6 November 2012

On Iran, the strategists are wiser

 Arvind Sivaramakrishnan 

AP A September 2012 picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicating a ‘red line’ on a graphic of a bomb depicting Iran’s nuclear programme. He was speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. 

But there is no guarantee that politicians will heed the opinion of security professionals in the U.S., Israel and Britain against attacking Iran 

The fact that senior security officials in the United States and Israel have publicly opposed an attack on Iran indicates considerable anxiety among them over the intentions of their elected representatives, but it also diverts attention from other very serious issues. To start with, some of the U.S. professionals concerned may be trying to ensure that the advice they give the politicians now is not treated with the contempt President George W. Bush showed them over the cautionary analyses they gave him about the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or with the indifference the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair showed his public-service advisers when they questioned the legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

This time, the officials have been very explicit. The Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is only one of a panoply of current and former officers who have stated that an Israeli attack on Iran will only delay Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon and will not stop it. General Dempsey added that he did not want to be “complicit” if Israel chose to make an attack. In Israel, Meir Dagan, the former head of the intelligence service Mossad, has said that a pre-emptive attack on Iran was “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard; many other senior Israeli officers have also opposed an attack until all other means have been exhausted. 

Further opposition comes from the British government; the Attorney General’s Office has advised the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Ministry of Defence that as Iran is not a “clear and present threat,” it would be a clear breach of international law for the United Kingdom to assist forces that could be involved in a pre-emptive strike. Although the U.K. has not ruled out war altogether, it has surprised Washington by resisting informal U.S. lobbying for use of the British islands of Ascension in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean as bases for war with Iran. 
Could escalate uncontrollably 

A pre-emptive attack would also present formidable technical difficulties and could easily escalate uncontrollably. The former Clinton administration aide Heather Hurlburt, now of the National Security Network, writes in the online journal The Daily Beast that the likely targets are much further away than the Iraqi reactor at Osirak, which Israel destroyed in an unprovoked attack in 1981; the Israeli bombers had to be fully fuelled so that they did not need to refuel, and may also have benefited from negligent Iraqi air defence. Hurlburt points out that Israeli aircraft cannot carry the heavier U.S. bombs needed to damage the reinforced Iranian sites, and that the whole of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure cannot be destroyed in a short operation. Furthermore, as in Libya, some of the plants are in civilian areas, though western officials’ concerns about civilian casualties would ring hollow after the mass deaths caused by sanctions on Iraq and the civilian deaths which followed the invasion. 

Many of the critics, however, neglect central political issues. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that even if Iran had the bomb, no intelligent person with one nuclear weapon would attack a country which had 5,000 of them. 

Second, as Glenn Greenwald notes in The Guardian, Thomas Donnelly’s paper “A Strategy for a Nuclear Iran” is clear about the real reason for U.S. hostility to an Iranian nuclear weapon: “The surest deterrent to American action is a functioning nuclear arsenal.” The clear assumption is that anything that prevents the United States from attacking any country is a threat. As if in confirmation, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has recently said, “when you have a nuclear weapon, nobody attacks you.” 

Donnelly, one of the authors of the American conservative document Project for the New American Century, wrote his Iran paper in 2004, when the Iranian uranium enrichment programme — which even Israeli intelligence accepts is partly for medical purposes — was no doubt far less advanced than it is now. Yet continuing U.S. hostility to Iran is manifest; Democrat Representative Brad Sherman says that if sanctions harm the Iranian people, “Quite frankly, we need to do just that.” 
Cuban crisis 

Any U.S. president might hold and act on such opinions. Noam Chomsky, recalling the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis for The Guardian, cites recent work on President John F. Kennedy’s declassified tapes to show that Kennedy authorised several covert operations against Cuba and that during the crisis he was far more confrontational than earlier accounts had taken him to be. It was probably through sheer luck and nothing else that nuclear war did not occur. Although Second Captain Vasili Arkhipov of the Soviet submarine B-59 decided not to fire nuclear torpedoes when the U.S. aircraft carrier Randolph started depth-charging his vessel off Cuba, another officer might have acted differently. Chomsky also cites U.S. officers who detail “errors, confusions, near-accidents and miscomprehension” in the crisis — and who state that official commanders had no way of preventing a rogue crew-member from starting a war; many of the U.S. military personnel also held their political leaders in contempt. Today, there is little or nothing to ensure that, irrespective of the security professionals’ opinions of the politicians, they will not be ignored over Iran, just as they were over Iraq.

At sea over marine conservation

 Neha Sinha 

The Hindu OUT OF DEPTH: Terrestrial policies, which have so far shaped our conservation landscape, cannot help protect the marine habitat. 

India took the lead in highlighting endangered sea sites as one of the five top-level themes at the Hyderabad CBD. It is odd therefore, that the country does not have any comprehensive law that deals with this important subject 

What does 50 million U.S. dollars get you? The eleventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has just concluded in Hyderabad this October. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made the “Hyderabad Pledge” of $50 million for biodiversity conservation, and enhancing “human and technical capacity” for conservation. For the next two years, India is president of the CBD and is expected, both normatively and administratively, to take a lead in seeing through decisions taken at the CBD. Most significantly, India now has a serious chance at reimagining its conservation policies.

Many firsts for COP 11

There are several firsts at this CBD. This was the first conference of parties for the implementation of the time-bound Aichi targets, set to root out biodiversity loss. These targets, decided at the last CBD conference of parties in Nagoya, relate to planning, ecosystem services, invasive species, food security and climate change among others. They are a serious departure from the sort of myopic, single department-centred approach that conservation has had in our country. The 20 Aichi targets set out to establish that biodiversity conservation has to do with nearly every aspect of our life, and subsequent well-being. Crucially, the Aichi targets are wholly dependent on national action plans made by parties as per their national circumstances.

