31 May 2014

Obama Is Betting His Whole Afghan Plan on These Commandos


The Daily Beast gets an exclusive look at the Afghan special operations forces that are key to President Obama’s Afghan counterterrorism strategy. 

KABUL, Afghanistan—No matter how many troops President Obama keeps in Afghanistan, or how fast they leave, it’ll be the Afghan forces that keep the country together—and its special operations troops that provide the teeth. 

These troops have learned to perform the hard way: under fire by insurgents—and sometimes by their own government—for working alongside the Americans. Those combined stresses have ironically forced the elite forces to become more independent faster. Every time outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered them to stop working with NATO while charges of a drone misfire or alleged illegal raid were investigated, the troops were forced to tackle the Taliban and other insurgent groups on their own. 

But those pauses in cooperation have also revealed the Afghan special operations forces’ shortfalls: not enough air power to reach remote targets, or intelligence resources to track those targets. Small wonder they are still more willing to tackle tougher missions with American commandos at their side. 

For the Americans’ part, working closely with the Afghans gives them a chance to influence which targets are chosen in a battlefield still thick with a multiple choice of enemies—and when even a handful go along on a raid, they are able to guard against potential abuses, like the looting of suspects’ homes during raids or worse. 

The Daily Beast got an exclusive look at how the U.S. works with Afghan special operators: both the promise of the elite forces the U.S. has built, and the peril of abandoning those forces before they have the logistical and bureaucratic structures in place to keep performing after the Americans depart. 

Afghan Commandos train at Camp Commando on the outskirts of Kabul. Instructors have trained their own forces with little U.S. assistance since 2012. (Kim Dozier)

"From the fighting standpoint, I feel confident," said Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, head of U.S. special operations in Afghanistan. But the managerial skills needed to run a 200,000-troop force are still lacking. "It's training, recruiting…uniforms…food… the sustainment piece which is hard for our army,” he said, echoing other U.S. military commanders’ assessment of the Afghan forces’ progress overall. 


By Sumita Kumar

As it became increasingly apparent that the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was expected to form the new government, it simultaneously gave rise to fears and hopes in Pakistan. While fears arose from a nationalist hardliner image attached to the BJP, the fact that the incoming government would not be constrained by the dictates of a coalition politics, gave rise to hope that the leadership of the two countries would be able to take relations forward. An opportunity for realisation of such hopes presented itself sooner that anyone expected. That Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted Narendra Modi’s invitation to his swearing-in ceremony and arrived in India in spite of numerous domestic constraints underscores his own positive intentions with regard to relations between the two countries.

The civilian government has been having differences with the military on a number of accounts. First, the onus of finding a face saving way of extricating Gen Musharraf from the clutches of law, lies on the government and the government has been dragging its feet over removing Musharraf’s name from the exit control list, putting the responsibility on the Supreme Court. Second, the ISI was implicated in the attack on well known journalist Hamid Mir, anchor of Geo TV, and it was believed that the civilian government was backing the channel against the ISI and subsequent events led to Geo TV being forced to go off the air. Third, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) continues to create mayhem within the country. While the army would like to take on the TTP militarily, the Sharif government has been putting emphasis on talks with them. Though reservations remain over the key demands of the TTP, the ceasefire by the TTP has not been extended and the army has recently conducted operations against militants in North Waziristan as a retaliatory measure. This has given rise to unease that the militants could up the ante by resorting to suicide attacks in various parts of the country.

In the backdrop of such problems, the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif met Army Chief Raheel Sharif in Lahore and discussed the possibility of Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India, in a bid to build consensus on the issue. In an attempt to create a positive atmosphere before his visit, Sharif announced the release of 151 Indian fishermen and 57 fishing boats in Pakistan’s custody. Further, in a departure from past tradition wherein meetings were fixed between visiting dignitaries from Pakistan and leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, nothing was scheduled by the Pakistan High Commission this time.

A Man, a Plan, Afghanistan What should we make of President Obama’s withdrawal announcement?

That are we to make of President Obama’s decision, assuming formal approval later this summer from the next Afghan president, to keep nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the current NATO mission finishes this year—but then to cut that figure in half by the end of 2015 and reduce it virtually to zero by the end of 2016?

First, I would like to commend the president for taking an approach on Afghanistan that he has generally avoided until now. In his speech Sunday from Bagram Air Force base near Kabul, he talked positively and confidently to the assembled U.S. troops about the need to “preserve the gains that you have helped to win.” He devoted separate paragraphs to celebrating Afghan gains in counterterrorism, security in general, quality of life and political transition.

Of course, there have been frustrations; of course, the relationship with Hamid Karzai, the outgoing Afghan president, has been far too hard; naturally, as with any war, the loss of life has been tragic; and this particular war has gone on much too long. But we should remember to try to turn this adversity at least partly to our advantage. Americans have fought shoulder to shoulder with Afghan partners for years despite the difficulties, because the cause was just and the stakes high, because the enemy was ruthless and cruel, because as a result the international coalition included the largest number of countries in the history of warfare. On Sunday, for the first time in quite a while, Obama made these kinds of arguments with enthusiasm.

