A strategic game-changer in the Near East? A recipe for war? Or both?

October 26, 2011

I wrote last June about major oil and natural gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean that would be a boon to Israel if they played out.

Today at (the renamed) PJMedia, Jonathan Spyer interviews Israeli journalist Amiram Barkat regarding other major natural gas (and maybe oil) finds under the nearby Mediterranean seabed — an area claimed by Israel and its new friend Cyprus, on the one hand, and increasingly Islamic-fascist Turkey and Lebanon (1) on the other. While discussing the enormous economic and strategic implications for Israel, Barkat talks reviews the geopolitical dangers:

PJM: What are the latest developments regarding the dispute between Turkey and Cyprus over exploratory drilling for offshore gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus? Are Turkish Navy ships still in the area?

In late September this year, Noble Energy, a Houston-based company, started drilling the Aphrodite prospect within a maritime area known as Block 12. Noble, the company that has made all the significant gas discoveries in Israel, received the drilling license in Block 12 from the Cypriot government in 2008.

Turkey had threatened to use military force should drilling commence, but refrained from action. Turkey has two major claims regarding Cyprus exploration plans: first, as the protector of the rights of the Turkish minority in Cyprus, it aims to guarantee that the Turkish Cypriots gain a share in the future revenues from any discovery. Second, Turkey doesn’t recognize the Cypriot EEZ and claims that parts of it are actually in Turkish waters.

PJM: Is there a realistic possibility that this could lead to conflict between Israel and Turkey? Or has Turkey, as a NATO member, been warned against escalating the situation?

The strengthening ties between Israel and Cyprus underpinned by mutual interests in the export of natural gas could make the possibility of regional conflict involving Turkey a realistic one, though not in the near future. Israel is aware of this and an internal debate has been going on regarding Cyprus.

Looking from Nicosia, the choices seem simpler. Recent developments in the area have clearly weakened Cyprus’s geopolitical position vis-à-vis Turkey. Greece, Cyprus’ patron, is practically bankrupt. Egypt and Libya, traditional allies within the Arab world, are both undergoing a revolutionary process.

Against this backdrop Cypriot government officials openly invited the Israeli military to play an active role defending Cypriot interests. In private talks Cypriot officials are supportive of letting the Israeli Air Force use Cypriot bases.

As you can imagine, the simultaneous occurrence of new valuable resources and political upheaval in the region is as recipe for military conflict at some point — and, in the Middle East, that could come at any time. While one naturally hopes that the parties involved would come to an amicable arrangement, factors besides those mentioned above line up against it:

  • Turkey is under an increasingly Islamist government, and their prime minister may well be an antisemitic nut.
  • Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon cut a deal with the hated Jews? Barack Obama will sooner embrace Thomas Sowell.
  • The natural broker for such a dispute is the United States, due to our history of alliance with both Israel and Turkey, but, thanks to incompetent diplomacy Smart Power, we’ve increasingly alienated Israel and played the fool for Turkey, which is actively working to advance the Islamist cause. Now one doesn’t trust us and the other thinks (rightly) it can use us.

This is not a recipe for the lion to lie with the lamb any time soon.

Footnote:
(1) And letting Hizbullah (and, by extension, its Iranian patrons) get any share of the revenues from these new fields is a Bad Idea(tm).

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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A Chinese Trifecta

January 20, 2011

On the occasion of the State visit by Chinese fascist junta leader President Hu Jintao, PJTV analysts Stephen Greene, Scott Ott, and Bill Whittle look at the growth of Chinese economic and military power, and the challenges a rising dragon may pose for the US:

I thought Whittle’s observations on the Chinese military perceptive, particularly regarding the PLA’s focus on the top-line weapons without the support structure and the experience we and other great powers have had. And I agree with their “middle ground” approach to assessing the challenges posed by China: neither making light of them, nor going into a panic-driven depression on the assumption that all is lost. (Besides, preemptive surrender is France’s job.) For my own part, I see China not as our “great good friend” and not as a declared enemy (yet), but a strategic competitor whose assessments of its own interests often work at right angles to our perceptions of our interests.  Diplomatic and economic competition and conflict is inevitable, but a shooting war is not. It all depends on how both sides manage their relations.

I do wish they had taken the time to talk more about China’s internal problems, because they’re serious and threaten China’s rise to Great-Power status and even its stability: banking regulations hiding bad loans that could make our situation look like chump change; rampant corruption that’s creating more and more popular resentment; the anger of rural workers who come to the cities to work and then don’t get paid; a ham-handed diplomacy that winds up scaring much of East and Southeast Asia into our arms; and an aging population that, as Mark Steyn has put it, means the nation will grow old before it grows rich.

