11 November 2018

A war in the Himalayas that the world can’t ignore


One of the first tasks of the Imran Khan government in Pakistan was to seal all offices of the South Asian Free Media Foundation (SAFMA).

On April 7, 2012, after an avalanche in Gyari trapped 140 Pakistani soldiers and civilians, SAFMA stated that Pakistan withdrew from Siachen without any agreement. SAFMA’s reason may have been the 139 killed in the 10th-deadliest avalanche in the world at Gyari.

However, the fact remains that all major passes in the entire Saltoro range, dominating the 76 km-long Siachen Glacier running east of Saltoro, are held by India while Pakistan holds low ground west of the Saltoro range, far away from the glacier. The Pakistani posts are located 900 meters below the 100 or so Indian Army posts on the Saltoro ridge.

After the Gyari tragedy, Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, asked his army to unilaterally withdraw from the area but the military remained adamant and sundry authors began to project Siachen as Pakistani territory. They began to assert fallaciously that claims India had “illegally occupied” the Siachen Glacier and that India demanded that Pakistan accept the current deployment along the Saltoro Range as a permanent border. It also claimed that India had signed an agreement in 1989 to withdraw from Siachen. They also argued that India wanted to sever the Karakoram Highway (KKH) advancing through the Saltoro Range. But all these contesting claims need to be viewed through the prism of a contentious history of the subcontinent emerging from colonial rule.

Taliban Pummel Security Forces Across Afghanistan

By Fahim Abed and Rod Nordland

KABUL, Afghanistan — Dozens of soldiers and police officers were killed or captured in nine Taliban attacks that overran security bases and outposts in different parts of Afghanistan during a 24-hour period that ended on Tuesday, officials said.

In perhaps the most severe blow, insurgents captured battalion headquarters of the Afghan Border Force in Farah Province, in western Afghanistan, killing or taking prisoner nearly the entire contingent of officers, with as many as 20 dead. In Kandahar Province, in the south, three separate attacks killed a total of 17 police officers. And in Ghazni, a central province, a joint military and police outpost fell only two days after it had been set up, with all 16 security officials there killed or wounded.

The attack on the headquarters in Farah, close to the Iranian border, destroyed the first battalion’s base in the district of Poshti Koh. Sgt. Gholam Mohammad, the senior noncommissioned officer, said from a clinic where he had been taken with a minor head wound that, in addition to the 20 border force officers killed, 25 had been taken captive by the Taliban. Three others escaped.

How a Taliban Assassin Got Close Enough To Kill A General

By Mujib Mashal 

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Minutes before killing one of the most important generals in Afghanistan, the infiltrator made a final call to the Taliban. Though only a teenager, the assassin managed to get hired as an elite guard, slipping into government service with a fake ID and no background check.

It put him so close to the center of power in Afghanistan that he was just paces away from Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of United States and NATO forces, when he suddenly raised his Kalashnikov and started firing in bursts.

The attack was a nightmare scenario for American and Afghan security planners: a Taliban operation months in the making that succeeded in breaching a high-level meeting, killing a powerful Afghan general and a provincial intelligence chief, wounding an Afghan governor and an American general — and barely missing General Miller and other officials standing nearby.

Joint Interests Against the U.S. Deepen the Sino-Russian Embrace


The strategic convergence between Russia and China has deepened in most arenas — the continuation of a long-term trend as both powers seek to reverse the U.S.-led dominance of the global order. Besides energy, Russia and China's economic relationship remains below its potential. Moscow and Beijing are misaligned in the geoeconomic plane because of core differences in their respective integration initiatives. The convergence between these two great powers will continue to deepen in 2019. Most crucially, security cooperation will gain traction, driven in part by Washington's growing squeeze on both Moscow and Beijing. 

The Russian-Chinese relationship is crucial in the evolution of the global order as the great power competition among the United States, Russia and China heats up. Assessing the relationship's path in the coming year involves analyzing its many facets: economic, political and military.

With Friends Like China, Who Needs Enemies?

