8 March 2015

Beijing maybe ready for a resolution of the border with India: Kevin Rudd

March 8, 2015

China is changing its language towards the Dalai Lama, says Kevin Michael Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Exclusive interview with former Australian Prime Minister and President of Asia Society Policy Institute, Kevin Rudd

As Australian Prime Minister from 2007-2010 and briefly in 2013, Kevin Rudd was credited with putting Australia-China relations on the fast track. He was also accused of being too “Sino-Centric”. He is now visiting India as the President of Asia Society Policy Institute, and says he sees himself as a problem solver, with a particular interest in India-China relations. In an exclusive interview to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar, Mr. Rudd talks about how China views growing India-US closeness, and also says China wants to solve its border dispute with India.

PM Modi heads to China in May this year, and we have seen reactions in Beijing to the India-US joint vision statement announced during President Obama’s Delhi visit. How do you see China looking at the India-US relationship right now?

Kevin Rudd: China sees India through three different lenses. One over the ongoing border disagreement over the border in Tibet, that continues. The second is through the lens of economic opportunity, and I do believe that China for its own economic growth reasons, wants to see India flourish. Thirdly they see it through a foreign policy and national security lens, looking more broadly at its relationship with the United States. The Chinese have had a renormalisation of their relationship with the US starting with the Climate Change agreement in November 2014. Therefore I’m not sure that our friends in China would be opposed to a further normalisation of India’s relationship with the US, but they will always be wary given their doctrine of anything which indicates a closer defence relationship.

Given that China is wary, how does it see the Joint-Vision statement?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Prepares for an Indian Ocean Tour

March 06, 2015

Modi will visit Mauritius, Sri Lanka, and the Seychelles. A planned visit to the Maldives has been cancelled. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on his first tour abroad this year. Modi will conduct a three-nation tour across the Indian Ocean next week, stopping over in Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. The Maldives, a stop originally on Modi’s agenda, has been struck after the sudden emergence of a political crisis there in late February. Modi’s trip will focus on increasing Indian economic and strategic ties with these Indian Ocean states. Last September, before coming to India, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka and the Maldives, prompting Indian concern. Modi will spend the 11th of March in Seychelles before heading to Mauritius from the 11th to the 12th. He will conclude his trip in Sri Lanka on the 13th and 14th of the month. Modi will be the guest of honor at Mauritius’ National Day celebrations.

Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka comes shortly after the country’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena, visited New Delhi. During Sirisena’s visit, he and Modi welcomed a “new beginning” in India-Sri Lanka relations. Sirisena’s predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa was widely seen to favor increasing strategic ties with China. He crystallized closer ties between Sri Lanka and China in the form of inbound investment in infrastructure and by even allowing port calls by Chinese naval vessels. Sirisena’s government has announced that it will challenge Chinese loans that were approved under the former government and bar port visits by Chinese submarines — both positive signals for India. Sirisena’s government has additionally temporarily suspended the China-funded Colombo Port City project. Modi’s visit will likely build on the positive momentum generated during Sirisena’s New Delhi visit and lead to a broader rapprochement between the two neighbors.

The Indian prime minister’s decision to cancel his trip to the Maldives will send a clear signal to the government in Male. As I noted in a reflection on India’s policy options after the Maldivian government brutally arrested and incarcerated the country’s first democratically elected president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, canceling the visit is a fairly low intensity way for New Delhi to stress its condemnation of Nasheed’s treatment. Abdulla Yameen, the current president of the Maldives, will know that his government’s attempts to subvert democracy and the rule of law will lead to regional isolation. Without resorting to more dramatic tools such as economic sanctions, New Delhi will send a clear message. The Maldivian opposition continues to support India and economic isolation could risk that. The prime minister’s decision to scrap Male off his itinerary is sensible.

The Hardest (and Most Important) Job in Afghanistan

MARCH 4, 2015

Maj. Mohammad Qasim, second from left, a district chief for the Afghan National Police, and the district governor, Mohammad Rahim Amin, center, were among the officials trying to settle a land dispute between two families. CreditTyler Hicks/The New York Times

A week on the front lines with the Afghan National Police.

Early one cold January morning on the high plains of eastern Afghanistan, Maj. Mohammad Qasim and a few of his officers gathered in the rundown barracks that serve as a district headquarters for the Afghan National Police in Baraki Barak. Qasim and his officers were the only government security available to the 100,000 people living in a district roughly twice the size of Manhattan, and about half of the district was now controlled by the Taliban. Kabul is just 40 miles away, but the Afghan National Army had not been to Baraki Barak in two years. The ceiling in Qasim’s office leaked when it rained, and the electricity was out indefinitely, so the men had taken to sitting on floor cushions around the wood stove in Qasim’s bedroom, drinking green tea from smudged glass mugs and dealing with the problems of the day. This morning, the first problem was the death of Hajji Khalil.

