Tuesday, August 10, 2004

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The Democratic Crescent?

The emerging cooperation between Israel and Turkey tells only half the story of the strategic shifts taking place around the “Islamic crescent” from West to South Asia. India and Israel have also been cooperating notably since the end of the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, India lost its main military backer and found in Israel a technologically-advanced nation willing to assist in the modernization of its armed forces. Israel, for its part, welcomed an additional ally (needing, as it does, all the friends it can get) and income from arms sales. Though India’s longstanding rhetorical commitment to the Palestinian cause has meant that any cooperation has been relatively quiet, it has proceeded apace with the Israelis training 3,000 Indian troops, concluding millions of dollars in arms sales, and assisting in the development of new aircraft and tank platforms. (Btw, Indo-Jewish ties are not without precedent—there have been Jews in the southern Indian state of Kerala for nearly 500 years and a synagogue has stood in the city of Cochin since 1568, as it happens, just around the corner from my father’s family home.)

The relationship took on a more substantial cast after September 11. Though from the Indian perspective, the decisive moment was not the attack on the United States but the attack by a suicide squad on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001. In that context, Israeli expertise in counterterrorism became even more prized in the Indian security establishment. Accordingly, the hawkish BJP government, who brought a refreshing pragmatism to a historically lugubrious and moralistic Indian foreign policy, pushed deeper ties with Israel. The interesting question now is whether the newish Congress government will continue building this relationship.

Getting back to Turkey, some people have started connecting the dots between Israel, India, and Turkey and written of a new “Triple Entente” or “Axis of Democracy” with which the United States should ally. Frankly, as we confront looming disorder in the region over the next 30 years—Iranian nukes, Pakistan's potential collapse, continuing terrorism—I think these are friends we could sorely use. Just to name one example, the burdens of our Iraqi adventure would have been much eased if smart diplomacy had led to the deployment of Turkish and Indian troops.

posted by on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM


Would those be the Turkish troops the Iraqis forcefully rejected? Easy to say now, of course we could be sitting here condemning the boneheadedness of igniting a Kurd/Turkish war in Northern Iraq.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Indeed, Mark; that's the crux of it.
Making such a move assumes that such a force could be effective... and the fact is that their history doesn't suggest their being able to be effective.

In the employee/employer world the fastest way to tee off an employee, is to push someone beyond heir ability on some curcial task, thus setting them up for failure.

posted by: Bithead on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Great idea. All of the major security challenges we face arise from the near and far east, a region in which our pseudo-allies, France and Germany, have no useful military assets or even (as the Iran follies indicate) any real political influence. In the few areas where the continental Europeans can actually help, they already are helping to the max, ie intel cooperation and police work.

Rather than waste so much diplomatic bandwidth and political capital on France and Germany, we should immediately shift resources and attention to the nations that actually have the potential to help (and hurt) us in the region that critically affects our security: Turkey, India, and I would add, Russia.

Asian Century now. Time to move beyond the postures and reflexes of the last century. Eastward Ho!

posted by: lex on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Ironic that three of the four nations I mentioned (Israel, India and Russia) command the majority of the world's (non-US) programming and scientific technical talent. Another reason to forge this new Asia-centered alliance in this Asian Century.

posted by: lex on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

I'm a big proponent of this idea. Given my interests, I've tended to look at it from the Central Asia angle, where India reportedly has (or soon will have, even though there's also denials) an airbase in Tajikistan (I haven't looked into this in a while, things may have changed).

With Russian and China seemingly hellbent on competing with the US in Central Asia, a closer US-India-Israel-Turkey alliance begins to make all kinds of amazing sense in the Middle East, Central, and South Asia.

posted by: Nathan Hamm on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

One way to move this forward would be to adopt a version of the Canadian PM's proposal for a working group parallel to the UNSC that would focus on transnational security issues and that would include the G-8 plus Turkey, Israel and the key Asian powers: Japan, China, India, Korea.

