Geopoliticus

U.S. LNG In Central and Eastern Europe – Taking Diversification Seriously

Last week President Trump met in Warsaw with Polish officials and Central and Eastern European (CEE) leaders at the Three Seas Initiative Summit. The event brought together countries from the Adriatic, Black and Baltic seas to discuss development of regional infrastructure necessary to reduce their energy dependence on Russia and ensure energy security. This happened shortly after the first cargo of U.S. LNG, carried by the 162,000 cbm-capacity “Clean Ocean, entered the Polish port of Swinoujscie. Both the U.S. and Polish governments lauded the cargo and, following the meeting with Donald Trump in Warsaw, Polish President, Andrzej Duda declared a possibility of signing a long-term agreement (LTA) for the supply of U.S. LNG into Poland.

Much of Duda’s statement is political rhetoric given that LTAs are not signed between governments. Instead these contracts are commercial decisions made by individual companies. But the strong rhetoric coming from both governments in support for U.S. LNG exports to CEE is an indicator that beyond economic aspect, this trade has strong geopolitical dimension.

Given competitiveness of Russian gas and willingness of Gazprom to defend its market, it is highly unlikely that U.S. LNG imports would grant CEE (or Europe as a whole) full and unconditional natural gas independence from Russia. However, standing ability to deliver U.S. (or other non-Russian) gas to Europe provides “credible threat” and changes the bargaining positions of all parties involved. In such scenario Russia stands to lose not as much market share as geopolitical influence that it has derived from CEE’s dependence on its gas. And while LNG exports will not give the U.S. more geopolitical power in Europe per se (given the increasingly competitive global LNG market), Russia’s loss in this regard is a strategic gain for the U.S.

But can the U.S. and CEE governments truly affect the outcome of essentially commercial transactions? Can they effectively facilitate the ‘credible threat’ of U.S. LNG exports? And if so, how?

This ability depends on several factors. These include the usual: pricing and, given competitiveness of Russian gas, the willingness of the CEE governments to support a security premium on natural gas from a non-Russian supplier. Also, policy makers should pay close attention to current policy decisions within the EU that relate to infrastructure and antitrust law, as these decisions may not only impact profitability but also feasibility of LNG imports well into the future.

Forces that Influence Europe’s Natural Gas Market

The European market, while not expected to be as robust as Asia over the coming years, will remain an important source of demand for natural gas suppliers. As reported by Eurogas, going forward Europe will need to import much more natural gas than suggested by demand growth alone (Figure 1). In addition, the region is attractive given dependability of the market and reliability of European governments and customers.

Figure 1. EU Natural Gas Demand through 2030.
Source: Eurogas, “Natural Gas Demand and Supply: Long term Outlook to 2030.”

Much of the future makeup of European natural gas supply might be determined not only by market forces but also by geopolitical considerations and European Union legal and antitrust decisions.

The two main decisions currently on the agenda that will have broad and direct consequences for LNG trade in Europe are: 1) permitting of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, and 2) antitrust decisions by the European Commission related to Gazprom abusing its monopoly position in the CEE.

European Diversification and What It Means to Different Parties

Natural gas market diversification has become a hot topic in Europe following several breaks in Russian gas deliveries between 2005 and 2009. The 2014 crisis in Ukraine and complete shut off of natural gas supply flowing from Russia added urgency to the matter. In principle, all EU members agree that diversification is needed. But there is a visible rift between how diversification efforts are envisaged by the West versus the CEE countries.

Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics in particular are pushing for diversification away from Russia. Their efforts include a buildup of LNG infrastructure, with the already functioning LNG terminal in Lithuania and the aforementioned LNG terminal in Swinoujscie. Plans are drawn already to expand the existing terminals, and new LNG terminals are planned in Estonia. Small-scale LNG projects are also in the works in the Baltics. In addition, the region is considering facilities for regasification, storage, rebunkering, and reloading, as well as investment in rail transport to support future LNG imports.

