the country’s tradition of employing a neutral foreign policy. Suu Kyi’s India visit this week follows trips to Beijing and Washington.

Myanmar’s geographic, cultural and geostrategic positioning between India and China makes it critical to the long-term interests of both these powers.

Crippling U.S.-led sanctions since the late 1980s pushed resource-rich Myanmar into China’s strategic lap. Sanctions without engagement have never worked. During his 2010 Indian tour, U.S. President Barack Obama criticized India’s policy of constructive engagement with Myanmar, only to return home and pursue, within months, a virtually similar policy. The shift in U.S. policy helped to spur Myanmar’s reform process, thereby ending half a century of military-dominated rule.

Yet today the Obama White House is ignoring that lesson by pursuing a sanctions-only approach toward North Korea, which recently carried out its fifth and most-powerful nuclear test and then conducted a failed missile test launch last weekend.

On her first visit to a major capital since her National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power almost seven months ago, Suu Kyi in August visited Beijing, not New Delhi where she was educated. Her aim was to smooth over the frayed relationship with China. Ties with China have been roiled by Myanmar’s 2011 suspension of the $3.6 billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project. The suspension on the eve of China’s national day constituted a slap in the face to Beijing — a loss of face made worse by the fact that the action became a turning point for Myanmar’s democratization and reintegration with the outside world.

The bold move, by demonstrating to Washington that Myanmar was no client state of China and by helping to both change U.S. policy and accelerate the country’s own transition to democracy, set in motion an easing of Western sanctions and ending Myanmar’s international isolation — best symbolized by Obama’s 2012 visit.

After work on the Myitsone Dam was halted midway, China’s relations with Myanmar perceptibly cooled, with several energy and other dam projects also put on hold. Beijing, however, managed to complete multibillion-dollar oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar’s western coast to southern China.

With the rise of a democratically governed Myanmar that is being wooed by all powers and by international investors, China can no longer push its strategic and resource interests by brushing aside questions about the environmental and human costs of its mining and other projects there.

But with China still wielding more leverage over Myanmar than any other power, President Xi Jinping is pushing for the Myitsone project’s revival — or the undoing of the 2011 humiliation. To deflect Chinese pressure, Suu Kyi, before visiting Beijing, appointed a 20-member commission to review Myitsone and other dam projects on River Irrawaddy, the country’s lifeline.

After her China trip, Suu Kyi, as part of her balancing act, visited Washington, where she was warmly received Sept. 14 at the White House. But it was only on Oct. 7 — about 11 months after the NLD won a landslide election victory — that Obama lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar through an executive order terminating an emergency directive that deemed the policies of its former military government a threat to U.S. national security. Military-related sanctions, however, have been retained.

Suu Kyi, accompanied by key ministers, traveled to India to attend a weekend multinational summit in Goa and then hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other top officials in New Delhi.

Her visit was part of India’s invitation to member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for a joint summit with the five-nation BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Goa. Suu Kyi thus met with a host of world leaders in Goa, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi.

Bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, BIMSTEC holds more promise than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is likely to remain a stunted organization, largely because of regional concerns over terrorism emanating from one of its members, Pakistan. A SAARC summit scheduled for next month in Islamabad collapsed after India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of orchestrating recent terrorist attacks within their borders.

Myanmar is India’s gateway to the east. It was at the India-ASEAN summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw in late 2014 that Modi launched India’s U.S.-backed “Act East” policy.

When Suu Kyi was in the opposition, India supported Suu Kyi’s democracy movement and sheltered many Myanmar refugees and dissidents, despite engaging with Myanmar’s military government in a carefully calibrated manner to promote political reconciliation and to stem China’s growing clout there.

Today, a key challenge for both Myanmar and India is to manage a difficult and complex relationship with China. Just as India’s northern neighbor historically was Tibet, not China, Myanmar’s neighbor for much of its early history was the independent kingdom of Yunnan, with Tibet also sharing a border with Myanmar until 1950.

Myanmar, like India, has long complained about the flow of Chinese arms to local guerrilla groups, accusing Beijing of backing several of them in its north as levers against it. Still, recognizing that Beijing holds the keys to ending decades of armed conflict in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has given China an important role in her new initiative to promote ethnic reconciliation. Yet, despite China playing mediator, a Suu Kyi-sponsored peacemaking gathering attended by ethnic warlords in Naypyitaw ended in early September without any headway.

China values Myanmar as a strategic asset, viewing its long shoreline as a gateway to the Indian Ocean, where it is seeking to chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Having established a foothold in Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukpyu, from where new energy pipelines lead to southern China, Beijing is now seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy, which flows in a southerly direction from near the Chinese border to the Andaman Sea.

Against this backdrop, India can ill afford to neglect Myanmar or persist with its sluggish implementation of projects there. It must actively involve itself in Myanmar, including by collaborating with Japan, with which it enjoys fast-growing strategic cooperation. The giant Thilawa industrial zone southeast of Yangon symbolizes Japan’s investment campaign in Myanmar to gain access to a new market and counterbalance China.

Greater Indian investment in and counterinsurgency cooperation with Myanmar, coupled with an India-Japan partnership on major projects in that country, can help reduce the salience of Chinese influence there and further Suu Kyi’s agenda for a balanced, neutral and pragmatic foreign policy.

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

BRICS reduced to a “talk shop”?

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The real winner from the two BRICS-initiated financial ventures is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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On paper, the five BRICS countries — Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa — look like a powerful grouping: the member states combined represent more than a quarter of the earth’s landmass, over 42% of the global population, almost 25% of the world’s gross domestic product, and nearly half of the global foreign exchange and gold reserves. In reality, though, BRICS is still struggling to define a common identity and build institutionalized cooperation among its members. Their just-concluded summit, held in the Indian beach resort of Goa on Oct. 14-15, underscored inherent challenges.

As the first important non-Western global initiative of the post-Cold War world, BRICS reflects ongoing global power shifts, including the slow retreat of Atlantic dominance.

If BRICS can get its act together, it will be able to exercise significant geoeconomic and geopolitical clout and evolve into a major instrument to bring about fundamental changes in the architecture of global finance and governance. By serving as the building blocks of overhauled financial and governance systems, the BRICS economies would be a catalyst in the qualitative reordering of power and in reshaping the entire international order.

After all, in a spectacular reversal of fortunes, the developing economies, with their large foreign reserves, now finance the mounting deficits of the wealthy economies. More importantly, the BRICS economies are likely to remain the world’s most important source for future growth.

However, given that BRICS is just an extension of the BRIC concept conceived by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001, it is surprising that the grouping has stuck to an alien acronym. BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) became BRICS with the addition of South Africa in late 2010. Had the grouping pursued a more forward-looking approach, it could have simply called itself the “R-5” after the names of its members’ currencies — the real, rand, ruble, renminbi and rupee — and presented itself, in contrast to the obsolescent Group of Seven (G-7), as the face of the future.

The plain fact is that the challenges BRICS faces today are fundamental, making its future uncertain. These disparate countries have starkly varying political systems, economies, and national goals, and are located in different corners of the globe. There is little in common among the BRICS states.

For example, what is common between the world’s largest democracy, India, and the largest autocracy, China? The biggest real estate claimed by a revanchist China is an Indian state almost three times larger than Taiwan — Arunachal Pradesh, an ecological paradise of virgin forests, orchids and soaring mountain ranges. How can BRICS create rules-based cooperation among its members if international norms of behavior are flouted, as by China’s territorial creep in the South China Sea and its shielding of Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations Security Council and by Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

To compound BRICS’ challenges, the Brazilian, Russian and South African economies have nose-dived in recent years, even as China’s faltering growth and downside deflationary risks have unsettled global markets. Only India has defied the BRICS’ slump, priding itself as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Almost six years after it expanded from four to five member-states, BRICS has yet to evolve into a coherent grouping with defined goals and an institutional structure. Of course, it has created the Shanghai-based New Development Bank and set up, as a shield against global liquidity pressures, the $100-billion, China-dominated Contingent Reserve Arrangement. The real winner from both these initiatives is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Despite its utility as a non-Western grouping, BRICS cannot remain just a “talk shop.” The Goa summit was a reminder that it has yet to devise a common action plan to go forward.

To be sure, the annual BRICS summit provides a useful platform for bilateral discussions on the sidelines, as between the Chinese president and Indian prime minister on a host of issues that bedevil their countries’ bilateral relationship. Some member states, by piggybacking on the BRICS summit, hold their own bilateral summits before or after the event. For example, the annual India-Russia summit was held in Goa just before the start of the BRICS summit.

Still, BRICS faces nagging questions about whether its members, with their different priorities and interests, can unite on key international issues. If BRICS is to build collective clout, its members must frame common objectives and approaches to tackling the pressing international issues. Take the scourge of terrorism: The Goa Declaration omitted any reference to cross-border terrorism or state sponsorship of terror or even to any Pakistan-based terrorist group at the instance of China, which sought to protect its close ally Pakistan from charges that its intelligence service was behind recent grisly attacks in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.

The G-7 began as a discussion platform like BRICS but, by defining its members’ common interests, it advanced within years to joint coordination on key international issues. BRICS, lacking the shared political and economic values that bind the G-7 members together, cannot stay relevant if it does little more than bring together its leaders and various stakeholders for discussions. Indeed, the most important bilateral relationship for each BRICS country is not with another BRICS member but with the United States.

Worse still, an overly ambitious China, seeking to dominate the grouping and emerge as America’s peer rival, has cast a lengthening shadow over BRICS. For example, as part of its quest to build the yuan, or renminbi, as a global currency that could eventually rival the dollar or euro, a cash-rich China is using BRICS as an important vehicle to expand the renminbi’s international role, including by offering renminbi loans to other BRICS members. Lending and trading in renminbi helps China to boost its exports and international clout.

China’s hidden export subsidies, however, have been systematically undermining manufacturing in the other BRICS states. Chinese dumping is blighting Indian and Brazilian manufacturing in particular. Consequently, China’s rapidly growing trade surplus, for example, with India has doubled since Narendra Modi became prime minister two-and-a-half years ago. This has armed Beijing with greater leverage over New Delhi.

For Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa, BRICS offers largely symbolic benefits, including underscoring their growing international role and their desire to pluralize the global order. By contrast, China, which needs no recognition of its rise as a world power, is milking BRICS for tangible benefits, including to advance its economic and political benefits.

Even on international institutional reforms, China is hardly on the same page as the other BRICS members. The present international order emerged in the post-1945 period as a U.S.-led hierarchical order involving a group of likeminded countries, largely in the West. Since then, the global institutional structure has remained largely static, even as the world has changed dramatically. As a result, the global financial and governance systems, ranging from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the United Nations Security Council, no longer look truly global in terms of representation. This has made fundamental reforms to international institutions and rules imperative.

China is a revisionist power with respect to the global financial architecture, seeking an overhaul of the Bretton Woods system that emerged in the mid-1940s. It also seeks to dominate the first tangible challenge to the Bretton Woods institutions, as symbolized by the BRICS’ New Development Bank and the China-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headquartered in Beijing.

China, however, is a status quo power in regard to the U.N. system and wishes to remain Asia’s sole country with a permanent seat in the Security Council, which means keeping fellow BRICS member India (and Japan) out. China’s strategy, by extension, also seeks to shut out India from other political institutions, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where it has almost singlehandedly blocked a U.S.-led push for India’s entry.

Against this backdrop, if BRICS remains just a “talk shop,” it will not only fail to fulfill its true potential but will also wither away under the weight of its contradictions. The Goa summit did little to belie the contention of cynics that BRICS is just an acronym with little substance.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why India must not neglect Myanmar

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Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, October 15, 2016

downloadThe visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader, to India is significant. Myanmar’s geographic, cultural and geostrategic positioning between India and China makes it critical to long-term Indian interests. Yet it took 25 years for an Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar, India’s gateway to the east.

Since that visit in 2012 by Manmohan Singh, India has upgraded its Myanmar policy from constructive engagement to comprehensive interconnection. It was at the India-ASEAN Summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw in late 2014 that Narendra Modi launched India’s “Act East” policy. Yet, for his own inauguration in office, Modi invited leaders of all regional states, including Mauritius, but not next-door Myanmar, in a reminder of how India episodically neglects an important neighbour.

Suu Kyi’s visit is part of India’s invitation to member-states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for a joint summit with BRICS at Goa. Bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, BIMSTEC is a better alternative for India than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is likely to remain a stunted organization. Indeed, SAARC boxes India in an artificial regional framework; India’s natural strategic compass is broader.

Suu Kyi, committed to reviving her country’s old tradition of a neutral foreign policy, is seeking to carefully balance relations with major powers. On her first visit to a major capital since her party won a landslide election victory less than a year ago, Suu Kyi in August visited Beijing, not New Delhi where she was educated. Her aim was to smooth over the frayed relationship with China. Ties with China have been roiled by Myanmar’s 2011 suspension of the $3.6-billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project.

The suspension on the eve of China’s national day constituted a slap in the face to Beijing — a loss of face made worse by the fact that the action became a turning point for Myanmar’s democratization and reintegration with the outside world. The bold move, by demonstrating that Myanmar was no client state of China and by helping to accelerate the country’s transition to democracy, set in motion an easing of Western sanctions and ending Myanmar’s international isolation — best symbolized by Barack Obama’s 2012 visit, the first ever by a U.S. president.

But with China still wielding more leverage over Myanmar than any other power, President Xi Jinping is now pushing for the Myitsone project’s revival — or the undoing of the 2011 humiliation. To blunt Chinese pressure, Suu Kyi, before visiting Beijing, appointed a 20-member commission to review the project.

After her China trip, Suu Kyi, as part of her balancing act, visited Washington, where she was warmly received. But it was just last weekend that Obama lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar, while retaining military-related sanctions.

Myanmar, like India, has long complained about the flow of Chinese arms to guerrilla groups, accusing Beijing of backing several of them in its north as levers against it. Still, recognizing that Beijing holds the keys to ending decades of armed conflict in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has given China an important role in her new initiative to promote ethnic reconciliation. Yet, despite China playing mediator, a Suu Kyi-sponsored peacemaking gathering attended by ethnic warlords in Naypyidaw ended early last month without any headway.

China values Myanmar as a strategic asset, viewing its long shoreline as a gateway to the Indian Ocean, where it is seeking to chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Having established a foothold in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port, from where the new energy pipelines lead to southern China, Beijing is seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy.

Against this backdrop, India can ill afford to neglect Myanmar, or persist with its sluggish implementation of projects there, or unilaterally conduct cross-border military strikes on Naga guerrillas. While being sensitive to Myanmarese concerns, India must actively involve itself in Myanmar through greater trade, investment and counterinsurgency cooperation to help reduce the salience of Chinese influence and to further Suu Kyi’s agenda for a balanced, neutral and pragmatic foreign policy.

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

© The Times of India, 2016.

The Pakistani Mecca of Terror

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How the world’s first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan, became the Mecca of terrorism and a global threat.

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Almost seven decades after it was created as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan is teetering on the edge of an abyss. The economy is stagnant, unemployment is high, and resources are scarce. The government is unstable, ineffective, and plagued by debt. The military — along with its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, comprising the country’s spies and secret policemen — is exempt from civilian oversight, enabling it to maintain and deepen its terrorist ties.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is now at risk of becoming a failed state. But even if it does not fail, the nexus between terrorist groups and Pakistan’s powerful military raises the specter of nuclear terrorism — a menace so large that the United States has prepared a contingency plan to take out the country’s fast-growing nuclear arsenal should the need arise.

Make no mistake: Pakistan is “ground zero” for the terrorist threat the world faces. The footprints of many terrorist attacks in the West have been traced to Pakistan, including the 2005 London bombings and the 2015 San Bernardino killings. Two key actors behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed — were found ensconced in Pakistan. In the recent Manhattan and New Jersey bombings, the arrested suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was radicalized in a Pakistan seminary located near the Pakistani military’s hideout for the Afghan Taliban leadership.

