30 November 2014

India’s Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific

By Dr Subhash Kapila


India’s “Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific” stands signified with the dramatic strategic and political outreach made by Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Australia and forging a substantial India-Australia Strategic Partnership.

Fortuitously, with both India and Australia headed by two dynamic Prime Ministers, alive to the rapidly changing security scenarios and with a realistic strategic awareness that both geostrategically placed nations need to play a significant role in stabilising the Indo Pacific expanse, synergised their personal chemistries to the forging of the India-Australia Strategic Partnership.

In the years to come India’s strategic pivot to the Indo Pacific and Australia’s equally unambiguous strategic pivot towards India and the Indian Ocean would be viewed as a strategic game-changer in stabilising the increasing imbalance creeping in the balance-of-power equilibrium in the Indo Pacific.

It needs to be recalled that while India geostrategically dominates the Indian Ocean region, it is Australia which dominates the Southern Flank of the Indian Ocean and also the Southern Pacific. India and Australia therefore with concerted and synergised strategic formulations are in a position to buttress the Southern Arc of Democracies in the Indo Pacific.

Notably it needs to be highlighted that India’s Strategic Pivot to the Indo Pacific supplements and complements the United States Strategic Pivot to the Asia Pacific. The same could have been said for the Russian Strategic Pivot to the Asia Pacific announced in 2012 but for Russia’s flawed strategic nexus with China.

In the last decade, one witnessed the emergence of the US-Japan-India Trilateral and the US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral as strategic responses to China’s not so peaceful military rise and its policies of conflict-escalation. The impetus to reinforcing these strategic initiatives soon faded away when Australia under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his inclinations and personal tilt towards China devalued Australia’s participation.

Australia was shaken out of the Rudd-induced strategic stupor by China’s increasing political and military forays in the Southern Pacific nations deemed as Australia’s own strategic backyard.

MODERNISATION OF INDIAN MADRASAS- Why this convergence of the Muslim Elites and the Mullahs?

By R. Upadhyay


The subject of this paper is to examine whether the proposed modernisation of the Madrasas in conformity with the national educational mainstream is an anti-thesis of Muslim politics? Will it de-radicalise the Muslims? Will it dispel the haze of medievalism from the minds of the common Muslims?

Madrasa education to be mainstreamed?

According to a media report, Talat Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of Jamia Milia is planning to get madrasa schooling into the national mainstream. The exercise is perhaps to bring madrasa students on par with the students in other general educational institutions of the country that would help create equal job opportunities for them.

There is nothing new in the exercise of the VC as the scheme of modernising the Madrasas was already initiated by the last UPA Government and is now being pursued by the present BJP Government. The scheme however, failed to see the light of the day due to strong resistance from the entrenched custodians of this medieval educational institution who had vested interest in continuing this medieval system of education!

What is a Madrasa? Why no job opportunities for the outgoing Students?

“Madrasa is the Arabic word for any type of educational institution, whether secular or religion” (Any religion -Wikipedia) but the Muslim religious elites in post-Mogul India used it as a political institution for restoration of lost Islamic rule in the sub-continent. As a result the Muslim community remained caged in the medieval era and failed to get the benefits of modern education.

One could justifiably argue that the basic philosophy and original intention behind this move was to radicalise the Muslim community and train them as Islamic warriors. In the absence of modern knowledge, the graduates produced by madrasas were neither able to improve their own material prosperity nor face the challenges of the modern world. Their job opportunities were restricted to mosques and madrasas only.

End of strategic autonomy


Many Indian decision-makers argue that defence cooperation with other countries endangers India’s sovereignty. (Source: PTI)
Written by David Brewster | Posted: November 18, 2014 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at the Asean and G-20 summits caps a busy few months of travel that have included bilateral summits with Japan, the US and now Australia. Modi is the face of a newly confident India that is not afraid of doing deals — sometimes tough deals — with new partners across the economic, political and military spectrum.

Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen big changes in the way India looks at the world. For one thing, India realised that its quest for economic autarchy had been a mistake. In the decades after Independence, India discouraged foreign trade and investment in an attempt to become self-reliant. But policies that sounded desirable only led to economic stagnation and caused India to be less powerful, not more. In contrast, many countries in East Asia connected themselves deeply into the global system, which helped them develop their economies and strengthen their national power.

It is now broadly accepted that the path to a strong India lies through globalisation and economic interconnectedness. Modi was elected on a platform of strengthening India’s economy through more trade and more foreign investment. But even though economic autarchy has been thrown into the dustbin of history, many Indian decision-makers still cling fast to old ideas of strategic autonomy as an excuse to keep other countries at arm’s length. They argue that defence cooperation with other countries somehow endangers India’s sovereignty and that India should try to act alone on the international stage. To them, sovereignty is a sacred object that must be kept in a box.
This view of the world contrasts with the way most countries now promote strategic interconnectedness to enhance their power and influence, and indeed their sovereignty. Of course, the United States came to this understanding some 75 years ago and it is now skilled at using interconnectedness to enhance its influence.

