By Dr. Ehsan Ahrari
Examining the US-Russian diplomatic interactions involving Syria, one is stuck by the notion that even in the aftermath of the Arab awakening that is sweeping through the Arab world, these two countries are acting as if they can manage, if not control, events in that region. Of course, no one can blame the United States to think along those lines since it did play a role—even by leading from behind—in bringing down the bloody regime of Muammar Qaddafi. However, looking at Russia’s behavior involving Syria, one has to wonder what planet Vladimir Putin is residing on.
The administration of President Barack Obama is under pressure from a number senators to do something to expedite the demise of the bloody regime of Bishara Assad. Given the fact that he has staked his reputation on being an “effective” foreign policy president—a proposition with which a number of partisan talking heads in Washington disagree—Obama has finally taken the position that Assad has to go. However, America remains highly apprehensive about what type of regime would replace that of Assad’s. Syria is a predominantly Sunni state, but is being ruled by the minority Alawite Shia sect. As the regime is edging toward a certain downfall, the Alawites and Christians are feeling increasingly nervous. The Alawite militia—shabiha—is understood to be doing a lot of Sunni killing, thereby creating an international environment that is becoming increasingly supportive for taking actions to bring about regime change in Syria.
As much as the Obama administration has been under pressure to do “something”—and that includes providing military assistance to the insurgents toward that end—it seems to be more interested in managing the event through cooperating with Russia. Putin is hoping that there would emerge some sort of a compromise between the warring factions and the successor regime would allow the Russian naval presence in that country. However, the likelihood of such a development is minimal at best. Needless to say that Russia is up for a rude awakening in Syria.
Washington also knows that there is no chance of getting an approval for military operations against Syria from the UNSC. NATO’s involvement against Qaddafi’s mercenaries after getting the UN sanction played a decisive role in ending the tyranny of the Libyan dictator. Consequently, both Russia and China have let it be known that there will be no repeat of the Libyan example in bringing about regime change in Syria.
Even though Russia’s strategic significance in the Middle East is quite minimal, the United States still appears to be interested in seeking its cooperation. One unstated reason might be Washington’s reliance on Russia’s cooperation for alternative supply routes to conduct America’s ongoing military operations in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s continued refusal to open direct supply lines has made the Russian cooperation and Central Asian supply routes quite important to the United States. The United States wants to win the war in Afghanistan; Russia wants to remain in Syria. Thus, the United States and Russia can continue to cooperate and hope that they both can still manage events in the Muslim/Arab world. If this is an example of rope-a-dope diplomacy between Washington and Moscow, a safe bet is that Russia would win this contest.
Ehsan Ahrari is an Expert Analyst at Wikistrat and the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an independent defense and foreign policy outfit. He has more than 20 years of experience working closely with the US military educational institutions. In that capacity, he regularly briefs top US military officials on issues of “high politics.” His latest book, The Great Powers Versus the Hegemon, was published by Palgrave Macmillan last November. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
October saw multiple events of importance transpire. The most talked about is the death of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. The National Transitional Council has officially declared victory, and now it must get to work in securing weapons stockpiles, disarming militias, preparing for elections, and meeting the expectations of a population eager for political and socio-economic progress. In addition, Qaddafi’s execution has a regional impact. It sends the message to opposition parties that violence can topple dictators even if their security forces stand by them, and it sends a message to ruling dictators that they will be killed if they lose such a conflict.
The U.S. announced that it will withdraw all military forces from Iraq by the end of the year except for a force of less than 200 personnel, intended to protect the embassy in Baghdad. The Iraqi government was unwilling to give the U.S. troops immunity from prosecution because of the insistence of the Sadrists in parliament who are loyal to the Iranian-backed cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr. However, President Obama said that there would be ongoing discussions regarding training of Iraqi security forces and other forms of assistance, and so it is possible that there will be a return of a minor level of troops. This is undoubtedly a victory for Iran, though the Iraqi resistance of U.S. demands proves the government’s legitimacy and sovereignty. The Iraqi decision disappoints the U.S. and satisfies Iran, but its show of independence is a sign of Iraq’s progress in becoming a democracy.
On October 23, Tunisia held a successful election with high turnout. The Islamist Ennahda Party won decisively with over 40 percent of the votes, but it does not have a majority. It will have to form an alliance with other parties to form the interim government that will oversee the writing of the draft constitution. Ennahda won because it successfully portrayed itself as a moderate force, especially when compared to the often-violent Salafists. Ennahda has the most to gain and most to lose in the coming months, as it will be blamed or commended for whatever happens in Tunisia. The coming months will show Ennahda’s true agenda as it shapes the future of the country.
The prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, where over 1,000 terrorists were freed so Gilad Shalit could come home, was another big moment. The Israelis were overjoyed at the return of the young soldier, and Hamas portrayed the exchange as a vindication of its methods. This exchange deal is certain to motivate certain acts of terrorism and is politically-beneficial to Hamas. Fatah will suffer as it can be criticized for being an ineffective protector of Palestinians.
The U.S. announced that it foiled a plot by the Iranian regime to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. by setting off an explosion when he was dining. The Saudi official was likely targeted because confidential cables released by Wikileaks quoted him as privately urging the U.S. to bomb Iran. The perpetrators also discussed potential attacks on the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Washington D.C. and Buenos Aires. The plot has numerous repercussions: It effectively ends any hopes of a diplomatic engagement with Iran; it shows the world the threat that the regime poses; it exposes how Iran uses proxies, as the IRGC sought to enlist the help of Mexican drug traffickers; it heightens tension between the pro-American Arabs and Iran; and it undermines confidence in the Iranian regime’s capabilities. The plot, therefore, is in some ways a positive development for the West and it will assist its efforts to isolate and “punish” the regime for its nuclear program.
Finally, the death of Saudi Crown Prince Sultan has potentially huge ramifications. Prince Nayef, an ally of the Wahhabists, has replaced him. King Abdullah is of old age and poor health, so it won’t be long before Nayef becomes the leader of Saudi Arabia. He is viewed with great suspicion by the liberal elements of Saudi Arabia. He is also viewed as a strongman which, when coupled with his Wahhabist ties, will make Iran view Saudi Arabia with even more hostility. A key decision for Nayef will be whether to confront the Saudi youth and reformist elements by rolling back King Abdullah’s reforms and taking a staunch stand against demonstrations and demands for greater rights.
The capture and subsequent execution of Muammar Qaddafi officially brought the civil war in Libya to a close, although some Qaddafi loyalists remain in Bani Walid. As of the moment, there is no sign of former regime elements mounting an insurgency from nearby countries like Algeria and Niger.
The National Transitional Council now has several problems ahead of it. It must maintain its unity and that of the country; secure arms stockpiles; disarm militias and fold the militiamen into the security forces; improve the economy and prepare for elections.
There is already an ideological struggle within the NTC between secularists and Islamists, and the latter are winning. Shortly after Qaddafi’s death, the secularist Prime Minister resigned. He was the number one target of the Islamists tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and although he denies caving to pressure, he readily admitted in an interview that he was politically outmatched. NATO’s decision to officially end its mission on October 31 and the emergence of the “Friends of Libya” alliance further empowers the Islamists. The new alliance is led by Qatar. The Qatari Muslim Brotherhood played a pivotal role (with the government’s support) in the rebel victory, and Qatar has backed the same Islamist forces that pressured the NTC Prime Minister into resigning.
The NTC faces a formidable task in securing the arms stockpiles and disarming militias. This requires an assertion of power that will require tribal support, but there are deep geographical divisions between the tribes. Furthermore, militia leaders will be tempted to make demands in exchange for laying down their arms, knowing the NTC is desperate to avoid further conflict. Al-Qaeda has publicly urged Islamists in Libya to refuse to disarm until an Islamic state is established.
The NTC also faces a problem in securing the confidence of the population. The people are desperate for improving their day to day reality, and it is questionable whether their expectations can be met anytime in the near future. It is possible that a population feeling this empowered can simply never be satisfied at this time. If the NTC fails to keep the support of the people, it will increase political divisions within the body as each faction tries to avoid paying a political cost.
The U.S. has announced that it is withdrawing all of its forces from Iraq by the end of the year except for a miniscule force for embassy protection. The reason for this decision is the Iraqi refusal to grant immunity to American soldiers from prosecution. It was also likely affected by threats from Moqtada al-Sadr to reassemble his militia and wage war on any American soldiers that remain in Iraq in 2012.
Nearly all of the Iraqi political parties agreed to approve a U.S. military presence into 2012 and the Iraqi Prime Minister reportedly favored granting immunity to the foreign soldiers. However, the Sadrists in parliament can credibly threaten to collapse the coalition government. Ultimately, it was politically impossible for the Iraqi leadership to have immunity approved. The U.S. is claiming that Iraqi security forces are prepared to handle the country on their own, but this contradicts the reasoning for the push for troops to remain. It is probable that such statements of confidence are meant to put a positive light on the withdrawal and to avoid further frightening the Iraqi population about what lies ahead.
It is important to pay attention to the statements of Moqtada al-Sadr in the coming months. It is unclear if he will consider the remaining 160 U.S. soldiers assigned to protect the embassy and American contractors as “occupiers” that should be targeted in 2012. The U.S. said it is discussing further cooperation with Iraq in regards to training security forces and other forms of assistance, and this could lead to the return of a small number of troops. Al-Sadr is unlikely to look approvingly upon such discussions. If al-Sadr’s militia is revived, it is very likely that the Sunni minority will seek to revive its own militias. The Sunni fear of Iranian influence is profound and will dramatically increase when U.S. forces depart.
The Iraqi government’s first test after U.S. forces leave will likely be in handling Turkish operations in the Kurdish north. The Kurdish PKK terrorist group has launched bloody attacks on Turkish soil, resulting in a major military mobilization. The Iranian military has also attacked Kurdish militants on Iraqi soil, including those that do not belong to the PKK. The Iraqi government cannot alienate its Kurdish minority, but it also does not want a confrontation with Turkey. The most likely course of action is to press the other Kurds to rein in the PKK.
As mentioned before, the Islamist Ennahda Party won a decisive victory in the first election since the overthrow of President Ben Ali. This success depended upon Ennahda casting itself as a moderate force that favors separation of mosque and state while accepting religious expression. The Ennahda Party was greatly assisted in appearing moderate in comparison to the more hardline Salafists, who openly advocated strict Sharia-based governance and were often violent. For example, hundreds of Salafists attacked a movie theater that showed a movie depicting God, which is forbidden in Islam.
The Ennahda Party is still reassuring the population that it does not seek strict Sharia rule, but the history of the party and of its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, is a legitimate cause for concern. It is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Ghannouch has, on several occasions, spoke of the destruction of Israel and celebrated suicide bombers. The Ennahda Party must now form a coalition government that includes other parties, so it will probably continue its efforts to appear acceptable to secularists. Once the interim government begins writing the next constitution, it will be seen whether Ennahda has truly evolved ideologically or if it was simply responding to the political environment for its own benefit.
The foiled Iranian-sponsored terrorism plot on U.S. soil may be what will finally push the international community to enact tougher sanctions on the regime. It demonstrates that Iran actively engages in sponsoring dramatic acts of terrorism, an activity that will likely increase if the regime manages to obtain nuclear weapons. It shows that Iran is not only concerned with Israel, but is aggressively targeting Arab governments and the U.S. directly. In short, it discredits beliefs that a potential nuclear Iran can be contained and the Iranian regime can be dealt with diplomatically.
In addition, the successful prevention of the planned attacks harms the Iranian regime. Its Revolutionary Guards Corps is embarrassed, as its sloppy tradecraft in the operation has been publicized. On the other hand, the success of the U.S. intelligence community is showcased. This should undermine the regime’s confidence in the capabilities of the Revolutionary Guards, as well as damage the morale of the Guards themselves.
It is also being reported that Iran’s nuclear program is facing various problems due to sabotage and sanctions. The advanced centrifuges that have been installed to speed up the process of uranium enrichment are failing. In addition, a new virus dubbed the “Son of Stuxnet” has been discovered. Cyber experts are certain that it shares the same creator as the original Stuxnet virus that wreaked havoc upon the Iranian nuclear program. If the Iranian regime reaches the conclusion that it is still years away from developing a nuclear bomb, it is likely to restrain its behavior until that time comes.
Meanwhile, the power struggle within Iran continues to heat up. In a direct challenge to President Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader is publicly talking about abolishing the presidency. Instead, ministers would be chosen by parliament. This would secure the regime from having to face a contentious presidential campaign that would further divide its ranks. It would also save the regime from having to face a potential Second Green Revolution if it again decides to rig the election results. This is not a signal that Khamenei supports the impeachment of Ahmadinejad yet, as a growing number of parliamentarians seek, as the change would likely come into effect after Ahmadinejad’s term ends in 2013.
Across the region, countries are looking at declining U.S. power as its forces leave Iraq, Turkey turns against the West andIslamists come to the forefront in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. U.S. allies like Jordan and Yemen are facing internal political challenges with strong Islamist elements. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey and Qatar are seeing their stock rise. It is unclear how Iran fares in all of this, as the rise of Sunni Islamists can be seen as either a blessing or a curse to Iran’s own ambitions.
Much like the governments in the region are reevaluating the balance of power, the Islamist election victory in Tunisia and likely victory in Egypt in November will cause the various components of the Arab Spring to reconsider their positions as well.
The success in Tunisia emboldens other Islamists, as well as provides a model for them to follow in their own campaigns. The Egyptian military regime, which has confronted both Islamists and secularists challenging its power, will be more fearful of the former than the latter. The secularists may be spurred to form a united front in individual countries and across the region. The West may start to back away from its support for the Arab Spring, offering minimal lip service to the opposition movements unless the Muslim Brotherhood surprisingly underperforms in Egypt at the end of next month.
One fascinating process that is underway is an identity crisis among the Islamists. Most Islamist forces are hostile to Western interests and cannot be referred to as “moderate” if the term means pro-Western or truly liberal. However, it must be acknowledged that there is a certain level of diversity in Islamist thought. There are Salafists who make the Muslim Brotherhood appear “moderate,” while the Muslim Brotherhood makes the Wasat Party in Egypt (a Brotherhood spin-off) appear “moderate.” This diversity reflects how Islamists come to grips with the modern world while maintaining a very old ideology.
Islamists are trying to answer multiple political and sociological questions with theology. How much non-Islamic culture is permitted under an Islamic form of government? What limits are to be placed on influences viewed as being in violation of Islam? Is there a separation of mosque and state and if so, where does it begin and end? When does debate become detrimental to Islam and therefore, must be punished?
These are all questions that Islamists now in power must grapple with. It is also important to note that the Iran-style of governance where a single individual or a very small circle speaks as a representative of God has been discredited. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Turkish government and other Islamists do not want to replicate it. This raises another question about the role of the clergy within governance and who speaks with the most authority on the above questions. Altogether, there is a very interesting and complicated intellectual/theological process happening among the Islamists that is difficult to predict.
The Arab Spring and the rise of Turkey under Prime Minister Erdogan are fracturing the traditional two-bloc power structure (pro-Western/anti-Western) of the Middle East. There are three main scenarios that could unfold.
The most frightening one is a grand Islamist alliance against Israel, the U.S. and the Arab governments aligned with the U.S. This will happen if Iran, Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood-influenced governments across the region (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt after the November elections and Yemen after President Saleh falls).
The more favorable one is a grand struggle between all of these forces with the Muslim Brotherhood clashing ideologically with Turkey; Iran and Turkey at odds because of Syria; and the Muslim Brotherhood at odds with Iran because of the Sunni-Shiite divide. In this case, the pro-U.S. bloc would look most favorably upon Turkey, but fear a potential Turkish-Brotherhood rapproachment and Turkish provocation against Israel.
The third scenario is an alliance between Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood that competes with the Iranian-Syrian bloc. It is probable that Qatar aligns with the former in this situation, though Qatar will be caught between this bloc and the Gulf governments that remain more closely aligned with the U.S. In this scenario, the pro-U.S. Arab states see neither bloc as a reliable partner, but will be tempted to make conciliatory gestures to the Brotherhood. It is possible they will increase funding to Brotherhood-tied networks in an attempt to keep them from stirring up opposition to their rule.
As stated in past Middle East Monitors, civil war in Syria and Yemen is increasingly likely as time goes on. To reiterate the “Summary” section, the death of Qaddafi makes it more likely that these regimes will fight to the bitter end if the conflict escalates. It could also encourage them to avoid a conflict, but the Syrian and Yemeni regimes are aware that Qaddafi’s toppling could not have happened without NATO’s intervention. It is interesting to note that Syrian pilots have been killed in Yemen now, indicating that Saleh and Assad view each other as being in the same situation.
The impact of Prince Nayef’s ascent to Crown Prince will depend upon how much responsibility King Abdullah gives him. It is likely that Nayef would try to fight against Western political and cultural influences if given the opportunity. The real danger, though, lies when Nayef inevitably becomes the king and that can happen at any moment given King Abdullah’s age.
The Saudi youth are longing to have more of Western culture and greater human rights, especially for women. The female activists are becoming particularly brazen in disobeying the laws forbidding them from driving. At the same time, there is a push back from the Wahhabist clergy, putting the Saudi Royal Family in a difficult position. The Royal Family has been able to contain the relatively small protests, but they will inevitably grow, as will the agitation of the clergy. Sooner or later, the Wahhabist clergy will demand that the Royal Family decisively act against the perceived moral failings of the youth. Should Prince Nayef grant their request, it will spark a period of instability as protests will erupt. The question is whether the subsequent crackdown will prevent further demonstrations or cause them to spread.
