Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won just short of a majority in May 11's violence-plagued elections -- Pakistan's first successful democratic transition from one full term to another. But on May 19, he secured that majority when more than a sufficient number of independents joined his party. He needed 137 seats for a majority and he has 142. Soon to be prime minister for an unprecedented third time, he is now free to pursue his campaign agenda, governing a nation that chose to humiliate the incumbents (the Pakistan People's Party -- PPP -- of the late Benazir Bhutto) and return him to the highest office.
Pakistan is now led again by this most interesting politician. He has been on both sides of the democracy-dictatorship divide, getting his start in politics by joining Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's military government in the 1980s in order to get back his family's steel business, which had been nationalized by Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the 1970s. (Zia had overthrown the elder Bhutto in 1977.) When democracy returned after Zia's death in 1988, Sharif led his party to victory and was twice prime minister; always the blood feud continued between him and Benazir Bhutto (he even managed to co-opt Bhutto's younger brother into an alliance against her). The saying "live by the sword, die by the sword" applies to his life: When he tried to tame the military in his second term, he himself was overthrown by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a 1999 coup and was almost executed but for the intervention of Bill Clinton's administration. He and the Clintons, especially the former secretary of state, maintain a close relationship. Always a conservative Muslim who has supported the Islamization of Pakistan, he has nevertheless been a staunch proponent of privatization and industrialization, his goal being to make Pakistan the "South Korea" of the subcontinent.
Throughout this history, of which I have provided only a cursory glance, Sharif has been a man the United States wanted to count on and work with. His economic outlook makes him relatively more attractive as a leader whose policies have the best chance of stabilizing Pakistan by solving the grinding poverty affecting most Pakistanis. The major alternative, the PPP, has never governed well in large part because its legacy is statism and corruption. And while Sharif's foreign policies have worried U.S. officials, such as his close relationships with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as his sometimes reckless policies regarding his country's nuclear capabilities, he has nevertheless tried to improve relations with India because of his belief that, in addition to democracy, only through trade can Pakistan solve its economic problems.
Over the last several months, analysts offered varying views on Sharif's potential return to power, with many worried by his overtures to terrorists and the seemingly unsolvable problems Pakistan faces. After Sharif's victory, the ever insightful Walter Russell Mead offered a rather negative outlook. But I'm more hopeful.
During this last campaign, Sharif won over his critics who used to be frightened by his former talk of a "caliphate" and his past association with military government. He did this by showing himself to have learned patience (months in a military prison waiting to die can have that affect apparently) and by articulating an agenda that would transform Pakistan's economic and foreign policies. He advocates economic liberalization and promises a crackdown on corruption. He insists that a better relationship with India is paramount. And he has made clear that the military will submit to civilian control. It seems the military is listening as the country's top general called on him at his home after the election -- an unprecedented move. Importantly, he takes the helm again when Pakistan is more democratic, and this augurs well for his new administration to have the backing he needs. Turnout in this election was historic, with more young, female, and liberal voters supporting him in huge numbers. They have changed their view of him because apparently they believe he has changed; it helps that he resisted calls to ally with the military and oust the flailing PPP during its tenure. They certainly had other choices that represented change, but they opted for a man they have known for over a generation who said what they wanted to hear about governance and economic and foreign policies.
Of course the jury is still out, and this is Pakistan, after all; it is in a terrible neighborhood, and it's got a bad track record. And Sharif could have just succeeded in a massively cynical campaign to dupe voters and once in office will resume the project of Islamization and use a heavy hand against his opponents. But even if these were to be his goals -- and that doesn't seem likely -- this is not the Pakistan of 20, 10, or even five years ago. It is more democratic, and its youth, its women, and its voters in general are more demanding of government. In short, the country is progressing toward democratic maturity and apparently so is its new leader. Let us hope that Secretary of State John Kerry, who like Clinton has a good relationship with Sharif, can get a foreign-policy success with Pakistan.
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In Pakistan's 66-year history, a civilian government has never completed a full term of office and then handed power through elections to a successor administration. That will change on Saturday when Pakistanis go to the polls to elect a new parliament. Given Pakistan's position as ground zero for violent Islamic extremism, the world has a vital stake in who wins these elections and how they proceed to govern. What should we expect?
Several pre-election trends will have a decisive influence on its outcome. On the positive side of the ledger, this will be a competitive race. Forty-seven parties are contesting it. Forty-eight percent of registered voters are under age 35, and there are 36 million new voters, bringing to bear a sizable youth constituency that has a compelling interest in job creation and economic reform. There are 161 female candidates for office, compared with only 64 in Pakistan's last national elections in 2008. The Pakistani military, which has traditionally played a kingmaker role in politics when not governing itself, does not have a horse in this race, preferring to remain on the sidelines. These are all positive dynamics.
The top downside risk is the extraordinary levels of targeted violence that have preceded voting day, tilting the playing field and dousing it in blood. More than 100 political candidates and their supporters have been murdered by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) over the past 1.5 months. Insidiously, the TTP seems not to want to disrupt the election overall, but is pursuing a targeted campaign to suppress turnout for the parties most determined to combat violent extremism: the Awami National Party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
Pakistan's election is in fact taking place amid a low-grade civil war in which domestic terrorists are successfully targeting the political parties with the most liberal vision for the country's future. These parties are effectively unable to campaign, with the result that turnout of their supporters will be dramatically suppressed.
Equally disturbing is that several political parties expected to do best in Saturday's contest appear to have made a separate peace with the Pakistani Taliban that has largely precluded terrorist attacks on their members. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, led by Nawaz Sharif, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by Imran Khan, have been able to campaign free from violent attack, giving them extra momentum in the lead-up to the polling. Sharif has offered to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban and withdraw the Pakistani armed forces from the fight against the militants in the country's northwest. Khan has offered dialogue with the terrorists and has pledged to order the military to shoot down American drones operating over extremist safe havens.
The PML-N and PTI lead the polls, with parties under siege from terrorism trailing in their wake. Should Sharif or Khan form a government separately or in coalition, Americans should expect a change in Pakistan's cooperation against violent extremists -- if either leader can wrest control of foreign policy and security policy from the armed forces, something the PPP-led government of the past five years could not manage.
In fact, the surge in popular support for the PML-N and the PTI comes not from their flirtations with radical Islamists or their anti-American posture. It stems from the promise of both parties to reverse the tide of corruption, cronyism, and economic lethargy that has characterized Pakistan under PPP rule. Polls show the vast majority of Pakistanis do not support the Talibanization of their country -- which is why the TTP is violently contesting the election rather than competing in it, and why Islamist political parties like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and the Jamaat-e-Islami have done so poorly in previous elections and will surprise on the downside in these elections.
Most Pakistanis want better governance and economic opportunity -- not new safe havens for terrorists or war against the United States. But the more space the country's new leaders give to the violent radicals who seek to overthrow the Pakistani state, the less chance those leaders will have of generating the public goods their voters demand. A successful civilian transition is a historic first worth celebrating as better than the alternatives. But by playing footsie with the terrorists who are tearing their country apart, the likely victors of Saturday's election do a disservice to the vibrant civil society and patriotic armed forces that hold Pakistan together against increasingly long odds.
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Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
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The Obama Administration has embraced the Bush doctrine, or at least the preemption part of the Bush doctrine. According to news reports about the Justice Department's memo on drone strikes, the Obama Administration bases its policy on an expansive interpretation of the laws of war, which allow countries to act to head off imminent attack. In particular, according to the reporter who broke the story, the Obama Administration bases its legal reasoning by interpreting "imminence" in a flexible way:
"The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," the memo states.
Instead, it says, an "informed, high-level" official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been "recently" involved in "activities" posing a threat of a violent attack and that "there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities." The memo does not define "recently" or "activities."
This should sound familiar to anyone who has debated American foreign policy for the past decade, for precisely that sort of logic undergirded the Bush Administration's preemption doctrine. Here is the relevant section from Bush's 2006 National Security Strategy (itself quoting from the earlier and controversial articulation in the 2002 National Security Strategy):
If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption. The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions.
Of course, the Bush Administration was excoriated for framing the issue that way, and there arose a lively cottage industry devoted to attacking this aspect of the Bush doctrine. While Obama has tended to get away with things his predecessors could not, I suspect that even he will face some tough questioning now that the overlap with the controversial Bush doctrine is so unmistakable.
The issue is a difficult one, for the applicability of the self-defense principle depends crucially on context. Everyone agrees that if someone is attacking you with a knife, you do not have to wait for the blade to puncture your skin before you can strike at the assailant. And everyone agrees that it is not self-defense to attack someone just because you think there is a dim and distant possibility that one day that person might decide that he wants to attack you even though there is no evidence of such intent today. In the real world of national security policymaking, however, there are abundant hard cases in between those easy calls and those hard cases are what policymakers -- as distinct from pundits -- can't avoid.
The memo reveals the Obama Administration wrestling with these problems and coming to conclusions strikingly similar to those of the Bush Administration. I wonder if Team Obama will be more successful than the Bush Administration was in arguing the merits and logic of the preemption doctrine.
By Javid Ahmad and Daniel Twining
Since the 1970s, Pakistan has approached Afghanistan through a doctrine of strategic depth. The latest incarnation of its longstanding Afghan policy, directed from military headquarters in Rawalpindi, has been to prop up the Afghan Taliban as a means of extorting concessions from Kabul or even toppling the pro-Western Afghan government altogether.
However, recent good-faith gestures by Pakistan -- freeing influential former Taliban officials and reaching out to the non-Pashtun leaders from the erstwhile Northern Alliance -- have been widely interpreted to signal a perceived shift in its Afghanistan policy. The change in Pakistan is emanating from Rawalpindi, which the civilian government in Islamabad gingerly follows. For years, Pakistan has hesitated or refused to release Afghan Taliban leaders to participate in talks on a political settlement to the Afghan conflict. Surprisingly, it is now pushing for reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government via a peace roadmap by 2015.
