Regional Security

Afghanistan Reconnected: Engaging Iran

EWI’s Afghanistan Reconnected Process aims to further Afghanistan’s stability and development through better economic connectivity with its neighbors. Obviously, Iran is a particularly important neighbor to Afghanistan. In addition, the state of affairs post-sanctions presents fresh opportunities for engaging Iran in regional and international cooperation.

With this in mind, EWI conducted on December 19-20 an outreach mission to Tehran, consisting of senior private sector experts from EWI’s regional network and led by EWI’s Vice President Ambassador Martin Fleischer. A full day of roundtable discussions, organized on behalf EWI’s Iranian Partner, the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), composed of 50 participants from think-tanks, government departments, media and diplomatic corps, as well as Ambassadors of Afghanistan and India to Iran. The mission continued with a series of high-level meetings with government agencies, inter alia with Vice-Foreign Minister Dr. Sajjadpour, and was concluded by a business roundtable hosted by the Iran Chamber of Commerce and its affiliates.

The mission was of tremendous value for understanding Iran’s perspective on Afghanistan and for identifying opportunities as well as stumbling blocks for cross-border cooperation. Key findings include

  • Iran, while already maintaining close ties with its eastern neighbor, stands ready to assume a more active role in strengthening social and economic structures in Afghanistan.
  • To achieve security and stability, Iran favors a regional approach, i.e. one that includes all relevant players, and stands ready to collaborate constructively in such a joint effort.
  • Iran — i.e. government and private sector — are willing to invest in Afghanistan’s energy sector and provide capacity building support so as to increase electricity supply.
  • Iran is determined to promote regional connectivity by substantially contributing to alternative land and sea initiatives which will benefit Afghanistan.
  • There is a need to improve the conditions for trade and investment in Afghanistan, inter alia in terms of legal framework, banking systems, and transparency in contracting.

IPIS and EWI will spell out these findings in more detail, and policy recommendations drawn therefrom, in a policy paper that will be jointly developed by both institutes and published in spring 2017. 

Kawa Hassan Explores Mosul Post-ISIS

In a prime time interview with "Kurd Connect", a joint program between Voice of America's Kurdish Service and NRT, the independent Kurdish Satellite channel, Hassan underlined three conditions that would translate the military defeat of ISIS in Mosul into a lasting political settlement. Hassan made his comments as coalition forces are making gains in the offensive to recapture Iraq's second largest city from the terrorist organization.

Hassan said it was highly possible that ISIS would ultimately lose Mosul. But, he added, the bigger question was what would happen afterwards.

The liberation of Mosul, said Hassan, could lead to a new beginning for Iraq and the emergence of an inclusive Iraqi state provided three conditions were met: 

  • Iraqi authorities should regain the trust of the Moslawis, the people of Mosul. This is important because the sectarian policies of Iraq's previous government and the collapse of the people's confidence in the Iraqi army and post-2003 Iraqi state led to the ISIS takeover in June 2014.  
  • The United States, United Nations, European Union, donor countries and regional states should set up a special fund for the stabilization and reconstruction of Mosul. The humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Mosul are immense. The international community and regional states can play a positive role in rebuilding Mosul by committing to financial resources. This will send a signal to the Moslawis that they will not be abandoned once ISIS is defeated. 
  • International and regional powers should play a positive role in bridging the divide between the diverse Iraqi communities to reach mutual compromises regarding territorial disputes, distribution of wealth and power sharing.

Hassan's comments can be accessed in full here, beginning around the 6:45 mark. The interview is in Kurdish.

Japan's Growing North Korea Problem

The Korean peninsula is evolving into an acute security concern for Japan, with a host of provocations this year.

U.S. President Barack Obama's policy of strategic patience with regard to the North has failed, and Pyongyang has continued to expand its capabilities in missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. Since the beginning of the year, the North has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and a barrage of ballistic missile tests aimed at refining range and accuracy.

