15 December 2014

*** Revisit the endgameplan

By Bruce Riedel
December 15, 2014

The longest war in American history is approaching its moment of truth. Next year, the American- and Nato-built Afghan army will face Pakistani-backed Taliban insurgents with only modest and decreasing foreign assistance. President Barack Obama has promised even that small troop presence will end by 2017. He needs to revisit this decision.

From January 2015, Nato will have 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, of which 10,800 will be Americans. Germany will be the second-largest troop contributor with 850, and Italy third with 500. The US force total is scheduled to drop to 5,500 by the end of 2015 and to near zero by the end of 2016. Obama has already slowed the withdrawal once, keeping an extra 1,000 troops next year than originally planned, and expanding their mission beyond training and advising the Afghans to include some combat roles, especially air support.

The president’s decision this past spring to publicly lay out his timeline for ending American troop involvement on the ground is widely regarded as a mistake in Washington. It gave the enemy unnecessary insight into our war plans and confidence that it could out-wait American resolve. Many fear it will lead to a repeat of the Iraq disaster, where the Iraqi army collapsed last summer without US support and lost Mosul to the Islamic State, forcing a very reluctant Obama to send troops back to Baghdad. But the White House has not changed the endgame plan so far.

Washington and Kabul have both sought to persuade Islamabad to reduce its support to the Afghan Taliban this fall. Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, was in Washington last month, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to improve ties. Shortly after the army chief’s visit, the Pakistan army announced it had killed a Saudi Arabian al-Qaeda operative in counter-terrorism operations near the Afghan-Pakistan border. This is a familiar pattern in US relations with Pakistan — an Arab terrorist is caught or killed just before or after a high-level bilateral meeting.

Aid groups overstretched by Congo crisis

December 15, 2014  

Faced with a dearth of United Nations peacekeepers, lack of funding and competition from other global crises, relief agencies are struggling to contain a growing humanitarian disaster in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s mining heartland.

More than a decade after the official end of a 1998-2003 war that killed millions of people in Congo, mostly from hunger and disease, donors are keen to switch from emergency aid to longer-term development projects in the vast central African country.

But the deteriorating situation in the copper and cobalt-rich southeastern province of Katanga, which the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) labelled “catastrophic” last month, throws into sharp relief the gaping humanitarian needs. The number of displaced people in Katanga has leapt to nearly 6,00,000, from 55,000 three years ago, mostly due to violence by armed groups, including the secessionist movement Bakata Katanga.

The crisis has taken Congo’s humanitarian community by surprise after a decade spent focussing on the eastern border provinces of North and South Kivu, a volatile patchwork of rebel and militia fiefdoms that never fully emerged from the war.

Lack of security

“Suddenly, we turn to a zone where there is a major crisis in the process of developing but where there are not enough humanitarian actors,” Moustapha Soumarº, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator in Congo, said.

For better signage on the cyber highway

Dhruva Jaishankar
December 15, 2014 

The inadequacies of India’s Internet regime are not confined to the IT Act alone. The country faces dilemmas that concern the future of the net and the way in which these are addressed will be key to determining India’s future as an open society, a secure state and a competitive economy

If you are reading this article, you have in all likelihood committed a crime. According to Indian law — specifically, Section 66A of the amended Information Technology Act — you could be facing a fine and a prison sentence of up to three years for having sent “by means of a computer resource or communication device” information that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or information you know “to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will.”

The IT Act’s vagueness and comprehensiveness are troubling at many levels. Instances of Section 66A’s use have been infrequent but arbitrary. Several prominent examples date from 2012, such as a Jadavpur University professor arrested for disseminating a cartoon of Ms. Mamata Banerjee, a businessman in Puducherry charged for a supposedly offensive tweet against a politician, and the arrest of two young women in Maharashtra over comments related to Bal Thackeray’s funeral. Last year, the IT Cell of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) compared the ostensibly draconian nature of Section 66A to the Emergency, with several leaders urging that it be amended or watered down.

Just last week, the Supreme Court requested clarity on Section 66A from the Centre, pointing to the inadequacy of the law and the arbitrariness of its use. The government, in its reply, defended the law: “even a single unlawful/illegal message or image has a potential to tear the social fabric and destroy peace and tranquillity.”

Lasting Stain

Gwynne Dyer
December 15 , 2014
Source Link

When somebody says it is time to move on, it means there is something deeply embarrassing that they don't want to discuss in public. President Barack Obama said that about the Senate Intelligence Committee's report about the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture in the years after 9/11. He put the best face on it after Senator Dianne Feinstein's committee released the 528-page report anyway, talking about how "part of what sets us (Americans) apart is that when we do something wrong, we acknowledge it." But recently the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had urged Feinstein not to release the report now on the grounds that the 'timing' was wrong. Feinstein ignored him because she knew that if the report was not put out now, it never would be. Next month a new Congress will take office, and the majority on the new Senate Intelligence Committee will be Republicans. They would certainly make sure that it never sees the light of day.

