Monday, November 30, 2009

Russia could take revenge with assault on Caucasus

[Moscow could decide to roll-back the "Islamists" and their American backers in a surprise repeat of last year's anti-Georgia operation. Come to think of it, it would also be a good time to roll over Saakashvili. Consider where we would be right now if Putin and Medvedev had not thwarted American and Israeli power plays last year to seize the vital pipeline region and to seal-off the Roki Tunnel, which would have blocked Russian forces beyond the Greater Caucasus Mountains. Think about what would have come next, Bush would have remained in power and Israel would have obtained a clear route to bomb Iranian reactors. If Russian forces move to secure their positions once again, don't look for them to stop until they secured both the Caspian and the Black Seas.]

more about “Russian tanks enter South Ossetia“, posted with vodpod

Russia could take revenge with assault on Caucasus

The site of the Nevsky Express train derailment near the village of Uglovka, about 400km northwest of Moscow, on Saturday. Photograph: Konstantin Chalabov/Reuters

OPINION: Suspicion over Friday’s train bomb is focused on militants from the strategic region,

THE SHOCK-WAVES from Friday night’s bomb attack on the Moscow-St Petersburg express will be felt far beyond Russia’s two main cities.

Twenty-five people were killed, almost 100 injured, and many more are still missing, feared dead, after the Nevsky Express was hurled from the rails in remote woodland as it sped north from Moscow to Russia’s old imperial capital.

Investigators have found traces of explosives at the site, and another smaller device blew up on Saturday while rescue teams were still working on the wreckage of the train, which is the most luxurious of its type in Russia and regularly carries politicians and business executives.

No group has claimed responsibility for the atrocity, but suspicion is already focused on militants from the North Caucasus region, whose attacks on Russian targets are becoming more frequent and more audacious.

In the first nine months of this year, more than 420 people were killed in rebel attacks in the neighbouring republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, four times the number killed in the same period last year.

This year’s victims include senior police and army officers, local politicians and judges, and the militants came close to killing the Kremlin-appointed president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in a car bomb attack in June.

Chechnya, the main Caucasus battleground of the last decade, is arguably now calmer than Ingushetia and Dagestan, but security service personnel and rebels are now dying daily across the region in clashes that make a mockery of previous Kremlin claims to have full control over the republics.

After prematurely declaring anti-terrorist operations over this spring, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev admitted in this month’s state-of-the-nation address that the situation in the Caucasus was the “most serious domestic political problem for our country”. “The level of corruption, violence, and clan dominance in North Caucasus republics is simply unprecedented,” he said.

The candour of Medvedev’s comments fuelled talk of an impending crackdown in the Caucasus, as did a sudden hardening of the mild-mannered lawyer’s rhetoric. He has called the rebels “terrorist scum” who must be eliminated “without emotion or hesitation”, words that called to mind the order of his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, that Chechnya’s militants be killed wherever they are hiding, and even “whacked in the outhouse”.

Putin, now Russia’s prime minister, made that demand 10 years ago, shortly after a series of devastating apartment bombings in Moscow and southern Russia killed more than 200 people in their homes.

The attacks spread fear throughout Russia and brought the insurgency on its southern, mountainous fringe into the “heartland” of the country, convincing people that Chechnya’s separatists had to be crushed and that the tough-talking Putin was the man to do it.

The myriad unanswered questions about the apartment bombings prompted allegations they were carried out by Russia’s security services to provide a pretext for a new Chechen war, which Putin was in the process of launching when the bombs exploded. Several people who made such claims, or investigated the attacks, have been jailed or have died in mysterious circumstances, including agent-turned-whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko.

While there is no suggestion of state involvement in Friday’s Nevsky Express explosion, it could have a similar impact to the apartment bombings of a decade ago.

Russia’s most prestigious train was targeted because it carried some 700 passengers between the nation’s biggest and most important cities, its political, economic and financial powerhouses, the home of its elite. Putin and Medvedev both hail from St Petersburg, and they have brought many allies from their home town to rule with them in Moscow.

The Nevsky Express was a soft target that carried considerable symbolic weight for Russians, and its destruction will feed political and public calls for severe measures against those responsible.

Ultranationalist groups have been mentioned as possible suspects, but they have never launched an attack on this scale. If, as expected, Caucasian rebels are ultimately blamed, then we may soon see Russian forces surging back into the region to crush them.

Earlier this month exiled Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev said Moscow was preparing to deploy an “enormous” number of troops to the North Caucasus, to establish an iron grip on the region before the nearby resort of Sochi hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“They want to solve the Caucasus problem before the Olympics and tell the world they have eliminated terrorism,” he said. “This will also put the North Caucasus in their hands.”

Renewed large-scale military operations in the region would be a disaster for its people, thousands of whom have died and disappeared in fighting between Islamic militants, clans, organised crime groups, separatist rebels, Russian security forces and local Kremlin-backed leaders whose militias are infamous for their brutality and corruption.

The Kremlin is determined to remain the dominant player in the Caucasus, which is a vital route for exports of oil and gas from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

Russia strengthened its hand considerably last year by crushing Georgia in a six-day war and by recognising the independence of two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgians now fear Moscow will use trouble in the North Caucasus as a pretext to launch a new offensive, and senior Russian security officials recently accused Georgia of harbouring rebels in its remote Pankisi Gorge region, which borders Chechnya and Dagestan.

Another war between Russia and Georgia would further damage the latter’s reputation as the West’s most stable and solid partner in the Caucasus, and undermine its place at the centre of US and European Union efforts to create an energy pipeline network that bypasses Russia. For Russians facing a renewed terror threat, the people of the Caucasus who fear a backlash, and western powers with major strategic interests in the region, the fate of the Nevsky Express may be a grim portent of even worse to come.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The US lead Fragmentation continues from the Balkans all the way to China

Geopolitical Crossroads: Pentagon and NATO Complete Their Conquest of The Balkans

Bosnia and Montenegro being incorporated as full NATO members and Macedonia following suit would expand the world's only military bloc to 31 nations, almost twice that of ten years ago when it first began its drive into Eastern Europe. And with Serbia and Kosovo, which even before becoming a member is the world's first NATO political entity, included the Alliance's numbers will have more than doubled since 1999, a decade after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. All seventeen new acquisitions would be in Eastern Europe, and the majority of NATO member states would be former Warsaw Pact members or Yugoslav republics and a province.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen visited the capital of Montenegro on November 26 and that of Bosnia the following day.

A Balkans news source wrote of the visits that Rasmussen would "discuss the possibility of approving Montenegro’s action plan for NATO membership" and "discuss strengthening NATO and BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] cooperation." [1]

Ahead of the Balkans tour Rasmussen was in Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and recruit more troops for the war in Afghanistan.

The NATO chief has been even busier than usual of late, simultaneously recruiting troops from nations throughout Europe for Afghanistan on Washington's behalf, working on the bloc's new Strategic Concept, drumming up support for a continent-wide, U.S.-led interceptor missile system and preparing for a NATO foreign ministers meeting on December 3-4.

