Tag: indonesia

Ranking US Allies: A Response to Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan & all those Canadians…

Last week, I tried to rank US allies, drawing response from both Walt and Sullivan (oh, and these guys, whose website name’ll creep you out). So here are a few responses:

1. I accept the arguments from many commenters that Turkey should be on the list. So here is a final list, a ‘top 12’ of US allies in order: Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, India, Indonesia, Israel, South Korea, Japan, EU/NATO, Egypt, and Turkey.

2. Walt’s expansion of my argument toward “zero-based alliance formation” formalizes my initial intuitions for US alignment-picks. He asks if the US had no allies right now, which ones would it choose, because many US allies are left-over from previous commitments that may no longer be valuable. It’s an interesting, semi-counterfactual exercise. Its logic may be a clearer way to think about US allies than my use of retrenchment to force a ranking on US allies. I think this is a pretty good paper topic actually…

Instead of my 3 proposed alliance criteria (direct security benefits to the US; how desperately a potential ally needs the US; and the values symbolism of an alignment), Walt lists 6 benchmarks: power, position, political stability, popularity, pliability, and potential impact. These are richer than mine but also make it much harder to build a ranked order. I wonder what Walt’s top 10 would be then? I think he would be harder than I am on small states. That follows insofar as realism would suggest that larger states are usually more consequential. By including values/symbolism as a criterion, I allow places like Taiwan and SK to hang on.

From my top 12, I think Walt would probably kick out Israel, Taiwan, maybe Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and SK. Japan and NATO would probably be higher, and I think Brazil would be in there, and perhaps Australia. (I didn’t include those last because I think the US has few interests in Latin America and Australia benefits from the massive Indonesian glacis.)

What’s interesting though is that neither my nor Walt’s criteria would dramatically change the US alliance structure as far as I can tell. Walt would probably wind the US down in the ME more rapidly, while retaining NATO more, and I would do the opposite. We both probably agree that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan should not make the cut. Finally, I think my benchmarks would ‘pivot’ the US toward Asia faster than Walt’s, although I am not sure. Anyone want to comment on what top 10 Walt’s benchmarks would create?

3. I was please to see that Sullivan flagged – not necessarily approved, but just noted – my argument for Indonesia as America’s most important bridge to the Muslim world. I realize this is kinda off-beat, given that the ME is what dominates our perceptions of Islam and where Islamist pathologies are worst. (Here is a critic, a neocon perhaps, calling me ‘delusional’ for ranking Indonesia this way.) So here is a quick defense, more or less along the lines of what Secretary Clinton said a few years ago.

Indonesia is a syncretic model of pluralist Islam and politics; I think this is pretty widely accepted. No, it’s not as modern and liberal as we might like, but by the standards of the region, other developing countries, and especially the OIC, it is a paragon. Let’s be honest about that. It could easily be far, far worse (think Pakistan), which is why I find it unfortunate that we don’t pay attention much. We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and a friendship with Indonesia doesn’t mean avoiding tough issues, just like engaging China doesn’t mean we should ignore human rights and other similar issues.

So in its own imperfect, struggling way, Indonesia represents the future of political Islam (speaking very broadly to be sure), not the past, which is a lot of what the ME represents and what Arab Spring is trying to break. If the flat-earth religious elites of places like Iran, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia are allowed to dominate the global conversation on Islam, more conflict is likely. By contrast, Indonesia offers a possible model for Islam to live with both democratic politics and religious pluralism. That we should vigorously support such an effort, through some kind of alignment, strikes me as so self-evident, that I am amazed that we never talk about this.

Indonesia is a multiparty democracy. Its military is “conditionally subordinate” to civilian control. Its human rights record has improved since the dictatorship. Its troubles with salafism and religious tolerance are there, yes, but again, by the standards of reasonably comparable states like Egypt or Pakistan, its record is good. There has no been no major jihadist terrorism since the 2003 Marriot bombing. Jemaah Islamiah is out there and nasty, but this stuff is far less threatening, with far less hold over popular imagination, than similar movements in so many other OIC states, especially given Indonesia’s huge size. Indeed, it’s Saudi oil money funding wahhabist preaching in Indonesia that is the big salafist threat, not homegrown Indonesian clerics.

So instead of lining up with badly governed Arab autocracies as we did in the ME – alignments that create islamist blowback – doesn’t it seem far more beneficial for US to align with a (reasonably) moderate, very large country (4th biggest in the world) that also worries about China, with improving democratic credentials? Like Turkey (also on the list now), Indonesia suggests that Islam can coexist reasonably well with modernity and liberalism. Similarly, Muslims have demonstrated that they can leave in reasonable peace with non-adherents in religiously diverse states like the US, India, and Indonesia. This is great news – somebody should tell the Tea Party and remind the Christian Right that it too should be a little more tolerant. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Islam in more monocultural places like the ME would be harsher and less tolerant. So we should be grooming South and SE Asian states where tolerance is more entrenched, if only out of the sheer necessity of preventing endless internal conflict. And Indonesia is easily the leader here. Hence I ranked it at number 7.

