20 March 2014

India Will Not Support Western Sanctions Against Russia

Despite refusing to support unilateral sanctions, India may find it hard to continue its balancing game with Russia.
March 20, 2014 

Russia’s annexation of Crimea has put India in somewhat of a tough spot. While India purports to practice independence in its foreign policy, it remains reliant on Moscow for around 75 percent of its arms imports. But defense purchases aren’t the only consideration in its foreign policy position on the Crimean issue.Similar to China, India has its own considerations regarding Crimea’s referendum to join the Russian Federation — supporting a referendum as the basis for breaking up a country leads India down a dangerous path regarding its own claims to Kashmir (a majority Muslim state that, if offered a referendum, may opt for independence or joining Pakistan).

On Wednesday, reports emerged that sources within the Indian government say that India will refrain from backing sanctions against Russia. The United States and the European Union will pursue a series of limited sanctions against certain Russian political elites. These so called “smart sanctions” have come under scrutiny in the West for not being severe enough given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disregard for international law.

How India reacts to Russia’s annexation of Crimea will ultimately have important ramifications for how it is perceived on the world stage and for its continued relationship with the Russian Federation. At a time when India’s relations with the United States have been at an all-time low following the spectacle of the Devyani Khobragade affair, India could alienate itself further from the United States by not doing enough to take a strong stand on the Crimean issue.

As a matter of policy, India does not support unilateral sanctions against any state without the backing of the United Nations — in the Russian case, given that any resolution at the UN Security Council on the Crimean issue will be vetoed by Russia, it appears unlikely that India will back sanctions at any point. According to reports from IBN Live, the upcoming UN General Assembly session on Crimea will be important for India’s foreign policy on the issue. India will be able to back a resolution promoting Ukraine’s territorial integrity but will likely abstain from any resolution condemning Russia.

Meanwhile, India’s National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has gone on the record as acknowledging that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Crimea. ”We are watching what is happening in Ukraine with concern… The broader issues of reconciling various interests involved and there are, after all, legitimate Russian and other interests involved and we hope those are discussed, negotiated and there is a satisfactory resolution to them,” Menon said earlier this month as the crisis in Crimea slowly ramped up.

If the international community comes together to isolate Russia in the short-term, as is likely, New Delhi might find that its balancing act grows increasingly more difficult.

In another Varanasi

Pratap Bhanu Mehta |  March 19, 2014

As Varanasi becomes a gigantic political ‘akhara’, these esoteric histories might make us think more reflectively about our civilisational aspirations. (PTI)
Here, intellectual engagement transcended identities in the name of knowledge.

The idea of Varanasi is overdetermined with symbolism. Each story comes with its distinctive mix of sin and redemption. I recently had occasion to think of a forgotten Varanasi project, perhaps of interest to a handful of scholars, if that. This was the project of Varanasi, amongst other places, as a site of intellectual modernity, recently brilliantly recovered for us by Jonardon Ganeri’s The Lost Age of Reason.

I was thinking of the project in the context of a rather perplexing conundrum. I was teaching two texts back to back: Iqbal’s dazzling book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and Sri Aurobindo’s ambitious The Human Cycle. One of the questions emerging from the discussion was this. These are works of breathtaking ambition. They have a philosophy of history, they deeply engage with Western thinkers like Nietzsche and Bergson, they synthesise reason with other aspects of the human personality, and they wrestle with questions of community and humanity. They engage with the whole world.

But they do not engage the traditions adjacent to them. It is almost as if, except for a cursory reference to idolatry, Hindu thought does not exist for Iqbal, and Islam does not for Aurobindo.

This is all the more surprising because the philosophical ground they occupied, a discussion of being and reason, could have been amenable to such a dialogue. After all, both are talking to Nietzsche. Aurobindo was later to say that he could have engaged with Islam if he knew Persian, and that Sufi philosophy could perhaps provide a philosophical meeting ground. Sufism was, of course, precisely the philosophical stance Iqbal criticised.

But the larger puzzle is this: why, despite an extraordinary coexistence of Hinduism and Islam, is their mutual philosophical engagement so meagre? Carl Ernst has laboriously documented Persian translations of yoga and other texts, and there are scattered references to Islamic thinking in Sanskrit texts. But the scale of deep conceptual engagement has remained surprisingly modest on all sides. Whatever the engagement between Hinduism and Islam at the vernacular level, at the level of philosophical thought, these were like the banks of two rivers running parallel but not destined to meet.

MH370: India’s wake-up call

Praveen Swami

Fighting terrorism involves imagining and preparing for the unimaginable. India has a dangerously poor record of doing either

Late in the summer of 2012, two young men sat at either end of an Internet connection linking Karachi with Kathmandu, weaving online fantasies. Their dreams, unlike those of most people their age, didn’t centre around music, or money, or love. Muhammad Zarar Siddibapa, alleged to have been the operational head of the Indian Mujahideen’s urban bombing campaign against India, wanted to know if his Karachi-based boss, Riyaz Ahmad Shahbandri, could find him a nuclear bomb. The two men, the National Investigation Agency says, discussed attacking Surat “with nuclear warheads if they could be procured.”

It was a meaningless, idle daydream — the kernel from which all hideous nightmares are born. The surreal disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 is a good occasion for Indians to start thinking about what might happen if we are ever compelled to live those nightmares.

