Stratfor’s analysis of the significance of the new “Visegrad Group”: worth wondering about

George Friedman of Stratfor has drawn attention to a new pact between several eastern European states, which he takes to be an omen of things to come in Eurasian affairs. It may be one of several signs that the world is no longer what we have imagined. The proliferation of demonstrations in the Arab world; the death of Osama Bin Laden; the rising hostility with Pakistan [that is, the unmasking of the duplicity of its military leaders]; the faltering world economy; and now the formation of a “battle group” among four eastern European countries — these events seem to indicate tectonic shifts in the configuration of powers in Eurasia. Worth following with some interest at least.

What seems evident, in any case, is how rapidly the relations among powers are changing, not only the ability of states to influence the course of affairs but also of non-state insurgent groups. For those of us who would like to plan for the future, it’s hard to make sense of the course of affairs. But that makes the attempt all the more crucial. The world won’t stop changing: if we think we understand what is going on we probably don’t. We are always behind the curve; what we can surmise about our situation is just the best we can do at the moment.

That’s why outfits like Stratfor can be a help. Even if their assessments are off the mark they at least help us reflect on a world in flux; they remind us that we cannot suppose that all is as has been. RLC
Visegrad: A New European Military Force is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Visegrad: A New European Military Force May 17, 2011 | 0859 GMT

By George Friedman

With the Palestinians demonstrating and the International Monetary Fund in turmoil, it would seem odd to focus this week on something called the Visegrad Group. But this is not a frivolous choice. What the Visegrad Group decided to do last week will, I think, resonate for years, long after the alleged attempted rape by Dominique Strauss-Kahn is forgotten and long before the Israeli-Palestinian issue is resolved. The obscurity of the decision to most people outside the region should not be allowed to obscure its importance.

The region is Europe — more precisely, the states that had been dominated by the Soviet Union. The Visegrad Group, or V4, consists of four countries — Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary — and is named after two 14th century meetings held in Visegrad Castle in present-day Hungary of leaders of the medieval kingdoms of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. The group was reconstituted in 1991 in post-Cold War Europe as the Visegrad Three (at that time, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were one). The goal was to create a regional framework after the fall of Communism. This week the group took an interesting new turn.

On May 12, the Visegrad Group announced the formation of a “battle group” under the command of Poland. The battle group would be in place by 2016 as an independent force and would not be part of NATO command. In addition, starting in 2013, the four countries would begin military exercises together under the auspices of the NATO Response Force.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the primary focus of all of the Visegrad nations had been membership in the European Union and NATO. Their evaluation of their strategic position was threefold. First, they felt that the Russian threat had declined if not dissipated following the fall of the Soviet Union. Second, they felt that their economic future was with the European Union. Third, they believed that membership in NATO, with strong U.S. involvement, would protect their strategic interests. Of late, their analysis has clearly been shifting.

First, Russia has changed dramatically since the Yeltsin years. It has increased its power in the former Soviet sphere of influence substantially, and in 2008 it carried out an effective campaign against Georgia. Since then it has also extended its influence in other former Soviet states. The Visegrad members’ underlying fear of Russia, built on powerful historical recollection, has become more intense. They are both the front line to the former Soviet Union and the countries that have the least confidence that the Cold War is simply an old memory.

Second, the infatuation with Europe, while not gone, has frayed. The ongoing economic crisis, now focused again on Greece, has raised two questions: whether Europe as an entity is viable and whether the reforms proposed to stabilize Europe represent a solution for them or primarily for the Germans. It is not, by any means, that they have given up the desire to be Europeans, nor that they have completely lost faith in the European Union as an institution and an idea. Nevertheless, it would be unreasonable to expect that these countries would not be uneasy about the direction that Europe was taking. If one wants evidence, look no further than the unease with which Warsaw and Prague are deflecting questions about the eventual date of their entry into the Eurozone. Both are the strongest economies in Central Europe, and neither is enthusiastic about the euro.

