U.S. Geopolitics: Afghanistan and the Containment of China

U.S. Geopolitics: Afghanistan and the Containment of China

Joseph E. Fallon

Preface

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is an example of a great power fighting a guerrilla war in pursuit of geopolitical objectives greater than simply the defeat of a local insurgency.  It is the return of “The Great Game”, where the U.S. and its rivals, Russia and China, seek influence in Afghanistan as a means of securing the resources of Central Asia in particular, petroleum and pipelines. If the U.S. wins, Russia and China remain lesser powers. If Russia or China wins, the U.S. confronts a formidable rival with potential to disrupt the projection of American power.  This article will focus on one rival, China. First, it will discuss the U.S. conception of geopolitics emphasizing the importance of the work of Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski [i].  Second, it will examine key U.S. objectives in Afghanistan. Third, it will analyze the principle instruments pursued by the U.S. to contain China.  Fourth, it will assess China’s counter moves.  Fifth, it will conclude with an evaluation of U.S. policy in both the short-term and the long-term.   

U.S. Foreign Policy and Geopolitics

Geopolitics has been defined as: “The study of geographic influences on power relationships in international politics.” [ii] Its maxim is the words of Sir Halford John Mackinder, founding father of geopolitics and geostrategy:

"Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;

who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;

who rules the World-Island controls the world." [iii]

The “Heartland” is Eurasia; the “World-Island” consists of Eurasia and Africa. If a country can control Eurasia its political and military position is essentially unassailable because geography precludes rivals. 

With the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. adopted as its foreign policy the containment of the USSR as advocated by George F. Kennan, chief of the U.S. mission in Moscow.  Geopolitics was a foundation for this policy, but with a twist on Mackinder.  The Soviets already ruled East Europe and had command of the Heartland. The goal was to contain Moscow to the Heartland in order to defeat it by economic attrition.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resulting instability and vulnerability of former Soviet republics in Transcaucasus and Central Asia, the impact of geopolitics on U.S. foreign policy became stronger. There was a return to Mackinder’s emphasis on the control of Eurasia. 

In 1992, the Pentagon stated clearly and concisely what the new U.S. foreign policy goal in Eurasia would be. “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a rival that poses a threat on the territory of the former Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration…and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power…Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”  [iv]

This neo-Mackinder strategy was more fully developed by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. "FOR AMERICA, THE CHIEF geopolitical prize is Eurasia…how America 'manages' Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world's three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa's subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world's central continent. About 75 per cent of the world's people live in Eurasia, and most of the world's physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for about three-fourths of the world's known energy resources…[v] It follows that America's primary interest is to help ensure that no single power comes to control this geopolitical space and that the global community has unhindered financial and economic access to it…[vi] The most immediate task is to make certain that no state or combination of states gains the capacity to expel the United States from Eurasia or even to diminish significantly its decisive arbitrating role.”   [vii]

On 7 October 2001, the U.S. launched Operation Enduring Freedom and invaded Afghanistan, with coalition partners, to topple the Taliban regime and prevent the country from serving as a sanctuary for al-Qaeda. The occupation of Afghanistan placed Washington in a position to pursue Dr. Brzezinski’s geostrategic imperative of “managing” Eurasia.  But with a difference.  Instead of a “cooperative relationship” with China, the emphasis is on containment of China. 

U.S. Objectives in Afghanistan

Removing the Taliban from power and expelling al-Qaeda from the country was the immediate goal in the campaign to defeat terrorism. Part of that campaign has been suppression of opium production. Afghanistan produces over 90% of the world’s non-pharmaceutical-grade opium. [viii] It is also the world's largest producer of hashish. [ix] Profits from the selling of these drugs was and remains an important source of funding for terrorists.

The Geopolitical objectives enunciated by the Pentagon and Dr. Brzezinski center on control of the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia to prevent the rise of regional hegemons like Russia or China.

