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Archive for October 2009

Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan tainted with bad blood

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Fatima Bhutto at The Daily Beast blogs about Secretary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan today, amidst a disastrous explosion in Peshawar that killed over 90 and injured more than 200.

In the post, Bhutto blusters over the controversial Kerry-Lugar aid package and Clinton’s cordial relationship with President Zardari.

Bhutto’s most choice quote:

Clinton promised today to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Pakistan. Hillary, I think we’re standing close enough as it is.

Benefactor beware, the U.S. must be growing cognizant of Pakistan’s growing rancor.  In all likelihood, inter-state collaboration between the U.S. and Pakistan may have passed its peak.


Written by gringolost

October 28, 2009 at 2:52 pm

This week in illegal narcotics

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Three former presidents from Latin America wrote “The War on Drugs Is a Failure” in a Wall Street Journal opinion column. Their counter-proposal to the war on drugs included a paradigm shift in current drug policy based on three principles: “Reduce the harm caused by drugs, decrease drug consumption through education, and aggressively combat organized crime.”

The three former presidents of Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico stated:

Prohibitionist policies based on eradication, interdiction and criminalization of consumption simply haven’t worked. Violence and the organized crime associated with the narcotics trade remain critical problems in our countries. Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis, and is fast becoming a major supplier of opium and heroin. Today, we are further than ever from the goal of eradicating drugs.

Youth drug use grew 62% in Argentina over the past decade.  While cocaine use in Mexico doubled in six years.

Over 300 La Familia cartel members were arrested in two days as part of operation “Project Coronado.”  The operation included coordination between over 3,000 law enforcement agents from the U.S. and Mexico.  During the two-day operation, $3.4 million was seized in U.S. currency, alongside 729 pounds of methamphetamine, 62 kilograms of cocaine, 967 pounds of marijuana, 144 weapons and 109 vehicles.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the Taliban earned 90-160 million dollars a year from taxing and smuggling illegal opium and heroin between 2005 and 2009.  This amount was double what they earned while in control of Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Taliban’s diversified financial portfolio, which includes revenues from the illegal drug industry, kidnapping and extortion, and financial backing from outside financiers.

From the NY Times, reporter Eric Schmitt writes:

Counterterrorism experts say the relationship of the insurgents to drug trafficking is shifting in an ominous direction. A United Nations report issued in August said that some opium-trafficking guerrillas had secretly stockpiled more than 10,000 tons of illegal opium — worth billions of dollars and enough to satisfy at least two years of world demand. The large stockpiles could bolster the insurgency’s war chest and further undercut the ability of NATO military operations to curb the flow of drug money to the Taliban.

Back to Latin America, Competition is fierce in Rio de Janeiro’s drug trade.  According to the Economist, Rio’s three big drug dealing organizations split total annual profits of only BRL$27 million (USD $15 million).  In contrast to Brazil’s typically inequitable economy, the wage structure of Rio’s organized drug-criminal enterprises “appear to be surprisingly flat,” meaning a greater percentage of the profits is distributed more evenly throughout the production chain.  The Economist reports “far from living like characters in an MTV hip-hop video, Rio’s dealers are operating at ‘close to break-even.'”

Chavez in the Shower

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No kids, three minutes is more than enough. I’ve counted, three minutes, and I don’t stink.

Written by gringolost

October 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Posted in Venezuela, Water

Tagged with , , , ,

The waning power of India

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In international relations, power can be measured in absolute or relative terms.  When it comes to economic power, a country is mostly likely said to be better off if its economic power increases in absolute terms.  But, when it comes to diplomatic power, a country is more concerned with its relative power vis-à-vis others.

That’s why this article by Brahma Chellaney in Forbes’ Magazine, “Behind the Sri Lankan Bloodbath,” sheds interesting light on the state of India’s power in South Asia.  Because while India may be one of the strongest regional actors in terms of trade, population and military might – it is still struggling to assert itself in the diplomatic arena.

Even the small island-state Sri Lanka, which is proximate to India in many ways, does not operate as a client or as India’s sole beneficiary, instead pledging allegiance to other states (especially China and Pakistan) in return for counterinsurgency support against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As Chellaney notes, Sri Lanka “practiced adroit but duplicitous diplomacy” which often contradicted India’s interest but was in-line with Sri Lanka’s sovereign interest:

[Sri Lanka] assured India it would approach other arms suppliers only if New Delhi couldn’t provide a particular weapon system it needed. Yet it quietly began buying arms from China and Pakistan without even letting India know. In doing so, Colombo mocked Indian appeals that it rely for its legitimate defense needs on India, the main regional power. It was only by turning to India’s adversaries for weapons, training and other aid that Colombo pulled off a startling military triumph. In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India’s traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

Accordingly Chellaney reports, “India’s waning leverage over Sri Lanka” manifested itself in how “it has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan.”  As an example, Chellaney uses the billion-dollar seaport being built by Beijing in Sri Lanka’s southeast as a symbol of China’s strategic challenge to India.

In a broader sense, India’s inability to exert diplomatic leverage over other powers becomes apparent with the global influence China has compared to India despite their approximate similarities in demographics, military capability and economic strength.  India’s waning regional influence is exemplified by the Sri Lanka case.

Now, what are the reasons for India’s lackluster ability to project diplomatic power?  In regards to Sri Lanka, Chellaney believes India’s foreign policy suffered because it was not driven by “resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power.”  Additionally, I would add that India’s foreign policy is hindered by domestic and border concerns that often receive paramount attention.  And India’s “meandering” approach can be explained by its inability to overcome these critical constraints at home. ♦

U.S. aid package to Pakistan meets with disapproval (in Pakistan)

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Last week, the Kerry-Lugar Pakistan aid bill was passed by congress. The bill will grant $1.5 billion a year to the civilian-side of Pakistan’s government over the next 5 years.  Conditional to the aid package, Pakistan must meet certification requirements that would focus on Pakistan’s counter-terrorism/insurgency goals, while also increasing America’s embassy presence.

