21 February 2015

Avoid the fast track to reform

By Apoorvanand, Ayesha Kidwai, Farida Khan, Janaki Nair, Romila Thapar and Satish Deshpande
February 21, 2015 

the manner in which the state is intervening in higher education is causing widespread concern.

With nearly 30 million students, India’s higher education sector is larger than the population of Australia. But what makes it notable today is the scale of the social revolution it is effecting. In the 21st century, China and India are enacting one of the most dramatic instances of the democratisation of higher education, as millions of families send a child to college for the first time. As teachers, we are mindful of being part of this momentous process. It’s also heartening to see the Indian state taking the initiative to enable the entry of hitherto excluded groups by making significant investments. However, the manner in which the state is intervening in higher education is causing widespread concern. A striking similarity between the unlamented UPA 2 regime and the current Narendra Modi government is their authoritarian impatience to introduce wholesale changes without careful preparation.

Some of the proposed changes include the introduction of a common syllabus for all Central universities, a common entrance test, faculty and student mobility, and credit transfers. A series of nationwide schemes — like Gian, Kushal and Swayam — are being planned, along with e-libraries, online courses and other technology-driven proposals. Some of the justifications offered are enhanced employability, skill development and seamless nationwide student mobility. The measures don’t address the most urgent problems and seem poised to repeat earlier mistakes. A common entrance test works well only for narrowly defined technical disciplines, such as engineering or medicine. It’s unlikely to work when disciplines and institutions cover a wide range and have divergent requirements.

If the proposed common curriculum is intended to address the uneven quality across institutions, it ignores the root cause, which is not the lack of “model” curricula but the ability to implement them. Diversity is not the enemy of quality, and high standards need not imply standardisation. Heeding historical and regional specificities is an imaginative alternative far more likely to succeed. While it may have many common features, “reform” need not, and should not, mean the same thing for universities in Varanasi and Vadodara or in Hampi and Hyderabad.

The great Game Folio: Defence Diplomacy

Written by C Raja Mohan 
February 21, 2015 

Addressing the gathering, Xi underlined the importance of military diplomacy in achieving Beijing’s larger national goals.

It is not easy to imagine that a president or prime minister would find time to meet the defence attaches posted in the country’s embassies abroad. But that precisely is what Chinese President Xi Jinping did three weeks ago. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) brought together all the military attaches and advisors posted abroad and defence officials at home engaged in foreign relations at the end of January for a pep talk from Xi.

Addressing the gathering, Xi underlined the importance of military diplomacy in achieving Beijing’s larger national goals. A more purposeful military diplomacy, Xi suggested, is a vital necessity to buttress China’s emergence as a great power in Asia and the world.

Although CCP leaders have always valued the role of the PLA in strengthening ties with friendly nations since the founding of the People’s Republic, military diplomacy has acquired much greater salience in China’s international relations in recent years. With a clear sense of its own changing international role, Beijing has stepped up defence exchanges, high-level policy dialogues, participation in multilateral defence forums, promotion of track-two defence dialogues, joint military exercises, training foreign militaries and arms exports.

For the CCP, defence diplomacy is about demonstrating Beijing’s new military capabilities, deterring its adversaries, countering the “China threat” narrative, winning friends among armed forces and civilian defence establishments around the world, building security partnerships, improving military intelligence gathering, acquiring sensitive strategic technologies, gaining operational experience in distant theatres, and strengthening the PLA’s combat capabilities by learning from others.

China has discarded the traditional emphasis on criticising the arms control agreements promoted by the Western powers and focuses instead on securing Beijing’s national interests by actively participating in international and regional military negotiations and shaping the international military norms.


Compare and contrast - Two leaders and their parties

Politics and Play - Ramachandra Guha

I visit Delhi half a dozen times a year. I was most recently there from February 5 to 11, to fulfil commitments made several months ago, these fortuitously coinciding with the casting and counting of votes in the Delhi elections. Naturally, all my conversations, with friends and strangers alike, were about their party preferences in the capital and beyond.

Much of the commentary on the Delhi elections of February, 2015, has framed it as a battle of Davidversus Goliath, these standing for Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi respectively. This reading is not altogether incorrect, for his party's propaganda and his own campaigning made it clear that Narendra Modi saw the contest in Delhi as extremely important. Even so, there remains a profound asymmetry between the prime minister of India and the chief minister of a Union Territory, which is not even a state. Moreover, in terms of what the Delhi election results portend for the future course of Indian politics, it may be more useful to frame it through an 'Arvind Kejriwal versus Rahul Gandhi' lens instead.

The contrast between these two men is often invoked by younger voters. When I asked two activists of the Aam Aadmi Party why they admired Kejriwal, they compared his career thus far with that of Rahul Gandhi. Both men were in their forties, but that was about the only thing they had in common.

Born in a middle-class home in a small town in Haryana, Arvind Kejriwal had studied diligently at school, and then passed one of the most fiercely competitive examinations in the world. Having graduated from an Indian Institute of Technology, a lucrative job in the corporate sector was his for the asking. He turned his back on the likes of Goldman Sachs and Hindustan Lever, and instead appeared for a public examination that equalled the IIT joint entrance in its competitiveness. This was the civil services test, where too he succeeded. This time, he took the job, but, after a decade, gave up the security and status that a Class I post in the Central government provides for the uncertain life of a social activist.