The natural resources of Afghanistan include oil, gas, copper, cobalt, gold, lithium, and other untapped mineral deposits that have an estimated combine worth in excess of a trillion dollars. [x] Among the most strategic of these minerals are Rare Earth Metals, which are indispensable to modern technology. They are needed in manufacturing cell phones, laptops, compact disks, flat screen display monitors, rechargeable batteries, catalytic converter, hybrid cars, and solar panels, to name a few items.  [xi]

The principle resources of Central Asia are oil, gas, and pipelines. 

U.S. Instruments to Contain China

To prevent the rise of China as a regional hegemon, the U.S. has pursued three courses of action involving Rare Earth Metals, pipelines, and alliances. 

  1. China has the world’s largest reserve of Rare Earth Metals and controls 97 percent of the world’s supply. If preliminary estimates are correct, Afghanistan has the world’s sixth largest reserve of these metals. [xii] By Washington effectively controlling this alternative source, the U.S. and the rest of the industrialized world would be less dependent on China. It would strengthen the geopolitical position of Washington while simultaneously weakening that of Beijing.
  1. China’s growing economy needs access to the oil and gas reserves of Central Asia, which requires unfettered use of the oil and gas pipelines.  Dr. Brzezinski advocated the US geopolitical objective in Central Asia be the control of those pipelines. “Thus, at stake in this conundrum are geopolitical power, [and] access to potentially great wealth…Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, access to the region was monopolized by Moscow. All rail transport, gas and oil pipelines, and even air travel were channeled through the center. Russian geopoliticians would prefer it to remain so, since they know that whoever either controls or dominates access to the region is the one most likely to win the geopolitical and economic prize.” [xiii] The prize is Eurasia.  As Dr. Brzezinski noted “The momentum of Asia's economic development is already generating massive pressures for the exploration and exploitation of new sources of energy and the Central Asian region and the Caspian Sea basin are known to contain reserves of natural gas and oil that dwarf those of Kuwait, the Gulf of Mexico, or the North Sea." [xiv] Limit China’s access to those reserves and pipelines and China’s economic growth is restricted. If China’s economic growth is restricted, Beijing lacks the financing to modernize and expand her military capabilities. Without increased economic and military power, China lacks the ability to project political influence. It is, thereby, prevented from emerging as a regional hegemon.
  1. To limit China’s growing political influence and economic power in the region, the U.S. promotes alliances having the dual purpose of containment and balance of power.  The containment strategy as the first map shows [xv] consists of a series of “alliances” between the U.S. and countries bordering China stretching in a southern arc from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia to South Asia to Central Asia.  Building on existing Cold War treaties between the U.S. and its traditional allies, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, Washington has expanded this “alliance” to include Afghanistan and former adversary, Vietnam. Based on shared concerns over Chinese power and intentions, the U.S. seeks to include in this “coalition” Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The balance of power strategy rests on supporting India, a multi-party democracy pursuing free market economics, as the alternative model to China for Asia’s economic development. Only India has the territorial and population size and economic potential to be China’s rival. It is assumed there will be a natural evolution in Indian foreign policy as the country’s economy grows so will its political aspirations. Fueled by ongoing friction in Indian-Chinese relations over border disputes, China’s support of Pakistan, and India’s “support” of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. 

China’s Counter Moves

  1. Until the Rare Earth Metals in Afghanistan can be commercially extracted, China retains a monopoly of this strategic resource.
  1. Through existing and proposed extensions of Kazakh and Russian pipelines, which are outside of the control of the U.S., China’s energy needs continue to be met - for now. 
  1. China’s oil imports come by sea as well as by land.  To protect these shipping lanes, China has established bases in the Indian Ocean referred to as the “String of Pearls”.  As the second map shows [xvi] these naval facilities stretching from Pakistan  to Maldives to Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to Burma to Thailand and the roads built or being built to connect China to Pakistan, Burma, and Bangladesh completely encircle India. Together, they constitute China’s containment policy of India.  In a game of chess, India has been checkmated. The Chinese followed the advice of their famous military strategist and tactician, Sun Tzu, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

An Evaluation of U.S. Policy in Both the Short-term and the Long-term

In the short term, U.S. policy seeking to prevent China from becoming a regional hegemon has not been successful. China is not yet a hegemon, but its economic power and influence continues to grow and the potential for China emerging as one still exists. 

