20 June 2014

How not to end a war

Narayan Lakshman
June 20, 2014
How not to end a war
At the heart of the gloomy nadir in Washington’s foreign policy engagement are several profound lessons that, regrettably, are never likely to be recognised

June can be an uncomfortably hot month in Washington but no one must have felt the heat more in the beltway in recent weeks than U.S. President Barack Obama, a man on the verge of witnessing his most cherished campaign promises bite the dust.

The 44th President may be ruing the day he vowed to wind down two wars, flushed as his 2008 dream run to the polls was with the idea of “Hope.”

Nearly six years on, the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s vision lies in tatters, courtesy of a toxic combination of terrorists from al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Afghan Taliban and their vicious cousins across the Durand Line.

Delivering the death blow

This month ISIS in particular appeared to strike the death blow to the prospect of Mr. Obama claiming peace in Iraq as his enduring legacy, even as Twitter was flooded with images showing what seemed to be the militant group’s squads gunning down Iraqi air force recruits in Tikrit, some 1,700 of them, if propaganda materials were to be believed.

After capturing Tikrit, Mosul and possibly Tal Afar, ISIS was said to be no more than 60 kilometres from Baghdad and U.S. military personnel are being rushed in to protect their embassy in the city.

A Syrian tragedy of many dimensions

Priyanka Bhattacharya Dutt
June 20, 2014
A Syrian tragedy of many dimensions

The stories of Syrian refugees in Lebanon form the narrative of the number of catastrophic ways in which the Syrian civil war is affecting its people

“One family flees Syria every 60 seconds,” is a line in the United Nations press release sent to my email earlier this month; a simple fact overlooked because of the violence and rhetoric of one of the bloodiest civil wars in this generation. No matter which city was getting bombed and which side was winning, one family was fleeing Syria every 60 seconds.

Living and working in Dubai, I have had a ringside view of the Syrian conflict for the past three years, more so because of colleagues who were directly affected. Like the makeup artist at my TV station whose house in Homs had been reduced to rubble, or the editor who had been desperately trying to get his family out of Damascus.

Despite that, the enormity of the Syrian war most often did not register. Shelling, rockets, bombing, even a chemical attack; each violent event just seemed to merge into the other.Magnitude of refugee flow

It is the summer following the epochal Arab Spring, and most people are too weary of conflict to really process the magnitude of events.

Even then, how did the world not notice that Lebanon, a country no bigger than the State of Tripura, is today home to a million Syrian refugees? From just 5,000 refugees in 2011, today, one in every four people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. And the number keeps growing.

Every day, the UNHCR (The United Nations Refugee Agency) registers about 3,000 new refugees across Lebanon. By its estimate, there will be two million Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone by the end of this year — a number so staggering that foreign aid just can’t keep up.

Despite launching one of its biggest funding appeals in recent years, the UNHCR, which is coordinating aid on the ground, has just received a quarter of what it requires. Simply put, this means that there’s just not enough money to even feed everyone.

“Do you notice the number of pregnant women here?” a doctor with the International Medical Corps asked me. Ever since I had arrived in Lebanon, I noticed pregnant women or very young children everywhere I went. Given that birth control was not available but advocated at the primary health centres, things just didn’t add up. Until, of course, it was explained to me thus — “As aid dries up, only women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are receiving food aid. This has made it extremely difficult for us to promote birth control.”

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Indian money in Swiss banks rise to over Rs. 14,000 cr.

 June 19, 2014 
Source Link

PTIChairman Justice (retd) M.B. Shah and other SIT members come out after the first high level meeting. A data on Thursday said Indians’ money in Swiss banks has risen to nearly Rs 14,000 crore, despite a global clampdown against the famed secrecy wall of Switzerland banking system. File photo

Indians’ money in Swiss banks has risen to over two billion Swiss francs (nearly Rs 14,000 crore), despite a global clampdown against the famed secrecy wall of Switzerland banking system.

The funds held by Indians with banks in Switzerland rose by over 40 per cent during 2013, from about 1.42 billion Swiss francs at the end of previous year, as per the latest data released on Thursday by the country’s central banking authority Swiss National Bank (SNB).

In contrast, the money held in Swiss banks by their foreign clients from across the world continued to decline and stood at a record low of 1.32 trillion Swiss francs (about $1.56 trillion or over Rs 90 lakh crore) at the end of 2013.

During 2012, the Indians’ money in Swiss banks had fallen by over one-third to a record low level.

Do you think I am Indian?!

By Awatif Al-Alawi
In his book “Diwaniya Chats”, Kuwaiti writer Hamad Al-Mohsen Al-Hamad mentioned an anecdote that goes back to the 1960s about an elderly man who was at in his sons’ farm in Najd and saw three men with dark complexions working there.

Inquiring about the three strangers, one of his sons said that they were Indians brought to work in the farm. The old man was shocked. “Oh my God! We used to go to their country seeking better lives and now they work for us!” the old man exclaimed.

That story came to my mind while reading a joke a friend WhatsApped me making fun of Indians’ naivety’ as usual.

Frankly speaking, I do not know whether I should feel bad or laugh at the naivety’ of those poor people making such jokes thinking that they are virtuosos, hotshots and the only geniuses of their time.

