30 May 2014

Tagore’s speech ‘rediscovered’ after 93 years in German varsity

Published: May 30, 2014
Indrani Dutta

The Hindu ArchivesTagore and Einstein at Caputh near Berlin in 1930.

Nearly a century after Rabindranath Tagore mesmerized his audience at the Assembly Hall of Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm University, (today’s Humboldt University), his speech has been rediscovered in the University archive.

This speech was given on June 2, 1921. Tagore visited Germany twice more — in 1926 and 1930 when he also met Albert Einstein.

Tagore’s concept of ‘one world’ held his audience spell-bound.

Although India was under a colonial power at the time of the delivery of the speech, the great philosopher that Tagore was, he spoke in a different tenor saying that the idea of freedom to which India aspired, was based upon realisation of spiritual unity. “It is India’s duty to be loyal to this great truth,” he said adding that the country should never allow it to be extinguished by the storm of passion sweeping over the present-day world.

“That is why we must be careful today to try to find out the principle, by means of which India will be able for certain to realise herself. That principle is neither commercialism, nor nationalism. It is not merely self-determination but self-conquest and self-dedication.

“India’s grand achievement which is still stored deep within her heart is waiting, to unite within itself Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian, not by force, not by the apathy of resignation but in the harmony of active co-operation,” the Nobel Laureate said.

Incidentally, the German consulate here, which has circulated the sound clip, has described Tagore in glowing terms as a great Indian poet, a novelist, philosopher and ecologist.


Survival of the plural

Khaled Ahmed | May 30, 2014 

An article in a Lahore Urdu monthly, Naya Zamana, of May 2014 by a friendly writer, Ubaidullah Ubaid — using a naming technique of the Taliban when they threaten someone with assassination — has upbraided me for defaming the Pakhtun by calling them violent.

I had quoted Amartya Sen from his book Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny (2006) to stereoty-pe the violent among the people of Pakistan. My ancestors hailed from Kaniguram in South Waziristan, the heartland of the tribal Pakhtun. I don’t know if my forefathers really were Pakhtun or became like them by living among them; but they certainly behaved like them. In Jalundhar, then in Lahore, my elders often complained of the “lack of honour” (baighairati) of the Punjabi man.

In civil service, I believed the Punjabi to be without real identity. He was able to mould into other identities, as if he had several. He was seen as a fellow-traveller with powerful Pakhtun coteries. In college, the Punjabi was not a good brawler. He shrank from violence; as a Pakhtun, I didn’t. I was proud; I found the Punjabi lacking in pride and guts. My friends were mostly Pakhtuns. I sensed charisma in them that I didn’t find in Punjabis.

I proudly proclaimed the Pakhtun were great warriors in history, never defeated, and greatly admired by their enemies for gallantry. Sadly, in the past quarter century, I have seen the proud Pakhtun as a crushed people, their women and children crawling after food in the refugee camps of Pakistan. They were repeatedly made to leave their homes to allow the brave Taliban to defeat the armies of many states. They die of disease, are blown up by IEDs, still looking beautiful. The shameless Punjabi flourishes; the proud Pakhtun is pulverised by violence.

Sen never stereotyped, but he did speak of “single identity” being productive of violence. He thought “multiple identities” within individuals cooled their innate violence. However, stereotyping was done first by Ibn Khaldun, who saw violence in asabiya (group feeling), which is stronger in tribes and weaker in settled populations, but very intense in food-scarce mountains and deserts.

In Muqaddimah, his theorising swings between the asabiya of badawa (nomads) and asabiya-less hazara (city-dwellers). Asabiya is the feeling that binds the family, binds the tribe and, beyond the tribe, binds the state. It also leads to violence towards those seen as “different”. In states, it leads to war with neighbours. Ibn Khaldun thought the Arab nomads called Bedouin had the worst asabiya or hyper-asabiya, as Akbar Ahmed would later write. To survive against asabiya, the freedom to be different must be legally protected.

How to Setup A Modern Defence Industry in India?

Issue Vol. 29.1 Jan-Mar 2014 | Date : 27 May , 2014

Nearly sixty-seven years of Independence and not a single combat aircraft has been produced by India! Despite the word ‘indigenisation’ featuring repeatedly in political rhetoric, one of the reasons is because of the vested interests within the government of the huge kickbacks associated with imports of military hardware. The perception that in every armament deal massive amounts of taxpayers’ money is siphoned off is largely correct. Blacklisting vendors is merely theatrics to divert public attention from this crass truth. The long, convoluted and tedious process of procurement of military hardware has been created deliberately by the politico-bureaucratic red-tape to extract larger kickbacks which eventually is the taxpayers’ liability!

Worse, it appears that the primary national objective is not to add military capabilities to ensure the nation’s security but to find ways to guarantee maximum kickbacks.

Worse, it appears that the primary national objective is not to add military capabilities to ensure the nation’s security but to find ways to guarantee maximum kickbacks. Frankly, nobody involved in the decision-making process is really concerned about the MMRCA being inducted on time to shore up the rapidly declining firepower of the Indian Air Force; or about the Indian Navy receiving submarines in time; or with the tremendous collateral damage the nation suffers on its borders with Pakistan because the infantry is ill-equipped. Despite similar levels of corruption, China never overlooks the primary objective of building military muscle. Frankly, no other country does except India!

