22 March 2015

This Missile Is How India Plans to Attain Aerial Supremacy

March 21, 2015

Earlier this week, India successfully tested its indigenously developed Astra supersonic air-to-air missile. The Astra, developed by India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), is a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile capable of being launched from India’s Sukhoi-30 MKI twin-jet air superiority fighter. The Indian Air Force currently operates roughly 200 total Su-30 MKIs, but plans to eventually operate around 270. The Astra is 149 inches in length, making it the most compact missile developed indigenously in India capable of supersonic speeds.

MVKV Prasad, director of the Integrated Test Range in the Indian state of Odisha, noted that the “missile was successfully tested to hit a simulated target” in an interview with the Press Trust of India. The Economic Times notes that the Astra “was tested to prove the maneuvering capability against a simulated target and also to validate various subsystems.” When fired from an altitude of at least 15,000 meters, the Astra can travel as far as 110 km. At lower altitudes, this range is reduced: it is capable of reaching a range of 44 km when fired from 8,000 meters, and 21 km when fired from sea level, according to the Economic Times. The active homing ability of the Astra is limited to 25 km. Under normal use, the highly maneuverable Astra missile experiences up to 30 g of acceleration force.

The Astra, which has been under development for over a decade, will be continue to undergo testing until it is ready for reliable use by the Indian Air Force. S Venugopal, a project director at the DRDO, notes that while the ”the fourth and fifth air launch of Astra was once again perfect … more tests will follow to prove its repeatability.” A longer range Mark 2 version of the Astra is planned which will increase its total range, including its active homing and tail chase ranges.


By N Sathiya Moorthy*

Reminiscent of the era before multi-party democracy unfolded in 2008, the Opposition MDP has called for a nation-wide ‘civil disobedience movement’ after a three-judge Criminal Court Bench awarded a 13-year jail-term for former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. While the international community (read: West) has backed MDP against the legal and judicial processes in the country, President Abdulla Yameen has asked them not to interfere in the internal affairs of Maldives and asked Nasheed’s defence to avail of the existing opportunities for appealing against the trial court verdict.

If the fast-tracked trial proceedings had come in for criticism from the defence and the international community alike, the surprise came in the form of the court pronouncing the verdict only hours after it had concluded the trial on the night of Friday, March 13, an official weekly holiday across the island-nation. It’s unclear why the court did not complete the trial against Nasheed’s co-accused, who under the Maldivian criminal procedure, can be tried separately. Nor is it known when their trial would conclude and when the verdict would be pronounced. For now, the court has postponed the trial against co-accused and incumbent Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jameel, scheduled for Monday, March 16.

Almost from the start, Nasheed’s defence had cried foul over the procedure, the denial of demanded time for preparing their case, refusal for two of the three judges to recuse themselves as they were present at the time of Judge Abdulla’s arrest, and for their appearing as defence witnesses along with the nation’s prosecutor-general. Protesting against the denial of time after they had been given only an additional day, the defence lawyers quit.

During the three-week long trial, the presiding Judges ruled that there was no need for them to recuse themselves, nor was there any need for them to appear as witnesses, possibly holding that the case would have stood even without either. The court also declined Nasheed’s personal request for appointing a new lawyer after his team had quit, but did not deny him the right to appoint one even as they continued with the trial, whatever that meant in real terms.

Spring: The Season of Festivals in South Asia

March 21, 2015

Ah, spring is finally here!

The end of winter and the start of spring is a sign of renewal, awakening, planting, and life in many cultures across the world. Because of this, the start of spring is a time for several festivals and new year celebrations throughout many South-Central Asian cultures.

The most famous of these is probably Nowruz, which marks the first day of spring in the Persian calendar and the start of the new year. In 2015, Nowruz will occur on Friday, March 20. But Nowruz celebrations are not only limited to Iran — they form an integral part of the culture of all regions influenced by the historical greater Persian culture. Nowruz is celebrated in Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus states, the former Soviet Central Asian states, Kurdistan, Xinjiang, and in many parts of the subcontinent, especially Kashmir. Nowruz is a largely secular festival, though it originated from ancient Zoroastrian rituals.

In India, several calendars begin around the start of spring, while there are many spring festivals. Most Indians either follow the Gregorian Calendar or local, regional calendars. Nonetheless, there have been attempts at popularizing national, Hindu calendars. The official manifestation of this is the Indian National Calendar, or the Saka Calendar, which was promulgated in 1957 and attempted to harmonize multiple Hindu calendars. Its year zero is 78 C.E. and does not correspond with any widely known or important event. The Saka Calendar is widely neglected in India. A somewhat more popular, related calendar is the Vikram Samvat, a lunar calendar which dates its year zero to 56 B.C.E.. Many historical monuments and inscriptions throughout India are dated in Vikram Samvat years. The Vikram Samvat new year falls on March 21 this year, though it can occur anytime in a March to April period. As Nyepi, it is celebrated in Bali as the new year. Hindu groups in India have urged people to do more to celebrate the Hindu new year.

