Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Search the Site
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace

Entries in Afghanistan (70)


India matches China's $3B investment in copper by investing $14B in iron ore

WSJ story from 30 Nov.

India consortium of firms makes winning $14B investment bid on Afghanistan's largest iron-ore deposit, called by experts the crown "jewel" of the country's estimated $1T in minerals.

Supposed to take five years to get mine up and running.  Canadian firm got the fifth block, as the Indian crew won the other four.

This award comes just a couple months after New Delhi and Kabul signed a strategic cooperation agreement.

Article makes the usual noises about Pakistan getting unnerved, but I think this is great - and totally natural. China and India making big investments and ultimately owning the security responsibility surrounding those investments.

To date, China's done nothing with the Aynak copper site, it is reported, due to security concerns.  Chinese companies now projecting a 2014 start date.  

Bet that gets moved up once NATO troops move out sooner.


Time's Battleland: For all you Iran-is-winning types, the sad truth

You get two variants of this logic: 1) if the US leaves Iraq, Iran wins automatically (or it's won already because the Shiite majority actually rules); and 2) even more than al-Qaeda, Iran is the real beneficiary of the Arab Spring.

Both judgments are wrong in the way that America's capacity for frantic self-doubt and self-blame are routinely wrong.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.



Time's Battleland: Globalization at the barrel of a gun

Careful where you aim that weapon, buddy!

That phrase, with its powerful imagery, was often tossed at me following the publication of my 2004 book, The Pentagon's New Map. In it, I argued that globalization's expansion was, and would continue to be, the primary cause of unrest and conflict in the world, as connectivity - in all its forms - extended itself into the non-integrated regions and triggered rising expectations (as in, "If the Indians and Chinese are getting richer, then why do we continue to submit to this incompetent government that keeps us unduly disconnected from all that opportunity?").

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan

In my continuing role as Head Judge  for the online strategy community Wikistrat's month-long International Grand Strategy Competition featuring roughly 30 teams from top-flight universities and think tanks around the world, I get to peruse all manner of provocative thought from some of tomorrow's best and brightest thinkers.  And yeah, full disclosure, I get paid to judge as the firm's chief analyst.

Well, this last week, our participating teams drew up elaborate national trajectories and regional trajectories for their 13 countries (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and US), and the two entries that really jumped out at me in their immediate dueling were the two Pakistani teams populated with grad students from Claremont Graduate University (CA) and Yale (CT).  Let me tell you why.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: "US bases in Afghanistan for decades?"

Waiting on the Obama speech explaining this one.

Guardian piece Monday predicts that current US-Afghan talks will cement a very long-term deal on presence [hat tip to World Politics Review Media Roundup].

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see US troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades. [italics mine]

This is described officially as a "strategic partnership," but nobody in their right mind would describe it as such. It's a dependency - pure and simple. The longer we stay, the more we'll infantilize the system. Ten years in and virtually everything we've set about to create is still described as "fragile" - meaning it collapses and disappears the minute we pull out.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Time's Battleland: "Kissinger on the sad strategic reality of US engagement in Afghanistan"

Henry Kissinger had a sobering op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday that laid out the reality of the US position in Afghanistan.

First, the fundamental conundrum of "nation building" in a fake state:

But nation-building ran up against the irony that the Afghan nation comes into being primarily in opposition to occupying forces. When foreign forces are withdrawn, Afghan politics revert to a contest over territory and population by various essentially tribal groups.

He then goes on to say he supported the surge engineered by President Obama, an effort that had the unfortunate effect of giving lie to the notion that insufficient resources was the primary reason why nation-building has failed. That effort, he states, has "reached its limit."

So the essential question becomes, according to Kissinger, How to create an regional security structure to oversee that "contest" cited above?

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


WPR's The New Rules: "For U.S., the Long War Shifts Back to the Persian Gulf"

As the United States debates just how much more effort it wants to put into the Afghanistan-Pakistan sinkhole, evidence mounts of the need to pursue a strategic pivot back toward the Middle East, where the Arab Spring is increasingly threatened by a Persian winter of revolutionary discontent. For some time now, Iran has been showing signs of mounting internal divisions between competing hardline factions led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it has also become more desperate about asserting its alleged leadership of the region's ongoing wave of uprisings, including a far more active sponsorship of al-Qaida's Persian Gulf franchise. All this suggests that, if America is truly serious about continuing the fight against the post-Osama bin Laden al-Qaida, then Washington needs to admit that the center of gravity in that "persistent struggle" has shifted out of northwest Pakistan and into the Persian Gulf.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Transcript from Morning Edition appearance (1 June 2011)

Originally here.

