20 March 2016

China’s South Asia Strategy

http://www.heritage.org/research/testimony/chinas-south-asia-strategy
Testimony Before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
March 10, 2016
My name is Lisa Curtis. I am Senior Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation. 
Introduction 
China’s major interests in South Asia include promoting stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to curb the influence of Islamist extremists, and to facilitate trade and energy corridors throughout the region that China can access. China also is focused on enhancing its influence with other South Asian states, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, to further help it secure energy and trade flows from the Middle East and Europe, and as part of a global effort to extend its diplomatic and economic influence. Furthermore, China seeks to contain Indian power by building close ties with Pakistan and bolstering Islamabad’s strategic and military strength. China likely assesses that, by tilting toward Pakistan, it can keep India tied down in South Asia and divert its military force and strategic capabilities away from China. 

China has recently demonstrated willingness to play a more active economic and diplomatic role in efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan. Washington welcomes Beijing’s increased involvement in Afghanistan and views efforts such as the establishment of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (made up of U.S., Afghan, Chinese, and Pakistani officials) as a rare opportunity for Washington and Beijing to work together toward a common security goal. 
Still, it is unclear how China will square its desire for greater stability in Afghanistan with its goal of building Pakistan’s military capabilities, part of which are directed toward supporting Taliban insurgents that are fighting Afghan security forces. I testified before this commission in May 2009 that China’s security concerns about Pakistan could eventually move the Chinese in the direction of working more closely with the international community to press Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups operating from its soil. I had cited as one example Beijing’s refusal in 2008 to offer Islamabad a large-scale bailout from its economic crisis, thus forcing Islamabad to accept an IMF program with stringent conditions. I also noted that in December 2008 Beijing agreed to support efforts within the UN Security Council to ban a Pakistan-based terrorist organization associated with the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 
Seven years later, however, China continues to focus more attention on shoring up Pakistan’s military and strategic position in the region than it does on convincing Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups that stoke regional conflict. Last June, for example, China blocked action at the UN Security Council to question the circumstances of Pakistan’s release from jail of Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. China also has stepped up the scope and pace of its civilian nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, despite questions about the legality of such assistance, given Pakistan’s status as a non-signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). In short, China remains unwilling to directly pressure Pakistan to crack down on terrorists that contribute to regional instability, even as Beijing has suggested that future economic investments will hinge on the level of overall stability and security within the country. 

Politics and men in uniform

http://www.asianage.com/columnists/politics-and-men-uniform-275
Mar 17, 2016
The paramilitary units on the border are required for border policing and not border defence. There is a huge difference between the two. Yet the paramilitary on the border are increasingly acting as a border defence force...
For first few years of my Army career, I served in a Jat Regiment battalion in Burma during the Second World War and after. Jats are good soldiers and also good sportsmen. I have fond memories of my service with Jat troops. The Jat stir in Haryana caused me much anguish. The national capital was held hostage for water.
A newspaper reported that the Army had been called out in Haryana and placed under the additional director-general of police. This was bizarre. The Army is never placed under the police or even the state government. The strong reaction of Army veterans against this went viral on the Internet. I was flooded with emails. Thankfully, this report was found to be incorrect. The Haryana government requested Army aid and five Army battalions were deployed. Army veterans, mostly Jats, cooperated with the Army. Normalcy was soon restored.
I was surprised to see pictures of Army columns on the roads in Haryana carrying Army placards so that they are not mistaken for the police or the paramilitary. The latter have been increasingly adopting the same uniform as the Army. This reminded me of 1946 when I was posted in Military Operations Directorate at Army Headquarters. After the war there was a popular desire to revert to khaki from olive green, which was used by the Indian Army in Burma for camouflage. The bulk of the Indian Army overseas was serving there. The quality of olive green cloth was not very good and the colour would soon fade. We used to colour our uniforms to maintain its shade. Khaki was our pre-war uniform and looked smarter. There were millions of bales of olive green cloth in our depots, which would have been wasted if we discarded olive green uniforms. Field Marshal Auchinleck decided that the Indian Army should continue with wartime olive green. He saw increasing violence in the country during the coming years. Green uniform, different from the police, will have a deterrent effect. I saw the wisdom of this decision in 1965 during large-scale disturbances in Kolkata when Jyoti Basu was arrested. The state government requested Army assistance to restore order. I was then commanding the Fort William garrison comprising my battalion and additional troops. I was also officiating as the Brigade Commander at that time. The Army’s presence was a deterrent. We restored order in three days using minimum force.