These breakthroughs raise the inevitable question: Is this a real strategic shift, or merely a tactical response to current circumstances? While Pakistan has many real reasons to alter its longstanding Afghan policy and truly abandon strategic depth, several factors may explain Rawalpindi's new approach to its neighbor.
First, radical Islamic ideals that appeal to unemployed youth are now also affecting lower-level members of Pakistan's military. Although this blowback effect has not yet been turned into tangible threats within the military, Pakistan continues to address the symptoms rather than the root of the problem. Mindful of this reality, Pakistan's fretful military realizes that if this trend continues, it will most likely create subversive insiders in the force that will threaten its stability from within.
Second, Pakistan has been made a part of the regional peace framework via the Istanbul Process. Despite its intransigence over engaging in genuine regional cooperation, recent nudges from regional governments through the Istanbul Process have pressured Pakistan to become a more active and constructive partner in the effort. Pakistani hesitation to work collaboratively with its neighbors is driven largely by concerns about the deeper role India could play in any regional framework, augmenting its rising influence across Afghanistan.
However, growing distrust between Rawalpindi and the Afghan Taliban and heightening home-grown insurgency now supersede anxieties about India. The soaring number of Taliban attacks on Pakistan's security forces and military installations, coupled with the alarming number of casualties the army and civilians endure every month, not only has troubled Pakistan but also signifies that its nexus with the Taliban may not be entirely fruitful. Most vitally, Rawalpindi is uneasy about the province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and the northern frontier becoming a safe haven for various Taliban groups joining forces against Pakistan.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe that any shift in Pakistan's policy is short-term and tactical.
First, several of Pakistan's political parties are now supporting radicalization and flirting with jihadi mindsets. Most recently, Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, claimed that the Taliban are fighting a "jihad" in Afghanistan that is justified by Islamic law. Such public statements in support of criminal activities are not only misguided, but also inspire violent extremist ideologies that mislead uneducated and impressionable Pakistani youth and provide a space for insurgents to recruit. Unless this attitude changes, the viability of any positive policy shift is questionable at best.
Second, the media in Pakistan, rather than being a force broadly supportive of peace and stability in Afghanistan, often does the opposite. A broad cross-section of Pakistani media links the impending troop withdrawal directly with the United States' failure in Afghanistan. Elements in the mainstream media are also raising paranoia and anti-Americanism among the people, while openly advocating the insurgency next door.
Third, even if Rawalpindi's change of posture is sincere, the shadow of history in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations hampers this policy shift. The underlying thinking in Rawalpindi may well be that it can still achieve its traditional goals through different means. Most Afghans remain highly skeptical of Pakistan's goals in their country, recognizing that Rawalpindi is unlikely to abandon its long-held objectives in Afghanistan, particularly at a time when Western forces are drawing down.
Perhaps most importantly, there most likely will be no positive shift in Pakistan's strategy unless and until it genuinely supports political inclusivity in Afghanistan. Despite its recent overtures to some of the non-Pashtun political leaders, Pakistan still seeks a pliant government in Kabul through its privileged relationship with the Taliban. Pakistan has to do more to overcome the considerable mistrust it carries among non-Pashtun groups in order to facilitate any policy shift.
While there may be a realization in Rawalpindi that its current Afghan strategy has not succeeded, there are few tangible signs of an actual policy shift. While it remains to be seen how ongoing events will unfold in coming months, perhaps one of the most visible shortcomings of the peace roadmap is the absence of contingency plans should reconciliation not proceed as envisaged.
Kabul must carefully review the terms of the negotiations, resist the temptation of trailing into and accepting conditions that privilege Pakistani interests at the expense of Afghan sovereignty, and avoid reaching a hasty, high-risk peace deal that could potentially compromise the security of the Afghan people. Pakistan's recent gestures are a good sign, but given its history in Afghanistan, regrettably these signals do not appear entirely reassuring.
Javid Ahmad is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views reflected here are his own.
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The National Intelligence Council's (NIC) just-released Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report identifies key meta-trends that will shape the future international system, including the explosion of the global middle class, the diffusion of power away from the West, and the rising likelihood of inter-state conflict. In no other region will these trends play a more decisive role than in Asia, where the NIC predicts China to emerge as the world's largest economy, India to become the biggest driver of middle-class growth on Earth, and conflict scenarios between a number of rising and established powers likely to put regional peace at risk. In no other region will the future of U.S. leadership in the international system be more decisively tested than in an Asia featuring rising giants like India and Indonesia, a fully emerged peer competitor in China, and the dramatic tilt in the international economy's center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
What kind of role Asia will play in the world, and how it will relate to the United States and other Western powers, in turn will be determined by what form of regional order is operative in 2030. My last post described four broad pathways Asia could take over the next two decades. This one sketches out a more granular set of scenarios for Asia's future, identifying seven distinct possibilities that could emerge by 2030. That there are these many pathways demonstrates how unsettled regional power dynamics are -- and how much uncertainty remains around China's trajectory, U.S. staying power, Japan's strategic re-emergence, and the nature of Asian regionalism.
Headline scenarios for Asia in 2030 include:
More specifically, three forms of multipolarity in Asia seem possible: (1) a cooperative-competitive multipolar order in which the United States is the strongest power; (2) a fundamentally competitive multipolar order in which China is the strongest power; or (3) a liberal Concert of Asia in which multiple strong states organize themselves around cooperation rather than competition.
Alternatively, three forms of bipolarity seem possible: (1) an Asia split into two competitive blocs led by the United States and China; (2) a region featuring a withdrawn United States pitting a grouping led by China against a contending one led by Asia's other great and regional powers; and (3) a Sino-American condominium in which a cooperative bipolarity orders the region.
Finally, one form of unipolarity is possible (and only one): a form of Chinese primacy that reduces other states to lesser status and effectively excludes the United States from playing a leading regional role.
From the vantage point of 2012, the most likely Asian strategic futures for 2030 appear to be, in descending order: (1) multipolarity with a U.S. lead, (2) U.S.-China Cold War, (3) multipolarity with a Chinese lead, (4) Asia-China Cold War, (5) concert of Asia, (6) Sino-American condominium, and (7) new Middle Kingdom.
The key variable will be what role the United States chooses to play in Asia with respect to continued military presence and diplomatic/economic leadership (which themselves will derive in part from the ability of the United States to revitalize its domestic power resources); defense of its allies and deepening of strategic partnership with India; and the nature of its relationship with China. Other decisive variables will be the scope and pace of internal political change within China; the speed of India's economic and military rise; and the future of Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
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Today the U.S. National Intelligence Council releases its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, authored by the NIC's resident thought leader and global futurist par excellence, Mat Burrows. Several of us in the Shadow Government stable contributed to the report in various ways over the past few years of its development .
Because Asia is the cockpit for so many macro drivers of the international system over the coming decades, it's worth considering the outsized role Asia's evolution will play in shaping the future world described in GT2030 -- and how that evolution in turn will impact key variables like the resilience of American power and the future of democracy.
At the macro level, four broad pathways for Asian order are possible through 2030. Which order prevails will have determinative effects on the kind of international system our children inherit.
A Lockean order
In the first scenario, continued American maritime preeminence and the U.S. alliance system sustain a security order in which China's "Prussianization," North Korea's nuclear mischief, and other potential security dilemmas in Asia are mitigated by the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States and its allies, thereby deterring aggressive revisionism on the part of Beijing or Pyongyang and continuing to supply the public goods that underlie wider Asian prosperity. In such an order, Asian institutions could continue to sink roots, but on the basis of a trans-regional outlook in which the United States remains what then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called a "resident power," with economic integration oriented around a Pacific rather than an exclusively Asian axis.
Great powers like Japan and India, secondary powers like South Korea and Australia, and the states of Southeast Asia could continue to engage economically and diplomatically with China, confident that their security ties with the United States constituted a hedge against falling under Beijing's sway. In turn, China's development would be shaped by the combination of engagement with the United States and its friends in Asia and Europe, and by the deterrent effect of America's forward military presence and alliance commitments. These raise the costs of Chinese adventurism, allowing Beijing to focus its resources on internal development and peaceful external engagement -- rather than on wielding its growing power to revise Asia's order through coercion.
A Hobbesian order
In the second scenario, a U.S. retreat into isolationism or accelerated material decline (induced by protectionism or failure to reverse America's alarming levels of national debt) would lead to the weakening of Washington's alliance commitments in East Asia and its willingness to remain the region's security guarantor. Such a regional order would be "ripe for rivalry," as forecast by realist scholars like Aaron Friedberg after the Cold War, when an American withdrawal from the region and raw balancing behavior in the midst of dynamic power shifts seemed likely to make Asia's future resemble Europe's war-prone past.
Such a balance-of-power order would feature self-help behavior by Asian states of the kind that has been mitigated to date by American defense commitments. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam might develop and deploy nuclear weapons as the only means of securing their autonomy against the Chinese military giant in their midst. Chinese leaders, no longer constrained by America's Seventh Fleet and robust alliance network, might find themselves free to pursue their declared revisionist aims in the South and East China Seas. Lesser Asian states whose territorial claims conflict with China's would find they had less ability to leverage a retreating America's support in their favor.
A Kantian order
In the third scenario, Asia would evolve in Europe's direction -- not the pre-1945 Europe of great-power balancing and war, but today's European Union, in which demilitarized societies between which war is inconceivable enjoy the fruits of democratic peace through institutional cooperation. Such a pathway for regional order presumes that Asian regionalism develops in a pluralistic way that preserves the autonomy of lesser Asian states, rather than deriving from a nonconsensual extension of China's sphere of influence. It also presumes a dovetailing of Asian regime types in a democratic direction. After all, it was only the resumption of democratic control over previously militaristic European regimes following their defeat in war that made possible the institutional deepening that has defined the post-World War II European project.
