27 September 2014

India & China: The chill factor

Sep 26, 2014

On September 21, President Xi ordered the PLA to follow the instructions of the President. But he also asked them to improve the PLA’s readiness to fight and win a limited regional war. Observers are still reading the tea leaves.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India was almost a back to back event following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful four-day visit to Japan from August 30.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, quite clearly spared no effort to make Mr Modi’s visit a success. He received Mr Modi in Kyoto and spent a day with him showing him the sights there. This is quite unusual given prevailing international protocol norms and Japan’s own traditional reserve. The following day both leaders met in Tokyo in an official setting and several major joint cooperation and assistance initiatives were announced.

The most notable of these was Mr Abe’s announcement of a $35 billion investment in India within the next five years. There also seemed a convergence on security perceptions and the Indian Prime Minister made a pointed reference to the expansionist tendencies of some nations. He said: “Encroaching on a country, entering into sea somewhere, entering a country and occupying territory — this expansionism cannot do good to humanity in the 21st century. The path of development is essential and I feel Asia has to lead the world in 21st century, and India and Japan will have to together add to the glory of the path of development.” It was quite clear he was alluding to China, with whom India has a long pending territorial dispute, as does Japan.

Mr Modi and Mr Abe quite significantly also agreed to look into upgrading to a “two-plus-two” format for security dialogue by teaming together their foreign and defence ministers. They also directed officials to commence working level talks on defence equipment and technology cooperation.

The visit of President Xi Jinping of China was originally supposed to begin on September 22 but it was brought ahead as his Pakistan leg had to be scrubbed with the capital of China’s principal ally in the region under siege by the government’s more militant opponents. This made it the first time a Chinese head of state or government visited India without a balancing visit to Pakistan. Chinese media tried to put a spin on this by suggesting that by not bunching India and Pakistan together, the Chinese leader was signaling a change in Chinese attitudes. Few in India were taken in by this.

The Chinese also made much of the fact that President Xi was beginning his official trip with a visit to Mr Modi’s hometown of Ahmedabad instead of the usual and formal first stop at New Delhi. But Indian media made it known that even President Barack Obama visited Mumbai before he came to New Delhi, and besides, Mr Modi himself went to Kyoto before Tokyo.

But many were taken in by the expectation that China will announce a much bigger investment package to trump the Japanese. A couple of days prior to the visit, the Chinese consul-general in Mumbai, Liu Youfa, told Indian media that Chinese firms were eyeing over $50 billion worth of investments in modernising the Indian railways and running high-speed trains. President Xi, he said, would bring with him $100 billion of investment commitments over five years, nearly three times as much as the $35 billion secured by Mr Modi in Japan.

Like Mr Abe did with him, Mr Modi pulled out all protocol stops to greet Mr Xi and his glamorous wife, the singer Peng Liyuan, and even accompanied them on a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, where Mahatma Gandhi lived. Mr Modi also gifted Mr Xi with a Nehru style waistcoat that he wore for the rest of the day, much to the delight of the media, who saw in it a sign of warmth between the two leaders. But this didn’t last very long.

Combating the ISIS challenge

Sep 27, 2014

Iran has been deliberately excluded from the coalition against ISIS. But Iran knows full well, as do the Americans, that it has a central role in promoting regional stability.

Barely three years after they withdrew from Iraq, US forces have once again unleashed their fire power in the region, this time not against an abhorred regime but on a non-state actor — the “Islamic State” (ISIS).

The US is not just attacking an Arab enemy alone; its aircraft are accompanied by war planes from allied Arab countries that have hardly ever participated in military assaults before. The Arab forces are all from Sunni countries and are attacking a Sunni enemy, a curious development in an environment fraught with sectarian cleavages.

The trail of this imbroglio goes back to two developments in West Asia: regime change in Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring.

The first empowered the Shias in Iraq, opening the doors to Iranian influence in the country. Over the next few years there was steady expansion of Iranian power across the region, and a “Shia Crescent” embracing Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon appeared to be a threatening reality. The Arab Spring only exacerbated the situation from the Saudi perspective by depriving it, first, of its principal strategic partner Hosni Mubarak, and then bringing the possibility of Shia ascendancy to its very door step in the shape of the reform movement in Bahrain, which it feared would advantage the majority Shia community. Saudi Arabia abandoned its traditional moderate posture in regional affairs and decided to confront Iran across West Asia, with regime change in Syria being a priority concern.

The post-Arab Spring strategic scenario was also characterised by Saudi estrangement from the US, which it blamed for not preventing

Mr Mubarak’s fall and for not bombing Syria to facilitate regime change. To compound Saudi concerns, from mid-2013 the US commenced robust engagement with Iran on the nuclear question, with every indication that this bonhomie could lead to a deeper relationship. In this bleak situation, another hostile element was injected: the jihadi “Islamic State”, which in the first six months of 2014 occupied territory in Iraq and Syria the size of Great Britain, with a population of six million, and threatened its Sunni and Shia neighbours in equal measure.

However, the regional scenario dramatically changed to Saudi advantage when the ISIS commenced public killings of Western hostages. Two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, were executed on August 19 and September 2 respectively, and the video released on social media. The grisly images of these killings created a popular surge in the US in favour of an all-out war on these barbarians. American outrage over these executions swept the President in its wake: under attack from the Right-wing and facing mid-term elections in November, Mr Obama was compelled to undertake expanded military operations against the ISIS in Syria and Iraq so that it was “degraded and ultimately destroyed”. Air assaults began on September 21-22, with the participation of forces from the Arab monarchies of the Gulf and Jordan. The firepower is mainly American, but the Arab presence gives the operation a regional complexion so that it is not viewed as yet another unilateral Western attack on Muslims.

India and China: Ready to Meet Halfway

The Modi-Xi Summit has evoked mixed responses from analysts. They have largely focused on existing concerns – talks on settling the boundary issue; whether a global power really intends to support the rise of a possible rival; India is being edged out of the emerging multi-polar world order. These formulations ignore the complexity of the relationship because it concerns each of these interconnected elements

The Summit outcome recognizes that the border is un-demarcated. The principles for settling the boundary agreed in 2005 have been reiterated detailing steps for a final settlement, now described as a strategic goal. A settled border will enable us to review our military doctrine of fighting on two fronts and divert much needed resources for infrastructure development.

