Ten years after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Kazakhstan and Indonesia, a new connectivity initiative was unveiled with great fanfare by the United States, India, and the Arab Gulf and European countries during the G20 meeting in New Delhi earlier this month.
Since the announcement was made without the presence of the Russian and Chinese presidents, it has stirred conflicting interpretations. Some see it as a potential alternative to BRI, while others, pointing to the failure of similar projects backed by Western powers in the past, view it as a paper tiger.
Details are still missing, but the project’s ambition is enormous. It follows a transregional approach as noted by the White House statement: “Through the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), we aim to usher in a new era of connectivity with a railway, linked through ports connecting Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”
The idea of this corridor dates back to 2021 and has also been discussed as part of the I2U2 group that includes India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States. Like the BRI, its design vision follows the corridor's logic. This is no surprise. “Corridorization” is the most significant spatial manifestation of infrastructural capitalism and geo-economics since the beginning of this century.
Corridorization, which is part of the thriving “minilateralism” space, could be viewed as contradictory because middle powers are trying to navigate between two hardening geopolitical blocs. But the ongoing process of reshaping the global supply chain connectivities created by decades of globalization could make it a viable proposition.
The BRI and the IMEC seem to share many similar goals. But there are also critical geographical differences. Most importantly, the new initiative features India, which has never been part of the BRI, as a central cross-regional player amid rearranged geo-imaginations.
Each of the parties to the new initiative comes with its own perspective and interest.
For the United States, the I2U2 and IMEC serve as platforms for infrastructure investment, bringing together Middle Eastern and South Asian partners and providing an alternative to Chinese projects. Washington sees this approach as an opportunity to encourage its regional partners to take a more active and independent role in shaping the region’s future, allowing the United States to reduce its own resource investment while maintaining its presence and influence.
For the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the goal is to strengthen their increasingly diversified and multi-networked economic diplomacy covering a wider geography. Both countries are active members of the BRI, and their cooperation with China is growing. Apart from burgeoning trade, they are dialogue partners of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and will soon become full members of the expanded BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Both countries are trying to expand their strategic autonomy and vying to become influential regional and international players. Getting involved in multiple new minilateral groupings is a key ingredient of their approach to strengthening their middle power status.
As Saudi Arabia opens to the world with a tilt towards China, the UAE has found its new unique selling point in connectivity and multi-alignment. While diverging approaches toward geostrategic and regional issues, particularly China’s rising power and global influence, remain a concern, Gulf Arab countries’ participation in U.S.-led initiatives reflects their new penchant for equidistance amid U.S.-China competition.
Indeed, the United States might see the IMEC as a vehicle to counter China’s growing influence in the region. In the Middle East, however, competition and convergence are mixed and less black and white than the increasing U.S.-China bipolarity would suggest. If the United States expects this to be a “counter BRI” move for the region, it will likely be disappointed. Competition in the Indian Ocean could escalate, but potential synergies and convergencies should allow for some degree of mutual accommodation.
India, which the United States treats as an “indispensable partner,” has been showcasing a good template of multi-alignment for others to follow. It is a member of the Quad and I2U2, both comprising the United States, and it’s also a member of BRICS and SCO, with China in both, despite New Delhi’s feud with Beijing over border issues. The IMEC adds another thread to its longstanding multi-alignment policy, as it highlights the other connectivity corridor that India is promoting — the International North South Transport Corridor — with Iran and Russia. Together, these projects add value to India’s development story and its boast that it is the fastest growing economy in the world.
The new economic corridor also envisions the potential addition of Israel. This should be seen as a step in the renewed U.S. efforts to expand the Abraham Accords by facilitating the normalization of Israeli-Saudi relations. This form of regional engagement also allows Israel to manage tensions with the United States, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in the wake of the politics of a far-right coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For Israel and the United States, expanding the Abraham Accords, especially to include Saudi Arabia, remains a top priority despite Riyadh’s insistence on linking the normalization of relations to progress on the two-state solution. There are tentative indications that Netanyahu might agree to some concessions on the Palestinian front, even at the cost of his right-wing coalition falling apart, in order to capitalize and sustain Israel’s broader regional integration.