Future Tanks for the Indian Army – Do You Have it in You?

http://www.indefcompany.in/indian-afvs--tanks-.html


A Challenge For Indian Defence Companies
Indian Army has 62 armoured regiments, thus the total requirement of tanks would close to 4000. The present holding of tanks of the Army as per the IISS Military Balance 2014 is 2874 tanks. Of these 124 are indigenously produced Arjun, 1950 are T 72 Ajeya S which is an upgraded version of the Russian imported armoured fighting vehcile and 800 T 90 S tanks christened as Bhishma. India plans to induct 1620 T 90 S tanks which are being assembled cum manufactured in Heavy Vehicles Factory Chennai, unit of the Ordnance Factory Board, under the Ministry of Defence.
Given the futuristic requirement, the Indian Army is planning to design and develop a new generation, state-of-the-art combat vehicle platform for populating its Armoured Fighting Vehicle fleet in the coming decade as indicated in the Request for Information issued by the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) General Staff Branch Integrated HQ of Ministry of Defence (Army) on 10 June 2015.

This vehicle, which will be called the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), will form the base platform for the Main Battle Tank which is planned to replace the existing T-72 tanks in the Armoured Corps. It is also planned to subsequently develop other need-based variants on this platform.
This armoured fighting vehicle needs to be developed on a modular concept as part of a family of combat vehicles. The Tracked Main Battle Tank will be the primary/base variant and the entire project will be called the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV). 
A ‘Future’ Combat Platform design must cater for ‘future’ battlefield environment and technological possibilities. To address the future battlefield scenario and the envisaged force profile in the coming years, the FRCV needs to be developed on a modular concept with a high degree of flexibility in a manner that, as a tank platform, it can address the varying requirements of different terrain configurations.

'Make in India' needs ex-servicemen

http://www.rediff.com/business/column/make-in-india-needs-ex-servicemen/20160318.htm
March 18, 2016 
'Ex-servicemen engineers and technicians are true professionals worthy of being 'Make in India' agents.'
'They can be trusted to bring long term dividends -- it is in their character to be long term loyalists!' says Air Marshal P V Athawale (retd).

During interaction with MBA students at an IIT, I asked "Do you know any national industry bigger than the Indian Air Force?"
I expected someone would name the Indian Railways -- there was only inquisitive silence. So I continued, "I know one, and that is the Indian Army."
However, when you consider sophistication and size, there are few that match the Indian Air Force. But you don't consider the military an industry because we don't make money!
Most management philosophies have originated from the military. You may not wish to join the armed forces, but inclusion of pioneering military logistics and supply chain management philosophies will enrich your studies and research.’
Countrymen naturally see the armed forces as combat forces comprising infantry/artillery/ warships/submarines/fighter planes. We fail to see the huge industrial world behind the icons like infantrymen, submariners and fighter pilots.
Without adequate industrial capability to balance it, the Indian Army would be something like a paramilitary outfit while the Indian Air Force would be akin to Indigo Airlines, which depends on a Sri Lankan facility for routine aircraft servicing.

Army Base Workshops, Naval Dockyards and Air Force Base Repair Depots, carry out hi-tech work of Maintenance/Repair/Overhauls (MRO). Besides Depot Maintenance, especially on air force bases, naval ships and special army units, engineers handle technology superior to most industrial houses.
Army engineers specialise in specific streams like operational aspects of engineering and signals (communications and IT) or maintenance support to electrical and mechanical systems of the army. Engineers in the navy specialise in marine engineering, electrical systems or aviation engineering. Each one is among the best in their respective disciplines.
Air fForce engineers from the aeronautical engineering branch have a purview covering a range of systems wider than any other contemporary industry. Fighter/transport aircraft, helicopters, missiles, radars, communication, IT, electronic warfare systems, real time avionics software and flight testing and certification make a huge scope of responsibilities. One engineer excelling in at least three or more fields is a common occurrence.
Questions are often raised about the quality of engineering graduates joining the armed forces. Let me not delve into the reasons, some of which are evident and well known to the national leadership. Let us look at whether engineers in the armed forces measure up to the assigned tasks. The answer is an emphatic 'Yes.'
A sizeable number of armed forces engineers regularly undertake post graduate studies at IITs. Many come out in the top 10%, a few topping the list with a flawless CGPA of 10.
Armed forces engineering institutions groom the incoming engineers at par with the best elsewhere. These engineers should therefore be known by invaluable tags representing their respective Army, Navy and Air Force institutions.