It goes without saying that such imports will never be realized unless the price of LNG is competitive. But it is worth noting that although the price of LNG brought to Swinoujscie by U.S.-based Cheniere Energy has not been disclosed, it was lower than Russian and German EEX natural gas prices, according to the Polish trader, PGNIG.

In addition, many CEE countries may be willing to pay a certain security premium for LNG to sustain diversification efforts away from Russian natural gas. Regardless their willingness to pay such a premium rate, these countries also actively seek non-LNG market opportunities to diversify supply, including onshore projects like the Baltic pipe. This means that the ability to pay excessive prices by those countries may be moderated in the future, as the CEE gas market becomes more competitive.

The strong push toward diversification within CEE is related to two main factors. First, dependency rates on Russian natural gas have been historically very high, with some CEE countries previously entirely dependent on Russian imports (Figure 2 below). This led to uncertainty in terms of reliable gas supplies and higher prices. If non-Russian supplies of natural gas are readily available, Gazprom loses ability to charge monopoly prices. Second, there is a strong sentiment that Russia is ready and willing to use energy dependence to achieve political goals regarding its relations with CEE countries. Much of this feeling is informed by the Soviet past, but some of the uneasiness stems from more current events, including Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and annexation of Crimea. Particularly, Poland and the Baltics see LNG imports as a way to dilute the Putin Regime’s economic influence over their countries and to parry Russian attempts at undermining the democratic process and social unity.

Figure 2. Europe’s Dependency on Russian Gas, 2014.
Data Source: Eurogas, Statistical Report 2015.

 

On the other hand, Western European countries are generally content with diversifying natural gas supply routes away from Ukraine that they see as a high-risk transit territory. They are less interested in diversifying supplies away from Russia and are focused rather on lowering cost than on geopolitical implications of dependence on Russian natural gas. This is related to lower dependency rates in that region (Figure 2) and to long-standing collaboration between Western Europe’s utilities and Gazprom that is seen as reliable partner and supplier. There is much less concern about possible monopolization of the European gas market by Russia and its geopolitical implications.

Nord Stream 2, EU Antitrust Decisions & “Credible Threat” of U.S. LNG Imports

Whether CEE countries will be able to achieve their goal of natural gas market diversification and whether U.S. and other LNG producers will have access to the European market will depend as much on price as on other factors. When it comes to price Russia has significant and undisputed advantage. But EU’s policy framework, infrastructure buildup and willingness of countries to support non-Russian supplies will define boundaries within which market forces operate. As such, these factors will determine whether Russian gas dominance in Europe (particularly in CEE) will be strictly commercial or whether it will continue to yield geopolitical power. Construction of Nord Stream 2 and EU antitrust decisions are currently the two decisions that will have a bearing in this regard and where government’s, and not companies, can influence the outcomes.

Nord Stream 2 (NS2) is planned to cross directly from Russia to Germany. The new pipeline is supposed to accompany the already existing Nord Stream 1, reducing the need for the Ukrainian transit route. The plan is constituent with Western Europe’s efforts to diversify natural gas routes away from the risky transit territory. CEE countries argue against the pipeline, which in their view would damage their efforts geared toward diversity of supply and reducing dependence on Russian gas. If recent research is correct, these fears may be well substantiated. The research shows that NS2 would allow Gazprom to pre-empt diversification measures by using the entire capacity of current pipeline infrastructure. With pipelines committed to Russian gas, Gazprom could deter other potential sources of supply from entering the market and keep prices in CEE countries high.

Gazprom current commitments in the Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) antitrust investigation may have similar consequences. Considered soft, regarding the time and scale of alleged anticompetitive practices that affected trade in the CEE, they would possibly result in eliminating competition from other sources of natural gas supply (though, as opposed to NS2 they do not seem to increase prices of natural gas in the CEE or elsewhere in Europe). And while these commitments may be changed in the course of further proceedings, a soft response from the EU indicates general tendency and provides a precedent for future decisions.

