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Difficulties in the Near East

Anyone who thinks that American diplomacy is having a difficult time organizing a new "consortium" of nations to contain the Soviet Union on its southern flank is correct. The going is slow, tedious, and difficult.

There is a reason rooted deep in history. It goes back to the partitioning of India in 1947.

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Before that year, the territories we know today as India and Pakistan were one. India extended from Burma on the east to Persia (now Iran) on the west. It was all India and all ruled, with interruptions, from one center.Under the Mogul Emperors (Muslims from Afghanistan) he capital was first Agra, then Delhi. Under the British who became dominant from the middle of the 18th century, the capital was Delhi.

The important thing is that whether under the Mogul emperors or under British viceroys, there was an Indian Army which was at the disposal of the ruling center. That army dominated not only the Indian subcontinent but also the smaller countries lying to east and west. It was used by the British not only in its own areas, but in all parts of the world.

Through the 19th century, the Russians were interested in precisely those warmer areas to their south which interest t em today. But, whenever they made a move into or towards Afghanistan or Persia or Turkey, the British manned the borders, usually with soldiers of the Indian Army. The soldiers who barred the way served under British officers, but the men in the ranks who did the fighting came from India and what we now call Pakistan.

Today, the Indian Army still dominates its own home territories, but its range beyond the borders of the present state of India is severely limited -- by the results of the partition of 1947. The Indian Army itself (not including navy and air force) numbers almost a million men. The army of Pakistan numbers nearly half a million. if the two were to be rejoined, their combined power would be able again to influence events beyond the frontiers of India itself. But those armed forces are today neutrlized by mutual hostility. The best units of both are deployed facing each other. Their mutual preoccupation is with each other. Neither has any significant "power projection" capability outside its own territories because it is tied down watching the other.

This means that there is not at present any military force in the Near East area which is capable of performing the functions of the Indian army in the days of the British Empire. The main function in those days was to protect the lines of commerce and communication between the western world and Asia.

There is today important commerce between the western world and the Near East and Asia. Much of that commerce, but by no means all of it, is based on the oil from Arabia. What we are really talking about is whether the channels of east-west trade are to continue to be in hands friendly to the interests of Western Europe, North America, Japan, and their friends and associates.

No one in the West knows for a fact that the Soviets desire or intend to try to interfere with the channels of east-west commerce. But almost everyone outside the Soviet community would feel more comfortable if those lines of commerce and communication were again protected as firmly as they were protected by the Indian army during the heyday of the British Empire.

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But it must be remembered that the main burden of that protection was born not by British soldiers from Britain. it was born by Indian soldiers from India. They were under British officers, yes. They were supplied with weapons from Britain and supported by the warships of the Royal Navy and the industries of Western Europe. But most of the fighting men were from India.

President Carter has the problem of devising a new system of policing and protecting the east-west lines of commerce which will work as well as did the British system of the 19th century. He can no more do it entirely with American armed forces than the British could have done it with their own troops. The manpower necessary for that work is simply not politically available. Nor would a large US army be acceptable to the peoples of the area even if it would be sent there.

The US can use its sea and air power to support whatever local forces can be made available by the countries in the area. But the main burden of the effort must be made locally by the people who live there.

Which means that there must first be agreement among the governments of the Near East.


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