The Balkans fit into all the above aspects of what has in recent years routinely been referred to as 21st Century, global and expeditionary NATO, one feverishly seeking new "third millennium challenges" and invoking "a myriad deadly threats" [2] as pretexts for increasing its already widening role in five continents and the Middle East.

Several days before Rasmussen arrived in the world's newest (recognized) nation, Montenegro, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Alexander Vershbow was in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to preside over the fifth meeting of defense chiefs of the US-Adriatic Charter, set up by Washington in 2003 to fast-track Balkans nations into NATO.

The first three members enlisted by the U.S. were Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. The first two were formally inducted into full NATO membership at the bloc's sixtieth anniversary summit this April and Macedonia also would have been dragged into the Alliance except for the lingering dispute with Greece over its name. Bosnia and Montenegro were added to the Charter last year and Serbia - and breakaway Kosovo - are to be next. With Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia becoming full member states at the Istanbul summit in 2004 and Greece and Turkey members for decades, all of Southeast Europe has been transformed into NATO territory, from the Adriatic to the Black and from the Aegean to the Ionian Seas.

The November 17 meeting in Bosnia was attended by, in addition to the Pentagon's Vershbow (who was U.S. ambassador to NATO during the 1999 war against Yugoslavia), the deputy defense minister of Albania and the defense chiefs of Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Also present were the defense ministers of Serbia and Slovenia, Dragan Sutanovac and Ljubica Jelisic, the last two nations in a category labeled "guest and observer countries."

"Vershbow reiterated US support for the early approval of BiH and Montenegro's applications for the Membership Action Plan (MAP). He also said full NATO membership for Macedonia will be backed, as soon as the issue of its name is resolved." Additionally, the defense chiefs "agreed to sign a joint statement on enhancing co-operation through regional centres in the Western Balkans." [3]

An Associated Press dispatch at the time of the Adriatic Charter meeting mentioned of the December 3-4 assembly in Brussels (which will also be a forum for enlisting thousands of more NATO troops for the Afghan war) that "An upcoming meeting of NATO foreign ministers will provide a boost for Bosnia and Montenegro to become the 29th and 30th members of the trans-Atlantic alliance." [4]

Bosnia and Montenegro being incorporated as full NATO members and Macedonia following suit would expand the world's only military bloc to 31 nations, almost twice that of ten years ago when it first began its drive into Eastern Europe. And with Serbia and Kosovo, which even before becoming a member is the world's first NATO political entity, included the Alliance's numbers will have more than doubled since 1999, a decade after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. All seventeen new acquisitions would be in Eastern Europe, and the majority of NATO member states would be former Warsaw Pact members or Yugoslav republics and a province.

The Pentagon has already secured seven new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania [5] which border the Black Sea in the Northern Balkans, including the Graf Ignatievo and Bezmer airbases in the first country and the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base in the second. The airfields have been used for "downrange" military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Romanian installation now hosts the Pentagon's Joint Task Force – East.

The U.S.'s colossal Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is now ten years old and the use and upgrading of Croatian and Montenegrin Adriatic harbors for U.S. Navy deployments is an imminent possibility.

The further the fragmentation of former Yugoslavia proceeds, the more thoroughly the region will be transformed into a string of so-called forward operating bases and "lily pads" (Donald Rumsfeld's term) for military action to the east and south.

The 2006 Western-supported dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, itself a transitional mechanism devised by Javier Solana, NATO Secretary General during the 1999 war and since then the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, completed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia into its six federal republics. The unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia by Kosovo in 2008, not only backed but engineered by NATO and its civilian complements, the government of the United States and the European Union, began the second phase of the dismemberment of the nation: The breaking apart of former republics into mini-states. [6]

Behind Kosovo lie Vojvodina, the Presevo Valley and Sandzak in Serbia, where ethnic separatism, cross-border armed attacks and outright terrorism have raised their heads, respectively.

Macedonia faces the same alarming prospect. Attacks by adjuncts of the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army - the National Liberation Army (NLA) of Ali Ahmeti - from inside Kosovo in 2001 placed the new nation on the precipice of all-out war and violent fragmentation.

Last week Menduh Thaci, head of the Democratic Party of Albanians, called on his sponsors in the West to reduce Macedonia to an international protectorate. Speaking of a current political crisis largely of his making, Thaci said "I am convinced that the only way out is an urgent international protection, which will be a preventive measure for possible events." The next step is for the name of the nation to be changed or adjusted and for whatever it will then be called to be brought into NATO. Both the Greek government and pan-Albanian forces in Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, South Serbia and Montenegro will be satisfied with the result and NATO will acquire its 29th (or 31st) member state. [7]

Montenegro, barely three years old, will soon deploy the first contingent of its armed forces to serve under NATO in Afghanistan. When it arrives it will join troops from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Slovenia. The last seven nations also provided soldiers for the military occupation of Iraq after 2003. Montenegro didn't exist as an independent state at that time, so its initiation as a NATO candidate country will be in Afghanistan.

With Serbia as an observer nation of the Adriatic Charter and with it having joined NATO's Partnership for Peace transitional program in 2006, Washington and Brussels will also soon call on it to prove its right to Alliance candidacy by dispatching troops to the Afghan war front. As the U.S. and NATO are on the verge of a qualitative escalation of the war in South Asia, the Serbian foreign and defense ministries have announced the opening of a mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels. "[T]he point of the mission will be to improve cooperation and everyday communication with NATO, participate in the work of 100 expert committees, and improve...cooperation with '50 member-states' of the 'political' alliance." [8] Fifty states are almost exactly the number that have provided NATO troops for the war in Afghanistan. Serbia could be the 51st.

Even for the representative of a battered, splintered, demoralized nation, recent statements by current Serbian Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac are offensive in their shameless fawning and obsequiousness.

He will soon be the first Serbian defense chief to visit the Pentagon in a quarter of a century, a fact he is proud of, and recently said that his trip will be "without a doubt, politically and militarily very important," as much of the money - $500 million - Washington has bribed Belgrade authorities with since the overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 "[was] used by the Serbian military."

Sutanovac, who graduated from the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, jointly run by the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Defense Ministry, and who is described as "speaking perfect English," added these revealing details:

"The Serbian MoD [Ministry of Defense] has stable relations with the U.S. military and we can say that cooperation in defense is the backbone of relations between the United States and Serbia at the moment."

