1 August 2014

China’s 50,000 Secret Weapons in the South China Sea

July 30, 2014 

The rise of "fishing pole" diplomacy?

While countless gallons of digital ink have been spilled about China’s growing military might and “salami slicing” tactics that are changing the status-quo in the South China Sea, we rarely get to go behind the scenes, to understand up close the tactics and strategies Beijing is employing. However, thanks to a recent report in Reuters, we now know a little more about China’s stepped up efforts to alter conditions in the water. It may just end up that Beijing’s greatest weapon may not be its military—it might just be its fishing boats.

The report details at length China’s multi-pronged strategy to assert its maritime claims through fishing in various areas of the South China Sea that are in dispute—asserting claims not by “small-stick diplomacy” but now what we might call “fishing pole diplomacy.” Nothing says “sovereignty” more than doing the normal things a nation does in its own territory, like simple fishing. China’s strategy is in part genius, but also setting the stage for possibly violent confrontations with its South China Sea neighbors in the near term. This is of course on top of issuing maps that draw nine or ten-dash lines around the area and claiming it outright, putting oil rigs off rival claimants coastlines, as well as creating a world-class military with strong anti-access/area-denial capabilities (A2/AD) to deter a much more powerful adversary to stay out of the region in the event of a crisis.

According to the piece: 

On China's southern Hainan Island, a fishing boat captain shows a Reuters reporter around his aging vessel. He has one high-tech piece of kit, however: a satellite navigation system that gives him a direct link to the Chinese coastguard should he run into bad weather or a Philippine or Vietnamese patrol ship when he's fishing in the disputed South China Sea.

By the end of last year, China's homegrown Beidou satellite system had been installed on more than 50,000 Chinese fishing boats, according to official media. On Hainan, China's gateway to the South China Sea, boat captains have paid no more than 10 percent of the cost. The government has paid the rest.

This is quite significant as Chinese fisherman can not only fish disputed waters with clear government support, but if they get in trouble have essentially a direct hotline to Beijing for help and are paying very little of the cost for such technology. In fact, according to a companion piece in Quartz, China has 695,555 fishing vessels, and while clearly not all would be able to venture out into disputed waters it stands to reason more vessels could be sailing into such territory in the near future.

The article goes on to note:

It's a sign of China's growing financial support for its fishermen as they head deeper into Southeast Asian waters in search of new fishing grounds as stocks thin out closer to home.

Hainan authorities encourage fishermen to sail to disputed areas, the captain and several other fishermen told Reuters during interviews in the sleepy port of Tanmen. Government fuel subsidies make the trips possible, they added.

Solving the Middle East's Refugee Disaster

July 30, 2014 

"The international community must act now to avoid a greater security crisis."

The current policy conversation about redrawing the Middle East map ignores a long-term problem that must be part of the solution: Iraqi and Syrian refugees.As nearly three million Syrian refugees have sought UN assistance in neighboring states, and more than one million Iraqis have fled this year, the international community must act now to avoid a greater security crisis. Only the promise of a better tomorrow will keep refugees from joining the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. And if the United States and the UN can’t make that promise, we can bet that ISIS will.

Since humans populated the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, they have also contested state borders with their feet. Long before U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians had already fled the brutality of Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. At the height of sectarian violence in the mid-2000s, the International Organization for Migration estimated that one in eight Iraqis were displaced, within or outside of Iraq. At that time, more than 350,000 Iraqis sought UN assistance in Syria and Jordan, who proved either unable or unwilling to seal their borders from the flood of refugees. Most Iraqis fled to protect their safety or to seek greater economic opportunity than their war-torn homeland could provide.

But jihadis also began to traverse the long, porous border between Syria and Iraq, smuggling insurgents and arms along with them. Assad’s willingness to tolerate this “foreign-fighter pipeline”came back to bite him when the same militants threatened his own regime after 2011. Now, those seeking survival have faced a Hobson’s choice between a ruthless Assad, a flailing Maliki, a fundamentalist ISIS, and rebels without a clue on how to govern. Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other neighboring states have temporarily absorbed millions of Syrians with UN support. No state wants them to stay forever; refugees live in fear that they’ll be forced out tomorrow.

The United States and the UN can’t easily fix Syria or Iraq. But assisting refugees today can keep things from getting worse. Policymakers usually view refugees as an economic burden and a security threat to neighboring states. Recent history in Afghanistan, Rwanda and elsewhere has taught us that vulnerable people fleeing conflict are susceptible to recruitment by militant groups. After all, for the desperate, any organization presents an alternative to chaos. Yet refugees are both natural allies and a rich source of human capital for those seeking to build a more stable Middle East. Humanitarian access within Iraq and Syria is perilous; reaching their citizens outside their borders is comparatively simple. Many Iraqi and Syrian refugees are highly educated, and most are interested in returning to their countries of origin and helping to reconstruct them after conflict is resolved. Refugees therefore present policy makers with an opportunity to build support for rule of law in a region that desperately needs it.