It is amazing that the Indian genius that has successfully launched technologically advanced and sophisticated spacecraft to Mars or has finally mastered ‘cryogenic’ engine technology is unable to produce small arms such as a modern rifle, carbine or a pistol.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Strategy not money must drive Modi's military overhaul

26 May 2014

Diplomatic: Inviting SAARC leaders helped to quell critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi's invite to heads of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has set a comforting tone for the incoming government. 

It suggests that the foreign policy of the new government will not destabilise the neighbourhood and will actually emphasise continuity. 

This may not be quite the message many of Mr Modi's more radical followers expected to hear, but it is the one that the new government seems keen to give. 

Anyway, "strong" foreign policy must be anchored on strong fundamentals.

And anyone who has studied these things knows that neither the state of the economy, nor our national security machinery, is working at full pace. 

In these circumstances to adopt tough postures would be highly irresponsible and, indeed, hazardous, because they could lead India to the kind of misadventure it faced when Mr Nehru ordered the Army to "throw out" the Chinese from the Thag La ridge on that fateful October of 1962. 


The situation with regard to our armed forces is not new. In 2001, in the wake of the attack on Parliament House, the government contemplated the use of the military, but it took them nearly a month to get ready and by the time the moment had passed. 

The subsequent year-long mobilisation was a farcical exercise that took the lives of nearly 2000 personnel, without an actual war being fought.

In 2008, once again, when the government explored military options in response to the Mumbai attack, it was told that the Army was not ready because it lacked key tank ammunition, air defence artillery and that its artillery holdings, too, were not in good shape. 

It is no secret that our higher national security management is dysfunctional, with the civilians and uniformed people in barely talking terms. 

There is no joint planning to speak of, and morale in all three services is low because of the poor political leadership they have had in the A. K. Antony era. 

A mere change of governments will not alter the state of affairs which has deep structural roots. A great deal of effort and, principally, political leadership is needed to make our forces fighting fit.

As long as we were focused on Pakistan as the main adversary, we could continue as before because they could be counted on to be a degree worse than us. But this year we have seen the shape of the future. 

The American pivot to the Pacific seems to have pushed Beijing to take a forward stance along its maritime periphery, and the effects of this are washing into the Indian Ocean.

Security: Newly sworn-in Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Modi's defence policy must shift away from focusing solely on India's relationship with Pakistan

At the beginning of the year, we saw a major Chinese exercise on the Lombok Straits, which was very transparently aimed at breaching naval choke-points. 

Around the same time, a Chinese Shang-class nuclear propelled submarine carried out a patrol across the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. 

When it comes to China, we cannot afford any complacency, we cannot be satisfied with a military that can -- just about -- cope with Pakistan. 

We need one that can fight and win wars with any adversary, or a combination of them. 


Dealing with this is not merely a military problem. It is one that requires the maximising of India's comprehensive national power. 

The primary requirement here is certainly economic. This is well understood by most people across the country. 

Minus a rapidly growing economy, India will be hard put to feed, clothe and house its growing population, and worse, it will also be wasting the demographic dividend of tens of millions of working age young who can help propel its economy to double-digit growth. 

Minus a growing economy, it will also lack the resources of maintaining a military system which can safeguard its integrity and protect its interests in its region and beyond. 

Priorities: Having taken care of the urgent requirements, the new Cabinet Committee on Security should insist on a radical overhaul of the national security system before funding new acquisitions

This is the system which is in a severe state of disrepair. It needs urgent attention, but not in terms of importing shiny new weapons and equipment, but with regard to its organisation and morale. 

We need to understand that if the Indian armed forces are going to fight a modern war in today's world, they will need to do this in an integrated fashion. 

This integration is required not only between the armed forces and the civilian ministry of defence, but it will also be required within the three services both in terms of their acquisitions and war plans.


Increasingly, most observers, barring, perhaps, the babus in the Ministry of Defence itself, realise that the R&D and government-owned defence industry needs to completely open up. 

There is now a need for a complete overhaul of the system and a large-scale entry of the private sector both into defence R&D and industry. 

Indeed, India also needs large amounts of FDI in the defence industry. If the Indian defence industry is going to be a viable enterprise, it will have to create a place for itself in the global supply chain as a player, because currently India's defence requirements are simply not sufficient to sustain a stand-alone industry. 

As soon as a new minister comes, there will be a big push from vendors to prioritise particular import deals.

It is no secret that fiscal problems compelled the government to put many, such as that of the Rafale fighters, on hold.

The government will do well to look into the rationale of some of these big-ticket items, including the recently approved mountain strike corps, and insist that they be worked on as part of a rational tri-service defence plan, rather than the desires of a single service. 

