25 March 2014

How India & China see each other

V. R. Raghavan

Title: IRSA Asymmetrical threat Perceptions in India-China Relations. Author: Tien-sze Fang.

A fascinating analysis of the mutual threat perceptions of the two countries

International relations theories during the Cold War were largely predicated on the global matrix of two super powers setting the context for relations amongst smaller powers. The end of Cold War and emergence of new powers have tested and stretched the theoretical framework. It is still a work in progress and the series of writings related to South Asia, led by Oxford International Relations in South Asia Series, has made a valuable contribution in the field. The book under review is remarkable in Sino-Indian relations being addressed by a Taiwanese diplomat-scholar. Taiwan has a unique relationship with China based on a mix of historical animosity, national identity, economic and power asymmetry and the dominant influence of United States. Unlike the mainstream neo-realism or neo-liberal streams of international relations analysis, this book attempts a constructivist understanding of the relations between India and China. The author, who was based in India, makes a fascinating analysis of the mutual threat perceptions of the two countries. It is interesting that both the stronger and weaker player in the Sino-Indian dyad, see the other as a threat to its interests. The analysis covers the four major dimensions of the two states’ troubled relationship, viz; nuclear issues, Tibet, border problem and regional competition.

Perceptions and misperceptions of threat become a variable in the strategic policies of states. International relations theorists have long analysed threat perceptions as the estimated intent and capabilities of the adversary state. Based on such analysis, not always wise or right, states adopt countermeasures to cope with the perceived threat. These have often taken the form of balancing, through internal strength, either military or economic or both, or external partnerships with allies. Some other states try ‘band wagoning’ by joining another power while some others seek a constructive engagement through Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to reduce the threat. The book puts out the view, not surprisingly, that the weaker of the two will attempt to reduce the asymmetry by improving its capabilities. This is what in fact India is doing militarily albeit slowly and by building a network of cooperative relationship with other states extending from the Asia Pacific to Indian Ocean. As the author argues, this in itself can be a trigger for perceptional misunderstanding.

India’s nuclear weapons capability, is quite clearly not driven by the nuclear powers in the UN Security Council other than China. Pakistan’s nuclear capability, supported and sustained by China, added to New Delhi’s perceptions of asymmetry. India was willing to pay the price of economic and other sanctions in order to become a nuclear weapons state. It was a major measure to change the asymmetry, which allowed New Delhi to approach its bilateral problems with China in a more confident manner. China does not see India as a serious nuclear threat, but the resulting change in India’s stature as a rising power and the resultant improved ties with the US is a new variable in China’s calculus of asymmetry.

Tibet has been a source of continuing friction between China and India. China has not been able to satisfy either the Tibetan population or the global opinion on its intentions in Tibet. It opposes the discourse on autonomy, and has hugely changed the military infrastructure in Tibet. It has little leverage over the role of the Dalai Lama and over international media on its reporting on Tibet. Beijing’s sense of inadequacy clearly creates a perception of threat in China’s party and military leadership. While India is not the cause of this, and has unambiguously stated its position on Tibet being a part of China, the Tibetan question will continue to remain part of China’s sense of asymmetric threat to its national identity. Indian analysts are not unjustified in arguing that the slow pace of boundary negotiations and a continuing series of irritants on the disputed borders have a connection with Beijing’s Tibet conundrum.


The making of foreign policy would be smoother if consultation between the Union and the states is institutionalized, writes Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Two major issues have brought foreign policy formulation and implementation into the domain of public debate recently and flagged the question about the role of all stakeholders in the formulation of India’s foreign policy. Stakeholders in foreign policy today include a range of actors — from the traditional to the non-traditional. In the Indian context, there is the crucial role of state governments, business and industry organizations for economic issues, health and educational organizations, organizations concerned with connectivity, particularly transport and energy grids, non-governmental organizations and a host of other actors who impinge on foreign policy formulation.

Though the Central government in India is the driver of foreign policy, it could not sign the Teesta river water sharing treaty and the land boundary agreement with Bangladesh because the state government of West Bengal objected to their provisions. The second issue was the demand by the Tamil Nadu government that the prime minister of India boycott the Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka in order to highlight the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils and to protest against the Sri Lankan government dragging its feet on the issue of autonomy for the Tamils in the northern and eastern provinces. The Indian prime minister’s decision not to attend the summit underlined the state government’s ability to influence policy on issues relating to external affairs.

In 1987, before the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, decided to send Indian Air Force to airdrop food provisions to the beleaguered Tamils in Jaffna, he had the Tamil Nadu chief minister, M.G. Ramachandran, flown to Delhi for consultations. Details of this consultation perhaps still lie in the classified archives of the government. In case of the Ganga waters treaty with Bangladesh that lays down detailed water sharing-arrangements and monitoring, the Central government consulted closely with the West Bengal government and its then chief minister, Jyoti Basu. It is impossible to conceive that these two chief ministers, whose stature and political influence were considerable, could have objected to the Central government’s policy decisions in 1987 and 1996 respectively. It would be safe to assume that both stalwarts were fully on board with the Central government’s decisions.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was prolific in sending letters to the chief ministers from 1947 to 1964. These have been published and are a source of great interest to scholars and others. The issues addressed in these letters were largely domestic but there were also many dealing with India’s external relations. It would perhaps be difficult to call these letters a manifestation of Union-state “consultation”, but they were, at the very least, an exercise in informing and educating the chief ministers about foreign affairs. There is no evidence to suggest that the chief ministers wrote back conveying their views on issues concerning foreign affairs discussed in these letters.

Why China Needs the US in Afghanistan

China’s plans for western development require stability, which means Beijing needs lasting peace in Afghanistan.
March 25, 2014

China has big plans for an economic and diplomatic push to the west, as evidenced by the emergence last year of the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “Maritime Silk Road.” China is envisioning these projects partly as foreign policy tools to draw China closer to South Asia, Central Asia, and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. However, there’s also an important domestic policy aspect, in that China hopes to make its restive western province, Xinjiang, into an economic hub, increasing development and (presumably) decreasing violent outbursts from the native Uyghur population.

