2 March 2015

March 2, 2015
A framework for recovery and growthSubramanian Swamy

After a decade of economic decline, wrongly attributed to the global economic meltdown, recovery and growth need a different policy today, using a new framework of objectives, priorities, strategy and resource mobilisation measures. The Union Budget is a serious attempt to have such a framework in place

Budget-making today is a tough call for a Finance Minister trying to reverse the past decline caused by the UPA’s policies. The Indian economy, for example, decelerated from an 8.4 per cent growth rate in GDP in 2003-04 to 4.8 per cent in 2013-14. The UPA’s decade of economic decline has been wrongly attributed to the global economic meltdown especially during the last six years of the decade.

Therefore, recovery and growth need a different policy today, and require choosing a new framework of objectives, priorities, strategy and resource mobilisation measures in constituting a budget.

The Budget for 2015-16 presented on Saturday to Parliament by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is a serious attempt to usher in such a new framework. An analysis of how far he has succeeded and what more remains to be done for a successful turnaround is the concern here in this article.

Participatory Notes

Let’s give the FM his due

Mar 01, 2015

The important signs one should seek in a Budget are for directional changes. The government has now provided an additional Rs 30,000 crore for the direct benefit of small farmers by providing funds for private and collective irrigation. 

There always comes a time when you have to heed Jesus who said: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” So this time I will render unto the finance minister what is due to him. Or better still “give the devil his due.” This Budget is eminently sensible and innovative. Arun Jaitley’s speech was also mercifully brief and to the point. The Budget is an annual exercise that generates great expectations, and this one generated more than the usual for it was the first Budget prepared by the BJP government. But the expectations of any major changes in how money will be raised and how it will be spent are quite unreal given that a Budget is pretty well set weighed down by past commitments to programmes — plan allocations, fixed expenses and interest. Interest takes up almost a quarter of any Budget, while defence, too, is an imperative, as are salaries and other expenses. But this year we have a new joker in the pack. The Finance Commission’s recommendation that the states should henceforth get 42 per cent of the taxes collected, imposes severe constraints on the Centre’s ability to keep, let alone improve on old spending levels. Many of the social schemes have, therefore, witnessed a drop in proposed expenditures. The message is clear. If you want decentralisation then the discretion to spend money also moves statewards.

The only other big item is subsidies that take up a good Rs 3.77 lakh crore. This is the big enchilada that those who seek a big bang budget eye. But the nature of India’s political economy precludes any major slashes. Here every government confronts powerful lobbies. The farm lobbies will not countenance any reduction in the fertiliser subsidy or reduction in procurement, which gives the producer a ready bulk purchaser buying at above the market prices. Similarly, subsidised supply of foodgrains to people subsisting below the poverty line is also a strict no no.

Given these inherent constraints, the government has done well to find a way to rein in subsidies by adopting direct transfer of subsidies wherever possible to prevent leakages. For instance, the huge LPG subsidy is already being paid into the consumer’s bank account. The government has done well by resisting the temptation of passing on reducing international oil prices to the consumer.

By stepping up financial inclusion by linking Aadhar to bank accounts, the government has laid a neat roadway for direct transfer of all major subsidies directly. The other advantage is that this will reduce the incidence and potential for corruption and will hopefully have an overall impact on national character. It will also result in savings, but it is too early to quantify it.

The important signs one should seek in a Budget are for directional changes. One notable focus has been the emphasis on the small farmers and small businessmen. The government has now provided an additional `30,000 crore for the direct benefit of small farmers by providing funds for private and collective irrigation. It has also planned to wean away farmers from the urea dependency that has afflicted them.

US again rakes up issue of defence pacts

Ajay Banerjee
Mar 2 2015

The C-17 Globemaster III
‘Intrusive’ agreements
The agreements are: Communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement (CISMOA), basic exchange and cooperation agreement for geo-spatial cooperation (BECA) and the logistics support agreement (LSA)

In 2010, the then Defence Minister AK Antony had rejected the signing of these three pacts, terming these “intrusive”

In June 2012, Leon Panetta, the then Secretary Defence of the US, had said, “These are not issues anymore”

Top sources said there has been no agreement so far within the Indian establishment on signing these

But now, the agreements have come up for discussion for the second time in one week — on the sidelines of the Aero-India (Feb 18-22) at Bangalore and in New Delhi on Feb 26

Amid the din of the Railway Budget and the General Budget, a small script — on sharing defence technologies — has changed in India and US relations.

Attaining Strategic India 2020: Lessons From Niccolo Machiavelli

27 Feb , 2015

Great individuals associated with the Renaissance such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Aligheri and Galileo were Florentine citizens. The forces of debate, democracy, organised guilds, public interest feelings and the works of geniuses in the arts and culture which were unleashed, spread to all parts of Europe sowing the seeds of modern civilisation. One such personality of that time was Niccolo Machiavelli, considered as the father of modern political thought. Often misunderstood by people as they have only heard of Machiavelli’s selective quotes, his name has come to be an adjective in many languages associated with deceit, practical considerations, rejection of false moralism in political and diplomatic conduct, and for being cunning, unprincipled or ruthless if the permanent interests of the State and its rulers are met.