Continued instability in the peninsula will be one of the chief international security problems that Obama's successor will inherit when he or she takes office next year. Adding to this problem is concern among U.S. allies — including Japan — about the credibility of Washington's treaty commitments across the region.

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has questioned the value of U.S. alliances with Tokyo and Seoul, accusing both countries of engaging in free-riding and benefiting from Washington's security guarantees at little cost to themselves. Trump also has suggested that Japan and South Korea should look to the procurement of nuclear weapons as a potential solution to regional security threats posed by North Korea.

Click here to read the full article in Nikkei Asian Review. 

ASEAN-China Code of Conduct Will Languish as Long as China Sets the Pace in South China Sea


As China’s unilateralism and conflicts with its South China Sea neighbors have increased over the last decade, so has the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) focus on implementing a binding Code of Conduct to obligate a peaceful resolution of the region’s territorial disputes. Last week, ASEAN and China issued a Joint Statement commemorating 25 years of dialogue and declaring progress on a variety of security and economic frameworks, including the elusive Code of Conduct. But ASEAN’s effort toward such a Code is now well into its third decade, which should temper excitement over any news of progress. Over those 25 years, ASEAN claimants have seen their positions in the South China Sea eroded in favor of China. Meanwhile, China has faced neither economic nor significant political costs for its actions, nor perceived unacceptable risk of armed conflict over them. Binding diplomatic progress appears unlikely until it does.

The challenge facing China-ASEAN diplomacy is that China controls the pace of conflict escalation. China’s military predominance means ASEAN nations typically de-escalate incidents, least one spark a conflict they couldn’t win. As the precipitator of most of those incidents, China retains the option to back off if one threatens greater escalation than it desires.

It was thus ASEAN’s recognition of its weaker position that motivated the idea of diplomatically limiting Chinese behavior in the South China Sea. ASEAN first proposed a binding Code of Conduct in 1992 after China adopted a controversial territorial law declaring sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and considered much of the sea itself to be territorial or internal waters. China’s occupation of the Philippines-claimed Mischief Reef in 1995 heightened ASEAN’s alarm over China’s regional intentions and strengthened calls for a binding Code of Conduct. China rebuffed those efforts until 1999, and subsequent negotiations led to a Joint Statement and Declaration on Conduct in 2002.

In 2003, Professor Leszek Buszynski, now at Australian National University, examined what finally brought China to the table with ASEAN. He showed that China was uninterested in participating in a Code of Conduct until 1998, when the Philippines sought to involve the U.S. in the dispute through new defense agreements and by restarting joint exercises. Around the same time, seeing a linkage with its obligations to Taiwan, the U.S. began deploying carrier strike groups to the South China Sea.  

Nonetheless, China and ASEAN’s objectives remained divergent. ASEAN sought to place limits on a stronger China that it saw as an instigator and aggressor. China wished to use the negotiations to placate anxious ASEAN states, limit deeper U.S. involvement in the region, and prevent a final agreement from restricting its interests. Since even the appearance of Chinese conciliation could be touted as a victory for ASEAN, China held the diplomatic upper hand. The result was not a binding Code of Conduct, but a non-binding Declaration on Conduct wherein the parties “undertake” to resolve disputes by peaceful means (not “commit” or “pledge”) and agree to work on a Code of Conduct based on consensus, a diplomatic “out” insisted on by the Chinese delegation.

Professor Buszynski’s key insight was that a militarily- and economically-dominant party would only place voluntary limits on itself if it faced balancing risks or costs from its behavior. In the late 1990s, new U.S. involvement in the region provided the prospect of such risks and costs, inducing China to come to the negotiating table. But that new power balance was insufficient to get favorable terms for ASEAN. Since the 2002 Declaration, China has built significant port, radar, and airfield facilities on features in the Spratly Islands, attempted unilateral oil exploration in areas contested by Vietnam, and used its Coast Guard and Maritime Militia to evict fishermen and government vessels of other South China Sea claimants.

