6 March 2014

Genesis of Army coup syndrome

Lieut-Gen (retd) Baljit Singh

AS a military leader, Major-Gen KS Thimayya, DSO, had emerged shoulders above his contemporaries, post the 1947-48 Indo-Pak war in the J&K theatre. This measure of Timmy was further bolstered when the international community unequivocally applauded his deft handling of the acrimonious POW repatriation on the Korean peninsula. Prime Minister Nehru was so impressed by the calibre of the General that in personal interaction the PM addressed him as Timmy, always.

Gen KS Thimayya

So the day he was elevated to the post of Chief of the Army Staff, Mr Nehru broke with convention and unannounced walked into the COAS office to congratulate his friend. So taken aback was the Army Chief that he remained transfixed to his chair even as the Prime Minister walked right up to him. Without ado, Mr Nehru shook hands and taking the visitor's chair launched into a convivial conversation with the utterance "won't you offer me a cigarette, Timmy?"

We learnt of this episode some twenty years later at a mutual friend's home from Ammie, including a few indiscreet words uttered in innocent banter by Timmy. Now Ammie was the lively, petite and charming younger sister of the Chief. She had been married to a bureaucrat from the Indian Civil Service and was widowed during a cloudburst when holidaying with their two children, up in the Kullu valley in the 1950s. Mr Nehru was quick to redress the tragedy and asked Timmy whether Ammie would accept the role of a personal assistant in the PM’s household. In the event, she was assigned responsibility of the PM's wardrobe, provided suitable quarters on the premises and would become a permanent fixture on the PM's staff during foreign visits, also. Ammie was in a sense “adopted” by the Nehru-Gandhis, ultimately becoming a mentor and companion of Priyanka and Rahul during their days of cloistered childhood. Mrs Indira Gandhi would often seek out Ammie for a relaxed drink in the evening and even decades later, a car would pick her on most Sundays to lunch with the children.


The attack in Kunming railway station shows that terrorism has spread out of the turbulent Xinjiang province in China, writes Subir Bhaumik

The late-evening mayhem by knife-wielding ‘terrorists’ at the Kunming railway station in Yunnan on March 1 has already been described as ‘China’s 9/11’ by the State media. By all accounts, the unprecedented attack seems to have caught the country’s formidable security apparatus by surprise. At 9.20 pm local time , 10 to 12 men and women in black uniforms stormed the Kunming railway station and stabbed anyone in sight with long knives. Twenty nine people — passengers, passers-by and railway employees — bled to death inside the railway station. More than 140 people were injured, many of them critically.

The Chinese police and the public security bureau insist that the number of attackers was “not more than 10 to 12”. The assault group must have then been trained to kill the most in minimum time and with only basic weapons before the inevitable Chinese security response which would be heavy. There is no evidence yet of the use of firearms in the attack. The number of casualties caused by knives alone reveals the murderous intent of the attackers.

The panic that the Kunming rail station attack has generated seems all-pervasive in the province. Residents are in a state of shock, and hundreds of foreign students — many of them are from India and Bangladesh — who study in Yunnan’s ever-growing number of excellent universities and professional colleges are in a state of panic. This is evident from the chat rooms they have organized to communicate with one another. Tourists who flock to Yunnan in large numbers at this time of the year appear to be shaken as well. Again, their posts suggest that they are having second thoughts over visiting Kunming to catch a glimpse of great sites like the Stone Forest.

Unlike Xinjiang, China’s western province that has witnessed periodic outbursts of violence ranging from ‘terror attacks’ to rioting between indigenous Muslim Uighurs and Han settlers, or Tibet with its growing spate of self-immolations, Yunnan has been largely peaceful since the convulsions in 1975 involving local Muslims opposed to the excesses committed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. In July 2008, Kunming was hit by a twin bombing that ripped through two public buses, injuring 14 passengers. China’s police and the public security bureau kept the investigation under wraps and did not reveal who were behind the attacks.

STRATEGIC MISCALCULATIONS - The US is again not managing its relations with India wel

Kanwal Sibal 

The United States of America is, once again, not managing its relations with India well. Gains made during George W. Bush’s presidency in building strategic trust between the two countries are being steadily frittered away by wrong steps taken by the Obama administration, which seems to have taken its eyes off the India ball. Blame for this is being laid at India’s door, with the argument that India has not lived up to American expectations, that we have been sitting on the fence, unwilling to grasp firmly the hand extended by the US because of our non-aligned obsessions resurfacing as “strategic autonomy”.

Such talk assumes that India has to meet certain benchmarks set by the US in order to be a valuable partner — that is, to earn favour by behaving according to the US script. In this equation, the US is not required to live up to India’s expectations. In reality, if the two countries have to build a meaningful strategic partnership, it cannot be a one-sided affair, with one side under pressure to give and the other expecting to take.

Indian and American critics of India’s lack of strategic initiative believe that the US’s role in lifting nuclear sanctions on India obliges us to continually offer rewards to the Americans in our defence and nuclear sectors, carry out economic reforms in accordance with US wishes and priorities, and make our foreign and security policies increasingly congruent with those of the US. Such thinking misses the important point that, apart from extracting major Indian concessions with regard to India’s nuclear autonomy, the larger US objective was to win India to its side in the face of the new strategic challenges facing US power in Asia with the rise of China, the need for burden-sharing in upholding the post-1945 international system because of the depletion of its military and economic strength caused by wars and financial mismanagement.