The cyberthreat is very real


http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/lead-article-by-mk-narayanan-on-aadhaar-bill-the-cyberthreat-is-very-real/article8371335.ece?homepage=true 
M. K. NARAYANAN, March 19, 2016 
The debate in Parliament on the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, is quite revealing, says M.K. Narayanan.
Despite having a national cybersecurity policy, risks to our critical infrastructure remain. The Aadhaar concerns are valid, but India needs both offensive cyber operations and strengthened cybersecurity to deal with new onslaughts.
The debate in Parliament on the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, is quite revealing. Concerns expressed that the Bill contained certain provisions [Section 29(iv) and Section 33] that provide avenues for ‘surveillance’ of citizens require a discussion to remove any lingering suspicion about the government’s intentions.
The parliamentary debate reminds us of concerns expressed in the United States following whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) retention of American metadata. Mere assurances that the Aadhaar Bill contains provisions to bar sharing of biometric information and that the Unique Identification Number is limited to establishing identity will not suffice. In the U.S., concerns expressed were less about misuse and more about the NSA collecting and having in its possession large amounts of metadata which could be misused. A debate could remove latent suspicions.
The issue of privacy vs. security is a ‘hot’ subject around the world. The controversy in the U.S. surrounding Apple Inc.’s refusal to break the encryption on an iPhone that belonged to a terrorist — following a demand by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — is a variant of this debate, which in this case involves cryptography. While the FBI is insistent that Apple provide ‘backdoors’ that would let the FBI circumvent encryption, the information security community stands firmly behind Apple.

Cyberspace under relentless attack
Cyberspace is today a shorthand for the myriad computing devices that constitute the Internet. The proliferation of autonomous systems, however, posits not merely new advances but also new threats. By 2020, online devices are projected to outnumber human users by a ratio of 6:1. The next impending wave — the Internet of Things — is expected to ring in even more fundamental, technical and societal changes.

*** The Week: Elections, Russians and Missiles

By George Friedman 
The U.S. presidential candidates grabbed headlines, while events in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula also took center stage. 

The world’s attention this past week was focused on negotiations and power plays – in Syria, North Korea and even the U.S. presidential election. Obviously, the U.S. elections dominated much of the thinking in the United States, but it also garnered a lot of attention abroad. Americans would be surprised by the degree of interest foreigners have in American elections. They shouldn’t be. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world and what it does and says affects all countries. There is, therefore, an obsession over the election. Recall that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Barack Obama shortly after his election, simply because he was elected. There were expectations about what he would do during his presidency that were preposterous in retrospect, and pretty absurd at the time. But the global myth of the American president is that he is a mystic emperor, with the ability to will the impossible into being if he chooses. The fact that the president has pretty limited unilateral powers really isn’t understood.

Therefore, the world is both appalled and delighted by the American election. It is appalled because its vision of Donald Trump frightens people. Most believe that he would create chaos. They are much happier with Hillary Clinton, because they think of her as far more conventional and predictable. Many in the world are also delighted. It is always hoped that the leading power, whoever it is, will self-destruct, freeing the world of all its problems, and also demonstrating that it was unworthy of the role. Many see Trump’s success thus far as proof that the United States is as deeply flawed as they had feared and hoped. But as it becomes more likely that we have identified the candidates, the specter of Trump has fixated a far greater portion of the world than we might think. Whether fair or not, the fear of Trump is great, which motivates other countries to close deals while Obama is still in power.

In a sense, the American elections will be the major theme in the world in coming months. But there will be other developments. This week, the Russians decided to withdraw the core of their forces, mostly aircraft, from Syria. That was followed by a phone conversation between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the announcement that Secretary of State John Kerry was traveling to Moscow for talks. We should recall that a few weeks ago Henry Kissinger went to Moscow. At his age, that was not a frivolous trip. He is frequently used by U.S. all administrations to explore possibilities and float ideas. Kissinger is likely appalled at the events in Ukraine and the deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the world, and he would, on a guess, be used to float ideas for a settlement.

Place for the third party


http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160319/jsp/opinion/story_75231.jsp
Harsh V. Pant
Last month, the Barack Obama administration announced that it had approved the sale of up to eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in a deal valued at $699.4 million. Immediately it led to a strong pushback in the American Congress. The chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Corker, raised serious concerns stating, "[T]hey (Pakistan) continue to support the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and give safe haven to al Qaeda." John McCain, the chairman of the United States of America Senate's influential armed services committee, called for a hearing in the Senate's foreign relations committee to further question the timing of the US's sale of fighter jets to Pakistan and suggested that he "would rather have seen it kicked over into the next administration". His colleague from Kentucky, the senator, Rand Paul, separately called for a resolution that would block US arms sales to Pakistan. In the end, however, the US Senate rejected by a vote of 71-24 Senator Rand Paul's attempt to bring to the floor a resolution to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
The Obama administration had strongly defended its decision. David McKeeby, a spokesman for the US state department - the agency responsible for conducting the deal - said, "Pakistan's current F-16s have proven critical to the success of these operations to date. These operations reduce the ability of militants to use Pakistani territory as a safe haven for terrorism and a base of support for the insurgency in Afghanistan." The secretary of state, John Kerry, himself has been at the forefront of this defence, suggesting that the Pakistani military "has been deeply engaged in the fight against terrorism". India's reaction was strong. It disagreed with the US stand that this sale would help in the fight against terrorism and instead has argued that it would be used against India. The US ambassador to India was summoned to underscore India's displeasure. New Delhi is seriously concerned about the changing balance of air power in the region as Pakistan today has four squadrons of F-16 fighters, all built with the US assistance. The anti-US sentiment of the Indian elites once again came to the fore with suggestions in sections of the media that the US cannot be trusted.

