5 October 2013

The mastermind of Vietnam’s military victories

General Vo Nguyen Giap, a key figure in securing Vietnam’s independence and winning the Vietnam War, died on Friday at 102, senior military officials and a relative said. 

Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives

Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary general who masterminded the defeat of the French military at Dien Bien Phu and led North Vietnam’s forces against the U.S. has died aged 102 at a military hospital in Hanoi.

General Giap, whose victory at Dien Bien Phu triggered France’s departure from Indo-China was a self-taught leader regarded as one of the great military geniuses of the post-World War II era.

He remained as the commander of the North’s forces supporting the Viet Cong throughout the subsequent Vietnam war, being credited with the 1968 Tet offensive.

General Giap, known as the Red Napoleon, was a national hero whose reputation was second only to Ho Chi Minh.

While some — such as the American journalist Stanley Karnow regarded him as a strategist in the mould of Wellington — others, including the U.S. general William Westmorland, believed his success was down to his ruthlessness.

Indeed, Westmorland complained to Karnow in his history of the Vietnam War: “Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight.”

General Giap was born in the village of An Xa on August 25, 1911 and attended the University of Hanoi, where he earned degrees in politics and law, before working as a journalist.

It was his command of Viet Minh forces during the eight week-long battle of Dien Bien Phu, which raged from March to May in 1954, that made his reputation — and became the climax of the war with the French.

Vietnamese forces, who wore sandals made of car tyres and lugged their artillery piece by piece over mountains, managed to encircle and crush the French troops in a bloody engagement, immortalised in Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place.

Although he was at first a renowned exponent of guerrilla tactics, General Giap commanded a devastating conventional assault at Dien Bien Phu, in which his forces used Chinese-supplied artillery to prevent effective resupply by air of the base deep in the hills of north-western Vietnam.

Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, Who Ousted U.S. From Vietnam, Is Dead

Julian Abram Wainwright/European Pressphoto Agency

Vo Nguyen Giap, the relentless and charismatic North Vietnamese general whose campaigns drove both France and the United States out of Vietnam, died on Friday in Hanoi. He was believed to be 102.

The death was reported by several Vietnamese news organizations, including the respected Tuoi Tre Online, which said he had died in an army hospital.

General Giap was among the last survivors of a generation of Communist revolutionaries who in the decades after World War II freed Vietnam of colonial rule and fought a superpower to a stalemate. In his later years, he was a living reminder of a war that was mostly old history to the Vietnamese, many of whom were born after it had ended.

But he had not faded away. He was regarded as an elder statesman whose hard-line views had softened with the cessation of the war that unified Vietnam. He supported economic reform and closer relations with the United States while publicly warning of the spread of Chinese influence and the environmental costs of industrialization.

To his American adversaries, however, from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, he was perhaps second only to his mentor, Ho Chi Minh, as the face of a tenacious, implacable enemy. And to historians, his willingness to sustain staggering losses against superior American firepower was a large reason the war dragged on as long as it did, costing more than 2.5 million lives — 58,000 of them American — sapping the United States Treasury and Washington’s political will to fight, and bitterly dividing the country in an argument about America’s role in the world that still echoes today.

A teacher and journalist with no formal military training, Vo Nguyen Giap (pronounced vo nwin ZHAP) joined a ragtag Communist insurgency in the 1940s and built it into a highly disciplined force that ended an empire and united a nation.

He was charming and volatile, an erudite military historian and an intense nationalist who used his personal magnetism to motivate his troops and fire their devotion to their country. His admirers put him in the company of MacArthur, Rommel and other great military leaders of the 20th century.

But his critics said that his victories had been rooted in a profligate disregard for the lives of his soldiers. Gen. William C. Westmoreland, who commanded American forces in Vietnam from 1964 until 1968, said, “Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would not have lasted three weeks.”

General Giap understood something that his adversaries did not, however. Early on, he learned that the loyalty of Vietnam’s peasants was more crucial than controlling the land on which they lived. Like Ho Chi Minh, he believed devoutly that the Vietnamese would be willing to bear any burden to free their land from foreign armies.

He knew something else as well, and profited from it: that waging war in the television age depended as much on propaganda as it did on success in the field.

These lessons were driven home in the Tet offensive of 1968, when North Vietnamese regulars and Vietcong guerrillas attacked scores of military targets and provincial capitals throughout South Vietnam, only to be thrown back with staggering losses. General Giap had expected the offensive to set off uprisings and show the Vietnamese that the Americans were vulnerable.

Vo Nguyen Giap, renowned Vietnamese general, dies in Hanoi

By Bart Barnes, Published: October 4

Vo Nguyen Giap, the Vietnamese military commander and national folk hero who organized the army that defeated the French and then the Americans in 30 years of Southeast Asian warfare, is dead. That war ended in 1975 when the last remaining U.S. military forces evacuated Saigon, leaving behind a war-torn and battle-scarred nation, united under Communist rule.

He died Oct. 4 in a hospital in Hanoi, a government official told the Associated Press. He was 102. No cause of death was immediately reported.

Gen. Giap was the last survivor in a triumvirate of revolutionary leaders who fought France’s colonial forces and then the United States to establish a Vietnam free of Western domination. With the Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969, and former prime minister Pham Van Dong, who died in 2000, Gen. Giap was venerated in his homeland as one of the founding fathers of his country. To military scholars around the world, he was one of the 20th century’s leading practitioners of modern revolutionary guerrilla warfare.