Maldives: Nasheed’s Sham Trial Comes to an End

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

On 13th night (trial was always held after sunset), former President Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the detention of criminal court judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Soon after sentencing, President Yameen was quick to release a statement calling on people to respect the criminal court verdict. The statement was more for the international community as he called on its “international partners to engage constructively based on mutual respect, dialogue in consolidating and strengthening democratic values and institutions in the country.”

Strange that Yameen should call outsiders to strengthen democracy in his country while he himself has slowly and cunningly taken all the three pillars of democracy the legislative, the judiciary and the executive under his wing.

What an irony that a person who should have been jailed for swindling millions of dollars in the oil scam of Singapore in now the President and a person who should have been the President is jailed- of all charges- for terrorism? 

Nowhere in the world is a mere ordering of an arrest of a judge whose misconduct was well known even if it is wrong can be termed as a “terrorist act” and people who indulge in terrorist acts freely roam about in the capital city of Male without let or hindrance. The International community should note this. Maldives should not be allowed to get away with what the Conservative Party’s (UK) Human rights division called it a “grotesque travesty of justice.”

The Human Rights wing of Maldives said that the former President Nasheed was denied fundamental rights that guarantee a fair trial and in line on the Maldives obligations under the International Covenant on civil and political rights.

India, USA and the UK have expressed concern over the unfortunate developments in Maldives. Only China which has no respect for the human rights of its citizens could claim that it is an internal affair of Maldives. China is doing it for two reasons- Maldives is too far away and it does not matter while it took notice of even minor disturbances in its border regions of Myanmar when the Kokangs were bombed. Secondly, here is an opportunity to enter Maldives in a big way just as it did in Myanmar since international sanctions could be expected.

China’s Weapons of Mass Consumption

MARCH 20, 2015

What will happen when Beijing floods the world with cheap aircraft and warships?

China’s Weapons of Mass Consumption

In August 2014, China’s state-owned Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding Co. launched a new frigate, a small warship often used for submarine warfare or coastal defense, into Shanghai’s Huangpu River. As the frigate slid into the water, a casual passerby might have assumed that it was simply another ship in the Chinese Navy’s rapidly growing fleet. Yet its intended recipient was not China’s navy, but Algeria’s — the first of three that Algeria had ordered from China at a Malaysian arms expo in 2012.

China has long been one of the world’s leading suppliers of small arms, but its sale of the frigates was not an anomaly. As the independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported in mid-March, China is now the world’s third-largest arms exporter, having overtaken France and Germany, and trailing behind Russia and the United States. In 2010 to 2014, not only was China’s share of global arms sales nearly double that of the previous five-year period — 5 percent as against 3 percent in 2005 to 2009 — but its exports of major weapons platforms rose by 143 percent compared to the previous half-decade.

Over the next decade, advanced weapons platforms — once the purview of Western and Russian defense industries — will flood the arms market as China, and to a lesser degree India, become global suppliers. Developing countries that once could only afford secondhand Cold War-era weapons will soon be able to acquire everything from modern fighter aircraft and warships to precision-guided munitions, all without breaking the bank. And not unlike with consumer electronics, the quality of these platforms will increase over time, even as their prices fall.

The AIIB Debacle: What Washington Should Do Now

March 21, 2015

It is time for Washington to take a step back and regroup. Its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) strategy, ill-considered from the get-go, has now taken a major hit with the announcement this past week by the United Kingdom that it plans to join the Chinese-led AIIB. Washington’s concerns over the AIIB are well-established: the competition the AIIB poses to pre-existing development institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank; concern over the potential for weak environmental standards and social safeguards within the AIIB; and the opportunity for China to use AIIB-financed infrastructure for greater leverage in the region. From all accounts, the Obama administration has expended serious energy trying to dissuade its allies from joining the bank at least until greater clarity is offered as to the decision-making structure of the institution. With the defection of the U.K., however, it appears likely that Washington’s carefully constructed coalition will gradually unravel—both Australia and South Korea are apparently reconsidering their earlier reluctance to join the bank and could well use the U.K.’s decision as political cover for deciding to join the bank.

At this point, therefore, Washington has three choices:

1) Continue to press its allies not to join the AIIB until governance procedures for the bank are assured;

2) Join the AIIB itself; or

3) Drop the issue.

Option one is clearly a losing proposition. There is no sense expending further political capital trying to persuade regional and other actors not to join the bank. It is a small-potato issue that is making the United States look weak at a time when U.S. influence in the region is otherwise quite strong.

Could Taiwan Join AIIB?

