17 February 2015

Armed jihad at India’s doorstep

Feb 16, 2015

Pictures recently carried by various media channels showed in graphic detail a captured Jordanian fighter pilot being burnt alive somewhere in Syria, by fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a direct derivative of Al Qaeda. The fate of a captive has been uncertain and unenviable in any war, but none more so than that of a downed ground-attack pilot, who at one moment might have been raining high explosive or incendiary ordinance on targets below, and in the next has to bail out when his aircraft is suddenly hit and incapacitated by ground fire or mechanical failure. Ground troops, who might at one instant have been cowering impotently against air attacks delivered from aircrafts, generally invisible to the naked eye, would be less than human if some amongst them did not give physical vent to pent-up rage and frustration when one of their tormentors is shot down and parachutes helplessly earthwards into their waiting hands.

The Geneva Conventions do exist, but they are often the last things in mind in the immediate aftermath of a capture, least of all by barbaric organisations like the ISIS that has never heard of the Geneva Conventions, and reject them even if they have.

Like an expanding puddle of toxic sewage, the ISIS is steadily reaching out of Syria, northwest towards Lebanon and the Turkish border, and south towards western and central Iraq. These regions have always been regarded as part of India’s near-abroad, where India has substantial economic interests, as well as a large transient Indian workforce, who are often threatened and swept into the intensifying regional conflicts there between government forces and multiple jihadi factions, some, nothing more than criminal gangs masquerading as “holy warriors”.

The ISIS is said to be headed by a supreme imam, at present, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who has issued a fatwa for the establishment of an “Islamic Republic of Khorassan”, a Khilafat or Caliphate with geographical dimensions which incorporate large parts of India as well, a clear statement of intent which is bad news for India.

The ISIS views Islam as locked in an existential conflict with the West, which has invaded “Muslim lands” a reference to foreign expeditionary forces now operating in Afghanistan, Iraq, “AfPak” and elsewhere, under the directives and leadership of the “Great Satan” America and its Nato allies. The call echoing from preachers’ pulpits, to restore the lost glories of Islam and return to its pristine (sic) sanatan form is finding many takers amongst younger generations settled outside the Islamic world, particularly those in the “corrupt” environments of Europe, America, where they enjoy lifestyles and a standards of living unthinkable in their countries of origin.

The Peshawar effect

February 17, 2015 

It increased Pak army resolve to pursue militants. It is also helping it acquire more power.

Two months after the attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, in which 150 persons were killed, including 134 children, the impact of this tragedy on Pakistan is becoming clearer and can be assessed. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility, saying, “we targeted the school because the army targets our families”, a clear indication that the attack was revenge for the Pakistan military’s operations in North Waziristan.

But instead of weakening the army and dissuading it from fighting the Islamists, this attack has reinforced the military’s position in Pakistan and its determination to take on at least some militants. First, the attack, which resulted in the loss of so many sons of armymen, has given rise to an emotional urge among people to show solidarity with the institution whose soldiers and officers are not just fighting on the ground but suffering tragic bereavements too. Second, in a war-like atmosphere of this kind, more than before, the army appears to be the saviour. Third, the army showed great decisiveness. This is evident from the trip of the chief of army staff, Raheel Sharif, to Kabul on December 17, to persuade the Afghan authorities to help the Pakistan army take on Mullah Fazlullah, chief of the TTP, who was supposed to have been operating from Afghanistan.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also displayed firmness by lifting the moratorium on capital punishment. But the first six people executed were on death row for taking part in the attack against the GHQ in 2009 or being involved in an attempt on General Pervez Musharraf’s life. The government seemed to signal that those who “deserved” to be killed first were people who had targeted the army.

If Saudis aren’t fuelling the militant inferno, who is?

Robert Fisk
Feb 17 2015

With Riyadh increasingly suspected of funding the terrorist group, the United States may have to rethink its relationships with the kingdom
A man purported to be I S captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh in a cage in a vide filmed from an undisclosed location. It was made available on social media on Feb 3

The image of a Muslim burned alive is more terrible for millions of Muslims than that of an “unbeliever” burned alive. So just who are the Muslims who support the immolation of a young Jordanian? And, more to the point, who are their masters? Jordanians, more than half of whom are Palestinians, must now debate the dichotomy of tribal loyalty and religion, and ask a simple question: Who are their real allies — and their real national enemies — in the Middle East? The searchlight beam of their attention, and of Washington's, will now again pass over the Gulf and that most Wahhabi of nations, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Put bluntly, should the world blame the Saudis for the inflammable monster that is Isis?

Stroking the monarchy

The US, where the State Department and the Pentagon have themselves been divided over Saudi Arabia's foundational role in Salafist violence — the former happy to stroke the monarchy as a pro-Western “moderate force for good”, the latter suspecting that all Islamist roads lead to Riyadh — may now have to recalculate its relationship with the Kingdom. While President Obama predictably talked of Isis "barbarism" recently, The New York Times was revealing that the so-called “20th 9/11 bomber”, Zacarias Moussaoui, wishes to testify that he once delivered letters from Osama bin Laden to Crown Prince Salman now the Saudi King and that prominent Saudi royals were helping to fund Al-Qaida. 

