9 March 2015

Boko Haram bid to join IS offers propaganda boost to both

Mar 9, 2015

This Monday, May 12, 2014, file photo taken from video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, shows their leader Abubakar Shekau speaking to the camera. Shekau has allegedly made a formal allegiance to the Islamic State on Saturday, March 7, 2015, in an Arabic audio message with English subtitles and was posted on Twitter, according to the SITE Intelligence monitoring service. (AP Photo)

Boko Haram's bid to forge an alliance with the Islamic State group in sub-Saharan Africa will provide only a propaganda boost for now, but in the long term it could internationalize a conflict restricted to Nigeria for nearly six years, analysts say. 

The effort comes as both Islamic extremist groups have lost ground in recent weeks and as Nigeria's neighbors are forming a multinational army to confront Boko Haram. 

By pledging allegiance to IS, Nigeria's home-grown militants have severed ties to al-Qaida, which is more powerful in the region, said Charlie Winter, a researcher at the London-based Quilliam Foundation. 

Boko Haram has never been an affiliate of al-Qaida, but its militants fought alongside al-Qaida-linked groups during northern Mali's Islamic uprising two years ago, and some of its fighters have been trained in Somalia by al-Shabab, another group with ties to al-Qaida, according to the group's propaganda. 

Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, reportedly pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an audio posted Saturday on Twitter. It could take three or four weeks for IS to formally respond, as has been the case with affiliates in Egypt, Yemen and Libya. 

An alliance "would lend a more imposing quality to Islamic State with its expansionist model,'' Winter said. The move was symbolically "a striking development,'' but he doubted it would "change things on the ground in either Nigeria or Iraq and Syria.'' 

But "over time this pledge of allegiance might lead to the internationalization'' of a threat that until now has been mostly confined to a single region of Nigeria with occasional spillover into neighboring countries, warned J. Peter Pham, director of the Washington-based Atlantic Council's Africa Center. 

Boko Haram was little known until its April 2014 abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls from a school in the remote town of Chibok drew international outrage. At the time, al-Baghdadi praised the Nigerian insurgents and said the mass kidnapping was justification for the IS abduction of Yazidi women and girls in northern Iraq. 

A partnership with IS could also be a recruiting tool. Fighters from IS franchises in North Africa who find it harder to migrate to the Middle East may choose to move to a Boko Haram emirate instead, Pham said. 

Poor State of India's Subsidies

MARCH 4, 2015

NEW DELHI — The latest economic survey of India contains cheerful prose. India’s immediate future is “propitious.”

But there are grim bits, too. If the rich reach the third chapter of Volume 1, they may groan with exasperation, because it addresses subsidies for the poor. The chapter is titled “Wiping every tear from every eye,” which the elite would translate as “Using cash as tissues for the poor.” There is a view among the urban upper classes that such subsidies are wasteful.

If they continue to read, however, it may change their inner emoticons.

The chapter is not just a lament about the abject inefficiency of India’s attempts to subsidize the lives of the poor, but an argument that these huge subsidies benefit the rich more than the poor. The assistance meant for the poor has in fact contributed to the reality that it is cheap to be rich in India.

The survey was an analysis by India’s chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian. He considered a set of commodities and utilities that India subsidizes, including rice, wheat, sugar, fuel, electricity, water, fertilizers and rail travel. The cost of these subsidies in fiscal 2014-15 was 3.78 trillion rupees, or $61 billion — almost enough, he implied, if distributed wisely, to lift every Indian household above the official poverty line.

While subsidies protect the poor from price volatility of essential goods, the benefits, Mr. Subramanian argued, are chiefly for the rich, because they consume more or are more able to exploit the services.

For instance, rich households gain more from the electricity subsidy than the poor because they have the means to consume more. Most of the poor households do not have electricity in the first place, or use very little of it. Indian Railways loses money on every passenger because the price of train tickets is kept artificially low. But, the survey pointed out, the poorest 80 percent of Indian households constitute less than 30 percent of the railways’ income through fares. The subsidy for liquefied petroleum gas, which is widely used for cooking, also benefits the richer, because the wealthiest 50 percent of Indian households consume 75 percent of the gas.

The rich have not cornered the high-carb diet that the government subsidizes in the form of cheap or free wheat and rice. But significant portions of these grains never reach the poor because of “leakages,” which is a euphemism for theft and inefficiencies in the distribution system. The survey estimated that about 54 percent of the wheat and nearly 50 percent of the sugar meant for the poor never get there.


March 5, 2015

War on the Rocks is expanding, and we need your help

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

Afghanistan’s U.S.-Funded Torturers and Murderers

MARCH 6, 2015 

The United States continues to fund and support a network of abusive Afghan strongmen in the name of security. It's time to stop. 

