21 March 2015

A change long overdue

by Bibhu Prasad Routray
March 18, 2015 

The persistent dependence on the central forces has remained a bane for the state police forces in the Northeast.

There may or may not have been a deal over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu & Kashmir. The controversial Act, as a result, may or may not be diluted in the coming months. However, hundreds of kilometres away, in Manipur, situation is ripe to initiate a gradual downgrading of the Army deployment and let the state police take over the counter-insurgency (COIN) responsibilities.

On 18 February 1980, Lallan Prasad Singh, Governor of Manipur, in his address to the state legislative assembly, referred to the “seriously disturbed conditions in the valley” and the “serious of violent activities such as murders, including the killing of security personnel, armed robberies, looting of shops, banks and Government funds, and snatching of arms” by the extremist groups. In September that year, the entire state was declared as “Disturbed Area” and the Army called in to assist the civil administration in COIN measures.

For the next two and half decades, the Army remained the lead COIN force in the state, conducting offensive operations, cordon and search exercises, pain staking COIN duties and even road opening duties. So much was the dependence on the Army that even while the civil society organisations raised the banners that read “Indian Army-Go back” the ruling regime found it difficult to imagine a Manipur without the army’s presence. Backroom conversations reveal that some of the most virulent anti-AFSPA politicians and community leaders continued to demand for the deployment of the army as a guarantee of their safety.

Diplomatic Access: Pakistan

March 19, 2015

Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Jalil Abbas Jilani on regional cooperation and the fight against terrorism. 

For spring 2015, The Diplomat presents “Diplomatic Access,” a series of exclusive interviews with ambassadors from the Asia-Pacific region. By talking to these diplomats, we’ll give readers a sense of each country’s perspective on various regional economic and security trends — from TPP to the Silk Road Economic Belt; from the South China Sea disputes to the Islamic State. Check out the whole series to date here.

In this interview, His Excellency Jalil Abbas Jilani, Ambassador of Pakistan to the U.S., gives Pakistan’s take on regional economic integration and security cooperation, including counter-terrorism efforts.

The Diplomat: From Pakistan’s perspective, what are the greatest threats to regional security?

Amb. Jilani: Terrorist, rising extremism, and growing resort to violence obviously are the biggest threats to the wider region and a top concern for Pakistan, a country that has been the worst victim of these vicious trends .

Growing military imbalance in a region beset with long standing territorial conflicts with no crisis management mechanism contributes to making the regional security environment more complex.

Rising poverty, disease, and environment-related vulnerabilities, including climate change, are some of the other challenges that make the security environment even more precarious in our part of the world.

What can be done to address these threats?

A Breakthrough on the TAPI Pipeline?

By Micha’el Tanchum
March 20, 2015

India and Pakistan hint that progress has finally been made with Turkmenistan on the huge energy project. 

Indian and Pakistani press reports surrounding the March 15 meeting in Kabul of the steering committee Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline suggest a breakthrough has finally been achieved and construction on the mega-project could begin in 2015. The apparent impasse over Turkmenistan’s terms for financing the pipeline’s construction seems to have been resolved owing to the Turkmen government’s new determination to diversify the markets for its natural gas. With the drastic reduction and imminent cessation of Russian imports of natural gas from Turkmenistan, China has become Turkmenistan’s sole export market. While welcoming economic cooperation with China, Ashgabat has been working assiduously to avoid undue economic dependence on Beijing and therefore has been motivated to make key concessions for the construction of the TAPI pipeline. By creating the first significant overland link with India, the TAPI pipeline project will not only diversify Turkmenistan’s gas exports – it will permanently alter the pattern of Central Asian connectivity.

On October 2014, Russian natural gas giant Gazprom announced it would cease purchasing natural gas from Turkmenistan. Following through on its announcement, Gazprom slashed its imports from Turkmenistan by almost two-thirds at the beginning of 2015. In 2003, Turkmenistan’s state-owned natural gas company Türkmengaz signed a 25-year agreement with Gazprom for the delivery of 70-80 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas per year to Russia. By 2008, Turkmenistan’s gas exports had reached 45 bcm. Due to an April 2009 explosion in the Truboprovodnaiia sistema Sredniaia Aziia-Tsentr (Central Asia-Center pipeline system), commonly known as SATS, near the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan’s natural gas exports to Russia were temporarily halted.

What Is Behind China’s Growing Attention to Afghanistan?

Zhao Huasheng
MARCH 8, 2015 

In the past year, Beijing has become more diplomatically engaged with Afghanistan, raising the potential for China to play a helpful role in Afghanistan’s future economic and security prospects.

China has been intensifying its diplomatic efforts to help build a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, by hosting a regional meeting on the issue and deepening its bilateral ties with Kabul. In a new Q&A, Zhao Huasheng examines China’s growing attention to Afghanistan as well as the interests that are motivating Beijing. He says China is not seeking to fill a void left by the withdrawal of U.S. forces, but that it, in the future, could play a useful role in the reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. 

