7 November 2014

Intel Officials Fear Al Qaeda Training Indian Militants for Big Attacks Inside India

November 5, 2014 
Pakistani rangers (wearing black uniforms) and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officers lower their national flags during a daily parade at the Pakistan-India joint check-post at Wagah border, near Lahore November 3, 2014. 

(Reuters) - Decrypted communications between Indian Mujahideen (IM) and al Qaeda and testimony from suspects have triggered alarm among intelligence officials in New Delhi: the groups appear to be working together to launch major attacks in the region. 

The officials told Reuters that plots they had uncovered included the kidnapping of foreigners and turning India into a “Syria and Iraq where violence is continuously happening”. 

Allegiances between Islamist militant groups can be murky and fleeting, and providing concrete proof of operational ties is notoriously difficult. 

But Indian security agencies said evidence they had gathered pointed to growing ties between al Qaeda and IM, a home-grown movement hitherto known for low-level attacks on local targets using relatively crude weapons like pressure cooker bombs. 

Weeks after al Qaeda announced the formation of a South Asia wing to strike across the subcontinent, agencies said they had discovered IM members were training with al Qaeda and other groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan for major attacks. 

That increases the risk of a more dangerous form of militancy in the world’s biggest democracy, which has been largely spared the kind of violence that regularly rocks its neighbor Pakistan and, beyond it, Afghanistan

Security officials cite last Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing on the Pakistani side of a border crossing with India, and a terror alert on Tuesday at two eastern ports that forced the Indian navy to withdraw two ships, as evidence that militant coordination and activity are on the rise. 

"The thing we are looking for is how al Qaeda/ISIS tie up with local groups, especially as the drawdown takes place in Afghanistan," said Sharad Kumar, head of the NIA (National Investigation Agency), the country’s main counter-terrorism arm. 


The Indian Navy Has a Big Problem: The Subsurface Dilemma

November 4, 2014 

While India's navy is certainly attracting lots of attention in the press, it faces a major challenge that might not be easily solvable. 

The United States’ strategic reorientation towards the Indo-Pacific has been accompanied by a heightened interest in matters maritime. In contrast to the primary theaters of the Cold War, the region’s strategic and economic geography is strongly defined by its wide oceans, narrow choke points and contested waterways. As a result, the naval profiles of Asia’s two great rising powers, India and China, have attracted a hitherto unprecedented level of attention.

Meanwhile, the very nature of maritime competition appears to be undergoing a radical transformation. The proliferation of precision-guided weaponry has resulted in the erection of increasingly formidable land-based reconnaissance-strike complexes, structured around dense constellations of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) complexes. The growing ability of coastal states to both locate and prosecute mobile targets offshore has raised questions over the survivability of expensive, high-signature surface vessels, and maritime competition is increasingly being driven underwater. While much commentaryhas been made on the drivers and motivations behind China’s growing submarine fleet, the Indian Navy’s perception of the undersea domain has only infrequently been discussed. How do security managers in New Delhi view issues such as undersea warfare or the future of subsurface competition in the Indian Ocean? What are the Indian Navy’s priorities in terms of subsurface force structure and anti-submarine warfare (ASW)? How close is it to realizing its stated objectives? And what kind of acquisitions could best help the Indian Navy shield its fleet and maritime environs from unwelcome submarine activity?

Since its inception, the Indian Navy has been a carrier-centric force with a service culture heavily geared toward blue-water operations, surface warfare and sea control. India’s 2009 Maritime Doctrine clearly reflects these organizational proclivities, stipulating that “[s]ea control is the central concept around which the [Indian Navy] is structured, and aircraft carriers are decidedly the most substantial contributors to it.” With rare exceptions, Indian Navy chiefs have been surface warfare officers or naval aviators.

Nevertheless, Indian naval planners have long had a strong appreciation of the risks posed by marauding enemy submarines and the advantages to be derived from using subsurface assets for forward-deployed sea denial and choke point–control. The sinking of an Indian frigate, the INS Khukri, by a PakistaniDaphne-class submarine in the war of 1971, features amongst the Indian Navy’s darkest hours, and security managers in Delhi have traditionally harbored a somewhat proprietorial attitude toward the Indian Ocean, fretting over underwater encroachments. Whereas during the Cold War, Indian strategists pointed to the mushrooming of U.S. submarine pens in Diego Garcia, nowadays concerns revolve more around China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.

India’s Dwindling Conventional Submarine Force:

Since 1999, the Indian Navy has repeatedly stated that it would require at least twenty-four conventional submarines in order to both prevail in a high-intensity conflict with Pakistan and deter extra-regional powers. This force structure has been sanctioned by India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), and was reportedly reiterated in the most recent version of the Indian Navy’s classified Maritime Capability Perspective Plan.

Unfortunately, after a series of accidents and cascading delays, the Indian Navy’s submarine flotilla has shrunk down to only eleven operational boats—seven Russian Kilo-class submarines and four German HDW submarines. No new diesel-electric submarine has been commissioned for the past fifteen years, and many of the existing boats are over a quarter-century old. In October 2005, the Indian Navy signed a landmark deal for six FrenchScorpene-class boats. All submarines were to be built in India, at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, under a technology-transfer agreement. For a variety of reasons ranging from reported teething problems in the absorption of new technologies, to abstruse and never-ending pricing negotiations, the schedule for delivery has been repeatedly pushed back. Indeed, whereas theScorpenes were initially projected to join the fleet between 2012 and 2017, it now only looks as though they will be battle-ready by 2022. Project 75I, a follow-on program for six next-generation SSKs equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) and land-attack capabilities, was only just cleared by India’s Defense Acquisition Council, after years of increasingly desperate appeals by India’s naval officers to fast-track the process. Initially, the plan was to import two boats once a foreign vendor had been selected, then license-build the remaining four, but it now looks as though the Indian Navy has opted to construct all six boats in India with foreign assistance. It will probably take a few years to select the vendor, then another eight to ten years to build the submarines in question, rendering the prospect of them joining the fleet before 2030 extremely unlikely.