Niccolo had the moral courage to call a spade a spade, and he merely forewarned men in authority…

The great Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469 AD. Florence was then an independent Italian republic which had overthrown the dictatorial rule of the Duke of Medici who had monarchical trappings. There was a great flowering of talent in this rich republic, caused by the involvement of its people in governance and the resultant competitive forces which were unleashed based on dissent, respect for merit, culture, arts and achievements and the zeal for public good. The birth of the Renaissance which removed the cloak of ignorance, wanton cruelty, superstitions and poverty so prevalent in the Dark Ages took place here.

Spending soars. Yet, India's military in crisis

Abheet Singh Sethi| Indiaspend.org 
February 26, 2015

India is expected to spend Rs 94,587.95 crore in 2014-15 as capital expenditure, a 20% increase from Rs 78,872.23 crore last year

The defence budget of India—the world’s largest arms importer—has more than doubled over the past decade from Rs 80,500 crore to Rs 229,000 crore for the financial year 2014-15.

Yet, the defence forces are critically short of arms, and men and women at arms.

The army, navy and air force are short of officers by 17% (7,989), 17% (1,499) and 3% (357) respectively, according to latest data tabled in the Lok Sabha. Consider the arms deficits in the three services:

–The Indian Air Force (IAF) is short of 272-306 fighter aircraft (as this IndiaSpend report explains) and 56 medium transport aircraft.

–The Indian Army needs about 3,000 to 3,600 artillery guns, 66,0000 assault rifles, 2 lakh pairs of ankle leather boots and 66,000 rounds of armour-piercing ammunition for T-90 tanks.

–The navy needs 12 diesel-electric submarines, 6 nuclear attack submarines and 7 stealth frigates.

Changing Strategic Realities in India’s Immediate Neighbourhood

26 Feb , 2015

Despite Nehru’s optimism and high profile in international conference diplomacy in the Far East, Indo-China and in Geneva and New York regarding nuclear, disarmament and peacekeeping issues, India’s position in the South Asian region was affected negatively by regional events and developments. These events were beyond the control of Nehru and his colleagues. The strategic initiative lay with forces outside India’s borders which nonetheless affected Indian interests. But did they alter the thinking and policies of the Indian government? What was the rate of change on the Indian side in response to these developments?

I argue that the Indian responses showed the reality of India’s subordinate state system position. In this position leadership and elite knowledge of external forces is incomplete and policy making is vulnerable to external intelligence inputs; internal checks and balances to correct faulty information and decision-making do not exist, and inertia prevails and leads to reiteration of the known policy lines and preferences. Table below lists the external developments which affected Indian security interests and position in the early 1950s.

Rapid Changes in India’s Environment and Slow and Partial Indian Responses (1947-1956)

The rate of change was rapid in India’s environment during 1947-56 which was adverse to Indian strategic interests and which reduced India’s ability to manoeuver diplomatically in regional international relations. 1. India became an active field of regional and international power politics.

Jinnah’s decision to allow the tribal invasion of J&K in 1947-48 made the northern border state a point of serious threat to Indian interests.

ISIS vs. Al Qaeda: Jihadism’s Global Civil War

February 24, 2015 

Al Qaeda and its rogue stepchild, the Islamic State, are locked in mortal combat. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement—they are competing for its soul.

ALMOST OVERNIGHT, the Islamic State sent its enemies reeling—and turned U.S. policy in the Middle East upside down. Islamic State forces carved out a haven in Syria and, in June 2014, routed the Iraqi army, capturing large swathes of territory and prompting the Obama administration to overcome its long-standing aversion to a bigger U.S. military role in Iraq and Syria. Even in many Arab countries where the Islamic State does not have a strong presence, its rise is radicalizing those countries’ populations, fomenting sectarianism and making a bad region even worse.

But there is one person for whom the Islamic State’s rise is even more frightening: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement: they are competing for its soul.

Who will emerge triumphant is not clear. However, the implications of one side’s victory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihadist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole. Washington must also adjust its counterterrorism policies to recognize the implications of this rivalry.

Can Atheistic China Play Conflict Mediator in ‘God’s Century’?

By James Chen
February 26, 2015

As China becomes more involved in international conflicts, it will need to understand the role of religion. 

Think open dialogue and reconciliation and China isn’t usually the first country that comes to mind. But in 2013 China shifted its principle of “non-interference in other countries” to one of active conflict resolution in some of the world’s most intractable contexts: Israel-Palestine, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. This shift reflects a growing confidence, certainly a growing need for China to be more globally engaged. But while it may be a welcome foray, its success will be muted at best unless China can overcome one major blind spot: religion.