But it is Pakistan’s neighbors that are bearing the brunt of its state-sponsored terrorism. Major terrorist attacks in South Asia, like the 2008 Mumbai strikes and the 2008 and 2011 assaults on the Indian and US embassies in Afghanistan, respectively, were apparently orchestrated by the ISI, which has reared terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Haqqani network to do its bidding. This is no hearsay; former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf has largely acknowledged it.

In India, in particular, the Pakistani military — which, despite being the world’s sixth largest, would have little chance of winning a conventional war against its giant neighbor — uses its terrorist proxies to wage a clandestine war. This year alone, Pakistani military-backed terrorists have crossed the border twice to carry out attacks on Indian military bases.

In January, Jaish-e-Mohammad struck India’s Pathankot air base, initiating days of fighting that left seven Indian soldiers dead. Last month, members of the same group crossed the border again to strike the Indian army base at Uri, killing 19 soldiers and prompting India to carry out a retaliatory surgical strike against militant staging areas across the line of control in disputed and divided Kashmir.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh also accuse ISI of undermining their security through terrorist surrogates. They blame Pakistan for the recent grisly attacks in their respective capitals, Kabul and Dhaka, in which a university and a café were among the targets.

Such activities have left Pakistan isolated. Just recently, its regional neighbors — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka — pulled the plug on a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit that was scheduled for next month in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has warned that “cross-border terrorism” imperils the very future of SAARC.

But diminished international standing and growing regional isolation have been insufficient to induce Pakistan’s dominant military to rethink its stance on terrorism. One reason is that Pakistan retains some powerful patrons. Beyond receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has, in some ways, become a client of China, which provides political protection — even for Pakistan-based terrorists — at the United Nations Security Council.

This month, China torpedoed, for the fifth time in two years, proposed UN sanctions on Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which the UN designated as a terrorist outfit years ago. The sanctions were backed by all other members of the Security Council’s anti-terror committee, not least because India had presented evidence linking Azhar to the terrorist killings at its two military bases.

In terms of financial aid, however, it is the US that serves as Pakistan’s biggest benefactor. Yes, even after finding the likes of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, the US — the country that has spearheaded the so-called War on Terror — not only continues to deliver billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, but also supplies it with large amounts of lethal weapons. US President Barack Obama’s administration also opposes a move in Congress that would officially brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.

This approach reflects Obama’s commitment to using inducements to coax the Pakistani military to persuade the Taliban to agree to a peace deal in Afghanistan. But that policy has failed. The US remains stuck in the longest war in its history, as a resurgent Taliban carries out increasingly daring attacks in Afghanistan with the aid of their command-and-control structure in — you guessed it — Pakistan. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when militants have enjoyed such cross-border havens.

Achieving peace in Afghanistan, like stemming the spread of international terrorism, will be impossible without making the Pakistani military accountable to the country’s civilian government. The US has a lot of leverage: Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, and is highly dependent on American and other foreign aid. It should use that leverage to ensure that the Pakistani military is brought to heel — and held to account.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Fashioning water as a weapon

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By BRAHMA CHELLANEYMail Today

39510d2200000578-3833294-image-a-1_1476223932637China’s cutting off the flow of a Brahmaputra tributary is just the latest example of its emergence as the upstream water controller through a globally unparalleled hydro-engineering infrastructure centred on dams.

Earlier this year, Beijing itself highlighted its water hegemony over downstream countries by releasing some of its dammed water for drought-hit nations in the lower Mekong basin.

Blocking the flow of the Xiabu river, a Brahmaputra tributary, through a dam project is a significant development, a forewarning that China intends to do a lot more to re-engineer flows in the Brahmaputra system by riding roughshod over the interests of the lower riparians, India and Bangladesh.

Just as it has heavily dammed the Mekong, China is now working to complete a cascade of dams in the Brahmaputra basin.

Dependence

On the Mekong, China has erected six giant dams, with the smallest of them bigger than the largest dam India has built since Independence.

For the downriver countries in that basin, the release of water from the Chinese dams to combat drought was a jarring reminder of not just China’s new-found power to control the flow of a life-sustaining resource, but also of their own reliance on Beijing’s goodwill and charity.

With a further 14 dams being built or planned by China, their dependence on Chinese goodwill is likely to deepen – at some cost to their strategic leeway and environmental security.

Armed with such leverage, Beijing is pushing its Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative as an alternative to the lower-basin states’ Mekong River Commission, which China has spurned over the years.

Indeed, having its cake and eating it, China is a dialogue partner but not a member of the Mekong River Commission, underscoring its intent to stay clued in on the discussions, without having to take on any legal obligations.

The Mekong, Southeast Asia’s lifeline, is just one of the international rivers China has dammed.

It has also targeted the Arun, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Irtysh, the Illy, the Amur and the Salween, besides the Brahmaputra.

These rivers flow into India, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Russia or Myanmar.

Asia’s water map changed fundamentally after the communists took power in China in 1949.

It wasn’t geography but guns that established China’s chokehold on almost every major transnational river system in Asia, the world’s largest and most-populous continent.

Absorption

By forcibly absorbing the Tibetan Plateau (the giant incubator of Asia’s main river systems) and Xinjiang (the starting point of the Irtysh and the Illy), China became the source of trans-boundary river flows to the largest number of countries in the world, extending from the Indochina Peninsula and South Asia to Kazakhstan and Russia.

Beijing’s claim over these sprawling territories, which make up more than half of China’s landmass today, drew from the fact that they were imperial spoils of the earlier foreign rule in China.

Before the communists seized power, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. But now, China boasts more large dams on its territory than the rest of the world combined.

If dams of all sizes and types are counted, their number in China surpasses 85,000. Strongman Mao Zedong initiated an ambitious dam-building programme, but the majority of the existing dams were built in the period after him.

China’s dam frenzy, however, shows no sign of slowing. The country’s dam builders, in fact, are shifting their focus from the dam-saturated internal rivers (some of which, like the Yellow, are dying) to the international rivers, especially those that originate on the waterrich Tibetan Plateau.

This raises fears that the degradation haunting China’s internal rivers could be replicated in the international rivers.

Leverage

China, after all, has graduated to erecting mega-dams.

Take its latest dams on the Mekong: the 4,200- megawatt Xiaowan (taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris) and the 5,850- megawatt Nuozhadu, with a 190-square-kilometre reservoir.

Either of them is larger than the current hydropower-generating capacity of the lower Mekong states combined.

Despite its centrality in Asia’s water map, China has rebuffed the idea of a water-sharing treaty with any neighbour. The concern is thus growing among is downstream neighbours that China is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon.

After all, by controlling the spigot for much of Asia’s water, China is acquiring major leverage over its neighbours’ behaviour in a continent already reeling under low freshwater availability.

China is clearly not content with being the world’s most dammed country, and the only thing that could temper its dam frenzy is a prolonged economic slowdown at home.

Flattening demand for electricity due to China’s already-slowing economic growth, for example, offers a sliver of hope that the Salween river could be saved from the cascade of hydroelectric mega-dams that Beijing has planned to build on it.

Even so, China’s riparian might will remain unmatched.

© Mail Today, 2016.

India’s critical test on Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

pakistan_mapDoes the military operation conducted by Indian para commandos across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the wee hours of September 29 change the fundamentals of India’s strategic dynamic with Pakistan? The answer is no. A single military operation, however successful at the tactical level, cannot by itself impose sufficient deterrent costs on the enemy or demonstrate India’s strategic resolve, which has been found wanting for years. New Delhi has a long way to go before it can hope to reform the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from staging more cross-border terrorist strikes, whether in India or on Indian targets in Afghanistan.

The Indian Army had conducted cross-LoC operations previously, often in reprisal to military provocations, such as when intruding Pakistani forces chopped three Indian soldiers in 2011, taking away the severed heads of two as a “trophies”. What broke new ground on September 29 was the scale of the cross-LoC military action (hitting multiple targets located several kilometres deep) and its public disclosure by the Indian Army and government.

Yet, despite the frenzied hype, the set of surgical strikes on cross-LoC terrorist launchpads was a limited military operation, with limited military objectives, and yielding limited military benefits. The operation cannot by itself dissuade the Pakistani military from continuing to wage an undeclared war against India through terrorist proxies. Indeed, the Indian military must now exercise utmost vigilance to ward off likely Pakistani retaliation, including through terrorist surrogates.

To be sure, the political, psychological, diplomatic and strategic benefits from the Indian surgical strikes are greater than the tactical military gains. The strikes represented a break from India’s “do nothing” approach, which came to define its policy for long. By symbolizing an end to Indian indecision and inaction, the action has helped lift the sense of despair that had gripped the country over the lack of any tangible response to Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks. Politically, by signalling an end to the era of Indian inaction, the operation has put the Pakistani military on notice that India would henceforth respond in punitive, hard-to-anticipate ways.

Still, the benefits accruing from the action can easily be frittered away if India does not stay the course to squeeze Pakistan in a calibrated but ever-increasing manner to help bring it to heel.  The risk of India squandering the gains is real. After all, the biggest shortcoming in India’s Pakistan policy has been the country’s inability to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy. India finds it very difficult to stay its course for more than a few months, before the itch to win a Nobel peace prize or political pressure from the United States prompts whoever is the prime minister to reverse course and resume “peace” talks with Pakistan.

The focus of successive Indian governments on short-term considerations at the expense of India’s enduring interests has remained the country’s Achilles heel. This has exacerbated India’s Pakistan challenge, despite that country’s descent into a jihad-torn, dysfunctional state.

In fact, India’s own passivity and indecision played no small part in fuelling Pakistan’s proxy war by terror. There was little discussion in India as to why it should allow itself to be continually gored by a country that is much smaller than it economically, demographically and militarily. For long, India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts was survival by a thousand bandages.

The illogic of India’s long-suffering, “do nothing” approach to Pakistan’s unconventional war was exposed when it finally mustered the political courage and ordered a daring cross-LoC operation. The surprise action — staged at a time when the Pakistani military, after the Uri terrorist attack, was in a state of full combat readiness — demonstrated how military power can be smartly applied below the threshold of nuclear use and without creating an undue risk of conventional escalation. In doing so, India has created strategic space for staging repeated and more-intense military forays across the LoC to inflict pain and punishment on the terror masters and their surrogates.

In fact, the imperative for further cross-LoC punitive actions in a calibrated manner — not immediately but whenever tempting opportunities open up — has been underscored by the Pakistani military remaining in denial mode over India’s September 29 operation. With Pakistan’s military generals covering up the Indian strikes, Pakistanis seem sceptical of the Indian claims. Deterrence, to be effective, must be targeted not just at the military generals but also at the elected civilian leadership and the public. No military can sustainably operate without public support at home.

In this light, to deter Pakistan’s war by terror, India must carefully but convincingly re-demonstrate its punitive conventional capability in propitious settings. Deterrence, after all, is like beauty: It lies in the eyes of the beholder. It is not what India claims but what its adversary believes that constitutes deterrence (or the lack of it). A one-off cross-LoC operation, in any event, cannot keep the Pakistani military off balance and forestall further terrorist attacks.

For that reason, only time will tell whether the September 29 action constitutes a break with India’s passive, reactive and forbearing mindset or represents just a one-off operation to salvage the Indian leadership’s credibility, which had been dented by inaction on a series of Pakistan-backed terrorist strikes that have occurred over many years, fuelling public wrath. On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch alone since his election in May 2014, Pakistan-scripted terrorist attacks have extended from Indian consulates at Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad in Afghanistan to targets at Mohra, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Pathankot, Pampore and Uri in India.

The attacks on Modi’s watch have suggested that the terror masters in Pakistan, learning from the international outrage over their November 2008 strikes on civilians in Mumbai, are concentrating their spectacular hits on symbols of the Indian state, including security forces.

For Modi, the pre-Uri inaction damaged his strongman image that helped bring him to power in the first place. Indeed, the apparent naiveté the government displayed in responding to the Pathankot air-base attack early this year, which killed seven Indian military men, invited public ridicule: It shared intelligence with Pakistan about the Pakistani origins of the attackers while the four-day siege of the base was still on, and then invited a Pakistani team, including at least one ISI officer, to visit the base — all in the fond hope of winning Pakistan’s anti-terrorism cooperation, despite India’s bitter experience in the Mumbai case where it presented dossiers of evidence to Pakistan.

Against this backdrop, the deadly Uri attack, by claiming the lives of 19 Indian soldiers, became Modi’s defining moment, putting his credibility at stake and eliminating inaction as a continuing option. The government had to act to redeem its image. In keeping with Modi’s fondness for springing surprises, the cross-LoC operation caught everyone by surprise, including analysts in India who had been claiming that the country had no military option even against transboundary terrorist bases.

If the latest developments bring consistency to Modi’s often erratic and meandering Pakistan policy, they would represent a potential game changer. But if India some months down the road were to return to “peace” talks with Pakistan, this would be clear proof not only that the Modi government largely designed the September 29 operation to politically save face, but also that the country is still unable to stay its course by kicking its principal weakness.

Let’s be clear: No short-term Indian strategy can help tame a scofflaw Pakistan. That country’s roguish actions spring from its foundational loathing of India. That loathing is rooted in its dual belief that it was created as an embodiment of the legacy of the medieval conquerors and plunderers who unfurled the standard of Islam over India and that Pakistanis, as the progeny of the conquerors and plunderers, are innately braver than the Indian “infidels.” Barely 10 weeks after its birth as the world’s first Islamic republic of the post-colonial era, Pakistan launched its first war against India by sending raiders into J&K while denying any such action. Today, the Pakistani military, steeped in jihadism, controls the deep state, rearing terrorists for cross-border missions and turning the country into the Mecca of terrorism.

India’s fight to tame Pakistan thus will be long and hard. India’s Pakistan dilemma is compounded by the lack of credible military options to inflict unbearable costs on the adversary in peacetime or, in the event of a full-fledged war, to impose peace on India’s terms by decisively defeating the Pakistani military on the battlefield. India thus must exercise its conventional reprisal options in peacetime cautiously and close to the LoC or risk the outbreak of a full-blown war. This may explain why India called its September 29 action an anti-terrorist operation “not aimed at the Pakistani military”, although the military, as the sponsor and protector of terrorist groups, is the root of all terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Still, bearing in mind that Pakistan’s activities to undermine India are largely carried out across the LoC, a proactive India can make life difficult for the Pakistani military along the LoC, without its special forces having to penetrate too deeply. India, moreover, controls the escalation ladder. The burden is on Pakistan to take any step up on the escalation ladder, knowing that India will respond to such a move by inflicting severe pain and punishment on it.

More fundamentally, without imposing significant and direct costs on the Pakistani military and, by extension, on the Pakistani state, India cannot hope to deter Pakistan’s war by terror. This means India must initiate a comprehensive campaign that uses all employable instruments to squeeze Pakistan hard. Indeed, to organize sustained and mounting pressure on Pakistan, India will have to rely more on non-military tools of leverage than on cross-border operations by its special forces. And if India wants the rest of the world to act against Pakistan, it must first act itself against that country.

Thus far, India has taken no direct action to penalize the Pakistani state, other than informally suspend the Permanent Indus Commission and cause the collapse of the SAARC summit by withdrawing from it — an action that pre-empted Bangladeshi and Afghan moves to pull the plug on the summit. India’s diplomatic relations with Pakistan have not even been downgraded; the Most Favoured Nation status granted to Pakistan on a non-reciprocal basis for two decades has not been withdrawn; and New Delhi has made no move to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism or to declare bounties on the heads of terrorist leaders operating openly from Pakistan.

How can India expect the rest of the world to isolate Pakistan while it maintains full diplomatic relations with that country and shies away from imposing sanctions on it? In fact, with Pakistan’s principal benefactors, China and America, continuing to prop it up, it will not be easy for India to internationally isolate Pakistan.

