23 October 2019

China has quietly altered its boundary with Bhutan after Doklam stand-off with India

COL. VINAYAK BHAT (RETD)

Through last winter, Chinese activity on the Doklam Plateau has ensured that India’s boundary with Bhutan is now the de facto boundary with China.

New Delhi: China has altered its boundary with Bhutan, a year after the tense 71-day face-off with India in the tri-junction area of Doklam had prevented a similar attempt.

Analysis of satellite imagery by ThePrint has found that Beijing has managed to effect this change through frenetic activity through last winter and the monsoon season.

At the Doklam plateau, India’s boundary with Bhutan has now become the de facto boundary with China. This is a change of status quo.

Diplomatic wranglings

The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class

By Pankaj Mishra

Describing Britain’s calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947, the novelist Paul Scott wrote that in India the British “came to the end of themselves as they were” — that is, to the end of their exalted idea about themselves. Scott was among those shocked by how hastily and ruthlessly the British, who had ruled India for more than a century, condemned it to fragmentation and anarchy; how Louis Mountbatten, accurately described by the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts as a “mendacious, intellectually limited hustler,” came to preside, as the last British viceroy of India, over the destiny of some 400 million people.

Britain’s rupture with the European Union is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by the country’s rulers. The Brexiteers, pursuing a fantasy of imperial-era strength and self-sufficiency, have repeatedly revealed their hubris, mulishness and ineptitude over the past two years. Though originally a “Remainer,” Prime Minister Theresa May has matched their arrogant obduracy, imposing a patently unworkable timetable of two years on Brexit and laying down red lines that undermined negotiations with Brussels and doomed her deal to resoundingly bipartisan rejection this week in Parliament.

America in Afghanistan

By Carter Malkasian

Given the length of the conflict in that country, there is no shortage of literature covering America’s longest war. Yet, many works on the war in Afghanistan cover the accounts of military members and their tactical engagements. Sharifullah Dorani has written a short history of high-level U.S. policy making in Afghanistan, entitled America in Afghanistan: Foreign Policy and Decision Making from Bush to Obama to Trump. The book reviews the major decisions of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. Dorani covers this well-tilled ground in an interesting, locally informed way and, unlike other works, brings it together in a single volume.

Dorani grew up in Kabul, living through the Soviet-Afghan war and then the civil war that followed. He and his family finally fled the country in 1994 because of the violence wracking Kabul. After the fall of the Taliban, he returned to work for several years. He then earned his doctorate at Durham University, going back and forth to Afghanistan over ten years to complete his research. America in Afghanistan is based on his doctoral dissertation.

Is Hong Kong the Battleground for a New Cyber Cold War?

By NICK FRISCH
Earlier this month, Ip Kwok-him, a top adviser to Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, mused about measures that, a few short months ago, would have been unthinkable. “The government,” he said, “will consider all legal means” of curtailing the monthslong protest movement. “We would not rule out restricting the internet.” On the world stage, Beijing has defended its domestic internet controls as critical to “stability maintenance” and demanded that other nations respect China’s “internet sovereignty”—a euphemism for the web of surveillance, censorship, and Chinese Communist Party policing of local tech firms. But Hong Kong—where Beijing officially has political sovereignty, but does not directly control the internet—is testing the World Wide Web’s original promise of cyberspace without borders.

In 1997, when the British colony of Hong Kong was handed back to Chinese sovereignty, the internet was in its infancy. Under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement brokered between Beijing and London, Hong Kong preserved many of its institutions as a special administrative region: customs and immigration checkpoints on the old colonial border, independent courts, a separate system of currency, and civil liberties. Beijing pledged that Hong Kong’s freedoms would remain unchanged for 50 years and promised a pathway to elected democratic representation to match the city’s freedoms of speech and assembly.

How China Loses Friends and Alienates People


CLAREMONT – The Chinese folk saying “lift a rock only to drop it on one’s own feet,” or its English equivalent – “to shoot oneself in the foot” – perfectly describes the self-defeating inclinations of dictatorship. And nothing exemplifies such inclinations so much as China’s recent effort to bully America’s National Basketball Association (NBA).

The row began when the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, tweeted (and quickly deleted) support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The response was swift. China’s government blacklisted the Rockets; ordered the state-run television network to cancel broadcasts of two NBA pregame matches; and instructed Chinese companies to suspend their sponsorships and licensing agreements with the NBA.

As the NBA’s largest international market, China expected the league to scurry back into line, apologize for offending the Communist Party of China (CPC), and pledge never to repeat the mistake. And, initially, the NBA did just that. “We feel greatly disappointed at [Morey’s] inappropriate speech, which is regrettable,” the league said in a statement. “We take respecting Chinese history and culture as a serious matter.”

