Friday, June 25, 2010

McChrystal's Exit: What Does It Mean for Afghanistan?

Here's the link to an article of mine published by ORF on the exit of Gen. McChrystal and what it means for Afghanistan.

Indiscretion is the one thing that General Stanley McChrystal could be blamed for. It is not the COIN strategy, also now known as the McChrystal strategy that was at fault, but the manner in which he dismissed some members of the political or diplomatic class that was at fault. Should he have been sacrificed on account of that? What about punishing Ambassador Eikenberry and others for leaking secret cables to the media and bringing out in the open the country's divisiveness in its AfPak strategy? What does McChrystal's exit mean for the war on terror in Afghanistan?

President Obama opting for General Patraeus to take charge of Afghanistan appears to be not a bad option given that both he and General McChrystal had worked together in developing and implementing the current COIN strategy in Afghanistan. Even Obama's statement that replacing McChrystal with Patraeus was not “based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal” makes one believe that there is going to be continuity in the strategy and the manner in which the war will be taken forward. This is not to suggest that Patraeus and Obama have an excellent equation. A story in Time brought out their problems which seem to have begun in Obama's first meeting with Patraeus in Baghdad in 2008 during the presidential campaign. Apparently, the Obama-Patraeus disagreement was over Obama's intention to pull out all combat troops from Iraq by 2010.

Eikenberry's argument that the surge strategy, which has been a critical component of the current strategy, was not going to be effective was little premature. McChrystal's strategy was being criticized as a failure even before it could take off. The facts on the ground may appear to support such criticism because of the sharp spike in the violence level in Afghanistan in the last few months. But this spike was expected. In fact, the violence level in Iraq went up before it started coming down. The fact of the matter is that McChrystal had a dedicated team of men with him to do what had to be done.

More importantly, the General was liked by President Hamid Karzai. And Eikenberry is wrong about Karzai too. Instead of ridiculing Karzai, as evident in Eikenberry's cable message, he should have realized that the US has to go with the best choice it has. It is also wrong to sit and pass judgment at Karzai making deals with Taliban given that the US has made it clear that it will be packing its bag in a year's time. Karzai was left with no option but to make peace with the good/bad Taliban. It is naïve to assume that he would sacrifice his government and see Taliban in power in Afghanistan again. In the absence of a clear policy from Washington, Karzai can be seen to be doing more peace jirgas and gain some kind of recognition from the Taliban even at the cost of US unhappiness.

If the current COIN strategy continued, McChrystal was going to request for another 30,000 soldiers for Afghanistan. It remains to be seen whether such a request will be made by General Patraeus and whether it will be accepted by Washington. But Eikenberry's argument that increased strength of US forces in Afghanistan will only increase Afghan dependence on the US instead of developing their own forces is a bit of a stretch.

The more fundamental issue after having thrown McChrystal out is whether there is clarity in Washington about what they want to do in Afghanistan and what kind of an outcome they would like to see in Afghanistan. What kind of a message is Washington sending to Karzai and even Pakistan for that matter? Is there any agreement between the political and diplomatic sections in Washington as to what they want to achieve in Afghanistan? Or is the superpower ready to take a beating and leave Afghanistan?

Lastly, it is unclear what this episode says about President Obama. Obama's approach has left even coalition partners wondering on the AfPak strategy. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, Britain's special envoy to Afghanistan, has already gone on an extended leave – an indication of his disagreement over the US policy. The Obama Administration has to recognise that Afghanistan is not a war that can be fought easily or alone; the US has to build in a larger coalition of nations, particularly the neighbours, to make long-lasting changes in Afghanistan. Until then, Obama is going to be taken for a ride by Pakistan by making piece-meal arrangements that have kept the Americans happy all this while.

1.However, there are significant differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of Iraq, most of the war was fought in urban centres, which is not the case in Afghanistan. Afghan is much larger and given the mountainous terrain, it is a much harder task. Therefore, the kind of force level that is needed to clean up an area and then hold is going to be significantly larger. There was also the application of full-spectrum warfare – to use all the available tools in the kit – in Iraq which needs to be replicated in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

India-US Strategic Dialogue: Challenges Ahead

Here's the link to an article of mine on Indo-US Strategic Dialogue published by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).

Though India and the US have rebooted their relations with their first ever strategic dialogue, a few key issues will decide the fate of the new strategic partners. These include the geopolitics of AfPak and the war on terror, dealing with China, hi-tech trade and export controls.

Do India and the US have a common vision vis-a-vis the AfPak issue and the war on terror issues? The US has restated a stable Afghanistan remains as vital to its national security interest although it has a limited objective – ensuring that the Taliban/ al Qaeda do not use the Pakistan-Afghan territory to carry out terrorism. This can be achieved in two ways – through reconstruction and development of Afghanistan’s society, economy and polity; and second, by putting together some sort of a coalition of forces, including the so-called moderate Taliban. It appears President Obama is keen on following the second option. This explains the added importance of Pakistan in the US’ AfPak calculus. On the other hand, India’s interests go much beyond resources, Taliban or terrorism to ensuring a stable, democratic and strengthened Afghanistan in its neighbourhood that will contribute to regional peace and stability. It is unclear if these differing objectives can be strategically adjusted.

