17 April 2019

Taliban Declare Start of Spring Offensive Amid Talks With US

By Amir Shah

The Taliban announced Friday the start of their spring offensive despite talking peace with the United States and ahead of a significant gathering of Afghans meant to discuss resolutions to the protracted war and an eventual withdrawal of American troops from the country.

The insurgents released a lengthy missive in five languages, including English, saying the fighting would continue while foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.

The announcement is something the militant group does every year, even though Taliban attacks never really ceased during the harsh winter months. The insurgents carry out daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces and NATO troops, and inflicting staggering casualties, including among civilians. Most recently, a Taliban attack near the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan killed three Marines on Monday.

The Taliban now hold sway over half the country after a relentless 17-year war, America’s longest.

The Afghan National Unity Government’s ‘China Card’ Approach to Pakistan: Part 2

By Ahmad Bilal Khalil

The Afghan National Unit Government has been trying to get Chinese help in jumpstarting moribund peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. Kabul hopes to entice China to use its leverage on Pakistan, which hosts the Afghan Taliban leadership.

However, this is not the first time that an Afghan government turned to China for help in a desperate situation. There have been at least three other attempts in the past three decades; all of them in vain. As discussed in Part 1, the earlier lack of particular Chinese interests in the region (compared to the driving force of the Belt and Road Initiative today) made Beijing largely unresponsive to Afghan outreach. This time, as Chinese interests are expanding in the region, Beijing is now more ready to play a role in the Afghan peace process.

Since the establishment of National Unity Government (NUG) in Afghanistan in 2014, both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah have tried to use the “China Card” not only to influence Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiation table but also to get Beijing’s assistance on issues of security, economic, and regional integration. Abdullah’s requests in this regard are more particularly focused on asking China to persuade Pakistan to assist the Afghan peace process, while Ghani’s requests are broader, including economic interdependence, regional connectivity, and Chinese engagement in the peace process.

Preventing Catastrophe in Afghanistan


THE ISSUE

This brief presents a summary of key historical events in Afghanistan since 1989 and outlines a possible worst-case scenario following a U.S. and allied withdrawal from the country. The United States, Afghanistan, and its allies must work together in search for greater Afghan self-reliance, security, and stability in order to avoid a catastrophic scenario. Only then will Afghanistan be able to free itself of foreign presences and embark on its own journey to prosperity and self-reliance.

INTRODUCTION

A complete and sudden U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a recipe for disaster. Pulling the plug on U.S. troops, civilian presence, foreign aid, and security assistance could lead other NATO countries to do the same, encourage the Taliban to abandon peace talks, and ultimately lead to civil war. The Afghan forces could disintegrate, leading thousands of soldiers trained and equipped by the United States to side with the Taliban, the Islamic State, al-Qaeda or others. Drug production would exponentially increase, and terror organizations would gain significant ground. Civilians would be stripped of their social and political freedoms and flee the violence, adding to the millions of Afghan refugees and other migrants dispersed around the world.

5 Reasons U.S. Maritime Supremacy In The Western Pacific May Be Doomed

Loren Thompson

East Asia has become the heartland of the global economy, the place where most of the high-tech products defining the current stage of human development are produced. If you doubt that assessment, take a stroll through Best Buy and see if you can find anything made in America or Europe.

The Asian manufacturing revolution began in Japan, but now is concentrated in China. Even companies that ostensibly are located in other countries, like Samsung and Sony, depend on Chinese inputs for their signature products. As a result, China has become the greatest manufacturing power in the world.

Over time, China’s leaders will try to translate that economic prowess into military power and political influence. The Trump Administration is the first U.S. administration to explicitly acknowledge that China is seeking to displace U.S. influence—not just in East Asia, but around the world. Thus, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has described the focus of Pentagon plans for the future as “China, China, China.”

5 Reasons U.S. Maritime Supremacy In The Western Pacific May Be Doomed

Loren Thompson

East Asia has become the heartland of the global economy, the place where most of the high-tech products defining the current stage of human development are produced. If you doubt that assessment, take a stroll through Best Buy and see if you can find anything made in America or Europe.

The Asian manufacturing revolution began in Japan, but now is concentrated in China. Even companies that ostensibly are located in other countries, like Samsung and Sony, depend on Chinese inputs for their signature products. As a result, China has become the greatest manufacturing power in the world.