Another necessary, and often unstated, condition for the development of Europe's Kantian order of perpetual peace has been the American security umbrella. It has created a security cocoon within which European governments can dedicate national resources to domestic welfare rather than military defense and maneuvering against potential adversaries. Ironically, then, the development of a pluralistic and peace-loving East Asian community along the lines of the European Union may require the continued role of the United States as the region's security guarantor. Such a role would naturally be more amenable to Washington's leading regional competitor, China, should that country pursue the political liberalization that would make an Asian democratic peace both possible and self-reinforcing.
A Sinocentric order
In the fourth scenario, an East Asian community of economic interdependence and pan-regional cooperation would develop not along lines of democratic pluralism but as an extension of an increasingly dominant China. Rather than the horizontal sovereignty between states that developed in post-Westphalian Europe through the institution of the balance of power, such a regional order would feature hierarchical relations of suzerainty and submission of the kind that characterized pre-modern East Asia when China's Middle Kingdom was strong and cohesive, and lesser neighboring states paid ritualized forms of tribute to it. A Sinocentric East Asia could emerge out of this historical past; it could also emerge through what neorealist international relations scholars like John Mearsheimer define as the imperative of great powers to enjoy regional hegemony. The Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary epitomized this process in the 19th and early 20th centuries with respect to the United States and Latin America.
A Chinese sphere of influence encompassing East Asia and Southeast Asia presumes that states like Japan and South Korea would bandwagon with, rather than balance against, Chinese power. This could follow from either a lack of external alliance options or out of a reemergent pan-Asian identity; in a scenario in which they were economically and geopolitically "Finlandized," these countries might have no choice. An Asian system in which China sat at the summit of a hierarchical regional order presumes that Asian institution-building develops along closed lines of Asian exclusivity, rather than through the open trans-Pacific regionalism that has been the dominant impulse behind Asian community-building since the early 1990s.
In my next post, I'll describe some more specific scenarios for Asian order in 2030, from an Asian Cold War to a New Middle Kingdom.
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In Bangkok on November 18 President Obama explained that it was "no accident" that he chose Asia for his first overseas trip after winning re-election. Well, actually, it was. The East Asia Summit, which the president attended in Phnom Penh just before Thanksgiving, had been on the calendar for some time. That it happened to fall on a date just after the U.S. election was perhaps propitious, but it was not because of presidential design.
The president's hyperbole in Bangkok is somewhat typical of the rhetoric surrounding the "pivot" to Asia. This same hyperbole caused trouble with European and Middle East allies, who did not want to be pivoted away from, and with China, which did not understand why the president was claiming credit for a series of seemingly minor but somehow nefariously connected defense decisions like transferring a few thousand Marines from Okinawa to Darwin, Australia.
Hyperbole aside, though, the president can claim credit for something quite substantive with this trip: He has now established that future American presidents will regularly attend two annual summits in Asia each year, once for APEC and once for the ASEAN-centered East Asia Summit. Clinton, meanwhile, has become the first secretary of state to score a perfect attendance record at the ASEAN Regional Forum of foreign ministers. While these meetings can appear dreadfully boring on the surface, they are becoming intensely important behind the scenes as Beijing attempts to assert its own agenda on the region. When the United States is there, the smaller countries usually take heart. In Phnom Penh, China pressured the Cambodian hosts to cut-off discussions on the South China Sea, but with the American president watching, the Philippines and other countries continued raising their legitimate concerns about Beijing's heavy-handed approach to the region's territorial disputes. Woody Allen argued that 9/10ths of success in life is just showing up -- an appropriate maxim for U.S. diplomacy in Asia and one Obama and Clinton have followed.
The president also did fairly well in Burma and Cambodia, two countries with deeply troubling human rights records. I was worried that he would downplay these concerns and instead focus on switching two erstwhile Chinese proxies over to the U.S. camp to score PR points for the pivot. The administration had already moved too fast in lifting the import ban on Burma, which only helped the crony-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. However, a White House blog on Burma policy by NSC Senior Director Samantha Powers just before the trip laid out a more balanced approach going forward that would praise President Thein Sein for his reforms, and be clear that further U.S. support depended on the heavy lifting that still remains. The president appears to have done just that (though he somehow managed repeatedly to garble Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's name, which she took stoically as always). He also did not shrink from pressing Hun Sen to halt systematic repression and violence against civil society groups and the democratic opposition in Cambodia. These were encouraging moves, given how detached the pivot has been thus far from historic American foreign policy values.
That said, the president's trip did little to answer three big questions troubling American friends and allies in Asia. First, will the fiscal cliff undercut the economic basis of American power in the Pacific or end up in defense cuts that have an equally deleterious impact on regional security? Second, will the administration move beyond its unambitious approach to trade now that the election is over and inject some energy into the Trans-Pacific Partnership? And third, will the United States go wobbly on China after the balance-of-power conscious Hillary Clinton leaves office? It is no accident our friends are asking these questions.
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Former Afghan warlord Ismail Khan's recent call for the mujahedeen to rearm and reunite to defend Afghanistan against a post-2014 Taliban takeover is a reminder that the ongoing U.S. drawdown is changing the calculus not only of our adversaries but of our friends. Indeed, much of the behavior that undermines Afghan state-building (and therefore makes it harder for us to leave) -- the kleptocratic government, pervasive corruption, political infighting, and growing strains between President Karzai and Western capitals -- stems from the local belief that, with NATO forces soon to depart, our Afghan allies must seize every advantage they can. For Khan and other regional strongmen, this means arming and mobilizing their personal militias while the writ of Washington and Kabul still holds at least some sway in the provinces -- in preparation for a period when it may not.
Fans of the Game of Thrones novels have a useful guide to how regional strongmen able to raise their own armies rise to fill vacuums of power left by weak or illegitimate central authority. In the case of Afghanistan, a legitimate central government has lost much of its authority by virtue of its predatory relationship to its citizens and the sense that the private interests of top leaders trump the larger public interest. Sounds like a good reason for the U.S. to "leave Afghanistan to the Afghans," right? Not quite. The sad truth is that the U.S. decision to "end the war" and walk away is more likely than any other external policy to reignite it.
We have seen the evidence for this in the surge of Taliban violence against Afghan institutions since President Obama made explicit the timeline for most U.S. forces to depart. We have also seen regional powers move in to fill what they perceive as an impending vacuum of power following the U.S. retreat. India has signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan; Pakistan has refused even to pretend to help Washington reach a political settlement with the Taliban, instead doubling down on its own Afghan assets. And now we are seeing the Afghan warlords -- including men like Marshal Fahim, who since late 2001 have viewed service in the president's cabinet and the Afghan National Army as their preferred vehicle for influence and power -- position themselves outside those institutions to reprise their former roles as leaders of ethnic armies.
President Obama's reelection gives him a mandate to reduce the American military footprint in Afghanistan. He has neither a mandate nor an interest, however, in seeing Afghanistan fall apart through a precipitous U.S. retreat that does not leave behind a long-term, stabilizing force on Afghan soil. The military and political Balkanization of Afghanistan would endanger core U.S. interests -- in securing the legacy of over a decade of war and development, preventing terrorists from using Afghan territory to plot against America, forestalling regional conflict of the kind that Syria is now generating in the Middle East, and preventing the destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan. It would demonstrate to U.S. friends and enemies alike that America does not stand by its allies.
Afghanistan's disintegration after 2014 -- both through a fully fledged Taliban assault on the state and the decision of more strongmen like Ismail Khan to fight back using private rather than public means -- would negate a national security record under President Obama that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden might wish to run on in 2016. It could further radicalize Arab extremists now vying to determine the future of their newly liberated societies, undercutting moderate forces in the Middle East and North Africa who seek long-term partnership with the West to promote democracy and development.
Nor would the Obama administration's ability to keep American enemies in Pakistan and elsewhere in the region off-balance through drone strikes remain viable should Afghanistan come apart in ways that precluded reliable U.S. basing rights there. For these many reasons, now that his reelection is secured and his governing horizon extends beyond 2014, President Obama may want to come up with a more sustainable policy on Afghanistan than the one on which he campaigned.
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There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
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South Asia contains one of America's most important long-term partners in sustaining a global order safe for the interests and values of free societies -- India -- as well as a fragile, nuclear-armed state in Pakistan whose weakening and radicalization could be more consequential for American security interests than nearly any other single contingency. The region also contains a country, Afghanistan, that may not be the center of Asia but is a center of strategic competition among key Asian powers and has cost the West a decade of war to defeat extremism and build lasting stability. Over the coming four years, U.S. leadership to shape this region will be essential, for both positive and negative reasons.
Positively, the consolidation of a wide-ranging strategic partnership with India could change the history of the 21st century by allying the United States with the world's largest democracy and budding economic powerhouse. Negatively, U.S. leadership is essential to prevent Pakistan's many pathologies -- state complicity in terrorism, weak institutions, a foreign policy that exports insecurity -- from spilling over in ways that undermine fundamental U.S. interests in the future of Afghanistan, non-proliferation, defeating terrorism, and dampening extremism.
India is still casting off its legacy of non-alignment and statist economic management. But its leaders have identified the United States as a vital partner for India for the long-term, just as American leaders pursued a revolutionary strategic partnership with India with an eye on shaping the longer-term balance of power and values in the international system. The United States and India share a convergence of interests across the spectrum. Both seek to balance Chinese power in Asia to encourage China's peaceful rise. Both want to defeat terrorism, moderate extremism, and promote democratic state-building in South Asia, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to ensure that responsible governments rule there with a focus on internal development rather than fomenting external insecurity. Both want to ensure freedom of the maritime commons in the Indian Ocean, across which most world trade in energy flows. Both want to strengthen an open and liberal international economy in ways that will fuel their knowledge, technology, and manufacturing sectors.
The next U.S. administration can reverse the drift in Indo-U.S. relations that has occurred since 2009, including by deepening the underdeveloped economic relationship between the two countries through a robust free trade agreement and supporting India's entry into APEC. Washington and New Delhi can also cooperate more intimately on Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, missile defense, maritime security in the Indian Ocean, East Asian security with partners like Japan, and in multilateral institutions like the U.N. The overall objective would be the construction of a preponderance of democratic power in Asia and the international system, with U.S.-India partnership at its core.