As for the new policy ideas the president unveiled upon his return from Afghanistan, the plan to keep 9,800 U.S. troops in-country next year is quite reasonable. It allows the United States to keep more than half a dozen bases, strategically located throughout the country. Because there are numerous al Qaeda targets near the country’s north and east, we need forces there. Because the fearsome Haqqani network is a bit further southward, with bases just over the border from Khost in southeastern Afghanistan, we need capabilities close to that location. Because much of the Taliban seeks to take refuge in Pakistan just over the border from Kandahar, its traditional home, the United States needs assets there and in Helmand province next door. Also, America’s European partners will stay engaged in the north and west of the country as long as the United States helps them with certain logistics enablers at those locations.

These regional bases, each typically requiring 1,000 to 1,500 Americans to be fully safe and effective, will operate drones, signals intelligence equipment, fighter jets, mine-clearing technology and helicopters. Afghan airpower and high-tech intelligence units have lagged behind the development of the Afghan infantry, so this help will be useful—even as the U.S. numbers are modest enough to ensure that GIs will not be a crutch for any unmotivated Afghan units or commanders.

President Obama’s Announcement on Troop Levels in Afghanistan: No Plan, No Transparency, No Credibility, and No Leadership

MAY 28, 2014 

President Obama announced troop levels for Afghanistan on May 27th in ways that make no effort to present a real plan or strategy. He simply set dates certain for the elimination of a meaningful U.S. military presence in 2015 – ignoring the fact that leaving half of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in 2016 is too small in enabling capability to meet Afghan needs. He said:

Today, I want to be clear about how the United States is prepared to advance those missions. At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 98,000 U.S. -- let me start that over, just because I want to make sure we don’t get this written wrong. At the beginning of 2015, we will have approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in different parts of the country, together with our NATO allies and other partners. By the end of 2015, we will have reduced that presence by roughly half, and we will have consolidated our troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. One year later, by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq.

He also ignored the fact that by setting dates certain without a hint of conditionality, he effectively told the Taliban, other insurgents, and the region that the United States will not reinforce Afghan forces in an emergency. Like his earlier deadline of 2014 for ending a U.S. combat presence, he has given the enemy a clear promise that all they have to do is wait, hitting Afghan forces where it is easy, and seeing all U.S. (and allied) forces gone by 2016.

He did not provide any strategic explanation of his decision, or meaningful assessment of the risks. He did not explain how the remaining U.S. forces will be organized, based, what they will do, or what they will cost. He did not assess any of the risks in his decisions or the relative value of staying in Afghanistan in the way his decisions call for. All he did was provide a set of empty generalities:

Our objectives are clear: Disrupting threats posed by al Qaeda; supporting Afghan security forces; and giving the Afghan people the opportunity to succeed as they stand on their own.

Here’s how we will pursue those objectives. First, America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people.

China Pakistan Relations and India – Strategic Choices

May 23, 2014 by Team SAISA
Filed under Analysis


As US Pakistan relations slide to their nadir since 2001, Pakistan is hedging on a strong China backing to fill the vacuum thus created. It has been promoting China as the alternative benefactor that could deliver badly needed economic and military assistance. As per a Pakistani narrative, “What we hear least about is the tangled weave of national interests that means China courts Pakistan as a proxy for its own competition with India, to the point where Pakistani experts concede that, given a choice between alliance with the US or China, Pakistan’s military will choose China “every day of the week, and twice on Fridays”. 

But is China interested? 

It is this tentative Chinese approach to Pakistan which may prohibit Pakistan from rupturing its relationship with Washington anymore. 

According to Andrew Small of German Marshall Fund, an American Policy Institute, “Pakistan may be taking up the ‘China option’ beyond where the Chinese are willing to go. China, he reckons, will be ‘reluctant to tilt too far towards what might look like an anti India alliance. ‘China, according to him, wants to keep its relations with India’ in reasonable order’. 

Both share strategic interests to contain India. To that end, China has a major role in arming Pakistan but China’s real interests lie someplace else – in its competition with US and in East Asia. It is for this reason that it has been slow to resurrect Pakistan’s economy. China Pakistan trade today stands at a paltry US$ 9 Billion with Pakistan’s figure standing at US$ 1 Billion. 

China’s compulsions to develop its Western regions have prompted it to look at Pakistan and Afghanistan’s northern areas. As per Foreign Affairs magazine, its aid is based on evaluation of geopolitical, political and economic risks. 

Geopolitically, Indian rivalry has prompted China to support Pakistan. Friendly ties also help satisfy its strategic interests of peace in the Xinjiang province, spur economic growth in China’s Western provinces, contain India and preclude the rise of continental rivals. This also offsets ill effects of India’s ‘look east’ policy on China’s interests in East Asia.