Finally, there are severe questions as to whether NATO provides a genuine umbrella of security to the region and its members. The NATO strategic concept, which was drawn up in November 2010, generated substantial concern on two scores. First, there was the question of the degree of American commitment to the region, considering that the document sought to expand the alliance’s role in non-European theaters of operation. For example, the Americans pledged a total of one brigade to the defense of Poland in the event of a conflict, far below what Poland thought necessary to protect the North European Plain. Second, the general weakness of European militaries meant that, willingness aside, the ability of the Europeans to participate in defending the region was questionable. Certainly, events in Libya, where NATO had neither a singular political will nor the military participation of most of its members, had to raise doubts. It was not so much the wisdom of going to war but the inability to create a coherent strategy and deploy adequate resources that raised questions of whether NATO would be any more effective in protecting the Visegrad nations.

There is another consideration. Germany’s commitment to both NATO and the EU has been fraying. The Germans and the French split on the Libya question, with Germany finally conceding politically but unwilling to send forces. Libya might well be remembered less for the fate of Moammar Gadhafi than for the fact that this was the first significant strategic break between Germany and France in decades. German national strategy has been to remain closely aligned with France in order to create European solidarity and to avoid Franco-German tensions that had roiled Europe since 1871. This had been a centerpiece of German foreign policy, and it was suspended, at least temporarily.

The Germans obviously are struggling to shore up the European Union and questioning precisely how far they are prepared to go in doing so. There are strong political forces in Germany questioning the value of the EU to Germany, and with every new wave of financial crises requiring German money, that sentiment becomes stronger. In the meantime, German relations with Russia have become more important to Germany. Apart from German dependence on Russian energy, Germany has investment opportunities in Russia. The relationship with Russia is becoming more attractive to Germany at the same time that the relationship to NATO and the EU has become more problematic.

For all of the Visegrad countries, any sense of a growing German alienation from Europe and of a growing German-Russian economic relationship generates warning bells. Before the Belarusian elections there was hope in Poland that pro-Western elements would defeat the least unreformed regime in the former Soviet Union. This didn’t happen. Moreover, pro-Western elements have done nothing to solidify in Moldova or break the now pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Uncertainty about European institutions and NATO, coupled with uncertainty about Germany’s attention, has caused a strategic reconsideration — not to abandon NATO or the EU, of course, nor to confront the Russians, but to prepare for all eventualities.

It is in this context that the decision to form a Visegradian battle group must be viewed. Such an independent force, a concept generated by the European Union as a European defense plan, has not generated much enthusiasm or been widely implemented. The only truly robust example of an effective battle group is the Nordic Battle Group, but then that is not surprising. The Nordic countries share the same concerns as the Visegrad countries — the future course of Russian power, the cohesiveness of Europe and the commitment of the United States.

In the past, the Visegrad countries would have been loath to undertake anything that felt like a unilateral defense policy. Therefore, the decision to do this is significant in and of itself. It represents a sense of how these countries evaluate the status of NATO, the U.S. attention span, European coherence and Russian power. It is not the battle group itself that is significant but the strategic decision of these powers to form a sub-alliance, if you will, and begin taking responsibility for their own national security. It is not what they expected or wanted to do, but it is significant that they felt compelled to begin moving in this direction.

Just as significant is the willingness of Poland to lead this military formation and to take the lead in the grouping as a whole. Poland is the largest of these countries by far and in the least advantageous geographical position. The Poles are trapped between the Germans and the Russians. Historically, when Germany gets close to Russia, Poland tends to suffer. It is not at that extreme point yet, but the Poles do understand the possibilities. In July, the Poles will be assuming the EU presidency in one of the union’s six-month rotations. The Poles have made clear that one of their main priorities will be Europe’s military power. Obviously, little can happen in Europe in six months, but this clearly indicates where Poland’s focus is.

