19 May 2015

Going beyond rhetoric

Harsh V Pant
May 19 2015 12:27AM

For all the pomp and circumstance, the only thing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to China will be remembered for will be his plain-speaking. And it is by no means a small achievement. For years, Indian political leaders have gone to China and said what the Chinese wanted to hear. Modi changed all that when he openly “stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership” and “suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations.” In his speech at Tsinghua University too, Modi went beyond the rhetorical flourishes of Sino-Indian cooperation and pointed out the need to resolve the border dispute and in the interim, clarify the Line of Actual Control to “ensure that our relationships with other countries do not become a source of concern for each other.” This is a significant shift in Indian traditional defensiveness vis-à-vis China and should put the relationship on a firmer footing.

Investment the Way to Reduce India-China Trust Deficit


The future relationship between India and China, the two most populous nations which will be engines of global growth, is a subject of intense speculation all around the world. When two dynamic, civilisational societies interact, it creates a huge burden of expectations. It is also a very delicate task for the political leadership of the two nations to fully absorb the complexity of the relationship in order to articulate its future shape.

One thing is certain though — the 2.5 billion people of India and China, 40% of global population — have the potential, by their sheer numbers, to create a new vision for 21st century. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping used to say China and India have to necessarily work together to shape the Asian century. As ancient civilisations, they have the potential to create an alternative modernity which does not blindly ape western patterns of production and consumption. They have the opportunity to imagine a different framework that may be culturally more in sync with an Asian way of life. Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm had speculated about the possibility of the Protestant Ethic giving way to the Confucian Ethic as a driver of materialism, in this century.

Long term perspective needed

‘In Korea, Modi Will Find a Country More Comfortable with India than China’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives in Seoul on Monday for a two-day visit that is likely to focus on trade and investment but is full of political and strategic significance too. Chung Min Lee is South Korea’s Ambassador for National Security Affairs and has worked as a foreign policy adviser to President Park Geun-hye. A highly regarded scholar, his book on Asia’s strategic faultlines will be published later this year. In an interview he gave me for Rajya Sabha TV, he provided a Korean perspective on Asia’s geopolitics and India’s role in it. Excepts:

Siddharth Varadarajan: In a recent lecture here, you said the talk of the 21st century being Asia’s Century was premature, that Asia’s powers have miles to go before they can claim this century as their own. Why do you say that?

In Modi’s Mongolia Pivot, a Test of Indian Soft Power


Mongolia may be a distant country for India but it is the last Asian frontier where Indic cultural imprints continue to thrive. From the 12th century onwards, many Mongol rulers titled themselves as Chakravartin Khan. Most Mongols still prefer to have their names in Sanskrit, though Buddhism here came through Tibet. The incarnate of the last Mongol theocratic ruler Khalka Jebdtsundamba lived in India until he died recently.

Mongolia is also one of the world’s oldest nations and a crucial geographical pivot of Eurasian history. Way back in the 12th century, during the Pax Mongolica days, Chengis Khan’s soldiers conquered Baghdad. Many Americans were surprised to discover this fact in 1991.

Today, Mongolia is still a geographic titan, half of India’s territorial size in area, but with a population of only 3 million. In fact, the other half of the Mongols historico-ethnic homeland, has been incorporated as Inner Mongolia by China since 1911.

Geopolitically sandwiched between Russian and China, Mongolia could not escape Sino-Russian rivalry affecting its affairs. However, since the Cold War ended, the country has tried hard to shed its image as a Soviet tutelary state. It is now one of Asia’s more vibrant democracies. To seek an independent role, Mongol strategic thinkers have experimented with their “third neighbor” policy to develop overseas partnerships with the United States, Japan and India.

Upgrading India's artillery: Private firms eye greater share in ultralight gun manufacture

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th May 15

India’s increasingly capable private defence firms are pushing for more “Make in India” than BAE Systems Inc (BAE) has proposed in the forthcoming contract for 145 M777 ultra-light guns for the army.
The defence ministry last week cleared the purchase of these 155-millimetre, 39-calibre howitzers from the US Department of Defence (Pentagon) for a budgeted Rs 2,900 crore, which BAE sources say could eventually be about Rs 4,650 crore.

