14 September 2014

Ukraine forces repel rebel attack on Donetsk airport

A Ukrainian army helicopter flies over their positions in Debaltsevo, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. The cease-fire between the separatists and the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine has largely held. 

Despite the cease-fire agreement, renewed fighting flared up Saturday in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government forces, while Moscow sent a second convoy of trucks into Ukraine without Kiev’s consent.

Ukraine’s military operation said in a statement that it had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the government-held Donetsk airport, which came under artillery fire from rebel positions late on Friday.

Despite the truce imposed last week, continuous rocket fire could be heard overnight in Donetsk. A statement posted on the city council website said that shells had hit residential buildings near the airport, although no casualties were reported. A column of three GRAD rocket launchers, all its rockets still in place, was seen moving freely through the rebel-held city on Saturday morning.

Ukrainian authorities also admitted for the first time that they have inflicted casualties on the rebel side since the start of the ceasefire.

Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said that 12 rebel fighters had been killed by Ukrainian forces near Sea of Azov city of Mariupol, where he said they were doing reconnaissance work. Lysenko also said that six Ukrainian servicemen had died since the start of the truce.

ISIS video claims to show beheading of British hostage David Haines

Sep 14, 2014

Scottish-born Haines, 44, was taken hostage in Syria in March 2013 and was threatened in a video released this month depicting the beheading by an IS militant of the US journalist Steven Sotloff.

WASHINGTON: The Islamic State jihadist group claimed on Saturday it beheaded British aid worker David Haines, in what would be the third such execution in recent weeks, after two US journalists were shown murdered.

The Islamist group released a video, available on the website of private terrorism monitoring group SITE, purportedly showing a masked militant beheading Haines.

The two-minute-27-second video titled "A Message to the Allies of America" blames British Prime Minister David Cameron for joining forces with the United States, which has said it is at "war" with the jihadists and launched air strikes against them in Iraq.

"You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State, just as your predecessor Tony Blair did, following a trend amongst our British prime ministers who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans," the executioner says in the video.

The militant, who may be the same man as in the previous videos, told Britain the alliance will "accelerate your destruction" and will drag the British people into "another bloody and unwinnable war." He also threatens to execute another British hostage.

An image grab shows a masked militant with David Haines.
Scottish-born Haines, 44, was taken hostage in Syria in March 2013 and was threatened in a video released this month depicting the beheading by an IS militant of the US journalist Steven Sotloff.

Haines had been working for the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED), an international relief charity, and was previously involved in humanitarian work in the Balkans, parts of Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Sotloff and fellow US journalist James Foley had also been kidnapped in Syria. ISIS released a video claiming Foley's execution on August 19, and Sotloff's two weeks later on September 2.

Pakistan protest talks deadlocked after arrests

 Sep 14, 2014

Tahir-ul-Qadri, chief of his own Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party also announced he had suspended negotiations alleging that 12 of his personal guards were also arrested.

ISLAMABAD: Talks to end a month long sit-in by anti-government protesters in Pakistan were deadlocked Saturday after authorities arrested dozens of demonstrators, some of whom were accused of storming a TV station. 

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have gathered thousands of supporters in Islamabad since August 14 calling on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over what they claim was massive rigging of the 2013 election. 

Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan confirmed that the government had detained several people for storming the state run Pakistan Television (PTV) building earlier this month. 

"Around 20 people have been identified among those who attacked the PTV building. We have arrested seven of them," Khan told a news conference. 

The arrests prompted Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) party to cancel talks aimed at ending the crisis. 

Addressing a charged crowd in front of the parliament house to mark their 30th day of protest, Imran Khan said further talks had to end following the arrest of his workers. 

Earlier in the day PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen told reporters the party had suspended talks. 

"We have suspended all negotiations. I have also informed the opposition parties' leaders who were negotiating," Tareen told reporters.

"We will not end our protest until Nawaz Sharif resigns," he added. Hundreds of protesters briefly seized the state broadcaster on September 1 intensifying a political crisis that had already gripped the nuclear-armed nation. 

Meanwhile thousands have gathered for the last month inside Islamabad's government zone, sparking frequent clashes with the police. 

"We arrested some people while they were leaving the protest site," Interior Minister Khan said of the latest arrests, adding that 11 people armed with guns were also arrested. 

Radio Pakistan reported that an Islamabad court sent over one hundred people to jail on a fourteen day remand for attacking state institutions and violating a ban on public gatherings in the capital. 

Among those detained was a popular PTI DJ who plays music during Imran Khan's speeches and attracts large crowds of youths dancing to his beats at the regular rallies. 

After the arrests, some PTI leaders and workers gathered in Islamabad's district courts in a failed attempt to stop the transportation of their colleagues to jail. 

Tahir-ul-Qadri, chief of his own Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party also announced he had suspended negotiations alleging that 12 of his personal guards were also arrested. 

Several rounds of talks have been held between the government, opposition groups and the two protesting parties to find a solution to the crisis. 

Although Khan and Qadri claim the 2013 elections were massively rigged, local and foreign observers said the polls were credible. 

Analysts believe the protests have been coordinated by the powerful army as a means of re-asserting its dominance over civilian authorities.