For China, which will soon host the first in-person BRI summit in Beijing after major COVID-19 shutdowns, IMEC throws up a challenge and an opportunity. It could dismissively treat the IMEC like the United States has done with the BRI. The other option, as indicated soon after the G20 meeting, is to demonstrate its openness to support multidirectional connectivity, even if it is not part of this corridor, as long as such projects are “open, inclusive, and form synergy,” and do not become “geopolitical tools.”
The last piece in this new connectivity saga would be Europe, especially the Eastern Mediterranean countries. The IMEC is a welcome development because the “Global Gateway,” the European Union’s own connectivity project, has not gained adequate momentum because European diplomats in Brussels are hesitant about multi-alignment strategies and transregional corridors.
While the IMEC is an economic-diplomatic-security interplay, its prospects will depend on its ability to promote connectivity and translate its economic potential into commercial success. Critics have already pointed out that the initiative may be unviable in terms of profit. However, it could also be argued that there are virtues other than economic efficiency. In a world of de-risking and politically induced supply chain shifts, the new corridor could be viewed as a tool for promoting strategic resilience, friendshoring, and tech cooperation, especially for middle powers.
Maximilian Mayer is Junior-Professor of International Relations and Global Politics of Technology at the Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies (CASSIS), University of Bonn. He is currently leading the research group on „Infrastructures of China’s Modernity and Their Global Constitutive Effects”, funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Dr. Gedaliah Afterman is the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy & Foreign Relations at Reichman University (IDC Herzliya). He previously served as an Australian foreign service officer working on Asian regional security issues and a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, where he focused on issues related to China’s foreign policy, including the Middle East.
Dr N. Janardhan is Director, Research & Analysis, Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, Abu Dhabi. He specializes on Gulf-Asia-Africa relations and offers PGD & MA courses on them. His last book was Arab Gulf’s Pivot to Asia: From Transactional to Strategic Partnerships. With a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he is Non-Resident Fellow, Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, & Managing Assistant Editor, Journal of Arabian Studies.
Photo credit: New Delhi, Sept 9 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares a light moment with the United States President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabia Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during a meeting on the margins of the G20 Leaders' Summit, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)
Roughly three in four Democrats support a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, according to a new poll from Data for Progress that highlights the sharp divide between the Democratic Party and its supporters as Israel resumes its ground campaign in the war-torn strip. A total of 61% of Americans polled said they were in favor of a ceasefire.
While the Biden administration has signaled that it is concerned about the level of civilian casualties in Gaza, the White House maintains that any sustained pause in fighting would embolden Hamas and enable future attacks against Israel.
The administration’s hard-line position stands in contrast to the growing support for a ceasefire in the House, where roughly half of the Democratic caucus has called for an end to the war. Biden’s policy has, however, earned a better reception in the Senate, with only two Democrats saying they back a ceasefire.
The poll, which surveyed roughly 1,200 likely voters between Nov. 22 and 25, also found that a plurality (49%) of Republican voters support a ceasefire, though that number dropped by more than 10 points when respondents were told that such a move would “keep Hamas in power and allow them to prepare another attack against Israel.”
The survey highlights the political headwinds facing Biden as he continues to publicly back Israel’s assault in Gaza, which has left more than 15,000 Palestinians dead, the majority of whom are women or children.
A coalition of Arab American and Muslim leaders have launched a campaign calling on their supporters to not vote for Biden in the 2024 election. The #AbandonBiden movement, which focuses on swing states with significant Arab or Muslim populations, could have a significant impact on the Democratic president’s reelection chances, according to Shadi Hamid of the Washington Post.
“If the 2024 election is close, Arab and Muslim Americans could be numerous enough to make a difference,” Hamid wrote in a recent column. “If Arab and Muslim voters abstain in unusually large numbers, others might follow suit. Note that 70 percent of young voters of all ethnicities disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war.”
The new poll confirms the finding that Hamid referenced: 63% of respondents under 45 said they support a ceasefire, while only 22% said they were opposed.
Voters also overwhelmingly support the idea that weapons sales to Israel should be conditioned on human rights, according to the survey. That trend is particularly strong among Democrats, 76% of whom say Tel Aviv should only receive weapons if it uses them in accordance with “our standards for human rights.”