Afghanistan: Shift to a “Conditions–Based” Strategy or Lose the “Forgotten War”

By Anthony H. Cordesman,  MAR 16, 2016 
The Obama Administration’s lack of focus on the Afghan War is symbolized by the fact that it is no longer even listed as one of the “Top Issues” on the Department of Defense’s website. It only gets passing attention on the White House’s website—to the point where the “defense” section still refers to the President as having, “Developed a comprehensive new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan and authorized deployment of more than 33,000 "surge" troops to Afghanistan”—a statement that dates back to March 27, 2009. Another White House Fact Sheet dates back to May 27, 2004 and is entitled “Bringing the U.S. War in Afghanistan to a Responsible End.”
The Department of Defense FY2017 budget request is more up–to–date, and the Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has issued a separate budget paper on the war—albeit one that seems to assume that there will be no serious losses, and Afghanistan can keep waiting for an effective air force. The State Department does include the Afghan War in its FY2017 request for Overseas Contingency Funds, but this part of its budget request lacks anything approaching a coherent program.
The Department of Defense’s Defense Budget Overview for FY2017 no longer has a separate Afghan War section, and it says little more about strategy than that the U.S. goal is “Maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan consistent with the President’s drawdown plan.” The short discussion of future resources also makes it clear that the President still intends to phase out as much of the U.S. military presence as possible. It states that, “In October 2015, the President approved plans for a future military presence in Afghanistan in support of the Department’s dual counterterrorism (CT) and train, advise, and assist mission to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The U.S. will sustain up to 9,800 troops through calendar year 2016 before drawing down to approximately 5,500 troops by January 2017.”
What is critical about these numbers is that as the United States phased out its combat forces in 2014, it did so to meet a Presidential deadline that was first announced in December 2009, and that the President then reinforced on May 27, 2014 by stating that,

Afghanistan: Shift to a “Conditions–Based” Strategy or Lose the “Forgotten War”

MAR 16, 2016
The Obama Administration’s lack of focus on the Afghan War is symbolized by the fact that it is no longer even listed as one of the “Top Issues” on the Department of Defense’s website. It only gets passing attention on the White House’s website—to the point where the “defense” section still refers to the President as having, “Developed a comprehensive new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan and authorized deployment of more than 33,000 "surge" troops to Afghanistan”—a statement that dates back to March 27, 2009. Another White House Fact Sheet dates back to May 27, 2004 and is entitled “Bringing the U.S. War in Afghanistan to a Responsible End.”
The Department of Defense FY2017 budget request is more up–to–date, and the Comptroller of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has issued a separate budget paper on the war—albeit one that seems to assume that there will be no serious losses, and Afghanistan can keep waiting for an effective air force. The State Department does include the Afghan War in its FY2017 request for Overseas Contingency Funds, but this part of its budget request lacks anything approaching a coherent program.

The Department of Defense’s Defense Budget Overview for FY2017 no longer has a separate Afghan War section, and it says little more about strategy than that the U.S. goal is “Maintaining a U.S. presence in Afghanistan consistent with the President’s drawdown plan.” The short discussion of future resources also makes it clear that the President still intends to phase out as much of the U.S. military presence as possible. It states that, “In October 2015, the President approved plans for a future military presence in Afghanistan in support of the Department’s dual counterterrorism (CT) and train, advise, and assist mission to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The U.S. will sustain up to 9,800 troops through calendar year 2016 before drawing down to approximately 5,500 troops by January 2017.”
What is critical about these numbers is that as the United States phased out its combat forces in 2014, it did so to meet a Presidential deadline that was first announced in December 2009, and that the President then reinforced on May 27, 2014 by stating that,

Back to the Future: US Reverts Back to Old Practice of Bombing Taliban and ISIS in Afghanistan