Bar online speculation as idle as the Indian Mujahideen’s Internet chatter, there’s no reason to think that MH370 was hijacked to stage a 9/11-type attack on an Indian city or nuclear installation. There’s even less reason to think the aircraft might have been fitted with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Yet, on the morning of September 11, 2001, there was no good reason at all to believe a terrorist attack involving hijacked jets might bring down the Twin Towers in New York.Threats from the air

The fact is, however, that speculation is a useful intellectual tool. MH370, which succeeded in evading detection during its suspected flight across multiple countries, was in range of Indian cities, industrial sites housing toxic chemicals and nuclear facilities — which necessitates asking the question, “what if”?

Fighting terrorism involves imagining and preparing for the unimaginable: and India has a dangerously poor record of doing either.


 19 March 2014 | Ashok K Mehta |

Talking to the Taliban won’t bring peace to Pakistan unless the militants are militarily weakened. Unfortunately, the Pakistani Army, trained for conventional warfare against India, is ill-prepared for counter-insurgency battles

Pakistan is at a crossroads, faced with an existential dilemma: Choosing between a liberal, progressive, inclusive Islamic democracy, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, or an extremist radical Emirate governed by the sharia’h. Pakistan was one of three countries that recently supported an ideologically similar Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The ill-thought and half-fought war against terrorism in Federally Administered Tribal Areas gave birth to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan which was baptised with the debris of the Lal Masjid and embedded in radical Islam.

The 40 or so motley groups that make up the TTP now enjoy strategic depth from Kunar Province in Afghanistan to Karachi, easily out-performing for honours in extremism the Punjabi Taliban, consisting notably of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the original crown jewels and strategic assets of the ISI. The Punjabi Taliban do not threaten the Government in Islamabad as they are nurtured by it and could, in an extreme contingency, act as a foil to the TTP. The one point agenda of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is to keep Punjab off-limits for the TTP.

The national question is how best to deal with the TTP: Through military offensive or dialogue and deal, though neither works singly but only in tandem. An environment of confusion and uncertainty prevails in Islamabad. The ceasefire is broken and re-broken as the fear of a blowback and reluctance by the Army to join in close-quarter battle have given way to surgical strikes which too are now on hold.

Turkestan Islamic Party Expresses Support for Kunming Attack

In an online video, TIP’s leader praised the deadly attack in Kunming and promised further violence.
March 20, 2014 

In the aftermath of the deadly knife attack in Kunming Railway Station, both local authorities and the central government said that evidence suggested Xinjiang separatists were behind the violence. To date, no organized group has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. However, the Turkestan Islamic Party (which Beijing conflates with its predecessor, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement) has expressed its approval of the attack in an online video.

In the video, TIP leader Abdullah Mansour both expressed support for the March 1 attack in Kuming and threatened more violence. “If the fighters of East Turkestan are now fighting with swords, knives, and mallets, our dear Allah will soon give us opportunities to fight the Chinese using automatic guns,” Reuters quoted Mansour as saying. Mansour also expressed his support for suicide tactics, saying the “blood of those who are killing themselves is not being spilled for nothing, for their blood will bring tens of more to carry out jihad.” Interestingly, though, Mansour did not directly claim responsibility for the Kunming incident, leaving questions as to who exactly was involved in planning and carrying out the bloody attack. According to state media, Chinese police captured three suspects after the attack, but no further information has been released.

In response to Mansour’s latest video, China’s Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the militant organization.Spokesman Hong Lei called the video “a full exposure of [ETIM’s] terrorist nature.” Hong added, “To crack down on the ETIM is an important part of the international efforts against terrorism.”

The release of the online video is especially interesting as it hints at new tactics for the TIP. The group had previously kept a low profile, with little public promotion of its goals or methods. However, this may be changing. The TIP publicly claimed responsibility for the October 2013 car crash in Tiananmen Square, which killed five and injured 40. Earlier this month, Reuters conducted a rare telephone interview with Mansour, during which the TIP leader also threatened to conduct more attacks. “China is not only our enemy, but it is the enemy of all Muslims … We have a message to China that East Turkestan people and other Muslims have woken up. They cannot suppress us and Islam any more. Muslims will take revenge,” Mansour said. TIP, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, has also been active lately in posting videos demonstrating how to prepare explosives and handle weapons.


The West must now concentrate on the struggle for political control in eastern Ukraine, writes
Timothy Garton Ash 

Remember, remember: this is about the whole of Ukraine, not just Crimea. Vladimir Putin knows that. Ukrainians know that. And we must not forget it. There is nothing we or the Ukrainian government can do to restore its control over Crimea. The crucial struggle is now for eastern Ukraine. If the whole of Ukraine, including the east, participates in peaceful, free and fair presidential elections on May 25, it can survive as one independent country (minus Crimea). It will also be back on an unambiguously democratic, constitutional path. In everything the European Union and the West do over the next two months, that should be our first priority.