In October 2013, police in Kandahar — the Afghan province that is the birthplace of the Taliban and home to some of the fiercest fighting in the war — picked up “Tariq” for alleged ties to the insurgents. Whether those allegations were true will remain unknown. Tariq, whose name has been changed for security purposes, died in custody days later from wounds inflicted on his skull with an electrical drill. His case is not unique. Over the past two years, dozens of Kandahari residents have been tortured to death by the province’s police — one of a range of forces in Afghanistan that the United States supports and equips.

As the Obama administration continues its ongoing troop withdrawal, one area of support remains steadfast: material, training, and billions of dollars in financial assistance to Afghanistan’s security infrastructure. Local officials and their U.S. mentors have tasked these forces — which include police units, intelligence services, and the paramilitary Afghan Local Police (ALP), among others — with rooting out the Taliban insurgency. But these groups, who are often led by or linked to former warlords, have also exhibited a pattern of violence for which Afghan victims have obtained no official redress.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented systematic, gross human rights violations by some of these forces that has included numerous cases of torture, extrajudicial executions of civilians, and forced disappearance of detainees. The findings raise concerns about Afghan government and U.S. efforts to arm, train, vet, and hold accountable the country’s security apparatus — run by a network of strongmen, many of whom attained official authority as allies of the United States in the fight against the Taliban.

Revised Afghan IG Report Reveals New Data on Shrinking Afghan Military and Wildly Inconsistent Pentagon Reporting

March 6, 2015

The following was posted on March 3, 2015 on the website of the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghan Relief (SIGAR):

Today, SIGAR released a supplement to the January 2015 quarterly report to Congress. The supplement contains information that received classified or otherwise restricted responses from DOD, but which have now been declassified. Additionally, this supplement lists 10 of the 21 missing data call questions that the State Department did not answer or respond to until after the quarterly report publishing deadline.

The report notes:

—Less than a week after SIGAR submitted a classified annex to Congress, General John F. Campbell informed SIGAR that Resolute Support Mission had reversed itself and declassified the bulk of the material it had classified only a few days earlier. (page 3)

—Some information concerning corps-level Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) personnel strength data, future requirements for Afghan Air Force (AAF) equipment, the number of trained AAF pilots, and operational data on the Afghan Special Mission Wing remains classified. (page 3)

—Just hours before this supplement was originally scheduled to be released, General Campbell notified SIGAR that the ANSF strength numbers the military provided to SIGAR between April and October 2014 were incorrect due to an “accounting error.” After the accounting error was discovered in September 2014, the U.S. military gave corrected numbers to DOD. However, the military failed to notify SIGAR of the error or provide updated numbers, despite the numerous times they had reviewed and approved SIGAR’s draft reports, including the January 2015 report, which contained the incorrect numbers. No explanation has yet been given as to why the corrected numbers were shared with DOD, but not with SIGAR. (page 3)

Chinese inflation falls to 0.8%, fuelling fears of deflationary spiral

A customer shops for food in Hangzhou, eastern China on Tuesday. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese inflation plunged to 0.8% in January, its lowest level for more than five years, official data showed on Tuesday, fuelling fears the world’s second-largest economy is on the brink of a deflationary spiral.

The rise in the consumer price index (CPI) was sharply down from the 1.5% recorded in December, and was lower than the 1% expected by economists.

It was also the weakest number since 0.6% in November 2009.

Moderate inflation can be a boon to consumption as it encourages consumers to buy before prices go up, while falling prices encourage shoppers to delay purchases and companies to put off investment, both of which can hurt growth.

Slowing demand, a property downturn and falling commodity prices – especially oil – have all driven prices lower and point towards persistent weakness in the world’s second largest economy.

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

March 7, 2015 

Beijing has its sights set on a new target.

Attracting foreign investment, especially Chinese, can play into Indonesia’s broader strategy in gaining recognition and respect of its territorial sovereignty, while compensating for its lack of military strength. Despite the Natunas lack of infrastructure, foreign investment has somehow trickled in, with three Chinese companies reportedly showing interest in the local seafood industry. Such arrangements could become more apparent when supported by Jakarta’s embrace of Beijing’s “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” to help build President Joko Widodo’s maritime vision.

However, this could potentially send a wrong signal to Beijing, as Indonesia might give the impression that it has nothing to worry about from China’s ambitions in the South China Sea. With reclamation works underway in nearby Chinese-occupied features, the Natuna Islands could easily fall under Beijing’s air and naval radar coverage. Airstrips in the Fiery Cross or Johnson South Reef could place Chinese frontline strike fighters much closer to Indonesia and make it possible for China’s air defence identification zone to be enforced over some parts of the Natunas.