I actually do not blame them because they measure genius and creativity by the amount of money they have — money that we got from lakes of petroleum we were born to find underneath us and now enjoy their fruits, no thanks to us.

We are delusional by thinking that we are Allah’s chosen people and that everyone else has been only created to serve us without complaints. We are forgetting that some of our grandparents used to work as wandering salesmen and peddlers on Indian roads and some used to take whatever job they could to make a living for their folks back in Kuwait! I invite you, the ones who make fun of Indians and only view them as idiots waggling their heads sideways without understanding anything, to read what the British journalist Angela Saini says in her book “Geek Nation” to realize your true value compared to the Indians you are making fun of.

Saini says that “Indians and individuals of Indian origins wherever they are in this universe are famous for being professional, hardworking, skilled and computer-obsessed people.

Almost one in five of all medical and dental staff in the UK is of Indian origin, and one in six employed scientists with science or engineering doctorates in the US is Indian.

India’s Worrying Border Infrastructure Deficit

By Sudha Ramachandran
June 19, 2014

A disturbing disparity has emerged in infrastructure development on either side of the disputed Sino-Indian border.
Even as China’s road and rail network in Tibet inches towards the disputed Sino-Indian border, India’s plans to repair dilapidated border roads and construct new roads and railway lines are running wekk behind schedule, with some infrastructure projects not only missing completion deadlines but also failing to move beyond the drawing board.

As Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, 2013-2014, noted in a recent report, India’s air, road and rail network near its border with China is in a “very dismal” state. Of the 73 all-weather roads that were identified for construction in 2006, just 18 have been completed so far. Of the 27 roads that were to be constructed by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, just one is complete, the report pointed out, adding that “as many as eleven roads are behind schedule” with even their detailed project reports not yet finalized. As for construction of 14 strategic railway lines that were to be laid near the border, these have registered “nil achievement,” the report said.

The roughly 3488 km Line of Actual Control (LAC), which snakes through the Himalayas, serves as the de facto border between India and China. Besides differences over where the LAC runs, India and China have territorial claims over chunks of territory. In the western sector, India accuses China of occupying 38,000 sq km of its territory in Aksai Chin and of holding 5,180 sq km of land in Kashmir that Pakistan gifted Beijing in 1963. China lays claim to around 90,000 sq km of land in India’s northeast, roughly approximating the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing refers to as “Southern Tibet.”

The two countries fought a border war in 1962, which China won. Besides violent skirmishes at Nathu La, a mountain pass that connects Tibet with the Indian state of Sikkim, in 1967, and at Sumdurong Chu Valley in Arunachal in 1987, as well as periodic “incursions” at various points of the LAC over the years, the Sino-Indian frontier has been largely quiet as bilateral relations have improved significantly in recent decades.

Still the possibility of a future military confrontation cannot be ruled out and it is in this context that India’s poor connectivity to the LAC is reason for concern.

The difference in infrastructure on the Indian and Chinese sides is “stark,” Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi told The Diplomat, pointing to the “tremendous improvements” China has made over the past decade in linking the LAC to the rest of the country. Tibet has a 40,000 km road network and roads run up to the LAC, unlike roads on the Indian side, which stop 60 to 80 km short of the border, she pointed out.

Forty Indian Construction Workers Kidnapped in Iraq

18 June 2014
Iraqi men fill military trucks to join the Iraqi army at the main recruiting center in Baghdad | AP 

India Wednesday said 40 Indians working for a Turkish construction company have been abducted in violence-hit Iraq's Mosul area which has been taken over by Sunni militants.

The external affairs ministry here did not say which militant group had seized the workers.

Earlier media reports blamed the abduction on the Sunni insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who have seized the cities of Mosul and Tikrit and are advancing menacingly towards capital Baghdad.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said the workers mostly belonged to the country's northern states such as Punjab and worked for the Tariq Noor al Huda construction company.

'Govt Will Do Everything Possible'

Operation ‘Polo’ and Impact & Ramifications on India’s First Kashmir War

18 Jun , 2014

Operation ‘Polo’ and Impact & Ramifications on India’s First Kashmir War
Map of India’s second largest Princely State Hyderabad

Objectively speaking, the 108 hours campaign undertaken to liberate the Princely State of Hyderabad, codenamed Operation (Op) Polo stands out as India’s ‘first’ military success. Having said that, in view of its timing, (September 1948), and the forces it ‘dislocated,’ at a time when India was fighting a grim war in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) and, it cannot be denied that the campaign deflected India’s operational focus and undermined the nation’s ‘main’ effort. To recapitulate the operation situation: By the time the Hyderabad operation was eventually undertaken, Pakistan had already annexed what is now ‘Azad’ Kashmir, occupied Gilgit and cut off Ladakh by capturing Skardu and Kargil.

War ravaged Britain was constrained to scuttle her liabilities, i.e. her global empire, including the jewel in the crown – India, the keystone of her Asian empire.

Despite such major operational reverses, Polo was still allowed to run its course, despite the fact that it ‘fixed’ combat resources desperately needed to restore the situation in Kashmir. This is not to suggest that the situation in Hyderabad did not require intervention, it did, but it is advocated that the situation could have been timed/handled differently. Admittedly, it is easy to build a hypothetical case with the ‘undue’ advantage of hindsight, the aim is to highlight the ramifications Polo had on Kashmir – a conflict that India not only lost in strategic terms, but which continues to cast its shadow on India’s progression.

