Pakistan and the War Within Islam

Pakistan and the Sunni Gulf

the diplomat

Pakistan and the Sunni Gulf

Image Credit: REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

Recent months have brought Islamabad a flurry of visits from leaders of Sunni gulf nations, prompting many observers to question just what Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif might be getting the already embattled country into.

Pakistan’s 190 million inhabitants include around 26 million Shiites, giving it the largest population of the minority Muslim sect’s adherents after Iran. While Pakistan has officially tried to remain on the sidelines of the regular Shiite-Sunni flare-ups in the Middle East over the last few decades, backroom deals with Sunni monarchies like those being signed recently have not gone unnoticed domestically.

Pakistan is already witnessing unprecedented levels of sectarian violence, with more than 1,700 killed since 2008. The armed groups responsible for the bloodshed were born out of the global sectarian tensions that followed the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which produced the first modern Shiite theocracy.

Now, as the three-year-old civil war in Syria is encouraging Muslim nations to form Shiite and Sunni blocs, there is concern that if Pakistan were to join the fray globally, things could go from bad to worse domestically.

Bahrain’s king, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, smiles down on traffic in Pakistan’s capitol Islamabad from hundreds of banners lining the streets, a reminder of the ruler’s visit last month, the first by a Bahraini ruler in 40 years.

The words “Pakistan welcomes you!” are emblazoned across the top, although that is more an aspiration than reality.

The details of Khalifa’s visit were kept deliberately vague, with the Pakistani Foreign Office describing discussions between the “brotherly countries” centering around “bilateral, regional and international matters of mutual interest.” What little information that did emerge was worrying to some Pakistanis, like the pledge to increase the “export of Pakistani manpower to Bahrain.” That’s something that has ended badly in the past.

In 2011, when largely Shiite protesters began demanding that Bahrain move towards a constitutional monarchy, thousands of ex-soldiers and police officers were recruited from Pakistan with the promise of Bahraini citizenship. The Pakistani security personnel shouted orders at Bahrainis in English and Urdu, becoming the face of a brutal crackdown by the state that engulfed Shiite villages in perpetual clouds of tear gas.

But Bahrain’s domestic troubles pale in comparison to the explosive war in Syria, which has drawn thousands of Sunni jihadists, including Al-Qaeda’s leadership, into a conflict Islamist extremists see as an apocalyptic confrontation with Shiite Islam, in this case the forces of Bashar al-Assad and neighboring Iran.

With prospects for a negotiated settlement fading, the rebels are in need of weapons and expertise to get them out of a stalemate. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar have set up camps to coordinate the training of Syrian rebels, but are in need of instructors and equipment.

That likely prompted a rare February visit to Pakistan by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who doubles as the defense minister. Over three days in Islamabad, al-Saud met the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the President Mamnoon Hussain, and the country’s top military leadership.

His prize: a 180-degree shift in Pakistan’s policy towards the war in Syria, which had previously been one of neutrality. A joint statement called for “the formation of a transnational governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country.” In other words, Pakistan now stands with Saudi Arabia in demanding the departure of Bashar al-Assad.

A few weeks later, $1.5 billion was transferred to Pakistan’s state bank by an unnamed “brotherly country,” giving the rupee is largest boost in years. When word leaked the funds had come from Saudi Arabia, many in Pakistan began to connect the dots with other rumors about Pakistan’s shift in policy.

A long-delayed pipeline meant to carry natural gas from Iran to energy-starved Pakistan has effectively been killed by Nawaz Sharif’s government. Pakistan has not built any of the 781 km pipeline on its side that it’s contractually obligated to complete by December 2014, and stands to incur a daily fine of $3 million next year.

Meanwhile, there are rumors Pakistan is planning to provide Saudi Arabia with expert trainers and equipment for the Syrian rebels.

Officials have been coy on the details, but responding to inquiries in February, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson admitted it was looking to sell the Gulf kingdom the JF-17 Thunder, a fighter jet developed jointly with China, and other unspecified equipment.