China’s renewed interest in its western neighbors comes at a sensitive time. As my colleagues Zach and Ankit discussed in a recent podcast, the security situation in Afghanistan, not a rosy picture to begin with, is about to get a lot more complicated. U.S. and NATO troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014. With current President Hamid Karzai refusing to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain after the drawdown, the Pentagon is even considering a “zero option” that would result in all U.S. troops leaving the country. U.S. officials, including General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, are not sanguine about Kabul’s ability to hold out against a potential Taliban resurgence on its own.

Chaos in Afghanistan, particularly Al Qaeda or other extremist terrorist groups returning, would be a blow to the U.S., but it would also be a disaster for China. Parts of China’s new economic plans (notably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) are already in doubt due to security concerns. Should the Afghan government (which is scheduled to elect a new president in April) collapse following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops, it would further destabilize the entire region—posing a threat to China’s “Silk Road Economic Belt.”

Worse, China is worried that instability in Afghanistan (and Pakistan as well) will provide a training ground for terrorist groups seeking to split Xinjiang province off from the rest of China. Violent incidents in Xinjiang have already become increasingly common in recent years. Even more worrying, terrorist attacks have been carried out far from Xinjiang, including an October 2013 intentional car crash in Tiananmen Square as well as the March 1 knife attack in Kunming Railway Station.

Underscoring the threat, Reuters recently conducted a telephone interview with Abdullah Mansour, the leader of the Turkestan Islamic Party. Reuters quoted Mansour as saying, “We have plans for many attacks in China …We have a message to China that East Turkestan people and other Muslims have woken up. They cannot suppress us and Islam any more. Muslims will take revenge.” Mansour reportedly operates in Pakistan in an area close to the Afghanistan border, and both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are believed to work with and aid Uyghur separatist groups.

The enigma of flight 370 The sound of silence

The disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet shows how air-traffic communications need to be updated
Mar 22nd 2014 

“ALL right, good night,” were the last words heard by air-traffic controllers from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 8th. That makes them a rarity in the baffling story of the disappearance of a Boeing 777 carrying 239 passengers and crew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing: an undisputed fact. In the days following, the Malaysian government provided information only in dribs and drabs, much of it confusing, even contradictory. 

As The Economist went to press, it seemed possible that the agonising wait for the passengers’ families might be nearing an end. On March 20th Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, told parliament that satellite pictures showed debris in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,500km southwest of Perth, in an area where the 777 might plausibly have crashed. At 20 metres or so, one object seemed the size of a wing or tail fin. Aircraft and ships were headed to the area to investigate further. If the plane’s wreckage is found, and especially if its “black box” flight recorder can be recovered, what happened to flight 370 should become clearer. What is already beyond doubt is that air-traffic communication protocols need to be updated to ensure that, however rare, such a disappearance cannot be repeated. 

Hijacking seems unlikely: flight-deck doors are locked and sturdy. And investigations into the backgrounds of the crew and passengers have so far turned up no plausible motive. The first credible theory was that the plane had suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and crashed, probably at sea. But a search along its flight path failed to turn up any sign of wreckage.The distressed relatives of the mostly Chinese passengers are not alone in their bewilderment that, in a world of pervasive electronic surveillance, a 200-tonne passenger plane can vanish. With little concrete information, speculation has run wild. Commentators of varying degrees of authority have attempted to fill the blank canvas with theories ranging from an accident to suicidal tendencies on the flight deck, and conspiracies of a complexity that would seem farfetched in a disaster film. 

Then news emerged that Malaysian military radar had tracked the plane apparently turning west off its route shortly after the final radio message. Malaysian authorities added that its ACARS, an on-board system which transmits intermittent data about the performance of engines and other parts, appeared to have stopped functioning just before that, and that the transponder, another device that communicates a plane’s position to air-traffic control radars, appeared to have been switched off around the time of the turn. The fact that the pilots had not reported the switch-off led the authorities to infer foul play. On March 15th the Malaysian prime minister blamed “deliberate action”, with suspicion falling on the pilot or co-pilot. That the plane vanished between signing off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers and establishing contact with Vietnamese ones, and apparently continued flying for several hours under the control of a skilled aviator, lent credence to the assertion. 

But this version of events was later revised by the Malaysian authorities. The ACARS, which sends messages intermittently, might have ceased functioning at exactly the same time as the transponder, it turned out. This makes the notion of an emergency more likely, perhaps a fire that incapacitated crew and passengers, leaving the plane to fly on ungoverned. The risk of an electrical fire is one reason why pilots are able to switch off on-board equipment, including that responsible for communications. But many are now calling for an automatic alert to be sent in such circumstances, so that ground authorities know that they should start tracking the plane with conventional radar. 

Indian Foreign Policy: The Cold War Lingers

India’s support for Russia during the Crimea crisis should be a wake-up call for Washington.
By Andrew J. Stravers and Peter Harris
March 24, 2014

In the wake of the Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Crimea, almost every member of the international community voiced concern over Russia’s actions. While the U.S. and European Union were the most forceful in their criticism, non-Western states such as China and even Iran also made clear their support for the principles of non-intervention, state sovereignty and territorial integrity – oblique criticisms of Moscow’s disregard for cornerstone Westphalian norms. For the most part, support for Russia has been confined to the predictable incendiaries: Cuba, Venezuela and Syria, for example. Yet there is one unusual suspect among those lining up behind Putin that requires further investigation: India.

On its face, New Delhi’s enunciation of respect for Russia’s “legitimate interests” in Crimea is a surprising blow to the prevailing U.S. policy of reaching out to India. As the largest democracy in the world, a burgeoning capitalist economy and an increasingly important military power, India has been viewed as a counterweight to China’s rise and an anchor of the U.S.-led international order. India’s support for Russia’s revisionism in Crimea, then, is something that should trouble U.S. policymakers. In the long run, India’s response to the Crimean crisis might even be remembered as one of the more important implications of the whole episode. For how India aligns in the coming multipolar world will have enormous ramifications.