EU decisions on NS2 and antitrust will have a profound impact on creating favorable conditions for U.S. LNG in European markets and whether it will be able to provide the ‘credible threat’ to Russian natural gas dominance. Poland and the Baltics are pushing hard against NS2 in an effort to advance their diversification efforts. The U.S. government is also acutely aware of the problem and has engaged in anti-NS2 sanctions and anti-NS2 diplomacy in the region. But there is a noticeable lack of involvement from other CEE countries. Thanks to recent infrastructure and regional cooperation agreements these countries feel more secure when it comes to natural gas deliveries not realizing the potential negative effects NS2 may have, once completed.

This lack of engagement, together with Western Europe’s limited view of diversification may well be responsible for Russia regaining its position as Europe’s dominant natural gas supplier, a position that has been seemingly slipping away from Russia in recent years as LNG technology took off (Figure 3). This is critical especially now as the European Commission (EC) seeks member-state approval to negotiate with Russia on NS2 with an intent to extent at least main provisions of the EU natural gas legal framework (Third Party Access, unbundling) onto NS2.

Figure 3. Origin of Primary Energy Imports to the EU (% Non-EU Imports).
Source: Eurostat

 

Is There a Hope for U.S. LNG Exports to Europe?

The first U.S. LNG cargo to Poland is a result of a one-off transaction between Chenier and a newly established Polish trading office in London. Although it is probable that future LNG deals will be concluded later this year, the problem of the long-term profitability of U.S. exports of this commodity to the EU is still open. Governments have little say as to what contracts are signed but they have the power to affect market conditions within which companies operate. Currently, NS2 and to a smaller extent, EU antitrust decisions are factors, which governments should consider if they want to affect future access to Europe’s natural gas market.

When it comes to the U.S., its government has been active in supporting European energy diversity in many ways, including active opposition to the NS2 pipeline via unilateral U.S. sanctions against Russia and diplomatic assurances in the Baltics and Poland. But this may not be enough. There also may be a value in the U.S. focusing on issue diplomacy in those European (CEE and non-CEE) countries that are currently quiet or in support of NS2 but would ultimately lose if NS2 comes to be.

That being said any success of CEE and U.S. efforts does not guarantee unobstructed flow of U.S. (or any other) LNG to the European market. However, ability to access that market by any non-Russian supplier will provide an effective check on both, Russia’s pricing policy and the influence that country has historically derived from its monopoly over the CEE market.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com and can be viewed here.

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Why We Must Recognize North Korea

The reason that negotiations over North Korea have never achieved anything is simple. Their avowed goal is impossible to achieve. It is well-past time to accept that no means, political or military, exists to eliminate North Korean nuclear weapons. Their continued existence is certain, as will be explained. That being the case, it is time for the United States in particular to adopt a new approach.

This approach would be to recognize North Korea diplomatically, as a state, and as one having nuclear capability. Washington and Pyongyang should each build embassies and exchange ambassadors. This is the best alternative now available. It will not restore peace to Asia but it will bring partial progress that is real, rather than the total solution on which all agree, but that is simply impossible.

On June 21. 2017  United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that Washington and Beijing agreed to “a complete and irreversible denuclearization of Korean Peninsula.” [1] Two weeks later, on July 7, 2017 it was reported that Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump had also agreed on such“ a complete and irreversible denuclearization.”[2] South Korea has already agreed repeatedly to this idea.

But how could such a situation ever be created? No country possessing nuclear weapons is ever again going to give them up. Ukraine did so, trusting to the pledges of the Budapest Memorandum (4 December 2004) in which “The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” That was proven a worthless scrap of paper when Russia invaded (2014-present) and annexed Crimea.

No one could miss the lesson nor will North Korea: keep your nuclear weapons and no one will dare invade you. Give them up and your position is vulnerable.

