2 September 2013

FIRST THINGS FIRST- The economic agenda for a new government

Commentarao: S.L. Rao

For a secure future

The food security bill will barely begin to take effect when the elections come. The best economic brains in the government are silently against it. P. Chidambaram cannot coolly contemplate a huge rise in government expenditure when the deficit is already high. The next prime minister and his finance minister must deal with it.

The Indian economy is in terrible shape, and almost at the bottom of the list among emerging economies. The expected withdrawal of cheap money by the United States of America is only partially responsible for this. All the present ills — high Central government deficit, continuing high inflation for over two years (measured at wholesale level), high current account deficit, high balance of trade deficit, the collapsed rupee, huge external commercial borrowings coming up for repayment in 2014, foreign exchange reserves composed mainly of debts (covering around nine months of imports, declining investment and industrial production) — are results of poor governance. Lack of coordination between ministries, poorly drafted contracts for public-private infrastructure projects, poor project implementation and contract management, poor response to potential insolvency and stranded investments in infrastructure, lack of accountability in the bureaucracy, absence of independent investigation of corrupt officers and politicians and inadequate opportunities in health and education for the poor are some of the contextual reasons for the situation.

What should a new government, in power by May 2014, do?

The government’s fiscal deficit must be slashed. Subsidies on oil products (petroleum, diesel and domestic gas) must be eliminated in one swoop and retail prices left to the market, with the regulator keeping a close watch. Fertilizer subsidies must be capped so that they do not remain a growing burden. Increases in dearness allowance should be frozen (for a stated period), as they were in 1975, when inflation was over 20 per cent. A time limit must be put on some recent actions, such as reduction in outward remittances by Indians (not companies), increased duties on gold imports, stopping duty-free imports of expensive television sets and so on.

Social welfare schemes (the public distribution system, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and others) should undergo frequent and reliable social audits. States identified for having high leakages of funds and wrong targeting of beneficiaries should have their funds under these social welfare schemes sharply reduced. The PDS is highly corrupt and inefficient. Until a reliable means of identifying beneficiaries is in place, the PDS and additional food security should be merged with the delivery of the intensive child development services and the school mid-day meal scheme. Early introduction of a cash benefit system in lieu of the physical distribution of grains should be accelerated.

The scheme to support losses of state electricity boards (of over Rs 120,000 crore) should cease. Instead, states that have a time-bound privatization programme for electricity could be supported. The Centre and the finance commission should relate Central fund transfers to states to a given percentage on populist ‘freebies’. Anything above should mean a reduction in Central transfers.

Dimming of Brand India

Sep 02 2013

We have messed up the present. Can we still recover the future?

We are in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Our macroeconomic indices are weakening. The first quarter growth figure has come in at 4.4 per cent and some analysts are projecting a figure for FY 2013-14 of below 4 per cent — the Hindu rate that we all thought was a historical memory. Inflation in critical items is well above double digits — year-on-year the prices of vegetable goods have increased by 46 per cent; that of cereals by 18 per cent and proteins by 11 per cent (I quote the numbers recently published by Ashok Gulati, the chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices); the rupee is hovering close to Rs 70 to the dollar and the Sensex is gyrating, but in fall. The finance minister has pronounced a 10-point programme to narrow the fiscal deficit, balance the current account, stabilise the currency, contain inflation and bring the economy back onto the growth path. Whether he succeeds or not remains to be seen. The odds are against him. He has to contend with populist political colleagues, and the immune system of the economy has been so weakened that it seems no longer capable of countering the convulsions of the international market. But even if he does succeed, there is doubt that potential investors will bring India back onto their radar screen. Sure, "hot money" might flow back, but investments into the more stable and longer term "bricks and mortar" and services sectors will most likely remain lacklustre.

This is because the current crisis is not just about "poor economics". It is also about the loss of confidence in the government's commitment to upholding the constitutional checks and balance of governance. It is about the weakening of the pillars upon which Brand India has been built and which so positively differentiated us from other emerging economies.

As every marketer knows, there is a difference between "advertising" and "branding". Advertising is a tangible instrument for hawking a product. Branding is an intangible asset that embodies the qualities, values and experience of the company. The two are, of course, interrelated. Advertising helps build the "brand" and the brand reinforces (hopefully) sales. But they are conceptually different.

When India was growing at 8 per cent plus, it was not difficult to develop a compelling advertorial for the country. The pitch was pegged on the fundamentals of the economy — the large market, our youthful population, the reservoir of talent — and the ingredients of Brand India. Economic growth had not done away with corruption, red tape and shoddy infrastructure, but these negatives were offset by the assurance that if and when the entry hurdles were overcome, the strength of our institutions would ensure a level playing field, respect for contracts and protection against the arbitrary and discretionary exercise of power.

Today, these assurances have been dented. Investors see not only an economy on the skids, but a governance process that is opaque and unpredictable. The government may have had "good" reasons for the spate of tax charges that have been slapped on the multinationals and for unilaterally rewriting binding contracts and passing orders with retroactive effect, but the result has been to make investors nervous about the operating environment. For the first time since the onset of economic reforms, boardroom discussions are not about specific investments but about the fundamentals of the Indian polity. People are asking generic questions. What is the nature of India's democracy? How strong are the institutions of the executive, legislature and judiciary? Have these institutions got so hollowed out that there is a power vacuum? And if so, where does power reside? Investors will want satisfactory answers to these questions before they bring India back on to their investment agenda.

A Syrian lesson for India

Nayan Chanda
Aug 31, 2013

As some of America's allies reject war as means to punish Syria for usingchemical weapons against civilians, the world is struggling to comprehend the context for the Assad regime's latest atrocity. Existential struggle born of deep sectarian divide, between Alawites and Sunnis, Druze and Christians in a country carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire certainly provides one explanation.

