8 December 2014

Silk roads that China seeks

08 Dec 2014
Andrew Sheng

Students of RMB internationalisation tend to forget that the globalisation of Chinese currency happened much earlier with copper coins, which were first standardised and minted in the Qin Dynasty (260 to 210 BC). My old Chinese art historian teacher used to tell me that Chinese coins and ceramic shards were the first durable global debris, easily found around the rubble sites from Sri Lankan temples to Egyptian pyramids. 

Because China was short of silver and gold, common coins were minted mostly in copper. Silver in China was used as an official storage of value as early as 1000 AD, when it was recorded that ingots weighing a tael each became official payment for taxes, but it was rarely minted as coin. Having invented paper, China was also the first to experiment with fiat or printed money. The Song Dynasty (960-1270 AD) encouraged exports in order to finance their losing war against the Huns, which the succeeding Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) also encouraged. Unfortunately, printing more paper money led to inflation.

Both dynasties encouraged trade with the West through two key channels, the land Silk Road across Central Asia to Egypt and Rome and the Maritime Silk Road via the Malacca Straits and India. Chinese exports of silk, porcelain, crafts and spices were traded for gold, silver and copper coins, as Europe had few products at that time that China wanted. This imbalance in trade, plus the need to defend against the Huns and the Ottomans, forced Europe to embark on its industrialisation path.

It was the fall of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 that cut off the land trade. This blockage spurred the Spanish to go westwards to reach China, discovering America instead in 1492. Similarly, the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama raced to reach China via the African Cape of Good Hope in 1492. By 1453, the Ming Empire had passed its peak in outward exploration, having abandoned the Zhenghe voyages twenty years earlier. 

In the line of fire - The Indian army is fast losing its morale

Brijesh D. Jayal
December 8

Whilst all eyes have been on how the new government steers the legislative agenda during its first full parliamentary session, it is what the new defence minister has said in answers to members' questions within the first few days of the session that should have come as a bolt from the blue to the lawmakers.

Reportedly, the Indian Air Force has lost 32 aircraft in the last three years along with 13 persons (presumably all pilots) in accidents this year alone. The navy has suffered 24 major and minor mishaps between January 2011 and November 2014, including the sinking of submarine INS Sindhurakshak last year and a torpedo recovery vessel just recently. Together, these have resulted in the loss of lives of 22 officers and sailors, with four still missing.

The bad news, unfortunately, is not limited to these operational losses alone. It extends to the sensitive and vital domain of morale, reflected in the number of suicides. For the period commencing 2011, the army has lost 362 soldiers, the IAF 76 airmen and the navy 11 sailors, all to suicides. In addition, during this period, there have been 10 cases of fratricide within the army. Further statistics also point to an alarming shortage of officers in the fighting ranks of the armed forces - of lieutenant colonel and below - with the army short of 7,764, the navy 1,499 and the air force 357 officers.

The muted reaction to these revelations from amongst our lawmakers, the political pundits or indeed the loud electronic media is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. It is difficult to fathom whether this neglect stems from the gravity of this state of affairs not being fully absorbed or our antipathy in general to matters pertaining to the armed forces and national security. Either way, the inevitable conclusion is that India does not need external enemies to defeat its armed forces; collectively, our institutions are doing that work for them pretty well.

The GM bogey

Written by Yoginder K Alagh
December 8, 2014 

The decision to disallow experimentation in genetically modified (GM) crops by various states is questionable. However, it reportedly got a fillip from the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report to review environment-related laws. Subramanian apparently contended that European countries also don’t allow field trials of GM crops. The report is, indeed, a useful document. It makes a plea, for example, for a new set of policies for compensatory afforestation. It does not, however, discuss the issue of GM crops, or the research on them. So if Subramanian did say something on the issue, it should be seen as a side comment rather than the committee’s view.

It is true that the US and China are bullish on GM crops. Europe was strictly against them. But the Lisbon Protocol was a step towards a more nuanced formulation. India has been in the middle. Its legislation on producers’ rights and environmental clearance by the empowered committee on a case-by-case basis is unique. These legislative formulations of the mid-1990s were based on expert committees, including one led by M.S. Swaminathan. But in a fast-developing field, frequent reviews are needed. Even the European position now is different from what it was then. But until further review, the existing legislation stands.

GM cotton was the target of various Gandhian and obscurantist lobbies in the 1990s. The movement against Navbharat Seeds is a good example. Sanat Mehta argued, and I supported him, that the cost of this would be high for farmers in western India and Andhra Pradesh. We created a system in which millions of farmers were criminals and the most preferred seeds were sold illegally. Navbharat seeds were sold at Rs 450 per kg; the Monsanto variety at a premium price of Rs 1,250. Legal systems that were created as safety controls were used to look into productivity, cost and other commercial issues. But isn’t the market supposed to conduct economic tests?

