24 May 2014

Military Diplomacy – time to bridge the void

IssueNet Edition| Date : 23 May , 2014

Questioned ‘why do we need military officers to engage in diplomacy, Nitin Pai, founder and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshila Institute, had replied, “Not only does the nature of contemporary international politics call for it, but other important nations practice it. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US and the four-star generals that head its Theatre Commands are important players in operationalizing Washington’s foreign policy around the world. The Pentagon’s foreign policy resources are comparable to the State Department’s. Look around the neighbourhood. The armed forces are key players in politics and security policies of all our neighbours, from China to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Myanmar.”

China’s military diplomacy is based on security and geopolitical interests and calculation, which are driving the modernization of the PLA in an effort to improve China’s stature in the international security environment.

Military diplomacy can be defined as using the resources of the armed forces of a nation to promote its national security interests. This implies peaceful application of resources from across the spectrum of defence, to achieve positive outcomes in the development of a country’s bilateral and multilateral relationships. Viewing military diplomacy only in terms of defence attachés, personnel exchanges, ship/ aircraft visits, meetings / forums, training / exercises would not address the issue holistically. Military diplomacy is developed and implemented conjointly by the foreign and defence ministries and is often associated with conflict prevention and application of the military. It is distinct from the concept of ‘coercive diplomacy’ which is generally motivated by desire to intimidate potential adversaries. While application of national power should be through domains of diplomacy, information operations, military and economic, military diplomacy can contribute in all the four. When John F Kennedy said “Diplomacy and Defence are not substitutes for one another, either alone would fail”, this covered the necessity to synergize national security and military diplomacy as well.

Talking point

Published on The Asian Age (http://www.asianage.com)
By editor
Created 24 May 2014

With his invitation to the heads of state of the Saarc countries, Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi has taken the first, symbolic step in the foreign policy arena. This is obviously a thoughtful and appropriate gesture.

The significance of this move notwithstanding it still remains to be seen if he chooses to follow up on this initial sign with further actions. There are at least five areas where he may wish to devote some of his energies. Neglecting them could have significant consequences for his ambitious domestic agenda.

What might these be? At the outset, he needs to formulate a viable policy towards Pakistan that goes beyond holding interminable discussions. Despite the presence of a legitimately elected civilian government in Islamabad he and his advisers are no doubt cognisant that the military still wields disproportionate power in the country. Accordingly, when attempting to forge any agreement with his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, he would be wise to ascertain how the security establishment views attempts at fashioning an accord. One useful place to start might be to pick up discussions on a settlement of the Siachen Glacier dispute. However, the matter is fraught but subject to divisibility unlike the central Kashmir question.

In discussions with Pakistan, Mr Modi may also segue into the future of Afghanistan. Pakistani interlocutors have virtually made it a fetish to argue that they find India’s involvement in Afghanistan to be inimical to their interests. The veracity of their claims aside Mr Modi could deftly make some suitably reassuring statements about India’s willingness to discuss and address any legitimate concerns that Pakistan might have about the latter’s involvement in the country. That said, he should also make clear to his Afghan counterparts that he is not about to grant Pakistan a unit veto on what India needs to do to guarantee its own concerns in the country.

He would also be wise to start a conversation with Mahinda Rajapakse in Sri Lanka. Fears of driving the country into the hands of China appeared to inhibit the previous regime from adopting a more forthright position on the plight of Sri Lanka’s beleaguered Tamil citizenry. Mostly pressures from Tamil Nadu nudged the government in New Delhi to pay heed to the situation of Sri Lanka’s Tamils. Unfortunately, matters have not improved significantly for them and are arguably, getting worse. Quite apart from pleasing the mercurial chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr Modi should adopt a forthright position on the matter for other compelling reasons. If India is to emerge as a regional leader and aspires to play a wider role in global politics it cannot, despite Mr Modi’s own uncertain record from Gujarat, shy away from raising the issue of the flagrant maltreatment of ethnic minorities in the region.

Another critical set of regional foreign policy issues involves India’s ties with Bangladesh. A number of issues, ranging from illegal immigration to the sharing of river waters remains on the agenda. The pursuit of better relations with Dhaka, of course, passes through Kolkata. Unless Mr Modi is prepared to carefully consult and work with Mamata Banerjee. The previous government had engaged in the most perfunctory discussions with her and inevitably had come to grief when trying to reach an agreement on water sharing with Bangladesh. There is little reason to believe that her stance on the issue has changed within the last year or so.


The new government at the Centre must honour the stipulations of the Constitution while addressing the Siachen problem, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya

A view of the Siachen Glacier

Territorial borders and their administration have historically been serious matters for any sovereign nation. Hence, the subject needs to be revisited in the light of the outgoing government’s long, failed record of border management. Understandably, when authentic and credible information is furnished by Sanjaya Baru, one of the key aides (between 2004 and 2008) of the former prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, it calls for careful analysis and debate on the issue of border management by people who have ruled contemporary India.

When Baru tells us that “Pranab and Antony, as successive defence ministers in UPA-1, were... not enthusiastic about a deal on Siachen, though Sonia had blessed the peace formula” it raises serious concerns and questions pertaining to the collective understanding — or misunderstanding — at the highest level of policy making on India’s territorial integrity, security, safety and future.

