April 1, 2009 — April 1, 2009 - The Cold War ended almost twenty years ago but American policymakers and national security strategists continue to apply a transatlantic centric model for complex global engagements. This is particularly true in regards to Afghanistan where combat operations and reconstruction assistance are primarily driven by Western actors. Clearly, it would be foolish to dismiss the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – after all, it is the most integrated and militarily capable organization in the world – or the European Union which represents the pinnacle of a successful liberal regional order. Their members share similar strategic interests and values and have significant experience in complex contingency operations. However, many European nations continue to suffer from nostalgia of yesteryear where its troops and soldiers enjoyed the Cold War comforts of a “cold peace.” What is becoming even more evident is that Western nations are facing significant financial limitations due to the economic recession and will unlikely be able to provide necessary economic assistance for reconstruction efforts.
Afghanistan is not only an Article 5 mission for NATO, but also represents a major test for the organization. Despite beliefs among many in the U.S. national security community that failure for NATO-members to take a lead in Afghanistan operations will sound the death knell for the Alliance; it seems more likely that Afghanistan will impel a major strategic reassessment of the function of NATO. Regardless, these debates often induce policy paralysis and are part of a condition that frames American strategic engagement through a transatlantic perspective. In many ways, cooperating with Europe has almost become an a priori issue of diplomatic protocol and a pillar of politically correct behavior. If America is to succeed in Afghanistan it must begin to think beyond how Europe fits into the equation and start a process of better integrating emerging powers, particularly China into its strategic process.
One just needs to look at a map of the region to understand how instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan can destabilize the entire region. Transnational terrorist groups who enjoy safety in the lawless frontiers of Central Asia have exploited weaknesses in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan which has spilled over into the hinterlands of China. This fear has not gone unnoticed in China where its leaders have taken unprecedented acts (afforded by their autocratic system) to counter radical groups and separatists in its Uighur dominated provinces. Witness the rigidity of Chinese counter-terror policies in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic games. Perhaps most worrisome to Beijing is the prospect of Pakistan’s weak central government being unable to secure its nuclear weapons --- a strategic concern not only for America but the world.
China also views Afghanistan as a promising future business partner. To date, China has inked the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan by winning rights to develop the Aynak copper field. The contract valued at $3.5 billion USD not only demonstrates Chinese willingness to invest in Afghanistan but also its deep pockets and capital. Moreover, Chinese investments could compliment coalition efforts to jumpstart Afghanistan’s economy. Jonathan Landay, an award winning journalist with the McClatchy group notes, “China's investment in Aynak dovetails with the administration's emerging strategy for ending the war in part by delivering on unfulfilled vows to better the lives of the poor Afghans who constitute the vast majority of the Taliban's foot soldiers.” Beijing also sees vast opportunities in developing roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. China – as evinced by recent stories highlighting its tremendous capital wealth – is a potentially prime partner in footing the bill for expensive reconstruction operations which hold the key for the future of Afghanistan’s stability.
The global financial crisis, however, has made it evident that resource scarcity and domestic political will in the U.S. will eventually limit the amount of assistance the U.S. and Europe can pledge overseas. As the focus turns to support internal economic development in both Europe and the United States public support for Afghanistan is decreasing. Witness a recent USA Today/Gallup Poll where “42 percent of respondents said the United States made "a mistake" in sending military forces to Afghanistan, up from 30 percent in February.” Even more starkly, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll in February, only 31% of Americans “believe the United States is winning the war in Afghanistan.” Dwindling public support will constrain American engagement in Afghanistan over the course of the next few years. In sharp contrast to America’s limited financial resources, over the past few months the world has witnessed a more economically assertive China that is taking advantage of its deep pockets and shattered global markets to purchase strategic equities, including mineral resources and private financial institutions around the world. As burden sharing discussions between Brussels and Washington become more caustic, we should begin to look eastward for help. Integrating China into a larger regional framework to deal with Afghanistan would not only help offset growing domestic political woes but should be encouraged by policymakers.