From a ragtag band of 34 men assembled in a forest in northern Vietnam in December 1944, Gen. Giap built the fighting unit that became the Vietnam People’s Army. At the beginning, its entire supply of weapons consisted of two revolvers, one light machine gun, 17 rifles and 14 flintlocks, some of them dating to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, said Cecil B. Currey, Gen. Giap’s biographer.

But the original 34 men took a solemn oath to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule, and they promised not to help or cooperate with colonial or any other foreign authorities. By August 1945, when the surrender of Japan ended World War II, they had become an army of 5,000, equipped with American weapons supplied by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the CIA, to use against the Japanese who had occupied Vietnam.

For almost three decades, Gen. Giap led his army in battle against better-supplied, better-equipped and better-fed enemies. In 1954, he effectively ended more than 70 years of French colonial rule in Indochina, dealing a humiliating defeat to a French garrison in a 55-day siege of the mountain-ringed outpost at Dien Bien Phu. To millions of Vietnamese, this was more than a military victory. It was a moral and psychological triumph over a hated colonial oppressor, and it earned Gen. Giap the status of a national legend.

Twenty-one years later, on April 30, 1975, came the fall of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. This ended a prolonged and bitter war between Vietnamese communists, based in the north, and the U.S.-supported government of South Vietnam, which was based in Saigon and backed by the military might of the world’s greatest superpower.

Attacks in J&K: Assessing the Response

September 26 
October 4, 2013

The early hours of 26 September 2013, witnessed an audacious attack by three terrorists at Hiranagar and Samba. Interviews of senior police officials in the area indicate infiltration from the border in the wee hours of the same day. While the first target of the attack was a police station in close vicinity of the international border, the second, in quick succession, was an even bolder attempt at taking on the Indian security establishment. The terrorists dressed in army fatigues fought their way into 16 Light Cavalry, an illustrious and the oldest armoured regiment of the Indian army. The twin incidents left 10 fatal casualties in its wake, including the Second-in-Command, a Lieutenant Colonel, of the Cavalry Regiment. The incident has raised a number of questions regarding the response mechanism. It comes as a reminder of the 26/11 attack and highlights repetition of past mistakes.

The first issue relates to the flow of intelligence. The ease with which terrorists breached the fence or made use of a seemingly unobserved rivulet across the international border, three days prior to the meeting of Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, indicates their ability to plan and execute their operations. This is a disturbing sign since it indicates that very influential and organised sections of Pakistani system are involved in sabotaging any peace initiative that the political leadership takes to improve bilateral relationship. Since the ability to limit infiltration relates to precise and continuous intelligence both across the border and in its close vicinity, this incident highlights either serious limitations on India’s capability or complacency or both.

Second, the ability of terrorists to successively strike two security establishments within a space of a little more than an hour reinforces the failure of joint mechanisms in the state. While the first incident can be attributed to the police personnel being taken by surprise, a specific alert in its immediate aftermath could have avoided or at least limited the damage by the second attack on the army camp by sharing the information widely. It indicates at worst the absence or at best the inefficiency of grass root response mechanisms, even for as basic a task as sharing of information. As a result of this failure, if the terrorists had chosen to attack a softer target instead of the army camp, the number of casualties would have almost certainly been much higher. The reports that the gate of the Officers’ Mess opening on the National Highway was manned by a single soldier in a station which had seen such audacious attempts in the past also indicates a high degree of complacency.

Third, the planned meeting between the two Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan should have led to a heightened level of security in view of the past experience. The absence of such security measures is reinforced by repeated and generic intelligence inputs in sensitive areas, which are rarely backed by occurrence of incidents thereafter. This leads to such inputs often being disregarded and at times at a heavy cost to men and material. The propensity to feed generic information becomes a tool to shift responsibility. It is, therefore, important to press for more reliable and specific inputs which can help preclude such attacks.

Fourth, and possibly the most visible example of the failure to learn from 26/11 was the manner in which the media covered the incident. The immediate aftermath of the attack witnessed the sites swarming with reporters, especially representatives of the electronic media. There was no cordon of the areas, which had been the site of bloody action. The close examination of the scene of attack by the media could well have resulted in tampering of evidence making the site unsuitable for subsequent forensic examination. A procedure as basic as taping the area for investigation was not attempted to keep reporters outside the perimeter of attack. The tearing hurry to not only report but also give definitive analysis and judgement on actions undertaken by specialists was commented upon by generalists, often questioning the professionalism of teams in action. Even prior to the completion of operation, a series of questions had been lined up, which needed answers from the army and the government. Quite obviously the focus of the coverage was on being first to report, show footage of the operation, photographs of the terrorists killed, rather than wait for authentic and corroborated feedback. The shallow, ill-informed and at times false picture that was repeated highlighted by channels achieved little towards the endeavour to inform the country. Questions like what was the need for the Commanding Officer and Second in Command to become involved in operations were an example of tripping over one’s own logic, after circumstances of their coming under fire became clearer.