Putting the ISIS Caliphate in Focus

Reuters Charlie Cooper Charlie Cooper 

A month after the founding of the so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it’s richer, better armed, more durable—and dangerous—than ever before. 

LONDON—One month ago, Abu Muhammad al ‘Adnani, chief spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), announced a name change. The “Iraq and al Sham” was to be dropped and it was to be rebranded simply as the “Islamic State” (IS), the restored “Caliphate” led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a man who also went for a name change, and now goes by the moniker “Caliph Ibrahim.” 

A lot has happened in the month since then, and not just in Iraq and Syria. As a result, many important developments have not received the attention they are due. So it is high time we draw everything “IS” back into focus. 

While its advances have begun to slow in Iraq, they have accelerated in Syria and, at the same time, its brutal mode of politicking has become widely entrenched in the territories it has conquered. Certainly, compared to June, things have slowed down. A status quo of sorts seems to be emerging. What, though, does it look like? 

Militarily, IS is more formidable than ever. This is for two principal reasons: first, with every victory against the Iraq Security Forces, it accumulates new high-tech weaponry, the likes of which no jihadist group has ever before enjoyed. These include, among other things, some 1,500 Humvees and 52 Howitzer artillery guns, which have a range of up to 20 miles. 

Second, the proclamation of the “Caliphate” made the group more appealing would-be jihadists. While it is impossible to quantify how greatly Baghdadi’s self-appointment as “Caliph” has affected IS recruitment, there is no doubt that it heightened the already substantial millenarian appeal of the group. It meant that some extremists were now interested not only in fighting jihad against perceived injustice, but in becoming the founding fathers of what they perceive to be an “Islamic” utopia as well, a theme that runs throughout IS propaganda

On the back of these developments, there has been a notable shift in IS focus. Having consolidated control in northwestern Iraq and spurned all Iraqigovernment counter-attacks to date, Baghdadi’s shock-troopers have crossed into Syria, where they have been making impressive gains. Indeed, last week, IS propagandists circulated grisly videos of the decapitated occupants of Assad’s largest military base in northeast Syria. 

In terms of its economic clout, IS also has made considerable gains largely owing to its accumulation of massive amounts of oil and water, the dual foundations of the political economy of the Middle East


July 28, 2014 

James Buchan, Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

Everyone has his or her own judgment as to what is the enduring lesson of the Iranian Revolution. Some are rooted in economic determinism, while others may find strength among social theories. To James Buchan, an Oxford-trained Persianist, it is personalities that matter. Any reader who picks up Days of God, Buchan’s emotive and fact-filled read, will come to appreciate the personalities and narratives that drove events in Iran in the 20th century. Moreover, readers will be familiarized with the legacy of a handful of individuals who altered the course of modern Iranian history. In short, Days of God is the story of Reza Shah Pahlavi, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as much as it is a story of Iran.

In Buchan’s powerful appraisal of the events that led up to the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the stage is not set in the 1970s. Rather, he takes the reader back to the foundation of the Pahlavi dynasty (1920s), where its two modernizing monarchs — Reza Pahlavi and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — drastically altered Iranian society in their quest for modernity. Concurrently, Buchan explores the social, political, and religious impediments to their rule. In considering the formative opposition to the Pahlavi state within the context of Cold War, anti-imperialist, and Islamist ideologies, Buchan foreshadows the philosophies that would come to form the intellectual backbone of the Islamic Republic.

The reader is led chronologically through developments on the Iranian political landscape from the early 1900s, culminating in a section on the bloody Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988) and a short — perhaps too short — epilogue on developments in Iran since the end of the war. On a more research-oriented point, Buchan provides an extensive notes section. Persianists, historians and political scientists alike will benefit greatly from his notes chapter. All would do well to check out the memoirs and biographies that Buchan draws upon to shape a narrative for the trajectory of the Iranian Revolution.

Throughout the book, Buchan’s personality-driven account reads like a tragedy from Aeschylus. Buchan captures the main contradictions in each Iranian leader and fleshes them out, highlighting powerful paradoxes in their identities. This is a worthwhile approach to understanding the men who made modern Iran.

Dumping Maliki and Striking at ISIS

JUL 28, 2014

It is time that the United States stopped waiting for good options that could somehow quickly solve its problems in the Middle East and accept the reality that the United States faces an unstable mess in the entire Middle East/North Africa region that is likely to take at least a decade to play out before there is any real stability. There are no “good,” quick, or simple options that can avoid this reality, or avoid the fact the United States must choose between unpleasant alternatives in many cases.

The United States cannot continue to wait, hope that negotiations and half-hearted use of “soft power” can somehow substitute for more tangible action, and “lead from behind” to the point it does not really lead at all. It needs to become far more active in dealing with issues like Iraq and the growth of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), and not let critical turning points pass while it waits for Godot.

Such a turning point has come in Iraq. The United States and all of its allies face a serious threat from Islamic extremists, and particularly from the rise of ISIS to the point where it threatens to create a Jihadist protostate in Eastern Syrian and Western Iraq.