"Considering the fact that the U.S. defense budget is as large as the defense budget of the rest of the world, it is crystal clear what the most important thing is to U.S. foreign policy and international relations." [9]

The former Kosovo Liberation Army, then Kosovo Protection Corps (and now Kosovo Security Force) offered troops to the U.S. for the war in Iraq shortly after the invasion of 2003 and the NATO-equipped and trained Kosovo Security Force, a nascent national army in all but name, will offer troops to NATO for the Afghan war as it drags on indefinitely. [10]

During recent municipal elections in Kosovo, the first since its nominal independence, one not recognized by 140 of 192 nations and by few outside the NATO world (the exceptions including Afghanistan, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Marshall Islands, San Marino, Belize, Malta, Samoa, the Maldives, the Comoros, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru and Palau), supporters of former KLA chieftains Hashim Thaci - the Western-recognized prime minister - and war criminal Ramush Haradinaj were at daggers drawn and "people used rocks to attack a line of cars that transported Hashim Thaci....Thaci's party accused Haradinaj of directly inciting and organizing [the] attack...." [11]

A Russian report on the Western-endorsed and -celebrated elections placed the West's Kosovo strategy in a broader context:

"EU officials are the ones forcing the Serbian government to accept several very unpleasant decisions - recognition of the municipal elections in Kosovo, dissociation from Russia and the pullout of joint energy projects with Russia.

"As for democratic values in the EU policy with regard to Serbia, they are hard to believe in, given the EU officials' open sympathies with the Albanian militants of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Incidentally, the supporters of two KLA leaders, former 'prime minister' Ramush Haradinaj and his successor Hashim Thaci, caused a violent clash in one of the Albanian enclaves.

"It is worth reminding here that Haradinaj was allowed to leave the Hague occasionally 'to rule' Kosovo during his trial, while Thaci was eventually cleared by the Hague Tribunal of all charges of genocide against Serbs." [12]

Nevertheless the United States and its NATO allies, the self-proclaimed "international community" and champions of democracy, human rights and so forth wherever and whenever it suits their political purposes, continue to embrace the Kosovo entity as a brother-in-arms in the new global order.

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was in the Kosovo capital of Pristina on November 1 for the unveiling of a particularly vulgar and meretricious gold-sprayed statue of himself [13], the ceremony presided over by the former head of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Hashim "The Snake" Thaci, the creation of whose pseudo-nation is a cause of great pride in Western capitals.

The Associated Press reported on the event in Europe's drug-smuggling criminal black hole:

"The statue portrays Clinton with his left arm raised and holding a portfolio bearing his name and the date when NATO started bombing Yugoslavia, on March 24, 1999.

"Many waved American, Albanian and Kosovo flags and chanted 'USA!' as the former president climbed on top of a podium with his poster in the background reading 'Kosovo honors a hero.'" [14]

That Albanian flags were flaunted reveals what NATO mercilessly bombed the length and breadth of Yugoslavia for 78 days to achieve.

Three weeks afterward the mayor of a town in Albania - the distinction between that nation and Kosovo is now a strictly academic one - announced plans to follow suit and dedicate a statue to George W. Bush. Bush and Clinton have jointly sired the Kosovo/Greater Kosovo aberration. "The small Albanian town of Fushe-Kruje plans to erect a statue of former U.S. President George W. Bush to commemorate his June 2007 visit, when he was feted as a hero in an outpouring of love for America."

The town's mayor, Ismet Mavriqi, was quoted as saying, "If I had the final say, I would very much like a three-meter statue, probably in bronze, that captures his trademark way of walking with energy." [15]

The legacy that Washington and Brussels have left the people of Kosovo - those remaining that is, as hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Roma and others have fled for their lives since June of 1999 - was detailed in a recent Reuters report.

It said that although "Over the past decade it has received 3 billion euros in aid, according to the World Bank, and is expecting another billion by 2011," nevertheless "unemployment is 40 percent and average per capita income is 1,760 euros. That compares with average joblessness of just under 10 percent in the European Union and an average salary of about 24,000 euros ($35,930)." [16]

Ten years of NATO-KLA collaboration have produced this human catastrophe.

This is the stability and prosperity that the West has brought to the Balkans.

That afflicted part of Europe has been the testing ground for NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and since into Asia, Africa and the Middle East, starting with Bosnia in 1995 when NATO dropped its first bombs and deployed its first troops outside the territory of its member states.

As early as January of 1996 the now deceased American scholar Sean Gervasi warned that "There are deeper reasons for the dispatch of NATO forces to the Balkans, and especially for the extension of NATO to Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in the relatively near future. These have to do with an emerging strategy for securing the resources of the Caspian Sea region and for 'stabilizing' the countries of Eastern Europe - ultimately for 'stabilizing' Russia and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States." [17]

NATO now has solidified military partnerships, conducts regular war games and has established permanent bases in several countries on and near the Caspian Sea - Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, not to mention Afghanistan.

It has absorbed three former Soviet republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - and continues to insist that former Commonwealth of Independent States member Georgia and current one Ukraine will become full members of the Alliance.

Thirteen years ago Gervasi also warned that "The United States is now seeking to consolidate a new European-Middle Eastern bloc of nations....This grouping includes Turkey, which is of pivotal importance in the emerging new bloc. Turkey is not just a part of the southern Balkans and an Aegean power. It also borders on Iraq, Iran and Syria. It thus connects southern Europe to the Middle East, where the US considers that it has vital interests....With the war against Iraq [1991], the US established itself in the Middle East more securely than ever. The almost simultaneous disintegration of the Soviet Union opened the possibility of Western exploitation of the oil resources of the Caspian Sea region." [18]

Events in the interim have proceeded exactly as Gervasi indicated they would and for the motives he attributed to them.

Having undermined the United Nations, violated international law, humiliated Russia and moved NATO forces into the Balkans, the West was embarked in earnest on its drive for global domination in the post-Cold War world. As NATO's first war, the Operation Allied Force bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, was dragging on and assuming ever more ominous dimensions, even before the destruction of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO bombs, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin appeared on his nation's television and said: "I told Nato, the Americans, the Germans, don't push us towards military action.

"Otherwise there will be a European war for sure - and possibly world war." [19]

That Yeltsin was the dependable friend of Washington that he was made the statement even more foreboding. Less than a month afterward the Chinese embassy was in ruins as the war raged on.

Europe and the world avoided a broader war ten years ago. But NATO, using the Balkans as its global springboard, may yet succeed in triggering a conflict that will not be contained and will not remain within the realm of conventional warfare.

Obama Never Considered Diplomacy in Afghanistan: Even as polls show a majority of Americans want U.S. forces out of Afghanistan and that Americans do not believe the war is worth fighting, President Obama---a former editor at the CIA front Business International Corporation in 1983-84---embraces a position in line with the long-held CIA view the U.S. must control the Middle East’s energy resources. It was the CIA that overthrew Iran in 1953 after Tehran nationalized its oil production, depriving British Petroleum of its lucrative swindle. Afghanistan is valued today for the oil and gas pipelines the U.S. wants built there, no matter what other reasons Obama gives.

“The Americans wanted a pipeline that bypassed Russia and Iran and went through Afghanistan. To insure this, an invasion was necessary. The idiot American public could be told that the invasion was necessary because of 9/11 and to save them from ‘terrorism,’ and the utter fools would believe the lie.” The war, [Paul Craig] Roberts continued, is to guard the pipeline route. “It’s about money, it’s about energy, it’s not about democracy.”