He had been one of the wealthiest men in Chiltan, a small village about eight miles from the district headquarters. He farmed apples and apricots, and he owned a grocery store hundreds of miles away in the Pakistani city of Quetta. He also ran a hawala, an informal money-transfer business, through which Afghan workers in Iran sent money home to their families. Khalil was deeply troubled when, a little more than a year ago, he saw Taliban insurgents walking openly in Chiltan, pressing young men to join them and questioning anyone who seemed connected to the government. His status earned him the respect of the Taliban — “hajji” is an honorific for Muslims who have completed the hajj; like many Afghans, he has only one name — but it also obliged him to respond to their harassment of his neighbors. With Qasim’s help, he organized about 50 of his neighbors, including two of his brothers, into a militia — one of a few dozen such groups, referred to as “uprisers,” who have joined the government in battling the Taliban. Armed with secondhand rifles, the militia helped Qasim’s men in a firefight in the next village over. After that, the Taliban knew they could no longer walk freely in Chiltan.

Can al-Qaida’s Syrian Branch Rebrand?

A Nusra Front fighter wave the movement's flag at a parade at the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus, on July 28, 2014.

The complex and ever shifting alliances of the ISIS war are about to get even more complicated. Reuters reports that the Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaida affiliate in the Syrian civil war, is considering cutting ties with the international terror network. The group’s leaders are reportedly mulling the move at the urging of Qatar, one of the leading sponsors of the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs. 

Qatar has been an important supporter of the anti-Assad opposition since the earliest days of the uprising and has been far less hesitant than other governments about helping anti-Assad groups with jihadist ties. Since ISIS became an international concern, Qatar has been under pressure from the U.S. and others to be a bit more choosy about whom it does business with—which is why it is hoping to convince Nusra to break from al-Qaida. Qatar evidently believes Nusra can be an effective fighting force against both ISIS and Assad, but will suffer from a lack of outside funding as long as it’s tagged as an al-Qaida affiliate.


March 5, 2015 

Chinese influence in South and Central Asia is set to expand through the much-hyped China-Pakistan Economic Corridor just as the United States draws down its presence in the region. The proposed corridor, which plans to connect Kashgar in Western China to Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province through a network of rail, road and energy infrastructure, has become the subject of intense domestic wrangling in Pakistan. Leaders from Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, two under-developed provinces, are accusing the federal government, which draws support primarily from Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab, of modifying the original route away from the two less developed provinces. 

The government, which recently approved the route, maintains that it only intends to use existing rail and road networks in Sindh and Punjab until new rail and road infrastructure is built in the less-developed regions. Although it appears that the ongoing dispute is a result of technical considerations raised by China, and for Pakistani authorities these are informed by an underlying need to secure Chinese investment for the planned economic corridor, which would also stabilize Pakistan’s fragile economy. Underdevelopment and ongoing insurgencies in KP and Balochistan increase the cost of constructing new infrastructure, while Chinese and Pakistani governments want to operationalize the corridor as soon as possible. Economic and geopolitical concerns in both countries inform their collective haste. This project will consolidate the growing Chinese power in the region, thereby posing a formidable challenge to Western influence.

New Economic Imperatives for All-Weather Friends

Central Asia facing threats from Non-state actors

Central Asia facing threats from Non-state actors, say experts

Monitoring Desk: Ashgabat hosted a regional conference of experts titled “Issues of peace and stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan: a view from neutral Turkmenistan” this week that was attended by all important players in regional as well as international political arena except Russia though Russia is direct neighbor of Central Asia, reports Dispatch News Desk news agency.

The conference was organized by the Government of Turkmenistan with the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Liaison Office for Central Asian countries.

The conference was attended by political scientists and experts from France, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Afghanistan. The delegation of Turkmenistan included representatives of the Foreign Ministry, as well as a number of other ministries, departments and higher education establishments.

In changing scenario of Eastern Europe, Central Asian political observers are giving special concentration to the outcome of this unprecedented meeting calling it a virtual reach of NATO as far as Central Asia.

Participants of conference included experts from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the United States, representatives of the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“This high-level event, organised jointly by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan and the office of the NATO Liaison Officer in Central Asia, was unprecedented in the history of Turkmenistan’s partnership with the Alliance”, indicated official statement of NATO posted on Friday on its website.

The Coming Chinese Crackup

March 6, 2015 

The endgame of communist rule in China has begun, and Xi Jinping’s ruthless measures are only bringing the country closer to a breaking point

Chinese President Xi Jinping, front center, and other Chinese leaders attend the opening meeting on Thursday of the third session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. PHOTO: XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS

On Thursday, the National People’s Congress convened in Beijing in what has become a familiar annual ritual. Some 3,000 “elected” delegates from all over the country—ranging from colorfully clad ethnic minorities to urbane billionaires—will meet for a week to discuss the state of the nation and to engage in the pretense of political participation.

Some see this impressive gathering as a sign of the strength of the Chinese political system—but it masks serious weaknesses. Chinese politics has always had a theatrical veneer, with staged events like the congress intended to project the power and stability of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. Officials and citizens alike know that they are supposed to conform to these rituals, participating cheerfully and parroting back official slogans. This behavior is known in Chinese as biaotai, “declaring where one stands,” but it is little more than an act of symbolic compliance.