In the Middle East, China’s engagement was traditionally focused primarily on expanding trade and developing energy sources. In political matters, Beijing remained in the background and avoided taking any controversial stances. However, in May 2013 China hosted back-to-back visits from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and introduced a four-point peace proposal. There was nothing bracingly new here, but it did signal China’s interest. And although talks have broken down, the Chinese government has stated, “China’s political role in the Middle East will only be enhanced, not diminished.”

Closer to home, China has also intervened in one of Southeast Asia’s longest running civil wars: the conflict between the Myanmar national government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The Kachin are an ethnic minority group whose language, culture, and religion are vastly different from the majority Burmans who control the national government. Most of the Kachin population lives in the resource-rich Kachin State located in the north and bordering China’s Yunnan province. Since 1962, the KIA has been fighting the Burmese military to resist the government’s cultural assimilation policies and takeover of their homeland. When the conflict intensified in late-2012 and early 2013, resulting in thousands of refugees streaming into China and errant artillery shells falling into Chinese territory, China got engaged. It mediated talks in early 2013, the first time in decades that China had taken on an active and public role in another country’s internal conflict.

More boldly still, in December 2014, China hosted a delegation of Taliban representatives a few months after Afghan president Ashraf Ghani visited Beijing. An Afghan official stated that China was “offering to take the role of facilitator.” China has also proposed forming a regional forum for Afghan reconciliation that would involve Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban, and China.

The Koreas, Diplomacy, and Regional Autonomy

February 27, 2015

The days of Korea as the geopolitical football of the region are long gone. 

In the past few months, a retired Chinese general suggested that China should not support North Korea if it collapses; the United States has agreed to indefinitely remain South Korea’s national security guarantor; and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hinted that he will likely visit Moscow before Beijing (North Korea’s traditional benefactor). It has been a good run for South Korea, given also its impressive economic rise, balanced budgets, and regular trade surpluses, not to mention its continuing ability to keep Japan off-balance regarding the Pacific War.

For a middle power, South Korea plays its moderate hand relatively well. Hemmed-in by North Korea, asymmetrically dependent on the U.S., and often culturally overshadowed by its larger neighbors, South Korea might easily have been overwhelmed by its challenging neighborhood. But it has not been. It plays a larger role than its size would indicate.

Korean Grand Strategy

South Korea’s primary strategic challenge is maintaining national autonomy in a very tough neighborhood. Korea is a middle power, surrounded by three great powers – China, Japan, and Russia. Geopolitically, this is a terrible location. Indeed, it may be uniquely trying. Other small states, such as Mongolia or Paraguay, are surrounded and dwarfed by their neighbors, but in Korea’s case there are three neighbors, not two, and all three have been great powers for centuries. Such extreme asymmetry all but ensures meddling by neighbors seeking to gain advantage against one other. Historically, Korea has often been a buffer to be neutralized, a spoil of war, a concession to be traded.

In the past, Korea was often manipulated or bullied by its much larger neighbors. During the Joseon period (late fourteenth to late nineteenth centuries) Korea was traditionally in thrall to China. It was also invaded by Japan (in the 1590s) and bullied by the Manchus. An independent foreign policy line was nearly impossible.

How Scholars Can Help Solve the South China Sea Disputes

February 28, 2015
Researchers should look to provide creative and concrete proposals for addressing South China Sea tensions. 

The disputes over the South China Sea have already become a focal point of diplomacy in this region. Any possible escalation of these tensions into conflict could have a major impact on the region’s security and economic development. Given the situation, it is extremely important to conduct research on this issue. The rising tensions in the South China Sea have warranted a good deal of research, but this research so far has some major limitations.

First, even though the research conducted by scholars from the claimant countries comes from a direct source of information, it is often difficult to avoid preconceptions due to the authors’ affiliation and position. Second, as much of the research is focused only on the positions and strategies of one country, there is a significant void of comprehensive research focused on the interactions of the participant countries. More importantly, much of the research tends to focus on the actual disputes and geopolitical analysis; subsequently, there have been very few developed proposals providing concrete plans and roadmaps for peaceful resolutions.

There are several reasons why concrete proposals for conflict resolution are important. First, while the concrete proposals may not solve the issues outright, they could stimulate creative thinking and spur other constructive proposals to resolve some of the conflicts. Second, most international conflicts, including the South China Sea disputes, are complicated. Concrete proposals could help to break down a complicated issue into several sub-issues and provide a road map for resolutions over time, rather than struggling to tackle all the issues simultaneously. Third, concrete proposals could provide the preliminary agendas and plans needed to pave the way for formal negotiations for the involved parties of an international conflict to arrive at a finalized solution.

As an important step of dispute resolution, there should be more research focused on creating concrete proposals to bring to the table. For example, in 1978 when Jimmy Carter mediated the Camp David Negotiation between Egypt and Israel, the concrete proposal regarding Sinai (which required Israel to return Sinai to Egypt on the condition that it remain demilitarized) played a critical role for reaching the final agreement of the Camp David Accords. Many international disputes were solved based on concrete proposals, such as the Dayton accords and the Good Friday Accords, among others. If the countries involved want to solve the South China Sea disputes, concrete proposals will be a very important precondition for success.

