3 January 2015

India lost 66 wild tigers in 2014

Ignatius Pereira
January 3, 2015

Tamil Nadu with 15 had the highest number of deaths

: Sixty-six wild tiger deaths were reported in the country in 2014. Two tiger deaths occurred on the last day of the year. It was the only day in 2014 when two wild tiger deaths were reported. One was at Bandipur in Karnataka and the other at Tadoba Andhari in Maharashtra.

As per statistics provided by Tigernet, the official database of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, the highest number of wild tiger deaths was reported from the forests of Tamil Nadu —15, followed by Madhya Pradesh —14. Six of the deaths in Tamil Nadu were from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.

The majority of wild tiger deaths was caused by poaching. The data do not give a clear figure on the number of tigers killed by poachers, but it is estimated that about 50 tigers could have been killed in this manner.

Of the 66 deaths, only one death was due to natural causes — reported from the Valmiki Tiger Reserve, Bihar. Fights between tigers, possibly for territory control, caused three deaths.

Two tigers, suspected to be man-eaters, were shot dead by police personnel. One was near Udhagamandalam on January 23 and the other near Chandrapur in Maharashtra on July 19

In the Valmiki Tiger Reserve, one cub was found dead. Wild tiger deaths were also reported from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka and Uttarakhand. Thirty-two deaths were reported in the first six months of the year.

The highest number of deaths was in December — 10. Wild tiger deaths had taken place during all months of the year. The first tiger death of the year was reported from the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra on January 10.

During the year, 12 cases of seizure of tiger parts were registered. This included seizure of seven tiger skins. While three tiger skins were seized from Maharashtra, two were seized from Andhra Pradesh and one each from Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

In 2013, the number of wild tiger deaths was 63 and the highest number was reported from the forests of Karnataka —16, followed by Maharashtra, 9.

In 2014, Karnataka accounted for seven wild tiger deaths. In 2013, only one wild tiger death was reported from Tamil Nadu.

Speaking truth to power

Peter Ronald deSouza
January 3, 2015

When an eminent public intellectual like Amartya Sen speaks, the legitimacy of the government stands either diminished or enhanced. In his criticism, he initiates a new public discussion we can draw upon. In his certificate of achievement, opposing voices lose courage. Disquiet now has to climb a higher mountain to be heard

Professor Amartya Sen is probably the most renowned Indian intellectual anywhere today. His contribution to development thinking has been seminal and his work on moral philosophy, within the analytic tradition, stands among the very best. Books such as On Ethics and Economics, Development as Freedom, and his Introduction to Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, along with his extensive articles on rational choice and human capability, show his ability to bridge disciplines and, in the process, foreground important issues about the nature of what Malraux called the “Human Estate.” He deservedly enjoys a place among the most innovative and influential thinkers of the last 50 years. These stellar qualities of mind, and of public engagement, earned him the Mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Thomas W. Lamont professorship, and professorship of economics and philosophy at Harvard, the Bharat Ratna, and the Nobel Prize in Economics. His fine distinction between “beings” and “functionings,” as key components of the idea of human development has given us, at just the right level of abstraction, crucial conceptual pegs by which to assess the working of Indian democracy. Prof. Sen has written extensively on India.

Views on Modi

With this formidable reputation it is no wonder that the questions asked of him at the “Express Adda,” transcribed and posted on the web on December 22, 2014, were so tame. While most of what he said has been said before and has become part of our commonsense, one statement, which has several parts, was new and calls for our critical engagement. It concerns his view on the current Prime Minister. I quote: “One of the things that Mr. Modi did do is to give people a sense of faith that things can happen. It may not have been exactly the things that I would have liked but I think this is an achievement. This wouldn’t make my differences with Mr. Modi on issues like secularism go away but, on the other hand, if we don’t recognize it, we’re missing out on something very important.” The paper headlined the above statement. They too thought it was the key statement of the Adda.

Everywhere the foreign hand

Written by Khaled Ahmed
January 3, 2015 

The Muslim world is in the grip of the “foreign hand”, which usually means America. The current myth is that the Islamic State (IS), by killing Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria, is actually working for the Americans because “it is a creation of America”. In Pakistan, add India. Or better still, tag Israel too. At times, it is amazing how inspectors general of police will insist on the “foreign hand”, even after the Taliban has owned up to a big hit. The message behind their insistence is that the Taliban is actually an agent of America, India and Israel. Hafiz Saeed has recently used this device; only this time, no one in Pakistan is prepared to listen.

There is a deeply psychological reason behind this, and it is pure collective psychosis. The idea is to demonise the terrorists and, for that, take recourse to textbook demonology. India and Israel are a permanent fixture, but the addition of America — after the “double-faced” Afghan policy adopted by Pakistan in recent years — is yet another useful mental trapeze act.

Pakistan must be morally tormented while including America among its villains. It is collecting over a billion dollars yearly as its partner against terrorism. You can’t pocket someone’s money and call them a villain. But there is an escape hatch here too. America is the villain at the level of the global Muslim community.

The new rhetoric goes like this: Pakistanis must pay psychologically for getting cosy with the patron of Israel, which has caused

so much suffering to Muslims. America bails Israel out each time it is in trouble with its Muslim neighbours. And, there is that dreadful Jewish lobby that actually rules America! But here there is yet another escape hatch. If America doles out dough to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia helps when we don’t have money to pay for oil. So, if our conscience needs a poultice of complex justification, there is the Guardian of the Holy Places, which can’t be wrong, leaning on America to save its neck from Iran. We are useful in Bahrain, where the Americans have their fleet.