Over time, China’s leaders will try to translate that economic prowess into military power and political influence. The Trump Administration is the first U.S. administration to explicitly acknowledge that China is seeking to displace U.S. influence—not just in East Asia, but around the world. Thus, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan has described the focus of Pentagon plans for the future as “China, China, China.”

5G is a bigger deal and China is a bigger threat than you think, think tank says

By Brooke Crothers 

China's national flag is seen in front of cranes on a construction site at a commercial district in Beijing, China, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon 

The effect of 5G technology will be profound – and China could be setting itself up to lead, a conservative think-tank has found.

“Think about going from a garden hose with a weak pump to a fire hose,” former House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) said at discussion recently hosted by the Heritage Foundation, entitled “China, 5G Technology and Global Security.”


The promise of 5G is exponentially higher speeds than 4G. In the U.S., major carriers such as Verizon and AT&T are doing limited rollouts in select big cities but full-bore, widespread 5G won’t arrive until 2020.

How Hun Sen’s Crackdown in Cambodia Is Straining Ties With the West

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party now utterly dominate Cambodia, after the CPP won control of the entire lower house of parliament in elections in July 2018. The regime had, of course, ensured in advance that the CPP would sweep the vote, the culmination of Hun Sen’s increasingly brazen repression. 

With political regression all but complete, what is left for the remnants of the Cambodian opposition party? How will key international donors and foreign countries respond, and what’s next for Hun Sen himself?

The Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP, which was officially dissolved by the country’s top court in November 2017, and other opposition forces can expect more efforts to throttle them. Although Cambodia still maintains a more vibrant civil society and media than, say, Laos, Hun Sen will likely keep up his crackdown, while adapting his party for an eventual shift at the top, a hard task in a country he has ruled for three decades.

The opposition has few good options. Before the election, it seemed there was some possibility that Hun Sen, as he has in the past, might try and cool tensions after the vote, perhaps by co-opting some opposition figures, such as one of the CNRP leaders, Sam Rainsy. But that seems unlikely now.

China's Military Modernization Push Remains a Work in Progress


Over the past 20 years, China has made tremendous progress in improving its military capabilities, but its modernization program will remain a work in progress in the decade to come. China trails the United States in terms of nuclear attack submarines, the ability to conduct aerial refueling and a sufficient amphibious capacity, and it is unlikely to close the gap in the immediate future.

Beijing will continue to develop its capabilities on these fronts, but based on current projections, it will not reach parity with the United States by 2030.

There's no question that China has rushed forth at breakneck speed to modernize its military over the past few decades. With the second most powerful navy in the world, China has restructured its military, overhauled its command and control, introduced new capabilities and expanded its logistics. The country has advanced so far that U.S. officials warned in the 2019 Defense Intelligence Agency's "China Military Power" report that China has grown more confident in its new capabilities and could start actively using them. Despite its impressive rollout of new weapons and the development of new capabilities, however, China isn't ready to close the gap on the United States just yet. Whether on nuclear-powered submarines, aerial refueling capabilities or the logistical ability to land a sufficient number of forces in Taiwan, Beijing still has plenty of work to do before it can finally attain some of its most cherished goals.

How Europe learned to fear China

By BRUNO MAÇÃES

When did Europe become so afraid of China?

Last month, the European Commission published its much-awaited new strategic outlook on China. The document offers up sweeping judgments on China’s development strategy and 10 detailed responses. It is written in the usual technocratic jargon that is second, or even first, nature to officials in Brussels, but it also shows signs of a more political approach. China is described as a “systemic rival,” whose economic power and political influence have grown with unprecedented scale and speed.

There’s been a significant change in Europe’s attitude to Beijing. Not too long ago, Europeans shrugged at China’s rise. Overnight, it seems, their world changed. So, why did the tide turn? And how did we get here?

The Strategic Logic Behind the China Trade War

by Robert E. Kelly

U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with China is controversial. It cuts against the grain of traditional American openness to foreign trade. It violates free trade, a core tenet of market capitalism and one of the few areas where the economics profession is nearly monolithic in its policy recommendation. And certainly, a protracted trade war with the world’s second-largest economy will have negative economic impacts. Trump’s tariffs may save jobs in one sector, but only at the cost of jobs in other sectors as trade diversion and inefficiencies set in.

