Dealing with China: a How To Guide

At the G20 summit one prospect frightened most of the delegates more than their inability to stem the economic downturn: that China would emerge as the de facto “indispensible power”, to use Madeline Albright’s erstwhile phrase about the US.

China’s call for the Renmimbi to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and its limited fiscal stimulus were triumphs for Chinese diplomacy. And while delegates mingled in the Excel Centre, the Chinese navy was busy spelling out long-range ambitions, including plans to build large combat warships, next-generation aircraft and sophisticated torpedoes, the offensive intent of which should be clear to all. 

So what should our China policy be? That is the question my ECFR colleagues John Fox and Francois Godement attempt to answer in a new report. I asked John, a former British diplomat and China expert a few questions. (more…)

Russia takes advantage of Obama’s detente

Russia is now demanding that NATO halt its planned military exercises in Georgia. On a visit to Armenia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the planned NATO exercises risk further undermining stability in the troubled Caucasus region. That is a bit rich, given that Moscow has effectively dismembered Georgia and is perpetuating the conflict by continuing to deploy forces in the region. 

But what should NATO do? There is obviously no point in undermining the emerging détente between the US and Russia, promoted by the Obama administration. Yet at the same time, the thaw in relations should not allow Russia to play its bullyboy games. I told a journalist today:

The new relations could oblige NATO to reconsider the exercises in Georgia, as long as this is done not just to please Russia but because we are rethinking how to engage Russia and Geogia.

It is worth elaborating a little on this. The strategic context has clearly changed and NATO probably needs to appreciate this. The alliance cannot afford to be out of synch with its largest stakeholder. NATO’s Russia policy cannot be about Georgia alone, just as the West’s China policy cannot only be about Tibet. But any review of policy must not be seen as bowing to Russian pressure or stepping away from NATO’s “open door” policy – which welcomes new, peaceful democratic members if they wish to join.

India votes amid uncertainty

From today until May 13 the world’s largest democracy will be heading to the polls. India’s voters will be electing 543 members of parliament in the country’s fifteenth election. The figures alone are awesome: 800,000 polling booths run by six million election staff will cater to the 714 million eligible voters. Some of the booths will be perched on mountain tops in Kashmir, others placed near the beaches of Goa. The results, to be announced on May 16, will shape the Indian subcontinent for the next few years.

Opinion polls have the left-leaning Congress party of incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) neck and neck, with neither party likely to govern alone. So the stage is set the scene for horse-trading with a “Third Front” alliance and an array of regional and other smaller parties. One potential kingmaker is Kumari Mayawati, who is bidding to become the nation’s first Dalit – or bottom-rung caste – prime minister

Though issues such as poverty and how best to develop the countryside have been debated, in the wake of the last year’s Islamic militant attacks on Mumbai this year has seen national security become a major theme.

Security analysts fear the electoral consequences of another Mumbai-style terrorist attack. If that were to happen – and links back to Pakistani established — the current government would be hard-pressed to act against Pakistan in some. BJP would certainly be braying for tough action.

Even if the elections take place relatively quietly (with 714 million people voting, allow for some violence) India’s relationship with Pakistan is likely to remain fraught. Relations between the two countries have never been warm, but the five-year peace dialogue has now most definitely ended. Barring another terrorist atrocity, a direct confrontation between the two powers may be unlikely, but both governments will continue their proxy conflicts. This is bad news for Afghanistan, which plays host to the conflict. Neither the Congress Party nor the BJP seems to be willing to think through how to revert the Indian-Pakistani cycle of conflict.

The other national security issue both parties have been ducking is how to deal with Obama’s goals of reviving the nonproliferation system. Indian policy-makers of all stripes want to implement the US-India nuclear accord, and worry that the new US nonproliferation agenda will undercut this. But the Indian establishment does not appear to have  thought through how New Delhi might participate in an inclusive nonproliferation regime.

Whoever ultimately wins this week’s election — BJP or Congress — will have to tackle India-Pakistan relations and the US nonproliferation agenda  — the Obama administration is unlikely to give them much choice.

The Twitter Revolution

In the Moldovan capital, Chisinau protesters have stormed the parliament and the presidential palace denouncing Sunday’s Communist election victory and claiming the elections were fraudulent. Over on EUobserver, Nicu Popescu is blogging what has become known as the “Twitter Revolution”.

Text messaging played a key role in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, but in Moldova they have gone one step further and are using Twitter to organise the days’ events. As this blogpost explains,  the most popular discussions on Twitter in the last 48 hours have been posts marked with thetag “#pman“, which is short for “Piata Marii Adunari Nationale”, the main square in Chisinau, where the protesters began their marches.

Does Karzai read Global Dashboard?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai provoked international outrage with draconian restrictions on women and laws that explicitly sanction marital rape. A leaked copy of the laws obtained by The Times details new strictures for Afghanistan’s Shia minority. Women are banned from leaving the home without permission. A wife has the absolute duty to provide sexual services to her husband, and child marriage is legalised.

Terrible? Without a doubt. But it may also be good electoral politics. In a post in late January I mused on what US-style election consultants would tell Karzai to do:

In the run-up to the election, our consultant might say, having a another go at the international community might not be a bad idea.  Kicking out a few human-rights NGOs would be a start and then he could ban driving by women, including by foreign women. In fact, why not ban all alcohol, including for foreigners. A raid on a restaurant frequented by diplomats might make good copy. And, like in Saudi Arabia, why not try to legislate that all women — again including foreigners — must wear headscarves at all times? 

It looks like Karzai has done something very similar….