Breaking ISIS web

Feb 17, 2015

The ISIS has demonstrated its capacity to efficiently use cyberspace for a variety of purposes, including radicalisation. In addition to its own cadres, a large number of sympathisers continue to proliferate on the Web.

Mehdi Masroor Biswas’ was indeed a curious case. For several months, the 24-year-old engineer, working as a manufacturing executive with a multinational firm in Bengaluru, was handling the pro-jihad Twitter account @ShamiWitness that had supposedly become a source of incitement and information for the new recruits of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Biswas, who had never been to Syria, posed as a Libyan living in the United Kingdom to his followers, and retweeted many Arabic posts translated into English with the alleged intent of becoming a “strategist” for the ISIS. Till his arrest, the Twitter handle, now closed, had 17,700 followers.

In May 2014, four young men hailing from Maharashtra’s Kalyan district, joined the ISIS. All in their 20s, these youths left for Haj and disappeared. Then one of the youths, Majid, who returned to the country after several months, was arrested. He reportedly told the investigators that he and his friends were indoctrinated through Internet chat rooms. It was through an intermediary on Facebook that Majid was first introduced to a contact in Mosul, Iraq, who served as a local point person for guiding these youths to join ISIS camps.

While Majid and his friends sought to travel to Iraq and Biswas was disseminating offensive content on the Internet, Anees Ansari, a resident of Kurla in central Mumbai, is a radicalised youth who decided to wage a war at home. Ansari, a software engineer, was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad for allegedly planning to bomb the American School at Bandra Kurla Complex. He was also indoctrinating an American youth, Omar El Hajj to carry out a lone-wolf attack in the US.

A flawed approach to food security

Deepankar Basu, Debarshi Das
February 17, 2015 

WASTED: “Though the Shanta Kumar Committee has pointed out that FCI has excess stocks of food grains, it is not enough reason to curtail the existing food management system.” Picture shows damaged wheat sacks at an FCI open storage facility on the outskirts of Karnal in Haryana. Photo: Kamal Narang

With India continuing to be plagued by malnutrition, it is foolhardy to use the changed food production situation in the domestic economy as a reason for dismantling the FCI

Within months of assuming office, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government set up a High Level Committee (HLC) in August 2014 to restructure, reorient and reform the Food Corporation of India (FCI). The eight-member HLC was chaired by senior BJP leader, Shanta Kumar, and included prominent economist Ashok Gulati. On January 22, 2015, the HLC submitted its report to the government and made its recommendations public.

In the short run, the committee recommends that the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 be curtailed. In particular, the NFSA entails providing subsidised food to about 67 per cent of the population, and the committee recommends that the coverage be brought down to 40 per cent. In the medium run, the committee recommends that the current public distribution system (PDS) be replaced by a cash transfer system. This will mean that the state will no longer have to be responsible for distributing food to vulnerable sections of the population. Hence, the state will no longer need to procure food from farmers, and store it. Since the current system of procurement, storage and transportation is primarily managed by the FCI, the medium term vision of the HLC implies that the FCI can, in due course, be folded up.

Boots on the Ground: The Realities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria

FEB 13, 2015

The Obama administration and its strongest opponents in Congress may not have all that much in common, but one thing they do share is the constant misuse of the word “strategy.” Strategy does not consist of stating a broad policy goal and empty rhetoric. It consist of stating an actual plan with clearly defined goals, specific means to achieve, milestones for action, estimates of the necessary resources and their availability, estimates of cost-benefits and risks, and metrics to measure success. A sound bite that fits in Twitter or a fortunate cookie is not a strategy.

Getting this wrong is particularly dangerous when one starts talking about the use of military force and mindlessly throwing around terms like “boots on the ground” with no actual definition of what is involved or what the term is intended to mean. Every American has to accept the fact that the coming presidential election means two years of vacuous partisan political posturing, but any form of war is serious and the stakes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria are all too real.

The Need for an Integrated Civil-Military Strategy, Based on Command and Embassy Expertise on the Scene

To begin with, these are areas where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the key commanders on the scene, along with the ambassadors and State Department who have responsibility for the political and economic dimensions of a given operation, need to be asked for detailed advice.

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria do not have that much in common, but one thing is clear in all three cases. U.S. military action must be tied to a civil-military strategy that offers the best possible hope of producing a stable and friendly nation as its ultimate outcome. No amount of tactical victories in the field, and no amount of U.S. military force that merely defeats the immediate enemy threat, will create that stability. Military success is critical, but it is only a means to an end.