China’s increasing global and regional influence with respect to the world economy, military modernization, and geopolitical interests has marked a dramatic shift in its engagement with the United States. The world’s great power and its rising power are engaged in a complex relationship that has been widely regarded as the most important bilateral relationship of the twenty-first century. Nonetheless, hegemonic rivalry and mutual suspicion of one another’s intentions have been exacerbated between the two states with detrimental effects. Many Americans encourage better relations between the two powers. Yet, there are some Americans, including President Trump, who believe that China’s strategic interests are simply incompatible with those of the United States. This incompatibility is illustrated in light of the American opioid crisis and China’s ‘re-education camps’.

The Opioid Crisis

China’s Beating the US to Market on Combat Drones, By Copying US Technology


The mockup of China’s CH-7 combat drone unveiled at Zhuhai Airshow this week looks a lot like one the U.S. Navy was developing — until it dropped the project, allowing China to position itself to beat the U.S. and other allies in fielding a long-range, high-altitude combat drone. That’s despite the fact that—in the words of one expert—the United States had a “ten-year head start.”

If the CH-7 makes its first flight next year and stays on track, it “will be the sole option for buyers wanting to field stealth combat drones” in 2022, crowed China Daily, citing “sources.” It will also be the sole option for buyers looking to purchase an aircraft carrier-capable combat drone (according to China’s state-run Global Times) that looks like the X-47B, an experimental drone that U.S. weapons-maker Northrop Grumman developed for the Navy.

Xi Jinping promises to expand imports and lower tariffs


SHANGHAI -- President Xi Jinping on Monday promised to further open China to foreigners by expanding imports, lowering tariffs and relaxing market access -- an apparent bid to counter criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump and others regarding Beijing's trade and business practices.

In a speech at the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo, Xi predicted the value of the country's "imported goods would reach $30 trillion, while imported services would top $10 trillion over the next 15 years."

Xi's remark comes amid heightened trade tensions between Beijing and Washington. The U.S. government has imposed tariffs on Chinese goods worth $250 billion. China has retaliated by imposing tariffs on American goods worth $110 billion.

France: New Caledonia to Vote in an Independence Referendum

European governments are dealing with multiple secessionist movements, both on the mainland and in their overseas possessions. Should New Caledonia vote in favor of independence from France, other separatist movements will feel emboldened. The vote is also relevant at a time of growing geopolitical competition in the Pacific.

What Will Happen Nov. 4

Voters in New Caledonia, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean some 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) east of Australia, will go to the polls on Nov. 4 to decide whether they desire independence from France. With a population of roughly 270,000 people, the islands are heavily dependent on financing from Paris. But they are also home to around 15 percent of the world's reserves of nickel, a metal present in a vast line of products from steel to electronics, and host French naval and air forces. Secessionist groups in Europe, as well as New Caledonia's neighbors, will be watching the vote closely.

A new DoD task force addresses the growing threats to critical technology

By: Justin Lynch 

Amid an alleged campaign of hacking by the Chinese government, efforts are taking place to prevent the exfiltration of data and protect sensitive information that is stored in the U.S. government and the defense-industrial base. In a memo dated Oct. 24, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced the creation of the Protecting Critical Technology Task Force to safeguard critical American technology. “Each year, American businesses lose hundreds of billions of dollars while our military superiority is challenged,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan said in a statement. “Together with our partners in industry, we will use every tool at our disposal to end the loss of intellectual property, technology and data critical to our national security.”

The PCTTF will report to Shanahan and Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the joint chief of staff. It includes representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Security Service, according to an industry official briefed on the matter.

The Illogic of the U.S. Sanctions Snapback on Iran

What’s new? A 40-year analysis of Iran’s economic performance and regional policy reveals little to no correlation between the two, as Tehran has continued to pursue policies it deems central to its national security no matter its degree of economic wellbeing at home.