But there is one Republican senator who thinks differently. John McCain, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, said bluntly that torture "rarely yields credible information....What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow." McCain was tortured himself while a PoW in North Vietnam, and eventually made an anti-American propaganda 'confession'. As he later said: "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." He knows more about this subject than any other American politician and more than any CIA torturer. They were never at the receiving end.

Grave sin
Even though McCain confined himself to saying that torture was not a useful instrument of American policy, he avoided talking about the more important fact that it is also a grave crime under international law, because that would mean admitting that senior officials in George W. Bush's Republican administration who authorized the torture should face prosecution. The debate will be between those who insist that the torture techniques used on captives in the CIA's "black sites" yielded useful information and saved American lives, and those who say that it was all pointless and useless.

United by IS

December 15, 2014

Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme failed for the second time this year to meet a deadline for a deal. After a full year of negotiations, the two sides are still unable to bridge the gap on two principal issues — the future size of Iran’s nuclear-fuel production capacity and the pace at which sanctions will be lifted. As a result, the new failure of the nuclear talks with Iran leaves the process vulnerable to greater divides and suspicion between the two sides.

Not surprisingly, the US and its allies continue to suspect Iran’s nuclear work to be aimed towards producing a weapon, something Tehran has repeatedly denied. As for the Iranian conservatives, represented by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, they continue to be opposed to concessions necessary for a nuclear deal, and are wary of diplomatic and economic relations with the West once the sanctions are lifted. However, President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet continue to see the bright side of negotiations and maintain their optimistic tone. In an address to the nation, Rouhani affirmed that the seven-month extension of the negotiations was a victory for Iran. Iran has agreed under the terms of this extension to stop all forms of enrichment, including laser enrichment.

The Iranian government has also promised to provide expanded access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to existing centrifuge production facilities and to not install the IR-8 at the Natanz Pilot Plant.

Good Serviceable Tax

December 15, 2014 

The Central government must address five challenges if its April 1, 2016, deadline for rolling out the GST is to be met.
First, the challenge of GST design. This has to be arrived at in two steps. First, the tax base needs to be agreed on. Second, the methodology of levy, collection and appropriation needs to be finalised. So far, neither has been done. The states have not yet agreed to the Centre’s proposal to subsume taxes on petroleum products and entry into the GST. No unanimity has been reached on the proposed threshold of Rs 10 lakh. Also, two major issues that will significantly broaden the GST base and lower the revenue neutral rate (RNR) have not been examined: the inclusion of real estate and the treatment of e-commerce in the GST. Preliminary calculations reveal that an additional revenue of about Rs 20,000 crore can be generated by including property transactions in the GST. The ongoing confrontation between Amazon and the government of Karnataka on tax payable on e-commerce transactions highlights the need to put in place transparent and predictable point-of-sales rules for this burgeoning sector.

The empowered committee of state finance ministers (EC) is reportedly considering a recommendation that the RNR for state GST (SGST) be 14 per cent, and 12.7 per cent for Central GST (CGST). This adds up to 26.7 per cent, against the present tax rate of about 26.5 per cent. Imposing a GST with a higher RNR than the present aggregate rate may not be worth the effort. The 13th Finance Commission had suggested a model GST base, according to which the SGST would be 7 per cent and CGST, 5 per cent. The Centre should ensure that the tax base is not diluted unreasonably and all revenue options are explored to keep the RNR as low as possible.


15 December 2014

Terrorism cannot be fought with kid gloves. Bullets have to be answered with bullets. Severe punishment should be given to protectors of terrorism. Our past policy of impotence should be given a burial

The US Department of Defence, in its latest six-month report in October on Afghanistan, says that Pakistan uses its militants as “proxy forces to hedge against the loss of influence in Afghanistan and to counter India’s superior military…Afghan-and-India-focused militants continue to operate from Pakistan territory to the detriment of Afghan and regional stability Pakistan uses these proxy forces to hedge against the loss of influence in Afghanistan and to counter India’s superior military.”

Pakistan, by Constitution, is a Muslim country, whereas India is a secular country, where freedom of religious practice is guaranteed. Pakistan itself is surrounded by fundamentalist Muslim countries. This is Pakistan’s way of fighting India.

It is for this reason, that it does not want any friendship between Afghanistan and India. It is on this rationale, that it is sending Pakistan-trainedjihadis to Kashmir.To every country, its interest is supreme. The United States woke up to the threat of thejihadis after the 9/11 attack, and Europe has woken up now.

In fact, terrorism so far has never been considered as a grave problem in India. Otherwise, why did the Government remove all anti-terrorism laws in 2004? One oft-quoted reason is vote-bank politics. It is not totally untrue, as during or near the election, no good governance is seen and freebies are distributed at the cost of tax payers, either to stay in power or to gain it.

**** Putin’s Rules of Attraction

Joseph S. Nye
DEC 12, 2014 5

CAMBRIDGE – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s covert aggression in Ukraine continues – and so do Western sanctions against his country. But the economy is not all that is under threat; Russia’s soft power is dwindling, with potentially devastating results.

