6 March 2015

Towards a small war - What should be India's response to terror?

Subir Bhaumik

The former American ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, made the speculations public in February when he said that the next time India faces a 26/11-type terrorist attack, the country might consider going to war with Narendra Modi as prime minister. Blackwill, a Harvard academic who has researched the Asian alliances of the United States of America, was not kite-flying in solitude. During Barack Obama's recent India visit and beneath all the visible Obama-Modi bonhomie, the US security and intelligence officials accompanying the president, or in some way connected with his visit, were all involved in a detailed side exercise to assess what India might do if attacked by terrorists the next time on with Modi in the top job. Blackwill said what many in the US security-intelligence establishment seemed to strongly believe that though previous Indian prime ministers from Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh had considered the war option from time to time when hit by bloody terror attacks from Pakistan, it is Modi who could actually exercise the war option.

A popular - and populist - prime minister, who loves playing to the gallery and projecting himself as a modern day 'iron man' like Sardar Patel, and one whose political grooming as a fierce Hindu nationalist makes it incumbent on him to hit out strongly at Pakistan at the first opportunity, may not act with the kind of restraint that Atal Bihari Vajpayee displayed after the terrorist attack on Parliament when he mobilized the entire Indian army (Operation Parakram) but did not finally go to war.

Vajpayee, more than any Indian prime minister, had good reasons to make war on Pakistan as someone who had gone to Lahore to make durable peace and then been hit by Kargil, Kandahar, and finally the assault on Parliament. But he limited the Kargil campaign to a defensive effort to eject intruders from Indian territory, avoided pressures to do an Entebbe at Kandahar, and then deployed the entire Indian army without finally going to war with Pakistan. The feeling in Washington is that Modi is no Vajpayee. The fierce Indian riposte in artillery duels across the Line of Control seems to have confirmed American impressions that they need to work on developing a proper response to a scenario when India faces another Parliament attack or 26/11, and then decides to go to war.

A war between two nuclear-armed arch rivals has been Washington's worst case scenario in Asia, and Modi may make that happen is the feeling. As part of its ongoing exercise to defuse India-Pakistan tensions , Obama has done his bit to 'encourage'(some say, incentivize) Modi to resume dialogue with the Nawaz Sharif administration in view of Sharif's determined onslaught against the Pakistani Talibans after the Peshawar school attack. That has produced some results - the new foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar has visited Islamabad, although as part of a larger "Saarc yatra". But it is now emerging that Modi and his security-intelligence establishment are also confabulating on possible responses to a terror strike from Pakistan that some see as a possibility in the not-too-distant future.

Reconciling the irreconcilable

Mar 06, 2015

Mr Sayeed plays to the gallery to score brownies. Like a leopard not changing its spots, he has displayed this trait. His assertion that when he was chief minister last, he got a general to place his hat at the feet of an imam is totally false.

Politics is the art of the possible in which there can be strange bedfellows in pursuit of po-wer. After two months of talks the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, with diametrically opposite ideologies and agenda, have reached a consensus for sharing power in Jammu and Kashmir. There has been some give and take by both. However, this is a mismatched marriage which may not last long. The PDP-Congress alliance from 2002 to 2008, when the two parties had no fundamental ideological differences, was not a happy experience. As mutually decided, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had to vacate the chief minister’s chair on completing three years as the chief minister. The PDP now started acting almost like an Opposition. Its ministers boycotted Cabinet meetings on flimsy grounds and even boycotted functions presided over by the President of India. Ultimately, the PDP withdrew support leading to the fall of the Congress chief minister. Let us hope that the new coalition partners fare better, particularly when the BJP prudently has conceded a full six-year term for Mr Sayeed. It is premature to have a non-Muslim chief minister in Kashmir at present.

Democracy has now got properly established in Kashmir. There was a time in the days of Sheikh Abdullah when single candidates would contest elections from a constituency and get elected unopposed. After Sheikh’s dismissal in 1953, the scenario changed. B.K. Nehru who was governor of Kashmir in the Seventies, wrote in his autobiography “from 1953 to 1975 chief ministers of the state had been the nominees of Delhi appointed through rigged elections.” Indira-Sheikh accord in 1975 brought Sheikh Abdullah back to power. He won a huge mandate at the polls. Thereafter, elections again started being rigged. The 1987 election was heavily rigged causing much frustration among those who lost. Mohammed Yusuf Shah, now known as Syed Salahudeen, was defeated at the polls. He went over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and has been organising terrorist attacks across the Line of Control (LoC) since then.

The 2002 Assembly election was universally recognised as free and fair. International correspondents witnessed and confirmed this. Mr Sayeed, who had been the president of the Congress in the state, joined the Janata Party of V.P. Singh and became Union home minister for a while. It is said that he stage managed the abduction of his daughter and released five terrorists to get her back with a view to building a political base for himself in the Valley. He then started a new political party called the PDP.

From lip service to action in science

March 6, 2015

PTINO LIFT OFF: “Despite Narendra Modi applauding the scientists space community on the success of Mangalyaan, this year’s budget for the Department of Space has remained flat at Rs.6,000 crore.” Picture shows the PSLV-C25 rocket carrying the Mars Orbiter spacecraft, at Sriharikota in 2013.

