29 July 2017

** Unraveling the Mystery of Putin's Popularity


By Jay Ogilvy

Contributor Perspectives offer insight, analysis and commentary from Stratfor’s Board of Contributors and guest contributors who are distinguished leaders in their fields of expertise.

Why is Vladimir Putin so popular in Russia? After all, with the country just barely emerging from a two-year recession brought on by a combination of sanctions and low oil prices, you would think that the president's popularity would be taking a hit. But no. His approval ratings are still remarkably high — depending on the pollster and the date, they're often over 80 percent.

How can that be? Some doubt the polls, a generalized wariness of pollsters that itself has become popular in the wake of recent electoral surprises. But a number of different polls, especially those conducted by the politically independent Levada Center in Moscow, support the conclusion that the Russian people genuinely hold their leader in high regard.

To most Americans, Putin's popularity is a mystery because so many still hold on to an image of Russia fashioned during the Cold War. This negative view has been nourished by pop culture stereotypes, from the evil blonde agent in "From Russia With Love" to countless other Russian villains.

And Russia's leader? The former KGB agent must be a tyrant because, even after the end of the Cold War, don't we see growing signs of a reversion toward totalitarianism? We hear of limitations on the freedom of the press, even slain reporters, while seeing more and more displays of macho homophobia.

Why India’s response to Dokalam standoff is muted


New Delhi: Compared to the barrage of angry statements emanating from China over the Dokalam military standoff with India, the Indian government seems calm and measured—it has offered few comments on its own and almost none in response to the daily comment from the Chinese side.

New Delhi’s response to the Dokalam stand off—at the trijunction of India, China and Bhutan—so far has included moving some additional troops to the border, a statement by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and some low-key remarks by her ministry.

Analysts say the Chinese government is under pressure because President Xi Jinping would like to appear in command at the upcoming 19th People’s Congress in October/November this year. India, on the other hand, has no such compulsions, with the opposition united behind the government.

Earlier this week, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi urged India to “conscientiously withdraw” -- making him the highest ranking politician to comment on the dispute.

“This is psychological warfare by the Chinese,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

“India’s response has been measured,” he said pointing to India moving some troops to bolster security at Dokalam, foreign minister Swaraj’s statement to parliament where she called on India and China to pull back troops and Indian foreign ministry comments saying that New Delhi was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” to end the impasse.

India-China Doklam Standoff: A Chinese Perspective

By Liu Lin


The reasons for the outbreak of tensions are complex, and things could get worse before they could get better. 

Since mid-June, after some Indian troops crossed the border and entered into what China considers its area of the Donglang (Doklam or Doka La) area, the two countries have been engaged in a standoff.

The China-India border hasn’t been demarcated completely, and so there have been frictions between the border troops of the two countries from time to time. But this time, the situation is quite different. While face-offs in the past have usually occurred in the western and eastern part of the Sino-Indian border, this time it occurred instead in the Sikkim section or the middle part.

Unwinding the China-India Standoff in the Sikkim Himalayas

Sourabh Gupta

China and India are locked yet again in a standoff of Himalayan proportions. Almost five weeks after Indian troops trespassed and forcibly halted the activities of a Chinese road construction crew on a narrow plateau at the China-Bhutan-India trijunction area in the Sikkim Himalayas, the two sides appear no closer to resolving their quarrel. The area in question, Doklam, is the subject of a legal dispute between China and Bhutan, is under the effective jurisdiction of China, and holds an important security interest to India.

The restoration of the status quo ante in the Doklam area will be a protracted affair.

Unlike previous impasses on their disputed Himalayan frontier earlier this decade, which coincided with a warming phase in ties and were wound down with the exhibition of good sense on both sides, bilateral ties have hit a sour patch. China, as the aggrieved party, bears little interest in unwinding the standoff on terms other than its own. Worse, there is no agreed definition among the parties of the object of discord at stake – to the point that China does not even view India as the appropriate interlocutor to engage with to unwind the standoff.

