Jihadism: What Goes Around, Comes Around


Brahma Chellaney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© China-US Focus, 2016.

The Tendrils of Terrorism



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

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

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangladesh’s grim challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Obama’s Bitter Afghan Legacy


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attacking the ideology behind terror


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why was Nagasaki nuked?



Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© The Japan Times, 2016.

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


Brahma Chellaney, India Abroad, June 10, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© India Abroad, 2016. 

China’s Pakistani Outpost


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate


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

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

In fact, wealthy China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India. The prospect of a two-front war, should India enter into conflict with either country, certainly advances that interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 1995-2016 Project Syndicate.