2 January 2014

India scraps VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland

Published: January 1, 2014
Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

The HinduIndia on Wednesday cancelled its Rs. 3,600 crore deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland for supply of 12 VVIP choppers to the Air Force. AgustaWestland has already delivered three choppers to India. File photo: K. Ramesh Babu

PTIIndia on Wednesday cancelled its Rs. 3,600 crore deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland for supply of 12 VVIP choppers to the Air Force. AgustaWestland has already delivered three choppers to India. File photo

AgustaWestland breached ‘pre-contract integrity pact’

India on Wednesday terminated the Rs. 3,726-crore, scam-ridden VVIP chopper deal with AgustaWestland International Limited (AWIL) on the grounds of breach of pre-contract integrity pact (PCIP). The deal for supply of 12 choppers, of which three have already been delivered, came under the scanner following allegations of kickbacks to senior Indian Air Force officers and others to the tune of nearly Rs. 360 crore.

While reports about the government scrapping the deal surfaced soon after Defence Minister A.K. Antony met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the morning, the Defence Ministry confirmed the cancellation only around 5.30 p.m; it added that the arbitration route would be taken. Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy will be the arbitrator for the Ministry.

Earlier, the government had maintained ,on the basis of the opinion of the Attorney-General, that “integrity-related issues are not subject to arbitration”. However, with AWIL pressing for arbitration, the Defence Ministry followed suit after getting a fresh opinion from the AG.

In December, Mr. Antony told the Rajya Sabha that the Central Bureau of Investigation was probing the scam and that it had registered a case against six firms — Finmeccanica, Italy; AgustaWestland, U.K.; IDS Tunisia; Infotech Design System (IDS Mauritius); IDS infotech Ltd., Chandigarh; and AeromatrixInfotech Solution, India. The CBI, he said, had not filed a charge sheet.

A senior CBI official said investigations into the payoff allegations were still under way. Soon after the arrest of Finmeccanica chief Giuseppe Orsi — accused in the VVIP chopper scam — by the Italian police in February 2013, the agency instituted a preliminary enquiry. Within a fortnight, a regular case was registered against the former IAF chief, S.P. Tyagi, and 12 others, including his three cousins.“We have examined all the India-based suspects. The probe is still under way,” said the official.

In February 2013, the Ministry of Defence decided to scrap the contract for supply of 12 AW101 three-engine helicopters for VVIP use and freeze all payments.

An attempt to constitute a JPC to probe the chopper scam was aborted as a resolution adopted in the Rajya Sabha, after the BJP walked out, was not pursued in the Lok Sabha.

The government passed the motion in the Rajya Sabha in February to constitute a 30-member JPC to show that it was keen on a parallel probe into the chopper scam and wanted to assure the House, Mr. Antony said, that there was “no cover-up”.

(With inputs from Devesh K. Pandey)

THE MAN WHO LIVED A LIFE OF AGELESS DIGNITY

Nelson Mandela was, above all, a great statesman and an enduring symbol of justice and liberty, writes Bikash Sinha


So many, of late, have spoken so eloquently about one of the most unique men in the history of mankind. Now is the time to introspect and reflect on the phenomenon called Nelson Mandela. I must go down memory lane to the days I spent in Cambridge and in London, and then to the year 1995, when I had my first real life encounter with the legend himself in Cape Town.

In 1964, when I arrived at Cambridge, the academic and intellectual ambience of the place was both eclectic and electric. It was imbued with the flavour of a left wing philosophy infatuated with communism. The famous economists at that time were almost invariably left wing, with the likes of Joan Robinson and Amartya Sen leading the force. Naturally, I was very taken with it, and turned almost dizzy with the romantic appeal of communism. In those days, the narrow lane connecting my college to the market square, called Petty Cury, was occasionally adorned with straight red flags, and even more occasionally the red marchers shouted slogans that were hardly relevant to the Beatlemania overwhelming the contemporary cultural milieu of Cambridge. It was a carnival all the way. Along with the joys of learning the natural sciences, my subject, we danced, we dreamt and lived with Marxism.

In one of the debates at the Cambridge Union, some of us proposed the topic, “Who cares for apartheid?” Among the speakers, most of whom were quite well known, there was the famous James Baldwin. The atmosphere at the house was charged. The historic struggle against apartheid came alive with a battlefield’s drama through the work and struggle of Nelson Mandela, who was relatively unknown to the world at that time. Baldwin, in his characteristic way, declared “Mandela is invincible; he will deliver, I tell you, Mr Speaker”.

That loud, yet convincing, statement charged me up and changed me. At that impressionable age, Nelson Mandela became my hero, my role model, the saviour of mankind, the solution to the unfathomable torture and agony of apartheid in South Africa.

Later, at the King’s College in London, I joined a group which was not as vociferous as the one in Cambridge, but with very certain left-off-the-centre leanings. They were of the view that just shouting against apartheid in London clubs or even in the House of Commons would not help the cause beyond a certain point — one would have to join the movement to bring about real change.

Let’s not wait for a saviour

Jan 02 2014
Ashoka Mody and Michael Walton

In the long run, it is democracy that must be leveraged for social and economic progress.

As a despondent year ends, there appear rays of hope. A healing world economy should help economic growth pick up. At home, a new Central government can only be better than the current one. And in Delhi, the democratic revolt against the daily humiliation of corruption could be the harbinger of more sweeping change.

