25 December 2014

Sony hacking shows all’s fair in a cyberwar

David E Sanger
Dec 25, 2014

WASHINGTON: For years now, the Obama administration has warned of the risks of a "cyber-Pearl Harbor", a nightmare attack that takes out America's power grids and cellphone networks and looks like the opening battle in a full-scale digital war. 

Such predictions go back at least 20 years, and perhaps that day will come. But over the past week, a far more immediate scenario has come into focus, first on the back lots of Sony Pictures and then in back-to-back strategy sessions in the White House situation room: a shadow war of nearly constant, low-level digital conflict, somewhere in the netherworld between what President Obama called "cybervandalism" and what others might call digital terrorism. 

In that murky world, the attacks are carefully calibrated to be well short of war. The attackers are hard to identify with certainty, and the evidence cannot be made public. The counterstrike, if there is one, is equally hard to discern and often unsatisfying. The damage is largely economic and psychological. Deterrence is hard to establish. And because there are no international treaties or norms about how to use digital weapons — indeed, no acknowledgment by the US government that it has ever used them itself — there are no rules about how to fight this kind of conflict. 

"Until now, we've been pretty ad hoc in figuring out what's an annoyance and what's an attack," James Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week. "If there's a lesson from this, it's that we're long overdue" for a national discussion about how to respond to cyberattacks — and how to use America's own growing, if unacknowledged, arsenal of digital weaponry. 

All those issues have been swirling in the background in the drama of North Korea's effort to intimidate Sony Pictures, and the retaliation by the US — if that was the case — against one of its oldest Cold War adversaries. 

"If you'd told me it would take a Seth Rogen movie to get our government to really confront these issues, I would have said you are crazy," one senior defense official said a few days ago, referring to the Sony Pictures film 'The Interview'. "But then again, this whole thing has been crazy." 

Like most cyberattacks, it started with a simple question: Who did it? But this was no ordinary effort to steal credit card data. What made it different was its destructive nature. By some accounts, it wiped out roughly two-thirds of the studio's computer systems and servers — one of the most destructive cyberattacks on US soil. 

Small enterprises as big businesses

December 25, 2014

The Hindu“What we require is innovative design-led capacity building among struggling communities, backed with appropriate Intellectual Property Rights regimes.” Picture shows an artisan at a handloom factory in Tamil Nadu

India’s heritage, with all its creative potential, can boost an unprecedented re-skilling enterprise, bigger and more inspirational than any brand

The lion of Gujarat roars as I switch on the television in a small village of Southern Europe. Bold, the tricolour sweeps across a silhouette revealing a beast that looks more African than a mangy survivor of Gir. Ashoka’s chakra rolls in, turning wheel within wheel, geared up to make anything happen and deliver a well synchronised Indian machine. This is expensive prime time advertising blitzkrieg and is being aired internationally. Good times are here even as ‘incredible’ and ‘shining’ predecessors of the past regimes reincarnate.

‘Make in India,’ launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with signature flourish, has come 60 years after a post-war Japan bounced back, 30 years after China opened up, and 15 years after Abu Dhabi declared itself as the centre of a flat world. Perhaps more than a millennium after, India is once again going to kick-start its economy with the manufacturing boom. ‘Made in India,’ now mostly considered — even to Indians — tacky and unacceptable, will hopefully get a boost after file after file opens factory after factory for foreign capital to flow in.

Role of micro enterprises

Undoubtedly, India is firmly on the growth trajectory. But despite oscillating predictions, the Indian economy still struggles to generate sustainable employment to match rising graphs. Without a road map, the country could still be left groping for a foothold. This is also because economic and financial institutions continue to offer no barometer to gauge the role of ‘softer’ small and micro enterprises as a big business. These silent components of the nation’s growth story, supported reticently at best, and suffered quietly as a sunset industry by the erstwhile mandarins in the ‘Yojna Bhavan,’ continue to constitute 5.77 crore enterprises, contributing 45 per cent to the national GDP versus the 15 per cent of the corporate sector, so widely celebrated in pink pages.

More significantly, micro small and medium enterprises provide 90 per cent of employment to a decentralised mode of production, and service and trading practices. Derogatorily known as ‘unorganised,’ this sector is owned by the tenacious self-employed, empowering a majority of women and artisans. With more than 60 per cent of units owned by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, it constitutes the hidden base of a pyramid. These people’s unmapped skills can generate national value and create millions of livelihoods in the non-farm sector, if they are recognised and positioned with imaginative demand-savvy intervention.

The entrepreneurs of violence

December 25, 2014 

Understanding the TTP attack in Peshawar would involve looking at the group’s structure, the role of ideology and the impact of Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations

On December 16, 2014, 145 people, including 132 children, were executed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a terrorist attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar. [The toll is now 150.] When cornered, the seven militants blew themselves up; five inside the school and two outside. Later a TTP spokesperson, Mohd. Omar Khorasani, said that the attack was retribution for the Pakistani government’s counterinsurgency operations in North Waziristan, which had “targeted our [Taliban’s] families and females”.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a massive counterinsurgency operation that was launched by the Pakistani Army in June 2014 to wipe out the Taliban from North Waziristan a week after the TTP’s attack on Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, which killed over 36 people including the attackers. It involves 30,000 men, armoured battalions, air support and drones. The operation came in the wake of repeated failure of talks between the Taliban and the Pakistan government. With the Pakistan government feeling as if the Taliban was dodging the talks by sending TTP sympathisers and not actual TTP ranks, the airport attack was the last straw. Between June and December, approximately 1,200 reported insurgents have been killed in the region and approximately a million civilians have been displaced.

