9 May 2014

Interview transcript: former head of the NSA and commander of the US cyber command, General Keith Alexander


Recently retired director of the US National Security Agency and commander of the US Cyber Command General Keith Alexander was interviewed by Australian Financial Review contributing editor Christopher Joye. This is a full transcript of the conversation.


General Keith Alexander, who retired on 31 March 2014, was a four-star general of the United States Army and the longest-serving Director of the National Security Agency. He was also the inaugural Commander of US Cyber Command, which includes the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Second Army. He served as Director of the NSA between 1 August 2005 and 28 March 2014 and Commander of Cyber Command between 21 May 2010 and 28 March 2014.

His tenure as NSA director covered wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global counter-terrorist operations, the identification and elimination of Osama bin Laden, the alleged launch of offensive cyber-weapons, like Stuxnet, to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons program, cyber-attacks on the US financial system, significant innovations in intelligence data collection and analysis, and the more recent international controversies surrounding the leaks of vast volumes of classified intelligence by the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.












GEN Alexander: Hi Chris, how are you doing?

AFR: Yes, good thanks. We appreciate you setting aside the time today.

Gen. Alexander: I had to enter the PIN for this conference call facility three times! It wouldn’t accept it the first two times—it must be an anti-NSA device [laughs]!

AFR: General Alexander, why did you agree to do such a comprehensive interview on these controversial issues only weeks after stepping-down as the longest-serving director of the NSA?

Gen. Alexander: The reason that I’m doing this is because I fundamentally believe that what the nation has asked the NSA to do—to defend our country, our allies, and our forces abroad while also protecting our civil liberties and privacy under the most comprehensive intelligence oversight regime in the world—is something that, contrary to much reporting, the NSA and all our people have faithfully executed.

Chinesetakeaway: African Railway

C. Raja Mohan |  May 7, 2014 


From America to Asia and Europe to Africa, Chinese leaders are offering technology, finance and project management in the construction of high-speed rail networks. Reuters
From America to Asia and Europe to Africa, Chinese leaders are offering technology, finance and project management in the construction of high-speed rail networks.

African Railway

On his first visit to Africa this week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has once again underlined the importance of high-speed railways in Beijing’s diplomacy. From America to Asia and Europe to Africa, Chinese leaders are offering technology, finance and project management in the construction of high-speed rail networks. In Addis Ababa on Monday, the first stop in a four-nation tour of what he called the “continent of hope”, Li outlined a plan to connect all major African cities through a high-speed railway network. The project is at the heart of a new framework for Sino-African partnership that Li elaborated upon in his address to the African Union in Addis Ababa.

In talking about the “Chinese dream” for a continent-wide railway in Africa, Li was not playing with words. He was invoking China’s enduring romance with railways. Sun Yat Sen, who led Beijing’s first republic in the early 20th century, believed railways would modernise and unite China. Sun’s rail strategy was not limited to the borders of China; he wanted to extend Chinese railroads to India, the Middle East and Africa.

Sun’s communist successors too pursued this dream. Li’s trip to Africa comes nearly 50 years after his predecessor, Zhou Enlai, took the continent by storm during a 10-nation tour from December 1963 to January 1964. China followed up by undertaking one of the biggest infrastructure projects beyond its borders. During 1970-75, China spent $500 million dollars and deployed nearly 50,000 Chinese engineers and technicians to build the 1,800 km Tan-Zam railway between the copper-rich regions of Zambia and Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania.

Not Neocolonial

Li is conscious of the criticism that China’s approach to Africa is “neocolonial” and is focused on resource extraction. Rejecting that charge, Li showcased China’s role in transforming African economies and contributing to the rapid and comprehensive development of the region. In Addis Ababa, Li outlined a six-fold agenda for future partnership between China and Africa. This includes strong support for Africa’s industrialisaton and infrastructure development. Li also wants to double trade between China and Africa to $400 billion by 2020.

Big budgets, little oversight in war zones

(Courtesy of IRD/ ) - Arthur Keys meets with the Abdul Manaf , center, the District governor of Nawa, Afghanistan, in 2010.

By Scott Higham, Jessica Schulberg and Steven Rich, Published: May 5 E-mail the writers

In 1998, an ordained minister with the United Church of Christ and his wife from the war-wrecked region of Bosnia-Herzegovina began a humble international humanitarian effort out of a modest office in downtown Washington. 

After the United States launched the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mom-and-pop nonprofit corporation boldly ramped up, undertaking some of the federal government’s biggest and most ambitious projects in the battle zones, everything from building roads to funding wheat production. 


During the past decade, International Relief and Development received more in grants and cooperative agreements from USAID than any other nonprofit organizations — $1.9 billion. The humanitarian group worked in Iraq and Afghanistan and provided 38 employees with $3.4 million in bonuses between 2008 and 2012. Here are the bonuses given to IRD employees compared to other nonprofits operating in hazard zones between 2010 and 2012.

In doing so, International Relief and Development increased its annual revenue from $1.2 million to $706 million, most of it from one corner of the federal government — the U.S. Agency for International Development. IRD has received more grants and cooperative agreements from USAID in recent years than any other nonprofit relief and development organization in the nation — $1.9 billion. 