But the challenges — economic and political — are great. GDP growth has slipped below 5 per cent a year — a critical threshold. Harvard economists Lant Pritchett and Larry Summers report that countries rarely grow much faster than the world economy for extended periods. They suggest that India could enter a phase with GDP growth stuck in the 3 to 5 per cent a year range. Maintaining prolonged high growth rates is unusual because it requires uninterrupted forward-looking investment in infrastructure, education, and economic and social governance. The few countries that have broken free from regular relapses into low growth, mostly in East Asia, have worked hard to ensure such investment.

China, which Pritchett and Summers say faces the same risk as India, has bucked this tendency by continually investing in its future. Its world-class infrastructure is much admired. Today, China is staking a claim to the 21st century based on the quality of its human capital. Shanghai, a city of over 20 million, was at the top of the OECD’s 2012 Programme of International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds (PISA) in maths, science and reading, giving its students a two-and-a-half year educational lead over American peers. Recent studies show that the cognitive skills being imparted by Chinese schools are robust predictors of GDP growth. China is racing ahead in R&D investment and the number of patents that the Chinese register in the US has increased from virtually nothing 20 years ago to almost on par with France.

Meanwhile, India has transitioned from promise to hubris and now to dejection. The logjam in infrastructure development has turned endemic. Even more serious is the dismal quality of education. While political parties see some value in providing better and cheaper infrastructure services, the rhetoric on education has only rarely been followed by effective action. Two of India’s better states, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, participated in the same PISA test in 2009; they competed for last place with Kyrgyzstan. Despite progress, there remain formidable gaps in the quality of primary education, the essential base for all subsequent learning.

Thus, notwithstanding heartwarming anecdotes of Indian educational and scientific success, the cold macro reality is that India is competing itself out of the global marketplace. At the low-tech end, Indian products are unable to compete with other low-wage countries; at the high end, our human capital and infrastructure fall short. At home, many Indian producers have ceded ground to Chinese manufactured imports.

Afghanistan-Pakistan: The Covert War

By Umar Farooq
January 01, 2014

With the impending drawdown of U.S. forces, a largely overlooked conflict has the potential to explode.

When American special forces plucked the second in command of the Pakistani Taliban from the hands of Afghan officials this October, they laid bare the extent of a largely covert war between Afghanistan and Pakistan that has been going on for several years. With a drawdown – perhaps even to zero – of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year, the secret war might just become an open one.

The capture of Latif Mehsud proved to be an embarrassment for the Afghans, and a vindication for Pakistan, which has long complained that the Pakistani Taliban – called the Tehrik -e-Taliban (TTP) – receives support from Karzai’s government. Afghanistan and the United States, for their part, have laid the blame for a 12-year insurgency at Pakistan’s feet, saying its intelligence agencies support the most effective insurgency group, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Latif Mehsud was a close confidant of Qari Hussain, who was one of the candidates to take over the TTP after the killing of its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, by an American drone strike in 2009. When Hussain was similarly eliminated in October 2010, Latif took over as the TTP’s second in command, operating under its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. (The two Mehsuds are from the same tribe, but not closely related.) Latif’s capture provided the intelligence the U.S. needed to kill Hakimullah, in a drone strike just a few weeks later.

Latif spent much of his time since 2010 between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it is believed he was a conduit for funding to the TTP. It now appears some of that funding might have come from Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

On October 5, Latif was being taken by Afghan officials to a meeting with agents from the NDS when American special forces stopped his convoy, taking Latif to Bagram, where the U.S. runs a prison of its own.

The TTP has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths in Pakistan, in brazen attacks on government and civilian targets alike that began in 2007. The group has also claimed responsibility for an attempted car bombing in New York City in 2010.

It’s not the kind of group Karzai’s government would ostensibly want to be associated with.

Yet, the president’s spokesperson, Aimal Faizi, openly told reporters the NDS had been working with Latif “for a long period of time.” Latif, Faizi said, “was part of an NDS project like every other intelligence agency is doing.”

The Afghans evidently decided it was time to cultivate their own proxies for leverage with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s leadership deficit

Published: December 31, 2013

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

It is clear that Pakistan’s two major political parties, the PPP and the PML-N, have already revealed their future leaders from among the family clan — Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by the PPP, and Hamza Shahbaz and Mariam Nawaz by the PML-N. All these young members of the family, brought up with a silver spoon in their mouths, are educated and energetic individuals, and may well have the potential to be national leaders in their own right. But there is a deep flaw in the way they are being foisted upon the nation.

No doubt, it has been part of the South Asian ethos to show reverence to certain political families. Nehru in India, Bhutto in Pakistan and Bandranaike in Sri Lanka were great leaders who rendered enormous sacrifices for their countries, and their sons and daughters had to be politically rewarded. Dynastic politics in Pakistan also served a useful purpose of holding the party together during periods of high stress, when unscrupulous military rulers were ruthlessly trying to eliminate them. But with passage of time and evolution of democratic institutions, exclusive reliance on hereditary politics and arbitrary choice of political leaders has become a self-defeating and unsustainable proposition. This approach only further entrenches the tribal and feudal mindset where promotion of family interest and personal loyalty takes precedence over national considerations.

In the contemporary world, any system where political leaders are not selected through a genuine, transparent and competitive process is bound to fail sooner rather than later. If political parties fail to practise democracy and fairness within their parties, how are they expected to conduct affairs of the state in a principled manner?