Before coming to Hyderabad and Kashmir, Britain’s ‘post war’ compulsions need to be recapitulated. Despite emerging victorious, five years of gruelling war had sapped Britain financially; apropos, whatever visages of Pax Britannica she still harboured had to be (finally) laid to rest. War ravaged Britain was constrained to scuttle her liabilities, i.e. her global empire, including the jewel in the crown – India, the keystone of her Asian empire. Concurrently, after Stalin’s crushing defeat on Nazi Germany and his expansion into Europe, Soviet Russia had emerged as the new and ‘larger than life’ adversary. A vicious Cold War had already erupted and World War Three was expected to break out at any time between the former allies. Cutting to the bone, the competition was over oil, the ‘liquid gold,’ as control over the ‘wells of power’ not only yielded enormous economic power, but also fuelled the war machines of the new imperialists. Energy rich Gulf and the Middle East being the immediate spoils and since the Soviet shadow over the Gulf loomed large, the threat was clear and present.

Running out of control

Vikram Sood
17 June 2014

The attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat by suspected Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorists on May 23, three days ahead of the swearing in of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister can be interpreted in many ways. It was carried out by "non-state actors" under no-one's control; meaning not under Pakistan's control. 
Such operations are usually planned much in advance and there was probably an ear marked group for an assault who had "cased" this target in advance of a possible assault. Quite apparently, the timing of the attack, was to coincide with the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This leaves one to suspect that the plan was hastily pulled out of some shelf, dusted out and put into operation hastily. 

Additionally, what must have galled the powers-that-be in Pakistan was that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was visiting India when he would be treated as one among the many equal SAARC leaders. 

What would have frightened these powers was the possibility that Nawaz Sharif may actually succeed in breaking the ice with his Indian counterpart. That would have been blasphemy. Surely, the idea would have been to take hostage, prolong the event, get international coverage and embarrass both the Prime Ministers. Simultaneously, it was a jihadi anthem being played for the new Indian Prime Minister. It was the bravery of the Afghan and Indian security contingents that prevented this plan from succeeding. 

The other purpose would have been to send a message to India about the shape of things to come after the Americans leave Afghanistan and that Pakistan would be in control to the exclusion of India and that Indian interests and investments were in jeopardy. This was also the message in the kidnapping of the Indian aid worker Father Alexis Prem Kumar from Herat on June 2. 

Enabling the Dragon: China’s Foreign Policy between Thucydides and Sun Tzu

Chinese FM Wang Yi outlined the three main foundations for China’s new age foreign policy. Behind the traditional aesthetically sophisticated formulas one can see a pure case of Thucydidian realism.


On March 8 Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi gave his first major press-conference against the background of the ongoing session of the National People’s Congress. More than 500 journalists listened to the FM for 95 minutes, but it was the very last statement that deserves the most attention. Wang outlined the three main foundations for China’s new age foreign policy and behind the traditional aesthetically sophisticated formulas one can see a pure case of Thucydidian realism.

When asked about a personal vision of Chinese foreign policy, Wang Yi said the three requirements for Chinese diplomacy are “confidence,” “backbone,” and “generosity.” Each of these concepts is tied up with confidence and pride in China’s power: “Confidence comes from the strength and prosperity of our motherland … The backbone comes from our national pride … Generosity comes from the self-confidence of an old civilization.” (quoting The Diplomat here).

The statement itself is quite characteristic of Chinese official rhetoric. A sophisticated metaphoric reminder of China’s national supremacy backed by “5,000 years of uninterrupted civilizational prosperity” is supposed to serve as a basis for a relaxed and powerful international stance. Then Wang posits that Beijing pursues “major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristic”. Now that’s when I got the itch — a feeling that something sounds very familiar. Oh, there it is — if we substitute “major-country diplomacy” with a synonymous “great-power politics” we get a classic notion from political realism. Great power — small power is something purely realistic and it seems the Chinese are well aware of that.

Now for the “generosity”. When Thucydides outlined the basics of political realism in his History of the Peloponnesian War he made international relations look like a world of cynicism, state-scale egoism and unchallenged domination of pure national interest. These circumstances seemingly leave no room for goodwill, except for one manifestation — restraint in power excercise. Essentially it means denying the “just-because-I-can” logic, often characteristic of authoritarian leaders in internal policy.

China’s Second Coast: Implications for Northeast India

June 19, 2014\

Northeast of India has been in the news recently with the coming to power of the new NDA government at the Centre. With the appointment of Gen (Retd) V. K. Singh, former Chief of Army Staff, and now a federal minister of Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), the arresting signs are that India is serious about both development and security in this strategic region, bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Myanmar. Tensions along the China-India border in Arunachal Pradesh compounded by China’s territorial claim, cross-border crime in the India-Bangladesh and Indo-Myanmar borders and the presence of non-state armed actors with bases across the international border vindicates the critical need to mainstream the Northeastern imagination. What is, however, interesting, and of strategic significance, besides China’s growing military presence in Tibet, is its activities in Myanmar especially with regard to ambitions for better access to the sea via the Myanmar coast. China has been assiduously building up its ‘second coast’ in Myanmar overlooking the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. While this build up has the undivided attention of India’s Navy and defense establishment, it would be vital to add the future implications for the Northeast, to make a holistic strategic and security assessment.
China in the Indian Ocean Region

