South Asia remains the only ‘unguarded’ segment of the arc of containment being set up around Russia and China through the United States’ missile defence [ABM] system. The US has seized Iran’s and North Korea’s missile capability as the pretext to bring the Persian Gulf and the Asia-Pacific within the ambit of the ABM.
North Korea’s expected missile launch sometime between April 12 and 16 is projected by the US military officials as threatening the countries in the Asia-Pacific as far away as Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Indeed, Japan has since then been making belligerent noises, threatening to shoot down the North Korean missile.
Whether Japan will do so or not is a moot point. What matters is that Tokyo henceforth has the raison d’etre for deploying the US’ ABM. The implications are obvious. The ABM deployed in Japan can also be trained to neutralise China and Russia’s missile capabilities.
That is exactly what Chinese daily Global Times has promptly pointed out in an editorial on Thursday. The GT editorial said, “North Korea and Iran are named by Washington as the targets of the missile defence system, though it is clear the real targets are China and Russia. China should firmly oppose it.”
The GT says China’s response should be ‘assymetrical’, but it also warns that China will be compelled to “change its long-held nuclear policy.” Will Beijing make common cause with Moscow? At any rate, the US’s plans to deploy ABM in the Persian Gulf will be noted in Moscow.
The ABM noose is tightening around Russia — components of the ABM are being deployed in Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey. Washington has done exceedingly well to play on the insecurities of ‘Gulf monarchies’ against the backdrop of the Arab Spring to get them to accept the creation of an ABM architecture in Persian Gulf.
To be sure, the ‘new cold war’ is tiptoeing toward the gateway of India. The first session of the GCC-US Strategic Cooperation Forum held in Riyadh in the weekend phenomenally transforms the regional security in the Persian Gulf. Indian pundits should bestir themselves and study the implications. It’s not Sunni-Shi’ite schism, as they blithely thought. That was mere foreplay to circle the wagons, now comes the real act.
Coming back to South Asia, how will the US plug the gap in the ‘ABM arc’ in South Asia? Pakistan is not going to alienate China and Russia by becoming part of the US’ ABM system. In any case, Pakistan would have serious misgivings regarding the US intentions towards it. In line with a long-standing principle, India has so far kept aloof from the US-NATO overtures to join the ABM programme.
So, Afghanistan remains as a likely option — if only the US can arm twist Hamid Karzai to permit the establishment of US military bases in Afghanistan. After all, the US forces in Bagram or Shindand would need protection from the ‘rogue’ country next-door called Iran. The raison d’etre is easily available for the US to deploy the ABM in Afghanistan — that is, if it hasn’t already done so.
The ball is in Karzai’s court. And he is zig-zagging. The latest we know is that he will sign a strategic pact alright with the US before the NATO summit is held in Chicago in May, but a separate document will be negotiated thereafter regarding the US military bases as such in Afghanistan.
In sum, Karzai would like to strike a hard bargain and see what he gets in return for himself. Precisely put, is there going to be a political life for him beyond 2014 when his term as president in Kabul ends? The Afghan constitution prohibits him from holding office a third time, but a way can always be found around such minor hurdles, provided he secures US backing. The US, after all, sets the benchmark of democracy in Afghanistan. Indeed, the future of the US’ ABM deployment in South Asia hangs by a slender Afghan thread.
– April 1, 2012