4 March 2015

Two experiments

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta 
March 4, 2015 

Developments in Jammu and Kashmir will be seen through this lens: two phlegmatic parties, with uncompromising core ideologies and odd-ball characters in an unlikely coalition.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent gambits, the budget and the alliance with the PDP in Kashmir, can both be subject to a snarky scepticism that comes easily to us. But they are, in their own different ways, a delicate attempt to take Indian politics into uncharted waters. They are fraught with risks. But it is worth thinking about the underlying radicalism of the politics that could potentially be unleashed.

This budget does not fully live up to the bold strokes of the Economic Survey. But think of the context. Modi was politically vulnerable. His early silences in the face of communal baiting, the loss in the Delhi elections and the sense of a little drift in government cost him political capital. He had to restore authority to government and not give the Opposition more openings. His speeches on religious toleration helped. But he also needed a budget that, while being reformist, did not give the Opposition a handle. There are things to take issue with in the budget, but it gives little ground for potent political mobilisation in opposition.

There are three charges against the budget. Purists balk at the postponing of fiscal consolidation. But private sector investment is not picking up for a variety of reasons. The extent of the institutional mess this government inherited will take time to reform. The budget was more candid in its depth of understanding of the institutional mess. It was no accident that large sections of the private sector were clamouring for more public investment as a means of making India competitive. The budget is premised on some self-belief in government, that is far more progressive than those who make the silly assumption that you can build competitiveness and markets without the state. It could have invested more in building the state. But the greatest strength of the budget is that it has a range of institutional reforms — from the much-debated monetary policy committee to a new bankruptcy code.

Why I am a dissenter

Written by Abhijit Sen
March 3, 2015

Despite a sizeable Finance Commission award, panchayats will receive less from Centre.

Most commentators have noted the impact of the 14th Finance Commission (FC) on the budget. While many have hailed it as a historic shift towards greater federalism, others have focused critically on the budgeted reduction in Plan expenditures of the Central government (particularly in social sectors). The Centre’s acceptance of the FC recommendation to raise the states’ share of divisible Central taxes from 32 to 42 per cent has increased the projected receipts of the states by Rs 1.41 lakh crore — that is, by 37 per cent. But this has been matched by a reduction of Rs 1.34 lakh crore in the budgeted Central assistance to state plans (CASP). Even taking into account the grants-in-aid recommended by the FC, the total transfers from the Centre to the states go up from Rs 7.62 lakh crore in 2014-15 (budget estimate) to Rs 7.93 lakh crore in 2015-16, a nominal increase of only 4 per cent. The Central government, which, in its memorandum to the FC, had argued against any increase in tax devolution to the states, has not only accepted an award that veers unprecedentedly towards the demands of states but also managed to deftly shift responsibilities.

As a member of the 14th FC, I see this as a positive outcome. In our meetings with the states, I had repeatedly pointed out that any increase in the share of the states was bound to be met by cut-backs on Centrally funded schemes. To this, almost every state had responded by saying that although they wanted more money from the Centre, they were even more interested in being able to spend whatever they got in a manner of their choice rather than being tied to Centrally designed schemes. This strong preference for untied transfers, its constitutional legitimacy and the fact that the Centre was already transferring to the states about 60 per cent of the divisible pool of taxes is why we all agreed that there was sufficient reason to award a more sizeable share as tax devolution than previous FCs had thought fit. We also agreed to depart from past practice by not awarding specific-purpose grants since, wherever necessary, these are best determined by the Centre and the states acting cooperatively and because small additional grants where large Plan schemes already exist may create confusion rather than add value. The only grants we awarded were those required by our terms of reference and, in doing this, we agreed to steer clear of both the Plan/non-Plan distinction and that between special-category and other states, neither of which were required by our terms of reference.

The great Game Folio: Kashmir gambit

Written by C Raja Mohan
March 4, 2015 

BJP maintained in Delhi on Monday that its coalition with the PDP would be based only on the Agenda of the Alliance.
Although the comments of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the new chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, on Pakistan’s “positive role” in the conduct of the state’s assembly elections late last year have drawn much flak, there is no denying the fact that Rawalpindi has long had leverage in the state through its support to separatism and militancy. All of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s predecessors, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Manmohan Singh, have had to deal with this external dimension to Kashmir. What is more interesting than the CM’s infelicitous comments is the agreement between the BJP and PDP on a common approach towards Pakistan.

For one, it underlines the importance of engaging Pakistan. It points to the fact that “the Union government has recently initiated several steps to normalise the relationship with Pakistan. The coalition government will seek to support and strengthen the approach and initiatives taken by the government to create a reconciliatory environment and build stakes for all in the peace and development within the subcontinent”.

It is probably entirely accidental that the new understanding between the PDP and BJP on talking to Pakistan came just a couple of days before foreign secretary S. Jaishankar travelled to Islamabad. But Modi’s decision to send the foreign secretary to Pakistan to explore the prospects of reviving the peace process has certainly helped bridge some of the political distance between the BJP and PDP.

