Mending Pakistan’s behaviour


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


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


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


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


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


Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review


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


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


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


By , a column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate


(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


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


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


BY The Japan Times

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


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.


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


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

imae SCS

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



« 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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Jihadism: What Goes Around, Comes Around


Brahma Chellaney

Orlando-624x415In the wake of the worst gun rampage in American history, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub, was radicalized online, saying he had been “inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the internet.” While that may be partly true, the Orlando shooter’s jihadist indoctrination can actually be traced to his father, Seddique Mir Mateen, a local guerrilla commander in the U.S.-backed jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The elder Mateen, an asset to the Central Intelligence Agency, was rewarded with permanent residency in the United States, where Omar was born. With the father presenting himself over the years as an Afghan émigré leader and building close ties with some U.S. government officials and lawmakers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation failed to stop Omar from carrying out the shootings despite interviewing him three times since 2013 on suspicion of terrorist links.

The U.S. debate on the Orlando massacre has focused on the killer’s troubled life and sexual orientation but missed the bigger picture. The real issue centers on the spreading jihadism that is inspiring a spate of terrorist attacks in the world, from Europe (Brussels and Paris) and Asia (Pathankot and Jakarta) to the U.S. (San Bernardino and Boston).

Stemming the spread of the Islamist ideology, which has fostered “jihad factories” and threatens the security of countries as diverse as the U.S. and China, holds the key to containing terrorism.

This demands two things. The first is finding ways to stop the religious-industrial complexes in the Persian Gulf from exporting Wahhabism, a messianic, jihad-extolling form of Sunni fundamentalism that promotes, among other things, the subjugation of women and the death of “infidels.” The cloistered royals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere continue to fund Muslim extremist groups and madrasas in other countries.

Their export of Wahhabism has not only snuffed out more liberal Islamic traditions in many countries, but has also created the wellspring that feeds extremism and terrorism. Wahhabi fanaticism, in fact, is the ideological mother of modern terrorism.

The other imperative is for the U.S. to learn lessons from its role — indirect and direct — in aiding jihadism over the years in pursuit of narrow geostrategic objectives in some regions. China’s love for pariah regimes is well known and has extended to building cozy ties with the Taliban when that medieval militia was in power in Kabul. But how does the U.S. explain its troubling ties with Islamist rulers and groups?

These ties were cemented in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan used Islam as an ideological tool to spur jihad to oust the invading Soviet “infidels” from Afghanistan. Through a covert program of unparalleled size, the CIA trained and armed thousands of guerrillas from Afghanistan and elsewhere to establish a multinational Sunni fighting force with Arab petrodollars and the help of Pakistan’s rogue, military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Some U.S. allies, including al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, later became America’s nemeses. Supping with the devil is always fraught with grave risks for peace and security.

Indeed, it is America’s allies of convenience — both state and non-state — that over the years have come to haunt the security of Western and non-Western democracies alike.

In the second half of the Cold War, the U.S. tacitly encouraged Saudi Arabia to export Wahhabism as an antidote to communism and the 1979 anti-American Shia revolution in Iran. Developments since the end of the Cold War show that Wahhabi fanaticism is the root from which the world’s leading Islamist terrorist groups — such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Laskar-e-Taiba, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab — draw their ideological sustenance.

Although the U.S.-Saudi alliance has come under strain of late, America has still to release a long-classified section of a 2002 congressional report that discusses a possible Saudi government role in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., in which 15 of the 19 passenger jet hijackers were Saudi citizens. Before the approaching 15th anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. would do well to lift the secrecy of the so-called 28 pages. There is no reason why the truth should still be suppressed.

More broadly, the spread of jihadism underscores the imperative for major powers to focus on long-term goals rather than short-term objectives. The need for caution in training Islamic insurgents and funneling lethal arms to them to help overthrow a regime is highlighted by the current chaos in and refugee exodus from Syria and Libya, which now rival Pakistan and Afghanistan as international jihadist citadels.

In fact, the recent terror strikes in the West suggest they are a blowback from the interventionist policies of some powers that have helped unravel fragile states like Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. Several Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan, have become de facto partitioned, while Jordan and Lebanon face a similar threat.

The surge of Islamist terrorism is a reminder that jihad cannot be geographically confined to a targeted nation, however distant, as the examples of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya indicate. In fact, no state, due to foreign intervention, has unraveled and become a terrorist haven faster than Libya.

Against this background, containing the spread of the jihad virus is a difficult challenge. The Orlando shootings show how the American-born offspring of a former “holy warrior” who emigrated to the U.S. can imbibe violent extremism when the spirit of jihad runs in the family.

Or take the 2013 Boston Marathon attack case: Anzor Tsarnaev, the Chechen father of the two terrorists involved in the bombings, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, moved to America with his family with the help of his U.S.-based brother who had married the daughter of a former high-ranking CIA officer, Graham Fuller. An ex-CIA station chief in Kabul, Fuller was an architect of the Reagan-era “mujahedeen” war against Soviet forces.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were radicalized in America. Similarly, the Paris and Brussels attackers — mainly European nationals of Middle Eastern or North African descent — developed their violent jihadist leanings in France or Belgium.

The fact that what goes around comes around is apparent also from the domestic jihadist threat now faced by jihad-exporting Saudi Arabia, which has bankrolled Islamist terrorism ever since the oil-price boom of the 1970s boosted the country’s wealth dramatically. Likewise, for another leading state sponsor of terrorism, Pakistan, the chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance.

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton publicly warned Pakistan that keeping “snakes in your backyard” was dangerous as “those snakes are going to turn on” it. This warning, however, was equally applicable to the U.S., Britain and France.

The three Western powers, instrumental in turning Libya into a battle-worn wasteland through a botched Hillary Clinton-championed regime change, continue to speciously distinguish between “moderate” and “radical” jihadists in Syria so as to aid the former, although those waging jihad by the gun can never be moderate. In fact, it is such aid that created the conditions for ISIS to emerge as a potent force.

The global war on terror, now almost a generation old, will never be won with treacherous allies, such as jihadist rebels and Islamist rulers. Such alliances, as recent terror attacks indicate, strengthen jihadism and endanger the security of secular, pluralistic states.

It is time for Western powers to reconsider their regional strategies and focus attention on attacking the ideology driving terror.

© China-US Focus, 2016.

The Tendrils of Terrorism



Local residents pay their respects to the victims of the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery at a stadium in Dhaka on July 4. © AP

Asia needs a concerted campaign to counter the fast-spreading culture of jihad.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

One of Bangladesh’s worst terrorist attacks, in which 20 patrons of a Dhaka restaurant were butchered by militants, highlights Asia’s growing threat from Islamist violence. Among those killed were seven Japanese aid workers, including an 80-year-old railway expert, nine Italians, one Indian and a U.S. national. Terrorist attacks this year from Jakarta to Pathankot, India, have served as a reminder of the growing scourge of jihadism in Asia.

Several factors have contributed to the rise of Islamist terrorism. Some Muslim communities are caught in a vicious circle of exploding populations, a chronic dearth of jobs, high illiteracy and fast-spreading extremism. In Bangladesh, among other troubled states, the intersection of political instability, popular discontent, resource stress and population pressures has formed a deadly cocktail of internal disarray, fostering a pervasive jihad culture.

In addition, a corroding state structure has served as an incubator of Islamist terror, creating conditions under which transnational militant groups can thrive. Weak or dysfunctional states are more likely to host terrorist groups that not only carry out transnational attacks but also target their host states.

Another major factor is the systematic export by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other oil sheikhdoms of Wahhabism, an obscurantist and intolerant version of Islam. This has gradually snuffed out more liberal and pluralistic interpretations of Islam in Southeast, South and Central Asia, thereby promoting radicalization among many Muslims and allowing Islamist groups to become increasingly entrenched.

Linking radical Islam with radical terror, Wahhabism interprets the Koran in a way that instills the spirit of martyrdom, with promises of reaching paradise through death.

Reinforcing the rise of religious extremism, petrodollar-financed madrasas, or religious schools, have sprung up across Asia. Wahhabi fanaticism has helped spread the tendrils of terrorism, serving as the ideological mother of Asian jihadist groups that murder, maim and menace the innocent — from Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia to Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Taliban in the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt. Bangladesh authorities have blamed the cafe attack — claimed by the Islamic State group — on a local Wahhabi-infused group, Jamaat ul-Mujahideen, whose top two leaders were convicted and executed in 2008 for carrying out nationwide bombings.

Adding to Asian security concerns, Wahhabi-indoctrinated militants from countries including Australia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China, India and Kazakhstan, have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for another offspring of Wahhabism — IS. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year called Southeast Asia “a key recruitment center” for the fanatical group.

The jihadists who return to their homelands from Syria and Iraq could wage terror campaigns in the same way that the Afghan war veterans, like Osama bin Laden, came to haunt the security of the Middle East, Asia and the West. The multinational rebels in Afghanistan, who became known as “mujahideen” (Islamic holy warriors), were originally trained and armed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s to help oust Soviet forces from that country.

Yet another factor that has fueled violent jihadism is state sponsorship of — or collusion with — terrorism. Militants, some promoted by regimes and some operating with the connivance of elements within national militaries and intelligence organizations, have employed religion or ethnic or sectarian aspirations to justify their acts of cross-border terror.

For example, Pakistan’s use of extremist groups as an instrument of foreign policy is well documented, with the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Terrorism for 2015 stating that some United Nations-designated terrorist organizations continue “to operate within Pakistan, employing economic resources under their control and fundraising openly.” Essentially, the Pakistani military has reared “good” terrorists for cross-border missions while battling “bad” militants that fail to toe its line.

For states nurturing violent jihadist groups, the chickens have come home to roost with a vengeance. For example, the recent Istanbul airport attack is a reminder that Turkey has come full circle. The country served as a rear base and transit hub for IS fighters. But when IS became a potent threat to Western interests, Turkey came under pressure and began tightening its borders. By allowing the U.S. to fly sorties over Syria and Iraq from a Turkish air base, Ankara has now incurred the wrath of IS, the group whose rise it aided.

Saudi Arabia, which has bankrolled Islamist extremism ever since the oil-price boom of the 1970s boosted the kingdom’s wealth, also contributed to the rise of IS, creating a Frankenstein’s monster that now threatens it as much as any other country. This is apparent from the latest explosions in Medina and two other Saudi cities. Paradoxically, IS is using Wahhabism to try and delegitimize Saudi Arabia’s cloistered, Wahhabism-exporting royals.

Bangladesh’s grim challenge

The Dhaka cafe attack highlights the specter of jihadism haunting Bangladesh, the seventh most populous nation, that is made up mainly of low-lying floodplains and deltas. Excluding microstates, Bangladesh features the greatest population density in the world. Less known is the fact that its jihadist problem is largely self-inflicted.

Indeed, Bangladesh’s future is imperiled as much by Islamic radicalization as by global warming. The accelerating radicalization of a society with largely moderate Muslim traditions was highlighted by the fact that the slaughter of mainly foreigners in the cafe attack was perpetrated by educated young men from affluent families.

Ever since her election as prime minister in late 2008 marked the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has battled jihadists, including those reared by the country’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, and the National Security Intelligence agency. Hasina has sought to curtail the powers of the DGFI, which, like Pakistan’s military-run Inter-Services Intelligence agency, nurtured militant groups and conducted operations against political parties and journalists.

Born in blood in 1971, Bangladesh has been wracked by perennial turmoil, including 22 coup attempts, some successful. Hasina survived when gunmen assassinated her father — Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and its first prime minister — and executed her extended family in a single night in 1975. She survived again in 2004 when assassins hurled grenades at one of her political rallies, leaving two dozen people dead. According to Hasina, she has escaped death 19 times.

That Bangladesh’s political turbulence and violence are unlikely to end any time soon is apparent from two developments: The boycott by the largest opposition party of the January 2014 national election, which returned Hasina to power; and the wave of Islamist attacks since 2013 on secular bloggers, atheists, gay rights activists, and members of the Hindu minority, with some of the targets decapitated or hacked to death in public. Now, there are serious questions about whether a politically divided Bangladesh can cope with the upsurge of Islamist violence.

Against this background, the fight against terrorism in Asia is likely to prove long and difficult. A study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center estimates that the aggregate Muslim population by 2030 will have doubled since 1990, with the largest increase being in Asia. The demographic explosion could accentuate the stresses that are contributing to violent jihadism and thereby act as a threat multiplier.