March 21, 2015

Taiwan is interested in joining the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – if it’s invited. As the Taiwanese China Post reports, Taiwan’s Finance Minister Chang Sheng-ford told legislators on Thursday that “Taiwan is willing to join [AIIB] upon invitation.” Joining AIIB “would open up a very good channel for investment,” he added. But Chang also noted that Taipei has not yet received an invitation. Chang’s remarks come after the Mainland Affairs Council, which handles cross-strait relations, said that Taiwan’s stance on the AIIB would be determined by the Finance Ministry.

Mainland China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, also reported on Chang’s comments. It’s unclear, however, if Beijing will allow Taiwan to join in. So far, AIIB membership has been limited to countries – a term Beijing resolutely refuses to apply to Taiwan. For example, Taiwan is not a member of the IMF or the World Bank due to Chinese objections, but it is included in APEC (because APEC is defined as a grouping of Pacific economiesrather than countries.) Unless the AIIB members are defined using similar language, Taiwan’s participation won’t get off the ground.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Australia is moving closer to joining AIIB, with a decision possible after a Monday cabinet meeting. And in a surprising twist, even Japan seems to be considering the possibility of joining, although Abe’s administration described its stance toward AIIB participation as “cautious.”

In other news, Xinhua reports that China and Russia recommitted to jointly celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. That includes an exchange of visits by top leaders, with Chinese President Xi Jinping expected to go Moscow in May and Russian President Vladimir Putin to return the favor by attending a Chinese military parade. Putin told a senior CCP official in Moscow that China and Russia’s joint celebrations “would help safeguard world peace against attempts to distort history and glorify invaders,” according to Xinhua.


March 20, 2015

Editor’s Note: Tao Hu is a fictional character in the Connor Stark series. This is the second in a series of descriptions of real watering holes around the world in which characters from the forthcoming novel SYREN’S SONG find themselves.

This place had become a convenient occasional meeting place for me because it was the opposite of what two people wanted. My wife hated places like the China Bear Café because she wanted me to lose 30 pounds. The quesadillas, pizzas, and fried English food offered as standard fare here didn’t help. My executive assistant thought I should only eat and drink at the finer establishments in Hong Kong, as would befit someone in my position. Most of the time I agreed with her.

Lantau Island is a short ferry ride from Kowloon. It is a popular destination for tourists who want to see the 85-foot tall bronze Tian Tan Buddha, which is the second-largest sitting Buddha in the world. It is on the other side of the island, as is Chek Lap Kok Airport. The airport replaced the inner city Kai Tak Airport in 1998. That’s when I first came to Lantau Island. My company had me meet an American congressman visiting Hong Kong who might be useful to us. He wanted a beer and pizza. We took the windy road back to the Mui Wo Ferry Pier, passing the long since closed Papa Doc’s bar on the waterfront at Mui Wo Centre. The nearby China Bear served the same purpose that Papa Doc’s once did: an out-of-the way place to meet someone – as I was now.

I had selected one of the four outside tables with umbrellas. The wind was picking up on Silver Mine Bay. I flicked the last of my Benson & Hedges cigarette onto the concrete walkway and watched it bounce as the wind carried it over the side and into the water. I zipped up the latest birthday gift from my wife – an L.L. Bean windbreaker she had picked up at one of the American stores in Hong Kong.

Why China Fears U.S. Missile Defenses

March 20, 2015 

Well it seems we might want to hold off on all the predictions of Seoul and Beijing joining hands and riding off into the sunset as Asia’s new power couple--at least for now.

China is quite upset at the prospect of South Korea acquiring America’s latest missile defense platform, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD for short. However, Xi Jinping might want to redirect his anger at the real problem and why President Park Geun-hye might be considering THAAD in the first place: North Korea.

But before we get to the heart of the matter, it seems appropriate to understand what THAAD is, what it can do, and why its important.

Back in November, I spoke to Dan Sauter of Business Development for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense at Lockheed Martin to get a better understanding of the system and its capabilities. Sauter explained that THAAD is “a key element of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and is designed to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers and critical infrastructure against short-thru-medium-range ballistic missiles.” He went on to explain that THAAD “has a unique capability to destroy threats in both the endo- and exo-atmosphere using proven hit-to-kill (kinetic energy) lethality. THAAD is effective against all types of ballistic-missile warheads, especially including Weapons of Mass Destruction (chemical, nuclear or biological) payloads. THAAD was specifically designed to counter mass raids with its high firepower (up to 72 Interceptors per battery), capable organic radar and powerful battle manager/fire control capability.”

THAAD also has one nice feature that is sure to get Beijing’s panties in a bunch--interoperability.

Sauter told The National Interest that THAAD is “interoperable with other BMDS elements, working in concert with Patriot/PAC-3, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, forward based sensors, and C2BMC (Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications System) to maximize integrated air and missile defense capabilities. THAAD is mobile and rapidly deployable, which provides warfighters with greater flexibility to adapt to changing threat situations around the globe.”

