This weekend’s news highlighted several ongoing territorial disputes across the Indo-Pacific region, from resource-rich Kashmir to the potentially hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea.
On the far West of the Indo-Pacific, The New York Times published a report on Sunday drawing attention to the Siachen Glacier and the intractable territorial dispute between Indian and Pakistan over Kashmir. The report comes on the heels of an avalanche last week that buried 138 Pakistani soldiers and civilians. “In outposts up to 22,000 feet above sea level, the temperature can plunge to 58 below, and linger there for months,” The New York Times reported. “Patrolling soldiers tumble into yawning crevasses. Frostbite chews through unprotected flesh. Blizzards blow, weapons seize up and even simple body functions become intolerable.” Indeed, what makes the Siachen Glacier noteworthy is not that it is the world’s highest battlefield, per se – it is that the conflict there is more a fight “against the mountain, not the man,” The New York Times reported.
Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont and author of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future had a terrific piece in National Geographic Magazine on April 7 exploring the opportunities to transform the Siachen Glacier – the world’s highest battlefield – into an environmental peace park that could pay significant dividends for stability between Pakistan and India. Here is an excerpt of his article:
Yesterday, Ajay Chhibber, assistant secretary general of the United Nations, assistant administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNDP regional director for Asia and the Pacific, penned an op-ed for The Washington Post reminding the world that Pakistan – a country no less important to long-term U.S. national security than Afghanistan – is still reeling from the devastating floods that struck the country last summer.
“After Pakistan’s flooding, the response to the United Nations’ appeal for close to $2 billion in relief and early recovery funds was strong,” Chhibber wrote. Since last summer, national and international relief agencies have made significant strides to halt the flood-induced humanitarian crisis: “National and international agencies across the flood zone have restored water and sanitation services to 1.6 million households, provided 64,000 shelters, helped more than 15,000 people reclaim lost identity documentation and restored more than 3,600 pieces of community infrastructure, including buildings, bridges and roads,” Chhibber noted. But both the flood waters and international relief have receded at a time when many are still struggling to get back on their feet. “$413 million is still needed for urgent efforts to rebuild agriculture and food security, health and nutrition, housing, and public services such as roads, waterways and sewage systems,” according to Chhibber. “In a country where farming provides the basic livelihood for 80 percent of the country’s 187 million people, 430,000 farming households in 14 severely flood-affected districts will need agricultural support over the next two years. Tens of thousands still need regular food supplies and housing.” And as Christine said last year on NPR, the United States has clear security interests in a stable Pakistan: “Just based on our troops in the region, our goals in the region, our work with allies like India in the region — anything that destabilizes Pakistan or affects its government's ability to keep control of the country has enormous stakes for the United States on the security side.”
March 22nd will mark the eighteenth World Water Day, an annual UN-sponsored day to recognize the importance of water, including its increasing scarcity and competition for it. As we approach this annual event, a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia's Growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, should help frame the conversation that many will have this month on water and security.
Water challenges have increasingly garnered the attention of top U.S. policymakers. Secretary Clinton told an audience last March on World Water Day that “The stability of young governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nations depends in part on their ability to provide their people with access to water and sanitation.” Last month, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress that, “The growing pressure generated by growing populations, urbanization, economic development, and climate change on shared water resources may increase competition and exacerbate existing tensions over these resources.” In places such as Yemen, the next decade looks bleak due to the country’s declining oil reserves and water resources, Clapper said. And now the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while focused on Central Asia, has shed light on the implications of water shortages for security broadly.
Yet Secretary Clinton and others have acknowledged that water scarcity is just as much an opportunity as a challenge. “In the United States,” she said last March, “water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities of our time.” Indeed, the Senate report acknowledged the Obama administration’s efforts to integrate water issues into U.S. bilateral and multilateral arrangements, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which received about 47 million dollars from the United States in 2009 to fund water-related projects, according to the committee report. “For the first time, the United States has elevated water-related issues in its bilateral relationships with priority countries, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the report said. “Accordingly, the U.S. strategy and foreign assistance budgets now include significant investments allocated toward activities that promote water security through high-visibility projects, such as expanding water storage capabilities and irrigation.”
Last night, CNAS hosted the official launch of Robert Kaplan’s new book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. As Nate Fick said in his opening remarks, we had a twofer: Robert Kaplan was joined by NPR’s award-winning correspondent Tom Gjelten who moderated the discussion. We will be posting videos, photos and a podcast of the event soon, but I wanted to share a part of last night’s discussion that I think is worth mentioning.
During the Q/A portion of the event, Tom Gjelten asked Robert Kaplan about climate change; specifically how the rest of the world views the challenges and potential implications of climate change and the lack of American leadership to combat it. Gjelten prefaced his question by wondering aloud about the prospects of the next congress taking up climate and energy legislation given that a number of conservatives (some of them climate change skeptics) won seats in last week’s election.