Why does it matter? The Trump administration hopes that sanctions will force Iran to curb its regional activities. But data shows that outcome is uncertain as changes in Iran’s wealth have had little impact on the direction or capabilities of its regional policy. Sanctions risk empowering harder-line officials in the Islamic Republic and prompting them to lash out, exacerbating regional tensions.

What should be done? The U.S. optimally should leverage its sanctions to de-escalate regional tensions. That requires acknowledging Iran’s legitimate security concerns as long as Iran acknowledges those of its regional rivals. However unlikely at this time, the U.S., Iran and Gulf Arab states should take steps to build a more stable regional security architecture.


Why Leaving the Iran Nuclear Deal Won’t Work

Leaving the Iran nuclear deal is meant to put pressure on the Iranian government. But so far, most of the pressure is being felt by Iran’s citizens. 

Iran’s steeply depreciating currency has plunged the country into a potentially explosive economic crisis, with several waves of public protests since December. The situation was exacerbated by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the terms of the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions. 

The Trump administration believes that by exerting “maximum pressure,” Iran will inevitably return to the negotiating table, or face implosion or even regime change. Economic strangulation is the core of this strategy. By sanctioning Iran’s oil industry and banking institutions, the United States plans to weaken Iran’s economy and provoke its sizable middle class, along with working and poor classes, to rise up against the state.

Saudi Arabia’s New Approach in Iraq

Saudi Arabia appears to be pursuing a policy of pragmatic diplomacy with Iraq by aiming to build ties across the sectarian landscape. After more than 25 years of disengagement from Baghdad, Riyadh is now attempting to repair relations in order to build greater influence and counter Iran’s presence. Saudi Arabia’s regional strategy emphasizes curbing Iran’s influence, and it has recently embraced a series of bold foreign policy moves with Yemen, Qatar, and Lebanon. By contrast, the strategy in Iraq is largely consonant with the approach of gradual cooptation that Saudi Arabia has often adopted in the past.

Saudi Arabia has a number of political and economic tools to use in Iraq. Politically, it has sought to limit the influence of pro-Iranian groups by exploiting a growing intra-Shi`a rift, as many Shi`ite leaders and citizens are growing weary of Tehran’s overreach. Economically, it seeks to strengthen integration and build interdependencies with Baghdad, as well as benefit from the potential export market and trade that has been dominated by Iran and Turkey. 

Oman Just Bought Israeli Insurance


A little more than a week ago, the drumbeat of news concerning Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder was briefly interrupted by an extraordinary video coming from Oman’s state news agency. The footage showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being greeted by and meeting with Sultan Qaboos bin Said at his palace in Muscat.

Contact between the Israelis and the countries of the Persian Gulf has taken place for some time, and the Omanis have been particularly “forward-leaning,” as they say in Washington—then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Muscat in late 1994, when peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemed like a real possibility. Even so, the Omanis requested that the meeting be kept secret until its conclusion. Shimon Peres, who succeeded Rabin, hosted the Omani foreign minister in Jerusalem in 1995, and the countries established trade offices in 1996 that were shuttered after the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000.

The Eastern Mediterranean's New Great Game Over Natural Gas

The energy companies exploring the eastern Mediterranean are likely to make more discoveries after finding the massive Zohr natural gas field off Egypt in 2015. The overlapping political disputes of countries in the region — Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus — create a complex mosaic that will complicate development.  Each littoral state will seek to use its natural gas potential as a tool of political leverage against its neighbors.

Why People Are Worried That The Next Big Threat Will Come From Iranian Hackers Targeting American Oil Companies

Security experts are worried Iranian hackers may be preparing to attack against Western and Gulf oil companies in retaliation for US sanctions. FireEye said that APT33, a suspected Iranian hacking group, has been conducting a “spear-phishing” email campaign against organisations in the oil, gas, insurance and manufacturing sectors. An attack would not be unprecedented. In 2012 suspected Iranian hackers destroyed data on thousands of Saudi Aramco’s computers.

Businesses in Gulf countries allied to the US are under renewed threat from suspected Iranian hackers in what may amount to preparation for cyber retaliation against impending US sanctions on the country’s critical oil industry.

