Regional Security

EWI and RCD to Partner at RCD Forum 2019

The EastWest Institute (EWI) and Rafidain Center for Dialogue (RCD) announced today a cooperation and partnership program for the upcoming RCD Forum 2019, which will be held on February 3-5, in Baghdad. 

RCD Forum 2019 is the first of its kind to be held in Baghdad, to be attended by senior policy makers representing the Iraqi government and parliament, international officials from neighboring countries, international organizations, as well as scholars and researchers from major Think Tanks and universities from Iraq and abroad. 

“Iraq is increasingly becoming a focal point of EWI’s MENA Program,” said Kawa Hassan, Vice President, of EWI’s Middle East and North Africa Program. “Having provided thought leadership to the Atlantic Council’s Task Force on the Future of Iraq, and co-authored the expert working group’s report on Iraq’s climate related security risks, we are now honored to cooperate with RCD and look forward to convening a panel on rule of law, combating corruption and a workshop on climate change at the RCD Forum.”

“The RCD Forum will be much richer in content and substance with the participation of the EastWest Institute,” commented Farhad Alaaldin, Chairman of the RCD Forum Organising Committee. “EWI has a long established track record working in Iraq and we are delighted to have them as a partner at the RCD Forum.”

About EastWest Institute (EWI)

The EastWest Institute works to reduce international conflict, addressing seemingly intractable problems that threaten world security and stability. The institute forges new connections and builds trust among global leaders and influencers, helping create practical new ideas and take action. Independent, nonprofit since its founding in 1980, EWI has offices in New York, Brussels, Moscow and San Francisco.

EWI maintains a range of activities as part of its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) program, as a time when the region is undergoing historic, complex and rapid transformations and transitions.

Learn more about the EWI MENA Program

Learn more about the EastWest Institute

About Rafidain Center for Dialogue (RCD)

Rafidain Center for Dialogue (RCD) is an independent Think Tank registered as an NGO incorporated in 2014 in the Holly City of Najaf. RCD has a 1400 registered members that includes majority of the political party leadership of Iraq, top government officials, academic staff of major universities, think tank scholars and researchers. RCD members come from all the components of Iraqi Society from North to South, East to West. RCD works on encouraging political, cultural and economic dialogue among the Iraqi people. Aiming to advance the democratic experience, establishing societal peace, and supporting the government and non-governmental institutions through a wide range of studies, research papers, publications, and conducting seminars, conferences and field visits.

Learn more about RCD:

China’s Security Gambit in the Indian Ocean


China’s economic and energy security is inextricably tied to shipping routes across the Indian Ocean and through the Strait of Malacca, motivating a growing military and commercial footprint in the region, to the dismay of India, and concern of its competitors in the Western Pacific. But while China’s security incentives are understandable, the effects are fraught, as worried rivals begin to balance against it, and Beijing’s attempts to marginally diversify its energy routes increasingly expose it to partners’ internal instability.

China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) is an amorphous program to leverage trillions of dollars of government loans and state enterprise investments in infrastructure projects to link China with trading centers in south and central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and even into Europe. Along critical energy and trade routes through the Indian Ocean, China has or is building deep-water ports in Sri Lanka and Pakistan; a military logistics base in Djibouti (and is seeking control over its ports); and an oil and gas pipeline in Myanmar.

Unable to pay down Chinese loans, Sri Lanka was forced to grant China a 99-year lease for control of its port at Hambantota last year, suggesting that China was using its OBOR initiative for “debt trap diplomacy.” After loading struggling economies with debt they cannot repay, China  leverages its role as creditor to coerce them into ceding control over strategically important ports, resources and commercial routes. In the Indian Ocean region, Djibouti, Pakistan (where it already took control of the port at Gwadar), and Maldives are the most exposed to OBOR-related debt.

Since the Chinese companies involved in the largest OBOR deals are almost always state-backed enterprises, there is concern that facilities that begin as commercial footholds could morph into military ones. Chinese naval deployments in the Indian Ocean have grown over the last several years and it appears to be building up capacity to conduct submarine operations in the region. India was deeply concerned earlier this year that China would use a domestic political crisis in Maldives to establish a military foothold, sparking a pseudo-naval standoff.

Overcoming China’s “Malacca Dilemma”

Driving China’s expanding naval footprint in the Indian Ocean and its emphasis on energy and shipping infrastructure is the vulnerability of its energy imports being dependent on a single chokepoint, the Strait of Malacca at the entrance to the South China Sea. Eighty percent of China’s oil imports come through this vital passage.

Major U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea also depend on the Malacca Strait and South China Sea routes for their energy imports. But a greater share of China’s energy imports travel these routes and, unlike Japan and South Korea, it cannot divert its energy shipments to alternate routes that bypass the region in the event the Strait of Malacca is disrupted.

The only way China can overcome this “Malacca Dilemma” is by building overland pipelines that it’s tankers can offload in the Indian Ocean and avoid going through the Strait altogether.

