22 June 2016

War Is Hell. Mary Roach Met the Folks Who Make It Less So.

By Simon Worrall
June 19, 2016

Snipers, like these U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, lie on their stomachs a lot. Military designers moved the uniform's zippers to the side to make the soldiers more comfortable.

Mary Roach, a self-confessed “goober with a flashlight,” has created a niche for books with one-word titles—Gulp (on the digestive system); Bonk (on the science of sex)—that take a funny, and informed, look at the scientific secrets of everyday things. In her latest book, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, she goes behind the scenes of modern warfare to celebrate the unsung heroes of military science, who do everything from design high-tech clothing for the battlefield to perform penis transplants—all in the name of keeping soldiers "alive and comfortable." (Learn about the effects of battlefield blasts on soldiers' brains.)

Talking from her home in Oakland, California, she describes how the British instituted fly-kill quotas in World War II; why Velcro is a sniper’s enemy; and how improvised explosive devices (IEDs) can blow apart a soldier’s sex life. (Meet the dogs who go into combat.)

This is, by your own account, no Zero Dark Thirty. Tell us about the work of military scientists—and what inspired you to write a book about them?

I write about a particular military subset: white hat military scientists. I don’t cover weapons or strategies, building a better bomb or designing a submarine. It’s about the human entity: the soldier and everything that entity deals with—extreme heat, loud noise, fear and panic, food poisoning, and flies. 

21 June 2016

Getting around the U.S.’s Persian block

June 21, 2016

The fault lies outside: “Perhaps Iranian President Hassan Rouhani realised that there was no bad faith on India’s part with regard to the efforts it had made to address the issue of delay in payments.” PM Modi with Mr. Rouhani in Tehran.

A close look at the Indian delay in oil payments to Iran will show that it was attributable solely to U.S. sanctions, a point the Iranian leadership appears to have noted

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran a month ago was significant on all counts. As he himself said: “…[the] visit was fruitful” and it is sure to have had a positive impact. The discussions signalled an eagerness by India and Iran to promote bilateral ties. Twelve agreements were signed, the most strategic of them being the one for the development of Iran’s Chabahar Port.

Before the visit, several policy analysts flagged important issues in areas such as energy and trade, with the most troublesome of them being India’s delay in remitting oil dues estimated at $6.5 billion for crude supplies made in recent years. Hurried arrangements were made to remit a sum of $750 million days prior to Mr. Modi’s visit.

Most surprisingly, it appears that the issue did not come up for discussion at all. From the press briefing by Mr. Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was clear that both had convergence on the extraordinary situation created by the U.S. until the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the international agreement on the nuclear programme of Iran reached in Vienna in 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States plus Germany), and the European Union — leading to the lifting of sanctions against Iran.

Blame it on U.S. sanctions

A close look at the delay in payments by India will show that it was attributable solely to U.S. sanctions. Perhaps, Mr. Rouhani realised that there was no bad faith on India’s part with regard to the efforts it had made from time to time to address the issue.

***What is China-Pakistan Economic Corridor all about?

By Bharat Lather
19 Jun , 2016

Is China about to transform Pakistan? The unanimous consensus in Pakistan is that it is, and quite comprehensively too. Since April 2015, the term which has probably received far greater traction in the print and electronic media, more than any other, is “game changer”. The “game changer”, which government officials, military generals, diplomats, journalists and a host of other observers refer to, is the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, an overland route which is to run from Kashgar in China via Khunjerab Pass (POK) to Gwadar in Balochistan, on the edge of the Persian Gulf, in Pakistan. This Economic Corridor has been called a “game changer” and even a “fate changer” by an overly enthusiastic Pakistani press and government; with some analysts even saying that this $46 billion “unprecedented” Chinese investment over the next decade-and-a-half will make Pakistan the next Asian Tiger.

For China, it provides an alternative route for energy supplies from the Middle East and Africa, without having to traverse through maritime route through in South East Asia, which is longer and prone to interdiction.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) consists of a package of Chinese infrastructure investments in Pakistan worth $ 46 billion, and is the flagship project of China’s “Belt and Road” development framework. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had unveiled the CPEC concept two years earlier during his May 2013 visit to Pakistan, and its key importance for the “Belt and Road” initiative is that CPEC connects the Silk Road Economic Belt with the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. CPEC consists of 1800 miles transportation corridor of roads, railways and pipelines, which will connect the Chinese-operated Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea with the Chinese province of Xinjiang via Khunjerab Pass. For China, it provides an alternative route for energy supplies from the Middle East and Africa, without having to traverse through maritime route through in South East Asia, which is longer and prone to interdiction.

