The twentieth century witnessed Europe unfold as the center of gravity for world history. And in this still early century, the Middle East and South-Central Asia have been focal points for American policymakers and others around the world. But the Greater Indian Ocean may well be the defining geo-political cauldron in the twenty-first century, according to CNAS Senior Fellow Robert D. Kaplan in his latest opus, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.
Monsoon is a carefully crafted examination of the future of American Power in the context of the Indian Ocean, a region that once upon a time was the epicenter of world culture, travel, trade – wrestled over by empires of yesteryear – once again rising in prominence.
As the reader learns early on, historically, the region’s monsoon system (specifically its winds) shaped international engagement in the region, allowing travelers from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to make the journey to India and beyond in a fraction of the time it would take states to cross the Mediterranean (which is also a much shorter distance than the leg from North Africa to India). The short duration made travel and trade expedient, allowing states to share goods and culture throughout the entire Indian Ocean region. (Indeed, we learn how the monsoon winds helped to spread Islam across the ocean.)
Today, the Indian Ocean remains a crucial region for trade, both commercial and energy. Kaplan writes:
Today, despite the jet and information age, 90 percent of global commerce and two thirds of all petroleum supplies travel by sea. Globalization relies ultimately on shipping containers, and the Indian Ocean accounts for one half of all the world’s container traffic. Moreover, the Indian Ocean rimland from the Middle East to Pacific accounts for 70 percent of the traffic of petroleum products for the entire world.
For those of you familiar with Kaplan’s work, you won’t be surprised at the level of detail and depth into history he provides the reader to help ground his or her understanding of how important the region was, which of course is necessary to fully understand the region’s resurgence in geo-political affairs. Of course, Kaplan’s personal accounts from his voyage across the Indian Ocean help the reader connect with the story he unveils as he hops across the greater region, from Oman, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, to Zanzibar.
War is hell. And many Afghans are reminded of this every day. That was my take away from this report in The New York Times on Sunday, “In Afghan South, U.S. Faces Frustrated Residents.”
The report comes amidst U.S. and NATO military operations in Kandahar province, what experts have described as the Taliban stronghold. According to the Times’ Carlotta Gall, “As American troops mount a critical operation this weekend in the campaign to regain control in Kandahar, they face not only the Taliban but also a frustrated and disillusioned population whose land has been devastated by five years of fighting.”
Many Afghan farmers have had their land destroyed, homes demolished and lives turned upside down – forced to flee the countryside where they have spent their lives earning a living off the land, whether it’s from grapes, wheat or other valuable crops. And despite a compensation system for farmers and villagers set up by coalition forces, many Afghan farmers are left without reclamation. As Gall wrote:
Yet Afghan officials and rural residents say many farmers have fallen through the cracks, partly because of the continuing war and because many areas remain under Taliban control, but also because of the corruption and carelessness of local officials. That means that many of the poorest villagers — whether through bad luck, ignorance or fear of retaliation by the Taliban — have missed out on compensation payments and assistance programs. Mr. Hamid, the grape farmer, said his wheat harvest was burned in the fighting. He and other villagers filed for compensation through the district administration. He was told the foreigners had accepted the claim, but said he never got any money.
The Times report is another reminder that Afghanistan’s future is inextricably linked to how well Afghans fair long after U.S. and coalition troops leave the country. And as Christine and I have written in the past, natural resources will play a critical role in sustaining Afghanistan’s long-term stability and security. “Fifty percent of Afghanistan’s GDP is derived from agriculture and ranching. However, frequent droughts, in combination with unsustainable land use and deforestation, have put 75 percent of Afghanistan’s land area at risk of desertification,” we wrote in our June 2010 report, Sustaining Security: How Natural Resources Influence National Security. “President Obama’s March 2009 strategic review of Afghanistan identified ‘sustainable economic development’ – specifically ‘restor[ing] Afghanistan’s once vibrant agriculture sector’ – as a major ingredient in America’s overall effort to sap the strength of the insurgency. Indeed, as the president noted, ‘It’s cheaper…to help a farmer seed his crops than it is to send our troops to fight.’ However, the effects of environmental degradation have been devastating for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan – and will confound long-term U.S. goals in the region unless addressed.”