India’s support for Putin is a reminder that the West should not take India’s friendship for granted. To be sure, India made a necessary shift in tone towards the West following the collapse of the Soviet Union. India has liberalized its economy and become a strategic partner in several key areas. But the past two decades of broad cooperation should not be taken as an inexorable trend towards a complete harmonization of interests between India and the West. Amid all the talk of a renewed Cold War in Europe it has been forgotten that, for India, Cold War international relations never truly ended. In particular, the Indo-Russian relationship remains an important mainstay of Indian grand strategy – a hangover from that bygone era.

The years following the collapse of the Soviet empire saw the U.S. mainly concerned with a failed attempt to curb India’s nuclear program. After 9/11, America’s attention was focused on partnership with India while still maintaining the confidence and cooperation of Pakistan. Both periods of engagement, however, left the Indo-U.S. relationship well short of the kind of deep cooperation that marked Indo-Soviet relations during the Cold War. The result has been that Moscow still enjoys a thoroughly positive relationship with New Delhi.

Artillery Modernisation Plans: Pragmatic Analysis

The delay in acquisition of 155mm M777 howitzers from USA once again hampered the artillery modernisation programme and stalled the planned re-equipping of artillery regiments with modern weapon systems. The ambitious artillery modernisation programme worth rupees 35,000 crore has faced regular delays due to allegations of irregularities or bribery. The long drawn trials or subsequent blacklisting of a number of firms due to bribery claims has led to a situation where no worthwhile acquisition has been carried out since the purchase of Bofors guns in the mid-1980s. Hindrances in the acquisition process in the last decade coupled with dithering decision making matrix has led to a stage where the conventional edge of the armed forces may be in peril, unless immediate surgical steps are taken to acquire military equipment in time bound manner. In an effort to again kick-start the acquisition cycle, Indian Army issued a Request for Information (RFI) in 2013 for 155mm x 52 calibretowed guns to replace the obsolete 105 mm guns from its inventory. The proposed acquisition is under the buy from abroad and make at home through transfer of technology. The army is looking to buy 200 guns with an option to build 614 guns in India[i]. If the planned acquisition is successful, it may pave the way for overhauling almost the entire inventory of artillery guns.

An analysis of India’s security environment shows that India faces a unique two front war scenario with belligerent neighbours on its western and northern borders. Even though bulk of its force levels are poised towards India’s western borders, given the present internal turmoil in Pakistan, it can be presumed that Pakistan is not likely to pose a significant conventional military threat to India in the near future,although it has the capability to fester the sub-conventional threat. Pakistan is facing a complex internal security scenario and the writ of the state is being constantly challenged due to brazen attacks by TTP. Its social fabric has been damaged by vicious attacks on the Shia population and other minorities. The biggest stake holder, the Pakistan Army has for the first time acknowledged that the home grown terrorist organisations pose a greater security threat than India. India’s northern borders present a picture of tranquility which, at times is impeded by troop incursions based on self-perceived territorial claims. Though peace prevails presently on India’s northern borders, a potent long term conventional military threat exists from China. Re-equipment of artillery regiments and other entities would entail a higher priority as compared to those deployed along western borders. The improving strategic relations between both the nations maypreclude the possibility of any military conflict in the immediate future, but army units would be required to maintain their combat edge at all times.

Thus, for the first time in many decades, India is in a position to redefine the contours of its acquisition process due to changing security environment at its borders and reduce its dependence on import of military equipment. It is an ideal opportunity to take calculated risks and plan acquisition of indigenous equipment by harnessing the potential of home-grown private defence firms.

The Defence Expo at New Delhi in February 2014 showcased the efforts of private Indian firms to provide an alternative. Two major weapons systems on display, L&T’s Trajan 155 mm towed gun and Bharat Forge’s Bharat-52 155 mm towed gun showcased the prowess of private firms in producing an indigenous weapon system for Indian armed forces. L&T’s Trajan gun is a product of collaboration with Nexter of France whereas Bharat-52 is a totally indigenous manufacture. The Trajan gun completed summer firing trails in Rajasthan last year and is now undergoing winter trials in Sikkim as per L&T executives. Bharat-52 gun though is yet to be fire tested. The private firms have amply demonstrated their flair for absorbing new technology and shown particular appetite for ingesting and innovating transferred technology for complex designing and production engineering[ii]. The fabrication of Agni missile components or the hull of Arihant nuclear submarine showcases their capacity in maintaining a state of art production facility as well as the capability to manufacture high end components.

Defence PSUs on the other hand, have not endeavoured to amalgamate latest technology even though they have been manufacturing military equipment under the transfer of technology agreements. Their archaic manufacturing practices have resulted in mediocre equipment year after year while struggling to maintain basic quality control. The captive buyer in form of Indian security forces and patronage of Department of Defence Production has led to miniscule technology upgradation.The fact that blueprint plans[iii] of Bofors guns were available with OFB, Jabalpur since 1980s as part of technology transfer and have been gathering dust for almost two decades points towards their indifference towards the requirements of the armed forces. It is only recently that OFB has fieldedDhanush, a 45 calibre 155 mm towed gun. The PSU mindset of “Take what You Get” could be clearly ascertainedat the Defence Expo,as one of their officials admitted that even though most of the manufacturers world over were manufacturing 52 calibre guns as the accepted standard, the 45 calibreDhanush gun would be a cost effective alternative for Indian artillery. The fact that Dhanush gun had suffered a barrel burst during the summer firing trials was dismissed as anunavoidable technical failure.