U.S. Steps Up Airstrikes Against ISIS After It Gains Territory in Afghanistan
Michal S. Schmidt, New York Times, March 19, 2016
WASHINGTON — The United States has significantly intensified its bombing campaign in Afghanistan in the past two months as part of President Obama’s widening war against the Islamic State militants who have seized territory outside of Iraq and Syria, according to senior military commanders.
American drones and fighter jets dropped 251 bombs and missiles in January and February in Afghanistan, more than three times the strikes in the same period last year, according to data compiled by the Air Force.
The strikes came in response to a decision by Mr. Obama around the beginning of the year that gave the military more leeway to launch attacks on Islamic State militants who had gained control over territory in several provinces, including areas in the Tora Bora region, where Osama bin Laden once took refuge.
Afghan and American commanders said that while the strikes have dealt a blow to the Islamic State, they have broader concerns about the security situation in Afghanistan because the Taliban appear stronger than at any point since 2001, and its 20,000 to 40,000 fighters are estimated to be at least 20 times the number of militants aligned with the Islamic State.
The widening nature of the air campaign — and the fact that the United States is increasing its strikes in Afghanistan a little more than a year after Mr. Obama declared an end to combat missions there — has set off a debate inside the administration and among national security experts. Some have questioned whether the administration should treat each emerging Islamic State affiliate as a legitimate threat to the United States that requires a military response, and whether the focus should be more on the Taliban than the Islamic State.
Under the current rules of engagement ordered by Mr. Obama, American forces can attack the Taliban if they pose a direct threat to those forces. The military has far more latitude to engage fighters from the Islamic State, also known asISIS or ISIL.
Gen. John F. Campbell, the departing American commander in Afghanistan, said that broader authority granted to him by Mr. Obama to attack Islamic State fighters had enabled him to take more aggressive measures against the terrorist group.
“We’ve significantly increased our ability to go after ISIL, particularly in Nangarhar,” General Campbell said, referring to the province in eastern Afghanistan that includes part of the Tora Bora mountain region.Photo

We still don’t really know the health hazards of a nuclear accident

http://scroll.in/article/805285/we-still-dont-really-know-the-health-hazards-of-a-nuclear-accident
Estimating health impacts after a nuclear accident is more complicated than you might think.
Five years after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and 30 years after the Chernobyl accident, scientists are still disagreeing about the impact on human health – such as how many people have got cancer as a result and how dangerous the exclusion zones currently are.
In Fukushima, residents are forbidden to permanently return to their homes within the exclusion zone. And in Ukraine the city of Pripyat, 4km from Chernobyl, still remains largely deserted. While some experts have recently said that the areas surrounding these accidents are not as dangerous as previously thought, others are concerned about the high levels of radiation remaining in plants and animals, particularly seafood.
It is true that large doses of radiation can be fatal. Marie Curie, who carried radium in her pockets, eventually died of cancer. But small doses of radiation are all around us, every day. They are measured in millisieverts (mSv). The average person in the UK receives a dose of 2.7 mSv per year (or 7.8 mSv per year if you happen to live on top of granite in Cornwall, which emits radon gas).
A transatlantic flight will give you a dose of 0.08 mSv from cosmic radiation. Even eating a humble banana will expose you to 0.001 mSv of radiation, from the tiny amount of radioactive potassium inside. But it is only really when you are exposed to annual radiation doses of more than 1,000 mSv that things start to get a bit hairy.
The type of radiation you are exposed to matters too. Some types only cause severe damage when ingested (lodged in the stomach or lungs). Other types can penetrate the body from outside, putting you at risk just walking by the source.Chernobyl sign. (D. Markosian/wikimedia)

Shaping a Presidential Legacy The limits of Obama’s office played a significant role in creating his ‘doctrine.’

By Kamran Bokhari 

Reality Check

In an article published yesterday in The Atlantic titled “The Obama Doctrine,” U.S. President Barack Obama called on Saudi Arabia and Iran to establish a form of "cold peace" in order to manage the growing chaos in the Middle East. In the extensive interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama warned that the region cannot see an end to anarchy unless the Salafist kingdom and the Islamic republic can come to terms with one another on how to “share the neighborhood.” The interview clearly shows that the president is more frustrated with traditional U.S. ally Saudi Arabia than with Iran, which for nearly two generations has been a foe of the United States. In the article, Obama criticized the Saudis for the kingdom’s role in spreading violent extremism in the wider Muslim world and for oppressing women at home.
The phrase “The Obama Doctrine” is just a way of describing the decisions Obama had to make in the past seven years. The driving force behind the doctrine was ultimately not Obama’s personal ambitions or ideals, but rather the U.S. moving toward a balance of power strategy. It's a retrospective designation, trying to make sense of eight years of decisions, rather than an orienting principle through which Obama directed U.S. policy. Policy is what someone wants to happen – geopolitics is what does.
The article and the debate it has generated in the news and on social media is focused on Obama’s personality and the popular assumption that individual presidents have a great degree of latitude in making policy decisions. Geopolitics, however, teaches us that individual presidents are highly constrained in their ability to effect change. All leaders - more or less - inherit the same narrow menu of options that was available to their predecessors. Indeed, constraints upon political actors (individuals, groups and states) remain highly under-appreciated.

Leaders are criticized by their opponents either for a decision they made or for one they did not. A good chunk of the Goldberg article focuses on the domestic and international criticism of Obama’s policy toward Syria. The view of these critics is that, had Obama come to the aide of the Syrian rebels early on, the battlespace would today not have been dominated by the Islamic State, al-Qaida’s Syrian branch called Jabhat al-Nusra and most of the other rebel groups that subscribe to one form of Salafist-jihadism or another. Among the most vocal in this criticism are some key American allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers.

