12 February 2014

New Dimensions of U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Russia***

FEBRUARY 11, 2014 


The struggle for some of the most strategic territory in the world took an interesting twist this week. Last week we discussed what appeared to be a significant shift in German national strategy in which Berlin seemed to declare a new doctrine of increased assertiveness in the world -- a shift that followed intense German interest in Ukraine. This week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in a now-famous cellphone conversation, declared her strong contempt for the European Union and its weakness and counseled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to proceed quickly and without the Europeans to piece together a specific opposition coalition before the Russians saw what was happening and took action.

This is a new twist not because it makes clear that the United States is not the only country intercepting phone calls, but because it puts U.S. policy in Ukraine in a new light and forces us to reconsider U.S. strategy toward Russia and Germany. Nuland's cellphone conversation is hardly definitive, but it is an additional indicator of American strategic thinking.
Recent U.S. Foreign Policy Shifts

U.S. foreign policy has evolved during the past few years. Previously, the United States was focused heavily on the Islamic world and, more important, tended to regard the use of force as an early option in the execution of U.S. policy rather than as a last resort. This was true not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Africa and elsewhere. The strategy was successful when its goal was to destroy an enemy military force. It proved far more difficult to use in occupying countries and shaping their internal and foreign policies. Military force has intrinsic limits.

The alternative has been a shift to a balance-of-power strategy in which the United States relies on the natural schisms that exist in every region to block the emergence of regional hegemons and contain unrest and groups that could threaten U.S. interests. The best example of the old policy is Libya, where the United States directly intervened with air power and special operations forces on the ground to unseat Moammar Gadhafi. Western efforts to replace him with a regime favorable to the United States and its allies have not succeeded. The new strategy can be seen in Syria, where rather than directly intervening the United States has stood back and allowed the warring factions to expend their energy on each other, preventing either side from diverting resources to activities that might challenge U.S. interests.

Behind this is a schism in U.S. foreign policy that has more to do with motivation than actual action. On one side, there are those who consciously support the Syria model for the United States as not necessarily the best moral option but the only practical option there is. On the other, there are those who argue on behalf of moral interventions, as we saw in Libya, and removing tyrants as an end in itself. Given the outcome in Libya, this faction is on the defensive, as it must explain how an intervention will actually improve the moral situation. Given that this faction also tended to oppose Iraq, it must show how an intervention will not degenerate into Iraqi-type warfare. That is hard to do, so for all the rhetoric, the United States is by default falling into a balance-of-power model.

Chinese takeaway: UPA’s Record

C. Raja Mohan
February 12, 2014 

The UPA government had early success in the form of an agreement in 2005 on the political parameters and guiding principles of a possible settlement.


The Manmohan Singh government sought to build on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s quest to find a political settlement to the boundary dispute with China.

The Manmohan Singh government sought to build on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s quest to find a political settlement to the boundary dispute with China .

UPA’s Record

The boundary talks this week in Delhi between senior Indian and Chinese officials mark an end to the UPA government’s decade-long diplomacy with China. The latest round between the “special representatives” — India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi — is the 17th in a series of negotiations initiated by the NDA government in 2003. The Manmohan Singh government sought to build on Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s quest to find a political settlement to the boundary dispute with China through empowered special representatives. The UPA government had early success in the form of an agreement in 2005 on the political parameters and guiding principles of a possible settlement. Since then, the boundary negotiations have made little progress on completing the second stage of the negotiations — finding a mutually acceptable territorial compromise on the long and contested border.

The UPA government has given up the hope for a breakthrough some time ago. The special representatives have used their recent meetings to manage the recurring crises on the boundary. Their talks have helped devise a range of new mechanisms for promoting peace and tranquillity on the border. These include a working mechanism on border consultation and a border defence cooperation agreement.

India and China: The End of Cold Peace?

Jeff M. Smith 

February 10, 2014

In recent years China’s attempts to alter the status quo in its territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam have seized global headlines. The games of brinksmanship being played by Chinese naval forces in the Western Pacific have put the region on edge, propelling Asia into becoming “the most militarized region in the world.” Yet while the world’s attention has been focused on the maritime arena, it is China’s neighbor to the south, India, that has quietly become the world’s largest importer of arms.

The China-India rivalry has not garnered the same attention as the China-Japan rivalry because their disputed Himalayan border—the longest disputed border in the world—has been virtually free of violence since the first major conflict in their history, the 1962 border war. Compared with the volatile confrontations playing out in the East and South China Seas, the de facto China-India border, the Line of Actual Control (LAC), has been relatively tame. It’s also because since the 1980s, Beijing and Delhi have crafted a durable framework to manage their border dispute and cooperate in areas of mutual interest within the confines of a cold peace.

Today China and India are more politically and economically engaged than at any time in recent history. Bilateral trade expanded sixty-seven-fold from 1998 to 2012, and the Chinese and Indian armies held their first-ever joint military exercise in 2007, followed by two more in 2008 and 2013. They have periodically found common agendas on global issues of mutual interest like world trade talks, climate-change negotiations, the primacy of state sovereignty, and the need to reform global-governance institutions.

Most important, both capitals have shown a commitment to mitigating recurring tensions in the relationship. When crises do arise—as was the case when a Chinese border patrol intruded across the LAC for three weeks in April 2013—they’ve responded with calm and patience to dissolve the crisis diplomatically. At the government-to-government level relations are, in a word, civil.