Petraeus: The Islamic State isn’t our biggest problem in Iraq

By Liz Sly 
March 20

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commanded U.S. troops in Iraq during the 2007-2008 surge, was back in that country last week for the first time in more than three years. He was attending the annual Sulaimani Forum, a get-together of Iraqi leaders, thinkers and academics, at the American University of Iraq - Sulaimani in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region. 

In his most expansive comments yet on the latest crisis in Iraq and Syria, he answered written questions from The Post’s Liz Sly, offering insights into the mistakes, the prosecution and the prospects of the war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which he refers to by its Arabic acronym, Daesh. 

How does it feel to be back in Iraq after four years away? 

Iraq is a country I came to know well and the place where I spent some of the most consequential years of my life. So it has been a bit of an emotional experience to return here after my last visit in December 2011 as director of the CIA. I was very grateful for the chance to be back to see old friends and comrades from the past. 

That said, it is impossible to return to Iraq without a keen sense of opportunities lost. These include the mistakes we, the U.S., made here, and likewise the mistakes the Iraqis themselves have made. This includes the squandering of so much of what we and our coalition and Iraqi partners paid such a heavy cost to achieve, the continuing failure of Iraq's political leaders to solve longstanding political disputes, and the exploitation of these failures by extremists on both sides of the sectarian and ethnic divides. 

Having said that, my sense is that the situation in Iraq today is, to repeat a phrase I used on the eve of the surge, hard but not hopeless. I believe that a reasonable outcome here is still achievable, although it will be up to all of us — Iraqis, Americans, leaders in the region and leaders of the coalition countries — to work together to achieve it. 

You oversaw the gains of the surge in 2007-08. How does it make you feel to see what is happening today, with ISIS having taken over more of Iraq than its predecessor, AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq], ever did? 

The Virtual Significance of Boko Haram's Pledge to ISIS

March 19, 2015

The Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram’s recent pledge of allegiance to ISIS has generated a wave of speculation about its significance.

ISIS’s response was to release an audio tape purporting to welcome the pledge. In the rest of the world one dominant view is that ISIS and the jihadi front is spreading and becoming more organized, which, in turn, has spurred the US government to consider expanding its military actions to include ISIS affiliates.

There are, however, good reasons not to read too much into the Boko Haram pledge. It is probable that it will have little or no real practical significance, beyond the initial public relations bump.

Boko Haram under pressure

The pledge of allegiance (Arabic: bayat) by Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau on March 7 was made in an audio-message, in which the organization expresses its support for ISIS.

The announcement was hardly surprising; Boko Haram had been for some time praising ISIS’s actions. Also, the pledge comes at the time when Boko Haram is under much pressure. The recent coordinated offensive by the Chadian, Cameroonian and Nigerian armies has taken its toll on the organization. The pledge could possibly be seen as an act of desperation.

It is, however, doubtful if the pledge will turn any tide, and it is unlikely that the announced cooperation between Boko Haram and ISIS would mean much – in practical terms – to either party.

The Somali organization al-Shabaab made a similar pledge to al-Qaida in 2012 without having any practical implications.

It is unlikely that ISIS will provide Boko Haram with fighters and arms. Boko Haram has, in fact, been critical of “Arab” involvement in its activities in Nigeria. Foreign fighters are not flocking to Nigeria as they are to ISIS-held areas. Nor is it likely that Boko Haram will provide soldiers to ISIS. It might mean infusion of funds from ISIS, but also that is uncertain.
Boko Haram and ISIS are rooted in different localities

How Iran Became the Middle East's Moderate Force

March 20, 2015 

The political maturity of Iran as a rational state not only renders Netanyahu’s congressional speech futile but further inspires the United States to advance a nuclear deal. The insistence on Iran being a threat is based on the delusion that Iran has remained unchanged since its inception as the Islamic Republic. Yet, three major indicators highlight a deep development in Iranian politics in the region. These signposts include Iran’s constructive regional military presence; its peaceful and balancing role in resolving politico-cultural issues within the UN and regional venues; and its highly educated and modernized society that guarantees the irreversibility of the other two developments.

There is only one country in the Middle East that is truly in alliance with the United States in its fight against the ISIS and that is Iran. The military presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) elite forces in defense of the territorial integrity and political stability of Iraq has already expanded from the Kurdish city of Erbil to the multiethnic capital city of Baghdad. This is happening at a time when Turkey finds it hard even to declare ISIS as a terrorist group, Saudi Arabia only last year felt obliged to take its public funds away from feeding ISIS, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force abandoned the allied forces against ISIS last December.

The crux of the matter is not just the tactical presence of the IRGC in the region but their strategic justification for such a presence. Two major commanders along with Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, haverecently declared that if we do not fight ISIS today at Samarra, tomorrow we have to fight them back in Tehran, with no reference to jihad or a path to free Al-Quds (Jerusalem) or Palestine from Israeli occupation. This is a massive development in that the IRGC's military mission has shifted from being a transnational, idealist, and unpredictable force to a national, realist, and predictable one, restricted to the national boundaries of Iran.