One other projection that can be made is that, like any political party, the Islamists will inevitably make mistakes. The populations are particularly impatient and sensitive in the period following elections, as they pay close attention to every decision the new rulers make. It is quite possible that the Islamists will pay the cost of this dissatisfaction, especially if they miscalculate how far they can act on their ideology.
Hamas has seen a drop in its popularity since coming to power in the Gaza Strip. The other Islamists are unlikely to be as vicious as Hamas, but politics is cyclical and eventually, populations will want change and this gives non-Islamists a chance to offer themselves as a competing force. A genuine ideological struggle between Islamists and non-Islamists will take place out in the open for the hearts and minds of the Middle East and will be the most important contest in deciding the region’s future. The only question is when it will reach a point where it becomes apparent.
All eyes were on the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership this month. The move puts the U.S. in the uncomfortable position having to exercise its veto to block the bid, which could cause the region to erupt in anti-American fervor and lead to violence on the borders of Israel. However, Wikistrat does not believe that such an event would have a direct strategic affect, and is more concerned about how the political environment would improve the appeal of the Islamists in countries affected by the Arab Spring. The Islamists would benefit politically if Israel and confrontation with the West were to become major campaign issues, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt, where elections are to be held in October and November, respectively.
Civil war appears imminent in Yemen, and the chances of an armed revolt within Syria significantly increased. Yemeni President Saleh has returned home from Saudi Arabia, where he was being treated for three months following an assassination attempt. His return resulted in a sharp increase in violence, and now fighting between tribesmen loyal to the opposition, backed by defected soldiers, and the regime, is spreading. At the same time, two groups in Syria have formed called the Free Officers Movement and Free Syria Army, with contradictory reports on whether they are rivals or have united. The Free Syria Army is claiming credit for a string of attacks on the regime’s security forces, but is far from presenting a significant armed challenge at this stage.
The struggle between Islamists and secularists in the Arab Spring became more apparent this month. In Libya, Islamists are trying to sideline the secular leadership of the National Transitional Council. In Egypt, liberal parties are decrying the unfair playing field they face, with some calling for a postponement of elections until they can properly organize. In Syria, it is less obvious, but rival efforts to form opposition groups show the Islamists and secular democratic forces are in a quiet competition to lead the opposition to the Assad dictatorship.
type attacks and establish a safe haven. The Libyan rebels’ safe haven in Benghazi was critical to their victory and to winning an international support, as the West had a readily identifiable geographic area to defend. However, Syria is not Libya, and international military intervention beyond a “buffer zone” established by Turkey is very unlikely.
The Free Syria Army is growing, but lacks experienced military leadership, a secure safe haven, and an effective military strategy. The opposition has yet to win over the Allawite officers that run Syria’s military. It will be exceedingly difficult for the Free Syria Army and Free Officers Movement to organize, as they have no territory under their control and the regime operates a police state. For now, the armed opposition is likely to cause additional stress on the regime’s forces, but is far from being able to engage in direct battles.
The armed opposition also has a few other political obstacles it must confront. The vast majority of the opposition forces still reject the use of violence, and so its activity causes a division. Many activists fear that the anti-regime operations will give Assad a pretext to unleash even more violence and that fears of a civil war will scare elements of the military and population further into the regime’s arms. The armed opposition, in order to be successful, must convince the Allawite, Christian and Druze minorities that their lives will be better without Assad and they will not face persecution.
One other development within the Syrian opposition must be discussed: The maneuvering by the secularists and Islamists. The two elements are not engaged in a heated battle yet. There are not two distinctly separate crowds. However, the division is becoming more noticeable. This month, the Syrian National Council was founded in Turkey. This development received a lot of attention, even though it is just the latest council to be formed with the objective of uniting the opposition into a single body. There is no reason to believe the SNC will be any more successful than previous councils.
One reason is the fear of liberal secularists over the heavy Islamist influence over the SNC. At almost the exact same time, a group called Coalition of Secular and Democratic Syrians was founded in Paris, reportedly at the urging of European Union governments concerned about the Islamist influence over the opposition. With concerns over a possible Islamist future for Libya, Tunisia and Egypt mounting, the Syrian opposition faces a tough task in convincing the international community and the Syrian population that Sharia-based governance will not follow the removal of Assad. At the same time, it cannot afford to enter into a major struggle with the Islamists on its side. The outcome of this balancing act is another important factor moving forward.
Israeli – Palestinian Coflict
The Palestinian Authority is moving forward with seeking official U.N. membership as the country of Palestine. The U.S. is expected to veto the request in the Security Council, while the General Assembly may pass a resolution recognizing a Palestinian based on the 1967 borders. The U.S. will likely reduce, or altogether cut off, financial aid to the Palestinian Authority as punishment.
A veto by the U.S., U.K. or France will be met with ferocious protests, likely including attacks on embassies and perhaps, violent clashes with Israel. There have already been clashes in the West Bank. This makes for interesting political theater, but Wikistrat’s Middle East analysts emphasize that the recognition of a Palestinian state, even if done unilaterally by dozens of countries around the world, do not change realities on the ground. Israel will be under heavy diplomatic pressure, but that is nothing new for Israel. The pressure will not be greater than what Israel experienced over the Turkish flotilla raid, Operation Cast Lead in 2009, or the invasion of Lebanon in 2006.
The push for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. does have political effects in the Arab world. It benefits Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah politically at a time when they are already stronger than Hamas. It weakens the Islamists’ main argument against them, namely that they are too weak when it comes to Israel. It is in the West’s interests to have Fatah in a stronger position than Hamas, but it also means that Fatah cannot back down. If Abbas abandons his bid at the U.N., there will be enormous criticism of him. One problem moving forward is how the Palestinian Authority reacts to a U.S. or European veto. It is possible that Hamas will break the ceasefire, or at least praise unilateral attacks by sympathizers. Luckily, the failure of clashes with Israel to spark a pro-violence outcry from the Palestinian populations indicates the appetite for war is not present.
The anti-Israel/anti-Western political environment resulting from a U.S. or European veto will benefit the Islamists in their competition with the secularists of the Arab Spring. Elections are scheduled in Tunisia in October, and the election for Egypt’s lower parliamentary house comes on November 28, followed by additional elections on December 14 and January 3. The more that foreign policy is a campaign issue, the better off the Islamists will be. Their strongest issues are not reform or economic improvements, but moral purity and confrontation with the West, especially Israel. Their secular competitors will be forced to take a more hard-line position on foreign affairs in order to cater to public opinion.
The war in Libya continues as the Qaddafi loyalists continue to hold onto Sirte, Bin Walid and Sabha. The location of Muammar Qaddafi is unknown, though the National Transitional Council now believes he is in Ghadamis on the Algerian border. One overlooked but very significant development is the cross-border raid on Ghadamis by Qaddafi loyalists based in Algeria. This shows that Algeria, long accused of supporting Qaddafi’s side in the civil war, is permitting regime loyalists to operate in its territory. Libyan protesters are criticizing the roles of Algeria, Niger, Syria and Belarus in allegedly helping the remnants of the regime fight on. If this support remains substantial, Qaddafi loyalists may be able to foment an insurgency.
The National Transitional Council faces numerous challenges. The world media is focused on how thousands of surface-to-air missiles have gone missing, with credible reports saying they have fallen into the hands of Iran, Hamas and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It must secure its arms stockpiles in order to prevent an insurgency, on top of capturing the last Qaddafi strongholds and blocking foreign support for regime loyalists. A failure to unify the tribes behind its authority, a formidable task, will make it difficult for the country to stabilize. The oil industry in Libya has suffered underestimated damage, delaying economic recovery. This makes it more difficult for the NTC to maintain the support of a population eager for their lives to improve.
The NTC is also facing international skepticism because of the presence of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and figures linked to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, within its ranks. The struggle between the secularists and the Islamists has already begun, with prominent Islamists calling for the removal of the secular Prime Minister. The war of words is heating up, and the political struggle over the nature of the new Libya is well underway.
Several other things happened in September that deserve analysis. Saudi Arabia, specifically King Abdullah, has granted women the right to vote in local elections in 2015 and to even serve in the Shura Council. He also overturned a court ruling that sentenced a female activist who defiantly drove a vehicle to 10 lashes as punishment. King Abdullah has been able to maintain impressively high popularity, even among the liberal elements of Saudi society. He has shown a keen awareness of the growing power of the younger generation and has addressed their demands without losing the support of the Wahhabists.
The success of the Saudi and Moroccan governments in handling the Arab Spring presents a model that the West can push its allies in the region towards implementing. These two governments have stayed one step ahead of the Arab Spring by embracing reform that defuses the internal tension even if the opposition is unsatisfied. The West is having a major debate about balancing strategic interests and promoting its values, and Saudi Arabia and Morocco appear to have found a solid middle ground. Their strategy can also incrementally empower the liberal elements of society instead of Islamists by allowing increased openness without rushing into elections that non-Islamists would be unprepared for.
The Arab Spring also showed signs of life in Bahrain when parliamentary elections were held to replace the seats left open after opposition officials resigned. Protesters made a large showing and clashes ensued as they marched towards Pearl Square, the location of their previous stand until the security forces violently removed them. Bahrain is the only country to have successfully squashed the Arab Spring through sheer force, but these clashes show that the dislike of the Royal Family has not gone away.
Iran remains a wild card in the region. The regime’s internal power struggle makes its behavior harder to predict. When President Ahmadinejad announced that the two American hikers held as spies would be released, the judiciary said he was overreaching and said it would not happen. Analysts widely interpreted this to be a move by Supreme Leader Khamenei to show the limits of Ahmadinejad’s power. Ultimately, the hikers were released shortly before he addressed the U.N. This event did not have a strategic affect, but it does show that the internal struggle is affecting Iranian policy.
It is also important to notice that Iran is trying to form a tight alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood despite their ideological differences. A website closely tied to Ayatollah Khamenei accused the U.S. and Israel of trying to spark a religious war between Shiites and Sunnis, arguing that they must come together against their common enemies. A video produced by Ahmadinejad’s office earlier this year praised the Muslim Brotherhood’s gains in the region, saying they were the fulfillment of prophecy in the Hadiths. Khamenei also gave a potentially significant speech to the Assembly of Experts that is open to interpretation. He spoke of Iran helping the Arab countries instill “religious democracy,” and conceded that the Sunnis reject Iran’s style of governance, Velayat-e-Faqih. If Khamenei implied that Iran welcomed Sunni Islamist rule in the Arab world even if the structure of government differs from Iran’s, then this is a very significant attempt to bridge the divide between the Sunni Islamists and the Iranian regime.
Civil war in Yemen is very likely. The regime’s forces are using violence to keep President Saleh in power, and the tribesmen are fighting back. It is only a matter of time before the patience of the political opposition runs out, and compels the defected military forces to make a final push to oust Saleh. The forces of General Ali Mohsen and other military personnel that have aligned with the protesters cannot sit idly by as innocents are attacked in the streets, but intervention will not end the violence. Unless Saleh comes to a last-minute agreement with the opposition that involves him stepping down, a condition he is still rejecting, then violence will quickly spread and intensify.
It is likely that the violence will increase in Syria markedly over the next month. The Free Syria Army is increasingly active, is receiving more and more attention, and the tone of the opposition is becoming more favorable to violence in self-defense. Although protests have declined in attendance, Wikistrat’s analysts do not believe the uprising will be crushed any time soon. The Assad regime has exercised every option at its disposal to forcibly put it down, and the demonstrations continue. It is difficult to see what new tactic the Assad regime could employ to achieve victory. At the same time, civil war is also unlikely at this point, simply because of the obstacles facing the Free Syria Army in organizing and the cohesiveness of the higher ranks in Assad’s military.
An Islamist political offensive across the region should be expected as elections in Tunisia and Egypt draw near. The Islamists will preach that true Muslims are religiously obligated to vote for them, and as the contest heats up, the secularists will be accused of abandoning their faith. As mentioned previously, confrontation with Israel and anti-Americanism will strengthen the campaigns of the Islamists. The secularist forces will be accused of being too similar to the West. The Arab Spring has dramatically altered politics in the region, and the effectiveness of this rhetoric will be important to assess in projecting the future of the Middle East.
The biggest development in August was the successful taking of Tripoli by the NATO-backed Libyan rebels. The capturing of the capital effectively brings the rule of Muammar Qaddafi to an end, though significant challenges remain, including locating Qaddafi and his sons and preventing an Iraq-style insurgency by regime loyalists. The Transitional National Council also faces a difficult challenge in unifying the different tribes, militias and political factions under one authority.
The U.S. and European Union called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to relinquish power, and the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has met with opposition activists in Jassem. The U.S. has decided to officially move into the corner of the Syrian opposition, though there is no discussion of providing material aid or military intervention at this stage. The countries that have the power to place severe pressure on the Syrian regime, however, are Turkey and the European Union. The E.U. accounts for approximately 90 percent of Syria’s oil exports. Turkey is the main country that can present Assad with a realistic military threat and is best positioned to support the opposition. The Syrian regime is aware that the U.S. and European Union may lack the public support for military force, having just intervened in Libya.
The U.S. is threatening to decrease aid to the Palestinian Authority if it pushes for a U.N. vote on official Palestinian membership and recognition of statehood based on the 1967 borders. It is expected that the bid will be vetoed in the U.N. Security Council, but that the General Assembly will approve a resolution in support of the bid. It is likely that many countries will unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state. However, Israel is accustomed to diplomatic pressure and strategically, the vote is insignificant. The main danger is that it will provide a pretext for major provocations against Israel, and will be used by Syria and Iran and their terrorist allies to distract from the Assad regime’s internal problems. It is also in the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists to increase tension with Israel ahead of the October elections in Egypt and Tunisia.
The immediate problems the new Libyan government must face are shortages of food, fuel and medicine and preventing an Iraq-style insurgency. The international community can be expected to help Libya cope with the humanitarian issues, but it will be up to the National Transitional Council to deal with the latter problem.
Obviously, the NTC must first kill or capture Muammar Qaddafi, his sons and the other top leaders. There are many people so closely tied to the regime that they will hold onto any chance that it may return. The loyalists will be discouraged if it is discovered that Qaddafi is in another country, such as Zimbabwe or Algeria, but will still have hope that he can back a successful insurgency. It is imperative that the rebels make it unquestionable that Qaddafi has been defeated, and convince his loyalists that they have a respectable part to play in the new Libya.
The death or arrest of Qaddafi and his top associates, however, would not eliminate all possibility of an insurgency. The Iraqi insurgency continued to grow despite the capture of Saddam Hussein and killing of his sons. The NTC will face difficulties in uniting the tribes and disarming the different militias that have helped bring it to power. If Qaddafi and other former regime officials have safe harbor in an outside country, it is possible they will foment instability, as Iraqi Baath officials did from Syria.
There are also factors that make an insurgency less likely. There is no sectarian conflict like in Iraq, and at this stage, there are no neighbors with a vested interest in supporting an insurgency or internal conflict. There is not a significant presence of non-Muslim military forces, and so there is no “occupation” to rally against. Finally, the failures in Iraq are on everyone’s minds, including the Libyans. The international community has been involved in the rebels’ post-Qaddafi planning and the failures and successes in Iraq will be used to improve the prospects for success in Libya.
There is also going to be an internal struggle within Libya between Islamists and secularists, and it will heat up as the draft constitution is written and elections are held. It is difficult to project who will prevail. Qaddafi successfully prevented the formation of credible political parties and there are no polls that can accurately gauge the ideological inclinations of the Libyan population. Western news reports state that the Islamists were only a small minority of the opposition, and the Muslim Brotherhood did not have much of an apparatus in the country.
The top NTC leaders are staunch secularists and free marketers. The vice chairman has ruled out the possibility of an “Islamic state.” The new government even expressed a willingness to accept help from Israel. It is also undeniable that there are fighters and commanders within the rebel ranks that are Islamist extremists with ties to Al-Qaeda affiliates, some of whom even took part in fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. A “constitutional declaration” drafted by the NTC has declared Islamic Sharia law to be “the principal source of legislation,” opening the door for Islamist rule. This is not the final draft constitution and there is reason to hope that the negative Western reaction to this language will result in changes. Much will also depend upon whether the secularists understand the dangers that come with such language and whether they are willing to clash with the Islamists at such an early stage in the transitional period.
The U.S. and E.U. are demanding that Syrian President Assad step down, and the E.U. is considering an oil embargo. Oil exports account for about 30 percent of the Syrian regime’s revenue, about 90 percent of which comes from Europe. A European oil embargo would have an immediate and painful effect on the regime. The U.S. ambassador to Syria also made a surprise visit to Jassem to meet with opposition activists. A previous joint visit to Hama by the U.S. and French ambassadors was warmly received by the population, dispelling the notion that expressions of Western support are not sought by the opposition.
For the first time, there are protest signs asking NATO for help and reports of citizens asking for outside intervention. This is very unlikely to happen. Western public opinion is hostile to any more military interventions, and action in Syria would be much more costly and risky than Libya. The opposition is not as organized, and rebel forces that can be supported do not yet exist because of the Syrian military’s cohesion. There are also legitimate concerns about sectarian warfare and prolonged insurgency in the aftermath of Assad’s overthrow.
Turkey is the country most likely to intervene in Syria. The Syrian opposition has held critical meetings in the country, and the Turkish government has issued a “final warning” to the Assad regime. It is unclear what sort of measures the Turks are considering. Speculation is rife that the Turks will create a buffer zone within Syrian territory, but recent reports indicate that Turkey has decided against this option. If those reports are true, then sanctions and direct support for the opposition are likely. The West will be pleased that Turkey is taking the lead on confronting Syria, especially because it moves Turkey away from Iran. However, the Turkish government is Islamist and should be expected to favor the elements within the Syrian opposition that it most closely identifies with.