India’s Rising Regional Military Engagement

By Nitin Gokhale
February 10, 2014 

New Delhi has been strengthening defense ties with countries across the region.

Sometime in the latter half of 2013, the top brass of the Indian military had a short but effective brainstorming session with other stakeholders in the national security architecture. The participants were drawn from the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) which functions directly under National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon, senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Research and Analysis Wing or RAW, India’s external intelligence agency and of course the Ministry of Defence. The main agenda: how to further India’s interests in the immediate and strategic neighborhood through effective use of India’s military.

For the past decade, India has been receiving increasing requests for joint exercises and training slots from what are described as “Friendly Foreign Countries” in the bureaucratic parlance of South Block, the colonial style building that houses both the defense ministry and the external affairs ministry. Considering these requests, a review was called for. At the end of the high-level meeting, a six-point formula for stepping up the nation’s military diplomacy was finalized.

Specifically, the officials decided to: leverage the military element of national power towards the furtherance of the national interest; contribute to the national security environment by developing a shared confidence amongst the armed forces; strengthen defense relations to promote India’s influence in the region; establish a presence commensurate with India’s strategic interests and the comfort level of the host nation; assist friendly foreign countries in developing defense capabilities consistent with India’s security needs; exploit India’s presence in UN Missions to further the national interest.

Many of the elements in the policy are part of India’s ongoing engagement with its friends and neighbors, but the fact that a reiteration was considered necessary signifies renewed interest in making full use of Indian military’s standing across the world.

One of the first decisions flowing out of the new thinking was to post defense attachés in the Central Asian Republics. Accordingly, three new attachés have been placed in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the past three months. These three countries are of particular immediate interest because of their proximity to Afghanistan, currently in the middle of an uncertain transition. By posting defense attachés, India wants to make sure it remains engaged with the military leadership there as it has done for years with Tajikistan, another country that borders Afghanistan. In fact, after initial difficulties, India has helped Tajikistan build an air base at Ayni, besides intermittently basing some of its own Russian-sourced helicopters there. A 60-bed, state-of-the-art hospital built by India is manned by military doctors and paramedics at Ayni, and is seen as a major Indian contribution in Tajikistan. The new Indian defense attachés are expected to offer similar, if smaller projects to the other Central Asian Republics.

On inflation watch

February 10, 2014 

The target itself is a bone of contention.


Why the Urjit Patel report is the way forward for the RBI.

The RBI’s move towards becoming an inflation targeting central bank, evident after the third quarter monetary policy review, is welcome. The policy review indicated the governor’s broad, implicit agreement with the Urjit Patel committee report on the framework of monetary policy. The report specified the nominal anchor of monetary policy — CPI inflation — and the policy instruments to be used over time. It also specified the target rate of inflation and a temporal roadmap for how to hit it.

The target itself is a bone of contention. Most economists agree that a certain amount of inflation is a necessary evil. In this case, however, some are worried that it is too low, that the structural constraints in the economy will not allow the RBI to achieve the target without significant monetary tightening. It has been pointed out that, given the average rate of food inflation over the past eight years (10 per cent), non-food inflation will have to be brought down to 2 per cent in order to achieve CPI inflation of 6 per cent (the report’s proposed target for 2016). But the optimal rate of inflation is an open question and a matter of judgement — there is no “right” answer. For instance, Olivier Blanchard et al (2010) wonder whether the additional flexibility that monetary policy has to deal with shocks at higher rates of inflation may mean a 4 per cent target is preferable to a 2 per cent one for advanced economies. Also, the concern that the non-food inflation required to support the RBI’s target is too “low” points towards the intertwining of monetary and fiscal policy. A monetary policy is only as good as the fiscal policy that supports it. In this instance, it’s up to the government to set the supply problems in agriculture right in order for food inflation to ease up.

Others worry that measurement problems with the CPI mean it should not be the metric of inflation used by the RBI. This, too, is not a principled stand against inflation targeting. The goal of using CPI to measure inflation itself is unexceptionable and brings the RBI in line with international best practice.


February 11, 2014 

Data revisions and state of the economy

India’s growth statistics have been in the news for a variety of reasons. They are also topical. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) released the first growth estimate for 2013-14 on February 7. The economy will grow by 4.9 per cent, a tad higher than what the markets were expecting but below the 5 per cent which the government was hoping at the very minimum.

But much of the action leading to the latest data release occurred a week before.

On January 31, the CSO revised its gross domestic product (GDP) growth estimates for three previous years — 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. The significance of the revisions just a week before the first growth estimate for the current year should not be lost sight of. A revision in any particular year affects the data for the next year. GDP figures, like other important macro-economic numbers, are on a year-on-year basis, that is, the rate of increase or decrease over a comparable period last year.

This, as we shall see below, opens up possibilities for not only analysing the revisions but for cynical exploitation by politicians and policy-makers to suit their own ends.

This is possible because of the base effect. A weak growth such as the 4.5 per cent for last year becomes the base for that year, and, therefore, the figures for the current year get a degree of lift that is entirely statistical in nature.

What are the revisions and their implications?

For 2010-11, the GDP growth, estimated at 9.3 per cent, has been revised downwards to 8.9 per cent. For 2011-12, the change has gone the other way.