The US-based BAE is selecting an Indian partner to assemble imported kits into M777 guns. This would be done in an “Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) facility”, using tools and assembly jigs shipped to India from BAE’s now-shuttered assembly line in Hattiesburg, USA.

BAE is talking to several firms, including Larsen & Toubro (L&T); Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division); Punj Lloyd; the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB); the Kalyani Group, and others.

Can Manohar Parrikar Be Another YB Chavan?

17 May, 2015

An authoritative defence analyst, media trainer and a multi-media reporter who started his career in 1983, Gokhale has worked across web, print and broadcast mediums over the last three decades. He has a rare distinction of living and reporting from India's North-eastern region for 23 years.

Given the interest shown by him and the grasp he has displayed over some of the complex matters, Parrikar could become this decade’s Yashwantrao Chavan.

In November 1962, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, under pressure to revamp India’s armed forces in the wake on the debacle against China was forced to draft a Maharashtrian, Yashwantrao Chavan then the Chief Minister of the newly-formed state of Maharashtra. In four years, Yashwantrao, a complete newcomer to Delhi, not only expanded the military rapidly but also restored its dignity and standing. The modernisation of the Indian military undertaken by Chavan with full backing of first Nehru and then Lal Bahadur Shastri, proved to be decisive in the 1971 war.

Russia flexes Central Asia military might amid Afghan fears

By Akbar Borisov with Chris Rickleton in BishkekDushanbe, Tajikistan (AFP) 
May 17, 2015

India's Modi in Mongolia seeking stronger ties in China's backyardUlan Bator (AFP) May 17, 2015 - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks Sunday with his counterpart during a visit to Mongolia, with the two nations upgrading relations as Delhi tries to strengthen its influence in China's backyard.Meeting Prime Minister Chimed Saikhanbileg, Modi praised the resource-rich nation as "the new bright light of democracy in our world" and said the two were "closely linked to the future of the Asia-Pacific region".

Mongolia is seeking to counterbalance China's growing influence in the landlocked nation.
The leaders signed a joint statement upgrading relations to a "strategic partnership", just a year after Mongolia and China reached a similar agreement.

Other agreements included a $1 billion line of credit from India to support the expansion of Mongolia's infrastructure, and promises to deepen cooperation on border security and defence.

Fake Diplomas, Real Cash: Pakistani Company Axact Reaps Millions

MAY 17, 2015

Axact, which has its headquarters in Karachi, Pakistan, ostensibly operates as a software company. CreditSara Farid for The New York Times

Seen from the Internet, it is a vast education empire: hundreds of universities and high schools, with elegant names and smiling professors at sun-dappled American campuses.

Their websites, glossy and assured, offer online degrees in dozens of disciplines, like nursing and civil engineering. There are glowing endorsements on the CNN iReport website, enthusiastic video testimonials, and State Department authentication certificates bearing the signature of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Afghan Military Having Difficulty Containing Taliban In Worst Fighting Season in a Decade

Tim Craig
May 17, 2015

Afghan forces straining to keep the expanding Taliban at bay

KABUL — Taliban militants are expanding their reach into new areas of Afghanistan, straining security forces who are locked in some of the bloodiest battles of the 13-year-old insurgency, provincial and local law-enforcement officials said.

In the first spring fighting season since the U.S.-led coalition ended combat operations in Afghanistan, heavy clashes are being reported in at least 10 Afghan provinces. The provinces are in every corner of the country, creating widespread unease about whether the Afghan government and army can repel the threat.

“This is the worst fighting season in a decade,” said Attiqullah Amerkhil, a Kabul-based political and military analyst. “There is now fighting in every part of the country.”

Such dire assessments have become something of an annual tradition here, where it’s difficult for analysts and journalists to safely obtain information from rural areas of the country. But coalition statistics and interviews with nearly two dozen provincial officials suggest that security is indeed worsening in many areas of the country.

Since January, Afghan soldiers have experienced 70 percent more casualties than in the same period last year, according to Col. Brian Tribus, director of public affairs for the U.S.-led coalition in

Afghanistan. Civilian casualties have increased 10 percent over that same period.