The Biden administration, however, has shown little interest in conditioning aid to Israel despite its own policy on arms transfers, which says the U.S. will not give weapons to a country that will “more likely than not” use them to commit serious violations of human rights.
That position has drawn some blowback in the Senate, with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) saying that it “would be irresponsible for us to provide an additional $10.1 billion in unconditional military aid that will allow the Netanyahu government to continue its current offensive military approach.” But Sanders’ opposition will likely not be enough to block a funding package for Israel given the broad, bipartisan support that Tel Aviv enjoys in Congress.
When asked which actions the Biden administration should take in response to the war, only 19% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans said the U.S. should prioritize sending weapons to Israel. A slim majority of Democratic respondents said the White House should prioritize diplomatic talks aimed at de-escalating violence and securing the release of hostages.
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Photo credit: President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talk at the Walk of the Brave, Monday, February 20, 2023, during an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
The Biden administration issued a stark warning to House and Senate leaders on Monday, telling them that U.S. aid for Kyiv would run out by the end of 2023 if Congress does not pass the White House’s proposed emergency supplemental package, which includes about $61 billion for Ukraine.
“We are out of money to support Ukraine in this fight. This isn’t a next year problem,” concludes a letter sent by Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. “The time to help a democratic Ukraine fight against Russian aggression is right now. It is time for Congress to act.”
Aid for Ukraine has been hanging in the balance since Republicans took control of the House in January of this year, with assistance for Kyiv being left out of two short-term government funding packages.
Despite the urgent tone in the OMB’s letter, it isn’t quite clear how much money is left in the coffers for Ukraine. As RS’s Connor Echols reported in October even the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee admitted at the time that he did not have “100% clarity” on what remained.
Nevertheless, Young’s letter claims that the Department of Defense has spent 97% of the funds it has received from Congress to date, and that the State Department has exhausted the $4.7 billion it has received for military assistance.
Young argues that the remaining funds are rapidly running out.
“Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories,” reads the letter. “If our assistance stops, it will cause significant issues for Ukraine. While our allies around the world have stepped up to do more, U.S. support is critical and cannot be replicated by others.”
The OMB director also doubled down on the Biden administration's recent pivot that funding Ukraine’s defense is also a boon to American jobs. “While we cannot predict exactly which U.S companies will be awarded new contracts, we do know the funding will be used to acquire advanced capabilities to defend against attacks on civilians in Israel and Ukraine — for example, air defense systems built in Alabama, Texas, and Georgia and vital subcomponents sourced from nearly all 50 states,” Young wrote.
As the Quincy Institute’s Bill Hartung recently wrote in RS, foreign military aid is not an effective jobs program. “There are many ways to create more and better jobs without resorting to increased weapons spending,” said Hartung. “Virtually any other form of government outlay, or even a tax cut, yields greater employment than military spending.”
Despite the Biden administration’s urgent plea, a series of obstacles stand in the way of the supplemental appropriations making their way to the president’s desk.
In the Senate — which has overwhelmingly supported Ukraine aid so far — negotiations over the spending package are reportedly held up by disagreements over border security, which Senate Republicans maintain must be included in the final language. Politico’s Burgess Everett reported on Monday that talks have “moved in the wrong direction” in the last week, with some Democrats saying talks have fallen apart.
Even if the Senate manages to reach a compromise, the path promises to be more complicated in the House, where a growing number of Republicans are skeptical of how money is being spent and whether the Biden administration has a strategy for bringing the war to an end. A number of House Republicans have pledged to oppose what they consider another “blank check” for Kyiv.
Like his predecessor Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), new House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has sent mixed messages on his stance. As a rank-and-file member, Johnson consistently voted against further funding for Ukraine, but his rhetoric since assuming the Speakership suggests a change in opinion.
In late November, he said that he was “confident and optimistic” that Congress would be able to get a package that includes aid for Ukraine and Israel as well as funding for border security “over the line" before the end of the calendar year.
"Of course, we can’t allow Vladimir Putin to march through Europe, and we understand the necessity of assisting there," he added at an event in Sarasota, Florida. "What we've said is that if there is to be additional assistance to Ukraine, which most members of Congress believe is important, we have to also work in changing our own border policy."
