10 February 2015

The silence of the liberal Muslim

Hasan Suroor
February 10, 2015 

While Muslims rightly resent being called upon to condemn every act of Muslim extremism by arguing why the community should be held accountable for the actions of individual members, the Shirin Dalvi case is about standing up for a fellow Muslim being intimidated by the community’s own lunatic fringe

A Muslim woman is accused of blasphemy, sacked by her employers, dragged through police stations and courts, and is forced to go underground in the face of a vicious hate campaign, including death threats.

This is not a story from the badlands of Waziristan, and her tormentors are not the sharia-enforcing Taliban. It is happening right in the heart of modern India — in cosmopolitan Mumbai, to be precise — with our own Taliban leading the show.

The victim is a respected Muslim woman journalist, Shirin Dalvi who edited a Mumbai-based Urdu daily,Avadhnama, until she got the sack a few weeks ago for allegedly hurting Muslim sentiments. On the basis of complaints by local Muslim groups, she was arrested, and multiple cases were registered against her for “outraging religious feelings … with malicious intent.” She faces a jail sentence, if convicted.

A campaign of intimidation

Her crime? While writing about the Charlie Hebdo controversy, she decided to reproduce the magazine’s cover carrying a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad to illustrate the report. But she was also quick to recognise her “mistake”, and immediately made amends for it by publishing an unconditional front page apology. This, however, has not satisfied the self-appointed custodians of Islam who continue to hound her through a campaign of intimidation and vilification.

Dalvi has claimed that the same image was printed in some other media outlets but she is being “singled out” because she is a woman.

Her life, she says, has become a living hell. Apart from having to do the rounds of police thanas and courts, she fears for her life after receiving anonymous threatening telephone calls. Someone reportedly sent a message through WhatsApp warning her, “Maafi nahin milegi (You won’t get forgiveness)”. Dalvi has taken to wearing a burqa to escape attention, and she doesn’t live with her family any more lest any harm should come to them because of her.

Modi's bureaucratic reshuffle

Harsh V. Pant
Feb 10 2015 12:41AM

India’s ossified bureaucracy is being shuffled like never before. The most recent development in this realm has been the rather dramatic sacking of Sujatha Singh from the post of Foreign Secretary and the appointment of S. Jaishankar to that position. The rumours about this development had been floating around for quite some time. Still, when the decision actually came to replace Singh about seven months before the end of her tenure, it ended up sending shock waves through the complacent Indian foreign policy establishment.

No one seems to be contesting that Jaishankar is a great choice. Yet the critics of the decision have largely focused on bureaucratic niceties by suggesting Jaishankar’s appointment not only curtailed Singh's career but also ended up blocking the career prospects of some senior Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers. The reaction of the Congress party has been rather strange with former Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari trying to link the action to the Khobragade episode involving an IFS officer who was jailed in the US two years ago for allegedly mistreating her maid. He tweeted: “Is sacking of Foreign Secretary late retribution for her stand on Devyani Khobragade affair? Removal after a Presidential visit 'coincidental’?”

Such criticism of the government’s decision misses the key point. This decision should be viewed as part of a larger, and much needed, bureaucratic shake-up that the Prime Minister is engendering. Just two weeks ago the government had also terminated the appointment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief, Avinash Chander, 15 months before his contact was to end.

Prime Ministers till now have devoted, at best, occasional interest in nuclear and strategic policy issues, mainly preferring to delegate substantial levels of policymaking discretion to organisations like the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation. The conduct of the DRDO has been largely driven by an effort to protect its direct communicative link to the Prime Minister, secure recurrent generous funding, and maintain a high level of autonomy. Given its significant budgetary resources in the context of a developing nation, the DRDO has repeatedly failed in delivering quality output. Major projects of the DRDO, including the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas, Nag missile, long-range Surface-to-Air missile project and the Airborne Early Warning and Control System, have either not been completed on time or have resulted in huge cost over-runs. It took the agency almost a decade and a half to operationalise Agni-I.

Fast-tracking disputes resolution

February 10, 2015

Recognising the optimism in Indian markets, driven by a government that is encouraging growth in trade and commerce, the Law Commission of India (LCI) in its recent 253rd Report has recommended reforms that can support this economic growth from a legal perspective. These are much-needed reforms in a growing economy where commercial disputes are often complex and of high value. The LCI has recommended the establishment of a commercial division in the High Courts to ensure speedy disposal of high-value commercial suits. It has proposed a bill, titled The Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts and Commercial Courts Bill, 2015, and substantive procedural changes in the form of amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The bill will define ‘commercial disputes’ so as to include ordinary transactions of merchants, bankers, financiers, joint ventures, partnerships, insurance companies and so on. These courts will have jurisdiction to hear only those disputes valued at Rs.1 crore or more. A commercial appellate division will hear appeals on the orders and decrees of the commercial courts. The Chief Justice will nominate judges with expertise and experience in commercial matters to the commercial and appellate courts. All pending commercial disputes beyond the specified value will be transferred to the commercial division. These recommendations are aimed to ensure disposal of cases expeditiously, fairly, and at reasonable cost.

