14 December 2013

Riot Reveals Cracks in Singapore Society

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Singapore’s normally ordered society has been shaken by the rioting last weekend.
By Kirsten Han, December 14, 2013

Sakthivel Kumaravelu was killed last Sunday after being run over by a bus ferrying migrant workers from Little India – a messy, diverse and vibrant part of Singapore with a large number of South Asian shops and restaurants – back to their dormitories. The details of the accident are still murky, but the death of the 33-year-old man triggered the first riot seen in Singapore in more than four decades.

Police cars and ambulances were attacked, some even torched. Eighteen people, including police officers and other emergency service personnel, were injured. Although quelled in an hour, the episode has shocked Singapore and produced another blemish on this prosperous island nation’s shiny track record.

The government has been eager to spin this as a one-off drunken mob. Two Cabinet ministers were quoted saying that alcohol could have been a “contributory factor,” and a temporary alcohol ban is being imposed. Police have been given the powers to take action against anyone seen consuming alcohol in the area. The local mainstream media has also focused on the angle of alcohol abuse among South Asian migrant workers.

Yet this narrative does not obscure the fact that in recent years many events that might not be considered “the Singapore way” have begun to occur. In November 2012, more than a hundred bus drivers for public transport company SMRT went on strike – the first in 26 years. In February 2013, a protest against the Population White Paper drew over 3,000 people, and organizers dubbed it the largest political protest in Singapore’s independent history. A follow-up protest in May again drew a significant crowd. The riot in Little India is simply the latest in a series of surprises.

These occurrences all had different triggers and involved different groups within the population. They might not be directly connected to one another, but they all draw attention to the possibility that there’s more behind the city-state’s carefully manicured image of wealth and order.

FRIENDS IN THE STRUGGLE - Mandela’s Indian connections

Politics and play - Ramachandra Guha

When Nelson Mandela died earlier this month, Indian obituaries were cast in a distinctly patriotic mould. We were told that his moral courage, capacity for friendship, and spirit of reconciliation resembled that of Mahatma Gandhi’s (and so they did). Others pointed out that in fact it was not Gandhi but Jawaharlal Nehru who was Mandela’s hero (and so he was).

These eulogies, however, missed a more important connection in Mandela’s life and legacy: his comradeship with South Africans of Indian descent. Living in Johannesburg in the 1940s, Mandela befriended the young radicals, Ismail Meer and J.N. Singh. Through them he got to know more about the Indian independence movement and the impact of Gandhi. Then he watched Gandhian techniques at firsthand, during the passive resistance campaign of 1946, in which Indians in Natal and the Transvaal courted arrest in protest against discriminatory land laws.

The passive resistance campaign was led by Yusuf Dadoo and G. M. (Monty) Naicker, both doctors, one Gujarati, the other Tamil. Naicker was a Gandhian, Dadoo a communist who admired Gandhi. The struggle they organized was the first major mass movement against white rule, its significance captured in a chapter title of Mary Benson’s history of the African National Congress, which reads: “1946: THE INDIANS LEAD THE STRUGGLE.”

Mandela was greatly impressed by the campaign. The Indians, he recalled later, had registered “an extraordinary protest against colour oppression in a way that Africans and the ANC had not”. Their movement “became a model for the type of protest we in the Youth League were calling for”. Indian leaders like Dadoo and Naicker, wrote Mandela, had “instilled a spirit of defiance and radicalism among the people, [and] broke]n] the fear of prison. … They reminded us that the freedom struggle was not merely a question of making speeches, holding meetings, passing resolutions and sending deputations, but of meticulous organization, militant mass action and, above all, the willingness to sacrifice”.


One sincerely wishes to be proved wrong for being needlessly alarmist and making a wrong analysis of a ‘potentially prospering and prosperous, superpower-status aspiring’ India of the 21st century. In reality, it is a paradoxical story of India’s increasing population vis a vis the decreasing head counts of selected Western nations. Let us begin with 25-year old flashback figures, when, in 1988, the population of India was 80 crore, in which 64.6 per cent were below 30 years, against China’s 109 crore and Australia’s 1.65 crore. India’s population then stood at 655.8 persons per square mile. Unemployment was 6 per cent and 56.8 per cent of rural land was under agriculture. The exchange rate was Rs 17 against the dollar; average births per woman stood at 4.1 and the quantum of import far exceeded that of the export even then.

Today, India’s 124 crore heads are ‘competing’ to overtake China’s 135 crore population as India still produces ‘one Australia’ per annum with almost two crore births. Australia’s head count stands at over 2.18 crore. Experts feel population stabilization in India is unlikely as it is heading towards an all-time-high of 175 crore before the graph moves downhill in another 35 or 36 years. 

India is surely and steadily heading towards gloomy times. Today, 58 per cent of India’s 124 crore people are below 30 years and at least 10 per cent thereof are, and are likely to remain, unemployed in the foreseeable future. Of the land, 44.7 per cent is under temporary crops and 3.9 per cent under permanent crop. One dollar can fluctuate anywhere between Rs 62 and Rs 68, and import continues to be much more expensive than before owing to the imbalance in the import-export ratio. With declining industry and increasingly loss-making agriculture, the country stares at potentially uncertain times owing to the volatility in foreign exchange reserves, an enhanced commitment to timebound debt recovery services, mounting national deficit and a fragile currency.

What would make India’s economic scenario more difficult to be tackled in the future is the fundamental mismatch between demand and supply in all spheres of the nation’s plans and programmes. From jobs to land development to agriculture to industrial production, demand continues to outstrip supply in geometrical progression, thereby giving birth to corruption, which in turn retards the growth of the Indian economy. 

