28 June 2015

1965: Assessment of Chief of the Army Staff

By Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh
27 Jun , 2015

I feel an assessment of the then Chief of the Army Staff, General Chowdhary, is called for.

I will be the first to admit that he had a very sharp brain, and could speak and write well, in English. His greatest failing was that he had an exalted opinion of himself. ‘He often passed smart alec remarks and doubted the intelligence of everyone (around him. As a soldier, I regret to say, he left much to be desired.

How else can you explain that throughout the duration of the War with Pakistan, he visited my Headquarters only thrice, that is on the 10th, the 14th and the 20th of September. And yet, on the early morning of the 23rd of September, soon after the cease-fire was announced, he was the first one to go to the Ichhogil Canal, with a photographer, and have his photograph taken for the press? Subsequently, to prove that he had participated fully in the War he had a book written by a well-known journalist which was completely fictitious.

India and Russia's Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft

June 20, 2015

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to visit Russia on July 7, speculation is swirling about the potential for a final agreement between the two countries regarding a jointly developed and produced Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Since March, reports have circulated that India – faced with combat aircraft capacity pressures – is willing to exhibit greater negotiating flexibility with the Russians in order to move the program forward.

In addition to the non-stealth Dassault Rafale as its preference for a medium swing-role fighter, India has long viewed the FGFA as critical to meeting its air force's advanced jet fighter requirements.

As centerpieces of India's future strategic airpower component, both platforms are considered crucial in terms of providing more modern fighter options while also helping fill the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) goal of fielding 42-44 fighter squadrons by around 2027.

Pakistanis Come Together to Help Heat Wave Victims

By Zareen Muzaffar
June 27, 2015

Basic infrastructure issues such as poor governance, corruption, and unclear planning haven’t deterred Pakistani citizens from forming community-based initiatives to help the victims of the recent heat wave. Due to escalating temperatures, the current heat wave in Pakistan has taken over 1000 lives while many others continue to suffer in the grueling conditions. According to the United Nations, Pakistan is one of the most water stressed countries in the world and electricity shortages have added to the growing problems in the country, especially for the impoverished community.

Incidentally, June is also the month (this year) when many Muslims are observing Ramadan and fasting from sunrise to sunset. Due to deeper a sense of spirituality, many people continue to fast despite the difficulties.Clerics and scholars have repeatedly told Muslim citizens in Pakistan that those who cannot bear fasting in difficult conditions can delay it.

Attack on Afghanistan’s Parliament

By Noah Coburn
June 26, 2015

The audacious attack on the well-protected Afghan parliamentary building on June 23 demonstrates the Taliban’s continued ability to strike dead in the heart of Kabul, but more importantly also suggests that the battle in Afghanistan is just as much about politics as it is about military forces. While the causalities from the attack were not as great as in other high profile attacks in Kabul, the widely broadcast footage of the well attended session being interrupted by the initial explosion and the highly symbolic nature of the target was meant to send a clear political message.

First of all, the timing of the attack is important. In recent days, the Taliban have made significant territorial gains in both the north and the south of the country. While informal peace talks have occurred recently in Qatar and Norway, progress has been limited. Part of this, some have suggested, is the Taliban’s conviction that the central government is currently in a position of weakness.

How Did China Just Win Thailand’s New Submarine Bid?

By Prashanth Parameswaran
June 26, 2015

Thailand’s navy has elected to buy three submarines from China, moving the country one step closer to acquiring a capability it has lacked for more than six decades, media sources reported June 26 (See: “Thailand Eyes Submarine Fleet”).

According to The Bangkok Post, a source on the 17-member submarine procurement committee appointed by the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) revealed that a majority of its members had voted to buy three Chinese submarines costing 12 billion baht ($355 million) each because they were the “best value for money.” The rest of the committee members were apparently split between submarines from South Korea and Germany. As I have written previously, Thailand has lacked a submarine capability since 1951 and has tried but failed since the 1990s to ink submarine deals with several suppliers, including Seoul and Berlin (See: “Will Thailand Realize its Submarine Quest?”).