Several decisions have been made at the CBD which set the tone for domestic action plans. I would like to emphasise some of the decisions most relevant for the Indian context: on marine and coastal biodiversity, invasive alien species and protected areas. Crucially, these decisions have to be looked at through the time frame provided for the Aichi Targets — from this year to 2020, which is also two years into the United Nations Decade of Biodiversity. Equally, while this is the closest biodiversity targets have ever got to a deadline-oriented framework, this entire framework also runs the risk of never getting implemented, being wholly contingent on domestic action.

Existing policies

“I really don’t know what’s down there,” a forest department official remarked once, referring to the rich coral reefs of Gujarat’s Marine National Park. I have encountered other officials who believe that coral reefs are inanimate rock, rather than the sensitive, connected, and alive polyps they really are. But the concern of the official who doesn’t really know what’s “down there” is a valid one and should not be discarded. India has almost 8,000 kilometres of coastline, including its islands. India is also the country that took the lead in declaring marine conservation as one of the five themes for the high-level segment for this CBD meeting. It was decided in Hyderabad that marine areas which are ecologically and biologically sensitive will begin to get identified.

Is this a turning point? For India, it certainly can be. We have accepted voluntary guidelines for keeping biodiversity in perspective while conducting Environment Impact Assessments related to coastal and marine projects; it was India that mooted an “open and evolving” process at the CBD to begin identifying marine areas of significance through robust, scientific processes.

But the real question to ask is the one posed by the forest official: do our policy implementers know what is “down there,” and what will they do, since they do know? Is our forest department, historically set up to manage forests, curtail grazing, make plantations and fell timber, equipped to deal with marine conservation? The answer, clearly, is a no. While we have available science at our disposal for marine conservation, it is not an applied science for our forest department, who have been made the custodians of protecting all manner of wildlife. And that leads us to an even more significant question: are our present conservation policies capable of dealing with marine conservation? What we have in our kitty today is the Wildlife Protection Act, Tree Preservation Acts (at State level) and Environment Protection Act, none of which deal in any comprehensive way with marine conservation. Coral reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea, and sea grass beds are no less life-giving than terrestrial grasslands, which form a primary food base for many species. But it is clear that a “tree” of the sea, or a grassland of a sea, cannot be protected by terrestrial policies, which have so far shaped our conservation policy landscape.

Just one example is that of dugongs, large marine mammals which feed on sea grass meadows. Nicknamed “sea-cows,” they are rapidly disappearing from their ranges in Gujarat and the Andamans. The sea “cow” nickname is testimony to how we familiarise ourselves with new concepts through terms we know already: here, that of a cow. But the sea-cow, for all the familiarity its name evokes, is fast disappearing, prey to poaching on land and threats in the sea.

What we need today are separate laws for marine conservation. At the cusp of finding new marine Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) for India and implementing targets for marine conservation, what will truly benefit marine conservation is taking marine conservation out of the box it presently is in: protection accorded to just familiar groups of marine species, and protection through marine protected areas, legally imagined as analogous to terrestrial protected areas.

Alien species and protected areas

On the question of protected areas (PA), the new text makes an important point: it calls for “other effective area-based conservation measures.” This marks a departure from the heavily guarded and enforced PAs which dot the country and coastline, and, in a majority of cases, have alienated traditional dwellers in and around PAs. “Other effective systems” can mean biodiversity heritage areas, community reserves and important bird areas, which should call for a management regime approach (seasonal or otherwise), rather than strict protection. Invasive alien species, like the omnipresent Lantana, have caused considerable economic and ecological damage, sweeping over natural habitats, as well as city-forests. But India has never felt the need to have a policy for alien species, despite the risk they pose to the mainland and the biodiversity hot spot of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The new text on invasive alien species calls on countries to address threats from these species, check pathways and spread. This is especially important for a country as massive and megadiverse as ours: where even native species can be “alien” — the House Crow, for example, is a serious threat to the biodiversity of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Post-CBD, the money is where the mouth is; now comes the all-important question of creating responsible domestic policy and action plans for it. As a host country and as CBD president, this is a chance for India to ensure CBD decisions and recommendations don’t remain paper tigers. Or just paper.

(Neha Sinha is with the Bombay Natural History Society. The views expressed are personal. E-mail: n.sinha@bnhs.org)

The Emerging Politics of U.S. Naval Power

Started writing this post in July. Since it expires tomorrow afternoon, time to get on it...

Having played some role in formulating the question, I must confess that I was a bit disappointed in the responses of both John Lehman and Richard Danzig during June's maritime seminar. Over the last month things have improved, especially with Chris Cavas' interview of John Lehman that laid out some details for the Romney campaign's vision of naval power. I wasn't particularly impressed by Governor Romney's comments on fleet sizing, but at least they spurred some national discussion of maritime affairs

This election will not turn on fine distinctions between theories of maritime power. Nevertheless, both campaigns have expressed more interest in naval affairs than any Presidential campaigns since the 1980s. Given the stakes, the impressive amount of intellectual firepower on either side, and the audience, I think that we could have expected more sophisticated discussions of how each campaign understands the relationship between political commitment and maritime strategy. 

