19 February 2014


19 February 2014 

Digitisation in education is trending. Many schools are turning towards teaching methods that use the concept of visuals, videos and diagrams to make the lessons more interesting. By using a combination of traditional training with digitisation, one can ensure that future generations become global contributors who can connect across culture, time and geographies, says MANAS KAPOOR

The growth of Information Technology and its introduction in every sector has had a significant impact. With the induction of IT in education, it has completely changed the teaching and learning process. It has induced a lot of ease and has made the entire process stress-free both for students and teachers. Schools are gradually implementing digital teaching solutions to make the learning atmosphere more advanced and participatory.

Even coaching and consulting institutes have adopted the digitised form of education and designed it in ways where a student gets day-wise study plans. They follow the concept that visual understanding is long lasting so the video lectures are enriched with diagrams.

These institutes also have Adaptive Learning System. It is the concept of artificial intelligence under which the gravity of questions changes according to the students’ calibre. Hard questions are given with higher understanding of topics and easy questions are given to the students who have lower understanding. The level of questions increases according to the understanding of the student. Such technology provides end to end solutions to the students including assignments, test series and doubt clearance sessions as a whole.

The information and communication technology in the educational sector has enhanced the understanding capacity of the students. They are conceivably the most open to external teaching and are more receptive when they are in the classroom. Modern-day students live in a world which is constantly connected and therefore the traditional methods of education might not be the apt method to adopt anymore. The evolution of the education system shall only be achieved with its digitisation so that the students can learn at their own speed within or outside the classroom.


18 February 2014 
The Defence Minister alone cannot rectify the situation. Joint efforts of the Union Ministries of Human Resource Development, Industry and Finance are required to fix the problems in defence procurement. Also, the root of the problem lies beyond procurement procedures

Mr Pravin Sawhney makes an interesting case with regard to Union Minister for Defence AK Antony’s several undeniable lapses in his column, “He saw nothing, he did nothing”, on February 13, in The Pioneer. The issue, however, is deeper than Mr Antony’s personal incompetence and rather is the product of 67 years of disastrous socialism, and a historical Indian myopia on issues of security.

Perhaps the single most obvious tell-tale sign in this is the whole narrative in India today on defence technology, be it the transfer or absorption or modification. The issue is such that it is not the Defence Minister who can rectify the situation, rather it is the joint efforts of the Union Ministries of Human Resource Development, Industry, Finance and Infrastructure that are required to fix. No matter how much India modifies it Defence Procurement Procedure, no matter how excellent a document we produce and no matter how good a Defence Minister we have, the root of the problem lies elsewhere.

This mentality however of seeking silver bullet solutions, failing, and then muckraking the French, Americans and Russians claiming that they we’re duplicitous has a long historical tradition in India dating back to a few thousand years.

In his 1945 book, India and the Indian Ocean: An essay on the influence of sea power on Indian history, KM Panikkar delves in depth into the story of the Arab horse and India’s obsession with it. We are informed that the Arab peninsula would only sell Indian traders stallions or colts — male horses, and the sale of a mare — the female to an Indian carried severe penalties. Similarly, specialised horse doctors were barred from travelling to India on pain of a particularly excruciating death, the same penalty applying to the captain of any ship willing to transport said doctor to Indian shores.

The army marches on increased funding

Kamal Davar , Hindustan Times

February 18, 2014

In a nation not renowned for its strategic culture or security proactiveness, any measure by the government to beef up defence preparedness or reaching out to the armed forces and by extension to the large number of ex-servicemen (ESM) is more than welcome.

Thus amidst the economic gloom and doom scenario being spread by the Opposition, Union finance minister P Chidambaram’s interim budget deserves kudos for dispelling the myth of India’s economy being in the doldrums. His assertion of the reduction in the fiscal deficit and of 140 million Indians having risen above the poverty line is encouraging.

It requires no great wisdom to state that defence budgets have to be based on the nation’s assessment of the external and internal challenges. The government has budgeted Rs. 2.24 lakh crore for defence which amounts to a 10% increase since the last fiscal year. On the surface of it, this increased allocation may appear adequate, but if calculated in real terms this amount does not adequately cater for the critical modernisation programmes of the three services. Last year, the government had allocated Rs. 80,000 crore for modernisation, out of which the armed forces had spent approximately 82% for their modernisation programmes. For the next fiscal the meagre increase for capital expenditure has been only 3.2%, that is a total allocation of Rs. 89,587 crore. It remains a sad commentary for the nation that India is now the largest importer of arms and ammunition in the world — a sorry state which must be rectified by indigenous production.

The interim budget, however, will always be remembered for the much delayed announcement of a long-standing demand — One Rank-One Pension. About Rs. 500 crore have been allocated for implementing this decision from this fiscal year which will be more than welcomed by over 28 lakh ESM. This step will rightly ensure that all those who retire at the same rank, irrespective of their date of retirement, will get the same pension. That this decision, has been reportedly pushed for implementation by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, is indeed welcome for it was long overdue. The nation must never forget those who serve it with valour, sacrifice, discipline and selflessness and political parties must refrain from politicising national security matters.

The great Game Folio: SILK ROUTES

C. Raja Mohan 
February 18, 2014 

Delhi also appears to be ready to consider positively Beijing’s invitation last week to join China in the construction of a “Maritime Silk Route” between the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Reuters


There is a huge difference, of course, between agreeing to discuss and collaborating with China on large transborder projects.

There is a huge difference, of course, between agreeing to discuss and collaborating with China on large transborder projects.

As China reconfigures India’s neighbourhood through its active promotion of new silk routes — over the Great Himalayas and across the Indian Ocean — New Delhi must make up its mind on how best to respond. That Delhi is shedding some of its past defensiveness is evident from the UPA government’s recent decision to discuss the Chinese proposal for the so-called BCIM Corridor that will integrate eastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and southwestern China. Delhi also appears to be ready to consider positively Beijing’s invitation last week to join China in the construction of a “Maritime Silk Route” between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

There is a huge difference, of course, between agreeing to discuss and collaborating with China on large transborder projects. China has been pushing the BCIM corridor at least since the late 1990s. India’s default position was to duck and fume. The reluctance in Delhi’s foreign and security establishments against any overland connectivity projects with Beijing has been deep and is tied to the difficult political relationship and unresolved boundary dispute. Delhi has also been wary of China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, which it sees as India’s backyard.

