7 January 2015

The great Game Folio

Written by C Raja Mohan
January 7, 2015 

King Abdullah, 90, has been hospitalised with pneumonia, setting off speculation about the kingdom’s stability.

At a moment when the world is marvelling at the bold Saudi strategy of driving down oil prices — this week they dipped for a moment below $50 a barrel — King Abdullah, 90, has been hospitalised with pneumonia, setting off speculation about the kingdom’s stability and the international consequences of a political transition in Riyadh.

Abdullah acceded to the Saudi throne in 2005, when his half-brother King Fahd passed away. But Abdullah had been the crown prince since 1982 and was in charge of the kingdom during Fahd’s prolonged illness in his final years.

The king of Saudi Arabia is more than a mere monarch. He is the custodian of the Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina, and exercises great political influence in the Islamic world. Since the fall of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser in the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia has acquired a decisive influence in shaping the regional order in the Middle East. The kingdom has been a strong ally of the Anglo-Saxon powers and enjoyed great clout in shaping the world economy.

With nearly a fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves and the very low costs of exploiting them, some have described the king of Saudi Arabia as the “custodian of the world’s oil prices”. As has been demonstrated in the last few weeks, Saudi Arabia remains the swing producer that can unilaterally determine the international price of oil.

Unlike in other monarchies, the Saudi succession has moved horizontally from one brother to another among the 40-odd sons that the founder of the kingdom, Abdul Aziz, fathered. Abdullah’s designated crown prince, Salman, is 79 years old; but he is said to be ill. The deputy crown prince Muqrin, the youngest of the second generation, is 69.
Some analysts worry that Abdullah’s death might generate considerable internal jockeying for power in Riyadh.

Of conflicts, confrontation, currencies and cyber war

GJonathan Eyal
The Statesman
07 Jan 2015

overnment officials invariably plan for the worst, rather than the best. And journalists also have a tendency to look for the negative rather than the positive: It’s always more exciting to report on a country in trouble rather than write articles about places where things are going well.

So, any attempt to identify the major strategic events which will dominate this new year merits a healthy dose of scepticism. Nevertheless, some global political developments are already evident and, sadly, quite a few of these look like taking a turn for the worse.

From Arab spring to Arab storm

The Middle East is one region capable of supplying endless gloom. Five years after the popular uprisings once optimistically dubbed as the Arab Spring, the outcome is an Arab storm. Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen are melting down and, together with Lebanon, will spend most of this year just trying to survive.

The omens are not good: too much violence has taken place, too many weapons are circulating and too many militias are fighting each other for any likelihood of a return to the old order. At best, these countries will become loose federations controlled by a variety of warlords.

The chances are high that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organisation - or the Islamic State as it now likes to call itself - will be crushed: ISIS is already unpopular with many of its volunteer fighters and is facing a formidable US-led military coalition. It is also likely that Turkey will enter the fray, delivering a decisive blow against ISIS.

Yet none of this will prevent the old borders of the Middle East from melting down, almost precisely a century after they were traced in bold colour lines on a single sheet of paper by Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot, two colonial officials representing Britain and France, respectively.

On a more positive note, odds are better than even for the conclusion of a deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons. And there is a possibility the general election in Israel, scheduled for March 17, will result in a defeat for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ushering in a new government, more amenable to a dialogue with the Palestinians.

But even if the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West ends, the broader but equally thorny issue of Iran’s influence in the region and its championship of the Shi’ite Muslims against the Sunni majority will remain unanswered. Nor is it evident that there is anyone in the Palestinian camp willing or able to strike a permanent peace deal with Israel, even if an incoming Israeli government is ready for negotiations.

Meanwhile, although the kings of Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as the sheikhs and emirs of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman look stable and secure, some of them are affected by infirmity or old age, and most are hurt by the low prices for oil and gas, which seem set to continue for most of 2015.

In short, the Middle East would be lucky to just mark time, to prevent an inherently bad situation from getting worse.

Europe goes back in time

Islamic difference and radicalisation

January 7, 2015

APREPRESSIVE: “The Hindu nationalist discourse rallied around the claim that Muslims threatened Hindus.” Picture shows a man waiting for his turn to be heard by the Nanavati Commission after the Gujarat riots.

The radicalisation discourse in India has overwhelmingly contributed to normalising prejudice and dehumanising an entire community

“Radicalisation” has become the standard term used to describe “what goes on before the bomb goes off.” Radicalisation as a precursor to terrorism, and in certain cases even a root cause of terrorism and socio-political violence, is a mainstay among pundits, policymakers and journalists alike. However, the immense popularity of the concept represents no direct relationship to its actual explanatory power regarding what causes terrorism. Instead, aphorisms on radicalisation have emptied the term of its analytical value, so that the label of “radicalisation,” as concept and as an industry, has become an extremely powerful and destructive political label employed against Muslim communities in India and elsewhere. It allows for the stigmatisation of Muslims, their exclusion from political processes, and for the state and the media to engage in a process of differentiating ‘good Muslims’ from ‘bad Muslims’ — unless proved to be good, every Muslim is considered to be bad.

Judgements are increasingly being passed on entire communities based on acts of individuals; Muslim political identity has become increasingly linked to their religious faith.