In juggling the internal and external dimensions of the Kashmir question, Modi is following the path cut by Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the tenure of the first NDA government and followed by Manmohan Singh. Modi, however, is in a much better position than either Vajpayee or Singh. India is a lot stronger than in the late 1990s, when Vajpayee launched the peace process under trying circumstances. Unlike Singh, Modi has the will and the capacity to make bold moves towards Pakistan. Even more important, Pakistan today is probably more vulnerable to terrorism than it was a decade and a half ago. During his talks in Islamabad, Jaishankar was expected to get a sense, first hand, of what the new political possibilities for a sustained dialogue with Pakistan are.


‘Baba planted seeds of independent thinking in my mind’

By: Avijit Roy
March 4, 2015

Despite my numerous friendships, somehow Baba had become my closest friend. 

I got off the plane and walked out of the airport gate to find Baba waiting for me. Baba, my ever-familiar Baba. I paused before I embraced him. On his face were the lines of time. In these few years, he seemed to have aged a lot. And why not? He crossed 70 a few years ago. His crop of hair has thinned, but the eyes are full of life, as before. “You shouldn’t have bothered to come, I would have taken a taxi,” I said. Baba laughed, but said nothing. Perhaps, to himself he said, “As if I need to listen to what you say!”

Without a thought to what others say, Baba lives by his own credo, his own conscience. From my childhood, this is how I have known him. You could say that’s a bug that affects me too. If I don’t like what others say, I avoid them. Sometimes, I tell them so outright. In some circles, I have earned myself the tag of being unsocial.

My mother never liked this stubborn streak. Avoiding any conflict or disagreements, and moulding herself to others’ wishes and needs, brought her peace. The purpose of her life was confined to the wellbeing of her family and her two sons. And she had few options too.

A university professor, Baba would spend his days in the lab or attending to his students. He might be able to simplify the problems of quantum mechanics and electromagnetism for his students in a thrice, but the everyday business of running a house was beyond him. Perhaps, he never tried to figure it out too. It was left to my mother to make our home and run it with skill. My father, on the other hand, was a Bohemian in the domestic sphere.

My father had two brothers. I didn’t know that for many years. That was because they had left for India long ago. Since the day I learnt of this, the question came up often in my mind: why did Baba stay back in Bangladesh? I asked him once, “Why didn’t you go to India, like Jethu and Kaku?” Baba looked at me and said, “India is not my country. Then why should I go there?” I was bewildered. I had not expected such an answer. I had thought he would say, “Arre, I tried, but just couldn’t manage.” Or, “I was so tied up with this job that I could not go.” But Baba simply said, why should I go to that country.

Lives on the line - Justice for the armed forces is of utmost importance

Brijesh D. Jayal

Faced with a progressively worsening international security environment and in the larger context of our own approach to this emerging threat, two recent events are worth revisiting. In the run-up to the Jammu and Kashmir state elections, four young people travelling in a Maruti car in Budgam district failed to stop at two successive checkpoints. These were set up by the Rashtriya Rifles in response to specific intelligence reports about the movement of terrorists in a Maruti car. When the car attempted to break through the third checkpoint, soldiers opened fire resulting in the death of two occupants and injuries to two others. The police after investigations concluded that these youngsters had no militant links. Almost everyone, from political parties to human rights voices to the media, was quick to condemn the action of the soldiers. Not one voice of reason looked at the incident from the perspective of the soldiers or the army that has for over two decades been compelled to fight a proxy war within our own borders - not of its choosing or making.

The general officer commanding in chief regretted the incident, accepting full responsibility, and did the right thing by tendering an apology for what can only be considered collateral damage in a proxy war environment. No effort was, however, made by the civil authorities to let the public know why the occupants of the car so blatantly ignored authority by jumping two checkposts and then attempting to do the same at the third? Or what motivated them to defy checkpost authority in a secure zone? In the public perception, the soldiers performing their duty were duly damned and life could move on.

Intriguingly, the army then conducted a hurried inquiry and equally quickly announced indictment of one junior commissioned officer and nine soldiers. Investigations to judge the performance of any individual or team in furtherance of duty or tactical operations are routine in the armed forces. These, however, are with a view to professional betterment and accountability. Doing so for extraneous considerations or to mollify sentiment is neither in keeping with the best traditions of the armed forces nor good for the upkeep of morale. The cat was soon out of the bag when, during a subsequent election rally, the ruling party at the Centre took credit for this action of holding the soldiers accountable.


04 March 2015

Arun Jaitley has given step-motherly treatment to defence. Security of the motherland and defence readiness are commitments he had made. Also, the NSA has said that India must be prepared for a two-front war

The statement, “Defence of every inch of our motherland comes before everything else”, sounds hollow, given the step-motherly treatment given to defence allocation in the current Budget, especially after Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley had till recently, doubled as Defence Minister. Item 86 of his speech was taken up by the well-meaning but directionless ‘Make in India’ thrust and the claim of being “both transparent and quick in making defence equipment-related purchase decisions, thus keeping our defence forces ready for any eventuality”.