China’s Aircraft Carrier Could Be a Ticking Steam Bomb

Boiler troubles in similar ships are an ominous sign
David Axe in War is Boring

India’s refurbished Soviet-made aircraft carrier Vikramaditya suffered a boiler failure during her 42-day trip from Russia’s Sevmash shipyard, where she was rebuilt, to the Indian Karwar naval base on the country’s west coast starting in late November.

Like many Cold War-era warships, Vikramaditya is powered by complex steam boilers that can be unreliable and even dangerous. The Indian flattop had suffered an earlier boiler problem in 2012 during sea trials off the Russian coast—the ceramic insulating tiles failed, causing a boiler to overheat and shut down.

Powerplant failures at best limit a ship’s speed and electrical capacity and, at worst, can cause a vessel to go dead in the water.

Bad news for the Indians, the boiler crisis could be equally damaging to China, which is also desperately trying to bring into service a refurbished Soviet carrier. China’s first flattop Liaoning has not yet appeared to suffer any boiler failures, but that could be because the vessel has sailed only relatively short distances—and never far from a major land base able to provide intensive repairs.

If India’s and indeed Russia’s experiences are any indication, China’s carrier could be a ticking bomb. A ticking steam bomb—destined to one day suffer a major failure and set back, by months or years, Beijing’s efforts to become a naval aviation power.

“The ship’s powerplant and drivetrain are among the highest probability risk factors,” U.S. Naval War College analyst Andrew Erickson warned.

United States & India: From Estrangement to Engagement to Estrangement

 Dated 18-Feb-2014

By Dr. Subhash Kapila

Estrangement seems to be the natural pattern and state of relations between the United States and India with the past decade of engagement, seemingly apparent in 2014 as an aberration, largely so, because the United States reduced it to a mercenary relationship concentrating on defence deals and letting US geopolitical expediency predominate its prism on India.

“United States-India Strategic Partnership: The Advent of the Inevitable” was the heading of my paper in 2001 exuberantly written buoyed by elated optimism as one then believed that the United States had finally turned the corner in a realistic appraisal of India’s true geopolitical worth in relation to United States continued embedment in Asia.

However that euphoria lasted for the first few years only as post 9/11 events brought about a relapse and reversions to its hyphenated South Asian foreign policy. The US-India Nuclear Deal was a brief encouraging interlude but that too fizzled out soon due to non-materialisation of heightened expectations from both sides.

Rhetorical flourishes at the official levels in both the United States and India could not blur the optics that US-India Strategic Partnership was on the down slide in the second half of the last decade and this evolving phenomenon stood reflected in a number of my Papers US-India relations thereafter.

Once again “estrangement” in US-India relations was creeping in with US displeasure noticeable when India awarded the contract for 126 Fighter Aircraft to France despite high-voltage canvassing by US dignitaries.

India’s follow-up gestures of awarding 10 billion transport aircraft and helicopters to mollify US bruised mercenary feelings failed to arrest the downslide in relations. More so, because concurrently and increasingly noticeable at this time was that the United States policy primacies once again reverted and rested more on Pakistan and China.

Smoothening the India-China Border Wrinkles

Dated 18-Feb-2014

By Bhaskar Roy

The 17th round of India-China border talks (Feb. 10-11) in New Delhi passed off without any “free and frank” exchanges, that is, there was no disagreement. The first meeting was at the joint secretary level with military experts on both sides.

The situation on the border was reviewed and apparently was found satisfactory. The meeting it appears, was constructed by both sides to ensure no negative vibration emerged.

The main meeting, the 17th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) of the two sides was much wider in scale because matters outside the border issue were discussed. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement said the talks were held in a “candid, friendly and constructive atmosphere”. Mr. Shivshankar Menon, the Indian SR and Mr. Yang Jiechi, the Chinese SR are veterans in the foreign policy game and India-China relations. On the Chinese side they know the stakes they are playing with. They have in their pocket “something to give” on the border issue if need be. But no one can say for sure what that is.

It must be kept in mind that the old Chinese position “if India makes concessions in the east” has not become irrelevant. In China’s foreign policy dealings, nothing once stated becomes irrelevant unless it is stated so officially.

The three-step process agreed to by both sides to resolve the boundary question was reiterated. The process has arrived at step-2 to reach a framework for a resolution of this question. This will be based on the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the settlement of the India-China Boundary Question. The SRs discussed possible additional Confidence Building Measures (CBM).

India’s Defense Sector Still Plagued by Corruption

13 February 2014
15A Kolkata Class destroyer being built at Mazagon Docks Ltd, Mumbai.

Despite attempted reforms, India’s defense procurement system remains tainted by corruption and wrongdoing. Today, Deba Mohanty explains why New Delhi has failed to solve a problem that puts the country’s military modernization efforts at risk.

By Deba R Mohanty for ISN

India’s defense procurement sector continues to be rocked by instances of corruption and wrongdoing that have the potential to compromise the country’s military modernization program. Worse still, such irregularities may yet have a bearing on domestic politics ahead of May’s presidential elections.

Current controversies

At least three major scandals – two of them related to purchases by ordnance factories and one to the Indian Air Force (IAF) – have led to the blacklisting of nine companies in the past eight years. Currently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating more than twenty cases of corruption and undue influence. India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also blacklisted four major international companies - Rheinmetall Air Defence (RAD), Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd. (STK), Israel Military Industries Ltd. (IMI) and Corporation Defence Russia (CDR) – and the former chief of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) was arrested and jailed in 2010 for wrongdoing.

Maoists in the Northeast: Reality and Myth-Making

Bibhu Prasad Routray
Singapore-based Security Analyst
On 9 June 2013, just before the clock struck midnight, a police contingent in Assam's Tinsukia district boarded the Chennai-Egmore Express, minutes before its three-day long journey, and pulled out 66 youths. A critical intelligence input received by the police had indicated that these youths from tea gardens, Ahom and Moran communities were going to join the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist). Following two days of interrogation and confirmation from the employers of the youths in Chennai, all were released. To cover up a major embarrassment, the police establishment forced the parents of the youths to sign undertakings that they would produce their wards before the police whenever asked for. The incident in a way summed the mindset of the security establishment in Assam, which for the past couple of years, has been pursuing a non-existent enemy, invariably under political orders.