Only the criminally naïve or the hardened fellow-traveller could maintain that the pro-Russian groups now working to produce chaos, disorientation and violence in cities such as Donetsk and Kharkiv are not actively supported by Moscow. In Tuesday’s New York Times there was a fine eye-witness account of one such stage-managed demo in Kharkiv. At the base of a giant Lenin statue, a huge banner read “Our homeland: USSR!” As the reporters pointed out, this was all made for Russian television. Whatever Putin finally decides to do, the media narrative will be prepared: whether for an escalating intervention or, as he would undoubtedly prefer, to blackmail the whole country back into the Russian sphere of influence.

It would be equally naïve, however, to pretend that there are not real fears among many in eastern Ukraine. Start by abandoning the labels, “ethnic Ukrainians” and “ethnic Russians”. They mean almost nothing. What you have here is a fluid, complex mix of national, linguistic, civic and political identities. There are people who think of themselves as Russians. There are those who live their lives mainly in Russian, but also identify as Ukrainians. There are innumerable families of mixed origins, with parents and grandparents who moved around the former Soviet Union. Most of them would rather not have to choose. In a poll conducted in the first half of February, only 15 per cent of those asked in the Kharkiv region and 33 per cent around Donetsk wanted Ukraine to unite with Russia.

In the same poll, the figure for Crimea was 41 per cent. But then, take a month of radicalizing politics and Russian takeover, with Ukrainian-language channels yanked off TV; add relentless reporting on the Russian-language media of a “fascist coup” in Kiev, exacerbated by some foolish words and gestures from victorious revolutionaries in Kiev; subtract Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians living in Crimea, who largely boycott the referendum; season with a large pinch of electoral fraud. Hey presto, 41 per cent becomes 97 per cent!

It is not just Russian “political technology” that changes numbers and loyalties. What happens in such traumatic moments is that identities switch and crystallize quite suddenly, like an unstable chemical compound to which you add one drop of catalyst. Yesterday, you were a Yugoslav; today, a furious Serb or Croat.

Interview with Robert D. Kaplan

The Diplomat speaks with journalist and strategic thinker Robert Kaplan about his upcoming book and more.

By Justin McDonnell
March 20, 2014 

The Diplomat‘s Justin McDonnell spoke with Robert D. Kaplan, American journalist, Chief Geopolitical Analyst for Stratfor, and correspondent for The Atlantic regarding his upcoming book Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, the influence of geography on international politics, and more.

What sparked your original interest in Asia, and how did that interest evolve into a book about the region’s maritime geography and strategy?

I was at first fascinated with the Indian Ocean as a concept that Americans ignored at their peril, given that America is an Atlantic/Pacific country. After completing my book about the Indian Ocean,Monsoon, a few years ago, I decided that at some point I should do a sequel, or coda, on the South China Sea, which is after all an antechamber of the Indian Ocean. People ask me why I didn’t write about the East China Sea, well, I wasn’t chasing news. Rather, I was committed to completing my work on the Greater Indian Ocean, to which the South China Sea is a part. When you focus on any body of water, geography is paramount, and from geography strategy and geopolitics naturally emerge.

How does geography influence foreign policy, and what challenges will it present to the international system?

Geography establishes constraints within which foreign policy must operate. These constraints are often basic, elementary, obvious, and not very engaging, but no less true as a result. Russia is a land power with only one warm water egress: thus any Russian leader must be sure about his access to Crimea. Great Britain is a sea power which required throughout much of history an advantageous balance of power regime on the nearby continent. Taiwan must fortify its beachheads against any theoretical Chinese invasion plans. Geography shows us things a leader must do, and what he cannot do.

Beijing is stepping up its territorial claims to a significant portion of the South China Sea. Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing territorial and jurisdictional claims and the risk of conflict and use of force is significant. What is the most likely and dangerous contingency and how might these disputes be resolved?

*** Low-Tech Terrorism

February 25, 2014
AMONG THE MORE prescient analyses of the terrorist threats that the United States would face in the twenty-first century was a report published in September 1999 by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, better known as the Hart-Rudman commission. Named after its cochairs, former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, and evocatively titled New World Coming, it correctly predicted that mass-casualty terrorism would emerge as one of America’s preeminent security concerns in the next century. “Already,” the report’s first page lamented, “the traditional functions of law, police work, and military power have begun to blur before our eyes as new threats arise.” It added, “Notable among these new threats is the prospect of an attack on U.S. cities by independent or state-supported terrorists using weapons of mass destruction.”

Although hijacked commercial aircraft deliberately flown into high-rise buildings were not the weapons of mass destruction that the commission had in mind, the catastrophic effects that this tactic achieved—obliterating New York City’s World Trade Center, slicing through several of the Pentagon’s concentric rings and killing nearly three thousand people—indisputably captured the gist of that prophetic assertion.

The report was also remarkably accurate in anticipating the terrorist organizational structures that would come to dominate the first dozen or so years of the new century. “Future terrorists will probably be even less hierarchically organized, and yet better net-worked, than they are today. Their diffuse nature will make them more anonymous, yet their ability to coordinate mass effects on a global basis will increase,” the commission argued. Its vision of the motivations that would animate and subsequently fuel this violence was similarly revelatory. “The growing resentment against Western culture and values in some parts of the world,” along with “the fact that others often perceive the United States as exercising its power with arrogance and self-absorption,” was already “breeding a backlash” that would both continue and likely evolve into new and more insidious forms, the report asserted.