If Narendra Modi’s new and much-needed thrust of ‘Make in India’ has to truly translate into reality, Indian Science and Technology has to be bolstered much more

The Union Budget, which was presented on February 28, National Science Day, unfortunately failed to bring a smile on the faces of Indian scientists. It is indeed ironic that it was on the same day, before the Budget was presented, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to Indian scientists as “India’s pride.” But young research scholars, the foot soldiers of research and development who form the backbone of all innovation, marked that Saturday as a “black day.” Many of them are now sitting on a fast in New Delhi seeking a hike in scholarship amounts.

In the Budget which was supposed to announce “big bang” reforms, no new big ticket initiatives were announced in Science and Technology, possibly a reflection of Science Minister Harsh Vardhan’s preoccupation with the Delhi elections.

Last fiscal, there was a drastic and unprecedented 30 per cent cut in the field of science. A science secretary had a simple solution to this: “This year we will ensure that the money allocated for sanctioned programmes is spent by December,” he said. At least then, he added, the work force can be kept fully occupied with cutting-edge programmes.

Afghanistan’s Mujahideen and a Fragile Peace

By Ali Reza Sarwar
March 04, 2015

The continuing role of mujahideen leaders in Afghan politics puts the country’s future at risk. 

Twenty-six years ago, in February 1989, the last Soviet soldiers pulled out of Afghanistan, ending a nine-year of bloody invasion that left behind a ravaged land and cost the lives of roughly 15,000 Red Army soldiers andtwo million Afghans. The war was a mistake – according to Soviet authorities – and a tragedy for Afghanistan. It also sowed the seeds of the devastating civil wars and subsequent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban in 1996.

When the Soviets left Afghanistan under the Geneva Accord signed between the last Soviet-backed government of Mohammed Najibullah and Pakistan with the former Soviet Union and the U.S. as guarantors, Afghan Islamic fighters known as the mujahideen were still fighting to enter Kabul. After another three years of fierce battle, they were in control of the capital. As a political tradition and a national holiday, the aging mujahideen leaders come together each year to celebrate their victory and attempt to define their current and future political role. This year, however, the situation in Kabul was rife with antagonism, uncertainty about the future, and controversy over who should be credited for Afghanistan’s jihad and consequently rule the country.

For instance, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayef, a powerful jihadi leader who competed in the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election in April 2014, called President Ashraf Ghani’s shaky unity government a dictatorship and criticized it for excluding the mujahideen from major political decisions, particularly in the current negotiations with the Taliban and in the normalization of relations with Pakistan. Amir Ismail Khan, the former governor of western Herat province and minister of energy and water under Karzai, called on mujahideen leaders toestablish a united political platform to defend their status and rights. Earlier, when Ghani announced his cabinet on January 12, 2015, Ismail Khan warned that war could break out within the next two months because of the exclusion of the mujahideen. In response to the mujahideen leaders, Abdullah Abdullah, the current chief executive officer in the unity government and himself a jihadi leader under the late Commander Ahmad Shah Masoud from the Northern Alliance, said that “being a former jihadi does not qualify one to be appointed as minister as the credit for jihad goes to all the people of Afghanistan.”

China’s Great Wall Of Debt

March 04, 2015

China’s debt has surged in recent years. Can it handle it? 

China’s great leap forward economically has now led the communist nation to join its developed rivals in the major debtors club. With growth slowing, is the world’s second-biggest economy heading for a crash?

According to a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), China’s debt has quadrupled from $7 trillion in 2007 to $28 trillion as of mid-2014, reaching 282 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and higher than the level of the United States. Continuing its current pace of growth would see China’s debt reach 400 percent of GDP by 2018, the equivalent of Spain.

Commenting on China’s debt explosion, the report said: “Several factors are worrisome: half of loans are linked directly or indirectly to China’s real estate market, unregulated shadow banking accounts for nearly half of new lending, and the debt of many local governments is likely unsustainable.”

According to MGI, property prices have risen by 60 percent since 2008 in 40 Chinese cities, with residential prices in prime locations in Shanghai now only about 10 percent below the level of New York and Paris. A sustained slowdown would hit the housing construction sector that accounts for 15 percent of GDP, while banks would suffer the fallout, particularly city commercial banks where real estate accounts for up to 30 percent of their loan portfolios.

As much as $9 trillion of debt is directly or indirectly linked to the real estate sector, including most of the loans by the shadow banking sector, with loans of around $6.5 trillion. In addition, slowing property markets increase the risk of a blowout in local government debt, with up to 40 percent of debt servicing and repayments funded by land sales.

Borrowing by local governments has grown by 27 percent a year since 2007 – 2.5 times as fast as the central government’s. According to a Standard & Poor’s report issued in November 2014, as many as half of the provincial governments would fall below investment grade, with most having debt to revenue ratios exceeding 100 percent.

Already, a property correction is underway with a 14 percent fall in the value of residential property transactions in 40 Chinese cities between April 2013 and August 2014, although Beijing saw a steep 33 percent dive and Shanghai dropped 21 percent.

MGI said the Chinese economy accounted for more than one-third of global growth in debt since 2007, with the largest driver being borrowing by non-financial corporations, including property developers. At 125 percent of GDP, China has one of the highest levels of corporate debt in the world, it said, noting that “rapid growth in debt has often been followed by financial crises.”

“A plausible concern is that the combination of an overextended property sector and unsustainable finances of local governments could result in a wave of loan defaults in China, damaging the regular banking system and potentially creating a wave of losses for investors and companies that have put money into shadow banking vehicles,” it said.

While spillovers to the global economy would be reduced due to the fact that China’s capital account is not fully liberalized, any further slowdown in Asia’s biggest economy would hit growth prospects for its regional trading partners.