As the United States draws down forces from Afghanistan, Pakistan will lose the leverage it has held on U.S. policy by virtue of its control of the primary supply routes into Afghanistan. This creates the prospect for a more mature and balanced U.S.-Pakistan relationship in which U.S. policy concentrates not on buying off the Pakistani military but on strengthening the development of Pakistani civilian institutions. U.S. policy will need to focus more on strengthening Pakistan's economy and, in particular, its energy sector, as a way to offset the rise of radicalism associated with the country's chronic economic crises and to build goodwill among a population that is fervently anti-American. Liberalization of trade, including duty-free treatment of Pakistani textiles into the United States, will be as important (if not more important) than official assistance in this regard.
U.S. policy must not re-hyphenate India and Pakistan, but rather pursue independent policies towards both countries that do not allow one country to hold U.S. policy towards the other hostage. Prospects for Pakistan to benefit from India's economic growth and measured Indian steps to lift trade and visa restrictions on Pakistan could, in tandem with U.S. policy, help reconstruct Pakistan's moderate majority who opposes the militarization and radicalization of the state and its foreign policies.
In Afghanistan, the next administration will need to fill out the existing strategic partnership agreement with a commitment to keep substantial U.S. forces in-country - to train Afghan forces, contain Taliban attacks against state institutions, and ensure that neighboring powers with predatory designs do not fill a vacuum that would otherwise be left by U.S. retreat. Afghanistan's 2014 elections will be pivotal to the post-Western dispensation of the country, and U.S. engagement with allies will be key to ensuring that the gains the country has made over the past decade are sustainable. American support for Afghanistan will also be instrumental to helping it build a self-sustaining economy not dependent on foreign aid. Washington will want to coordinate much more closely with New Delhi than it has over the past decade given India's similar interests in sustaining a representative Afghan government that does not tolerate the export of violent extremism, and can serve as a gateway for South Asian trade and investment with Central Asia.
American policy, often working in parallel with India's, can play a critical role in the process of democratic state building and free-market economic growth in the other key South Asian states of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. All are underdeveloped, post-conflict societies in which the military plays a strong role. Bangladesh is especially promising as a partner for greater U.S. engagement -- it has one of the world's largest Muslim populations who are predominantly unradicalized, its economy has been growing very rapidly, it has worked with India and the United States to defeat home-grown terrorism, and its governance indicators have improved meaningfully over the past few years. Goldman Sachs has identified Bangladesh as one of its "N-11" economies or next-generation BRICS.* U.S. partnership will be critical to helping Bangladesh consolidate these gains and join India as part of a "South Asian miracle" of the kind East Asian economies have experienced.
American leadership will be essential to realize the promise of the troubled South Asian region. Wariness and even hostility among neighboring states remains high. This region (not the Arab Middle East) is the source of the world's most violent extremism. Western forces have fought for over a decade in Afghanistan to render it a regional source of stability rather than instability. Pakistan faces extraordinary development and governance challenges, and its support for terrorism could have explosive consequences, not just in Delhi and Kabul but in Washington and London. Rising India could recast the global balance of power and values by virtue of its success in realizing its extraordinary potential. U.S. partnership can help more of South Asia achieve its enormous economic potential, placing it alongside East Asia as a driver of global economic growth and American prosperity.
Editor's note: This piece originally stated HSBC was the group to identify Bangladesh, and it has been corrected to Goldman Sachs.
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Today's agreement in Beijing for Chen Guangcheng to leave the U.S. embassy yet remain in China heralds a success for the Obama administration's diplomacy, and for the cause of human rights in China. While there were no ideal solutions, this seems to be the best possible one, and was probably agreed to only with great reluctance by the Chinese government. Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and one of the Obama administration's most capable senior officials, served as the lead negotiator and merits particular credit. The pressures on the case were heightened by the imminent arrival in Beijing of Secretaries Clinton and Geithner for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED), one of the most important events on the U.S.-China calendar and a cornerstone of the complex bilateral relationship.
Yet in this case Campbell and his fellow negotiators (including State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh and U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke) appear to have leveraged the SED to their advantage based on the strategic insight that China needs the SED more than the U.S. does. This may be sound counter-intuitive, given the many issues on which the U.S. has important "asks" of China, including pressure on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, currency reform, and maritime rights in the western Pacific. But China has been buffeted and embarrassed in recent months by the revelations of the Bo Xilai case, the tensions surrounding its upcoming leadership transition, and the growing alienation of many of its neighboring countries. Beijing needs a smooth and successful SED to help restore its image, and hence realized that it needed to compromise to achieve a quick resolution to the Chen case. Shadow Government's uber-boss, FP editor-in-chief Susan Glasser, is accompanying Secretary Clinton's delegation to Beijing and filed a thoughtful account that lays out the difficult balancing act and frailties in the deal.
Earlier this week it seemed likely that Beijing would only agree to Chen's release if he left China for asylum in the U.S. Yet this would not have been the best outcome, given that Chen would be separated from his family and no longer able to continue his activism. This recent story tells of the anonymity and ennui that afflicts many Chinese dissidents once settled in the U.S., a sad trajectory that might have been Chen's as well. Yet such is not always the case, as other Chinese dissidents have found the U.S. a congenial home from which to continue their advocacy. Such is the case with Bob Fu, now based in Midland, Texas, and whose connection to Chen included assistance with Chen's initial escape and eloquent advocacy on his behalf with the U.S. media. Bob's compelling story can be viewed here at the Bush Center's Freedom Collection.
The Chen case also occurs against the backdrop of a fascinating and largely ennobling history of dissidents in repressive countries seeking refuge in U.S. embassies. Early in the Cold War, the Catholic anticommunist leader Cardinal Josef Mindszenty of Hungary fled to the embassy in Budapest and lived there for 15 (yes, 15) years. The seven Siberian Pentecostals lived in the U.S. embassy in Moscow for 5 years until the Soviet Union agreed to their release after consistent pressure from President Reagan. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese dissidents Fang Lizhi and his wife Li Shuxian lived in the embassy in Beijing for 13 months. In each of these cases, the presence of the dissidents on U.S. diplomatic soil proved to be an irritant in the bilateral relationship -- in the short-term. But from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear that the protection offered by U.S. embassies proved a potent demonstration of America's commitment to liberty. It is a telling reminder that, for all of America's imperfections and internal challenges, our nation is still seen by freedom activists across the globe as the world's premier symbol of liberty and power. It is this combination of values and strength that explains why dissidents in authoritarian countries consistently seek out the American embassy for succor and support.
Yet these same dissidents often carry outsized and unrealistic expectations of just how much the United States can do on their behalf. As powerful as the U.S. is, there are profound limits on America's ability to reshape conditions within other countries, and particularly to guarantee the safety and freedom of dissidents. Here is where the Chen agreement seems to have accomplished about as much as it can. The Chinese government promises to allow Chen to seek medical treatment, enroll in law school, and be reunited with his family. But as an informal agreement between two sovereign states, there is no enforcement mechanism beyond the investment of U.S. prestige and credibility, and China's desire to maintain a good relationship. Still, all things considered, Chen's lot is much improved from just two weeks ago, when he languished under de facto house arrest (no doubt with Beijing's approval). He now enjoys even more global prominence, the explicit support of the United States, an opportunity to gain formal legal training, and most crucially, the chance to continue his work on behalf of his fellow citizens. Moreover, the issues to which he has dedicated his life -- freedom of expression, religious freedom, an end to forced abortions and sterilizations, respect for rule of law -- are now thrust back into the international spotlight and the agenda of the U.S.-China relationship.
The Chen situation is much more than an isolated human rights case. His life and work symbolizes the powerful contradictions besetting China: a strong state whose government seems to fear a blind self-taught country lawyer; an economic powerhouse whose overall growth still produces resentments, instabilities, and unmet expectations from many of its citizens; an emerging yet brittle superpower whose greatest strength may be found not in its growing military or economy, but in the courage of ordinary citizens like Chen Guangcheng.
A growing chorus in Washington seems convinced that those of us who served in the George W. Bush administration oversold the benefits of the U.S.-India strategic partnership forged from 2005 to 2008. The centerpiece of that partnership was the bilateral defense agreement of 2005 and a civilian-nuclear agreement ratified by both countries' parliaments and blessed by the international community in 2008. Many critics are drawn from the non-proliferation community that largely opposed the civ-nuke deal because of India's original sin of developing nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- to which India is not a signatory -- and even though it has a clean proliferation record. Their case has legs today less because they were right about the civ-nuke deal -- they were not -- than because the Obama administration has presided over a period of drift in Indo-U.S. relations that has been matched by drift in Delhi on India's reform agenda. The result has been a benign sense of disappointment in each country, despite the compelling structural and ideational logic that continues to push the relationship forward.
Several of us recently debated the question of whether U.S.-India relations were "oversold" at the American Enterprise Institute. Today's Financial Times charges that U.S.-India relations are "wilting" in light of various policy spats between the two countries that belie the mutual optimism of 2008. These claims need to be put in perspective. This is the first of several posts that will try to take the long view by highlighting how extraordinary the transformation of U.S.-India relations actually has been in light of their complicated history -- and why the U.S. strategic bet on India, and India's on America, remains smart policy for the long term, despite short-term disappointments.
Recall the context in which U.S. and Indian officials, nearly 15 years ago, sought to forge a new relationship. For half a century, the American and Indian governments were alienated by India's refusal to sign on as one of Washington's Cold War allies; by the U.S. military alliance with Indian rival Pakistan, forged in 1954; and later by America's tacit alliance with Indian rival China, countered by India's tacit alliance with Moscow. Following wars with both Pakistan and China, India launched a covert nuclear weapons program, leading the United States to muster its allies to impose sweeping sanctions on technology trade with India -- further stifling its development after state socialism had already undercut India's growth potential. Even after the Cold War, Washington and New Delhi spent the 1990s feuding over proliferation, culminating in the imposition of even more U.S. sanctions following India's1998 nuclear weapons test.