I am Sanskrit

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Posted: December 8

I am Sanskrit: the language of the gods. But like gods, I am now more an object over which “ignorant armies clash by night”. I carry a heavy load. I am burdened with every sin. For some, I am everything that was wrong with India. I am exclusion, obscurantism, esotericism and dead knowledge. I am burdened, by others, with the weight of redemption. I am the source of all unity and insight, all knowledge and eternal light. But for both sides, I am more an icon than an object of understanding: for one, an icon for blanket indictment, for another, an icon for obscure yearnings.

They fight over my origins. Some say I was the language of invaders, imperiously subordinating everything around it. Others cite me as the example of a whole civilisation that spread across Asia, without the force of arms. They fight over my death. Some autopsies pronounced me dead by the 18th century. They say I died of internal corrosion: a slow insidious loss of faith in the knowledge systems I represented. It was an easy fate for a language that refused to be the language of the masses. Some say I was the victim of political murder: the great empires killed me, dismantling the structures that sustained me. But in all fairness, this has to be said: I somehow felt safer under the patronage of the Mughals, or even the British, than I do at the hands of my benevolent defenders in democratic India. Some refuse to pronounce me dead. I have been put on life support. Whether this will revive me or prolong my agony, I don’t know.

Some think I am still living, though I have assumed more ghostly forms. They argue that the vernaculars did not displace me. Rather, the inner life of most vernaculars builds on my legacy. Even when they transcend me, they cannot escape my imprint. Even in opposition, I am an aesthetic reference. I don’t live as a language. I live as philology. But anyone who understands these matters will understand that philology should not be underestimated. I don’t live as philosophy. I live as liturgy. And this liturgy, even if not fully understood, defines the faith of millions. The abstract idea of India fears me. But I still remain the hidden meaning of every nook and corner of the geography of India. Not just ancient, but even India’s medieval and modern past is not fully accessible without me. I remain the substratum beneath all controversies over the past. I am the ghost that refuses to go away.

US drone strike kills Pak Qaida leader

Dec 8, 2014

Umer Farooq, 38, was killed in the strike that took place in the Khar Tangi area of Datta Khel district in the region, where the Pakistani military has been battling Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants since June.

ISLAMABAD: A top al-Qaida leader was among five militants killed on Sunday in a US drone attack in Pakistan's troubled North Waziristan region, a day after the chief of the terror group's global operations was also killed in a Pakistani military operation. 

Umer Farooq, 38, was killed in the strike that took place in the Khar Tangi area of Datta Khel district in the region, where the Pakistani military has been battling Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants since June. A security official said Farooq was among five people killed when two missiles fired from the drone hit a compound. The compound was completely destroyed in the attack. 

Also known Umer Ustad and Ustad Farooq, he was working as al-Qaida chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Umer was close to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the former and current heads of al-Qaida, and was a key figure in running the group's operations and finances in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, where he also helped direct attacks against Nato troops, the Taliban said. 

His killing came a day after Pakistani forces killed top al-Qaida operative Adnan Shukrijuma in raid at a house in South Waziristan. The chief of al-Qaida's global operations, Shukrijuma was wanted by the US over a 2009 plot to attack the New York subway system. 

Shukrijuma was among the five men indicted in the US over the plot to bomb New York's subway system under orders from al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan. The New York indictment links him to the Manhattan plot and a similar never-executed scheme to attack British subways, according to media reports. 

North Waziristan has long been used as shelter by the Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants and has frequently been targeted by US drones. The Pakistani military launched a major offensive in North Waziristan in June and say they have killed more than 1,000 militants so far. 

For almost a decade, US strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt have been unpopular with the public. Pakistani officials have condemned the drone strikes, saying they violate sovereignty. But many Pakistanis suspect government secretly colludes to help identify targets.

Toxic Pool Creeping Over India Kills Thousands of Kids Day by Day

By Rakteem Katakey and Rajesh Kumar Singh 
Dec 5, 2014 

A woman complaining of muscle pains consistent with metal contamination waits in a hospital in the Sonbhadra district... Read More

A factory in Anapara in the Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Soni, 12, whose feet and hands sometimes feel as though they’re on fire, has begun to exhibit signs of what Centre... Read More

Why India Is Key to a Climate Deal

By Stephen Junor
December 06, 2014

In the wake of the recent U.S.-China agreement, all eyes in the run-up to COP21 now turn to India. 

When China and the U.S. announced bilateral initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions over the next couple of decades, many commentators immediately turned towards India, questioning whether it would follow China’s lead and announce carbon cuts of its own. Being the world’s third largest emitter of CO2 inevitably draws a lot of attention and with the two highest emitters announcing a deal, India now finds itself under scrutiny, putting the responsibility for a climate deal on its shoulders.

India and China have in the past coordinated their positions prior to climate change conferences, representing an important power bloc. Now that China has announced plans to reduce emissions this could change – diverging paths mean that India may find itself isolated during climate meetings and viewed as the roadblock to achieving a climate deal at COP21 (21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Paris next year. It is not just China: The developing countries that India and China claim to represent could quickly dismiss any notion of Indian representation if it does not commit to serious and worthwhile emissions reductions. In the eyes of the small nation states and other developing nations, China and India with their high emissions largely transcend the developed/developing dichotomy that often dominates these meetings. The very real effects of increasing temperatures and sea level rise are more of a concern to these small countries than the realpolitik of climate change negotiations.