Media reports on the alleged inroads made by the CPI-Maoist into the Northeast in general and Assam in particular have produced alarming narratives comprising encounters, arrests, shadowy extremist game plans, and a vision for taking over the region. While few of these incidents are real, most, like the incident narrated earlier, are unsustainable. 

Arrested Maoist cadres identified as central committee members, training instructors, and key leaders of the outfit's eastern wing have been found to be old men in the age group of 65 to 70 years, a clear departure from the mainstream Maoist movement whose leaders and cadres are much younger. Post-arrest, the so called high profile cadres like Aditya Bora have been given instant bail by the courts in view of the weak and unsubstantiated charges brought against them. The so called extortion notes recovered in upper Assam districts contain expressions such as ‘Maubadi 147’ and symbols of a rising sun, indicating the involvement of petty criminals posing as Maoists or even cadres of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), whose party symbol is the rising sun. The ‘disappearance’ of 300 youths from various Assam districts has been described as a successful recruitment drive by the CPI-Maoist. The Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border region has been described as the new hotbed of Maoist activity. Hundreds of kilometres separate the area from the nearest Maoist area of activity in West Bengal, violates the principle of contiguity, which the CPI-Maoist steadfastly hold on to in its expansion drive.

Pakistani Hardline Militant Linked to Terrorist Attacks in India Resurfaces, Setting Off Alarm Bells in New Delhi

February 18, 2014

Pakistan militant Maulana Masood Azhar resurfaces, ignites fears of attacks

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Pakistani Islamic hardliner blamed for an attack on parliament that brought the nuclear rivals to the brink of war has resurfaced after years in seclusion, setting off alarm bells in New Delhi.

Twice since the end of December, authorities have issued an airport security alert, warning of an attempt by members of a Pakistan-based militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammad, or Army of Muhammad, to hijack a plane, with smaller airfields most at risk.

Officials have said the alerts followed reports of increased activity by Maulana Masood Azhar, the leader of the outlawed militant group.

Azhar was named by a court as the prime suspect in a 2001 attack on parliament aimed at taking top political leaders hostage. Fifteen people were killed, most of them security guards as well as the five men who stormed the complex.

Tensions between the old enemies spiralled after the attack and up to a million troops were mobilised on both sides of the volatile border. Pakistan refused to hand over Azhar to India.

The portly and bearded cleric has remained mostly confined to a compound in his home city of Bhawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province for years, but three weeks ago, he addressed supporters and said the time had come to resume jihad, or holy war, against India.

"There are 313 fidayeen (fighters who are ready to die) in this gathering and if a call is given the number will go up to 3,000," he told the rally held in the city of Muzaffarabad by telephone. A Reuters journalist who was present said a telephone was held next to a microphone which broadcast his comments to loudspeakers.

Flags of Jaish, inscribed with the words “jihad”, fluttered in and around the venue of the gathering. Azhar spoke from an undisclosed location.

Intelligence analysts have described Azhar’s resurgence as part of a change in tactics in Pakistan as U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan this year, and as Islamabad tries to clamp down on Islamic insurgents who oppose the Pakistani government.

U.S. Looking for New Drone Bases From Where CIA Can Strike Al Qaeda Targets in Pakistan

Ken Dilanian and David S. Cloud
Los Angeles Times

February 16, 2014

U.S. seeks new bases for drones targeting Al Qaeda in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is making contingency plans to use air bases in Central Asia to conduct drone missile attacks in northwest Pakistan in case the White House is forced to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan at the end of this year, according to U.S. officials.

But even if alternative bases are secured, the officials said, the CIA’s capability to gather sufficient intelligence to find Al Qaeda operatives and quickly launch drone missiles at specific targets in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal region will be greatly diminished if the spy agency loses its drone bases in Afghanistan.

The CIA’s targeted killing program thus may prove a casualty of the bitter standoff with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over whether any U.S. troops can remain in Afghanistan after 2014, as the White House has sought. Karzai has refused to sign a bilateral security agreement to permit a long-term American deployment, and some White House aides are arguing for a complete pullout.

According to current and former officers, CIA analysts operating from fortified outposts near the Pakistani border evaluate electronic intelligence, while case officers meet sources who help them identify targets. They pay people to place GPS trackers on cars or buildings to help guide the drone-launched missiles.

"There is an enormous amount of human intelligence collected that supports the strikes, and those bases are a key part of it," one official said.

The CIA cannot fly drones from its Afghan drone bases without U.S. military protection, according to several American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. If the bases are evacuated, the CIA fleet of armed Predator and Reaper drones could be moved to airfields north of Afghanistan, U.S. officials say, without naming the countries.

"There are contingency plans for alternatives in the north," said one official briefed on the matter.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel publicly acknowledged for the first time this month that U.S. officials are examining different basing options for drones.

Pakistani Taliban Says That It Has Executed 23 Government Soldiers Held Since 2010

Haq Nawaz Khan and Craig Timberg
Washington Post
February 16, 2014

Taliban kill captures Pakistani soldiers

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A faction of the Pakistani Taliban said Sunday that it executed 23 paramilitary soldiers who have been held captive since 2010, even as other elements of the militant group continue preliminary peace talks with the country’s government.

In a written statement and subsequent video message, the Taliban’s Mohmand wing said the Pakistani soldiers were killed in retaliation for continued security operations against Islamic extremists. Omar Khalid Khurassani, a commander of the group, also accused Pakistan’s military of extrajudicial killings.

“We have warned the government time and again through the media to stop the killing of our friends, who were in the custody of security forces, but the government continued killing our people,” Khurassani said in the written statement. “So we executed 23 members of the parliamentary” Frontier Corps.

There was no immediate comment Sunday from Pakistan’s government or military, and Khurassani’s statement could be not be independently verified. But the Taliban, which is waging a bloody insurgency aimed at instilling Islamic law in Pakistan, has killed dozens of captured or kidnapped Pakistani soldiers over the years.

In January 2013, the Taliban released video showing the killing of 15 soldiers. A year earlier, the military recovered the bodies of 14 Frontier Corpsmen who had been tortured and shot multiple times after they were kidnapped in 2010.

