Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Cui Bono

"Cui Bono", often translated as "who benefits?", is a favourite investigative principal of conspiracy theorists. It allows them to spin all kinds of fanciful nonsense whereby any accidental or perceived benefit resulting from tragedy can be used to finger otherwise unlikely culprits. For example, 9/11 conspiracy theorists often point to the fact that there are large gas reserves in Central Asia, particularly in Turkmenistan to argue that ultimately 9/11 was staged by the US in order to invade Afghanistan and build a pipeline through that country and down to the Pakistani coast where it will no doubt be run off with by the Yankee Imperialist Aggressors.

The pipeline has been the central character of what Ronald Weick calls a shaggy-dog story with no punchline explaining every action of the US's involvement in Central Asia. Pointing to UNOCAL's attempts to build a trans-Afghan pipeline in the nineties, some conspiracy theorists believe that the Afghan war was purely an attempt to resurrect this project. That the ensuing chaos justified troop presence there or that the US was deliberately provoking conflict. It didn't seem to matter that conflict was almost certainly the last thing prospective investors wanted to see there. I have even seen arguments that the continued US presence is deliberately stirring up conflict in order to prevent pipelines being built from Central Asia to China. Of course the problem with that little theory is that one look at the map above shows there is no need to build a trans-Afghan pipeline to move gas from Turkmenistan (or any of the other Central Asian republics) to China.

Also, the real world of geo-politics seems to work a little differently to the rules of Risk. Just because the Yankees have their black(water) armies sitting on Afghanistan doesn't mean China can't have its red armies parked there too. Or if not its red armies, it doesn't mean that it can't operate its own copper mine in Afghanistan.

However, China does seem to know at least one thing about the strategy of Risk. Let your opponents squabble with each other and build up slowly and quietly.

From 30th January's Economist:

[F]or most of the 18 years since the Soviet Union’s break-up, China has taken a back seat in the fierce competition between Russia and America for influence in this resource-rich region. In 2009, with the energy needs of its burgeoning economy continually growing, it woke up to new opportunities in its western backyard...

...In June, for example, China agreed to lend Turkmenistan $4 billion to develop its largest gasfield, South Yolotan, close to the Afghan border. This was part of a 30-year deal that should eventually bring China 40 billion cubic metres of gas each year. The same month Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin’s successor, announced a loan of $10 billion loan to the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a security forum grouping China, Russia and four Central Asian countries, to shore up members faltering in the global downturn. In November China’s largest oil-and-gas provider, jointly with Kazakhstan’s oil-and-gas firm, bought MangistauMunaiGas, a big oil producer in Kazakhstan. In exchange, China had lent the country $10 billion earlier last year.

China needs to be careful with its plans, however. If the Truthers get wind of who the true beneficiaries of the situation in Afghanistan are, China may have to face the inept wrath of the conspiraloons who may just ask the question... Hu benefits?


Marylander said...

I really think this a huge story though its implications are lost on most.
Russia maintains its power over Europe through its role as supplier of Natural Gas. Its own supply is barely enough to supply Europe and its own domestic demand. This means that it needs to be able to buy Central Asian gas to sell it to Europe. As China sucks up the Central Asian supply there will be less for Russia and Europe. This could create tension between Russia and China, two countries we really can't allow to become too friendly.
It wouldn't surprise me if we were helping the Chinese pipeline effort all along for this very reason. Hows that for conspiracy?

angrysoba said...

It wouldn't surprise me if we were helping the Chinese pipeline effort all along for this very reason. Hows that for conspiracy?

If you're hoping for a conflict between Russia and China then I think that's a pipedream!


Actually, I think this story shows that the United States really has a far more limited influence than the conspiracy theorists seem to believe. The pipeline route from the Caspian region to China has never needed to go through Afghanistan so I don't think that the US's involvement there really makes a difference to that. In this post I'm only saying that if the US went to war to build pipelines then the continuing violence is not something that would help them as its knocked them out of the game.

While the US probably is not that ecstatic by that and watching the other major players such as China, Iran and Russia benefit it makes no sense for them to resort to tactics that are mentioned in, for example, this article:

According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, America and the United Kingdom are trying to keep all of Afghanistan insecure, so that people feel the need for the foreign forces.

“They will try and destabilise the north any way they can,” Rahimi said. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in central Asia.”

Marylander said...

Oh I agree with you. Far from being the omnipotent leader of a secret global cabal, the United States can be outmaneuvered. I'm constantly explaining to the conspiracy crowd that the Trans-Afghan pipeline (assuming it was ever planned) is dead in the water because:
A. It would have to run through Pashtun territory, where we can't even keep roads from being blown up
B. There's no bloody gas left to fill it with because of this Chinese project
As far as northern Afghanistan goes, that's the part of the country where we can actually hail success. Why the hell would we want to destabilize it? There's enough chaos in the rest of the country to justify any expanded presence.
This Professor Rahimi must live in Mazari Sharif, the poster child for Afghan stability. I'm thinking he's just paranoid.