The earlier discourse on terrorism focussed on the circumstances, the ideology, the group, and the individual. However, following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the term radicalisation privileged the individual and to some extent the ideology, but neglected to investigate the wider historical, social, and geopolitical circumstances. An analytical investigation of the root causes of terror became almost impossible post-9/11 in the face of growing Islamophobia and the rhetoric of ‘us’ and ‘them.’

The discourse reduced radicalisation largely to a sense of Islamic ‘difference.’ Often this ‘difference’ was explained in terms of ‘lack of integration,’ ‘lack of secularism,’ or ‘external Islamic influences’ from Saudi Arabia among Muslim communities. Following the logic of difference, it is still argued that the exploitation of these differences culminates in terrorism, either by passively rationalising violence or by explicitly abetting it.

Historicity of Islam

Where adventure and martyrdom beckon

January 7, 2015

ReutersEFFICACIOUS: “Most Islamic State fighters have been lured by powerful messages through social media.” Picture shows militants taking part in a parade in Syria, celebrating their declaration of an Islamic ‘caliphate’ after they captured territory in Iraq.

In both Afghanistan and Pakistan, a new generation of jihadis is emerging which is far more radical, better educated, and deeply committed to jihad

The tentacles of jihad continue to spread: from its base in the mountains at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the al-Qaeda now has centres in the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, and then westwards — Algeria and Libya in the north and Mali and Nigeria in the south. The Islamic State (IS) is firmly established in the Arab heartland across Iraq and Syria; in the Syrian conflict, it is competing with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Nusra for territory and supporters.

None of these transnational groups seems to have any difficulty in mobilising cadres to take up arms and perpetrating horrendous acts of violence against enemy soldiers, western hostages and ordinary civilians — acts which are broadcast on social media or elsewhere as a warning or an enticement to join the cause.

To participate in this violence, several thousand foreign jihadis have joined these groups. The cadres consist of three types of members: Muslim youth from across the Arab world and some Asian countries; second-generation Arab migrants from western countries, and non-Muslims or recent converts from Europe, the U.S., Australia and even New Zealand.

Lure of jihad

Obama's Mixed Signals to India and Pakistan

January 06, 2015

The U.S. is starting 2015 with both a presidential trip to India and the approval of civilian aid for Pakistan. 
The United States’ diplomacy with India and Pakistan is off to an interesting start in 2015. In a move that is likely to raise eyebrows in India, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Pakistan this month after certifying the Pakistani government has taken “action against” anti-India terror groups Laskhar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). The authorization will allow the United States to deliver civilian aid to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar bill (otherwise known as the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009). Meanwhile, India is gearing up to receive U.S. President Barack Obama later this month as the chief guest for the country’s Republic Day celebrations. Obama’s visit to India comes after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful whirlwind tour of the United States in September 2014 and is expected to bring the two countries closer together.

The coincidence of these two visits continues to highlight the ongoing confusion in U.S. policy toward India and Pakistan. In a similar unfortunate coincidence, the United States announced that Pakistan would receive 160 leftover mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles worth $198 million right before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled U.S. visit.

While the United States and Pakistan face an increasingly difficult partnership, there is considerable bipartisan support in the United States for closer relations with India. India’s previous Congress-led coalition government had trouble creating sustainable rapprochement with the United States on strategic issues. With the exception of the 2006 civil nuclear cooperation deal and limited maritime cooperation, the U.S.-India bilateral relationship remained under-capitalized. The ascent of Narendra Modi and the BJP in India represents an opening for the United States.

The United States’ aid relationship with Pakistan may cause a disproportionately negative Indian response given that relations between India and Pakistan took a nose-dive in the latter half of 2014. Indeed given that the founders of both LeT and JeM have successfully held public rallies in Pakistan in 2014, the U.S. certification that Pakistan has taken “action” against these groups may seem disingenuous to India. This will be doubly so because Section 203 of the Kerry-Lugar bill requires Pakistan to have “ceased support” to extremist and terror groups and to have “prevented” them from using Pakistani soil as their base of operations. While the Kerry-Lugar bill expired in 2014, only part of the allocated aid was disbursed last year.

Genius and impetuosity - How the Niti Aayog could be of use to the prime minister

Writing on the wall - Ashok V. Desai 
January 6 , 2015

On waking up at 5:55 on (Christian) new year's day, the prime minister got a brainwave. It drowned the Planning Commission. Painters from the public works department were summoned; they erased the commission's name from its portico, and renamed it Niti Aayog. Fifty-five is not too old for an institution, let alone a human. The prime minister is going strong at 65, and the aeroplane is still flying 5555 years after its invention by Swamy Kashtacharya. But institutions must reinvent themselves from time to time to stay relevant; unless they do, they fall off the screen like the Congress.

Niti Aayog - what does it mean? Sanskrit words can have many meanings; niti is no exception. It can mean morality, behaviour, guidance, politics, management and a dozen other things. Which one did the prime minister mean? Maybe he did not know, in which case he chose cleverly. But I suspect he meant policy.

Policy is made anyway by elected politicians sitting in ministries all around Niti Aayog; where will it fit in in that political football field? The original Planning Commission was supposed to formulate and supervise five-year plans, which were meant to tie ministries and states to long-term national development. This function is now transferred to the finance ministry. That is not injudicious. It is the function of the finance ministry to manage government money and allocate it amongst objectives and agencies. Finance ministries have this function in many countries. But many of them do much less forward planning than India. India too could do with less. But many countries that ignore long-term planning run into serious problems.