With India’s defence procurement expected to be around $100 billion in the coming decade, it is pertinent that the over-dependence on arms import is reduced and Indian private firms are associated with fabrication and supply of modern military equipment to meet the services requirements. Such a movecould help create a cost effective modern indigenous defence industrial base. It will prove to be a logical and beneficial step in the long run as Indian armed forces would have the benefit of having the best value for money equipment in their inventory.A strong defence industrial base will provide a platform for export of reasonably priced quality equipment to neighbouring countries. It can be used to counter Chinese domination in the neighbourhood and increase India’s footprint within South Asia.

The Ministry of Defence can and must provide a stimulus to growth of indigenous defence industry by kick starting the artillery modernisation programme with purchase of indigenously manufactured 155mm guns. An indigenously manufactured gun will be anaffordable product with cutting edge technology,available in an acceptable timeframe. It will also reduce the dependence on foreign firms, especially during the critical repair and upgradation phase. “Make Indian and Buy Indian” Mantra with active participation of private firms has the potential to transform Indian defence manufacturing capability by successful exploitation of twin benefits of Indian prowess in IT industry and lower manufacturing costs.

The author is a Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.

[i]Rahul Bedi, An Army in search of Artillery, The Hindu, 20 Dec 2013, available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinio n/op-ed/an-army-in-search-of-artillery/article5479256.ece

[ii] Bharat karnad, Fire up Defence Industry, 21 Feb 2014, available at http://bharatkarnad.com/2014/02/21/fire-up-defence-industry/

[iii] Indian Bofor’s Guns barrel Bursts during trials, New Indian express, 15 oct 2013, available at http://www.newindianexpress.com /nation/Indian-Bofors-guns-barrel-bursts-during- trials/2013/10/15/ article1837199.ece

Missing Airplanes and the Cyber Threat

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8, 2014 and was scheduled to land at the Beijing International Airport approximately six hours later. However, the Boeing 777 planewith 12 crew members and 227 passengers of 15 nationalities on board, just disappeared off all communication systems less than an hour into its flight and is yet to be traced. Conspiracy theories behind this sudden and shocking disappearance continue to range from the plausible to insane and include a possible terrorist attack along with a crazy movement of the Bermuda Triangle to the Gulf of Thailand.

Though cyber-attackis not being considered as a possible cause of the disappearance of the aircraft, the possibility of such attacks in future on systems dependent oninternet-connected devices cannot be ruled. This should serve as a reminder of the vulnerabilities of such systems, lest they prove fatal in the near future. The World Wide Web celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 12, 2014 and while this Tim Berners-Lee creation has changed how information is shared throughout the world, it has also raised questions over the security and safety of national and international assets.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system that is used on vessels across the world and is mandatory for all commercial ships over 300 metric tons and all passenger ships, regardless of size and weight. The AIS is used for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with nearby ships, AIS base stations and satellites. A private security firm, Trend Micro last year demonstrated how unsecure the AIS is when it exposed serious flaws in the system that could allow hackers to alter the paths of ships, fake their position and make them disappear. Researchers from the firm were able to spell the word “PWNED” off the coast of Northern Italy by altering paths of ships by feeding them incorrect GPS coordinates[i].

The way AIS works in a ship or a vessel, the Flight Management System (FMS) of the plane automates a wide variety of in-flight functions. It uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) amongst other electronic sensors for radio-navigation to determine the aircraft’s position. However, the GPS has not proved to be fail-safe and is the weakest point of the navigation systems as wasdemonstrated by Iran in December 2011. A team of scientists hacked into a GPS navigator of the American RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone and forced it to land inside the country as they made the drone believe it was landing in Afghanistan by spoofing the GPS signals[ii].


Monday, 24 March 2014 | Joginder Singh

Sedition charges against the bunch of Kashmiri students cheering for Pakistan were dropped without even a formal apology coming from the accused. India need not be on the defensive about its laws and values

Some Kashmiri students studying in Uttar Pradesh were recently suspended for cheering and shouting slogans in favour of the Pakistani team which defeated India in a cricket match. The police registered a case against the students for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.

This section says: “1[Sedition — Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, 2[ the Government established by law in 3[ India], a 4[ shall be punished with 5[ imprisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine. Explanation 1 — The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Explanation 2 — Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section. Explanation 3 — Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

However, the Government of Uttar Pradesh withdrew the charges of sedition against the Kashmiri students without a proper investigation. This would not have been possible if the police reforms ordered by the Supreme Court in 2006, giving limited functional independence to the police, had been implemented. But none of the States have initiated these reforms, much like the Union Government has also refused to give the Central Bureau of Investigative even limited independence, thus keeping the agency as a “caged parrot”.

The Kashmiri students were used to the leniency they enjoy in their home State, where cheering for Pakistan during crickets matches is an acceptable form of protest against the Indian state. The clearly didn’t realise that such behaviour may not be accepted in other parts of the country. However, they seem to have found friends within the Uttar Pradesh regime, perpetually seeking to consolidate its vote banks, who withdrew the sedition charges without even a formal apology from the students.

It is the writ of the separatists that runs in Jammu & Kashmir rather than that of the State Government. The latter decide on what day the Government offices will function and what excuse will be used to call a strike. Beyond making meaningless speeches about defending the country’s borders, this is business as usual for the Government as well.

Politicians will do just about anything to garner votes and gain power. This explains how the word ‘secularism’ has become synonymous with ‘minority appeasement’, particularly ‘Muslim appeasement’. The other religious minority communities are not big enough to make a difference to the fortunes of political parties, at least when viewed at the national level. However, it will be unfair to blame only Indian politicians for minority appeasement, as this is the case in most democracies around the world. The only difference is that, elsewhere political parties are united in safeguarding the territorial integrity of their country, unlike in India, where some politicians place their vested interests above national security concerns.

Afghanistan Is Doing Better Than You Think



March 23, 2014

KABUL—In the minds of most Americans—and perhaps most members of Congress, too—the war in Afghanistan is already long since lost. Spasms of violence like Thursday’s attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, a popular haunt for Western expatriates, only seem to underscore the country’s ongoing fragility after more than 12 years of frustrating, grinding conflict. And periodic anti-American eruptions from Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s often difficult president, have made it harder still to persuade the U.S. public that things here are better than they seem from afar.