In full for my records:


Osama bin Laden's death has put more pressure on the U.S.'s strategic partnership with Pakistan and its ongoing commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Our next guest believes those relationships aren't worth all the effort.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst of Wikistrat, an online community for global strategists. He recently wrote in World Politics Review that the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan - and I'm quoting the article here - encourages enmities far more important than that of al-Qaida and denies us partnerships far more important than that of Pakistan. And he joined us to talk about that.

Good morning.

Mr. THOMAS BARNETT (Wikistrat): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: When you speak about missing out on partnerships, what precise partnerships is the U.S. missing out on there?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, the United States' pursuit of success in Afghanistan has been by my definition amazingly unilateralist. And we really haven't gone the path of encouraging regional neighbors to step in and become the great nation builders in this effort. We want to somehow make Afghanistan work, somehow integrate it with the global economy, while not letting the Iranians in on the process at all, while not letting the Indians in on the process at all, and while really trying to hedge against rising Russian or Chinese influence in the region. And that's just highly unrealistic. In geostrategic terms, it doesn't really get any dumber than that.

MONTAGNE: Well, though, you argue in your writing that Afghanistan's neighbors are highly, as you put it, highly incentivized to see Afghanistan stabilized. But in recent history, to accomplish that stability Afghanistan's neighbors have invaded - in the case of the Soviets - or backed a repressive government -as Pakistan did with the Taliban. I mean, that does not seem a very desirable outcome.

Mr. BARNETT: You have a huge market in India and a huge market in China. They want access northward and westward through Afghanistan to energy sources. Then you have major players on the other side of that equation - Russia, Turkey, Iran, so on, that want access to that major markets. And in the middle you have this dead zone called Afghanistan.

So it's a natural situation for network building. It hasn't been up to now, primarily because it's next door neighbor, Pakistan, using a rather antiquated mode of thinking looks at Afghanistan as its strategic depth in a conventional or even nuclear conflict with India to its south. For Pakistan to consider itself safe, it has to keep Afghanistan basically under its thumb.

And it's odd that America comes in, tries to do nation building, has all these incentivized local players that are interested in coming in and making things happen, and we pick out of that constellation of players the one player that's interested in keeping Afghanistan disconnected from the world, which is Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: China looms large in your thinking here. What does China stand to gain in the region both from Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, China has already made the largest foreign direct investment in Afghanistan's history - about $3 billion to $4 billion it's pursuing in terms of a copper mine there. So if you look at Afghanistan's mineral riches, there's the Chinese motivation to lock in access to resources.

With Pakistan, there's not so much the resource equation but the access to water equation, their logic being if they can make railroads happen down to the Port of Gwadar, which is a small kind of underutilized situation not that far from Karachi, the Chinese will have access to the waterways that connect them to their resources, their energy resources coming increasingly out of the Persian Gulf.

MONTAGNE: Where should, in your opinion, the U.S. focus its attention?

Mr. BARNETT: Well, if you project 10, 15, 20 years into the future and ask where are our resources going to be best employed in the near term to have the maximum impact, I think the argument is the Arab Spring presents more of a strategic opportunity - much more than the resources being employed today and potentially down the road in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which logically falls into the Chinese orbit and is more logically pawned off to the Chinese as a burden that they should naturally assume.

MONTAGNE: Thomas Barnett writes a weekly column for World Politics Review, an online service for foreign policy professionals.

Thanks very much.

Mr. BARNETT: Thank you.


On NPR's Morning Edition with Renee Montagne 1 June

Taped remotely this morning at WFYI here in Indy.

She said it would run near front of program, so EST at about 5:10-15, then 7:10-15, then again at 9:10-15.

Even hours on the West Coast.  All very confusing, but you know what I mean.

Subject is Af-Pak and America's choices.

Spoke for close to half-hour, but they will edit down to best bits, which should make my pollen-addled brain sound smarter.


WPR's The New Rules: "Why the U.S. Should 'Give' Af-Pak to China"

Nuclear Pakistan, we are often told, is the Islamic-state equivalent of a Wall Street firm: In geostrategic terms, it is too big to fail. That explains why, even as the Obama administration begins preparing for modest troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this July, it dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Islamabad last week to smooth over bilateral relations with Pakistan's paranoid regime, which were strained even before the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Clinton's trip and the Obama administration's instinctive embrace of Islamabad is a fool's errand, doomed by history, geography and globalization itself.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

COMMENT:  This piece fleshes out the most provocative scenario from the "4 options" column I penned two weeks earlier.  That column lands me a taping tomorrow on NPR's All Things Considered, and I wanted to state the most logical case more fully prior to going on.

One of the key things I think a genuine grand strategist is supposed to do is to remind decision makers of the logical consequences of their strategic choices.  We have made choices on Afghanistan, most importantly our unwillingness to regionalize the solution, because we're committed to "winning" in a very particular way.  We've also made some choices on China, as the Chinese have made some about us.  India and Pakistan intersect among those choices, and I believe we make a very bad choice by picking Pakistan amidst all those intersections.