The militarization of the V4 runs counter to its original intent but is in keeping with the geopolitical trends in the region. Some will say this is over-reading on my part or an overreaction on the part of the V4, but it is neither. For the V4, the battle group is a modest response to emerging patterns in the region, which STRATFOR had outlined in its 2011 Annual Forecast. As for my reading, I regard the new patterns not as a minor diversion from the main pattern but as a definitive break in the patterns of the post-Cold War world. In my view, the post-Cold War world ended in 2008, with the financial crisis and the Russo-Georgian war. We are in a new era, as yet unnamed, and we are seeing the first breaks in the post-Cold War pattern.

I have argued in previous articles and books that there is a divergent interest between the European countries on the periphery of Russia and those farther west, particularly Germany. For the countries on the periphery, there is a perpetual sense of insecurity, generated not only by Russian power compared to their own but also by uncertainty as to whether the rest of Europe would be prepared to defend them in the event of Russian actions. The V4 and the other countries south of them are not as sanguine about Russian intentions as others farther away are. Perhaps they should be, but geopolitical realities drive consciousness and insecurity and distrust defines this region.

I had also argued that an alliance only of the four northernmost countries is insufficient. I used the concept “Intermarium,” which had first been raised after World War I by a Polish leader, Joseph Pilsudski, who understood that Germany and the Soviet Union would not be permanently weak and that Poland and the countries liberated from the Hapsburg Empire would have to be able to defend themselves and not have to rely on France or Britain.

Pilsudski proposed an alliance stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and encompassing the countries to the west of the Carpathians — Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In some formulations, this would include Yugoslavia, Finland and the Baltics. The point was that Poland had to have allies, that no one could predict German and Soviet strength and intentions, and that the French and English were too far away to help. The only help Poland could have would be an alliance of geography — countries with no choice.

It follows from this that the logical evolution here is the extension of the Visegrad coalition. At the May 12 defense ministers’ meeting, there was discussion of inviting Ukraine to join in. Twenty or even 10 years ago, that would have been a viable option. Ukraine had room to maneuver. But the very thing that makes the V4 battle group necessary — Russian power — limits what Ukraine can do. The Russians are prepared to give Ukraine substantial freedom to maneuver, but that does not include a military alliance with the Visegrad countries.

An alliance with Ukraine would provide significant strategic depth. It is unlikely to happen. That means that the alliance must stretch south, to include Romania and Bulgaria. The low-level tension between Hungary and Romania over the status of Hungarians in Romania makes that difficult, but if the Hungarians can live with the Slovaks, they can live with the Romanians. Ultimately, the interesting question is whether Turkey can be persuaded to participate in this, but that is a question far removed from Turkish thinking now. History will have to evolve quite a bit for this to take place. For now, the question is Romania and Bulgaria.

But the decision of the V4 to even propose a battle group commanded by Poles is one of those small events that I think will be regarded as a significant turning point. However we might try to trivialize it and place it in a familiar context, it doesn’t fit. It represents a new level of concern over an evolving reality — the power of Russia, the weakness of Europe and the fragmentation of NATO. This is the last thing the Visegrad countries wanted to do, but they have now done the last thing they wanted to do. That is what is significant.

Events in the Middle East and Europe’s economy are significant and of immediate importance. However, sometimes it is necessary to recognize things that are not significant yet but will be in 10 years. I believe this is one of those events. It is a punctuation mark in European history.

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Russia and China’s New Oil Pipeline, harbinger of the rising importance of Inner Asia

If any development indicates how the world is changing, it is the news that the world’s largest producer of oil — Russia, not Saudi Arabia — and the world’s largest consumer of oil — China, not the United States — have been linking up ever more closely. Russia has been shipping oil to China for years, but now a new pipeline has opened linking the two countries ever more closely. The pipeline will pump 300,000 barrels of oil a day into China. And of course we can expect more deals to bring China ever more closely into the energy rich lands of Central Asia.

