28 September 2013

Visit to Washington Ends Era in U.S.- India Relations

September 25, 2013

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared on the New York Times "India Ink" blog.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, who is on a visit to the United States, will meet President Obama in Washington on Friday.

Mr. Singh is meeting Mr. Obama at a time when both the United States and India have their attention directed elsewhere. India is preoccupied with domestic political developments and the economy. On the foreign policy front, there is perhaps greater interest in the meeting Mr. Singh is scheduled to have with Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan in New York. Washington is focused on a potential government shutdown, and Iran and Syria are the top issues on the foreign policy docket.

The United States and Indian governments are keeping expectations low for the Obama-Singh meeting. Thus it is easy to lose sight of what the visit does signify — the end of an era during which administrations of different stripes in both countries laid the foundation of a strong bilateral relationship. The question that lies ahead is whether the two countries — and not just the governments — will build something substantial upon it.

The state of the two countries is different today than it was four years ago when Mr. Singh last visited Washington. Then, the Indian economy was growing at about 8 percent and Mr. Singh’s coalition had recently returned to power. It was the United States that was struggling with the financial crisis and geopolitically. Mr. Singh’s current visit comes after announcement that the Indian economy grew at a 4.4 percent rate in the last quarter and at a time when people are questioning whether his government will have a mandate to do anything substantial before the 2014 elections.

Despite the impending politico-economic crisis in Washington, the American economy seems better off today than four years ago. In combination with the unconventional energy revolution, this has observers and policymakers cautioning against betting against the United States.

Recently, there has been much talk about the drift and the differences between India and the United States. There is little doubt that there are differences — most of which will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet.

On the geopolitical side, there has been much concern in India about what the United States’ drawdown of forces from Afghanistan will mean for India’s role there, the American and Indian relationships with Pakistan, and the American stance on terrorism. In the United States, Indian imports of oil from Iran have been a concern, especially on Capitol Hill. On the economic side, there has been heartburn in the corporate sector.

Over the last decade, corporations had been among the strongest proponents of the United States-India relationship, but more recently it has been the complaints from this sector that have been louder. Some Indian companies are concerned that potential American immigration reform will adversely affect their business model. Sections of American business and labor have expressed chagrin about Indian trade and investment policies — their unhappiness has been evident in letters to and from congressional members, at hearings on the Hill, and in advertisements being placed in advance of the prime minister’s visit. Multilaterally, the two countries disagree on climate change, global trade negotiations and issues like Syria.

The agenda, however, won’t just be full of lamentations. The two countries have a host of regional issues to discuss, including those related to the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. Both sides are playing down the possibility of potential agreements, but there has been an effort to get deals done on the defense and climate change fronts.

Ashton Carter, the American deputy secretary of defense, just returned from India having offered that country the opportunity to produce the Javelin missile jointly. There were some indications that there might be an agreement on climate change akin to the one China and the United States reached, but an Indian official noted that that was still a “work in progress.”

BRICS and the China-India Construct: A New World Order In Making?

IDSA Monograph Series No. 24

This monograph BRICS and the China-India Construct: A New World Order in Making? portrays to understand and contribute to the strategic analyses of foreign, security and economic policy issues that are attached to the rise of BRICS. This is not only a study about BRICS per se; but is also about China and India, the two most vital powers of this grouping. This study has been written in Indian context, and has tried to delve into the China-India course within BRICS. In brief, this study explores the rise of BRICS in the context of emerging powers or the developing world's dialogue, particularly of China and India, while contextualising the complexity of mutual settings of these two countries. Whether BRICS can produce any constructive result in favour of the South will depend heavily upon the rational and foreign policy conduct of these two eminent neighbouring countries of Asia.

A Singh and a Miss

Even a state visit by India's prime minister can't save a relationship with Washington that's dangerously off-base.

SEPTEMBER 27, 2013

Nearly four years ago, Barack Obama hosted the first state dinner of his presidency in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That event, however, was soon overshadowed by the exploits of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, two Washington socialites who crashed the dinner, embarrassing the White House and dominating headlines for days.

Sadly, this wasn't so surprising: something always seems to be stealing the U.S.-India relationship's thunder. On Friday, Obama once again hosted Singh at the White House, at a time when many Indians believe their country still sits on the backburner of U.S. priorities in South Asia. Several high-level visits from U.S. officials, including Vice President Joseph Biden in July, have done little to change that perception. Secretary of State John Kerry's lackluster June trip to India, for example, prompted retired Indian ambassador K. C. Singh to warn that the current government in Washington "may have little appetite for accommodating Indian concerns." Nor did the meeting today, during which the two sides talked about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the U.S.-India relationship, assuage concerns: Obama opened his public remarks on the subject by asking for Singh's "indulgence" and launching into a speech on Syria.