China: Exit Counter-Intervention, Enter Peripheral Defense

By Michael Carl Haas
March 04, 2015

China’s focus on countering a U.S. military intervention along its periphery is alive and well. 

In a recent article in The Washington Quarterly, two well-respected scholars of Chinese military affairs seek to debunk the idea that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been designing its modernization drive and strategic planning around the concept of “counter-intervention,” which refers to the ability to force an outside power to stand off from the Chinese mainland and its immediate periphery during a conflict. Their assessment is based on a meticulous review of Chinese military texts, which the great majority of Western defense analysts will find difficult to dispute and which imbues their work with an air of scholarly authority, even where their judgments stray beyond what is warranted by their careful review of the language involved.

The article has made quite a splash, with The Diplomat’s Franz-Stefan Gady going so far as to call it “The One Article to Read on Chinese Naval Strategy in 2015.” I have to disagree with this assessment. This is not to say that those interested in China’s military modernization can afford to gloss over Fravel and Twomey’s article – they cannot, and should not. It is an important corrective provided by two leading scholars and, as such, should induce us to adapt the vocabulary we rely on in describing Chinese military planning vis-à-vis the United States. But don’t stop reading just yet, and don’t fall into the strange constructivist trap of believing that a strategy suddenly ceases to exist because the language we used to describe it is shown not to be in widespread use among its makers.

The Myth: ‘Counter-Intervention’ as a Chinese Concept

In establishing this latter fact, Fravel and Twomey succeed beyond reasonable doubt: The idea that “counter-intervention” is the genuinely Chinese equivalent to the Western concept of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) is not supported by the available evidence, period. The authors deserve credit for exposing this fallacy, and unless new material is uncovered that strongly points in a different direction, serious analysts should refrain from attributing the term “counter-intervention” to the PLA or other participants in the Chinese doctrinal debate. While I see no compelling factual grounds for discarding the construct altogether, its troubled history of association with Chinese sources should be reason enough to retire it. Given the PLA’s focus on defending China’s maritime periphery against both regional and extra-regional actors seeking to intervene in its perceived spheres of vital interest, the concept of “peripheral defense” would seem to me to offer an adequate alternative description of the Chinese approach to anti-access warfare.

While I may or may not be taken up on this suggestion, a replacement is, in fact, required. For when it comes to characterizing the actual content of Chinese military strategy and operational paradigms, Fravel and Twomey find themselves on much shakier ground. Spurred by their compelling refutation of the relevance of “counter-intervention” as a concept in current use by PLA planners to describe their overall operational and strategic frameworks, they begin to equate this with a refutation of the substance of the “counter-intervention” paradigm as an important element of PLA doctrine and plans.

Did Japan Just Change Its Attitude Toward South Korea?

March 05, 2015

A change in Japan’s official diplomatic language is causing a furor in South Korea. 

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has changed how it describes South Korea, raising concerns among South Koreans that the the bilateral relationship is becoming more strained.

On the MOFA’s website, Japan used to describe South Korea as “an important neighboring country that shares basic values with Japan such as freedom, democracy, and a market economy.” However, as of March 4, the description had changed to simply call South Korea Japan’s “most important neighboring country.”

The ministry’s altered description matches Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent stance on South Korea. When Abe gave speeches in 2013 and 2014, he described South Korea exactly the MOFA’s website used to: as “our most important neighboring country with which we share fundamental values and interests.” Abe changed this formulation in his February speech to the Diet, saying simply that “the Republic of Korea (ROK) is our most important neighboring country.”

Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in March 1 speech that Japan and South Korea, “both upholding values of liberal democracy and a market economy, are important neighbors that are endeavoring together to pursue peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.” The different descriptions hint that top leaders have diverged in their view of the relationship.

The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun reported on March 4 that the changed language underscores the persistent friction between the two nations.

“We changed the description so that it matches the one that has often been used recently,” an unnamed MOFA official told Asahi Shimbun. Another unnamed government official told Asahi that the change was mainly brought about by South Korea’s October 2014 decision to indict a Japanese journalist, Sankei Shimbun’s former bureau chief in Seoul, on charges of defaming President Park.

South Korean media expressed a deeper concern over the change in language, using it as evidence that Japan’s rightward shift is accelerating. Media also speculated the change could be a sign that Japan will try to deny the Murayama Statement later this year at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end.

Financial Scandals in Japan Could Force Shake-Up in Abe's Cabinet

March 04, 2015

Alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law are reverberating through the LDP and DPJ alike. 

The past few days have been rough for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Following the resignation of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Koya Nishikawa, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Hakubun Shimomura, Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki, and Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa have come under intense scrutiny for impropriety with political funds under the Political Funds Control Law.

The Political Funds Control Law is meant to increase the transparency of campaign contributions. It forbids a company from making a political donation within a year of being notified that they would receive a state subsidy, in order to prevent paybacks for receiving such subsidies. However, ambiguities in the law remain, and Abe’s ministers are fighting back against the opposition’s charges.

Under the Political Funds Control Law, it is not illegal for the politician to receive the money if they did not know that the money was illegal (i.e. were not aware that the company had received a state subsidy in the past year). It is also not illegal if the state subsidy was used for non-profit activities, such as experiments, research, and disaster relief, or if the subsidy is disbursed through a general incorporated association rather than directly through the state.

