6 February 2014

What's the Point of EU Foreign Policy?

February 5, 2014

What are the fundamentals of EU foreign policy? That seemingly academic question will take center stage later this year when the EU kicks off a strategic review of its role in the world. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy supremo, who steps down this year, will launch a process to allow her successor to present a comprehensive document in 2015 on how the EU should reply to the big strategic challenges of the twenty-first century.

Many observers and think tanks have tried to identify the questions that such a process should answer. Another good starting point for an exercise of this kind is to look at some of the underlying truths of the EU's current strategic situation.

That approach reveals that foreign policy strategizing is about more than the mechanics of defining goals, means, and timeframes. Here are four suggestions for what Europe's policymakers should remember as they chart the course of EU foreign policy over the next eighteen months.

First, Europe continues to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Europeans from all kinds of political backgrounds often forget that, from the beginning, the entire European project could not have happened without a firm American security guarantee to keep it free from existential Cold War threats.

Today, America's extended nuclear deterrent is no longer about protecting Western and Central Europe from Soviet invasion; it is about keeping Europe free from political blackmail. Unlike Russia-reliant Ukraine, the EU benefits from having an ally that subsidizes its political freedom with considerable amounts of U.S. taxpayers' money.

Even under the best of circumstances, greater European contributions to the EU's own security posture could not replace America's role as security guarantor. Similarly, protecting the EU's vital economic and security interests across the globe will remain an American task for the foreseeable future. Anyone strategizing for a more advanced EU foreign policy needs to keep that in mind when drafting new external relations concepts.

The second fundamental is that foreign policy is the new "narrative." The founding narrative of EU integration was about creating the intra-European conditions for peace among nations that had been fighting each other for centuries. In the era of globalization, external peace is an increasingly important part of the EU's raison d'être.

In a globally integrated world, developments in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East directly affect Europe's well-being. Stability in the Korean peninsula is key to international trade flows, the value of the dollar, and the price of oil. Terrorists eager to strike in Europe receive their training and logistical support from hideaways in the Sahel and South Asia.

Keeping the peace abroad is key to keeping the peace at home. It is no longer sufficient for the EU to focus on Franco-German reconciliation. Strategists need to finally debate foreign policy as an existential part of Europe's destiny, not as a side issue.

The third truth is that Europe's Eastern neighborhood is more important than its Southern one. Even though it is unwise to weigh up one region against another, priorities need to be set. In that calculation, East trumps South for a number of reasons. The EU's East is, for the most part, European, while its South is not. The East is not separated from the EU by the Mediterranean Sea.

The East is also home to the EU's only potential strategic adversary of some relevance: Russia. If the EU cannot get the relationship right with Russia and the countries in the former Soviet space, there will be no sustainable peace in Europe. There are no such make-or-break players in the South.

Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Clash Within a Civilization

February 3, 2014

No one has ever been able to travel to the Gulf without discovering just how different the perspectives and values of the West and the Middle East can be. During the last two years, however, these differences have threatened to become a chasm at the strategic level.

Many in the West still see the political upheavals in the region as the prelude to some kind of viable democratic transition. Western commentators focus on Iran largely in terms of its efforts to acquire nuclear forces, and see Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Gulf states as somehow involved in a low-level feud with Iran over status.

The reality in the Gulf is very different. Seen from the perspective of Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states, the upheavals in the Arab world have been the prelude to chaos, instability, and regime change that has produced little more than violence and economic decline. The tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia reflect a broad regional power struggle that focuses on internal security, regional power, and asymmetric threats far more than nuclear forces. It is a competition between Iran and the Arab Gulf states that affects the vital interests and survival of each regime.

This struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia is now made more complex by growing doubts among Saudis and other Arabs about their alliance with the United States and about U.S. policies in the region. At a popular level, these doubts have led to a wide range of Arab conspiracy theories that the United States is preparing to abandon its alliances in the Arab world and turn to Iran. At the level of governments and Ministries of Defense, these doubts take the form of a fear that an "energy independent" and war-weary America is in decline, paralyzed by presidential indecision and budget debates, turning to Asia, and/or unwilling to live up to its commitments in the Gulf and Middle East.

Finally, few in the United States and the West understand the extent to which this is a time when both Iran and Arab regimes face a growing struggle for the future of Islam. This is a struggle between Sunnis and Shi'ites, but also between all of the region's regimes and violent Islamist extremists.

This is a struggle where the data issued by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center and other efforts to track the patterns in terrorism indicate almost all of the attacks and casualties are caused by Muslims attacking Muslims, and much of the violence is caused by Sunnis attacking Sunnis. The West is only on the periphery of this struggle, not its focus. It is a "clash within a civilization," and not a clash between them.

These are Gulf and Arab perspectives that the United States and Europe cannot afford to ignore. They affect divisions and threats that are all too real in a region where some 20% of all world oil exports, and 35% of all oil shipped by sea, move through the Strait of Hormuz, along with substantial amounts of gas. Millions more barrels move through the Red Sea and an increasing flow of oil moves through Turkey, transshipment routes that are also affected by regional instability.