Second, the two countries have a problem on China too. Dealing with a rising China will in fact be a test case for US-India relations as well as the US-Japan alliance. With the US deeply entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan, China has managed to carve out a crucial strategic space for itself in the region, developing significant leverage. North Korea and Myanmar are cases in point. Chinese military modernization and the opaqueness of its policies and intentions have created suspicions in several countries in the region. There are a number of complications between India and China. India-China relationship cannot be and should not be seen in a purely bilateral framework. It is necessary to contextualize India-China relations in the broader Asian state security context. It is India’s rising profile in Asia and beyond – India’s rising profile in South East Asia, its strengthened relationship with Japan, Vietnam, US – that has been at the crux of the issue in the recent years. The Sino-Indian border issue is only a manifestation of these other problems. And Washington may be forced to take sides in case of a conflict in the future.

The state of US-China relations will have a major bearing on India’s relations with both of these powers as well as on Asian stability. India will be uncomfortable with cosy ties between Washington and Beijing, although a tense relationship is also not going to be easy for India to manage. A G-2 scenario will be nightmarish for India given their potential to ‘manage’ South Asia jointly. Beijing also was not comfortable with a Bush Administration that was cosying up to India as major pillar in the emerging Asian balance.

Finally, how India and the US will approach the hi-tech trade and export controls is a major issue. In fact, as analysts have pointed out, hi-tech trade between India and the US will be a ‘litmus’ test of the still uncertain India-US partnership. India’s engagement with US in the field of hi-tech trade and defence should be monitored through military-to-military relations, defence trade, and defence industrial collaboration. While military to military relations have been going quite strong, there is also improvement in the defence trade arena. There are again issues that need to be sorted out before it can improve significantly. Problems in this area have included India’s refusal to sign up to agreements that the US wanted including the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMoA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). Washington finds it hard to trade with New Delhi on high-end technology items or transferring advanced avionics, communications equipment and satellite navigational aids on board some platforms that India wants (for instance the P-8I Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft or the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft). Not being party to CISMoA or BECA could also potentially affect India’s plans to purchase Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft or the 145 BAE Systems M777 ultra light-weight howitzers or Apache AH-64 attack helicopter. Washington is also keen that India signs the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) and the Access and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). As far as LSA is concerned, India feels that making available facilities for maintenance, servicing, communications, refueling and medical care will drag India into regional conflicts unnecessarily making India’s position much more complicated. India having been used to the Soviet/Russian style of defence trade, finds it difficult to agree to such strict terms and conditions from the US side. India took a big step last year in signing the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) which was being dragged on for several years. Lastly, operationalisation of the India-US civil nuclear deal will also say a great deal about the commitment of the new dialogue partners to their relations.

True, strategic dialogue is all about thinking big and strategic issues and not to focus on deliverables or tactical issues, but problems on several tactical fronts can blow the air out of the strategic balloon. India and the US need to be cautious to see that that does not happen.

Disarmament Still A Talk Shop Topic

Here's the link to an article of mine on the recently concluded NPT Review Conference and how disarmament remains a distant dream for the near future.

As long as Asia continues in this vicious cycle of security and insecurity, the salience of nuclear weapons in the overall security calculus cannot diminish, which in a way indicates that nuclear weapons will continue to play a major role in the coming decades and the issue of disarmament remains a talk shop topic and not a reality.

NPT Review Conference 2010 was considered a success by many around the world, wherein 189 countries were able to finalize on a 28-page document that reiterated nuclear disarmament, the need to prevent “further proliferation of nuclear weapons,” as well as “preserving the [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Treaty’s vital contribution to peace and security.” Some in India have not been happy with the mentioning of India in the final document which called upon India, Pakistan and Israel to sign the treaty as non-Nuclear Weapon States and to put nuclear facilities under the comprehensive safeguards of the IAEA. But, by and large, the bottom line was that the Treaty is a good thing and it is also a good thing to be a “Friend of the NPT.” However, on the issue of whether the conference was a step forward, there are different views, depending on what one wanted to achieve through this conference. Assuming that stopping horizontal proliferation was a major objective, the conference did not see much progress. There are not going to be any “rollbacks” nor can one predict with certainty that more countries will not go nuclear in the near future, before the next NPT Review Conference in 2015. Therefore, global disarmament is likely to remain a pipe dream for the near future.

If nuclear proliferation is really as big a problem as the US and others seem to believe, then greater attention needs to be paid to nuclear disarmament. This is one side of the story – the demand side of the problem: as long as nuclear weapons remain legitimate for some, others are bound to seek it also. And this is not just for reasons of prestige, as it has been made out in the case of India. The Cold War rivalry drove the US and Soviet arsenals, and thereafter, Chinese insecurities about the US, and subsequently the Soviet power drove the Chinese to develop their arsenal. That same chain reaction led to the Indian and Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. This quest is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Even if overwhelming American military power manages to stem the tide of proliferation for the next several years, the inevitable (relative) waning of American power can be counted upon to lead to a new round of WMD proliferation. Indeed, the disparity in power between the US and the other powers itself is likely to spur other nations to seek nuclear weapons. For example, North Korea seems to have decided that the main lesson of the decade-long crisis over Iraq is that one cannot challenge the US without first acquiring nuclear weapons.