Ridding the Taliban from the land will be critical to be sure, especially in the near term. As Gall reported in her piece on Sunday, “Part of the problem is that in areas where the Taliban presence is strong, villagers cannot take compensation openly. ‘When the Taliban know you went to the district, or to the city, they come and see you and say, ‘What is this?’ Then they take the money and beat you,’ said one farmer, asking not to be named.” But the Taliban may not be the long-term challenge for all Afghan farmers. Indeed, for many of them, sustainable resource management and adapting to a changing environment may be the greatest challenge. Only time will tell. But as the years pass by and many farmers continue to fall through the cracks, time is running short.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva was seeking to prohibit U.S. contractors from supplying fuel to the U.S. military base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan – a base critical to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, including serving as a fuel hub for refueling American warplanes there. The report is another reminder that the U.S. military needs to consider a new strategy that helps to diversify its fuel supplies in order to hedge against becoming tethered to vulnerable sources of fuel.
Photo: An Airman with the 376th Logistics Readiness Squadron prepares to fuel a Boeing 767 before it departs. There are approximately 40 Airmen who pump more than 320,000 gallons of fuel a day at the Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan. Courtesy of Staff Sgt. Nathan Bevier and the U.S. Air Force.
Yesterday, coverage from The Washington Post and The New York Times on the soon-to-be-released Obama’ s Wars, Bob Woodward’s latest opus, generated a media storm by reporting on the internal debate within the Obama administration over what the country’s exit plan should be for Afghanistan. With all the attention on Woodward’s new book, you may have missed this other report on Afghanistan from The Washington Post which pointed to a serious challenge that could compromise our war effort there.
The Post reported that Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva is exploring options that would prohibit U.S. contractors from supplying fuel to the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan – a base critical to the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan. “In an interview, Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva said private companies handling supplies should be replaced by a joint venture between a Kyrgyz state company and Russia's state-controlled Gazpromneft, a major source of jet fuel in the region,” the Post reported on Wednesday.
Northern fuel supply routes have become a more attractive option to Defense Department officials in recent months due to the fact that they are relatively more secure than shipping fuel in from Pakistan. In order to diversify its fuel supply sources and reduce the vulnerability of fuel convoys traveling in from Pakistan to insurgent attacks, the Department of Defense began “asking contractors to bring in more fuel supplies by northern routes,” according to a Washington Post report back in December 2009.
The U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan has played a crucial role in the recent surge of troops to Afghanistan. But, as the Post pointed out, “The base also houses a fleet of air-tankers that are used for in-flight refueling of American warplanes over Afghanistan.”
I went to an event last Wednesday morning at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) that included a panel with James Yeager, former advisor to Afghanistan Ministry of Mines, Graciana del Castillo, a Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University and Scott Worden, Senior Rule of Law Advisor at USIP, and was moderated by Raymond Gilpin, Associate Vice President for Sustainable Economies Centers of Innovation. Strange as it may seem, the event gave me a feeling of déjà vu. The event, “High-Value Resource Contracts, Conflict, and Peace in Afghanistan,” didn’t on its face have much in common with an event that I had attended last Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “China and the Persian Gulf.” Yet I was hearing an eerily similar refrain: At the Wilson Center last Monday, Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, Afshin Molavi, declared that “China has won the Iraq war,” in the sense that its state-owned petroleum and oil companies have acquired lucrative contracts, and have virtually become one of the dominant players in Iraq.
Then on Wednesday, Yeunger’s very first statement of the session raised the issue of dealing with bids on Afghan mining tenders from Chinese state-owned corporations. He argued that the current situation, where Western-owned, private corporations must submit bids against Chinese state-owned companies like MCC (China Metallurgical Group Corporation), is inherently unequal because China’s corporations are aiming only to gain access to commodities, and therefore don’t have to be financially profitable; in fact they can even operate at a loss. Furthermore, bids from these companies are often accompanied by a financial aid package from the government of China that can be hard to turn down, especially if you’re the government of one of the poorest countries in the world, such as in Afghanistan, where a 20-30 million dollar bribe may be more tempting. Worden also pointed out that there have been (passive) accusations that China’s mineral companies are free-riding off of the security provided by the U.S. military.