Here’s what’s really scary about China overtaking America as the world’s biggest

Gwynn Guilford@sinoceros
December 4, 2014

The twilight of America has sneaked up on us, proclaims MarketWatch. “For the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was president, America is not the leading economic power on the planet,” MarketWatch darkly rasps. In case you haven’t guessed which country’s taking the lead

A screenshot from the Drudge Report, one of the biggest American news aggregators.
This is indeed a scary reminder of a shifting world order. But probably not for the reasons implied. The real worry isn’t that China’s landed the top ranking, but how it’s done that—and the long, painful, Japan-style stagnation that likely awaits it as a result.

But first, some context. At some point China’s economy will definitely surpass that of the US–and it’s baffling why this spells doom to America. China has more than four times as many people as the US does. It should be bigger.

But that hasn’t happened yet. We’ve cracked this chestnut before: basically, the IMF just recalculated its projection of China’s 2014 GDP using an updated revision to purchasing-power parity adjustments, which is supposed to more accurately reflect buying power. Since living costs are cheaper in China than they are in the US, the adjustments inflate China’s GDP.

Saving Grameen Bank, Sustaining the Bangladesh Paradox

By Niaz Asadullah and Zaki Wahhaj
December 06, 2014

Employees of Grameen Bank form a human chain in front of their central office after a court upheld an order removing Nobel laurate Muhammad Yunus as head of the microlending bank he founded, in Dhaka March 8, 2011.

Increasing state control over Grameen Bank will hardly serve the interests of Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh today is a global poster child within the Muslim world for women’s development. When it comes to gender equality, it ranks above all South Asian countries and Muslim-majority nations in Asia. The Bangladesh gender paradox – superior status of women despite a patriarchal social structure and strong influence of religion – owes to another paradox: Health conditions and economic participation of women have improved over the last twenty years despite limited public investment in social sectors.

At a time when women’s development has been lacking in much of Africa and South Asia, millions of Bangladeshi women are going to work every day as factory workers, primary school teachers, and healthcare providers. This has happened not because of any large scale public investment project. When the boom in women’s participation in export oriented factories started in the mid 1990s, most girls in Bangladesh were barely completing primary school.

Rather, the foundation for women’s development was laid by non-state actors. Bangladesh’s microfinance pioneer Professor Muhammad Yunus saw women as the key agent of social change nearly four decades ago when gender development was yet to be recognized in the country’s development agenda. In later years, NGOs like Grameen Bank and BRAC not only championed development schemes that targeted women, they also employed hundreds of thousands of women at the community levels to deliver health, family planning and education services.

Chinese Communist Party Expels Former Security Chief

Bill Gertz
December 6, 2014 

China’s Communist Party has expelled Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the collective dictatorship that rules the country and once Beijing’s most senior security official. 

The expulsion of Zhou, announced by the official Xinhua news agency in a two-paragraph dispatch Friday, was carried out after a decision made at a meeting of the Communist Party’s Politburo. 

Additionally, Zhou’s corruption case will now be handled by “judicial organs,” a sign the Communist leadership plans to imprison him. 

As reported by the Washington Free Beacon last month, Zhou’s corruption case has produced a rift within the closed Chinese Communist leadership ranks. 

Investigations of widespread corruption in China for decades were off limits to officials like Zhou, until 2012 one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee headed by Party Secretary Xi Jinping. The committee is the collective dictatorship that makes most key policy decisions. Its members wield enormous political and economic power. 

The expulsion of Zhou had been expected but took months longer than normal for high-level corruption probes, fueling speculation that Chinese leaders were not united in how to deal with the former security chief who was the ultimate authority over both China’s security police and intelligence services. 

The action against Zhou could create a backlash from what U.S. intelligence agencies recently identified as signs of a power struggle among senior Chinese leaders. 

China analysts have said that such high-level differences would be a key indicator of a possible major shift or even the overthrow of Communist Party rule in the world’s most populous state. 

Xi launched the current anti-corruption campaign in January 2013 in what some government analysts have said is more likely related to an effort to consolidate power than to clean up the communist system. 

Chinese Government Takes Eight Muslims And Executes All Of Them For Killing Chinese People

The Chinese government recently executed eight Uighur Muslims for terrorism, and planning a major terrorist attack. We read from a Chinese report:

Eight terrorists have been executed with the approval of the Supreme People’s Court in Xinjiang, according to the publicity department of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region on Saturday.

Their crimes involved five cases including the terrorist attack in the Tian’anmen Square in Beijing, the gun-seizing and police-assaulting case in Aksu, the illegal manufacturing of explosives and intentional killing case in Kashgar, and the establishment of terrorist organization, murder of government officials and incineration of checkpoint in Hotan.

Huseyin Guxur, Yusup Wherniyas and Yusup Ehmet had been sentenced to death and deprived of political rights for life by court for organizing and leading terrorist organization and jeopardizing public security with dangerous means. They masterminded the terrorist attack in the Tian’anmen Square of Beijing which killed 3 and injured 39 on Oct. 28 in 2013.

