2 October 2013

Why It's Time for a U.S.-Iran Deal

October 1, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week in the first such conversation in the 34 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The phone call followed tweets and public statements on both sides indicating a willingness to talk. Though far from an accommodation between the two countries, there are reasons to take this opening seriously -- not only because it is occurring at such a high level, but also because there is now a geopolitical logic to these moves. Many things could go wrong, and given that this is the Middle East, the odds of failure are high. But Iran is weak and the United States is avoiding conflict, and there are worse bases for a deal.

Iran's Surge

Though the Iranians are now in a weak strategic position, they had been on the offensive since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. They welcomed the invasion; Saddam Hussein had been a mortal enemy of Iran ever since the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. The destruction of his regime was satisfying in itself, but it also opened the door to a dramatic shift in Iran's national security situation.

Iraq was Iran's primary threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was the only direction from which an attack might come. A pro-Iranian or even neutral Iraq would guarantee Iranian national security. The American invasion created a power vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. Army could not fill. The Iranians anticipated this, supporting pro-Iranian elements among the Shia prior to 2003 and shaping them into significant militias after 2003. With the United States engaged in a war against Sunni insurgents, the Shia, already a majority, moved to fill the void.

The United States came to realize that it was threatened from two directions, and it found itself battling both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The purpose of the surge in 2007 was to extricate itself from the war with the Sunnis and to block the Shia. It succeeded with the former to a great extent, but it was too late in the game for the latter. As the United States was withdrawing from Iraq, only the Shia (not all of them Iranian surrogates) could fill the political vacuum. Iran thus came to have nothing to fear from Iraq, and could even dominate it. This was a tremendous strategic victory for Iran, which had been defeated by Iraq in 1989.

After the Iranians made the most of having the United States, focused on the Sunnis, open the door for Iran to dominate Iraq, a more ambitious vision emerged in Tehran. With Iraq contained and the United States withdrawing from the region, Saudi Arabia emerged as Iran's major challenger. Tehran now had the pieces in place to challenge Riyadh.

Iran was allied with Syria and had a substantial pro-Iranian force in Lebanon -- namely, Hezbollah. The possibility emerged in the late 2000s of an Iranian sphere of influence extending from western Afghanistan's Shiite communities all the way to the Mediterranean. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fairly realistic visions of Iranian power along Saudi Arabia's northern border, completely changing the balance of power in the region.

But while Syrian President Bashar al Assad was prepared to align himself with Iran, he initially had no interest in his country's becoming an Iranian satellite. In fact, he was concerned at the degree of power Iran was developing. The Arab Spring and the uprising against al Assad changed this equation. Before, Syria and Iran were relative equals. Now, al Assad desperately needed Iranian support. This strengthened Tehran's hand, since if Iran saved al Assad, he would emerge weakened and frightened, and Iranian influence would surge.

Islam’s Civil War

America can win it—by staying out.

One of the disappointments of the young 21st century is that H.L. Mencken was not around during the presidency of George W. Bush. He would have had what soldiers call a “target-rich environment.” Mencken would have understood Bush’s invasion of Iraq as a world-class blunder, one so dumb only a boob from the deepest, darkest Bible Belt could have made it.

One can imagine what Mencken might have written of Bush’s neocon advisors: perhaps something on the lines of “A cracker barrel of backwoods Arkansas faith healers, card sharps, and carnival side-show barkers, galvanized with the sheen of the garment district, clustered about the head of their moon calf…”

In Heaven, which may bear a resemblance to Mencken’s Baltimore, we shall know.

It is therefore ironic that Bush’s Iraq debacle may have opened the door to the possibility of American victory in the Middle East. How has this miracle come about?

One of the unanticipated and unintended results of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to reignite the latent Sunni-Shiite civil war within Islam. As David Gardner wrote in the June 15 Financial Times, the invasion “catapulted the Shia majority within Islam”—a majority in Iraq—“to power in an Arab heartland country for the first time since the fall of the heterodox Shia Fatamid dynasty in 1171. It thereby …fanned the embers of the Sunni-Shia standoff into millenarian flame.”

Fighting for a sect or a religion is one of the most powerful contributors to Fourth Generation war, war waged by entities other than states. So powerful is religious war that it can sweep states away altogether, as has happened in Syria. Gardner writes, “The sectarian viciousness of the current Sunni-Shia battle knows no boundaries. It is bursting through the arbitrary borders drawn by the British and French a century ago.”

Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review

No 78 - September 2013

Data is concrete knowledge, and without it, decision makers can only rely on guessing. Good data is essential to good governance, argues Varsha Joshi.

Pavan Srinath has an infographic to explain all facets of India's defence spending.


The modernisation of paramilitary forces in India has suffered due to the disconnect between the ground operatives and the policy-makers, posits Bibhu Prasad Routray.

Priya Ravichandran on how we have been conditioned to react to only a certain kind of rape.