Risk of US-Chinese maritime confrontation increases in South China Sea

David Yang - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly
14 May 2015

This aerial photo, taken through a glass window of a military plane on Monday, 11 May 2015, shows Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Source: PA

On 12 May, US media reported that the US military is considering sending military surveillance aircraft and naval vessels to within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied features in the disputed Spratly Islands.

The normal territorial sea limit under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is 12 nautical miles. The report appeared one day after the USS Fort Worth, a US Navy littoral combat ship, was allegedly shadowed by a Chinese navy frigate while patrolling in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, where China has conducted extensive land reclamation projects around a number of islets and reefs that it occupies. On 13 May, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed "serious concern" over the report and demanded US clarifications.


We are in the midst of an intensifying competition in Asia. The main driver of this competition is an ever-more powerful China determined to set the rules of engagement around its vast periphery; the South China Sea is the locus of rivalry. In seeking to expand its influence in Southeast Asia, China may well believe it is simply reclaiming its historic position as the dominant regional power. It may also think that its actions are defensive, designed to protect its security, access to resources, and vital sea lines of communication. But it realizes that the post-World War II order largely built by the United States still obstructs this objective. Thus, China hopes to displace the United States while gradually dominating its neighbors in a manner unlikely to trigger any decisive or timely response. Unfortunately, the United States has not enacted a policy that will forestall this eventuality. In Washington, too often the urgent crowds out the important. If we wait for the important changes presently underway in Southeast Asia to develop on their current trajectory, the United States and its allies and partners will soon not only lose substantial leverage over the rules and norms of behavior in this region, but also may well face larger security risks in the future.

Is America About to Make a Fatal Mistake in the South China Sea?

"Now is the time for flexible, creative diplomacy focused on protecting America’s core maritime interests, not the territorial ambitions of favored East Asian countries."

An already tense and dangerous situation in the South China Sea threatens to become even worse. The latest development focuses on reports that the United States is considering plans to initiate systematic military patrols with ships and planes in that volatile area. Without even waiting for confirmation that the reports are accurate, Beijing expressed its great displeasure regarding such a step.

If this actually comes to pass, Washington is about to deepen its involvement in a bitter, multi-sided territorial dispute. The underlying issues are murky and complex. Based on dubious interpretations of both history and international law, China claims an oceanic boundary that would convert some 80 percent of the South China Sea—and the small islands dotting itf—from international waters into Chinese territorial waters. Beijing has begun to enforce its claims with air and naval patrols and major reclamation projects to build serviceable artificial islands (in one case, even including an runway) from nearly submerged reefs. Several neighboring countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, not only challenge Beijing’s claim, they assert significant territorial ambitions of their own. Vietnam has even commenced a more limited artificial island construction of its own.

China Making Some Missiles More Powerful

MAY 16, 2015 

WASHINGTON — After decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force,China has re-engineered many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific.

What makes China’s decision particularly notable is that the technology of miniaturizing warheads and putting three or more atop a single missile has been in Chinese hands for decades. But a succession of Chinese leaders deliberately let it sit unused; they were not interested in getting into the kind of arms race that characterized the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Now, however, President Xi Jinping appears to have altered course, at the same moment that he is building military airfields on disputed islands in the South China Sea, declaring exclusive Chinese “air defense identification zones,” sending Chinese submarines through the Persian Gulf for the first time and creating a powerful new arsenal of cyberweapons.

China Making Some Missiles More Powerful

David E. Sanger and William J. Broad
May 17, 2015

Chinese Strategic Missiles Now Carrying MIRV’d Nuclear Warheads

WASHINGTON — After decades of maintaining a minimal nuclear force, China has re-engineered many of its long-range ballistic missiles to carry multiple warheads, a step that federal officials and policy analysts say appears designed to give pause to the United States as it prepares to deploy more robust missile defenses in the Pacific.

