18 February 2015

Brightening the future with the sun and wind

Rahul Tongia
February 18, 2015 

POWER PROBLEM: "India's energy grid is weak and unstable. This is why concerns remain about handling renewable energy."

Renewables can play a greater role in a sustainable energy future, but proper accounting and specialised effort to understand their grid implications and scalability are necessary

The Renewable Energy (RE) Global Investor’s Meet inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 15 invited participation in funding India’s RE growth ambitions, which include almost 1,00,000 MW of growth in solar power in just seven years (about 40 per cent of today’s total installed capacity) and some 50,000 MW of wind power. This is bold and ambitious to say the least. The event was a success, finding investment commitments for some 2, 60,000 MW of RE!

But a serious question facing Indians is whether at a time when most people are struggling to keep the lights on at home, because of the shortage of power, do citizens really care about carbon emissions and climate change, which have become the primary rationale for pushing green energy? Also if Indians are as notoriously price-sensitive as pundits claim, how much of a premium will they be willing to pay for RE?

Let’s not beat around the bush — RE, attractive as it might sound and improving in price performance every year, does require support. Support isn’t inappropriate, especially given the benefits of RE, but there are also externalities of another kind including implications for the rest of the grid. This needs deeper analysis.

In the West, utilities are already worrying about the Utility Death Spiral, where RE and storage and smart grids mean some consumers reduce, if not cut off, their utility purchases. This raises costs for the rest of the grid, which must still keep the system in balance and stable, and also serve the least profitable consumers. This prompts others to exit the system, and so on. While India isn’t quite there yet, we must first understand that an end consumer opting for RE and finding it worthwhile is based on his/her comparing retail tariff with generation costs, which aren’t comparable. First, distribution has its own costs, even after accounting for savings in distribution losses. Second, retail tariffs for so-called paying customers (especially commercial and industrial) are artificially high, since they cross-subsidise other users.


Ashok K Mehta
18 February 2015

Afghanistan has become an open field for countries such as China, Pakistan, the US and even Russia to exert their influence in the building of that country’s post-Western troops’ withdrawal future

I met President Ashraf Ghani in Kathmandu at a seminar on the sidelines of the Saarc summit last November. He spoke passionately about how Afghanistan had changed and attributed the transformation to its youthful demography: The young are teaching the old. I stood up to ask a question on Afghanistan’s leaning towards China but dropped a brick in addressing him as President Karzai. Unfazed, and even before I could complete my apology, he said, “You are not the only one who confuses me with my predecessor. We are both bald!” While he admitted his new initiative towards China and Pakistan, there was little strategic mention of India. Earlier President Hamid Karzai was periodically dropping in on New Delhi, advancing arms lists, and his wife bore his third child in New Delhi. So great was his admiration for India that he called it a true friend.

Ever since US President Barack Obama declared his country’s war in Afghanistan as over, Afghanistan has all but disappeared from the radar and the threat of the Islamic State taken over. To fight the new war, Mr Obama has sought a three-year war authorisation from the House to intensify the battle against the IS. Though Afghanistan has completed two of its three transitions — political and security, with the economy stagnating — a two-year window of US residual commitment of 1,0800 Op Resolute Force and 2,000 Nato trainers is too small for establishing a sound foundation for the decade-long transformation. No one — Pakistan, India and especially China — wants the US to quit Afghanistan. A new President in the White House, especially a Republican might wish to finish the task of stabilisation in Afghanistan to better withstand the external assault on its sovereignty.

Keys to happiness - North India seems to be lagging behind the south in HDI

February 18 , 2015

Large federations have considerable variance among their component states. The southern states of the United States of America were largely poor, many people were deprived of the essentials of life; there were extremely poor white people but they could look down on black people; racial discrimination made the latter legally inferior. That has changed and migration from the north to the now prosperous southern states has increased.

Ashish Bose, the distinguished demographer, coined the acronym BIMARU in the 1980s to describe Indian states that were inferior on many counts of well-being compared to other states. BIMARU plays on the word " bimar" meaning sick. The BIMARU states were Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

A book by Samuel Paul and Kala Seetharam Sridhar, The Paradox of India's North-South Divide: Lessons from the States and the Regions (Sage, 2015), mines available data to establish the differences and the possible reasons for them. The book examines economic outcomes (production of goods and services, employment and standards of living); also public governance (the average tenure of chief ministers, police firings in the state) and socio-cultural differences (the rise of mass movements of the under-classes). Added to these quantitative parameters we need qualitative ones.

The United Nations Development Programme brought out the first human development index for its member countries in the early 1990s. They went beyond the growth of the gross domestic product to measure other indicators of well-being (like literacy, female literacy, child survival and so on). The National Council of Applied Economic Research in the early 1990s studied an all-India sample of over 30,000 households to establish these differences between states. The sample also gave extra representation to majority-minority religions in different states (for example, Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, or Christians in Kerala and so on).

North obsessed with Pakistan?