The South China Sea disputes involve six claimants that bring their own historic issues and domestic politics to the negotiations, leaving no easy solution. Given the nature and complexity of the various claims to the islands and concerns about the rising nationalism inside the claimant countries, no purely legal process is likely to be sufficient to achieve a settlement. It is also nearly impossible to reach an agreement on South China Sea demarcation. Under this situation, it becomes more important to have scholars from both the claimants as well as outside sources conduct research which aims to provide concrete suggestions toward the resolution and management of this conflict.

For example, the joint development of South China Sea resources has been a suggestion for solving the South China Sea disputes for a long time. The sea itself cannot be easily divided or shared, but the resources within its can be. China has included joint development as one of its major principles for the South China Sea disputes since the 1980s, but neither China nor any other state has ever provided detailed concrete plans for how to conduct joint development.

Japan's Master Plan to Defeat China in a War

February 28, 2015 

How Japan can defeat China without catching up.

In recent years, significant attention has been paid to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). China’s defense budget, which has increased ten fold in the last twenty five years, has funded the construction of a modern, ocean-going navy. This includes the recently fielded aircraft carrier, Liaoning, as well as fleets of destroyers, frigates, corvettes, replenishment ships, and amphibious assault ships.

The PLAN is indeed an impressive force, but local geography will create challenges during wartime. Japan controls a string of islands that form the Miyako Strait, which Chinese naval forces must transit to enter the western Pacific. Properly fortified, the Japanese-held Ryukyu Islands could conceivably block passage of the Strait altogether.

The Ryukyus have been used to defend Japan before. Okinawa, the gateway to the Home Islands, was fortified by Japan during World War II and then invaded by the Allies. The southern half of the chain, the Sakashima Islands, were used as staging areas forkamikaze fighters during the Battle of Okinawa.

Japan, which spends roughly a quarter as much on defense as China, could use the Ryukyus to execute an Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2/AD) plan in theMiyako Strait. Like any good A2/AD strategy, such a plan in the Strait would require a fraction of the spending necessary to overcome it.

The PLAN has three fleet commands. The North Sea Fleet, based in Qingdao, is oriented towards the Yellow Sea and beyond while the East Sea Fleet, based in Ningbo, is oriented toward the East China Sea and beyond.

Together, the North and East Sea Fleets field 16 destroyers, 32 frigates, all five of China’s nuclear attack submarines, and around 40 diesel electric submarines of varying ages. Backing this up would be aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force and the conventionally armed ballistic missiles of the Second Artillery Corps.

Indonesia’s New Military Commands: A South China Sea Focus?

By Prashanth ParameswaranFebruary 28, 2015

The flash point is reportedly featuring prominently in its future military plans. 

Last week, The Jakarta Post reported that the Indonesian military would focus its future operations in the western part of country to deal with foreign threats, including in the South China Sea. The report is interesting to consider given ongoing plans to restructure the Indonesian military’s commands over the next decade.

The newspaper quoted Indonesia’s outspoken military chief General Moeldoko as saying that Indonesia’s forces – which according to military plans would form joint regional commands (locally abbreviated Kogabwilhan) to be in place by 2024 – would focus on the west of the country, especially in Sumatra and Kalimantan given flash points like the South China Sea.

“In the future, we expect that the South China Sea will be a flash point. So a task force, such as the Kogabwilhan, will be very important,” Moeldoko said.

Put simply, the essence of the Kogabwilhan concept is to structure the military into multi-service regional commands consisting of a combination of army, air force and navy units and led by generals who would be able to respond quickly and flexibly to flash points with greater autonomy relative to the central leadership in Jakarta.

The Kogabwilhan idea is not a new one, and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had begun plans to implement it as early as 2008. His successor and Indonesia’s current president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo agreed to continue with these ongoing plans last November.

The specifics, however, are still unclear. Moeldoko had previously proposed the establishment of three Kogabwilhan groups to Jokowi and his team. Geographically, the three groups were speculated to focus on the western, eastern and central parts of the country, and one was believed to be located in Sulawesi and a second in Papua. In line with this, The Jakarta Post report and Moeldoko’s comments might be simply suggest that the third Kogabwilhan group will indeed be located in the western part of the country and that it would focus its operations on dealing with foreign threats particularly in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

If so, that would seem to make sense. As military expert and researcher at Indonesia’s Center for Strategic and International Studies Iis Giandarsah says, “the most immediate flashpoints are located near the land and sea borders of Sumatra and Kalimantan.” While the threats are many, one of them would be the South China Sea. As I have written before, while Indonesia is technically not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, Jakarta is increasingly concerned about how the nine-dash line overlaps with the waters surrounding the resource-rich Natuna Islands and has played a role in facilitating dispute resolution efforts more broadly. It is also in the process of building up its own capabilities.

China’s Anti-Corruption Org Seeks ‘Hidden Tigers’

February 27, 2015

Plus, China’s travel rush, legal reforms, the South China Sea, and China in the Middle East. Friday China links. 