Baru says that, as the prime minister of India, Singh “had to contend with a declining quality of defence services leadership.” Reportedly, “the first sign of this decline was evident in the manner in which army chief General J.J. Singh dealt with the Siachen issue. In closed-door briefings, the General would say that a deal with Pakistan was doable, but in public he would back Antony....” If this is true, then it compels one to suggest that the new Raisina Hills leadership, both civil and military, should henceforth discard such a confusing and conflicted style of taking policy decisions.

Article 1 of the Constitution says that “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”; it further clarifies that the “territory of India shall comprise”, amongst others, “such other territories as may be acquired.” Goa, Daman & Diu (1961), and Sikkim (1975) fall under this category. Significantly, the Constitution of India does not appear to give much scope for ceding Indian territory to a foreign country, at least not without an amendment of the Constitution. Hence, it would be in order to revisit the problem of the Siachen region.

The shine is back

May 24, 2014

Nine months after it clamped down on gold imports, the Reserve Bank of India has partly eased some of the restrictions, which will now increase the supply of gold through legal channels. The controls were imposed in August last year when the rupee was spiralling downward following worries over the rising current account deficit (CAD) and the U.S. Federal Reserve’s move to taper its bond-buying programme. Though seen as highly restrictive, especially by the jewellery trade, the RBI’s measures delivered as gold imports, which were rising unabated and exerting pressure on the external account, dwindled to a trickle in the following months. This eased the pressure on the CAD, which at one time was projected to be close to 5 per cent for 2013-14 leading to fears of a drain on forex reserves. With the CAD now under control (projected to be a little over 2 per cent in 2013-14 compared to 4.8 per cent in the previous fiscal) and the rupee appreciating past the 59-to-a-dollar mark, the unwinding of the controls was probably inevitable. The mismatch caused by a consistent growth in demand for gold and restricted supply led to an increase in smuggling over the last few months. Representations made to the central bank by the jewellery trade, which was groaning under the impact of the strict measures, were a major factor behind the RBI easing up a bit now.

What is interesting, though, is that the RBI has still not reverted to its position prior to the rupee turbulence. So, even if more entities such as star trading houses and premier trading houses can import gold now, the 20:80 scheme (a fifth of the gold imported has to be used for exports by jewellery manufacturers) remains, and the quantum of gold that each such entity can now import is capped at the highest level of monthly imports by them in the 24 months prior to August 2013. Similarly, while banks can now fund gold imports by jewellery manufacturers, the quantum is restricted to the outstanding gold loans in their books as of March 2013. It is clear that the central bank, while acknowledging the changed situation on the external front, has chosen to retain caution. Though the rupee has changed direction for the better, the fact remains that the economy is still on the mend and the external account still needs to be supported. By holding on to some of its restrictions, the RBI has probably created space for the new government to reduce import duty on gold, if it chooses to. Gold prices dropped to a 10-month low on May 23 after the RBI eased up. And if the government decides to reward the jewellery industry manufacturers, who constitute one of the core constituencies of the BJP, with a cut in import duty, the trade and consumers alike will have even more reason to rejoice.

Printable version | May 24, 2014 11:44:25 AM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-shine-is-back/article6041709.ece

© The Hindu

Defence Reforms – Agenda for the New Government


May 22, 2014

Since the publication of the Kargil Review Committee Report, there has been intense public debate on the nature and scope of Defence Reforms needed in the country. The Group of Ministers in its report of 2001, had made major recommendations. Some of which have been implemented but critical one on the appointment of the CDS has been kept in abeyance. More recently, the Government appointed Naresh Chandra Task Force made further recommendations some of which have reportedly been accepted but the critical ones left out.

A country’s response to external threats and internal security challenges is based on its defence preparedness, advance planning for contingencies and the political will. This is a function of its ability to assess the threats, build military capabilities, plan in advance and synergize all the mechanisms and tools of national power to achieve well defined objectives.

The new government will have to make key decisions on different aspects of defence reforms. The following recommendations, based on a study of a large number of reports already available with the government, can go a long way in concluding the process of defence reforms which began post Kargil.

Appoint Chief of Defence Staff: The appointment of Chief of Defence Staff on the basis of the GoM report of 2001 will be a transformative step towards defence reforms. This will help strengthen the process of defence planning, work out national priorities, develop joint threat and capability assessments, help take a long-term view of equipping the armed forces with due considerations of inter-service priorities. The appointment of a CDS will also require a simultaneous appointment of a Vice CDS, who will be responsible for the day-to-day coordination of operation planning and its execution. The appointment of the CDS will also set in motion the creation of joint service commands which are needed in the prevailing security environment. It will also give a fillip to the integration of the armed forces with the Ministry of Defence and bring about the necessary changes required in the MoD structure. The need of the hour will be to ensure that the Defence Secretary and the CDS work in synergy to provide the necessary military, technical and administrative advice to the Raksha Mantri. Integration of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed forces is equally necessary.