Suppose, however that North Korea solemnly agreed to denuclearize under treaty provisions, perhaps similar to those of Budapest. Proving that Pyongyang had complied would be impossible. North Korea is 48,000 square miles; under her surface are labyrinths of tunnels, factories, and military facilities of which we have no clue. To hold back and conceal  a substantial nuclear strike force would be easy, nor could any inspection regime, up to and including a military occupation, detect it if the concealment were competently done. Even a military holocaust over the country would not surely eliminate such weapons.

Note too that even a residual North Korean nuclear force would probably range from 49 to 100 (author’s estimate), as compared to 7,000 Russian bombs, China’s perhaps 1,000 (author’s estimate), India’s 130, Pakistan’s 140, Israel’s 80, France’s 300, Britain’s 215, and the United State’s 6,600. Her threat is deeply concerning, but the region is far more worried by China.[3]

At worst North Korea will flatly turn down our offer of recognition, in which case we should state that it remains open. If embassies having secure conference facilities, and able ambassadors are created, then for the first time the United States and Pyongyang will have a secure means of communicating ideas, however sensitive. This too may lead nowhere. But as the advantages of closer ties with the United States and her world of allies become clear, it is equally possible that Pyongyang will come to see that they can offer much more than their current shaky alignment with Russia and China.

No quid pro quo should be offered for this standard diplomatic procedure. Nor should anyone imagine that, if successfully accomplished, it will bring peace to hand. The greatest threat to Asia is not North Korea but China’s illegal expansion and militarization over millions of square miles into territories to which she has no claim, seas to her east and mountains of or near north India.

This fact of Chinese aggression means that the U.S. and her allies must continue to be strong; indeed stronger than they are at present. If a recognized North Korea continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, our only option will be further to increase the armaments and missile defenses of our Asian allies.  My own view is that if South Korea finds the North unresponsive to her peace overtures, she will develop her own nuclear weapons, regardless of American opinion. The same is almost certainly true for Japan, which China is forcing into a remilitarization that she does not want. When the Japanese do things, though, they tend to do them well, so we may assume that, if China does not change the situation radically, she will soon face a Japan possessing a nuclear deterrent—I argue only for minimal nuclear deterrents for our allies, perhaps no more than nuclear tipped torpedoes or nuclear cruise missiles that can be launched near shore—as well as and an air force as good as any.

Finally, what of North Korea? She will no longer be glued in place, attached to China of which she is not fond. With her independent forces she will also be too strong for China to intimidate. lest she cause nuclear attack. By the same token, North Korea will no longer be forced to ally only with  rogue nations.  She will have the option of moving into a more central and multipolar position globally, both diplomatically and economically. The possibility of trading in real world markets may afford her the opportunity to change.

These are only hopes. For now we extend our hand of formal recognition. But we offer nothing in return, nor do we diminish our relations with South Korea and other allies. Not a trail whose terminus is visible. But a rail at least that we can begin to walk.

Arthur Waldron is a Senior Fellow in FPRI’s Asia Program and is the Lauder Professor of International Relations in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania.


[1] http://www.teletrader.com/news/details/39290551?ts=1499882856534

[2] https://koreas.liveuamap.com/en/2017/7-july-tillerson-says-trump–and–putin-had-a-pretty-good

[3] https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat  This is the source for all figures save those labeled “author’s estimate”.

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Israel and India: From a Chill to an Embrace?

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India concluded a three-day visit to Israel. His visit was genuinely historic as he was the first Indian prime minister to ever undertake such a trip. Indeed, the visit may well signify an entirely new phase in the Indo-Israeli relationship. Though India had recognized the state of Israel in 1950, it was only in 1992 that it had finally accorded the country full diplomatic status. Why has it taken the two states decades to finally arrive at a stage where they can enjoy a cordial and indeed close relationship? The answer to this question is complex and has complex historical and ideological roots.

India had formally voted against the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947. In considerable part, its opposition had stemmed from India’s anti-colonial history and the sympathies that its principal nationalist leaders had for the Palestinian cause. Even a letter from Albert Einstein pleading the Israeli cause had left the most prominent exponent of Indian nationalism, Mahatma Gandhi, India’s most noted nationalist leader, unmoved. Not surprisingly, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, chose to maintain a studious diplomatic distance from the nascent state. His successors, while accepting clandestine military support from Israel during India’s wars with Pakistan in both 1965 and 1971, nevertheless did little to enhance ties with the country.