Moreover, family-based politics breeds mediocrity and the party eventually suffers from rapid erosion of public support. This is what we witnessed after the judicial murder of ZAB and the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, when the PPP went on a downhill curve and has been reduced from a national to a rural party of Sindh.

Now, if we could just make the parties themselves internally democratic (as opposed to essentially feudal or dynastic structures), this country’s democracy would be making real progress. If the parties change their culture and start choosing their leaders on the basis of merit and policy platforms rather than parentage and patronage, it would be a quantum leap for democracy.

For that, fundamental reforms would be necessary to transform the philosophy and practices of political parties. Dynastic politics, based on personality cults, must yield to meritocracy and equality of opportunity if political parties are to survive. In the 20th century, countries that were coming out from colonial rule required charismatic leadership that could play on the emotions of the masses and galvanise them to fight for their independence. In the present day, Pakistan needs leaders who play less on emotion and focus more on substance and delivery.

2014: Good Year for a Great War?

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
January 1, 2014

Precisely a hundred years ago today, the richest man in the world sent New Year’s greetings to a thousand of the most influential leaders in the U.S. and Europe announcing: mission accomplished. “International Peace,” he proclaimed, “is to prevail through the Great Powers agreeing to settle their disputes by International Law, the pen thus proving mightier than the sword.”

Having immigrated to the US penniless, created the steel industry as a pillar of America's rise to preeminence, and become fabulously wealthy in the process, Andrew Carnegie had the confidence of a man who had achieved the impossible. When he turned from making money to spending it for public purposes, his goals were universal literacy at home (funding public libraries in cities and towns across America), and perpetual peace abroad, starting with the great powers of Europe and the US.

Events in the year that had just ended convinced Carnegie that 1914 would be the decisive turning point towards peace. Just six months earlier, his decade-long campaign culminated in the inauguration of the Peace Palace at the Hague, which he believed would become the Supreme Court of nations. The Palace was built to house the new International Court of Arbitration that would now arbitrate disputes among nations that had historically been settled by war. As the Economist noted, “the Palace of Peace embodies the great idea that gradually law will take the place of war."

Carnegie's Peace Palace captured the zeitgeist of the era. The most celebrated book of the decade, The Great Illusion, published in 1910, sold over two million copies. In it, Norman Angell exposed the long-held belief that nations could advance their interests by war as an "illusion." [3] His analysis showed that conquest was "futile" because "the war-like do not inherit the earth."

However inspiring his hopes, Carnegie’s vision proved the illusion. Six months after his New Year’s greeting, a Serbian terrorist assassinated the Austro-Hungarian Archduke. Nine months on, the guns of August began a slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: "World War [4].” By 1918, Europe lay devastated, and a millennium in which it had been the creative center of the world was over.

As we enter 2014, war between great powers seems almost inconceivable. But if we start at the other end of the telescope by imagining that a Great War with some similarities to World War I actually happened, what could future historians find in current conditions that permitted events to ride mankind to another catastrophe?

Vietnam: Back to Organic?

Worried about food safety, Vietnamese look again at small-scale organic farming.
By Elisabeth Rosen
January 02, 2014

For two decades, Thanh was the only fruit vendor on Phan Huy Chu Street, in the heart of Hanoi’s downtown. But last year, a store opened across the street advertising “rau an toan” (safe produce). It was an assurance conspicuously missing from Thanh’s baskets of lychees and mangoes, displayed millimeters from the sidewalk.

Until recently, no one in Vietnam was talking about food safety. In the past year, however, it has become front-page news. Rumors about pesticide-contaminated grapes and rotten pork smuggled across the border from China made consumers aware that they no longer knew how and where their food was produced.

“People are used to buying from the market and not questioning it. But there’s increasing concern, mostly in urban populations, about where food comes from,” says Dan Dockery, who runs Highway 4, a restaurant chain with locations in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An.

At Mr Sach, a grocery store that opened in 2010, customers fill shopping baskets with greens from nearby Ba Vi and avocados from Moc Chau. Everything is wrapped in transparent plastic, with a label marking its province of origin.

“I’m really worried about the quality of the food in Vietnam, so I try to buy safe food,” says Nguyen Thu Huong, 30, as the cashier rings up tofu, eggs and knobs of celery. “In the media, they say using chemicals on plants and animals is very dangerous for our health.”

Restaurants are also responding to the demand for cleaner food. Nguyen Ngoc Lan and Nguyen Trung Chung opened Nam 76 last year, where the couple makes traditional dishes using mushrooms grown on a friend’s organic farm just outside the city. During lunch hour, Vietnamese office workers crowd the three branches to eat mushroom hotpot and sticky rice topped with dried shiitakes.

“More people in Hanoi have Facebook and Internet. They read a lot of articles about food imported from other countries with no origin certification. We’re getting really scared about it,” Lan says.

Last year, she figures, about 10 percent of Hanoians stopped buying at traditional wet markets — switching instead to the organic and “safe food” stores that are cropping up in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. A booklet issued by the Vietnam Standard and Consumer Association lists 122 clean vegetable stores in Hanoi; dozens more, like Mr Sach, have opened since it was printed.

“When I moved here six years ago, I didn’t see any organic shops. Now, there are more and more, ” says Stephanie Ralu, who runs 100%, a Ho Chi Minh City retailer offering traceable food products made in Vietnam.