The United States cannot fix Afghanistan alone. Security operations will not fix Afghanistan alone. And the Afghan Government is incapable of providing the essential goods and services to its population. These three points are agreeable for most analysts focusing on the international effort in Afghanistan. The main problem is not how to answer any one of these questions; it is how to answer them all at once. To do this the international effort needs to be broadened to countries that have direct vested interest in the future security of Afghanistan and the broader region of Central Asia. To this end, the U.S. and its European allies need to look closely at the prospects of how China can better contribute to international efforts in Afghanistan.
The international community recognizes that a successful outcome in Afghanistan, an outcome which allows the Government of Afghanistan to provide the security of its citizens, to hinder the development of terror organizations, the ability to support the development of critical infrastructure to provide the essential goods and services to Afghanis, and the ability for the Afghan economy to become one that is tied to the global economy, can only be realized if the efforts of the international community are increased and cooperation in the mission is established. China is critical to this effort. Its economic investment in Afghanistan’s economy and critical infrastructure is essential to the future of the economic wellbeing of Afghanistan.
A cooperative dialogue that coordinates this investment with the efforts of the United States and its international partners would help to support the mission in Afghanistan and the very future of the Central Asian region. Unfortunately, American policymakers remain hesitant to engage Beijing on Afghanistan. This study provides a framework for understanding the scope of China’s engagement in Afghanistan as well as developing a case for enhancing U.S.-Sino cooperation through greater economic assistance for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.
Part 1: Overwhelmed: The Limits of Western Engagement
International efforts in Afghanistan are at a crossroad. Tensions between U.S. and European leaders over extending sending troops to “hot zones” are increasing. These debates are being catalyzed by growing domestic political and economic turmoil that is decreasing the capacity for European governments to engage in important reconstruction and military assistance efforts in Afghanistan. Meanwhile security and social stability indexes continue to slide. The strong resurgence of the Taliban and the migration of Al Qaeda and its associated affiliates from Afghanistan to the lawless frontiers of Pakistan are taxing the Pakistani state and prospects for its failure are becoming more pronounced.
Compounding these challenges is a global financial crisis that is likely to force governments to cut spending and resources for overseas missions by focusing on domestic social welfare programs. This pressure may not be manifest right now, but President Obama will eventually have to appease the anti-war progressive wing of the Democratic Party that helped elect him and who continues to demand for American withdrawal from Afghanistan. The vitriol of the progressive base can be summed up by posts on the influential website of the Progressive Democrats for America. Compounding the anti-war constituencies demand is a bipartisan perspective that seeks to “bring America back home” and force the government to focus on domestic priorities. For this group, reconstructing Michigan takes priority over Afghanistan. Convincing this group will not only require presidential-level attention, but a balancing act that requires America to better distribute responsibility across the world.
The starting point of many strategic and policy discussions on Afghanistan-Pakistan are based on past judgments that now appear myopic. To date, International Forces have had two missions, increase security and, concurrently, support stabilization and reconstruction efforts in the country. On the first mission, the United States, while continuing to seek support from its key Coalition partners such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Canada and France, has pledged to send 17,000 additional forces to the country, particularly to ensure that the Afghanistan/Pakistan border is stabilized. While the United States increased its efforts, both diplomatically and militarily, to increase international support for the mission, it is not yet clear that the U.S. partners are convinced that more military support is necessary. Governments across Europe are facing political pressure regarding deployments to Afghanistan. A poll published on March 25th in Germany found that 58% of those polled in Germany supported the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan. Such public sentiment undoubtedly resonates among the country’s political leaders. Moreover, declining public will amongst European and U.S. citizens for greater deployments to Afghanistan is a forewarning that requires American policymakers to think strategically about how to include other partners.