A report by Future Directions International, Australia speculates that China’s overarching strategy for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) includes constructing military bases and support facilities on foreign soil in proximity to its trade and energy shipping sea lanes of communication (SLOC).1 These areas also called “String of Pearls” in the IOR originate from Hainan Island in the South China Sea, Sittwe in Myanmar, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Marao in the Maldives, Gwadar in Pakistan, stretching to Kenya and Sudan in the horn of Africa. The strategy includes a canal through the Kra isthmus in Thailand bypassing the Malacca Strait. While these “Pearls” provide the logistics for trade in the SLOCs, it is the Chinese moves to militarily secure both the “pearls” and the SLOCs that have interesting side-effects: capabilities of monitoring Indian Naval activity and the potential to encircle India militarily in the IOR.2

The ‘Second Coast’ and its implications for Northeast India

Myanmar’s 2,276 km long coastline in the Bay of Bengal has the potential to provide the ‘second coast’ to China to reach the Indian Ocean and achieve strategic presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Especially transportation logistics to the ‘second coast’ from landlocked south west Chinese provinces like Yunnan have both economic and strategic benefits.

There have been reports of Chinese built SIGINT listening stations in the Andaman Sea at least at Manaung, Hainggyi, Zadetkyi and the Coco Islands in Myanmar. Chinese technicians and instructors have worked on radar installations in naval bases and facilities near Yangon, Moulmein and Mergui. The Indian Coast Guard has intercepted fishing trawlers flying Myanmar flags off the Andaman Islands. On inspection all the crew turned out to be Chinese nationals on expeditions with radio and depth sounding equipment for submarine usage. To what extent these activities and facilities support the Chinese military in monitoring the maritime region around the Andaman &Nicobar Tri command is not yet confirmed.3 Additional reports indicate that the Chinese maybe pushing Myanmar for a listening facility on Ramree Island, Rakhine state, which also holds the deep sea Kyaukpyu port developed for oil and gas transportation. China is building an integrated transport system linking the Kyaukpyu port to Yunnan Province in South West China with the sole aim of reducing energy shipping through the Malacca Strait and South China Sea. The plans include a railroad project from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, to Kyaukpyu to complete the logistics loop to the ‘second coast’. In 2010, Chinese warships on anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean made their first port call to Myanmar.4 China has discussed with President Thein Sein for the PLA Navy’s access to Myanmar’s territorial waters while patrolling the Indian Ocean specifically to provide naval escort and protection to its energy shipments and port facilities at Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal.

Rescue Pakistan chorus is back again

June 18, 2014

From the media in India it would appear that the attack by Taliban terrorists on the Karachi airport is the tipping point which would pave the way for India and Pakistan to work together against the scourge of terrorism. How the Indian media, in particular the TV channels, have come to this conclusion remains a bit of a mystery. Karachi is neither the first spectacular terror attack in Pakistan, nor is it likely to be the last. It isn't even the worst. In fact, if the attack on the Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi in which family members of the top brass were killed did not affect any change in the strategic orientation of the generals, then Karachi, where only dispensable foot soldiers of the security forces and other airport staff died, is certainly not going to lead to any rethink, much less a paradigm change. Quite clearly, there is as yet absolutely nothing on the ground to suggest that Pakistan is set to reverse its use of aggressive Islamism as an instrument of foreign and defence policy.

Before India once again goes down the path of wondering how it can rescue Pakistan from itself, some home truths about Pakistan – the state and society – need to be understood. The single most important home truth is that Pakistan's hatred for India far outweighs any fear or concern or even loathing it may have about the terrorism and extremism that the Taliban have come to stand for. Cut through the clap-trap, and it is apparent that the bulk of the Pakistanis do not intrinsically abhor the Taliban. Nor for that matter is there any significant ideological opposition to the Taliban. If at all there is a problem, it is over the means used by the Taliban, not so much with their message or their objective of Islamisation. To put it differently, as long as the Taliban - good, bad or ugly - listen to and follow the orders of the Pakistan military and serve as its instruments in Afghanistan, Iran, India and any other part of the world, for example, Syria, they are acceptable.

The problem with Teesta

Sarah Hasan
18 June 2014
Source Link
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony, well-attended by the heads of SAARC nations, has set a positive tone for India's future engagement in South Asia. While it's still too early to ascertain the new NDA regime's roadmap for foreign policy, the time is ripe for India and Bangladesh to consolidate their understanding on key issues.

Recently, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrote to Mr Modi to convey her hopes for a resolution to the long-standing dispute on the Teesta river, shared by both countries. In a letter dated May 26, Hasina referred to the Teesta dispute and called for a "speedy resolution" to "all pending issues between the two countries." Additionally, the Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh confirmed that in the brief meeting between Mr. Modi and Ms. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhary -- the Bangladesh Speaker who was in India to attend Modi's swearing-in ceremony -- India was able to reaffirm its commitment towards resolving the Teesta conflict. Such a move is a good harbinger for the India-Bangladesh relationship as it can provide much needed momentum for the deadlock on this issue.