No, China's Communist Party Is Not Running on Borrowed Money

by Salvatore Babones

WHEN CHINESE leader Mao Zedong died in 1976, Chinese communism perished with him. Mao had always suspected his successor, Deng Xiaoping, of being a “capitalist roader.” In a sense, he was right. It took a couple of years for Deng to cement his place at the top, but he ultimately emerged victorious at the famous “Third Plenary” meeting of the Communist Party’s central committee in December 1978. On December 18, the meeting opened in Beijing. On December 19, Coca-Cola held a press conference in Atlanta to announce it had signed an agreement to reenter the Chinese market. On the same day in Seattle, Boeing announced the sale of three 747s to Air China.

By the time the Third Plenary closed on December 22, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had formally committed to “conscientiously transforming the system and methods of economic management” by giving “local authorities and industrial and agricultural enterprises ... greater power of decision in management”—though of course all “under the guidance of unified state planning.”

China's Worldwide Investment Project Is A Push For More Economic And Political Power

by Amitrajeet A. Batabyal

Inspired by the ancient Silk Road, China is investing in a massive set of international development projects that are raising concerns about how the country is expanding its power around the world.

Initially announced in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the so-called “Belt and Road Initiative" has China planning to invest in economic development and transportation in more than 130 countries and 30 international organizations. Projects range across Asia, but also include places in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and South America.

With a projected cost of more than US$1 trillion, it may be the most ambitious infrastructure project undertaken in human history. The country hopes it will all be completed by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. My research in international economics with particular reference to China shows that Beijing has both economic and political plans for how these investments will pay off.

When Iran Welcomed Jewish Refugees

BY MIKHAL DEKEL

In the summer of 1942, Bandar Pahlavi, a sleepy Iranian port town on the Caspian Sea, became a city of refugees. On its shores were clusters of tents, a quarantine area for typhoid patients, and a large area for distributing food. Outside the tented area, local peddlers hung baskets of sweet cakes and sewing thread, disappearing periodically when club-wielding policemen appeared. 

The refugees were Polish citizens who three years prior, with the outbreak of World War II, had fled into the Soviet Union and now, having journeyed nearly 5,000 miles, sailed from Soviet Turkmenistan to northern Iran. More than 43,000 refugees arrived in Bandar Pahlavi in March 1942.

A second wave of almost 70,000 came with the August transports, and a third group of nearly 2,700 was transferred by land from Turkmenistan to Mashhad in eastern Iran. Of these, roughly 75,000 were soldiers, cadets, and officers of what was known as Anders’ Army, a Polish army in exile that had assembled in the Soviet Union under the command of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders.

The Origins of New US-Turkish Relations

By George Friedman

For several years, there has been a significant shift underway in U.S. strategy toward the Middle East, where Washington has consistently sought to avoid combat. The United States is now compelled to seek accommodation with Turkey, a regional power in its own right, based on terms that are geopolitically necessary for both. Their relationship has been turbulent, and while it may continue to be so for a while, it will decline. Their accommodation has nothing to do with mutual affection but rather with mutual necessity. The Turkish incursion into Syria and the U.S. response are part of this adjustment, one that has global origins and regional consequences.

Similarly, the U.S. decision to step aside as Turkey undertook an incursion in northeastern Syria has a geopolitical and strategic origin. The strategic origin is a clash between elements of the Defense Department and the president. The defense community has been shaped by a war that has been underway since 2001. During what is called the Long War, the U.S. has created an alliance structure of various national and subnational groups. Yet the region is still on uneven footing. The Iranians have extended a sphere of influence westward. Iraq is in chaos. The Yemeni civil war still rages, and the original Syrian war has ended, in a very Middle Eastern fashion, indecisively.

Iran’s Proxies Are More Powerful Than Ever

BY ARIANE TABATABAI, COLIN P. CLARKE 
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Since U.S. President Donald Trump took office, his administration has pursued a so-called maximum pressure strategy designed to alter the course of Iran’s foreign and security policies. The strategy relies heavily on sanctions to change Iranian behavior by complicating its access to external markets and the international financial infrastructure. The overarching objective is to deny Tehran the financial resources required to maintain nuclear and missile programs and a network of proxies including Lebanese Hezbollah, various Shiite militias in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and a growing network of foreign fighters in Syria recruited by Iran from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It’s impossible to deny that the maximum pressure campaign has damaged Iran. The country’s economy has slowed down significantly, and its oil revenues have plummeted. As the Trump administration sees it, Iran now has fewer resources to devote to its regional agenda. And the less money Iran has at its disposal, according to this line of thinking, the less damage it can inflict directly or via its proxies in the region.