Also, while I remain certain that China and the US are slated for high levels of strategic cooperation in the future for all manner of structural reasons, I think there are all manner of routes to that cooperative space, including some that involve serious learning for us both along the way.

But my definitions of good grand strategy require plenty of flexibility and adaptability along with the core principles.  I don't believe in fixing every state - just the ones that really matter.  I continue to think that Iraq was worth it - despite our fundamentally unilateralist pursuit of the outcome.  I think Afghanistan is worth it - if you accept the logic of a regional solution set.  But I have yet to be convinced that Pakistan, given its set of unique circumstances is worth it - or even salvageable.  

I see opportunity at this moment for President Obama, but only one option being provided.


WPR's The New Rules: Four Options for Redefining the Long War

There is a profound sense of completion to be found in America's elimination of Osama bin Laden, and the circumstances surrounding his death certainly fit this frontier nation's historical habit of mounting major military operations to capture or kill super-empowered bad actors. Operation Geronimo, like most notable U.S. overseas interventions of the past quarter-century, boiled down to eliminating the one man we absolutely felt we needed to get to declare victory. Now we have the opportunity to redefine this "long war" to America's most immediate advantage. I spot four basic options, each with their own attractions and distractions.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Time's Battleland: "Counter-terrorism beats nation-building? Are we going to bury COIN all over again?"

My old classmate Fareed Zakaria recently made the argument that counterterrorism beats nation-building when it comes to winning the war on terror. Taking Osama Bin Laden's killing as a point of American pride, he says that sort of military/intelligence operation is what we're good at, and so we should stick with it versus pursue the larger counterinsurgency (COIN) effort that General David Petraeus has now led in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a broad point to be making off the Bin Laden operation, especially as Petraeus heads to CIA. While I may agree with Fareed WRT Af-Pak, let me express a larger concern.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


WPR's The New Rules: Long-Term U.S. Presence in Afghanistan a Mistake

The Obama administration has begun talks with Afghanistan designed to quell the Karzai government's fears about being abandoned by the West come 2014. Those talks are said to involve negotiations for long-term basing of U.S. troops involved in training Afghan security forces and supporting future counterterrorism operations. This can be seen as a realistic course of action, given our continuing lack of success in nation-building there, as well as our inability -- although perhaps unwillingness is a better term -- to erect some regional security architecture that might replace our presence. But there are good reasons to question this course.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Playing SysAdmin is a lot of matchmaking

Spoke to Jason Kelly for this Bloomberg piece on Pentagon work in Afghanistan to foster economic development.  Article profiles Paul Brinkley, Under Secretary for Defense and his work in Afghanistan.  Enterra had worked for Brinkley's office in Iraq.  The theme, much in line with out Development-in-a-Box work in Iraq, is that of "matchmaker."

It's a good piece overall, capturing the challenge and the efforts of one Pentagon office to which I've offered advice and help in the past.

Here's the bit where I was quoted:

Beyond Allies

Getting companies from countries not directly involved in the military effort is crucial to the long-term success of economic development, says Thomas P.M. Barnett, chief analyst for Wikistrat Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based consulting firm.

“The guys who are going to benefit are going to be from the non-Allied pool,” he says.

Brinkley is agnostic and has recruited foreign companies, including automaker Daimler, into Iraq.

“This is not just about U.S. companies,” he says.

Another small mine project stands as a test of the viability of natural-resources investing in Afghanistan. JPMorgan Chase, based in New York, assembled investors who ponied up $50 million for a mine in the rugged fly-over country between Kabul and Herat.

JPMorgan bankers, drawing on knowledge of the country’s natural resources from its mining clients in the former Soviet Union, shared some of that intelligence with Brinkley’s team in 2008 and during the next two years worked to gather additional data. The results were presented to Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last January. With the money raised, the mining project was granted a license late in 2010.


WPR's The New Rules: A Wish List for the New Year

To kick off 2011, I thought I'd put together my top-10 international affairs wish list for the year, going from left to right on my wall map. But like Spinal Tap, only better, my list goes to 12:

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.


Esquire's Politics Blog: Obama's Afghanistan Review, Decoded

So the White House just released its much-anticipated review of our ongoing military efforts in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, mind you). And while President Obama, Bob Gates, and Hillary Clinton took pains to explain in a press conference on Thursday that "this continues to be a very difficult endeavor," it can also be very difficult to parse propaganda from, you know, the actual end of a modern war. But since this is a reasonably well-written document that the president's talking about here — and since it more or less outlines the past, present, and future of our troops' presence in region in a still-untidy five pages — it seems worthwhile to deconstruct the review line-by-line... and (white) lie-by-lie. Here goes.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.


Obama zigged in India when he should have zagged

Good FT op-ed by Mansoor Ijaz, who "jointly authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities between Indian security forces and Islamist militants in Kashmir in July and August 2000," so he knows from where he speaks.