The Afghan Civil Transition Crisis: Afghanistan's Status and the Warnings from Iraq's Failure

MAY 6, 2014 

For more than a decade, the U.S. and its allies have been issuing claims about the progress being made in Afghanistan, and have tended to focus on success as measured in holding elections rather than the quality of governance and real world economic progress.

It is now a matter of months before the U.S. and its allies withdraw virtually all of their combat troops from Afghanistan. As yet, the U.S. has no meaningful public plan for transition, has not proposed any public plan for either the civil or military aspects of transition, and remains focused on the quality of the Afghan election rather than the quality of the leadership, governance, and conditions of Afghan life that will follow.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – the organization theoretically in charge of assessing and coordinating all international aid in Afghanistan - has never written a single report on the overall structure and progress of aid. USAID and DoD have failed to demonstrate they have reliable methods of accountability for aid spending, and neither have developed overall plans for Afghan development or any reliable measures of effectiveness.

It is unclear that any other donor nations have done better, or that the Afghan government has made serious progress in their ability to handle the civil problems of Transition or carry out the key reforms they pledged at the Tokyo Conference.

The Burke chair has expanded past reports to provide a summary overview of the civil challenges Afghanistan faces. This report provides a graphic assessment of UN, World Bank, CIA, SIGAR, Transparency International and other data that show the seriousness of the problems in Afghan governance and economics entitled Afghanistan’s Civil Transition Challenges: Governance and Development Indicators. This report is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/140506_Afghan_Development_Indicators.pdf.

These challenges do not mean that the Afghan government cannot carry out an effective civil transition in 2014 to 2015, but they may well mean that the U.S. and other donor states must be prepared to help Afghanistan through far more serious problems in governance and economics than they currently budget for.

They also provide a striking comparison to a similar assessment made of the failure to develop Iraq, and the gross corruption, failures, and human rights abuses of the Maliki government in Iraq. These failures are laid out in detail in another Burke Chair report entitled Hitting Bottom: The Maliki Scorecard in Iraq, which is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/publication/hitting-bottom-maliki-scorecard-iraq.

Taken together, the data on Afghanistan and Iraq are a grim warning about the shortfalls in the US and other outside efforts to transform the civil government and economy of both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the limits to what can be accomplished in any real world counterinsurgency operation. They warn about the need to be far less ambitious and far more honest about the limits of outside aid and intervention, and to develop far more competent and well-managed aid efforts tied to realistic plans, metrics, accountability, and measures of effectiveness.

The comparison between Afghanistan and Iraq is particularly striking because of the degree to which it warns that even the most successful elections are not a credible path to success, and because Afghanistan has no past base of economic development or equivalent to oil wealth to help it through Transition.

As other Burke Chair reports show, these challenges are further compounded by the fact that Afghanistan has made far less progress in security than Iraq has made at the end of 2011 – although the Maliki government has largely thrown that progress away. These Burke Chair reports include: 
The Challenges to Transition in Afghanistan: 2014-2015
The Afghan Civil Transition Crisis: Afghanistan's Status and the Warnings from Iraq's Failure

Shaping the ANSF to meet the Challenges of Transition

The Raid Three years after killing Osama, America is still haunted by Pakistan. So am I.

By NAHAL TOOSI May 04, 2014 

The morning the news broke that the United States had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, three years ago this weekend, I was pursuing a very different kind of story

Read more: Source Link

My Pakistani colleagues and I were traveling to Chakwal, an area about 90 minutes south of Islamabad, to visit a school with chronically absent teachers for an article about Pakistan’s dilapidated education system. It was the type of idea my editors usually rolled their eyes at — not enough blood and intrigue — but they’d relented this time because nothing else was going on.

We never reached the school. Instead, we made a U-turn and returned to Islamabad before being dispatched to Abbottabad, where The Story, the one reporters across the region kept renewing their Pakistani visas for, was finally unfolding. We spent days roaming outside the al Qaeda chief’s compound, interviewing neighbors, dodging checkpoints and trying to stay ahead of Pakistani intelligence agents.

Yet, despite our best efforts, security officials never let us inside Bin Laden’s house. Key details about what had happened there came instead out of Washington, often through unnamed sources. And after what seemed to be an initial burst of credulity, many Pakistanis quickly latched on to conspiracy theories about what happened, and their amazement at the notion that the terrorist leader had lived among them morphed into anger over the U.S. intrusion on their soil.

It’s all just a drama—Osama never existed, some told us. “This is all so Barack Obama can get reelected,” one man said. Then, there was this gem: “Osama had a body double, and that’s who the U.S. killed.”

It was exhilarating and frustrating, illuminating and mystifying. Those few days in Abbottabad epitomized what it was like to report from Pakistan in general: Something (usually violent) happens somewhere, but access to the site and the players is restricted; the Americans and the Pakistanis, true to their decades-long dysfunctional relationship, each try to control the narrative, thus feeding the conspiracy theorists; and in the end, you are never sure how much of what you write is really true.

I thought I was ready for Pakistan.

I read books. I interviewed people. I looked at maps. I soaked up every bit of information I could before landing there in April 2008 as an Associated Press correspondent. (My posting was actually a return: I’d lived in Pakistan as a child for about a year after my family fled Iran, and I had always wanted to go back under better circumstances.)

