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.

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.

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.

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.

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.