Why 'Make in India' is a distraction!

January 06, 2015

The defence ministry needs to focus keenly on "Made in India" projects without being distracted by "Make in India" slogans, says Ajai Shukla

In the manner of government and entities dependent upon it, everyone in defence production from the ministries of defence and commerce, the defence industrial estate and even the military has jumped on to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bandwagon of "Make in India".

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar proclaimed recently that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government had already cleared Rs 75,000 crore worth of acquisitions, of which Rs 65,000 crore is in the "Buy and Make (Indian)" category of the Defence Procurement Policy.

He appeared to suggest that these systems -- which include submarines (Rs 50,000 crore, or $8 billion), artillery guns (Rs 15,750 crore, or $2.5 billion) and anti-tank missiles (Rs 3,200 crore, or $500 million) -- would be indigenous products.

The truth is less encouraging.

While nobody has explicitly clarified what exactly "Make in India" would be, it is being interpreted as the licensed manufacture of foreign defence equipment, which the DPP covers under the categories of "Buy and Make" and "Buy and Make (Indian)".

This is very different from a "Made in India" product, which is encapsulated in the "Make" category of the DPP, involving the ground-up development of indigenous defence platforms.

It is crucial for policymakers, strategists, economists and the public to explicitly recognise this difference.

In "Make in India", a foreign arms manufacturer is paid for transfer of technology and the licence to assemble a platform -- say, a submarine, tank or aircraft -- in India.

'In 15 years, India will be what China is today'

Arvind Panagariya has beenappointed as the vice-chairman of the newly announced NITI Aayog.

Panagariya is Professor of Economics and Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at the Columbia University in New York.

He is non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He was formerly chief economist with the Asian Development Bank and Professor of Economics and Co-director at the Center for International Economics.

He has also worked with the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and UNCTAD in various capacities.

He is currently editor of the India Policy Forum, a journal modelled on the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity and jointly published by the Brookings Institution, and the National Council on Applied Economic Research.

In an earlier interview with Shobha Warrier of Rediff.com, he speaks about climate change, globalisation and India's economy.


Your SAGE-MSE lecture was on 'Climate change and developing countries'. Is there any difference between developed countries, developing countries and climate change?

The developed countries are vulnerable to climate change a 100 years from now. On the other hand, developing countries are vulnerable to climate. Our problems are here and now, and not 100 years from now.

We are exposed to heat waves, cold waves, floods, cyclones, etc and we are not prepared. A large part of the population is living in such conditions that they are not protected from these climatic conditions.

India wants to divide Pak Army’s anti-Taliban focus: Sethi

January 06, 2015

LAHORE: Senior analyst Najam Sethi has said that India has adopted the policy of aggressive defence in its relations with Pakistan. He said Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has declared the Taliban as weakness of Pakistan and wants to use them against Pakistan. Meanwhile, India wants to divide Pakistan’s military might in two directions in order to render it unable to wipe out the Taliban. He said the United States knows how India is using Afghanistan against Pakistan. 

He was talking to Aapas ki Baat host Muneeb Farooq on Geo News. Giving an in-depth analysis on new Indian policy, Sethi said signs of disturbance had been visible since India suspended talks at foreign secretary level. He ruled out any nuclear fight, but warned that the game will be intense. Commenting on a video showing Ajit declare Pakistan enemy of India and threaten that Pakistan will lose Balochistan if another Mumbai attack was launched, Sethi said the video shows that India is behind the situation in Balochistan. 

Sethi said Indian policy of interference in Pakistan has been continued before the installation of Modi government and will be made more active after Ajit’s taking the charge of national security advisor. He said soon after Afghan visit of Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Ajit had rushed to Kabul and offered one million dollar military aid to Afghanistan which Ashraf Ghani, however, rejected. Doval’s defeat on this front much agonised him, Sethi said, that is why he is talking of Balochistan and the Taliban. 

The senior analyst said if Pakistan army controls the Taliban with concentration, Pakistan will remain no longer weak. That is why, India has started aggression on the Line of Control in a bid to split the Pakistan military into two directions. 

Sethi said India also used Afghanistan to suppress Pakistan before Aghan jehad, in response to which Pakistan had adopted the policy of aggressive defence. In response to the Indian role behind separation of Dhaka, Pakistan had supported the Khalistan movement in pursuit of its aggressive defence, Sethi said. Meanwhile, the Kashmiris indigenously started their freedom movement, finding circumstances in favour and Pakistan had no role in it, Sethi added. He said Pakistan tried to turn Indian Punjab and Kashmir into a quagmire which may entrap the Indian army, leaving it unable to launch any adventurism against Pakistan. Najam Sethi said in view of this aggressive defence of India, there will be no development in connection with Aman Ki Asha; rather tension will further mount. 

He said Pakistan has planned its policy in this connection and Sartaj Aziz has raised Kashmir issue in the United Nations and has arranged marches in London over Kashmir issue and started sending letters in this connection. 

All Is Not Lost in Afghanistan

JANUARY 5, 2015

Combat operations are over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a retreat from the gains of the past 13 years of war.