A country can compel others to advance its interests in three main ways: through coercion, payment, or attraction. Putin has tried coercion – and been met with increasingly tough sanctions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin’s main European interlocutor, has been expressing her frustration with Russian policy toward Ukraine in increasingly harsh terms. Whatever short-term gains Putin’s actions in Ukraine provide will be more than offset in the long term, as Russia loses access to the Western technology it needs to modernize its industry and extend energy exploration into frontier Arctic regions.

With Russia’s economy faltering, Putin is finding it increasingly difficult to employ the second tool of power: payment. Not even oil and gas, Russia’s most valuable resources, can save the economy, as Putin’s recent agreement to supply gas to China for 30 years at knockdown prices demonstrates.

This leaves attraction – a more potent source of power than one might expect. China, for example, has been attempting to use soft power to cultivate a less threatening image – one that it hopes will undermine, and even discourage, the coalitions that have been emerging to counterbalance its rising economic and military might.

A country’s soft power rests on three main resources: an appealing culture, political values that it reliably upholds, and foreign policy that is imbued with moral authority. The challenge lies in combining these resources with hard-power assets like economic and military power so that they reinforce one another.

Russian Ties at Inflection Point

By Bharat Karnad 
11th December 2014

India’s relations with Russia are at a point where they could soar, or plummet. Minus the celebratory pomp and circumstance likely attending on the January jaunt by US president Barack Obama, president Vladimir Putin’s seemingly perfunctory visit may actually turn out to be more consequential for this country, depending on how certain issues simmering for years get sorted out.

There’s solid geostrategic grounding for Indo-Russian relations that is valuable in the new millennium when Russia is crucial along with other Asian countries and the United States to contain China. Except India has a heftier economy, packs a bigger punch, and has brighter prospects than Russia which, in the wake of its annexation of Crimea, has been economically isolated by America and the West.

The P V Narasimha Rao government helped the Russian economy during its Boris Yeltsin years of diminishment by injecting `6,000 crore to keep the Sukhoi aircraft production plants afloat, for instance, without asking for sharing the intellectual property rights on the Su-30 MKI technologies developed with these monies—a big mistake. And, it was over-generous in working the Indian rupee debt with regard to the diving rouble. Russia is again in difficulty and in need of Indian financial support for that country’s economic bellwether energy sector.

The trouble is New Delhi seems uncertain about what it wants and how to play Putin without upsetting the Washington establishment—the external affairs ministry’s default condition. The MEA description of the strategic partnership with Russia as “special and privileged” was nice but couldn’t have tempered Moscow’s hurt feelings about India accommodating the West at its expense just when another Cold War is brewing.

Key Elements of the Counterterrorism Challenge

In Chapter 3 of Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings, Thomas Sanderson and contributors Joshua Russakis and Michael Barber address the key challenges for counterterrorism policy in the current environment. Efforts to counter the financing of terrorism today will have to disrupt local war economies, restrict trade in illicit goods, disrupt terrorist control of transport and communication nodes, and constrict and degrade foreign funding networks. The growth of the foreign fighter phenomenon in Syria and Iraq presents a dynamic threat to the United States, the West, and various countries around the world, and adaptive, multinational efforts to prevent this flow of fighters remain a top priority. In addition, today, U.S. military officials identify more terrorist and insurgent sanctuaries in the Middle East and North Africa than at any time since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Islamic State’s capture and control of key areas and resources across large parts of Syria and Iraq affords them a highly prized operational base in the heart of the Middle East. Yet, in each of the Islamic State’s advantages can be found a weakness that policymakers should seek to exploit. 

Pakistan-Afghanistan Reset: Will Taliban And Al Qaeda Follow? – Analysis

By D Suba Chandran

Following the visits of Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Chief of Army Staff and the ISI Chief to Kabul, and then of the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Islamabad – all in space of last two months, there seems to be a positive movement in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan in November 2014, and his meetings with Nawaz Sharif and Raheel Sharif have been reported as a big success by the local media.

There is optimism across the Durand Line that the bilateral relations are ready for a positive reset. And this is a welcome development.

But this positive development is likely to face a stiff challenge from the multiple Taliban factions and their supporters in Pakistan. The real question would be – whether the above two sections see the Pak-Afghan reset between Kabul, Islamabad and Rawalpindi as a part of their Endgame, or against their interests.
Afghan Taliban and the Pak-Afghan reset

After the bilateral visits identified above, there were two major suicide attacks in eastern Afghanistan. The first one in a play ground where the Afghans were watching a volley ball match, and the second one on a British embassy vehicle; both attacks killed more than 60 people together. The attacks signify that the multiple Taliban factions have their own agenda and may not be along the same lines on a Pak-Afghan reset. With the multiple Taliban factions well entrenched and having safe havens on both sides of the Durand Line, an Endgame not in sync with the State, efforts would be detrimental to the larger push and only undermine the regional stability.

None of the multiple Taliban factions – the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network and the TTP, have any successful dialogues with the governments in either Pakistan or Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban – led by the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network, until now have shown no signs of reaching any understanding with the government in Afghanistan.

Lines In The Water: US And China’s Claims In South China Sea – Analysis

By Felix K. Chang

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of State released a 26-page technical report on China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea. It detailed the confusion that surrounds those claims.