Baldev Singh
Feb 18 2015 

According to Union minister Kiren Rijiju, the northern part of India is obsessed with Pakistan due to historical reasons and it is overriding our attitude. “We don't need to bring in Pakistan in all dimensions”. His statement took me through two old memory lanes.

One, at the time of the 1965 war with Pakistan, I was pursuing my Ph.D. at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Those of us who are now around 70 remember that almost everyone in North India had contributed to the National Defence Fund either in cash or in the form of ornaments. After the war one of my colleagues went to his home town in South India. When he returned I asked him whether his parents had contributed to the war fund? He replied, “No, not a single person gave anything and when I asked my father why has he not contributed, he told me bluntly that this war was between the Punjabis of Pakistan and India. He further elaborated that the Punjabis are in the habit of quarrelling and creating problems for themselves and others.”

The other day when I shared the remarks of Mr Rijiju with a friend who has retired as a Major-General, he said, “Baldev, I narrate you my own experience. During the 1965 war I was posted in Poona and the people there were least bothered, they had night parties and celebrated Diwali and other festivals with usual gusto as if the country was not on war.”

Two, in 1995 my wife and I went to South India for sight-seeing. One day when we were praising the architecture of Meenakshi Temple of Madurai, a local gentleman asked me, “Sardar ji, do you have such magnificent temples in Punjab?” “No, we don't have,” I replied. He said again, “It confirms we South Indians’ general impression that the Punjabis by and large are not fond of fine arts like classical music, painting and architecture.”

No more a déjà vu, but a new war

Suba Chandran
February 18, 2015 

The ongoing sectarian war in Pakistan is different from its earlier avatars, and more difficult to combat

Three major sectarian attacks (in Rawalpindi, Punjab, earlier in January; in Shikarpur, Sindh, recently; and in Peshawar) after the horrific Peshawar attack in December in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa highlight the other war within Pakistan. Though there has always been a sectarian fault line within the country, what is happening today is much more lethal than the earlier violence witnessed primarily in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s.

There are at least five factors, which should make the ongoing sectarian war in Pakistan different from its earlier avatars, and more difficult to combat.

Geographic spread

First, the sheer geographic spread of the sectarian violence. Sectarian violence during the 1980s and 1990s was centred in a few districts of Punjab (in and around Jhang), select pockets of Karachi city, and in Khurram Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Today, incidents of sectarian violence cover the entire country. From attacks on the Shia pilgrims visiting Iran in Balochistan to bus passengers on the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan, and from Khyber and Khurram Agencies in FATA to the city of Karachi, the new sectarian war in Pakistan is not restricted to any one geographic region. The nature and extent of violence against the Hazara community in Balochistan is also a new phenomenon. In fact, Balochistan has always witnessed violence on separatism but never on a sectarian basis.

Intensity and violence

The second major difference in Pakistan’s sectarian war today is related to its intensity and violence. Today, militants use suicide bombing in mosques belonging to the Shia and Ahmadiyya communities; the extent of human and material damage is substantial today when compared to the past.

Egypt strikes back

February 18, 2015 

Egypt seems to have set its foot deep into the Islamic State (IS) quicksand. Since Monday, the Egyptian military has been carrying out raids on IS camps and weapon storage areas in northeast Libya. These attacks were in response to the brutal beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians kidnapped by militants claiming allegiance to IS. The tragic fact, by now obvious, is that Egypt’s military strikes are only a very partial solution to a continuously expanding IS threat. To make matters worse, these air strikes on Libyan soil would be seen as an assault on Libya’s sovereignty. About seven civilians, including four children, have been killed in these air strikes, which have damaged several residential areas in the city of Derna. Having a relatively stable base in Syria and Iraq, IS is now gradually carving out its presence in Libya. Libya has been in a political vacuum since the 2011 uprising which led to the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi. The revolution has since been undermined by political factions and rebels struggling for power. Egypt’s attack on Libyan soil will only add to the existing lawlessness of that state, giving IS a better opportunity to dig in and strengthen its presence there.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been leading an internal battle against political-religious groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, his largest opposition. But Mr. Sisi’s error lies in declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist group and equating it with more violent ones such as IS and al-Qaeda. His crackdown may even lead some local groups to pledge allegiance to the IS in order to resist Mr. Sisi. This is in fact a strategy that IS has been deploying to destabilise other states as well. Jordan, for instance, was similarly provoked recently into a military strike following hostage beheadings, magnified by IS’s use of carefully crafted visuals in the media. But King Abdullah’s commitment to “fight back” against IS was not echoed by Jordanian public opinion. To be clear, IS ultimately aims for greater territorial sovereignty and a Caliphate, maintaining a top-down model of power. But it is still through affiliations and decentralised networks with local groups, spread from Yemen to Libya and parts of Africa, that IS is attempting to gain political legitimacy. The recent “lone wolf” terror attacks in Sydney, Paris, Copenhagen and so on are also instances of groups having ideological affiliations to the IS brand. It is this decentralised and spectral nature of the enemy that may frustrate Egypt’s military strikes as well. But the crucial difference between IS and all the previous Jihadist groups is that IS will hope to exploit these decentralised networks to eventually strengthen its territorial, sovereign political order.