BY JAMES STAVRIDISJames Stavridis is a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral who serves today as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

All Is Not Lost in Afghanistan

In 1842, the British Army suffered perhaps its most devastating defeat in history, when Maj. Gen. Sir William Elphinstone disastrously retreated from Kabul through the guts of winter, leading nearly 20,000 British soldiers, their families, and assorted camp followers out of Afghanistan through the mountains to Jalalabad, India. Promised safe passage after an uprising in Kabul, they were massacred along the way: famously, only one survivor, Dr. William Brydon, staggered into Jalalabad to tell the tale. That was what defeat in Afghanistan looked like a century or so ago.

Today is a different story, despite all the Sturm und Drang of the past couple of weeks as the long NATO mission, Operation Enduring Freedom, completed its combat role and closed its warfighting headquarters. While there has been an upsurge in attacks both in the capital and around the country, it still seems likely — better than even odds — that the Afghan Security Forces, backed up by a planned training force of about 15,000 coalition troops from 42 nations (and perhaps more as time goes by), will be able to contain the Taliban insurgency.

The oft-repeated idea that the Taliban are going to get in their Toyota trucks and simply roll into Kabul is not likely; this Afghan war — while likely to stagger along for some time — will hopefully end far differently than the British or Soviet excursions of the past century.

The key to attaining a reasonably successful outcome will depend on three things: the determination of the Afghan people to continue the gains in education, health, women’s rights, and prosperity they have achieved in the last decade, free of the Taliban theocracy; the financing provided by the international community, notably to support the Afghan National Security Forces; and the political leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive (essentially prime minister) Abdullah Abdullah. Let’s take a good look at all three for a more realistic assessment than you’ll find in the daily headlines.

2014 Deadliest Year for Afghan Civilians

January 06, 2015

2014 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since 2002. 

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), civilian casualties rose by 19 percent in the first 11 months of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013, resulting in the deadliest year for Afghan civilians in the UN mission’s recording history. 3,180 civilians had been killed and an additional 6,430 had been injured by the end of November. The total casualty count is expected to tally over 10,000 in 2014 — a first for civilian casualties in a single year since UNAMA established operations in the country in 2002. UNAMA’s casualty count refers to men, women, and children killed in conflict-related violence in Afghanistan.

These numbers add another sombre statistic to the situation in Afghanistan as U.S. and international forces formally draw down. Although the United States will leave behind just over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for limited counter-terrorism and training purposes under the terms of the U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement, Afghanistan’s overall security is back in the hands of the Afghan National Army and security forces. The spike in civilian casualties last year was due to increased violence by the Taliban on the occasion of Afghanistan’s national election. Though the actual elections days were relatively unfettered by widespread violence, the Taliban announced a “Spring Offensive” in early 2014 and promised to ramp up their attacks ahead of the national election.

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Georgette Gagnon, director of UNAMA’s human rights unit, notes that the spike in violence last year was also related to the Taliban retaliating for the increasing intensity of Afghan army operations against the insurgent group. She further outlines the causes of civilian casualties:

Ground engagements between pro-government forces and insurgents, particularly in civilian-populated areas, caused the most civilian casualties (32 percent), a new trend in 2014.

Al Qaeda in Yemen Studying CIA Drone Strikes and Devising Ways to Avoid Them

Rowan Scarborough
January 5, 2015

Terrorists adapting to avoid U.S. drones

The most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate to the U.S. homeland is teaching fighters how to avoid detection by the Predator drone, the terrorist group’s feared assassin flying over Yemen.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has produced a video that shows fighters a step-by-step process for making and using a portable body wrap.

It claims the insulation will prevent the Predator’s infrared cameras from detecting a human’s heat signature. By day, a camouflage version will hide them from the same prying eyes, says the video posted last month to a jihadi Twitter account.

Whether the homemade shield actually works is unclear. But AQAP’s instructional video is an example of how violent extremists are studying American tactics — many of them openly on display in the media — and then trying to counter them.

In this case, AQAP has taken official Defense Department video of the Predator, its spying pods and generic bomb-camera footage to drive home this point: If it can’t see you, it can’t strike with a Hellfire missile.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs military operations in Yemen, said, “For operational security reasons, we wouldn’t discuss the possible effectiveness or ineffectiveness of specific enemy [tactics, techniques and procedures] nor would we speculate on how they derive their information.”

Strategic analysts express doubt that 13 years of drone strikes are reversing AQAP gains in Yemen.

But to some degree, the fact that the terrorist group sees a need to produce a counterdrone video shows the strikes are effective in harassing and killing AQAP fighters and top leaders. Of all the al Qaeda affiliates, Washington views AQAP as the one most determined to attack America.

"One part of their military strategy is to distribute videos and information to followers online, particularly via Twitter and YouTube, showing that they are actively engaged in countering the impact drones have had on their capabilities," said Steve Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute. The Washington nonprofit tracks jihadi communications and has analyzed the how-to video.

AQAP’s 16-minute “Combating Spy Airplanes” is not a slick production. Rather, it is part arts-and-crafts show and part science project, spliced together with U.S. military public relations videos.

The segment, for example, that explains a person’s heat signature uses the scene of a lab worker heating up a frozen dinner in a microwave oven.

