Meet The Shanghai Cooperation Organization
In August 2005, I posted a diary on the SCO, a growing federation of (so-far) at best semidemocratic regimes including Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Kyrgyzstan and...who am I forgetting? Oh, yeah. China..
There are also three observer members of note: India, Pakistan and...darn that short-term memory loss! Oh, yeah. Iran.
But as it turns out, Iran's not even the dangerous part of our story.
August 2005: Simulated Sino-Russian Invasion of Taiwan
Of course, that's not what it was called. That would be...provocative. Regardless, the SCO sent a message to American, one that were widely covered in the media at the time ...just poorly archived.
Good thing the Pakistanis (link above) have superior data storage technology, else we'd miss this:
US newspapers on Wednesday quoted military and intelligence officials as saying that through the exercises, the Chinese and the Russians were sending a message to the United States. “They want to see our bases in Central Asia and presence in Asia cut back,” said one official.
Blast from the Star Wars Past: Long-range supersonic cruise missiles, and the bombers that deliver them.
Back when the Reaganites were spending tens of billions of your money building space weapons, the Russians for pennies on the megabuck were building long-range cruise missiles as part of a neutralizing effort. The premise was that a space-based weapons system would be next to useless against low-flying cruise missiles launched from submarines, ships, bombers and ground carriers.
The other priority, begun almost immediately was the development of warheads with evasive maneuver capability. It's in production now, and has been since 2001. It's called the SS-27 Topol M, and none other than Scott Ritter has this to say about it:
However, the Bush administration's dream of a viable NMD has been rendered fantasy by the Russian test of the SS-27 Topol-M. According to the Russians, the Topol-M has high-speed solid-fuel boosters that rapidly lift the missile into the atmosphere, making boost-phase interception impossible unless one is located practically next door to the launcher. The SS-27 has been hardened against laser weapons and has a highly maneuverable post-boost vehicle that can defeat any intercept capability as it dispenses up to three warheads and four sophisticated decoys.
To counter the SS-27 threat, the US will need to start from scratch. And even if a viable defense could be mustered, by that time the Russians may have fielded an even more sophisticated missile, remaining one step ahead of any US countermeasures. The US cannot afford to spend billions of dollars on a missile-defense system that will never achieve the level of defense envisioned. The Bush administration's embrace of technology, and rejection of diplomacy, when it comes to arms control has failed.
If America continues down the current path of trying to field a viable missile-defense system, significant cuts will need to be made in other areas of the defense budget, or funds reallocated from other nonmilitary spending programs. With America already engaged in a costly war in Iraq, and with the possibility of additional conflict with Iran, Syria, or North Korea looming on the horizon, funding a missile-defense system that not only does not work as designed, but even if it did, would not be capable of defending America from threats such as the Topol-M missile, makes no sense.
The Bush administration would do well to reconsider its commitment to a national missile-defense system, and instead reengage in the kind of treaty-based diplomacy that in the past produced arms control results that were both real and lasting. This would not only save billions, it would make America, and the world, a safer place.
That's the sort of sense you can fake or buy. Alas, we're not talking about sensible people, here.
Back to bombers and cruise missiles...
One thing that caught the attention of observers was the use of Russian strategic bombers, especially the Tu-22M "Backfire" which has mad unrefueled strike range -- try 7000 kilometers -- and is mainly intended as a long-range cruise missile launch platform, giving a much greater effective strike radius for the Tu-22.
Then there is a higher-octane cousin, the Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack. The Russians moved them into active service in 2005, but they're not in a hurry to sell them to China. Why? Because according to one Russian air force general, in April 2006 they penetrated the NORAD radar screen undetected.
Suffice to say the CSO would be a bit more challenging a potential adversary than the Mehdi Army, or the Taliban, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. And it's an adversary that's practicing for the occasion, putatively in -- or at least near --- North American airspace.
And those exercises are getting larger in scope and bolder in execution. As of September 29, 2006:
[Russian Air Force General] Khvorov said the exercise involved 70 Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 bombers, which test-fired 18 cruise missiles, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
He said some bombers crossed the Arctic Ocean, flew over the North Pole and also reached Alaska, the Aleutian Islands and Japan's western coast without entering any country's airspace.