Ravikiran Rao explores the relevance of Professor Coase’s The Nature of the Firm to the Indian governance system.

Raj Cherubal on India's mid-life crisis of governance.

Guest columns

Archaeological evidence suggests that Indo-European speakers may have been present in Northwest India two millennia earlier than previously thought, says Jaykrishnan Nair.

Saurabh Chandra on the politics surrounding Zubin Mehta's concert in Kashmir.

Arguing for bicameralism in the states, Salil Bajur explains the need for a diverse legislature.

In Depth
Gujarat’s Wind Power Policy is a good example of commercially viable and internationally compatible energy policy management, explain Mukul Asher and TS Gopi Rethinaraj.

Anantha Nageswaran on how India's fiscal policy is at the root of our economic crisis.

Rajan Panel report: It's a battle of the States

AP Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan.
Rajan Panel report: It's a battle of the States

It's the Battle of the States. This week, we go inside the Rajan panel report on states' backwardness, and look at how states do on ten sub-indicators that add up to development. 

Why terrorism has an Islamic stamp

Oct 01, 2013

Through their inaction, the West’s allies and protégés in the Islamic ummah tacitly encourage terrorism. Terrorists know they have little to fear from the movers and shakers of the Muslim world.

A Muslim is not a terrorist. A terrorist is not a Muslim”. These brave words, uttered by Raj Khan, an elected councillor of the English town of Aylesbury, in the wake of the Nairobi carnage revive something that has uncomfortably haunted the world, at least since the macabre drama of 9/11. Why does terrorism appear to go hand in hand with Islam?

When a Singaporean-Chinese colleague popped the question, another colleague, an Indian Muslim, objected indignantly. Islam was, above all, the religion of peace, he declared. “Every sura in the holy Quran begins with the word ‘Bismillah’ which means ‘In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful’. Only those who know nothing about our faith call us violent!”

The Chinese are not an argumentative people. Face matters more to them than winning a point. So the first colleague kept quiet. Later, he returned to the charge. A group called Jemaah Islamiyah was suspected of planning to blow up Singapore’s Changi airport. Its reported aim was to establish a caliphate across Southeast Asia. The Singaporean-Chinese colleague mentioned the hideous nightclub bombing in Bali, the long-simmering Moro rebellion in the Philippines, extremists in Aceh in Sumatra and increasing rigidity in neighbouring Malaysia under the influence of the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia. “They are all Muslims, aren’t they?” he asked, and we were back to square one. Why is terrorism identified with Islam?

It wasn’t always so. The records suggest that Hindus in Biharsharif and even Kolkata didn’t yield to anyone in bloodthirsty conduct. Sikhs gave as good as they got in the same Partition riots. Going back in world history, Romans crucified Christians. The world’s longest-running civil war involved Irish Protestants and Catholics. In fact, Protestants were massacred throughout the Middle Ages — in England under “Bloody Mary”, during the St. Bartholomew’s Day butchery in France and under the Spanish and Portuguese inquisitions. Muslims were victims of the Christian crusades long before Zionist aggression in what is now Israel. But thanks to suicide bombers,

Nuclear realities

Oct 01, 2013

Though efforts have been made to declare the Indian Ocean as a ‘Zone of Peace’, these have not been successful because the countries of the region do not possess capability to enforce such decisions

The significance of the second test on September 15, 2013, of India’s improved Agni-V intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) from Wheeler Island test range, off the coast of Orissa, has to be perceived against the background of intensifying Sino-Indian rivalry, which came to a head most recently in the Chinese intrusions and ensuing face-off at Raki Nala in Ladakh. With a reported range of 5,500 kms, Agni-V will possess adequate strike distance to target value targets on the Chinese mainland from launch sites based in the centre of the Indian landmass, a payload of strategic deterrence which will provide some quantum of comfort to Indian planners within the doctrine of second strike mode mandated by national policy. When fully in operational service, complete with ancillaries and support systems, Agni-V will be the credible “threat-in-being” component in India’s nuclear triad which was not available earlier. India’s nuclear doctrine has consciously adopted a “no first use” policy, which has been emphasised right from the inception of the country’s nuclear weapons programme, but the requisite nuclear triad remained shortlegged and incomplete in the absence of a viable land-based component. With Agni-V this deficiency can be considered to have been made up.
There has been speculation about Surya, as a follow-on to Agni-V, a super missile in the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) category with a range of 10,000 kms and more. Given the country’s proven scientific and technological capabilities, India is quite capable of developing such a missile, though indigenous production, especially in the area of quality control, still seems to be somewhat of an Achilles’ heel, especially in government facilities in which large funds have been invested. However, the strategic decision-making infrastructure to match the country’s geopolitical ambitions still remains inadequate.

Is the Agni-V adequate for the short/middle term future envisaged for the country? Or does Surya still remain the next logical step?