As India’s strategic reach expands, a continuing rivalry with Pakistan that preoccupies its diplomacy and pulls its attention back to its own neighbourhood, remains a net positive for Beijing. China’s involvement in Pakistan will closely reflect Beijing’s own priorities and evolving risk assessments. 

Strategically, China wants to open the land routes to the Gulf, Iran and Europe through its infrastructural development plans in Gilgit Baltistan and Afghanistan. It has invested in these, including the Aynak copper mines with a rail connectivity. Thirty years down the road, these links could be China’s gateway to the Gulf and Europe through Pakistan and Afghanistan, presenting an altogether different geo strategic picture than that we are used to, today. These cannot fructify in the military led terror oriented foreign policy of Pakistan. This is what makes China wary of investing too heavily in this terror prone area. 


By Riffath Khaji

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in order to escape operations by the Pakistani military and drone strikes by the US, has gradually spread from its traditional base in the country’s Federal Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) to the bustling commercial hub of Karachi. Although the TTP has been doing so since 2009, the group began escalating their violent activities in June 2012. This threatens to destabilise one of the Pakistan’s key cities that is home to the country central bank and stock exchange. Today, evidence suggests that the entire Pasthun neighbourhood in Karachi is under the influence of the TTP. As early as in October 2012, reports stated that 7000 TTP militants had infiltrated Karachi.

TTP in Karachi

Karachi attracts the TTP because it is Pakistan’s largest city, with a population of 20 million people, and that is home to different ethnic and linguistic groups, making it a tempting target. More significantly, about 5 million Pastuns – the ethnicity to which most Taliban militants belong to – live in Karachi and making it easy to find sanctuaries in the city.

Additionally, several other militant groups – such as the Jaish-e-Muhammad, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Jamaat ul-Furqan, and the Harkut-ul-Jihad Islami – operate in the city. In the early stages of the TTP’S spread towards Karachi, the group’s primary agenda was fundraising, and well as rest and recuperation.

The Taliban faction in Karachi largely comprises of militants from Swat valley who are loyal to the current TTP chief, Mullah Fazlullah. The commander for the Swat militants in Karachi is unknown, but anti-Taliban elders in Swat allege that the Karachi-based group was mainly led by Ibn-e-Aqeel and Sher Muhammad. In June 2012, the TTP began targeting local Awami National Party (ANP) leaders in Karachi. In 2012, Sher Shah Khan, a parliamentarian elected from the Swat region, alleged that several Swati political and social figures had been killed in Karachi by TTP militants.

Political Targets

According to the ANP, the TTP has killed 70 ANP leaders in Karachi. Approximately 44 ANP party offices have been closed across the city, and several party leaders have left Karachi and moved to Islamabad due to persistent TTP threats. In addition to targeting the ANP, the TTP has also threatened the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party that largely represents the Urdu-speaking Muslim community. The TTP militants in Karachi have also been targeting law enforcement agencies. Officials believe that the TTP has a hit list that includes police officers who have been involved in the arrests and killings of TTP commanders and militants.

China and Japan Battle for Russia’s Allegiance

Russia’s importance and non-alignment has Tokyo and Beijing competing for its hearts and minds.
May 28, 2014

It’s no secret that as Japan and China’s dispute in the East China Sea has intensified, so too has their struggle for influence all over the globe. Besides the global PR battle being waged over the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute, Japan and China have increasingly vied for influence in regions as diverse as Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.

Their battle for Russia’s allegiance, while often overlooked, has been no less intense. And for good reason: Russia is the most important state whose allegiance is still truly up for grabs.

Much has been written about the rapid improvement in Sino-Russian ties under Xi Jinping. Considerably less attention has been paid to the potentially just as transformative improvement in Russo-Japanese ties under Shinzo Abe. Much like his Chinese counterpart, since becoming prime minister again Abe has met with Vladimir Putin more times than any other head of state. This included Abe’s historic visit to Russia in April 2013, which was the first time a sitting Japanese prime minister had visited Russia in a decade.

The high level summit meetings between Abe and Putin have led both leaders to authorize their subordinates to negotiate a compromise to end their long-standing territorial dispute over the Northern Islands (Kuril Islands in Russia). In addition, following Abe’s trip to Moscow, the two sides created a two-plus-two dialogue (involving their defense and foreign ministers), which first met in Tokyo to discuss security issues in November of last year. This is no trivial matter: Japan only maintains two-plus-two dialogues with two other nations — Australia and the United States — and Japan is Russia’s only two-plus-two dialogue partner in Asia. Moreover, Russia has welcomed a greater Japanese presence in the Arctic even as it has quietly tried to keep China out of the same waters.

To a large extent, Abe’s efforts to woo Russia — much like his courtship of ASEAN nations — are driven by Japan’s deteriorating position relative to China. This reality was once again underscored by the interview Abe gave to the Wall Street Journal on Friday, which focused heavily on Abe’s desire to continue improving relations with Russia despite Moscow’s annexation of Crimea (which greatly spooked Japan). During the interview, Abe confirmed that he still wanted Putin to visit Japan this fall, and implied that he believed Tokyo could help facilitate Russia’s reentry into the G8 in the near future. The fact that the interview came just days after Russia and China signed a massive natural gas deal left little doubt as to how Russia factors into Abe’s regional calculations.