There is greater need than ever to bring the international fight against terrorism back on track. Only a concerted, sustained campaign to deal with the factors spurring jihadism can help stem the challenge from the forces of terror.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Obama’s Bitter Afghan Legacy


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

afghanistan_war_imageNearly 15 years after its launch, the United States’ war in Afghanistan is still raging, making it the longest war in American history. Nowadays, the war is barely on the world’s radar, with only dramatic developments, like America’s recent drone-strike assassination of Afghan Taliban Chief Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, getting airtime. But Afghans continue to lose their friends, neighbors, and children to conflict, as they have since the 1979 Soviet invasion, which triggered the refugee exodus that brought the parents of Omar Mateen, the killer of 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando, to the US.

America’s invasion, launched by former President George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, was intended to dismantle Al Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power, thereby ensuring that Afghanistan would no longer serve as a safe base of operations for extremists. With those goals ostensibly accomplished, Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, reduced troop levels in the country, even declaring a year and a half ago that the war was “coming to a responsible conclusion.”

But, with a resurgent Taliban stepping up attacks, the war has raged on, exacting staggering costs in blood and treasure. One key reason is Pakistan, which has harbored the Afghan Taliban’s command and control, while pretending to be a US ally.

If there were any doubts about Pakistan’s duplicity, they should have been eliminated in 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed in a military garrison town near the country’s capital. Yet, five years later, Pakistan still has not revealed who helped bin Laden hide for all those years. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has continued to shower the country with billions of dollars in aid.

The assassination of Mansour on Pakistan’s territory, near its border with Iran and Afghanistan, has exposed, yet again, the deceitfulness of Pakistani officials, who have repeatedly denied sheltering Taliban leaders. Like the raid by US Navy SEALs that killed bin Laden, Mansour’s assassination required the US to violate the sovereignty of a country that, as one of the largest recipients of American aid, should have been supporting the effort. The question is whether the US will acknowledge the obvious lesson this time and change course.

While Mansour’s killing may be, as Obama put it, “an important milestone” in the effort to bring peace to Afghanistan, it also exposed America’s policy failures under the Obama administration, rooted in the desire not to confront either Pakistan or even the Taliban too strongly. Obama’s objective was to preserve the option of reaching a Faustian bargain with the Taliban – a power-sharing arrangement to underpin a peace deal – facilitated by the Pakistani military. That is why the US has not branded the Afghan Taliban – much less Pakistan’s rogue intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – a terrorist organization, and instead has engaged in semantic jugglery.

This approach goes beyond rhetoric. America took almost 15 years to carry out its first drone strike in Pakistan’s sprawling Balochistan province, even though the Afghan Taliban leadership established its command-and-control structure there almost immediately after the US military intervention ousted it from Afghanistan. Instead, the US concentrated its drone strikes in Pakistan’s Waziristan region, allowing the Taliban leaders to remain ensconced.

The US has even made direct overtures to the Taliban, in order to promote negotiations aimed at securing peace through a power-sharing arrangement. It allowed the Taliban to set up a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha, Qatar, in 2013. A year later, it traded five senior Taliban leaders who had been jailed at Guantánamo Bay for a captured US Army sergeant.

What the US did not know was that the Taliban’s founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar, died in 2013 in a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Omar’s death was kept secret for more than two years, during which time ISI claimed to be facilitating contacts with him.

Finally, last July, Mansour was installed as the Taliban’s new leader – and he was not interested in peace talks. It was Mansour’s intransigence that spurred the US to change its tactics. Instead of using carrots to secure Taliban support for a peace deal, the Obama administration is now using very large sticks.

But even if this approach manages to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, it will probably not be enough to secure a lasting peace deal. If the US is to succeed at ending the war in Afghanistan, it must do more than change tactics; it must rethink its fundamental strategy.

The reality is that the medieval Taliban will neither be defeated nor seek peace until their Pakistani sanctuaries are eliminated. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded in a country when the militants have found refuge in another. While Obama recognizes the imperative of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries, he has failed to do what is needed.

Simply put, bribing Pakistan’s military will not work. Over the last 14 years, the US has given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid and armed it with lethal weapons, ranging from F-16s and P-3C Orion maritime aircraft to Harpoon anti-ship missiles and TOW anti-armor missiles. And yet Pakistan continues to provide the Afghan Taliban a safe haven within its borders.

A better approach would be to link aid disbursement to concrete Pakistani action against militants, while officially classifying ISI as a terrorist entity. Such a move would send a strong signal to Pakistan’s military – which views the Taliban and other militant groups as useful proxies and force multipliers vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India – that it can no longer hunt with the hounds and run with the foxes.

Obama’s decision last October to prolong indefinitely US involvement in Afghanistan means not only that he will leave office without fulfilling his promise to end Bush-era military entanglements, but also that the US will continue to fight the war on the wrong side of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Perhaps his successor will finally recognize the truth: the end of the war in Afghanistan lies in Pakistan.

Attacking the ideology behind terror


The West must hold Arab monarchs to account for spawning Wahhabi extremism

WT terror
By Brahma Chellaney, Washington Times June 15, 2016

In the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, it is pointless to debate whether the Orlando killings constitute just an act of Islamist terror or also an act of hate directed at the LGBT community. Every act of terror springs from hatred of its target, be it a nation or government or community.

The real issue centers on the ideology that is inspiring a spate of Islamist terrorist attacks in the world. The scourge of Islamist terror is tied to Wahhabism, an insidious ideology.

Make no mistake: Wahhabi fanaticism is terrorism’s ideological mother, whose offspring include groups such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, Laskar-e-Taiba, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and Islamic State, all of which blend hostility toward non-Sunnis and anti-modern romanticism into nihilistic rage.

The only way to defeat an enemy driven by ideology is to emasculate its ideology. The West won the Cold War not so much by military means as by spreading the ideas of political freedom and market capitalism that helped suck the lifeblood out of communism’s international appeal, making it incapable of meeting the widespread yearning for a better, more open life.

Today, stemming the spread of the ideology that has fostered “jihad factories” holds the key to containing terrorism. The export of Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other oil sheikhdoms is the source of modern Islamist terror.

Yet the rest of the world — in thrall to Arab money and reliant on Arab oil and gas — has largely turned a blind eye to the jihadi agenda of some Arab monarchs. In fact, with Western support, tyrannical oil monarchies in Riyadh, Doha and elsewhere were able to ride out the Arab Spring, emerging virtually unscathed.

Saudi Arabia has faced little international pressure, even on human rights. How the Saudi kingdom buys up world leaders is apparent from the Malaysian attorney general’s claim that Prime Minister Najib Razak received a $681 million “personal donation” from the Saudi royals. Saudi Arabia has given as much as $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.

There are signs, however, that the Western attitude toward Saudi Arabia might be beginning to change. German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said recently, “We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over.” After a married couple of Pakistani origin staged a mass shooting in San Bernardino, President Obama alluded to Wahhabism as a “perverted interpretation of Islam.”

No country has contributed more than Saudi Arabia to the international spread of Wahhabism, which is gradually snuffing out more liberal Islamic traditions in many countries. Jihadism and sectarianism indeed are institutionalized in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world named after its founder, commonly known as Ibn Saud.

Saud, who ruled for 20 years until his death, brought the central part of the Arabian Peninsula under his control with British assistance in 1932, establishing a desert kingdom tethered to Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that was considered a fringe form of Islam until oil wealth transformed the once-barren Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest country without a river.

Since the oil-price boom of the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has spent more than $200 billion on its global jihad project, including funding Wahhabi madrassas, mosques, clerics and books. Western powers actually encouraged the kingdom — as an antidote to communism and the 1979 anti-U.S. Iranian revolution — to export Wahhabism.

But the wave of new attacks serve as a reminder that Wahhabi fanaticism is the root from which Islamist terrorists draw their ideological sustenance. As Vice President Joe Biden said in a 2014 Harvard speech, Saudi and other “allies’ policies wound up helping to arm and build allies of al Qaeda and eventually the terrorist Islamic State.”

Today, with its own future more uncertain than ever, the House of Saud is increasingly playing the sectarian card in order to shore up support among the Sunni majority at home and to rally other Islamist rulers in the region to its side. Having militarily crushed the Arab Spring uprising in Sunni-led but Shia-majority Bahrain, Saudi Arabia early this year executed its own Arab Spring leader — Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr — who had led anti-regime Shia protests in 2011.

Before the execution, the kingdom formed an alliance of Sunni states purportedly to fight terrorism. The coalition included all the main sponsors of international terror, like Qatar and Pakistan. It was like arsonists pretending to be fire wardens.

According to a U.N. panel of experts, Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in war crimes in Yemen.

The Saudi royals seem to mistakenly believe that widening the sectarian fault lines in the Islamic world will keep them in power. By drawing legitimacy from jihadism and by being beholden to sectarianism, the royals could be digging their own graves. After all, fueling jihadism and sectarianism threatens to empower extremists at home and devour the royalty.

More broadly, the global war on terror cannot be won without closing the wellspring that feeds terrorism — Wahhabi fanaticism. Wahhabism is the ultimate source of the hatred that triggered September 11, 2001, and the recent string of attacks, from Paris and Brussels to San Bernardino and Orlando. Shutting that wellspring demands that the West hold Arab monarchs to account for spawning the kinds of dangerous extremists that are imperiling regional and international security.

The late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew rightly said in 2003 that success of the war on terror hinges more on controlling the “queen bees” — the “preachers” of the “deviant form of Islam” — than on just killing the “worker bees” (terrorists). As long as Arab petro-dollars keep “jihad factories” in business, there will be suicide killers.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Why was Nagasaki nuked?



Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

Just as Hiroshima has become the symbol of the horrors of nuclear war and the essentialness of peace, the visit of the first sitting U.S. president to that city was laden with symbolism, including about the ironies of human action. As Barack Obama put it, when the United States carried out history’s first nuclear attack by dropping a bomb, “a flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.”

Two questions, however, remain unanswered to this day: Why did the U.S. carry out the twin atomic attacks when Japan appeared to be on the verge of unconditionally surrendering? And why was the second bomb dropped just three days after the first, before Japan had time to fully grasp the strategic implications of the first nuclear attack?

Months before the nuclear bombings (and certainly by the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death made Harry S. Truman the U.S. president in April 1945), the defeat of Japan was a foregone conclusion. Japan’s navy and air force had been destroyed and its economy devastated by a U.S. naval blockade and relentless American firebombing raids on Japanese cities.

During his Hiroshima visit, Obama called for “a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.” But can there be a moral awakening when almost every nuclear-armed country today is expanding or upgrading its nuclear arsenal, thus increasing the risk of nuclear use, either by accident or design?

Obama has himself highlighted the yawning gap between rhetoric and reality.

In Hiroshima, reprising his famous words of 2009 in Prague, Obama said that “among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” But at home, he has quietly pursued an extensive expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, already the world’s most-expensive and most-sophisticated nuclear deterrent. Under him, the U.S. is spending about $355 billion as part of a 10-year plan to upgrade its nuclear armory.

Almost 71 years after the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and more than a generation after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons still underpin the security policies of the world’s most powerful states. Indeed, the composition of the United Nations Security Council’s permanent membership suggests that international political power is coterminous with intercontinental-range nuclear-weapons power.

There can be no moral awakening without jettisoning the political-military thinking that sanctioned the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving as many as 220,000 people, mostly civilians, dead.

As Hiroshima and Nagasaki lay in smoldering ruins, Truman sent a team of military engineers, fire experts and photographers to the scene to analyze the death and destruction wrought by the twin attacks. The team reported an “an unprecedented casualty rate” in Hiroshima, with 30 percent of the population killed and another 30 percent seriously injured.

The nuclear attack three days later on Nagasaki generated a higher blast yield but produced a smaller area of complete devastation and lower casualties because, unlike Hiroshima’s flat terrain and circular shape, Nagasaki is a city with large hills and twin valleys. The second attack killed about 74,000 people, about half as many as those who died in the Hiroshima bombing. A city’s terrain and layout, the U.S. team’s report stated, must be considered “in evaluating the effectiveness” of nuclear bombing.

Even if one accepts Truman’s claim that the Hiroshima bombing was necessary to force Japan’s surrender and end the war without a full-scale U.S. invasion, what was the rationale for his action in nuking Nagasaki just three days later on August 9, 1945, before Japan had time to surrender?

As the U.S. team’s report stated, Nagasaki was totally unprepared for the nuclear bombing, although “vague references to the Hiroshima disaster had appeared in the newspaper of 8 August.”

