The Churchill Picket Report; Quarterly Strategic Outlook

648

Context
04-06-2011_PoliTact Graphics 3
August – November 2015

As we approach the end of the year, the pace of unprecedented global change is in no way easing. While the Iran nuclear deal was a remarkable achievement, it was accompanied by two hypotheses: will the agreement bolster Iran to exert even more influence in the region, or would it have to adjust its behavior after being mainstreamed.

This debate has now been marred by the Russian actions in the Middle East. As compared to Iran, it is Russia that seems to have been more emboldened. While the West may have hoped to pull Iran in to its orbit with the signing of the deal, Russia seems to have preempted that prospect by forming its own alliance to tackle Daesh, and now the debate is more about Russian intentions.

As noted in the July newsletter, the present stage of the war against extremism has gotten immensely complicated; it has gotten intertwined with the tussles of regional and global balance of power. In Syria, the stated position of Russia is to fight Daesh, which is a goal it shares with NATO and the regional states. The question is why would it be willing to risk getting military involved in Syria if NATO led alliance was already working on that goal?

Alarmingly, NATO and Russia have been slowly moving towards a collision course in Syria. The Russians are increasing their support for pro-regime forces while US and Arab allies are doing the same for those opposing. The interjection of limited number of US Special Operations forces, albeit in advisory role, has further heightened the risks of confrontation.

Just as the events of Ukraine and Crimea reset the geopolitics of Europe, Russian military involvement has altered the dynamics of the Middle East and North Africa. However, the tragic terror attack in Paris on November 13 will increase pressure on Russia to change its focus away from sustaining the Assad government and focus on fighting Daesh. In this context, the agreement reached in Vienna over an 18-month transition plan for Syria is a positive development.

In order to make our strategic insights and queries more accessible, we have summarized them below. These were developed as a result of various analyses and media discussions described later in this forecast.

Analysis

Russia and China

• Why is Russia willing to risk getting military involved in Syria and Middle East if NATO led alliance was already working on the objective of fighting the extremist?

• The tragic terror attack in Paris on November 13 will increase pressure on Russia to change its focus away from sustaining the Assad government and focus on fighting Daesh.

• One theory for why Russia intervened in Ukraine is that NATO was impinging on its home sphere of influence, known as the Near Abroad. On the other hand, in addition to countering the extremists in Syria, the fall of government there would have represented a loss of a key ally and footprint in the Middle East.

Will the same logic also apply to China’s future behavior, as US enhances its political, economic, and security presence in the Pacific? Will this pressure China to flex some muscle, as much as it does not want to, just as Russia had to in Syria?

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India

In the absence of progress in Afghan political solution, and the presence of threats directed against Pakistan from that direction, pressures are likely to mount on the nation to shift from the posture of Force Protection and towards Force Projection, one without the other makes no sense.

This increases the risk of Afghanistan becoming the Syria of South and Central Asia, especially if there is no progress towards reconciliation, India grows its security footprint in Afghanistan, and Deash continues to make in roads.

• To protect national interests and state sovereignty, international appetite for cross border interventions is growing, and in this, the utility of Good Non-State Actors is increasing – to challenge the likes of Daesh and Al Qaeda.

• During the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the US, some reports on Pakistan’s nuclear program projected a perception that the concern has to do with the safety of its nuclear program, in fact it is the unease surrounding the increasing capability of Pakistan nuclear weapons program; the growing number of tactical weapons and ranges of its nuclear capable missiles. This attention may also be an effort to create a pressure point on Pakistan, especially in relation to Afghanistan.

United States and NATO

Since 911 the debate has continued about the US mission, right strategy, and how much resources would be needed to accomplish it. Then there are questions regarding the war authorization as the threat has morphed from Al Qaeda to Al Qaeda and Associates, and now to Daesh.

The regional allies, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, are proving incapable to halt the extremist onslaught on their own; the downing of Russian plane over Sinai and the Paris attack will raise the voices for the return of ground troops, and complicate the foreign policy quandary as the American elections approach.

Change in the Middle East

• In the Islamic world, a unique dynamics is emerging. The core Islamic nations represented by the Sunni Arab world, are attempting to strengthen their alliance with the US and NATO. This is particularly true as Russia encroaches with the coalition of its own in the region, characterized by the Shia governments of Iran, Syria and Iraq.

On the other hand, Chinese and Russian influence is ressurging in the periphery, represented by the Islamic nations of South and Central Asia and the Pacific. Pakistan is furthering its strategic ties with China and Russia, while India is building on its alliance with the US. Meanwhile, the future of Afghanistan hangs in balance.

