Paper no. 3628

27-Jan-2010

UNITED STATES STRATEGICALLY CONFRONTED WITH CHINA-PAKISTAN-SAUDI ARABIA TRIANGLE

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Introductory Observations

The United States policy establishment and the plethora of think-tanks that abound in Washington seem to be totally oblivious that a strategic triangular relationship comprising China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia is confronting the United States in South West Asia. China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia strategic triangle is not a newly emergent military configuration. It commenced with the China-Pakistan strategic nexus in the 1960s and expanded to the China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia strategic triangle by the 1980s.

The China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia strategic triangle today manifests itself not only in military inter-linkages, but also in nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles linkages and inter-dependencies.

The China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Triangle may not have acquired the contours of a formal military alliance or a security grouping yet, but China’s crafting this strategic triangle and cementing it with China-supplied nuclear weapons and missiles makes it no less potent for the United States.

South West Asia is of significant strategic interests for the United States which politically, strategically and militarily has invested heavily in this region extending from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf Region and extending to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Strategically ironic is the fact that in United States strategic planning, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia figured high in the United States security architecture for South West Asia. Ironically further, that while the United States revelled in the belief that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the new “twin-pillars” of US security architecture in the region, both these Sunni Muslim nations had been strategically enticed by China.

China as an astute practitioner of “strategic acupuncture” strategies had very early recognised that in terms of American strategic pressure-points in East Asia in relation to Taiwan, China could generate counter-pressure points against the United States in South West Asia. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, flaunted by the United States as its most “staunch and durable allies” were strategic plums ripe for picking by China.

Except for a brief interlude of the Afghanistan Mujahideen war of the 1980s when the strategic interests of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia coincided with those of the United States, the relationships between the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been testing and uneasy. Post-9/11 when Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s direct and indirect involvement became overt, the three-way relations have become even more uneasy.

In marked contrast to their frosty relationships with the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia moved to more proximate relationships with China. This process could intensify as Pakistan comes under more intense American pressures on Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia perceives that a United States-Iran rapprochement may be forthcoming.

It is worth recording that while Saudi Arabia has significant political and financial leverages over Pakistan and China has a tight military leverage over Pakistan, both these nations have hesitated in assisting the United States by restraining Pakistan’s proclivity to use Islamic Jihadi outfits as instruments of state policy in its region.

One of the reasons which may have prompted President Obama on election as US President to cozy upto China may be to persuade China to use its strong leverages over Pakistan on the Afghanistan issue.

It was an unrealistic move if one had only kept in mind that the reasons that bind China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia into a triangular strategic relationship is to impede United States strategic dominance of South West Asia.

It becomes imperative therefore to understand the pattern and extent of the China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle and what it portends. To enable this, this Paper intends to examine the following aspects:

· China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus: China Provides the Islamic Nuclear Bomb

· China-Saudi Arabia Strategic Relationship: China Introduces Long Range Ballistic Missiles in Region

· Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership: The Nuclear Weapons Inter-linkage

· China-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle: Confronting the United States in South West Asia.

China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus: China Provides the Islamic Nuclear Bomb

China’s strategic nexus with Pakistan was not forged with a limited aim of playing balance-of-power politics with its Asian rival, namely India. China’s strategic nexus with Pakistan was forged with much larger strategic aims, and that too focused on the United States.

China’s strategic aims for forging a strategic nexus with Pakistan can be analysed as follows: (1) Transform United States much flaunted staunch ally Pakistan into a strategic counter-pressure point against the United States itself (2) Acquire a strategic foothold on the North Arabian Sea in close proximity of the Hormuz Straits by exploiting Pakistan’s geo-strategic location. China’s interest in Pakistani naval base of Gwadur backed by land access through China-built Karakoram Highway linking Xingjian to Pakistan are evidence (3) Converting Pakistan into a Chinese military equipment client state with all its strategic implications.