China’s top anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection warned that there are high-ranking corrupt officials who remain “very well hidden” within the Party. The CCDI, writing on its website in a piece picked up by Xinhua, said that the cases of Zhou Yongkang and Xu Caihou, ousted high-ranking officials who amassed their own patronage networks, provide an indication of the danger. “The tigers we aim at nowadays are deceitful, and tend to lay low,” the CCDI said. In essence, the CCDI has openly admitted that corruption in top-level Party ranks is a serious problem – and promised that there are more high-ranking officials to be toppled. Zhou and Xu won’t be the last tigers taken down.

In other news, the Chinese New Year holiday ended this week, which meant the world’s largest human migration took place in reverse as millions traveled back to work after spending the holiday with their families. Matt Sheehan of the Huffington Post provides an insider’s look at one particularly grueling journey: the 39 hour train ride from Beijing to Urumqi. Sheehan’s piece, in addition to being a snapshot of what a train ride during China’s busiest travel season looks like, has some choice quotes from fellow passengers that gets to the heart of current Han-Uyghur tensions.

China’s Supreme People’s Court just publicly released its Fourth Five-Year Reform Plan. The Supreme People’s Court Monitor (and occasional Diplomat contributor) Susan Finder, has the scoop. The reforms cover a broad range, from attempts to reduce local-level interference in court cases to promises to provide more rights for defendants and their lawyers.

China’s Space Weapons Threaten U.S. Satellites

February 26, 2015 9:12 pm

China is developing significant space warfare capabilities that threaten U.S. strategic satellite systems, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command told Congress on Thursday.

“We’ve seen very disturbing trends in space, particularly from nation states like China, as well as Russia, who have been public about their counterspace endeavors and ambitions,” Adm. Cecil Haney, Stratcom commander said. Counterspace is the military term for space warfare capabilities and weapons.

China conducted a test of a missile-fired anti-satellite kill vehicle as recently as last summer, Haney told the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

“Fortunately this time it didn’t hit anything as it did in 2007, creating just thousands and thousands of pieces of debris which we’re still struggling with,” Haney said, adding that the recent test indicated China’s intention to invest heavily in what he said is a “not very transparent” space arms program.

“Additionally, we see things that … have also been put in orbit that also is of concern, as well as things on land that are also being used to threaten our assets, such as lasers, such as jamming capability and what have you that threatens communications, GPS,” the four-star admiral said.

China removes Cisco, Apple, Citrix, McAfee from government deals

Baburajan K
February 26, 2015

China has removed select products from Cisco, Apple, Citrix Systems and Intel’s security-software company McAfee, etc from its list of suppliers for government contracts over the past two years.

A Reuters article published on Wednesday said it includes 60 Cisco Systems products. Earlier, Cisco CEO John Chambers shared challenges in the Chinese IT market.

Select U.S. IT companies such as IBM and Cisco have already started to feel the heat due to the “Edward Snowden” impact.

Cisco in November 2014 said its Q1 FY 2015 revenue from the Asia-Pacific, Japan and China region declined 12 percent led by 33 percent dip in China income, while India revenue grew 6 percent. Cisco said its global revenue rose 1.3 percent to $12.2 billion, while net income dropped 8.4 percent to $1.8 billion in Q1 fiscal 2015.

IBM, which is not part of the Reuters report, said its Asia-Pacific revenues in Q4 2014 fell 17 percent to $4.9 billion. IBM revenues in the BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — dipped 21 percent. IBM said its total revenue declined 12 percent to $24.1 billion, while net income fell 11 percent to $5.5 billion.

The Reuters report attributes the move to the disclosures of former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the NSA’s surveillance programs.

China’s dropping of products from Apple and others may be aimed at propping up the country’s domestic tech sector and supporting local firms. At present, India is also aggressively pushing for local manufacturing under a new initiative called Make In India program.

Can the Solomon Islands Reform?

By Sally Andrews
February 28, 2015

The arrival of RAMSI in 2003

Under a new coalition government, the Pacific state has a chance to adopt much-needed reforms.
Under the leadership of a newly elected coalition government, many Solomon Islanders hold hopes that 2015 will emerge as a period of unprecedented reform. As the legislature prepares to debate potential frameworks for economic stimulus and the consolidation of law and order, international attention will be concentrating on whether the state can continue to chip away at its former reputation as the Pacific “failing state.”

Whilst commonly remembered as the site of the first Allied push back against Japanese occupation in the bloody Battle of Guadalcanal (1943-1943), the Solomon Islands’ political trajectory since its 1978 independence from Britain has been marred by corruption, dysfunction, and civil unrest. Tensions over increased rates of inter-island migration in the 1990s, alongside continued resentment over colonial land appropriations, led to outbreaks of violence within Guadalcanal and the capital Honiara. Armed militias emerged from both the Guadalcanal and Malaita ethnic groups, turning the capital into a war zone and causing businesses, schools and local governance institutions to grind to a halt.

