The China-India-Russia alliance
As U.S. unilateralism has asserted its role as the sole global superpower, the rest of the world is exploring a variety of ways of pushing back. One is the creation of several new regional security consortiums which are independent of the U.S.
As U.S. unilateralism has asserted the role of the United States as the sole global superpower, the rest of the world is exploring a variety of ways of pushing back. One is the creation of several new regional security consortiums which are independent of the U.S. One of the most important is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security alliance led by Russia and China, with several non-voting members including India. Its rising economic, political and military profile this year can serve as a useful lens through which to view this geopolitical pushback. It is based on promoting a multipolar world, distributing power along multiple poles in the international system, such as the United States, Europe, Asia-Eurasia and the Middle East,1 while also promoting the multilateralism of international cooperation.2 In recent years, Russia and China have stepped up their advocacy for a multipolar-multilateral alternative.
Russia is promoting its vision of a multipolar world hinging on the consensus-based decision making that it wants steered through global institutions such as the United Nations. Chinese President Hu Jintao has outlined a similar vision. At a caucus of the leaders of Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa in Berlin, Germany in June of 2007 he said: "Developing countries should strengthen cooperation and consolidate solidarity to promote the establishment of a multipolar world and a democratic international relationship.3
India, however, treads cautiously between the competing visions of a world with multiple poles of power. As such, it makes a refined distinction between multipolarity and multilateralism, and strongly advocates for the latter. India rejects multipolarity that seeks to challenge U.S. military power[why? India's independent line is mentioned here and then sort of drops out of the piece], while espousing the need for cooperation in governing international relations. In 2003, India's External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha outlined the contours of multilateralism: "If globalization is the trend, then multilateralism is its life-sustaining mechanism, for no process will survive without a genuine spirit of multilateralism underlined by the belief that global problems require global solutions globally arrived at. Otherwise, the world faces the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past."4 He emphatically rejected unilateralism, and pointed out that "Iraq attests to the limits of unilateralism."5 In October this year, Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling Congress Party in India, while on a landmark visit to Beijing, offered her formulation of a world order on which her country agrees with China: "Both China and India seek an open and inclusive world order based on the principles of 'Panchsheel' that were founded together by (then Chinese Prime Minister) Zhou Enlai and (India's founding father) Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954."6 Later, Panchsheel became the founding charter of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that had claimed to be the third pole of power in the bipolar world.
A substantial outcome of this advocacy came about in February this year when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao signed the Declaration on the World Order in the 21st Century.7 The Declaration called for peaceful coexistence, a just and rational world order, abandonment of unilateralism, and embrace of multilateralism. In its own words, the Declaration stated: "It is necessary to solve differences and disputes in a peaceful way, avoid unilateral action (and) not to resort to the policy of diktat, the threat or use of force...Every country has the right to manage its affairs in a sovereign way and international issues should be resolved through dialogue and consultations on the basis of multilateral collective approaches."8 Similarly India, in its bilateral relations with China and Russia, boldly spells out its vision of a world of shared governance.
Trilateral Dialogue: China, India and Russia
The growing convergence in the worldview of China, India and Russia brought them into a trilateral dialogue, which in Chinese President Jintao's words would see "the three nations work together for further communication and coordination in major international and regional issues and promote the solution of disputes and differences through dialogue."9 Russian President Putin, while speaking at the first trilateral summit between China, India and Russia in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July 2006 echoed Hu: "...that discussions held in the trilateral meeting would promote mutual trust not only between India, Russia and China individually, but also at regional and global levels."10 Beijing and New Delhi accepted Russia's proposal to hold trilateral summit because "it was beneficial to boosting the cooperation among the three countries as well as maintaining multipolarity ... in the world."11 Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was the first leader to propose the trilateral relationship between China, India, and Russia during his visit to New Delhi in 1998. The first trilateral summit was followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers of three countries in New Delhi on February 14, 2007. In a joint communiqué, the foreign ministers "expressed their conviction that democratization of international relations is the key to building an increasingly multipolar world order."12