That equipment is thought to include the Anza, a heat-seeking, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile designed with China and manufactured locally. It’s the equivalent of the American Stinger missile, which was used to equip jihadist fighters during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan three decades ago. The U.S., which is also supplying the Syrian rebels with light arms and communication equipment, is reportedly reluctant to hand over its own shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles for fear of where they might end up.

Thousands of Pakistani troops, who now have more than a decade of experience fighting insurgents in the country’s war against the Taliban, may also make their way to Saudi Arabia to train the rebels.

All of that prompted criticism by Pakistani lawmakers, who grilled the foreign minister last month about what their military could play in the Syrian war. “We are afraid this amount has a link with the Syrian situation,” Syed Khursheed Shah, who leads the opposition in the National Assembly, told reporters. The prime minister himself weighed in, categorically denying that any troops would be sent to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain.

But the rumors have persisted, including one story that Pakistan might deploy nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran goes nuclear itself. While Pakistan has vehemently denied that story – which does indeed seem far-fetched – the fact is, Pakistan owes Saudi Arabia a favor.

Pakistan’s decades-long nuclear weapons program finally yielded a weapon in 1998, prompting severe sanctions by the United States, which were only lifted when the country’s cooperation was needed following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Beginning in 1998, Saudi Arabia began supplying Pakistan with 50,000 barrels a day of free crude oil, worth nearly $2 billion.

In fact, Pakistan’s military-to-military cooperation with Saudi Arabia goes back five decades. Between the 1960s and 1980s, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, working under Saudi command. Pakistani fighter pilots trained their first Saudi counterparts, and in 1969 flew jets that successfully repulsed incursions by Yemeni forces. Pakistani engineers built Saudi fortifications along its border with Yemen, meant to keep out Shiite Houthi fighters to the south.

During the first Gulf War, Pakistan toned down the presence of 15,000 troops in Saudi Arabia, ordering them away from the frontlines, fearing a backlash from Saddam Hussein, and sectarian groups at home.

It was during those decades that the sectarian groups now plaguing Pakistan first emerged.

In 1980, military ruler Zia ul Haq instituted the Zakaat Ordinance, which forced Shiites and Sunnis alike to turn over 2.5 percent of their income, as was required under Islamic law, to the state to be spent on charity. Pakistan was engulfed in protests by Shiites, who objected to the state’s interference in their religious practices. Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s leader, convinced Zia ul Haq to exempt Shiites from the law.

That movement spawned the Tehrik-e-Jafria, a Shiite group sworn to protect the minority’s rights. Sunnis saw the group as a front for the Iranian regime, and by 1985, hardliners had formed their own group, called Sipah-e-Sahaba. In 1990, one of that group’s founders, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, was killed, and in return, Sunni militants killed the Iranian Consul General.

In 1997, a bomb killed the head of the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba group; in return, Sunni militants killed an Iranian diplomat in the city of Multan. Later that year, the Iranian cultural center in Lahore was also bombed, and five Iranian soldiers training in Pakistan were killed.

Today, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a splinter group of the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba, has claimed responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Shiites in the city of Quetta, killed in bombings and brazen attacks on buses carrying pilgrims to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Dozens of Shiite and Sunni clerics have been gunned down in Pakistan this year alone, in tit-for-tat assassinations each blames on “foreign interference.”

“There is no doubt the differences are being instigated,” said Muhammad Amin Shaheedi, the head of Pakistan’s largest Shia political party. “It’s terrorism being fanned by others, outsiders who are taking advantage of the situation.”

Ahmed Ludhianvi, head of a Sunni group that formed after Sipah-e-Sahaba was banned in 2002, has exactly the same view. “Some foreign powers are trying to bring Pakistan to the brink of civil war,” he says. “This bloodshed began after 1979.”

To be sure, Pakistan’s sectarian militants are now operating on auto-pilot, and the idea that Iran and the Sunni Gulf monarchies are to blame seems farfetched. But if Pakistan’s pivot away from Iran continues and it finds itself mired in a sectarian war in Syria, those domestic militants could become proxy warriors in a conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands in the Middle East.

Umar Farooq is based in Pakistan, where he works as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. He has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Globe and Mail, and The Nation.

Is the Pakistani Army Obligated To Fight for Saudi Arabia?