Defining “Boots on the Ground” Begins with an Effective Advisory Effort in the Field

Second, simply calling for more U.S. military forces in the abstract is as irresponsible and stupid as determining the type and size of forces without regard to the facts on the ground. “Boots on the ground” can mean sending in more advisers and trainers that cannot help host country forces learn how to become effective in combat, because they are not allowed to help the forces in the field. No advisory effort is likely to work that focuses on generating forces from the rear that have no real experience in combat, lack proven leadership, and cannot tie all of the elements of effective operations together.

Why did we fail in the Afghan war? Because we didn’t understand the place

FEBRUARY 12, 2015 

Jim Gourley asked us to, in 500 words or less, explain “why did we fail to render our enemies — those people who actively participated in open hostility against our forces — powerless?” Our problem was we quickly lost sight of the purpose of war: to force your enemy to submit to your will. When the mission to Afghanistan began, we sought to punish the Taliban and defeat Al Qaeda. Along the way, the unwavering belief that a political, economic, and social system like ours prevented terrorism drove us to seek the transformation of Afghanistan in the image of those things, despite their incompatibility to that place.

Paraphrasing Clausewitz, war is politics by other means. We should never construe this to mean we can interchangeably, and freely, alternate between violence and discourse. Violence unresolved poisons discourse; discourse without the potential for violence is unlikely to yield resolution. In Afghanistan, the narrow, warring mission to punish the Taliban and defeat Al Qaeda transmogrified to a broad attempt to remake it into a nation we deemed compatible with the international order we sought to lead. In the wake of 9/11, the United States military swept into Afghanistan, quickly toppling the Taliban regime and then casting Al Qaeda into such disarray it no longer posed a threat with global reach. With our initial goal in Afghanistan mostly realized, but certainly not resolved, we set about to transform the country into one that was politically similar to our own, friendly to our interests, and a constructive participant in the international community.

What began as a punitive expedition became instead an enterprise to remodel Afghanistan into something safe to us, but entirely foreign to Afghans.

Not Your Dad’s Taliban: Afghan Taliban Insurgency Is Becoming More Complex

By Sudarsan Raghavan
February 13, 2015

As the U.S. mission winds down, Afghan insurgency grows more complex

FAIZABAD, Afghanistan — The Taliban in this northern province allows girls to attend school. It doesn’t execute soldiers or police. Its fighters are not Pashtun, the main ethnic group that bred and fueled the insurgency. Some members are even former mujahideen, or freedom fighters, who once despised the Taliban and fought against its uprising.

“The Taliban here are against the ideology of the Taliban in the south,” explained Maizuddin Ahmedi, 20, a former Taliban member who reflects the local faction’s atypical nature: He has a Facebook page, tweets regularly and wears a beanie emblazoned with “NY.”

“They don’t behead soldiers,” he said.

As the United States reshapes its military footprint in Afghanistan, the Taliban is transforming into a patchwork of forces with often conflicting ideals and motivations, looking less like the ultra-religious movement it started out as in the mid-1990s. The fragmentation may suggest the movement is weakening, but it is forcing Afghanistan’s government to confront an insurgency that is becoming increasingly diverse, scattered — and more lethal.

What is unfolding here in Badakhshan province offers a glimpse into these complexities — and the future of a conflict in which the U.S. combat mission is formally over. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, this was the only province it was never able to control. Now, the insurgency is making inroads here and in other parts of the north, outside its strongholds in the south and east.

The Taliban in Badakhshan has gained strength precisely because it is different from the core insurgency. Its fighters are using their ethnic and tribal ties to gain recruits and popular support, while their knowledge of the landscape helps them outmaneuver Afghan security forces and control lucrative sources of funding.

Top US analyst: We made 5 dangerously wrong assumptions about China

This story comes from "The Hundred-Year Marathon" by Michael Pillsbury.

Michael Pillsbury is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Chinese Strategy and a top defense policy advisor. He worked on China policy and intelligence issues for the White House during several US administrations. The following post is an excerpt from his book, "The Hundred-Year Marathon."

I was among the first people to provide intelligence to the White House favoring an overture to China, in 1969.

For decades, I played a sometimes prominent role in urging administrations of both parties to provide China with technological and military assistance.

I largely accepted the assumptions shared by America's top diplomats and scholars, which were inculcated repeatedly in American strategic discussions, commentary, and media analysis.

We believed that American aid to a fragile China whose leaders thought like us would help China become a democratic and peaceful power without ambitions of regional or even global dominance.

Every one of the assumptions behind that belief was wrong-dangerously so.

Islamic State Beheads 21 Egyptians Kidnapped in Libya

FEBRUARY 15, 2015

The Obama administration asked Congress not to limit the scope of the fight against the Islamic State. A newly released brutal video out of Libya illustrates why.

On Sunday, the Islamic State released a five-minute video showing the executions of 21 Egyptian Christian hostages who were kidnapped last month from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya. The video shows militants dressed in black while standing on a beach, forcing prisoners wearing orange jumpsuits down to their knees. One says, “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for,” before killing each prisoner. A caption, “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church,” runs of the duration of the video.