He left out the customary praise of jawans and the promise to provide more money when needed, which traditionally led to thumping of desks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made the pitch for ‘Make in India’ at the air show in Bangalore where both the bags and badges given to the media were made in China. Mr Modi decried the fact that India was the largest importer of arms, and said that by 2020, it would be 70 per cent self-reliant.

The Defence Acquisition Council has apparently cleared buy, make and buy and make projects worth two lakh crore rupees, which certainly is quick decision-making. What will be lacking is implementation compounded by complex procedures. At the air show, Mr Modi said: “We are reforming our defence procurement and procedures with clear preference for equipment manufactured in India.” This would be the nth attempt at revising acquisition procedures; this time, including the roadmap for Make in India. Not a single rupee or dollar has been invested in the flagship project since it was launched nine months ago.

Rather, most of the ‘buy and make’ projects are being converted into ‘make’, which is bound to lead to still more cost and time overruns. A proper understanding and clarity of the fundamental difficulties of the Make in India takeoff is missing. Many long-delayed projects like the artillery gun and helicopters are straddling ‘make and buy’. Our ‘make’ record is dismal and distressing. A project to acquire 197 light helicopters from abroad has been scrapped thrice in the last decade. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is nowhere near the delivery of 187 helicopters it was to make within 60 months from February 2009.

Why We Failed to Win a Decisive Victory in Afghanistan

MARCH 2, 2015

Shifting political allegiances, not smashing enemies, should have been the goal. And that holds true for the campaign against the Islamic State as well.

There’s been a great debate over on Tom Ricks’s Best Defense blog in response to Jim Gourley’s question in relation to the Afghanistan campaign: “Why did we fail to render our enemies — those people who actively participated in open hostility against our forces — powerless?” Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the responses have taken the view that we have, indeed, lost in Afghanistan.

I take issue, however, with the starting assumption that “rendering our enemies powerless” should be the standard by which we evaluate the success of military action in Afghanistan, or lack thereof. I think the assumption clouds the analysis of both of Afghanistan and the conflict against the so-called Islamic State.

So here’s my answer.

War has two meanings. The first is a descriptive sense, in that war describes a situation above a certain threshold of violence, and therefore includes conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. The second is an instrumental sense, meaning a particular way in which force is used to achieve a political goal. The default understanding in Western militaries of war in the instrumental sense is still Clausewitzian. Consider the opening page of On War: “we mustrender the enemy powerless; and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare.”

China Debates: Is War with U.S. Inevitable?

March 3, 2015 

China wonders if it can avoid the Thucydides Trap.

It has become quite common to use historical analogies to describe the complex Sino-American relationship. At the centenary of the First World War, the comparison between China’s rise and that of Wilhelmine Germany has been widely made. However, a path-breaking 2012 opinion piece by Harvard University’s Graham Allison reached back to Ancient Greece to describe the strategic dilemmas facing the most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century.

Pointing to what is perhaps the most important sentence in the entire Western cannon on international relations, Allison invited strategists and analysts on both sides of the Pacific to recall that “it was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Moreover, Allison supplied disturbing evidence of the frequency of war between a rising and established power, as observed by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War. According to Allison, “in 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.”

While Allison’s reference to the Peloponnesian War seems to have had some impact on the relevant debates in Washington, there has been little exploration of the idea’s impact in Beijing. Yet, the “Thucydides Trap” concept has indeed been discussed by China’s top foreign policy decision-makers. In order to better understand Chinese perspectives related to “Thucydides Trap,” this edition of the Dragon Eye series will explore a forum dedicated to that theme in the official Chinese military journal 军事历史 [Military History] that was published by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Military Sciences (AMS) in 2014.

Chavez's Legacy: Venezuela in Shambles

March 3, 2015 

Venezuelans are quickly discovering that Chavez’s promised paradise was really a ticket to hell.

Nobody has lobbied Saudi Arabia to cut its oil output more intensely in recent weeks than Nicolás Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s successor as Venezuela’s dictator. Maduro already had major fiscal problems with the price of crude when it was at $107 per barrel back in June; it doesn’t take a brilliant mathematician to calculate the effect a 45 percent drop is having on the regime’s finances and popularity.

Maduro’s brand of Latin American populism rests on four legs: government control of the country’s vast oil resources; clientelism (the system by which Maduro maintains the “support” of the public by keeping them dependent on government handouts); a Cuban-designed police state and a geopolitical oil-exchange program in which Venezuelan oil is used to buy support from foreign governments in the region.

Underpinning the entire edifice is the ability to generate sufficient amounts of oil revenue. After all, Venezuela’s proven reserves, almost 300 billion barrels according to the “Oil and Gas Journal,” surpass even those of Saudi Arabia. But in order to generate these revenues, two conditions must be met. One is the ability to actually produce millions of barrels of crude per year; the other is the opportunity to sell the oil at a high price.