India’s geographic neighbourhood and geopolitical environment, including the contiguous Indian Ocean Region, remains in an almost permanent state of semi-equilibrium, an uneasy, edgy environment through which run the critical lines of commerce and communications sustaining the world’s economy, particularly the supertanker traffic connecting the energy sources of West Asian and Gulf countries to the consumer and industrial economies of the rest of the world.

India-Pakistan Engagement: Changing the Status Quo

By Tridivesh Singh Maini
October 1, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to visit Islamabad and Lahore. The timing was significant because it coincided with the heinous terrorist attack in Jammu and the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. It was interesting to consider the Pakistani psyche in this context.

One thing that clearly emerged is that sections of the elite in Pakistan – this includes journalists, some intellectuals and of course those connected with the army – are extremely confused, and do not seem to have any clear solutions to the numerous problems plaguing the country. While they do acknowledge that Pakistan has serious issues, inevitably they blame the U.S. and now to a lesser degree India for them. While blaming India is no surprise, the choice to also blame the U.S. is baffling in light of the close links between the two countries. Indeed, most well-off Pakistanis have U.S. citizenship or green cards and own properties there. Further, many privileged Pakistanis send their children to American schools.

With regard to India, their also seems to be a lack of clarity. While there is a desire to improve ties, inevitably India is blamed for tensions between the two countries.

What is interesting to note is that a significant section of the middle classes in Pakistan, who may not have strong ties with India, have a much clearer vision and understanding of the need for better relations with India. This is not out of any sudden love for their Eastern neighbor, but is more a matter of sheer practicality. While privileged Pakistanis have the west as a back-up, the middle classes do not. Better links with India provide them with economic opportunities. Many are also keen to learn more about the progress India has made in spheres like healthcare, information technology and education.

This change of heart is manifest even within sections of the Urdu media that were historically jingoistic but have begun to follow a pragmatic line vis-à-vis India.

The second lesson that clearly emerges is that it is too early to expect miracles from Nawaz Sharif, given how many problems he confronts. It makes more sense to first at least get some degree of control over domestic affairs. This in no way means that Sharif is not the right person for the job. If anything, he is the best bet. But this may only become apparent over the long term, once he is well ensconced in the saddle. Yet, as recent events reiterate, when it comes to engagement between India and Pakistan a lot depends on timing.

Are we losing Afghanistan?

By Abhijit Iyer Mitra
01 October 2013

The secret is finally out. India does not have anything lethal to supply Afghanistan. Despite the Defence Research and Development Organisation's bravado of producing equipment worth thousands of crores of rupees, we now realise that we don't have the licenses to give the Afghans what they want, and what we have licences for, the Afghans don't want. Yet, of all the countries involved in Afghanistan, we're the only ones giving lengthy sermons on what the West should be doing there, without either the wherewithal or the means to defend our own interests but still expecting everybody else to follow our gameplan. 

A case in point is reconciliation. India has for 'principled' reasons been opposed to any talks with the Taliban. Ostensibly this is because it gives too much importance to Pakistan in post-2014 Afghanistan. The West, in private, views reconciliation as a divide-and-rule tactic — to split the Taliban, and create deep distrust in the Pakistani Army of its Taliban clients. In this process, reconciliation works as a carrot for these malcontents to defect and rediscover their 'deeply hidden liberal'. 

India's opposition to this process, without anything tangible to offer in military terms, therefore, is bound to exasperate other stakeholders and at some point presumably perpetuate the 'we don't care about India' attitude already evident in the West. Let us, for example, look at an argument that in all probability will be bandied about. Already, William Dalrymple's report has set the basis for this and such voices are only bound to grow. Given the India fatigue setting in, we need to be aware of the crosscurrents at work here. 

So, here follows what will probably end up becoming the Western narrative if India continues to be unhelpful, on top of being strategically ambiguous and the economic backwater that it is rapidly becoming: That India is playing a 'destructive' game in Afghanistan is undeniable. India's recently ramped up engagement is designed to do one thing — rile Pakistan into maintaining its support of the Taliban. While the cold-blooded realpolitik element of this is evident, there are also many reasons why the 'problem' is also the solution. This may not be the 'perfect' solution but then perfect solutions only lay in the minds of beauty pageant contestants. 

India's development aid to Afghanistan has always been situation-specific and its development projects there are targeted to spread work, funds and benefits evenly across communities. Unlike the West, which has now started favouring dominant tribes to ensure stability, India has always accepted Afghanistan as a loose confederacy of warring tribes where the imposition of external definitions of statehood and stability do not work. The net result is that when the Western withdrawal is complete, 'collaboration' is identified with one tribe that then gets decimated, while economic favouritism makes enemies of all the disenfranchised. 

Contrast this with the Indian approach which ensures an even wellspring of favourable opinion that can be activated at a later date. Similarly, unlike the West, which has contributed to the brain-drain out of Afghanistan as those who study in the West usually end up immigrating there, most Afghans who come to India go back to rebuild their country. India, therefore, has concentrated not just on current development but also future development. 