China’s Water Pollution Mire

Despite all the focus on air pollution, the contamination of China’s water is at least as serious.
May 28, 2014

Much has been said about China’s air pollution dilemma, with smog so thick in many urban areas that simply getting to and from work can pose a health hazard. Less has been written about the pollution of China’s water. In fact, water pollution in China is at least as bad – so severe that it has been proven to cause gastrointestinal and other types of cancer in some villages. Although these “cancer villages” have been around since the nineties, the government only recently recognized their presence. Many times in these cases, the pollution is caused by chemical dumping from nearby factories.

Dumping of industrial chemicals, agricultural waste, and urban wastewater has contaminated China’s water resources such that over half of all rivers in the country are unsafe for human contact. About 70 percent of the water pollution nationwide comes from agriculture, particularly runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste. The presence of heavy metals in seafood and rice has become increasingly common, passing on water contamination to the food supply. At the same time, while most water use comes from the agricultural industry in rural areas, poor households in the same areas find themselves increasingly disadvantaged when it comes to securing clean water. For these households, clean water has become progressively scarcer.

The main problem with China’s environmental control system has been one of enforcement. Water resource management involves many government institutions and insufficient coordination among them. What is more, local officials, who have been required to support local enterprises, have also had to uphold environmental laws. Because of the emphasis on generating GDP, the environment has been seriously neglected. Decentralization has led to taking into account the economic needs of the local area or province only. Decentralization of the coastal zone has also led to inattention to environmental needs. China’s coastline is extensive, divided into twelve units that are administered by separate bodies. Because of a lack of coordination and a beggar-thy-neighbor attitude, residents of these provinces have suffered as the environment has grown steadily worse.

Terrorism in China: Seeing the Threat Clearly

RUSI Analysis, 28 Mar 2014 By Edward Schwarck, Research Fellow, Asia Studies 

Recent Western and Chinese media focus on terrorism in Xinjiang has diverted attention away from the greater threat that Beijing faces from its ethnic Uighur population: namely a repeat of the large-scale rioting that hit the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009. 

There is something innately attention-grabbing about the recent convergence between two of the most important global trends of this century – the spread of Islamic extremism and the rise of China. If we are to believe the account of the Chinese government, both trends collided in Kunming in early March, as a group of alleged Islamist Uighur militants stabbed a mass of innocent civilians in the city’s railway station, killing twenty-nine.

A video released on 19 March by the leader of the rebel Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), Abdullah Mansour, praised the Kunming attack and described it as an ‘expensive offer’ to China to reconsider its Xinjiang policy. While Mansour did not claim responsibility for the attack, his statement is sure to add to the ongoing debate between Western and Chinese commentators on whether China faces a genuine terrorist threat, and whether Uighur militants in China maintain links to overseas groups such as the TIP – which is thought to operate from northern Pakistan.

The attack in Kunming is worrying as it demonstrates a level of organisation and willingness by militant groups to perpetrate atrocities rarely seen outside Xinjiang. Beginning in November 2013 with a Uighur-led attack in Tiananmen Square, China appears to face an escalating threat that is no longer confined to its troubled far-west. Yet media focus on terrorism is obscuring a more important threat that the Chinese government faces: namely a recurrence of the deadly inter-ethnic violence that hit the regional capital of Urumqi in July 2009. The circumstances of that incident are worth bearing in mind, as they almost certainly preoccupy the thoughts of China’s leaders in Beijing.

Official statements on the Kunming incident have predictably focused on the need for swift retribution and punishment of the perpetrators. Yet interestingly, China’s leaders have also shown awareness of the divisive effect that this rhetoric has on ethnic relations. In a speech delivered in mid-March, Yu Zhengsheng, the official in charge of China’s Xinjiang policy, reportedly criticised certain local governments for harassing ordinary Uighurs during the nationwide crackdown that has followed the Kunming incident. According to Mr Yu, such behaviour is ‘contrary to policy, foolish and plays into the hands of terrorists’.

China Cracks Down on Instant Messaging Services for Spreading Anti-State Messages

May 28, 2014
China Cracks Down on Instant Messaging Services
Associated Press

BEIJING — China is targeting popular smartphone-based instant messaging services in a monthlong campaign to crack down on the spreading of rumors and what it calls infiltration of hostile forces, in the latest move restricting online freedom of expression.

Such services incorporate social media functions that allow users to post photos and updates to their friends, or follow the feeds of companies, social groups or celebrities, and — more worryingly for the government — intellectuals, journalists and activists who comment on politics, law and society. They also post news reports shunned by mainstream media.

