Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Afghan Supplies, Russian Demands

NYTimes | The Taliban didn’t wait long to test Barack Obama. On Tuesday, militants bombed a bridge in the Khyber Pass region in Pakistan, cutting off supply lines to NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. This poses a serious problem for President Obama, who has said that he wants more American troops in Afghanistan. But troops need supplies.

The attack was another reminder that the supply line through Pakistan is extremely vulnerable. This means that the Obama administration might have to consider alternative routes through Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. But the Russians were unhappy about the Bush administration’s willingness to include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO, and they will probably not want to help with American supply lines unless Mr. Obama changes that position.

Here is where Mr. Obama could use some European help. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to come soon. Many Europeans, particularly Germans, rely on Russia’s natural gas. In January, the Russians cut natural gas shipments to Ukraine. As much of the Russian natural gas that goes to Europe runs through Ukraine, the cutoff affected European supplies — in the middle of winter. Europeans can’t really afford to irritate the Russians, and it’s hard to imagine that the Germans will confront them over supply routes to Afghanistan. Pakistan, unfortunately, is hardly a reliable partner either.
Russia and China are the last major holdouts for national sovereignty. An attempt was made to subvert Russia by non-military means, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but thanks to Putin that effort finally failed. China jumped into the capitalist game, in terms of trade and exports, but it has maintained strict control over its domestic economy and it has been rapidly upgrading its military, employing the cost-effective doctrine of asymmetric warfare.