Exposed: ISIS’ Somali-American Terrorist Pipeline

March 3, 2015 

To lure Americans to battle, ISIS is taking a page from al-Shabaab's playbook.

On October 29, 2008, an American named Shirwa Ahmed drove a vehicleloaded with explosives into the northern Somali city of Bosaso. When he detonated the bomb, as part of one of five near-simultaneous attacks across northern Somalia, he became the second-known American suicide bomber.

Ahmed was one of dozens of Somali-Americans enticed to fight in Somalia by al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist organization that controls swathes of the East African country. On February 21, the group called for attacks on several malls in the West, including the Mall of America in Minnesota. The group recruited as many as sixty Americans—nearly all of Somali descent—including one added to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list in January. Al-Shabaab’s efforts constitute the most successful terrorist recruiting program in U.S.history, according to the House Homeland Security Committee.

Al-Shabaab’s American recruit pipeline mostly dried up after 2009, but events suggest Middle Eastern terrorist groups, particularly the Islamic State, are reviving the practice of recruiting from the United States. On February 5, the Department of Justice announced charges — and listed three unnamed co-conspirators — against Somali-American Hamza Naj Ahmed for attempting to aid the Islamic State. Reports chronicle other Somali-Americans involved with Middle Eastern terror groups: a Minnesotan killed fighting for the Islamic State; at least four women who disappeared presumably to marry Islamic State fighters; teenage sisters foiledtrying to do the same; two men arrested for attempting to join the Islamic State; and one man fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The Right Way to Squeeze Iran

March 3, 2015 

To get across the finish line, the U.S. should offer Iran bigger sticks AND more carrots.

The likelihood that the Tehran leadership will agree to a deal constraining its nuclear program far more tightly than the current interim deal depends on how much it values a “yes” compared with the cost of a “no.” To increase the odds of the “yes” sought by the P5+1, the value to Tehran of the desired agreement should be boosted while an Iranian “no” should prove much more painful to the regime.

Negotiation 101 suggests that, with stronger positive and negative incentives in place, skillful diplomacy has the best chance of making the right deal. Yet, the U.S. team could do better on both the value-enhancing and cost-imposing elements of its negotiation strategy.

Thus far, the Congress has almost exclusively focused on inflicting greater pain if Iran fails to agree to suitable terms. Primarily this has been through the threat of more severe oil and financial sanctions as proposed in various legislative proposals (e.g.,Menendez-Kirk, Boxer-Paul, Corker). The bills differ in some respects and present something of a moving target for analysis. Yet most would trigger tougher “conditional” sanctions if the talks fail to reach an acceptable result sometime after the March 24 deadline for an agreed framework of a final deal or the June 30 limit for agreement on technical details.

In sharp contrast, President Obama has threatened at least three times—most prominently in his January State of the Union message—to veto any new sanctions, even conditional ones, during the ongoing talks. Why? The atmosphere might sour; Iranian hardliners might undercut the negotiators; Iranians might retaliate by walk away, scraping the interim deal limitations, even expanding their nuclear program; the U.S. might be blamed for breaking up the talks; allies might stop cooperating on sanctions; and so on.

Outfoxed: Netanyahu's Shrewd Plan to Derail Iran Talks

March 3, 2015 

Yeah, Bibi wants to sabotage the Iran nuclear talks, but not how you think.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s impending speech before Congress is part of his long-standing efforts to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The Israeli prime minister may try to sabotage a nuclear deal by pushing U.S. lawmakers to demand a direct say on the terms of the agreement, impose more punitive measures on Tehran and pass trigger-sanctions. He might also call on Congress to make it more difficult for President Obama to lift the sanctions he needs to implement any agreement with Iran. Bibi may even leak details of the talks, to goad Washington and Tehran into doing what they’ve bitterly resisted for the past 18 months: negotiate in public. 

Odds are that Netanyahu will do at least some of the above. But Bibi is no duck. If anything, he is a fox. Looking ahead, the genius in his latest salvo against the nuclear talks may be to make President Obama’s position more reasonable rather than force the administration’s hands. 

Many factors have contributed to the success of the nuclear negotiations since President Hassan Rouhani took office in the fall of 2013. The United States has become more flexible in its demands, Iran has been more engaging, Europe has diligently worked to facilitate dialogue and the Russians have stopped milking tensions to score Western concessions.