Starting with the unexplained differences between China’s claim lines on its 1947 and 2009 maps of the region, the report went on to identify “at least three different interpretations that China might intend, including that the dashes [on its maps] are (1) lines within which China claims sovereignty over the islands, along with the maritime zones those islands would generate under the [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea]; (2) national boundary lines; or (3) the limits of so-called historic maritime claims of varying types.”[1] (Together, those dashed lines are what observers have often referred to as China’s “nine-dash” or “U-shaped” line in the South China Sea.)

The confusion that surrounds China’s maritime claims is not new; and Beijing has been in no rush to clarify the picture. Indeed, putting China into a position where it had to clarify its claims and the legal basis for them was a main driver of why the Philippines brought its maritime dispute with China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in January 2013. But the report was the first time the United States formally laid out its view of the confusion in such great detail.

The Relentless Production of Shale Oil Is Breaking OPEC’s Neck

December 11, 2014

The world’s biggest oil companies faced ruin in the summer of 1931. Crude prices had plummeted. Wildcatters were selling oil from the bonanza East Texas field for a nickel a barrel, cheaper than a bowl of chili. On Aug. 17, Governor Ross Sterling declared a state of insurrection in four counties and sent 1,100 National Guard troops to shut down the fields and bring order to the market. A month later the Railroad Commission of Texas handed out strict production quotas.

That heavy-handed intervention in the free market was remarkable enough. Even more remarkable was who pulled it off. The person in charge of shutting down the wildcatters, National Guard Brigadier General Jacob Wolters, was the general counsel of Texas Co., an ancestor of Chevron (CVX). And the Texas governor who ordered Wolters in was a past president of Humble Oil and Refining, a forerunner ofExxonMobil (XOM). Big Oil played hardball in those days.

History is repeating itself, with a twist. The stressed-out giants of today are Saudi Arabia and its fellows in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The descendants of the 1930s wildcatters are today’s producers of oil from shale, who are driving down the world price of crude by flooding the market with millions of barrels of new oil each day. At $64 a barrel, Brent crude is down 44 percent since June. The twist is that today’s upstarts aren’t draining oil from neighbors’ plots, as happened in the 1930s. And OPEC can’t call in the National Guard against them. All it can do is gape at the falling price of crude and contemplate the destruction of their cartel at the hands of the Americans, whom they thought they had supplanted for good 40 years ago. Energy economist Philip Verleger says shale is to OPEC what the Apple II (AAPL) was to theIBM (IBM) mainframe.

Comparative Southeast Asian Military Modernization – 2

December 08,2014

Regional Leadership through Strength?: Indonesian Foreign and Security Policies in Southeast Asia

With the enthusiasm surrounding the election of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, some have again speculated as to whether Indonesia will become the regional leader in Southeast Asia. That was the central question behind Joseph Chinyong Liow’s “Can Indonesia Fulfill Its Aspirations to Regional Leadership?” in which he argues that those aspirations are unlikely to be fulfilled, especially if it continues to focus on the same sort of initiatives it pursued over the last decade—initiatives that were “long on ambition but short on substance.” Unable to explain how such grand ideas would work in practice, Indonesia garnered little support from its Southeast Asian neighbors. In the future, Liow contends, such initiatives would face even higher hurdles. They would have to overcome new obstacles created by changes in the strategic environment due to the intensification of rivalries between Asia’s major powers, like China and Japan.

Instead, Liow believes that Indonesia should channel its leadership ambitions in more concrete ways. He highlights successful contributions to regional stability and security when it has been engaged in “low-key, discrete efforts, including mediation, dialogue facilitation, and the exercise of its good offices.” While I concur with Liow’s pessimism regarding Indonesia’s ability to stake a claim to regional leadership through high-profile initiatives, I believe that Indonesia could emerge as a regional leader through yet another path.

Country Report: Japan (December 2014)

December 11,2014

As Abe stumbled in the fall of 2014, his defenders grew more aggressive. Initiatives to Russia, North Korea, and China faced one sort of problem or another. Even as Abe reactivated his pursuit of Putin, he was put in the awkward position in Brisbane of a G7 warning, which Japan could not avoid joining, against further Russian aggression, as Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine threatened to spark a larger war. The fact that North Korea was stalling on the abductions issue made Abe’s prior decision to lift some sanctions look more problematic. While Abe achieved his long-sought goal of a meeting with Xi Jinping during the APEC summit, Xi’s apparent disdain did not redound to Abe’s credit, as even Japanese sources wondered if the wording in a four-part statement did not signify acknowledgment that a territorial dispute exists. All of this preceded the dire news of renewed recession, even as the Abe-Obama plan to complete TPP negotiations was left in limbo, which outsiders blamed on failure to pursue the “third arrow” of economic reform. Oddly, conservatives focused their ire on South Korea, while also bemoaning lack of international understanding for Japan, i.e. the Obama administration’s mixture of Japan “passing” and renewed “gaiatsu.”