Fighting for space

To understand the TTP attack in Peshawar, we need to first understand the structure of the TTP. It is an umbrella organisation of at least 13 groups started in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud. Last year, the leadership of the TTP came to Maulana Fazlullah, also called the ‘FM [radio] Mullah’, a man who has violently opposed education for children, most clearly evinced in his instructions for the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. When Fazlullah assumed the TTP’s leadership, four splinter groups emerged (alongside the pre-existing TTP Punjab) — the Ahrar-ul-Hind (February 2014), the TTP South Waziristan (May 2014), the TTP Jamaat-ul Ahrar (August 2014), and the TTP Sajna (May 2014). The groups emerged because of sharp differences on insurgent strategy between Fazlullah and other competing insurgent chiefs within the TTP, including the remaining members of the Mehsud clan.

When there are competing insurgent groups, with very few ideological and operational differences operating in the same piece of territory, things become complicated. Essentially these groups look like similar products. Often, proving your mettle as an insurgent group and establishing dominance means undertaking the most daring, risky attacks and getting a higher death count. It means being as entrepreneurial at violence as possible. So, to understand the Peshawar attack we need to focus on the following factors.


First, as I have already described, competition between insurgent groups for dominance in one piece of territory, leads to higher levels of violence. Memorable (not in a good way) violence of the type undertaken by the TTP serves the purpose of helping the group develop a brand identity, i.e., it is easily distinguishable from other similar looking groups. Having an easily distinguishable identity from a pool of similar groups allows the TTP to have an upper hand while amassing recruits. So, insurgent strategy and ideology helps in “branding” and “banding” for an insurgent group.

Second, we cannot look at the TTP’s actions in isolation. Counterinsurgency, by definition, is based on force as a default strategy. However, when deals with insurgents fail, the state’s tendency to use force becomes more pronounced and in some ways, is seen as more legitimate by state actors. However, counterinsurgency also dislocates entire populations, who, if not adequately resettled and policed, serve as new recruiting grounds for insurgent groups. The counterinsurgency operations in North Waziristan have been swift, sustained and brutal. With ranks of the TTP wiped out and the outfit splintering, the Peshawar attacks need to be seen as the TTP’s way of reasserting military dominance and territorial control; only, they shifted the target. Instead of a hard military target, a soft target was picked. Further, in a strategy calculated to incite the Pakistani military and hit where it hurts them most, families of Army men were targeted.

Focus on policies, not events

December 25, 2014

In its first seven months, the Narendra Modi government seems to have appropriated as its own several of the red letter days in the calendar. Just as Teachers’ Day on September 5 became Guru Utsav, Gandhi Jayanthi on October 2 was used to showcase Mr. Modi’s Clean India campaign. Indira Gandhi’s death anniversary on October 31 was observed as National Unity Day in commemoration of the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel, one of Mr. Modi’s heroes. Even the birthdays of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on November 14 and November 19 were sought to be turned into markers of his Clean India drive. 

Now, Christmas will be Good Governance Day, to mark the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mr. Modi takes centre stage no matter whose birth or death anniversary it is. Whether India needs to observe any one day as Good Governance Day is debatable, and whether it ought to be the birthday of Mr. Vajpayee even more so. The irony of marking a public holiday as Good Governance Day seems to have been lost on Mr. Modi and his Cabinet colleagues. Several Ministries have asked officers to attend programmes on December 25 as part of Good Governance Day. Schools have been asked to encourage participation in an essay competition to mark the day. Although participation is voluntary, entries for the online competition would be accepted only on December 25.

The infusion of new meaning into traditional public events and holidays seems to be a deeply political act, particularly in its show of insensitivity to the sentiments of minorities. If the Congress suspected an attempt to appropriate, or worse, undermine, its icons through government-sponsored activities, school authorities, especially managements of Christian minority institutions, are worried about having to help, even if only tangentially, with events on Christmas day. Given the ideological orientation of the BJP government, 

what could have passed off as innocuous events to ritually mark anniversaries have become politically contentious. Although participation in the essay competition is voluntary, and it is to be held online, the very fact that the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti not only asked officials to ensure that activities relating to Good Governance Day be held in all schools in their respective regions, but also demanded a consolidated report to be sent to the Samiti indicates the pressure on officials to ensure compliance. Holidays are declared for a purpose, but it is not the kind of political purpose the government seems to have in mind. Instead of stirring controversies, it is time the Modi government, especially the Ministry of Human Resource Development, thought more in terms of policies and programmes than in terms of anniversaries and competitions.

Modi Ushers in New Era for India

By Harsh V. Pant
December 23, 2014

An ambitious leader for an increasingly ambitious state. 
Narendra Modi’s rise to the office of Indian prime minister represents a decisive break from past politics. A challenge to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty – which has dominated the Indian political landscape for more than six decades – was long overdue; that it comes from Narendra Modi, an outsider to the entire New Delhi political establishment, makes it even more profound. The Indian political class has failed to match the aspirations of a rapidly changing India, and Narendra Modi has managed to fill that vacuum. Under Modi, India got its first genuinely center-right government.

One of the most talented politicians in the country, Modi has experienced a political rise that is nothing short of extraordinary. He received a resounding mandate from the Indian electorate, based largely on his agenda of good governance and economic development. The implications of that mandate are still being felt, not simply domestically in India where he has managed to change the political discourse considerably, but on the global stage where the Indian story has once again become attractive.

Economic Optimism

Only a few months ago India was described as the “most disappointing” of the BRIC nations. Its economic reform program had lost traction under a weak and inept government and the Indian rupee was one of the worst-performing currencies among emerging markets. Global credit rating agencies were threatening to downgrade India’s sovereign credit rating to junk if it failed to put its fiscal house in order. In early 2011, the Indian economy was expanding at more than 9 percent. The intervening years have been marked by a sharp slowdown, with growth dropping to 4.7 in the fiscal year that ended in March 2014. Today, the Indian stock market is booming, growth has surged and there is widespread optimism about India’s future. India is now the only one of the BRIC states expected to expand at a faster rate this year than last. More than $16 billion has been poured into Indian stocks this year alone. The Indian equity indices have outperformed other emerging markets so far this year as well. The rupee is currently the best-performing currency among major emerging markets. Not all of this is due to Modi’s policies, but a new government with a decisive mandate has altered global perceptions about India’s potential.