India needs to rethink Afghan policy

Delhi is at a loss in responding to the new strategic environment
Harsh V. Pant

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in New Delhi this week, holding talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a time of looming transition in Afghanistan. He will, no doubt, once again press for the stepping up of aid -- both civilian and military, including lethal and non-lethal weapons - a demand that he also made during his last visit, only to be rebuffed by New Delhi.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (left) is received by Minister of State for Home R.P.N. Singh in Delhi on Thursday. Karzai's visit to India is another reminder for Delhi as to what's at stake in the unfolding great game in South Asia. PTI

This visit comes at a time when the final passage of the long-term US-Afghan security pact, as part of which the US could keep up to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, focused largely on counter-terrorism and training of Afghan forces, is in turmoil. The on-again, off-again security pact between the US and Afghanistan has been mired in differences between Washington and Karzai with both indulging in brinkmanship. Karzai, with his actions, has made it clear that he is not too eager to have a residual US presence in Afghanistan and has tended to postpone a final agreement with the US. The US meanwhile has been reaching out to other stakeholders such as Afghan Defence Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, army chief Sher Mohammad Karimi and Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi. Karzai has underscored that he would sign the long-term security pact with the US only if the US helps his government begin peace talks with the Taliban and agrees to release all 17 Afghan citizens being held in Guantanamo Bay. The US has retaliated by making it clear that if the agreement is not signed, the US forces would begin planning for a complete withdrawal at the end of 2014. The NATO countries have also underlined that they won't be able to leave even small forces behind in Afghanistan without guarantees from Hamid Karzai.

India’s trade deficit with China nears record $30 b

December 14, 2013
Ananth Krishnan

The Hindu Indo-China trade border through Nathula Pass. 

Causes for the slump in trade are more structural

India’s trade deficit with China after 11 months of this year has reached a record $29.5 billion, exceeding last year’s annual figure, according to newly released trade data.

The numbers underline the sharp decline in once-burgeoning trade, which reached $74 billion in 2011 when China became India’s biggest trading partner.

The following year, a 20 per cent slump in India’s exports, largely on account of iron ore mining bans, coupled with the global slowdown, resulted in a 10 per cent decline as trade fell to $66.50 billion, even as both countries announced an ambitious $100 billion target for 2015.Doubts over achieving target

The latest figures have cast doubt on whether that target may be achieved. During the period under reference, even as China’s trade with the rest of Asia as well as with its major Western trading partners has picked up, trade with India has remained in a slump, suggesting that causes were more structural rather than a reflection of global trends.

After 11 months of this year, India’s exports to China reached only $14.87 billion out of total bilateral trade of $59.24 billion, according to data released this week by the China’s General Administration of Customs.

Trade between the two countries was down by 2.7 per cent year-on-year, even as China’s overall global trade rose 7.7 per cent. This was driven by an export sector that has continued to show signs of revival, growing 12.7 per cent and marking the second straight month of rising exports.

Among China’s biggest trading partners, trade with the U.S. was up by 7.6 per cent. China’s trade with Southeast Asian countries showed the biggest growth, growing 10.9 per cent.

Border trade up 23 per cent, still minuscule India’s border trade with China, while still at a minuscule $14 million, grew 23.3 per cent last year, local authorities in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) were quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency this week.

Trade has grown more than 50 times since 2006, when the Nathu La pass, between Sikkim and the Shigatse prefecture in Tibet, was reopened. Most of the trade is made up of imports of Indian goods into Tibet, which reached $12 million last year. Authorities said the border market is open for only six months of the year — opening on May 1 and closing on November 30.


Whistle-blower app all the rage in Thai rallies

Published: December 14, 2013

Taking smartphones to a whole new level, protesters in Thailand are using downloaded apps which produce high-pitched, raucous noises that are a staple during rallies in the country.

One such app, called Nok Weed, which emits a shrill whistle — the whistle-blowing campaign — has been downloaded by over 70,000 people to use in demonstrations against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

According to its creator, the app “doesn’t do much and isn’t very useful” but it claimed the top spot on Google Play Store’s trending list last month within days of its November 4 debut. Most of the downloads for the Thai-language app were in Thailand but 1.2 per cent have come from Egypt, another country fraught with political turmoil.

The app’s popularity coincides with the rallies that started six weeks ago, attracting thousands of Bangkok’s smartphone carrying upper- and middle-classes in a country that is one of the world’s biggest users of social media.

Nok Weed’s developer, Narit Nakphong, realised there was an untapped market after demonstrators first took to the streets on October 31.

“I got the idea from seeing protesters blowing whistles. They blew them so much, they got tired. So I created the app,” said Narit, an independent developer who says he’s working on an update to address the main critique from users.

“Most of the criticism is from people saying the volume is too low. I want to make it as loud as possible without breaking the phones’ speakers.”

Protesters say they’re fed up with the Shinawatra family’s dominance over Thai politics. Yingluck is considered a proxy for her billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 army coup after being accused of corruption and using his power to enrich his family.

India’s Energy Security: Role of Offshore Helicopter Operations

By Gp Capt AK Sachdev
Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013 | Date : 13 Dec , 2013

P-8I of Indian Navy

The helicopter is the workhorse for the off-shore oil and gas exploration and production industry. The ever-increasing demand for energy, ever escalating prices of crude oil and the discovered existence of oil and gas in off-shore areas ensure that there is a hectic increase in off-shore oil exploration in recent times. More and more hitherto untouched off-shore areas are being explored and developed through large public and private sector investments. Helicopters form an essential and critical part of off-shore operations as they connect these facilities to the mainland.

The most important off-shore oilfield is at Mumbai High, located in the Arabian Sea around 160 km West off the Mumbai coast…

The World Energy Outlook 2012, published by International Energy Agency at the end of last year, prophesizes that global energy demand is likely to grow by more than a third of its present level by 2035 and that, China, India and the Middle East would account for 60 per cent of that increase. Although known energy reserves are in no danger of immediate exhaustion or extinction, the competition for their use is natural and fierce due to their predictably finite quantum.

A World Energy Assessment Report (UNDP 1999) has defined energy security as, “the continuous availability of energy in varied forms in sufficient quantities at reasonable prices”. The challenge lies not just in the “sufficient quantities” signifying the need for newer and ever more extensive sources of energy to meet growing energy needs, but also to make the energy available at “reasonable prices”. This scenario, wherein many users are contending for limited and indeed depleting energy sources, justifies the nomenclature of energy security.

India accounts for 4.6 per cent of the world’s annual energy consumption and is the world’s fourth largest consumer of primary energy, with only China, USA and Russia consuming more than it. Moreover, in the last five years, India has grown at an average rate of eight per cent and the demand for energy has risen commensurately. Crude oil imports have been gradually rising in India and account for three fourths of the nation’s total requirements now.