In line with my bit about making India happy before Pakistan, he says you need to make India happy enough to chill Pakistan if you want any sort of real answer on Afghanistan, which I would thereupon say needs some Indian effort/presence to boot (piling on, perhaps, but if you're going to make such effort, why not get maximum response?).

Starts with story about how in 2004 the Indian intell discovered a jihadist plot to kill Musharraf and immediately decided to tell the Pakistanis about it, averting in their minds that disaster.  The logic?  The terrorists were now everyone's problem, says Ijaz, "for Pakistan is a country that can no longer manage the monsters it has created."

Ijaz's primary sale here is an "open security architecture" for the region, by which he means one helluva lot more transparency than currently exists.  

Frankly, the same should be done on the South China Sea with China, to include the subsets of NorKo and Taiwan.  There simply should be no joint exercises that don't include damn near everybody.  Why?  We are fooling around with very important countries in a fairly fragile global economy--simply put, bigger fish to fry.

Ijaz argues that if we got the Pakistani and Indian militaries/security forces cooperating openly, then:

Such co-operation would reduce stress not only along the Indo-Pakistani border, enabling those resources to be spent elsewhere in stabilising Pakistan, but also in Afghanistan, where Islamabad perceives an Indian effort to squeeze it out of a traditional power base. Defusing mistrust here is critical. As a confidence-building measure, India could for example ask Pakistan’s military to join its own in training the new Afghan army.

Same trade answer useful here as in the Korean peninsula, where the US should ratify its free trade agreement with South Korea immediately:  get an Indian-Pakistani free trade accord.

And so on and so forth.

My point:  Obama comes and makes this empty gesture of supporting India's bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat. "Empty" because it's not his to give and very unlikely anytime soon, so he offers it at zero cost/risk.

Instead, as all the media coverage notes, he references common terror threats and totally sidesteps the Kashmir issue--again an empty gesture as far as the Indians are concerned, because their terror fears start there, as do Pakistan's need to keep those networks and militias available for employment against India. Unless we eliminate that requirement, Pakistan will continue double-dealing with us, and the Afghanistan solution will not come.

Good piece, good logic.

So far Obama's done an unimaginative rerun in Afghanistan of Bush logic in Iraq:  surge + no real regional diplomatic dealmaking. We get away with it in Iraq because the dominant group was allowed to win, and its tentativeness ever since has been due to our letting the dominant group win.  We face no such neat opportunity in Afghanistan. To settle that place, we need to settle the Pashtun, and to settle the Pashtun, we need to settle Pakistan, and to settle Pakistan we need to get India in the right space with Pakistan.

The bold move would have been to get that rolling on Obama's big-time trip to India, but, unless I'm missing something here, that did not happen. The coverage I've read said Kashmir was strictly avoided.

And that, to me, sounds like a president--notwithstanding the Nobel--overmatched by the dealmaking required to make some genuine peace happen.  Obama either lacks the imagination or the will, because that was a wasted trip.

Again, cool all right, just empty in outcomes.



The Politics Blog: The Problem with David Petraeus Talking to the Taliban

Much has been made of the new "talks to end the war in Afghanistan" as General David Petraeus "rewrites the playbook in Afghanistan." The King of Counterinsurgency has shelved his nation-building effort to broker a near-term peace accord with Hamid Karzai, say the journalists fed information by the very man who's given up on Karzai, ambassador Karl Eickenberry. (Or so says Bob Woodward.) And while informed observers are quick to note that U.S. armed forces are still laying it on thick — with real success, it now appears — not enough has been made of the dangerous game Petraeus is playing for the long term. It's a bet that could end up putting U.S. arms back in the hands of a new wave of terrorists.

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog. 


WPR's The New Rules: Nation-Building, not Naval Threats, Key to South Asian Security

It is hard for most Americans to fathom why the U.S. military should be involved in either Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan for anything other than the targeting of terrorist networks. And since drones can do most of that dirty work, few feel it is vital to engage in the long and difficult task of nation-building in that part of the world. These are distant, backward places whose sheer disconnectedness relegates them to the dustbin of globalization, and nothing more.

If only that were true. 

Read the rest of the column at World Politics Review.

The book reviewed in the piece is Monsoon:  The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.


Esquire's Politics Blog: 5 Reasons Ahmadinejad Might Just Be Good for the World

Ah, U.N. Week — that time of year when Fox News sounds the alarm bells and The National Review starts making musical-theater references to impending speeches from Dictators with an Important Audience. And when the rest of us realize that Thursday's session with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be quite the opposite: another round of comic relief sure to sabotage his own attempts to be taken seriously, followed by another round of (mostly) effective sanctions. The Obama administration already rolled one eye on Monday by refusing a detainee swap, so let's see just how far one man's stubbornness can be leveraged, shall we?

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.