The reclaimed features could also become a staging base for Chinese long-distance fishermen, and their armed escorts, to operate within Indonesia’s EEZ. This would lead to more possible encounters with Indonesian fishermen and patrol vessels.

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.

Ousted Chinese General Aided Myanmar Rebels: Report

March 07, 2015

SCMP reports that a general accused of corruption was actually ousted for giving assistance to Myanmar’s Kokang rebels. 

Earlier, I covered two seemingly unrelated stories forThe Diplomat: lingering accusations that ethnic Chinese rebels in Myanmar were receiving aid from China and the recent announcement of 14 PLA generals under investigation for corruption. Now a recent report from South China Morning Post suggests there’s overlap in those stories: Major General Huang Xing, one of the 14 officers listed as being investigated for corruption, reportedly stands accused not only of fraud, but of leaking state secrets and assisting Kokang rebels in Myanmar back in 2009.

Huang, formerly a top researcher at the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, was an odd figure to appear on the PLA’s list of corrupt officers. As I mentioned in my earlier story, most of the officers on the list were working in either logistics departments or political bureaus – areas rife with opportunities for embezzlement and accepting bribes. As Arthur Ding Shu-fan, a PLA researcher at the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan, told SCMP, seeing Huang’s name on the list was a surprise: “As a military scholar, I don’t think he would be implicated in corruption because he doesn’t have many opportunities to take bribes.”

Sources told SCMP that, in fact, Huang was charged not because of rampant corruption but because he made the “political mistake” of supporting Kokang rebels in their fight against Myanmar government troops. Both military officials, as well as a self-described friend of Huang’s, told SCMP they suspected the fraud charges were merely a convenient pretext for arresting Huang. His support for the Myanmar rebels “embarrassed” top leaders, one retired senior colonel told SCMP, so “they picked up another convenient charge to punish him with.”

It’s not clear exactly what Huang did to aid the rebels. One of SCMP’s sources said Huang was accused of leaking state secrets to the rebels, presumably to help them gain an advantage in their fight against government troops. Notably, the charges are tied to a previous outbreak of fighting in 2009, not to the current violence. Some Myanmar military officials have said that the rebels are currently receiving aid and training from China; both Beijing and rebel leaders have denied this.


March 4, 2015

War on the Rocks is expanding, and we need your help! Please support us on Indiegogo!

On September 16, 2007, security contractors working for Blackwater Worldwide were accompanying a U.S. convoy passing through Baghdad’s Nisour Square. They opened fire, killing 17 civilians. Before the killings, Blackwater was little-known outside U.S. government circles. After the events in Nisour Square, Blackwater “came to symbolize American power run amok,” according to the New York Times. Following international outrage over the incident, Blackwater lost its $1 billion annual contract with the U.S. State Department. Four Blackwater guards were convicted last October of murder, manslaughter and weapons offenses.

Blackwater may have disappeared, but as Sean McFate makes clear in his new book, private military companies have become a permanent part of the international security landscape. McFate, a former U.S. Army officer, has first-hand knowledge of this emerging environment, having worked in post-conflict Liberia for DynCorp, one of the world’s largest security contractors. The United States, despite its vast military power, is unable to go to war without such firms. Part of the explanation is cost — in the long term, hiring private security is cheaper than maintaining uniformed personnel. But as McFate argues persuasively, this “commodification of armed conflict” is part of the broader decline of the state-centric Westphalian system itself.

Iraqi Forces Recapture Town of al-Baghdadi in Al-Anbar Province From ISIS

March 6, 2015

Iraqi Forces Clear Islamic State Fighters From Town Near Key Base

WASHINGTON — Iraqi forces have cleared Islamic State fighters from the town of al-Baghdadi near a key base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi military troops, recapturing the police station and three bridges over the Euphrates, the U.S. military said on Friday.

Iraqi Security Forces and tribal militia from the Anbar region also pushed the Islamic State fighters from seven villages northwest of al-Baghdadi on the road to Haditha, the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement.

Al-Baghdadi is located about 3 miles (5 km) northeast of Ain al-Asad air base, where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi military forces to help them confront Islamic State militants who overran part of northwestern Iraq last year.

Islamic State militants seized the bridges around al-Baghdadi in September. Fighting for control of al-Baghdadi stepped up in recent weeks, and a top U.S. commander said two weeks ago that Iraqi forces appeared to be on the verge of driving out the militants.

Lieutenant General James Terry, senior U.S. commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, told reporters the Iraqi army’s 7th Division, including one of its commando units, were joining tribal forces to retake the town.

The military’s statement on Friday said coalition air forces had supported the effort to retake al-Baghdadi, targeting Islamic State positions in and around the town with 26 air strikes between Feb. 22 and March 6. It also provided surveillance and advice to Iraqi military headquarters.