In pursing the second mission of stabilizing the Afghan Government and increasing economic capacity in the country, the Coalition has struggled with the essential fact that Afghanistan lacks much of the necessary infrastructure (as was present in Iraq), such as roads, power plants, and railway, to support this mission. In turn, to create such infrastructure and security, the United States alone has invested a total of $177.5 billion (war funding as of July 2008) in the country since 2001, and yet, without more international support, Afghanistan’s economy is likely to falter, especially in the tenuous international financial environment. Without a functional economy, efforts in Afghanistan to increase political and security stability will falter. Moreover, as has been indicated by U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, stability in Afghanistan is intimately linked to the future stability of Pakistan, and without the greater input and support from regional actors; the mission there may not succeed. The possibility of an unstable Afghanistan-Pakistan could spark greater regional instability leading National Security Adviser James Jones to stress that, “We cannot afford failure in Afghanistan.” To offset such a catastrophe in the region, there has been one international player that has been overlooked as a key partner in supporting economic stability in the region: China.
Part 2: Leveraging China
China has entered the international stage. It is becoming a more forward engaged nation with state interests spanning the globe from Caracas to Tehran to Canberra. A key component of Beijing’s international engagement is its desire to be viewed as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community. Years of criticism from international actors about China’s relations with Khartoum, Pyongyang, and other unpleasant bedfellows has begun to gradually influence Beijing’s foreign policy engagement. Chinese leaders continue to crave international respect and have become more forward engaged in a variety of international forums in order to show the world of their reformed ways. Assisting the coalition reconstruction assistance programs in Afghanistan would likely fit neatly into this goal.
Despite the global economic downturn and prospects for significant contraction in the Chinese economy, Beijing has amassed over $2 trillion in sovereign wealth and its banks possess tremendous liquidity, and in fact now hold the top three spots in terms of global market capitalization in the world. China’s search for global business opportunities continues to be its primary driver for its foreign policy. Leveraging China’s equity and corporate driven foreign policy can pay dividends for coalition reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan --- a view shared by President Karzai’s chief mining and energy adviser, Abdel Rahman Ashraf.
Leveraging Chinese cooperation is particularly important for reconstruction efforts. Creating a framework for military-to-military cooperation in Afghanistan will likely take significant time and energy and may not be in America’s current strategic interests. However, with a tight and restrictive fiscal environment it will be important for American policymakers to bridge the subject of economic cooperation with Beijing.
Chinese leadership continues to look for ways to further enhance their international image as a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community. Robert Sutter, a leading authority on China notes that, “There was widespread agreement among … Asian officials that Chinese leadership confidence in foreign affairs had grown with the increase in Chinese wealth and prominence and with growing Chinese international success in Asian and world affairs.” Signs of a fledging “soft interventionist” policy are growing; witness China’s export of cell phones and unconditional development assistance to Africa. Soft interventionism is involvement through indirect means such as: development assistance and diplomatic engagement, but it does not include the use of coercive violence.
Reconciling China’s growing “soft intervention” doctrine with Beijing’s commitment to “non-interference” in other countries foreign affairs is a difficult task. In the Chinese model, both of these views complement one another. Supporting China’s non-inference doctrine is China’s “win-win” foreign policy formulation. This manifests itself as China getting oil from Sudan and not pressuring the Khartoum government to stop the genocide in Darfur or copper from Afghanistan and pledging not to invest itself militarily in the war effort. The win for China is oil and the win for Khartoum is money and de-facto impunity for its genocidal policies in the Darfur and likewise, the win for China in Afghanistan is copper and for Kabul a purely economic partner. Chinese foreign policy is likely to be guided by its “win-win” approach for the foreseeable future, which should be strategically leveraged for investments into Afghanistan.