What makes China’s decision particularly notable is that the technology of miniaturizing warheads and putting three or more atop a single missile has been in Chinese hands for decades. But a succession of Chinese leaders deliberately let it sit unused; they were not interested in getting into the kind of arms race that characterized the Cold War nuclear competition between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Now, however, President Xi Jinping appears to have altered course, at the same moment that he is building military airfields on disputed islands in the South China Sea, declaring exclusive Chinese “air defense identification zones,” sending Chinese submarines through the Persian Gulf for the first time and creating a powerful new arsenal of cyberweapons.


May 18, 2015

If any institution is representative of the international community and international law, it is the United Nations (UN). One foundational value of the UN is its ability to hold member states accountable for their actions through establishing international norms, international agreements, and the mandates of the UN Security Council. Surprisingly, no one is discussing the serious legal and political issues that the Iranian nuclear negotiations present.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) recently negotiated the parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). How it is evaluated often depends on one’s political views, as well as regional, national, and international security concerns. Yet the impact that the agreement could have on the UN itself is ignored. Prior to this JCPOA, Iran was prohibited from enriching uranium by Security Council resolutions. Under the agreement, it is free to do so, within certain limitations. Therefore, a threshold question is whether this agreement is appropriate at all. And why is the Obama Administration — generally supportive of the UN — so anxious to legalize Iran’s flouting of Security Council resolutions, which undermines UN credibility?

ISIS Counterpunches Stun U.S. and Iraq

U.S. officials are living in a dream world if they think they have got the so-called Islamic State on the run. Whenever the militants are forced back they bounce straight back. 

Another battle and another chaotic retreat by Iraqi government forces, who abandoned their positions in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, despite U.S. air support and a last-minute appeal by the country’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi calling on his soldiers to “hold their positions.” 

Only hours before the fall, the Baghdad government sent in reinforcements to try to contain what was a counter-punch mounted by the militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, to their defeat in Tikrit just weeks ago. Tikrit, in neighboring Salahaddin province, was the first substantial town lost by ISIS and it was hailed by U.S., and Iraqi leaders, as the start in earnest of the roll-back of the militants. 

Why Does Baghdad Let ISIS Keep Winning?


Ramadi may have fallen to ISIS on Sunday, but the city has been under attack for over a year. Sectarian politics kept the government from defending it—and could empower ISIS further. 

The road to Baghdad runs through Ramadi. So why hasn’t the Iraqi government done more to reinforce the city, which been under siege from ISIS forces since early 2014, even before the fall of Mosul

The answer is politics: Ramadi is predominantly Sunni, and powerful elements of Baghdad’s Shia ruling class fear empowering Iraq’s Sunnis more than they fear allowing ISIS to continue attacking and bleeding the country’s Sunni regions. 

“Ramadi is very close to Baghdad,” said Gen. Najim Abed al-Jabouri was recently appointed Nineveh operations commander for the Iraqi army. “If the terrorists control Ramadi, Baghdad is under a bigger threat.” 

Iran’s Foreign Policy – Analysis

By Kenneth Katzman*
May 17, 2015

This report provides an overview of Iran’s foreign policy, which has been a subject of numerous congressional hearings and of sanctions and other legislation for many years. The report analyzes Iranian foreign policy as a whole and by region. The regional analysis discusses those countries where Iranian policy is of U.S. concern. The report contains some specific information on Iran’s relations with these countries, but refers to other CRS reports for more detail, particularly on the views of individual countries towards Iran. The report also makes reference to Iran’s efforts to utilize its ties to various countries to try to mitigate the effects of U.S. sanctions.

How “On the Ground” Are We in Syria?

By Joshua Keating

The Saturday morning Delta Force raid that killed ISIS commander Abu Sayyaf and captured his wife was sigifnicant less for who it killed than for where it killed him: To execute the raid, U.S. troops, very briefly, had boots on the ground in Syria. This wasn’t the first U.S. ground operation in Syria, though. There’s been at least one other: the unsuccessful attempt to free ISIS hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff in the summer of 2014. But the killing of Abu Sayyaf is the first successful ground raid that we know of, assuming that the goal was to kill the “emir of oil and gas” rather than capture him.