Army's Ingenious Frontier Diplomacy

February 5, 2014

In an extraordinary endeavour and perhaps for the first time, the Indian Army invoked the struggles and ardors of civilians from borderland Ladakh during its annual day celebration this year. Lt. Gen. Sanjeev Chachra, Army Commander of Northern Command paid tribute while awarding three civilians for their exemplary valour that included porters working with the army at Siachan glaciers. The gesture, a marked departure from traditionally awarding only the army personnel, would surely raise the morals of hapless civilians battling two difficult fronts but so far remained hopelessly in the slough of despond.

The awardees included Stanzin Padma, a porter who exhibited exemplary grit by digging out live two army soldiers trapped under snow avalanche last summer. Not just this, on 6 December 2012, Padma saved fellow porter Nima Norboo who had fallen into a 200 feet deep crevasse while operating a trolley for 16 Rajput. In a daunting exercise that lasted for 20 hours, Padma physically extricated Norboo from treacherous crevasse. Nima Norboo himself displayed extraordinary nerve to keep himself alive for over 20 hours in sub-arctic temperatures. But for Padma’s nerve-racking effort, death for Norboo was certain. He has been through traumatic head surgery and suffered amputation of both his legs and left hand due to grade IV frostbite. After months of treatment at 153 army hospital, Norboo was left to his own fate without even an artificial limb. He came from Waris, the last village on border with Pakistan in Turtuk Sector. Norboo now redundant his survival along with two small children seemed improbable. But fate of many despondent porters like Norboo changed after Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, newly joined GOC 14 Corps promptly recognised their sacrifices when this author also brought the case to his attention last summer. Not only the Army gave justice but also conferred him with honour for his exceptional contribution to national security. Another hero included Jigmet Urgain who had to leave army after a mine blast left him completely wounded. He lost his eyesight as well as both hands. However, it didn’t distraught Jigmet from helping his less privileged brethren which earned him bravery award from Army.

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, a sound military geo-strategic thinker and ex-colleague of this author at IDSA knows that big challenges never come easy. In a first, the Army picked another civilian hero Rigzin Tangay from Demchok, a border village over facing a Chinese military post in Eastern Ladakh, for this year’s award. Tangay’s contribution for combating the PLA’s intrusions is known to the nation through media. Yet, except for Army, no civilian authority or political class could even set their eyes on these heroes. They were only busy pushing their own lobbyists and fixers for the Padma awards, the sheen and credibility of these anyway seem fading away. In a unique public discourse on the Depsang incident held in New Delhi last summer, Tangay left India’s elite security community stunned when he said that the next generation will not live along borderland due to government’s apathy. Yet, the Army remains the only hope. This time professionalism of military leadership has been proved. It still remains unvaryingly the country’s most effective institution, far ahead of our usual laggards as political, bureaucracy and the media.

Run up to the Defence Budget 2014-15: Challenges to Modernisation

February 4, 2014

In mid-February, the Finance Minister would present the Interim Budget 2014-15 to the Parliament in which he would seek Vote-On-Account (VOA) to enable the government to meet the essential expenditure till such time that a new government assumes power and present a regular budget. Although the VOA is of short-term relevance, the interim budget would nonetheless contain the estimates of both revenue receipts and expenditure for the full financial year. It is the prerogative of the next government to revise the estimates and present a regular budget as per its priorities it perceives. Defence being a major charge on the Union Budget, it is worthwhile to analyse the likely impact on it by the unfolding scenario. Some of the likely challenges that the defence ministry would likely to face are discussed as under.

The first and foremost challenge that the defence ministry would face is the impending general election and its likely impact on the union budget as a whole, and the defence budget in particular. It is commonly viewed that in an election year, the incumbent government is tempted to present a populist budget. In that scenario, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would have reasons to be unhappy, particularly so when the modernisation requirement of the Indian armed forces has reached a stage which is now contingent upon substantial additional resources to remain on course. Nothing would perhaps describe the grave situation better than the overwhelming share of committed liability (arising out of contracts already singed) in the MoD’s total modernisation budget. By 2013-14, the committed liability has reached 96 per cent (in comparison to 92 per cent in the preceding year), meaning that only four per cent (or Rs 2,956 crore) of MoD’s total capital modernisation budget (of Rs 70,489 crore) is available for signing new contracts. Any further tightening on the modernisation budget in the coming financial year would definitely affect the on-going modernisation process.

Assuming that the government defies the common logic and provides ample resources to the defence ministry, there is still very little one can expect on the modernisation front. Since the number of days before a new government comes into power is limited, the incumbent government would unlikely to take decision on major armament programmes which have reached fairly a high stage of contract negotiation. Rather the responsibility to take decision on major acquisition proposals would be shifted to the new government which would also find it difficult to expedite the process given the various oversight concerns that often surround the defence procurement. Given this scenario, the year 2014-15 may well be a year of inaction, as far as modernisation of the Indian armed forces is concerned. Some of the modernisation programmes which are likely to be subjected to this inaction are: the ultra-light howitzers and javelin programmes of the Indian Army; and the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), heavy lift and attack helicopters, and tanker aircraft of the Indian air force.