Red Alert: The South China Sea's New Danger Zone

March 7, 2015 

Beijing has its sights set on a new target.

Indonesia’s Natuna Archipelago, with only 27 of its 154 islands inhabited, is the republic’s northernmost region in the South China Sea and potentially its most vulnerable. Due to their proximity to the disputed areas and features in the South China Sea, the Natuna Islands could become yet another flashpoint in the area.

However, any effective security and military presence in the area will critically depend on local economic and infrastructure development. How will Indonesia under President Joko Widodo manage this potential point of contention with China, which is aggressively pressing its claim over a large swathe of the South China Sea?

Tyranny of distance

More than a thousand kilometers from Jakarta and located about midway between the two halves of Malaysia, the Natuna islands are spread across about 262,000 square kilometers of water, more than ten times their total land size. This presents a major geographical challenge, as does the tyranny of maritime distance within the Natuna archipelago itself. There is also a great distance between the Natunas and the rest of Indonesia, though it is part of the Riau Islands Province with Bintan, Batam and Karimun.

Superpower Showdown: America Can Stop Chinese Aggression in Asia

March 6, 2015 

Washigton might not be able to stop China's island reclamation projects, but it can make Beijing pay a steep price. Here's how.

Here’s a fun filled fact Asia hands here in the beltway and throughout the U.S. need to make peace with: Washington at present has zero chance of stoppingChina’s island building adventure in the South China Sea. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. The Obama Administration’s lackluster approach when it comes to Beijing’s challenge to the international status quo has only enabled Chinese behavior over the last few years.

But what America can do— like any smart strategist— is gain a clear understanding of Beijing's strategy when it comes to Asia and plan the next move. And that next move, a carefully-thought-out reaction to Beijing’s various attempts to slowly change the international order in the Asia-Pacific is key. To put it quite simply: China needs to pay a price for its actions now and in the future. Beijing needs to be put on notice from here on out the costs of its actions will be steep— like the promotion of a “balancing” coalition that will only grow stronger with every aggressive action China takes.

China’s Strategy in Asia: Change the Status Quo...Slowly

Beijing’s strategy is quite genius when you think about it. For those who have been watching Chinese actions over the last several years, a clear pattern emerges. Beijing has crafted a strategy using various non-kinetic actions to recast the overall balance of power in Asia with China displacing the United States as the dominant regional force.

Japan Inc.’s Offshore Gamble

March 07, 2015

The giants of Japan’s service sector are now looking overseas for opportunity. 

The check is literally in the mail for Toll Holdings, after Japan Post agreed to pay A$6.5 billion ($5.02 billion) for the Australian logistics company. But after a wave of billion-dollar overseas investments by Japanese companies, analysts say the move may not be the last as Japan Inc. punts on overseas growth.

On February 18, Toll’s board recommended to shareholders a takeover by the Japanese postal, banking and insurance giant, valuing Toll shares at 49 percent more than the previous day’s market close and setting a new record price for a Japanese takeover of an Australian company.

Stating that its acquisition was key to Japan Post becoming a “leading global logistics player,” Toll chairman Ray Horsburgh said in a statement: “Japan Post is one of the world’s leading postal and logistics companies and Toll is the largest independent logistics group in the Asia Pacific. Together, this will be a very powerful combination and one of the world’s top five logistics companies.”

Japan Post’s president Toru Takahashi reaffirmed the state-owned company’s new ambitions, saying: “We believe the combination of Japan Post and Toll will be a transformational transaction for both our companies and we are very pleased we have been able to reach agreement. In partnership with Toll we are starting a new chapter of looking outward and becoming a leading global player.”

Despite being leaked to the Australian Financial Review late on February 17, the deal stunned market watchers, being the largest overseas takeover of an Australian company since SABMiller’s $13 billion takeover of brewer Foster’s in 2011.

“No one was expecting a bid and if they were they weren’t expecting that sort of magnitude,” IG’s Chris Westontold Bloomberg. “If you’re a shareholder today, you’re going to be fairly speechless.”

Tokyo-based Japan Post has annual revenue of A$30 billion and nearly 200,000 employees in Japan, dwarfing Toll, which posted revenue of A$8.8 billion in the year to June 2014, with 40,000 staff in more than 50 countries.

What Does the NPC Have to Say About China's Pollution Woes?

March 07, 2015

Announcement made during the “two sessions” hint at increased enforcement of environmental laws. 

With a documentary on China’s smog problem going viral just days before the busiest political season of the year, pollution was bound to be a point of emphasis at China’s National People’s Congress. While the main focus has been on China’s economic reforms and the anti-corruption campaign, we are seeing some tough new language regarding the “war on pollution.”