Terrorism analyst Bruce Reidel tells the New York Times that the raid looks like it was meant to be a “collection mission” to capture someone with information on the inner workings of ISIS. Drones, after all, have generally been the administration’s preferred method for targeted killings, whereas the U.S. has carried out a number of similar Special Forces raids recently to capture al-Qaida targets in Libya and Somalia.

Successful U.S. Raid Into Syria Could Lead to More Missions There


Delta Force operators killed a senior Islamic State leader inside Syria, but the intelligence they collected could be just as important -- and might open the door to new raids in the future.

Following a week of military setbacks against the Islamic State in Iraq, President Barack Obama notched a high-risk, high-reward win after U.S. Special Operations forces he sent into Syria successfully killed a senior leader of the organization, captured his wife, and liberated an 18-year-old Yazidi women from slavery.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter claimed that Saturday’s operation delivered a “significant blow” to the Islamic State, which is known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh. It was the first successful raid conducted by American commandos in Syria this year, and demonstrated a willingness by President Barack Obama to authorize covert operations despite a series of failed rescue operations during the past year in Syria and Yemen.

It also showed that the White House was willing to send combat troops into Syria — even if only temporarily — despite frequently promising to keep American forces out of the fighting there. The Obama administration has sent hundreds of U.S. special forces to the Middle East to train “moderate” anti-government Syrian rebels, but publicly vowed that there would be no American boots on the ground in either war zone.

U.S. Troops Fought ‘Hand to Hand’ in Syria Raid

Abu Sayyaf was the “CFO” of ISIS, defense officials said. 

U.S. Special Operations Forces met resistance and had to fight “hand to hand” in Friday night’s raid in al-Amr in southeastern Syria that killed ISIS senior commander Abu Sayyaf, defense officials told The Daily Beast. 

Troops from the U.S. Army's elite Delta Force flew into the scene in Ospreys and Black Hawk helicopters, landing near a multi-story building and meeting fierce resistance as they entered, the officials said. The troops engaged in close quarters combat with the target and his body guards, even trading blows “hand to hand” as they rushed the targets, two of the defense officials said. 

The aircraft where flown by pilots from the Air Force Special Operations Command and the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation regiment, they added. All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the raid publicly. 

There was some resistance from armed guards and from Abu Sayyaf himself, but the raiders were prepared for that, a third official told The Daily Beast. 

U.S. Asia Policy: Past, Present and Future

By Mercy A. Kuo and Angelica O. Tang

Veteran senior diplomat Nicholas Platt offers insights on U.S. foreign policy. 
The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia. This conversation with Ambassador Nicholas Platt – U.S. ambassador to Zambia (1982-84), Philippines (1987-1991) and Pakistan (1991-1992), and President Emeritus of Asia Society – is the third in “The Rebalance Insight Series. 

As a former U.S. diplomat with a career spanning 34 years, you have served in key diplomatic posts in Washington and throughout Asia at the height of U.S. global leadership. You accompanied President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 on a historic trip marking the rapprochement of U.S.-China relations. As a U.S. foreign policy practitioner and strategic thinker, you understand the importance of statesmanship and strategy. What are ways in which the next U.S. president can forge an effective U.S. policy toward Asia? 

The Case for American Nationalism

May 17, 2015 

Enlightened self interest, rather than grand postnationalist designs, would put the United States back on the path to greatness.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HAS lost its mind. To put it more precisely, the United States has lost its collective institutional memory. America achieved its present global preeminence by means of values and strategies that Washington’s current bipartisan elite chooses to repress from memory or actively stigmatize. Foremost among the repressed memories in what Gore Vidal called the United States of Amnesia is nationalism—including self-confident, unapologetic American nationalism.

Until recently, the United States was both the modern liberal nation-state par excellence and the major champion of national self-determination around the world. The country owed its very existence to a war of national liberation from the British Empire. Subsequently, the United States preserved its existence in the Civil War by crushing the South’s attempt to secede from the American nation-state. At the same time, long before Woodrow Wilson included the principle of national self-determination in his Fourteen Points address and Franklin Roosevelt invoked it in the Atlantic Charter, Americans championed the right of ethnocultural nations to secede from multinational empires and form their own (preferably, but not necessarily, democratic) nation-states.

Why America Needs to Support Tunisia Now

And the relationship could extend past the security realm.