Similarly, natural gas imports account for more than a fifth of the nation’s requirements. Even more alarmingly, by the end of the Twelfth Plan (2012-2017), import dependence on crude oil is expected to increase to around 80 per cent and import dependence on natural gas is expected to increase to 35 per cent. High import dependence is analogous to high vulnerability and lowered energy security of the nation. This is so, not just because high import dependence leads to the GDP growth rate becoming dependent on external factors namely oil prices, but also because it holds the potential for increased fiscal deficit and depleting foreign exchange reserves.

Is It Time to Withdraw the Army from Kashmir?

 Vivek Chadha
December 13, 2013
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A study of insurgencies reveals that security forces tend to lose the support of intelligentsia and media, as the movement tends to prolong. It is often a result of either low levels of violence or casualties, beginning of an electoral process and the re-establishment of local administration machinery. More importantly, it is the result of missing the wood for the trees. This is especially true for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

A recent opinion piece by the Editor of a major national daily, argued that it is time for the withdrawal of the army from Kashmir. In his article, he alludes to the army vetoing government proposals on Siachen troops withdrawal and dilution of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). He contends that past conditions represented “a proxy war launched from Pakistan and they have been defeated”. He further adds that if “Hizb or Lashkar thugs again surface some place, you can easily confront them with overwhelming force within minutes.” Finally, in order to illustrate peace on ground, he quotes a figure of 17 security force casualties in 2012.1

The spirit of the article rightly highlights the need to build upon the peace dividend, offered by the relative conditions of peace in the state. The need for bold and imaginative political initiatives, as must always be the case for final settlement of popular discontentment, is also seconded without reservation. However, the reading of the situation and solutions offered indicates a rather simplistic understanding of conditions in India’s neighbourhood and within the state.

The assertion that the army can veto a government proposal on issues like Siachen or AFSPA, is either a case of misunderstanding of constitutional powers and privileges, or an under estimation of parliamentary democracy. The last sixty years have proved on more occasion than one that the armed forces remain firmly under the control of civilian leadership in India. It has also been seen that decision making remains a function of elected representatives, albeit with advice from various state organs. Therefore, while the advice of the army on both issues is in public domain to deduce that this advice functions as a veto, is a gross overestimation of the powers and influence of the men in uniform. The government receives inputs from various sources, as a prelude to decision making. Critical inputs are provided by intelligence agencies, as well as state and central administrative representatives. Army happens to be one amongst these agencies.

Afghanistan after the US drawdown

by Daveed Gartenstein Ross — December 6, 2013
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The Afghanistan war was one of the opening salvos in a struggle that will not end with the war’s official completion.

The coming drawdown in US forces from Afghanistan won’t be the first time the country has faced a significant turning point rooted in a foreign invader’s departure. Afghanistan has known some 2,600 years of foreign invasion: outside conquerors have done a great deal to shape the country’s culture, religion, politics, and geography, and some of Afghanistan’s most critical turning points came as those invaders left the scene.

Afghanistan’s founding as a modern state grew out of the collapse of the conquering Persian Afshar dynasty led by Nadir Shah, following Nadir’s assassination in 1747. After Nadir’s own Qizilbash guards beheaded him, a young Pashtun named Ahmad Khan who worked for Nadir, did what any young man in this position might: he helped himself to all he could purloin from the slain ruler’s treasury. Thereafter Ahmad was chosen by a loya jirga to lead Afghanistan, thereby giving birth to both Afghanistan as we (roughly) know it today and also the Durrani hereditary line that would rule the country for more than two hundred years.

Another turning point came in 1842, as the British military hastily retreated at the end of the first Anglo-Afghan war. Historian and American diplomat Peter Tomsen referred to this flight, occurring in the dead of winter, as “a death march” in The Wars of Afghanistan. As the British fled, their former puppet Shah Shuja turned on his benefactors and began exhorting other Afghans to kill them. Having fooled nobody, Shah Shuja was soon murdered by his erstwhile subjects, while Dost Muhammad—the man whom the British invasion was intended to overthrow—ruled for another twenty years.

Despite the traumatic ending to this war, the British invaded again, in 1878, and then left again, in 1880. Following the second Anglo-Afghan war, an Afghan leader remained whom the British believed would be sufficiently sensitive to British interests, a strongman named Abdur Rahman Khan. Abdur Rahman, who would be the last Afghan ruler to die peacefully while still holding office, focused on centralising Afghanistan. He conquered non-Sunni areas of the country, pacifying the predominantly Shia Hazarajat and the pagan Kafiristan.

A more recent turning point precipitated by an invader’s departure came in 1989, when the Soviet Union withdrew its forces. Conventional wisdom at the time held that the remaining communist government, led by Najibullah, would soon collapse as well. Though his government lasted longer than anticipated, whatever success Najibullah’s regime might have enjoyed was dashed when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991. Afghanistan soon collapsed too, into anarchy and civil war.

China: Rebuilding The Empire


December 11, 2013: The Philippines and Japan announced further military cooperation to deal with growing Chinese claims on offshore areas that have long been considered the property of South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These five nations have formed a loose coalition, along with the United States and Australia, to oppose the Chinese aggression. India, also faced with extensive Chinese land claims, is something of an associated member of this group. The coalition gets stronger every time China makes another aggressive move, as happened on November 23rd, when China claimed control over large areas of international air space via an expanded ADIZ (air defense identification zone). China wants all military and commercial aircraft in these new ADIZs to ask permission from China before entering. Coalition members responded by sending in military aircraft without telling China but warning their commercial aircraft operators to cooperate because it is considered impractical to provide military air cover for all the commercial traffic. China sees this as a victory, despite the obvious coalition intention to continue sending military aircraft through the ADIZ unannounced and despite whatever threats China makes. In response to that China has begun running combat air patrols through the ADIZ and apparently intends to try to intimidate some of the smaller coalition members.

South Korea has been very defiant against China regarding the ADIZs, including declaring its own ADIZ that overlaps the Chinese one. Japan has the most powerful military force, next to China and the U.S., in the region and is taking the lead in opposing China. This bothers China a great deal but plays into Chinese paranoia about foreign enemies plotting to block Chinese attempts to regain what has been lost during the last two centuries of rebellion, civil war, and Western aggression. This plays well inside China, where the communist government uses this empire building and reviving lost Chinese glory to distract people from the corruption and poor governance the Communist Party provided.