As Chai Jing’s documentary pointed out, one of the major issues for China is that its Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has little power to enforce existing laws (much less push through tough new environmental standards). Accordingly, this week China has unveiled new initiatives meant to shore up the “rule of law” when it comes to environmental issues. China’s new environmental protection minister, Chen Jining, vowed to enhance MEP supervision over local governments. Chen (a rising political star, according to Bo Zhiyue) told the press that the MEP “will spare no effort” to implement the new Environmental Protection Law. He also advocated for increased public participation in the “war on pollution,” an attitude backed by his enthusiastic support for Chai’s documentary.

Outside of the MEP, other organizations are also paying more attention to environmental issues. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology announced a new five-year plan to prevent and control air pollution. In addition, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate is planning a nearly two-year crackdown on “environmental crime,” slated to run from March 2015 to December 2016. President Xi Jinping himself pledged “to punish with an iron hand any violators who destroy [the] ecology or environment, with no exceptions.”

Premier Li Keqiang expressed similar concern for the environment in his government work report. He called pollution a “blight on people’s quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts,” adding, “we must fight it will all our might.” Li too promised to step up enforcement of environmental laws to hold polluters to account.

Announcements made this week also codified a number of environmental targets for 2015, including cutting both China’s carbon intensity (carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP) and energy intensity (energy used per unit of GDP) by 3.1 percent and keeping energy consumption growth at around 3.4 percent annually. Beijing also recommitted to its pledge to cut its reliance on coal and increase the percentage of renewable energy in its energy matrix to 15 percent by 2020. In addition, according to National Energy Administration chief Nur Bekri, increasing the efficiency and cleanliness of coal use is a major goal for China’s energy policy in 2015.

China, the US, and Africa: Competition or Cooperation?

March 06, 2015
Plus Taiwan’s international role, China-Pakistan ties, and a cyber salvo in the Senkaku/Dioaoyu dispute. 

To start out the weekly links round-up, two interesting pieces on the U.S.-China-Africa triangle:

First, Carly Laywell of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program, writing for USNI News, explores how Chinese investment in Africa affects U.S. counterterrorism. Her conclusion: “The massive influx of Chinese immigrants and investment in Africa pose significant obstacles to U.S. development and counterterrorism efforts in the region” by reinforcing “the preexisting political and economic issues that plague impoverished African nations.” To shore up U.S. interests, Laywell argues for increased U.S. aid in areas like public health and education to lay the groundwork for political and economic reforms. It’s a classic formulation of Chinese vs. U.S. engagement with Africa as a zero-sum battle for influence.

Furthermore, we have Somini Sengupta, who writes for The New York Times about the U.S. and China’s shared interests in South Sudan. The piece explores whether the two countries can work together to halt the bloodshed. Apparently Washington and Beijing did come to some sort of consensus; a United Nations Security Council Resolution allowing for sanctions against the warring paries in South Sudan passed unanimously on March 3.

In other news, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Bonnie Glaser and Jacqueline Vitello released a report analyzing how Taiwan’s exclusion from international security organizations harms both Taiwan itself and the world. The report outlines how Taiwan can contribute more to the global commons if allowed to play an expanded role in international organizations. Given Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tough talk recently on Taiwanese independence, the prospects don’t look great.

Over at War on the Rocks, Raza Rumi looks at the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and how it will expand China’s influence in both South and Central Asia. She notes how critical the project will be for both sides – propping up Pakistan’s economy while also expanding Chinese influence (and opening up new markets for Chinese goods to boot). Rumi also looks at how security and political concerns have helped determine the route of the CPEC – to the consternation of local leaders from Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces.

Taking back Tikrit and Mosul from Islamic State could make life worse for residents

By Peter Van Buren
March 4, 2015

Shi’ite fighters fire a rocket during clashes with Islamic State militants in Salahuddin province March 1, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmed Al-Hussaini

Islamic State will lose the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Mosul.

Victory won’t come quickly or easily for the combined forces of the Iraqi government, Shi’ite militias, Kurdish fighters and Sunnis who have learned to loath Islamic State. But sheer weight of numbers, as well as Iranian and American military assistance, should do the trick.

Unfortunately, none of the parties involved in the fighting like each other very much. In Mosul in particular, beating Islamic State looks likely to set the situation back to April 2003, when an entire Iraqi army corps surrendered the city to a small American force. Fighting officially came to an end, but chaos ensued as the Kurds and Sunnis battled one another alongside Sunni and Shi’ite clashes. Crowds ransacked the central bank and pillaged the university library. During the subsequent U.S. occupation under General David Petraeus, a 21,000-strong force from the 101st Airborne pushed Kurdish militias out of Mosul and created an uneasy peace with the Sunnis.

After Petraeus left, however, multisided fighting resumed in Mosul, as the fundamental issue of which group truly controlled the city — a question that still haunts the country as a whole — was left unresolved. Islamic State was able to violently exploit that power vacuum to take the city last year.