Pakistan boat explosion: Little evidence of ‘terror’ link, may have been petty smugglers

Praveen Swami
January 2, 2015
Source Link

An aerial view of the fishing boat carrying explosives before being intercepted by Indian Coast Guard approximately 365 km off Porbander in Gujarat, on Wednesday. The boat eventually drowned after being set on fire by crew members.

Less than 48 hours after the Pakistani fishing boat laden with explosives blows up near Indian coast” target=”_blank”>Coast Guard destroyed a boat it suspected was ferrying explosives and terrorists from Pakistan into Indian waters, new evidence has begun to emerge that the victims of the operation might have been small-time liquor and diesel smugglers, ferrying bootleg cargo from the port of Gwadar to other fishing boats which were to have carried it into Karachi’s Keti Bandar harbour.

There is also a suggestion of use of disproportionate force since the fishing boat did not have an engine capable of outrunning Indian interceptors.

In a press release, the Ministry of Defence said that “as per the intelligence inputs received on 31st December, a fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was planning some illicit transaction in Arabian Sea”.

Highly-placed government sources, however, said the intelligence had no link to terrorism, and made no reference to any threat to India. Instead, the sources said, the National Technical Research Organisation had intercepted mobile phone traffic involving small-time smugglers operating out of the fishing port of Keti Bandar, near Karachi.

Nuclear logjam: India, U.S. to work on new proposals

January 3

Revised insurance scheme to reduce suppliers’ risk

Indian and U.S. officials are expected to meet in Delhi next week to discuss two proposals made by India to clear the nuclear logjam, with an added push coming from U.S. President Obama’s impending visit on January 24.

The Hindu has learnt that the proposals were put forward during the first contact group meeting on civil nuclear issues held on December 16-17 that had been tasked by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi with finding a way around U.S. objections to India’s supplier liability law.

According to one official present at the meeting, India put up a revised proposal of an “insurance pool” using General Insurance Company (GIC) to alleviate the risk to U.S. suppliers. An earlier proposal had been made during the UPA government’s tenure in March 2014, but had been rejected. Officials say the new offer would include a pool of GIC, New India Assurance, Oriental Insurance, National Insurance and United India, that would generate a risk cover of about $242 million.

A second proposal, that U.S. officials have taken back to discuss with lawyers and representatives of American companies GE-Hitachi and Westinghouse, would entail a “clarification of Section 46” of the law that has been described as “vague” . At present, Section 46 says that nothing in the law will “exempt the operator from any proceeding which might, apart from the act, be instituted against the operator.” This has been read to mean that U.S. suppliers could face tort claims, that is, be sued by victims of an accident where the nuclear parts are deemed faulty. U.S. officials will bring both proposals back to Delhi next week.


By Dr Subhash Kapila

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 30, 2014.

India’s foreign policy hit a new and welcome high in mid-2014 with assumption of power by Prime Minister Modi. India’s foreign policy directions stood jump-started and assumed dynamic directions after the paralysis of a decade.

Significantly and unprecedentedly, India with the assumption of political leadership by Prime Minister Narendra Modi suddenly surged in the global strategic consciousness. Within six months India would have hosted global leaders from Russia, China and the United States besides the Prime Minister’s highly successful and strategically substantial visits to Japan and Australia.

Such recognition of India was generated by the global leadership’s assessment that India under Prime Minister Modi’s personal leadership would henceforth be expected to be more dynamic and decisive in the pursuance of both its foreign policies and economic policies.

Foreign policy assessments of a country’s potential by global powers essentially rest on two factors. Political leadership of a country and its capacity for dynamic and decisive pursuance of policies is the most crucial factor. The second factor is the magnitude of domestic political support that a country vests in its political leader along with the attendant faith that a nation puts in a leader that he is capable of leading them to a bright future.

On both counts above Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored high even before he assumed the office of Prime Minister. International recognition of India therefore was not long on coming and on Modi’s credentials it was ready to invest in India’s future.

Why 2015 will be the year of India’s next technology revolution

By Vivek Wadhwa 
December 31, 2014 

The multibillion-dollar valuations of India’s new tech stars, Flipkart and Snapdeal, are no pricing bubble, but a signal that the country’s technology boom has begun. The next five years will see a flurry of technology innovation that will transform India as much as cellphones have over the past 15 years. This will be enabled by the availability of low-cost smartphones, the digital identity that India’s Aadhar project has provided to hundreds of millions of people who lacked any documentation, and a host of exponential technology advances. A billion Indians will be joining the global economy during this decade.

There is a lot for Indian entrepreneurs to learn from Silicon Valley. But the bigger opportunities are for them to leapfrog it by solving the problems of the many rather than of the few. The same infrastructure lacuna that enabled India to create Aadhaar — lack of all technological legacy to have to worry about — offers it an opportunity to implement changes unarguably for the public good and to show the world how to create an entirely new digital infrastructure in areas such as the following:

Electronic commerce: Flipkart and Snapdeal have largely focused on consumer products for the well-to-do. The real market opportunity is to address the needs of the people who will soon be coming online. New marketplaces need to be built for artisans in villages so they can design and create custom crafts for customers worldwide; apps are needed by which fruit sellers, sweet shops and restaurants can showcase their products and take orders from neighborhood customers; local merchants need the tools with which to provide the same types of one-hour delivery services that Amazon and Google are launching in American cities.