Time to prepare for future wars is now

05 October 2013

The decision to set up a Special Operations Command, amalgamating forces from the Army, Navy and the Air Force, recognises the fact that unconventional warfare will play an increasing role in the coming years

The Defence Ministry’s reported grant (The Pioneer, September 29) of approval for the establishment of a Special Operations Command, amalgamating the Army’s Special Forces, the Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS) and the Air Force’s Garudas, was overdue, as was the Ministry’s clearance of two other commands — space and cyber.

The decision to establish the SOC signifies a recognition of the fact that unconventional warfare, involving counter-terrorism, will play an increasing role in future conflicts. While the need for conventional forces on land, sea and air will remain to cope with any conventional war that may emerge from an unconventional war, the latter will be the preferred mode in all asymmetrical conflicts, particularly where, as in the case of India and Pakistan, combat between regular formations can lead to a mutually-obliterating nuclear exchange.

The formation of an SOC is particularly necessary given the Pakistani Army’s strategic doctrine of “cutting India down to size” by fomenting regional insurgencies to balkanise it and, if that is not possible, keep it too busy fighting domestic fires to play a significant regional role. The objective has been unambiguously stated in Lieutenant-Colonel (subsequently Lieutenant General) Javed Hassan’s India: A Study in Profile. The fact that the book, representing a study done on behalf of the Pakistani Army’s Faculty of Research and Doctrinal Studies, Command and Staff College, Quetta, was published and distributed by Services Book Club, Rawalpindi, clearly indicates that the strategy it articulates has the Government’s sanction.

Pakistan has been following this strategy relentlessly since the early 1950s when the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate began supporting the Naga rebels. From the early 1980s, it began training the Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir terrorists in the camps established for Afghan mujahideen. Terrorism, sponsored by Pakistan, plagued Punjab from the early 1980s till around the end of 1992 when it was crushed by Punjab Police under the leadership of its Director-General, Mr KPS Gill. By that time, terrorist strikes from Pakistan had started becoming a feature of life in Jammu & Kashmir.

The escalation of terrorist strikes in the 1980s followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the United States’ opening of the floodgates of economic and military aid to Pakistan which trained the mujahideen and coordinated the jihad against the occupation forces. In Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military, the distinguished Pakistani scholar and former diplomat, Mr Husain Haqqani, wrote that shortly after the aid began arriving, Pakistan’s General turned President, Zia-ul Haq, wanted a forward policy drawn up to deal with India. Following a conversation between him and Lieutenant General Akhtar Abdul Rahman, then head of the ISI, a strategy combining clandestine operations against India while simultaneously appearing to seek durable peace, was pursued “throughout the years Zia was in power as well as the subsequent years.” In keeping with the strategy, the ISI spread its tentacles deep into India, several files from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s office were taken to Pakistan, Indian troop movements were constantly watched, conditions in Kashmir were studied, and a search was mounted for Kashmiris capable of leading “the freedom struggle”.

Terrorist strikes now occur all over the country, perhaps the most sinister being the one in Mumbai which lasted for nearly 60 hours from the night of November 26, 2008, and claimed over 160 lives. The total, countrywide toll has been heavy. According to a report, officials of the External Affairs Ministry said on December 7, 1999, that while 25,267 persons had been killed in terrorist attacks in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir in the 10 preceding years, 12,316 Indians had lost their lives in the wars the country had fought since 1947. The number of casualties from terrorist attacks in the two States has gone up since then, as has the figure for whole of India, as terrorism now stalks large parts of the country. Another report published on September 25, 2008, pointed out, citing the US State Department’s National Counter-Terrorism Centre, that, on an average, terrorist violence killed seven persons daily in India in 2007. Pointing out that terrorists killed a total of 2,300 persons in India during that year, it stated that India was third on the international terror list in terms of those killed, after Iraq (13,611) and Afghanistan (4,673).

The service motive

Oct 05 2013

After 60 years, what distinguishes the first batch of IPS officers from those of today are the values they cherished

Forty IPS probationers from different parts of India reported to the National Police Academy in Mount Abu on October 5, 1953. It has been 60 years — and it is time to retrospect on what the service meant to us then and what we, octogenarians now, feel about it today.

Intelligence quotients of the new entrants are higher today. Attribute this to better nutrition and healthcare. The sheer knowledge possessed by today's probationers is probably ten times what we could boast of. Attribute this to advanced technology, TV, computer and the internet. Remember that we were the cream of our universities. But since the scope for corporate jobs was limited, government service in senior positions beckoned.

In our batch of 40, the topper was Govind Rajan of Tamil Nadu. One of his three sons is today the governor of the Reserve Bank. Another has been chosen by Cyrus Mistry, chairman of Tata Sons, for his inner circle of three advisors.

Rajan would have topped the IAS merit list but he competed for the civil services at the age of 20 — considered old enough for the police but not for the IAS. Today's aspirants are allowed to reappear and improve their rankings so as to slip into the IAS, but that privilege was denied to those like us who competed in the early 1950s. Many of today's IAS officers have spent a year or more in the police before graduating to the senior service.

There were three other super-intelligent officers in our batch. All three, along with Rajan, were seconded to the intelligence agencies. Anand Kumar Verma became the director of RAW, and Hari Ananda Barari of the Intelligence Bureau. He later became governor of Haryana. Rajan himself ended up as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a position that has been subsumed into the office of the NSA. Three of our batchmates resigned prematurely and joined private enterprises. Six died while in service. Of the rest, most rose to command their state forces or head Central police organisations.