A flow of petrodollars has allowed the Russian government to steadily increase its military budget in recent years, a sharp contrast with dire funding shortages after the 1991 Soviet collapse. Russian military exercises have grown in scope and become more regular.
President Vladimir Putin said that Russia wants to maintain friendly ties with the United States, but he bristled at U.S. criticism of the Kremlin's policy, insisted that Moscow needs to protect its interests in former Soviet nations and vowed to strengthen Russia's military might.
Finally! About those cruise missiles
The KH-55 "Kent" has a range of up to 3,000 kilometers and is nuclear-capable. An upgrade, the KH-555, is considered much more accurate, though there is uncertainly of its actual range (3,000 to 5,000 km).
But not to worry. Per the folks at strategypage
These missiles are upgrades of the Cold War era AS-15 nuclear cruise missile. The Kh-555 is 20 feet long, weighs 1.5 tons and has a range of 3,000 kilometers. An 800 pound conventional warhead appears to be a cluster bomb type (carrying bomblets). The missile uses inertial and satellite supplied guidance, and can hit within 100 meters of its aiming point. Russia says it will use these missiles to attack terrorist bases in foreign countries.
Naturally, We can trust anyone who uses the word 'terrorist' with sufficient resolve.
As it turns out, the governments in Central Asia like the sound of the word, especially when it's not prounounced in English.
Alas, it appears we chose our President poorly last time around. He's up and done us wrong.
Kicking Khanabad to the Curb
Back in June of 2006, the government of Uzbekistan set a 180-day deadline on the removal of US forces from Khanabad airbase..., which at first looked like something the Americans would be able to talk their host out of but by late September'05 talks collapsed in acrimony
This extract is a whole series of diaries by itself:
In June, the Karimov government demanded that the US leave within six months, after Washington condemned Uzbek troops for firing on peaceful protesters in the town of Andijan on May 13. The Karimov regime insists 187 people died, while witnesses say that at least 500 died. Yesterday's bitter meeting brings to an effective public end the US's most controversial alliance in the war on terror. [Something to do with renditions. But that's in the past now. Gotta move forward...]
Relations became openly acrimonious last week when 15 defendants on trial for "organising" the Andijan uprising said they had received money from the US embassy to aid the attack. Mr Fried yesterday dismissed the claim as "ludicrous".
The US set up the K2 airbase near the southern town of Kharshi in October 2001 to aid operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. The Bush administration dubbed the Karimov regime its new ally in the war on terror and, many believe, muted its criticism of Uzbek human rights abuses in exchange for the base.
Torture is widespread in Uzbekistan, the US state department saying the police use it as a "routine investigation technique". Washington was accused of hypocritically putting the base's short-term benefits first, and ignoring an Uzbek crackdown against ordinary Muslims under the guise of preventing extremism.
Now, just in case you missed it...
Truthout's happy to hook us up with Don von Natta, Jr., whose article "US Recruits a Rough Ally to Be a Jailer" lays it out for us all:
Uzbekistan's role as a surrogate jailer for the United States was confirmed by a half-dozen current and former intelligence officials working in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. The CIA declined to comment on the prisoner transfer program, but an intelligence official estimated that the number of terrorism suspects sent by the United States to Tashkent was in the dozens.
There is other evidence of the United States' reliance on Uzbekistan in the program. On Sept. 21, 2003, two American-registered airplanes - a Gulfstream jet and a Boeing 737 - landed at the international airport in Tashkent, according to flight logs obtained by The New York Times.
Although the precise purpose of those flights is not known, over a span of about three years, from late 2001 until early this year, the CIA used those two planes to ferry terror suspects in American custody to countries around the world for questioning, according to interviews with former and current intelligence officials and flight logs showing the movements of the planes. On the day the planes landed in Tashkent, the Gulfstream had taken off from Baghdad, while the 737 had departed from the Czech Republic, the logs show.
At some point, the Uzbeks opted for a better deal, or wearied of mixed messages out of Washington, or some of both. Either way, the Americans were kicked out at the start of 2006.