The bottom line is this: There are some areas of particular concern in Afghanistan—no question. I’ve just spent a week there, on a trip sponsored by the U.S. military, after many previous such trips in the past, and it’s still very much a land at war. But the overall military picture is fairly good. Afghan forces now constitute 85 percent of all coalition forces, lead 95 percent of all operations and take more than 95 percent of all coalition casualties, according to U.S. and NATO figures—yet the enemy is not gaining momentum. And as Afghans prepare to go to the polls to elect Karzai’s successor in coming weeks, and as a new fighting season begins, with NATO forces two-thirds of the way through their drawdown, Afghanistan is doing far better than most critics imagine. A clockwise sweep of the country, starting with Kabul in the country’s central/eastern region, shows why.

Kabul: The Afghan capital, far and away its largest city, is safer than ever by most measures. Of course, not all is well. In addition to the Serena attack, a popular Lebanese restaurant was bombed this past winter and many expatriates killed; a Norwegian journalist was recently murdered in cold blood on a street by a fringe insurgent group. But for the local population, the danger posed by insurgents is not the major worry in their lives. Traffic is teeming; the city has never been barricaded the way Baghdad was; violence rates are down by roughly half over the last couple years. Most “spectacular” attacks that grab international media attention amount to a few insurgents firing a rocket-propelled grenade someplace or brutally murdering a few innocents before getting themselves killed by Afghan forces—as just happened at the Serena. These can be tragic, to be sure, but fears that the Taliban would be storming Kabul’s gates have proven overblown.

Jalalabad and the northeast: Going east from Kabul toward Peshawar, Pakistan, via the famous Khyber Pass, the situation is mixed. There were positive developments during the U.S.-led surge but criminality and some degree of Taliban activity have picked up a bit of late. In the mountainous zones of Kunar and Nuristan, small terrorist redoubts persist (though with no more than a few dozen estimated al Qaeda core fighters). This area bears watching over the 2014 military campaign, as the modestly negative trend line of 2013 will need to be checked, given the importance of Jalalabad and the main road to the nation’s economy.

Afghanistan Is No Vietnam

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
March 24, 2014

Several weeks ago, reputable news organizations like Politico and CNN reported the results of a survey of Americans in which support for the Afghanistan war, now in its thirteenth year, was lower than public support had ever been for the Vietnam conflict. Reportedly, this polling data is influencing White House advisors to President Obama, who favor a rapid end to the war, including perhaps even a "zero option" for next year (after the current NATO mission there will have ended).

On its surface, the views of political advisors to the president seem easy to understand. After all, Vietnam brought down President Johnson. In such a context, getting the United States out of Afghanistan as completely and quickly as possible would seem imperative for the Obama administration.

Balderdash. In fact, this reading of the recent polls on Afghanistan is simply wrong, and the way in which the American media tended to report on it was fundamentally misleading.

Anyone who thinks the Afghanistan mission is less popular than Vietnam does not remember or understand the latter conflict. Unlike the case with the war in Southeast Asia, the nation's intensity of sentiment about Afghanistan, while admittedly not positive, is very mild.

It is true that less than 20 percent of all Americans view the Afghanistan war positively. In light of its length, its many frustrations, and President Karzai's attitude towards the United States, this is not entirely surprising.

But the attitudes about Afghanistan are not deeply felt across the public or the electorate. To be sure, among troops and diplomats and others who have served, and their families, the sacrifice has often been great and the sentiments about the war can be powerful—for good and for bad. But such a group, even very broadly defined, constitutes about 1 percent of the country.

The fine testimony before Congress last week of war commander General Joseph Dunford was notable largely for the lack of coverage it produced by the media, and the lack of interest by most Americans. There were no huge protests, no big newspaper advertisements calling for an end to the war, and relatively little partisan skirmishing on the subject even in these politically tumultuous times.

Any student of polling should know that polls about given subjects in public policy are only meaningful if they capture intensity. Vietnam tore this country apart. Afghanistan makes it yawn.

Part of the reason for the inattention to Dunford's recent public appearances is that the Ukraine crisis was ongoing at the same point. But the evidence for relative American disinterest in the subject of Afghanistan is much deeper. Exhibit A is that, in the 2012 presidential campaign, neither major candidate gave a major speech on the war, proposed a major change in policy, or otherwise sought political advantage even though the closeness of the race should have encouraged both to do so had the war been profoundly unpopular. Instead, both candidates accepted the gradual troop drawdown schedule announced by President Obama in June of 2011, which was not superseded until his State of the Union speech in early 2013 (when the previous troop reduction had already been complete for nearly six months).

Asian Security Conference: India must get its act together

Published on The Asian Age (http://www.asianage.com)

By editor
Created 23 Mar 2014

The 16th Asian Security Conference (ASC), held by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in February 2014 on Emerging Strategic Trends in Asia and India’s Response, had an interesting mix of scholars from China, Japan, Vietnam and Australia, along with the Indian component from IDSA and other institutions.

According to Dr Uttam Sinha, IDSA Fellow and editor of two of its publications, the 16thASC was “significant for its thought provoking and provocative deliberations. The candid and often blunt expressions by the speakers of the emerging strategic trends in Asia left the audience at times gasping for breath. Not an inch was asked for and not an inch given. The speakers spoke with courage and conviction and the quality of discussion and participation was unprecedented. The conference discussed the structural dimensions of Asian geopolitics, the impact of bipolarity and multipolarity, shifts and anxieties related to power transition and an uncertain future, and the maritime dimension. The theme very effectively brought out the interplay with the geo-physical, the geo-economics and the geopolitical.”