Moreover, Afghanistan is not just a viable economic partnership for Beijing, but instability poses significant strategic risk for China’s national security. Beijing’s domestic policies against its own Muslim peoples in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and its appetite for resources are putting it on a collision course with radical Islamic groups. Immediately after September 11th, China – with political coverage from the U.S. – cracked down on the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) which has apparent connections with Al Qaeda. ETIM has long been an advocate for self-determination and has been labeled as a terrorist group by the Chinese and U.S. government. In particular, this Turkic-Uighur group desires the creation of East Turkestan – an independent nation-state. During the run up to the Olympics and during the games, ETIM has been blamed for orchestrating multiple terrorist attacks in western China.
The question for the international coalition in Afghanistan is how to bring China into a cooperative stabilization and reconstruction relationship that can support the mission in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan and the Central Asian region is just as critical for China as it has been for the West. As indicated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s 2009 report to Congress on the Military Power of China,
With China close to, or an interested party in, many of the world’s ‘flashpoints’ (…Afghanistan-Pakistan…), China’s leaders hope to avoid regional instability spilling across China’s borders and thereby interfering with economic development and domestic instability. Changes in regional security dynamics could lead to shifts in China’s military development and deployment patterns, likely with consequences for neighboring states.
Thus, the potential for a spillover effect can have multiple consequences for the region and the international community. For China, instability spawning from failure in Afghanistan can directly affect its internal security. In turn, China will reassess its own military force structure to respond to such a threat, thereby affecting both the regional and international actors operating in the region. Increasing military cooperation with China before such instability spreads could offset such a scenario.
China: Linked to Economic Stability in Afghanistan
Prior to the Coalition overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001, Chinese interest, economic or political, in the country was minimal. Since then, however, China has become one of the top exporters to Afghanistan, has established strong political ties with the Afghan Government, and has become intricately tied to the future development of the Afghan economy. All the while Coalition Forces continue working to stabilize the security situation in the country.
Following the start of Coalition operations in Afghanistan, Chinese private investment and economic aid to the country began to increase steadily. ZTE and Huawei corporations have partnered with the Afghan Ministry of Communications in developing digital telephone switches throughout the country, “providing roughly 200,000 subscriber lines.” Moreover, China has worked to restore water supply to the Parwar province by developing a large irrigation project, has reconstructed public hospitals in Kabul, and has been hired by the EU for a number of construction projects in the country. China has also supported trans-educational training beginning in 2010, when sixty Afghan engineering students will take courses in China. At the helm of this Chinese investment is the $3.5 billion investment in Afghanistan’s Aynak copper field, estimated to be one of the largest copper fields in the world with the potential of having the output of $88 billion worth of ore. This investment in the copper field is also coupled with the construction of a $500 billion electrical plant and the development of a railway from Tajikistan to Pakistan to increase production output and distribution. Most importantly, the development of the mine has the potential of employing 10,000 Afghans.
While it may be argued that China is exploiting Coalition efforts to secure the region for its own economic benefit, it must be recognized that Chinese foreign investment in Afghanistan’s infrastructure has the potential to further support Coalition efforts and in fact bring stability to the region. As Abdel Rahman Asraf, a German-trained geology professor and Chief mining and energy adviser to President Hamid Karzai has said, “When you have men who don’t have jobs, you can’t bring peace.” Moreover, Afghanis too recognize the importance of long term economic investment as the key for stabilizing the country. As Mohammad Ehsannulah, a jobless agronomist who is now selling phone cards in Kabul, told the Washington Post in March, 2009, "People are tired, and they don't trust either the government or the foreigners anymore, we don't need more American troops to bring security, we need investment and factories. If people could earn enough to feed their families, they wouldn't become terrorists or thieves. We wouldn't care about the Taliban and we wouldn't care who becomes president because we would all be too busy."
The potential for foreign investment, specifically by China, does not end there. Afghanistan is a country full of natural oil, gas, and mineral reserves, many of which remain unexplored or underdeveloped. In its most recent estimate the U.S. geological survey conclude that there are a potential 1,596 million barrels of oil in the northern parts of the country and 15,687 cubic feet of potential natural gas reserves. Couple this with the iron ore deposits between Herat and Panjsher Valley, gold reserves in Badakshan, Takar, and Ghazhi, more copper reserves in Jawkhar and Darband, and China is sitting on the proverbial “gold mine” for investment. Moreover, China’s economy increasingly needs just these types of resources to continue its own domestic output and economic growth.
