Tuesday, May 25, 2010



The increasingly adventuristic policies and actions of North Korea and China's reluctance to tame North Korea to oblige President Barack Obama have placed him in a quandary where the US will be damned if it acts against North Korea for sinking the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March last and will be equally damned if it does not.

2. Nothing brings out the helpless state of the US under Mr.Obama more dramatically than the reported plea of Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, who has just completed a high-profile visit to Beijing for a bilateral strategic dialogue. News agencies have quoted her as saying : "The US and China must work together to fashion an effective response to the sinking of the Cheonan. Maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula is a shared responsibility between the countries."

3. Ever since Mr.Obama assumed office as the President in January 2009, there has been a weakening of the US will and readiness to act independently in crisis situations-----whether these related to the global economic melt-down or peace and security in regions of vital interest to the US or nuclear proliferation or counter-terrorism. The beneficiaries of Mr.Obama's lack of will to act firmly and independently have been rogue states such as Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

4. In foreign policy matters, the US has practically been reduced by Mr.Obama to the position of a dependency of China---- depending on the goodwill and co-operation of China for dealing with these States and for protecting vital US national interests----whether in the Pacific region or in the Af-Pak area or in the Gulf.

5. The inability of Mr.Obama to fashion a coherent and deterrent response to the rogue states has further encouraged the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea and strengthened their determination to go ahead with their nuclear projects without having to worry about a robust US response. Both Iran and North Korea have convinced themselves that they don't have to worry about the response of the US so long as they have the support of China.

6. It is amazing that in less than 18 months, Mr.Obama has reduced the US to the position of a mediocre Pacific power, which has to depend on China for protecting its regional interests. The policy of containing China followed under Mr.George Bush has given way under Mr.Obama to one of pathetically courting China to spare Mr.Obama the dilemma of having to act against the rogue States. Mr.Obama's power-sharing willingness in the Pacific has given China an importance which it had never dreamt of having till 2020.

7. So long as the rogue States have the confidence that China will not let them down, the US is going to find itself confronted more and more with Cheonan-like situations. North Korea's action in sinking the Cheonan without worrying about the implications dramatically illustrates the contempt that it has for the US power in the region. It is not bothered about condemnation by the UN Security Council or by the likelihood of international sanctions.

8. Fears of a US determined to act even at the risk of a military confrontation are what kept States such as Iran and North Korea under some control in the past. The disappearance of these fears and the US-encouraged rise of the Chinese influence and role led to the adventuristic naval action by North Korea in March last and could one day lead to an adventuristic Iranian action against Israel.

9. The fear of the US Pacific Fleet once acted as the deterrent. It no longer does so. The result: The US finds itself with zero options in the Pacific either for acting against North Korea or for enforcing its will in the region as a whole. ( 26-5-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )


Ashok said...

Your views appear to be sharply different from those of Mr. K Subrahmanyam, the other noted Indian strategic analyst. He seems to have taken a more pro or neutral Obama line - and mentioned that Barack Obama expects to stay in office for six and a half more years. Please see his article 'Pakistan's spreading cancer of terrorism' in the Business Standard for reference.

How can the US act alone and expend all its resources ad infinitum for what should be a global effort - whether it comes to transnational security related issues, complex trade and commerce agreements or resource allocation concerns and high level planning for the future?

The US may have plenty of more resources (grain, knowledge and infrastructure) per capita than any other country, but its resources are not unlimited, and it too has a large domestic population that it needs to support.

India's concerns are somewhat overplayed - The US does not view India strictly through the lens of the cold war anymore. The terrorism phenomenon currently plaguing the world most definitely today involves Pakistan, resulting in some positive sentiment for India over Pakistan.

Some things for strategic minds in India to think about - India's population is getting a little too large for comfort - more people means more demands on the land and environment - does India have the resources to cope with this? It was an American by the name of Norman Borlaug who gave a generous lease of time to India before chaos struck its booming population - has the Government of India made plans on how to address this issue now that the problem will slowly arise again? What new major cities have been built in India to accommodate this population and its needs? Why is India prizing itself on call centers and outsourcing - is cheap labor that doesn't correspond to quality something to laud oneself about? It also takes many bright Indian minds out of critical scientific fields for want of good money by Indian monetary standards. Tremendous ill will has resulted towards India around the world due to its perceived net impact of eliminating jobs around the world, rather than creating new ones. However critical you may be of the US, what the US offers to the rest of the world - students, businessmen, entrepreneurs and ordinary people seeking a higher standard of living - India cannot provide.