Mochizuki and Kamikawa have denied that they knew Suzuyo and Co., which made donations to them in 2013, was receiving subsidies. Mochizuki’s electoral branch received 1.4 million yen ($13,000) from Suzuyo in 2013 within months after the company began receiving subsidies, but Mochizuki said he was not aware of those subsidies until contacted by media representatives on February 26. Kamikawa’s electoral branch also received donations from Suzuyo. Different sources provide different figures for these donations, with Yomiuri reporting 720,000 yen ($6,000) and Asahi reporting 600,000 yen ($5,000).

China’s Financial Leasing Industry: Safe in the Arms of Banks

March 05, 2015

Financial leasing firms not affiliated with banks are beginning to struggle. 

As China’s financial environment has deteriorated, the performance of its financial leasing industry has been mixed. Financial leasing companies associated with banks have continued to receive adequate liquidity, especially because banks that lend to these firms face lower loan provisions since leasing companies are by their nature heavily collateralized. Many financial leasing companies not associated with banks have lost access to funding.

Financial leasing companies have been in existence since China’s reform and opening-up, in various forms. These firms purchase equipment and lease it to firms. This kind of financial intermediation is popular in the aviation, construction, medical, and automotive industries, which require high levels of capital investment. The property rights remain in the hands of the lessor.

Bank-owned financial leasing companies are considered safe borrowers since they have the guarantee of the parent company. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was the first financial leasing company associated with a bank, and was founded on November 28, 2007, after the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) allowed the creation of bank-owned leasing companies. China Development Bank and ICBC, two very large state-owned banks, are currently the largest Chinese lessors.

By contrast, many financial leasing companies that are not associated with banks have found it difficult to obtain funding in an environment of low growth and tight liquidity. Sources of revenue stemming from three areas, including interest margin revenue, or interest earnings on leases, residual value revenue, or price earnings on the leased item, and service revenue have shrunk in recent months. Ordinary financial leasing companies regulated by the Ministry of Commerce may fare worse than special financial leasing companies, which face more exacting regulation. For the latter, the CBRC laid out the new Administrative Measures for Financial Leasing Companies on March 13, 2014, lowering the barriers to entry into the financial leasing industry, while requiring at least one eligible commercial bank, domestic large manufacturer, or overseas financial leasing company to hold a minimum 30 percent stake in the company. Ordinary financial leasing companies in particular are feeling the funding pinch.

Potential financial leasing firm failures would recollect the wave of leasing firm collapses that occurred between 1997 and 2000, as turnover fell sharply. The situation subsequently improved, and as regulations were revised in 2007, the leasing industry was rejuvenated. As the economy boomed, financial leasing loans enjoyed in excess of 54 percent compound annual growth between 2009 and 2013 under loose leverage restrictions. The economic slump that hit once again in 2014 increased risk and funding costs in the industry, particularly for leasing firms lending to trade-sensitive industries such as shipping and packaging.

Reality Check: China's Military Power Threatens America

March 4, 2015 

In their writings on China’s military modernization, too many commentators fail to ground their views in the available sources. In most cases, this practice does no more than discredit the author, or the publication that gives him a forum; but when analysts responsible for writing national assessments are unversed in original writings, the consequences may be far graver.

In a recent Washington Quarterly article, M. Taylor Fravel and Christopher Twomey spotlight the more baleful side of this tendency, taking aim at influential American analysts who write unlearned perspectives about Chinese intentions towards the United States.

The paper’s title—“Projecting Strategy: The Myth of Chinese Counter-Intervention”—captures its thesis. Fravel and Twomey claim that in recent years the U.S. national security community has repeatedly mischaracterized China’s likely response to American intervention in a regional conflict involving China, ascribing aggressive designs where none exist. This practice, the authors believe, has given rise to a conventional wisdom that is harmful to bilateral relations.

To be sure, Fravel and Twomey are on solid ground when they expose those who claim that “counter-intervention” is a term used frequently in Chinese texts. But this error can be set straight in a footnote, certainly no more than a single sentence. Perhaps as simple as this: Authoritative Chinese sources seldom use the term “counter intervention,” or anything resembling it, except when discussing foreign imputations of Chinese strategy.

China And the Secret Raids on South Africa’s Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center

Joseph Fitsanakis
March 4, 2015

Was China behind mystery raids on South African nuclear facilities?

China is believed to be the culprit of a mysterious armed raid that took place at a South African nuclear facility in 2007, which has puzzled security experts for years, according to classified documents leaked to the media. The raid took place on November 8, 2007, at the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center, located outside Johannesburg. That evening, two groups of armed assailants, later described by authorities as “technically sophisticated criminals”, skillfully deactivated numerous layers of physical security around the facility, including a 10,000-volt electrical perimeter fence. They entered the grounds of the nuclear station and fired at an off-duty night guard who saw them and tried to raise the alarm as he was leaving his post. The injured guard managed to summon a police team patrolling nearby, but by the time it arrived the assailants had managed to escape carrying with them a laptop computer stolen from the research facility’s control room. They were never caught despite an extensive investigation by South African authorities.

In the weeks following the raid, South African officials publicly dismissed the incident as the work of small-time criminals. Abdul Minty, the South African representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) described the raid as a “failed burglary”, while the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, which owns the Pelindaba facility, said the incident had been simply “a piece of random criminality”. One theory, which was especially popular in American media circles, was that the raid had been conducted by a terrorist group, or by an organized criminal gang employed by a terrorist group, aimed at acquiring nuclear material or designs that would enable them to build a nuclear weapon.

