Emergence of a Joint Russian-Chinese Strategic Vision

Washington clearly lacks the wisdom to manage a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” or a “war for democracy” in a Muslim society. A more counter-productive effort in world affairs would be hard to find. But if Washington exits Afghanistan without leaving a process of effectively addressing the drug problem in place, then some very nasty scenarios that are hardly imagined today may become highly possible.

What one day is an entirely defensive effort to combat the international trade in illegal narcotics can another day seamlessly morph into an aggressive military alliance. Some today in the West may find it easy to sneer at the strategic military potential of the so-far timid and disunited Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but illegal narcotics are providing a strong rationale for SCO’s members to cooperate militarily, and there’s plenty of talk in Russian media about the drug threat, which is killing 100,000 Russians a year.
Consider the context:
  1. Afghanistan is NATO-occupied, so responsibility for the flood of illegal narcotics poisoning the societies of Russia and the rest of the SCO member states lies at NATO’s door;
  2. the Western campaign in Afghanistan is failing;
  3. U.S.-Pakistani relations are in trouble;
  4. Narcotics and terror not only are linked but are so portrayed in Russian media.
In this context, the long-term trend in Russian-Pakistani ties merits watching. Russian “drug tsar” Victor Ivanov recently lauded rising Russian-Pakistani anti-drug cooperation:

Антинаркотическое сотрудничество России и Пакистана активно развивается. Взаимодействие двух стран “перешло в доверительную фазу”. [Golos Rossii (Voice of Russia) 3/29/12.]

His claim that “mutual trust” has been established should focus Washington minds. Moscow has been encouraging Islamabad’s interest in joining the SCO for some time. Are Washington’s abuses of its special relationship with Islamabad making Russia’s more delicate approach seem attractive? It certainly will if rumors of Russian financial supportfor the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline that Washington so bitterly opposes come true.
Like Pakistan, Iran has observer status in the SCO, but Iran seems too hot to handle, given its current self-defeating policy of nuclear ambiguity. Given Washington’s own endlessly hardline stance, however, a slightly more sophisticated Iranian nuclear policy might open SCO’s door. What if SCO officially offered Iran one of the obvious potential nuclear deals that Washington so carefully evades, e.g., end to sanctions, financing of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, defensive ground-to-air missiles, full membership in SCO, and the explicit right to refine medical-grade uranium in return for the “permanent human monitoring” of Iran’s nuclear project that Larijani has already offered? The next Nobel Peace Prize might go to Putin, and the SCO might discover its strategic mission.
But there’s more. Even NATO member Turkey is glancing toward SCO. To the degree that SCO constitutes no more than a local effort to support global stability, everyone could join, but in the context of a need to replace a failing U.S. power center in Central Asia and in the context of a backward-looking Washington rejecting Ankara’s self-portrayal as leader of Mideast moderates, a SCO deal with Iran that takes the nuclear issue off center-stage might confer significant momentum to Ankara’s delicate winks in SCO’s direction.

В рамках ШОС, Турция будет стремиться к поддержке своей роли лидера региона Ближнего и Среднего Востока, опираясь на дружественные и родственные отношения с тюркскими и исламскими государствами. Россия поддержала заявку Турции на получение статуса партнера по диалогу в ШОС. [Panarin.com.]

If Washington continues tripping over its own feet, as it has now for 15 years, while Moscow and Beijing creep forward through the diplomatic bushes, it becomes easier and easier to imagine the SCO picking up some of the slack. Beijing and Moscow will have to find common strategic ground, but Washington’s continuing obsession with pleasing Israel’s extreme right will make that easy, especially if Iran can smooth the rough edges off its foreign policy. A SCO with a strategic vision plus the membership of both Pakistan and Iran would be an entirely different animal than it is today, a sleek bear sporting dragon wings. If the reversal of trends as the U.S. presence in Central Asia is replaced by a joint Russian and Chinese presence occurs in the context of a bungled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that leaves behind a virulent drug mafia, then SCO would have a legitimate strategic purpose: the flying bear might start breathing fire. Given that, how hard would it be for Russian and Chinese strategic thinkers to justify…well, a “war on terror,” and how easily might such a war come to generate the same horrors that the Bush-Cheney war did?
Further Reading:

"America-Replacement" Strategy for Afghanistan: A Simple Plan

In the context of the three basic principles for resolving the Afghan conflict that I discussed earlier, here’s an implementation strategy:

  1. Washington announces that it will vacate any region of Afghanistan that is either – A. peaceful and drug-free or B. guarded by an international force, preferably from Muslim societies
  2. the international force will have two duties – A. preventing the use of force to resolve conflict, B. eliminating illegal narcotics, with emphasis on destruction of the refinement business.

This solves the current problem that no one understands what American goals are and puts the U.S. on the right side of morality. To those who protest that the devil is in the details, I say, “Try it…at any desired scale.”

The international community will provide stability; state-building will be up to the Afghans…with international funding to be transferred directly to the lowest possible levels.

Provoking Russian-Iranian Entente

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.

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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.