But it’s hard to be truly prepared for a country so full of contradictions, divisions and delusions that some argue it is barely a country at all. By the time I left — actually, long before the Bin Laden raid — I was a wreck, prone to emotional outbursts, extremely cynical about religion and disillusioned by practically every actor involved in the Pakistani drama. I loved so much about Pakistan – the color, the spice, the beauty of its landscape and the generosity of its people. But I hated it for not being able to get its act together.

Pakistan-Backed Indian Mujahideen: Down But Certainly Not Out! – Analysis

May 6th, 2014
By Ajai Sahni

The Indian Mujahideen (IM) has been declared by many as one of the most lethal Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist organisations operating in India, and has been the most prominent presence in terrorist attacks outside Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after 2008. At the same time, there is speculation that the organisation is now teetering on the edge of collapse, with much of its top leadership in jail and the remaining principals in Pakistan.

This latter perception has gained greater currency with the string of arrests between August 2013 and March 2014, and indeed, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has made the claim that, “The Indian Mujahideen cadre is almost finished with the capture of prominent IM leaders.”

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, at least 219 Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and IM cadres have been arrested since 2008 (data till April 15, 2014) in cases relating to terrorism. The most significant of a recent spate of arrests has included Yasin Bhatkal, IM’s ‘operations chief’ in India, officially arrested on Aug 28, 2013, in Bihar’s Raxaul town on the Indo-Nepal border; Zia-ur-Rahman aka Waqas, a Pakistani and the organisation’s ‘top bomb maker’, officially arrested from Ajmer in Rajasthan on March 22, 2014; and Tehseen Akhtar, Yasin Bhatkal’s successor as ‘operations chief’ in India, officially arrested on March 25, 2014, from Naxalbari in Darjeeling District, West Bengal. It is significant that each of these three arrests involved crucial assistance from security agencies in Bangladesh or Nepal, indicating a high measure of counter-terrorism (CT) cooperation between India and these countries.

Nevertheless, neither assessment – that the IM is the most dangerous Islamist terrorist group in India, or that it is now ‘almost finished’ – is an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground.

The former conclusion is based on a singular misreading of the data. On the surface, of course, an overwhelming proportion of all Islamist terrorist attacks outside J&K over the past few years have been engineered by, or are believed to have involved, the IM. These include several high-profile urban attacks, prominent among which are the repeat attacks in Hyderabad and Delhi, and major explosions in Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Varanasi, Mumbai, Pune and Jaipur, among others. In all, however, just 15 attacks have been claimed by or attributed to IM since the Nov 27, 2007, serial bombings in courts in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow, with a total of 312 fatalities (some earlier attacks have also been arguably attributed to the group by a few commentators). Between 2007 and 2014 (till April 27), Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist attacks resulted in a total of 3,114 fatalities, including 2,598 in J&K and 516 across the rest of India.

CIA Is Dismantling Its Bases and Deactivating Its Paramilitary Units in Afghanistan

May 5, 2014
CIA Falls Back in Afghanistan
Kimberly Dozier
The Daily Beast

KABUL, Afghanistan—The CIA is dismantling its frontline Afghan counterterrorist forces in south and east Afghanistan, leaving a security vacuum that U.S. commanders fear the Taliban and al Qaeda will fill—and leaving the Pakistan border open to a possible deluge of fighters and weapons.

“The CIA has started to end the contracts of some of those militias who were working for them,” said Aimal Faizi, spokesman for outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a longtime critic of the CIA’s Afghan operatives. “Some of them were in very important locations, so we deployed our troops there.”

U.S. and Afghan military commanders tell The Daily Beast that Afghan forces are stretched too thin to replace many of those departing CIA paramilitaries. Thousands more CIA-trained operatives are about to get the boot ahead of what already promises to be a bloody summer fighting season. That could mean spectacular attacks against U.S. and Afghan targets just as the White House is weighing its long-term commitment to Afghanistan. And it could give the now-small al Qaeda movement inside the country more freedom to grow and eventually hatch new plots more than a decade after the invasion meant to wipe out the perpetrators of the Sept. 11th attacks.

Senior U.S. officials said the slow dismantling of the CIA’s forces has also alarmed U.S. lawmakers, who had assumed those forces would remain in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban after U.S. troops withdrew.

But CIA officials told lawmakers this past week that with U.S. troops slowly closing bases across the country, the intelligence agency’s footprint also has to shrink. The CIA doesn’t want to face another high-risk situation like Benghazi, Libya, where militants attacked both the U.S. diplomatic outpost and the CIA base. The U.S. ambassador, one of his staff and two CIA employees were killed in that strike.

The Obama administration had wanted to leave up to 10,000 U.S. troops in the country after the December 2014 withdrawal deadline. But the current Afghan president has refused to sign a long-term security agreement, and the Afghan presidential election seems headed for a runoff, meaning it could be months before a new Afghan president takes charge.