1) Macedonian Radio and Television, November 26, 2009
2) Thousand Deadly Threats: Third Millennium NATO, Western Businesses Collude
On New Global Doctrine
Stop NATO, October 2, 2009
3) Southeast European Times, November 20, 2009
4) Associated Press, November 18, 2009
5) Bulgaria, Romania: U.S., NATO Bases For War In The East
Stop NATO, October 24, 2009
6) Adriatic Charter And The Balkans: Smaller Nations, Larger NATO
Stop NATO, May 13, 2009
7) Threat Of New Conflict In Europe: Western-Sponsored Greater Albania
Stop NATO, October 8, 2009
8) Vecernje Novosti, November 4, 2009
9) Politika, November 27, 2009
10) Balkans: Staging Ground For NATO’s Post-Cold War Order
Stop NATO, February 9, 2009
11) Tanjug News Agency, November 12, 2009
12) Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 17, 2009
13) Kosovo: Marking Ten Years Of Worldwide Wars
Stop NATO, October 31, 2009
14) Associated Press, November 1, 2009
15) Reuters, November 21, 2009
16) Reuters, November 20, 2009
17) Sean Gervasi, Why Is NATO In Yugoslavia?
18) Ibid
19) BBC News, April 9, 1999


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Friday, November 27, 2009

Nabucco Investment Decision Postponed right after the kick-start of South Stream....

Caspian Sea Geopolitics: Nabucco will be the most expensive pipeline ever built

[United States pipeline projects are intended to give the US the "ability to deny" Russia European revenue from its gas and oil, in addition to preventing delivery of fuel going to China.... Turkish efforts are clearly to accommodate both US and Russian interests in a common pipeline system. One seeks exclusion and control, the other commonality of interests, the free-flow of energy and the harvesting of transit fees....]

Nabucco Investment Decision Postponed

OMV and Nabucco spokesman Christian Dolezal

On November 11 the Austrian OMV-led Nabucco management announced that the investment decision on the project will be postponed, from early 2010 to the fourth quarter of that year. There is no clear explanation for this sudden change.
Only seven days earlier, the same Vienna office had sounded confident that the project was advancing on schedule. According to OMV and Nabucco spokesman Christian Dolezal on November 4, “construction work will start in 2011 and, as things now stand, the first gas will flow in 2014” (, November 4). In that spokesman’s interview, and also in its newsletter circulated in early November, the Austrian-led Nabucco management mentions “detailed discussions” ongoing with the European Investment Bank (EIB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the United States Export-Import Bank (EXIM), and other lending institutions; as well as discussions in prospect with the U.S. International Finance Corporation (IFC), Hermes, and SACE (Nabucco Newsletter, November 2009).
If the level of investor confidence is truly such as to necessitate postponing the decision by one year, the reasons behind this remain unexplained publicly by the project company or by the European Commission, which strongly backs the Nabucco project.
One obvious confidence-undermining factor is Turkey’s AKP government, which blocks the westbound route for Azerbaijani gas, the main source of supply for Nabucco’s first stage. After almost two years of obstruction, and despite signing the inter-governmental agreement with the European partners in July, Ankara seems entrenched in its refusal to sign a transit agreement for Azerbaijani gas to Europe.
Ankara’s position on this issue seems irrational at first sight, given the AKP government’s ambition to turn Turkey into an energy transportation corridor on a colossal scale. Its strategy, however, relies mainly on Russia (and, as a more distant prospect, Iran) to fulfill the AKP’s grand ambition. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is in discussions with the Kremlin on building the South Stream, Blue Stream Two, Samsun-Ceyhan, and other gas and oil pipelines in Turkey or through Turkish waters. Ankara even favors using part of Nabucco’s capacity to carry Gazprom’s gas to Europe.
Compared with the Russian projects (grandiose on paper), Nabucco with Azerbaijani gas may seem a small currency of exchange to the AKP government. Indeed, the government is using Nabucco as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with the European Union on the Cyprus issue and on Turkish accession to the E.U.
E.U. officials (and some U.S. counterparts) routinely tell the AKP government how crucial its cooperation is to Europe’s energy security and other major Western goals. That flattering language does not appear conditional on Ankara’s actual performance on Nabucco and other issues. It inspires the AKP government to entertain an exalted view of its importance to Europe and overplay its hand.
Nabucco may indeed look expendable –or a tradable card– to Turkey, and not fully convincing from upstream to downstream, unless clearly integrated into the broader framework of the Southern Corridor project for Central Asian gas to Europe.
Azerbaijan has presciently advocated that integrated Caspian-Central Asian strategy for years. The European Commission has clearly set this policy in its November 2008 communication on energy security strategy. However, this message has not been articulated with the necessary consistency and clarity by E.U. officials and Nabucco project management in recent months. Nabucco’s appeal can fade, if promoted as a self-contained project without explicit links to the comprehensive Caspian-Central Asian gas strategy.
The proposed White Stream pipeline on the seabed of the Black Sea is a component of the Southern Corridor plan. White Stream can provide a transportation solution for future Turkmen gas –via Azerbaijan and Georgia– to Europe, circumventing Turkey. It does not rival the Turkish overland transport solution, but can significantly supplement it. E.U. funding for White Stream’s feasibility study can signal that gas producer and consumer countries would not be pressured by a Turkish transportation monopoly. Diversification of gas transportation routes is a policy as valid in the Black Sea basin as elsewhere (EDM, October 30).
A deceptive appearance of progress on Gazprom’s South Stream has contributed to the recent spell of Nabucco skepticism. Slovenia is about to sign up for South Stream while Croatia is seriously considering the possibility (this would require Russia to enlist local support for ousting Hungarian MOL from Croatia). Routing South Stream through Slovenia would implicitly put Austria under some pressure to join.
All this seems to make Vienna nervous again. On November 11 Chancellor Werner Faymann held talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow on the possibility of Austria joining South Stream. At the concluding news conference, Putin declared that both Russia and Austria are convinced of South Stream’s merits and have agreed to complete an agreement on Austria joining the project (Interfax, NTV, November 11).
On that same day, the Austrian OMV-led Nabucco management surprisingly announced by e-mail to mass media the postponement of an investment decision on the Nabucco project....

Friday, November 13, 2009

Persians have a keen sense of history and have always preferred brain over brawn

Persians have a keen sense of history and have always preferred brain over brawn....
Lebanon has always been the cauldron where the alchemy of the regional politics in the Middle East can be tested. The formation of the unity government in Beirut this week signifies a considerable advancement of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria that began with the visit of King Abdullah to Damascus last month. Clearly, the Saudis have accommodated Syria's preponderant influence in Lebanese politics.

The speech on Martyr's Day in Beirut on Tuesday by Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah indirectly underscored that the political deal behind the unity government stemmed from a Syrian-Saudi understanding and, more important, that Iran is not party to it. He said:
We also take positively the Syrian-Saudi summit and we were the first to reap its fruits. We look positively at any rapprochement in the region ... Even more, we call for a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement to establish communication between the two countries. Let there be an Iranian initiative toward Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi Arabian initiative toward Iran.
The big question now is how far there could be a similar Syrian-Saudi collusion over Iraq, or more accurately, whether such collusion can gain traction in the critical period of transition ahead as Iraq heads for crucial parliamentary elections in another two months and the American troop withdrawal commences in 2010.