However, arriving at an acceptable solution requires caution as the Teesta has proved to be a political landmine in the past. The Teesta is the fourth largest river in South Asia and due to its geographical profile, has multiple stakeholders. It originates in Sikkim, flows through West Bengal and then enters Bangladesh. The main problem arises because of seasonal variations in its flows. It is estimated that the Teesta River has a mean annual flow of 60 billion cubic metres but a significant amount of this water flows only during wet season i.e. between June and September, leaving scant flow during the dry season i.e. October to April/May wherein the average flow gets reduced to about 500 million cubic metres (MCM) per month. This creates issues of equitable sharing during lean season.

Beyond the Environment: Obama's Big Pacific Ocean Move

June 18, 2014 
The Obama administration yesterday announced its intention to designate a vast portion of U.S.-controlled areas of the Pacific Ocean as a nature preserve. Although packaged as part of the president’s second-term push to enact environmental regulations using his executive powers, the plans also have sizable implications for U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific.

Specifically, Obama is considering expanding the existing boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (MNM), a marine reserve created by George W. Bush just days before leaving office in January 2009. At most, Obama could extend the marine reserve’s boundaries up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline of the U.S. islands contained within the conservation zone: Baker Island,Howland Island, Jarvis Island, the Johnston Atoll, the Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island. Doing so would make the Pacific Remote Islands MNM the biggest marine reserve in the world.

Protecting ocean environments is argued to be essential for the long-term health of the planet. Few dispute this, although in the past MNMs have been lambasted for being mere “paper parks” in which fishing can still take place in practice—more intended for public consumption than true environmental conservation. Instead, criticism of the plans has focused upon the administration’s use of executive powers. Republican law-maker John Fleming, for example, already has accused Obama of acting like an “imperial president” for refusing to go through Congress.

China Moves Second Oil Rig Into Vietnam's Exclusive Economic Zone

China’s Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) announced that a second oil rig will set up off Vietnam’s coast.

By Ankit Panda, June 20, 2014
On Thursday, China said that it would move a second oil rig into the waters off Vietnam’s coast, where the two countries have been engaged in a protracted dispute since early May. China’s Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) posted a notice on its website stating that this new rig will be installed between June 18 and 20. Its final location will be at 17°14.1′ North latitude and 109°31′ East longitude off the coast of Vietnam.

China’s HYSY 981 oil rig sparked a major bilateral dispute over the sovereignty of the South China Sea waters off Vietnam’s coast. While Vietnam claims that the waters belong to it as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), China claims that it holds sovereignty over the territory based on its claim to the Paracel (Xisha) Islands. The Paracel Islands are also disputed between China and Vietnam.

According to the Associated Press, the “600-meter (1,970-foot) -long rig is being towed southeast of its current position south of Hainan Island and will be in its new location closer to Vietnam by Friday.” Despite the fact that this rig will also set up shop in disputed waters, it is less likely to draw the same sort of condemnation from the Vietnamese government as the first rig did. First, the new rig is somewhat more distant from the controversial Paracel Islands. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the second oil rig is “operating within the coastal waters off China’s Hainan Island,” making this drill’s position far less controversial. Additionally, the AP cites an anonymous Vietnamese official who notes that the second rig will be installed in waters that China has already explored in the past. So far, it appears that Hanoi is less concerned about this second oil rig than it continues to be about HYSY 981.

The rig is described by China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) as the second largest in the company’s fleet of rigs. CNOOC is a state-owned enterprise and as such these actions take place with at least the knowledge, if not acquiescence, of China’s government. With two oil rigs in place, it remains to be seen if China will also move additional coast guard and PLAN assets into these waters to protect the platforms. In May, China moved 80 ships, mostly civilian and coast guard, to accompany HYSY 981 on its foray into Vietnam’s EEZ.

China's Self Made Security Disaster in Asia

June 17, 2014 
A simple question about what China has been doing to its neighbors keeps recurring: How is that smart?

The question came up in dozens of conversations at the Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore and the Asia-Pacific roundtable in Kuala Lumpur. The puzzle of China’s behavior has shaped the previous columns on Shinzo Abe’s "we’re back in Asia security" speech, the differing security doctrines coming from China and the United States, the Australian Defense Minister’s musings on Asia’s potentially catastrophic situation, the loss of regional confidence, and the impact of all this on the nascent Asian security system that has served China so well.

Consider the responses China has produced or helped validate:

1. Japan’s asserting its right to a bigger security role in Asia in ways not heard in 70 years—and this is being warmly welcomed by Australia and Southeast Asia. In a few weeks, Shinzo Abe will come to address the Australian Parliament just as President Obama did in November 2011. That was Obama’s pivot speech, announcing that as president he’d “made a deliberate and strategic decision—as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with allies and friends.” Abe will use the same stage—Australia’s House of Representatives—to offer his own version of that strategic decision.


By Michele Penna and Asian Correspondent

After naval patrols, verbal accusations, protests and activists planting flags, the latest fad in the East China Sea dispute – the now world-famous disagreement over the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands – is flying as close as possible to your neighbor’s fighter jet.

Last week – for the second time in less than a month – Chinese and Japanese planes came within a stone’s throw of each other in the skies, at high speed. Naturally enough, as Beijing and Tokyo tend to disagree on everything in so far as foreign policy is concerned, the two countries offered the world two different versions of the same episode.