India Could Still Be a Manufacturing Powerhouse

DECEMBER 31, 2014 

But can Prime Minister Narendra Modi get his “Make in India” campaign off the ground? 
Rupa Subramanya is a Mumbai-based economist and co-author of Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India. Follow her on Twitter: @rupasubramanya. 

Can India become a manufacturing powerhouse? Its new Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly hopes so. Though his country has lately made its name by producing services rather than goods, Modi sees a Chinese path to prosperity for his compatriots. He’s on the right road and saying the right things, but can he walk the talk?

In September 2014, when Modi announced the “Make in India” campaign, many economists, policy analysts, and commentators cheered. Manufacturing is an easier way to create jobs en masse than services, since it requires little in the way of formal education or direct contact with foreign consumers. The campaign is supposed to increase manufacturing’s share of the economy by encouraging domestic and foreign investors to set up operations in the country, whether for export or for the domestic market.

It will not be an easy goal to achieve. One of the peculiar features of India’s economy recently has been the stagnation of manufacturing’s share of gross domestic product at roughly 15 percent — while the share of services has grown. In a large, labor-abundant economy, this is unusual. Basic economics and historical experience suggest that with low wages and a huge workforce, manufacturing should have taken off.

This, after all, was the secret to China’s success. When Beijing liberalized its economy in the late 1970s and began to grow rapidly, the success came from large-scale, labor-intensive manufacturing — as it did for Japan and East Asia’s other miracle economies.

Somehow, India took a detour. Now, getting back on track is a political imperative for Modi. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition allies, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), swept to power in a landslide victory in general elections in May, ousting the two-term incumbent, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition led by the Congress Party. Economic development was one of the centerpieces of his campaign, so it made sense that a shift toward manufacturing — with its unmatched capacity for creating jobs — would be one of his government’s highest priorities.

Modi’s political reality doesn’t change India’s economic reality, however.

Lashkar-e-Zil: Al-Qaeda’s ‘Shock and Awe’ Force

December 5, 2014 

Ilyas Kashmiri, the former head of Lashkar-e-Zil who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011 

One effect of the rise of the Islamic State organization is that its rival al-Qaeda has had to try harder to attract global attention, funding, and recruits. The establishment of a new al-Qaeda branch, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is one major step taken by the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to retake the initiative from the Islamic State organization. This is likely to involve reinvigorating al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, also with slightly more focus on operations in India. As part of this, al-Qaeda’s elite unit, Lashkar-e-Zil (Shadow Army, LeZ), is likely to play a key role.

Prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda had trained its own version of a special forces unit, known as Brigade-055, at a specialized facility at Rishikor near Kabul. This comprised hard core jihadists from many places around the world, including Chechnya, Uzbekistan, China, Pakistan, Europe, North America and Algeria. After the U.S. invasion and relocating to the relative sanctuary of Pakistan’s tribal areas, a top priority for al-Qaeda was to revive Brigade-055 with fresh blood. Al-Qaeda was at the same time recruiting thousands of Pakistanis from radical Islamist groups based in Pakistan and the hundreds of them immediately moved to the tribal areas. Many of these individuals often already had some fighting experience alongside Kashmiri Islamist organizations and militant sectarian groups based in Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) and Jaysh-e-Muhammad in particular provided new recruits for al-Qaeda. In this promising environment, al-Qaeda leadership’s decided to establish LeZ in 2002 as a mainly-Pakistani “shock and awe” force to replace Brigade 055. [1]

Despite the fact that most of the volunteers hailed from Pakistani Islamist groups, Lashkar-e-Zil was initially led by Khalid Habib, an Egyptian, until his death in 2008 in a CIA drone strike near his base in North Waziristan. Abdullah Saeed al-Libi then assumed charge of the group until his death, once again in a U.S. drone strike, in December 2009. The leadership then went to Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of Harkat-ul Jihad-e-Islami and its sub-group Brigade 313, both originally active in the Indian Kashmir Islamist insurgency. Kashmiri, who was to prove LeZ’s most active and dynamic commander, died in a U.S. drone strike in June 2011 (The News [Islamabad], December 3, 2012). The last known commander of LeZ was Mustafa Abu Yazid who was killed in July in a drone strike in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan (The News [Islamabad], July 22). Because of the repeated killings of LeZ commanders by U.S. drone strikes, the identity of new commander has not yet been disclosed by al-Qaeda.

How China Sees World War I

January 1, 2015

Why it might not be wise to dismiss the idea of a “new type of great power relations” just yet. 

Over the course of 2015, readers can look forward to ever more commemorations of such crucial events from the Great War as the infamous sinking of the liner Lusitania, not to mention the unfolding of the bold and bloody, but ultimately bungled Gallipoli campaign. From the perspective of Asia-Pacific security, the last year of sober reflection on the cataclysmic First World War has been quite useful for jarring this community of strategists to think about misperception, escalation spirals, nationalism, and offensive-oriented military strategies.