Principle of 'closest partners'

By Manoj Joshi
01 October 2013

The United States has placed India in the category of 'closest partners' for defence cooperation. The official spin, that came out of Washington, following the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama last week, was that New Delhi would now be on the same footing as the closest allies of the US such as Britain when it comes to the transfer of defence technology. 

That may be the endpoint that New Delhi and Washington have decided upon, but it is far from the current reality. Both sides would need to do an enormous amount of work to attain that goal. 

The Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation arrived at between the two sides sets up an ambitious agenda when it says that they "look forward to the identification of specific opportunities for cooperative and collaborative projects in advanced defence technologies and systems, within the next year." 

The declaration goes on to add that the principle of 'closest partners' will apply in relation to "defence technology transfer, trade, research, co-development and co-production for defence articles and services, including the most advanced and sophisticated technology." 

But the caveats are contained in the next sentence which notes that "they will work to improve licensing processes" and that they "are also committed to protecting each other's sensitive technology and information". 

These are both important issues, but in the main they require burning night oil and, in the case of sensitive information, some creative diplomacy. What is important is that the US has clearly signaled its strategic intent to build special ties with India. Few will deny the importance of the US, or any other country, needing to protect their sensitive technology and processes. This is not unique and the Russians are equally tough on this issue. But instead of pinning down India to its existing agreements such as the Communications Interoperability & Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), the Americans could be well advised to work around the Indian skittishness by working out a new India-specific agreement which will protect its sensitive information and technology instead of fitting us into the CISMOA straitjacket. A rose by another name, smells as sweet. 

As part of this process, the US has reiterated it support for India's full membership in the four international export control regimes-which cover virtually every area of high tech in the world — which would further facilitate technology sharing. Most of America's allies are part of these regimes and India's entry would enable technology sharing and development as many companies dealing with defence technologies have subsidiaries or supply chains which extend to other countries who are close to the US. 

PM tried his best

By  C. Raja Mohan
01 October 2013

After his low-key meeting in New York with Nawaz Sharif on Sunday, there is no avoiding the conclusion that Manmohan Singh will end his prime ministerial tenure without advancing his vision to transform India's relations with Pakistan. 

Singh is not alone. Many of his predecessors, some of them much stronger leaders than him, over the last quarter of a century have sought but failed to change the structure of India-Pakistan relations, despite much investment of political capital and diplomatic energies. 

Given the burden of history and extended conflict, negotiating with Pakistan has never been easy. But unlike his predecessors, Singh has certainly had more opportunities to take important steps forward but could not convert them into practical results, thanks to the dissipating domestic political consensus on Pakistan. 

Rajiv Gandhi reached out to General Zia-ul-Haq during 1985-88 and made an all-out bid to seek a rapprochement with Benazir Bhutto, who succeeded the military dictator. By the time Rajiv's tenure came to an end in 1989, the relationship with Pakistan was in tatters as the Pakistan army, flush with a newly minted nuclear deterrent, fanned the flames of insurgency in Kashmir with impunity. 

A decade later, Atal Bihari Vajpayee faced a daunting challenge as cross-border terrorism from Pakistan acquired great intensity. At the same time, the international pressures to mediate on Kashmir acquired some traction. He had to reverse the Pakistani aggression in Kargil in the summer of 1999 and manage the prolonged military confrontation that followed the terror attack on Parliament in December 2001. 

Vajpayee, however, kept faith with the proposition that changing the relationship with Pakistan was in India's national security interest. After trial and error - which included his visit to Lahore in February 1999 and the invitation to General Pervez Musharraf to visit Agra in July 2001 - Vajpayee successfully hammered out a framework for building peace with Pakistan when he travelled to Islamabad in January 2004. Meanwhile, Vajpayee's significant outreach to the United States helped make Washington neutral on the Kashmir question and reduce the international pressures on India. 

The Vajpayee-Musharraf framework involved three elements: Pakistan army reins in cross-border terrorism, India negotiates on Kashmir, and the two sides put in place expansive confidence-building measures. The most important of these was the agreement in November 2003 to observe a ceasefire on the international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. As the BJP went in for early elections, Vajpayee was confident he would return to power and accelerate the peace process with Pakistan. That was not to be. 

Singh, who inherited a positive dynamic with Pakistan, sought to advance the Vajpayee framework. As Musharraf brought cross-border militancy under some control, Singh opened a back channel on Kashmir. These were the first talks on the subject since the failed negotiations of 1962-63. The expansion of CBMs saw the steady growth in trade and people-to-people contact. Despite this good beginning and a strong conviction on pursuing peace in the subcontinent, Singh is leaving the Pakistan relationship in a state of greater flux than he found it in 2004. 

US drones target Haqqani Network in North Waziristan strike

Long War Journal
September 30, 2013

The US killed three Haqqani Network members in a strike today in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike is just the third in Pakistan this month.

The CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a compound in the village of Darga Mandi in the Ghulam Khan area of North Waziristan, Pakistani security officials told AFP. The identities of the fighters who were killed have not been disclosed.

Today's strike in Darga Mandi is the second in the village this month, and the third strike in Pakistan in September. On Sept. 5, the US killed four Haqqani Network fighters in a strike in the village. Mullah Sangeen Zadran, a senior Haqqani network leader, is rumored to have been killed in the strike. His death has not been confirmed.

Over the past year, the Haqqani Network has been in the crosshairs of the CIA. The US killed a Haqqani Network leader known as Maulana Akhtar Zadran along with Abu Saif al Jaziri, an al Qaeda military commander from the Lashkar al Zil, in a drone strike in North Waziristan on July 2. And earlier this month, the Taliban confirmed that Badruddin Haqqani, a top leader of the group, was killed in a US drone attack in August 2012.

The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban faction that operates in eastern, central, and northern Afghanistan, and is based in North Waziristan in Pakistan. The terror group has close links with al Qaeda, and is supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Siraj is the operational commander of the Haqqani Network and leads the Miramshah Shura, one of four major Taliban regional councils. Siraj is also a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

Pakistan’s Next Chinese Reactor

SEPTEMBER 28, 2013



Pakistani luminaries met with Chinese luminaries a few months ago, and their handshake will translate into a brand new 1,000-MW power reactor–Kanupp-2–being plunked down into the middle of Pakistan’s mega-metropolis Karachi.

Pakistani luminaries met with Chinese luminaries a few months ago, and their handshake will translate into a brand new 1,000-MW power reactor–Kanupp-2–being plunked down into the middle of Pakistan’s mega-metropolis Karachi. Maybe even two reactors. The unofficial announcement with details is here. In April, China Daily confirmed that there is a foreign contract. So it’s a done deal. Right?
Not quite.

Friends at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commision (PAEC) cautioned this month that this transaction hasn’t yet been formally approved and concluded. “It’s still pending” was how they described it.

The backstory, I subsequently learned, is straightforward. With questions looming about NSG guidelines and intellectual property rights for these 300-MW-loop projects, Pakistan and China may have their reasons for being more circumspect than most about how they conduct their bilateral nuclear commerce. But that plays no role here. In one very essential aspect this Sino-Pakistan reactor deal isn’t any different from any other transaction anywhere else where a nuclear power plant exporter is selling his wares to a foreign client: Money talks, and each side will try to leverage its political assets to gain commercial advantage.


Whether two 1,000-MW PWRs would cost PAEC $9.6 billion as announced or a single unit could be had instead for about $4 billion, which is what I was told a week ago, that’s a lot more than I think some Western observers have generally assumed this project would cost (these are BTW the same pale faces who have already concluded that this sale is a foregone conclusion on the basis of soft Chinese financing). The starting point is this question: Does Pakistan have billions of dollars to throw at a venture like this? That’s dollars or rupees or RMB per installed kilowatt. If you talk to people hovering around the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, which have devoted a lot of time and effort trying to understand and help fix Pakistan’s electricity supply problems, the answer is well, no, it doesn’t.

Friends in Pakistan point out that Chashma-3 and -4, each rated at 340-MW, cost $750-million each, with Chinese soft money financing about half of that amount. Hence at $4-billion, PAEC wouldn’t be getting any discount for installing more megawatts at Kanupp-2, even if China would provide $2-billion in financing. To the contrary.

So there’s an alternative scheme which has been floated in Islamabad and Beijing: Pakistan can get the reactor for less, but it would have to agree to cut Chinese industry into a build-own-operate (BOO) venture–a business model that Russia and Turkey are committed to trying out at Akkuyu, and that I hear Chinese investors are interested in pursuing with any of a small number of potential future nuclear power plant clients who are short of cash and perhaps nuclear project management expertise.

How China Would Fight the US (And Win)

By Harry Kazianis
October 1, 2013 

An interesting article in the Want China Times considers the rise of China’s military and its capabilities — now and in the future.

The piece notes: “While the People's Liberation Army continues to acquire more advanced weapon systems, it will still take China at least 30 years to compete with the United States and build the world's most powerful military force…”

My own opinion: We would need to break this down in terms of looking at the various branches of China’s military across different domains, but who cares! Beijing certainly doesn’t.

OK, some explanation is needed for such a bold assertion.

Modern militaries are designed with certain objectives in mind. While Beijing is clearly focused on a possible challenge by U.S. forces intervening in some sort of future conflict (yes, A2/AD comes into play), China’s armed forces are designed to win, according to most experts, “local wars under informationized conditions.”

Clearly, not every situation under this concept has Beijing’s security professionals worried about American intervention or some sort of plane to plane, ship to ship match-up between the two. And that is exactly how Beijing likes it — for the time being.