The LCI had, in its 188th Report, recommended the setting up of specialised commercial courts, but the Rajya Sabha did not pass it then. The proposed bill is the consequence of a re-examination of the previous version tabled in Parliament in 2009. The LCI considers the suggested measures to be a pilot project that would lead to more expansive structural reforms. In the five High Courts with original jurisdiction, there are 32,656 civil suits pending, marking a 6.27 per cent increase in pendency over the previous year. One of the reasons for the large pendency is the shortage of judges in the original side of the High Courts. For instance, in the Madras High Court only four judges were allocated for the 41,702 cases pending on the original side in 2013. So the judiciary has to first tackle the root problem of high pendency rates and the mismatch between pending suits and the number of judges hearing it. Launching grand programmes or pursuing foreign investment without making necessary internal reforms in an already slow and overburdened judicial system will render these policies ineffective in the long run. The LCI’s recommendations are undoubtedly timely and need to be taken up without undue delay.

Obama, the disenchanted

By:Ross Douthat 
February 10, 2015

President Obama, like many well-read inhabitants of public life, is a professed admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous mid-20th-century Protestant theologian. And more than most presidents, he has tried to incorporate one of Niebuhr’s insights into his public rhetoric: the idea that no society is innocent, and that Americans in particular need to put aside illusions about our own alleged perfection.

The latest instance came at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, when the president, while condemning the religious violence perpetrated by the Islamic State, urged Westerners not to “get on our high horse”, because such violence is part of our own past as well: “During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” These comments were not well received by the president’s critics — as, indeed, his Niebuhrian forays rarely are. In the past, it’s been neo-conservatives taking exception when Obama goes abroad and talks about our Cold War-era sins.

This time, it was conservative Christians complaining that the president was reaching back 500 or 1,000 years to play at moral equivalence with people butchering their way across the Middle East.

From a Niebuhrian perspective, such complaints are to be expected. But the limits of his Niebuhrian style have also grown apparent. The first problem is that presidents are not historians or theologians, and in political rhetoric it’s hard to escape from oversimplification. You can introduce the Crusades to complicate a lazy “Islam violent, Christianity peaceful” binary, but then a lot of Christians are going to hear an implied equivalence between the Islamic State’s reign of terror and the incredibly complicated multi-century story of medieval Christendom’s conflict with Islam… and so all you’ve really done is put a pointless fight about Christian history on the table.

IAF’s Trainer Fleet: Need for Revamp!

09 Feb , 2015

Up till mid-2009, for basic training, the IAF was using the HPT-32, a piston-engine aircraft produced indigenously by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). This aircraft was in service with the IAF since 1987 and had progressively become unreliable. On account of 17 hull losses and 19 pilots’ lives lost, the IAF had steadily lost confidence about the safety and performance of the aircraft. The HPT-32 served the IAF for close to two decades and the service had been very keen to have them back in the air. This is due to the large numbers (over 100) and significant residual life still left in the fleet. Rather surprisingly, HAL was unable to solve the issues related to the fuel system of the aircraft.

One area where this obfuscation has diluted the IAF’s preparation for war is that of availability of suitable aircraft for training of pilots…

Quantitatively speaking, the Training Command of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flies about a third of the total flying hours logged by the service thus underscoring the significance of the old adage about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. As a professional Air Force, proud to be the fourth largest in the world, the IAF is constantly preparing for the worst, i.e. for a two-front war imposed on the nation through combined action by China and Pakistan. In the pursuit of an operational capability that can deal effectively with either or both of these inimical neighbours in a possible future war, the IAF has a vision and matching ambitious plans which include induction of modern fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft, strategic and tactical transport aircraft, a variety of force multipliers and the means for the exploitation of space for warfare.

Chinese shadow darkens

09 Feb , 2015

For countless generations the people of India have lived with the belief that the Himalayas, sacred to every Hindu, are an impregnable bastion of their homeland’s Northern borders. With a peaceful and friendly Tibet, only pilgrims and traders have in the past used the passes that pierce the Himalayan wall. The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950 therefore produced a shock wave in India. There were angry protests throughout the country.

These, however, died down with the dawn of the Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai era and Indians came to believe that China was a friend. Prime Minister Nehru went on a goodwill visit to China in 1954. On his return, he was all praise for China, her progress in all fields and the discipline and energy of her people. Two years later, when Chou En-lai returned Nehru’s visit, the Chinese leader was cheered by large crowds wherever he went.

It was only towards the end of August 1959 that the Indian public suddenly realized that all was not well with the country’s relations with China. The Longju incident of 25 August made headlines in newspapers on 28 August. An Assam Rifles’ post at this small village1 in the Subansiri division of NEFA was attacked without provocation by the Chinese and the men were compelled to withdraw after suffering casualties.

…the Indian Government had been informed of the movement of Chinese troops from Sinkiang to Western Tibet by its agent at Gartok. Whether the Indian Government took any action on this report is not known. But the Chinese continued to use this route to supply their troops in Western Tibet.