I keep wondering what Russia’s strategic location will mean for the world over the long term. The world’s largest oil producer lies strategically situated between the EU on the west, a major consumer of oil in the modern world, and China on the east, the world’s largest consumer of oil — and one that is demanding ever more of it as its economy grows. Whatever we think of Russia, ever more clearly a mafia-state, it has powerful advantages even if the capitalistic world is terrified of its mob-style tactics of governance.

Drought in Chad and Sudan

The referendum in Sudan is getting attention in the media, as it should. What many of us have not grasped is how important developments in Chad are to the course of affairs in Sudan, because of its connection to Darfur, a hinterland to both countries. And both countries are suffering because of the southward advance of the Sahel, creating famine in both countries. AlertNet has an article about how serious it is for the peoples of that region. [Click on the title to link to the source]

Droughts break up our families – Chadian women
15 Nov 2010 17:22:00 GMT
AlertNet Written by: George Fominyen
Ashta Idriss sieves earth from ant hills in Anzarafa.

Women in Chad’s semi-arid Sahel belt say recurrent droughts are breaking up their families – and they’ve had enough.

They want some long-term solutions to the regular food shortages, which are so bad they often have to scavenge in ant hills for food.

When the crops failed this year and severe hunger set in most men in this part of Chad migrated to other towns, especially the capital N’Djamena.

But women I met in two villages, Roumou and Anzarafa, over 500km east of the capital, say they are fed up with always bearing the brunt of these food shortages at home.

“We stayed alone with the little kids and as the crisis deepened we sold everything including our little goats and sheep, loins (lengths of fabric) and kitchen utensils to have money to get some food,” Alima Abdoulaye, a mother aged about 50, told me in Roumou.

“It was heartbreaking to see our sons and husbands leave but what could we do?”

At the height of the crisis, between February and June, the women had to go into the bushes to dig up ant hills, which they sieved to collect the grains and seeds stored by the insects.

“We have to set out very early to the places where we can find the ant hills and the time taken to dig enough for a meal means we return very late when the children have gone to sleep without food,” said Ashta Idriss, a 50-year-old widowed mother of three.

The women urged the Chadian authorities to take measures to ensure that droughts do not separate families, as has been the case this year.

“If we can end this cycle of repeated hunger crises, if we can just get something to stop it, we, as women, will be very glad,” Abdoulaye said.

She would like to see the authorities build wells and irrigation canals to help the villagers farm even when the rainfall is bad.

“All we want is good health, to see our children grow and be successful,” said Kaltouma Adam, another mother in her 50s.

“We also want to eat well and be plumper. We are so thin now because we are coming out of long suffering – next time when you come you will not find us like this, by the grace of God,” she told me.

See also Hungry Chadians eating ant food after locusts attack crops

Reuters AlertNet is not responsible for the content of external websites.

A railroad through Afghanistan

Good Afghan News [A great name, right?] has reported that the Chinese are planning to build a railroad through Afghanistan. In the long run, railroads, pipelines, airports, good highways, cell phones — these will transform Afghanistan by making the country accessible to more influences and more opportunities by reducing the price and time of contact with the wider world. But also, importantly, infrastructural improvements like railroads make heavy industries more feasible. The huge copper mine being developed by the Chinese as Aynak are the immediate inducement to the Chinese to develop this railroad, but that railroad, with an extension into Hajigak, might also carry iron ore.

The Chinese are thinking ahead 50 years while many of us in the US can think ahead barely four years at a time.

Here is the article [click on my title above for a direct link]:

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) signed an agreement today in Kabul in which the Chinese firm agreed to construct a railway corridor in Afghanistan.

MCC will construct a railway corridor from Aynak Copper Mine in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Logar to eastern Torkham and northern Hairatan border towns. Logar is 60 km south of the capital city of Kabul. “This northern railway is part of a wider plan to extend the Afghan rail network to connect Afghanistan to ports in Iran and Pakistan,” Afghanistan’s Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani told the media today.

