Posts Tagged ‘US foreign policy’

A longer piece in Survival exploring the question of China’s interests and desires in Afghanistan. It was initially longer, so some detail has been lost, but at the same time I hope it captures the debate that I have encountered in some detail. This is a subject that I am thinking of exploring more and is going to be the first in a number of substantial pieces I have been working on about China while I am in the Middle Kingdom.

Unfortunately, it is behind a firewall, so if you want a copy drop me a note through the contact form and I can help out. In the meantime, here are the first 500 words.

China’s Afghan Dilemma

Survival 52-4 cover

by Raffaello Pantucci

Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 52, no. 4, August–September 2010, pp. 21–27

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The announcement that American forces in Afghanistan would start to draw down by July 2011 highlighted, for China, the need for a conversation about what exactly its interests in its neighbour are, and what it is willing to do about them. Beijing’s primary security concern with Afghanistan is the potential that instability and terrorism might be exported to China’s far-western Xinjiang province, where the ethno-separatist tendencies of the large Uighur Muslim minority have in the past been linked to al-Qaeda militancy. Currently, China is reliant on the United States and NATO to deal with Uighur separatists within Afghanistan, which occurs as a by-product of operations against the Afghan Taliban and related groups. Many Chinese analysts remain unconvinced that NATO will succeed. Most see Afghanistan as the ‘graveyard of Empires’, an assessment they gleefully share with foreign analysts, and which captures a residual sense amongst some Chinese planners who see the United States as an enemy whose losses are advantages to Beijing. Operating from this strategic calculus means that China must be prepared for the eventuality that NATO forces will leave Afghanistan in the control of Taliban or affiliated groups. Beijing has no interest, therefore, in appearing to take sides against the Taliban and finding itself in an awkward bargaining position after an American withdrawal. And beyond Afghanistan, there is the risk that China might be perceived as taking sides in the global conflict between Islam and the West.

China’s interests in Afghanistan extend beyond security considerations. In 2007 China Metallurgical Group won a contract for a 30-year lease on the Aynak copper mine in Logar province, south of Kabul. The site is believed to hold one of the biggest copper deposits in the world; the initial call for tenders cited Afghan and British Geological Survey estimates of some 240 million tonnes. The initial expectation in the press was that the sale would raise some $1.8 billion, but the Chinese offered almost $3bn, as well as to build a 400MW coal-fired power plant and other infrastructure which would supply both the mine and nearby villages. The total cost of the project to the Chinese firm has since been estimated to be as high as $4.4bn.

Aynak is likely to be the first in a number of large mining concessions offered in Afghanistan. Next is a 2bn-tonne iron mine in Bamiyan province northwest of Kabul, for which a Chinese firm, a Saudi firm and five Indian firms had bid (the call was extended for unspecified reasons). In an attempt to map Afghanistan’s natural wealth, the government commissioned the US Geological Survey to conduct a $17m survey of the nation. According to reports ahead of publication, the country is sitting on some $1 trillion in mineral and petroleum reserves.

However, it is through Xinjiang (literally ‘New Frontier’) that China’s interests in Afghanistan must be primarily understood. The province holds many of China’s natural resources and provides a gateway to access further resources from Central Asia and Russia. Some two-fifths of China’s coal is …

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Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), where he is currently based as part of the EU STF China Programme, and a former Consulting Research Associate at the IISS.

Another post over at FreeRad!cals, this time drawn from a good article I read on a plane. It particularly struck me as it sparked off a long conversation about these issues with someone who really usually is not engaged in them – so it reached out. In retrospect it feels a little unfinished at the end, but oh well.

Bruce Hoffman in the National Interest

Filed under: Terrorism

Counter-terrorism sage Bruce Hoffman has an article in the latest issue of the National Interest which I would recommend as a sanguine assessment of the threat that the U.S. faces from domestic Islamist terrorists.

