8 December 2014

What you need to know about Ashton Carter, Obama's new Defense Secretary nominee

December 5, 2014

Ashton Carter, a former Defense Department official and Harvard professor, will be nominated to be the next Secretary of Defense at a Friday morning press conference with President Obama. 
Carter has a long list of academic and security establishment credentials, as well as a history of bipartisan praise. 
His main expertise is in nuclear strategy and he has overseen the Pentagon's weapons procurement and budget. 
He has a history of hawkish leanings on certain issues, advocating for a preemptive strike against North Korea in 2006 and calling for a bigger residual force to be left in Iraq when President Obama was withdrawing troops. 
Who is Ashton Carter?

On Friday morning, President Obama will announce that he will nominate Ashton B. Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, according to a White House statement.

A theoretical physicist and former Harvard professor with an expertise in nuclear policy and weapons spending, Carter served in the Pentagon under Presidents Clinton and Obama and rose to be Deputy Secretary of Defense in October 2011. As deputy, he managed the Pentagon day-to-day and helped deal with the effects of sequestration.

Well-connected among the national security establishment, Carter "has advised nearly every major strategy group, research council, and governmental panel on issues of international security," according to the New Republic.

When his boss and then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stepped down at the beginning of Obama's second term, Carter was considered as a possible replacement (and also as a potential Energy Secretary). Obama chose former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel instead, and Carter remained deputy until December 2013, when he returned to academia.

Carter has a long list of elite academic credentials. After earning a bachelor's degree in medieval history and physics from Yale, he earned his PhD in theoretical physics from Oxford in 1979. He then worked briefly in Congress's Office of Technology Assessment and the Pentagon and as a research fellow at MIT's Center for International Studies, before joining the faculty at Harvard University and becoming the director of its Center for Science and International Affairs. In 1993, he joined the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy and later served as a senior advisor to the administration's North Korea Policy Review.
What Carter's nomination means for the US
December 06, 2014

Let’s not rush to mock Hagel for citing the War of 1812 as a precedent for contemporary strategy. He has a point. 

It’s astonishing how one errant word or metaphor can disarm readers’ or hearers’ critical faculties. Exhibit A: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s citing the War of 1812 as a precedent for the U.S. Army to integrate coastal defense into its post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq slate of missions.

The War of 1812 reference made Hagel the butt of countless jokes. Military wags roundly lampooned the secretary for deriving guidance for today from such an antiquarian reference. After all, today’s ultramodern U.S. military has little to learn from its early history. Right?

Well, no. It’s not right at all. The substance of Hagel’s remarks was mostly lost amid the wisecracks. In reality, what he proposes makes eminent good sense for groundpounders searching for their identity in maritime Asia.

What do listeners hear when someone draws the War of 1812 analogy? Two things, it seems. One, that the person drawing the analogy sees a United States defending its immediate environs against an outside, far stronger maritime power. It’s not a globe-straddling superpower. It’s a local power trying feebly to protect its shores. No serious thinker would pattern contemporary methods on such a lackluster precedent.

And indeed, Britannia, faraway but overpowering, ruled the waves — including the waves lapping against the eastern seaboard of North America — during that half-forgotten conflict. Its Royal Navy imposed a stifling blockade on the new republic, squelching seaborne trade almost wholly by 1814. Having won a spate of inspiring single-ship victories in the opening months of the war, the U.S. Navy found itself largely confined to port. Worse, the Royal Navy landed amphibian forces along the Chesapeake Bay. Redcoats burned the presidential mansion, later the White House, late in 1814. Some precedent.

Blinders, Blunders, and Wars

Dec 2, 2014 

The history of wars caused by misjudgments, from Napoleon's invasion of Russia to America's invasion of Iraq, reveals that leaders relied on cognitive models, or simplified representations of their worlds, that were seriously at odds with objective reality. Blinders, Blunders, and Wars analyzes eight historical examples of strategic blunders regarding war and peace and four examples of decisions that turned out well, and then applies those lessons to the current Sino-American case. Leaders' egos, intuitions, unwarranted self-confidence, and aversion to information that contradicted their views prevented them from correcting their models. Yet advisors and bureaucracies can be inadequate safeguards and can, out of fawning or fear, reinforce leaders' flawed thinking.

War between China and the United States is more likely to occur by blunder than from rational premeditation. Yet flawed Chinese and American cognitive models of one another are creating strategic distrust, which could increase the danger of misjudgment by either or both, the likelihood of crises, and the possibility of war. Although these American and Chinese leaders have unprecedented access to information, there is no guarantee they will use it well when faced with choices concerning war and peace. They can learn from Blinders, Blunders, and Wars.