The primary customers at these new stores are young, educated Vietnamese women. After speaking to Huong, I meet Tran Hung Van, 31, who works in an office all week but drives four kilometers every weekend to buy fruit at Mr Sach. “I have young children. I want to make sure that the food they eat is safe,” she tells me.

Erase that war with China 'in 2014'

By Peter Lee 

At the end of 2011, in an article on this site titled "Maybe that war with China isn't so far off after all", I drew that gloomy conclusion because the United States, thanks to the justifications, excuses, and pretexts surrounding its desire to "pivot to Asia", had created the doctrinal and public relations justification and institutional incentives for military hostilities with the PRC. [1] 

The slowly developing pivot has certainly created problems for the People's Republic in 2013, energizing its antagonists, marginalizing its supporters, and turning China's search for advantage in its East Asian environment into a grinding, costly slog, marked by incessant friction between Japan and China, the escalating defiance of the Philippines, and the alarming emergence of India as Japan's explicit security partner. 

Despite talk of a "new model" of US-China relations, the new regime of Xi Jinping has not hit many of the conciliatory marks that the United States pointedly set for it (and, in the case of Syria, its resistance to the Obama administration's policies have been rather clearly vindicated). 

In East Asia, China continues to claim objectionable security prerogatives, particularly in its maritime zone. Western elite opinion is set against the country as an assertive, uncooperative, and disturbing force - witness the media uproar against the PRC for failing to supply the level of typhoon aid to the Philippines that might validate China's legitimacy as a benign regional power, at least in the eyes of the West - and the outlook for 2014 is more complaints and more coercion. 

Increasingly, this attitude manifests itself as the assertion in the Western public sphere that US relations with the PRC are veering from the model of peaceful competition to an existential good versus evil cage match. This is demonstrably not the opinion in PRC pundit-land, nor does it seem to be the case when considering the actual application of US pivot policy. In fact, a closer reading of the events of 2013 imply that there are more pressing and productive priorities for the US in Asia than teeing up World War III. 

The general trend in 2013 was to nibble away at the PRC's weak points in relatively peaceful, economic-centric ways, and shy away from the genuine fire-eating confrontations that might cause an armed clash and upset the shaky global economic applecart. 

The new trend was typified by US engagement with Myanmar. The Myanmar junta, aware that its wholesale reliance on the unpopular PRC presence was pushing it into a political and economic cul de sac, reached out to the United States in 2011 by postponing the Myitsone dam, a high-profile PRC-funded hydro project, and by negotiating an accommodation on political reform with Aung San Suu Kyi. (If executed uncle and pro-Beijing asset in Pyongyang Jang Song-thaek turns out to be North Korea's Myitsone Dam, we may be in for an interesting year of awkward US-DPRK outreach on the Korean peninsula as well). 

The United States also exploited fears of the Chinese boogeyman to push its "Trans Pacific Partnership", a trade pact that is perhaps more significant for the sovereignty-eroding giveaway it represents for global corporate interests than as an engine of economic growth or weapon for China-bashing. The TPP got a big boost, at least politically, through the Shinzo Abe government's determination to push Japan into the pact. Pragmatic Asian powers also jumped on the bandwagon, while declaring conditional and partial allegiance to the PRC-sponsored alternative: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP. 

China’s Rebalancing: A Transition to Slower Growth

China looks set to post slower growth in 2014, as its economic rebalancing continues.
January 02, 2014

China’s 2013 year-end data will show that the past twelve months witnessed one of the slowest annual GDP growth rates the country has seen this century. A government reaction to the slowdown in the first half of the year produced a definite boost to growth, but as 2013 ends, some Chinese data seems to be pointing to more sluggishness. The effects of the mini-stimulus may be ending, which suggests that 2014 will see more downward pressure on growth rates.

As readers of The Diplomat will be aware, a tough first half of 2013 led Beijing to step in to support the economy with a “mini-stimulus” that rolled out over the summer. This was the not the first time in recent years that the government “stepped on the accelerator” to maintain economic momentum, as a similar slowdown and boost occurred in 2012.

Yet it may be that 2013’s stimulus is losing steam itself. China’s December official Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), which was released on the first day of 2014, showed a significant dip in activity. The reading came in at 51.0, down from 51.4 in November. This was below most expectations (which called for a smaller drop). Any reading above 50.0 indicates expansion.

Significantly, both export demand and domestic demand showed up as weaknesses. In fact there were declines in new orders (domestic demand), manufacturing output (overall demand), export orders (external demand) and imports (domestic and external demand).

December’s monthly data tend to get buried in the full year and fourth quarter data summaries, which are all released by China in January. Expectations for China’s full year GDP are focusing on a 7.6 percent expansion, slightly above the 7.5 percent growth target, but below 2012’s 7.7 percent final measure. Significantly, China’s Premier Li Keqiang recently suggested that 7.2 percent GDP growth would be an adequate level for China’s economy to expand in terms of job creation going forwards. Such a rate in 2014 would be the lowest Chinese growth rate since 1990 – a year of post-Tiananmen sanctions.

If this PMI data is indeed a portent of more weakness and slowness in China’s economy, then 2014 will shape up to be a tougher year than 2013 for China’s leaders. Aside from employment worries, a slowing economy can create tensions and volatility in China’s debt-ridden financial system, even while it creates resistance to reforms from vested-interests who are set to lose out. The rebalancing act continues.