Terror threat to India rising again six years after Mumbai attacks

26 November 2014

Drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan, weakness of Pakistani government and surge of Islamic State mean risk of attack is highest in years, officials and analysts say 

An Indian border security force soldier stands guard in Tripura state a week after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Photograph: Parthajit Datta/AFP/Getty Images

India is facing a period of heightened terrorist threat due to internal, regional and global factors, security officials say. Six years on from the bloody attack on luxury hotels and other targets in the country’s commercial capital, Mumbai, local and international officials say a pause in spectacular attacks in India could be broken at any moment.

“There are storm clouds gathering,” one western official told the Guardian, echoing warnings from others based in the US and the UK this year.

The forthcoming drawdown of US combat troops in Afghanistan, the weakness of the elected government in neighbouring Pakistan, the radicalising effect of the surge of Islamic State in the Middle East, as well as competition between local groups including al-Qaida, have all combined to raise the risk of a new strike to its highest for many years, the officials said. “There is a pause [but] this is a more challenging situation now,” one senior police officer in Mumbai told the Guardian.

One new trend is sympathy for Islamic State among a small segment of local Muslim youth. Estimates of how many Indians have travelled to join the Isis vary from around 50 to 200. “There are a growing number of youngsters who want to join jihad. It was there before but they went only to Pakistan. Now there is a global element,” the Mumbai-based officer said.

This year four men from the northern Mumbai suburb of Kalyan travelled to Iraq to join Isis. The total number of Indians who have tried to travel to the Middle East to fight is unclear as many local police forces prefer not to officially register cases against individuals but to rely on family pressure to “dissuade and deradicalise” them, a senior Mumbai policeman said.

India’s Quiet Role as a Hotbed of Terror

November 26, 2014

Six years ago, 10 Pakistani militants arrived in Mumbai by sea and laid siege to the India’s financial capital, killing over 150 people, unsettling millions and adding yet another chapter to India’s bloody tome of terrorist violence.

Thankfully, the country hasn’t faced another attack of the scale and intensity of 26/11 since 2008—but India continues to remain one of the world’s most terrorism-afflicted nations.

A study by the Institute of Economics and Peace (pdf) ranks India sixth on the Global Terrorism Index—behind only Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria.

The report defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

The index analyses the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in 162 countries, including factors such as lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological effects of terrorism.

India’s Urgent Need for Defense Modernization

By Amit R. Saksena
November 27, 2014

Years of mismanagement have been disastrous for India’s defense. 

For the Indian armed forces, military modernization was perhaps the biggest casualty under the previous UPA-led government. From numerous procurement scandals to the inability of the government to foster indigenization of research and development, the nation’s defense preparedness is at a nadir. The Air Force’s primary fleet is a shambles, the Navy has yet to put the INS Arihant into operation, and the Army has no definite timeline for implementing the F-INSAS program. All this when India consistently ranks as the world’s largest importer of arms.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have taken a tougher stance against external threats, but if he is to follow up on the rhetoric, he will need to make strengthening the armed forces a top priority for his government. And the first step to take is to modernize the forces.

The BJP’s election manifesto promised to strengthen the country’s defense industrial base. There was considerable excitement in the defense and security sector, which had the impression that to maintain a high level of operational readiness the new government would remedy procurement policies and fast track indigenization by privatizing industry. But to establish a solid military-industrial base and fast-track indigenization, the government needs to have a long-term plan, to guide development. That is precisely what it does not have. In the absence of a defense white paper or grand strategy, the defense focus has been very much short term.

As a recent IHS Jane report notes, India is set to become the fourth biggest military spender in the world by 2020, surpassed only by the U.S., Russia and China. It will be critical for New Delhi to have developed an overarching strategy by that time, to avoid excessive spending and give direction to future development.

Are the Good Days Coming...?

28 Nov , 2014


National interest is something India needs to learn from America. Regardless of the provocation, national interest must always dictate the actions of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Though the frequency has reduced, we have looked so foolish standing on our high moral horse time and again at the cost of our national interests. Whilst it is true that the internal situation does colour our external relations, at one stage, the MEA had achieved the impossible. We have had poor relations with all our neighbours. This is something we have to correct from the word ‘go’.