The second challenge that the defence establishment would likely to face is related to the growth prospect of the Indian economy. It is noteworthy to mention that the GDP growth for 2013-14 is expected to be around five per cent, which is lower than 6.1-6.7 per cent estimated by the government initially. The economic slowdown, combined with the tight fiscal situation has already led to tightening of the government purse. What is of more relevance is that the growth prospect in the coming years would also remain subdued although some improvement is expected. According to a recent UN report, the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2014, the Indian economy is likely to grow by 5.3 per cent and 5.7 per cent in 2014 and 2015, respectively. This is in stark contrast with the high annual growth rate of 8-9 per cent registered few years ago.

National security: Little talk, no action

Feb 05, 2014

Isn’t it a disgrace that nearly seven decades after Independence, India has to import 70% of all the military hardware it needs? For this both the armed forces and the DRDO are to blame.

Let me start with a candid confession — I am no admirer of Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat’s chief minister.

But that is no reason to deny him credit for being the only participant in the slugfest that goes by the name “2014 election campaign” to have spared a thought for national security, a subject that is of little concern to the political class, barring a few exceptions that can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

At a rally in Mumbai the other day he made three pertinent points on national defence that policy makers and Parliament should have attended to years ago but haven’t. He said that India’s defences must always be strong but aren’t. Secondly, Mr Modi deplored that India was too dependent on imports of weapons and equipment from foreign lands and produced very little itself. His third point may seem relatively trivial but is, in fact, vital. He moaned that ours is the only country in the world that does not have a war museum. He is right on all three counts.

Anyone with an even rudimentary knowledge of matters military is painfully aware of the great and growing gap between China’s military power and ours, and realises how worrisome the situation is. To make matters worse, some of the measures to bridge this gap that the government had announced belatedly are in danger of being impeded for want of funds. A case in point is the Cabinet’s recent sanction for raising a Strike Corps in the Northeast to strengthen our defences against the northern neighbour. But hardly was this welcome decision made when the capital budget of the ministry of defence (MoD) was cut by `7,800 crore and this amount transferred to the ministry’s revenue budget to meet the soaring costs of petroleum, oil and lubricants, aggravated, ironically, by the declining external value of the rupee. The number of the combat squadrons of the Air Force has declined dangerously. Yet the much-hyped project to import 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft from France that was close to being clinched has been put on hold. Those competent to speak on the subject are also complaining that India is not paying adequate attention to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the fastest growing in the world.

Moreover, isn’t it a disgrace that nearly seven decades after Independence, India has to import 70 per cent of all the military hardware it needs? For this both the armed forces and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are to blame. The services prefer foreign weaponry — the possibility of kickbacks may be a spur. For its part the DRDO makes claims that cannot bear too close a scrutiny. At Republic Day parade it was heartening to see Tejas, the indigenous light combat aircraft that has taken three-and-a-half decades to be built and tested. It will soon be fully operational. But the story of the main battle tank is dismal. It was built a very long time ago. But till today the Army is not willing to accept it and prefers to rely on the Russian T-90 tank even though it is of an old vintage.

Indian industrial sector could drive energy demand through 2035

06 February 2014

The global energy consumption is estimated to increase 1.5 percent per year while the global economy doubles in size and the population increases by another 1.7 billion in the period 2012-2035, according to Mr. Christof Ruehl, the chief economist of the BP Group. 

Presenting the ’World Energy Outlook 2035’ at Observer Research Foundation on January 28, 2014, Mr Ruehl said that industrial demand for energy would be the biggest. He noted that the industrial sector was less flexible in India than in China and that this could drive the energy demand. He also indicated that industrialisation in China would continue even if it changes its economy structure. 

Mr. Ruehl said with the energy consumption estimated to increase by 1.5 percent per year, the total increase in energy consumption till 2035 is estimated to be over 41 percent. But this growth is less when compared with the growth of last 20 years which was at the rate of 52 percent, he said. 

He pointed out that the ’energy consumption hump’ which started during 2000 had started decelerating and would last till 2020. The decade between 2002 and 2012 had seen the strongest energy consumption growth on record of around 30%. He pointed out that the hump was extensively driven by China and India. 

Comparing the OECD and Non-OECD economies, Mr. Ruehl said energy consumption growth over the forecast period would be driven by developing countries which would account for 95% of the total growth while in OECD energy demand growth would be small. 

He noted that the EU as a subgroup of OECD countries would be declining in energy consumption through the entire projection period and that it was unlikely that the region would ever come back to the levels of 2006, the year of the highest energy consumption level. He also posed an intriguing question: "Under what circumstances would economic growth be sustained under flat or declining energy consumption growth?" 

Mr. Ruehl highlighted the rather surprising fact that about 43% of primary energy is converted into electricity today and that the largest share of all the primary fuels is actually used for conversion into electricity. 

Cheap labour and competitiveness

February 6, 2014

For years now China has been the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, leveraging its cheap labour and much else to dominate global trade in general and developing country exports in particular. But, of late, talk that China has reached the Lewis turning point, when it runs out of access to a cheap labour reserve at a near constant real wage has gained currency. This, it argued, could undermine its competitiveness in a range of products, making way for new suppliers exploiting the benefit of a cheap labour force.

According to A Deutsche Bank study quoted by the Financial Times: “Since China’s WTO accession in 2001, real wages paid in the manufacturing sector have risen by almost 200% in USD-terms, surpassing Thailand and closing the gap with the Philippines. Strikingly, Chinese wages continued to move ahead in 2009-11, even as regional peers felt the dampening impact of the global recession.”