The government is trying to reduce the corruption and make the government more effective, but that has been the goal of Chinese leaders for thousands of years and has never been easy to achieve. To thoughtful Chinese their current government is simply another “dynasty” that is pretending it’s something new and different. But it’s the same old bunch of wealthy, corrupt, and inept aristocrats doing whatever it takes to hang onto their wealth and power. Democracy might change that. Chinese have seen democracy work its magic in Taiwan and Singapore. So the old “democracy won’t work for Chinese” attitude is no longer very convincing. The old imperial forms of government are not working in the 21st century and few Chinese are willing to go through another revolution to get a democracy. But there is the memory of what happened to the Russian communist empire in 1989-91. This haunts the communist bureaucrats who run China who, mindful of Chinese history, know that spontaneous mass uprisings are not unknown and can overthrow imperial rule. The people may not want a revolution but the people may, like the communist subjects of Eastern Europe and Russia did starting in 1989, just start saying “enough” and doing the impossible.

China's ADIZ: A Low-Risk Move

Peter Mattis 
Source Link
December 13, 2013 

On November 23, Beijing announced the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) would go into effect, requiring all aircraft transiting the demarcated zone to register their flight plan with the Chinese authorities. The ADIZ overlapped similar Japanese, South Korean, and Taiwanese zones and, according to official statements, rested on an explicit claim of Chinese sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Immediately, official statements and pundits characterized the move as “destabilizing” and “totally unacceptable.” Listening to the hullabaloo around the ADIZ and the risks Beijing supposedly was running, one might be forgiven for thinking that China had seized one of the offshore islands or painted a U.S. aircraft carrier with fire-control radar. From Beijing’s perspective, the ADIZ probably was a low-risk move capable of netting both policy successes and important information about U.S. intentions.

First, the ADIZ declaration is entirely unilateral from start to finish. If Beijing says it exists, then it exists and most commercial airlines will file their flight plans appropriately. Because of the potential risks, no responsible business executive is likely to do otherwise without government strong-arming. China changed the facts on the ground, or rather in the air. Although the ADIZ could lose some its credibility through uneven enforcement; from here on, Beijing can point to this behavior change and use it to support its sovereignty claims in the East China Sea. It already has done so, despite ADIZs having no international legal consequences for determining sovereignty.

Second, diplomacy and passivity will not lead to the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands “returning” to China. Tokyo refuses to acknowledge Beijing’s position that the islands are disputed territory and, therefore, should be up for negotiation, if not outright return. Beijing needs to act on a recurring basis to demonstrate Japan’s position does not accord with the reality of the dispute and that it can operate as though the islands were Chinese territory. If possession is nine-tenths of the law and Beijing’s goal is undisputed sovereignty over these islands, then any action toward this goal short of war will be relatively low risk.

Third, Beijing probably calculated on a rush to return to normality. No one wants to go to war over a set of rocks—a point constantly reiterated. Although Washington condemned the act, the administration joined many other governments in encouraging, at least tacitly, commercial airlines to cooperate with the Chinese authorities. With so many issues on the U.S.-China relations agenda as well as China’s importance as a trading partner to Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, why should Beijing expect the ADIZ to derail ostensibly more material, long-term concerns? After all, Vice President Joe Biden’s visit was intended to cover a wide range of issues—not to hold U.S.-China relations hostage to the ADIZ—because “we have a stake in each other’s success” and cooperation is necessary for U.S. objectives on North Korea, climate change, and trade.

Fourth, the bad feelings that China’s ADIZ engenders belong predominantly to countries that Beijing increasingly suspects of malign intentions, namely Japan and the United States. Since the Japanese government’s purchase of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Chinese official press has repeatedly castigated Tokyo for the revival of militarism and changing the status quoa situation that only has gotten worse since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to office. Chinese assessments have gotten systematically more pessimistic about U.S. intentions and the likelihood that the U.S. rebalancing to Asia is but cover for containment.

Fifth, whatever the result, Beijing would gain valuable information about U.S. policy in Asia and toward China. In her first Asia-related address on November 20, U.S. national-security adviser Susan Rice said the United States seeks “to operationalize a new model of major power relations,” and she is not the first U.S. official to do so from the White House. Contrary to Dr. Rice’s suggestion, Beijing does not mean “managing inevitable competition,” but rather that Washington places the bilateral relationship at the center of its Asia policymaking. The U.S. response to the ADIZ would let China know whether Washington genuinely accepted this “new model” and act as an honest broker or, as Beijing’s propaganda later claimed, would hold China to a double standard and reinforce Japanese aggressiveness.

Related to this final point, Chinese policymakers may have realized that the more pushback, especially from the United States, the more Beijing could celebrate Western hypocrisy for domestic audiences. Washington speaks of uphold the post-WWII order; however, Beijing claims the Cairo Declaration issued in 1943 after a meeting of Winston Churchill, Chiang Kai-shek, and Franklin Roosevelt returned the islands in the East China Sea to Chinese control. U.S. pushback—seemingly in defiance of the previous commitment—would reinforce Chinese paranoia that there is nothing it can do to be accepted as a “responsible stakeholder.”

When reviewed from this perspective, the East China Sea ADIZ does not appear to be a cavalier or high-risk move. Indeed, all signs point toward a deliberate, calculated action. Beijing’s calculation of acceptable risk seems to be increasing as its assessments of U.S. intentions become more pessimistic.

Washington, unfortunately, is feeding darker Chinese predictions by creating false hopes and unmet expectations. The problem with embracing Beijing’s proposed “New Type of Great Power Relations” or “New Model of Major Power Relations” as a rhetorical framework for U.S.-China relations is that Washington is not prepared to accept China’s conditions. With each rhetorical flourish of the concept, U.S. policymakers create unmet expectations that situations like the ADIZ—regardless of how much sense the U.S. response makes in Washington—draw out in stark relief for Beijing. This is the strategic mistrust the White House claims to want to overcome.

China may simply be moving on and leaving its previous hopes for Washington behind. Xi Jinping’s China appears to be less willing to leave regional security to the United States, and, at an October central government conference on diplomacy, Xi stated China needed to consolidate control over its core interests. Although the full import of this change is not yet clear, it does mean that Beijing’s willingness to run foreign-policy risks has less to do with U.S. opprobrium than before.