US Politics, Elections, Authorization for the War Against Daesh

As noted above, the Russian actions in Syria have raised questions regarding the US Middle East policy and strategy to counter Daesh. The US response is being closely watched by both allies and adversaries, especially China. Consequently, we are likely to see more assertive US activity in the Pacific region, to avoid the development of any incorrect impression. Meanwhile, the US Sunni Arab allies are not very happy about what they are seeing in Syria, and particularly in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal. The news about the Russian cooperation with the French in the aftermath of the Paris attack will further heighten concerns.

Then there are questions regarding the US strategy, war authorization, election cycles, and its fiscal health. In the aftermath of 9/11, US got militarily involved in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Since then the debate has continued about the mission, the right strategy, and how much resources would be needed to accomplish it. These discussions took place in the backdrop of major economic crisis that got underway around 2007. One of the main foreign policy goal of President Obama to bring the troops back home from Afghanistan and Iraq, has not only proved to be elusive, but lately has reversed altogether.

Dr Claude wrote two articles covering this dynamics in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute:

The War Against ISIS That No One In US Wants To Hear About

Russia, Syria and America’s feeble response

The regional allies, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, are proving incapable to halt the extremist threat on their own; the downing of Russian plane over Sinai and the Paris attack will raise the voices for the return of ground troops and complicate the foreign policy quandary as the American elections approach. The expanding war theater, and the emergence of Daesh, has meant that US and NATO are being compelled to reinforce their military presence in the region. Meanwhile, as the situation in the Middle East worsens, the European refugee crisis is also getting dire, creating unique security and economic challenges.

PoliTact’s South Asia and Middle East Fellow, Abdullah Khurram, wrote a special report covering the dynamics of Western Balkans after a trip to the region in July. He interacted with a number of Balkan based centers of intellectual thinking especially in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Albania. These discussions helped develop five key areas that can help the Balkan nations deal with their domestic and international challenges. Here is the link:

A 5-Point Agenda For The Western Balkans

Russia, China, and South Asia

The resurgence of Russia in global affairs is obvious, and perhaps desired by the West when it comes to countering extremism. This fact is not lost on South Asia where Pakistan is increasing its military cooperation with Russia, with great dismay of India. On the other hand, the Chinese participation in the Afghan peace process is maturing. The temporary fall of Kunduz to Taliban in September has raised the stakes for the Central Asian states, China, and Russia. Moreover, the Taliban attack on Badhaber camp, located near Peshawar, once again reminded Pakistan of the risks involved in the continuing Afghan instability.

The predicament for Pakistan is not much different than what the Saudi’s confront in neighboring Yemen, and that Turkey faces on its border with Syria. In the absence of progress in Afghan political solution, and the presence of threats directed against it from that direction, pressures are likely to mount on Pakistan to shift from the posture of Force Protection and towards Force Projection, one without the other makes no sense.

The challenge is that India is also looking at its defense posture towards Pakistan with a similar premise. This, after all, is the very principle under which the West has fought the war against terror. In our July newsletter, we had pointed out to the growing international appetite for cross border interventions to protect national interests and state sovereignty, and in this, the utility of Good Non-State Actors is growing.

Like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Pakistan would continue to fight AQ and any Daesh elements, but would mount greater pressure on local extremists and insurgents that threaten its sovereignty, and are likely getting support from external actors.

One theory for why Russia intervened in Ukraine is that NATO was impinging on its home sphere of influence, called Near Abroad. On the other hand, in addition to countering the extremists in Syria, the fall of government there would have represented a loss of a key ally and footprint in the Middle East.

Will the same logic also apply to China’s future behavior as US enhances its political, economic, and security presence in the Pacific? Will this inadvertently pressure China to flex some muscle, as much as it does not want to, just as Russia had to in Syria? This makes the Pacific, including the Central Asia region, the next hot spots.

PoliTact’s Asia Pacific Initiative

This realization has led us to launch a special initiative, to assess what the economic and security events of the Pacific will imply for South Asia and Middle East. For example, the signing of the US backed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement in October represented a significant milestone. However, little is understood about its impact on South Asia and Middle East.

As part of this initiative, we have produced following special reports:

• PoliTact’s director for strategic initiatives, Dr Claude Rakisits, wrote in the fall edition of World Affairs Journal: A Path to the Sea; China’s Pakistan Plan

• PoliTact’s South Asia and Asia Pacific Fellow, Kulsoom Belal, wrote a piece evaluating the Chinese and American vision for regional connectivity: What Does The Chinese One Belt One Road, American Pacific Pivot Imply For South Asia? A version of this report also appeared in Defense Journal, Pakistan.