A new book from the Belfer Center at Harvard University explicitly links the memory of the Great War with emergent security challenges related to China’s rise. This author undoubtedly looks forward to parsing this new scholarship, but that is not my purpose here. Much has been made of the analogy between Germany’s rise with the consequent outbreak of WWI and China’s rise with the clouds of uncertainty currently looming over the South and East China Seas. But what of China’s perspective on this much-discussed analogy?

As pointed out in a recent edition of Dragon Eye, the much more salient historical event in Chinese eyes is not WWI, but rather the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, a set of events that seems to have been discussed in all major Chinese military and diplomatic fora. Still, a few Chinese strategists and scholars have taken up the issue of the First World War and this edition of Dragon Eye will survey and summarize these pieces in the hopes of understanding the Chinese view of these momentous events in the European context that reverberated so powerfully around the world.

Most of the recent Chinese reflections about WWI have, not surprisingly, taken as their focal point the remarks made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Davos Summit about one year ago. Abe observed: “This year marks the centenary of World War I. Britain and Germany were highly (inter)dependent economically. They were the largest trade partners (to each other), but the war did break out.” By contrast, Chinese commentators emphasize that neither China, nor Japan can approach this history as disinterested observers. To their reckoning, China was one of the primary victims of the Versailles Treaty, while Japan was one of the leading parties in subverting its major principles to the detriment of China. Indeed, Westerners not familiar with the “May 4th Movement” may not realize that the perceived failure of the Versailles Treaty – most particularly the direct transfer of German concessions in Shandong Province to Japan – became a major foundation for Chinese nationalism in the 20th century. This movement and the feelings that inspired it, moreover, were related to the founding of the Chinese Communist Party just two years later in 1921.

As one Chinese analysis of the First World War, published by Xinhua researcher Qian Wenrong, in the April 2014 edition of the magazine 军事文摘 [Military Digest] under the title “What is the Most Important Lesson of the First World War?” relates: “ … at the Paris peace talks, the United States approved Japan’s seizures in Shandong. After the war, Japan accelerated its invasion and expansion into China, occupying our country’s three northeastern provinces. The powers … including the United States, Great Britain, and France … did not even apply any sanctions against Japan, refused … to call Japan an invading state, and even demanded that China recognize Japan’s ‘special rights and interests’ in China’s Northeast, thus in actuality supporting Japan’s invasion.”

China Needs Its Lehman Moment

25 DEC 30, 2014 

As they prepare for 2015, China's leaders should learn from the experience of Japan in 2014.

There is mounting evidence that Japan may have squandered its best chance for a meaningful recovery in more than a decade. The country is in recession again, foreign investors are losing confidence in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's revival plan and deflation has returned. This week, the government approved a $29 billion stimulus package that it hopes will keep things from getting worse.

The travails of Abenomics should be a warning to President Xi Jinping of China, whose nation increasingly seems at risk of a Japan-like lost decade. Although speculation has focused on the "why" and the "how" of the Japanization of China's economy, the year ahead will provide clues to the question of "when."

China in 2015 is likely to look a lot like Japan in 1998. when the zombification of its economy truly began. The Japanese government had recently allowed Yamaichi Securities to crash, an epochal moment for a government that had spent the preceding decade resisting any kind of reform. The collapse of Yamaichi, a 100-year old institution founded at the height of the Meiji Restoration, was Japan's Lehman Moment, and suggested a new political will to force banks to write down bad loans from the 1980s. Then Japan lost its nerve. When Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan and other institutions teetered on the edge in 1998, the government rescued them. Many weak institutions and irresponsible bankers were propped up in subsequent years.

Rather than fix a financial system suffocating under liabilities and beset by complacent executives, the Japanese government chose to treat the symptoms of the dysfunction with zero interest rates and fiscal handouts. Abe's government is the latest to follow this tired strategy. For all his bold talk of reducing trade barriers, encouraging entrepreneurship and empowering women, Abe has spent the past year prodding the Bank of Japan to weaken the yen and his Finance Ministry to borrow more, an approach that merely papers over Japan's cracks.

To avoid a similar fate for China, Xi should begin by allowing some significant debt defaults. Xi has to contend with the world’s biggestcorporate liabilities, estimated by Standard & Poor’s at $14.2 trillion in 2013, a figure that excludes the debt binge of 2014. As borrowing costs rise, an increasing number of companies will face failure.

The question is whether China will allow a Lehman-style purge to play out. So far, Xi has shown little appetite for defaults that might panic markets. China's first default in March was an encouraging sign, but officials have prevented additional ones since then. Yet the longer China puts off the inevitable, the worse it will be for the world economy. 

“It’s necessary to let those zombie companies default,” Wang Ying of Fitch Ratings in Shanghai told Bloomberg News. “If there is no real default, risks will never be priced in a correct way.”


January 1, 2015

The PLA’s special forces: secrets revealed,” promised Want China Times, a Taiwan-based English-language website. The article describes China’s “10 major special operations forces, each with its own unique characteristics and code names” and was based on a translation of an earlier blog posting on the PLA Daily website with photos and descriptions of several People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Armed Police (PAP) special operations units.

In fact, little in the article was new and no real secrets were revealed. Over the past decade, the official Chinese military media, both in Chinese and English, have paid copious attention to Chinese special operations forces (SOF). Based on this evidence, much more can be said about these units, their missions, and capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese SOF units are quite different from their U.S. counterparts and demonstrate most often capabilities similar to those of U.S. Army Ranger units. In particular, Chinese SOF units lack many of the dedicated special mission support capabilities found in the U.S. military.