Three days after the incident, the Lok Sabha and the Indian public were told by the Government that serious disputes existed between China and India regarding the India-Tibet border and that a large chunk of Indian territory in Ladakh, several thousand square kilometres in area, was under Chinese control. While making a statement on the subject, Nehru told the Lok Sabha that the Government had thought it fit not to make the disputes public, as that would have made their settlement more difficult.

The Enemies Multiply in '88 Days to Kandahar'

February 8, 2015

In the War on Terror, CIA has become an operations-oriented outfit, moving away from its traditional role of analysis and developing its own cadres of warfighters and paramilitaries. One indicator of this shift is the will to do whatever it takes to obtain the Holy Grail of actionable intelligence.

-- paraphrased from Philip Lisagor’s “Should Intelligence Officers be ‘Hunters’ or ‘Gatherers’?

In a recent article for Cicero Magazine, retired Army Col. Philip Lisagor opines that CIA has drifted from an organization focused on collections and analysis to one consumed with finding, fixing and killing ambiguously designated terrorists. Lisagor’s point is intentionally uncomplicated: The agency traded in the unglamorous work of predictive analysis in order to drop bombs on ‘celebrity militants’. A compelling argument, but is it accurate? 

With the release of 88 Days to Kandahar, Robert Grenier – the former CIA Chief of Station for Pakistan and director of the vaunted CIA Counterterrorism Center during the mid ‘00s – casts an introspective gaze on his involvement in the early actions of the War on Terror. A seasoned operative with a “natural advantage over desk-bound, bookish analytic types,” Grenier outlines in detail the integral role he – and the agency writ large – played in what is called ‘The First American-Afghan War’. Grenier’s tale is inflected by inter-personal conflicts at home and abroad. He offers a cautionary, firsthand perspective for the agents, bureaucrats and decision-makers who must work together to sort out the next chapter in America’s wars in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Although unintended by its author, 88 Days (Simon & Schuster, 2015) also serves as a personal account of transformation and tumult from inside America’s leading spy agency. 

For Saudis and Pakistan, a Bird of Contention

FEB. 7, 2015

For decades, royal Arab hunting expeditions have traveled to the far reaches of Pakistan in pursuit of the houbara bustard — a waddling, migratory bird whose meat, they believe, contains aphrodisiac powers.

Little expense is spared for the elaborate winter hunts. Cargo planes fly tents and luxury jeeps into custom-built desert airstrips, followed by private jets carrying the kings and princes of Persian Gulf countries along with their precious charges: expensive hunting falcons that are used to kill the white-plumed houbara.

This year’s hunt, however, has run into difficulty.

It started in November, when the High Court in Baluchistan, the vast and tumultuous Pakistani province that is a favored hunting ground, canceled all foreign hunting permits in response to complaints from conservationists.

Those experts say the houbara’s habitat, and perhaps the long-term survival of the species, which is already considered threatened, has been endangered by the ferocious pace of hunting.

That legal order ballooned into a minor political crisis last week when a senior Saudi prince and his entourage landed in Baluchistan, attracting unusually critical media attention and a legal battle that is scheduled to reach the country’s Supreme Court in the coming days.

Anger among conservationists was heightened by the fact that the prince — Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Tabuk province — along with his entourage had killed 2,100 houbara over 21 days during last year’s hunt, according to an official report leaked to the Pakistani news media, or about 20 times more than his allocated quota.

Still, Prince Fahd faced little censure when he touched down in Dalbandin, a dusty town near the Afghan border on Wednesday, to be welcomed by a delegation led by a cabinet minister and including senior provincial officials.

His reception was a testament, critics say, to the money-driven magnetism of Saudi influence in Pakistan, and the walk-on role of the humble bustard in cementing that relationship.

Vietnam and Diplomatic Balancing

By Khang Vu
February 08, 2015

Last year witnessed growing tensions in the South China Sea between Vietnam and China, taking diplomatic relations between the two countries to their lowest point since the end of the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979. In contrast, Vietnam and the United States have enjoyed significant developments in their ties, which will coincide this year with the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Being directly threatened by China in the South China Sea, Vietnam needs a strong partner like the United States to help secure its sovereignty. Depending on China and America for different reasons, Vietnam finds itself needing to balance its diplomacy to effectively manage its relations with the two superpowers.

After the HD 981 incident, many analysts talked up relations between Vietnam and America. In the wake of the tensions, the two nations sent senior envoys to strengthen ties. Washington offered warm greetings to Hanoi Party Committee Secretary and Politburo member Pham Quang Nghi during his visit in late July, while for its part Hanoi welcomed a U.S. Senate delegation in early August led by Senators John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse, and later the very first visit of a U.S. Army General since the Vietnam War. Later, in September, Hanoi dispatched its Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh to America for talks on enhancing bilateral trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Most remarkably, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh’s visit to America partially lifted the embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam. Clearly, Vietnam and America have broken new diplomat ground, but an alliance between the two countries is unlikely any time soon.