So too does the contagion-effect of the Arab Spring and regional power struggles. But a deeper analysis may show that it was an environmental catastrophe hitting the country's agricultural belt five years ago that set the Syrian conflict in motion. This largely untold story also holds important lessons for India, which faces similar long-term environmental threats.

The horrors of the Syrian civil war and the death of some 1,00,000 people in the past two years have overshadowed the fact that, for a long time, the country's patchwork of religions and sects had coexisted peacefully. The iron-fisted rule of the Baathist party, accompanied by a secular and open-door policy, provided relative prosperity until a prolonged period of natural calamity and mismanagement unleashed the demons of sectarianism.

In an insightful essay in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a global security scholar, Shahrzad Mohtadi, has explained the deep connection between climate change and political uprising in Syria. Although the country has suffered from occasional rain shortfalls, between 2006 and 2010, it faced an unprecedented drought that turned its northeastern agricultural fields into deserts.

Unable to make a living, over 1.5 million destitute farmers moved to the suburbs of Damascus and other cities, living in makeshift tents and scrounging a living. Massive shortfalls in production turned a net exporter of wheat into a major importer. Food prices skyrocketed, punishing the mostly Sunni farmers who once fed the nation. Their plight, ignored by Syria's Alawite rulers, stoked anger and planted the seeds for conflict.

In March 2011, Syrian security forces in the city of Dara'a aggravated an already tense situation caused by the exodus when they arrested a group of children for scrawling anti-government slogans on a school wall. Dara'a exploded in anger when it emerged that security forces had tortured the children.

The spark ignited in Dara'a quickly spread to the rest of the country, with many destitute Sunni farmers joining the rebels. Unsurprisingly, the suburbs where the rural migrants congregated became sites of protest and later, bombardment by government forces using conventional - and more recently chemical - weapons.

To be sure, the Syrian regime cannot be held responsible for the prolonged drought, which scientists say is most likely related to anthropogenic climate change. But its wrong-headed agricultural policy of promoting water-intensive cotton for exports caused lasting damage to groundwater reserves. Jay Famiglietti, a hydrologist who led a seven-year study of Nasa satellite data of the world's underground water, recently said that the "data show an alarming rate of decrease in total water storage in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which currently have the second-fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on earth, after India".

No strategy on Pakistan

Aug 31, 2013

Our neighbours imbibe Chanakya better, our foreign policy is reactive and ad hoc.

I don't know if it is popular anymore, but when i was in school in Delhi there used to be an expression called kutti. If you were angry with a friend and wanted to terminate the friendship you said kutti and that was the end of that. Today, in response to the unacceptable provocations from Pakistan, including incessant violations of the LoC, the killing of our soldiers and the support to jihadi groups, there are some quarters that want us to do kutti with Pakistan.

The problem, of course, is that it is very difficult to do that with neighbours. Friends can come and go, but neighbours don't go away. Neighbours, especially hostile and difficult ones like Pakistan, require engagement. Foreign policy is the framework to decide what the terms of that engagement must be.

To fulfil this role, foreign policy must have a flexible but definitively worked out strategic vision backed by resolute political will. Some 2,000 years ago, Chanakya, the visionary author of Arthashastra, spelt out his concept of such a strategic vision: sama, dama, danda, bheda - reconciliation, inducement, deterrent action and subversion - and the lesser known asana or the strategic art of deliberately sitting on the fence.

What Chanakya was able to grasp hundreds of years ago is that foreign relations require an array of instruments, each corresponding to the specific situation on the ground and in conformity with a long-term strategic vision. By the same token, he believed that dealing with an external power, and that too a neighbour within the mandala, cannot be monochromatic, with only black or white options. None of the instruments was, for him, mutually exclusive. We can talk reconciliation while pursuing deterrent action; we can induce even if simultaneously we need to subvert. It should never be one or the other, or even worse, none at all.

Today, it appears that Pakistan - and China - have mastered Chanakyan stratagems to the same extent that we have forgotten them. Pakistan has perfected a policy of deliberate aggression with tactical appeasement. India merely reacts, without a well-thought-out policy framework that anticipates both.

Nor is there any strategic consistency or muscle in our responses. Pakistan hijacks a plane; our foreign minister, after the plane providentially lands in Amritsar and is egregiously allowed to take off again, escorts some of the most wanted Pakistani terrorists to freedom. After the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, weannounced that we would not engage in substantive negotiations with Pakistan until the perpetrators, whose culpability was beyond doubt, were brought to book. Subsequently, step by step we retreated from this decision.

After the terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, we simulated a purposeful response by an aggressive mobilisation of troops on the border, and when this was just beginning to worry Pakistan, inexplicably reduced the heat. Following the blatant aggression of Kargil, just after the friendship bus yatra of then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we invited Pervez Musharraf to Agra; having achieved his purpose, he pretended to leave in a huff, adding insult to injury. At the non-aligned summit at Havana in September 2006, we actually conceded that Pakistan, the single biggest threat to our security through sponsorship of terrorism, was itself a victim of terrorism.

At Sharm-el-Sheikh we agreed, in order to appease Pakistan, that we were culpable in the insurgency in Baluchistan. Every time we have official talks with Pakistan in New Delhi, we allow the Hurriyat leadership to meet with Pakistani leaders, even when they have declined to meet with our PM, the Jammu & Kashmir chief minister or any Indian interlocutor. If Pakistan's parliament passes a resolution our Parliament follows suit.