By repeatedly vetoing United Nations action against terrorist Masood Azhar since 2014, China is culpable in the killing of Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot. China has shown the extent to which it is willing to go to shield Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism in order to undermine Indian security. To make matters worse, Modi, by letting China double its trade surplus with India on his watch, has weakened his bargaining position with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The U.S., for its part, enforces sanctions against a host of countries, from Russia and North Korea to Sudan and Syria, yet shields from sanctions the world’s top state sponsors of terrorism — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The White House recently went to the extent of shutting down an online petition calling for designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, after the petition had garnered 625,723 signatures. America is indirectly subsidizing a renegade Pakistan with the soaring profits from its booming arms sales to India.

Leverage holds the key to effective diplomacy. Yet India has shied away from leveraging its weapon purchases or its recent early ratification of the Paris climate change agreement (weighted in favour of the world’s top two polluters, the U.S. and China) to bring about change in the American stance of opposing any sanctions on Pakistan. If Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, India can be sure that the U.S. will continue to shield its terrorist protégé, Pakistan.

In these circumstances, the onus is on the victim, India, to act against and discipline terror-exporting Pakistan on its own. This means India must stay its course, rebuffing U.S. pressure. As the American academic C. Christine Fair has said in a recent essay in the journal National Interest, the U.S., by exerting diplomatic pressure on India after each terrorist carnage to exercise restraint, “rewards Pakistan in numerous ways,” including “from the consequences of its illegal behaviour” and by implying that “there is a legitimate dispute and that both sides are equally culpable for the enduring nature of this dispute”.

India needs to pursue a doctrine of graduated escalation, applying multipronged pressure on the adversary’s vulnerable points to inflict pain and punishment through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and its special forces. Consistent with this doctrine, India should start imposing costs on Pakistan in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner.

If Pakistan can wage an undeclared war by terror for over three decades, India, with its greater economic, military and diplomatic resources, is better positioned to spearhead a more-potent undeclared war by other means. India’s objective should be to assist a quasi-failed Pakistan in becoming a failed state that no longer has the capacity to threaten regional and international security. Realizing this objective calls for an unrelenting silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion to squeeze Pakistan on all fronts, even if it takes years to defang it.

However, if, in a year’s time or so, New Delhi returns to “peace” talks with Pakistan, it will be crystal clear that India’s biggest enemy is India.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Open, 2016.

Sino-Pakistan nexus shields terror

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BRAHMA CHELLANEY | DNA, 12 October 2016

imagesThe implications for India of the growing strategic nexus between China and Pakistan are stark because the two are hostile, non-status-quo powers bent upon seizing additional Indian territory and undermining Indian security in different ways. Indeed, the nexus extends to shielding Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations. This makes China complicit in Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India.

Pakistan’s value for Beijing as a strategic surrogate to help box in India has risen even as that country has descended into greater jihadist extremism and political disarray. In fact, a dysfunctional, debt-ridden Pakistan gives China greater leeway to strategically penetrate it. Having deployed thousands of Chinese army troops in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, especially Gilgit-Baltistan, since at least 2010, Beijing is working to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean through the so-called “one belt, one road” project.

China’s nexus with Pakistan has been likened by Beijing to the closeness between lips and teeth. Beijing has also been calling Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend”. The two often boast of their “iron brotherhood”. The relationship has also been described in flowery terms — “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey”.

In reality, a rapidly rising China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India, including by unconventional means. This explains why China, seeking to destabilize India, has gone to the extent of shielding Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism.

By repeatedly vetoing UN sanctions on terrorist Masood Azhar, China is culpable in killing of 26 Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a covert front organisation for Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency. When China on October 8 put a technical hold on the proposed UN sanctions on Azhar, it was its fifth such move since September 2014 blocking action against him.

Previously, China also came in the way of Indian efforts for the UN to proscribe United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, to censure Pakistan for freeing Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and 26/11 accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi on bail, and to probe how UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed is able to fund and organise large public rallies in Pakistan.

That Beijing shields Pakistan’s unconventional war against India through terrorist proxies should surprise few, given China’s own use of unconventional instruments in peacetime against India —from dispatching arms to Indian rebel groups, often through the Myanmar corridor, to carrying out intermittent cyber attacks on Indian government, defence and commercial targets. Like Pakistan’s export of terrorism, China employs non-state actors in such missions, designed to keep India off balance or gain asymmetrical advantages.

As China cements Pakistan’s status as its economic and security client, India must do what it can to throw a spanner in the Chinese works. The Chinese military presence in Pakistan-held J&K means that India faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its J&K state. New Delhi cannot stay mum on China’s growing military footprint in a region that India regards as its own territory. The planned $46-billion economic corridor from Xinjiang to Gwadar constitutes China’s new pincer strategy.

India should seek to raise the diplomatic and security costs for China’s activities in Pakistan. After all, no other country in the world faces an axis between two expansionist nuclear-armed neighbours with a proven track record of covert actions in breach of international norms.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© DNA, 2016.

The Challenge from Authoritarian Capitalism to Liberal Democracy

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Brahma Chellaney

Liberal democracy today faces an internal challenge — from the populist movements of the left and the right that have resulted from the badly skewed distribution of the gains from globalization. The strong tides of anti-establishment anger have shaken politics to its core in a number of Western democracies, as symbolized by the British vote to leave the European Union and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. Liberal democracy, however, faces a bigger threat from outside that few commentators are talking about.

One of the most profound developments in the post-Cold War era has been the rise of authoritarian capitalism as a political-economic model, especially for developing countries. This model, best symbolized by China, involves a fusion of autocratic politics and crony, state-guided capitalism.

Between 1988 and 1990, as the Cold War was winding down, pro-democracy protests broke out in several parts of the world — from China and Myanmar to Eastern Europe. The protests helped spread political freedoms in Eastern Europe and inspired popular movements elsewhere that overturned dictatorships in countries as disparate as Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Chile. After the Soviet disintegration, even Russia emerged as a credible candidate for democratic reform.

The overthrow of a number of totalitarian or autocratic regimes did shift the global balance of power in favor of the forces of democracy. But not all the pro-democracy movements were successful. And the subsequent “color revolutions” only instilled greater caution among the surviving authoritarian regimes, prompting them to set up countermeasures to foreign-inspired democratization initiatives.

More than a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the global spread of democracy unmistakably has stalled. Democracy may have become the norm in the West but, in the rest of the world, only a minority of states are true democracies. Using market forces to liberalize tightly centralized political systems may actually have aided the rise of authoritarian capitalism.

Political homogeneity may be as inharmonious with economic advance as the parallel pursuit of market capitalism and political autocracy. But where authoritarianism is deeply entrenched, the fusion of autocratic politics and state-guided capitalism has progressed well in some prominent cases.

When U.S. President Barack Obama recently paid a historic visit to Cuba — the first by an American president since that small island-nation’s revolution established the first communist state in the western hemisphere in 1959 — it aroused hopes of change. After all, Cuba has incrementally implemented limited economic reforms. Some analysts have hoped that democracy would follow capitalism into Cuba.

However, where communists monopolize power or dominate the political scene, a transition to democracy needs more than capitalism to proceed. Nothing better illustrates this than the world’s largest and oldest autocracy, China, which has risen dramatically as a world power by blending market capitalism and political monocracy. The Chinese Communist Party — which boasts 88 million members, more than Germany’s total population ¬¬— dominates the country’s political, economic and social life.

Vietnam and Laos — two other countries that, like China, officially claim to be communist while practicing capitalism — have also dashed hope for market forces to create a freer flow of ideas and to gradually open up autocratic political systems thriving on private enterprise. Vietnam and Laos began decentralizing economic control and encouraging private enterprise in the late 1980s and now rank among Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Yet their one-party systems have maintained tight control on political expression.

Capitalism actually strengthens a communist state’s capacity to more effectively employ technology and other resources for internal repression and information control. One classic example is the notorious “Great Firewall of China,” a government operation that screens and blocks Internet content, creating a politically sanitized information realm for citizens.

By practicing authoritarian capitalism, an autocratic state can stay abreast with technological innovations to help deny dissidents the means to denounce injustice. Such denial can include blocking or real-time censorship of social-media platforms, including instant messaging.

The point is that, in countries where communists call the shots, a free market for goods and services does not generate a marketplace of ideas. In a communist state, rising prosperity through economic liberalization does not create conditions for political pluralism. In other words, countries that liberalize economically do not necessarily liberalize politically, especially when political conditions remain adverse to change.

As an ideology, communism may have lost its moorings, yet it remains antithetical to democracy, because it is centered on monopolizing political power. In all the communist-governed states, cloistered oligarchies have emerged as the original ideology has given way to new means to retain political power, including family lineage, network of connections, corruption and ruthless self-promotion.

Still, communism has helped to spawn the model of authoritarian capitalism. Communism was never a credible challenge to liberal democracy but authoritarian capitalism is.

Through its success story, China, for example, advertises that authoritarian capitalism is a more rapid and smoother path to prosperity and stability than the tumult and uncertainty of electoral politics and the constant tussle between the executive branch and the legislature in democracies. This model provides encouragement to other autocratic states to pursue economic growth and regime stability through authoritarian capitalism.

More broadly, at a time when democratic and free-market principles have come under pressure, the rise of authoritarian capitalism underscores the imperative for an international debate on a fundamental issue — why the global spread of democracy has stalled. Is the rise of authoritarian capitalism one factor?

Human dignity matters a lot. A poor person can be happy but a rich individual can be miserable, depending on the circumstances of their existence. With dignity, even a poor person can hold his head high. The question is: Can a political-economic system that strips citizens of their dignity survive indefinitely?

Authoritarian capitalism usually pretends to be meritocracy offering competent governance and economic opportunity for all. In reality, it entrenches corrupt oligarchies that are answerable to no one and that employ ultra-nationalism as the legitimating credo of their monopoly on power.

© China-US Focus, 2016.

Years of Indian indecision and inaction ends

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

downloadIndia has finally broken out of years of paralytic indecision and inaction on Pakistan’s proxy war by staging a swift, surgical military strike across the Line of Control — a line it did not cross even during the 1999 Kargil War.  Although a limited but unprecedented action, in which Indian paratroopers destroyed multiple terrorist launchpads, it will help to dispel the sense of despair that had gripped India over its prolonged failure to respond to serial Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks.

At the same time, the action represents a loss of face for Pakistan’s all-powerful military, which was quick to deny any such strike. The denial, however, will carry little credibility even within Pakistan, given the military’s long record of refusing to own up to its own actions — from sending raiders into Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 and staging Operation Gibraltar in 1965 to sending light infantry soldiers into Kargil in 1999. When the Pakistani military even denies training and arming terrorists for cross-border missions, how can it admit that Indian paratroopers targeted terrorist launchpads it maintains?

Still, a one-off surgical attack can do little to help reform the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency from staging more terrorist strikes on Indian targets. The critical question to ask is whether India, having shaken off its diffidence, will be willing to stage more raids by its special forces across the LoC — not immediately, but in the months to come, so as to forestall terrorist attacks by keeping the Pakistani military off balance.

However, the proxy war by terror is unlikely to end without India imposing significant costs directly on the Pakistani military and the Pakistani state. Militarily, that is a challenging task.

In general, the purpose of any major military action ought to be twofold: to inflict unbearable costs on the enemy; and, if the action escalates to a full-fledged war, to decisively defeat the foe on the battlefield in order to impose peace on it on one’s own terms.

The current military situation is such that India cannot have full confidence in achieving these objectives. For example, any major military action needs the surprise element to take the enemy unawares and gain a significant early advance. With Pakistan in a state of full combat readiness after scripting the Uri attack, there is no surprise element that can be exploited by India to launch a major offensive.

In these circumstances, applying sustained, multipronged pressure on the enemy’s vulnerable points to inflict pain and punishment through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and special forces is a better option than waging an open war that might not produce a decisive result.

That India managed to stage a daring cross-border raid despite Pakistan’s full military alertness is a reminder that smart application of military force yields better results than a heavy-handed, knee-jerk military response.

Make no mistake: India’s fight to tame a scofflaw Pakistan will be long and hard. The tendency to seek quick results must be eschewed. Indeed, the biggest enemy of India’s goals has been the failure to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy. Rhetoric is no substitute for clear-eyed policy and deterrent action.

Today, from reviewing the lopsided Indus Waters Treaty to staging the raid across the LoC, India is signalling that enough is enough and that it will do whatever it takes to beat back Pakistan’s terrorism onslaught. India must use every lever of leverage and coercion in a relentless, all-out silent war to bring Pakistan to heel.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Why India must reclaim its water leverage in the Indus basin

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For India, reclaiming its Indus leverage is a cheaper, more-potent option to reform Pakistan’s behaviour than fighting a war.

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From Brahma Chellaney, Water: Asia’s New Battleground (Washington, DC: Georegetown University Press).

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, September 28, 2016

Be careful what you wish for: Not content with Pakistan enjoying a water-sharing arrangement with India that is by far the world’s most generous, the country’s Senate passed a unanimous resolution in March that declared: “This House recommends that the Government should revisit Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), 1960, in order to make new provisions in the treaty so that Pakistan may get more water for its rivers.” Little did the parliamentarians know that India would heed that call by revisiting the pact, which lopsidedly reserves for the lower riparian 80.52% of the total waters of the six-river Indus system, or 167.2 billion cubic metres of the aggregate 207.6 billion cubic metres average yearly flows. A naïve India, thinking it was trading water for peace through the IWT, even contributed $173.63 million for dam and other water projects in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to review IWT arrangements, including India’s rights and obligations, extends to suspending the Permanent Indus Commission. The commission has done little more than run regular consultative meetings between its two commissioners, each of whom acts on behalf of his country. In the aftermath of the December 2001 Parliament attack by five Pakistani gunmen, India suspended any commission meeting. But this marks the first occasion that India has set in motion a reappraisal of the IWT, forming an inter-ministerial panel.

If an inherently unequal water treaty is to endure, the direction of the Pakistan-India relationship needs to change toward respecting all bilateral commitments. Pakistan cannot expect the IWT to survive eternally if it refuses to honour the terms of the central treaty governing bilateral relations — the 1972 peace pact signed at Simla. It also flouts its subsequent commitments not to allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism. Rights and obligations under the older IWT cannot override the terms of the Simla treaty, which provides the essential basis for all peaceful cooperation, including mandating the Line of Control’s inviolability and dispute settlement by bilateral means.

Today, Pakistan, refusing to accept international norms of interstate behaviour, demands rights without responsibilities. It wages an undeclared war by terror to bleed the upper riparian while insisting that its target perpetually be munificent on water sharing. Just because a scofflaw state has enjoyed unparalleled water largesse for 56 years does not mean that such generosity by the upper riparian must last forever. Indeed, Pakistan challenges the very fundamentals of international law by seeking to repay its co-riparian’s water munificence with blood.

Like Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Pakistan’s terrorism-exporting generals must ask themselves whether all the waters flowing in the Indus system would “wash this blood clean” from their hands. Modi has rightly warned: “Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously.” In fact, Pakistan’s roguish conduct has armed India with the lawful option to invoke Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to dissolve the IWT. In the interim, it could suspend the treaty’s implementation.

The purpose of any potential IWT-related action by India would not be to cut off water flows to Pakistan. Rivers flow from mountains to oceans or large lakes, and no nation can completely undo the laws of nature. Rather, the action would be aimed at India regaining sovereignty over the Jammu and Kashmir rivers, which the IWT has reserved for Pakistan’s use by limiting India’s full sovereignty to the three smaller rivers flowing south of J&K. No other modern treaty has partitioned rivers in such a blatant, neo-colonial manner.

By reclaiming its basic right over the J&K rivers, India could fashion water as an instrument of leverage to bring Pakistan to heel. Even a 10% diminution in transboundary water flows would hurt Pakistan, whose debt-ridden economy is reliant on earnings from agricultural exports, especially water-intensive rice and cotton. Pakistan’s per capita water use is almost 80% higher than India’s.