Some accounts attract hundreds of thousands of followers.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the crackdown on people spreading rumors and information related to violence, terrorism and pornography started Tuesday and would target public accounts on services including WeChat, run by Tencent Holdings Ltd, which has surged in popularity in the last two years.

People can subscribe to feeds from public accounts without first exchanging greeting messages, as must be done with private ones, which typically link friends and acquaintances.

Tencent and other companies did not answer calls or immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.

Earlier this year, the ruling Communist Party announced the creation of an Internet security group led by President Xi Jinping. Observers say authorities are wary of millions of Chinese with Internet access getting ideas that might threaten the Communist Party system.

Noting that such services had become popular online communication channels, Xinhua said: “Some people have used them to distribute illegal and harmful information, seriously undermining public interests and order in cyberspace.”

"We will firmly fight against infiltration from hostile forces at home and abroad," Xinhua quoted a statement from the Cabinet’s Internet Information Office as saying.

This is China’s first major campaign covering mobile phone messaging platforms, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based internet and mobile research company.

The timing of the crackdown suggests it may be a response to discussions about recent deadly attacks in China’s western region of Xinjiang, the U.S. indictment of five Chinese military officers for cyberspying, or the continuing government campaign against corruption.

"Anytime we see a tenser environment on fronts like those, there tends to be a corresponding clampdown on various communications tools," he said.

The communist government encourages Internet use for education and business but operates an extensive monitoring system. Operators of social media are required to enforce censorship rules against material deemed subversive or obscene.

In March, WeChat removed at least 40 accounts with content about political, economic and legal issues.

Web-based microblogs, known in Chinese as “weibo,” once enjoyed explosive growth in China but have come under increasing pressure. A new legal interpretation allows the government to jail microbloggers who post false information that has been reposted 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.

Details Emerge on China’s Anti-Terror Crackdown

Chinese media reports have new details on China’s plan for a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown. 
May 28, 2014

After a string of deadly terror attacks, Chinese media outlets are full of news regarding the next steps in the war on terror with Chinese characteristics.

The centerpiece is a Jinghua Times piece on the recently announced year-long crackdown on terrorism, an effort that will be centered in Xinjiang. According to China Digital Times, China’s censors have demanded that articles on this topic be “prominently displayed” on the homepages of online news sites. The article summarizes a recent videoconference held by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) on the topic of China’s ongoing crackdown on terrorism. According to MPS, since the beginning of May, China has broken up 23 gangs involved with terrorism or religious extremism, and has detained 200 suspects. Xinhua, in a separate article, highlighted one particular “lightning strike” in Hotan, Xinjiang. That raid, according to Xinhua captured five suspects and 1.8 tons of explosives, which had been purchased in Urumqi.

The Ministry promised to build on these results, seeking to root out terrorist groups before they plan strikes and to deter them through increased armed patrols and an increased security presence at crowded public areas. The MSP specified four types of people that will be targeted in its crackdown: those who use the internet to disseminate terrorist videos or materials calling for holy war; key figures involved in terrorism and religious extremism; those who have been charged multiple times with lighter crimes relating to public security or violence; and those who join terrorist or religious extremist groups beginning this year.

Other Chinese media also covered different angles of China’s crackdown on terrorism. China Daily published a story on the special training Chinese police officers are receiving so that they can begin carrying guns on their patrols. The article pointed out that first responders to the Kunming stabbing attack were unarmed and so unable to subdue the attackers. Global Times carried an article focusing on some of the details of the anti-terrorism crackdown. The article notes that the crackdown “will focus on terrorists and religious extremist groups, gun and explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps.” The possession or trading of weapons (including guns and explosive materials) is banned, and possessing or distributing terrorist or extremist propaganda is outlawed.

Full Text of Chinese Report on NSA Spying on China

May 27, 2014

For those of you who are curious what the Chinese know, or think they know, about NSA cyber spying on their country, the full text of today’s Xinhua report entitled “The United States’ Global Surveillance Record” can be read here.

FTC’s Data Broker Report

May 27, 2014

The 110-page document was released today, and entitled “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.” If you care about Big Data, then you will want to read the report.

Time for Intense India-Japan-Vietnam Strategic Partnership


The 24th ASEAN Summit was held for the first time in Naypyitaw, the capital of Myanmar. At the commencement of the summit on May 10, there were serious concerns raised by Vietnam on the recent drilling of an oil rig at the disputed Paracel Islands. ASEAN as a group deals primarily with political and economic issues. Despite the terms of reference, Vietnam brought out the issue and China responded by stating that it would be resolved bilaterally. The Vietnamese Prime Minister has stated that this affected Vietnamese sovereignty as the drilling was taking place 120 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast which as per the Law of Seas forms a part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of their country. The US State Department as per the Bangkok Post has called Beijing’s move to introduce an oil rig in the Paracel Islands as provocative. Further on 06 May, Philippines arrested 11 fishermen and seized a boat for poaching more than 500 endangered sea turtles at the disputed Half Moon South China Sea shoal. The Chinese call the shoal as Banuye Reef and claim it to be a part of the Nansha Islands. China has called for the release of the fishermen, but Philippines is currently proceeding legally with the case.