What is China’s current role in diplomatic efforts to build a peaceful and stable Afghanistan? 

Since the start of 2014, China’s Afghanistan diplomacy has become more positive, proactive, and dynamic. 

In October 2014, Beijing hosted the fourth foreign ministers’ meeting of theIstanbul Process—an international effort launched in 2011 to encourage cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. By hosting this event for the first time, China showed its desire to take the initiative in promoting a smooth power transfer after Afghanistan’s 2014 presidential election and a stable security transition following the withdrawal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops and U.S. combat forces, which took place in December 2014. The Istanbul Process meeting also demonstrated China’s positive attitude toward regional and international cooperation on Afghanistan. China also hopes to use this multilateral framework to propose its own ideas for securing Afghanistan’s future, and to win other nations’ support for its approach. 

Drone Strike Kills Senior Pakistani Taliban Commander

March 19, 2015

U.S. drone strike kills Taliban commander on Afghan-Pakistan border

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - A U.S. drone strike killed a Pakistani Taliban leader and two others on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the Taliban said on Thursday, in the latest attack by an unmanned aircraft targeting the Afghan bases of Pakistani Taliban leaders.

Two Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed Thursday’s strike on the border between Pakistan’s Kurram agency and Afghanistan.

The strike killed Pakistani Taliban commander Khawray Mehsud, who possessed “great militant skills,” the Taliban said in a statement.

"He was very close to martyred (Pakistani Taliban) chief Hakimullah Mehsud and was his personal bodyguard," it added.

The Pakistani Taliban are allied with the Afghan militants of the same name and share a similar jihadist ideology.


The U.S. defense industrial base provides America and its allies with the capabilities to deter, engage, and defeat adversaries decisively. This “arsenal for democracy” must be a source of technological advantage at a price tag the taxpayers can afford. A healthy U.S. defense enterprise has proven a decisive lever in America’s success in past conflicts and a critical tool to maintaining the peace. Yet the relative strength and vitality of our industrial base is at risk. The Department of Defense (DoD) has reacted with alarm at flagging research and development (R&D) across industry. This has motivated U.S. defense officials to increasingly reach out to commercial technology providers for solutions. However, as their recent visit to Silicon Valley demonstrated, not everyone is chomping at the bit to work with the Pentagon.

Historically, the defense industry evolves in response to the nation’s military strategy, force structure needs, political environment, and fiscal realities. In past defense downturns, industry changes were characterized by the removal of capacity through consolidation and the exit of a large number of companies. While some of this is to be expected during this downturn, many critical areas within the industrial base are already at minimum scale or are served by a small number of companies (in some cases, a single supplier). If not managed properly, the United States could foreclose on sources of future technological advantage for the warfighter as companies exit the defense market. Further, if we are not able to optimize our industrial base, the nation will end up paying for unneeded capabilities and overhead or, worse, having to make hard choices about giving up capabilities we need to achieve our national security goals.

What can defense leaders do?

China’s Controversial Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

March 20, 2015

The U.S. has been very quick to make an issue of China’s new bank. 

China is leading the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in an attempt to improve infrastructure in Asia. A move by the U.K., and soon after Germany, France and Italy, to join the AIIB as founding members has been viewed by the United States as folly, and the U.S. warned other nations on Tuesday not to join the organization without considering China’s governance of the institution. Germany, France and Italy have pledged to ensure proper governance.

Currently the AIIB has 31 founding members, including the new European members, and is supposed to be a development bank similar to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. China’s President Xi Jinping announced the proposed creation of the bank just before the APEC meeting in Bali in October 2013. While the specific plans for governance of the bank are unclear, Xi has noted that management of the AIIB would be less bureaucratic than the Asian Development Bank, which has been touted as inefficient and redundant.

The AIIB, along with the New Silk Road initiative, which is also led by China, is designed to improve infrastructure throughout Asia. China’s pockets are bursting with foreign exchange, which the nation intends to use in part for these endeavors. Chinese companies have also proven their ability to build infrastructure (albeit excessively in recent years) through construction of the world’s largest dam (although controversially displacing millions of citizens), the longest bridge, and the largest express road network. Employment of Chinese construction companies in these multilaterally funded projects would boost China’s gross national product.

China's Anti-Corruption 'Firefighter' Headed to the US

March 20, 2015

Wang Qishan is said to be planning a trip to the U.S., presumably to ask Washington to extradite Chinese suspects. 

Wang Qishan, the chief of China’s anti-corruption agency, is planning a visit to the United States sometime this year, Financial Times reported. It will be Wang’s first trip abroad since he assumed his post as the head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).

Wang Qishan is an old pro when it comes to diplomacy with the U.S. As China’s vice premier, he co-chaired the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues from 2009 to 2012. During that time, Wang worked alongside U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the economic track of the dialogue.

