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Entries in Central Asia (11)

10:33AM

WPR's The New Rules: U.S. Counterterror Stance Ain't Broke, So Don't Fix It  

Despite the rush right now to declare important milestones or turning points in the fight against terrorism, the best handle we can get on the situation seems to be that al-Qaida is near dead, but its franchises have quite a bit of life in them. The implied situational uncertainty is to be expected following Osama Bin Laden's assassination, as he was our familiar "handle" on the issue for more than a decade. But although it is normal that we now seek a new, widely accepted paradigm, it is also misguided: In global terms we are, for lack of a better term, in a good place right now on terrorism, meaning we don't need to unduly demote or elevate it in our collective threat priorities. Instead, we need to recognize the "sine wave" we're riding right now and seek no profound rebalancing in our security capabilities -- other than to continue protecting the "small wars" assets that we spent the last decade redeveloping.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

12:02AM

China confronts the green-eyed monster abroad

I've been preaching this one directly to the Chinese on trips going back to 2004: as you become the face of globalization, you will run into all the same hatreds that America has long endured--and then you'll want a different military than the one you've been wasting your money on.

From a WAPO piece earlier this month via reader David Emery:

In a spasm of violence this spring, an angry mob toppled the Kyrgyzstan president, torched his office and ransacked other buildings associated with his hated authoritarian regime. The crowd then turned on a less obvious target: a popular Chinese-owned shopping mall stuffed with cheap clothes and electronics from China.

An easy dynamic to spot, and even easier for me to have predicted years ago:

As China pushes beyond its borders in search of markets, jobs and a bigger voice in world affairs, a nation that once boasted of "having friends everywhere" increasingly confronts a problem long faced by the United States: Its wealth and clout might inspire awe and wary respect, but they also generate envy and, at times, violent hostility.

The "ugly Chinese" will compete, side by side, with the "China model"--bet on it.

Yes, no question that Central Asia's future is a whole lot more Chinese than Russian.  Just don't expect it to be a cake walk for anybody.

With great power comes great responsibility--and great envy.

12:05AM

Central Asia's silk roads re-spun by China

image here

Nice sensible piece by Parag Khanna in the NYT.

Gist:

The fate of the massive deposits of lithium recently discovered in Afghanistan is destined to be no different from that of landlocked Central Asia’s other natural resources: tapped by the West, and eventually controlled by the East.

Siberian timber, Mongolian iron ore, Kazakh oil, Turkmen natural gas and Afghan copper are already channeled directly to China through a newly built East-bound network that is fueling the rapid development of the world’s largest population.

China’s head-start in building roads, railways and pipelines across Central Asia creates an opportunity for the West — and the region itself. Rather than engaging in a high-stakes competition for Central Asia’s valuable resources — a new round of the 19th century Great Game — the West should support China’s initial steps by coaching local governments on how to expand textile and agricultural exports and avoid the resource curse that blights many developing, one-commodity nations.

China has paved the way to finally open up landlocked Central Asia, and the West should build on its success, creating a new, oil-fueled, East-West Silk Road.

Oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea across Kazakhstan, the recently opened gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and other planned roads and railways across Russia as well as down to the deep sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan are all part of China’s effort to turn Central Asia from a region of buffer states into a transit corridor between East and West. Beijing’s leaders have rightfully looked to Eurasia as a rich source of natural resources to fuel their booming economy.

Rather than think of China’s moves into Central Asia — and into Africa — as a suspicious form of neocolonialism, Western countries should focus on how to use Chinese-built roads and railways to make their own floundering regional strategy a success. This means cooperation rather than competition, and it can happen through heavy infrastructure investment, building new lines on the map that transcend arbitrary borders and bring real economic value.

As a longtime argument of mine (globalization:  "the last in, the next [phase of frontier integration] to begin"), I couldn't agree more.  I still spend a good chunk of my current brief arguing that we need to widen our perspective on potential allies in shrinking the Gap.  Lotsa times, I feel stupid still making this arguments almost a decade after I started using the slides, but this is still somewhat radical thinking in a US national security establishment that prefers its China as a threatening near-peer competitor. Why?  No China threat, no good argument on keeping the Leviathan fat dumb and happy in acquisitions while continuing to starve the SysAdmin.

12:03AM

Iran's real ambitions have little to do with religion, terrorism or nukes

 

Powerfully sensible piece by Dario Cristiani in World Politics Review via WPR's Weekly Article Alert.

The guts of the logic WRT Central Asia:

If Iran has always been geographically part of the regional context of Central Asia and the Caucasus, Tehran's geopolitical orientation has historically been focused southward, on the Persian Gulf. For more than a century, Iranian interests in the area were limited to dealing with Russia's -- and later the Soviet Union's -- expansionism. The end of the Cold War and the implosion of the Soviet Union opened new opportunities on Iran's northern borders, even if Iran remained more preoccupied with the need for domestic reconstruction following the war with Iraq. 