The Consequence of Accusing our Rendition Partner of Being a Human Rights Violator...with a straight face
Per the Council on Foreign Relations this is what's happened since the Andijan uprising:
Downturn in U.S.-Uzbek relationship. Washington was highly critical of the Uzbek government's handling of the uprising. Shortly after, the Uzbek government, emboldened by a resolution from the SCO, evicted the U.S. military from its base at Karshi-Khanabad (though some experts say the renegotiations on the lease of the military base preceded Andijan). The United States also cut off joint military exercises with the Uzbek army. The chill between Tashkent and Washington, Kimmage says, was motivated as much by the events at Andijan as the regime changes that unfolded in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. He says Uzbek authorities, influenced by the thinking of the Russian elite, believe these were U.S.-sponsored uprisings. The Uzbek government even accused Washington of funding the Akramiya gunmen responsible for the Andijan uprising. As more facts emerge about what happened at Andijan, and as the security climate in neighboring Afghanistan worsens, Washington is reportedly rethinking its relationship with Uzbekistan, prior to last May one of Washington's most dependable allies in the region. Starr calls it "a classic case of making policy first and thinking second."
Strengthening in Uzbek-Russian ties. Russia, which faces its own terrorist and separatist threats in its southern regions, was more sympathetic to the Karimov regime's response to the Andijan uprising. The subsequent strengthening of Uzbek-Russian relations included an increase in intelligence sharing and greater bilateral military cooperation. "Without further NATO training, the Uzbek military will have less compatibility with [Western forces], and thus there'll be greater dependence on Russia," Olcott says. Much of the motivation for Russia to improve ties with Uzbekistan is economic, Kimmage says. Because Russia's natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, has not developed its new fields fast enough, Russia relies on imported gas supplies from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan. But Tashkent remains wary of Moscow's overweening influence in the region. "Uzbekistan doesn't want to see its sovereignty compromised by Russia any more than it wants to see it denigrated by the U.S.," Starr says.
Oh. Forgot about the other airbase. The only one left. The one in Kyrgyzstan.
Well, that base has been troublesome to keep, too...
A Kyrgyz lawmaker alleged on Thursday that the U.S. payments for the use of an air base in the Central Asian nation were substantially less than previously announced.
Bolot Maripov said he Kyrgyzstan was receiving US$65 million (€52 million) for the lease of the base near the capital, Bishkek, instead of the US$150 million (€120 million) announced by U.S. and Kyrgyz officials in July.
"I doubt that the government protects our national interests and provides true information to its people," Maripov told reporters. He said the figures came from the country's Security Council.
The deal, which the United States called "total assistance and compensation," came after the Kyrgyz government threatened to evict the air base, which supports operations in Afghanistan.
Threat? What threat? Ted Rall, yes, THAT Ted Rall has a perspective on this.
Why did the CIA help overthrow the Kyrgyz government? [in March 2005]
Akayev asked the U.S. when it was going to leave its airbase at Manas now that combat in Afghanistan--the original reason for the establishment of the base--was no longer valid.
So that was why we had a military base there in the first place?
Well, the official reason for the base in Kyrgyzstan--and the fly-in rights to Tajikistan and a military base called K2 [Karshi-Khanabad], which was closed recently in Uzbekistan--was ostensibly to service airplanes operating in Afghanistan as part of the war on terror. But most people, or more cynical people--of whom I would be included--would consider that part of a generalized American strategy to derussify the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia which are geopolitically important, and economically important, because of their access--either direct or indirect--to Caspian Sea oil, which are the largest untapped oil reserves in the world.
The first time I saw a map of the oil pipelines coming out of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, it all suddenly made sense.
Military bases certainly exist to exert American military power outwards, but they also serve to promote economic interests inward, because once the United States establishes a military base in your country, they have a level of political and economic influence they didn't have before--and you literally have military troops from a foreign government on your soil that can overthrow you if you don't do what they want. I think that's the primary reason why we have that Kyrgyz base.