Most significantly, de-stabilizing the United States security and strategic aims in South West Asia, China implanted “The Islamic Nuclear Bomb’ in this highly volatile region by equipping Pakistan with the same, along with long range delivery missiles. In the process China not only earned the eternal gratitude of Pakistan but also a shackling strategic leverage over Pakistan. It added to China’s image as a staunch ally of the Islamic World.

Courtesy China and as China’s proxy, Pakistan embarked on nuclear and WMD proliferation to Islamic countries adversarial to the United States like Libya and Iran.

China’s creation of Pakistan as a nuclear weapons state with IRBMs (supplied by North Korea) was a strategic master-stroke aimed at United States overwhelming predominance in South West Asia. China thus with strategic callousness and strategic irresponsibility initiated a nuclear arms race in this volatile region not only endangering United States strategic interests but global stability too.

China-Saudi Arabia Strategic Relationship: China Introduces Long Range Ballistic Missiles in Region


China’s preying on Saudi Arabia’s strategic uncertainties went in for a repeat performance of China’s preying on Pakistan’s strategic uncertainties.

In both cases China’s predominant strategic aims was to draw out yet another United States staunch military ally from the American strategic orbit.

While in the case of Pakistan, the lure was a nuclear weapons arsenal with Chinese direct assistances, Saudi Arabia was lured by the supply of CSS-2 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) with nuclear weapons capability.

China’s supply of over 50 CSS-2 IRBMs in 1988 with ranges nearing 2,800 km, initiated a missiles acquisition race in South West Asia. This was yet another example of China’s strategic callousness and strategically irresponsible approach to South West Asia stability.

While analyses at that time surmised that China’s supply of IRBMs to Saudi Arabia were prompted by energy security needs, but it would be equally fair to argue that this was not the sole reason. Strategic imperatives were also underwriting the deal.

With no geographical contiguity or proximity between China and Saudi Arabia, this strategic partnership has been evolved primarily as a strategic counter-pressure point against the United States. Saudi Arabia went into this deal with great secrecy and behind the back of the United States, at a time when their relations were good.

US strategic analysts have opined that Saudi Arabia as the most pivotal state in the region has been the “most assiduous” in cultivating China.

Post 9/11, with Saudi Arabia being perceived by most Americans with suspicion, China receives enhanced strategic focus and political focus from Saudi Arabia. It was not without reason that the Saudi Monarch’s first foreign visit was to China and the Chinese President has paid two visits to Saudi Arabia in a short span of three years.

There is also a nuclear weapons angle involved. CSS-2 missiles are not precise weapons but area weapons intended for nuclear weapons delivery. It was a graduated step by Saudi Arabia for ultimate acquisition of a nuclear weapons arsenal.

Pakistan-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership: The Nuclear Weapons Interlinkage


Pakistan’s financial bondage to Saudi Arabia is widely known and so is widely known that the Saudis have used this financial leverage to control Pakistan’s domestic politics. It is for nothing that even Pakistan’s military dictators succumb to Saudi monarch’s dictates on Pakistan’s domestic politics.

Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations extends to close military cooperation including provision of Pakistan Army Contingents for Saudi security in crisis situations. Pakistan has also provided training teams for Saudi Armed Forces.

Pakistan also has acted as proxy for Saudi Arabia in the spread of Wahabi influence in South Asia and South East Asia. Saudi intelligence hierarchy has worked in close conjunction with Pakistan military intelligence in dealings with Al Qaeda and Taliban.

However, more significant than this cooperation has been the Pakistan – Saudi Arabia inter-linkages in respect of Saudi Arabia’s plans for nuclear weapons.