Rebooting Democracy Traditional democratic institutions are failing. It’s time for an upgrade.

MARCH 16, 2015 

If forms of government can be likened to operating systems, current variants of democracy are a bit like early, primitive versions of Windows. They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly — they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.

While our democratic systems have brought us far, they appear incapable of solving complex modern problems like recurring global financial crises,rising inequality, climate change, and various forms of resource depletion. Even the most established democracies are failing to deliver public goods: the U.S. Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a grade of D+ on the condition of U.S. roads, bridges, water systems, schools, and other infrastructure. Not unexpectedly, the approval rating of the U.S. Congress is at a near-historic low of 20 percent.

The versions of democracy attempted by newly democratizing nations have been even less effective. The democratic system imported by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003-4, for example, was really no different from British mandate arrangements tried in the 1920s. The U.S. occupation provided an illusion of democracy, but with little functionality underneath — like a corrupted version of Windows that shows a static desktop but runs no programs. Several years later, in response to the Arab Spring, democracy transfer failed again. 

The most powerful pro-democracy wave since the end of the Cold War resulted in precious little new participatory governance.

The most powerful pro-democracy wave since the end of the Cold War resulted in precious little new participatory governance.

The failings were not due to a “clash of civilizations,” as Huntington famously argued. There is nothing inherent to democracy that makes it incompatible with the Arab or any other culture. Rather, the failings resulted from promotion of form over substance — replicating an image of democracy rather than a functional, inclusive, accountable decision-making system that is adapted to local needs. If democratic initiatives in the Arab world and elsewhere are to evolve and mature, it will be because expressions of democracy have markedly improved. We are suggesting that democratic systems are due for a major upgrade, and that new, more flexible versions will allow for community programming — refinement of a system by the very people who use it.

Japan’s Abe Invited to Address Joint Session of US Congress

March 21, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been formally invited to address a joint session of Congress when he travels to Washington DC this April, AFPreports. Abe’s speech to Congress has been in theworks for some time; the official announcement is expected to be made soon.

Abe will become the first Japanese prime minister to ever address both houses of the U.S. Congress, and the first to address any part of Congress in over 50 years. Then-Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda addressed the House of Representatives on June 22, 1961. Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, also addressed the House in 1957, during his term as prime minister.

Abe’s speech is likely to be forward-looking, focusing on U.S.-Japan security relations as well as their economic ties — especially the effort to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which faces a stumbling block in Congress unless the legislature votes to give Obama Trade Promotion Authority). However, given that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, discussion is already turning to how Abe will incorporate history into his remarks.

A U.S. veterans’ group expressed concern at a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veteran Affairs Committees that Abe might downplay Japan’s “historical responsibilities” during the war. Abe’s “past statements rejecting the verdicts of Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal that serves as the foundation of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan trouble us,” said Jan Thompson, the president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society. Thompson added:

US Officials Believe North Korea Has SLBMs, Miniaturized Nuclear Devices

March 21, 2015

The Washington Free Beacon reports that North Korea is making progress toward operationalizing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The report, by the Beacon‘s Bill Gertz, cites comments made by the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Cecil D. Haney, in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee disclosed on Thursday. As The Diplomat covered last fall, North Korea’s SLBM development has been under the watchful eye of observers for some time now. A satellite imagery study by 38 North strongly hinted at an ongoing SLBM development process at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard. Gertz’s report confirms that U.S. officials now believe that a North Korean SLBM is a safe assumption. A robust SLBM capability would be a major step for North Korea, particularly if it manages to successfully miniaturize a nuclear device for delivery from a submarine (a considerably more challenging task altogether, though a report Friday suggests U.S. officials believe North Korea has already done this).

In other news, both Japan and Australia may turn out to be significant customers for the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft. Aerospace Daily notes that Japan may end up purchasing more than the 17 that it has budgeted for in the coming year. Bell Helicopter’s Vice President for International Military Sales Richard Harris notes that Australia is also a prospective customer. The Osprey is a highly versatile air asset for its ability to swiftly transport troops and equipment, particularly in amphibious scenarios.

Reuters reported on the United States’ ongoing efforts to beef up its missile defense capabilities with Iranian and North Korean threats in mind. The director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, James Syring, told the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee that North Korea possesses hundreds of missiles capable of reaching U.S. Pacific forces and that Iran continues to advance its missile program. Neither North Korea or Iran have the ability to credibly and consistently threaten the U.S. homeland, though Syring notes that both countries are pursuing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). For a detailed technical analysis of North Korea’s ICBM program, see John Schilling’s piece for 38 North.

Unleashed: America Must Pummel ISIS

March 21, 2015

Despite Obama's reluctance, the American people agree that ISIS must be destroyed.

More than a year since engaging in hostilities against ISIS, President Obama formally requested authorization from Congress to use force against the Islamic State. Consequently, Congress is now debating the great issue of whether to authorize America's use of force against the ISIS terror state. As Republicans in Congress consider an authorization, they should first evaluate whether the proposed authority is tailored to facilitate victory and accomplish the Commander-in-Chief's explicit strategic objective: to defeat ISIS.