So U.S. forces here are rapidly closing outposts, preparing to withdraw to six “enduring” bases that could remain if a security deal goes through before early fall. While the CIA is not affected by the security agreement, it relies on the U.S. military for protection and logistical support—especially at its far-flung bases in south and east Afghanistan. Just months ago, the talk in administration circles was that these paramilitaries would be significantly expanded in the near future. Now, it appears, the opposite is taking place.


May 6, 2014 · in Art of War

This is another entry in the new WOTR series, Art of War. To submit to Art of War, email Kathleen.McInnis@warontherocks.com with “SUBMISSION” in the subject line.

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (W. W. Norton & Company, 1899; 2005).

Like many of us national security geeks, I found American Spartan(reviewed here at WOTR by Joseph Collins) deeply fascinating, and not a little disturbing. Its pages recount the adventures of Washington Post reporter Ann Scott Tyson and her beloved, Major Jim Gant, as they waged counterinsurgency deep in the wilds of eastern Afghanistan. If nothing else, it is an honest, heartfelt account of their personal and professional struggles. And it is a tragic story, although the reasons for believing so probably differ depending upon one’s views of the Afghan campaign.

In the end, Major Gant wins the “hearts and minds” of the local Afghans; however, in so doing he “goes native” in ways that were, and are, deeply uncomfortable, particularly to his chain of command. He embraces the Spartan ethic: he believes in the Greek warrior-gods tattooed on his shoulders, and ritually lets his blood around a campfire while remembering his fallen soldiers (for some fascinating insights into Gant’s character by people who know him, read the comments section of Collins’ review). And his future wife lived with him illegally in a war zone, which is a pretty significant faux pas, to put it lightly.

Whatever you may think about the particulars of their exploits — whether you think him a hero or traitor — there is a somewhat overlooked aspect of their story. Namely, the casual (and somewhat disturbing) comparisons, made by Tyson and others, between Major Gant and Colonel Kurtz of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Indeed, Gant himself seems to feel a particular affinity to the character. Tyson describes a scene where Gant places his friend Dan’s Special Forces tab above a framed photo of Marlon Brando as a spear-bald Colonel Kurtz; Gant subsequently shaves his head. Perhaps this affinity is due to the way Colonel Kurtz meets his end; he is, after all, assassinated under the orders of the very leaders who sent him into the jungles in the first place. But then again, perhaps not.

Apocalypse Now is, of course, loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella,Heart of Darkness. The film adapts Conrad’s work into a powerful statement of deep unease with the Vietnam conflict. Coppola was able to do so because Heart of Darkness (much like other great works of literature) is both timely and timeless. Which, of course, brings us to the subject of this week’s Art of War column: Heart of Darkness, and how it illuminates the Afghanistan campaign.

Pakistani Spy Agency Trying to Muzzle Pakistan’s Press

May 5, 2014
Muzzling Pakistan’s Media
Hasan Zaidi
New York Times

Karachi, Pakistan — Pakistan’s media is in upheaval these days. But it’s not because of the stuttering “talks” between the government and militant groups, who have publicly vowed to target journalists.

The current upheaval began with the attempted assassination in Karachi on April 19 of Hamid Mir, arguably Pakistan’s most recognizable talk show host and journalist. Mr. Mir survived despite taking six bullets. The real furor came not in reaction to the attack but to Mr. Mir’s employer — Geo Television — which broadcast Mr. Mir’s distressed brother’s statement accusing the country’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, of being behind the attempted murder.

Most Pakistanis were stunned by these blunt accusations. Even with stronger proof, charges against the I.S.I. or serving military officers are unheard of in a country that has spent half of its existence under military rule and where the intelligence services still exert a powerful and often-intimidating influence.

There have been allegations of military complicity in the targeting of journalists before — most notably in the killings of Hayatullah Khan in 2006, Syed Saleem Shahzad in 2011 and Abdul Razzak Baloch in 2013 — but the difference this time was that the accusations were being made by family members of a man who had survived and could corroborate them.

The military’s spokesperson, while sympathizing with the Mir family’s distress, termed the allegations “emotional” and Geo’s conduct in continuing to air them, “irresponsible.” But far more remarkable was the conduct of some of Geo’s competitors. Attempting to be more loyal than the king, they jumped into the fray, criticizing Geo for its “lack of editorial control” and “flouting of journalistic ethics” in allowing the accusations to be broadcast.

In normal circumstances, Pakistan’s boisterous TV channels are loath to even mention competitors’ names. But efforts to curry favor with the military combined with commercial interests and petty personal issues between owners — Geo News is three times as popular as its closest competitor and attracts up to 70 percent of advertising revenue on news channels — seem to have trumped all previous restraint.

South China Sea tensions rise as Vietnam says China rammed ships



1 OF 2. An aerial view shows the Pagasa (Hope) Island, part of the disputed Spratly group of islands, in the South China Sea located off the coast of western Philippines July 20, 2011.

(Reuters) - Vietnam said on Wednesday a Chinese vessel intentionally rammed two of its ships in a part of the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has deployed a giant oil rig, sending tensions spiraling in the region.

The Foreign Ministry in Hanoi said the collisions took place on Sunday and caused considerable damage to the Vietnamese ships. Six people suffered minor injuries, it said.