Modi has unveiled an ambitious policy agenda that aims to control inflation, build infrastructure, and speed up investments. India’s unpredictable and capricious tax system has been one of the most significant obstacles to investment. The UPA-II government tried to confiscate profits by making new tax regulations retroactive, which had a predictably dire impact on domestic and foreign investment. The Modi government has promised “rationalization and simplification of the tax regime to make it non-adversarial and conducive to investment, enterprise and growth.” In its first budget presented in July 2014, the new government focused on infrastructure development, streamlining of subsidies, and easing restrictions on foreign investment. Though it was seen as lacking in ambition, two aspects in particular – an increase in foreign investment in the insurance and defense sectors – have been widely welcomed.

Pakistan’s New Strategy to Beat the Taliban

The Peshawar massacre must mark a turning point in Pakistan's battle against Taliban militants 
Nearly a week after Pakistan’s worst-ever terrorist attack resulted in the death of 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar, the grief has turned to anger. As the Pakistan army pounds militant targets, the country’s politicians have achieved rare unity against the Taliban. For the first time, there are large protests outside mosques in Islamabad notorious for their pro-Taliban sympathies. 

None of this should be surprising. No society can remain unmoved by the mass slaughter of their most vulnerable. That message appears to have finally registered with horror-hardened Pakistanis in a way that hasn’t been the case these past several years. “We are not making any differentiation,” Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Defense Minister, said of the new approach. “All Taliban are bad Taliban.” 

But many are right to question the durability of this new resolve. After all, in the past, Pakistan has seen assassinations, massacres of minorities, attacks on high-profile installations, even the seizure of large territory. Each time, there would be a bout of public outrage that would inevitably dissipate. Old arguments about whether the Taliban should be confronted or negotiated with would be revived. 

Opinion: Pakistan’s Baffling Response to Terrorism

December 23, 2014

Pakistan’s Baffling Response to Extremism

Despite the grief and rage that followed the massacre of 148 students and their teachers by Taliban militants at an army-run school in Peshawar last week, Pakistan persists in its duplicitous and self-defeating response to the extremism that is threatening the country. Immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised that Pakistan would no longer distinguish between the “bad” Pakistani Taliban, which is seeking to bring down the Pakistani state, and other “good” Taliban groups that for years have been supported or exploited by Pakistan’s Army and intelligence service to attack India and wield influence in Afghanistan. What his words should mean is that Pakistan will no longer tolerate any extremists. But initial indications are not promising.

Just two days after the massacre, for instance, a Pakistani court granted bail to a militant commander accused of orchestrating the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people. The suspect, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the “good” Taliban groups that focuses on attacking India and has links to the Pakistani Army.

The decision does not mean that Mr. Lakhvi will be out of prison soon because the government can keep him in detention under a special legal provision, as it should. But it is a reminder of the absurdly slow pace of his trial, which began in 2009, and how Pakistan has failed to ensure justice for India, which it considers its chief enemy, and the victims and families of the Mumbai attacks.

Experts say that even in detention Mr. Lakhvi has been given considerable freedom and has continued to direct militant operations. Pakistani authorities got tough with Lashkar after Mumbai but have since allowed the group to re-establish itself. Its leader, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, lives in the city of Lahore even though the United States has offered $10 million for his arrest. And, on Friday, according to The Times’s Declan Walsh, Mr. Lakhvi’s brother-in-law gave a sermon at a mosque in Hyderabad that accused NATO of sending “terrorists disguised as Muslims” into Pakistan and then linked the Peshawar attack to India.

Many Indians expressed sympathy for the victims of the Peshawar massacre — a tragedy that should have been an opportunity for the two countries to find common cause against extremism. Instead, the granting of bail to Mr. Lakhvi drew shock and condemnation from India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who said he has protested strongly to Islamabad.

Since the massacre, the army has also intensified its bombing of militant strongholds in the lawless border near Afghanistan. While such action is necessary, it will never be enough to deal with the threat. Pakistanis cannot expect to fight some extremists and enable others, especially when there is considerable cooperation among the groups.

Taliban Fighters Returning to Helmand Province Districts Just Evacuated by U.S. and NATO Forces

Rod Nordland
December 23, 2014

Taliban Push Into Afghan Districts That U.S. Had Secured

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — In a large swath of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, government centers are facing a long-dormant concern this winter: Four years after the American troop surge helped make such places relatively secure, they are back under threat from the insurgents.

The fighting in Helmand Province in the south has been particularly deadly, with over 1,300 security force members killed between June and November. And the insurgents’ siege of several key districts has continued long after the traditional end of the fighting season.

It has been so bad that the 90-bed hospital for war wounded run in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, by the international aid group Emergency was still running nearly full in early December, according to Emanuele Nannini, the group’s coordinator. While the group keeps no statistics on how many of its patients are fighters, and treats all sides, a rough estimate is that half of the patients are Afghan police officers, from both national and local forces. Soldiers are treated in military hospitals, which do not divulge their statistics.

An X-ray showed a bullet lodged inside another child from Sangin District. The child was paralyzed from the chest down. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

“This year is much worse than previous years,” said Dr. Abdul Hamidi, a police colonel who is head of medical services for the national police in Helmand. “We’ve heard that the Quetta Shura has a big push to raise their flags over three districts by January, and has ordered their people to keep fighting until they do,” he said, referring to the exiled Taliban leadership council in Pakistan.

One of the differences is that this year, the American forces, and their close air support, have been almost completely absent from the field. And though the Afghan forces are holding on, for the most part, they are taking punishingly heavy losses.