By Samir Saran

Location of Jammu and Kashmir in India 

Tragedy has struck Kashmir once again. That it is perhaps the severest since Independence is undeniable. The human despair, spirit and resolve are all on display and the entire country (real and virtual) seems affected by nature’s cruel intervention. The efforts to rescue those stranded is feeble as the institutions, infrastructure and administrative resilience have been found wanting, yet precisely because of this, the courage and heroic efforts of individuals and some organisations stand out in stark contrast. Even as the embankments built in the times of the Maharaja have been breached by ravaging waters, the unfolding tragedy and response, is also about the ‘angels or demons’, depending on your take on it – Social Media and the Armed Forces.


A recent report in a leading daily had one of the most powerful men in India, its Home Secretary, observe, “I simply cannot speak to anyone in J&K.” The last 72 hours have seen the near total collapse of the phone network, and power lines have collapsed. This has complicated coordination and rescue, because stranded people have no way of intimating rescue centres of their plight. Worse still, Delhi is cut off from the Government of J&K, while the Government of J&K is cut off from the army, which is coordinating rescue efforts. The army is the only body there that has managed to maintain some semblance of intra-organisational communications due to satellite phones. However it has no way of knowing the location people are stranded, how many and how critical their situation is since the normal method – air reconnaissance – is difficult at best given the cloud cover and weather.

And the much-vilified social media is seen to be coming to the rescue. Even as large parts of the mobile communication infrastructure has collapsed, some wireless communication and the traditional wire line communication networks have allowed some people access to social media and various messenger services, websites, and some agencies. It has also allowed a degree of dissemination of situational reports, videos and distress messages, many of which have reached the army. Whatsapp, FB messenger, Twitter and others are the most potent tools for the rescue teams in the valley today. As a result what we have is the army using satellite phones to communicate with each other, but basing its rescue efforts significantly on guidance from Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. In that sense these have effectively replaced the search helicopter, the emergency beacon and the communications network of the valley.


For the governments at the Centre and in the state of J&K, which have frequently demonised social media, this must be a moment of revelation. In February this year, the then Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, had vowed to “crush social media” to great applause from within his party and some others. Yet today the home secretary cut a sorry figure claiming “there is no means to communicate with anybody” till the 15 wireless systems he has sent to be set up in the valley come online. Social Media, angel or demon, let the debate begin.



Strictly Personal: Manmohan & Gursharan By Daman Singh, HarperCollins, Rs 699

When Manmohan Singh complained to P.V. Narasimha Rao that people were accusing him of selling out to foreign interests, the prime minister retorted dryly, “Who would want to buy this country anyway?” That anecdote, which says more about Rao than his finance minister, doesn’t feature in Daman Singh’s affectionate and intimate portrait of her parents. But there is plenty of other material to show her father’s unhappiness over the opposition of “big industrial houses” and “the left-wing press” to his reforms placing India firmly on the road to modernity. No subsequent government tampered with the guidelines he set in 1991.

But people might wonder who really fathered the measures Singh says he cleared with Rao at every stage. Since it is known — though not mentioned here — that Rao first asked I.G. Patel to handle finance, it may be assumed the thrust had already been decided before Singh was approached. Since Rao had never been accused of free market inclinations, outside inspiration is suspected. Singh’s admission elsewhere that he talked to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund chiefs immediately after taking over might lend credence to the charges Chandra Shekhar and others levelled. Daman Singh is more candid in explaining Singh’s personal transformation from spokesman of the South to liberalisation champion. Being “always pragmatic” he did not “challenge the Mahalanobis” orthodoxy frontally. We get a measure of Singh’s philosophy of life from the admission that he saw no point in espousing solutions that would be rejected. The ultimate pragmatist says in another context that “principle” is immaterial. “The question is — what works.”

The chapter titled, “The Stealthy Seventies”, renders another public service with a more general revelation. Singh took his cue from his leader who told this reviewer he was following “the Nehru line” even as his finance minister was introducing a revolutionary budget. As reported in the reviewer’s Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium, Rao dismissed any suggestion of conflict between Fabian socialism and free market reforms. Manu, the lawgiver, only laid down the law, he said. “It is up to each Brahmin to interpret it.”Apparently, the higher echelons of the government always recognized that “growth can take place only by stealth,” citing P.N. Dhar. Otherwise, “you would be accused of criticizing Jawaharlal Nehru and the establishment line of the Congress party”, Singh says. While “liberalizers” had been peering cautiously out of the closet ever since Indira Gandhi’s re-election in 1980, no one dared touch the Planning Commission until Narendra Modi came along.

Prepare for a dangerous Pakistan

11 Sep , 2014

Pakistan’s neurotic obsession to change the status quo in Kashmir, seek parity with India by resorting to cross-border terrorism to check its ascendency to a regional power and chase strategic depth in Afghanistan has pushed Pakistan in to a state of chronic instability. Far from hurting India its policies have put the very future of the state at stake. The jihadi assets it reared over the years as tools of for pursuing its strategic policies have turned against it and have been indulging in systematic assaults on the symbols of the army and the state. There are genuine fears that nuclear weapons may fall in to jihadi hands either through subterfuge or directly in connivance with a section of the Pakistan army. Pakistan faces isolation internationally and has come to be a identified as a dangerous place posing serious threats to regional and international peace.