Unfortunately, by the repeated use of the terms “special operations” and “SOF” some foreign readers might assume Chinese SOF units are like ours. In other words, readers might assume Chinese SOF are tasked to perform the ten Title X SOF core activities defined by the U.S. Congress (direct action, strategic reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, civil affairs operations, counterterrorism, military information support operations [formerly known as psychological operations], humanitarian assistance, theater search and rescue, and activities specified by the president or secretary of defense). According to publicly available PLA doctrine, many U.S. SOF Core Activities are not included among PLA SOF missions.

This essay outlines the structure and doctrine of the Chinese armed forces involved in special operations and discusses their capabilities in each of the ten core activities based solely on information from Chinese sources. But first it is necessary to put the Chinese armed forces into the context of the entire government security structure.

The Chinese Security Apparatus

A variety of Chinese government entities are tasked with domestic security and external defense missions. These forces include the civilian Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Ministry of State Security, and the Chinese armed forces consisting of the PLA, PAP, and militia. While some functions of these individual entities overlap, their primary and secondary missions and chains of command differ.

As a “party-army,” the Chinese armed forces pledge their loyalty first to the Chinese Communist Party. While all PLA officers are party members, the party is led by a civilian: the general secretary, who also is president of the People’s Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission, currently Xi Jinping.


By Shibley Telhami

The Arab-Israeli peace process is a broad subject; therefore, this paper will briefly touch on some of the major peace agreements and negotiations that have taken place. It should be noted that as of today—and based on public opinion polls that I have conducted—most Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs outside of the Palestinian territories believe that peace will never happen. This has resulted in a real problem, where people in the region no longer take the term “peace process” seriously. In order to understand how we got to this point, we need to look back at the history of the peace process on both the Israeli-Palestinian front and also on the Arab-Israeli front.

There are two important wars that help frame the Arab-Israeli conflict better than any other: the 1967 and 1973 wars. These two wars highlight the regional recognition of the necessity of a peaceful solution and also frame American diplomacy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The 1967 War was a major war between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It resulted in an impressive Israeli victory that led to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and also to the loss of Egyptian and Syrian territories. At the time, most Arabs expected that this war would result in an Arab victory because Arab nationalism, led by Egypt, was strong, and also because Arabs viewed Israel as a temporary historical entity that was bound to disappear. Arabs states fighting in that war suffered a humiliating defeat in 1967 and were faced with the reality that Israel might not be as temporary as they had assumed. The 1967 War not only established Israel’s presence in the region but it also transitioned the sponsorship of Israel from Europe to the United States. Since then, the United States has been the principal military backer of Israel.

In Battle to Defang ISIS, U.S. Targets Its Psychology

DEC. 28, 2014

WASHINGTON — Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, sought help this summer in solving an urgent problem for the American military: What makes the Islamic State so dangerous?

Trying to decipher this complex enemy — a hybrid terrorist organization and a conventional army — is such a conundrum that General Nagata assembled an unofficial brain trust outside the traditional realms of expertise within the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies, in search of fresh ideas and inspiration. Business professors, for example, are examining the Islamic State’s marketing and branding strategies.

“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” he said, according to the confidential minutes of a conference call he held with the experts. “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”

General Nagata’s frustration is shared by other American officials. Even as President Obama and his top civilian and military aides express growing confidence that Iraqi troops backed by allied airstrikes have blunted the Islamic State’s momentum on the ground in Iraq and undermined its base of support in Syria, other officials acknowledge they have barely made a dent in the larger, longer-term campaign to kill the ideology that animates the terrorist movement.Continue reading the main storyVideo

Key points in the terror group’s rapid growth and the slowing of its advance as it faces international airstrikes and local resistance. Video by Quynhanh Do on Publish DateDecember 13, 2014. 

7 awful conflicts that were under-reported in 2014

December 29 

2014 has been a brutal year. The death toll of Syria's ongoing civil war likely eclipsed 200,000, while the hideous rise of the Islamic State spurred a U.S.-led bombing campaign. A separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine led to thousands of deaths and clouded relations between the West and Moscow, which is believed to be aiding the rebels. And an Israeli offensive against Hamas militants saw whole stretches of the Gaza Strip reduced to rubble. 

Sadly, there was plenty of other mayhem and violence that didn't make newspaper frontpages as often. Here are seven awful conflicts that merited more attention. 

Pro-government Libyan forces, who are backed by locals, aim their weapons during clashes in the streets with the Shura Council of Libyan Revolutionaries, an alliance of former anti-Gaddafi rebels, who have joined forces with the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, in Benghazi Dec. 28, 2014. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori 


Libya was supposed to be a success story. In 2011, the U.S. famously "led from behind," as NATO air strikes helped a rebel alliance topple the long-ruling regime of dictator Moammar Gaddafi. But what followed has been a mess. 

In 2014, Libya's fragile democratic transition unraveled into open civil war between a hodgepodge of Islamist militias and tribal factions. It has drawn in rogue generals and foreign governments, and led to an absurd situation of two parallel governments claiming authority over the war-ravaged nation. Militants are battling over strategic oil towns. Just this weekend, Libyan jets pounded militant positions in the city of Misrata, once famed for its brave resistance to the Gaddafi regime. 