The Taliban offensive in northern parts of Helmand Province began in earnest in June, after the last American troops pulled out of the area, and has continued at a fierce tempo.

The medical coordinator at the Emergency hospital in Lashkar Gah, Dimitra Giannakopoulou, said the facility had treated 1,952 war-related victims through the end of October; 940 of them were women and children, and most of the rest were likely combatants, she said.

Al Qaeda in Yemen Releases Video on How to Hide From CIA Drones

Oren Adaki
December 23, 2014

AQAP releases video on avoiding detection by drones

In a recent video released by the media wing of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the terrorist group provides detailed information to its fighters on methods of avoiding detection by drones. The 16-minute video, titled “Battling Espionage Planes - Camera,” is largely about the technologies employed by drones in detecting individuals and vehicles on the ground and provides instructions about how to disrupt such technologies.

The video begins with a lesson on two vision technologies used by drones, identified by AQAP as “natural vision” and “heat detection.” After a detailed explanation of heat signatures and detection, the video teaches its viewers how to create what AQAP calls an “insulation cover” that could shield fighters from detection. This “insulation cover” can be made from everyday household materials such as a tarp or canvas sheet, contact adhesive, aluminum foil, and a standard paintbrush.

AQAP explains that while this “insulation cover” can hide the body from infrared detection, a standard camera would still be able to see it. Therefore, AQAP suggests that this cover should match the natural terrain and color of the surrounding environment.

AQAP’s new video also provides directives regarding how to avoid detection from a drone technology using “natural vision.” Using Western documentary footage, including some from National Geographic, AQAP illustrates several methods of camouflage in various terrains — in high grass, forests, snow, small trees, and swamps. The video also suggests dyeing the aforementioned “insulation cover” with a color that matches the environment where it will be used.

After outlining the different methods of avoiding detection by both natural vision and heat detection, the video concludes that “combining heat insulation and camouflage completely disrupts the aircraft’s vision.” According to AQAP, the ideal technique is “disguised thermal insulation,” more or less a camouflaged version of the “insulation cover.” Alleged benefits of the camouflaged insulation cover include the following: it allows individuals using it to still move, albeit slowly; it uses the natural environment; and it is lightweight and easy to carry.

The final portion of the video addresses the issue of possible detection by a drone while driving a vehicle. AQAP recommends that its fighters not travel at all when drones are overhead, but if they must they should do so in “unknown cars.” Additionally, when traveling on long routes, fighters should stop intermittently for periods of time so as to confirm that they are not being monitored.

Limited by Poor Weaponry, Lack of Intelligence and No Air Support, Afghan Army Troops Struggle to Hold On to Territory

Sudarsan Raghavan
December 21, 2014

In a strategic valley, a glimpse of Afghan troops’ future after most U.S. forces leave

BABA, Afghanistan — Clutching M-16 rifles, the Afghan soldiers nervously stood watch on a sand-colored ridge next to a mud house blown apart by gunfire. A week earlier, their unit pushed out the Taliban from this village. Now, the insurgents were only a mile away, determined to recapture the territory. 

Every day, the 15 soldiers have felt the pressure — and their own limitations. 

“They are opening fire on us during the night, even just last night,” said Sgt. Mohammad Mirwais. “We are not enough to protect the village from the Taliban.” 

Since March, Mirwais’s Afghan army battalion has been steadily confronting the Taliban in the Chak Valley, southwest of the capital Kabul. Their performance has been a rare sliver of success in an unprecedented year of death and anguish for the country’s security forces. 

But even here, pushing back the insurgents is a grinding and treacherous task. The unit’s experience is a portent of how Afghanistan’s 13-year war could shape up in the months after the formal end of the U.S.-led combat mission. Beginning next year, Afghan forces will assume full sovereignty over security with the help of a much smaller — and restricted — NATO presence. 

In this valley, the Taliban have retreated only 18 miles since Afghan forces launched an operation nine months ago, and the insurgents still control a large area. No longer aided by U.S. forces and their air support, the Afghan battalion isstruggling to hold onto its gains on a landscape where front lines are blurred and the enemy melds into the terrain. The force grapples with shortages of manpower and equipment and a population that has little faith in its ability. 

Even as they proclaim success, Afghan commanders here in strategic Wardak province warn that the withdrawal of most American and international forces at the end of the month is premature. 

“From a military perspective, it’s too early for them to leave,” said Col. Sami Badakhshani, second in command of the Afghan army’s 4th Infantry Brigade. “We need more armored vehicles, more tanks. We need better training. . . . We don’t have enough soldiers to fill in the gap when the foreign troops leave.” 

The stakes are high. Whoever controls the Chak Valley could control the fate of the capital next year. The area flanks the Kabul-Kandahar highway, a key gateway to the city. Many of the roughly 13,000 U.S. and international troops that will remain after the drawdown will be based in Kabul. 

It may be hard to accept, but Pakistan won't help India on terror

23 December 2014 

The problem for India is that Pakistan is unable to deal with domestic terrorism, which is become more lethal - as the latest incident of the brutal killing of school children in Peshawar shows.

At the same time, it is unwilling to deal with terrorism from its soil directed at India and Afghanistan, because the groups involved are considered as strategic assets. 


The gut issue is that the groups nurtured by Pakistan to promote terrorist attacks against us are viewed as freedom fighters and not terrorists. If jihad is a religious obligation, then for Pakistan to treat jihadi groups as terrorist groups would be going against basic Islamic tenets. 

Despite the horrific Peshawar attack on schoolchildren, Pakistan is in no mood to bring terrorists to justice

A huge gap therefore exits in how we characterise anti-India jihadi groups in Pakistan, and how Pakistan sees them. 