As a general remedy, the authors recommend the establishment of a government body providing independent analysis and advice on war-and-peace decisions by critiquing information use, assumptions, assessments, reasoning, options, and plans. For the Sino-U.S. case, they offer a set of measures to bring the models each has of the other into line with objective reality.

Key Findings

Strategic Blunders Can Happen When Leaders Rely on Defective Cognitive Models of Reality and Have No One to Correct Them. 
Strategic blunders can result from faulty intuition, egotism, arrogance, hubris, grand but flawed strategic ideas, underestimating the enemy and the difficulties and duration of conflict, overconfidence in war plans, ignoring what could go wrong, stifling debate, shunning independent advice, and penalizing dissent. 
These conditions are especially dangerous when combined with excessive risk taking based on an overestimation of one's ability to control events. 
The Key to Bridging the Gap Between a Defective Model and Objective Reality Is Information, Amply Supplied and Well Used. 
Decisionmakers may be more receptive to information that supports rather than threatens their beliefs, preconceptions, and models. 
Institutions close to decisionmakers can be drawn into the same subjective perception of reality. 
Government institutions are not dependable safeguards against strategic mistakes. 
Improvements are needed in how leaders and institutions use information so that better cognitive models will enable them to make better choices. 

Division Commander-Based Design Why the Army should return to the Division as the focal point for future force design efforts

This post was provided by Col(Retired) Bob Simpson, the former lead at the Army Capabilities Integration Center for many initiatives, including Army 2020, Strategic Landpower, and Force 2025 and Beyond. The views expressed belong to the author alone and do not represent ARCIC, the US Army, or the Department of Defense. 

From roughly the 1900’s through the turn of this century, the US Army used the Army Division as the basis for force design, experimentation, organization and training. In the early 2000’s two things happened that caused the focus of those efforts to shift to “brigade based design”.[i] First, the RMA infatuation with flattening organizational hierarchies allegedly enabled by information empowered brigades,[ii] and second, the changing of US strategy in Iraq that dictated a steady generation of Army brigade combat teams to meet operational requirements. Today the Army is still focused on the brigade in general, and specifically the maneuver brigade combat team as the center of both Army force generation and force design. Even now, the Army is reorganizing its brigades and other brigade and below functional units to correct weaknesses revealed by the war. Risks and trades are often being shifted to higher echelons without full appreciation of the consequences to those echelons, or understanding of the associated opportunity costs. The last ten years of warfighting refute the information age promise of flatter organizations and near autonomous brigades,[iii] and highlight the changing role of echelons above brigade headquarters in achieving strategic and campaign outcomes. It is time to rebalance Army future force design by returning to the Division as the focal echelon for force design and experimentation.

Should we focus predominantly on solving the brigade commander’s problem?
Spc. Derrick Penninger (center, foreground), infantryman, Troop C, 3rd Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt., 3rd BCT, 25th ID,, fires a burst from his M240B machine gun as his squad engages an enemy bunker during Operation Raider Pillage, April 24 | Photo by 1st Lt. Garrett Nash, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs, 25th Infantry Division.

“Brigade-based design” was and is really “brigade commander-based design”. A design that focuses on the Brigade commander‘s task and purpose.[iv] Should we focus predominantly on solving the brigade commander’s problem? The Strategic Landpower White Paper[v] and the Army Operating Concept[vi] suggest we need to design our formations from the perspective of higher echelon commanders’ task and purpose. This paper is therefore a call to make the division commander’s problem the focal point of Army future force design efforts, and the baseline from which risks, trades and opportunity costs are measured. It may well be that such an approach will validate the current lethality heavy design of the maneuver BCT, for example. On the other hand, it is equally possible that approach will reveal that we have placed too much responsibility for sustainment and maneuver support on the Division Commander and limited that echelon’s tactical agility in doing so. Like a weight lifter that focuses too much on one part of the body, the current BCT will do very well in one exercise and not well in others, especially when viewed through the prism of the Division Commander’s mission. This is especially important as it appears that killing our way out of a problem is less and less satisfactory as a matter of policy and comprises fewer and fewer of our missions as a matter of practice.[vii]

The Russian Bear Roars in the Sky: Beware the Deadly Su-35 Fighter

December 6, 2014 

The Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E is the most potent fighter currently in operation with the Russian Air Force. Should American pilots be shaking in their cockpits? 

The Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker-E is the most potent fighter currently in operation with the Russian Air Force. The powerful twin-engine fighter, which is an advanced derivative of the original Soviet-era Su-27, is high flying, fast and carries an enormous payload. That, combined with its advanced suite of avionics, makes the Su-35 an extremely dangerous foe to any U.S. fighter, with the exception of the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. That is one of the reasons the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force is keen to acquire the new jet.