No foreign policy can be an ad hoc afterthought. Pakistan is not a monolith. There are segments within it, including perhaps some segments within the civilian government, which could be inclined towards friendship with India. There are others, such as the ISI and the army, which we know are implacably against us. With the first we need to engage, without being woolly-headed peaceniks; the others need to be countered, firmly and in a deterrent fashion.

A classic example of the unthinking 'peacenik' syndrome is the action purportedly taken by former prime minister I K Gujral in the 1990s of winding down our covert operations in Pakistan. In one stroke we emasculated our powers to infiltrate the terrorist organisations in Pakistan that plan murder and mayhem in India, deprived ourselves of vital intelligence information that could be used for pre-emptive attacks, and discarded the option of striking the enemy camp to take out terrorists wanted in India.

Talks can never be the unqualified option with Pakistan. They can only be a means to an end, within a larger policy and without prejudice to other means. Nor is saying kutti and going to war the answer. Jingoism is not a substitute for foreign policy which must have a cerebral and holistic policy framework within which different initiatives are used in a calibrated and proactive manner, with due anticipation, clarity and planning and a long-term policy to achieve a consistent goal. India, in the most troubled neighbourhood of the world, is still to devise such a foreign policy.

The writer, an author and former diplomat, is currently adviser to the Bihar chief minister. Views are personal.

China conducted 3-4 nuclear blasts in Tibet in 2005 to divert Brahmaputra

by Chandan Nandy 29/8/13

In a surreptitious move fraught with dangers of nuclear radiation in areas bordering India, China conducted three to four “low yield atomic explosions” in March 2005 to aid in clearing mountainous terrain to divert the Yarlung Tsangpo river, also known as the Brahmaputra, from north to south in Tibet.

According to classified Indian intelligence documents accessed by TOI, the blasts were reported at Moutou in Tibet and also near the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra. The blasts were low yield nuclear explosions and were conducted at significant depths to avoid detection.

As alarm bells rang in South Block, the issue was taken up by the Indian ambassador in Beijing with the Chinese authorities who flatly denied that atomic blasts had been executed to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra. It was not before three years had elapsed that information on the blasts in Tibet was shared at the highest levels of the National Security Council (NSC) with the United States during the then American defence secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA director, during his visit to India in 2008. At the time, US authorities admitted to their Indian counterparts the complete failure of their satellites to detect the blasts.

When contacted, India’s the then deputy national security adviser S D Pradhan confirmed the blasts and the efforts made to confront the Chinese with the evidence. Other sources in the Research and Analysis Wing and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) too corroborated the information. However, the security establishment, particularly the NSC, sought to play down the “grave” issue.

A top secret Chinese plan to take the Brahmaputra to arid zones in the north by building a 200-km-long canal passing through Mount Namcha was presented by experts from that country in December 1995 at the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics.

The Indians learnt about the plan toward the end of 1997 when an American scientific journal published a comprehensive account. In 2003, a section of the Chinese media reported that a feasibility plan, aimed at diverting the waters of the Brahmaputra from south to north, was underway. This was confirmed by Indian satellite imagery which discovered that dams were being constructed at Dagu, Jiacha and Jiexu in Tibet.

As the Chinese went ahead relentlessly with their objective of diverting the Brahmaputra, a draft outline of China’s 10th five year plan clearly stated that the river would be diverted from south to north through three channels in the eastern, central and western regions from Yangzhou, Danjiang Reservoir and Tongtianhe, respectively.

According to highly placed NSC sources, two factors confirmed the March 2005 atomic blasts. First, there was unprecedented flooding of the Brahmaputra in June-July 2005, raising the level by 30 metres on the Indian side. This was interpreted as the outcome of the Chinese engineers’ efforts to divert the river water to facilitate their work. At the time, the Assam government took up the matter of massive flooding with the Centre, suspecting a Chinese hand.

Second, in October 2008, Indian intelligence noticed that Chinese engineers had begun work through Tibet’s Galung La mountain in Nyingchi prefecture near the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra, confirming yet again that nuclear blasts had taken place there earlier.

China has steadfastly claimed that all the dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo are run of the river, which the Indian authorities are loathe to believe. India’s concern is that its share of Brahmaputra’s waters would be reduced and that China could use it as a weapon to cause heavy damage to the Indian side by releasing water at anytime it wished.

The Taliban Refuse To Talk

August 29, 2013 

Pakistan has admitted to Afghanistan that the Taliban leadership (which has had sanctuary in Pakistan since 2002) refuses to take part in peace talks. The Taliban leaders still believe they can regain control of the Afghan government. This is more disappointing to the Pakistanis than the Afghans. Both countries are led by people who recognize that the Taliban have no wide support in Afghanistan and are generally regarded as an armed auxiliary of the drug gangs and basically bandits with a religious agenda. The Afghan government is taking advantage of the Taliban unpopularity by negotiating peace deals with pro-Taliban tribal leaders and ruthlessly going after Taliban factions who are regarded as a public menace. Many Taliban units have become professional criminals and don’t bother civilians much unless some try and interfere with the drug production or smuggling operations. But most Taliban still see themselves as Holy Warriors and act accordingly.

Taking down the Taliban nationwide is not an option because the drug gangs employ most Taliban groups at least some of the time and the drug gangs have most of the senior government officials (or members of their families) on the payroll. This does not get the Taliban complete protection from the security forces because in most parts of the country the population is hostile to the drugs and those who deal in them. Ideally the Afghan leaders taking drug gang bribes would prefer that all the drugs produced in Afghanistan (especially the opium and heroin) be exported. Most of it is, but a growing fraction is diverted to the domestic market. For too many drug gangs this local trade is easy money and difficult to give up. But it has created over a million addicts and the many friends and kin of the addicts become very mad at the suppliers of this poison. This is something the drug gangs have to be careful with, because the opium trade has been ejected from other countries (first northern Burma then northwest Pakistan) in the past few decades. Make enough Afghans sufficiently angry and it could happen again in Afghanistan. Production will pop up somewhere else (it is already making a comeback in Burma) but the good times for the Afghan drug lords will be over and the families of the Afghan addicts (especially the ones who died from their addiction) will seek revenge for a long, long time. That’s the Afghan way. That’s why local opposition to the drug trade is more dangerous to the drug gangs than international pressure on the Afghan government.