China’s Prescription for ‘Improving Ethnic Work’

December 24, 2014

A new document from Beijing outlines a strategy for strengthening ethnic unity in China.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and State Council released a document designed to guide China’s ethnic policies in 2015 and beyond. The guidelines, titled “Opinions on Strengthening and Improving Ethnic Work in New Situations,” seek to solve the lasting puzzle of how to wholly integrate ethnic minorities into the Chinese state.

Topping Beijing’s list is fostering the development of both academics and officials from minority backgrounds. The issue of representation at the official level is especially sensitive as it speaks to the sense of disenfranchisement some ethnic minorities feel. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there have only been four non-Han officials appointed to the Politburo – and none have ever made it to the elite level of the Politburo Standing Committee. Currently, all members of the 25- member Politburo are of Han ethnicity.

Things are a bit better at the local level. The governors of ethnic autonomous areas are increasingly members of the local ethnic group. However, in practice ultimate provincial authority rests with the Party chief – and that position is traditionally reserved for Han officials. For example, the current governor of Tibet, Losang Gyaltsen, is Tibetan, and Xinjiang governor Nur Bekri is Uyghur. Yet the Party secretaries of both Tibet and Xinjiang are Han: Chen Quanguo and Zhang Chunxian, respectively.

The State Council document calls for a more concerted effort to train Party officials from minority groups. “Vigorously foster, audaciously select, fully trust and use officials from ethnically-diverse [backgrounds],” Xinhua quoted the document as saying. At the same time, though, it continues to call for “experienced Han officials” to help govern “ethnically-diverse regions.” Beijing wants to increase feelings of inclusion and participation among ethnic minorities, but not if it means sacrificing central control.

There’s a similar tension at play in the document’s call to promote the “cultivation of intellectuals,” from ethnic minorities. Beijing wants to encourage more high-profile ethnic minority representatives in academia – but only if they are careful to keep close to the Party line. It’s been less than a year, after all, since Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti was sentenced to life in prison on charges of separatism, largely because of his role in running a blog about Uyghurs.

The document attempts to address governance and policy issues as well, starting with the sensitive topic of language. Beijing reiterates that all officials, including those from minority groups, must learn Mandarin. However, the document also urges Han officials to learn the local dialects in use where they are stationed. As James Palmer noted for Foreign Policy, though, such well-meaning directives are often disregarded by local officials. “Han officials are encouraged by official directives to learn Uyghur, but, despite the availability of excellent Uyghur-Chinese textbooks, it is rare for any of them to make it past the level of ‘Hello,’” Palmer writes.

The New Cold War in the Air: Aerial Incidents Involving Russian and Chinese Warplanes Have Risen Dramatically

December 23, 2014

From Baltic to Asia, East-West aerial confrontations heat up

From the skies of the Baltic to the South China Sea, a new era of confrontation with Russia and China is pitting U.S. and allied pilots against their counterparts on a scale not seen since the Cold War era.

It is, current and former officials say, a major shift for air crews who by and large have spent more than a decade flying largely uncontested missions over Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lying behind the aerial sabre-rattling are high tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s perceived role in Ukraine’s separatist conflict.

And China, as it builds up its military on the back of economic growth, has become more assertive over multiple maritime boundary rows with neighbors, some of them allied by treaty with the United States.

With Sweden complaining that a Russian military aircraft nearly hit a civilian airliner, the risk of an accident, perhaps even of conflict, is on the rise.

In August, a U.S. reconnaissance plane and Chinese fighter jet had their own near miss over the South China Sea, while Chinese and Japanese fighter pilots increasingly spar over disputed islands.

"There’s been a very significant escalation, particularly in the last year," says Christopher Harmer, a former U.S. Navy pilot and now senior fellow at the Institute for Study of War in Washington. "These incidents are now happening on a scale we have not seen in 25 years."

The shooting last July down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, where government forces have been fighting pro-Russian separatist rebels, was a reminder of the dangers to civil aircraft flying over contested air space.

NATO said earlier this month that its jets had scrambled more than 400 times this year as Russian air force jets approached its air space, twice the level from 2013.

Baltic and Nordic countries in particular - all members of NATO or the European Union or both - have reported increased Russian air force activity.

Both Sweden and Denmark summoned the Russian ambassadors to complain about the near miss near southern Sweden.

"It’s not only the question of increased flights… but the way they are conducting them," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Monday.

Russian aircraft, he said, are not registering with air traffic control, filing flight plans or activating their transponders, a communications instrument that makes it easier for an aircraft in flight to be located.

China Has 10 Separate and Distinct Special Forces Units

December 21, 2014
The PLA’s special forces: secrets revealed

Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army’s special operations forces undergo training. 

China’s state media has recently confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army, the largest military force in the world, has 10 major special operations forces, each with its own unique characteristics and code names.

The 10 special force teams hail from each of the PLA’s seven military regions and commando teams from the PLA Navy, Air Force and Chinese People’s Armed Police Forces.

"Siberian Tiger" is the name of the special forces from the PLA’s Shenyang Military Region, capable of completing missions on the ground and in the air and water, as well as surviving in the wilderness alone or in small groups. The unit is said to place special focus on survival skills, often breaking protocols by increasing this training in this area by an additional two-thirds, forcing soldiers to spend three to four months in difficult environments such as forests, mountains, deserts and grasslands with no man-made shelter or food. Soldiers in the squad are trained across multiple transport vehicles for roads, railroads, waterways and in the air, and have reportedly completed completed parachute landings more than 5,000 times and logged scuba diving trainings at more than 1,000 hours.

"Arrow," formerly known as "Divine Sword," is the special forces of the Beijing Military Region. This elite unit tasked with protecting the capital contains 3,000 soldiers, each of whom is adept at a wide range of tasks ranging from battlefield reconnaisance to anti-terrorism. Every soldier from this unit must be able to run five kilometers bearing heavy equipment in under 25 minutes, complete a 400-meter obstacle course in under one minute and 45 seconds, throw several hundred grenades over at least 50 meters each time, and perform 100 push-ups in a minute.