A Somalia on the Mediterranean

Vijay Prashad
February 18, 2015

In the cases of Muammar Qadhafi and Saddam Hussein, opportunities to allow them to surrender were squandered. It was as if the new dispensations in Iraq and Libya could be created from scratch. Rather than disappear, the older currents would reappear in ways unforeseen in western and Gulf Arab capitals

Libya’s “Islamic State” paraded 21 Egyptian workers along the Mediterranean. The IS fighters, dressed in black, then killed the Egyptians, dressed in orange jumpsuits. One of the IS men speaks, in English, of the beheadings in Syria before he says, “… we are on the south of Rome, on the land of Islam, Libya, sending another message.” It is a direct provocation to both the Egyptians and to the West. “The sea you’ve hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.” The braggadocio is familiar, as are the acts.

Within 24 hours, Egypt and the West responded as IS hoped. Three Egyptian jet fighters bombed eight targets in the eastern Libyan city of Derna, the hub of the “Islamic State.” Italy and France are eager to join in the intervention. Sources in the city say that some civilians (including four children) died in the Egyptian bombing, which also hit sites associated with the entrenched Islamist movement. Derna has been in the ledger of political Islam since the 1990s. That it is now in the claw of the IS should not be a surprise. Fighters from Derna have long gone to fight in the battlefields of modern jihad — Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Foreign fighters, such as the speaker in the video, have also been known to take refuge there. A pipeline drew fighters from Derna to northern Syria via Turkey, and then back home. This pipeline was well known to western, Gulf Arab and Turkish intelligence. They had allowed it to flourish. It is precisely the social consequences of that pipeline that worries the Europeans.

Adrenaline Shot: Modi Rejuvenates U.S.-Indian Relations

February 16, 2015
While the U.S. president performed admirably in front of the cameras, he was outshined by his Indian counterpart.

During his January trip to India, President Obama scored a small win for his legacy and a big win for the Indo-U.S. relationship. While the U.S. president performed admirably in front of the cameras, the most productive Indo-U.S. summit in a decade owes its success to someone else—India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Obama-Modi summit was buoyed by the usual pageantry and showmanship, but for once the substance matched the symbolism. It wasn’t just the usual litany of new partnerships on everything from Energy Smart Cities to Climate Resilience. The two sides took a considerable step toward breaking the gridlock on the long-frozen U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal. By creating an insurance pool for nuclear suppliers and greater clarity on domestic law, the Modi government may have found a way to circumvent unwieldy legislation passed by its predecessor that effectively froze U.S. companies out of the Indian market. Technical hurdles remain but Mr. Modi proved his ability to execute and reportedly leaned heavily on his cabinet to resolve a controversial priority issue for Washington.

US-India Civil Nuclear Deal - The Day After

By Monish Gulati 
February 16, 2015 

Abstract: The article evaluates the steps taken to resolve the logjam over the US–India Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2008 prior to the visit of US president to India in January 2015.

After US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in New Delhi on 25 January 2015, four key deliverables from the summit meeting were identified to be in the areas of nuclear energy, defence, climate change and the economy. However the centrepiece of the visit, as per analysts and commentators, was the breakthrough on the nuclear civilian deal which was proving to be a major impediment (and irritant) to cooperation between the two countries. The US–India Civil Nuclear Agreement or Indo-US nuclear deal basically allows India access to nuclear technology and fuel without giving up its nuclear weapons programme. This article examines some aspects of this deal.

The Breakthrough

At the joint press conference after his meeting Modi said in reference to the nuclear deal that “I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations." Some media reports on the other hand felt that the two leaders had “unveiled a deal aimed at unlocking billions of dollars in nuclear trade.” A more nuanced analysis would point to a state somewhere in between the two statements.

The two nations post their current agreement are indeed “moving” towards commercial cooperation on nuclear energy technology but what they have conclusively achieved at present is to move “ahead” of the 2008 civilian nuclear technology agreement in the government to government bilateral partnership and cooperation. The log-jammed 2008 agreement had become a symbol of US overreach to India on one end and India’s failure to match the effort on the other. Thus this strategic hold-back has been addressed (through political intervention) but the commercial potential of the deal is yet to be realised.

The road to the resolution of the log-jam passed through three rounds of dialogue (last of which was held in London recently) by a bilateral contact group, constituted after the visit by Modi to US in September 2014. The sticking points had been the US insistence on tracking of fissile material being used in the nuclear plants and liability of the nuclear equipments supplier of these nuclear plants in case of an accident.

Make in India: Challenges Before Defence Manufacturing

By S.N. Mishra
16 Feb , 2015

There is a distinctive buzz about Prime Minister Modi’s new campaign for “Make in India”. The thrust is to increase share of manufacturing from the current level of 15 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 25 per cent and create additional employment opportunity of ten million per year. This has led a few cynics to observe that, “There is a lot of sizzle but where is the steak?” Columnists such as Swaminathan Iyer are of the view that “Make in India” is only an outcome and not a policy while Governor of RBI Raghuram Rajan is of the view that the government is putting too much of thrust on export-led growth and should give primacy to “Make for India”. Discerning writers such as Debasis Basu however, feel that what is germane to the debate is the “cost of doing business” in India.