There has been considerable political movement recognizing the problem in terms of tension between two rising powers seeking to establish their territorial integrity rather than letting a colonial legacy dominate bilateral relations. An early demarcation of the boundary should be our litmus test for the partnership.

But can the two leaders go further and recognize the regional strategic interests of each other in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans? What about full support for India’s membership of the Security with the two countries working together in that forum?

At the global level, the most significant economic transformation the world has seen is currently making Asia—once again—the world’s economic centre of gravity. The scale and speed of the economic rebalancing occurring from the West to the East and South is many times larger than was witnessed during the Industrial Revolution. By 2060 these China and India will have a little less than half of world GDP with OECD’s share shrinking to one-quarter. In this changed context, instead of managing the competition in the relationship with China, the Modi-Xi Summit has provided the opportunity to re-frame issues and collaborate for an Asian century of prosperity.

Both India and China share the goal of democratization of multilateralism for sharing prosperity, seeking a greater role in shaping global affairs to replace the G7 grouping of developed countries, which has so far been deciding the global agenda. Already the first steps have been taken in this direction with establishment of the New Development Bank. Here, too, cooperation has triumphed over conflict. India agreed to its headquarters in Shanghai and China has not retained for itself the position of the head of the new bank or the supervisory bodies, thereby recognizing the emergence of a multi-polar world order.

Modi to Try the 'Gandhiji Charm' to Woo Obama

By Devirupa Mitra
26th September 2014

NEW YORK: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be using the Gandhi connection to establish a rapport during his maiden meeting with US President Barack Obama.

As protocol dictates, Modi will travel to White House bearing gifts for the US leader. But unlike previous Indian gifts which were about Indian crafts, the PM’s present will be related to one of Obama’s idols.

“It is related to Gandhiji and it has been specially commissioned for the US President,” sources told Express.

Modi will arrive in a traffic-gridlocked city on Friday afternoon for the first leg of his US visit to address the UN General Assembly and meet with US CEOs and Indian-Americans.

The PM certainly has a penchant for one-of-a-kind gifts — like two special commemorative edition books on Swami Vivekananda’s travels in Japan that he presented to his Japanese counterpart. His other gift was the Bhagavad Gita.

Obama is not the first world leader with whom Modi has tried to forge a closer link through their interest in Mahatma Gandhi. Modi personally took Chinese President Xi Jinping on a tour of the Sabarmati Ashram, with the latter wearing the Khadi jacket presented by his host.

Modi also gifted books on Gandhiji and a small spinning wheel to Xi. But, perhaps, the most unusual item was the copy of a scroll given to Gandhiji by the Chinese community in Johannesburg in 1908.

Of course, receiving a gift with a Gandhi connection will have special resonance for Obama. The US President had termed the non-violent leader as person he would most like to have dinner with, dead or alive and continues to refer to him in scores of speeches, including in his Nobel prize acceptance speech.

For Obama’s worldview, Gandhi has an exalted position for his inspiration of Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights Movement.

Incidentally, Modi will be visiting the Martin Luther King memorial and Gandhi statues in Washington on Sep 30, before he heads for the formal talks in White House.

When former PM Manmohan Singh first met Obama in November 2009, he had presented a “burgundy rug with a foliate motif”, whose estimated value was put at $1200.

Then in 2011, Manmohan gifted a white marble table with inlaid blue and yellow flower, which the US state department protocol office estimated to be around $1375.

In fact, it was former President Pratibha Patil, who gifted Gandhi’s biography by Louis Fischer and a bust to Obama during his 2010 visit.

Interestingly, it was not Obama but to his predecessor in the Oval Office, President George W Bush that Manmohan gifted the books on Gandhiji.

China Tests India in Ladakh

By Jayadeva Ranade
26th September 2014

The continuing intrusion by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops at eight points around Chumar in Ladakh, that was detected on September 10 is qualitatively different from earlier intrusions. Four border flag meetings at the rank of brigadier and major general have failed to resolve the situation. It is unprecedented for an intrusion to continue during and after the visit to India by China’s highest ranking leader and chairman of its Central Military Commission (CMC) and suggests it is a deliberate, carefully calibrated military action.

There has been a qualitative change in the PLA’s military activities since 2007 with intrusions becoming deeper, longer in duration and involving larger numbers of personnel. The frequency of intrusions in Ladakh’s Chumar area has also increased since 2010-11. One clear message is that issues of sovereignty and territory are non-negotiable and would trump any other consideration, including economic.

Two intrusions were specially different and embarrassed successive Indian governments. The first took place in the Depsang Plains in Aksai Chin, Ladakh, virtually coinciding with Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s India visit (May 19-21, 2013). This was despite Beijing publicising that by making India the first stop on Li Keqiang’s very first trip abroad as premier, China was emphasising the importance it accords to relations with India. The focus of Li Keqiang’s visit was, predictably, economic. The 21-day (April 15-May 5) intrusion by PLA troops was unusually extended in depth and prolonged in duration. Beijing’s failure to respond to New Delhi’s requests to withdraw caused intrinsic damage to the bilateral relationship as evidenced during prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo.

Some senior officials in the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi confirmed to interlocutors during private conversations that the intrusion was a deliberate, planned action. They said the PLA’s plan had been approved by the Politburo which had also considered the likely impact of the action on Li Keqiang’s impending visit and assessed that India wouldn’t cancel his visit. In conversations with foreign diplomats in Delhi, Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese diplomats and officials dismissed description of the PLA’s action as “intrusion” or “incursion” and asserted that PLA troops were “well inside” Chinese territory.

Narendra Modi's Strategy: To Right The Wrong Image

By S Gurumurthy
26th September 2014

Analysts debate the stunning mandate Narendra Modi has got.Talk about the economic challenges of the country. Discuss the policy paralysis and financial deficits inherited from the UPA. Modi’s political challenges. How he is handling them or failing? What he has done or not done in first 100 days? But the debate has missed out the unprecedented challenge he still faces - to right the wrong imaging of him abroad and how he is doing it by deft and strategic geo-political moves.