Khurassani said the soldiers killed Sunday were also captured in 2010 as they manned a checkpoint in northwest Pakistan near Afghan Border. They were killed Sunday because, he claimed, 16 militants thought to have been in prison have been found dead in various Pakistani cities recent weeks.

Pakistan’s Frontier Corps largely patrols the country’s resistive western border with Afghanistan, allowing the better-trained and equipped Pakistan army to remain focused on its historical foe, India, along its eastern border. Over the years, the Frontier Corps has endured heavy casualties as it seeks to contain Taliban insurgents who effectively control many tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.

Myanmar Conflict Alert: A Risky Census

12 Feb 2014

A Rakhine man during conflict between Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities, northwest Myanmar, June 2012. REUTERS/Staff

The nationwide census planned for 30 March to 10 April 2014 risks inflaming tensions at a critical moment in Myanmar’s peace process and democratic transition. The census process should be urgently amended to focus only on key demographic questions, postponing those which are needlessly antagonistic and divisive – on ethnicity, religion, citizenship status – to a more appropriate moment. By doing so, the government, United Nations and donors can demonstrate that they are sensitive to the serious risks presented by the census as currently conceived, and that they are willing to respond to the deep reservations expressed by many important groups in the country.

While the collection of accurate demographic data is crucial for national planning and development – it has been over 30 years since the last census – the coming census, consisting of 41 questions, is overly complicated and fraught with danger. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue, in a context where ethnic communities have long believed that the government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes. In addition to navigating its political transition from authoritarian military rule to democratic governance, Myanmar is struggling to end decades-old, multiple and overlapping ethnic conflicts in its peripheries. At the same time, recent months have seen an increasingly virulent Burman-Buddhist nationalist movement lead to assaults on Muslim minority communities. A census which risks further increasing these tensions is ill-advised.

There are many flaws in the ethnic classification system being used for the census, which is based on an old and much-criticised list of 135 groups produced in the 1980s. In some cases, this creates too many subdivisions (the small Chin group, for example, is divided into 53 categories, many of them village or clan names, which has no justification on ethno-linguistic grounds). In others, groups are lumped together who have separate ethnic identities (for example, several groups in Shan State such as the Palaung, Lahu and Intha are included as subdivisions of the Shan ethnicity when they are not related in any way ethnically or linguistically). A number of these groups – including ethnic political parties and ethnically based armed organisations – have issued statements highly critical of the census, some demanding a postponement and reclassification based on consultation with ethnic communities.

Bangladesh war crimes and the possibility of global terror

Subir Bhaumik, Hindustan Times

February 18, 2014

For the beleaguered forces of radical Islam in Bangladesh, this would come as a morale booster. A video-message of al Qaeda’s present chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, now circulating on the Internet, has called for an ‘intifada’ (popular uprising) in Bangladesh. The Egyptian doctor has described Bangladesh as a ‘huge prison’, perhaps alluding to the large number of Islamist leaders and activists now locked up in the country.

While the senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami face death and life sentences for their war crimes over the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, hundreds of leaders are in jail on charges of violence during the last one year. The Jamaat is an alliance partner of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader Khaleda Zia has ruled out severing ties with the Islamist groups. The Jamaat activists provided the street muscle to the BNP protests, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handled the challenge by determined police action and sometimes by asking her party activists to take the fight to the streets.

However, the Islamist groups and the BNP appeared demoralised after the January 5 parliament elections. Pakistani Islamist groups complicated the issue by protesting against the hanging of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah. When the Pakistan National Assembly adopted a resolution critical of the execution, this was seen as yet another challenge to Bangladesh’s liberation. The anti-Pakistan wave further pushed the Jamaat and other Islamist groups on the backfoot. As the government security forces unleashed coordinated operations in several Jamaat strongholds to sever the Islamist stranglehold, there was little that they could look up to. Even the West, critical as it was of the polls, called on the BNP chief to cut off ties with the Jamaat.

So the Al-Zawahiri video would be seen as a boost to the Islamist cause in Bangladesh. Al-Zawahiri’s tirade against the government follows the Jamaat narrative that the present government is an Indian puppet, it has destroyed the cause of Islam in Bangladesh, there is total opposition to establishing the laws of Sharia and more.

“Bangladesh is the victim of a conspiracy in which the agents of India, the corrupt leadership of Pakistan Army and treacherous power-hungry politicians of Bangladesh and Pakistan are all involved,” Al-Zawahiri says in his message. And then he calls on Bangladeshis to “gather around the true scholars of Islam, support them and protect them and launch a massive public uprising in defence of Islam against the enemies of Islam”.


19 February 2014

India and Pakistan should launch joint economic projects in Afghanistan. The ball is in Pakistan's court. A change in heart is required in Pakistan not just for the good of AfPak but the entire region

“My President can’t keep troops in Afghanistan till the Bilateral Security Agreement is signed. But even without BSA we will try to do whatever is possible to support Afghanistan”, a top adviser to US President Barack Obama told me earlier this month at the Eisenhower Wing of the White House. He added: “We’re in the middle of discussions this week and next week on what to do and not to do”. He was referring to ongoing meetings between Mr Obama and his top military commanders in Kabul, the US Central Command, Special Operations Command and Chairman and Vice Chairman Joints Chiefs of Staff. Congressional staffers of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though, were less sanguine, saying without the BSA, zero option is a reality as it is difficult for policymakers to look beyond the BSA hurdle. State Department officials on the other hand said: “Withdrawal is not the end game”, a familiar punch line on Afghanistan. Still there is no confusion among decision makers.

I heard a more positive line in Brussels from officials of the European Union External Action Service and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. “EU will stay the course for the next seven years, we will find ways to get around the BSA. We are not walking away and are committed to pay salaries of the ANSF”, they said. Nato will sign with Afghanistan, the Status of Forces Agreement at an appropriate time.