"EU Must Resist Temptation of Energy Union"

Author: Morena Skalamera, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Geopolitics of Energy Project
October 29, 2014

Energy politics may ultimately define the shape of relations between Russia and the West during this latest crisis in Ukraine. Fears of a cold European winter without adequate amounts of natural gas from Russia are outweighing U.S.-led pressure for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

Nearly a third of Europe's gas comes from Russia, most of it via Ukraine. The prospect of price wars — or worse, disruptions in flow — has motivated Europe to lessen its dependence on Russian energy. Two events this past summer underscored the urgency of the matter.

In mid-June, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow failed to settle a massive dispute over the price of gas that Russia sells to Ukraine — a dispute that reached acute levels in April when Russia raised its prices for Ukraine from $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $485.50, an 80 percent hike. Shortly thereafter, an explosion ripped apart a gas pipeline in central Ukraine.

To help safeguard the continent's energy supplies from shocks like these, the European Commission published a new energy security strategy in July. Its recommendations range from regional "stress tests" and new gas infrastructure projects to enhanced storage facilities. While these can help, observers say European weakness in the energy market is fundamentally rooted in internal divisions. "If only Europe could speak with one voice," this thinking goes, "it could wean itself from Moscow."

The impulse for a unified energy policy may be politically appealing, but it would be economically disastrous. It is built on a faulty conclusion that forming an energy union, or in other words, creating an EU-wide gas monopoly based in Brussels, is the right way to go.

Unfortunately, the recent election of Polish President Donald Tusk to the presidency of the European Council may grant this idea the necessary political support. Tusk wants the EU to jointly negotiate gas contracts with Russia, for the contracts to have no secret clauses, and for the European Commission to play a role in all future energy talks with Moscow. Despite the severity of the crisis in Ukraine, such a proposal should be treated for what it is, namely dangerous nonsense. Here's why:

1. It will take us far from a competitive and free market:

Given the differences between EU member states in their energy mixes, taxes and regulations that result from their past national choices, having a common external energy policy with its super-center in Brussels is practically unattainable. What's more, making Brussels the sole negotiator of gas contracts blatantly contradicts the European Commission's own attempts to create a liberalized internal gas market. Nonetheless, the proposal has gained ground because it plays into some EU bureaucrats' long-term aspirations to increase their political power in external energy policy.

2. It will challenge the EU's climate goals:

Tusk recently wrote in The Financial Times that "an energy union would be based on solidarity and common economic interests." Yet just a few lines later, he claims that Europe should "make full use of the fossil fuels available, including coal and shale gas." Under Tusk's watch, Poland has almost exclusively relied on coal for electricity production and has consistently lobbied to uphold the status of coal in the EU energy mix. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. Plans for burning more coal in the future stand in stark contradiction to the EU Commission's roadmap for cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Now as the head of the EU, Tusk may well advance his domestic political agenda under the disguise of a prudent European response to expansionist Russia.

3. It rests on a false assumption that the U.S. or Australia can resolve Europe's energy security dilemmas:

It is time to put to rest the myth that by somehow quickly contracting gas from the U.S. and Australia, European dependence on Russian gas would be alleviated. Contrary to popular belief, European LNG infrastructure will not allow imports to replace Russian gas in Eastern and Central Europe. This myth tends to overlook difficulties on both sides of the Atlantic.

To help its allies, America would have to overcome a domestic lobby that thinks that restricting exports will keep prices at home low. And even assuming that this hurdle is removed, exports would flow mainly to Asia, where American producers can strike the highest profits. Choosing Europe over Asia would require significant political intervention and is highly unlikely to occur only on commercial grounds.

The European Union in 2030 Report Released

October 27, 2014 

The European Union has more than a half-century of impressive successes, but it has lost direction and momentum over the last decade. Wikistrat’s recently-concluded strategic simulation “The EU in 2030″ articulates a defined sequence of policy initiatives that have the clear ability to remedy that situation, if they are adopted and implemented in the order set out.

Earlier this year, Wikistrat ran a three-week long crowdsourced simulation to explore the centrifugal and centripetal forces that will shape the EU’s future between now and 2030 across three domains: economic and financial; political and security; and social, cultural and human.

On the one hand, the EU has achieved certain supranationalism in the economic sphere such as the common currency, fiscal targets and growing acceptance of transfer payments. On the other hand, its political integration schemes, such as the common foreign and security policy, remain largely stuck at the intergovernmental level. In this way there is a tension between the relative vitality and success of European economic integration on the one hand and, on the other hand, the lack of vitality of a values-oriented common European identity.

The EU has thus turned in a mixed performance across the range of broad policy issue-areas including capabilities, integration level, demographics, membership and global presence. Yet the EU has succeeded impressively at enlarging its membership. The original six-member European Economic Community enlarged to become nine, then 15 members; once the Cold War ended, it rapidly became the European Union of the 28 that we know today, with a few candidates still in line.

Considering these historical strengths and weaknesses, Wikistrat evaluated four master scenarios for the EU’s development as an integration organization up to the year 2030. These “Master Narratives,” outlined in the simulation’s report by Wikistrat Senior and Lead Analyst Robert M. Cutler, show that there in fact exists a possible future path toward enhancing both economic performance and socio-political cohesion in the EU. This unique path was stress-tested and revealed to be extremely robust yet at the same time sensitive to the timing and sequencing of steps.