But there is a strategic logic for trade curtailment with China—namely growing political and military competition with China, especially in East Asia. Curiously, Trump almost never makes this argument. Trump has referred to himself as a “Tariff Man,” and he routinely makes protectionist and mercantilist arguments for his trade policies. This often leads to bizarre outcomes, such as the White House’ assertion that imports from Canada or North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries constitute a national-security threat to the United States.

The ‘Regime Security Dilemma’ in US–China Relations

By Elsa Kania
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Today’s debates on whether US–China relations are deteriorating towards a ‘new cold war’ often involve disagreement over the extent to which there’s an ideological dimension to this competition. By some accounts, it’s purely about power and security, resulting from the historical inevitability of rivalry, if not outright conflict, between rising and ruling powers near a moment of transition.

In The tragedy of great power politics, John J. Mearsheimer claimed, ‘Whether China is democratic and deeply enmeshed in the global economy or autocratic and autarkic will have little effect on its behavior, because democracies care about security as much as non-democracies do, and hegemony is the best way for any state to guarantee its own survival.’ This tendency of realism to dismiss the relevance of regime type and ideational considerations is particularly problematic in the case of US–China relations.

Indonesia’s Jokowi Seeks a Second Chance to Live Up to His Reformist Brand

Joshua Kurlantzick 

Indonesians go to the polls this week to elect their president and a new parliament. It is the first time in Indonesia’s modern history that both elections will be held on the same day. But most of the focus is on the presidential race and incumbent Joko Widodo, widely known as Jokowi, who remains the strong favorite against challenger Prabowo Subianto, a former lieutenant general whom he defeated in a tight election five years ago. Most polls show Jokowi with a wide lead, although Prabowo’s campaign could be picking up steamin its final days.

The Shores of Lake Balkhash

Russia has offered to help Kazakhstan build a nuclear power plant near Lake Balkhash.

During Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s recent visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed using “Russian technology” (a possible reference to Russian nuclear firm Rosatom) to construct a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. Tokayev’s deputy energy minister said that while no such plans have been finalized, the plant could be built in Ulken, a town on the shores of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan’s Almaty province.

Kazakhstan needs a new power station. Approximately 69 percent of its electricity is produced from coal, 20 percent from natural gas, 9 percent from hydropower, less than 2 percent from oil and less than 1 percent from other renewable sources. Almaty province is located in an area rich in oil and gas, and yet, it’s at risk for severe power shortages.

This isn’t the first time Russia has offered its help in constructing a nuclear power plant for Kazakhstan; Moscow has proposed a handful of projects since the 1990s, but these have routinely sparked public criticism in Kazakhstan and ultimately have been scrapped. This time around, Russia’s offer could be seen as a play to maintain influence in Central Asia as China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects proliferate across the region. Rosatom is also helping Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan’s regional power rival, to construct its own nuclear station.

The Trump-Netanyahu Alliance

By David Remnick

Twenty-one years ago, Benzion Netanyahu, a scholar of medieval history and the father of an Israeli Prime Minister serving his first term, relaxed with a reporter at his home on Haportzim Street, in West Jerusalem, and wondered aloud if his boy, who went by “Bibi,” was made of the right stuff. Benzion was an uncompromising ideologue, a maximalist, and a member of the Revisionist movement. (The Revisionist hymn included the line “the Jordan has two banks; this one is ours, the other one, too.”) He despised the liberal élites. They had stifled his academic career, he believed, and weakened the country with their prattle about making peace with the Palestinians. Supporters of the Labor Party, the dominant force in Israeli politics for decades, did not, in his mind, live in the real world. “Jewish history is in large measure a history of holocausts,” he said that day.

Benzion died in 2012. He was a hundred and two. Any lingering worries he might have had that his son lacked the political cunning and the ideological mettle to put an end to the two-state expectations raised by the Oslo peace accords were misplaced. Benjamin Netanyahu, who won a fifth term last week, has proved himself shrewd, cynical, and willing to do and to say anything to survive in office.

Labor Is In High Demand In The U.S.

by Felix Richter

The number of job openings in the United States dropped to an 11-month low of 7.1 million by the end of February, according to new figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this week. Despite the 538,000 decline in job openings, the number of unfilled positions still exceeded the number of jobless, which stood at 6.2 million in February, according to the BLS.