The article opens with a cold-eyed assessment based on insider conversations of the intelligence disaster that took place around Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to bring down an airliner in December 2009. Highlighting a number of missed connections that were likely in part for Admiral Denny Blair’s resignation recently, the main point appears to be that the dots were simply not put together in time to stop Abdulmutallab getting on the plane in Amsterdam. Apparently, preparations had been built around the assumption that AQAP was about to launch an attack on a U.S. target abroad, not that an attack was about to be launched on the homeland.

The broader point of the article, however, is the lack of imagination which has led the U.S. to treat a tactic as a strategy (Predator strikes) and a mistaken belief that America was somehow immune to the sort of domestic radicalization which has become the primary preoccupation of many European planners. A list of events, plots, and groups is provided showing how short-sighted this analysis has been, showing how links to various AQ affiliates can be found in a long list of plots, as well as a larger pool of low-level attempts all carried out by American citizens. A lack of imagination which is also found in the inability to recognize that AQ is a multifaceted organization with many different locations and iterations, rather than a monolith which can be focused on in an organized fashion in one location at a time, “we rivet our attention on only one trouble spot at a time, forgetting that Al Qaeda has always been a networked transnational movement.”

This is coupled with an ongoing failure to admit that the Predator strategy which is regularly trumpeted as crippling Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks has done nothing to stem the flow of foreigners going to train in the camps in Pakistan (he cites a figure of about 100 who have graduated from the camps and now returned home). Something that is only a tactic appears to have become the only show in town when it comes to strategic planning in addressing the threat from Al Qaeda in Pakistan. As has been repeatedly said by numerous experts, it is unlikely that you will be able to kill your way of this problem. As Hoffman puts it: “until we dissemble the demand side….we will never be able to staunch the supply side.”

So simply hammering AQ or its affiliates in local insurgencies abroad is not going to get rid of the problem, especially as the ideology continues to appear to have deep resonance amongst a community of individuals living in the West. Management is key, and making sure that we are able to contain the problem from exploding as it did in the case of Abdulmutallab or some of the other plots that have managed to come to fruition in the U.S., is likely the best we can do in terms of stopping AQ or the ideology it inspires. This is not going to eradicate the problem in the immediate term, but neither is the current approach. But admitting to this will hopefully open doors which maybe lead in a better direction.

There was one point in the article which bothered me, which was when he refers to Abdulmutallab’s profile as defying “conventional wisdom about the stereotypical suicide terrorist being poor, uneducated and provincial.” My question would be: whose conventional wisdom is this still? Given the laundry list of well-educated and assimilated terrorists, who out there still sees simpletons from the provinces as the main incubator of radicalization in the West? I do not actually disagree with what Professor Hoffman says, but it bothers me that there might still be those out there looking for such a profile.

One final point which struck me as interesting is the assertion that Lone Wolves might be part of a strategy by AQ to “flood already-stressed intelligence systems with ‘noise’.” The suggestion, if I am reading it correctly, is that low-tech attacks by “lone wolves and other jihadi hangers-on,” are more coordinated than one might think and are in fact an effort to keep security planners busy and distracted from focusing on serious directed plots from abroad.

This is a slightly older piece that I actually missed when it first ran, which I suppose is quite embarrassing. It was originally meant to run in the monthly magazine I write for Homeland Security today (, but in the end it got shunted to the website. It is in essence a counter-terrorism perspective from Europe on Obama’s first 100 days. Some of the information could do with a little updating, but frankly the things I would say probably appear in other things that I have written (or have coming up soon). I would be very grateful for any other thoughts on this one – especially from those who think I have left anything off.
European Views on the First 100 Days

by Raffaello Pantucci
Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Europeans view Obama’s change initiatives on counter-terror front with hopefulness, and caveats.

Prior to his election, European expectations of Barack Obama’s presidency were at almost stratospheric levels. Across the continent, European leaders and publics salivated in anticipation of the new president – and nowhere was this more true than in the United Kingdom, where celebrations of the Obama victory resonated on all sides of the political aisle.