The Obama Administration has not announced the results of the options study for action in Iraq that it completed several weeks ago. It is all too clear, however, that any options that involve creating more effective Iraqi security forces and the focused use of U.S. air and missile power will take weeks or months to be effective. It is also clear that they can only be effective if the United States does not help worsen a civil war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shi’ites that has been triggered by the actions of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

Maliki as a Threat to Iraq, Its Neighbors, and U.S. Interests

To put it bluntly, Maliki is as much of a threat to Iraqi unity, stability in the Gulf, and U.S. strategic interests as is ISIS. Ever since the power struggles that began as a result of indecisive outcome of Iraq’s March 2010 election, Maliki has driven the country toward civil war. He has alienated Iraq’s Kurds and steadily become more authoritarian and ruthless in dealing with its Arab Sunnis.

He has become steadily more authoritarian and crippled the development of Iraq’s security forces in his effort to make them personally loyal and use them against Sunni and other peaceful opposition. He forced his Sunni vice president to flee Iraq and pushed Iraq’s courts to pass at least three death sentences on him. He drove out other senior Sunni figures and bribed others to support him – creating a structure of corruption, bribery, and fear that made something of joke out Iraq’s elections in May 2014 – when Maliki ran for a third term after having promised not to do so. Within the last few days, he may have used Iraq’s security forces to temporarily arrest Riyadh al-Adhadh, the leader of the Baghdad Provincial Council.

His actions drove Iraq steadily back towards civil war – a reality reflected all too clearly in UN reporting on the steady rise of casualties since mid-2011 and in annual U.S., British, UN, and NGO reporting on the human rights abuses by Iraq’s security forces. This history – along with the key UN, U.S., World Bank, and NGO data on Maliki’s failures and crowing authoritarianism and alienation of Iraq Sunnis and other element of the its population is laid out in detail inIraq in Crisis(http://csis.org/files/publication/140513_Cordesman_IraqInCrisis_Web.pdf.)

Russia’s Bunker-Smashing Rockets Have Arrived in Iraq Baghdad could deploy TOS-1 rockets to shatter militants’ defenses

Photos have appears on Iraqi social media depicting Russian-made rocket artillery arriving in Baghdad. The snapshots, published on July 25, show TOS-1A systems unloading from giant An-124 cargo planes.

The rockets could help Baghdad battle Islamic militants.

TOS-1 was the Soviet army’s secret hammer during the last decade of the Cold War. It fires powerful rockets to smash enemy trenches, fortifications and buildings, cracking defensive lines to allow tanks and infantry to punch through.

The Soviets deployed TOS-1 for the first time in Afghanistan in 1989, a full decade before publicly unveiling the rocket launcher. In 2009, the Russian rolled out TOS-1s for counterinsurgency drills and officially offered to export the rocket launcher as a means of defeating rebels and militants.

TOS-1A is the upgraded version—and arguably the most destructive artillery piece in the world. TOS-1A includes a T-72 tank chassis, allowing it roll right through enemy gunfire in order to get close enough to attack. The launchers fires 24 220-millimeter rockets, each with a 100-kilogram thermobaric warhead.

A single TOS-1 rocket is more powerful than a conventional 1,000-pound explosive munition.

TOS-1s in Baghdad. Photo via Iraqi social media

The system has limited range compared to other heavy artillery systems—just six kilometers. But that’s far enough to keep the rocket battery safe from enemy tank-hunters.

Even Left-Wing Congressmen Can’t Quit Israel


Despite grassroots outrage at Operation Protective Edge, left-wing members of the House and Senate won’t criticize Israel’s ongoing incursion into Gaza. 

Much of the American left is critical of Israel, particularly since its incursion into Gaza. But in the halls of Congress, even progressive Democrats beloved by grassroots activists are loath to criticize the Jewish State’s ongoing military offensive. 

A Pew Research Center poll released Monday showed that a plurality of Democrats across the country, 35 percent, and liberals, 44 percent, said that Israel had “gone too far” in its response to its conflict with Hamas. Meanwhile 47 percent of Democrats told Gallup that Israel’s actions during the current conflict were “unjustified,” compared to just 31 percent who thought the opposite. 

But these opinions are nearly impossible to find in Congress. Democrats, when asked a question about Israeli operations in Gaza, had two standard responses: irritation, or else a statement of their broad support of Israel, without going into specifics. It was as if the very mention of Israel turned the question into a hostile interview. 

“Look, man, I’m a politician, with multiple constituencies. Why should I alienate one just so that you can write a story?” Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison angrily told The Daily Beast. Ellison, a stalwart progressive, was the first Muslim-American elected to Congress. 

Ellison cited a Tuesday op-ed he had written that was critical of the Gaza blockade, but became noticeably agitated when asked to expand on his views. In particular, he did not want to address whether Israel had gone too far during its current operations in the Gaza Strip. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a darling of the left who identifies as a democratic socialist, was curt. His tone changed suddenly when the topic shifted from the Veterans Administration bill that he had been shepherding through Congress to Israel’s operation in Gaza. 

“That’s not where my mind is right now,” he told the Beast. 