The Assad regime must also contend with its loss of support among Islamists and Palestinians, including those that live within Syria. The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is active in the anti-Assad movement, and the Syrian military has attacked Palestinians who have sided with the opposition. The Iranian regime has reportedly suspended financial aid to Hamas for not staging pro-Assad demonstrations, though Hamas has suppressed anti-Assad protests. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new leader of Al-Qaeda, is vocally supporting the uprising, as is Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Muslim Brotherhood theologian. Remarkably, the Iranian Foreign Minister even joined the voices, saying his regime must respect the “legitimate” demands of its citizenry. There is no evidence available yet that indicates that Iran is reconsidering its support for Assad, though.
This means that the Assad regime must increasinglyand the minorities that fear persecution in Assad’s absence. It is inevitable that the Iranian role in suppressing the uprising will grow, and there is evidence that the regime’s Allawite militia, the Shabbiha, is behind sectarian violence. Assad should be expected to further provoke sectarian violence in order to preserve the loyalty of the Allawites, Christians and Druze. It is also very possible that the regime will stage acts of terrorism in order to create the appearance that Al-Qaeda and other terrorists control the opposition.
The biggest development in the Palestinian Territories in August was the breaking of the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist groups. The truce was declared after Israel launched air strikes in Gaza following an attack in Eilat orchestrated by a Gaza based terrorist group, along with Egyptian terrorists. Hamas and the other groups retaliated, launching rockets into Israel.
The ceasefire was revived after the Egyptian government pressured Hamas and the other Gaza-based groups to end their attacks. This is significant because the Egyptian government has moved closer to Iran and Hamas, and state-controlled media outlets continue to publish anti-Israeli propaganda. The effort to achieve truce shows that the ruling military regime in Egypt does not favor a confrontation with Israel. For now, Hamas and the other terrorist groups cannot count on Egypt to be supportive of an escalation against Israel.
It is equally significant that the breaking of the ceasefire did not result in uproar in the Middle East or even within the Palestinian Territories. This does not mean that the Palestinians or Arab world approves of Israel’s actions, but one effect of the Arab Spring has been to make it more difficult to rile up the Middle Eastern masses against Israel. The violence failed to bring the focus off of the Arab regimes. The declining Palestinian support for Hamas and the break in the relationship between the Syrian regime and the Palestinians are also positive developments that could be part of a positive long-term trend.
The Palestinian Authority is in a difficult position because of its bid for U.N. recognition and official membership. There is no chance that Palestine will be recognized as a U.N. member state, but it is likely that the General Assembly would approve of a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. This would put significant diplomatic pressure on Israel and result in many, perhaps dozens, of unilateral recognitions of Palestine from countries around the world. However, this does not substantively improve the position of the Palestinians. The U.S. is threatening to cut its aid to the Palestinian Authority if it presses ahead with its bid, but backing down now would make the body appear weak. It would also have a political cost for Fatah, as Hamas will loudly criticize any decision to back down.
Thehas escalated with the success of each revolution, and so the overthrow of Qaddafi will likewise fuel the opposition movements throughout the Middle East. The quick collapse of the regime’s defenses in Tripoli is particularly worrisome for ruling regimes. The rebels were able to smuggle in operatives into the eastern portion of the capital, and spark an uprising within that part of the city to coincide with an offensive from the west. Anti-regime demonstrations quickly spread, and the rebels advanced at a much quicker pace than anyone expected. The sophistication of the operation will give undemocratic regimes greater respect for the capabilities of the rebels. Opposition movements in the region will draw upon the lessons and perhaps direct guidance of the Libyan rebels for their own causes.
The end of Qaddafi’s rule will not cause panic in other regimes facing uprisings and or change their behavior. In fact, the willingness of Qaddafi’s loyalists to fight for so long despite such long odds is actually a source of encouragement. These regimes, including Syrian President Assad, are also keenly aware that the rebels would have been crushed without Western military intervention. They are similarly aware of the fact that Western public opinion is very hostile to any further large-scale military actions. If the security situation in Libya deteriorates and/or it appears that the country is moving in an Islamist direction, this will further harden Western public opinion against intervention and will cause some participants in the Arab Spring to fear what will follow regime change.
The attack on Israel led to a bloody clash near the Israeli-Egyptian border, leading to a brief diplomatic crisis where Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador. However, Egypt still acted quickly to pressure the Gaza-based terrorist groups into ceasing their attacks on Israel. This is an important observation as it indicates that the Egyptian government is still willing to do what it can to avoid a confrontation with Israel.
The attack actually presents an opportunity to improve Egyptian-Israeli ties, as the militant groups in Sinai threaten both. The Israelis are open to an increased Egyptian military presence in the Sinai Peninsula to. The Egyptian political scene is excessively anti-Israel and critical of the peace treaty. There is a subtle but very important difference in tone between the Egyptian Islamists and the more moderate elements. The Islamists want to end the peace treaty. They will declare the treaty over or demand modifications that Israel cannot accept in order to back out of it. The more moderate Egyptian political elements favor adjustments but oppose ending the treaty. It is possible that Israel can renegotiate the treaty so that the Egyptian military can crack down on Sinai-based terrorists, allowing the demands of the moderate elements to be met. If done delicately, the moderate elements will be able to boast of confronting Israel, and Israel will look positively upon the changes. This potential strategy depends on the outcome of the October elections and the subsequent Islamist-secularist composition of the Egyptian parliament.
The dynamics between the Sunni and Shiite Islamists became more complex in August as tensions increased between Iran and Hamas (and therefore, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood), between the Syrian regime and the Palestinians and between Turkey and the Iranian-Syrian alliance. The Iranian Foreign Minister gently criticized the Syrian regime towards the end of the month as well, calling on the Assad regime to respect the “legitimate demands” of its population. The Arab Spring has the potential to strategically benefit all of the aforementioned parties, but it also complicates the relationships between each of them.
The Iranian government has hailed the Muslim Brotherhood’s gains in every country except for Syria. Iran views the Assad regime as its best ally and the alliance with Syria is absolutely critical to Iran’s strategic position. Iran is trying to bolster Islamist support for Assad by pressuring Hamas to endorse the regime. Hamas, however, is a derivative of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is on the side of the Syrian opposition. Hamas has prevented anti-Assad demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and has even arrested protesters, but the Iranian regime is insistent that the terrorist group put together rallies in favor of Assad. Hamas, caught in a very awkward position, has declined, and Iran has reportedly suspended financial aid to it.
Another remarkable development is the aforementioned statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister. It is unclear what compelled the Iranian government to change its tune. There is no evidence that it is halting its involvement in the Assad regime’s efforts to defeat the uprising. It is possible that Iran told another country, possibly Turkey, that it will pressure Assad if action against the Syrian regime is delayed. It is also possible that Iran views the downfall of the Assad regime as a strong enough possibility that it is trying to curry favor with the opposition now. Another possibility is that Iran genuinely believes that there are conciliatory actions the Syrian regime must take to solve the crisis, and Assad is resisting their suggestions. It is important to see in the coming weeks if this statement indicates a change in Iranian strategy.
The flashpoint immediately ahead for the region is the expected U.N. vote on Palestinian membership and recognition. As mentioned before, the U.S. says it would veto any official membership for a Palestinian state, but the General Assembly is likely to vote in favor of a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. Top Israeli officials have warned of a “diplomatic tsunami,” but it is likely that the political crisis will pass and no changes in the strategic balance will result from the vote. Iran, Syria and their terrorist allies will undoubtedly use the occasion to try to stir up protests, riots and acts of violence against Israel.
The new Libyan government’s foremost challenge is to secure the country by finding out the status of Muammar Qaddafi and his sons, securing arms stockpiles, and preventing an insurgency. The next month will see challenges from militias and armed groups unwilling to give up their arms; demands from tribes as they compete for influence; addressing concerns about the influence of Islamists; and holding together the National Transitional Council. Eventually, political posturing will begin. It is inevitable that the NTC, like any new government, will not meet the expectations of the population. At that point, some factions will seek to capitalize on this sentiment, criticizing rivals within the body and presenting themselves as the better alternative.
The situation in Yemen needs to be closely watched as it is in a status quo that cannot last. The Yemeni Prime Minister has returned to the country from Saudi Arabia, and President Saleh is still vowing to return. If the response to the Prime Minister’s return is limited, this may encourage Saleh to ignore international pressure to give up power. At the same time, fighting between Yemeni tribes and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is escalating. AQAP previously avoided clashing with these tribes, eager to avoid Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s mistakes. These clashes reflect a very negative development for AQAP, and it may result in pressure on the Awlaki tribe to expel Anwar al-Awlaki.
Iraq cannot be forgotten, either. The Iraqi government is still debating how many U.S. forces it will request to remain past 2011, but it is a foregone conclusion that there will be a U.S. military presence into 2012. The number of Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. forces sharply declined in August after joint American-Iraqi operations against the Iranian-backed groups. The rhetoric of Moqtada al-Sadr has not ceased, though. His political forces will seek to capitalize upon opposition to the U.S. presence, but he may be overplaying his hand by threatening to revive his militia and target any American soldier on Iraqi soil in 2012.
The U.S. forces will be staying at the request of the democratically-elected Iraqi government. Iraqi polls also show that the population is extremely hostile to Iranian efforts to subvert their country, and it will undermine Al-Sadr’s support if he is seen as acting on behalf of Tehran. It will be difficult for al-Sadr to justify backing down from his threats, and his Iranian sponsors want to pressure the Iraqi government into minimizing the U.S. presence. Iraq is likely to see an increase in protests and threats from anti-American elements.
The uprising in Syria remained the crisis of the most strategic importance this month. The number of protesters is higher than ever, despite the widespread use of violence by the regime to crush the demonstrations. Significantly, the protests continue to grow despite Iranian assistance to the Assad regime, which includes electronic monitoring equipment that was used to undermine Iran’s Green Revolution.
The methods successfully employed by the Iranian regime in 2009 have failed in Syria today, which is a testament to the strength of the uprising. If the Assad regime has employed all of the advice offered by Iran, then it is out of options to use against the demonstrators. Its strategy will be to hope that severe repression and sieges of hotspots will stamp out the revolution over time. Preventing a serious split within the military ranks, particularly among the Allawite officers and generals, will be critical to the success of this strategy.
In Libya, the rebels are making advances in the mountainous area in the western part of the country, and have encircled the oil-rich city of Brega in the east. There is talk of allowing Qaddafi to stay in Libya if he gives up power, but representatives of his regime discount this possibility. He is intent on fighting the rebels to a stalemate that allows him to control an enclave and declare victory, and until impending defeat becomes apparent to him, this will not change. The murder of rebel commander Abdel Fattah Younes and the subsequent vows of retribution by his tribe is a serious blow to the rebel cause, as it threatens to undermine Western confidence in the rebels. It is critical that the rebels present a united front, and clashes between rival factions and tribes do not erupt.
Overall, talk of the Arab Spring’s demise is very premature. The rebels are making concrete advances in Libya, the revolution in Syria is strengthening, Yemeni President Saleh has yet to return to his country, and Morocco’s successful referendum on constitutional changes show the movement represents a dynamic shift. The Arab Spring is not a short-lived period of instability, and serious changes to the region’s power structures are underway.
As stated in the summary, Syria saw its largest protests yet in July despite extensive aid from Iran and excessive violence by the regime’s security forces. The Iranian regime provided Internet monitoring equipment that was used to put down its own Green Revolution in 2009. At this point, the Assad regime has few options available to put a sudden end to the uprising.
This does not necessarily mean that the regime is destined to fall. Iran’s Green Revolution lasted from the summer of 2009 to early 2010, though simmering discontent remains. The Syrian government hopes that it can similarly outlast its opposition. The regime also has several factors working in its favor. The top military and governmental officials come from the Allawite minority, and so they must fear retribution should the regime fall. There are also family ties binding them together. So far, there has not been a decisive split in the military, though there are consistent (but small) numbers of defections. The security services have not turned on the regime in large enough numbers to present an existential threat to the regime.
The opposition, on the other hand, does not have a united leadership structure. It also does not have a safe piece of territory from which to organize, as the Libyan rebels had in Benghazi. This, however, would change if Turkey makes good on its threats to create a “buffer zone” inside of Syria as a way of dealing with the flow of refugees. There are reports of possibly hundreds of defections in Deir al-Zour Province, and residents are now taking up arms to defend the protesters. The accounts indicate these are the largest defections yet. If the military does not crush the resistance in this area, it could possibly serve as a spot to organize defected soldiers, police and willing citizens into rebel forces.
July has seen the first significant outbreak of sectarian violence in Homs, with at least 30 Sunnis and Allawites killed. There has been no sectarian violence between the protesters, and so it is likely that these murders were instigated by the regime, most likely by its Allawite Shabiha militia. The objective would be to frighten the West and the Syrian population by playing on concerns that Iraq-like sectarian warfare will erupt in Assad’s absence. It also ensures the loyalty of the Allawite minority that fears it will be persecuted in the aftermath of regime change.
This month also saw a toughening of U.S. and European policy towards Syria. The American and French ambassadors traveled to Hama, the site of major protests, to express support for the protesters. They were greeted with flowers and olive branches. This is important to make note of because it shows that Western support is appreciated by the democratic opposition movements, contradicting concerns that such support would delegitimize the protesters. It also indicates that the attitude of the opposition towards the West can be influenced by such actions.
The Syrian government responded by having pro-regime mobs attack the U.S. and French embassies. The U.S. responded by stating that President Assad had “lost legitimacy,” and that he is “not indispensable.” The U.S. had previously said that Assad was losing legitimacy. The State Department’s comment about Assad dispensability was a direct challenge to the regime’s attempts to present itself as the lesser of two evils, and the only barrier to sectarian warfare and an Islamist takeover. The U.S. has yet to explicitly call for Assad to step down or to offer material support for the Syrian opposition, but additional options to pressure the Assad regime are undoubtedly being examined.
There were no significant changes inside Iran this month, though the power struggle between the population, the parliament, the presidency and the Supreme Leader continues. The big changes came in foreign policy, as the U.S. is sharpening its rhetoric and making veiled threats to the Iranian regime for its supporting of attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.
First, U.S. officials told the media that Iran had shipped advanced weapons to terrorists and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. The death toll in Iraq for June, the highest monthly tally since 2008, was explicitly attributed to an escalation by Iran. Defense Secretary Panetta visited Iraq, and spoke of pressuring Iran “because, very frankly, they need to know that our first responsibility is to protect those that are defending our country.” General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, followed that comment up with, ““I think what the secretary was pointing to was we’ll do what’s necessary to protect ourselves and that could include a host of things…so we’ll just leave it at that.”
The U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, then warned that Iran may be seeking a “Beirut-like moment.” This was a reference to terrorist attacks in Lebanon in 1984 against U.S. forces with the goal of expediting a withdrawal of forces. The Iranian regime seeks to characterize the U.S. drawdown in Iraq as a retreat. Dempsey, like Panetta and Austin, warned “It would be a gross miscalculation to believe that we will simply allow that to occur without taking serious consideration or reacting to it.”
Around the same time, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned six Al-Qaeda members in Iran and disclosed that Iran had struck a “secret deal” with the terrorist group to allow for safe passage of weapons and personnel into Iraq and Afghanistan. The point of reviewing these statements and actions is to emphasize the seriousness with which the U.S. is taking Iran’s sponsorship of attacks on its soldiers. Retaliatory measures, likely including unilateral strikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, are actively being considered.
Iran’s increased sponsorship of violence also comes as the Iraqi government decides how many American forces it will request to stay beyond 2011. The Iranian regime seeks to pressure the Iraqi government into making this as minimal a number of possible. Moqtada al-Sadr, the militia leader who has long received Iranian backing and is believed to be in Iran today, has explicitly spoke of reviving his militia activity if U.S. forces remain past the end of the year. All of the indications point to an ongoing escalation of violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is a strong possibility of major destabilization in Iraq in 2012 if Moqtada al-Sadr makes good on his threats.
Another noteworthy development in July was the assassination of Dariush Rezai-Nejad, an Iranian nuclear scientist specializing in neutron transport. He is reported to have been working on technology related to trigger nuclear chain reactions for a potential nuclear weapon. He is the fourth nuclear scientist to have been killed in two years in Iran, and the regime is blaming Israel and the U.S. while denying that he was connected to the nuclear program. This isn’t an escalation in the covert war to delay Iran’s nuclear program, as there is precedent for such operations. However, it shows the seriousness with which the nuclear program is being taken by whichever party was responsible for the assassination.
The Libyan rebels made concrete advances in July in the mountainous region of the west. More modest gains were achieved in the east, though the rebels say they have now encircled Brega, a vital oil-rich city. The rebels are closing in on Sebha, which is one of Qaddafi’s three major strongholds along with Sirte and Tripoli. Qaddafi’s army is increasingly demoralized, and shortages of fuel and food are occurring in the territory under his control.
The rebels have their own problems, however. First and foremost is their lack of training and organization, as has been the case since the civil war began. The rebels are also facing a critical shortage of cash, leading to frustration with the West’s difficulties in providing financial aid through frozen assets from the Qaddafi regime. Towards the end of the month, the rebels suffered a major blow when their top commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, was murdered. Younes was arrested for unknown offenses, and then killed after he was released.
The death of Younes is significant for multiple reasons. It takes away a strong, experienced leader who had vast knowledge of the Qaddafi regime because of his former position as interior minister. Furthermore, it highlights divisions within the rebels that threaten their unity and the stability of a post-Qaddafi Libya. It is widely believed that Younes was killed by a rival rebel faction, which could result in inter-tribal clashes that the rebels can ill afford. The rebels will have to take action against whichever party is found responsible, and so an inner struggle is certain to be soon underway.