The crisis came to a head when Australia led the deployment of the 2200-strong Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in 2003, in response to official calls from SI leadership for assistance in restoring law and order, pacifying ethnic violence, and tackling endemic corruption. Whilst the deployment swiftly stabilized the islands and began developing procedures for superior governance practices, the level of cooperation between government figures and RAMSI officials began fluctuating as time wore on. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (2000-2001, 2006-2007, 2014-) expressed strong criticism of the open-ended timeframe of the mission and the ramifications RAMSI’s presence held for Solomons’ sovereignty, coming into direct conflict with Australian authorities.

After a three-year program of phased withdrawal, as of 2015 RAMSI’s Participating Police Force now serves as the last outpost of international authority within SI. Solomon Islanders voted for the first time since the RAMSI withdrawal in November 2014, electing Sogavare to the leadership with a pledge to focus on tackling corruption. Criticisms of rampant misuse of funds and cronyism in the allocation of new Cabinet ministries continue to dog the third term prime minister, with SI’s Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer and the Office of the Auditor-General expressing concern after random audits from 2012-2013 revealed a missing $8.6 million (AUD) in government funds. Sogavare’s announcement of an impending Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has done little to dispel these fears.

In A2/AD Showcase, Iranian Navy Sinks Nimitz Carrier Mock-Up

February 28, 2015

Does the video tell us anything about Iran’s anti-access/anti-denial capabilities in the Strait of Hormuz? 

This week, Iranian television broadcasted a video showing the destruction of a U.S. warship replica near Larak Island, close to the strategically vital entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, during a recent military exercise by the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard. The military exercise, codenamed “Great Prophet 9,” was conducted by the naval branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and was meant to showcase Iran’s anti-access/anti-denial (A2/AD) capabilities.

Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the highest commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, boastfully told the local media during the “Great Prophet 9” exercise: “A unique power has been created, and we do not like to put it into practice. But if, God forbid, such a day comes, Iran’s navy will have the complete control over the Sea of Oman, the Hormuz Strait and the Persian Gulf.”

The Revolutionary Guards’ navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, stated on state television that, “American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else,” and added that a direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion within America’s capital ships, according to the New York Times. Fadavi also noted in the past that his forces are capable of sinking an American aircraft carrier in a future military confrontation with the United States.

In the video, the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier replica, constructed already a year ago, is hit multiple times with various missiles among them the Fateh-110. The Fateh A-110 is a short-range, road-mobile, solid-propellant ballistic missile. Iranian sources claim that the missile, capable of carrying a 500 kg payload, is highly accurate. However, according to the Missile Threat database: “Although Iran has improved the missile’s overall ability, its accuracy makes the Fateh A-110 ineffective against moving military targets. However, the missile is capable of hitting most large military targets such as bases and airfields.”

Perhaps, the missiles that hit the aircraft carrier mockup were also improved versions of the Fateh A-110, which are believed to be in development. A report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) on Iran’s A2/AD threat notes: “Should Iran improve the accuracy of the Fateh-110A, the agility conferred by its smaller size and solid-fuel motors could make it an effective and relatively survivable short-range strike system.”

The CSBA report also summarizes Iran’s general A2/AD capabilities:

“Iran’s A2/AD capabilities can be grouped into four broad categories: ballistic missiles, some of which could be armed with WMD warheads; unconventional warfare and terrorism by proxy, possibly made more lethal by G-RAMM weapons; maritime exclusion systems such as mines, ASCMs[anti-ship cruise missiles], and fast attack craft; and air defenses.”

Why Bashar Assad Won’t Fight ISIS

Feb. 26, 2015

Joseph Eid—AFP/Getty ImagesPresident Bashar Assad in 2014
“The more powerful ISIS grows, the more they are useful for the regime" 

The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has long had a pragmatic approach to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), says a Syrian businessman with close ties to the government. Even from the early days the regime purchased fuel from ISIS-controlled oil facilities, and it has maintained that relationship throughout the conflict. “Honestly speaking, the regime has always had dealings with ISIS, out of necessity.” 

The Sunni businessman is close to the regime but wants to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions from both ISIS supporters and the regime. He trades goods all over the country so his drivers have regular interactions with ISIS supporters and members in Raqqa, the ISIS stronghold in Syria, and in ISIS-controlled areas like Dier-ezzor. 

The businessman cites Raqqa’s mobile phone service as an example of how there is commerce between the regime, Syrian businesses, and ISIS. The country’s two main mobile phone operators still work in Raqqa. “Both operators send engineers to ISIS-controlled areas to repair damages at the towers,” he says. In addition, there are regular shipments of food to Raqqa. “ISIS charges a small tax for all trucks bringing food into Raqqa [including the businessman’s trucks], and they give receipts stamped with the ISIS logo. It is all very well organized.” 