Is this China story true? And if so would India be among the countries that benefit? International comparisons of unit labour costs are difficult to come by, but some numbers are available from a few sources. This discussion is based on estimates made by the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) of the US government. Despite the difficulty involved in generating comparable numbers the BLS has (till recently) routinely put out figures on unit labour costs in different countries as part of its International Labour Comparison programme. China and India were not part of the regular programme, but the BLS conducted special studies of labour compensation in these countries, being careful to underscore the dangers of comparing data that are different in terms of method, coverage and reliability across countries.

A special BLS study on India found that labour compensation (including pay for time worked, directly-paid benefits (excluding payment in kind), social insurance expenditures, and labour-related taxes) in India’s organised manufacturing sector had risen over the last decade from 0.68 (Rs.29.43) an hour in 1999 to $1.46 (or Rs.66.84) in 2010 (Chart 1). The rise among production workers (as opposed to all employees) has been lower from $0.53 (Rs.22.68) to $0.92 (Rs.41.87) per hour.

However, what matters from the point of view of competitiveness is not just compensation but unit labour costs in a common currency, which depends on compensation, productivity and the exchange rate. During this period, improved access to technology post-liberalisation had resulted in a sharp increase in productivity in many industries, reflected in a rise in value added per worker in the Indian organised manufacturing sector. This was also the time when the rupee was depreciating, excepting for 2007-08 when a capital inflow surge resulted in an appreciation of the currency. So all told India’s competitive position was improving considerably. This comes through in the comparison of average hourly labour compensation costs in India and elsewhere (Chart 2), which shows that India compares favourably with most competing countries excepting the Philippines.

Wahhabism in South Asia

Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh| Date : 05 Feb , 2014

A few decades ago, a few Muslims followed this brand ofIslam in South Asia, but after the advent of al-Qaeda, Wahhabism spread and Militant Islamist groups spread the theology of Wahhabism, which justified severe punishments, such as beheading and stoning to death of people who did not strictly follow the Sharia. The Wahhabis operating in South Asia advocate ban on music, a prominent attribute of the subcontinent’s Sufi Islam. They want all Muslims to observe prayer rituals introduced by them.

Saudi Arabia pumps millions of petrodollars into the madrasas and mosques of the subcontinent to propagate the Wahhabi theology; this helps the Taliban in Afghanistan and the separatist movement of Kashmir financially directly and indirectly. The growing conflict between the Shia and Sunni sects across the world is a direct result of the increasing influence of Wahhabism.1

The JEI, the main Islamic political party in Bangladesh, aims to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic state. It is not only against democracy but also against all modern thought and culture…

The signatures of fundamentalist Islam are clearly visible in many parts of Bangladesh, despite the crackdown on fundamentalist groups by the Awami League government. Violence has been increasing against women and the secular sections of the society in the name of religion. Several bomb attacks have taken many innocent lives, revealing plans to create violence and disorder in the society.

The JEI, the main Islamic political party in Bangladesh, aims to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic state. It is not only against democracy but also against all modern thought and culture, and it advocates violence against those who oppose radical Islamic laws. The JEI operates with the help of a vast network of madrasas in Bangladesh, which provide it recruits from backward and poor segments of the population.

The Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), another major Islamist group that shares the ideology of the JEI, is largely responsible for spreading violence and the fundamentalist ideology in Bangladesh. The JMB is reported to have strong influence amongst the teachers and students of some 25,000 madrasas. The militants and activists from this group, along with the JEI, have been cooperating with al-Qaeda in the past.

Sindh festival

C. Raja Mohan
05 February 2014
The two-week-long Sindh festival, now underway in Pakistan, is significant for multiple reasons. For one, it is about the unfolding leadership transition in the Pakistan People?s Party from Asif Ali Zardari, who led it after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Zardari now appears to be stepping back to let his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, take on a larger role. During his five-year tenure as the president and mentor of the PPP-led government in Islamabad, Zardari consciously sought to promote the unique cultural heritage of Sindh, the stronghold of the PPP. 

Bilawal has now taken it to a higher level by assuming personal leadership in organising a lavish celebration of Sindh’s cultural heritage at the site of Mohenjodaro, one of the most valuable sites of the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. Some experts have warned that these celebrations might damage the ruins. The organisers, however, have contradicted these claims and asserted that they have taken every care to avoid any damage. That a leading political party is celebrating vital civilisational heritage is an important development not just for Pakistan but the entire subcontinent. 

The Sindh festival comes amidst the rise of sectarianism and extremism that have vandalised the subcontinent’s priceless heritage, both pre-Islamic as well as Islamic. The Afghan Taliban, it might be recalled, destroyed the spectacular Buddha statues in Bamiyan. In the last few years, militant groups have attacked many historic Islamic shrines in Pakistan, including the Data Darbar in Lahore. The traditions of Sufi and Barelvi Islam that have had such influence in the subcontinent are under massive assault in Pakistan. If the collective response in Pakistan has been muted so far, Bilawal’s effort could have the potential to change the terms of the discourse. 