The special forces of the Lanzhou Military Region is the “Night Tiger,” which has a long and illustrious history with its origins dating back to World War II. It is also home of China’s first counter-terrorism unit, established in 2000.

China’s Big Diplomacy Shift

By Timothy Heath
December 22, 2014

China signals a change in priorities, raising the risk of tension with the developed world. 

China’s decision to elevate in priority its relationship with its neighbors over that with the United States and other great powers, confirmed at the recently concluded Central Work Conference on Foreign Relations, heralds a major shift in its diplomacy. The decision reflects Beijing’s assessment that relations with countries in Asia and with rising powers will grow more important role in facilitating the nation’s revitalization than relations with the developed world. This suggests that over time, China may grow even less tolerant of Western interference in PRC interests and more confident in consolidating control of its core interests and pressing demands to reform the international order. Washington may need to step up coordination with its Asian partners to encourage Chinese behavior that upholds, rather than challenges, the principle tenets of the international order.

“General Framework for Foreign Relations”

At the Central Work Conference, Xi Jinping changed the order of the general framework for foreign relations (zongti waijiao buju). The general framework is a simple, but authoritative, list of broad categories of countries. It provides the conceptual schema upon which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hangs general instructions on how to approach foreign policy. In itself, the general framework says very little about how to conduct foreign policy. It does, however, provide one important clue- the list’s order has long been understood to suggest a sense of priority, especially in the reform era. Relations with country types at the top of the list, in other words, are understood to have a stronger bearing on China’s prospects than those at the bottom of the list. The general framework frames virtually all official analyses, documents, and policy directives related to diplomacy. This schema thus provides a simple, easily identifiable layout to help officials and bureaucrats prioritize foreign policy work and interpret directives from central leaders.

The order of the framework has remained consistent, having undergone changes only a few times since the PRC’s founding. In its original revolutionary incarnation, Mao proposed a framework of “first world, second world, and third world,” which referred to the capitalist, communist, and developing worlds. At the start of reform and opening up, Deng redefined this framework to “great powers (daguo), neighboring countries (zhoubian – also called the “periphery”), and “developing countries” (fazhan zhong de guojia). The only change since 1979 has been the addition of new categories. Jiang Zemin added “multilateral organizations,” by the time of the 16th Party Congress in 2002. Hu added “domains” (lingyu) or “public diplomacy” a few years later, as can be seen in the 18th Party Congress report.

Thus, the general framework as of 2012 consisted of: great powers (understood to include principally the United States, EU, Japan, and Russia), periphery (all countries along China’s borders), developing countries (all lower income countries in the world, including China), multilateral organizations (UN, APEC, ASEAN, etc.), and public diplomacy. The simple set up does invite some confusion, as some countries can appear in more than one category. Poor Asian countries like Cambodia, for example, are regarded as part of both the periphery and developing world. Nevertheless, the framework remains widely in use.

An example of how PRC officials organize directives on foreign policy to fit the general framework can be seen in the 18th Party Congress report. It called for policy work towards great powers to “establish long term, stable, and healthy new type great power relationships.” For the periphery, the report stated China should “consolidate good neighborly and friendly relations.” For developing countries, the report called for supporting their “representation and voice” in international affairs. The report called on China to adjust policy towards multilateral organizations to “advance the development of an international order and system in a just and reasonable direction.” For public diplomacy, China should “promote people to people exchanges and protect China’s rights and interests overseas.”

Elevation of the Periphery, Downgrading of Great Powers

In 2013, new developments suggested that major changes were afoot. Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated in September 2013, that the periphery had become the “priority direction” (youxian fangxiang) for foreign relations work. A month later, the Central Committee held an unprecedented Central Work Forum on Diplomacy to the Periphery to review policy towards countries on the periphery. Xinhua highlighted appropriate policy changes at the start of 2014 and Xi Jinping listed the periphery first when he outlined guidance in the format of the general framework at the recently concluded Central Work Conference on Foreign Relations.

ISIS Closing in on Israel from the North and the South

December 23, 2014

The war against ISIS is taking a dangerous, perhaps inevitable turn. The terror organization has been keen to expand to southern Syria and the Syrian capital of Damascus. Now it says it has recruited three Syrian rebel groups operating in the south of the country in an area bordering the Israeli occupied Golan Heights — that haveswitched their loyalties to ISIS.

This switch means that Israel, the U.S.’s closest ally in the Middle East, could be threatened from the southwest by the Egyptian ISIS group of Ansar Bait al-Maqdis in Sinai and by ISIS in southern Syria.

The ISIS war is not going well at all for the US-led alliance in Syria. ISIS and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, are still the dominant rebel groups in the country. The U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army is still not a reliable fighting force.

The three rebel groups that just joined ISIS could make that situation even worse. Two of the groups are small in number, but the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade has hundreds of fighters. The Yarmouk Brigades has been at odds with al-Nusra Front and switched now to join what leaders of all thrwee groups believe is the future of Islam.

“If Israel was attacked by ISIS, America would expect a proportionate response by Israel, which is militarily capable of defending itself,” said Geoffrey Levin, a professor at New York University. “America would counsel against sustained Israeli involvement because it could threaten the tacit alliance between America, Iran, Turkey, and several Arab states against ISIS.”

“More recent reports indicated a closer alliance with [the Islamic State] due to tensions with JN [al-Nusra Front],” said Jasmine Opperman, a researcher at Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC). She said al-Nusra attacked the headquarters of the Yarmouk Brigade in southern Syria in early December 2014 following clashes between the two groups.

Al-Yarmuk Martyrs Brigade controlled an area near the Jordan-Israel border in March 2013. That same month, the brigade took as hostages some of the United Nations peacekeeping mission soldiers. Even so, Israel reportedly allowed the brigade to have its wounded fighters treated in Israeli hospitals.