To deter India from employing its water leverage, the bugbear of Chinese retaliation has been invented. The plain fact is that China has little clout in the Indus basin: Four of the six rivers (including the two with the largest transboundary flows into Pakistan, the Chenab and the Jhelum) originate in India — three of them in Himachal Pradesh alone. The other two, the main Indus stream and the Sutlej, begin as small rivers in Tibet and collect their main water in India.

China, which rejects water sharing even as a concept, is already doing whatever it wishes in other transnational basins. From the Brahmaputra and the Arun (Kosi) to the Mekong and the Salween, China is reengineering transboundary flows by building cascades of dams, with little regard for downstream impacts in Asia.

For India, reclaiming its leverage in the Indus basin is a cheaper option to reform Pakistan’s behaviour than fighting a war. Indeed, India’s best bet to end cross-border terrorism is employing ‘peaceful’ options — from diplomatically isolating Pakistan and mounting riparian pressures to waging economic, cyber and asymmetric warfare. Modi’s IWT re-examination is a step in the right direction.

Brahma Chellaney is the author of “Water, Peace, and War” and “Water: Asia’s New Battleground.”

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Fifteen years on, the Afghanistan war still rumbles

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Brahma Chellaney, The Globe and Mail

dod-photo-by-staff-sgt-william-tremblay-u-s-army1Despite the worsening Afghanistan quagmire, this month’s 15th anniversary of the longest war in American history attracted little attention. The raging battles cast a shadow over Afghanistan’s future and highlight the failure of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to gradually wind down the conflict. The war now draws little international attention, except when a major militant attack occurs.

The current situation in Afghanistan is worse than at any time since 2001, when the U.S. invasion helped oust the Taliban from power, forcing them to set up their command-and-control structure in neighboring Pakistan, their creator and steadfast sponsor.

Today, the resurgent Taliban hold more Afghan territory than before, the civilian toll is at a record high and Afghan military casualties are rising to a level that American commanders warn is unsustainable. From sanctuaries in Pakistan and from the Afghan areas they hold, the militants are carrying out increasingly daring attacks, including in the capital Kabul, as illustrated by the recent strike on the American University of Afghanistan.

In declaring war in Afghanistan on September 21, 2001 after the world’s worst terrorist attack in modern history ten days earlier in the United States, President George W. Bush explained why 9/11 was a turning point for America: “Americans have known wars — but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941 [Pearl Harbor]. Americans have known the casualties of war — but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks — but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day…”

Yet before he could accomplish his war objectives in Afghanistan, Bush invaded and occupied Iraq — one of the greatest and most-calamitous military misadventures in modern history that destabilized the Middle East and fueled Islamist terrorism.

Obama came to office with the pledge to end the Bush-era wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, he ended the Bush war, only to start a new war in the Syria-Iraq belt.

In Afghanistan, Obama thought that he could end the war simply by declaring it over. This is what he did in December, 2014, when he famously declared that the war “is coming to a responsible conclusion.” But the Afghan Taliban had little interest in peace, despite Washington allowing them to set up a de facto diplomatic mission in Qatar and then trading five senior Taliban leaders jailed at Guantanamo Bay for a captured U.S. Army sergeant.

As a result, Obama repeatedly has had to change his plans in Afghanistan. In July 2011, he declared that by 2014 “the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security,” adding seven months later that, “By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Then in May 2014, he promised that, “One year later … our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence.”

But just two months ago, he decided to keep 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan indefinitely and leave any withdrawal decision to his successor. Some 26,000 American military contractors also remain in Afghanistan, doing many jobs that troops would normally do, according to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.

In fact, the deteriorating Afghan security situation has forced Obama to reverse course on ending U.S. combat operations and give the American military wider latitude to support Afghan forces. For example, he has now allowed American troops to accompany regular Afghan troops into combat. He has also allowed greater use of U.S. air power, particularly close air support. It is a clear recognition that his strategy to end the war lies in tatters.

This raises the key question: Why is the U.S. still stuck in the war? In large part, it is because it has fought the war on just one side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan divide and been reluctant to go after the Pakistan-based sanctuaries of the Afghan Taliban and its affiliate, the Haqqani network, which enjoys tacit Pakistani intelligence support.

The U.S. assassination in May of Afghan Taliban chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour by a drone strike inside Pakistani territory was a rare exception — a one-off decapitation attack that did little to change the military realities on the ground.

Research shows that terrorist or militant groups are generally resilient to the loss of a top leader, unless their cross-border sanctuaries are systematically targeted. Indeed, as Israel’s record and America’s own experiences in Somalia, Syria and Yemen show, decapitation can actually help a militant group to rally grassroots support in its favor and against the side that did the killing.

The fact is that no counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when the militants have enjoyed cross-border havens. The Afghan Taliban are unlikely to be defeated or genuinely seek peace as long as they can operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan. Indeed, their battlefield victories give them little incentive to enter into serious peace negotiations.

As for Pakistan, Mansour’s killing near where its borders meet with Iran and Afghanistan exposed years of denials by Pakistani officials that they were sheltering Taliban leaders. Like in the 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden, Mansour’s assassination involved the U.S. violating the sovereignty of a country that is one of the largest recipients of American aid.

Although Obama hailed the Mansour killing as “an important milestone,” the decapitation cast an unflattering light on U.S. policy: America took nearly 15 years to carry out its first – and thus far only – drone strike in Pakistan’s sprawling Balochistan province, the seat of the Afghan Taliban’s command-and-control structure.

In order to preserve the option of reaching a Faustian bargain with the Afghan Taliban, the U.S. over the years has concentrated its drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), often targeting the Pakistani Taliban — the Pakistani military’s nemesis. The U.S. military has failed to disrupt the Haqqani network because Pakistan, with the intent to keep this group’s leadership out of the reach of American drones, has moved these militants from FATA to safe houses in its major cities. Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban leadership, with the Pakistani military’s acquiescence, has stayed ensconced in Balochistan, located to the south of FATA.

Tellingly, the United States has not designated the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization. The Obama White House has engaged in semantic jugglery to explain why the group is missing from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

In truth, the Obama administration is willing, as part of a peace deal, to accommodate the medieval Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. It assassinated the Taliban leader because he defiantly refused to revive long-paralyzed peace negotiations.

For almost eight years, Obama has pursued the same unsuccessful Afghanistan-related strategy, changing just the tactics. His strategy essentially has sought to use inducements to prod the Pakistani military and its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency to go after the Haqqani network and get the Afghan Taliban to agree to a peace deal. The inducements have ranged from billions of dollars in military aid to the supply of lethal weapons that could eventually be used against India.

However, the carrots-without-sticks approach has only encouraged the Pakistani military to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Barack Obama’s successor will have to make some difficult choices on Afghanistan. To do so, she or he will have to face up to a stark truth: The war in Afghanistan can only be won in Pakistan. With the Afghan government’s hold on many districts looking increasingly tenuous, the next president, however, will not have the time like President Obama to experiment.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including, most recently, “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

Mending Pakistan’s behaviour

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, September 20, 2016

ypicAfter the bloody cross-border terrorist attack on an army camp in Uri, near the Line of Control with Pakistan, it will be difficult for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to return to business as usual. Uri is just the latest in a string of important Pakistan-orchestrated strikes on Indian targets since Modi’s 2014 election victory: The other attacks occurred at Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad in Afghanistan and at Mohra, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Pathankot and Pampore in India.

New Delhi’s response to all the attacks has been characterized by one common element — all talk and no action. This is no different than the response of the governments of Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee to major terrorist strikes on their watch, including at Mumbai and on Parliament and the Red Fort. It would seem that Indian leaders live up to the biblical adage, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”.

With successive governments failing to pursue a coherent, resolute and unflinching strategy to combat Pakistan’s proxy war by terror, India continues to be terrorized, assaulted and bled by a smaller neighbour. A scofflaw Pakistan believes it can continue to gore India with minimal or manageable risks of inviting robust Indian retaliation. The Indian public’s patience, however, has worn thin, putting pressure on the government to start imposing deterrent costs on Pakistan so as to stem the increasingly daring terrorist strikes.

Modi’s own credibility is now at stake. Modi responded to the terrorist storming of the Pathankot air force station at the beginning of this year by sharing intelligence about the attackers with Islamabad and allowing a Pakistani team to visit the base for investigations. This was done in the naïve hope of winning Pakistan’s anti-terror cooperation. Modi’s exchange of saris and shawls with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif — as well as his surprise visit to Lahore to wish Sharif on his birthday and attend his granddaughter’s wedding — attested to how New Delhi was focused on optics rather than on outcomes.

The Uri attack offers Modi a chance to redeem himself on the anti-terror front. How he responds to the latest terror outrage could help shape his political legacy.

Let’s dispel with the fiction that a country can get peace by seeking peace with a renegade, terrorism-exporting neighbour. Each time terrorists sent from Pakistan carry out a barbaric attack in India, Indians circle back to a familiar question: What makes Pakistan sponsor terrorism across its borders? The answer is simple: Waging an unconventional war remains an effective, low-cost option for Pakistan against a larger, more-powerful India. The real question Indians must debate is whether India is making Pakistan bear costs for scripting cross-border terrorism.

India has a range of options in the military, economic and diplomatic realms to start imposing costs on Pakistan, in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner. Strategically, an unconventional war waged by a nuclear-armed nation can be effectively countered only through an unconventional war. Let’s be clear: Pakistan is more vulnerable to asymmetric warfare than India, which also has greater economic and diplomatic resources to squeeze that country.

If India jettisons the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT), it can fashion water into its most-potent tool of leverage to mend Pakistan’s behaviour. Pakistan has consistently backed away from bilateral agreements with India — from the Simla accord to the commitment not to allow its territory to be used for cross-border terrorism. So why should India honour the IWT?

When Pakistan refuses to observe the terms of the 1972 peace treaty signed at Simla, it undercuts the IWT. It cannot selectively demand India’s compliance with one treaty while it flouts a peace pact serving as the essential basis for all peaceful cooperation, including sharing of river waters.

The IWT ranks as the world’s most lopsided and inequitable water pact: It denies India the basic right to utilize the waters of the rivers of its own state of Jammu and Kashmir for industrial and agricultural production. The main J&K rivers — the Chenab, Jhelum and Indus — and their tributaries have been reserved for Pakistani use, with India’s sovereignty limited to the three smaller rivers of the Indus basin flowing south of J&K: the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej. In effect, the IWT kept for India just 19.48% of the total waters of the six-river Indus system.

Pakistan, by repeatedly invoking the IWT’s conflict-resolution provisions to mount pressure on India, is already undermining the treaty, the world’s most-generous sharing arrangement. Waging water war by such means carries the danger of a boomerang effect.

A balance between rights and obligations is at the heart of how to achieve harmonious, rules-based cooperation between co-riparian states. In the Indus basin, however, Pakistan wants rights without responsibilities: It expects eternal Indian water munificence, even as its military generals export terrorists to India and its civilian government wages a constant propaganda campaign against India’s water “hegemony” and seeks to internationalize every dispute.

The IWT has become an albatross around India’s neck. If India wishes to dissuade Pakistan from continuing with its proxy war, it must link the IWT’s future to Islamabad honouring its anti-terror commitment, or else the treaty collapses. Indeed, a Pakistani senate resolution passed earlier this year, calling for Pakistan to “revisit” the IWT, offers India an opening to renegotiate a more balanced and fair Indus treaty — and, if Pakistan refuses, to stop respecting the terms of the existing pact.

In the absence of an enforcement mechanism in international law, nothing can stop India from emulating Pakistan’s example in not honouring its bilateral commitments.  For example, Pakistan has flouted the Simla treaty’s key terms, including respecting the inviolability of the Line of Control as the essential basis for durable peace.

Guile, dexterity and diligence often can achieve more in international relations than the use of overt force. India can still bring Pakistan to heel without overtly employing force. By employing a mix of military, economic and political tools to squeeze Pakistan, India must wage a silent war to eliminate the threat from a quasi-failed nation that has mocked its patience as cowardice.

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

© Mint, 2016.

A watershed moment for India

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, September 19, 2016

pakterrorFrom Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Lahore Declaration to Manmohan Singh’s peace-at-any-price doctrine and Narendra Modi’s Lahore visit statement, India’s readiness to trust Pakistan’s anti-terrorism assurances draws attention to the adage: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. India has been fooled repeatedly.

The bloody attack by Pakistan-backed terrorists on yet another military camp in Jammu and Kashmir, however, represents double shame for India: Coming after the dramatic terrorist storming of the Pathankot air base at the beginning of this year, the attack on the army headquarters at Uri near the line of control with Pakistan highlights defence-related incompetence. If Modi wishes to send a clear message, he must begin at home by firing his bumbling defence minister and fixing the drift in his Pakistan policy.

For more than a quarter-century, India has been gripped by a vacillating leadership and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair over cross-border terrorism. India’s own passivity and indecision have played no small part in fuelling Pakistan’s proxy war by terror. The rogue Inter-Services Intelligence’s “S” branch — tasked specifically with exporting terrorism to India and Afghanistan — operates through terrorist surrogates.

This year’s series of terrorist attacks on Indian targets — from Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif to Pampore and Uri — signals that the ISI terror masterminds, learning from the international outrage over their November 2008 strikes on civilians in Mumbai, are now concentrating their spectacular hits on symbols of the Indian state, including security forces. For example, as New Year’s gift to India, the four-day terrorist siege of the Pathankot base coincided with a 25-hour gun and bomb attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Uri attack is similarly intended to make India feel vulnerable and weak while seeking to minimize the risk of Indian retaliation. This attack, however, is likely to represent a turning point for India, especially given the number of soldiers killed. Indeed, the lesson for India from its restraint despite Pathankot is that all talk and no action invites more deadly terrorism, besides encouraging Pakistan to fuel unrest in the Kashmir Valley and “internationalize” the J&K issue.

For Modi in particular, the Uri attack constitutes a defining moment. He has completed half of his five-year term with his Pakistan policy in a mess.

Indeed, despite terrorists testing India’s resolve from Herat to Gurdaspur and Udhampur after his election victory, Modi’s response to the Pathankot siege underscored continuing strategic naïveté. Even before the siege ended, New Delhi supplied Islamabad communication intercepts and other evidence linking the attackers with their handlers in Pakistan. This was done in the hope that the terror masters will go after their terror proxies, despite India’s bitter experience in the Mumbai case where it presented dossiers of evidence to Pakistan.

India later granted Pakistani investigators access to the Pathankot base. It was like treating arsonists as firefighters. Pakistan set up its investigation team not to bring the Pathankot masterminds to justice but to probe the operational deficiencies of the Pathankot strike and to ensure that the next proxy attack left no similar telltale signs of Pakistani involvement.

Today, India has little choice but to overhaul its strategy as both diplomacy and restraint have failed to stem Pakistan’s relentless efforts to export terrorism and intermittently engage in border provocations. India must shed is focus on the last terror attack:  For example, after Pathankot, India, forgetting Mumbai, asked Pakistan to act in that case. And after Uri, Pathankot could fade into the background. Consequently, Pakistan has still to deliver even in the 1993 ‘Bombay bombings’ case.

India needs a comprehensive, proactive approach. The choice is not between persisting with a weak-kneed approach and risking an all-out war. This is a false, immoral choice that undermines the credibility of India’s nuclear and conventional deterrence and encourages the enemy to sustain aggression. It is also a false argument that India has no choice but to keep battling Pakistan’s unconventional war on its own territory. Seeking to combat cross-border terrorism as an internal law-and-order issue is self-injurious and self-defeating.

Make no mistake: India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts should no longer be survival by a thousand bandages. Rather, India must impose calibrated costs to bolster deterrence and stem aggression. Why should India allow itself to be continually gored by a country that is much smaller than it demographically, economically and militarily and on the brink of becoming dysfunctional? Just because India shied away from imposing costs on the terror masters in Pakistan for their past attacks on Indian targets, from Mumbai to Kabul, is no reason for it to stay stuck in a hole.