And finally…

Pacific Money wishes all its readers a Happy New Year for 2014. Thank you for all your time both reading and commenting on the blog in 2013.

“Mao Is Dead, Long Live Mao”

Paper No. 5626 Dated 01-Jan-2014
By Bhaskar Roy

Does the celebration of Mao Zedong’s 120th birth anniversary (Dec. 25) led by President and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chief, Xi Jinping reflect a silent message from the Third plenum of the 18th Central Committee held from November 9 to 11?

Some China analysts were quick to jump to the conclusion that the Third plenum of the 11thCentral Committee (1979) where Deng Xiaoping demolished personality cult, set free the forces of production under the reform and opening up policy, and restricted the retrograde leftist forces, was similar to the Third plenum of the 18th CC. Certainly, as details of the Third plenum began coming out gradually, like the 60-point agenda, it become obvious that Xi had a major vision of massive restructuring, private-public partnership, but under an even stronger party.

It was evident form the November party plenum that Xi may have elevated himself from the first among equal position to “final arbitrator” position. Yet it appears that Xi had to fight hard within the party to get most of his way around. Otherwise, it would not have taken the partysome time to release the 60- point programme and another follow up.

Addressing a symposium (Dec.26) at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Xi declared that the CCP will hold high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought forever in the Chinese nation’s rejuvenation. He also emphasized that Mao was the principal founder of the party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), great proletarian revolutionary, strategist and theorist. It is not a wonder he was called the “Great Helmsman”.

Xi Jinping was also cautious, however. While praising revolutionary leaders he added that they were not gods, but human beings, who could make mistakes which would have to be corrected. This was a carefully crafted sentence to keep the 38% (CASS survey) of the leftists from pushing their agenda.

The following observations of Xi Jinping at the December 26 symposium are significant. He reminded the people that socialism with Chinese characteristics was the correct path that decided the “nation’s destiny”, and this theoretical formulation was arrived at with much effort. Deng Xiaoping was the main architect of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’, a theory that is elastic and can be widely interpreted to socialist market economy thriving. But it also has boundaries to prevent excessive reliance on any ideology.

The nearest that China came to real political reform was under Deng after 1979. But the students’ uprising of 1989 at Tiananmen Square, put down with a heavy hand by the authorities brought an end to such experiments. The basic aspects of democracy were just beginning to take roots, but the Americans moved in too quickly with operation “Peaceful Evolution”, as related by Deng Xiaoping to a visiting African dignitary in September, 1989. The result of the crackdown was that liberals may not make another such attempt, and the authorities have developed less bloody tactics. The net beneficiaries of the Tiananmen Square incident were party apparatchiks and vested interests in the powerful State Owned Enterprises (SOEs).

The partial economic reform under powerful state controllers saw the rise of the party- official- business triangulation and a sharp rise in corruption. Corruption has become a cancer the Xi Jinping leadership is wrestling with, but the task ahead will not be easy. Despite efforts, the SOEs retain power even after the November party conclave.

‘What will define the Middle East is no more the Arab Spring, but a new nuclear geopolitics and Iran’s bigger role’

Jan 02 2014

Iranian political philosopher RAMIN JAHANBEGLOO is associate professor of political science at York University, Toronto. He is the recipient of the 2009 peace prize awarded by the Association for the UN in Spain for his academic work promoting dialogue between cultures and advocacy of non-violence. In New Delhi on a lecture tour, he spoke to Sudeep Paul. Excerpts:

The Geneva interim nuclear deal has the potential to change Iran’s role in the Middle East, if Tehran and the P5+1 don’t fall out. But will a fresh round of sanctions jeopardise the deal?

The Geneva deal is a very important turn in Iranian diplomacy, towards not only the US but also Europe. It opens the way to a rewriting of the political map of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It also reintegrates Iran as a political entity, and not only a security problem, into the international community. Though only a first step, the agreement has important implications. It could ease diplomatic relations between the US and Iran, but it could also prepare the way for coordinated humanitarian relief and a political solution in Syria. It is actually a double-edged sword — it can open new options for Iran’s role in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and it’s a victory for the moderate government of Hassan Rouhani against the Iranian hardliners, as also for the Obama administration against the hawks in Washington. At the same time, it could be a difficult journey for both Iran and the US.

But the important thing is that, in Iran, people now have higher expectations of the government on issues such as the economy and factional domestic politics. So if we look forward to the next six months, either there will be a weakening of the deal and we’ll go back to where we started, or there will be a breakthrough in Iranian diplomacy, paving the way for lasting progress and change.

A permanent deal will be a paradigm shift in the Middle East.

The paradigm shift in Middle Eastern politics will be multi-layered. One will be Iran coming back to its position of a big player. The second will be a nuclear geopolitics in the Middle East, which has two aspects: if Iran continues as a nuclear power without making the bomb — while Israel and Pakistan are nuclear powers, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar also want to be such — we are looking at a new nuclear geopolitics. That means a new concept of security in the Middle East. But we’re also talking about who’s going to provide the nuclear infrastructure for the other countries, because they can’t do it themselves. There’s no danger if everything is on the table, because with the NPT and IAEA, we can be looking at nuclear de-proliferation in the Middle East. Certainly, this too is going to create a new balance of power. What will define the Middle East is no more the Arab Spring, but the new nuclear geopolitics and a bigger role for Iran.