In the past 15 years, however, Tehran has been particularly active in trying to create a deep net of institutional and economic links in the region, in part to counter the increasing reach of Turkey, perceived as an American proxy, and of Pakistan, historically an enemy of Iran. Such an approach has been characterized by the "pragmatism" typical of Iran's post-revolutionary leadership. Eschewing the idea of exporting revolution, Iran has instead tried to improve ties with all the countries of the region, focusing on those with which it shares cultural and historical links. This explains the strong attention paid by Tehran to Tajikistan and Afghanistan, which represent cornerstones of the Iranian strategy in the region. At the same time, a clear example of Iran's pragmatism is the close relationship it has forged with Armenia, cemented by the common interest of containing Azerbaijan. 

Iran's ultimate goal is to become a technological and economic power in the region, and to this end, Tehran is supplementing its cultural and historical links with a more resolute economic presence, including investments in massive infrastructure projects.

The surprising conclusion:  even though Russia, China, the US and Iran all want stability in Afghanistan, because of regional rivalries, Iran has been unable to cooperate with any of them on the subject.

Great piece of Nasr/Takeyh quality.

12:03AM

We'll be in Central Asia for decades

In "The Pentagon's New Map," I told the story about a speech I gave at an defense industry conference at the Reagan building where I ended up being quoted by the press as saying something to the effect of "we'll be in Central Asia for decades, just like in Europe, and some of our bases there will end being as well known to service personnel as Ramstein, the huge Air Force base in Germany."

Well, that quote, as I relate in the book, got me called onto the carpet by some OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) mid-lings who wondered who the hell I was and where did I get off saying stuff like that.  So I gave them the brief and they were cool with the whole thing.

Still, the original press report had Rumsfeld replying that the administration had absolutely no intention of being in Central Asia many years into the future.

Here, I cite a WAPO report of America building a $10m training base for counter-terror ops.

Think it'll still be there, say, 20 years from now?  I would bet on it.

And this is the classic SysAdmin footprint:  not many troops, and those who are there primarily do training of the locals. That's how a networked force operates in an increasingly networked world that features super-empowered individuals. 

More of our "over-reaction" to 9/11?  Not exactly.

12:03AM

Bullshit detection: China "steals" victory in "gas war" but Shanghai Cooperation Organisation a complete no-show on Kyrgyzstan

What? Nobody got a gun?

Sometimes Foreign Policy gets as hyperbolically goofy as Foreign Affairs is uniformly dull.

Here is a wonderfully over-the-top piece of geopolitical hyping from Alexandros Petersen entitled, "Did China Just Win the Caspian Gas War? While Washington and Moscow had their eyes on each other, Beijing stole the prize."  It was top of the pile in the WPR Media Roundup for the day (with shame to WPR for promoting such excess).  

I will tell you that I hate it when war terminology is applied to international business; I simply find it excessive, misplaced, and designed for nonsensical fear-mongering.

Of course, you can blame much of this on the editors at FP, who juice up the piece with the title, suggesting--yet again--how we've lost another "war"!!!!!!

Except the author notes that America is sharing its revolutionary shale gas technology with China, so maybe both of these two major consumers won't be caring all that much about "gas wars" (a truly doofus term from professionals who should avoid such nonsense) in distant locations down the road.

As for China's "stolen prize," Petersen admits near the end that maybe China will regret relying on unstable regions for energy.  

Ja, just maybe.

Better to read Richard Weitz's sensible, hyperbole-free WPR piece on the Eurasian security organizations, to wit the opening lines:

Perhaps the most surprising feature of the protracted crisis in Kyrgyzstan is what has not happened: Neither of Eurasia's two preeminent regional security institutions, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), have coordinated a military intervention in that country. 

The mass protests, deaths, and refugee crisis involving perhaps 1 million people has represented one of the most acute challenges to Eurasian stability in the history of either organization, both of which were founded almost a decade ago. In mid-June 2010, the Kyrgyz interim authorities even directly appealed for Russian military intervention on their behalf, but Moscow declined to act military -- either unilaterally or within the framework of either the CSTO or the SCO. Both organizations have offered primarily verbal support and limited humanitarian assistance to their beleaguered member state. Despite expectations, neither organization has yet become a modern version of the Warsaw Pact, using military and police power to keep its client regimes in power.

So given that reality, maybe FP should eschew all the bullshit "war" terminology in their headlines and analysis on resources and energy. It just comes off as embarrassing.

12:09AM

The long hard slog that is China's attempt to placate the Uighurs in Xinjiang

pic here

Pair of FT stories by Kathrin Hille on Xinjiang one year after the outbreak of Uighur riots.

Beijing's response has been two-fold:  install all sorts of officials through Xinjiang and push social programs designed to make the locals feel less squeezed out of economic opportunities by the influx of Han Chinese settlers.  Good example: the government checks all families and if it finds one that has everybody out of work, a job is automatically arranged for one member.  Another:  gov plans to make Kashgar (prominent city) a special economic zone.

Kashgar is sort of a gateway city to Central Asia--part of the old northern Silk Road.