Overshadowing every other theme through the fall was what Sankei shimbuncalled the “history war.” It was fought against Asahi shimbun, accused of sullying the honor of Japan; against South Korea, seen as using history—notably the “comfort women” issue—for anti-Japan goals; and on the battlefronts of public opinion in the West, where Japanese saw their country opposed by a massive public relations campaign.

On October 12, Yomiuri shimbun carried an article from a member of its editorial board who had traveled to Brussels and Berlin and returned dismayed at European misunderstanding of Japan. Charging that European awareness that 80 percent of world economic development since 2000 had taken place in Asia was unduly focused on China rather than an understanding of Asia more broadly, it faulted the Europeans for: their views of Japan’s history textbooks, including those that did not mention the “comfort women” issue; reliance on information from China and South Korea biased toward Japan; misjudgments on who is at fault in the island dispute between China and Japan, accepting China’s view of the 1972 accord while blaming Japan’s move in 2012 rather than China’s in 1992 and its later maritime advance for altering the status quo; and failure to recognize Chinese expansion, i.e., imperialism. This article finds German media reports too negative on Japan and wrong to blame the confrontations in East Asia on Japan’s drift to the right. Calling on the government to expand its public relations efforts in Europe, especially in Germany, to counter the public relations from its neighbors that have created these misperceptions, Yomiuri confuses revisionist and realist challenges and ignores the deeper causes of Japan’s poor image in a continent steeped in honest reporting about the Second World War.

The Reactionary Visionary

DECEMBER 12, 2014 

Some politicians thrive on the campaign trail, and excel at rousing crowds. Others are more at home in smoke-filled rooms, striking legislative bargains away from the public eye. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s natural environment is the podium in a crowded hall, where he can lay out his vision in front of a politely rapt audience.

Abe’s vision is of a Japan transformed. Perhaps Abe’s clearest elucidation of this was a January 2007 speech to Japan’s parliament, the Diet, during his first stint as prime minister. “In order to realize ‘a beautiful country, Japan,’” he said, citing a slogan from his first term, “My mission is none other than to draw a new vision of a nation which can withstand the raging waves for the next 50 to 100 years to come.” Since returning to power in December 2012, Abe believes that nothing less than remaking Japan is imperative to overcome the crises the country faces. Abe wants a revolution in the Japanese state, society, and economy to enable it to remain a great power in Asia and the world, and to this end has implemented defense spending increases, lifted restrictions on Japan’s armed forces, spurred a radical experiment in monetary policy, and outlined structural reforms to revitalize industry and agriculture.

This is a grand vision — and one that would be difficult for even the most skilled politicians. It may be even more difficult given that the Japanese political system is especially full of veto players able to block change. Unfortunately, Abe is far more comfortable laying out his vision for Japan in 50 to 100 years than engaging in the wheeling and dealing necessary to translate his political vision into policy and law, or in the retail politics necessary to sell those policies to a mass public.

China Wins Again in Fight Against Dalai Lama

DECEMBER 12, 2014

Pope Francis is more than a religious leader — he’s also a politician. And that’s led him to controversially deny an audience to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.

During his still young and highly ambitious papacy, Francis has made it clear he would like to broaden his church’s appeal. That includes expanding the Roman Catholic Church’s reach in China, where the ruling Communist Party maintains and iron grip on spiritual life. Estimates put China’s Catholic population around 12 million. Some 5.3 million are said to practice their faith through the official, party-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

But the Patriotic Association refuses to recognize Vatican authority, denying the Holy See the power to appoint bishops in China. That bars the Vatican from its key place in Catholic spiritual life. As Francis tries to expand his church’s reach beyond the secular West and toward the more spiritually inclined populations of the developing world, China’s 1.35 billion people are an appealing target.

China at the UN

Written by Peter Ferdinand.
December 12, 2014

For China the UN represents the core institution in global governance – in 1997 Russia and China issued a joint declaration calling for a strengthened role for the UN in a new world order. In 2011 the BRICS states issued their Sanya Declaration after their annual summit in which they reiterated their “strong commitment to multilateral diplomacy with the United Nations playing the central role in dealing with global challenges and threats.”

Chinese objectives
In principle China wishes to see the UN increase in authority. It also calls for a more representative and ‘democratic’ UN, with greater participation in decision-making from outside the West. But it is more candid and open about general principles than on specific ways of achieving this. It is taciturn on possible expansion of the Security Council, as well as the claims of fellow BRICS members such as Brazil, India and South Africa to be included in it. The reason for this is that its motivation is conflicted. On the one hand, as a permanent member of the Security Council (SC) China enjoys the status and power that this confers – and it certainly wishes to see the rights and prerogatives of such members respected, if not enhanced. On the other hand, excluded as it was from the UN until 1971 and subjected to sanctions, its leaders remain wary about according the UN too much power to intervene in the internal affairs of member states. China remains very committed to the principle of the inviolability of the sovereignty of nation states.

Chinese diplomacy
In general China uses its position at the UN to substantiate its image as a responsible global power. So in the General Assembly (GA) it tends to promote solidarity with the developing world, whilst in the SC it tries to find common ground with the other permanent members. Thus overall it can seem to be playing a two-level game, generally quite skilfully, though critics allege, sometimes at the expense of consistency.