*** 5 Common Myths about China's Power

China’s transformation from an isolated, developing country into an economic juggernaut and emerging global actor is perhaps the most important power shift for twenty-first-century international politics. Its economy is now second largest in the world, while its military budget has ballooned from $20 billion in 1989 to $215 billion in 2015—an amount larger than the military budgets of Russia, Germany and the United Kingdom combined.

Fear surrounding the consequences of China’s rise has engendered the spread of misinformation and hyperbole, much of which dominates public discussion of China in the United States. Several persistent “myths” about China overshadow its many problems, including its deeply ingrained corruption, slowing economic growth and aging population.

These myths create an image of China as a dangerous usurper destined to displace the United States as the dominant global power. Breaking down the myths about Chinese power is critical to understanding China’s rise, its potential role in the international community and the evolving nature of U.S.-China relations.

Myth #1: China is a global military superpower.

Two decades of meteoric economic growth has enabled China’s leadership to embark on a multi-faced modernization of the People’s Liberation Army. From 1995 to 2015 China’s defense budget maintained, on average, double-digit growth. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates China’s 2015 defense budget at $214 billion, second in the world only to the United States. China’s military spending constitutes 48 percent of the total spending of all the nations in Asia and Oceania combined.

*** How to Beat Back ISIS Propaganda

June 15, 2016 

Deep into the second decade of Western efforts to counter the propaganda of groups like Al Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS, results are mixed. Many would consider even this cautious assessment to be optimistic. Almost a decade ago, then U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates lamented how “one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world’s greatest communication society.” Those frustrations have arguably intensified. As Alberto Fernandez, former director of the U.S. State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), candidly asserted in his report for Brookings: “Efforts to blunt ISIS propaganda have been tentative and ineffective, despite major efforts by countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and even al-Qaida.”

Many factors contributed to this situation, but perhaps the most significant are intellectual. For instance, the belief that ISIS’s (and before them Al Qaeda’s) propaganda is unheralded—typically highlighting slickly produced communiqués and use of social media as evidence—implies that history offers little for improving contemporary efforts. The long history of messaging during conflict suggests otherwise. As Professor John Arquilla suggests: “information strategy did not spring forth fully formed . . . It has formed and reformed, shifted shape and emphasis, for millennia. We ignore this long experience at our peril.” Indeed, the use of visual and aural (e.g., spoken-word) communication by combatants to boost the fighting spirit of comrades, win over neutrals and intimidate enemies predates even the ancients.

Get Some Perspective

**Kargil Controversy: Mismanagement of Higher Defence

By Lt Gen Harwant Singh
19 Jun , 2016

During the Second World War the British Army’s operations in Greece ran into near disaster and to save the army, its immediate evacuation by sea became imperative. During this phase of the war, the Atlantic was dominated by the German U boats and the naval commanders assembled for the evacuation of the army stranded in Greece, strongly protested against undertaking this task due to the fear of losing a large number of ships. Admiral Cunningham, Admiral of the Atlantic Fleet told the assembled commanders that, “it takes 300 years to build a tradition and only three years to build a ship. The Royal Navy, as a tradition has never abandoned the army and therefore, it will evacuate the army, irrespective of the losses in ships.” The IAF by staying out of the 1962 war abandoned the Army, when everything was in its favour and created serious misgivings.

Kargil conflict ended ten years ago and yet doubts and controversies persist. There are many questions that continue to nag. The more pertinent being: why ingress was not detected in real time and the extent and depth of it determined early enough and why the IAF showed such hesitancy to come on board? Why the Cabinet Committee on Security procrastinated for so long and chartered a timid reaction to Pakistan’s perfidy? Then there was a dysfunctional state of joint operational planning in the defence forces.

** Is our Afghan obsession finally over?



Islamabad diary

The question can be rephrased: is ‘strategic depth’ finally buried? We were idiots to get involved in that superpower adventure called the Afghan ‘jihad’. We understood not its ramifications and long-term costs, starry-eyed generals nurturing dreams of Pan-Islamic glory on the back of unrealistic expectations.