 

Notwithstanding the fanfare surrounding the king of Bahrain’s meeting on Wednesday with the top commanders of Pakistan’s armed forces at the joint staff headquarters in Rawalpindi, an increasingly baffling question refused to go away.

Beyond the limelight following a growing engagement recently between Pakistan’s ruling structure and the Saudi-led Arab world, exactly who gains what remains unclear in the public eye.

Three years after a popular uprising rocked Bahrain, Pakistan’s role in quelling that popular unrest remains an actively discussed subject. At best, Pakistani officials have confirmed knowledge of retired uniformed personnel having been engaged by Bahrain’s security establishment for training purposes. But the numbers are far from clear.

Meanwhile, the arrival in Pakistan of Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, has coincided with a widely talked about controversy emanating from the mysterious case of the $1.5 billion which according to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were given by a ‘friendly country’ to bolster Pakistan’s depleting foreign reserves.

Though still not confirmed officially, Pakistan remains abuzz with suggestions that the funds were given by Saudi Arabia following last month’s high-profile visit to Islamabad by Saudi crown prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud.

For members of Pakistan’s pro-Saudi lobby, the support is a repeat of Riyadh’s past benevolence showered in forms like the practically free-of-charge oil given for three years to Pakistan after Islamabad’s 1998 nuclear tests. Without the previous Saudi largesse, the economic sanctions following Pakistan’s entry to the global nuclear club could have had a significantly more crippling effect on the country, goes the argument.

Yet, the stakes are much higher for Pakistan at a time when its increasingly challenged internal security environment has thrown up possibly the worst challenge in the nation’s history.

The danger of Pakistan getting sucked into the considerable security challenges faced by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain while its internal conditions remain deeply unsettled will likely continue to evoke controversy.

In a powerful reminder of the uncertainty surrounding Bahrain, a Bahraini court on Wednesday sentenced 11 defendants each to a 15 year prison term. They were convicted of “manufacturing bombs for terror purposes”.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing engagement with Islamabad has prompted suggestions of the ruling establishment in Riyadh seeking Islamabad’s support to bolster itself on two fronts — the southern frontline along the border with Yemen and to the north to face internal security challenges as well as tackling any possible spillover from conflict-stricken Syria.

Media reports have gone further to claim that the Saudis have asked Pakistan to help arm and train Syrian dissidents facing president Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime. Not surprising though, these reports have prompted concerns from a range of well-positioned critics among Pakistan’s political representatives and policy watchers.

According to Farhatullah Babar, a senator of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), “Serious questions need to be answered by the government. It is inconceivable that somebody gives you $1.5 billion and there is no quid pro quo. That has never happened before”.

Senator Babar further warned of the wider regional consequences for Pakistan’s security if the country is proven to have taken sides in active Middle-East conflicts. “If Pakistan supports any one side in the Syrian conflict that will exacerbate sectarian tensions within Pakistan and keep the border with Iran on the boil,” he added, echoing an oft-repeated concern over the fallout for Pakistan from becoming entangled in a sharpened Shia-Sunni divide in its surrounding region.

For long-term observers of Pakistan’s military engagement with Saudi Arabia, the recently reported requests are not without precedent. “In the 1980s our troops were there at a time when the Saudis faced an external threat from a spillover of the Gulf war,” said retired Brigadier Farooq Hameed Khan, a commentator on Pakistan’s defence affairs.

Brigadier Khan however warned that suggestions of “Pakistan getting sucked in to a wider conflict especially a sectarian conflict” has significantly raised the stakes for Islamabad. “Pakistani weapons in no way should be used anywhere in the Gulf in a conflict situation,” he added, referring to unconfirmed reports of a Saudi request for light arms to be provided by Pakistan to the Syrian opposition.

While the debate rages across Islamabad on the pros and cons of Pakistan’s deeper involvement in Middle East tensions, western diplomatic observers are struck by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government’s failure to become more transparent as it pursues potentially significant policy choices.

“It is mind boggling that you have a government with a majority in parliament but little faith in the parliamentary processes. There is so much secrecy,” said one senior western diplomat on Wednesday. “A political government ought to go to parliament, put the matter on the table and prove that it has the backing of the majority. Pakistan’s tragedy is ultimately you have a democracy but not a [democratic] character,” he concluded.