Can India, China cooperate on Afghanistan?

Afghanistan matters not because it is an arena for inter-state competition or competing national interests. It is important because a weak state can make it vulnerable again to radical forces and ideologies eager to fill any vacuum.

Zorawar Daulet Singh

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is so far the only regional institution in place but its area of interest is Central Asia and not Afghanistan. This file photo shows the SCO members and observers at a meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, last year. AFP (Left) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with his Afghan counterpart Zarar Ahmad Usmani in Kabul recently. According to China, Afghanistan’s stability impacts its western province Xinjiang. AFP

INDIAN, Chinese and Afghan delegations, comprising former practitioners and scholars, engaged in a trilateral workshop organised by an international think tank in the last week of February. The rationale for the workshop was to examine and identify the prospects for India-China cooperation over conflict management in Afghanistan.

As one Chinese scholar remarked if such a theme for trilateral cooperation had been suggested a few years ago, it would have been dismissed as simply fantastic. In fact, at the track-1 level, Indian and Chinese diplomats engaged in their first structured conversation on Afghanistan in April, 2013.

The recent workshop revealed interesting insights into how these two regional powers perceive their interests in Afghanistan, and how the Afghan elite perceive their own state-building challenges ahead.

Persistent bilateralism

A common pattern of Indian and Chinese remarks is the persistence of the norm of bilateralism in Delhi and Beijing’s foreign policies. For both India and China, this can be traced to a cultural preference in their foreign relations for bilateral engagement and partnerships emanating from their post-colonial identities that constrain both states from sharing sovereignty in a multilateral or cooperative security framework.

China for shared approach

For China, bilateralism also has a particular virtue in this case as it enables Beijing to avoid disturbing its other regional priorities — primarily the China-Pakistan relationship. A Chinese participant made clear that Beijing is not interested in a solution that seeks to “AfPak” the process to pressurise Pakistan. China is not interested in involving itself in regional disputes (i.e. India-Pakistan, Afghanistan-Pakistan). In China’s world, the participant argued, Afghanistan and Pakistan are viewed as separate issues with a clear priority: Afghanistan’s security is a regional and global problem but Pakistan’s security is China’s problem.

***** Stratfor: Ukraine and the ‘Little Cold War’

Posted on 4 March 2014
By George Friedman, Founder and Chairman, Stratfor

We must consider the future of Eurasia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, the region has fragmented and decayed. The successor state to the Soviet Union, Russia, is emerging from this period with renewed self-confidence. Yet Russia is also in an untenable geopolitical position. Unless Russia exerts itself to create a sphere of influence, the Russian Federation could itself fragment.

Editor’s Note: In place of George Friedman’s regular Geopolitical Weekly, this column is derived from two chapters of Friedman’s 2009 book, The Next 100 Years. We are running this abstract of the chapters that focused on Eastern Europe and Russia because the forecast — written in 2008 — is prescient in its anticipation of events unfoldingFor most of the second half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union controlled Eurasia — from central Germany to the Pacific, as far south as the Caucasus and the Hindu Kush. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its western frontier moved east nearly 1,000 miles, from the West German border to the Russian border with Belarus. Russian power has now retreated farther east than it has been in centuries. During the Cold War it had moved farther west than ever before. In the coming decades, Russian power will settle somewhere between those two lines.

After the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of the 20th century, foreign powers moved in to take advantage of Russia’s economy, creating an era of chaos and poverty. Most significantly, Ukraine moved into an alignment with the United States and away from Russia — this was a breaking point in Russian history.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, from December 2004 to January 2005, was the moment when the post-Cold War world genuinely ended for Russia. The Russians saw the events in Ukraine as an attempt by the United States to draw Ukraine into NATO and thereby set the stage for Russian disintegration. Quite frankly, there was some truth to the Russian perception.

If the West had succeeded in dominating Ukraine, Russia would have become indefensible. The southern border with Belarus, as well as the southwestern frontier of Russia, would have been wide open.
Russia’s Resurgence

After what Russia regarded as an American attempt to further damage it, Moscow reverted to a strategy of reasserting its sphere of influence in the areas of the former Soviet Union. The great retreat of Russian power ended in Ukraine. For the next generation, until roughly 2020, Russia’s primary concern will be reconstructing the Russian state and reasserting Russian power in the region.

Interestingly, the geopolitical shift is aligning with an economic shift. Vladimir Putin sees Russia less as an industrial power than as an exporter of raw materials, the most important of which is energy (particularly natural gas). He is transforming Russia from an impoverished disaster into a poor but more productive country. Putin also is giving Russia the tool with which to intimidate Europe: the valve on a natural gas pipeline.

But the real flash point, in all likelihood, will be on Russia’s western frontier. Belarus will align itself with Russia. Of all the countries in the former Soviet Union, Belarus has had the fewest economic and political reforms and has been the most interested in recreating some successor to the Soviet Union. Linked in some way to Russia, Belarus will bring Russian power back to the borders of the former Soviet Union.