While Saudi Arabia has shied away from a direct acquisition of nuclear weapons (possibly till such time Iran’s nuclear arsenal becomes overt), plans exist for contingency provision of nuclear weapons by Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

US think-tanks provide the following vital information on Pakistan – Saudi Arabia nuclear inter-linkage (1) Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program (2) Saudi Arabia dignitaries were given access to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities both before and after Pakistan’s nuclear tests (3) In the wake of, Pakistan’s nuclear test, Saudi Arabia supplied free to Pakistan 50,000 barrels of oil per day to offset effect of economic sanction against Pakistan (4) As part of this nuclear weapons partnership, contingency plans exist for Pakistan to provide nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia at short notice.

In this connection, it has further been asserted that (1) Pakistan has practiced the contingency plans of providing Pakistani nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia at short notice for use with Saudi delivery systems (2) Likely that Pakistan Air Force and their Saudi counter parts have jointly practiced this operation.

If Pakistani nuclear weapons would additionally be required to be mated with Chinese- origin Saudi CSS-2 IRBMs then obviously Chinese expertise and participation would be required. That completes the China- Pakistan – Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons and IRBMs triangle with attendant strategic ramifications

China- Pakistan – Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle: Confronting the United States in South West Asia

China- Pakistan – Saudi Arabia as a strategic triangle has not metamorphosed into a full-fledged military alliance to confront the United States. Nor has this Triangle evolved into a security grouping like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to offset United States strategic creep eastwards towards China.

In terms of confronting the United States, the China – Pakistan – Saudi Arabia operates in a more insidious manner. It needs to be viewed at two levels as follows (1) China perceives its strategic relationships with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as strategic counter-pressure points to offset US pressures in East Asia and else where (2) Pakistan and Saudi Arabia perceive their strategic relationships with China to offset coercive political and strategic pressures from the United States and have flexibility in their policy options.

Overall, the China – Pakistan- Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle is a strategic configuration confronting the United States in volatile South West Asia comprising two nuclear powers, China and Pakistan and a nascent nuclear power, Saudi Arabia. This strategic configuration seriously complicates South West Asia security for the United States.

In this triangular configuration, China has already emerged as the foremost challenger to United States globe predominance. It has strategically penetrated all the strategic quadrants of the globe including Africa. It is not for nothing that the United States has been forced to set up a new military command – The Africa Command.

The second component of this Triangle, namely Pakistan, has constantly double-timed the United States strategically, despite its utter dependency on US financial doles for its existence. It is currently active in thwarting the successful materialization of the Af –Pak strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s prospects of disintegration and the safety of its Chinese - origin nuclear weapons and missiles arsenal has emerged as the foremost threat to US national security.

The third component of this triangle, Saudi Arabia has ceased to be a strategic asset to the United States in its South West Asia strategy. Saudi Arabia refused its bases to the United States for Gulf War II operations. Post- Gulf War II, Saudi Arabia as per reports was active in secretly sending Saudis to Iraq to pre-empt the emergence of a Shia – dominated government. Saudi Arabia has strong strategic linkages with China and has now ventured to enlarge its security relationship with Russia.

The overall picture that emerges therefore is that the China – Pakistan – Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle if not in a visibly concerted manner at present is yet engaged in their respective confrontations with the United States, reinforced with the Chinese - origin nuclear and missile deterrence at their disposal.

China has yet not restricted its nuclear weapon and missiles assistance to Pakistan and can be construed by extension to Saudi Arabia.

Concluding Observations

In all likelihood, the South West Asia region may be the area for the next major conflict with global contours. South West Asia more than East Asia may be the strategic region where United States global strategic supremacy is likely to be challenged intensely and subtly.

One wonders whether United States strategic planners and think-tanks have ever realized that for China the region of South West Asia presents a more profitable area to check-mate the United States. Unlike East Asia, where China would have to enter into a direct armed conflict with the United States, in South West Asia, the China – contrived configurations like the China – Pakistan – Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle can strategically check-mate the United States predominance in an indirect manner.

In the long run, the China – Pakistan – Saudi Arabia Strategic Triangle has all the strategic potential to make the costs of United States embedment in South West Asia that much more prohibitive.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)