India’s Relationship With The Gulf Cooperation Council: Need To Look Beyond Business

Monograph No. 37

India-GCC relationship is growing stronger by the day as both realise the potential and importance of each other. Trade and commerce is the most important pillar of the India-GCC relationship. Success of high volume of trade and commerce between India and GCC revolves around a high degree of trade and economic complementarity as both caters to each other's economic demands. GCC countries, with large hydrocarbon reserves are crucial for India's energy requirements while the region has been a good market for Indian products. But the success of the bilateral economic relationship has not been translated in to a stronger political and strategic partnership. In this context, this monograph analyses India's engagement with the GCC countries and argues that as India emerges as a major global power, it is important for India to engage with the 'extended neighbourhood' more meaningfully. It emphasises the point that India should engage with the GCC countries, and build consensus on political and security and strategic issues affecting them. As the region is going through rapid political changes in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it becomes imperative for India to engage with these countries looking beyond the economic relationship with the GCC countries. Though there have been some endeavours in recent years in this regard, there is still a lot of room need to be covered.
About the Author

Dr. Prasanta Kumar Pradhan is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. He holds a doctorate degree from the School of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His areas of research interests include domestic, foreign policy and security issues in the Gulf region and the wider Arab world. He has also done extensive research on various aspects of India's relationship with the Gulf and West Asian region. He has published articles in several reputed journals and contributed articles to the edited volumes on these issues. He is also working on the political, strategic and security implications of the Arab Spring for the region and India. At IDSA, he is presently working on the 'Sectarian Faultlines in West Asia'.

The View from Nepal: Indian General Election 2014: Growing Expectations from Modi

Paper No. 5707 Dated 22-May-2014

Guest Column by Dr. Hari Bansh Jha

The Indian voters have given clear verdict in favour of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the lower house of parliament. Apart from winning election from Varanasi, the 63-year old Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, won the elections in Vadodara in Gujrat by over 570,000 votes, which is a record in itself.

At the national level, BJP won 282 seats out of 543 seats, surpassing the 272 seats needed to form a majority government. After the lapse of 25-long years since 1989, it is for the first time that there will be a single party rule in India. And more so it will be the sole opposition party after Indian independence which got majority on its own strength to form the government. Together with is ally NDA, it has been able to secure 336 seats in the parliament.

Indian election is the world's largest exercise in democracy. With 814 million eligible voters, over 551 million people voted in the elections. There was a record voting of 66.38 per cent in the in the nine-phase general election, beating the previous 1984 poll record. This was so because a larger number of people in urban India and also the youth cast their votes in the election.

The 128-year old Indian National Congress Party has met worst ever defeat and is almost dissipated. It secured only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, and even along with its ally UPA its strength was limited to 59 seats. It accounted for only 19.3 per cent of the total votes cast in the elections. In 10 states, it failed win even a single seat. Because of its humiliating defeat, it does not even qualify to have a leader of opposition in the parliament for its failure to secure the threshold limit of 10 per cent of the total seats in the parliament. It is not merely a serious blow to the Congress Party, but in fact it is the political harakiri of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty rule in India.

Election result shows that Modi-led NDA would form the government. BJP has got enough of majority on its own. In this election, Narendra Modi exhibited presidential style campaign by addressing 437 rallies, which is unequalled in Indian history. No other leader in the past had worked so hard in the elections.

Welcoming the robust victory, the BJP President Raj Nath Singh observed that the verdict given by the people was a verdict for change and that time had come to rewrite India's success stories. On this occasion, Narendra Modi observed, "India has won. Good time ahead." 

BJP is said to be a party that promotes Hindutva. But in the past the party has rated the interest of India higher than Hindutva. The party for the first time has made its dent in south, north-east and other parts of the country, where its presence was marginal, if not nil, in the past.

Pakistan: Worse Than We Knew

by Carlotta Gall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 329 pp., $28.00

Alexandra Boulat/VII
A pro-Taliban rally in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, circa 2002

During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks.

Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.)

Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.

Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008.

Pakistan: Worse Than We Knew

by Carlotta Gall 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 329 pp., $28.00 
Alexandra Boulat/VII
A pro-Taliban rally in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, circa 2002

During the Afghan elections in early April I was traveling in Central Asia, mainly in Kyrgyzstan. I wanted to inquire into the fears of the governments there as a result of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. What did they think of the growth of Taliban and Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Officials in each country cited two threats. First, the internal radicalizing of their young people by increasing numbers of preachers or proselytizing groups arriving from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East. The second, more dangerous threat is external: they believe that extremist groups based in Pakistan and Afghanistan are trying to infiltrate Central Asia in order to launch terrorist attacks. 

Islamic extremism is infecting the entire region and this will ultimately become the legacy of the US occupation of Afghanistan, as the so-called jihad by the Taliban against the US comes to an end. Iran, a Shia state, fears that the Sunni extremist groups that have installed themselves in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on the Iranian border will step up their attacks inside Iran. In February Iran threatened to send troops into Balochistan unless Pakistan helped free five Iranian border guards who had been kidnapped by militants. (The Pakistanis freed four of the guards; one was killed.) 

Chinese officials say they are particularly concerned about terrorist groups coming out of Pakistan and Afghanistan that are undermining Chinese security. Although China is Pakistan’s closest ally, its officials have made it clear that they are closely monitoring the Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang province, who are training in Pakistan, fighting in Afghanistan, and have carried out several terrorist attacks in Xinjiang. 

Terrorist assaults from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have declined sharply since 2003, but India has a perennial fear that Islamic militant groups based in Pakistan’s Punjab province may mount attacks in India. Many Punjabi fighters have joined the Taliban forces based in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and they have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. India is also wary of another terrorist attack resembling the one that took place in Mumbai in 2008. 

