Does Washington risk provoking a new cold, or even hot, war with Russia by asserting the right to intervene massively in Afghanistan but failing to control Afghanistan’s booming heroin export trade?
Moscow is beginning, quite rightly, to view its heroin addiction epidemic as a threat to its national security.
From this, it would be a small step for Moscow to conclude that Washington is intentionally looking the other way. Two glaring facts would seem to support such a view:
- The American army in Afghanistan is doing little to control heroin export;
- Alternative methods for Afghan farmers to earn a living are being ignored.
What, then, might Moscow do if it decided Washington were intentionally subverting Russian society the way the Colombian drug cartels are subverting American society?
The list of Russian options for fighting back seems long enough to merit a bit of contemplation by Washington:
- Cut off the recently-approved flow of American military supplies through Russia into Afghanistan;
- Work with Tajik contacts both in Tajikistan and the increasingly disaffected Afghan north to separate that part of Afghanistan from the Taliban regions of the Pushtun south to create a buffer zone or just to complicate American plans;
- Lead a Shanghai Cooperation Organization regional initiative to build a third political force in Afghanistan, independent of both the Taliban and the U.S., perhaps starting with a campaign against large American military bases in Afghanistan that would no doubt attract Chinese interest;
According to a Russian news agency report, a regional conference on Afghanistan in 2008 concluded:
The American counter-terrorism campaign encouraged terrorists, boosted production of drugs, illegal immigration, illicit arms deals, and fomented other threats that compromise the security of Afghanistan itself and other Eurasian countries. All of that necessitates actions by Afghanistan‘s neighbors who view the Afghani crisis resolution as vitally important.
- Cut a mutually-beneficial two-part deal with its ally Tehran to support increased Iranian influence in regions of Afghanistan historically and religiously close to Iran already to combat the drug trade that both Moscow and Tehran fear.
A Russian Perspective
What really scares Washington – from George W Bush to Obama – is the perspective of a Russia-Iran-Venezuela axis. Together, Iran and Russia hold 17.6% of the world′s proven oil reserves. The Persian Gulf petro-monarchies – de facto controlled by Washington – hold 45%. The Moscow-Tehran-Caracas axis controls 25%. If we add Kazakhstan′s 3% and Africa′s 9.5%, this new axis is more than an effective counter-power to American hegemony over the Arab Middle East. The same thing applies to gas. Adding the “axis” to the Central Asian “stans”, we reach 30% of world gas production….
A nuclear Iran would inevitably turbo-charge the new, emerging multipolar world. Iran and Russia are de facto showing to both China and India that it is not wise to rely on US might subjugating the bulk of oil in the Arab Middle East.
The latter option in particular should be contemplated carefully in Washington. The Central Asian-Middle Eastern region is currently at a tipping point, where any one of at least three historic shifts is possible. These three potential shifts in regional power relationships are all quite conceivable at the present time because the multiple, cross-cutting cleavages of the artificially conceived nuclear crisis and the various regional conflicts have destroyed regional stability.
The first possible shift is the “Netanyahu option,” a nuclear strike on Iran that would, if successful, empower Israeli rightwing militarists dreaming of Israeli domination of the region. Success is highly unlikely, however, since the aftermath of a nuclear strike would be a classic case of a complex (i.e., unpredictable) situation. The winner would probably be bin Laden.
The second possible shift is the “Obama option,” a breakthrough in U.S.-Iranian relations that would stabilize the region and greatly facilitate American efforts to resolve the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts. Although this option would require recognizing Iran’s emergence to regional prominence with the right to choose its own path and constraining the war party in Washington, the result would be a relatively stable regional balance of power curbing both the threat of Israeli nuclear aggression and Iranian nuclear militarization.
The third possible shift is the “Putin option,” a breakthrough in Russian-Iranian relations at American expense, propelled by mutual concern over the strategic threat of rising American military power in Central Asia. Various cooperative steps in the energy, maritime in this direction, motivated by intense U.S.-Israeli threats against Iran, are already visible. Such a bilateral breakthrough at American expense would encourage both Iranian and Israeli extremism, wreck the chances for resolving the Western-Iranian nuclear dispute, imperil the American adventure in Afghanistan, and very possibly end up destabilizing Pakistan or, perhaps, result in a distinct type of regional stability enforced by Russia, with the U.S. on the sidelines.
It would be ironic, to put it mildly, if willingness in Washington to tolerate Afghan heroin exports ended up provoking the regional replacement of the U.S. by Russia in coordination with an emergent Iran.