“Look, man, I’m a politician, with multiple constituencies. Why should I alienate one just so that you can write a story?” 

Democratic Rep. Sandy Levin said he was on his way to a meeting and didn’t have time to discuss the issue. (He did, however, stop for another reporter, who asked about transportation funding.) When Rep. Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, was approached, she simply repeated that she supports the right of Israel to defend itself. 

Israel's Iron Dome, Tank Edition: The "Trophy" ATGM System

July 30, 2014 

A game changer for Israeli armor at a critical moment?

In typical war reporting, casualty figures are cited and recited, accompanied by political arguments and counterarguments, while information on military events remains confined to the question of "who's winning". Israel's various operations in Gaza over the past decade have been no exception. Only once their effectiveness was obvious, did Israel's Iron Dome antimissile system gain broad media attention. Today it is arguably the single most important factor shaping the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

But while Iron Dome has become a household name, recent fighting has evinced the importance of a second, still newer Israeli missile-defense system:the armor-mounted "Trophy" (or "Windbreaker") anti-guided missile (ATGM) system.

At this point, it is clear that Israel's current Gaza operation "Protective Edge" is running a course significantly different from its two recent predecessors, "Pillar of Defense" (2012) and "Cast Lead" (2009). In contrast with those previous engagements, Israel’s current operation has run into an effective defensive strategy that Hamas has spent years preparing, centering on a system of both offensive and defensive tunnels, some running deep into Israeli territory (over forty of such tunnels have been discovered thus far). As part of its tunnel strategy, Hamas also spent significant efforts training commando teams for a form of highly mobile guerrilla warfare in and around the tunnels. Such teams, typically ten to fifteen members strong, have extremely short life expectancies, typically beingwholly destroyed in an engagement. Nevertheless, they have resulted in significant casualties on the Israeli side. At the time of this writing, the tally stood at forty-eight IDF troops killed. In this way, Israel's operation "Protective Edge" seems more akin to Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah than to the previous conflicts with Hamas. Hezbollah, too, managed in large part to hold its own against the IDF, sufficiently so as to cause significant soul searching among Israel's military and political establishments.

But there is a striking and telling difference between the IDF casualty figures that came out of Lebanon in 2006 and those coming out of Gaza today. In fact, this difference may prove critical to the outcome of "Protective Edge", as well as, possibly, to the nature of Israel's battle tactics for some time to come.

In 2006, Hezbollah's tactics relied heavily on the use of Russian "Kornet" antitank guided missiles (ATGM) to inflict significant damage on Israel's vaunted "Merkava" (Chariot) tanks. Television footage from the conflict shows long columns of IDF armor jammed in the narrow wadis of Lebanon's mountainous terrain, providing easy targets for Hezbollah's missiles. Indeed, to some commentators, Hezbollah's 2006 missile threat to Israeli tanks seemed so severe as to render questionable the very future of Israeli armor in the fight against guerrilla organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. A recent Ynet article cited IDF Chief Armor Officer Brig. Gen. Shmuel Olansky saying: "There were people who said before the operation: Shut down the tanks, put them on display in museum". Antiguerrilla operations, it seemed, were destined to become a largely infantry-centered affair.


01 August 2014

The downing of MH17 puts the spotlight back on the Ukrainian crisis. It’s a warning to the West to eschew attempts to ‘contain' Moscow and stop the provocative expansion of Nato across Russia’s borders

In the early hours of the morning of July 17, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 with 298 people on board was shot down over eastern Ukraine, now controlled by Russian separatists, engaged in a civil war against the Kiev Government. The Russian speaking minority has evidently been reinforced and equipped by their kinsmen from across the Russia-Ukraine border. They carry heavy firepower including tanks, armoured personnel carriers and a range of surface-to-air missiles. The shooting down of MH17 came alongside rebel missile attacks over the past four weeks, which have downed two military transport and three state-of-the-art Sukhoi attack aircraft, of the Ukrainian Air Force.

It is evident that the missile attack on MH17 was based on the mistaken assumption that it was a Ukrainian Air Force aircraft. There have been seven incidents of such inadvertent shooting down of civilian aircraft in the past. In recent times, South Korean Airlines Flight 007 with 277 passengers and crew strayed into Soviet airspace. It was shot down by a missile fired from a Soviet MiG. After the usual rhetoric, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev returned to business as usual. Thereafter, on July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, flying from Tehran to Dubai with 290 passengers, mostly pilgrims headed for Mecca, was shot down over Iranian territorial waters, by two missiles fired from the US Navy missile cruiser, USS Vincennes.

The US refused to accept responsibility for the action. It paid a sum of $61.8 million as compensation to the families of the victims, following the ruling of an international tribunal. What the US paid was less than three per cent of what it got from Libya, for the Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am 103. The Captain of the USS Vincennes was awarded Combat Action Ribbons, shortly after shooting down a civil airliner.