Simply put: China does not need to match America symmetrically, only to defend what it defines as its “core interests.” An asymmetric strategy suits Beijing’s aims just fine in this regard.

In looking at some of the domains Chinese forces operate in, not every single one assumes America as the main adversary.

For example, in discussing China’s land forces — in which the article actually references Dennis Blasko, one of the world’s best analysts on China’s land forces – one needs to ask who Beijing would actually be fighting on land these days? Things in Central Asia look quite good for Beijing, with no pressing challenges to consider at the moment. Sino-Russian relations are quite chummy, and there is little to no danger of a fight between these two giants. In fact, China’s lack of concern regarding Russia has allowed it to pour resources into other areas of its armed forces. Beyond peacekeeping forces through the United Nations, China does not seem intent on deploying land forces overseas anytime soon, and clearly not against American forces. It would be a waste of resources to devote vast sums of money to land forces where there is no rival for China to be concerned about in the near-term. Clearly, Beijing is modernizing its land assets, but not at the speed of other areas where it faces much more robust challenges.

To Isolate Philippines, China Woos ASEAN

By Carl Thayer
October 1, 2013 

Maritime security in the South China Sea is being shaped by two overlapping and potentially crosscutting developments. The first development is the emergence of new tensions between the Philippines and China over Scarborough Shoal dating from late August. The second development is the initiation of official consultations on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in mid-September.

New Tensions

Ever since the eruption of tensions between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal in April 2012 Beijing has pursued “wedge politics” in an attempt to isolate Manila from other ASEAN states. For example, China’s new Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointedly omitted the Philippines from the itinerary of his two trips to the region this year.

In August China and the Philippines became involved in a diplomatic altercation over President Aquino’s attendance at the Tenth China-ASEAN- Expo in Nanning (3-6 September). The Philippines had been designated the “country of honor” and official host for this event. It was past practice for the host country to be represented by its head of government. On 28 August, immediately after President Aquino indicated his intention to attend the Expo China requested that he visit “at a more conducive time.” According to Philippine sources, China demanded the Philippines withdraw its arbitration case as a condition for Aquino’s visit. This was unacceptable and President Aquino declined to attend.

In the midst of these ructions, new tensions in China-Philippine relations erupted when Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on September 3 released three aerial photographs of Scarborough Shoal taken on August 31. These photographs were taken at low tide and showed what the Philippines claimed were thirty concrete blocks, a concrete platform, two vertical posts and a white buoy lying in Scarborough Shoal. Three Chinese Coast Guard ships were also photographed on station in the area.

Gazmin speculated that the concrete blocks “could be a prelude to construction” and were a violation of the 2002 Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). Gazmin also stated he was unsure when the blocks were delivered. Philippine sources speculated that the blocks could be used to tether Chinese fishing vessels. An anonymous Philippine official was quoted as stating, “the concrete pillars and blocks… appeared to have been dropped from an aircraft.”

A day after Gazmin’s testimony, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alberto del Rosario argued that China had plans to occupy disputed reefs in the South China Sea before the formal conclusion of a COC, and stated that Chinese activity “places the region in jeopardy in terms of peace and stability.” Del Rosario concluded that “we intend to file a diplomatic protest” with China.

On September 4, the Philippines Department of National Defense announced that new aerial photographs taken two days earlier revealed a total of 75 concrete blocks in a two-hectare area of Scarborough Shoal. The blocks were estimated at just over half a meter in length, width and height.

Red Star over Central Asia

October 1, 2013

As the United States and Russia continue to be in a relative deadlock over what should be done to resolve the Syrian crisis, Europe is increasingly focused on Moscow’s attempts to lure both Ukraine and Armenia into its projected Eurasian Economic Union. In this context, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ten-day journey to Central Asia that ended on September 13 in Kyrgyzstan, where this year’s summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization took place, went largely unnoticed. Even the Russian media, usually attentive to key developments in the post-Soviet space, wrote and talked more about the Geneva meeting between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov than about Xi Jinping’s meetings in Central Asia. However, it is these very meetings that can change the strategic face of the region to Russia’s dissatisfaction, with broader implications for other regional players, including the United States and the European Union.

While Central Asia plays a marginal role in both international trade in general and China’s foreign trade in particular, it also pales in comparison with most of its neighbors in demographic terms, since the combined population of the five Central Asian republics, known as the “stans”, is under seventy million people, fewer than in Iran alone. However, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are located in what U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski once called the “Eurasian Balkans.” This comparison seeks to account for Central Asia’s strategic location at the crossroads of civilizations and the intrinsic instability caused by weak state structures and constant competition for primacy among great powers.

Apart from the geographic advantages that the region offers due to its positioning as a land bridge between Europe and Asia, Central Asia is also home to vast energy reserves. In the late 1990s, the mineral riches of Kazakhstan alone were famously compared by the U.S. State Department to those of some Persian Gulf countries, leading some officials to speak of Kazakhstan as a second Saudi Arabia. Likewise, neighboring Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan quickly drew the attention of major international oil and gas companies after the proclamation of their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Even the region’s poorest states, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, are thought to have considerable but yet untapped oil, gas, and gold deposits. Both of them will need massive investments in the years to come, and this is where China’s readiness to pour in billions of U.S. dollars from its enormous foreign-currency reserves is particularly pleasing for the local regimes.