South China Sea Boils: China Sends Oil Rig Near Vietnam Again

Zachary Keck
June 26, 2015 

China has moved an oil rig that was at the heart of a dispute with Vietnam last year to waters near Vietnam again, according to multiple news report.

Yesterday, Vietnamese newspapers began reporting, citing the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), that China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981) oil rig was being moved to waters where China and Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) overlap. According to the news reports, the platform is now located 17°03'75’' North latitude and 109°59’05’’ East longitude.

In the statement, MSA warned that all ships must stay 2,000 meters away from the rig. The HD-981 will explore for oil and gas in the region between now and August 20, according to the MSA statement.

Hong Kong Postpones Political Development

By Tim Summers
June 26, 2015

The long-awaited vote by Hong Kong’s legislature on reforming the method of selecting the Chief Executive (head of government) took place on June 18. Legislators rejected the government’s proposal – based on a framework issued in Beijing on August 31, 2014 – to introduce a popular vote for two or three candidates following nomination by a committee of 1,200 mainly pro-establishment figures.

The reforms needed two thirds of the legislature’s 70 votes to pass, but ever since the August framework was announced, 27 “pan-democrat” legislators had promised to veto any change. In the end 28 legislators opposed the government’s proposal and only eight voted in favor, after a bizarre walk-out by 31 pro-government legislators attempted but failed to delay the vote.

Can Air Power Defeat the ISIS?

By Air Marshal Anil Chopra
27 Jun , 2015

The USA decided to lead a coalition of countries to stem the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi-led ISIS expansion. The ISIS has around 70,000 fighters including 8,000 in Libya and 10,000 in Nigeria. It is also estimated to have at least one attack helicopter, three MiG-21 and five drones. A large number of regional players who felt threatened by the rise of ISIS entered the conflict in support of the Western alliance. Iraqis were tasked to fight the ground war and the Coalition was to handle the air campaign to make it convenient to regain territory. Two recent events, the internationally supported Iran nuclear deal and the Saudi led attack on Yemen has added a new dimension. The air campaign that began on August 08, 2014 has now accelerated and finally started showing results. The US-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria has now been designated as Operation Inherent Resolve.

Are the Iran Nuclear Talks Too Big to Fail?

Emily B. Landau, Shimon Stein
June 26, 2015 

"...today we understand that almost any deal is considered better than no deal."

Is failure an option when it comes to the Iran nuclear talks? The short answer to this question—at least for the United States—is emerging as “no.” While for the longest time we were urged to trust the international negotiators that “all options are on the table” for dealing with Iran, in reality, they are not. Only one option is on the table, and that is diplomacy.

In and of itself, diplomacy certainly is the preferable option, but its value depends on how it is played. Indeed, for the past year and a half, we have been told that the alternative to the negotiations—indeed to every single step the negotiators have taken over the past eighteen months—is either a nuclear Iran or war.

Korea's Latest High-Altitude Protest Targets Kia Motors

By Steven Denney
June 27, 2015

Two workers are protesting what they call illegal labor practices by Kia Motors. 

About two weeks ago, two informal workers at Kia Motors, Choi Jeong-myong and Han Kyu-hyop,lowered a moderate sized banner across an electronic display board at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, a building located next door to Seoul City Hall. The banner exhorted the chairman of the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, Chung Mong-koo, to “take responsibility for irregular and regular Kia Motors employees.” Thus began the latest “high-altitude sit-in” (gogong nongseong) against labor market conditions in South Korea in what is becoming a regular symbolic and cultural expression of discontent with the changes made to the Korean labor market over the last few decades.

In particular, this sit-in protests unlawful labor practices by Kia Motors. According to a Media Today report, after being accused of unlawfully employing more than 3,000 new workers (the terms of their employment are not specified), Kia promised to move more than 450 of them to regular employment positions by next year. This promise, apparently, is not being honored. Rather than offering permanent employment, Kia is supposedly hiring the worker under “special employment” conditions — a move considered both dishonest and illegal by the employees and their union representatives.