It was Indian, not American, leaders who then suggested that India and the United States should break from a half-century of discord to transform their relations for a new era. According to its leaders, India had tested nuclear weapons in response to existential threats from China and the ally it had helped to develop nuclear weapons, Pakistan. India was the world's largest democracy, and its people had friendly views towards the United States. Converging threat perceptions and common values meant that India and the United States were in fact "natural allies," according to then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. They should forge a partnership to manage the dangers of the 21st century and to amplify the strengths of the world's biggest open and pluralistic societies. President Clinton's unprecedented support for India over Pakistan in their near-war of 1999, followed by his 2000 trip to India in which he echoed Vajpayee's call for an alliance of interests and values, made possible the breakthroughs that came later.
India's change of administrations in 2004 did not change New Delhi's support for developing a new partnership with the United States. Nonetheless, Bush administration officials who worked with both Indian governments faced a stark challenge. Not only did the Indian and U.S. bureaucracies have no tradition of working together, but the international sanctions regime the United States had put in place following India's 1974 "peaceful" nuclear explosion remained in place. Then-State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow called this legacy the "Gordian knot" which statesmen in Washington and New Delhi somehow had to untie in order to forge an enduring foundation for a transformed partnership.
The answer was the 2005 U.S.-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement. Under its terms, India would separate its civilian and its military nuclear reactors, submit the former to international monitoring, make a series of binding commitments not to proliferate nuclear materials or technologies, and in return secure the support of the U.S.-led international cartel governing trade in civilian nuclear components for India's access to these materials on the international market. The judgment of not just the Bush administration but of the United States Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers' Group was that the nuclear non-proliferation regime would be stronger if India were a part of it on these terms -- rather than remaining excluded and untethered as a nuclear weapons state not bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
For all the attention garnered by the civilian-nuclear agreement, the first long-term partnership agreement between Washington and New Delhi was actually a 10-year defense cooperation agreement signed in June 2005. Most countries without a long history of partnership begin their engagement with trade and diplomatic agreements and only after building trust move on to military cooperation. The opposite held true between the United States and India, in part because of the compelling security threats -- from China, Pakistan, and terrorism -- that drew them together. The defense agreement was a particularly radical step for India to take -- having allied with the United States' primary competitor during the Cold War and condemned America's military primacy in the international system throughout the 1990s, Indian leaders decided by the mid-2000s that the United States was the partner of choice in helping to modernize the Indian military and supply the needs of the world' biggest arms importer.
The success of U.S. and Indian policy from 1998-2008 lay in creating a transformed basis for relations between the world's largest democracies for the new century. The United States would secure not an ally but an independent partner that could help anchor an Asian balance of power otherwise at risk from growing Chinese strength. Washington would be able to point to India's model of democratic development as an alternative to the "Beijing consensus" of authoritarian development that otherwise might appeal to swathes of the developing world. The complementarities between America's hi-tech economy and India's rich human capital would spur growth in both countries. India would secure as a sponsor for its rise and development the international system's predominant power. This seemed like a good bargain from the vantage point of 2008. It remains one today, despite the fact that both India and America have disappointed each other on several key issues over the past three years. These will be the subject of my next post.
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Trilateral dialogues come in many forms. Those that mix allies with competitors can have the deleterious consequences of diminishing like-mindedness for the sake of inclusivity. More successful trialogues combine like-minded countries that can bring capabilities to bear in ways that cut across national and regional divides, creating an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the rhetoric surrounding the U.S. "pivot" to Asia was the perception that Washington, even as it intensified its commitment to trans-Pacific leadership, was pivoting away from Europe, home to its historic allies. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell is working hard to correct that interpretation and transcend regional divides -- by leading a U.S. push to coordinate with Europe on Asia in unprecedented ways.
As he told the Trilateral Forum Tokyo organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Tokyo Foundation today, there are enormous opportunities for the Atlantic allies to work together in a structured, systematic way in rising Asia. These include:
Burma, where a historic political opening can be constructively encouraged (and where backsliding on liberalization can be deterred) through close coordination between the United States and the European Union, including via a graduated loosening of the sanctions that helped spur Burma's military government to opt for managed political change -- and where the allies can bring to bear lessons learned in Europe (for instance, in the Balkans) to support Burma's fragile process of ethnic reconciliation.
China, where U.S. and European concerns over issues like human rights, protection of intellectual property, and rule of law are convergent, and where the West wields much more leverage than commonly understood as a result of being China's dominant trade and investment partners.
Asian institution-building, where no one can teach Asian nations with only a superficial history of multilateral cooperation more about how to build durable and robust regional institutions in the fields of security, trade and investment, and transnational governance.
Security issues, where Europeans have not been pivotal players since the days of gunboat imperialism a century ago, but where a more global Europe must step up its game as competition among Asia's rising and established powers creates dangerous security dilemmas that threaten international security and prosperity.
This is more than just talk: American and European officials now meet regularly on an Asia-specific agenda; the United States and the EU have agreed to roll out a new mechanism for transatlantic cooperation on Asia at the next ASEAN Regional Forum summit this summer. This is an initiative that should be welcomed by Asian officials who overwhelmingly believe Europe punches below its weight in Asia, despite the resilience of European power and ideas in the world, deep economic ties, and the increasingly global impact of developments across the Indo-Pacific region.
The reality is that for too many European nations -- and for too many European Union officials -- China trade policy has been a substitute for an all-of-Asia strategy that encompasses the full spectrum of Western interests and leverages Western ties to powers of great significance, including Japan, South Korea, India, and Indonesia. For their part, American officials until recently have given little creative thought to connecting the two alliance systems that the United States has built and nurtured for 60 years, spanning the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, into a more global arrangement that transcends bureaucratic stovepipes constructed for another era.
Asia's rise is a global phenomenon, not simply a regional one: to take just one example, consider how China's rise affects global energy markets, global governance, and developments in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. At the same time, military modernization and intensifying competition within Asia -- between Japan and China, North and South Korea, and India and China, for instance -- implicates Western powers with deep ties to Tokyo, Seoul, New Delhi, and Beijing.
Power shifts within Asia promise to displace existing balances in ways that will require the United States, to sustain its leadership, to secure every advantage it can in a more fluid environment by working with its friends, many of whom are in Europe. From the Asian perspective, every key power has a compelling stake in Europe's ability to emerge from its sovereign debt crisis and restore economic growth. Despite wishful thinking about decoupling between the West and the rest, the global economy cannot grow sustainably as long as Europe, a primary market for and source of Asian trade and investment, is in the grip of recession.
Given the overlapping interests of Asian and Western democracies, it only makes sense to coordinate much more systematically, rather than relying on a set of outdated regional toolkits unadapted to a more globalized century. Similarly, to the extent that China is both a top economic partner and top security concern for so many countries, it only makes sense for them to use their combined influence to manage relations with Beijing from a position of strength -- rather than succumb to a more national approach that will disadvantage every country that cannot alone match China's clout.
For these reasons, the U.S. State Department's effort to bridge that Atlantic and Pacific communities, if matched by seriousness in European and Asian capitals, promises to pay dividends for Western interests in a more non-Western world.
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North Korea's apparently imminent test-launch of another ballistic missile brings an unwelcome complication to the Obama administration's overflowing inboxes. It highlights yet again the perpetual dilemma posed by the Kim regime: Whether you ignore it or engage it, North Korea invariably misbehaves. For all of the debates over U.S. policy, ultimately the main driver of North Korean behavior is not how the U.S. acts but rather the perverse nature of the Pyongyang regime itself.
Even though the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs are in separate regions of the world, they share some linkages and reciprocal influences. In Pyongyang's case, the newest incarnation of the Kim dynasty does not like losing global attention to Tehran, and appears to be returning to its customary patterns of bluster and brinksmanship in part to recapture global headlines and increase its leverage in potential future negotiations with the U.S. Domestic politics no doubt play a role as well, as Kim Jong Un seeks to consolidate his hold on power and place himself in continuity with the legacies of his father and grandfather. From Tehran's perspective, one "lesson" from North Korea appears to be that possession of nuclear weapons helps ensure regime survival and increase bargaining leverage, despite international opprobrium.
Both nations' nuclear programs also complicate the Obama administration's planned "pivot" to Asia. I remain worried that the White House's Asia pivot contains a mistaken assumption that treats the Middle East and Asia as distinctly separate regions, subject to zero-sum allocations of American strategic resources. Yet as the administration weighs its limited menu of options for North Korea's latest provocation, there is an opportunity to consider potential strategic linkages between how the U.S. responds to North Korea and how it handles the Iran file. At least two possible paths come to mind. Both admittedly have significant downsides, but then what policy doesn't when it comes to North Korea and Iran? As tactically different as each approach is, both represent an effort to consider a strategic linkage between U.S. policy toward North Korea and Iran.
Deterrent Linkage. This would mean the U.S. taking an aggressive response to North Korea's missile test, by throwing a brush-back pitch against Pyongyang and also sending a deterrent message to Tehran about American resolve and willingness to use force. Specifically, this could entail an attack on the North Korean Unha-3 missile while on the launch pad, or intercepting it after the launch in its boost phase. Bill Perry and Ashton Carter called for such a strike before North Korea's 2006 test, and Philip Zelikow laid out the case for a similar measure in 2009. Numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions (such as 1695, 1718, and 1874) have declared the illegality of North Korea's ballistic missile program, and such a strike could be justified on self-defense grounds by the U.S. and treaty allies such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
A strike is of course a dramatic step that carries significant risks. The most significant is the potential for North Korean retaliation and escalation, but other risks include an embarrassing "miss" if the attack fails, heightened tensions with China, potential discord with South Korea if the Lee government disapproves, not to mention a further emboldening of Iran. On the other hand, if successful such an attack could serve as a strategic game-changer with implications in both Northeast Asia and the Middle East. Benefits could include restraining further North Korean provocations and bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table in better faith, diminishing China's virtually unqualified support for North Korea, and increasing Tehran's openness to a negotiated settlement by demonstrating that the U.S. mantra of "all options are on the table" is a credible threat.