Indus Valley 

Leading Islamic countries —Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Indonesia to name a few —are proud of their pre-Islamic roots and have gone to great lengths to preserve and showcase it to their own people and the world. A similar effort in Pakistan is welcome. The PPP is not the only one in Pakistan to have shown interest in pre-Islamic heritage. During the Musharraf years, Islamabad had decided to restore the Katas Raj temples in West Punjab dating back to the Mahabharata era. BJP leader L.K. Advani was shown the sites and briefed of plans by the Musharraf government during his visit to Pakistan in 2005. It is not clear if the import of these fleeting signals from Pakistan is appreciated in Delhi. India needs to think boldly about cooperation with Pakistan in excavating, protecting and promoting the shared cultural heritage of the Indus Valley civilisation. Unlike Pakistan’s national narrative, India’s has always tipped its cap to the Indus Valley Civilisation. But Delhi is yet to invest significant resources in an intensive exploration of the Indus Valley sites and the development of those already known. With the new interest in Sindh on the Indus Valley Civilisation, it is possible to imagine extensive archaeological cooperation between Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the Indus Valley sites are not limited to Sindh, but stretch all the way up the Indus into the Punjab and beyond. In India, these sites range from Gujarat to Haryana and Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh. 

As the World Revolts, The Great Powers Watch

Intensifying internal conflict destabilizes Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, more – and international community balks at intervention

John Lloyd
Reuters, 4 February 2014

Civil wars, those raging and those yet to come, present the largest immediate threat to human societies. Some have similar roots, but there is no overall unifying cause; except, perhaps, a conviction that the conflict is a fight to oblivion. Victory or death.

Syria currently leads in this grisly league. Deaths now total well over 100,000 in the war between the country’s leader, President Bashar al-Assad,and opposition forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported nearly 126,000 dead last month, and said it was probably much higher. More than 2 million Syrians have left their country as refugees, and 4.25 million have fled their homes to other parts of Syria. Last week, a report by three former war crime prosecutors alleged that some 11,000 prisoners had been tortured, many to death, in “industrial scale killing” by the regime of President Assad.

We are watching a relentless horror unfold. The current negotiations between the various factions of the opposition and the Assad government in Montreux may have saved some women and children from the besieged city of Homs, but at the core remains a presently insuperable clash of aims: the regime insists that Assad remain in power, the opposition that he depart immediately. Assad’s forces appear to have the advantage.

Support from Iran and Russia for Assad’s forces is steady and significant. A Reuters reportearlier this month said that aid from Russia was increasing. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA, said in Washington last month that an Assad win might be the best “out of three very very ugly options.”

Another ugly option — according to Hayden the most likely — is continuing conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam factions. It could create a larger civil war, dragging one Muslim country after another into deepening conflict over the two branches’ differing interpretations of the legacy of the Prophet Mohammad. The Shi’ite, the minority in the Muslim world, is the majority in Iraq. There the Sunni minority, which had been the most loyal supporters of the late dictator Saddam Hussein, are attacking Shi’ite centers and provoking counter attacks.

Yet in two other Muslim states, the feud is largely irrelevant. In Afghanistan the Shi’ite are no more than 5 to 10 percent of the population. The growing power of the Taliban — once thought defeated by a NATO intervention a decade ago — now threatens the central government, whose authority and armed forces are proving inadequate to the task of taking over from NATO once its troops withdraw this year. An unannounced civil war is already under way as the prize of state power once more seems achievable.

Secret Taliban Talks May Save Afghanistan

By Noah Feldman - Feb 4, 2014

The Barack Obama administration is shocked -- shocked! -- that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was secretly negotiating with the Taliban. The previously undisclosed negotiations certainly explain what White House adviser John Podesta recently called Karzai’s “erratic” behavior in refusing to negotiate an agreement to keep U.S. forces in the country after 2014.

But what, exactly, is so terrible about Karzai negotiating separately with the same Taliban that the U.S. has repeatedly tried and failed to engage? In fact, although the Taliban are very likely playing the outgoing president, he is exactly the person who should be trying to negotiate an entrance to Afghan politics for the Taliban that would not involve mass killings of people who sided with the U.S. No doubt Karzai is trying to save his own skin. But there is at least a chance he could save the lives of many other Afghans, too.

The place to begin an analysis of Karzai’s efforts is with a clear-eyed account of the U.S. strategic position in Afghanistan relative to the Taliban. North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops have not lost their fight against the group. But neither has NATO won -- and in a war of attrition, which the Afghan conflict has been for 12 1/2 years, this failure to win counts as a species of defeat. The Obama administration has sought to redefine its goals in Afghanistan as fighting al-Qaeda. But this does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of the U.S.'s energy during most of this long war has been spent on the Taliban and their allies.

As the U.S. draws down its troops, whether to 10,000 or to zero, the Taliban will no longer be facing the most technologically advanced army on Earth. They will be facing several hundred thousand newly trained Afghan troops, whose morale is uncertain and whose battle readiness is at best variable. Perhaps the Afghan army can continue an effective counterinsurgency for years, perhaps for months. Much depends on the extent of U.S. support. Either way, the Taliban can wait out the U.S., as they have from the start. Eventually, the Afghan government will either have to reach an accommodation with the Taliban or be defeated by them. The Obama administration acknowledged as much as it unsuccessfully sought to negotiate with the Taliban itself, efforts suspended most recently in June 2013.