Integration: If the Indian armed forces are going to fight a modern war in today's world, they will need to do this in an integrated fashion

More important, instead of focusing on the big-ticket items, the government needs to focus on the smaller but more vital cogs in the country's defence machine which are needed to get existing equipment going – armour-piercing ammunition for tanks, replacement for Bofors guns, surface-to-air missiles, heavyweight torpedoes, sonars and multi-role helicopters whose absence is degrading the capabilities of our existing warships.

Having taken care of the urgent requirements, the new Cabinet Committee on Security should insist on a radical overhaul of the national security system before funding new acquisitions. 

Suffice to say, there is sufficient slack in the existing system which, if tightened up, will provide for a more efficient and capable fighting force without spending any more money than is being spent today. 

The writer is Contributing Editor Mail Today and Distinguished Fellow Observer Research Foundation

An Open Letter To Sushma Swaraj: Don't Let Political Diffidence Constrain MEA

OP-ED MAY 28, 2014


If India makes a comeback, it will primarily be determined by what Prime Minister Narendra Modi does at home. But his success will hinge considerably on whether India’s foreign policy can nurture the external environment that enhances India’s prosperity, safety, and place in the world.

Dear Madame Minister, 

Congratulations — you've got the job, now the work begins! Only recently, India was seen abroad as a wild success. Now it looks like just a flash in the pan. Obviously, the economic downturn has produced this dismay. But that doesn't make foreign policy optional. 

To the contrary. If India has to make a comeback, that will no doubt be determined by what Prime Minister Narendra Modi does at home. But his success will hinge considerably on whether your ministry can nurture the external environment that enhances India's prosperity, safety and place in the world. Your work is cut out for you here. So, from a friend of India in Washington, a few thoughts.

First, remember that the business of India is business. If India is to protect its interests abroad, it can do so only on strong foundations. Nations that lack material power may occasionally command attention — as India did for a while in the 1950s — but this does not endure. 

I think the PM understands this clearly. Your job is to help him out. But how? A great place to start would be by emphasising commercial diplomacy. Postwar history suggests that, beyond domestic policy, high and sustained growth is owed to foreign trade. Hopefully, new economic policies will make India a more inviting place for outsiders to do business. But you must push their external components aggressively. 

If Modi eventually merges the commerce ministry with your own, you will have a powerful bureaucratic instrument. But even if he does not, your ministry should work to lead India's trade negotiations. Make these a success and you will be shocked at how quickly India enjoys renewed attention. 

Focus on three things here. To begin, press hard to expand South Asian economic integration. India will come out vastly ahead, becoming the tide that lifts all boats. It might even distract your neighbours from their political grievances against you! Follow that by pushing for real preferential trade agreements (PTAs). Most current Indian PTAs are worthless. 

Vietnam Mulling New Strategies to Deter China

What is Vietnam’s strategy for resisting Chinese coercion? 

May 28, 2014

International media coverage of the confrontation between China and Vietnam over Beijing’s placement of a mega oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam has dried up with the passage of time. But daily confrontations continue. The present situation is not a standoff but a determined effort by China to alter the status quo by pushing the Vietnamese Coast Guard and Fishery Surveillance Forces back beyond China’s self-proclaimed nine-dash line.

Vietnamese government sources express concern that China will move the oil rig closer to Vietnam than its original placement. They worry about where it will be placed because, these sources argue, neither China nor Vietnam knows precisely where the nine-dash line is located.

Media coverage of Chinese Coast Guard ships using water cannons to douse Vietnamese boats and Chinese ships ramming Vietnamese maritime enforcement vessels made for good visual news clips but fell far short of serious analysis. China is engaged in an unequal “war of attrition” with Vietnam. China’s tactics of ramming Vietnamese vessels two to four times lighter in weight is designed to damage them sufficiently to require repair.

Some Vietnamese analysts speculate that if the current rate of damage continues, Vietnam may not have enough vessels to confront China in the waters surrounding the rig.

According to the Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of Vietnam’s Marine Policy (Coast Guard) Ngo Ngoc Thu, on May 3 China’s Coast Guard Ship No. 44044 smashed into the side of Vietnam Marine Police vessel No. 4033 leaving a crack three meters by 1 meter and completely damaging the vessel’s right engine. Thu gave details of other damage suffered by Vietnamese vessels.

Recent research by Scott Bentley has revealed that China is deliberately targeting the communications masts and antennae of Vietnamese vessels with its water cannons. YouTube clips clearly show these communications masts being forcibly blown off the bridges of Vietnamese vessels. This degrades their ability to communicate with other ships and thus forces them to return to port for repairs.

Further, China-Vietnam confrontations are deadly serious. According to Scott Bentley, most of China’s Coast Guard ships are now armed with naval guns. Both Chinese Coast Guard ships and People’s Liberation Army Navy frigates have manned their uncovered guns and deliberately targeted Vietnamese vessels during the current confrontation.

What has been Vietnam’s response to these aggressive assertions of maritime power by China? What is Vietnam’s strategy for resisting Chinese coercion?