On Friday, in the Islamic State’s online magazine Dabiq, the militants released the first pictures of the hostages, all of whom are Coptic Christians.

According to a report in Sunday’s New York Times, three groups in Libya — Barqa in the country’s east, Tripolitania in the west, and Fezzan in the south — have claimed affiliation with the Islamic State. Two rival governments continue to fight for power four years after NATO airstrikes enabled the removal of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the absence of a strong central authority has allowed these group to flourish.

ISIS Expanding Rapidly Outside Iraq and Syria

David D. Kirkpatrick
February 15, 2015

Islamic State Sprouting Limbs Beyond Its Base 

WASHINGTON — The Islamic State is expanding beyond its base in Syria and Iraq to establish militant affiliates in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Libya, American intelligence officials assert, raising the prospect of a new global war on terror.

Intelligence officials estimate that the group’s fighters number 20,000 to 31,500 in Syria and Iraq. There are less formal pledges of support from “probably at least a couple hundred extremists” in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Yemen, according to an American counterterrorism official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information about the group.

Lt. Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an assessment this month that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, was “beginning to assemble a growing international footprint.” Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, echoed General Stewart’s analysis in testimony before Congress last week.

But it is unclear how effective these affiliates are, or to what extent this is an opportunistic rebranding by some jihadist upstarts hoping to draft new members by playing off the notoriety of the Islamic State.

Critics fear such assessments will once again enmesh the United States in a protracted, hydra-headed conflict as President Obama appeals to Congress for new war powers to fight the Islamic State. “I’m loath to write another blank check justifying the use of American troops just about anywhere,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

The sudden proliferation of Islamic State affiliates and loyalist fighters motivated the White House’s push to give Mr. Obama and his successor new authority to pursue the group wherever its followers emerge — just as he and President George W. Bush hunted Qaeda franchises outside the group’s headquarters, first in Afghanistan and then in Pakistan, for the past decade.

5 Myths About Radicalization and Violent Extremism

Daniel Byman
February 14, 2015

Five myths about violent extremism

Daniel Byman is a professor in the security studies program at Georgetown University and research director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Citing the “tragic attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris,” the White House on Wednesday is convening a summit on violent extremism. Its goal is admirable and ambitious: neutralizing terrorism’s root causes by stopping people from radicalizing in the first place. Yet the causes of violent extremism are poorly understood, and programs are often targeted at the wrong audiences. So to help the world leaders at the summit do more good than harm, let’s dispel some of the biggest myths.

1. We understand radicalization.

The just-released National Security Strategy warns repeatedly of the danger of extremism, citing weak governance, widespread grievances, repression and the lack of a flourishing civil society among other causes that allow “extremism to take root.” This list suggests that we know what motivates radicalization — but almost every social malady falls into these categories. The difficult reality is that there is no single path toward radicalization; it varies by country, by historical period and by person.

Experts have long searched for a useful psychological profile of terrorists, without much success. The problem, as terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman observed many years ago, is “how disturbingly ‘normal’ most terrorists seem.”

Nor does the answer lie in the realm of faith. Many volunteers for terrorist groups have little knowledge of religion. Indeed, their lack of religious knowledge makes them easy prey for recruiters who don the mantle of religious authority. The two British Muslims who bought “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria are more the rule than the exception.

And describing an entire religious group as potentially dangerous isn’t especially helpful. Britain’s Prevent program, which included efforts to promote community cohesion and fight extremist ideology, made Muslims feel stigmatized and made it harder to gain their cooperation.

2. Moderate Muslims need to speak out

A new era for Caspian oil and gas

FEB 13, 2015 

The recent decline in world oil prices is likely to constrain economic growth and investment in the Caspian region.

The steep decline in global oil prices has dealt a blow to earnings for many energy-exporting states, pushing their finances and investment projects over the red line. They have suffered slowdowns since crude prices began to slide in mid-2014, but most of them still expect to weather the crisis and will draw on their significant currency reserves to keep their economies and projects floating.

The Caspian states – specifically, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – are among these believers. This essay will focus on their responses to the price crash.

Nobody knows with certainty when and how this prolonged and unexpected market fluctuation will end.

Even if conditions were to stabilise soon, the consequences of the dramatic fall that has already occurred could be serious. And if the market remains bearish, these countries could have a very hard time, not only with respect to recouping their losses but also in facing much tougher competition for new investment.

Under pressure

Caspian oil and gas exporters are already feeling the pressure from low oil prices and slow global economic growth. Additionally, they are also being squeezed by the knock-on effects of Russia’s economic crisis.

Among the former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are the biggest crude oil producers in the Caspian region. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Kazakhstan exported about 1.69 million barrels per day of oil in 2014, while Azerbaijan exported 840,000 bpd and Turkmenistan 280,000 bpd.