Decades later, there is no still no debate in the U.S. on the moral or military calculus for bombing Nagasaki. No plausible explanation has been proffered for the attack.

After Hiroshima was nuked on August 6, Russia took advantage of the situation by attacking Japan on August 8, although its official declaration of war came a day later. Hours after news of Russia’s invasion of Sakhalin Island reached Tokyo, the Supreme War Guidance Council met to discuss Japan’s unconditional surrender. The nuclear bomb on Nagasaki was dropped as Soviet forces were overwhelming Japanese positions in Manchuria and Japan appeared set to surrender to the Allied powers.

Indeed, according to the U.S. team’s report, the “decision to seek ways and means to terminate the war — influenced in part by knowledge of the low state of popular morale — had been taken in May 1945 by the Supreme War Guidance Council.” This would suggest that even the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima was needless.

In the days before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the only question facing Japan was when to unconditionally surrender under the terms of the July 26 Postdam Declaration. The signals the Japanese were sending that they were prepared to surrender were missed or ignored by the U.S. The surrender was eventually announced by Emperor Hirohito on August 15 after U.S. assurances on the Emperor’s continued role. These assurances, as American scholar Gar Alperovitz has pointed out, were not provided earlier, although they possibly could have ended the war without any nuclear bomb being dropped.

In truth, Nagasaki’s nuclear incineration had no military imperative. If there was any rationale, it was technical or strategic in nature — to demonstrate the power of the world’s first plutonium bomb.

The bomb that reduced Hiroshima to ashes was an untested uranium bomb, codenamed “Little Boy,” with Truman applauding the bomb’s success as “the greatest achievement of organized science in history.” By contrast, the bomb used in the Nagasaki attack was an implosion-type plutonium bomb. Codenamed “Fat Boy,” it had been secretly tested in the New Mexico desert on July 16, a development that paved the way for the Postdam ultimatum to Japan.

Indeed, Truman intentionally delayed his Potsdam meeting with Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin until after the testing of the new weapon. Truman wanted the power of the new weapon to end the war in the Pacific, rather than the Soviet Union invading Japan and inflicting a decisive blow to force its surrender. Anxious not to let to let the Soviet Union gain a major foothold in the Asia-Pacific, he sought to persuade Stalin at Postdam to delay the invasion.

Days later when Hiroshima was destroyed, Truman broke the news to his shipmates aboard USS Augusta, saying, “The experiment has been an overwhelming success.” The Nagasaki bombing was his second nuclear “experiment.”

The geopolitical logic of the nuclear bombings was to establish U.S. primacy in the postwar order.

The late American author Kurt Vonnegut, best known for his World War II satirical novel Slaughterhouse-Five, called the Nagasaki bombing the “most racist, nastiest act” of the U.S. after the enslavement of blacks brought from Africa. And the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, Telford Taylor, once described the Nagasaki bombing as a war crime, saying: “The rights and wrongs of Hiroshima are debatable, but I have never heard a plausible justification of Nagasaki.”

Actually, the U.S. plan was to drop the plutonium bomb on Kokura city (present-day Kitakyushu). But Kokura was under a heavy cloud blanket on August 9, so the B-29 bomber was diverted from Kokura to a larger city, Nagasaki, Japan’s gateway to the world. Nagasaki, Japan’s oldest and densest stronghold of Roman Catholicism, was paradoxically destroyed by a predominantly Christian America.

Dropping the more-powerful plutonium bomb on a large civilian population center appeared to matter more to those in charge of the “experiment” than which particular city they targeted. Indeed, brushing aside the suggestion of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall for non-urban target selection, the atomic “hit” list comprised important cities.

Japan, with its ostensibly “alien” character, became something of a guinea pig as the U.S. sought to demonstrate to the world, particularly to the Soviet Union, that it had awesome destructive power at its disposal. After Adolf Hitler, who symbolized the most-potent military threat to the Allied powers, committed suicide in April 1945 just days after Truman took office, Japan became the test site for demonstration of America’s newborn nuclear might.

The use of a technological discovery to incinerate Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made possible by a widely prevalent political-military culture at that time that regarded civilian massacres as a legitimate tool of warfare. All sides engaged in mass killings in World War II, in which nearly 60 million people died.

Against this background, no warning was given to the residents of Hiroshima or Nagasaki before unleashing a nuclear holocaust. Nor did Truman give Japan a firm deadline to surrender before rushing into a second nuclear attack.

History is written by the victors, and the vanquishers are rarely burdened by the guilt of their actions. Still, Hiroshima and Nagasaki will remain a burden on American conscience — Hiroshima because it was the world’s first atomic bombing, setting a precedent, and Nagasaki because it was a blatantly wanton act.

Obama’s visit to the Hiroshima memorial should be seen in this light. He made no apology, yet he stated expressively: “We come to ponder a terrible force.”

Nuclear weapons remain the toxic fruit of a technology that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. World War II reached its savage end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only to spawn the dawn of a dangerous nuclear age. And the last strike of the world war, Nagasaki, became the opening shot of a new Cold War.

Nuclear-deterrence strategies still rely on targeting civilian and industrial centers. In fact, a wary U.S., a rising China and a declining Russia are currently developing a new generation of smaller, more effective nukes that threaten to increase nuclear-use risks.

Ominously, the world today has a treaty (although not in force as yet) that bans all nuclear testing but no treaty to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons. In other words, those that are party to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are prohibited from testing a nuclear weapon at home but remain legally unfettered to test the weapon by dropping it over some other state. The option of “doing a Hiroshima” on an adversary with an untested weapon must be foreclosed.

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

When will the U.S. accommodate India’s strategic interests?


Brahma Chellaney, India Abroad, June 10, 2016


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built a personal rapport with U.S. President Barack Obama, and his fourth visit to the U.S. in less than two years highlights warming Indo-American relations. Few doubt that U.S.-India ties are better and closer than ever before. From being estranged democracies in the second half of the 20th century, the U.S. and India have become closely engaged democracies.

Besides a shared love of democracy, three elements drive the U.S.-India strategic partnership: money, military hardware, and Asian geopolitics. Their partnership promises to be a force for stability and security in the Indo-Pacific relations.

The blossoming of ties with the U.S. has become an important diplomatic asset for India. The new warmth in relations, however, has failed to ease Indian concerns over America’s regional policies, including on Pakistan, Afghanistan and terrorism, or address complaints of Indian information technology and pharmaceutical industries about U.S. practices, especially non-tariff barriers.

For the U.S., displacing Russia as India’s largest arms supplier has been a diplomatic coup. The success paralleled what happened in the early 1970s when Egypt switched sides during the Cold War by transforming itself from a Soviet arms client to a buyer of mainly American arms. But in contrast to the perpetually aid-dependent Egypt, India buys U.S. weapons with its own money.

Today, Washington is seeking to further open the Indian market for its businesses. And to suit U.S. corporate interests, it is pressing New Delhi to introduce regulatory and other legal changes, strengthen intellectual-property rights provisions, and initiate broader economic reforms.

Not content with the growth in arms sales — which have risen in one decade from $100 million to billions of dollars yearly — America is aiming to capture a bigger share of the Indian defense market. This objective has prompted its Congress recently to propose that India be treated on par with NATO members for defense sales. The U.S. is also seeking to revive its domestic nuclear power industry by selling commercial reactors to India.

India’s size, location and capabilities position it as a counterweight to China and to the forces of Islamist extremism to its west. Yet, as Obama nears the end of his second term, his India policy bears no distinct strategic imprint. Indeed, critics argue that he has no real Indian policy and that his administration has betrayed a transactional attitude toward engagement with India.

Although Obama’s 2015 New Delhi visit set a firm basis for moving the bilateral relationship forward, it was striking that, on his trip’s last public engagement, he lectured the world’s largest democracy on human rights. This was a subject on which he stayed mum at his next stop — tyrannical Saudi Arabia, which probably has the world’s most odious political system.

The complexity of the U.S.-India partnership is underlined by the fact that the U.S. has little experience in forging close strategic collaboration with a country that is not its treaty-based ally. All of America’s close military partners are its treaty-linked allies. India is a strategic partner, not an ally, of America.

The structural difficulties in India-US relations are not easy to overcome. From the Indian perspective, America’s reluctance to accommodate Indian interests on major regional issues, coupled with the fundamental challenge of managing an asymmetrical relationship, constantly test the resilience of the partnership.

For example, close counter-terrorism and intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and India remains hobbled by America’s continued mollycoddling of the Pakistani military and its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency. There are doubts whether the U.S. would fully share actionable intelligence on terrorist threats emanating from Pakistani soil against India because that would prompt India to pursue one of two options that Washington wouldn’t like — either India counteracted the identified threat on its own or urged the U.S. to do it.

Meanwhile, strategic weapon transfers, loans and political support allow China to use Pakistan as a relatively inexpensive counterweight to India. Yet, oddly, America also extends unstinted financial and political support to a Pakistan that has mastered the art of pretending to be a U.S. ally while hosting those that kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, including the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Under Obama, the U.S. has made a financially struggling Pakistan one of the largest recipients of its aid.

Take India’s other adversary, China, which also poses a geopolitical challenge for America. Both the U.S. and India are keen to work together to control the potentially disruptive effects of the rise of an increasingly assertive China.

The U.S., however, seeks to use the China factor to draw India further into the American-led camp while remaining neutral on China-India disputes, including shying away from holding joint military exercises in Arunachal Pradesh. Washington has not criticized China’s $46-billion infrastructure-building plan to use Pakistan as its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It also ignores China’s egregious human-rights violations.

The U.S. seeks to counter China only where it directly challenges American power, as in the Pacific. In southern Asia, by contrast, U.S. policy regards China as a virtual partner, including on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, Washington treats terror-exporting Pakistan as part of the solution when, to Kabul and New Delhi, it is at the core of the problem.

On the other hand, the U.S. views Iran as part of the problem in the Af-Pak belt when the imperative is to co-opt Iran as part of the solution to help build stability in the volatile, terrorist-infested region.

Despite the U.S. recently assassinating Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour through a drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Washington does not consider the Pakistan-backed Taliban as a terrorist organization. It is willing, as part of a peace deal, to accommodate the Afghan Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan. It assassinated Mansour because he defiantly and doggedly refused, despite U.S. and Pakistani pressures, to enter into peace negotiations.

The assassination, ironically, exposes both Pakistan and America. The fact that the Taliban chief was killed inside Pakistan has contradicted years of denials by Pakistani officials that they were harboring Taliban leaders. Pakistan found its sovereignty violated again, after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, by the power that still showers it with billions of dollars in aid.

As for the U.S., it has yet to offer an explanation as to why it took almost 15 years to carry out its first drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, even though the Afghan Taliban leadership set up its command-and-control structure there after being driven from power in Kabul by the 2001 U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan.

Against this background, no realistic assessment can focus merely on areas where the U.S.-India relationship has thrived — such as U.S. arms sales to India and booming bilateral trade — while ignoring U.S. policies that compound India’s regional security challenges.

In fact, India’s one-sided defense relationship with the U.S., locking it as a leading American arms client, suggests that New Delhi has drawn no appropriate lessons from its protracted reliance on Russian weapon supplies earlier.  Significantly, while U.S. arms to India fall mainly in the category of defensive weapons — which simply cannot tilt the regional military balance in India’s favor — Russia has over the years armed India with offensive weapon systems, including strategic bombers, an aircraft carrier, and a nuclear-powered submarine.

The paradox is that while India has emerged as the largest buyer of American arms, Pakistan is one of the biggest recipients of American alms. This suggests that U.S. profits from arms exports to India help to lubricate America’s aid-to-Pakistan machine. Such U.S. aid also bolsters China’s strategy to box in India while encouraging Pakistan to diabolically sponsor cross-border terrorism.

It is the task of Indian diplomacy to build a robust bilateral relationship while ensuring that it advances, not weakens, the country’s security interests in the region and beyond.

Indian diplomacy has failed to employ leverage from arms-import deals, greater market access to U.S. businesses, and broader geopolitical cooperation to persuade the U.S. to refine policies in southern Asia so that they do not adversely affect Indian security and to dismantle non-tariff barriers against Indian IT and pharmaceutical firms.

Indeed, New Delhi has not even tried to utilize the services of the large and increasingly influential Indian American community. The mistake Indian diplomacy has made is to put the emphasis on bilateral summit meetings and lofty pronouncements to showcase progress. The American side has been happy to pander to this Indian weakness.