"On May 4, Chinese ships intentionally rammed two Vietnamese Sea Guard vessels," said Tran Duy Hai, a Foreign Ministry official and deputy head of Vietnam's national border committee.

"Chinese ships, with air support, sought to intimidate Vietnamese vessels. Water cannon was used," he told a news conference in Hanoi. Six other ships were also hit, but not as badly, other officials said.

Dozens of navy and coastguard vessels from both countries are in the area where China has deployed the giant rig, Vietnamese officials have said.

"No shots have been fired yet," said a Vietnamese navy official, who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak to media. "Vietnam won't fire unless China fires first."

The two Communist nations have been trying to put aside border disputes and memories of a brief border war in 1979. Vietnam is usually careful about comments against China, with which it had bilateral trade surpassing $50 billion in 2013.

Still, Hanoi has strongly condemned the operation of the drilling rig in what it says are its waters in the South China Sea, and told the owners, China's state-run oil company CNOOC, to remove it.

The United States has also criticized the move.

The row comes days after U.S. President Barack Obama visited Asia to underline his commitment to allies including Japan and the Philippines, both locked in territorial disputes with China.

Obama, promoting a strategic "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific, also visited South Korea and Malaysia, but not China.

The United States is "strongly concerned about dangerous conduct and intimidation by vessels in the disputed area," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington on Wednesday.

China-Vietnam Tensions High over Drilling Rig in Disputed Waters

By Ernest Z. Bower, Gregory B. Poling
MAY 7, 2014
Tensions between China and Vietnam over the disputed South China Sea are at their highest levels in years. On May 2, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) placed its deep sea drilling rig HD-981 in disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands. Vietnam objected to the placement, declaring that the rig is located on its continental shelf. China has since sent approximately 80 ships, including seven military vessels, along with aircraft to support the rig. In response, Hanoi dispatched 29 ships to attempt to disrupt the rig’s placement and operations.

The situation escalated dramatically on May 7, when Vietnam accused Chinese vessels of turning high powered water cannons on the Vietnamese ships and eventually ramming several vessels. The incidents reportedly left six Vietnamese injured and several of the country’s ships damaged. Hanoi released photos and videos of the incidents to support its claims.

The implications of these developments are significant. The fact that the Chinese moved ahead in placing their rig immediately after President Obama’s visit to four Asian countries in late April underlines Beijing’s commitment to test the resolve of Vietnam, its ASEAN neighbors and Washington. Beijing may also be attempting to substantially change the facts on the seas by moving while it perceives Washington to be distracted by Russian aggression inUkraine, developments in Nigeria, and Syria. If China believes Washington is distracted, in an increasingly insular and isolationist mood and unwilling to back up relatively strong security assertions made to Japan and the Philippines and repeated during President Obama’s trip, these developments south of the Paracel Islands could have long term regional and global consequences.

Q1: Where is the rig, really?

A1: The war of words between Beijing and Hanoi has largely focused on the status of the area where HD-981 was placed. Vietnamese officials insist that it lies on their continental shelf, where according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), Vietnam has exclusive rights to all mineral and hydrocarbon resources.

The rig was placed near the edge of two hydrocarbon blocks already created by Hanoi, though not yet offered for exploitation to foreign oil and gas companies. It also sits near blocks 118 and 119, where U.S.-based ExxonMobil discovered substantial oil and gas reserves in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, Exxon and Vietnam’s state-owned PetroVietnam announced plans to build a $20 billion power plant to be fueled by the oil and gas from those blocks. Those discoveries help explain why CNOOC chose to place HD-981 nearby.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has responded to Vietnam’s complaints by insisting that the rig was placed “completely within the waters of China's Paracel Islands.” This presumably refers to the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf that those islands—which are occupied by China but claimed by Vietnam—would generate under UNCLOS if they met certain requirements.

HD-981 was placed at 15°29’58’’ north latitude and 111°12’06’’ east longitude. It is about 120 nautical miles east of Vietnam’s Ly Son Island and 180 nautical miles south of China’s Hainan Island—the two nearest features that indisputably generate a continental shelf. As such, it not only sits on Vietnam’s claimed extended continental shelf, but also well on the Vietnamese side of any median line that might be negotiated between the two shelves from the Chinese and Vietnamese coasts, as indicated by the white lines in the map below.

Q2: Who is in the right?

A2: China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs appears to be basing its case on the assumption that Triton Island, 17 miles to the north of HD-981, or another of the Paracels meets the UNCLOS habitability requirement for generating its own continental shelf. If that were assumed to be true, then HD-981 would indeed fall within the maximum hypothetical area of dispute generated by the Paracels, shown in red below. This is the maximum dispute because it gives the tiny Paracel Islands equal weight in delimitation with the entire Vietnamese coast facing them—a proposition that borders on the absurd.

US Navy Warship Confronts 2 Chinese Warships in South China Sea

May 8, 2014

USS Blue Ridge confronts 2 Chinese warships in South China Sea

Photo of the two Chinese warships taken by the MH-60 in South China Sea region on May. 5. (Photo/US Navy)

The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship of the Seventh Fleet confronted two PLA Navy warships in the disputed South China Sea region on May. 5 according to the official website of the US Navy.