FEBRUARY 8, 2015 

Could Asia enjoy a 21st Century Pax-ASEAN-Ameri-China? It’s not that farfetched.

That’s because current territorial tension in the South China Sea isn’t about islands. It’s about access to energy, fisheries and control over navigation.

The first two can be priced and auctioned. The third can be ensured by cooperating navies enforcing the recognized property rights created by the first two.

The path to this future looks wide open. China, Vietnam and the Philippines, the three main countries butting heads in the South China Sea, all support the concept of Joint Development.

Joint Development Areas (JDAs) are created when countries with disputing claims to an offshore area agree to set those claims aside for an indefinite period while they jointly develop the resources within them.

JDAs have pedigree. They already exist all over the world. Three exist in the South China Sea.

My research organization, Grenatec, proposes nine more be created.

The result? Market arbitration of South China Sea territorial claims for, say, 20-40 years. After that, territorial finality can be negotiated when the stakes are lower because the hydrocarbons have been exhausted.

Under Grenatec’s plan, these nine South China Sea JDAs would be interconnected by an open-access, common-carrier offshore pipeline connecting them to downstream regional markets.

The reason is that there’s more in the South China Sea than just oil and gas. This needs to be incorporated into investment decisions.

Avoiding the Unthinkable: Preventing a US-China Nuclear War

James Jay Carafano
February 9, 2015

Washington can't be complacent about its relationship with an antagonistic nuclear power. We’ve known that for more than thirty years, since the Pentagon sponsored a highly classified war game called Proud Prophet.

Conducted in 1983, the game was designed to test the strategy Washington had honed for more than a decade. The United States had always relied on deterrence to prevent war between the superpowers. But, if deterrence failed, the West needed a Plan B—and they had one. If NATO and the Warsaw Pact actually started to trade shots, the alliance strategy would be to manage the conflict: demonstrate resolve, hold its ground and de-escalate the confrontation. It sounded plausible—in theory.

Proud Prophet put Plan B to the test. It used a put-up or shut-up scenario, pitting Moscow against Washington in a mock shooting war. The results were terrifying. Tit-for-tat ended in an all-out nuclear exchange obliterating mankind.

Now, Beijing is not Moscow. And that’s what makes the lesson of Proud Prophet so scary when contemplating modern-day, nuclear-armed China. Managing escalation with the Soviet Union was easy compared to managing potential escalation with China. One reason for that is because the competition between the United States and U.S.S.R. was relatively symmetrical. In many ways, the hard-power strengths of the two powers mirrored each other.

Additionally, East and West lived in separate camps. There was scant economic interaction between the two sides. We mostly talked among ourselves. They (mostly) talked to themselves. Yet, in Proud Prophet’s relatively simple two-player competition, once escalation started, it quickly spun out of control.

The U.S.-Chinese relationship is the polar opposite. The economies and public spheres overlap in a complex, foot-tripping web. Both sides have looked at mastering asymmetrical advantages to constrain and manage the other. If they ever started actually shooting at each other, managing that messy relationship would become nearly impossible. Just like Proud Prophet, it would lead to a horror show.

Orient express, China's grand plan for a New Silk Road

By Patrick Brown

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits the Greek port of Piraeus, where Chinese shipping giant Cosco controls two of the three container terminals. China also signalled last year it would buy Greek bonds in a show of support for the financially stricken nation that is at the eastern gateway to Europe.

"A whirlwind," "Win-win," "The new normal." China's slogans have clearly had a facelift since the time when the best on offer was "Socialism is good."

So has the country's foreign policy.

The latest catchphrases describe the extraordinary campaign to recreate and surpass the glory days of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked East and West at the height of China's imperial power centuries ago.

They also explain some of the reasons why, in the past two years, Chinese investment in Canada has dropped from billions of dollars a year to next to none, and why no Chinese leader has visited Canada in close to five years.

Instead, they are spending their time and money in important places like Maldives, Kazakhstan and Serbia.

It's like the real estate business. The three most important factors are location, location and location, and Canada is now off the beaten track. 

The US, Japan and the South China Sea

Dr. Shen Dingli, deputy director of Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, has publicly and sharply criticized the United States for purposely “sowing discord in the region under the guise of establishing regional stability.”

The trigger for this unusual outburst by one of China’s leading international relations scholars was the statement by the Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet Vice Admiral Robert Thomas welcoming an extension by Japan of its air patrols over the South China Sea. The U.S. State Department echoed this welcome “of a more active role for Japan in ensuring stability in Asia.” But its spokesperson Jen Psaki also said “we’re not aware of plans or proposals for new patrols.” This qualification suggested that Thomas had “misspoken” or at least diplomatically “jumped the gun.”