Some of the commission’s other visionary conclusions now read like a retrospective summary of the past decade. “The United States will be called upon frequently to intervene militarily in a time of uncertain alliances,” says one, while another disconsolately warns that “even excellent intelligence will not prevent all surprises.” Today’s tragic events in Syria were also anticipated by one statement that addressed the growing likelihood of foreign crises “replete with atrocities and the deliberate terrorizing of civilian populations.”

Fortunately, the report’s most breathless prediction concerning the likelihood of terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has not come to pass. But this is not for want of terrorists trying to obtain such capabilities. Indeed, prior to the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda had embarked upon an ambitious quest to acquire and develop an array of such weapons that, had it been successful, would have altered to an unimaginable extent our most basic conceptions about national security and rendered moot debates over whether terrorism posed a potentially existential threat.

*** Andaman and Nicobar Islands: India’s Strategic Outpost

Flight MH370 has put the spotlight on little known but strategically important territory. 
March 18, 2014

Missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 has acquainted the world with a long-forgotten corner of the Indian Ocean: the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI). Known to few outside India, the island chain constitutes a valuable geopolitical asset for that country and is positioned to play a pivotal role in any maritime competition between India and China in the 21st century. In December 2012, I traveled to the ANI to conduct research for my new book, Cold Peace: China-India Rivalry in the 21st Century. Here’s what I found.

A distant and long-neglected sentinel outpost in the eastern Indian Ocean, the ANI are a chain of 572 islands (slightly more than 30 of which are inhabited) with a majority-Hindu population numbering just under 400,000. The most remarkable feature of the islands is their location: stretching over 500 miles north to south at the western entrance of the Strait of Malacca, they straddle one of the most critical naval and trade chokepoints in the world.

Some have likened the ANI to America’s Indian Ocean military outpost at Diego Garcia. However, the comparison is inadequate; though host to far more modest military capabilities, the ANI are in a far more valuable location, are 200 times the size of Diego Garcia, and enjoy a more solid foundation of volcanic soil than the British-owned coral atoll. Covered in thick tropical vegetation and host to India’s only active volcano, the ANI constitute just 0.2 percent of India’s landmass but provide for 30 percent (600,000 sq kms) of the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The islands occupied a marginal position in India’s strategic consciousness until October 2001, when Delhi established a new Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) in the local capital, Port Blair. The ANC is India’s first and only joint tri-service command, with rotating three-star commanders-in-chief from the Army, Navy and Air Force reporting directly to the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Today the command serves as the focal point for Indian engagement with regional navies in Southeast Asia. This includes bi-annual coordinated patrols with the navies of Thailand and Indonesia, the annual SIMBEX maritime exercises with Singapore, and the biennial Milan multilateral naval exercises.

The ANC’s jurisdiction is limited to the islands’ exclusive economic zone, with no formal responsibility for the South China Sea. Its tasks include maritime surveillance, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, as well as suppressing gun running, narcotics smuggling, piracy, and poaching in India’s EEZ. However, Sainik Samachar, a magazine published by the Indian Ministry of Defense, notes the ANC’s mandate also includes “ensuring that the eastern approaches to the Indian Ocean comprising the three straits – Malacca, Lombok and Sunda – remain free from threats for shipping” as well as “monitor[ing] ships passing through the Six Degree and Ten Degree Channels.”

First, Do No Harm

SWJ Blog Post | March 18, 2014 
First, Do No Harm
Christopher Johnston
The US needs more than an exit plan for Afghanistan. It needs a new strategy for South Asia, starting with Pakistan.

While Washington and Kabul debate military withdrawal from Afghanistan, South Asia is wondering what comes next. NATO’s campaign has skewed US policy towards the entire region, and not for the better. As troops withdraw America will have increasing latitude to radically redefine policy towards the failing states and kleptocracies of South Asia, starting with Pakistan.

While the US has begun scaling back drone operations, it is yet to articulate a new strategy for Pakistan. Last October in Waziristan the CIA finally caught up with Hakimullah Mehsud. His death by drone was somewhat satisfying – in 2009 Mehsud orchestrated the death of seven US operatives in Khost, Afghanistan. But the assassination also complicated Pakistan’s efforts to resolve its own insurgency. Around the same time Washington resolved to release more than $1.5 billion of aid to Islamabad (after cutting aid to India to a paltry $91 million a year).

The dichotomy of drone violence and economic largesse continues to cause more harm than good. After more than a decade of increasing distrust, it is time for the US and Pakistan to walk away from the September 11 agenda, and each other. Since 2001, the US has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan. US national interests have expanded over time to include democracy promotion, the strengthening of civil institutions, human development and resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

Instead of achieving these noble aims, US military assistance is diverted to menace India, rule of law isdiminishing, while generous dollops of aid undermine local governance and foster corruption on a sub-continental scale. Pakistan continues to drift through political instability, amid rising sectarianviolence in Kashmir and elsewhere. Despite impressive economic growth, the UNDP reports Pakistan is still outpaced by India and Bangladesh according to most indices of human development. Meanwhile, the most significant US intelligence coup since 2001 – the Bin Laden raid – was conducted unilaterally, prompting a significant backlash from Islamabad. US policy has delivered few friends and created more enemies in Pakistan.