At a time when the eyes of the international community are riveted to the U.S.-Russian balancing act over Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Beijing is further strengthening its hand in Central Asia with as much pragmatism as Chinese diplomacy has always had. On September 4, Xi Jinping and his Turkmen colleague, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, launched production at the world’s second-largest gas field at Galkynysh, with estimated reserves up to 21.2 trillion cubic meters. The two leaders had earlier signed a formal agreement on the construction of an expanded gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and China’s Xinjiang. In December 2009, Xi Jinping’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, and the presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan inaugurated the Central Asia-China Gas Pipeline, which can now carry some 40 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year after its extension. As China plans to increase its gas purchases from Central Asia to over 65 billion cubic meters by 2020, Beijing is increasingly viewed by the local leaders as a privileged economic partner, ahead of Russia or any other foreign player.

Blockading China: A Guide

October 1, 2013

Earlier this year, a Chinese frigate locked weapon-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer near the Senkaku Islands. Both Japan and China lay territorial claims to these uninhabited islands, which are close to both Okinawa and Taiwan. This is one of many territorial disputes that China has in the South and East China Seas.

Needless to say, there was no escalation in this particular instance: the Japanese destroyer did not respond, and the only volleys fired were of a diplomatic nature. But what if things shake out differently next time? It is not hard to imagine such a scenario spinning out of control and leading to a shooting war. What would the U.S. do if this led to a larger regional war?

Under this and many other scenarios, the U.S. would be obligated to defend its allies. One way in which it might do this would be through a blockade of Chinese maritime traffic by U.S. forces, with the explicit support of nations that control key international straits, including Indonesia and Malaysia. Though it would be costly and risky, a blockade could prove decisive. T.X. Hammes and Sean Mirski contend that in the right circumstances, particularly a limited war of long duration, blockade could be a war winning strategy.

At the same time, however, a blockade would not be without its pitfalls. It would take a long time to enact. It would have to balance interdiction of oil imports against economic exports. And a blockading nation would also need to consider how to “hold the line” to prevent China from achieving its goal (in the above example, securing sea control of the Senkaku Island) while a blockade was taking effect.

Given its potential utility and also its possible downsides, decision makers and theater commanders must understand how a blockade of China would actually work and the precise conditions under which it holds promise.

What Should Be Blockaded?

When considering a blockade, the first question is: what commodity is to be targeted? One obvious option is to target everything. NWP 1-14, the Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, states that the belligerent right of blockade allows interdiction of all vessels and aircraft, regardless of cargo, crossing an exclusion zone. Blockades established to starve a civilian populace are illegal, but a reasonable case could be made that China’s agricultural resources and medical capabilities can provide for the civil population even during a blockade.

CIA’s Deadly Cultural Ignorance

Fear of officers "going native" keeps our intelligence agencies ill-informed about Somalia, Syria, and other hotspots.

Somali refugees. Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

When the British ran an empire they did it the right way, if one is into imperial management. They created an entire bureaucracy, the Colonial Service, which was manned by officers who were expected to go out to foreign posts for extended periods, to learn the local language, and to acquire an understanding of the indigenous culture. The knowledge gained was invaluable, enabling John Bull to skillfully manage a polyglot empire upon which the sun never set. Understanding the interplay of local ethnicities enabled London to play off one group against another, often empowering a minority which would remain loyal to the crown because to do otherwise would be suicidal. The formula worked in places like Iraq, where the minority Sunnis, initially propped up by Britannia, held sway over the more numerous Shi’ites until the Baath regime was toppled by U.S. forces in 2003.

Washington, failing to understand the formula, moved quickly in Iraq to disband all vestiges of Sunni hegemony and sought to impose democracy. Ethnic cleansing of the Sunni in Baghdad followed, the disempowered Sunni not surprisingly rose in revolt, the Kurdish region exploited the power vacuum to obtain de facto autonomy and start its own ethnic cleansing program, and al-Qaeda entered the country. Today, terrorist bombings occur nearly every day, killing scores of Iraqis, and while it would be a stretch to call the situation a civil war, the deep divisions in the country suggest that all-out conflict along sectarian lines might well be the next stage. U.S. forces were compelled to leave at the end of 2011, their legacy consisting of a ruined Iraqi infrastructure, a huge war debt, 4,500 dead Americans, and scores or even hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. Politically, Baghdad continues to move ever closer to neighboring Iran, underlining a complete policy failure for Washington.