If the perpetrators were Islamists, this internal struggle could politically benefit the rebel leadership. The West has been concerned about Islamist elements within the rebel ranks, especially those that have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The rebels will be temporarily weaker if a fight with the Islamists begins, but they will also win Western support. If the perpetrators were non-Islamists, then the assassination will undermine Western support for the war. It will appear as a lost cause, and the West is hesitant to relive the difficulties of the Iraq War.
The rebels have made significant gains against Qaddafi, but offensives may now have to be put on hold as the problem of internal divisions is dealt with. If violence between rebel factions becomes high, then there be two armed conflicts going on in Libya. Rebel morale will dissipate, and Western public support will quickly dwindle. The assassination, therefore, gives Qaddafi more reason to continue the fight.
It is possible that the division leading to Younes’ assassination was caused by negotiations with Qaddafi. The West is raising the possibility that he will be permitted to remain in Libya if he gives up power. There are contradicting reports from the rebel side on whether they accept this proposal. The viability of this offer is questionable though, as giving up power is inarguably a defeat for Qaddafi. It is very unlikely that he will even consider such a proposal until it becomes clear to him that defeat is inevitable.
There were several developments in the region this month that should be discussed. Firstly, South Sudan officially became a nation. War did not erupt, though it hard to believe that there won’t be some sort of conflict between Sudan and South Sudan in the near future over the oil-rich Abyei Province and over the shared oil pipelines.
The U.N. Special Tribunal on Lebanon has finally issued its indictments in investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. As expected, the four arrest warrants targeted members of Hezbollah, and more indictments could be on the way. Declaring Hezbollah responsible for the assassination of a popular secular leader does significant damage to the group politically, as previous Middle East Monitors have discussed.
However, equally significant is the reaction of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, or lack thereof. The terrorist group and its state sponsors have tried to blame Hariri’s assassination on Israel, and Hezbollah is suspected of provoking a border clash last August when news of the impending indictments first broke. It was assumed that a stronger reaction would follow the issuing of the indictments, yet this has not materialized. It’s possible that Hezbollah is waiting to see if the Lebanese government actually acts on the arrest warrants, but the group’s restraint could be indicative of a greater regional trend.
Notably, Palestinians in Syria are becoming more and more sympathetic to the protesters, despite the regime’s anti-Israel stance. The Nakba Day provocations failed to cause a major backlash among Palestinians and Arabs in general. Fatah and Hamas have both been targeted by protests in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the Arab Spring begun. These facts may indicate that Palestinians, and Arabs as a whole, are becoming more focused inward. This makes it more difficult for Islamic extremists and the regimes in the Middle East to use conflict with Israel as a way of stifling domestic dissent. Furthermore, provoking unnecessary conflict with Israel can backfire if the populations recognize it as a political trick. If the restraint of the Assad regime and Hezbollah comes from a recognition of this problem, then a positive trend is underway that bodes well for the region.
One of the other regional shifts caused by the Arab Spring is a willingness of the populations to accept Western involvement in Arab domestic affairs. It was extremely significant that the Libyan rebels asked for Western military intervention, and the extremely positive reception of the French and U.S. ambassadors by the Syrian citizens in Hama underscore this reality. It is often debated in the West whether democratic opposition groups even want the U.S. and Europe to support them, as it could provide an excuse for the regime to crackdown upon them or de-legitimize them. It is even suggested that Western “meddling” could rally support for the regime.
The Arab Spring shows that this isn’t the case, and there is a longing for Western recognition and support. This does not necessarily mean that Western military intervention is desired in all cases. However, the Arab Spring does present an opportunity for the West to win favorability among the populaces struggling for democratic reforms. That positive sentiment can potentially be used to influence the outcomes to the West’s favor.
The decision to delay elections in Tunisia and Egypt until October is a recognition of the difficulties faced by the non-Islamist parties in organizing themselves. The Islamist parties have been able to organize in mosques and Islamic centers for a long time, giving them an advantage in the upcoming political races. This gives the non-Islamists more time to prepare, but likely not enough time for a fair playing field to be made. Unfortunately, the hunger for elections prevents any further delays.
The political environment also makes it impossible for secularists to be too favorable to the West, especially Israel. The outburst of the vice chairman of Egypt’s secular Wafd Party, the main competitor to the Muslim Brotherhood, makes this point. He caused a stir in the West for describing the Holocaust as exaggerated and claiming that the CIA and Israeli Mossad staged the 9/11 attacks. However, there was not enough of an outcry within Egypt to force the Wafd Party to confront these statements. The West hopes that the secular forces win the elections, but their victory would not necessarily mean a pro-Western foreign policy.
It is therefore inevitable that the elected governments in Tunisia and Egypt will be more hostile to Israel than their predecessors. In Egypt, debate over the peace treaty will happen. The big difference between the Islamists and the secularists in this regard is that the former want to scrap the treaty, whereas the latter wants to adjust it. The secular position is one designed to minimize confrontation with Israel and the West while addressing the realities of Egyptian public opinion.
The stability of Morocco will be important to watch. The government has successfully contained its own large demonstrations by quickly reacting with sweeping reforms. The protests after the referendum on the proposed constitutional amendments are a fraction of what they were before. If the country remains more stable as a result of these concessions, then other countries in the region will want to follow this model. The West will be able to point to its success in order to pressure its undemocratic allies in the region, such as and . However, if major protests happen again, then the Moroccan government and other governments may conclude that there is no middle-ground that can be reached, and reforms will only encourage the domestic opposition.
The coming months are also going to be marked by increased hostility between the U.S. and Iranian governments, with Iraq and Afghanistan caught between. As discussed in the “Country Focus” portion of the Monitor, the Iranians are intent upon forcing a withdrawal of as many American soldiers from Iraq as possible, while claiming victory as they depart. The rhetoric from top U.S. officials indicates that a response to increased Iranian proxy activity is planned, and attacks on U.S. soldiers will not go on without response.
One of the determining factors will be Iraqi public opinion. Moqtada al-Sadr and other Iranian proxies will be careful not to overplay their hand, and jeopardize their own support by lashing out at the Iraqi government for permitting a prolonged U.S. military presence. The reaction of the Iraqi population when the number of U.S. troops to stay beyond 2011 is announced will be an indication of how aggressive Iran’s proxies can afford to be.
Overall, the region is heading in simultaneously a more democratic, open direction, but this will also result in governments more hostile to Israel and under greater Islamist influence. The success or failure of the civil war in Libya, the revolutions in Yemen and Syria, and the Moroccan model will significantly influence how the opposition movements and the governments handle the desire for change. The dilemma facing the West is that liberal reform is necessary to improve human rights, and to open up the countries to different ideologies and influences that can be conducive to peace. However, in the short-term, the very ideologies and influences that the West fears are best positioned to exploit this openness. The region remains in a state of flux, with secular and Islamist forces each having reason for optimism and for pessimism.
The biggest strategic development in June was the change in relations between Turkey and Syria, and therefore, Iran. The increasingly strong relationship between Turkey, Iran and Syria was of great concern to the West and especially, Israel. The Turkish government is now condemning the violence of the Syrian regime towards its people, with officials even talking of creating a “buffer zone” along the border to protect refugees. The Turkish demands for the creation of a multiparty democracy in Syria will never be accepted by President Bashar Assad, and therefore, it is difficult to see how relations can soon be repaired. This deterioration in relations is a very significant change in alignment of power in the region and works to the advantage of the West.
On June 30, the U.N. Special Tribunal on Lebanon indicted four Hezbollah officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Only one, Mustafa Badreddine, had a senior position. This is a development long feared by Hezbollah and its state sponsors, who have attribute the assassination to Israel. Fear over the tribunal was the biggest reason for Hezbollah’s collapse of, and subsequent takeover of, the Lebanese government. Moving into July, Lebanon enters a major political crisis with regional ramifications. Syria and Iran are also under increasing international pressure for their human rights abuses and nuclear programs.
Another important development was the departure of Yemeni President Saleh to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment following a dramatic assassination attempt that also wounded several other top officials. The protest movement is determined to prevent his return. Government officials have insisted that he would soon return, but this has not happened. Recently, the Yemeni Vice President said it was possible that his injuries would prevent his return.
In Libya, the rebels have finally gained an edge over forces loyal to the Qaddafi regime. The war has not yet decisively shifted in their favor, but they are now gaining ground in the western mountains. France has also delivered arms to the rebels, marking an important escalation of foreign involvement. The stalemate has been broken, but there is no sign that the pro-Qaddafi forces are on the verge of collapse, allowing a quick end to the war. Once it appears to these forces that defeat is inevitable, that could quickly change.
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The biggest shift in the balance of power was Turkey’s decision to side with the protesters in Syria and confront the Assad regime, a policy stance that puts it at odds with Iran, as well. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s government had brought the country much closer to Iran and Syria, was increasingly hostile to Israel, and played an obstructionist role towards Western policy in the region. The increasing ties between Turkey, Iran and Syria presented a monumental challenge to the West, as the three together would have been the most powerful bloc in the Middle East.
The breaking of the relationship between Turkey and Syria is a welcomed development by the West. The Turkish IHH organization that was behind the first Gaza flotilla announced it would not participate in the second flotilla, citing “technical reasons.” Turkey’s decision to not provoke Israel is a very important development, and shows an effort to move back closer to the West.
Turkey is becoming more assertive as a regional power, and is eager to accept responsibilities as such. When Prime Minister Erdogan’s party won a landslide victory last month, he described it as a victory for the countries in the region, as well. Turkey wants to be treated as the dominant power, putting it in competition with Iran. The Turkish confrontation with Syria reflects this goal, and stands in sharp contrast to Turkey’s stance in the region before the Arab Spring began.
The Arab Spring made progress in Libya and Yemen this month, with the Libyan rebels advancing in the west and President Saleh being forced to go to Saudi Arabia for treatment after a dramatic assassination attempt. These are positive developments for the movements fighting for change in the region, as concern was growing that the Arab Spring had peaked. The opposition movements will take a note that these gains were made with violence, and were not entirely peaceful as was the case in Tunisia and Egypt. If the regimes are successfully changed in Libya and Yemen through violence, it could legitimize the use of violence in other countries. Military coups and civil wars may be seen as the only way to effect change if mass protests are not successful in the near-term.
The U.K. has accused Iran of carrying out secret tests of nuclear-capable missiles in violation of a U.N. resolution. The Iranian regime has also said it will triple the amount of enriched uranium it produces, and the International Atomic Energy Agency is saying it has acquired evidence of a “military dimension” to Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA has also concluded that Syria was constructing a covert nuclear reactor until it was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. These accusations will increase international pressure on Iran and Syria, and will give the West momentum to pursue sanctions through the United Nations. The U.S. and European Union have also been sanctioning more and more Syrian and Iranian officials for human rights abuses.
The revelations about Iran’s nuclear advances have regional ramifications. A member of the Saudi Royal Family, Prince Turki al-Faisal, bluntly said in June that Saudi Arabia will begin developing nuclear weapons if Iran is not stopped. Saudi officials have also talked of increasing oil exports in order to destabilize the Iranian regime, which is heavily dependent upon revenue from oil sales. This change in rhetoric and publicly-issued threats show that Saudi Arabia and the Arab states are becoming more concerned about Iran. The question is how long it will take for these fears to result in dramatic changes in policy, such as the building of nuclear weapons or massive support to anti-regime elements within Iran.
A significant change has also happened in Egypt, where the secular forces are calling for the drafting of a constitution before holding parliamentary elections. This would almost certainly result in a delay of the vote that is set for September. The objective is to give the secular forces more time to organize, as their Islamist competitors have had a long head-start by organizing in mosques and Islamic centers. Their argument that the playing field is not fair is valid, but the Islamists are accusing the liberals of violating the will of the people as expressed in the referendum on the constitutional amendments that paved the way for elections.
This debate reflects a more advanced stage in Egypt’s political process where the opposition parties begin campaigning against one another. The outcome will influence the Arab Spring, as every aspiring politician and political party seeks to learn the lessons of the Egyptian campaigns. If the election is not delayed, the results will determine how the secular liberals and the Islamists in other countries will negotiate election dates in the future. If the election is delayed, the impact on public opinion will determine whether secular liberals take up such a cause in the future. If the Islamists are successful in characterizing the secularists as violating democratic principles, this will dissuade like-minded political forces from pushing for later election dates in the future. The debate over when to hold Egypt’s elections is a decisive discussion with regional repercussions.
In summary, there were several developments in June that affect the strategic equation. Turkey’s new, more interventionist role in the region is a positive development for the West in the short-term, but will raise concerns about neo-Ottomanism. Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are under increasing domestic and international pressure, and additional sanctions against them are certain. The likely success of the revolution in Yemen, thanks to an assassination attempt on President Saleh, may convince opposition movements that some degree of violence is permissible and necessary to break stalemates. And finally, the debate over the date for parliamentary elections in Egypt provides a foreshadowing of the future struggles in other countries where regimes are successfully replaced.
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Turkey’s confrontation with Syria and competition with Iran are advantageous to the West. However, it must be remembered that the Turkish government is Islamist in nature. It is very possible that Turkey will leverage its influence over the Syrian opposition to benefit the Muslim Brotherhood. This potentiality represents the dilemma facing the West. Turkey can serve as a powerful ally, but it can also promote the Islamist ideology of the Erdogan government. The success of Turkey will provide a boost to Islamism by providing an attractive model where modernity and economic success is combined with Islamist governance.
The outlook for Syria is grim. There are growing defections from the military, but they are far from the kinds of splits that have happened in Libya and Yemen. The regime is so far undeterred by Turkey’s threats, and is still brutally suppressing the opposition movement. Neither the regime nor the opposition movement is willing to concede ground and a stalemate has been reached. However, Turkish intervention or the assembling of defected soldiers into rebel units would change that.
The outlook for Yemen is also grim. It seems likely that Saleh will not return to Yemen and a transitional process will move forward. The future is unclear, but anti-Western elements are strong. The dominant opposition political party is Islah, which is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and is backed by the Salafists. In the south, there is a secessionist movement and Al-Qaeda is seeking to claim territory. In the north, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have long wanted autonomy, if not independence. It will be very difficult for the country to be held together in the post-Saleh era, and it is possible that the central government’s reach will be limited to the capital.
Libya’s future appears brighter now that the rebels are advancing. Italy’s call for a ceasefire is a setback for NATO, but it is hard to see how Qaddafi can remain in power over the long term. The International Criminal Court prosecutor who issued the arrest warrant for Qaddafi says he could fall within two to three months. The best hope for Qaddafi is that the international community abandons the rebels. The American public has grown war-weary and some participants in the coalition are seeking a way out, but it remains unlikely that such abandonment will occur. The rebels are slowly getting stronger and eventually, should prevail.
One other trend to watch for in the coming months is the movement for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. The Royal Family has successfully prevented the Arab Spring from surfacing in a major way on the streets, but the youth are Westernized and seeking reform. Women’s rights, especially the right to drive, are very popular among the younger generation. However, the Wahhabist clerics are adamantly opposed to reform. The Saudi Royal Family is caught in a tug-of-war, and must carefully engage in limited reform while not offending the religious establishment too much. Beneath the surface, there is a major ideological struggle within Saudi Arabia and it is only a matter of time before it becomes visible.
Overall, the region is headed towards greater instability, but this instability will ironically lead to greater stability over the long-term. Wikistrat believes that globalization will create more open, democratic societies in the region that are more welcoming to Western influence and investment. However, there will be a fight by forces resistant to this fast-moving change, such as tyrannical governments and Islamist forces, and this will be the clash that defines the region over the short- and medium- term. The survival of the Islamist forces will depend upon their ability to cope with modernization and globalization, and how successfully their agenda as the conservation of Islamic principles while adapting to the 21st century.
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The following entry has been excerpted from the ongoing work of students from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs as part of Wikistrat’s 2011 International Grand Strategy Competition. The trajectory was authored by Regina Joseph with Rorry Daniels, Shubha Jaishankar, Jumana Kawar, Katherine Kokkinos and Ivana Kvesic.
The 2012 elections will determine whether Russia continues to pursue a new course of prioritizing economic modernization or if it reverts back to a state-led and protectionist export-based economy where oligarchs and politicians may still freely collude
Russia’s near-term predicament revolves around whether the country will remain mired in the old Soviet way of doing business, or if it can manage to sustainably adopt a new Russian narrative. After the economic collapse of 2008, Russia was forced to reconsider its self-perception as a Great Power, since its more nimble fellow BRIC countries — China, Brazil, and India — not only recovered more quickly from the financial crisis, some, like Brazil, managed to thrive in spite of it. Domestic demand for commodities plummeted during the crisis, further exacerbating the awareness that Russian industries (including extractive industries like oil & gas) were not effective global competitors. So Russia had to pull back from gradiose claims of greatness and focus instead on problems at home and how to resolve them. The resulting impetus, led by President Medvedev and seconded in a few cases by Prime Minister Putin, to turn to an innovation-based development policy and seek accommodation with the U.S. and Europe has shown some early progress, especially in the case of joint cooperation in the creation of a Silicon Valley-style tech hub known as Skolkovo and a Russian DARPA-like research and development agency.