What really differentiated us from today's entrants into the service were the values we cherished. There was much greater accent on justice and integrity. Nobody I knew of joined the service to enrich himself, and if later somebody was tempted to do so, he or she was a rare exception. It is different now. And since the general atmosphere has altered so drastically, officers who are just and honest in their dealings are so conspicuous that only on that account are they acknowledged and respected.

The menace of corruption has affected all government services across the land. Even highly respected organisations like the judiciary, the defence services and the media have been touched. The root cause is political corruption. When we entered service, politicians were immensely more honest. They were committed to the service of the people. That commitment rubbed off on the higher echelons of the bureaucracy. It is tragic that the quest for power has forced politicians into corruption of such magnitude that the domino effect has cascaded on all branches of government service and every other sphere of life. Even the young now want to get rich quickly and without effort!

*****Ending the War in Afghanistan

How to Avoid Failure on the Installment Plan

A seat at the table: leaving the burial of an Afghan negotiator, Kabul, September 2011. (Omar Sobhani / Courtesy Reuters)

International forces in Afghanistan are preparing to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan soldiers and police by the end of 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama has argued that battlefield successes since 2009 have enabled this transition and that with it, “this long war will come to a responsible end.” But the war will not end in 2014. The U.S. role may end, in whole or in part, but the war will continue -- and its ultimate outcome is very much in doubt.

Should current trends continue, U.S. combat troops are likely to leave behind a grinding stalemate between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Afghan National Security Forces can probably sustain this deadlock, but only as long as the U.S. Congress pays the multibillion-dollar annual bills needed to keep them fighting. The war will thus become a contest in stamina between Congress and the Taliban. Unless Congress proves more patient than the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, funding for the ANSF will eventually shrink until Afghan forces can no longer hold their ground, and at that point, the country could easily descend into chaos. If it does, the war will be lost and U.S. aims forfeited. A policy of simply handing off an ongoing war to an Afghan government that cannot afford the troops needed to win it is thus not a strategy for a “responsible end” to the conflict; it is closer to what the Nixon administration was willing to accept in the final stages of the Vietnam War, a “decent interval” between the United States’ withdrawal and the eventual defeat of its local ally.

There are only two real alternatives to this, neither of them pleasant. One is to get serious about negotiations with the Taliban. This is no panacea, but it is the only alternative to outright defeat. To its credit, the Obama administration has pursued such talks for over a year. What it has not done is spend the political capital needed for an actual deal. A settlement the United States could live with would require hard political engineering both in Kabul and on Capitol Hill, yet the administration has not followed through.

The other defensible approach is for the United States to cut its losses and get all the way out of Afghanistan now, leaving behind no advisory presence and reducing its aid substantially. Outright withdrawal might damage the United States’ prestige, but so would a slow-motion version of the same defeat -- only at a greater cost in blood and treasure. And although a speedy U.S. withdrawal would cost many Afghans their lives and freedoms, fighting on simply to postpone such consequences temporarily would needlessly sacrifice more American lives in a lost cause.

Showdown between RIs and Pakistan Army: Implications for India

October 4, 2013

The cacophony of Pakistani religious radicalism seems to be heading for a crescendo. The country is being torn apart between the contending power centers of Radical Islamists (RIs) and the Army, with neither of them showing any intention of climbing down. As far as country’s much hyped civilian governments of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, or that of the cosmopolitan Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, are concerned they have been reduced to pleading with folded hands before the leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the army to let peace talks get underway, but without any success. They can’t go against the wishes of the army which wants the TTP to lay-down arms, give up its jihad against it and once again become a pliant tool which can be exploited by the GHQ to pursue its ‘strategic’ agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir in India.

The TTP and its radical Islamist allies, on their part, want to neither give up their arms, nor tone down their sectarian/ideological agenda of shariatizing Pakistan so as to eventually convert it into the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan. Moreover the TTP and its allies have smelt blood. They realize that they have weakened the resolve of the Pakistan army to militarily deal with them by tying down a substantial chunk of its strength in FATA, KPk, Karachi and elsewhere, inflicting significant casualties on it, undermining the morale by targeting senior generals (the latest being Major General Sanaullah) and leaving it with little additional troops that could be mobilized for any meaningful operation against them. They also realize that the governments in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar are more than willing to dance at their tunes and constantly look over their shoulders to see if the RIs are nodding their approval for their actions.

The Pakistan army is caught in a cleft stick on the issue of dealing with the RIs. A significant section of the Pakistani military establishment sympathizes and empathizes with the sectarian agenda of the RIs due to its own religious predilections. At the same time the army as a whole is reluctant to expand the conflict with the RIs by expanding the area of its anti-insurgency operations. It is mortally afraid of the terrorist blow-back in various parts of the country as a result of launching any substantial operation against them in their strongholds, which have for all practical purposes become the ‘liberated’ (or shariatised) zones. Yet the RIs can not be allowed by the army to gain total hold over the governments to usher in their Islamic agenda, as it would destroy their own power and privileges.