Farhan Bokhari is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on politics, economy and security issues.

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides

the telegraph

The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal

Two currencies - US Dollar and Rouble

Washington is tightening the noose on Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt Photo: Alamy

The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot.

The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century.

“It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies’ financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness,” says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury’s War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

Bear this in mind as Washington tightens the noose on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt (Sberbank data).

The stealth weapon is a “scarlet letter”, devised under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act. Once a bank is tainted in this way – accused of money-laundering or underwriting terrorist activities, a suitably loose offence – it becomes radioactive, caught in the “boa constrictor’s lethal embrace”, as Mr Zarate puts it.

This can be a death sentence even if the lender has no operations in the US. European banks do not dare to defy US regulators. They sever all dealings with the victim.

So do the Chinese, as became clear in 2005 when the US hit Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao for serving as a conduit for North Korean commercial piracy. China pulled the plug. BDA collapsed within two weeks. China also tipped off Washington when Mr Putin proposed a joint Sino-Russian attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008, aiming to precipitate a dollar crash.

Mr Zarate told me that the US can “go it alone” with sanctions if necessary. It therefore hardly matters whether or not the EU drags its feet over Ukraine, opting for the lowest common denominator to keep Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary and Luxembourg on board. Washington has the power to dictate the pace for them.

The new arsenal was first deployed against Ukraine – of all places – in December 2002. Its banks were accused of laundering funds from Russia’s organised crime rings. Kiev capitulated in short order.

Nairu, Burma, North Cyprus, Belarus and Latvia were felled one by one, all forced to comply with US demands. North Korea was then paralysed. The biggest prize yet has been Iran, finally brought to the table. “A hidden war is under way, on a very far-reaching global scale. This is a kind of war through which the enemy assumes it can defeat the Iranian nation,” said then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Iran’s Majlis. He meant it defiantly. Instead it was prescient.

The US Treasury faces a more formidable prey with Russia, the world’s biggest producer of energy with a $2 trillion economy, superb scientists and a first-strike nuclear arsenal. It is also tightly linked to the German and east European economies. The US risks endangering its own alliance system if it runs roughshod over friends. It is in much the same situation as Britain in the mid-19th century when it enforced naval supremacy, boarding alleged slave ships anywhere in the world, under any flag, ruffling everybody’s feathers.

President Putin knows exactly what the US can do with its financial weapons. Russia was brought into the loop when the two countries were for a while “allies” in the fight against Jihadi terrorism. Mr Putin appointed loyalist Viktor Zubkov – later prime minister – to handle dealings with the US Treasury.

Mr Zarate said the Obama White House has waited too long to strike in earnest, clinging to the hope that Putin would stop short of tearing up the global rule book. “They should take the gloves off. The longer the wait, the more maximalist they may have to be,” he said.

This would be a calibrated escalation, issuing the scarlet letter to Russian banks that help Syria’s regime.

He thinks it may already too late to stop Eastern Ukraine spinning out of control, but not too late to inflict a high cost. “If the US Treasury says three Russian banks are “primary money-laundering concerns”, do you think that UBS, or Standard Chartered will have anything to do with them?”

This will graduate to sanctions on Russian defence firms, mineral exports and energy – trying not to hurt BP assets in Russia too much, he adds tactfully – culminating in a squeeze on Gazprom should all else fail. Whether you are for or against such action, be under no illusion as to what it means. We would be living in a different world, and Wall Street’s S&P 500 would not be trading anywhere near 1,850.

It is true that Russia is not the power it once was, as you can see from these Sberbank charts showing relative economic size against China and Europe.

This is not a repeat of the Cold War. There is no plausible equivalence between Russia and the West, and no ideological mystique.

It has $470bn of foreign reserves but these have already fallen by $35bn since the crisis began as the central bank fights capital flight and defends the rouble. Moscow cannot easily deploy the reserves in a slump without causing the money supply to shrink, deepening a recession that is almost certainly under way. Finance minister Anton Siluanov says growth may be zero this year. The World Bank fears -1.8pc, while Danske Banks says it could be -4pc.