The President's declared position is that this use of force should be limited by law to three years maximum, including the specious limitation of no "enduring offensive ground combat operations."

Congressional Republicans agree that ISIS is an atrocity, and that Obama's handling of it has been inadequate, but they do not entirely agree on what to do about it. There are two main groups. GOP national security hawks—a group that includes most congressional Republicans when it comes to ISIS—suggest the proposed use of force is too restricting. GOP non-interventionists, like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), suggest it is not restrictive enough.

This debate also takes place within the context of some dramatic shifts in popular opinion regarding U.S. foreign policy over the last few months.

For much of the Obama era, the American public has been quite skeptical of arguments for military intervention, especially on the ground. President Obama both encouraged that trend and responded to it.

The rise of ISIS, together with its demonstrated brutality, have triggered a sea-change in American popular attitudes, at least on this particular issue. One Quinnipiac poll from March 4 found that 62 percent of all Americans now support the use of U.S. ground troops versus ISIS, as against only 30 percent who oppose. So a two-to-one majority of U.S. public opinion today supports not only the use of force, but the use of American ground troops against the Islamic State. The majorities supporting U.S. airstrikes are even more overwhelming.

Reckless: Obama's Advisers Go Rogue

March 20, 2015 

A high-profile campaign by three well-regarded think tanks (Brookings, the Atlantic Council and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs) urging President Obama to send so-called defensive weapons to Kiev recently kicked off a surprisingly intense debate inside the Beltway over the wisdom of such a policy. Former government officials and academics acting in a very public manner to try and influence administration policy one way or another is par for the course and is, especially when it results in a substantive debate over the merits of a given policy choice, a very good sign that democratic discourse is not dead in Washington—at least not yet.

The debate over whether to arm Kiev is raging inside the Obama administration as well, and it is here that the behavior of some of the president’s men and women has been somewhat questionable. Unlike former high-office holders ensconced in multimillion-dollar ivory towers off of Massachusetts Avenue NW, current government officials reporting directly to the president of the United States might consider keeping their own counsel (or at least, conveying their counsel privately), rather than publicly trying to corner Mr. Obama into endorsing a policy for which he may rightfully have reservations.

It will surprise just about no one that most aggressive lobbyist for arming Kiev among Mr. Obama’s team has been the Department of State’s Victoria Nuland. At the Munich Security conference last month, the German newspaper BILD reported that Nuland huddled with the U.S. delegation and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove to strategize on ways to sell the idea of arming Kiev to the Europeans. According to the BILD report, Nuland advised the assembled that when discussing the possibility of arming Kiev, “I’d strongly urge you to use the phrase ‘defensive systems’ that we would deliver to oppose Putin’s ‘offensive systems.’” At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on March 10, Nuland again pushed the case for arming Kiev, noting that “in the last few days, we can confirm new transfers of Russian tanks, armored vehicles, heavy artillery and rocket equipment over the border to the separatists in eastern Ukraine.”

Boko Haram Is Now a Global Threat

March 19, 2015

Boko Haram remained a purely Nigerian issue for years, but that is changing fast. The group's aspirations, and its pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, are broadening the scope of the global jihadist threat. That threat is one the United States cannot overlook - especially as Boko Haram destabilizes West and Central Africa, a region that remains a significant exporter of raw materials but also a hub for trafficking of all kinds.

The group, whose name is often translated as "Western education is forbidden," launched an insurgency in 2009 following violent clashes with Nigerian police forces. The conflict has since displaced and killed thousands of people and has ground northern Nigeria's economy to a halt.

Nigeria's own government grossly underestimated the threat posed by Boko Haram. The group has proven to be highly flexible, both in its ideology and in its use of tactics, and Boko Haram now reaches far beyond the confines of Nigeria. In the past 12 months, the group has perpetrated large-scale kidnappings that garnered it international notoriety; declared a caliphate spanning significant parts of the northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe; and attacked urban centers in Cameroon and Niger. The group's use of children as suicide bombers and its scorched-earth attack on the remote city of Baga in January 2015, in which Amnesty International estimates 2,000 lives were lost, demonstrate Boko Haram's growing propensity for large-scale violence.

An overstretched region reacts

In reaction to Boko Haram's attacks on Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, the outlines of a more coherent regional response have emerged. No longer able to stand back and simply defend their borders, Nigeria's neighbors - with Chad in the lead - launched a ground and air offensive from Niger, effectively opening up another front in the fight against Boko Haram. Although Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon have registered some advances, their offensives have been reactive and uncoordinated - a mid-term, proactive strategy is needed. More important, while the armies of Chad and Niger are pushing forward, Cameroon is running low on funds for its operations, and Benin, the fifth regional partner in the push against Boko Haram, has yet to send any troops. Multilateral security efforts have been found wanting. The African Union sanctioned an 8,700-strong regional force to combat Boko Haram, but for now it exists only on paper.