Their decision to maintain the diplomatic reserve stemmed from three sources. First, it emanated from what institutional economists refer to as “path dependence.” Once organizations embark upon a certain policy direction only significant shocks, from within or without, lead them to fundamentally change course. India’s foreign policy establishment proved to be no exception to this principle. Second, India’s policymakers convinced themselves that India’s substantial Muslim population would take umbrage with an open embrace of Israel. Even though there was no clear evidence to this end, the belief alone was so strong that none within the political leadership dare chose to challenge its veracity. Ironically, at the end of the Cold War, when India chose to finally extend full diplomatic recognition to Israel, there was barely a whimper of protest from India’s vast Muslim community. Third, it had also shied away from closer ties with Israel for fear of a backlash from the Arab world. However, at the Cold War’s end, with a general re-appraisal of India’s foreign policy orientation, it became easier for the political establishment to accord Israel full diplomatic recognition.

Since then, the relationship has undergone a fitful, but dramatic transformation.  Previous governments under the tutelage of the Indian National Congress (INC), because of their inheritance of the legacy of the nationalist movement, had been somewhat circumspect about openly embracing the Indo-Israeli relationship.  Nevertheless, they had gradually expanded the scope and dimensions of existing ties. As a consequence, there had been considerable growth in diverse areas ranging from trade to military cooperation. Much of this expansion, however, was carried out without any great fanfare because the INC remained wary about alienating a key domestic electoral constituency and was also concerned about not troubling India’s Arab partners.

Similar misgivings do not appear to concern the current, right-of-center, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime of Prime Minister Modi. It has concluded that it can cede much of the Muslim vote to the INC and still achieve electoral success both in national and most state level elections. No doubt, it has also concluded that the divisions in the Arab world as well as India’s enhanced global stature ensures that improvements in relations with Israel will not lead to any significant diplomatic costs being imposed on India.  More specifically, it needs to be borne in mind that long before assuming the premiership, Modi had successfully sought to attract investment to his home state of Gujarat from Israel. Consequently, he could draw on his prior ties to the country as he planned this path-breaking visit.

Apart from the obvious symbolic significance of this visit, what exactly was accomplished during it? Even prior to the visit, Israel had emerged as a significant defense partner for India. For example, in April of this year, India had placed an order amounting to $2 billion to acquire various forms of high-technology weaponry, including drones, from Israel. There is every reason to believe that in the wake of this visit defense cooperation will only be enhanced further. Also, as of 2016, bilateral trade, which had once been of trivial importance, was approaching nearly $5 billion.

More specifically, during the visit, the two sides signed seven different agreements that will lead to greater cooperation in such areas as space, water management, energy, and agriculture. They also agreed to set up a five-year joint technology fund. Beyond these particular accords, they affirmed their existing commitment to counterterrorism cooperation—a matter of no trivial significance to either country.

Since by all accounts the trip was both a substantive as well as a symbolic success, what could possibly trouble the relationship in the likely future? The issue that the two leaderships seem to have deftly avoided is India’s robust diplomatic relationship with Iran. Despite public professions about long-standing civilizational links, the bilateral diplomatic warmth is based upon cold, hard calculations. India needs Iran for access to hydrocarbons especially natural gas, for an alternative route to Afghanistan (given the state of the India-Pakistan rivalry), and to ensure the political quiescence of its very substantial Shia minority. Consequently, it can ill-afford to distance itself from Iran. Israel, for various national security concerns, on the other hand, remains deeply wary about the country, its causes, and its goals.  

This is an arena where the budding Indo-Israeli relationship will no doubt diverge. The task for policymakers in both Tel Aviv and New Delhi will be to build upon the significant convergence of interests and not allow this issue to disrupt an emerging partnership that could prove beneficial to both states, especially since it has taken so very long to come to fruition.