Peter Mattis is a Fellow in The Jamestown Foundation’s China Program and a PhD student in Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Thailand: Democracy in the Balance

December 13, 2013

Ten days after street protests in Bangkok escalated into violence that killed five people and injured many, Thailand’s democracy hangs in the balance. Facing revived mass demonstrations by ‘yellow-shirt’ opponents in Bangkok following a brief truce, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has responded by dissolving parliament and calling a general election, scheduled for February 2. However, the demagogic protest leader, former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, has called for an unelected People’s Council to take the place of Yingluck’s caretaker government, for Yingluck’s arrest, and for the army to guard public buildings.

In November, demonstrations against Yingluck’s administration escalated as Suthep’s yellow-shirt protesters occupied government ministries. The immediate stimulus was the government’s use of its parliamentary majority to attempt to ram through legislation that would pardon Yingluck’s brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, allowing him to return to Thailand from exile, avoid trial for corruption and abuse of power, and reclaim sequestered assets. Another proposed new law provided for a fully elected Senate. The Constitutional Court rejected the new laws, but the government said it would present them to parliament again early in 2014. The protests then quickly evolved into a concerted effort to unseat the government, which had won the July 2011 elections with 265 seats against the Democrats’ 159.

Since 2001, when his Thai Rak Thai party first swept to power, Thaksin’s populist approach has radically changed Thailand’s politics. The success of ‘Thaksinism’ springs from politically mobilising the poor in Thailand’s disadvantaged but populous northeast and north, to which Thaksin’s governments have brought tangible socioeconomic benefits through poverty-reduction projects, universal healthcare, and a price-support scheme for rice farmers. Many urban working-class people also support Thaksin. From the viewpoint of his opponents, concentrated in Bangkok and central Thailand, Thaksin has corruptly used massive business resources to subvert democracy, intending to establish himself as a dictator. Suthep and others also highlight the government’s major policy shortcomings.

The Horror Should the Japanese atrocities in Nanking be equated with the Nazi Holocaust?

David M. Kennedy
Apr 1 1998,
"Atrocities follow war as the jackal follows a wounded beast,” John W. Dower wrote in his history of the Second World War in the Pacific, War Without Mercy (1986). Bestiality slunk along as the ghoulish companion of all the armies in that war, Allied and Axis alike, notoriously in the Nazi-Soviet war, and most hideously in Hitler's campaign of systematic genocide. The Holocaust has become our era's ghastly icon of humankind's capacity for fiendishness. The memory of it quivers in the world's imagination, chastening the certainties of philosophers, challenging the pieties of churches, shadowing art and literature, chilling the souls of all who contemplate it. More than half a century later, recollections of the Holocaust also dictate the policies of governments and even shape relations among nations. Indeed, contemporary discourse about the Holocaust epitomizes the modern urge to master the politics of atrocities, an enterprise that has come to rival in scope and intensity an older cultural project that sought to fathom and perhaps to quell man's dreadful instinct to play the wolf to man. In our time the effort to control the politics of suffering may even be displacing the effort to understand the psychology of evil.

Iris Chang's subtitle signals her intention to assimilate the war in Asia to the war in Europe, and to claim for the Chinese victims of the Imperial Japanese Army's sadism the same recognition that history affords to victims of the Holocaust. To be sure, the grisly record of what happened in Nanjing following the Japanese conquest of the city in December, 1937, prodigiously confirms Dower's dictum. But whether the events in Nanjing deserve to be compared to the Holocaust is perhaps another matter. Nor is it clear that those events have been so thoroughly forgotten as Chang asserts.

Japan's campaign of aggression against China began with the seizure of Manchuria in 1931. The Manchurian takeover elicited Chinese reprisals against Japanese nationals in Shanghai, including the murder by a mob of a Japanese Buddhist monk, which in turn prompted an armed Japanese intervention in that city. A vicious but localized Sino-Japanese war raged around the Shanghai region through much of 1932. The conflict then settled into a quiescent phase for several years. Japan proceeded to consolidate its hold on Manchuria, while China was distracted by simmering civil war between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao Zedong's Communists. Preoccupied with the Great Depression and the rising menace of Hitler, the Western world bore distant and largely helpless witness to the sputtering crisis in Asia.

Why Is Saudi Arabia Buying 15,000 U.S. Anti-Tank Missiles for a War It Will Never Fight?

BY David Kenner
DECEMBER 12, 2013

BEIRUT — No one is expecting a tank invasion of Saudi Arabia anytime soon, but the kingdom just put in a huge order for U.S.-made anti-tank missiles that has Saudi-watchers scratching their heads and wondering whether the deal is related to Riyadh's support for the Syrian rebels.

The proposed weapons deal, which the Pentagon notified Congress of in early December, would provide Riyadh with more than 15,000 Raytheon anti-tank missiles at a cost of over $1 billion. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Military Balance report, Saudi Arabia's total stockpile this year amounted to slightly more than 4,000 anti-tank missiles. In the past decade, the Pentagon has notified Congress of only one other sale of anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia -- a 2009 deal that shipped roughly 5,000 missiles to the kingdom.

"It's a very large number of missiles, including the most advanced version of the TOWs [tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles]," said Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "The problem is: What's the threat?" 

That's a tough question to answer. A military engagement with Iran, the most immediate potential threat faced by Riyadh, would be largely a naval and air engagement over the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia has fought a series of deadly skirmishes with insurgents in northern Yemen over the years, but those groups have no more than a handful of military vehicles. And Iraq, which posed a real threat during Saddam Hussein's day, is far too consumed by its internal demons and the fallout from the war in Syria to ponder such foreign adventurism.

But one Saudi ally could desperately use anti-tank weapons -- the Syrian rebels. In the past, Riyadh has been happy to oblige: It previously purchased anti-tank weapons from Croatia and funneled them to anti-Assad fighters, and it is now training and arming Syrian rebels in Jordan. Charles Lister, a London-based terrorism and insurgency analyst, said that rebels have also received as many as 100 Chinese HJ-8 anti-tank missiles from across the border with Jordan -- and indeed, many videos show Syrian rebels using this weapon against Bashar al-Assad's tanks.
While most of the rebels' anti-tank weapons were seized from Assad's armories, Lister also believes that several dozen 9M113 Konkurs missiles, an old Soviet weapon, were provided to Islamist rebels in northern Syria this summer. And when these missiles have found their way to the battlefield, they've helped the rebels break through the belts of armor Assad uses to protect strategic areas: "Neutralizing these external defenses has proven key to opening the gates for ground assaults," Lister said. 