“It’s a great airplane and very dangerous, especially if they make a lot of them,” said one senior U.S. military official with extensive experience on fifth-generation fighters. “I think even an AESA [active electronically scanned array-radar equipped F-15C] Eagle and [Boeing F/A-18E/F] Super Hornet would both have their hands full.”

One U.S. Navy Super Hornet pilot—a graduate of that service’s elite TOPGUN school—offered a sobering assessment. “When taken as a singular platform, I like the Su-35’s chances against most of our platforms, with perhaps the exception of the F-22 and F-15C,” the naval aviator said. “I suspect the F/A-18E/F can hold it’s own and F-35 has presumed stealth and sensor management on its side.”

But one Air Force official with experience on the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter said that the Su-35 could pose a serious challenge for the stealthy new American jet. The F-35 was built primarily as a strike fighter and does not have the sheer speed or altitude capability of the Su-35 or F-22. “The Su's ability to go high and fast is a big concern, including for F-35,” the Air Force official said.

The Most Important Alliance You've Never Heard Of

FEB 17 2014

A membership diagram of Latin American and Caribbean intergovernmental organizations. (Wikimedia Commons)

In Venezuela, students have been killed while protesting against the government of Nicolás Maduro, who is jailing opposition leaders and just closed a television station that dared broadcast the demonstrations. Argentina is irresponsibly racing toward a dangerous economic cliff. The Brazilian economy is in recessionand 2014 will mark its fourth consecutive year of subpar growth, as the country reels from its largest capital flight in more than 10 years.

Is a decade of progress in Latin America coming to an end? For some countries, surely. But not necessarily for the entire region. Four nations are developing an initiative that could add new dynamism to Latin America, redraw the economic map of the region, and boost its connections with the rest of the world—especially Asia. It could also offer neighboring countries a pragmatic alternative to the more political groupings dominated by Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela.

If the Alliance were a country, it would be the world's eighth-largest economy and seventh-largest exporter.Amid all the bad news in the region, the presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru met with little fanfare in Cartagena last week to seal an economic pact launched in 2012. They call their project the Pacific Alliance, and it will soon include Costa Rica and possibly several other countries. The four founding members are the most successful economies in Latin America; they boast the region's highest economic-growth rates and lowest inflation rates. Together, they represent 36 percent of the region's economy, 50 percent of its international trade, and 41 percent of all incoming foreign investment. If the Alliance were a country, it would be the world's eighth-largest economy and seventh-largest exporter. Its members lead the lists of the most competitive economies in Latin America and those where it’s easiest to do business. Given that trade among the four countries is currently a mere 4 percent of their total trade, the potential to expand trade and investment flows is huge.

7 December 2014

India and Bangladesh Near Resolution on Border Dispute

December 05, 2014

With a favorable political climate in India, the long-standing India-Bangladesh border dispute nears resolution. 

After years of negotiation, recent reports suggest that India is close to resolving its border dispute with Bangladesh, now that the current Indian government supports a resolution. Territorial changes in India need to be approved via constitutional amendment which explains why it would be most difficult for India to make territorial swaps with China or Pakistan without the entire Indian establishment being on board. Previous attempts at exchanging territory with Bangladesh all ran into trouble because of whichever party was in opposition in the Indian Parliament at the time.

The present agreement is known as the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and was negotiated by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Bangladesh in 2011. The currently ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposed the agreement at the time and thus the agreement did not go through. This is the same agreement that the BJP is now supporting. The reason given for this U-turn was given by Prime Minister Modi on Sunday in a speech given in Assam, which borders Bangladesh to the north. Modi declared that his government would in fact ratify the agreement in order to improve India’s security and curb illegal immigration from Bangladesh. With all major Indian parties now in favor of a border agreement with Bangladesh, an amendment to the Indian constitution is expected to pass quickly and without much political difficulty.

Bangladesh’s border with India is an interesting and unique case of a dispute – one that cannot be compared with India’s border disputes with other countries. The nature of the Indo-Bangladeshi border makes a resolution involving a territorial swap all but necessary. Strewn along Bangladesh’s northern border with India are hundreds of enclaves. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh – Indian territory completely surrounded by Bangladesh, and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Some of these enclaves are second order enclaves. The result is an archipelago of enclaves along the Indo-Bangladeshi border.

Why India Really Likes Ashton Carter

December 4, 2014

After a week of swirling rumors, Ashton Carter, the deputy defense secretary from 2011-2013, has been all-but-announced as President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defence.

Although Carter now needs to get confirmed, and will face particularly strong grilling on his views on US strategy in Iraq and Syria, it looks as though his confirmation will be a great deal smoother than Hagel's tortuous process: Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said “he would be a great choice,” and Levin's successor come January, John McCain, has expressed approval.