The report said the two Chinese warships were the Hengshui, a Type 054A frigate, and the Lanzhou, a Type 052C destroyer. During the confrontation, an MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 was dispatched from the deck of the USS Blue Ridge to take photos of the two Chinese surface combat vessels, four of which were uploaded on to the US Navy website for download.

Designed as one of the US Navy’s two Blue Ridge-class command ships, the USS Blue Ridge began its service with the US Navy back in 1970, it’s primary mission being to provide command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence support to the commander and staff of the Seventh Fleet stationed in the Asia-Pacific region. The ship is currently deployed to the US naval facility at Yokosuka of Japan.

With a range of 19,000 kilometers and a speed of 43 km per hour, the USS Blue Ridge plays a very crucial role in President Barack Obama’s Asia Pivot Strategy. In addition to two helicopters, the vessel also carries two Phalanx Close-in weapon systems, four 25 mm Bushmaster cannons, eight .50 caliber machine guns and Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard chaff rockets. The USS Blue Ridge is operated by 52 officers and 790 soldiers.


May 7, 2014

I do not know what to make of my friend CDR Elton “Thumper” Parker’s latest piece here at War on the Rockson how the United States should approach the rise of China. Within its words are elements of sensible strategy and common sense, along with argument a la “straw man” and to use his own phrasing, “Pollyanna.” And as a Naval Aviator, where “goods and others” takes the place of “goods and bads,” he will understand that I start this debrief with the “goods”.

Linkage of words and deeds. Parker is spot on when he argues that our words and deeds are often not in alignment, and that this has undercut American foreign and defense policy. There was great fanfare last week when the President reinforced American treaty obligations to Japan vis-à-vis the Senkakus, but what do those words mean? Does the world respect them any more than past U.S. assurances, threats or pronouncements elsewhere? I raised this issue elsewhere to a chorus of “surely you don’t mean to link U.S. (in) action in Syria with U.S. policy in the Pacific?”, to which I answer, “why would I not?” and more troublingly, “why would Japan not?”

China’s Three Warfares. Parker has done a great service in raising the profile of this approach. Those interested in learning more about how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plans to summon the power of propaganda, international law and the press should do everything they can to read up on this doctrine. And when you have completed a thorough scrub, you might be left with the notion that if such a document had been produced by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the outcry within the United States alone would be deafening. It is a blueprint for manipulation and deception. A cursory examination would suggest incompatibility with the conduct of free nations.

Persistent Physical Presence. Three cheers for Parker’s advocacy for persistent physical presence in Asia, to include reference to a few novel ideas for deepening that presence.

And now, the “others”:

“Welcoming” the Growth of China as a Military Power. That the Commander of Naval Forces in the Pacific makes a statement “welcoming” China’s growth as a military power is unremarkable. That this diplomatic pabulum would be taken as a statement of truth, however, strains credulity. Admiral Harris is as much a diplomat as a warfighter, and statements such as he made are the stock and trade of managing relations among great powers. But let’s face it; if the People’s Republic of China were to make a strategic decision to dramatically cut back on its military power and “buy in” to the United States as a leading Pacific nation, well, now that is something we would welcome. The growth of China’s military should, in fact, not be welcome as long as it is tied to an autocratic, non-transparent regime that is increasingly flexing its muscles in its near-abroad as it attempts to recapture the past glories of the Middle Kingdom, interrupted as they have been by the historical aberration of the past two centuries.

China Buys Friends and Influences Nations

28 MAY 5, 2014

If you can't beat them, outspend them. That seems to be the thinking behind a huge new infrastructure investment fund being promoted by China as an alternative to established international lending agencies. It’s a terrible rationale for starting a bank -- and a good reason to reform the current international system, which remains dominated by Americans, Europeans and Japanese.

Japan, in particular, seems to be the target of China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Tensions between the two countries are running dangerously high over a set of disputed islands that Japan calls the Senkakus and China calls Diaoyu. In this blood feud, Chinese leaders are looking for any leverage they can find to undermine Tokyo’s influence across the wider region. Until now, Asian nations needing help building up their infrastructure have turned to the Japanese either directly or through the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, which is traditionally run by a Japanese official, much like the World Bank tends to be run by an American and the International Monetary Fund by a European.

With an anticipated $50 billion kitty, Beijing’s new fund could begin to put the ADB out of business as China effectively bribes leaders from Dili to Ulaanbaatar. Indonesia needs a swanky new port? Here's $3 billion. Manila's airport needs a facelift? No problem. Thailand's power grid is overloaded? Send us the bill.

It doesn't take a wild imagination to see this largess growing and eventually eclipsing the World Bank, too. Beijing may even look beyond roads and bridges to address balance-of-payments needs. If you're Vietnam, why go to the IMF and submit to the policy changes and increased transparency its officials demand in exchange for aid? All China asks for is friendship and support against rivals -- whether nationalists in Japan or “splittists” in Taiwan and Tibet. If Myanmar or Mongolia suddenly suffered a run on their currencies, Beijing wouldn't send a financial SWAT team with spreadsheets and conditions -- just a check.

