A Water War in Asia?

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRICS falls under China’s sway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Trump could ‘pivot’ to Asia like Obama never did

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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, November 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tougher approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shoring up alliances

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

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

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BY The Japan Times, November 8, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s diplomatic balancing act

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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pecking order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Asia’s megacities are running out of water

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clipboard01Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNCOVENTIONAL SOLUTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why Japan and India must be partners in Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

BRICS reduced to a “talk shop”?

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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why India must not neglect Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Times of India, 2016.

The Pakistani Mecca of Terror

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

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Fashioning water as a weapon

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By BRAHMA CHELLANEYMail Today

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

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

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

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

Dependence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Absorption

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mail Today, 2016.

India’s critical test on Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Open, 2016.

Sino-Pakistan nexus shields terror

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BRAHMA CHELLANEY | DNA, 12 October 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© DNA, 2016.

The Challenge from Authoritarian Capitalism to Liberal Democracy

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Brahma Chellaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© China-US Focus, 2016.

Years of Indian indecision and inaction ends

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Why India must reclaim its water leverage in the Indus basin

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

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

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, September 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Fifteen years on, the Afghanistan war still rumbles

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Brahma Chellaney, The Globe and Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

Mending Pakistan’s behaviour

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, September 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mint, 2016.

A watershed moment for India

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, September 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The writer is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Wrangles over water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Times of India, 2016.

China’s Dam Problem With Myanmar

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

How to Stop Terrorism in Europe

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

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rivers of conflict between India and Pakistan

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

20160825Kashmir_article_main_image

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

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

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

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

Lack of trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of disputes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Japan’s constitutional reform to propel Asian stability

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Japanese Constitution signing page

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

Brahma Chellaney

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

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

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

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

@JINF, 2016.

Securing the Indus treaty

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, August 5, 2016

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

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

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

India’s Indus largesse

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

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

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

Pakistan’s obstructionist tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onus on Islamabad

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

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

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

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

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

The Arab World’s Water Insecurity

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By , a column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Mirage of a rules-based order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

Salvaging the war on terror

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Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Ensuring defiant unilateralism is not cost-free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might is right” strategy that aims to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources by altering the status quo. The strategy focuses on a steady progression of steps to create new facts on the ground by confounding and outwitting neighbors while avoiding a confrontation with the United States, which sees itself as a geographically non-resident power in Asia.

Through its furious reaction to the tribunal’s ruling, China is saying that it should be the judge in its own cause. More ominously, it is signaling its determination to stay on the course of unilateralism by settling matters militarily in the resource-rich South China Sea, which is larger than the Mediterranean and carries $5 trillion in annual trade.

The example Beijing is setting will not only be damaging to the law of the sea but is also likely to stoke serious tensions and insecurities in Asia, the world’s economic locomotive.

The South China Sea — a global trade and maritime hub — is critical to the contest for influence in the larger Indo-Pacific region extending from the Arabian Sea to Australia and Canada. As Beijing consolidates its power in the South China Sea by completing ports and airstrips and building up its military assets on man-made islands, the impact of its actions will extend beyond reducing ASEAN states to a tributary status and bringing resources under its tight control: Such consolidation will have a significant bearing on the wider geopolitics, balance of power, and maritime order.

Like-minded states thus must work closely together to defend the law of the sea by ensuring that defiant unilateralism is not cost-free. Unless China is made to realize that its future lies in cooperation and not confrontation, a systemic risk to Asian stability and prosperity is bound to arise, with far-reaching implications for the world.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

 © The Japan Times, 2016.

The U.S. needs to support Japanese constitutional reform

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review, July 18, 2016

downloadJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has secured a rare opportunity for constitutional reform following the July 10 election for the upper house of the Diet, or parliament. His ruling coalition now has a supermajority in both houses. Yet he is right to tread cautiously on constitutional change. Since many Japanese remain wary of amending a constitution that is widely seen as having brought a long period of peace, the government would be hard pressed to win a national referendum on constitutional change — even if any proposed amendment passed both houses of the Diet with the required two-thirds majority.