War Warning: ISIS and Al Qaeda Planning to Expand Operations to Lebanon

Jennifer Cafarella
March 6, 2015

Syria Jihadists Signal Intent for Lebanon

Both the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) plan to conduct attacks in Lebanon in the near term. Widely presumed to be enemies, recent reports of an upcoming joint JN and ISIS offensive in Lebanon, when coupled with ongoing incidents of cooperation between these groups, indicate that the situation between these groups in Lebanon is as fluid and complicated as in Syria. Although they are direct competitors that have engaged in violent confrontation in other areas, JN and ISIS have co-existed in the Syrian-Lebanese border region since 2013, and their underground networks in southern and western Lebanon may overlap in ways that shape their local relationship. JN and ISIS are each likely to pursue future military operations in Lebanon that serve separate but complementary objectives. 

Since 2013 both groups have occasionally shown a willingness to cooperate in a limited fashion in order to capitalize on their similar objectives in Lebanon. This unusual relationship appears to be unique to Lebanon and the border region, and does not extend to other battlefronts. Despite recent clashes that likely strained this relationship in February 2015, contention between the groups in this area has not escalated beyond localized skirmishes. This suggests that both parties have a mutual interest in preserving their coexistence in this strategically significant area. In January 2015, JN initiated a new campaign of spectacular attacks against Lebanese supporters of the Syrian regime, while ISIS has increased its mobilization in the border region since airstrikes against ISIS in Syria began in September 2014. Conditions favor a continued limited détente between JN and ISIS past March 2015.

U.S. Strategy in Iraq Increasingly Relies on Iran

MARCH 5, 2015 

A Shiite cleric addressed Iraqi soldiers and Shiite fighters on Monday, before they began a campaign to retake control of Tikrit. CreditThaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

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 ISISor 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.

Lawless: The Israeli-Hezbollah Conflict Takes a Dangerous Turn

March 8, 2015 

The "rules of the game" have unraveled. Now what?

On January 18, 2015, an Israeli missile strike in Quneitra (part of the Syrian-controlled section of the Golan Heights) resulted in the deaths of several Hezbollah operatives, including a fighter named Jihad Mughniyah.

Barely two weeks later, in a leaked report published by the Washington Post, the world also learned that Imad Mughniyah (Jihad’s father and a senior Hezbollah operative) had been assassinated in February 2008 through the combined efforts of the CIA and the Mossad.

Why, one has to wonder, is this detailed information regarding the players behind the 2008 car-bombing death of Imad Mughniyah just now coming to light?

To understand the message conveyed by this leak, it is important to consider the events that unfolded following the killing of Jihad Mughniyah in January. After the Israeli attack, the world waited apprehensively for the retaliation that everyone knew Hezbollah would feel compelled to provide.

Eventually, it came in the form of a minor offensive within the contested Shebaa Farms region, resulting in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers. Israel then responded by shelling the Shebaa Farms, killing one Spanish peacekeeper. After this, the attempted escalation fizzled out; Hezbollah, already deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, made it clear through back channels that it was not going to press the matter with Israel.

For certain parties on both sides of the conflict, however, this was not enough. On Hezbollah’s side, many supporters believed that the audacity of the Israeli attack and the importance of Jihad Mughniyah as an iconic figure mandated more serious revenge.

The ISIS Twitter Census Report

March 7, 2015

The ISIS Twitter census: Making sense of ISIS’s use of Twitter

For nearly a year, policymakers and the media have been fascinated with the topic of how the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, uses Twitter.

But for all the attention devoted to the subject, some fundamental questions have remained unanswered, either left completely unaddressed, or characterized by claims that are derived from unclear sources.

With an eye toward informing the debate over how to respond to the machinations of ISIS’s social media operation, we have written the ISIS Twitter Census, a new study that examines the scope and activity of ISIS supporters on social media in unprecedented detail, including a thorough discussion of the methodology used to create the report.

The report’s findings include: 
In October through November 2014, at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters. 

A sample of 20,000 confirmed ISIS supporters was examined to extract demographics data, with a plurality of users apparently residing in the territories controlled by the Islamic State. The second-most common location for ISIS supporters was Saudi Arabia. 

Nearly one in five ISIS supporting accounts designated English as their primary language. Almost three quarters selected Arabic, and one in 20 selected French. 

Thousands of accounts have been suspended by Twitter since October 2014, measurably degrading ISIS’s ability to project its propaganda to wider audiences. We believe the data here should permanently lay to rest the recurring objection to account suspensions based on “whack-a-mole”—the argument that ISIS can simply replace suspended accounts without suffering any negative consequences. If suspensions are carried out on a consistent basis, they do have an effect on the targeted network. 