This abusive relationship with Washington erodes the popular legitimacy of civilian government, while nourishing the same discontent and religious extremism which America then tries to destroy from the air. Throughout much of Pakistan, the US is not represented by diplomats, aid workers, or even Hollywood. America falls from the sky, fuelling hatred and conspiracy on the ground.


Thirty years of conflict has left a history of war crimes, human rights abuses, and atrocities, for which many victims have never received justice.

By Mariam Safi

In September of 2013, the release of a list containing 5,000 names of those killed during the communist regime in Afghanistan sparked two days of mourning throughout the nation.

The list, which was uncovered during the trial of an alleged Afghan war criminal, now living in Germany, is amongst the many pieces of evidence illustrating the extent of war crimes that have taken place throughout Afghanistan’s three decades of conflict; from the communist backed government to the civil war period of the early 90s, from the Taliban regime to the post-2001 peacebuilding decade.

Sadly, despite witnessing much progress in the past 12 years, Afghans have still not seen any substantial efforts by the state or international community to recognize and address the issue of past crimes. Moreover, Afghan’s continue to face brutality and torture at the hands of warlords, powerbrokers and the Taliban.

While this has always remained a serious cause for many in Afghanistan, it has regained great interest and attention as Afghanistan prepares to hold its 3rdpresidential elections. With Karzai stepping down, the elections will be the first peaceful transition of power in the history of the country. But the absence of any debate on the issue of transitional justice, combined with the backgrounds of some of the presidential candidates in previous conflicts and war crimes, has created frustrations and concerns amongst many voters in Afghanistan. While Afghans are ready to hold elections and receive a new government, they fear that the ambiguity created by the state concerning the issue of past, and thus future, war crimes will mean that the culture of impunity will continue to remain unaddressed.

Little progress toward transitional justice

In 2001, following the international communities intervention and commencement of the statebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, there have been attempts to pursue a process of transitional justice. However, these efforts have remained weak on part of the Afghan government, while remaining inconsistent on part of its international partners.

Concerning the latter, while the international community organized the Bonn Agreement which launched the democratization process, it also incorporated alleged war criminals as signatories to the same agreement and abstained from making any reference to addressing past crimes and human rights abuses. This has laid a precarious foundation for the future of transitional justice in the country. Such prioritization of security above the rule of law has not only weakened the legitimacy of the government but also that of the judiciary.

The years that followed the Bonn Agreement did see some progress on this issue, but this came to an abrupt end in 2007 when the government passed the National Reconciliation, General Amnesty and National Stability Law (known as the Amnesty Law).

In 2002, following a decree by Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) was established to help address the legacy of war crimes and human rights violations that took place in Afghanistan prior to 2001. AIHRC was tasked to “undertake national consultations and propose a national strategy for transitional justice.” Accordingly in 2005, the AIHRC published its first report documenting past crimes titled A Call for Justice Report, which was, and remains, a key document reflecting local grievances and instances of war crimes in Afghanistan.

The action plan

Upon the request of the government, the AIHRC took the findings of the report and charted a national Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan (the Action Plan), and was launched in December 2006 by President Karzai.

Myanmar: Counting Problems

March 16, 2014

The government is conducting a census March 29-April 10 and some (the Kachin and Ta’ang National Liberation Army) of the 135 ethnic groups to be counted are refusing to cooperate because they disagree with the classifications used and see this as a ploy to extend more control over the tribes. As a result of these disputes several hundred thousand people may not be counted. Many other ethnic groups fear that this census, the first in 30 years, will be used by the government to increase the persecution of minorities, especially the tribals and Moslems. The Rohingya Moslems of the northwest see the census as another effort by the government to discredit Rohingya efforts to assert their claim to citizenship, and not illegal migrants who just happen to have been in Burma for nearly two centuries.

The census is part of a larger government effort to work out a long-term peace deal with the northern tribes. This has been elusive as the tribes were never part of Burma until the British colonial government came along and simply made the tribal territories and the ethnic Burmese lands to the south one entity. When the British left in 1947 the new nation of Burma found itself in possession of northern territories full of tribes that wanted nothing to do with Burma. But over the last 60 years government efforts to pacify the tribal areas has brought a lot of ethnic Burmese and modern technology north and many of the tribal people like the new tech and ideas. Making peace with the Burmese is a goal for more and more tribal people, but making it happen has proved difficult. The southerners are seen as corrupt and dishonest and there’s a certain amount of truth to that when it comes to how the Burmese deal with the northerners. But with nearly half a century of military government gone and Burmese talking about fighting corruption and cleaning up government there’s a new hope in the north. Government officials are telling tribal people with grievances (especially stolen land) that these problems will be fixed, and soon. At the moment it is mostly hope because the fighting is still going on and the distrust of southerners is still common. The tribals want to see some results. 

The government is accused of trying to drive foreign aid group MSF (Doctors Without Borders) out of the country. The process began in February when officials increased restrictions on MSF operations along the northwestern coastal area where the foreign aid group provides the only medical care for over half a million people, most of them Moslems. The government is facing considerable international diplomatic and media pressure to back off here. What the government is really angry about is the fact that MSF, because of its numerous clinics in Moslem villages and refugee camps has become a prime source of data for foreign journalists on violence against Burmese Moslems. The government believes MSF gives out exaggerated and one-sided information, which is very common with foreign aid groups everywhere. These groups depend on donations to operate and their most effective pitch for donations is via international media. The media is more likely to do stories on extreme events than something that has become ordinary and routine. The government also finds that the MSF version of events is considered more reliable than what the government puts out and tends to ignore the casualties suffered by non-Moslem Burmese. Of course that is the result of the Buddhist mobs and officials destroying or shutting down most medical facilities treating Moslems over the last two years. Non-Moslems have plenty of medical facilities that will treat them but will turn away Moslems. What the government really wants MSF to do is shut up but MSF won’t do that. MSF staffers are idealists and many are volunteers who feel a duty to report what they see or, as the government believes what they think or simply believe they want to see. 