Now, it's interesting about [Manas Air Base] because ever since the Uzbeks forced the U.S. to close K2 in early '06, the Kyrgyz have asked for a 200-fold increase in the rent the United States pays for their military base. And furthermore, the Kyrgyz have made a lot of noise in expanding their relationship with Russia, their former Soviet master, so the Kyrgyz are flexing their muscles now, and the Americans are threatening to take out the Kyrgyz regime that they installed in the first place.
What is for sure is that as Akayev (and Kyrgyzstan at large) saw it, the American presence at Manas was supposed to be temporary...and the Russian presence at Kant permanent, and for explicit economic/sphere of influence objectives.
However, Russian and Kyrgyz leaders both emphasized that Kant and Manas were to pursue completely different goals. Akayev reportedly stated that the Manas base was a temporary facility to support international peacekeepers in Afghanistan with a United Nations mandate, while the Kant base was created permanently.
"We have no problems with Manas, the two bases would be mutually supplementing," Putin was quoted by RIA as saying. The Manas base is a temporary base to support anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan, while Kant is to safeguard the security of Kyrgyzstan and the whole region, Putin reportedly added.
Russian officials indicate that the Kant base is to protect Russian economic interests in the region as well. The Kant base will become an important element of regional security, hence creating favorable conditions for Russian businesses in Kyrgyzstan, Putin said.
There are sensitive facilities in the region indeed. Notably, Russia and Kyrgyzstan have formed a $10 million uranium joint venture. The venture's Kara-Baltinsk plant in Kyrgyzstan processes raw uranium from the Zarechnoye field in southern Kazakhstan, where reserves are estimated at 19,000 tons. Given the region's volatility, such a joint venture surely needs top protection.
That press release was from October 2003.
Over the next year, it was clear that the Americans weren't going anywhere:
According to a June 8th, 2004 Reuters report, the tents at Manas were being replaced by more permanent structures at a cost of $60 million. At that time, it was estimated that there were about 2,000 American and European troops based at Manas.
As of late-December 2004, the facilities at Manas were reportedly equipped with 366 ash heaters, 395 window air conditioning units and 59 international heaters and used to keep personnel stationed there warm and protected from the winter cold.
Four months later, former President Akayev was beginning his new job as math professor at Moscow State University.
Perhaps Ted Rall the cartoonist should be taken seriously.
Well, that's a lot of military exercises, hardware and a couple of airbases we've covered so far. What's this tell anyone?
Well, it says that
Naval Exercises off Georgia Not Helping Much
- Russia's more welcome in Central Asia than the United States is.
- Russia's got a lot of impressive gear, and
- The money, from somewhere, to use it in consecutive military exercises from the Bering Sea coast off Alaska to the Black Sea coast off Georgia.
As of October 18, 2006:
[Georgians:] “We state that a considerable part of the area where Russia is holding the manoeuvres is Georgia’s economic zone and no exercises can be held there without our approval. We have informed the international community of this position of ours,” Kudava said.
Moscow has dismissed the Georgian demands as groundless.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov in reply to a question from Tass on October 4 said, “Plans for the exercise were made back six months ago. It has been agreed with the Turkish Defense Ministry and is to be held within the framework of the anti-terrorist operation Black Sea Harmony. What is it we are supposed to do, cancel all exercises? Our ships do not enter into the territorial waters of other countries and they act within the framework of international law."
Russia is not going to react to “each sneeze of the Saakashvili regime and to change plans for its naval exercises in the Black Sea,” he added.
The Contrast in Styles Speaks Volumes
On the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, the Russians give military equipment, training, intel freely; the "Stans" are mostly Shanghai Organization members. In the Transcaucasus, to the west of the Caspian and east of the Black Sea, relations are far more tense, for here is where the Americans have successfully ingratiated themselves, and the Russians have not.
Here, the sense is not of the Russians coming as liberators (or at least foils) to many centuries of Chinese hegemony, but the Russians being set back a step after almost two centuries of dominance. And here, next to the Black Sea and access to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic beyond, the Americans and their vast armada truly can come and go as they please. And that annoys the Russians something fierce.
Oil, Natural Gas, and The Other Twins.
As for what all this ruckus is about, easy: The fighting in the Transcaucasus -- all of it -- may be about nationalist and sectarian strife on the ground, but in the halls of power it's about four things:
- Natural Gas.