Sumit Ganguly, a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, is a professor of political science and holds the Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington.

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Of Modi and Trump: A Case of Continuity?

Indo-U.S. relations, despite some inevitable vicissitudes, had been mostly on an upswing since the second Clinton administration. After dramatic progress on multiple fronts during the two terms of George W. Bush, it had briefly appeared to be in the doldrums during the first Obama administration. Two issues in particular had vexed New Delhi. The administration had been overly solicitous of India’s long-standing and long-term adversary, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and had sought to link the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan with the U.S. role in Afghanistan. India had responded coolly toward the first overture and had expressed outright hostility toward the second. The administration, after its initial flirtation with the PRC did not play out well, changed tack. Also, faced with a blunt and unyielding stance from India on the other matter, it backtracked from linking the two issues.

Indeed following Obama’s visit to India in October 2010, the relationship had undergone a significant course correction. Among other matters, Obama was the first U.S. president to publicly, if in a qualified fashion, endorse India’s quest to join the United Nations as a Permanent Member. This gesture, though hedged with suitable qualifications, was of extraordinary significance to the Indian foreign policy elite, for whom the goal is of talismanic dimensions.

President Trump’s assumption of office came as a surprise to India’s policymakers. To compound matters, Trump had railed against the India’s use of the H-1B visas during the campaign—an issue of no trivial significance to India’s multi-billion dollar information technology industry. Apart from this populist rant, he had expressed scant interest in India and shortly after getting elected had lauded the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in a phone call. Subsequently, earlier this year, Trump had publicly accused India of seeking billions of dollars from advanced industrial countries in exchange for its support for the Paris climate change accords.

All these statements had been of cold comfort to India’s foreign policy establishment. Nor had the administration sought to reassure India that it would pursue policy continuity in other areas such as defense cooperation or regional security through high-level diplomatic contacts. In fact, the only official of any consequence who visited India was the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster. Based upon press reports, much of his time in New Delhi had been devoted to discussions about the future of Afghanistan.

Consequently, as Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Washington, D.C. loomed, many within India’s foreign policy circles fretted about how Modi’s first state visit to the United States following Trump’s election would play out. Fortunately, for the most part, press reports and the detailed joint communiqué suggest that the Indo-U.S. relationship is in no imminent danger of being derailed. What are the indicators that the visit was at least a modest success and that it presages continuity in American policy toward India? Also, might there be any possible pitfalls that still lurk over the horizon? Are there issues that were left unaddressed that could come back to disturb the seeming bonhomie that the two leaders have established?

At the outset, it might be desirable to highlight what most Indian foreign policy commentators deem to be the achievements of the trip. Virtually all of them have taken note of the decision of the Trump administration to declare well-known terrorist, Syed Salauddin, the leader of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.” Under the terms of this label, any of his financial assets in the United States will be subject to seizure, and no U.S. citizen can have contact with the individual. The practical consequences of this listing may be limited as Salauddin is unlikely to possess significant financial resources in the United States, and few Americans would be desirous of establishing contact with him anyway. That said, the designation is nevertheless important as it helps India put pressure on Pakistan, his base of operations.

Barring this decision, even a casual glance at the joint communiqué reveals that a number of subjects that had been under consideration under the Obama administration will still be pursued. In the defense arena, the previous administration had granted India the status of a Major Defense Partner. Under its aegis, India was granted access to a range of dual-use technologies. The joint statement affirmed India’s status and revealed that the U.S. has now offered India new drone technology. It has also emphasized the significance of on-going bilateral naval cooperation and an interest in its deepening and expansion.

Also, in a striking departure from past precedent, India affirmed American efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits. Previous Indian regimes had shied away from taking such bold and unequivocal stances on matters that did not directly impinge on India’s national security concerns. Similarly, without explicitly alluding to the PRC, the statement underscored the importance of the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. In many ways, these are important signs that India now envisages a wider role for itself on matters of regional security across Asia.