This path to combined prosperity and social cohesion comprises a series of interdependent policy initiatives ranging across the board, from comprehensive planning to address both legal and illegal immigration as well as solve intra-EU labor mobility problems, to deeper banking and financial integration for enhanced global trade liberalization (with specific recommendations for European Central Bank policy and the euro currency zone). This sequenced series of policy initiatives also includes the need for the EU need to formulate an enhanced geopolitical profile, articulate its real policy goals and deploy resources in favor of realizing them.

"Europe Needs a Strategic Gas Reserve"

Author: Leonardo Maugeri, Associate, Environment and Natural Resources Program/Geopolitics of Energy Project
October 2014

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The Geopolitics of Energy Project

Due to the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, as well as to the instability of Libya, the EU is facing once again a high level of energy vulnerability that proves how poor and inconsistent its energy policies have been. For almost 15 years now, Brussels has been devoting its efforts to liberalizing the downstream energy market, aiming in particular at fostering competition in gas distribution and power generation. It also set rigid standards in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, strongly supporting the development of renewables. Coupled with the economic crisis, these actions have created excess capacity in gas distribution and power generation, which in turn has brought investors in these sectors to their knees, without offering a solution to the underlying security problem: Absent abundant and competitive supply, the European gas market remains at the mercy of those that control the raw material.

The EU imports 66% of its natural gas, and still depends on a limited number of gas suppliers dominated by Russia. The EU has been riding for years on the trite slogan of "supply diversification," leaving its implementation to market forces -- that is, to companies operating on a competitive basis and facing difficulties in finding economically sustainable supply options. Thus, for almost 20 years now there has been much talk about plenty of new pipelines from new suppliers, and yet most of them have just remained paper-projects due to their high costs. The only exception could now be a gas pipeline supplying Europe from Azerbaijan and the Caspian region, but that cannot in itself solve the European problem.

Major European Natural Gas Pipelines

Given the failure of past policy to improve energy security, Brussels and several European governments are now updating their "diversification" mantra by putting their hopes in US natural gas -- or, better, in the large amounts of the resource produced by hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. However, the US will hardly become a big exporter of natural gas in the course of this decade. There are many reasons why. Chief among them is simply that the more gas the US exports, the higher the domestic price of the resource will be. And this is something most Americans don't want. One should never forget, in fact, that the low cost of US energy is now possibly the most powerful factor behind the nation's industrial renaissance and job creation. For this reason, the US government is very cautious in authorizing new projects for natural gas exports. What's more, it's likely that most of the future US gas exports will head toward Asia, where prices are far more rewarding.

So, in the short term, Brussels has no immediate option to deal with a gas crisis other than to repeat that such a crisis is improbable. A recent stress test on the effects of a Russian gas disruption delivered by the European Commission on Oct. 16 has led the outgoing EU Commissioner Gunther Oettinger to say: "If we work together, show solidarity and implement the recommendations of this report, no household in the EU has to be left out in the cold this winter" (IOD Oct.17'14). Yet, by reading the report, one cannot feel very safe.

The best scenario implies a cooperative effort by the 28 EU members plus 10 of their neighboring countries to "share the burden" of a disruption and cooperate to allocate the available supplies. Yet this kind of cooperative effort is a chimera. Even without considering the difficulty in coordinating such an effort among the 10 non-EU members, the EU members themselves have historically demonstrated very poor performance in terms of energy cooperation. The most striking example of this is their failure to interconnect gas and power networks on the continent, mainly due to national self-interest. The lack of such interconnections is now a major factor of vulnerability for the cooperative effort requested by the commission's report in case of crisis -- as it admits.

Is Ukraine's Crisis the West's Fault?

22 NOV 4, 2014 


Who is to blame for the crisis in Ukraine: Russia or the U.S. and Europe? A lively debate on the question resurfaced lately, but it has a vital flaw in that it fails to consider the roles of the countries caught in between.

It's as though Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin were back at the negotiating table in Yalta, carving up Europe. Only this time the issue isn't whether Stalin got to impose regimes from Warsaw to Sofia, but whether President Vladimir Putin has a right to impose them from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan.

John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, has argued the "we're-to-blame" position most cogently. He makes what he calls a realist case for the inevitability of Putin's response to decisions of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union to absorb the ex-Warsaw Pact countries, followed by the three ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics, and then to flirt with Georgia and Ukraine. The attempt to turn Ukraine into a "Western bastion," he says, was a final needless provocation.

The best response I've read to Mearsheimer's view (which is quite widely held) has come from Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. The problem with this supposedly realist approach, Motyl says, is that it doesn't fit the historical facts. To make it work requires accepting the world view of "Russians suffering from an ideologically and culturally twisted version of reality," which is, well, unreal.

To make his case, Mearsheimer assumes among other things that NATO and the EU were trying to expand further into the former Soviet Union by absorbing Ukraine at the start of this crisis, which is false. NATO expansion had been off anybody's agenda since 2008. The EU's effort to write association agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine was begun, in 2009, as a consolation prize, after the EU refused to give these countries even the possibility of membership.

I side with Motyl for the most part in this argument, but remain disturbed by the way the whole discussion dismisses the desires and free will of the smaller countries involved.