Washington, DC’s displeasure, about Russian supply of surface-to-air missiles to the Russian resistance in Ukraine, is surprising. It was the US that started the practice of providing lethal weaponry to non-state actors. The Central Intelligence Agency liberally provided lethal Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in Afghanistan, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. Three Indian Air Force aircraft — a MiG 21, MiG 27 and a helicopter gunship — were shot down and a Canberra bomber damaged, during and just prior to the Kargil conflict. The IAF aircraft were fired on by Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry, using, what were assessed to be, Stinger surface-to-air missiles.

Given the relentless US policy of strategic ‘containment’ of Russia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was inevitable that, pushed to a corner by American and Nato pressures, the Russians would reach a position of saying: “Thus far and no further”. The erratic nature of the policies of President Boris Yeltsin and his advisers like Yegor Gaidar and Mr Andrey Kozyrev, immediately after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, evidently encouraged the US and its Nato allies to erode Russian influence in the Balkans and undermine Russian credibility in Kosovo. Simultaneously, members of armed Chechen separatist groups were openly welcomed in western Europe. Yeltsin’s incompetence in Chechnya and his inability to deal with the expansion of American-led influence just across Russia’s borders, contributed to his being eased out of office and replaced by Mr Vladimir Putin.

What Is at Stake in Ukraine

July 30, 2014

A horrible civil war—with global ramifications.

Since the outset of the Ukraine crisis, the estimates on who is winning and losing this battle have changed a number of times both in the West and in Russia. After Yanukovich fled the country in February, it seemed that the West and pro-Western powers were winning, and that, in fact, the formation of an anti-Russian Ukrainian state, integrated in the European economic and Western politico-military structures, was possible. When the sovereignty and then the independence of Crimea were announced, followed by its unification with Russia without shedding a drop of blood or using force, analysts argued that the scale was tipping in favor of Russia, that Ukraine was an existential problem for Russia and that Russia would fight for it till the end.

Since March the West has been making predictions about Putin's next steps--on how far his ambitions and claims will go, on whether there will be an incursion into the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine with their majority of Russian and Russian-speaking population, especially after the anti-Kiev demonstrations in Kharkov, Odessa, Donetsk, Lugansk, Mariupol, and a number of other cities in the region. Or would Moscow lay a claim to the entire Ukrainian territory? Many Western analysts even argued that Putin would not stop there, but would launch an occupation of the Baltic states and NATO would not risk attempting to thwart him.

In fact, Moscow's aims and problems were clearly stated long ago.

Russia's strategic line, defined by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before the unification with Crimea, was a comprehensible formula, backed by the more prudent political analysts and strategists both in the U.S. and in the West: Russia supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the federalization of the country, its out-of-bloc status, and the adoption of Russian as a second state language. In this context, Ukraine would be a buffer zone between Russia and the West. It is crucial for Russia to have a friendly country in this region of high sensitivity in politico-military and ethno-cultural terms. If this order of things had been accepted by Washington and Kiev, Crimea would still be an integral part of Ukraine, and the country would not be engulfed in large-scale civil war. Yet neither Washington nor Kiev were ready for compromises. Instead, they played a zero-sum game with Russia.

I believe Russia held all the cards in the period following the unification of Crimea. Most Western politicians and analysts were ready to close their eyes to, if not yet acknowledge, the unification with Crimea and limit themselves to only symbolic sanctions if Russia stopped and did not invade Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

Russia expected its American partners to make their Ukrainian protégés accept its conditions. Unfortunately, these expectations were not met. Washington adopted another strategic line: it pushed for a consolidation of powers in Kiev in order to check Russia's influence in Ukraine and to defeat Russia. As a result, a civil war broke out in Ukraine. Although pro-Russian forces failed to establish their dominance in Odessa and Kharkov, they succeeded in Lugansk and Donetsk, where they proclaimed independent republics supported by referendums in those new formations. The pro-Russian forces regarded themselves as the core of the future Novorossiya, aspiring to unite their republics with the other regions of historical Novorossiya: Odessa, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Kherson, Nikolayev, Zaporozhie in a way leading directly to Transnistria.

Thus, the threat of a new state in the center of Europe, recognized by no one, became real, which threatened to finalize the split of Ukraine.

Europe's Nightmare Coming True: America vs. Russia...Again

July 29, 2014 

And the stakes could not be any higher.

Russia is learning to live in a new harsh environment of U.S.-led economic sanctions and political confrontation with the United States. More than five months after the change of regime in Kiev, which ushered in a new era in Moscow's foreign policy and its international relations, a rough outline of Russia's new security strategy is emerging. It is designed for a long haul and will probably impact the global scene.

The central assumption in that strategy is that Russia is responding to U.S. policies that are meant to box it in and hold it down—and back. The Kremlin absolutely could not ignore the developments in Ukraine, a country of utmost importance to Russia. The armed uprising in Kiev brought to power a coalition of ultranationalists and pro-Western politicians: the worst possible combination Moscow could think of. President Putin saw this as a challenge both to Russia's international position and to its internal order.

Taking up the challenge, however, meant a real and long-term conflict with the United States. Verbal opposition to U.S. global hegemony was not enough. Unlike the 2008 Georgia war, Ukraine was not an episode that could be safely localized and bracketed. Essentially, the current U.S.-Russian struggle is about a new international order.