Clash For Civilization

The Middle East That Might Have Been

Nick Danforth
FEBRUARY 13, 2015

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched a theologian named Henry King and a plumbing-parts magnate named Charles Crane to sort out the Middle East. Amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the region’s political future was uncertain, and the two men seemed to provide the necessary combination of business acumen and biblical knowledge. King and Crane’s quest was to find out how the region’s residents wanted to be governed. It would be a major test of Wilson’s belief in national self-determination: the idea that every people should get its own state with clearly defined borders.
Interactive map: How the King-Crane Commission envisioned the Middle East (Karl Sturm and Nick Danforth)

After spending three weeks interviewing religious and community leaders in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and southern Turkey, the two men and their team proposed that the Ottoman lands be divided as shown in the map above. Needless to say, the proposals were disregarded. In accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement Britain and France had drafted in secret in 1916, Britain and France ultimately took over the region as so-called mandate or caretaker powers. The French-administered region would later become Lebanon and Syria, and the British region would become Israel, Jordan, and Iraq.

Today, many argue that a century of untold violence and instability—culminating in ISIS’s brutal attempt t0 erase Middle Eastern borders—might have been avoided if only each of the region’s peoples had achieved independence after World War I. But as the King-Crane Commission discovered back in 1919, ethnic and religious groups almost never divide themselves into discrete units. Nor do the members of each group necessarily share a vision of how they wish to be governed.

The King-Crane report is still a striking document—less for what it reveals about the Middle East as it might have been than as an illustration of the fundamental dilemmas involved in drawing, or not drawing, borders. Indeed, the report insisted on forcing people to live together through complicated legal arrangements that prefigure more recent proposals.

Among other things, the authors concluded that dividing Iraq into ethnic enclaves was too absurd to merit discussion. Greeks and Turks only needed one country because the “two races supplement each other.” The Muslims and Christians of Syria needed to learn to “get on together in some fashion” because “the whole lesson of modern social consciousness points to the necessity of understanding ‘the other half,’ as it can be understood only by close and living relations.”


February 14, 2015 

Terrorism is NOT an existential threat, according to Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security advisor, and according to the new White House national security strategy unveiled on Friday, February 6, 2015. Nor does the United States face any other threats to its existence, according to the White House, except for “climate change.”

Rice explained, “Too often, what’s missing here in Washington is a sense of perspective. Yes, there is a lot going on. Still, while the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or during the Cold War.”

Polling indicates as many as one-third of Americans believe Rice and the White House, when in reality the U.S. faces existential threats of greater severity than World War II or the Cold War from terrorists, Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea.

Regular readers of Family Security Matters do not need to be told why Russia, China, and North Korea–all nuclear missile states hostile to America and U.S. allies–pose a growing existential threat to the United States.

This article shall focus on the existential dangers from terrorists like Al Qaeda and ISIS and from the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism–Iran. Islamic terrorists and Iran pose an even greater threat to the existence of the United States than did Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany during World War II, or than the USSR during the Cold War.

Nuclear Iran Worse Than Nazi Germany

During World War II, Germany and Japan in order to defeat the U.S. would have had to invade the American heartland with million man armies, which was never a realistic prospect. Nazi Germany conceivably might have vanquished the United States, if the Nazis developed atomic weapons and long-range missiles.

U.S. leaders were wise enough to deny Nazi Germany access to heavy water and other nuclear weapon materials by strategic bombing, and to smash their missile program at Peenemunde, ensuring that the Allies did not have to face an Adolph Hitler armed with nuclear missiles. Where Nazi Germany failed, Iran is succeeding in developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of striking any nation on Earth.

A new era for Caspian oil and gas

FEB 13, 2015
The recent decline in world oil prices is likely to constrain economic growth and investment in the Caspian region.

The steep decline in global oil prices has dealt a blow to earnings for many energy-exporting states, pushing their finances and investment projects over the red line. They have suffered slowdowns since crude prices began to slide in mid-2014, but most of them still expect to weather the crisis and will draw on their significant currency reserves to keep their economies and projects floating.

The Caspian states – specifically, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – are among these believers. This essay will focus on their responses to the price crash.
Nobody knows with certainty when and how this prolonged and unexpected market fluctuation will end.

Even if conditions were to stabilise soon, the consequences of the dramatic fall that has already occurred could be serious. And if the market remains bearish, these countries could have a very hard time, not only with respect to recouping their losses but also in facing much tougher competition for new investment.

Under pressure
Caspian oil and gas exporters are already feeling the pressure from low oil prices and slow global economic growth. Additionally, they are also being squeezed by the knock-on effects of Russia’s economic crisis.

Among the former Soviet republics, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are the biggest crude oil producers in the Caspian region. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Kazakhstan exported about 1.69 million barrels per day of oil in 2014, while Azerbaijan exported 840,000 bpd and Turkmenistan 280,000 bpd.