Smoke rises from a neighborhood near the Yemeni state TV headquarters during clashes between Yemeni troops and Shiite Houthi fighters in Sana'a, Yemen, Sept. 20, 2014. (EPA/YAHYA ARHAB) 

Energy Crisis As Early As 2016

30 December 2014 

Benefit From the Latest Energy Trends and Investment Opportunities before the mainstream media and investing public are aware they even exist. The Free Oilprice.com Energy Intelligence Report gives you this and much more. 

Low oil prices today may be setting the world up for an oil shortage as early as 2016. Today we have just 2% more crude oil supply than demand and the price of gasoline is under $2.00/gallon in Texas. If oil supply falls too far, we could see gasoline prices doubling within 18 months. For a commodity as critical to our standard of living as oil is, it only takes a small shortage to drive up the price.

On Thanksgiving Day, 2014 Saudi Arabia decided to maintain their crude oil output of approximately 9.5 million barrels per day. They’ve taken this action despite the fact that they know the world’s oil markets are currently over-supplied by an estimated 1.5 million barrels per day and the severe financial pain it is causing many of the other OPEC nations. By now you are all aware this has caused a sharp drop in global crude oil prices and has a dark cloud hanging over the energy sector. I believe this will be a short-lived dip in the long history of crude oil price cycles. Oil prices have always bounced back and this is not going to be an exception.

To put this in prospective, the world currently consumes about 93.5 million barrels per day of liquid fuels, not all of which are made from crude oil. About 17% of the world’s total fuel supply comes from natural gas liquids (“NGLs”) and biofuels.

One thing that drives the Bears opinion that oil prices will go lower during the first half of 2015 is that demand does decline during the first half of each year. Since most humans live in the northern hemisphere, weather does have an impact on demand. I agree that this fact will play a part in keeping oil prices depressed for the next few months. However, low gasoline prices in the U.S. are certain to play a part in the fuel demand outlook for this year’s vacation driving season.

Brent oil prices are now hovering around $60 a barrel. In my opinion, this is quite a bit lower than Saudi Arabia thought the price would go and may lead to an “Emergency” OPEC meeting during the first quarter. But for now, I am assuming that Saudi Arabia is willing to let the other OPEC members suffer until the next scheduled OPEC meeting in June.

The commonly held belief is that Saudi Arabia is doing this to put a stop to the rapid growth of production from the U.S. shale oil plays. Others believe it is their goal to crush the Russian and Iranian economies. If the oil price remains at the current level for a few months longer it will do all of the above.

Underplayed Conflicts of 2014

In mass trials, Egyptian courts in 2014 handed down preliminary death sentences to more than a thousand supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup. One trial lasted eight minutes.CREDITPHOTOGRAPH BY AHMED ISMAIL/ANADOLU/GETTY

I have spent my life covering wars, revolutions, and uprisings—more than forty years’ worth of them now. As I looked through annual rundowns of the Big Stories of 2014, I found three types of conflicts that were not on many lists but should be. Each, for different reasons, represents a trend worth paying attention to.

1. The Soft Conflicts.

Russia’s advances on Ukraine and the Islamic State’s sweep across Iraq and Syria grabbed headlines, but soft conflicts, which reflect crumbling societies at war with themselves, can be as troubling, and potentially explosive, as the hard-fought wars. An example is South Africa, a country that has been heralded for creating one of the world’s most democratic constitutions. Conditions for many blacks there have not improved much since apartheid ended, a generation ago. Unemployment is now twenty-five per cent, and has not been below twenty per cent in almost two decades. Unofficially, the number could be much higher.

More of the year in review. 

A telling figure is life expectancy. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in 1990, the average South African lived sixty-two years. Today, the figure is fifty-one years. The decline is attributable largely to H.I.V./AIDS. It didn’t help that, in 2006, when Jacob Zuma was head of the National AIDS Council and on trial for rape, he told a court that he had taken a shower after unprotected sex to avoid transmission of the disease. (He was acquitted.) Zuma is now the President of South Africa, and the country has by far the most cases of H.I.V./AIDS in the world.

December marked the first anniversary of Mandela’s death, but his “rainbow nation” is still tainted by racism. A recent poll by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation found that forty-seven per cent of whites surveyed do not believe that apartheid was a crime against humanity, in contrast to eighty per cent of blacks who think it was. Racism is a two-way street. Leaders of the ruling African National Congress have sung songs in public advocating the murder of whites.

Beware Putin’s Special War in 2015

December 23, 2014

December 2014 is the month Putin’s Russia was plunged into undeniable crisis. Between the dramatic drop in oil prices and the collapse of the ruble, under Western sanctions pressure, Russians are going into the new year in a dramatically different, and lessened, economic situation than the one they enjoyed at the beginning of the year now ending.

This will bring myriad hardships to Russians, particularly because even Moscow is admitting that low oil prices may be the “new normal” until the 2030’s. Caveats abound here. The vast majority of Russians don’t travel abroad, much less have vacation properties in Europe, nor do they have hard-currency mortgages (the ruble now having returned to its Soviet-era pariah status). Moreover, the average Russian has a physical and mental toughness about getting by in tough times — it is an unmistakable point of national pride — that Westerners cannot really fathom. In no case now does Russia face the sort of complete economic collapse that it endured in the 1990’s, when the Soviet implosion pushed poor Russians to the edge of survival (were not so many Russians but one generation removed from the farm, and therefore had access to their own food supply, famine might well have happened under Yeltsin). Life in Yeltsin’s Russia, particularly beyond the bright lights of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where few Westerners visit, was harsh and frankly dismal.

