Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Seismic Jolt That Most Won't Even Notice

Just consider it the 21st century version of the "Great Game,"  the superpower struggle to wrest control of South Asia.  While it used to be a contest between Russia and Britain, today the players are Washington and Beijing.  The latest round goes to China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which seems to be evolving into something akin to our side's NATO.

India and Pakistan have began accession to a regional security group led by China and Russia after two days of summits which Russian President Vladimir Putin held up as evidence Moscow is not isolated in the world.

The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, meeting in the Russian city of Ufa on Friday, a day after the BRICS emerging economies held a summit there, said the invitation to the two Asian nations showed a "multipolar" world was now emerging.

Those words will have pleased Mr Putin, who says the United States has an outdated vision of a "uni-polar" world dominated by Washington and wants to show Russia has not been weakened by Western sanctions over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

The potential ramifications of this are as fascinating as they are worrying.  China is acquiring a land bridge that connects it via Pakistan to Iran and, from Iran, to Iraq.  Iran, at the moment, could really use a powerful benefactor.  Two would be even better.  Look at the map above.  Go from Iran to Pakistan, India and China, then on to Russia and south to the Caspian and the "Stans."  Now do you see what they're locking up?

Then look at the neighbouring waters.  China is already muscling into control of the South China Sea. With India and Pakistan aboard, that could spread to the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and, if Iran runs for cover, the Persian Gulf.

Next up, take a look at what this new geopolitical reality would mean to Southeast Asia - Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal. They're sort of sewn up.  

Then consider what this means in the context of the American position in the arc extending from Japan to Saudi Arabia, an area the US has been struggling to dominate.  This is not good news for Washington although it's not much of a surprise either.  This deal has been in the works for a couple of years.

One other thing.  If I were the Saudis or Israel, I'd be shitting bricks at the prospect of Iran backed by the muscle of Moscow and Beijing and, worse still, the "other side" being able to manipulate oil markets through control of the reserves of Iraq, Iran and the Caspian Basin.

My, my, my.  It's hard to say how much of this is America's own doing from marching NATO to Russia's doorstep to trying to contain China, primarily from contesting Chinese domination of the South China Sea, trying to recruit India to leave China's sea lane access to the Middle East vulnerable in the Indian Ocean and aligning the nations of the Asia Pacific toward Washington and away from Beijing.  None of those gambits seems particularly bright right now.


Pamela Mac Neil said...

Thanks Mound. I've been trying to connect the dots, you just did it for me. I'm going to pick up a map of the world and follow these countries.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Pamela. Depending on how events play out over the next 5-10 years, possibly less, the SCO could extend its influence westward. That could mean through Syria to the Mediterranean Sea and via Oman and Yemen and on into Africa via Ethiopia. That would give them choke points on the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal at both ends especially if Egypt went back to its former Soviet alliance. China has already made great advances into Africa in response to which the Pentagon created a new command, AfriCom.

It's way too early to see this expansionism as anything more than conjecture but the groundwork is there.

crf said...

There is no reason why Asian countries cannot formulate a framework to solve tricky security and territorial issues. Those state must certainly realize that this isn't NATO's, or the US's priority. But they'll want to hedge their bets within the SCO. SCO can't be run like NATO, which is dominated by one country, the United States.

One country to watch is (NATO member) Turkey. It can't join SCO as a member of NATO. But NATO membership has not been a boon lately for the security or prosperity of that country.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Chris. An unmentioned aspect that intrigues me is the water issue. It's hard for me to imagine that an SCO deal incorporating India and Pakistan could be achieved without some accommodation on distribution and security of access to Himalayan headwaters. It would only make sense for a deal to be struck as, otherwise, the existing tensions could only worsen in coming years. What's your take on that? Will we see India and China's standoff along the frontier of Arunachal Pradesh stood down? I don't know about you but that would make me feel a lot better.

Will the new Berlin Wall demarcating SCO from the West be the Sunni/Shia divide? Given the remarks of some like prince Bandar bin Sultan promising that a Sunni war of extinction on the Shia not to mention Israeli and American sabre rattling against Iran, it would seem a situation tailor-made for a Russian return along with China to the Muslim world, especially some of its richest oilfields.

And what of the Caspian Basin? For years the US has dreamed of pipelines carrying Caspian hydrocarbons directly to Europe, just south of Russia's control. Cheney, while CEO of Haliburton, was lobbying for just such a programme while Afghanistan was under Taliban control. He even tried to get the Clinton State Department to life sanctions against the Kabul government. Remember the picture of those Talibs being feted at Haliburton's HQ in Sweetwater, Texas? Elf and subsequently the Americans tried to revive TAPI but, again, it all was for naught.

Yet everything at this point is so tentative that it's best not to dwell on how this could all go seriously wrong. The loss of American hegemony in Asia Pacific through to the ME would be a terribly destabilizing event. If nothing else it would certainly establish the return to a multipolar world.