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  • Japan’s Trump Dilemma

    In the wake of Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, Japan is weighing the geopolitical and geo-economic implications of the new economic and security policies that his administration may adopt.

    December 20, 2016

    Trump’s Energy Plan – More Volatility for Oil Geopolitics

    Although President-elect Trump has declared his intention to deregulate the fossil fuel sector in order to make America less energy import dependent, but over time, this will lead to an increase in supplies in an already over-supplied oil (and gas) market and send prices into a further downward spiral.

    December 05, 2016

    Triumphant Trump and American Foreign Policy

    President-elect Donald Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements during the campaign have led to alarm and concerns among America’s strongest allies.

    November 22, 2016

    Shivmitra Mishra asked: What does it mean to be a ‘resident power’ in a region, for e.g., US is a resident power in the Asia-Pacific?

    S. Kalyanaraman replies: A resident power is one that does not own territory or have a territorial presence in a particular region of the world, but is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with in the international politics of that region. This 'presence' in a region of an extra-regional power is not simply a function of its geopolitical interests in the region but more importantly its forward deployment of military forces in the territories of its allies in the region and/or in the high seas abutting that region on a regular basis.

    Gaurav Moghe asked: In order to prevent China from further augmenting its influence in the South and East China Seas, how feasible and effective is the idea of a US-Japan-India tripartite on issues of common strategic and economic concern?

    Titli Basu replies: The debate on the US-Japan-India trilateral framework has intensified as evident from repeated references to the trilateral framework in some of the recent joint statements including the Tokyo Declaration for India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership (September 2014), the US-India Joint Statement – “Shared Effort; Progress for All” (January 2015), and the eighth India-Japan Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue (January 2015). In fact, the sixth round of the trilateral dialogue was held recently in December 2014.

    Tanmay Vashistha Sharma asked: Why is India developing its own navigational system when it can collaborate with the US or EU or Russia? Also, since the IRNSS is capable of covering South Asian region only, how much strategic advantage will it give?

    Abhijit Singh replies: To begin, it is important to point out that a satellite navigational system is an onerous enterprise that takes enormous capital and technological investment - not to mention years of research and experimentation - to fully operationalise. The high investment needed is one reason why countries favour developing navigation systems on a shared basis, so that the labour and costs involved can be distributed among the various partner.

    Jamil Zaid asked: Will the continued political turmoil in Middle East and North Africa affect the US rebalance policy to the Asia-Pacific region?

    Gulshan Dietl replies: Since late 2011, the Obama Administration has been making a series of pronouncements on a pivot to Asia-Pacific, which has now been moderated to a rebalance to Asia-Pacific. As the global power equations evolve, so do the strategic choices of the states. For example, the US policies were focussed on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It is now China that is at the epicentre of the US worldview; and it is this worldview that advises and influences the US foreign policy.

    In particular, the US is determined to stand firm with its Allies in the Asian region in the face of an assertive Chinese foreign policy. The issues of Taiwan, the South and East China Sea and the North Korean nuclear issue are central to the US concerns and directly impinge on the US security in the long run. For the next few decades, therefore, the US will be very closely engaged with Asia-Pacific.

    Will that affect the US engagement with the Middle East and North Africa? Yes, to a certain degree, Asia will be the primary focus of the US attention. That is not to say, the US would be completely disengaged or indifferent to the happenings in the Middle East and North Africa.

    The US forces have withdrawn from Iraq and are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. The US has chosen to step back from a confrontation with Syria. The production of shale oil and gas has diminished the US dependence on the imported energy from the Middle East. And lastly, the US budget constraints have put severe limitations on its power projection worldwide. Put together, there will be a definite shift in the US foreign policy. But then, the politics being what it is, there may still be sudden twists and turns in the Middle East and North Africa requiring a US relook at the rebalance!

    Ahmed Zahran asked: What is the latest position of the US, the EU, Russia and China on the Iranian nuclear issue, and what are the possible outcomes of the ongoing negotiation?

    S. Samuel C. Rajiv replies: The US, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom (P5) and Germany (the P5+1) are currently giving push to the 'engagement' track with the latest round of talks which began on October 15, 2013 at Geneva. While existing unilateral and multi-lateral (UNSC and EU) sanctions are in place, no additional sanctions are as yet being contemplated as a part of the 'sanctions' track.

    The 'dual-track' policy of sanctions and engagement has till date not shown much progress in modulating Iranian behaviour. It is pertinent to note that in the past, as the nature and volume of sanctions increased, Iranian intransigence correspondingly increased. Iran for instance suspended its voluntary implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP) after its referral to the UNSC in February 2006.

    However, various reports as well as Iranian officials have acknowledged the vulnerable state of the Iranian economy and its currency as a result of trade and oil-related sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani's overwhelming victory defeating candidates like Saeed Jalili (who was the chief nuclear negotiator) has given rise to the strong perception that the Iranian public have rejected the confrontationist approach of the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Government. Supreme Leader Khamenei has also supported the path of dialogue, crucially in a speech to the IRGC commanders in September 2013. With the Obama Administration showing its commitment to the dialogue process, the hopes for progress at the current round of negotiations are huge.