Even ‘long war’ neocons should see the value at this point in defusing the tiresome, now fairly stalemated debate of whether Islam can find a modus vivendi in the modern world or not. Regarding this debate, places like Indonesia and Turkey are not-perfect-but-good-enough-given-current-circumstances models for Islamic democratization and the cutting edge of Islamic politics. This is why we should be attached. We want US alliances to actually get us some real value-added, not just encourage free-riding from countries that already like us. This is why Indonesia is more important than Germany or Japan. We should have learned from the Arab Spring uprisings and Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt that supporting nasty dictators in the ME breeds a politicized Islamic backlash. Huntington notoriously argued that Islam had ‘bloody borders,’ but places Indonesia blunt that disturbing logic. That is very, very good – and far more valuable to the US than aging, tired alliances like NATO.

4. Canadians got pretty passionate over this. I didn’t know that was possible. Like most Americans, I tend to assume that Canadians are Americans who simply refuse to admit that fact (sorry – couldn’t resist that one), but commenters came out swinging against the idea that Mexico might be more important to the US or that Canada might ever be a ‘threat’ to the US (which I never meant to imply btw). One even argued that Canada is more politically stable than the US. Hah! … oh, wait, that’s probably true… Sad smile. Generally, I think Canada kinda gets screwed by being our neighbor – they get stuck with every bad idea we come up with and chain-ganged into it whether they like it or not. So, thanks, Canada, sticking with us even after we elected W. Yes, we’re kind of embarrassed about that now. Enjoy that vid above.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


India: The “Dispensable Nation” in Southeast Asia?

I remember once when I was exploring the Indian hill station of Shillong in Meghalaya, I read a random factoid in a guide book which said the town was geographically closer to Hanoi than Delhi.  It was not actually very difficult to believe that in the remote states of Northeast India, the gravitational pull begins to shift towards Southeast Asia. I also knew that India’s Nicobar Islands were less than 100 miles from the coast of Indonesia. Myanmar and Singapore were once part of British India. Etc., etc… Those random factoids make it seem that regional integration between India and some of the dynamic countries of ASEAN is both natural and inevitable. In reality, however, due to protracted insurgency in India’s northeast, a relatively closed regime in Myanmar, and a general focus on trade with Europe and America, the prospects for regional integration have seemed unrealistic for decades.  Nevertheless, with the adoption of India’s “Look East” policy in 1991, there have been some efforts to enhance ties between India and ASEAN over the years which are beginning to bear fruit — the real question is whether India will shift its posture to exploit these opportunities to shape the architecture of Southeast Asian regional integration.

The main goal of the 9th India-ASEAN Summit this year was to prioritize a services and investment pact set to be completed by March 2012, which would pave the way for an India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement.  The 2009 India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in goods has already come into effect; current trade between India and ASEAN is about $50 billion and rising very fast. Visa on arrival facilities in India for ASEAN nationals has also been established. Of course, as even intra-ASEAN trade is riddled with non-tariff barriers and financial investment impediments, these kinds of trade agreements may not be sufficient to open up markets until there is genuine support for free trade by states in the region. But from a long term perspective these kinds of agreements are essential to at least begin the process of integration. The 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Singapore and India, for example, has led to an exponential increase in investment and trade.
From a political perspective, there is increasing warmth between India and its ASEAN neighbors. It may be worth noting that India invited Susilo Bambang Yudhyono to be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade this year. Some commentators believe that strong bi-lateral relationships with countries like Indonesia and Singapore may be benchmarks for India’s ability to engage with ASEAN states more broadly.
The reasons for India’s interest in these emerging markets and resource rich countries like Indonesia is perhaps obvious at a time when the West is in recession and the competition for access to energy is intense.  Indian energy firms and even some manufacturers are already heavily invested in ASEAN members like Indonesia and Singapore.
However, ASEAN members’ interest in India appears to mainly be driven by a desire to purchase additional insurance against China’s growing influence particularly in the South China Sea. India has a dog in the fight with China because Indian and Vietnamese firms have signed agreements for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Vietnam. There has even been tension in recent years between the PLAN and Indian Navy off the coast of Vietnam. But, of course, the real balancing occurred simply by inviting the US to participate in the East Asia Summit (EAS).  The US quickly helped to foreground security issues that highlight tensions between ASEAN states and China. India by contrast continues to appear indecisive as it remains concerned about being dragged into a confrontational American containment strategy directed against China. India’s fear about being used as a pawn in an American game are valid, but India needs to clearly decide the role that it wants to play in Southeast Asia. If ASEAN is vital to India as a source for energy and a market for Indian goods, then a more robust posture is required. While China will rightfully defend its own interests, it is quite sensitive to the limits of its power and has already demonstrated that it does not wish to trigger a hard containment strategy by alarming all of its neighbors (see Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge, 2005).
Of course, some ASEAN members also see India as a lucrative market. Singaporean firms, for example, have invested in India’s technology parks, telecommunications, and manage some of India’s infrastructure, including major seaports and airports.  Singapore is the second largest source of FDI in India with a cumulative investment of around $18 billion and it is India’s 8th largest trading partner.  India is Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner, and with $16 billion invested in Singapore, India is the second largest Asian investor after Japan (Business Times Singapore, 11/19/11). But Singapore’s relations with India remain exceptional for the most part.
Even with some progress on liberalizing trade with Pakistan in recent weeks, India future lies as much in the East as within South Asia given the lack luster integration within the Subcontinent so far. India needs to make its markets more attractive to a broader range of ASEAN members if it hopes to be able to have much influence in shaping the regional architecture. This is will probably require, at the very least, simplifying licensing requirements which act as Non-Tariff Barriers. Politically, India can free ride on America’s willingness to confront China for now, but a stronger level of leadership will be needed as the US declines. 
India remains “the dispensable nation” in Southeast Asia, but it probably cannot afford to be so.