Even under Gen Raheel Sharif we clung to the pipedream that Pakistan could deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table. This is the impression we conveyed both to the Americans and the Afghans. And when we couldn’t deliver we had to suffer the blowback, both the Americans and the Afghans accusing us of playing double games.

Indeed, we have learned nothing from our Afghan experience. The so-called mujahideen whom we had pampered and fed throughout the Afghan jihad wouldn’t listen to us when they seized power in Kabul. The Taliban whom we had supported wouldn’t listen to us beyond a point when they became rulers of Afghanistan. So what led the Afghan experts in the general staff and the ISI to think that we could carry them to the negotiating table?

Experience, and bitter experience at that, has proved that there is no benefit, no possible advantage, in nurturing Afghan assets – like the Haqqanis or Hikmetyar or anyone else – in the belief that we can somehow become the chaudries of Afghanistan. We never succeeded in the past and we won’t succeed in the future.

China helped Vietnam against the French and the American. That didn’t turn Vietnam into a satellite of China. We know what India did for the creation of Bangladesh. The Awami League is pro-India but Bangladesh as a whole is no satellite of India.

** The best way to welfare Swiss voted against the idea of a Universal Basic Income. But the debate continues

Written by Abhijit V. Banerjee 
June 18, 2016
Source Link


Realistically, that was not going to happen — for example, because it would require privatising the expensive and excellent Swiss public education system — and therefore, new taxes would be needed. (Source: Reuters file photo)

We in India tend to associate Switzerland with fresh-faced girls in dirndls on a beautiful hillside, or with a cabal of silent bankers, but it is in fact a much more interesting country than those clichés might imply. For one, they decide on policy by referendums — if a hundred thousand Swiss sign up to request that there be a vote on a particular reform, the results of the vote are binding on the government.

The most recent round of referenda included one that was widely watched across the world — the proposal was to guarantee every adult citizen and long-term resident 2,500 Swiss francs (Rs 1.75 lakh, give or take a few) per month as a Universal Basic Income, irrespective of any other earnings they might have. In other words, it’s money you are entitled to, whether you are rich or poor, whether or not you have a job that pays you enough to live on. It is what some people call an unconditional transfer — there are no strings attached. You can spend it on beer for your buddies, just as you can spend it on milk for your children. It is your money.

*THE BIGGEST HURDLES TO THE FUTURE ARMY WE NEED

JUNE 16, 2016
http://warontherocks.com/2016/06/the-biggest-hurdles-to-the-future-army-we-need/

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a complex wargame as part of the Army’s Unified Quest series that was focused on scenarios in 2030 and 2050. There was much innovative thought on display as the hundreds of participants wrestled with the potential impact of new technology on future battlefields. I was mostly involved with a pseudo-Pacific scenario, but there were teams looking at other geographic areas as well. I was particularly struck by two different ideas: First, the U.S. Army’s historical role in cross-domain dominance will continue to be relevant even as new technologies make warfare more lethal and complicated. Second, for the Army to adapt to this future the toughest barriers to overcome will be legal, bureaucratic, and intellectual rather than technological.

In 1943, Gen. Hap Arnold’s Army Air Forces staff wrestled with a letter from a mother concerned about the morality of the bombing operations her son was executing in Europe. They came up with a reply describing the challenges of restraining warfare in the modern age, which included the statement that “Law cannot limit what physics makes possible.” Military doctrine cannot defy gravity either. The importance of landpower in cross-domain dominance is ensured by physics, as well as by biology. What goes up, must come down. What leaves the land where people dwell must eventually return to it. It should not be surprising that among the Army’s many Wartime Executive Agency Requirements is the running of theater port facilities.

NSG and India – Ease or Unease

By Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja
20 Jun , 2016

There is palpable excitement in the air in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and within the strategic community. The reason is not too difficult to guess. The PM has once again been on a whirlwind tour abroad, starting with Afghanistan and terminating in Mexico, covering Qatar, Switzerland, and USA in between. The six days, not counting the different time zones, witnessed close to 50 business meetings, not counting the gatherings with the Indian diaspora in the various cities that he visited. The main agenda in Switzerland, USA, and Mexico, apart from inviting the businesses of these countries to invest in India, was to garner support for the membership of India to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

An inclusion into this group would give India a place at the high table where the rules of nuclear commerce are decided and, eventually, the ability to sell equipment.