While Secretary Lehman invoked a vision of naval power that is broadly grounded in Mahanian lines, he didn't connect grand political strategy with naval power in terms more complex than a request for more resources. Perhaps because he felt the need to respond to Secretary Lehman, Richard Danzig similarly offered little in terms of a genuine appreciation of naval strategy. In particular, I would like to have seen the two responses grapple in some fashion with the difficulties presented by the Cooperative Maritime Strategy. I have argued elsewhere that elements of the Obama administration (primarily Secretary of State Clinton) appear to have understood and fully adopted the cooperative framework of CS-21, although whether they have sufficiently linked the framework to a progressive understanding of America's role in the world is a different question.

In his latest book (The Future of Power) Joseph Nye invokes the Cooperative Strategy as an example of "smart power," within context of an argument about America's place in a liberal internationalist order. Given Dr. Nye's association with the Democratic foreign policy apparatus, the idea that the principles of the cooperative strategy might find their way into a detailed Democratic foreign policy vision is hardly absurd.

What grand strategic role would Mitt Romney's Navy play? Apart from the potential addition of more ships, I have no idea. There are certainly many good conservative accounts of what the Navy ought to do, as compared to what it's doing right now; our own Bryan McGrath has developed a strong critique of the Cooperative Strategy, and various other voices have also argued that the Cooperative Strategy represents a fundamentally wrong-headed approach to the current international environment. I don't know what Secretary Lehman thinks of these critiques, and I certainly don't know what Governor Romney thinks of them. On the other hand, I don't think it's too much to suggest that the Romney campaign has developed an embroyonic (or perhaps atmospheric) critique of the cooperative strategy that mirrors the critiques posed by many of the campaign's supporters (including Bryan).

Again, we shouldn't expect too much from what amount to campaign statements. However, in context of the audience that reads Information Dissemination, of the relevance of maritime security to the foreign policy positions of either campaign, and of the expertise of the authors in question, we should have expected a bit more than what we got.


SMS Scharnhorst: "Battle of the Falkland Islands," Panu Hakkarainen 

Battle, for the most part, depends on asymmetric expectations. Combatants engage because they have different expectations about likely outcomes. While combatants often share tactical level expectations (a kamikaze pilot versus an anti-aircraft gunner on USS Franklin, for example), the terms of the tactical engagement are often shaped by asymmetric expectations at the operational, strategic, and political levels. When antagonists share expectations at all levels, they tend not to fight; one side retreats or yields rather than being destroyed. Asymmetric expectations arise both from asymmetric information and from bias in assessment of that information; the Battle of the Falkland Islands happened one side was unaware of the presence of certain enemy forces, while Kursk and Leyte Gulf happened because one side had a wildly optimistic assessment of available information.

These general propositions vary according to technological and geographic considerations. On land, combatants can often force combat on an unwilling foe through surprise, because of difficulties associated with mobility, and because of the critical nature of some landmarks (although the determination of "critical" depends on operational, strategic, and political considerations). Concerns about the relative strength of offense and defense also shape expectations. Moreover, asymmetric expectations exist within organizations and alliances, as leaders often have incentive to deceive followers on the probabilities of victory and defeat.

Historically, naval forces have been more capable of avoiding unwanted conflict. Anti-access technologies give the defender a major advantage that both sides acknowledge, meaning that fleets can avoid conflict by remaining behind their "walls." Major engagements happen through surprise (forcing the enemy to fight against his will), disagreement about the basic conditions of battle (possessing greater knowledge of the capabilities and numbers of deployed forces, as well as atmospheric factors), or both. Nelson's victories tended to involve elements of both; the audacity to force combat in unexpected situations and in unexpected ways, combined with great confidence in his own capabilities. Togo won Tsushima through complete confidence in the qualitative superiority of his own ships to those of the Russians. Jutland happened because both sides misjudged the size and position of the enemy. When faced with superior enemy numbers, the German, Austrian, and Russian navies simply refused to engage their foes.

Even following the development of strike-capable naval aviation, anti-access technologies (land-based air) could provide sanctuary for a weaker force. In the Mediterranean, the Regia Marina and the Royal Navy avoided unfavorable combat situations so effectively that the combat power of the former was in large part intact when it surrendered to the latter in 1943. After a series of relatively symmetric battles (most of which pitted relatively equal forces that both had a chance for victory) in 1942, the USN and the IJN avoided each other for most of 1943 until the advance of the former forced the latter to engage under risky, adverse conditions. Of course, by the end of the war (in both theaters) Allied strike superiority was so great that the remaining major Axis units were destroyed at anchor; you can only run for so long.

Why discuss this today? We have an interesting electoral situation in that both Republican and Democratic partisans seem virtually certain of victory tonight. It will surprise no one to find that I'm with the Democrats on this one, both as a partisan and on in assessment of the electoral situation. In a similar situation eight years ago, I was optimistic about the chances of John Kerry, who on objective measures certainly had less of a chance at winning the popular vote than does Mitt Romney. The electoral vote is a different story; I think that Mitt has a very tough hill to climb. In any case, an election isn't quite like a battle, because of course it happens at a specified time whether the antagonists want it or not. Nevertheless, asymmetric belief plays an important role in how elections play out, because such beliefs affect the behavior of party actors (how many resources to devote to a particular race or particular state), of activists (whether to commit themselves to various difficult and unpleasant tasks in support of a candidate), and of voters (whether to drag themselves to the polls). Just as in battle, leaders have incentive to deceive followers as to true prospects, whether in order to maximize chance of victory or to prepare the post-electoral space. Both leaders and followers are subject to motivated bias, the belief that the necessary is possible (or even likely). If there's a difference between now and eight years ago, it's that it seems that the institutional apparatus of the right (the major media organs in particular, but also the GOP itself) have gone more "all in" on an a favorable interpretation of the available data, but it's hard for me to say how valid that impression is.

In any case, make sure to vote and have a safe election night!