Obama Administration Increasingly Depending on Iranian Military to Contain ISIS in Iraq

Helene Cooper
March 5, 2015

U.S. Strategy in Iraq Increasingly Relies on Iran

WASHINGTON — At a time when President Obama is under political pressure from congressional Republicans over negotiations to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, a startling paradox has emerged: Mr. Obama is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian fighters as he tries to contain the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria without committing American ground troops.

In the four days since Iranian troops joined 30,000 Iraqi forces to try to wrest Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit back from Islamic State control, American officials have said the United States is not coordinating with Iran, one of its fiercest global foes, in the fight against a common enemy. 

That may be technically true. But American war planners have been closely monitoring Iran’s parallel war against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, through a range of channels, including conversations on radio frequencies that each side knows the other is monitoring. And the two militaries frequently seek to avoid conflict in their activities by using Iraqi command centers as an intermediary.

As a result, many national security experts say, Iran’s involvement is helping the Iraqis hold the line against Islamic State advances until American military advisers are finished training Iraq’s underperforming armed forces.

“The only way in which the Obama administration can credibly stick with its strategy is by implicitly assuming that the Iranians will carry most of the weight and win the battles on the ground,” said Vali R. Nasr, a former special adviser to Mr. Obama who is now dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too — the U.S. strategy in Iraq has been successful so far largely because of Iran.”

Iran Becomes a ‘Front Line’ State

MAR 5, 2015  

When the revolt in Syria began in 2011, many policy analysts and former officials argued that the downfall of the Assad regime would be a major setback to Iran. I was one of them, and the claim was not complicated: Syria was Iran’s only Arab ally, provided its only ports on the Mediterranean, was a land bridge to Hezbollah in Lebanon that allowed Iran an easy means of arming Hezbollah, and via Hezbollah gave Iran a border with Israel. The fall of Assad would deny Iran all these assets and all these possibilities.

That last notion—that Iran would have a border with Israel—was of course partly a rhetorical point. In 2011, there were no Hezbollah forces fighting in Syria, nor of course were there any Iranian troops there. And it was hard to imagine that this would ever happen, or that the United States would actually permit it. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard expeditionary force, fighting first in Iraq and then in Syria? Iranian troops nearing Israel’s border in the Golan? And even harder to imagine was all this being done without American resistance—and apparently with American agreement.

But that’s where we are today, in 2015.

When the Assad regime seemed incapable of holding on to power alone or even with Hezbollah’s help, Iran has sent its own forces to fight in Syria—and to command. On the military side, Israeli analysts report that the Iranians are running things in Syria, and coordinating the activities of Iranian, Hezbollah, and Syrian forces—and of the Shi’a “volunteers” also fighting there, men from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Bashar al-Assad is no longer the ruler of Syria, but instead Iran’s front man. And those forces that Iran directs are in control of southern Syria, in areas bordering on Jordan and Israel.

For decades after the 1967 war Israel’s border with Syria was quiet, because Hafez al-Assad kept it so. Across the Lebanese border sat an increasingly powerful Hezbollah, but since the 2006 Lebanon war Hezbollah has kept that border quiet as well. For one thing, Iran wanted to keep Hezbollah’s powder dry. Hezbollah’s role was to serve as Iran’s deterrent against an Israeli attack on Iranian nukes--and Iran’s second-strike capability in case an attack came.

"Britain Is the Enemy of Islam"

March 4, 2015 

"Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace, but rather submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people's desires." — Anjem Choudary, British Islamist.

"Britain is the enemy of Islam." — Mizanur Rahman, Muslim cleric at Palmers Green, north London.

"Brothers and sisters, we would not be here had it not been for the fact that the kafir [non-Muslims] had gone to our lands and killed our people and raped and pillaged our resources... Stop putting freedom on this pedestal." — Aysh Chaudhry, Muslim trainee lawyer at London-based law firm, Clifford Chance.

"The firm is committed to establishing an inclusive culture where people with diverse backgrounds and views work effectively together and feel confident to develop their potential." — Spokesperson for Clifford Chance law firm.

Oxford University Press warned its authors not to mention pigs or sausages in their books, to avoid causing offense to Muslims.

Tarek Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, said that the term "terrorist" was too "loaded" to describe the actions of the men who killed 12 people in the attack on the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

"We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam; but we need to show what is." — Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, in a letter to 1,000 imams across Britain, asking for their help in fighting extremism.

Following is a brief summary of some of the main stories involving Islam and Islam-related issues in Britain during January 2015, categorized into three broad themes: 1) Islamic extremism; 2) British multiculturalism; and 3) Muslim integration into British society.

1. Islamic Extremism

It’s International Women’s Day -- and no one wants to talk about the Islamic State’s hold over women.

MARCH 5, 2015

You’ve Reversed a Long Way, Baby

It’s that time of year when activists, envoys, politicians, and their aides are putting final touches to their International Women’s Day events. March 8 may be just another day for most Americans, but in some parts it’s a very big deal. Presidents and prime ministers will soon be affirming that equality for women means progress for all. Speeches are being polished, mission statements are making the rounds, and draft documents are being examined in excruciating detail.