Xi’s Military Reform Plan: Accelerating Construction of a Strong PLA

December 5, 2014

Chinese President and Commander-in-Chief Xi Jinping’s military reform plan, announced at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee in November 2013, will take form over the next several years (see China Brief, November 20, 2013). The reforms, which appear to be the most significant taken in at least three decades, address several major issues requiring resolution before the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can achieve significant modernization objectives. These include overcoming vested interests and reaching a consensus on modernization goals that have slowed progress in the past; providing high level direction to synchronize the diverse components of military modernization, particularly standardization for C4ISR; and optimizing the force structure to meet the requirements of modern warfare. [1]

While a general consensus on the way forward seems to have been reached within the Central Military Commission (CMC) and apparently the PLA in general, it also appears that some details have not been finalized. The general consensus on some of the difficult issues has likely been achieved by President Xi through a combination of promotions, the anti-corruption campaign within the PLA, as well as appealing to the collective interest and Party loyalty to build a strong modern military over preserving the primacy of the ground forces. Remaining decisions, such as the structure of joint commands, need to be resolved expeditiously if the reforms are to take place over the next few years. However, the PLA needs to carefully approach important issues with far reaching consequences—such as joint operations commands, changes in the military region (MR) system and force structure changes to limit the disruption and reduction in combat effectiveness—and mitigate risks during the implementation phase (Xinhua, August 11; Chinamil.com, March 16; China Military Online, February 28).

Reporting in the Chinese press and PLA sources provides a general outline and areas of emphasis in Xi’s reforms. The plan reinforces ongoing reform priorities and attempts to succeed in areas that have been thwarted in the past. Some of the highlights with potentially significant consequences include an accelerated pace to modernization; the creation of peacetime joint commands to jump start the move to an integrated joint operations capability; an apparent increased emphasis on PLA Navy (PLAN) and Second Artillery Force (SAF) modernization; addressing problems of morale, corruption, attracting and training quality personnel; and overcoming a pervasive peacetime mentality.

A Blast from the Past in Grozny

DECEMBER 12, 2014 

On a recent afternoon, during a visit to Grozny, the capital city of Russia’s Chechen Republic, I walked with several local reporters down Putin Avenue, a street that was named after the Russian leader in the early years of this century, not long after the Kremlin’s armed forces succeeded in tamping down a long-simmering rebellion and installing a Moscow-friendly government.

The Chechen journalists and I were walking to a monument dedicated to “Journalists Who Died For Freedom Of Speech.” On it was written an inscription in Chechen: “Your words remain instead of you.” That’s a line that has considerable significance in a place where more than 20 reporters have been killed since December 1994, when Russian tanks under then-President Boris Yeltsin rolled into the republic to crush Chechen separatists. As recent events have demonstrated, though, the traumas of the two decades of conflict that subsequently ensued have yet to be laid to rest.

The path in the Park of Journalists was still covered with empty shell cartridges from the fighting on Dec. 4, when a dozen jihadist fightersattackedGrozny.

Why the oil price is falling

Dec 8th 2014

THE oil price has fallen by more than 40% since June, when it was $115 a barrel. It is now below $70. This comes after nearly five years of stability. At a meeting in Vienna on November 27th the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which controls nearly 40% of the world market, failed to reach agreement on production curbs, sending the price tumbling. Also hard hit are oil-exporting countries such as Russia (where the rouble has hit record lows), Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela. Why is the price of oil falling?

The oil price is partly determined by actual supply and demand, and partly by expectation. Demand for energy is closely related to economic activity. It also spikes in the winter in the northern hemisphere, and during summers in countries which use air conditioning. Supply can be affected by weather (which prevents tankers loading) and by geopolitical upsets. If producers think the price is staying high, they invest, which after a lag boosts supply. Similarly, low prices lead to an investment drought. OPEC’s decisions shape expectations: if it curbs supply sharply, it can send prices spiking. Saudi Arabia produces nearly 10m barrels a day—a third of the OPEC total.

Four things are now affecting the picture. Demand is low because of weak economic activity, increased efficiency, and a growing switch away from oil to other fuels. Second, turmoil in Iraq and Libya—two big oil producers with nearly 4m barrels a day combined—has not affected their output. The market is more sanguine about geopolitical risk. Thirdly, America has become the world’s largest oil producer. Though it does not export crude oil, it now imports much less, creating a lot of spare supply. Finally, the Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price. They could curb production sharply, but the main benefits would go to countries they detest such as Iran and Russia. Saudi Arabia can tolerate lower oil prices quite easily. It has $900 billion in reserves. Its own oil costs very little (around $5-6 per barrel) to get out of the ground.

The main effect of this is on the riskiest and most vulnerable bits of the oil industry. These include American frackers who have borrowed heavily on the expectation of continuing high prices. They also include Western oil companies with high-cost projects involving drilling in deep water or in the Arctic, or dealing with maturing and increasingly expensive fields such as the North Sea. But the greatest pain is in countries where the regimes are dependent on a high oil price to pay for costly foreign adventures and expensive social programmes. These include Russia (which is already hit by Western sanctions following its meddling in Ukraine) and Iran (which is paying to keep the Assad regime afloat in Syria). Optimists think economic pain may make these countries more amenable to international pressure. Pessimists fear that when cornered, they may lash out in desperation.