US Military Confirms Iraqi Army Has Recaptured City of Al-Baghdadi From ISIS

March 7, 2015

Iraqi forces retake western town of al-Baghdadi

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military says Iraqi forces have retaken the town of al-Baghdadi from Islamic State fighters after months of battles.

The military task force coordinating Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign against Islamic State militants, says Iraqi and tribal fighters cleared the town in Anbar province and have retaken the police station and three key Euphrates River bridges.

Between Feb. 26 and March 6, the U.S.-led coalition launched airstrikes on 26 locations to help Iraqi forces move against the militants. Coalition forces also provided intelligence and surveillance to the Iraqis. The bridges had been held by the Islamic State group since September.

Last month, the Army general commanding the war effort in Iraq and Syria told reporters he was confident the Iraqi operation, dubbed “Lion’s Revenge,” would succeed.

Iraqi Forces Recapture Town of al-Baghdadi in Al-Anbar Province From ISIS

March 6, 2015

Iraqi Forces Clear Islamic State Fighters From Town Near Key Base

WASHINGTON — Iraqi forces have cleared Islamic State fighters from the town of al-Baghdadi near a key base where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi military troops, recapturing the police station and three bridges over the Euphrates, the U.S. military said on Friday.

Iraqi Security Forces and tribal militia from the Anbar region also pushed the Islamic State fighters from seven villages northwest of al-Baghdadi on the road to Haditha, the Combined Joint Task Force said in a statement.

Al-Baghdadi is located about 3 miles (5 km) northeast of Ain al-Asad air base, where U.S. Marines are training Iraqi military forces to help them confront Islamic State militants who overran part of northwestern Iraq last year.

Islamic State militants seized the bridges around al-Baghdadi in September. Fighting for control of al-Baghdadi stepped up in recent weeks, and a top U.S. commander said two weeks ago that Iraqi forces appeared to be on the verge of driving out the militants.

Lieutenant General James Terry, senior U.S. commander of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, told reporters the Iraqi army’s 7th Division, including one of its commando units, were joining tribal forces to retake the town.

The military’s statement on Friday said coalition air forces had supported the effort to retake al-Baghdadi, targeting Islamic State positions in and around the town with 26 air strikes between Feb. 22 and March 6. It also provided surveillance and advice to Iraqi military headquarters.

Netanyahu’s Iran Thing

MARCH 6, 2015 

Let’s begin with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran logic. He portrays a rampaging Islamic Republic that “now dominates four Arab capitals, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana,” a nation “gobbling” other countries on a “march of conquest, subjugation and terror.” Then, in the same speech, he describes Iran as “a very vulnerable regime” on the brink of folding.

Well, which is it?

The Israeli prime minister dismisses a possible nuclear accord, its details still unclear, as “a very bad deal” that “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.” He says just maintain the pressure and, as if by magic, “a much better deal” will materialize (thereby showing immense condescension toward the ministers of the six major powers who have been working on a doable deal that ring-fences Iran’s nuclear capacity so that it is compatible only with civilian use). Yet Netanyahu knows the first thing that will happen if talks collapse is that Russia and China will undermine the solidarity behind effective Iran sanctions.

So, where is the leverage to secure that “much better deal”?

Netanyahu lambastes the notion of a nuclear deal lasting 10 years (President Obama has suggested this is a minimum). He portrays that decade as a period in which, inevitably, Iran’s “voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year.” He thereby dismisses the more plausible notion that greater economic contact with the world and the gradual emergence of a young generation of Iranians drawn to the West — as well as the inevitable dimming of the ardor of Iran’s revolution — will attenuate such aggression.

Kill Dutch Jihadis So They Can’t Return Home, Says PM’s Party


Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte gestures during the World Economic Forum summit in Davos January 22, 2015. RUBEN SPRICH/REUTERS

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte courted controversy in a TV debate last night by saying it would be better if jihadis who leave to fight in Syria died there rather than return to the country. But today a spokesperson for his party went even further, saying that it would be better for the Dutch armed forces, who are participating the the fight against ISIS, to kill their fellow citizens rather than allow them to return home where they might commit acts of terror.

Speaking at a televised leaders’ debate, Rutte, who leads the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) drew criticism from his opponents for saying he agreed with the statement that it would be better if jihadis died in Syria instead of coming home.

Rutte defended his position, saying that those who go to Syria to fight know what they are getting into. “The only aim is to kill as many people as possible”, he said.

“Those people will soon be back to carry out attacks here as well. As prime minister, I am here to protect our people.”


March 4, 2015

War on the Rocks is expanding, and we need your help!