The Iranian Sea-Air-Missile Threat to Gulf Shipping

FEB 27, 2015

The Arabian Gulf is now involved in a massive arms race, triggered largely by the fear that Iran will try to use its military forces to intimidate or dominate its neighbors. Iran has threatened to close the Gulf and carried out a wide range of large military exercises to show its capabilities. And Iran has steadily increased its ability to exploit the threat of conventional and asymmetric warfare to maritime traffic in the Gulf. The buildup of Iran’s naval, air, and missile capabilities poses a wide range of threats to maritime traffic into and outside of the Gulf. One potential target of this threat is the steady increase in bulk cargo shipments into the Gulf, Arabia Sea/Gulf of Oman, and Red Seas—shipments that are of steadily growing strategic importance to each of the other the Gulf states.
Publisher CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN 978-1-4422-4076-6 (pb); 978-1-4422-4077-3 (eBook)

Sun Tzu’s answer to ISIS

FEBRUARY 23, 2015

The great Chinese master strategist Sun Tzu needs to be America’s guide in dealing — or not dealing, when it is appropriate — with ISIS, al-Qaeda and other jihadi movements around the Middle East, not German strategist Carl von Clausewitz, the advocate of a direct knock-out approach to war..

British historian Andrew Roberts’ magnificent work on President Franklin Roosevelt, Gen George Marshall, Winston Churchill and British Gen. Sir Alan Brooke during World War II, Masters and Commanders is extremely relevant here. Marshall and the American military, who had read Clausewitz, were Clausewitzians all the way, they were clearly profoundly influenced by the straightforward “hit em on the head” style of Jack Dempsey, the great all-American heavyweight champion of the world, in the 1920s.

But the British were Sun Tzu-type stay on the periphery strategists. They practiced “dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee” fighting, 20 years before Mohammed Ali came on the scene. Indeed, until the great Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery came along in fall 1942 and gave them, true and integrated artillery and air power punch, the British Army only punched like a butterfly too.
As Roberts makes clear, the US straightforward hit ‘em with overwhelming power in the central axis of advance was exactly the right thing to do from 1944 onwards, when, as Churchill himself acknowledged, the Soviet Red Army had already knocked the stuffing out of the Wehrmacht.

However, in 1942 and 1943, Roberts confirms, the US and Britain simply did not have remotely enough men and materials, and no command of the air, to invade Normandy or anywhere else. The true believers in a 1943 landing — Marshal, influential US staff war planner then-Lt. Col. (later four-star. General) Albert Wedemeyer and others (General Dwight D, Eisenhower was originally in agreement with them, but he learned from experience to change his original opinion) would have presided over a catastrophe.

Russia Is Building New Aircraft Carrier, Navy Chief Confirms

March 2, 2015 

Russia is building a new aircraft carrier its navy chief confirmed on Monday, according to reports in state-owned media outlets.

On Monday Itar-Tass News Agency reported that Viktor Chirkov, Russia’s top naval commander, announced Russia is building a new aircraft carrier.

"The Navy will have an aircraft carrier. The research companies are working on it, and strictly in compliance with the requirements from the Chief Commander," the reported quoted Chirkov as saying. Itar-Tass did not report any additional details except that Chirkov made the remarks while speaking to workers at the Kolomensky Zavod plant. The plant makes diesel electric engines for navy vessels. which makes diesel electric engines.

Russia currently has one operational aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1985. However, last month Russian media outlets began reporting that the government-owned Krylov State Research Center was in the rudimentary stages of developing a new carrier-class for the Russian navy.

The reports said that the carrier was still in the conceptual phase of planning. However, when completed the new Russian aircraft carrier would reportedly be able to hold roughly 100 aircraft on board. That would make it 10 percent larger than America’s current Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, which can store roughly 90 aircraft carrier.

Africa’s New Energy Producers

By Jennifer G. Cooke, David L. Goldwyn
FEB 27, 2015

Making the Most of Emerging Opportunities

New oil and gas discoveries across Africa have raised hopes among governments and citizens alike of significant investments and revenues that will drive economic growth and development well beyond the energy sector. The recent collapse of oil prices and broader uncertainty in energy markets leaves the timetable for capitalizing on these discoveries uncertain. But even when prices eventually rebound, there are significant hurdles to be overcome if governments are to maximize the potential benefits of these new-found resources. There are few good examples among the more established African producers.

Can this time be different? Will the harsh lessons of Africa’s more established producers and the continent’s previous energy booms be absorbed? If so, are there practices that producer states, partner governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can apply to succeed where others before them have failed? The CSIS Africa Program and the CSIS Energy and National Security Program gathered African and global energy analysts, representatives from oil and gas companies, NGOs and advocacy groups, and officials from several branches of the U.S. government to study these questions.
Publisher CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN 978-1-4422-4061-2 (pb); 978-1-4422-4062-9 (eBook)

Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do

By: Steven Pifer, Strobe Talbott, Ambassador Ivo Daalder, Michele Flournoy, Ambassador John Herbst, Jan Lodal, Admiral James Stavridis and General Charles Wald

"Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do"is a project of The Brookings Institution, The Atlantic Council, and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which argues for greater U.S. leadership in ending the conflict in Ukraine and Russian involvement in the region. The report, authored by eight former senior U.S. diplomatic and military officials, urges the United States and NATO to bolster Ukraine’s defense and deter further Russian aggression by providing military assistance to Ukraine—including lethal defensive assistance.