According to Japan, the first to announce the event on Wednesday, two Chinese SU27 fighters approached a Japanese plane. On Thursday, China said instead that two Japanese F-15s flew close to a Chinese TU-154 plane on a routine flight. The Chinese Ministry of National Defense also published a video which allegedly shows the aggression. On Friday, Japan rebuked China’s version of the events, but that will hardly end the controversy. This time, then, we won’t even have a standard version of the story.

'Shock And Awe' Never Works

Volunteers train at military base in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad

Don't trust the bombers: Where the enemy has some local support and is defending, air power has a long history of failure.

In March of 2003, we were treated to an intensive bombardment of Iraq, which the Bush White House propagandists termed “Shock and Awe.” As usual, the US Air Force practically promised us that if only they could throw down all their fancy munitions on the target country from the air, why, you might not even need those impossibly old-fashioned grunts in the US Army. We might be able to “decapitate” the nationalist, secular, state-socialist Baath regime that then ran Iraq, by killing its leader in an air strike.

Breathlessly, we were told that the US suddenly developed intelligence on Saddam’s whereabouts. The war began two days early because of this delicious possibility. The missiles were launched on a restaurant in Baghdad. Dozens of innocent diners were turned into red mist.

Saddam Hussein, of course, was never at the restaurant. Then the massive bombing campaign, 1,300 missiles, hit Baghdad, Mosul, Kirkuk. US military spokesmen insisted that the bombs were angled so as to reduce civilian casualties. But when you drop a five hundred pound bomb on a building, it creates shrapnel– the cement, the glass in the windows, go flying, into people’s skin and faces and eyes. Baath government and military buildings were targeted, in an attempt to destroy the Baath command and control.


Stating, “We are finishing the job we started,” and, “It’s time to turn the page,” President Obama announced his decision to cut American troop levels to 9,800 by the end of this year, half that by the end of 2015, and then none by the end of 2016. All U.S. troops will have withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of Obama’s second term, possibly just several weeks before the next president is inaugurated.

The incomplete nature of President Obama’s strategic approach toward Afghanistan – and more broadly, toward South Asia – was laid bare in his announcement. The announced plan for the remaining American military forces until 2016 is badly flawed, but not for the reasons argued by most pundits. Mainstream American critics mainly have protested the impact of Obama’s announcement in terms of its effects on the cohesion of the Afghan military and the prospects for a growing insurgency. But that aperture is too narrow.

Think bigger.

The costs for South Asian security will be far more deleterious. President Obama’s decision to opt out of leaving a larger military force behind to safeguard U.S. interests (which would, by the way, be welcomed by many Afghans) will be seen by historians as a major strategic blunder.

There are critical security and crisis management missions that only American and allied Western forces can perform between 2015 and 2020 in South Asia. And these missions can only be accomplished from Afghanistan. But the administration has injudiciously limited itself to two narrower missions: counterterrorism against al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan and pre-operational training support for the Afghan National Army (ANA). Compared to the myriad challenges the U.S. faces in South Asia, these two missions are paltry. And regardless, they are unlikely to be sufficiently manned after the end of 2015 anyway with the numbers the President has decided upon. At the same time, and worse yet, the military missions that the administration has not addressed are very critical to United States regional security interests.

Counterterrorism Operations against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Training the ANA

The Case for Doing Nothing in Iraq The same people who got us into this mess want America to “do something.” Ignore them.

June 16, 2014

Here we go again. Whenever there’s a crisis anywhere in the world, you can count on America’s pundit class to demand action—usually of the military variety. Don’t just stand there, bomb something! After more than two decades of unchallenged American hegemony, Washington keyboards seem almost programmed to call for intervention halfway around the globe.

So it is with Iraq today, where the government has lost effective control of the Sunni Arab majority areas of the country. ISIS, the feared Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has served as a vanguard uniting disaffected Iraqi Sunni Arabs into a fighting force effective enough to defeat larger and better-armed Iraqi government armed forces in certain areas. Chattering-class members from across the political spectrum see U.S. vital interests threatened, and are demanding that President Obama fire up the fighter-bombers.

Eleven years after the invasion that precipitated the present morass, how should we think about all this? Should we listen to the very same people who called for the war in 2003, with disastrous results, and are now insisting on action?

The escalating civil war in Iraq, and the increasingly likely de facto partition of the country, should be assessed from first principles. The United States spent enormous amounts of treasure and considerable blood trying to turn Iraq into a functioning multi-ethnic democracy; this effort failed. The costs are sunk. Our analysis must begin from the present: We are being asked to pay new costs and bear new burdens. For what and with what hope of success?

A small but increasing number of U.S. scholars, policymakers and politicians are beginning to subscribe to a new view of U.S. grand strategy, which in a recent book I have called Restraint. We believe that the United States needs to restore discipline to its foreign policy—set priorities more rigorously and calculate both costs and chances of success with a more skeptical eye.

The term grand strategy gets bandied about in various forms; I define it as protecting U.S. territorial integrity, sovereignty and safety and the power position needed to secure them in an uncertain world.