Rahul Gandhi's early trajectory was altogether different. He was born in the heart of Lutyens's Delhi, in the home of his grandmother, who was then the serving prime minister of India. When he was ready to go to university his own father was prime minister. He got admission to Delhi's most prestigious college, St. Stephen's, not principally on the basis of his high school grades, but via a certificate of his apparent skills in rifle-shooting. After a year, he dropped out of St. Stephen's, but was then admitted - again, through some amount of sifarish - in one of the world's top-ranking universities, Harvard. But he dropped out of this place, too, eventually graduating from Rollins College in Florida.

As a student, Arvind Kejriwal had created his own chances and seized them. Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, had been granted opportunities by his family background, and yet thrown them away. The pattern continued into later life. Kejriwal ran an NGO that directly addressed the problems of the poorer citizens of Delhi. His grassroots work won him a Magsaysay Award. His credibility established, he then threw himself into two wider campaigns, to bring about a right to information bill and to have the government appoint an anti-corruption ombudsman or lokpal.


S Rajagopalan
20 February 2015

At a summit aiming to beef up the battle against “violent extremism”, President Barack Obama has sought to reassure Muslims across the world that the United States is at war not with Islam, but with people who have perverted Islam.

At the same time, he called upon Muslim leaders to speak up very clearly against the “twisted ideologies” that the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda use to incite people to violence. “Just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilisations,” Obama said at the White House summit on Wednesday.

“Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims,” he said.

Obama, who had drawn flak from conservatives for refusing to frame the challenge as one posed by “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremists”, said outfits like ISIS and Al-Qaeda try to portray themselves as holy warriors in defence of Islam and propagate the notion that America, and the West in general, is at war with Islam.

“That’s how they recruit. That’s how they try to radicalize young people,” he said, adding: “We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie. Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.

They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists. And we are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” “No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism,” he said, noting that these terrorists “do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology”. 

Dealing with the challenge thrown by ISIS, which has been beheading and burning its captives in “unfathomable acts of cruelty,” Obama said the United States has marshalled its “full force” and is working with allies and partners to dismantle the terror outfits.

He, however, spoke of the complexities posed by an enemy that is not a traditional Army, and said: “This work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective. But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.”

Thanking Governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries, including India, that are attending the summit, Obama said nations across the world have to remain relentless in this fight. 

A thoughtful Obama

Return to frontpage

If taken at face value, President Barack Obama’s closing address to the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism could signal a repositioning of the official White House line on the war against global terrorism. The President’s speech was a carefully calibrated response to the recent wave of attacks by militants from the Islamic State (IS) in those countries that are part of the U.S.-led war in Syria and Iraq. Rather than the shrill notes of threat and retribution that usually attend U.S. policy rhetoric on the global war on terror, what the Summit heard from Mr. Obama were thoughtful insights into the human rights origins of terrorism. 

Speaking to a gathering of Ministers from nearly 70 countries, the UN Secretary-General and other senior officials, Mr. Obama made two significant points. First, he made an exceptionally strong plea to cut through the terrorist narrative based on “twisted interpretations of Islam” that allows groups like IS to act in the name of Islam. Secondly, he directed the attention of his audience to the need to transform the environments of economic impoverishment in which young people, trapped without education or any avenues of advancement, turn rich pickings for terrorist recruiters. “So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances,” he declared.

While Mr. Obama deserves credit for outlining a nuanced view of the social origins of terrorism, and a more humane, long-term and inclusive approach to a possible solution to extremism, it would be unrealistic to expect a radical shift in U.S. policy towards this phenomenon. Despite the softer rhetoric, the Obama administration’s response has been far sharper and intensive than what was viewed as the heavy-handedness of his predecessor in office in conducting its global war against terror. Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration launched more than 390 drone strikes in its first five years. 

This is eight times as many as were launched during the entire George W. Bush presidency. The bombing of IS bases by the U.S.-led coalition of nations in Syria and Iraq is part of the continuum of war set by the invasion of Iraq by the same forces in 2003. Fighting them today is a deadly and ruthless war machine operated by religious extremists. IS is a deadly menace to the civilised world, with its acts of public brutality designed to radiate terror. While the U.S. and its allies are compelled to root out this sinister challenge, the imperative is for the global community to move ahead on issues such as Palestine which could conceivably lend more moral force to anti-IS operations in the Middle East

WHO: Sharp decline in Ebola cases has now leveled off

Feb 21, 2015

A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou.

UNITED NATIONS: The steep decline in Ebola case numbers has leveled off over the past month and the development is a cause for concern, the official leading the World Health Organization's response to the outbreak said on Friday. 

Dr. Bruce Aylward told reporters "today is the first time we have the data to demonstrate this" flattening of the curve. 

The United Nations has said 10 times fewer people are being diagnosed with Ebola each week than in September. Over the past four weeks, however, the line of the graph has flattened out, with the rate around 120 to 150 new cases a week. 

"It's what keeps me up at night right now," Aylward said. "This is not what you want to see with Ebola." 

Health officials have expressed optimism in recent weeks that the tide seems to be turning in the fight against the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. The presidents of the three worst affected countries, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, this week said they hope to reduce the number of new cases to zero by April 15. 

But Aylward said that goal will be difficult to achieve. 

The steep decline in case numbers came about as health workers worked hard for months to ensure safe burials for the dead and treatment beds for the sick. Now, for the final push to zero, the focus must swing to finding cases and tracing the personal contacts of each person infected with Ebola. 