Bargaining Linkage. If the Obama administration takes a less confrontational approach to North Korea's missile test (by, say, a ritual sternly-worded condemnation and perhaps yet another UNSC resolution), it could still be done in a way that creates linkage with the Iran issue. Given the limited options and risks of an aggressive North Korean response, this might be the more prudent path. If so, the White House should at least use its restraint with Pyongyang to increase its bargaining leverage with Beijing -- and thus potentially gain a strategic benefit in pressing Iran. This could mean quietly communicating to Beijing that the U.S. has considered but rejected the option of striking the North Korean missile, in part out of deference to China's preferences for a soft approach to its unruly ally. In return, the U.S. secures from China a commitment to publicly support increased sanctions pressure on Iran, in word and practice.
This approach also carries risks. China may be unwilling to credit American restraint on North Korea as a concession, and may likewise be unwilling to depart from its opposition to tightened sanctions on Iran. Pyongyang and Tehran might both perceive the lack of a strong response to the missile test as further evidence that nuclear adventurism ultimately has little cost (especially if Pyongyang follows up the missile launch with another nuclear test). But this path is also an opportunity for the U.S. to at least try to increase its bargaining leverage with Iran, by persuading China to see our restraint on North Korea as a trade-off rather than a giveaway.
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In my last post, I argued that evaluating progress in our war with al Qaeda is possible, but that we must first answer a series of questions, beginning with "What is al Qaeda?" In this post, I'll look at the second issue -- the problem of al Qaeda's objectives in their war. Only by understanding what the group aspires to achieve can we determine if they have succeeded in attaining their goals or not. As with the issue of defining al Qaeda, there are a variety of opinions within the expert community and the government about the group's strategic vision, a term that includes both objectives and plans for achieving them. Consistently, however, the U.S. government -- including both the Bush and Obama administrations -- has concluded that carrying out terrorist attacks on the U.S. and our allies is the key objective for "core" al Qaeda, while the affiliates are focused on local agendas (although they now also desire to carry out attacks on the U.S.).
There are, however, hints in official U.S. statements of quite a different set of objectives for the group. The declassified part of an April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), for instance, asserts that al Qaeda's political goal is an "ultra-conservative interpretation of sharia-based governance spanning the Muslim world." In 2010, an official statement for the record of then-DNI Dennis Blair, listed the objectives for al Qaeda, besides attacking the U.S. and its allies, as "driving Western influence from Islamic lands" and "facilitating the establishment of sharia law in South Asia." A speech by John Brennan in 2011 gives a detailed look at how the U.S. defines al Qaeda's goals, proposing four separate objectives: first, to terrorize the U.S. into retreating from the world stage; second, to use long wars to financially bleed the U.S. while inflaming anti-American sentiment; third, to defend the rights of Muslims; and finally, claims al Qaeda has "a feckless delusion" and "grandiose vision" for global domination through a "violent Islamic caliphate."
A look at the public and private statements of al Qaeda's leaders supports the view that the group seeks to achieve far more than simply attacking the U.S. and its allies. In multiple statements, leaders like Zawahiri have consistently presented a series of objectives that al Qaeda is actively pursuing: liberating all "Muslim lands" from occupation by both non-Muslims and "apostate" rulers; imposing their version of sharia (Islamic law) on Muslims and non-Muslims alike in these lands; erecting then a state that they call the "caliphate;" and eventually making God's word the highest. This phrase, which means many things to Muslims, signifies just one thing for the extremists: that the entire world is ruled by their version of sharia.
It is significant that al Qaeda's lists of objectives do not mention attacking the United States or its allies. Rather, attacking the U.S. is presented as a way to achieve these goals, suggesting that U.S. evaluations of al Qaeda's effectiveness have a serious error at their very foundation: a confusion of our enemy's means and ends. The importance of this mistake cannot be understated. If al Qaeda's main goal is to attack the U.S. and our current counter-terrorism (CT) efforts have prevented the group from doing so, then we have succeeded not only in saving lives, but also have found how to stop the terrorists entirely. If, on the other hand, killing Americans was just one of the methods that al Qaeda has been employing on its way to other, larger goals, then our CT work might have only partially thwarted the group and there might be other areas where they have been more successful in reaching their goals.
In my next post, I'll take a look at the objectives that al Qaeda has said that it is pursuing, and attempt to bring some clarity to the question of how well the group has been doing in achieving them.
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The president did not surprise. He is a powerful speaker, and he showed it yet again in his State of the Union address. His voice was at its most resonant when he wrapped himself in the flag and milked the Bin Laden operation for all it was worth. But there really wasn't very much behind the high flown rhetoric.
President Obama bashed the Chinese on trade, but said nary a word about their military buildup. He claimed that America's commitment to Israel's security was "ironclad" -- he repeated the term -- but made no reference to how his less-than-amicable relationship with Israel's prime minister would foster that security, nor why his standing with the people of that country is lower than that of every president since Jimmy Carter. He claimed that our alliances were stronger than ever, but glossed over the fact that there is deep unease in Europe over the administration's much ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia. As for that pivot, to which the president did refer, it currently amounts to the redeployment, on a rotating basis, of a grand total of 2,500 Marines to Australia.
President Obama asserted that America's influence worldwide was greater than ever, overlooking negative opinion polls throughout the Arab world and South Asia. He made only a passing reference to Latin America (counting Rio among other world capitals -- did he or his speechwriters forget Brasilia?). And he made none at all to Canada, whose pipeline he undermined only the other week.
The president said very little about his defense budget cuts. He did not explain how America would retain all its commitments worldwide with a shrunken force that his own secretary of defense has lamented. He did not, of course, note that defense is paying for half the deficit reduction while its budget constitutes a fifth of all federal spending each year, when off-budget entitlements are counted, as they should be.
The mark of a great speaker and of a great debater is the ability to gloss over uncomfortable facts while blowing more favorable ones out of proportion. But great speakers and great debaters are not necessarily great presidents. President Obama is certainly a great speaker and a great debater; on national security in particular, however, he has thus far into his term of office fallen far short of being a great president, or, for that matter, even a particularly good one.
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I just returned from my third trip to India in four years. Every time I am struck by its confidence facing an ever more integrated world. Retaining relatively high growth rates, India has been relatively unscathed by the financial crisis. India's confidence about its future comes from a number of factors, including the success of the India diaspora across the globe and its definitive break with failed Indian- style socialism in the early 1990s. They have signed on to a model of development that requires increasing openness and they see the U.S.as a key partner.
The United States and India have many shared interests and much of the credit goes to former President Bush for successfully "resetting" the India relationship. After visiting Brazil and Russia in the last three months for a project at my day job, I conclude that a new President will have a most willing partner in India and a most able partner in Russia.
I met with senior officials of the U.S. and Indian governments, leaders in the NGO sector, and think tank scholars who were all very openly pro US. It was refreshing after meeting with Brazilians and Russians with a laundry list of "issues" about the U.S. relationship. The U.S.-India relationship benefits from the best "atmospherics" of the three. One senior Indian official described the United States as the "greatest country in the world" without hyperbole or sarcasm. These are people with whom we can do A LOT of business.
Some facts to think about as we look to the 2012 election:
The opportunities with India are immense and our assistance and other cooperation programs need to radically reposition our relatively small amounts of foreign aid away from social service delivery to a number of smaller catalytic activities that leverage Indian expertise, deepen the institutional relationships between the two countries, and export India expertise and innovation to third countries in line with Indian aspirations as a global player. USAID and the State Department have started to make some steps, but need to take much more aggressive steps over the next several years. It will be hard to justify an annual foreign aid program in India as it becomes wealthier, but there are a large number of opportunities to work together with India requiring small and shrinking amounts of foreign assistance over time.
A new Republican administration would do well to heed the following:
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The Taliban succeeded in downing an American helicopter a few days ago, killing 30 American soldiers and seven Afghans. It is the costliest single engagement of our war in Afghanistan. Their deaths will likely occasion renewed questioning of the mission in Afghanistan; this is both right and proper. For the best way to honor the sacrifice our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines make for us is to be extraordinarily stingy with their lives and to make the purposes for which they died worth the cost to our country.
Generally, when our military talks about the war dead, they do not use the terminology of lives lost. That gives too little honor to the dead. Our military describes their dead as having sacrificed their lives. It is a poignant distinction, emphasizing that the men and women in our military volunteer for service. They are not required to put their lives at risk. They choose to risk their lives for us.
We have a tendency now, when less than 1 percent of Americans are in military service, to treat them either as pitiable victims or as our society's avengers. The victim caricature comes through media focus on casualties rather than stories of the vast majority of veterans who are proud of their service and living normal lives. It comes through in shameful condescension like Senator Kerry suggesting our warriors are in the military because being poorly educated, they have no alternative.
The other extreme is the lionization of service members as comic book heroes rather than men and women we all know and can relate to. By casting them as impossibly strong and virtuous it makes them different from us. It excuses the rest of us from making our contributions.
The men and women of America's military are heroes, but mostly not in the leaps-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound variety; instead they demonstrate the everyday heroism of doing what needs doing.
Our military go out on missions day after deadly day in Afghanistan. The fight in Helmand and now in the east of Afghanistan is especially fierce. Violence has increased, as should be expected when the enemy is determined, as they are, and we are pressing into their territorial strongholds, as we are.