This year also happens to be “Beijing+20” — or 20 years since the watershed U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. So, anyone who’s anything in the women’s movement wants everything to be bigger, better, brighter. At the United Nations’ New York headquarters, a high-level international women’s conference will bring together officials and activists from across the world for a two-week extravaganza that will include marches and celebratory events featuring, I’ve been told, the likes of Hillary Clinton, Bill de Blasio, Michelle Obama, and “top musical artists.”

By the time the international news teams descend on Manhattan, journalists will have exhausted everything they have to say about the three missing London schoolgirls who are believed to have crossed the Turkey-Syria border into the self-declared Islamic State “caliphate” — which, in case you were wondering, will not be represented at the U.N. conference. Kadiza Sultana, 16, Shamima Begum, 15, and Amira Abase, 15, boarded a London-Istanbul flight on Feb. 17, joining a wave of women and girls heading for the Syria-Iraq badlands controlled by the Islamic State.

But who knows, something miraculous could happen to the three teenage girls who dominated the British headlines for several days. They may be found; they may realize that the jihadi El Dorado is actually Hell on Earth; they may miss their mummies. Until then, we can only wring our hands and hope and pray.

The Ultimate Weapon: Nuclear Tsunami Bombs?

March 6, 2015

On March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the United States Congress and warned the world of a nuclear armed Iran. The press has written a lot about the speech, even before he delivered it.

“Never has so much been written about a speech that hasn’t been given,” Netanyahu said March 2 during a preview of his speech at the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC.

Some of the stories were more credulous than others. One of the most provocative came from the Israeli military tabloid Debka File, which published an article about how Iran could use a nuclear bomb to trigger a tsunami in the Mediterranean, wiping out Israel in a single blow.

The title is frightening enough to get even the most hardened Internet cynic to click. Nukes are scary, yes, but could Iran develop one so powerful that it could cause a tsunami? What did Debka File know that everyone else didn’t?

Not much. “This nuclear bomb or device would be dropped from an IranAir civilian airliner on a regular run from Larnaca over the Mediterranean about 100 [kilometers] from the Israeli coast,” according to Debka File. “The delayed action mechanism would detonate the bomb and set off a tsunami.”

How Soon Could Iran Have a Nuclear Weapon: The Answer Is Important

March 5, 2015 

US Says Iran Far Off From a Working Nuke, Others Differ 

MONTREUX, Switzerland — One burning question in the global effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power is this: How long would it take for the Islamic Republic to build a bomb? 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says up to six years. Others say two or three. The answer is important because time is a critical asset in formulating a global response to an Iranian nuclear threat. 

The U.S. administration has dismissed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday to Congress urging legislators to oppose the agreement being negotiated in the Swiss resort town of Montreux. It says the Israeli leader offered no alternatives and the emerging pact is the best way to give the world enough time to react, should Tehran try to build a bomb. 

Still, the debate over time is understandable. Views differ on whether Iran wants to make nuclear weapons, and if so, how far into the game it is. 

Tehran has much of the enabling technology but says it is not interested in such arms. The U.S. and its allies say it has not decided to make them but could do so. And the U.N’s International Atomic Energy Agency says it has evidence pointing to past work on such weaponry by Iran — but cannot say for sure how far it has advanced. 

Such variables reflect the difficulties in gauging how much time the world would have to react, if Tehran did opt to manufacture an atomic weapon. 

Latin America’s stagnating global cities

Joseph Parilla, Jesus Leal Trujillo and Alan Berube
March 5, 2015

Last month we catalogued the world’s 10 fastest growing metropolitan areas, as measured by employment and GDP per capita growth. The list, drawing from our Global MetroMonitor report and interactive, was almost exclusively made up of emerging market metro areas, but one developing region was notably absent: Latin America.

In fact, one has to scroll all the way to 46 to find the highest ranked Latin American metro area on our performance index (Medellin, Colombia). With few exceptions, jobs and average incomes grew slower in Latin America’s major metro areas in 2014 than their global peers.

Latin America’s Metro Areas Grew Slower than Global Peers

Latin America houses 22 of the 300 largest metropolitan economies in the world. Together, these cities and their surrounding areas—ranging from 21 million-person Mexico City to 2.5 million-person San Juan—account for 30 percent of Latin America’s population and 40 percent of its economic output. On average, they are the most productive parts of the region and the wealthiest as a result. 

For all that, however, these places are growing slower than cities in other parts of the world. Figure 1 shows that employment grew by 1.2 percent in Latin American metro areas, slower than both developing metro areas (1.7 percent) and the world’s 300 largest metro economies overall (1.5 percent).

Revealed: The Devastating Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack on Manhattan

March 6, 2015 

My generation doesn't think much about nuclear weapons, disarmament and the consequences of nuclear-weapons use. Some certainly do, but generally, the cause of nuclear disarmament is being carried on by an older generation.