Keyhole diplomacy doesn't suit India

By M K Bhadrakumar 
Feb 19, 2014

In an era of globalization, it is simply not possible for any country to consciously stay out and keep looking in through a keyhole and plunge into selective engagement with the inmates inside the room. 

For a variety of reasons one needn't get into right here, Singapore has come to be a "moderator" of India's foreign policy discourses in the recent decades. India's haphazard "adjustment" with the post-Cold War era brought it close to the Singaporean world-view, especially its "Look East" policies. 

The nimble-footed, street-smart Singaporeans feel frustrated at the ponderous way in which the Indian elephant moves around, but would have little to complain about Indian foreign policy in the neo-liberal era. 

At any rate, therefore, the K Subrahmanyam Memorial lecture recently in Delhi, titled "Can India be Cunning?", by the Dean of the Lew Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University in Singapore, Professor Kishore Mahubani, becomes an event of interest. More ... 

(Copyright 2014 M K Bhadrakumar)

Pakistan’s terror conundrum

March 5, 2014 

Pakistan’s response to terrorism continues to be characterised by confusion, lack of national consensus on a way forward, lack of will and capacity to fight the menace and the consequent creeping surrender of the state to extremists and terrorists

Despite being a country subject to and used to frequent terror attacks, the alarming upsurge in terror-related violence in January in Pakistan made people sit up. Nearly 40 personnel of the army and other security forces were killed in terror attacks between January 19 and 22, including one near the GHQ in Rawalpindi; 24 Shias were killed near Quetta by Sunni extremists on January 21. Daily killings in Karachi and attacks against polio vaccinators continue. These incidents are a reminder, if one was needed, of the enormity of Pakistan’s terror conundrum. Yet, a large section of Pakistan’s political class believes that the terror challenge can be met through dialogue.

Slow track to dialogue

A conditional offer of talks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the last quarter of 2012 was grabbed by political parties with significant electoral stakes in the Pashtun belt. However, there were no developments of note because of the impending elections. The TTP threatened the election rallies of all liberal parties, giving an edge to the conservative political segment. The approach of dialogue gained momentum after the May 2013 election, backed by the ruling PML-(N), Imran Khan’s PTI, the JUI (F) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. An all parties conference convened by the Nawaz Sharif government on September 9, 2013 adopted a resolution calling for an initiation of dialogue “with all stakeholders forthwith” and describing “respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs” as its guiding principle. The resolution was criticised in the liberal media for its cravenness, particularly in legitimising the TTP as a “stakeholder.” Heightened terror activity, including the killing of a major general followed, but was dismissed as being the handiwork of “foreign forces” by the votaries of dialogue.

Even as the government was trying to bring the TTP to the dialogue table, its head, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in an American drone strike on November 1, 2013. Forgetting that he had the blood of several innocent Pakistanis on his hands, the religious parties described him as a “martyr.” Though a setback, his killing did not end government efforts to engage with the TTP. Mounting expectations of military action following the spurt in violence in January were dashed when Mr. Nawaz Sharif announced on January 29 his intention to give peace “another chance” and the formation of a four-member committee to talk to the TTP.

Initial exchanges, surrounded by much uncertainty about the scope and content of dialogue, have ended abruptly because of the renewed terror activity, that resulted in the killing of over 30 security personnel. The army has carried out some air raids against militant hideouts. In a press conference on February 20, the Interior Minister was very hopeful of the dialogue process getting back on track!


Rana Banerji 
March 5 , 2014 

Almost 10 years after the Pakistan army entered the federally administered tribal areas and 13 abortive peace accords with the Tehrik-e-Taliban militants later, Nawaz Sharif told the National Assembly recently that one more attempt would be made to resume talks. A four-member committee of interlocutors has been named, all of whom are known to have opposed the military option.

The army’s initial attempts to tackle TTP militants had mixed results. After suffering initial reverses, the morale of the forces dipped. Senior Pashtun officers began to question the wisdom of the tactics in counter-insurgency operations. In 2009, military action in Swat witnessed the implementation of a more classical military response. Larger formations hitherto reserved for facing the Indian threat were deployed and counter-terrorism capabilities were geared up through ‘clear, hold and build’ operations.The tribal militias retreated to the hills or across the border in Afghanistan when confronted by superior forces. Uneasy peace prevailed in Waziristan, but trouble erupted in Bajaur, Mohmand and Orakzai. Swat was cleared, but Maulana Fazlullah escaped to Afghanistan. In 2009-2010, the TTP started targeting military and police establishments in Rawalpindi and Lahore. Since it began to fight the Taliban, the army has suffered 12,829 casualties, including an unusually high number of officers. This has created a peculiar dilemma for the military. The army leadership is conscious of the need to maintain its image as the ‘defender of Islam’. But it also has to hit back when confronted in combat.

United stand

The civilian government appears keen to pursue peace talks with the TTP. Imran Khan of the Tehreek-e-Insaf talked of extending an olive branch to militants. Both Sharif and Khan had explored the option of roping in the Jamiat Maulanas, Fazlur Rehman and Samiul Haq, as well as the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership for mediation with the TTP. Neither Khan nor the Pakistan People’s Party seems particularly interested in bailing out the Nawaz Sharif government when it comes to speaking with one voice on terrorism. An all party meeting was held in September to bring peace to the region. However, the killing of Sanaullah Khan Niazi by the TTP and the elimination of some TPP leaders in drone attacks put paid to the hopes of the peace talks succeeding.