MTCR and NSG

Chabahar Tripartite Agreement Signals New Geopolitical Power-Play

By Dr Subhash Kapila
20 Jun , 2016

The Chabahar Tripartite Agreement signed in Tehran on May 23, 2016 between India, Iran and Afghanistan during PM Modi’s Iran visit signals the dawn of a new power- play though essentially economic initially, but with geopolitical implications.

The Chabahar Tripartite Agreement signals the commencement of a new geopolitical power-play in which seemingly India, Iran and Afghanistan are willing participants cooperating for regional economic gains and connectivity, notwithstanding that such an initiative would rattle China and Pakistan.

This Agreement signals possibly a new trend for this Century where geoeconomics will tend to predominate regional cooperative mechanisms initially, and where the strategic underpinnings will ultimately surface on full maturity of the initiating steps.

The Chabahar Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan with India in the lead provides a stark contrast to the China-led China Pakistan Economic Corridor whose main determinant is not geoeconomics but outright strategic foreplay to keep-out or limit India’s and the United States’ influence from Greater South West Asia.

‘I’m ok, but damn Tigress took My Rifle’

By Lt Gen HS Panag, PVSM, AVSM (Retd.)
20 Jun , 2016

A trip down memory lane, back to 1954, when 17 Sikh faced a maneater

The year was 1954, 17 Sikh was located at Agra and commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Shamsher Singh, whose outstanding leadership and exploits in the 1947-48 war in Jammu and Kashmir were part of regimental lore. The unit was out on a training camp in a forest near Shivpuri, which was to culminate in a test exercise.

One day, Sepoy Fauja Singh, who was part of the officer’s mess staff, went to collect firewood for the mess kitchen. Suddenly, a tigress jumped out from a thicket and pounced on him. Instinctively, he tried to fight her off with his bare hands. After a brief struggle, the tigress caught Fauja Singh’s turban in her mouth and thinking that she had got the kill, disappeared back into the thicket. Fauja Singh was badly mauled and he was evacuated to the military hospital immediately, but more to the point, he was extremely upset about the loss of his turban.

More reports poured in about the tigress with four cubs, who had turned into a man-eater, it seemed. She had killed two persons from a village nearby. True to the Indian Army tradition, this didn’t stop the training, which continued as per plan, and the test exercise was cleared with honours.

U.S., India, Japan Begin to Shape New Order on Asia’s High Seas

By GORDON FAIRCLOUGH
June 15, 2016

The three democracies are pursuing closer ties and military cooperation to counter an assertive China 

NEW DELHI—From the waters of the Philippine Sea this week emerged a partial outline of Washington’s vision for a new Asian maritime-security order that unites democratic powers to contend with a more-assertive and well-armed China.


On this highway, proceed with caution

M. K. NARAYANAN
June 18, 2016  

India needs to carefully weigh the pros and cons of having too close a relationship with the U.S. Despite the warmth, the objectives in each country still remain far apart, be it on Pakistan, Afghanistan or global trade

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s event-filled visit to the United States, from June 6-8, has just ended, though his oratorical flourishes during his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress still reverberate across the globe. The 3,800-word Joint Statement is available with the public. Ignoring the euphoria is not easy but due diligence about outcomes may be in order. We need to make a distinction between good copy and finite results.

The Prime Minister came through as more restrained this time when compared to previous occasions. An exception was his address to the U.S. Congress. Even here, the Prime Minister was more statesman than politician. For instance, Mr. Modi displayed a high degree of strategic wisdom in not launching an attack on China by name. Nor was there any criticism of the U.S. for implicitly acquiescing in Pakistan’s employment of terror as a strategic instrumentality vis-à-vis India. The Prime Minister was also careful not to highlight the difference in approach between Capitol Hill and the U.S. administration with regard to Pakistan’s record on terrorism, and the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to that country.

Analysing the main components of the Prime Minister’s visit viz. his bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, his address to the U.S. Congress, his meeting with the U.S.-India Business Council and also the contents of the Joint Statement, it is undeniable that a great deal of ground was covered. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to endorse the sentiment set out in the Joint Statement: of the two countries providing “global leadership on issues of shared interest”. Visuals of the high-level bilateral meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Obama — though visuals do not necessarily reflect the atmosphere at such meetings — also give the impression that it lacked “the spark” of previous encounters.