ISIS has been known for launching surprise attacks and opening new battlefronts when it seems to be losing. ISIS also has been criticized by many Arabs and Muslims for not taking its fight to Israel and instead fighting fellow Arabs and Muslims. An attack aimed at Israel may boost ISIS’s popularity in the Arab world and refresh its recruitment and funding efforts.

On the other hand, some of ISIS’s top military commanders were former officers in Saddam Hussein’s army, and they may resort to what Saddam did in the 1991 Gulf War when he attacked Israel with mid-range rockets, hoping to drag the Israelis into a conflict that he was losing.

An Israeli retaliation in 1991 could have jeopardized the U.S-led coalition that then included Arab countries like Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia. The same is true now.


Despite some recent tensions between the countries, Israel remains America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Attacks on Israel by ISIS or affiliated groups could further escalate war in the region, or they could further strain ties between the Obama administration and the Israeli government.

“It would be more likely a sign of desperation, as were Saddam's attempts to lure Israel into the 1991 war as a way of breaking the Arab coalition against him,” said NYU’s Levin. At that time, continuous pressure from the first Bush administration and the installation of the Patriot anti-rocket system convinced the Israelis to refrain from reacting to Saddam’s attack.

ISIS Launches Counterattack in Renewed Effort to Capture Bayji Refinery in Iraq

December 23, 2014

IS Militants Return to Outskirts of Strategic Iraqi Town

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi official says Islamic State militants have returned to the outskirts of a strategic oil refinery town after being driven out last month.

Gov. Raed Ibrahim of the Salahuddin province says the militants fought their way to the edge of Beiji on Tuesday after three days of heavy clashes. He says they were able to advance because Iraqi troops lack heavy weapons.

The militants captured Beiji and besieged its refinery — the country’s largest — during their rapid advance across Iraq last summer. Iraqi forces wrested the town back in mid-November in one of their biggest victories to date against the insurgents. The refinery is some 20 kilometers (15 miles) north of town.

Rethinking Our Strategy in Iraq and Syria

December 22, 2014

Rethinking Our Strategy in Iraq and Syria

The war against the self-styled Islamic State is beginning to look more and more like the late, unlamented war in Vietnam. The Obama administration has placed self-imposed limitations on the use of ground forces, thereby creating the kind of sanctuary that North Viet Nam represented from 1963-75. Like President Johnson, Barak Obama had pledged no ground troops, but eventually sent in “advisors” and “defensive forces” to protect the advisors bases as well as the aircraft that were supporting the host nation government’s forces who were supposed to be doing the actual fighting; albeit poorly. This looks exactly like the Vietnam War in 1964-65 that I remember watching on TV and reading about in high school.

Since the Ivy League schools that produced the Obama Administration’s brain trust no longer require the serious study of history, the people who are planning the war effort don’t see the irony. It will take local political solutions to stabilize Syria and Iraq, but those political solutions will not happen until the conventional military power of the Islamic State is destroyed; that can be done in 3-4 months if we apply US-led western military forces in an overwhelming punitive campaign, to include ground forces, to crush the Islamic State’s army.

There are also two unexamined assumptions driving the current strategy. Both of these are rooted in Vietnam, a war that few in the administration seem to have seriously studied. The first is that there are no military solutions. The reality is that the Vietnam War ended with a tank-led conventional invasion of South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese. The end in Vietnam was a purely military solution; it was not a guerilla triumph. The unification of Vietnam under Communist rule was a strategy that Ho Chi Minh pursued relentlessly from 1945 to 1975; he vowed to use both military and political means, and he did so brilliantly. The romantic guerilla myth was perpetuated by aging American liberals, most of whom worked hard in their youth to stay as far away from Vietnam as possible; most of these arm chair revolutionaries learned to worship Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara , and Chairman Mao in college as somehow being morally superior to American the American military as they saw it.

The second myth is that foreign ground intervention is always bad. In Vietnam, American intervention stymied North Vietnamese ambitions for a decade and built a South Vietnamese counterinsurgency capability that virtually annihilated the Viet Cong. By the early seventies, the only Viet Cong fighting formations were those that were effective manned by North Vietnamese regulars who traded their uniforms for Viet Cong black pajamas. The North Vietnamese felt comfortable with a conventional invasion in 1975 because they knew that the 1974 class of Democrats, who dominated the Congress, would not allow the United States to intervene; the war in Vietnam was settled by the use of naked conventional force made possible by the withdrawal of foreign forces.

If we strip away those myths regarding intervention and the utility of military force, we can develop a strategy that will destroy the Islamic State’s occupation of the lands that it currently controls. This would allow room for political solutions to be devised by Iraqis and Syrians. A political solution is not possible if jihadist foreign fighters remain embedded in either country. It will take a temporary western foreign intervention to eliminate the malignant influence of the equally foreign jihadist infestation.

End State. A strategic end state is what we want the world to look like after the fighting stops. It almost always gets neglected in the rush to “do something” in the midst of a crisis. It generally requires a compromise between an ideal outcome and the art of the possible. To date, no-one has offered a coherent vision of what we want Iraq and Syria to look like under the present strategy. What we have now is a series of hastily cobbled together crisis response measures bundled under the rubric of strategy. If you don’t have a clear end-state vision, you don’t have a strategy.

In the best of all possible worlds, an Ideal end state would be a democratic Syria and Iraq free of Assad and the Jihadist factions, but particularly the Islamic State. That may happen someday; but probably not in the lifetime of anyone reading this piece given our current strategic approach. The administration is kicking the can down the road to 2016 in the hopes that Mr. Obama does not become remembered as the president who lost the Middle East. That is not an end state, it is a political platform plank.