Wrong image is easily created but to right it - especially vicious imaging in distant lands - is not easy. Wrong image robs a leader of legitimacy. For long, Modi has been a victim of intentional wrong imaging. Just compare the perception about Modi as he assumed office with how his equally or more popular predecessors, who had held offices for long, were perceived as they assumed office.

When Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India, the whole nation idolised him and the world adored him. When Indira Gandhi won a massive mandate in 1971 the nation venerated her and the world admired her. And, even after being discarded in India for imposing the emergency and despised outside, when she won back in 1980, the nation accepted her and the world fell in line. The nation celebrated Rajeev Gandhi as ‘Mr Clean’ and the world was in awe of the 40- year-young baby-like Prime Minister. The people saw Atal Behari Vajpayee in the mould of Nehru and the world perceived him as a mature statesman. He ran the 24-party NDA coalition with such ease that won universal respect. All of them commanded respectable image within in the country and outside.

In comparison, Modi, with the demanding task of reviving the paralysed national economy in a highly integrated world on hand, has had a huge start-up deficit unlike his predecessors. That is wrong imaging of him abroad by his detractors to dent his legitimacy. See how Modi has begun strategically and is systematically undoing the damage they have done to him.

Save Indira Gandhi for a while after the Emergency, no Indian political leader had to face ceaseless hostility of the mainline media for over a decade like Modi did. The media in recent times has grown thousand times more powerful, equally less fair. The mighty media, aligned with the Opposition parties, powerful NGOs and even the intelligentsia, caricatured Modi as mass murderer of Muslims and hounded him, equating him even with Hitler. Even the judiciary dithered. Senior lawyers wouldn’t defend his government. The foreign media echoed its Indian cousin’s hate campaign against Modi and later multiplied the hate for Modi and fed the Indian political ecosystem. Parroting the media, the Left and ‘secular’ groups outside India networked as Coalition Against Genocide [CAG] and targeted Modi. They hit upon a brilliant strategy - to co-opt the US government against Modi. And succeeded.

On May 21, 2005, the CAG proudly claimed it got the US to deny visa to Modi, by charging that, under his leadership, Hindu nationalists killed 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. Was that true? Ten days earlier, on May 10, the anti-Modi UPA Government itself had told the Rajya Sabha that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the riots and police firing.

Was that a Lackluster F-22 Debut?

Sep 24, 2014

The F-22’s combat debut –- the twin-engine stealth fighter was used in anger against Islamic State (IS) extremists gaining footholds in Syria and Iraq early Sept. 23 in a wave of air strikes -– was not the dazzle many had expected. After years of hearing the refrain of the F-22’s purpose to “kick down the door” (thank you Gen. John Jumper, former USAF chief of staff) of air defenses, clearing the way for other assets to do business in an air battle, many probably expected the F-22’s debut to be just that.

This refrain was drilled into staffers’ (and reporters’) heads on Capitol Hill as the Air Force fought to keep the program alive for years. And, for its high cost -– some estimate it is a $66 billion program -- let’s face it: many of us hoped for a debut that would draw on its sexy stealth capabilities or rumored dazzling electronic warfare (EW) prowess.

But, the Raptor’s first recorded kill was not emblemized by a photo of a smoldering MiG shot down in the dark of night. Rather, the Pentagon showed us a hole in the top of a building that defense officials said was a command and control center for forces in Raqqah, IS’s self-declared capital. A defense official now confirms that the F-22 used in this historic strike employed a GBU-32, a 1,000 lb. Joint Direct Attack Munition.

Before and after F-22 strike, US Defense Dept. 

The use of the F-22 nine years after it was declared operational raises an interesting question. Why now? We at Aviation Week won’t be the first or the only ones to opine on this subject. But, I wanted to get the talk started with our readers.

The air campaign that began this week over Syria was carried out in what Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Staff described as “passive” air defenses.

Syria, however, is purported to possess decent air defenses –- some possibly integrated. And, we’ve not heard anything about Syrian air countering coalition assets. Arguably, this is a unique diplomatic backdrop for the debut of an asset designed at great cost to sneak in and out of air defenses and defeat any fighter that takes it on in the skies. The U.S. informed the Syrian government the strikes were coming by direct communication and there was no secret what was going to happen if you saw the news in the last few weeks. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is annoyed by IS, and we are providing a good pest control service. So, it is unlikely Syrian forces were going to engage coalition assets unless we went after certain national assets in Syria. Even then, it would be a gesture at best.

So, I wonder why was the F-22 used? Any number of assets can drop a 1,000 lb. Jdam, especially when the door that would need kicking down is wide open or, at the very least, slightly ajar. Did the aircraft’s sensors have some sort of classified effect? Was there an EW capability that, perhaps, we’ll find out about in months? Did someone in the chain of command just decide it was time to get the damn thing into the fight?

In the briefing, the closest explanation we got was from Mayville. “What we were looking at was the effects we wanted to see on the target areas and what platforms in the region would be best suited to do that,” he said during a Sept. 23 briefing. “We had a large menu of targets to strike from, and then we chose from there. 
So, it's less the platform than it is the effects we seek, and then it's what platform can deliver those effects. That's really the job of the [combined air operations center].”

We know the cause … I’m wondering what was the effect.

Israel's Man at the United Nations

SEP 24 2014

When foreign dignitaries arrive in New York City for the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly, it’s often difficult to determine which world leaders are rolling past in which dark limousines. But one country’s representatives typically stand out. It’s the country whose embassy and consulate on Second Avenue are enclosed within a double row of metal barriers. A solid line of NYPD squad cars occupies every inch of surrounding curb; a white police booth stands guard at the entrance to the building. That country is Israel, and on a recent September morning I made my way through all of these obstacles to meet the man behind the fencing: Ambassador Ron Prosor.