This is a far cry from the George W. Bush administration, when prominent pro-India voices like then Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill and then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns worked fervently to deepen ties with New Delhi -- an effort that culminated in a landmark civil nuclear accord in 2008. Yet since Obama took office in 2009, and despite a roughly five-fold increase in bilateral trade over the last decade, many in the administration regard India as a complacent nation trying to punch above its weight. For its part, India resents Washington's relationship with Islamabad, fractured as it may be, and U.S. attempts to broker talks with the Afghan Taliban. The occasional gaffe hasn't helped matters either. New Delhi was infuriated by the video of a 2011 Chuck Hagel speech that surfaced this February. In the speech, given before he accepted the position of defense secretary, Hagelclaimed India "financed problems" for Pakistan in Afghanistan.

So will U.S.-India relations remain second tier, like the opening cover band that never becomes a headliner? Not necessarily. Shifting strategic sands are positioning the relationship for an upgrade, and possibly even a spot on center stage. The United States is winding down its involvement in Afghanistan. The drawdown likely means Washington will spend less energy on Pakistan and redirect attention to India -- while addressing India's fears about the implications of the U.S. military withdrawal. The United States has also revised its "rebalance to Asia" strategy in ways that happen to be beneficial to India, including more maritime cooperation with Southeast Asia -- a potential hedge against China. And while Washington continues to refer to India as a "key partner" in the rebalance, it no longer suggests an alliance -- which New Delhi, with its strong legacy of nonalignment, would vigorously oppose.

The Karachi Crackdown

By Hamza Mannan 
September 27, 2013

Nawaz Sharif tries to stem growing violence in Pakistan’s largest city, but a broader effort will be needed.

Ali Chishti, a prominent investigative journalist who has been covering politics in Karachi for the past five years, was abducted recently. The reporter was tortured both physically and mentally for nine hours, and later tied up and thrown onto the side of a road. His abductors remain at large, and with a dismal conviction rate of less than ten percent for prisoners under trial, I doubt his perpetrators will ever face justice, even if they are somehow found. Still, Chishti remains hopeful that “the riddle,” as he likes to call what would be a criminal investigation in any other country, will be solved.

Umar Cheema, co­founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan, faced a similar trial in 2010, when his abductors stripped him down and took pictures of him in humiliating positions. He returned with his journalism more potent than ever, publishing several reports, including one revealing that 67 percent of Pakistani parliamentarians had failed to file tax returns.

These are exactly the sort of stories you get when you mix ethnic and sectarian violence, vast sums of money, frequent targeted killings and extortion.

In 2001, Dennis Kux, a retired State Department official, wrote a handy primer to Pakistan called Pakistan: Flawed Not Failed State. Kux reasoned that while it may seem from afar that the Pakistani state is broken, it nonetheless works, however imperfectly. The same could be said for Karachi, in many ways a microcosm of Pakistan.

Modern day Karachi is a sprawling hub that Foreign Policy magazine recently called “the world’s most dangerous megacity.” Certainly, the city is growing accustomed to making the news for all the wrong reasons. Yet Karachi is also Pakistan’s most profitable city, both in human capital and real economic terms, contributing 70 percent of all of Pakistan’s income tax revenue, and a quarter of the country’s

Now an operation is underway to rid the city of the sources of its violence and terror. Recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has gone as far as to call on the Sindh Rangers, a paramilitary group usually reserved for more existential crises, to assist the Sindh Police Department in the crackdown.

How Did the Pakistan Earthquake Create a Mud Island?

By Brian Clark Howard
September 25, 2013

A mud volcano is thought to be behind new landmass.

A magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck a remote part of Pakistan with enough force to create a small island.

Photograph from Gwadar Government/AP

On Tuesday, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck a remote part of western Pakistan, killing more than 260 people and displacing hundreds of thousands. It also triggered formation of a new island off the coast, which has quickly become a global curiosity.

But scientists say the island won't last long.

"It's a transient feature," said Bill Barnhart, a research geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "It will probably be gone within a couple of months. It's just a big pile of mud that was on the seafloor that got pushed up."

Indeed, such islands are formed by so-called mud volcanoes, which occur around the world, and Barnhart and other scientists suspect that's what we're seeing off the Pakistani coast.

News organizations have reported that the Pakistani island suddenly appeared near the port of Gwadar after the quake. The island is about 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) high, up to 300 feet (91 meters) wide, and up to 120 feet (37 meters) long, reports the AFP.

Media reports have located the new island at just a few paces to up to two kilometers off the coast of Pakistan. It is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the epicenter of the earthquake.