Rozi Eziz, also sentenced to death by court, was convicted of gun seizing and intentional killing of police officers. He committed the crime on June 28, 2013 in Wushi County of Aksu.

Abdusalam Elim had organized a terrorist gang with himself as the ring head since May 2011. The court found that Abdusalam Elim and others listened and watched religious extremist audio-visual materials and conducted illegal religious activities. They raised funds for members to conduct physical training and manufacturing, storage and transportation of explosives devices. He was sentenced to death and deprived of political right for life by court on charges of organizing and leading terrorist organization as well as illegal manufacturing, transportation and storage of explosives.

Chinese Telecommunications Giant Huawei Can’t Do Business in U.S. Because of Alleged Links t Chinese Intelligence

Mitchell Hiltzik
December 6, 2014

In mid-November, the giant Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei invited networking executives from some of the more than 170 countries where it does business for a two-day Global Mobile Broadband Forum. The potential buyers wandered among display tables bathed in a ghostly blue light as corporate associates talked up the products. They represented about 400 companies. None was American.

That illustrates the challenge facing this technology company with a global reach but no detectable footprint in the U.S.: How can it shed its image as a cat’s-paw of the Chinese government and break into the largest telecommunications market in the world?

Huawei (pronounced “Hwa-way”) says it does just fine without the U.S. market. Last year it reported a profit of $3.5 billion on sales of about $39.5 billion. While most sales are to mobile carriers, in the consumer sector Huawei has been jostling with fellow Chinese firms Xiaomi and Lenovo for third place in global smartphone sales, behind world leaders Samsung and Apple.

But it might do even better if it could access U.S. customers: Its U.S. revenues came to $876 million last year, only about 2.2% of the total.

"You’re playing in 70% of the market if you can’t compete in the U.S.," Joe Kelly, the company’s head of international media affairs, told a group of U.S. journalists visiting during the mobile forum. The journalists were visiting China under the auspices of the All-China Journalists Assn. and the Honolulu-based East West Center, which receives funding from the U.S. government.

What’s holding Huawei back is the conviction in Washington that the company has undisclosed connections with the Chinese government, and suspicions that Huawei equipment could surreptitiously harbor software to facilitate cyberwarfare, including espionage or network disruption. Huawei denies both assertions.

It describes itself as an entirely private and independent firm, founded in 1987 in Shenzhen by Ren Zhengfei, a former military engineer. Most of the company’s shares are held by Chinese employees (foreigners are generally barred from holding shares in Chinese companies).

Violence and Repression in Chechnya


The Romans became infamous for their “make a desert and call lit peace” approach to counterinsurgency. But even the Romans knew they had to offer subject populations “bread and circuses” to win them over to Roman rule rather than just brute-force oppression. That is a lesson that Vladimir Putin still doesn’t seem to have learned, judging from the latest terrorist attack in Chechnya, which came even as he was giving his predictably delusional and self-congratulatory state-of-the nation speech in Moscow. (The highlight or lowlight was his claim that Crimea has the same significance for Russian nationalists “as the Temple on the Mount in Jerusalem for those people who worship Islam or Judaism,” thus making it clear that for him Russian nationalism is a religion.)

At least 19 people were killed in the Grozny attack. What’s really interesting is that this is not an isolated occurrence. As the New York Times notes, citing the Caucasian Knot website, “290 people had been killed and 144 wounded in fighting scattered through the Caucasus this year through the end of November.”

There is, in short, a real war going on in Chechnya and its environs–a war driven in part by jihadist ideology, to be sure, but also by Russian repression, which is what turned so many Chechen nationalists in their desperation to embrace radical Islam in the first place. Like many other local conflicts, this one has bled into the larger struggle of the jihadists against all manner of enemies. The Caucasus Emirate, as the local jihadist group is known, has sworn allegiance to ISIS and many Muslims from the Russian Caucasus have gone to Syria to join ISIS operations there.

This means that some intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation with Putin’s reprehensible regime is probably a necessity, but we must not lose sight of the extent to which his own brutal rule has aggravated the problem of terrorism. Insurgencies must be fought with force but in most instances they can only be ended by reaching some kind of reconciliation with the local people, as the British and the IRA did in the Good Friday Accords and as the FARC and the Colombian government are now striving to do. It is impossible, alas, to imagine that Putin, who revels in his macho cult, could ever take such far-sighted steps for peace.

ISIS Fighters Reportedly Capture Part of Air Base in Eastern Syria

December 6, 2014

BEIRUT — Islamic State group fighters stormed parts of a sprawling army air base Saturday in eastern Syria after days of clashes that killed dozens on both sides, activists said, while state media reported that the offensive was repelled.

The base, outside the city of Deir el-Zour, has been used by the government in the past months to launch air raids on areas held by the Islamic State group bordering Iraq.