Kerry on ISIS Ground War: 'No Way Possible'

By John T. Bennett
February 24, 2015 

WASHINGTON -- There is "no way possible" for the White House's proposed Islamic War authorization measure to lead to a third massive US military ground conflict in the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry told senators Tuesday.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a White House-crafted authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) would authorize "no long-term combat." He added the Obama administration is not asking "to build up to a new Iraq or Afghanistan."

"That's not what we're doing," he said.

His comments come two weeks after the White House sent Congress an AUMF that would "not authorize the use of the United States armed forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations."

But lawmakers from both parties say that the language is too legally murky because, as committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., put it, "the definition of what that is is problematic."

Searching for just where on the spectrum of armed conflict the White House-crafted AUMF would draw a line across which military forces could not go, several committee members pressed Kerry.

About 90 minutes into a hearing on the State Department's 2016 budget request, the secretary said of the draft AUMF's ground-troops section there is "no way possible for this language … to allow for the kind of mission creep to take us into a longer war."

He also told the panel that under the Obama's administration's war plan, US military advisors might be with Iraqi forces directly engaging Islamic State fighters, adding the proposed authorization measure would cover that.

Boris Nemtsov's Battle against Putin

February 28, 2015

It is likely that Boris Nemtsov’s tragic death will have little lasting impact on Russian politics.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum —let nothing but good be said of the dead— is certainly an appropriate admonition when reflecting on Boris Nemtsov’s life. His meteoric rise to power under the direct patronage of Boris Yeltsin, and his subsequent fall from grace, will no doubt be prominent themes in his obituaries. But what many observers are now probably wondering is what impact his death is going to have on the liberal wing of Russia’s political opposition. Will his death serve to unite them, or will it simply be remembered as just another tragic date in an already long list?

The answer may lie in his political legacy. By all accounts, Boris Nemtsov had difficulty sharing the political spotlight. His ambitions, fueled no doubt by his premature anointment as Yeltsin’s potential successor, led to frequent clashes for political supremacy within a very small, but fiercely self-centered liberal Russian elite.

In one of his very last interviews he said his attitude toward Putin “could not be worse.” This led him to harsh and often uncharitable criticisms of his former liberal political allies who chose to work with the Putin, rather than have no political influence whatsoever. He steadfastly preferred the more principled position, as he saw it, of totally rejecting any dealings with the present political system or dialogue with those in power. Because of this, he was an early and strong advocate of Western economic sanctions and black lists on specific Russian officials, among whom he considered the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, to be one of the most odious.

The New Battleground in the U.S.-Iranian Covert War

February 27, 2015 

The emergence of cybersecurity as a global problem reveals that states are harnessing cyber technologies in the service of their respective national security and foreign policy interests. One question arising from this phenomenon is how the embrace of cyber means and methods might affect strategic and geopolitical competition among rival powers. Will the increasing exploitation of cyber technologies destabilize power politics given the technologies’ unique qualities? Or will these technologies become just another tool rivals use jockeying for international influence?

David Sanger’s story in the New York Times on February 22 about the “growth of cyberwarfare between the U.S. and Iran” provides some food for thought concerning how rival states are using cyber means. The story analyzes an April 2013 NSA document published by The Intercept, courtesy of Edward Snowden, that contained talking points about Iran for then-NSA director Keith B. Alexander.

Sanger emphasizes “the striking acceleration of the use of cyberweapons by the United States and Iran against each other” and the “computer competition between the United States and Iran.” Sanger quotes David Rothkopf as arguing that, in U.S. strategic decision-making, the cost of using cyber weapons is sufficiently low that U.S. officials seem to believe that “we can’t afford not to use them.” That certainly appears to be the attitude with respect to Iran, with the document highlighting NSA’s successful cooperation with Britain’s GCHQ on “multiple high-priority surges” against Iran that allowed NSA to “maximize our target coverage.”

Based on Sanger’s analysis and the NSA document, it looks as if Iranian officials have reached the same conclusion. The document describes Iranian cyberattacks against U.S. financial institutions and Saudi Aramco in retaliation for cyber attacks Iran experienced, including the Stuxnet operation and a cyberattack on its oil industry. The NSA notes Iran’s “clear ability to learn from the capabilities and actions of others” and its “striving for increased effectiveness by adapting its tactics and techniques to circumvent victim mitigation attempts.”

Jeb Bush Hasn't Learned Enough From His Brother's Failures

FEB 27 2015

Views he recently expressed on foreign policy suggest inadequate reflection on the Iraq War and its lessons.

Jim Young/ReutersIn an interview on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, probable GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush discussed his attitudes about foreign policy, having been asked if he would be "overly cautious about using force for fear of having a 'third Bush war' occur." At first, he gave a perfectly acceptable answer. "I wouldn’t be conflicted by any legacy issues of my family," the former Florida governor said. "Actually, Hugh, I am quite comfortable being George Bush’s son and George Bush’s brother. It’s something that gives me a lot of comfort on a personal level, and it certainly wouldn’t compel me to act one way or the other based on the strategies that we would be implementing and the conditions that our country would be facing."