If there is one factor that could help ease grassroots concerns and facilitate constitutional reform, it is American support for the process. This would help blunt criticism from Japan’s powerful pacifist constituency as well as from China, which equates any potential constitutional change with Japan’s remilitarization — even as Beijing frenetically builds up its own military might.

U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defense and regional security. National security reforms in Japan are tied to constitutional reforms. Together, they would help strengthen the central goal of the U.S strategy for the Asia-Pacific — a stable balance of power.

Japan has been a model U.S. ally, hosting a large U.S. troop presence and contributing billions of dollars to support the costs of stationing those forces on its soil. The U.S. has said this assistance is “by far the most generous host-nation support” provided by any of the 27 allies with which Washington has defense treaties. Japan’s financial support is so significant that it is approximately equivalent to the U.S. annual budget for maintaining domestic military bases — a fact that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump seemed unaware of when he said Tokyo should pay more.

Because of Japanese generosity, it is cheaper for the U.S. to have its troops stationed in Japan than back home. In fact, Tokyo recently agreed to marginally increase its host-nation support after initially seeking to cut its contribution to help reduce Japan’s massive public debt.

More important, the alliance with Japan remains central to the U.S. role in Asia, including maintaining a forward military presence. However, the U.S. faces major new challenges in the region due to the rise of an increasingly assertive China – best symbolized by Beijing’s rejection of the July 12 international tribunal ruling that knocked the bottom out of its expansive sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. China’s creeping aggression in Asia reflects a “might makes right” strategy designed to extend Chinese control to strategic areas and resources — from the East China Sea to the Himalayas.

In this light, peace in Asia demands a proactive Japan. The issue Japan faces is not whether it should remain pacifist, since it is unlikely to discard pacifism, but whether it can afford to stay passive in regional and international affairs. A Japan that is better able to defend itself and to cooperate with friendly Indo-Pacific countries to forestall a destabilizing power disequilibrium in Asia would truly become a “proactive contributor to peace” — a concept popularized by the Abe government.

A weaker defense alliance

If Tokyo, however, fails to carry out further reforms of its postwar institutions and policies to meet the new challenges in Asia, it could not only weaken its own security but also the role of the U.S.-Japan strategic alliance.

By drafting and imposing a constitution after World War II, the U.S. created the problem that Japan now confronts — how to cast off the constitutional albatross. The U.S. must seek to be part of the solution so that Japan, in keeping with American interests, plays a proactive role in Asian affairs and does more for its own defense. Japan can play this role within the framework of its longstanding security treaty with Washington.

It has been largely forgotten that Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur made his occupation staff hastily write the Japanese constitution in just one week so that it would be ready to coincide with the U.S. national holiday celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, 1946. However, it did not come into force until May 1947. No national constitution in the world goes so far as Japan’s in barring the acquisition of the means of war or to renounce “the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” A defeated Germany escaped Japan-like constitutional fetters because by the time its constitution, or Basic Law, was drafted in 1949, the Cold War was in full swing.

It did not take long for the U.S. to realize that it went too far in defanging Japan when it disbanded its military and imposed the world’s first pacifist constitution. After the Korean War, through a major legal reinterpretation of the constitution it had imposed, the U.S. encouraged Japan to reconstitute its military as “Self-Defense Forces” to make the country the lynchpin of its Asian strategy.

The Japanese constitution suffers from inherent flaws. For example, it defines no head of state, having stripped the emperor, then Hirohito, of all but symbolic power. Article 1 defines the emperor’s position as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” while Article 3 declares he “shall have no governmental powers, nor shall he assume nor be granted such powers.”

This was deliberate. The U.S. wanted to have the emperor merely serve as the symbol of Japan so that Washington could use him to win public support for the U.S. occupation between 1945 and 1952, while denying him powers to oppose it. Likewise, the force-renouncing Article 9 was designed to keep Japan as an U.S. client state, while depriving it of the ability to ever mount another Pearl Harbor-style attack against the U.S. But today, U.S. security interests would be better served by a militarily stronger Japan.