The report is informed by and summarizes discussions in January with senior NATO officials in Brussels and senior Ukrainian civilian and military officials in Kyiv and at the Ukrainian “anti-terror operation” headquarters in Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine.


• The White House and Congress should commit serious funds to upgrade Ukraine’s defense capabilities, specifically providing $1 billion in military assistance this year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in the next two fiscal years;

• The U.S. government should alter its policy and begin providing lethal assistance to Ukraine’s military and;

• The U.S. government should approach other NATO countries about also providing military assistance to Ukraine.

The focus of this assistance should be on enhancing Ukraine’s defensive capabilities, including by providing counter-battery radars to pinpoint the origin of long-range rocket and artillery strikes, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), electronic counter-measures for use against opposing UAVs, secure communications capabilities, armored Humvees and medical support equipment. In addition, it should include lethal defensive capabilities, especially light anti-armor missiles.

NATO's Nuclear Nightmare over Ukraine

While experts and analysts proffer suggestions for how the U.S. should respond to Putin’s intractable assault on Ukraine, like this recent excellent piece by Tom Nichols in RCD or bythis Brookings report (not exactly authored by hawks), some still wonder why Moscow’s actions have anything to do with the U.S. in the first place. Part of the blame for this ignorance is willful, derived from a strong desire to keep the U.S. uninvolved in another conflict. And yet for those who have been listening to President Obama or former Secretary of State Clinton during the “reset” days, we’ve been led to believe that Russia is a cooperative partner, one that has many more shared interests with the U.S. than disagreements, let alone any that might lead to war. Indeed, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declared, “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries, and prospects for military confrontation have declined dramatically.”

Commander of European Command General Breedlove testified before the House Armed Services Committee recently and gave one of the most compelling explanations from a U.S. official as to why Russia’s provocation and aggression is indeed a security crisis for the United States.

No doubt appreciating that the Russians would be listening closely, Breedlove began his testimony with a clear defense of the NATO alliance, underscoring its importance to the U.S. In sum, “Maintaining our strategic Alliance with Europe is vital to maintaining U.S. national security and is not to be taken for granted.” This is the crux. The stronger the NATO alliance is, the more stable Europe is and the less likely the U.S. will be drawn into a catastrophic war, mainly with Russia. Then, he clearly stated the U.S. commitment to NATO’s defense. “Coupled with our visible commitment to maintain capabilities, readiness, responsiveness and our strategic level messaging, our presence demonstrates, to friend and foe alike, our absolute commitment to the sovereignty and security of every Ally.”

Russia Under Sanctions: It's Not Working

February 27, 2015

On the evening of Tuesday 24 February I joined a panel discussion on "Russia Now,"organized by Warwick Arts Centre's Mead Gallery. My fellow panellists were Peter Ferdinand (Politics and International Studies) and Christoph Mick and Christopher Read (History). The discussion was chaired by Mead Gallery director Sarah Shalgosky, whom I thank for the invitation. Here's what I said, roughly speaking.
Sanctions in history

The Russian economy is subject to Western sanctions. These sanctions are of two kinds. There are "smart" sanctions that aim to limit the international travel and transactions of named persons and corporations. There are also broader sanctions that aim to limit the international trade and borrowing of Russia’s financial, energy, and defence sectors.

In history, advocates of economic sanctions against an adversary have usually claimed two advantages for them. One claimed advantage is speed of action: It has often been predicted that economic sanctions will quickly "starve out" an adversary (metaphorically or literally). The other claimed advantage is cost: By attacking the adversary’s economy we can achieve our goals without the heavy casualties to our own side that would result from a military confrontation.

Are these claims justified by experience? Based on the experience of modern warfare and economic sanctions from the Napoleonic Wars through the U.S. Civil War and the two World Wars of the twentieth century to the Cold War, Rhodesia, South Africa, and Cuba, the answer has typically been: "No."
How do sanctions work?

The effects of sanctions on national power have generally been slower and smaller than expected. First, they attack national power indirectly, through the economy, and the economy provides a very complicated and uncertain transmission mechanism. If a country is refused access to something for which it appears to have a vital need, such as oil or food, it generally turns out that there are plenty of alternatives and ways around; nothing is as essential as it seems at first sight. Secondly, external measures will be met by counter-measures. In a country that is blockaded or sanctioned, soldiers will look for ways to use military strength to break ouit and so offset economic weakness. Suffering hardship and feeling unfairly victimized, civilians will become more willing to tighten their belts and fight on.

Administration denies Obama threatened to shoot down Israeli warplanes

By Jeffrey Scott Shapiro - The Washington Times
March 1, 2015

President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014.

President Obama threatened last year to use the U.S. military to shoot down Israeli fighter jets if they attempted to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, according to Middle Eastern news outlets Sunday — reports the administration denounced later that day as flatly untrue.

Mr. Obama’s threat reportedly deterred Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from dispatching warplanes into Iran after Israel discovered that the U.S. had entered into secret talks with Tehran and that the two countries had signed an agreement, according to Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.

