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An assessment of international oil & gas pipelines

Oil & gas pipelines are a bad idea for India in the north-west sector but can be contemplated in the eastern sector with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

by Piyush Singh (@PiyushS7)

The nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers is being heralded as new era in diplomacy, creating a new player in the international energy supply scene. India too, does not want to be left behind and is slowly signing up with various projects in the region, including development of the long delayed Chabahar port.

Prime Minister Modi in his recent visit to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan has again floated the idea of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and another one from Kazakhstan. India is also in talks with Russia to extend their gas pipelines through Central Asia and China to India. With the nuclear deal done, Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline proposal is again gaining steam. India had reportedly backed off the collaboration in 2009 under extreme US pressure.

These initiatives are counter-productive from a security point of view — they are akin to giving one’s adversary the trigger to hold you at ransom at will. Pakistan and/or its non-state agents will regularly create problems of transit on their side of the border.

Brief History of IPI

The IPI as an idea was first conceptualised in the 1990’s to meet India and Pakistan’s growing energy demands and to further regional cooperation. Iran has the largest reserves of natural gas in the world at around 33.8 trillion cubic meters, and is continuously looking to export some of these to develop their nascent industries. US led sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program halted progress on this, and Pakistan was also forced to back off under Saudi pressure.

However, in 2010, Pakistan and Iran signed a deal again to restart the project and Iran completed its share of construction of the pipeline within its borders by 2013. Iran also pressurised Pakistan to complete the construction on its side, failing which there will be a penalty of 1million dollars per day, if its not completed by the end of 2014. China during the same period showed interest in the project and agreed to finance 85% of the construction and infrastructure on the Pakistani side.

Af-Pak Factor
Pakistan and Afghanistan are geographically situated to utilise such natural resources and to reduce their huge energy deficits, but for one factor-insurgency and terrorism. Both these countries carry a huge political and economic cost for anyone looking to invest in them.

The proposed IPI and TAPI run through the most volatile regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as such securing regular supply will become a headache for India if the project were to materialise.

Looking at the European example, Russia regularly cut-off gas supply to Ukraine on account of failure of payment by Ukraine, because of which much of the Eastern and Central Europe suffered. It is highly likely that Pakistan, as an intermediary cannot be trusted with such a project, disturbance of which will carry huge economic implications.

Myanmar-Bangladesh-India pipeline is a possible alternative to meet India’s energy shortages. Considering the recent upswing in relations between India and Bangladesh and India-Myanmar, it is a good time to pursue these energy deals. Myanmar has gas reserves of 20 trillion cubic feet, enough to satisfy India’s energy shortfall in the eastern sector. Both India and Bangladesh are energy starved, and Myanmar is looking to diversify its market apart from China, which recently started transferring natural gas from Myanmar.

Another alternative to the IPI is taking the sea route. Though much more costlier and technologically challenging than the land pipeline, it removes the perils of traversing through the most volatile sectors of the region in Af-Pak.

In the same way, Turkmenistan-Iran-India (TII) pipeline could replace TAPI.

However, India needs to move quickly on these fronts, as Iran will be courting a lot of customers to diversify its market. And China will be up with all its top dollars to carve a chunk out of it. It is already moving ahead with financing the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, with possibility of extension into China through the Gilgit-Baltistan region. It is imperative that India look at securing its energy sources, and move swiftly to meet and diversify its energy sources.

Piyush Singh is a Junior Research Associate with the Takshashila Institution. He is pursuing a law course at the Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. He is on twitter as @PiyushS7


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On China’s Military Strategy: Implications for India

China’s White Paper on Military Strategy does not feature India explicitly, but points to stepping up of China’s involvement in the Indian Ocean Region

by Piyush Singh (@PiyushS7)

On May 26th, China released its white paper on military strategy, emphasizing a shift from “offshore water defence” to “open seas protection”. The white paper focuses on the current predicament in South China Sea. Otherwise, it contains the usual rhetoric of Taiwan’s unification, Tibetan independence, and makes thinly veiled references to outside powers perceived to be meddling in China’s domestic affairs, namely United States and Japan.

PLAN Harbin: Photo by Felix Garza, U. S. Navy

PLAN Harbin: Photo by Felix Garza, U. S. Navy

The paper mentions that while China has long followed the policy of defensive restraint, it will now follow a policy of “active defence”. Specifically, it means that China is going to be more involved in securing its interest abroad and participating in “regional and international security cooperation exercises actively”. However, the interpretation of “active defence” is that it is of defensive nature only in words, and can be used by party cadres to justify a military action. This means that if China initiates a military attack, then it will be interpreted as only defending itself and its interests against belligerent “expansionists”.

The armed forces of China are entrusted to adhere to the CPC’s leadership and take part in the dream of Chinese rejuvenation. This is being repeated in all propaganda campaigns across China, in light of the recent anti-corruption drive and arrest of certain high profile military leaders. Civil-Military Integration (CMI) is also being strengthened under Xi Jinping. It is further entrusted to build up strategic capability to counter threats in new domains, such as cyber-counterattacks and fighting off local wars within a limited timeframe. Chinese defence policy is highly influenced by the Gulf War of 1991 and the United States military complete dominance in bringing the war to a swift end.

The PLAAF will also expand on its defensive and offensive capabilities. PLA will be built into flexible and mobile units, capable of switching between theatres at short notice. This is important for India to ponder over because it shares a long border with China, divided into three sectors. China does not face any major land based threat in the region as much as it faces from India and this policy maybe directed at India. A rather proactive strategy is also being adopted for outer space security and cyber strategy.

Regarding its nuclear strategy, the paper notes that nuclear force will continue to be the centrepiece of national security and sovereignty. And it will continue to pursue a policy of no-first use.