To deter Pakistan’s unconventional warfare, India’s response must be spread across a spectrum of unconventional options that no nation will discuss in public. Nuclear weapons have no deterrence value in an unconventional war. If the Pakistani security establishment is to get the message that the benefits of peace outweigh hostilities, it should be made to bear most of the costs that India seeks to impose. India should employ asymmetric instruments to strike hard where the opponent doesn’t expect to be hit. New Delhi should also be ready to downgrade diplomatic relations with Pakistan and mount pressure on its three benefactors, China, America and Saudi Arabia.

India’s goal is narrow: to halt cross-border terrorist attacks. In keeping with the United Nations Charter, which recognizes self-defence as an “inherent right” of every nation, India must impose measured and pointed costs on the terror exporters without displaying overt belligerence or brinkmanship.

The writer is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Wrangles over water

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As Karnataka and Tamil Nadu slug it out, Pakistan wages a water war on India

Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, September 16, 2016

p822ggnuThe violence-marred water feud between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu illustrates how water stress is fuelling bitter discord between Indian states over sharing the most vital of all natural resources. India’s Supreme Court intervened this year too in the Punjab-Haryana dispute in the Indus Basin over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal.

The growing inter-provincial water wrangles draw attention to India’s great water folly in 1960: It signed a treaty that allocated to an enemy state, Pakistan, most of the Indus river system waters, without any quid pro quo. The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) reserved for India just 19.48% of the total waters of the six-river Indus system.

An emboldened Pakistan, having secured what still ranks as the world’s most generous water-sharing treaty, set its sights on capturing the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir through which the three large rivers reserved for Pakistani use by the IWT flowed. In more recent years, Pakistan has also found novel ways to turn the IWT into a weapon against India.

From waging conventional wars against India from almost the time it was created to sustaining a protracted proxy war by terror against it, Pakistan has for over a decade now been pursuing a “water war” strategy against India. This strategy centres on repeatedly invoking the IWT’s conflict-resolution provisions to “internationalize” any perceived disagreement so as to mount pressure on India.

In its latest move to corner India, Pakistan has initiated steps to haul it before a seven-member international arbitral tribunal in The Hague for pursuing two hydropower projects in J&K. Twice before in the past decade, Pakistan triggered international intercession by similarly invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution provisions.

Pakistan’s strategy, coupled with its use of state-reared terrorists, could potentially force India’s hand. If India begins to view the IWT as a liability and sees itself as the suffering loser, little can save the treaty. After all, India has the option in international law to dissolve the lopsided but indefinite treaty. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was also of indefinite duration but the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from it after Russia opposed its revision.

The withdrawal option, however, cannot be exercised by a risk-averse nation. India may be parched today but there is still no national discussion about how Pakistan is repaying India’s water largesse with blood by sponsoring cross-border acts of grisly terrorism. The water card is probably the most-potent instrument India has in its arsenal — more powerful than the nuclear option, which essentially is for deterrence.

India’s belated moves to address the problem of electricity shortages and underdevelopment in J&K by building modestly sized, run-of-river hydropower plants have rankled Pakistan, although the IWT permits such projects (which use a river’s natural flow energy and elevation drop to produce electricity, without the need for any dam reservoir). The treaty requires India to provide Pakistan with prior notification, including design information, of any new project. Although prior notification does not mean the other party’s prior consent, Pakistan has construed the condition as arming it with a veto power over Indian works. To keep unrest in J&K simmering, it has objected to virtually every Indian project. Its obstruction has delayed Indian projects for years, driving up their costs substantially.

Not surprisingly, there have been repeated calls in the J&K Assembly for revision or abrogation of the IWT. By gifting the state’s river waters to Pakistan, the treaty has hampered development there and fostered popular grievance.

J&K’s total hydropower-generating capacity in operation or under construction does not equal the size of a single mega-dam that Pakistan is currently pursuing, such as the 7,000-megawatt Bunji Dam or the 4,500-megawatt Bhasha Dam. Indeed, while railing against India’s run-of-river projects, Pakistan has invited China to build mega-dams in the Pakistani-occupied part of J&K, itself troubled by discontent, including against the growing Chinese footprint there, especially in Gilgit-Baltistan.

A 2011 report prepared for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the IWT “the world’s most successful water treaty” for having withstood conflicts and wars. The treaty has been a success mainly because of India, which has continued to uphold the pact even when Pakistan has repeatedly waged aggression and fundamentally altered the circumstances of cooperation.

International law recognizes that a party may withdraw from a treaty in the event of fundamentally changed circumstances. Pakistan’s continuing use of state-reared terrorist groups against India constitutes reasonable grounds for the injured party to unilaterally withdraw from the IWT. Sustained sponsorship of cross-border terrorism over many years has created fundamentally changed circumstances that undermine the essential basis of India’s original consent to the IWT, while significantly altering the balance of obligations.

The Indus is Pakistan’s jugular vein. If India wishes to improve Pakistan’s behaviour and dissuade it from exporting more terrorists, it should hold out a credible threat of dissolving the IWT, drawing a clear linkage between Pakistan’s right to unimpeded water inflows and its responsibility not to cause harm to its upper riparian. A failure to respect that linkage should free India, for example, to link the Chenab (which has the largest transboundary flow) with the Ravi-Beas-Sutlej system to address water scarcity in its north.

Brahma Chellaney is Professor of Strategic Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

© The Times of India, 2016.

China’s Dam Problem With Myanmar

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

e75112196a1f438f93612ac9eb9443ff-landscapelargeChina is a big fan of dams. Indeed, over the last 50 years, the country has constructed more dams than all other countries combined. But there is one dam that China never managed to get built: the Myitsone Dam in Myanmar. And Chinese leaders can’t seem to let it go.

The Myitsone Dam was to stand at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s lifeline. It was designed as a hydroelectric power project that would generate energy mainly for export to China, at a time when Myanmar’s economy depended on its giant neighbor. Ruled by a brutal military junta, Myanmar faced crippling United States-led sanctions and broad international isolation.

Where others saw human-rights violations, China saw an opportunity to advance its own strategic and resource interests. When the Myitsone Dam project was introduced, China was also establishing a foothold in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port on the Bay of Bengal, from which it would build energy pipelines to southern China.

A stronger presence in Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, which flows from near the Chinese border to the Andaman Sea, promised to provide China with a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe. As an added benefit, the Myitsone project  and, more broadly, China’s relationship with Myanmar  would advance China’s ambition of challenging India’s advantage around the Indian Ocean.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan. But in 2011, just two years after the $3.6 billion project got underway, Myanmar’s government suddenly suspended the dam’s construction  a slap in the face to China. Moving toward democratic reform, President Thein Sein’s government was eager to cast off the view of Myanmar as a Chinese client state.

Sein got what he wanted. Myanmar’s reversal on the Myitsone Dam became a watershed moment for the country’s democratic transition. It helped to bring an end to Myanmar’s international isolation, and an easing of the long-standing Western sanctions that made Myanmar so dependent on China in the first place. In 2012, Barack Obama became the first US president ever to visit Myanmar.

Last year, Myanmar elected its first civilian-led government. The National League for Democracy, led by the former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, won the election in a landslide. Though Suu Kyi was blocked from running for the presidency directly, she is the most powerful figure in Myanmar’s ten-month-old government.

Alongside all of this democratic progress, however, Myanmar’s relations with China cooled considerably. After work on the Myitsone Dam halted, several other dam and energy projects were also put on hold, though Chinese firms did manage to complete multibillion-dollar oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar’s western coast to southern China in 2013-2014.

But China has not given up on the Myitsone project. Indeed, President Xi Jinping seems to be trying to seize the opening created by Suu Kyi’s efforts to defuse bilateral tensions  her first diplomatic trip since the election was to Beijing  to pressure her to reverse Sein’s decision.

China has warned that if Myanmar fails to resume the Myitsone project, it will be liable to pay $800 million to China. Hong Liang, China’s ambassador to Myanmar, declared three months ago that Myanmar should be paying $50 million in interest alone for each year the project is suspended. But if the project were completed, Hong continued, Myanmar could reap high returns by exporting much of the electricity to China.

The threats have not fallen on deaf ears. Before her visit to Beijing, Suu Kyi tasked a 20-member commission to review proposed and existing hydropower projects along the Irawaddy, including the suspended Myitsone deal.

But Suu Kyi, who disparaged the dam project when she led the opposition to the junta, remains unlikely to restart the Myitsone project. As much as she wants China off her back  an objective that surely drove the decision to launch the commission – actually agreeing to resume work on the deeply unpopular Myitsone Dam would be too politically compromising to consider.

In fact, within Myanmar, the Myitsone project is widely regarded as a yet another neo-colonial policy, designed to expand China’s influence over smaller countries, while feeding its own resource greed, regardless of local conditions or needs. And there is plenty of evidence to support this reading – beginning with China’s demand for most of the electricity, even as much of Myanmar suffers from long daily power outages.

Moreover, the construction that did take place had serious consequences for the people of Myanmar. By flooding a large swath of land, the project displaced many subsistence farmers and fishermen, fueling a popular backlash that contributed to the end of a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces. (Ironically, as part of its effort to get Suu Kyi on their side, the Chinese are now seeking to mediate peace talks between the government and the rebels, who, it has long been believed, receive arms from China.)

Chinese pressure to revive the Myitsone project is reviving anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar. Indeed, while Suu Kyi was in Beijing, anti-Chinese protests flared anew back home. At a time when Myanmar is being wooed by all major powers and eager international investors, there is no incentive for the government much less the public to ignore the environmental and human costs of China’s projects.

It is time for China to recognize that the decision to end the Myitsone project will not be reversed. It can hope that Suu Kyi’s commission makes some face-saving recommendations, such as paying compensation to China or making new deals for smaller, more environmentally friendly power plants. But, with Suu Kyi committed to a neutral foreign policy, China’s days of sucking resources from Myanmar, without any regard for the environmental or human costs, are over.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

How to Stop Terrorism in Europe

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Burqa and burkini bans in Europe give the impression of real action when, in truth, they leave the core issue unaddressed — to strike at the roots of terror.

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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Europe is under pressure. Integrating asylum-seekers and other migrants — 1.1 million in Germany alone in 2015 — into European society poses a major challenge, one that has been complicated by a spike in crimes committed by new arrivals. Making matters worse, many European Muslims have become radicalized, with some heading to Iraq and Syria to fight under the banner of the so-called Islamic State, and others carrying out terror attacks at home. Add to that the often-incendiary nativist rhetoric of populist political leaders, and the dominant narrative in Europe is increasingly one of growing insecurity.

Many European countries are moving to strengthen internal security. But their approach is incomplete, at best.

Germany and others have introduced new measures, including an increase in police personnel, accelerated deportation of migrants who have committed crimes, and the authority to strip German citizenship from those who join foreign “terror militias.” Other steps include enhanced surveillance of public places and the creation of new units focused on identifying potential terrorists through their Internet activities.

The pressure to reassure the public has driven Belgium, Bulgaria, France, and the Netherlands, as well as the Swiss region of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy, to ban the burqa (the full-body covering worn by ultraconservative Muslim women) and other face-covering veils in some or all public places. Several French coastal cities have also banned the burkini, the full-body swimsuit some Muslim women wear to the beach.

Even Germany, whose Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière initially rejected such a ban, has succumbed to pressure from allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel and proposed a ban on face-covering veils in public places where identification is required. Such clothing, the logic goes, is not conducive to integration.

But no internal security measures, much less clothing requirements, can guarantee Europe’s safety. To find a real solution, European leaders must address the ideological roots of the security challenges they face.

The problem is not Islam, as many populists claim (and as the burqa and burkini bans suggest). Muslims have long been part of European society, accounting for about 4% of Europe’s total population in 1990 and 6% in 2010. And previous waves of immigration from Muslim countries have not brought surges in terrorist activity within Europe’s borders. For example, beginning in the 1960s, roughly three million migrants from Turkey settled in Germany to meet the booming economy’s demand for labor, without posing any internal security threat.

Today, that threat results from radical Islamism — a fundamentalist vision of society reordered according to Sharia law. Beyond enduring untold suffering and violence, many of today’s refugees, from war-torn countries like Iraq and Syria, have imbibed radical Islamist ideology and, specifically, calls to jihad. Some might be Islamic State fighters who have disguised themselves as asylum-seekers, in order to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. US intelligence officials have repeatedly warned of this possibility.

Even for the majority of asylum-seekers, who are genuinely seeking safety, the violence and Islamist rhetoric to which they have been exposed may have had a powerful psychological impact. After living for so long in a conflict zone, assimilating to a peaceful society governed by the rule of law requires the newcomers to develop a new mindset, one that enables them to face genuine challenges without resorting to criminality.

And this does not even account for the deep psychological scars that will afflict many of the refugees. Research indicates that more than 50% of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience at least partial posttraumatic stress disorder, which is associated with an increased risk of violence.

To many in Europe, these factors suggest that the key to keeping Europe safe is controlling the flow of refugees, including through improved vetting procedures. (Such procedures have often been lacking, owing to the sheer number of refugees pouring in.) And there is a case for keeping the refugees in the Middle East, though a key mechanism for doing that — the European Union’s deal with Turkey — is now at risk, owing to political turmoil following last month’s failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.

But not even constructing a Fortress Europe would eliminate the terrorist threat. After all, some attacks, including in Brussels and Paris, have been carried out by Muslim European citizens who became radicalized in their own bedrooms. According to Rob Wainwright, who heads Europol, some 5,000 European jihadists have been to Syria and Iraq, and “several hundred” are likely plotting further attacks in Europe after returning home.

The only way to address the threat of terrorism effectively is to tackle the radical Islamist ideology that underpins it. This means working to stop the religious-industrial complexes in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and elsewhere in the Gulf from using their abundant petrodollars to fund the spread of extremist ideology.

It also means launching a concerted information campaign to discredit that ideology, much like the West discredited communism during the Cold War — a critical component of its eventual triumph. This is a job for all major powers, but it is a particularly urgent task for Europe, given its proximity to the Middle East, especially the new jihadist citadels that countries like Syria, Iraq, and Libya represent.

To take down the terrorists requires delegitimizing the belief system that justifies their actions. Burqa bans and other measures by European authorities that target Islam as such are superficial and counter-productive, as they create divisions in European society, while leaving the ideological underpinnings of terrorism unaddressed.

Rivers of conflict between India and Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

20160825Kashmir_article_main_image

Just as the Philippines hauled China before an international arbitral tribunal in The Hague over Beijing’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, Pakistan recently announced its intent to drag India before a similar, specially constituted tribunal in the Dutch city. Pakistan is citing a dispute over the sharing of the waters of the six-river Indus system with India. This is not the first time Pakistan is seeking to initiate such proceedings against its neighbor; nor is it likely to be the last. But it is among the more contentious moves in a long and fraught relationship over water resources. Indeed, seeking international intercession is part of Pakistan’s “water war” strategy against India.

When Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947 as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, the partition left the Indus headwaters on the Indian side of the border but the river basin’s larger segment in the newly-created country. This division armed India with formidable water leverage over Pakistan. Yet, after protracted negotiations, India agreed to what still ranks as the world’s most generous water-sharing pact: The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty reserved for Pakistan the largest three rivers that make up more than four-fifths of the total Indus-system waters.

The treaty, which kept for India just 19.48% of the total waters, is the only inter-country water agreement embodying the doctrine of restricted sovereignty, which compels the upstream nation to forego major uses of a river system for the benefit of the downstream state. By contrast, China, which enjoys unparalleled dominance over cross-border river flows because of its control over the water-rich Tibetan Plateau, has publicly asserted absolute territorial sovereignty over upstream river waters, regardless of the downstream impacts. It thus has not signed a water-sharing treaty with any of its 13 downstream neighbors.