For Pakistan army a military defeat is not a defeat but giving up and accepting the status quo and India’s supremacy is defeat. It sees victory in the ability to continue fighting India.

Why does Pakistan behave abnormally or to put it differently what is the basis of its flawed strategic culture? C.Christine Fair’s brilliantly researched book-‘Fighting to the end-The Pakistan Army’s way of war’(2014), breaks new ground in scholarship on Pakistan. It provides revealing insights in to Why Pakistan is hell bent upon pursuing such strategic policies which hurt it the most. She makes three formulations.

One, Pakistan army’s view on defeat is different from what normally it should be. For Pakistan army a military defeat is not a defeat but giving up and accepting the status quo and India’s supremacy is defeat. It sees victory in the ability to continue fighting India. A former Pakistani general is on record having said that army would always prefer to take a calculated risk and be defeated than to do nothing at all.

Secondly, Pakistan’s apprehensions about India are not security driven but mainly ideological and military in scope. This implies that any appeasement through territorial concessions will only serve to encourage it to pursue anti-Indian objectives with even greater hostility. Lastly, Fair draws Pakistan’s analogy with what Charles Glaser describes a ‘Greedy state’.

Glaser defines a ‘Greedy State’ as one that is “fundamentally dissatisfied with status quo, desiring additional territory even when not required. “He elaborates,” Purely greedy states pursue revisionist policies to increase their prestige, spread their ideology or to propagate their religion. “Glaser cautions that the appeasement strategies aimed to placate the greedy state are counterproductive and dangerous because non-security goals result in a fundamental conflict of interests that makes competition the only strategy with which a greedy state can achieve its goals.

Sorry China Skeptics, The Communist Party Can't 'Expand Credit'

September 11, 2014

"There is a strange idea abroad, held by all monetary cranks, that credit is something a banker gives to a man. Credit, on the contrary, is something a man already has." - Henry Hazlitt, Economics In One Lesson, p. 43

Ask most any devotee of the Austrian [economic] School about the ability of politicians to boost the economy with government spending, and the individual will properly scoff. Governments don't have any resources other than the ones they've extracted from the private economy first, so to believe that there's "stimulus" when Congress spends is the obtuse equivalent of believing that Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are better at allocating capital than are Warren Buffett and Peter Thiel.

It can't be repeated enough that as governments have no resources, they cannot stimulate the economy with precious resources taken from those who created them in the first place. "Government stimulus" is an oxymoron, plain and simple. Private economic growth props up government, not the opposite as the astrologists who masquerade as economists would like you to believe. 

Of course that's what's so puzzling about certain modern Austrian School thinkers who think government can "expand credit." Governments can do no such thing. Just as governments cannot expand the economy by consuming what they've taken from us, so can they similarly not expand access to economic resources, which is all that credit is. Governments can only give what they've taken first. End of story.

Austrian School thinkers intuitively understand the above in the spending sense. As Ludwig von Mises himself observed about government spending in Human Action, those who support it "do not realize that such public works must considerably intensify the real evil, the shortage of capital goods." Government spending shrinks the economy by virtue of it diverting capital away from its most productive - and capital increasing - uses.

Despite the truth about government spending, certain Austrian devotees of the present once again believe that governments can expand credit. As FreedomWorks vice president Adam Brandon recently put it about the property boom in China:

"This is the Austrian theory of business cycles, which, in brief, holds that the expansion of credit by government sends false market signals to investors. The overstimulation of consumer demand then results in investments that don't pay off, and economic pain as the market corrects itself."

The problems with Brandon's well-intentioned assertion are many. For one, governments once again cannot create credit. Credit amounts to real economic resources (think computers, tractors, trucks, and human labor), and as governments tautologically have no resources, they can't expand access to them. Governments can certainly distort the direction of resources in ways that logically restrain economic growth, but they can't decree an increase in the resources we use to work and produce. That's an impossibility.

Despite what many want to believe, money is not credit. If it were, serial devaluers such as Argentina and Zimbabwe would be awash in it. They're not. And because money is not credit, it's similarly the case that government cannot achieve an "overstimulation of consumer demand" as Brandon asserts. Demand is a function of supply, and as such it's always and everywhere created in the real economy. As Mises explained it in Human Action:

Ahead of President Xi's trip, China says not seeking to contain India

Sep 9, 2014

China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (unseen) at Miraflores Palace in Caracas July 20, 2014.

(Reuters) - China is not seeking to contain India by military or other means, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping next week to a country with which Beijing has a history of uneasy ties and mutual suspicion.

From economic parity in 1980, China's growth has outstripped India's fourfold and Beijing has sought to recycle some of its vast export surpluses into foreign investment in resources and infrastructure in South Asia to feed its industrial machine.

That rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a "string of pearls" that surrounds India and threatens its security, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Xi will also be visiting Sri Lanka and the Maldives on his regional tour, which begins later this week with a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Tajikistan.

A swing through Pakistan - China's "all weather friend" in South Asia and traditional rival of India's - was postponed due to ongoing unrest.

Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said that the leaders of China and India had pledged to work together to manage and control their differences, adding that they shared common interests as large developing nations.

"India is a country with which China has been friendly for thousands of years," Liu told a news briefing.

‘Maritime Silk Road’: China’s ‘Master-Stroke’ of Economic Diplomacy?