India will be watching Carter's path through Congress with particular interest. On Wednesday, the Indian news agency IANS headlined its report “India friend Ashton Carter is Obama pick.” The New York Times' South Asia bureau chiefcalled Carter “one of India's favorite US officials,” the defense journalist Ajai Shukla cheered the “superb news,” andothers were similarly effusive.

Why all the optimism?

Modi Looks East

Narendra Modi is looking eastward, and it’s a big and important story that most newspapers outside of India are missing.

This week Modi kicked off a three-day trip to India’s northeastern region, where he announced a host of development programs to boost the local economy. Also during his visit, he dedicated a power station that will export electricity to neighboring Bangladesh. Modi is pushing for greater economic ties between the two countries, and this week voiced support for a resolution to their border dispute that would include land swaps—a marked turn away from the BJP’s opposition to the plan, which was proposed by Modi’s predecessor.

As part of his “Look East” program, Modi has also made a point of reaching out to Burma. Most recently, he had a warm meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi at a recent ASEAN get-together. India is investing in a number of large-scale infrastructure projects that will bolster trade with Burma, including a project that will link Calcutta to a Burmese port.

Modi has his work cut out for him with this eastern initiative given the region’s history. Northeast India (the bits on both sides of Bangladesh, including Assam and other small states in the cut-off bit of India that borders China and Burma) and West Bengal were the hardest hit by partition and the politics of the 1950s. Before partition, Bangladesh, Burma and northeast India were all part of a single big trading area. Partition shut down relations between Bangladesh (part of Pakistan until the 1971 war) and the Indian state of West Bengal.

Furthermore, a procession of previous Congress governments had shifted investment away from Calcutta, a city founded by the British, and long a major British commercial and administrative center, to Delhi and the west. Things got worse as Burmese nationalist expelled Indian traders and settlers who had moved there in many cases long before the British Raj. Calcutta became something of a backwater, deprived of its natural trading hinterlands, and the far northeast was cut off between a hostile Pakistan, a hostile China with land claims, and a hostile, closed Burma.

Meanwhile, the region is full of “tribal” peoples who aren’t Hindu in many cases (many converts to Christianity live in this part of India), who resent Muslim immigration from impoverished Bangladesh, and who are related to the various tribal peoples in Burma and China.

But the tectonic plates are clearly shifting. Bangladesh’s secession from Pakistan, with Indian support, lowered the tensions, but hasn’t done away with them entirely. Close India-Bangladesh relations are really necessary both to revitalize the region and to allow India to develop a more effective territorial defense against Chinese claims. This appears to be primarily what Modi is working on.

U.S. Defense-Intelligence Relationship With Pakistan Slowly Improving But Problem Areas Remain

December 5, 2014

US relationship with Pakistan wary but improving

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has carried out a series of airstrikes in recent days against some of Pakistan’s most wanted militants hiding in a remote border area, the latest sign of improving relations between the two reluctant allies after years of recrimination following the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

On Nov. 24, an American airstrike in eastern Afghanistan narrowly missed Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, a top target for Pakistan’s military and the leader believed to have ordered the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, a children’s rights activist who survived and won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, a U.S. official said. The official was not authorized to be quoted by name discussing the clandestine operation.

Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for the international coalition in Afghanistan, said the strike also killed three armed militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

The operation was one of a recent series along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border aimed at the group known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, according to U.S. officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name discussing the strikes. While the State Department considers that group a terrorist organization, it poses a far greater threat to Pakistan than to the United States, having killed thousands of Pakistanis.

The U.S. airstrikes are the latest indication that the U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism alliance has recovered from the serious breach it suffered after al-Qaida leader bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan in 2011 and the U.S. launched a secret operation to kill him without telling Pakistan in advance.

While neither government fully trusts the other, the relationship has fallen back into its old equilibrium of wary cooperation, according to several American military, diplomatic and intelligence officials who declined to be quoted discussing the sensitive topic. The counterterrorism alliance is considered crucial to the future of Afghanistan and the effort to destroy al-Qaida.

As it has for years, the U.S. continues to accuse elements of the Pakistani government of secretly supporting terrorists who serve its interests in Afghanistan. But the U.S. also provides Pakistan more than $2 billion a year in military and economic aid, and the countries work closely on some counterterrorism matters.

"U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation is on the upswing after a long period of tense dysfunction," said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

"We are on a much better trajectory," said a senior Pakistani military official who was not authorized to speak by name, but was expressing what he said was a widely held view in his government.