In fact, one reason the U.S. is hosting Modi in the twilight of the Obama presidency is to help smooth ruffled feathers. After all, Obama earlier this year unveiled $860 million in new aid to Pakistan under the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, dubbed the “slush fund” because it is not subject to the same oversight as the regular Pentagon and state department budgets. Additionally, he decided to reward Pakistan with eight more subsidized F-16s, a subsidy burden the U.S. Congress hasn’t taken kindly.

Moreover, ever since the 2005 nuclear deal, Washington has been promising to help facilitate India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and other U.S.-led export-control regimes — a promise reiterated when Obama last visited India. However, the U.S. has invested little political capital thus far to promote India’s inclusion in these cartels. An emboldened China has now emerged as the principal opponent to India’s membership, especially in the NSG.

And thanks to MTCR-related criteria in U.S. export-control regulations, Indo-U.S. space cooperation remains very limited.

In this light, the nice gesture of setting up Modi’s address to the U.S. Congress can be seen as an American attempt to pander to India’s collective ego. India must capitalize on the symbolism of the warming ties with the U.S. to expand the areas of bilateral understanding and cooperation while nudging America to be more accommodative of its vital strategic interests.

The promise of a strong, mutually beneficial partnership cannot be realized without concrete action.

Brahma Chellaney — Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi think-tank Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin — is one of India’s leading strategic thinkers.

© India Abroad, 2016. 

China’s Pakistani Outpost


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate


Like a typical school bully, China is big and strong, but it doesn’t have a lot of friends. Indeed, now that the country has joined with the United States to approve new international sanctions on its former vassal state North Korea, it has just one real ally left: Pakistan. But, given how much China is currently sucking out of its smaller neighbor – not to mention how much it extracts from others in its neighborhood – Chinese leaders seem plenty satisfied.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has declared that China and Pakistan are “as close as lips and teeth,” owing to their geographical links. China’s government has also calledPakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two countries often boast of their “iron brotherhood.” In 2010, Pakistan’s then-prime minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani,waxed poetic about the relationship, describing it as “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

In fact, wealthy 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. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either country, certainly advances that interest.

For China, the appeal of working with Pakistan is heightened by its ability to treat the country as a client, rather than an actual partner. In fact, China treats Pakistan as something of a guinea pig, selling the country weapons systems not deployed by the Chinese military and outdated or untested nuclear reactors. Pakistan is currently building two AC-1000 reactors – based on a model that China has adapted from French designs, but has yet to build at home – near the southern port city of Karachi.

China does not even need its supposed “brother” to be strong and stable. On the contrary, Pakistan’s descent into jihadist extremism has benefited China, as it has provided an ideal pretext to advance its strategic interests within its neighbor’s borders. Already, China has deployed thousands of troops in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, with the goal of turning Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. And, as a newly released US Defense Department report shows, Pakistan – “China’s primary customer for conventional weapons” – is likely to host a Chinese naval hub intended to project power in the Indian Ocean region.

That is not all. President Xi Jinping’s first visit to Pakistan last year produced an agreement to construct a $46 billion “economic corridor” stretching from China’s restive Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Chinese-built (and Chinese-run) Gwadar port. That corridor, comprising a series of infrastructure projects, will serve as the link between the maritime and overland “Silk Roads” that China is creating. It will shorten China’s route to the Middle East by 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) and give China access to the Indian Ocean, where it would be able to challenge India from India’s own maritime backyard.

Xi also signed deals for new power projects, including the $1.4 billion Karot Dam, the first project to be financed by China’s $40 billion Silk Road Fund. All of the power projects will be Chinese-owned, with the Pakistani government committed to buying electricity from China at a pre-determined rate. Pakistan’s status as China’s economic and security client will thus be cemented, precluding it from eventually following the example of Myanmar or Sri Lanka and forging a non-Chinese path.

To be sure, the relationship also brings major benefits for Pakistan. China provided critical assistance in building Pakistan’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, including by reducing the likelihood of US sanctions or Indian retaliation. China still offers covert nuclear and missile assistance, reflected in the recent transfer of the launcher for the Shaheen-3, Pakistan’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometers.

Overtly, China offers Pakistan security assurances and political protection, especially diplomatic cover at the United Nations. For example, China recently vetoed UN action against Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based chief of the extremist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which, backed by Pakistani intelligence services, has carried out several terrorist attacks on Indian targets, including the Pathankot air base early this year. And last month, Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign-policy adviser, said that China has helped Pakistan to block India’s US-supported bid to gain membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an export-control association.

A grateful Pakistan has given China exclusive rights to run Gwadar port for the next 40 years. It has also established a new 13,000-troop army division to protect the emerging economic corridor. And it has deployed police forces to shield Chinese nationals and construction sites from tribal insurgents and Islamist gunmen.

This is not to say that China is content to depend on Pakistani security forces. China’sstationing of its own troops in the Pakistani part of Kashmir for years, ostensibly to protect its ongoing strategic projects there, betrays its lack of confidence in Pakistani security arrangements – and suggests that China will continue to enlarge its military footprint in Pakistan.

But Pakistan’s behavior indicates that it is, for now, satisfied with its arrangement with China – a sentiment that is probably reinforced, if unconsciously, by the billions of dollars in aid the country receives each year from the US. As China continues to elbow its way into Pakistan’s politics and economy, increasingly turning the country into a colonial outpost, that sense of satisfaction will probably fade. But, by the time it does, it will probably be too late to change course.

© 1995-2016 Project Syndicate.

The Big Squeeze


As climate change and rapid development take their toll, new ways must be found to manage Asia’s water resources

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review


The record drought ravaging large parts of Asia will end when the annual summer monsoon rains come in June. This will bring much-needed relief to the suffering people in the parched lands — from the millions of residents in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta to more than a quarter of India’s 1.25 billion people. The searing drought has already claimed several hundred lives and destroyed vast swaths of rice paddies and other farms.

But make no mistake: The latest in a string of droughts to hit Asia this century offers a telling preview of the hotter, drier future that awaits much of the continent. This likelihood largely arises from the costs that rapid development, breakneck urbanization, large-scale irrigated farming and lifestyle changes are imposing on natural resources, the environment and climate in the world’s largest and most-populous continent.

Recurrent drought promises to exacerbate Asia’s already-serious water challenges and thus potentially affect economic growth, social peace, and relations between countries or provinces that share rivers or aquifers. In a drought-laden future, thirsty communities, provinces or nations will increase risks of water-related conflict.

Yet little policy attention has been paid to combating droughts because of their episodic character, with scientists still unable to reliably predict the arrival, extent or duration of any drought. Unlike other natural and human-made disasters, from earthquakes and hurricanes to flooding and industrial accidents, a drought is a silently creeping calamity. However, without resource conservation, ecological restoration and more sustainable development, droughts in Asia are likely to become more frequent and severe.

Asia is the world’s most resource-poor continent. Rapid economic growth has brought its limited natural-capital base under increasing pressure. Overexploitation of natural resources, for its part, has created an environmental crisis that is contributing to regional climate change. For example, the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s largest repository of freshwater other than the two poles, is warming at a rate that is more than twice the global average — with potentially serious consequences for Asia’s climate, monsoons and freshwater reserves.

A little-known fact is that Asia, not Africa, is the world’s most water-stressed continent. Water stress is internationally defined as the per capita availability of less than 1,700 cubic meters per year. Asia already has less freshwater per person than any other continent, and some of the world’s worst water pollution.

Water is not just the most undervalued and underappreciated resource; in the coming years, it is likely to be the most contested resource in Asia. This has largely to do with the growing paucity of this life-sustaining resource and Asia’s distinctive water map.

Most important rivers in Asia traverse national boundaries and are thus international systems. Indeed, most Asian nations with land frontiers — with the prominent exception of China, which controls Asia’s riverheads by controlling the Tibetan Plateau — are highly dependent on cross-border water inflows. Such dependency is the greatest in countries like Bangladesh and Vietnam that are located farthest downstream on international rivers.

Against this background, inter-country and intra-country water disputes have become common. Indeed, Asia illustrates that transboundary water resources, instead of linking countries or provinces in a system of hydrological interdependence, are fostering sharpening competition for relative gain. The competition extends to appropriating resources of shared rivers by building dams, reservoirs and other diversions, thus roiling inter-riparian relations. Averting water wars demands rules-based cooperation, water-sharing accords, uninterrupted flow of hydrological data, and dispute-settlement mechanisms.

Asia is already the world’s most dam-dotted continent: It has more dams than the rest of the world combined. But this statistic doesn’t tell the real story: Most of Asia’s dams are in China, which alone has slightly more than half of the world’s approximately 50,000 large dams. With its massive infrastructure of dams and other storage facilities, China has built an impressive capacity to stockpile water for the dry season.

But China’s over-damming of rivers has contributed to river fragmentation (the interruption of natural flows) and depletion, leading to downstream basins drying up or rivers discharging only small amounts of water and nutrient-rich silt into the oceans. China’s dying Yellow River exemplifies this problem. And its cascade of six giant dams on the Mekong, just before it leaves Chinese territory, is being blamed for accentuating the current Southeast Asian drought, with river depletion extending to the delta region, which is a rice bowl of Asia.

Asia’s vulnerability to droughts and other effects of environmental and climate change is being increased by other factors as well, including groundwater depletion and deforestation, especially in the upstream catchment areas. Deforestation is most notable in the Himalayan-Tibetan region, where the great rivers of Asia originate. But it also extends to other regions, including rainforest areas.

Through its environmentally destabilizing impacts, deforestation amplifies the frequency and severity of extreme events such as droughts and floods. The depletion of many Asian swamps — which serve as nature’s water storage and absorption cover — also contributes to a cycle of chronic flooding and drought, besides allowing deserts to advance and swallow up grasslands.

For its part, the extraction of groundwater at rates surpassing nature’s recharge capacity has resulted in a rapidly falling water table across much of Asia. Because groundwater is often a source of supply for streams, springs, lakes and wetlands, the over-exploitation of this strategic resource, which traditionally has served as a sort of drought insurance, creates parched conditions and thus fosters recurrent droughts.

Meanwhile, intensive irrigation in semi-arid regions, including northern China, Central Asia and Pakistan, has helped to create a boom in agricultural exports but exacted heavy transboundary environmental costs. It has caused soil salinity and waterlogging and fostered atmospheric humidity, with climate stability becoming a casualty and dry areas becoming drier.

The entire Asian belt stretching from the Korean Peninsula to the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan region is becoming increasingly prone to the ravages of drought. But even before the current drought hit South and Southeast Asia, scientific studies on global drought risk hotspots showed that drought risks were the highest in these two regions, at least in terms of the number of people exposed.

It is past time for Asian policymakers to start addressing drought risks, the core of which is the nexus between water, energy and food. For example, the current drought is roiling world food markets through its destructive impacts on crops. And by reducing cooling-water availability, it is decreasing generation by some power plants, just when electricity demand has peaked.

The drought risks can be reduced by ensuring the protection and ecological restoration of watercourses, securing water-efficiency gains through agricultural-productivity measures, developing drought-resistant crop varieties, improving water quality to offset decrease in water quantity, and utilizing alternative cooling technologies for power generation. Increasing water storage by channeling excess water during the monsoons to artificially recharge aquifers, especially in Asia’s densely populated, economically booming coastal regions, holds promise for coping with droughts.

Policymakers must appreciate that drought risks cannot be lowered without tackling the serious problem of groundwater depletion. Groundwater in Asia is being pumped and consumed by human activities at such a rate that, for example, NASA scientists in the United States observed several years ago that the subterranean reserves in northwest India were vanishing.

Groundwater resources are recklessly exploited because there are few controls in Asia on their extraction. Also contributing to this practice is the fact that, unlike surface water, degradation of groundwater is not visible to the human eye. Surface water and groundwater, however, are linked hydrologically and should be managed as a single resource. A one-water approach is also essential to cut the overreliance of many communities on groundwater supplies.

The specter of permanent water losses is just one reason why Asia’s drought-related challenges demand an integrated, holistic approach. Water, food and energy, for example, must be managed by policymakers not separately but jointly so as to promote synergistic approaches. Also, ecological restoration programs, by aiding the recovery of damaged ecosystems, can help bring wider benefits in slowing soil and water degradation, stemming coastal erosion, augmenting freshwater storage and supply, and controlling droughts.