Medvedev’s reform rests on offering the innovation development paradigm and privatization of state corporations as an alternative to the state-centric, extractive resource-based economic model. But to do this, Medvedev has to confront not only the (sometimes violently) resistant oligarchic bureaucracy which prefers things the way they are, but also the siloviki (former security service and spy agency staffers who populate industrial boards and often act as fixers) and Putin — a silovik himself. Putin, whose semi-authoritarian state-capitalist economic model was matched to a security-oriented foreign policy of Russian power assertion, continues to maintain a preference for crony capitalism and is, to a large degree, trapped by it. Putin may have been chastened by the economic crisis’ proof that oil & gas revenues do not provide sufficient insulation against global financial turbulence, and has even watched his popularity wane slightly, but he will be hard-pressed to completely dismantle a system he supported as President and staffed with so many former colleagues.
The upcoming presidential election in 2012, pitting Medvedev against Putin, will split Russia’s future along these two axes: Medvedev’s pursuit of a new Russian model versus Putin’s slightly modified version of the statist national champion status quo. Regardless of who wins, the prospect of reversing entrenched and powerful forces that control vital resources may just be too great a task for Russia to tackle wholly successfully. The more liberalized market that Medvedev seeks faces an array of daunting forces: organized crime is deeply embedded into the state capitalist model and is expanding through globalization; the legal and banking systems require thorough overhauls — which will take more than five years — before the foreign direct investment required for modernization can be enticed; and perhaps more significantly, if commodity shortages drive, for example, oil to more than USD$100/bbl (a foreseeable possibility), a pricing boom in commodities will prove a strong barrier to change.
Given these realities, a five-year outlook for Russia will consist of an anemic version of Medvedev’s reform agenda. As global food and oil prices continue to climb, isolated and incomplete attempts at privatization of state champions will proceed, but most companies, like Gazprom and Rosneft, will remain under the firm control of the state. The Russian judicial system will not change substantially, but a few restricted agreements with selected foreign multinationals, especially in the technology sector, will be developed along the process lines of the EU’s acquis communautaire – essential guarantees of Russian committment to circumstances under which business deals may proceed. Cooperation with the U.S. and the EU will continue over nuclear arms reduction, but the European missile defense shield system will remain unresolved.
In an effort to maximize prices for oil and create a balancing presence in the Western hemisphere where the U.S. and China will compete for resources, Russia will need to strengthen its ties with Venezuela and particularly Brazil. With Olympics scheduled in both countries in the next five years, Russia and Brazil have a natural reason to increase cooperation. But as non-OPEC members who rank in the top 5 of petro-reserve states, both have strategic reasons to investigate ways in which they can maximize their commodity-export economies together.
The increase in commodities prices will thus drive, as it has historically, a more assertive foreign policy. Consequently, we can expect more intense conflicts along Russia’s borders: Russia and Ukraine will experience a deterioration in relations over energy as the former Soviet republic demands a higher proportion of profit to keep subsidizing its own national profligate use of oil and gas; trouble in Central Asia will flare again between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan and anti-Russian sentiment will heighten in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan over what they perceive as interference in their sovereign affairs; Russia will need to deal with Central Asian-related problems on its Chinese borders as it is pushed to contain nationalist spillover effects from a small Uighur Muslim pan-Turkic self-determination movement; in the Caucasus, terrorist actions by Chechen rebels in Moscow and in Chechnya will trigger a clampdown by Russian troops, but as in Georgia, will not result in any kind of compromise.
Domestically, as Russia is stretched to deal with its near-abroad, nationalism will increase. Some of this nationalism will be triggered by terrorist actions; some of it will be encouraged by Putin and other political entities acting through newly conceived parties and movements. Ultranationalist movements, like Aleksandr Belov’s banned Movement Against Illegal Immigration, will go underground and continue to spread its agenda throughout Russia.
By the end of the five year period, Russia will have made only small, limited movements in the direction of innovation; overall, a continuation of statist policies in order to take advantage of increasing global commodities prices will keep Russia’s existing structure mostly intact.
As security issues begin to dovetail with the first ticks of a demographic time-bomb, Russia is forced to adapt
In ten years, Russia’s commodity growth engine seizes up. While global commodity prices, especially for oil, still remain higher than they were a decade before, Russia will struggle to take advantage of the opportunity. Much of the problem stems from the fall-out of the 2008 financial crisis; the global crash drained Russia of the liquidity it needed to invest in, modernize and repair the infrastructure required to produce its commodities. As soon as prices began to boom again, Russia had no choice but to jump in and generate revenue as quickly as possible with the existing equipment it had. But after ten years of use with poor maintenance and little reinvestment, the machinery, pipes, vessels, drills, etc. will reach the limit of their lifespans. Consequently, this will hasten a slowdown in Russia’s cash inflows.
Inflation, a problem when prices were high and oil was flowing easily, will get worse as Russia confronts the need for capital to fix the infrastructure. The stunted innovation development policy did not create enough alternative revenue-generating sectors to take up the slack from commodity dependence, so when that hits its inevitable snag, Russia will have to scramble for a cash solution. Critical reforms in the legal and banking systems were never undertaken to the degree that they were able to induce sufficient foreign direct investment; without FDI, Russia will need to consider riskier ways of raising liquidity, including quantitative easing and commodity barter – all of which threaten Russia’s future economic stability.
Arms sales, which were traditionally a reliable source of revenue for Russia, have been in decline for some time as buyers realized that obtaining repairs or replacement parts was too troublesome, requiring endless bureacratic paperwork and export permits out of Russia (if they are even available). Besides, China makes cheaper goods. However, Russia will potentially convert arms revenue into security service sales – not in the form of “boots-on-the-ground” paramilitary units, but rather in the form of cyber-warfare and cyber-defense teams. Russia’s human capital, consisting of sophisticated engineers, software developers and hackers, will be an exportable resource for the country, thanks to the quality of Russia’s math and computer science education. To avoid brain drain through the lure of bigger salaries in other countries, Russia will need to play on nationalist sentiment to keep programming talent within the country and secure. This area will be one of the key lucrative outcomes from the fledgeling Skolkovo and DARPA-style initiatives begun at the start of the decade. But Russia will need to ensure that these services do not compromise its own security, which remains an ever-present danger.
Meanwhile, physical security will become more difficult for Russia on its massive borders. Unemployment and destitution will drive people from the Caucasus into Russia’s West. Russia’s sparsely populated Siberian taiga will become a destination for immigrants fleeing the ethnic conflicts of Central Asia and crackdowns on Uighur activism in China. These flows of people will spur nationalist sentiment and protectionist violence as Russia struggles to sort out its economic difficulties.
Two external events will have significant impact on Russia’s security trajectory ten years from now. The first concerns Iran’s development of a working nuclear weapon. As the U.S. and Israel scramble to avert a nuclear war in the Middle East, Russia turns its attention to its own military forces. After their poor showing in Georgia in 2008, follow-up assessments reveal their state of readiness as falling far short of Russia’s needs. While the situation in Iraq ratchets up rhetoric in Pakistan and India, causing further instability in South and Central Asia as well as the Middle East, Russia will be squeezed to prepare itself for war. Not only will Russia need to contend with outdated artillery, it will have trouble finding enough soldiers; alarming numbers of conscripts will be in such poor health as to be unfit for combat. Worse, draft dodging will become pervasive to the extent that Russia will be pushed to consider a fast-track immigration naturalization program contingent on long military service. Generals and politicians, reviewing the parlous state of an institution synonymous with former Russian greatness, will require the government to finally confront the demographic disaster awaiting Russia. An aging, unhealthy population can no longer supply the country with a credible fighting force, and so Russia will have little recourse but to consider outsourcing its defense.
The second event concerns China surpassing the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. China will become more aggressive in its resource procurement and foreign policy, which will drive Russia to balance against it. But without funds and straining under the weight of its problems, Russia will have to abandon its autarkic impulses and do all it can to become a more active and pliable member of several institutions. In light of its military deficiencies and the need to balance against China, Russia’s may have no choice but to do what was once unthinkable and join NATO. After rebuffing the U.S. and protesting the European missile defense shield for so many years, Russia will partner with the US and EU in order to boost its conventional security and create a counterweight against China’s actions. By becoming more cooperative, Russia will also gain membership access to the World Trade Organization.
Russia must also beef up its existing roles in such institutions as the Collective Security Treaty Organization in order to gain support in maintaining stability in the Caucasus; not only will it have to work to coerce (through the help of the U.S.) Georgia and Azerbaijan back into the Treaty, it will also have to draw in ally Turkey after that country watches its plans to join the EU terminally scuppered. Finally, with one eye on the future, Russia will become more active in the Arctic Council. By the end of a ten year period from now, the Russia we know today will become a more humbled and cooperative partner in global institutions, including one it once reviled.
Through partnerships, Russia capitalizes on the opening of the Arctic, but remains weighed down by the problems that it once ignored and that it can no longer deny
In twenty years, global warming will advance to the stage that the Arctic Circle becomes a viable economic zone for the countries on its circumference. Due to its having the largest landmass in the region, Russia will stand to gain the most from the melting of the polar ice caps. The area offers an extensive array of possibilities for countries with coastlines along the circle: new shipping lanes and routes, minerals, fish and tourism. But the key resources over which Russia will vie aggressively in the future will be oil, gas and water. Pipelines to export all three will need to be built so that Russia may extend its position as a leading reserve holder and provider of these commodities.
To develop these resources, Russia will need vast amounts of capital. Given the financial constraints the country will face in 20 years, it must be prepared to turn to key allies in the Arctic Council. This will not be easy, as Russia will need to balance its own interests against those of fellow council members. In 2009, NATO warned against coming to blows with Russia over its presumptive behavior regarding the region, such as planting a Russian flag on the ocean floor to claim it in entirety. But with Russia as a NATO member, the potential for conflict could become potential for cooperation. To a large degree, Russia will have no choice but to behave cooperatively, if it expects to maximize its gains.
Russia will need to be especially sensitive to Nordic concerns, since these countries have longstanding disputes with Russia: Norway has been in conflict with Russia over borders of the Barents Sea and pollution from the Norilsk nickel plant in the Arctic Circle; Sweden has had consistent objections to Russia’s human rights record in the Caucasus and elsewhere; and Finland’s historic grudge over being assimilated and invaded by Russia/Soviet Union at various times, while mostly settled over hockey matches between the two countries now, may pose a counterweight to Russia’s aims. But among allies like the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Iceland, Russia may find investment partners to help Russia responsibly derive benefits from its Arctic location. In doing so, Russia, in cooperation with its Arctic partners, will be better able to balance against China and avoid disputes with other Council members. Moreover, in 20 years, countries like Canada, the U.S. and Denmark may partner with Russia in the development of green technology and alternative energy sources, creating not only additional revenue opportunities beyond the Arctic, but also methods by which Arctic extraction can be managed to the best degree possible.
However, as much as Russia stands to gain from Arctic opportunities, it will still need to deal with problems that can offset new revenues. Resource degradation and pollution will be high on the list of Russia’s issues, and not just in the Arctic (although the pollution from its extractive operations there threaten the viability of such potential new revenue generators as water provision and fishing). As it keeps an eye on sustainably extracting resources there, it will have to deal with other environmental problems it has created and allowed to fester, including biological and chemical waste dumps that still require clean-up, and air and water pollution left over from the Soviet era. Here again, Russia must leave behind autarkic impulses and turn to Western partners for financial assistance to remedy problems, or face financial losses and devastastion as global warming worsens.
Russia contributed so greatly to global warming through its own environmental damage in deforestation and fossil fuel burning that it will need Arctic-derived profits to counter the annual forest fires, droughts and floods that will cause billions of dollars worth of damage to property and agriculture.
In addition, as the weather warms and climate migrants flow into Russia, new pandemics will erupt. Russia will require a public health policy that can contain and treat disease effectively across its nine time zones – a costly and complex undertaking.
The public health costs to Russia in 20 years time are so severe that Russia will have no option but to use Arctic revenues to invest in a comprehensive social compact to stabilize living standards. By the time the Arctic becomes viable as a cash cow, much of Russia’s population will be old and sick. The demographic decline will be pronounced: Russia’s population may decrease by as much as 20 million people in 20 years, due to a confluence of low fertility replacement; early male mortality; high rates of diseases like alcoholism, HIV, tuberculosis, and cardiovascular disease; and unhealthy behaviors like drinking and smoking to excess. The strain on Russia’s health services and labor forces won’t be the only economic difficulties; Russia’s demographic ills will exacerbate its security problems, such as an inability to recruit enough young and healthy soldiers. Politically, if the government cannot provide sufficient care for the ill and the elderly, Russia may yet see unrest spreading in more populous areas.
If Russia manages to focus on acting cooperatively, its access to Arctic revenues can help it tackle its most destabilizing problems in the next 20 years.
Russia’s key alliances shift West-ward and to the South as China becomes the top economy
With an eye towards where it can both generate revenues and balance against China, Russia’s key alliances can be grouped and concentrated in four areas.
To its West, one extant grouping will continue to serve Russia’s interests in Europe. Germany and France, the primary economic motors of the EU will continue to play critical roles in Russia’s national trajectory. Germany, already one of Russia’s largest trading partners in areas like energy, will return the embrace as Russia’s aging infrastructural needs continue to demand German technical equipment and expertise. France, whose agriculture and technology serve current Russian trade needs, will also work to maintain strong relationships with Russia in the future. Both Germany and France, in light of a future where their banks are crippled by a diminished European economic zone, will seek to get better deals from Russia’s commodities, while Russia may just oblige them with sweetheart barter deals in exchange for critical supplies to shore up its domestic capacity. To the North of Germany, Iceland and especially Denmark will strengthen their alliances with Russia as Arctic interests come closer to being realized. The two countries will also serve as important balancers for Russia against their Scandinavian and Nordic brethren – Norway and Sweden, and Finland respectively – with whom Russia has had longstanding contentious relationships.
Moving further into the Western hemisphere, North America will constitute one of Russia’s critical alliances. The U.S. and especially Canada will play increasing roles in Russia’s future, as both share Russia’s need to balance against China’s hunger for resources. The two countries are also key Arctic Council partners whose oil and gas reserves and interests may form part of a larger Western hemisphere alliance of oil producing states from which Russia can benefit. In addition, both countries’ innovation and expertise, particularly in future green technologies, will plug important gaps in Russia’s own needs to revamp its infrastructure and clean up its environmental messes.
To the South, Russia already has important relationships with oil producer Venezuela and Bolivia, but Brazil’s strengths as an agricultural and energy exporter make it a key future partner for Russia. For Russia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil already share important political legacies (especially as countries run by Marxist sympathizers) that make them natural allies; but it’s their might in oil and gas that will serve Russia’s priority alliance interests. China may wear out its welcome in Brazil as it exhausts the country’s resources and causes environmental damage and climate effects too devastating to ignore; Russia, a non-OPEC state like Brazil, may offer an appropriate balance to the costs of China’s relationship. Working with Brazil, as well as Venezuela, also offers Russia the option to balance against the U.S. when necessary.
To the South of its own borders, Russia will need to turn its fractious relationship with Central Asian countries into a cooperative one. To a degree, Russia may be assisted by the climate changes to which it contributed. As the countries of the Central Asian plains get hotter and drier, their water needs will increase. Russia’s position as one of the world’s top water reserve countries could help maneuver the relationship between Russia and its former Soviet republics from one of Russian dependency on a pliant Central Asia to one in which Central Asia depends on Russia’s water to survive. This should prompt a strengthening of the CSTO, and also encourage Russia to sharpen that collective security agreement by bringing back in Georgia and Azerbaijan and adding Turkey, which could create a potentially helpful Islamic buffer for Russia with its former satellites.
Two outlying countries beyond these four groupings still serve as important alliances for Russia, although both countries can act as alliance extensions with the U.S. The first is South Korea, with whom Russia can act cooperatively in tandem with the U.S. to balance China’s growing security presence in the Far East; the second is India, with whom Russia shares important trade and security exchanges (especially naval with regards to China’s burgeoning marine forces), but with whom its alliance needs occasional patching – a factor in which good relations with the US will be key.
The current tandem relationship between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin has until now worked reasonably well and remains generally stable. However, elections in 2012 pitting the former against the latter may simply change the status quo to an earlier version of the status quo.
Medvedev, who represents a market-liberalizing perspective within Russian politics, has been careful to push an economic modernization agenda without crossing a line that would set up his own demise. In contrast, Putin, while acquiescing to some of Medvedev’s agenda points, still embodies an older, Soviet-style version of quasi-authoritarianism. His cult of personality, manifested in public relations/propaganda dissemination and Putin “youth-camps,” represents a hold-over of the deeply entrenched influence security services have on the country’s political scene.
Whereas Medvedev aims to pull Russia into a new narrative that has globalization and economic cooperation at its center, Putin’s vision still combines an autarkic tendency with elements of empire –especially as it pertains to former Soviet republics. This tension between the two politicians has achieved a certain synthesis, but the key to future success for Russia depends on whether Medvedev’s vision of an invigorated Russia wins out over Putin’s statist, export-led notion of a Russia still dominated by security concerns and personnel. No matter who wins, both politicians would be stymied by Russia’s embedded problems, like the shaky banking and legal systems, whose complexities resist unraveling.
Should Medvedev win, he will face difficulties in revamping the economy through privatization. Oligarchs, assisted by government, security and mafiya figures, will work to prevent the loss of their positions, and all are known to play dirty.
Should Putin win, it’s unlikely that future politicians would be able to turn around the Russian political system closer to what Medvedev wishes to create. The expected increase in food and oil prices over the next two decades will most likely keep governance and export companies allied closely.
Putin and his supporters are adept at maintaining this model. One of the ways in which politicians like Putin consolidate power is through the creation of fake political parties and movements. Names and agendas are fabricated to give the appearance of a new political platform. Citizens –lacking such civil society mechanisms as free press outlets to help them distinguish the real from the fake – often fall for the diversions. The upside of this method is that some individuals have decided to buck censorship and create blogs to provide transparency on Russian politics, in the hope of becoming future politicians. If they are able to successfully evade political attempts to silence them, then they may have a shot at change in the future, but again, only if they can reform the banks and legal code.