Aylward said these efforts are complicated by the "extraordinary measures" taken by people who do not want to be included on the contact list because of the stigma associated with the disease. 

“...committed to supporting the government’s vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub...”

20 Feb , 2015

How have the eight decades of Rolls Royce in India been?

Rolls-Royce 80 year’s association with India is marked with significant achievements. We started our association with the Indian aerospace sector in 1932 with our Gypsy engines on the first Tata Aviation aircraft. Then in 1933, Indian Air Force took to the skies powered by Rolls-Royce Bristol Jupiter engines. Over the years, we have played a vital role in the development and transformation of India’s indigenous aerospace industry.

…interesting in exploring India as a hub for Rolls-Royce defence engineering, manufacturing and export, which will not only create jobs but also supports India to achieve strategic self-reliance.

In 2013, International Aerospace Manufacturing Private Limited (IAMPL), a 50:50 JV with HAL, became operational in Bengaluru. IAMPL manufactures engine parts (compressor shrouds and cones) for Rolls-Royce gas turbines both for new production and the aftermarket. The IAMPL facility is now at full production employing over 140 people and will produce 25,000 aerospace parts for Rolls-Royce in 2015 across a wide range of engine programs including for the Trent XWB.This new facility represents another commitment to the long-standing partnership with HAL and the future of Indian aerospace industry.

Today, we have over 500 employees in India and 1000 engineers in the country who work through outsourced agreements with QuEST and TCS in Bengaluru. We see India as a key market for Rolls-Royce as the country focuses on upgrading its defence and civil aerospace capabilities. As India gets ready to move on its growth path, we will continue to support the country with our powerful portfolio of products and services and the right combination of experience and advanced technologies.

Debt Strangles Pakistan’s Naval Ambitions

February 19, 2015

In October, Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif walked with a throng of cadets through the sprawling campus of the Navy War College in Lahore to inaugurate a new facility. “I feel proud to have learnt that Pakistan Navy is constructing indigenous large warships,” Sharif told a group of students. “The emphasis should remain on indigenous construction and joint ventures through transfer of technology.”

With Pakistan’s lone shipyard in Karachi now fully operational, the Pakistan Navy is getting its sea legs in producing defense equipment, having built two tugboats in early 2013. Sharif has lofty hopes that the defense sector of Pakistan will soon churn out warships big and small, from frigates to corvettes. For years, Pakistan has talked of a major naval modernization campaign. Can Islamabad actually make it happen?

It’s not likely, at least for now. Financial trouble has sidetracked modernization for over a decade. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s $24 billion strategy to revamp the entire military, known as the Armed Forces Development 2025 plan, was shelved when Islamabad agreed to a strict bailout from the International Monetary Fund in 2008. Strapped for cash, the navy was forced to abandon its submarine acquisition, corvette and frigate programs. “By 2015, they were supposed to have fifteen frigate-class vessels, and six or seven submarines,” says Haris Khan, a Senior Analyst at PakDef Military Consortium, a Tampa-based think tank. When Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah assumed command of the navy, around the time of Sharif’s visit to Lahore, Pakistan had just received six new Yuan-class submarines from China, but maintained just ten frigates.

Pakistan’s defense ministry, where misappropriation of manpower and resources run rampant, bears part of the blame. Even though Pakistan boasts the seventh-largest military in the world, the navy subsisted on just $725 million last year, less than a third the cost of a single American destroyer. “When something comes up, it is left to the chief of the armed forces to do the business of procurement,” Khan says. Sharif not only holds the portfolio of prime minister, but is deeply involved in crafting the agenda of the ministry of defense. “If you’re holding that many portfolios, nothing happens.”

A War Like No Other: Israel vs. Hezbollah in 2015

January 29, 2015

Current expectations that the two sides can manage escalation may not hold true, and a new war would be more intense and destructive than in 2006.

On January 27, Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers in retaliation for the January 18 airstrike against its operatives in Syria, raising the potential for serious conflict to its highest level since the 2006 war. Although both sides are signaling that they are not interested in further escalation at the moment, future exchanges could rapidly devolve into all-out fighting. Furthermore, it is unclear whether Iran -- which lost a prominent general in last week's Israeli strike -- views Hezbollah's response as adequate, and it may yet prod the group toward further action.

Over the past few years, Israel and Hezbollah have both worked to improve their capabilities for the kind of war they expect to fight. And Syria's civil war has changed the strategic landscape greatly.

For its part, Hezbollah has massively expanded the size and range of its rocket and missile inventory. In 2006, it went to war with some 13,000 short- and medium-range rockets, allowing it to strike targets throughout northern Israel. Today it could have over 100,000 rockets and missiles, including a number of long-range systems as well as systems with improved accuracy, allowing it to strike throughout Israel and with increased precision.

Hezbollah is also believed to have made other improvements in its capabilities, including air defense and coastal defense, with systems acquired from or through Syria. It has very likely deepened and improved its antiarmor capabilities with additional antitank weapons. And it has improved its defensive layout in southern Lebanon, deeply embedding its offensive and defensive forces in various towns. In addition, the group claims to have developed a capability to undertake offensive ground operations into Israel. According to the director of production for Israeli military intelligence, Hezbollah forces may well penetrate the border and fight within northern Israel in the event of another war.

In Southeast Asia, Cheap Oil Is a Double-Edged Sword

February 18, 2015 

Falling oil prices have hurt America’s enemies and helped revive a flagging global economy. But while broadly beneficial for Southeast Asia and beyond, cheap gas is not without its problems for the region’s emerging economies.