Nevertheless, the economic undoing of Putinism over the last weeks, brought about by Western sanctions in response to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine which began in early 2014, heralds major changes for the Kremlin, and not just in its domestic affairs. While Russia has far deeper hard currency reserves than it possessed in 1998, the last time the ruble’s bottom fell out, and it’s clear that Moscow will try to prevent banks from failing, there should be little optimism among Putin’s inner circle. Russia now faces a protracted and serious financial-cum-economic crisis that will get much worse before it gets better. Since much of Putin’s popularity has derived from the impressive economic growth his fifteen years in the Kremlin have brought, a rise in living standards that has benefited average Russians as well as oligarchs, the political implications of this collapse for Russia’s president are grave.

But are they enough to get Putin to cease his aggression and, in the long run, perhaps even leave office? Western politicians, eager to avoid armed confrontation with Russia, have assumed that enough sanctions-related pain will force Putin’s hand and get him to back off in Ukraine and elsewhere. This was always a questionable assumption. In the first place, sanctions tend to work as intended mostly against countries that strongly dislike being a global pariah, like apartheid-era South Africa, whose English-speaking white elites hated how they suddenly were no longer welcome in the posh parts of London. There is no evidence that Putin and most average Russians find being despised by the West particularly objectionable; on the contrary, many seem to revel in it.

Then there is the touchy fact that sanctions sometimes work not at all as intended. Using economic warfare to break a country’s will, which entails real hardship for average citizens, can cause more aggression rather than cease it.The classic example is Imperial Japan, which faced grim economic realities once U.S.-led oil sanctions took effect in retaliation for Tokyo’s aggressive and nasty war in China. Lacking indigenous petroleum, Japan was wholly dependent on imports that Washington, DC, blocked with sanctions. These placed Japan on what strategists would term “death ground,” since without imported oil its economy and its military could not function. Moreover, the sanctions were seen — correctly — by Tokyo as a sign that the United States and its allies did not want Japan to dominate the Western Pacific region, which constituted an intolerable affront to Japanese pride. The closest place to get the oil Japan needed was the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia, and Tokyo resolved to seize the oil there by force. To do that, Japan first had to drive the Royal Navy out of Singapore and the U.S. Navy out of the Philippines, and to enable that they had to disable America’s Pacific Fleet, which was ported in Pearl Harbor…and the rest of the story you know.

A plan to save the world in 2015

December 31, 2014 

The United Nations set eight ambitious goals for 2015 to dramatically improve global health and welfare. How close will it come to hitting its targets? 

When this millennium began, world leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York to pass the “Millennium Declaration”—a pledge to meet eight development goals by 2015. John McArthur, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who worked on plans to achieve the millennium development goals (MDGs) as deputy director of the UN Millennium Project, says the initiative’s impact has been “enormous,” uniting governments, NGOs and the private sector around shared goals with measurable results. Progress has been particularly strong in sub-Saharan Africa, he says, and it lags in parts of the world suffering from conflict. According to Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, these sorts of initiatives succeed at getting money out of donors’ pockets. But she says there are often problems sustaining results “without endless streams of foreign aid.” This puts recipient countries at the mercy of political will in donor countries, she adds. It can also mean that, because recipients have less control over designing strategy, those governments may feel disempowered and will not work to make programs sustainable with their own tax revenues. Below, Maclean’s takes a closer look at the UN’s eight MDGs and how we’ve done so far. 

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 

One of the most daunting and important of the MDGs, there has been decent progress here—at least if one accepts that the headlined goal of “eradicating” extreme poverty and hunger was hyperbolic. The declaration, in fact, set a goal of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the number of people earning less than US$1.25 a day. That target was reached early, in 2010. A separate sub-goal would halve, between 1990 and 2015, the number of people suffering from hunger. The UN says this target should be “almost met” by 2015. A final criterion aimed to achieve “full and productive” employment for all, including women and young people. While wages have increased, the gender gap remains, and far fewer women have work than men. The Canadian government says it has put particular emphasis on agricultural development as a means of reducing global poverty. It has recently been criticized, however, for not spending millions of dollars that had been budgeted as aid for poor countries—instead returning it, unspent, to government coffers. 

Russia's Double-Trouble Dilemma: Crashing Oil Prices, Tough Sanctions

December 30, 2015 

Can the Russian bear stage a comeback? 

President Vladimir Putin promises the Russian economy will recover from the losses inflicted by sanctions and falling oil prices within two years. Russian energy executives expect that the current slump will correct itself by mid-2015, as demand picks up and the existing glut of supplies disappears. Yet, what happens if these expectations do not come to pass?

Presumably, tackling such unpleasant questions and preparing contingency plans is one of the main tasks for the ministries and agencies of the Russian government with oversight for the economy who have been asked to forego the traditional New Year's vacation to concentrate on economic policy.

If significantly lower global energy prices represent a “new normal” that is likely to persist for years to come, however, what then?

