20 September 2015

India can't allow volunteers to travel abroad to fight ISIS, Centre tells court

Today's major developments.

Photo Credit: Stringer/Reuters

India fears volunteers will be radicalised

The Centre told the Delhi High Court that it cannot allow Indians to go abroad to fight against Islamic State as it could directly result in sectarian conflict within India. “Volunteers, if allowed to go into conflict zones, could get radicalised and on their return, could indulge in extremist activities in India,” said an affidavit filed by the home ministry. The affidavit came in response to the efforts of an organisation called the Anjuman-e-Haideri to mobilise Muslims to combat the threat of ISIS. But the ministry said that allowing Indians "to participate in a conflict in a foreign country is in absolute contravention of the law and stated policy of the country”.

Mamata announces declassification of 64 Netaji files

How Pakistan Protects Itself from Regional Sectarian War

September 18, 2015

As sectarian wars continue to rage across the Middle East, Pakistan has managed to largely insulate itself from this regional plague. After a surge in Sunni-Shia sectarian violence from 2007-13, deaths from sectarian violence plummeted in 2014 by approximately 60 percent, in comparison to the previous year. In 2014, about two hundred Pakistanis died in Sunni-Shia sectarian violence, compared to approximately six hundred in 2013.

While fatalities from Sunni-Shia sectarian violence this year are on pace to exceed those of last year, the uptick is due to two gruesome massacres that make up a slight majority of this year’s deaths. The actual number of incidents of Sunni-Shia sectarian violence this year have dropped by about half, compared to last year.

Regional Sectarian Fault Lines Pass Through Pakistan

Pakistan is located outside the Middle East, but given its border with Iran and strong ties to Gulf Arab states, it is susceptible to contagions emerging from that part of the world, especially when its leaders play the role of facilitators.

Solving Southeast Asia’s Drug Problem

By Brian Eyler
September 17, 2015

The Obama administration has once again named Myanmar and Laos to its list of twenty-two countries determined to be major drug trafficking countries or major drug transit countries. The White House memo, issued on Monday, noted that Myanmar “failed demonstrably during the last twelve months to make sufficient or meaningful efforts to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements.” The United States, however, did extend Myanmar a National Interest Waiver to promote democracy and avoid reduction of aid to Burma as a result of the designation.

The Golden Triangle, an area formed roughly by the upland frontier areas of Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and China, was the world’s leading opium producer from the 1960s to the 1980s. But just less than ten years ago, it was moving toward opium free status as deepening economic ties with a rising China brought new investment and governments supported crop substitution programs in the region. Now, opium, methamphetamines, and other drugs from the Golden Triangle are once again flooding regional and global markets.

China's island airstrips to heighten South China Sea underwater rivalry

Sep 17, 2015 

China's apparent construction of a third airstrip on its man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea could fill a gap in Beijing's anti-submarine defenses, complicating operations for the U.S. Navy and its allies, Chinese and Western experts said.

While most attention has been on the power projection China would get from its new islands in the Spratly archipelago, China could also use them to hunt rival submarines in and beyond the strategic waterway, they said.

Possessing three airstrips more than 1,400 km (870 miles) from the Chinese mainland would enable Beijing to extend the reach of Y-9 surveillance planes and Ka-28 helicopters that are being re-equipped to track submarines, the experts added.

A Pentagon report in May noted China lacked a robust anti-submarine warfare capability off its coastline and in deep water.

Strengthened anti-submarine capabilities could also help China protect the movements of its Jin-class submarines, capable of carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and which are at the core of China's nuclear deterrence strategy, said Zhang Baohui, a mainland security specialist at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

Chinese Military Continuing to Expand Its Facilities on Man-made Atolls in South China Sea

Victor Robert Lee
September 17, 20154

Recent satellite imagery of Fiery Cross in the Spratly Islands reveals that China’s construction of facilities on the reef is more ambitious than previously appreciated, with one of its building complexes on track to rival the Pentagon in size. The complex, located in the midsection of the manufactured island a thousand kilometers off China’s coast, has a current footprint of approximately 61,000 square meters, not including large adjacent tracts where additional foundations are being laid. As a benchmark, the Pentagon has a footprint of 116,000 square meters, not including its interior courtyard.

Increasingly sophisticated installations have appeared on Fiery Cross since an image was taken on July 13, including a circular antenna array and a likely radar tower rising from what was a bare sector of sand two months ago. Construction of the new military base at Fiery Cross appears to have suffered some setbacks and changes to plans, however.