Please keep all of this in mind before unduly criticizing the US and President Obama - much of the mess the US is in was inherited from a previous administration. If India wants to criticize, it has much to be self critical about as well. What has India done about North Korea? What has India done about China? What has India done about Pakistan? What has India done about Tibet? What has India done about Gilgit Baltistan?

One starts coming under the impression that many of India's high level thinkers know only how to complain, while not offering any solutions for global issues of importance or being able to act on them.

theone said...

to Ashok..
In this article, the change of status from Super-power with sole responsibility to mediocre power with shared responsibility is being analysed. Couple of engagements have shown the limits of super-powerdom. Its not like the 1990s when the aircraft-carrier could be sent to the south china sea ( or for that matter the 1970s when it came to bay of bengal).
There is no denying of India's challenges but if you think that India's $1 trillion GDP is because of call centers good luck to you.

ambi said...

'The increasingly adventuristic policies and actions of North Korea and China's reluctance to tame North Korea to oblige President Barack Obama have placed him in a quandary where the US will be damned if it acts against North Korea for sinking the South Korean naval ship Cheonan in March last and will be equally damned if it does not.'

ha ha ha. well said sir. Well my condolences to South Koreans. But when u have friend like Barack there is not much to expect.

Hi Ashok you said "The US may have plenty of more resources (grain, knowledge and infrastructure) per capita than any other country, but its resources are not unlimited, and it too has a large domestic population that it needs to support."

That’s right & that’s why US needs to remember what's Peter Parker’s Uncle has said "More power comes with more responsibilities." Looking at Barack it seems it is bit difficult, but if he drops his arrogance, become little bit humble, & start behaving as a mature man (after all he is a father of two now) than I think he ll be doing a great favour to his country.

His follies (which I found)

Interfering in other country’s sovereign matters, where he has no concern what so ever, dictating what lines they should follow, (i.e. Bullying India to do Sharm Al Sheikh fiasco, forcing India to resume talks. Will India trust US now?) will not help him long.

Going to Afghanistan in the middle of the night, informing Pre. of that country just one hour before landing & giving him the message that I own this colony, I can come & go anytime I want, so I am the boss & u better not forget that, granted US is giving lots of dollars, but will he appreciate it if tomorrow Hu Jintao comes to US informing him only one hour before landing. After all it’s PRC which is funding this bankrupt US. Isn’t it?

Hiding the truth & lying to his people.
He is telling his people that Afghanistan President’s corrupt govt is responsible for his military’s dismal performance & that Pak is cooperating with him Is this the truth? I ask you? Pak army is killing US & NATO soldiers day in & day out. & hitting secret American bases at will in Afghanistan. In reality his army & its generals are incompetent to overcome few illiterate armed villagers. I didn’t know in Vietnam also Hamid Karzai& his corrupt brother was there that US got defeated? In Iraq also Hamid karzai & his corrupt brother are responsible for US army’s dismal performance? I ask you?

He has dangerously isolated US from all it’s imp allies. Take for example of Israel. Israel is so threatened with his posture that they have already started looking for other options. They ll never trust US in their wildest dream. He is doing lots of damage to US interests, to what extent that time will tell.

He never takes responsibilities. All bad blame it on Bush. He made scapegoat of Joseph Biden in middle east recently. While warning Pakistan (after Faisal Shahzad episode) he made Hillary bad cop by allowing a hard line from her, where as he became a good cop in the eyes of Pakistan, by taking soft line. So just see how cunning he is.

Whoa long post. Sorry for this. There may be many more issues about him, which I don’t know. But enough for now.

Sarang said...

China actively backs rougue regimes but their real power comes from cowardice shown by countries such as India who are just unwilling to fight to defend democracy.

I read that on the day Pakistan released Hafiz Saeed (The butcher of Mumbai) PM Manmohan Singh sent a box of 'Hapus' mangoes to PM Gilani as a goodwill gesture!!

And we expect Pakistan to stop terrorism?????