Speculation on Russia’s Recent Drone Deployment

By Casey Michel
June 26, 2015

A report suggests Moscow is trying to counter Beijing’s influence in Central Asia. But the evidence is thin. 

Last week, a report emerged that seemed to point to growing friction between Russia and China in Central Asia. According to WantChinaTimes, Russia’s recent deployment of drone technology in Central Asia was not due to Islamist threats in northern Afghanistan. Rather, according to the paper, Moscow opted to test its drones “to confront Chinese influence in the region.” As WantChinaTimes continued, “Since Russia itself relies heavily on economic exchanges with China, military deterrence is now the only way Putin can confront Chinese influence in the region.”

Watch Out, America: Russia Sends Super Advanced S-400 to NATO's Borders

Zachary Keck
June 26, 2015

Russia’s beefing up its air and missile defense systems near its borders with NATO countries, according to local media reports.

This week, Sputnik reported that Russia’s Western Military District is increasing the number of S-400 Triumf and Pantsir-S air defense systems in its area of operations.

"Modern S-400 Triumf long-range air defense systems and Pantsir-S gun-missile air defense systems will be put in service with air defense units of the Western Military District by the end of this year," Col. Oleg Kochetkov, a spokesperson for the Western Military District, said, Sputnik reported.

The S-400 is Russia’s most advanced air and missile defense system, and its deployment in greater numbers along Russia’s borders with NATO could challenge the latter’s ability to achieve air dominance in the event of a conflict with Moscow.

Fix NATO or Risk WWIII

The Balts, Nordics and Poles have a rare collective opportunity to team up with NATO against Putin. But will they? 

NATO’s credibility is at stake in the Baltic. 

A glance at the map shows all too clearly that reinforcing the Baltic states in a crisis is hard without the help of non-NATO Sweden and Finland. In fact, it’s impossible—unless the West is willing to react to a Russian invasion or other provocation with nuclear weapons. The choice is stark: See the end of NATO, or risk World War III. 

Vladimir Putin knows this. He is systematically provoking the countries of the region to highlight the Kremlin’s relative strength. Russia has kidnapped an Estonian security official. It threatens and practices the use of nuclear weapons. It has warned Sweden and Finland not to even think about joining NATO. It runs a relentless propaganda campaign against the Baltic states. It carries out dummy attacks with nuclear-capable aircraft. It flies warplanes around the region with their transponders switched off, endangering civilian aircraft. 

The Worst Is Yet to Come: Greece and Europe's Economic Woes Aren't Over

Milton Ezrati
June 27, 2015 

Greece could be on the brink of defaulting. What comes next?

Right now it looks as though Greece will default. Even if it does, Athens could still cut a deal later. Either way, it will remain unclear for a while whether the country stays in the common currency. In some respects, this situation is entirely manageable. That fact has fostered a dangerous complacency, for in other respects, this situation carries considerable risk for the eurozone, for European finance generally and for global finance.

As many media discussions have implied, the debt part of the financial equation is not especially threatening. Greece for one, is a small economy. Its gross domestic product (GDP) is barely 6.5 percent of Germany’s. For another, its outstanding debt amounts to barely 1 percent of Europe’s banking assets. Even if that debt were widely held, default would hardly threaten the continent’s financial stability. And since the debt is now largely held by governments and other official bodies, the financial system has an additional buffer against uncertainty. Meanwhile, the ECB’s bond-buying program should stem any fears that Greek default will force unsustainable borrowing costs on Italy, Spain and others in Europe’s troubled periphery.

Pentagon Says It Needs $270 Billion to Upgrade Nuclear Arsenal

Kris Osborn
Jun 25, 2015

The United States will need to spend as much as $18 billion per year for 15 years starting in 2021 to keep the nation's nuclear stockpile and the weapons and vehicles designed to deliver these weapons viable, Pentagon leaders told lawmakers.

"We've developed a plan to transition our aging system. Carrying out this plan will be an expensive proposition. It is projected to cost DoD an average of $18 billion a year from 2021 through 2035," Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work told members of the House Armed Services Committee at Thursday's hearing on nuclear deterrence.