Conditions embedded in the bill have angered Pakistan’s military, but can the U.S. actually measure if the conditions are being met?

Here are the certification requirements (conditions) as per Sec. 203, sub-section (c) of the bill:

The certification required by this subsection is a certification by the Secretary of State, under the direction of the President, to the appropriate congressional committees that—(1) the Government of Pakistan is continuing to cooperate with the United States in efforts to dismantle supplier networks relating to the acquisition of nuclear weapons-related materials, such as providing relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks; (2) the Government of Pakistan during the preceding fiscal year has demonstrated a sustained commitment to and is making significant efforts towards combating terrorist groups, consistent with the purposes of assistance described in section 201, including taking into account the extent to which the Government of Pakistan has made progress on matters such as— (A) ceasing support, including by any elements within the Pakistan military or its intelligence agency, to extremist and terrorist groups, particularly to any group that has conducted attacks against United States or coalition forces in Afghanistan, or against the territory or people of neighboring countries;

(B) preventing al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups, such as Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, from operating in the territory of Pakistan, including carrying out cross-border attacks into neighboring countries, closing terrorist camps in the FATA, dismantling terrorist bases of operations in other parts of the country, including Quetta and Muridke, and taking action when provided with intelligence about high-level terrorist targets; and

(C) strengthening counterterrorism and anti-money laundering laws; and (3) the security forces of Pakistan are not materially and substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.

(Emphasis added, with a focus on the last sentence)

Pakistan’s military has organized its objections to the bill, seeing within it a concerted effort by the U.S. Congress to influence Pakistan’s internal affairs.  Of special note to Pakistan’s military is the last conditionality of the bill (stated above), which reads “the security forces of Pakistan are not materially or substantially subverting the political or judicial processes of Pakistan.”  But this is not a concrete and measurable requirement.

Putting aside the military’s complaints, it remains to be seen how the U.S. could actually measure its own certification requirements.  Besides this, there really is nothing in the wording of this bill that hasn’t been accepted either tacitly or outright by Pakistan already.

To think Pakistan would refuse $7.5 billion in aid over principle is possible but, in reality, why would they refuse the aid package if the U.S. cannot effectively measure Pakistan’s level of compliance.

This post was re-posted at Fletcher Reflections.

U.S. to Pakistan: “Taliban and al Qaeda are in Quetta.”

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Pakistan to U.S.: “America, you so crazy!”

Reporting from Islamabad:

Pakistan has dismissed the U.S. accusation about the presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan in southwest Pakistan, and termed it “baseless,” Pakistani intelligence agencies and officials said.

Denial impedes recovery.

Written by gringolost

October 6, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Who competes over failed states?

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Jakub Grygiel in this American Interest article argues that failed states are power “vacuums” that could lead to Great Power confrontation.  *Hopefully, this will not happen in California.

According to Grygiel, “[t]he interest of these great powers is not to rebuild the state or to engage in ‘nation-building’ for humanitarian purposes but to establish a foothold in the region, to obtain favorable economic deals, especially in the energy sector, and to weaken the presence of other great powers.”

Grygiel uses the term “nation-building” but that is primarily a lexicon used by the U.S. to describe its robust  involvement with governments in troubled or post-conflict regions.  The principle U.S. government apparatus overseeing these operations is the Department of States’ Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).  This Office’s operations are augmented with support from the  DoD, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, amongst others.  Altogether these agencies work to “help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.”

This is the U.S. approach to “nation-building” but Grygiel argues that these operations are part of a larger strategy to claim neo-colonial possessions before other equal or growing powers do so.  Thus, if we were to combine this theory with practice, we could look at where the S/CRS nation-builds and see if there is competition from other foreign powers for regional clout.  Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan provide three cases of S/CRS assistance. With the most obvious example of Great Power “competition” over clout within these states coming from China.  To be sure, there are plenty other states where competition to fill power vacuums could occur but these three examples are a good test of Gyrgiel’s theory.

To keep this post short, we’ll take at face value that U.S. assistance in these states is, at least in part, conditional; meaning aid-receiving governments must comply with a certain level of American influence on their political system. Now in comparison, China’s support (foreign direct investment) is mostly unconditional.

Contrary to the U.S., China’s primary reason to become involved with these states is economic instead of security-oriented.  Seemingly, this is why China cares less about the character of the political system and more about absolute resources gains.  In essence, China pursues a moral-free foreign policy agenda while the U.S. sees its interests as more comprehensive entailing free markets, stabilization, and regional security.

Returning to the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan examples, we can see how China’s involvement is less competitive with the U.S. in a security sense.  This is not to say that competition over resources will never occur, but that resource competition is more likely to occur between countries such as Russia and China or India and China, than it is to occur between the U.S. and other great or growing powers.

  • Iraq: China’s National Petroleum Corporation won the first petrol licensing bid worth $3 billion.
  • Afghanistan: The China Metallurgical Group win’s the largest bid in Afghanistan history (worth $3.5 billion) to develop the Aynak copper field.
  • Sudan: Despite the ICC arrest warrant for Omar Bashir, China still engages in an arms trade with Sudan and develops its oil fields.

These Chinese investments are clearly intended to resource China’s growth needs.  And despite the exuberant investments, there has been no competition between China and the U.S. that could be called destabilizing to international security.  Of course, who knows what the future holds and if competition would arise eventually.  But it’s a leap to say power vacuums will automatically lead to competition between all Great Powers.