The greatest emphasis has been laid down on the maritime domain. The paper states, “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” China has actively studied the role of sea-lanes and their independence in securing a strong domestic front, both from history and United States dominance of open seas. ”Far Seas” concept would see a rise in offensive capabilities of the PLAN centred on aircraft carriers.

Days of Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “keeping a low profile” are over. The military strategy paper clearly demonstrates China’s changing priorities and strategies. A blue water navy is surely up on the cards.

Even though the primary focus of the white paper is power projection in the Pacific sector, PLAN is bound to enter into the Indian Ocean.

India, does not feature prominently in the white paper, apart from obscure references, such as “Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs“, in an apparent reference to India’s deal with Vietnam for oil exploration in South China Sea. Implications of the white paper for India are that the land border is not as much a focus for China as the maritime domain is.

India should expect greater involvement of the PLAN in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), on the pretext of anti-piracy operations and naval exercises. As the Maritime Silk Road gets momentum, China will be actively be involved in protecting its interests in the region. China will also expand its capabilities to protect SLOC’s passing through Malacca Straits. Stand-offs in the regions could be expected.

India, has clearly not appreciated China’s involvement in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Selling of 2 diesel submarines to Bangladesh again questions China’s true intention in the region. The paper talks about fostering peace and development in the region, however its actions prove otherwise.

As a response, greater cooperation with the Australian and other regional powers is necessary for India. Furthermore, India should also deepen its relationships with its friends in the South China Sea. India’s 5-year defence agreement with Vietnam is likely to ruffle some Chinese feathers, and will surely see some counter action in coming days.

Piyush Singh is a Junior Research Associate with the Takshashila Institution. Piyush is a student of law at the Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. He is on twitter as @PiyushS7

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Can USA and China avoid the Thucydides trap?

In a recent interview with The World Post, Chinese President Xi Jinping set out his outline for the future of China and the world and why peaceful world environment is necessary to develop China in the long term. One particular significance of this interview was his usage of the term “The Thucydides Trap”.

“The Thucydides Trap” was coined by the Belfer Center Director Graham Allison whereby an established power becomes wary of an emerging power and ultimately leads to war and confrontation among them. The Greek Historian Thucydides blamed the war between Athens and Sparta on Sparta’s fear of Athens growth and its own diminishing influence and hence went to War with Athens to thwart its rise.

Even though The United States and China are the world’s largest economies, their relationship is very complex and based on mutual fear and suspicion.  China’s rapid defence modernisation coupled with increasing assertiveness with its neighbours over various territorial disputes has caused US policy makers off guard in Asia. What worries the policy makers the most is what will be the US response in case of conflict between say China/Japan or China/Philippines and to what extent will the United States go to protect its allies in the region?  Even though China advocates a multi-polar world, its actions speak differently about the role it is going to take in future. China is playing a game of cat and mouse in the region and is checking USA’s capacity to deliver in case of a conflict.

United States has clearly outlined its intention after long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that it will be concentrating on Asia with its Asia Pivot policy.  The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq proved too big a financial burden on the American economy and allowed China to leapfrog it and become the world’s largest trading nation. As the US troops withdraw from the region post 2014, the US plans to concentrate on Asia-Pacific region to check the growth and influence of China in the region. Post World War II, United States has been a dominant power in the region and most of its trade goes through this route and any effort by China to subvert its influence will be met by strong US response.

Current President Xi and Former President Hu Jintao, both laid out a vision for China’s global role in international politics wherein both Countries will form a “new type of great power relationship”. To what extent the United States is going to share power with China and what will be its impact on International geopolitics remains to be seen. Skeptics argue that confrontation between the two countries is more of a reality in the coming decades then in the past.

American foreign policy which was clearly focused on terrorism and Middle East post September 11 attacks have once again started concentrating on China after the economic recession of 2008. America’s Asia pivot is aimed clearly at China and focuses on containing it in the region without harming its interests or its allies. Japan is increasingly trying to change its pacifist Constitution in order to prep up its military in case of a conflict with China. Japan is concerned that US will not come to its rescue in case of conflict even though the US-Japan Treaty 1971 provides so and hence is becoming increasingly insecure about China’s intentions in the region. In his book On China, Henry Kissinger states that China wants a complete revamp of the current world order wherein it has greater say in the happenings around the world and is not discriminated against whereas the United States stands for the existing rule based order, freedom of navigation of seas and skies. The opaque system of Chinese decision making makes it much more difficult for America to solve disputes or tone down the tensions in case of a miscalculated Conflict.

US policy makers believe India can be a trump card against China in the Asian power dynamics. Based on the principle of democracy and rule based order, United States believes that in the long run India can become a possible alternative to China in Asia and on one on which it could depend on. India is being increasingly courted by Japan, Australia and the US to seek a dominant role in Asia Pacific to subvert Chinese influence.  However they forget that India has its own sets of problems with China and will not join any US led camp against China. India’s current focus right now is economic growth and liberalisation and lifting millions out of poverty before it can match China tooth for tooth militarily in Asia and the world.

In the last 500 years, whenever an established power has been faced with an emerging power, the result was war in 11 out of 15 cases. The US has slowly and steadily built up its largely dominant role now since 1890, when it surpassed United Kingdom as the world’s largest economy and has enforced itself as the sole World Super Power through the two World Wars and its rivalry with Soviet Union during the Cold War years. What will be the US approach to China’s rise and whether it is going to make any concessions to China remains to be seen? China on the other hand will try to gain its status as the Middle Kingdom in the Confucian concept of “All under Heaven” and regain its previous glory as the world’s largest economy prior to 1750’s.

Piyush Singh is a law student with an interest in India-China relations and nuclear law and energy. He completed his internship at the Takshashila Institution.

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