The Islamic State group is trying to capture the air base and a nearby barracks known as Brigade 137 to eliminate the main pocket of resistance in the area and provide a major morale and propaganda boost after a string of setbacks in recent weeks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest attack began Saturday with a suicide car bomb at the main entrance of the Deir el-Zour air base. Later Saturday, the push stopped after fighters came under heavy shelling from army positions, it added.

The group said that some Islamic State fighters had breathing problems in the area after government forces used chlorine gas against them.

Syrian state TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that troops repelled attempts by “terrorists” on several areas near the city of Deir el-Zour and killed “tens of them and destroyed their vehicles and weapons.”

The Islamic State group began a major offensive on the air base, one of the last government-held areas in the province of Deir el-Zour, on Thursday.

The Observatory said that since Thursday, 119 fighters on both sides have been killed, including 51 troops and pro-government militiamen. It said some 68 Islamic State group fighters have been killed, of which 33 were Syrians and two were French citizens.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

By C.J. Chivers
Oct. 14, 2014

During the Iraq war, at least 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to aging chemical weapons abandoned years earlier.

These weapons were not part of an active arsenal. They were remnants from Iraq's arms program in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.

Many troops who were exposed received inadequate care. None of the veterans were enrolled in long-term health monitoring.

Munitions are unaccounted for in areas of Iraq now under control of ISIS.

Japan and Abenomics Moment of reckoning

Dec 6th 2014

THERE is little doubt that Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, sees himself as a leader with an historic mission. In an interview with The Economist, he recalled the revolutionaries from his home prefecture of Yamaguchi who in the 1860s overthrew the old order and transformed Japan into an industrial powerhouse. Now, as then, he argued, Japan has to overhaul itself to catch up with the outside world. Also as then, his domestic opponents are united. “Far-reaching change was necessary for Japan, and my seniors in history staked their lives to achieve it, even though reform did not necessarily win backing from the majority,” he says.

Mr Abe’s supporters have been surprised by how little political capital he has spent on his own economic plan. After his landslide victory in December 2012, he fired up the country with talk of three economic “arrows”: radical monetary easing, extra public spending and bold reforms in the way Japan’s calcified economy works. He has governed in a hyperactive style, jetting off to dozens of countries in a diplomatic offensive. Yet he has shown far less vigour in pushing through the tough, market-oriented reforms that he has repeatedly promised.

Now Mr Abe claims that he needs yet another mandate from voters to implement Abenomics, as his reform programme is commonly known—even though his government already possesses a thumping majority. The snap general election he has called for the lower house of the Diet, or parliament, on December 14th, follows a run of bad news that has put his government on the defensive.

The economy is still struggling after a rise in the consumption (value-added) tax in April from 5% to 8% that crimped household spending. Falling GDP in the latest two quarters means that Japan is technically in recession, although revised figures to be announced on December 8th could show that the economy shrank from July to September by less than originally suggested, possibly close to zero. In October year-on-year core inflation (excluding the impact of the tax rise) fell to 0.9%. It may decline further, thanks partly to falling oil prices. This suggests that Mr Abe’s monetary arrow is falling well short of his target to reach 2% in 2015-16—even after an extra round of easing announced in late October. And an unwelcome reminder of Japan’s gargantuan pile of debt, now at over 240% of GDP, came on December 1st when Moody’s downgraded Japan’s credit rating in response to Mr Abe’s move last month to delay a second rise in the consumption tax, from 8% to 10%, which had been due next year.

Debunking retreat argument against Obama’s foreign policy

By Michael A. Cohen 
DECEMBER 04, 2014

President Obama shook hands with Zhang Dejiang, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, during a meeting in Beijing. 

Earlier this week, I went on NPR’s “On Point’’ to discuss the Obama administration’s foreign policy performance. One of my fellow panelists was Bret Stephens, an editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal and author of the new book, “America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder.” It’s the kind of book that it catnip for conservative opponents of President Obama.

As Stephens said on the radio, while George W. Bush perhaps might have pushed too far in the direction of over-engagement, Obama has swung the pendulum back in the other direction toward isolationism and retrenchment.

Indeed, while I have not yet read Stephens book, in an excerpt I discovered that not only does he believe that “America is in retreat,” but that the retreat is the “motivating impulse” of the Obama presidency.

How can anyone make an argument like that? After all, the evidence that America is not in retreat and has not forsaken a role of global engagement during the Obama presidency is so obvious it is barely worthy of discussion.

Top General: Americans Are Increasingly Lacking The Smarts And Fitness Needed To Join The US Army

DEC 6, 2014

Young Americans are increasingly unfit for Army service due to obesity, academic failings, and various other shortcomings.

Maj. Gen. Allen Batschelet, the US Army Recruiting Command commanding general, told a US Army Bloggers roundtable Thursday that the Army is facing significant challenges in recruiting. Part of this is due to an improving economy offering more young people career options outside of the military.
More significantly, an increasing number of Americans are simply ineligible for Army service. As of now, Batschelet said, only three in ten Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 meet the Army's standards for service. By 2020, according to the general, "that eligibility number could be down to two in ten."