For forty years Pakistan has been backing Islamic extremist groups as part of its expansionist foreign policy in Afghanistan and Central Asia and its efforts to maintain equilibrium with India, its much larger enemy. Now Pakistan is undergoing the worst terrorist backlash in the entire region. Some 50,000 people have died in three separate and continuing insurgencies: one by the Taliban in the northwest, the other in Balochistan by Baloch separatists, and the third in Karachi by several ethnic groups. That sectarian war, involving suicide bombers, massacres, and kidnappings, has gripped the country for a decade. 

Some five thousand Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed and some twenty thousand wounded, both as targets of terrorist attacks and during offensives against them. The economy has sharply declined, and there are widespread electricity shortages. The political elite is divided and at odds with the military over how to deal with terrorism, while many in the middle class are leaving the country. 

Two years ago all the states in the region would have publicly or privately accused Pakistan’s military and Interservices Intelligence (ISI) of supporting, protecting, or at least tolerating almost every terrorist group based in Pakistan. The ISI had links with all of them and often collaborated with them. Recently those relations have changed. Governments in the region now accept that Pakistan is in some ways trying to fight terrorism on its soil. But those governments are also concerned that the Pakistani military and political elite have lost control of large parts of the country and cannot maintain law and order. The US and Western countries fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is vulnerable and that terrorists in Pakistan may be planning an attack comparable to that of September 11. 

The Two Faces of the Uyghurs

A lack of trust between Uyghur and Han will continue to frustrate efforts to achieve ethic unity. 
May 19, 2014

In early March, a terrorist attack took place in southwest China’s Kunming, leaving 29 dead and more than 130 injured. The attack was attributed to Uyghur separatists. In early April, also in southwest China, a shooting incident occurred on the Sino-Vietnamese border — a group of Uyghurs trying to escape Chinaseized guns from police and opened fire. Some weeks after that, President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang, including the southern region where the religious beliefs are most devout. While there, Xi expressed a desire to be close to the people while also emphasizing his commitment to fighting terrorism. However, soon after he left Xinjiang, there was an explosion in the railway station of the capital, Urumqi.

There is no doubt that the last 10 years have brought unprecedented media exposure for Uyghurs. As a journalist, I believe this media attention derives from a nameless sense of alienation and fear. For decades, Uyghurs have lacked a basic sense of belonging, and there has been a deficit of trust with the majority Han ethnic group.

While Chinese officials work hard to promote ethnic unity and praise Uyghurs, on the internet Uyghurs are usually targets for criticism, widespread enough to be seen by every Chinese netizen. As a result, Uyghurs have two faces in China: one peaceful and good, the other terrifying. The former is the image publicized by China’s official media. The “fearful” face of Uyghurs represents the attitude of more and more people influenced by social media, and is a growing problem for China.

After the explosion in Urumqi, the “two faces” of Uyghurs were readily evident in public discourse.

After the attack, People’s Daily, the newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, posted to its official Weibo account a “Joint Letter by Uyghur Students.” The letter harshly criticized the violence against civilians and accused the terrorists “of hijacking the entire Uyghur nation.” The article represented the official voice of China, calling for ethnic unity. The Weibo post has been forwarded 10,000 times, but has only 11 comments. It’s clear that authorities are worried about online discussions on this topic, so they are “screening” speech.

Such screening is an ongoing battle, because the image of Uyghurs on the Internet is quite different from the official view. Referring to the joint letter, for instance, one netizen commented: “Why wasn’t this article written in Uyghur? It’s nothing but empty talk and polite words. It’s just a tool to maintain social stability and ease ethnic conflicts!”

The Uyghurs’ online image goes deeper than fears of terrorism. Some netizens’ personal experiences also contribute to negative perceptions of Uyghurs. For example, on Sina Weibo, netizens have urged travelers never to take a Uyghur-driven taxi in Xinjiang. “The Uyghur drivers are terrible, in addition to taking detours, they might try to intimidate you, it’s really terrible… This is my first time in Xinjiang, and I swear it’s also the last!” Online, it’s easy for one person’s personal experience to become a source of prejudice against all Uyghurs. Such emotional speech not only endangers the image of Uyghur, but also affects all of Xinjiang.

Though many associate Xinjiang with Uyghurs, Xinjiang is just a geographical term, describing a region that accounts for one-sixth of China by area. That’s why the government pays such close attention to Xinjiang — it’s more important to China than Crimea is to Ukraine. Although Xinjiang is officially called a “Uyghur Autonomous Region,” in fact, Uyghurs account for fewer than 50 percent of Xinjiang’s population. Sometimes, netizens criticizing Uyghurs use the phrase “the people of Xinjiang,” which upsets the many Han people living in Xinjiang. The Han people in Xinjiang want to maintain a distinction between themselves and Uyghurs.

China's Westphalian Attachment

The world may be moving on from the Westphalian international system, but China isn’t playing along. 
May 22, 2014

The Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel has an interesting column over at Defense News where he lays out the case that international relations has entered an era that is no longer accurately described by the assumptions about sovereignty laid out by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. He writes that the Westphalian model is incomplete because “nation-states are joined on the global stage by powerful individuals, groups and others who can and are taking actions that are disrupting the traditional world order.” He adds that “while these actors have operated for some time, their ability to effect decisive global and regional change is about to grow exponentially.” Pavel suggests we call this phenomenon the “Westphalian-plus global landscape.”

