December 4, 2011

Stories you missed in 2011 that may loom large next year

From separatist violence in Pakistan to a crackdown on illegal immigrants here at home, these developments bear watching.

By JOSHUA E. KEATING Foreign Policy

1. India's military buildup 

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Chinese Navy warships sail during an international fleet review off Qingdao, in China’s Shandong Province. Both China and India are investing heavily in military hardware.

Associated Press photos

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The decade-old euro isn’t as enticing as it once was for Eastern European countries that once pushed to become part of the monetary union. Some appear to be having second thoughts as EU member countries struggle with the debt crisis.

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China's new aircraft carrier -- actually just a refitted Gorbachev-era Soviet model purchased for $20 million from the Russians -- made international headlines when it began sea trials this year, signaling Beijing's growing military ambitions in East Asia. But it isn't the only Asian giant investing heavily in new military hardware. India has kept pace with its neighbor to the north and, in some areas, is actually exceeding it -- a development that, though much less noted, is a sign of the growing militarization of the region as a new generation of emerging powers with global ambitions jockeys for regional supremacy.

India is now the world's largest weapons importer, according to a 2011 report by arms watchdog SIPRI, accounting for 9 percent of the world's international arms transfers -- most from Russia -- between 2006 and 2010. India will spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs by 2015, according to an estimate from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In particular, India is focusing on sea power, a crucial new area of competition. The country is planning to spend almost $45 billion over the next 20 years on 103 new warships, including destroyers and nuclear submarines. By comparison, China's investment over the same period is projected to be about $25 billion for 135 vessels, according to data on both countries from maritime analysis firm AMI International.

On top of long-running tensions with Pakistan and festering insurgencies by Kashmiri separatists and Maoist rebels, India's military planners are increasingly concerned about the prospect of military hostilities with China -- hence the new focus on naval power. For now, the United States seems much more comfortable with India's military ambitions than China's. The Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review welcomed "a more influential role in global affairs" for India, including in the Indian Ocean region. But there are some troubling signs that the area might not be big enough for two rising superpowers.

In August, an unidentified Chinese warship confronted an Indian amphibious assault ship near the coast of Vietnam and demanded that it explain its presence in Chinese waters (the encounter took place in a disputed part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam). Thankfully, the situation resulted in nothing more than some testy public statements from officials in all three countries, but it was yet another sign of an increasingly militarized Asian seascape.

2. 'New Europe' falls out of love with the euro

For all the talk of Greeks and Italians seriously entertaining the thought of dumping Europe's common currency in exchange for good old drachmas and lira, the more troubling indicator for the decade-old euro may be all the Eastern European countries that have pushed for years to be part of the monetary union but are now having second thoughts.

On Jan. 1, Estonia became the 17th country to adopt the euro, but it might be a while before it has company. Poland was due to join the eurozone in 2012, but that goal has been indefinitely postponed. ("If you base a monetary union on aspirations and being pro-European, you may have problems in 10 years," Jan Filip Stanilko, a Polish analyst, told cnbc.com.) In April, Bulgaria's center-right government pushed back a plan to join in 2013, citing the need for more preparation. Romania's president also suggested its 2015 target date could be pushed back by "one or two years." Latvia and Lithuania had been keen to follow Estonia into the eurozone as well, but both now say their current target dates are unrealistic, and Lithuania's central bank chief has cautioned that membership is "not a must-have-or-die thing."

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Ultra-modern Saudi Arabia is today relying on imported camels, which is putting a strain on herds worldwide. And in famine-ravaged Somalia, tribesmen report a mass die-off of camels.

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Cambodia and Thailand exchanged fire in February over the famed Preah Vihear temple on the border of the two Asian nations. In July, the United Nations imposed a demilitarized zone around the temple.

 


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