China's Place in the New World Economic Order

MAR 19, 2015

Competition between the world's two greatest economic powers is both inevitable and (for the most part) beneficial. This is the case even when China and the U.S. are arguing over control of increasingly obsolescent international financial institutions.

China's effort to start the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank grows more popular by the day, despite U.S. resistance to the idea. The question is no longer whether the bank will fulfill an unmet need, but how best to ensure that it contributes to Asian growth -- and, not incidentally, draws China more deeply into the global financial order.

Now that the U.K. and several other European countries have joined the bank, holdouts such as Australia and South Korea are almost certain to jump in. This counts as a soft-power victory for China over the U.S., which reportedly lobbied allies not to sign up. But Washington largely has itself to blame. For years, the U.S. has called on China to bind itself to international norms and financial institutions -- without making room for it to do so. Congress persists in blocking efforts to dilute U.S. dominance of the World Bank or to increase China’s voting share at the International Monetary Fund, which stands at less than 4 percent, compared with almost 17 percent for the U.S.

That’s not to say the U.K. and others have joined the new bank out of altruism; London is clearly eager to establish itself as the main offshore trading hub for the renminbi. And the economic rationale for the bank -- in an era when the World Bank itself is facing something ofan existential crisis and the global market for private capital is robust -- may be diminishing. Nevertheless, the region has huge infrastructure needs -- up to $800 billion worth every year, according to a much-cited study from the Asian Development Bank. American opposition to any new source of financing looks churlish and hypocritical. 

How Long Can Russia Endure Putin's War?

March 19, 2015

A year has passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed the formal annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. This act, which in the Kremlin's narrative amounted to the rightful return of an ancient Russian holy land, seemingly elevated Vladimir Putin to near savior-like status in the eyes of the Russian people. If only Vladimir had stopped there. If he had, not only would so much bloodshed have been avoided, but Europe would not be facing its most dangerous and complex security challenge since the Cold War.

It is not hard to understand why Putin did not stop. There was virtually no penalty for the annexation of Crimea, beyond a lot of huffing and puffing in Washington and Brussels about this dramatic violation of international law, accompanied by laughably weak economic sanctions. Furthermore, Putin's popularity ratings skyrocketed into the high 80s after he masterminded his glorious modern version of the "(re-)gathering of the Russian lands." There is no question in my mind that Kremlin survey researchers were well aware in advance that spetsoperatsia Krym[Special Operation Crimea] would provide a dramatic boost to Putin's public image, which had shown signs of growing stale in the previous two years.

So in April 2014 the Russian government's hybrid war in the Donbas began to take shape. Local insurgents were joined by Russian intelligence officers to begin the destabilization of local and municipal governments. The fighting escalated in mid-summer after the first failed cease-fire, and to the surprise of most observers -especially the Russians - the Ukrainian military and informal volunteer militias achieved a great deal of operational success, most notably in the re-taking of the city of Slovyansk on July 6. The Ukrainians could launch air strikes against the insurgents with impunity, and Moscow was faced with the decision of allowing the insurgents to be driven to defeat, or to supply them with air defense systems to stave off the Ukrainian air force.

President is not Commander in Chief of Foreign Policy

March 17, 2015

Politicians should stop referring to the President of the United States as "the Commander-in-Chief," as he is often referred to. Most recently, Hillary Clinton, whom I admire, said the following about Republican senators who wrote an open letter to Iran:

"Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the Commander-in-Chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy."

But the president is not the Commander-in-Chief for purposes of diplomatic negotiations. This characterization mistakenly implies that President Obama — or any president — is ourCommander, and that his decisions should receive special deference. This is a misreading of our constitution, which creates a presidency that is subject to the checks and balances of co-equal branches of the government. The president is only the commander in chief of "the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States." This provision was intended to assure civilian control over the military and to serve as a check on military power.

The only people he is empowered to command are soldiers, sailors and members of the militia — not ordinary citizens.

This important limitation on the president's power is highly relevant to the current debate about Congress having the authority to check the president's decision to make the deal that is currently being negotiated with Iran. The Constitution is clear about this. The President is not the Commander-in-Chief of our nation's foreign policy. When he is involved in "high-stakes international diplomacy," his involvement is not as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, but rather as negotiator-in-chief, whose negotiations are subject to the checks and balances of the other branches.

Punishing Russia: The Dangers of the 'Mariupol Test'

March 19, 2015 

Frustrated by European reluctance to arm Ukraine, two prominent former U.S. officials—Hans Binnendijk, formerly senior director for defense policy at the U.S. National Security Council, and John Herbst, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006—recently called in a New York Times piece for the imposition of what they have labeled “the Mariupol Test.” They argue that if and when the rebels move on the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the West must punish Moscow and its minions by giving Kiev the military wherewithal to expel Russian forces from its territory, doubling down on sanctions and, perhaps most seriously of all, “suspending Russia from the Brussels-based Swift financial-messaging system,” a measure that, they assert, “could cripple the already reeling Russian economy.”