Japan’s Defence Minister Gen Nakatani responded that “We currently do not patrol there or have a plan to do so, but we are deepening our cooperation with the U.S. and the situation in the South China Sea has an impact on our national security.” These comments come just as the U.S. and Japan are negotiating a new bilateral security alliance that is expected to give Japan a more active role in the alliance. Such patrols – if they are implemented – would likely involve Japanese P-3C Orions based in Okinawa and focus on the growing number of Chinese vessels that are overwhelming other claimants’ surveillance capabilities, as well as Chinese submarines based in Yulin on Hainan. Japan has also committed to helping China’s most vocal rival claimants – the Philippines and Vietnam – to enhance their surveillance capabilities. Not surprisingly China has responded by warning Japan not to “create tension.”

Hopefully this is all a misunderstanding and the U.S. will do or say something, at least behind the scenes, to mollify China and restrain Japan. Otherwise I agree with Shen Dingli. If truly intended and implemented, this would be the most insensitive and provocative U.S./Japan move yet in Asia. Indeed, a regional military-related role for the former brutal, racist, still-feared and, for many, insufficiently repentant conqueror of China and Southeast Asia would set off alarm bells throughout the region.

Islamic State and Japan: What Next?

By Mieczyslaw P. Boduszynski and Christopher K. Lamont
February 06, 2015

The beheading of two Japanese citizens at the hands of the Islamic State has sent shock waves through Japan. Over the past two weeks the Japanese public followed the unfolding drama, with domestic media providing in-depth analysis of every video and voice recording released by the hostage-takers. A tearful statement from the mother of murdered journalist Kenji Goto added to a national sense of distress. Meanwhile, ominous televised images of ISIS fighters roaming Iraq and Syria and coverage of the group’s latest threat to Japanese citizens fuel a growing sense of fear that Japan is vulnerable to international terrorism. With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowing to make ISIS “pay for their sins,” the hostage crisis has triggered a debate on Japan’s role in the Middle East both within Japan’s parliament, the Diet, and among the wider public. The crisis has thus become a moment of truth for Abe’s activist foreign policy in a region which fulfills the bulk of Japan’s energy needs but also one in which Japan has traditionally been wary of entering into messy political entanglements.

Ninety percent of Japanese oil comes from the Middle East, with nearly ten percent of that supply coming from Iran. Historically Japan has imported oil from the region while attempting to steer clear of Middle East politics, of which most Japanese have little knowledge. However, the reality of its economic interests and its alliance with the U.S. has at times rendered such neutrality difficult, if not impossible. The 1973 OPEC embargo awoke many Japanese to the political consequences of their Middle East oil dependence. More recently, Tokyo has come under significant pressure from Washington to play a supporting role in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to curtail imports of Iranian oil. On all of these fronts, Japan obliged, but in the face of significant public opposition to engaging in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular.

If you think gas is cheap these days, look what it costs in Saudi Arabia

February 8

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Ahmed al-Ghaith pulled his Dodge Durango into a gas station in central Riyadh and told the attendant to fill it up. In a country where gas sells for 45 cents a gallon, that cost him $12.

With global oil prices plummeting, you might think people in Saudi Arabia, a nation synonymous with oil, where 90 percent of government revenue comes from holes drilled in its majestically profitable sands, would be freaking out.

But at a busy downtown gas station one day recently, there was not a whiff of concern among the drivers of the stream of Audis, Cadillacs, Mercedes-Benzes, Dodges and Chevys pulling up to the pumps in a land where government-subsidized gas is as cheap as water.

“Personally, it doesn’t affect me a bit,” said Ghaith, 49, who works in a bookstore and spends about $40 a month fueling his big American-made SUV. “It might affect the government in the future — maybe they will have to cut back on their big projects. But it’s no problem for me.”

In Saudi Arabia, the general response to the drop in global oil prices by half — from more than $100 a barrel six months ago to around $50 now — is a shrug.
A gas pump in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Jan. 19 shows a price of regular gas at the equivalent of 45 U.S. cents per gallon. (Kevin Sullivan/The Washington Post)

Remember all those $60 fill-ups at U.S. pumps when gas was running close to $4 a gallon over the past few years? While your wallet was getting hammered, Saudi Arabia’s was getting stuffed thick. The kingdom has more than $750 billion in cash reserves, which is more than enough to keep the lights on and stave off panic over oil markets.

“The government has the cushion to withstand low oil prices,” said Tariq al-Sudairy, chief executive of Jadwa Investment, a private investment bank in Riyadh. “The question is how long this period of low oil prices will be, and will it be long enough to force the government to make tough decisions?”

Sudairy and other analysts said those tough decisions mainly involve the government’s massive program of infrastructure projects. Under King Abdullah, who died last month, the Saudis spent billions on roads, rails, universities, hospitals, airports, seaports, housing, brand-new cities and other projects funded almost entirely by oil revenue.

Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings

FEB 5, 2015 

The Arab uprisings of 2011 created unexpected opportunities for religious radicals. Although many inside and outside the region initially saw the uprisings as liberal triumphs, illiberal forces have benefitted disproportionately. In Tunisia, formally marginalized salafi-jihadi groups appealed for mainstream support, and in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood triumphed in elections. Even in Saudi Arabia, not known for either lively politics or for political entrepreneurship, a surprising array of forces praised the rise of “Islamic democracy” under a Muslim Brotherhood banner.

