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The Atlantic Alliance and the Sino-Islamic Nexus

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The Atlantic Alliance and the Sino-Islamic Nexus:

From the Hindu Kush to the Shores of Tripoli

by Tony Corn

Download the Full Article: The Atlantic Alliance and the Sino-Islamic Nexus

Of all the theses and sub-theses put forward by Samuel Huntington in his seminal article on The Clash of Civilizations (1993), none turned out to be more controversial than his assertion concerning the emergence of a Sino-Islamic nexus based on an "arms-for-oil" quid pro quo, and composed of three core states: China, Pakistan and Iran. Yet, in less than two decades, the Sino-Islamic nexus has both broadened and deepened well beyond anything imagined by Huntington.

The "Chinafrica" phenomenon is but the most recent development. Following the adoption of a new Africa policy in 2006, China has managed in just a few years to overtake both the former colonial powers (Britain and France) and the United States to become Africa's main trading partner.

In 2011, for the first time in history, a Chinese warship entered the Mediterranean - ostensibly to help evacuate 36,000 nationals from Libya. In the not-too-distant future, China may well seek to secure a naval base in Tripoli for the very same reasons that led France in 2009 to secure a naval base in Abu Dhabi. As of this writing, France and Britain are the only two European countries which appear to have realized a) that Beijing's determination to protect its nationals and promote its interests will logically lead China to seek a permanent military presence "West of Suez," and b) that Libya, the country with the largest oil reserves in Africa, happens to be run by a dictator who expressed support for a Sino-Islamic nexus as early as 1994.

With most of Europe asleep at the wheel, NATO's performance in Libya has been so far rather uneven, prompting outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates to warn that the Atlantic Alliance is facing a "dim, if not dismal" future. The danger is that this kind of untimely pronouncement could quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At this particular juncture, U.S. policy-makers ought to realize that what Britain and France need most from America is not military support so much as moral support. Just like President Bush, after the 1991 Gulf War, was able to say, "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all," at the end of the Libyan affair, Britain and France must be in a position to say: "By God, we've kicked the Suez syndrome once and for all."

Though it is too early to say how China will try to take advantage of the "Arab Spring" to extend its reach in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), it is not too early for Washington to launch a strategic communication campaign designed to heighten the situational awareness of the rest of Europe by providing a comprehensive "mapping" of the ever-expanding Sino-Islamic nexus, both functionally and geographically.

For contrary to what many Washington observers seem to believe, the main problem with Europeans these days is neither "military capability" nor "political will" as such but, first and foremost, "geostrategic illiteracy."

Fearful that Asia might experience by 2014 the kind of cataclysm that Europe went through in 1914, the initial reaction of most European allies to America's idea of a Global NATO (first put forward in 2006) was a resounding "no entangling alliance." Yet, if the past five years have shown anything, it is that, irrespective of whether the Western Alliance decides to "move East" or not, an energy-hungry East is increasingly determined to "move West."

The idea, widespread in most European capitals, that Europe could somehow step outside History and just watch from the sidelines as the "Pacific Century" unfolds, is a dangerous illusion. Rather than indulge in half-baked criticisms of NATO's performance in Afghanistan, the Pentagon ought to highlight instead this fundamental fact of life: Europe may not be a priori interested in a Global NATO, but Global China is increasingly interested in Europe's own backyard.

Download the Full Article: The Atlantic Alliance and the Sino-Islamic Nexus

Dr. Tony Corn taught European Studies at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute and worked in public diplomacy in Brussels and Washington. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of State.

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Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 07/11/2011 - 3:46am

One advantage of an Islamic nexus (if you can even call it that)... it may help China appease to the Ughuirs (sp?).

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 07/09/2011 - 11:18pm

Thank you for this interesting "thought" piece, Dr. Corn. I very much enjoyed reading it.

While I share some of the skepticism of the other commenters, I'm not entirely dismissive, either.