In a statement to The Washington Times early Sunday evening, a senior administration said “that report is totally false.”

Al-Jarida also reported Sunday that “well placed” sources confirmed an unnamed Israeli minister disclosed the plan to Secretary of State John Kerry, and that Mr. Obama replied by warning that he would foil the plan by shooting down Israeli jets before they could reach their target destinations.

Bibi Blows Up the Special Relationship

MARCH 2, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington has exposed the dysfunction at the core of the U.S.-Israel alliance. That isn’t such a bad thing.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be the only person who was looking forward to his visit to the United States this week. House Speaker John Boehner, who cooked up the invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, has now been exposed as a narrow-minded partisan who put his party’s fortunes ahead of broader diplomatic interests. The White House is supremely ticked off, with National Security Advisor Susan Rice terming the visit “destructive” to the U.S.-Israel relationship and Secretary of State John Kerry pointedly reminding people of how bad Netanyahu’s past advice has been. A chorus of reliably “pro-Israel” pundits — including some prominent members of Israel’s national security establishment — appear to share Rice’s view (if not her choice of words) and have denounced Netanyahu’s refusal to reschedule in no uncertain terms.

Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the “leviathan among lobbies,” seems to be unhappy about the whole business. Sure, it’s giving Netanyahu a prominent platform at its policy conference this week and is reportedly twisting arms on Capitol Hill to keep more Democrats from boycotting Netanyahu’s speech, but AIPAC appears to have been blindsided by the invitation itself, and partisan wrangling over Israel goes against its entire political playbook.

Putin’s Next Prize in Eastern Ukraine

MARCH 2, 2015

During the four-month-long “cease-fire” that followed the Sept. 5, 2014, Minsk agreement between Ukraine’s government and the Russia-backed separatist rebels, the shells never stopped falling on four key targets: Two of them — the Donetsk airport and the city of Debaltseve — have now been captured. Indeed, Russia’s second major offensive, which began in late January, appears to have reached a crescendo in the days after the signing of the latest Minsk deal on Feb. 12.

Despite the withdrawal of heavy artillery and a relative drop in violence (soldiers are still dying and artillery is still flying over Donetsk) in many areas of the front, Russian-backed forces are still working on the two other targets that remain in Kiev’s hands: The port city of Mariupol and the strategically important Bakhmutka highway, which runs west from the rebel stronghold of Luhansk. While there may well be a lull before the next major push, the pattern of attacks in recent weeks suggests no change in the Kremlin’s proxies’ intents since the first Minsk truce.

The most obvious target, and the one that has been the most fretted over since the end of August last year, is Mariupol, the industrial port city on the Azov coast. The city is of vital economic and strategic significance. And Russia has made clear that it wants the city. In a surprise move on Aug. 27, 2014, Russian forces took the town of Novoazovsk, east along the coast from Mariupol, and a short distance from the Russian border. Having opened a new front to take this economically and strategically unimportant town, it became clear that separatist forces were preparing for a move on Mariupol.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Security Division Has Monitored the Facebook Pages of 8 Million Iranians

March 2, 2015

Iran’s Guard Monitored 8 Million Facebook Users

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s official IRNA news agency says the powerful Revolutionary Guard has massively monitored activities on Facebook accounts of Iranian members of the social network.

Monday’s report quotes a statement by the Guard’s cyber security division as saying it has tracked “likes” by 8 million Facebook users.

It accuses Facebook of trying to attract users to “immoral pages” with “obscene content” through its suggestion system. It says Facebook openly supports pages that violate the Islamic dress code for women.

The Guard also says authorities detained two Iranian users of who were active in managing porn and creating fake profiles.

Iran occasionally makes these announcements. It banned Facebook and many other social networks following the 2009 disputed presidential election.

Many Iranians have still access to the networks through proxies and VPNs.

The GOP's Dilemma: Is Obamacare Too Big to Fail?

March 3, 2015 

King v. Burwell could put Republicans in an awful spot.

Not so long ago, Republicans were actively celebrating the potentially deadly blow the Supreme Court could deliver to Obamacare by deciding for the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell and related cases. That was understandable, but probably not very smart.

The challengers in these cases argue that the Affordable Care Act does not authorize exchange subsidies in states that rely on federal health-insurance exchanges. Many people on the right were very pleased when the Supreme Court decided to grant cert in this case; without exchange subsidies in over thirty states, little would remain of President Obama’s comprehensive health-care reform effort.

Today, some Republicans have rightly started to worry what will happen if the Supreme Court does indeed side with the plaintiffs. It would be a mess, and although President Obama and his acolytes are ultimately responsible for causing it, congressional Republicans, now in control of both House and Senate, will be responsible for dealing with it, unless the states manage to rapidly set up their own exchanges. (Good luck, Oregon. Safe travels, Republican governors and legislatures who want to rescue Obamacare.) They face three deeply unattractive options.