The Scared Widdle Kitty of ISIS


ISIS’s biggest English-speaking online cheerleader is unmasked and on the run. The real facts of his life seem totally pathetic. 

It’s a sad day for ISIS’ online fan clubs; if they weren’t scurrying into hiding, they’d be clicking their black flag avatars down to half-mast. The Twitter account of @ShamiWitness, the bravest jihadist to never actually join the jihad, was shut down after a reporter learned his real identity. 

ISIS’ top English-speaking PR man is an advertising executive living in India, Britain’s Channel 4 revealed. 

Shami, we hardly knew ye! All those bloodthirsty tweets and arcane exhortations and now we find out you were an advertising executive—an ad exec!—who liked “pizza dinners with friends, and Hawaiian parties at work” all along. Such dark comedy. 

Citing Shami’s own claim that “his life would be in danger if his true identity was made public” Channel 4 identified him only by his first name, Mehdi. It didn’t take long for a full name to surface online, but we’ll hold off on posting that until The Daily Beast can verify that the “Mehdi” in question is the man behind the @ShamiWitness Twitter account. 

His life could be in danger! Shami is scared. Not about encouraging aspiring butchers to live out their violent fantasies in Syria. That’s still fine. He just doesn’t want people to know that it’s him cheering on the murder. 

The Emirates Center and Gulf Think Tanks: The Next Twenty years

DEC 10, 2014 

Let me begin by congratulating the Emirates Center for so many accomplishments over the last 25 years. It has been a privilege to watch its growth, its sustained quality, and its steadily increasing influence.

I believe that the Emirates Center is a key demonstration of the fact that think tanks that seek to provide objective, fact-based analysis are a critical aspect of both modern governance and civil society.

Such think tanks provide an effective route to evolutionary change, provide effective outside policy initiatives for – and critiques of – governments. They provide the intellectual depth that far too much of modern media – and its focus on instant communication and analysis – lacks. They act as a common bridge of rational analysis that crosses regions, cultures, and faiths at time when far too many divisions are shaped by conspiracy theories, fear, prejudice, and anger.

What I would like to focus on today, however, is not what the Emirates Center and other regional think tanks have accomplished. It is rather the new and evolving challenges that the Center and other regional think tanks must meet in the future and on the increased support they will need from Gulf governments.

Let me stress that I am speaking for myself and not for CSIS, and that I have not worked for the US government for some 20 years. Having made that disclaimer, let me make it clear that while there is much to celebrate, that there is still much to be done

First, there is a need for objective, regional net assessments of the relative capabilities of Iran, GCC forces, and those of outside powers like the US, Britain, and France.

The goal should be to set priorities based on realistic assessments of the overall threat, current capabilities, and mission priorities. They should be based on hard numbers and facts. They should not rely on exaggerated estimates of either the threat or friendly capabilities, or fears of what Iran does not have and cannot execute, and conspiracy theories about neighboring states and outside allies.

Before the Beheadings

The author observes a class at the Haqqania madrassa, outside of Peshawar Pakistan, in 2000. (Laurent Van Der Stockt/Gamma-Rapho/Getty)

In the spring of 2000, I lived for a month in a Taliban madrasa, a religious seminary, located on the Grand Trunk Road outside of Peshawar, in Pakistan. The chancellor of the madrasa, a wrinkled, bearded, and often barefoot man named Samiul Haq, was said to be a confidante of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. I did not believe, when we first met, that he would agree to my presence in his school. I was open about my intentions: my goal was to write about the religious education of Pashtun boys who would soon be fighting on behalf of the Taliban, and by extension al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan.

It turned out that Haq was keen to have me understand the work of his madrasa. In our first meeting, he even made an attempt at bonding. “The problem is not between us Muslims and Christians,” he said. “The only enemy Islam and Christianity have is the Jews. It was the Jews who crucified Christ.”

In my travels, Palestinian terrorists generally understood the implication of my last name, as did many members of Hezbollah, the Shia extremist group. But Islamists in Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed less Semitically attuned.

Jihadism: Tracking a month of deadly attacks

11 December 2014

Jihadist attacks killed more than 5,000 people in just one month, an investigation by the BBC World Service and King's College London has found.

Civilians bore the brunt of the violence, with more than 2,000 killed in reported jihadist incidents during November 2014. Islamic State carried out the most attacks, adding to the spiralling death toll in Iraq and Syria. Explore the map to find out more.

The data gathered by the BBC found that 5,042 people were killed in 664 jihadist attacks across 14 countries - a daily average of 168 deaths, or seven every hour.

About 80% of the deaths came in just four countries - Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Afghanistan, according to the study of media and civil society reports.

Iraq was the most dangerous place to be, with 1,770 deaths in 233 attacks, ranging from shootings to suicide bombings.