Without such efforts, the linkages between water stress, sharing disputes, falling water quality and environmental degradation could trap Asia in a vicious cycle. Nature is indivisible: Communities and states cannot thrive for long by bending nature and undercutting environmental sustainability.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Asia’s next major conflict will be over freshwater



A dog walks over a drought hit plot of land in Ben Tre Province, Vietnam. Christian Berg / Getty Images

Brahma Chellaney, The NationalMay 10, 2016

Nothing illustrates the emergence of freshwater as a key determinant of Asia’s future better than the drought that has parched lands from South East Asia to the Indian subcontinent. It has withered vast parcels of rice paddies and affected economic activity, including electricity generation at a time when power demand has peaked.

Droughts are deceptive disasters because they don’t knock down buildings but they do carry high socioeconomic costs. Tens of millions of people in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and India are now reeling from the searing drought, precipitated by El Niño, the extra-heat-yielding climate pattern.

For China, the drought has created a public-relations challenge. Denying allegations that it is stealing from shared water sources or that its existing dams on the Mekong River are contributing to river depletion and recurrent drought downstream, China has released unspecified quantities of what it called “emergency water flows” to downriver states from one of its six giant dams, located just before the river flows out of Chinese territory.

For the downriver countries, however, the water release was a jarring reminder of not just China’s newfound power to control the flow of a critical resource, but also of their own reliance on Beijing’s goodwill and charity. With a further 14 dams being built or planned by China on the Mekong, this dependence on Chinese goodwill is set to deepen – at some cost to their strategic independence and environmental security.

Asia’s water challenges are underscored by the fact that it has less freshwater per person than any other continent and has some of the world’s worst water pollution.

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warned that Asia’s water crisis could worsen by 2050. And an earlier global study commissioned by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs found that drought risks are the highest in Asia in terms of the number of people exposed.

The monsoon-centred hydrologic calendar means that annual rain is mainly concentrated in a three- to four-month period, with the rest of the year largely dry. A weak monsoon can compound the long dry period and trigger drought.

The water crisis highlights the urgent need for better management of the life-sustaining resource. Rapid development, breakneck urbanisation, large-scale irrigated farming, lifestyle changes and other human impacts have resulted in degraded watersheds, watercourses and other ecosystems, as well as shrinking forests and swamps and over-dammed rivers. The diversion of sand from riverbeds for the construction boom has damaged rivers and slowed the natural recharge of underground aquifers.

The current drought illustrates some of the key water-related challenges Asian nations must confront. One challenge is for Asia to grow more food with less water, less land and less energy. Increases in crop yields have slowed or flattened and the overall food production in Asia is now lagging demand growth for the first time, after the impressive strides Asia made between the 1970s and 1990s when in one generation it went from being a food-scarce continent dependent on imports to becoming a major food exporter.

With its vast irrigation systems, Asia boasts the bulk of the world’s land under irrigation – 72 per cent of the global irrigated acreage. With so much water diverted for agriculture, water is literally food in Asia. Excessive water withdrawals for agriculture have actually compounded vulnerability to drought.

With resources in rivers and reservoirs not adequate to meet demand, users have turned to pumping water from underground wells. Because groundwater is often a source of supply for rivers, springs, lakes and wetlands, the overexploitation of this strategic resource has helped to spread parched conditions.

With competition for scarce water increasingly a source of political dispute and instability, intra-state water disputes have become more common than inter-country wrangles. The potential for inter-country conflict, however, is being underlined by sharpening geopolitics over shared water resources.

In the coming years, water scarcity threatens to act as a conflict risk multiplier. Yet most Asian countries are not making serious, sustained efforts to build a water-secure future.

Asian countries need to place freshwater at the centre of their strategic planning, or else the linkages between water stress, sharing disputes, falling water quality and environmental degradation could trap Asia in an interminable vicious cycle.

Countries must restore vegetation, reverse the degradation of freshwater and coastal ecosystems, improve water quality to offset decrease in water quantity, incentivise water-use efficiency and use alternative cooling technologies for power generation.

Improved planning for water resource allocation demands an integrated, holistic approach. Water, food and energy, for example, must be jointly managed by policymakers to promote synergistic approaches.

American diplomatic efforts can promote better hydropolitics in Asia, given that the state department has classified freshwater as a central foreign-policy concern for American interests.

If Asia is to avert a parched future, it must think and act long term.

Brahma Chellaney is the author of nine books, including, most recently, Water, Peace, and War.

© The National, 2016.

India’s China appeasement itch



Brahma Chellaney, Mint

Winston Churchill famously said: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last”. India has been feeding the giant crocodile across the Himalayas for decades — and stoically bearing the consequences.

After China came under communist rule in 1949, India was one of the first countries to recognize the new People’s Republic of China. Jawaharlal Nehru, driven by post-colonial solidarity considerations, continued to court the PRC even when the Chinese military began eliminating India’s outer line of defence by invading the then independent Tibet. As Tibet pleaded for help against the aggression, India opposed even a UN General Assembly discussion.

By 1954, through the infamous Panchsheel Agreement, Nehru surrendered India’s British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet and recognized the “Tibet region of China” without any quid pro quo. Such was Nehru’s PRC courtship that he even rejected U.S. and Soviet suggestions in the 1950s that India take China’s place in the UN Security Council. Nehru’s officially published selected works quote him as stating that he spurned those suggestions because it would be “unfair” to take China’s vacant seat — as if morality governs international relations. Ironically, impiety and ruthlessness have been hallmarks of China’s policies.

In sum, Nehru’s sustained appeasement resulted in China gobbling up Tibet, covertly encroaching on Indian territories and, eventually, invading India itself.

Yet, just one generation later, India forgot the lessons of Nehruvian appeasement. Since the late 1980s, successive Indian governments have propitiated China. Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments, oddly, have grovelled at times.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 2003 Beijing visit will be remembered in history for his formal surrender of India’s Tibet card. In a joint communiqué, Vajpayee used the legal term “recognize” to accept what China deceptively calls the Tibet Autonomous Region as “part of the territory of the PRC”. Vajpayee’s blunder opened the way for China to claim Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”, a term it coined only in 2006.

Still, unilateral concessions have become the leitmotif of Narendra Modi’s China policy, now adrift, like his Pakistan policy. His concessions have ranged from removing China from India’s list of “countries of concern” to granting Chinese tourists e-visas on arrival. Modi, via the back door, has also brought back in joint statements Vajpayee’s errant formulation that the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the PRC — a description India had dropped in 2010 to nuance its Tibet stance.

Removing China as a “country of concern”, despite its inimical approach toward India, was integral to introducing a liberalized regime for Chinese investments. However, while Chinese FDI has been slow to come, Indian policy has enabled Beijing to significantly ramp up its already large trade surplus with India. Racking up a whopping $60-billion annual surplus, China has heavily skewed the trade relationship against India, treating it as a raw-material appendage of its economy and a dumping ground for manufactured goods. In 2015-16, Chinese exports to India were almost seven times greater in value than imports.

How can Modi’s “Make in India” initiative succeed when China blithely undercuts Indian manufacturing to reap a fast-growing trade surplus?

After Modi came to power, he made closer ties with China a priority. He even postponed his Japan visit by several weeks so that his first major bilateral meeting was with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the BRICS summit in Brazil. His overtures, including inviting China to be a major partner in India’s infrastructure expansion, were intended to encourage Beijing to be more cooperative.

Modi’s gamble, however, has not paid off. If anything, China has become more hardline on security issues, including the border. Moreover, it has not only shielded Pakistan-based terrorists like Masood Azhar from UN action, but also stepped up covert strategic assistance to Islamabad, including providing the launcher for Pakistan’s India-specific Shaheen-3 ballistic missile.

Having its cake and eating it too, China savours a lopsided trade relationship with India while being free to contain India. Indian appeasement has also allowed China to narrow the focus of border disputes to what its claims. The spotlight thus is on China’s Tibet-linked claims to Indian territories, not on Tibet’s status. China will not settle the border issue (unless its economy or autocracy crashes) because an unsettled frontier allows it to keep India under intense pressure.

Yet, a short-sighted New Delhi continues to stumble. Take the latest ignominy: India lost face in China’s eye when it issued a visa to the Germany-based World Uighur Congress chief Dolkun Isa and then cancelled it, after Beijing strongly protested the action. The public explanation for cancelling the visa rings hollow. Isa has freely travelled in Europe and to the U.S. despite the China-initiated Interpol “Red Notice” against him — a notice Indian authorities were aware of while issuing the visa. In any event, there were no Red Notices against the other two dissidents from China who were stopped from travelling to India for the same conference.

These actions illustrate the extent to which New Delhi is willing to go to propitiate China — even at the cost to India’s self-respect and international standing. Untrammelled propitiation underscores Karl Marx’s statement: “History repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce”.

Let’s be clear: India’s choice on China is not between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking a war. India can, and must, tackle an increasingly assertive and wily China without appeasement or confrontation. But without leveraging the bilateral relationship, including levelling the playing field for trade, India cannot hope to tame Chinese intransigence and belligerence.

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

© Mint, 2016.

China’s water hegemony in Asia


Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times, May 3, 2016.

China's grip

A severe drought currently ravaging Southeast and South Asia has helped spotlight China’s emergence as the upstream water controller in Asia through a globally unparalleled hydro-engineering infrastructure centered on damming rivers. Indeed, Beijing itself has highlighted its water hegemony over downstream countries by releasing some dammed water for drought-hit nations in the lower Mekong River basin.

In releasing what it called “emergency water flows” to downstream states over several weeks from one of its six giant dams — located just before the Mekong flows out of Chinese territory — China brashly touted the utility of its upstream structures in fighting droughts and floods.

But for the downriver countries, the water release was a jarring reminder of not just China’s newfound 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 on the Mekong, this dependence on Chinese goodwill is set to deepen — at some cost to their strategic leeway and environmental security.

Armed with increasing leverage, Beijing appears to be 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 too, China is a dialogue partner but not a member of the commission, underscoring its intent to stay clued in on the discussions, without having to take on any legal obligations.

The LMC — a broad-based political initiative emphasizing Chinese “cooperation” and subsuming China’s pet projects, such as “One Belt, One Road” — is intended to help marginalize the commission, an institution with legally binding rules and regulations. China’s refusal to join the 1995 Mekong treaty, which created the commission, has stunted the development of an inclusive, rules-based basin community to deal with water- and environmental-related challenges.

It was not a coincidence that Beijing’s water release started shortly before the March 23 inaugural LMC summit of the leaders of the six Mekong basin countries in Sanya, in the Chinese province of Hainan.

The LMC project is also designed to overshadow the U.S.-sponsored Lower Mekong Initiative, which seeks to sideline Chinese opposition to the Mekong treaty by promoting integrated cooperation among the quintet of lower-Mekong basin states (also known as the “Mekong Five”) — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Mekong treaty was concluded as China completed its first large dam on the river.

The Mekong, Southeast Asia’s lifeline that is running at a record low since late last year, is just one of the international rivers China has dammed. It has also targeted the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), the Arun, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Irtysh, the Illy, the Amur and the Salween. 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.

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 transboundary 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 under the Manchu Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911) and the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368).

Before the communists seized power, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. But now, it 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 program, 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 water-rich Tibetan Plateau.  This raises fears that the degradation haunting China’s internal rivers could be replicated in the international rivers.

China, ominously, 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-kilometer reservoir. Either of them is larger than the current combined hydropower-generating capacity in the lower Mekong states.

Despite its centrality in Asia’s water map, China has rebuffed the idea of a water-sharing treaty with any neighbor.

Against this background, concern is growing among is downstream neighbors 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 neighbors’ behavior in a continent already reeling under very low freshwater availability.

Asia’s annual water availability is barely one-tenth of that in South America, Australia, and New Zealand; not even one-fifth of North America’s; nearly one-third of Europe’s; and a quarter less than Africa’s. Yet the world’s most rapidly growing demand for water for industry, food production and municipal supply is in Asia.

In the Mekong basin, China has denied that it is stealing shared waters or that its existing dams have contributed to river depletion and recurrent drought in the downstream region. Yet, by ramping up construction of additional giant dams, China has virtually ensured long-term adverse impacts on the critical river system. Indeed, with Chinese assistance, landlocked Laos also plans to build more Mekong dams in order to make hydropower exports, especially to China, the mainstay of its economy.

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 — which flows into Myanmar and along the Thai border before emptying into the Andaman Sea — could be saved, even if provisionally, from the cascade of hydroelectric mega-dams that Beijing has planned to build on it.

More fundamentally, China’s unilateralist approach underscores the imperative for institutionalized water cooperation in Asia, based on a balance between rights and obligations. Renewed efforts are needed to try and co-opt China in rules-based cooperation.