India remains vulnerable to the disturbances spilling over from her neighbours…

The euphoria of the epic general elections is over. As per statisticians, at least 33 per cent of the voters are absolutely thrilled at their sagacity. The mood in the country is upbeat despite El Nino and the economic slowdown. Although the average citizen knows in his heart of hearts that things cannot change in a hurry, the mounting inflation and the dismounting subsidies are already causing heartburn. Meanwhile, by all reports, the Prime Minister (PM) and hopefully, his team seem to have buckled down to putting in place a more responsive and hygienic system of governance (not government, mind you).

Today, the South Asian Region ranks as one of the three flashpoints in the world along with the Middle East and North Korea. Within this region lies a group of nations in troubled transition to modernity, their external discourse damned by internal contradictions. In a world moving towards integration, many of these nations remain torn by ethnic and religious strife, economic disparities and political instability. For obvious reasons, it is full of turmoil. Internal dynamics and external influences have led to increase in the degree of uncertainty.

As a member of this region, India remains vulnerable to the disturbances spilling over from her neighbours. India herself is at the crossroads. We witness this giant stirring into wakefulness, into an awareness of its power today. This rise in stature brings with it greater responsibilities and a larger role in regional as well as global affairs. This demands not only a change in policy, internal and external, but a fundamental change in our very thinking, ethos and value system. This then is the challenge before the Modi government that is in an unenviable position of having to balance the vast burden of public aspirations with some hard-headed, tough governance on one hand and boosting the sagging economy on the other. At the same time, convince the world that India cannot to be trifled with. What, then, should the priorities before the Modi government be?

Combating terror financing through SAARC

Guest Column by Sameer Patil


(This paper of Gateway House was forwarded to us for publication. The thrust of the paper is that India should take the initiative and forge a regional approach to the problem. While this looks good on paper, the realities in the sub-continent are not conducive enough right now for such an approach. When one of the constituents in the SAARC shelters and nurtures the terrorists and when it distinguishes between good and bad terrorists, how can one forge any joint approach in this region?- Director) 

Despite an early regional consensus on counter-terrorism, SAARC’s record in tackling terrorism remains dismal. With the widening network of terrorist groups in the subcontinent, it is imperative that India takes the lead in forging substantial counter-terrorism cooperation, particularly on the issue of financing

As South Asian leaders gather for the 18th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Kathmandu on November 26-27, the spectre of terrorism and the question of how to effectively counter it will be looming large.

Recent developments—the neutralisation of a module of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in Burdwan, West Bengal, the announcement of al-Qaeda’s intention to establish a South Asian branch, and the Islamic State’s plans to gain a foothold in the region—have aggravated fears of a larger jihadist presence in South Asia.

Yet, the subcontinent lacks a regional resolve and response to counter the activities of these groups. Ironically, SAARC evolved a consensus on the need for greater cooperation to counter terrorism, long before terrorism became a focal point of international politics. SAARC took several steps in this context:

In 1987, just two years after the formation of SAARC, at a meeting in Kathmandu, member states signed the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism.[1] The convention made a political commitment to countering terrorism at the regional level and, more importantly, defined what constituted terrorist acts.

Will Lower Oil Prices Destroy America's Energy Revolution?


The shale sky is not falling. Depressed oil prices may hurt some companies, but at large, oil-production levels in the United States will likely remain steady, at least for the foreseeable future. 

November 29, 2014
With oil prices falling, some are worried—and others hope—that the U.S. shale oil bubble will burst and, subsequently, that U.S. oil production will drop. However, given a number of factors, the production of shale oil is not likely to slow significantly, even at current lower prices.
There are two popular theories as to why the price of oil has dipped. The first is that Saudi Arabia is overproducing in an attempt to kill U.S. shale and retain market share. The second is that the United States is collaborating with Saudi Arabia to punish Russia, as a large fraction of Russia’s federal revenues come from oil.

In reality, there is little evidence to suggest either of these theories is correct. While shale vulnerability and Russian exposure are positive externalities to Saudi Arabia in a lower-price paradigm, it is more likely that the Saudis are overproducing primarily to exercise power over other OPEC members. A decline in price alsoreduces revenues for Saudi Arabia, and as such, it is not inherently beneficial to keep prices low. But, lower prices will send the message that cooperation and honoring quotas is in all members’ best interests.
In any case, the shale sky is not falling.

To understand the effect of lower prices on the shale-oil industry, let’s look into North Dakota’s Bakken, one of this country’s largest oil fields. Oil production from the Bakken has increased by 1 million bbl/d in the last five years, helping to drive the massive increase in U.S. oil output, and now accounts for 15 percent of all U.S. production. A key question: is the shale boom in trouble in the face of low oil prices? Based on my resource characterization research and production scenario analyses, the answer is no in the short- and mid-term.