For the foreseeable future, Ukraine will remain the main battleground of that struggle. Moscow's tactics can change, but its core interests will not. The main goal is to bar Ukraine from NATO, and the U.S. military from Ukraine. Other goals include keeping the Russian cultural identity of Ukraine's south and east, and keeping Crimea Russian. In the very long run, the status of Crimea will be the emblem of the outcome of the competition.

In broader terms, the competition is not so much for Ukraine as for Europe and its direction. Unlike at the start of the Cold War, with its pervasive and overriding fear of communism, the present situation in Ukraine and the wider U.S. conflict with Russia can be divisive. Western Europeans generally still see no threat from Russia; they also depend on Russian energy supplies and on the Russian market for their manufacturing exports.

Russia will seek to salvage as much of its economic relationship with the EU countries as possible, especially to retain some access to European technology and investment. It will also work hard to protect the market for its energy supplies to Europe. In this effort, Moscow will focus on Germany, Italy, France, Spain and a number of smaller countries—from Finland to Austria to Greece—with which Russia has built extensive trading relations.

Ideally, Russia would want to see Europe winning back a measure of strategic independence from the United States. Moscow may hope that the U.S.-led punishment of Russia, coming as it does mainly at the expense of the EU's trade with it, can lead to Transatlantic and intra-EU divisions. Yet, the Russians already feel that for the foreseeable future Europe will follow the United States, even if at a distance. Thus, at least in the short term, Russia will have to count with a more hostile Europe.

Chinese Hackers Systematically Stole Documents From 3 Israeli Companies Relating to Israeli IRON DOME Air Defense System Beginning in 2011

Israel’s Iron Dome makers were hit by hackers-report

Reuters, July 29, 2014

Three Israeli defence contractors behind the Iron Dome missile shield and related systems were themselves robbed of hundreds of documents by hackers linked to the Chinese government starting in 2011, according to an independent U.S. security researcher.

Krebs on Security, a blog operated by former Washington Post security reporter Brian Krebs, reported on Tuesday that Iron Dome’s manufacturers were infiltrated by the state-sponsored Comment Crew hacking group, believed to operate out of China.

The targets of these online attacks were top military contractors Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries , and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who were responsible for constructing the system which now partially insulates Israel from rocket barrages fired from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli and U.S. officials have said Iron Dome systems are responsible for shooting down more than 90 percent of the rockets they have engaged, while ignoring missiles on a trajectory to fall wide. That accounts for about a fifth of the rockets Israel has said militants have fired into the country during the latest crisis.

Two of the companies named declined to comment on the story or confirm whether the incidents, said to have occurred repeatedly throughout 2011 and 2012, indeed took place.

An official at the third company, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, who declined to be identified by name, said of the report: “Rafael does not recall such an incident. Rafael’s databases, including its air defense databases, are extremely well protected.”

A former senior Israeli military official said assertions these key defence contractors were hacked would fit with a pattern of military and industrial espionage around the globe.

Cybercrime Hackers Inc Cyber-attackers have multiplied and become far more professional

Jul 12th 2014 

AT 2PM ON March 20th 2013 the hard drives of tens of thousands of computers in South Korea were suddenly wiped clean in a massive cyber-attack. The main targets were banks and news agencies. At first the assault looked like a case of cyber-vandalism. But as they probed deeper, the computer sleuths investigating it came to a different conclusion.

The operation, which they dubbed “Dark Seoul”, had been carefully planned. The hackers had found their way into the targets’ systems a couple of months earlier and inserted the software needed to wipe drives. Just before the attack they added the code needed to trigger it. Looking at the methods the intruders used, the investigators from McAfee, a cyber-security firm, thought that the attack might have been carried out by a group of hackers known for targeting South Korean military information.

But they could not be sure. Tracing the exact source of an attack can be next to impossible if the assailants want to cover their tracks. Over the past decade or so various techniques have been developed to mask the location of web users. For example, a technology known as Tor anonymises internet connections by bouncing data around the globe, encrypting and re-encrypting them until their original sender can no longer be traced.

Conversely, some hackers are only too happy to let the world know what they have been up to. Groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec hack for fun (“lulz” in web jargon) or to draw attention to an issue, typically by defacing websites or launching distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which involve sending huge amounts of traffic to websites to knock them offline. Anonymous also has a track record of leaking e-mails and other material from some of its targets.

Criminal hackers are responsible for by far the largest number of attacks in cyberspace and have become arguably the biggest threat facing companies. Some groups have organised themselves so thoroughly that they resemble mini-multinationals. Earlier this year a joint operation by police from a number of countries brought down the cybercrime ring behind a piece of malware called Blackshades, which had infected more than half a million computers in over 100 countries. The police found that the group was paying salaries to its staff and had hired a marketing director to tout its software to hackers. It even maintained a customer-support team.