In the long term, however, this U.S. objective may be realized, not by the success of current policy, but from the unintended consequences of China’s new economy. China’s economic strength is impressive. It has emerged as the world’s second largest economy after the U.S. One of the fastest growing economies, over the last three decades China averaged an annual growth rate of 10 percent. It is now the world’s largest exporter and the world’s second largest importer. The engine driving this economic growth, however, has largely been just one region, China’s southern coast. The consequences of this pose a danger not just to China’s future economic stability, but to its continued territorial integrity. Growing economic disparity between coast and interior can ignite social unrest.  An estimated 250 million migrant workers and their dependents from the interior have flooded the rich, coastal cities.[xvii] Of a labor force estimated at 800 million roughly half are employed in state owned enterprises. [xviii]  Many of these state owned enterprises are non-productive. If Beijing does not phase out government subsidies to such industries, there will be an economic crisis. If Beijing does phase out subsidies, allowing many to fail, and even a fraction of those 300-400 million workers become unemployed, China may erupt in a social revolution. 

The objective for Beijing is to prevent such social and economic problems from aggravating the ethnic minorities’ issue. Officially, there are 55 ethnic minorities in China, including Hui, Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Zhuangs. They constitute 8 percent of the total population, but occupy 60 percent of the territory. [xix] The existential threat to the Chinese state posed by the ethnic minorities’ issue, however, resides within the ethnic “Chinese” majority. 

China’s fear is replicating the fall of the Soviet Union.  When its borderlands, Central Asia and Transcaucasus, were lost, the Russian core shattered into three states: Byelorussia, Ukraine, and Russia. Should China loses its borderlands, Tibet and Xinjiang, the Chinese core may similarly shatter. 

The Chinese core consists of Han or ethnic Chinese. It constitutes approximately 92 percent of the country’s population and numbers 1.2 billion. But the term is an artificial concept since it incorporates two distinct geographic, historic, and ethno-linguistic communities, North and South “Chinese”. Of the 1.2 billion Han, over 300 million, nearly a third of the total, are South “Chinese”, as shown in the third map.[xx]  While their region drives China’s economy, they speak eight languages, mutually unintelligible to the Mandarin language spoken by the North.

In the past, these ethno-linguistic differences, which are reinforced by geographic boundaries, have led to the emergence of separate northern and southern states. This occurred in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, and 12th centuries.  Because it has not re-occurred in eight centuries, does not preclude the possibility of it re-occurring in the future as the fate of Russia with the fall of the Soviet Union demonstrated.  Should economic downturn and social unrest weaken the grip of China’s Communist Party and the state fragments, South China has the necessary economic, physical, and demographic resources to be a viable independent country, like Ukraine.  Neither South China, nor North China would possess the ability to become a regional hegemon.  And the U.S. geopolitical objective of preventing China from being able to dominate Eurasia would be accomplished.

End Notes

[i] Dr. Brzezinski was United States National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter and currently is the Robert E. Osgood Professor of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies

[ii] www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/geopolitics

 [iii] Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction  (1919)  by Halford John Mackinder, p. 194 http://archive.org/stream/democraticideals00mackiala#page/194/mode/2up

[iv] Revisiting the Pivot: The Influence of Heartland Theory in Great Power Politics

http://www.creighton.edu/fileadmin/user/CCAS/departments/PoliticalScience/MVJ/docs/The_Pivot_-_Alcenat_and_Scott.pdf

[v] The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. p. 17

http://www.scribd.com/doc/71414257/Zbigniew-Brzezinski-The-Grand-Chessboard#page=4

[vi] Ibid. p. 76

[vii] Ibid. p. 101

[viii] Interpol: Drugs Sub-Directorate: Heroin". Interpol. 2007. 

[ix] "UN: Afghanistan is leading hashish producer". Fox News. 2010-03-31.

[x] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18882996

[xi] http://www.ggg.gl/rare-earth-elements/rare-earth-elements-applications/

[xii] http://www.livescience.com/16315-rare-earth-elements-afghanistan.html

[xiii] The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives. p. 71

http://www.scribd.com/doc/71414257/Zbigniew-Brzezinski-The-Grand-Chessboard#page=4

[xiv] The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, Basic Books,1998, p.125

[xv] http://temi.repubblica.it/UserFiles/limes-heartland/Image/Maps/map_america_china.jpg

[xvi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Collardeperlaschino.png

[xvii] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ch.html

[xviii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China#State-owned_enterprises

[xix] http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=192&subcatid=29

[xx] http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/china_ling_90.jpg

 

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Comments

I wish to thank Small Wars Journal for publishing my article, “U.S. Geopolitics: Afghanistan and the Containment of China”. Submission of additional articles will be forthcoming. Preoccupation with other work has prevented me until now from reading and responding to the embarrassingly ignorant comments posted by RTurnbull and Dayuhan. Let’s review them.

Dayuhan wrote: “First of all, China does not have anything even vaguely resembling a "monopoly" of rare earth reserves.” I never wrote that it did. I wrote “China has the world’s largest reserve of Rare Earth Metals and controls 97 percent of the world’s supply…Until the Rare Earth Metals in Afghanistan can be commercially extracted, China retains a monopoly of this strategic resource”. Then RTurnbull wrote; “As reader Dayuhan stated, the reason China controls rare earths today has to do with pricing not reserves.” So the latter’s “proof” is the former’s misstatement. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny. The fact is China, as I wrote, has the largest reserve of rare earth metals. I provided citation in footnote number 12, which they have chosen to ignore. Assuming they even read it. But here is another reference. “According to estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, worldwide reserves of rare earth are approximately 110 million metric tons. Most of these reserves are located within China, and are estimated at some 55 million metric tons.”
http://www.statista.com/statistics/217157/rare-earth-reserves-worldwide-...
It has the chart, “Rare earth reserves worldwide in 2012, by country (in 1,000 metric tons REO)”.

RTurnbull wrote: “The basic premise that a US goal in Afghanistan was to gain "control of the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia to prevent the rise of regional hegemons like Russia or China" is not supported by a single fact of the last 12 years of US involvement in Afghanistan.”

These facts are presented on the very first page of my article, excerpted from the 1992 Pentagon Report written a year after the fall of the Soviet Union and nearly ten years before the US led Allied invasion of Afghanistan.

I am not sure what is more remarkable RTurnbull denying the existence of facts presented on page one of an article the individual allegedly read or admitting such fundamental ignorance of US foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan.

Let me provide additional facts.

These facts also apply to Dayuhan assertions: “Afghanistan has little or no relevance to the politics of pipelines.” And “Afghanistan is a backwater… It is simply not some vital geo-strategic territory.”

“The U.S. has its own geopolitical strategies in Asia, and Afghanistan is a key part of those strategies. U.S. motivations in the region are complex, but the issue of establishing Afghanistan as an energy bridge underlies its ambitions.”

“Richard Boucher, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, said in September 2007: “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south…and so that the countries of Central Asia are no longer bottled up between two enormous powers of China and Russia”

“U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, co-chair of the blue-ribbon Afghanistan Study Group in Washington, D.C.4 Interviewed on CBC’s As It Happens (January 30, 2008), he said: “Afghanistan is of strategic importance, a failed state in the middle of a delicate and sensitive region that borders on a number of producers of critical energy.”
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publication...

“Our strategy rests on three integrated pillars: security cooperation; our commercial and energy interests; and political and economic reform…
We support establishing multiple, commercially viable pipelines and other new energy transportation routes, because the United States believes that diversification of energy transport routes to and from Central Asia increases stability and energy security, not just regionally but throughout the world…
As we pursue our security interests, commercial and energy interests, and democratic and market reform simultaneously, Central Asia can re-establish itself as a commercial and cultural crossroads with greater links to South Asia. Our support to this region is a key ingredient to Afghanistan’s stability as well, as to our own security.”
Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, testified before the House of Representatives, April 26, 2006
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060426_3...
pp. 3, 6, 9.

“Despite the many differences among these countries, there are some unifying themes of strategic importance to the United States Government:
• Central Asia’s strategic location, between South Asia, China, Russia, and Iran, ensures that its importance will continue to grow in the years ahead…
• Central Asia is a critical source of energy…”
Drew W. Lutan, Acting Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, U.S. Agency for International Development, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, April 26, 2006
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060426_3...
p. 12.

“Our policy is to help create a Central Asian region comprised of independent, sovereign pluralistic states that are territorially secure, free from external political domination, and economically engaged with international markets.”
James MacDougall, Deputy Assistant Secretary. Department of Defense, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, April 26, 2006
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/congress/2006_hr/060426_3...
p. 23.

“Congress makes the following findings:
(1) The economic and political stability of the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus has a direct impact on United States interests.
(2) Stability, democratic development, protection of property rights, including mineral rights, and rule of law in countries with valuable energy resources and infrastructure, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, are important to safeguard United States energy security.
(3) Preventing any other country from establishing a monopoly on energy resources or energy transport infrastructure in the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus that may restrict United States access to energy resources is important to the energy security of the United States and other consumers of energy in the developed and developing world.
Sec. 202. United States Interests in the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, S. 2749 (109th): Silk Road Strategy Act of 2006.
http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/s2749/text

“The United States has a number of motivations for maintaining some form of military basing capability in the Central Asia region. In addition to the clearly articulated need to have locations closer to areas of future threats, there is no doubt that such a presence also offers opportunities to balance Russian influence in the region (which is particularly welcomed by Uzbekistan), to assert U.S. “claims” to valuable energy resources in these countries, and to diversify reliance on traditional basing partners in Western Europe and Asia.”
Susan L. Clark-Sestak, “U.S. Bases in Central Asia”, Institute for Defense Analysis, September 2003.
handle.dtic.mil/100.2/ADA419977

RTurnbull wrote: “The primary US policy goal today is to get out as quickly as we can, hopefully leaving a stable Afghan government behind--but we're getting out either way.”

“Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher admits the U.S. has a “fundamental strategic interest” in Afghanistan “as a conduit and hub for energy, ideas, people, trade, goods from Central Asia and other places down to the Arabian Sea.” He predicts the U.S. will be there for a long time.”
http://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publication...

RTurnbull wrote: “As far as I know, not a single US company is involved in mineral or gas extraction in Afghanistan.”

“A team of bankers starts to tap the country's vast mineral riches, with help from the Pentagon …Bankers from Morgan Stanley (MS) and executives from Chevron (CVX) have been scouting Afghan natural-resource prospects.”
http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/05/11/jp-morgan-hunt-afghan-gold/

Dayuhan wrote: “Afghanistan is a landlocked nation with minimal transport and power infrastructure, and the only investors likely to see any profit in trying to exploit these deposits are Chinese. Western companies won't want to touch them.”

“The UK goes after a piece of the Afghan $1 trillion mining pie”
http://www.mining.com/the-uk-goes-after-a-piece-of-the-afghan-1-trillion...

“Canadian Mining Companies Make the Big Move into Afghanistan”
http://globalresearch.ca/canadian-mining-companies-make-the-big-move-int...

Dayuhan also added: “Most of the minerals involved are not particularly rare.”

“The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan …The previously unknown deposits - including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium - are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/asia/14minerals.html?_r=1&pagewa...

RTurnbull wrote: “The US certainly doesn’t “effectively control” Afghanistan’s natural resources, including its rare earth deposits, as the author posits.” I never wrote that it did.

RTurnbull wrote: "In a game of chess, India has been checkmated"? Really? What economic, demographic, and geopolitical facts support this assertion?”

Dayuhan wrote: The "string of pearls" bases "checkmating" India... really? What's the actual capacity of these facilities? What forces are based there? Can they really threaten India, or could India, especially with allies, threaten them?”

My statement is based on the text to the accompanying maps in the article you both allegedly read. “Competition in the Indian Ocean” complemented by “How America wants to check China’s expansion” depict a series of Chinese land and naval bases surrounding India, Chinese political and economic influences in states bordering India, and roads from China to those states, realizing the dictum of Sun Tzu, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”, which amounts to a checkmate.

Let’s review what has been written on aspects of this strategy, naval bases and bilateral relations. “After Myanmar and Bangladesh, to complete the "arc of influence" in South Asia, China is determined to enhance military and economic cooperation with the Maldives and Sri Lanka. China's ambition to build a naval base at Marao in the Maldives, its recent entry into the oil exploration business in Sri Lanka, the development of port and bunker facilities at Hambantota, the strengthening military cooperation and boosting bilateral trade with Colombo, are all against Indian interests and ambitions in the region.

Although China claims that its bases are only for securing energy supplies to feed its growing economy, the Chinese base in the Maldives is motivated by Beijing's determination to contain and encircle India and thereby limit the growing influence of the Indian Navy in the region.

Recently, Sri Lanka allocated an exploration block in the Mannar Basin to China for petroleum exploration. This allocation would connote a Chinese presence just a few miles from India's southern tip, thus causing strategic discomfort.

The Chinese presence in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) would be another vital element in its strategic circle already enhanced through its projects in Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.”
http://www.worldpress.org/Asia/2908.cfm

RTurnbull wrote: “US strategies vis-à-vis natural resources, if one can call them strategies, are steered by capital markets, not grand strategy.” Not in Central Asia.

Again, the 1992 Pentagon Report on US Foreign Policy objectives in Central Asia quoted on page one, “Our first objective is to prevent the reemergence of a rival that poses a threat on the territory of the former Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration…and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power…Our strategy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

RTurnbull wrote: “the “idea of China” is hardly ready to crumble ala the USSR.”

I never wrote it was. What I wrote, was “The engine driving this economic growth, however, has largely been just one region, China’s southern coast. The consequences of this pose a danger not just to China’s future economic stability, but to its continued territorial integrity. Growing economic disparity between coast and interior can ignite social unrest. An estimated 250 million migrant workers and their dependents from the interior have flooded the rich, coastal cities. Of a labor force estimated at 800 million roughly half are employed in state owned enterprises. Many of these state owned enterprises are non-productive. If Beijing does not phase out government subsidies to such industries, there will be an economic crisis. If Beijing does phase out subsidies, allowing many to fail, and even a fraction of those 300-400 million workers become unemployed, China may erupt in a social revolution. The objective for Beijing is to prevent such social and economic problems from aggravating the ethnic minorities’ issue…In the past, these ethno-linguistic differences, which are reinforced by geographic boundaries, have led to the emergence of separate northern and southern states. This occurred in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 10th, and 12th centuries. Because it has not re-occurred in eight centuries, does not preclude the possibility of it re-occurring in the future as the fate of Russia with the fall of the Soviet Union demonstrated.”

I appreciate this opportunity to correct the inaccuracies of RTurnbull and Dayuhan. And look forward to doing so in the future.