The number of job openings has now continuously exceeded the level of unemployment in the U.S. since March 2018, indicating high demand for labor, especially in the private sector where 6.4 million positions were unfilled at the end of February. The fact that qualified workers are a scarce resource these days should benefit workers, as the normal reaction to demand exceeding supply is rising prices, i.e. wages.

How the EU Can Take On Dirty Money, the Darker Side of Globalization

Nate Sibley 

When the European Commission recently attempted to blacklist 23 countries that it accuses of maintaining deficient systems to restrict money laundering and terrorism financing, a technocratic spat quickly escalated into a diplomatic dispute. Though only one element of sweeping reforms intended to strengthen the European Union’s own anti-money laundering regime, the list not only had the predictable effect of enraging countries included on it—such as Saudi Arabia and three U.S. territories—but also provoked insurmountable criticism from within the EU itself. The list was ultimately rejected by 27 of 28 member states after a fierce lobbying campaign, forcing the European Commission to withdraw it and come up with a new version later this year.

The EMP Threat Is Real, but It Shouldn't Keep You up at Night


U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 26 outlining the administration's policy pertaining to the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The policy mandates that a variety of government agencies coordinate with the private sector to warn of an impending EMP, and to take measures to prepare for, protect against, respond to and recover from an EMP event — outlining specific tasks for the departments of Homeland Security, Defense and Energy, among other agencies.

Per the new mandate, the secretary of Homeland Security — in consultation with the aforementioned government agencies, organizations and private sector partners — will now submit regular reports to the U.S. president that not only analyze the technological options available to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure to the effects of EMPs, but identify gaps in available technologies to help guide research and development efforts.

The Shores of Lake Balkhash

Russia has offered to help Kazakhstan build a nuclear power plant near Lake Balkhash.

During Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s recent visit to Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed using “Russian technology” (a possible reference to Russian nuclear firm Rosatom) to construct a nuclear power plant in Kazakhstan. Tokayev’s deputy energy minister said that while no such plans have been finalized, the plant could be built in Ulken, a town on the shores of Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan’s Almaty province.

Kazakhstan needs a new power station. Approximately 69 percent of its electricity is produced from coal, 20 percent from natural gas, 9 percent from hydropower, less than 2 percent from oil and less than 1 percent from other renewable sources. Almaty province is located in an area rich in oil and gas, and yet, it’s at risk for severe power shortages.

This isn’t the first time Russia has offered its help in constructing a nuclear power plant for Kazakhstan; Moscow has proposed a handful of projects since the 1990s, but these have routinely sparked public criticism in Kazakhstan and ultimately have been scrapped. This time around, Russia’s offer could be seen as a play to maintain influence in Central Asia as China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects proliferate across the region. Rosatom is also helping Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan’s regional power rival, to construct its own nuclear station.

Libya Is Entering Another Civil War. America Can Stop It.

FREDERIC WEHREY, JEFFREY FELTMAN

On Thursday General Khalifa Hifter, the leader of eastern Libya militias, ordered his forces to advance on Tripoli, the capital, where the country’s internationally backed Government of National Accord is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.

Ghassan Salame, the United Nations envoy to Libya, had recently urged opposing Libyan factions to come together at a U.N.-brokered national conference in mid-April to lay the groundwork for elections and pull Libya back from the brink. By ordering his forces toward Tripoli when U.N. Secretary General António Guterres was in the city to help organize the national conference, General Hifter has made his disdain for the peace efforts clear.

The septuagenarian commander, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, France, Egypt, Russia and Saudi Arabia, was aiming to scuttle the conference in a brazen bid for power. But he has encountered more resistance than he expected.

Tech Vs Energy: Which Comes Out On Top?

by Robert Rapier

In a recent column, I highlighted a piece of investment advice from famed investor Warren Buffett. He advised investors to stick with the fundamentals. Invest in companies that boast strong cash flow, with products and services that won’t be obsolete in a few years.

That is certainly sound advice. If you look at the portfolio of Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B), you’ll find a wide variety companies that all meet his criteria.

One of the companies in the Berkshire portfolio is the refiner Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX). I frequently sing the praises of refiners as excellent choices for both growth and income, as long as you can get them at a reasonable price.

Let’s review the refiners, and compare some of their important financial metrics to three high profile technology companies. I know the general businesses are apples and oranges, but I want to compare the yields and cash-generating ability. Which companies come out on top?
Refining 101