Shahrani also told the media that the railway corridor will not only be used for transporting mineral deposits, but will also be used for the transportation of goods and passengers as well. According to the Ministry, MCC has also committed to employ Afghan workers as much as possible, and at all levels of the project.

The Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean

In my previous post I noted that the Chinese have spent 1.5 billion dollars in constructing a deep sea port at Gwadar, Pakistan. Today’s NYT says Chinese warships are planing to escort their commercial vessels with warships in the Indian Ocean, “from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca”. As recently as March a Chinese warship docked in Abu Dhabi, the first time their warships have docked in the Middle East for years. Gwadar makes the perfect base for such ships. So, what some thought was supposed to be mainly a terminus for a planned pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to the Baluchistan port of Gwadar obviously will have other uses.

The Enduring Strategic Importance of Afghanistan for the Industrial World

Andrew Bacevich said on Bill Moyers Journal [4/9/10 PBS] that the war with the Taliban/Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan is the longest war in American history and is “utterly devoid of strategic purpose.” Moyers was enough convinced of this himself that he quoted Bacevich in the program that was aired last night. I have a great respect for Bill Moyers [and am outraged that his program and NOW have both been taken off PBS without sufficient explanation] but on this I think he has it wrong.

Bacevich’s view represents the usual American short term vision — we seem only to think ahead in four-year segments — and is unworthy of a man of his intellect and justly respected reputation.

I am of course dismayed at any suggestion that the United States should again abandon its oft-repeated commitment to the Afghan peoples. The American government supported the war against the Soviets during the 1980s and then disappeared in 1990s as the mujahedin fought over control of the country. Similarly, the Americans entered Afghanistan in 2001 and crushed the Taliban/AlQaeda, but then, again, withdrew its serious military assets to wage war in Iraq. If the Americans again abandon the Afghanistan peoples, a third time in as many decades, they would forever seal their reputation as untrustworthy and entirely self-serving.

But that is not the relevant reply to Bacevich’s claim that the war has “no strategic purpose.” The reply is to look ahead to see what American and other industrial nation’s interests are. If we look at the long term trajectory of affairs we see a world whose needs for hydrocarbons are rising exponentially. And in the region of Afghanistan, immediately to the north in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, are situated huge reserves of minimally developed gas and oil [leaving aside those that may exist in Afghanistan where the necessary research has yet to be done]. These reserves are just now being developed. And already there is a race for access to the reserves by the industrial nations of Eurasia. As Afghanistan is situated between Central Asia and the South Asian and Middle Eastern states it will eventually be a natural corridor of export from Central Asia to the many industrial countries already clamoring for it. []

In fact, three different pipeline plans are already in place: two of them from Turkemenistan’s Daulatabad gas field into Pakistan, one across the north, the other following the ring road through Herat and Kandahar, and the third running due south to Baluchistan and its Indian Ocean coast.

It is for this that the great powers are involved in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, in their own interest. [] The United States already is trying to make sure that the hydrocarbon pipelines of Central Asia avoid Russia and Iran in order to avoid interdiction. So, for the Americans no less than the Indians and Pakistanis and Chinese and Japanese, etc. etc. Afghanistan needs to have peace, a secure peace, so that the pipeline construction festivities can begin. When that happens the United States needs to be in position to influence the agreements that will for a good while anchor the political and economic alliances of the industrial powers.

The Obama administration surely must understand this. The European leaders must know this, even if their own citizens don’t. Certainly the Chinese are demonstrating how well they understand it for they have been making deals with the Afghans for long term development. The Chinese are Afghanistan’s largest trading partner even now. And the Chinese have already — note already — built the port at Gwadar in Pakistan which will be the terminus of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Baluchistan pipeline on the Indian Ocean. One and a half billion dollars they have already invested in what was once a small fishing village. The ostensible reason is to construct a port that will accommodate ocean-going oil tankers. That Gwadar just happens to control the mouth of the Persian Gulf . . . well, is that merely an incidental circumstance?, or did it have something to do with other long term plans? The Chinese seem to be thinking decades ahead.

