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    Central Asia
     Dec 24, 2009
Page 2 of 2
Life and premature death of Pax Obamicana
By Spengler

Rather than chanting in unison "Pakistan must not be allowed to fail!", Western strategists should plan for the consequences of a failed state in Pakistan. One alternative - with its own attendant difficulties - was raised by M K Bhadrakumar on this site on October 10 (Pakistan warns India to 'back off'):
India, of course, can do a lot to help the US and NATO in such a scenario by training the militia operating under the ‘warlords’ and also providing them with weapons. In sum, without military deployment in Afghanistan, Delhi has the capacity to play a decisive role in crushing the Taliban insurgency, which is what makes the Pakistani military establishment extremely anxious in the developing political scenario on the Afghan chessboard.
In this scenario, India would encircle and contain a Pakistani

  

failed state, cutting off the Afghanistan operations of the Islamist wing of Pakistan's military. Pakistan would be aghast, but the vise-grip around its borders would be so tight as to discourage future misbehavior.

There is one problem with this scenario, and that is China. As Francesco Sisci wrote on this site on December 15 (A radical empire looms), "Afghanistan and Pakistan are not unstable domino tiles that can be moved at will in a careful balance of weights and counterweights, as in old political power games. Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of a more complex balancing act that is both domestic and international and in which we also find China and India."

China cannot sit by and allow India to encircle and eventually crush its ally Pakistan - not because China has fundamental strategic interests in Pakistan, but because it cannot tolerate such a blemish to its credibility. The problem does not lie in Pakistan, but in the mutual capacity of India and China to destabilize each other. Maoist rebels are active in about a third of Indian territory, and the Indian government claims that they receive their weapons from China - without yet accusing the Chinese government of direct involvement. India has a probe stuck prominently into China's most sensitive spot, namely Tibet. On November 10, the Chinese government denounced India for permitting the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, to visit Tawang on the Tibetan border. China still claims as part of Tibet the whole border state of Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang.

Unlike World War I, in which the warring parties in the Balkans drew Russia and Austria into war and the rest of Europe with them, India and China will not go to war over trifling border issues. But in the absence of a solution to Pakistan's state failure, they will continue to support low-intensity operations and add to the region's instability. China in this respect most resembles Austria in 1914. It is the power that wants stability at all costs, and has the most to lose - through the provincial rebellion of ethnic minorities - from instability. But it cannot impose stability through any means within its own reach. More than any other power in the world, it regards the prospective failure of the Pakistani state with horror. Beijing does not seem to have thought through the configuration of a post-Pakistani world.

The balance of power fails along with Pakistan. The alternative to the balance of power, as Kissinger said, is hegemony, and no one but the United States can exercise it. A hegemonic US would do the following:
  • Invite New Delhi to increase its role in Afghanistan - which the Russians emphatically support - and make clear to Islamabad that the consequences of a shift toward radical Islam will be to leave Pakistan at the mercy of India.
  • Dictate to India a conciliatory policy toward China, including an empty dance card for the Dalai Lama and consideration for Chinese interests in Nepal and Myanmar.
  • Persuade China to throw its Pakistani ally under the bus, in return for assurances of Indian good behavior, as well as other incentives (access to US technology, for example).
  • Assure China that the United States will not take advantage of its troubles with the Uighurs in Xinjiang or any other Chinese ethnic minority - and that it will police such allies as Turkey with respect to such problems.
  • Crush Iran's imperial ambitions in the region, both to protect US allies such as Saudi Arabia and to eliminate a potential existential threat to Pakistan and remove a claim to legitimacy for radical Sunni Islamists.
  • Give Russia assurances that matters pertaining to its "near abroad" from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan will be considered with a view toward Russian interests.

    The implications of such an exercise in great-power politics are in some respects ugly. They include a perpetual civil war in Afghanistan and the continuation of at least low-level civil war in Pakistan. The object would not be to prevent Pakistan from turning into a failed state, but to prevent a failed state in Pakistan from poisoning the rest of the region. It also implies a self-interested recognition that the United States has nothing but sentimental interests in Ukraine, Georgia and Tibet - and that sentiment is cheap. It is not the best alternative, to be sure, but as General George Patton said, the best is the enemy of the good.

    At the close of 2009, Washington still has the capacity to act as a hegemon. The most dangerous undertaking of the Obama administration is not the petty failures of policy, such as the hapless effort to appease the Palestinians over West Bank settlements, or Pakistan over Kashmir. If America's technological leadership in fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles, and related technologies continues to erode, the United States - like Britain in 1914 - no longer will have the power and credibility to enforce an agreement among prospectively hostile players.

    America's self-sabotage in this regard is a unique act of abnegation in the history of world strategy. It lost Vietnam because to win would have required more boots on the ground and more body bags on homebound aircraft. But the problems of South and Central Asia do not require a substantial US troop commitment. On the contrary, the escalation of US force in Afghanistan makes matters worse. India can put sufficient boots on Afghan soil to prevent a Taliban victory. No one else wants or needs US troops. But America's capacity to sail an aircraft carrier to any coast in the world and be master of the situation is essential.

    Russia and India may field a fifth-generation fighter, perhaps a very good one if it contains the full Israeli avionics package. But a sixth-generation fighter is already in the research-and-development phase in the United States. If Washington puts resources behind cutting-edge defense technology, no other country or combination of countries can mount a challenge for a generation or more. America's failure to sustain its own power will be as tragic as it is unnecessary.

    Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, senior editor at First Things (www.firstthings.com).

    (Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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