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Asia’s Troubled Water


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate


Asia’s water woes are worsening. Already the world’s driest continent in per capita terms, Asia now faces a severe drought that has parched a vast region extending from southern Vietnam to central India. This has exacerbated political tensions, because it has highlighted the impact of China’s dam-building policy on the environment and on water flows to the dozen countries located downstream.

Today’s drought in parts of Southeast and South Asia is the worst in decades. Among the hardest-hit areas are Vietnam’s Mekong Delta (a rice bowl of Asia) and central highlands; 27 of Thailand’s 76 provinces; parts of Cambodia; Myanmar’s largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay; and areas of India that are home to over a quarter of the country’s massive population.

Droughts may not knock down buildings, but they carry high social and economic costs. Millions of Asians now confront severe water shortages, and some have been forced to relocate. Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia have had to scale back traditional water festivals marking their New Year. The High Court of Bombay moved the world’s biggest and wealthiest cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League, out of the state of Maharashtra. In one Maharashtra county, the local authorities, fearing violence, temporarily banned gatherings of more than five people around water storage and supply facilities.

Meanwhile, the mounting drought-related losses in some of the world’s top rice-producing countries – Thailand, Vietnam, and India – threaten to roil the world’s already tight rice market. Barely 7% of global rice output is traded internationally, because much of it is consumed where it is produced – in Asia.

Rice losses have been particularly significant in Thailand and Vietnam, which account for half of all rice exports and almost three-quarters of this decade’s projected export growth. Some 230,000 hectares of paddy rice cultivation has been destroyed just in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, where depleted river flows have led to saltwater intrusion from the South China Sea, rendering nearly 10% of the rice farms potentially infertile.

This drought may be unprecedented, but it is not an anomaly. On the contrary, environmental challenges in Asia, such as ecosystem degradation, groundwater depletion, the contamination of water resources, the El Niño tropical weather pattern, and the effects of global warming are causing droughts to become increasingly frequent – and increasingly severe.

Even without droughts, Asia would be facing formidable water constraints. The annual amount of available fresh water per capita in the region (2,816 cubic meters) already is less than half the global average (6,079 cubic meters). As the region pursues rapid economic development, characterized by massive increases in resource consumption and serious environmental damage, its water constraints are tightening further. The challenge is compounded by Asians’ changing dietary preferences, particularly higher consumption of meat, the production of which is notoriously water-intensive.

While Asia’s resource-hungry economies can secure fossil fuels and mineral ores from distant lands, they cannot import water, which is prohibitively expensive to transport. So they have been overexploiting local resources instead – a practice that has spurred an environmental crisis, advancing regional climate change and intensifying natural disasters like droughts.

As a result, Asia, which accounts for 72% of the world’s total irrigated acreage, now faces a dilemma: It must grow enough food to meet rising demand, while reducing the amount of water that goes toward irrigation. Unless Asia resolves it, economic development will be imperiled, with major consequences for the entire global economy.

Yet the continent’s water crisis is only worsening. According to a recent MIT study, there is a “high risk” that Asia’s water stress could worsen to water scarcity by 2050. Water-sharing disputes between countries or provinces already are increasingly frequent, owing to the proliferation of dam projects that can adversely affect downstream flows – an approach that represents a continuing preference for supply-side approaches over smart water management.

The main culprit in this regard is China, which has heavily dammed the Mekong, Southeast Asia’s lifeline. In the current lean season, which will last until the monsoon rains arrive in June, the lower Mekong is, according to a recent United Nations report, running at “its lowest level since records began nearly 100 years ago.”

China is now trying to play savior, by releasing an unspecified quantity of water from one of its six upstream mega-dams to “accommodate the concerns” of drought-stricken countries. China’s rulers have touted the move as underscoring the effectiveness of upstream “water facilities” in addressing droughts and containing floods.

Of course, in reality, all of this simply highlights the newfound reliance of downriver countries on Chinese goodwill – a dependence that is set to deepen as China builds 14 more dams on the Mekong. The environmental impact of these projects is sure to exacerbate further the ecological challenges, including drought, already facing Asia.

This competitive approach is putting Asia on a dangerous path, which can lead only to more environmental degradation, slower economic development, and even water wars. It is time to change course and embark on the path of rules-based cooperation, based on water-sharing accords, the free flow of hydrological data, and dispute-settlement mechanisms.

Asian countries must work together to ensure greater efficiency in water consumption, increase the use of recycled and desalinated water, and promote innovative solutions that advance conservation and adaptation efforts. To this end, governments must phase out state subsidies that have encouraged profligate water use, such as in agriculture, and focus on building new market mechanisms and effective public-private partnerships.

None of this will be possible without China’s cooperation. Indeed, if China does not abandon its current approach – from its “water grab” in the Mekong and other international rivers to its “territorial grab” in the South China Sea – the prospects for a rules-based order in Asia could perish forever.

© 1995-2016 Project Syndicate.

China’s dam boom stokes concerns in Asia


Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

At a time when geopolitical competition in resource-poor Asia is sharpening over freshwater, mineral ores and fossil fuels, China’s expansionary activities in the hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea have drawn considerable international attention, especially because of their implications for the global maritime order. By contrast, China’s frenzy of dam-building to appropriate internationally shared water resources has not attracted a similar level of attention, despite the specter of potential water wars.

China is almost unparalleled as a source of fresh water. Most of the major river systems of Asia originate from the Tibetan plateau, which was annexed by the People’s Republic of China soon after its establishment in 1949. Xinjiang, another sprawling region it occupied forcibly, is the source of the Irtysh and Ili rivers, which flow to Kazakhstan and Russia. However, Beijing does not have a single water-sharing pact with the dozen countries located downstream of its rivers because it rejects the concept.

Most of Asia’s dams are in China, which boasts slightly more than half of the world’s approximately 50,000 large dams. Yet its great dam boom shows no sign of slowing. Indeed, its dam-building program is now largely concentrated in the borderlands on international rivers.

By quietly and opaquely building large dams on transnational rivers, Beijing is presenting a fait accompli to its downstream neighbors. Its latent capability to control cross-border river flows arms it with significant leverage over neighbors — a leverage it could employ to influence the behavior of those states, including deterring them from challenging its broader regional interests.

Indeed, by seeking to control the spigot for much of Asia’s water, China is acquiring such clout that smaller downriver countries in Southeast and Central Asia now use only coded language  to express their concerns over Chinese dam building. For example, calling for transparency has become a way of referring obliquely to China, which smaller states are wary of mentioning by name.

20160315Dams_middle_320On the Mekong river system — Southeast Asia’s lifeblood — China is building or planning a further 14 dams after completing six. It is also constructing a separate cascade of dams on the last two of its free-flowing rivers — the Salween (which flows into Myanmar and along the Thai border before entering into the Andaman Sea) and the Yarlung Tsangpo, also known as the Brahmaputra, which is the lifeline of northeastern India and much of Bangladesh.

Add to the picture China’s damming of other smaller rivers flowing to neighboring countries, as well as tributaries of major rivers, and it is clear that these dams are set to affect the quality and quantity of downstream flows.

Shift in focus

China recently completed ahead of schedule the world’s highest-elevation dam at Zangmu, Tibet, at a cost of $1.6 billion. It is now racing to complete a series of additional dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo, the world’s highest-altitude river. China is also turning an important Yarlung Tsangpo tributary, the Lhasa (or Kyichu), into a series of artificial lakes by building six dams in close proximity along a 20km stretch of the river.

Several factors are behind China’s drive to tap the resources of international rivers, including an officially drawn link between water and national security, the growing political clout of the state-run hydropower industry, and the rise of water nationalism at a time of increasing water stress in the northern Chinese plains. With dam-building reaching virtual saturation levels in the ethnic Han heartland, the focus has shifted to China’s ethnic minority homelands, where major rivers originate.

China’s centralized, megaprojects-driven approach to water resources is the antithesis of the situation in another demographic titan, India, where the constitution makes water an issue for state governments and where anti-dam nongovernmental organizations are powerful. Thanks to organized protests, the much-publicized Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada river in western India remains incomplete decades after work began. The largest dam India has built since independence — the 2,000-megawatt Tehri Dam on the river Bhagirathi — pales in comparison to gigantic Chinese projects. These include the 22,500-megawatt Three Gorges Dam and Mekong dams such as Xiaowan, which dwarfs the Eiffel Tower in height, and Nuozhadu, which boasts a 190 sq. km reservoir.

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

As China’s dam-builders increasingly target transnational rivers, concern is growing among downstream neighbors that Beijing is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon. China pays little heed to the interests even of friendly countries, from Kazakhstan to Thailand and Cambodia.

To be sure, dams bring important socioeconomic benefits and help to deal with drought or seasonal imbalances in water availability through their water-storage capacity. A river can be dammed in an environmentally considerate manner. But what China is doing is over-damming rivers.

One manifestation of this aggressive approach is the construction of series of dams in close proximity to each other on international rivers such as the Mekong or the Salween just before they flow out of Chinese territory. These cascades of dams, looking like strings of beads on a map, aim to capture large quantities of water.

Keeping the silt

Major dams tend to change water quality and the rate at which it flows, and reduce the amount of nutrient-rich silt that is carried downstream. As the major Asian rivers flow down from forbidding Himalayan heights through the soft, sedimentary rock on the Tibetan plateau, they bring with them high-quality silt — a lifeline for agriculture, fisheries and marine life. Silt helps to re-fertilize overworked soils in downstream plains, sustains freshwater species and strengthens the aquatic food chain supporting marine life after rivers empty into seas or oceans.

China’s upstream damming of rivers originating on the Tibetan plateau is not just obstructing the silt flow to downstream plains; it is also causing the retreat of major deltas. Several scientific studies have underscored the link between extensive silt retention behind upstream dams and the retreat and subsidence of Asia’s big deltas, which are home to megacities like Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, Kolkata and Dhaka. In addition, the fall in freshwater disgorged by rivers into the seas is disturbing the delicate balance of salinity needed in estuaries and beyond to support critical species.

China’s reluctance to bind itself to international rules or norms is rooted in the belief that as the source of these rivers it is in a position to reap the benefits of harnessing their water resources, with the costs borne by those downstream. After all, the river-flow hierarchy reflects the geopolitical one, with the most powerful country controlling the headwaters of Asia’s major rivers.

In reality, though, China is inflicting environmental costs not just on the states lower down these rivers but on itself. One example is the impact of its upstream water diversions on its own mega-deltas, which are economic centers, making up a substantial proportion of the country’s total gross domestic product. Thanks to the diminished amount of silt discharged into the seas, there is less sediment to add to the delta land formed and fortified through sustained release or to prevent underground seepage of saltwater into sweet-water aquifers along the coasts.

More broadly, the Asian delta regions have become “much more vulnerable” to the effects of climate change and sea-level rise, according to the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the gold standard in climate science.

In this light, the discussion of China’s damming activities on the Tibetan plateau should extend beyond the potential diminution of cross-border flows to the likely effects on the quality of river waters, including through silt-movement blockage. Such effects are already evident within China: the loss of nature’s gift of highly fertile silt due to the Three Gorges Dam and other upriver dams has forced farmers in the lower Yangtze basin to use more chemical fertilizers, accelerating soil and water degradation.

Renewed efforts are needed in Asia to co-opt China into institutionalized cooperation. Without China on board, it will not be possible to build water cooperation and protect critical ecosystems.

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Obama’s counterproductive Pakistan policy


Brahma Chellaney, Hindustan Times

USPakAmerica, despite a deepening relationship with India, still extends munificent aid to Pakistan — “the ally from hell”, as ex-CIA chief Michael Hayden calls it in his just-released book Playing to the Edge. Pakistan, with one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, has the unique status of being a client state of three powers on which it is more dependent than ever for aid — China, America and the jihad-bankrolling Saudi Arabia. US aid actually bolsters China’s strategy to box in India while encouraging Pakistan to diabolically sponsor terrorism.

Take US President Barack Obama’s latest move to reward Pakistan with 8 more subsidized F-16s and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional aid under the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, dubbed the “slush fund” because it is not subject to the same oversight as the regular Pentagon and state department budgets. Obama’s $860-million aid proposal includes $265 million worth of military hardware under the Foreign Military Financing provision, which, despite its name, permits non-repayable grants. The $700-million deal centred on F-16s is separate.

Two of the objectives cited by the state department in support of additional aid for Pakistan are promoting “improved relations with India” and peace in Afghanistan. How bolstering a renegade Pakistan financially and militarily would encourage it to improve ties with India or Afghanistan has been left unsaid. The US, by persistently rewarding a country that refuses to cut its umbilical ties with terrorists, has only exacerbated India’s security challenges.