The defence services account for nearly Rs 2.29 lakh crore of the Central Government Budget…

Defence manufacturing came out of the stranglehold of Public Sector Undertakings-Ordnance Factories (PSU-OF) monopoly with major liberalisation in 2001 with 100 per cent private sector participation and the recently announced 49 per cent in Foreign Direct Investment. Policy footprints such as the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) 2013 have created a level playing field for the private sector. The Defence Production Policy 2011 aims at higher self reliance in critical technology and the Offsets Policy 2012 which seeks to leverage our big arms’ acquisition to bring in state-of-art technology, and long term partnership with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). The Self Reliance Index of our defence acquisition, however, remains at a wobbly 30 per cent despite spasmodic policy posturing to improve indigenisation.

Pakistan's Nuclear & Missile Weapons Programme

By RSN Singh
16 Feb , 2015
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources (1958-1962) and Foreign Minister of Pakistan (1963-1966), was a leading advocate for attainment of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan. Later Bhutto as Prime Minister brought the Atomic Energy Department under his direct control. He can be credited or blamed for giving Pakistan’s peaceful nuclear programme a weapon orientation.

Even Ayub Khan, a military dictator, was reluctant to the idea. In 1961, the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science & Technology (PINSTECH) was established at Rawalpindi. The country’s two nuclear research reactors i.e. Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor (PARR-1) and PARR-2, and a laboratory scale reprocessing plant are located within PINSTECH. The institution plays an important role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. In 1965, Pakistan signed an agreement with Canada for setting up of a nuclear power plant at Karachi, which was formerly inaugurated by Bhutto in November 1972.

In December 1976, Canada suspended all nuclear cooperation with Pakistan because of the latter’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and placing its nuclear facilities under international safeguards. Even Belgium refused to supply equipment like the neutron flux monitor for the Karachi plant. The Karachi reactor was on the verge of being shutdown due to non-availability of fuel. A contract was subsequently signed in 1972 with Canada for the construction of a fuel fabrication plant, which did not materialise due to the Canadian embargo on the transfer of equipment in 1974.

We Won the War in Afghanistan—And Then Lost It


Robert Grenier’s CIA diary ’88 Days to Kandahar’ recounts America’s errors in Afghanistan

Robert Grenier was the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s chief of station in Pakistan and Afghanistan on 9/11. In his new book 88 Days to Kandahar, he describes—in lively, clear prose—America’s two-month campaign to support Pashtun insurgents fighting to seize southern Afghanistan from the Taliban and, by extension, Al Qaeda.

It’s a quick, engaging and illuminating read—and not a little depressing, as Pashtun warlord Hamid Karzai’s victory over the politically and tactically inept talibs leads, almost inexorably, to Karzai’s own inept rule … and the Taliban’s resurgence, which in turn draws the United States into a protracted ground war.

“History, viewed in hindsight, takes on the trappings of inevitability,” Grenier writes. But in the present, it’s a chain of small battles, each seemingly critical in our effort to shape the world. Grenier’s account of the Pashtun campaign captures the urgency he, the Afghans and millions of Americans felt in the months following 9/11.
88 Days to Kandahar is easily one of the best war books in recent years. What follows are just a few of its revelations.

Grenier traces America’s problems in Afghanistan back to the “Pressler Amendment,” a 1985 U.S. law that mandated that the U.S. president annually certify that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons. When Pakistan got nukes and Washington finally started enforcing the Pressler Amendment, the United States abruptly cut off much of the aid on which Islamabad had come to depend during its long shadow war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Resentment among Pakistani leaders poisoned U.S.-Pakistani relations and helped drive the South Asian state—and indeed the whole subcontinent—toward religious extremism.

China’s 'One Belt, One Road' To Where?

By Lucio Blanco Pitlo III
February 17, 2015

Why do Beijing’s regional trade and transport plans worry so many people? 

The celebrated revival of the Silk Road would seem to herald the return of China’s charm offensive, winning over neighbors and other countries in the region through increased trade incentives and transport connectivity. If developing a sound soft power strategy is the mark of a rising world power, does this mean China is on its way? Certainly, in the wake of recent episodes of differences and disputes, the initiative should be seen as a welcome development. Nonetheless, some countries along the envisioned route remain wary and skeptical of the real intentions behind this offering, as well as the possible unfavorable conditions that may be attached to it. In addition, while Beijing tends to highlight its economic credentials, the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (hereinafter, SREB/MSR) has strategic, political and security implications that participating countries would also be advised to consider.

China lives in a tough neighborhood, sharing a long contiguous land border with Russia and India (with which it has unresolved land boundary disputes) and a common sea boundary with Japan (with which it has unresolved territorial and maritime disputes). As such, SREB/MSR could possibly be seen as a strategy to circumvent any encirclement or containment that a hostile power in concert with other states may undertake to harm China’s interests.

What Is China’s Way?