In turn, Syria has reciprocated the Saudis on an issue that poses a formidable challenge to Riyadh's interests - Yemen. It is all the more helpful for Riyadh that the Syrian statement came just a day after Tehran strongly condemned Saudi intervention in Yemen's "internal affairs". Damascus is doing very well to cash in on Saudi gratitude. The youthful Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is indeed a chip off the old block - brooding in the shadows and striking when it's real hot.

Syria merely stated one single principle (among many) in inter-state relations, saying, "Syria supports the legitimate right of the [Saudi] kingdom to defend its sovereignty and the integrity of its territory." Yet Riyadh is delighted.

Saudi nexus with the Taliban
As a Kuwaiti daily al-Watan succinctly put it, "The Arab states have entered the [Iran] nuclear conflict already." Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen - three different theaters have appeared where the Saudis have moved in to challenge Iran's growing regional influence. All indications are that Yemen is increasingly taking the form of a major regional crisis and Riyadh faces an existential threat here.

First, Afghanistan. To be sure, Saudi Arabia aspires to play a key role in any reconciliation process between the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Much of the funding for the Taliban has come from Saudi Arabia - including during the current phase of the war - and that has been evidently with a degree of connivance on the part of US intelligence. The heart of the matter is that Saudi influence over a staunchly Wahhabist movement in Afghanistan has been all along considered a "strategic asset" by the US, ever since the inception of the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar in 1994.

The thrust of the Saudi intervention in Afghanistan in the coming phase on the pretext of reconciling the intractable Taliban will also be principally aimed at sidelining Iran's role in a future power structure in Kabul, and to that extent Riyadh will be acting in sync with US (and British and Pakistani) geopolitical objectives.

All signs are that Tehran is cognizant of the US-British-Saudi-Pakistani game plan. Tehran can be expected to safeguard its interests as it fears that if the Saudi drive succeeds, Afghanistan will tomorrow turn into a sanctuary for Jundallah, the Sunni terrorist group that is in league with the Taliban in spearheading subversion in Iran's eastern region.

Quite clearly, Iranian statements on Afghanistan have "hardened" lately. While reiterating Tehran's support for President Hamid Karzai's government, Iranian statements have begun vociferously stressing the imperative need of a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Any hint of Iran's readiness to work with the US in stabilizing Afghanistan has receded, especially after last month's massive terrorist strike by Jundallah in Iran, where Tehran sees concerted US, British, Saudi and Pakistani collusion.

To put it mildly, there is extreme wariness in Tehran about this condominium over Afghanistan. Interestingly, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is due to visit New Delhi on Monday, where the focus will be on cooperation with India in stabilizing Afghanistan. (India is obsessed with a different route than the Iranian one, namely, hitching its wagons with Uncle Sam's, if only the Barack Obama administration recognized Indian primacy in the Indian Ocean region and discarded its unsavory Pakistani baggage.)

Sectarianism vs nationalism
Equally, Iraq is fast turning into a testing ground of a Saudi challenge to Iran's influence. The Saudis seem determined to whittle down Iranian influence by supporting the forces of Arab nationalism (as against "sectarianism"). It takes the vague form of support of a future Iraq that is a "civil democratic pluralistic society" that incorporates Iraqi national heritage in which religion occupies its distinctive and spiritual place (unlike in Iran). The stress is on Iraq's Iraqi identity.

There are indeed contradictions between the Saudi and Syrian stances on Iraq, and Riyadh is quite some way from empathizing with the erstwhile (Iraqi) Ba'athist ideology, but a proximity is fast developing with Damascus. The Saudis feel the urge to look beyond their earlier approach of "either/or" toward Iraq, taking into account the arrival of modern political thought in Iraq and the inevitability of majority rule in contemporary politics. Riyadh is increasingly willing to trade with the Iraqi Shi'ite groups (including personalities such as Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr) that may harbor resentment toward Iran's shadow over Iraqi politics.

The speaker of the Iranian Majlis (parliament), Ali Larijani, paid a visit to Iraq last week and met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has openly criticized Saudi policies as "unhelpful". Iraq has also accused Syria for harboring Ba'athist officials it says were responsible for the October 25 suicide car bomb attacks in the heart of Baghdad, killing over 150 people, the deadliest terrorist attack in the past two-year period.

According to Maliki, all efforts by his government to improve relations with Riyadh have reached an "impasse". "All the signals confirm that the Saudi position is negative regarding Iraqi affairs," he said, echoing Baghdad's allegation that the Saudis are deepening sectarian divisions in Iraq by funding and supporting extremists and al-Qaeda insurgents.

In August, a group of Iraqi legislators openly accused the Saudis of employing Ba'athists and al-Qaeda terrorists to root out the Shi'ite faith in Iraq. Indeed, many of the terrorists captured in Iraq are Saudi nationals who have embarked on jihad against the perceived domination by the "apostate" Shi'ites.

Yet another Hezbollah?
Whereas the Saudis are on the offensive in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are very much on the defensive in Yemen. Like Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen, too, has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda elements. But here the table is turned against the Saudis. The al-Qaeda elements use Yemen to make incursions into Saudi Arabia. The rebellion by the Shi'ite Houthi clan in mountainous northwest Yemen has also made the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border highly volatile. (To compound matters, there are Yemeni-Saudi border disputes waiting to be reopened.)

The Houthis lack modern weaponry, but they are strong in numbers, highly motivated and are reportedly skilled in the use of land mines. The Saudis see in the Houthi militia a potential Hezbollah-like movement based on egalitarian ideals of political justice and equity, with a highly disciplined and trained cadre that may come to inhabit Saudi borders. There is virtual paranoia in Riyadh as to how to deal with the rising specter of a Yemenese-style Hezbollah right on its borders.

The archetypal Saudi fear - which is scrupulously left unspoken due to its extreme sensitivity - is that the Houthi-dominated region of northern Yemen also borders Saudi Arabia's restive eastern province, which is Shi'ite (and oil-rich) and seething with resentment over Wahhabi intolerance.

A 32-page report by Human Rights Watch in August documented that Saudi Arabia was passing through its sharpest sectarian tensions in years. To quote the HRW director for the Middle East, Sarah Leah Whitson, "All the Saudi Shi'ites want is for their government to respect their identity and treat them equally. Yet Saudi authorities routinely treat these people with scorn and suspicion."

"The Saudi government has long regarded its Shi'ite citizens through the prism of Wahhabi dogma or state stability, branding them as unbelievers or suspecting their national loyalties." According to the HRW report, state discrimination against Saudi Shi'ites extends to realms other than religious freedom. It cites discrimination in education freedom, bias in the judiciary (with Sunni judges disqualifying Shi'ite witnesses on the basis of their religion), and exclusion from employment.