The concept of ‘Maritime Silk Road’ (MSR) was proposed by China’s President Xi Jinping during his Indonesia visit in October 2013. The concept may be traced back to the Han Dynasty when key land and sea trading routes carried Chinese silk to Europe. Since the MSR idea was first announced, China has approached all countries strategically located along the key shipping lane from Southeast Asia to Europe across the northern Indian Ocean to seek their partnership to further the aims of MSR concept. 

The map and details of the MSR were first brought out in April 2013. It essentially involves China helping its MSR partners to develop their port infrastructure, establish production zones and free-trade areas, and enhance coordination to facilitate trade. A major portion of the MSR transits through the Indian Ocean and its strategic chokepoints. The map (url:http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/chinas-new-silk-road-vision-revealed/) also depicts a continental route linking China to Italy through Central Asia and West Asia. 

For seeking their support, China has offered the prospective MSR partners several economic incentives beyond trade benefits. This led to these countries – like those in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and the Gulf to extend their whole-hearted support. However, the proposal received a guarded response from India. While New Delhi backed the BCIM corridor, it sought more details and greater “transparency” from Beijing. 

China’s rationale for proposing the MSR concept may have been driven by its economic imperatives with regard to maritime trade connectivity. In 2013, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest trading nation. At present, 40 percent of its total foreign trade crosses the Indian Ocean, and this proportion is increasing. The MSR concept may have been envisaged to reinforce this trend, besides catering for security and safety of its shipping. China’s overseas crude-oil supply constitutes another related driver. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of its oil imports (sourced from Africa and West Asia) transited through the choke points of Western Indian Ocean. This constitutes a major strategic vulnerability for China. The MSR may also be an element of Beijing’s grand-strategy to propagate influence, to ‘soften’ its maritime ‘rise’, and negate the ‘String of Pearls’ theory. Concurrently, the MSR concept would enable China’s maritime-military power to break free from the geographical constraints of the island chains in the Western Pacific, along with the military pressures mounted on China by the US ‘rebalance’ strategy. 

India has its own imperatives with regard to economic connectivity. Its ‘Look East’ policy is severely impeded by constraints of land connectivity. Its endorsement of the BCIM corridor may be seen in this context. Hence, nearly all of India’s merchandise trade with these countries transits via the sea. In 2013, 30 percent of India’s total foreign trade transited east across Southeast Asia’s maritime choke-points. This proportion is likely to increase in the coming years, which would necessitate security and safety of shipping and seafarers. Will the MSR contribute to it? 

Like China, India is as vulnerable in terms of access to energy resources. In 2013, nearly all of its oil imports transited through the western choke-points, with only three percent coming from East Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia. Being boxed within two sets of maritime choke-points on both extremities of the Indian Ocean, source-diversification is not easy for India. Besides, it may not be prudent for India to diversify to Eastern Asia, due to the prevailing inter-state maritime disputes in the China Seas. However, if the MSR concept could contribute to enhanced security assurances with regard to freedom of navigation in this region, India could benefit from it. 

4 Reasons Xi Jinping Is a Serious Reformer

September 11, 2014

Xi will create a new middle road for China, transcending East vs. West, democracy vs. authoritarianism, and left vs. right. 

Since Xi Jinping took over China’s top leadership in 2012, there have already been a series of bold policy reforms in China that surprised almost all scholars and observers of Chinese politics. In less than two years, reforms have been introduced in areas like family planning, reeducation through labor, household-registration (the hukou system), anti-corruption, and so on. This is extraordinary, considering that all these reforms involve sensitive issues. Such reforms have long been discussed but never implemented.

Still, many inside and outside of China are wondering if Xi can embark on more fundamental social, economic, and political reforms, which, in the eyes of many analysts, are necessary for China to truly become a superpower and realize the China dream. Is Xi a serious reformer? Skeptics might point to many reasons why Xi is not a true reformer, but there are four main reasons why we should believe that Xi is genuine about fundamental reforms. To be sure, as Xi himself recently argued, China’s political reforms will not just be a copycat of Western models. Xi and his colleagues are determined to find a suitable road for China which cannot be separated from China’s unique history and national conditions.

The first reason why Xi is a serious reformer is that Xi is a visionary leader. Xi clearly sees where China should be in the future, evidenced by his ‘China dream’ slogan, which he immediately proposed after he took over at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. The grand goal is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. More specifically, it is about achieving “two 100s”, referring to China becoming a well-off society in 2021 (the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party) and China becoming a socialist developed country by 2049 (the 100th anniversary of the founding of PRC). Having a grand objective is critical, as the Chinese saying goes, 纲举目张 (once you grasp the big picture, everything else falls into place).

The second reason is that Xi, as a leader, enjoys high level of legitimacy among elites as well as the masses. As a member of the “second-generation red” of the PRC, Xi Jinping has widespread support from other second-generation peers. More notably, Xi enjoys a very high degree of support from the Chinese masses. Actually Xi has earned the nickname of “Xi Dada” among the people, which he seems to like. This nationwide level of support will be critical to Xi’s ambitious reform agenda, as the road to reforms will certainly not be smooth.