Enter Karzai, who has publicly criticized U.S.-Taliban talks and refused to join them. Karzai understands perfectly well that the Afghan alliance with the U.S. is a diminishing asset as it moves closer to withdrawal. Under the Afghan Constitution, he may not serve another term, so if the U.S. remains the power behind the throne, he will have to step down in the spring. That would leave him the choice of remaining in Afghanistan, vulnerable to revenge killing by the Taliban, or going into powerless exile from the country he has led for a decade.

The main thing that Karzai has to offer the Taliban is the chance to take over the government without much of a fight. What he would seek in return is, presumably, that his own life be spared, and perhaps that he be given some degree of respect and importance, maybe even some sort of a formal role in a future Taliban-controlled government. Perhaps Karzai believes he has a chance to become the Taliban's figurehead president. That would help the Taliban solve the problem of international legitimacy. And he has years of experience as a front man for the Americans. The Taliban may see the benefits of participating in the international community, an aspiration they did not seriously entertain when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

A terror group too brutal for al Qaeda?

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
February 5, 2014

Medical personnel look for survivors after a reported airstrike in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday, February 1. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:


A Syrian rebel group has been disowned by al Qaeda
Peter Bergen says al Qaeda's central leadership seems put off by the group's brutality
The split could weaken al Qaeda's grip in Syria, after it made advances there, he says
Bergen: U.S. officials believe more Americans have gone to fight vs. the Syrian regime

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of"Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

(CNN) -- When even al Qaeda publicly rejects you because you are too brutal, it's likely a reasonable indicator that you are.

A long simmering dispute between "al Qaeda Central," headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the most brutal al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, generally known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, surfaced publicly on Monday.

On jihadist websites, al Qaeda's central leadership posted a noticesaying ISIS "is not a branch of the al Qaeda group."

It is the first time in its quarter century history that al Qaeda has officially rejected one of its affiliates.

Why did this happen? ISIS and another al Qaeda affiliate known as the Nusra Front have been fighting each other in Syria for several weeks now.

This open warfare caps a dispute between ISIS and Nusra about who is boss in Syria that has been brewing since ISIS released a statement in April announcing its official merger with Nusra.

A leader of Nusra rejected the merger, and in June, al-Zawahiri annulled the merger. ISIS, in turn, rejected al-Zawahiri's annulment of the merger. (This is a fine example of what Freud usefully termed "the narcissism of minor differences.")

Al-Zawahiri is clearly fed up with ISIS's open rejection of his overall leadership of the al Qaeda network. Moreover, he is likely quite concerned about how ISIS is alienating ordinary Syrians by a brutal campaign that has involved the public beheading of opponents and the imposition of Taliban-style rule on the population, including the banning of smoking, music and unveiled women in public.

Sri Lanka: Anura Kumara takes over JVP at vital time

Paper No. 5643 Dated 05-Feb-2014
Guest column by Kumar David

The JVP has made a good choice in Anura Kumara Dissanayake, not least because he shares with this columnist an excellent set of initials, AKD!

He is known for his meticulous work and preparation on issues he raises in public or parliament, he is young (45) and promises stability for 15 to 20 years, and is said to represent the middle position in the party, (as NM did most of the time), so he will be able to bridge internal debates. By all reports he is prepared to rethink past mistakes and the brief reference he made to the national question in his acceptance speech (“We have failed to reach the Tamil people”) may signal better things to come.

A friend quipped to me that he would make a better Leader of the Opposition than the current one! There was a time when parliament was a forum of great tribunes, NM, Colvin, Pieter and SWRD; when they stood up, the chamber hushed; when they spoke, the nation listened. For decades thereafter it was a fish-market whose cacophony dismayed even schoolchildren. Recently Sumathiran, Anura Kumara and a few others have begun to regain lost ground; in time they too may emerge as worthy tribunes. But I do not know the chap personally – JVP types are reluctant to enter into extended conversations with outsiders – so my impressions are superficial.

It will be better if I use this essay to think aloud about the party and the challenges it faces. To put it straight upfront: The crucial challenge is the interleaved issue of identity and role going into the 21-st Century. The JVP still retains a clear identity (the identities of the LSSP and CP have withered); but should it rigidly hold on to an ideology derived and inherited from the past or are there fundamental issues to rethink (parliamentary democracy, revolution, socialism, globalisation, and 21-Century world order)? As for its role, the JVP has had three distinct personas, ultra-left adventurism up to the early 1970s, Pol-Pottian cannibalism in the late 1980s, and from late-1990 to now, a democratic, left and parliamentary phase. Despite role transitions, the party has sustained a high degree of identity in its own mind and in the minds of the people. It is these two sides (identity and role) that the party will be forced to re-examine during the course of this year.

I will deal with the JVP and national question in depth in a future piece.