China’s position on, and solution to, the standoff is blunt and straight-forward.

Time To Wake India Up: The Probability Of War With China Is Now Close To The 50 Per Cent Mark


R Jagannathan

The chances of war are now inching towards the 50 per cent mark from where it will become inevitable.

India has to accelerate its preparation for war, and also prepare the people for it.

The Nifty should wait for clearer signals that war is off the table before heading for the 10,000-mark and higher peaks.

Barring a few isolated voices of caution, there seems to a benign assumption in the commentariat and the Indian media that China will not risk a war over the Dokhlam standoff, where the Dragon was surprised by India’s unexpected decision to stare it down. Let’s not forget that the Dragon is breathing fire repeatedly, and at some point it may be forced by its own rhetoric to make good on its threats.

Even though the Indian Army is digging in for a long eyeball-to-eyeball situation and even a short war, the rest of India continues to live in la-la land, with the stock exchanges hitting new peaks. The Nation Stock Exchange’s Nifty crossed the 10,000-mark for the first time yesterday (25 July), when it should actually be pencilling in a war threat to the economy in the short- to medium-term. It should hold its exuberance for some time later this year.

The perils of hyper-nationalism

SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY

The armed forces are the very last bastion of the country’s composite identity and its national integrity.

The peremptory “beef ban” imposed on the country has severely polarised Indian society and alienated its minorities. Self-styled “protectors of the faith” from amongst extremist elements in the majority community have organised vigilante groups of “gau rakshaks” (literally “defenders of the cow”) and taken to the streets, setting up illegal check posts to barricade roads and stop vehicles carrying cattle, assaulting the occupants if they happened to be members of the minority community. They were suspected of conveying cattle for purposes of slaughter. Anyone seen or caught skinning a dead cow was, of course, assaulted and often critically injured or killed. The attackers remained unmindful of the fact that the unpleasant age-old task was performed by persons from the economically-backward classes — both Hindu as well as Muslim, who have lived in harmony. This has created a dangerous divisive situation in the country, most noticeably in the Hindi-speaking heartland, which, ironically, has also earned the derisive nickname of “the cow belt”. Adding to the current tensions are the traditional groups of “kawariyas”, who undertake annual pilgrimages chanting the name Lord Shiva to offer water at selected Shiva temples — again an age-old tradition, which has often left motorists fuming at the traffic jams it creates.

A Massive Corruption Probe in Pakistan Exposes Split in Ruling Party

By Umair Jamal

Cracks are beginning to show in Pakistan’s ruling party after a recent damning corruption related investigation report against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s immediate family created panic within the party’s ranks. The recently reported intense factional infighting among the prime minister’s cabinet due to a number of policy differences over the issue of the Panama Papers corruption probe has brought renewed attention to a longstanding debate concerning divisions within the party from.

Reportedly, two major groups have emerged within the party: One group is led by Sharif and the other by his younger brother, Shahbaz, who is the chief minister of Punjab province. Historically, the faction that is favored by Shahbaz has remained on good terms with the military establishment. The current interior minister of the country, Nisar Ali Khan, also belongs to the group that has had good relations with the military. In fact, it has long been established that the current interior minister and the chief minister of Punjab have always played a pertinent role when it comes to Sharif’s long history of confrontation with the military.

Moreover, the crisis within the party has deepened of late due to Shahbaz and Nisar’s disagreement with the way Sharif has handled the Panama Papers corruption scandal. Over the last few months, the ruling party has openly confronted its political rivals, which has not only united the political opposition, but has also kept the ongoing political debate focused on the issue of alleged widespread corruption within the ruling party.

Afghanistan's Uprising for Change: Time to Shatter Ghani’s Delusion

By Tabish Forugh

The National Unity Government is plagued by systemic indifference to democratic demands. 