Ever since General George Washington wrote IOUs to sutlers and merchants for supplies during the American Revolution, the private sector has helped enable U.S. national security. But over the last two decades America’s ability to respond to, and get ahead of, changes in threats and technology has slowed. Today, global technology advancements occur faster and in greater numbers than what the defense industry and government combined can produce, and they are available to a much larger market – including unfriendly non-state actors and near peer competitors.

The need to maintain technological dominance in national security is real, and both the U.S. government and the national security industrial base will have to make sweeping changes to meet current and future challenges.

To start, the government requirements, acquisition, and budgeting processes are frustratingly misaligned and cumbersome. They favor compliance and reporting over outcomes. At over 4,000 pages, the Federal Acquisition Regulations are complex and stifle competition in the marketplace. There are an insufficient number of acquisition professionals, separate accounting system and audit requirements, indefensibly long sales cycles, and confusing government intellectual property rules. These all create more barriers to entry. Mixed demand signals from government buyers and budget uncertainty from Congress adds to the noise produced by a rigid acquisition system originally designed to buy large items like tanks, planes, and ships, not technology and services.

That Which Does Not Kill Us… Battered Ukrainian Military Preparing for Long War With Rebels

Matthew Schofield
March 6, 2015

A year after Russia took Crimea, stronger Ukraine military braces for long fight

KIEV, Ukraine — The irony of a year of war with Russia is that Ukraine today is far better prepared to defend itself than it was last March, after Russian troops invaded the Crimean peninsula.

It’s been a year of hard lessons and costs that few thought Ukraine would be able to bear. Ukraine today remains mired in governmental and financial crises. It’s now spending about 5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. And that isn’t enough.

Yet despite the fighting in the southeast and the shortfall of money and equipment, Ukraine’s military is significantly stronger than it was when Crimea fell with barely a shot being fired.

“The reality is that we didn’t have any choice in the matter,” said Dmytro Tymchuk, a member of Parliament who was the director of Ukraine’s Center for Military and Political Research a year ago. “We have severe economic and social crises today, but if we don’t devote enough effort and money to defense, the question becomes the existence of Ukraine.”

Politicians admit that the collection boxes at churches and museums and even on the streets asking for support for troops have been essential. Frequently, troops are asked to outfit themselves on their way to battle, and families with enough to spare often will outfit a husband or son and several other members of his unit.

In the past year, the Ukrainian military has expanded in total manpower, from 150,000 to 250,000, and in combat-ready troops, which were a paltry few thousand last March but now number more than 50,000.

Still, there’s doubt that will be enough. Contrary to the notion that Ukraine is embroiled in a civil war with “pro-Russia separatists,” Ukrainian experts and officials say the evidence is overwhelming that they’re standing against the Russian military.

Australia Needs a New Grand Strategy

March 6, 2015

Australians sometimes wonder if their nation has a grand strategy. I think it did. It was called 'Engagement' and it has now come to an end.

Beginning in the 1950s and 60s and re-doubled in the 1980s and 90s, Australia's leaders began a historic turn of their nation from West to East. For many this is believed to be a still-distant goal. After all, most of us don't speak an Asian language, too many don't realise Bali is in Indonesia, and our foreign policy keeps looking toward the Middle East and singing sweet notes about the Anglosphere.

Yet on the terms the Engagers actually sought, the policy has been thoroughly achieved.

Cautious about culture and history, their terms of success were focused on gaining economic and political access as a basis for influence and security. Today, Australia's top six export markets and five of our top six import markets are in the Asia Pacific, with the US the only Anglosphere nation to feature prominently in both lists. Politically we have guaranteed ourselves a seat at the table of all of the region's major forums. We have created and reformed institutions, and helped shape the region's values and norms on such key issues as trade, non-proliferation and irregular migration. We no longer fear economic or political isolation as we once did. This is our region and we are no longer the odd man out or even the odd man in, but thoroughly at home.

This is the story I set out to tell in my new book Winning the Peace: Australia's campaign to change the Asia-Pacific, launched last night by Paul Kelly.

The Crime of the Century

A year after claiming Crimea for Russia, Putin appears to have gotten away with the heist

“Now, just imagine that the Crimea is yours ... Believe me, you will acquire immortal fame such as no other sovereign of Russia ever had. This glory will open the way to still further and greater glory ...”—Memorandum from Grigory Potemkin to Catherine the Great, urging Crimean annexation, 1780.

The first time Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, under the expansionist regime of Catherine the Great in 1783, Russia stood ascendant. Pushing west, south, and east simultaneously, covering steppe and coastline alike, imperial Russia swallowed territory at will. At the time, Crimea was but another jewel in the empress's crown. Claiming it fortified Black Sea security, chipped at the Ottoman Empire’s former territories, and guaranteed, as adviser-and-lover Grigory Potemkin told Catherine, “the security of the population of Novorossiya”—the Ukrainian territory whose deep Russian roots separatists claim legitimizes Russia's current incursion into eastern Ukraine.