The leadership transition comes at a time when the JVP is going through a period of extended quietus and loss of parliamentary support. It has also suffered two heavy splits, one a welcome cleaning of the stables, the other a great pity; mad racist Weerawansa, and Frontline Socialists (Peratugami), respectively. The split with Peratugami is not fundamental and can be overcome IF good sense prevails; I say this with great confidence as I have talked a lot with these excellent young comrades. What do they want? (a) A greater degree of internal democracy and transparency in decision making; (b) a candid review of the mistakes made in the democratic period – was in right to enter Cahndrika’s government, was it right to support General Fonseka, what about the national question, and so on. Unless the new leadership makes a sweep towards internal democracy, and unless it opens up a discussion of the last 15 years (the errors of 1971 and 1989-90 have already been discussed internally) the party will not go forward, Peratugami or no-Peratugami.

Fuel remix

February 6, 2014


New challenges, opportunities are emerging in the global energy landscape.

The recently concluded Petrotech 2014, a biennial international event organised by the Indian hydrocarbon sector under the aegis of the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, brought energy strategists, government leaders, policymakers, entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and professionals from across the world to a common platform to deliberate on the challenges and opportunities in the energy sector.

Among other things, the conference highlighted two significant issues: the necessity of creating a more conducive business environment for India to be an energy destination and the indispensability of greater technological collaboration for ensuring energy efficiency and security.

Technology has enabled the monetisation of categories of hydrocarbons that were so far commercially unviable. 

Despite the financial crisis, the Indian economy has been growing, though at a slower rate than in earlier years. India continues to be one of the faster-growing large economies of the world with increasing energy requirements. Even at India’s current low per capita energy consumption of 700 kwh (the world average is 2,500 kwh and many developed countries’ is as high as 15,000 kwh), the energy deficit has adversely affected it, as seen by the non-utilisation of the installed capacity of 24,147 MW of power generation and about 3.4 million tonnes of fertiliser production. When the global economy regains its balance, the demand for oil, and its price, will increase. Focusing on exploiting our own energy resources as well as securing energy supplies from abroad at reasonable prices are going to be tough challenges.

India will remain an energy-deficit country for many more years. Its energy consumption is growing at the rate of 5 per cent per year and about 40 per cent of its energy requirement is met by oil and natural gas. While the demand for oil and gas is projected to grow, domestic production is likely to remain stagnant at 32 million tonnes, leading to a heavy dependence on imports, huge foreign exchange outgoes and an increasing current account deficit. Though India is currently the world’s seventh-largest energy producer and accounts for about 2.5 per cent of the world’s annual energy production, it is the fourth-largest energy consumer and is projected to become the third-largest by 2020.

There is no way forward but to increase supply three to four times over the next two decades. There is a desperate need to redesign policy and technology initiatives in order to get back to the high growth trajectory envisioned in the 12th five-year plan. Within the energy sector, hydrocarbons need special attention to bridge the ever-increasing gap between demand and domestic supply.

Petrotech 2014 made the government’s stand to encourage both domestic and international companies to explore potentially hydrocarbon-rich areas clear. Partnerships and collaborations between various stakeholders can help improve recovery from mature fields, exploitation of ultra-deep water energy reserves and progress in complex frontier areas through the adoption of international best practices.

Why Isn’t China’s Military More Transparent?

A number of widely different reasons potentially explain why China shrouds its military modernization in secrecy.
February 05, 2014

One of the oft-heard complaints leveled against China’s military modernization is that it lacks transparency. The U.S., in particular, has persistently called for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to embrace greater transparency, in light of various surprises such as the first flight test of the J-20 stealth fighter while U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing, or the more recent hypersonic missile test.

It is indeed worth asking why China isn’t more transparent when it comes to its military. On the surface, there are a number of compelling reasons for the PLA to be less opaque. To begin with, by demonstrating military prowess, China would be better able to deter its adversaries. And deterrence after all is China’s stated rationale for modernizing its military.

Moreover, there are strong domestic motivations for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to showcase its military achievements. Specifically, highlighting military achievements plays well with nationalistic domestic audiences, and helps advance the CCP’s argument that it is rejuvenating the nation. In fact, the CCP does often seek to highlight the PLA’s modernization for this very reason. It would seem that greater transparency would only bolster this effect.

The fact that the PLA is nonetheless rather opaque suggests that there are countervailing forces that outweigh these benefits. It’s impossible to know with any degree of certainty what exactly these are, but there are a number of possibilities.

One such possibility, which seems to be Robert Gates’ favorite, is that the PLA operates with a large degree of autonomy from the CCP leadership. If the PLA does enjoy a high degree of autonomy, it may resist transparency for a number of reasons. First, many foreign analysts maintain that PLA officers are far more hawkish than other leaders in China. In fact, some go so far as to claim that certain factions in the PLA believe the U.S. and China should fight a war. To the extent this is true, the PLA may not be interested in the enhanced deterrence effects that transparency could bring. Moreover, the PLA brass would presumably be far less interested in using its own achievements to bolster the CCP’s nationalist credentials. Finally, opaqueness could be useful to China’s military brass in so far as greater scrutiny could reveal large-scale corruption, particularly among the officer corps.

Another possibility is that China resists transparency because it fears that foreign nations would use this transparency to weaken China’s defenses. After all, giving foreign militaries and intelligence agencies greater access to its military hardware would presumably allow them to devise better ways to defeat it in battle. The same goes for doctrine.