Seeking Harbors in the Storm

FEB 27, 2015

Part of Rocky Harbors: Taking Stock of the Middle East in 2015

In Chapter 1 of Rocky Harbors: Taking Stock of the Middle East in 2015, Jon B. Alterman provides a strategic overview of where the region is coming from, where it is today, and how it might change in the years ahead.

This volume comes at a time of profound uncertainty about the future of political life in the Middle East. Where some see an interregnum in efforts by younger and more connected populations to push for inclusion, others see a region coming to its senses after a moment of irrational exuberance. Some see a state system that is increasingly weary, while others see a state system fortified by the knowledge that its demise would bring chaos. The events of the last five years suggest that regional politics are interconnected, but the manner of their interconnections is a source of constant surprise. While it is impossible to predict their direction, the last five years have helped us understand some of the key variables, and what to notice.

The FY2016 Defense Budget and US Strategy: Key Trends and Data Points

MAR 2, 2015

Every year, the Department of Defense, OMB, the CBO, and GAO provide a wide range of materials analyzing the President’s proposed defense budget, and current trends in defense spending. These amount to thousands of pages and a wide variety of metrics, maps, charts, and other data.

The Burke Chair has prepared a summary of the key metrics in these presentations which puts their data in the broader context of US strategic needs and priorities, the overall forces shaping the crisis in federal spending, and the credibility of the budget submission in view of outside analyses of US defense spending by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), General Accountability Office (GAO), and work done on global defense spending by the IISS and SIPRI.

This analysis is entitled The FY2016 Defense Budget and US Strategy: Key Trends and Data Points, and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/publication/fy2016-defense-budget-and-us-strategy-key-trends-and-data-points.

Highlighting the Lack of Real Strategic Planning and Realistic Programming

This analysis focuses on key national, strategic, and defense spending issues and is not intended as a comprehensive survey of strategy, programs, and budgets. It also highlights the lack of real strategic planning within the Department of Defense. Although the total mass of DoD budget presentation data runs over 500 pages, the references to strategy are limited and virtually never provide any meaningful detail or content on how a strategy will be implemented or resources will be allocated.

While reference is often made to the cost of a five or “future year defense program” (FYDP), one of the key lessons of this analysis is that if one looks closely at the budget data, there is virtually no information as to how this spending will affect the overall force structure, readiness, and modernization of US forces, or how it will shape mission capabilities and the capabilities of the key combatant commands. In spite of the large amount of strategic rhetoric involved, the mass of actual data almost exclusively cover line item budgeting for a single coming year. They are all budget, and not programming or strategy.

In fairness, the vacuous nature of the 2014 QDR, the national strategy document, and the strategic guidance first provided in early 2012 makes it difficult, if not impossible, to tie budgets to specific goals, plans, milestones and measures of effectiveness. They are exercises in drafting broad unfocused goals without meaningful priorities, plans, programs, and longer-term budgets. Strategy does not consist of concepts, it consist precisely of the specific goals, plans, milestones and measures of effectiveness that US strategic documents lack.

Former Mossad Chief Blasts Netayahu

Nahum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer
February 28, 2015

PM has caused the most strategic damage on the Iranian issue’

Meir Dagan feels a debt of gratitude towards Benjamin Netanyahu. “When I got sick,” Dagan told us on Wednesday, “I needed a liver for a transplant. Netanyahu stepped in to help me. I have no personal grudge against him; to the contrary.”

Nevertheless, Dagan did have some harsh things to say on the eve of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington. A man of vast experience and much influence, Dagan, who served as head of the Mossad under Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu, is a concerned Israeli. “I turned 70 last week,” he said to us. “All my children live in Israel. My grandchildren live in Israel. I want the dynasty to continue.”

Dagan isn’t exactly a leftist; anyone familiar with his biography will testify to this. When it comes to Iran, he shares Netanyahu’s concerns. “A nuclear Iran is a reality that Israel won’t be able to come to terms with,” he said.

But Dagan believes that Netanyahu, because of the way he is handling the issue, is only bringing us closer to this harsh reality. “The person that has caused Israel the most strategic damage when it comes to the Iranian issue is the prime minister,” he told us.

Iran’s nuclear program, we said, started before Netanyahu’s terms in office.

"We saw the first signs of Iran’s aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons in 1988," Dagan said. "But we began to grasp the enormity of the challenge only in 2002-2003, during Sharon’s term in office. Discussions were held. The professional bodies in the defense establishment told Sharon that the problem wasn’t only an Israeli one, but a global one. They told Sharon that Israel should keep a low profile, and Sharon accepted that advice. A similar discussion was held with Olmert, and the policy was reaffirmed.

"Some 65 percent of the world’s oil reserves are in Iran and the countries surrounding it. So, it’s a global problem. As for Israel, it enters the fray from a tricky place. Until now, Israel has never signed any international convention concerning nuclear weapons. Israel refuses to lay itself open to international supervision. It would best, therefore, for Israel not to place itself at the forefront. We’ll support any effort, intelligence or political, but we will always be on the sidelines."