Kenya Arrests 77 Chinese for Operating Massive Hacking Ring From Houses in Nairobi

December 5, 2014

Kenya arrests 77 Chinese in Internet hacking case

NAIROBI, Kenya — Police in Kenya are consulting technical experts to determine if 77 Chinese nationals arrested with advanced communications equipment in several houses in an upscale Nairobi neighborhood were committing espionage, an official said Thursday.

The Chinese were arrested since the weekend with equipment that Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said was capable of hacking into government servers.

“We have roped in experts to tell us if they were committing crimes of espionage,” said Ndegwa Muhoro, the head of criminal investigations for Kenya’s police. “These people seem to have been brought here specifically for a mission which we are investigating.”

The arrests began on Sunday, when computer equipment in one of the upscale houses the Chinese nationals had rented near the U.S. Embassy and U.N. headquarters caught fire, killing one person.

Police said it appeared the group was manufacturing ATM cards, and that the suspects may have been involved in money laundering and Internet fraud. The case has caught the attention of the highest levels of Kenya’s government as authorities investigate whether the group was also engaging in espionage.

The minister of foreign affairs and the minister of information communications and technology both were on hand Wednesday as police arrested 40 people. The Chinese ambassador was summoned to the foreign affairs ministry over the arrests.

The 37 suspects arrested Sunday were charged with operating an illegal radio station. Many of those arrested cannot speak English and some don’t have identification such as a passport, police detective Nicholas Kisavi said.

A woman at China’s embassy in Kenya told The Associated Press on Thursday to call back on Friday to speak with an embassy spokesman.

Fred Matiang’l, an official in Kenya’s ministry of information, communications and technology, told the Daily Nation that China has promised to send investigators to Kenya to work on the case.

The Environmental Implications of China’s New Bank

By Yuge Ma
December 05, 2014

Political wisdom will be needed to manage the environmental consequences of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 

On October 24 this year, 21 Asian countries signed an agreement in Beijing that signaled the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), whose main backer is China. The agreement authorized $100 billion in capital for the new bank, with an initial subscribed capital of around $50 billion. But will the new bank be able to implement best practice when it comes to governance and environmental concerns?

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – Japan-led and the largest existing multilateral development bank in Asia – between now and 2020 the Asia and Pacific regions will require infrastructure investment of at least $8 trillion. As China’s Xinhua news agency commented, the existing international financial system is insufficient to meet this huge demand. This gives China ample scope to play a crucial role.

While the Western world might fear losing influence in the growing Asian market or a potential challenge to the U.S.-led international order, the AIIB raises another concern: the potential threat Chinese money might represent to established international standards of foreign aid.

In her book By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest Is Changing the World (Oxford University Press, 2014), Elizabeth Economy, senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and her colleague Michael Levi argue that the best way to understand the local implications of Chinese overseas investments is to observe how it operates at home, where neither the Chinese government nor companies pay much attention to environmental protection. Despite the fact that China had established a nationwide system of environmental impact assessment (EIA), in practice it is hamstrung by widespread data fraud, corruption, and political intervention from local officials. Only now is the Chinese government beginning to govern this chaotic field.

However, the authors have also observed some improvements in Chinese companies’ social and environmental awareness in recent years. The first is top down: in order to reduce unsustainable development, China’s leadership has been encouraging companies, especially state-owned enterprises, to engage in more corporate social responsibility-related international initiatives by launching a set of policy incentives that apply to both domestic and overseas investments.

US Rebalance to Asia – An Assessment

US President Barack Obama landed in Beijing on Monday for the APEC summit, the first of a series of summit and bilateral meetings with regional and world leaders. This visit comes at a time when a majority of Americans are despondent that the country's competitors around the world are swelling while the country's defence resources and the capacity to respond to global challenges shrink. US defence budgetary cuts to the tune of a trillion dollars for this fiscal further add to this mood. This gloom is not confined to the US alone but extends to the Asia Pacific as well where serious doubts exist about Obama’s commitment to his Doctrine of 2012 directing a strategic “pivot” or Re Balance to Asia as an important element of his grand strategy for the region.

While host China seeks to allay the fears of regional countries by organizing the APEC agenda around a “series of initiatives to nurture regional economic growth and connectivity, long-term progress in these areas will not be possible if China continues to assert unilateral claims to international waters and airspace in the South and East China seas -- and to back these claims up with the threat of force” by seeking to create “a sphere of influence that erodes the security and sovereignty of Japan and other neighbours”. There is apprehension that in East Asia, China seeks “to overturn the existing, pluralistic regional order and replace it with a Sino sphere imposed at least partly through force of arms”,1 as the US has been more occupied with developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. While those are serious issues that required immediate attention, the US must not lose sight of its long term and more serious challenge posed by a rising China in East Asia.