During his recent visit to New Delhi on January 25-26, 2007, as the guest of honor on India's Republic Day, President Putin further discussed trilateral cooperation with Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh. Later, standing shoulder to shoulder with Singh, he told a news conference in New Delhi: "We want to resolve regional problems in a way acceptable to all sides. We therefore think that there are good prospects for working together in a trilateral format."13 Indians who have long been beholden to Russia seems to embrace Putin's trilateral initiative, while remaining skeptical of the Indo-U.S. alliance that is currently in the works. K. Subrahmanyam, India's foremost observer of strategic affairs, gratefully speaks of Indian pull towards Moscow: "Russia has seen India as a key to Asian stability for the past 50 years, some four decades before George W. Bush's team reached that conclusion."14 The formation of trilateral dialogue has already been institutionalized. As part of this dialogue, Chinese, Indian and Russian foreign ministers held their first meeting in June 2005 in Vladivostok, Russia. As noted above, they met again in New Delhi in February 2007. Similarly, the leaders of three countries have been holding trilateral summits on the sidelines of G-8 meetings, of which Russia is a member and at which China and India have been regular invitees since 2006.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
Parallel to the trilateral dialogue, China and Russia took the lead to institutionalize their strategic relations into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which India, together with Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan, is a non-voting member. The six-member SCO is widely seen as a collective security organization for nations in South, Central and West Asia. Some observers view the SCO as a counterbalance to the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and its advance into the region. Others believe that "Beijing and Moscow...shared the common aims of...frustrating Washington's agenda to dominate the (Central Asian) region which had been an integral part of the Soviet Union for three generations."15 The recent SCO summit on August 16, 2007 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, however, emphasized in a joint communiqué that "modern challenges and security threat can only be effectively countered through united efforts of the international community."16 There is a range of events that signify the SCO's rising economic, political and military profile, but five events stand out in this regard:
The Caspian Sea Summit
In so many ways, Tehran has become a catalyst for the competitive tensions between unipolarists and multipolarists. It can be gauged from the just-concluded second Caspian Sea Summit, which met in Tehran on October 16, 2007. Along the lines of the SCO, Russia is developing an alliance of the Caspian Sea's littoral states that include Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Russia. The alliance is seemingly meant to share the natural wealth of the Caspian Sea, which some observers bill as the new Middle East. The 700 mile-long Caspian, which is the world's largest inland sea, contains six separate hydrocarbon basins. Its proven and potential oil reserves boast 270 billion barrels of oil. In 1994, the Azerbaijan International Oil Consortium sealed an $8b deal with Baku to develop three Caspian Sea oil fields with reserves of about 3-5 billion barrels of oil. The deal was to extend over 30 years. There have since been occasional skirmishes between Azerbaijan and Iran over the demarcation of their respective coastlines. The five littoral states now seek a framework to replace the 1921 treaty that first divided the Sea between Iran and the former U.S.S.R. to have an agreed-upon share in its natural bounties.
The SCO's geopolitical pushback to the unipolar-unilateral makeover of the world is, however, defensive. Both China and Russia are being protective of their turf. Their internal divisions caused by "extremism, splitism, and terrorism" further unnerve them at even a slight hint of U.S. or NATO proximity to their "near-abroad." They have created the SCO and CSTO, and formed the Caspian Sea Alliance to put distance between their respective "spheres of influence" and NATO-US presence. Many argue that this alliance-building is a reaction to U.S. unilateralism. These alliances, however, cannot threaten U.S. security interests in the region. The allied nations have been consistently reassuring the U.S. that their alliances are not directed at "third party." In fact, SCO member states have helped the U.S. to protect its security interests in the region. In the run-up to U.S. military action in Afghanistan in 2001, the Russian President Putin, according to Bob Woodward, stunned the top U.S. policy makers with his unsolicited offer to let U.S. combat jets use the Russian airspace to strike the Taliban government in Kabul.32 The Bush White House was not even sure if Russians would agree to U.S. airbases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for which it sought Putin's consent. More importantly, China, which shares a long border with Kyrgyzstan and is next door neighbor to Uzbekistan, went along with the U.S. bases in both countries. Besides, and it is noteworthy for American policy makers, the three nations that broke out in spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for 9/11 victims were not Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but Russia, Iran and China--in that order--where hundreds of thousands of marchers held candle-lit vigils and mourned the tragic deaths of 3,000 Americans in terrorist attacks. In strictly strategic sense, the U.S. by itself and together with its allies, especially Australia, Britain and Japan, continues to be the dominant force in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean, which are the key sources and supply routes of energy shipments for China and trade goods for Central Asia. This makes China and the region vulnerable to U.S. retaliation in the event of any perceived or real threat to U.S. security interests.