While reading Pavel’s argument, I couldn’t help but notice that while the world at large — particularly the West — may have moved on from the Westphalian model, one major state continues to abide by several Westphalian assumptions: China. Pavel’s argument accounts for the explosion in democratic protests and populist movements worldwide, best encapsulated by the “Arab Spring” which gripped the Middle-East and North Africa (Pavel notes Venezuela and other examples as well). While this sort of “people power” may be driving events in regions important to the United States, very little can be said about the impact of these forces on how China, the world’s most populous nation and the rising power du jour, positions itself on the world stage and interacts with other nations.

Despite China’s remarkable growth, both in absolute and per capita GDP, it remains a highly dirigisme centralized oligarchy. In fact, traditional Westphalian notions of sovereignty not only describe the manner in which China operates on the international stage but also describe what is widely seen as the Chinese view of international affairs. The overarching principle of Westphalian sovereignty is that sovereignty begins and ends with the state — no external actor or institution can undermine domestic structures. Under this principle, the Westphalian model also ascribes legal equality between states and bars states from intervening in the internal affairs of another state.

The Battle for the South China Sea

19 May 2014

Furious mobs fire-bombed Chinese-owned factories in Vietnam in retaliation for China placing an oil rig in what Vietnam claims are its territorial waters. Hanoi is cracking down on “hooligans” and even peaceful demonstrations, but Beijing still decided to evacuate thousands of its citizens.

Earlier this month the Vietnamese and Chinese navies squared off with each other in the South China Sea over the very same issue.

This is just the beginning of what could be a very long conflict. Vietnam and China both claim the Spratly Islands, as do Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei.

Nobody lives permanently on any of them. They’re a dispersed archipelago of specks, many of which are underwater at high tide, that in aggregate only make up one-and-a-half square land miles. They don’t have any resources per se, but maritime borders are extensions of land borders, so whoever claims the Spratlies can claim the waters around them. And the waters around them are valuable, hence the oil rig and Vietnam’s violent reaction.

Rioters spared at least one factory because it flies the American flag. Don’t be surprised. Vietnam’s people are no more angry at Americans right now than Americans are angry at the Vietnamese. The war between our two countries is almost forty years old, as far back in history as World War II was in 1984. Most of Vietnam’s negative energy is directed at China, which it has struggled on-and-off against for centuries. A Vietnamese diplomat put it into perspective: “China invaded Vietnam seventeen times. The US invaded Mexico only once, and look at how sensitive Mexicans are about that.”

Vietnam’s perception of China is more like Poland’s view of Russia than Mexico’s of the US. “This threat posed by China toward Vietnam comes not only from geographical proximity,” wrote Le Hong Hiep at East Asia Forum in 2011, “but also the asymmetry of size and power between the two countries. China is 29 times larger than Vietnam, while Vietnam’s population, despite being the world’s 14th largest, is still only equivalent to one of China’s mid-sized provinces.

The South China Sea will be contested for a long time. The United States has naval dominance now, and it aggravates the Chinese for the same reason Americans would be aggravated if Beijing had naval dominance in the Caribbean or off the coast of New York or California. There’s a difference, though, and it’s huge. The Caribbean is peripheral, but more than half the world’s merchant shipping passes through the South China Sea.

The Chinese Cyber Spying Unit Unit 61398

May 20, 2014
The mysterious Chinese unit behind the cyberespionage charges
Joseph Fitsanakis

On Monday, the United States government leveled for the first time charges against a group of identified Chinese military officers, allegedly for stealing American trade secrets through cyberespionage. The individuals named in the indictment are all members of a mysterious unit within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) command structure, known as Unit 61398. It is estimated that the unit has targeted at least 1,000 private or public companies and organizations in the past 12 years. Western cybersecurity experts often refer to the group as “APT1”, which stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat 1”, or “Byzantine Candor”. It is believed to operate under the Second Bureau of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which is responsible for collecting foreign military intelligence. Many China military observers argue that Unit 61398 is staffed by several thousand operatives, who can be broadly categorized into two groups: one consisting of computer programmers and network operations experts, and the other consisting of English-language specialists, with the most talented members of the Unit combining both skills. Computer forensics experts have traced the Unit’s online activities to several large computer networks operating out of Shanghai’s Pudong New Area district, a heavily built neighborhood in China’s largest city, which serves as a symbol of the country’s rapid industrialization and urbanization. Among other things, Unit 61398 is generally accused of being behind Operation SHADY RAT, one of history’s most extensive known cyberespionage campaigns, which targeted nearly 100 companies, governments and international organizations, between 2006 and 2011. The operation is believed to be just one of numerous schemes devised by Unit 61398 in its effort to acquire trade secrets from nearly every country in the world during the past decade, say its detractors. American sources claim that the PLA Unit spends most of its time attacking private, rather than government-run, networks and servers. As the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, told reporters on Monday, Unit 61398 conducts hacking “for no reason other than to advantage state-owned companies and other interests in China, at the expense of businesses here in the United States”. But The Washington Post points out that the recent revelations by US intelligence defector Edward Snowden arguably make it “easier for China to dismiss” Washington’s charges, since they point to systematic “cyber intrusion, wiretapping and surveillance activities [by the US National Security Agency] against Chinese government departments, institutions, companies, universities and individuals”. The administration of US President Barack Obama argues that American espionage targeting China focuses solely on national security and that the information collected does not get passed on to American companies. However, as The New York Times reports, Beijing argues that “the distinction [between national-security and economic espionage] is an American artifact, devised for commercial advantage”. The Chinese, says the paper, view business intelligence as “part of the fabric of national security”, especially since China’s international clout critically depends on it economic prowess.