The outlook for U.S. shale production is better than naysayers think, as production is somewhat insulated from price volatility by a number of factors: resource heterogeneity, rent distribution, drilling contracts, existing production and long-term planning. But, if lower prices prevail over a long period of time, the production will begin to decline. Although all U.S. shale oil fields have unique characteristics, the Bakken is an interesting case to consider for what could happen under low-price scenarios. In fact, because of the transportation issue, remoteness and other cost factors, other plays in Texas like the Eagle Ford and the Permian basin may be even more shielded from a price dip.

One Year of ADIZ: What Next for China?

November 27, 2014

China’s East China Sea air defense identification zone (ADIZ) remains ambiguous. 

It’s now been a year since China unilaterally declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over a large swathe of the East China Sea. Beijing’s decision to do so came at a time of rising tensions between China and Japan over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. While that dispute persists today, tensions were significantly higher a year ago, with the potential for escalation high on both sides. At the time, The Diplomat hosted a wide range of perspectives on why Beijing chose to act as it did and the ramifications the ADIZ decision would carry going forward for the security of the Asia-Pacific region, China-Japan relations, and more. A year later, most of the questions raised then still endure. For example, will Beijing follow up on the mixed signals it’s been sending about a potential ADIZ over the South China Sea? Could Beijing’s enforcement of its ADIZ draw international legal action? Finally, will Beijing’s justification of the ADIZ evolve with time? I’ll mostly focus on the first question here.

We’ve seen mixed signals come out of China regarding the possibility of a South China ADIZ. For example, while a senior PLA official called for China to establish an ADIZ over the South China Sea, noting that it was “necessary for China’s long-term national interest,” these calls had been contradicted by official Chinese foreign ministry statements noting that there were no plans to install an ADIZ over the South China Sea. The geography of the South China Sea and China’s capacious territorial claim to almost the entirety of the region, down to the Borneo coastline, make the decision to declare an ADIZ there more complicated. Specifically, as I’ve discussed here before, the nature of China’s dashed line claim leaves some interesting and strategically advantageous ambiguities that would be threatened with the declaration of a de jure ADIZ.

Why Absence of India from APEC Dismays China

By Bhaskar Roy


The November 2014 APEC summit in Beijing should make the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC), proud. It is not only the summit, but discussions with foreign leaders on the sidelines of the summit that must be read together.

On the sidelines, Chinese president Xi Jinping finally agreed to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and pulled bilateral relations from the brink. Abe agreed to the four-point proposal (nothing new) a behaviour demanded by Xi.

An important agreement was reached with South Korea on the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), gas import agreement with Russia (reportedly at rock bottom price) pushed further and an agreement made with the US to expand technology trade.

The most important success for Beijing was receiving endorsement for its Free Trade Area Asia Pacific (FTAAP). Though China is the biggest Asian country leading the initiative, the pact also includes the USA which may, when necessary, restrict China’s freedom to wrestle down smaller countries of the region.

At the same time, the US initiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which does not include China, is perceived by Beijing as a network of countries set up to encircle or constrict China’s growth and influence. Yet, in a complicated geopolitical game, the FTAAP is also seen as an instrument to counter the TPP. And, with the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia on the sidelines of the G-20 in Brisbane, China appears to have shaken the US-Australia strategic arrangement to an extent.

Looking at the totality of the season’s political and strategic flavour, China has scored a series of successes. Why then is China dismayed or even frustrated at India not attending the Beijing APEC summit?

The official Chinese daily, the Global Times (Nov-16), the Duowei news, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese, and the Taiwanese news portal Want China Times, joined in a chorus to accuse India of being a trade relations breaker. The Want China Times (Nov.11) article appeared to be somewhat confused and reluctant to fully blame India, though it labeled a series of negative charges on India’s economic and trade rules to justify why New Delhi was denied membership of the economic body in 1989.

Sunni vs. Shi’ite: Why the U.S. plan to save Iraq is doomed to fail


By Peter Van Buren 
November 25, 2014

If the United States was looking for the surest way to lose Iraq War 3.0, it might start by retraining the failed Iraqi Army to send north — alongside ruthless Shi’ite militias — into Sunni-majority territory and hope that the Sunnis will welcome them with open arms, throwing out the evil Islamic State.

Maybe it’s time for a better plan.

And the way to find one is by understanding how we lost Iraq War 2.0. We need a plan to create a stable, tri-state solution to the Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurd divide, or the current war will fail as surely as the previous one.