The Taliban is increasingly dependent on suicide bombers to inflict casualties on the security forces. Foreign troops are much harder to target because the Afghan soldiers and police are taking care of most of the security tasks now and the foreigners stay in the bases most of the time. This bothers some Afghans because the foreign troops are more efficient and despite much improvement over the last decade the Afghan forces will often show up too late to prevent civilian casualties. Afghans are fatalistic about this because the foreign troops will be gone by the end of next year. While the Afghan security forces are an adequate, if not ideal, replacement what will be missed even more is the billions of dollars a year of economic activity the foreign troops produced. The foreign forces hired local civilians and bought local products. That business will all be gone, along with a lot of foreign aid and the post-Taliban good times will be diminished.

American commanders believe the Afghan security forces are winning against the Taliban. While some army and police commanders have been bought off by the drug gangs, this has not been frequent enough to cause major breakdowns in security. Public opinion still matters and bad behavior by the Taliban (as in trying to take control of an area) will still bring in soldiers and police who tend to defeat the Taliban and restore government control. The Afghan forces take more casualties than the foreign troops but still manage to have an edge in combat and the Taliban are still suffering heavy losses. This is causing morale problems because Taliban leaders have long promised that once the foreign troops were gone the Taliban would have no real opposition.

August 28, 2013: In the east (Ghanzi province) about a dozen Taliban attacked a base used by Afghan and Polish troops. The attack began with a truck bomb and car bomb detonated at each of the two entrances to the base. This was followed by a six hour gun battle that left four policemen and three civilians dead. Taliban casualties, aside from the two suicide bombers, was unknown as the attackers withdrew in the darkness taking their casualties with them.

New Afghan Taliban Splinter Faction Intensifies Attacks; Accuses Taliban Leadership of Becoming “Soft”

September 1, 2013
Too Radical For The Taliban
Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau

August 30, 2013

It was early November 2001, and—with the onslaught of a Northern Alliance offensive and under heavy American bombing—the Taliban in northern Afghanistan was close to collapse. Fighters and commanders were surrendering en masse or trying to escape to Pakistan. Far to the south, the beleaguered forces of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar—who would end up fleeing on a motorbike into the nearby mountains—held out for one more month before Kandahar fell, marking the end of the regime.

Mullah Najibullah, a 22-year-old Taliban subcommander in the north, was determined to keep fighting despite the odds. Making his way south toward the capital, where combat was most intense, he decided to take a last stand with a handful of his fighters just outside Kabul on the Shomali Plain. Surrounded and outgunned, some of his men suggested they try to escape. Najibullah refused. “I won’t do it. I will continue fighting and be the last Taliban leaving Kabul,” he recalls saying. However, as he drove into the capital one night in a Land Cruiser full of fighters, Najibullah got caught in a heavy firefight at a checkpoint. His brother-in-law was killed, and Najibullah took a bullet in the leg. Though wounded, he managed to escape and flee to his home in Zabul province, hundreds of miles away. Undaunted, he hid and recovered from his wounds while organizing his next move.

Today, more than a decade later, much has changed on the ground in Afghanistan. The last U.S. troops are getting ready to leave, and the Taliban’s ruling council, the Quetta Shura, has opened a diplomatic office in the Gulf state of Qatar, seemingly intent on negotiating a peace deal. Najibullah, though, appears unchanged. Certainly he has lost none of his audacity. Having risen to the position of senior commander, he is still bold, outspoken, and extremely hotheaded. And he is doing what no insurgent leader had dared to do in the past: openly and vociferously opposing the Taliban leadership and its current policy of pursuing talks with Washington and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s regime.

Indeed, Najibullah, whose nom de guerre is Umar Khatab, has broken away completely from the shura leadership. He has formed his own insurgent faction and openly refers to the Taliban leadership as “traitors.” Commanding as many as 8,000 fighters out of an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 insurgents nationwide, he could present a serious problem for the Taliban leadership—and any hopes for eventual rapprochement between the warring sides. “This is the first time someone has split from, and criticized, the Taliban’s top leaders so openly,” says Zabihullah, a key Taliban political adviser. “In the past anyone who challenged the shura either faced death or arrest in Pakistan.”

His brazen, some say suicidal, move couldn’t have come at a less convenient time for Taliban leaders. The insurgency is flagging as U.S. troops prepare for the announced withdrawal of combat forces by the end of 2014. To make matters worse, the morale of many fighters is waning as a result of the leadership’s move to begin talks with Washington and Kabul. Pushing a peace agenda on religiously inspired guerrillas after nearly 13 years of sacrifice is a hard sell for the shura. “We are confused about what to do, given the peace talks,” says a Taliban subcommander in Helmand province, where the insurgents have been driven out of their former strongholds. “Why should I make my kids orphans and lose my beloved friends if we are going for peace?”

Before Najibullah broke with them, the Taliban’s senior leadership viewed him as one of its top officers—a hero even, according to Taliban insiders. Now, by formally divorcing himself from the mainstream movement, Najibullah has seriously weakened the Taliban leadership’s hold on the insurgency, both militarily and politically, while also undermining its credibility as a jihadist force. His rebellion may even signal the Taliban’s ultimate breakdown into feuding factions. “I worry that this peace-talks issue is making once-united Taliban brothers enemies of each other,” says a former senior Taliban intelligence officer. “They are now pointing guns and daggers at each other’s chests and throats.”