Tunisia has provided a glimmer of hope in a region that continues to be roiled by the aftermath of the Arab Spring. That hope risks being extinguished as the North African nation now grapples with the daunting challenges of governance. Tunisian goodwill alone will not keep the country on the right path. The international community must provide economic and technical assistance if hope is to be kept alive.

When Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi is in Washington this week to meet with U.S. president Barack Obama, the two leaders must use the opportunity to invigorate a dialogue on mutual interests and explore assistance and coordination programs. Given Tunisia’s promise of political pluralism in an otherwise volatile neighborhood, it is in everyone’s interest to aim for a comprehensive, strategic partnership.

Over the past four years, Tunisians have driven out a dictator, experienced tremendous polarization marked by high-profile political assassinations, launched a national dialogue, adopted a progressive constitution, held parliamentary and presidential elections and formed a national unity government.

Why America Needs to Beware of Saudi Wahhabism

May 18, 2015 

"It is high time for the administration to face up to Saudi Arabia’s embrace of the fundamentalist Wahhabi-Salafi creed..."

The Obama administration issued a statement welcoming leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—to the White House on May 13 and to Camp David on May 14. According to the statement, the gathering will be an opportunity for the leaders to discuss ways to enhance their partnership and deepen security cooperation.

Undoubtedly, this upcoming gathering is essential for improving U.S.-GCC relations, which have been affected by the GCC’s perspective that United States is beating a retreat in the Middle East by pursuing a feeble foreign policy towards both the Syrian crisis and Iran’s regional expansion of power. Central to U.S.-GCC negotiations is the concern about the implications of a potential U.S.-Iranian nuclear agreement for the security of the GCC countries. The GCC countries consider Iran to be the bête noir of the Middle East. This is not for irrelevant reasons, but to blame Iran for all the mayhem resulting in the creation of ISIS and the civil wars in Yemen and Syria is counterproductive, and in Arab metaphoric parlance, a derisive pat on the shoulder of American-Arab relations.

How to Demolish the North Korean Submarine Missile Threat

May 18, 2015 

Preemptive strikes and missile defense won't be enough to stop North Korea's new submarine-launched missiles.
The recent reported test of North Korea’s KN-11, dubbed Pukgeukseong-1 (Polaris-1) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) has created quite a buzz. In fact, not long before the test took place, the South Korean defense ministry remarked that there were no signs that Pyongyang would launch missiles in the near future despite the visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to the country’s satellite command and control center, operated by the National Aerospace Development Administration.

Washington took the recent development seriously, accusing Pyongyang of contravening existing United Nations Security Council resolutions by staging the test. South Korean government authorities sought to downplay the test,pointing out that it was no more than an ejector test and the missile was assumed to have flown only 100 meters upon lift-off. This appears to correspond with the subsequent assessment reached by the U.S. intelligence community, that a compressed-gas ejection system test was conducted instead of a launch from a submarine.

Russia: Twenty Feet from War

Ahmed Rashid

On April 7, a war between Russia and NATO forces defending the three Baltic republics was avoided by just twenty feet. A senior Estonian official explained to me in vivid detail how on that day a Russian Su-27 fighter jet buzzed a US military plane over the Baltic Sea, only veering off after coming within twenty feet of causing a mid-air collision. Such an event could have prompted retaliation by NATO and possibly given Moscow a pretext for invading Estonia (population 1.2 million), where a few NATO planes are now based. 

Several times a month since the conflict in Ukraine began, Russian jets have been buzzing Western military and civilian flights over the North Sea and as far off as the English Channel and the Atlantic. The European Leadership Network (ELN), a non-profit research group devoted to European security, has recorded dozens of close military encounters between Russian fighter jets and Western planes since the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014, a majority of them over the Baltic Sea. At least eleven were described as “serious incidents of a more aggressive or unusually provocative nature.” Some of these incidents, like the April 7 near miss, had a “high probability of causing casualties or a direct military confrontation between Russia and Western states.” 