Yet the Asian-Eurasian regional powers, which are coalescing into the SCO, CSTO and Caspian Alliance, have the potential to entangle U.S. economic interests, especially energy interests. On this score too, the U.S. has been able to circumvent such potential challenges by establishing bilateral relations with the region's energy-rich nations, particularly Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Of these, Kazakhstan is the richest nation, with three-fourths of the region's oil and about half of its gas reserves; Azerbaijan owns one-sixth of the region's oil and10 percent of gas reserves; and Turkmenistan possesses close to half of the region's gas and 5 percent of oil reserves. In 1993, Chevron concluded a $20b deal with Kazakhstan to develop its Tengiz oil field, which is estimated to contain recoverable oil reserves of 6-9 billion barrels of oil. An $8b Azerbaijan International Consortium, led by BP-Amoco-Statoil, is already developing oil fields off the shores of Azerbaijan. Similarly, the U.S. has successfully pushed for a multi-billion dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas pipeline as an alternative to the $10b Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline.
Above all, the U.S. enjoys worldwide economic and military superiority that allows it to force its way through closed doors, if needed. As the world's strongest nation, multilateralists argue, the United States serves its interests best when it works in a multilateral framework on which China, India and Russia all agree. A starting point for multilateralism can be war-torn Afghanistan where the SCO and CSTO both want a piece of action. The U.S. should welcome both to share in counter-insurgency operations for which both China and Russia have a long-standing career. This will free up 25,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which can be exclusively deployed for counter-terrorism; while NATO forces can undertake reconstruction work that has long remained frozen. If it happens, it will turn Afghanistan into the North Star of multilateralism. To the U.S.' further advantage, India's alliance with China and Russia would privilege multilateralism over multipolarism. The latter, as Indian Foreign Minister Sinha in his 2003 address cautioned, has the potential to reprise the cold war rivalries that could set the world on a dangerous course. Multilateralism, on the other hand, would further strengthen the continuing economic integration worldwide, and thus lay the foundation for political integration as well.
In related news:
The Russian and Libyan navies have resumed contacts after a long hiatus when a Russian Navy vessel made a port call at Tripoli, an aide to the Russian Navy commander said on Saturday. The Ivan Bubnov tanker will stay at the Libyan capital until January 7. It is participating in a two-month patrol mission in the northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Russia's first in the past three years, which began on December 5. "The visit by the Russian vessel to Libya could be seen as a revival of contacts with the country's navy in the interest of strengthening mutual understanding and building trust in the Mediterranean region," Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said.
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said previously that a total of four warships and seven other vessels of Russia's Northern, Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, as well as 47 airplanes and 10 helicopters, would take part in the 12,000-mile cruise. "The mission is aimed at ensuring a naval presence and establishing conditions for secure Russian navigation," Serdyukov told the Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in the Kremlin. Libya's leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 24 in Tripoli to discuss bilateral relations and international issues.
After the meeting the foreign minister said that the two countries are preparing Putin's visit to Libya. Lavrov also said Libya's Soviet-era debt to Russia, which stands at around $3.5 billion, including interest, would be a key issue on the visit's agenda. In mid-August, Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights, saying that although the country halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic and political chaos, other nations had continued the practice, compromising Russian national security.
The Pacific Arms Race
On December 17, the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s JS Kongo (DDG-173), a guided missile destroyer, fired a US Standard SM-3 interceptor which quickly destroyed its ballistic missile target about 100 miles above the Hawaiian Islands. The US Missile Defense Agency called the intercept a “major milestone” and Japan’s defense minister called the test “extremely significant.” Japan’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) program started in August 1998 after North Korea fired a missile over Japan. Tokyo’s BMD efforts were accelerated in July 2005 after North Korea once again fired ballistic missiles toward Japan and in October 2006 when Pyongyang tested a plutonium-based atomic device. Japan views these actions as a direct threat to her survival. “The land of the Rising Sun” responded to Pyongyang’s threat by pouring billions of yen into missile defense. The Japanese have purchased US-Aegis radar systems, launched spy satellites, and allowed the US to station an X-band radar on the island. Tokyo has deployed 27 anti-missile US-made Patriot PAC-2 batteries and this year it began deploying the more capable Patriot PAC-3. Much more is in the works.