"Obesity forms a big part of it, the disqualification. That's the growing trend," Batschelet said. However, moral disqualifications over an increasing range of criminalized behaviors have barred many young men and women from enlisting.

Similarly, an "erosion in academic qualification of the young people we are engaging with" has left the Army grasping for eligible recruits. The problem is "reflected in declining high school graduation rates," Batschelet, alongside the failure of an increasing number of Americans to achieve high school equivalency certificates.

For Batschelet, the slipping educational standards of Americans is the most worrying trend for the future of the US Army. Although obesity is the leading disqualifier for people looking to enlist, tht challenge is one that "we as a society, and even as the Army, can deal with."

In contrast, deficiencies in education will take "significantly more time to address ... that's the more worrisome one for me," Batschelet said.

Reflected in the problem of education, recruits have routinely scored worse on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, Batschelet said.

According to the Military Times, the Department of Defense has strict quotas on what percentage of enlisted can score on the ASVAB. At most only 4% of enlistees can score in the 10th to 30th percentile of the test, and no more than 40% 0f enlistees can score lower than the 50th percentile.

Europe: When the Unthinkable Becomes Possible

 December 3, 2014

Europe's economic crisis is slowly but steadily eroding the political systems of many countries on the Continent. New actors are emerging and threatening the supremacy of the traditional players. Alliances and events that seemed impossible only a few years ago are now being openly discussed across Europe. On Dec. 3, for example, Sweden announced it would hold early elections, partially because of political moves from the far right. In Spain, the ruling center-right party is openly discussing the possibility of entering an alliance with its traditional center-left rivals to prevent a protest party from taking over. Key members of the European Union, including Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom and possibly Greece, will hold elections in 2015. In most cases, these countries will see outcomes nobody would have thought possible in 2008.


Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced the snap elections after his center-left government lost a budget vote less than three months after coming to power. Lofven's announcement was precipitated by a decision by the far-right Sweden Democrats party to support the opposition during a budget vote. Sweden's early elections, the first for the country in almost 60 years, will be held March 22, with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats likely playing a central role. In Sweden's parliamentary elections in September, no coalition managed to form a majority government, but the elections were marked by the strong performance of the far-right party, which received 12.9 percent of the vote, up from 5.7 percent in 2010, when it entered parliament for the first time.

What is a Geopolitical Diary?George Friedman Explains.

While Sweden is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, unemployment remains above pre-crisis levels. More important, Sweden has the largest number of asylum applications per capita in the European Union. Last year, violent riots shook Stockholm's immigrant-heavy suburbs, revealing Sweden's struggle to integrate its immigrants into mainstream society. Opinion polls show that Swedes still largely support the idea of living in a country that is open to asylum-seekers, but they are also worried about the economic and cultural impact of increased immigration. If the Sweden Democrats hold their place as the country's third-largest party, they will probably become key in the formation of a new government. This would put a far-right party in a position of power in one of Europe's main economies.

Satellite Imagery Shows North Korean Nuclear Reactor at Yongbyon Still in Shutdown Mode

David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini
December 6, 2014

Digital Globe commercial satellite imagery dated December 1, 2014 continues to show signatures consistent with the shutdown of North Korea’s Yongbyon 5 megawatt-electric (MWe) reactor for maintenance or renovations and possibly some level of fuel replacements. However, caution is warranted: North Korea may also be desperate for plutonium for nuclear weapons and willing to unload the reactor earlier than expected, while also conducting maintenance work on the reactor.

Some signatures are visible at the reprocessing plant located southeast of the Yongbyon reactors, suggesting some level of operation. However, North Korea may also be trying to signal plutonium separation activities without actually conducting any. At the enrichment site, located in the southern part of the Yongbyon nuclear site, roof renovations on a building adjacent to the uranium centrifuge building have halted.

Analysis of imagery dated June 30, August 27, and September 29, 2014, combined with procurement data obtained by ISIS, suggests that North Korea has emphasized the production of weapon-grade plutonium in the 5 MWe reactor as well as enriched uranium for its nuclear weapons program. Analysis of more recent imagery dated December 1, 2014 suggests that North Korea continues to work on maintaining the aged 5 MWe reactor and intends to restart it. The start-up date of the experimental light water reactor (LWR) continues to remain uncertain.

Backgrounder on Secret North Korean Cyber Espionage Unit

December 6, 2014 

How impoverished North Korea built elite ‘secret war’ hacker unit 
Despite its poverty and isolation, North Korea has poured resources into a sophisticated cyber-warfare cell called Bureau 121, defectors from the secretive state said as Pyongyang came under the microscope for a crippling hack into computers at Sony Pictures Entertainment. 

A North Korean diplomat has denied Pyongyang was behind the attack that was launched last month but a U.S. national security source said it was a suspect.

Defectors from the North have said Bureau 121, staffed by some of the most talented computer experts in the insular state, is part of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance, an elite spy agency run by the military. They have said it is involved in state-sponsored hacking, used by the Pyongyang government to spy on or sabotage its enemies.