Southeast Asia’s Piracy Headache

By Miha Hribernik
February 15, 2015

The region saw a spike in piracy in 2014, and attacks became more deadly.
It looks like 2014 may have been the most dangerous year for Asian seafarers in almost a decade. According to the Singapore-based Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), 183 actual or attempted attacks took place in Southeast Asian waters during 2014. This figure represents a marked increase from 150 in 2013 and 133 in 2012, and is the highest since 2006.

The latest figures released by the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center corroborate ReCAAP’s findings and show a similar increase in attacks in 2013 and 2014. Since a total of 245 attacks took place worldwide in 2014, Asia now accounts for up to 75 percent of all piracy and armed robbery (PAR) incidents in the world, up from 60 percent in 2013. The continent’s share in global PAR statistics is rapidly increasing as the number of attacks in other parts of the world – most notably the Gulf of Aden – continues to decline.

The surge in incidents in Southeast Asia underscores a worrying trend, one that has seen attacks steadily proliferate since 2013, following a brief decline between 2010 and 2012. Even though PAR is by no means a new phenomenon in the region – Southeast Asia has been known as a piracy hotspot for centuries – the sheer increase in the volume of attacks will perhaps nudge countries in the most affected areas to action. The shipping industry is likely to exert additional pressure on regional governments, as a sustained increase in attacks will put ships and crew at greater risk and is certain to drive up the cost of insurance premiums.

A Closer Look

Over one third of all shipping traverses the Strait of Malacca each year, with an estimated 15.2 million barrels of crude oil transported through this strategic chokepoint every day. Although spikes in attacks had disrupted shipping through the strait in the past (famously prompting the Lloyd’s Market Association to declare it a warzone in 2005), PAR in Asian waters traditionally slipped in and out of (Western) public consciousness and rarely captured global headlines. This is despite the fact that many Westerners – particularly Europeans – would be among the first to feel the effects of major disruption to shipping in the region. The European Union relies heavily on sea-borne trade with countries in the Asia-Pacific – six of its biggest 20 trading partners are located in the region.

A Man for all Seasons Revisiting the Powell Doctrine

Retired General Colin L. Powell, appearing as part of the National Geographic Channel documentary series, “American War Generals” 

Every time I read another armchair strategist comment on the irrelevance of Clausewitz in contemporary conflict, I’m left shaking my head. In many ways, reading “On War” is like reading the Bible: literal interpretations of the text often lead readers to misinterpretations of the deeper, often hidden meanings of the passages. Recognizing and understanding the context of the writing is essential to developing an understanding of the concepts within.

Context is everything.

Title page of the original German edition Vom Kriege, published in 1832.

People like to say that Clausewitz is the least read, most quoted of the military theorists. His writing isn’t as pithily quotable as Sun Tzu or as provocatively diabolical as Machiavelli. It is steeped in metaphors, written in the years after the Napoleonic wars as Clausewitz struggled to grasp the elusive taxonomy required to describe complexities of early 19th century maneuver warfare, and war in general. For years, he was on the receiving end of some of the French emperor’s greatest campaigns, the so-called business end of the “tip of the spear,” where lessons often come hard and fast. Yet today, nearly 200 years after its publication in 1832, we’re still studying and debating the merits of On War.

It’s all about the context.


February 14, 2015 

How the West uses a collection of “myths” about Russia to deceive itself about its own impotence.

Ukraine is a victim of both the Russian System’s struggle for survival and the West’s inability to protect the international legal space. For the West, ending this confrontation may prove to be even more agonizing than ending the Cold War, because:

the West is refusing to recognize that this is not a regional crisis, but a clash of opposing systems;

the West has lost the ability to contain a civilizational adversary; the Kremlin has created self-protection mechanisms within Western societies; the liberal democracies don’t see any need to fight for norms in their foreign policies; they believe the Russian ruling elite is less risk-averse than the aged and decrepit Soviet leadership, but they’re still not sure how risk-averse; the system of global governance, which was based on the outcome of World War II, no longer fits today’s world; Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has blossomed into a crisis of Ukrainian statehood; Francois Hollande’s and Angela Merkel’s urgent mission to broker a deal in east Ukraine points to Western fears (quite justified) that the war in Ukraine will dismantle European and global stability, as well as bringing about the collapse of the international governance system (already in an advanced state of paralysis). However these peace overtures end, we should focus on the set of beliefs that contributed to the emergence of this crisis, complicate its resolution, and distort the real picture of the challenges facing the world. Let’s examine some of the currently popular myths about the standoff between Russia and the West in Ukraine.

1. Is it Putin or the System?

Many believe that Putin and his recklessness are to blame for everything. The Russian President probably enjoys reading essays that purport to analyze his psyche and his demonic traits. It’s certainly true that Putin flipped over the global chessboard without fully appreciating or anticipating the consequences. But how much control does he really have over the Kremlin and Russian developments more broadly? Guillermo O’Donnell coined the term “impotent omnipotence” to describe personalized regimes. I think the term applies to the rule of Russia as well. Despite his vast powers, the Russian leader is increasingly dependent on his team’s loyalty and his approval ratings. Both of these factors are treacherous. Putin is already having trouble maintaining stability in Russia. The war in Ukraine has become a trap that he has no idea how to extract himself from. If Putin is forced to turn Russia into a fortress in order to consolidate the people around the Kremlin, what does this say about his power and his freedom of action?