A Sure Sign of an Intelligence Failure: Al Qaeda in Yemen Is Now Thriving

January 5, 2015

CAIRO (AP) — Al-Qaida’s branch in Yemen is surging in strength, finding new support and recruits among the country’s Sunni tribesmen, in a backlash to drone strikes and the rise to power of Shiite rebels who have taken over the capital and other parts of the country, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials warn.

The militants’ rise comes after months of being squeezed by multiple challenges. Early last year, U.S. drone strikes followed by Yemeni ground troops helped Yemen destroy a key al-Qaida base in the remote mountains of the impoverished, unstable nation. The past year, al-Qaida has also faced fierce competition from the Middle East’s new militant powerhouse, the Islamic State group, which has sought to make inroads into Yemen.

But the expansion of the Shiite rebels known as Houthis has been a godsend for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the branch of the terror network in Yemen is called. The turmoil in Yemen has taken on a sharply sectarian tone, pitting Sunnis against Shiites, to the benefit of Sunni al-Qaida. And while the group has lost some prominent figures in drone strikes over past years, deaths of members of prominent tribes in the strikes have pushed tribesmen toward the militants.

Over the long term, the United States’ years-long campaign to put down the al-Qaida branch is likely to suffer, warns Bill Roggio from Long War Journal, which chronicles militant activities.

As al-Qaida gains ground locally in Yemen, that strengthens its ability to carry out attacks abroad against the United States, its main priority.

"The local fuels the external. They will become more dangerous the more they draw local support," Roggio told The Associated Press. As Washington’s ally in Yemen, President Abed Rabbo Hadi Mansour, gets weaker, U.S. ability to strike al-Qaida "will diminish over time after losing its partner," he said.

Backed by deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Houthis pushed out of their enclaves in northern Yemen and took over the capital Sanaa in September. Hadi’s government has been virtually under its thumb since. Houthi forces have since spread over eight of Yemen’s 21 provinces, taking over security powers in many cities and towns, with government officials and forces split in loyalties, either stepping aside or grudgingly cooperating with them.

China's Military Is NOT Going Rogue

January 6, 2015 

There are a lot of things to worry about when it comes to geopolitics and national security. China's military going rogue is not one of them. 

China’s assertive behavior along its maritime periphery continues to raise troubling questions about Beijing’s policymaking apparatus and how much control Chinese leaders can exert over the different actors involved. A growing number of studies, including a recently-released report from the Lowy Institute in Canberra, suggest Beijing is incapable of exerting control because of the variety of Chinese foreign policy actors from the central ministries to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to provincial government elements. Nuanced examinations of Chinese security policy are welcome—in part because such nuance invites policymakers to think more clearly about how best to execute China policy—but the pendulum may have swung too far from the outdated perceptions of a monolithic China. Beijing still exerts control (at the very least) the PLA, and this conventional deterrence provided by the military creates space for other Chinese actors to push the envelope in disputed areas.

In the early years of the Cold War, China watchers often viewed Chinese policymaking as a monolithic structure, capable of readily translating intention into action with little internal, bureaucratic friction. That view probably persisted longer at senior levels of foreign governments—for example, U.S. officials’ immediate reaction that the J-20 test in 2011 was related to the U.S. defense secretary’s visit—while analysts and scholars swung toward subtler interpretations based on the mechanics of how leaders got things done coordinating among the different stakeholders in the party and the state.

In the maritime arena, the modern incarnation of the control school, best represented in the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) report entitled “Tailored Coercion: Competition and Risk in Maritime Asia," bears little resemblance to the old belief of a monolithic China acting in lockstep with leadership intentions, despitecritics’ claims to the contrary. The central premise underpinning the CNAS report is that Beijing is capable of internal signaling that changes the permissiveness of the policy environment for different players to take action. The sensitivity of nationalist issues does not affect Beijing’s ability to do so. As Jessica Chen Weiss documented in her book, Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations, Beijing is more than capable of signaling directly and indirectly to domestic players what behavior is allowable in spite of nationalist sentiment. Admittedly, protestors and police are different than the bureaucracies, but the willingness and capability of Chinese leaders to intervene where nationalist sensitivities are most acute indicates that the multitude of policy players do not have carte blanche to act without restraint.

The Dragon’s Fire: Welcome to Chinese Nuclear Weapons 101

January 5, 2015 

The People’s Republic of China’s nuclear arsenal is achieving greater notoriety, as Beijing’s growing economy funds an upgrade of its entire military. The development of mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and a new class of ballistic missile submarines are evidence that China’s nuclear arsenal is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

China’s nuclear force, while modernizing, is a modest one by the relative standards of nuclear powerhouses like the United States or Russia. Beijing has shown little interest in developing a large nuclear stockpile, as it does not view nuclear weapons in the same vein as larger nuclear powers—viewing such weapons within a strictly defensive context with much less operational use.

History and Rationale:

For decades, China placed the bulk of its defense policy in a concept known as “People’s War,” a strategically defensive/tactically offensive war plan that involved luring an invader deep into Chinese territory before destroying them with conventional armies and guerrilla forces. Within that context, against China’s nearly endless supply of manpower, nuclear weapons seem less appealing.

In fact, early on China had no interest in building a nuclear weapons arsenal; Mao described them as “paper tigers” that only appeared dangerous. Chinese opinion shifted in the mid-1950s, with a combination of the Korean War, Taiwan Strait Crisis—in which a nuclear-armed America protected Taiwan—and Soviet offers of nuclear assistance.