The Saudis have long been upset with Obama for what they consider his reckless foreign policy that seeks to upend the U.S.-Saudi alliance (which dates back to the FDR administration) by reaching out to Iran. What the Saudis easily forget is that their bitterness towards their historical great power patron goes back to the days of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. It was the Bush administration, in complex cooperation with Iran, that toppled the Sunni-dominated Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, leading to the rise of a Shiite-dominated polity closely aligned with Iran. It was the same Bush administration that began the negotiations with Tehran on the nuclear issue, which Obama was able to build upon after the current Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, came to power.

The Strategic Attractions of Djibouti

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/the-strategic-attractions-djibouti-15533?page=show
Ben Ho Wan Beng,  March 18, 2016
Security analysts would do well to cast their gaze on Djibouti. While the eastern African nation has a land area of only 23,000 square kilometres, a population of barely 830,000 and no natural resources to speak of, it is becoming a significant actor in the international security arena. Three foreign military powers—the United States, France and Japan—have forces stationed there and another two—China and Saudi Arabia—are set to establish bases on its soil.
The United States has the largest foreign military contingent in Djibouti withCamp Lemonnier—the sole permanent American base in Africa—hosting some 4000 personnel. The second-largest foreign military presence in Djibouti is that of its former colonial power, France, with about 1,900 troops. As for Japan, about 600 members of its Maritime Self-Defense Force rotate between a land facility and naval vessels operating from Djibouti's ports. 
Recently joining the fray are China and Saudi Arabia. In January, the People's Republic concluded a deal with Djibouti over the establishment of military logistical facilities, China's first ever overseas military base. And earlier this month, Djibouti agreed to the establishment of a Saudi installation on its soil.

Significance for the World Economy
Djibouti's geographical location is arguably what attracts foreign powers most. For one, being situated just beside the maritime chokepoint of Bab el-Mandab, Djibouti is a key node in the Gulf of Aden-Suez Canal trade route (refer to map below). This route is crucial to the health of the world economy as 20,000 ships, and a not insignificant 20 percent of global exports, go through it yearly. In addition, the route is a conduit for the world's hydrocarbons trade, with almost10 percent of the world's oil exports negotiating the Bab el-Mandab.
Also worth noting is that the Gulf of Aden-Suez Canal trade route is particularly important for the two Asian powers interested in Djibouti: China and Japan. To illustrate, out of the 20,000-odd ships that ply the route yearly, a good 10 percentare Japanese. Similarly, China's trade with the EU amounts to $1 billion daily, most of which is seaborne and therefore has to use the Gulf of Aden-Suez Canal route. It is hardly surprising that these two Asian nations have a vested interest in protecting the sea-lanes of communications off the Horn of Africa, and this was why they sent naval forces to regional waters where piracy was rampant in the late 2000s.

Security Issues South Asia » China Military PLA » China’s logistic hub in Djibouti to stabilize region, protect interests

http://www.security-risks.com/security-issues-south-asia/China%20Military%20PLA/chinas-logistic-hub-in-djibouti-to-stabilize-region-protect-interests-6117.html
Security Risks Monitor
Mar 17, 2016 
China’s logistic hub in Djibouti to stabilize region, protect interests
China's first overseas logistic base for warships is being built in the East African nation of Djibouti. As bilateral trade with African countries grows, the base will help China better safeguard its national interests and manage the increasing peacekeeping responsibilities it is taking on in the continent. But experts say the base may not be limited to resupplying ships in the future.
Chinese naval vessel the Guangzhou arrives for resupply in Djibouti during its escort mission in the Gulf of Aden on May 3, 2010.
About 7,700 kilometers away from Beijing, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, China's first overseas installation for naval vessels is under construction.
Scheduled to be completed in 2017, the base is set to resupply Chinese warships, according to government statements.
But despite Beijing's insistence that the facility will simply help with escort missions, peacekeeping and humanitarian rescues in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia, many have argued this move represents Chinese "military expansion" beyond the Asia-Pacific region.
"Through exaggerating or distorting, they attempt to hype the 'threat of China' and tarnish China's image, so as to suppress China's efforts to build maritime power," Li Jie, a Beijing-based maritime expert, told the Global Times.
"The base is far less than a military base in its scale and function," said Zhang Junshe, a researcher from PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute.
"The base will be a logistic hub for Chinese vessels to get replenishment and temporary rest. It differs from US-style military bases, which have become bridgeheads for the country to easily and quickly wield military deterrence or intervention to other territories," Li noted.
The Republic of Djibouti, located in a strategically important position between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, hosts the military facilities of several countries, including the US, Japan and France, the country's former colonial ruler. Italy and Spain also have permanent military installations in the country, according to a recent report by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.
These countries have stationed a variety of assets in these bases, including personnel, ships, UAVs and surveillance aircraft which are used for anti-terror and anti-piracy operations in Africa and the Middle East.