These incidents have occurred across Europe and near the coast of the United States and Canada. In March 2014, a Russian reconnaissance plane with its transponder turned off nearly collided with an SAS passenger plane fifty miles southeast of Malmo, Sweden. “A collision was apparently avoided thanks only to good visibility and the alertness of the passenger plane pilots,” the ELN found. And last summer, an armed Russian fighter flew within ten meters of a Swedish surveillance plane flying in international airspace between Sweden and Latvia. 

For the three tiny Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the situation is particularly unnerving. Russian fighter jets based in Kaliningrad can be over Baltic airspace within minutes of takeoff, leaving hardly any time for air traffic controllers to respond. And many Russian military planes fly with their electronic transponders, which make them easy to track, switched off. With no sign of the confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine coming to an end, what most frightens the peoples of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is not war by design but war by accident. 

NATO officials at last month’s annual security conference in Tallinn, the Estonian capital, made no bones of the fact that they were being challenged in the air by Russian President Putin almost every day, and that Russia was essentially leaving it up to them to take precautions to make sure there was no accident. One official described some Russian pilots as almost kamikaze in their reckless fly-bys of NATO planes and forays into Baltic airspace. According to the ELN, Latvia has recorded more than 150 incidents of Russian planes approaching its airspace since March 2014, while Estonia has recorded numerous Russian violations of its airspace in the same period. 

The three Baltic republics have a combined population of just six million people. They have the highest standard of living among the former states of the Soviet Union with a per capita income of nearly US $27,000; and they are also the only former Soviet states to become members of the European Union and the European currency union. They are model states for democracy, respect for human rights, and transparency, and have among the highest rates of Internet access in the world. 

But the mood in all three countries is dark. At the Tallinn conference, Baltic presidents and NATO officials were unusually blunt in describing the extent to which the security architecture in Eastern Europe has collapsed, how Russia poses the gravest threat to peace since World War II, and how the conflict in Ukraine and the loss of the Crimea has left the Baltic states on the front line of an increasingly hostile standoff. Amid these tensions, the thought of a plane crash leading to war seems scarily plausible. 

As if this were not enough to worry about, there was also discussion of nuclear weapons. In recent years, Russia’s defense budget has increased some 50 percent, with a large chunk of it going to nuclear weapons. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear that Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be defended by both nuclear and conventional military means, and at the Tallinn conference, Radosław Sikorski, the Marshal of the Polish parliament, said that Russia’s military strategy appears to have changed to allow the first use of nuclear weapons. 

Others spoke of the influence on Russian public opinion of the Kremlin’s portrayal of the conflict in Ukraine, which it describes as a Western military aggression against a pro-Russian population that must be met with Russian force if necessary. As a result, nuclear weapons have once again become an acceptable part of the debate in Russia, with Russian TV bolstering the idea of nukes just being one more tool in the Russian arsenal. One official told me that new opinion polls in Russia show that large numbers of Russians are ready to discuss the possibility of nuclear war with the West and that some 40 percent of young people believe that Russia could win a nuclear war with the US and Europe. 

In fact, as NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow made clear, NATO has been taking Russia’s nuclear threats quite seriously for some time and has also been preparing countermeasures, including ways to pre-empt Russian use of small scale tactical nuclear weapons, which Russia might consider as a strategy to end the war on Russian terms while avoiding an all-out nuclear war. For example, some participants in the discussion in Tallinn outlined a scenario in which Russia might threaten to use nuclear weapons over a dispute such as Ukraine or an invasion of the Baltic states, but then might ultimately choose to use a tactical weapon with a small blast range on a European city or a Western tank division. Vershbow himself was so blunt that the moderator Nik Gowing of the BBC had to check constantly that his comments were on the record. 

Being from Pakistan, I tend to be more concerned about the spread of the Islamic extremism than the spread of the new Russian empire. But I was struck nevertheless that the new rhetoric that is emerging from Russia about nuclear weapons—including statements in the Russian media last year that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the USA into radioactive dust”—is in some ways as chilling as the Islamic State discussing the annihilation of all Shia Muslims and minorities such as the Yazidis in the Middle East. 