So where does Iraq fit in? ISIS is full of bad guys—no question. But a divided Iraq at worst might threaten U.S. safety by providing a “safe haven” for terrorists who might plot against the United States. The world is, unfortunately, full of bad guys and safe havens. The United States now watches them in Pakistan, Yemen and across Africa with various intelligence means, and occasionally raids them, solo or in the company of friends. More importantly, the United States has hardened itself against terrorist threats. This combination of defensive measures, surveillance and the occasional raid buys a lot of safety. America need not throw in with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a power-hungry Shiite supremacist bent mainly on serving the interests of his own faction, to keep its people secure. Maliki’s heavy-handed employment of surveillance, incarceration, and violence has driven Sunni Arab fence sitters into the arms of ISIS fanatics; he’s part of the problem, not the solution.

That ought to make us cautious about meddling in Iraq’s internal politics. Restraint strategists are alert to the costs of intervening in the internal politics of other countries and the low odds of success inherent to doing so.

'Iraq' Is Still Arabic For 'Vietnam'

Refugees fleeing from Mosul head to the self-ruled northern Kurdish region in Irbil, Iraq, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad.

We have to turn the historical memory dial back just a few more years, to 1962 and 1963.

When George W. Bush and the neocons launched their war in Iraq, critics coined the slogan, "'Iraq' is Arabic for 'Vietnam.'" The point was obvious: Another long quagmire of a war in an inhospitable foreign land would lead once again to nothing but death, suffering, and defeat for America.

That was back in 2003 and 2004, when the parallel was to the Vietnam war of 1965 - 1973.

To see why "Iraq" is still Arabic for "Vietnam" we have to turn the historical memory dial back just a few more years, to 1962 and 1963. That was when John F. Kennedy struggled with the same dilemma now facing Barack Obama: How much, if it all, should we get involved militarily to help a corrupt leader who stays in power by terrorizing his political enemies?

Here's what JFK told interviewers in September, 1963, about South Vietnam under President Ngo Dinh Diem: "I don't think ... unless a greater effort is made by the Government to win popular support that the war can be won out there."

Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Not the Same Thing

June 18, 2014 
"We portray a party with a limited, localized agenda as a global terrorist adversary that has the United States in its crosshairs, when it was never anything of the sort."

U.S. policy makers have demonstrated an unfortunate inability to distinguish between governments or movements whose agendas are confined to local or subregional objectives and those governments or movements that have global ambitions hostile to American interests. That maddening tendency was on display again in the negative reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to trade five imprisoned Taliban leaders for the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Critics in Congress and the news media acted as though the administration had released high-level Al Qaeda operatives involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

That reaction continues the trend of conflating the Taliban and Al Qaeda as though the two are organizational conjoined twins. In marked contrast to Washington’s attitude during the first few years after 9/11, when the justification for the U.S.-led military intervention in Afghanistan was to smash Al Qaeda, defeating the Taliban gradually became the primary rationale for continuing the military mission. Al Qaeda is now barely an afterthought in foreign-policy discussions regarding Afghanistan.

It is uncertain if the process of conflating the Taliban and Al Qaeda—and making the former the senior partner—was a deliberate “bait and switch” tactic on the part of U.S. leaders or if it merely reflects sloppy thinking, but the result is the same in either case. Al Qaeda is a global terrorist movement with the United States (including the American homeland) as a prominent, if not the primary, target. The Taliban is a Pashtun political movement with a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s largely Pashtun border-region. Its principal adversaries are rival ethnic groups, especially the Uzbek and Tajik forces that made up the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and became crucial supporters of President Hamid Karzai’s government.

A Big Mistake: America Teaming Up with Iran in Iraq

June 18, 2014 
"The introduction of Iran into the conflict will only intensify the Sunni-Shia schism that is already ripping the region apart."

On Tuesday, the jihadist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham) launched a long-planned assault on Iraq, seizing control of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, after taking large parts of the central city of Fallujah and nearby Ramadi in December 2013. ISIS is believed to have no more than 6,000-10,000 fighters in Iraq, yet it has captured large chunks of territory in lightning speed with relative ease. Iraqi soldiers have fled and capitulated in the tens of thousands. Only the Kurdish Peshmerga aggressively pushed back and were able to bring Kirkuk and some parts of Kirkuk province under their control.

Over the past five days, ISIS has strengthened its grip on the country and pressed south to Baghdad. On Wednesday, it captured Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, and targeted Samarra and oil-rich Baji. The town of Dhuluiyah and the Muatassam area, just fifty-six miles from the capital city Baghdad, are also thought to be under its authority (although Iraqi security forces may have already retaken the area). Although the Iraqi army reports that it has slowed down the advance of ISIS, the jihadists continue to make gains and just yesterday seized control of Tal Afar in northern Iraq.

It seems that ISIS has turned into some kind of caliphate protostate. Its territory stretches across 360 miles from Raqqa in Syria to Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq. This equates to a domain roughly the size of Jordan. As it currently stands, ISIS holds at least three border posts between Syria and Turkey and several on Syria’s border with Iraq. On Wednesday, the jihadists symbolically demolished the border crossing between Iraq and Syria and its notorious black flag now flies between Ninawah in Iraq and Hasakah in Syria. Sykes-Picot is disappearing in front of our eyes and the concept of nation-state is giving way to caliphate.