Map by National Geographic maps.

The island appears to be primarily made out of mud from the seafloor, although photos show rocks as well, Barnhart told National Geographic. He has has been studying images and media accounts of the new island from his lab in Golden, Colorado.

"It brought up a dead octopus, and people have been picking up fish on [the island]," he said.

A similar mud island appeared off Pakistan after a 2011 earthquake there, Barnhart said: "It lasted a month or two and then washed away."

Can Pakistan reinvent itself?

Before meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York next Sunday September 29, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would have met President Obama and the two would have discussed Pakistan among other issues. The Indian leader may well be on his last visit in his current assignment while his Pakistani counterpart is still learning to cope with new problems of office. When they meet, both prime ministers will undoubtedly assert their desire for improved relations despite the latest terrorist attack in Samba which killed an officer of the Indian Army and two other soldiers. However, neither jingoist rhetoric nor sentimental gibberish can deliver peace. Only cold pursuit of the national interest can succeed and until two quarreling neighbours get this right there will be no closure. Have India and Pakistan got this right and at the same time?

Prime Minister Sharif has the obvious problems of a floundering economy, a foreign currency crunch and an ever growing terrorism that has spread all over the country except that the Punjab is quiet, for the present. In fact, in the period up to September 24, Pakistan had over 350 terror attacks, big and small with Pakistanis killing more than 1100 Pakistanis. The country faces multi-faceted Sunni Islamic terrorism of various hues exhibiting a new level of intolerance against other religions or Islamic sects. There has been tension on the LOC but fortunately has not escalated beyond local exchanges.

Nawaz has still to find an equation with the power that matters, the Army, which is expected to see General Ashfaq Kayani end his extended tenure of office in November. It is unlikely that the Pakistan Army will cede ground at a time when there will be uncertainties in Afghanistan and continuing suspicions about India generally and more specifically, in the unfolding Afghan situation. Supremacy over the Army is thus still a distant dream for Pakistan’s political leaders and this will remain a limiting factor in any India-Pakistan dialogue.

Nawaz meanwhile must select Kayani’s successor and choose either on the basis of seniority which could mean Lt General Haroon Aslam or Lt. General Rashad Masood , currently CGS and conceivably Kayani’s preference or go down the list in which case Lt. Gen Tariq Khan currently GOC 1 Corps at Mangla emerges the strongest candidate. His acolytes describe him as a hard task master who leads from the front with wide military experience and could be Nawaz’s choice.

The Americans would like that too especially at this juncture when they are preparing to leave Afghanistan. Some say that General Khan’s daughter is married to his nephew who lives in the US and whose mother is a born American. If true, the daughter’s sasural is American. However, Nawaz would be haunted by his disastrous experience the last time when he chose Pervez Musharraf. The other possibility could be another year for General Kayani. This too would please the US and there could be rewards for this statesmanship.

India cannot run away from geography. This means having to deal with one’s neighbours. In the India-Pakistan context case, the lesson for India has been that a country cannot fight terror only with good intentions and grand statements. A state is a state that demonstrably protects itself and its people at all times. No other state will protect our interests if we are not willing or able to do this.

Climate Change Narratives: Reading the Arctic

IDSA Monograph Series No. 25

In an interconnected world with interlinked issues, understanding Climate Change and the Arctic and exploring the intersection between the two is extremely important. The monograph addresses Climate Change as a security risk; as a geopolitical orientation and as an energy challenge, and maps the impact of these narratives on the Arctic. The Arctic region is a vast area around the North Pole, covering over 1/6th of the earth’s landmass. With the melting of the ice, the attraction for resource exploitation and benefits of sea routes is changing the Arctic profile. The environmental, commercial and the strategic forces are all set to play a critical role in the Arctic.

The lines of a poem “Puzzle” by Synovve Haga beautifully capture the changes in the Arctic:

Many pieces must fall into place
In the Great Puzzle
Some do so willingly
While others pave their own paths
Ignoring the pattern
Be patient
They all find their way in the end
And settle down
Where they belong (Svalbard – With roots in the Permafrost)

Despite the hiatus, global warming is unequivocal

By Nitin Sethi
September 27, 2013

APIn this file photo, steam and smoke rises from a coal power station in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Scientists are more confident than ever that pumping carbon dioxide into the air by burning fossil fuels is warming the planet.

IPCC report affirms reality of 2o Celsius rise over industrial-age levels

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded on Friday that it is now more certain than ever before that human-caused climate change is real, and greenhouse gas emissions are causing changes to the planet that could possibly trigger dangerous consequences by the turn of the century.