But Johnson also reportedly recently warned Senators that he does not have the votes in the House to pass Biden’s supplemental package. More than 100 House Republicans voted against the last Ukraine aid package, and counting on Democratic votes to pass controversial legislation could have political consequences for the Speaker.
Despite these hurdles, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) maintains that he wants to bring the package to the floor this week. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has said he would filibuster the legislation if no border deal is reached.
The Pentagon failed its sixth audit in a row last month.
And “failed” is putting it generously. The department actually received a “disclaimer of opinion.” According to the Government Accountability Office, that means “auditors were unable to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a basis for an audit opinion.” So the outcome is more like an “incomplete” than an abject failure.
But semantics aside, one major reason the Pentagon keeps failing audits is because it can’t keep track of its property. Last year, the Pentagon couldn’t properly account for a whopping 61% of its $3.5 trillion in assets. That figure increased this year, with the department insufficiently documenting 63% of its now $3.8 trillion in assets. Military contractors possess many of these assets, but to an extent unbeknownst to the Pentagon.
The GAO has flagged this issue for the department since at least 1981. Yet the latest audit states that the Pentagon’s target to correct insufficient accounting department-wide is fiscal year 2031. In the meantime, contractors are producing weapon systems and spare parts that they may already possess — an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars.
The F-35 program is a great example. The Pentagon technically owns the global pool of spare parts for all variations of the F-35, but the program’s contractors — mainly Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney — manage those parts. According to the GAO, the Pentagon relies on contractors to record the “cost, total quantity, and locations of [F-35] spare parts in the global spares pool.” The department has estimated that the value of F-35 parts in the possession of contractors is over $220 billion, but the GAO reports that this is “likely significantly understated.”
The Pentagon doesn’t know what or how much government property contractors have because it doesn’t have access to contractor records. Lockheed Martin has even threatened to charge the Pentagon for reports on what and how many F-35 parts the government owns, but Lockheed possesses. A few years ago, the corporation estimated that it would take 450,000 labor hours to produce these reports — making them too expensive for even the Pentagon, which appears to have trusted this estimate. Congress authorized procurement funding for 90 F-35s that year, 11 more than the Pentagon requested.
Last year, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General noted that the Pentagon’s inability to keep track of its property could lead it to “understate its property held by contractors and potentially buy more than it needs.” In September, Inspector General Robert Storch reported that in 2021, the Army’s spare parts forecasting was only 20% accurate on average. As a result, the Army overstated how many spare parts it needed by $202 million, in addition to spending another $148 million on spare parts it didn’t anticipate needing at all. The other military services didn’t do any better, overshooting their spare parts needs by $767 million and spending $355 million on parts they didn’t know they needed. All in all, the military overshot its spare parts needs by nearly $1 billion. It spent over half a billion on spare parts it didn’t forecast.
The Pentagon could save hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, by properly accounting for its assets. In a rare win for taxpayers, the department realized some of these savings in 2019, when the Department of Defense Inspector General flagged errors in the Navy’s property and inventory records. In an effort to resolve those errors, the Navy located a warehouse that was mysteriously absent from its property records. Inside the warehouse, the Navy found $126 million worth of spare parts for P-8 Poseidon, the P-3 Orion, and the F-14 Tomcat — the latter of which the Navy retired in 2006 (over a decade previous). Thankfully, the other parts were still useful and the Navy filled over $20 million in spare parts orders without having to procure new ones. These savings are too scarce.
Last year, Congress allocated at least $39.5 billion to procure aircrafts, their spare parts, and other equipment, despite not knowing what the government already owned. But insufficient tracking of inventory property doesn’t just increase the risk of overbuying spare parts, it also inhibits the Pentagon from maintaining government property in the possession of contractors. In May, the GAO revealed that in the past five years, Lockheed Martin has lost, damaged, or destroyed over a million spare parts for the F-35 worth over $85 million. The government had visibility into less than 2% of those losses, since it relies on Lockheed to voluntarily report not only what and how much government property it possesses, but also the condition of that property.
The Pentagon clearly has a lot of work to do to properly track its property and produce auditable financial statements. It has no idea what equipment it already owns, so it can’t maintain its property or anticipate what more it needs. The department is spending taxpayer money recklessly. But taxpayers cannot wait until 2031 for the Pentagon to correct its decades-old inventory problem.