9 December 2014


By Ronn Pineo

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) 

Should the School of the Americas be closed? To its critics, the school, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is an institution smeared in blood, a place of torture training and coup plotting. How much of this perception of the School of the Americas (SOA) is fair?

The School of Americas began in 1946 as a military training site at Fort Amador and then Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. The facility, called at the time the Escuela Latino Americana Terrestre (Latin American Ground School), centralized the various World War II cooperative military training activities that had taken place in Panamá since just before the war. In 1963 it took the name the School of the Americas, and in 1984, in the wake of the Panama Canal Treaties, it was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, the new location was selected due to the oversized influence of Georgia Senator Sam Nunn and the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Most of the over 61,034 officers and cadets who attended the SOA came on scholarships, often under the U.S. International Military Education and Training program.1 The classes they took, at least in the first decade and a half of the SOA’s existence, were unremarkable. Classes dealt with matters like jeep repair or the preparation nutritious but filling field meals.2

However, the mission of the SOA changed dramatically after Fidel Castro came to power. President John F. Kennedy came to be deeply alarmed, even fixated, by what he saw as a mounting communist treat in the hemisphere. In response he created the Alliance for Progress, an initiative which offered considerable financial aid to promote social reform, but was joined with a powerful determination to fund, train for, and launch counter-insurgency combat operations to neutralize communist influence in Latin America. Kennedy was particularly keen on expanding the size and mission of the military’s Special Forces–the Green Berets–to attack the threats he perceived. Accordingly, between 1962 and 1967 the United States deployed over six hundred Special Forces Mobile Training Teams, each with two officers and ten soldiers, on training missions across the Americas.3

At the same time, the SOA revamped its curriculum, adding instruction in anti-communism, training in counter-insurgency methods, and primers in prisoner interrogation techniques. Some course content became so sensitive that even the course descriptions were classified.4

ISSUE BRIEF Resolving India’s Nuclear Liability Impasse

December 06, 2014

Since its enactment in September 2010, India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA) has been a subject of intense debate and controversy.1. Concerns over suppliers’ liability stipulated in the Act have supposedly deterred both international and domestic suppliers from entering into contracts to supply reactors and components for upcoming nuclear power projects. Realising that the resultant impasse might derail its ambitious nuclear energy expansion plans, New Delhi has been considering various policy and legal options to resolve this issue. While the issue figured prominently during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s October visit to the US, his promise about addressing various outstanding issues and the importance of nuclear energy for India’s energy security raised hopes of an early resolution of this impasse.2.

Still, many observers doubt if any tangible solution or ‘corrective action’3. could be easily worked out to the satisfaction of all parties concerned since a review of the legislation seems improbable. The attempt to finesse the suppliers’ liability provisions through a rules notification has also not conclusively redressed prevailing concerns.4. Progressive efforts towards finding feasible solutions may hence entail some out-of-the-box thinking and exercising innovative policy options with a political resolve. Going by the current debate, it seems the supplier liability provisions have been unduly demonised without appreciating the government’s obligation of having to safeguard the public interest before expanding the country’s nuclear energy sector.

This essay, while examining some options and fresh approaches, also argues that Indian law provides a constructive template for civil nuclear liability that could emerge as a new best practice for the global nuclear industry.
India’s liability law and supplier concerns

The need for a civil nuclear liability law has been long felt in the absence of an appropriate legal framework to establish liability and ensure swift compensation in the event of a nuclear accident. Furthermore, pursuant to the Indo-US nuclear cooperation agreement, India had supposedly avowed5. to adhere to the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage6. (CSC) that requires signatory states to legislate a compliant domestic liability law. Many hail the Indian law, passed by Parliament in September 2010, as a progressive piece of legislation since it not only addresses the need for a national legislation on civilian liability but also incorporates the industrial safety learning from the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984.

What Is Asia? A Security Debate between Alfred Mahan and Barry Buzan

By Sunil Dasgupta for ISN
21 November 2014

Is Asia best understood as a single, unified strategic space or a cluster of distinct regional security complexes? Sunil Dasgupta argues that while the latter view remains more accurate at present, Chinese and American security policies are making ‘one Asia’ a burgeoning reality.

Underlying the current American predicament in determining its Asia policy is the key question, what is Asia? Formally, Asia is the biggest landmass on earth—home to more than half its population—and a continent that is enormously varied in geography, culture, economics, and politics. Few observers have seen the continent as a single entity. Since the start of the Cold War, Washington has sliced and diced Giant Asia into five sub-regions: East, Southeast, South, and Central Asia, and the Middle East. But today, the basis of a new American view of Asia requires us to see the continent differently—as a unified strategic space. As the former Bush Administration official and Asia expert, Evan Feigenbaum, wrote in 2011,

“Asia is being reconnected at last. Chinese traders are again hawking their wares in Kyrgyz bazaars. Straits bankers are financing deals in India, with Singapore having become the second-largest source of India’s incoming foreign direct investment over the last decade (behind only Mauritius, which retains first place because of tax avoidance incentives). China lies at the core of industrial supply and production chains that stretch across Southeast Asia. And Chinese workers are building ports and infrastructure from Bangladesh to Pakistan to Sri Lanka. The governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have sold electricity southward, reconnecting their power grids to Afghanistan, while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have signed an intergovernmental memorandum to sell electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean money is flowing across Asia.”