Some Western analysts argue that not only Vladimir Putin’s personal political popularity, but the entire economic and political order that has been constructed in post-Soviet Russia could come crashing down—and that with only a minimal exertion of some additional economic pressure, the West could either force the Russian government to considerably modify foreign and domestic policies that have not been welcomed in either Washington or Brussels (from disgorging Crimea and accepting Ukraine’s full entrance into the Euro-Atlantic bloc to recasting domestic political institutions along Western liberal lines) or bring it down altogether. Others, however, warn that the Russian populace will accept Putin’s call to shoulder the burden of greater economic austerity in order todefend Russia’s independence and sovereignty, pointing to the historic patterns of tremendous popular resilience in the face of unbelievable hardship.

Russia's New Military Doctrine: Should the West Be Worried?

December 31, 2015 

"Russia will retaliate against a nuclear/WMD attack against itself and/or its allies; and it will also go nuclear if an existential threat is posed by a conventional attack."

As one of his final acts of 2014, on December 26, President Vladimir Putin signed Russia’s new military doctrine. In principle, the doctrine, an official statement on national defense, is regularly updated and made public. Its previous iteration had been in place since February 2010. In the run-up to the publication of the text, there were gloomy predictions. One suggested that the United States and its NATO allies would be formally designated Russia’s likely adversaries. Another one, based on the remarks of a senior serving general, expected Russia to adopt the notion of preventive nuclear strike. Neither of these provisions found its way into the published document. The doctrine does, however, faithfully reflect the sea change that occurred in Russia’s foreign policy and security and defense postures in 2014.

Essentially, for Commander-in-Chief Putin and for his generals, admirals and security officials, war in 2014 ceased to be a risk and turned into grim reality. Russia has had to use its military forces in Ukraine, arguably the most important neighbor it has in Europe. The conflict over Ukraine, in Moscow’s view, reflects the fundamental reality of an “intensification of global competition” and the “rivalry of value orientations and models of development.” Against the background of economic and political instability—crises and popular movements—the global balance is changing in favor of emerging power centers. In this new environment, the doctrine highlights information warfare and outside interference in Russia’s domestic politics as risks of increased importance.

The list of main external risks has not changed much, but the nuances are important. As in the past, at the top of the table are NATO-related issues: its enhanced capabilities, global reach and enlargement, which brings alliance infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. After the risk of NATO comes the risk of destabilization of countries and regions, which can be taken to mean Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and foreign force deployments close to Russia, which presumably refers to additional NATO aircraft in the Baltic States, ballistic-missile defense (BMD) assets in Romania and naval ships in the Black Sea. The top portion of the list of risks contains references to U.S. strategic ballistic-missile defense, its Global Strike concept and strategic non-nuclear systems.

The 'Ticking Bomb' Dilemma: How Effective Is Torture?

January 2, 2015

When the dust settles on initial reactions to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report; when the torrent of accusations, recriminations, justifications and politicizations subsides; when the talk shows and interviews turn to different topics du jour; we will be left, still, with a fundamental question that divides the nation—whether there exist circumstances wherein torture is warranted. Though a great deal has been said on this topic, the debate has been clouded by overheated emotions and entrenched commitments, leaving the essential issues muddled. Conspicuous in its absence has been a clear scientific perspective on the topic grounded in psychological analysis and research.

The moral and instrumental dimensions of torture are intertwined. No one in their right mind would recommend torture if proven patently ineffective. Opinions are split, however, due to the possibility that torture might work. Some would support torture, then, under special circumstances. Others would categorically reject it, no matter what. Most reasonable people view torture as heinous, right up there with rape or murder. Considered alone, this suggests a policy of zero tolerance, a view that torture should be unequivocally banished, and never again be allowed or condoned. Critics point out, however, that the morality of torture must be considered not in isolation, but in the context of the moral dilemma in which it is typically embedded. Also known as the “ticking bomb” argument, this discourse juxtaposes a lesser moral evil, say torturing a terrorist with information about a quickly unfolding plot, to a greater moral evil, the deaths of innocents, should the plot mature. Stubborn refusal to commit the lesser moral evil to avoid the greater evil attests to moral rigidity and arrested moral development, according to Lawrence Kohlberg, a leading psychoethical theorist. Thus, otherwise repugnant activities acquire moral license.

Drama at the Gas Pump: The Curse of High and Low Energy Prices

January 2, 2015

America’s recent resource rebalancing might seem to be the best of all worlds. We enjoy greater economic stability than many other countries. But there's a catch...

We have no clue where the price of oil will settle, when it will settle or if it will settle at all. After swinging wildly from $115 per barrel this summer to under $60 in December, experts’ predictions of future oil prices lie in a vast range between $50 and $200.

It is anticipated that small changes in oil supply and demand could lead to big price swings, disrupting the relative stability in the oil market witnessed over the last several years and introducing a new era of volatility.

There’s a global buzz about who will win and who will lose amid changing oil-market conditions. High oil prices benefit suppliers, mainly oil-rich nations such as the OPEC nations, Russia and Venezuela. Low prices can send these countries into an economic tailspin, depriving them of a major source of revenue and causing political unrest at home. In contrast, low oil prices benefit consumers, especially in wealthy and heavily motorized nations, including Japan, the EU and China. Here, high prices can constrain consumption and stunt economic growth.

Most nations fall into one of these two categories: either they produce oil and win when the price is high, or they consume it and win when it is low. America, however, is shaping up to be a major outlier.