The latest General Assembly session, which opens this week, may be more preoccupied than usual with the Jewish state, given the Gaza war over the summer. Perhaps even more importantly, this summer’s other crises—in Syria, in Iraq, in Ukraine, in the South China Sea—provide much that many nations are anxious not to talk about. The Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Group of 77, even the European Union: All can project unity if, and only if, the topic is Israel. In this respect, the Jewish state performs for the world community the same service that the weather or the dogs perform for a troubled family: a safe diversion from awkward disagreements.

How the Israel-Palestine Peace Process Collapsed In many ways, and on many days, it feels as if the whole UN system is concerned with the monitoring and critiquing of one small member nation. The world is full of regional conflicts and displaced refugees. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has given rise to two sole-purpose bureaucracies: an independent refugee agency and a specialized commission on Palestinian rights, known in UN-speak as UNRWA and UNISPAL. It counts as a victory at the UN when Israel manages to introduce and pass a resolution in favor of environmentally sustainable agricultural technology, though even such an anodyne measure provokes controversy. As the ambassador from Iraqexplained regarding the resolution on agriculture, on behalf of the Arab bloc, “Israel had no credibility because … as an occupying Power, it routinely violated and rejected United Nations resolutions and, showing such disdain for the Organization, was unqualified to submit a resolution to it.” Anti-Israel sentiment often mixes with virulent displays of anti-Semitism, as has been the case in a series of UN conferences on racism that began in Durban, South Africa in 2001.

Scan UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on the subject of Israel over the decades, and you’ll see that some, like one declaring the “permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” are adopted and re-adopted so often as to constitute an annual ritual on the UN calendar. No other problem or conflict on earth has generated so much UN activity. Here’s one stark way to visualize the disparity: Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the UN General Assembly has adopted four resolutions on one of the deadliest explosions of violence since 1945. In that same period, the General Assembly has adopted eight resolutions calling on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syrian rule.

Turn the Corner in Afghanistan

By Harsh V Pant
25th September 2014 

Last week after months of tortuous negotiations, Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani finalised and signed a power-sharing pact in a ceremony with president Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. The last disagreement was on how to announce the results of the June 14 run-off election vote audit. Abdullah, who was widely assumed to be trailing Ghani, had insisted that the official percentages either not be made public at all or be altered to give him more votes. The election authorities ultimately decided not to reveal the vote tallies, but declared Ghani the president-elect hours after the agreement was signed. Ghani will be sworn in on September 29 and Abdullah is expected to take on the newly created position of chief executive—similar in power to a prime minister—though he could nominate someone else in his stead.

The international community, not surprisingly, has welcomed the agreement. The Obama administration heaved a sigh of relief with this pact and hailed it as an “important opportunity” for unity and increased stability. Washington also congratulated Abdullah and Ghani for ending Afghanistan’s political crisis and confirmed that the US “stands ready to work with the new administration to ensure its success”. In the US, the signing of the pact has raised hopes that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) would soon be finalised, which would determine the size and scope of any US troop presence that would remain in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission ends in December. While Karzai refused to sign the BSA on one pretext or another, both Ghani and Abdullah had pledged to sign the pact during their campaigns.

The Taliban, unsurprisingly, have assailed the pact terming it a “sham” orchestrated by the US. In a statement its spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said: “Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans,” adding: “We reject this American process and vow to continue our jihad until we free our nation from occupation and until we pave the way for a pure Islamic government.”

With this, Afghanistan has taken a major step towards its post-2014 political future. Much will now depend on how the political transition unfolds. India will now have to articulate its own policy response. So far, the Modi government has been reluctant to spell out the terms of its engagement with Kabul as the political realities in Afghanistan have been in flux. Though external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Afghanistan earlier this month, it was largely a symbolic exercise. Swaraj underscored India’s commitment to continue extending all possible help to Afghanistan to meet various challenges and conveyed it would remain engaged in the country’s reconstruction activities in a significant way. Describing India as Afghanistan’s first strategic partner, Swaraj suggested that New Delhi would always share the Afghan people’s vision of a “strong” and “prosperous” Afghanistan. And she thanked the people of Afghanistan for their constant appreciation of India’s partnership with the country. For this, she received fulsome praise from her political opponents. Shashi Tharoor lauded her for underlining “India’s priority by meeting up top leaders in Afghanistan” and showing that “India is not going to give up.”

Of all India’s South Asian neighbours, the Modi government’s outreach to Kabul has been the most lackadaisical. Perhaps the reason is obvious: the political uncertainty so far in Afghanistan would have made any outreach to Kabul devoid of any real meaning. But when asked whether the new Indian government would review its policy towards Afghanistan, Swaraj had suggested that there was no question of any change in it and asserted that India would continue to help the country in its reconstruction. As Afghanistan turns over a new leaf in its political destiny, the usual approach from New Delhi won’t do. The argument that India will merely focus on reconstruction and developmental issues without bothering about the security implications of the rapidly changing ground realities in Afghanistan is unlikely to get India any traction. India will have to think more creatively than it has done for the past decade.

Nile Water Wars?

September 25, 2014

In the 21st century, water could emerge as a more precious commodity than oil. As populations rise, albeit at a slower rate than in the previous century, water becomes a more valuable and critical resource. This is especially true if certain models of climate change portend drought here and there. Wars may not occur because of water; but water, nevertheless, can emerge as both a more important factor and a constraint in geopolitics. A telling example of this has been the increasing tension in the last few years between Egypt and Ethiopia over the use of the Nile River.

These are two highly populous and poor countries we are talking about. Ethiopia has 92 million people and Egypt 81 million. Egypt is a downstream country dependent on the flow of the White Nile from Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan, and on the flow of the Blue Nile from Ethiopia and Sudan. The White and Blue Niles meet outside the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. But there is a great imbalance here: 85 percent of the water of the Nile flowing into Egypt comes from the faster moving Blue Nile in Ethiopia. And Ethiopia, with help from China, is in the process of building a massive hydropower project in its northwest near Sudan, the Grand Renaissance Dam.

Ethiopia hopes to finish the project in the latter part of this decade. When completed, the Grand Renaissance Dam will have the capability to store one year's worth of discharge - that is, the amount of water that flows in a given year past the point near where the dam is located. This could dramatically reduce the amount of Nile water flowing north that Egypt desperately requires for both irrigation and drinking.