Although this view remains at odds with the predominantly regional character of security concerns in Asia, if China continues to pursue hardline regional policies, the new American view could well become a reality.

What Happens When Spies Can Eavesdrop on Any Conversation?

December 1, 2014

Imagine having access to the all of the world’s recorded conversations, videos that people have posted to YouTube, in addition to chatter collected by random microphones in public places. Then picture the possibility of searching that dataset for clues related to terms that you are interested in the same way you search Google. You could look up, for example, who was having a conversation right now about plastic explosives, about a particular flight departing from Islamabad, about Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in reference to a particular area of northern Iraq.

Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move? (Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist, where he served for nine years. Tucker's writing on emerging technology ... Full Bio

On Nov. 17, the U.S. announced a new challenge called Automatic Speech recognition in Reverberant Environments, giving it the acronymASpIRE. The challenge comes from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, or ODNI, and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, or IARPA. It speaks to a major opportunity for intelligence collection in the years ahead, teaching machines to scan the ever-expanding world of recorded speech. To do that, researchers will need to take a decades’ old technology, computerized speech recognition, and re-invent it from scratch.

Importantly, the ASpIRE challenge is only the most recent government research program aimed at modernizing speech recognition for intelligence gathering. The so-called Babelprogram from IARPA, as well as such DARPA programs asRATS (Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech), BOLT(Broad Operational Language Translation) and others have all had similar or related objectives.

To understand what the future of speech recognition looks like, and why it doesn’t yet work the way the intelligence community wants it to, it first becomes necessary to know what it is. In a 2013 paper titled “What’s Wrong With Speech Recognition” researcher Nelson Morgan defines it as “the science of recovering words from an acoustic signal meant to convey those words to a human listener.” It’s different from speaker recognition, or matching a voiceprint to a single individual, but the two are related.

Army Testing Improved Electronic Jamming Technology

DECEMBER 2, 2014

The Army is testing a series of new electronic warfare technologies designed to address a wider range of threat signals in the electromagnetic spectrum, service officials said.

Electronic warfare can be used for a wide range of combat functions to include jamming or thwarting an electronic signal used to detonate an IED, identifying enemy communications or electronic signals, and attacking or disabling enemy electromagnetic signals.

The new EW technologies are being engineered to detect, respond to and operate in a wider range of frequencies to provide commanders with more offensive and defensive options. They are being designed as upgradable hardware and software that can accommodate new threat information as emerging signals are learned, Army officials said.

“The nature of the electromagnetic spectrum is such that it is increasingly contested and increasingly congested. You must be able to attack in the spectrum and defend in the spectrum and also ensure that you manage the spectrum. In order to do all of these things, you must gain and maintain an advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Col. Jim Ekvall, electronic warfare division chief.

The new EW systems will be configured to go on unmanned aircraft, helicopters and vehicles, among other platforms, Ekvall added.

Israeli Nukes Meets Atomic Irony in the Middle East

December 6, 2014

The stated rationale for the United States casting on Tuesday one of the very lonely votes it sometimes casts at the United Nations General Assembly, on matters on which almost the entire world sees things differently, warrants some reflection. The resolution in question this time endorsed the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and called on Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, and to put its nuclear facilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A nuclear weapons-free Middle East and universal adherence to the nonproliferation treaty are supposedly U.S. policy objectives, and have been for many years. So why did the United States oppose the resolution? According to the U.S. representative's statement in earlier debate, the resolution "fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country."

You know something doesn't wash when the contrary views are as overwhelmingly held as on this matter. The resolution passed on a vote of 161-5. Joining Israel and the United States as “no” votes were Canada (maybe the Harper government was thinking of the Keystone XL pipeline issue being in the balance?) and the Pacific powers of Micronesia and Palau. The latter two habitually cast their UN votes to stay in the good graces of the United States; they have been among the few abstainers on the even more lopsided votes in the General Assembly each year calling for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

An obvious problem with the United States complaining about a resolution on a topic such as this being an expression of concern about the activities of only a single country is that the United States has been in front in pushing for United Nations resolutions about the nuclear activities of a single country, only just not about the particular country involved this time. The inconsistency is glaring. Iran has been the single-country focus of several U.S.-backed resolutions on nuclear matters—resolutions in the Security Council that have been the basis for international sanctions against Iran.