The crowds that began flooding Kiev's central square at the end of last year weren't demonstrating because they were anti-Russian or pro-Western, still less because they were paid or incited by the EU or NATO. They turned out -- for a second time in a decade -- to protest a political system that wasn't just riddled with corruption, but was manufactured to enable it. As a result, Ukraine as a nation and an economy had been in a sort of purgatory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Younger Ukrainians, in particular, tended to support the trade and association pact that had been negotiated with the EU. They saw the discipline involved in accepting EU norms and standards as a last hope for changing the system, which had reached a pinnacle of corruption under President Viktor Yanukovych. When he backed off from the deal at the last minute, under intense pressure from Russia, many Ukrainians saw their hopes for a "normal" future collapse around them.

Get Ready, World: Ukraine Is Being Torn to Shreds

November 5, 2014

Partition. Elections. Debt. Disaster. 

The results from the Ukrainian parliamentary elections on October 26, which saw nearly three quarters of the seats go to ostensibly pro-European parties, was the cause of much rejoicing among America’s stalwart Euro-Maidan enthusiasts. According to a National Review editorial, “it will be hard for ‘realist’ commentators to spin the results of Ukraine’s parliamentary elections as another triumph for the bare-chested Machiavellian Vladimir Putin.” And indeed it would, in the rather unlikely event any realists were interested in so doing; for realists, however, facts and honest analysis will suffice.

It is no doubt true that the pro-European parties walked away with a convincing plurality and, according to NR, “a pro-Russian opposition bloc, including politicians from the former Regions party . . . won less than 8 percent of the vote.” A further bonus: “Communists won’t be in the next parliament at all.” Left unmentioned by Lexington Avenue’s new generation of cold warriors was that in the run-up to the election, members of the Ukrainian opposition parties faced serial incidents of violence and intimidation by Ukraine’s putative standard bearers of Western values.

Nevertheless, the view of the Washington establishment was reliably reflected by a Foreign Policy headline that flatly declared: “Ukraine Wins.” And apparently, much like at NR, the specter of Communism still haunts the halls of FP, which dutifully informed readers that “The election was historic for several reasons, not the least of which is that it will be the first Ukrainian parliament since the Bolshevik Revolution that doesn't include the Communist Party.”

And yet, despite the long-delayed defeat of those insidious Ukrainian Reds, the rejoicing may be premature for two reasons, the first having to do with the otherstory the election results tell. Far from showing a united Ukraine, the results show a deepening of the divisions between the pro-EU West and the rather more skeptical populations of the country’s south and east. The turnout helps tell the tale. Nationally, turnout was just over 52 percent, yet on average, tracked lower in both the southeastern oblasts and in two western oblasts with significant populations of ethnic Romanians and Hungarians. The turnout in the northwestern oblasts, the primary base of support for Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, was significantly higher, reaching 70 percent in Lviv.

A second reason the October 26 results should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution is that the party more disposed to pursue a peaceable policy with regard to the breakaway regions—President Petro Poroshenko’s eponymously namedPoroshenko Bloc—did rather less well than had been expected, coming in a close second to the People’s Front. While it is true Poroshenko quickly pledged his party’s support for Yatsenyuk to remain in his post as prime minister, the maneuvering between the rival Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko factions echo the unhappily arranged marriage between Viktor Yushchenko and YuliaTymoshenko in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in 2004-05. We have, I’m afraid, seen this movie before.

The contest, then, could reasonably be characterized as a contest won by the war hawks, led by Yatsenyuk, over the doves, led by Poroshenko. Little noted in Western media is the true extent of Yatsenyuk’s anti-Russian hawkishness. According to the University of Michigan’s Pietro Shakarian, “Yatsenyuk’s main pet project has been the construction of a large Berlin Wall-style rampart along the entire Russo-Ukrainian border.” And so while it is true that pro-EU parties did resoundingly well, what is also true is that the elections show a hardening and deepening of the divisions within Ukraine.

Making a bad situation worse, the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk held their own set of parliamentary and presidential elections this past Sunday. European leaders were quick to condemn the elections as a violation of both the September 5 Minsk ceasefire agreement and the Ukrainian constitution. Russia, worryingly, though not surprisingly, has recognized the results. The ramifications of the two elections—one legitimate, one not—are clear. The partition of Ukraine is now—barring the extraordinarily unlikely event of a full-scale military intervention by the West—an established fact that will not be undone for the foreseeable future.

Europe’s Muslims feel under siege

November 1 

Alisiv Ceran, a student at University of Copenhagen, was mistaken for a terrorist and was reported to the police by a passenger on a train. (Lasse Bak Mejlvang/For The Washington Post) 

COPENHAGEN — On a continent where Muslim leaders are decrying a surge in discrimination and aggression, Alisiv Ceran is the terrorist who wasn’t. 
The 21-year-old student at the University of Copenhagen recently hopped on a commuter train to this stately Scandinavian city, his bag bulging with a computer printer. Feeling jittery about a morning exam, he anxiously buried his nose in a textbook: “The United States After 9/11.”
A fellow passenger who reported him to police, however, saw only a bearded Muslim toting a mysterious bag and a how-to book on terror. Frantic Danish authorities launched a citywide manhunt after getting the tip. Ceran’s face — captured by closed-circuit cameras — was flashed across the Internet and national television, terrifying family and friends who feared he might be arrested or shot on sight.
“It was the first time I ever saw my father cry, he was so worried about me,” said Ceran, who called police when he saw himself in the news, then hid in a university bathroom until they arrived. “I think what happened to me shows that fear of Islam is growing here. Everybody thinks we’re all terrorists.”

Ceran’s ordeal is a sign of the times in Europe, where Muslims are facing what some community leaders are comparing to the atmosphere in the United States following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.