A 2011 report prepared for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the Indus pact “the world’s most successful water treaty” for having withstood wars between India and Pakistan in the decades since it was signed. A more important reason why the pact stands out as the titan among existing international treaties is the unmatched scale of the waters it reserves for the downstream state — over 167 billion cu. meters per year. In comparison, the water allocations in the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty are a mere 85 million cu. meters yearly, while Mexico’s share under a 1944 water pact with the U.S. is 1.85 billion cu. meters — 90 times less than Pakistan’s Indus share.

Lack of trust

This background raises two key questions: Why did India leave the bulk of the Indus waters for Pakistan? And why is Pakistan still feuding with India over water? The answers to these questions reveal that when there is a lack of mutual political trust, even a comprehensive water treaty is likely to prove inadequate.

In 1960, at a time of escalating border tensions with China, India sought to trade water for peace with Pakistan by signing the treaty. But the treaty, paradoxically, ended up whetting Pakistan’s desire to gain control of the land — the Indian-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir — through which flowed the three rivers reserved for Pakistani use. With water security becoming synonymous with territorial control in its calculus, Pakistan initiated a surprise war in 1965 to capture Indian Jammu and Kashmir but failed in its mission. (Earlier, in 1948, Pakistan occupied one-third of Jammu and Kashmir and, subsequently, China grabbed one-fifth of the area.)

Over the decades, the disputed Jammu and Kashmir has remained the hub of Pakistan-India tensions. Moreover, the gifting of the river waters of the Indian part of the region to Pakistan by treaty has hampered development there and fostered popular grievance — a situation compounded by a Pakistan-abetted Islamist insurrection. There have been repeated calls in the elected legislature of Indian Jammu and Kashmir for revision or abrogation of the Indus treaty.

India’s belated moves to address the problem of electricity shortages and underdevelopment in its restive part of Jammu and Kashmir by building modestly sized, run-of-river hydropower plants (which use a river’s natural flow energy and elevation drop to produce electricity, without the need for a dam reservoir) have whipped up water nationalism in Pakistan. The treaty, while forbidding India from materially altering transboundary flows, actually permits such projects in India on the Pakistan-earmarked rivers.

In keeping with a principle of customary international water law, the treaty requires India to provide Pakistan with prior notification, including design information, of any new project. Although prior notification does not imply that a project needs the other party’s prior consent, Pakistan has construed the condition as arming it with a veto power over Indian works. It has objected to virtually every Indian project. Its obstruction has delayed Indian projects for years, driving up their costs substantially. Critics see this as part of Pakistan’s strategy to keep unrest in Indian Jammu and Kashmir simmering.

Significantly, the total installed hydropower-generating capacity in operation or under construction in Indian Jammu and Kashmir does not equal the size of a single mega-dam that Pakistan is currently pursuing, such as the 7,000-megawatt Bunji Dam or the 4,500-megawatt Bhasha Dam. Indeed, while railing against India’s run-of-river projects, Pakistan has invited China to build mega-dams in the Pakistani part of Jammu and Kashmir, itself troubled by discontent, including against the growing Chinese footprint there.

History of disputes

Pakistan’s latest decision to seek international arbitration over two Indian projects has followed two other cases in the past decade where it triggered international intervention by invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution provisions and yet failed to block the Indian works. Treaty provisions permit the establishment of a seven-member arbitral tribunal to resolve a dispute, or the appointment of a neutral expert to settle a disagreement over a hydro-engineering issue. When Pakistan’s minister for defense, water and power, Khawaja Asif, announced on Twitter recently that his country has decided to seek a “full court of arbitration,” most of whose members would be appointed by the World Bank, India contended the move was premature as the treaty-sanctioned bilateral mechanisms had not been utilized first.

Make no mistake: Pakistan, by repeatedly invoking the conflict-resolution provisions to mount political pressure on India, risks undermining a unique treaty. Waging water war by such means carries the danger of a boomerang effect.

Any water treaty’s comparative benefits and burdens should be such that the advantages for each party outweigh the duties and responsibilities, or else the state that sees itself as the loser may fail to comply with its obligations or withdraw from the pact. If India begins to see itself as the loser, viewing the treaty as an albatross around its neck, nothing can save the pact. No international arbitration can address this risk.

When China trashed the recent tribunal ruling that knocked the bottom out of its expansive claims in the South China Sea, it highlighted a much-ignored fact: Major powers rarely accept international arbitration or comply with tribunal rulings. Indeed, arbitration awards often go in favor of smaller states, as India’s own experience shows. For example, an arbitral tribunal in 2014 awarded Bangladesh more than three-quarters of the 25,602 sq. km disputed territory in the Bay of Bengal, even as it left a sizable “gray zone” while delimiting its maritime boundaries with India. Still, India readily accepted the ruling. However, nothing can stop India in the future from emulating the example of, say, China.

To be sure, Pakistan and India face difficult choices on water that demand greater bilateral water cooperation. The Indus treaty was signed in an era when water scarcity was relatively unknown in much of the Indian subcontinent. But today water stress is increasingly haunting the region. In the years ahead, climate change could exacerbate the regional water situation, although currently the glaciers in the western Himalayas — the source of the Indus rivers — are stable and could indeed be growing, in contrast to the accelerated glacial thaw in the eastern Himalayas.

A balance between rights and obligations is at the heart of how to achieve harmonious, rules-based cooperation between co-riparian states. In the Indus basin, however, there is little harmony or collaboration: Pakistan wages a constant propaganda campaign against India’s water hegemony and seeks to “internationalize” every dispute. Yet, in New Delhi’s view, Pakistan wants rights without responsibilities by expecting eternal Indian water munificence, even as its military generals export terrorists to India.

This rancor holds a broader lesson: Festering territorial and other political disputes make meaningful inter-country cooperation on a shared river system difficult, even when a robust treaty is in place.

Brahma Chellaney is the author of “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis” and “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” which won the Bernard Schwartz Award.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Japan’s constitutional reform to propel Asian stability

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Japanese Constitution signing page

Imperial signature and seal on Japan’s U.S.-imposed Constitution

Brahma Chellaney

Peace in Asia demands a proactive Japan. The issue Japan faces today is not whether it should remain pacifist but whether it can afford to stay passive in regional and international affairs. A Japan that is better able to defend itself and to partner with friendly Indo-Pacific countries to forestall a destabilizing power imbalance in Asia would truly become a “proactive contributor to peace.”

Challenge from China
US 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. Further national security reform in Japan, from a legal standpoint, is tied to constitutional reform. These twin reforms will help underpin the central goal of America’s Asia-Pacific strategy — a stable balance of power.
Today, the US faces major new challenges in Asia, given the rise of an increasingly assertive China — best symbolized by Beijing’s rebuff of the international-tribunal ruling that knocked the bottom out of its expansive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. Indeed, China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might makes right” strategy designed to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources — from the East China Sea to the Himalayas.
The “proactive contribution to peace” is a concept popularized by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Despite a big win at the recent upper house election that enables his ruling coalition to propose constitutional revision in the Diet, Prime Minister Abe is treading cautiously due to the strong criticism he faces from the powerful pacifist constituency at home and from China. By drafting and imposing a pacifist Constitution after World War II, the US created the problem that Japan now confronts — a problem that even constrains the overseas activities of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF). America must now seek to be part of the solution so that Japan, in keeping with US interests, plays a proactive role in Asian affairs and does more for its own defense.

Long-Awaited US Expression of Support
The Japanese Constitution suffers from inherent flaws. For example, it defines no head of state, having stripped the Emperor of all but symbolic power. There are also other voices that call for a new Constitution that is anchored in Japan’s own cultural values, political tradition, and national character. The present Constitution, far from reflecting such values, includes phrases and ideas from the 1776 US Independence Declaration and Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg speech, such as life, liberty and human rights.
Take India, another old civilization and deeply rooted democracy like Japan: India’s Constitution is almost as old as Japan’s. But while India has incorporated 100 amendments in its Constitution, Japan has not changed one word in its charter, thanks to its constitutional fundamentalists.
There are strong concerns in Japan over national defense and external security. But only open American support for constitutional reform can make a meaningful difference and help to allay such concerns in Japan. If Japan fails to carry out further reforms of its postwar institutions and policies to meet the new challenges in Asia, it could not only erode its own security but also weaken the role of the US-Japan strategic alliance.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at Center for Policy Research, New Delhi.

@JINF, 2016.

Securing the Indus treaty

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, August 5, 2016

edit1Water sharing, transparency and collaboration are the pillars on which the unique Indus Waters Treaty was erected in 1960. Islamabad’s recently unveiled intent to haul India again before an international arbitral tribunal is a testament to how water remains a source of discord for Pakistan despite a treaty that is a colossus among existing water-sharing pacts in the world.

In Asia, the vast majority of the 57 transnational river basins have no water-sharing arrangement or any other cooperative mechanism. India, however, has water-sharing treaties with both the countries located downstream to it, Pakistan and Bangladesh. These treaties govern the subcontinent’s two largest rivers, Indus and Ganges. By contrast, China, despite its unrivalled international status as the source of river flows to more than a dozen countries, stands out for not having a single water-sharing arrangement with any co-riparian state.

Significantly, India’s treaties with Pakistan and Bangladesh are the only pacts in Asia with specific water-sharing formulas on cross-border flows. They also set a new principle in international water law. The 1996 Ganges treaty set a new standard by guaranteeing delivery of specific water quantities in the critical dry season.

India’s Indus largesse

The Indus treaty stands out as the world’s most generous water-sharing arrangement by far, in terms of both the sharing ratio (80.52 per cent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system reserved for Pakistan) and the total volume of basin waters for the downstream state (Pakistan gets 90 times greater volume of water than Mexico’s share under a 1944 pact with the U.S.). It is the first and only treaty that goes beyond water sharing to partitioning rivers. It drew a virtual line on the map of India to split the Indus Basin into upper and lower parts, limiting India’s full sovereignty rights to the lower section and reserving for Pakistan the upper rivers of Jammu and Kashmir — the so-called “western rivers.”

Today, it remains the only inter-country water agreement in the world embodying the doctrine of restricted sovereignty, which seeks to compel an upriver state to defer to the interests of a downstream state. Treaty curbs, for example, obviate any Indian control over the timing or quantum of the Pakistan-earmarked rivers’ trans-boundary flows.

Given that water is J&K’s main natural resource and essential for economic development, the gifting of its river waters to Pakistan by treaty has fostered popular grievance there. The J&K government in 2011 hired an international consultant to assess the State’s cumulative economic losses, estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars annually, from the treaty-imposed fetters on water utilisation. Demands in the J&K legislature for revision or abrogation of the Indus treaty are growing since a resolution seeking a treaty review was passed in 2003. The backlash from underdevelopment, made worse by a Pakistan-abetted insurrection, has prompted New Delhi to embark on several modestly sized, run-of-the-river hydropower projects in J&K to address chronic electricity shortages.

Pakistan’s obstructionist tactics

Run-of-the-river projects are permitted by the Indus treaty within defined limits. But Pakistan wants no Indian works on the three “western rivers” and seeks international intercession by invoking the treaty’s dispute-settlement provisions, which permit a neutral-expert assessment or the constitution of a seven-member arbitral tribunal. By aiming to deny J&K the limited benefits permissible under the treaty, Pakistan wishes to further its strategy to foment discontent and violence there.

This Pakistani strategy was exemplified in 2010 when it instituted international arbitration proceedings over India’s 330-megawatt hydropower project on a small Indus tributary, the Kishenganga (known as Neelum in Pakistan). It persuaded the arbitral tribunal in 2011 to order India to suspend work on the project. With Indian work suspended, Pakistan ramped up construction of its own three-times-larger, Chinese-aided hydropower plant on the same river so as to stake a priority right on river-water use.

The tribunal’s final ruling in late 2013 represented a setback for India. It allowed India to resume work on the Kishenganga project but with a stiff condition that India ensure a minimum flow of 9 cumecs of water for Pakistan. Prescribing such a minimum flow went beyond the treaty’s terms and the laws of nature.

More importantly, the arbitrators separately delivered a general prohibition against drawdown flushing in all new Indian hydropower projects. In a 2007 decision on the earlier Baglihar case instituted by Pakistan, an international neutral expert held that gated spillways to help flush out silt were consistent with the treaty’s provisions. Yet the arbitrators, disregarding the Baglihar decision and the common international practice of constructing spillway outlets to control silt build-up, issued a prohibition that potentially affects the commercial viability of all future run-of-the-river projects in J&K.

Pakistan’s move to institute new arbitration proceedings over the Kishenganga and Ratle projects is a fresh reminder as to how India’s unparalleled water generosity has engendered unending trouble for it. In 1960, India thought it was trading water for peace by signing the treaty. Within five years of the treaty’s entry into force, Pakistan launched a war to grab the Indian part of J&K in 1965.

Today, Pakistan’s water relationship with India is becoming murkier due to China’s construction of dams in Pakistan-held Kashmir. While railing against India’s small-sized projects, Pakistan is pursuing mega-dams, such as the 7,000-megawatt Bunji Dam and the 4,500-megawatt Bhasha Dam. By way of comparison, the biggest dam India has built since Independence is the 2,000-megawatt Tehri project in Uttarakhand.

Onus on Islamabad

What China did recently — publicly trash an arbitral tribunal ruling that found it has no legal or historical basis to claim most of the South China Sea — was not an isolated case: major powers rarely go for international arbitration or accept arbitral tribunal awards.

Pakistan, by waging a constant propaganda battle against India on the waters issue, risks undermining the Indus treaty. And by repeatedly invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution provisions to bring on international intercession, it risks sending the wrong message to India — that compliance with treaty obligations and arbitration decisions is counterproductive. In the absence of an enforcement mechanism in international law, nothing can stop India from emulating the example of the major powers.

Pakistan insists on rights without responsibilities. In fact, its use of state-reared terrorist groups can be invoked by India, under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as constituting reasonable grounds for withdrawal from the Indus treaty. The International Court of Justice has upheld the principle that a treaty may be dissolved by reason of a fundamental change of circumstances.

If Pakistan wishes to preserve the Indus treaty, despite its diminishing returns for India, it will have to strike a balance between its right to keep utilising the bulk of the river system’s waters and a corresponding obligation (enshrined in international law) not to cause “palpable harm” to its co-riparian state by exporting terror.

Brahma Chellaney, the author of Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis and Water: Asia’s New Battleground, is with the Centre for Policy Research.

The Arab World’s Water Insecurity

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By , a column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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(Palestinian children in Gaza fetch water from a container. Photo credit: Reuters)

Nowhere is freshwater scarcer than in the Arab world. The region is home to most of the world’s poorest states or territories in terms of water resources, including Bahrain, Djibouti, Gaza, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. This shortage – exacerbated by exploding populations, depletion and degradation of natural ecosystems, and popular discontent – is casting a shadow over these countries’ future.

There is no shortage of challenges facing the Arab world. Given that many Arab states are modern constructs invented by departing colonial powers, and therefore lack cohesive historical identities, their state structures often lack strong foundations. Add to that external and internal pressures – including from surging Islamism, civil wars, and mass migration from conflict zones – and the future of several Arab countries appears uncertain.

What few seem to recognize is how water scarcity contributes to this cycle of violence. One key trigger of the Arab Spring uprisings – rising food prices – was directly connected to the region’s worsening water crisis. Water also fuels tensions between countries. Saudi Arabia and Jordan, for example, are engaged in a silent race to pump the al-Disi aquifer, which they share.

Water can even be wielded as a weapon. In Syria, the Islamic State has seized control of the upstream basins of the two main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The fact that nearly half of all Arabs depend on freshwater inflows from non-Arab countries, including Turkey and the upstream states on the Nile River, may serve to exacerbate water insecurity further.

Sky-high fertility rates are another source of stress. According to a United Nationsreport, average annual water availability in the Arab world could fall to 460 cubic metersper capita – less than half the water-poverty threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. In this scenario, water extraction will become even more unsustainable than it already is, with already-limited stores depleted faster than ever – a situation that could fuel further turmoil.