The most appropriate way for us to honor their sacrifice is to appreciate that they risked their lives purposefully and to make those purposes worth all they paid for us. Lives risked and sacrificed are only part of the right way to judge war aims. We must consider not just costs, but also what the cost achieves. Capturing Iwo Jima cost our country more than 26,000 American casualties, 6,800 dead in the course of the battle. As tragic as those numbers are -- and the individual griefs they represent -- it was necessary to winning the war in the Pacific.
There will be a temptation as we discuss the war in Afghanistan to weigh only the costs, and not the purposes. This is both bad analysis and bad memorializing. The 30 American servicemen killed in the recent helicopter crash -- like the other 90,000 Americans and 43,000 allies fighting in Afghanistan -- were doing very dangerous work for a reason, and that reason was to make our country safe. We owe them not just sorrow but determination. Determination to see the fight through. Determination to make competent the "whole of government operations" on which our strategy depends. Determination to find another way to achieve our aims if the current course won't succeed or a less costly way can be found.
Abraham Lincoln put it best, writing of "the solemn pride that must be yours to have placed so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom." As we mourn our dead, honor them by always making the reasons they risk their lives worth the cost.
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In addressing despotic regimes, President Obama tends to pose a question and a challenge: we know what you are against, now tell us what you are for. Now, as he prepares to deliver a major address on the Middle East, the same question might be posed to the president when it comes to U.S. policy in the region. Whether or not his speech is deemed a success will depend on how convincingly he answers this challenge.
When President Obama took office, it seemed clear what he was for in the Middle East. In Cairo in June 2009 he outlined his objectives. Featuring prominently among them were progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, easing the mutual mistrust between the United States and Iran through dialogue and engagement; withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq; and improving U.S. standing amongst Arab publics.
Almost immediately after the speech was delivered, the reality of Middle Eastern politics intervened. Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran on June 12 to protest a rigged presidential election, and were brutalized by the very regime President Obama hoped to engage. The U.S. response, which seemed to coldly prioritize negotiations with Iran's rulers over empathy with its embattled populace, was starkly at odds with the tone of the Cairo speech.
Since then, the president's initial agenda in the region has foundered, and many of the assumptions that informed his initial approach have proven mistaken. Engagement with Iran is not only no silver bullet, it is not new -- every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has reached out to Tehran, all with disappointing results. Moving forward on Israeli-Palestinian peace requires that Washington win the trust of both parties. Instead, the trust of both was lost in one fell swoop over a highly public and ultimately unnecessary spat over Israeli settlements.
As for U.S. standing in the Arab world, it turns out, is tied less to comity and more to solidarity, which was in short supply during both the Arab and Iranian uprisings. Our views on Islam globally are less relevant than our impact in the lives of Muslims -- and Christians, Jews, and everyone else -- locally.
These days, as the Middle East is gripped by a wave of historic change, U.S. policy appears at best slow and inconsistent and at worst increasingly irrelevant to events in this vital region. Like those we criticize, we find ourselves at risk of being defined by what we are against. We are against violent extremism, and the death of Osama bin Laden will rightly be touted repeatedly by the president as evidence of U.S. determination in the face of our enemies. We are against rapacious autocracy, but we are also against, more dubiously, U.S. involvement in what the administration has termed "organic" revolutions.
But what exactly are we for? Over the past weeks and months, we have given little indication apart from repeated intonations of our commitment to "universal values" which could apply as easily to the Medicare debate as to the Middle East. In Tunisia and Egypt, we spoke up only when forced by events. In Syria and Iran, we hesitate as regimes ratchet up their repression. Even in Libya, where we have called upon Qaddafi to "go," our military approach stands in curious contrast to our stated policy aims.
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I was on the Diane Rehm show yesterday as part of a panel discussing Afghanistan. All of the questions and comments from the audience and the host boiled down to the same plaintive query: Won't we all be better off if we leave Afghanistan sooner rather than later, faster rather than slower, and doesn't the killing of bin Laden give us the perfect excuse to do so?
Bin Laden's death certainly provides a psychological moment to exit stage left. And Obama's base seems impelled to do so, driven by two somewhat contradictory sentiments.
On the one hand, part of the desire to leave seems predicated on the notion that Afghanistan is a lost cause. We have to get out because we are essentially defeated in the mission goals of defeating al Qaeda and degrading the Taliban down to the point where we can reach a political accommodation with the remnant and thereby stabilize a unified and effectively governing representative central authority in Kabul. The killing of bin Laden doesn't change this basic fact, so the thinking goes, but like a magician's trick it provides enough of a sensational distraction to hide what is essentially a strategic retreat.
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The Washington Post is running a series of articles highlighting failed projects funded by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly $5 billion in funds has been appropriated through the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), which gives military forces in combat money to put toward humanitarian assistance and development projects that advance the war effort, to include reducing unemployment and building support for U.S. objectives. The articles highlight numerous projects that have been abandoned once under the control of the Iraqi and Afghan governments, with the implication that the programs were scandalously wasteful. And that may be right in many cases; but the Post articles also give no context for whether CERP funded projects are more or less successful than other development assistance. Here are three points they ought to have addressed but did not.
No. 1: A project that is abandoned now does not mean it wasn't beneficial.
I realize it's a difficult argument to make that wasted money is a good thing; but CERP funds aim for short term effect in a combat zone. They are not projects for the ages, they are designed to affect the here and now decisions of insurgents and the population that may permit them to operate with impunity. The Post concludes that "have created no more than a temporary illusion of progress," but temporary progress can be vital in creating or sustaining momentum in warfare. If the Iraqi government does not now make a water park (one of the projects) a priority, that does not mean it wasn't a hopeful and useful sign to Iraqis three years ago when we were trying to convey that violence was dramatically down, it was safe for Iraqis to engage in normal pursuits, and our objectives were a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.
No. 2: Development assistance is an inherently speculative undertaking.
What proportion of businesses started here in the United States fail? Add to that the complexities of societies coming out of authoritarian governance or decades of war, developing law and judicial practice while democratizing, and it's not at all surprising that a large number of projects will be abandoned or unsuccessful. If we expect a guaranteed return on investment with our development assistance, we would actually not be assisting development very much. Those projects tend toward large infrastructure guaranteed by local governments, and even those are often rife with corruption and mismanagement. Part of what development assistance does is teach the practices of capitalism, and failure is a part of capitalism, so we should not balk at failed attempts.
No. 3: The U.S. military is not particularly good at development assistance.
It's not their job. They will optimize funding to projects that advance their war fighting objectives, predominantly near-term security. To make the military good at development assistance, as Carl Schramm has advocated in his Expeditionary Economics article in Foreign Affairs, would require a major diversion of effort from fighting and winning the country's wars. We actually have a branch of the U.S. government whose job it is to provide assistance; that would be the Agency for International Development. The real disappointment of so much money being channeled through CERP is that our government proved incapable of working together to prioritize and fund both near-term and long-term assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan when they are essential to our war efforts.
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President Obama had a good year in Asia in 2010. It featured a more realistic China policy, a breakthrough visit to India, the shelving of an irritating base dispute with Japan, a surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan that is creating results, intensification of a successful drone campaign against terrorists in Pakistan, and closer cooperation with key Southeast Asian nations. But challenges loom: China's growing assertiveness, mercantilistic trade policy, and development of anti-access capabilities that erode U.S. deterrence commitments in Asia; North Korean belligerence; Burmese repression and proliferation; and the continuing weakness of the Afghan and Pakistani states. How can President Obama counteract these trends in the new year while building on previous successes?
1.Implement a long-range strategy to sustain U.S. primacy in Asia in the face of China's challenge.
This means diversifying U.S. military-access and basing rights beyond Japan and Korea, deepening missile defense collaboration with these and other countries (including Taiwan), building up naval power in the Pacific and Indian oceans, and investing in next-generation technologies to counteract asymmetric Chinese weapons systems. With sustained commitment and smart investments, the United States is well-positioned to sustain its military edge in Asia, in part because nearly all regional powers find it reassuring and want to enable rather than constrain it. The harder work may be at home: decisively investing in the domestic reforms that liberate the United States to shape a new century, rather than wallowing in growing indebtedness and domestic discord.
2. Invest in the rise of key countervailing Asian powers that can contribute public goods of stability and security.
This includes prodding Japan, with its enormous but latent military and technological capabilities, to act on its new defense guidelines to become a "normal country" that is a net security provider in Asia; investing further in India's ascent to the top tier of global powers and partners; and working with Indonesia and Vietnam to develop the means to contribute to regional stability while maintaining their independence vis-à-vis their giant neighbor. It also means incorporating Russia into the Asian strategic equation in ways that reinforce common interests in sustaining the balance of power.
3. Unite the democracies.
Concern about China is accelerating the development of an array of minilateral groupings among regional democracies. These include U.S.-Japan-Australia, U.S.-Japan-Korea, and U.S.-Japan-India trilaterals as well as new security pacts between Japan and India, Japan and Australia, Australia and India, and India and South Korea. In the meantime, all these countries are working to forge closer strategic ties with Indonesia, a next-generation BRIC. An infrastructure of democratic security cooperation could help deter proliferation from problem states like North Korea and Burma, incentivize China's peaceful rise, and secure increasingly contested maritime commons.
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The Obama administration had a relatively good year in Asia (relative, that is, to its disastrous first year), but it still must follow up and break bad habits, as my colleague and former State Department official Randy Schriver likes to say. They stood up to China's bullying in the South China Sea, declaring that freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes are American "core interests." They finally signed the most significant free trade agreement since NAFTA, with South Korea. When President Obama went to India he removed barriers to high-technology exports and pressed for more business-to-business ties. In Indonesia, he signed a number of agreements that should help both trade and defense relations. The administration accepted an invitation to the East Asia Summit, which is very important to Southeast Asians and will make it easier to forge lasting bonds in the region.