7 Technologies That Will Make It Easier for the Next President to Hunt and Kill You

By The Staff of Danger Room
November 6, 2012

Robotic assassination campaigns directed from the Oval Office. Cyber espionage programs launched at the president's behest. Surveillance on an industrial scale. The White House already has an incredible amount of power to monitor and take out individuals around the globe. But a new wave of technologies, just coming online, could give those powers a substantial upgrade. No matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the next president could have an unprecedented ability to monitor and end lives from the Oval Office. 

The current crop of sensors, munitions, control algorithms, and data storage facilities have helped make the targeted killing of American adversaries an almost routine affair. Nearly 3,000 people have been slain in the past decade by American drones, for instance. The process will only get easier, as these tools of war become more compact, more powerful, and more precise. And they will: Moore's Law applies in the military and intelligence realms almost as much as it does in the commercial sphere. 

For decades, political scientists have wrung their hands about an "Imperial Presidency," an executive branch with powers far beyond its original, Constitutional limits. This new hardware and software could make the old concerns look more outdated than horses and bayonets, to coin a phrase. Here are seven examples.

-- Noah Shachtman 

Photo: François Proulx/Flickr

Drone Autonomy 

There's a standard response to skeptics of the killer flying robots known as drones that goes something like this: Every time a drone fires its weapon, a human being within a chain of command (of other human beings) made that call. The robot never decides for itself who lives and who dies. All of that is true. It's just that some technical advances, both current and on the horizon, are going to make it less true. 

On one end of the spectrum is the Switchblade, AeroVironment's mashup of drone and missile. Weighing under 6 pounds and transportable in a soldier's backpack, the drone carries a function whereby an operator can pre-program its trajectory using GPS; When it reaches the target, it explodes, without its operator commanding it to. On the other end is the Navy's experimental UCLASS, which by 2019 ought to yield an armed drone with a 62-foot wingspan that can take off and land from an aircraft carrier at the click of a mouse, its flight path selected earlier while Naval aviators go get a snack. The Navy has no plans to let the UCLASS release its weapons except at a human's direction, but its autonomy goes beyond anything the military currently possesses. 

All of this stands to change drone warfare -- ironically, by changing human behavior. As humans get used to incremental expansions in drone autonomy, they'll expect more functionality to come pre-baked. That might erode the currently-rigid edict that people must conduct the strikes; at a minimum, it will free human operators to focus more of their attention on conducting attacks. The first phase of that challenge has arrived: the Army confirmed this week that a unit in eastern Afghanistan is now using the Switchblade

— Spencer Ackerman 

Photo: Jared Soares/Wired

'City-Sized' Surveillance 

Predator-class drones are today's spy tools of choice; the military and CIA have hundreds of them keeping watch over Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Mexico, and elsewhere. But the Predators and the larger Reapers are imperfect eyes in the sky. They rely on cameras that offer, as the military cliche goes, a "soda straw" view of the battlefield -- maybe a square kilometer, depending on how high the drone flies. 

Tomorrow's sensors, on the other hand, will be able to monitor an area 10 times larger with twice the resolution. The Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System ("Argus, for short) is a collection of 92 five-megapixel cameras. In a single day, it collects six petabytes of video — the equivalent of 79.8 years' worth of HD video

Argus and other "Wide Area Airborne Surveillance" systems have their limitations. Right now, the military doesn't have the bandwidth to pull all that video off a drone in real time. Nor it does it have the analysts to watch all the footage; they're barely keeping up with the soda straws. Plus, the camera bundles have had some problems sharing data with some of the military's other spy systems. 

But interest in the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance systems is growing -- and not just among those looking to spy overseas. The Department of Homeland Security recently put out a call for a camera array that could keep tabs on 10 square kilometers at once, and tested out another WAAS sensor along the border. Meanwhile, Sierra Nevada Corporation, a well-traveled intelligence contractor, is marketing its so-called "Vigilant Stare" sensor (.pdf), which it says will watch "city-sized fields of regard" for domestic "counter-narcotics" and "civil unrest" missions. Keep your eyes peeled. 

— Noah Shachtman 

Photo: Darpa

Massive Data Storage 

The idea of the government watching your every move is frightening. But not as frightening as the government recording your every move in digital database that never gets full. 

This nightmare data storage scenario is closer than you think. A study from the Brookings Institute says that it will soon be within the reach of the government -- and other organizations -- to keep a digital record everything that everyone in the country says or does, and the NSA is clearly on the cutting edge of large-scale data storage. 

The agency is building a massive $2 billion data center in Utah — due to go live in September of next year — and taking a cue from Google, agency engineers have built a massive database platform specifically designed to juggle massive amounts of information. 

According to a senior intelligence official cited in Wired’s recent feature story on the Utah data center, it will play an important role in new efforts within the agency to break the encryption used by governments, businesses, and individuals to mask their communications. 

"This is more than just a data center," said the official, who once worked on the Utah project. Another official cited in the story said that several years ago, the agency made an enormous breakthrough in its ability to crack modern encryption methods. 

But equally important is the agency’s ability to rapidly process all the information collected in this and other data centers. In recent years, Google has developed new ways of overseeing petabytes of data -- aka millions of gigabytes -- using tens of thousands of ordinary computer servers. A platform called BigTable, for instance, underpins the index that lets you instantly search the entire web, which now more than 644 million active sites. WIth Accumulo, the NSA has mimicked BigTable’s ability to instantly make sense of such enormous amounts of data. The good news is that the NSA’s platform is also designed to provide separate security controls from each individual piece of data, but those controls aren't in your hands. They’re in the hands of the NSA. 