A critical first step is, of course, to remove Islamic State from the equation, but not how the Obama administration envisions. The way to drive Islamic State out of Iraq is to remove the reason Islamic State has been able to remain in Iraq: as a protector of the Sunnis. In Iraq War 2.0, the Iraqi Sunnis never melded politically with al Qaeda; they allied out of expediency, against the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite central government. The same situation applies to Islamic State, the new al Qaeda in Iraq.

The United States is acting nearly 180 degrees counter to this strategy, enabling Shi’ite militia and Iranian forces’ entry into Anbar and other Sunni-majority areas to fight Islamic State. The more Shi’ite influence, the more Sunnis feel they need Islamic State muscle. More Iranian fighters also solidify Iran’s grip on the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, and weakens America’s. The presence of additional Sunni players, like the Gulf States, will simply grow the violence indecisively, with the various local factions manipulated as armed proxies.

Iraq in 2007 was, on the surface, a struggle between insurgents and the United States. However, the real fight was happening in parallel, as the minority Sunnis sought a place in the new Shi’ite-dominated Iraq. The solution was supposedly the Anbar Awakening. Indigenous Iraqi Sunnis would be pried lose from al Qaeda under American protection (that word again), along with the brokered promise that the Shi’ites would grant them a substantive role in governance. The Shi’ites balked almost from day one, and the deal fell apart even before America’s 2011 withdrawal — I was in Iraq with the Department of State and saw it myself. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory thrown away by the Iraqis — a favorite among 2.0 apologists — is very dangerous. It suggests repeating the strategy will result in something other than repeating the results. The Sunnis won’t be so easily fooled again.

The Stakes of Losing Our "Strategic Patience" in Syria

November 28, 2014 

"President Obama should hold on to that patience, because if he allows the U.S. mission to creep and is drawn into Syria’s civil war, he risks adopting a war of choice he does not want to fight—and might not be able to win."

After three years of strategic ambivalence and another three months of strategic shift, President Obama may be considering another change in strategy for Syria. He’s convening a team to assess the administration’s current plans, CNN reported last Wednesday night. That may include considering accelerating and expanding U.S. assistance to Syrian opposition groups and targeting Assad-regime forces.

Consistently reassessing strategy is good policy, and the administration is right to take a hard look at its plans for Iraq and Syria. But immersing the United States deeper in Syria’s civil war was a bad idea three years ago, it was a bad idea in August, and it’s a bad idea today. America has one vital interest in Syria: preventing the Islamic State from staging a terrorist attack against the United States or its allies. As a nation, we lack the national interest and the political will to commit to ending the Syrian civil war. Without these, we shouldn’t try.

ISIS: The Unstoppable Juggernaut

Nov. 20, 2014 

Grisly execution videos, new foreign headquarters serve as only the beginning for the true dangers that will soon unfold.
Demonstrators hold up a flag of the Islamic State group during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza, in downtown Srinagar, Kashmir, on July 18. 

The Islamic State group and its leadership have become masters of grabbing attention. This week alone, the extremist network, also known as ISIS or ISIL, reportedly seized control of a coastal town in Libya, and released a grisly video of its fighters brandishing the severed head of a former Army Ranger turned aid worker Peter Kassig, along with those of dozens of captured Kurdish fighters. 

Western news consumers are not the only ones who pay attention to these stories, nor are they the most important recipients of their intended lesson: The Islamic State group is here to stay and it’s not wasting time like al-Qaida did before. 

“The message they’re trying to convey is they are brutal to their enemies, and they are righteous in their cause,” says Karl Kaltenthaler, an expert on the rise of Islamic extremism and professor at the University of Akron. “If you mess with them, you’re going to pay a high price, and they will stop at nothing to achieve the triumph of their vision for Islam.” 

Al-Qaida’s original plan under founding leader Osama bin Laden involved knocking the U.S. and Western influence out of predominantly Muslim countries, collapsing those states, creating Islamic alternatives and ultimately establishing a so-called hard-liner caliphate. The Islamic State group has thrown that plan out the window, and has achieved on the ground what al-Qaida could only dream of a decade or more ago. 

Ukraine Militias Warn of Anti-Kiev Coup


The men behind Ukraine’s nationalist militias are looking to replace the fumbling government in Kiev one way or another. 

KIEV, Ukraine—The burly man with the close-cropped silver hair and his two companions ask not to be identified too closely when they talk to me in some dowdy offices near an ancient monastery overlooking the Dnieper River. They want to be described as “patriotic businessmen,” they say, and one of them, whom we’ll call Alexander, is a very, very rich patriotic businessman. 

They have been funding Ukrainian self-defense militias formed in response to what they see as the ineffectiveness of the Ukraine Armed Forces in the face of pro-Moscow separatists and Russian troops in the country’s southeast. And they suggest something worse than incompetence is at work there. The word “betrayal” often plays on their lips. They predict the government of President Petro Poroshenko may not last another three months. “That’s optimistic,” says Alexander. 