But if maximum pressure has succeeded at its narrow goal of damaging the Iranian economy, it has failed at its broader goal of changing Iranian foreign policy.

The Complicated Geopolitics of U.S. Oil Sanctions on Iran

by Amy M. Jaffe
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It is often said, perhaps with some hyperbole, that Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers was the best hope for conflict resolution in the Middle East. Its architect John Kerry argues instead that the 2015 deal’s limited parameter of closing Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon is sufficient on the merits. The Trump administration is taking a different view, focusing on Iran’s escalating threats to U.S. allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Those threats, which have included missile, drone, and cyberattacks on Saudi oil facilities, are looming large over the global economy because they are squarely influencing the volatility of the price of oil. One could argue that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iranian deal, referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has injected an even higher degree of risk into oil markets, where traders now feel that the chances of Mideast conflict resolution are lower.

But, the Trump administration could argue otherwise. From its perspective, the United States extended to Iran $6 billion in frozen funds, opened the door for a flood of spare parts to be shipped into Iran’s suffering oil and petrochemical sector, and looked the other way while European companies rushed in for commercial deals. In exchange, it’s true, Iran began to implement the terms of JCPOA, but as Secretary of State Pompeo laid out in a major speech on the subject, the nuclear deal has failed to turn down the heat on the wide range of conflicts plaguing the Mideast region.

Saudi Arabia’s Oil Industry Faces Unprecedented Risk and Uncertainty

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen 

Saudi Arabia’s oil sector has probably never seen developments as jarring as the ones since late August. An unprecedented shakeup in the Ministry of Energy, with a member of the royal family appointed energy minister for the first time, was followed by the stunningly precise attacks on oil facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia in the early hours of Sept. 14. Once-inconceivable questions are now being asked about the extent of U.S. commitments to the kingdom’s security, which have formed the backbone of Saudi policy for decades. How will the kingdom react?

The removal of Khalid al-Falih as both energy minister and chairman of the state oil giant Aramco means that two prominent technocrats entrusted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to spearhead his vaunted “Vision 2030” economic development program, which aims to shift the Saudi economy away from oil, have now fallen from grace. Adel al-Faqih, a former minister of economy and planning once close to the crown prince, was held in the notorious Ritz-Carlton roundup in November 2017, and is still being detained.

Trump’s Syria Exit Destroyed the Slim Chances of Brokering an End to the War

Candace Rondeaux 

After eight years of chaos, it is hard to know which moment in the history of Syria’s brutal civil war-turned-proxy-conflict will ultimately stand out as the most egregious. There can be little doubt, though, that President Donald Trump’s sudden decision last week to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and abandon America’s Kurdish allies in the militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces—their most reliable partners on the ground in the campaign against the Islamic State—will rank as one of the most spectacular failures in the history of American foreign policy.

The White House’s turnabout by tweet in Syria has not only shredded the last bit of America’s credibility as a trustworthy ally and security guarantor in Middle East; it has also effectively destroyed the already slim chances of brokering an end to the war and some kind of sustainable peace, possibly for years to come. With fewer American boots on the ground and relations with Syrian Kurdish leaders fractured, the U.S. has little room now to influence outcomes in Syria. What started as a policy of equivocation about the indispensability of American leadership in the Middle East under the Obama administration in 2012 is now, seven years later under Trump, a policy of American capitulation to Russian aggression and appeasement of Turkey’s worst authoritarian impulses.

Trump’s Syria withdrawal is a boon for ISIS — and a nightmare for Europe

Daniel L. Byman

With the surprise withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria and the subsequent — and immediate — commencement of Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces, chaos has ensued. Kurdish forces are claiming that hundreds of ISIS prisoners have escaped at the Ain Issa detention facility while fighting raged nearby, while two officials told the New York Times that the U.S. military had failed to secure 60 or so high-value detainees before its forces departed.

President Donald Trump, however, has assured Americans that his new approach would not prove a threat to the U.S. homeland, saying, “They’re going to be escaping to Europe.”

Europeans, to be sure, will not find this reassuring. Given the thousands of Europeans who went to fight for the Islamic State and the problems Europe has had with jihadist terrorism in general, they should be alarmed by the U.S. abandonment of the Syrian Kurds and the possible escape of large numbers of ISIS prisoners. The good news is that the potential threat illustrates the counterterrorism progress made in the years since 9/11, but the end of the U.S. role in Syria is clearly bad news.