Finally, many countries offer subsidies on water, not to mention gasoline and food, in an effort to “buy” social peace. But such subsidies encourage profligate practices, accelerating water-resource depletion and environmental degradation.

In short, the Arab world is increasingly trapped in a vicious cycle. Environmental, demographic, and economic pressures aggravate water scarcity, and the resulting unemployment and insecurity fuels social unrest, political turmoil, and extremism. Governments respond with increased subsidies on water and other resources, deepening the environmental challenges that exacerbate scarcity and lead to unrest.

Urgent action is needed to break the cycle. For starters, countries should phase out the production of water-intensive crops. Grains, oilseeds, and beef should be imported from water-rich countries, where they can be produced more efficiently and sustainably.

For the crops that Arab countries continue to produce, the introduction of more advanced technologies and best practices from around the world could help to reduce water use. Membrane and distillation technologies can be used to purify degraded or contaminated water, reclaim wastewater, and desalinate brackish or ocean water. Highly efficient drip irrigation can boost the region’s fruit and vegetable production, without excessive water use.

Another important step would be to expand and strengthen water infrastructure to address seasonal imbalances in water availability, make distribution more efficient, and harvest rainwater, thereby opening up an additional source of supply. Jordan, with Israeli collaboration and European Union aid, is creating a Red Sea-Dead Sea pipeline, a conduit that would desalinate Red Sea water, in order to provide potable water to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, and then funnel the brine to the dying Dead Sea.

Improved water management is also crucial. One way to achieve this is to price water more appropriately, which would create an incentive to prevent wastage and conserve supplies. While subsidies need not be eliminated completely, they should be targeted at smaller-scale farmers or other high-need workers and redesigned so that they, too, provide incentives for water conservation and efficiency.

Of course, wealthier, more stable countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE are better placed than conflict-torn countries like Yemen, Libya, and Iraq to address the rapidly intensifying water crisis they face. But, in order to break the cycle of violence and insecurity, all countries will ultimately have to step up to improve water management and protect ecosystems. Otherwise, their water woes – along with internal unrest – will only worsen.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Mirage of a rules-based order

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY, The Japan Times, July 26, 2016

downloadIs the world governed by international law? The attitudes of the world’s two demographic titans, China and India, on international law are a study in contrast, underscoring that compliance with or defiance of rules is often driven by power dynamics and state character.

Consider China’s brazen refusal to respect the recent, legally binding ruling of an international arbitral tribunal that knocked the bottom out of its expansive claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has poured scorn on the ruling, calling it “a farce” and “naturally null and void,” and saying it deserved to be “dumped in garbage.” The choice insults belie China’s loss of face internationally.

Yet, to bring Beijing to heel, there is little that the international community can do — other than punitively restrict imports from China, which no country is willing to do.

China’s open disdain for the verdict stands in sharp contrast with India’s ready acceptance of adverse rulings by international arbitral tribunals between 2013 and 2016 in three separate cases.

One case, initiated by Bangladesh, involved a maritime boundary dispute in the Bay of Bengal. A second case, instituted by Pakistan, related to the Indus Waters Treaty and centered on its challenge to India’s small, 330-megawatt Kishenganga hydropower plant. The third case was filed by Italy over India’s initiation of criminal proceedings against two Italian marines, who were arrested in 2012 for allegedly killing two unarmed Indian fishermen by opening fire from their oil tanker, less than 21 nautical miles off the Indian coast.

In all the three cases against India, the tribunals — just like the tribunal in the South China Sea case against China that was filed by the Philippines — were established under the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

India, despite apparent flaws in the rulings, deferentially agreed to comply with the verdicts, thereby underscoring that it lacks China’s power and political will to stage any act of defiance.

Take the Bay of Bengal case, which went largely in Bangladesh’s favor. The arbitral tribunal, in its July 2014 decision, delimited the two countries’ territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, including the area beyond the EEZ of 200 nm. This case ranked as one of the first two in which the extended continental shelf beyond 200 nm was delimited by an arbitral tribunal without waiting for the essential recommendations from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which was established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to define the outer limits of nations’ seabed territory.

In delimiting the boundary between Bangladesh and India, the five-member tribunal left a sizable “gray zone,” which lies beyond Bangladesh’s limit of 200 nautical miles. The gray zone was one of the reasons the delimitation decision was not unanimous. The dissenting arbitrator found the majority’s reasoning unsatisfactory and its delimitation decision arbitrary.

Indeed, two distinct gray areas have emerged in the Bay of Bengal — one where Indian and Bangladeshi territorial control overlaps, and the other with overlapping claims of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. This is because the gray zone that resulted from the final delimitation line between India and Bangladesh partially overlaps a gray area that emerged from another tribunal’s earlier delimitation of the Myanmar-Bangladesh line in 2012.

Such gray areas are zones of potential conflict. Yet India — which voluntarily went for arbitration, something major powers rarely do — promptly welcomed the ruling, which awarded Bangladesh more than three-quarters of the 25,602-sq.-km disputed territory. The tribunal actually went beyond established jurisprudence to uphold Bangladesh’s contention that the concavity of its coastline necessitated “special circumstances” in the application of UNCLOS to the determination of its maritime boundaries.

Now consider the Indus ruling, delivered in late 2013: The verdict went beyond Pakistan’s challenge to the Kishenganga project (which was allowed to proceed with conditions); the tribunal delivered a general prohibition against drawdown flushing in all new Indian hydropower projects. This potentially affects the economic viability of all future Indian projects on the Indus River and its tributaries in Indian-administered Kashmir: Without the use of drawdown flushing, silt would build up in a project, undermining its sustainability.

The paradox is that the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty remains by far the world’s most generous water-sharing pact, under which India has reserved over 80 percent of the basin waters for its regional adversary. Yet Pakistan has waged a constant battle to keep India on the defensive on the waters issue, including through propaganda and by invoking the treaty’s conflict-resolution procedures, which allow international arbitration or neutral-expert assessment.

Had China been in India’s place, would it have put up with this? It would likely have dumped the treaty itself.

In fact, India’s unparalleled water generosity to Pakistan has invited unending trouble. Within five years of the Indus treaty’s entry into force, Pakistan launched a major war against India to grab the remaining part of the divided Kashmir in 1965, at a time when India had still not recovered from its humiliating rout in the 1962 war with China. Today, Pakistan expects eternal Indian munificence on water even as its military generals export terror across the border to India and Afghanistan.

The case initiated by Italy, for its part, is odd. Long before Italy filed the case, a considerate India had allowed one of the two accused marines to return to Italy in 2014 after he suffered a stroke. India also permitted the other marine to stay in the Italian ambassador’s residence in New Delhi rather than be in jail. In fact, the high court in the state of Kerala allowed the two, after their arrest, to go to Italy for Christmas in 2012.

The issue currently before the five-member tribunal is whether India, under UNCLOS, has penal jurisdiction over the marines for the double murder in its EEZ. The arbitrators, however, have no power to dictate bail conditions for the accused.

However, the tribunal, in an unusual “provisional measures”  order delivered in April this year over India’s objections, stated: “Italy and India shall cooperate, including in proceedings before the Supreme Court of India, to achieve a relaxation of the bail conditions of Sgt. Girone (the second marine) so as to give effect to the concept of considerations of humanity, so that Girone, while remaining under the authority of the Supreme Court of India, may return to Italy during the present (UNCLOS) Annex VII arbitration.”

This was not a directive to let Girone return to Italy but an instruction to both sides to cooperate over a possible further relaxation of his bail conditions so that he “may” go home. Yet, with Italy blocking India’s entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) to secure the return of the remaining marine, the Indian government promptly asked its Supreme Court to let Girone go to Italy, and he was allowed to return. Had Indian naval officers, instead of Italian marines, been involved in the incident, they would still be rotting in jail.

Italy showed how leverage can be employed in diplomacy even to influence criminal proceedings in another country. It was only after Girone returned home that Italy ended its extended obstruction to India’s MTCR admission.

Contrast Italy’s exercise of leverage with India’s reluctance to link the future of the Indus treaty to the cessation of Pakistan’s war by terror, or to leverage its ballooning imports from China to help improve Chinese behavior.

Pakistan’s use of state-reared terrorist groups against India can possibly be invoked by New Delhi, under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, as constituting reasonable grounds for its withdrawal from the Indus treaty. Instead, Pakistan has just announced its intention to drag India before an international arbitral tribunal again over a new Indus treaty-related issue that it wishes to litigate.

Unlike India, which has repeatedly been summoned before the international justice system, the South China Sea case marked the first time for China to be hauled up before an international tribunal. China’s dismissal of the ruling in that case shows that it is willing to absorb the cost to its reputation as long as it maintains and expands its hold on territory and resources in the South China Sea.

In a world in which power respects power and money talks louder than words, reputation can be repaired. China, after all, paid no lasting international costs for gobbling up Tibet, or for causing the death of tens of millions of Chinese during the so-called Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, or for carrying out the Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators.

Indeed, as if to underscore that nothing succeeds like aggression, no one today is talking about getting China to vacate the seven reefs and rocks that it has turned into nascent military outposts in the South China Sea after massive land reclamation. Rather, the talk is about finding ways to dissuade it from further expansionary activities.

International law is powerful against the powerless, but powerless against the powerful. The five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council serve as prime examples of a unilateralist approach to international relations.

Like China today, the other four permanent members have refused in the past to comply with rulings from international arbitration or adjudication, including on issues relating to UNCLOS, which was at the center of the South China Sea verdict. The United States has not even ratified UNCLOS, and it rejected a 1980 International Court of Justice verdict directing it to pay reparations to Nicaragua for illegally mining its harbors.

Although globalization has fundamentally transformed economics, politics, cultures and communications, the world has remained the same in one basic aspect — the powerful cite international law to other states, demanding compliance, but ignore it when it comes in their own way. The notion of universal compliance with a rules-based order remains an illusion.

Long-time Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author of nine books, is a professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin. His latest book is “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Salvaging the war on terror

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

Hayat Boumeddiene 'appears in Islamic State film' - 06 Feb 2015

The recent upsurge of jihadist attacks from Nice and Istanbul to Medina and Dhaka is a reminder that the global war on terror stands derailed. The use of a truck for perpetrating mass murder in the French Riviera city of Nice shows how a determined jihadist does not need access to technology or even a gun to unleash terror. Terrorists are increasingly employing innovative methods of attack, and all the recent strikes were on ‘soft’ targets.

To bring the war on terror back on track, it has become necessary to initiate a sustained information campaign to discredit the ideology of radical Islam that is fostering “jihad factories” and promoting self-radicalization. Blaming ISIS for the recent strikes, just as most attacks after 9/11 were pinned on Al Qaeda, creates a simplistic narrative that obscures the factors behind the surging Islamist terror.

Attention needs to be focused on the cases where the scourge of jihadism is largely self-inflicted. This will help to highlight the dangers of playing with fire.

Take the growing Islamist attacks in Bangladesh: The country’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) — like Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — reared jihadist groups for domestic and foreign-policy purposes. During the periods when Bangladesh was under direct or de facto military rule, DGFI was the key instrument to establish control over civil and political affairs and partnered with the National Security Intelligence agency in the sponsorship and patronage of jihadist outfits.

A top U.S. counterterrorism official, Cofer Black, expressed concern way back in 2004 while visiting Dhaka over “the potential utilization of Bangladesh as a platform for international terrorism.”

The cozy ties that security agencies developed over years with jihadists promoting Islamic revolution in Bangladesh has made it difficult for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government — elected in 2008 — to effectively clamp down on Islamists. The Dhaka café attack by five young men, some with elite backgrounds, highlighted the dangers of the accelerating radicalization in Bangladesh.

Now consider Turkey’s Pakistanization under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership: The recent Istanbul Airport attack, which was followed by a failed coup attempt against Erdoğan’s government, was a reminder that Turkey has come full circle. Turkey served as a rear base and transit hub for ISIS fighters. But when ISIS became a potent threat to Western interests, Turkey came under pressure and began tightening its borders. By allowing the US to fly sorties over Syria and Iraq from one of its air bases, Turkey has now incurred the wrath of the group whose rise it aided — ISIS.

Indeed, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu earlier accused Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party earlier this year of trapping the country in “a process of Pakistanization” by proactively “aiding and abetting terrorist organizations” and helping to turn Syria into a new Afghanistan.

Turkey’s increasingly difficult security predicament reflects the maxim: “If you light a fire in your neighbourhood, it will engulf you”.

Take another case: For more than four decades, Saudi Arabia has exported a hyper-conservative and intolerant strain of Islam known as Wahhabism, which has spawned suicide killers by instilling the spirit of martyrdom. Wahhabism is actually the root from which the world’s leading terrorist groups, including ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, draw their ideological sustenance.

The monsters that Saudi Arabia helped create have undermined the security of a number of countries, including India. Now those very monsters are beginning to haunt Saudi Arabia’s own security, as the July 4 terror attacks there indicate. This underscores the law of karma: What you give is what you get returned.

According to the analyst Fareed Zakaria, Riyadh “most lavishly and successfully exported its ideology” to Pakistan, where “Saudi-funded madrasas and mosques preach” Wahhabism. Such has been the extent of the Saudi success in “Wahhabizing” Pakistan that the blowback has now reached the Saudi kingdom. Twelve of the 19 people arrested for the triple bombings on July 4 are Pakistani. In one attack, a Pakistani suicide bomber struck outside the U.S. Consulate in Jiddah.

The same day there was an unprecedented attack outside the Medina mosque where Prophet Mohammad is buried, thereby challenging the Saudi monarchy’s claim that only it can protect Islam’s holiest sites. The Prophet’s Mosque is considered to be Islam’s second holiest site after the Sacred Mosque, or Masjid-al-Haram, which surrounds the Kaaba in the city of Mecca.

The cloistered Saudi royals are reaping what they sowed: Having aided ISIS’s rise, they now confront an existential threat from that terrorist organization, which believes that its caliphate project cannot succeed without gaining control of Mecca and Medina. ISIS thus is using Wahhabism to topple the Wahhabism-exporting House of Saud, labelling it as decadent.

The fact that what goes around comes around is apparent also from the recent Orlando attack. The Orlando killer’s jihadist indoctrination can actually be traced to his father who was a local guerrilla commander in the US-backed jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The father, a CIA asset, was rewarded with permanent residency in America, where the son was born.

Against this grim background, the fight against terrorism demands two main things. The first is finding ways to stop the religious-industrial complexes in the Persian Gulf from funding Muslim extremist groups and madrasas in other countries. The other imperative is for the US and some of its allies, including France, Britain and Turkey, to learn lessons from their role in aiding jihadism through interventionist policies designed to achieve narrow geostrategic objectives.

Jihad cannot be geographically confined to a targeted nation, however distant, as the examples of Libya, Syria and Afghanistan indicate. Nor can terrorism be stemmed if distinctions are drawn between good and bad terrorists, and between those who threaten their security and those who threaten ours. As illustrated by the Turkish, Saudi and Pakistani cases in particular, the viper reared against another country is a viper against oneself and against third countries. As an Indian proverb warns, feeding milk to a cobra doesn’t make it your friend.

Liberal, pluralistic states could come under siege unless the global war on terror is salvaged and concerted efforts are made to drain the terrorism-breeding swamps reared or tolerated by some countries. After all, radical Islam shares a fondness for totalitarianism and targets what it sees as ideologically antithetical — secular, pluralistic states. Never before has there been a greater need for close international cooperation on counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Ensuring defiant unilateralism is not cost-free

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BY The Japan Times
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China has been expanding its frontiers ever since it came under communist rule in 1949. Yet no country dared to haul it before an international tribunal till the Philippines in 2013 invoked the dispute-settlement mechanism of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), thereby setting in motion the arbitration proceedings that this week resulted in the stinging rebuke of China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

The trigger for Manila approaching the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) was China’s capture in 2012 of Scarborough Shoal, located close to the Philippines but hundreds of miles from China’s coast. ITLOS then set up a five-member tribunal under The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) to hear the case.