Some potentially contentious issues, however, seem to have been set aside. There is no mention of the nettlesome issue of H-1B visas; the matter of divergent views on climate change seem to have been mostly papered over; and there is no reference to Iran’s role in the Gulf. The final issue deserves a bit of discussion. India, for a variety of compelling reasons seeks to preserve a cordial relationship with Iran. Among other matters, it has a very substantial Shia population in northern India and values their political quiescence. It is also dependent on Iran for access to natural gas. Finally, it has invested much in the development of a port facility at Chabahar in Iran to counter the PRC’s growing presence in Pakistan and to obtain land access to Afghanistan. Consequently, it would be loath to dilute this critical relationship.

The Trump administration with its fixation on Iran is no doubt aware of India’s ties to Iran. The fact that this issue in a concluding public statement has been neatly sidestepped suggests that it is not an area where there is mutual understanding. Nevertheless, it is not a matter that can be swept under a rug. At some point, the two sides will be compelled to grasp this particular nettle and not allow it to damage the overall fabric of the relationship.

A few analysts in India have suggested that the visit did not yield significant new achievements barring the U.S. decision to isolate Syed Salauddin and to nudge forward the process of defense cooperation. Such a characterization, though seemingly accurate, misses a critical point. Modi’s visit and Trump’s affirmation of a range of past policies suggests that there is no rupture in the relationship. With the significant ballast that it has acquired over the past decade and a half, the absence of any dramatic turns under the Trump administration demonstrates that it can withstand a significant shift in the overarching orientation of U.S. foreign policy.


Sumit Ganguly is a Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington.

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Hypotheses on the Terrorist Bombing in a Bogota Shopping Mall

On June 17, the eve of Father’s Day, an explosive device ripped through a women’s bathroom in Bogota’s upscale Centro Andino shopping mall, reportedly killing three women and wounding at least eight people. A young French woman who reportedly had helped a children’s school in a low-income Bogota neighborhood died in the blast, and her mother was injured, according to news reports.

Based in Bogota, I coincidentally walked by Centro Andino about an hour and a half before the explosion, which authorities called a terrorist act. A big question is if this bombing is a portend of more terrorist bombings to come in Colombia—sadly, it wouldn’t be surprising.

This bombing happened, ironically, as Colombia’s largest guerilla group, the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is in the process of disarming and integrating into legal civilian society, after waging 52 years of war. A revised version of a peace accord between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC—which critics say is cosmetic, but which Santos and the FARC insist is significant—was ratified by the Colombian Congress November 30, 2016, after voters in a nationwide “plebiscite” rejected the first version of the accord by about 50.2% to 49.7% in the balloting last October 2, with about 62% of the electorate in abstention.

It would be irresponsible to jump to unsubstantiated conclusions about the Centro Andino bombing as the police investigation moves forward. (Authorities have publicly released drawings intended to approximate the respective faces of two men of interest or possible material authors of the crime, according to some eyewitness descriptions of them, say news reports.) However, we can ask the following question: For whom could the terrorist bombing in the Centro Andino shopping mall supposedly benefit (in a perpetrator’s warped mind-set)?

The following is a list of potential suspects—though it is not necessarily meant to point a finger at any particular group or person, nor is it a list in order of presumed preponderance of suspicion:

  • The Clan del Golfo (“Urabenos”) or another drug-trafficking or post-rightist-”paramilitary” group known as BACRIMs, a Colombian acronym for criminal bands? The Clan del Golfo has reportedly made public calls in the past to be included in some sort of dialogue with the Colombian government, alluding to peace dialogues that the FARC and Colombia’s still active, second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), have had with the government. Bombing a major city in an upscale part of town where the “elite” and upper classes frequent would put pressure presumably where the perpetrator(s) would feel it counts—in the view of the perpetrator(s).
  • The ELN? The Marxist ELN high command has repudiated in tweets the Centro Andino terrorist attack. But observers point out that the ELN is a “confederated” organization, with autonomy among its units. The ELN high command doesn’t appear to have full control over its entire organization, according to Colombian Defense Ministry sources, though ELN leaders claim that the ELN has tight unity.
  • The FARC? The FARC has publicly condemned the Centro Andino bombing. The organization is currently working towards disarmament and integration into legal civilian society. Having signed a peace accord, it would seem to be counterintuitve that the FARC would be behind the Centro Andino bombing, or other terrorist acts. Moreover, if found culpable of being involved in criminal violation of the peace accord, FARC members could lose the peace accord’s “transitional justice” benefits, face ordinary jail time, or even extradition to other countries courts.