Putin cannot count on global allies to carry him through. Only Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belarus, North Korean, Syria, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Armenia lined up behind Mr Putin at the United Nations over Crimea, a roll-call of the irrelevant.

Yet as the old proverb goes: “Russia is never as strong as she looks; Russia is never as weak as she looks.”

Princeton professor Harold James sees echoes of events before the First World War when Britain and France imagined they could use financial warfare to check German power.

He says the world’s interlocking nexus means this cannot be contained. Sanctions risk setting off a chain-reaction to match the 2008 shock. “Lehman was a small institution compared with the Austrian, French and German banks that have become highly exposed to Russia’s financial system. A Russian asset freeze could be catastrophic for European – indeed, global – financial markets,” he wrote on Project Syndicate.

Chancellor George Osborne must have been let into the secret of US plans by now. Perhaps that is why he issued last week’s alert in Washington, warning City bankers to prepare for a sanctions fall-out. The City is precious, he said, “but that doesn’t mean its interests will come above the national security interests of our country”.

The greatest risk is surely an “asymmetric” riposte by the Kremlin. Russia’s cyber-warfare experts are among the best, and they had their own trial run on Estonia in 2007. A cyber shutdown of an Illinois water system was tracked to Russian sources in 2011. We don’t know whether US Homeland Security can counter a full-blown “denial-of-service” attack on electricity grids, water systems, air traffic control, or indeed the New York Stock Exchange, and nor does Washington.

“If we were in a cyberwar today, the US would lose. We’re simply the most dependent and most vulnerable,” said US spy chief Mike McConnell in 2010.

The US defence secretary Leon Panetta warned of a cyber-Pearl Harbour in 2012. “They could shut down the power grid across large parts of the country. They could derail passenger trains or, even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country,” he said. Slapstick exaggeration to extract more funds from Congress? We may find out.

Sanctions are as old as time. So are the salutary lessons. Pericles tried to cow the city state of Megara in 432 BC by cutting off trade access to markets of the Athenian Empire. He set off the Pelopennesian Wars, bringing Sparta’s hoplite infantry crashing down on Athens. Greece’s economic system was left in ruins, at the mercy of Persia. That was a taste of asymmetry.

The Dangerous Economic Warfare Policies of the US Treasury

More Evidence That Consolidated Global Power Is Wielded by a Tiny Elite

the daily bell

US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides … The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot. The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century. – UK Telegraph

Dominant Social Theme: How fortunate that the US can place sanctions anywhere in the world. What foresight.

Free-Market Analysis: Gradually and continually (we humbly observe) our theses are confirmed by others. The Anglo-American axis indeed controls the world – China, too.

We find this startling admission in a recent article posted at the UK Telegraph (SEE: US financial showdown with Russia is more dangerous than it looks, for both sides).

And, yes, we’ve reported on it in our own way, proposing that the top elites in any society have more in common with each other than the vast majority of citizens they keep (a distant) company with.

Thus it is not surprising that the US has a great deal of clout around the world. The article also makes the point that the power the US has accumulated makes its exercise dangerous, at least when it comes to Russia.

The Bear is a big and powerful country on its own, and any misjudgment on the part of US officials may cause a kind of destabilization that could lead to direct military conflict between Russia and the US.

Nonetheless, leaving aside the obvious danger, the article’s point about the power that the West – and the US – has accumulated is significant.

Here’s more:

“It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies’ financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness,” says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury’s War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

Bear this in mind as Washington tightens the noose on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, slowly shutting off market access for Russian banks, companies and state bodies with $714bn of dollar debt (Sberbank data).

… The stealth weapon is a “scarlet letter”, devised under Section 311 of the US Patriot Act. Once a bank is tainted in this way – accused of money-laundering or underwriting terrorist activities, a suitably loose offence – it becomes radioactive, caught in the “boa constrictor’s lethal embrace”, as Mr Zarate puts it.

This can be a death sentence even if the lender has no operations in the US. European banks do not dare to defy US regulators. They sever all dealings with the victim. So do the Chinese, as became clear in 2005 when the US hit Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao for serving as a conduit for North Korean commercial piracy.