The Year America’s Post-9/11 Foreign Policy Failed

And the nine other top foreign policy headlines of 2014.
DECEMBER 31, 2013

2014 promises to be an extremely active year for foreign policy news. Here are some of the headlines you can expect to see during the next twelve months:

1. The Pillars of America's Post 9/11 Foreign Policy Crumble

By the end of 2014, America will have left Afghanistan and the country will quickly revert to the state of chaos, criminality, and brutality that marked its condition before our arrival. This is the conclusion not just of opponents of U.S. intervention in that country, but of the U.S. intelligence community. According to a recent assessment incorporating views of 16 different U.S. agencies, reported in the Washington Post, by 2017 major deterioration can be expected on the ground, including big gains for the Taliban, one of the two principal enemies targeted in our post 9/11 response.

The other group targeted after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, al Qaeda, will, by more than one measure, be stronger than it has ever been. While it must be acknowledged that the "al Qaeda" brand name has been embraced by a wide array of far-flung extremist groups that have tenuous ties at best with the original organization established by Osama bin Laden, the fact that there are so many more groups willing to adopt the group's name and tactics today than there were when the war on terror started is unsettling to say the least. From Mali, across North Africa, to Syria, the Arabian Peninsula and into Afghanistan and Pakistan, it has been proven that decapitating the bin Laden organization has not reduced the appeal of the al Qaeda model among armed extremists.

The fact that these groups foster instability, promote extremist views, and periodically target U.S. assets as well as those of our allies, is what makes them so dangerous, rather than merely the evocative nature of their names and putative associations. What's more, even the head of the National Counterterrorism Center says there are more terrorists in Iraq today than were found there at the previous peak of 2006. (Indeed, one of the underreported stories of 2013 was the relentless nature and appalling toll of terror attacks in that country. 2014 should see these attacks and their tolls continue, perhaps even escalate.) And there are more in Syria than Iraq.

How Zionist Extremists Helped Create Britain’s Surveillance State



JANUARY 1, 2014
In World War II's aftermath, MI5 turned to fight a new threat. It wasn't the Soviets. It was bombers from Jerusalem.

The years after World War II were not kind to Britain's intelligence services -- especially MI5, its domestic counterintelligence and security agency. In the name of austerity, funding of the nation's intelligence services was slashed, their emergency wartime powers removed, and their staff numbers drastically reduced. MI5's ranks were reduced from 350 officers at its height in 1943, to just a hundred in 1946. Its administrative records reveal that it was forced to start buying cheaper ink and paper, and its officers were instructed to type reports on both sides of paper to save money. And there were some serious discussions within the government, as there had been after World War I, about shutting MI5 down altogether. Unfortunately for MI5, in the post-war years it faced the worst possible combination of circumstances: reduced resources, but increased responsibilities. After the war Britain had more territories under its control than at any point in its history, and MI5 was responsible for security intelligence in all British territories.

But MI5's most urgent threat lay not in its diminished resources, nor from its new Soviet enemy. Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi ("National Military Organization," or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for "Freedom Fighters of Israel"), which the British also termed the "Stern Gang," after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years -- blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state -- legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5's involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.

MI5's involvement in dealing with Zionist terrorism offers a striking new interpretation of the history of the early Cold War. For the entire duration of the Cold War, the overwhelming priority for the intelligence services of Britain and other Western powers would lie with counterespionage, but as we can now see, in the crucial transition period from World War to Cold War, MI5 was instead primarily concerned with counterterrorism.

Culpable Complacency & U.S. National Security Strategy

December 31, 2013

The rhyme of human events is once again cycling from arrogance in overstretch to studied complacency. George Santayana’s famous warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is once again being ignored. Advocat` s of defense budget reductions, including my friend Gordon Adams of the Stimson Center, continue to claim that we live in an “unusually secure” world. Not only does Adams claim that we do not face existential threats, he also mistakenly asserts that the rate of civil and international wars is the lowest in measured history. But such statements lack context and historical perspective. When history does inform such arguments, it does so only in caricature, assuming a linear version of history that marches uninterrupted toward Progress. We can wish it were so, but that does not make it so.

I fear too many of my Beltway colleagues assert as fact what they want as desirable policy goals – namely, a peaceful world – and then reason backwards into an interpretation of benign global security to justify a reduced defense budget. They dismiss all the messy complexities of predicting the future, assuming that history’s march toward Progress mitigates the risk of being dead wrong. Being a true realist makes me wary of being complacent about the future or embracing hope as insurance against a Hobbesian world.

To be sure, we should not be apologists for Pentagon budget levels that are not sustainable. We can agree with those informed critics (including Dr. Adams) who rightly call for more efficiency and less overhead at the Defense Department, including in the areas of compensation and health care reform. The same reforms should be applied to the real drivers of our currently stifling national debt: our projected dramatic growth in entitlements. Critics of Defense spending should spend half as much time uncovering poorly performing non-defense government programs and unchecked medical spending. As a nation, we spend 12 times more on health care than security, but with far less scrutiny or demonstrable evidence of added value.

What concerns me is not that advocates of reform exist, but, rather, that they create confections about the current and projected security environment. This misreading of history and ignoring of potential risk is used to back our way around any reasoned analysis of risks in a rush to shrink the military, especially ground forces. I have posted my take on thisdangerous illusion a while back in these pages.