The third reason is that Xi has all the power necessary to push for tough reforms. Xi currently leads several major leading small groups, including two most important ones: the Comprehensive Deepening of Reform group and the State Security Council. Xi’s personal control of these leading groups will ensure that his reform agenda can be implemented without strong resistance from vested interests in China.

Last but not the least, Xi is a leader who knows how to play the right strategies. Politics is a complex game and effective leaders should possess the ability to prioritize tasks and balance between different groups and demands. This can clearly be seen with Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan’s anti-corruption campaign, which started at the lower levels and gradually moved up to high level governmental officials. Xi also chose the right strategies by starting reforms in less controversial (though not necessarily easy) areas to achieve unity among the party.

All the above reasons point to one conclusion: Xi Jinping is a serious reformer committed to building a unique middle road for China’s future, evidenced by his famous words that call for “not taking the old road, nor the evil road.” Thus, Western observers should remind themselves that Xi Jinping’s reform agenda might not be what they think it should be.

In sum, Xi Jinping and his colleagues are now in a very favorable position to push for fundamental reforms that will help China realize its China dream. The road to success will not be smooth, especially with regard to maintaining the right balance between social change and social stability. For this reason, the sequence and pace of reforms must be very carefully designed. This is the most serious challenge for Xi in future years.

China, India Set High Bar for Xi Jinping's Visit

September 11, 2014

Despite lingering disagreements, both Chinese and Indian officials are optimistic about Xi’s trip to India next week. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first trip to India is coming up next week, and both governments have high hopes for a productive visit. With Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in Beijing this week to make final preparations for Xi’s visit, both sides were putting their best foot forward.

As The Diplomat has noted before, Beijing is especially optimistic about China-India ties under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While serving as chief minister of Gujarat Province, Modi gained a reputation within Chinese circles as a pragmatic, economically-minded leader. Modi came to power in part thanks to a promise to bring these same qualities to bear at a national level, raising hopes in Beijing about increased economic ties with its southwestern neighbor. The timing is auspicious even beyond that: India is “looking east” while China is “marching west,” giving these two countries increased prominence in each other’s foreign policy strategies. To achieve their goals, Beijing and New Delhi will have to work together.

While in Beijing, Doval met with Xi Jinping and passed along Modi and India’s excitement for Xi’s visit next week. Xi’s trip to India will be his second face-to-face meeting with Modi; the two men first met at the BRICS summit in Fortaleza, Brazil back in July. In his meeting with Doval, Xi spoke warmly of the connection he and Modi established at Fortaleza. Both Xi and Doval stressed the need for cooperation between India and China, as well as the expectation that Xi’s upcoming visit will be a big step forward in mutual trust. They laid heavy emphasis on India and China’s commonalities — they are neighbors, the world’s two most populous countries, and the world’s two largest developing economies.

However, precisely because of their similarities, some have speculated that the two countries are destined to compete for influence (and economic gain) in South and East Asia. Particularly in India, where memories of the 1962 Sino-Indian war run deep, China is seen as a competitor or even as an opponent. Accordingly, many of China’s moves in the region are read as direct challenges to India — for example, China’s development of a “string of pearls,” friendly ports in the Indian Ocean, was interpreted as an attempt to encircle India.

Danger on the High Seas: Are Private Security Firms the Solution?

"Private security firms may protect vessels and crews, but their presence also introduces complications."

In 2013, 80 percent of trade was transported by sea. This number has steadily increased, a reflection of growth among developing economies and those same economies’ surging energy needs. The Indian Ocean and its connected seas have become increasingly busy due to global energy demands, South Asia’s development, and trade between Asia and Europe. However, as Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) become more crowded, various maritime security risks have also increased. Piracy, trafficking and other criminal enterprises threaten to disrupt commerce, destabilize price structures and increase maritime tensions, both between nation-states and among private firms. To counter these effects, nation-states have collaborated using a variety of methods that include joint military exercises, bilateral agreements and multinational task forces. But despite these efforts, attacks continue to occur. As a consequence, more and more private companies are looking for private security options that will ensure that their goods get safely to their destinations. While this shift carries the potential for more secure maritime transit, it also comes with a host of legal and diplomatic issues as armed private security teams take to the high seas.

Private security is entering into an environment where governments are already actively pursuing maritime security. In the Indian Ocean region, multiple collaborative government-security regimes exist to better protect trade routes. The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a thirty-member organization based in Bahrain alongside the U.S. Fifth Fleet. The CMF operates CTF-150 in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, while CTF-152 patrols the Persian Gulf and CTF-151 conducts antipiracy operations. NATO runs its own Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean, and Europe has contributed to the security environment with itsEUNAVFOR fleet. Additionally, major joint naval exercises, such as Malabarand RIMPAC, regularly integrate antipiracy training with visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) techniques. However, despite all these international efforts, pirate attacks have only slightly gone down in recent years after reaching an all-time high in 2011; during that year, there were 237 attacks and twenty-eight hijackings in the Gulf of Aden alone.


President Obama delivers statement on ISIL. Screenshot from White House video. 

Here we go again. No sooner did we stop Obama from making a fatal mistake in going to war against Bashar al-Assad almost a year ago today, than we have to put our bodies in the path of another war train rolling down the tracks. This time the bogeyman is called ISIS.