From the originally estimated 6.2 per cent, it has been raised to 6.7 per cent. The change is attributed to the fact that the more reliable figures from the Annual Survey of Industries have replaced the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). The IIP has been notoriously inconsistent and volatile and, according to no less than the then Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor, Subbarao, has limited utility in the framing of macro policies, including the monetary policy. But the question is whether such substitutions will always be positive — that is push up the rate and not bring it down?

The pipe dream of peace

February 12, 2014

The new Taliban leader, a wanted criminal named Mullah Fazlullah, seemed to thumb his nose at the state of Pakistan by choosing his team from the politico-religious mainstream. c r sasikumar


In Pakistan, the Taliban is negotiating in bad faith. Its choice of interlocutors for talks and list of demands confirm this.

In Pakistan, the Taliban is negotiating in bad faith. Its choice of interlocutors for talks and list of demands confirm this.

The peace pipe Pakistan wished to smoke with the Taliban was turned into a pipe dream after the banned organisation issued, on February 9, the following “to do” list for Islamabad before it could think of a ceasefire: one, stop drone attacks; two, introduce sharia law in courts; three, introduce Islamic system of education in public and private institutions; four, release Pakistani and foreign Taliban prisoners; five, restore property damaged by drone attacks and pay compensation; six, hand over control of tribal areas to local forces; seven, withdraw the army from tribal areas and close down checkposts; eight, drop all criminal charges against the Taliban; nine, release prisoners from both sides; ten, grant equal rights for all, poor and rich; eleven, offer jobs to the families of drone-attack victims; twelve, end interest-based system; thirteen, end support for the US’s “war on terror”; fourteen, replace democratic system of governance with Islamic system; and fifteen, end all relations with the US.

After deciding to talk peace with the Taliban, Pakistan had nominated a four-member “pro-Taliban” negotiating team. The Taliban responded by naming a five-member, equally “pro-Taliban” team, without consultation with them: Maulana Samiul Haq of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Samiul Haq (JUI-S), Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Kifaetullah of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Maulana Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque of Islamabad and Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). None of them is a member of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is a banned organisation. The new Taliban leader, a wanted criminal named Mullah Fazlullah, seemed to thumb his nose at the state of Pakistan by choosing his team from the politico-religious mainstream.

Seduced by success

Daniel L. Davis
February 10, 2014 


An Afghanistan tour can be tough duty, but it's not the kind of force-on-force combat that keeps upper-echelon leaders sharp, the author argues. (Army photo/Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup)

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. And it’s an unreliable guide to the future.” – Bill Gates, “The Road Ahead

Conventional wisdom holds that the past decade-plus of combat has forged a group of Army leaders as good as any our country has ever produced. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates went further in 2010, calling today’s Army “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.” Can this be true? Or is it hubris?

In fact, the military conditions under which we’ve operated for the past two decades have been historically atypical. They have allowed too many in uniform to believe the hype. What happens when men whose whole professional life has known only success meet real challenges and the threat of defeat?

Most of today’s senior generals – division commanders up to four-stars — got their first taste of battle in 1991’s Desert Storm. Brigade-and-below commanders typically deployed first to Bosnia or fought in Iraq or Afghanistan soon after 9/11. All of these military operations were hailed as unequivocal tactical successes. But all military success is not alike.

The level of difficulty and set of challenges the Army has faced since 1980 isn’t comparable to those faced by uniformed leaders during World War II, Korea, and even the initial stages of Vietnam. Our senior leaders have spent virtually their entire careers in environments where they were able to schedule “war” as if it were a training event. They had the luxury of establishing deployment schedules, often times years in advance. Next-to-deploy units had predictable flight schedules, shipping timetables, and arrived in the combat theater to mature infrastructure. Troops frequently had on-base shopping malls (post exchanges), restaurants, coffee shops, and all-you-can-eat military dining facilities (typically featuring weekly lobster and steak nights).

Throughout Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, leaders at Regional Command and below have been able to conduct tactical engagements throughout their deployment window against Iraqi and Afghan insurgents with unprecedented certainty. Before the first boot hit the ground, leaders often knew exactly when their units would return. American troops were able to conduct tactical missions at a time, place, scope, and speed as they saw fit. If any conditions didn’t favor employment, U.S. leaders could choose to alter the fight timelines or cancel the mission altogether. The only time the enemy took the tactical initiative it was at something like platoon-level or below, and action of that nature was rare. Since the Vietnam War, no American combat leader above the position of company commander has faced a situation where his unit was at risk of defeat by an unexpected enemy attack.

Gates: What He Really Thought About the Afghan War

FEBRUARY 6, 2014 

Robert M. Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). 

In Duty, recently retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives readers an inside look at some of the most interesting national security challenges of the past eight years. However, the book's generally cogent analysis of events diminishes when he turns to the challenge that occupies the second half of the book-Afghanistan. When all his doubts and concerns scattered throughout the book are assembled, they present a powerful condemnation of the Afghan strategy that Gates championed, one that expended not only considerable blood and treasure (as if these weren't enough), but also inherently limited White House focus, on the strategic backwater of Afghanistan. 