Some of the takeaways

Afghan Peace Process: A Botched Strategy – OpEd

JUNE 20, 2016

The death of the Taliban leader Mullah Mansour as a result of the US orchestrated drone strike in the Noshki area of Balochistan on May 21, reflects a major shift in the US policy towards tackling the Afghan Taliban and their perception on the role played by Pakistan in fulfilling their commitment for peace and stability in the region.

Pakistan received this act by the U.S as its infringement of sovereignty, while the US highlighted the urgency on tackling the Afghan Taliban due to the incessant deteriorating security situation. According to the US and Afghan leadership, the group’s leader Mullah Mansour had become a major hurdle to the peace negotiations with the Afghan government.

With the recent setback in Af-Pak relations post the deadly attack in Kabul on 19th April, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had openly expressed his disappointment in Pakistan’s failure to take necessary action against the Haqqani group and its inability in bringing the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table for the peace process. The QCG talks held on 18th May, exposed the differences between the group (Afghanistan, Pakistan, U.S and China) regarding the peace process. While, the United States and Afghanistan demand for a more decisive action against groups such as Haqqani network, Pakistan and China are of the opinion that only a peaceful dialogue shall lead to a stable Afghanistan. Both the US and Afghanistan agree that factions within the group that are not agreeable to negotiations should be dealt militarily.

Peace talks in Afghanistan are still born

By Dr S Binodkumar Singh
19 Jun , 2016

The Afghan government has been inviting the Taliban to the negotiating table. But, the Talban are not coming for talks, blaming the U.S.-led coalition that has been in Afghanistan since the weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks carrying out airstrikes and partaking in night raids. On February 16, 2016, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah called on the Taliban to come to the negotiation table, warning that they could not fulfil their hopes through war. Once again, on March 7, 2016, during a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, Abdullah declared, “the anti-government armed militants are invited to respond positively towards the legitimate calls of the Government of national unity for the revival of peace process.”

In fact, the Taliban representatives have met with the Afghan Government only once, in the intervening night of July 7 and July 8, 2015, in Murree in Pakistan, with an agreement to meet again on August 15 and 16, 2015, in the Qatar capital, Doha. However, the talks quickly collapsed as the Afghan government on July 29, 2015, disclosed that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, had died in April 2013 in Pakistan – a fact that both the Pakistani agencies and the Taliban leadership had kept secret, even as they continued to manipulate Mullah Omar’s identity, issuing several statements on his behalf. Subsequently, the Taliban split into two factions – one led by Pakistan’s nominee, Mullah Akhtar Mansour and another by Mullah Mohammad Rasool.

Moreover, the Taliban failed to attend the fifth meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, that was held in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, on May 18, 2016. The QCG reiterated that violence served no purpose and that peace negotiations remained the only option for a political settlement, and the various QCG countries reaffirmed that they would use their respective leverages and influences to these ends. The first meeting of the QCG was held in Islamabad on January 11, 2016; the second in Kabul on January 18, 2016; the third in Islamabad on February 6, 2016; and the fourth in Kabul on February 23, 2016.

When East Meets West A Comparison of Chinese and American Military Culture

By Ben Lowsen
June 15, 2016


Contrasting the military power of the U.S. and China, analyst Ben Lowsen argues that the two nations must blend flexibility with strength to hopefully prevent simple misunderstandings from escalating into thorny disagreements or worse.

Modern China’s emergence onto the global stage brings with it both concern and hope: concern for how the world will accommodate an emerging great power and hope that a great civilization will enrich every aspect of global exchange. The world is looking to the United States as the cornerstone of the existing international system for leadership as it negotiates its relationship with an independently minded China. Against this backdrop, it is now more important than ever that the United States and China better understand one another, particularly in the realm of security and military affairs around key regional issues. 

Unless the two countries appreciate the similarities and differences in their military cultures, traditions and norms, the ongoing dialogues between them will never fully realize their potential. 