November 3, 2014

Following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime on April 2, 2003, U.S. and French forces filled the capital city to ensure the unrest and looting, which had been widely predicted by strategists, would not spread. Troops from a carefully crafted coalition poured into Iraq to maintain security along the borders and within the cities. Paul Bremer wisely decided to keep the Iraqi Army intact, and immediately began to structure the security forces with extensive Iraqi military integration. As a result, the Iraqi state remained intact, just as Secretary Rumsfeld had intended. Within hours of Saddam’s fall, U.S. special operations units located a vast arsenal of chemical weapons primed for employment. Saddam’s plans were every bit as sinister as U.S. intelligence analysts had postulated. The evidence was irrefutable. The regime had been conspiring with Al Qaeda for massive chemical attacks in several countries, including the United States. George Tenet’s “slam dunk” case against Saddam had truly come to fruition. Fortunately, the U.S. had acted promptly enough to prevent this massive wave of terror.

The horrors of terrorism, so vividly ingrained in the minds of the world after the attacks of September 11th, had almost been unleashed again. The UN came under immediate fire from the international community, as expert commentators painted the dismal picture of what would have happened on U.S. soil, if the invasion of Iraq had been delayed. Hans Blix was vilified as the great enabler of global terror, while President Bush and Vice President Cheney were celebrated as visionary and courageous leaders. The world was a safer place because the hawks took swift, decisive action. The doves who had sought to prolong the debate were only empowering terrorists. Thankfully, America possessed leaders with the foresight and grit to do what was needed.

Of course, the real story played out differently in every way. Eleven years after the invasion, Iraq is riddled with sectarian violence fueled by ancient rifts between the Sunni and Shia, and threatened by the expansion of ISIL. Yet, the leaders who decided to take America to war were clearly confident in the outcome the invasion would produce. They believed the threat was imminent and immediate violent action was the only solution. Unfortunately, there was a dramatic gap between their understanding of the situation and reality. This article does not intend to explain why they got it wrong, but rather, how difficult it is to get it right.

Could Iran and China Cut the US Out of Afghanistan?

November 01, 2014

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Beijing and Tehran share similar interests in a stable Afghanistan that does not depend on U.S. support. 

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Beijing on Friday, Xinhua reports. On one level, the meeting was simply the latest example of growing China-Iran ties. The timing of the meeting, however, suggests a more specific aim for bilateral relations – greater cooperation between Beijing and Tehran to achieve their joint goals in Afghanistan.

Zarif was in Beijing for the Istanbul Process meeting on Afghanistan. While the brief Xinhua report on his meeting with Yang did not mention Afghanistan (or any specific issues), the timing naturally raises speculation that the two countries might be seeking greater coordination in their efforts to secure Afghan stability and security.

The question of China-India cooperation on Afghanistan has received a great deal of attention, while the potential for China-Iran cooperation has been relatively overlooked. Like China (as well as most other interested parties, including India and the U.S.), it’s in Tehran’s best interests to have a stable Afghan government in Kabul, one that is free of influence from the Taliban. But Iran also seeks greater political and cultural sway over its neighbor, which puts it at odds with the U.S.

While China has been relatively accepting of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as a means of achieving this end goal, Iran wants the U.S. gone as soon as possible. Unlike other major regional powers, Tehran opposed the recently-signed Bilateral Security Agreement that will allow a limited number of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014. Currently, Beijing is willing to accept the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan as a necessary evil. However, if Iran and China can cooperate to achieve their goals vis-à-vis Afghanistan while reducing or eliminating the need for U.S. involvement, it would suit both countries’ goals.

The possibility of closer China-Iran cooperation on Afghanistan comes amidst a general blooming of the larger bilateral relationship. The two countries have been growing closer together as Iran engages in talks with the P5+1 countries (Britain, France, China, Russia, U.S. and Germany) over its nuclear program. Ties are advancing diplomatically and economically as well as militarily — Iran’s naval chief, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, was in Beijing a week ago for talks with China’s defense minister and the PLA Navy commander.

On a strategic level, the China-Iran partnership is especially attractive for Tehran. As Maysam Behravesh argued in a piece for The Diplomat, the growing Russia-China alignment appeals to hardliners in Iran who are interested in joining an “anti-imperialist bloc.” Iran has been largely sidelined in international organizations favored by the West; new parallel international organizations being built by China provide an attractive alternative for Tehran. The September meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, for instance, allowed for new members to join that grouping, seen by some as China and Russia’s answer to NATO. Along with Pakistan and India, Iran is likely to be first in line to join, allowing it to cooperate more closely with Central Asian states as well as China and Russia. Iran, which is not a part of the Asian Development Bank, might also seek to join China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

This experiment with multilateral cooperation and bilateral support could easily be extended to cooperative efforts in Afghanistan. Though Iran and the U.S. cooperated to topple the Taliban in 2001, as their relationship soured the U.S. increasingly sought to cut Tehran out of the rebuilding process. As a result, Iran grew more and more concerned about U.S. influence in Afghanistan, and sought to shore up its own network of support (particularly in the western and northern regions). A 2014 RAND study found that Iran was asserting influence in Afghanistan through “building and buttressing pro-Iranian schools, mosques, and media centers,” especially in Afghanistan’s west and north.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent calls for jihadist unity against US-led coalition

November 4, 2014

The spokesman for al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Usama Mahmood, has released a statement calling on all Muslims, including rival jihadist organizations in Syria, to unite against the US.

The statement, titled "American Aggression on Iraq and Syria...O! Muslims Unite for the Guardianship of Al-Haram," is dated Oct. 15 but was not released via Mahmood's official Twitter feed until Nov. 3.