Indeed, to continue showering Pakistan with aid (which has totalled a staggering $32.6 billion since 9/11), Obama has bent over backward to shield it from sanctions. Contrast that with his alacritous embrace of sanctions against several other countries in the past seven years.

Obama rebuffed congressional advice last year to suspend some aid to Pakistan and impose travel restrictions on Pakistani officials known to have ties to terrorists. Even when Osama bin Laden was found holed up in a lair next to Pakistan’s top military academy, Obama shied away from imposing sanctions. The issue as to how bin Laden was able to hide in a military town was allowed to fade away for the same reason that Pakistan (or anyone there) was not held to account for running the world’s largest nuclear proliferation ring, led by A.Q. Khan.

Obama’s zeal to shield the double-talking Pakistan has extended to persuading its terror target, India, to hold talks with it. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Pakistan policy lies in tatters today, some of the blame must go to Obama, who beguilingly led him up the garden path with specious assurances on Pakistani behaviour.

Modi took office with a prudent approach toward Pakistan — inviting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration but sidelining the Pakistan issue so as to focus on foreign-policy priorities more amenable to progress. In September 2014, Modi told the UN that “a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan” was only possible “without the shadow of terrorism”. But after Obama’s last India visit, Modi made a U-turn in his Pakistan policy, only to induce new cross-border terror attacks, from Gurdaspur to Udhampur.

Undaunted, Modi paid a surprise visit to Pakistan. Far from heralding a promising new era, the Christmas Day trip quickly invited daring Pakistani terror attacks at Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif. Today, Modi’s silence on Pakistan underscores the dilemma haunting him — how to fix a broken Pakistan policy. Why Modi yielded to a lame-duck US president is a pertinent question that remains unanswered.

Obama, despite a weak, divisive legacy even at home, got the world’s largest democracy to reverse course on Pakistan — an “achievement” whose regional fallout has been only negative, including denting Modi’s credibility and undermining Indian deterrence under his leadership. The net effect has been to present Modi since Pathankot as some sort of a paper tiger.

Still, with the Nuclear Security Summit forthcoming in Washington, there is little sign of Modi salvaging his Pakistan policy from US manoeuvrings. Indeed, by deciding to welcome Pakistani investigators in the Pathankot case, India bought the myth that terror groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) are independent of the Pakistani state. Army chief Dalbir Singh wants Pakistan “isolated” but Modi is doing the opposite — providing it diplomatic succour.

Consider this: Even as India presses Islamabad to prosecute JeM leaders for the Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif strikes, an emboldened Pakistan has used Lashkar-e-Taiba to carry out the Pampore attack. Jalalabad has followed Mazar-i-Sharif. Pakistan has also unleashed the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Saeed, against India. Saeed’s very public life, including leading a recent Islamabad rally, mocks the Obama administration’s $10 million bounty on his head and India’s fond hope that Pakistan would rein in terrorist proxies. Clearly, US’s 2012 bounty was just to placate India and buy its cooperation on Pakistan.

Obama’s disastrous policy has strengthened Pakistan as the world’s leading terrorist sanctuary. The scourge of terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s Scotch whisky-sipping military generals than from its bead-rubbing mullahs. Yet the White House pampers the generals at the expense of Pakistan’s civilian institutions. Washington highlighted the rot in its Pakistan policy by feting army chief Raheel Sharif in November.  Indeed, Gen. Sharif has been awarded the US Legion of Merit for his contributions to, believe it or not, “peace and security”. Tellingly, Washington’s latest aid and F-16 decisions coincided with its Defence Intelligence Agency chief’s warning that Pakistan’s expanding nuclear arsenal, including low-yield tactical nukes for battlefield use, increases “the risk of an incident or accident”.

By wielding only carrots and no stick, the Obama team has allowed itself to be repeatedly duped by false Pakistani promises, some of which it has religiously fed India. Its counterproductive policy has not only turned Uncle Sam into Uncle Sucker but also made it easy for Pakistan to merrily run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds — at grave cost to the security of America’s friend India.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© Hindustan Times, 2016.

Why the U.S. Must Tackle the Saudi Menace of Jihadism



Brahma Chellaney, China-US Focus

At a time when the conflict within Islam has sharpened between Sunnis and Shias and between fundamentalists and reformers, the House of Saud — the world’s No. 1 promoter of radical Islamic extremism — is increasingly playing the sectarian card, even at the risk of deepening the schisms.

If Saudi Arabia is to be stopped from continuing to export jihad, the U.S. will have to make necessary adjustments in its policy. By wielding only carrots and no stick, the U.S. allows the double-talking Saudi royals to run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds — at grave cost to the security of many countries.

Indeed, the present U.S. policy approach gives the House of Saud the strategic space to keep all options open and cozy up to China, already Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner and biggest importer of oil. China’s relationship with Saudi Arabia extends beyond trade and investment to arms, including the covert transfer of Chinese DF-21 and DF-3 medium-range ballistic missiles. Following the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, China agreed during President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia to build that country’s first nuclear power plant.

Jihadism and sectarianism are institutionalized in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world named after its founder, commonly known as Ibn Saud. Saud, who ruled for 20 years until his death, brought the central part of the Arabian Peninsula under his control with British assistance in 1932, establishing a desert kingdom hewing to Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism from the 18th century that until recent decades was considered a fringe form of Islam.

Jihadism and sectarianism are institutionalized in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world named after its founder, commonly known as Ibn Saud. Saud, who ruled for 20 years until his death, brought the central part of the Arabian Peninsula under his control with British assistance in 1932, establishing a desert kingdom hewing to Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism from the 18th century that until recent decades was considered a fringe form of Islam.

Oil wealth helped transform the once-barren state, the world’s largest country without a river.

Since the oil-price boom of the 1970s that dramatically increased its wealth, Saudi Arabia has spent more than $200 billion on its global jihad project, including funding Wahhabi madrassas, mosques and books. Wahhabism legitimizes violent jihad with its call for a war on “infidels.”

Saudi funding has helped spread radical Sunni extremism across Africa and Asia and opened a new threat to European nations with significant Muslim minorities. Indeed, Wahhabism’s export is making the tolerant and heterodox Islamic traditions in many South and Southeast Asian countries extinct.

Yet the rest of the world — in thrall to Saudi money and reliant on Saudi oil — has largely turned a blind eye to the kingdom’s jihadist agenda.

Make no mistake: Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi fanaticism is the root from which Islamist terrorist groups ranging from the Islamic State to al-Qaeda draw their ideological sustenance. As U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden said in a 2014 Harvard speech, Saudi and other “allies’ policies wound up helping to arm and build allies of al-Qaida and eventually the terrorist Islamic State.”

Saudi Arabia has faced little international pressure even on human rights, despite having one of the world’s most tyrannical regimes.

How the kingdom buys up world leaders is apparent from the Malaysian attorney general’s recent disclosure that the $681 million deposited in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal bank account was a “personal donation” from the Saudi royals and that $620 of it was returned. Saudi Arabia has given between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation, which last year also received a separate donation from a charitable foundation established by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Saudi Arabia is today engaged in war crimes in Yemen, where it is waging an air war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. A United Nations panel of experts said in October that the Saudi-led coalition had committed “grave violations” of the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilian sites in Yemen. Still, the Saudi military is failing in its war in Yemen; the rebels remain in control of Sanaa, the capital.

With its own future more uncertain than ever, the House of Saudi is increasingly playing the sectarian card in order to shore up support among the Sunni majority at home and to rally other Islamist rulers in the region to its side.

Having militarily crushed the Arab Spring uprising in Sunni-led but Shia-majority Bahrain, Saudi Arabia early this year executed its own Arab Spring leader who had led anti-regime Shia protests in 2011.  By executing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr — a Shia cleric and scholar who had become the symbol of the Arab Spring protests in its oil-rich, mainly Shia Eastern Province — Saudi Arabia ignored U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that the action would stoke major tensions with Iran.

Before the execution, the kingdom formed an alliance of Sunni states purportedly to fight terrorism. The coalition included all the main sponsors of international terror, including Qatar, Pakistan and, of course, Saudi Arabia. It was like arsonists pretending to be fire wardens.

When the coalition quickly became the butt of international ridicule, King Salman of Saudi Arabia resorted on a mass scale to what his country is notorious for as the global leader in beheadings. He ordered the execution on terrorism charges of 47 people on a single day, including Nimr al-Nimr. Most were beheaded in a style associated with the Islamic State.

The royals seem to mistakenly believe that widening the sectarian fault lines across the Islamic world will keep them in power. The crash in oil prices is already compounding the royals’ challenges at home. Discontent is growing quietly, even as King Salman pursues aggressive activism in his foreign policy.

By drawing legitimacy from jihadism and by being beholden to sectarianism, the royals could be digging their own graves. After all, fueling jihadism and sectarianism threatens to empower extremists at home and devour the royalty.

Against this background, it has become imperative for the U.S. to stop looking the other way as Saudi Arabia exports radical Islamic extremism. Unlike the ties between Saudi Arabia and China — two major autocracies — oil can no longer provide the glue for the Saudi-U.S. relationship, which is largely bereft of shared strategic interests or values. Moreover, America’s oil production at home is surging.

The U.S.-led war on terror must target not just the effect but the cause of terrorism, especially the central role Saudi Arabia plays through its religious-industrial complex in spreading jihadism. For example, proselytizing efforts by Saudi Arabia — and, to a lesser extent, by Qatar and some other oil sheikdoms — have helped train thousands of imams or teachers in Wahhabism to deliver radical sermons at petrodollar-funded mosques in many countries.

The war on Islamist terror cannot be won without closing the wellspring that feeds it — Wahhabi fanaticism. Wahhabism is the ultimate source of the hatred that triggered the September 11, 2001, strikes in the U.S., the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the Paris terror in November. Shutting that wellspring demands that America drop Saudi Arabia as an ally and treat it as a core part of the problem.

The world’s chief ideological sponsor of jihadism must be held to account for spawning the kinds of dangerous extremists that are imperiling regional and international security.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).

The Limits of Capitalism with Communist Characteristics


Project Syndicate

a814068c9282d4cb2bae1dc7343a7797.landscapeAs US President Barack Obama prepares to embark on an historic visit to Cuba, the future of the communist-ruled island is the subject of widespread speculation. Some observers are hoping that the ongoing shift toward capitalism, which has been occurring very gradually for five years under Raúl Castro’s direction, will naturally lead Cuba toward democracy. Experience suggests otherwise.

In fact, economic liberalization is far from a surefire route to democracy. Nothing better illustrates this than the world’s largest and oldest autocracy, China, where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains its monopoly on power, even as pro-market reforms have enabled its economy to surge. (A key beneficiary of this process has been the Chinese military.)

The belief that capitalism automatically brings democracy implies an ideological connection between the two. But the dominance of the CCP – which currently boasts 88 million members, more than Germany’s total population – is no longer rooted in ideology. The Party, represented by a cloistered oligarchy, endures by employing a variety of instruments – coercive, organizational, and remunerative – to preclude the emergence of organized opposition.

A 2013 party circular known as “Document No. 9” listed seven threats to the CCP’s leadership that President Xi Jinping intends to eliminate. These include espousal of “Western constitutional democracy,” promotion of “universal values” of human rights, encouragement of “civil society,” “nihilist” criticisms of the party’s past, and endorsement of “Western news values.”

In short, communism is now focused less on what it is – that is, its ideology – and more on what it is not. Its representatives are committed, above all, to holding on to political power – an effort that the economic prosperity brought by capitalism supports, by helping to stave off popular demands for change.

The story is similar in Vietnam and Laos. Both began decentralizing economic control and encouraging private enterprise in the late 1980s, and are now among Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Vietnam is even a member of the incipient 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership. But the one-party state remains entrenched, and continues to engage in considerable political repression.

Things do not seem set to change anytime soon. In Vietnam, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, the reform-minded prime minister, recently failed in his bid to become General Secretary of the Communist Party (the country’s supreme leader); the 12th National Congress reelected the incumbent, Nguyễn Phú Trọng.

Beyond providing sufficient material gains to keep the population satisfied, capitalism strengthens a communist-ruled state’s capacity to increase internal repression and control information. One example is the notorious “Great Firewall of China,” a government operation that screens and blocks Internet content, creating a realm of politically sanitized information for citizens. China is the only major country in the world whose official internal-security budget is larger than its official national-defense budget.