Strategic power plays in the Asia-Pacific region and the role of the two main players, the US and China, has emerged as one of the major drivers of international relations in the twenty first century. China’s rapid economic rise over the past two decades has “made it possible for China to increase its military capacity and ramp up its political role in the region and beyond.” While China has been at pains to insist that its rise will be peaceful, and “poses no threat to its neighbours or the existing international, political and economic order”, its rising assertiveness, more visible since 2010, is a matter of concern and compelled the US to re orient its policy towards the Asia-Pacific. In November 2011, Obama attended the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the first for a US President, signifying a major shift in US policy to protect its strategic interests in Asia. Also in November 2011, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton published an article in Foreign Policy Journal titled, ‘America’s Pacific Century,’ clearly laying out the importance America attaches to Asia-Pacific. She wrote:

Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players.

Urgent Need for Steps to Make Nathu La Route to Kailash Mansarovar Safe for Pilgrims

India and China had signed a bilateral agreement on September 18 this year providing for for conducting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim Himalayas in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

Addressing the media after the signing of the MoU in this regard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the new route offers many benefits. “It makes Kailash Mansarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial for older pilgrims. It offers a safer alternative in the rainy season, makes the pilgrimage shorter in duration and will enable a much higher number of pilgrims to go there,” he said.

However, the bad news is that whereas China may be able to do its bit to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of the route before it opens, unprepared India may still be fighting with the systemic inertia to remove vulnerabilities for ensuring a hiccup free, smooth passage to the pilgrims, tourists and traders on its side of the border.

Of course, this bad news is somewhat obscured by another good news that by now we not only know the weak links in our chain of operation and what ails our disaster management systems, but additionally, we have also been repeatedly taught the do’s and don’ts of life by none other than the disasters themselves. Every now and then, we have passed through the tides of pain and suffering which are now so intense as to drive us to action. Nathu La, through which pilgrims will be able to reach Mansarovar next year, literally means a Pass with ears that listen. We too need listening ears without which the cries of those affected will continue to haunt us! It is therefore time to act.

Ordinarily hard core pilgrims are neither deterred by dangers that they might face when it comes to pilgrimage, nor do they fear the horror stories of disaster-inflicted death, destruction and sufferings, told to them by the previous generation. This is because they value faith, devotion, penance and salvation more than they fear death. It is the duty of the government, however, to protect the pilgrims from dangers of all shades and colors. According to a report in the News from China, September 2014 Issue, a total of nearly 70,000 Indian citizens have travelled to Tibet for pilgrimage in the past decade. The number of pilgrims has shot up from a mere 400 in 2003 to 14,084 in 2013, a whopping 35 fold increase!

Nathu La is already attracting tourists because of its fascinating altitude of 4310m, Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir and the fun of a handshake with the Chinese at the border fence. Once the route is opened for pilgrimage, the elderly and the sick will also not like to be left behind regardless of high altitude problems and dangers of which they may or may not be aware at this time. They will need acclimatisation, medicare and all kinds of support even in the normal times. In the event of border skirmishes and natural calamities, they will need much more than the so called preparedness. Even then a great majority of pilgrims may not get deterred by anticipated dangers, no matter how serious, because afterall, Nathu La had already been on the old Silk Road for trade between India and China, and it, even now continues to be one of the three open trading borders.1 Moreover, if Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi could reach Bhutan via Nathu La more than half a century ago, then why not the pilgrims now? The Nathu La route may have remained closed for over four decades after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 but India’s armed forces have always been there and trade through Nathu La has already resumed as far back as 6 July 2006. Further, widening of the Gangtok- Nathu La highway is presently in progress and, en route, the tourists are already benefitting from modern amenities such as the high altitude internet cafe and ATM machines. Where is the danger to the pilgrims and why so much fuss, then?

Forget the South China Sea: Taiwan Could Be Asia's Next Big Security Nightmare

December 5, 2014

"Expect to see Beijing sabre-rattling and cross-strait tensions rising in the run-up to Taipei’s 2016 presidential elections, and don’t be surprised if that is followed by a new cross-strait crisis."

Forget the South China Sea. The results of Taiwan’s local elections last week, still reverberating in Beijing, are more likely than not to propel Taiwan’s ascension to the status of No.1 security problem in Asia over the coming two to three years.

That is one consequence of the shellacking Taiwan’s ruling KMT party took in last week’s local elections. The ruling KMT lost thirteen of twenty-two cities and counties, including the Mayoralties in Taipei (by an opposition-backed doctor) and Taichung. All told, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party took 47.5 percent of the vote to 40.7 percent garnered by the ruling KMT.