The situation is complicated, though. Ethiopia's new dam will be able to generate electricity by diverting the water, while still allowing it to eventually flow north to Egypt. This would not necessarily hurt Egypt too much. But if Ethiopia ever decided to disrupt the Nile flow so that it could use the water for agriculture or drinking, then that could really hurt Egypt. There have been intense water politics going on between these two poor and desperate nations. A solution is technically possible if the operations of Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam can be coordinated with those of Egypt's Aswan High Dam, which can also store a year's worth of water.

China Thinks It Can Defeat America in Battle

September 24, 2014

But Beijing seems to be overlooking U.S. submarines

The bad news first. The People’s Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong—and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America’s nuclear-powered submarines.

Moreover, for economic and demographic reasons Beijing has a narrow historical window in which to use its military to alter the world’s power structure. If China doesn’t make a major military move in the next couple decades, it probably never will.

The U.S. Navy’s submarines—the unsung main defenders of the current world order—must hold the line against China for another 20 years. After that, America can declare a sort of quiet victory in the increasingly chilly Cold War with China.

How China Wins

The bad news came from Lee Fuell, from the U.S. Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, during Fuell’s testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission earlier this year.

For years, Chinese military planning assumed that any attack by the People’s Liberation Army on Taiwan or a disputed island would have to begin with a Pearl Harbor-style preemptive missile strike by China against U.S. forces in Japan and Guam. The PLA was so afraid of overwhelming American intervention that it genuinely believed it could not win unless the Americans were removed from the battlefield before the main campaign even began.

A preemptive strike was, needless to say, a highly risky proposition. If it worked, the PLA just might secure enough space and time to defeat defending troops, seize territory and position itself for a favorable post-war settlement.

But if China failed to disable American forces with a surprise attack, Beijing could find itself fighting a full-scale war on at least two fronts: against the country it was invading plus the full might of U.S. Pacific Command, fully mobilized and probably strongly backed by the rest of the world.

That was then. But after two decades of sustained military modernization, the Chinese military has fundamentally changed its strategy in just the last year or so. According to Fuell, recent writings by PLA officers indicate “a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more-readily withstand U.S. involvement.”

China is trying to build a new world order, starting in Asia

Pax Sinica 
Sep 20th 2014 

THE clue is in the name. The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) groups six countries—China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—and aims to be the dominant security institution in its region; but its origin and purposes are largely Chinese. So it looks rather worrying from a Western point of view that the group has agreed to expand and that India, Pakistan and Iran are all keen to join: the rise of a kind of China-led NATO to which even America’s friends, such as India and Pakistan, seem drawn. Yet that is to misunderstand the sort of organisation the SCO aspires to be. It does indeed pose a challenge to the American-led world order, but a much more subtle one.

On September 11th and 12th the SCO held its 14th annual summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. It agreed to adopt procedures for expansion, first for those countries that are already observers. India and Pakistan are likely to join in the next year. Iran is at present disqualified because it is under UN sanctions. Another observer, Mongolia, is a democracy and has long had qualms about joining what looks like a club for authoritarians. Afghanistan, the final observer, has other priorities.

The SCO summit came hot on the heels of one held by NATO, in Wales. This gave columnists in China and Russia the chance to tut-tut about the “20th-century” or “cold war” or “confrontational” mentality that animates NATO, and to boast about what makes the SCO different from what Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has called such “relics of a past era”, with the rigid discipline imposed by particular blocs of countries.

In August the SCO held its largest joint military exercises yet, an anti-terrorist drill in Inner Mongolia in China involving more than 7,000 personnel. The SCO’s boosters, however, insist it is not an alliance, like NATO, but a “partnership”, with no adversary in mind. That is not entirely true. It has always been explicitly directed against three enemies, even if they are only abstract nouns: the “three evil forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism. China, in Xinjiang; Russia, in Chechnya; the Central Asian members, in the Ferghana Valley and on their borders with Afghanistan. All SCO members face a threat from Islamist extremism.

Hence the plea in Dushanbe from Xi Jinping, China’s president, that the SCO should “focus on combating religion-involved extremism and internet terrorism”. China’s problems with violent extremism from ethnic-Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang have worsened recently. Uighur militants have committed terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of China. They have also been fighting for jihadist groups elsewhere—in the tribal areas of Pakistan, for example. And reports suggest some have joined Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. This month four Uighurs with alleged IS links were detained on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Xi’s visit and the boundary issues

Whenever a high level visit takes place between India and China expectations are raised that with a Midas like touch the two leaders would resolve the boundary question and that the two billion plus people of India and China would together shape a new Asia. Such hyperbole remains constant, since few are aware of what Chinese policies actually are. President Xi Jinping reportedly issued a five point directive at the conclusion of a high level Work Forum in October 2013 on China’s policies towards peripheral countries; that while enhancing political ‘goodwill’ and deepening economic integration with them, the peripheral countries would have to respect China’s ‘core’ interests and ‘validate’ China’s efforts to enforce sovereignty and territorial claims.1. If this is indeed the theoretical line that President Xi is pursuing, then there is little chance of any forward movement in settling Sino-Indian boundary issues.

The Chinese, generally speaking, are aware of the Indian fascination for concluding high sounding declarations, statements, principles etc. and therefore have little hesitation in indulging them; knowing full well that if the situation so demands these can easily be flouted. The 1954 Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence [Panchsheel] Agreement and the 2005 Political Parameters and Guiding Principles Agreement, particularly Article VII, are prime such examples. The first was easily overturned in the conflict in 1962 and the second in May 2007 when the Chinese Foreign Minister [Yang Jiechi] told the Indian Foreign Minister [Mukerjee] in Hamburg that their understanding of Article VII [‘in reaching a border settlement the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas’] did not mean that Chinese claims [Southern Tibet] were affected!