One eye-popping fact: China has to add 17,000,000 jobs per year to keep up with population growth.

Like the Trifecta crew, I’m confident we’ll do fine in our competition with China… as long as we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Japan turns its guns from the Bear toward the Dragon

December 23, 2010

The New York Times recently published an intriguing piece on Japan’s strategic focus: having directed their self-defense forces toward the USSR/Russia since being allowed to rearm after World War II, they are now turning their  attention towards a growing threat – China:

In what would be a sweeping overhaul of its cold war-era defense strategy, Japan is about to release new military guidelines that would reduce its heavy armored and artillery forces pointed north toward Russia in favor of creating more mobile units that could respond to China’s growing presence near its southernmost islands, Japanese newspapers reported Sunday.

The realignment comes as the United States is making new calls for Japan to increase its military role in eastern Asia in response to recent provocations by North Korea as well as China’s more assertive stance in the region.

The new defense strategy, likely to be released this week, will call for greater integration of Japan’s armed forces with the United States military, the reports said. The reports did not give a source, but the fact that major newspapers carried the same information suggested they were based on a background briefing by government officials.

The new guidelines also call for acquiring new submarines and fighter jets, the reports said, and creating ground units that can be moved quickly by air in order to defend the southern islands, including disputed islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by China and Taiwan. These disputed islands are known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyu in Chinese.

Read the whole thing, not only for general interest, but for a good glimpse  of the evolving strategic game in East Asia. Don’t let the mention of Taiwan claiming the Senkakus distract you; Taiwan is not what Japan worries about, not when Taiwan will need the help of Japan’s patron, the US, in any confrontation with China. (And Tokyo’s, too, even if just diplomatic and political.)

China, a rising, potentially hypernationalistic power with global ambitions and an increasingly offensively oriented military, poses much more of a strategic threat to Japan than declining Russia. Small wonder than that, faced with China’s growing challenge to the 65-years old total dominance of the Pacific by the US Navy, America is encouraging Japan to rearm and expand its strategic mission.

And it’s not just China Japan is worried about: Beijing’s obstreperous protege North Korea has repeatedly caused jitters in Tokyo, with its recent nuclear tests and violent acts against South Korea. While the history between Japan and Korea (both of them) is difficult to say the least (colonization, sex slavery, and kidnapping tend to spoil even the best of relationships), the US has been working to encourage a greater strategic cooperation between the two, and there are some signs of early efforts to reach an understanding.

All things considered, this represents a significant change in Japanese policy with important strategic implications  for the region and America. Japan may be on the verge of a serious demographic decline, but it is a technological powerhouse of the first order and has in the past shown an amazing ability to adapt to new circumstances. (Its one failure to adapt, during its war with the US, lead to Japan’s only defeat. Don’t think they haven’t learned that lesson.) Should the Japanese feel threatened enough by China, where anti-Japanese feelings frequently erupt, or the mountain bandits in Pyongyang, I have no doubt they would find the will to quickly amend their constitution to allow for a larger, more active military. And if they felt the need to go nuclear? Regardless of the memories of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they could do it within month, folks. Within months.

While the Jihadi War is our immediate concern, our strategic competition with China is a long-term crucial issue. Japan is one player to keep a very close eye on.

And to keep on our side.

via DaveedGR on Twitter

RELATED: Like Japan and Russia, China is facing its own demographic decline. Like Imperial Germany prior to World War I, this may lead China to feel the need to strike for domination before its position weakens.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Suddenly, Vietnam and America are becoming buddies

August 8, 2010

Well, not so suddenly; the rapprochement between the two countries has been going on for several years, but this news takes it to a whole new level:

Cold War enemies the United States and Vietnam demonstrated their blossoming military relations Sunday as a U.S. nuclear super carrier cruised in waters off the Southeast Asian nation’s coast — sending a message that China is not the region’s only big player.

The visit comes 35 years after the Vietnam War as Washington and Hanoi are cozying up in a number of areas, from negotiating a controversial deal to share civilian nuclear fuel and technology to agreeing that China needs to work with its neighbors to resolve territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The USS George Washington’s stop is officially billed as a commemoration of last month’s 15th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the former foes. But the timing also reflects Washington’s heightened interest in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific amid tensions following the sinking of a South Korean warship in March, which killed 46 sailors. North Korea has been blamed for the attack, but has vehemently denied any involvement.