The Trouble With Cheap Oil

DECEMBER 5, 2014

Just before the turn of the millennium, I met a man who had recently invested a fortune in wind power. He said he wanted to do all that he could to slow the course of climate change. He was also convinced that, as the world began to run out of oil, alternative sources of energy would offer a unique entrepreneurial opportunity. “Oil prices will fluctuate for a while,” he told me. “But, eventually, they can only move in one direction. Up. Oil is a finite resource and, as supplies dwindle, the costs will have to rise. That will make alternatives like wind power much more attractive.”

That sounded sensible, and, for the many people who have long argued that our addiction to oil and gas is destroying the planet, so did the much discussed concept of “peak oil’’—the theoretical moment when half the world’s oil reserves had been consumed and fossil fuels began to become scarce. The date of peak oil is hard to pin down, but most suggest we passed that point a decade ago. In a Times column titled “The Finite World,’’ Paul Krugman said that the magic moment had arrived in 2010.

High oil prices would force governments, corporations, and consumers to find another way to power the world. It was a nice dream, but it’s over now. We are awash in cheap oil. Propelled largely by a boom in domestic production, due to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,’’ and horizontal drilling, oil prices fell below $70 a barrel on Thursday—from a high in June of $112.12. Prices have fallen nearly every day for the past two months, and some economists predict that we will soon see oil selling for less than fifty dollars a barrel.

That’s good news for consumers; it means that they will have more disposable income. More gas means more travel and more spending, which our sluggish economy clearly needs. But the costs may be enormous. In 2008, a barrel of oil cost $147, more than twice today’s price.

DoD To Silicon Valley, VCs: How ‘Bout Some Help!

December 03, 2014 

PENTAGON: For decades the tech gurus of Silicon Valley have pretty much left Pentagon business alone, letting the military stumble along and try to buy their wares within five years of their coming out.

Take the story of former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright, hungry for an iPad that could handle classified information. Couldn’t be done, Cartwright was told. So he ordered DARPA to do it. Then it did get done, but that gives you some idea of just how hard it can be for agile tech companies to do business with the military. Or for the military to buy something new that it really wants — such as the breakthrough technologies envisioned by the newly announced “offset strategy.”

Now, confronted with an historic shift in science and technology spending from the military to commercial companies and the rapid global proliferation of precision weapons and other technologies, the Pentagon has issued a Request for Information asking anyone with a really good idea to click on a dedicated website and let them know about it.

While Lockheed, Boeing, BAE, Raytheon, Northrop and friends will certainly be listened to should they have ideas to share, this effort is really aimed at individuals and companies who traditionally don’t do business with the Pentagon. “I think that’s a very clear message,” said Stephen Welby, the deputy assistant defense secretary leading the effort, when I pressed him if the RFI’s target was companies like Google, Cisco and other tech generators.

The ideas sent in will be screened by five groups of five of the Pentagon’s best and brightest, said Welby, each specializing in a particular top-priority area: undersea technology; air dominance and strike technology; air and missile defense technology; other technology-driven concepts.

Inside Facebook's Plan To Wire The World

Chandauli is a tiny town in rural India about a four-hour drive southwest of New Delhi. India’s a big country, and there are several Chandaulis. This is the one that’s not on Google Maps.

It’s a dusty town, and the roads are narrow and unpaved. A third of the people here live below the poverty line, and the homes are mostly concrete blockhouses. Afternoons are hot and silent. There are goats. It is not ordinarily the focus of global media attention, but it is today, because today the 14th wealthiest man in the world, Mark Zuckerberg, has come to Chandauli.

Ostensibly, Zuckerberg is here to look at a new computer center and to have other people, like me, look at him looking at it. But he’s also here in search of something less easily definable.

I’ve interviewed Zuckerberg before—I wrote about him in 2010, when he was TIME’s Person of the Year—and as far as I can tell, he is not a man much given to quiet reflection. But this year he reached a point in his life when even someone as un-introspective as he is might reasonably pause and reflect. Facebook, the company of which he is chairman, CEO and co-founder, turned 10 this year. Zuckerberg himself turned 30. (If you’re wondering, he didn’t have a party. For his 30th birthday, on May 14, Zuckerberg flew back east to watch his younger sister defend her Ph.D. in classics at Princeton.) For years, Facebook has been the quintessential Silicon Valley startup, helmed by the global icon of brash, youthful success. But Facebook isn’t a startup anymore, and Zuckerberg is no longer especially youthful. He’s just brash and successful.

What’s Next for CAS?


A great deal of unease and uncertainty exists about the future of the A-10, but the Air Force is preparing today to meet tomorrow’s threats.