Another anomaly is the absence of constitutional protection for the Japan Self-Defense Forces, 62 years after they were established, despite popular support for the military. By renouncing “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes,” the constitution has imposed an impractical fetter from which Japan will have to break free to defend itself from any aggression, as Abe has said.

Contradictions

In truth, Japanese pacifism has been made possible not so much by the constitution as by the fact that Japan is under U.S. security protection. Pacifism, however, has coexisted with contradictory trends. For example, Japan has denounced nuclear weapons and consistently called for a world without them, yet welcomed the nuclear umbrella provided to it by the U.S. Japan has kept its military forces out of combat but has endorsed U.S. military interventions around the world, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 regime change in Libya.

But Japan’s constitutional fundamentalists regard the constitution as sacrosanct, as if it were religious scripture, and oppose any change, even though the U.S. has ratified six amendments to its own constitution since it drafted the Japanese charter. At the other end of the spectrum are Japanese who seek a new constitution. They want Asia’s oldest liberal democracy and one that has not fired a single shot since World War II to frame a new constitution anchored in its own values and traditions.

By placing a high bar to the enactment of any amendment, the Japanese constitution is among the hardest in the world to revise. Just 35% of Japanese support constitutional revision, according to a poll conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun.

Against this background, only open U.S. support for constitutional reform can make a meaningful difference. It will allay public concerns among the Japanese, with only 23% wanting their country to play a more active role in regional affairs, according to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center. Another survey in 2014 revealed that just 15% of Japanese, compared with almost 75% of Chinese, were willing to defend their country — the lowest figure in the world.

Unlike China, Japan is not a revisionist power. Rather, its strategic priorities converge with U.S. regional goals, including maintaining the present Asian political and maritime order to ensure a regional power equilibrium and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The U.S., in its own interest, should back constitutional reform in Japan, which has not sent a single soldier into combat since 1945 — a record of pacifism surpassing even that of Germany.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author of nine books, including “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield); he is currently a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and a Richard von Weizsacker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

China’s Challenge to the Law of the Sea

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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Lemond

« Comme le montre l’exemple spectaculaire de la Chine, devenue puissance mondiale en l’espace d’une seule génération, le modèle du capitalisme autoritaire représente le premier défi direct à la démocratie libérale depuis la montée du nazisme (Photo : le président chinois Xi Jinping et Vladimir Poutine, le 25 juin, à Pékin). SPUTNIK / REUTERS

Par Brahma Chellaney (Professeur d’études stratégiques au Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, Inde

LE MONDE | 08.07.2016

L’un des plus profonds changements des dernières décennies aura été la montée du capitalisme autoritaire en tant que modèle politico-économique, notamment dans les pays en développement. Ce modèle se définit comme un mélange de gouvernance autocratique et de capitalisme népotique contrôlé par l’Etat.

Entre 1988 et 1990, alors que la guerre froide s’éteignait peu à peu, des manifestations pro-démocratie ont éclaté dans différentes régions du monde, depuis la Chine jusqu’à la Birmanie en passant par l’Europe orientale. Ces mouvements ont contribué à propager les libertés politiques dans cette dernière région et ont renversé ailleurs dans le monde des dictatures dans des pays aussi divers que l’Indonésie, la Corée du Sud, le Chili et Taïwan.

A la suite de la désintégration de l’Union soviétique, la Russie elle-même a paru être un candidat crédible aux réformes démocratiques. Le renversement de ces régimes totalitaires ou autocratiques a modifié le rapport de force mondial en faveur des courants démocratiques.

Plus d’un quart de siècle après la chute du mur de Berlin, force est de constater que l’avancée mondiale de la démocratie est bloquéePourtant, tous les mouvements pro-démocratie n’ont pas été couronnés de succès. Les « révolutions de couleur » ont renforcé la méfiance des régimes autoritaires qui avaient survécu, les incitant à mettre en place des contre-mesures. Plus d’un quart de siècle après la chute du mur de Berlin,…

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Jihadism: What Goes Around, Comes Around

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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

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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

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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

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

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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?

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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?

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Brahma Chellaney, India Abroad, June 10, 2016

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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

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

Wuhan-drought-via-ET

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.