These conclusions came as part of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) on the physical science of climate change — a report prepared by scientists on the panel and finally negotiated by governments to sum up the latest scientific research on the issue and meant to guide climate negotiations. The report was formally adopted in Stockholm on Friday. The last such report was brought out in 2007.

The panel concluded that the “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

The Hindu had reported on the final draft of the SPM, which had for the first time acknowledged a hiatus in rising atmospheric temperatures between 1998 and 2012. The approved report on Friday accepted the controversial hiatus but diluted the significance of the episode noting natural variations in the climate could cause such aberrations and that while studying climate change, longer periods were more reflective of the trends.

The panel concluded: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.”

The report also concluded that the greatest alteration to climate is caused by the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions, as compared to other short-lived, climate-forcing gases.

In the relative short-run, global mean surface temperatures are likely to increase in the range of 0.3-0.7 degree Celsius over the 1986-2005 average. Over the long run, between 2081 and 2100, the temperatures are likely to rise anywhere between 0.3-4.8 degree Celsius depending upon how much more emissions are released.

UN Climate Report Relevance Debated Amid Rollout

By Dan Vergano
September 26, 2013

Can a long-awaited international global warming report keep up with a fast-changing climate?

An iceberg tower in the Labrador Sea, Canada.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk, National Geographic

The long-awaited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) first report in six years arrives this Friday, a high-profile summary of global warming's scientific status certain to influence attempts to address the threat of a warming world. It also faces criticism before it even gets out of the gate.

Representatives of 195 member nations are meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, this week to approve the release on Friday of a roughly 30-page summary of the scientific evidence for climate change aimed at policymakers worldwide.

"The world is awaiting the outcome of this session with great expectation," IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said in a speech on Monday opening the final review of the summary in Stockholm. Pachauri cited the report's "obvious significance in respect of the current status of global negotiations and the ongoing debate on actions to deal with the challenge of climate change."

In draft versions of the report, scientists said they are "virtually certain" that humanity's fossil-fuel-related emissions drove the warming of the Earth's atmosphere by about 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) from 1901 to 2010. This 99 percent or better confidence estimate represents a further increase in scientific certainty over the previous IPCC reports released six years ago.

IPCC Under Fire

However, questions about the IPCC's relevance in the face of rapid scientific progress and extreme weather events worldwide have come ahead of the report's release. A recent BBC news story suggested that politicians want a better explanation of a slowdown in the rate of increase in warming seen in the last 15 years. (See "Does 'Global Warming Pause' Debate Miss Big Picture?")

Is China Getting Ready to Clean Up Its Debt?

By James Parker
September 27, 2013

A number of signs suggest that it might be. It will be a fine line to walk, if so.

China watchers can’t have helped noticing that the economic news coming out of the country was beginning to look more positive towards the end of summer. Purchasing Managers’ Indices (PMIs) have improved, house prices are pushing ahead again, the Shanghai Composite Index has made gains, and the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has returned to its position as the world’s biggest bank as measured by market capitalization.

Indeed, there are growing signs in China that some sort of “mini-stimulus” has been carried out to counteract what Beijing had probably been viewing as an alarming slowdown throughout the first half of 2013. As discussed elsewhere in The Diplomat, China’s slowdown was placing increasing pressure on the country’s financial system and economy with all the potential problems such pressure could cause. The measures that are emerging could be seen as an attempt to halt or reverse the overall slide, but more significantly they are likely ways to buy more time so that the necessary reforms can be enacted at a slower, less disruptive pace.

The signs of this mini-stimulus (or slight easing) emerged piece by piece throughout the summer, and came on top of yet another credit surge in the first part of the year. For example, reports showed that the Agricultural Bank of China (Agbank) was extending a large line of credit to the city government in Shanghai. The RMB 250 billion loan (equivalent to more than 10% of the city’s GDP last year) will be used in part to fund the entity controlling the Shanghai Disneyland project, and also to support development of the city’s long-awaited free trade zone.

In another sign, the gigantic China Development Bank (CDB), one of Beijing’s formal policy banks, was reported to have signed MOUs with three provincial governments: Hebei, Jiangsu and Qinghai. The financing that will follow will be used for various projects, including at least one more airport as well as public housing, waterways and regional transport infrastructure.

The fact that it was local governments popping up in these reports raised a few eyebrows among China watchers, since the country’s National Audit Office is currently undertaking a massive audit of all government debt. This audit was ordered by Li Keqiang’s State Council, and followed a confession by Vice-Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao that Beijing didn’t know the full extent of local government borrowing – which all agree has spiked since 2008. Estimates for the total amount range to above USD$3 trillion, with some provinces and lower level governments being particularly exposed.