The non-proliferation fundamentalists of Washington have found it very convenient to assume and even conclude that states pursue nuclear weapons for purpose of prestige, since it then precluded them from looking at the real reasons for acquiring these weapons – security-related reasons. If Washington shifts its focus to security concerns as the key, then the reasonably correct conclusion would be that the process of proliferation is inevitable unless there is some serious drive towards nuclear disarmament, which is rarely paid the attention it requires. Instead, the global (Washington’s) focus has almost entirely been on the supply side of the question: how and why states acquire these capabilities and what capabilities they acquire. But there are other issues that need attention too.

First and foremost, there should be questions as to how the policies of the great powers have encouraged such acquisition; Pakistan’s acquisition/development of nuclear weapons is a good point to start with. Without American and Chinese acquiescence or assistance, neither Pakistan nor Israel could have acquired nuclear weapons. The logic of such actions suggests that a significant source of future proliferation could be the imperatives of great power politics. The US policy approaches tend to be very short-sighted. In order to make some quick, tactical gains, these critical issues are often ignored. The manner in which Pakistan-China nuclear proliferation was ignored so as to have Pakistan on board for its Cold War policies against the Soviet Union is a classic example.

Second, NPT has been instrumental in seeing that there is no horizontal proliferation, i.e., states other than the five “haves” do not become nuclear weapon states. There has been hardly any mention of vertical proliferation and the need to stem that as well. This mismatch has to be looked into and until then, there cannot be any genuine progress toward nuclear disarmament. This issue needs to be addressed even if regional weapon free zones are to become a reality. Though there has been significant reduction in American and Russian nuclear arsenals, they still have thousands of warheads each and, of course, the other three nuclear powers are not yet part of this nuclear arms control process.

Third, the world is moving towards increasing insecurity. As the Cold War ended, the world in general was expected to become a much more secure place with the disappearance of the two superpowers and their rivalries. However, post-Cold War stability has given way to increasing insecurity, which in turn has put greater emphasis on military modernization, including nuclear weapons, which further increases insecurity. The Asian scenario is a classic case of this. There are several contributing factors, including US unilateralism, particularly during the Bush Administration. Rising China with major military focus has also contributed to the rising insecurities in the region. Similarly, Russian insecurities and its responses to that insecurity as well as increasing adventurism by North Korea have been factors contributing to the securitization of Asia.

As long as Asia continues in this vicious cycle of security and insecurity, the salience of nuclear weapons in the overall security calculus cannot diminish, which in a way indicates that nuclear weapons will continue to play a major role in the coming decades and the issue of disarmament remains a talk shop topic and not a reality.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Discussion on India's Border Infrastructure

ORF organised a roundtable discussion on India's Border Infrastructure on June 09, 2010. The discussion was initiated by Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Member of Parliament and was followed by three other panelists -- Brig. Arun Sahgal, Maj. Gen. Sheru Thapliyal and myself. While Brig. Sahgal dicussed the Sino-Indian border infrastructure in the broader context of Chinese grand strategy, Gen. Thapliyal elaborated on the ground situation on the border. My presentation was in the context of the larger Asian strategic context as well as the trends in Chinese military strategy and modernisation.

The interaction was well attended by military people, both serving and retired, as well as members from the diplomatic community and media. Some of the media coverage can be found here.

There is a clear military imbalance between the two; military imbalance in terms of equipments & units as well as the infrastructure. In the last few years, the infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the India-China border provide the potential to the PLA Army to mobilize forces and equipment in a much shorter span of time. China now has a 40,000-km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links like the 1,118-km one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilize large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally.

For a long time, the politicians, bureaucracy and the military had maintained strict opposition to development/upgradation of the border infrastructure arguing that it will only facilitate Chinese walking into our territory, particularly in case of a conflict. Recently, this was acknowledged by none other than our defence minister, Antony. While addressing a function of the BRO, Antony said, “Earlier, the thinking was that inaccessibility in far-flung areas would be a deterrent to the enemies.” Describing such thoughts as an “incorrect approach,” he said the government is now taking a number of measures to upgrade roads, tunnels and airfields in the border areas (May 07, 2010). BRO DG Lt Gen AK Nanda recently had stated that the infrastructure along the borders was not improved upon earlier by design. He said, “We did not want to develop the areas because we did not want the enemy forces to take benefit out of it. But now, our approach has changed and we are building it on our capacity, modern equipment and workforce.” (September 30, 2008)

In a potential limited conflict in the India-China context, the PLA’s contingency plans emphasize a “short and swift localized” conflict (confined to the Tawang region, along the lines of the 1999 Kargil conflict) with the following objectives in mind: capture the Tawang tract; give India’s military a bloody nose; and deliver a knockout punch that punctures India’s ambitions to be China’s equal or peer competitor once and for all.