[Cross-posted from Humayun]


Observations on Traffic Safety From Indonesia

A few days ago this startling report hit the newsstands in Jakarta, proclaiming Bali to have surpassed Phuket in highway “carnage”:

Bali’s roads have become the scene of unprecedented carnage, with 758 people dying in traffic accidents in just three months, 200 more fatalities than all of last year, police said on Friday. An average of more than eight people a day died on the resort island’s roads in March, April and May…May was the deadliest month, with 286 deaths and 360 injuries, followed by March with 248 dead and 302 injured. The death toll in April was 224, with another 281 injured.

I can’t comment on the validity of the numbers but if true then per capita (Bali’s population now stands at about 4 million) that is about seven times the US traffic fatality rate for 2009.

Traveling around the island, I could see why. I found it remarkable that we didn’t witness at least one deadly wreck during our days there. In the country-side, drivers sped along curvy, one-lane roads with abandond, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. In Kuta, the traffic was intense and chaotic, a dizzying writhing snake of taxis, cars packed in nearly bumper to bumper with three times as many mopeds maneuvering neck and neck, lane to lane.

Few scooters carried helmeted riders, even fewer outsie the city. Those that did usually carried at least one un-helmeted toddler as well, napping unsecured on the handlebars ready to slide off any moment; or a five-year-old on the back, gripping the seat with his legs while using his hands to text on a mobile phone. The mopeds move lithely in between the cars; no rules exist about minimum safe distance. Our taxi once swiped a motorcyclist as it passed us; the rider simply shrugged off the impact and carried on. Meanwhile, our driver had a television documentary playing on his screen in the front of the car.

When we had to ride in cars – from Jimbaron Bay to Kuta, to Yeh Gangga Village for a horse trek, or Sanur Beach for kite-surfing lessons – I distracted myself from the expectation of an imminent accident by thinking and asking about the emergent order in this seeming chaos. What were the rules? Why weren’t they being followed? How did motorists manage to get by in the chaos?

Cultural explanations aside, the Indonesian government is actually rather concerned about traffic safety and has made efforts to tighten strictures since 2007: helmets are in fact required, and you’re not supposed to cross the solid line. But new rules are rarely enforced. Indeed when Jakarta (where traffic is far worse than Bali: one expat described a six-hour cab ride three miles from the military academy to the US embassy) – first implemented the new rules on turning right at red lights (Indonesia uses the British system) motorists nearly revolted in opposition to the tickets.

Perhaps this is because the government is aiming to alter the laws, rather than the architecture – which as Lawrence Lessig would tell anyone, is rarely the best way to encourage social change. For example, an acquaintaince I spoke with described one effort centered on reducing traffic by creating carpool lanes. However no effort was made to provide additional public transportation for the people who were presumably not going to be on the roads. Nor did authorities actually build new lanes but rather simply created a rule stating that any car in the left lane with fewer than three people would receive a ticket. So in theory this would have simply increased congestion in the non-carpool lane. In practice, what it did was encourage motorists to increasingly drive on sidewalks, and to create a new industry: individuals who hang out by the carpool lane and jump into cars for a fee in order to enable them to use the lane lawfully.

In Bali, at least, social norms appeared to govern traffic flows more than legal rules – leaving one observer to describe traffic there as “zen chaos”:

Being an active participant in Bali traffic is quite an illuminating experience, by no means limited to complex vehicular dynamics. It is a social and cultural phenomenon as well, not to mention a crash course in logistics, strategic planning, tactical implementation and group psychology…. One can contemplate the fluid chaos around one’s bike while interacting with it. Staying alive is always such a good motivator, too.

I’ve learned some simple rules to help me survive so far. Treat all turns as merges. Think zipper. Treat all intersections as the merging of two traffic streams at right angles. Give way only to those you are about to hit, or are about to hit you. Travel at the speed of the surrounding traffic. Drive in a bubble, concerning yourself only with the people in front and to the sides. The ones behind can take care of themselves. Assume that anyone joining traffic from left or right kerbs will not look before accelerating. Above all, follow the medicos’ creed: “First, do no harm”. It doesn’t reduce the chaos, but it does make it a little more bearable.


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