China's Port in Pakistan?

China's dream of Indian Ocean ports -- the so-called string of pearls -- is heightening geopolitical tensions in a rough neighborhood.

Pakistani officials have announced that the Chinese look favorably on taking over the operation of the Arabian Sea port of Gwadar close to the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, and perhaps building a naval base for the Pakistanis there as well. The Chinese have apparently contradicted these claims, indicating that they have made no such decisions on these matters.

The fact that Pakistan should want deeper Chinese involvement with this strategically located port, even as the Chinese are hesitant to do just that, should surprise no one. Gwadar is where dreams clash with reality.

The Chinese have already invested $200 million in building a modern port in Gwadar. Furthermore, a presence of some sort at Gwadar makes estimable sense for Beijing in the abstract. China faces what has been called a "Malacca dilemma." It is too dependent on the narrow and congested Strait of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia for its oil and natural gas shipments from the Middle East to Chinese ports.

Thus, China has been engaged in port-building projects in Pakistan and Burma, which, someday, may be linked by roads and energy pipelines directly to China. Besides offering an alternative route for energy supplies, such new ports will be the 21st-century equivalent of 19th-century British coaling stations for China's budding maritime empire spanning the Indian Ocean. Once China has developed a blue-water navy to protect its sea lines of communications, it will require port access along the global energy interstate that is the Indian Ocean. For Pakistan's part, a robust Chinese presence at Gwadar would serve to check India's own strategic ambitions, as Islamabad leverages Beijing against New Delhi.

The problem is that these are all long-range plans -- and dreams. They conflict with messy ground-level realities. Visiting Gwadar for a week in 2008, I was struck not only by how isolated it was, between pounding sea and bleak desert, but how unstable was the region of Baluchistan, which lies immediately beyond the port in all landward directions. Ethnic Baluchi rebel leaders told me that they would never permit roads and pipelines to be built there, until their grievances with the Pakistani government in faraway Islamabad were settled.

The security situation is indeed fraught with peril. The Chinese know this. They know that a pipeline network from Gwadar into Central Asia and China must await the political stabilization of Afghanistan -- and Pakistan, too. Until such a day, Gwadar, while a potentially useful coaling station for a budding Chinese navy, constitutes, in essence, a road to nowhere.

Bottom line: The Chinese may be as frustrated and aghast at the dysfunction of the Pakistani state as are the Americans. Yes, they built the port, with hopes of using it someday. But it seems from their latest statements that they have reservations for the moment. True, they seem to have moved closer to Pakistan to take advantage of Islamabad's estrangement from Washington in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but they are nevertheless still being cautious. And the caution, I believe, comes not from a lack of geopolitical ambition regarding Gwadar, but from the present security situation in Pakistan, with a government that frankly cannot control its own territory, whether it be the lawless frontier with Afghanistan, or Baluchistan.

Furthermore, just as the Pakistanis want to use China as a bulwark against India, China -- while not shying away from strategic competition with India -- must at the same time be careful not to unduly antagonize India. For China is building or upgrading ports not only in Pakistan and Burma, but in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, too. The point must be emphasized that it is unclear exactly what China intends for these Indian Ocean ports -- China's so-called "String of Pearls." India already feels surrounded by China and has greatly enlarged its own naval base at Karwar, in the country's south, partly in response to Chinese construction work in Gwadar. Given that India and China may soon constitute the world's largest bilateral trading relationship, China must tread carefully. After all, it has always claimed to its neighbors that its rise is benevolent and non-hegemonic.

Indeed, Gwadar is important: not for what it is today, but for what it will indicate about Beijing's intentions in the coming years and decades.

Jason Lee-Pool/Getty Images


No Safe Haven?

The long saga that led to Ratko Mladic's arrest shows that international pressure does work. It just takes time.

The arrest of the notorious fugitive Ratko Mladic almost 16 years after his indictment for genocide closes a gaping hole in the otherwise laudable efforts to bring to justice the authors of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. Of the alleged architects of that slaughter, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may have been the better known (he managed to drag out proceedings in The Hague until he died, depriving the world of the satisfaction of a judgment); former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic may have been the more flamboyant (his long period in hiding ended in 2008, and he is now on trial in The Hague), but Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb military leader, was arguably the most ruthless.

Mladic was not an antiseptic killer giving orders from afar. At Srebrenica, the site of the worst atrocity on European soil since World War II, he handed out candy to placate terrified children as he rounded up 8,000 of their fathers and brothers to be machine-gunned to death in the surrounding hills.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has done an impressive job of bringing the architects of Balkan war atrocities to justice. Slowly it has worked its way through the political and military commanders who directed the slaughter, convicting and sentencing 64. But its work would have been glaringly incomplete if Mladic had managed to escape justice.

The details of Mladic's many years as a fugitive remain to be revealed. President Boris Tadic said on May 26 only that Mladic had been arrested on "Serbian soil." That's not surprising, because it has been widely assumed that Mladic was helped in hiding by a small circle of allies in the Serbian military. They even paid him a pension until 2002 and reportedly had him treated in a Belgrade military hospital. In recent years, the civilian government has made seemingly serious efforts to find him, but the ICTY prosecutors remained suspicious that -- like Pakistan and Osama bin Laden -- the military's cooperation was more charade than reality.

Mladic's arrest -- as well as Serbia's earlier arrest of Karadzic and Croatia's of its own war-crimes suspects -- is a testament to the power of international sanctions and pressure. For years, Serbia's primary foreign-policy goal has been to join the European Union. But the EU consistently refused until Belgrade cooperated fully with the ICTY. The EU policy was not always firm; genocide notwithstanding, some governments favored moving on from the Balkan wars and admitting Serbia, given its now-reformist government. But the Netherlands insisted on Mladic's apprehension, and under the European Union's consensus system, that was enough to block accession.

The Netherlands had its reasons not to turn its back on Srebrenica. Denied U.N. approval to call in airstrikes, Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica barely resisted in 1995 as Mladic's troops took over the designated U.N. "safe haven" and slaughtered its men and boys. With that shameful memory, the Netherlands insisted that the European Union would not admit Serbia until the military coughed up Mladic. The EU high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, was just arriving in Belgrade to reaffirm that message when Mladic was picked up. And on June 6, the ICTY's prosecutor was expected to report to the U.N. Security Council that Serbia was still not fully cooperating in efforts to apprehend Mladic. Serbia's accession to the European Union was simply not in the cards until it surrendered Mladic -- so it did.

The lesson of principled pressure for justice should not be lost elsewhere in the world. International tribunals do not have police or military forces at their disposal. To achieve their promise of justice and deterrence, they depend on international cooperation. Absent military intervention (rarely a realistic or advisable option), capturing war criminals requires sustained, principled pressure on governments that harbor suspects.

After Mladic's arrest, accused mass murderers elsewhere in the world will sleep less soundly. Alleged killers such as Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, Libya's leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, and the Congolese military commander Bosco Ntaganda may have figured that they can sit tight and evade international warrants for their arrests. Others, such as Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, may have figured that they can hunker down at home and avoid future indictments that may be cast their way. But their calculations are only as good as the international community allows.

Inevitably, circumstances change. If the pressure is kept on, governments that safeguard accused official killers ultimately conclude the cost is simply too high. The international pressure can also bolster reformist forces that are most interested in the rule of law -- such as those cheering in Belgrade today. The tyrants of the world have certainly noticed that the prospects for evading international justice are diminishing. Let's hope the major powers have as well. Mladic's arrest should be time not only to celebrate, but also to reaffirm international commitment to see justice done.