Last week I spent a few days in Tokyo at a symposium hosted by the University of Tokyo on the role of natural resources and infrastructure in post-conflict peacebuilding. The symposium was the second in a series of symposia for a project I’m attached to that seeks to improve American and Japanese post-conflict security and diplomacy initiatives by helping policymakers understand the importance of integrating natural resource management and infrastructure redevelopment into peacebuilding efforts.
The timing for the symposium could not have been better given the agenda, which included several case study presentations on Afghanistan. In fact, the news that General McChrystal had been relieved of his command broke the morning of the symposium, which prompted questions of what the change in command meant for America’s development priorities in Afghanistan. It is worth noting that, generally, there was consensus among the U.S. researchers that our development priorities aren’t likely to be affected given that the president has made clear that any long-term strategy in Afghanistan will strike a balance between our defense, development and diplomatic levers – a “whole-of-government” approach.
The presentations on Afghanistan covered a broad range of topics: from poppies and the opium drug trade to agricultural development as an opportunity for demobilizing and reintegrating combatants into civil society. Rather nicely, each of the speakers complemented the other by reiterating the importance of natural resources in restoring stability and security in Afghanistan (something we’ve covered well here on the blog).
Much has been said of last week’s big minerals-in-Afghanistan news. Most critiques of the timing of the news and of the many difficulties in producing these potential reserves were raised in the media and by commentators through last week and this weekend (though if you missed it somehow, just read this from New Security Beat), so I won’t repeat it all.
Instead, I thought it would be fun to apply the concepts that Will (from whom you will not hear this week while he presents a paper in Tokyo) and I laid out in our recently released natural security report to the case of minerals in Afghanistan. In Sustaining Security, we outline two categories of approaches that we think could be useful concepts as security types increasingly consider natural resources issues in their security analysis (while the report focuses much on renewable resources, it works for nonrenewable resources as well if you alter the terminology appropriately for preservation, extraction, etc.). The minerals assessment by the Pentagon is a clear case of this type of work in action – a positive step forward, however the federal government doesn’t really have a solid framework yet for going about asking what does this mean in these circumstances. We described our recommended approaches thusly:
A targeted approach would consider the role that natural [resources play] in specific geographic areas, particularly in current or potential zones of conflict. When taking this approach, analysts should assess how natural resource conservation could ameliorate drivers of conflict and assist the national security community in addressing current or potential instability in the near term…a systemic approach would consider the interconnection of natural resources and their broad strategic consequences. For instance, food and land use, hydrological and forest systems, energy and climate change are all tightly interrelated, and to address any one of them carries implications for the others, as well as for economic development, politics and national security. Analysts taking a systemic approach must look regionally or globally and consider the potential impact of conservation and environmental restoration in bolstering traditional security strategy.
We would label our handling of the current case of vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan an example of the targeted approach to integrating resources into security analysis. The United States did not seek to consider minerals as part of its Afghanistan strategy; it is an opportunity that U.S. and Afghan officials stumbled upon, and an opportunity that policy makers are now targeted. The immediate task should be to game out (hopefully with the help of trusted Afghans) the various ways in which minerals extraction and management may affect stability and internal dynamics in Afghanistan, work with central government and local leaders to choose a preferred development roadmap for these minerals that ensures that profits contribute to the country’s economic growth, and leverage related U.S. government and ISAF efforts toward that path. Though much of the necessary decision making on these minerals will not be in U.S. or ISAF hands, the coalition does have the opportunity to be deliberate in gaming out how these resources could fit into the current strategy; the alternative, which most often happens with natural resources issues, is not ideal: conducting work related to these potential deposits without considering broader U.S. goals, its broader strategy and military operations, or planned timelines. (My impression is that DOD is doing the former, not the later, in some form.)