India-Pakistan: Taliban Plead For Mercy

March 4, 2014
The Pakistani Taliban have called for a ceasefire to halt daily air strikes that have (since February 19 th ) caused them several hundred casualties and the loss of many buildings and lots of vehicles, equipment and weapons. Over a hundred Taliban have been killed by the F-16s and helicopter gunships employed. The army recently revealed that over a hundred soldiers had been killed in the tribal territories since September 2013. The government is going through the motions of recognizing this Taliban ceasefire but are not allowed (by the media and the military) to ignore the fact that the Taliban have always broken ceasefires and peace agreements. In the seven years of Taliban insurrection the Islamic terrorists have only agreed to ceasefires or peace deals when faced with major military operations. There are currently nearly 200,000 troops in the Pakistani tribal territories, and over 40,000 surrounding North Waziristan. This is an area of 4,700 square kilometers, with 365,000 people that is the only sanctuary Islamic terrorist groups like the Taliban and Haqqani Network have in the tribal territories. North Waziristan has been surrounded since late 2009, but until recently Pakistani generals refused to go in and shut down this terrorist refuge. Politicians have been under growing pressure from the West, especially the United States to do something about the continued terror attacks by what the Pakistanis call "bad Taliban". These are mostly Pakistani Taliban who wants to establish a religious dictatorship in Pakistan and some of them have been increasingly active attacking other Pakistanis. This has caused a shift in public opinion against the Taliban, although there is still a lot of support for Islamic terrorists who only attack India, Afghanistan or Western nations. 

The Afghan Taliban, who wants to establish a similar government in Afghanistan are considered "good Taliban" along with the minority of Pakistani Taliban who don't want to overthrow the government. In the last four years, the Pakistani Taliban have also caused over a thousand of casualties among pro-government tribesmen throughout the tribal territories. It's no secret that the army hires tribesmen and puts them in dangerous situations to minimize army casualties. The army cannot afford to lose the support of the loyal tribes up there. All this has put pressure on the army to eliminate the refuge the killers can flee to in North Waziristan. Several times, because of the demands of Pakistani and American politicians, the Pakistani generals have said they will consider advancing into North Waziristan. But it hasn't happened yet. Despite that, in the last week the generals have openly talked about actually going in on the ground and eliminating the North Waziristan Islamic terrorist sanctuary. The Pakistani military has explicitly declared that it would not attack its longtime and loyal terrorist allies (especially Haqqani Network) in North Waziristan or anywhere else in the tribal territories or any other terrorists who do not attack targets inside Pakistan. The air force has only been bombing Taliban targets and those of other Islamic terrorist groups openly making terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. 

The basic problem here is that the Taliban is a coalition where the factions cooperate when each feels like it and the more extreme groups oppose any talks or peace deals with the government. In short, the head of the Pakistani Taliban does not control an entire organization in the same way the commander of an army does. The government and Taliban began the current peace negotiations on February 6th. Although both sides agreed that the talks would not be about changing the constitution, one of the Taliban negotiators announced on the 7ththat there could be no peace unless the nation accepted a religious dictatorship and the imposition of strict Islamic law. This was the extremist faction problem once more. For the rest of February there were more Taliban terrorist attacks by the extremist factions. The Taliban refused to try and discipline these factions and the government refused to recognize these divisions and just hold the violent factions responsible. In part this was because the more extreme factions do not seek a lot of publicity and know that their best defense is to remain within the larger Taliban organization. The government is thus forced to go after Taliban factions only suspected of anti-government activity as well as those who openly declared their intentions. The Taliban refuse to discipline their uncontrollable factions. That is largely the result of tribal and local politics. If the Taliban factions fight each other they risk starting blood feuds and upsetting many tribal alliances. All politics is local, especially in the tribal territories. 

Militant Groups in South Asia


Publisher: Pantagon Press
ISBN 978-81-8274-754-8
Price: Rs.995/- [Download Now]
About the Book

This book is an attempt to profile important militant groups presently active in South Asian countries. It leaves out many militant groups that either have merged into some larger groups or have been in active for some years. Nevertheless, the book covers some inactive groups given their potential to regroup and get into action. The information related to these militant groups have been culled from open sources and due care has been taken to check the facts for consistency and reliability. The threat perception from each group has been covered in this book in details. The book will be useful for further research on militancy, terrorism, radicalisation and security related issues.

China’s Got an Aircraft Carrier—What About the Air Wing?

‘Liaoning’ fast getting new naval fighters and copters
Thomas Newdick in War is Boring

In late January, Chinese Internet forums highlighted what appeared to be the latest addition to China’s burgeoning carrier air wing. Although conspicuously watermarked, the photo clearly showed a sub-hunting version of the Changhe Z-8 helicopter.

It’s not as glamorous as missile-toting Shenyang J-15 carrier fighters or as potentially important for future operations as a carrier-based airborne early warning platform. On the other hand, the continued expansion of the Liaoning’s air wing reveals just how serious China is about deploying genuine naval air power.