Oil prices have hit six-year lows this year at around $44 a barrel, with predictions from some analysts of a plunge to $20 amid lingering oversupply and weak demand. On February 10, Brent crude was trading at around $56 compared to its $115 level in June 2014, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) warning that “downward market pressures may not have run their course just yet .”

"It's the battle of the oil outlooks playing out here," John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC, told Reuters. "The IEA report is a good reminder that there's still a lot of supply to come and it doesn't give much hope for the bulls who say we've hit bottom and are now on the way up."

In a December 2014 report, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said declining oil prices provided a “golden opportunity for many beneficial reforms.” Despite revising down its 2015 economic growth forecast for Southeast Asia to 5.1 from 5.3 percent, it noted the potential for an “upside surprise” given that most Asian economies are net oil importers.

“Falling global oil prices present a golden opportunity for importers like Indonesia and India to reform their costly fuel subsidy programs,” ADB chief economist Shang-Jin Wei said. “On the other hand, oil exporters can seize the opportunity to develop their manufacturing sectors as low commodity prices tend to make their real exchange rates more competitive.”

According to the Manila-based ADB, low oil prices could add 0.5 percentage points of growth this year for developing Asia, even at a forecast average Brent crude price of around $70 a barrel. The bank expects regional inflation to decline, falling to an estimated 3.5 percent in 2015, also helping to improve trade balances.

China, Pakistan, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation

February 16, 2015

China’s confirmation that it is involved in at least six nuclear power projects in Pakistan underscores long-standing concerns over both the manner in which both China and Pakistan have gone about engaging in nuclear commerce and the lack of transparency around China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation in general. The guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 48-nation body that regulates the export of civilian nuclear technology, prohibit the export of such technology to states, like Pakistan, that have not adopted full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. Yet over the last decade, China has accelerated nuclear commerce with Pakistan while contending that its actions are in compliance with NSG guidelines, an argument that is not entirely convincing.

Today, China is not only a violator of global nuclear non-proliferation norms, but also presents the most convincing evidence of the non-proliferation regime’s ineffectiveness. The pattern of its behavior on the nuclear front as it relates to Pakistan goes well beyond the scope of what may be construed as the state’s legitimate ambition to be a leader in the supply of civilian nuclear technology.

Some writers blame the 2005 U.S.-India nuclear agreement as having been a catalyst to China-Pakistan nuclear cooperation. But this is a false proposition, since China’s nuclear relationship with Pakistan, both military and civilian, precedes the U.S.-India nuclear deal by decades. Moreover, while the U.S.-India agreement was aimed at bringing India into the mainstream of nuclear commerce and global nonproliferation efforts, the China-Pakistan relationship is designed to operate effectively outside of the mainstream.

China’s post-2014 Afghanistan strategy

by Daveed Gartenstein Ross

China’s approach to violent non-state actors is unlikely to make India or the United States happy.

As the United States draws down its combat troops from Afghanistan, other countries have stepped to the fore to assert their interests. Other than Pakistan, whose meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs predates even the Afghan-Soviet war, China will likely prove to be the most important country in shaping Afghanistan’s future. China’s policies over the past few years have been seen as beneficial—its commercial interests have given China an interest in seeing stability in the country. But after the drawdown is complete, the differing approach that the United States, India, and China have toward Afghanistan’s various violent non-state actors (VNSAs) is likely to produce tensions.

China has certainly signaled that it intends to be more active in Afghanistan as coalition forces become scarcer. Near the end of 2012, Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang paid a visit to Afghanistan, the first time since 1966 that a Politburo-level Chinese official set foot in the country. Underscoring the likelihood of growing Chinese involvement, Zhao Huasheng, director of the Center for Russia and Central Asia Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University, has noted that both the international community and Afghanistan “will generally expect China to assume a larger role in Afghanistan and participate more proactively.”

China perceives two major sets of interests in Afghanistan: exploiting the commercial investments it has made, and preventing Uighur militants (the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, or ETIM) from finding safe haven in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden, the ISI and the USA

The ISI might have known about bin Laden. What did the United States know?

For the first time, a person close enough to the Pakistani military establishment—and often its unofficial mouthpiece—has suggested that the ISI might have known about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, and might have traded him in for US concessions in Afghanistan. Asad Durrani, retired ISI chief and regular television talking-head, said this in an interview to Al Jazeera at Oxford recently.

“I cannot say exactly what happened but my assessment […] was it is quite possible that they [the ISI] did not know but it was more probable that they did. And the idea was that at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been, when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.

He asserted that Bin Laden was, in his opinion, handed over in exchange for an agreement on “how to bring the Afghan problem to an end”. Asked by Hasan whether Bin Laden’s compound was an ISI safe house, Durrani responded:

“If ISI was doing that, than I would say they were doing a good job. And if they revealed his location, they again probably did what was required to be done.”

This is exactly what The Acorn had argued in May 2011.

His death also means that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex gave him up. This will allow Barack Obama to declare victory and pull US troops out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani army can then orchestrate an post-US dispensation wherein its proxies first share power with the Karzai regime. And then, sometime in the near future, take over power. 

In an INILive discussion analysing the possibilities around bin Laden’s killing, I had argued that the most likely explanation was that:

The Pakistani military leadership was on board. In fact, they might have given up Osama as it suits their interests at this time. President Obama can declare victory and pull US troops out of Afghanistan. The Americans will have to rely on Pakistan to ensure that the withdrawal is bloodless during an election year in the United States.