This year’s Eid in Kabul comes after a tragic Ramadan. Nearly 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in three separate incidents in four days. The police shot six demonstrators after a truck bomb killed nearly 150. The next day, three simultaneous explosions targeted a funeral ceremony, killing 20 and injuring dozens more. The firing at civilian demonstrators only reinforced their position to demand the resignation of key security ministers for incompetence. They named themselves the Uprising for Change. Now, more than two weeks from the onset, the movement died off as Kabul’s military police, under direct instructions from the National Security Council, raided their tents on the street in an early dark dawn. One protester was shot; another was allegedly driven over by a military vehicle.

The Uprising for Change, as they called themselves, was born out of people’s growing frustration with the National Unity Government. At the core of the movement was the legitimate anger of a frustrated generation, which sees no promising prospect for security, peace, and stability in their country under the current leadership. The movement, however, lacked strong organization in chasing its targets. In part, lack of organizational capacity and independent political voice made the movement vulnerable and exposed to various forms of manipulation from the old and resourceful mujahideen parties, as well as experienced opportunist politicians.

U.S. Special Operations Forces: Taking the Fight to Terror in Africa

KAITLIN LAVINDER

U.S. President Donald Trump’s “war on terror” – much like his predecessor’s – uses partners’ capabilities against terrorists in an effort to protect the country from potential attacks, while minimizing U.S casualties. In Africa, Trump’s continuation of this strategy has resulted in increased reliance on U.S. special operations forces.

The U.S. Special Operations Command Africa now conducts around 100 activities in 20 countries with 1,700 personnel at any given time, according to an October strategic planning guidance report from the command’s head, Brigadier General Donald Bolduc. That is nearly double the number of U.S. special forces operators in Africa since 2014. 

Moreover, current plans call for the command’s staff to increase by about 100 from its current level of around 275 “over the next couple of years,” Bolduc told online publisher African Defense in September.

This year’s 10th annual Africa special operations forces-focused Flintlock exercise, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command in February and March, was the biggest it has ever been, with more than 2,000 military personnel from 24 African and Western nations participating.

China, Russia Launch First Military Drills in Baltic Sea

By Prashanth Parameswaran

Beijing and Moscow carry out exercises amid concerns from European states. 

As I noted back in June, a series of military exercises between Russia and China this year have been in the spotlight, illustrating the intensified cooperation in the security realm between these two states in spite of lingering challenges in their broader ties (See: “Military Drills Put Russia-China Ties in the Spotlight”).

The series of drills for this year kicked off in June, and were set to be followed up by drills in the Baltic Sea in late July and the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk in mid-September.

The drills in the Baltic Sea, in particular, had been closely watched by European states, since it would constitute a first for China and Russia. Though Beijing and Moscow have insisted that this is just the latest in a series of military exercises, these countries continue to be spooked by Russian military assertiveness, particularly following the 2014 annexation of Crimea, as well as the prospect of the area turning into an area for the exercise of Sino-Russian military might.

Over the weekend, Russian and Chinese vessels began their first joint drill in the Baltic Sea as scheduled. The drills, held under the banner of Joint Sea 2017, will last until July 28.

CHINA SEES THE WEST BEHIND LIU XIAOBO

MERRIDEN VARRALL

The reaction in China to the death of Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo last week is both surprising and illuminating. Surprising in that few in the West would have expected anger at the West to feature so strongly, and illuminating in what that anger tells us about Chinese attitudes to the West overall.

Liu died eight years into an eleven-year sentence for ‘inciting state subversion’, largely because of his role in Charter 08, a political manifesto calling for political reform in China. Few in the West had heard of him before 2010, but after his Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to an empty chair in December that year, he quickly became more famous outside of China than in his homeland. Tight censorship meant that he was rarely mentioned on the Chinese mainland.

During the past eight years, Western politicians have made Liu’s imprisonment a symbol of the challenge of human rights in China. Many in the West blame the Chinese party-state for Liu’s death, and are calling for increased pressure on China to radically change its approach to human rights and the rule of law. It may come as a shock for them to learn that some Chinese, however, blame the West for what happened to Liu.