BGR, the German energy development company, estimates that within a crucial ellipse that includes the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea region, western Kazakhstan and northwestern Russia reside 74% of the worlds oil supplies and 70% of the world’s gas supplies. [] The huge resources lying directly north of Afghanistan will someday be transported by pipeline through either Afghanistan or Iran to the Indian Ocean whence it will be shipped to a thirsty industrial world.

That’s what can reasonably be seen in the moderately near future.
Why doesn’t Bacevich see that?

Another Pipeline Deal: Signs of the emerging pattern of alliances in Eurasia?

Syed Fazl-e-Haider, author of a book on the development of Baluchistan, has recently published an announcement in Asia Times Online that Iran and Pakistan have signed a final agreement for the construction of a gas pipeline that would serve Pakistan and conceivably might be extended into India. There have been financial difficulties, however, as Pakistan has so far not been able to arrange the cash, the Americans being no help as they are against the deal.  China has a great interest in the agreement and others with Pakistan, and may come to the rescue.  The US has been opposed to much of what the Iranians have tried to do since Khomeini came to power in 1979.

The plan is for Iran to provide 750 million cu ft of gas per day through this pipe for the next 25 years. This is a big for Pakistan, which is 3,000 megawatts short of electric power. Contracts like this seem to me worth a close watch as they are the material and technological links through which goods are transported ever more cheaply and in larger amounts faster from localities of production to consuming communities, the long term effect being to link peoples ever closer together. And their expense helps link political and military interests. These are the physical instruments of world shrinkage and international alliances. That such agreements are being worked out in the face of American opposition is not especially new but it indicates the actual realities of our world — namely, that local interests trump those of the hegemon whenever possible.

There is more in the offing, according to Fazl-e-Haider: China wants to build a pipeline from Iran to China through Pakistan. That would be a huge project: it would mean taking the pipeline through the Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan where the Khunjerab Pass is over 15,000 feet through one of the highest mountain ranges in the world. Such is China’s interest in energy. And such is China’s belief that Pakistan is over the long term “safe” territory, safe politically.  China seems to be viewing Pakistan and Iran as long term partners worth establishing enduring ties with.

Deals like this suggest where the world is trending, worth watching with some care.

Bhadrakumar’s recent postings: valuable signs of shifting affairs in Central Asia and Afghanistan

M K Bhadrakumar of Asia Times Online has recently published two valuable reports worth careful attention.  The one that appeared on January 8 reveals how the struggle for pipeline access to the gas and oil fields of Central Asia [the “energy war”] is shaping up.  The one dated March 13, 2010, is about the tug of war over how to settle the conflict in Afghanistan.

Both of these you should read through.  The world we live in is not the same as it was and will not be the same tomorrow.  As we best can, we would like to track with it.  

Despite a likely pro-Indian bias, this guy’s work helps us gain a sense of how affairs are moving.  


On pipelines in Central Asia:

On the efforts to develop a secure agreement for peace in Afghanistan

Cell phones in Afghanistan: How will they transform the country?

Christopher Beam of Slate has an article about phones in Afghanistan that gives us some interesting numbers.  Owing to the recent introduction of cell phone telephony the number of mobile phones users is now about 10 million, 32 percent of the total population — in a country that had only a few dozen phone lines a generation ago.  The price of a cell phone has fallen from $300 to $11 and the price of a call has fallen to 10 cents a minute.  All this has taken place since 2001, most of it probably in the last three years. 