EDITORIAL: IMF lays bare SA’s bleak prospects

DECEMBER 12 2014

WHETHER or not one agrees with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) annual evaluation of the economy, it does reflect the efforts of a well-resourced team of professional economists, so the technical work deserves be taken seriously.

And what the IMF technicians say about SA’s economic growth record, and its growth prospects, is more than a bit bleak.

We may think we didn’t come out of the financial crisis too badly. But, says the IMF, while several emerging markets are facing growth challenges, SA’s slowdown seems to be "more profound" than other emerging markets — and SA’s growth since 2010 is estimated to have been about two-thirds of a percentage point a year lower than expected, given its trading partners’ growth.

The IMF had already revised its growth forecast for this year down to 1.4%, which is in line with our Reserve Bank and Treasury revisions. The latest report revises next year’s forecast down too, from 2.3% to just 2.1%, assuming labour relations improve.

The medium-and longer-term expectations are, however, more sobering. IMF staff see growth improving in the next couple of years, thanks to slowly easing infrastructure constraints and stronger demand for our exports. But the 2.75% average they forecast in the period 2016 to 2019 is hardly shoot-the-lights-out stuff, and, as they note, not enough to lower unemployment significantly.

Worse still, the IMF’s estimate is that SA’s potential or trend growth rate — the rate the economy can sustain over the longer term — has declined from an average 3.5%-4% during the period 2000-08 to 2.25%-2.5% currently, mainly because productivity has fallen.

This is roughly in line with the revised estimate of about 2.5% which the Reserve Bank published recently, so no great surprise there. But it is worth noting that potential growth rates for most countries have been revised downwards in the wake of the financial crisis and the great recession.

Peace In Ukraine By Appeasing Putin? Refuting The Ill-Informed Proposal


Two Washington policy wonks propose an appeasement policy that would doom Ukraine and give Putin a huge victory over the West, while offering no tangible benefits. Their “win-win-win” policy is based on a fundamental lack of understanding of the Kremlin.

Two highly credentialed scholars—Michael O’Hanlon and Jeremy Shapiro—from the prestigious Brookings Institution, no less,propose in the Washington Post a “win-win-win” diplomatic solution to Russia’s War On Ukraine. They offer a “compromise” that concedes Crimea to Russia, deprives Ukraine of its sovereign choice of economic and security arrangements, refuses to arm Ukraine, and weakens NATO in return for Russian “promises” of good behavior. O’Hanlon and Shapiro admit that “many Western voices will view any such effort as rewarding Russia and Putin,” but their approach is “designed not as a reward but to protect Ukraine’ssecurity—and our own.” I agree their proposal rewards Putin, but I contend it weakens both our security and Ukraine’s.

I suspect that this article reflects the thinking of segments of Washington’s foreign policy establishment and of Berlin’s Putin Versteher community. Note that both authors specialize in international affairs with no apparent expertise on Russia orVladimir Putin. Fortunately, this “appease Putin” proposal drew immediate fire from a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a former staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose views I describe as I go through the elements of the O’Hanlon-Shapiro plan.

No arms for Ukraine

O’Hanlon and Shapiro: “Even with weapon deliveries, Ukraine’s army is no match for Russia’s….The most likely outcome is escalation of the military crisis and a dramatic increase in death and destruction in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian propaganda would continue to vilify the West and sow the seeds of future crises elsewhere in Russia’s neighborhood.”

CIA Should Come to Grips With the Lessons of the Past

December 12, 2014

ALL countries fail to live up to the ethical standards they set themselves; only a few have the moral purpose to examine their lapses in the public square. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the waterboarding, sleep-deprivation, insult-slapping and “rectal feeding” used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to interrogate prisoners were a betrayal of America’s values. By criticising the CIA’s programme in a report this week, the Senate intelligence committee has enraged the agency’s defenders and comforted America’s rivals. Yet, for all its flaws, this airing of the CIA’s tactics is vital, because it is a necessary step towards redemption. 

The report accuses the CIA of mismanaging the programme and of concealing its extent and its severity. The methods were dreamed up by two psychologists who were neither practised interrogators nor experts in al-Qaeda. And contrary to what the CIA told Congress, the White House and the public, interrogations produced hardly any useful intelligence. 

The rebuttal has been furious (see article). Yes, there was mismanagement, argue the spooks, but after September 11th the threat of another attack meant timely intelligence was vital. The CIA programme had legal approval and the public demanded protection by whatever means—this was a time when torture warrants were debated. Indeed, the CIA was not gung-ho enough for hawks like Dick Cheney, then vice-president. Most important, say the report’s critics, the programme produced intelligence of genuine value. 

The rebuttal misses the point. Even if the CIA’s techniques were deemed legal, they were designed to extract information using physical and mental anguish. To call that anything but torture is self-deception. Torture may well yield information, but it is a devil’s bargain. An official policy of torture corrupts the torturers and the people charged with overseeing it. Congress and the White House wanted to shield themselves from the cruelty of acts being committed in their name but which, in the atmosphere of the time, they could not or would not condemn. If the CIA misled members of Congress, it was partly because the politicians were willing. Everybody becomes implicated—even Democrats now sloughing off responsibility.