A systemic approach would mean us, U.S. government folks, you, your drinking buddies, and any interested security types pondering and debating the interconnections among natural resources and the broad strategic environment, including analysis of the important regional and global trends that these newly discovered deposits could affect depending on how Afghanistan’s government manages them. What does an Afghan economy centered on extractive industries mean for its long-term bilateral relationships? How might Afghanistan’s new mineral supplies affect feelings of cooperation or competition between the United States and China, depending on the structure of future contracts? If new-found resource wealth destabilizes Afghanistan, how is the full range of U.S. interests in the region affected? How would this destabilization affect Pakistan and India? Does Afghanistan’s natural security base provide many economic options that could provide more stable development paths? And where is Russia in all of this?
See, doesn’t natural security make for fun parlor games? Though not as much fun as Colbert's assessment in The Word last week, flagged for us by recently departed intern Dan.
Also see these two quality political cartoons on this minerals news: Ed Gamble and Chip Bok (disclaimer: I’m not saying General Petraeus passing out was funny, as it was not, but just that it is a good political cartoon).
And also in the news, police in Basra killed one Iraqi in protests over insufficient electricity supplies. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more on this through the week.
The Week Ahead
Up on the Hill Monday at 2:00pm, Rear Admiral Cullom, et al. will discuss Biofuels: The Future of Aviation? Implications for Climate Change and National Security, sponsored by the Center for National Policy. Wednesday at 9:00am, Resources for the Future is holding an event marking the release of its new report, Toward a New National Energy Policy: Assessing the Options (I am really looking forward to reading this report, and recommend this highly; you can also webstream the event). At 10:00 the House Committee on Science & Technology also holds Deepwater Drilling Technology, Research, and Development. At 4pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will have an event on Prospects and Challenges for U.S.–India Technology Cooperation that promises to look at clean energy in that bilateral relationship. Thursday at 9:00am you can hop over to the Wilson Center for Electricity With Chinese Characteristics: The Complexities of Decarbonizing China's Power Sector. Have a great week everyone!
Changes in the character of warfare are accelerating the growing reliance on contractors on the battlefield. . . Long-term nation-building efforts like those in Iraq and Afghanistan require an array of functions – from advising and training foreign security forces to constructing and maintaining power plants and waterworks – that the U.S. government is not manned to carry out on its own
This is a passage under the heading “The Changing Nature of Conflict,” in CNAS’s new report, Contracting in Conflicts: The Path to Reform.
Though discussion of Natural Security issues don’t figure prominently in the report, Richard Fontaine and Dr. John Nagl, the report’s authors, have teed up an array of topics to be explored deeper by persons such as myself. In addition to the abovementioned “power plants and water works,” Contracting in Conflict explains that contractors have found themselves filling the position of agricultural technician, energy infrastructure (re)constructionist, supply convoy security and a host of other necessary roles in the modern battlefield, both during and after the actual battle.
I don’t know about you, but my weekend RSS catch-up took me through approximately 9,000 pieces on the Gulf oil disaster. While that’s still obviously the biggest natural security story of the weekend, I’ll avoid pontificating on it yet again, as I assume it’s something you’re all caught up on.
I suggest instead that we take a moment to ponder the role of agriculture in Afghanistan given current operations. This is something we’ve covered regularly, and will a bit more heavily in an upcoming report on resources and security. Our colleague Nate Fick also highlighted agriculture as a “key business sector” in his recent CNAS policy brief with Clare Lockhart:
Promoting the growth of legitimate agriculture would have positive effects including providing jobs, encouraging economic growth, and slowing the drug trade as a major source of funding for the Taliban. Success in this sector may be achieved best through a National Agriculture Program that would focus on creating the value chain to form the right market linkages, appropriate marketing tools, access to credit, processing facilities, cold storage, irrigation and transportation. Such a program could be supported by a consortium of international investors and a network of Afghan land-grant colleges with specialized agricultural knowledge.
To round out Af-Pak week, we're serving up a picture of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington.We think it's important to note that the president's visit will be about more than meetings with President Obama to build relations and support "frank" discussions on the war. President Karzai's spokesperson, Waheed Omer, stated last Tuesday that "there are a dozen of our cabinet ministers and other important government figures here who will be talking to their U.S. counterparts, taken from agriculture to energy to mines."