When Xi Jinping and company came to power in late 2012, Wang joined the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. He also moved from vice premier to the head of the CCDI, where he was tasked with serving as the point man in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Wang’s clean reputation and personal “firefighting” abilities are seen as crucial for the success of the anti-corruption drive. Now China is banking on his personal diplomatic skills and relationships in Washington to extend the campaign to the U.S.

As China’s anti-corruption campaign rolls on, Beijing is focusing on pursuing corrupt officials both at home and abroad. Beginning in July 2014, China unrolled a concerted effort to track down and repatriate corrupt official who had fled overseas — an initiative dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt.” According to Chinese media reports, the “Fox Hunt” brought 288 suspects from 56 countries back to China for prosecution last year.

Yet China does not have extradition treaties with many Western nations, due to concerns about China’s legal system. As a result, in the early stages of the campaign Beijing was mostly limited to asking officials to turn themselves in in exchange for leniency.

Why the US Should Worry About Russia, Not China

March 19, 2015

How you solve a problem like China is different than how you solve a problem like Russia. 

Last Friday, the United States released its updatedCooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21). One of the biggest critiques of the firstCooperative Strategy concentrated on the difficulty of fitting China and Russia into the “cooperative” frame. China continues to expand its navy and has obviously undertaken a set of assertive actions in the East and South China Seas. Russia has, in recent years, invaded Georgia and Ukraine, effectively annexing parts of both countries. How does it make sense to include either of these countries under the tab “cooperation?”

The Cooperative Strategy is effectively a strategy for defending the liberal international economic order. The 2015 version (and its 2007 predecessor) is at its best when it envisions the operational employment of the U.S. maritime services in pursuit of basic oceanic maintenance. Most notably, this includes fighting against people best characterized as “enemies of all mankind” (including pirates, thieves, and terrorists), and dealing with humanitarian disasters.

The document is less effective at characterizing great power conflict in the maritime space. Even when two countries both allow the possibility of positive sum cooperation at sea, conflict can arise over the precise distribution of spoils, as well as concerns over vulnerability. And some countries do not place a high value on the reliability of maritime security.

Russia and China pose the greatest potential threats to the vision of liberal international order implicit in CS-21, a situation that has more or less held since 1949. Yet China is, for the first time in its history, deeply dependent on the sea. And there’s every indication that the Chinese fully understand this. The PLAN is not the Red Banner Northern Fleet, a force intended primarily for the protection of SSBN patrol areas and for the disruption of NATO control of the North Atlantic. The PLAN will, in the fullness of time, become a blue water navy, fully capable of protecting Chinese trade and projecting Chinese influence across Asia and beyond.

Russia is different. While we should generally view geographically determinist accounts with skepticism, there is no question that the maritime sphere is far less important to Russia than it is to the United States or China. Russia benefits less from a reliable set of interlocking regimes and procedures for managing the maritime sphere, and can take advantage of asymmetric opportunities to disrupt that system.

South Korea Again Caught Between U.S., China

By John Power
March 20, 2015

On issues such as THAAD and the AIIB, Seoul has struggled to balance its two most important relationships. 

Not for the first time, South Korea is struggling to balance its competing relationships with the United States and China. The latest sources of discord: a U.S. missile defense system and a China-led regional investment bank.

China has strongly opposed U.S. proposals to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea as an ostensible counter to North Korean missile threats. The missile defense system would bring within range a significant portion of China’s stockpile of ballistic missiles.

The U.S., meanwhile, has reportedly urged allies including South Korea to refrain from joining the burgeoning Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, expressing concerns about its governance and transparency.

Seoul’s dilemma is that it considers both countries vital to its interests. The U.S. remains South Korea’s security patron, stationing some 28,500 troops in the country as an ostensible deterrent to North Korea; China is its largest trade partner.

“It couldn’t dramatize the Korean predicament better, where economically, sort of everything is toward China, in terms of growth, but then in terms of security, everything still points back to the United States,” John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Seoul’s Yonsei University, told The Diplomat. “And so, you can see Seoul kind of being pulled between the two.”

New Details on China’s Cyberwar Capabilities and Resources

Shane Harris
March 19, 2015

China Reveals Its Cyberwar Secrets

In an extraordinary official document, Beijing admits it has special units to wage cyberwar—and a lot of them. Is anybody safe?

A high-level Chinese military organization has for the first time formally acknowledged that the country’s military and its intelligence community have specialized units for waging war on computer networks.

China’s hacking exploits, particularly those aimed at stealing trade secrets from U.S. companies, have been well known for years, and a source of constant tension between Washington and Beijing. But Chinese officials have routinely dismissed allegations that they spy on American corporations or have the ability to damage critical infrastructure, such as electrical power grids and gas pipelines, via cyber attacks.