China’s Military Budget Up 10% This Year

Edward Wong and Chris Buckley
March 4, 2015

China’s Military Budget Increasing 10% for 2015, Official Says

BEIJING — The Chinese military budget for 2015 will be about 10 percent bigger than last year’s, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, meaning that such spending is growing at a pace faster than the overall growth rate of the Chinese economy.

The estimate was given in Beijing by Fu Ying, a veteran diplomat who is the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, whose annual meeting begins this week. Ms. Fu said at a news conference that the military budget’s precise numbers would be announced Thursday, along with other budget outlays that will later be formally approved by the legislature.

A 10 percent increase would put the 2015 military budget around $145 billion, making China the world’s second-largest military spender, though still far behind the United States, which spends more on its armed forces than the next eight countries combined.

China’s “defense budget increases have always outpaced the growth in G.D.P.,” said Richard A. Bitzinger​, a senior fellow at ​the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore​ who has studied China’s military spending patterns.

“But this is the first time when the gap could be really, really big,” Mr. Bitzinger said. “That is, if the economy only grows by, say, 6 percent, but the defense budget grows by 10 percent, that’s a really sizable difference. It demonstrates that the Chinese leadership is committed to increasing defense spending, no matter what.”

Military experts say China’s actual military budget is almost certainly higher than the official number, but still far less than that of the United States.

DNI Clapper Says Iran Is Deeply Involved in Fight Against ISIS in Iraq

March 3, 2015

US intelligence official: Iran involved in fight against IS

WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s top intelligence official says Iran is involved in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says Tehran has “a very robust commitment to the fight” and has people there in an advisory capacity.

In an interview broadcast Tuesday on CBS, Clapper says the Iranians have “brought in large amounts of weaponry” to Iraq.

Clapper also says Iran already has the “technical competence” to make a nuclear weapon and a decision will be up to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Clapper tells CBS “it’s a political decision for them” and predicts Iran “will maintain the expertise and the capability in all the realms” to produce such a weapon.

Khamenei has said Iran would accept a “fair and sensible” outcome of nuclear talks.

Interests, Not Emotion, Should Guide Response to ISIS

Supporters of the deposed Shah of Iran being executed following the revolution (August 1979).

I was on a site visit to Abu Ghraib in 2004 after touring a medical treatment facility. One of my escorts asked, “Would you like to walk by and see the guy who beheaded Daniel Pearl.” I declined. I was on official business and sightseeing was not one of my duties. In 2004, beheading was a relatively rare act in comparison. Today, the means of execution used in political violence attracts more attention than the deaths themselves or the political context in which they take place.

Clearly ISIS is mounting what can be called an Information Operation in military terms, designed to stun, scare, and outrage Western audiences along with millions of Middle Easterners. The goal of terrorism is to cause political change in opposing states or groups by making them feel uncertain and unsafe and to destabilize or cause them to question established order. ISIS is certainly not the only actor using violent means. Yet, despite other large political events which could – and perhaps should – elicit attention and a response from the U.S. and the West, minds seem to be focused on ISIS. Why is this? What is the difference?

Violence We Cannot Look Away From

US, Allies Reviewing Bomb Stockpiles for ISIS Fight

MARCH 2, 2015

The U.S. military is making sure it has enough bombs and missiles to continue striking Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

After six months of conducting widespread airstrikesacross northern Iraq and Syria in a campaign that shows no signs of abating, the U.S. military and its allies are re-evaluating the size of their bomb stockpiles, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Marcus Weisgerber is the global business reporter for Defense One covering the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for nearly a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air ... Full Bio

The review would ensure that the weapon supply in the U.S. and overseas is adequate to meet current and future strikes against Islamic State militants. It comes after three years of reduced weapon spending due to federal budget caps and a drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. military and a dozen allies have conducted more than 2,600 airstrikes and dropped more than 3,000 bombs on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, according to Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, which is overseeing the mission.

“The U.S. is looking at its stockpiles, in some cases, to make sure we have adequate munitions,” Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, told Defense One during an interview at the IDEX arms show in in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Current Status of Military Operations Against ISIS in Iraq

March 4, 2015

The government offensive to take Tikrit (a Sunni Arab city 125 kilometers north of Baghdad) is basically an Iranian operation. Most of the troops involved are Iraqi Shia militia organized, trained, armed and advised (in some cases led) by Iranian officers. A senior Iranian general (head of the Quds Force, officially an international terrorist organization that organizes pro-Iran armed groups outside Iran) recently arrived to supervise the operation. No American air support is being used and the Americans say that is because Iraq did not request any. The real reason for no U.S. air support is the fact that this is an Iranian operation and if American smart bombs and missiles were used the Iranians would blame the Americans for any civilian casualties. Iraq fears there will be a lot of civilian casualties because most of the 200,000 residents of Tikrit are Sunni Arabs. This is the hometown of Saddam Hussein, who is still considered a hero here. Iran considers Saddam Hussein a war criminal and arch enemy of Shia Moslems. 

The attack on Tikrit (which ISIL has held since mid-2014) began March 1stwhen 27,000 troops and militia advanced in three columns. After three days the attack force has moved into the suburbs of Tikrit and recaptured some villages. The main battle will be in Tikrit itself. American advisors say most Iraqi troops are not yet ready to handle large-scale urban warfare. The militias are trained for a more primitive style of combat that means taking a lot more casualties to advance. Iran has trained these guys to think of this as a religious war, of Shia against fanatic Sunnis who see Shia as heretics to be murdered on sight. Iran has trained the militia to see this as a very personal battle in which death is martyrdom and as much a reward as victory. The problem is that ISIL trains their people the same way so the U.S. (and many Iraqi Army commanders) expects an epic bloodbath made even more horrific by mass murder of Sunni civilians. 