Najibullah’s anti-peace message and his call to continue the fight until total victory is achieved seem to have gained traction among the rank and file over the last few months. “Big numbers of Taliban and other Afghans are joining us,” Najibullah claims in an exclusive interview with Newsweek, speaking by telephone from an unknown location. If that’s true, Najibullah’s campaign could certainly jeopardize any settlement that Washington, Kabul, and the Taliban eventually negotiate.

Mocking India For The Greater Good

August 30, 2013

The effort to improve the quality of military personnel has run into money problems. Unless the military can offer more competitive pay and fringe benefits (especially living conditions) it has proven impossible to attract enough volunteers to staff the two million strong armed forces. Yet even without the better benefits, about half the military personnel are the higher quality desired. Most of these are NCOs (or headed for NCO rank) and officers. This is progress because a decade ago many NCOs and officers were basically in the military because it was a job, not because they wanted to be there. 

China recently repeated its guarantee for foreign ships to use contested waters in the South China Sea but to be aware that China intends to fully exercise these claims. That would involve removing “foreign occupation” found on some of the disputed islets and reefs, as well as forbidding foreign ships from getting closer than 22 kilometers to the hundreds of bits of land in the South China Sea that China claims. This appears to be in response to a recent agreements between Vietnam and the Philippines that the two nations are developing joint military and diplomatic plans to thwart increasing Chinese aggressiveness in territorial disputes throughout the South China Sea. In the past, Vietnam tried to go it alone against China and got beaten in several battles. Perhaps because of the rough treatment Vietnam has received from Chinese forces in the past, the Philippines also repeated its staunch support for a “no confrontation” policy. This is part necessity because even with lots of charity, the Philippines cannot expect to ever afford a military that would be more of a nuisance to China. For confrontation, especially when China asserts its claims to territory right off the Filipino coast, an ally like the United States will be needed. So far the Americans have not committed to helping with such a desperate situation.

China recently admitted that it is building more aircraft carriers but did not provide any details. At least one of these carriers appears to be under construction and photos of that are in circulation.

China has joined with Russia to oppose any use of foreign military force against Syria. This was prompted by the recent Syrian use of chemical weapons against pro-rebel civilians. The U.S. and other NATO countries had earlier told Syria that such use of chemical weapons would bring military intervention. China and Russia have long been supporters of the Assad dictatorship and similar tyrants around the world. China and Russia lost their old friend Kaddafi, who lost his life clinging to power in Libya two years ago. Kaddafi was largely done in by NATO providing air support. NATO is reluctant to do that for Syria because the post-Kaddafi government (and post Arab Spring governments in general) tend to be tolerant of Islamic terror groups. But the Syrian civil war is dragging on and that is becoming embarrassing for the West. Assad losing power would be an even bigger embarrassment for China and Russia.

China is increasing its pressure on Chinese pro-democracy and anti-corruption advocates to keep quiet. While the government is officially against corruption (and not about to allow anyone but the Communist Party run the country) it does not tolerate anyone but government officials openly discussing corruption or government reform. Over fifty of the most outspoken reformers have been arrested so far this year and Internet censorship continues to intensify. This includes arrests of prominent posters of commentary on current news events, like the trials of corrupt officials. While China openly pledges to reduce bureaucratic obstacles to foreign investors (especially those running foreign firms in China) it does not want to openly discuss the continued unofficial (and often illegal, even by Chinese law) interference by Chinese officials (usually for personal gain). Foreign victims of this makes a lot of bad publicity for China, but that is the only real incentive China has to address this particular corruption problem.

China, Taiwan volunteer armies part ways

By Kevin McCauley 

Recent developments have shown the volunteer recruitment systems in Taiwan and China moving on decidedly different trajectories. The Taiwan military’s attempt to implement a volunteer transition fully by the end of 2015, which already faced serious problems, appears to be in jeopardy after the death of 24-year-old Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu from a heatstroke following extensive drills while in disciplinary detention. 

In addition, a short training period for new conscripts will contribute, along with limited joint and combined arms training, to declining operational readiness. A military with decreasing operational readiness and capabilities will be unable to execute a deterrence or defense strategy, weaken Taipei's position in dealing with Beijing and force a reliance on the US military for the defense of Taiwan. 

Meanwhile, the PLA has taken an incremental approach to the transition to an all-volunteer force. Noncommissioned officer (NCO) reform, resulting in the expansion and qualitative improvement of the NCO force, combined with an active program to recruit qualified personnel, with an emphasis on college students and graduates, has increased the quantity and quality of volunteer personnel in the PLA. These programs to enhance military talent are important to PLA modernization efforts to build a high-tech force, which in turn would support a coercive strategy or diverse military operations in a crisis. 

Taiwan's volunteer program

Public recriminations continue against the military over Hung's death, placing Taiwan's ability to recruit a volunteer force in doubt. A crowd of 30,000 in Taipei on July 20 protested outside of the Ministry of National Defense (MND), while a larger protest held on August 3 in Taipei drew a crowd variously estimated at 100-250,000. 

Furthermore, 18 officers and noncommissioned officers have been indicted and defense minister Kao Hua-chu resigned over the case. 

The results of a Taiwan public opinion poll released in late July showed that respondents did not trust the military judiciary to investigate and prosecute military personnel in the Hung case. The poll also showed that 74.7% of respondents viewed the Taiwanese military as "unfit to fight a war," providing evidence of the military's low credibility among Taiwanese civilians. 