ISIS Is Not a Terrorist Group Why Counterterrorism Won’t Stop the Latest Jihadist Threat

By Audrey Kurth Cronin  
March/April 2015

After 9/11, many within the U.S. national security establishment worried that, following decades of preparation for confronting conventional enemies, Washington was unready for the challenge posed by an unconventional adversary such as al Qaeda. So over the next decade, the United States built an elaborate bureaucratic structure to fight the jihadist organization, adapting its military and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies to the tasks of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. 

Now, however, a different group, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which also calls itself the Islamic State, has supplanted al Qaeda as the jihadist threat of greatest concern. ISIS’ ideology, rhetoric, and long-term goals are similar to al Qaeda’s, and the two groups were once formally allied. So many observers assume that the current challenge is simply to refocus Washington’s now-formidable counterterrorism apparatus on a new target. 

But ISIS is not al Qaeda. It is not an outgrowth or a part of the older radical Islamist organization, nor does it represent the next phase in its evolution. Although al Qaeda remains dangerous—especially its affiliates in North Africa and Yemen—ISIS is its successor. ISIS represents the post–al Qaeda jihadist threat. 

In a nationally televised speech last September explaining his plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, U.S. President Barack Obama drew a straight line between the group and al Qaeda and claimed that ISIS is “a terrorist organization, pure and simple.” This was mistaken; ISIS hardly fits that description, and indeed, although it uses terrorism as a tactic, it is not really a terrorist organization at all. Terrorist networks, such as al Qaeda, generally have only dozens or hundreds of members, attack civilians, do not hold territory, and cannot directly confront military forces. ISIS, on the other hand, boasts some 30,000 fighters, holds territory in both Iraq and Syria, maintains extensive military capabilities, controls lines of communication, commands infrastructure, funds itself, and engages in sophisticated military operations. If ISIS is purely and simply anything, it is a pseudo-state led by a conventional army. And that is why the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies that greatly diminished the threat from al Qaeda will not work against ISIS. 

Americans Have To Die On Battlefield To Destroy ISIS – U.S. Military Strategist

Lieutenant-Colonel John Nagl
February 17, 2015 
Source Link,  Download video (221.57 MB)

Islamic State is a threat that puts the whole world in danger – and questions arise as to how peril of such a scale ever came to exist. Now, the US and its allies are trying to put an end to this entity, but are the airstrikes really effective? Is a ground war inevitable? And what it would cost to stop the blood flowing in the Middle East? We ask these questions to a prominent military strategist. Counterinsurgency expert Lieutenant-Colonel John Nagl is on Sophie&Co.

Sophie Shevardnadze:Counterinsurgency expert, Lieutenant-Colonel John Nagl, welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us. Now, you believe, invading Iraq in 2003 was a mistake – and now we’re seeing U.S. troops back on the ground, aiding the Iraqi military in the fight against ISIS. Is it a mistake, or a necessary measure?

JN: No, sadly, this re-invasion of Iraq in 2015 is necessary. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 I think was not just a mistake, but perhaps a biggest mistake the U.S. has ever made in foreign policy. It’s a four trillion dollar mistake, it caused enormous damage in the region, to the people of Iraq and certainly to my army and very-very many of my friends. So, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a disaster, a fiasco, unnecessary and poorly conducted. We played the endgame very-very badly and that failure of American foreign policy in 2011 necessitates today America returning to Iraq in force.

SS: Now, President Obama asked Congress for official authorization to use military force against IS, and that would give them flexibility and allow combat operations in limited circumstances. Is President mulling something serious if he needs Congress approval?

JN: Certainly, the use of force is always very serious business, I would prefer him to ask Congress for even more authority rather than less. So, we’re currently operating in Syria, we’ve had American troops back on the ground there for 5 months in a combat role, we are operating under more than 10-year old authorization to invade Iraq in 2003, and I think the decision to go to Congress for approval and for support is long overdue. Unfortunately, I believe the request downplays the significance of the action that’s being contemplated, put unnecessary limitations on the use of American power in the region and makes success in the fight against ISIS more difficult and likely to take longer than it is necessarily the case.

SS: Now, let’s rewind a little bit – you personally helped end the Iraq campaign by reminding the U.S. army of counterinsurgency lessons learned in Vietnam. The U.S. army left in 2011, so why are we seeing this chaos today?

The problem is preternatural tribalism, more than Islamic extremism — a reiteration

February 6, 2015

For years I’ve tried to make the point that jihadi terrorism reflects extreme tribalism, even more than it expresses religious extremism. The point extends from TIMN.

My major effort to call attention to this point was in my paper on In Search Of How Societies Work: Tribes — The First And Forever Form (2007), including via prior op-eds reprinted in its Appendix. Later I tried anew by supporting Steven Pressfield’s efforts at his blog to promote Major Jim Gant’s ideas in his paper One Tribe at a Time: A Strategy for Success in Afghanistan (2009). I also brought the point up occasionally in posts here at my blog.

All to such little effect that several years have passed since I last tried to make the point again. Mostly, I’ve just stewed in discouragement.

Lately, however, happenstance at two blogs I follow provided occasions to offer interim reiterations. This post logs my comments from those occasions. 