The bare facts of Asia’s geopolitics were set into motion in the very first session. Yan Xuetong, an influential figure in the Chinese foreign policy process, speaking on “Bipolarisation in East Asia,” categorically stated that in the next ten years, China and the US will emerge as the major powers in international politics capable of competing with each other. As the only country capable of posing a challenge to the US, especially after Russia’s decline since 1992, a change in China’s foreign policy is visible with its New Model of Major Power Relations (NMMPR) which indicates that the relationship between China and the US will be competitive, if not cooperative, but it will not be confrontational. Xuetong cautioned that while national interest drives international politics among states, China is worried about the turn of events in East Asia, especially the ideology of Japan, if not its military capability. Ideology has been instrumental in causing wars, like the Cold War between the US and erstwhile USSR. Differing with Xuetong, Sujit Dutta, who presented “Asia’s power transition: uncertain future of stability and peace,” elaborated on three factors that impacts Asia’s power transition. First, globalisation, which has resulted in China’s integration into international institutions leading to huge capital flows, trade, and interdependence, even between China and Japan and China and South Korea. Globalisation has created overlapping interests, norms and structures in Asia leading to huge growth patterns in the Indo-Pacific. Secondly, globalisation has changed the state system in Asia. Due to social media and satellite based communications, there have been calls for social change by popular movements. Even within China, popular movements have called for political, economic and land reforms, and fight against corruption, etc. Hence, the international relations of Asia will have to account for these domestic forces. Third, balance of power in Asia is superimposed due to the US-China factor.

What would America do if China invaded Taiwan?

No country is watching the U.S.'s response to the crisis in Ukraine more closely than China
By Damon Linker | March 21, 20145

Students protest against a China-Taiwan trade pact on March 20. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Earlier this week, President Obama stated explicitly what everyone already knew: The U.S. is not prepared to go to war with Russia over its annexation of Crimea. We'll impose sometough sanctions, we'll say some mean things about Vladimir Putin, and John McCain will fulminate for a while longer on Sunday-morning talk shows. But the current situation on the ground isn't going to change — because Putin successfully showed that the American president never had any intention of backing up his warnings and threats with military force.

Since I don't think the United States has much of a strategic interest in preventing Russia from swallowing parts of eastern Ukraine — any more than Russia would be especially concerned if we annexed a chunk of northern Mexico — I have a hard time getting worked up about recent developments. But that doesn't mean the events of the past few weeks won't have dangerous geopolitical consequences.

Every time the president allows a stated line to be crossed — as he did in Syria last year over Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, and now again with Russia's actions in Ukraine — he signals that American security commitments may be hollow.

The overall importance of such signaling in international relations is a contentious topic among those who study foreign affairs. But there is one potential theater of conflict in the world where we can be quite certain that America's recent actions — or rather, inactions — have been very closely noted: the Taiwan Straits.

Ever since Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government fled Mao Zedong's communist takeover of mainland China in 1949, relocating to the island of Formosa (henceforth renamed Taiwan), the United States has tacitly guaranteed the island's security. The arrangement became more explicit with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which included a commitment to "resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion" against the island. Over China's strenuous objections — the People's Republic considers Taiwan to be its sovereign territory — we've backed up that pledge by selling the Taiwanese government significant numbers of weapons over the years, most recently a $5.8 billion package of military hardware in 2011.

Information Warfare: The Chinese Police Join The Cyber War

March 24, 2014: China is now training police to be hackers. Not just imparting defensive skills, but training selected cops to launch attacks. It’s unclear what this is for although it’s most likely related to the growing incidence of Internet based criminal activity inside China. Apparently several units of police Cyber War experts are being organized. Some will probably be dedicated to helping Chinese firms and local governments improve their network security, but at least one of these new organizations will have an offensive capability, probably for harassing groups perceived as enemies of China.

The U.S. is still trying to get details on the military and non-military Internet hacking organizations active in China. It wasn’t until 2013 that one of the major military Cyber War operations, “Unit 61398” was identified and connected to a large number of foreign hacking operations. Unit 61398 is believed responsible for over a thousand attacks on foreign government organizations and commercial firms since 2006. China denied this revelation, and some Unit 61398 attacks ceased and others changed their methods for a month or so. But after that brief pause Unit 61398 returned to business as usual. The Chinese found that, as usual, even when one of their Cyber War organizations was identified by name and described in detail there was little anyone would or could do about it. There was obviously a Chinese reaction when the initial news became headlines, but after a month or so it was realized that it didn’t make any difference and the Chinese hackers went back to making war on the rest of the world. Unit 61398 is believed to consist of several thousand full time military and civilian personnel as well as part-time civilians (often contractors brought in for a specific project).

China's Cyber War hackers have become easier to identify because they have been getting cocky and careless. Internet security researchers have found identical bits of code (the human readable text that programmers create and then turn into smaller binary code for computers to use) and techniques for using it in hacking software used against Tibetan independence groups and commercial software sold by some firms in China and known to be used by the Chinese military. Similar patterns have been found in hacker code left behind during attacks on American military and corporate networks. The best hackers hide their tracks better than this. The Chinese hackers have found that it doesn’t matter. Their government will protect them. The new Chinese police Cyber War units are using hacking tools developed inside China and probably get assistance from military hackers.

It's been noted that Chinese behavior is distinctly different from that encountered among East European hacking operations. The East European hackers are more disciplined and go in like commandos and get out quickly once they have what they were looking for. The Chinese go after more targets with less skillful attacks and stick around longer than they should. That's how so many hackers are tracked back to China, often to specific servers known to be owned by the Chinese military or government research institutes. Chinese criminal hackers working inside China are even more lax and that’s probably because a lot of them are not skilled enough to get into criminal gangs that specialize in hacking foreigners on government contracts or independently.