The Pakistan army’s top-brass realizes, irrespective of its sectarian identification that in a shariatised Pakistan its army would be reduced to the same level of importance, or insignificance, as the Iranian vis-à-vis the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In a shariatised Pakistan the TTP and its radical allies are unlikely to disband themselves, or give up their arms. They would become the real power behind the country’s governing structures and would call the shots. This would ring the demise of various Fauji Foundationsand other military enterprises in Pakistan that allow senior military commanders to live a life of opulence and manipulate the politics of the country from behind the scene. At present the Pakistan army Chief is a major, and at times the overriding, centre of power. His transformation into just a cog in the state machinery can not be countenanced by a majority of Pakistan army top-brass and the rank and file. Besides, it is again the sectarian issue. Pakistan army’s soldiery is still largely Barelvi in its religious orientation. The officer corps has a large number of Deobandis, but they do not subscribe to Wahabi/Salafi radicalism for various reasons. They are unlikely to meekly surrender to the RIs onslaught.

The Deft Politicking of Nepal’s Army

By Oli Housden
October 04, 2013

The Nepalese Army remains powerful and yet largely unremarked, a tribute to its political acumen.

The fact that the army is the most powerful state organ in Nepal is fairly unremarkable. It is an established norm of most countries, especially a post-conflict state managing a difficult democratic transition to peace. The interesting aspect of the Nepalese Army (NA), however, is its limited public role in national politics. This stands in stark contrast to other militaries in South Asia, such as Bangladesh or Pakistan, where the armed forces are more overtly engaged in political life.

Of equal interest is the absence of negative media coverage about the NA. It is seldom discussed in the national media, other than sporadic stories about high-level visits to China or the occasional arms deal with India. The more extreme conspiracy theorists aside, public perception of the army remains broadly positive. And as with so many fragile developing economies, the NA continues to be a popular choice for graduates and young people eager to escape the unemployment trap.

The Peace Process

In one light, the current dynamic appears odd. The NA has yet to address pressing issues within the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – signed by the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in November 2006, which formally ended the country’s ten-year civil war – including grave human rights abuses it allegedly committed during the conflict. 

A failure to support this process, and particularly the mandated formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has left it exposed to repeated criticism from human rights groups. The arrest of Col. Kumar Lama in the United Kingdom in January on allegations of torture during the Nepali civil war was a hugely embarrassing incident for the army, while other prominent generals have been denied positions in foreign peacekeeping missions.

Such public relations disasters notwithstanding, the army has successfully deflected several of its main responsibilities since the CPA was signed without ever compromising its core interests. As of July 2013, Nepal was ranked seventh in the per capita number of contributors to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, a cash-cow for developing country armies, despite promises by the UN to review the country's place in foreign peace missions after Col. Lama’s arrest.

China Courts Central Asia

By Steve Finch
October 04, 2013

Amid an unprecedented flurry of energy deals, Beijing strengthens alliances on Russia’s backdoor but struggles to keep Xinjiang as happy.

Even by Chinese standards, the scale of this month’s natural gas deal with Turkmenistan was significant. Standing side by side in the oasis city of Mary in the Karakum Desert, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov marked the completion of the first phase of the world’s second-largest gas field with warm smiles and yet further cooperation.

A new deal signed on the same day will see Turkmenistan deliver 65 billion cubic meters of natural gas through the world’s longest pipeline by 2016, an increase of 25 billion cubic meters.

The Galkynysh field is “another fine example of bilateral energy cooperation for mutual benefits,” Xi was quoted as saying in the state-run China Daily.

In an unprecedented tour also locking in energy deals with Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, this month has seen Xi consolidate Chinese power in Central Asia as Beijing looks to reconfigure its economy based on cleaner, more diversified energy sources amid rising overall demand for fuels. But the impacts are expected to reach much farther and wider than simple economics or within China’s borders.

At stake are not only the prosperity of China and Central Asia, but also their respective security, geopolitical dynamics with Russia and the U.S. and the stability of one of China’s most restive provinces: Xinjiang.

Energy Politics

“There is no energy without politics,” says Dr Avinoam Idan of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at John Hopkins University, Washington D.C.

A former Israeli diplomat in Moscow during the break-up of the Soviet Union, Idan says that the relatively recent independence of states in Central Asia is a key factor to remember. “These revenues from energy are so important, not only for their economies but also for their political stability and sovereignty,” he adds.

For Turkmenistan, natural gas made up 22.6% of total GDP in 2011, according to the World Bank, second only to Trinidad and Tobago, which has reduced its reliance on gas much more quickly in recent years. Uzbekistan generated just over 15% of its total output from gas the same year, and in 2010 overall energy production accounted for nearly 40% of Kazakhstan’s economy. With China pouring hundreds of billions of dollars of investment into the energy sector in every Central Asian state, these landlocked countries are in turn becoming increasingly dependent on the World’s second-largest economy.

China is now the largest trading partner of Turkmenistan ($10.37 billion in 2012) and Kazakhstan (with a target of $40 billion by 2015). It is the second-largest partner of Uzbekistan ($2.875 billion in 2012) and Kyrgyzstan ($5.6 billion in 2012), and the third-largest in the case of tiny Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, China’s “dependence on external resources is also increasing, which is expected to reach 50% in five years,” says Liao Na, vice-president of China-based energy consultancy ICIS C1 Energy.

Are Chinese Reforms Really a Myth?

By Ryan Rommann
October 4, 2013

Shanghai’s new free trade zone is reform. It is a testing ground for RMB convertibility, market interest rates, foreign investment and perhaps internet openness. Granted it only encompasses 28 square kilometers and may boost economic expansion by 0.1 percentage points, it is still the country’s “new trial for opening,” in the words of Premier Li Keqiang.