Demand continues to increase for iron ore, copper and energy supplies in China, and it is clear that its current strategy is to utilize the increased stability in Afghanistan to garner greater economic cooperation. However, this strategy is not solely being employed in Afghanistan; conversely, it is part of what may be considered a grand strategy for the region of Central Asia and the Middle East. How to integrate China into larger Afghanistan reconstruction efforts without rolling out a red carpet for regional dominance will be a delicate balancing act that will force Washington to remain engaged in the greater Central Asia region in order to counter excessive Chinese influence and preeminence.
According to Niklas Norling of the Stockholm based institute for Security and Development, “the past few years have seen investments into the Karakorhum Highway in Pakistan, the Gwadar port [in Karachi], [and] a multibillion-dollar pipeline from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang [Uyghur Autonomous Region]. China has signed a $100 billion, 25-year energy contract with Iran. And so on and so on.” Chinese investment throughout the region draws a clear picture for foreign observers as to what China’s strategy in the region is.
Furthermore, experience from the U.S.-led efforts in Iraq and the Western approach to Iran have clearly illustrated that China will put economic development first and foremost, to support its own domestic growth, while also increasing economic and political ties where Western influence is naught. The PRC has joined the international community in its efforts to foster a stable Iraq, although China’s own national interests are likely to be the driving force behind this support. The PRC’s economic pursuits in Iraq have targeted Iraq’s oil reserves in the south where fighting is minimal and to the north near the Kurdish city of Kirkuk. The development of an Iraqi oil industry by Chinese companies will cost an estimated $20 billion. In March 2007, the PRC and the Iraqi government began to discuss a $1.3 billion contract for the al-Ahdab oil field in Iraq. This field is part of a larger region which the PRC attempted to gain access to during the rule of the Hussein regime. The PRC and Iran have enjoyed a close relationship for a number of years through the trade of oil and weapons. Oil flows from Iran to the PRC, and weapons flow from the PRC to Iran. , The importance of this relationship has only increased for each country, as oil is subject to higher demand, and Iran perceives greater threats to its security. The effects of the Iraq war aggravated each of these factors, with the PRC feeling compelled to secure oil supplies and Iran to bolster its national defense. These factors, along with the ever applicable natural counter-balancing of American power and presence, have pushed the PRC to enhance its relations with the Islamic Republic in the five years following Operation Iraqi Freedom.
And yet, China’s economic successes, whether they lie in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or the broader region of Central Asia, heavily rely on Western forces, U.S. or NATO, to safely secure the regions in order for economic markets to prosper. Herein lies the conundrum: China’s foreign policy and investment strategy eschew military commitments in favor of purely economic gains. Conversely, the West, as it strives to secure these countries and regions focuses primarily on security and stabilization operations, leaving foreign investment on the backburner. However, it is important to note that the greater vision for Afghan stability will require more than just the single efforts of the International Forces to foster security or economic efforts by the Chinese Government to bolster economic stability. As President Barak Obama has stated, “Without help from the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization], which has close geographical and political relations with Afghanistan, it's hard for NATO to reach this new aim.”
Moreover, in recognition of the need for non-military aid, the President has pledged that it will send $1.5 billion to Pakistan each year for the next five years. Non-military aid is crucial. However, in stabilizing and maintaining security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the efforts need to be coordinated so that Afghanis and Pakistanis are developing their own economies. International aid that builds roads and infrastructure, while critical, does not provide the long term economic development that the region requires. This is where the economic investment from China is crucial. By investing in mining projects, China not only seeks to extract resources for its economic needs, but also injects revenue to the Afghan state and builds infrastructure to ensure easy and safe extraction. Combining Chinese long term investments with the current international aid for stabilization and reconstruction efforts provides for a comprehensive short term and long term economic and stabilization strategy. A broader international effort is necessary to secure Afghanistan, and a closer, cooperative effort between International Forces and China can be the stepping stone for such an effort. The question is how can such a cooperative arrangement be identified and constructed.
