Foreign Policy Reverberations of the Energy Renaissance

If the reality comes anywhere close to matching the hype, then the speeding of Russia’s national decline and the revival of America’s ideological authority will be among the transformative effects

As an earlier post suggested, the dramatic rise in U.S. natural gas production is one large reason why fears about America’s strategic decline may well be misplaced.  The press is awash with articles about how the domestic abundance of low-cost energy promises significant economic gains.  Fortune magazine carries an essay on how “the coming energy renaissance” will revive the U.S. manufacturing sector, a theme that is echoed in a new Citigroup report.  Tyler Cowen, the economist who in last year’s The Great Stagnation argued that the good times are over, now foresees a coming era of export-based prosperity resulting, in significant part, from lower energy prices.  Philip K. Verleger, Jr., a noted energy expert, anticipates an investment boom that creates millions of jobs across the U.S. economy.

Some commentary has dealt in a glancing way about how energy self-sufficiency will lessen America’s fraught profile in the Middle East and how the possibility of the United States becoming a major gas exporter could transform world energy markets.  But with some exceptions (see here and here), there has been little focus on how America’s pioneering of the shale gas revolution might reshape international politics and the global economy.

The future has a way of making fools of bold prognosticators, but perhaps at this point two tentative propositions can be advanced. Continue reading

Moment is Ripe for Some Creative Thinking on South Asia

The United States should launch a Marshall Plan-like initiative to reinforce economic cooperation between India and Pakistan

The breakdown in U.S.-Pakistan relations over the past year has put in stark relief the two core strategic conundrums Washington has vis-à-vis Islamabad, as well as the integral role India plays in both of them.  The first is to encourage a more constructive Pakistani approach as the political endgame approaches in Afghanistan, which Islamabad regards as a theater for its endemic rivalry with New Delhi.  The second is to steer a nuclear-armed but deeply dysfunctional Pakistan away from failed state status, a harrowing prospect that many believe is all too plausible unless Islamabad is convinced that its prospering neighbor to the East actually represents an economic opportunity rather than an existential threat.

The Obama administration entered office believing that Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan was a function of addressing its acute security anxieties regarding India.  Two weeks before the November 2008 election, Barack Obama declared that resolving the perennially-inflamed dispute over the Kashmir region was one of the “critical tasks” for U.S. foreign policy and worthy of “serious diplomatic resources.”  It was a valid observation but the manner in which Washington pursued it guaranteed a quick failure.  Moves to appoint a turbo-charged envoy (in the person of Richard Holbrooke) with the mandate of mediating the Kashmir issue– similar to U.S. efforts to broker the Middle East peace talks – met with Pakistani approval but proved too much for the sovereignty-conscious Indians to accept.

For the past three years, Washington has struggled to find a way to bring the two sides together and focus them on their common interests.  Fortunately, after a hiatus caused by the 2008 terrorist strikes in Mumbai, the peace dialogue between India and Pakistan has now moved into full gear. The Obama administration would do well to reinforce this promising effort, which if it bears fruit would have a very positive impact on U.S. security interests in the region. Continue reading

Tougher than the Rest?

If history is any guide, Obama is bluffing on Iran

With President Obama describing them as Tehran’s “last chance” for a peaceful resolution, international negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program started up again this past weekend.  Washington has been talking tough with Iran of late, insisting that it is prepared, if necessary, to use military force to stop the country’s atomic ambitions.

But how credible are these threats?  The question is all the more pertinent given the White House’s contention that it is actually pursuing a harder line vis-à-vis North Korea – Iran’s precursor as proliferation rogue – than the George W. Bush administration did.

Yet if the U.S. saga with Pyongyang is any guide, President Obama is more likely to accept a nuclear-armed Iran as a fait accompli.  Indeed, the rhetoric issuing from Washington nowadays is nearly a verbatim copy of the words Obama’s predecessors once directed at North Korea.  And we all know how well that turned out. Continue reading

Bountiful Questions

The curious timing of the bounty on Hafiz Saeed raises the issue of whether U.S. policies toward New Delhi and Islamabad are in sync.

If anything, the $10 million bounty the Obama administration offered last week for information leading to the capture and arrest of Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, a high-profile jihadi leader in Pakistan, is long overdue.  Still, the announcement’s particular timing is curious.

Saeed is a founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, or “Army of the Pious”), one of the world’s largest Islamist terrorist groups, which was originally formed to wreck havoc in India but has now developed global capabilities.  He is widely considered to have masterminded the horrific November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed over 160 civilians, including six Americans.  He has close personal ties with Osama bin Laden that stretch back to the 1980s and LeT has a long history of institutional links with al Qaeda. Continue reading

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to American Decline

What James Cameron and SpaceX tell us about the Future of Global Power

James Cameron’s solo journey into the ocean’s deepest recesses is being hailed as a tale of personal daring and scientific adventure.  But it also holds a lesson relevant to the debate about whether the global hierarchy is being reshuffled and to what consequence.

The debate is propelled, of course, by the meteoric growth of Chinese power, made all the more vivid in recent years by America’s “Great Recession” and military exhaustion in the Greater Middle East.  Martin Wolf at the Financial Times captures the mood when he argues that “we are seeing at least the beginning of the end not just of an illusory ‘unipolar moment’ for the US but of western supremacy, in general, and of Anglo-American power, in particular.”  Philip Stephens, his colleague at the newspaper, concurs, noting that “the march of power from west to east has become the central, unnerving fact of geopolitical life.” Continue reading