Eventually, by proving itself a truly useful forum for addressing an increasingly chaotic international security situation (as opposed to enabling France to thwart the US), this group would become the successor to the UNSC. Less legitimacy, perhaps, but legitimacy in the eyes of the Asian powers ie the ones who matter most. And a lot more effective.

posted by: lex on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Actually Russia might wish to tilt toward our side. Chinese immigration and economic dominance threatens to turn the Russian Far East into a de facto Chinese province within a generation. Russia-India ties, certainly in the trade sphere at least, can be resurrected in short order. And the potential technology transfers to be gained from allying with the US-Israel-India are also very attractive.

posted by: lex on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Unless India has rather more transport capability than I'm aware of, it's something of a moot point. Given other nations' logistical capabilities at the present, if a lot of troops need to get somewhere they can't walk to, they're either going to be 90% Americans, or they're not going to be there at all.

posted by: Dave on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Alliance with india would make a kind of sense.

After all, we allied with iraq after iran changed into something that didn't want us. We have a longstanding alliance with pakistan against india, but if the paks are the main al qaeda supporter why not dump them for india?

When we can't avoid foreign entanglements, isn't the next best thing to switch back and forth between deadly enemies?

posted by: J Thomas on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

India is a deadly enemy? Seems like we've done a pretty good job of playing one against the other over the years. Needless to say Bush gets little-no credit for bringing Pakistan to heel. Werent we supposed to send 200,000 troops lumbering across the Pakistan border looking for AQ instead of going into Iraq? How would that brilliant foriegn policy (and military) blunder have left southwest asia looking? Seems to me we've got both giant nations with nukes on their best behavior, rapidly rounding up AQ for us. Somehow i dont expect to see raves for that on the cover of the NYT any time soon.

posted by: mark buehner on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

I'm kind of intrigued by the idea of putting together a Russo-Chinese-Indian-Turkish stabilization force. Now, of course, the Iraqis and especially the Islamists and Kurds are going to have virulent objections to this policy. But they have virulent objections to the US presence as well. This could have the added benefit of changing the equation from one of simply the West vs. Islam. Or it could totally backfire.

posted by: praktike on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

I've always thought we should forge a much closer bond with India, simply based on the fact they are the largest functioning democracy in the world, there is an abundance of english speakers, and they have managed democracy in a region, and given an astonishly diverse population, that has not at all been friendly to democratization. All in all, an amazing accomplishment.

I would agree as well that the brainpower that comes from this region is and should also be a significant factor.

In addition, India does act as a future counterweight, if any is needed, to China, or Pakistan.

Lots of reasons folks. Lots of reasons.

posted by: JC on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Whoever said the US has a longstanding alliance with Pakistan against India must have been asleep for over a decade. In the Cold War we did maintain a relationship with Pakistan because of their strategic location wedged between three communist (or quasi-communist, in India's case) Asian giants. But US foreign policy has been tilting toward India since the end of the Cold War, for all the very true geopolitical reasons cited. In fact we only started rebuilding bridges to Pakistan shortly before 9-11, after keeping them on sanctions for several years. Obviously the effort picked up steam quickly after that -- but not to the detriment of India, however they might whine about our friendliness with Pak.

As for Israel and Turkey, you cannot find a country that has been a better friend of those two nations than the United States.

On the whole, Siddarth, you're right that this loose triple-alliance is a rising geopolitical force. But I disagree that the US is chasing the curve. On the contrary, this is an example of the US being ahead of the curve, and again being on the right side of history.

posted by: George on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

The Kurds are not objecting to US presence, BTW.

I am mindful of Kissinger's recent article stressing that nations act on self-interest more than on diplomacy. I don't want to negate the efforts of Foggy Bottom, but am cautious not to overvalue them.

Having Bill Clinton or John Kerry or Reagan or Bush 41 would not have made much difference to France. They would have sorrowfully, rather than angrily told us to take a hike.

posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

France is not an ally. Since 1989, France's grand strategy is to thwart and counter the US hyperpuissance wherever possible. In this century, this strategy is applied to the maximum in the middle east, where the French see huge potential economic gains to be made (note the W Qurna-TOTALFinaElf deal with Saddam in Nov 2002) from opposing the US and very significant domestic costs from siding with the US.

The Atlantic Alliance is dead, folks. Has been since 1991, when the SU collapsed. No point in wasting so many cycles with can't help us, can't hurt us Euros.

Asian Century now. To coin a phrase, let's MoveOn (and look eastward)....

posted by: lex on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

Just by way of clarification, the Jews first arrived in Kerala a long, long time before the 16th century. In fact, they first got to Kerala after the sack of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It is believed they landed in the great port of Muziris (later Cranganore).

Yes, I did live in Cochin for 16 years :)

posted by: Reuben Abraham on 08.10.04 at 02:44 PM [permalink]

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