Conclusion: Fostering Greater Cooperation
On March 24, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang stated, “We have clarified our stance on sending troops to Afghanistan…Except for peacekeeping operations with UN Security Council mandates, China will not send a single soldier abroad." The Chinese Government has effectively drawn the line on how it will support international efforts in securing Afghanistan. However, this does not rule out the potential for economic cooperation, or support for stability and reconstruction operations currently being led by ISAF forces in Afghanistan.
In response to the May 12 earthquake in China, the government deployed 146,000 troops, armed police, reservists, and police to provide relief to the earthquake victims. This demonstration of disaster relief is one clear indicator that the Chinese PLA is very capable of providing disaster relief and support to populations in need. Moreover, China’s direct investment in multiple sectors of the Afghan economy, as provided in detail above, provides further evidence that, in multiple capacities, China can become an invaluable partner in supporting the ongoing international operations in the country. Finally, as this review has indicated, China has a vested interest in seeing not only Afghanistan stabilized but that the stability of the Central Asian region as a whole continues to be realized. The future of Central Asian security begins with the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a new partnership with China to support these efforts is critical to realizing their success. However, cooperation should not be ad-hoc but it should integrate into larger international efforts. Preventing redundancies and counter-productive efforts will be important to ensure more efficient use of funds and the overall success of reconstruction efforts.
Fostering such cooperation begins with regular strategic dialogue. The international community currently operating in Afghanistan should support a bi-annual dialogue with China to better coordinate reconstruction assistance efforts in the region. American’s familiarity with their European counterparts is attributed to long-standing coordination and dialogue. The United States is now finally entering a phase in its relationship with China that emphasizes institutionalized and regular cooperative dialogue (e.g., The Strategic Economic Dialogue). However, creating a dialogue channel to focus on Afghanistan will be important to integrating coalition-Sino efforts. Such a forum should ideally occur at an official government-to-government level, however, a lack of familiarity between U.S. and Chinese decision-makers on Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy would first need to be reconciled at an unofficial level.
To this end, the U.S. Government should also propose that senior military officers, government officials, leading academics and experts, and business leaders from both the East and West meet to discuss the best way forward in creating a better cooperative effort in securing Afghanistan. By first establishing unofficial bilateral and multilateral contacts across the military, political, and business spectrum, leaders can identify the areas in which cooperation can be generated. This knowledge would eventually translate into intellectual ammunition for an official strategic dialogue. Moreover, such cooperation in Afghanistan can pay dividends in the future, as the international community also seeks to engage the vital region of Central Asia. Finally, in holding said discussions, leaders can also identify areas in which they can prevent duplicative efforts with regards to economic development. By garnering this cooperation and gaining a greater understanding of what the international community is doing politically, militarily and economically, a more comprehensive strategy can be employed to stabilize Afghanistan. Breaking down the myopic “European” framework for cooperation not only demonstrates a more realistic understanding of changing global power dynamics but could also – under the right conditions – ease the burden on the United States.
Success in Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical to the international community. The potential failure in the region would prove to destabilize populations, energy supplies, and foreign investment in a time when energy security, economic development, and societal stabilization are critical to the international security architecture. Increasing cooperation with China will introduce a more comprehensive strategy than the one that is currently being employed in Afghanistan. While securing the population is paramount for stability operations, in both the short term and long term, it is critical that economic strategies are employed as part of the greater mission. As Confucius once said, “He who will not economize, will agonize.” Chinese investment in Afghanistan and Pakistan provides a critical piece to the puzzle of solving this crisis. The question now is, as the United States and Europe draw up plans for moving forward in their mission, will they look to China as a critical partner.Related: