Tag: geopolitics

Are US Interests At Stake in Egypt and Syria?

Steve Walt asked a great question the other day:  Are U.S. Interests Really at Stake in Egypt, Syria, etc…?  In posing the question, he cited a recent comment from Brendan Green, a visiting professor at the LBJ School at the University of Texas-Austin:

“Pre-2011, if you said that Mubarak would fall, that Egypt would experience a mass political mobilization that destroyed its political order several times over, that the streets of Cairo would run red with blood; that 100,000 would die in Syria, that the Levant would be aflame; that the entire region would start to conduct much of its politics on sectarian grounds, and that there would be no end in sight, I think most people would have told you the proposed situation would be disastrous for American interests. Certainly it would be disastrous for American influence in the region. And yet, are we really worse off than we were in 2010? By what metric?”

Walt followed up with:

…I thought his basic comment was brilliant. If something as momentous, turbulent, and bloody as the “Arab Spring” can erupt and fester for several years, and yet have hardly any observable impact on the life expectancy or economic well-being of the overwhelming majority of Americans, what does that tell you about the true scope of “vital U.S. interests?”

I think this is a fascinating question.  But I don’t think it should be left hanging as a rhetorical question.

A couple of things strike me.   Continue reading


Podcast No. 18: Interview with Stefano Guzzini

guzzini_sThe eighteenth Duck of Minerva podcast features Stefano Guzzini of the Danish Institute for International Studies and Uppsala University . Professor Guzzini discusses, among other things his intellectual and educational background, his important work on power in international affairs, realism, and geopolitics.

This podcast is a bit more “bare bones” than usual. I didn’t put in introductory remarks; I have not produced an m4a version at this time. The file located here is the mp3 version. Explanation: I am bit pressed for time right now.

I should reiterate important change to procedures. From now on, the Minervacast feed will host mp3 versions of the podcasts. The whiteoliphaunt feed will host m4a versions of the podcast [note: see earlier remarks about the m4a version of this podcast]. Unless I hear otherwise, we will continue this approach into the foreseeable future.

Continue reading


Sino-Russian Tensions and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Alex Cooley — whose book on power-political competition in Central Asia is due out soon — had an interesting op-ed in Friday’s New York Times. He argues that the apparent success of the 12th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit masks ongoing Sino-Russian tensions in the region:

Since the financial crisis, China has displaced Russia as Central Asia’s leading trading partner, and Beijing would welcome using the S.C.O. framework to further boost regional economic integration and investment. But both Russia and the Central Asian countries fear the political repercussions of Beijing’s growing economic weight. 

China’s pledge to provide a $10 billion loan under S.C.O. auspices for the development of regional infrastructure is actually a replay of a similar offer it made in 2009 to establish an S.C.O.-backed anti-crisis fund. Back then, Moscow refused to co-fund the loan and worked behind the scenes to block China’s disbursal of the funds, fearing that such lending would undermine its position in the region. Meanwhile, Moscow is also pushing its own Eurasian Union and trying to expand its own Customs Union into Central Asia. 

Similarly, Beijing’s pledge to offer 30,000 government scholarships and train 1,000 teachers for the Confucius centers sprouting up throughout Central Asia clearly undermines the soft-power monopoly that Russia traditionally has enjoyed. 

China’s recent achievements in the region’s energy sphere are also causing concern in Moscow. Since the opening of the China-Central Asia gas pipeline in December 2009, gas from Turkmenistan has started to flow eastward, away from the old Soviet-era network controlled by Russia. It will soon be joined by gas from Uzbekistan. A third pipeline to China is now being constructed, and an additional spur originating in Kazakhstan is also planned. 

Worse still for Moscow, Beijing is now using the cheaper prices it agreed upon with its new Central Asian suppliers as leverage in its pricing negotiations with Russia’s Gazprom for major new contracts. 

The issue of Afghanistan also reveals critical differences, despite the admission of Afghanistan as an S.C.O. observer. China has proposed enhancing the role of the S.C.O. during NATO’s drawdown from Afghanistan, but eschews any actual military involvement and is most interested in aiding reconstruction and the training of Afghans to safeguard its own multibillion dollar investments, including a $3.5 billion outlay in the Aynak copper mine in Logar province. 

Russia prefers to use the drawdown to expand the reach of the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization in order to reestablish a presence on the Tajik-Afghan border and deepen its control over the Central Asian militaries, all under the mantra of regional counterterrorism and counternarcotic efforts. And S.C.O. member Uzbekistan adamantly resists increasing the roles of either the S.C.O. or the C.S.T.O., preferring its own plan for Afghanistan.

Finally, the thorny question of the S.C.O.’s membership expansion also divides the core members. No new member was admitted at the summit, and none is likely to be in the near future. Russia would prefer to expand the organization so as to dilute Beijing’s leading influence and is especially keen on supporting India’s membership bid. But China is wary of allowing a regional rival full-blown membership and so has devised an elaborate set of accession rules and technical criteria that it will use to stall on Delhi’s request.

These tensions are not voiced in public. Beijing will continue to underscore the S.C.O.’s positive regional role in building mutual trust, while Moscow will speak to the importance of the organization as a counter to Western hegemony in international politics.

Alex’s piece came out within days of a session at the Republic of China’s National Defense University (NDU) in which a presenter underscored at least twice Taipei’s belief that Sino-Russian security cooperation will likely continue for the indefinite future.

These propositions, as Alex’s op-ed makes clear, are not at all exclusive. Indeed, cooperation with Beijing may be Moscow’s only option insofar as it cannot defend its Far East — at least conventionally — even as fears mount concerning China’s ambitions in the region. So while geopolitical pressures, exacerbated by racial stereotypes and other factors, point toward intensifying Sino-Russian rivalry, it isn’t at all clear how Russia will manage intensifying competition. We may see “public alignment” conjoined with “private rivalry” for some time to come.


The Indo-Pacific

The term “Indo-Pacific” has been used since the mid-seventies, mainly to refer to a biological ecosystem. In the last few years, however, “Indo-Pacific” has come to describe a set of interrelated maritime security challenges from the East China Sea to the Arabian Sea — particularly as India’s Navy makes forays into the South China Sea and China seeks to protect its supply routes through the Indian Ocean. But the geopolitics brought into focus by this “45 degree tilt” of the map is not restricted to India and China; it also includes the US, Australia, Japan, and the rising powers of Southeast Asia.  As with the notion of “AfPak” that shaped the last decade, India is not the architect of this new cartography that displaces the notion of South Asia as a unified strategic space inherited from the British Raj, but India need not necessarily object to this new imagining.

So who is shaping this relatively new conceptualization? The origins of this new focus apparently date back to a 2009 speech by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd at the Asia Foundation in San Francisco.  (He may have been influenced in part by the recent writing of Robert Kaplan). Rudd argued that in the future, the Indian Ocean would become as central to maritime security thinking and defense planning for powers like the US and Australia as the Pacific is currently.  Essentially, Rudd advocated replacing the notion of  the “Asia-Pacific” theater, which is partly a legacy of WWII and Cold War era strategic thinking, with the concept of “Indo-Pacific” as an integrated theater of operation to focus on emerging security challenges. The new conceptualization anticipates the rise of India as a major naval power — an idea which is sure to flatter New Delhi — and as another counterweight to China.

Rudd’s articulation was also an attempt to persuade the Americans to prioritize long term engagement with Asia (Weekend Australian, 17 September 2011). With no major maritime security threats in the Atlantic, and serious challenges from the Horn of Africa to the Korean peninsula, it is not surprising that the US would agree with Australia’s framing and seek greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific region — a framework which has the added benefits of not being wedded to any existing regional organization and of pivoting at the strategic choke points which are the domain of strong American allies: Singapore and Australia. Hence President Obama’s announcement a couple weeks ago that the US had agreed to deploy 2,500 marines to Darwin, Australia, just south of the Timor Sea. A move that the NY Times called “The first long term expansion of America’s military presence in the Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War.”

A cartographic reorientation on this scale is not something which can be achieved by fiat. It will require regional powers to embrace and integrate this new framing of the map. Indian security elites, for example, have only recently begun to think strategically from an “upside down” map or an “ant hill” perspective of South Asia. The reflexive desire is to prioritize immediate and long-standing security challenges over emerging challenges. And these reflexes may not be ill placed for countries like India and China which have long unsettled borders and a history of conflict (as well as cooperation). Moreover, an overemphasis on the potential for conflict in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea ignores the ways in which Chinese infrastructural investment in Pakistan may help China to circumvent the long sea route for a portion of its imports and exports — although China will still have an interest in new sources of energy off its coast.  There is also the risk of overplaying the growing strength of China while ignoring the ways in which it is also becoming more vulnerable.

Even though India did not invent this new conceptual map, it need not view it in a hostile light. India’s maritime priority will always rest in Indian Ocean, but its ships will increasingly need to move freely outside the Indian Ocean to maintain India’s access to resources and markets. As such, India will benefit from a stable and uniform order that extends well beyond the Straits of Malacca. An Anglophone dominated order in the Indo-Pacific may be more comfortable for India given its regime type, distrust of China, and growing ties with the US and Australia. Expanding ties with other rising powers in the Indo-Pacific that share some of India’s concerns about China is also prudent since America cannot be relied upon to retain its attention in the region over the long term.

[Cross-posted from Humanyun]


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