Alexander and his friends point to continued military hardware exports—sometimes transferred via Moscow-ally Belarus—sent from some of Ukraine’s 134 state-owned defense enterprises to Russia, which has long been the Ukraine arms industry’s biggest customer. 

The trade flouts a March 2014 prohibition on all exports of weaponry and military equipment to Moscow. Poroshenko reinforced that ban in June with a presidential decree, but Alexander and other businessmen contacted by The Daily Beast say enterprises are still disobeying the order. Some are doing so because there’s money to be made and recession is hitting this key sector; others because executives and workers in the defense plants, mostly located in the east and the south of Ukraine, are sympathetic to Russia. 

The Ukrainian Communications Standoff

November 28, 2014

In all political conflicts, when feverish crisis management turns into stalemate and the focus shifts from who acts quickest to who lasts longest, communications becomes of the essence. This moment has now been reached in the Ukrainian standoff between the West and Russia.

Granted, escalation dominance still lies with the Kremlin. Moscow is in the tactically advantageous position of being able to scale up or down its involvement in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions almost as it wishes.

No one really knows what further ambitions Russian President Vladimir Putin harbors, or what additional show of strength he needs for long-term political survival at home. He might be satisfied with the status quo, having created another frozen conflict that guarantees him unlimited access to Ukrainian domestic affairs for the foreseeable future. Or the world might wake up tomorrow to see more territories occupied, more borders moved, and more people's lives ruined.

After what everyone thought was a nerve-racking crisis, the real nerve game starts now. The two sides have taken their positions. The West is siding with the new government in Kiev and has slapped sanctions on Russia for its aggressive violations of international law and of several treaties and agreements.

The West's hope is that sanctions will bite and that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko can make his country a success quickly enough that Moscow realizes it must change course. The longer the standoff lasts, those in the West believe, the more urgent it will be for Putin to crumble.

On the other side of the equation, Russia has annexed Crimea and is quickly solidifying its position in eastern Ukraine. Moscow hopes to undermine Poroshenko's reform effort with the ultimate goal of winning back political control of all of Ukraine.

From Russia With Cash


France's National Front leader Marine Le Pen smiles before a meeting with the speaker of the Russian parliament Sergei Naryshkin during their meeting in Moscow on June 19, 2013.


French President Francois Hollande announced on Tuesday that, due to the ongoing situation in Ukraine, France is indefinitely suspending the planned shipment of two Mistral-class helicopter carrier ships to Russia. The decision could be a costly one—Russia will likely sue over the breach of the $1.6 billion contract for the ships—but it still seems like a no-brainer that a European country shouldn’t be selling military hardware to Russia at the same time that Russia is under EU sanction for military activities.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Not everyone saw it that way. Marine Le Pen, whose far-right, anti-immigrant National Front party has had aremarkable run of electoral success lately, has staunchly opposedsuspending the Mistral deal. Like anumber of other far-right European leaders, she’s been a vocal supporter of Russia throughout the Ukraine crisis and blamed the EU for starting a “new Cold War.” She has also traveled to Moscow multiple times since taking over the party from her father in 2011.

Supporting Russia may have been good business for Le Pen’s party. The National Front is now facing criticism for a 9 million euro ($11.3 million) loan it received from the First Czech Russian Bank, an obscure Moscow institution owned by Roman Popov, described by EUObserver as a “financier with close ties to the Russian political establishment.”* The party denies that the loan came with any strings attached. It says it needs the money to cover its campaigning expenses for upcoming national elections in 2017 and it was refused loans from French and European banks. The National Front has only about a tenth of the annual cash inflows of the ruling Socialist Party.

With oil prices plunging, OPEC and Russia are on their knees

When the world was his: Naimi in 2007.(Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

November 27, 2014
In a way, the message of OPEC’s inaction today—deciding not to cutsupply—is analogous to the challenge that confronted GM and Microsoft in recent years: if it wants to remain relevant in a world it once dominated, and at times made tremble, it needs to change its game.

For much of the rest of the world, including great power-consuming nations like the US and China, the message is very different—that of an ill-defined but temporary window in which to solve big strategic problems until very recently thought to be intractable.

The trigger for this new state of affairs is dual—the US shale-oil boom, which has wholly muffled the geopolitical disruptions behind previously skyrocketing oil prices, and soft demand from a transforming Chinese economy.