I think that's a problem. Nuclear weapons seems like an old issue, from a previous generation and time. Plus, we have our own causes and as the argument often goes, 'no one is ever going to use one anyways, right?' This never convinces me, for a variety of reasons, but I also think we just haven't lived in a time when geopolitical tensions were such that two nuclear armed powers were close to war (except perhaps India and Pakistan in 1999, and the growing nuclear dimensionof the tensions between Russia and the West today).

There is also the fact that the immediate and full effect of a military-grade nuclear weapon hasn't really been represented in pop culture since the end of the Cold War. For example, films since 9/11 have only depicted explosions from small nuclear weapons, usually orchestrated by terrorists like in the film The Sum of All Fears, but also in The Dark Knight Risesand to a lesser extent The Peacemaker. The point is that younger generations have never really been exposed, even fictionally, to the dangers of nuclear war. Some films do deal with this, like Crimson Tide (great film, but nuclear war is averted, yet again) and Independence Day (the nuclear explosion is not depicted, and it fails to stop the aliens, except later in space with the help of Jeff Goldblum).

Friends with Benefits: Russia and North Korea's Twisted Tango

March 6, 2015 

Russia and North Korea make up the latest international odd couple. President Vladimir Putin has recently reached out to one of the poorest and least predictable states on earth. So far, the new Moscow-Pyongyang axis matters little. But Russia has demonstrated that it can make Washington pay for confronting Moscow over Ukraine. It may try to leverage its influence in North Korea to make things harder for the United States.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) exists only because of Russia’s predecessor state. The United States and the Soviet Union divided the Korean peninsula, which had been a Japanese colony, after Tokyo’s surrender in World War II. Moscow set up the DPRK in its zone of control.

In 1950, Joseph Stalin approved Kim Il-sung’s plan for a military offensive to conquer the southern half of the peninsula, where the Republic of Korea (ROK) had been established. As the leader of global communism, Stalin could hardly say no to Kim Il-sung. But he distanced the USSR from Pyongyang’s invasion in order to avoid conflict with America.

After the United States and its allies threatened to overrun North Korea, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) intervened massively. The PRC then eclipsed the USSR in Pyongyang’s halls of power; the Sino-North Korean relationship was said to be as close as lips and teeth.

Netanyahu’s Faulty Case to the U.S. Congress

By Daniel R. DePetris
March 07, 2015

For the Israeli Prime Minister, compromise isn’t an option. 

Israeli Prime Minister one true idol is Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s standard-bearer during the Second World War and a man that history has commonly credited with being one of the most impressive and rhetorically gifted statesmen of the 20th century. In fact, Netanyahu’s affinity for Churchill is so well-renowned that House Speaker John Boehner – the man who extended Bibi an invitation to speak at a joint meeting of Congress on the Iranian nuclear negotiations – reportedly gave the Israeli Prime Minister a bust of the former British Conservative Party leader as a gift before his address.

By the time that Netanyahu finished delivering his speech to Congress on Tuesday, March 3, he shared a special bond with his icon: Like Winston Churchill before him, Netanyahu has addressed the United States Congress on three separate occasions. And, for all the controversy and politics that surrounded the roughly hour-long address to hundreds of U.S. lawmakers and hundreds of additional guests, Netanyahu’s third speech was a highly “Churchillian” effort. The prime minister was passionate throughout his address, seemingly humbled by being greeted so warmly as he walked to the lectern, and absolutely satisfied that his central message was heard across the United States: Iran is such a dangerous and unpredictable regime that even the most rudimentary of nuclear weapons programs on Iranian soil is a bridge to far for the State of Israel.

It took less than five seconds after the conclusion of the address for people across the political spectrum – Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives – to analyze Netanyahu’s every word. Netanyahu’s supporters viewed the performance as one of the most important speeches that a world leader has made so far this century. Opponents were equally zealous in their characterizations; Fred Kagan, a highly respected military historian, described Netanyahu’s gambit as “shallow, evasive, short on logic, and long on cynicism.” Netanyahu, goes this argument, was merely politicking in the United States and using the Congress as a prop to boost his re-election chances later this month.


Will South Korea Have to Bomb the North, Eventually?

March 06, 2015

As North Korea expands its nuclear arsenal, will Seoul have to consider targeting missile sites at some point? 

As North Korea continues to develop both nuclear weapons and the missile technology to carry them,pressure on South Korea to take preemptive military action will gradually rise. At some point, North Korea may have so many missiles and warheads that South Korea considers that capability to be an existential threat to its security. This is the greatest long-term risk to security and stability in Korea, arguably more destabilizing than a North Korean collapse. If North Korea does not arrest its nuclear and missile programs at a reasonably small, defensively-minded deterrent, then Southern elites will increasingly see those weapons as threats to Southern survival, not just tools of defense or gangsterish blackmail.

