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


Brahma Chellaney, India Abroad, June 10, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© India Abroad, 2016. 

India’s China appeasement itch



Brahma Chellaney, Mint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Mint, 2016.

China’s dam boom stokes concerns in Asia


Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shift in focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping the silt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

The Limits of Capitalism with Communist Characteristics


Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Globe and Mail, 2016.

It is déjà vu all over again

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, February 2, 2016


India’s hug-then-repent penchant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2016.

Upholding the Asian Order

Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Project Syndicate, 2016.