Yet, at the same time, the Arab Spring reinforced regional governments’ advantages. The chaos engulfing parts of the region has convinced some citizens that they were better off with the governments they had, and many governments successfully employed old and new tools of repression to reinforce the status quo.

In the Middle East, conflicts that many thought were coming to an end will continue, as will the dynamism and innovation that have emerged among radical and opposition groups. To face the current threats, governments will need to use many of their existing tools skillfully, but they will also need to judge what tools will no longer work, and what new tools they have at their disposal. The stakes could not be higher. 

Newsflash: Jordan's ISIS War Began 3 Years Ago

Andrew J. Bowen
February 8, 2015 

The savage murder of a Jordanian Air Force pilot, which was videotaped and released this week while King Abdullah was visiting Washington, further underscored the increasing security challenges Amman faces both to the north and west of its borders. With mounting budget pressures, as well as a large Syrian refugee community within his borders, the King has a number of friends, a few tacit acquaintances and a growing number of enemies.

In terms of long-standing friends, King Abdullah’s visit to Washington last week, the second in less than a year, highlights the growing synergies between Washington and Amman on regional security and the importance of this strategic relationship to the Kingdom. Washington has given Jordan substantial military and security assistance since 2011 to deal with both the massive flow of Syrian refugees and the militant groups operating in Syria and in Iraq. In addition to being a refuge for a number of Syrian army defectors, Amman has also served as one of main arms and military assistance points for the Free Syrian Army and a smaller staging and training ground for Washington’s largely symbolic support for the “vetted” Syrian armed opposition.

The Gulf states, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have been critical in keeping Jordan’s finances out of the red and providing humanitarian assistance to Jordan’s large Syrian refugee community. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia went so far as to suggest that Jordan join the GCC. The Israeli leadership also recognizes the strategic importance of the Hashemite monarchy, and, ironically, Jordan is one of the few issues on which both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu find common ground.

In terms of tacit acquaintances, President Assad is arguably less of an enemy than one might expect. For over a year after the protests erupted in Syria, at a time when it was unclear whether Assad would be toppled or not, the King restrained his support for the Anti-Assad forces, despite the anti-regime sentiments of the growing number of Syrian refugees pouring into his country.

Don't Arm Ukraine

FEB. 8, 2015

The Ukraine crisis is almost a year old and Russia is winning. The separatists in eastern Ukraine are gaining ground and Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, shows no signs of backing down in the face of Western economic sanctions.

Unsurprisingly, a growing chorus of voices in the United States is calling for arming Ukraine. A recent report from three leading American think tanks endorses sending Kiev advanced weaponry, and the White House’s nominee for secretary of defense, Ashton B. Carter, said last week to the Senate armed services committee, “I very much incline in that direction.”

They are wrong. Going down that road would be a huge mistake for the United States, NATO and Ukraine itself. Sending weapons to Ukraine will not rescue its army and will instead lead to an escalation in the fighting. Such a step is especially dangerous because Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and is seeking to defend a vital strategic interest.

There is no question that Ukraine’s military is badly outgunned by the separatists, who have Russian troops and weapons on their side. Because the balance of power decisively favors Moscow, Washington would have to send large amounts of equipment for Ukraine’s army to have a fighting chance.

But the conflict will not end there. Russia would counter-escalate, taking away any temporary benefit Kiev might get from American arms. The authors of the think tank study concede this, noting that “even with enormous support from the West, the Ukrainian Army will not be able to defeat a determined attack by the Russian military.” In short, the United States cannot win an arms race with Russia over Ukraine and thereby ensure Russia’s defeat on the battlefield.

Proponents of arming Ukraine have a second line of argument. The key to success, they maintain, is not to defeat Russia militarily, but to raise the costs of fighting to the point where Mr. Putin will cave. The pain will supposedly compel Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and allow it to join the European Union and NATO and become an ally of the West.


By Nauro F. Campos and Fabrizio Coricelli
FEBRUARY 7, 2015

Britain eschewed EU membership in the late 1950s but changed its mind in the early 1960s, only to be rebuffed by Charles de Gaulle. Membership came only in the early 1970s. This column argues that, among others, Britain joined the EU as a way to avoid its economic decline. The UK’s per capita GDP relative to the EU founding members’ declined steadily from 1945 to 1972. However, it was relatively stable between 1973 and 2010. This suggests substantial benefits from EU membership especially considering that, by sponsoring an overpowered integration model, Britain joined too late, at a bad moment in time, and at an avoidably larger cost.

Prime Minister Cameron is determined to change the relationship between the UK and the EU. If the Conservative party wins the May 2015 general election, he promised he will renegotiate membership terms and offer an ‘in or out’ referendum by the end of 2017 (Copsey and Naughton 2014). Life after the EU is a real option for the UK and an unfamiliar one for the EU, considering that no member has ever left. Economic history can throw valuable new light on the current re-examination of the rationale for membership.