More daunting for Japan’s neighbors is the fact that Tokyo’s BMD investments are linked to the US missile defense system. In the Pacific the US boasts more than 20 ground-based interceptors, 18 sea-based missiles, hundreds of PAC-3 Patriots and intends to create a multilayered system with hundreds of interceptors to include other programs like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the Airborne Laser (ABL). These systems are guided by early warning satellites, radar complexes and more than a dozen Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers. The growing US-Japanese missile shield seriously diminishes North Korea’s fledgling missile threat and the second order effect is to marginalize China’s strategic balance and perhaps even Russia’s.
Pyongyang is believed to have more than 800 ballistic missiles, including a few which could potentially strike the US homeland. Most are old Soviet-era Scuds and the communist state has developed a medium-range missile, the Nodong, and a long-range missile based on Scud technology, the Taepodong. North Korea sells ballistic missiles to nations like Iran, Syria, and Pakistan. It also tests missiles and shakes its nuclear weapons program rattle to create regional tension that is used to leverage blackmail payments of food and fuel oil in exchange for empty disarmament promises. Although soon to be deterred, it is unlikely Japan’s missile shield will persuade Pyongyang to abandon its misguided activities.
China’s reaction to Japan’s test was cautious. “We hope the Japanese side will act in ways that help to safeguard regional peace and stability and that promote mutual trust between its nations in the area,” Qin Gang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman. Beijing’s primary “regional peace” concern is Taiwan. The communist regime wants the break-away island nation back under its iron fist and intends to make that happen either by diplomatic coercion or military force. The Peoples Liberation Army has arrayed an impressive armada of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan. Should China exercise the military option then Japan’s BMD linked with the US’s fleet of Aegis cruisers could make that operation very expensive for the communists.
Beijing’s “stability” concern is that Japan’s BMD impacts the credibility of its small intercontinental ballistic missile fleet. The Red Chinese have 20 nuclear-tipped, silo-based, liquid-fueled CSS-4 ICBMs which puts China at the bottom of the major-power table behind France. China is rebuilding credibility by modernizing its ICMB fleet, however. By 2010, Beijing will add the DF-31 ICBM which is a road-mobile, solid-propellant system and the JL-2, a submarine launched ballistic missile. These strategic weapons will be augmented by new spy satellites, anti-spacecraft lasers and “information warfare units” that can attack western technologies. China has launched its own missile shield project as well. Beijing recently tested an interceptor missile that downed a high-flying reconnaissance plane. Its spokesman claims, “We can intercept not only high-flying reconnaissance planes or missiles but also low-flying targets.”
Russia, both a European and Asian country, is impacted by BMD programs on both flanks. President Vladimir Putin objects to a proposed US BMD system in Poland and the Czech Republic which is intended to defend against Iranian missiles much like Japan’s BMD is designed to counter North Korea. But Putin and his generals claim the anti-Iran BMD is really intended to marginalize Russia’s fleet of nuclear missiles. In October, Japan officially rebuffed Russian calls for Tokyo to abandon its BMD as well. Russia possesses 700 ICBMs and 3,000 nuclear warheads which could quickly overwhelm the combined anti-missile capabilities of the proposed anti-Iranian system, Japan’s emerging shield and the US’ BMD network. Likely, Russia is concerned these shields will eventually be fine-tuned and expanded to deter its vast arsenal. Russia is doing more than complaining about anti-missile shields, however. It is building better missiles, warheads and beefing up its anti-missile shield.
In mid-December, a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea test-fired a new ballistic missile which reportedly can elude anti-missile systems. The Kremlin will be ready in January 2008 to operationally deploy a new multiple-warhead missile system equipped with Topol-M multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles. This mobile missile can reach the US with a variety of weapons packages. In August, Colonel General Alexander Zelin, commander of the Russian air force, announced activation of the first S-400 interceptors as part of Moscow’s improved missile defense. The S-400 reportedly can reach out 250 miles and stop missiles with ranges greater than 2,000 miles.
Japan’s missile shield may not be directly responsible for China’s or Russia’s decision to expand missile arsenals and BMD systems. Whatever the reason, these nations and others are investing in more sophisticated missiles that could ratchet-up global tension and further proliferation of ballistic missiles to other states and non-state actors. Then again the presence of missile shields in places like Japan might convince rogues that the days of ballistic blackmail are over. For larger countries like Russia and China, effective western BMD systems might convince them to see the futility of investing in another bottomless arms race. Let’s hope for the later.