Now it appears that China has dropped the charade. “This is the first time we’ve seen an explicit acknowledgement of the existence of China’s secretive cyber-warfare forces from the Chinese side,” says Joe McReynolds, who researches the country’s network warfare strategy, doctrine, and capabilities at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis.

McReynolds told The Daily Beast the acknowledgement of China’s cyber operations is contained in the latest edition of an influential publication, The Science of Military Strategy, which is put out by the top research institute of the People’s Liberation Army and is closely read by Western analysts and the U.S. intelligence community. The document is produced “once in a generation,” McReynolds said, and is widely seen as one of the best windows into Chinese strategy. The Pentagon cited the previous edition (PDF), published in 1999, for its authoritative description of China’s “comprehensive view of warfare,” which includes operations in cyberspace.

“This study is a big deal when it’s released,” McReynolds said, and the current edition marks “the first time they’ve come out and said, ‘Yes, we do in fact have network attack forces, and we have teams on both the military and civilian-government sides,’” including inside China’s equivalents of the CIA and the FBI.

The acknowledgment could have political and diplomatic implications for China’s relationship with the United States and other Western powers. 

Intrusion Curbs on Talks Table

19th March 2015

In the weeks prior to Indian prime minister Modi’s visit to Beijing this May for a summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping, there has been quite an unusual number of articles in China’s official media discussing resolution of the 4,057km disputed border between the two nations. These appear in the backdrop of the growing warmth in Indo-US relations and US president Obama’s successful visit to India this January. The deft moves by the Modi government outlining India’s strategic neighbourhood and the growing warmth in Indo-US ties have obviously attracted notice and been a factor in Beijing arriving at the assessment that its policy of exerting pressure on India along the borders while at the same time trying to promote economic ties will not yield positive results.

In addition to stepping up the momentum of high-level visits, Beijing has begun taking steps to address the key issues publicly identified by Modi during Xi Jinping’s visit in mid-September 2014. Modi had averred that if bilateral relations were to improve then border intrusions by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops had to cease and that both nations must work towards an early resolution of the border issue. Xi Jinping had paid negligible attention then to the matter of intrusions and given low priority to early resolution of the outstanding border dispute. His focus was on securing India’s endorsement to his major economic initiatives of the New Economic Silk Road and Maritime Silk Route.

Reliable interlocutors recently disclosed that in addition to assessing that the Modi government has shown “a tougher attitude” by beefing up border patrols and giving a massive push to improving infrastructure, China has assessed that India’s military establishment has reverted to being “formal” and “stiff” in its interactions with the PLA unlike earlier. According to them, Beijing senses a similar formality in interactions with India’s political establishment and attributes this to its “nationalist” orientation. These interlocutors also disclose that the new defence attaché in the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, now of the rank of a major general, has been instructed to ensure that Sino-Indian relations do not deteriorate. To facilitate his task he has been brought into the loop with regard to flag meetings held between the commanders at the border. The Chinese defence attaché has additionally been tasked to ensure that communications between China’s ministry of national defence and India’s ministry of defence are conveyed quickly to avoid the possibility of tensions increasing due to misunderstanding.

Beijing unravelling

Written by Dhruva Jaishankar
March 18, 2015 

India must invest more deeply in understanding the rumblings in China. (Source: AP photo)

David Shambaugh, a noted China expert, set off a firestorm earlier this month when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the “endgame of communist rule in China has begun” and that it was “unlikely to end quietly”. Shambaugh is hardly the first veteran China-watcher to suggest that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might implode or simply lose its hold on power. Lawyer-turned-writer Gordon Chang has made a cottage industry of such prognostications, while my German Marshall Fund colleague, Minxin Pei, has long pointed out the party’s inherent, and possibly fatal, flaws. Yet Shambaugh’s standing among China analysts, the high regard in which he is held in China, and his past work on the CCP’s adaptability have lent his opinions particular weight, and have generated debate and inspired fierce criticism in both the US and China.

Shambaugh’s arguments are not entirely convincing, particularly when viewed through a purely political lens. The increased political repression that is presently taking place in China under President Xi Jinping is not, in and of itself, a clear indicator of imminent collapse, though it may be indicative of the insecurities of party leaders. Factionalism has also long plagued the CCP — even under Mao Zedong’s leadership. And it should hardly be surprising that party representatives are often cynical about official dogma, as Shambaugh observes. Many of their predecessors were too, including during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.

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.

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

February 24, 2015 

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

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

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

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

Iran Draft Deal: As Good as It Gets?

March 20, 2015

Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 may be at a point where both sides have conceded all they can realistically give. 

As Diplomat readers will be aware, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are continuing after repeated extensions and despite a seeming trend toward gridlock among the P5+1 group, composed of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. On Thursday morning, the Associated Press ran an exclusive detailing the latest draft deal between the two sides, alleging that, given current diplomatic realities, Iran has agreed to reduce its enrichment hardware “by about 40 percent for at least a decade.” In exchange, the P5+1 will concede immediate sanctions relief.

Specifically, the number of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges would be capped at 6,000, down from a suspected all-time high of 20,000. Tehran currently operates 10,000 centrifuges, which it maintains produce uranium enriched at low levels for civilian use only. A major point of contention in the negotiations has been the actions Iran can take to assure the others (primarily the United States) that its “breakout capability” — or ability to create a deliverable nuclear weapon — is limited.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), notes in an email to The Diplomat, that with this draft, “[T]he Obama administration has secured a year-long breakout capability,” meaning that even if Iran were to throw out the deal sometime in the future, it would still take at least one year to develop nuclear weapons. The theoretical one-year breakout capability would additionally be guaranteed by international legal oversight and regular inspections of Iranian nuclear activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), is subject to international oversight and regulation of its civilian nuclear program.

ISIS Group Takes Credit for Tunis Museum Attack That Killed 23

March 19, 2015

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The radical Islamic State group claimed responsibility Thursday for the attack on a famed Tunis museum that left 23 people dead and scores of tourists wounded, and upended the country’s struggling tourism industry.

Defying the extremists, hundreds of Tunisians rallied Thursday at the National Bardo Museum, the site of the attack, stepping around trails of blood and broken glass to proclaim their solidarity with the victims and with Tunisia’s fledgling democracy. One person carried a sign saying “Tunisia is bloodied but still standing.”

Tunisian security forces arrested nine people, five with alleged direct connections to Wednesday’s attack by two gunmen who were later slain by police, the president’s office said. The other four suspects arrested in the central part of the country were part of a cell supporting those involved in the attack, the statement said.

Prime Minister Habib Essid told France’s RTL radio that Tunisia was working with other countries to learn more about the slain attackers, identified as Yassine Laabidi and Hatem Khachnaoui. He said Laabidi had been flagged to the intelligence agency, although not for “anything special.”

The attack was the worst at a tourist site in Tunisia in more than a decade and prompted a leading Italian cruise ship line to announce it was canceling all stops in the North African nation indefinitely.

The deaths of so many tourists will create massive trouble for Tunisia’s tourism industry, which attracts thousands of foreigners every year to the country’s Mediterranean beaches, desert oases and ancient Roman ruins — and which had just started to recover after years of decline. Two major cruise ships whose passengers were among the victims quickly left the port of Tunis early Thursday, leaving behind grieving family members and slain passengers.

Razor wire ringed the museum entrance Thursday and security forces guarded major thoroughfares in Tunis, the capital.

U.S. Warplanes Attack ISIS Surveillance Drone

March 19, 2015

WASHINGTON — US warplanes have bombed a small drone used by Islamic State extremists in Iraq, marking the first time American-led forces had targeted an unmanned aircraft flown by the jihadists, officials said Wednesday.

The strike took place on Tuesday near the western city of Fallujah, destroying “a remotely piloted aircraft” and a vehicle with the IS forces, according to a statement from the US military command overseeing the campaign against the group.

The drone, used for battlefield surveillance, was “small-scale” and not a sophisticated aircraft equivalent to some US-made robotic planes that can fly at high altitudes or launch missiles, US defense officials said.

After flying the drone for a short period, Islamic State militants placed it on a vehicle. American aircraft then struck the vehicle near Fallujah, officials said.

The United States relies heavily on its own fleet of drones for air operations in Iraq and Syria, using them to bomb targets as well as provide intelligence on IS movements on the ground.

The Syrian regime said Tuesday it had shot down an American drone near the coastal province of Latakia and Pentagon officials acknowledged that a robotic aircraft had lost contact in the area.

The airstrike on the IS drone was among 11 carried out by US-led aircraft in Iraq and two conducted in Syria on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.

Report Recommends That Pentagon Rethink Its Approach to Fighting Boko Haram Militants in Nigeria

March 19, 2015

The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) last week released a report that concluded that the U.S. will never be able to change the unsuccessful stratetgy currently being employed by the Nigerian government and military in trying to fight the Boko Haram militant group in northern Nigeria. Instead, the report recommends that the U.S. military throw all its support behind the military efforts of the Cameroons, Niger and Chad, who are fighting to prevent Boko Haram from operating inside their borders. 

These countries have proven to be far more flexible in their counterinsurgency approach to fighting Boko Haram, and do not suffer from the endemic corruption and widespread human rights problems that continue to dog the Nigerian government and security forces.

The CNA report can be accessed here.

Is ISIS Building A Drone Army?


As U.S.-led coalition forces confirm they shot down an ISIS drone this week, experts warn the extremists could soon adapt the technology for battle purposes.

The self-proclaimed Islamic State—also known as ISIS or ISIL—has added drones to its arsenal, and for the first time, the U.S.-led coalition took one of their drones out, officials announced Wednesday.