Despite the focus of many reviewers on some choice words about President Obama and his closest White House staffers, Gates' book almost literally covers the world. Through the eyes of a long-time intelligence and defense professional (CIA analyst, NSC director, CIA Deputy Director, Deputy National Security Advisor, and CIA Director, prior to his latest appointment), Gates provides a candid yet generally charitable look into the two presidential administrations, George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's, that he served as Secretary of Defense. His insights into the characters of the principals he interacted with, the various crises he helped manage, and the day-to-day challenges of helming a Pentagon at war are more than worth the book's cover price. For all the prioritization of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure, Gates also had to help deal with crises in and around Iran, Georgia, Haiti, Russia, Egypt, Libya, and Turkey, among others. He attended talks in the Middle and Far East. And he dealt with budget and personnel battles in his own building. It was a busy time. 

Parsing Steve Walt's 'Top 10 Mistakes' About Afghanistan

FEBRUARY 5, 2014 

Steve Walt will get no argument from me when he lists President Obama's withdraw deadline as one of the top 10 biggest mistakes in the war in Afghanistan. He also lists, rightly, losing public support, failure to exploit early gains at Tora Bora, and a few other items that are mostly on-target. In his recent essay, Walt correctly points out that U.S. Policy had its flaws, but I take issue with four of his 10 points. 

1. The United States didn't go it alone. Walt repeats an old saw that the United States wanted to wage a unilateral war in Afghanistan. In March 2002-just six months after 9/11-there were 17 nations contributing forces to Operation Enduring Freedom. The coalition has continued to grow. In 2005 30 countries were contributing to International Security Assistance Force. Today there are more than 40. 

The coalition was smaller at the beginning because few countries have the logistical capabilities to muster and deploy an expeditionary force halfway across the world on short notice. The United States was relatively on its own in the beginning because few others had the capability to contribute. What they could contribute-including Special Forces and counterterrorism units-was small but effective. 

2. The Afghan constitution. There is a myth, universally believed, that U.S. diplomats personally drafted the 2004 Afghan constitution and are directly responsible for the historically novel and unprecedentedly centralized form of government that resulted. This has no basis in fact. Walt and many others are apparently unaware that the 2004 constitution is largely a copy-and-paste job from the Afghans' own 1964 constitution. "We" didn't write it, the Afghans did-40 years ago. And the highly centralized system of governance captured in both constitutions is nothing new to Afghanistan: Afghan kings have been claiming the same set of highly centralized powers for 130 years. The catch is that some kings have been smarter than others and simply opted not to exercise all the powers that ostensibly belonged to them. Either way, the claim that the United States created a novel, centralized system of government in Afghanistan is a fantasy. 

Broken from the start

February 12, 2014 

The euphoria of victory faded somewhat on Tuesday, as the CPN-UML boycotted the swearing-in ceremony, accusing Koirala of not honouring the power-sharing agreement. AP


It is already evident that Sushil Koirala’s days as prime minister will not be easy

Already evident that Sushil Koirala’s days as prime minister will not be easy.

A constitution within a year, a clean and efficient government. These were the oft repeated slogans of the last five years that leader and after leader promised, but failed to deliver on. They hardly enjoy public trust for the simple reason that each of the four elected prime ministers, in as many years, failed. Sushil Koirala repeated the same pledge when he was elected PM by the parliament on Monday, securing more than a two third majority in the House. An agreement on power-sharing between Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) puts him in a comfortable position, but a cautious “wait and watch” approach rather than unrealistic hopes would be the way to judge the new PM. 

Meanwhile, the euphoria of victory faded somewhat on Tuesday, as the UML boycotted the swearing-in ceremony, accusing Koirala of not honouring the power-sharing agreement, which means not allocating plum portfolios. UML vice chairman Bamdev Gautam, who was hoping to be appointed deputy PM with the home portfolio along with the PM, announced from a different platform, “We will not let them (government) in peace.”

Factional feuds within the NC and UML and the refusal of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) to join the government are early indications that Koirala’s days in office will not be easy. But no one thought trouble would come so soon, and so openly. The fact that Koirala has not allocated the home portfolio yet means he may still hand it to the UML, if it becomes a question of his government’s survival. But for the public, relations between the partners are already strained.

Bangladesh at a Crossroads

By Charles Tannock
February 09, 2014

Newly reelected, it is time for the Awami League to build bridges.

BRUSSELS – In the course of just a few weeks, Bangladesh’s fragile democracy – which had made substantial social and economic progress in recent years – has deteriorated dramatically. The general election on January 5, which Bangladesh’s Western partners had hoped would consolidate its democratic credentials, was marred by violent protest and the refusal by the European Union and the United States to send observers, following the decision by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the country’s main opposition party, not to participate.

Unrest in South Asia’s dynastic democracies is nothing new. But the international community thought that Bangladesh – though still desperately poor, prone to frequent flooding, and having experienced a recent series of tragedies, including fires and a major building collapse in its garments factory – had matured sufficiently for a peaceful transition of power. Under the Awami League government, which was peacefully elected with a huge majority in December 2008, and whose secular/socialist traditions are rooted in the Bengali national movement (which led to independence from Pakistan in 1971), Bangladesh had enjoyed a period of relative stability and rapid economic growth.

But painful divisions persisted beneath the surface. In particular, the split between democratic secularism and sharia-based Islamist governance has defined Bangladesh’s identity since independence, when the rift between competing political models took its most extreme form in horrendous massacres of Bengali nationalists. That legacy remains a flashpoint for violence today.