As has already been observed, there has been little reporting on Liu’s death in mainland China. The exception has been the state-run, English-language version of Global Times. Its coverage has included reports on Liu’s death, the excellent treatment he received, the appropriateness of his funeral, and the fair treatment of his wife. One article that said mourners were “putting on a grand show of sorrow” was, perhaps not surprisingly, quickly removed from the website, according to the South China Morning Post.

Down But Not Out: How The Islamic State Could Rebound


In the wake of the Islamic State's defeat in Mosul, the fight between the organization and its adversaries has reached an inflection point. Over the past week, credible reports from Mosul - sometimes accompanied by purported video and photographic evidence - have indicated that members of the Iraqi Security Forces are conducting mass executions of Islamic State members and their families, along with suspected civilian affiliates. In Raqqa, Syria, similar reports have appeared alleging that members of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are abusing and executing Islamic State prisoners.

In some ways, these reports are reminiscent of the videos accompanying the Islamic State's own conquest of Mosul and Raqqa in 2014, and it is no surprise that some Iraqis and Syrians are taking the opportunity to seek retribution. But while I have very little pity for the Islamic State fighters who engaged in wholesale slaughter, rape and pillaging, I must argue that mass executions are not the way to handle such criminals. Beyond the significant ethical problems, there are also a number of practical and strategic reasons that mass executions are counterproductive to the larger fight against jihadism. And if counterinsurgency forces are hoping to permanently quell the Islamic State's influence at this critical point, these executions will do more harm than good.
The Ideological Battlefield

Is America Losing Civilian Control of the Military?

Daniel Gerstein

A number of factors have led to a blurring of boundaries between the Congress, the president and the military.

The U.S. civil-military relationship allows for a candid dialogue on national security matters, yet readily defers to the tenet of civilian control of the military. This relationship is built on a delicate balance whereby strategic decision making is the purview of the civilian political leadership, while the execution of that portion of the strategy dealing with the use of force remains a uniformed mission.

The framers of the Constitution were keen to ensure that civilian control of the military was a core tenet of the use of military force, dividing up the powers into three components. Congress had the power "to raise and support Armies" and "provide and maintain a Navy." The president was to serve as the "the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States when called into the actual Service of the United States." Implicitly, the uniformed military was charged with the application of military force and following the orders of the civilian leadership.

A number of contributing operational, cultural and technical factors have led to a blurring of boundaries between the Congress, the president and the military in questions surrounding use of military force. These trends cannot be blamed on any single administration, yet over time there has been a gradual loss of balance within the nation's national security institutions.

The Immense, Eternal Footprint Humanity Leaves on Earth: Plastics

By TATIANA SCHLOSSBERG

Scientists have estimated that between 5 million and 13 million metric tons of plastic are put into the ocean each year. CreditGuillermo Cervera

If human civilization were to be destroyed and its cities wiped off the map, there would be an easy way for future intelligent life-forms to know when the mid-20th century began: plastic.

From the 1950s to today, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced, with around half of it made since 2004. And since plastic does not naturally degrade, the billions of tons sitting in landfills, floating in the oceans or piling up on city streets will provide a marker if later civilizations ever want to classify our era. Perhaps they will call this time on Earth the Plastocene Epoch.

A new study in Science Advances published Wednesday offered the first analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever manufactured: how much has been made, what kind and what happens to the material once it has outlived its use.

Roland Geyer, the lead author of the study, said, “My mantra is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and without good numbers, you don’t know if we have a real problem.”