Security Issues South Asia » China Military PLA » Xi underlines innovation, reform in defense, military upgrade

http://www.security-risks.com/security-issues-south-asia/China%20Military%20PLA/xi-underlines-innovation-reform-in-defense-military-upgrade-6118.html
China Military Online
Mar 17, 2016 
Xi underlines innovation, reform in defense, military upgrade
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, on Sunday highlighted theoretical and technological innovation as the key to upgrade the country's military and national defense.
Speaking to national lawmakers from the military at the ongoing annual parliamentary session, Xi, also Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission, said the future of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) hinged on innovation and reform.
He urged the armed forces to fully implement the innovation-driven development strategy, place combat capacity at the center of all their work, and step up theoretical and technological innovation.
Military administration and personnel competence were also identified as areas to be improved. The PLA should focus on priority areas in order to kickstart across-the-board innovation and make the military stronger, Xi said.
He told PLA lawmakers that the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020) is crucial to China's national defense and military development, and urged the armed forces to uphold political integrity, reform and rule of law, and strengthen their military buildup and combat readiness.
Xi's remarks came in the wake of a major military overhaul that saw the inauguration of a General Command for the Army, the PLA Rocket Force and the PLA Strategic Support Force in December, and the regrouping of seven military area commands into five PLA theater commands in February.

Why the United States hasn’t intervened in Syria

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/03/14/why-the-united-states-hasnt-intervened-in-syria/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=New%20Campaign&utm_term=%2AMideast%20Brief
Secretary of State John Kerry looks on as President Obama makes a statement Feb. 25 after meeting with his National Security Council at the State Department in Washington. The meeting focused on the situation with ISIS and Syria, along with other regional issues. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
On March 17, Syria’s uprising will enter its sixth bloodstained year. The country that existed before the uprising is gone. Its people have been ravaged and dispossessed. Its economy destroyed. Its terrain laid waste by its own leaders and their international patrons.

Syria today has become a case study in the globalization of violence, subject to the predations of a multinational stew of mercenaries, warlords, bandits and thugs. Its sovereignty has been fatally compromised, bartered away by a regime whose survival has always been its sole raison d’être. The armed opposition fights on, still fragmented, still poorly served by its political leaders, still outgunned and more desperate than at any time in the past five years. As this grim anniversary approaches, Russia and Iran have assured the regime’s survival — at least for now — even as the devastation they have wreaked bleeds into the Levant and across the Aegean into Europe.
There is no shortage of causes for Syria’s erasure as a state. The brutality with which the Assad regime has pursued its own survival looms largest but it by no means stands alone. The Islamic State, aided and abetted by the Assad regime, has absorbed large pieces of Syrian territory into its so-called Caliphate. Syria’s fractious opposition, dependent on its regional patrons and captive to the personal ambitions of its leaders, is certainly complicit in the destruction of its homeland. So too are the neglect and incoherence of the “Friends of Syria” group established in 2011 to coordinate international support to the opposition under the leadership of the U.S. and its Western allies. Despite President Obama’s declaration in August 2011 that it was time for Assad to step aside, the administration’s calculus of interests, constraints and costs quickly led it to view Syria and Syrians as expendable.

Geopolitical Shifts in West Asia: Trends and Implications

http://idsa.in/book/geopolitical-shifts-in-west-asia_pkpradhan
16547
Prasanta Kumar Pradhan, Publisher: Pentagon Press
ISBN: 978-81-8274-877-4 [Download E-Copy

About the Book
The West Asian region is undergoing a phase of massive turbulence since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. This period has been marked by popular protests, internal conflicts, civil wars, military interventions and involvement of external players. The regional security situation remains fragile with a new terrorist entity, the Islamic State, emerging to challenge the existing geographical boundaries of the region. There has been an enormous increase in terrorism and extremism, and the non-state actors have gained significant influence in regional politics. Sectarian conflicts in the region have manifested in places such as Iraq, Yemen and Syria. As the region is a major oil supplier for the Asian economies, continuing unrest has created concern among the major Asian oil importers over the possibility of disruption of oil supply to them. This book contains in-depth analyses of the shifting geopolitical trends unfolding in West Asia. Critical issues such as geopolitics, regional security, sectarianism, extremism, energy security and India's relationship with the region have been discussed by the scholars in this edited volume. In light of the evolving geopolitical and security situation in the region, this book presents opinions and analyses of scholars from different parts of the world on the evolving political, security and strategic dimensions of the turmoil in West Asia.