China tested its first nuclear weapon on October 16th, 1964. The test had a yield of 22 kilotons, or roughly 50 percent more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Three years it tested its first thermonuclear weapons, which produced a yield of 3,300 kilotons (3.3 megatons.)

The Spies From Beijing: More on Chinese Theft of U.S. Defense Secrets

January 5, 2015

In December 2014 a Chinese citizen, who had worked for an American jet engine manufacturer was accused of trying to steal technology relating to the use of titanium in jet engines. The accused had worked on the engine used in the new F-35 and this is the second Chinese spy caught in 2014 who was stealing F-35 manufacturing technology. The accused faces ten years in prison if convicted. China is apparently going after American tech that would enable China to develop its own versions of the F-22 and F-35.

You didn’t have to catch spies to see this coming. In late 2011 photos of a new Chinese jet fighter, that looked a lot like the American F-35, began appearing on Chinese web sites. Although work began on this new (J-20) aircraft in the late 1990s, when the prototypes were first spotted, it was always obvious that there were similarities to the U.S. F-35. This made sense, given Chinese efforts to obtain details (via Internet espionage, and more conventional spying) about the F-35. The 2011 pictures showed the J-20 undergoing taxiing tests, which usually precedes flight tests by weeks or months.

The F-35A is a 31 ton, single engine fighter that is 15.7 meters (51.4 feet) long and with a 10.7 meter (35 foot) wingspan. The engine generates 12.7 tons (28,000 pounds) of thrust, or 19.5 (43,000) with afterburner. In contrast, the J-20 has two engines and appears to be 24 meters (75 feet) long and with a wingspan of 15 meters (46 feet). The engine for the J-20, the WS-15 is still in development. The prototype had afterburner thrust of 16.5 tons, although this was expected to hit 18.3 tons when development was complete. It is believed that the J-20 prototypes are powered by Russia AL31FU/117S engines, each with 14.5 tons of afterburner thrust. Two of these engines would give the 36-40 ton J-20 more power per ton than the F-35A. China has been having problems with locally made jet engine performance and reliability and while the Russians have sold some tech, the best stuff comes from the United States.

China is also developing other F-35 technologies, like the AESA radar, highly efficient cockpit design, stealth and software to tie everything together. Developing, or even copying, this tech is not easy. But the Chinese already know that because they have, for decades been adapting stolen technology to their needs. Thus it appears that China is planning on having the J-20 ready for service by the end of the decade. The key factor is their ability to develop or steal and implement the needed technology by then. The J-20 appears to be less than an F-35 clone, and more of an F-35 type aircraft with pretensions to being an F-22. In any event, the J-20 is an attempt to develop some kind of 5th generation aircraft, complete with stealth.

The key to Chinese success in developing the most modern military technology is their ability to steal the details of that tech. No one, not even the Russians, is willing to sell it to them. Since 2012 the United States has learned a lot more details about the extensive Chinese espionage effort in the United States. The U.S. discovered, for example, that Chinese smugglers often have contacts in Chinese intelligence and are offered big cash rewards for technical details on American UAVs and military aircraft (especially stealth designs like the F-35 and F-22). American intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies have long known about the extensive Chinese intelligence efforts to steal American technology, and the revelations about the use of criminals was not a big surprise.

Australian Spy Agency: ISIS has “proven resilient” and remains a threat despite recent military operations against it in Syria and Iraq

Daniel Hurst
January 5, 2014

Asio: Isis still a threat despite coalition successes in Syria and Iraq
A member loyal to Isis waves its flag in Raqqa, Syria, in June 2014. Photograph: Reuters

Islamic State (Isis) has “proven resilient” and remains a threat despite recent military operations against it in Syria and Iraq, according to a brief of evidence compiled by the Australian spy agency.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) provided the assessment as part of the process of declaring al-Raqqa province in Syria as the first “no-go zone” under the government’s new foreign fighter laws.

A parliamentary committee is reviewing the government’s decision, announced in early December, to designate the area as off limits to Australians. Citizens who enter or remain in al-Raqqa face jail terms of up to 10 years – unless the travel is solely for a legitimate reason such as a bona fide visit to relatives.

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has told the intelligence and security committee she made the declaration because she was satisfied that Isis, which is listed as a terrorist organisation under Australian law, was engaging in hostile activity in al-Raqqa.

Bishop provided the committee with a copy of Asio’s “statement of reasons”, which she said she had carefully considered before making the decision.

The statement said Isis, also known as Isil, had been operating in Iraq under various names since 2003 and had been active in the Syria conflict since late 2011.

“Since January 2014, Isil has focused on capturing and consolidating control over large areas of Iraq and Syria. It operates across much of Iraq and Syria, but is based in the Iraqi provinces of Ninewa and al-Anbar and the Syrian province of al-Raqqa, which serves as its de facto capital,” the statement said.

“Isil’s activities in these areas of Iraq and Syria, and calls by Isil’s leadership, have attracted thousands of foreign fighters, including Australians, who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join Isil and engage in hostile activity.”

The Anti-ISIS Foreign Legion in Syria

January 5, 2014

Foreigners Fighting Islamic State in Syria: Who and Why?