May 27, 2014 · in Art of War

Editor’s note: The purpose of this column is to inspire a conversation about the arts and what they can tell us about statecraft and national strategy. Which, of course, means that I want you guys to actively take part in the discussion. Monologues tend to be pretty boring, after all. So I’ll be posting response pieces (as well as your other interesting submissions) as often as possible. Email me at kathleen.mcinnis@warontherocks.com to join the conversation.

This is a response to “Afghanistan and the Colonel Kurtz Effect,” recent published here on Art of War.

As a military servicemember currently deployed to Afghanistan, I was intrigued by the themes presented in the article “Afghanistan and the Colonel Kurtz Effect.” In particular, Conrad’s notion of governmental and societal “amnesia” in Heart of Darkness resonated with frustrations that I have experienced in only two short tours.

In particular, U.S. policy in Afghanistan seems consistent with a kind of selective “amnesia” – one that we read about in Conrad’s work. In Heart of Darkness, the narrator Marlow’s disgust with the “sepulchral city” – his European homeland – centered on just this “selective” aspect of imperialist amnesia, a kind of “turning a blind eye.” For Marlow, this disconnect was expressed in the Europeans’ enormous wealth and their corresponding disregard for the harsh reality of its unintended consequences. In other words, the selective amnesia of 19th century European societies was characterized by a dangerous shortsightedness in imperialistic policy.

Modern events in Afghanistan do not directly parallel 19th century imperialism – the U.S. is not colonizing Afghanistan like Belgium did the Congo. And perhaps this frustration I feel is a natural outgrowth of any drawn-out conflict. Nonetheless, there is a consistent trend of shortsightedness evident in U.S. policy governing decisions and actions in Afghanistan, from the initial invasion to the present. And all this leads to a frustration that makes one ask, as I have, why are we here again? And what have we accomplished in all this time?

Why Are We Here Again?

There was a clear impetus for the initial invasion of Afghanistan: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This is expressed in theAuthorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the congressional bill that empowered President Bush to execute the Global War on Terror. The AUMF specifically targeted the individuals, organizations and nations who were in any way involved in the 9/11 attacks in order to protect the homeland. One will often hear that the U.S. is laudably “bringing democracy” to the Afghans, as if this is its primary reason for being there. But 9/11 and the AUMF show that the U.S.’s overarching objective was and remains national security. Like the 19th century social activism of European imperialists, Afghan democracy is a means to an end – a sub-goal that has been politically exploited to further national policy. As Conrad observes in Heart of Darkness, imperialist policy was subsequently blind to the full reality of its implementation and consequences. Unfortunately, a similar shortsightedness is evident when we broadly trace the series of events and decisions that led to the current state of affairs in Afghanistan.

When the U.S. invaded in 2001, the initial results were positive. By 2004, U.S. forces had driven the Taliban and al-Qaeda from power and helped to establish a new Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA). But in 2003, we witnessed the first obvious sign of American shortsightedness: the Iraq invasion. With respect to operations in Afghanistan, this invasion and the resulting drawn-out conflict diverted critical resources, absorbed the national attention, and sowed feelings of discontent concerning American “unilateralism” among the international community. This in turn opened the door for a Taliban resurgence that is still being fought today.

Balochistan: Taliban's Southern March

Ambreen Agha 
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

Exploiting the restive and conflict ridden environment in Balochistan, terrorist outfits that share their ideology with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are spreading their influence in the Province. The TTP and its proxies, as SAIR has noted earlier, have long had a strong base in the northern part of the Province. In the recent past, however, they have extended their networks into the Makran Division, including Turbat, Panjgur and Gwadar Districts, which lies deep in the South Balochistan. Significantly, the region has witnessed attacks on private schools with the extremists professing abhorrence for western and girls' education. 

On May 21, 2014, at least six people, including a Government school teacher, identified as Master Hameed, were shot dead when terrorists entered his residence and opened fire, killing him and five of his relatives in the Dasht area of Turbat District. The attack came in the wake of threatening letters sent to private schools by a newly surfaced terrorist group, Tanzeem-ul-Islami-ul-Furqan (Organisation of the creation of Islam) in Panjgur District, warning the people to completely shut down girls’ education or to prepare themselves for “the worst consequences as prescribed in the Quran”. 

Earlier, on May 13, 2014, four armed TIF terrorists, wearing headbands with Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is Great) imprinted on them, set ablaze the vehicle of Major (Retired) Hussain Ali, owner of The Oasis School, in the same District, while he was driving girls to school. The masked terrorists asked him and the girls to de-board the vehicle, before setting it ablaze. 

On May 7, 2014, TIF threatened 23 English Language Learning Centres in Panjgur to shut down and stop imparting co-education and teaching in English, which they referred as “Haram (forbidden) in Islam”. In their letter, TIF warned, “Private schools should completely stop girls’ education, both co-education and separate education. We urge all van and taxi drivers to refrain from taking girls to schools. Otherwise, they will also be targeted... Any institution or persons defying the warning will be deemed as an enemy of Islam and therefore punished.” On the same day, masked terrorists barged into a language centre, threatening the teachers and young male and female students against co-education and learning English, and destroyed the school’s furniture and textbooks. 