One controversial issue stoking tensions has been the workings of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) established by the current government after receiving a clear mandate to try those accused of mass killings and other atrocities 43 years ago. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defended the decision by insisting that there can be no impunity for war crimes on the scale perpetrated in 1971, when an estimated two million people died, with many civilians executed in cold blood.

This quest for justice is no different from efforts to hold war criminals accountable elsewhere, such as in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. There is clearly a need for emotional closure to allow the country to move on from its bloody birth. But Hasina’s opponents rejected the ICT as a political act aimed at silencing another opposition party, Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s most prominent Islamist organization, whose leaders sided with Pakistani forces during the civil war.

But Hasina’s desire for justice and closure is understandable, given that her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (the country’s founding father), and most of her family were brutally murdered in 1975. There were also sound political motivations for establishing the court: a portion of the Awami League’s support comes from the Bengali intelligentsia, in particular the Hindu minority, which suffered terribly in the 1971 war.

Jamaat-e-Islami and its ally, the BNP, responded to the war-crimes trials with violent disruption and obstruction aimed at paralyzing the economy. Roughly 300 people – many of them members of religious minorities, who are often scapegoated for supporting the Awami League and the ICT – died last year as a result of the protests. Hindus comprised most of the prosecution’s witnesses for the ICT.

Jamaat-e-Islami and its even more radical ally, Hefazat-e-Islam, a fundamentalist madrasa-based group that has campaigned to ban women’s right to work, attempted to block the ICT’s work physically – and even to destroy its international credibility on the grounds that the court reserved the right to impose the death penalty. Hefazat-e-Islam, which supports execution for so-called “atheist bloggers,” apparently thinks that blogging causes greater harm than mass murder.

Hasina’s government rightly pointed out that all criminal courts in Bangladesh can impose the death penalty, so it would be odd that a murderer could be executed but a mass murderer could not. On December 12, Abdul Quader Molla, a prominent member of Jamaat-e-Islam, was the first to be hanged for war crimes, with six more sentenced to death.

In fairness, international jurists have criticized the ICT on procedural grounds, while the EU opposes capital punishment in all circumstances. But no one outside the country contests the legitimacy of the ICT per se.

In fact, the war-crimes trials were only one of several irritants to the opposition, which was also determined to reinstate the model of a technocratic civil-service-led caretaker government in the run-up to the election. This model, unique to Bangladesh and Pakistan in South Asia, was introduced to eliminate abuse of administrative resources by the incumbent government during election campaigns but was abolished by a constitutional change that the Supreme Court upheld in 2011. Indeed, the Awami League rightly pointed out that the caretaker government that took power in 2006, backed by the military, clung to power for two years, instead of the constitutionally mandated maximum of 90 days, and even tried to prevent Hasina from returning to the country from abroad.

The BNP claimed that there could be no fair elections without a caretaker government, even though they had recently won local municipal elections. This stance led to a boycott, despite Hasina’s offer to create an all-party government with three cabinet portfolios for the BNP, including the interior ministry, which has substantial oversight over both the police and the conduct of elections. The government had no choice but to hold the election, as mandated by the constitution.

So, what can be done now that the election is over and a new Awami League government has been sworn in?

Above all, the Awami League must make a greater effort to build bridges – for example, by either charging BNP leaders accused of committing crimes, or releasing them from prison. It must also deliver on its promise to hold a fresh election, provided the BNP ceases its deliberate use of violence, and it should seek an agreement with the EU to send a strong election-observer mission.

The BNP should also distance itself from Jamaat-e-Islami and other Islamist fundamentalists, and commit itself to secular governance. Indeed, the BNP has not always been close to those who want a sharia-based state. On the contrary, the BNP has traditionally been pro-business, and Bangladesh badly needs foreign direct investment, which has dried up with the unrest. The BNP also needs to make peace with India, the regional economic giant.

Bangladesh is at a crossroads. Neither the West, nor South Asia, can afford to see the country take a wrong turn.

Charles Tannock is Foreign Affairs Coordinator for the European Conservatives and Reformists in the European Parliament.

Vietnam and China: A Dangerous Incident

By Scott Bentley
February 12, 2014

Vietnam and China: A Dangerous IncidentA new Chinese documentary offers startling revelations from a 2007 confrontation in the South China Sea.

In early January 2014, video of a recent CCTV4 documentary “Blue Frontiers Guard” appeared online, providing a detailed history of the China Marine Surveillance (CMS) spanning from roughly 2007 up until the present. The documentary, in Chinese with English subtitles, begins with footage of an incident that occurred on June 30, 2007 between various government vessels from Vietnam and China in the disputed waters off the Paracel islands in the South China Sea. The incident, having previously gone largely unreported, is covered in tremendous detail, providing a new frame of reference for analyzing wider debates over Chinese assertiveness and the U.S. “rebalance” to the region. In addition, the video also provides a number of new insights into organizations such as CMS and its parent organization, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), including the tactics and command and control arrangements of their vessels when out at sea.

The 2007 incident apparently resulted from an attempt by a China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) survey vessel to conduct what the documentary termed “normal operations” in the waters off the Western Paracel islands beginning on June 26 of that year. Such operations are seen as anything but normal by the Vietnamese, who continue to claim the islands despite China having forcefully occupied them since 1974. Hanoi dispatched a fleet consisting largely of naval auxiliary vessels to prevent the Chinese from surveying the waters. A tense standoff ensued, culminating in reckless maneuvers by Chinese CMS vessels that led to a number of serious collisions, threatening the safety of all crews.