Coups and terror are the fruit of Nato's war in Libya

The dire consequences of the west's intervention are being felt today in Tripoli and across Africa, from Mali to Nigeria 

The Guardian, Thursday 22 May 2014 

Firefighters and rescuers extinguish a fire following a bomb blast in central Jos, Nigeria. Photograph: Str/AFP/Getty Images

Iraq may have been a blood-drenched disaster and Afghanistan a grinding military and political failure. But Libya was supposed to have been different. Nato's war to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 was hailed as the liberal intervention that worked.

The western powers might have had to twist the meaning of the UN resolution about protecting civilians, the city of Sirte might have been reduced to rubble, large-scale ethnic cleansing taken place and thousands of civilians killed. But it was all in a noble cause and achieved without Nato casualties.

This wasn't Bush and Blair, after all, but Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy. The people were free, the dictator was dead, a mooted massacre had been averted – and all this without any obvious boots on the ground. Even last year the prime minister was still claiming it had all been worthwhile, promising to stand with Libyans "every step of the way".

But three years after Nato declared victory, Libya is lurching once again towards civil war. Over the past few days, the CIA-linked General Hiftarlaunched his second coup attempt in three months, supposedly to save the country from "terrorists" and Islamists. On Sunday, his forcesstormed the national parliament in Tripoli, after 80 people were killed in fighting in Benghazi two days earlier.

Now Libya's chief of staff has called on Islamist militias to defend the government in advance of new elections. Since the country is overrun with militias far more powerful than its official forces, riven with multiple divisions and prey to constant external interference, the chances of avoiding full-blown conflict are shrinking fast.

But these are only the latest of the clashes and atrocities that have engulfed Libya since Nato's "liberation": including bombings, assassinations, the kidnapping of the prime minister, the seizure of oil terminals by warlords, the explusion of 40,000 mainly black Libyans from their homes, and the killing of 46 protesters on the streets of Tripoli in one incident — ignored by the states that supposedly went to war to protect civilians.

In reality, the west seized the chance to intervene in Libya to get a grip on the Arab uprisings. Nato air power in support of the Libyan rebellion increased the death toll by a factor of about 10, but played the decisive role in the war— which meant no coherent political or military force was ready to fill the vacuum. Three years on, thousands are held without trial, there are heavy curbs on dissent, and institutions are close to collapse.

But the US and Britain are still training Libyan troops to keep control. Before Gaddafi's overthrow, Hiftar headed the military wing of the CIA-backed National Salvation Front. In advance of his latest coup attempt, a sympathetic US sent a force of marines to Sicily ready to intervene, and John Kerry has promised to help Libya with "security and extremism".

Putting Ukraine in Its Place

From the current debates you’d never know what matters more: Russia’s land grab, Iran’s nuclear program, or China’s territorial claims. How America stopped thinking strategically.

MAY 21 2014

Matt Dorfman

Let’s briefly review the American foreign-policy debates of the past year. Last August, President Obama declared that he would bomb Syria for defying his call to not use chemical weapons. Then, in a sharp about-face, he decided instead to work with Russia to dismantle the weapons, and was denounced as weak by hawkish critics. Obama’s supporters said he had done as well as he could have under the circumstances. Two months later, America and its allies struck an interim nuclear deal with Iran. Hawks called it appeasement. Obama’s supporters said it was as good as one could expect under the circumstances. Within hours of the deal, China claimed the right to monitor and possibly take military action against aircraft crossing a disputed area of the East China Sea. Hawks denounced Obama’s response as weak. The president’s supporters said it was as strong as possible under the circumstances. Then, in February, Russia began menacing Ukraine. Hawks called Obama’s response weak. His supporters said the president was doing all he reasonably could.

Each debate resembles the others, but occurs in splendid isolation. Today’s foreign-policy disputes rarely consider the way America’s response to one crisis might affect another. Adopt a tough stance on China’s air-defense zone, for instance, and Beijing is less likely to join the West in condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Severely punish Russia for that aggression, and Moscow is less likely to help America enforce sanctions against Iran. Take an ultra-hard line on Iran’s nuclear program, and Tehran is less likely to help broker an end to Syria’s civil war that the U.S. can live with. Instead of discussing each threat in isolation, America’s politicians and pundits should be debating which ones matter most. They should be prioritizing.

Get Ready World: China and Russia Are Getting Closer

Putin is heading to the Middle Kingdom. Will the visit be a game changer in Sino-Russian relations?
May 20, 2014 

Whenever Russian president Vladimir Putin meets with his Chinese counterparts, there is always dramatic talk about the intensifying special relationship between the two countries and the enunciation of bold goals to double trade and further expand security, political and diplomatic ties. There is just as often a noticeable lag between the rhetoric of summits and what is actually achieved. Of course, both countries have moved closer together in recent years, but Moscow and Beijing have also traditionally hedged their relations with each other. China, of course, does not want to damage its much more lucrative ties with the West by joining Russia on a bold anti-Western crusade, while Russia is fearful of being drawn into the Chinese orbit and eventually reduced to the position of Beijing's junior partner.