On the sidelines are menacing new supply threats to the status quo—even more oil from the US in the coming three to five years, from Iran in the not-far-fetched scenario of a nuclear deal, and from till-now war-constrained Iraq and Libya.
Traders have observed all this supply, detected no basis for a surge of demand, and sent prices plunging. Just today, futures of internationally traded Brent crude plummeted as low as $71.25 a barrel, down 41% since peaking for the year in June at $115.71. US-traded West Texas Intermediate—the pricing basis for shale oil—fell more than $5, to as low as $67.75 a barrel, puncturing another threshold.

Members of the OPEC cartel have desperately flailed away, given that most of them cannot meet their state budget obligations at such prices (see chart below).

Iran, Iraq, Angola and Venezuela pushed hard for a cut, but finally they were made to understand—probably with patient explanation by Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali al-Naimi, OPEC’s effective leader—that no cut would remove the threat. If OPEC managed today to raise oil prices, that would improve the profit picture for US shale, too, and encourage American drillers to send even more supply into the market; before long, OPEC would be back at the same point of having to cut.

Defense Firms Could Be Skeptical of Investing in Research

November 26, 2014


Despite a recent push by the Defense Department for companies to invest more in research projects, the Pentagon might continue having trouble getting firms to spend more of their own money for this, experts say.

Marcus Weisgerber is the global business reporter for Defense One covering the intersection of business and national security. Previously, Marcus was the senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, an international newspaper that focuses on military procurement and operations, for nearly four ... Full Bio

Unless DOD creates “more compelling threats of potential lost business” so-called prime contractors — such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics – will be less likely to boost research spending, a new report by analyst Byron Callan at Capital Alpha Partners has found.

Callan’s report comes just days after the Pentagon officially launched a project to find new technologies that it hopes will give it an edge on the battlefield decades from now.

The project, called the Long-Range Research and Development Planning Program, is akin to the so-called “offset strategies” that the Pentagon employed after World War II and again in the 1970s. The terminology refers to offsetting an enemy’s military with a technology. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, the driving force behind the effort, has termed the latest effort the “third offset strategy.”

Nuclear weapons were considered the first offset and stealth and precision weapons were considered the second offset. So-called smart bombs, that could hit targets hundreds of miles away with pinpoint accuracy, have given the U.S. military a battlefield advantage for nearly four decades, but now other nations are catching up.

Computer spying Attack of the cybermen

Nov 29th 2014 

Sophisticated viruses will be the workhorses of 21st-century spying. But there should be rules

IF ASKED why they spied on the computers of their rivals (and allies), the authors of Regin, a sophisticated computer virus that seems to have been designed by a Western government, would presumably echo the proverbial bank robber, and reply “because that’s where the secrets are”.

As the world has gone digital, spying has, too. Regin is just the latest in a trend that first came to public notice in 2010, when a piece of American and Israeli software called Stuxnet was revealed to have been responsible for sabotaging part of Iran’s nuclear programme. Since then have come Flame, Red October, DarkHotel and others (see article); more surely lurk undiscovered in the world’s networks. But unlike the indiscriminate surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden, these chunks of malware seem, like traditional spying, to be targeted at specific governments or even individuals.

For spies, such digital espionage has advantages over the shoe-leather sort. Computers are stuffed with data that can be copied and beamed around the world in seconds—so much easier than fiddling with microdots or smuggling sensitive documents past guards. The more complicated computer operating systems get, the more riddled they are with unnoticed security holes. Staying safe means plugging them all; an attacker need only keep trying until a single one gives way.

Donate for the Cryptome archive of files from June 1996 to the present

28 November 2014

What Is Good Encryption Software?

A sends:

I have contacted you asking about certain security questions. After reading a few of the Snowden leaked documents, I have started to be more aware of my privacy being at risk. I have a few questions concerning certain programs and safety tips.

First, I've recently started to doubt about my encryption software. Is Symantec's "PGP Endpoint" a good hard drive encryption software?

In other words, is it trustworthy since it is an American company. And if not, what encryption software is the best for Mac.

Second, is "ProtonMail" as secure as they say it is? If not, what email provider doesen't let the NSA see into my account.

Third, is Jetico inc's "Bestcrypt Container Encryption" trustworthy? If not, what could be an alternative.

Fourth, are these encryption types good? Blowfish, Gost & AES - 256bit. And which encryption type remains the best above all?

Last, is Kaspersky a good anti-virus software? If not, which one is the best for Mac.
November 27, 2014


TAPI Pipeline Finally Sees Some Momentum

Some recent developments appear to have taken the U.S.-backed initiative beyond the concept stage. 

