Home Contact Us  

US & South Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#4957, 15 January 2016

Eagle Eye

Forecast 2016: Difficult Days Ahead for Washington
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The Obama administration faced many thorny challenges in 2015, and none of those are likely to fade away in 2016. While foreign policy challenges encountered by the US are global, the most critical of those come from a region that is very much part of India’s strategic environment.

To start with, the decision of the Obama administration to fully implement its goal to end its military operations in Afghanistan witnessed a turnaround in the absence of a credible peace process involving the Taliban. The current efforts towards the same will almost certainly fail, unless some miraculous developments take place.

Dynamic Indo-Pak hostility, rising divergences between the Afghan government and the Pakistani establishment, resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, and spread of the Islamic State's (IS) influence into the Af-Pak region will continue to obstruct the US aspiration to make a quiet exit from Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, US military involvement in Afghanistan will progressively thin down, enlarging the political abyss between the US and Pakistan. While the White House and the US State Department will struggle to maintain cordial ties with Pakistan as long as the US troops remain in Afghanistan, the executive-legislative tug of war will increase and the massive US assistance to Pakistan will keep dwindling in the coming months. As Pakistan's chances of severing ties with terrorist organisations appear dodgy and the possibility of China enhancing its economic footprint in Pakistan seems plausible, the trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad is bound to mount. The steady growth of Indo-US strategic cooperation with regular military exercises and advanced arms trade will also impact the state of US-Pakistan ties.

Significantly, the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have begun their quadrilateral cooperation to address the Afghan situation. India is out of this loop. This, precisely, is going to weigh down the US effort of peace-making in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s nightmare is a stronger Indian influence in Afghanistan, and it vetoes an Indian role in peace-making. After so much investment in nation-building activities in Afghanistan, can India afford to allow Pakistan to re-design its strategic depth in that country? Can India really trust the above-mentioned quadrilateral and buy the outcome of their deliberations, even while remaining a bystander to a peace process in its immediate neighbourhood?

The bigger challenge to US engagement beyond South Asia comes from the knotty precariousness in the West Asian strategic scene. The Obama administration withdrew all US troops from Iraq and left a power vacuum that was filled by the IS. While President Obama stopped using the term “global war on terror,” promised to engage with the Islamic world with constructive cooperation, and terminated military operations in Iraq, the end result turned out to be more perilous. The IS declared a caliphate, ran civil administration, sold oil in the international market, beheaded its opponents, and in a way, provoked the US to return to the battle fields of the region. President Obama did practically that, while repeatedly promising not to put boots on the grounds. He bombarded IS facilities from the sky, sent some troops to train Iraqi soldiers, and now, US Special Forces are also selectively engaging in combat.

The expectation that the entry of the Russians and the Iranians to wage war against the IS would be of great benefit were belied in 2015. The Russians are more interested in protecting the Assad regime than combating IS. In the meantime, the US began to complain that Russian planes were also hitting anti-Assad, pro-Western rebels. While Iran is deeply involved in Iraq and is reportedly training, aiding and equipping the private Iraqi militias to take on the IS, Tehran does not coordinate its operations with the US forces. The US backing of Saudi military intervention in Yemen and killings of Tehran-supported Houthi rebels have contributed to more US-Iranian hostility.

In the meantime, the signature achievement of the Obama administration - the Iran nuclear deal - is under stress. It has annoyed the Saudis and angered the Israelis. The other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have paid lip service to the deal, but privately appear quite unhappy. Besides the Shia-Sunni divide currently engulfing the West Asian region, the Persian-Arab cultural conflict is also aggressively surfacing. Arab countries are increasingly using the term 'Arabian Gulf' instead of 'Persian Gulf' and Iranians think that it an affront to their ancient history.

All these developments have contributed to the plight of the US Middle East policy, although critics partially blame US policy for the current crisis in the region. The US has lost its grip over the developments in the region, even as the civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya are ravaging on.  Anti-Americanism is at its height among the Shias and Sunnis, Arabs and the Persians, and the most trusted ally, Israel, also appears to have lost faith in the Obama administration for its handling of the Iran nuclear deal. The constant depreciation of energy prices has negatively affected shale gas producers in the US as well. It is very unlikely that the economic crisis, social instability and the political upheavals or even terrorism in West Asia would be satisfactorily handled in this period. American hegemony in West Asia, already facing trouble, will have no respite in 2016.