There is no other state in the world that has longer contiguous land frontiers than China; a total of about 22,000 kilometers of which about nearly 19,000 kilometers traverse China’s minority areas.2. At present China has a land border with 14 states. Of the 14 states, 12 have conclusively settled their border disputes with the People’s Republic. 3. India and Bhutan remain the only states that have continuing land border disputes with China [emphasis added]. As regards Bhutan, China alleges that it is still under India’s ‘firm control’ and that India will not allow it to ‘…solve the border issue.’4.

Could America Lose Its Superpower Status?

The Road to "Regional Power with Some Global Reach"

At last week’s Air Force Association annual conference, I was privileged along with other defense analysts to have a series of conversations with senior Air Force leaders, many of whom are responsible for conducting a wide range of day-to-day operations in complex and at times dangerous parts of the world. They see the evolution of threats to U.S. global interests and the rapid rise of military competitors up close.

Every one of these military leaders told the same story of being required to do more with less. This is before sequestration will cut nearly $100 billion from the proposed FY 2016 defense budget. If that happens, the impact on U.S. national security will be nothing short of catastrophic. One Air Force officer said it best: If sequestration takes effect, the United States will stop being a global superpower and become “a regional power with some global reach.”

Today, the United States faces rising security challenges on no fewer than four continents. Europe faces the specter of a Russia willing to use force to redraw national boundaries, something that has not occurred there for more than 60 years. Moscow has threatened the West with the specter of nuclear attack and claims a special right to protect those it deems to be Russian even if they are citizens of foreign lands.

In Asia, North Korea is testing a family of ballistic missiles as it continues to build nuclear weapons. China has asserted unlawfully the right to control large swathes of the international air and sea environment between it and neighboring countries. Its fighter jets have repeatedly “buzzed” U.S. surveillance aircraft operating in international airspace. It is building a modern military that in a few short years could be sufficiently lethal so as to deter U.S. military intervention in the event of Chinese aggression against one of our allies in the region.

The explosion in the terrorist/insurgent threat in North Africa and the Middle East now extends all the way from Libya, Mali and northern Nigeria to Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, the Sinai, Gaza, Syria and Iraq. This is an area larger than the continental United States with about as many people. Most recently, the Ebola virus has threatened to become a pandemic in West Africa prompting the Obama Administration to deploy more troops to that part of the world than it has proposed sending to Iraq to train and assist anti-ISIS forces.

The Sick Man Of Europe Is Europe

The recent near breakup of the United Kingdom — something inconceivable just a decade ago — reflects a deep, pervasive problem of identity throughout the EU. The once vaunted European sense of common destiny is decomposing. Other separatist movements are on the march, most notably in Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy.

Throughout the continent, public support for a united Europe fell sharply last year. Opposition to greater integration has emerged, with anti-EU partiesgaining support in countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Greece, Germany and France.

The new reality is epitomized by France’s ascendant far-right political figure, Marine Le Pen, who is now leading in many polls to win the next presidential election. “The people have spoken loud and clear … they no longer want to be led by those outside our borders, by EU commissioners and technocrats who are unelected,” she declared recently. “They want to be protected from globalization and take back the reins of their destiny.”

These attitudes suggest that the EU could be devolving from a nascent super-state to something that increasingly resembles the Holy Roman Empire, a fragmented landscape of small, unimportant states wrapped in a unitary, but ephemeral crepe. This challenges the view of some Americans, particularly but not only on the left, who see Europe as a role model for the U.S.

Not long ago progressive authors like Jeremy Rifkin could project the European Union to be one of the world’s great and admirable powers. Today, Rifkin’s 2005 tome “The European Dream,” and a host of similar tracts, seem absurd amid growing political unrest and spreading economic stagnation.

Economic Decline

Meet the Most Feared People in Liberia

Liberian Red Cross burial team carry a body of a suspected Ebola victim from the West Point neighborhood in Monrovia, Liberia, Sept. 17, 2014.Daniel Berehulak/The New York Times/Redux

The Red Cross Dead Body Management Team in Liberia provides a service essential for stemming the transmission of Ebola but the workers are shunned and despised for doing a job no one else wants

The crowd was waiting — and angry. The minute the Liberian Red Cross convoy pulled in to a tin-roof shantytown huddled at the base of Monrovia’s St. Paul Bridge on the morning of Sept. 24, residents crowded the lead vehicle, clamoring to be heard. The five-vehicle convoy was there to pick up the body of a man who had died the night before with symptoms of Ebola. “Where were you two weeks ago when we called when he had a fever?” demanded one resident. “I’ve been calling every day for an ambulance,” shouted another, brandishing the call log on his mobile phone for proof. 

He turned to face the crowd: “No one comes when we are sick, only when we are dead.” The residents roared in agreement. One teenager turned his back on the Red Cross team, bent over, and grabbed his buttocks in a sign of contempt. The team supervisor, Friday Kiyee, sighed as he launched into an explanation polished by countless repetitions. “We are the Red Cross Body Management Team. Our job is to pick up dead bodies. We are not responsible for picking up patients and taking them to the hospital. We are only here to pick up the body.” He clapped his hands sharply, a signal for the men on his team to suit up and get to work.

All of the health care workers and other people involved in combatting the Ebola epidemic in Liberia face great risks on the job and the workers on the Red Cross Dead Body Management Team are no exception. The disease is at its most contagious in the hours after death when unprotected contact with the body and its fluids all but guarantees transmission of the deadly virus. Proper disposal of Ebola’s victims is one of the most essential factors in stemming the course of an outbreak that is killing hundreds of people a day in West Africa and threatens to infect up to 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January, according to a worst-case scenario predicted by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

A global call for climate justice


The citizen’s movement for climate justice is a sign of gathering impatience towards politically entrenched interests stalling the movement to reduce greenhouse gases. Picture shows protest signs during the ‘People’s Climate March’ in New York.