** Japan's Morally Troubled Revival

December 12, 2013
By Robert Kaplan

Japanese military power is ascendant. Japan has roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy and, despite being an island nation that emphasizes sea and air power, more tanks than Germany. Japan also boasts niche capacities in special operations forces and diesel-electric submarines and is developing new amphibious capabilities with the help of the U.S. Marines. The Japanese Constitution forbids keeping a military except for self-defense. But that constitution may change. And even if it doesn't, don't believe the language in it, for military planners in Tokyo have been working around such language for decades already.

The ostensible reason for Japan's military revival, aside from North Korea's oft-cited nuclear weapons and missile programs, is China's maritime territorial encroachments -- particularly in the East China Sea where the two dispute the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu in China). Japan has administered these islands since the United States handed them over in 1972, but in recent years China has pressed its claim as the rightful sovereign. In its latest attempt to alter the status quo, Beijing established an air defense identification zone that encompasses the islands and, in principle, would require foreign aircraft flying in this part of Japan's airspace to report to Chinese air traffic control. Japan has already become accustomed to scrambling jets and dispatching ships in response to flurries of Chinese activity in its own expansive monitoring zones; if China enforces its new zone, confrontations and incidents will become more likely. Yet the real dispute between the world's second- and third-largest economies arises from something far more fundamental than the islands: China's rise as a great power and Japan's geographically rooted fears.

China and Japan have a deeply troubled history, from medieval struggles over the Korean Peninsula to Japanese territorial conquest and atrocities committed during World War II. In the post-Cold War environment, China's unleashed potential contrasted sharply with Japan's two decades of paralysis. Today, the totality of Chinese power -- demographic, economic and military -- looms as an existential threat to Japan. But two domestic changes have cleared the way for Tokyo to respond to China more forcefully: the economic slump led to the gradual breakdown of single-party rule, triggering political competition that fostered bolder policy making, and the threefold Tohoku earthquake disaster that shook Japanese society out of neo-feudal stagnation. Whatever Japan's Constitution says, the decades of quasi-pacifism are long gone, and the "active pacifism" proclaimed by the ruling Liberal Democrats amounts to a global declaration of full military normalization.

*** Japan's Morally Troubled Revival

December 12, 2013

By Robert Kaplan

Japanese military power is ascendant. Japan has roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy and, despite being an island nation that emphasizes sea and air power, more tanks than Germany. Japan also boasts niche capacities in special operations forces and diesel-electric submarines and is developing new amphibious capabilities with the help of the U.S. Marines. The Japanese Constitution forbids keeping a military except for self-defense. But that constitution may change. And even if it doesn't, don't believe the language in it, for military planners in Tokyo have been working around such language for decades already.

The ostensible reason for Japan's military revival, aside from North Korea's oft-cited nuclear weapons and missile programs, is China's maritime territorial encroachments -- particularly in the East China Sea where the two dispute the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands (called Diaoyu in China). Japan has administered these islands since the United States handed them over in 1972, but in recent years China has pressed its claim as the rightful sovereign. In its latest attempt to alter the status quo, Beijing established an air defense identification zone that encompasses the islands and, in principle, would require foreign aircraft flying in this part of Japan's airspace to report to Chinese air traffic control. Japan has already become accustomed to scrambling jets and dispatching ships in response to flurries of Chinese activity in its own expansive monitoring zones; if China enforces its new zone, confrontations and incidents will become more likely. Yet the real dispute between the world's second- and third-largest economies arises from something far more fundamental than the islands: China's rise as a great power and Japan's geographically rooted fears.

China and Japan have a deeply troubled history, from medieval struggles over the Korean Peninsula to Japanese territorial conquest and atrocities committed during World War II. In the post-Cold War environment, China's unleashed potential contrasted sharply with Japan's two decades of paralysis. Today, the totality of Chinese power -- demographic, economic and military -- looms as an existential threat to Japan. But two domestic changes have cleared the way for Tokyo to respond to China more forcefully: the economic slump led to the gradual breakdown of single-party rule, triggering political competition that fostered bolder policy making, and the threefold Tohoku earthquake disaster that shook Japanese society out of neo-feudal stagnation. Whatever Japan's Constitution says, the decades of quasi-pacifism are long gone, and the "active pacifism" proclaimed by the ruling Liberal Democrats amounts to a global declaration of full military normalization.

We're Not Sending Poor Countries the Stuff They Want

By Joshua Keating

A highway under construction in the Ivory Coast.

A new working paper by Ben Leo of the Center for Global Development is based on the brilliantly simple premise that if we’re going to be giving money to poor countries, we should spend some time looking at what the people in those countries’ want.
The paper looked what people identified as the most pressing problems facing their countries on public attitude surveys from 42 African and Latin American countries. In the case of Africa, Leo found that the overwhelming priorities as “(1) jobs and income; (2) infrastructure; (3) enabling economic and financial policies; and (4) inequality. Since 2002, these issues have steadily accounted for roughly 70 percent of survey responses.” (Notice that health, education, and political instability are not on that list.)

So is this what U.S. aid to Africa has focused on? Not even close. According to Leo, “percentage of US development commitments aligned with what Africans have cited as the three biggest problems has exceeded 50 percent in only two African countries over the last decade.” Those would be Botswana, where PEPFAR programs addressed AIDS, and Burkina Faso, where a Millennium Challenge Corp. grant focused on infrastructure.

Most countries are more like Kenya, where only 6 percent of the $5 billion in U.S. development commitments over the last decade has gone toward the three problems Kenyans consistently identify as the country’s biggest: unemployment, bad infrastructure, and unfriendly economic conditions.  

What You Need to Know About France's Intervention in the Central African Republic

December 11, 2013
By Richard Downie & Mikenna Maroney

The United Nations Security Council has authorized African Union peacekeepers, bolstered by French troops, to use force to protect civilians and restore order in the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR has been in chaos since a coalition of rebel groups toppled President Francois Bozizé in March. The violence has begun to take on sectarian dimensions, with tit-for-tat killings of Christians and Muslims. As Security Council members cast their votes in New York, news filtered in of an upsurge of fighting in the capital Bangui, between fighters loyal to the former president and those representing Seleka, the rebel movement which ousted him. French paratroopers almost immediately fanned out across the city and begun to restore calm but the operation was too late to save up to 400 people whose bodies were counted by the French embassy in Bangui.