By Bob Lee
February 16, 2015

Michael Auslin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, recently wrote a commentarytitled “The Twilight of China’s Communist Party,” which was published in the Wall Street Journal. The author quoted “one of America’s most experienced China watchers” as saying “the CCP has entered its endgame” and added the claim that “No one contradicts his statement, instead there is general agreement.” This view actually touches upon a long-running discussion: Will China’s way of development lead to a dead end? Or will the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) re-invigorate itself by continuing to blaze the trail of modernization that began in the late 1970s?

Certainly China faces some big problems: CCP unity vs. factional divergences, economic miracles vs. widening wealth gap, social harmony vs. disruptive unrest. Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao once complained that ruling the Party was like sitting atop a volcano. More recently, dangerous cracks have begun to appear in the uppermost echelon of China’s political apparatus as President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive has become ever tougher. So far, 180,000 cadres have been “disciplined,” yet that is just the tip of an iceberg of rampant corruption that has made the CCP’s legitimacy more vulnerable. Cynicism is at an all-time high and morale in officialdom never been lower. Wealth is being transferred offshore, along with spouses and children – a desperate move by culpable party and government officials to avoid the clutches of anti-graft investigators.

Yet I firmly believe these shortcomings will not by themselves ring the death knell of the CCP nor trigger the collapse of the country’s so-called ‘’socialist system with Chinese characteristics.’’ My reasons are as follows.

By exploiting the advantages of capitalism to the utmost degree, China has for three consecutive decades had the fastest growing economy in the world. Its GDP is now that of Germany, Italy and France combined, and China is forecast to soon overtake the U. S. as the biggest economy in the world. Meanwhile, the renminbi has established itself as one of the three most widely used currencies for global payments.

The Proposed Defense Ministry Hotline Between China and South Korea

By Sukjoon Yoon
February 17, 2015
Is a hotline necessary, and can it be effective? 
The first bilateral defense ministry meeting between China and South Korea, held in Seoul on February 4, agreed on working-level consultations to establish a direct hotline between their defense ministries. Such a hotline could transform strategic crisis management between the two nations, but significant technical and other issues remain to be resolved. Still, this represents another diplomatic initiative between China and South Korea, as their relations continue to improve. Chinese defense minister General Chang Wanquan met with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, and agreed to begin work on setting up the hotline, although he also raised questions about the possible deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and about South Korea’s recent signing of an intelligence sharing accord with Japan and the U.S. Can the new hotline succeed? What is needed to make it work?

Is a Hotline Needed? 

Recent maritime developments in East Asia necessitate a new approach for effective crisis management: Communications must be improved between the militaries at an operational level, and also between the defense ministries. Over the last decade there have been frequent clashes between Chinese vessels fishing illegally and South Korean law enforcement units, and since China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea in November 2013, which includes the disputed submerged rock of Ieodo, there is now potential for conflict in the air. The two navies are also building up their underwater assets, with South Korea establishing its first Submarine Force Command in February 2015 to counter North Korea’s newly developed indigenous submarine class capable of launching ballistic missile.


Dennis J. Blasko
February 16, 2015

Corruption in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been the subject of great attention in the Chinese and international media for several years. The PLA, like the rest of the Chinese government and Communist Party, is currently engaged in an important battle to eliminate, or at least reduce, a wide range of corrupt activities that plague the nation and the military. Some observers see this as an existential fight to maintain the Party’s legitimacy and its leading role in the country.

But does the alleged “malignant morass of theft, bribery, extortion and mistrust” actually mean “China’s military offensive capabilities must be lower than many overseas strategists fear,” as some observers have speculated for years? While corruption may be “a matter of ’life and death for the Communist Party and the PLA,’ requiring a ‘do-or-die struggle,’” as the General Logistics Department political commissar Liu Yuan reportedly warned in 2012, what evidence exits to support such dire predictions about its impact on PLA operational capabilities?

Granted, graft and corruption undermine discipline and morale in any military and must be weeded out for the good of military forces in China and elsewhere. However, from the evidence available, the vast majority of corruption in the PLA is found within the political officer system (mostly involving promotions and assignments), the logistics and armaments systems (among those who handle official funds and property and are involved in the procurement of supplies and equipment), and potentially in low-level local headquarters responsible for conscription/recruitment (but likely involving relatively small sums of money). There is little indication that the PLA’s frontline operational leaders, those in command of the units tasked to do the fighting, have been smitten by the scourge of corruption to the degree that some rear area personnel have been.

Witness to the Bloodthirsty Siege of Mosul: Kurdish Troops Taking Selfies With ISIS Corpses

While the Kurds, Iraqi government forces and Shia militias focus on revenge and on outmaneuvering each other, Mosul remains in ISIS hands.

DAR BIZMAR, Iraq—Kurdish Peshmerga forces have closed in on Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which has been in the hands of the so-called Islamic State since June.

It’s been a hard-fought offensive that has flanked Mosul on three sides, but political paralysis and deep-seated sectarianism on the Iraqi side may well stall a battle to free this historic metropolis on the Tigris River from the bloody grip of ISIS.