How China Strengthens Japan’s Navy

In trying to counter China in the East China Sea, the JMSDF is honing its skills. 
March 17, 2014

Two takeaways linger from the Naval Diplomat’s trip to Yokosuka a couple of weeks back, which included a visit to the destroyer JDS Murasame. First: Japanese mariners grok the value of naval diplomacy. Appearances matter in maritime affairs, and so diplomatic outreach demands showmanship. Indeed, the routine ship tour — a humdrum chore that provokes grousing from junior officers and enlisted crewmen everywhere — turns out to be a handy if not indispensable political implement. This larger purpose was largely lost on me during my time in uniform, when I was saddled with my share of ship tours. Tours were tedium! With no point other than kissing up to muckety-mucks!!! Or so it seemed.

Done right, though, naval outreach impresses visitors. It shapes perceptions among audiences able to influence a nation’s nautical destiny. Think about it. The ability to prevail in combat is the true audit of a navy’s adequacy. In peacetime, however, it’s tough to gauge the efficacy of a man-of-war, or its armament. Crews expend practice rounds in maneuvers, but there’s a canned quality to peacetime exercises. The atmosphere of war — danger, chance and confusion, stark passions like fear and spite — is hard to replicate absent a thinking adversary who returns fire. The best exercises, then, are doubtful indices of military effectiveness.

If naval leaders want to burnish their fleet’s reputation for seamanship and combat prowess, consequently, presenting ships and aircraft well represents their best substitute for battle results. The look of a ship matters. Granted, the best-looking fleet may not be the most capable. It’s possible to spend too much time and effort making a ship a showboat, to the detriment of battle efficiency. All else being equal, however, bet on the contender that deploys clean, tidy, rust-free warships against a fleet of rustbuckets. Good upkeep projects an image of competence and pride. In all likelihood, a well-kept vessel is a well-handled vessel. A slovenly vessel? Fuggedaboutit.

The JMSDF presents itself well. Murasame appeared immaculate to this mariner’s eye, both inside and out. (Sample size of one ship at one time, I grant you; but that’s true of all such visits.) The captain and officers turned out in dress blues, while the squadron commander joined us for lunch. (“Imperial Japanese curry” was on the menu; let the conspiracy theories commence.) Like any good diplomat, moreover, the ship made good use of happenstance. The spokesman for the ship was a doughty young sea fighter who spent most of his life in … Narragansett, Rhode Island. That’s about twenty miles from the Naval Diplomat’s lair somewhere alongside the Narragansett Bay. A Japanese petty officer with a New England accent — you can’t make such things up.

Leadership: China And The Bad Old Ways

March 15, 2014

U.S. Navy leaders and American intelligence agencies are trying to figure out if the Chinese strategy of using intimidation, rather than weapons or more direct threats, to obtain control of the South China Sea and several other disputed islands off the Chinese coast is deliberate or partly the result of inexperience. 

To senior naval officers who served in the 1980s what the Chinese appear to be doing evokes memories of the Russian tactics back then. The “Chicken of the Sea” confrontations that were mainly about keeping American ships from closely observing Russian warships or intelligence ships at sea. But the Chinese are not just using these tactics to keep the Americans at a distance but also to assert sovereignty and control over areas, like the South China Sea, where China, according to international law and treaties that China signed, has no real claim. 

But the Chinese use of these tactics seem reckless compared to the Russian methods. The Russians used warships to make these threatening maneuvers while the Chinese will often use commercial vessels, especially fishing ships, to “get in the way.” The Chinese also use these tactics on the high seas (international waters) where there is no disputed territory and a high risk for deadly and expensive accidents. This has led some American naval officers and admirals to believe that some of this behavior is the result of inexperience on the part of Chinese naval officers mixed with a bit of arrogance and recklessness. 

Naval historians see familiar patterns here as well. When the Chinese Empire built its first modern, Western style navy in the late 19th century the force was crippled by corruption, arrogance and inexperience. This led to a defeat at the hands of the similarly modernized, but much more diligent and pragmatic Japanese. From there the Japanese went on to defeat Russia at sea and on land in 1905. This was unprecedented (for East Asians to defeat a Western nation). The Japanese then joined the Allies in World War I and quickly conquered German colonies in the Pacific. Japan got to keep some of those conquests after World War I but felt they had received insufficient respect from their Western allies and that resentment fueled the arrogance that led to Japan attacking the United States and other World War I allies in 1941. That ended badly for the Japanese, a lesson that seems lost on the current generation of Chinese naval leaders. 

China’s Energy Future at a Crossroads

China’s Energy Future at a Crossroads
MARCH 17, 2014 


China’s energy sector had a potentially watershed year in 2013. Reforms that could have a profound impact on China’s environment and energy policy were floated.