In 1853, Catherine's treasure fell into chaos. French and British and Turkish troops swarmed the peninsula, seeking to check Russian expansion and to control the Black Sea. The Crimean War begat Leo Tolstoy and Florence Nightingale, balaclavas and war photography. But the war, in and of itself, was largely specious, a brew of confused imperialist motivations and bruised egos. Hundreds of thousands died, but little else changed. Russia held Crimea.

It was a century later that Moscow forfeited the peninsula. On February 27, 1954, a small notification on the front of the Soviet mouthpiece Pravdaconceded what British and French troops had failed to take: Russia was giving up Crimea. One sentence, eight lines, beside a sprawling article about International Women’s Day—this was all Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev required to hand Crimea to Ukraine. It was a gesture to celebrate Slavic fraternity between Moscow and Kiev, and besides, between fellow Soviet republics it formally amounted to bureaucratic relabeling.

Sixty years later, with the Soviet Union now dissolved, Russia reneged. The move came last spring, as Ukraine’s second successful revolution in a decade peaked, and protesters seeking to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union ousted an autocrat cozy with Moscow. Pro-Russian protests broke out along the peninsula, and crisply professional men with guns and unmarked uniforms began popping up in key locations. “Little green men,” some Crimeans called them. “Polite people,” the Russian defense minister joked. Whatever the title, they all made sure the Soviet-era gift was returned to Russia.

The E.U. Experiment Has Failed

March 5, 2015 

The slow-motion crisis of the European Union is the big story that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Even an event like the recent terrorist attack in France that left 17 dead is often isolated from the larger political, economic, and social problems that have long plagued the project of unifying the countries of Europe in order to harness its collective economic power, and to avoid the bloody internecine strife that stains its history.

On the economic front, the E.U.’s dismal economic performance over the last six years was summed up in a December headline in Business Insider: “Europe Stinks.” The 2008 Great Recession exposed the incoherence of the E.U.’s economic structure, particularly its single currency, which is held hostage by the diverse economic policies of sovereign nations. The data tell the tale. The E.U.’s GDP grew 1 percent in 2013, anemic compared to the U.S.’s 2.2 percent. In December 2014, unemployment in the E.U. averaged 11.4 percent, while in the U.S. it was 5.6 percent. We are troubled by our labor force participation rate of 62.7 percent, a 36-year low. But in the E.U., it was 57.5 percent in 2013. Our recovery from the recession may be slow by our historical standards, but it is blazing compared to the E.U.’s.

The E.U.’s economic woes have many causes, but intrusively regulated economies and outsized government spending on generous social welfare transfers are two of the most important. Despite the rebuke of such policies delivered by the recession, government spending as a percentage of GDP has actually increased in the E.U., from 45.5 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2013, even as many Europeans decry the harsh “austerity” measures called for by countries like Germany. Greece, the E.U member increasingly in danger of being forced to exit the monetary union and thus risk its unraveling, has nonetheless raised its government spending from 46.8 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2013.

No strategy for Bosnia - other than enlargement

5. MAR, 2015

Bosnia and Herzegovina flags flying at football game (Photo: Brad Tutterow) 

For the first time in seven years, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s bid to join the European Union has received a boost.

Later this month, member states’ foreign ministers are expected to approve a recommendation by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, that a pre-accession Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) signed in 2008 should take effect.

The peacekeepers of EUFOR in Sarajevo. Maintaining a safe and secure environment is a legal obligation the EU took on from NATO in 2004. (Photo: EUPM) 

But just as in 2008, the momentum is of the EU’s own making, and just as in 2008, it might fizzle out.

Emerging Economies’ Demographic Challenge

Martin Neil Baily, Chairman of the US President’s Council of Economic Advisers under Bill Clinton, is Bernard L. Schwartz Chair in Economic Policy Development at the Brookings Institution. 

WASHINGTON, DC – Population aging is often cited as a major economic challenge for the developed world. But a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) shows that shifting demographics pose an even greater threat to the growth prospects of many emerging economies.

Over the last 50 years, the world's 1.6% annual population growth fueled a surging labor force and a rapid increase in GDP in many emerging economies. Employment more than doubled in China and South Africa, and at least tripled in Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Nigeria. In Saudi Arabia, employment increased almost nine-fold.

But, with population growth slowing, average annual employment growth in emerging economies is expected to drop from 1.9% to 0.4%. In absolute terms, the decline will exceed that of developed economies, where annual employment growth is expected to fall from 0.9% to 0.1% the coming years. In most economies, employment is expected to reach its peak within the next half-century; in China, the labor force could shrink by 20% over this period.