In the aftermath of the May 13 attack, some 2,000 protesters marched through the streets in the District on May 14, raising slogans against TIF and its radical ideology, demanding that the Government immediately arrest the terrorists who had been threatening private schools. The head of a local school, who confirmed receiving threats over the phone, stated, on condition of anonymity, “All these attacks seem to be a part of the fresh campaign against girls’ education.” Narrating his experience, he disclosed that he had been instructed by the terrorists to shut down his school where hundreds of girls were currently enrolled. Calling the closure of the girls’ school a “national tragedy” he recounted, “When I asked the reasons for their demand to stop educating the female students, they spoke rudely and said they would teach me a lesson if I did not stop educating girls.”

British Think Tank Brands UK’s Role in Iraq and Afghanistan War “Strategic Failures”

May 28, 2014

£30billion - the cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Interventions branded ‘strategic failures’ by respected think-tank
Tania Steere and Ian Drury
Daily Mail

The cost of Britain’s ‘failed’ war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq has reached almost £30 billion.

Despite the high cost, the interventions have been branded ‘strategic failures’ by a respected defence think-tank.

Toppling Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein helped radicalise young Muslims in the UK and far from reducing international terrorism, the Iraq war ‘had the effect of promoting it’, according to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Horror: A British soldier, his clothes on fire, jumps from a tank in Basra, Iraq, in 2005

Critics said the cost of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and sending thousands of troops to Helmand province in Afghanistan in 2006 - around £30billion and 627 lives lost - was simply not worth the results.

The Mail first revealed last month that the authoritative study, Wars In Peace, estimated the cost of military operations since the Cold War as high as £72billion.

The study calculated the cost of UK military interventions after the collapse of Communism, from the first Gulf War in 1990-91 to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and EU training missions last year, from Ministry of Defence freedom of information responses.

The bill for military action in the past 24 years was £34.7billion.

The sum is enough to pay nearly 5,000 nurses or police officers for their entire career, or fund free university tuition for all higher education students for a decade.

This included £20.6billion in Afghanistan and £9.6billion during the Iraq war - 84 per cent of the total. Another £1.5billion was spent in Bosnia and £1.1billion in Kosovo on peacekeeping missions and £238million on the war in Libya.


May 19, 2014 

Faced with the impressive scope and scale of China’s military modernization, analysts must avoid some of the mistakes assessors of the Asia-Pacific military balance have made over the past decade. While not comprehensive, the following are a few for consideration.

The first common error is to count the totality of U.S., or U.S. and Allied forces and measure them against China’s, believing if the United States has more forces, then it maintains superiority. Unfortunately, the United States does not fight on a chessboard. What really matters is the localized correlation of forces, and that may be a stronger factor toward deterrence in the region.

The second error relates to how China’s doctrinal and capability innovations, such as ballistic missiles, oftentimes look very different from U.S. power-projection capabilities. But just because their missiles do not look like aircraft carriers, does not mean they cannot be as capable as or more capable than U.S. systems and their ability to project power for desired scenarios.

Third, while the U.S. has very capable allies and ones that share its values and interests in many ways, they only matter if they grant the United States access, and if they agree to fight. These are conditions the United States cannot take for granted.

Fourth, the United States should evaluate some of the Cold War biases and analytical prisms that are now mistakenly used to analyze the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Are We Underestimating China’s Military?

http://nationalinterest.org/ feature/are-we- underestimating-chinas- military-10479?page=show

“There is a lagging but growing realization that China’s military capabilities in numerous areas of military competition are rapidly approaching, if not exceeding, those of the United States.”

Timothy A. Walton

May 19, 2014

This past March, Brian Weeden, a former U.S. Air Force space analyst published a report demonstrating that China is the first country in the world with a weapon capable of destroying satellites in geostationary orbit. The report detailed how China tested in May 2013 a mobile, direct ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon system capable of targeting satellites in medium earth orbit, highly elliptical orbit, or geostationary orbit. The new capability complements China’s arsenal of kinetic and non-kinetic ASATs, and signals every U.S. satellite is now vulnerable to destruction in time of war.

China should accept India and Japan playing a bigger role in Asian security

China should accept India and Japan playing a bigger role in Asian security

Yuriko Koike says from elections to gas deals, recent events may well shape the region's future

26 May, 2014

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam. Photo: EPA

A week, it is said, is a long time in politics. But events in Asia last week may define the region for decades to come.

Thailand, one of Asia's most prosperous countries, seems determined to render itself a basket case. A military coup, imposed following the Thai constitutional court's ouster of an elected government, can lead only to an artificial peace which may give way to a more dangerous storm.

To Thailand's east, Vietnam is the latest Asian country to feel pinched by China's policy of creating facts on the ground, or in this case at sea, to enhance its sovereignty claims on disputed territory. Vietnam's government reacted vigorously to China's placement of a huge, exploratory oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Ordinary Vietnamese reacted even more vigorously, by rioting and targeting Chinese industrial investments for attack.