China’s energy sector had a potentially watershed year in 2013. Reforms that could have a profound impact on China’s environment and energy policy were floated. And with concerns over air pollution mounting throughout the year, the country is poised to shift away from its reliance on coal. 

In this Q&A, Wang Tao analyzes the major developments in China’s energy policy in 2013. Significant changes could be in store for 2014. 


Last year was an important year for China’s energy landscape, marked by increased environmental concerns and mixed results for state-owned and private energy companies. 

The year began with smog that covered most of northern China. Eastern China and the northeastern city of Harbin experienced the worst smog in their recorded history. The coal industry was thrust into the spotlight as the primary culprit, and the public debate about China’s coal-dominated energy sector played out the whole year. 

Public concern about pollution of the environment reached new heights in part because of the unprecedented level of smog. Responding to public demands, the State Council, China’s top administrative authority, issued in September the Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Air Pollution. The plan seeks to cut annual coal demand by more than 70 million metric tons in the regions around Beijing. Cities like Beijing are also trying to phase out coal as soon as possible and turning to natural gas for power and heat supplies. 

The public outcry stretched beyond air pollution. In May, two separate large-scale protests broke out in Chengdu and Kunming against the China National Petroleum Corporation’s (CNPC’s) planned construction of oil refineries. Protesters feared the potential health risks associated with petrochemical products. A large protest also broke out in July in Jiangmen, a coastal city in the Guangdong Province where a uranium processing plant was supposed to be built. Construction plans were scrapped as a result of the demonstrations. 

Internationally, there was good news about national oil companies advancing overseas. In February, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) sealed a deal to acquire the Canadian energy company Nexen for $15.1 billion and became further involved in unconventional oil and gas exploration in North America. A Sino-Burmese gas pipeline became operational in July, opening a fourth strategic gas-importing route for China. And Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a “historic” Sino-Russian oil deal in March on his first ever state visit after taking power, advancing oil and gas export negotiations between the CNPC and the Russian oil giant Gazprom. 

Japan and China’s Dispute Goes Nuclear

Japan and China’s bitter PR campaign has now entered the nuclear realm. 

March 18, 2014
Japan and China appear to be trading nuclear barbs with one another.

For some weeks now, China has been raising concerns about the amount of enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium Japan currently stockpiles. “We continue to urge the Japanese government to take a responsible attitude and explain itself to international community,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at the end of last month.

The following week, the same spokesperson asked: “Has Japan kept an excessive amount of sensitive nuclear material that is beyond its actual needs? Does one need so much sensitive nuclear material for peaceful use? Should one keep excessive weapons-grade nuclear material?” He added: “More importantly, does Japan have higher-enriched and weapons-grade uranium, and how much does it have? What are those used for? How can Japan ensure a balance between the demand and supply of nuclear materials? These are the real concerns and questions of the international community.”

Japan has one of the most advanced civilian nuclear programs of any country without nuclear weapons.According to NBC News, Tokyo has 9 tons of plutonium stockpiled in different places throughout Japan, while 35 tons of Japanese plutonium is stockpiled in different countries in Europe. Only about 5 to 10 kilograms is needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Japan also has an additional 1.2 tons of enriched uranium. It is also building a fast-breeder plutonium reactor in Rokkasho that will produce 8 tons of plutonium annually.

Many experts believe that Japan could produce nuclear weapons within 6 months of deciding to do so, and some believe that Tokyo is pursuing a “nuclear hedging” strategy. Japan has done little to mollify these concerns. In fact, it has often encouraged them, with a Japanese official recently saying off the record that “Japan already has the technical capability [to build a nuclear bomb], and has had it since the 1980s.”

Having a “bomb in the basement” largely suits Japan’s interests in its competition with China. By indulging Beijing’s concerns that Japan may build nuclear weapons, Tokyo is hoping to deter China from racketing up bilateral tensions too heavily. At the same, Tokyo is hoping to use its nuclear hedge strategy as leverage over the U.S. to ensure that Washington stays engaged in region.

Still, Japan has to walk a fine line in pursuing this strategy as no other issue—with the possible exception of revisionist history—unites Northeast Asia against Japan more than its possible nuclear weapons ambitions. Besides China, both North and South Korea also have grave concerns about Japan going nuclear. Similarly, pushing its nuclear hedge strategy too far could upset the U.S. to the point where it becomes less willing to back Japan on other issues.

China Reacts to the Crimea Referendum

China is trying to avoid being caught in the middle of the West and Russia’s battle over Ukraine. 
March 18, 2014

The much anticipated referendum in Crimea on whether to become part of Russia took place as scheduled on March 16. According to Crimean leaders, over 96 percent of voters were in favor of seceding from Ukraine. As a result, Crimea’s parliament has formally proposed that the region be admitted to the Russian Federation “as a new subject with the status of a republic.” In response, the U.S. and EU continue to call the referendum illegal, and have moved to implement sanctions on selected Russian and Ukrainian officials.

China, meanwhile, is trying to tread a fine line on the issue. When asked at a press conference if China would recognize Crimea as part of Russia, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei gave a carefully noncommittal response: “China always respects all countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. The Crimean issue should be resolved politically under a framework of law and order. All parties should exercise restraint and refrain from raising the tension.”