"The attack on Iraq and Syria is not against a particular group or organization," the AQIS message reads, "instead it's an attack on [the] entire Ummah [worlwide community of Muslims] aiming to terminate every Islamic and Jihadi movement which aims to stand against the tyranny and believes in the establishment of Shari'ah."

The statement continues: "The objective of this attack is the defence of Israel, protection of the global rule of tyranny and the subjugation of the Muslims."

"Once again we call upon the Muslims worldwide to stand in support of the Mujahidīn against the American coalition and join this fard-al-ayn (absolute obligation of) Jihad to gain freedom, to protect their Deen, to guard their holy places and to establish the supremacy of Shari'ah," Mahmood's statement reads.

The AQIS spokesman addresses all of the jihadists in Iraq and Syria, saying that the only way the US can be defeated is if they unite. The Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, has been fighting against the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, as well as other jihadists, since last year. Mahmood does not name the Islamic State, which was disowned by al Qaeda's general command in February, or the Al Nusrah Front, but his message is clearly aimed at them and other jihadists.

"Also our message to the Mujahidīn of Iraq and Syria is that the elimination of American aggression is concealed in the brotherhood and union of all the Jihadi groups and organizations, reversion towards Allah (swt) and in fighting against this infidel coalition in firm ranks," Mahmood writes.

AQIS is the newest branch of al Qaeda's international organization. Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders announced the establishment of the group in early September. Shortly thereafter, AQIS claims to have attempted an audacious attack on Pakistani warships.

Mahmood's statement is the latest indication that al Qaeda is attempting to use the US-led coalition's airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to bring an end to the jihadists' infighting.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a regional branch of al Qaeda that is led by Nasir al Wuhayshi, who is also al Qaeda's global general manager, has repeatedly called on the rival jihadists to unite against their common enemies in the West. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another branch of the global terrorist network, has joined AQAP in attempting to use the coalition's airstrikes as a basis for a jihadist truce.

Some of the Islamic State's fiercest al Qaeda-linked critics have also issued calls for unity. In late September, for example, a number of influential jihadists proposed a ceasefire between the Islamic State and its jihadist foes. The initiative was put forth by several well-known al Qaeda ideologues who have criticized the Islamic State in the past.

Critique of the Islamic State's caliphate

Even while calling for the jihadists to close ranks against the US, Mahmood implicitly critiques the Islamic State's claim to rule as a caliphate. When the Islamic State unilaterally announced its nascent caliphate in late June, the group demanded allegiance from all other Muslims. This caused further friction in the jihadists' ranks.

Mahmood lists "unity, brotherhood and cooperation" as the keys to "victory and success" when it comes to "the establishment of [the] caliphate."

Mahmood says the caliphate, which many jihadists say they are fighting to resurrect, must be "attributed with Shūra (mutual consultation)...based on the safety of wealth and blood of Muslims," and "a symbol of brotherhood and unity of Muslims."

In al Qaeda's view, the Islamic State's caliphate is none of these things. As AQIM officials pointed out in July, the Islamic State did not consult with recognized jihadist leaders before announcing its caliphate. And instead of leading to cooperation, the organization's land grab only exacerbated the tensions between Abu Bakr al Baghdadi's men and their counterparts in other jihadist groups.

Where Did Obama Go Wrong?

NOV 4 2014 

That’s the headline for a Washington Post piece today trying to come up with an answer for the president’s drag on the Democratic fortunes tonight. And, to my mind, it really doesn’t come up with a decent answer. It offers a mere chronology of events and never quite shows what Obama could have done that he didn’t, or what the alternatives truly were. Maybe you’ll find it otherwise. But I found it oddly empty of meaning.

For me, the most persuasive answer to the question was the botched roll-out of healthcare.gov. No one else can be blamed for this, and it hit the president’s ratings like a ten-ton truck, as well it might. October 2013 is when his disapproval rating first clearly topped the approval rating with some daylight and stayed there. And the fall of 2013 was also when he pivoted away from striking Syria – which brought a chorus of disapproval from the Washington bigwigs and, of course, the GOP.

These two events dented his image of competence. Both seemed amateurish to most people. And when an image is altered like that with clearly understandable and very public fuck-ups, it’s hard to regain momentum. Both also followed another nightmarish confrontation with the GOP over the debt limit and a very public failure to pass any gun control legislation even after Sandy Hook.

Myanmar Opposition Leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Visit China

November 05, 2014

Suu Kyi will have to balance political realism with human rights concerns if she wants to visit China. 

Citing a senior member of Myanmar’s opposition party, Reuters reports that Aung San Suu Kyi will visit China in December for a “goodwill” visit. Win Htein of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said the visit would last about a week.

Suu Kyi, the chairperson of the NLD, famously spent the better part of 20 years under house arrest after the government refused to recognize her party’s successes in the 1990 general election. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” in 1991, but remained under house arrest until 2010, when the Myanmar government released her as part of a general reform effort that promised greater respect for human rights.

Suu Kyi’s release helped usher in a general thawing of relations between Myanmar and the West, particularly the U.S. This led to the easing of Western sanctions, which in turn has reduced Myanmar’s reliance on the Chinese government for support. To ensure its continued influence in Myanmar, China will have to change its approach, particularly if the current opposition party gains power in next year’s elections.

Suu Kyi is ineligible to run for Myanmar’s presidency thanks to a controversial constitutional ban that prevents spouses and parents of foreign citizens from serving as president. Still, the NLD is tentatively projected to perform well in the 2015 general elections, although whether or not the party can win an outright majority is unclear. Either way, it makes good political sense for China to start forming a solid relationship with the leader of one of Myanmar’s up-and-coming political parties, something Beijing has been taking slow steps to do since her release in 2011. If nothing else, Beijing can help fight against popular perceptions in Myanmar that it supports the military regime, to the detriment of Myanmar’s people.