The Peshmerga forces of northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government are reluctant to fight for a predominantly Arab city and, in fact, express little interest in preserving a united Iraq. On a military base 46 miles from Mosul, Gen. Sirwan Barzani is focused on using the war against ISIS to define the border of the Kurdish state in the country’s north.

The general is the nephew of Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani and an executive member of the politburo of his Kurdistan Democratic Party. He commands Peshmerga units stretching from Kirkuk up along the eastern side of the Mosul governorate.

On the one hand the Peshmerga general insists that Kurdish fighters are doing a service to the world by leading the charge against a group that’s committing atrocities daily, including the beheadings of American and British hostages, the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot and the mass executions of uncounted Iraqis and Syrians. Still, Gen. Barzani’s lack of interest in re-establishing a united Iraq and his skepticism about the need for his troops to retake Mosul is abundantly clear.


By Alessandro Bruno

In Yemen there is no longer a government or a president. On January 22, after the Houthi, (Zaydi Shiites) militiamen in the north besieged the presidential palace in Sana’a, both interim President (since 2012) Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and Prime Minister Khaled Bahah (of a caretaker government which secured parliamentary confidence in December 2014), resigned. Washington has closed its embassy and many other countries, Western and non, have done likewise. Four southern governors, including those from Aden and Abyan, which has been the epicenter of the US drone campaign against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have refused to resign, in solidarity with President Hadi. Houthi militias dispersed an impromptu pro-government demonstration days after the takeover; the occasion served as an opportunity for the Houthis to wield some power as they brandished weapons in the streets and made numerous arrests.

The Houthi religious-political-military movement was born in the eighties in the northern region of Saada under the leadership of Husayn al-Huthi (deceased), expressing a Zaydi (a Shiite sect which ruled the Imamate in northern Yemen until 1962) pushback against Sunni dominance in the country, which is supported by the central government and by Saudi funds. After the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, the Houthis have managed to take over control of a vast area thanks, in no small part, to the retreat of army units still loyal to Saleh. In doing so they defeated the Sunni militias linked to the Islah Party (which includes the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists). Meanwhile, Ansarullah, the Houthi political movement, was taking part in the ‘national dialogue’ process to re-draft the Constitution; therefore, the Houthis have managed to gain both military and political ground, not unlike Hezbollah did in Lebanon during the 1990s.

In Iran Nuclear Talks, Time Is on America's Side

A stalemate in the negotiations favors the United States and its allies, and these benefits accrue over time.

In recent days, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have obliged Senate Democrats in ruling out extending the Iran nuclear negotiations for a third time. This is a mistake. Although a comprehensive agreement remains optimal, a stalemate in the negotiations favors the United States and its allies, and these benefits accrue over time.

The interim accord the P5+1 and Iran signed in November 2013 strongly favored the United States and its negotiating partners. On the one hand, Iran agreed to suspend its entire nuclear program and roll back crucial elements of it. Specifically, Iran agreed to dilute about half of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium—which is close to weapons grade—to 5 percent levels. It agreed to convert the rest of this stockpile to oxide form for use as fuel assemblies in the Tehran Research Reactor, after which time it cannot be further enriched.

In addition, although the deal permits Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5 percent, the agreement forbids it from increasing its stockpile of this low-enriched uranium. In other words, the interim agreement freezes this element of Iran’s breakout capability in place. It also halts any meaningful construction on Iran’s heavy-water reactor, which would give Tehran another route to develop nuclear weapons. Most importantly, the interim accord gives international inspectors unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure Tehran’s compliance.

Islam and the West at War

Roger Cohen
FEB. 16, 2015

After a Danish movie director at a seminar on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” and a Danish Jew guarding a synagogue were shot dead in Copenhagen, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, uttered a familiar trope:

“We are not in the middle of a battle between Islam and the West. It’s not a battle between Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s a battle between values based on the freedom of the individual and a dark ideology.”

This statement — with its echoes of President Obama’s vague references to “violent extremists” uncoupled from the fundamentalist Islam to which said throat-cutting extremists pledge allegiance — scarcely stands up to scrutiny. It is empty talk.

Across a wide swath of territory, in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, the West has been or is at war, or near-war, with the Muslim world, in a failed bid to eradicate a metastasizing Islamist movement of murderous hatred toward Western civilization.

To call this movement, whose most potent recent manifestation is the Islamic State, a “dark ideology” is like calling Nazism a reaction to German humiliation in World War I: true but wholly inadequate. There is little point in Western politicians rehearsing lines about there being no battle between Islam and the West, when in all the above-mentioned countries tens of millions of Muslims, with much carnage as evidence, believe the contrary.

The Danish filmmaker Finn Norgaard was killed a little over a decade after another movie director, Theo van Gogh, was slain in Amsterdam for making a film critical of Islam’s treatment of women. The Islamists’ war is against freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, freedom of the press, freedom of blasphemy, sexual freedom — in short, core characteristics of democracies seen by the would-be rebuilders of the Caliphate as signs of Western debasement.