July 29, 2014 

The U.S. military is at the leading edge of the robotics revolution, with some of the most advanced systems on the globe like the autonomous X-47B carrier-based aircraft. But that lead is fragile and other nations are racing to catch up. Scholars warn of a “looming robotics gap,” driven in part by the explosion in widely accessible commercial robotics, some of which will have dual-use military purposes.

The biggest threat to the U.S. military’s lead in unmanned systems isn’t commercial sector innovation or even declining defense resources, however, but rather hidebound cultures and entrenched bureaucracies within the Department of Defense (DoD) itself. Unmanned systems have been embraced for niche missions like reconnaissance, bomb disposal, or cargo resupply, but resistance persists to their use for many military tasks and missions, even when use of force is controlled by a person “in the loop.”

While numerous DoD vision or roadmap documents spell out the advantages of unmanned systems, with few exceptions these visions are not funded. Only one out of every 20 research, development, and procurement dollars are spent on unmanned systems. As a result, the U.S. military risks falling behind in a critical emerging area.

Unmanned systems, like any new program in the military, must fight an uphill battle for funding against existing programs. Culture, however, also plays a major role in how unmanned systems are perceived by various communities within the military services. Technologies do not exist in a vacuum, and the relationship between an emergent technology and its military user is often far more important than the technology itself. Within the U.S. military, cultural views on which tasks are appropriate for unmanned and autonomous systems is leading to game-changing innovations being ignored or, in some cases, resisted.

Nowhere is the role of culture in shaping how unmanned systems are used more apparent than in the differences between how the Army and the Air Force use their unmanned aircraft. To a lay person, the Army MQ-1C Gray Eagle and the Air Force MQ-1 Predator are virtually indistinguishable. The underlying technology behind them is the same. But they are used by their respective services very differently.

Air Force Predators are flown by officers and Army Gray Eagles by enlisted personnel. Gray Eagle operators are not really “pilots.” The platform’s takeoff and landing are automated, and in the air it is controlled by a human operator who directs the aircraft where to go from a console. Air Force Predators, on the other hand, are flown by a pilot—in a flight suit, with a joystick, and sitting in a mock “cockpit” on the ground. These differences translate to extra costs for Air Force Predators—not insignificant in today’s budget environment—but other differences have very real operational costs.

Sun, wind and drain


Wind and solar power are even more expensive than is commonly thought Jul 26th 2014 

SUBSIDIES for renewable energy are one of the most contested areas of public policy. Billions are spent nursing the infant solar- and wind-power industries in the hope that they will one day undercut fossil fuels and drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. The idea seems to be working. Photovoltaic panels have halved in price since 2008 and the capital cost of a solar-power plant—of which panels account for slightly under half—fell by 22% in 2010-13. In a few sunny places, solar power is providing electricity to the grid as cheaply as conventional coal- or gas-fired power plants.

But whereas the cost of a solar panel is easy to calculate, the cost of electricity is harder to assess. It depends not only on the fuel used, but also on the cost of capital (power plants take years to build and last for decades), how much of the time a plant operates, and whether it generates power at times of peak demand. To take account of all this, economists use “levelised costs”—the net present value of all costs (capital and operating) of a generating unit over its life cycle, divided by the number of megawatt-hours of electricity it is expected to supply.

The trouble, as Paul Joskow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has pointed out, is that levelised costs do not take account of the costs of intermittency.* Wind power is not generated on a calm day, nor solar power at night, so conventional power plants must be kept on standby—but are not included in the levelised cost of renewables. Electricity demand also varies during the day in ways that the supply from wind and solar generation may not match, so even if renewable forms of energy have the same levelised cost as conventional ones, the value of the power they produce may be lower. In short, levelised costs are poor at comparing different forms of power generation.

To get around that problem Charles Frank of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, uses a cost-benefit analysis to rank various forms of energy. The costs include those of building and running power plants, and those associated with particular technologies, such as balancing the electricity system when wind or solar plants go offline or disposing of spent nuclear-fuel rods. The benefits of renewable energy include the value of the fuel that would have been used if coal- or gas-fired plants had produced the same amount of electricity and the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions that they avoid. The table summarises these costs and benefits. It makes wind and solar power look far more expensive than they appear on the basis of levelised costs.

Thomas Piketty and Asia

July 29, 2014

The West has been enthralled with Thomas Piketty’s bestseller, but his work seems less persuasive in Asia. 

Thomas Piketty has stunned the United States and Europe with his bestseller analysis of the growing inequalities in developed nations. For middle-class Western readers, influenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the lasting consequences of economic crisis in Europe, the thesis about wealth concentration being equal to that of 100 years ago has clearly touched a nerve.

However, less attention has been paid to the story told by other data in Piketty’s book. Emerging economies, especially in Asia, have actually reduced the inequality gap when compared with developed nations. “Regardless of what measure is used, the world clearly seems to have entered a phase in which rich and poor countries are converging in income,” writes Piketty in the first chapter of Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

This gap reduction is mostly the result of economic growth in very populous nations such as China, India and Brazil. According to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the North-South GDP/capita gap was reduced by 28 percent between 1990 and 2009 (or 58 percent if we only take China, India and Brazil). Other key indicators of global capitalism, including the share of world trade, the market capitalization or the percentage of global exports, also demonstrate how the developing nations have made a “huge leap forward.” Again, the Asia-Pacific region is the best example.