Riyadh seems to have no clue on how to respond to the boiling Yemenese cauldron, especially as the Saudi regime is in transition. Throwing traditional Saudi caution and circumspection to the wind, Riyadh has used excessive force against the Houthis, who have claimed to be subject to phosphorous bombings by Saudi aircraft. It seems King Abdullah has passed the baton to the Gen-Next in Riyadh to handle the developing situation.

According to well-informed American scholars, this new generation of Saudi princes inclined to the use of muscle power includes assistant defense minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan, (son of the ailing Crown Prince Sultan); counter-terrorism chief Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who recently escaped an al-Qaeda strike on his life; the governor of Najran, capital of Eastern province, Prince Mishal bin Abdullah; and the local government minister, Prince Mishal bin Miteb, who is also the king's nephew.

The young Saudi authorities have a three-pronged plan: create a "buffer zone" in northern Yemen by bombing the Houthi communities that inhabit the border region to retreat; fence the 1,500-kilometer long Saudi-Yemenese border to keep the impoverished Yemenese from infiltrating; and effect a naval blockade of northern Yemen so that the Houthis cannot source arms. The efficacy of the Saudi approach is highly doubtful and it may end up only in creating a "Yemenese Hezbollah" that sooner or later taps into the Shi'ite resentment in Saudi Arabia's Eastern province.

A time bomb is ticking. In all probability, the hot-headed Saudi policies may only end up incrementally driving Yemen into a "failed state" resembling nearby Somalia. (To cap it all, the US is gearing up to offer a new front in Yemen in the "war on terror".)

Saudi commentators allege that Tehran is supporting the Houthis and is hoping for a Saudi quagmire. The allegation remains to be tested as the crisis evolves. Conceivably, Tehran will feel greatly relieved if a situation emerges whereby Riyadh has no time or energy to spare to mess around with Iraq and Afghanistan - or with Jundallah.

One thing is certain. Tehran will do nothing adventurous that sullies its reputation as a "responsible" regional power. A confrontation with the US is the last thing that Tehran is looking for, either. Persians have a keen sense of history and have always preferred brain over brawn. Tehran cannot be oblivious that in any case, it is well placed to garner political mileage out of excessive Saudi involvement in Yemen, which will tarnish Riyadh's regional standing and inevitably produce a Houthi (Yemenese nationalist) backlash. To call such a backlash Hezbollah or not becomes a minor detail.

Israeli army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, couldn't have summed it up better when he said recently in Knesset (parliament) testimony, "Iran is very radical on one hand, but on the other hand you can't say that it is an irrational country."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

AfPak is all about the New Great Game for the control of Eurasia.

AfPak is all about the New Great Game for the control of Eurasia.

"The horror ... the horror." General Stanley McChrystal, the Pentagon supremo in Afghanistan, is being massively sold in the US as a Zen warrior - a 21st-century stalwart incarnation of the "best and the brightest". But he may be a warrior intellectual more like Colonel Kurz than Captain Willard in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. He led an elite death squad in Iraq and, for all of his Confucius-meets-counter-insurgency social engineering schemes, still appears not to understand what Pashtuns are really all about.

McChrystal remains bemused about why, in Afghanistan, most young Pashtuns decide to become Taliban. Because Kabul is immensely corrupt; because the Americans have bombed their houses or killed their families and friends; because they can improve their social status. They simply won't sell out for (devalued) American dollars. Their infinite drive is geared towards throwing the occupiers out - and re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, governed by sharia law. In this sense, McChrystal's soldiers are the new Soviets, no different from the Red Army that waged war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

McChrystal - with all his "secure the population" talk - cannot possibly level with the American public about the Taliban. Afghans know that if you don't mess with the Taliban, the Taliban don't mess with you. If you're an opium poppy grower, the Taliban just collect a little bit of tax on it.

Conquering Pashtun hearts and minds Westmoreland, sorry, McChrystal-style is a no-win proposition. There's nothing McChrystal's non-Pashto speaking soldiers can say or do to counteract a simple Taliban-to-villager one-liner "we're in a jihad to throw out the foreigners".

As for the Taliban/al-Qaeda nexus, the Taliban nowadays simply don't need al-Qaeda, and vice-versa. Al-Qaeda is closely linked with Pakistani outfits, not Afghan, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. If McChrystal wants to find al-Qaeda jihadis, he should set up shop in Karachi, not in the Hindu Kush.

Over the summer of 2009 alone, 20,000 US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, practicing the iron dogma of "clear, hold and build", were able to secure only a third of desert Helmand province. The Taliban control at least 11 provinces in Afghanistan. It's easy to do the math on what it would take to "secure" the other 10 provinces, not to mention the whole country until, well, 2050, as the British high command has been speculating. No wonder Washington is drowning in numbers - rife with speculation that McChrystal wants 500,000 boots on the ground before 2015. If Confucian McChrystal doesn't get them, goodbye counter-insurgency; it's back to a devastating hell from above drone missile war.

If you break it, you control it
The Pentagon as well as NATO will never be cheerleaders for a strong, stable and really independent Pakistan. Washington pressure over Islamabad will never be less than relentless. And then there's the return of the repressed: the chilling Pentagon fear that Islamabad might one day become a full Chinese client state.

Think-tankers in their comfy leather chairs do entertain the dream of the Pakistani state unraveling for good - victim of a clash within the military of Punjabis against Pashtuns. So what's in it for the US in terms of balkanization of AfPak? Quite some juicy prospects - chief of all neutralizing the also relentless Chinese drive for direct land access, from Xinjiang and across Pakistan, to the Arabian Sea (via the port of Gwadar, in Balochistan province).

Washington's rationale for occupying Afghanistan - never spelled out behind the cover story of "fighting Islamic extremism" - is pure Pentagon full spectrum dominance: to better spy on both China and Russia with forward outposts of the empire of bases; to engage in Pipelineistan, via the Trans-Afghan (TAPI) pipeline, if it ever gets built; and to have a controlling hand in the Afghan narco-trade via assorted warlords. Cheap heroin is literally flooding Russia, Iran and Eastern Europe. Not by accident, Moscow regards opium/heroin as the key issue to be tackled in Afghanistan, not Islamic fundamentalism.

As for those think-tankers, they do remain incorrigible. Last week at a Rand-sponsored Afghanistan bash in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, former president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the man who gave the Soviets their Vietnam in Afghanistan, announced that he had advised the George W Bush administration to invade Afghanistan in 2001; but he also told then Pentagon supremo, Donald Rumsfeld, that the Pentagon should not stay on "as an alien force". That's exactly what the Pentagon is right now.

And yet, Zbigniew believes the US should not leave Afghanistan; it should "use all our leverage" to force NATO to fulfill the mission - whatever that is. Not surprisingly, Zbigniew couldn't help revealing what the heart of the "mission" really is: Pipelineistan, that is, to build TAPI by any means necessary.