The Vietnamese vessels initially expelled the CNPC survey vessel from the area, and the China State Oceanic Administration (SOA) responded by promptly organizing a “rights safeguarding and law enforcement” campaign, dubbed Enforcement Action Code 626. According to the documentary, such operations exist outside the scope of regular enforcement patrols, and in addition to CMS ships already in the vicinity, SOA dispatched CMS vessels numbered 83 and 51 to the area as part of the campaign. They arrived on June 29 and formed up in “alert order,” with two ships both fore and aft on either side of the CNPC vessel, attempting to escort it back into the area for the second time.

What Would Chinese Hegemony Look Like?

By Robert E. Kelly
February 10, 2014

It is certainly not inevitable, but what form would a Sinic Monroe Doctrine take?

East Asia is becoming, in the language of international relations theory, “bipolar.” That metaphor, from magnetism, suggests two large states with overlapping spheres of influence competing for regional leadership. The Cold War was a famous global example of bipolarity. Most states in the world tilted toward the United States or the Soviet Union in a worldwide, zero-sum competition. Although analysts have hesitated for many years in applying such strong language to East Asia, this is now increasingly accepted. A lengthy twilight struggle between China and Japan, with U.S. backing, seems in the offing.

Until recently, Asia was arguably “multipolar”—there was no one state large enough to dominate and many roughly equal states competed for influence. China’s dramatic rise has unbalanced that rough equity. China is now the world’s second largest GDP. Although its growth is slowing, it is still expanding at triple the rate of the U.S. economy and six times the rate of Japan’s. By 2020 China is predicted to be the world’s largest economy. Its population, 1.35 billion, is enormous. One in seven persons on the planet is Chinese. Were China’s GDP per capita to ever reach Japanese or American levels, its total GDP would match that of entire planet today. These heady numbers almost certainly inspire images of national glory or a return to the “middle kingdom,” in Beijing. They help account for China’s increasingly tough claims in the East and South China Seas.

Until recently, China pursued a “peaceful rise” strategy, one of accommodation and mutual adjustment. This approach sought to forestall an anti-Chinese encircling coalition. China’s rapid growth unnerves many states on its perimeter, from India, east to Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, north to Taiwan, Japan, and Russia. Were these states to align, they might contain China in the same way the Japan, China, and NATO all worked to contain the U.S.SR. The peaceful rise seemed to work, especially in southeast Asia, where Chinese generosity has successfully blocked a united ASEAN position on South China Sea issues.

Since 2009 however, China has increasingly resorted to bullying and threats. The 2008 Olympics appears to have been read in Beijing as a sign of China’s newfound might and sway. In the South China Sea it has pushed a very expansive definition of its maritime zone of control, and it recently faced down the Philippines in a dispute over the Scarborough Shoal in that sea. Indeed, one possible explanation for China’s expansion of its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea is that a hard line seems to be working in the South China Sea. But China’s northeast Asian neighbors are far stronger and more capable than its southeast Asian ones. Most observers expect Japan, South Korea and the U.S. to push back, as indeed they have. The U.S. flew bombers through the new ADIZ without warning, and both Japanese and South Korean civilian airlines have been instructed by their respective governments not to comply.

The Asia Pivot: Old Policy, New Name

Arthur Moore 
Feb 09, 14

Washington’s re-engagement with the Asia Pacific, or “Asia pivot,” is not as new as the US media and some political commentators have made it out to be. It has long been US policy to prevent the emergence of a single power dominating the Asia Pacific region, and US planners have carefully maintained a regional balance of power since the days of the Cold War. The result is a longstanding US military, diplomatic, and economic presence throughout the region, much of which predates any mention of a “pivot.” The Arab Spring and its aftermath have not distracted Washington from the importance of playing a leading role in the Asia-Pacific region. The belief that US military engagement in Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq involved a substantive shift away from Asia is simply erroneous.

An Enduring US Footprint in the Asia Pacific


Promoting economic cooperation and global trade has been a consistent theme of US foreign policy. Thus, the Trans-Pacific Partnership does not represent a break with the past, but rather the continuation of a multi-decade push by the United States and its allies to open up regional markets. Washington has also cast a wide net with various nuclear deals, most notably with India in May 2006 to support the South Asian state’s civilian nuclear program, which helped consolidate US influence relative to other Asian powers, namely Russia and China. Other economic deals have been negotiated with regional players, notably Tokyo and Seoul, as Washington pursues its national interest to deepen trade links in the region.


While Washington was fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, various Asia-Pacific allies such as Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were seeking to increase military cooperation and interoperability with US forces. Some agreements reached over this period include boosting military exchanges with Japan and approving new military sales to Taiwan. The decision by the Obama administration in late 2011 to station troops in Australia on a rotation basis does not represent a break with the past because it is consistent with US forward-deployment strategy in the Asia Pacific, which will be touched on shortly.