The Former U.S. ISIS Envoy on Trump and the Crisis in Syria

By Isaac Chotiner

Five years ago, President Obama appointed Brett McGurk as his special envoy to counter isis. The Obama Administration had sent a limited number of troops to Syria; McGurk’s job was focussed on destroying isis strongholds and supporting the Kurds in northern Syria, who had taken up much of the anti-isis fighting. Last December, McGurk and the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, abruptly resigned after President Trump threatened to pull American troops out of Syria. “The President’s decision to leave Syria was made without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts,” McGurk wrote in the Washington Post, in January. He warned that Trump’s choices “are already giving the Islamic State—and other American adversaries—new life.”

Unstable at speed: hypersonics and arms control


Hypersonic systems are now transitioning from the laboratory to weapons inventories, including in China, Russia and the United States. If the risks of crisis instability and further proliferation are to be managed, arms-control measures need to be considered, writes Douglas Barrie.

China’s DF-17 is likely to be the first hypersonic boost-glide system to enter military service, but other hypersonic weapons will soon follow, both unpowered and powered. If the proliferation of such systems and its impact are to be managed, arms-control measures will be needed. However, demanding enough within a stable security architecture, arms control is far more difficult when the supporting structures are already collapsing, as shown by the failure of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty; arguably it also becomes the more valuable.

For decades an expensive laboratory pastime, hypersonic glide vehicles and hypersonic cruise missiles are no longer tomorrow’s weaponry. For hypersonic glide systems that day is now, and in a period when major-power consensus on security has collapsed. The timing is not propitious.

High-speed weapons

Max Weber Diagnosed His Time and Ours

By Robert Zaretsky

In early 1919, Germany risked becoming a failed state. Total war had morphed into a civil war that pitted revolutionaries against reactionaries, internationalists against nationalists, and civilians against soldiers. Munich was the bloodiest arena: over a few short months, the city was ruled by a Bavarian king, a socialist prime minister, and a Soviet republic. The first was overthrown, the second murdered, and supporters of the third slaughtered. “Everything is wretched, and everything is bloody,” Victor Klemperer, a professor at the University of Munich, wrote in his diary, “and you always want to laugh and cry at once.”

These events framed the much-anticipated lecture “Politics as a Vocation” that Klemperer’s colleague Max Weber gave that same year. One hundred years later, there are few better texts to serve as a guide for the increasingly wretched and violent events now unfolding in our own time and place. In particular, Weber’s discussion of the charismatic politician, as well as his distinction between the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility, has perhaps even greater relevance in our own era than in his. 

A CREATIVE REVOLUTIONARY FORCE

Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President

By William H. McRaven
Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril.

The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation. What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events — and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.

On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders. They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families. They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades. They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for — including, if necessary, their lives.

Russia finds few fruits to harvest in the scramble for eastern Syria

Pavel K. Baev
With the Turkish incursion into Kurdish fighter-controlled northeastern Syria, the war has taken a new turn. It was long in the making, yet most stakeholders are reevaluating risks and losses rather than counting benefits.

The damage to U.S. positions and influence is heavy, as my Brookings colleagues have carefully assessed. The hastily negotiated ceasefire deal cannot rehabilitate the compromised U.S. credibility, even if it holds. Turkey finds itself in deep trouble, which affects President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s calculus for consolidating domestic support for the military operation — which should have been called “Violent Quagmire” rather than “Peace Spring.” Israel is deeply concerned about the consequences of this intervention, and Iran is also signaling its disapproval.

Russia, for its part, is typically portrayed as the party than benefits the most from this micro-geopolitical scramble. But in fact, Moscow has maneuvered into a rather tight corner, where its obligations are heavy and the profits are far from rich.

RECONFIGURED THEATER

10 Hard Realities of America’s Next Syria Policy

BY CHRISTOPHER J. BOLAN
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The troops are leaving, but the U.S. still has regional and global interests in what happens there.

U.S. troops are leaving Syria, and yet what happens there will continue to affect U.S. interests, both regionally and globally. 

Tens of thousands of Islamic State terrorists imprisoned in northeastern Syria could escape, unleashing foreign fighters to sow havoc in their homes in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The Turkish offensive could displace as many as 300,000 Syrians, exacerbating the already monumental challenge of addressing the basic humanitarian needs of the 6 million Syrians who have taken refuge elsewhere in their country, and the nearly 7 million who have fled altogether. Russian President Putin is pointing to the U.S. withdrawal as a reason to turn to Moscow for security guarantees.

U.S. policymakers tasked with finding a way forward need a clear-eyed understanding both of American goals and objectives in the region and of the constraints placed on the United States by political, economic, and military realities. Acquiring this understanding requires an unflinching look at various hard truths. Among them: