Containing China is the key to US foreign policy in the region. The Bush Administration has declared the country a 'strategic competitor', a description difficult to reconcile with China's military budget when compared with that of the US. Though China's 2002-03 military budget of $3.04 billion is 17.6-per-cent higher than that of the previous year, this is still a fraction of the US 2001 defence budget of $344 billion. While the US overestimates China's military capacity, China sees itself as threatened by aggressive US foreign policy.
China is particularly concerned about the concentration of National Missile Defense systems (NMD - see box) that could soon be built around it. The Chinese Government sees NMD as an attempt to isolate the country within Asia, a fear fuelled by the fact that the Bush Administration has encouraged some of China's traditional enemies - Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and even Russia - to be involved in the construction of the system. China has made it clear that it will not be intimidated by Bush's plans for NMD. As a consequence, the US believes China may increase its missile build-up in a defiant response.
National Missile Defense (NMD)
'A GROWING US policy is to engage with countries which have unresolved disputes with China so as to contain China,' says Bharat Karnead, strategic-affairs expert with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, India. This is a factor in the turnaround of US support for Pakistan since 11 September. Pakistan, traditionally an ally of China, was condemned by the US in 1990 when it was discovered to be developing nuclear missiles. But on 14 September 2001 Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf went from pariah to hero when he pledged total support for a US-led multinational force into Afghanistan. The US has lifted sanctions on Pakistan, which should mean that direct sales of arms can now take place.
The US is also, however, now attempting to deal evenhandedly with India in the dispute over Kashmir. As a consequence the US now proposes to grant Pakistan and India $52 million each for military training, services and equipment in 2002.
Nevertheless, US activity in the region weighs heavily on both countries. Peace activists say that if the US positions its National Missile Defense Systems near China as planned then China will respond by increasing its nuclear capability. This will provoke India to increase its nuclearweapon capability, which in turn will stimulate Pakistan to match India. The net effect will be that without a bomb being dropped three of the world's most populous countries will divert state funding needed for rural development, water, food and health into arms stockpiling instead, propelling their people deeper into poverty.
Send in someone else's troops.
Although President Bush identified North Korea - China's neighbour to the north - as a member of an 'axis of evil' in January this year, the North Korean Government has been on the US State Department's list of nations that sponsor terrorism since 1988 when North Koreans allegedly blew up a South Korean Airliner killing 115 civilians. Inclusion on this list has prevented North Korea's bankrupt economy from obtaining monetary support from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The toll of North Koreans who have starved to death as a result of famine and drought is conservatively estimated at a million. Despite this, the 'war on terror' has meant cutbacks in the food relief entering the country from Japan and the US.
In the aftermath of 11 September the North Korean Government joined worldwide condemnations of terrorism and has subsequently pledged to sign two UN-sponsored anti-terrorism treaties. However, the US says this is not enough, and that its war on terror will prevent regimes like North Korea from threatening the US and its allies with weapons of mass destruction such as the Taepodong-2. This ballistic missile - currently being developed by the North Korean Government - will be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead an estimated 6,000 kilometres, putting it within striking distance of Alaska and Hawaii.
Sources: www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/east/11/28/aid.shortage/index.html www.spot.com/spotglobal/North_Korea_Missile_Site.htm www.munuc.org/updates/WFP-B.htm www.heritage.org/library/backgrounder/bg1503.html www.stimson.org/china/pfd/krepon.pdf www.house.gov/burton/RSC/USAidTerroristNs1.PDF
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)
US interest in Central Asia does not derive solely from that area's strategic access to Afghanistan. The Central Asian nations combined have an estimated 6.7 trillion cubic metres of oil, worth approximately $2,000 billion, in which the US has overtly stated an economic interest. The presidents of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan have agreed on the construction of a $2 billion pipeline to bring gas from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan. This paves the way for a revival of the plan by US company UNOCAL to lead a consortium that will build the pipeline, an idea it shelved because of the instability in Afghanistan during the 1990s.