Deterring the Dragon . . . From (Under) the Sea

Published on U.S. Naval Institute (http://www.usni.org)
By Commander Victor L. Vescovo, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired)

If the United States wants to prevent China from flexing its military muscle and disrupting the status quo it should adopt and advance a subsurface strategy.

China and the United States may—or, it is hoped, may not—enter into armed conflict in the future. Given China’s rise in economic and military power, it would actually be historically expected for these two great powers to one day fight one another at least on some level. This dynamic is often referred to as the Thucydides Trap: “When a rapidly rising power rivals an established ruling power, trouble ensues. In 11 of 15 cases in which this has occurred in the past 500 years, the result was war.” 1

The goal of American military strategy should be to maintain the favorable-to-the-United States status quo without resorting to conflict. America should strive to deter military action by potential adversaries since ascendant powers often win these conflicts. 2 The key military question of our time, then, is what U.S. military strategy would deter China from seeking to use military force to change the geopolitical status quo?

The answer to this question should not be based on tactical assessments of current or even projected U.S. forces and doctrine against their Chinese counterparts. This is the arena, however, where most military discussions unfortunately and unproductively seem to occur. Developing an effective national military strategy to deter conflict must begin with an honest and blunt assessment of history as well as one’s own and one’s adversary’s strategic goals, capabilities, and weaknesses—not weapons platforms, tactics, and doctrine.

The number one priority of the Chinese leadership is to ensure domestic political stability and Communist Party supremacy through the population’s gainful employment and rising standards of living. 3 To achieve these goals, Chinese grand strategy aims to project its control eastward into the Western Pacific to protect its heartland from sea-based pressure or even attack and to guarantee the security of raw-material imports and manufactured exports into and out of Chinese ports. The latter ensures the employment and economic well-being of the Chinese people, which in turn provides all-important domestic stability and continued Communist Party rule. Accordingly, China has prioritized building up its armed forces to allow enhanced sea-control and power-projection capability into Taiwan, the Senkakus, Spratleys—and beyond. It is a direct and logical consequence of the long-term Chinese grand strategy.

The key strengths of China are its close proximity to the battlespace, numerous precision-strike-capable air or missile systems, and increasingly numerous amphibious forces. 4 China does, however, have two extraordinarily under-reported weaknesses: very poor antisubmarine and antimine capability, as well as ports and trade routes highly exposed to easy interdiction. These latter points are crucially important to how the United States should deter, or even wage war on China should it ever occur. 5

The limitations of India-Japan partnership

Rajesh Rajagopalan
04 February 2014

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's short visit was high on symbolism but both countries need to carefully assess the utility as well as the limits of their partnership. While trade between the two countries have grown dramatically, the primary driver in the relationship has been strategic necessity, their shared concern about an increasingly strong but aggressive China. 

This short visit was not expected to lead to any dramatic breakthrough and it did not disappoint. There had been some early hopes that the two countries would sign a couple of significant deals, one on nuclear commerce and another on Japan selling India an amphibious reconnaissance aircraft. They would have been important for their political rather than commercial significance. They appear to have been nixed by the bureaucracy on both sides despite the keenness of their political masters. 

Still, there have been a couple of strategically significant agreements, including getting the hyper-cautious A.K. Antony-led MoD to invite Japan to the 'Malabar' naval exercise. This shows how much Indian grand strategy has been left to blow in the wind for the last several years: Japan had participated in earlier exercises but been 'un-invited' because of opposition from China. We are now reduced to counting as progress the undoing of strategic stupidity and returning to the status quo ante. 

For India, developing a strategic relationship with other Asia-Pacific powers such as Japan might appear to be a no-brainer. China's phenomenal growth and power impacts on all its neighbours. While many countries including Japan and India benefited economically from China's rise and hoped that closer economic integration would reduce political conflicts and make China a responsible stake-holder in Asian stability, such hopes have taken a beating over the last few years. 

China has behaved exactly as Realist strategists predicted: as it grew stronger, it has also become much more willing to demonstrate its strength in its relations with others. China's 'peaceful rise' slogan was shown to be what it was: a stratagem that oiled the wheels of its rise rather than a prescription of its behaviour after it had risen. 

But if the strategic imperative for closer cooperation between India and Japan is clear, its utility is less so. For Tokyo and especially for New Delhi, part of the attraction in such a partnership is that it reduces domestic political friction about balancing China because much of that friction is about partnering with Washington to counter China. There is significant domestic support in India for balancing China as long as it is not done with the US - by building up India's indigenous defence capability, for instance, or by building partnerships with countries other than the US. 

The problem is that while these efforts are necessary, these are not either-or propositions: New Delhi needs to do all of it. India should build up its domestic capability and build partnerships with Tokyo and with other Asian countries that feel put upon by China but these are unlikely to be sufficient. 

Neither India nor Japan, even together as strategic partners, is strong enough to manage China. At the diplomatic level, neither pulls the kind of power that can counter Beijing and this is not just because they are not UN Security Council members, unlike China. At the military level, the two countries are too far apart to be meaningful partners in any confrontation between one of them and China. Even if their partnership is limited to strengthening each other, neither have the kind of indigenous defence industry that can support their military forces alone. Though Japan obviously has a very advanced high-technology industrial sector, its military industry is insignificant. The less said about DRDO and the Indian defence industry the better.