“Near Fallujah, [Iraq], an airstrike destroyed an ISIL remotely-piloted aircraft and an ISIL vehicle," said a Wednesday press release from the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF), which speaks on behalf of the 62-member U.S.-led coalition conducting strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this week, the unmanned drone had been conducting surveillance nearby, U.S. military officials told The Daily Beast. The drone was then loaded into a vehicle, which was subsequently destroyed—along with the drone—by coalition forces on Tuesday.

Some at the Pentagon were quick to dismiss the threat of ISIS drones, noting there was a big difference between what ISIS could have purchased off ofAmazon.com (as such drones are apparently available there), and the Reapers and Predators deployed by coalition forces.

While experts agree, they also warn that ISIS could convert this kind of technology into something deadly.

“ISIS surely has surveillance drone capability. It is nowhere near what [the coalition] has, but [the] civilian use drone market is so big, and live-linked camera technology so common, it really is inevitable that ISIS will have surveillance drones,” says Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst with the Middle East Security Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War. 

Iran's Great Cultural Advantage

March 18, 2015

Throughout all the vicissitudes of dealing with Iran, an obvious fact has been insufficiently addressed: The external behavior of Iran's regime is simply more dynamic and more effective than that of any other Muslim regime in the Middle East. Iran has constructed thousands of centrifuges. Tehran has trained and equipped Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shiite forces in Iraq and Yemen, and it has propped up Syria's embattled president. Turkey and the Arab world appear sleepy-eyed in comparison. Iran acts. The other Muslim countries struggle to formulate responses, and when they do, they are still less effective than the Iranians. Why is that so? What secret sauce does the Iranian regime have?

More than merely a state

Iran benefits from being both a civilization and a sub-state. Its Sunni counterparts are merely states, and often creaky ones at that, at a time in history when states are being undermined by other political forces. Indeed, the state model is failing in the Middle East, and Iran's advantage is that its leaders operate at levels both above and below the traditional state.

The modern state of Iran is heir to the imperial civilization of ancient Persia. Its territory broadly aligns with the Mede, Parthian, Achaemenid, Sassanid, Qajar, and Pahlevi states and empires, whose spheres of influence often extended from the Mediterranean to Central Asia. Persia was the ancient world's first superpower, and a bold if sometimes broken line connects the Persian monarchs of antiquity to the ayatollahs of today, whose very aggression is rooted in the geopolitics of their forebears. There are many Arab states, but there is only one Persian state - a state that has historically dominated its immediate Arab neighbours with its ample resources of cultural wealth and political organization. It took nothing less than the suffocating totalitarianism of Saddam Hussein to keep Iran out of Iraq. In the absence of such a dominant influence, Iraq must revert to its default, heavily Persian-influenced normal.

The Lost Civilizations of Asia

March 19, 2015

Asian states need to pay more attention to protecting their invaluable cultural heritage. 

The tragic destruction of antiquities by militants in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere serves to remind us of the importance of antiquities and archaeological studies, their role in contemporary understandings of history and culture, and the need for their preservation. Many parts of the world outside of North America and Europe need to do a better job at preserving and marketing their historical sites, all too many of which are decaying due to a lack of funding. Those funding issues, in turn, are partially caused by the obscurity that comes with a lack of marketing and interest. For example, most visitors to India will only see a few historical sites in Delhi, Rajasthan, and the Taj Mahal in Agra, but the subcontinent is home to thousands of fascinating monuments, forts, palaces, and religious buildings, many of which are neglected. Contrast this to the loving care of many of Europe’s castles and cathedrals, many of which were situated in obscure principalities of minor historical significance.

A major component of preserving antiquities is knowing about them to begin with. This, in turn, leads to an interest in archaeological and historical sites, instead of indifference. While the main civilizations and artifacts of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East are well-known among scholars and mainstream society (for example, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Indus Valley Civilization, and so on), there are many awe-inspiring sites built by lesser known civilizations that escape attention, both in the West, and among the natives of those regions. Perhaps if more is done to shed light on these sites, the attitude of indifference to their preservation and marketing will disappear. Increased tourist and archaeological attention will also make local people more likely to contribute to the preservation of sites and resistant to their destruction. It could also instill in people a sense of pride in their own local past, instead of seeing ancient sites as the work of peoples disassociated with the modern inhabitants of such regions.

It is important, then, to shed light on and write and speak about historical sites throughout the world, but especially in regions where they face the most neglect. As I myself discovered while writing about the ancient civilizations of southern Arabia, there are many little-known civilizations, and many cultures and ways of life that have been almost lost to the sands of time. Yet civilizations have thrived and evolved in multiple ways almost everywhere throughout the world.

Is China’s Economic Power in ASEAN Overblown?

March 20, 2015

A new report suggests there is less to Beijing’s influence than meets the eye. 