Beijing bought and totally overhauled the former Soviet navy carrier Varyagstarting in the late 1990s and, in late 2012, re-commissioned her into People’s Liberation Army Navy service as Liaoning. The 60,000-ton-displacement flattop could carry 30 or more aircraft.

Official Chinese agencies reported the first take-offs and landings by J-15 prototypes on the flattop in November 2012. Since then, the Shenyang fighters have been busy conducting increasingly ambitious trials, most notably during Liaoning’s foray into the South China Sea in November 2013.

That provocative voyage came in the wake of Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over an area of the East China Sea. China is locked in heated territorial disputes with its neighbors in both seas.A production-model J-15. Via Chinese Internet
Fighter factor

The J-15 Flying Shark has begun to flex its muscles in trials, offering hints about its role and capabilities. During a three-week voyage last September, J-15s took off and landed on the carrier with various heavy payloads.

Stores included PL-8 and PL-12 air-to-air missiles for the air superiority role, 500-kilogram dumb bombs for the strike role and the heavy YJ-83K anti-ship missile. In contrast, the Russian Sukhoi Su-33—from which the J-15 derives and which currently populates the Russian navy’s carrier air wing—is only capable of air-defense missions.

Kunming: A New Phase of Terrorism in China

The deadly weekend attack, which killed 29 civilians, could mark a new era for security in China.

By Nicholas Dynon
March 05, 2014

The horrific knife attack that killed 29 and injured 143 at a railway station in Kunming, a city in southwestern China, on Saturday is allegedly the latest act of public violence by Uyghur separatists. Uyghurs have been blamed for dozens of attacks both within and outside of their Xinjiang autonomous region homeland for decades, including the recent Beijing Tiananmen Gate SUV incident in which five people – including the three alleged perpetrators – were killed. But this latest attack presents a paradigm shift.

Assuming the latest allegation of Uyghur involvement bears out, the Kunming massacre suggests a new phase in separatist violence. Attacks outside Xinjiang have either been blamed on or claimed by Uyghur separatists in the past, but this latest incident stands apart. Its random, indiscriminate gruesomeness, as evidenced by the bloodily graphic images circulating on Chinese social media, make it China’s most chilling textbook act of terror yet.

Unleashing their violence on an unsuspecting public at the busy Kunming Railway Station, the terrorists chose a venue with prime terror multiplier value. Far removed from the remote restive areas of Xinjiang, the Kunming attack could have happened at any train or bus station in the country. This was no target of distant, symbolic importance, but one designed to spread disproportionate fear among a national audience. Rail is the archetypal mode of transport for China’s commuting public, and like any provincial rail hub, Kunming station is ordinarily a throng of commuters, tourists and migrant workers and the stall operators and hawkers that service them. The fear message behind the choice of venue is clear: this could happen anywhere and to anyone.

That the attackers avoided detection by standard station security procedures will, no doubt, send shockwaves through China’s domestic transport systems, resulting in fierce scrutiny and tightening of measures.

Knife attacks are not uncommon in China. The illegality of handguns and lack of access to lethal weaponry means that knives, improvised explosives and fire are the weapons of choice in China for perpetrators of public violence. But despite the apparent crudeness of the weaponry used in this attack, it was coordinated and sophisticated, involving at least eight perpetrators. The bloody scenes occasioned by the ensuing mass knifing provided for maximum news media effect.

China’s Growth Puzzle

The country’s growth is slowing, but in contrast to other emerging economies this is a welcome trend.

By Stephen S. Roach
March 04, 2014

NEW HAVEN – Once again, all eyes are on emerging markets. Long the darlings of the global growth sweepstakes, they are being battered in early 2014. Perceptions of resilience have given way to fears of vulnerability.

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s tapering of its unprecedented liquidity injections has been an obvious and important trigger. Emerging economies that are overly dependent on global capital flows – particularly India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey – are finding it tougher to finance economic growth. But handwringing over China looms equally large. Long-standing concerns about the Chinese economy’s dreaded “hard landing” have intensified.

In the throes of crisis, generalization is the norm; in the end, however, it pays to differentiate. Unlike the deficit-prone emerging economies that are now in trouble – whose imbalances are strikingly reminiscent of those in the Asian economies that were hit by the late-1990’s financial crisis – China runs a current-account surplus. As a result, there is no risk of portfolio outflows resulting from the Fed’s tapering of its monthly asset purchases. And, of course, China’s outsize backstop of $3.8 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves provides ample insurance in the event of intensified financial contagion.

Yes, China’s economy is now slowing; but the significance of this is not well understood. The downturn has nothing to do with problems in other emerging economies; in fact, it is a welcome development. It is neither desirable nor feasible for China to return to the trajectory of 10 percent annual growth that it achieved in the three decades after 1980.

Yet a superficial fixation on China’s headline GDP growth persists, so that a 25 percent deceleration, to a 7-8 percent annual rate, is perceived as somehow heralding the end of the modern world’s greatest development story. This knee-jerk reaction presumes that China’s current slowdown is but a prelude to more growth disappointments to come – a presumption that reflects widespread and longstanding fears of a broad array of disaster scenarios, ranging from social unrest and environmental catastrophes to housing bubbles and shadow-banking blow-ups.