The first of these pipelines was a long-delayed project opened in Myanmar last year that allows tankers from Africa and the Middle East to offload oil at a terminal on Made Island in the Bay of Bengal, which is then piped across Myanmar to Kunming in China’s Yunnan province.

Another potential port and pipeline project in Bangladesh has thus far failed to make progress, but China has not given up on the venture.

In Pakistan, China had already been building a deep-water port and free-trade zone at the former fishing village of Gwadar, and just ahead of this year’s Boao Forum in Hainan, Pakistani and Chinese officials inked a memorandum of understanding to begin constructing a pipeline to join it with China’s Xinjiang Province.

Growing Strategic Exposure for Declining Advantage

China’s Indian Ocean pipelines may only ever have marginal effect on its Malacca Dilemma. Unless China can reverse the current trends and dramatically decrease its reliance on imported crude oil, the added pipelines will not have the capacity to decrease China’s dependence on the Strait of Malacca, only to slow the rate at which that dependence – and vulnerability – is expanding.

The Sino-Myanmar pipeline can transfer about 160 million barrels a year. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), China imports more than half of the crude oil it consumes, and eighty percent of that oil comes through the Strait of Malacca – almost two-and-a-half billion barrels a year. That means China’s Myanmar oil route can divert a little less than seven percent of the oil that normally arrives through the Strait. But the EIA also estimates that China’s annual oil consumption will continue to increase by around 2.6 percent for the next several decades. This year, that means an increase of over 110 million barrels. By 2030, the annual increase in demand will be greater than the static transmission capacity of the Myanmar pipeline.

This disparity suggests that additional pipelines cannot decrease China’s reliance on the Strait of Malacca as an energy route; a shipping disruption there would still be strategically and economically catastrophic. More problematic for China is buying this marginal energy security at the cost of new strategic exposure and risks by tying itself to the caprice and internal security of historically unstable countries like Pakistan and Myanmar, raising the question of whether China would intervene militarily inside the borders of its OBOR partners if its pipelines are threatened by internal strife.

China’s Geographic Challenge

Analysis of the aggregate military balance between India and China rests decisively in the latter’s favor, with China enjoying a three-to-one advantage in major warships and a nearly four-to-one advantage in attack submarines. But the presence of major U.S. and Japanese fleets in the Western Pacific means that the bulk of China’s navy will remain concentrated in its home waters. With few comparable extra-regional security obligations dividing its forces, it is much easier for India to maintain local superiority over Chinese ships deploying to the Indian Ocean which will lack easy logistical support, even with the proliferation of Chinese-controlled commercial ports.

Significant challenges to projecting power in the region would remain even if China is able to negotiate basing rights and access for its forces at some of the those commercial sites. While it might appear that a constellation of potential bases in Djibouti, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would leave India surrounded, they are also geographically isolated with long lines of communication between them, making it easier for India to concentrate decisive forces to overwhelm sparsely distributed Chinese warships.

China’s expansion into the Indian Ocean is a logical attempt to mitigate its vulnerability to the shipping chokepoint at the Strait of Malacca, but it remains geographically disadvantaged against India, which views its spread with apprehension. This geographic challenge, in combination with the marginal additional energy security it stands to gain from its pipeline projects and the potential for new security obligations those projects could incur, may leave China with more serious problems than the one it set out to solve in the first place.


Steven Stashwick is a writer and analyst based in New York City. He spent 10 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 in this post reflect those of the author and not that of the EastWest Institute.


Photo: "120105-N-JN612-226" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by U.S. Pacific Fleet

Dr. Saalman Moderates Workshop on Maritime Silk Road

On March 29-30, Dr. Lora Saalman moderated the workshop “The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: Considering Security Implications,” in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

On the event, Dr. Saalman observed, “In spite of assertions as to the purely economic origins of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), interactions with Chinese experts reveal that there is a growing domestic recognition of its longer-term geopolitical and even security implications. Events in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean have become invariably entangled in discussions on the BRI’s maritime channels. Combined with the resurgence of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ within the U.S. White House and the grouping of a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue consisting of India, Japan, Australia, and the United States, Chinese debates reveal concerns that  these powers seek to derail the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Given these misgivings and the centrality of the BRI in China’s longer-term strategy, there has been a steady reduction in the number of channels for foreign entities to meaningfully interact with Chinese experts and officials on the means to mitigate risks and miscalculations along the BRI. This is one of the many reasons that this event was unique and timely.”

Read about the event in Chinese here.

Read about the event on Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung here.


Banner photo:

North Korean Denuclearization: What it Might Look Like


For over three decades, North Korea, South Korea and the international community have discussed the possibility of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. In 1991, with the Cold War coming to an end, forever eliminating the presence of nuclear capabilities on the Peninsula seemed within reach. Unfortunately, Pyongyang disregarded international opinion and pursued nuclear capabilities at great costs to its own people. In the three decades since, North Korea has invested considerable fortune to develop its nuclear and missile programs. Consequently, if Kim Jong-un is serious about denuclearization, he will demand a steep price in concessions from South Korea and its allies, including the United States (U.S.), to offset the cost of forfeiting his nuclear capabilities.