In fact, Piketty clearly acknowledges this phenomenon and includes several figures that demonstrate almost the exact opposite of the stories told through the graphics commonly published by the international media. It was in the 1980s, just as the super rich in the United States, France and United Kingdom started to increase their share of national wealth, that many emerging countries started their wealth catch-up process. “From 1900 to 1980, 70-80% of the global production of goods and services was concentrated in Europe and America, which incontestably dominated the rest of the world. By 2010, the European-American share had declined to roughly 50%, or approximately the same level as in 1860,” explains Piketty. According to that analysis, the world has never been as equal as it is today, at least since the Industrial Revolution.

Although this convergence process has been very important, inequalities between rich and poor countries are still wide, and while some countries have significantly reduced that gap, many others are as far behind as they were 100 years ago. “India and China are very large economies and both of them have populations of more than one billion, so when you compare the North and the South, including China, definitely there has been a massive catch-up; but if you exclude China you would see that the change in the inequality might not be as great,” says Mudit Kappor, assistant professor at the Indian School of Business.

Moreover, while the gap with developed nations has decreased, the price that many emerging economies have paid is an increase in inequality within their national borders. Almost all of the most unequal countries in the world, at least according to the Gini coefficient, are in the South, mostly in Latin America but also in Africa and Asia.

Thomas Piketty talks very briefly about Asian economies in his book, but when he does so, he argues that the richer only keep getting richer – and fast. Although the data is not very accurate, his analysis of South Africa, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Colombia and China concludes that the wealthiest 1 percent have continued to dangerously accumulate more and more capital. The most visible example might be the Forbes Billionaires List, which since 2010 has been led by a Mexican, Carlos Slim, and where more and more Indian and Chinese have been moving up year after year.

US is no safer after 13 years of war, a top Pentagon official says

By Anna Mulrine, Staff writer 
JULY 28, 2014

The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency.
The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations.

“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.

That the United States is no safer – and in some respects may be less safe – even after two wars and trillions of dollars could prove to be disappointing news for Americans, noted the journalist questioning General Flynn at the Aspen Security Forum last week.

Still, Flynn was firm on that point. “Yeah, my quick answer is that we’re not,” he said. 

America is less safe today in large part because of the emergence of terrorist groups like the Islamic State, formerly know as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group is stoking regional wars in Syria and Iraq that will only continue to increase in complexity, Flynn said.

Then what about the claims from those within the Obama administration that core Al Qaeda is on the run? 

On this point, Flynn – a strong personality who is slated to retire from the US military next month after clashing with higher-ups in the intelligence community – took issue as well.

“We throw this phrase ‘core Al Qaeda’ out.” But rather than people, “core Al Qaeda” is an ideology, he said.

“I, you know, have been going against these guys for a long time. The core is the core belief that these individuals have – and it’s not on the run,” he added. “That ideology is actually, sadly, it feels like it’s exponentially growing.” 

The chaos and violence now reigning in Iraq after the Islamic State invasion points to a US intelligence failure, but, on the upside, it offers a key cautionary tale for Afghanistan, Flynn said.

*** One retired colonel is campaigning for more cuts - and Congress is listening

By Michelle Tan 
Staff writer 
Jul. 28, 2014 

Reductions in end strength have to equate to thinning the operating force, Army leadership explains. (Army)

Drawdown at a glance

After more than 12 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, amid shrinking budgets and the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Army has dropped from a war-time high end strength of 570,000 to about 518,000 today. 

There will be 490,000 by the end of fiscal year 2015, and the Army is slated to shrink to about 450,000 soldiers by 2019. But if sequestration returns in 2016, which appears a distinct likelihood, the force will shed even more soldiers for an end strength of 420,000 soldiers.

The Army insists cutting the service down to 420,000 cannot be done. That would mean 98,000 fewer soldiers than there are today, and that’s an unacceptable risk, Army officials have said, and will continue to say, so long as the threat of budget cuts remains.

And while the Army is already prepared to drop down to 450,000, that additional cut of 30,000 soldiers would be a grave mistake, officials warn. It would mean a limited capability, at the same time there are new and emerging threats in Europe and the Pacific.

The Army currently meets about 93 percent of the requirements given to it by the combatant commanders, said Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations (G-3).

“We bend over backwards, and we squeeze everything we can to meet the requirements they give us,” he said. “In the future, as we get smaller, it becomes more and more difficult. We’re going to reach limits where we can’t meet a requirement based on the stress it puts on the force.”

The Army may be forced to deploy soldiers and units that are not properly trained, and it will be less able to replenish losses and casualties in a unit downrange, he said.

It also may have to mobilize large numbers of National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers — who can only be trained as quickly as the Army’s generating force can go.

Cheek makes a compelling argument for avoiding in 2016 another round of sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts imposed by Congress that have forced the Defense Department to dial back programs and thin the ranks.