For Kaplan, Bangladesh seemed to be the most apt example to use to respond to Gjelten’s question. As Kaplan notes in his book, Bangladesh may look small on a map (considering it’s surrounded by India), but if you look at the overall population, it has more people than Russia and a greater Muslim population that Iran. Now consider that most Bangladeshis are living at or below sea level.
Kaplan paints a vivid picture of what this means. Indeed, an interesting observation he makes in his book (and that he made last night) was how precious dry soil is in Bangladesh and how as sea level rise inundates Bangladesh, dry soil for agricultural and domestic use could become more scarce. (Kaplan noted that when people move their homes in Bangladesh, they often take the dry soil with them – that is how scarce it is.)
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.
Our daily news round up over the past week may seem a bit repetitive. Again this morning, The Washington Post reported an attack on another NATO supply convoy carrying fuel from southern Pakistan to Afghanistan via the Chanam crossing. This route is currently the only one available from southern Pakistan to Afghanistan since Pakistani authorities closed the Torkham crossing following a NATO helicopter attack last Thursday that left several Pakistani soldiers dead.
The series of attacks against NATO fuel convoys is a constant reminder of how costly the military’s reliance on fossil fuels is, in terms of dollars lost, mission effectiveness and military and civilian causalities. Yesterday’s New York Times article “U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels” quantified those costs:
In Iraq and Afghanistan, one Army study found, for every 24 fuel convoys that set out, one soldier or civilian engaged in fuel transport was killed…While the military buys gas for just over $1 a gallon, getting that gallon to some forward operating bases costs $400.
On September 11, 2010, U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit provided food and other supplies to Pakistanis in support of relief efforts following this summer’s devastating floods, which claimed approximately 1,800 lives across Pakistan. The Huffington Post’s Saad Khan reminds us that, despite donor fatigue and declining news coverage, the impacts from the flood are not over yet.
Photo: Courtesy of Sgt. Jason Bushong and the U.S. Army.
A third pat on Congressional Research Service’s back this week, now for its August 3rd “Security and the Environment in Pakistan.” For full disclosure, I also have a pending article on this exact topic, so I will be holding my tongue quite a bit so as not to preempt myself. I’d note that the Wilson Center’s ECSP does cool work in this area as well, so check them out if you’re exploring this topic beyond this blog post.
On to the substance. CRS writes:
Environmental stresses, when combined with the other socio-economic and political stresses on Pakistan, have the potential to further weaken an already weak Pakistani state. Such a scenario would make it more difficult to achieve the U.S. goal of neutralizing anti-Western terrorists in Pakistan…The report examines the potentially destabilizing effect that, when combined with Pakistan’s demographic trends and limited economic development, water scarcity, limited arable land, and food security may have on an already radicalized internal and destabilized international political security environment. The report considers the especially important hypothesis that the combination of these factors could contribute to Pakistan’s decline as a fully functioning state, creating new, or expanding existing, largely ungoverned areas. (emphasis mine)
That’s the money question. Will and I had a nice little chat about this while dragging our suitcases from the train station to the hotel in Linz, Austria a few weeks ago. Where we came out is basically: there’s no way to tell. I think resources challenges are severe enough that they have the possibility to tip this country over the edge – but, Pakistan has also proven itself to be relatively resilient, whether that’s through internal dynamics acting as some kind of centripetal force, external powers bolstering it, or a combination of the two. If the nature of the country were different, these issues may have already cemented its decline or full failure. But yet, it still hangs together.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my time at CNAS working with the Natural Security team, it’s that climate events and natural disasters around the world (along with issues of natural resources, bio-diversity and energy resources) are having an increasingly important impact on US national security issues. The floods in Pakistan are a prime example of one of these issues that defies the traditional boundaries of security studies, and provides an example of the ways that traditional conceptions of what constitutes a threat to the United States will have to evolve to match the increasingly tangled and complex nature and overwhelming scope of these new issues.
We’ve been following the story of the floods in our news and posts, but it’s worth reviewing the extent of the damage, which seems to expand exponentially day by day. As floods continue to sweep south, the UN estimates that about 17 million people have been affected by the floods, and about 1.2 million homes have been destroyed. Authorities are organizing mass evacuations of 200,000 people in the Thatta area of Sindh province, but these evacuations have come too late for many. The UN also requested 40 more helicopters from the international community on Tuesday, noting that more than 800,000 people were isolated by the flooding and could only be reached with aid by air. Conditions are now ripe for the spread of water-borne and potentially epidemic disease, such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery. The huge numbers are hard to properly digest, but for context, according to CARE, “this disaster has surpassed the number of people affected by the 2005 South Asia tsunami, the 2005 South Asia earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined.”