Mariupol lies on the land approaches to the isthmus linking Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. If the rebels did capture the city, Russia would win an unofficial land route to a piece of real estate that, a year after its annexation, it’s still having trouble supplying. According to Binnendijk and Herbst, however, Mariupol would be just the beginning of a longer campaign by the Kremlin to reassemble the tsarist-era Novorossiya “one slender slice at a time,” taking Russia’s informal border back to where it lay from the end of the eighteenth century to the 1917 revolution: all the way to Odessa and the Russian-sponsored enclave of Transnistria.

If we conclude that the Kremlin’s aim is indeed a massive, if informal, increase of Russian power across the upper western arc of the Black Sea that would return Russian influence to the doorstep of the Balkans—then it’s possible to indulge the former officials’ twitching fingers. But, since dropping Novorossiya into an interview last April, Russian president Vladimir Putin has studiously avoided the term. And he pointedly refused to recognize Novorossiya’s Crimea-style referenda and declaration of independence last year.

Don't Blame Bibi: Demographics are Wrecking U.S.-Israel Ties

March 19, 2015 

Big elections often are seen by academics and pundits as ushering in new political eras. More often, they actually are mere reflections of underlying political developments that create these new eras.

So it is with Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection victory this week in Israel. It marks a new era in U.S.-Israeli relations. The “special relationship” will never be the same. It may seem immaterial whether the Netanyahu victory ushers in this new era or merely reflects it, but the distinction is important for anyone wishing to understand the dynamics between the two countries.

What’s emerging is that they are entering into a divergence of interests that is both stark and probably irreversible. The divergence can be seen in the unprecedented nature of the Netanyahu victory: no Israeli prime minister has ever sought reelection by humiliating a sitting U.S. president on American soil—in the halls of the U.S. legislature, no less. And no Israeli prime minister would ever have succeeded in getting reelected with such a strategy—until now.

Consider the electoral fate of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. Shamir ran afoul of the George H. W. Bush administration on the matter of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement policies’ negative impact on those efforts. Shamir never sought to humiliate the American president in the manner of Netanyahu, but his stubbornness on those issues rankled U.S. officials. And they let the world know it.

Secretary of State James Baker, in congressional testimony, questioned whether Shamir was making a “good faith, affirmative effort” on behalf of peace. To reporters, he chided the Israeli leader by suggesting the United States would simply wash its hands of the matter until Shamir embraced a more cooperative approach. “Everybody over there,” said Baker, “should know that the telephone number [at the White House] is 1-202-456-1414; when you’re serious about peace, call us.”

Assad Plays America the Fool... Again

Assad’s regime is just as bad as ISIS.

Last decade, Bashar al-Assad’s regime fooled Washington into believing that he would bring about reform. He did not. The lack of institutional and economic reforms led to the uprising and civil war in Syria.

It is a shame then that Assad is fooling Washington a second time, now arguing he is the lesser of two evils compared to ISIS, an argument that has influenced Secretary of State John Kerry, who is now calling for negotiations. Assad’s regime is just as bad as ISIS. If Washington falls for Assad’s manipulation and deceptions again, what will be the result?

The stakes are greater now than in the last decade and the security situation more tenuous, so why would anyone put trust in a regime that has not only failed its own people, but also blatantly conned Western leaders not once, but twice?

Assad’s “reforms” were nothing more than a thin cover for further corruption. There was never a real intention to improve economic or living conditions. Not only was the international community fooled, but many Syrians bought into the lies. It did not take long for the “ophthalmologist” to be proven short-sighted as protesters took to the streets in Damascus in February 2011 chanting “Syrian people will not be humiliated!” Forty percent of Syria’s population was living under the poverty line and more than twenty-five percent of young men were unemployed. Consequently, many Syrians were immigrating to neighboring countries looking for work and a better life.

According to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), between 2003-2004, two million Syrians could not obtain basic needs. Fifty-six percent of Syria’s rural population depend on agriculture for survival, and in 2004,more than seventy-seven percent of them were landless. Today, the situation is substantially worse despite Assad’s June 2014 referendum campaign dubbed“Sawa” to “improve” Syria’s economy. In fact, the overall poverty rate has nowreached eighty percent.

Shopping malls and high-rise hotels were purposely built in Damascus to fool tourists, journalists, celebrities, and goodwill ambassadors. Even elites and upper-class families found shopping at these malls too expensive. The middle-class was crushed during Assad’s “reform era” and the gap between rich and poor was growing ever wider. In contrast, the families of the regime and its allies were making billions. The era of pseudo-reforms led to a mass exodus of the population to the cities, which only became more acute during a droughtlast decade.