No bail-out, no deal

DOING the same thing and expecting different results, Einstein is supposed to have said, is the definition of insanity. In the euro zone it is the ordinary line of business. For despite thetwists and turns of the Greek drama over the last few weeks the fundamental contours of the dispute have not changed. The new Greek government, priced out of private markets, needs financial help from its euro-zone partners but insists it will leave behind the bail-outs and "fiscal waterboarding" to which its predecessor succumbed. The euro zone, led but in this case not dominated by Germany, demands that the price of such help is an extension of the current Greek bail-out, which expires at the end of the month, and that beyond that there can be no help without some form of “conditionality” (i.e. telling the Greeks what to do).

Over the last week optimists have sought heroically to discern room for compromise. It has not been easy. During a speech to the Greek parliament on Sunday Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, struck a tougher line than ever on austerity and the bail-out; for good measure he raised the possibility of Germany paying war reparations to Greece. Three days later, at a disastrous meeting of the Eurogroup (the finance ministers of countries that use the euro), the 18 non-Hellenic countries lined up one after another to tell Yanis Varoufakis, Mr Tsipras’s finance minister, that Greece had to offer something in return for its demands. (One complained that the sums his country had lent the Greeks exceeded its annual overseas-aid budget.) Mr Varoufakis agreed to a statement that referred vaguely to the possibility of exploring an extension to the bail-out. Thinking their work done, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, and others left the meeting, only for Mr Varoufakis to change his position after a phone call to Athens. The two sides, it appeared, could not even agree to disagree.

The Bad, Sad, Mad Mr. Putin

Is Vladimir Putin bad, sad or mad? Is he a sinister and effective tyrant, cleverly taking advantage of the West’s weakness? Is he balancing precariously at the head of a failing state, desperate not to end up dead or in prison? Or is he delusional, like the villain in a bad Hollywood film?

The short answer is that we don’t really know. We don’t know how Putin thinks. We don’t know what information he gets. We don’t know whose advice he takes, if any. We don’t know what he really fears, or what he really wants. As Europe’s security rockets up the international agenda, Kremlinology, as we used to call it, is back.

A prominent advocate of the ‘bad’ camp is Walter Russell Mead. In a widely read recent article in The American Interest, he argues that Western Putin-watchers make a huge mistake in assuming that the Russian leader is like them.

There are three subjects on which virtually everybody in the Western policy and intellectual establishments agree: think of them as the core values of the Davoisie: The first is that the rise of a liberal capitalist and more or less democratic and law-based international order is both inevitable and irreversible. The second is that the Davos elite—the financiers, politicians, intellectuals, hautejournalists and technocrats who mange the great enterprises, institutions and polities of the contemporary world—know what they are doing and are competent to manage the system they represent. The third is that no serious alternative perspective to the Davos perspective really exists; our establishment believes in its gut that even those who contend with the Davos world order know in their hearts that Davos has and always will have both might and right on its side.

Putin, by contrast, sees things differently, Mead argues:

OPEC leader: Oil could shoot back to $200

By Matt Di Lallo

Right now the oil market is totally focused on finding a bottom for oil prices. However, according to OPEC's Secretary-General Abdulla al-Badri we've already hit bottom.

Not only that, but he sees a real possibility that oil prices could explode higher to upwards of $200 per barrel in the future. He's far from the only one that sees a return of triple-digit oil prices.

Finding a bottom: According to recent comments by the Secretary-General when he was in London, the oil market doesn't need to look for oil prices to bottom as the market has already bottomed. Instead, he offered quite bullish comments by saying, "Now the prices are around $45-$55, and I think maybe they [have] reached the bottom and we [will] see some rebound very soon."

Normally that type of remark would be just another layer of noise, but this is coming from OPEC's Secretary-General so it comes with a lot of weight behind it.

That said, he's not saying that OPEC will come in and rescue the oil market by reversing its previous decision to hold steady on production. Instead, he sees the signs that the oil market is self-correcting as oil companies have made deep cuts to spending, which will eventually lead to lower production growth.

Further, the rig count in the U.S. is plunging, which is usually a key to a bottom in oil prices. However, in the midst of cutting back as the industry works through the current oversupply the Secretary-General is now warning that the industry is putting future oil supplies at risk by under investing today.

Underinvestment leads to a shortage: The Secretary-General said that, "if you don't invest in oil and gas, you will see more than $200" when it comes to future oil prices. While he didn't give a time frame, he did note the correlation between investment and future production.