Xi Jinping Carries Out First General Rank Promotions in PLA

September 25, 2013

On July 31, 2013, on the eve of PLA Day ( 1st Aug), the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) conferred the rank of four star generals to six of its PLA officers, thereby completing the quota of promotions of full rank generals still in service.1 The investiture ceremony was presided over by Xi Jinping who, according to custom, concurrently holds the posts of CMC Chairman, CPC General Secretary and President of China. Of the six new generals, four are from the political work streams while two are military commanders. Interestingly, all of them are born in the 1950s. The six new generals are as follows:

NAME (Age) 


Present & Past 


CAI Yingting (59) 

Commander, Nanjing MAC; Deputy Chief of PLA Staff 

rose through the ranks; experienced in staff positions; handled the 1996 Third Taiwan Strait Crisis; have dealt with the US on August 2012 escalations on Diaoyutai Is. and South China Sea; have published articles on military theory

XU Fenlin (60) 

Commander, Guangzhou MAC 

Lanzhou MAC, 47th Group Army; have handled both political and field appointments; author of “Sunzi’s Art of War and Military Preparation in Information Era”

WU Changde (61) 

Deputy Chief of the General Political Department 

31st Group Army and Chengdu MAC; prominent author on PLA’s political ideology

WANG Hongyao (61) 

Political Commissar of the General Armament Department (GAD) 

54th Group Army, Shenyang MAC, 1996 flood relief operations, June 2012 Tiangong-1 space station programme, 1985 China-Vietnam border conflicts; outstanding political worker and speaker

India-ASEAN Ties Get a (Limited) Boost

By Prashanth Parameswaran
September 27, 2013

While all eyes will be on U.S.-India relations today when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, New Delhi has also seen some recent advances much closer to home in Southeast Asia.

Last week, in the realm of defense exchanges Vietnam’s Vice Minister of National Defense Do Ba Ty visited India, while Indian Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi arrived in Malaysia for a five-day trip. ASEAN-India economic and business ties also appeared to get a shot in the arm when the Exim Bank of India opened a branch in Myanmar on September 9, and progress was made on increasing cooperation between India’s Tata Group and two Southeast Asian-based airlines – AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. People-to-people initiatives highlighting New Delhi’s historic cultural affinity to the region have also been in the limelight in recent weeks. Most prominently, this week the Indian embassy in Jakarta is holding a week-long festival to commemorate 100 years of Indian cinema

The events this week are just latest signs of progress in the ASEAN-India relationship since it was elevated to the level of a “strategic partnership” last December at a special commemorative summit marking two decades of dialogue relations. In 2013, cooperation in several functional areas has increased, including infrastructure connectivity under Brunei’s chairmanship of ASEAN, and the launch of the ASEAN-India Center in New Delhi in June, which will serve as a hub and resource center for policymakers, experts and think tankers interested in advancing the relationship. These steps are geared toward realizing the plan of action to build an ASEAN-India partnership for peace, progress and shared prosperity by 2015, which also coincides with Southeast Asia’s own scheme to realize its ASEAN Community.

Yet for all the flurry of recent activity in ASEAN-India relations, the status of the relationship remains decidedly mixed. Security-wise, for instance, despite the visits of the past week, Indian analysts have recently noted that the Ministry of Defense’s high-level defense diplomacy with ASEAN has been lagged behind the efforts of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office. Notably, Indian Defense Minister AK Anthony failed to attend two key meetings already this year – the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in Brunei.

Will Asian Drones Make Conflict More or Less Likely?

By James R. Holmes
September 26, 2013

Those intellectual swashbucklers from the Center for a New American Security are at it again, this time with an essay over at Foreign Policy detailing the dangers likely to accompany drone operations in Asia. Precipitating their commentary was China's first deployment of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the Senkaku Islands. The overflight took place earlier this month, timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of Tokyo's nationalization of the archipelago. (So much for Chinese subtlety.) This, they conclude, launches Asia into a brave new world where unmanned aircraft could escalate minor encounters into major conflagrations. Read the whole thing.

I have few quibbles about the CNAS crew's appraisal of the problem. Asia and the international community are indeed entering into undiscovered territory as UAVs of various sizes, shapes, and purposes proliferate in Asian skies. But if I had to comment — and you know I do — here are some rambling thoughts I might add.

First, the Clausewitzian formula with which I endlessly torment Naval Diplomat readers — that the value a competitor places on its political goals determines how much effort it puts into obtaining those goals — has ominous overtones in Asia. Effort is a multiple of two factors. One, there's "magnitude," meaning the rate at which a competitor expends resources on behalf of its political objectives. Then, there’s "duration," or how long that rate of expenditure must be sustained to attain the objectives. Multiply the rate at which you expend lives, treasure, and hardware by the total amount of time you expend these resources, and bingo — the result is the total effort spent.