Estonia Did Its Post-Soviet Homework

MAR 3, 2015

There aren't many European leaders who take a harder line on Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression in Ukraine than his Estonian counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves. His sympathy for Ukraine, however, is tempered by a belief that it didn't do enough in advance to protect itself. His own country, he suggests, has been more responsible, which is why it will be more secure.

Ilves, who grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Columbia University, speaks English with a perfect American accent. (Locals say his Estonian is worse.) If our conversation weren't taking place in the modest Tallinn mansion that houses the presidential office, and if Ilves weren't wearing his trademark bow tie, it would be easy to take him for a U.S. administration official -- one particularly indignant about Putin's disregard for post-World War II international rules (and, by extension, his disrespect for post-Cold War American hegemony).

But Ilves's concerns are more easily understandable than those of Americans. His tiny country of 1.3 million lies on Russia's borders and is home to 300,000 ethnic Russians, 130,000 of them carrying Russian passports. So when Putin has taunted the West in recent months -- by having warplanes invade NATO airspace, for example -- Ilves, the commander-in-chief of his country's military, has had no choice but to worry. "We see this very aggressive attitude combined with aggressive behavior that I think makes everyone nervous," he says. "But being Russia's neighbor it is more immediate to us than, I think, to countries that have buffers in between. Germany has Poland in between and Kaliningrad and Italy has a whole bunch of stuff in between."

Deprived of geographic buffers, Estonia, Ilves says, has invested time and effort in building other kinds. NATO membership is the most important. Ilves says Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which calls on member nations to help each other in case of an attack, is an effective deterrent to any Russian designs on the ex-Soviet Baltic states. "It is of such crucial existential importance to NATO that Article 5 be observed that it will be observed, because if you're saying" -- here Ilves parodies a whiny voice -- "'Well, maybe we shouldn't go defend the Estonians' – as soon as they don't, as soon as Article 5 doesn't work, every country is on its own, and the only country that can handle being on its own is the United States."

Bibi’s Triumph Puts Obama on the Defensive


If President Obama was hoping that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would lay an egg with his much-anticipated and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress, he was gravely disappointed. Netanyahu’s address was a triumph that put the administration on the defensive over its reckless pursuit of détente with Iran. But though the administration’s apologists are willing to admit that Netanyahu won on style points, they are wrong when they claim he offered no alternative to a deal with Iran that abandons the president’s previously stated principles about forcing the Islamist regime to abandon their nuclear ambitions. To the contrary, Netanyahu’s speech was more than stirring rhetoric. It laid out clear benchmarks for what must be achieved in any deal and pointed the way toward a return to tough sanctions and equally tough negotiating tactics. In doing so, he put the administration on the defensive and, no matter what happens in the talks, forces it to explain an indefensible deal and reminded Congress that it has a responsibility to weigh in on the issue to ensure the nation’s security.

What had to most frustrate the White House was Netanyahu’s ability to debunk their main talking point about the speech. After weeks of hyping the address as an injection of partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship, the prime minister’s willingness to give the president his due for past support of Israel and his refusal to mention the many instances in which Obama had undercut the Jewish state’s position and deliberately attempted to create more distance between the two allies made the White House’s angry reaction look petty. The prime minister’s initial decision to accept House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation gave the president the opening he needed to distract the country from his Iran policy. With the help of the president’s always helpful press cheering section, White House political operatives made Netanyahu’s supposed breach of protocol the issue rather than the appeasement of Iran. But they eventually succumbed to overkill in denouncing Netanyahu and by the time the prime minister took the podium at the Capitol, the administration’s efforts had the unintended effect of giving him a bigger audience than he might otherwise have had.


Kurdish People's Protection Units soldiers walk near the town entrance circle heading to their strongholds in Kobani, Syria, Nov. 19, 2014.  

The BLOODY CONFLICT IN Syria —which enters its fifth year this month—has killed almost 200,000 people, created 3.2 million refugees, and given rise to the murderous extremist group known as the Islamic State. The roots of the civil war extend deep into Syria’s political and socioeconomic structures. But another cause turns out to be global warming.

When violence erupted in Syria during the Arab Spring in 2011, the country had been mired in a three-year drought—its worst in recorded history. Government agricultural policies had led to an overreliance on rain, so desperate farmers had to turn to well water—and they ended up sucking most of the country’s groundwater reserves dry. What happened next upended the country. “A lot of these farmers picked up their families, abandoned their villages, and went en masse to urban areas,” says Colin Kelley, a climate scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of a new paper on the conflict. Add 1.5 million refugees fleeing the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the population of Syrian cities grew by 50 percent between 2002 and 2010. The influx led to illegal settlements, rampant unemployment, and inequality. But the government hardly did anything in response (corruption didn’t help, nor did the fact that the hardest-hit areas were populated by Kurdish minorities, who have long been discriminated against and ignored). Soon, frustrations boiled over.

