For the first time in modern history, the Chinese navy is deploying a task force on an active maritime mission beyond the Pacific Ocean that could involve combat operations. Beijing’s unprecedented decision to join the anti-piracy fleet off Somalia’s coast resulted from a pragmatic assessment of the likely net security benefits to China from the deployment. The international community, including the United States, should likewise approach the issue from a hardheaded perspective. On Dec. 26, 2008, two destroyers and a supply ship of the South China Sea Fleet departed from the Yalong Bay naval base at Sanya, on Hainan Island, […]

GLOBAL EFFORT ON BEHALF OF DETAINED CHINESE DISSIDENT — Over 160 Nobel laureates, writers and academics sent an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao via the internet last week urging him to release intellectual Liu Xiaobo, who was taken from his home by security officers Dec. 8 and has not been heard from since. Liu, a literary critic and head of the Independent Chinese PEN Center that advocates for free speech, was a leading signatory and mover behind the document, “Charter 08.” The charter was a public call for greater reform and accountability of the Chinese Communist Party, including […]

Third of a three-part series. Click here to read Part I, and here to read Part II. COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — In a career spent fighting the Tamil Tigers, Gen. Gerry de Silva (ret.), a former commander of the Sri Lankan army, learned a thing or two about information warfare. In campaigns in the north of the island, time and again he found himself confronting disinformation among the Tamil population. “It’s a disinformation program even to their own people, to their own cadre,” he told World Politics Review in an interview at his family’s home in the Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood […]

China’s Aircraft Carrier Envy

A spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry repeated China’s decade-long interest in building or acquiring an aircraft carrier, according to DefenseNews. Of course, the rule of thumb with carriers is that if you have one, you don’t have any, as the recently completed fifteen-month dry dock of France’s only carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, demonstrated. I’m not enough of an economist to know whether the current global economic downturn argues for such a costly project (economic stimulus) or against it. The spokesman’s remarks came at a press conference announcing the participation of three Chinese vessels in the anti-piracy patrols off […]

First in a two-part series. Part two will appear next Wednesday. LONDON — In the aftermath of the Mumbai slaughter, Britain has increased pressure on Pakistan to deal decisively with the radicalization of young Muslims in its Saudi-funded madrassas and in the al-Qaida training camps that flourish in the lawless tribal areas along its porous border with Afghanistan. Britain has cause for concern. On a visit to Islamabad this month, Prime Minister Gordon Brown revealed that more than 20 serious terrorist plots against Britain — about three-quarters of the active plots currently monitored by Britain’s MI5 intelligence service — are […]

Military Solutions

A quick followup to my earlier post in defense of undue pessimism. According to the common wisdom, it’s churlish to deny that the Surge in Iraq was successful. And I suppose it was successful if “the Surge” is used to refer to a time period rather than a tactic. But everyone who has followed the Iraq War closely knows that there was a convergence of factors that led to the improved security situation. The increased troop presence and changed tactics associated with the Surge were a prominent one, but it’s impossible to know for sure whether they were determinant. Even […]

In Defense of Undue Pessimism

This, from Peter Cassatta writing about the application of a troop surge to Afghanistan at the New Atlanticist, resonated quite a bit with yours truly: However, the Iraq surge should at least have taught us that condemninga strategy before it is underway can be unduly pessimistic. That’s the closing caveat to a balanced piece examining how the tactic will be applied, its chances for success, and the obstacles it faces. I’m not sure I’m willing to renounce undue pessimism. It serves the valuable purpose of forcing people to develop strong arguments. But I’m not only open to the possibility that […]

Afghanistan and Central Asia

Now that the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan has begun to take hold as an emerging consensus, the number has begun to rise. What began as 20,000 has now become a “window of overall increase” between 20 and 30K, according to JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a weekend press conference (via Army Times). Add in support troops and we’ll probably end up at the 40K number that a plugged in contact confided had been circulating around Washington as far back as a month ago. (Remember that the Surge was initially proposed as a 20K troop increase, but […]