"The only existential threat to our nation is a nuclear attack. Nuclear weapons remain the most important mission we have," he added.

Work explained that keeping the country's nuclear enterprise modernized is especially important in light of the advancements made by Russia and China.

America's Obamacare Nightmare Is Just Beginning

Robert E. Moffit
June 26, 2015 

"A judicial victory doesn’t automatically translate into a political victory, let alone a policy success."

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could continue to subsidize health-insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov, the federal exchanges. An ecstatic President Obama declared that Obamacare is“here to stay.”

No, it’s not.

A judicial victory doesn’t automatically translate into a political victory, let alone a policy success. Once they’ve quaffed their celebratory champagne, the president and White House staff will need to suit up and get ready to play some hard-nosed defense.

Here’s why. The driving force behind health reform has been the desire to control rising health-care costs. From 2008 onwards, President Obama promised that his reform agenda would reduce the annual cost for the typical American family by no less than $2,500. After a while, it became a rather tiresome talking point. But it was pure nonsense from the start.

America's 'Insane' Iran Approach

Michael Rubin
June 26, 2015 

In March 2003, senior U.S. diplomats flew to Geneva to meet with Iran’s then UN ambassador (now foreign minister) Mohammad Javad Zarif. Their agenda was straight forward: Win Iran’s pledge not to interfere in Iraq. Zarif readily agreed. Two weeks later, Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Two thousand Iranian-trained militiamen flooded into Iraq and, over subsequent years, Iranian weaponry or proxies murdered hundreds of Americans. Zarif either lied outright or exaggerated his ability to make firm commitments to which all Iranians would adhere.

Nevertheless, on September 27, 2013, President Barack Obama announced that he had spoken on the phone with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, and suggested he could trust that the Iranian leadership. “Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons [and] President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons,” Obama said.

Germans don’t think America stands for freedom anymore

By Adam Taylor
June 25 

To many, America is synonymous with freedom. The country dubbed itself the "land of the free" and, when trying to reclaim sliced and fried potatoes from the French, briefly attempted to rename "French fries" as "freedom fries.

Yet America's global reputation for personal freedom has taken a beating over the last couple of years. Data from Pew Global Research suggests a dramatic fall in the number of people around the world who say the U.S. government respects the freedom of its people. 

The issue may be most stark in Germany. Back in 2013, a whopping 81 percent of Germans polled by Pew thought that the U.S. government respected personal freedom. Then, in 2014, it was 58 percent. Now, according to figures released by Pew this week, just 43 percent of Germans think the U.S. government respects the freedom of its citizens. Fifty-three percent think it doesn't. 

In fixing policy on hostages, Obama makes a critical mistake

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S wide-ranging review of U.S. policy toward the taking of hostages abroad has resulted in some useful adjustments in government organization and procedure, and in one serious misstep. 

Beyond a doubt, the recent spate of captive-taking, ransom demands and brutal murders in Syria and Yemen has devastated the families of victims and exposed confusion and indifference by U.S. government officials. A lengthy New Yorker article by Lawrence Wright described the families’ anguish, along with a private effort to assist hostages that was organized by David G. Bradley, the head of Atlantic Media. At the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be caught up in the emotional despair of these families, saying he shared their grief not only as president but also as a father and husband would. 

While China's AIIB Makes Headlines...BRICS Bank Moves Ahead

Ye Yu
June 25, 2015 

While Beijing's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has won overwhelming support (to the surprise of many, including China itself), another bank headquartered in China seems to be flying under the world's radar.

Few people have heard of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB). This was the strong impression I got after visiting Washington, Sydney and Canberra over the last couple of months.

The NDB idea was proposed in 2011 by the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and it initially encountered the same cynicism as the AIIB. The five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) were not deterred, however, and finally converted intention into reality in 2014. Progress on the NDB inspired the AIIB initiative intellectually, and also provided some momentum for the AIIB's launch in 2013.