- Control of Production
- Control of Distribution
To the east of the Caspian, the issue is oil fields: who owns the land, who has rights to develop the fields and fill large tanks full of nice, cashy money in the form of oil and natural gas.
How much is there? Thanks for asking -- a whole damn lot, per the Energy Information Administration, an office of the government I had no idea existed until just now.
If you open up the detailed spreadsheet, you will find the following tasty descriptions of just what's at stake in Central Asia...or you can let me take care of that for you:
Oil Reserves - The Caspian Sea Region contains proven oil reserves estimated to be between 17 and 44 billion barrels, comparable to Qatar on the low end and the United States on the high end.
Oil Production - In 2005, regional oil production reached roughly 2.1 million barrels per day, comparable to South America's second largest oil producer, Brazil. By 2010, production is forecast to reach 3.1 million barrels.
[So, the oil will last between 15 and 40 years after reaching estimated full production, less if more is squeezed out of the ground faster.]
Gas Reserves - The Caspian Sea Region's proven natural gas reserves are estimated at 232 trillion cubic feet, comparable to Saudi Arabia.
Gas Production - Regional production reached approximately 4.9 tcf in 2004, comparable to the combined production of S. America, Central America, and Mexico. In 2010, the governments of the Caspian Sea region expect their countries to produce a total of 8.1Tcf, more than the 2004 production from the entire Middle East
[All that gas will be depleted less than 30 years after reaching estimated full production.]
As for distribution, here's an inventory of pipeline projects in the Caspian Region.
The dilemma for the Russians is that they may find themselves shut out of distribution.
The dilemma for the Americans is that they may find themselves shut out of production.
Both sides are intent on buying 'insurance' -- military presence in both the Transcaucasus and Central Asia -- to encourage the best of behavior with potential negotiating partners and, should cordial discussions go pear-shaped (bad), to be best positioned to maximize one's own gains and damage to the counterparty's interests.
It does not take a genius to see the opportunity for negotiation and compromise...except for the minor detail:
Oil and natural gas are not going concerns.
Let me explain that last: A going concern is an operation that is assumed to have an indefinite duration, such that you can make plans around the flow of values (or detriments) from a given project or company or...oilfield. Except we're not assuming that oilfields last.
On account they don't. Furthermore, you never quite know when they are going to give out, only that they most certainly will do so.
This creates uncertainty in modeling the cash flows from a given oil development project. What's a field worth? How much more oil is in the ground? What if we take too much out of the ground too soon and the price falls? What if we leave it in the ground too long and the price falls anyway?
This produces a wildcatter mentality: Drill as many wells as possible, everywhere you can think of, assert claim and access to every piece of dirt you possibly can, because you just never know.
And once you strike black gold, pump that good stuff out of the ground as fast as possible, get it to the factories and the gas tanks of the consumers and convert that energy into some other form of wealth.
Because if you don't the next guy's going to. And if he's sitting back on production, then that's a sign that he's weak, or lacks the means to develop the field, and perhaps we can get enough other guys together to go in and take that oilfield for ourselves.
Perhaps 'wildcatter' is an unfair moniker to apply to the situation...for wildcatters. What I should use is another word entirely: addicts.
And it will be addicts that start the next world war.
Where we are now
So, the now-mature Sino-Russian military alliance with friends on one side, and the United States with friends on the other, are squaring off for the match of the century. At stake is not freedom, or fightin'; terrah, or empire, or influence in any substantive sense of the world, save one.The alliances in question want exactly one thing: the power that comes from control over the world's remaining undeveloped oil and natural gas supplies and guess what? Unless there's oil under three miles of Antarctic pack ice or four miles down at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, we pretty much know where the energy is on this planet and about 90-95% of it is in Asia.
We’re not going to knock the Russians out of Siberia, and they aren’t going to evict us from the Persian Gulf (though we seem to be doing a fine job of kicking ourselves to the curb under current management), which leaves control over Central Asia as the decisive battle for supremacy under the current techno-economic paradigm.