Of course, there are exceptions to this trend. Indonesia and South Africa are projected to continue to experience rising employment (albeit at slower rates). Nigeria's labor force is expected to triple from 2014 to 2064, and many other economies in Sub-Saharan Africa will experience similar levels of growth.

But, overall, economies' demographic tailwinds will wane, with serious consequences for GDP growth. With no other change in current trends, emerging economies' rates of GDP growth would fall by one-third, from 4.8% to 3.1% annually, by 2064. More problematic, the declining share of the working-age population is set to cause per capita GDP to decline by more than 30% in some countries – most notably, Brazil, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

The good news is that emerging economies have at their disposal a powerful means to offset these trends: productivity growth. To be sure, annual productivity growth in emerging economies would need to accelerate by 57%, from 2.8% to 4.4%, to compensate fully for the demographic shift. But, even if that ambitious goal is not achievable everywhere, emerging economies have considerable scope for catch-up productivity growth. After all, over the last 50 years, the productivity gap between emerging and developed economies has barely narrowed; in absolute terms, it has more than doubled.

Ousting Boehner Won't Solve the GOP's Real Problem

March 7, 2015 

Boehner hasn't led conservatives to the promised land, but neither will anybody who replaces him.

The end of each Washington crisis marks the beginning of a new crisis for the House leadership.

Congress finally passed funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Crisis averted.

But to do so, House Speaker John Boehner had to surrender in the fight against President Barack Obama's executive amnesty and pass a bill supported by the Democrats and just seventy-five Republicans. So much for the Hastert rule. A new leadership crisis begins.

I'll believe rumors that Boehner's speakership is in danger only when I see proof. "That's not gonna happen,"said House Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan when asked about a Boehner coup. "That's not the issue."

Jordan, a fellow Ohio Republican, would be an important piece of a successful revolt against the speaker and a possible successor.

Another possible Boehner replacement is Paul Ryan. But the former 2012 vice-presidential nominee is a Boehner loyalist. Ryan is also now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a post that interests him far more. And on the substance of immigration policy, as opposed to the process questions surrounding Obama's amnesty, it's not clear Ryan is a better fit for conservatives.

Bibi's Speech: A More Sober Assessment

March 7, 2015 

Bibi's message to Congress this week was important, even if the manner in which he went about it was risky.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has many admirers in the United States–at least if judged by the twenty six standing ovations he received from members of the Senate and the House of Representatives during a speech to a joint meeting of Congress last Tuesday.

Conversely, many other Americans were infuriated by his frontal attack on a serving president and on a central pillar of Barack Obama’s foreign policy. These reactions were only exacerbated by Netanyahu’s decision to deliver his message on the president’s home turf. Both viewpoints were reinforced by Netanyahu’s performance in which his meticulously written speech was perfectly delivered. His admirers were invigorated while his detractors emerged even more annoyed by his misdeeds. Both schools, however, have something in common: their emotions seemed to prevent them from carefully considering the content of Netanyahu’s speech.

Now that a few days have passed and the immediate, reflexive and entirely predictable reactions to the speech are behind us, a more balanced and dispassionate analysis may be possible. Such an analysis should focus on two questions: First, what was the thrust of Netanyahu’s argument and was there anything new and reasonable in his speech that deserves sober consideration? Second, were Netanyahu’s objectives worth the risks and costs entailed in his bold move to inject himself into the heart of a U.S. internal debate regarding an agreement that has yet to be concluded?

Russia to Begin Construction of 5th YASEN-Class Nuclear Attack Sub This Month

March 7, 2015 

Fifth Russian Yasen-Class Attack Nuclear Sub Begins Construction in March 

A groundbreaking ceremony for the fifth Yasen-class nuclear submarine, the Arkhangelsk, will be held at Russia’s Sevmash shipyard on March 19, media reports said. 

The Yasen-class subs are touted as the most advanced nuclear-powered multipurpose underwater craft in the Russian Navy. 

They are projected to replace Russia’s Soviet-era attack submarines like the Akula-class subs, and are believed to be a counterpart to the US nuclear-powered Seawolf- and Virginia-class submarines. 

Russia is currently constructing three Yasen-class submarines, in addition to the one that was put into service by the Russian Navy earlier. 

All future Yasen-class submarines will have a state-of-the-art design featuring a modified hull profile and modernized equipment. The hull is made of low-magnetic steel. The Yasen-class is the first Russian submarine to be equipped with a spherical sonar system, which consists of a spherical bow array, flank arrays and a towed array. Due to the large size of this spherical array, the torpedo tubes are slanted and placed behind the main control compartment.