— Cade Metz 

Photo: Peter McCollough/Wired.com

Tiny Bombs and Missiles 

Unless you're super strong or don't mind back pain, you can't carry a Hellfire missile. The weapon of choice for drone attacks weighs over 100 pounds, and that's why it takes a 27-foot-long Predator to pack one. But that's all about to change. Raytheon's experimental Small Tactical Munition weighs nearly a tenth of a Hellfire. In May, rival Textron debuted a weapon that loiters in mid-air, BattleHawk, that weighs a mere 5 pounds. 

Normally, a smaller bomb or missile just means a smaller smoking crater. But as the weapons get smaller, the number of robots that can carry them increases. The U.S. military has under 200 armed Predators and Reapers. It has thousands of smaller, unarmed spy drones like Pumas and Ravens. Those smaller drones get used by smaller units down on the military's food chain, like battalions and companies; if they get armed, then drone strikes can become as routine as artillery barrages. That's heavy. 

— Spencer Ackerman 

Photo: Raytheon

Tracking Tech 

Right before the Taliban executed him for allegedly spying for the Americans in April 2009, 19-year-old Pakistani Habibur Rehman said in a videotaped "confession" that he had been paid to plant tracking devices wrapped in cigarette paper inside Taliban and Al-Qaida safehouses. The devices emitted barely detectable radio signals that allegedly guided U.S. drone strikes. 

The CIA has never copped to using such trackers, but U.S. Special Operations Command openly touts its relationship with manufacturers of "tagging, tracking and locating devices." One of these firms, Herndon, Virginia-based Blackbird Technologies, has supplied tens of thousands of these trackers as part of a $450 million contract. The company's 2-inch-wide devices hop between satellite, radio frequencies, CDMA and GSM cellular networks to report the locations of whatever they're attached to

If SOCOM has its way, these trackers will only be the start. The command has spent millions developing networks of tiny "unattended ground sensors" that can be scattered across a battlefield and spot targets for decades, if its makers are to be believed. SOCOM is also on the hunt for tiny, plantable audio and video recorders and optical and chemical "taggants" that can mark a person without him knowing it. The idea is for spies like Rehman (if that's what he was) to more accurately track militants ... and get away with it. 

— David Axe and Noah Shachtman 

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Global Strike 

Take the military's current inventory of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can scream toward their targets at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour. Not too shabby. But also positively slow compared to a new generation of experimental hypersonic weapons that may soon travel many times that speed -- and which the Pentagon and the Obama administration dreams about one day lobbing at their enemies anywhere on the globe in less than an hour. And don't count on the current president, or perhaps even the next one, on abandoning the project any time soon

It's called "Prompt Global Strike," and the Defense Department has worked for a decade on how to field such radical weapons with a mix of trial and error. Among them include the shorter-range X-51A Waverider, a scramjet-powered cruise missile hurtled at up to six times the speed of sound. Even more radical is Darpa's pizza-shaped glider named the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, and the Army's pointy-shaped Advanced Hypersonic Weapon — designed to travel at Mach 20 and Mach 8, respectively. If any of these weapons or a variant is ever fielded, they could be used to assassinate a terrorist while on the move or blast a nuclear silo in the opening minutes of a war. Or inadvertently start World War III. 

While the Waverider is launched from a plane and resembles a cruise missile (albeit one traveling intensely fast), the HTV-2 is launched using an intercontinental ballistic missile before separating and crashing back down to Earth. But as far as Russian and Chinese radars are concerned, the HTV-2 could very well be an ICBM potentially armed with a nuke and headed for Beijing or Moscow. The Pentagon has apparently considered this doomsday scenario, and has walked back the non-nuke ICBM plan -- sort of -- while touting a potential future strike weapon launched at the intermediate range from a submarine. But there's also still plenty of testing to do, and a spotty record of failures for the Waverider and the HTV-2. Meanwhile, the Russians are freaked out enough to have started work on a hypersonic weapon of their own

— Robert Beckhusen 

Photo: Air Force

Sensor Fusion 

The military can listen in on your phone calls, and can watch you from above. But it doesn't have one thing -- one intelligence-collection platform, as the jargon goes -- that can do both at once. Instead, the various "ints" are collected and processed separately -- and only brought together at the final moment by a team of analysts. It's a gangly, bureaucratic process that often allows prey to slip through the nets of military hunters. 

The exception to this is the Blue Devil program. It outfits a single Beechcraft King Air A90 turboprop plane with a wide area sensor, a traditional camera, and eavesdropping gear -- all passing information from one to the other. The electronic ear might pick up a phone call, and tell the camera where to point. Or the wide area sensor might see a truck moving, and ask the eavesdropper to take a listen. Flying in Afghanistan since late 2010, the system has been "instrumental in identifying a number of high-value individuals and improvised explosive device emplacements," according to the Air Force, which just handed out another $85 million contract to operate and upgrade the fleet of four Blue Devil planes. 

There's a second, more ambitious phase of the Blue Devil program, one that involved putting a lot more sensors onto an airship the size of a football field. But that mega-blimp upgrade never made it to the flight-testing phase, owing to a series of bureaucratic, financial and technical hurdles. But the idea of sensor fusion is not going anywhere. And, let's be honest: If one of these surveillance arrays catches you in their web, neither are you. 