Has the Ukraine crisis, however, changed the dynamic of the Sino-Russian relationship? If Russia's traditional "European vector" is now likely to be compromised—inhibiting further trade and investment—and if relations with the United States are more likely to be characterized by a "cold peace" rather than a reset for strategic partnership, is Putin now coming to Beijing as a supplicant, anxious to show that he is not isolated by Western pressure and has options? Or is he planning to offer the Chinese the vision of a new world order where the two great powers of Eurasia can, in concert, work to rewrite many of the rules of the international order laid down by the Euro-Atlantic world?

When president Xi Jinping welcomes Putin on his return to the Middle Kingdom this week, we will have a better idea as to how to answer these questions. In particular, outside observers should consider utilizing the following checklist:

1. Is the long-awaited Russia-China natural gas deal—ten years in the making—finally consummated on this trip? Tantalizing announcements continue to declare that the deal is nearly finalized and almost ready—but the sticking points remain price and quantity. If the deal is announced, pay close attention to the price. Is it a neat 50/50 compromise between Gazprom holding out for a near-European level price and China's wish to pay rock-bottom prices? Is China willing to give on price in order to lock in a longer-term guaranteed supply of gas? In particular, has Xi decided that it is worth it for China, as a sign of goodwill to Moscow, to pay a higher-than-preferred price for Russian gas—in order to significantly reorient Russian natural gas markets away from Europe—and to ease Russia into greater dependence on the Chinese market?

If the price is lower than what the Russians want, is this a sign that they are willing to give China the price breaks Beijing desired in order to get reassurances that Beijing will be a long-term consumer—or because China has decided, in return for a lower price, to finance much of the new investment needed to modernize the Russian energy industry? Just as important, does Putin sign a contract with China that may be disadvantageous to Russia because of an assessment that European markets will continue to diminish as the West finds other alternatives to Russia?

The Ukraine Crisis: Is the Worst Over?

While challenges certainly remain, there is reason to be hopeful in the long run.

May 22, 2014

Since November, when Ukraine’s political turmoil reached a critical point, we’ve seen a flood tide of punditry that can be described as follows: Lots of gloom, dollops of doom. It’s time for some (cautious) optimism. For internal and external reasons, Ukraine appears to have turned the corner.

Early in this crisis, I ventured the assessment that there was little chance of a full-blown Russian invasion of Ukraine. But after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, following a bogus referendum that contravened Ukraine’s constitution, there was much speculation that the Donbass could be next on Putin’s list. But the reality all along has been that he can’t pull off in eastern Ukraine what he did in Crimea. In fact, the Crimean model, if you will, is not what he has had in mind for the Donbass—and for good reasons.

The Crimea’s pro-Russian majority provided a hospitable setting and a social base for Russia’s landgrab. The Donbass lacks a Russian majority: in the two provinces that have witnessed the most upheaval, Donetsk and Luhansk, they constitute less than 40 percent of the population, in Kharkiv, about 26 percent. In Crimea, thousands of troops were already on the scene because Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is headquartered there on a long-term lease, and the infrastructure for accommodating more of them existed, enabling the rapid bulking up that occurred. In the Donbass, Russian forces would lack a similar support structure. The logistical systems for supplying and sustaining them would have to be created, probably amidst popular resistance. That’s not impossible to do, but it’s much harder.

Crimea is a small place; Russian troops swarmed it quickly. The Donbass is a big place; Putin would have to deploy many more troops to wrest control of it. He could do that, but it would be a provocative act. The EU and the United States are now in sanctions mode. So far, the punishment inflicted on Russia has been confined to a coterie of senior leaders and fat cats, but an invasion of Ukraine would end Europe’s divisions and hesitation about stiffening and expanding it. Russia would face sector-wide Western sanctions covering critical areas such as banking and energy. Putin understands this as well.

The idea of union with Russia had considerable support within Crimea’s ethnic Russian majority, though not among its Tatars and Ukrainians. Polls in the Donbass, by contrast, have shown consistently that only a small minority (a tad over 15 percent) favor secession in what is a Russified region. The same is true of popular enthusiasm for the armed bands that have commandeered key communication points and buildings in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk provinces, which explains their inability to mobilize mass support. Yes, they have a following, but nothing resembling a vast grassroots movement.

There were no massive rallies once the Ukrainian government started battling these groups in April. Even the May 2 clashes in Odessa, which killed some forty-two people, didn’t generate a tide of pro-independence rallies in Ukraine’s east and south; nor did the deaths of about twenty-five people in Mariupol, another Black Sea port city, on May 9. There’s plenty of suspicion in the Donbass about the Kyiv government, but there’s little longing for Yanukovych. Nor—as polls make clear—do most Donbass residents approve of Russia’s efforts to shape Ukraine’s politics.

A Finland Model for Ukraine?

By David Ignatius - May 21, 2014

WASHINGTON -- After months of war fever over Ukraine, perhaps the biggest surprise is that citizens there will be voting to choose a new government in elections that observers predict will be free and fair in most areas.

This electoral pathway for Ukraine seemed unlikely a few weeks ago, given Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea and his covert campaign to destabilize the Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine. There were dire warnings of a new Cold War, and even of a ground war in Ukraine. The country seemed at risk of being torn apart.

Putin appears, at this writing, to have decided that Russia's interests are better served by waiting -- for the nonaligned government he expects will emerge from Sunday's elections -- than from an invasion or some radical destabilization. The Russian leader may be ready to accept a neutral country, between East and West, where Russia's historical interests are recognized. During the Cold War, such an outcome was known as "Finlandization."