Pyongyang has active cyber-warfare capabilities, military and software security experts have said. Much of it is targeted at the South, technically still in a state of war with North Korea. But Pyongyang has made no secret of its hatred of the United States, which was on the South’s side in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Military hackers are among the most talented, and rewarded, people in North Korea, handpicked and trained from as young as 17, said Jang Se-yul, who studied with them at North Korea’s military college for computer science, or the University of Automation, before defecting to the South six years ago.

Speaking to Reuters in Seoul, he said the Bureau 121 unit comprises about 1,800 cyber-warriors, and is considered the elite of the military.

“For them, the strongest weapon is cyber. In North Korea, it’s called the Secret War,” Jang said.

One of his friends works in an overseas team of the unit, and is ostensibly an employee of a North Korean trading firm, Jang said. Back home, the friend and his family have been given a large state-allocated apartment in an upscale part of Pyongyang, Jang said.

“No one knows … his company runs business as usual. That’s why what he does is scarier,” Jang said. “My friend, who belongs to a rural area, could bring all of his family to Pyongyang. Incentives for North Korea’s cyber experts are very strong … they are rich people in Pyongyang.”

Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet: US Navy’s SIGINT and Cyber Warriors

Richard R. Burgess
December 6, 2014

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy’s cyber warriors not only react to intrusions on the service’s networks, but also have teams that pro-actively hunt for intruders hiding in cyberspace.

Speaking to an audience Dec. 2 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, VADM Jan Tighe, commander of Fleet Cyber Command and the U.S. Tenth Fleet, said that in addition to its “layered defense in depth,” Fleet Cyber Command has “people [who] go hunt … [who] look for bad actors in new and different ways.

“We have sensors and countermeasures to … detect movement inside our network. We do surveillance inside our networks,” Tighe said.

“The threat in cyberspace is evolving almost on a daily basis,” she said. Because of the “low cost of entry” of cyber attack it is “hard to determine intent of malicious actors” and the command has to treat any intrusion as dangerous.

The threats include national governments, criminals, “hacktivists” and hackers seeking to disrupt, she said.

Fleet Cyber Command is the Navy’s component of U.S. Cyber Command and a component of U.S. Strategic Command. With about 1,850 cyber warriors, it conducts operations for combatant commanders and the National Security Agency.

Cyber warfare “is definitely a team sport,” Tighe said, speaking of the coordination and lesson-sharing with the cyber forces of the other armed forces and with the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Fleet Cyber Command is part of the Information Dominance Corps of the Navy and part of a larger effort that began five years ago to take a holistic approach to electronic warfare, intelligence, cyber warfare, meteorology and oceanography.

Tighe said the command’s first responsibility is to ensure that the Navy’s networks can “operate as a warfighting platform … available and secure.”

The command also provides signals intelligence to supported commands, delivers effects in support of warfighting objectives, and provides situational awareness.

Tighe said that delays in the modernization of the Navy’s networks make them harder to defend. She also expressed concern that loss of information from the defense industry’s networks can reduce the warfighting advantage of the United States.


4 Dec 2014 

Nineteenth century military genius Carl von Clausewitzcoined the phrase: “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means." In his day, the number of wars was limited by the time and expense to organize large armies and then march across borders to inflict pain. 

War was much more expensive in the twentieth century, but the number of conflicts expanded because planes and missiles cut the time it took to inflict pain. Proliferating technologies make it now possible for any nation to acquire cyber tools at minimal cost to instantly inflict pain on any other nation. Clausewitz would expect the number of cyberwars to grow exponentially in the twenty-first century. 

The advent of cyberwar represents a new “high bar risk” as the U.S. faces-off against a deadly trifecta of cutting-edge digital technologies, advanced military weapons, and the ability to disrupt critical infrastructure. With this type of war built around digital technology, America’s enemies will focus on turning our own technology against us.

The first year of the twenty-first century will be remembered for 19 illegal aliens who trained at a Florida school to use U.S. commercial airliners as improvised explosive devices. The 9/11 terrorists slaughtered more Americans than died at Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. government politically forced to declare war on much of the Middle East, the financial cost from the attacks and subsequent military response is over $3.3 trillion.

Former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism for the United States, Richard A. Clarke, defined "cyberwarfare” as “actions by a nation-state to penetrate another nation's computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption.” When confronted with the statistic that less than 0.0025% of revenue at the average U.S. corporation was being spent on information technology security, Clarke warned: “If you spend more on coffee than on IT security, then you will be hacked. What's more, you deserve to be hacked.”

Can Ashton Carter rein in a Pentagon out of control?

 December 4

In this Feb. 12, 2013 file photo, Ashton Carter testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Carter has emerged as President Barack Obama's top candidate to become the next defense secretary, according to administration officials, putting him in line to take over a sprawling department that has had an uneasy relationship with the White House. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Chuck Hagel may not have been able to work with the ever more powerfulNational Security Council staff, but this discussion of personalities misses the point. The key to success for a defense secretary today is the ability to manage not White House aides but rather the Pentagon, which is the world’s most complicated and most dysfunctional bureaucracy. Ashton Carter, the president’s presumed choice as the next secretary, is a brilliant man and perhaps has made some friends at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But by far the best quality he has going for him is that he seems to understand the need to rein in a Pentagon now so out of control that it is difficult to fully comprehend or explain. 