Murphy's Law: The China Problems Are For Everyone


March 23, 2014: While China may become the largest economy on the planet in the next few generations, with a growing military budget to match, it will also suffer from some catastrophic long-term problems that gets little attention in the news but are nevertheless very real and unavoidable. For example, there are several disastrous demographic problems approaching. This began in the late 1970s when, to control population growth most couples were restricted to only one child. This has been widely enforced, to the point where the average number of children per couple has been 1.7. But many of those couples aborted a child if it is a female, because much more importance is attached to having a male heir. Thus there are 35 million more males than females, and the number is growing. These surplus males are coming of age, and the competition for wives is causing problems. Women are taking advantage of their scarcity, but men are also going to neighboring countries to buy, or even kidnap, young women to be wives. This is causing ill will with neighbors.

The biggest problem, though, is the growing shortage of workers. As the population ages, all those one child families means there will be more elderly than the economy can effectively support. Currently there are 11 working age Chinese for every retiree. By 2050, there will only be two for each retiree. At that point, retirees will comprise 30 percent of the population (versus 13 percent now.) Traditionally, children cared for their parents in multi-generation households. That model is dying out, and China is faced with huge pension cost increases at the same time they expect their economy to be the mightiest on the planet. But at that point, the largest single government expense will be the care of the elderly, and this will impose crushing taxes on those of working age. Many working age Chinese are worried about this, for there is no easy solution in sight. China can relax the one-child policy, which it is apparently doing, but the newly affluent Chinese are less eager than earlier generations to have a lot of kids.

To make matters worse there is not much in the way of pensions or health care for most of the elderly to begin with. The government recognizes this is a real problem but does not, and will not have the cash to deal with it. In an attempt to limit the damage a bit, in late 2013 China increased payments (pensions and death benefits) for former soldiers and their families. These payments are going up about 15 percent to about a million recipients. Currently China spends $4.9 billion a year on these payments, which vary from under a thousand dollars a year to over$7,000 a year per recipient. That’s a significant amount of cash for many Chinese and it gives a lot of people one less grudge against their communist police state government. These are not pensions for career military personnel who retire but payments to soldiers who have been downsized in the last decade, or have been crippled during military service or families of those who were killed during wartime. Some military personnel killed on duty are declared “war dead” in order to take care of families and reward and honor the sacrifice. This, as well as payments to disabled soldiers is a combination of good public relations, a boost for morale of all troops and another inducement for young people to join. There are sometimes conditions attached to these payments, the main one being that if a downsized soldier came from a rural village you can only get paid if you return to live in the countryside (and not move to the booming and overcrowded cities unless the government tells you to).

UNSC Vote on the Crimean Issue: Why did China Abstain?


March 21, 2014

When China decided to abstain in the vote taken in the UN Security Council on the issue of the referendum to decide on Crimea’s future; it handed the Western powers a pyrrhic victory for they could then proclaim that Russia was completely isolated as all the other UNSC members had voted in favour of the western sponsored resolution. Despite their rather close relations with Russia, President Xi Jinping chose Russia as the first country that he visited on taking office and was in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, the Chinese were aware of the ramifications of their abstention. The reasons for abstention go far beyond the immediate issue at hand and are enveloped in deep Chinese strategic interests. The abstention in no way lessens their intention in firmly maintaining close and mutually beneficial strategic ties with Russia.

It has been stated Chinese policy that a fundamental aspect of international law is the proviso that the territorial integrity of nation states must not be violated. China has been fairly consistent in this approach. China opposed the creation of Bangladesh, as much as it did the NATO bombing of Serbia which ultimately led to the subsequent separation of Kosovo from Serbia. China along with Russia and India did not recognize the separation of Kosovo. Thus while taking a formal position on the question of the territorial integrity of nation states; Chinese policy on the other hand has also been quite realistic. China subsequently recognized Bangladesh as an independent state; is quiescent over Kosovo and in all probability will recognize the Crimea as a part of Russia if Chinese press coverage is any indication, but albeit after a decent interval.

This obvious dichotomy of approach in Chinese policy has as its genesis fears about the viability of its own territorial integrity. China has land frontiers with 14 countries [13; if POK is discounted] and although the population of non-Han minorities is only about 100 million, yet the minorities occupy nearly one-half of the Chinese landmass. Han Chinese constitute nearly 90 per cent of China’s total population and are ethnically fairly homogenous. But the two important minority areas of Tibet and Xinjiang that abut India and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan make the Chinese extremely sensitive on any developments in these two areas. History shows that Inner Asia with Tibet located at its strategic epicenter has suffered from periodical political upheavals. In the past Tibetan cultural and religious influence in Central Asia was significant. Despite enormous efforts put in over the years China has still not been able to pacify Tibetan aspirations for complete autonomy or even independence. There have been 126 self- immolations by Tibetans since 2009 in protest against Chinese rule. China has tried everything from brutal crackdowns to economic sops and yet the Tibetan yearning for independence just not died down to China’s utter exasperation.

China's Capital Idea

Is it time to move the seat of government away from Beijing? 
MARCH 19, 2014 

Twitter Facebook Google + Reddit After heading southwest from Beijing for two and half hours on a highway, a traveler might decide to stretch her legs at Baoding, a medium-sized city of under two million people. She would almost certainly not think the dusty town in northern Hebei province, one best known for its donkey meat burgers, looked like a candidate for China's next capital. But that very notion gripped the Chinese Internet on March 19 after Caijing, a reputable state-owned financial magazine, reported that Baoding would become a "secondary political center," writing that certain government offices and education institutions would start moving there from Beijing at an unspecified future date. 

The news soon became one of the hottest topics on Chinese social media. The Baoding local government, not to mention China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission, the state organ responsible for macro-level economic planning in China, both quickly denied the report. But the genie was out of the bottle, and Internet users have continued discussing the possibility of relieving Beijing of its duty as China's capital. 

It's not the first time -- nor, in all likelihood, will it be the last time -- that talk of a capital move has fired the public imagination. In February 2012, an unfounded Internet rumor claimed that a town in central Henan province was one of the top choices for a new seat of government. Compared to that, Baoding seems like a credible choice. It lies about equidistant from Beijing and Tianjin, another large municipality, and since 2004, the central government has sent signals about strategic urban planning that would "integrate" Beijing, Tianjin, and the surrounding areas in Hebei. 