Bringing Down the Castros for Good

December 23, 2014

Last week's blockbuster announcement from President Barack Obama that the United States will liberalize relations with Cuba has drawn passionate reactions. The New York Times cheered a "bold move that [will end] one of the most misguided chapters in American foreign policy," while Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban émigrés, thundered that the deal "won't lead to freedom and liberty for the Cuban people, which is my sole interest here." 

The senator went further. "Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we've had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the modern history of the country," said the likely presidential contender late last weekend. To be sure, there's a strong case, to back Senator Rubio's assertion. President Obama is essentially giving away the store for nothing: The United States will restore diplomatic relations and - crucially - ramp up economic relations between the two countries, without demanding fundamental changes to Cuba's political or economic system in return. (Indeed, shortly after President Obama's announcement, Cuban President Raul Castro reaffirmed that his country will, alas, remain communist.) In this sense, as others have pointed out, President Obama has set a troubling precedent for negotiations with the likes of North Korea, the Taliban, and especially Iran.

Yet Cuba's case stands alone. For one, it's been a long time since the dilapidated Caribbean nation, set 90 miles south of the United States, has presented any threat to the United States or her allies. And there are several reasons to think that increased contact between the United States and Cuba could in fact spur the downfall of the odious Havana regime. Senator Rubio, then, may be quite wrong.

For starters, the Castros will have a hard time now blaming the U.S. embargo for Cuba's myriad failures. Cuba's per capita GDP stands at a pitiful $6,000 a year. Why? Blame the American embargo, of course, says the Castro regime - pay no mind to the failures of Cuban socialism. Ditto for Cuba's crumbling buildings and its unreliable electricity supply - all of this can be conveniently blamed on Washington with its dastardly embargo. Even today, more than 50 years after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba's official state-run media fulminates against a U.S. government that it claims is conspiring to overthrow the regime and turn Cuba into a vassal state. Now that President Obama has moved to relax the embargo, the Castro dictatorship will lose its favorite excuse for failure.

It's also easy to imagine that as soon as Cuban workers in hotels, restaurants, and transportation services come in contact with corpulent American tourists touting iPads, iPhones, and fat wallets stuffed with U.S. dollars, they will quickly tire of the socialist system they labor under. It's difficult to imagine a sclerotic Havana regime surviving a torrent of greenbacks. (Indeed, that is why Pyongyang keeps its few foreign tourists on such a tight leash - North Korea doesn't want its citizens to see how people in other countries live.) Communist dictatorships only survive as long as the people living under them remain ignorant of how the rest of the world gets on. As Republican Senator Rand Paul, who supports relaxing the embargo, put it in an op-ed in Time, "once trade is enhanced with Cuba, it will be impossible to hide the bounty that freedom provides." Thus, Havana either must open up its economy, like China did, or risk collapsing like the Soviet Union. Either outcome would be a happy one for Washington and would represent a serious improvement over current conditions.

France’s Born-Again Proliferation Beliefs Ring Hollow

By Yousaf Butt
December 24, 2014

How to explain French obstructionism on Iran? Look to its lucrative regional trade agreements with Gulf Arab monarchies. 

Having failed to reach an agreement last month, Tehran and the P5+1 world powers – the five UN Security Council members plus Germany – decided to kick the can down the road, setting a new “final final” deadline of July 1, 2015. They all met again last week in Geneva for yet more jaw-jaw but there is little prospect of an immediate breakthrough. While the hardliners in Congress and in Iran are painted as the main impediments to a deal, there is another issue simmering below the surface: the French are reported to be out-hawking Washington on proliferation concerns by throwing up impulsive Gallic objections to an agreement. This is a decidedly odd stance for Paris to take. The real reason probably has less to do with France’s born-again proliferation beliefs than good old greed for lucrative Gulf-Arab defense and nuclear contracts.

For starters, France is itself a latecomer to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), not acceding until 1992 – a full 24 years after the NPT was opened for signature. (Iran, in contrast, was one of the original founding signatories.) Before 1992 – and even since then – France has had a poor proliferation record so its high-and-mighty attitude at the Iran talks has raised more than a few eyebrows.

During the 1960s and 70s, France supplied nuclear reactors, manpower and technology to Israel and Iraq: the now-infamous Dimona and Osirak reactors were sold by the French. France also supplied Iraq with the highly enriched uranium fuel used to power the Osirak reactor and resisted calls to modify the fuel to lower-enrichment. And both Pakistan and India got invaluable French help in developing their nuclear programs – even in the face of well-founded suspicions that these countries may be weaponizing. In the late 1970s, Paris finally had to be strong-armed by the Carter administration not to export a large reprocessing plant to Pakistan. France continued to assist India’s nuclear efforts though, even after New Delhi exploded its first nuclear device in 1974.

Even during the 2000,s Paris negotiated several nuclear cooperation agreements with fledgling nuclear states such as Libya, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and the UAE. And Paris penned revised nuclear contracts with India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Though there is nothing illegal per se about such nuclear assistance – indeed, the NPT mandates that the nuclear-armed states help the non-weapons states with their civil nuclear programs – it does show that over the decades France has been happy to spread nuclear technology worldwide. (Incidentally, a revamped “NPT 2.0” I’ve proposed may help to tamp down the proliferation that the NPT actually promotes.)

The main reason behind French proliferation of nuclear technology has been – and still is – money. The French multinational Areva is the world’s largest nuclear company and the French state holds a whopping 87 percent stake in the enterprise. Areva made about a $1.3 billion profit last year on roughly $13 billion revenue. Similarly, Electricite de France (EDF) is the world’s largest producer of electricity and the state retains an 85 percent share in that company also. More than 80 percent of EDF’s electricity is generated from nuclear power. EDF’s profit and revenue numbers are comparable to Areva’s. Safe to say, France is heavily vested in its nuclear power sector and stands to gain huge profits by promoting it worldwide.