While these concerns should not be dismissed out of hand, none of them is the source of the current slowdown. Instead, lower growth rates are the natural result of the long-awaited rebalancing of the Chinese economy.

China and Russia: An Axis of Weak States

When Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping met for the fifth time last year—at the October APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia—the Chinese leader spoke about “the uniqueness of China-Russia relations.” Indeed, the ties between the two countries, as both Beijing and Moscow now perceive them, are truly one-of-a-kind. They view themselves in the same terms and see their interests as converging. Closer than they have been at any time since the early 1950s, China and Russia have embarked on a grand project—challenging the American-led international system.

As many have feared, these two large states, one bent on changing the world and the other perhaps simply obstructionist, are a formidable pair and can alter the international system, if not exactly as they please, then at least in ways that can shake its foundations. Yet despite appearances, China and Russia are weak states, and today’s narrative of resurgence could soon be replaced by the story line of decline. It is in decline, in fact, that they may find the alliance that has long eluded them.

A decade ago, when Beijing and Moscow started flexing their muscles, the “strategic partnership” both nations often talked about was mostly a mirage. True, they had signed a comprehensive “friendship and cooperation” treaty in 2001, yet their bond was weak. Then, both China and Russia saw their relations with the West—principally the United States—as more important than their ties with each other. In both capitals, there were thinkers who perceived the other to be the “ultimate strategic threat in the long-term,” as a report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute termed it.

New members on the Artic Council like China, India, and other Asian countries underscore the rush to secure energy and mineral resources and shorter trade routes.

Moscow had settled its border with China not so much to improve relations with Beijing as to allow it to concentrate on historic foreign policy objectives along its western and southern frontiers. And its first moves in this regard were largely successful. The “energy superpower,” as it now identified itself, was able to use abundant oil and gas reserves to reassert dominion over the “near abroad” and regain influence in Western Europe.

On his way to establishing the Russian Federation as a major power, Putin made it clear there was little room for the Chinese at the heart of the global order as he conceived it. As late as 2011, he proposed the “Eurasian Union,” a grouping of nations once comprising the Soviet Union. He may have spoken of it as only “one of the poles of the modern world,” but in reality he saw it as closer to the center of the international system, “serving as an efficient link between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region.” As Putin imagined it, China would in effect merely be one of the parts of this system at one end of the world.

China-Japan-South Korea Hold FTA Talks Despite Political Tension

The economic incentives of completing a FTA outweigh the political rifts between Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul

March 05, 2014

China, Japan, and South Korea began the fourth round of negotiations over a trilateral free trade agreement (FTA) today. The talks, which are taking place in Seoul, will conclude on Friday. According to Xinhua, this round of talks will focus on “modalities of tariff reduction, the way of opening service trade, investment and certain range and fields of the agreement.”

Officials aren’t expecting major breakthroughs in this week’s negotiations. Yonhap News quoted South Korean Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick as saying that sometimes such negotiations involve “a tug of war” between the participating countries. However, he cautioned against being too pessmisitic. “It does not mean negotiations are not moving forward just because there is no [obvious] progress,” Yoon said.

The fact that the talks are taking place at all could be considered progress. It’s no secret that the trilateral relationship between China, Japan, and South Korea is currently at a low point. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine last December sparked outrage in both China and South Korea, whose leaders saw the move as blatant disregard for those who suffered under Japanese imperialism. Things have not improved since then, as Abe has stepped up his efforts to revitalize Japan’s defense and security posture.

In addition, comments by NHK officials denying wartime atrocities such as the Nanjing massacre anddownplaying the abuse of comfort women have only increased China and South Korea’s ire. The two countries recently banded together to express their displeasure at Tokyo, with China’s government collaborating with South Korea to open a memorial for Korean independence activist and assassin Ahn Jung-geun in Harbin.

Why Washington Can’t Restrain Tokyo

The current U.S. security posture in East Asia leaves it with few options should a crisis escalate.

By Jake A. Douglas
March 04, 2014

China and Japan are increasingly at each other’s throats. America wants to stand between them, but because of its military presence on Japanese soil, it can only actually stand behind Tokyo. As Japan develops independent, offensive military capabilities, an untenable situation is taking shape: In the future, the United States may have little control over the outbreak of war but a virtually automatic commitment to involvement in it. Instead, a more elastic commitment would give the U.S. greater leverage to restrain Japan and contribute in a balanced way to regional stability.

Faced with greater diplomatic pressure from Beijing and belt-tightening in Washington, U.S. allies like Japan have started to rearm in earnest. Asia is quickly becoming “the most militarized region in the world.” U.S. partners and allies in the region plan to spend 53 percent more between 2013 and 2018 than they did in the previous five-year period. Japan’s security posture in particular is undergoing sweeping changes. Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reversed a decade of cuts, seeking the largest increases in defense spending since the end of the Cold War.

This still unfolding story represents a substantial shift in burdensharing from the U.S. to its allies. After two major wars and the Great Recession, both major parties in the U.S. are happy to see others carry more of America’s global responsibilities. But in a world dominated by America for so long, there is something of an intellectual vacuum on how to approach multipolarity.