How do UAVs figure in? Drones are cheap. And since they carry no pilots, they're expendable by contrast with manned tactical aircraft. The magnitude of any effort harnessing UAVs appears small as a consequence. The Clausewitzian calculus suggests that such a low-cost, low-risk endeavor can go on more or less forever, even if it commands only middling importance for policymakers. For an adversary, similarly, the psychological barrier against bringing down an intruding UAV may be lower than that against bringing down a conventional aircraft. No enemy airmen will have perished. How this dynamic would play out between two militaries that dispatch combat-capable UAVs into contested airspace remains to be seen. Would this be an automated war-by-proxy? What happens when two Skynets meet?

Second, there's an asymmetry to how competitors may view drone operations. What looks like routine military reconnaissance to the side operating UAVs may look like aggression to an antagonist if a flight passes over the wrong place on the map. If so, innocuous-seeming activities could appear to menace one's sovereignty or homeland — top priorities for any government. The value of the object of self-protection would spike — warranting the utmost defensive measures and, perhaps, escalating a minor encounter out of all proportion to the stakes.

Surprise! Japan Still Has Strongest Navy, Air Force in Asia

By Zachary Keck
September 27, 2013

Some Friday defense and security links:

Breaking Defense reports that at an event in Washington this week, defense analyst Larry M. Wortzel said, “Japan has the strongest navy and air force in Asia except for the United States,” prompting one astonished audience member to inquire, “You said Japan?” According to the report, Wortzel did warn that China is the most dangerous military power in the region, owing to its history of launching preemptive and preventive “counterattacks” in the name of self-defense, along with its current “active defense” doctrine.

Breaking Defense also has an exceptional overview of the strengths and limits to Indo-U.S. defense cooperation, ahead of Prime Minister Singh’s meeting with President Obama at the White House today.

An NK News investigation finds that North Korea-Burmese military ties are alive and well, which may complicate efforts to advance U.S.-Burmese ties, which were already encountering some resistance in the U.S. Congress.

Asia’s Maritime Disputes 101

By Zachary Keck
September 27, 2013 

Here at The Diplomat we strive to ensure that our readers understand the Asia-Pacific. As such, we give considerable attention to Asia’s increasingly tense maritime disputes, which threaten to upend the peace and prosperity of recent decades. This entails covering the day-to-day developments, whether they are diplomatic initiatives between China and ASEAN over the South China Sea, or the latest Chinese air and naval patrols near the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. 

One danger in tracking daily movements so closely is losing sight of the bigger picture. For instance, while Chinese drone and naval patrols in the East China Sea are no doubt important, they shouldn’t be allowed to obscure the larger political forces at work. We are conscious of this danger, and thus try to complement articles on the latest developments with more analytical ones that seek to place these events in their larger contexts.

Still, the balancing act is not always easy, and we are always grateful when friends of The Diplomat publish resources that provide broader overviews of Asia’s maritime disputes. While there have been a number of these in recent years, many of them quite good, no organization has taken such an innovative and refreshing approach to the subject matter as the Council on Foreign Relations, which recently published an interactive guide to China’s maritime disputes that is not to be missed.

In modern America, think tanks tend to be a dime a dozen. CFR, besides being one of the country’s most venerable, continues to distinguish itself from the crowd. This is true in any number of ways: It boasts no less than 15 primer blogs on its websites covering the whole gamut of foreign policy topics, while its flagship journal, Foreign Affairs, has set the terms of debate on world politics long before most of us were born. When distinguished global leaders from Barack Obama to Shinzo Abe to Hassan Rouhani want to introduce themselves and their foreign policy ideas to the world, they have turned to CFR to do so. And why shouldn’t they, it’s tradition.

Perhaps because CFR and Foreign Affairs played such a crucial role in cultivating my own initial interest in foreign policy, I’ve always greatly admired the organization’s commitment to education and preparing the next generation of global leaders. CFR has a number of educational initiatives and opportunities, one of the more recent of which— and certainly the most tech-savvy—has been its award-winning interactive crisis guides, which have covered the most important issues of our time by combining absolutely stunning aesthetics with the expert insight CFR is known for. Little wonder then that they’ve won CFR no less than three Emmys already (I mean come on, how many foreign policy think tanks have an Emmy?).

Al-Qaeda returns

The new face of terror
The West thought it was winning the battle against jihadist terrorism. It should think again

Sep 28th 2013 

A FEW months ago Barack Obama declared that al-Qaeda was “on the path to defeat”. Its surviving members, he said, were more concerned for their own safety than with plotting attacks on the West. Terrorist attacks of the future, he claimed, would resemble those of the 1990s—local rather than transnational and focused on “soft targets”. His overall message was that it was time to start winding down George Bush’s war against global terrorism.

