Why the Chinese Will Win in Afghanistan

The debate in Washington over Afghanistan is sustained by the familiar dichotomy of troop increases versus withdrawals, targeted counterinsurgency tactics versus nation building. Underlying it all is the remarkably durable ideological framework according to which all American wars are either World War II redux or Vietnam all over again. But, what if the question of whether the U.S. wins or loses is almost besides the point? Robert Kaplan raises the question: is China the inevitable winner from the war in Afghanistan?

IN Afghanistan’s Logar Province, just south of Kabul, the geopolitical future of Asia is becoming apparent: American troops are providing security for a Chinese state-owned company to exploit the Aynak copper reserves, which are worth tens of billions of dollars. While some of America’s NATO allies want to do as little as possible in the effort to stabilize Afghanistan, China has its eyes on some of world’s last untapped deposits of copper, iron, gold, uranium and precious gems, and is willing to take big risks in one of the most violent countries to secure them.

In fact, this is a growing trend in those countries lucky enough to have been recently subject to U.S. cruise missiles. The pattern is clear: country X is bombed into submission, which subsequently leads to a regime change, and finally, the new government proceeds to signs massive deals with our major geopolitical rivals China and Russia.

In 1999 the Clinton Administration waged a war against Milosevic's Serbia, ostensibly in defense of the Kosovar Albanians. Over a year later, following claims of fraud in federal elections, Milosevic was peacefully overthrown, and the new regime announced it's intentions to join the European Union. The stage was set for a new era of pro-Western good feelings, and American-led corporate domination. Instead, Russia's state-owned behemoth Gazprom proceeded to buy up Serbia's gas and oil interests: essentially the country's energy sector has been annexed by Moscow. And with the current economic crisis having hit the Balkans hard, the Serbian government has most recently negotiated two separate billion dollar loans with both Russia and China. Somehow, against all the odds China, whose embassy was notoriously bombed during the Kosovo War, is reaping the benefits from America's role in that conflict.

The same story has repeated itself in Iraq. After more than a decade of obsessing over the country, the U.S. invaded and toppled Saddam's Baathist regime in 2003. Famously, while an anarchy of looting descended upon Baghdad after the initial U.S. victory, American troops were tasked with defending one particular government building: the oil ministry. The move quickly became a symbol for the mercenary motives that drove the war, and seemed to lend credence to the slogans of protesters the world over. So, today, with the apparent triumph of the Surge and the quelling of the Sunni insurgency, have American companies come to monopolize Iraq's oilfields? Well, not quite. Once again, the Chinese have made a vigorous play for a market newly opened by the American military: their largest state owned oil company CNPC just signed an initial agreement along with the British BP to develop the oil fields of Rumaila. In other words, the largest oil field in Iraq is now part owned by the Chinese. Another major Chinese company, Sinopec, is currently involved in a dispute with the Iraqi government over the Taq oil field in Kurdistan, but at the moment they too stand to profit indirectly from the American invasion.

So, the fact that this pattern is reemerging in Afghanistan should hardly qualify as a shocking development. On the contrary, what's surprising is that both parties in Washington still seem so committed to a militaristic foreign policy that seems, on a strict cost-benefit analysis, only to significantly benefit a small number of U.S. corporations - most notably, our military contractors. As a general rule then, whenever the U.S. topples a Third World dictator, while red and blue state patriots alike stand united in support of their commander-in-chief, we can assume that American troops will unwittingly end up defending the interests of state owned companies from Russia and China.

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