A solid grasp of history should help us avoid illusions about the nature of the international system. Writing years ago, in The Purpose of the Past, the American historian Gordon Wood observed that “Historical knowledge takes people off a roller coaster of illusions and disillusions; it levels off emotions and gives people a perspective on what is possible and, more often, what is not possible.” As we proceed with the restructuring of our defense establishment by sequestration, we should get off the roller coaster. Wood continues that “Americans have had almost no historical sense whatsoever; indeed, such a sense seems almost un-American.” As we approach a new year with a new strategy, we should restore a historical mindset to the center of our worldview and look more deeply into the trends with which we are faced.

America to China: Do as We Say...

Posted by Greg Scoblete on December 31, 2013

If there's been one consistent theme running through the revelations provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, it's that the gulf between what the U.S. says on the global stage and what it does in practice is anywhere from huge to cavernous. None of this is particularly troubling in and of itself -- hypocrisy is par for this particular course. But we are now likely to see some material blowback from America's hypocrisy.

That's because the most recent tranche of revelations catches America doing something it has very vocally accused China of doing: exploiting networking gear with malware and surveillance technology before it is sold to customers around the world. The U.S. Congress kicked up a huge stink about the Chinese network manufacturer Huawei, which they ultimately blocked from doing business in the U.S. on the premise that the Chinese government was seeding Huawei hardware with surveillance bugs (something, incidentally, the U.S. had good reason to suspect they were doing). Now, though, the U.S. has been exposed as doing just that to its own networking firms. 

As Wired's Cade Metz notes, it may be a technically different process. In the U.S. case, the NSA evidently commandeers this hardware without the manufacturer's knowledge and plants its malware, whereas it's assumed that Chinese officials are more directly in bed with their networking companies. But the end result, as Metz writes, is exactly identical. U.S. firms, like Cisco and Juniper, are now every bit as suspect when they do business abroad as Huawei. They may face the same import bans as countries like India and Brazil (understandably) look to throw up more sand in Uncle Sam's prying eyes.

Industrial espionage is typically designed to enhance a country's economic position. But the exposure of such espionage may deal a serious blow to the economic fortunes of U.S. tech firms (one study noted that U.S. cloud companies may stand to lose $35 billion after the Snowden revelations). It may also fracture the global nature of the Internet itself. 

Page Printed from: http://www.realclearworld.com/blog/2013/12/america_to_china_do_as_we_say_110178.html at January 01, 2014 - 10:02:33 PM CST

Rosy Assumptions: U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan Post-2014

January 1, 2014

Last year, Ambassador Cunningham and General Dunford signed theU.S. Civil-Military Strategic Framework for Afghanistan, which claims to “articulate the strategic vision guiding United States Government (USG) efforts to achieve U.S. national goals in Afghanistan” up until and including the so-called “Transformation Decade” of 2015-2024. It states:

U.S. national goals during the Transformation Decade are to support GIRoA [the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] so that together we can defeat al-Qa’ida and prevent Afghanistan from slipping into chaos. To best meet these goals, the USG will focus on governance and socio-economic development; training, advising, and assisting the ASI [Afghan Security Institutions] and ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces]; and strategically posturing to continue counterterrorism efforts.

A handy rule of strategy-making is to first list the assumptions that undergird the strategy’s logic and to identify any risks that might interfere with those assumptions. And this document attempts to do just that. With violence in Afghanistan just as high as it was before the “surge” (if not higher – the Department of Defense decided to stop releasing information on enemy-initiated attacks), the American taxpayer could reasonably expect for a candid re-assessment of the assumptions that have guided American strategy in the Hindu Kush in recent years. The analyst could hope for at least a partial departure from the narrative, now resembling Swiss cheese, that we are leaving Afghanistan a more stable and secure place. Both the taxpayer and the analyst in me are disappointed.

Some of the ten assumptions listed are highly problematic – dangerous even – which undermines the entire strategy. As whole, the list reveals that American official strategic thought has not yet come to terms with the shortcomings of our venture in Afghanistan, particularly as they relate to the viability of the Afghan state and its security institutions. I address the three most problematic assumptions here and will offer an alternative list of assumptions in a another article, with the perhaps naïve hope that 2014 becomes the year the United States adopts a more realistic outlook in Afghanistan.

“GIRoA’s strategic goals remain generally congruent with U.S. goals in Afghanistan through the Transformation Decade.” 

America Unhinged

Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
Source URL (retrieved on Jan 2, 2014): http://nationalinterest.org/article/america-unhinged-9639
January 2, 2014

SINCE EARLY 2011, political developments in Egypt and Syria have repeatedly captured the attention of the American foreign-policy elite. The Obama administration has tried to guide the turbulent political situation in post-Mubarak Egypt and become increasingly engaged in Syria’s bloody civil war. The United States is already helping arm some of the forces fighting against the Assad regime, and President Obama came close to attacking Syria following its use of chemical weapons in August 2013. Washington is now directly involved in the effort to locate and destroy Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpiles.

These responses reflect three widespread beliefs about Egypt and Syria. The first is that the two states are of great strategic importance to the United States. There is a deep-seated fear that if the Obama administration does not fix the problems plaguing those countries, serious damage will be done to vital American interests. The second one is that there are compelling moral reasons for U.S. involvement in Syria, mainly because of large-scale civilian deaths. And the third is that the United States possesses the capability to affect Egyptian and Syrian politics in significant and positive ways, in large part by making sure the right person is in charge in Cairo and Damascus.