China's unilateral behaviour has exposed a strain of virulent anti-Chinese sentiment bubbling beneath the surface in many Asian countries. Renewed protests over China's mining investments in Myanmar confirmed this trend, one that China's leaders seem either to dismiss as trivial, or to regard as somehow unrelated to their bullying. Indeed, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces widespread public antipathy in Ukraine, China's leaders appear to believe that popular protests against them can only be the product of an American plot.

Yet, despite their shared contempt for expressions of the popular will, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin struggled, during Putin's two-day visit to Shanghai, to agree on a new gas deal that the Kremlin desperately needs. Putin had viewed China as his backup option should the West seek to isolate Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Putin's idea was that he could pivot Russia's economy into a partnership with China.

But Xi baulked, signing the gas agreement only after Putin offered a steep discount. Xi's self-confidence reflected not only the Chinese leadership's contempt for Putin's mismanagement of the Russian economy, but also the fact that China's energy worries have lessened considerably of late.

China, War, and the 'Sentiments of a Nation'

Clausewitz’s writings on the sentimental dimensions of war help explain China’s recent moves in the South China Sea. 

May 28, 2014

The nature of warfare has changed radically since the time almost two centuries ago when Carl von Clausewitz wrote On War, his great treatise on the subject. For him, the great exemplars of tactical genius were Napoleon and von Bulow; the horrors of absolute, mechanical war lay in the future. Even so, there is one great insight in von Clausewitz’s work which has resonance across the ages and transcends culture. “We are apt to regard the combat in theory as an abstract trial of strength, without any participation of the feelings,” he writes, “and that is one of the thousand errors which theorists commit.” Clausewitz acknowledges that “the heart and sentiments of a nation” are an enormous factor in the product of its political and military strength. Of all the noble feelings that fill in the human heart in the exciting tumult of battle, he writes, “none, we must admit, are so powerful and constant as the soul’s thirst for honor and renown.” War as a battle of feeling and moral sentiment rather than brute strength is his great message. And it helps us today when we look at different kinds of conflict across the world.

Anyone looking dispassionately at China’s pushback with Vietnam in the last month without Clausewitz’s insight might profess puzzlement. It seems illogical. Firstly, China has serious domestic security issues at the moment, with a number of very nasty attacks related to Xinjiang over the last few months. Secondly, China has a number of ongoing territorial spats, with those involving Japan and the Philippines being the most severe. Thirdly, relations even with the DPRK look bad, with rumors that the Chinese have been exerting pressure on the capricious young leader of their northeastern neighbor not to go ahead with another nuclear test. With all this negative activity happening inside and outside, why do more to alienate regional neighbours, and the international community, by encroaching symbolically onto contested territory and raising the hackles of a famously bellicose neighbor to such an extent that Chinese investments in Vietnam are attacked and people have to be repatriated? Far from promoting China’s self-interest, isn’t this damaging them?

Were foreign policy a solely rational process, where cause and effect follow smoothly along, then we might try to divine some long-term strategic intent from Beijing to make sense of its recent moves. But it is probably wiser to take heed of Clausewitz’s writing on the sentimental and moral dimensions of war. China is a country that has become wealthy and (through that wealth) powerful relatively quickly. It has done this largely under the skeptical and often ill-disposed eyes of the rest of the world, who dislike its political system. Its demise has been predicted many times in the last two decades, more often than not through wishful thinking. Despite all the challenges, China has so far prevailed. It is not surprising therefore that it now feels some right in flexing its muscles, and pushing back.

Add to this the weight of memory. Events 75 years ago sometimes seem like yesterday in the Chinese psyche. Young people might not know much of the detail of the war period from 1932 onwards, but going by the cacophony on Chinese social media they have certainly acquired anger and feeling about that time. Chinese leaders might have problems creating unity over internal social policy, but all the evidence points to the fact that when they put pictures of their troops and agents undertaking operations like the recent ones in the South China Seas, the public is on their side, and a sunny unity reigns across the country. Which leader wouldn’t want to exploit this at a time when so many other issues are contentious and tough?

Dabbling with public sentiment about your country’s historic resentments and frustrations at how little heed is paid to its international pride and status is one thing. But it takes leaders of what Clausewitz called profound moral and intellectual skills to be able to channel this in the right direction, rather than being pushed along by public opinion towards an unexpected clash that might not work in their favor. Emotion and public sentiment are powerful allies in even a phony conflict.

But should any strategist in Beijing be tempted to dabble with a real military clash along the maritime borders, then they need once more to have a look at the great German theorist. He writes of the crucial need, in a zone of human activity so prey to fortune and chance, to have a military that is “habituated” – trained in the real theatre of war, and used to its experiences, rather than theory. And here the Vietnamese link is a sobering one. The last time Chinese forces had any significant combat experience was in 1979, with the Vietnamese. It ended up being a debacle. This profound awareness of a real lack of experience means that, for all the noise and threats, only in the most exceptional circumstances would Chinese leaders really push the button for conflict. And that, for all of us, inside and outside China, is a very good thing.

Renovation and Controversy at the Roof of the World

MAY 26, 2014

Four years and $7.2 billion later, Yushu, a city high on the Tibetan Plateau that was leveled by a calamitous earthquake, has been largely made whole, as I reported from there recently. There are thousands of new homes, dozens of schools and impressive-looking museums. The reconstruction effort was made all the more challenging by the city’s isolation and thin air.

