What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Supplying supply routes

Over at the Long War Journal, there is a US officer quoted on the strategic politics of the logistics of the mission in Afghanistan, saying things that I have said over at this site since more than half a year now - and I wasn't alone in that, of course.

" The US has been quietly trying to secure alternate routes through central Asia, but the routes are less dependable and increase the amount of time it takes to move the supplies into Afghanistan.
But the military is concerned these alternate routes can be shut down if the US has major disagreements with Russia or China, who control these routes.
"We'd have to depend on Russia or China for our supplies to reach Afghanistan," a senior US military officer told The Long War Journal.
"Over time, this is not sustainable. Take the Georgian crisis," the officer said, noting Russia's invasion of the Republic of Georgia last summer. "If we move our supplies through Russia, and another crisis like this arises, say in the Ukraine, our hands will be tied. We will have to choose between supporting a burgeoning democracy and supporting the protracted fight in Afghanistan."

The officer also expressed concerns about the US' ability to deploy more forces into Afghanistan to fight against a resurgent Taliban given the poor security in Pakistan. "Adding three more brigades of troops and their accompanying support elements means we need to significantly increase the supplies moving through Pakistan," the officer stated. "We are only increasing our logistical problems and betting on Pakistan to keep these routes open is a bad play." "

The warning that it's in general not very good to be dependent on Russia is certainly valid. The Russians themselves, otherwise not interested in a neo-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, will go to great lengths doing horse-trading and tying cooperation to all sorts of other issues. Like, say, that NATO supplies have to travel through the Kaliningrad exclave for example so that some in the neighbourhood get angry and old disputes come to the fore. Certainly they might occasionally test how much cooperation is worth, by pushing to the limits of generating crises and outcomes favourable from their point of view. That would always be a concern.
What is not sufficiently taken into account here is that it's not simply an issue of paying the Russian, the Chinese, the Iranian or the Pakistani price, and that price alone, for sustaining the resupply chain. Once you buy into shares in more places, you get some more options. And you may find that the price is a bit more flexible than it first appeared. Yeah, one certainly has to beware of giving too much, and bluff strategies of pressure-wielding could always upset a seemingly well-functioning balance between supply routes. But a move in the direction of such a balance has to be made, for a generally better bargaining position.

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