Nonetheless, recent China-ASEAN statements still provide only ambiguous restrictions on behavior:

  • Fourteen years after agreeing to continue to discuss a binding Code of Conduct, and 24 years after ASEAN first proposed the idea, last week’s Joint Declaration continues to merely “undertake” to resolve disputes by peaceful means and is committed to “working substantively” towards a binding Code of Conduct, which still must be “based on consensus.”

  • The July 25th Joint Statement by ASEAN Foreign Ministers and China on implementation of the Declaration on Conduct states signatories will “undertake to exercise self-restraint” on activities that threaten peace and stability, to include “refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands,” language that may implicitly recognize the disputed features China already occupies. Further, since the only major feature left that China may want to occupy is Scarborough Shoal—where the U.S. has explicitly warned China against construction—a non-binding prohibition against new occupation does not concede much.

  • A September statement on use of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) by China and ASEAN seems to oblige parties to use its voluntary communications and safety protocols when their ships or aircraft meet and interact. But the agreement only applies to naval units and not the Coast Guards and irregular maritime units responsible for most harassment and incidents in the region.

China has delayed meaningful diplomatic progress on a binding Code of Conduct for decades by spacing out superficial concessions, and perpetually committing—and then affirming its commitment— to make progress towards that goal. China’s aggressiveness has not come without a price; many ASEAN nations now cooperate more closely with the U.S. on security, while significantly building up their own militaries. But China’s military spending is still five times the combined defense budgets of the major ASEAN powers. At the same time, studies show a narrowing gap between U.S. power projection and Chinese capabilities to counter it, suggesting that unlike the early 2000s, the mere presence of U.S. military power may be a diminishing motivation for China to engage in meaningful diplomacy. China is still largely setting the pace of events in the South China Sea, and ASEAN should not expect better diplomatic outcomes unless China perceives genuine costs or risk from its actions.

Steven Stashwick is a writer and analyst based in New York City. He spent ten years on active duty as a U.S. naval officer with multiple deployments to the Western Pacific. He writes about maritime and security affairs in East Asia and serves in the U.S. Navy Reserve. The views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter.

The views expressed in this post reflect those of the author and not that of the EastWest Institute.​

Can China disarm Japan’s moves in the South China Sea?

Tensions are spiking again between China and Japan as China seeks to fend off any involvement by Japan in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and China tightens the vice on Japan in the East China Sea, J. Berkshire Miller writes in Asia & The Pacific Policy Society.

Last month, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted a number of naval drills in the Sea of Japan, termed “a confrontation drill”, aimed at simulating a potential maritime conflict. Of course, Beijing caveated—with little attention to strategic planners in Tokyo and Washington—that the exercise was “not aimed at any one country”. The drills, which follow a significant uptick in tensions over the past few months in the East and South China Seas, are telling on Beijing’s strategic intentions to push back against what it sees as a coordinated and sustained effort by the US and its allies—principally Japan—to “name, shame and contain” China.

Indeed, the past year has seen a marked deterioration in Japan-China relations, especially as a result of increased tensions in the East and South China Sea. One of the big watermarks has been the decision on July 12, by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, to award the tribunal ruling to the Philippines in its dispute with China over the latter’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, largely centered on its intentional ambiguity surrounding the infamous “nine-dash line”. Beijing has predictably responded by calling the ruling a “waste of paper” and has assembled its diplomatic influence in the fractured Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to disrupt potential unity on whether the ruling should be respected. 


The full article can be accessed here.

Afghanistan Reconnected: Cross-Border Cooperation at a Critical Juncture


The EastWest Institute, in presence of Ms. Adela Raz, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and Dr. Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, Chief Advisor of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is holding a roundtable discussion and preview of the forthcoming EastWest Institute report titled “Cross-Border Cooperation at a Critical Juncture,” at 11:00 on September 7, 2016, at EWI’s Brussels Center.

The purpose of the event is to share perspectives on Afghanistan’s role in regional economic cooperation and to present the preliminary findings of EWI’s forthcoming report, “Afghanistan Reconnected: Cross-Border Cooperation at a Critical Juncture.” 



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