The Eastern European ‘Game Of Chicken’ – Analysis

By Dorka Takácsy*

Hungarian-Ukrainian relations seem to hit an all time low as a result of a series of poor choices. The clash over the minority language rights and dual citizenship led to a diplomatic scandal, and none of the parties show intentions to compromise. The conflict hits hardest the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, whose interests both governments claim to serve with their actions.

About a year ago, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a new law on education. It was in the making since four years, yet being modified until the last moment. The law was presented as a reform bringing the educational system closer to the European Union’s Bologna system, but it contains something that the European neighbors do absolutely not approve: while leaving the opportunity for kindergartens’ and primary schools’ first four classes’ minority language usage untouched, the reform reduced minority language education in secondary schools to ‘special classes’.

Hackers obtain nuclear power plant plans in France

Hackers have accessed confidential documents about nuclear plants and prisons in a cyberattack on a French firm, media reported. Some of the data was found on a rented server in Germany, according to the reports. Thousands of sensitive documents pertaining to nuclear power plants, prisons and tram networks have been stolen from the servers of a French company in a cyberattack, German and French media have reported Friday. The data illegally accessed from the French company Ingerop back in June amounted to more than 65 gigabytes, according to reports by German public broadcaster NDR, the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and French newspaper Le Monde.

Russia’s Cyberwar on Ukraine Is a Blueprint For What’s to Come

“Many global cybersecurity analysts have come to the same conclusion. Where better to train an army of Kremlin hackers in digital combat than in the no-holds-barred atmosphere of a hot war inside the Kremlin’s sphere of influence? ‘The gloves are off. This is a place where you can do your worst without retaliation or prosecution,’ says Geers, the NATO ambassador. ‘Ukraine is not France or Germany. A lot of Americans can’t find it on a map, so you can practice there.’ In that shadow of neglect, Russia isn’t only pushing the limits of its technical abilities, says Thomas Rid, a professor in the War Studies department at King’s College London. It’s also feeling out the edges of what the international community will tolerate. The Kremlin meddled in the Ukrainian election and faced no real repercussions; then it tried similar tactics in Germany, France, and the United States. Russian hackers turned off the power in Ukraine with impunity—and, well, the syllogism isn’t hard to complete. ‘They’re testing out red lines, what they can get away with,’ Rid says. ‘You push and see if you’re pushed back. If not, you try the next step.’”

The new threat matrix

John Mecklin

Scientists from the Manhattan Project launched the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945 to focus world attention on a new technology that posed a truly existential threat to humanity. In the words of founding Bulletin co-editor Eugene Rabinowitz, the Bulletin wanted “to awaken the public to the full understanding of the horrendous reality of nuclear weapons, and of their far-reaching implications for the future of mankind; to warn of the inevitability of other nations acquiring nuclear weapons within a few years, and of the futility of relying on America’s possession of the ‘secret’ of the bomb.” But in that same article, Rabinowitch noted that the problems raised by the nuclear bomb were “but one aspect of a broader and more complex challenge with which the scientific and technological revolution confronted mankind” (Rabinowitch 1970Rabinowitch, E. 1970. “Twenty-Five Years Later.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 26 (6): 4–34. doi:10.1080/00963402.1970.11457818.

After Democracy What Happens When Freedom Erodes?

By Dan Slater

Across the world, including in the United States as midterm elections unfold, experts lament that democracy is eroding, or backsliding, or perhaps even dying. But this tells us little about what is most likely to arise, exactly, in democracy’s stead. When democracy erodes, what remains? When a democracy backslides, where does it wind up? When democracy dies, what is born?

The simple answer is authoritarianism. But authoritarian regimes are every bit as diverse as democracies. Authoritarianism is not simply the absence of democracy but its own political beast—really a menagerie of very different beasts—with multiple modi operandi. For this reason, it is safe to say that democracy is under serious threat but that the threat is not a singular one.