In Europe and America particularly, while there may be no appetite left for fighting the Al Qaeda, the zero option is not an option. There is a Plan B and as one member of the Atlantic Council Washington remarked, “the reason why you don’t put up Plan B is that the moment you do it becomes Plan A. Frankly Plan A and Plan B are the same. President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the BSA and made the US organising a reconciliation dialogue with Afghan Taliban a precondition. Mr Karzai has unilaterally released 65 detainees Washington regards as dangerous and inimical to the Afghan and US interest. The US Congress has cut US aid to Afghanistan from $2.9 billion to 1.2 billion, apparently to spite Mr Karzai not signing the BSA (but he told Union Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid in Kandahar this week that he would sign it).

All the 11 presidential candidates for the April election are committed to honouring the BSA which has been approved by a Karzai-chosen Loya Jirga and Parliament. Whether Mr Ashraf Gani or Mr Abdullah Abdullah is the new President, most Afghans want the BSA signed. The US and allied drawdown will be responsible to ensure the hard earned gains are preserved and consolidated. A repeat of Najibullah (1992) when Soviet Union stopped funds to President Najibullah’s beleaguered regime after the Soviet withdrawal in 1979 is unlikely.

Tread With Caution in Highly Sensitive Burma

David I. Steinberg
YaleGlobal, 13 February 2014

The government in Burma (Myanmar) is loosening political controls, and welcoming more trade and interactions with the rest of the world. The strong culture has resisted waves of Indian, Chinese and Western influences in the past, suggests David I. Steinberg, distinguished professor of Asian Studies emeritus at Georgetown University, and new connections are introducing rapid change that could prompt a backlash against globalization. Particular areas of concern include the influence of China, growing demographic strength of Muslims, and the technological savvy and growing connections for Burma’s urban youth. If economic progress does not accompany fast-moving integration, some could target external forces from other nations or even the country’s youth. “The potential of backlash calls for deft policies from the United States and other Western states,” concludes Steinberg. “Otherwise, the fast-moving cultural changes, coming from all directions, could lead to a growth of anti-Western, anti-modern and, more specifically, anti-US sentiment.” – YaleGlobal

New connections for Burma introduce rapid change and could prompt backlash against globalization

Tradition threatened: Arrival of internet opens the world to traditional Burmese (top); resentful of other cultures like Rohingya Muslims, Burmese protesters burn a village

WASHINGTON: To a visitor the life in Burma – the Republic of the Union of Myanmar – with its golden pagodas and saffron-clad monks out seeking alms in the morning gives an impression of an unchanging traditional society. This image is deceptive. Behind the façade of an immutable society in a Myanmar open to world currents, life is changing and ground is being prepared for a backlash against globalization. It’s time for the Western world and the United States to take note. 

Myanmar is a complex set of cultures and that of the ethnic majority Burman, or Bamah, people has proven ascendant over more than a millennium. Comprising some two-thirds of the total population of some 60 million, with their distinctive socio-religious and linguistic heritages, the Burman Buddhists dominate a variety of other peoples. Theirs has been a strong culture, resisting waves of Indian, Chinese and Western influences. Burmese music remains distinctly non-Indian and non-Chinese. Western classical music and dance did not penetrate the society despite more than three score years of British colonial rule. In contrast to Japan, Korea and other societies, including China today, Burman culture has remained until recently generally impervious to most Western influences, and not simply because of its relative isolation. The Burmans continued to wear their distinctive longgyis, or sarongs, and women rarely wore Western clothes. Although competence in the English language provided avenues for social advancement in the colonial era, Burmese remained vital in education and in the society as a whole. Buddhism provided the cultural milieu, penetrating deep into the social fabric. Despite a multitude of attempts at Christian missionary work, few Burman Buddhists converted to other religions in contrast to animist ethnic cultures, such as the Chin, Kachin and some Karen, who have assimilated various Christian patterns of worship.

New document sheds light on China's campaign against self-immolations in Tibet

17 February 2014 

A Chinese and Tibetan-language document obtained and published by Radio Free Asia reveals how the Chinese Government is 'striking hard' against the families, relatives, villages and monasteries of self-immolating Tibetan protesters. The document was issued as a government notice in Zoigê County, in Sichuan Province's Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, on 8 April 2013.

Since February 2009, over 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest against the Chinese Government's policies on the plateau. Beijing blames the 'Dalai Lama clique' for inciting the acts.

Among the sixteen provisions of the document are the following:

The immediate relatives of self-immolators in the county will not be approved for permission to leave China or travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region for three years.

The direct relatives (mother, father, spouse, children and siblings) of self-immolators will be ineligible to apply for national civil servant examinations or work for the state in any enterprise, service or military capacity.

The temple of a village or suburb in which an act self-immolation occurs will be subject to an anti-immolation bond of between ten and 500,000 Renminbi. If another act of self-immolation is not committed within two years, the deposit will be returned in full. If otherwise, the bond will be forfeited and a second will be applied.

The sermonising activities of monks at monasteries associated with the self-immolations will be severely restricted.

All national investment projects in the village (or suburb) and temple of the self-immolator will be cancelled or suspended, and all private capital and social investment projects in the village (or suburb) will be halted.

Those monitoring the situation in Tibet have long held that the families and communities of self-immolators were being punished for the acts. In January 2013, a monk was handed a suspended death sentence for inciting eight people set themselves ablaze.

** China Digs Itself Deeper Into Dollar Trap

By William Pesek Feb 18, 2014

Photographer: Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg

The bird cage symbolism of the Lisboa casino extends to China's economy.

Reading Eswar Prasad's new book, it's easy to picture the entire global economy as a giant bird cage, with Jack Lew and Janet Yellen standing outside waving at all the unwitting creatures inside.

In "The Dollar Trap," the Cornell University economist doesn't paint the U.S. Treasury secretary or Federal Reserve chairman in sinister terms. Prasad's argument is that for all the worries about U.S. policies and debt, and the many efforts to build up an alternative, the dollar's linchpin role is only strengthening. What struck me most, though, is that China still can't see that it's the dupe in this giant pyramid scheme.

China's $3.8 trillion of currency reserves are the largest stockpile ever amassed. Economists have long seen that money as a strength -- the ultimate rainy-day fund should China's shadow-banking system blow up. Trouble is, the value of those holdings depends on China's $1.3 trillion of U.S. Treasuries. If they plunge in value, all hell breaks loose and officials from Beijing to Brasilia will scramble to exit the American bird cage.