Beijing is now promising "leapfrog development" for the region: per capita GDP raised to the national average by 2015 and more revenues from oil and gas development.  The north side of Xinjiang has done well with O&G, but the south has not benefitted particularly, and that's where the Uighurs are concentrated.

What is this but domestic pre-emptive COIN?

Can Kashgar become a vibrant SEZ?  That would require creating or tapping local markets, and the question is, will Beijing risk all that connectivity with Muslim Central Asia?

You should begin to see the strong overlap of US and Chinese security/economic development interests for Central Asia.  We're there because of 9/11, and the Chinese are increasingly there because of their restive West.

12:05AM

Another stunning victory in the "great game" for . . . Kyrgyzstan!

WSJ story on the recent Kyrgyzstan vote on a new constitution that reduces the power of the president, legitimizes the country’s interim leadership, and strengthens the parliament.

This constitution will make Kyrgyzstan “the first of Central Asia’s former Soviet republics to shed a tradition of strong presidential rule.”

Ninety percent of the population endorsed the new constitution.  Uzbeks voted for the constitution as well, seeing more protection in a parliamentary system.

So much for the “great game” whereby the Russians allegedly battle the Americans and the Chinese to decide how things evolve in the region.  Little Kyrgyzstan has simply stood up for itself.

12:06AM

Kyrgyzstan in historical perspective: I blamma Uncle Joe!

A notion I’ve employed in the brief for the last three years or so:  Paul Collier’s “bottom billion” is found overwhelmingly in the interior, landlocked fake states set up by colonizing outsiders (Europeans WRT central Africa, and Stalin WRT Central Asia). 

As the Economist editorial states: 

Faced with the difficulty of ruling a region as tumultuous as Central Asia, Stalin divided it into a patchwork of states whose borders were designed to fracture races and smash nationalism.  He succeeded in preventing ethnic groups from uniting against him, and also in ensuring that each state is a hotbed of ethnic rivalry.

The latest victims?  Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbeks.  Hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands put on the run—meaning a slow-mo kill.  The trigger is typical enough:  lotsa poverty and radical Islam.

Observers fear a wider conflagration. Dmitri Medvedev already calls is a possible “second Afghanistan.”

Despite all the bullshit analysis on the so-called great game, no outsider powers seem willing to step in. 

The Economist says such hesitancy must be put aside, otherwise we’re looking at bloodshed that “will take generations to heal.”

Ah, but the Core is weary of interventions inside the Gap, and if you’re focused only on the supply-side of the equation, then our conversation is done.  But as I like to argue WRT globalization:  demand rules, not supply. 

There is no demand for the Leviathan, but the demand for SysAdmin services continues to grow.

12:09AM

Learning a thing--but not two--from Kazakhstan on banking

FT column.

Call-out text states it plainly enough:

Until recently it was generally assumed that when a bank ran into problems it would either be bailed out or go spectacularly bust.

Well, unlikely Kazakhstan provides a better example:  getting the creditors to suffer the pain. They absorb all or most of the losses, keeping the bank a going concern.

Says Tett, “In America, there is every chance that the future financial reform bill will contain some features that would impose creditor losses in the future.”

The big question?  Is this discipline imposed by a central 3rd party or the courts.

Investment groups hate the notion, but Tett calls it the least bad option.

How democratic.

Meanwhile, she laments the alternative that Europe seems to be pursuing:  “a system based on ever tighter bank rules and implicit taxpayer bail-outs.”

12:06AM

Whither Central Asia: the South Korean model

An exploration by Banyan in The Economist of the lack of progress toward democracy in Central Asia--and why it will matter more in coming years.

Nice point:  "Central" Central Asia is not, but rather a true periphery--or in my vernacular the Gap's hernia in Asia.

Key point I've been making for a long time WRT the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation:  "Not only America but also Russia and China view the region as a bulwark against militant Islam."  It either goes NE from the Persian Gulf or SW into Africa--or both. We create Africom in Africa as our instrument of bulwark, and Russia and China instinctively reach for what becomes the SCO.  Same concept, similar execution.

But what really seals Central Asia off from radical Islam is being pulled into China's economic orbit, thanks to mineral and energy resources--a 50-fold increase in trade since 1990.  Meanwhile, the West offers aid and advice.

But it's South Korea's growing presence that is the subject here, as well as the admiration for its national development model held by Uzbek president Islam Karimov, who is allegedly obsessed with the nation and its "cleanliness and order."

The analysis:

Yet Mr Karimov and others seem fundamentally to misunderstand the Korean model.  Although government resources were channelled to favoured companies, these firms then had fiercely to compete among themselves and on world markets.  In Central Asia the most successful companies are sinecures of nepotism.

What is more, South Korea's transition to liberal democracy entailed grassroots activism as well as top-down guidance.

Meaning the educated growing middle class was crucial.

Meanwhile, China is described as learning from Kyrgyzstan's mistakes by cracking down on its own NGOs.  

Sounds like China's got the wrong model.