Yet pundits still bemoan China as a “broken machine,” ineffective at meaningful change within a system of vested interests and bureaucratic cadres. Liberalization moves with excessive caution only when confronted with social unrest and economic stagnation. China, according to most, is behind the curve.

But slow compared to what?

Certainly Chinese economic reforms are more gradual than the disastrous “shock therapy” of the 1980s’ Washington Consensus. Political reforms are much slower than the Arab Spring. They are slower than Glasnost or Perestroika, and they are a crawl compared to the Cultural Revolution. This is a good thing. Another Great Leap Forward would be devastating to China and the world.

We must view reform through a broader lens that considers time and context. In fact, few countries have reformed at breakneck speed. The Chinese reform process is as prudent as that of its Asian neighbors and on a par with similar developing countries. Even in relation to the United States, China suffers from similar oligarchy and corporate interests. Pace is best measured in relative terms.

Asian Neighbors

China’s gradualism is not unique in Asia. Politically, soft authoritarianism has led most Asian countries.

South Korea alternated between autocracy, marshal law and democracy for 39 years. Park Chung Hee used torture and tanks to crush student protests with a vigor similar to that seen at Tiananmen Square. Singapore remains under the control of Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party, and 48 years after independence there remains little room for protests, unions or political opposition. Taiwan’s 228 Incident killed up to 30,000 in 1947 and was followed by the “White Terror” period. More than 140,000 political dissidents were imprisoned for being anti-Kuomintang during the 47 year reign of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalists.

Politically, eight out of the 14 countries bordering China are considered “not free” by Freedom House’s 2013 rankings. Only two are completely free (India and Mongolia). China is in a league of undemocratic nations.

China Lost 14 Million People in World War II. Why Is This Forgotten?

September 17, 2013 

Historian Rana Mitter believes a better understanding of China’s future actions can follow a truer understanding of its World War II past.

National Revolutionary Army soldiers march to the front in 1939. (PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

When looking back at World War II, the victors see their own military contributions the clearest. Hence the United Kingdom spotlights the Battle of Britain and El Alamein, the Russians Stalingrad and Kursk, and the Americans D-Day and Midway. The contribution of China, whose war was the longest and among the bloodiest, tends to be forgotten in the West, and for years was little commemorated even in China.

A new book, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945, by Oxford historian Rana Mitter, aims to sharpen this fuzzy picture by presenting the Middle Kingdom’s eight-year war against an invading Japan—a war that had been under way more than two years before the Nazis invaded Poland, which is the usual starting point for histories of World War II. “Essentially,” Mitter explained in an interview with Pacific Standard, “the politics of the Cold War covered over that what is coming to be realized, I think, as one of the great missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of World War II.” Now, however, a combination of archives in China opening up and a new political attitude by its leaders has cracked the historical window.

For an American audience whose knowledge of China in the war might start with the 1937 Rape of Nanking and end with the volunteer American fighter pilots known as the Flying Tigers, the book offers a number of eye-openers:

• The contribution of the Soviet Union to the Chinese Nationalists, who were actively battling the Chinese Communists, was large and sustained. While it might have been ideologically unexpected, it fit in with Josef Stalin’s desire to most effectively check Japanese designs on the USSR. The two countries actually fought a sustained series of battles in Mongolia in 1939 which left thousands dead on both sides.

• While the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and Communist Mao Zedong are usually depicted as the titans of China’s resistance and its on-again, off-again civil war, Mitter details the rise and eclipse of a third figure, Wang Jingwei, whose stature and influence long equaled Chiang and Mao’s—until he made accommodation with the Japanese.

The South China Sea and the Lessons of History

October 4, 2013

President Obama’s cancelation of his trip to participate in next week’s ASEAN and APEC Summits next week has the internet abuzz with discussion of what it may mean for America’s role in the Western Pacific. Initial reactions, however, are not necessarily good indicators. President Obama cancelled trips to Indonesia and Australia three times in 2009-2010. The Bush Administration’s attention to personal diplomacy in Southeast Asia was likewise spotty.

Yet, within the region, at least, all was forgiven with the advent of America’s “Asia Pivot.”

The substance of the pivot is one thing. It is under-resourced on the military side and the economic component – the Transpacific Partnership FTA – is complicated by a Democrat caucus in the House that is overwhelmingly and demonstrably protectionist. This is beginning to sink in a bit in the region. The appeal of the pivot narrative, however, has proven remarkably resilient.

If the pivot weathers another major cancellation – and it almost certainly will – one has to start asking why. The reason is because Southeast Asia needs America. Call it an insurance policy or balancing or hedging, or what you will, ASEAN does not want to be left alone with China. And no combination of other outside players is as reassuring as the United States’ presence.

As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to sit in for the President in next week’s meetings with ASEAN leaders, he ought to fully absorb the meaning of this. The U.S. is in a strong position, particularly on the contested issue closest to American interests – the South China Sea.

He would also be well-advised to take a look back at a seemingly unrelated corner of ASEAN history to understand what’s really going on there on this issue.