This sets the stage for the 2016 presidential elections. President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity was in single digits before the elections, is finishing his second term and cannot run again. So humbled was Ma that he resigned as chair of the KMT. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose constitution calls for Taiwanese independence, has fuzzy positions on many key issues, but is nonetheless now well positioned for 2016.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

How ISIS Governs The Territory Its Controls in Iraq and Syria

Simon Speakman Cordall
December 5, 2014

How ISIS Governs Its Caliphate
Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014. Stringer/Reuters

This year has seen the map of the Middle East redrawn. The West has acquired a new public enemy number one: remorseless, faceless and vicious. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has expanded from a relatively obscure terrorist group at the start of the year, to one that wields near absolute control over anywhere between 12,000 square miles (according to the Wall Street Journal) and 35,000 square miles (according to The New Yorker) of formerly Syrian and Iraqi territory. Within the region, around 56 million people must navigate between the armies of the rival militias, warlords and national armies that are barely distinguishable from one another.

But while Western forces attempt to counter the ISIS surge with its sustained bombing strategy, little attention is paid to an unpalatable reality within the borders of the so-called new Islamic State, or caliphate. In the midst of the chaos, ISIS is deliberately and methodically establishing clear areas of definable civil governance, breathing new life into the memory of a series of caliphates that united a succession of Muslim empires until 1924.

Scott Atran, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at Oxford University, recently submitted a report to the U.S. Department of Defense and Congress on the difficulty of fighting the ideology of such a state.

“The caliphate as an idea has never gone away,” Atran says, “And now that it is here again after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, as a concrete matter of fact, it will focus the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people. The critical question is not, ‘How can we thwart or destroy the caliphate?’ because attempts to do that will likely backfire. Rather the question is, ‘How can we live with and transform the idea and reality of a caliphate – and one that will be nuclear-capable probably sooner rather than later – into something that does not threaten other peoples’ ways of life?’ That is a question for everyone, but it is not even on our political radar.”

Blood Money How ISIS Makes Bank

November 30, 2014 

Damage at an oil refinery that was targeted by what activists said were U.S. strikes near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, October 2, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

A key element of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been striking at the oil fields seized by the group to undermine its finances. But ISIS is a diversified criminal business, and oil is only one of its several revenue streams. U.S. officials ignore that fact at their own peril. 

It is true that oil is ISIS’ key source of funding right now. The terrorist group has become the world’s richest precisely because it has seized some of the world’s most profitable oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Even with those fields operating below capacity due to a lack of technology and personnel, ISIS is estimated to be producing about 44,000 barrels a day in Syria and 4,000 barrels a day in Iraq. ISIS sells crude at a discount (around $20–$35 per barrel) to either truckers or middlemen. The crude gets to refiners at around $60 per barrel, which is still under market price. Smugglers pay about $5,000 in bribes at checkpoints to move the crude oil out of ISIS controlled territory. Even selling the oil at a discount via pre-invasion smuggling routes out of Iraq, ISIS can still expect over a million dollars in revenue each day.

And ISIS’ enemies are getting richer from the trade, too: Kurdish part-time smugglers who facilitate ISIS’ oil sales can earn up to $300,000 each month. A Kurdish newspaper recently published a list of people involved with ISIS, especially its oil operations. The list includes individuals with the last names of several Kurdish ruling families; a Toyota branch in Erbil, which sells ISIS trucks; a Politburo member and military leader; and oil refineries, among others. Some of those on the list were associated with oil smuggling under Saddam Hussein. Kurdish facilitators also provide goods to ISIS, including trucks, gas cylinders (for cooking and heating), gasoline, and other necessary commodities.

Oil is not ISIS’ only source of revenue. For example, when the group needed seed capital to recruit personnel and acquire military equipment to conquer the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, some of it came from donors in the Gulf States, who had funded the antecedents of ISIS. More recently, ISIS funding has come from the usual terrorist businesses—smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and robberies. In one reported case, a Swedish company paid $70,000 to rescue an employee who had been taken by ISIS. And before the American journalist James Foley was beheaded, ISIS fighters demanded an exorbitant sum for his freedom, which they did not receive.

The Close Ties Between Russian Intelligence and the Belarus KGB

December 5, 2014

Belarusan espionage: Ties with Russia remain close

However, Belarusan intelligence and special services may have their own agenda separate from Russia’s, with which Lukashenka can attempt to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

On 10 November the General Prosecutor’s Office of Lithuania reported that a Vilnius court would try a Lithuanian citizen on espionage charges. The Lithuanian authorities claim that he cooperated with Belarusan security services.

As other cases from recent years prove, Belarusan intelligence is quite interested in its immediate neighbours – Poland and Lithuania. Belarusans usually seek military intelligence and generally probe opportunities to advance Belarusan economic interest in these countries.