The Humiliation of the Iraqi Army

June 18, 2014 
FILE - In this Friday, June 13, 2014 file photo, children play with an Iraqi Army helmet left behind after militants from the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took over the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. Iraq’s military has been deeply shaken by their humiliating collapse in the face of an onslaught by Islamic militants the past two weeks. Officers talk of hardly being able to live with the shame. Commanders are under investigation for abandoning their posts. The impact is hurting efforts to rally the armed forces to fight back, with Shiite militiamen filling the void. (AP Photo, File) 

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi soldiers tell of how they can hardly live with the shame of their rout under the onslaught of the Islamic militants. Their commanders disappeared. Pleas for more ammunition went unanswered. Troops ran from post to post only to find them already taken by gunmen, forcing them to flee. 

"I see it in the eyes of my family, relatives and neighbors," one lieutenant-colonel who escaped the militants’ sweep over the northern city of Mosul told The Associated Press. "I am as broken and ashamed as a bride who is not a virgin on her wedding night." 

Iraq’s military has been deeply shaken by their collapse in the face of fighters led by the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who in the course of just over a week overran Mosul then stormed toward Baghdad, seizing town after town, several cities and army base after army base over a large swath of territory. 

The impact is hurting efforts to rally the armed forces to fight back. Shiite militiamen and volunteers have had to fill the void as the regular army struggles to regroup. 

Iraq on the Brink of Sectarian Civil War

Der Spiegel
June 18, 2014
The terror group ISIS has occupied vast portions of Syria and Iraq in the hopes of establishing a caliphate. The jihadists’ success lays bare Iraq’s disintegration and could ignite yet another civil war between Shiites and Sunnis in the country.

Masoud Ali, a tall, friendly man with a beard and green eyes, was a taxi driver in Mosul until a few days ago. He likes the desert, and he loves his wife and his yellow Nissan. He never paid much attention to politics until now. “Inshallah,” he says. Whatever happens is God’s will. But then fighters with the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,” or ISIS, overran the city of two million.
An evening curfew has been in force in Mosul since last Monday, says Ali. He and his family heard gunshots near their apartment on Tuesday, and when Ali looked outside, he saw a dead body lying on the street. Then the rumors began. “They’ve occupied all government buildings and the airport,” said a friend. “The power station and the water works, too,” a neighbor added. There were television reports of banks being robbed, the release of thousands of prisoners and the confiscation of oil wells. A day later, Masoud Ali loaded his family into his car and stepped on the gas. As they drove away, they could see police uniforms and abandoned military vehicles in the ditch. Government troops, most of them Sunnis, had surrendered to the Sunni ISIS fighters.

Ali, like most residents of Mosul, is also a Sunni. He had heard the mayor calling for the citizens of Mosul to defend themselves against ISIS. “But why should I have defended myself?” he asks. “For the Shiite government? For Prime Minister Maliki, who oppresses the Sunnis?” He shakes his head. “The conflict has escalated because people in Iraq don’t like the government anymore.”

Now Ali is standing in a tent outside the city of Erbil in the country’s Kurdish north, Iraq’s newest refugee camp. It’s time for Friday prayer, but instead of resting his forehead on the ground to pray, he presses it against the forehead of a child. His four-month-old son Mohammed is lying on a tarp, surrounded by cans of powdered milk, fresh cucumbers and plastic water bottles. He is crying because he has a fever.

Iraq crisis: What do Americans want?

18 June 2014 10:19AM

Iraqi security forces fire artillery during clashes with ISIS in Jurf al Sakhar, 14 June. (REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani.)
By this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had hoped to be firmly focused on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, one of two wars he inherited from the Bush Administration. Instead he faces the task of reintroducing several hundred of them to the other battlefield, of which he had seemingly washed US hands only three years ago when the last US troops pulled out.
How did it come to this? According to prominent Republicans, the violent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is validation of the view that Obama was too quick to get out of Iraq following the George W Bush-instigated war and unwise to not leave a sizeable stabilising force for emergencies.

Despite the disconcerting fact that individuals such as Senator John McCain — instrumental in getting the US into such a mess in the first place — are again being considered voices of reason on foreign policy, the message resonates.

There are yet to be significant gauges of public opinion after the recent Iraqi insurgency, but Obama's handling of other geopolitical crises in the past year or so seems widely unpopular. Aggregated polls point to a sharp increase in disapproval of US international engagement since April last year, with 52.7% of Americans against it, and 38.5% in support.

The backlash, which has recently been exacerbated by the contentious prisoner swap to secure the release of Sgt Bowe Berghdahl from Taliban grasp, perhaps explains why Obama has been so quick to get back into Iraq, albeit in a limited capacity.

The worrying flipside from a future policy point of view is that the US public does not want a return to the Bush-like days of interventionism that this latest decision might presage. Prior to the latest Iraq crisis, Obama had in fact been giving the people exactly what they wanted in this respect. The direction he outlined in his prominent speech at West Point in May was perfectly in keeping with the view of 52% of Americans who last year told the Pew Research Center the that US should 'mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own' (the first time that more than half the public believed such a statement since the midpoint of the Vietnam War).

It is with these facts in mind that Obama's actions in Iraq, as with so many of his others on the foreign policy sphere, smack of reluctance and frustration. Moreover, the reintroduction of troops will go against his better judgment byrelying on authorisations of force granted under President Bush, whose international legacy Obama had hoped to wholly dismantle upon taking power.

For his 2011 decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, Obama had a mammoth 75% approval working in his favour. If the President has been guilty of lacking foresight in taking such actions, then the US people who elected him and guided such policy must now also accept some blame.