China, India and Russia may agree that a regional - and not an American - solution to Afghanistan may be the only way to go, but still can't agree on how to formalize a proposal which would be offered in the cadre of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Li Qinggong, the number two at the China Council for National Security Policy Studies, has been a key voice of this proposal. Washington, not surprisingly, wants to remain unilateral.

It all harks back to a 1997 Brookings Institution publication by Geoffrey Kemp and Robert Harkavy, Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East, in which they identify an "energy strategic ellipse" with a key node in the Caspian and another in the Persian Gulf, concentrating over 70% of global oil reserves and over 40% of natural gas reserves. The study stressed that the resources in these zones of "low demographic pressure" would be "threatened" by the pressure of billions living in the poor regions of South Asia. Thus the control of the Muslim Central Asian "stans" as well as Afghanistan would be essential as a wall against both China and India.

So all along the watchtower, the princes of war keep their view. That spells balkanization all along. It's full spectrum dominance against the Asian energy security grid. The Pentagon well knows that AfPak is the key land bridge between Iran to the west and China and India to the east; and that Iran has all the energy that both China and India need. The last thing full spectrum dominance wants is to have the AfPak theater subjected to more influence from Russia, China and Iran.

There could not be a more graphic illustration of empire of chaos logic in action than the AfPak theater. While the McChrystal show amuses the galleries, what's really at stake for Washington is how to orchestrate a progressive encirclement of Russia, China and Iran. And the name of the game is not really AfPak - even with all the breaking up and balkanization it may entail. It's all about the New Great Game for the control of Eurasia.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A shift in geopolitical templates...

A shift in geopolitical templates...

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is virtually peerless. Only a handful of foreign ministers can match him in professionalism honed over decades in international diplomacy. He seldom leaves the ring empty-handed.

However, one such rare occasion came when he boarded his aircraft with his entourage last week and warily began the 6,000-kilometer journey home from Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka, where he had attended a meeting of the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral format.

Moscow has tried its level best over recent months to draw India and China closer together on a common regional initiative on Afghanistan. The RIC meeting in Bangalore took place against the backdrop of the eight-year war in the Hindu Kush radiating negative energy all across neighboring regions - the Caucasus
and Central Asia, China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province and Pakistan's tribal areas. However, Russian diplomats watched helplessly as eddies in Sino-Indian ties began polluting their efforts to bring Moscow and Delhi closer in Bangalore on the core issues of regional security. They finally called it a day.

Russia puts on a brave face

The Russians, whose pet project is the RIC, must have felt exasperated with their "time-tested" Indian friends. But they wouldn't have been surprised. They could have anticipated that the disequilibrium within the RIC format would impact the Bangalore meeting. Russia and China are intensifying their cooperation; India has largely neglected its ties with Russia in the post-Cold War years, although most recently it has signaled renewed interest in reviving the atrophied relationship; India and China, on the other hand, have drawn closer incrementally over the past decade, but only to pull apart dramatically in the recent period.

Moscow usually generates a lot of hype when a RIC meeting approaches. This time, it adopted a low-key approach. An article in the influential Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper by Vladimir Skosyrev, a leading commentator, underlined that bilateral Sino-Indian problems - border disputes and the activities of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in India - were negatively impacting the work of the RIC.

After the RIC meeting, Lavrov went out of his way to put a brave face on Skosyrev's prognosis. He said, "I want to say that no bilateral problems between India and China had any impact on today's [RIC] meeting. In no way did these themes surface." True, the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers held a separate 90-minute meeting to devote to the hot issues in their bilateral relations.

Lavrov took pains to explain that the RIC was shaping up to be "a highly promising format", given its "dialogue" on agriculture, health and business. He minimized the RIC's role in crafting any initiative on Afghanistan. Lavrov offered a lengthy explanation:
RIC is a group of countries that are integrally needed to mobilize regional efforts. But they are not enough. All of Afghanistan's neighbors are needed. The US, the main supplier of troops ... is needed. Iran is needed. The Central Asian countries are needed.

RIC is a group that was not created for Afghan affairs at all, but for other reasons ... Although India, Russia and China have an influence on how to normalize the situation in Afghanistan, our efforts are not enough. The three nations can and are willing to work with other major actors to develop a collective strategy, meaning exactly collective.
Delhi faces isolation

Not that the RIC format lacks a raison d'etre - as the pro-American elements in the Indian strategic community and media constantly try to establish. Its relevance is acute, as three big countries with common concerns in the Asian continent come together within an exclusive format to discuss shared interests on the core issues of regional security - terrorism, religious extremism, political separatism, etc - and coordinate their policies.

Without doubt, regional cooperation has become the leitmotif of international politics within the new reality of a polycentric world. World politics is beginning to operate in a new coordinate system. Regional formats so far remain mostly in dialogue formats with relatively modest agendas, but all understand that this format sets a certain standard of equal, cooperative relations.

Regionalization of global politics attends to various compulsions. A need often arises to find regional solutions to conflicts and crisis situations. Again, regionalization fills in where global mechanisms are either insufficient or are lacking. At other times, a safety net is simply required in case of any likely "de-globalization" (as in Afghanistan) so that fragmentation is arrested. Clearly, regional formats provide additional possibilities for the formation of unifying agendas.

But, unlike Russia and China, which take to regional formats with zest, Indian diplomacy generally holds back. India's preponderant size in its region and its problematic relationships with China and Pakistan partly account for its reticence. But the crisis building up in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region shows up the inadequacies of India's "solo approach". Delhi's inability to partake of regional initiatives on Afghanistan virtually isolates it in the region.

Evidently, its nationalist isolationism is reducing India to being a bystander when momentous regional processes are unfolding. There has been a systematic attempt by influential sections of the Indian strategic community to deride or downright rubbish and undermine India's involvement in regional processes - such as the RIC - that exclude the US or towards which Washington remains antithetical.

India has the maximum to lose in the absence of a regional initiative on the settlement of the Afghan problem. Delhi holds an archaic view of the Taliban. While there is wide recognition in the region that the Taliban are an Afghan political reality, Delhi stands apart. The security establishment in Delhi sets the pace for Indian diplomacy and in its vision, the Taliban are the progeny of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and therefore India cannot countenance a role for the Taliban in Afghanistan's power structure.

But then, the Afghan conflict is first and foremost a fratricidal strife, and an enduring solution needs to be all-inclusive. Besides, who are Indians to prescribe what is good for the Afghan people? Delhi would have gained by working together with like-minded countries that broadly share India's misgivings about the ascendancy of radical forces in the region and yet accept the inevitability of a broad-based pan-Afghan settlement.