While a lot has been written about China’s growing economic influence in Southeast Asia, the analysis is often based on a survey of certain ambitious initiatives that have yet to play out – like the Maritime Silk Road – or flowery statements and declarations by leaders rather than measuring its actual impact using hard data. I’ve pointed out the folly of this before, most recently in an article on Sino-Indonesian relations for The Diplomat.

A recent report released by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission attempts to actually measure China’s economic ties with the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) using trade and investment data. The report’s findings suggest that China is actually much less of a juggernaut than it is often portrayed to be in Southeast Asia, and that there are still lingering problems with Beijing’s economic relationships in the region. While some analysts have been stressing this for years, it is worth briefly summarizing what recent data says about China’s economic power in Southeast Asia.

First, one needs to look beyond rankings to get a more granular understanding of China’s economic influence in Southeast Asia and the purported ‘dependence’ it creates. As the report notes, while China consistently appears among the top five ASEAN trade partners, the degree of dependence on China as a source of exports, imports, or both varies. In general, wealthier ASEAN countries have a more diversified set of trading partners, while poorer ones depend more heavily on China, especially for imports. The distribution of Chinese export and import flows is also much more complex – Vietnam’s share of Chinese flows within ASEAN has increased a lot, but Singapore’s share has dropped. Given this, one should be careful about making sweeping statements about ASEAN states becoming pliant to Beijing.

Second, attention should be paid to the balance of trade rather than just the amount of trade. Since the full enactment of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement in 2010 – the largest free trade area in the world by population – ASEAN’s trade in goods with China has gone from a surplus to a deficit reaching $45 billion in 2013. “The causal link between ASEAN’s deficit and ACFTA,” the report notes, “merits scrutiny.” This is not just an academic point. An unfavorable trade balance for Southeast Asian countries in their relationships with China has been a political issue in the past, and in some cases this has been highlighted as a priority to fix.

A Strategy for Japan’s Public Diplomacy in the United States

By Marta McLellan Ross
March 20, 2015

Japan has lost ground to Korea and China in U.S. public perceptions. Here’s what it can do about it. 

Japan has found itself in a public diplomacy race in the United States, and in many respects it may be losing. China and Korea are its principal competitors in a contest to shape American views about Japan’s behavior in World War II, its current role in the world, and new policies to lessen its limitations on military activities. In a year that commemorates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the prize for Japan isrecognition of its remorse for the war and acceptance of its role in regional and international security. The loss of this competition, however, risks diminished U.S. support during a time of critical reforms.

Unlike Western Europe, after World War II, Asia remained a competitive, chaotic region with the civil war in China in the late 1940s and war on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s. While the United States and Japan put to rest their animosities shortly after the war and realized the value of strategic cooperation during the Cold War, Japan, Korea, and China were unable to fully reconcile. To date, China and Korea remain unsatisfied with Japan’s attitude toward its wartime behavior and seek deeper expressions of remorse, but also have not clearly defined what would be an acceptable expression. On the other hand, while Japan has issued apologies for its wartime behavior, as Jennifer Lind noted in Foreign Affairs on March 5, 2015, “Tokyo has sent confusing signals that seem to undermine those apologies.” Thus, the historic competition between Japan, China, and Korea continues in a public relations scramble in the United States. As a result, more Americans are paying attention.

Public scrutiny of Japan’s actions and policies by the general American public is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Since the end of the Cold War and collapse of Japan’s bubble economy of the 1980s, Japan has remained largely out of the spotlight. As educational and cultural exchanges with the United States have declined, Japan has not really developed a broad base for American public support, even though American views toward Japan are generally positive. Additionally, Japan does not have a base of recent immigrants in the United States, whose expatriates often maintain close economic ties and kinship, and has historically not recognized Japanese-Americans as “Japanese.”

This chart shows the massive scale of Russia's planned fortification of the Arctic

MAR 17, 2015

The Arctic ice is slowly melting, and Russia is positioning itself in order to take advantage of new shipping routes along with natural resources available beneath the Arctic seabed.

In order to capitalize on a changing Arctic, Russia is undertaking a major military upgrade of its northern coast and outlying Arctic archipelagos. These bases - which include search-and-rescue stations, military ports and airstrips, and military headquarters - are positioning Russia to become the dominant power in the region.

The following chart from The Heritage Foundation's 2015 Index of Military Strength shows the massive scope of Russian construction throughout the Arctic.

As The Heritage Foundation notes, most Arctic states have developed some kind of military presence in the region in order to bolster economic activities. Only Russia has taken the additional step of completely militarizing its Arctic frontier.

It's even moving most of its ships to the region. "Russia's Northern Fleet," The Heritage Foundation reports, "based at Severomorsk, account for two-third of the Russian Navy."