For some reason, the Republicans can’t quite make themselves change the paradigm, so for our current crop of leaders it’s all about competition, and in this game that just might mean war. World War. And I’m afraid both sides are getting ready for it in earnest.
For my final citation, I will leave you with something you don't see in a DailyKos diary every day: a tiff between Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Richard Boucher of the Dept. of State, before the Helsinki Commission meeting on September 27, 2006:
Boucher said the United States has been trying to forge ties in several areas to Central Asia -- economic, security, and political -- and strengthen relations between the region and Western groups like NATO, the EU, and the OSCE.
"We're promoting multiple linkages to the world in-region," he said. "We think a country should never be left with one option, one market, one trading partner, one vital infrastructure link. More choices for them means more independence. More independence means more opportunity to exercise their own sovereignty. And that's our goal for the countries of Central Asia. We'll continue to pursue it by working with the countries individually and with the multilateral organizations that share our goals in Central Asia."
When Brownback quoted a U.S. expert as saying that the SCO is "the most dangerous organization Americans have never heard of" and that it is "more than just an economic organization, the SCO is a potential Warsaw Pact," Boucher said he doesn't see it that way. The countries of Central Asia, he said, have options and opportunities and can get out of any organization just as they got in.
But when Brownback concluded by saying the SCO is worth watching closely in case it takes an "aggressive trajectory," Boucher agreed.
Which would only be fair, I suppose.
The Russians and the Chinese are keeping a rather close eye on "aggressive trajectories" themselves.
Oh, silly me: Forgot China
Let me leave you with some light reading. A recent two-part serial appeared in Asia Times Online.
Striking the US Where It Hurts and The Assassin's Mace.
In my personal opinion, there's a lot of details here strung together in a dangerously optimistic fashion -- for the Russians and the Chinese. However, some good points are made in regards to the ability of the People's Republic to, well, pretty much shove any land army in Central Asia aside at any time it so chooses to do so:
From the second installment (link above):
Of course, the US has "forces in being" and "logistics in place" in numerous military bases scattered around the world, especially those strategically encircling China, Russia, and Iran. But when the shooting war starts, these bases will be the first to be hit by barrages of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and long-range land-attack cruise missiles armed with electro-magnetic pulse, anti-radar, thermobaric, and conventional warheads.
Following the missile barrages, the remnants of such weakened US military bases will easily be overwhelmed by blitzkrieg assaults from Russian and Chinese armored divisions in the Eurasian mainland. China, for instance, has four large armored units constantly on standby, poised to cross the Yili Corridor in Xinjiang province at a moment’s notice. The US base in Kyrgyzstan near the Chinese border would not stand a chance.
China, Russia and/or Iran, on the other hand, will operate on interior lines within the Eurasian mainland. When they move troops and logistics to meet any threat on the continent, they will have relatively secure lines of communication and logistics, using inland highways, railways and air transport.
I decided to check this element of the story.
One thing's for sure: The Xinjiang Military Area Command, not the Nanjing Command opposite Taiwan, is fast becoming the premier location for the testing of new weapons and tactics, not always in nice ways.
For an order of battle, I consulted Globalsecurity.org; Xinjiang lies with the Lanzhou Military Region.
The detailed order of battle indicates the following within Xinjiang Military District:
Xinjiang Military District
U/I AAA Brigade
U/I Artillery Brigade
U/I Army Aviation Regiment
U/I Division (Red Army Division)
Highland Motorized Infantry Division (Karakorum MT)
8 Motorized Infantry Division (Tacheng Prefecture)
Armored Division [Double Listed w/ Nanjing MR]
Xinjiang Army RSV Infantry Division
There are 11 divisions in the Lanzhou Region, which has 220,000 men under arms, 5 divisions in the Xinjiang District which is admittedly quite large. Still that's 100,000 troops available for insertion into Central Asia at any time. And those PLA soldiers have lots of friends back home to call upon.
There are, last I checked, 22 thousand US/NATO troops in Afghanistan. They have lots of friends back home to call upon, too...but home is much, much farther away.
I gotta shut this puppy down; I've literally been writing it since I got back from a parent-teacher conference and that was...over six hours ago. :)