The drought didn’t cause the violence—it just made Syria susceptible. But what’s more important here is that the drought, Kelley found, was severe likely because of human-caused global warming. It’s behind the drop in precipitation researchers have seen since 1930, the beginning of the data record. The researchers compared two climate models of the region: one that included the warming effects of greenhouse gases and one that didn’t. They found that in the model with global warming, severe, multiyear droughts like the one that preceded the Syrian uprising were two to three times more common than in the other model. A statistical analysis of the data also showed that the long-term trends of rising temperatures and drier climate make droughts more likely and severe. While it’s impossible to link global warming to this particular drought, climate change makes such droughts much more probable. “Climate change isn’t causing it by itself,” Kelley says. “But if you combine it with all the preexisting factors, it can multiply that threat.”

Nemtsov and the Road Russia Never Took

March 3, 2015

The cold-blooded murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov last Friday against the majestic backdrop of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral marked the further descent of Russian politics into the equivalent of Dante's Inferno; a very dark place that seethes with hatred, deception, and violence. Boris, an almost larger than life figure, radiated love, transparency of the unvarnished truth, and peaceful resolution of differences. He stood for values completely at odds with those of Vladimir Putin's Kremlin.

A one-time wunderkind brought by Yeltsin to Moscow in 1997 to perhaps be his successor, he embodies the road not taken by Russia since Mr. Putin succeeded Yeltsin 15 years ago. Boris may have had his flaws as a politician, and perhaps some bad luck on timing, but he carried a powerful vision for a truly democratic Russia where corruption was genuinely attacked rather than embraced by the new elite. And even when he was marginalized as a mainstream politician after 2003, he soldiered on with colleagues like Gary Kasparov, Vladimir Milov, and others in a Sisyphean struggle, always with good humor and a charismatic gleam in his eye, against the violations of the Russian government against their own people.

His final struggle was to reveal the illegal actions taken by Russian military forces in supporting the insurgency in Ukraine. Just last month he uttered the ultimate blasphemy for Kremlin ideologists by saying that Russia needed a revolution like Maidan. In the hot-house of mirrors that is contemporary Russia's war propaganda world, Nemtsov was an appealing target for any number of recently converted zealots. Boris Nemtsov for years had been a purveyor of inconvenient truths to the Putin regime. Nemtsov was a genuine Russian patriot who sought to advance the national interest of an entire nation of more than 140 million people; not a puffed-up, bare-chested kleptocrat whose only goal is preservation of power.

Japan’s Legendary Warship Found Near The Philippines

March 05, 2015

One of the world’s largest and most advanced battleships was discovered this week. 

A research team led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen claims to have finally found the wreckage of one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced battleships sunk during the Second World War.

On March 2, Allen posted images on Twitter that seemed to show the Musashi, an Imperial Japanese Navy battleship. The Musashi was sunk by American forces on October 24, 1944 in the lead up to the Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II, one of history’s largest naval battles. The images posted by Allen included a photo of the ships bow clearly bearing the chrysanthemum crest of the Japanese imperial family. Kazushige Todaka, the director of Japan’s Kure Maritime Museum also told CNN after viewing the information that it appeared to be the Musashi.

The Musashi was one of two Yamato-class battleships built by the Imperial Japanese Navy, considered the heaviest and most powerful armed battleships ever constructed (Robert Farley has written about the Musashi’ssister ship, the Yamato, for The Diplomat magazine here). Commissioned in 1942, the Musashi weighed around 73,000 tons fully loaded, was nearly 900 feet in length, and was armed with nine 45 Caliber 46 cm Type 94 main guns, the largest guns to ever be mounted on a warship. They dwarfed their U.S. equivalents of the day, and the World War II Database has some historical accounts of U.S. personnel marveling at its sheer size. “[Musashi] was huge!” exclaimed gunner Russ Dustan of the USS Franklin. “I had never seen anything as big in my entire life. It was a magnificent sight”.

Allen also tweeted that a remote operated probe launched from his luxury yacht and exploration ship, the M/Y Octopus, had found the Musashi at a depth of one kilometer on the floor of the Sibuyan Sea off of the Philippines. Previously, the Musashi’s location had remained a mystery despite multiple eyewitness accounts; Allen and his team had been searching for it for more than eight years.

Debunked: Hispanic Voters Can't Make Jeb Bush President

March 5, 2015 

The Midwest will be the central battleground in the 2016 presidential election.

Is the Bush dynasty poised to add Jeb to the list of U.S. presidents? Not if the former Florida Governor can’t win over white working-class voters, argued two panelists at a luncheon hosted by the Center for The National Interest on Wednesday. The event, which focused on The National Interest’s current cover story “The Bush Restoration,” featured the article’s author Sam Tanenhaus, a contributing columnist to Bloomberg View, and Henry Olsen, a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. TNI’s editor Jacob Heilbrunn moderated.

Tanenhaus argued that the Bush family has long had an uncanny feel--like a “carpenter’s level”--for finding the right set of policies that can unite the GOP. He also detected a resurgence of the importance of Midwestern Republicans, which he felt was a good thing for the GOP. Olsen also highlighted the significance of the Midwest but was skeptical that Jeb Bush would fare well as either a primary or general election candidate. He noted that Jeb seemed to be counting on his ability to win over more Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney could in 2012 in order to win the presidency in 2016.

However, Olsen argued that this would not be enough to propel Bush to victory. As he noted, Hispanic voters are highly concentrated within a few states. Many of these states, such as New York and California, vote solidly for Democrats. In 2012, over two-thirds of eligible Hispanic voters lived in what were considered non-battleground states. It is unlikely that Hispanic voters can swing many states in Bush’s favor.

Does Russia Need a 2nd Aircraft Carrier?

Ankit Panda
March 4, 2015

Does Russia Really Need a Second Aircraft Carrier?