First, relations of convenience sometimes lead to unintended negative consequences. Note the following, which I've linked elsewhere:

<em>The interests that propelled Beijing to assist Pakistan's nuclear program became competitive, during the 1980s and 1990s, with other sets of interests pushing for a stronger Chinese role in global nuclear nonproliferation efforts. While reports of Beijing's transfer of nuclear weapons designs and sensitive technologies circulated, the two governments signed a nuclear cooperation agreement and conducted negotiations over the sale of Chinese nuclear reactors. At the same time, Beijing became a full member of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, joining the International Atomic Energy Authority in 1984 and signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1992 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1995. Moreover, China began to work closely with Washington and other powers in trying to curb the North Korean nuclear program and in restricting trade in sensitive nuclear technology. As China's market economy developed greater complexity, central authorities could not always control events, which is what may happened when a Chinese firm sold ring magnets used for the production of highly enriched uranium to Pakistan in 1995. (Note 5)</em>

So the pursuit of narrow strategic goals may have have created other problems, just as our previous narrow strategic goals have created problems in West and South Asia. We didn't intend for some things to happen, but happen they did. So why so dimissive? We can't know the future with certainty.

Second, there is considerable secrecy surrounding relations between China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. Just as we have secrets, so do others.

The secrets make it hard to assess what is going on and how to think about things.

So while I won't presume to tell Europeans <em>et al</em> what their interests should be, I suppose it wouldn't hurt for us Americans to keep an eye on developments and to share concerns with allies in a spirit of mutual respect.

(In the past, in comments here, I've made a bit of fun of Huntington, and then, promptly contradicted myself by talking about a partial "etente" between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China. Even if merely energy related, won't it have consequences for American security? Resource competition and monies diverted in curious and potentially harmful ways....supporting various radicalisms and the like).

This post also made me think of Yossef Bodansky (Hand on heart, I "riffed" the etente thing before I ever read Bodanksy):

<em>Pakistan's contributions to the nuclear programs of the Islamic Republic of Iran date back to the early 1980s. In 1984, for example, a Nuclear Research Institute was opened in Isfahan with technical assistance from France and Pakistan. In February 1986, Pakistan offered to train Iranian nuclear scientists in return for financial support for Pakistan's own nuclear program. The Iranians were trained on Chinese equipment. Subsequently, in June 1990, Tehran signed a contract with the PRC for the supply of another reactor for the Isfahan Nuclear Research Institute. The Isfahan institute opened the door to Iran's short-cut to the production of its own bomb.

Meanwhile, Dr. Abdus Qadir Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, attended a high level meeting of Iran's leading nuclear scientists held in the Amir Kabir College in January 1987. He visited both Tehran and Bushehr to assess the Iranian nuclear potential and discuss future cooperation with the Iranian leadership. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president, also took part in the conference. Soon afterwards, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement on technical cooperation in military nuclear fields. Two senior Iranian scientists, Sayyid Reza and Hadi Rambashahr, went to Kahuta. They were later joined there by few Iranians and began organizing a training program. Within a year, 31 Iranian nuclear specialists were sent to Pakistan, mainly Kahuta, to join this program and receive advance training. These Iranians are involved in several key aspects of weapon building including Uranium enrichment and Plutonium extraction.</em>

For discussion purposes only, because I have no idea of the accuracy of any of these things. So much is secretive and classified, how are we to be sure?

If you apply the same analyses to US relations with the Islamic world (economic ties, diplomatic ties, military basing, etc) I suspect we'd find that the "US-Islamic nexus" is far more advanced than the rather hypothetical "Sino-Islamic nexus".

Rex Brynen

Thu, 06/30/2011 - 10:46pm

There's no Sino-Islamic Nexus. China has relations of convenience (not deep strategic ties) with a number of countries, some of whom happen to be Muslim-majority. It is only natural that it would send a naval ship to the Med during the Libya crisis, but that hardly represents any sort of geostrategic threat to Europe. In his comments above, Peter has called it correctly in what Europe's priority concerns are.


Thu, 06/30/2011 - 10:57am

Geez. There's still controversy over whether the Chinese will seek basing in the Indian Ocean and surrounds. Gwadar is pointed to, but not really a viable military base anytime in the near future and China came out to refute Pakistan's claim that they had discussed basing there. For right now, they're happy with port visits at places like Salalah. Extending their reach into the IO makes sense: oil and trade routes to the Gulf and Africa. I think that worrying about basing in the Med is a red herring. NATO needs to worry more about whether the Euro implodes and what that means for stability on the continent first, then the North Africa bit. Sorry, but the US is still the only global superpower and that means we need to worry about China because no one else really will and this argument will be seen as false in Europe.