SCIENTIST-WARRIOR GEEKS: TURNING KNOWLEDGE INTO POWER

LUKASZ KAMIENSKI

Since antiquity, philosophers have wondered if it is possible to eliminate war. Positive answers have often been inspired by utopian imaginaries, but great hope in mankind’s ability to curb violence has also been invested in science. The advent of nuclear weapons made total war strategically dubious and politically untenable. Thankful for the “nuclear blessing” that guaranteed “the long peace,” the political scientist Elspeth Rostow proposed that the A-bomb should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But what would Alfred Nobel himself have said of such a nomination? Perhaps he would have approved; after all, his invention of dynamite was driven, he claimed, by a commitment to “produce a substance or a machine of such frightful efficacy for wholesale devastation that wars should thereby become altogether impossible”.

Nobel seemingly expected to put an end to war through the deterrent effect of his explosive discovery. This proved dangerously delusory, reminiscent as it was of the earlier optimism of Richard Jordan Gatling, who believed his machine gun would “enable one man to do as much battle duty as hundred…and consequently exposure to battle and disease would be greatly diminished”. If the American Civil War cast disillusionment onto Gatling’s hope, World War I tragically killed it off. An awkward obituary portraying Nobel as a man “who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before” could well have been written for Gatling. When applied, knowledge often negates the very motives behind its pursuit. Such is the dialectical relationship between science and war, inextricably linked and overlapping as they are.

The Battle for Wake Island: American Military's World War II 'Alamo'


In mid-December 1941, the 400 U.S. Marines who called the island outpost of Wake home stood a lonely sentinel in the watery Central Pacific wilderness, like a cavalry fort in an oceanic version of the Western frontier.

As the Japanese juggernaut spread the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere to the farthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean, most of America’s Pacific battle fleet, the backbone of the nation’s power in the hemisphere, rested on Pearl Harbor’smuddy bottom along with almost 2,000 young American sailors. Marines on Guam and British infantry in Malaya were fighting futile holding actions against swarms of enemy troops. In the Philippines, Japanese bombers demolished General Douglas MacArthur’s air force before it lifted from the ground, and Japanese infantry forced his troops into a disastrous retreat toward the Bataan Peninsula.

Next on Japan’s Timetable of Conquest

Hong Kong and Singapore were poised to fall, and the crowning blow—the destruction of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse at the hands of Japanese planes off Malaya—caused British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lament, “Over all the vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

Forget Radio Silence. Tomorrow’s Soldiers Will Move Under Cover of Electronic Noise

BY PATRICK TUCKER

The Army’s doctrine chief says it’s self-defeating to switch off the networks that enable U.S. military superiority.

Future soldiers will go into battle with their favorite phones, loaded with communications apps, drone steering programs, even offensive cyber weapons — although permission to use specific software and ad-hoc hardware will depend on missions, roles, and ranks. And they’ll move under an invisible shield of electronic noise and decoy information, according to a vision of future Army battlefield networking provided by Army Gen. David Perkins.

As head of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, Perkins peers into the future and directs the creation of new Army doctrines like the one scheduled to come out later this year. But it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that a one-size-fits-all approach to troops’ electronics and other equipment slows down buying, training, and even mobility. What’s more, it’s wasteful because soldiers are increasingly training themselves on devices they carry with them.

“Soldiers are coming into the Army. They say, ‘I don’t want the Army BlackBerry, I want my iPhone 20.’ But our networks aren’t necessarily designed that way,” Perkins said Tuesday at TRADOC’s “Mad Scientist” event in Washington, D.C.“We as an Army can decide, ‘Okay, Private Perkins, I’ll let you download this stuff onto your device but you can’t have this stuff. And then we say, ‘You know what, it’s only going to be able to work for this amount of time and then it shuts off. Meanwhile, General Perkins, you can have all of this stuff on your device, which is maybe more than Private Perkins can have.’”

Army Chief Milley Turns To Industry For Network Overhaul

By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR.

ARLINGTON: Want to sell information technology to the US Army? Then you need to write this down: Paul.A.Ostrowski.mil@mail.mil. That’s the email of the generalseeking industry’s input — historically something of a struggle for the service — as the Army reviews and overhauls its networks.