Belarus’s EU neighbours regard Belarusan intelligence as being, more or less, on par with its Russian counterpart. However, despite close ties since Soviet times and cooperation agreements, Belarusans may have a separate agenda, as Lukashenka’s attempts to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Inside Belarus, recent public spying cases have involved only local citizens. As either Andrej Hajdukoŭ’s or priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar’s cases show, the authorities can use espionage charges to intimidate the opposition or independent institutions.

A spy with Belarusan roots

A former worker of Oro Navigacija, a Lithuanian air traffic control agency, is suspected of committing espionage against Lithuania for Belarus’s security services. He may receive up to 15 years in prison as a result. A Vilnius circuit court will hold his trial in January. At the moment the suspect’s name remains unknown.

The investigators claims that the suspect secretly photographed documents in his office, including various objects tied to Lithuania’s military and civilian infrastructure, and then proceeded to hand them to the General Staff of the Belarusan armed forces. “He gathered and passed on to Belarus information on the Lithuanian armed forces, its state enterprises, objects of strategic importance for national security in Lithuania”, stated a press release from the General Prosecutor’s Office.

The Chief of Lithuania’s Security Department Gediminas Grina noted that Russia could also use this information, because Belarus and Russia have a military alliance and share intelligence data.

Having Belarusan roots, the suspect visited Belarus a couple of times a year to see his relatives and friends. His two sons have business partners in Russia, and regularly go there on to tend to their affairs. These facts could easily become rounds for Lithuania’s own security services to become interested in him.

However, espionage scandals more often than not arise Belarus’s other neighbour – Poland. In recent years several incidents have occurred with Belarus citizens being charged with spying.

Belarus intelligence: Poland in its sights

Russian Navy Task Force Enters the Mediterranean

December 5, 2014

Russia Northern Fleet convoy enters Mediterranean Sea for naval mission
MOSCOW, December 4. /TASS/. Russia’s Northern Fleet convoy of warships and auxiliary vessels led by large submarine chaser Severomorsk has entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar, spokesman of the Northern Fleet Captain First Rank Vadim Serga told TASS on Thursday.

“Before sailing through the straits crews had joint drills and practised sailing through narrow waters amid intensive navigation,” he said, noting that “The naval convoy is preparing to fulfil tasks as part of Russian naval task force acting regularly in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Northern Fleet’s warships had drills to ensure security of civilian navigation from piracy and a terrorist threat in the Bay of Biscay, Serga said. Combat crews of amphibious assault ship Alexander Otrakovsky have drilled the use of air defense systems and radioelectronic warfare to rebuff an air attack of an imaginary enemy.

Naval sailors set out for a far voyage from Severomorsk, a base of Russian Northern Fleet in the north of the country, on November 20, already sailing more than 2.8 thousand nautical miles.

Is Enthusiasm in the Russian Military for the War in the Ukraine Waning?

Paul Richard Huard
December 5, 2014

Vladimir Putin’s Losing Streak: Russians are losing enthusiasm for the Ukraine war

At first glance, Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have defied all the odds.

Russia is poised to mount a winter offensive against a defiant Ukraine that still struggles to supply its army, treat its wounded and repel a world military power. In November, international monitors sighted more convoys of Russian vehicles carrying soldiers, as well as unmarked T-72 and T-64 tanks, crossing from Russia into eastern Ukraine near Donetsk.

An October poll indicated the Russian president has an 88-percent approval rating. Politically, he seems unassailable.

That could be changing. As Ukraine grows more defiant and Russia’s economy suffers, more and more Russians are losing interest in Putin’s war.

At the moment, there is no apparent political rival with the ability to challenge Putin’s policies or his rule. To further consolidate his power, Putin has jailed dissenting journalists and opposition politicians.
The United States and the NATO alliance don’t want a direct confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, instead relying on sanctions and rhetoric that mostly have done little to trouble Putin or his supporters among Russia’s elite.

But now increasing economic doldrums—owing to collapsing oil prices and a devalued ruble—plus fervent Ukrainian nationalism and a Ukrainian army that prevails despite its immense problems, indicate Putin’s future might not be as rosy as his recent years.

There have even been a few scattered near-mutinies among Russian troops resisting deployment to eastern Ukraine.

“Although Putin is in a strong position now, he’s replaceable,” Graeme Auton, professor of political science at the University of Redlands and an expert on Russian energy policy, told War Is Boring. “I think he is in an increasingly tenuous position, and he is facing what is for him an unfortunate confluence of events.”

Consider the recent drop in oil prices. As Putin continues the invasion of Ukraine, OPEC dealt an economic body-blow to a nation where oil revenues comprise nearly 50 percent of the Russian budget annually—a loss of at least $100 billion according to some estimates.