I bet you thought we’d retired that awful phrase, the war on terror. That by-product of the Bush-Cheney years. Wasn’t it Barack Obama who told us we were no longer at war? That we were replacing that spooky Cold War-like phrase with something more positive, constructive. What happened to that guy? Where was he tonight? I missed him.

Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign was so beautiful, so uplifting. He was going to finally embody all those values so many millions of us thought we’d never get a chance to see in the White House. He was going to turn his back on George Bush and restore constitutional government. He was going to restore faith in American democracy, end Mideast wars. Take us back to what we should be: a nation of laws with respect for human rights.

All that is now a shambles. Obama has achieved almost nothing of his original promise. Instead of the bold innovator who was going to remind us of Abraham Lincoln he’s become a Democratic version of Bush-lite. He shambles from crisis to crisis motivated more by fear of being outflanked on the right by his GOP enemies than by any impulse toward original thinking or bold policy initiatives. He reacts. He husbands his resources (for what purpose isn’t clear). He proceeds cautiously.

The only areas in which he’s moved boldly have been those in which he was fully confident his Republican enemies would join him. In other words, Obama’s strongest and most consistent policies have been his counter-terror program, which mirrors the Bush-Cheney doctrine: lots of drone strikes, special forces, targeted assassinations. Domestically, he’s prosecuted federal whistleblowers and invaded the prerogatives of journalists with a gusto not even seen under George Bush.

I say all this by way of talking about tonight’s speech. Obama during his speech seemed to be a robot. He spoke in that decisive manly way of his which we’d grown so used to and comfortable with during the 2008 campaign when he was declaiming meaningful slogans like “Yes, we can.” But the words coming out of his mouth were nothing like those heady time of yesteryear. It reminded me of poor Isaac being tricked by Jacob into giving him the portion rightfully belonging to the first-born, Esau. The blind, befuddled Isaac says:

The hands are those of Esau, but the voice is that of Jacob.

Tonight, the president looked like Barack Obama, but sounded like Dick Cheney. How can I say this any more forcefully: we do not need another Mideast war! We do not need another Muslim enemy. We have enough.


By Steve Breyman

Islamic State militants 

What better gift for the War On Terror-Industrial-Complex 
(WOTIC) than the rapid rise and initial success of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS? A patchwork of brutal know-nothing thugs, IS militants can’t wait to impose a twisted version of “Shariah” on their unwilling victims, and to terrorize actual and potential opponents through mass executions and videotaped beheadings. Just as eagerly, IS’s self-declared ‘enemies’—neocons in DC and NATO warriors in London and Brussels—can’t wait to escalate their budding war against these people, the inevitable and horrifying collateral damage be damned.

Reality has not been kind to the WOTIC (inside-the-Beltway fantasy is another matter). US troops left Iraq several years ago. Most US military personnel are slated to depart Afghanistan before long. The growing US military role in Africa is potentially juicy but too muted at present to excite much (Joseph Kony and abducted Nigerian girls?). The toppling of Ghaddafi proved a disaster (though don’t look for an admission of this from official Washington or its hangers on). Obama hasn’t yet made all the same mistakes in Syria (just some of them), though not for lack of encouragement and needling by the War Party.

Extrajudicial executions by drones are sweet (take that al-Shabab!), but like eating candy, the satisfaction is fleeting (how many times can you whack the “leader” of the Pakistani Taliban and still get the same buzz?). The latest Israeli crimes against the imprisoned inhabitants of Gaza were fun to watch, but like televised sports, also not wholly fulfilling. The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine provides ample opportunity for Putin-baiters and Russia-haters, but it’s not like unleashing the Joint Special Operations Command.

Groups like ISIS, as Patrick Cockburn and Tom Engelhardt, have made clear, don’t just appear out of thin air. They’re built, constructed out of wrong-headed Western (especially US) foreign policies stretching from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (along with irresistible assistance to warlords and sectarians) to the failure to enthusiastically support Arab Spring democrats. Add the waging of indefinite counterterrorist and counterinsurgency wars and we have the New Enemy Creation Process.

Al-Qaeda was insufficient, US elites needed to war against the Talibans in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saddam Hussein was not enough, George Bush’s “bring ‘em on” engendered new and revitalized old Sunni and Shia militias. The PLO was an inadequate boogieman, American policy demonized Hamas too. Columbian drug runners were inadequate, Washington added the FARC. When Muammar Ghaddafi had to go, NATO got tribal gunmen (and “Benghazi”) in the bargain. When Bashar al-Assad’s time was up, the jihadis poured forth.

Propagating an endless steam of new enemies transforms war into a permanent enterprise that generates trillions in debt, billions in profits, and millions of security clearances. New bureaucracies are built. Old ones are strengthened and expanded. Militarization transforms formerly civilian police forces and once quiet international borders.

No doubt war-mongering politicians and pundits have plagued humanity since the Peloponnesian War. American war profiteering is older than the American Republic. Imperial interventions began with the War of 1812 (if counting the slaughter of Natives, American colonists have been at it since one of their first forays on to Cape Cod). Perennial preparations for war have been a central feature of American life since the Truman administration.

Obama: We Need to Fight ISIS, But Not for the Reasons You Think

President Obama delivers an address on ISIS from the White House on Sept. 10, 2014.