Republicans worry a great deal about dysfunction in government. They launch investigations to find out why a few hundred million dollars were wasted and insist that departments do more with less. Except for the largest government bureaucracy in the world, the Defense Department, which spends about $600 billion a year — more than the entire GDP of Poland — and employs 1.4 million men and women in uniform, 700,000 civilians and 700,000 full-time contractors. The Pentagon’s accounts are so vast and byzantine that it is probably impossible to do a thorough audit of them. 

Lethal Robots and the Conduct of Warfare

By Marcus Fielding
December 06, 2014

Perhaps not quite the Terminator, but lethal robots are set to have a growing role on the battlefield. 

The use of lethal robots in conflict is inevitable. When it happens, it’ll create a significant shift in the ways of warfare. A discussion has already begun (see here and here) on how such capabilities might be developed and applied.

Robots in general are becoming smaller, smarter, cheaper and more ubiquitous. Lethal robots are becoming more deadly and discriminating. The degree of autonomy will be a key driver of a robot’s role in conflict and is likely to evolve in three generations; the semi-autonomous, the restricted-autonomous, and ultimately the fully-autonomous generation.

We’re already a decade into the semi-autonomous generation—using robots to kill people but with humans still in the decision loop. Technology and cost factors mean the semi-autonomous generation has—so far—been dominated by states. Moreover, the targeting of senior-level decision makers has come to be regarded as a legitimate and effective tactic. ‘Targeted killings’ by states with drones, aircraft, missiles or occasionally Special Forces raids have become common. As lethal robots proliferate they’ll increasingly be used for such missions because of their low cost and risk.

Space Exploration and U.S. Competitiveness

Steven J. Markovich
December 5, 2014

The launch of Sputnik and subsequent Russian firsts in space convinced many U.S. policymakers that the country was falling dangerously behind its Cold War rival. Consecutive U.S. administrations invested in education and scientific research to meet the Soviet challenge. These investments propelled the United States to victory in the so-called "space race" and planted the seeds for future innovation and economic competitiveness, experts say. Yet since the 1990s, NASA's share of federal spending has waned. The U.S. private sector has ramped up investment in space, but accidents in October 2014 cast some doubt on the pace of commercial space flight.

The Soviet Union took the world by surprise in October 1957 with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. In a matter of months, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Congress initiated measures to build U.S. scientific and engineering prowess, including the creation of NASA, a civilian space exploration agency.

Presidents have largely determined NASA's long-term missions. In May 1961—a few weeks after the Soviet Union put the first human in space (Yuri Gagarin)—President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a lunar landing. He stressed the urgency and the value of this mission in a landmark speech at Rice University in September of that year. "We choose to go the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we're willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

After six successful lunar missions, NASA's manned program pulled back to Earth, while robotic missions such as Voyager and Viking continued to explore the Solar System. NASA focused on sending astronauts into low earth orbit (LEO) with the 1973 launch of Skylab, the first U.S. space station, and the Space Shuttle. The Space Shuttle served NASA for thirty years (1981–2011) and helped build the International Space Station (ISS), an orbiting laboratory that has been continuously occupied by humans since 2000.

Why the world missed the oil price crash

December 5 

A man changes the price for a gallon of gasoline at a gas station in Medford, Massachusetts December 4, 2014. Brent crude oil fell below $69 a barrel on Thursday after Saudi Arabia announced deep cuts in selling prices for Asian and U.S. buyers, a week after refusing to support OPEC output cuts. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS ENERGY SOCIETY) (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Michael Levi, a senior fellow and the director of the Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of “The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America’s Future.”

On Feb. 1, 2011, oil prices rose above $100 a barrel. For the next three years, they largely stayed there, with few of the dramatic ups and downs that oil markets are famous for. So when prices began falling slowly in June of this year, most industry experts shrugged. Hundred-dollar oil was here to stay, right? 

That attitude has made the vicious plunge in oil prices over the past few months all the more shocking. U.S. oil production has been rising for several years; more recently, Libyan oil output has surged, too. Those increases collided with a weak global economy this summer to create a glut of oil. Late last month, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that they would not cut their own production to compensate and stabilize prices. Oil promptly fell below $70 a barrel, down 40 percent from its June peak. 

“Oil Enters New Era,” announced Bloomberg News. OPEC is “throwing in the towel,” declared the head of oil research for a major bank, transforming energy markets “for many years to come.” A new age of low-price oil, with OPEC on the sidelines, is upon us, experts declared — and everyone has to adapt. 

But before everyone pivots from one dogmatic view of oil markets to a radically different and equally certain vision, we ought to ask: Why were so many people wrong about oil prices? Bad assumptions about how the U.S. oil industry works, and about the power of OPEC and Saudi Arabia, drove our misconceptions about where prices were heading — and continue to confuse us about where they’ll go next.