Neither Narendra Modi nor Xi Jinping attended the U.N. climate change summit despite being leaders of countries that are among the top three annual emitters of greenhouse gases

More than half a million people marched in nearly 3,000 simultaneous events conducted across 161 countries as part of the People’s Climate March on September 21. They carried placards promoting alternative sources of energy and chanted slogans condemning governments for their inaction on climate change and for mollycoddling global capitalism. They targeted, in particular, the fossil fuel industry, which has recklessly promoted the practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and other carbon-intensive activities. The demonstrations were to some extent mobilised by the non-governmental organisation 350.org, along with a growing global network of organisations, which are alarmed by the lethargy evident in international negotiations towards reaching a ‘safe’ limit for atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

The scientific consensus is that this should be around 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. However, the primary greenhouse gas is persistent in the atmosphere and has increased its concentrations by nearly half since pre-industrial times to reach about 400 ppm.

The demonstrations were timed to coincide with the U.N. Climate Summit called for by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. Headquarters in New York this week. This meeting of world leaders, heads of states, finance ministers, business heads and leaders of civil society and community groups was meant to energise global action to address the global warming challenge. Many commitments were made at the summit separate from the formal negotiation processes. For instance, countries of the European Union pledged to reduce emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. Seventy three countries and over a thousand businesses and investors, making up more than half of the global economy, gave their strong endorsement for pricing carbon. Many leaders expressed their support for addressing loss and damage due to climate change and announced a number of initiatives for building resilience. India promised to double its use of solar and wind energy by 2020. A global movement and mobilisation for action that may have seemed impossible even a few years ago, appears now to be gathering force.

Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Chinese President Xi Jinping was at the summit, each citing busy schedules. This is unfortunate, because as new leaders of countries that make up nearly a third of the world’s population and are among the top three annual emitters of greenhouse gases, the U.N. summit would have been an excellent opportunity for them to learn and exchange views with other countries in a relatively informal setting. It is hard to imagine that either of them could fully appreciate all the intricacies of the ongoing climate negotiations under the various negotiating tracks of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) or indeed the evolving and complex concerns brought up by climate science. A face-to-face meeting with other leaders, on the other hand, would have been a chance to have genuine concerns about climate aired out along with an exploration of synergies involving trade relations, economic development and conflict and opportunities for their joint resolution.

Thank You for Bombing

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

Why al Qaeda might be the biggest winner of America's airstrikes on the Islamic State.

Washington says its air war on the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria is part of a strategy to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the organization. It may have another effect: swelling al Qaeda's ranks and giving the jihadist group that Osama bin Laden founded a new lease on life.

In the first round of airstrikes that began last night, IS wasn't the only target. The United States also hit positions belonging to the Khorasan Group, an al Qaeda-linked group that intelligence agencies allege has been planning an imminent attack in Europe or the United States. Warplanes also hit targets affiliated with al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda's recognized affiliate in Syria.

But those strikes may not be enough to stop an al Qaeda resurgence -- and may not even be intended to. Statements from both U.S. Central Command and President Barack Obama suggest that the strikes against non-IS targets were designed exclusively to disrupt this planned attack and that future U.S. strikes will be more narrowly focused on the Islamic State. Underscoring the limited scope of anti-al Qaeda bombing, the initial round of strikes against Khorasan didn't attempt to take out the group's leaders.

If the United States, satisfied with having disrupted the Khorosan Group's plot, moves forward with a narrow focus on IS targets, it may create an incentive for individuals and groups within IS, an al Qaeda offshoot, to defect back to the mother organization. Al Qaeda's leadership seems to understand this: In a series of moves that have flown below most analysts' radar, al Qaeda appears to be deliberately positioning itself to snap up as much of its rival's manpower as possible in the event of a continued air campaign that focuses on IS.

The Islamic State has put itself in a very vulnerable position, fighting on at least three fronts simultaneously in Iraq and Syria. But the Obama administration is in its own kind of bind: Openly aligning with Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime is regarded as a non-starter -- as it should be. In scrambling for allies on the ground, the administration has committed to  training and arming moderate rebels.

Many rebel factions in Syria, moderate and extremist alike, are eager to fight IS. Prior to its dramatic June offensive that captured several Iraqi cities, all of IS's major gains in Syria came from defeating other rebels rather than regime forces. IS has fought several battles with Nusra, and is believed to be responsible for the February suicide bombing in Aleppo that killed Abu Khalid al-Suri, al Qaeda's chief representative in Syria. More recently, many observers, including jihadists, believe IS was responsible for the dramatic car bomb attack in Idlib this month that killed more than a dozen senior leaders in the jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham. IS has also fought the Kurds and moderate Syrian opposition factions like the Free Syrian Army.

In contrast, the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra has forged strong ties with Syrian rebels across the spectrum. Part of the reason for this approach is the lessons al Qaeda took from its disastrous experience in Iraq from 2006 to 2009, when IS's predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq, massively overplayed its hand by brutalizing the population in areas it controlled while ruthlessly enforcing its draconian version of Islamic law. Al Qaeda in Iraq suffered humiliating losses at the hands of the resulting local resistance, helped by a surge of U.S. troops. To avoid a repeat of that experience, al Qaeda's leadership developed a greater ability to cooperate with other groups -- essentially its own variation on counterinsurgency.

Various media outlets have reported Nusra's success in building cooperative relations with more moderate rebel groups. Voice of Americanoted in July that Nusra "cooperates with other rebel groups -- both moderates and Islamists," a statement echoed by other reports. Nusra even works with rebel groups that are backed by the United States, a fact the Wall Street Journal exposed in May, but that probably should have been obvious long before. After all, moderate U.S.-backed rebels were quick to express outrage when the State Department designated Nusra a terrorist group in December 2012.

Five ISIS Weapons of War America Should Fear

September 25, 2014

ISIS’ path to prominence—from amassing large amounts of territory and taking on all challengers—lies in its choice of arms and tactics. 

Over the past year, ISIS has scored a series of remarkable victories over Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian forces. It has succeeded despite a lack of access to the heavy weaponry that its opponents regularly field. Indeed, the heavy weaponry that ISIS has acquired has come mostly from “battlefield appropriation,” picking up the leftover weapons of its defeated foes.

ISIS has won by exploiting the vulnerabilities of its enemies, which take the form of Western military organizations, while lacking their fighting and communications discipline. This allows ISIS to identify, in both tactical and operational terms, weak points that can cause an entire enemy position to cave in upon itself. In essence, ISIS has an operational form that allows decentralized commanders to use their experienced fighters against the weakest points of its foes. At the same time, the center retains enough operational control to conduct medium-to-long term planning on how to allocate forces, logistics, and reinforcements.