To be successful, North Korean denuclearization must be verifiable and enforceable. Over the last three decades Pyongyang has agreed to four arms control agreements only to violate each one. Additionally, it has a history of deliberate and woeful non-transparency, even with humanitarian aid. Denuclearization will require three things: regular and comprehensive information releases on North Korea’s entire nuclear program, the ability to conduct inspections throughout North Korea and the capability to conduct no-notice inspections. Because sanctions against North Korea are becoming increasingly successful, the international community’s credibility in reapplying sanctions if Pyongyang is found to be non-compliant will be critical to guaranteeing North Korea’s full transparency and compliance.

Denuclearization does not have to occur immediately. Rather, the first step should curtail the growth of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Later Pyongyang can reduce and eventually eliminate its nuclear weapon program. In parallel, South Korea and its allies should apply a tiered approach to their commitments. Admittedly, this gradual approach was tried in both the 1994 Agreed Framework and the Six Party Talks and failed both times. However, if denuclearization is to be realized, segmenting implementation will be crucial to establishing the mutual trust necessary to prevent hedging, thus improving the likelihood of verifiable compliance. Searching for one monumental agreement is ideal but circumvents the foundational trust needed to ensure all parties are willing to accept the risks entailed in their commitments.

Pyongyang has always been willing to denuclearize, but its demands are likely to remain exorbitant. From the North Korean perspective, nuclear weapons provide unique deterrence and military benefits. With North Korea armed with nuclear capabilities, its opponents may be less willing to oppose Pyongyang’s aggressive actions or escalate conflict once it begins, providing the Kim regime with a coercive capability. For instance, when North Korea sunk the Cheonan and shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, South Korea and its allies provided a minimal response. Kim Jong-un will want to ensure that what remains of the Korean People’s Army — an over one million strong force, with an expansive mix of missiles, armor, heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, as well as biological and chemical weapons — can continue to coerce South Korea and its allies. That will entail considerable concessions from Seoul and its allies.

Given past North Korean demands, several requests are obvious. Kim Jong-un will want a negative security guarantee and peace treaty. Such measures would formally end the Korean War and theoretically make it politically more difficult for South Korea and its allies to sanction and, more so, declare war on North Korea. Further, Kim Jong-un has probably abandoned the condition that U.S. forces leave the Peninsula to entice the South Koreans to pressure the Americans into negotiations. Once talks ensue, he will likely look for an opportunity to request the removal of all U.S. forces from the Peninsula and Japan as well. Although less likely, to reduce the costs of conventional force modernization and maintenance, North Korea could propose North-South conventional force limitations. Collectively, these measures would help preserve Pyongyang’s ability to coerce Seoul and its allies.

North Korea will likely attempt to place additional demands on South Korea and its allies to ensure that the deterrence and military benefits of its expansive missile forces — possibly armed with a range of conventional, biological, and chemical warheads — are maintained. Without nuclear capabilities, North Korea will need more of its missiles to reach their intended targets to produce similar effects: an assured strike capability. Therefore, Kim Jong-un will likely request that South Korea and its allies reduce their offensive missile systems, and reduce or eliminate their missile defenses, to possibly include U.S. homeland missile defense. Moreover, Kim Jong-un may try to limit the presence of U.S. nuclear capabilities in the region.

Considering precedent and the country’s isolation from the outside world, the Kim regime may look to link denuclearization with economic assistance.  Kim Jong-un’s willingness to sacrifice the welfare of his own people for military programs has compounded the negative impacts of recent droughts and overfishing. Thus, North Korea will argue that the sanctions laid down by at least ten United Nations Security Council Resolutions should be ended. Pyongyang may also  request that other sanctions not connected with the nuclear program be rescinded, such as those meant to address North Korean human rights violations, while securing food and energy aid, and economic investments to jumpstart its moribund economy.

Over the last three decades, South Korea, its allies and the international community have tried but failed to prevent the growth of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Unfortunately, the Kim regime has used arms control to gain concessions with no intention of compliance. Given North Korea’s expanding nuclear capabilities, Kim Jong-un will likely demand considerable sacrifices from South Korea and its allies. In response, Moon Jae-in must finalize an agreement that is both verifiable and enforceable. Further, if denuclearization is to be achieved, it will likely need to occur gradually to build credibility and trust among all parties involved. Ultimately, denuclearization is possible, but it will hinge on Kim Jong-un’s sincerity and South Korea’s ability to verify and enforce whatever agreement is reached.

Davis Florick is a James A. Kelly Non-resident Fellow with the Pacific Forum and a Senior Fellow with the Human Security Centre, a think tank based in London.

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


Photo: "North Korea Victory Day 091" (CC BY 2.0) by rapidtravelchai


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