Over the weekend, China abstained from voting on a UN Security Council draft resolution that would have condemned the referendum in Crimea as illegal. Russia, as expected, vetoed the proposal, and many observers took China’s choice to abstain rather than join in a veto as tacit disapproval of Moscow’s actions in the Ukraine. The BBC’s UN correspondent said that Western diplomats “got what they wanted when China abstained.”

Western diplomats did seem to take China’s abstention as a sign of victory. America’s UN ambassador, Samantha Power, described Russia as “isolated, along, and wrong” on the Ukraine issue. She further emphasized that “only one country voted ‘no’” on the resolution, citing this as proof “that the world believes that international borders are more than mere suggestions.” Mark Lyall Grant, the UK’s ambassador to the UN,made similar comments about Russia’s isolation. “Russia alone backs this referendum. Russia alone is prepared to violate international law, disregard the UN Charter, and tear up its bilateral treaties,” he said after the vote. “We trust that Russia will take notice of its isolation.”

Japan’s Strategic Push with Turkey

With few diplomatic openings in East Asia, Tokyo has been busy forging ties with Ankara. 

March 18, 2014

The dearth of diplomacy in Northeast Asia since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012 has presented Tokyo with a more flexible calendar for international courtships. Much of Abe’s first year focused on improving ties with ASEAN(indeed he visited every country in the organization) and India. These engagements, together with Japan’s renewed push to resolve decades-old disputes with Russia, have largely been interpreted as an overt hedge against China’s growing power in the region. Much of this interpretation is correct, but there is a more multifaceted element to Abe’s diplomatic agenda that should not be shrouded by the acute tensions between Japan and China.

One area representative of this dynamism is Japan’s efforts to pursue stronger relations with Turkey, demonstrated through a host of Japanese investments in the country’s growing civil nuclear program and transportation infrastructure projects. Abe has put an unusual amount of effort into bolstering the relationship with Ankara through two separate trips to the country since taking office. Abe also welcomed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Japan this past January. The rapid expansion in Japan-Turkey ties is even more dramatic, given that Ankara was all but ignored by Tokyo in the five years between the Abe 1.0 and Abe 2.0 administrations. Indeed, the last Japanese Prime Minister to visit Turkey (before Abe) was former LDP leader Junichiro Koizumi.

Japan-Turkey ties are longstanding and most diplomats who have been posted in Ankara and Tokyo will point to a bond forged by a sunken frigate off the coast of Japan in the late 19th century. In 1890, the Ottoman frigate, named the Ertugrul, sunk on the way home from a visit with Japan. While more than five hundred sailors died, sixty-nine survived and were both rescued and escorted safely home by the Japanese navy. “Ertugrul” is consistently recognized by the leaders of both countries and has served as the basis of a friendship between geographically distant states.

Stop this man: U.S. needs deeper involvement in Ukraine as Vladimir Putin raises the stakes

Trying to ignore the world’s dangers and dictators never works for long, and the situation in Ukraine will be harder to deal with the longer strong measures against Russia and Putin are delayed.

SUNDAY, MARCH 16, 2014

Get his attention — Vladimir Putin must know that the U.S. has the means and the will to follow through with the harshest sanctions. 

In this age of instantaneous global communications, people don’t give a second thought to finding out what is happening on the other side of the world. A missing plane in Asia, a gory murder trial in Africa: It’s all there with one click of the mouse or turn of the page.

Knowing, however, is not the same as caring, and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine is the latest test of whether or not Americans can, or should, care about events far from home. War-weary and debt-saddled, it would appear that America has good reasons to sit out a conflict where it is hard to find vital national interests.

There are many easy excuses for not intervening, and in recent days here in my adopted home of New York City, I’ve heard them all:

“Let the Europeans handle it, it’s their backyard.” “Why mess with Vladimir Putin over Crimea, what’s it to us?” “There’s not much we can do anyway.”

It’s hard to argue with that first one, actually. The European Union has more at stake, has more leverage over Russia and has more responsibility as a neighbor to Ukraine.

But this doesn’t mean the United States should stay out, and it has been good to hear President Obama and John Kerry in recent days sending the message that America is ready to take action to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

As for American interests and responsibilities, I should first say that my perspective is partly born from looking at America from where I was raised in Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Soviet Union.

The United States of America as the “shining city upon a hill,” a Biblical phrase popularized by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, may seem like tired political rhetoric to many Americans, or as dangerous imperialistic American exceptionalism to others, but it was quite real to many of us behind the Iron Curtain.

It mattered to know someone outside cared about our plight and was fighting for us. It mattered when Reagan called the USSR out as the evil empire we knew it to be. His uncompromising approach to negotiations with the Soviets led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and freedom for many millions of people, a legacy that every American should be proud of.

It is an inheritance to embrace, not discard.

Trying to ignore the world’s dangers and dictators never works for long, and the situation in Ukraine will be harder to deal with the longer strong measures are delayed.

Vladimir Putin is not someone who can or should be ignored. Last Thursday, the largest opposition news websites in Russia were shut down by the Kremlin in the blink of an eye.

With television and print under strict control, the Internet has long been the last refuge of free speech in Putin’s police state, so despite the many warning signs this sudden blackout came as shock.