China pulled the plug. BDA collapsed within two weeks. China also tipped off Washington when Mr Putin proposed a joint Sino-Russian attack on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008, aiming to precipitate a dollar crash.

Mr Zarate told me that the US can “go it alone” with sanctions if necessary. It therefore hardly matters whether or not the EU drags its feet over Ukraine, opting for the lowest common denominator to keep Bulgaria, Cyprus, Hungary and Luxembourg on board. Washington has the power to dictate the pace for them.

This last point is especially noteworthy: Not only is the US effective at placing sanctions on countries around the world, it can also push most countries into complying with these sanctions. If US officials are unhappy, they can threaten credibly to destabilize a country causing such unhappiness.

Of course, it is not just the “US.” Those who stand behind the enormous power of America are globalist bankers located in various independent city-states around the world.

Those wielding sanctions are a power elite that has created a complex tapestry of rules, regulations and relationships that are subordinate to Western interests.

The British Empire dominated in the world in the 1800s, and this domination included China, India and Brazil. The British also had a sizeable influence in Russia during the post-war Russian Revolution, along with Wall Street, as G. Edward Griffin has

Using Social Media To Help the CIA To Destabilize the World

World instability

Security forces from Provincial Reconstruction Team Ghazni secure a landing zone while Polish medics arrive to provide medical care in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Poles and militaries from other Eastern European countries participated in Iraq and Afghanistan with the hope that someday when they need military assistance, the U.S. would provide it, said Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor.

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 11, 2014) — Twitter, Facebook and other types of social media are contributing to global instability, said Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor — a team of intelligence experts.

The use of social media, he explained, has been shown to unite and rally demonstrators at a moment’s notice, enabling them to focus their energies on toppling regimes in just a matter of days. An example would be the use of it during the so-called Arab Spring, which began in December 2010.

Kaplan was keynote speaker at the 25th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle, Pa., sponsored by the Army War College, in partnership with the Joint Staff/J7. His remarks and those of others are not official U.S. Army doctrine. Rather they are meant to inform the Army of possible challenges it faces in the coming years and decades, officials said.

FAILED STATES

Failed, collapsed or weakened states pose a regional security problem and even a national security threat for the U.S. and its Army, Kaplan said, defining a weak or failed state as one where travel outside the capital can be dangerous — places like Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.

Social media is not the only factor that will increasingly destabilize the world in the next 20 years, he said.

Ethnic and religious sectarian problems will continue to fester and create failed states in places like Africa and the Middle East, areas he compared to the post-Roman Empire Christendom in 4th, 5th and 6th-century Europe, where doctrinal battles and violence occurred between various sects.

Syria, Iraq and the Central African Republic area examples where that is occurring and Kaplan believes it will further spread as passions increase.

Another factor in the rise of failed states, he said, is the end of colonial rule and the strongmen who followed.

Like it or not, he said, the European powers sliced up the world in spheres of influence and domination, where protest and chaos was effectively quashed.

When that domination ended in the 1960s, strongmen — who were seen by their people as leaders against imperialism — emerged. Since these dictators now felt like they had moral authority, they governed how they pleased, he said, adding that it wasn’t always in the best interest of their own people, but at least they maintained tight control.

But with the era of colonial rule and strongmen ending, people are getting restless and want change, he said; however the change each tribe, ethnic or sectarian group seeks may be very different and this results in friction and clashes.

WEAK INSTITUTIONS

One of the most important factors creating global instability, he said, are weak institutions that Americans take for granted; things like the departments of motor vehicles, water and electric companies, police and firefighters. These are not top-level government agencies, but are services that make society function.

In vast swaths of Africa and Asia, these institutions are weak and in some cases nonexistent, he said. Weak institutions in turn give rise to feeble state identities. Feeble state identities in turn breed discontent and anarchy.

That discontent then often manifests itself in militant, radicalized groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, which can create regional security problems. The kinds of people that join these types of groups, he said, are more willing to die for a cause than they would be for the state.

Non-state actors, he said, are also empowered by new technologies that have the potential for doing a great deal of damage; for instance offensive cyber capabilities and plastic explosives that can fit inside a pocket. A very small group of people with ideologies and these types of weapons can cause a great deal of instability.

There’s not much the U.S. will be able to do in the coming years to address failed states, he said, because the money to do it might not be there. The U.S., however, can take selective actions it deems important using its special operations capabilities.

Meanwhile, he said, the Army and other services remaining strong can serve as a deterrent to those who would do America harm. In other words, even if the Army isn’t engaged in direct combat, its strength will dissuade potential aggressors.

DEALING WITH CHINA

As if failed states aren’t bad enough, Kaplan said there’s plenty to be concerned about with respect to non-failed states like China and Russia.

For centuries, China was effectively separated from India by the Himalayas. Then, new technologies made the world a much smaller place.

Now, the Chinese are building warships and routinely sailing in the Indian Ocean and they’re building airfields in Tibet for fighter aircraft. India too is building warships and is using its satellites to spy on the Chinese.

This can cause a great deal of mutual suspicions and mistrust, Kaplan said.

The Chinese are mimicking what the U.S. did in the 19th and 20th centuries in the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. made the Caribbean its own lake and controlled the Panama Canal — the passage between the Atlantic and Pacific.

In China’s case, officials look at the East and South China seas — and increasingly the Indian Ocean — as part of their strategic sphere of influence. In other words, it’s their Caribbean.

For now, it isn’t in their interest to attack the U.S. because their military is not as strong as the U.S. and they can take their time building it up and gaining experience in using new military technologies, he said. Also, Kaplan doesn’t believe the Chinese are in meetings planning a world empire.

The problem for the U.S. with regard to China, he said, is that China will face internal instability over the coming decades because of an economic slowdown and tumultuous ethnic and social transformation.

When that occurs, the best way for China’s leaders to hold sway over their people will be to dial up nationalism, he said. That nationalism would take the form of provocations to its neighbors.

DEALING WITH RUSSIA

With respect to Russia, Kaplan said it too is acting in the same way the U.S. has in the past, dominating countries close to it like Ukraine, which he said the Russian people consider part of their heritage.

Throughout history, the Russians have felt the need for a buffer zone between their country and Europe, especially since it was periodically invaded by the French, Germans and others. America, he said, has been insulated from that threat by two oceans.

Russia’s need for buffers has not gone unnoticed by its eastern European neighbors, who are becoming increasingly uneasy, as Russia has proved willing to use force in Crimea and as it builds up its military forces elsewhere, he said.

Poles, Romanians and others are not reassured that they’ll get military assistance if needed from Western Europe, whose armies have been downsized much more than U.S. Army, he said. As well, Europe has become dependent on Russia for its energy needs, so this gives the Russians a great deal of leverage.

Because of Eastern Europe’s mistrust of getting help from the rest of Europe, Kaplan said they’ve turned increasingly to the U.S. for help, participating in U.S.-led exercises and contributing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan with the hope that in the future, the U.S. will remember their loyalties.

PARTNERSHIPS

So what can America do in the coming decades?

Besides maintaining a strong military, Kaplan said the U.S. can partner with other powers, India and Japan, for instance.

India views the U.S. presence in the Indian Ocean, for example, as a counter to China’s buildup. And in turn, he said, the U.S. values India’s military, although there isn’t a formal treaty like NATO in place.

The other thing the U.S. can do, he said, is to organize its interagency structure in a more vertical manner, like the British did in the 19th century and earlier with its East India Company. Economic, political and military agencies worked hand-in-hand in foreign policy, although today that policy would be viewed as imperialistic.

The U.S. military can use the vertical model to its benefit in national security by working more closely with the Department of State and agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development.

An important area of national security where Kaplan sees the U.S. going in the right direction is the continued development of its home-grown energy requirements, which makes America less reliant on energy imports from places not always friendly to the U.S.

Besides his work for Stratfor, Kaplan, is a national correspondent for the magazine “The Atlantic,” author of “Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and End of a Stable Pacific,” and in 2011 and 2012, he was chosen by “Foreign Policy” magazine as one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”

The 25th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle ran April 8-10.