Some Questions for Those Pushing for US Troops Against ISIS

Keith Nightingale
February 16, 2015

Since ISIS has become prominent for a variety of issues - all bad, there has been a steady drumbeat for US boots on the ground to resolve the problems. These range from: 

Restoring land and people to the legitimate government of Iraq (GOI), 

Saving the Yazidi’s from destruction, 

Assisting our strong allies the Kurds in reclaiming their land, 

Saving hostages held by ISIS, 

Occupying Syria with a anti-government faction in ISIS-controlled territory of Syria, 

Killing/eliminating a brutish bunch of thugs. 

Several members of Congress have been particularly vocal in their call for boots on the ground intervention and they assisted the process by establishing a 10,000 man combat force as the suggested base incursion unit package. As intelligent, long term members of the Beltway Business Corporation, they neglected to identify the devil in the details which they undoubtedly already knew. Those pesky facts regarding Invasion 101 always create issues when the responsible decision-makers get together on the subject. Here are some of the basics on the issue provided as a cheat sheet/service for those clamoring for engagement. 

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Minsk

Lionel Beehner
February 16, 2015
Source Link

What is our red line in Ukraine? I can’t seem to find any mention of one in any of the president’s or his senior staff’s statements. Closest thing I could find was his former defense secretary telling Der Spiegel, “At some point, we are going to have to draw a line. Based on all kinds of historical lessons, it’s better to draw that line earlier rather than later.” That’s sound advice. So why isn’t anybody in the administration listening? All we keep hearing is that there is no military solution to the conflict.

Strangely, as a new military authorization on the use of force wends its way through Congress, we never hear that cliché come up. Nobody says about ISIS: “There is no military solution, only a political one.” They’d be toast, come negative ad time. We seem to treat terrorism as this existential threat that must be met with a military anvil. We don’t negotiate with terror. But strangely when it comes to threats posed by states like Russia, we turn into pools of jelly. Only a political solution can solve these crises. There is no military solution, we’re told time and again. Never mind the empirical data that calls this into question (negotiated settlements in stalemated civil wars, though more frequent than they once were, are still rare). Never mind the fact that we’re on our second Minsk agreement to supposedly arrest the fighting, when rebels in Luhansk are salivating to fight more. This policy of ours is puzzling. Why are we forbidden from negotiating with, say, Houthis in Yemen, but we treat Vladimir Putin, who has backed rebels in Ukraine that literally shot a passenger airliner out of the sky and went unpunished,as if he were the Queen of England. Isn’t that terror?

We approach groups like ISIS with a shoot-first policy of shock-and-awe. Yet, when it comes to Russia, we take off the gloves. We prefer “strategic patience” and incrementalism.

Beware, America: A Strong Dollar Could Cause Another Great Recession

February 17, 2015
Why a strong currency is a double-edged sword.

What will cause the next Great Recession? There are always threats to U.S. economic growth. Much of the time, the derailment comes from unanticipated events. But here are a few prospects to keep an eye on.

The China Slowdown and Debt Bust

China, currently growing at more than 7 percent annually, has a debt problem, and—increasingly—a growth problem. According to the Boston Consulting Group, the United States is becoming increasingly competitive with China. Astrengthening U.S. dollar alleviates some of this pressure, but not all of it. China’s renminbi has not fallen against the dollar, so little benefit has accrued to the Chinese economy.

China is attempting to pivot its economy from manufacturing and infrastructure to a higher proportion of internal consumption growth. The question is whether China can complete this transition without a significant blow to the global economy. The answer, unfortunately, is that this seems unlikely. China’s growth matters, because at its current growth rate, China’s economy will contribute more than $1 trillion to global GDP and about 30 percent of all global growth. Even if the Chinese economy is slowing, it is still a juggernaut.

If the Chinese economy were to take a hard landing, global economic growth would come to a standstill. U.S. trade partners Canada and Australia would struggle, and the feedback to the United States would be felt in everything from corporate earnings to employment to financial-system pressures. As the driver of much of the marginal global economic growth, China is particularly important for the incremental worker being hired and the incremental widget being sold. An economic slowdown in China would likely pull the United States into a recession.

If a Chinese debt crisis were to erupt, the direct financial linkages between China and the U.S. financial system would be minimal. But there are probably significant indirect linkages through Europe, and through the business credit extended by U.S. corporations to facilitate business growth. The U.S. housing crisis caused a contagion that spread to Europe from the United States. With China, a problem would flow through the European linkages to the United States. Financial markets would react negatively and safe-haven assets that are already trading at historic levels in much of the world would see even greater demand, potentially causing other asset prices to fall.

South Africa Scolds Japanese Author for Endorsing Apartheid

Ayaka Sono’s column praising the old racial segregation regime—and suggesting it as a model Japan should look at—provokes outrage and a response.

TOKYO — On February 11, a well-known author and former education advisor to Japan’s prime minister published a column in one of Japan’s largest newspapers praising the racial segregation in South Africa—apartheid—as a model for Japanese immigration policy.

In the last few days, the column by Ayako Sono, 83, has become a source of international scandal and embarrassment.