Q1: What led to the current crisis in the Central African Republic?

CAR has suffered chronic instability since gaining independence from France in 1960. Francois Bozizé, the latest in a succession of military rulers, seized power in 2003 but never gained a firm hold on the state, following a well-trodden path of misrule which eventually provoked armed rebellion. His position became increasingly shaky following his declaration of victory in elections in 2011 that were widely seen as illegitimate. A collection of armed groups, mostly from CAR's Muslim minority, formed a movement called Seleka, meaning alliance in the local Sango language. Sweeping south from their base near the border with Chad and Sudan, they grabbed power in the capital, Bangui, in March 2013 after President Bozizé reneged on the terms of an earlier ceasefire. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became interim president but has never been able to control the armed factions who helped install him.

In September Djotodia attempted to distance himself from the abusive Seleka forces by announcing the dissolution of the movement and the integration of rebels into the state security forces. But Seleka fighters have continued to operate unchecked throughout the country, preying on the population and committing horrifying abuses. The violence has intensified in recent months due to the formation of vigilante protection groups called anti-Balaka by CAR's Christian majority to oppose the mainly Muslim-and in many cases, foreign-Seleka forces. This has led to sectarian attacks in which civilians have been targeted by both sides. As a result of the nine months of instability and violence half of the country's 4.6 million people are in need of urgent assistance and more than 400,000 have been displaced. While Bangui has experienced violence, looting and instability, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs have uncovered evidence of mass killings, torture, and forced displacement in rural areas. These accounts are supported by the head of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) who said that only a small fraction of those displaced and in need of assistance can currently be reached.

China’s Air Defense Zone Highlights Need for Contingency Planning in Southeast Asia

By Phuong Nguyen
Dec 12, 2013

Beijing’s recent announcement of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has the region wondering whether similar zones will follow, especially in the highly disputed South China Sea. China’s ambassador to Manila has said that Beijing reserves the right to set up an ADIZ over the South China Sea, a statement that sent chills through the region. But the real question is not whether China will assert more ADIZs in disputed waters, but what its new zone says about Beijing’s evolving strategy in Asia and how the United States and its regional partners should respond to future developments.

Beijing is unlikely to announce an ADIZ in the South China Sea in the immediate future, and its newly announced good neighbor policy offers U.S. policymakers a window to begin thinking about contingency plans for a future, more aggressive Chinese course of action.

Southeast Asian countries are puzzled by the ADIZ and China’s other mixed signals. A little more than a month ago, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang went on a diplomatic blitz to five ASEAN countries. Xi then told a closed-door meeting of high-level party leaders that the country was launching a new policy whose guiding principle would be to treat neighboring countries as friends and partners. The new neighborhood policy calls for the “best use of strategic opportunities” and the “creation of a close network of common interests,” emphasizing above all that national rejuvenation would be the goal of China’s regional diplomacy.

In this context, China has been investing in strategic bilateral ties with select ASEAN members. Trade and infrastructure are expected to be the two main drivers of future China-ASEAN ties. Xi and Li seem to understand the need to soften the hostility and heavy-handedness that characterized Beijing’s regional diplomacy during the latter years of the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao government. That heavy-handedness was exemplified by the pressure China placed on Cambodia to wreck consensus on the South China Sea at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 2011.

China’s relationships with Malaysia and Vietnam, both claimants in the South China Sea, offer a valuable glimpse into its more nuanced engagement with Southeast Asia.

Globalization in a Nutella Jar

December 13, 2013
In the end, the global economy leaves all of us better off.
By Kevin D. Williamson

The story we’re told about the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and the middle class getting squeezed is more complicated than the version you get from the politicians — or from the former economists who practice politics in the pages of the New York Times. But there is income polarization, and wages in the middle are stagnating. If you want to know why, don’t go reading Paul Krugman’s latest column. Read the label on a jar of Nutella.

The OECD Trade Policy Papers series this week published a report with the titillating title “Mapping Global Value Chains,” using Nutella, the delicious hazelnut-and-cocoa spread, as a case study. Like Leonard Read’s famously cosmopolitan No. 2 pencil, Nutella is the product of a vast, global network, a spontaneous order through which international, cross-cultural, and cross-lingual cooperation emerges with no central authority in charge of it. The corporate headquarters of the Ferrero Group, which manufactures Nutella, is in Alba, Italy. The sugar comes from producers in Brazil and from France, which also contribute vanillin to the process. The hazelnuts come from Turkish producers, the cocoa from Nigerians, the palm oil from Malaysians. The factories are in Brantford, Stadtallendorf, Belsk, Vladimir, Lithgow, Poços de Caldas, and Los Cardales. Of course, those are only the producers near the end of the process — before them come the makers of the machinery they use, the producers of the steel used to make that machinery, the roughnecks bringing up oil that will make the diesel that powers the trucks and ships that move those 250,000 tons of Nutella around the world, the bankers who financed these endeavors, etc.

Admirers of the orangutan should note that as of 2014 Nutella will be made exclusively with palm oil that is “100 percent segregated,” whatever that means, and certified as a-okay by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, because of course there is a Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Palm-oil cultivation is hard on orangutans, and it is natural that we should feel some sympathy for them: We have 97 percent of our DNA in common with the gentle, solitary creature.

Germany Faces Tough Choices on Russia

December 12, 2013
By Stephen Szabo

Germany is the most important European player on Russia. Its economic relationship with Russia dwarfs that of the United States as well as that of any other European country. It depends on Russia for over 30 percent of its energy and has the largest Russian immigrant and émigré community in Europe. And over 6,000 German firms currently operate in Russia. Given that Germany is a geo-economic power that is increasingly dependent upon exports and vital natural resources for its prosperity, it has adopted a cautious trading state approach in its dealings with Moscow. But as President Vladimir Putin's government has become increasingly repressive, the debate has accelerated within Germany about the balance between values and interests in its dealings with Russia.