The Northern Fleet itself is due for a massive upgrade starting in 2015 that will last through the rest of the decade. The fleet has now been upgraded to a unit called the Russian Joint Strategic Command North (JSCN) which, according to the Polish Institute of International Affairs, won't be an ordinary naval force.

Oil Prices Cripple Iraq's ISIS War

Daniel R. DePetrisDavid Andrew Weinberg
March 19, 2015

Iraq had a miserable 2014. The Islamic State (IS) reentered the country in large numbers early in the year, routing the Iraqi security forces in June with its swift territorial conquests and gaining tacit support from a large segment of Iraq’s Sunnis in the process. But the Iraqi government is also confronting a fiscal crisis that threatens to compound its security morass. It wants help from Saudi Arabia and the other major Arab oil producers in the Gulf but is in for a big disappointment.

Nouri al-Maliki—who last summer was in the last few months of his premiership—was unable to pass a national budget through the Iraqi parliament. Disputes with the Kurds over oil revenue sharing reached its peak. And the Iraqi parliament itself resembled a freewheeling, but useless, debating society increasingly being ignored as an impediment by the prime minister’s office.

In fact, the only upshot for the Iraqi Government was the price of crude oil: by July 2014, the average price for a single barrel of Iraqi crude was slightly above $102.

Now, even that windfall has changed. Brent crude prices over the past several months have declined by roughly 60 percent from last year’s peak. The Iraqi Government, predictably, comes out as another major loser from these developments. Indeed, it lost 27 percent of its projected revenues in 2014 alone. At a time when Baghdad is fully engaged in taking back their country from IS and expending more funds on defense-related costs like salaries for soldiers, military equipment, and battlefield intelligence assets, the dip in crude is severely straining Iraq’s budget. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has bluntly stated that the lower value of crude exports will make the job of extinguishing the Islamic State terrorist movement from Iraqi territory far more difficult.

The Rise of Alien Warfare

February 25, 2015 

From the War of 1812 to today’s campaigns in the Middle East, both Washington’s enemies and the local populations have become steadily less familiar in terms of language, religion and social traditions. 

IN 2011, the United States launched a new television show in Afghanistan called Sesame Garden. It was an Afghan-themed version of Sesame Streetdesigned to win local hearts and minds. Unfortunately, the producers had to cut the Count von Count character because Afghans had not heard of Dracula and could not comprehend the fangs.

The fate of the Count epitomizes the new Age of Alien Warfare—defined by U.S. military operations in culturally unknown environments. From the War of 1812 to today’s campaigns in the Middle East, both Washington’s enemies and the local populations have become steadily less familiar in terms of language, religion and social traditions. Alien warfare reached its apogee with the post-9/11 mission to refashion Afghanistan—a landlocked country seven thousand miles away, with a largely unknown culture and a literacy rate lower than that of America in 1650.

The rise of alien warfare has crippled America’s capacity at both waging war and making peace. Paradoxically, as U.S. power grew, the nation’s record on the battlefield deteriorated alarmingly. From 1812 to 1945, the United States had a miniscule peacetime army but won most major campaigns. After World War II, Washington constructed the most expensive military machine that ever existed, yet it suffered an era of military reverses. Reeling from battlefield failure, Washington was forced to negotiate a way out of the quagmire. But alien warfare impeded effective diplomacy and prolonged difficult campaigns. In culturally unfamiliar environments, the United States could neither win wars nor end them.

A Bank Too Far?

Interviewee: Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics
Interviewer: Eleanor Albert, Online Writer/Editor
March 17, 2015

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has gained a boost with the announcement that at least four Group of Seven countries have agreed to become founding members, drawing surprise and alarm from Washington. The Beijing-backed bank appears to be gaining momentum for its expressed goal of addressing wide infrastructure gaps in Asia. But the bank also reflects Beijing’s dissatisafaction with existing global institutions and its desire to play a leading role in the Asia-Pacific, says CFR's Robert Kahn. Though it would be a positive step for Washington to join the bank, Kahn says that there is little chance that Congress would approve U.S. participation. 

China's Finance Minister Lou Jiwei (L) gives a speech with the guests of the signing ceremony of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing, October 24, 2014. (Photo: Takaki Yajima/Courtesy Reuters) 

What is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and what are its goals? 

The AIIB is a regional international financial institution originally proposed by the Chinese government in 2013 and launched in October 2014. The objective of the bank is to finance road, rail, port, and other infrastructure construction projects. More than twenty countriesjoined the AIIB at the start, but leading G7 economies, as well as South Korea and Australia, initially declined to join. Over the past several months, more countries have signed on, and with the decision of the UK and three eurozone economies to join, there are now about thirty members. The bank was established with $50 billion in capital, making it roughly one-third the size of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), but that capital is expected to grow to $100 billion as more countries join. The AIIB expects to make its first loan late this year. 

"The AIIB is a challenge to the existing global economic order."