Russia is in the process of building a new aircraft carrier, according to statements made by Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Russia’s senior-most naval commander to state media. On Monday, Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agencyreported that the Russian navy will “receive a new promising aircraft carrier.” Additionally, Chirkov told state media that the Russian Navy can expect to add atotal of 50 vessels of multiple types. The Russian Navy currently operates a sole carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which has been in operation since 1991 after being launched in the late-1980s by the Soviet Union.

“The Navy will have an aircraft carrier. The research companies are working on it, and strictly in compliance with the requirements from the Chief Commander,” Chirkov remarked, reportedly during a trip to a diesel engine supply plant for the Russian Navy near Moscow.

The ITAR-TASS report confirms earlier Russian media reports that the Russian government-owned Krylov State Research Center was working towards the creation of a new carrier class for the Russian Navy, one allegedly capable of fielding 100 combat aircraft. By comparison, the United States’ Nimitz-class nuclear carriers carry around 90 aircraft.

Defence Budget 2015-16: The Bad, the Worse and the Good


Vinay Kaushal,  March 02, 2015

The Indian Air Force used to have a very competent, business like and unflappable Deputy Chief who, whenever one went to him for a debrief, would say, “Give me the bad news first, the worse next and anybody can handle the good news”.
Financial IndicatorsThe Bad news

The bad news in this year’s defence budget is that it does not recognise that things are not going in the right direction but only the beaten track. The ratio of defence expenditure to GDP has continued to decline over the last 30 years, as is evident in the graph below.

While it is true that GDP does not reflect the resources available to the Government and may not be the best indicator to measure defence expenditure against, Non-Plan expenditure does reflect the resources being spent by the Government. The size of the defence budget is, in principle, a measure of the resources provided for defence by the political executive. The size of the defence budget also serves to identify the relative importance of the Defence Services in comparison to other organs of the state. As acknowledged by the Finance Minister in the budget speech, Interest, Subsidies and Defence Expenditure together constitute nearly 75 per cent of the Non-Plan expenditure, but even in this regard the share of defence expenditure has been gradually falling (see graph below).

Defence expenditure has two major components, Capital and Revenue. An optimal mix of the two is needed, given that capabilities have to be continuously improved through the modernisation of weapon platforms and infrastructure even as what has been acquired is operated and maintained. An old adage made popular by General Patton, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”, still holds good. We do not appear to have figured out the optimal ratio between the two. The result has been a skewed ratio over the years as reflected in the relationship of both these components with GDP and Non-Plan expenditure (see the successive graphs below).

The Worse News

While adequacy of resources is an issue, the track record of being able to utilise the resources allocated for ‘Modernisation’ at the Budget Estimate (BE) stage during the financial year is far from impressive. Only in four of the last 20 years did the Ministry of Defence (MoD) get additional funds at the Revised Estimate (RE) stage; and only in one year did it fully utilise the allocated BE. In the remaining 15 years, the MoD failed to fully utilise the funds meant for ‘Modernisation’ in the capital budget allocated at the beginning of the year (see Table below).

The Boris Nemtsov Assassination and Central Asia

By Ryskeldi Satke
March 05, 2015

The murder of an opposition figure in Moscow has its parallels in Central Asia. 

The brazen killing on February 27 of Boris Nemtsov, the longtime critic of the Putin regime and one of the leading figures in the Russian opposition, has sent shockwaves through the former Soviet republics. Russia’s domestic politics are still closely followed in the CIS states, particularly in those where Russian broadcasting stations and news media are readily available. Nemtsov’s assassination is yet another indication of the political direction the Russian leadership has taken after the Kremlin’s military adventure in Ukraine, which itself has been revealing of the extent of Putin’s ambition.

Of course, Russian meddling in the internal affairs of post-Soviet states is hardly a novelty. The Kremlin’s strategy in its “sphere of influence” only adds to the current regional divides in Central Asia. Take the Kyrgyz Republic, where Russian intelligence has been visibly active. Kyrgyzstan had a turbulent decade, during which it also hosted a U.S.-NATO airbase on the outskirts of Bishkek. During its years of domestic instability, a series of high profile killings of journalists and political figures occurred. The most appalling assassinations took place during the rule of the runaway President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who these days resides in the city of Minsk under the protection of Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko. Immediately after the Kyrgyz coup, Vladimir Putindenied any involvement in the ousting of the regime. Nonetheless, Moscow’s “Kyrgyz project” was in motion during the Bakiyev presidency and after his overthrow in 2010 under new governments.

In a striking resemblance to Ukraine, the Russian leadership is wary of political developments in Kyrgyzstan because of the Kremlin’s fading influence in the region. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan tend to be the most distrustful of Russia’s regional initiatives. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s unorthodox approach to its northern neighbor is understandable: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised concerns in Kazakhstan about the prospects of a “Russian spring” in its border territories.

That leaves the two weakest Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which rely on Russia for political and economic support. From time to time the Tajik regime does remind the Kremlin of its duty to ”respect” its friendly ally. In contrast, under the leadership of the current ruler Almazbek Atambayev, Kyrgyzstan is the one regional state that has declared its loyalty to Moscow. Once dubbed an “island of democracy,” Kyrgyzstan is now rolling back its human rights record. Similarly, in the last three years the Kyrgyz state has been following in Russia’s legislative footsteps when it comes to basic rights. Meanwhile, domestic tension in Kyrgyzstan is mounting over Atambayev’s policies, which last year took the country’s corruption index to Russian levels.