This widespread lack of confidence in the military does not bode well for the future of a force whose capabilities appeared to be in decline even before the uproar over Hung's death. 

While military reforms are occurring, it is not likely that indictments of a number of officers or military reforms can easily counter the impact of Hung's death on public opinion. Colonel Hu Zhong-shi, director of the Recruitment Center of the National Armed Forces, admitted at a press conference that "the Hung case will surely have negative impacts on the plan". 

Even before the uproar over Hung's death, the volunteer plan appeared to be having serious trouble with both the quantity and the quality of its recruits. Colonel Hu reported on August 19 that only 72% of the 2012 recruitment goal had been met, and that only 4,290 personnel had been recruited out of the 2013 goal of 28,531. 

The MND announced on August 19 that it will loosen requirements, place greater emphasis on recruiting women and work to promote recruitment (Central News Agency, August 20). It is doubtful these measures will fill the recruitment gap without an increased defense budget to provide improve pay and benefits. 

The PLA's move to a volunteer force

The PLA has taken a slower, steadier approach to its move towards a volunteer force. It has recently placed greater emphasis on recruiting college students and graduates, and has initiated links with civilian universities and military educational institutes to train select students for eventual service in the PLA. These efforts, along with NCO reforms and expansion, are furthering the transition to a volunteer force. 

Secret documents detail U.S. war in cyberspace

AUG 31, 2013

WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence services carried out 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and war, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.

That disclosure, in a classified intelligence budget provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, provides new evidence that the Obama administration’s growing ranks of cyberwarriors infiltrate and disrupt foreign computer networks.

Additionally, under an extensive effort code-named GENIE, U.S. computer specialists break into foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious U.S. control. Budget documents say the $652 million project has placed “covert implants,” sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand those numbers into the millions.

The documents provided by Snowden and interviews with former U.S. officials describe a campaign of computer intrusions that is far broader and more aggressive than previously understood. The Obama administration treats all such cyber-operations as clandestine and declines to acknowledge them.

The scope and scale of offensive operations represent an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers.

“The policy debate has moved so that offensive options are more prominent now,” said former deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III. “I think there’s more of a case made now that offensive cyber-options can be an important element in deterring certain adversaries.”

Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011, the budget said, nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document provided few other details about the operations.

Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges in attacks in 2009 and 2010, is often cited as the most dramatic use of a cyberweapon. Experts said no other known cyber-attacks carried out by the United States match the physical damage inflicted in that case.

U.S. agencies define offensive cyber-operations as activities intended “to manipulate, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information resident in computers or computer networks, or the computers and networks themselves,” according to a presidential directive issued in October.

Most offensive operations have immediate effects only on data or the proper functioning of an adversary’s machine: slowing its network connection, filling its screen with static or scrambling the results of basic calculations. Any of those could have powerful effects if they caused an adversary to botch the timing of an attack, lose control of a computer or miscalculate locations.

U.S. intelligence services are making routine use around the world of government-built malware that differs little in function from the “advanced persistent threats” that U.S. officials attribute to China. The principal difference, U.S. officials said, is that China steals U.S. corporate secrets for financial gain.

“The Department of Defense does engage” in computer network exploitation, according to an emailed statement from an NSA spokesman, whose agency is part of the Defense Department. “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”The administration’s cyber-operations sometimes involve what one budget document calls “field operations” abroad, commonly with the help of CIA operatives or clandestine military forces, “to physically place hardware implants or software modifications.”

Modernising the Army’s Tactical-level Communications Systems

Indian Military Review
August-September 2013
Gurmeet Kanwal

India is likely to spend approximately US$ 100 billion (Rs 250,000 crore) over the next ten years on defence acquisitions. However, most of this expenditure will be on weapons platforms like main battle tanks, 155 mm artillery, infantry combat vehicles, fighter aircraft, ships and submarines and very little on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems (C4I2SR). In fact, the modernisation of communications systems has lagged far behind that of weapons platforms, particularly in the Indian army.

While some modern frequency-hopping radio sets with integral encryption devices have been introduced into service in recent years, networked communications, which form the backbone of an effective command and control system, need substantial upgradation. The existing Plan AREN system that is designed to roll forward and keep pace with offensive operations in the plains has been in service for almost three decades and is based on outdated and bulky technologies like second generation radio relay hubs.

Requests for Information (RFI) were floated for a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for offensive operations and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) for communication at the tactical level in defensive operations a few years ago, but since then the acquisition process has meandered continuously and this has resulted in prolonged delays in introducing both these systems into service.

The new optical fibre network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces will go a long way in providing modern land-line communications in peace stations and to limited extent up to the war-time locations of higher formation HQ. However, future communication systems will need to provide wide-band data capabilities to facilitate the real time transmission of images and battlefield video while on the move all the way down to armoured and artillery regiments and infantry battalions.

This will be done by the BMS, which will be integrated with the Army Static Communications (ASCON) system. ASCON is the backbone communication network of the army. ASCON provides voice and data links between static headquarters and those in peace-time locations. It is expected to be of modular design so that it can be upgraded as better technology becomes available. The BMS is meant for communications from the battalion headquarters forward to the companies and platoons. It will enable the Commanding Officer to enhance his situational awareness and command his battalion through a secure communications network with built-in redundancy.

The BMS system will integrate all surveil­lance resources available at the battalion or regiment level, including from locally launched UAVs and ground sensors. It will also provide the accurate location of all the troops and key weapons platforms as well as the location of enemy troops and terrain analysis. The BMS will also automatically receive and trans­mit data, voice and images from mul­tiple sources above the regiment and battalion level, including radars, cameras and laser range finders, simul­taneously providing junior commanders on the battlefield all relevant information that has been received from the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS). The system will be based on net radio-cum-hand-held computers.

The TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations – a mobile system that can ‘leapfrog’ forward as offensive operations progress into enemy territory. The offensive operations echelons of the ‘pivot’ or ‘holding’ Corps deployed on the international boundary and the three Strike Corps will be equipped with TCS. TCS will replace the obsolescent Plan AREN system.

It was reported on July 23, 2013, that BMS has been categorised as a ‘make India’ system by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister. This implies that the system must be designed and developed in India by domestic companies. According to the US-based Defense News, “In the months ahead, expressions of interest (EOIs) will be sent to more than a dozen Indian defence compa­nies, private and state-owned, inviting them to participate in the program. The EOIs are likely to be sent to Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Elec­tronics Corporation of India, Comput­er Maintenance Corporation, ITI, domestic private-sector major Tata Power SED, Rolta India, Wipro, Larsen & Toubro, HCL, Punj Lloyd, Bharat Forge, Tata Consultancy, Info Systems and Tech Mahindra.” This will ensure that Indian companies invest in developing the required communications technology and acquire the ability to design and implement robust tactical communications systems.

NSA Busy Breaking Into Foreign Computer Systems

Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post
August 30, 2013

U.S. intelligence services carried out 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, the leading edge of a clandestine campaign that embraces the Internet as a theater of spying, sabotage and war, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.

That disclosure, in a classified intelligence budget provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, provides new evidence that the Obama administration’s growing ranks of cyberwarriors infiltrate and disrupt foreign computer networks.

Additionally, under an extensive effort code-named GENIE, U.S. computer specialists break into foreign networks so that they can be put under surreptitious U.S. control. Budget documents say the $652 million project has placed “covert implants,” sophisticated malware transmitted from far away, in computers, routers and firewalls on tens of thousands of machines every year, with plans to expand those numbers into the millions.

The documents provided by Snowden and interviews with former U.S. officials describe a campaign of computer intrusions that is far broader and more aggressive than previously understood. The Obama administration treats all such cyber-operations as clandestine and declines to acknowledge them.

The scope and scale of offensive operations represent an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers.

“The policy debate has moved so that offensive options are more prominent now,” said former deputy defense secretary William J. Lynn III, who has not seen the budget document and was speaking generally. “I think there’s more of a case made now that offensive cyberoptions can be an important element in deterring certain adversaries.”

Of the 231 offensive operations conducted in 2011, the budget said, nearly three-quarters were against top-priority targets, which former officials say includes adversaries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea and activities such as nuclear proliferation. The document provided few other details about the operations.

Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by the United States and Israel that destroyed Iranian nuclear centrifuges in attacks in 2009 and 2010, is often cited as the most dramatic use of a cyberweapon. Experts said no other known cyberattacks carried out by the United States match the physical damage inflicted in that case.

U.S. agencies define offensive cyber-operations as activities intended “to manipulate, disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy information resident in computers or computer networks, or the computers and networks themselves,” according to a presidential directive issued in October 2012.

Changing the Strategic Dialogue: New Definitions for Landpower and Land Control

Journal Article | August 29, 2013
Jeremy Sauer and Michael Kaiser


As U.S. Armed Forces exit from more than a decade of war, the services must respond to new strategic guidance, changes in the operational environment, and emerging technologies and refine, or even redefine, their contributions to the Nation. Like the other services, the U.S. Army maintains a wide array of responsibilities which go well beyond winning the nation’s wars.1 While the maritime and air components account for their range of contributions through their description of sea and air power and control, the Army has yet to communicate its full utility due to limited definitions of landpower and land control. These definitions foster misunderstanding by artificially limiting options decisionmakers and military planners have available to achieve national, theater strategic, and operational objectives. Until the Army correctly defines and communicates what landpower and land control provide, the development of strategy and policy and the application of ways and means towards solving future problems will suffer. This paper proposes new definitions for landpower and land control to change the strategic dialogue.

Domain Power and Domain Control

The Army, as the Nation’s preeminent land force, is the largest provider of landpower. While the U.S. Marine Corps and special operations forces also provide landpower, the Army is the proponent for defining the term. Currently, the Army defines landpower as “the ability – by threat, force, or occupation – to gain, sustain, and exploit control over land, resources, and people.”2 This definition contains combat-oriented words with negative connotations, but which also effectively communicates the Army’s ability to assure friends, deter aggression, and defeat adversaries. However, this definition does not address the Army’s contribution to the joint force or the broader role it plays in advancing America’s interests. Although not explicit in the definition, landpower does include the ability to establish and maintain stable environments, set conditions for political and economic development, and secure bases from which joint forces can influence and dominate the air, land, and maritime domains.3 Acknowledging this linkage to elements of national power and other domains is essential to broadening decisionmakers’ understanding of the value of ground forces.

The Army has a unique capacity to apply landpower to control the land domain.4 Joint doctrine currently defines land control operations as “the employment of land forces, supported by maritime and air forces (as appropriate), to control vital areas of the land domain. Such operations are conducted to establish local military superiority in land operational areas.”5 This definition fails to portray the true inter relationship between land, air, and maritime forces. Land forces are not only supported by air and maritime forces, but support other domain forces and create effects in other domains, including the newly-recognized cyberspace domain. For example, Army forces can seize and retain key areas impacting the other domains, such as airfields, terrain proximate to sea lines of communication, and cyberspace infrastructure. Additionally, the scope of land control is not limited to local superiority within an operational area. Land control exists on a spectrum. Recognizing the relationship between land control and operations in the other domains and the different levels at which it is achieved is crucial to understanding its application towards operational and strategic objectives.