The first occasion was a post by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation on “Why Islamists Beat Liberals in the Middle East” at the War on the Rocks blog, August 27, 2014. It observed that Islamism is “an attractive ideology that will almost inevitably supersede the appeal of its secular, liberal rivals.” Moreover, it claimed that “What the Middle East needs right now is a secular force that dreams a secular dream.” This analysis appeared to make sense, but like so many such analyses, it was mostly about Islamism as an expression of religious extremism — the kind of analysis that I now find dulling and discouraging. 

So I left a somewhat contrary comment, as follows:

“I constantly read that countering Islamism is the key/top problem. But there are reasons to think otherwise; so let me suggest a different angle, based on a view about social evolution.

“Extreme Islamism has much in common with extreme tribalism. In many regards, religious extremism is an overlay atop a deeper dynamic: extreme tribalism. This has been the case for all sorts of religious extremisms across the ages. Thus, countering tribalism — tribalized mindsets — may be more key than countering Islamism.

The Long Arm of Iranian Terror

Toby Dershowitz 
February 19, 2015

In recent weeks, an Iranian diplomat based in Uruguay hurriedly left the country after suspicions that he was involved in nefarious activities, purportedly involving a plan to bomb the Embassy of Israel in Montevideo, the nation’s capital. Reports differ as to whether he was formally expelled or fled just in time.

But questions are being asked: Is Iran testing the resolve of America and its allies in the midst of its nuclear negotiations with the P5+1?

The episode comes on the heels of the suspicious death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.Five Interpol red notices – similar to arrest warrants – remain in effect for five Iranian officials implicated in the attack, including Mohsen Rabbani, cultural attaché at Iran’s Embassy in Argentina at the time. Nisman’s investigation found that Iran uses its embassies to gather intelligence and as bases from which to develop sleeper cells as it “exports its revolution.”

In Montevideo, there were two related incidents: On January 8, an explosive device was found adjacent to the new Embassy of Israel. And, some six weeks earlier, a suspicious suitcase was found near the former Israeli embassy there. The Uruguayan Foreign Ministry reportedly summoned Tehran’s ambassador, asking him why an Iranian diplomat, reported to be Ahmed Sabatgold, was seen parked in the vicinity of the suspicious suitcase.

Uruguayan officials said the coincidence of the presence of the Iranian official just a few dozen meters from the suitcase was unacceptable and warned that Uruguay would adopt “more severe measures should similar circumstances arise in the future.”

Harnessing the power of shifting global flows

February 2015 

Here’s what countries and executives need to know to benefit from the next—and markedly different—wave of globalization.

There has been a steady drumbeat of reports in the press and elsewhere that the heyday of globalization is over.1 Since the financial crisis, growth in global trade volumes has slowed. Global financial flows are hanging at levels almost 70 percent below their peak.2 Meanwhile, rising wages in China and shifting energy dynamics have challenged lengthy global supply chains.3

These crosscurrents are real, but our research suggests that they won’t undermine globalization’s long-term trajectory.4 Cross-border flows of goods, services, finance, people, data, and communication will expand in all plausible scenarios during the years ahead (Exhibit 1). What is changing dramatically is the mix of flows. Their networks and structures are evolving rapidly and will be radically different from those of the past.

Global flows of goods, services, and finance reached nearly $26 trillion in 2012 and could triple by 2025. 

Ukrainian Military Suffered Major Losses at Battle of Debaltseve

Andrew E. Kramer and David M. Herszenhorn
February 19, 2015

ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine — Ukrainian soldiers were forced to fight their way out of the embattled town of Debaltseve in the early hours of Wednesday, casting further doubt on the credibility of a days-old cease-fire and eroding the promise of ending a war in Europe that has killed more than 5,000 people.

It was unclear Wednesday how many of the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers trapped in the eastern Ukrainian town had survived the hellish retreat under enemy fire and avoided capture. President Petro O. Poroshenko put the figure at 80 percent, but since the Ukrainian military has never commented on its troop strength, the final accounting may never be known.

By midday on Wednesday, as limping and exhausted soldiers began showing up in Ukraine-held territory, it became clear that the Ukrainian forces had suffered major losses, both in equipment and human life.

“Many trucks left, and only a few arrived,” said one soldier, who offered only his rank, sergeant, and first name, Volodomyr, as he knelt on the sidewalk smoking. “A third of us made it, at most.”The political fallout was as uncertain as the military situation. Mr. Poroshenko sought to cast the retreat in a positive light, saying in a televised statement that he had ordered the troops out of Debaltseve, a strategic transportation hub where intense fighting raged in recent days despite a cease-fire agreement signed last week in Minsk, Belarus.

Yet, his decision to fight for several days before retreating, and his earlier refusal to hand over the town during the cease-fire talks even when a Ukrainian defeat seemed inevitable, could prove contentious in Ukraine as the scale of the potential slaughter comes into focus.

“It was clear they couldn’t get a deal on Debaltseve,” Samuel Charap, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said of the Minsk talks. “The question then becomes: What the hell was Poroshenko thinking?”

Russia's war in Ukraine: Is Minsk the end, or just the start?

Ian Bond,
13 February 2015 

There is no doubt who gained most from the deal reached in Minsk on February 12th to end the conflict in Ukraine: Russian President Vladimir Putin. At a minimum, a frozen conflict will block Ukraine’s progress towards NATO and the EU; and if fighting resumes, the terms of the ceasefire will leave Ukrainian forces in a weaker position than now. The only questions are why German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were prepared to give Putin so much, after a year of Russian aggression and lies; and what the West can do now to buttress European security.