Mr Obama might argue that the assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi by al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate, the Shabab, was just the kind of thing he was talking about: lethal, shocking, but a long way from the United States. Yet the inconvenient truth is that, in the past 18 months, despite the relentless pummelling it has received and the defeats it has suffered, al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies have staged an extraordinary comeback. The terrorist network now holds sway over more territory and is recruiting more fighters than at any time in its 25-year history (see article). Mr Obama must reconsider.

Back from the dead

It all looked different two years ago. Even before the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaeda’s central leadership, holed up near the Afghan border in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, was on the ropes, hollowed out by drone attacks and able to communicate with the rest of the network only with difficulty and at great risk. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), its most capable franchise as far as mounting attacks on the West is concerned, was being hit hard by drone strikes and harried by Yemeni troops. The Shabab was under similar pressure in Somalia, as Western-backed African Union forces chased them out of the main cities. Above all, the Arab spring had derailed al-Qaeda’s central claim that corrupt regimes supported by the West could be overthrown only through violence.

All those gains are now in question. The Shabab is recruiting more foreign fighters than ever (some of whom appear to have been involved in the attack on the Westgate). AQAP was responsible for the panic that led to the closure of 19 American embassies across the region and a global travel alert in early August. Meanwhile al-Qaeda’s core, anticipating the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan after 2014, is already moving back into the country’s wild east.

Above all, the poisoning of the Arab spring has given al-Qaeda and its allies an unprecedented opening. The coup against a supposedly moderate Islamist elected government in Egypt has helped restore al-Qaeda’s ideological power. Weapons have flooded out of Libya and across the region, and the civil war in Syria has revived one of the network’s most violent and unruly offshoots, al-Qaeda in Iraq, now grandly renamed the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham.

The struggle to depose the Assad regime has acted as a magnet for thousands of would-be jihadists from all over the Muslim world and from Muslim communities in Europe and North America. The once largely moderate and secular Syrian Free Army has been progressively displaced by better-organised and better-funded jihadist groups that have direct links with al-Qaeda. Western intelligence estimates reckon such groups now represent as much as 80% of the effective rebel fighting force. Even if they fail to advance much from the territory they now hold in the north and east of the country, they might end up controlling a vast area that borders an ever more fragile-looking Iraq, where al-Qaeda is currently murdering up to 1,000 civilians a month. That is a terrifying prospect.

Post-Morsi Egypt: Saudi Manoeuvring and Iranian Dilemma

September 27, 2013

The military intervention in Egypt which overthrew Muhammad Morsi has impacted regional politics in West Asia. The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in the elections changed the political alliances in the region, particularly with respect to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was friendly with Saudi Arabia and his ouster led to anxiety in Riyadh. While Saudi Arabia did not enjoy a close relationship with the Morsi regime, it managed to maintain a degree of stability. Riyadh is now looking to rebuild its relationship with Cairo as it was in Mubarak’s time. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran never had a stable relationship with Egypt but the equation changed when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. But the relationship has suffered as Morsi has been ousted from power. Iran is now looking for leverage to fix its relationship with Egypt. In this context, this issue brief intends to analyse the changing patterns of relationship of the two major players in the Gulf—Saudi Arabia and Iran—with Egypt in the backdrop of the removal of Morsi, and the subsequent political uncertainty and violence that has engulfed the country.

Saudi Manoeuvring

Ever since the overthrow of Morsi and the appointment of an interim government in Cairo, Saudi Arabia has, once again, come into the limelight with its active support for the political developments in Egypt that included the installation of the new interim government and the side-lining of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudi excitement can be gauged from the fact that immediately after the overthrow of Morsi, it announced a $5 billion aid package to Egypt. Saudi leaders have given statements supporting the post-Morsi developments in Egypt and have not come out openly against the killing of the Muslim brotherhood supporters on the streets by Egyptian security forces.

The Saudi-Egypt relationship has witnessed many trajectories in the past. During the Naseer era, the relationship between the two countries turned hostile as Naseer espoused the idea of Arab Nationalism and Socialism, which was contrary to the authoritarian Islamic and monarchical principles of the Saudi regime. Both the countries were on opposite poles during the Cold War political alliances. During the 1970s, Anwar Sadat also could not strengthen the relationship and his peace treaty with Israel in 1979 further deteriorated Saudi-Egyptian bilateral relations. The relationship improved significantly and reached its peak under Hosni Mubarak whom the Al Saud family was comfortable to work with.