THERE IS NO RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL FROM SYRIA

http://warontherocks.com/2016/03/there-is-no-russian-withdrawal-from-syria/
MARCH 18, 2016
With characteristic deadpan delivery, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the sudden withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria earlier this week, declaring their campaign a success. Before the day was through, Russian aircraft and crews were already departing from Hmeymim air base in Latakia. Since this announcement, the media has been alight with speculation on the meaning of Russia’s sudden departure, its political and military implications, and the reasons for this seemingly unexpected move. Much of the discussion has thus far missed the mark. There is no Russian withdrawal from Syria, but rather a drawdown of the air contingent present in Latakia. Putin simply moved pieces on the board, without altering the equation.
This maneuver is more about political perceptions than military reality. It constitutes a political reframing of Russia’s intervention in order to normalize Moscow’s military presence in Syria, and make it permanent, while convincing Russians at home that the campaign is over. Putin’s statement is yet another successful effort to achieve a domestic and international publicity coup.
The “withdrawal” announcement is not about how Russia leaves, but about how it stays in Syria. Those who have doubts should watch the actual video of Putin ordering Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to initiate the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. He orders that Russia’s existing bases in Tartus and Hmeymim continue to operate at present levels. In addition, Russia’s defense minister is to ensure that they are fully defended from land, sea, and air. The worrisome S-400 long range air defense, along with shorter range systems, will remain in place, a point emphasized in later statement by Vladimir Putin. Russia’s main military bases will continue operations: with naval cover, a ground contingent for force protection, and an unknown number of troops still on the ground to advise Syrian forces.
Russian sources indicate that Russia is withdrawing Su-25 strike aircraft and Su-34 bombers from Syria; while it is leaving some Su-24 bombers and Mi-24 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, as well as Su-30SM and Su-35 multirole fighters. It seems likely the number of aircraft present will be reduced by half, close to the original numbers Russia fielded in Syria in October 2015. The remaining aircraft will continue to operate over Syria, and in fact have conductedstrikes in recent days in support of Syrian army efforts to retake Palmyra from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This means that, according to the Pentagon, they’re focusing on ISIL for the first time. Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov also stated that Russian aircraft will be striking ISIL and al-Nusra Front, the implication being that combat operations will continue. Indeed, while some of Russia’s tactical aviation has left, it has been replaced with newly arrived Ka-52 and Mi-28N helicopters. These more advanced helicopters will provide close support to Syrian forces, and also undergo combat exploitation as part of Russia’s effort to test new weapon systems in field conditions. Russia’s naval squadron shows no signs of leaving the eastern Mediterranean, though the total number of ships may be decreased since the pace of Russian operations is bound to decline.

The New Russian Military

Syria shows that Russia built an effective military. Now how will Putin use it?
Andrew Roth, Washington Post, March 18, 2016

MOSCOW — As Russia turned the Syrian conflict into an exhibition ground for its newly robust military over the past six months, its neighbors were watching with rapt interest.
This, after all, was a sterling opportunity to assess Russia’s new battlefield capabilities, in the form of ship-based cruise missiles, improved logistics and elite units. And on display, too, were Russia’s weaknesses.
“It is like a game of football,” said Janis Berzins, the managing director at the Center for Security and Strategic Research of the National Defense Academy of Latvia, a NATO member nation that borders Russia. “If you’re playing against Germany then you go watch Germany play, right? It’s the natural thing to do.”
No one expects Russia and NATO to engage in a conventional war anytime soon. But with limited, consequential interventions in two conflicts, Ukraine and Syria, in the past two years, President Vladimir Putin had shown the Russian military’s growing proficiency as well as his appetite to use force to achieve his greater geopolitical goals.
Russian warplanes took off from the Hmeymim airbase in Syria on March 16, flying back to their permanent bases in Russia as Moscow withdraws forces from the war-torn region. (Reuters)

“They’ve demonstrated that they are clever enough to get in and get out, and they know how to use these military operations in order to bolster the diplomatic objectives,” said Evelyn Farkas, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council who served as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia until last year.
It was not always the case. In 2008, when Russia lost at least four planes to air defenses in Georgia during a five-day war, the brief conflict was seen in the West as a debacle and as proof that Russia’s largely conscript military remained a cumbersome shambles.
When now-retired Adm. James Stavridis became NATO’s military commander in 2009, NATO had no plans for defending against Russia, he said in an interview last year.
“We didn’t have a single op plan on the shelf to deter against Russia. We’d written that off after the fall of the wall, that chapter is over,” Stavridis said. 
Now, NATO is holding exercises and considering large troop deployments in the Baltics, Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe amid growing concern from Russia’s neighbors about a potential Russian assault using new, unconventional means.

The Army Modernization Challenge

A Historical Perspective 
By Rhys McCormick 
Mar 17, 2016 
Since 2008, Army modernization ([1] Procurement; and [2] Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation (RDT&E) accounts) total obligation authority has fallen by 74 percent in real terms. In absolute terms, this decline seems substantial, but how does the current Army modernization trajectory compare to the challenges faced in previous defense drawdowns? Following the end of previous conflicts (Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War), the U.S. defense budget has shrunk to historically similar levels, as has happened since 2008 with the withdrawal and drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. This paper answers the question: Are the trends seen in Army modernization today similar in nature to trends of the previous drawdowns, or is this time different?
Publisher CSIS