German policy toward Russia - characterized by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle as "change through trade" - has been modeled on its successful Ostpolitik of the 1970s and 1980s. This has meant that German business can continue to make large profits in Russia while human rights and democracy advocates can be told that this is contributing to the gradual democratization of Russia.

But this policy, which has been labeled a "modernization partnership," is now at a crisis point. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government opposed the Bush administration's moves toward NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia at the NATO Bucharest Summit in 2007 and has tried to dilute if not kill U.S. plans to deploy missile defense in Europe. Berlin has also blocked attempts to create a European Union-wide policy toward Russia in the past. In general, it has looked for compromises and ways to soften Western approaches toward Moscow.

All this is now in question. Not only has Vladimir Putin's regime become more corrupt, anti-democratic, and nationalist at home, but it is now pressuring Ukraine into a choice between Russia and the West. Westerwelle joined demonstrators in Kyiv in support of a Ukrainian agreement with the EU, while German President Joachim Gauck has just announced that he will not be attending the Sochi Olympic Games this winter. This follows more than a year of increasingly critical comments by Merkel on the state of affairs in Russia and has led to a deep freeze in her personal relationship with Putin.

Garry Kasparov: How Putin's poker game makes fools of the West

 Garry Kasparov 
14 December 2013

On Syria, as so often, he's running rings round Obama and Cameron

In chess you see everything. Every piece of information you need is available on the board, so what is being tested during a game is your ability to process all that information. In politics things are different: we never have all the information. People often compare politics to chess, but in fact politics is more like a game of cards, poker perhaps, in which winning means relying on guts, instincts and strength.

Which is why, in the terrible international game being played over Syria, Vladimir Putin is currently the master. Although — as I will explain — his winning streak may not last, at least for the time being he has outplayed all his opponents, largely because President Obama and other western leaders have left the game wide open for him. Putin is now so confident that he is busy drawing up plans for a new ‘post-Assad’ Syria. He is sure he can retain his influence, whoever is in charge.

The West’s inadequate and vacillating response to the Syria crisis has made some people draw parallels with Munich in 1938 — and for once the comparison actually rings true. Even while Cameron and Hollande have been desperately trying not to look like Chamberlain and Daladier, they looked exactly like them. Meanwhile President Obama showed he could not keep his own promises. The consequences of his failure to enforce his own ‘red line’ on the use of chemical weapons will come back to haunt him long after this current impasse is over.

Of course, in any international dispute, a dictator always has an upper hand over democrats. That is why Hitler outmanoeuvred Chamberlain. During peacetime, democratic leaders are always underdogs because they have to pay attention to public opinion and parliaments — the House of Commons in the UK, or the Senate in America. Not to mention facing the free press. A dictator, on the other hand — a Hitler, Stalin, Putin or Mao — does not need to care about any of this. They are far more mobile in reacting to situations and crises. They do not care whether they lie and it does not matter if they are caught lying. They can U-turn on policy, and be as inconsistent as they like.

Nature Abhors a Vaccuum Russia’s Return to the Middle East

Policy, Politics & Culture

Michael Weiss

U.S. fatigue and distraction in the Middle East has made ample room for Russia to step in as the new patron, power-broker and custodian of the region. Washington should think twice about welcoming this development.
Published on December 13, 2013
Russia is back. At least that’s what they say—especially the Russians. 2013 marks the year that the Kremlin reasserted its power abroad in ways not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and nowhere has this reassertion been more obvious than in the Middle East. From Syria to Egypt to Iran to Israel, Moscow is now seen to be moving in on America’s turf, usurping the only superpower’s traditional role as safeguard of a region that, whether or not it cares to admit it, has always looked to the United States to solve its problems. But now a new patron has arrived in the neighborhood with the offer of advanced weaponry and a cold disregard for how dictatorial regimes choose to conduct their “internal” affairs. Unlike Washington, this patron has shown a willingness to stand by its friends in extremity and is more than happy to wage diplomatic war with the West if those friends’ survival is ever called into question. Russia’s restoration in the Middle East has been built upon America’s abdication.

Without a doubt, the crowning ceremony was the Kremlin’s deft ownership of international diplomacy on the 18-month crisis in Syria, one that has so far killed more than 120,000 people, including by the repeated use of chemical weapons, and yet has remarkably culminated in the re-legitimization of the person responsible for it, Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian civil war— particularly the White House’s inept and improvisational response to it—has accidentally transformed Putin into a major power-broker for the post-Arab Spring Middle East. (This is no small feat considering that Sunni Muslim antipathy toward Russia is at a record high because of Syria.) It has turned Moscow into the new hub for geopolitical influencing in the region, the world capital where the Egyptian general staff, the Saudi intelligence chief, the Israeli prime minister and even now the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition all feel they must pay call in order to get things done. And while it’s true that Russia hasn’t the GDP, military reach, or reputation to completely hobble U.S. influence in the Middle East, it doesn’t need to do that to pose a threat to U.S. interests. Putin’s objective is to offer himself as a steady alternative to a fickle Obama: a partner in arms deals and Security Council obstruction who won’t run away or downgrade a relationship over such trivia as human rights, mass murder or coups d’état. Putin has apologized for and facilitated the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century under the guise of international law and a respect for state sovereignty. This is an invaluable friend for a dictator to have in his corner.

An old anecdote has it that in the dying days of Communism, a senior Syrian official was found wandering the halls of the Kremlin saying, “We regret the Soviet collapse more than the Russians do.” The Syrian-Russian relationship was always rather complicated, full of mutual suspicion and attempts by Moscow to impose an ideology that Hafez al-Assad didn’t much care for, in exchange for military and intelligence assistance that Syria couldn’t do without. But Damascus isn’t just a resurrected strategic ally following years of desuetude under the Yeltsin government; it is Putin’s last-stand client in the region against what he sees as American hegemony. The Cheka’s old hold on Damascus looms large in Putin’s imagination, as does the precipitous collapse of Moscow Centre’s influence abroad. In interviews, he often recalls how, as a young KGB officer, he was stranded in Dresden when the Wall came down and Germans tried to storm the KGB rezidentura. “Moscow [was] silent” was his ashen-faced pronouncement on that occasion. Putin then famously “joked” upon assuming the presidency in 2000 that the security organs had now seized control of the government. Moscow won’t be silent again. Syria has amplified its voice.