For now, though, the greatest threat may come from Russian fighter jets. It’s not clear that NATO has a strategy for dealing with these everyday provocations. To some extent, NATO forces can meet the Russian incursions by scrambling their own jets and making clear it is ready to defend Baltic airspace. In 2014, for example, it conducted over one hundred intercepts of Russian aircraft, triple the number of the previous year; nearly seventy “hot” identification and interdiction missions were conducted off the coast of Latvia alone. Talks, trade sanctions, bluster, and appeasement have all been tried at one time or another and nothing has worked with Putin. This week, NATO sent a thousand troops to take part in the largest military exercises ever staged by Estonia. But Baltic leaders also want the US to permanently deploy more military forces in Eastern Europe, and Washington has been reluctant to do that. 

Meanwhile, the deliberate Russian near misses continue, and it is largely up to the Western planes, caught be surprise, to simply get out of the way

US Strategic Partnership with the Arab Gulf States: Threats and Capabilities

Stepping back from the nuclear precipice

James Cartwright would seem an unlikely campaigner for nuclear disarmament. He is a former US Marine four-star general. He rose to be vice-chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and headed America's Strategic Command.

James spoke quietly at a De-alerting of Nuclear Weapons meeting held during the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference I attended in New York but his message was clear. Having strategic nuclear weapons on high alert places human survival at risk and de-alerting those missiles is a top priority. 

Over 1000 weapons in the US and Russia remain on Cold War settings of 'launch on warning'. The missiles can be launched at a minute's notice hence the term 'Minuteman' applied to the US missiles. From the time of launching it then takes just 15 to 30 minutes for strategic missiles to hit their targets in the other country. When warned of an apparent attack a Russian or American president would have literally just a few minutes to decide whether to counter attack. The underlying strategy in both countries is still to counterattack before incoming missiles strike so that the capacity to inflict mutually assured destruction (MAD) is not diminished.

Russian Cyber War Techniques in the Ukraine Described

James J. Coyle
May 18, 2015

Hackers have consistently used low-level cyberwarfare tactics to advance Russian goals in Ukraine.

A dedicated group of hackers successfully infected the email systems of the Ukrainian military, counterintelligence, border patrol and local police. The hackers use a spear-phishing attack in which malware is hidden in an attachment that appears to be an official Ukrainian government email.

For the most part, the technologies are not advanced but the attacks have been persistent. Lookingglass, a cybersecurity firm, suspects the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the culprit behind the virus dubbed Operation Armageddon.

The Russian government is likely behind an even more dangerous virus. Since 2010, BAE Systems has been monitoring the activities of malware they dubbed Snake, and numerous digital footprints point to the Russian Bear. Moscow time-zone stamps were left in the code and Russian names are written into the software.

German Intelligence Reportedly Tipped CIA Off to Where Osama bin Laden Was Hiding in Pakistan

May 18, 2015

German spy agency ‘helped US find bin Laden’: report

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden in Pakistan where US special forces killed the al-Qaeda leader, according to a German news report published Sunday.

The BND spy service provided a tip-off that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, with the knowledge of Pakistani security services, according to the Bild am Sonntag report, which was published as the agency is battling heavy criticism in a spy scandal.

The information came from a BND informant within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and confirmed CIA suspicions, said the newspaper report which cited unnamed US intelligence sources.

The American source was quoted as saying the German tip-off was of “fundamental importance” in the hunt for the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Pakistan has denied that it knew bin Laden was living within its borders or that it had advance knowledge of the 2011 US special forces operation which killed him in a walled compound in the city of Abbottabad.

Russia probes space failures after rocket carrying satellite falls to Earth

By Anna MALPASMoscow (AFP) 
May 17, 2015

Russia on Sunday began investigating the loss of a commercial satellite and a separate glitch on the International Space Station, sparking fears over the industry's safety.

A commission to investigate the accident with the Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican telecommunications satellite met Sunday morning, the TASS state news agency reported, citing a space industry source.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had on Saturday demanded answers from space agency chief Igor Komarov and the names of those responsible, suggesting that heads could roll over the incident.

President Vladimir Putin was also said to be aware of the accident by his spokesman, though he has not commented on it. Neither has Dmitry Rogozin, the usually outspoken deputy prime minister who oversees the space sector.