This column argues that a fundamental yet relatively unappreciated feature of the relationship between Britain and the EU is a structural break.[1] The ratio of UK’s per capita GDP to the EU founding members’ declined steadily from 1945 until 1972 but was relatively stable between 1973 and 2010. Such prominent structural break (and to the best of our knowledge one not previously detected and analysed) suggests substantial benefits from EU membership especially considering that, by sponsoring an overpowered integration model, Britain joined too late, at a bad moment in time, and at an avoidably larger cost.
Lost wars

The Navy’s Hidden Crisis It’s too small—and getting smaller.

February 05, 2015

Not many Americans understand how many Army divisions we have, the percentage breakdown of the Air Force’s fighter/bomber mix, or the three “Triad” legs of our strategic nuclear force. But just about everyone understands the Navy’s “ship count” and what it means for a president to send a carrier battle group into a crisis zone. And so, amid a more complicated and complex discussion this week over the sequestration’s impact, it didn’t go unnoticed Wednesday when Ashton Carter, President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, told Congress that the aircraft carrier fleet would likely continue to shrink.

It was only the latest revelation, though, about how deeply and how quickly the Navy’s ambitions are shrinking—even in an age when our adversaries are growing their own navies in oceans around the world. Ever since Theodore Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet,” the U.S. Navy has been how the country’s leaders have projected power on the world stage—but it’s now clear from years of cutbacks, sequestration, and an aging fleet that we’re going to be doing less of that power projection in the years ahead.

What’s not clear, though, is that “less” is the right answer—and that’s a topic that going’s to be front and center in the debates over the nation’s military entering the 2016 presidential race. There will be a dozen voices on the GOP side alone—each struggling to connect with their own “peace-through-strength” message, grabbing the mantle of Ronald Reagan in some capacity or another. When talk in the debates and on the campaign trail turns to defense and national security issues, candidates will need a short hand message to communicate seriousness on the subject. It is easy to lose audiences here—to dive too deep into defense minutia and acronyms as candidates struggle to communicate their clear and steady commitment to American exceptionalism and a strong defense. After having been involved in the last three presidential campaigns, I can say with certainty that the shortcut to connecting with voters on national security is via a discussion of the strength of the United States Navy. The American voter knows that we cannot protect the seas and our interests overseas unless we have ships that can fight and deliver Marines and carrier-based fighter jets to the world’s hot spots.

This chart shows all of the submarines currently in the Russian Navy

FEB 6, 2015

Borei-class submarine Yuri Dolgorukiy during sea trials.

Russia's submarine fleet is one of the most capable in the world, perhaps second only to that of the United States.

The submarine fleet is mostly a holdover from the days of the Cold War. Nuclear-armed Soviet and US submarines would pursue each other across the world's oceans and act as second-strike options in the event of all-out nuclear war.

Although Russia's submarine fleet had aged and shrunk since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Russian President Vladimir Putin has grand plans to modernize the fleet through the purchase of additional submarines coupled along the development and acquisition of new models.

Below is an infographic by St. Petersburg, Russia-based designer Anton Egorov depicting the submarines that Russia currently operates, along with their maximum depth:

Russia's submarine fleet is divided into three broad categories: diesel-electric powered submarines, nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and nuclear-powered attack submarines. Each variation has its own unique purpose and is further sub-divided into varying models.

Russia's diesel-electric submarine fleet is the least technologically advanced segment of the fleet and also the cheapest to acquire and maintain. These submarines, which are smaller and slower and have a shorter range than their nuclear counterparts, are limited in their total operational depth and are used for attacking surface ships and merchant vessels.

Russia plans on adding an additional six Kilo-class submarines to the Black Sea Fleet, along with 14 to 18 diesel-electric submarines similar to Lada-class subs over the next fifteen years.

Nuclear-powered ballistic subs form the nuclear deterrent backbone of the Russian fleet. These subs are faster than diesel-electric submarines, larger, and can dive to significantly deeper depths. These subs carry ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.

UK-US surveillance regime was unlawful ‘for seven years’

Owen Bowcott
6 February 2015

Regulations governing access to intercepted information obtained by NSA breached human rights laws, according to Investigatory Powers Tribunal 
The regime that governs the sharing between Britain and the US of electronic communications intercepted in bulk was unlawful until last year, a secretive UK tribunal has ruled.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) declared on Friday that regulations covering access by Britain’s GCHQ to emails and phone records intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA) breached human rights law.

Advocacy groups said the decision raised questions about the legality of intelligence-sharing operations between the UK and the US. The ruling appears to suggest that aspects of the operations were illegal for at least seven years – between 2007, when the Prism intercept programme was introduced, and 2014.

The critical judgment marks the first time since the IPT was established in 2000 that it has upheld a complaint relating to any of the UK’s intelligence agencies. It said that the government’s regulations were illegal because the public were unaware of safeguards that were in place. Details of those safeguards were only revealed during the legal challenge at the IPT.

An “order” posted on the IPT’s website early on Friday declared: “The regime governing the soliciting, receiving, storing and transmitting by UK authorities of private communications of individuals located in the UK, which have been obtained by US authorities … contravened Articles 8 or 10” of the European convention on human rights.