Several Washington think tanks have stepped into this void. The Federated Defense Project at CSIS, the Power Web at CNAS, and the Front Office/Back Office Concept at the Carnegie Endowment are examples. Each offers a new alliance concept that outlines how the United States can do more with less. They applaud the easing of the “free rider problem” and greater allied participation in shared challenges, while stressing that continued U.S. engagement and reassurance is essential. In other words, nothing fundamental will change in the switch away from the old hub-and-spoke model.

What no one sufficiently tackles, however, are the strategic problems of leading from behind in this way. Their Achilles’s heel is something most strategists by now take for granted: the deployment of U.S. troops on allied territory as a “tripwire” against aggression.


March 4, 2014 

In a recent article for War on the Rocks, Peter Munson expanded on a debate I’d had with him on Twitter over intervention in Syria. WOTR generously offered me space to respond.

Munson lays out our debate well, insofar as anyone can get anywhere 140 characters at a time. Here’s the crux of the disagreement, as he reports it:

Nichols was focused on the moral imperative to do something, anything to lessen the suffering and to reassert America’s role of strategic leadership. While I am no less caring for the Syrian people and no less interested in America’s strategic position in the region and the world, my focus was on the likely outcome of any action.

That’s accurate to a point. I’m not actually in favor of doing anything, and in fact, once I realized that any U.S. intervention would be conducted in a half-hearted, desultory way—something “incredibly small,” as Secretary Kerry dejectedly promisedI wrote a piece in early September 2013 saying that I had, in fact, given up on intervention.

But something definitely stuck in my teeth about my debate with Munson, as he notes here:

Nichols peppered me with questions meant to pin down my position with reference to precedents such as Kosovo and Somalia, the intersection of values and interests, and the moral imperative of alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people.

Munson is quite right that I wouldn’t let go of questions about Kosovo and Somalia—because, as he finally noted in our discussion on Twitter, he supported action in both of those messes, as did I, which raises the obvious question: Kosovo and Somalia were okay, but Syria is dangerous and failure-fraught? Seriously?

Perhaps Munson checked the syllabus I teach from at Harvard Summer School, because he lays out a case against intervention based on traditional just war criteria, which I teach as part of my courses there, claiming that intervention in Syria violates just war theory’s requirement that any military action must have “a reasonable chance of success.” Not only does Munson’s claim misunderstand the just war concept of “the prospect of success,” it prejudices the notion of success so strongly toward regime change that it shuts down further debate. But I’ll get to that.

The overall issue is that I now wonder exactly what Munson and others really mean when they ask about “outcomes” or even the dreaded “exit strategies,” in which every proposal for intervention is met with the phrase:Tell me how this ends.

To understand Crimea, take a look back at its complicated history

February 27 

Crimean and Russian flags fly above the Crimean parliament in Simferopol on Thursday. 

When President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev this week, it was tempting to assume that Ukraine's crisis was over: Euromaidan had won, and the forces of Western-style democracy had prevailed over Yanukovych's Kremlin-led repression.

If only it were that simple. For the past few days all eyes have been on southern Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, and things don't look so rosy. Crimea, which is not only populated by 60 percent Russian speakers but is the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, has seen some worrying developments in the past few days: On Thursday gunmenreportedly seized government buildings in the capital, Simferopol, barricading themselves in and raising Russian flags.

Crimea's situation is, as with many things in Ukraine's political crisis, compounded by a complicated history. For most in America and Western Europe, however, that history is likely obscure -- wasn't there a war or something there? Let's take a look back.

What even is 'the' Crimea?

It's revealing that Crimea is, much like Ukraine, often prefaced with a "the" when referred to in English. As I wrote late last year, the once-widespread use of "the Ukraine" has often angered Ukrainians, many of whom believe that the implication is that Ukraine is a region, not a country, that could be conquered by greater powers. The same logic could be applied to Crimea: For centuries the Crimean Peninsula, which occupies a strategically important location on the Black Sea and has arable land, has been fought over by various outside forces.

Why Putin Doesn’t Respect Us

MARCH 4, 2014 

Just as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.

Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.

So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.

So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.

What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.

Russia Is Doomed

Don’t be fooled by Putin’s façade; the pillars of Russian power are steadily declining.
March 05, 2014

Everywhere one looks today, signs of a resurgent Russia are omnipresent. Although Vladimir Putin has undoubtedly worked hard to craft this image, it is a mirage. Russia is doomed over the long-term, and its short-term maneuvers aren’t enough to compensate for this fact.

Traditionally, Russian power has rested on four pillars: population, energy, weaponry and geography. Three of these are diminishing.

The backbone of modern Russian power has been its massive population. Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in WWII. Russia no doubt played a leading role in orchestrating Hitler’s demise, starting with its legendary stands in Leningrad and Stalingrad. However, Stalin sapped the military might of Nazi Germany less because of the strategic or tactical genius he possessed, and almost entirely through his willingness to expend the lives of his citizenry.