Developments in the Asia Pacific are no less exigent to US power.

North Korean nuclear obstinacy and Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea raise questions of US credibility among its allies. The competition between the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Chinese defiance of US calls for multilateral dispute resolution in the South China Sea, Chinese resistance to the movement of US ships or surveillance planes close to islands reclaimed by China, the single-minded construction of potential military facilities by Beijing in the disputed islands of this sea and several other similar developments indicate that Obama’s strategy of a “pivot to Asia” is little more than gesticulation.

In 2016, US' Asian allies such as the Philippines, Australia, Japan and South Korea will expect it to behave more robustly vis-à-vis China. Deployment of ships, flying of bombers, more frequent surveillance, selling military equipment and reiterating US commitment to the security of its allies will not be considered enough. All these actions by the US have hardly altered Chinese policy or behaviour. Nor have threats and sanctions brought North Korea to its knees. As the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have proven powerless to manage an assertive China and adamant North Korea, the US may look for alternative methods to deal with provocations in this region in 2016.

The US preoccupation with the unprecedented chaos in the Middle East/West Asia, domestic political polarisation, persistent economic recession in the world, and election year in the US will constrain the Obama administration from taking tough measures abroad. As such, President Obama has tasted the bitterness of some of his liberal approaches. First, he drew a red-line for the Assad regime on the issue of use of chemical weapons and fell short of carrying out the promised response.

Second, he wanted to reset relations with Russia and found that US-Russia relations have deteriorated further. Third, the Budapest Pact promised Ukraine territorial integrity in exchange for its surrender of nuclear weapons. But the US could do precious little when Russia annexed Crimea.

Fourth, critics hold President Obama responsible for continuing violence in Libya, mishandling of the Arab Spring, and the inability to overthrow the Assad regime. Fifth, two key US allies - Israel and Saudi Arabia - feel estranged in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, and yet there are still there no signs of Iran refraining from missile tests, or supporting  alleged terrorists, or providing muscular support to the Assad regime.

Is there any possibility of President Obama taking appropriate measures to answer his critics? Can he stabilise Libya? Can he bring an end to the Yemeni and Syrian civil wars? Can he get Iran to abide by the nuclear agreement it negotiated with the P5+1? Can he stop the Saudi-Iranian regional Cold War? Can he improve the image of the US in this region? Can he persuade or pressurise China to vacate the occupied islands in the South China Sea? Can he coerce China to withdraw its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)? Can he end the US military presence in Afghanistan even after seeing the consequences of total US withdrawal from Iraq?

There is hardly any time for Obama to do so much. Nevertheless, Obama has not done everything wrong. In the complex strategic landscape of the post-9/11 era, everyone witnessed the empowerment of non-state actors. Modern technology has proven to be both a boon and curse. No superpower can flex its muscle and use all its abilities to control, direct and shape global events. Even then, President Obama’s diplomatic success in the Paris Climate Change Conference, in roping in Russia and China to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, in opening a new chapter in US relations with India in the post-Devyani Khobragade episode, are no mean achievements. In the last year of his office, President Obama will certainly try to build on his successes.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Testing the Trump-Modi Partnership

India-US: Convergences and Divergences

100 Days in Office: The Trump Administration

Forecast 2017: India-US Strategic Partnership

Paradigm Shift or Business As Usual: Trump’s China Policy

American Turbulence: Global Ramifications

Trump's Nuclear Policy: Global Implications

Critical Challenges to the Indo-US Strategic Partnership

India and the US: Inching Towards an Informal Alliance

Need the World Worry over Trump's Foreign Policy?

US: “Losing Respect” Abroad

Implications of Modi’s US Visit

India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet

Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?

Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism’s Sake?

Changing Global Balance of Power: Obama’s Response

Obama Administration: Re-engaging India

US in South Asia: Declining Influence

US Foreign Policy: Rehashing Old Stances

US’ Frantic Effort to Make the Rebalancing Strategy Work

US, Ukraine and the End of Unipolarity

US-China Cold Confrontation: New Paradigm of Asian Security

US in Asia: A 'Non-Alignment' Strategy?

Indo-US Strategic Partnership Post Khobragade: The Long Shadow

Pakistan’s Role in War against Terrorism: Costs and Benefits

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.