If any of you were concerned that a Jeb Bush presidency just wouldn't be sufficiently warlike, perhaps he has gained your trust. And for those who worry that he hasn't learned the non-interventionist lessons George W. Bush's tenure suggest? The next portion of Jeb Bush's answer suggests that he has failed to clear that hurdle:

I don’t think there’s anything that relates to what my dad did or what my brother did that would compel me to think one way or the other. I think that history’s a good guide for our country. And the simple fact is you start with the premise that America’s role in the world is a force for good, not for bad things to happen, you’ll have, lessen the likelihood of having to use military force around the world. America’s foreign policy is more successful when we’re clear about who we’re supporting in terms of our allies, and that our enemies fear us a little bitrather than take advantage of us, to create insecurity that then compels the world and the United States to react. I think a better solution is to have a forceful foreign policy where we’re supportive of our friends, where there’s no light between our closest allies, like Israel, like our neighborhood, like NATO. These are the alliances that have kept us safe. And the more that people are assured of that, the more likely it is that we’ll live in a peaceful world.

What's the problem?

First off, the premise that "America's role in the world is a force for good" is problematic—the U.S. has played many different roles in world history. It has often been a force for good. But that in no way guarantees the next intervention won't do more harm. In Iraq, a war of choice that many supported with the best intentions, George W. Bush began with the premise that America is a force for good and unleashed carnage that killed hundreds of thousands and gave rise to ISIS.

Here are better premises to start with when weighing an intervention: War is an unpredictable enterprise that carries great risks, and all U.S. interventions have at least the potential to do great harm to ourselves or to others, so careful judgments are needed to discern which interventions would make us a force for good.

There's another error in analysis, too.

A New American Grand Strategy

February 26, 2015 

The world is awash in change. The international order, so painstakingly put together by the greatest generation coming home from mankind’s bloodiest conflict, is under increasing stress. It was created with elements we take for granted: the United Nations, NATO, the Marshall Plan, Bretton Woods and more. The constructed order reflected the wisdom of those who recognized no nation lived as an island and we needed new ways to deal with challenges that for better or worse impacted all nations. Like it or not, today we are part of this larger world and must carry out our part. We cannot wait for problems to arrive here or it will be too late; rather we must remain strongly engaged in this complex world.

The international order built on the state system is not self-sustaining. It demands tending by an America that leads wisely, standing unapologetically for the freedoms each of us in this room have enjoyed. The hearing today addresses the need for America to adapt to changing circumstances, to come out now from its reactive crouch and to take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values.

While we recognize that we owe future generations the same freedoms we enjoy, the challenge lies in how to carry out our responsibility. We have lived too long now in a strategy-free mode.

To do so America needs a refreshed national strategy. The Congress can play a key role in crafting a coherent strategy with bipartisan support. Doing so requires us to look beyond events currently consuming the executive branch.

There is an urgent need to stop reacting to each immediate vexing issue in isolation. Such response often creates unanticipated second order effects and more problems for us. I suggest that the best way to cut to the essence of these issues and to help you in crafting America’s response to a rapidly changing security environment is to ask the right questions.

Can Ukraine’s Military Beat the Pro-Moscow Rebels? Not Right Now.

Reuben F. Johnson
February 27, 2015

Key Points 
A conference attended by influential Ukrainian and US officials has concluded that Russia’s hybrid warfare campaign in eastern Ukraine is working 
Ukrainian forces continue to be outmatched, not only by the hardware they face but also the sophistication of the offensive they face 

A significant forum focusing on the current situation in eastern Ukraine and the future of the country in terms of its relationship with the EU and NATO has revealed that Russia’s ‘hybrid warfare’ campaign in its former Soviet vassal state appears to be achieving Moscow’s desired results.

At a 14 February conference in the southern city of Dnepropetrovsk, Lieutenant General Ruslan Homchak, the head of the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South, and others involved in the combat in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, along with a team from the Potomac Foundation, a Washington, DC-based private defence and foreign affairs think-tank, briefed the US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, and two defence attaches from the US Embassy in Kiev.

The Potomac team was led by its director, Dr Phil Karber, a former senior official within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and General Wesley Clark (rtd), who served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) from 1997-2000.

The main points made by the briefers were as follows:

- There are currently 14,400 Russian troops on Ukrainian territory backing up the 29,300 illegally armed formations of separatists in eastern Ukraine. These units are well equipped with the latest main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles, plus hundreds of pieces of tube and rocket artillery. There are also 29,400 Russian troops in Crimea and 55,800 massed along the border with eastern Ukraine.

- Russian units have made heavy use of electronic warfare (EW) and what appear to be high-power microwave (HPM) systems to jam not only the communications and reconnaissance assets of the Ukrainian armed forces but to also disable the surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by ceasefire monitoring teams from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Russian EW teams have targeted the Schiebel Camcopter UAVs operated by the monitors and “melted the onboard electronics so that drones just fly around uncontrolled in circles before they crash to the ground”, said one of the briefers at the conference.