But despite the herculean effort and lavish spending, many residents are unhappy with the results. Some say the distribution of new housing favored well-connected government officials over ordinary residents. Others, especially construction workers and contractors who answered the government’s call to rebuild Yushu, are embittered over unpaid wages. At the city’s main monastery, the disappearance last year of a contractor hired to rebuild dormitories and prayer halls means that hundreds of monks and nuns are still living in tents.

The corruption and mismanagement have aggravated tensions between the city’s Tibetan majority and the Han migrants who run most of the local businesses. The result: A project that was meant to showcase the Communist Party’s magnanimity toward China’s embattled Tibetans has inadvertently sown even deeper cynicism and anger.

Indochina’s Troubled Year

With a coup, a crash and a clash, it has been a rough 2014 so far for Indochina.
May 28, 2014

Rarely has Indochina found itself in such a diplomatic mess: Vietnamese brawling with China over their maritime border, a plane crash that claimed senior government leaders in Laos, and a coup d’etat in Thailand have taken an unprecedented political and economic toll and turned trouble-prone Cambodia into an unlikely oasis of peace and stability.

The collective behavior is also winning Indochina comparisons with the Central American republics of the 1980s, while the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 and civil unrest in Myanmar have cast an additional pall over the wider region.

Tourist numbers are falling sharply amid speculation of a recession in Thailand, which will have a negative impact on its poorer neighbors, while foreign investor confidence has declined sharply, particularly among Chinese struggling to strike a balance between business as usual in Vietnam and the political realities of Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Thai economy contracted 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2014, predominantly because of a sharp 9.4 drop percent in investment and a 12.8 percent fall in construction. Tourist arrivals in Thailand have dropped to their lowest levels in five years with the industry expecting a $2.5 billion revenue shortfall in the first half of 2014.

Vietnam, already hamstrung by years of corruption and economic incompetence, could follow suit with the prospects of further military clashes with China more than likely, at least until mid-August when the Chinese are due to end oil-drilling operations in waters near Danang.

“Military strategists and planners must now be assumed to be weighing the options and consequences of delivering a ‘short sharp shock’ to Vietnam at sea to placate domestic opinion and signal resolve,” said Gavin Greenwood, a security analyst with Hong Kong-based Allan & Associates. “There is a strong sense that factions within China’s leadership have been seeking just such an opportunity for some time.”

Greenwood noted that Vietnam’s “immoderate behavior” – which left two Chinese dead, more than 100 injured, and hundreds of Chinese and Taiwanese factories damaged – had sanctified Beijing’s response.

“A brief skirmish that left a couple of Vietnam patrol boats ablaze would obviously be broadly, if relatively mildly, condemned by the U.S. and the wider international community unwilling to jeopardize important economic ties under such ambiguous circumstances.

INFOGRAPHIC: Troubled waters

An oil rig deployed by Beijing in the South China Sea earlier this month caused outrage in Vietnam and led to protests in which at least four Chinese nationals were killed and more than 200 factories destroyed. Here we look at the sources of the maritime conflict between the two countries

Adolfo Arranz
26 May, 2014

Where Does the Syrian Civil War Stand Today?

May 28, 2014
Syria: With Enemies Like This, Who Needs Allies

May 28, 2014

In the east (near the Iraq border) al Nusra and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) continue to fight each other with ISIL often getting the worst of it. This is despite the fact that ISIL has plenty of armed men just across the border in Iraq and in the city of Raqqa to the west. But in Western Iraq (Anbar province) ISIL is struggling to deal with increased pressure from government forces and pro-government tribal militias. ISIL forces are trapped in Fallujah, with the siege of the Islamic terrorists growing tighter and tighter. To the west ISIL is trying to establish a road connection between Anbar and Syria, where it controls Raqqa, the largest city in eastern Syria and the only provincial capital to be captured by the rebels. The revived (by Iranian Shia mercenaries recruited in Lebanon and Iraq) Syrian government is turning its attention to its Sunni eastern areas and the Shia dominated Iraqi government is increasingly aggressive attacking ISIL on both sides of the Syrian border. Both Iraq and Syria believe that ISIL is intent on creating a Sunni religious dictatorship out of eastern Syria and western Iraq. This is a largely desert and thinly populated region. ISIL is actually suffering more casualties in Syria, where its main foe is other rebels, especially large Islamic terrorist groups like al Nusra.

In the south (near the Jordanian border) Al Nusra and FSA units are increasingly hostile with each other. FSA is already at war with ISIL (as is al Nusra) and now there is the prospect of open fighting between FSA and al Nusra. There is also growing hostility between all Islamic terrorist rebel groups. It’s the same old story; every Islamic terrorist group believes its way is the true way. When you are on a Mission From God you tend to believe that your way is the only way. This splintering is old news among Islamic radical groups and no one has ever found an easy way around it. Thus despite there being over 100,000 armed rebels in Syria, the many divisions and growing infighting among the rebels is greatly weakening rebel combat capability. The fact that there are up to a thousand different rebel groups does not help either. As a result many rebel groups, in particular the FSA, are reporting growing desertions and more difficulty in recruiting. It’s believed that currently more rebels are dying each week at the hands of other rebels than in fighting with government forces. The government has over 300,000 troops and militiamen and their forces are much more disciplined and united. Assad and Iranian officials increasingly speak openly of eventual victory and this is no longer a fantasy.