Cambodia in the 1980s was one of the great and tragic battlefields of the Cold War. With Soviet support, communist Vietnam invaded in 1978. It toppled one of the great scourges of mankind, the regime of the Khmer Rouge, and replaced it with a Vietnamese-puppet regime. Almost immediately, the Chinese entered the conflict, seeking to stem Soviet influence in the region. Local resistance emerged, and, suddenly, Southeast Asia was back on the front line of the Cold War.

Naval Postgraduate School: A Sacred Cow?

By Captain Jeanne McDonnell, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In the current fiscal climate, the Navy needs to rethink its role in the graduate-education business.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California, has provided top-notch graduate education to military students for more than a century. It enjoys a strong reputation in academics and research, but a 2012 Inspector General (IG) report found the school had not adhered to several federal and Navy laws and regulations resulting in Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus firing its president and provost. As the Navy has downsized in the past 20 years, the NPS has grown disproportionately. With extreme budget cuts looming on the near horizon, it makes sense to reevaluate the value the NPS brings to the Navy in particular and the Department of Defense in general. It’s time to take a new look at the school in light of future trends facing higher education and the military to determine its “real” value.

No doubt about it, the NPS turns out a great product—strategic thinkers who are making a positive contribution to national defense. The school is growing by leaps and bounds, with enrollment increasing 46 percent in the ten-year period from 1996 to 2006. In addition, research-and-development expenditures increased 51 percent during the same period. 1 The NPS Value Book reports the institution has four world-class schools hosting “academic departments that provide 68 masters, 18 doctoral programs, and certificates to approximately 1,760 resident students, including more than 250 international enrollees, as well as to 990 distributed-learning students worldwide.” 2 That sounds great, and alumni cannot say enough good things about it. But should the Navy mission include running a graduate-level university?

The NPS educates officers and sits on some of the most valuable property in the country overlooking Monterey Bay. It has the latest research facilities and a first-class faculty. Although the school has come under attack from those who believe the same services can be provided for less by civilian organizations, it has managed to remain a “sacred cow.” However, the Navy is once again taking a hard look at the NPS following the IG investigation that found fiscal mismanagement and charged that the school’s leadership had fostered an “atmosphere of defiance of statutory requirements and Department of the Navy’s rules and regulations.” 3 The inspection report identified 88 problem areas and charged school officials with treating similar recommendations made by previous inspections as impediments to be overcome rather than issues to correct. 4 Will this IG investigation be the catalyst to really determine the value of the NPS?

How to solve the crisis in Washington

By Fareed Zakaria
October 3rd, 2013

It is the defining moment of a democracy – an outgoing leader celebrates the election of a new one, from the opposing party. Think of George H.W. Bush welcoming Bill Clinton, or Jimmy Carter doing the same for Ronald Reagan. Across the world, this is the acid test of a real democracy. Mexicans will tell you that they knew that they had gotten there when President Ernesto Zedillo, after seventy years of one-party rule, allowed free elections and stood with his newly-elected successor and affirmed his legitimacy.

The basic and powerful idea behind this ritual is that in a democracy, the process is more important than the outcome. If a genuine democratic process has been followed, we have to accept the results, regardless of how much we dislike the outcome. The ultimate example of this in recent American history might be Al Gore’s elegant acceptance of the process – complicated, politicized, but utterly constitutional – that put George W. Bush in the White House.

It must also have been difficult for Richard Nixon to grin and accept the results of the 1960 election – a poll marred by voter fraud that John F. Kennedy won by a narrow margin – but he did. And as vice president, he reported the results to the Senate, saying:

“This is the first time in 100 years that a candidate for the presidency announced the result of an election in which he was defeated and announced the victory of his opponent. I do not think we could have a more striking example of the stability of our constitutional system and of the proud tradition of the American people of developing, respecting and honoring institutions of self-government. In our campaigns, no matter how hard fought they may be, no matter how close the election may turn out to be, those who lose accept the verdict and support those who win.”

That is what is at stake in Washington this week. The debate going on there is not trivial, not transitory – and not about Obamacare. Whatever you think about the Affordable Care Act, it is a law that was passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate, then signed by the president, and then validated by the Supreme Court as constitutional. This does not mean it cannot be repealed. Of course it can be repealed, as can most laws. But to do so, it would need another piece of legislation – one that says quite simply “The Affordable Care Act is hereby repealed in its entirely” – that passes the House and senate and is then signed into law by the president.

Google Imperialism: Mapping the World's Most Popular Websites

October 3, 2013

Sure, it's not all that surprising that Google and Facebook are the most visited websites in almost every country. But what's more interesting is where they're not. Using public data from the web traffic service Alexa, the Oxford Internet Institute's Information Geographies blog has mapped the most popular websites by country (the colonial-style map above is entitled, "Age of Internet Empires"). And while researchers found that Google and Facebook reigned supreme among Internet users across the globe, there were some notable exceptions.

The al-Watan Voice newspaper, for instance, is the most visited site in the Palestinian territories, while a Russian email service, Mail.ru, dominates in Kazakhstan. Japan and Taiwan are Yahoo!'s last bastions, and in Russia the search engine Yandex tops the list. There are also blind spots in the survey; Alexa lacks information on countries with small Internet populations, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa.