The Minsk deal includes two documents. The first, entitled ‘a package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements’ was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the separatist entities in Donetsk and Luhansk. This contains 13 points, modifying the original Minsk agreements of September 5th and 19th; and an annex outlining a special status for the Russian-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The second document is a declaration by Hollande, Merkel, Poroshenko and Putin “in support of” the package of measures.

According to the package, a ceasefire will start at midnight on February 15th (Kyiv time), giving Russian forces and their proxies time to take more territory. Early indications are that fighting around strategic points is intensifying. After the Minsk talks, Putin said that the separatist forces claimed to have surrounded 6,000 to 8,000 Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve and “assumed that they would lay down their arms”.

Gaining territory before the ceasefire matters, because the line of contact at that time will become the boundary between Kyiv and ‘separatist’ controlled territory. Ukrainian forces will have to withdraw heavy weapons (artillery and missiles of a calibre greater than 100mm) to distances of up to 140 kilometres from that line. Heavy weapons on the Russian side are supposed to withdraw by the same distance, but from the ceasefire line agreed in Minsk in September.

Review of New Jim Risen Book “Pay Any Price”

Steve Coll
February 19, 2015

In early 2003, James Risen, an investigative reporter in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, prepared a story about a covert CIA effort to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Before publishing it, he informed the CIA of his findings and asked for comment. On April 30, 2003, according to a subsequent Justice Department court filing, CIA Director George Tenet and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice met with Risen and Jill Abramson, then the Times’s Washington bureau chief. Tenet and Rice urged the Times to hold Risen’s story because, they said, it would “compromise national security” and endanger the life of a particular CIA recruit. (The agent is referred to in the Justice filing as “Human Asset No. 1.”) Eventually, the Times informed the CIA that it would not publish Risen’s story.1 Abramson said recently that she regrets the decision.

The following year, Risen and a colleague, Eric Lichtblau, learned of a National Security Agency surveillance program that collected details of Americans’ telephone and e-mail communications without reference to a search warrant. Some of Risen’s sources inside the NSA thought that the program was unconstitutional, because it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unlawful search. Risen felt that he had come across “my biggest story of the post-9/11 age,” as he puts it in Pay Any Price, his revealing, diverse collection of investigations of greed, incompetence, and mendacity in the American national security state.

In October 2004, Risen and Lichtblau drafted their NSA story. They again informed the Bush administration of what they had discovered. The White House launched “an intense lobbying campaign” to persuade senior Times editors that the story “would severely damage national security,” Risen recalls. The decision about whether to publish fell to Bill Keller, then the Times’s executive editor. Risen, Lichtblau, and Rebecca Corbett, their editor, argued that the paper should go forward, but Keller ultimately decided against them. That left Risen, as he writes, “frustrated and deeply concerned.”

The Outing of NSA’s All-Star Hacking Team

Aliya Sternstein
February 19, 2015

The exposure of an all-star hacker group thought to be affiliated with the National Security Agency is both a feather in the spy agency’s cap and a setback for intelligence-gathering on Islamic extremists, some threat analysts say.

On Sunday, Kaspersky Lab, a research firm headquartered in Moscow, published an analysis implying the “Equation Group” is the same entity behind the so-called Stuxnet worm. That malware is believed to be a joint NSA-Israeli invention that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2009 or 2010.Code developed by the possibly-20-year-old group can reprogram popular hard drives in a way that is virtually impossible for almost any person or machine to see. While surveilling an Islamic Jihadist discussion forum, the team took pains to infect only specific targets by checking their usernames and network addresses, according to the new analysis.

“The person responsible or the team, on the one hand, should be patting themselves on the back,” said Alex McGeorge, head of threat intelligence at security firm Immunity and a former Transportation Department cyber consultant. “I think this is work you can really be proud of from a purely technical standpoint.”

The victims resided in Iran, Russia, Syria, Afghanistan and Belgium, among some 30 other countries, according to Kaspersky. The company’s founder, Eugene Kaspersky, has worked for the Russian military, a sometimes cyber adversary of the United States, but the lab’s research is respected by security experts worldwide. 

The Equation group is “the most advanced threat actor we have seen,” researchers at Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team said. Over the past several years, the team has investigated more than 60 advanced attackers.

McGeorge said the group seems to be exercising discretion during its operations.

“No one is really going to come out and say you shouldn’t deploy this stuff against ISIS,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is look at the news and see that ISIS are the worst bad guys since the Nazis.”

Electronic Weapons: Serenity To Silence Snipers

February 11, 2015

In 2014 there were further advances in sniper detection systems. The latest one (Serenity) incorporates acoustic and heat sensors as well as cameras (actually vidcams that are used in real time) and a RWS (Remote Weapons System) turret that is linked to the sensors and uses special software to quickly locate the source of the fire (rifle, machine-gun, mortar, rocket) and point the vidcams and RWS weapon (usually a 12.7mm machine-gun) at the source of the fire, enabling the human operator to immediately open fire before the enemy (especially a sniper) gets away. The software also captures video and other data for every instance that the system is alerted by what seems to be an attack. This all such events, whether they led to return fire or not, can be studied and analyzed. Serenity was developed by a U.S. Army research organization (AMRDEC) and was able to work with over a decade of similar work in this area. Part of Serenity, the acoustic detection (called Firefly) is sometimes used separately. 