While the scandal was at first ignored by the mainstream Japanese press, on February 13, South Africa’s ambassador to Japan sent a letter of protest to theSankei Shimbun deploring the column and soundly scolding the newspaper, the author and Japan itself. The embassy also posted a copy of the letter, in Japanese and English, on its Facebook page on Monday evening. 
“Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It can never be justified in the 21st century.”

'No question at the moment' of Ukraine pulling back heavy weapons

by Staff Writers Kiev
Feb 16, 2015

Australian FM uses angry face to describe Putin in emoji interviewSydney (AFP) Feb 16, 2015 - Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has conducted what is reportedly the world's first political emoji interview, using an angry red face to describe Russia's Vladimir Putin and a running man to depict her boss Tony Abbott.

Buzzfeed, which on Thursday released a video with US President Barack Obama doing "things everyone does but doesn't talk about" such as posing in front of a mirror, interviewed Bishop by sending her text messages.

Bishop responded using only emojis, the ideograms used for various visual messages sent online, many of which are based on variations of a smiley face.

"The foreign minister accepted the challenge in the spirit in which it was offered to her," her spokeswoman said.

Asked about her prime minister, fitness fanatic Tony Abbott, Bishop replied with an image of a man running. For Abbott's potential leadership challenger, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, she offered a mobile phone.

For Russian President Putin, however, she came back with a fuming red face with angry eyes and a downturned mouth.

The foreign minister gave the relationship with long-standing ally the United States a thumbs up, a tick, and a broadly smiling face, and for China pretty much the same -- except the grinning face was wearing black sunglasses.

For Indonesia, where the impending execution of two Australian drug convicts could strain ties, Bishop offered a thumbs up and a tick for the relationship, but added a downcast face.

Ukraine rebels say no arms pull-back until 'full ceasefire'

by Staff WritersKiev 
Feb 16, 2015

Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine said Monday they will only start pulling back weapons from the frontline under a peace deal once there is a "full ceasefire".

"In accordance with the Minsk agreement, the withdrawal of military hardware can only happen under certain conditions and one of them is a full ceasefire," Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the defence ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic was quoted as saying by the rebels' official news agency.

Under a peace plan inked by the rebels and Kiev both sides were meant to start withdrawing heavy weaponry from the frontline no later than two days after the start of a truce that was meant to come into effect from 2200 GMT Saturday.

However fighting still persists around the key government-held town of Debaltseve and both sides accuse each other of continuing firing.

"If the Ukrainian army does not stop shooting and violating the Minsk agreement then the forces of the Donetsk People's Republic will not withdraw their arms," Basurin said.

The last-ditch peace deal signed in Minsk afer tortuous talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany was seen as the best hope of ending 10 months of conflict that has cost over 5,480 lives.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told AFP that there was "no question" at the moment of Ukraine withdrawing its heavy arms to create a buffer zone that was intended to stretch up to 140 kilometres (87 miles). 


By Hubertus Hoffmann*

The agreement in Minsk by Angela Merkel, Francois Holland and Petro Poroschenko with Vladimir Putin is a success of persistent diplomacy, with more agreements to be added soon to create durable peace in Ukraine and a reset of the damaged relations of Russia with the West.

After very long discussions over night they agreed in a Minsk 2 document on nine elements: 
Most important a new ceasefire commencing February 15. 
Heavy weapons to be pulled out from conflict zones, beginning on 
February 17 and completed in two weeks. 
All prisoners to be released. 
Amnesty for those involved in fighting. 
Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, weapons and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory. Disarmament of all illegal groups 
Ukraine to allow resumption of normal life in rebel areas, by lifting restrictions. 
Constitutional reform to enable decentralisation for rebel regions by the end of 2015. 
Ukraine to control border with Russia if conditions met by the end of 2015. 

Minsk 2 shows that peace and a reset of Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Western relations are still possible when both sides look for a compromise based on international law and best practices in Europe and agree not to change any border in Europe by force.

The ultra-nationalists on both sides will be disappointed, but we belief only in a broader political compromise is in the national interests of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the EU and the international community.

After several open and controversial talks since June 2014 with representatives from all sides, including Ukraine, Russia, the EU and member states, we put forward concrete proposals in October 2014 to solve the Ukraine crisis in a peaceful and responsible way in a White Paper Ukraine for broader discussions with inputs from all sides involved.

We believe that the current focus on the new Minsk 2 agreement is a too limited approach.

Needed is a ‘helicopter perspective’ with a grand political solution, including the Donbass, Crimea as well as NATO and EU-relations to Russia.

Although there will hardly be any swift progress and a lot of frustration, we have to give peace a chance and make it the absolute priority over the next months.

We have updated our five proposals to solve the crisis in a possible consensus in a new White Paper Ukraine. It has already been successfully achieved in Western Europe over the last 60 years, where cultural and border disputes have been mellowed by a peaceful referendum- and -reconciliation-approach:

1. A copy of the South Tyrol/Trentino Alto Adige Accord from 1971 for maximum autonomy in the Donbass region within Ukraine.