The concept of such enclosures has great significance in feng shui. In the late 1960s, Macau tycoon Stanley Ho designed his Lisboa casino -- featured in a James Bond film -- to be a huge bird cage. The symbolism was obvious: We've got you and your cash trapped. China is looking like a big-money gambler who just knocked over a casino and can't use the loot because it's all in marked bills. If the mainland ever tried to spend down its Treasury holdings, the global financial system could collapse.

China's central bank "faces the prospect of significant losses in its reserve portfolio if it were to disentangle itself from the trap through any precipitous actions to shift out of the dollar," Prasad writes. And "the political fallout could be ugly if the Chinese public learned of the magnitude of these losses, which would be seen as a transfer of wealth to the U.S."

** China’s “Nine-Dash Line” is Dangerous

February 19, 2014

The principle behind China’s “nine-dash line” threatens the stability of far more than the South China Sea.

As noted last week, the U.S. has lodged its objection to China’s “nine-dash-line” claim to the South China Sea. It is right to do so for two reasons.

First, in contrast to what China claims, the U.S. clearly stating its position on the conflict will reduce the chance that the U.S. and China will come to blows over the South China Sea.

From The Pacific Realist’s perch in Washington, DC, it always seemed obvious that the U.S. would not tolerate Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea, at least under the prevailing power dynamics in the region. Still, it’s easy to imagine how some in Beijing—particularly those most eager to enforce China’s gigantic claims—could come to a different conclusion on the matter. After all, Washington has stood by as the People’s Liberation Army has pushed the Philippines out of the Scarborough Shoal and continues to threaten the Second Thomas Shoal. It therefore doesn’t seem too far-fetched to believe that some in China would calculate that the U.S. will not stand up to Beijing in the South China Sea.

Directly challenging the legitimacy of China’s “nine-dash line” does carry some risks. In particular, although it’s likely to give China greater pause in pushing its claims in the South China Sea, it also puts the U.S. in a tough spot if China does decide to ignore America’s warning. That being said, the Obama administration has taken adequate measures to minimize this danger by stating that it would strengthen the U.S. military presence in Asia should Beijing cross certain red lines. Thus, while the U.S. has hardened its position, it has not put itself on a collision course with China.

The second and more important reason the U.S. is right in challenging China’s “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea is that Beijing’s claim is inherently destabilizing and not just for the Asia. China’s claim to 90 percent of the South China Sea is rooted primarily in the notion that past Chinese rulers have at times maintained sovereignty over the various islands and reefs in the waters. As a senior Chinese diplomat reportedly explained to U.S. officials back in 2008, “The dotted line of the South China Sea indicates the sovereignty of China over the islands in the South China Sea since ancient times.”


Dr.Rajaram Panda, C3S Paper No.2063 
February 17, 2014 

Recently, China has started claims to the whole of South China Sea, thereby sending a sense of unease throughout Asia. As a result, the security scenario in the Asia-Pacific region looks more fragile now than ever before. Ten states have contending claims to some parts of the South China Sea. Two countries – the Philippines and Vietnam – have similar claims and have taken umbrage to China’s belligerent attitude and reacted sharply. 

Comparing with Hitler

The public spat between China and the Philippines reached a crescendo recently when Philippines President Benigno Aquino compared China to German of 1938, accusing China of behaving like the Nazis did before World War II, when Germany claimed ownership of all of Austria and parts of France, Poland and Czechoslovakia as part of “Greater Germany”. 

Was the comparison of China made by Aquino with Germany justified? In an interview with the New York Times, Aquino said: “At what point do you say ‘Enough is enough?’ Well, the world has to ……….remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War 2”. True, the escalating standoff in that area believed to be endowed with rich resources and minerals is ruffling the feathers of leaders of all countries laying claims. There could be some leaders who are exploiting this international row to smokescreen shortcomings in their own countries. But there is no denying the fact that President Aquino’s response to China’s repeated manoeuvrings was needlessly provocative. President Aquino has just 30 months left in office and he seemed determined to see his term end with high note. But in diplomacy, such outrageous statements could be counterproductive, though the spirit of his observation cannot be disputed. When shrewd diplomacy can serve the purpose and objective, why adopt the route that could create more problems that address to solve the issue at hand. Here, President Aquino seemed to have lacked some diplomatic niceties.

The claims made by Germany and the aggression associated in making such claims in Europe and Japan making similar claims in East Asia with similar aggression led to the outbreak of World War II. In order to avoid a repeat of such an occurrence taking place again, Philippines called for global support and taken the case to the international court for arbitration under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Filipino lawyers say that the tribunal has discretionary powers to allow other states to join the action. 


Dr.G.Thanga Rajesh, C3S Paper No.2066
February 17, 2014 


This article assesses the formulation, shifting preferences and changing directions of the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the new leadership of Xi Jinping. While tracing the firm connection between the perceptions of the current Chinese leaders as well as the kind of national interests they prioritize, and the evolving country’s external course, it makes an attempt to examine whether Xi has followed or diverted from his predecessors in the pursuit of the country’s foreign policy. It also tries to explain the dilemma which appears to have risen for Xi Jinping in convincing the world about intentions of China to rise peacefully, at a time when Beijing is being seen acting more and more assertively in international affairs. 


Internationally, the focus on China has gained depth because of the impact coming from the hype on the world scene with respect to the terminology of ‘Rising China’. The handling of foreign policy matters by the current Chinese government under the leadership of President Xi Jinping which is going to complete its first year of office in 2014 has started attracting increasing attention throughout rest of the world where there is increasing keenness to know about the likely impact of the ‘the rise of China’ on the PRC’s global image, in particular that among neighbors. In the recent Party Plenum, Xi Jinping has outlined China’s direction for economic reforms and foreign policy for the next decade. It is believed that it will be as decisive for China as those of the veteran leader Deng Xiaoping. The article appropriately focuses on the significance of Xi’s Plenum directives. 