During the Cold War, the extraordinary speed and power of nuclear missiles created a bizarre and frightening “balance of terror.” Both the Americans and Soviets had these weapons, but they were enormously vulnerable to a first strike. Under the logic “use them or lose them,” there were enormous incentives to launch first: If A did not get its missiles out of the silos quickly enough, they might be destroyed by B’s first strike. One superpower could then hold the other’s cities hostage to nuclear annihilation and demand concessions. This countervalue, “city busting” temptation was eventually alleviated by “assured second strike” technologies, particularly submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). SLBMs ensured the survivability of nuclear forces; hard-to-find submarines could ride out an enemy first strike and still retaliate. So the military value of launching first declined dramatically. By the 1970s, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had achieved enough survivability through various “hardening” efforts that nuclear bipolarity was relatively stable despite the huge number of weapons in the arms race.

The Korean nuclear race does not have this stability and is unlikely to ever achieve it. Nuclear Korea today is more like the Cold War of the 1950s, when nuclear weapons were new and destabilizing, than in the 1970s when they had been strategically integrated, and bipolarity was mature. Specifically, North Korea will never be able to harden its locations well enough to achieve assured second strike. North Korea is too small to pursue the geographic dispersion strategies the Soviets tried, and too poor to build a reliable SLBM force or effective air defense. Moreover, U.S. satellite coverage makes very hard for the North to conceal anything of great importance. North Korea’s nuclear weapons will always be highly vulnerable. So North Korea will always face the “use it or lose it” logic that incentives a first strike.

Russia’s Eastern Command at Sea

March 06, 2015

Russia is intent on returning to classic geopolitics backed up by naval power. 

As the world focuses more nervously on Russia’s military operations in Ukraine and on NATO’s periphery in Europe, the Kremlin is also beefing up the military might of its Eastern command based in the Far East, including forces of the Pacific Fleet. Franz-Stefan Gady reported recently in The Diplomaton the procurement plans and order of battle for the Fleet.

For Russia, the U.S. pivot to the Pacific and East Asia is every bit as fundamental, and threatening, as it is for China. Russia has territorial disputes with Japan, as does China. Russia is a key stakeholder in the geopolitics of the Korean peninsula. And as a new operational requirement, Pacific Fleet units and bases are servicing expanded Artic operations. Pacific Fleet units will continue to join multi-national anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa, while Russia and China will move into the fifth year of joint naval exercises.

Moscow is raising its investment in the infrastructure of the Pacific Fleet, as part of a general upgrade. In 2014, Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the Defense Industry, Dmitry Rogozin, announced plans to expand ship-building in Russia’s eastern city of Khabarovsk. Within a few weeks of the Rogozin anouncement, Russia declared its intention to rebuild a global naval presence. The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, revealed a plan to establish new foreign naval bases and to set up access rights elsewhere. His list included Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and Singapore. By October 2013, Russian naval visits to other countries had increased by 35 per cent compared with the previous year.

The upgrade of the Pacific Fleet is likely to include two French Mistral-class helicopter carriers, already named as Vladivostok and Sevastopol, once political issues between France and Russia over Ukraine are resolved.

Who Do New Zealand’s SIGINTers Listen To?

Nicky Hager and Ryan Gallagher
March 5, 2015

Snowden revelations / The price of the Five Eyes club: Mass spying on friendly nations

New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, the GCSB, has dramatically expanded its spying operations during the years of John Key’s National Government and is automatically funnelling vast amounts of intelligence to the US National Security Agency, top-secret documents reveal.

Since 2009, the Government Communications Security Bureau intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to “full-take collection”, indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKeyscore, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.

The documents, provided by US whistleblower whistleblower Edward Snowden, reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the Government. 

Instead, the GCSB directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand’s friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours. These countries’ communications are supplied directly to the NSA and other Five Eyes agencies with little New Zealand oversight or decision-making, as a contribution to US worldwide surveillance.

The New Zealand revelations mirror what the Snowden documents showed in Europe, where the US and Britain were found to be spying on supposedly close and friendly neighbouring nations in the European Union.

The Herald has collaborated with US news site The Intercept to report on the New Zealand-oriented Snowden papers (read the Intercept article here). They reveal the secret activity called signals intelligence - the interception of private phone calls, emails and internet chats - globally.

Pacific targets

Mobile app approval requires tight security

Adam Stone, Contributing Writer
March 5, 2015

Mobile apps are poised to revolutionize the way the military conducts its operations. Soldiers armed with smart phones can direct artillery fire, conduct training in the field and chart critical topography.

Some apps come from commercial sources, others are crafted at the command level, while others are being developed ad hoc by soldiers in the field. Sooner or later, they all must be vetted in order to be officially incorporated into a soldier's toolkit.

For developers looking to produce a usable product, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has supported the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the development of a set of guidelines to create a compliant product. But the crucial element of the process comes from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which certifies the security of new apps.

Initial steps

To get an app through DISA's approvals process and be declared safe for deployment, the command of an app's potential user base puts in a formal request to the Device and Mobile Apps Branch of Mobility of the DoD Mobility Division. From there, the minutiae begins.

What is the operating system? Are there any associated costs? Is the app specific to a particular mission? And the security details begin early on. Will the app connect back to the mission environment, meaning will it be tapping into the user's network in order to access data?