For Asia’s developing nations, this bargain might look attractive in the short run. But Africa’s experience with Chinese financial diplomacy offers a cautionary tale. Over the last decade, China Development Bank, often called the mainland’s "Superbank," became the core of China’s efforts to procure both energy and influence in Africa. Trouble is, Beijing’s see-no-evil-hear-no-evil approach has propped up rogue governments in Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. It’s deadened incentives to build competitive economies that rely on diverse sources of growth. And the dynamic has ushered in a new colonialism, whereby China grabs raw materials, while enriching corrupt governments rather than ordinary citizens. A similar phenomenon can be seen in Latin America, including in Brazil.

Recent Fighting Reveals Multitude of Failings Within Ukrainian Military

May 6, 2014
Ukraine helicopter downed as fighting resumes in troubled east
Simon Denyer, Fredrick Kunkle and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — Pro-Russian insurgents shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter as heavy fighting re-erupted around a key rebel stronghold Monday, leaving at least eight people dead and dozens wounded.

The fierce fighting in Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold, broke out as the Ukrainian government sought to regain control of the key Black Sea port of Odessa, dispatching a special police unit to that city after deadly clashes there between rival mobs supporting Ukraine and Russia.

The day brought new setbacks to Ukrainian forces, with four troops killed and the helicopter shot down by rebel forces in clashes near Slovyansk that spanned several hours.

It was the fourth Ukrainian helicopter to be shot down in recent days. In a visit to a checkpoint near the fighting, Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, acknowledged that after years of neglect, his country’s military is weak and lacks basic supplies.

“Understand the real situation,” Avakov said, wearing combat fatigues and a black bulletproof vest. “Our army has been destroyed methodically for the past few years. We don’t have a normal army. We don’t have the appropriate special forces. What is happening now is a combat shakedown, the first in the past few years. We are figuring out who is who, who imitates and who is really not afraid.”

The military’s struggle to retake rebel-held cities in the east is mirrored by the police force’s inability to maintain law and order, an impotence that pro-Russian militants are fully exploiting.

Monday’s clashes came just as normal life was beginning to return to Slovyansk, a city of about 125,000 people, with pedestrians strolling across the central Lenin Square and light traffic wending its way through heavily barricaded, potholed streets lined with trees and ­decrepit Soviet-era apartment blocks.

The relative calm was shattered at mid-morning by a loud explosion and the sound of sporadic gunfire.

Church bells pealed, and rebel officials scurried home from the fortified city council building. Two armored personnel carriers, captured last month from Ukraine’s military, emerged from the rebels’ nearby headquarters packed with men in camouflage bristling with weapons and apparently heading for the front line.

Ukrainian Crisis Reveals Russian Military Designed for Regional Conflict

May 6, 2014 
Russian bombers over Crimea part of post-Cold War military strategy 
Peter Apps 
Christian Science Monitor 

Russian Air Force’s IL-78 air-to-air refueling tanker, right, demonstrates in-flight refueling of a Tu-160 strategic bomber over Pushkin Square in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, May 3, 2014 during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade which will take place at Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 to celebrate 69 years of the victory in WWII.

Moscow has increased defense spending by about 30 percent since its 2008 war with Georgia, and those who study it say the money has been spent not just on hardware but on a much more flexible military structure. 

The result, they say, is a more streamlined force that can mobilize key units in a matter of days and support President Vladimir Putin’s goal to reassert Russian influence over countries it once controlled within the former Soviet Union. 

On Saturday, Russian bombers were spotted refueling over Crimea, reports Agence France Presse.

A local aviation expert told AFP on Sunday that he had sighted a number of planes over the peninsula’s main city of Simferopol on Saturday, including supersonic heavy strategic bombers and heavy military transport aircraft.

The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had also seen refuelling tankers and MiG-29 jets. 

Earlier this month, NATO’s top military leader U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove said the forces currently arrayed along Ukraine’s border could overwhelm the troubled state’s forces in as little as five days. 


May 6, 2014

In the Star Trek movies and books, cadets at Starfleet academy take the Kobayashi Maru test. The test is a simulation where the cadet captains a ship tasked with the rescue of a stranded ship’s crew, the Kobayashi Maru. Before the cadet can carry out the rescue they are beset with several Klingon war birds. No course of action the cadet chooses can save the crew of the stranded ship. Almost inevitably, the simulation ends in the destruction of the cadet’s ship and the death of all aboard as well as the crew of the Kobayashi Maru. The test is designed to see if the cadets can maintain their composure while in command of the doomed rescue mission, intended to teach a cadet how to deal with a no-win scenario.

In recent times, there has been a flurry of articles written on problems with the military in general, and the Army in particular, that seek to explain America’s strategic misfortunes in Iraq and elsewhere. William Lindrecently argued that America’s recent defeats are rooted in institutional failure in the American military’s officer personnel system. Others call fordisruptive thinkers. Other critics blame failed military doctrine. But the criticism must pass an if-then test; if we would have implemented the suggested solution, then we would have accomplished our political objective. Unfortunately, none of these suggestions could pass this test. Democracy in Iraq is the Kobayashi Maru; a no-win scenario.