Paracel Islands were occupied by Chinese from the erstwhile South Vietnamese in 1974. Ever since, China has been gradually spreading its influence over other islands in the South China Sea. It has built a small garrison town Sansha in the Woody Island of the Paracel Group. Sansha has an airport and a runway of 2700 metres which enable Chinese Air Force to operate in the area.

The China National Offshore Oil Company’s decision to move oil rig HD-981 was a pre meditated move which has hurt Vietnam and other claimants of islands in the South China Sea. The oil rig was escorted by about 80 ships of Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as also the Chinese Coast Guard and moved into its current location on 02 May 2014. The rig is going to remain in location for three months and drilling operations would continue during this period. The commencement of drilling was formally opposed by the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh who telephoned China’s State Councillor Yang Jiechi indicating violation of the Law of Seas. China listened to the Minister but continued the drilling process. Vietnam sent 35 ships out of which 29 were armed. On 04 May, Chinese ships rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels injuring seven Vietnamese. Chinese ships with air support were also used to intimidate six more Vietnamese ships. Further, water cannons were also used to threaten the Vietnamese. As of now not a single round has been fired.

Barack Obama Misfires at West Point

"Obama has made clear what he is against. But he has not explained what he is for."

May 29, 2014 

President Obama’s speech today at West Point could hardly contrast more starkly with George W. Bush’s at West Point on June 1, 2002. After 9/11 Bush announced that America needed to go on the offensive. Containment was passé, old school, ready to be put out to pasture. He was offering the headier brew of preemptive action. Bush announced, “Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.”

Bush’s claims were bogus and set the course for the Iraq War, a conflict that has inflicted severe damage upon American national security, both by the sheer human and financial cost of the war as well as by the inadvertent fomenting of terrorism across the Middle East. The upheaval in Syria, where jihadist groups are vying with each other for supremacy, is a direct result of the conflict in Iraq.

Now, over a decade later, Obama announced a very different stance, one that has incurred the ire of GOP Senators such as John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham who jointly declared that Obama's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2016 is a "monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy." Obama, by contrast, said in his commence speech at West Point: "A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable." The blowtorch approach of the Bush administration is out. A more discriminating approach is in in. Wars of choice are not something Washington should promiscuously choose. One reason is that the U.S. does not need to adopt a siege mentality: claims that America is headed for the skids, he said, are bunk. The threats that the U.S. faces are manageable, not overwhelming:

The Russia-China Gas Deal: A $400 Billion Mirage?

The devil just might be in the details.

May 29, 2014 
No business agreement in recent times has generated as much excitement, and as much hyperbole, as the announced deal that Russia would supply China with 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually for a thirty-year period. The $400-billion deal has been called a victory for Russia, a victory for China and even evidence of a shift in either energy markets, or geopolitics or both. Sadly, the deal is none of these things.

First, let’s talk about the commercial elements of the deal. The reality is that China has always had the upper hand because East Siberian gas can only be developed with China as a customer. For years, pundits have said that China was not willing to pay “European” prices to Russia. This is hardly true: China is paying “European” prices to Central Asia, and it pays more than that to Qatar and other suppliers of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The difference is that China had to compete for those supplies; absent competition in East Siberia, China had the upper hand.

We do not know the full details of the deal yet, nor do we know whether all the issues have been resolved—after all, the two sides have long stressed progress while downplaying their outstanding points. Even so, the rumored value ($400 billion over thirty years) equates to a gas price of around $10 per million British thermal units. Given the costs announced so far, this project will yield a subpar return for Gazprom under today’s assumptions—maybe high single digits or low double digits. This will not be Gazprom’s most profitable endeavor.

It does, however, score it a major political point. Gazprom’s inability to close this deal has frustrated the Kremlin. Together with Gazprom’s marketing strategy in Europe, which many criticized, the company’s privileged position has come under attack. The most visible crack was the decision last year to allow other Russian companies to export LNG. Still, the Kremlin is keen to avoid competition that could lower gas prices overseas. Until last year, this meant Europe. With this pipeline, Gazprom’s writ is enlarged, as are the complications from a liberalized approach to gas exports.

America's Nuclear Nightmares: Russia, China, and Soon Iran?

"American allies fear the Obama Administration will similarly let Iran go nuclear due to a lack of certainty. Not once has the American intelligence community accurately predicted when hostile states have gone nuclear..."

May 29, 2014 

Fifty years ago, the CIA produced a Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) on China’s nuclear weapons program for President Lyndon Johnson. Overhead photography taken three weeks earlier revealed that a Chinese installation in Lop Nor was definitively a nuclear test site and would come online in two months. However, the CIA estimated, China would not have the necessary amount of fissionable material, which the United States assumed would come from a small plutonium reactor at Baotou, until mid-1965.