The Army’s long-term goal: a single unified network connecting everything from the home base to the battlefield, easy for the service to upgrade, easy for soldiers to use amidst the stress of combat, and hard for enemies to take down. The Army’s immediate question for industry: Can you build it?

An Army soldier sets up a highband antenna.

Lt. Gen. Ostrowski, the director of the Army Acquisition Corps, wants you to write him if you want in on a series of roundtables the Army is holding with selected companies, hosted by the federally funded Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). One roundtable was personally led by the Army Chief of Staff, the hard-charging, wisecracking Gen. Mark Milley, who is taking a hands-on role in the review he launched in May.

“Who’s in charge? The Chief’s in charge…. he and the Secretary of the Army,” Ostrowski said at yesterday’s Association of the US Army conference on networks. Those top leaders have brought together the Army’s Chief Information Officer/G-6 (chief signals officer), the Army resourcing staff (G-8), the Training & Doctrine Command that brainstorms future warfare concepts and writes requirements for new systems, and the acquisition officials who buy them.

WHEN CAN A SOLDIER DISOBEY AN ORDER?

JOHN FORD

In March 1968, a U.S. infantry platoon under the command of 2nd Lt. William “Rusty” Calley conducted a raid of a hamlet called My Lai in Quang Ngai Province of South Vietnam. After taking the hamlet, Calley ordered his men to round up the remaining civilians, herd them into a ditch, and gun them down. Somewhere between 350 and 500 civilians were killed on Calley’s instruction.

Calley was court-martialed for his actions and charged with 22 counts of murder. At his trial, he testified that his company commander, Capt. Ernest Medina, had ordered him to kill “every living thing” in My Lai, telling him there were no civilians there, only Viet Cong. When Calley radioed back to Medina that the platoon had rounded up a large number of unarmed civilians, he claimed Medina told him to “waste them.” Essentially, Calley defended gunning down hundreds of civilians by saying he was just following orders from his superiors (It should be noted that Medina denied giving these orders).

But Calley was unable to hide behind this defense. Every military officer swears an oath upon commissioning. That oath is not to obey all orders. It is to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It is simply wrong to say Calley had an obligation to follow any order no matter what. His first obligation was to obey the law, and the law prohibits the deliberate killing of unarmed civilians.

THE BEST THING AMERICA BUILT IN IRAQ: IRAQ’S COUNTER-TERRORISM SERVICE AND THE LONG WAR AGAINST MILITANCY

MICHAEL KNIGHTS AND ALEX MELLO

When the last pocket of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIL) was eradicated in west Mosul last week, it was fitting that the 36th Commando Battalion struck the final blows. The 36th was the first Iraqi special forces unit to be developed after Saddam’s fall. Today it is the longest serving component of the Counter-Terrorism Service — a force of less than 8,000 elite troops built by the United States, and the most militarily and politically reliable force at the disposal of the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi Army and Federal Police have regained some public trust since their collapse in June 2014, when Mosul and around twenty other cities fell to ISIL, but only two forces in Iraq have retained the faith of the Iraqi people throughout the war. One is the Counter-Terrorism Service, known in Iraq as the “Golden Division,” a model for multi-ethnic and cross-sectarian nationalism. The other is the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the volunteer units raised by a religious fatwa and government orders in June 2014, which has fallen under the leadership of an Iranian-backed U.S.-designated terrorist, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

The evolution of these two forces will likely shape the future of Iraq itself. Baghdad will need effective counter-terrorism forces backed by the most advanced intelligence capabilities available to the U.S.-led coalition if it is to pursue ISIL into Iraq’s deserts, borderlands, mountains, jungle groves, and urban hideouts. As important, the Iraqi government requires loyalist forces that are under the full command and control of the Iraqi prime minister — particularly as PMF leaders such as Muhandis and Hadi al-Ameri (head of the largest PMF faction Badr) continue to act outside prime ministerial control.