ISIS hasn’t been discriminating in its use of weapons; the group fights with whatever it can find. However, several systems have become common to ISIS fighting units. Typically, these are mobile, easy to use and easy to service. This article concentrates on five categories of weapons that have enabled ISIS’ path to prominence.


The rise of the technical gives lie to one of the enduring myths of maneuver warfare. In brief, this myth concentrates on the rise of the tank and the armored personnel carrier as innovations that restored maneuver to the battlefield after World War I. The myth leads to an over-emphasis on the characteristics of particular systems (tanks surely vary in quality, but generally not in war-winning ways), and a de-emphasis on the tactical and operational innovations, which make modern maneuver warfare possible.

In situations where the attackers can avoid assaulting the prepared defenses of enemy forces, in which they do not seek to create their own defensive hardpoints, and in which they don’t face a foe capable of concerted counter-offensive action, a Toyota pickup truck isn’t as good as a tank; it’s better.

The truck is easier to maintain, faster, and gets better fuel economy than the tank. It’s also expendable. Technicals have mounted heavy machine guns as well as artillery and light anti-aircraft weaponry, including AA missiles. This doesn’t mean that ISIS has completely eschewed the use of dedicated military vehicles. Rather, the group has found uses for them within its broader fighting ethos. For example, the initial penetration of an Iraqi military base recently seized by ISIS was reportedly by Humvees disguised as Iraqi Security Forces.

And ISIS has undoubtedly acquired some tanks. It reportedly operates several dozen T-55s, and well as about a dozen T-72, although airstrikes may have attrited that number somewhat. While ISIS has captured some M1A1 Abrams given to Iraqi forces from the United States, putting these vehicles into useful service will prove far more difficult, as requirements for spares and ammunition are more complicated.

Anti-tank weaponry:

Iran's President Is Still the Ayatollah's Man

September 25, 2014

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today takes the podium at the U.N. General Assembly. With Rouhani two years into his presidential term, many in the West hold out hope he will push Iran toward modernization domestically and assume a less confrontational approach abroad. Rouhani is seen as savvy and moderate, steering through a mass of treacherous hardliners in Tehran and an entrenched Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. But this is the wrong way to understand Rouhani - it likely reflects wishful thinking on our part.

In the face of momentous crises and policy challenges over the past year, the president has stood firmly in Iran's political center, closely bound to Khamenei. This should not be surprising. After the tumultuous 2009 election and the internal political strife that characterized the latter years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's administration, Khamenei was probably pleased to see one of his confidantes ascend to the presidency. Indeed Rouhani, long a regime insider, was intimately involved in the country's nuclear program, and he helped carry out a harsh crackdown on major student protests in 1999.

On grave issues such as confronting the Islamic State, Rouhani has deftly managed the Islamic republic's diplomacy and its public relations. In an interview with an American news correspondent, he characterized the Sept. 22 airstrikes against the Islamic State as illegal. Earlier, he dismissed a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, labeling it "ridiculous." This balanced suspicions, in Iran and in the West, that some in the president's camp were pushing for broader cooperation with Washington, an effort that would cut against the Supreme Leader's implacable ideological opposition to any such shift.

Nowhere has the strength of the Khamenei-Rouhani bond been more evident than in the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

When Tehran indicated last year that it was open to a new round of nuke talks, Khamenei issued some extraordinary statements about the "heroic flexibility" that would be required of Iran. He had to prepare his people - particularly the regime elites - for public negotiations and possible compromises with the United States that would be hard to digest. Khamenei's support for securing a comprehensive deal has since remained strong and consistent, belying fears that his backing of Rouhani was tenuous and under severe pressure from regime conservatives.

The Campaign Against the Islamic State Group Begins

Militant Islamist fighters on a tank take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria.

As President Obama issues a call to arms and orders airstrikes against the Islamic State group, John McLaughlin outlines the road ahead. 

With the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes that began this week on Islamic State targets in Syria, President Obama took the most decisive step so far in the strategy he laid out on Sept. 10 to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group. Crossing this threshold throws into high gear what most administration spokespeople are characterizing as a years-long effort against terrorists in the Middle East.

It also heralds a series of stiff challenges for the many months ahead. Here are five:

This is the fragile foundation on which just about everything else rests. Iraqi politicians’ decision on Aug. 10 to dump the highly divisive Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was the price for the U.S. military support against the Islamic State group that we’ve seen over the last several weeks.

But the process of approving an Iraqi government is slow and contentious. The new coalition is moving in the right direction: It seems to be reversing the favoritism Maliki showed toward Shia, and it’s bringing more heretofore-disaffected Kurds and Sunnis into the mix. But it will not establish credibility with Sunnis unless a Sunni gets one of the key ministries: defense or interior. The parliament on Sept. 16 rejected Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s nominees for these posts, one of whom was a Sunni.

If this process breaks down, it will knock a key prop out from under U.S. strategy, which aims to demonstrate to Sunnis in particular that their interests are best served by supporting the Iraqi government and opposing the Islamic State group. And without a strong Iraqi government, it will be hard to gain and keep the battlefield initiative in the areas controlled by the Islamic State group.

A member loyal to the Islamic State group waves an Islamic State flag in Syria.

The U.S. has never had to sustain a military coalition of Middle Eastern and Western nations — and keep it actively fighting — for more than a short time. The coalition assembled by the U.S. for the first Gulf War in 1990 was militarily active for just a few weeks, and of the 42 countries in the coalition supporting Afghanistan, only three come from this region: Jordan, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. All of the countries in the current coalition are normally at odds on other issues. They will be feeling their way and constantly re-evaluating their interests.

Something will go wrong — it always does in war — and some coalition members will come under domestic pressure to pull out. This said, the coalition is a promising achievement. If it endures, it not only could help defeat the Islamic State group, but also could morph into something the region has never had: an effective multilateral security organization that could bring a measure of stability to the Middle East. This is a long shot, but something to which the U.S. should aspire.