— Noah Shachtman 

Photo: David Axe

Race & Money — and the money in the race

P. SAINATH Hindu Oped 6N12

The polarisation that is emerging between the U.S. presidential camps, with colour as a major element, will haunt America in elections to come

It's just a few hours to the end of the race, but Race isn't going to end anytime soon. It was pretty ugly in the 2008 presidential poll, too. Yet, 2012 makes that year seem benign. On the last lap, Mitt Romney is running as the Great White Hope, a Captain America against the illegal immigrant from Kenya (which is how many Republicans paint Mr. Obama). Earlier, Mr. Romney's campaign co-chair John Sununu accused Gen. Colin Powell of choosing race over country. He claimed Gen. Powell had endorsed Mr. Obama's re-election bid on the basis of colour. Right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and his crew have described Mr. Obama's health care plans as "reparations" (compensation to the descendants of slaves). Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has freely used racist slang in attacking the President. 


No surprise, then. Mitt Romney has more White voters, especially males, with him than the last challenger did. But this unfolds in an electorate that is increasingly less White. And the Republican Party is poised to do worse than it ever has amongst Black and Hispanic voters. Race remains a major factor in the U.S. presidential election. 

In 2008, when he ran and won against John McCain, the powerful Fox News Network sought to expose the "real" Barack Obama. It dug up some deadly sins. Mr. Obama, it turned out, had personally known a couple of Pakistanis in his younger days. Worse still, he had once visited Pakistan. (That's passé now, with Mr. Obama's drones making those visits daily). The other 2008 tack, that he is a foreigner himself, is more in favour. Never mind the man's been President of the country for four years. 

Barack Obama's stunning 2008 victory makes it easy to forget two things. First, in September that year, his rival John McCain had in fact moved ahead in several of the national polls. Race played a role then, too. Then came the financial meltdown. Wall Street did its thing and drowned the Republicans. The second is that Mr. Obama's great win in the electoral college vote — 365 to 173 — was not matched by his showing in the popular vote. There, his margin was much narrower. Just around 7 per cent. Even though voter turnout was at its highest — at 57.48 per cent — in perhaps 40 years. Again, race played a role in that. Yet, Mr. Obama got more White male votes then, than he is likely to get now. 

There have been worse popular vote margins. George W. Bush actually lost the popular vote (-0.51 per cent) in 2000. He still beat Al Gore on the electoral college count in the dubious election that year. But Mr. Obama's 2008 popular vote margin was far lower than his emphatic win in the electoral college count. This time, it will be hard to improve on it. To see it fall further — quite possible, even likely — would be an embarrassment. 

The kind of polarisation that's emerging, with race so major an element in it, will haunt the United States in elections to come. In the South, it draws on legacies of hatred going back to slavery and the Civil War. It is not that White people as a whole are opposed to Mr. Obama. He couldn't win if they were. But Mr. Romney has been clearly able to draw a lot more White voters in his corner in a racially-charged situation. On this trend, things can and will get worse. 

At the same time, while Mr. Obama's election in 2008 was a huge symbolic moment for African-Americans, it's not as if he brought them all on board. Or that all of them agree with him. Voices within the community critical of Mr. Obama have been growing. African-Americans will indeed vote massively in his favour. Yet, most of those who will vote for him were always Democratic Party supporters. That Mr. Obama is one of them (in a limited sense) might give him an edge. But a huge number of them have voted overwhelmingly for other Democratic presidential candidates (like Mr. Clinton) in the past. The sharp polarisation promises another thing. If the result is close — CNN's poll suggests a photo-finish — that result will be bitterly disputed. There will be demands and fights over recounts. Get ready for endless lawyering. This is a nation where, anyway, that profession chokes the major institutions. Well over a third of all members of the U.S. House of Representatives are lawyers. In the Senate, that's more than half. Yet other members of both houses may have a law degree but have not declared themselves lawyers. There is also a huge overlap between the legal world and that of lobbyists, making their domination worse. 


In 2008, the Wall Street meltdown destroyed John McCain. Many believe Hurricane Sandy will do that to Mr. Romney. And indeed, his television presence during the crisis has helped and will help Mr. Obama. Mr. Romney, as one analyst put it, "simply found no way to work himself into the news cycle during those days." This was true. But what lies beyond is not quite simple. Hurricane Sandy can have an adverse effect on voter turnout. And there is also growing anger amongst the affected — after the cameras have left. Long lines for, and panic buying of, gasoline continue. There are thousands whose homes were simply blown away. As many as 40,000 people may have been left homeless in New York alone. Wrecked neighbourhoods face a crime wave and looting. 


Meanwhile, we're just hours from the conclusion of what has been the costliest and most cynical U.S. presidential election campaign in history. The two main rivals have spent half a billion dollars in just three "battleground States" — Florida, Ohio and Virginia. And nearly thrice as much in the remaining States. (Counting spending by the candidates, their parties and Political Action Committees). 

The country was subjected to its greatest barrage ever of political commercials. Over a million ads ran on broadcast and national television through October. More than ever before. Some 40 per cent more ran in the same month in 2008. It's worth remembering that in 2008, Mr. Obama hugely outspent Mr. McCain. Mr. Obama out-advertised his rival by a ratio of four to one. This time, though, his rival has given him something of a run for his money, overall. If you've raised a billion dollars (as incumbent President) as Mr. Obama has but are still struggling, things aren't too bright. But Mr. Obama still held the edge in the ads race. Anything goes in that race, from innuendo to outright lies. 


Then there are the Congressional races. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs. The Center for Responsive Politics — the country's foremost poll-spending tracker — had reckoned total costs closing in on $6 billion (The Hindu, Oct. 18, 2012). That mark will be met and breached. Indeed, of this, the presidential race alone might have seen spending close to $3 billion. The trends are also reflected in the composition of the U.S. Congress. As "Occupy DC" had pointed out quite some time ago: 1 per cent of Americans are millionaires. But over 47 per cent of members of the House of Representatives are millionaires. So are 56 per cent of Senators. (the median wealth of a Senator, says the CRP, is $2.38 million). 