The primary runway in the July 13 image shows seven locations where the concrete has been removed and replaced (three of the alterations appear to have been made to accommodate conduits beneath the main runway, possibly for drainage, irrigation, or sewage outfalls). All of the runway retrofitting was completed and no longer visible by early September, and the runway was quickly extended by 60 meters on each end, with a current length of approximately 3,125 meters.

China's Master Plan To Destroy the Stealthy F-22 and F-35 in Battle

September 17, 2015

China’s Shengyang J-11 unlicensed derivative of the Russian-developed Su-27 Flanker has become the mainstay of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). While the Chinese-built jets are not able to match U.S.-built fighters one-for-one, China is building a lot of them. Down the road, advanced derivatives of the J-11 might become every bit as capable as the most advanced versions of American and allied fourth-generation fighters like the F-15 or F-16. Even fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters might be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Chinese jets and the problems associated with the lack of bases in the Western Pacific.

What Makes The J-11 Special:

The Emerging China-Russia Maritime Nexus in the Eurasian Commons

By Abhijit Singh
September 17, 2015

One of the more interesting aspects of Asian maritime politics is the Russia-China naval relationship. Both are major maritime powers with considerable stakes in regional security. Like Beijing, Moscow has sought to safeguard its maritime interests in strategically vital spaces in the Asia-Pacific by initiating a military modernization program aimed at projecting a strong national image. Significantly, despite having common areas of interest and operations, the PLA Navy and the Russian Navy have managed to maintain a smooth working relationship, which has only been getting stronger with time.

The nautical synergy was on ample display last month when the Russian and Chinese navies embarked on theirlatest maritime exercise. “Joint Sea 2015 II,” held in the Sea of Japan between August 20and 28, was an interaction of unprecedented operational integration and a workout menu that featured live-firing drills, anti-submarine operations, close-support combat drills, and even joint-beach landings. The sheer magnitude of the exercise – in terms of the size of the fleets involved, the duration of engagement, and the nature of joint drills – made it a remarkable undertaking. With 16 surface ships, two submarines, 12 naval aircraft, nine amphibious vehicles fielded by the Russian navy, and six warships, six helicopters, five fixed-wing aircraft, and amphibious assets from the Chinese side, this was arguably the largest maritime exercise the two navies had ever undertaken.

The Environmental Cost of China’s South China Sea Construction

September 18, 2015

Time for your weekly round-up of China links:

We’ve seen plenty of stories about the strategic implications of China’s land reclamation and construction on reefs in the South China Sea. This week, The Guardian explored the environmental impact – and it’s bad, according to experts interviewed for the piece. Using the same satellite images pored over by defense experts, environmental scholars point out the signs of damage to coral reefs.

“Building new manmade islands on top of shallow reefs is smothering them with sediment, and turning clear water muddy – the environmental damage is substantial and unprecedented in scale,” one expert on coral tellsThe Guardian.

Ahead of Xi's US Trip, China Defends Record on Human Rights

September 18, 2015

Against a backdrop of international criticism, China defended its contribution to human rights this week. The annual Beijing Forum on Human Rights, held from September 16 to 17 this year, showcases China’s commitment to and progress on the issue of human rights just before Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first state visit to the United States.

In a congratulatory letter to the forum, Xi wrote that “the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have always honored and protected human rights,” according to Xinhua. Xi added that “China has been promoting economic and social development, improving people’s well-being, and toughening legal protection of human rights, among other efforts.”

“China has applied universal principles of human rights while taking consideration of its own circumstances,” Xi wrote.

The Chinese Cyber Threat in the South China Sea

By Anni Piiparinen
September 18, 2015

As China expands its foothold in the Spratly islands, piling sand and building airstrips on the contested reefs in the middle of the South China Sea, the world has turned its attention back to the territorial disputes that have lingered in the region for decades. While naval strategies and broader military doctrine have dominated the recent headlines, one crucial element of modern conflict has been surprisingly missing from the debate over the South China Sea: cyberspace.
If the past is any guide, however, future escalation in the disputed waters is likely to spill over to the cyber realm regardless of where it starts. According to reports by FireEye, Kaspersky Lab’s Securelist, and CrowdStrike, the Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea, along with private companies doing business in the region, have been popular targets of advanced intrusion operations originating from China. Chinese cyber units and malware variants have successfully infiltrated public networks in the region, primarily targeting top-level government agencies and civil and military organizations in the Philippines and Vietnam.

The China-US Bilateral Investment Treaty: Next Week?