Last month during an Asian security meeting in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also angered China by unexpectedly calling on the Communist powerhouse to resolve territorial claims with neighboring Southeast Asian countries over islands in the South China Sea.

“The strategic implications and importance of the waters of the South China Sea and the freedom of navigation is vital to both Vietnam and the United States,” Capt. Ross Myers, commander of the George Washington’s air wing, said aboard the ship Sunday as fighter jets thundered off the flight deck above.

Threatened mutual interests make for alliances, even when the parties have a difficult shared history, as we do with Vietnam. The US is concerned with growing Chinese naval strength, which looks geared toward challenging our 65-year old dominance of the western Pacific, and especially with a potentially strong amphibious capability. The latter would be especially worrisome in a confrontation over Taiwan. The US is also concerned about Chinese claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea, a major international shipping route, as this clashes with our traditional “freedom of the seas” policy. Sending a carrier battle group through the SCS is a way of visibly reinforcing the international character of the waters, sending a “just try and stop us” message. We can expect to see more of these transits in the next few years.

Vietnam, meanwhile, has to be concerned about its increasingly powerful and assertive giant neighbor to the north. Indeed, Vietnam was under Chinese domination for over a thousand years. More immediately, Vietnam (along with several other nations) also has territorial claims to the Spratly Islands, which are mostly under Chinese military control. Worth little in and of themselves, the islands enable their owners to establish territorial claims to the surrounding waters and any potential resources – particularly oil, which China needs to feed its booming economy, because it produces not nearly enough of its own. Thus the Vietnamese, who already have America as their biggest trading partner and investor, want an increased American military presence to give pause to Chinese ambitions. Our needs and theirs converge.

And while Vietnamese and US officials shake hands aboard the George Washington, you can bet they’ll be casting wary glance toward the dragon to the north.


The Hermit King steps out

December 24, 2009

Interesting. Long a minor actor in geopolitics, South Korea is preparing to play a larger role in global security matters:

More than 56 years after the end of the Korean War ushered in a long period of relative military isolation, South Korea is finally taking steps towards a regional security role commensurate with the country’s advanced economy. But South Korea’s rise as a military power is complicated by its domestic politics — and a belligerent North Korea.

Despite a technologically advanced military and a Gross Domestic Product that, at just shy of $1 trillion, makes it the world’s 15th-wealthiest country, the Republic of Korea has rarely deployed troops outside its borders. In 1999, Seoul sent 400 soldiers to boost a U.N. force trying to stabilize East Timor when that country broke away from neighboring Indonesia. The Timor deployment was South Korea’s first overseas military operation. South Korean troops had fought alongside the U.S. in Vietnam.

South Korean medics and engineers subsequently joined the U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan in 2001 and in Iraq in 2003. The Afghan mission was curtailed after the Taliban kidnapped a South Korean church group in Afghanistan and murdered two of its 23 members. The extremists released the surviving captives when Seoul promised to stick to a planned withdrawal by the end of 2007. The Iraqi mission ended peacefully in 2008. That year, Seoul also sent a warship to patrol Somali waters for pirates.

But South Korea’s planned second deployment to Afghanistan in 2010 will mark its true debut as a regional military power. In response to U.S. President Barak Obama’s call for a bigger international coalition in Afghanistan, Seoul has pledged a Provincial Reconstruction Team and a powerful infantry force to accompany it, for a total of around 500 troops.

The author argues that the PRT is merely a political cover for the deployment of combat troops, meant to keep South Korea’s rather pacifist Left from putting up too strong an opposition. But the move seems not to be engendering  much resistance in South Korea, regardless, as there seems to be public sentiment for the nation pulling more of its own weight after decades of being protected from Mordor North Korea. South Korea has gone so far as to commission three small aircraft carriers. Once fitted with aircraft, this will give Seoul a power-projection capability few Asian nations have.

In my opinion, this is can be an unalloyed good for the world: a stable democracy with a powerful economy should shoulder some of the burden of protecting constitutional government and freedom of the seas in a dangerous world. (While recognizing the political difficulties for Tokyo are much, much greater, I’d love to see Japan do something similar.) The United States should be mentoring South Korea in this, just as, under George W. Bush, we agreed to promote democratic India as a potential global power.  The time is now to strengthen old alliances and build new ones among democratic, capitalist powers facing the twin threats of jihadism and the rise of Russian and Chinese aggressive nationalism and geopolitical ambition.

Sadly, we are lead by exactly the wrong president.

(via Real Clear World)