Beijing has been China's capital for most of the past 700 years, but a city originally built to house palaces and to fend off Mongols now groans under the weight of its 21 million inhabitants and 5 million cars. Multiple subway lines have opened since 2008, but the subway only seems to get even more crowded, with single-day ridership reaching 10 million in March 2013. An April 2012 report by the International Monetary Fund showed a 750-square-foot apartment in Beijing costing over 22 times average annual pretax income there in 2011. That makes even apartments around Beijing's peripheral Fifth Ring Road, which lies over 10 miles from the city center, a "pipe dream" for the average white-collar worker. 

On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, Beijing natives who arguably reaped the most benefits from the boom also voiced the loudest complaints about outsiders changing their beloved city. Others wondered aloud what would happen to Beijing's sky-high real estate prices should the capital move. One user wrote that uprooting China's government was a "great" idea -- as long as the leadership doesn't move to the rival city of Shanghai.   

How Japan Could Turn the Table on China

Although Japan should repent for its crimes against China, so too should the CCP.
March 24, 2014

An old movie scene comes to mind whenever the Sino-Japanese history wars flare up. You know the pattern: Beijing lodges some outlandish claim about Japan’s reverting to militarism. Tokyo assumes a defensive crouch, looking a tad shameful. Japan gets the worst of the exchange. Which is the point for China. The movie sequence that springs to mind comes from the classic National Lampoon comedy Animal House, It suggests how Japan can play diplomatic offense rather than remain perpetually on the defense.

That would be a welcome change, and not a minute too soon. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has committed far too many unforced errors during his first year in office. Publicly musing about whether Japan’s invasion of Korea qualified as an invasion was obtuse. And why even hint you’re considering retracting an apology to wartime Korean “comfort women” two decades after it was tendered?

That’s what you call self-defeating rhetoric. A good diplomatic rule of thumb: if it is not necessary to say something, it is necessary to say nothing.

Nevertheless, there is some candor that would abet Tokyo’s cause. Which brings us back to Hollywood. Set in 1962, Animal House takes place at the fictitious Faber College back in the days when reserve military training — a.k.a. Army ROTC — was mandatory for all male students. Here’s the scenario: ROTC student officers are abusing pledges from the screwball Delta Tau Chi fraternity within eyeshot of Delta upperclassmen Otter and Boon. The odious Niedermeyer berates the pledges. Pushups are ordered and —sort of — done. Misery prevails.

Otter exclaims, “He can’t do that to our pledges.” Replies Boon, “Only we can do that to our pledges!” Hilarity ensues as the fraternity brothers exact vengeance on the priggish army types. Methinks this exchange is evergreen because it’s zany and says something elemental about human nature — namely that people may take outsiders to task for deeds they excuse or softpedal if perpetrated among the in-crowd.

This dynamic dates back at least to classical Greeks’ concept of barbaros, or barbarians. In all likelihood it’s as old as humanity itself.

By barbaros, loosely speaking, ancient Greeks meant something like those guys, foreign peoples who practiced strange if not unintelligible customs. Herodotus, for instance, wrote extensively about exotic lands while showing little animus toward those who dwelt there. He was mainly just curious. Over time, though, barbarians took on the ominous overtones familiar to us today. Outsiders were not just strange. They were not just oddballs but menacing, worthy of fear and loathing.

Pipeline politics in Syria


A gas pumping station in Georgia near the Turkish border. The author argues that the tensions surrounding the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline shed light on the Syrian conflict. (Photo: Robert Thomson)

You can’t understand the conflict without talking about natural gas
By Maj. Rob Taylor

Much of the media coverage suggests that the conflict in Syria is a civil war, in which the Alawite (Shia) Bashar al Assad regime is defending itself (and committing atrocities) against Sunni rebel factions (who are also committing atrocities). The real explanation is simpler: it is about money.

In 2009, Qatar proposed to run a natural gas pipeline through Syria and Turkey to Europe. Instead, Assad forged a pact with Iraq and Iran to run a pipeline eastward, allowing those Shia-dominated countries access to the European natural gas market while denying access to Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The latter states, it appears, are now attempting to remove Assad so they can control Syria and run their own pipeline through Turkey.

The standard Shia-Sunni conflict is little different from many other socio-ethnic-economic-political-religious (SEEPR) conflicts that originate in competition for resources, but in Syria it has a lucrative twist. The pattern of SEEPR control in Syria is similar to that in many other Middle Eastern and sub-Saharan Africa countries (and is arguably common in every country, but more so in traditional societies): Who controls the government controls the state’s resources, and by extension, the wealth derived from them. In Syria, the Sunnis have tried to unseat the Alawites ever since France installed them during the French mandate that ended in 1943. But now the stakes are higher, thanks to natural gas.

Any review of the current conflict in Syria that neglects the geopolitical economics of the region is incomplete. (Nearly all media reports fit this description.) Take “The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War,” published in January by STRATFOR’s Reva Bhalla, which provides an effective Syria-specific revision of Robert Kaplan’s “Geography Strikes Back,” complete with historical acuity, but without mentioning the pipeline. Reports such as these shed little light on current geopolitical economic developments that are at the heart of the issue. Oil and natural gas pipelines bring large amounts of wealth to states which control them, thus attracting international attention, intrigue, and in many instances, terrorist activity.

It is helpful to look at a similar situation: the GAAT region (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey), also known as the Caucasus. As proposals for an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Europe took form, every power broker in the region struggled to influence the route, seeking the wealth that would flow to any country involved in the deal.

Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a key Russian ally in the region, prevented the shortest pipeline route, through Armenia. The pipeline ultimately went west through Tbilisi and Ceyhan, but only after Moscow demanded and received a partial diversion pipeline that transports Azerbaijani oil north into Russia. In 2005, oil first flowed through the BTC Pipeline, so named because of its route from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, through Tbilisi, Georgia, and on to Ceyhan, Turkey.