September 18, 2015

China and the U.S. have been negotiating a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) for years, getting closer after exchanging revised offers just before President Xi Jinping’s visit to D.C. next week. The BIT, which some believe will be a priority discussion topic between the two presidents and may even be concluded, would expand American firms’ access to investing in China and do the same for Chinese firms investing in the U.S. While American firms can gain from obtaining access to China’s numerous closed sectors, Chinese firms can gain from investing in a more transparent and stable environment.

BIT negotiation has been a slow process because it has not been at the top of the political agenda for some time, reentering substantial talks at the 2013 China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue. In addition, opening up investment poses both economic and political security challenges. This is because companies with key technologies may leak knowledge to the foreign country, crowd out domestic firms, or use the invested firm to spy on local activities. The negative list associated with the BIT prevents firms from investing in critical sectors, but the aim is to whittle down the negative list to expand the playing ground for investors.

Iran Deal Fixes Nothing

September 17, 2015

Some supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as the Iranian nuclear deal, argue that it is better to have some inspections in Iran as opposed to none. However, an agreement with Tehran should also take into account long-term consequences. Unfortunately, the JCPOA is an example of myopic thinking that contains serious weaknesses which will morph into future international security problems.

The Iranian nuclear deal has increased the time needed for Tehran to create a nuclear weapon from about two to three months to at least one year with a possible duration of ten years. However, President Barack Obama has acknowledged that Iran’s breakout time will be almost zero after the first decade or so. After the eighth year of the agreement Iran will be able to conduct advanced centrifuge research, and have few limitations on the speed of enrichment after the fifteenth year. Iran will eventually be allowed to produce as much nuclear fuel as desired. President Obama claims that the spread of nuclear weapons in the region has been stopped yet that will only last temporarily.

Iran Released 5 Senior Al Qaeda Officials From House Arrest Earlier This Year in Prisoner Swap With AQ’s Yemen Branch

September 18, 2015

Iran Released Top Members of Al Qaeda in a Trade

The government of Iran released five senior members of Al Qaeda earlier this year, including the man who stepped in to serve as the terrorist group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death, and who is the subject of a $5 million bounty, according to an American official who had been briefed on the matter.

Iran’s release of the five men was part of a prisoner swap in March with Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the group holding an Iranian diplomat, Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Mr. Nikbakht was kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sana in July 2013.

The Iranian government, in a statement on Thursday after the release was reported by Sky News earlier this week, denied that the five men had been freed. The American official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter, confirmed the release of Saif al-Adl, a senior member of Al Qaeda’s ruling body, known as the Shura Council, who oversaw the organization immediately after bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in Pakistan in 2011.

Analysts tracking Al Qaeda described the release as alarming, given the seniority of the five men. It comes at a time when much of the organization’s leadership has been lost in back-to-back airstrikes, including the death earlier this summer of Nasser al-Wuhayshi, considered to be the organization’s general manager. At the same time, the organization had been hemorrhaging members to the more brutal and media-savvy Islamic State.

Like It or Not, America and Russia Need to Cooperate in Syria

September 17, 2015

Many outside observers view the Russian military buildup in Syria as a way for President Putin to force his way through to the negotiating table with Barack Obama ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. There is some truth to that. To be effective, diplomacy should be backed by facts on the ground, and Moscow is busy creating them—in the face of mounting U.S. concerns. However, coercive diplomacy is just another form of diplomacy.

The current spike in Russia’s involvement in Syria, however, does not need to be linked solely to UNGA. Even without it, Moscow would now be sending more weapons and more instructors to Syria. As the Islamic State has expanded its control over more territory in Syria, it has posed more of a threat to the survival of the Russian-backed regime in Damascus. Thus, Moscow’s Plan A now is to help Bashar al-Assad keep his remaining strongholds; its Plan B is to help him secure the Alawite enclave around Latakia.

The Kremlin’s upping the ante in Syria is explained by its vision of IS as a threat to Russia itself, and Putin’s view of Assad as one who stands up to that threat and refuses to give up. Fighting the enemy abroad, by bolstering an ally is preferable, of course, to having to fight in the Caucasus or Central Asia. It is also important not to appear weak under pressure: in Putin’s memorable phrase, “the weak get beaten.”

Tajikistan Pins Recent Violence on Islamic Party

September 18, 2015

Slowly, over months and years, the government of Tajikistan has been eroding the peace accord that ended the civil war. On September 4, a pair of attacks in and near Dushanbe set off a chain of accusations that have seemingly ended with the final closure of the country’s only real opposition party. If the state is to be believed, a constellation of bogeymen connived to overthrow the government right under the defense ministry’s nose.