Now for the critique. The administration seems ready to go wobbly on North Korea, and in the process China. It has shifted from supporting whatever tough measures President Lee Myung-bak wanted to take to nudging him back to the failed six-party talks and congratulating China for its diplomacy in getting North Korea to signal agreement to talk. This is the worst of the bad habits in Asia we must break. The North did not just test a missile this time; they twice killed South Koreans in cold blood last year. No president can allow his people to be killed without responding. We seem not to understand that. The first task for the U.S. and South Korea is to re-establish deterrence, which could well mean proportionate retaliation against the North.
Instead, we are falling back on the same old failed patterns. The North commits an act of aggression and eventually China urges their ally back to the table. Washington then falls over itself complimenting China for its diplomatic skill. This will not get the North to denuclearize or stop its aggression. And it is dangerous. North Korea can continue to commit acts of war with impunity while China simply looks the other way. It will only lead to more attacks on South Korea and is more likely to lead to conflict -- South Korea will eventually have to strike back. Instead, we should thank China very much for its efforts, cut Beijing out of any future talks we wish to have with North Korea, re-establish deterrence, and implement a number of coercive measures against the North to rebuild our negotiating leverage. Not only would direct talks backed up by coercion put us in a more powerful position with North Korea, if carefully orchestrated with our allies, but China might fear being excluded from future arrangements on the peninsula and pressure its friends in Pyongyang to abide by international rules.
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I am not as sure as my Shadow Government colleague Paul Miller is that the Obama administration's decision to publicly endorse India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council was so laudable.
The problem is not in offering the quid. As I argued earlier, this is actually a clever concession to give to India. The problem is in the quo. What did we get for this?
Surely, the administration did not give our support in exchange for the modest trade deals President Obama signed? We have some very serious "asks" of the Indians on urgent national security matters: helping ease Pakistan's paranoia in Afghanistan and helping ratchet up pressure on Iran. Did the administration get anything from India on those issues? If we did not get any firm commitments in advance, is the hope that making this preemptive gift will win us subsequent favor?
Until I hear satisfactory answers to these questions, I am going to remain skeptical about this deal. I am glad the trip made the administration focus on the importance of the Indian file. But we still have not seen as much progress as needed in forging a real, action-oriented, results-oriented strategic relationship.
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The biggest disappointment of President Barack Obama's Asia trip was his failure to strike an agreement on the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement in Seoul. His biggest success was his embrace of a transformative partnership with India. The president can now claim ownership of a relationship that has been on the rocks since he took office, and he deserves considerable credit for arguing that India's rise and success as a future democratic superpower is a core interest of the United States.
The president's vision of a far-reaching partnership with India -- to manage global diplomatic and security challenges, tie the two countries together in a mutually beneficial economic embrace, and promote freedom and rule of law in Asia and beyond -- was bracing. Obama's warm reception by the Indian parliament, commentariat, and public bodes well for future ties between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies.
In New Delhi, Obama made a strong case for strengthening Indo-U.S. ties -- and to create an "indispensable" partnership that would help define the course of the 21st century:
Now, India is not the only emerging power in the world. But the relationship between our countries is unique. For we are two strong democracies whose constitutions begin with the same revolutionary words -- the same revolutionary words -- "We the people." We are two great republics dedicated to the liberty and justice and equality of all people. And we are two free market economies where people have the freedom to pursue ideas and innovation that can change the world. And that's why I believe that India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time… The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality… [P]romoting shared prosperity, preserving peace and security, strengthening democratic governance and human rights -- these are the responsibilities of leadership. And as global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century.
Obama's expressed ambitions for Indo-U.S. ties came just in time to check a growing chorus in Washington of pessimism toward the relationship. Most prominent among the skeptics is George Perkovich, the esteemed vice president for studies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose foundational book on India's development of nuclear weapons was an inspiration for this author, and many others, to embrace the study of India. Dr. Perkovich was an India expert long before it was popular, so his arguments carry great weight. That is why his recent Carnegie report arguing that India cannot be the partner the United States wants it to be -- and that ambitions of the kind Obama expressed for the relationship are actually harmful to it -- deserves attention.
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Within a week of suffering the biggest midterm drubbing in generations, President Barack Obama will depart on a trip to India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. How the president handles this trip will speak volumes about how he sees his agenda for the next two years and how much of an international president he really is.
The first test will be whether he takes the trip at all. Democratic Party strategists and other influential pundits have already begun questioning why he would go abroad and let Republicans seize the narrative at the most crucial point in his presidency. On CNN, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, David Gergen, warned the White House against making the same mistake Clinton made when he went abroad in the wake of Republican midterm victories in November 1994. Will they cancel? The president has already put off previously scheduled trips to India and Indonesia because of domestic political developments. On the other hand, the White House likes to claim this is the first "Pacific president," because Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii (though other presidents like William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy had plenty of experience in the Pacific as well, of course), and that the United States is "back" in Asia (though commentators across the region are asking when the United States ever left). All of this spin -- the first "Pacific president" and the "we're back in Asia" mantra -- would go flying out the window if the president cancelled his trip. Clinton was right not to cancel his international travel in 1994 -- it would have made the presidency appear even weaker. That would have been disastrous politics and worse geostrategy. So odds are pretty good that the president will go on the trip (fingers crossed).
The next test will be how the president handles ten days of hounding from the press about electoral defeats while he is in Asia. And the press will hound -- no doubt about it. Maybe if North Korea fires artillery across the DMZ during the G-20 summit in Seoul or China attacks the Senkaku Islands while the president is in Japan, the press corps might be distracted from domestic U.S. politics to focus briefly on international events. Or maybe the president will dig deep into his oratorical tool box to help shift the media's focus to U.S. interests in Asia -- the continent projected to contribute 60 percent of global GDP in our lifetime. He will have real occasion to look presidential again if he avoids the trivia of fact sheets and joint statements and presents a vision for international U.S. leadership. The visit to Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim nation and one that proves Islam and democracy coexist-- could be a moment for articulating a real message about the compatibility of democratic values and Muslim faith. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama would be the place to remind Americans that over 50 percent of our trade is with this dynamic region, and that the United States can and must compete. The stops in India, Japan and Korea would be the right settings for explaining why investing in our strategic partnerships and alliances will pay dividends in terms of tackling the challenges we face internationally. The president must not re-fight the midterm, appear defensive, or make the narrative about himself (the last of these being the default narrative of the White House on foreign trips thus far). He must ignore what John McCain would call the "ground noise" and talk about the United States and Asia. The press might just listen. The region certainly will.
The third test will be on trade. If there is one area where the White House should be able to work with a more Republican Congress, it is on trade. And if there is one policy area Asia is watching to see if Washington is committed, it's trade. The president has said that he wants the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) ready to present to Congress (again) by the end of the year, but the administration has done no heavy lifting to get to that point (all the action has been aimed at pressing the Koreans to make further compromises). Fair enough -- there were elections coming up, and it may have been unrealistic to expect a Democratic White House to take on its labor union base when turnout was so critical to their electoral strategy. This trip is the time to demonstrate not only the hope that KORUS will be introduced this year, but the intention to do so in partnership with Republicans willing to work for its passage. It would set a tone that Asia would welcome and that Americans desiring more bipartisanship in Washington would be thankful for.
The president's Asia trip should not be seen by the White House as an unfortunate distraction, but instead as a real test of presidential leadership -- one that will help the president and the country if he approaches it the right way.
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President Barack Obama and his advisors formulated their Afghan policy almost exclusively to achieve one goal: deny safe haven to al Qaeda, according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. Counterterrorism is an important goal, but the administration seems to believe it is the only goal. This is a seriously myopic vision of U.S. national security interests. We have a much broader range of interests at stake in Afghanistan and South Asia. The administration's failure to understand them goes a long way to explain why it settled on a half-hearted strategy in Afghanistan.
So why are we fighting?
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The Center for a New American Security has just released an important report laying out a concrete vision and action agenda for the future of U.S.-India relations. Co-chaired by former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, and guided by CNAS senior fellow Richard Fontaine, the study group (on which I served) that produced the report seeks to provide a blueprint for the Obama administration as it considers how to reinvigorate relations with India, which have drifted over the past 22 months. As the report puts it:
The transformation of U.S. ties with New Delhi over the past 10 years, led by Presidents Clinton and Bush, stands as one of the most significant triumphs of recent American foreign policy. It has also been a bipartisan success… Many prominent Indians and Americans, however, now fear this rapid expansion of ties has stalled. Past projects remain incomplete, few new ideas have been embraced by both sides, and the forward momentum that characterized recent cooperation has subsided. The Obama administration has taken significant steps to break through this inertia, including with its Strategic Dialogue this spring and President Obama's planned state visit to India in November 2010. Yet there remains a sense among observers in both countries that this critical relationship is falling short of its promise.
The stakes are high: the United States has a compelling interest in facilitating democratic India's emergence as a global power to help shape a world order conducive to our common interests and values. More particularly, as the report notes, U.S. interests in strengthening ties with India are premised on:
- Ensuring a stable Asian and global balance of power.
- Strengthening an open global trading system.
- Protecting and preserving access to the global commons.
- Countering terrorism and violent extremism.
- Ensuring access to secure global energy resources.
- Bolstering the international nonproliferation regime.
- Promoting democracy and human rights.
- Fostering greater stability, security and economic prosperity in South Asia, including in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
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A series of bomb scares and plots in Europe -- combined with a stepped-up campaign against jihadists in Pakistan -- reminds us once again of the threat posed by al Qaeda and the groups that support its ideology.
Let's start with Europe where France, perhaps because of its vote to ban the Islamic veil in public, has become a special target for the extremists. The bomb scares began on Sept. 14, when a Metro station and the Eiffel Tower were evacuated, and have continued since then with three further evacuations of both Metro stations and the Eiffel Tower, the last of which occurred just yesterday. France's security threat warning was raised to "reinforced red," the second highest possible level, and French officials announced that they were searching for a female suicide bomber who might attempt to attack public transportation. Counterterrorism officials in France linked the threats to al Qaeda's branch in North Africa (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghab, or AQIM) as well as to sleeper cells in France that were activated by extremists arriving from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.