In the face of China’s current economic turmoil, control of information has become more important than ever. In order to forestall potential challenges, China’s leadership has increasingly muzzled the press, limiting, in particular, reporting or commentary that could adversely affect stock prices or the currency. Xi has asked journalists to pledge “absolute loyalty” to the CCP, and closely follow its leadership in “thought, politics, and action.” A state-run newspaper, warning that “the legitimacy of the party might decline,” argued that the “nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability.”

Clearly, where communists call the shots, the development of a free market for goods and services does not necessarily lead to the emergence of a marketplace of ideas. Even Nepal, a communist-dominated country that holds elections, has been unable to translate economic liberalization into a credible democratic transition. Instead, the country’s politics remain in a state of flux, with political and constitutional crises undermining its reputation as a Shangri-La and threatening to turn it into a failed state.

Democracy and communism are, it seems, mutually exclusive. But capitalism and communism clearly are not – and that could be very dangerous.

In fact, the marriage of capitalism and communism, spearheaded by China, has spawned a new political model that represents the first direct challenge to liberal democracy since Fascism: authoritarian capitalism. With its spectacular rise to become a leading global power in little more than a single generation, China has convinced autocratic regimes everywhere that authoritarian capitalism – or, as Chinese leaders call it, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – is the fastest and smoothest route to prosperity and stability, far superior to messy electoral politics. This may help to explain why the spread of democracy worldwide has lately stalled.

Obama’s impending Cuba visit should be welcomed as a sign of the end of America’s inapt policy of isolation – a development that could open the way to lifting the 55-year-old trade embargo against the country. But it would be a serious mistake to assume that Cuba’s economic opening, advanced by the Obama-initiated rapprochement, will necessarily usher in a new political era in Cuba.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Refugees, jihad and the specter of terrorism



Europe’s refugee crisis threatens to exact a security price as high as what nations next to the Afghanistan-Pakistan jihadist belt are paying

Brahma Chellaney, The National

Europe today is focused on the refugee crisis, with NATO instituting patrols in the Agean Sea to intercept migrants trying to reach Greece. But in some years, Europe’s focus could shift to internal-security threats. After all, the refugee flows from the Middle East, where grassroots radicalization and arms training are widespread in the war-torn states, hold important security implications for the destination countries.

Indeed, U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper has warned that the Islamic State terrorist group is infiltrating refugees escaping from Iraq and Syria so as to operate in the West, while Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, has warned that Europe is facing its biggest terror threat in more than a decade. According to Clapper, Islamic State terrorists are “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow,” adding that they are “pretty skilled at phony passports so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers.”

Germany, the prime destination of the current migrant flows, welcomed around one million refugees last year. But unlike the roughly three million migrants from Turkey that came to Germany from the 1960s onward to meet the demand for labor in the booming German economy, those arriving today are from countries battered by growing jihadist extremism and violence. Turkey itself is being Pakistanized, in keeping with the maxim: “If you light a fire in your neighborhood, it will engulf you.”

The refugee exodus is just one manifestation of a deeper problem — how interventionist policies of outside powers in recent years have unraveled fragile states, such as Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. Following World Wars I and II, European colonial powers and the United States sat around tables and redrew political frontiers in the Middle East, creating artificial new nations with no roots in history or preexisting identity.

The net effect of the latest round of interventionist policies is the emergence at Europe’s southern doorstep of a jihadist citadel that extends from the Maghreb to the Sahel, with Libya at its hub, and the rise of another jihadist stronghold in the Syria-Iraq belt. Dealing with the threats from these two jihadist citadels will challenge Europe in the coming years even more than the refugee crisis, in the same way that countries next to the Afghanistan-Pakistan jihadist belt are paying a high price in terms of their security.

In this context, the Paris terror attacks’ larger lesson should not be forgotten: Unless caution is exercised in training and arming Islamic militants in another region, the chickens could come home to roost. Jihad cannot be confined within the borders of a targeted nation, however distant, as the examples of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya indicate. The fact that French and Belgian nationals were behind the Paris attacks has shown how difficult it is to geographically contain the spread of the jihad virus.

Indeed, internal-security challenges in Europe have been compounded by Western foreign-policy missteps and misplaced priorities. Take the situation in battle-worn Syria and Iraq: Defeating the Islamic State is a pressing issue on which an international consensus — and coalition — can be built. But the Western-led camp first needs to get its act together, including by prioritizing the Islamic State’s eradication over regime change in Damascus and by stopping its members from working at cross-purposes. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar continue to aid al-Qaeda-linked militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

Even without considering the specter of Islamic State fighters hiding among innocent civilians to reach the West, the flow of refugees poses a security challenge for the countries they enter, because they are arriving from violence-scarred lands. In the refugee-producing conflict zones, the call to jihad has indoctrinated many to see violence as a sanctified tool of religion. Large numbers of men have not only received arms training but also used weapons in combat.

More than half of the slightly over one million refugees who flocked to Europe in 2015 were men of fighting age. This year, due to pressure for families to reunify, children and women make up 54 percent of the new arrivals up to now, according to United Nations data.

The risks from jihadist indoctrination cannot be discounted, as was highlighted by what happened in San Bernardino, California, where a married couple of Pakistani origin massacred 14 people in December.

Moreover, former combatants in a civil war — just like ground troops returning from a regular war — are prone to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to medical research, about 30 percent of the men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD, which is associated with an increased risk of violence.

In this light, addressing the refugee crisis will be no easy task for Europe. Building higher fences to secure Fortress Europe cannot be the answer by itself. Refugees will do anything to escape from war and chaos, including risking their lives, as they are doing by taking unseaworthy boats.

More fundamentally, how can any European nation ensure that the refugees it takes do not include radical jihadists who extol mass murder as a tool of jihad?  Integrating the refugees already admitted will be a major challenge, as Germany has experienced with its Turkish immigrants, who remain poorly integrated in German society.

Let us be clear: No country can accept an unrestrained influx of refugees, because it would get swamped economically, socially and culturally and face major political fallout domestically. The issue is how to control the migrant flow in a humane way, in accordance with international law, while admitting a limited number of genuine, properly vetted refugees.

However, there is no European or international policy on refugees. The two instruments of international law — the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Refugee Protocol — are scarcely adequate for dealing with the current refugee flows.

For Europe, the Mediterranean holds the key for its security. Yet little attention has been paid in European security policies to shoring up security along the continent’s southern flank. Instead, identity politics in the form of nationalism is back in Europe — a development set to accentuate internal-security challenges relating to refugees.

Long-time Japan Times contributor Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). 

© The National, 2016.

China’s Thirst Threat


China, with its frenzied damming of rivers and unbridled exploitation of mineral wealth on the resource-rich Tibetan Plateau, is compounding the damage to Himalayan ecosystems by encouraging its bottled-water companies to tap the already-stressed glaciers.


Project Syndicate

HONG KONG – When identifying threats to Himalayan ecosystems, China stands out. For years, the People’s Republic has been engaged in frenzied damming of rivers and unbridled exploitation of mineral wealth on the resource-rich Tibetan Plateau. Now it is ramping up efforts to spur its bottled-water industry – the world’s largest and fastest-growing – to siphon off glacier water in the region.

12Nearly three-quarters of the 18,000 high-altitude glaciers in the Great Himalayas are in Tibet, with the rest in India and its immediate neighborhood. The Tibetan glaciers, along with numerous mountain springs and lakes, supply water to Asia’s great rivers, from the Mekong and the Yangtze to the Indus and the Yellow. In fact, the Tibetan Plateau is the starting point of almost all of Asia’s major river systems.

By annexing Tibet, China thus changed Asia’s water map. And it is aiming to change it further, as it builds dams that redirect trans-boundary riparian flows, thereby acquiring significant leverage over downriver countries.

But China is not motivated purely by strategic considerations. With much of the water in its rivers, lakes, and aquifers unfit for human consumption, pristine water has become the new oil for China – a precious and vital resource, the overexploitation of which risks wrecking the natural environment. By encouraging its companies to tap Himalayan glaciers for premium drinking water that can satisfy a public skeptical about the safety of tap water, China is raising the environmental stakes throughout Asia.

Though much of the bottled water currently sold in China comes from other sources – chemically treated tap water or mineral water from other provinces – China seems to think that the bottling of Himalayan glacier water can serve as a new engine of growth, powered by government subsidies. As part of the official “Share Tibet’s Good Water with the World” campaign, China is offering bottlers incentives like tax breaks, low-interest loans, and a tiny extraction fee of just CN¥3 ($0.45) per cubic meter (or 1,000 liters). According to a ten-year plan unveiled by Chinese authorities in Tibet last fall, extraction of glacier water will increase more than 50-fold in just the next four years, including for export.

Some 30 companies have already been awarded licenses to bottle water from Tibet’s ice-capped peaks. Two popular brands in China are Qomolangma Glacier, sourced from a supposedly protected reserve linked to Mount Everest, on the border with Nepal, and 9000 Years, named after the assumed age of its glacial source. A third, Tibet 5100, is so named because it is bottled at a 5,100-meter-high glacial spring in the Nyenchen Tanglha range that feeds the Yarlung Tsangpo (or Brahmaputra River) – the lifeblood of northeastern India and Bangladesh.

Ominously, the Chinese bottled-water industry is sourcing its glacier water mainly from the eastern Himalayas, where accelerated melting of snow and ice fields is already raising concerns in the international scientific community. Glaciers in the western Himalayas, by contrast, are more stable and could be growing. Even the Chinese Academy of Sciences has documented a sharp decrease in the area and mass of eastern Himalayan glaciers.

Himalayan_2074484bOne of the world’s most bio-diverse but ecologically fragile regions, the Tibetan Plateau is now warming at more than twice the average global rate. Beyond undermining the pivotal role Tibet plays in Asian hydrology and climate, this trend endangers the Tibetan Plateau’s unique bird, mammal, amphibian, reptile, fish, and medicinal-plant species.

Nonetheless, China is not reconsidering its unbridled extraction of Tibet’s resources. On the contrary, since building railways to Tibet – the first was completed in 2006, with an extension opened in 2014 – China’s efforts have gone into overdrive.

Beyond water, Tibet is the world’s top lithium producer; home to China’s largest reserves of several metals, including copper and chromite (used in steel production); and an important source of diamonds, gold, and uranium. In recent years, Chinese-controlled companies have launched a mining frenzy on the plateau that not only damages landscapes sacred to Tibetans, but also is eroding Tibet’s ecology further – including by polluting its precious water.

These are precisely the kinds of actions that caused China’s water crisis in the first place. Instead of learning the lessons of its past mistakes, China is compounding them, forcing a growing number of people and ecosystems to pay the price for its imprudent approach to economic growth.

Indeed, China has implemented no effective safeguards against adverse impacts from intensive water mining. Bottled water is being sourced even from protected reserves where glaciers are already in retreat. Meanwhile, the glacier-siphoning boom is attracting highly polluting ancillary industries, including manufacturers of plastic water bottles.

Make no mistake: Glacier-water mining has major environmental costs in terms of biodiversity loss, impairment of some ecosystem services due to insufficient runoff water, and potential depletion or degradation of glacial springs. Moreover, the process of sourcing, processing, bottling, and transporting glacial water from the Himalayas to Chinese cities thousands of miles away has a very large carbon footprint.

Bottling glacier water is not the right way to quench China’s thirst. A better alternative, both environmentally and economically, would be to boost investment in treatment facilities to make tap water safe in cities. Unfortunately, China seems determined to remain on its current course – an approach that could do irreparable and severe damage to Asia’s environment, economy, and political stability.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

When drama undercut diplomacy


BY , The Japan Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

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


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

Brahma Chellaney, China-US Focus


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

It is déjà vu all over again


Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, February 2, 2016


India’s hug-then-repent penchant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Upholding the Asian Order


Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

An oceanic threat rises against India


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

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, January 20, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

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



Brahma Chellaney, Mint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mint, 2016.

Beijing’s Asia Pivot in 2016


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

© Council on Foreign Relations, January 5, 2016.

Nepal’s democracy on the brink


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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disaffected minorities

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nepalese foreign minister meets his Chinese counterpart on Christmas

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

Passport free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2015.

Saudi Arabia’s Phony War on Terror


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

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

Unaccountable China


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2015.

How not to combat terror


By The Japan Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2015.

The geopolitical hub of international maritime challenges



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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural Affinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2015.

China’s rush to dam rivers flowing to other nations


Brahma Chellaney, Hindustan Times, November 28, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Hindustan Times, 2015.

How alliances of convenience spur deadly terrorism



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mint, 2015.