George Modelski, a scholar in the University of Washington specializing in Global Politics, defines Foreign Policy as “the system of activities evolved by communities for changing the behavior of other states and for adjusting their own activities to the international environment”. The nations thus formulate foreign policies, which are ‘logically consistent whole’ based on selected national interests. The case of China is no different. Its declared fundamental goals are to preserve the country’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, create a favorable international environment for reforms and opening up, modernize construction, maintaining world peace and propelling common development. Important is China’s emphasis on creating a benevolent and peaceful external environment. To that end, the critical points of Chinese foreign policy are maintaining peaceful relations with other states, particularly neighboring nations, and complying with the principles of fairness and justice. Beijing hopes to build momentum for its domestic development through its external activities, including securing resources overseas. It contends that diplomacy should ensure the country’s prosperity, open up new paths for the nation’s rejuvenation, and create conditions that benefit the Chinese people.

The other Chinese goal relating to territorial integrity is equally important as it is contributing to Beijing’s adoption of a ‘core interest’-based foreign policy. According to Chinese leader Dai Bingguo, the PRC’s first core interest is maintaining its fundamental system and state security, second is the sovereignty and territorial integrity and the third is the continued stable development of the economy and society. China has identified Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan and South China Sea Islands as well as strategic resources and trade routes as belonging to the ‘core interest’ category. The PRC takes a stand that ‘core interest’ cannot be compromised and that it will be protected through military means, if necessary. A fall out of such position is that China’s ties with its neighbors which are involved in territorial disputes are getting complicated. A valid argument seems to be that the PRC may have the intention to hide certain aspects of its foreign policy from world view like its pursuance of extra-regional interests with the objective of the country getting great power status . 


February 18, 2014. 

China continues to be a major source of military aid for Cambodia. Recently China delivered another 30,000 military uniforms and 26 military trucks. This was part of a 2012 deal where China agreed to provide $20 million worth of military aid. In addition Cambodia has purchased some major items from China. For example, in 2013 Cambodia received twelve Chinese made Z-9 helicopters. But what cash-poor Cambodia really needs is the freebies. China has been helpful with that for years. In 2011 China donated 50,000 field uniforms (including hats and boots) and in 2010 China donated 257 military trucks along with weapons. The donated infantry weapons tend to be older models. That's because China is introducing a new and improved model of their QBZ-95 assault rifle (also called the Type 95) to their own troops. The QBZ-95 is a distinctive bullpup design (the magazine is behind the trigger) that China has been issuing to its troops for over a decade now. That means China has plenty of surplus Type 81 (improved AK-47) rifles (which the QBZ-95 replaced) to either put into storage, or distribute to allies. Cambodia has bought some Type 95s, for elite units. But most everyone else has the second hand Type 81. AK-47s have been widely used in Cambodia and neighboring countries for half a century. 

Back in 2011 Cambodia really needed the Chinese military aid. That was because Cambodia was then at war (sort of) with neighboring Thailand. That dispute (since resolved, sort of) was all about a badly marked border. The basic problem was that the 730 kilometer long border with Thailand was defined in 1907 by the placement of only 73 border markers. This has left the exact location of the border open to interpretation. Occasionally these interpretations clash, as happened back in 2011. Neither side wanted a full scale war, even though Thailand has a larger and better equipped military. By 2011 Cambodia had doubled its annual military budget over a few years to $500 million. But Thailand spent more than six times that, and had done so for decades. Thailand has 300,000 troops, Cambodia only 100,000. 

Each side only deployed only a few thousand troops to the disputed area. The fighting consisted of infantry skirmishes. Anything more serious would have found the Cambodians at a big disadvantage. But as long as the fighting stayed low level the Cambodian troops could show up wearing Chinese combat uniforms, carrying well-used Chinese weapons and travelling in Chinese trucks and put up some effective resistance. That did not have much impact on Thai morale and eventually both sides negotiated a settlement. 

Until 2013 the U.S. matched, and often surpassed Chinese aid. But last year the U.S. and other foreign observers determined that the national elections were rigged and a lot of aid programs were halted. But China is not bothered by corrupt officials or rigged elections, which is why Chinese aid is welcomed in so many countries that the rest of the world stays away from. 


Dr.Sudheer Singh
February 16, 2014 

The structure of the international relations system has undergone changes ever since the end of the cold war in late eighties and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. What has not changed is the main influence coming from the ‘convergence of interests’ on the making of foreign policies by nations. Coming out true is the prophecy of one of the earliest Indian strategic thinkers, Kautilaya that ‘convergence of interests’ is the only permanent factor in shaping relations between states and other similarities like religion, ethnicity, languages etc. are secondary. To illustrate the point, at the time of Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, the ‘socialist’ China did not support the former, a fraternal nation though ideologically differing; it instead supported the ‘capitalist’ alliance led by the US Evident had been the congruence in the thinking of China and the US on the Soviet role in Afghanistan. A second case involves the roles on the Afghanistan issue of Iran and the Afghan Taliban. Iran, though having common Islamic belief with the Taliban, chose to oppose the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001) by supporting the Northern Alliance along with Russia, India and the Central Asian Republics. 

Many thinkers have predicted that the 21st century will be an Asian century and in terms of balance of power, Asia will dominate the global picture. But the prevailing disunity among Asian powers in the current stage belies such expectations; undoubtedly, responsible for this is the algebra of existing divergences between powers involved – those between China and India, China and Japan, China and ASEAN, China and South Korea etc. foremost, is the varying regional and world visions of the regional countries. Firstly, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wants to become the only pole in Asia, but accepts emergence of multi-polarity at global levels. Japan and India, on the other hand, stand for a multiple power structure at both regional and global levels. Tokyo’s position in this regard is being reflected in its promotion of a concept aimed at setting up of a ‘democratic security diamond’ in Asia ; as Prime Minister Abe puts it, the concept envisages acting together by Australia, India, Japan and the US in safeguarding maritime commons from the Indian Ocean to Western Pacific nations . On its part, India is taking measures to upgrade its presence in almost every Asian platform and deepen convergences with all regional powers including China. As next point, Japan’s historical ‘militarist’ role has always been challenging other East Asian nations, especially China. Since centuries, that country remained as only Asian imperial power. During the 1868-1912 Meiji eras, it became the first Asian nation to modernize. Japan was also the first Asian country to emerge as a world power, defeating Manchu ruled China and Czarist Russia in separate wars. It was the only country beyond Europe to participate in the Second World war. After its crushing defeat in that War, Japan rose from the ashes rapidly to become Asia’s first global economic powerhouse and till date despite many odds remains as third largest global economy. 