The attacks of 9/11 and the ensuing war in Afghanistan did not start the new “Great Game” in Central Asia. Local governments had already grasped the Islamist threat, as well as Russia’s neo-imperial longings to dominate the region. Central Asia’s great energy stakes, meanwhile, had already determined American resistance to Moscow’s policy. However those events undoubtedly imparted a pronounced military aspect to the great power rivalry for political influence and energy access there. Since 2001, the U.S., Russia, Germany, France and India have all acquired local military bases, and their uses or potential missions have grown in importance (although France’s […]

In the new geostrategic “Great Game” between Russia and the West over the future of Caspian and Central Asian energy resources, the prize resembles a set of traditional matreshka Russian dolls. The outermost doll represents the three nations bordering the Caspian itself — Azerbaijan, , Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. In the middle of the collection is Uzbekistan, the most populous of the new Central Asian nations. The innermost doll consists of the two most easterly “Stans,” Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, rich in hydroelectric potential, but relatively poor in hydrocarbons. As prizes go, it is certainly a tempting one. The Caspian’s 143,244 square […]

To discuss human rights in Central Asia without resorting to stereotype is a difficult prospect. The area’s strategic value is unquestioned. Energy rich, at the nexus of Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan, quite literally the heartland of the continent, Central Asia remains vitally important to every great power on the planet. That very importance has led some to turn the region’s human rights record into a vehicle for promoting their own interests — distorting reality in the process. While it would be impossible for any Western country to approach Central Asia without taking heed of its many human rights issues, […]

France to Increase Afghanistan Troops?

According to Jean-Dominique Merchet at the Secret Défense blog, France is likely to send several hundred additional troops to Afghanistan. While the actual increase is modest, the reasoning behind it has wider implications and aims to shore up one of the weak links in the NATO effort there: chain of command. If Merchet’s information is correct, and he’s pretty plugged in, the additional troops will allow the French forces in Afghanistan to regroup into a unified brigade in the east of the country where they are already deployed. French forces now stationed in Kabul would also be integrated into the […]

With 2008 drawing to a close, I decided to look back at the year’s columns and update some stories where important developments have occurred. The stark, if obvious, realization arising from this review is that world politics is shaped by people — people of all kinds: smart, stupid, brave, crafty, or cowardly. But behind every movement, trend and event stand individuals, whose actions shape the course of history. We can easily lose sight of that fact when we focus on the larger picture of global events. In places such as Yemen, Iraq, Israel, and beyond, history-makers do not stand still. […]

Second of a three-part series. Click here to read Part I. COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — No one understands the importance of Sri Lanka’s information war quite like N. Vithyatharan, an editor whose two Tamil-language newspapers — one in the northern peninsula of Jaffna, the other in Colombo — are “continuously targeted by pro-government forces.” Vithyatharan is a small man with a listing walk that suggests heavy burdens. During a visit to his Colombo office, he related how in May 2006, on the night before international press freedom day, five masked gunmen shot up the Jaffna compound of the newspaper there, […]

TOKYO — The residents of Obama, Japan, might have celebrated the election of their town’s namesake as the next president of the United States, but many Japanese remain apprehensive about what the change in leadership will mean for their country’s most important ally. Doubts over the state of relations with the United States were evident in a Kyodo News survey this month, which showed that a record 28 percent of Japanese view the relationship between the two countries as “not good.” “Primarily this is about Iraq, North Korea and the financial crisis,” says Masashi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute […]

Global Hegemon-elect

I held off on mentioning the historic commercial passenger flight between China and Taiwan yesterday, because I had trouble finding the right image for what I wanted to say. This morning I found it, in part thanks to this clip of the CFR’s Richard Haass on the Colbert Reportexplaining in terms even the Colbert character can understand why the U.S. and China have a mutual interestin maintaining the stability of the global order, and in part thanks tothis post by Malcolm Cook over at the Interpreter: Like John Howard, I thought the Bush Administration had got the balancebetween engaging with […]

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