Seeking to make sense of the conflicting timelines, the CIA began to speculate: perhaps the Soviets had transferred additional fissionable material, perhaps the CIA was unaware of other enrichment sites, or, perhaps, as is often the case in large undertakings, progress among the different elements of China’s nuclear program had merely become uneven. In conclusion, the SNIE reads, the available facts “do not permit a very confident estimate of the chances of a Chinese Communist nuclear detonation in the next few months. Clearly the possibility of such a detonation before the end of the year cannot be ruled out—the test may occur during this period. On balance, however, we believe that it will not occur until sometime after the end of 1964.” Seven weeks later, China tested its first nuclear bomb on October 16, 1964, a highly enriched uranium implosion device.

Fifty year later, it is this assessment that could land on President Obama’s desk with regards to Iran’s nuclear program and it is this assessment that strikes fear in America’s Middle Eastern allies. Israelis and Arabs alike worry that by the time America is certain that Iran is within reach of possessing a nuclear weapon, Washington’s ability or willingness to stop it will be out of reach. Despite clear evidence of a Chinese test site in its final stages, the CIA did not believe Beijing had enough weapons-grade plutonium and, therefore, still assessed that any test was close to a year away. The SNIE, in the words of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had too many “known unknowns” in its nuclear picture and the Johnson Administration did what it thought was reasonable and responsible: nothing.

Russia and the “Color Revolution”

A Russian Military View of a World Destabilized by the US and the West 

MAY 28, 2014 

The British strategist, Liddell Hart, stressed the need understand the perspective behind rival views of grand strategy and military developments: “The other side of the hill.” A range of Russian and Belorussian military and civil experts presented a very different view of global security and the forces behind it at the Russian Ministry of Defense’s third Moscow Conference on International Security on May 23, 2014.

The first session of the Conference presented an overview of the security situation, focusing on what Russian experts called the “Color Revolution.” Russian analysts have used this term since the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2012, in discussing the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, and the Tulip Revolution that took place in Kyrgyzstan in 2005.

Russian military officers now tied the term “Color Revolution” to the crisis in the Ukraine and to what they saw as a new US and European approach to warfare that focuses on creating destabilizing revolutions in other states as a means of serving their security interests at low cost and with minimal casualties. It was seen as posing a potential threat to Russian in the near abroad, to China and Asia states not aligned with the US, and as a means of destabilizing states in the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia.

The second session repeated these themes, focusing on the instability in the Middle East, and the final session addressed the war in Afghanistan and South Asia.


By Eleonora Tafuro

Much current analysis of Russian influence in its neighbourhood focuses on its use of ‘hard power’ tools. However, analysing Russia’s soft power efforts is no less important for understanding the full nature of Moscow’s power strategy in its neighbourhood. When Harvard scholar Joseph Nye developed the concept of ‘smart power’, he described it as the ability to combine the tools of hard and soft power, that is, to use both sticks and carrots (coercion and payment) and the power of attraction (making others want what you want).

To date, Russia appears to be more confident using hard power measures to pursue its neighbourhood interests, in particular trying to dissuade neighbours from a closer relationship with the European Union (EU). Ukraine is the most glaring example. First the Kremlin tried ‘carrots’ (such as large loans with few strings attached, gas price discounts etc.), then moved onto ‘sticks’ (trade embargoes, gas price hikes, and eventually the annexation of Crimea and further destabilisation of the East). Most of the other five countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova – have also experienced Russian hard power in recent years. Plus, Russia has plenty of leverage to do so in many of the five Central Asian republics. For example, Russia is the main destination for their migrant workers, and according to the World Bank, remittances account for 48 per cent of Tajikistan’s GDP and 31 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s.

Even so, Russia is not neglecting the use of soft power. The Putin regime perceives Russia as an alternative geopolitical pole with an anti-liberal social outlook, a type of ‘Conservative International’ in opposition to the West. It offers its neighbours a path for regional integration through the Customs Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the envisaged Eurasian Union, in competition with that of the EU and NATO. Plus, Moscow funds cultural programmes based on the idea of a common identity, language and history in the post-Soviet space, and tries to spread its messages through well-resourced Kremlin-linked media outlets.


Russia has a number of advantages for implementing a soft power strategy in its neighbourhood: the presence of large Russian minorities; a shared history; cultural and linguistic proximity; a larger economy and energy resources. The Kremlin’s soft power tools include cultural and linguistic programmes, scholarships for foreign students, well-equipped media outlets, Christian Orthodoxy, and a visa-free regime with many neighbours that makes Russia’s labour market relatively accessible. The power of international attraction is based on political values, and the Kremlin tries to offer an alternative narrative to the West. This vision is not only based on multi-polarity, but also as a defender of conservative (anti-liberal) values – a world view that appeals to many in the neighbours.

During his presidential address to the Russian Federal Assembly in December 2013, Putin outlined his conservative vision, presenting the EU and the West more generally as decadent places where traditions and values are ‘eroding’, accepting ‘without question the equality of good and evil’.