Asked about reports that Suu Kyi will visit China, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying saidshe didn’t have “exact information” about the trip (but significantly, did not refute the reports). Hua added, “We stay in touch and maintain sound communication with all political parties and political bodies of Myanmar, including the National League for Democracy, for the all-round development of China-Myanmar relations.”

Suu Kyi’s motivations for the trip are more mixed. On one hand, if her party is to lead Myanmar, it will need to have a solid relationship with Beijing, which accounts for over 30 percent of total foreign investments in Myanmar. Mainland China and Hong Kong combined had $20.8 billion invested in Myanmar as of June 2014 – nearly half the total investments of $46.7 billion. Suu Kyi’s visit to China is thus a political necessity, allowing her to make connections with Myanmar’s most important economic partner.

On the other hand, however, there are risks. Suu Kyi’s reputation is largely tied to her democratic ideals, and there’s an ugly symbolism behind Suu Kyi’s trip to China. Until Suu Kyi’s release, she and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo were the only two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize to be imprisoned. While Suu Kyi is now free to pursue her political goals, Liu is not. Visiting China and ignoring the plight of her fellow Nobel laureate could damage Suu Kyi’s reputation as a champion for human rights and democracy.

Is China Swarming With Foreign Spies? The Chinese Think So…

Adam Brookes
Foreign Policy
November 4, 2014

Is China Swarming with Foreign Spies?

Sometime in 2011, Gen. Jin Yinan gave what he thought was a closed-door briefing at a corporate conference in China, where he spoke about the dangers of espionage. In September of that year, what appeared to be the official video of his remarks turned up brieflyon the Chinese video sharing site tudou.com, before being taken down.Jin gave tantalizing details of eight recent cases in which senior Chinese officials had allegedly spied for foreign governments, several of which had never previously been made public. The highest-ranking official was Kang Rixin, a member of the elite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership body, the Central Committee,and head of China National Nuclear Corporation, which oversees China’s nuclear programs. The official version held that Kang was sentenced to life in prison in November 2010 for bribe-taking. But Jin said the real sentence was espionage:

Kang had sold nuclear secrets to an undisclosed foreign nation, in a case that made the top leadership “extremely nervous.”

Kang had sold nuclear secrets to an undisclosed foreign nation, in a case that made the top leadership “extremely nervous.”

Concerns about foreign espionage in China seem only to have grown. On Nov. 1 of this year, Xi signed a Counterespionage Law, replacing the 1993 National Security Law. The biggest change appears to be a greater emphasis on rooting out both foreign spies and their Chinese collaborators. When Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Secretary Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama meet in Beijing on Nov. 11 and 12, cyberspying will almost certainly be part of their discussion. But the new law suggests that it’s the potential of human spies to wreak havoc that has China really worried.

It’s difficult to build an open-source picture of foreign espionage operations in China: as in Kang’s case, the Chinese authorities appear to hide espionage cases behind other crimes, to save themselves embarrassment. It’s likely that many arrests and trials simply never come to public attention.

But outside observers can assume two things: First, much of the foreign spying against China is related to deciphering the country’s military capabilities and strategic intentions. This may seem rather obvious, but it’s in contrast to China’s spying abroad, much of which appears aimed at stealing industrial and commercial secrets.

Second, it may seem that China would be a tough place for a foreign spy to operate, but you can bet that the United States and its allieshave dozens of assets in place. Anyone who has lived and worked in China’s surveillance-saturated cities could be forgiven for wondering how on Earth a foreign spy could function there. But function they do. China appears to be infested with spies, and it knows it. In early August, a graduate student in aerospace engineering surnamed Chang in the northeastern city of Harbin was reportedly arrested for selling sensitive information to a foreign intelligence agency — he allegedly spied for two years, for which he received more than $32,000. He appears to have been recruited online, and to have conveyed his product the same way. As is often the case, the reports don’t identify the foreign agency involved. Perhaps the Chinese authorities don’t even know from where his handlers hailed. 

Occasionally,a story breaks that is sufficiently detailed and well sourced to give a real flavor of what’s going on. In May, the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily reported the story of a man surnamed Li who, while living and working in an unnamed seaside city in the wealthy southern province of Guangdong, struck up acquaintance over the Internet with a user calling himself Feige, which means “Flying Brother.” Feige reportedly paid Li over several years to gather and forward military publications from libraries and online bookstores, to glean information from chatrooms used by military enthusiasts, and to take photographs of military installations. Feige was working for a foreign intelligence agency, said the paper, without specifying which one. Li ended up with a 10-year prison sentence, which seems lenient, and could suggest that the snippets of information and the military journals marked “neibu" or "internal" that he supplied were relatively low-level material.


This is the third of a three-part series. See Jake’s first article here and secondhere.


Justin Logan outlines an alternative critique of America’s “pivot” toward Asia and a maritime presence that counters China’s growing military power. According to Logan, the “liberal internationalist” or “optimists” (also known as “Panda Huggers”) represented by G. John Ikenberry, “elide the zero-sum nature of military questions, hang too much on faith that political liberalization will happen, and will resign China to American military dominance, and similarly place too much faith in the power of international institutions.” On the other hand, “realists” or “pessimists” (also known as “Dragon Slayers”), represented by John J. Mearsheimer, “have not shown how Washington could squash Chinese economic growth at an acceptable cost, and do not demonstrate directly how even a much more powerful China would threaten the security of the United States.” He suggests that “Beltway elites” have adopted “an inherently contradictory approach, congagement, that borrows problems from both schools of thought and creates a new problem: free riding.” [1]

“Congagement” creates several problems. America’s attempt to act as “the balancer of first resort” becomes more costly as China becomes more wealthy and capable of fielding an ever-more effective military. By “infantizing” allies in the region, they do not see the need to invest in their own defense, instead relying on American security guarantees. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and others should come together to deter Chinese aggression without America doing it for them. [2]

Are you a panda hugger or dragon slayer?