What keeps Russia’s politics in an endless vortex is corruption. Corruption plays a key role in political dynamics: Putin’s close relationship with the oligarchs who own and run the country’s most important commodity companies is tempered and secured by the FSB and ex-KGB staffers Putin has located on corporate boards and within his own cabinet. Should Putin win the next election, Russia should expect to see more of the same. What makes the problem of government ties to crony capitalism so dangerous in Russia is the extent to which organized crime is embedded. Russia has effectively become a “courtesan state,” a country whose policy orientations serve to enrich individuals or groups outside of the common good.
In the past, Russia’s great strength has been its security orientation. However, in the future, Russia’s greatest weakness will be the legacies of that security orientation.
Through the Soviet era, Russia was able to project its Great Power status through its committment to security at all costs. It was the definition of a Leviathan state, the great Mother Russia. Its foreign policy was assertive and aggressive, and it once had the size and military manpower to back up those threats.
Once the Soviet system was dismantled, the free-for-all that resulted left the security forces and military scrambling for channels through which they could exert their power and line their pockets. As oligarch-run commodity companies became eager owners and pillagers of Russia’s resources, the true source of power in the state-centric incarnation of post-Soviet Russia, security personnel joined them. The conjoining of business and security made these corporations proxies for the Mother Russia that used to provide. The problem is, they only provide for those at the top. Consequently, investment into the common good, like a defense force, dwindles. The citizenry, whose infrastructure, health services, roads, bridges and tranport systems were not maintained through reinvestment, suffer as any notion of either an internal Leviathan or SysAdmin structure within Russia is disregarded – primarily through lack of funds.
When commodity prices are high, Russia follows a more vigorous, externally-led foreign policy. Because so much of Russia’s most precious resources, namely oil and gas, must run through pipelines in countries that Russia can no longer control as part of an empire, it acts the role of an externally-focused Leviathan that must do what it can to protect its vital interests through security threats. This is what drives Russia’s conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia, and will continue to do so in the future. Russia will not become an externally focused peacekeeping SysAdmin in the future because its commodity-led economy simply lacks the cash to focus on humanitarian issues.
This applies internally as well. Since post-Soviet Russia never developed an internal SysAdmin body to address public needs, the country’s health, quality of life and civil society have withered. The effects of demography – yielding an elderly and unhealthy population – will accrue to a point where in the future, Russia will struggle just to keep pace.
Therefore, to maintain its own security, Russia will need to use immigration as a tool to counteract the forces of population degeneration and have some boots to put on whatever ground it needs to defend. However, the lack of an effective internal SysAdmin structure since the post-Soviet era has allowed nationalism and xenophobia to infect the body politic. So Russia will run into limits using immigration as a method by which it can increase its military might.
Consequently, Russia will need to outsource its security. Should NATO remain a vital common defense force, Russia could ultimately benefit from joining it, even though the thought today would be anathema to a once-Leviathan state like Russia. But should the volatility of resource prices, global financial systems, and security threats exceed Russia’s ability to protect its vital interests and citizenry, its post-Soviet greed will leave it no option but to accede to another Leviathan.
Russia will specialize in and have access to several different commodity markets over the next twenty years. But even if Russia has these resources at its grasp, the question over whether Russia qualifies as globally competitive in them depends on how one regards the term “competitive.”
Russia’s economic specialization from a national standpoint lies in extractive commodities. Oil and gas are the principal and most lucrative of these resources. It is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil. Its oil reserves rank in the world’s top five. In twenty years, as the Arctic becomes more available to oil and gas exploration and extraction, Russia appears set to benefit from having both the largest coastline along the Circle as well as decades of experience in oil and gas extraction and transnational pipeline development.
The Arctic and Russian interior tundra regions, both affected by the climate change that will cause melting and environmental biosphere transitions, will also provide Russia with a new economic specialization: water. Russia stands to become the second largest water reserve state in the world (after Brazil), and with its pipeline technology, could become a global leader in water provision to countries that become drier and hotter.
Energy has always been a economic specialty for Russia, and particularly so in nuclear energy. It is the world’s second largest provider of civil nuclear technology equipment and materials. However, after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, Russia may encounter future difficulties in expanding this sector. Germany, Russia’s largest trading partner in nuclear energy, has decreed that nuclear energy will be phased out by 2022 out of safety concerns. Should this trend extend to other countries, Russia will lose a major revenue provider. However, if Russia can figure out how to switch from the loss of nuclear energy revenue to new hydroelectric power revenues from the surfeit of water it will have in the future, then Russia may be able to effectively compensate. But this will require upfront capital investment that Russia may determine needs to be diverted to other resources, like oil and gas. The future will require careful forecasting and budgeting, two areas in which Russia has not proven to be particularly adept.
On the extractive front, Russia is currently the third largest exporter of steel and primary aluminum. Nickel and coal are also key minerals that Russia specializes in and will continue to export over the next two decades. In addition to minerals, Russia also hastimber forests, fisheries and grain-based agriculture that it relies upon as export commodities.
While Russia may have access to all of these resources in its vast landmass, the question over how competitive Russia will remain relative to other countries depends entirely on how much Russia will reinvest in the infrastructure, equipment and modernizing technology required to make these products available to the world market and at an efficiency that keeps Russia’s costs and environmental collateral damage low.
Russia is already suffering the effects of the boom-bust cycles that can seize export-led economies; the global financial crisis of 2008 not only cut off credit Russia needed to maintain and modernize its equipment and facilities, it also prevented the country from taking full advantage of new business generation in these markets (like maximizing profit on new trans-Asian pipeline deals). Russia recovered more slowly than other countries from the last bust due to its poor banking system, thereby revealing the true extent of its global competitiveness. Without banking overhauls and development of alternative economic sectors to take the burden off resource commodities, Russia’s economic competitive capacity in these industries will only worsen, even if the revenues generated from some them, like oil and gas, go up. Price volatility and demand and supply are never fixed.
In addition, the droughts and fires that Russia’s fossil fuel burning and timber clearing cause are having a negative effect on the availability of these resources. In 2010, Russia needed to enact a wheat export ban as a result of reduced output from these environmental calamities, and retail and manufacturing sectors suffered from slowdowns as well.
In the manufacturing sector, Russian arms development has been suffering a decline, but as cyber-warfare becomes a bigger factor, Russia may be able to leverage its considerable human capital. The Russian educational system, excellent for providing specialists in math, computer science and engineering, can be harnessed to build up a new economic specialization in which it truly can be considered globally competitive.
Russia’s current social and demographic prospects are poor. Without a massive and comprehensive intervention from the state, they are about to about to get much worse.
Socially, Russia has undergone a great transition from the Soviet era. Then, marriage and family creation was a normative standard. But today and extending into the future, family formation is under stress for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are maternal mortality rates, which are over six times higher than that of modern European economies – a result of Russia’s poor health services and public awareness.
Second, women are choosing to limit their family sizes due to poverty and unemployment, and uncertainty over the stability of marriage as an institution. The country’s illegitimacy ratio is almost 30%, a tripling in just twenty years. And marriage is less viable now than it was during the Communist period. The total number of marriages in Russia is down by one-fourth from 1980 and the total number of divorces are on the rise. Women in Russia are opting for cohabitation instead of marriage. These changes have dropped Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR, the number of typical births a woman would be expected to have) to a current 1.3 children – a drop from the 2.2 peak of the Gorbachev era. What appears to be dropping the fertility and family formation statistics are Russia’s mortality statistics, which are rising.
Mortality rates, which are very high now, are expected to get worse as Russia’s public health system remains antiquated and financially unsupported. A majority of deaths accrue from chronic disease: heart disease, cancers and strokes. Russia’s cultural norms of drinking and smoking, drug use, its poor diet, and sexual habits that are complicated by human trafficking for prostitution in many parts of Russia, contribute to a society that is suffering from high rates of alcoholism, cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis and HIV. Male life expectancy dropped by two and a half years under Putin than it had been under Nikita Kruschev and it is a full fifteen years lower than in Western Europe. Russia’s life expectancy is on the same league as that of Cambodia and Ghana. Disease plays a part in mortality, but Russia also struggles with a comparitively significant higher rate of death from violence or injury (such as falls, alcohol poisoning, traffic accidents, violent confrontations, homicide and suicide), which is three times higher than would be predicted by its GDP.
As Russia’s population ages without replacement and gets sicker, the strains on productivity and economic viability will trend proportionally lower. Russia’s labor force is shrinking, its population won’t be able to support its defense needs, and the corrosive effects from both can create a path dependence that keeps birth rates low from women who do not wish to create families in such a challenging environment.
To address this in the future, Russia will need to look to immigration to staff its military, farms, factories and mines; to keep its borders safe; and its export economy stable. But entrenched Russian xenophobia will make options like this very difficult for Russia’s future leaders to sell to the country’s citizenry. Nationalism and ultra-nationalism could generate violent unrest and further add to Russia’s woes.
Unless Russia is prepared to commit to radical changes in its public health services and social contract – and this can only be achieved with the financial help of allies – Russia will find itself incapable of taking advantage of economic opportunities that arise within its grasp over the next twenty years.
The following entry has been excerpted from the ongoing work of students from Claremont Graduate University as part of Wikistrat’s 2011 International Grand Strategy Competition.
The “changing nature” of Pakistan begins with its efforts to stabilize domestic security, while terrorist organizations continue operating from within its borders. With an impending U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in the short to mid-term, Pakistan will likely see the removal of key foreign instigators of Pakistani turmoil.
Politically, the central government will only increase its sovereignty in the foreseeable future. Pakistan will maintain its democratic institutions but necessarily will become more Islamic in nature.
Economically, Pakistan will harness short term comparative advantages in textile, textile manufacturing, and agriculture. In the mid to long terms, Pakistan will seek to establish a regional specialization in connecting energy suppliers to energy consumers. Furthermore, Pakistan will capitalize on the consumer economies emerging in India and China.
Militarily, its standing in the region will compel Pakistan to forgo a leviathan force in favor of a more agile, better trained, and capable system-administration force that will concentrate its efforts on domestic security and infrastructure development. Pakistan will draw nearer to China, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, while distancing itself from the U.S., and pursuing a posture of détente (in the classical sense) with India.
Pakistan’s role in the global system stems primarily from its poor domestic security environment, which in the short term will continue to house a variety of terrorist organizations.
To a degree, Tehrik-e Taliban and other terrorist organizations operating from within the country render Pakistan politically volatile. The state of Pakistan, however, will not “collapse,” “implode,” or “disintegrate in the foreseeable future. Pakistan’s domestic situation stands far from analogous to Lebanon of the 1980s, and little about Pakistan resembles current failed states such as Somalia. In actuality, the United States (U.S.) represents the biggest violator of Pakistani sovereignty (e.g. drone attacks), and with an American withdrawal from Afghanistan in the next few years Pakistan’s sovereignty will likely increase. Additionally, the removal of U.S. forces from the region will create an opportunity for the Pakistani government to redress the numerous disaffected communities in remote tribal regions. Thus, over the short-term, Pakistan will continue to house numerous foreign and domesticjihadi organizations that cause problems for Afghanistan, India, occasionally Iran, and to an even lesser degree China. In this respect, non-state actors will continue to undermine Pakistani sovereignty. However, not all “failed states” exude the same level of failure. Pakistan will seek to improve its current condition regarding terrorist organizations operating from within its borders through policies of accommodation and limited combat operations when these groups attempt to overstep their bounds beyond their mountain strongholds. With the exception of Tehrik-e Taliban and a few others, most terrorist organizations operating in Pakistan remain focused on external enemies and not the Pakistani government.
Pakistan’s medium-term role in the global system will derive from its efforts to become an indispensable energy conduit linking energy suppliers with energy consumers.
While domestic security will continue to signify Pakistan’s major concern over the medium term, the Pakistani government will also reach out to its neighbors. The most probable example of outreach will center on Pakistan attempting to play the middleman in building pipelines that connect Gulf oil to China and potentially India. It stands in Pakistan’s interest to engage in increased diplomacy with India. If Pakistan continues to attempt to compete militarily with India, Pakistan will only increase its “gap-state” status and increase its isolation (please refer to “Security Orientation” below). Other plausible efforts for Pakistani outreach efforts in the medium term include establishing free trade agreements with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman—states with which Pakistan maintains excellent historical and religious ties.
Thus, Pakistan’s most ambitious international effort over the next decade will likely revolve around its pursuit of becoming an indispensable conduit linking energy suppliers with energy consumers, falling in line with the global economic rebalanciling process. Furthermore, it demonstrates Pakistan’s eagerness to find economic opportunities in emerging markets while accounting for the consumption shift in the region. Additionally, given current conditions with Iran and proliferation, Pakistan anticipates continued Iranian isolation by the international community (and specifically the West) which provides Pakistan an opportunity to assume the role of linking East and West Asia. In the event that Pakistan stabilizes both its domestic politics and internal security quickly (which our analysis suggests looks probabilistic), it is plausible that in ten years, a pipeline connecting from China to the port of Gwadar will likely be reaching its completion. The pipeline will stretch through the developed provinces which will have additional infrastructure and security constructed to provide assurance to all parties involved. While the refinement industry will continue to be in development at the ten-year mark, added capacity at the port of Gwadar will provide much needed government revenue for the continuation and expansion of policy goals. Further, Pakistan’s planned construction projects in the frontier includes new power transmission lines, roads, and running water, which will likely reduce the processes of Islamic radicalization among tribal communities.
In the long term, Pakistan will likely become economically integrated with South Asia, resulting in a portfolio with broader economic trade and development in addition to energy.
Accordingly, over the next twenty years, strong trade links with major economic players such as China and India will develop out of necessity. In terms of energy, China will continue its dependence on foreign energy reserves to maintain its own economic growth. It will ultimately opt for an over-land pipeline through Pakistan’s core and into China for the simple reasons of security and efficiency. The only viable alternative in the near to long term given the chaos of Afghanistan remains shipping oil and gas by sea through the Straits of Malacca, which is not only costly but leaves China strategically vulnerable to the area denial capabilities of its Southeast Asian neighbors. India is also dependent on foreign energy, and while the costs associated with transporting oil by sea are less than its rival China, it too will ultimately prefer pipelines. As China and India move up the value-added scale, Pakistan will find itself in a new niche area to step into in the coming years and spur additional economic development. The international community will no longer deem Pakistan a “failed state,” but rather a responsible regional actor that has achieved fair domestic political stability and economic growth. While perhaps not owning a monopoly, Pakistan will have achieved a higher degree of dominance over the use of coercive force in its domestic environment. Its relations with India will have greatly improved, while its key ally will have shifted from the U.S. to China. Due to a successful increase in the role of Islam in government, Pakistan will also have achieved a more prominent leadership role in the Muslim world. All told in 20 years, Pakistan could be on a successful path to functioning as a junior member of the “core.”
With the exception of the U.S., Pakistan’s alliances will likely remain stable in orientation and improve in quality for the foreseeable future due primarily to shared economic interests.
Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. and Afghanistan will become increasingly ambiguous. Despite U.S. efforts to push Pakistan to help conclude the conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan will likely stay disengaged in any positive diplomacy regarding the Taliban, its affiliates and Afghanistan’s Karzai government. Furthermore as U.S. and NATO forces disengage from Afghanistan specifically and the global war on terror in a more general sense, Pakistan will transition from a central to periphery interest in western capitals. Similarly, Pakistani relations with Iran will remain negative, as Pakistani forces will do little to curb Jundallah’s war against the Iranian military in Baluchistan.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, and China will emerge as Pakistan’s key allies in the years ahead. Pakistan will look toward its traditional Sunni allies to provide energy imports that will stoke domestic economic growth and by its consumption facilitate the rejuvenation of a national identity. Given new infrastructure Pakistan will be able to leverage the Arab states excess production capacity and marry it with Chinese demand. In doing so, Pakistan alters the dynamic of its relationship with Beijing. Recently Pakistanis, including the Defense Minister, see China as “an all-weather friend and the closest ally of Pakistan.” These sentiments seem mutual in that subsequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stated “no matter what changes might take place in the international landscape, China and Pakistan will remain for ever good neighbors, good friends, good partners and good brothers. However, Pakistan has paid a high price for Chinese assistance in terms of economic, military, and technological development in continuing hostile relations with India. By becoming a stable energy broker, Pakistan will leverage its supply capacity to equalize the strategic partnership with Beijing. This freedom of movement will empower Pakistan to engage India from a position of strength that domestic military might cannot provide.
Pakistan’s complicated and fractured domestic environment remains its biggest obstacle to global integration in theforeseeable future. One can classify Pakistan as a federal parliamentary republic, yet its history of military coup d’etats and assassinations of political leaders demonstrates that Pakistan has failed to truly consolidate its democracy. However, the worst-case scenario in the foreseeable future suggest that Pakistan could readopt authoritarian-military rule. Accordingly, we have built a variety of agent-based models to determine the circumstances in which Pakistan could increase domestic stability while simultaneously increasing the durability of its democratic institutions (i.e. its electoral processes and representative government but not necessarily “liberal democratic values,” which Pakistanis has never embraced en masse; for example, Pakistanis favor severe punishments for criminals, and Pakistanis largely favor gender segregation).
Watch our agent-based modeling (ABM) video on various forecasts for Pakistani domestic politics in the near term, or see our Pakistani identity politics ABM page.