Acoustic gunfire (sniper) detectors have been in the field for over a decade, and have gotten better each year. By 2010 over 60,000 sniper detectors had been shipped to American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they were increasingly useful and generated a continuous flow of user suggestions for improvements. These were addressed and that resulted in new and improved models appearing every year. 

The first sniper detection systems simply provided directional information about where the snipers are. The troops always wanted detectors that were faster and more accurate and after several generations of these systems showing after that first heavy use in 2004 you end up with something like Serenity. A really important improvement was manufacturers tweaking these systems to decrease the number of false alarms. Also important was improved user interface and increased accuracy. There were other reasons for all this progress, including major advances in computing power, sensor quality and software development. By 2010 the latest sniper detectors could provide nearly instant, easy to comprehend and accurate location info on the sniper. 

One of the first, and most useful, sniper detection system was Boomerang, which was it was developed in a few months, in response to a 2004 U.S. Department of Defense request for an affordable acoustic sniper detector. Testing delayed it from entering service immediately. Boomerang was mounted on vehicles, was in wide use by 2o06 and cost about $5,000 each. Boomerang was effective enough to get initial orders for over 10,000 units, and lots of use from the troops who had it. There were two major upgrades, prolonging the service life of the system. 

Information Warfare: Al Jazeera Rules

February 12, 2015

Al Jazeera, the Arab language satellite news operation was recently found (via leaked emails and internal documents) to have ordered its writers and on-air personnel to not use the terms “extremist,” “Islamist,” “militant,” and “terrorist” when describing Islamic terrorists. Actually the U.S. government has issued similar orders. In one case this involved the cancellation of a Department of Defense course on Islamic terrorism, based on the experience of Special Forces operators who spoke Arabic and worked for years in Islamic nations. The course also included widely accepted (and well documented) historical facts about religious radicalism in the Islamic world. Both al Jazeera and the U.S. government (and many other Western governments) want to avoid associating Islamic terrorism with Islam. The Islamic terrorists are instead portrayed as deviants and criminals rather than religious zealots. 

The problem with this is that most Moslems will admit that Islamic terrorism is all about Islamic radicalism. Many Moslems living in the West complain that too many Moslem clergy serving in local Mosques preach hatred of non-Moslems and support for Islamic radicals. That’s because most Moslem religious schools, especially those in Saudi Arabia, teach their students, the future clerics who will serve congregations in the West, this sort of thing. The al Jazeera management know this, as they live it every time they read a newspaper in a Moslem country or have a casual chat with friends. Many Moslems, including well educated ones, still believe that the September 11, 2001 attacks were not carried out by Moslems (most of them from Saudi Arabia) but was a joint Israeli-CIA plot to justify a war on Islam. 

At the same time al Jazeera is not without its benefits. For example al Jazeera is hated by Arab governments, but loved by Arab, and Israeli, people. Wait a minute? Isn't al Jazeera supposed to be a major source of anti-Semitic propaganda and cheer-leading for Arab causes? Sort of. What al Jazeera provides is an unfettered soapbox for all sorts of opinions found in the Middle East. This includes Israelis, who appear once or twice a week to give the Israeli point of view, usually in Arabic, and often delivered by an Israeli who not only sounds like an Arab, but looks like one. 

Intelligence: Tech Is Not Always The Answer

February 13, 2015

While the U.S. Air Force has a well-deserved reputation of being the most high-tech service and extremely successful at its job. This includes gaining (since 1945) and maintaining (ever since) air supremacy wherever it operates. The air force does, at times, have trouble adjusting to change. Thus when the Cold War ended in 1991 the air force was still largely doing business as they had done in the Cold War. But the technology and tactics of warfare were changing. The enemy was no longer large organized forces spread over huge areas. The foe was increasingly irregulars who were harder to spot from the air. The air force reluctantly adapted, in part because the army and CIA adopted new reconnaissance and surveillance techniques, like UAVs and constant surveillance. 

As successful as these new air reconnaissance tools were they did not seem like a suitable long-term job for the air force. The other services disagreed and it took the better part of a decade after 2001 to get the air force to come around. In 2005 the air force deployed its first Predator UAV unit and in 2009 it put its first Reapers to work. They were following the CIA in this area, which caused some misgivings among senior air force leadership. But the army and Congress were calling for more of what the CIA was doing (armed UAVs for surveillance and attack) and the air force joined in. 

What the CIA has pioneered was “persistent surveillance” with armed UAVs. The 24/7 observation by the UAVs enabled CIA or air force intel analysts to compile information about the target and order one or more missiles fired as soon as the key target was identified and located. This led to an ever growing list of terrorist leaders and their key subordinates killed in this way. At the same time this use of surveillance and precision weapons led to lower collateral (nearby civilian) casualties to plummet to historical, and remarkable, lows. 

Air force traditionalists warned that in a conventional war this sort of thing would not work. Where the enemy had modern air defense systems and jet fighters the Predator and Reaper UAVs would be impractical because they would be quickly shot down. But that is not the type of war being waged now and it is pointed out to the air force that the military has to deal with what they are faced with, not just with what they prefer. Moreover, even in a “conventional” war there is still work for these new tactics and the tech that makes it possible. The air force still disagreed, but did not have a persuasive alternative. The air force still wanted more money for the stealthy F-34 and a new stealth bomber. This despite the fact that other nations were developing more and more sensors that could nullify stealth.