Institutional Military Culture

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the American and Chinese militaries is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) use of conscripts versus U.S. use of volunteers. This can be misleading because there are in fact many more potential conscripts than entry-level positions within the PLA. Thus the “conscripts” are the most qualified among those who have volunteered. Effectively, the PLA offers desirable employment for young people coming from agrarian communities whose prospects might otherwise be quite limited.

The Unending India-China Dance – Analysis

By Bhaskar Roy
17-June-2016

India-China relations have come a long way since the 1962 border war, mostly in the positive direction. India has over 4000 Kilometre long border with China, but Beijing maintains it is much shorter because it does not accept India’s territorial claims and sovereignty on sections of the border.

Neither India nor China can wish each other away. As the two countries continue to rise, with China still ahead of India the gap is slowly narrowing but problems instead of receding are multiplying.

For India, the China policy is not a zero sum game. Successive Indian Prime Ministers have proved it and Prime Minister Modi has done so most emphatically. Mr. Modi’s policy is not to counter China but to promote a shared vision of mutual benefit and developing together. Indian governments, including the present Modi government, have tried to ensure that China is not rubbed the wrong way. In fact, India can be faulted for conceding too much at times.

India’s efforts have been to try and build trust. But trust must be verifiable, not built on thin air. There is a huge problem here.

One would dare say that there is a lack of understanding in the Indian establishment dedicated to China policy, of understanding the Chinese mind and interpreting what the Chinese say and what the Chinese media writes.

The Impact Of World War I On The Arab World Today – Analysis

By K. P. Fabian
JUNE 18, 2016

A part of the world where the impact of World War I (1914-1918) is still exceptionally strong is West Asia. The military campaigns waged during the war and the political arrangements entered into immediately thereafter eventually led to the emergence of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon as independent states as well as to the aborted birth of the State of Palestine. Saudi Arabia also attained its present borders as part of the same process. The Armenian Genocide of 1915-16, which the Ottoman Empire is held responsible for, is still coming in the way of successor state Turkey’s plan to gain entry into the European Union.

As Turkey entered the war on the side of Germany on 30 October 1914, London was worried that a war against the Caliph might alienate the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere. There was a need to collect intelligence and carry out the necessary propaganda work. Sir Mark Sykes, advisor on the Middle East to Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, proposed the establishment of an Arab Bureau in Cairo. Accordingly, despite opposition from the Secretary of State for India, the bureau was established in 1916. The High Commissioner for Great Britain in Cairo was Sir Henry McMahon. Both Kitchener and McMahon had a strong India connection. The former was the Commander-in-Chief in India (1902-09) and his differences with Viceroy Curzon cut short the latter’s tenure. McMahon was Foreign Secretary during the 1914 Shimla Conference when the boundary line with Tibet, known as the McMahon line, was agreed upon.

Trying to Predict Terrorist Attacks With Mathematical Algorithms

Pam Belluck
June 16, 2016


Fighting ISIS With an Algorithm, Physicists Try to Predict Attacks

After Orlando and San Bernardino and Paris, there is new urgency to understand the signs that can precede acts of terrorism. And with the Islamic State’s prolific use of social media, terrorism experts and government agencies continually search for clues in posts and Twitter messages that appear to promote the militants’ cause.

A physicist may not seem like an obvious person to study such activity. But for months, Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami, led a team that created a mathematical model to sift order from the chaotic pro-terrorism online universe.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Dr. Johnson and Miami colleagues searched for pro-Islamic State posts each day from mid-2014 until August 2015, mining mentions of beheadings and blood baths in multiple languages on Vkontakte, a Russia-based social media service that is the largest European equivalent to Facebook. Ultimately, they devised an equation that tries to explain the activity of Islamic State sympathizers online and might, they say, eventually help predict attacks that are about to happen.

Experts who study terrorism and online communication said that the new research was informative, and that they appreciated that the authors would make their data available to other researchers. But they cautioned that the actions of terrorist groups are extremely difficult to anticipate and said more information was needed, especially to substantiate any predictive potential of the team’s equation.

“This is an interesting approach, this is a potentially valuable approach, and more research should be done on the approach,” said J. M. Berger, a fellow in George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and the co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror.” “But to jump ahead to the utility of it, I think, takes more work.”Photo
A screenshot from a pro-ISIS online group on the Russian social network VKontake, which has many Chechen members who have been targets of Islamic State propaganda.