Barack Obama Misfires at West Point

"Obama has made clear what he is against. But he has not explained what he is for."

May 29, 2014 

President Obama’s speech today at West Point could hardly contrast more starkly with George W. Bush’s at West Point on June 1, 2002. After 9/11 Bush announced that America needed to go on the offensive. Containment was passé, old school, ready to be put out to pasture. He was offering the headier brew of preemptive action. Bush announced, “Deterrence, the promise of massive retaliation against nations, means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.”

Bush’s claims were bogus and set the course for the Iraq War, a conflict that has inflicted severe damage upon American national security, both by the sheer human and financial cost of the war as well as by the inadvertent fomenting of terrorism across the Middle East. The upheaval in Syria, where jihadist groups are vying with each other for supremacy, is a direct result of the conflict in Iraq.

Now, over a decade later, Obama announced a very different stance, one that has incurred the ire of GOP Senators such as John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Lindsey Graham who jointly declared that Obama's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2016 is a "monumental mistake and a triumph of politics over strategy." Obama, by contrast, said in his commence speech at West Point: "A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable." The blowtorch approach of the Bush administration is out. A more discriminating approach is in in. Wars of choice are not something Washington should promiscuously choose. One reason is that the U.S. does not need to adopt a siege mentality: claims that America is headed for the skids, he said, are bunk. The threats that the U.S. faces are manageable, not overwhelming:

America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise – who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away – are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. Think about it. Our military has no peer. The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low, and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.

But what to do with all that power? A summit meeting with Russian president to settle differences over Ukraine? A Camp David meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas? Or should America simply husband its might?

Obama’s Nixon Doctrine

President Obama’s speech in West Point reaffirmed his commitment to adopting the Guam Doctrine. 

May 29, 2014

As my colleague Shannon has noted, President Barack Obama gave a commencement address at West Point today as part of the White House’s “we still care about national security” week. Shannon analyzed the speech from an Asia-Pacific standpoint, or lack thereof.

I was struck primarily by two aspects of the speech. The first was the lack of novelty in it. The White House had been marketing the speech as an effort to better explain President Obama’s broader vision of U.S. foreign policy, which many pundits have rightly criticized this administration for lacking. As Politico reported earlier this week: “President Barack Obama will use his speech at the West Point commencement Wednesday to lay out a broad vision of American foreign policy.”

In one sense, the speech succeeded in articulating a vision for foreign policy and, in particular, national security. However, if the speech was meant to better explain the Obama doctrine, it almost certainly failed. Nothing in this speech differed substantially from countless foreign policy-oriented speeches Obama gave earlier in his presidency. For example, his rationale for when America will use force—unilaterally when the U.S. is directly threatened, and multilaterally when indirectly threatened—was taken from the speech he gave justifying the intervention in Libya in 2011. If critics did not understand what Obama’s vision for foreign policy was before the speech, it’s hard to see how they would better comprehend it from this speech.

The second part of the speech I was struck by was how much Obama continues to be committed to implementing a Nixon Doctrine, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism and other types of instability in places like the Middle East in Africa. The Guam or Nixon Doctrine, of course, was based on the notion that while the U.S. would meet its treaty obligations, in general it would expect states facing aggression to take the lead in defending themselves. This more or less amounted to an expectation that the local nation would provide the bulk of the ground forces to fight the aggression, with the U.S. aiding them through arms sales, training and advising.

New Details About NSA’s Biggest Cable Tapping Operation: DANCINGOASIS

May 27, 2014
NSA’s largest cable tapping program: DANCINGOASIS
Peter Koop

On May 13, Glenn Greenwald published his book ‘No Place To Hide' about the Snowden-disclosures. It doesn't contain substantial new revelations, but from one of the original documents in it we can determine that NSA's largest cable tapping program is codenamed DANCINGOASIS, something which was not reported on earlier.

Here we will combine information from a number of other documents and sources to create a somewhat more complete picture of the DANCINGOASIS program.

Special Source Operations

In Greenwald’s book and on his website, the following chart from NSA’s BOUNDLESSINFORMANT tool was published. Although these charts are not always easy to interpret, we can rather safely assume that this one gives the overview for NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, which is responsible for collecting data from major telephony and internet cables and switches.

During the one month period between December 10, 2012 and January 8, 2013, a total of more than 160 billion metadata records were counted, divided into 93 billion DNI (internet) data and 67 billion DNR (telephony) data:

In the “Most Volume” section we see that the program which collects most data is identified by the SIGINT Activity Designator (SIGAD) US-3171, a facility that is also known under the codename DANCINGOASIS, which is sometimes abbreviated as DGO.

During the one month period covered by the chart, this program collected 57.7 billion data records, which is more than twice as much as the program that is second: US-3180, which is codenamed SPINNERET. Third is US-3145 or MOONLIGHTPATH and fourth DS-300 or INCENSER. This chart will be analysed in general in a separate article.