In the northwest (Idlib province, where the Lebanese and Turkish borders meet) rebels continue to advance. This is in contrast to the setbacks the rebels are suffering elsewhere. In part this is because the government is concentrating on clearing the rebels away from Damascus and out of Aleppo. Once that is done, the Assads will march on Idlib. Currently ISIL is not very active in Idlib and al Nusra and secular rebels tend to get along there. Thus the government forces are on the defensive.

Middle East: Three nations, one conflict

May 27, 2014
By Borzou Daragahi

The crises in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are merging into a single sectarian war

Iraqi forces have stepped up their patrols along the barren 605km Syrian border recently, but they admit they have very little to show for it. The flow of guns, fighters and money moving in and out of Iraq has just grown too heavy to control.

One day this spring they caught a convoy of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis, starting a firefight, only to hear word two days later of an even larger convoy that had made its way past them. The best the border controls can do is serve as the eyes and ears of Baghdad.

“We maintain a strong presence on the border to try to cut their supply lines, but mostly to try to find out what is happening on other side,” says Brigadier General Saad Maan Ibrahim, spokesman for Iraq’s interior ministry. “It is clear that what is happening in Syria is impacting us and hurting the Iraqi people directly. If there is any problem in Syria or fresh outbreak of violence in Syria, this will be reflected in Iraq.”

Lebanese and Iraqi Shia militiamen take up arms in Syrian towns and cities. Syrian insurgents set off bombs in southern Beirut. Sunni fighters flow from Syria to Iraq, where they battle government troops on the outskirts of Baghdad, while Lebanese and Palestinian Sunnis in Lebanon fight in the Syrian city of Homs. Governments in Baghdad and Beirut, backed by their patron in Tehran, look the other way – or sometimes help – as arms and fighters make their way into Syria for battles from Aleppo to Damascus to Deraa.

This is more than just the “spillover” from the Syria conflict analysts warned about when the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. The various conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are increasingly merging into one war stretching from the Zagros Mountains to the Mediterranean Sea in what the writer Rami Khoury calls “a single operational arena in terms of the ease of movement of fighters and weapons”.

While few believe that the map of the region is about to be redrawn, the emerging conflict represents a dangerous breakdown of the nation states created in the Sykes-Picot agreement sealed by French and British colonial overlords 90 years ago.

“This region, the Levant, never had national identities or entities before Sykes-Picot,” says Paul Salem of the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The identities, unlike the countries, tend to be cross-border – because you have Shi’ite here and here, Sunni here and here, and Kurd here and here.”

In its duration, geographic scope and extent of its foreign involvement, the conflict resembles the 30 years war, the series of conflicts rooted in religious differences between Protestants and Catholics that devastated 17th-century central Europe.

Putin Blinked

MAY 27, 2014 

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

The crisis in Ukraine never threatened a Cold War-like nuclear Armageddon, but it may be the first case of post-post-Cold War brinkmanship, pitting the 21st century versus the 19th. It pits a Chinese/Russian worldview that says we can take advantage of 21st-century globalization whenever we want to enrich ourselves, and we can behave like 19th-century powers whenever we want to take a bite out of a neighbor — versus a view that says, no, sorry, the world of the 21st century is not just interconnected but interdependent and either you play by those rules or you pay a huge price.

In the end, it was Putinism versus Obamaism, and I’d like to be the first on my block to declare that the “other fellow” — Putin — “just blinked.”

In fact, I’d like to say more: Putin got pretty much everything wrong in Ukraine. He thought the world was still shaped by “spheres of influence” dictated from the top down, when Ukraine was all about the emergence of “people of influence” — The Square People, organized from the bottom up and eager to join their own sphere: the world of liberty and free markets represented by the European Union.

Putin underestimated Ukrainian patriotism; even many Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine did not like pro-Putin thugs trying to force them to join Russia. “Ukrainians have said in opinion polls that they want open borders and visa-free access to Russia,” noted the pollster Craig Charney. “But they also said in those polls — and confirmed with their majority vote for a pro-European candidate in Sunday’s election — that while they think Russia is a nice place to visit, they wouldn’t want to live there.”

And, most of all, Putin underestimated the impact of Western economic sanctions. The world turned out to be more interdependent, and Russia more exposed to that interdependence, than Putin thought.

So he blinked. The first flutter was pulling back his troops from Ukraine’s border and letting the election proceed. Interestingly, he chose to blink this out most directly at last week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s annual conference to attract global investors. “We want peace and calm in Ukraine,” Mr. Putin told the business executives. “We are interested that on our western borders we have peace and calm in Ukraine. ... We will work with the newly elected structure.”