According to some estimates, the Soviet Union lost somewhere between 22 and 28 million people during WWII. To put this in perspective, the United States and Great Britain each lost less than half a million people and even Germany only lost between 7 and 9 million lives during the war. Nonetheless, for nearly half a century after the war the Soviet Union could credibly threaten the much richer West solely because of the sheer number of men it could put under arms.

Yet like most of Europe, Russia has recently seen its population dwindle even as countries like China, India and much of the third world have seen sharp rises in their own populations. As AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt observed inWorld Affairs: “in the last sixteen years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first sixteen years of the post-Soviet era, deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.” Unless Russia can reverse this depopulation for a sustained period of time, it will likely become increasingly irrelevant in international politics.

Another source of modern Russian power has been its massive energy reserves. Indeed, high oil prices during the 1970s allowed the Soviet Union to flex its muscles abroad. However, as energy prices stabilized during the 1980s the artifice upon which the Soviet system began to crumble. Far from continuing to expand, the end of the decade saw the Soviet empire disintegrate, with Moscow powerless to stop it.


The Cold War is back in Europe with a vengeance 
March 5 , 2014 

Krishnan Srinivasan & Hari Vasudevan 

K. Srinivasan is former foreign secretary of India. H.Vasudevan is professor of history at Calcutta University 

The break-up of the Soviet Union left fault-lines held over from a union of many republics and regions. On the USSR’s eastern border, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan were left with territorial disputes, ethnic and linguistic groups on the wrong side of political borders, dysfunctional economic and trade patterns and strategic dilemmas.

Ukraine is large and assertive, but suffers from all these problems. The country had a central position in the USSR: leading Soviet political figures were Ukrainian, its Donbass was an industrial hub and the Slav big three that ended the USSR consisted of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. After Soviet disintegration, the country continued economically on Russian lines, dominated by oligarchs and apparatchiks, but the oligarchs are Ukrainian and the policy is its own, leading to WTO membership in 2008. The country is however dependent on Russia for energy, with Russian gas pipelines to Europe passing through Ukraine — a fact made abundantly clear in 2006 when Russia briefly suspended supplies over a price dispute with Ukraine, sparking alarm among European consumers. But the transit status has also been useful to Ukraine, since Russia has yet few alternative routes to Europe.

In the 22 years of independence, Ukraine sought a narrative embracing all its regions and citizens. Although there is an East-West divide, this attempt has not been in vain. Ukrainian governments have straddled ethnic and regional divisions, and until now conflict between the Russians and Ukrainians who share this country has been rare. East Ukraine is politically, religiously, linguistically, culturally and economically close to Russia. Twenty five percent of Ukraine’s 45 million are ethnic Russians, and Russian is widely spoken in parts of the east and south. Russian has enjoyed equal status with Ukrainian; in some areas, including Crimea, it is the main language. Regions where Russian predominates almost exactly match those that voted for President Yanukovich in 2010, an election deemed free and fair by the West. The West of the Ukraine, on the other hand, is agricultural, closer to Poland and speaks Polish and Ukrainian; in religion it is Uniate, a mixture of Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism. Western Ukrainians murdered Poles by the hundreds in the aftermath of World War II when they occupied the area, but all that is forgotten in Poland’s quest for markets and Kiev’s quest for Europe.

*** Ukraine and the 'Little Cold War'

MARCH 4, 2014 

Editor's Note: In place of George Friedman's regular Geopolitical Weekly, this column is derived from two chapters of Friedman's 2009 book, The Next 100 Years. We are running this abstract of the chapters that focused on Eastern Europe and Russia because the forecast -- written in 2008 -- is prescient in its anticipation of events unfolding today in Russia, Ukraine and Crimea.

We must consider the future of Eurasia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, the region has fragmented and decayed. The successor state to the Soviet Union, Russia, is emerging from this period with renewed self-confidence. Yet Russia is also in an untenable geopolitical position. Unless Russia exerts itself to create a sphere of influence, the Russian Federation could itself fragment.

For most of the second half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union controlled Eurasia -- from central Germany to the Pacific, as far south as the Caucasus and the Hindu Kush. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its western frontier moved east nearly 1,000 miles, from the West German border to the Russian border with Belarus. Russian power has now retreated farther east than it has been in centuries. During the Cold War it had moved farther west than ever before. In the coming decades, Russian power will settle somewhere between those two lines.

After the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of the 20th century, foreign powers moved in to take advantage of Russia's economy, creating an era of chaos and poverty. Most significantly, Ukraine moved into an alignment with the United States and away from Russia -- this was a breaking point in Russian history.

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, from December 2004 to January 2005, was the moment when the post-Cold War world genuinely ended for Russia. The Russians saw the events in Ukraine as an attempt by the United States to draw Ukraine into NATO and thereby set the stage for Russian disintegration. Quite frankly, there was some truth to the Russian perception.

If the West had succeeded in dominating Ukraine, Russia would have become indefensible. The southern border with Belarus, as well as the southwestern frontier of Russia, would have been wide open.

Russia's Resurgence

After what Russia regarded as an American attempt to further damage it, Moscow reverted to a strategy of reasserting its sphere of influence in the areas of the former Soviet Union. The great retreat of Russian power ended in Ukraine. For the next generation, until roughly 2020, Russia's primary concern will be reconstructing the Russian state and reasserting Russian power in the region.