Mega oil field discovered in southern Russia

Mega oil field discovered in southern Russia

Russia-Today
AFP Photo/Fabio Bucciarelli

AFP Photo/Fabio Bucciarelli

A new oil field with roughly 300 million tons of oil and 90 billion cubic meters of gas has been discovered in the Astrakhan region of Russia.

“The field’s reserves are unprecedented, this discovery confirms the high potential of the Astrakhan region in terms of these major discoveries,” Sergey Donskoy, Russia’s Natural Resources Minister said on Wednesday.

The field, called “Velikoe” (The Great) was discovered by the AFB Oil and Gas Company, which will likely seek out larger partners to develop it.

Two likely candidates are Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned and largest producer, and Lukoil, the country’s second biggest producer.

“According to experts, given the lack of large land deposits, project participation will likely come from all major industry players. The most probable partners are Rosneft and Lukoil, which already have projects in neighboring regions,” Uralsib Capital analyst Aleksey Kokin told mail.ru.

Kokin estimates the deposits could be worth nearly $1 billion.

Rosneft has projects in the neighboring Vanqor oil field, which has a capacity of 140 million tons.

The last major land hydrocarbon deposit discovery was the Vanqor field in 1988, which has over 500 million tons of oil in estimated reserves.

Another Astrakhan region field is Lukoil’s Filanovsky field, which has more than 150 million tons of recoverable oil in the Caspian Sea.

In 2012, the company opened the neighboring Tambov field, also located in the Astrakhan oil field, which is the world’s fifth largest.

Cyprus warns economic sanctions against Russia will destroy its economy

Cyprus warns economic sanctions against Russia will destroy its economy

Russia-Today
Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides (Reuters/Yuri Gripas)

Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told a German newspaper Wednesday that economic sanctions against Russia by Europe would destroy the Cypriot economy, adding that every EU state should decide separately whether they want to cut ties with Moscow.

“There are very strong economic ties between Cyprus and Russia. If sanctions are really necessary, then every member state should decide for itself whether to take part. However the measures look, we must not harm ourselves,” Kasoulides told Die Welt.

Kasoulides, speaking during deliberations at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU in Luxemburg, said the upcoming meeting in Geneva between the US, Russia, Ukraine, and the High Representative of the EU is an important “weapon” for establishing de-escalation in Ukraine.

“That is where our efforts should focus,” he added.

After the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the ministers “condemned unreservedly” the recent events in Ukraine, adding that they plan to add additional people to the asset-freeze and travel ban list which was created following the hasty referendum in Crimea last month. Thirty-three Russian officials are already on the list.

There are three stages of sanctions which the EU has drawn up against Russia. Current sanctions – the first two stages – stop short of economic measures and target individuals close to President Putin and disposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. The third stage, which was discussed by the EU on April 14, would include full economic measures.

Legal and accounting firms in Cyprus say that sanctions against Russia would negatively affect their prospects for growth, Vedomosti daily reported.

“Sanctions would have a limited influence in Cyprus but right now uncertainty remains and part of the decision making in business will be delayed,” Elias Neocleous, deputy director of Andreas Neocleous and Co, told Bloomberg. Seventy-seven of the firm’s lawyers and six of its tax inspectors have direct dealings with Russian and Ukrainian clients.

Cyprus is one of the biggest offshore investment destinations for Russian money. According to figures from the Central Bank of Russia, $12.9 billion was invested into Russia from Cyprus in the last three quarters of 2013.

But overall, the Cypriot economy remains in poor shape; it shrunk by 5.4 percent in 2013 as a result of tough EU austerity measures and a restructuring of the financial sector. GDP also shrunk by 4.8 percent last year.

A political crisis between Russia and Ukraine would further damage growth prospects for the island. It would also have a devastating effect on tourism, because the number of tourists from Russia and Ukraine would shrink, explained Teodor Panaiotu, a professor of economics and director of the International Management Institute of Cyprus.

“This crisis will lead to a drop in tourism and investment, which we can expect from Russia and Ukraine,” he said.

Tourism is now the most important area of the Cypriot economy and is more valuable than the banking sector, according to former Cyprus President Georgios Vasiliyu.