Overall, I agree with my colleague Fred Kaplan’s assessment that, in the plan he laid out for an offensive against ISIS, President Obama is doing “as close to the right thing as the mess of the Middle East allows.” Still, I want to focus on one of the odder aspects of this administration’s case for war: the fact that the president is arguing for the necessity of destroying ISIS without making a strong case that it poses a threat to the U.S.:

While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our Intelligence Community believes that thousands of foreigners—including Europeans and some Americans—have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

A lot of facile comparisons are being made right now between this initiative and the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and it’s true that Obama will now likely be the second president in a row to leave an incomplete war in Iraq to his successor. But that caveated, hypothetical scenario in the president’s remarks—“these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks”—is a long way from “we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Obama’s advisers have been even more skeptical about the ISIS threat to the U.S. homeland. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Wednesday, just hours before the president’s speech, that “at present, we have no credible information that [ISIS] is planning to attack the homeland of the United States.” Matthew Olsen, departing director of the National Counterterrorism Center, has made almost the exact same comment, as did White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

ISIS has, of course, killed two American citizens in a very public way. But with the very notable exception of Mehdi Nemmouche, the French citizen who returned from fighting in Syria to attack a Jewish museum in Brussels last May, the much-discussed threat of ISIS’s international fighters returning to their home countries to carry out attacks has been theoretical.

The Three Types of People Who Fight for ISISA breakdown of the most evil group on the planet

SEPTEMBER 10, 2014

In February 2012, a young, beefy Egyptian named Islam Yaken took a shirtless selfie and posted it on a Facebook competitor called Vk.com. The picture wouldn’t have attracted much attention outside his circle of Cairo friends, were it not for the photos of himself he tweeted two years later. In that time, the Wahlberg wannabe with tidy, cropped hair had transmogrified into a bushy-haired hipster with heavy-rimmed glasses—who had gone to fight for ISIS. The jihadi accessories in his new photos included a Kalashnikov, a sword, and a bucket of Shia heads.

When Yaken’s pictures went viral a month ago, they provoked some confusion about how this well-educated, urban gym-rat could so rapidly embrace a group known for its austere, backward-looking form of desert Islam. The same confusion reigns over the transformation of Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, the former stoner who rapped in London under the name L Jinny and is now a suspect in the murder of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.1 There is, of course, an obvious continuity between the Yaken who yanked his undies just below the pube-line to give a full glimpse of his abs and the narcissistic poseur now in Syria, as well as a thread of miscreance that runs through the life of Abdel Bary. But not all ISIS fighters are the type to have traded protein shakes and doobies for scimitars and explosive belts.
Islam Yaken, the "Hipster Jihadi."

By now we’re starting to see an emerging taxonomy of the motivations of ISIS supporters. And as the types emerge, they reveal hints of ISIS’s vulnerability, and where its rapid expansion can be used against it. Patrick Skinner, a former CIA case officer now with The Soufan Group, estimates a total roster of 10,00 to 15,000 ISIS fighters, of whom hundreds may be foreigners, with the remainder from indigenous populations and ex-Baathists. 

Yaken and Abdel Bary, who appear to be maniacal killers with more taste for grindhouse than for Islamic jurisprudence, are exemplars of only one of three general types of ISIS fighter. Call them the Psychopaths. Skinner says the foreigners tend to be hyperviolent, and the indigenous fighters (and the local population who passively supports them) saner and more practical. One need merely look at Yaken’s sword-wielding photo to note its theatricality: The blade is a fantasy design, half hunting knife and half Chinese dao, with hooks, a teardrop-shaped hole, and serration that serve no function but to look cool. And that, of course, is the point. As men without significant military training—like most jihadis from Western or upper-class backgrounds—their main purpose is to create grotesque propaganda and to perform the low-skill role of blowing themselves up.

The second group is more pious. Call them the True Believers. They are drawn to the caliph himself, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi—a man whose pronouncements are marked by a deep, if also horrifying and heterodox, understanding of Islam. Among the Europeans who have flocked to Raqqa, Syria—the seat of the Islamic State—one sees not just bloodspattered young men but families. (In fact, Yaken, crossing taxonomic categories, encouraged his mother to immigrate.) Many of these people have come to Syria out of an inalterable sense of authentic religious obligation. The Independent reports that ISIS boasts a Tunisian with a doctorate in telecommunications to run its phone grid; it would seem safe to assume that a man immersed in this bureaucratic task does not also have a penchant for gore-porn.

A Scary Thought: A Global Thirty Years War

September 11, 2014

From 1618 to 1648 Europe was torn apart by a devastating and ruthless war. It was waged with fanaticism nourished by religious extremism absolving soldiers from atrocities because it was God’s will and done in God’s name. Out of this debacle came the Westphalian system giving rise to the nation-state.

Fundamentally the conflict was about who should have the right to define ethics, norms, values, and behavioral patterns in a Europe baffled after Martin Luther’s challenge of the Catholic Church’ and digesting the societal repercussions of the information revolution introduced by Gutenberg.

The current global picture resembles this picture in many ways--raising fears that we may be in for a reprise, one auguring the same degree of fanaticism with destructive effects multiplied by the sinister use of modern weaponry and technology.