Despite strenuous Chinese efforts to dismiss and discredit the proceedings from the start, Beijing tried unsuccessfully to persuade the tribunal that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case. Last October, the tribunal said that it was “properly constituted” under UNCLOS, that the Philippines was within its rights in filing the case, and that China’s non-participation in the proceedings was immaterial.

Now in its final verdict delivered unanimously, the tribunal has dismissed Beijing’s claim that it has historic rights to much of the South China Sea and ruled that China was in violation of international law on multiple counts, including damaging the marine environment through its island-building spree and interfering with the rights of others.

The panel effectively declared as illegitimate China’s South China Sea boundary (the so-called nine-dash line).

It also held that China’s strategy of creating artificial islands and claiming sovereignty over them and their surrounding waters had no legal basis. In less than three years, China has built seven islands and militarized several of them in an attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.

In the absence of a mechanism to enforce the ruling, Beijing, however, was quick to pour scorn on the verdict and brazenly declare that it would ignore a legally binding ruling.

Contrast China’s contempt for the landmark verdict with neighboring India’s ready acceptance of adverse rulings in recent years by similar PCA tribunals in two separate cases involving South Asian rows — India’s maritime-boundary dispute with Bangladesh and its Indus River-related dispute with Pakistan over a small dam project at Kishenganga. India deferentially accepted the verdicts and complied with them, although the Kishenganga ruling will affect all future Indian projects on the Indus and the other ruling has left a large “grey area” while delimiting the Bangladesh-India sea borders.

China’s disdain for the ruling shows that international law matters to it only when it can serve its own interests. Otherwise, international rules are bendable and expendable.

To be sure, China has never pretended that it believes in a rules-order order. This was apparent from its aggressive steps to enforce its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea — actions that the tribunal has now ruled violate international law.

Indeed, Beijing has sought to rely on a multinational proclamation that it has flagrantly breached — the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which it signed with the 10ASEAN states in 2002. While violating the declaration’s central commitment — to resolve “disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force” — Beijing has cited the declaration’s reference to the use of “friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned” to insist that any dispute can only be addressed bilaterally and not through international arbitration or adjudication.

Dispute settlement by peaceful means is essential to building harmonious interstate relations. However, Beijing’s dismissal of the tribunal’s ruling is in keeping with its broader opposition to settling disputes with its neighbors — from Japan and South Korea to India and tiny Bhutan — by means of international mediation, arbitration or adjudication.

Instead, China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might is right” strategy that aims to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources by altering the status quo. The strategy focuses on a steady progression of steps to create new facts on the ground by confounding and outwitting neighbors while avoiding a confrontation with the United States, which sees itself as a geographically non-resident power in Asia.

Through its furious reaction to the tribunal’s ruling, China is saying that it should be the judge in its own cause. More ominously, it is signaling its determination to stay on the course of unilateralism by settling matters militarily in the resource-rich South China Sea, which is larger than the Mediterranean and carries $5 trillion in annual trade.

The example Beijing is setting will not only be damaging to the law of the sea but is also likely to stoke serious tensions and insecurities in Asia, the world’s economic locomotive.

The South China Sea — a global trade and maritime hub — is critical to the contest for influence in the larger Indo-Pacific region extending from the Arabian Sea to Australia and Canada. As Beijing consolidates its power in the South China Sea by completing ports and airstrips and building up its military assets on man-made islands, the impact of its actions will extend beyond reducing ASEAN states to a tributary status and bringing resources under its tight control: Such consolidation will have a significant bearing on the wider geopolitics, balance of power, and maritime order.

Like-minded states thus must work closely together to defend the law of the sea by ensuring that defiant unilateralism is not cost-free. Unless China is made to realize that its future lies in cooperation and not confrontation, a systemic risk to Asian stability and prosperity is bound to arise, with far-reaching implications for the world.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

 © The Japan Times, 2016.

The U.S. needs to support Japanese constitutional reform

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, July 18, 2016

downloadJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has secured a rare opportunity for constitutional reform following the July 10 election for the upper house of the Diet, or parliament. His ruling coalition now has a supermajority in both houses. Yet he is right to tread cautiously on constitutional change. Since many Japanese remain wary of amending a constitution that is widely seen as having brought a long period of peace, the government would be hard pressed to win a national referendum on constitutional change — even if any proposed amendment passed both houses of the Diet with the required two-thirds majority.

If there is one factor that could help ease grassroots concerns and facilitate constitutional reform, it is American support for the process. This would help blunt criticism from Japan’s powerful pacifist constituency as well as from China, which equates any potential constitutional change with Japan’s remilitarization — even as Beijing frenetically builds up its own military might.

U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defense and regional security. National security reforms in Japan are tied to constitutional reforms. Together, they would help strengthen the central goal of the U.S strategy for the Asia-Pacific — a stable balance of power.

Japan has been a model U.S. ally, hosting a large U.S. troop presence and contributing billions of dollars to support the costs of stationing those forces on its soil. The U.S. has said this assistance is “by far the most generous host-nation support” provided by any of the 27 allies with which Washington has defense treaties. Japan’s financial support is so significant that it is approximately equivalent to the U.S. annual budget for maintaining domestic military bases — a fact that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seemed unaware of when he said Tokyo should pay more.

Because of Japanese generosity, it is cheaper for the U.S. to have its troops stationed in Japan than back home. In fact, Tokyo recently agreed to marginally increase its host-nation support after initially seeking to cut its contribution to help reduce Japan’s massive public debt.

More important, the alliance with Japan remains central to the U.S. role in Asia, including maintaining a forward military presence. However, the U.S. faces major new challenges in the region due to the rise of an increasingly assertive China – best symbolized by Beijing’s rejection of the July 12 international tribunal ruling that knocked the bottom out of its expansive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might makes right” strategy designed to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources — from the East China Sea to the Himalayas.

In this light, peace in Asia demands a proactive Japan. The issue Japan faces is not whether it should remain pacifist, since it is unlikely to discard pacifism, but whether it can afford to stay passive in regional and international affairs. A Japan that is better able to defend itself and to cooperate with friendly Indo-Pacific countries to forestall a destabilizing power disequilibrium in Asia would truly become a “proactive contributor to peace” — a concept popularized by the Abe government.

A weaker defense alliance

If Tokyo, however, fails to carry out further reforms of its postwar institutions and policies to meet the new challenges in Asia, it could not only weaken its own security but also the role of the U.S.-Japan strategic alliance.

By drafting and imposing a constitution after World War II, the U.S. created the problem that Japan now confronts — how to cast off the constitutional albatross. The U.S. must seek to be part of the solution so that Japan, in keeping with American interests, plays a proactive role in Asian affairs and does more for its own defense. Japan can play this role within the framework of its longstanding security treaty with Washington.

It has been largely forgotten that Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur made his occupation staff hastily write the Japanese constitution in just one week so that it would be ready to coincide with the U.S. national holiday celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 1946. However, it did not come into force until May 1947. No national constitution in the world goes so far as Japan’s in barring the acquisition of the means of war or to renounce “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” A defeated Germany escaped Japan-like constitutional fetters because by the time its constitution, or Basic Law, was drafted in 1949, the Cold War was in full swing.

It did not take long for the U.S. to realize that it went too far in defanging Japan when it disbanded its military and imposed the world’s first pacifist constitution. After the Korean War, through a major legal reinterpretation of the constitution it had imposed, the U.S. encouraged Japan to reconstitute its military as “Self-Defense Forces” to make the country the lynchpin of its Asian strategy.

The Japanese constitution suffers from inherent flaws. For example, it defines no head of state, having stripped the emperor, then Hirohito, of all but symbolic power. Article 1 defines the emperor’s position as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” while Article 3 declares he “shall have no governmental powers, nor shall he assume nor be granted such powers.”

This was deliberate. The U.S. wanted to have the emperor merely serve as the symbol of Japan so that Washington could use him to win public support for the U.S. occupation between 1945 and 1952, while denying him powers to oppose it. Likewise, the force-renouncing Article 9 was designed to keep Japan as an U.S. client state, while depriving it of the ability to ever mount another Pearl Harbor-style attack against the U.S. But today, U.S. security interests would be better served by a militarily stronger Japan.

Another anomaly is the absence of constitutional protection for the Japan Self-Defense Forces, 62 years after they were established, despite popular support for the military. By renouncing “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” the constitution has imposed an impractical fetter from which Japan will have to break free to defend itself from any aggression, as Abe has said.

Contradictions

In truth, Japanese pacifism has been made possible not so much by the constitution as by the fact that Japan is under U.S. security protection. Pacifism, however, has coexisted with contradictory trends. For example, Japan has denounced nuclear weapons and consistently called for a world without them, yet welcomed the nuclear umbrella provided to it by the U.S. Japan has kept its military forces out of combat but has endorsed U.S. military interventions around the world, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 regime change in Libya.

But Japan’s constitutional fundamentalists regard the constitution as sacrosanct, as if it were religious scripture, and oppose any change, even though the U.S. has ratified six amendments to its own constitution since it drafted the Japanese charter. At the other end of the spectrum are Japanese who seek a new constitution. They want Asia’s oldest liberal democracy and one that has not fired a single shot since World War II to frame a new constitution anchored in its own values and traditions.

By placing a high bar to the enactment of any amendment, the Japanese constitution is among the hardest in the world to revise. Just 35% of Japanese support constitutional revision, according to a poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Against this background, only open U.S. support for constitutional reform can make a meaningful difference. It will allay public concerns among the Japanese, with only 23% wanting their country to play a more active role in regional affairs, according to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center. Another survey in 2014 revealed that just 15% of Japanese, compared with almost 75% of Chinese, were willing to defend their country — the lowest figure in the world.

Unlike China, Japan is not a revisionist power. Rather, its strategic priorities converge with U.S. regional goals, including maintaining the present Asian political and maritime order to ensure a regional power equilibrium and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The U.S., in its own interest, should back constitutional reform in Japan, which has not sent a single soldier into combat since 1945 — a record of pacifism surpassing even that of Germany.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield); he is currently a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

China’s Challenge to the Law of the Sea

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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China has been trying to bully its way to dominance in Asia for years. And it seems that not even an international tribunal in The Hague is going to stand in its way.

China has rebuffed the landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which knocked the bottom out of expansive Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea and held that some of the country’s practices were in violation of international law. Recognizing that there is no mechanism to enforce the PCA’s ruling, China does not intend to give even an inch on its claims to everything that falls within its unilaterally drawn “nine-dash line.”

Clearly, China values the territorial gains – which provide everything from major oil and gas reserves to fisheries (accounting for 12% of the global catch) to strategic depth – more than its international reputation. Unfortunately, this could mean more trouble for the region than for China itself.

China is not just aiming for uncontested control in the South China Sea; it is also working relentlessly to challenge the territorial status quo in the East China Sea and the Himalayas, and to reengineer the cross-border flows of international rivers that originate on the Tibetan Plateau. In its leaders’ view, success means reducing Southeast Asian countries to tributary status – and there seems to be little anyone can do to stop them from pursuing that outcome.

Indeed, China’s obvious disdain for international mediation, arbitration, or adjudication essentially takes peaceful dispute resolution off the table. And, because none of its regional neighbors wants to face off with the mighty China, all are vulnerable to Chinese hegemony.

To be sure, China does not seek to dominate Asia overnight. Instead, it is pursuing an incremental approach to shaping the region according to its interests. Rather than launch an old-fashioned invasion – an approach that could trigger a direct confrontation with the United States – China is creating new facts on the ground by confounding, bullying, and bribing adversaries.

To scuttle efforts to build an international consensus against its unilateralism, China initiates and maintains generous aid and investment arrangements with countries in need. In the run-up to the arbitration ruling, China used its clout to force the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to retract a joint statement critical of its role in the South China Sea.

Of course, the potential of China’s bribery and manipulation has its limits. The country has few friends in Asia, a point made by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s warning that China is erecting a “Great Wall of Self-Isolation.” The Chinese foreign ministry responded by citing support for its positions from distant countries such as Sierra Leone and Kenya.

But in a world where domination is often conflated with leadership and where money talks, China may not have all that much to worry about. Consider how rapidly normal diplomatic relations with China were restored in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Already, criticism of China’s territorial grabs focuses on dissuading its leaders from further expansionary activities, rather than on forcing it to vacate the seven reefs and outcroppings it has already turned into nascent military outposts in the South China Sea. The international community may not like what China has done, but it seems willing to accept it.

That reality has not been lost on China, which was emboldened by the absence of any meaningful international pushback against two particularly audacious moves: its 2012 seizure of Scarborough Shoal, just 120 nautical miles from the Philippines, and its establishment in 2013 of an air-defense identification zone (ADIZ) over areas of the East China Sea that it does not control. Since then, China’s leaders have ramped up their island-building spree in the South China Sea considerably.

Though the Philippines did fight back, invoking the dispute-settlement provision of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), its efforts seem unlikely to yield much. On the contrary, China could now double down on its defiance, by establishing an ADIZ in the South China Sea – a move that would effectively prohibit flights through the region without Chinese permission. Given that China has already militarized the area, including by building radar facilities on new islets and deploying the 100-kilometer-range HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, it is well positioned to enforce such an ADIZ.

China’s defiance of the PCA’s ruling will deal a crushing blow to international law. As French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said recently, if UNCLOS is openly flouted in the South China Sea, “it will be in jeopardy in the Arctic, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere tomorrow.” Given that international law is crucial to protect smaller states by keeping major powers in check, the immediate question is what happens when simmering tensions with China’s Asian neighbors – and with the US – finally boil over.

Mao Zedong famously asserted that, “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” We might like to think that we’re better than that, or that the world has progressed beyond naked coercion by great powers. But, as China’s actions suggest, the essence of geopolitics has not changed. The bullies still run the schoolyard.

© 1995-2016 Project Syndicate.

 

« La montée du capitalisme autoritaire », principal défi pour les démocraties

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Lemond

« Comme le montre l’exemple spectaculaire de la Chine, devenue puissance mondiale en l’espace d’une seule génération, le modèle du capitalisme autoritaire représente le premier défi direct à la démocratie libérale depuis la montée du nazisme (Photo : le président chinois Xi Jinping et Vladimir Poutine, le 25 juin, à Pékin). SPUTNIK / REUTERS

Par Brahma Chellaney (Professeur d’études stratégiques au Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, Inde

LE MONDE | 08.07.2016

L’un des plus profonds changements des dernières décennies aura été la montée du capitalisme autoritaire en tant que modèle politico-économique, notamment dans les pays en développement. Ce modèle se définit comme un mélange de gouvernance autocratique et de capitalisme népotique contrôlé par l’Etat.

Entre 1988 et 1990, alors que la guerre froide s’éteignait peu à peu, des manifestations pro-démocratie ont éclaté dans différentes régions du monde, depuis la Chine jusqu’à la Birmanie en passant par l’Europe orientale. Ces mouvements ont contribué à propager les libertés politiques dans cette dernière région et ont renversé ailleurs dans le monde des dictatures dans des pays aussi divers que l’Indonésie, la Corée du Sud, le Chili et Taïwan.

A la suite de la désintégration de l’Union soviétique, la Russie elle-même a paru être un candidat crédible aux réformes démocratiques. Le renversement de ces régimes totalitaires ou autocratiques a modifié le rapport de force mondial en faveur des courants démocratiques.

Plus d’un quart de siècle après la chute du mur de Berlin, force est de constater que l’avancée mondiale de la démocratie est bloquéePourtant, tous les mouvements pro-démocratie n’ont pas été couronnés de succès. Les « révolutions de couleur » ont renforcé la méfiance des régimes autoritaires qui avaient survécu, les incitant à mettre en place des contre-mesures. Plus d’un quart de siècle après la chute du mur de Berlin,…

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