The United States should instead “pivot home.” It must “revisit formal and informal U.S. security commitments in Asia with a clear eye trained on what it would actually be willing to fight a war with China over, and just how likely those scenarios are.” Policymakers should “work to lessen and ultimately remove the forward-deployed U.S. military presence in the region, helping establish more powerful national militaries in like-minded states” and “encourage Asian nations to work together on security issues without the United States leading the way.” Otherwise “it likely will see its allies unable to play a larger role, and a larger share of America’s national income dedicated to containing China on their behalf.” [3]

Logan’s critique builds upon the strong “libertarian” or “isolationist” strain in American foreign policy going back to the days of Thomas Jefferson, and perhaps best embodied today by Senator Rand Paul and his father, former Congressman Ron Paul. It has a popular appeal, one in which the United States avoids involving itself in the affairs of other nations and the “entangling alliances” of the former European powers. In this view, America can best serve its national security and foreign policy interests by having a military capable of defending its political territory and using that power only in self-defense. While America can serve as an “international example” of freedom and economic liberalization, it should avoid a muscular policy with broad strategic interests, one in which the United States is the predominant military power and international leader.

Despite its appeal, Logan’s critique leaves much to be desired. Neither the “liberal internationalist,” “realist” or “congagement” policy perspectives argue that American allies will rely solely on American security guarantees. Indeed, evidence suggests that while China’s defense spending has certainly increased substantially from 2000 to 2011 ($22.5 billion to $89.9 billion), so has that of America’s allies and other security partners. Japanese defense expenditures rose from $40 billion to $58.8 billion, South Korea’s rose from $17 billion to $29 billion, and Taiwan’s rose from $8 billion to $10 billion. Indian defense spending surged 47.6 percent over the decade, reaching $37 billion. [4] The evidence that Asian nations are “free riders” does not appear compelling as Logan would have us believe.

The historical experience since the end of the Vietnam War has shown that the American presence is Asia is a stabilizing force, counter to Logan’s claim. He does not appreciate the context of the 19th and 20th Centuries. For example, Japan’s growing role in regional security would not be possible without American leadership (and influence on) Japanese policy. Logan at one point highlights recent security agreements between the Philippines and Japan as an example where America was not needed. Yet he fails to understand that without the American security umbrella (and still tacit influence over Japanese defense policy), the Philippines would almost certainly not enter into any security agreement with their one-time occupier. The same holds true for South Korea, whose experience with Japan includes more than a century of occupation. Can one seriously believe that the Japanese and South Koreans could or would work together without America’s leadership (and forward presence) in the alliance structure?

China’s Tianxia: Do All Under Heaven Need One Arbiter?

June Teufel Dreyer
30 October 2014

A few Chinese scholars anticipate China’s rise and possible role as arbiter in a troubled world

Search for harmony under the heaven: Western image of China's imperial court (top); Ming emperor Hongwu, though, did not get the horses he wanted the Koreans to send as tribute 

MIAMI: With China reemerging as a dominating economic and military power in the world, some Chinese scholars have wistfully harkened back to another era, circa the 5th century BC, when under a virtuous and benign Confucian emperor, all was well under heaven. The implicit suggestion in this historical retrospective – under a virtuous China one could return to the golden age.

In this narrative, the benign emperor maintained a pax sinica and ruled tianxia, all under heaven. This was symbolized by the tribute system, under which rulers of lands surrounding the Celestial Kingdom visited the imperial court, performed ketou, or obseisance, and presented gifts of local produce. In return, their legitimacy as rulers was affirmed. They were presented with the dynasty’s calendar and received costly items emblematic of the superior Sinitic civilization. The result was datong, or great harmony.

However, this idyllic setting was purportedly destroyed by the arrival of rapacious capitalist powers who were eager to expand their commercial empires and imposed the trading system and the Westphalian notion of sovereignty, with its notion of the equality of nation states answering to no higher authority. Since this leaves states free to act according to their perception of their own best interests, the result has been a Hobbesian war of all against all and a failed world. The solution to this baleful situation, suggest scholars like Zhao Tingyang,, is to reinstate tianxia, presumably with Chinese leadership performing the role of adjudicator for all under heaven.(1)

The problem is that the golden age never existed and is likely to prove ineffective for the modern era. The late Harvard sinologist Yang Lien-sheng stated flatly that “the sinocentric world order was a myth backed up at different times by realities of varying degree, sometimes approaching nil.”(2) As other Chinese scholars have pointed out, force was needed, both to keep the empire together and protect it from external enemies. In Wang Gungwu’s formulation, the reality of empire was that of a hard core of wei, or force, surrounded by a soft pulp of de, virtue.(3) Astute statecraft lay in finding the right balance. Although court records praise the Confucian wisdom of emperors, they in fact behaved like Legalists, who suggested that the well-ordered society depended on clear rules and punishment for violators rather than benevolence. Others have noted that the superiority of the Chinese model in preventing war is ludicrous to anyone familiar with the details of Chinese history replete with conflict.(4)

Failed world? Shouldtianxia be reinstated? Could China step into the role of adjudicator for all under heaven?