Reasserting Government Control & Stabilizing Domestic Security
Stabilizing domestic security will require numerous changes in government structure and political outlook, all of which center on a re-solidification of Pakistani national identity. In regard to the findings of our predictive analysis, Pakistan will entertain at least three major governmental changes in order to maintain its democratic institutions, bolster Pakistani national identity, and stabilize the domestic security environment. First, Pakistan will consider increasing the role of Islam politically and legally. This transformation might involve creating some type of electable religious office (e.g. an official religious advisor to the president). Second, Pakistan will need to shift financial and political focus away from the “Indian threat” and toward domestic infrastructure, particularly the power and energy infrastructure. As shown in our vector autoregression forecast (See below in our “Security Orientation” section), Pakistan cannot compete with India in military spending. Pakistan can better use its resources on building internal infrastructure, which in turn will help buttress the central government’s control. Further, Pakistan will seek to establish a regional “specialization” as an energy-supplying middleman. Third, the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus might shift their foci toward securing new domestic infrastructure and developing Pakistan’s regional role. In this regard, “corruption” would function positively in the sense that the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) would compete over securing new “goods” rather than focusing on propping up the phantom Indian threat.
Bolstering Pakistani National Identity: New Role for Religion
Numerous identity groups reside in Pakistan, making for a flimsy national identity. Throughout Pakistan’s history, Islam has functioned as a unifying force. In the near future, Islam can revitalize Pakistani national identity which would require the government to show a willingness to adopt a more Islamic character. It could do so in a number of ways, such as establishing an official governmental position for a religious authority or by incorporating more shari’a (Islamic jurisprudence) into the Pakistani legal system. In the foreseeable future, the Pakistani government promises around an 85 percent chance of overtly supporting more formal Islamic components within the government. In the foreseeable future, the Pakistani nation becoming less concerned with the “Indian threat” rests at around a 66 percent likelihood, whereas the military shifting primary focus to securing domestic infrastructure sits around a 33 percent likelihood. Ultimately, Pakistan could use Islam to gain the trust of Pashtun (or Pakhtun) and Baluchi tribesmen. Such cooperation will then bolster the participation of the Pakistani labor force, which remains under-mobilized especially for the Pashtuns and Baluchis.
Afghanistan & Kashmir, the ISI & the Pashtuns
With a major U.S. & NATO withdrawal, Afghanistan will likely remain unstable. Accordingly, Pakistan will see fit to encourage the ISI to continue operations in Afghanistan while decreasing them in Kashmir--a trend that has already started. Pakistan will find it necessary to place the ISI in charge of engaging the tribes of Pakhtunkhwa. This will keep both the ISI and the Pashtuns focused on their respective interests in Afghanistan. In addition to a new governmental role for religion, Pakistan can offer Pashtuns a brighter economic outlook. This establishes some space to stabilize the domestic front and begin consolidating Pakistani identity.
Baluch separatists will not constitute a strategic threat to Pakistan’s government. A 2006 Carnegie Report demonstrated that “In the absence of foreign support, which does not appear imminent, the Baluch movement cannot prevail over a determined central government with obviously superior military strength.” Baluchi separatism is limited to that of a “nuisance.” In fact, were Baluchi separatists to cause disproportionate problems in the region, they would incur the ire of China who largely funds Gwadar’s development. In that sense, foreign support would enter into the equation, but on Pakistan’s side. That the Baluch movement is mostly arrayed against Iran also compounds the dynamic. If India attempted to assist the Baluchis against Pakistan’s government (the province is removed from the India-Pakistan border), it would be logistically difficult and an unprecedented provocation. Such a development remains highly unlikely for India as a state that wishes to avert conflict and consolidate its growth.
Pakistan’s security orientation will shift from that of a conventional, Indian-centric posture to one focused on an internal security.
Pakistan’s security orientation is affected by three inter-related concerns. First, economics wil curtail the popular narrative of a rivalrous dyad with India. This is associated with changes in public opinion that reduce the perception of India as a threat. Second, in light of diminishing military capability, Pakistan will reorient its conventional forces to a maritime posture to protect its economic interests in Gwadar. Third, Pakistan will continue to stabilize its internal security posture. The political-economy constraints foisted upon Pakistan necessitates that it curb its ambitions of being a regional leviathan in favore of a more capable system administrator force. This transition will require substantial political capital as the key constituency that favors a leviathan force is the Punjabi military class, which has governed the state since inception. Economically, Pakistan will be resigned to the fact that it cannot militarily compete with India in the conventional realm. Faced with spending the state into oblivion to maintain parity with India, or developing asymmetric capabilities, Pakistan will change its force posture to assure territorial defense. Expect to see more reliance on China for conventional arms on favorable terms, but not at the Pakistani state’s own expense. Pakistan and India both see an equal burden of defense as a share of their gross domestic product (GDP), yet India possesses double the active manpower of Pakistan. Using vector auto-regression, we constructed forecasts to assess the military burden of Pakistan’s military out to 2035 in a model that takes into account both India and Pakistani data. For details about this particular model, as well as the individual forecasts from which these figures were derived, please visit the appendix here. The result is a simple model that accounts for labor and fiscal considerations of both the civilian and military sectors. The forecasted portions appear as dotted lines in the graphs:
After the Cold War, Pakistan began its move away from a garrison-state mentality by reducing the number of personnel as a share of urban population, coinciding with the 1991 agreement with India prohibiting attacks on each other’s nuclear research facilities. Pakistan’s competition with India effectively ended after the nuclear watershed in 1998. With this development, Pakistan’s security from foreign threats became permanent, and all subsequent attempts to retain a semblance of parity with India are residual to these structural dynamics. Out to 2030, the forecast points to military expenditure as a share of GDP stabilizing around 1%. The nuclear deterrent coupled with looming demographic and fiscal pressures will disallow the military to have its way with large arsenals of conventional armaments. The shared benevolent and turbulent history has created a relationship which has the potential to createenormous success, but there is also an innate lack of trust that has instilled fear and hatred into many policymakers on both sides. In order for Pakistan to be successful, these structural factors will press Pakistan to re-establish cohesive diplomatic ties with its neighbor with the objectives of increasing trade, establishing a cooperative immigration policy. According to a 2010 poll conducted by the PEW institute 74% of Pakistanis see India as either a serious or somewhat serious threat. Yet despite such fear and mistrust, 77% said increased trade between India and Pakistan would be a good thing, 76% support the resumption of bilateralnegotiations, and 72% believe better relations with India is important. In the longer term, Pakistan will have ample opportunity to address the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the 20 year period in concert with India (The same 2010 poll reports 71% understand Kashmir to be a huge political hurdle with India and that 79% of the total population want to see a resolution regarding the disputed territory).
One notable exception to the reduced arms balance concerns Pakistan’s maritime capability. Driven by a need to protect its investments in Gwadar, Pakistan has begun procuring Chinese Type 022 fast-attack-craft and Type 053 frigates, along with Agosta 90-B submarines from France. These comparatively small craft are all ideally suited to coastal operations as a competitive bluewater navy is out of the question; Pakistan has stated its intention to cede local dominance to India in this domain. A recent attack by Taliban militants on the Naval Base at Karachi is illustrative of Pakistan’s burgeoning security challenges. This highlights Pakistan’s shifting naval focus (the base hosted P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft as well as Chinese-made Z-9 anti-submarine warfare helicopters), but also highlights the primary vulnerabilities to sub-state militant groups. Domestically, the government will require the assistance of the ISI and military to address the enormous task of integrating the autonomous zones to the national and international affairs of Pakistan. This can provide the military and ISI with objectives that can benefit the future stability of Pakistan. Additionally, ISI and military will have a significant amount of their resources allocated to these regions, which will indirectly prevent both of these institutions from overinfluencing Pakistan’s political agenda. The military and ISI have eroded Pakistan’s central control, accountability, and legitimacy. Despite this past history with these institutions, Islamabad will look to these two forces to establishclear borders and acquire the capability to govern all corners of the Pakistani state. In the coming decades Pakistan will eschew a Leviathan-posture for its conventional forces, focusing instead on bolstering its internal security and immediate maritime region. Pakistan will free capital to engage in and secure ambitious infrastructure assets from the threat of domestic militant groups, and secure a lifeline to proximate Southwest Asian energy reserves.
We forecast that Pakistan’s relative comparative advantage will remain in agriculture and manufacturing, and will grow to encompass energy provision. The economic success of Pakistan will rely heavily on infrastructural development and a systemic change at the political level. Furthermore, in the long run, efforts will be made to improve technical skills and vocational education as a means to raise the labor force’s participation and productivity.
Throughout its history, Pakistan has experienced much difficulty establishing political and economic stability. The recent easing of Pakistan’s GDP growth is associated with worsening security conditions, heightened political uncertainty, stalled policy implementation, and infrastructure inefficiencies. Pakistan faces steep challenges as it hopes to alleviate many of its historic ailments. Nonetheless, Pakistan forecasts greater economic growth and stability in the short, mid, and long-run. Moreover, for the sake of its long-term survival, Pakistan cannot afford to continue down its current course (see above our VAR and agent-based models). Maintaining the status quo does not allow Pakistan to position itself for greater economic growth and development. Given the growth in both China and India, emerging markets with increased consumption, spending, and disposable incomes, Pakistan’s economic forecast is more optimistic than in previous years. The figure below indicates Pakistan regional opportunities given its comparative advantage:
From the table above, it is clear that Pakistan’s two largest exports are textiles, manufacturing and agriculture. Therefore, a cost-efficient and productive strategy will utilize the advantages that already exist. It is essential that Pakistan continue to work to achieve greater efficiency and economies of scale in areas where it is possible to do so competitively. A recent Asian Development Bank report on Pakistan reveals macroeconomic concerns including inflationary pressure, government subsidies, and limited ability of government to expand its investment in infrastructure. There is reason for optimism based on structural advances to business performance in the past 40 years:
Clearly, Pakistan has shown a dramatic increase in the service sector. However, the drastic decline in agricultural production and the stagnation of industry as well as increased inflationary pressure overshadows the service sector’s growth. Pakistan must address several domestic challenges in order to achieve greater growth and development. These challenges include, access to power, nutrition, literacy, gender equity, access to health facilities and clean water. Recent years have witnessed a decline in economic indicators, which in turn have worsened many of these socio-economic issues. From the table below, it is evident that nearly all of the problematic factors that hurt business come as a result of political and/or policy inefficiencies. Traditionally, Pakistan has encountered great challenges in managing property rights, rule of law, political order. Economic development requires rule of law and greater government efficiency, which are both currently lacking in Pakistan.
The impact of government inefficiencies becomes apparent globally when its citizenry must confront massive natural disasters including: the tsunami of 2004, earthquake in 2005, 2008 and massive floods in 2010. However, Pakistan’s governmental inefficiencies are witnessed daily by its population. Corruption and limited access to both electricity and water greatly impact Pakistan’s economic performance, which may explain why Pakistan significantly underperforms as compared to other regional actors. Pakistan’s natural resources alone suggest it should be a rich country as it has significant oil reserves, billions of cubic feet of natural gas, has the 5th largest coal reserves, is home to some of the worlds largest copper mines, and mines diamonds, emeralds and precious metals. Yet, until the issues of government inefficiencies can be addressed and mitigated, it will be extremely difficult for any industry in Pakistan to succeed in a long term strategic plan.
Pakistan’s current state coupled with emerging markets’ regional trends call for Pakistan to increase manufacturing in areas where ‘specialization’ and relative low labor costs allow the manufacturer (exporter) to gain and maintain a competitive advantage. In the short term, Pakistan should seek to exploit its geographical position and facilitate the transit of oil from the Arab states towards China, while seeking to improve its advantage in textiles, textile manufacturing, and agriculture. In the mid and long term, the greatest manufacturing focus should be on those goods and services that are consumed by populations in emerging markets, specifically the titans next door China and India, and where both the consumption shift and migration flow create great economic opportunities through increased demand. Despite the governments poor stewardship of the Pakistani economy to date, current relations with the Middle East and its proximity to both China and India (as expanding emerging markets), supports our forecast and allows us to contemplate the possibility of not only halting the decent into chaos, but rather a return to steady economic growth in the coming years.
Pakistan’s social and demographic prospects are dangerous in the short term, but advantageous in the long run if the government increases its political capacity.
To assess Pakistan’s demographic trajectory, we constructed demographic pyramids using medium-variant projections from the United Nations. The data portrays a favorable demographic structure as Pakistan enters a transition from that of a low mortality/fast growth state to one of low fertility/fast growth. The short term risk to such a structure is the burden that investing in this youth places on the current working population. Although the total dependency ratio in Pakistan will lessen over time (from 66 today to 47 in 2035), it will remain in the 50s and 60s over the next 10 years. This is driven by the large youth bulge. Pakistan’s youthful median age of 20 will rise to age 30 only in 2035. Conversely, by 2035 the average life expectancy will rise by approximately 5 years to age 70 and the limited old-age dependency ratio (7) is expected to only rise to 10 by 2035. Consequently, social security provision for the elderly is not a concern as is the case in the advanced industrial nations. Rather, in the long term Pakistan’s internal stability is contingent upon there being adequate educational and economic opportunities for this youth bloc. It is this area that determines how well the society responds to the need for Pakistan’s youth to transition from a net societal consumer via health and education investments, into net producers integrated with the global economy. Pakistan has advantages in that English is the official language, and education is on the rise (Pakistan’s primary enrollment ratio has doubled since 1985). Compounding the youth bulge is rapid urbanization, as these youth migrate to the cities in search of employment opportunities. According to the 2008 U.N. Demographic Yearbook, in 2008 Pakistan’s aged 15-30 cohort comprised 30% of the population, but just under 40% of these youth resided in urban areas. By contrast, only 31% of those ages 14 and under, and 32% of those over age 30 lived in the cities. In 2008 the U.N. placed Pakistan’s urban population at 35% but a recent study estimates that Pakistan’s urban population will climb 140% from 2005 to 2030, with Pakistan’s urban population matching its rural population in that year (this is consistent with our forecast above). All-in-all, this rapid urbanization presents assimilation challenges and creates strains on a burdened social services system. Associated with a rise in urbanization is a pronounced reduction in the projected fertility rate. Over the next 20 years the U.N. medium variant population projections estimate that Pakistan’s total fertility rate (TFR, or the average number of children born per woman) is expected to decline from 3.2 in 2015 to 2.86 in 2020. The analysis expects Pakistan’s TFR to flatten at 2.23 by the year 2035, still above the replacement fertility rate of 2.1. Comprehensively, Pakistan retains an ample supply of domestic labor as the population bulge is focused on the youth, with a peak at the 15-19 age cohort in the year 2035. A key determinant of Pakistan’s future is the degree by which the state is able to capitalize on the demographic dividend by providing an enviornment amenable to their employment.
The following entry has been excerpted from the ongoing work of students from Yale University as part of Wikistrat’s 2011 International Grand Strategy Competition.
Pakistan faces three possible scenarios: remain in the status quo, face a collapse/intervention, or start making significant changes to its governnance and security record. Given the nature of internal and external dynamics, Pakistan is likely to start making real improvements to its governance and security record in the short term, begin emerging as an economic hub in the medium term, and start establishing itself as a major regional stability node in the long term. The focus of Pakistan’s global role will therefore shift from that of governance and economics to that of security and stability as it transforms itself into an indispensable partner for stability in South-East Asia and the world in the 20+ years timeframe. This third scenario is highly dependent oninternal/regional (governance and security issues in Pakistan and Afghanistan) and external/regional dependencies (stability in the regions around it; continuous global economic rebalancing process; the ongoing rise of India and China; ability of Pakistan to maintain positive partner and ally relationships with major powers, inlcuding India)
Pakistan’s role is maintaining and considerably strengthening its internal and external legitimacy against severe risks of failure or total collapse.
The country’s governance deficit continues manifesting itself in the frequency of terrorist attacks, restive insurgency in FATA region, and failure of central authorities to exercise a full jurisdiction over national territory and address the ongoing energy crisis, pervasive corruption and deep grievances of moderates, insurgents, various ethnic constituencies, and women in the country’s fragmented society – all complicated by the uncertain future of Afghanistan. The internal and external pressures suggest three scenarios for Pakistan: it continues drifting in the status quo, collapses and/or faces intervention, or starts embarking on a proactive task of drastically improving its governance and security record.
Avoiding the first two scenarios will remain the objective of Pakistan, likely to pursue a tougher national integration policy, (though at the risk of alienating ethnic and tribal constituencies). In addressing its energy crisis, Pakistan is seen increasingly focusing on indigenous sources for energy production, boosting efficiency and expanding its energy infrastructure to accommodate projected expansion of energy use at home and transfers to South-East Asia. Creating better safeguards for its growing nuclear infrastructure will preoccupy moderates and hardliners alike given continuing risks of terrorist acts and insurgency. On the economy, the country is seen struggling to relieve its dependency on foreign aid as it combats high unemployment and seeks to establish a healthier financial base. Any US’ withdrawal of aid to Pakistan would undermine Pakistani economy, either weakening or boosting the military’s role during a quite likely economic crisis.
Moderates and pro-civilian forces may bolster their position as true saviors, particularly amidst accusations about Pakistan’s alleged complicity in harboring the now killed Osama Ben Laden and the country’s track record in nuclear proliferation. The perceived ineffectiveness of the military, dire domestic economic conditions, and uncertain future of Afghanistan following the planned coalition’s withdrawal from the region by 2014 further enable moderates to become a more influential force in the country’s political life. A possible beginning of a gradual yet sustainable replacement of the military’s predominant role over the country’s domestic and foreign agenda is therefore not inconceivable. Though ongoing national and regional instability may also generate counter-currents favoring the continuation of the predominant role of the Pakistani military, especially if no sustainable solutions are found to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
The future of Afghanistan is as much determined by situation in neighboring Pakistan as the future of Pakistan is determined by the security conditions across the border. Both could collapse and not see their full global economic integration for decades to come, or emerge on a more positive development track and start establishing themselves as cross-regional corridors. Because Pakistan strives to achieve the latter, it has a huge incentive to become more amenable toward India and China, among others, when contemplating the future of Afghanistan and South-East Asia. This scenario is more likely in the medium and long-terms as Pakistan comes to appreciate moderates’ role in driving the domestic and foreign policy agenda and the benefits of neighborly relations with India. However, domestic and/or international crisis involving Iran and or North Korea in the next 5-10 years could seriously undermine the trajectory of Pakistan and South Asia.