Syria: The Wages of Inaction

February 11, 2014

The unrest in Syria has quickly spiraled beyond a sectarian civil war and into a regional crisis. [4]Two million [4] refugees have poured into Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey at a rate surpassing several thousand a day, with more than 6.5 million displaced overall. Iran and Saudi Arabia are doing battle through proxy forces. Iraq is experiencing the worst eruption of violence in recent years with the resurrection of Al Qaeda. [5]According to the United Nations [5], 84 percent of the 733 people killed in January were civilians. Hezbollah’s support for the Assad regime has led to a series of deadly suicide bombings in Lebanon by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades in an attempt to draw the country deeper into Syria’s bloody war. An Al Qaeda surge is viewed with great concern in Israel, and while the country has always been an integral part of the terrorists’ narrative, this escalating regional crisis puts Israel in the firing line.

Three years ago, President Obama and his foreign-policy team were right to be [6]skeptical about forceful intervention [6] and how that might compound an internal problem in lieu of any comprehensive international solution. The realist lens suggests underlying problems in Syria had little to do with the vital interests of the United States, and could only be solved by Syrians themselves. Limited engagement can also limit immediate security concerns for the United States and even work to an [7]advantage [7]. Equally, one could argue that intervention should have taken place long ago and that the West’s apathy has encouraged adversaries to push their agenda harder on all fronts. Continued inaction will result in long-term negative consequences that will compound US national-security challenges in the future. Escalating regional conflict composed of transnational actors is decidedly more dangerous to American interests than an internal civil war.

Whose Garbage Is This Anyway?

FEB. 8, 2014 

HEBRON, West Bank — It was not your usual Holy Land tour, but surely one of the most revealing I’ve ever had. A team from Friends of the Earth Middle East took me around to see how waste, sewage and untreated water flow, or don’t, between Israel and the West Bank. I never realized how political garbage and dirty water could be, or how tracking it could reveal just why making peace here is so urgent.

For starters, who knew that when you flush the toilet in your hotel in the eastern half of Jerusalem the wastewater likely ends up in the Dead Sea — untreated? It flows from Jerusalem’s sewers into the Kidron Stream. If you can stand the stench, you can watch it all rush by about a mile east and downhill from Jerusalem. Germany offered to pay for a treatment plant, but for the past 20 years Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not been able to agree on how to split the treated water — which originates in both Jewish and Arab drains, so nothing has happened. As a result, Mother Nature alone does her best to filter it as it flows down to the Jordan Valley, where Jewish settlers use some of this poorly treated water to irrigate their date palms. The rest ends up in the Dead Sea. Good thing it’s already dead.

We’ve learned in the last few years that the colonial boundaries of the Middle East do not correspond to the ethnic, sectarian and tribal boundaries — and it is one reason that some Arab states are breaking up. But neither do the ecosystem boundaries correspond with any borders or walls. And the fact that Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to reach a power-sharing agreement that would enable them to treat the entire ecosystem here as a system is catching up with them. 

When the region got hit in January 2013 with snow and rain from a freak and massive storm, the runoff was so powerful down the Alexander Stream, which flows from the Shomron Mountains near the West Bank town of Nablus into Israel, that it overflowed. So instead of going under the thick cement wall Israel has erected around the West Bank to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, the flood blew away a whole chunk of that wall. Mother Nature laughs at our “green lines.”

Now consider what is going on in the Hebron Industrial Zone, home to 13 tanning factories, including the Al-Walied for Leather and Tanning Company, where hides are hanging everywhere from the ceiling and a single worker is putting them through a machine that squeezes out the moisture from the softening process. 

The problem, explained Malek Abu al-Failat, from the Bethlehem office of Friends of the Earth Middle East, which brings Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians together on one team, is that the tanneries use chromium 3 to soften the hides and then let the effluence flow into the drains and down the Hebron Stream. That effluence exceeds 5,000 milligrams of chromium 3 per liter. The global safety standard is 5 milligrams! When the chromium 3 hits the water and oxygen, it becomes chromium 6, a known carcinogen. So, in 1998, the U.S. Agency for International Development built a treatment plant here that effectively extracts all the chromium 3 and recycles it. But, in 2005, Israel identified the sulfuric acid used in the recycling as a dual-use chemical that Palestinians could employ to make a bomb and banned its use by tanners. So the chromium 6 is now back in the water, which flows from Hebron to Beersheba, one of Israel’s largest cities, and then on to Gaza and out to sea, into waters used by Israel’s desalination plants.

We visited the Al-Minya Sanitary Landfill that was built with grants from the World Bank, European Union and USAID so Palestinians could close down 19 unauthorized and unsanitary dump sites around Bethlehem and Hebron. It was supposed to open in September, but, as I saw, its 65 acres were still pristine because the Israeli military told the Palestinian Authority that if the site didn’t also accept garbage from the Gush Etzion Jewish settlements it could not open, said Failat. Palestinians say it’s unfair that they lose their land to settlements and then have to accept their garbage.

Meanwhile, Gaza, which has been woefully mismanaged by Hamas, is pumping all its drinking water from its coastal aquifer at triple its renewable rate of recharge. As a result, saltwater is seeping in. Last year, the U.N. said that by 2016 there will be no potable water left in Gaza’s main aquifer. Gaza has no big desalination plant and would not have the electricity to run it anyway. I don’t want to be here when 1.5 million Gazans really get thirsty.

Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians actually have all the resources needed to take care of everyone, but only if they collaborate, explained Gidon Bromberg, co-founder of Friends of the Earth Middle East. Israel, which is the world leader in desalination and wastewater recycling, could use its own cheap natural gas and solar power generated in Jordan — where there is lots of sunny desert — “to provide desalinated and recycled water for itself, Gaza, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.”

Everyone would win, which is why Bromberg suggests that Secretary of State John Kerry take Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on an eco-tour to see “the seeping time bomb that’s ticking underneath both of them.” It, too, will explode if they don’t forge a deal that enables them to live apart, but in a framework that also enables them to work together to protect the water, soil and air that they will always have in common and can only be preserved by acting in common. 


The Price of Pulling Back From the World

FEB. 9, 2014 

WASHINGTON — IT is easy to forget that when Barack Obama ran for re-election in 2012, his foreign policy was a huge asset. The United States was out of Iraq and doing O.K. in Afghanistan, and had killed Osama bin Laden. Mitt Romney had nothing to shoot at. 

Today the president finds it harder to explain his global strategy. His emphasis on “nation-building” at home seems to point in one direction, Secretary of State John Kerry’s activist diplomacy in another. Uneasy allies worry that Washington has lost interest in them. Congress is challenging the president on issues from trade to Iran. Critics say American leadership is in decline. 

The best way to understand Mr. Obama’s predicament is to compare it with that of previous presidents who wound down major wars. He’s not the first to promise a less expensive, more sustainable foreign policy at a time when the country feels overextended. Dwight D. Eisenhower after Korea, Richard M. Nixon after Vietnam, and the first George Bush, after the Cold War, said much the same thing. Their less-is-more record contains good news for Mr. Obama, and clear warnings. 

The public has always supported presidents who get America out of stalemated wars. In their first terms, Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Obama reassembled a foreign-policy consensus and were decisively re-elected. Mr. Obama has not lost the argument that America needs relief from global burdens. Polls show the public has no more enthusiasm for the Afghanistan war than he does. 

National decisions to retrench, moreover, are not quickly reversed. The military build-downs of the 1950s, ’70s and ’90s lasted longer than the buildups before them. The huge post-9/11 surge in Pentagon spending may take a decade to roll back. So, if the president wants a breather to focus resources on domestic needs, he is likely to get it.

Past retrenchments bring good news for Mr. Kerry, too. Military downsizing has never ruled out diplomatic activism. The two go hand in hand. To reduce East-West tensions, Eisenhower proposed Atoms for Peace, Open Skies, a nuclear test ban and more. Nixon pursued his “Generation of Peace” through an opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, and Henry A. Kissinger’s razzle-dazzle Middle East diplomacy. Even the first President Bush, whose last two years were a mini-retrenchment, had his own big-think slogan, a “New World Order.” 

These presidents sought global stability with less American policing. By comparison, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric is standard stuff. Critics ping him for wanting to heal the planet and reconcile with adversaries. But that’s how presidents in retrenchment talk. Mopping up after disaster requires compensatory inspiration. 

Internet realpolitik

February 11, 2014 

The stakes are too high for India to adopt self-aggrandising idealism. Reuters.


Issues of multilateral internet governance must be kept separate from cybersecurity and espionage.

Issues of multilateral internet governance must be kept separate from cybersecurity and espionage.

In his article ‘In strategic interest, and for self-respect’ (IE, January 30), Hardeep S. Puri has underscored why we need to discuss internet governance, cybersecurity and related issues threadbare, and among a much larger set of stakeholders. This intrinsically democratic and most accessible medium has witnessed a disappointingly muted debate within India on its governance and regulation. Some key aspects highlighted in Puri’s article must be discussed further.

First, it must be understood that from a practice and policy perspective, surveillance, cybersecurity and internet governance are immiscible. Espionage is unlikely to cease irrespective of who governs the internet, who allocates domain names and who assigns addresses. The existence of PRISM and other such programmes is not a reflection of the state of global internet governance, but rather demonstrates the political intent, technological capability and institutional capacity of nations to interlope, acquire and illegally monitor information and data.

India’s subdued opposition to the revelation of PRISM was because, as the external affairs minister put it, “we have similar systems in place” called NETRA and the Central Monitoring System. All countries with means and capacity will keep tabs on adversaries and on activities they perceive as threats. No international agreement or legislation will change that. When such attempts to spy are exposed, as by Snowden, there will be a degree of furore and then it will be business-as-usual. Therefore, even as India rightly seeks greater voice and weight in institutions that manage the internet, it must be very careful not to conflate internet governance with either cybersecurity or cyberespionage.

Second, on internet governance, the Tunis Declaration of 2005 is indeed important. We must strive for “multilateral, transparent and democratic” systems of governance as against ceding disproportionate weight and voice to one nation. Unilateralism, or even plurilateralism, is unacceptable, and countries like India and Brazil must ensure the digital world does not get carved up among a group of US-led Western nations on the one hand and the Chinese and Russians on the other. India, in a manner of speaking, is a “swing state” and how it acts now may influence the narrative decisively. India needs to do more. It will be the most digitally engaged actor among the liberal and democratic nations that seek a free and fluid internet. There must be no governance veto for the US, Russia or China and any framework must have India at the high table. At the same time, there must be no G-77 for the digital world with India at its helm. The stakes are too high for India to adopt self-aggrandising idealism. We need to engage on realistic terms with the key stakeholders.