• Dr Claude covered the September Xi-Obama Summit in an article published in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute: What to Make of Xi-Obama Washington Summit?

He noted: “So while there are areas where China and the US can work together, strategic competition between the two nations is real and is more than likely to become nasty down the road. The recent Xi–Obama summit has done nothing to dispel this perception.”

• Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat from our affiliate Gulf State Analytics covered China’s growing strategic partnership with UAE: The UAE, China Growing Strategic Partnership

“Throughout the 21st century, China’s ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have strengthened in various domains. China and the UAE’s growing relationship is a case in point. Since Beijing and Abu Dhabi established a diplomatic partnership in 1984, China and the UAE have become major economic partners and the bilateral relationship is well poised to flourish in the future.”

US Pakistan Relations, Afghanistan, India

The US Pakistan relations will evolve in the above laid out context. The direction of US-China ties, including the US-India security and economic cooperation, will be the important determinant of the shape of US-Pakistan ties. The Indian direct defense and security involvement in Afghanistan will likely aggravate the situation and add pressure on Pakistan to adopt an overt force projection posture, as described above. All of this increases the risk of Afghanistan becoming the Syria of South and Central Asia, especially if there is no progress towards a political solution and Deash continues to make in roads.

The Afghan situation is reaching a breaking point. Clearly, the talking and fighting cannot continue indefinitely. Since 9/11, the application of military force has been able to eliminate the AQ leadership, but has failed to weaken the Afghan Taliban. The presence of safe havens in Pakistan may have helped the sustainability of Afghan Taliban, however, no insurgency can survive without local resonance and support.

One of the foremost agenda item during the meeting of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama was the process of Afghan reconciliation and Pakistan’s role in the new alliance against Daesh, which the US is assembling. In addition, US once again raised the issue of targeting Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Tayiba. Pakistan, on the other hand, highlighted the Kashmir conflict and the security concerns arising from Indian military practicing its Cold Start doctrine, accompanied by threatening political messages.

A considerable amount of media hype focused on Pakistan’s nuclear program just before Nawaz Sharif’s visit, as it is now as General Raheel visits Washington. Some reports projected a perception that it has more to do with the safety of its nuclear program, in fact it is the unease surrounding the increasing capability of Pakistan nuclear weapons program; the growing number of tactical weapons and ranges of its nuclear capable missiles. This attention may also be an effort to create a pressure point on Pakistan, especially in relation to Afghanistan.

This was one of suggestion of the Atlantic Council report, released in October, to pressure Pakistan in de-operationalizing the Haqqani Network. The report was endorsed by a mix of senior serving and retired US officials and stated: “We further recommend the development of a multinational effort to engage Pakistan in support of this objective, backed by incentives, disincentives, and sharing of intelligence.”

These topics were debated in a number of media discussions covering the US visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month:

• Arif Ansar took part in a special VOA TV program on the visit of PM Nawaz Sharif to US. The guests included Defense Analyst Ikram Sehgal. Watch here.

• Arif Ansar shared his insights on a News ONE, VOA TV Special transmission on 22nd October 2015, as President Obama met PM Nawaz Sharif. Program was carried live from Washington DC and Karachi. (Part 1). Watch here.

• Rahman Bunairee of VOA Dewa interviewed Arif Ansar on Obama and Sharif meeting (In Pashto). Watch here.

The Changing Middle East

As different nations recalibrate their alignments vis-à-vis the emerging economic and security blocks of BRICS and SCO, the GCC Sunni nations have moved closer to the NATO and US, at least on Syria. In the Islamic world, a unique dynamics is emerging.

The core Islamic nations represented by the Sunni Arab world, are attempting to strengthen their alliance with the US and NATO. This is particularly true as Russia encroaches with the coalition of its own in the region, characterized by the Shia governments of Iran, Syria and Iraq.

On the other hand, Chinese and Russian influence is resurging in the peripheral Islamic nations of South and Central Asia and the Pacific. Pakistan is furthering its strategic ties to China and Russia, while India is building on its alliance with the US. Meanwhile, the future of Afghanistan hangs in balance.

These evolving postures are difficult to comprehend without a deep sense of history and how the matters have evolved in these regions during the last two centuries. These assessments, and their conclusions, are very much on the minds of different players as they decide on which nexus to tilt towards as the balance of power transitions.

The shape of the balance of power in the Middle East will create unique challenges for the peripheral nations, as it did, when Saudi Arabia sought Pakistan’s military assistance for its operation in Yemen, and to counter Iranian backed Houthis.

To prevent further deterioration of affairs along these lines would first require détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Secondly, it would necessitate that core and peripheral nations not get used against one another, in a manner that lead to the break up of the Ottoman Empire.

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