    Possible outcomes could range from Iran signing the IAEA AP, temporarily suspending its enrichment activities, the shipping out of excess quantities of enriched uranium (a possibility alluded to by the Iranian Parliament Speaker) in exchange for graduated sanctions relief, provision of spare parts for its civilian aircrafts, among others in a 'grand bargain'.

    These elements are in the realm of the 'possible' given the unique circumstances surrounding the current negotiations, including Rouhani 'the pragmatist' being in power, Khamenei's support for negotiations, weak state of the Iranian economy, and the positive vibes generated by the renewed interactions between the US and Iran topped by the first telephonic conversation between presidents of the two countries in more than three decades.

    Ajinkya asked: What is the ‘New Silk Road’ initiative taken by the United States? What are the benefits for India in this?

    Rajorshi Roy replies: The ‘New Silk Road’ initiative was introduced by the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September 2011. This US strategy primarily aims at the economic development of Afghanistan by utilising its potential as a land-bridge between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ and connecting Central with South Asia. It has been reasoned that economic incentives will encourage political integration in order to build long-term stability in the region. This is an ambitious though a visionary plan which will require a lot of deft political and economic manoeuvring.

    The initiative aims to create new infrastructure like highways, railroads, electricity networks and energy pipelines along with reduced legal barriers to trade. Some specific projects which have been mentioned include the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project, U.S. sponsored project to transmit electricity from hydropower plants in Central Asia to Afghanistan and a plausible Afghanistan-Pakistan free trade agreement. The transit potential of Afghanistan can help sustain its economy over the long run and at the same time help build political, economic and energy ties across the region.

    In the Ancient Silk Road, wherein Afghanistan was centrally located due to its geographical location, goods were transported from Beijing to Bactria and then towards Turkey and the commercial ports of Europe. The ‘New Silk Road’ broadly highlights the present day geopolitical realities. To an extent, the new US policy can also be seen as an attempt to reduce Russia’s influence in Central Asia, a region often referred to as Russia’s ‘Near Abroad’.

    India has backed this multinational initiative aimed at linking the resource-rich Central Asia with South Asian economies. The mutual benefits are enormous. India will gain a direct access to both Afghan and Central Asian markets and from there on to Russian and European markets. This is a much more economically viable route. The energy potential of Central Asian countries can also be tapped into. Moreover, it has been envisioned that the new initiative will help in bringing lasting stability and prosperity to Afghanistan, a goal long strived for by India.

    For more details on the New Silk Road Initiative, please refer to the following US department of state web-link:

    S. Thiagarajan asked: How the United States will continue its war against terrorism after 2014? Is it through air power (via drones, fixed wing fighter jets)?

    Vishal Chandra replies: There can be no clear cut reply to this query at the moment, as the nature and level of the US engagement in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region post-2014 remain somewhat vague. The bilateral security or the status-of-force agreement, which is supposed to provide a legal framework and lay down terms and conditions for the American presence beyond 2014, is still being negotiated. Serious differences have emerged between Kabul and Washington over the issue of operational role, authority and legal immunity of the American troops to be stationed in Afghanistan after 2014. A long-term security agreement with the US is bound to have implications for politics both within Afghanistan and at the wider regional level. It remains to be seen whether Washington would enter into a security agreement with the current government or wait for the elections in April next year and the new leadership to take over.

    However, it is clear that the US and certain NATO member-states would be maintaining some military presence in different parts of the country in support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), which will remain critically dependent on Western assistance for several years to come. The NATO too is mulling over the broad contours of its post-ISAF mission. Kabul is likely to enter into a separate agreement with NATO after the security agreement with the US comes through.

    How important the Afghan mission will be for the US after 2014-15, is the key issue here. At the wider Asian level, Washington is engaged in re-aligning its political and military strategies to deal with long-term challenges posed by developments taking place in both West and East Asia. Though it is too early to be commenting on its likely implications for the US’ post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, it is clear that the US foreign policy and response strategies are in for a major transformation.

    There is definitely a big question mark on the effectiveness of the US role and presence in managing the Afghan situation after 2014 and particularly in dealing with Pakistan’s continued support to forces inimical to political stability and American presence in Afghanistan. The ongoing effort for political reconciliation with the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban leadership too is unlikely to yield any concrete and sustainable results in the near future. Though the democratically-elected new civilian government in Islamabad has made some positive statements, one would still have to wait and see to what extent the civilian leadership would be able to prevail upon the powerful military establishment of the country.

    In the current scenario, the US is expected to continue with drone strikes against militant groups inside Pakistan’s tribal areas, and special operations along with Afghan forces against militant strongholds inside Afghanistan. Apart from training and equipping the ANSF, the US and its NATO allies will have to retain strong counter-terrorism capabilities to be able to sustain its presence in the country. There is already a debate going on within the US establishment in this regard.

    Much would also depend on the outcome of the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections, particularly the conduct of elections, and the credibility of the next leadership in Kabul. Ultimately, it is the strength of the Afghan institutions, and, more importantly, the will of the Afghan people to protect and further build on the positive achievements of the last one decade that would determine the destiny of post-2014 Afghanistan.