Mr. Obama has had a fight on his hands at all stages, this time around. Two features have been constant for a while. Bad unemployment figures. And a lack of relish and enthusiasm. The zest for the action seemed to be far more in the media. (Which is also the biggest beneficiary of the wild spending). The raw enthusiasm and energy we saw in 2008, spurred in part by the meltdown, has been missing. The kind of blunders that Mr. Romney made — take his infamous 47 per cent comment — should have sunk him. They didn't. He's stayed in the fight despite them. 

There are also those from all communities who cannot recapture the magic of 2008. They could never vote Mr. Romney. And some could go with the logic put out by one writer: 'My enemy's enemy is my President.' But some might not vote at all. They have seen a Corporate-World-Rules-as-Usual regime for four years. They have wearied of the wars and their costs. They know firsthand that most of the jobs coming up in the 'recovery' are low-skill, low-wage ones. 

Mr. Obama has only gained after he gave up playing to a right-wing Democrat gallery and returned to the populism of 2008. That came very late in the campaign, yet, helped him out of a hole. Mitt Romney could find himself in one, that he might blame on Hurricane Sandy. He did have Mr. Obama on the mat, more than once. And while important pollsters speak of a dead heat and say correctly that either can win, it's harder for Mr. Romney to do so. Beating an incumbent U.S. President would be quite a feat. 



1.  The 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which completed its term at Beijing on November 4,2012, did not throw much light on any changes in nuances in the Chinese foreign policy that can be expected from the new party leadership headed by Mr.XiJinping that will be taking over at the 18th Congress being held from November 8. 

2.The first indications of any changes in nuances will be available only after the Party Congress is over and after Mr.Hu Jintao hands over as the State President to Mr.Xi after the session of the National People's Congress (NPC), the Parliament, in March next year. There will also be a new Prime Minister from March next when Mr.WenJiabao will be handing over to Mr.LeKequiang. All one say with certainty is there is unlikely to be any major changes in foreign policy objectives at least till next March. 

3.Speculation from Beijing regarding the deliberations of the 17th Central Committee, which worked for a consensus on the composition of the new party organs under Mr.Xi, indicated that the new leadership under Mr.Xi may be more conservative and less political reform minded and more cautious in domestic matters.Will this domestic neo conservatism be reflected in external policy also and, if so, in what manner? Will the new leadership be more assertive in territorial sovereignty matters or more accommodating? Will it be more or less rigid in non-territorial matters having an impact on foreign policy such ascharges of currency manipulation, action to reduce trade imbalances, charges of economic espionage emanating from US Congressional circlesetc? Clear-cut answers to these questions should be available only after next March. 

4. However, one can study important foreign policy statements made during the year to understand the thinking of the new leadership and analysts, who write on foreign policy matters in the Government and party-controlled media. The most important statement of the year came from Mr.Xi himself during a visit he made to the US in February last after it became clear that he would be taking over as the Party General Secretary and the State President from Mr.Hu. 

5.While addressing a luncheon hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council at Washington DC on Feb. 15, 2012, Mr. Xi said that China and the US should increase strategic trust and respect the core interests and major concerns of each other. He added: 

"Without trust, one can achieve nothing. China and the US have important interwoven interests. Strategic trust is the foundation for mutually beneficial cooperation, and greater trust will lead to broader cooperation.The two sides should increase mutual understanding and trust, and reduce misunderstanding and suspicion. 

"We in China hope to work with the U.S. side to maintain close high-level exchanges. We hope to increase dialogue and exchange of views with the United States by making full use of our channels of communication, including the Strategic and Economic Dialogues, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and military-to-military exchanges. 

"By doing so, we can better appreciate each other's strategic intentions and development goals, avoid misinterpretation and misjudgement, build up mutual understanding and strategic trust, and on that basis, fully tap our cooperation potential. 

"History shows that when we properly handle each other's core and major interests, China-U.S. relations will grow smoothly. Otherwise, they will be in trouble. 

" China hopes the US will adhere to the three Sino-U.S. Joint Communiques and the one-China policy, oppose Taiwan independence and support the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Straits with concrete actions. 

"China also hopes that the United States will truly honour its commitment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and opposingTibet independence, and handle Tibet-related issues in a prudent and proper manner. 

"It is natural that some differences exist on human rights issues given the differences in national conditions as well as historical and cultural background between the two countries. 

"China and the US should continue dialogue and exchanges to implement the consensus reached between Presidents of the two countries on respecting each other's development paths chosen in light of their national conditions, and improve the cause of human rights in both countries. 

"China-U.S. relations are now at a new historical starting point in the second decade of the 21st century." 

6.It was a conciliatory statement and tried to play down the tensions and suspicions that had arisen during the last two years following China's reported characterisation of its sovereignty claims over the islands of the South China Sea as of core interest in addition to Taiwan and Tibet. Such a characterisation was not made in any official document or policy statement of Beijing, but during its diplomatic interactions with the US in May 2010. 

7. In his speech in Washington DC, Mr.Xi remained silent on this characterisation and reverted to the traditional Chinese position that Taiwan and Tibet are its core interests.It did not refer to Xinjiang as a core interest. Chinese leaders are generally more articulate in the expression of their concerns on the Tibetan issue during their visits to the US than during their visits to India because they are concerned over the support enjoyed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in US Congressional circles and by his access to the US President during his visits to Washington DC. They do worry that an attempt might be made by the US to promote the destabilisation of Tibet after the death of His Holiness. 

8.ThoughMr.Xi's formulations on the Tibet issue were made by him in Washington DC and with specific reference to the likely impact of Tibet on China's bilateral relations with the US, they should be of interest to India too in view of the pending border dispute between India and China which has defied a resolution. 