India and Japan share many common values based on philosophy and religion, Buddhism in particular. Rabindra Nath Tagore, India’s first Nobel Prize winner for Literature visited Japan when he focused on convergences between the two countries and stressed on deepening of bilateral cooperation; Prime Minister Nehru’s visits to Japan in 1950s were major events but the impact of the cold war animosity still continued to be felt in ties between two nations. For a forward movement, one had to wait till the ushering in of Prime Minister Narsimha Rao era in India (1991-1996). Mr Rao was the first Indian Prime Minister to reformulate the country’s foreign policy priorities in accordance with the changes in international relations anticipated by him. The “Look East” Policy launched by him in 1992 brought Japan into India’s foreign policy radar. Tokyo warmly reciprocated New Delhi’s initiative. The Look East policy also led to India’s membership in several regional platforms and cementing of ties with ASEAN nations. A major hurdle in India-Japan ties appeared in 1998; Japan imposed sanctions on India in protest to the latter’s conducting nuclear tests. 

China's new dream: How will Australia and the world cope with the re-emergence of China as a great power

Stand With Our Ally in Tokyo

For seven decades the US-Japan alliance has been the cornerstone of peace in Asia. Never has it been as vital as today.
By Rep. J. Randy Forbes
February 18, 2014

For nearly seven decades, the U.S. alliance with Japan has been the cornerstone of the American-led security order in East Asia. Together, our two countries have helped to usher in an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity in a region formerly identified with persistent conflict and endemic poverty. Working together through the long years of the Cold War to resist the Soviet Union’s attempts to gain influence in the region, followed by more recent cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to disaster relief, the United States and Japan have established one of the most enduring alliances in modern times. Now, as Asia takes on a newfound importance in international relations, the alliance is poised to play a consequential role in shaping the security architecture of the region. More specifically, the strength of the alliance will help determine the course of the region’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China in the decade ahead.

China’s announcement last November that it would establish an “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) in the East China Sea was another test of the U.S.-Japan alliance and, more broadly, America’s appetite for sustaining its commitments to the region. Since 2010, Beijing has consistently resorted to forms of coercion to patiently challenge the United States and its allies. I believe strongly that the United States should neither recognize nor accept China’s unilateral declaration of an ADIZ and we should continue to conduct our military exercises and operations in the region so as to maintain the status quo.

Of the many instances of growing Chinese assertiveness, recent incidents surrounding Japan’s southwestern islands are perhaps the most serious. Beijing has pursued its claims to Japan’s Senkaku Islands, with official newspapers even going so far as to assert that the entire Okinawa island chain is Chinese territory. More ominously, Chinese incursions into Japanese airspace and territorial waters have grown exponentially in recent years, raising the prospect of potential miscalculations. As the Senkakus are under Japan’s administrative control, unilateral attempts to change the status quo fall under the terms of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty.

The Chinese And Japanese Economies Are Delinking: Prelude To Conflict?


Japan issued 79,000 group tourist visas to Mainland Chinese last month. That’s on top of more than 30,000 individual visas. The total was ten times the number issued in January 2013.

Are cashed-up Chinese the answer to the region’s worsening geopolitical tensions? Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post thinks they just might be. Yesterday, the paper issued an editorial entitled “Increase in Tourism Can Help Heal Sino-Japan Rift.”

That seems like a stretch, but East Asia could use any good news these days. China is unnerving the region as it tries, among other things, to seize neighboring territory and incorporate surrounding seas. In late November, Beijing declared its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, which infringes on accepted notions of freedom of navigation and seeks to control the airspace of Japan and South Korea. Moreover, China issued rules, effective the first of this year, purporting to exercise sovereignty over international water in the South China Sea. And to top that off, Chinese General Liu Yazhou at the beginning of the year publicly urged his country to engage in armed conflict to grab territory from neighbors.

No wonder the region’s leaders are beginning to talk as if war is just around the corner. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, while responding to a question in Davos in January, likened the present relationship between his country and China to that of England and Germany a hundred years ago. Philippine President Benigno Aquino this month made a pointed reference to 1938. And today is beginning to look like 1937, when war in fact erupted in Asia. Secretary of State John Kerry is now touring the region, hoping to restrain China and reassure allies and friends, but so far his mission does not look like a success.

Observers used to say that deep-seated disagreements in the region did not matter, that there could be “cold politics and hot economics.” Today, analysts are not so sure. Jitters are now accompanying—and undoubtedly contributing to—a delinking of Asia’s two largest economies, China’s and Japan’s.

In 2013, trade volume between China and Japan dropped 5.1% from the year before. That followed a 3.9% fall in 2012. To put these figures into context, China’s total trade was up 6.2% in 2012 and 7.6% last year while Japan’s volume increased 1.0% in 2012 but was down 7.8% in 2013.


February 18, 2014 ·

With the armed phase of the Syrian revolution now in its 34th month, a great deal has changed since protests first erupted in March 2011. More than 130,000 people have been killed, the United Nations has now stopped counting due to the dearth of reliable information. Both the political and military aspects of the conflict have always been complex, but the nature of that complexity has changed as each of the conflict’s parties reevaluate their positions as the civil war drags on.

With the second round of peace talks now completed in the Swiss city of Geneva and dynamics on the ground shifting as Syrian rebel forces battle the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and moderate rebel forces restructure, now is an opportune time to assess the interests and capabilities of the main players.

International Players

Russia: Second only to Iran, Russia is Syria’s chief backer and a powerful one at that. Russia’s UN Security Council veto protects Assad from UN interference and Russia’s continued sale of advanced weapons and conventional small-arms and light weapons (SALWs) protects Assad from the comparatively poorly-armed opposition rebelling against him. Russia’s overlapping interests with other countries, including the United States, also forestalls large-scale external action against Assad that could damage relations with the former superpower.

Russia happily incurs international opprobrium for backing Assad so that it can preserve access to its last remote naval base in Tartus, which remains a symbol of Russia’s global reach; discourage external interference in a country’s internal affairs; and, most importantly, remain a counterweight to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. The last two reasons mean Moscow will not quickly abandon its long-term alliance with the Assad family even if the Syrian opposition could guarantee good military relations with Russia after Assad’s fall.