But could the FARC somehow be connected to “sending a message” that if the Colombian government doesn’t comply with the peace accord? The FARC is very capable of hitting the state and “oligarchy” where it most hurts, in the high-class parts of major cities.

Both the Colombian government and FARC have pointed the finger at each other at times, complaining about the issue of perceived or real non-compliance or delays on some things in the peace accord. Each side is stressing its own commitment and desire to comply with the peace accord, despite problems that pop up.

There could be a hypothesis—as some Colombian military officers floated to me in the past without evidence—that the FARC could perhaps surreptitiously continue contacts with outlawed armed groups (even with dissident FARC groups with which the FARC has publicly denounced and disassociated itself) with an aim to have some sort of option whereby armed action could conceivably be used as a pressure tool so that the Colombian government complies with the peace accord. The FARC has vehemently rejected that notion, though, and says that it is fully dedicated to peaceful solutions.

  • Dissident FARC armed groups? It cannot be excluded as a possibility. But why would dissident FARC groups want to draw even more heat on themselves, when they seem to be concentrated on their own narcotics interests in remote jungle areas—unless supposedly like the Clan del Golfo, they would want to put pressure to enter into some sort of dialogue with Colombian government?
  • Another guerrilla group, such as the new shadowy Revolutionary Movement of the People (MRP, in its Spanish initials)? Not much is known about this apparently tiny group that some Colombian authorities reportedly think might have come into existence around late 2015, or even what it is about, except for maybe some pamphlets under the name of the MRP alluding to Marxist-style for-the-poor, anti-rich/anti-elite rhetoric. It is reported to have or have had some supposedly tangential connection to ELN urban networks and to some extremists in Colombian universities.

There are some press reports of indications supposedly pointing toward alleged MRP involvement in the Centro Andino bombing, and some of these reports mention past small-scale urban bombings where the MRP is a suspect. But a document circulating in social media and identifying itself as being purportedly written by the MRP has denounced the Centro Andino bombing and denied any involvement in it. (So far, there is no independent confirmation of the document’s authenticity.)

  • Right-wing extremists? They could perhaps have a motive for trying to undermine the peace accord—which they may see as undermining their own interests, say regarding issues of political or land reforms, etc—and the Centro Andino terrorist attack could perhaps be aimed (in this possible scenario) to distract a public into raising doubts about the FARC’s intentions for peace and the future.
  • A disgruntled employee, an extortionist or a mentally deranged person?
  • A “lone wolf,” either a Colombian national or non-Colombian inspired by whatever reason? Colombia hasn’t had a history of Islamic extremist-inspired terrorism. The possibility of a “lone wolf” seems to be remote in the Centro Andino bombing, given past and recent trends of terrorism in Colombia.

The above are just some hypotheses on possible suspects—nothing solid established, yet. And remember that any person in the women’s bathroom where the bomb exploded or nearby—whether dead, wounded or not—could in standard police procedure have to be checked out for being perhaps a possible suspect. But let’s not jump to conclusions.

I returned to Centro Andino Father’s Day at about 12:30 p.m. (the day after the bombing), and it was mostly empty. There was a very small smattering of people in its food court at that time. Knowing the resiliency and strength of Colombians, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Centro Andino crowded, again.

But the sad forecast is that the Centro Andino bombing will not be the final terrorist attack in Colombia.

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