Principal among such major regional countries would be China, Russia and Iran. Now, these three countries are ahead of India in forging regional matrixes within which they advance their national interests. Russia and China work together within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Russia also has an alliance system in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Iran has initiated its own trilateral format with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Obama's Chinese takeaway

To be sure, Washington heaved a big sigh of relief that the RIC process failed to mature. The dreadful moment, from the US perspective, would be if and when the RIC began bearing the fruits of regional activism. Therefore, the RIC's state of health has all along been of intense curiosity to Washington. The US has been stalking the RIC - just as it is doing with regard to Tokyo's nascent idea of an East Asian community. As the president of the influential Japan Foundation, Kazuo Ogoura, wrote last week, "It is intolerable [for Washington] to see Asians considering their relations among each other in a form that excludes the US."

Moscow will feel concerned. Lavrov candidly admitted to Russian journalists accompanying him, "[The George W] Bush administration sinned by a lopsided interpretation of collective efforts ... Obama has announced a different philosophy - that of collective action, which calls for joint analysis, decision-making and implementation rather than for all others to follow Washington's decisions. [But] so far inertia lingers at the implementers' level in the US, who still follow the well-trodden track ... This is a process which will take time before the president's will is translated into the language of practical actions by his subordinates ... a need for joint analysis is still evident in Afghanistan."

The RIC's failure at Bangalore to work substantially on a regional initiative regarding Afghanistan ensures that the US can now press ahead with its own strategy of striking "grand bargains" individually with the three major regional powers - Russia, China and India.

Conceivably, the "Chinese takeaway" will be a substantial outcome of US President Barack Obama's forthcoming visit to Beijing. The Pentagon press release on the talks in Washington between US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the visiting vice chairman of China's People's Liberation Army Central Military Commission, General Xu Caihou, said the two sides "agreed on the need to work together" on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said, "The takeaway is that there was broad agreement on the importance of, and how to deal with, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the need to work together to create a more stable and secure environment in both those places."

Writing in the New York Times newspaper last Friday, two influential American voices - Mark Brzezinski, who served on the National Security Council in the Bill Clinton administration, and Mark Fung of Harvard University, who is an old Beijing hand - argued that Obama must carry a purposive "China List" when he travels Beijing. They wrote:
Three overarching "deliverables" could be identified that if implemented would significantly reshape the US-China relationship and address serious challenges the two countries face together. One, establish a formal mechanism among the leaders of the United States, China and Pakistan. China is Pakistan's most important supporter both because of their geographical proximity and China's perception of China as a counterweight to India ...

The interests for the United States and China are consonant in Pakistan: removing extremist fundamentalist activity, stabilizing the leadership and encouraging economic growth ... The United States should make it clear it does not want to displace Beijing's influence in Islamabad, but a tripartite approach would advance shared interests ... The Obama trip to Beijing provides an opportunity to elevate the relationship to include constructive engagement in concentric areas of shared interest - stabilizing Pakistan, advancing soft power interests in Afghanistan, and cooperating on security matters and shared challenges in East Asia.
The Afghan crisis is most certainly prompting a shift in geopolitical templates. What if the Chinese side has its own "Obama List"? Beijing will be justified in asking: How could China possibly cooperate in the security sphere with the US and the Western alliance in Afghanistan when the West maintains a 20-year-old arms embargo on China?

The Obama administration's worldview is still emerging, but its policies toward Russia and China are already revealing. Its Russia policy consists of trying to accommodate Moscow's sense of global entitlement. So far that has meant ignoring the continued presence of Russian forces on Georgian territory, negotiating arms-control agreements that Moscow needs more than Washington does and acquiescing to Russian objections to new NATO installations -- such as missile interceptors -- in former Warsaw Pact countries. An aggrieved Russia demands that the West respect a sphere of influence in its old imperial domain. The Obama administration rhetorically rejects the legitimacy of any such sphere, but its actions raise doubts for those who live in Russia's shadow. The administration has announced a similar accommodating approach to China. Dubbed "strategic reassurance," the policy aims to convince the Chinese that the United States has no intention of containing their rising power. Details remain to be seen, but as with the Russia "reset," it is bound to make American allies nervous.
Administration officials seem to believe that the era of great-power competition is over. The pursuit of power, President Obama declared during a July speech about China, "must no longer be seen as a zero-sum game."

Unfortunately, that is not the reality in Asia. Contrary to optimistic predictions just a decade ago, China is behaving exactly as one would expect a great power to behave. As it has grown richer, China has used its wealth to build a stronger and more capable military. As its military power has grown, so have its ambitions.

This is especially true of its naval ambitions. Not so long ago, our China experts believed it was absurd for China to aspire to a "blue-water" navy capable of operating far from its shores.

Yet the new head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Robert Willard, noted last month that "in the past decade or so, China has exceeded most of our intelligence estimates of their military capability. . . . They've grown at an unprecedented rate." Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently warned that China's military modernization program could undermine U.S. military power in the Pacific.

It is hardly surprising that China wants to supplant U.S. power in the region. To the Chinese, the reign of "the middle kingdom" is the natural state of affairs and the past 200 years of Western dominance an aberration. Nor is it surprising that China wants to reshape international security arrangements that the United States established after World War II, when China was too weak to have a say.

What is surprising is the Obama administration's apparent willingness to accommodate these ambitions. This worries U.S. allies from New Delhi to Seoul.

Those nations are under no illusion about great-power competition. India is engaged in strategic competition with China, especially in the Indian Ocean, which both see as their sphere of influence. Japan's government wants to improve relations with Beijing, but many in Japan fear an increasingly hegemonic China. The nations of Southeast Asia do business with China but look to the United States for strategic support against their giant neighbor.

For decades, U.S. strategy toward China has had two complementary elements. The first was to bring China into the "family of nations" through engagement. The second was to make sure China did not become too dominant, through balancing. The Clinton administration pushed for China's accession to the World Trade Organization and normalized trade but also strengthened the U.S. military alliance with Japan. The Bush administration fostered close economic ties and improved strategic cooperation with China. But the United States also forged a strategic partnership with India and enhanced its relations with Japan, Singapore and Vietnam. The strategy has been to give China a greater stake in peace, while maintaining a balance of power in the region favorable to democratic allies and American interests.

"Strategic reassurance" seems to chart a different course. Senior officials liken the policy to the British accommodation of a rising United States at the end of the 19th century, which entailed ceding the Western Hemisphere to American hegemony. Lingering behind this concept is an assumption of America's inevitable decline.

Yet nothing would do more to hasten decline than to follow this path. The British accommodation of America's rise was based on close ideological kinship. British leaders recognized the United States as a strategic ally in a dangerous world -- as proved true throughout the 20th century. No serious person would imagine a similar grand alliance and "special relationship" between an autocratic China and a democratic United States. For the Chinese -- true realists -- the competition with the United States in East Asia is very much a zero-sum game.

For that reason, "strategic reassurance" is likely to fail. The Obama administration cannot back out of the region any time soon; Obama's trip this week, in fact, seems designed to demonstrate American staying power. Nor is China likely to end or slow its efforts to militarily and economically dominate the region. So it will quickly become obvious that no one on either side feels reassured.

Unfortunately, the only result will be to make American allies nervous. For an administration that has announced "we are back" after years of alleged Bush administration neglect in Asia, this is not an auspicious beginning.