The social implications of such changes in interpersonal access are so large as to challenge our ability to grasp how the country is changing, or what the country will be like in a mere decade.  Obviously, the pace of other changes in aspects of the society has leaped also.  The new intensity of social contact enables many things to take place so much quicker.  For one thing, as someone said to me when I was in Kabul in 2008, the postal service is now moribund. 

It’s true that Afghanistan has been isolated from the world for millennia.  Not so now.   In many ways Afghanistan cannot be the country that it was.  What will that mean for the future? 

The long term costs of middle class flight from the Third World

The reality that many educated people are being drawn to the Western world from their home counties is an old and familiar topic. But there is a back side to this process that seems yet to be identified. This is to try to define some of the implications of the problem. The point: the “drain” of talent into the Western countries [I’m mainly thinking about the United States] means that the social and cultural capital of countries desperately in need of that talent is being lost. That loss could eventually cost not only those countries but also the Western world, which must deal with countries bereft of educated middle classes.

One of the most noticeable entailments in this process of educated middle class movement is a flow of trained physicians to this country from other countries. Many countries in fact pay for their citizens – usually the cream of the crop – to study medicine. So their graduates come out of medical school with no debt. At same time the developing countries have the usual problems of graft and administrative incompetence, so that some of the best medical graduates can become frustrated and jaded. And some of them discover that in the United States [or some other western country] medical practice can be more fulfilling and far more profitable. The barrier is the costs of entering a medical career in the West: usually there are exams to take that often require further study. But the incentive is huge: a life in safety, a comfortable way of life, often a superior income, and the opportunity to actually practice medicine and even excel in the profession.

So some of them come to the United States and qualify to practice medicine. What this means for them is that their lives are much improved; they have a good income – one that can enable them to support family members back home – and a comfortable, safe career. Without debt — unlike almost every young physician trained in the United States, for doctors trained in this country pay for their own education, almost always by acquiring an astronomical debt. Doctors graduating from medical schools in this country have no other option than to work hard, charge the best fees possible, in order to pay off their debt. Doctors arriving from elsewhere, after qualifying to practice, begin in a position to develop their careers with much less concern about financial obligations.

So much for what happens inside the United States, for instance. But the implications for the countries that trained these physicians is a growing and costly loss. Countries that must have professional communities and a viable middle class are constantly having their middle class, their best citizens, siphoned away. I don’t know any numbers, but I fear that the long term consequences of this process are to undermine social and cultural processes that our country needs to take place in other countries. We have a national interest in seeing middle classes prosper all over the world, but the seductive power of the opportunities that our country offers those classes works against that interest.

That’s a problem we see happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, after 2001, when the American military invaded the country in order to punish Al Qaeda, hundreds of Afghans who had been living abroad and had prospered in their respective professions returned to help develop the country. There was much excitement about finally developing their home country and they came, in many cases at their own expense.

As everyone knows, it hasn’t happened the way they had hoped. I fear that most of them – those for instance that I met at a 2002 conference on how to help the country, have given up. I wonder how many have stayed, continued trying to develop the country, despite the disappointing developments.

And what are the implications of losing that enthusiastic community of willing Afghans? Those who were ready to pay their own way, even to sacrifice, to serve the public interest of the country: doctors, bankers, hydrologists, engineers – educated, well trained professionals. What has been lost? It is easy to guess: A loss no one can assess. An opportunity lost that is unlikely ever to return.

For Afghanistan there is a huge need for them, but for reasons we can all appreciate I fear that most have gone back to the West.

I see the same problem in Pakistan. And there the loss may be just as catastrophic. And it is one many of us in this country can easily see in our own communities. The community I know includes many excellent physicians from Pakistan and other Third World countries. Our county in fact cannot do without them. But what does it do to Pakistan? Every day we read on the front page signs of the tragic failure of that country to develop the powerful and dominant middle class that must be established if it will ever establish a productive modern country. Pakistan’s loss, America’s gain. A gain scarcely appreciated in America; a loss scarcely recognized in Pakistan.