For years, the idea for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline has remained just that – an idea. With an estimated cost of $10 billion, the theoretical pipeline would transit 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmenistan gas over 30 years, with India and Pakistan each taking 42 percent of the transit and Afghanistan retaining the remainder. But questions of financing and security through Afghanistan seemed destined to staunch the pipeline’s creation. It was at best a fanciful plan – a project that would stich the region via an interconnected resource – and at worst a waste of time, resource, and initiative – another blinkered, U.S.-backed attempt that ignored security concerns and supra-national operability altogether, much like Washington’s shortsighted attempt at the CASA-1000 regional electricity network.

Recent moves, however, have given TAPI a sudden burst of momentum. First, the four countries, with the Asia Development Bank as transaction advisor, set up a new company this month to “build, own, and operate” the 1,800 km pipeline. Registered in the Isle of Man, the TAPI Pipeline Company Limited will see Turkmengaz, Afghan Gas Enterprise, Inter State Gas Systems (Private) Limited, and GAIL (India) Limited with equal shares. Second, a flurry of recent high-level meetings have resulted in a handful of commitments. According toPakistan’s Business Recorder, the four countries agreed to begin constructing the pipeline by 2016, with completion by the end of 2018 – and that “all the pending issues will be addressed” by next February. Moreover,Pakistan’s Customs Today reports that “potential partners” will be selected by the February deadline.

Nuclear power’s dark future

Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times
November 26, 2014

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most-subsidy-fattened energy industry, yet it faces an increasingly uncertain future. The global nuclear-power industry has enjoyed growing state subsidies over the years, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Despite the fat subsidies, new developments are highlighting the nuclear-power industry’s growing travails. For example, France — the “poster child” of atomic power — is rethinking its love affair with nuclear energy. Its Parliament voted last month to cut the country’s nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources by emulating neighboring countries like Germany and Spain.

As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden petroleum sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavorable economics.

This Incredible Graphic Shows The Size Of The World's Largest Armies From Antiquity To The Present



Mapmaking graphic artist Martin Vargic's has made an amazing graphic tracking the size of the world's largest armies at different points in time.

The graphic gives an understanding of the jsut how mobilized the human race was during World War II - and shows how the size of the wold's largest armies has shunk over time as interstate warfare becomes less common and technology surpasses sheer manpower in military importance.

It also gives us a chance to compare the size of some of the largest armies at different points in history with one another: the US had about as many troops in 1950, for instance, as China's Ming Dynasty had in 1400.

One loaded choice Vargic made is splitting the world between East and West. The graphic doesn't depict the world's single biggest army at any given time, but the biggest armies in two halves of a divided and sometimes antagonistic world.

In his research, Vargic drew from Encyclopedia Britannica, British think tank IISS, and Wikipedia. The first project listed on his website is a humorous map showing the Internet's biggest traffic drivers as countries drawn to scale.

Another project of his shows what would be left of the world should sea levels rise by 250 to 300 feet, which the Slovakian artist said is realistic should the polar ice caps melt completely.


I am not a gamer, and I will not use a computer, so video games usually do not come to my attention. But an article in the November 21 New York Times about a game called “Assassin’s Creed Unity,” a collection of nouns in search of a verb, did catch my eye. The reason it did so is that the game apparently offers a more balanced and realistic narrative of the French Revolution than that provided by the usual Whig interpretation of history

According to the Times, “Critics on the left say the game undercuts a cherished narrative of the French Revolution–the miserable masses rising up against an indulged nobility.” Worse, it portrays King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette sympathetically and Robespierre as a monster.

Hurrah! Some real history seems to have intruded on the left’s myth of the “heroic” French Revolution. Almost everything in the official myth is wrong.

The Revolution was not made by starving peasants but by prosperous members of the French bourgeoisie. What brought it about was not a tyrannical king but France’s over-extension in the Great Power game, over-extension capped by France’s intervention against England in the American Revolution. (Americans would do well to remember that they owe their independence to King Lois XVI.) France attained her objective of getting revenge on Britain for her defeat in the Seven Years’ War, but at the cost of financial ruin. When paying the interest on the national debt required more than half the revenues of the state, the French government decided it had to levy new taxes. But France’s “tyrant” could not do that. As in Britain, new taxes had to be approved by parliament, which in France was called the Estates General. So the Estates General were called into session, for the first time since the early 17th century. A chance for prudent, conservative reform, which France did need, was lost when the Third Estate, the equivalent of Britain’s House of Commons, violated France’s ancient constitution and seized power for itself.

Both King Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette were decent, well-intentioned people. The queen never told starving peasants to eat cake. On the contrary, she was known for her generosity. Had a starving peasant approached her and asked for help, she would probably have given him all her jewels. It was precisely the king’s good intentions that made him an easy mark for the radicals in the Third Estate. Had he been a tyrant, he would have strangled the Revolution in its cradle.