It was not possible to create a “free, democratic, and stable Iraq.” This was well-known almost from the onset and certainly not in the timeframe America was willing to spend supporting this venture. The process of democratization has been studied for some time. Some of the requisites for democracy — economic wealth distributed across the society, political participation, urbanization, and literacy — were identified by Seymour Lipset as early as 1959. Since that time, additional factors have been identified and the originals refined. Based on these well-known factors, it was clear in 2004 that Iraq was not prepared for democracy. As one professor put it:

Iraq lacks any of the preconditions academics generally accept as being necessary for democratization to succeed. It has no middle class to speak of independent from the state; oil revenues, the life-line of any Iraqi regime, are notorious for their ability to centralize rather than democratize power; the country has no tradition of limited or responsible government; national identity is weak in the face of rival religious or ethnic loyalties; regional neighbors will do what they can to undermine whatever democratizing movements exist; and the democrats themselves lack a figure such as Nelson Mandela or Kim Dae Jung who could give them leadership.

Iraq was possibly the worst place on the planet to attempt to create a democracy. One researcher, taking into account the conditions in Iraq at the time of the invasion, estimated the odds of success at 1,725 to 1. In addition to these social factors, a significant portion of the population of Iraq embraced a tribal value system that was antithetical to democratic legitimacy. The values necessary to embrace power sharing and individual rights were largely absent. Values can change, but that takes time. Given enough time it might have been possible to help the Iraqis build a democratic Iraq. How much time? Twenty years at a minimum for successful democratic consolidation. With all the issues Iraq had to deal with, the researcher estimated it would take 50 years to create a free, democratic and stable government. Even Larry Diamond, one of the more ardent supporters of the Bush administration’s attempt to democratize Iraq, had come to the conclusion in late 2004 that due to the conditions in Iraq and the lack of resources committed to the occupation democracy in Iraq would be a long term project.

Even worse, what the military was able to accomplish, a partial democracy, is the most volatile and least predictable form of government known. When all the factors that can be associated with political instability are ranked, being a partial democracy is number one. Certainly elections in Iraq were a triumph of democracy, but elections alone don’t create democracy. Iraqis have voted in large numbers in the past and will certainly do so again in the near future, but as Professor Bruce E Moon observes “… history shows that it has never been the unwillingness to vote that prevented democracy, but rather the failure to honor the results of those elections.” This is particularly true when factionalism — a political system dominated by ethnic or parochial groups that regularly compete for influence — is present. Factionalism tends to limit an interest in power-sharing. You might think that factionalism in any system would be divisive, but it is not necessarily destabilizing. As Professor Jack A. Goldstone and his associates noted in their research on political instability “It is only when factionalism is combined with a relatively high level of open competition for office … that extremely high vulnerability to instability results …”

By holding elections and attempting to create a democratic system in an ethnic and religiously factionalized society, we were creating the very instability we were seeking to suppress. But this was inherent in the mission, and since we had no doctrine on creating or consolidating a democracy, we integrated those tasks into our counterinsurgency and stability doctrine almost ensuring a self-defeating situation.

Ultimately, the mission to create democracy in Iraq was not realistically possible in the time frame allotted. Does this mean that western style democracy is not possible in the Arab world? No. It simply means that the type of social and economic changes that would have to take place to allow for the individual values and intra-group trust necessary for power sharing could not be accomplished in the time given. The seeds of that change have certainly been planted, but it may be several decades before they bear real fruit.

Democracy in Iraq was the American military’s no-win scenario. Therefore, no claims that had we done this or changed that would realistically have altered the result. When looked at from that perspective, how did the American military score on its Kobayashi Maru test? Overall, the military scored pretty well. It never quit. It continued the mission until the political leadership relieved them of that mission. It maintained its dignity and its honor, never turning away from the fight and never blaming those that gave it the impossible mission for its inability to accomplish it. We also learned, or relearned, many lessons. Once the nature of the mission changed from regime change to supporting the nascent Iraqi government, in conjunction with the Department of State, we created Provincial Reconstruction Teams. These teams took the lead on coordinating the training and resources necessary to help build a new Iraqi state. But there was never going to be enough time to see the mission through till the end.

Are there things we can learn from this experience? Yes. Since the military is going to be used to accomplish political objectives by other means, then we should probably learn a little more about the nature of politics, particularly in the less stable portions of the globe. Efforts to learn to understand the human domain are a good start. Perhaps security should be our first objective, and only once that is achieved, promote democracy. We are also rewriting our doctrine giving greater consideration to the existing socio-cultural conditions on the ground. Does this absolve the American military of criticism? No. There is much to learn from Iraq and there is always room for improvement. The officer education and promotion system is probably behind the times and I have already mentioned needed changes in our doctrine. But for criticism to be valid, it needs to relate to the failure it is trying to rectify. In this case, neither a better officer corps nor a better understanding of counterinsurgency principles would likely have changed the outcome as long as success was defined as a stable, democratic Iraq. For all intents and purposes, democracy in Iraq is the Kobayashi Maru.

Lieutenant Colonel Stan Wiechnik enlisted in the Army in 1982 and received his commission in 1993. A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, he is a graduate of Command and General Staff College, Indiana University, and Vermont Law School. Currently, he serves in the Office of the Chief, Army Reserve at Fort Belvoir, VA. The views expressed are his own.