If this Finland-like status is what Ukrainians support (and recent evidence suggests their new leaders may indeed choose this course) then it should be a welcome outcome for the West, too. Ukraine's problems are internal; it needs ideological coherence more than territorial defense. It needs the breathing space that nonalignment can provide. The Ukrainian people can't be barred from seeking membership in NATO or the European Union, but it's unimaginable that either body would say yes, perhaps for decades. So Putin can breathe easier on that score.

Maybe the elections will dull the self-flagellating domestic rhetoric in America that Putin's menacing moves were somehow the fault of President Obama and his allegedly weak foreign policy. Obama has made mistakes, especially in the Middle East, but his Ukraine policy mostly has been steady and correct. He recognized that the U.S. had no military options and fashioned a strategy that, with German help, seems to have deterred Putin from further recklessness.

If the election goes forward (with Putin maintaining his current "wait and see" stance), Obama deserves credit for crisis policymaking of the sort recommended by the respected British strategist Lawrence Freedman. "The basic challenge of crisis management is to protect core interests while avoiding major war." Freedman wrote in a March essay on the blog "War on the Rocks." He argued, even then, that criticism of Obama's allegedly weak stance was "overdone."

The case for "Finlandization" emerges in a monograph prepared recently by the State Department's Office of the Historian. It argues that "Finnish foreign policy during the Cold War successfully preserved Finland's territorial and economic sovereignty, through adherence to a careful policy of neutrality in foreign affairs." Ukraine's new government may pursue a similar nonalignment, judging from the leading candidate, billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko, who has pro-Western ties but also served in the Moscow-leaning government of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

US Conventional Power and Nuclear Asia

To stop allies in Asia from going nuclear, the U.S. needs to shore up its conventional military power. 

May 20, 2014

Creak. Short-notice, long-distance travel is a great and a terrible thing. My back is reminding me of that, and of some geographic facts. Basic facts, such as: North America is wide; the Pacific Ocean is broad, and largely empty; Asia is tall north to south, its offshore terrain complex and fascinating.

While they appear petite on the world map, moreover, peripheral seas like the South China Sea, an anteroom to both the Pacific and Indian oceans, occupy enormous geographic space in their own right. I changed planes in Hong Kong, along the sea’s northern rim. But another three-and-a-half-hour flight lay ahead before I alighted in Changi Airport, Singapore.

Thirty-six hours, all told, to Singapore from the Naval Diplomat bunker somewhere along the shores of the Narragansett Bay. Big world. It beats me how Robert Kaplan keeps up such a travel schedule year in, year out.

But enough of the geography lesson. As my last column reported, I was summoned to the city-state last week on a hyper-clandestine mission to spread disinformation about ballistic-missile submarines among our Chinese friends. Mission accomplished!!

Tell no one. In all seriousness, our workshop explored how to preserve and defend strategic stability as Asia and the world enter a second nuclear age. This new age is populated by nuclear oldtimers such as the United States, Russia, and France, relative newcomers such as India and Pakistan, and nuclear oldtimers inventing their arsenals anew, such as China.

That portends an end to bipolar, relatively stable, predictable deterrence. A kaleidoscope is a better metaphor. More nuclear-weapon states means more rivals to deter. Some nuclear-weapon states are bulking up and configuring their arsenals. Others are pursuing arms reductions. Virtually invisible, omnipotent SSBN fleets, consequently, represent a big part of second-nuclear-age strategy. Oldtimers have them; newcomers want them.

So far, so good. In the last session, though, an unwary panel chairman asked me to tender my number-one bit of advice for the U.S. government as it strives to manage this brave new world. Here it is: stop separating nuclear strategy from strategy writ large. There is strategy, and there are implements used to execute strategy. Some of these are unconventional, others conventional. It takes a mix of both, coupled with obvious resolve to use them in times of strife, to sustain the alliances that constitute the bedrock of America’s strategic position in Asia.

Letting conventional deployments wilt while keeping nuclear deterrence strong will let Washington deter doomsday scenarios that justify nuclear-weapons use. But rivals can make lots of mischief beneath the nuclear threshold unless faced with powerful conventional counterforce. That’s the lesson of the 1950s, when massive retaliation fended off all-out war but did little to discourage subversion, insurgencies, minor-league military aggression, and other methods deployed by godless communists to expand their sway.

In short, nukes can deter some things — but not the things allies fret about on a day-to-day basis. It’s doubtful U.S. leaders would pull the nuclear trigger over, say, the Senkaku Islands or China’s nine-dashed line in the South China Sea. It takes conventional armies, navies, and air forces to manage such controversies. Yet Asian allies see vital interests at stake in such struggles, even if Americans don’t. If the allies lose faith in U.S. military might, and conclude they cannot field forces strong enough to ward off Russia or China, then they may seek nuclear deterrents of their own. The kaleidoscope turns.

Ergo, if U.S. leaders want to simplify the geometry of deterrence — and keep Asia from descending into brutish, Hobbesian competition of all against all — then they must keep the number of nuclear-weapon states as compact as possible. By sustaining a credible nuclear deterrent in concert with unbeatable conventional forces, Washington can suppress U.S. allies’ incentive to burst through the nuclear barrier. Again: nuclear strategy is indivisible from strategy.

A robust U.S. strategic posture, then, means more than providing nuclear security guarantees to allies such as South Korea and Japan. It means shoring up conventional military power. So to navigate the second nuclear age, let’s revivify the alliance system, and thereby America’s strategic position in Asia.