This is because oil production naturally declines and oil companies need to invest in new production to not only replace this decline in production from legacy oil fields but to add new production to meet growing demand. However, oil companies are reluctant to invest in new production as their cash flows decline.

Over time this could become a problem as oil fields around the world naturally decline by an average of about 5% per year. As we see in this chart from a Chevron Corporation (CVX) investor presentation, in order to overcome this decline oil companies need to develop about 200 billion barrels of oil supplies over the next decade and a half just to meet demand.


February 12, 2015

Since the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, brutal massacres by Boko Haram, and the campaign of terror by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), leaders in the United States and far beyond have grown increasingly concerned about the rise of violent extremism. Recent U.S. policy debate has coalesced around how the U.S. government can counter and prevent violent extremism at home and abroad, as well as set the right conditions in place for stability in some of the most volatile and conflicat prone areas. In 2011, the White House released a strategy titled Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. This strategy focused on using a community-based approach for preventing and countering violent extremism that focused on 
Enhancing U.S. government engagement and support to local communities that are targeted by violent extremists; 
Building government and law enforcement expertise; 
And countering violent extremism propaganda. 

In his remarks to the World Economic Forum, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that violent extremism is a global problem and characterized U.S. efforts to develop a long-term strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism (PVE and CVE) through whole-of-government and international coalition efforts, starting with the U.S.-led coalition to counter ISIL.

Efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism are not new. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the United States has led efforts to defeat and disrupt terrorists and their supporters, develop counter-radicalization strategies, address the “root causes” of violent extremism, and provide strategic narratives to counter terrorist propaganda. While terrorist groups like Boko Haram, ISIL, and Al-Shabaab have elevated their attacks, recruitment efforts, and tactics, U.S. government efforts to develop PVE and CVE strategies have fallen behind and lack an actionable whole-of-government implementation plan and strategy.

Hackers Using Malware to Steal Millions From banks

David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth
February 15, 2015

Bank Hackers Steal Millions via Malware

PALO ALTO, Calif. — In late 2013, an A.T.M. in Kiev started dispensing cash at seemingly random times of day. No one had put in a card or touched a button. Cameras showed that the piles of money had been swept up by customers who appeared lucky to be there at the right moment.

But when a Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, was called to Ukraine to investigate, it discovered that the errant machine was the least of the bank’s problems.

The bank’s internal computers, used by employees who process daily transfers and conduct bookkeeping, had been penetrated by malware that allowed cybercriminals to record their every move. The malicious software lurked for months, sending back video feeds and images that told a criminal group — including Russians, Chinese and Europeans — how the bank conducted its daily routines, according to the investigators.

Then the group impersonated bank officers, not only turning on various cash machines, but also transferring millions of dollars from banks in Russia, Japan, Switzerland, the United States and the Netherlands into dummy accounts set up in other countries.

Since late 2013, an unknown group of hackers has reportedly stolen $300 million ­— possibly as much as triple that amount — from banks across the world, with the majority of the victims in Russia. The attacks continue, all using roughly the same modus operandi: 


Hackers send email containing a malware program called Carbanak to hundreds of bank employees, hoping to infect a bank’s administrative computer.



The 5 Eyes SIGINT Agencies And Their Desire to ‘Own’ The Internet

Jamie Bartlett
February 14, 2015

You can’t control the internet. GCHQ needs to grow up and accept it

The endless debate on security versus online privacy feels a little bit stuck of late. On one side, civil liberties groups demanding more privacy for the many and more transparency from the few.” On the other: securocrats and law-enforcement spokesmen insisting they need to monitor more of our internet behaviour to keep us safe. “It’s Orwellian, this internet spying!” shout the civil libertarians “But terrorists, and paedophiles!” shout the security people. And nothing is resolved.

More than ever, we will need a strong and capable intelligence agency to keep our society safe. But it has to rest on the support and trust of the public it serves. So something has to change, because the job of protecting society is about to get a lot harder.

Yes, it’s the Snowden effect. His revelations have stirred a citizen-led counter-surveillance movement which is going to change the net and how it’s monitored. Over the last couple of years, concerns about internet privacy have been increasing, and not only in relation to governments (people are just as worried about private companies snaffling up their data).

Big tech companies have responded to the Snowden leaks by adding extra layers of encryption to their systems, making it harder for the spooks to spy on them. Anonymous browsers like Tor, which allow you to browse the internet without giving away your location, are growing in popularity, with 2.5 million daily users at the last count. These are also used to access the ’hidden services’ - an encrypted network of sites using a non-standard internet protocol which makes it close to impossible for their users to be tracked.

Even more dramatic, hundreds of computers cientists and internet specialists, motivated by an honourable desire to protect online freedom and privacy, are beavering away at ingenious methods for keeping online secrets and fighting against centralised control. Soon there will be a new generation of easy-to-use encryption services. Within a decade or so you won’t need to be a computer specialist to figure out how they work; we’ll all be using them. As I argued here last month, the net will become more private and also more difficult to censor.