The Tajik Prosecutor-General’s office released an official statement today linking the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), its exiled leader Muhiddin Kabiri, and (until the day of the attacks) Deputy Defense Minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. The statement says that Nazarzoda, on behalf of Kabiri and the IRPT, established 20 “small criminal groups” in recent years. The two attacks in early September–in Vahdat and Dushanbe–were preceded by an influx of “so-called charitable funds of foreign countries.”

Reading Tajik government narratives about what’s happening is like playing post-Soviet paranoia bingo. There are Islamic terrorists, warlords, conspiracies and foreign money.

EU splits in Russian media war


Even as the EU mobilizes to fight Russian propaganda, European governments are fighting each other over the best way to go about it.

A new effort by Brussels to monitor and respond to the perceived bias of Kremlin-controlled media such as Russia 24 or Sputnik has exposed familiar fissures on the Continent.

As the Russia media task force known as East Stratcom begins operating at the end of this month, a new alternative project has emerged and is gaining some traction with countries that are dissatisfied with the existing EU initiative.
Narrow mandate

The divisions reflect deep-seated foreign policy differences within the 28-member bloc that came to surface after Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea last year and stirred up a violent conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has been sponsoring systematic cyberespionage in Europe, the US and Asia for seven years, Report

September 18, 2015

Kremlin-backed hackers spying on Europe, Asia, US: security firm

Russia has been sponsoring systematic cyberespionage in Europe, the US and Asia for seven years, Finnish data security firm F-Secure claimed in a report published on Thursday.

The report “links a number of state-sponsored cyber attacks to a hacking group engaged in Russian intelligence gathering,” F-Secure said in a statement.

The report identified a group of hackers called “the Dukes” and gives an outline of “seven years of their attacks against governments and related organisations in the United States, Europe, and Asia.”

The group uses a family of unique malware tools which steal information by infiltrating computer networks and sending the data back to the attackers, it said.

Some of the target organisations listed in the report include the former Georgian Information Center on NATO, Georgia’s defence ministry, the foreign ministries of both Turkey and Uganda, and other government institutions and political think tanks in the United States, Europe and Central Asia.

Newly Released Photos Show the White House Emergency Bunker on 9/11

Peter Koop 
September 17, 2015

On July 24, the US National Archives released a series of 356 never-before-seen photos, most of them taken on September 11, 2001 inside the emergency bunker under the White House.

The bunker is officially called the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), but White House officials also call it the shelter. It was constructed in 1942 underneath the East Wing of the White House, which was primarily built to cover the building of the bunker. It is said the PEOC can withstand the blast overpressure from a nuclear detonation.

One of the very few photos from inside the PEOC available before the recent release

The photos were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Colette Neirouz Hanna, coordinating producer for the FRONTLINE documentary film team. They focus on the reaction from then-vice president Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials during the terrorist attacks.

How Cheney reached the White House emergency bunker was reconstructed in the official report of the 9/11 Commission, which was issued on July 22, 2004:


SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

Time to crack open some dusty books to understand what drives this strategy of the weak.

There’s a hardy perennial question among practitioners and scholars of strategy. Namely, how do weaker warring parties overcome the strong? Sometimes they do. Looking back through history, one researcher found that lesser combatants prevailed around 30 percent of the time during the 19th and 20th centuries — and that their prospects for vanquishing the strong improved as that age of mechanized warfare went along. Such figures seem intuitively reasonable.

Studying how lesser antagonists won bygone conflicts is no idle inquiry, then, but a question carrying real strategic import. The weak have to do more with less. They covet the keys to victory when squaring off against the strong. The strong want to withhold those keys, preserving the mismatch of forces and guaranteeing their own triumph. Being an effective general, then, depends on understanding how the weak win.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Growing Pains

September 18, 2015

We now see that all this summer’s talk about a resurgent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was at least premature, if not enduringly overoptimistic. Earlier this month, the presidents of the leading Eurasian countries held important leadership meetings in Beijing on the occasion of the Chinese military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Tellingly, not even the Chinese hosts, traditionally the SCO’s main boosters, highlighted the institution’s supposedly new momentum following its mid-July leadership summit in the Russian city of Ufa.

The July 9-10 decision of the SCO Heads-of-State Council to, in principle, expand the institution’s roster of full members to include India and Pakistan was admittedly newsworthy. For more than a decade the SCO had been deadlocked over the enlargement issue. The same six countries that founded the SCO in 2001 – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – are still its only full members, despite the growing number of formal observer countries, “dialogue partners,” and other SCO affiliates and aspirants seeking that status.