DERIK, Syria (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - While illegally crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border, Canadian Peter Douglas was adamant that his incursion was for humanitarian reasons - to help the people of Syria.

Douglas is one of a growing band of foreigners to dodge authorities and join the fight against Islamic State militants who have killed thousands and taken vast parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a caliphate in territory under their control.

Many of these fighters argue they are there for humanitarian reasons but they say their decision to take up arms to fight for the Syrian people will not be viewed as such by some.

"I want to fight the Islamic State, although it might be the last thing I do," said Douglas, 66, from Vancouver, as he prepared to board a boat crossing a remote stretch of the Tigris River 

"I know I have 10 years to live before I will start develop dementia or have a stroke so I wanted to do something good," he added, although he acknowledged that taking up arms was new on the list of jobs and occupations he has previously pursued.

So far an estimated few dozen Westerners have joined Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State in northern Syria, including Americans, Canadians, Germans, and Britons.

The Syrian Kurdish armed faction known as the YPG has not released official numbers confirming foreign or “freedom fighters” and academics say it’s hard to assess the total.

But the number pales compared to an estimated 16,000 fighters from about 90 countries to join Islamic State since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of State figures.

The United Nations has warned extremists groups in Syria and Iraq are recruiting foreigners on an “unprecedented scale” and with a commitment to jihad who could “form the core of a new diaspora” and be a threat for years to come.


Western governments are closely monitoring foreign fighters but law enforcement agencies are acting differently towards those joining Islamic State or those linking up with the Kurdish resistance whose motivations are far more diverse.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear there is a fundamental difference between fighting for the Kurds and Islamic State. British law stipulates fighting in a foreign war is not automatically an offense and depends on circumstances.

Two British military veterans, Jamie Read and James Hughes, returned to England last month after several months with the YPG, saying they were fighting for “humanitarian purposes”, and no action has been taken against them on their return.

They signed up outraged by a series of chilling videos showing the murders of two U.S. journalists, a U.S. aid worker, and two British aid workers and by the plight of millions of Syrians caught between Islamic State and government forces.

British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimates in six months the radical Sunni group has killed about 1,878 people in Syria off the battlefield, mostly civilians.

Israeli Military Creates New Intel Unit Just to Monitor ISIS

Cynthia Blank
January 5, 2015

IDF Creates New Intelligence Dept. to Monitor ISIS

The Israeli Defense Forces have created a new department dedicated to intelligence information on the terrorist organization Islamic State. 

The IDF first began following the spread of ISIS in April 2014, which they learned about primarily through social networking. 

However, Channel 2 News recently discovered that the Directorate of Military Intelligence (known in Hebrew as Aman) have increased intelligence collection, thereby developing a specific body charged with gathering intelligence on the terrorist organization. 

In fact, it was an existing intelligence department whose job has now been redefined, that was entrusted with the highly specialized task.

"We made adjustments when we realized that the phenomenon of ISIS breaks any previous historical limits,” a senior intelligence officer told Channel 2. 

"Most of our intelligence on the organization comes from the network, because ISIS does not belong to a particular arena where we have intelligence sources." 

Surveillance in Aman is divided by arenas. At first, the IDF tried tracking ISIS through Syria, but quickly realized that the terror group was extraordinarily unique, and could not be tracked through one specific arena. 

"The moment we saw the first significant surveillance footage, we understood that this is something completely different," the officer added. 

The IDF tracks, among other things, the fighting methods of the organization, the statements of its leaders, and published propaganda videos. Their major concern is the spread of ISIS within Israel’s borders - an already present phenomenon. 

Another major concern is that Palestinian Arab residents of Judea and Samaria, dissatisfied with their leadership, will join the organization. 

"For the IDF, it is a very disturbing possibility that these video will affect the Palestinian Arab public, already very frustrated with their leadership, and we follow that trend religiously,” the officer noted. 

Europe's fear of Syria's ghost boats

04 Jan 2015

2015 will be a crucial year in determining Europe's humanitarian response to the continued chaos in Syria.

James Denselow is a writer on Middle East politics and security issues and a research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre. 

Europe must look seriously into accepting larger asylum quotas, writes Denselow [AP] 

The story of the Ezadeen, the ship set on autopilot and set towards Europe with 450 fleeing Syrian refugees on board, could be a turning point in the European response to the crisis in Syria. With a conflict that has killed some 200,000 people burning brightly on its doorstep Europe's prime focus to date has been on ensuring that it stays away from the flames. The emergence of "ghost ships", the latest gruesome tactic to come out of a conflict that has also put the "barrel bomb" into the popular lexicon, may force a much needed revaluation on the strategy of Europe's response.

The discovery of the Ezadeen is simply the latest in an increasing number of horror stories emerging from the Mediterranean Sea. The boat, aptly a former livestock carrier, was found in rough seas some 40 nautical miles off the Italian coast - the second vessel in four days to be found sailing abandoned by its crew.

New trend, new trade

The ghost ships represent both a new tactic - using large cargo ships to move people in winter across longer crossing - and a new trend - that of the refugees coming from Syria. Last year some 230,000 people arrived illegally across the Mediterranean into the EU with Italy receiving the lion’s share of 160,000 whilst 3,500 people died trying to make the crossing. The UNHCR explained that in 2014 for the first time, people mainly from Syria "have become a major component in this tragic flow, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the total".