As readers dmh73 and Dayuhan said, there's much wrong with this article. The basic premise that a US goal in Afghanistan was to gain "control of the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia to prevent the rise of regional hegemons like Russia or China" is not supported by a single fact of the last 12 years of US involvement in Afghanistan. I seriously doubt anyone even thought of China when OEF was being planned. If the author's assessment of US objectives is accurate, then we've failed miserably. The only large-scale mining project in Afghanistan today is the Aynak copper mine for which a Chinese corporation was awarded a 30 year lease on the mine. China is also developing a railway in Afghanistan to aid in extraction of natural resources from Afghanistan. As far as I know, not a single US company is involved in mineral or gas extraction in Afghanistan. The US certainly doesn’t “effectively control” Afghanistan’s natural resources, including its rare earth deposits, as the author posits. The primary US policy goal today is to get out as quickly as we can, hopefully leaving a stable Afghan government behind--but we're getting out either way. Assuming the US and Afghanistan actually sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the small number of US troops that stay behind will hardly be a threat to China. The author further states "In a game of chess, India has been checkmated"? Really? What economic, demographic, and geopolitical facts support this assertion? If the author wanted to use the analogy of a game for China, he should have used Go, or weiqi, rather than chess. (The author may find David Lai’s “Learning from the Stones: A Go Approach to Mastering China’s Strategic Concept, Shi” interesting) The author asserts that “China’s fear is replicating the fall of the Soviet Union” but doesn’t support this statement. China and the USSR are/were both large nations controlled by a Communist Party but the similarities mostly stop there. China does have many challenges including issues with some of its minority groups but the “idea of China” is hardly ready to crumble ala the USSR. Finally, the author implies that the US has actively pursued some sort of grand strategy based on controlling natural resources. US strategies vis-à-vis natural resources, if one can call them strategies, are steered by capital markets, not grand strategy. As reader Dayuhan stated, the reason China controls rare earths today has to do with pricing not reserves. There is evidence that China, in contrast to the US, is actively pursuing a long-term natural resource strategy as Chinese companies, many with ties to the Chinese state, are busily securing long-term leases for natural resources around the world, including in Africa and South America. Some might call this “being prudent”.

There's so much wrong here that it's hard to know where to begin.

First of all, China does not have anything even vaguely resembling a "monopoly" of rare earth reserves. China has developed a near-monopoly on production, not because other countries don't have reserves, but because they produced the materials at a price nobody could match and drove other producers out of business. Now that China has shown the intent and capacity to constrain production, new capacity is opening up or being re-opened in multiple locations. There is significant concern over the time these developments will take, but given Afghanistan's monumental security and governance constraints and the near total aversion to investment, it is very unlikely that Afghanistan will provide more than a very minor contribution to this effort. Certainly it is not in any way critical.

Some years ago, at a point when there was a bit of a struggle to pretend that Afghanistan was significant (remember the "New Silk Road"?) there was much talk of vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan, and there is no doubt that there are significant deposits. Most of the minerals involved are not particularly rare. Afghanistan is a landlocked nation with minimal transport and power infrastructure, and the only investors likely to see any profit in trying to exploit these deposits are Chinese. Western companies won't want to touch them. How would they get the output to market? Who would want to invest in mining and refining capacity in Afghanistan, given the extremely high CAPEX requirements, the long recovery horizon, and the extreme instability?

Afghanistan has little or no relevance to the politics of pipelines. China is already happily building pipelines from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to bring in Central Asia, and planning a pipeline from Gwadar through Pakistan to deliver product from Iran, and potentially to deliver Gulf imports without passing through the SE Asian straits. They do not need Afghanistan. In theory US forces based in Afghanistan could shut these pipelines down, but there's no indication at all that the US intends to keep long term facilities in Afghanistan, or that the US needs a lasting presence in Afghanistan to threaten these facilities.

The "string of pearls" bases "checkmating" India... really? What's the actual capacity of these facilities? What forces are based there? Can they really threaten India, or could India, especially with allies, threaten them?

Afghanistan is a backwater. If it wasn't for 9/11 we'd never have gone near the place, and we can't wait to get out. When we leave it will be a backwater again. It is simply not some vital geo-strategic territory. It doesn't matter. The Chinese don't want it either; why would they want a headache of such dimensions? There is nothing there but trouble.