Pakistan’s role is facilitating its emergence as a responsible energy, trade, and transit hub in emerging South-East Asia but extremely dependent on favorable domestic and external economic, political, and security dynamics.
If Pakistan does not collapse and makes considerable improvements in governance and security, it will be more favorably positioned in the medium term to advance its role as an energy, trade, and transit conduit linking the Middle East, Central and South-East Asia. Such scenario is arguably even more dependent on the external forces and stable conditions in each of these regions in general and the national trajectories of China, India, Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia in particular.
Pakistan would greatly expand its domestic infrastructure and continue enabling Afghanistan to do the same to accommodate the projected expanded inter-regional energy and trade flows. Rapidly growing industrialization and urbanization would bolster its emerging economy, raise employment, and facilitate the emergence of a more liberated and productive female work force.
Externally, Pakistan and India would be increasingly forced to improve relations vividly given a common economic future. facing these two neighbors. Islamabad is also now more fully incentivized to scale down on the use of terrorist networks. It has the manpower and nukes but afraid of provoking India’s intervention, especially after Mumbai attacks years earlier. China’s military cooperation with Pakistan is much deeper but cannot offset India’s military superiority. China’s own increasing interest in South-East Asian stability and growing cooperation with both Pakistan and India would further pressure Pakistan to pursue a more conciliatory approach to India. The emergence of expanded energy and trade connections via Pakistan would more and more facilitate mutual trust between India and Pakistan. Pakistan would increasingly turn to other aspects of its evolving soft power toolkit: an emerging image of a much more responsible partner in the region and beyond.
Pakistan continues expanding its relations with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, China and Iran. It is close to becoming a crucial link in the still planned or now fully operating Gulf-South Asia, TAPI, and IPI and Gwadar-China energy and other corridors. Its improving governance record and rising profile as an integrator rather than “separator” enbales Islamabad to effectively advance IPI pipeline’s construction despite opposition from the Arab states and the West.
The West and the Arab world increasingly appreciate Pakistan’s emerging “peace corridor” services because they facilitate economic linkages, raising costs of inter-state or proxy wars, especially if Iran has long gone nuclear. Geopolitics and the age profound economic rebalancing dictate that Pakistan cannot be ignored in the “great energy game.” Unfolding in Central Asia and the Middle East, this “game” is invariably tied to a new centre of global economic gravity – South-East Asia – and Pakistan is bound to play big, as a user, transporter, and integrator.
Such scenario assumes that Pakistan did not fail in the preceding 5-year timeframe, in which case it would still play big but its role would be that of a chronic destabilizer rather than of a sustainable security facilitator. It further hinges on the security situation in still shaky Afghanistan, highly unpredictable Iran, and possibly failing Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan – the areas vulnerable to internally and externally induced crisis. As Pakistan’s hub role expands, it will be preoccupied with policies to ensure stability around its borders to the West and North – an important task considering that Pakistan’s emerging role depend on stability and predictability in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Pakistan’s role is working to establish itself as a major stability node in the transformed South-East Asia and the world provided it succeeded in exercising full governance and its role as an indispensable economic corridor.
Pakistan’s role of a pariah more than 20 years ago is finally at its end. Islamabad is now also recognized as an indispensable security partner, a node of stability in emerged South-East Asia. It is now more a frequent solution rather than an occasional problem. It has turned into a major supply chain link, “processing” vast energy and trade flows that are paramount for economic growth and stability of the South-East Asian developed economies. It contemplates to nurture its role of a mediator in disputes involving producers and consumers of economics and security. It in part relies on Turkey’s soft power model (trade, energy, transit, and conflict resolution, etc.) as it now starts building a security niche for itself to advance stability in full circle. Overall, a realistic scenario if Pakistan did not end up being stuck in history in the first place.
Completed and planned trans-regional infrastructure involving Pakistan, Middle East, Central and South-East Asia now enable both China and India to diversify their energy and trade sources (imports and exports). For China, this means a considerable reduction of dependence on the Malacca Straits for oil imports and full return to the 21st century Silk Roads age. For India – a substantially larger access to Middle Eastern and Central Asian trade and energy markets (In Central Asia, China does not need Pakistan for economic expansion as much as India needs it) and ability to considerably affect the direction of the China-led Silk Road economic reality. The evolved energy and trade networks involving Pakistan, India, and China as a triad are an altogether new prospect as South-East Asia grows in concert rather than apart in the 20+years timeframe.
In the greater Middle East, Pakistan’s solidified hub role enhances economic rather than military integration of Iran into the broader region and the global economic system, minimizing the risks of Iranian adventures on the continent. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s deeper engagement with the energy-rich Central Asia serves as as a platform for facilitating cooperation rather than competition between China and India in the Central-South-East Asia and globally. Given power transition on the world stage by 2030, Pakistan’s role in cementing stability among China, India, Iran, and the US in the Middle East and South-east Asia has become not only more real but also crucial for global and regional stability going forward.
Pakistan’s multi-vector approach to its continental economic and stability node role ensures that any regional disruption would still enable it to continue exercising its global role vis-a-vis other regions. Though it may still be limited in its ability to deal with wider ramifications of any regional disruptions given a high degree of continental economic integration achieved at this stage.
Pakistan’s key allies are likely to remain China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the US, with India increasingly becoming an obvious economic partner in the medium and long-term as well.
China remains one of Pakistan’s greatest and most reliable allies. Hu Jintao once described the relationship between the two countries as ‘higher than the mountains and deeper than oceans’. The China-Pakistan relationship has been compared to the US-Israel Relationship, and a Pew survey of Pakistani public opinion showed Pakistan to be the most pro-China country in the world. China is also the largest investor in Pakistan’s pivotal Gwadar Deep Sea Port.
The military is the quintessential player in Pakistan, and Pakistan and China have very strong military ties. China is a steady source of military equipment, technology, and expertise to Pakistan. About 75% of Pakistani weapons are made in China.
As US power in the region continues to decline relative to China’s, and the US grows increasingly suspicious and exasperated with Pakistan’s equivocal support for Islamic militants (if in fact such support continues), and the bitter rivalry between Pakistan and India shows little sign of abating, China’s appeal to Pakistan will only grow.
Limitation – unlike the US however, China is extremely unwilling to clash with Islamic militants given its problems in Xingjian (among other reasons), and is careful to avoid military engagements or anything that could be perceived as a confrontation with ‘the Islamic World’. China may therefore require Pakistan to cut ties to militants as the bi-lateral and Pakistani-Indian relationship transforms positively in economic and political terms in the 10 and 20+year timeframes.
Turkey: Pakistan and Turkey are great allies; the cultural similarities foster a strong sense of brotherhood among their respective populations, with their relationship described as ‘One Nation – Two States’. Military ties remain very strong, with the two countries often collaborating on weapons production. Pakistan is likely to look toward Turkey as it develops its role of a stability node in the 20+year timeframe.
Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is a generous patron to Pakistan. It funds religious schools in Pakistan, and the two countries collaborate on agriculture, technology, communications, and trade. Saudi Arabia helps fund Pakistan’s military, paying for much of the military equipment Pakistan purchased from the US in the 1980’s. In return, Pakistan provides military training for Saudi troops. Pakistan is likely to emerge as a key oil supply link in the energy chain extending from the Middle East to South-East Asia, expanding the number of energy import routes and enhancing interregional security in the process.
US: Pakistan remains dependant on US aid, however relations between the two become increasingly strained, especially with Pakistan’s equivocal support for Islamic militants (as many believe has been revealed in the killing of Osama bin Laden). The bi-lateral relations have not been consistently good or bad. Instead, the often alternated, with the War on Terror in 2001 seeing a boost in the bi-lateral relationship. However, it is full of mistrust and does not exhibit or is likely to reflect the enduring strength of Pakistan-China or Pakistan-Turkey relations in the short, and most likely even medium term.
In the short and medium terms, US-Pakistani relations may therefore decline over time as US power wanes in the region. This is if the US extricates itself successfully from Afghanistan. The rise of China, however, may compel the US to refocus its attention on Pakistan, perhaps through India, viewed as becoming the next, if not the only, true US ally in South Asia. Yet, the US-Pakistani relationship is likely to improve considerably in the 20+year timeframe as Pakistan seeks to solidify its role as a piece rather than trouble maker within and outside its borders throughout South Asia.
Pakistan is highly unstable.
Power in Pakistan is split between the political Islamabad government (led by President Zadari), its military, and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). The latter two are forces in their own rights, and are often beyond the control of the Pakistani government. The military in particular is seen as the strongest player in Pakistan, with US officials often finding it more effective to deal with Pakistani generals rather than with Zadari. Furthermore, the preponderance of the military means the prospect of military coups always remains a very real possibility (Pakistan has had 3 successful military coups since 1958).
Zadari’s political power is shaky. In 2009 he lost in a standoff to the judiciary, after popular pressure thwarted his attempts to extend his control over the courts. In April 2010, under intense political pressure, Zadari ceded much of his presidential powers relative to the Prime Minister. The President can no longer dissolve parliament, dismiss a prime minister, or appoint military chiefs, his power derives solely from being leader of the PPP (the largest bloc in Parliament).
Pakistan remains impoverished and underdeveloped. It suffers from low levels of foreign investment and rising poverty. Unemployment and inflation are major concerns. Pakistan is finding it increasingly difficult to obtain foreign loans, and in 2008 it received a $7.6 billion loan from the IMF after requesting a bailout. Rising discontent from poor Pakistanis is likely to be a major destabilizing force in the near future.
As India takes its place as a world power in the next few decades, Pakistan’s inferiority complex with regard to its archrival will only grow, resulting in increasing instability, as a dysfunctional Pakistan struggles to keep up with India, particularly in military terms, and diverting an even greater chunk of much-needed resources to military expenditure.
Pakistan’s internal and extrernal security challenges are amongst the most pressing issues facing Zardari’s government. Internally in the medium term, the government is expected to clamp down on extremists in FATA, and, regionally, it is expected to strengthen ties between Afghanistan and China to make up for the instability and vacuum that will be left in the region with the withdrawal of US troops. Relative peace with India is expected because of the stabilizing influence of nuclear weapons and the benefits of cooperation.
Internal Security: The fallout from the war on terror, coupled with local grievances and poor regional institutions, has led to the emergence of an insurgency in the FATA region of Pakistan. Violence, fueled by the insurgents, has spread like a cancer through Pakistan, killing thousands every year, especially notable politicians and reformists. Aside from the general economic and political costs associated with these attack, there is a concern that these attacks may target nuclear weapons facilities.Obviously that is a legitimate concern and, though information is limited, the government has undoubtedly increased security around these facilities in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks on military installations. Pakistan’s military has increased its presence and operations in FATA in recent years, and the government has laid the foundation for political reform. The expected trajectory, therefore, is of the FATA insurgency eventually being resolved in the long-term.
Regional Security: Pakistan’s regional security depends on its relationship with three major neighbors: China, India, and Afghanistan. Pakistan, much like the Germany of WWI, fears encirclement by two unfriendly neigbours (India and potentially Afghanistan), and hopes to ensure that the government in Afghanistan is somewhat sympathetic and friendly towards its interest. The Karzai government has recognized the need for a power sharing agreement with the Taliban (which are a group made of mostly ethnic Pashtuns). The ethnic affinity between ethnic Pashtuns amongst the Taliban and of Pakistan, and the historical support lent by the government of Pakistan to the Taliban, the power sharing arrangement will strengthen ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The arrangement should also stabilize the region.
Pakistan views China as a staunch ally that has provided plenty of support through difficult times. With both India and China challenging each other as regional adversaries, Pakistan will side with China. However, this competition is unlikely to result in a large regional conflict because of the stabilizing influence of nuclear weapons and because currently and in the projected future, the benefits of cooperation outweigh the costs of a military conflict.
With regard to India, Pakistan has increasing concerns over water security with Pakistan’s five major tributaries from India and its larger neighbors increasing regional ambitions. The presence of nuclear weapons should allay concerns of a full scale war erupting between the neighbors with the threat of Mutally Assured Destruction limiting wars to small scale conflicts similar to Kargil. The two sides have been discussing greater economic cooperation and some progress has been made in this area. If sufficient progress is made, it may make conflict economically unfeasible.
Pakistan, Global Security, and the USA: In the future, it is unlikely that the US will have developed a robust system administrator force along with its leviathan. Indeed, the domestic public’s appetitie for war and peacekeeping has been deeply eroded and there is a sense from the Arab Spring that domestic upheavals are more effective at toppling dictatorships than the US leviathan (or atleast fewer American lives are endangered). This shift in the US public’s perception will likely be reflected in greater isolationism by the US. There will however continue to be some policing of the gap by the core but this burden is more likely to be managed by rising regional hegemons and powers. Pakistan’s role in future security conflicts is likely to be minimal. It will continue to act against transnational state actors but it will never be under serious risk of invasion.
In terms of cooperation on combating terrorists and transnational state actors, Pakistan is likely to continue to cooperate in areas and on issues that are in line with its security interests. The state continually highlights how it has helped capture more AQ operatives than any other country. (Though admittedly this reflects the high presence of AQ operatives in the region).
In terms of Pakistan being viewed as a threat and a foreign invasion (in an attempt by the Leviathan to ensure political stability), Pakistan is safe because of its nuclear deterrent. At the same time, other states might opt to use asymmetric warfare against Pakistan (and the state has accused India of doing so). The greatest risk is the potential degradation of Pakistan’s security situation to point that terrorist groups acquire nuclear weapons. This might prompt other states to violate Pakistan’s sovereignity and directly deal with the threat. However, this is extremely unlikely given the strength of Pakistan’s military institutions and establishment.
In summary, Pakistan’s security trajectory is relatively positive with increasing efforts by the state to address its major concerns. There are, however, significant risks that might derail not only Pakistan but the entire region.
In the short term Pakistan is likely to continue specializing economically in agricultural products and textiles. While these are not especially lucrative markets, Pakistan currently lacks the stability to make broad changes to its economy. Two-thirds of Pakistan’s exports are cotton textiles, especially clothing and linens. The country has failed to expand a viable export base, and the textile market remains relatively static and vulnerable to shifts in world demand.
In the medium term, it attempts to diversify from textiles to medium technology exports and start emerging as a cross-regional hub. Doing so requires a significant increase in technological and vocational education, improved education for females, more research in the sciences, and considerable progress in the domestic energy, governance and security situation over the previous years. The alternative is continuation of a glitching economy hostage to energy deficiencies, or “getting back to basics” in the event of a possible economic collapse. By integrating medium technology goods into the world supply chain, Pakistan will ensure that it is specializing in a more stable export. It will also increasingly shift toward establishing itself as a cross-regional corridor linking the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Industrialization and urbanization will underpin and feed on Pakistan’s more robust economy that now has a more productive labor force, especially among women, and is far less dependent on external economic aid, with a lot of economic support now coming from China and even India.
In the long term, Pakistan’s widespread poverty and lack of infrastructure pose challenges to its economic specialization. Without poverty reduction and improvements to transportation, water sanitation, and healthcare, Pakistan will remain unstable, and its economy unable to develop. If Pakistan is able to reform and secure legitimacy in the short and medium terms, however, it will start playing a very specialized role of a medium technology goods exporter and inter-regional economic conduit. Its economic specialization will then facilitate its emerging role as a political and security stabilizer in the long term.
Pakistan is already one of the world’s largest countries, ranking sixth in terms of overall population; however, according to the UN’s latest demographic projections, the country is on track to reach 335 million by 2050 – and that is a conservative estimate. Such a burgeoning population could be either an asset or a burden to the country, all depending on what actions the government takes today. Specifically, the country is looking at a once in a lifetime “demographic dividend” in which the working age population will balloon outward and the percentage of the dependent population will decline, potentially providing a burst of productivity to the lagging economy. However, this is heavily dependent upon government action. If Pakistan fails to plan for the growing population it could be faced with an untenable strain on its already fragile economy – an economy plagued by power outages, debt, and unemployment. Unemployment in particular could swell the ranks of radicals and fuel militancy, something the country’s delicate government cannot afford. A potential dividend may become a cost. However, if Pakistan can push forward policies that invest heavily in education, improve public health, promote labor market flexibility, and incentivize savings and investment, the country may soon be reaping untold economic benefits. The key is for Pakistan to shift from reactive policy to proactive policy.
As for wider social trends, ethnic strife is relatively minimal. Intermarriages among groups are common and most of the refugees pouring in from Afghanistan have been repatriated or assimilated, many deciding to stay in Pakistan permanently. Urbanization is on the rise but this is a global trend and not unique to Pakistan.
The country’s overall societal trajectory is still dependent upon Pakistan’s ability to politically modernize, incorporate tribal areas under government control, and create a consensus building government. A British Council 2009 study revealed that over 75% of surveyed youth thought of themsleves as “Muslims” first and “Pakistanis” second, a trend that underscores the lack of political identity or ownership within the country. Although it should be noted that the same investments that could turn a demographic burden into an asset will also go along way in ameliorating this political and national isolation.