Washington’s inability to generate a modicum of stability in the places that it has come to dominate militarily is characteristic of the delusional nature of the American imperial experience itself. Even as early as the conquest of the Philippines and Cuba, Washington claimed that it was delivering liberty, not seeking to acquire colonies. As many as one million Filipinos died as the United States imposed its freedom agenda, which included the use of the water cure, today referred to as waterboarding.

American missteps are deeply rooted in hubris and ignorance, compounded by the reality of a series of U.S. presidents who did not rise through any genuine cursus honorum and instead have had to learn how to conduct foreign policy through on-the-job training. When Clintons, Bushes and Obamas win the Oval Office they tend to reward loyal supporters with important positions relating to national security which they are in no way prepared for. How else to explain the amateurism bordering on cluelessness evident in Bill Clinton’s appointment of trade attorney Sandy Berger as his National Security Adviser, the Bush White House’s Scooter Libby, and Obama’s Thomas Donilon?

So where are the American counterparts of the British Colonial Service expatriates who, convinced of the superiority of their imperial mission, dedicated their lives to the colonies they administered?

Al-Qaeda Quickly Constructing Main Mideast Base in Syria

Al Qaeda is quickly constructing its main regional Middle East base in Syria, from where it plans to export terrorism and Islamic radicalism to neighboring states, then to the West, a new report released by an Israeli security research institute warned.

The jihadis later aspire, according to the report, to turn "Greater Syria" -- an old geographic term encompassing Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories -- into an Islamic caliphate.

The exhaustive study took a year to compile, according to researchers at the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which released it.

The Center itself is a part of the Israeli Intelligence and Heritage Commemoration Center, founded in the 1980s by leading members of the Israeli intelligence community.

The report identified the Al Nusra Front as Al Qaeda's official arm in Syria; they added that the organization is quickly entrenching itself in the north and east of Syria, where the Assad regime's rule has collapsed.

According to Dr. Reuven Erlich, the head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the Al Nusra Front is entrenching itself in Syria at a rate several times faster than the time it took Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to become a serious international terrorist presence.

Erlich, who served in several posts in IDF Military Intelligence, also cautioned that Syria's location in the heart of the Middle East, its proximity to Europe, and its border with Israel mean that geopolitically, the jihadi threat from Syria is more central than the one from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

He compared Al Nusra's activities in Syria today to the incubation period of a virus, before it begins spreading and infecting other hosts. Later, Erlich warned, the plague of jihad will spread outwards from Syria to the region, then go on to threaten global security.

The researchers who composed the report assessed the chances of Al Nusra realizing its goal of building a caliphate as low, due to Syria's diverse sectarian, ethnic, and religious population, and strong tradition of secular Arab nationalism.

Nevertheless, they said, the group is on course to become one of the most prominent rebel entities, and will play a key role in shaping a post-Assad Syria, while using its growing presence as a springboard to launch international terrorist attacks.

At the moment, Al Nusra's most urgent goal is toppling President Assad; its members are therefore not yet focusing on enforcing Shari'a law in Syria. They show a pragmatic willingness to work with other rebel organizations, including the main Free Syrian Army. But once the Assad regime falls, a violent campaign by jihadis might begin to cement their control over any new government formed by rebels in Damascus.

A second jihadi organization operates in Syria, the researchers said, called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, formed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, though Al Nusra is the only one to have received official recognition by Al Qaeda's central leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in June this year.

"The two branches together have an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 operatives in our assessment, and the number is growing," the report stated.

Keeping Score in the War on al Qaeda

October 1, 2013

I was en route to the Reuters Global Security conference when al-Shabab launched its assault against the Westgate Mall. During our panel discussion, Richard Barrett opined that from one perspective al-Qaeda is on the back foot, while from another perspective it appears on the march. In the days that followed, the commentariat was similarly dichotomous. Some commentary pointed to the siege as evidence that al-Qaeda was gaining strength and that its threat to the U.S. was growing. Others, including Ken Menkhaus, an expert on al-Shabaab, said that the Westgate attack was the latest sign of that group’s weakness. Squaring that circle requires we explore the underlying dynamics that can inform attacks like the one against the Westgate Mall.

Mixed Motives & Blended Attacks

The recent Al-Shabab attack is only the latest terrorist spectacular in a jihadist group’s area of operation that killed Westerners. Earlier this year, jihadists (formerly) associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb executed an assault on a natural gas facility in the Algerian town of In Amenas. Both were billed as responses to foreign aggression. Kenya contributed to the African Union forces and the Westgate attack was clearly intended to punish the regime in Nairobi. Similarly, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian militant responsible for engineering the In Amenas operation, said his attack was a response to the French invasion of Mali. Like Lashkar-e-Taiba’s 2008 Mumbai attacks, which primarily targeted the group’s main enemy, India, killing Westerners was the global icing on a regional cake.

Those three attacks share something else in common. Each occurred amid a period of internal tensions, which may have fueled the decision to execute them, suggesting that while disunity can weaken a group it can also lead to a ratcheting effect in terms of violence.