China is a particularly interesting case: The Chinese search engine Baidu is the most visited website in the country, but its success may be engineered in part by the government. As the speculation goes -- and some evidence suggests -- Chinese officials have colluded with local business interests to limit Google's share of the market in favor of Baidu and other companies (cases have been reported of Chinese users visiting Google, only to be mysteriously redirected to Baidu, though Baidu denies that the government is giving it a leg up on the competition). Today, Baidu controls around 80 percent of the Chinese search market and, according to Alexa data that the Oxford researchers question, recently became the market leader in South Korea as well (Google left mainland China in 2010, but still runs a Hong Kong-based portal). The countries below are sized based on the size of their Internet populations (click to expand the map):

But don't doubt Google's supremacy just yet. Not only is Google the top site in 62 countries of the 120 countries tracked, but the researchers note that "among the 50 countries that have Facebook listed as the most visited visited website, 36 of them have Google as the second most visited, and the remaining 14 countries list YouTube (currently owned by Google)."

Shutdown Hits Military Thinkers, Planners

October 04, 2013

The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Ca., has cancelled all classes during the shutdown.

So how hard is the federal shutdown hitting the US military?

“Walking around the building, I would say we’re probably at about a third of our staff right now,” said one military officer. (About half the Defense Department’s civil servants have been furloughed, but military personnel are still on duty). Of 26 people in her section, she said, “I counted out 19 furlough notices on Sunday, including my boss and my boss’s deputy.”

We can’t identify her or her organization. Why? “I haven’t cleared this discussion with our PAO [Public Affairs Officer], because our PAO is on furlough.” Yes, she added with a laugh, she’s well aware of the irony.

The Catch-22 of the current, surreal situation is that many of the people you’d like to ask about the shutdown aren’t available because of — the shutdown.

“Right now, in media relations, we’re down to three officers,” said an Army spokesperson. All nine civilians have been sent home — a 75 percent staff cut overnight. (Contractors are still coming in, but they don’t deal with press inquiries). Many Army public affairs offices at bases and commands around the country, he added, have no uniformed personnel or contractors at all, only civil servants. That makes it awfully hard to get information about what’s happening around the Army. “When we get queries and we call our counterparts,” he said, “they’re not there to answer the phones.”

The same is true for the Navy. The actual media desk in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CHINFO) is staffed, as it happens, entirely by uniformed military personnel, but that’s just six people. At other offices, commands, and bases, Navy public affairs relies heavily on civilians — same as the Army — and they aren’t there.

The missing-persons problem goes way beyond public affairs, however. Because the law governing shutdowns only “excepts” civil service personnel directly supporting military operations or other immediate life-and-death issues, the institutions hit the hardest are the ones that do the military’s long-term thinking.

For example, take the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, often considered the most academically rigorous and intellectually innovative of the four service grad schools for future admirals and generals: Half of its faculty are non-exempt civilians, so in their absence classes have been simply canceled for almost 60 percent of the students, 324 of out of 545. The US Naval Academy in Annapolis, which trains young officers, has only canceled 20 percent of its classes, although that figure will rise if the shutdown lasts into next week. The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California has simply cancelled classes altogether.

The Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, by contrast, has kept all its classes going, albeit without the normal number of instructors per seminar. The College had so far only outright cancelled such things as a Gettysburg “staff ride” — where military students walk the actual ground of the battle as they analyze it — and academic travel to conferences. The reason? Two-thirds of the staff are military or “excepted” civilians, so they’re still allowed to work, as are 90 percent of the students. The other 10 percent, however, are civilians from various agencies such as the Department of State, said one War College source: “We’re still sorting through which ones are furloughed.”

Across the Army’s Training And Doctrine Command (TRADOC), meanwhile, the senior generals are holding teleconferences every other day to figure out how many students to pull out of what courses and when.

What My Daughter Deserves

OCTOBER 3, 2013

The United Nations wants us to make life better for girls. It's a worthy aim. But what does that mean in practice?

I'm generally not a big fan of United Nations publicity campaigns. Just take the U.N.'s habit of setting aside particular "international observance days" as a way of highlighting various worthy causes. What, for example, are we supposed to make of gimmicks like "World Poetry Day" or the "International Day of Happiness"?

One of the problems with such campaigns is that they tend to preach a kind of e

Cynical though I am, I have to confess that one of those days has started me thinking. October 11 marks the U.N.'s "International Day of the Girl Child." Forget the awkwardly tautological title: The event itself offers an occasion to consider some of the specific problems faced by girls around the world. That seems like a potentially constructive provocation -- perhaps because I can't help thinking about my own 9-year-old daughter and the challenges she's likely to face precisely because she's a girl.

She was lucky enough, of course, to be born in one of the world's wealthiest and most stable societies, which makes it less likely that she'll have to confront some of the uglier injustices that plague girls in other parts of the world. But of course not even the United States is immune to threats of sexualized violence or economic discrimination.

So let's simplify matters. Let's just assume that my daughter is a global citizen -- along with the world's other 900 million girls age 15 or under. What kind of life does she have a right to expect?

First and foremost, she deserves to live in a free society where her individual human rights are respected, regardless of gender. Political systems aren't necessarily the best guide to this. It's great that Rwanda has equal numbers of men and women in parliament, for example, but I wonder if that really means much in a country where the president has the final say in everything. There are plenty of benign despots in the world who claim to promote women's rights by pledging equal opportunity, but I wonder how far such pledges can be taken seriously when those women can be thrown into jail at a moment's notice for making critical remarks about their leaders.