9. Since 1985, the Chinese have stopped expressing themselves in favour of a swap deal with India under which in return for an Indian acceptance of the status quo in the Western sector in the Ladakh area, Beijing will accept the status quo in the Eastern sector by recognising Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory. This package proposal was reportedly first made by the Chinese before the Sino-Indian war of 1962.It continued to be on the table even the war till 1985. 

10. Since 1985, they have been challenging the status quo in the Arunachal Pradesh area, describing it as southern Tibet and as disputed territory over which they continue to have sovereignty claims which need to be accommodated in their border negotiations with India. Details of the border talks are not available, but the speculation is they want a status quo minus solution in the Eastern sector under which India will concede their sovereignty over at least the Tawang area in which one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born, in return for their giving up their sovereignty claims over the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. 

11.It is in this context that Mr.Xi's reference to Tibet and "Tibet-related issues" as of core interest to China is significant.What did he mean by "Tibet-related" issues? Was he referring to China's sovereignty claims over Arunachal Pradesh? It needs to be noted that in their interactions with India, the Chinese have not referred to their sovereignty claims over Arunachal Pradesh as a core interest for them. The Chinese definition of a core interest is one in which no concessions by them are possible. 

12. Their border talks with India are based on the principle of mutual accommodation which means the possibility of some concessions by them.Not to exclude the possibility of such concessions, they have refrained from describing Arunachal Pradesh as a core issue in their interactions with India. Against this background, what did Mr.Xi mean by talking of "Tibet-related issues" as a core interest while speaking in the US? This needs to be examined by Indian analysts in order to look for possible signs of Beijing deviating from its present policy of searching for a solution on the Arunachal Pradesh issue based on mutual accommodation. 

13.There were two important statements indicating an inflexible line on territorial sovereignty issues on September 20 and 21,2012. In a despatch from Brussels,the "People's Daily" quoted Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as stating on the sideline of a China-EU summit that China would make no concession in affairs concerning the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

14. The next day, when addressing the opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit and Forum in Nanning, capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Mr.Xi said:"We are firm in safeguarding China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and are committed to resolving differences with neighbours concerning territorial land, territorial sea and maritime rights and interests peacefully through friendly negotiations." 

15. These two statements indicated that the non-confrontational line projected by Mr.Xi in the US did not apply to China's sovereignty disputes with some ASEAN countries in the South China Sea and with Japan in the East China Sea. While the statements related to China's territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries and Japan, the formulations clearly showed that the inflexible line applied to all territorial disputes with all neighbours. If China is not prepared to make any concessions in territorial disputes as stated by Mr.Wen, where is the question of mutual accommodation on the Arunachal Pradesh issue? This should be a matter for added concern to India. 

16. This hard line was reflected in an article carried by the "People's Daily" on November 2,2012, a day after the final meeting of the 17th Central Committee started.The article was written by Mr.WangYusheng, Executive Director of the Strategic Research Centre of the China Institute of International Research Foundation. It said: "The parties concerned know clearly that China advocates building a harmonious neighbourhood, but has inviolable "red lines." If necessary, it will resort to force after trying peaceful means. The United States is just bluffing, and Japan and some other Asian countries are just taking advantage of U.S. influence to serve their own purposes. They may muddy the water in the Pacific, but cannot make big waves." 

17.Interestingly, news agency reports originating from Washington, on October 22,2012,quoting US State Department sources, said: 

" Chinese leaders did not refer to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands as a 'core national interest' during talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September in an apparent attempt to avoid a diplomatic clash with Washington, State Department sources have said. 

"While discussing territorial issues with Clinton in China, Premier Wen Jiabao did not make remarks suggesting that the disputed islands are part of its 'core national interests', a term Beijing uses to refer to key territories it is determined to hold onto or ultimately take control of, the sources said. 

"The talks with Clinton followed a meeting in Beijing with Japan in May in which Jiabao told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that his country should respect China's core interests and major concerns, the Japan Times reported. 

"According to the report, the US had made it clear that the islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan security treaty, which would oblige Washington to support Japan if the islands came under attack. 

"The uninhabited islands in the East China Sea also were not referred to as a core interest in Clinton's separate meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the sources said. 

"While Beijing is not expected to soften its position on the row with Tokyo, it appears to be cautious about challenging Washington on security issues, the report said." 

18. Thus, on the eve of the 18th Party Congress, the over-all Chinese line seems to be as follows: 

(a).It looks upon its sovereignty claims over Taiwan, Tibet and "Tibet-related issues" as of core interest and major concern. It has made this clear in formal official statements and is prepared for a military conflict if its interests are threatened, but it has not clarified what it means by Tibet-related issues. 

(b). Since May,2010, it has informally indicated to the US its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea as of core interest, thereby not ruling out the use of force if its interests are threatened.However, there has been no formal declaration on this subject. 

(c ). While continuing to reiterate its sovereignty claims in the East China Sea, it has refrained from characterising them as of core interest to avoid a military conflict with Japan which enjoys the protection of the US-Japan Security Treaty in the East China Sea. 

19. This over-all core interest doctrine of China which evolved under the outgoing leadership of Mr.Hu is likely to continue after Mr.Xi takes over from Mr.Hu. 

20. What impact this will have on the ongoing border talks between India and China? There are so far no indications to show that China might be contemplating to give up its adherence to the principle of mutual accommodation in finding a solution to its border dispute with India.The evolution of the Chinese thinking on this issue needs to be closely monitored. ( 6-11-2012) 
The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com Twitter @SORBONNE75)