Airpower Options for Syria

Assessing Objectives and Missions for Aerial Intervention

As the Syrian civil war drags into its third year with mounting casualties and misery among the civilian population, and the large-scale use of chemical weapons, interest in the possibility of military intervention by the United States and its allies is growing despite U.S. wariness of becoming involved in a prolonged sectarian quagmire. Without presuming that military intervention is the right course, this report considers the goals an intervention relying on airpower alone might pursue and examines the requirements, military potential, and risks of five principal missions that intervening air forces might be called on to carry out: negating Syrian airpower, neutralizing Syrian air defenses, defending safe areas, enabling opposition forces to defeat the regime, and preventing the use of Syrian chemical weapons. It finds that (1) destroying the Syrian air force or grounding it through intimidation is operationally feasible but would have only marginal benefits for protecting Syrian civilians; (2) neutralizing the Syrian air defense system would be challenging but manageable, but it would not be an end in itself; (3) making safe areas in Syria reasonably secure would depend primarily on the presence of ground forces able and willing to fend off attacks, and defending safe areas not along Syria’s borders would approximate intervention on the side of the opposition; (4) an aerial intervention against the Syrian government and armed forces could do more to help ensure that the Syrian regime would fall than to determine what would replace it; and (5) while airpower could be used to reduce the Assad regime’s ability or desire to launch large-scale chemical attacks, eliminating its chemical weapon arsenal would require a large ground operation. Any of these actions would involve substantial risks of escalation by third parties, or could lead to greater U.S. military involvement in Syria.

The Golden Age Of Artful Dodging

August 26, 2013

Over the last few decades there has been an explosion in the number of news media outlets. With this has come fierce competition and more interest in gaining an audience than in reporting the news accurately. That has led to there being more propaganda than news out there. That wasn’t a difficult leap to make because in the last century some powerful propaganda methods and techniques for controlling public opinion were developed. Many of these techniques are actually ancient but never before have they been used so intensively, persistently, and in greater variety.

But this sort of thing goes back a long way. Two thousand years ago the ancient Romans saw schools of rhetoric as the best place to send bright young men with potential to be leaders. There schools of rhetoric taught how to use logic and persuasion to make a point and convince people. Some of the books those students used are still studied and many of these ancient techniques evolved and mutated into modern propaganda and media spin. The schools at Rhodes were, for well-off ancient Romans, sort of a university education.

Ancient leaders understood propaganda and spin. Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great controlled what version of events was distributed as official, or even unofficial, news. And in ancient Egypt, where a permanent record of government achievements was painted or carved into the walls of government structures, archeologists have only recently discovered that many of those official records were subject to a lot of spin. Many of those ancient records, it turned out, were lies, told in order to influence public opinion. In the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte tightly controlled the distribution of news in France and his conquered territories. And that trend just kept going, especially once the radical socialist movements (especially fascism and Russian communism) got hold of it in the early 20th century.

Here’s a list of the most common, and successful, techniques currently in use. If you spend any time at all consuming mass media, you will find these techniques familiar. That, in itself, is scary but you decide.

1. Guilt-By-Association: This is used to discredit someone by associating them with an unattractive person, idea, or organization. It doesn't matter if there is an actual association or not. The simplest technique is to call people you don’t like a fascist, racist, infidel, bigot, terrorist, or whatever suits your situation. But this is too simple. To do real damage you want to link others to vile organizations or ideas and this takes a little more effort, and you may have to use some of the other techniques listed here.

2. Backstroke. Systematically criticizing and demeaning whatever you are trying to discredit. None of these snide or critical remarks may, by themselves, inflict much damage, but if you keep doing it some real damage is done and the position, person, or situation you don’t like loses popularity.

3. Misinformation. This works best if you are subtle but the main idea is to twist information to your own ends. A common use of this is in movie advertising, where if the movie is a real dog, publicists can selectively take positive comments from bad reviews and create the illusion that the film is better than it actually is. This sort of thing can land you in court with well-financed reviewers but twisting information to better suit your goals works if you can do it convincingly and not get caught by publicists or lawyers.

4. Over-Humanization. Including a sympathetic personal story is often effective, no matter how odious the reality is. For example, during the war in Iraq the Sunni minority (20 percent of the population) had exploited and terrorized the majority (Shia, Kurds, and Christians) for centuries. The Sunni were rich because they took most of the oil revenue as well. When Saddam Hussein was overthrown by a U.S. led invasion in 2003, those who opposed this operation had no trouble finding Sunni families (who were now poor and not powerful at all) who could tell sad stories of fathers and brothers killed by the Americans and the family reduced to poverty and oppression. Not revealed was that the lost menfolk were often members of the security services that had been killing and terrorizing Iraqis for years and grabbing most of the oil wealth. The Sunni Arab Iraqis were also the best educated segment of the population and often spoke English and other foreign languages. Journalists looking for sympathetic victims always had Sunni Arabs ready to step up and give the human side. What was rarely mentioned was that most of the terrorism in Iraq (that killed over 50,000 Iraqis in five years) was carried out by the Sunni Arab minority, who felt it was their right to rule and get most of the oil income. No one tried to humanize that angle.

5. Name Calling. This is officially the oldest trick in the book. It is cheap and easy. Just calling someone a nasty term doesn’t work so well anymore because of overuse. So you have to be more subtle and clever.

6. He Said, She Said. This is a technique whereby you can say something you know isn't true, or isn't fair, but want to say it anyway. To do that simply attribute the comment to someone else, preferably someone highly respected who says a lot of things. With Internet and search engine skills you can quickly find something a better person said that can be twisted to your ends. By invoking someone more respected to do your lying for you it’s possible to win some immediate advantage.