Packaged together, such beliefs create a powerful mandate for continuous American involvement in the politics of these two troubled countries.

Anyone paying even cursory attention to U.S. foreign policy in recent decades will recognize that Washington’s response to Egypt and Syria is part of a much bigger story. The story is this: America’s national-security elites act on the assumption that every nook and cranny of the globe is of great strategic significance and that there are threats to U.S. interests everywhere. Not surprisingly, they live in a constant state of fear. This fearful outlook is reflected in the comments of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, before Congress in February 2012: “I can’t impress upon you that in my personal military judgment, formed over thirty-eight years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime, right now.” In February 2013, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Americans “live in very complex and dangerous times,” and the following month Senator James Inhofe said, “I don’t remember a time in my life where the world has been more dangerous and the threats more diverse.”

These are not anomalous views. A 2009 survey done by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 69 percent of the Council on Foreign Relations’ members believed the world was more dangerous than—or at least as dangerous as—it was during the Cold War. In short, the elite consensus is that Egypt and Syria are not the only countries Washington has to worry about, although they are among the most pressing problems at the moment. This grim situation means the United States has a lot of social engineering to carry out, leaving it no choice but to pursue an interventionist foreign policy. In other words, it must pursue a policy of global domination if it hopes to make the world safe for America.

A Good Half-Century and a Bad One: What Will the Next 50 Years Be Like?

By Paul WolfowitzWednesday, January 1, 2014
Filed under: World Watch

The world today is more secure, prosperous, and free than it was 50 years ago, but an effective Western alliance is vital if we're going to sustain that progress.

This year we begin to commemorate a series of horrific centennials — anniversaries of one of the great catastrophes of modern history, World War I.

Looking back over the century that has passed since then, the world has changed remarkably. World War I was just the first of a series of calamities that made the next 50 years without any doubt the bloodiest half-century in human history.

And yet, the last half-century has been a very different story. The world today is more secure, prosperous, and free than it was 50 years ago.

In many ways, one could say that the challenge facing the world today is how to avoid the calamities of World War I and its aftermath and to continue the progress of the last 50 years. That very progress confronts us with new challenges, particularly the challenge of incorporating a new set of powerful countries into the international system. But even though many non-Western countries are becoming increasingly important and powerful, Western leadership is still critical in this new and more complicated world.

A Better World after 50 Years: More Secure, More Prosperous, and More Free

It may seem strange to assert that the world today is more secure, prosperous, and free than it was 50 years ago, given the many problems that beset it at present.

As 2014 begins, we see the U.S. economy still struggling from the effects of the financial collapse, while Europe’s economy is in worse shape. The fall of dictatorships in the Arab world has the whole Middle East in turmoil. Syria, most disastrously, is in the third year of a bloody civil war that is spilling over into neighboring countries. Further east, the futures of both Iraq and Afghanistan are still in doubt and the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons looms over the Persian Gulf and the entire Middle East. As if that weren't enough, North Korea — a rogue state armed with nuclear weapons — is now headed by a 30-year-old ruler who seems to feel the need to prove his manhood by shelling South Korean islands.

So how can one possibly say that the world today is more secure, prosperous, and free than 50 years ago?

The World Takes on a Common Enemy: The Hangover

JANUARY 1, 2014

"First you take a drink," wrote American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, "then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." That final 'taking' is less obliquely described as a 'hangover,' and it's a bugbear which revelers the world over have long sought to slay. Chinese poet and inveterate alcoholic Li Bai preferred the hair of the proverbial dog: His 8th century Tang-dynasty poem Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day describes how Li emerged from a sloshed slumber to find wine nearby; so he filled his cup, and "wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise/when my song was over, all my senses had gone." The fruitless search for a hangover cure, or at least a serviceable placebo, borders on universal. Below are some of the most interesting -- we won't say most effective -- sourced from the FP editors:

China: Chinese often turn to herbal teas to ameliorate a hangover. But researchers at the country's prestigious Sun Yat-Sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou have studied the effects of 57 popular liquid remedies, and they aren't impressed. In a report published Sept. 2013, they claim that only two of the dozens analyzed are "suitable for drinking by humans who consume alcohol excessively." One is a Chinese brand of soda water, the other: humble Sprite.

Germany: The first meal of the day after a night of heavy drinking is called Katerfrühstück, and Germans think it does the trick. Katerfrühstück usually comprises marinated herring, pickled cucumber, or food with a sour smack.

Japan: Umeboshi, pickled plums high in vitamin C, are a favorite antidote. So is green tea, although traditionalists may now wish to consider Sprite as a suitable replacement. 

Korea: Sulguk is a specially-formulated genus of guk , or soup, which literally means "soup to chase a hangover." It usually contains dried cabbage, other vegetables, and ox blood.

Philippines: The ostensibly hangover-busting balut is no ordinary egg; those making first contact with the Filipino street food, a duck embryo that's been boiled alive, are advised to swallow the thing whole rather than hazard a chew.

Russia and Poland: Russians and Poles both drink pickle or sauerkraut juice on those miserable mornings, although some of Poland's more daring revelers imbibe soured milk instead.