Full of Gas, Full of Problems: The Eastern Mediterranean's Hydrocarbon Showdown

The discovery of natural gas is exacerbating tensions among various players in the Eastern Mediterranean. Is there a viable path forward where all can benefit? 

In October of last year, Russia, Israel and Cyprus conducted a joint naval exercise in waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. Though scheduled well in advance, the timing of the drill could not have been more opportune for Cyprus; the Barbaros, a Turkish seismic vessel dispatched by Ankara in order to survey the sea floor for hydrocarbons, had just entered the bitterly contested Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries.

The affair triggered a flurry of diplomatic action. Israel called on Turkey to respect Cyprus’ right to explore for natural gas within its maritime boundaries, and Cyprus insisted that the vessel immediately withdraw. Not surprisingly, President Erdogan rebuffed these demands, and avowed that the Barbaros would remain at sea until a distribution deal was reached for the riches beneath.

This tense affair is representative of the new developments that have caused a shift in traditional regional patterns of enmity and amity between the Eastern Mediterranean’s primary actors: Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, which began with the rapid deterioration in Turkish-Israeli relations after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Despite bilateral attempts (and limited American mediation) for reconciliation, the two countries are still far from realigned. Although Israel has demonstrated the willingness to normalize the relationship, Turkey’s foreign policy seems to systematically exacerbate the problem. Its blatant, emotional and nondiplomatic stance against any Israeli policy toward the Palestinians has left little room for a healthy reconciliation process. Anti-Semitic rhetoric coming out of the pro-AKP media has only made matters worse.

Another development was the collapse of Turkish-Egyptian relations, following the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. For the AKP, which felt a political and ideological bond with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military’s coup brought back painful memories of historical events in Turkey. As a result, Turkey adopted a contentious stance toward Egypt’s new president, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, leading to a severing of diplomatic ties.

The Fog of War Just Got Thicker: U.S. Warplanes Have Trouble Communicating with Each Other

January 6, 2015 

Even after years of war, America’s armed services field incompatible aviation technology that hinders battlefield communication between the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps combat aircraft.

Even after over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s armed services field incompatible aviation technology that hinders battlefield communication between U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps combat aircraft. The Pentagon is making an effort to fix the problem, but whether it will succeed is an open question.

The problem is the Link-16 datalink that is supposed to be standard across the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, while standardization is the aspiration, real-world execution falls short.

“Link-16 grew up as a kludge of different user inputs, which is how we ended up with a bunch of incompatible message sets,” said one senior Air Force official. “Fixing it would drive big OFP [operational flight program] bills to all the user platforms to change their implementations, so it'll probably stay the way it is for quite a while.”

One example of where integration between the Navy and the Air Force falls short is in suppressing or destroying enemy air defenses. That mission will only grow more important as the United States tries to extract itself from the wars in the Middle East and refocus on the Pacific theater, where countries such as Russia and China possess extremely formidable air defenses.

While the current integration effort between the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcon and the Navy’s Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft is quite good, this is mostly because air-crew training overcomes hardware limitations.

“EA-18G and F-16CM integration is awesome, but not nearly as awesome as it could be,” said another Air Force official. “They use different Link-16 messages, and therefore pass widely different information to one another. But if they were a part of the same family, they would be using the same requirement for sharing information, and that would improve their already impressive performance.”

The U.S. Military's Next Big Reform Challenge is Here

January 5, 2015 

The Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral William Moran, visited the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last month to discuss his vision for reforming the current manpower system. Since assuming his position in 2013, VADM Moran has been pushing hard to implement programs that will better align the Navy’s manpower policies with the expectations and aspirations of its younger sailors—especially millennials, those individuals born between 1980 and the mid-2000s.

VADM Moran’s efforts come at a time when there is a growing awareness across the military that the services need to think hard about how to build more flexibility into the careers of service members than exists today. Manpower reform has become a high profile topic for defense commentators, prompting opinion pieces published by this and othermilitary blogs, an essay contest sponsored by Tom Ricks, and a book by entrepreneur and Air Force veteran Tim Kane.

The reformers’ central argument—one that VADM Moran made during his talk—is that the management system created in 1947 to serve a draft military is falling behind the demands of the 21st century all-volunteer force. Critics cite problems throughout the services, including: lockstep promotions based almost entirely on a person’s time in service; an outdated method of matching personnel with assignments that does not sufficiently take into account individual preferences, special skills, or unique experiences; and narrowly defined career trajectories. Taken together, these issues are manifested in a manpower system that is inefficient, inflexible, and may be struggling to retain the best and brightest service members.

Some of the current shortcomings were highlighted in two recent studiesconducted by Commander Guy M. Snodgrass, an F/A-18 pilot and former TOP GUN instructor who has become one of the most influential manpower reform advocates currently serving. In “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon,” CDR Snodgrass showed how a number of factors, including the Navy’s antiquated personnel system, are combining to push out some of its best mid-level officers–along with their decades of wartime experience. Afollow-on survey of over 5,000 officers and sailors echoed CDR Snodgrass’s earlier findings and included a recommendation that “greater career path diversity will provide opportunities for talented sailors to accept challenging or desirable positions, increasing overall career satisfaction.”