Armed conflicts – observers and politicians shy away from using the word wars - no longer take place between nation-states. Instead, they are among people and within people taking no account of national borders and passports. They focus on who you are and people’s cultural identity. Since 1945 the world has grosso modo been reigned by an American value system. The international institutions projected American power and this went well because the rest of the world looked on the American model as successful and wanted to emulate it. The Americans themselves saw the model as the best one not only for them, but also for other countries and was willing to allocate a considerable share of US national income to ‘export’ the model. What is happening now is almost the opposite. A large number of people who felt neglected and slighted even degraded and ‘put in their place’ solely because they adhered to a culture out of tune with the American value system revolt in a violent and sometimes hateful way. They feel justified in administering the same bitter medicine to the US as they had to swallow – cultural revenge. 

The US and its allies react - predictably - within the existing power structure and paradigm classifying the armed conflicts as among nation-states following the age old rules for such conflicts. They do not seem to have analyzed the evolving picture and underlying reasons. Therefore it is fast becoming asymmetrical warfare. The US and its allies register some results on the ground – encouraging them to go on – but have not succeeded in rolling the decisive attacks on the American global system back; on the contrary the attacks, in some cases pinprick attacks, gather sympathy and support from more and more hitherto marginalized people around the globe.

Why the American Public Wants to Strike ISIS

September 12, 2014

"They know a threat when they see one, and they aren’t about to shrink from the challenges and risks inherent in their country’s global role."

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released just ahead of President Obama’s address Wednesday night to the American people, suggests a valuable political rule: If you want advice on how to conduct foreign policy, take your cue from the American people and not the editorial pages of the big national newspapers or William Kristol or Victoria Nuland or Dick Cheney or Samantha Power or John McCain or any number of other so-called experts who contributed so mightily to the challenge we now face in the Middle East.

The poll suggested the American people support U.S. military action to thwart the advance in Syria and Iraq of the radical Islamist movement that calls itself the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). Almost two-thirds of those polled want the United States to confront ISIS, while only 13 percent said such action wasn’t in the national interest. Fully 34 percent even accepted the use of U.S. ground troops if necessary to combat the Islamist forces.

In reporting these results, Wall Street Journal reporters Janet Hook and Carol E. Lee said they represented “a remarkable mood swing for an electorate that just a year ago recoiled at Mr. Obama’s proposal to launch airstrikes against Syria.”

But is it really that remarkable? And is it even a mood swing? The reporters’ language suggests a certain capriciousness on the part of the American people, maybe even fickleness. Just a year ago, they didn’t want to bomb Syria; now they want to bomb ISIS.

But perhaps the American people understand something that many of the experts don’t get. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is not America’s enemy. He doesn’t want to kill Americans. He just wants to run his country under terms that had been in effect for decades—and generally accepted by America and by his neighbors. That’s no longer possible, of course, but those who have been agitating for U.S. military action against him, including many of those named above, have been advocating essentially for further destabilization in the region. It seems the American electorate didn’t want the United States to contribute to any such destabilization.

But ISIS is America’s enemy. It wants to kill Americans whenever it can muster the resources and capacity to do so. More significantly for the present moment, it has developed a capability to control territory, amass great stores of wealth, accumulate serious military hardware, kill opponents with brutal efficiency, and devastate regional military forces arrayed against it. It represents the enemy of the West that manifested itself with the Al Qaeda attacks of precisely thirteen years ago that killed 2,977 innocent Americans going about their daily lives.

Lots of Questions: Dissecting Obama's Islamic State Strategy

September 12, 2014

"In defining U.S. goals, Obama twice employed the telling phrase 'degrade and ultimately destroy.' Lawyers like the president don’t use language like that for no reason—especially twice."

Although President Barack Obama now insists that he does have a strategy to deal with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), his call to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the ambitious and brutal terrorist group raises several important questions.

1. When is “ultimately”?

In defining American goals, Obama twice employed the telling phrase “degrade and ultimately destroy.” Lawyers like the president don’t use language like that for no reason—especially twice. What does Obama mean? He is clearly trying to contain expectations. But is he limiting expectations because he knows it will be a long fight without ground troops and wants Americans to be prepared? Or because he intends to do the bare minimum necessary to avoid political vulnerability at home? Too many of the president’s past foreign policy speeches (remember Cairo?) have produced little or no follow up. What will Obama actually do?

2. What does Obama think Americans want?

This is a crucial question for a president whose foreign policy is politically risk-averse, with the partial exceptions of the U.S.-Russia reset and ongoing negotiations with Iran. Obama’s speech came just days after new polling found that 71 percent of Americans support airstrikes in Iraq. His declaration that he “will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria” follows 65 percent support for airstrikes against the group there. At the same time, few support deeper involvement.

3. Will a limited war with ISIL stay limited?

Whatever the president’s intentions in defining his new strategy and policy to combat ISIL, he has taken a very significant step in making clear that America intends to “destroy” the group. It is not easy to back away from a goal like that and, as a result, Obama may well face considerable pressure to do more in the weeks and months ahead if his approach does not succeed. Neo-conservatives and liberal hawks—not-so-affectionately termed “the war party” by many conservatives and libertarians—will be calling for more every day. Some partisan Republicans will do the same, less from conviction than convenience. Will Obama stand firm? Or will he increase America’s commitment? A semantically clever White House can do a great deal before reaching the roadblock the president established in saying that “we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq.”