Article 8 relates to the right to private and family life; article 10 refers to freedom of expression.

Shadow Boxing With the Islamic State in Central Asia


When it comes to the Islamic State’s potential threat to Central Asia, no one quite seems to be able to tell the difference between reality and speculation.

On Monday, Uzbekistan’s domestic intelligence agency announced that it had intercepted communications indicating that the militants were planning to carry out terrorist attacks in the country in the spring. The same day, Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry said it had uncovered 83 cases of recruiters trying to bring fighters to Syria.

Fighters returning from Syria have not carried out any attacks in Central Asia and apart from such statements from state security organs, there is little reliable information to be had on the inroads the Islamic State has made in the region. The question of how many Central Asian citizens have joined up with the Islamic State or have professed jihadist sympathies has now become a volatile political issue. Hyping the threat could provide justification for the region’s strongmen to further consolidate power. At the same time, terror experts agree that Central Asia has become a recruitment hub for the militant group.

“The estimates and figures from Central Asian governments are all highly politicized and speculative,” says John Heathershaw, a Central Asia expert at the University of Exeter. “The simple truth is that no one has an accurate figure.”

In October 2014, Rafal Rohozinski, a terrorism expert and CEO of SecDev, a Canadian think tank, told a conference in Kazakhstan that approximately 4,000 Central Asians are fighting with the Islamic State. The figure was picked up and widely circulated in the Russian and Central Asian media. That estimate, according to Rohozinski, was based on an extensive reading of jihadist chat forums and social media.

Interpreting the National Security Strategy

Thomas Wright
February 6, 2015

The Obama administration released its second and final National Security Strategy (NSS) today. It highlights America’s strong recovery from the financial crisis and the importance of leading in a challenged world. This document is always difficult to produce—it has to go through an inter-agency process and it’s not always possible to call the world as the president privately sees it. It’s unfair to expect George Kennan. With that caveat, there is much that can be gleaned from it.

The key to understanding the NSS is to recognize the context in which it appears. Foreign policy analysts are currently split into two camps with regards to how bad the world situation actually is. The first sees the breakdown of the international order due to the return of geopolitics and the weakening of the state in the Middle East. President Vladimir Putin’s aggression fundamentally challenges European security, which has been a core U.S. interest since World War II. The regional order in the Middle East is unraveling with catastrophic consequences. And in Asia, China’s rise poses major challenges.

The second camp believes that the United States faces difficult threats and challenges, but it rejects the notion that the return of geopolitics is a game changer or that the regional order in the Middle East is collapsing. For them, the United States must deal with each individual crisis—whether it is Russian aggression or the rise of ISIL—but it is important not to exaggerate their larger significance. As National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in her speech at Brookings to launch the document, the United States cannot "be buffeted by alarmism in nearly instantaneous news cycle.” It is vital not to lose sight of other challenges which are even more important, including climate change and non-proliferation.

In the National Security Strategy, President Obama firmly located himself in the second camp, and the document provides a coherent strategy for this worldview. How it deals with Russia is probably the most telling signal. The document condemns Russian aggression (a sharp contrast from the engagement of the 2010 strategy), but there is no special section on Russia. Russia is not listed in the top eight strategic risks to U.S. interests. Mention is made in that list of the security of allies, but this notably excludes the war in Ukraine, which has so far claimed over 5,000 lives and could get much worse.

Hacking the Hackers: NSA and UKUSA Allies Monitor Hacktivists to See Which Systems They Are Penetrating

Glenn Greenwald
February 5, 2015

The U.S., U.K. and Canadian governments characterize hackers as a criminal menace, warn of the threats they allegedly pose to critical infrastructure, andaggressively prosecute them, but they are also secretly exploiting their information and expertise, according to top secret documents.

In some cases, the surveillance agencies are obtaining the content of emails by monitoring hackers as they breach email accounts, often without notifying the hacking victims of these breaches. “Hackers are stealing the emails of some of our targets… by collecting the hackers’ ‘take,’ we … get access to the emails themselves,” reads one top secret 2010 National Security Agency document.

These and other revelations about the intelligence agencies’ reliance on hackers are contained in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents—which come from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters agency and NSA—shed new light on the various means used by intelligence agencies to exploit hackers’ successes and learn from their skills, while also raising questions about whether governments have overstated the threat posed by some hackers.

By looking out for hacking conducted “both by state-sponsored and freelance hackers” and riding on the coattails of hackers, Western intelligence agencies have gathered what they regard as valuable content:

Recently, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) and Menwith Hill Station (MHS) discovered and began exploiting a target-rich data set being stolen by hackers. The hackers’ sophisticated email-stealing intrusion set is known as INTOLERANT. Of the traffic observed, nearly half contains category hits because the attackers are targeting email accounts of interest to the Intelligence Community. Although a relatively new data source, [Target Offices of Primary Interest] have already written multiple reports based on INTOLERANT collect.