When protests started in Cairo against Mubarak, Saudi Arabia openly supported him fearing that the protests may spread to the Kingdom and to other parts of the region as well. Saudi fears of the protests got further aggravated as the Muslim Brotherhood came out in support of the protesters against Mubarak. As Mubarak quit, Saudi Arabia was in a dilemma, not being sure of the unfolding situation in Egypt. It soon realised that it would have to deal with an Egypt without Mubarak; and soon after the parliamentary elections, it became further clear that it would have to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Cairo. The Salafists, who are ideologically closer to Saudi Arabia, have had limited influence under Morsi’s rule. The Salafi leaders now claim to have warned Morsi regarding the possible ploy by the military to remove him but were not taken seriously. Thus, Morsi seemingly misjudged the intention of the military to provide latent support to the protesters and, subsequently, remove him.

Saudi support for the new regime in Cairo is proportionately related to its disapproval of the Muslim Brotherhood. In the aftermath of the 2012 parliamentary elections, when it became increasingly clear that the Muslim Brotherhood is going to form the next government in Cairo, Saudi Arabia made attempts to accommodate the Muslim Brotherhood in its foreign policy thinking and behaviour: the Muslim Brotherhood was now reality in Egypt which the Saudis would have to accept. On its part, the Muslim Brotherhood also promised to maintain good relations with Riyadh. Despite this, both the parties could not build up the warmth required to establish mutual trust. While Saudi Arabia continued to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is an ideological challenge to its Islamic authority in the world, the latter’s popularity on the streets in the post-Mubarak era, and the subsequent electoral victory, gave it further confidence that it can do well and flourish even without Saudi support. More so as other countries like Qatar were ready to support the Brotherhood politically and economically. Besides, Morsi’s attempts to reach out to Tehran did not go down well with Riyadh and made the later feel that Morsi could not be a trusted friend in the fluid political environment in the region. This kind of thinking and perception on both sides led to an uneasy peace existing between the two major Arab countries. Thus, as the protests against Morsi began and later rapidly gathered momentum, which in turn led to the military’s intervention, Saudi Arabia swiftly took the side of the military viewing it as the right time and opportunity to oust Muslim Brotherhood from power.

Pentagon Contractor Sent Goods Through Iran for Years

September 27, 2013

Anham, the firm with a fat, multi-billion dollar Pentagon contract to support American forces in Afghanistan, claims it only found out recently that its suppliers were making illegal shipments through Iran. But documents obtained by Foreign Policy suggest that the firm has been aware of these transfers for 18 months -- and did nothing to stop them.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Anham FZCO, which is contracted with the Pentagon to provide food service and water to troops in Afghanistan, had shipped some materials through a third-party vendor for a warehouse it built at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The company apparently shipped construction equipment into Iran's Bandar Abbas seaport in the Persian Gulf last year and then transported those materials across Iran. The construction of the warehouse allowed Anham to snag a Pentagon contract estimated at $8.1 billion, according to the paper -- with a $30 billion ceiling. The question now becomes: Was that contract issued to a firm that was knowingly breaking the law?

Shipping goods across Iran could be in violation of U.S. sanctions against that country. The seaport is run in part by a company called Tidewater Middle East Co., an Iranian concern that the Treasury Department told the Journal is owned by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Guard is sanctioned for allegedly conducting international terrorism.

The Treasury Department has regulated U.S. trade with Iran since 1987, when President Reagan issued an executive order prohibiting Iranian imports. Since then, the law has been expanded with 15 years worth of executive orders and bills, including, most recently, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act passed last year. These have been consolidated and codified in the Treasury's Iranian Transactions Regulations.

According to the Treasury Department, in practice these laws ban "U.S. persons, including foreign branches of U.S. depository institutions and trading companies" from "engaging in any transactions, including purchase, sale, transportation, swap, financing, or brokering transactions related to goods or services of Iranian origin." This applies to foreign subcontractors, as well: Treasury states, "No U.S. person may approve or facilitate the entry into or performance of transactions or contracts with Iran by a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. firm that the U.S. person is precluded from performing directly."

Officials at Anham told the Journal that top company officials only became aware of the shipping issue within the last week.

But documents provided to FP seem to indicate otherwise. Company emails from as early as February 2012 discuss the shipments from Iran. Among the people included on those messages were company officials like Fadi Nahas, who FP is told is the vice president of Anham operations.

Nahas and other Anham corporate officials were on a Feb. 16, 2012 chain of emails sent by Dana Tracks, LLC, a logistics subcontractor, that describes the status of eight shipping containers leaving "BA," which stands for Bandar Abbas. "So far, his team in Iran hasn't got back to him on this as they are busy getting done with the procedures at the customs there," the email says. "According to him, moving the containers through the new route requires lots of procedures with the shipping lines and customs."