The move towards a long-term US presence in the region has diminished Russia's historic influence over Central Asia. In return for their support, nations in the region have been promised and provided with financial aid. Funding for military training, services and equipment that the US gives to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the financial years 2001 to 2003 is planned to rise by nearly 140 per cent from $8.6 million to $20.5 million. Uzbekistan has been flooded with humanitarian help, unconditional financial aid and vast loans for social projects by the US. Despite the millions pouring into the country, very few benefits seem to be filtering down past the rich and powerful. Millions of Uzbeks are emigrating.
Water swirls around their ankles, then reaches to their knees. The long-dreaded monsoon submergence of tribal villages in the Narmada Valley upstream from the massive Sardar Sarovar dam is under way. Activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement – NBA) have sworn to face the waters in the village of Domkhedi, and on the night of 20 August that is what they do. They stand in a thatched hut. Tempestuously, the river rises around them, debris and snakes flowing past. Suddenly the water is at their necks.
The political and judicial storms which have led to this are also tempestuous (see NI 336, ‘Do or die: The people versus development in the Narmada Valley’). The 1,300-kilometre river runs through three states, and the three state governments have been wrangling about the dam’s costs and benefits for decades. Maharashtra and especially Madhya Pradesh will suffer almost all the submergence. Gujarat will take all the water. Gujarati politicians tell their people that Narmada waters, travelling through canals and pipelines, are their salvation from drought. Many believe them.
Since 1985, a popular movement led by the indomitable Medha Patkar has sprouted in the Valley: against the dam, against submergence, in favour of people’s rights to the natural resources they depend upon to survive, in favour of real, not cosmetic, resettlement, in favour of local and sustainable water husbandry. They have fasted, sat-in, occupied the dam-site, faced baton charges by police, gone to court and to jail. Now, for the fourth year, they are facing the waters of the monsoon. Last year there was drought, so the threat came and went. But this year the dam is higher.
In May, Gujarat managed to pressure the other states and the malleable Narmada Control Authority (NCA) to let them raise the dam by 5 metres to 95 metres. Resettlement has yet to be completed for those affected at the dam’s current height, so further construction is in violation of a 2000 Supreme Court judgement. The NCA and Supreme Court have turned a blind eye. So if normal rains fall this year, inundation of lands and homes could be catastrophic for up to 6,500 people. For many, it has already happened.
As the drama unfolds at Domkhedi, the state governments are locked in a new round of Narmada wrangling. Their politics go on in a realm quite separate from that of the supposedly non-existent people on the river banks. The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who oversaw the worst communal carnage in post-independence India earlier this year and whose officials and police were complicit in attacks on Muslims, faces elections. Modi wants to put another five metres on the Sardar Sarovar as an election stunt, to cast himself as saviour of his drought-stricken people – and woo the influential with water for Ahmedabad city, sugar plantations, and canal-side real estate.
Meanwhile the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra are upping the stakes on their side, demanding more Gujarat money for resettlement. There are accusations that Maharashtra is inflating the figures of the dispossessed – notoriously under-estimated up to now – as a bargaining chip. The rights of the tribals and farmers as people, as Indian citizens, to their lands, forest, livelihoods, don’t ruffle the surface of these negotiations. The poor are an expendable sacrifice on the altar of inappropriate and unsustainable development benefiting the élite.
As the waters rose in Domkhedi in the frantic darkness of 20 August, villagers broke down the walls of the hut where the activists stood, and moved them higher up. Later, a 200-strong police force arrived and arrested 20 people, charging them with aiding suicide. At Domkhedi the waters briefly receded. Now they are rising once more, and more activists – Medha Patkar among them – stand there. Whatever happens next, the livelihoods of thousands in Narmada have been irrevocably ruined.
© Copyright 2002 New Internationalist
Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.
Help us produce more like this
Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.