The Air Force's 2015 budget proposal to retire the A-10 Warthog—famed for its fearsome 30 mm gun and rugged survivability—elicited a firestorm of protest from A-10 fans and some ground troop supporters—many of whom seem unwilling to accept any other USAF platform for delivering close air support.

Air Force leaders, pilots, and even officials from the ground services admit, though, that the CAS mission is far more expansive than the future of one aircraft and it must adapt to changes in threats, technology, and future combat scenarios. Using experience gained in Iraq and Afghanistan across the fleet, USAF's combat air forces are now experimenting with new approaches to CAS and related tasks—some also performed by the A-10—using assets such as remotely piloted aircraft and bombers.

In more than a decade of combat, mostly in support of ground troops, the Air Force has shown it has tremendous versatility in how it delivers CAS, according to Maj. Gen. James J. Jones, then the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and requirements. Talking with reporters in March, Jones—who retired in June—said that by and large "those capabilities are already" in the force structure and that many functions now often assigned to the A-10 will be picked up by other platforms, such as the F-16.

The Air Force asserts it has no choice about the A-10, due to budget demands. To pay the bills, USAF must retire 283 A-10s over the next five years in order to invest in multimission aircraft crucial not only to the close air support mission but to others such as air superiority, global strike, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), and others have condemned the Air Force proposal. In a joint May statement, Ayotte, McCain, and others called the plan "shortsighted and dangerous" and said that premature divestiture would put ground troops in "serious additional danger in future conflicts."

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III has taken the brunt of the criticism, often directly. An A-10 driver during the latter days of the Cold War, he's pushed back, arguing that CAS is a mission bigger than just the A-10. About 80 percent of all CAS sorties in Afghanistan since 2001 were flown by other aircraft, Welsh explained.

That figure shouldn't be a surprise, Welsh said. At an April Senate hearing on USAF's force posture, he said F-16 pilots have trained in full CAS tactics alongside the Army since the late 1970s and have gained vast experience conducting such missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The F-16 alone, he noted, has flown more CAS sorties than the A-10 over the last eight years. Meanwhile, to achieve the same savings as retiring the A-10 would mean cutting 350 F-16s.

An Emotional Mission

Air Support for ITBP: MHA squandering tax-payers money

08 Dec , 2014

It was reported in the Times of India that – “Dedicate air support for ITBP gets govt nod”. The Government’s decision to acquire helicopters for the ITBP (Indo Tibetan Border Police) is questionable on a number of counts. The reasons given for this acquisition are specious, scruffy and not substantive. To state that the Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters are not always available for “maintenance of ITBP outposts and for rescue of the sick or injured from the inhospitable heights of Himalayas where it is posted through the year”, is derogatory and undermines the credibility of the IAF. The IAF should rebut and strongly repudiate this grossly false accusation.

To state that the Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters are not always available for ITBP…, is derogatory and undermines the credibility of the IAF.

It is important to understand that the planning for working out the maintenance effort to be provided by the IAF is undertaken well before the commencement of a financial year. Demands from all agencies are sought and considered. The requirement for fixed wing (both air dropped and air landed) and helicopter effort is then earmarked depending on the serviceable helicopter fleet available. All demanding agencies are thereafter informed well in advance of the distribution of this effort. A monthly schedule is prepared and is adhered to. Any shortage in despatch of loads due to weather or any other reason is made up in the next month by diverting additional effort. The planned schedule may be disrupted due to unforeseen situations like natural calamities of cloud bursts, floods or earthquake when the helicopter effort is to be diverted elsewhere. In such an eventuality all the agencies that were demanding are equally affected including the Army. All forward outposts also hold a reserve stock for adverse weather and an additional maintenance reserve.

Central Armed Police Forces: The Need for Re-evaluation

08 Dec , 2014

With the recent tragic death of 14 CRPF personnel in an ambush in Chhattisgarh, trust the media to go off on a wild goose chase, once again. For a supposedly well informed fraternity, I cannot but help wonder as to why they take the most important of subjects and then promptly go off on a complete tangent. This ambush raises some very disturbing questions not only about the status of operations against the Maoists but also about the CRPF leadership and training.

…instead of focusing on these substantive issues the media has chosen to focus on the fact that the blood stained uniforms of those martyred were discovered in a rubbish bin…

However, instead of focusing on these substantive issues the media has chosen to focus on the fact that the blood stained uniforms of those martyred were discovered in a rubbish bin which was supposedly “insensitive and disrespectful” to the kin. Really,may be I have a contrarian view, but I think we are disrespecting them by not discussing why and how such a tragedy has been allowed to occur again and holding people in the hierarchy accountable for their sins of omission and commission.

In dealing with the kin, the delivering of the tragic news in an appropriate manner, solemn conduct of the last rites and ensuring speedy documentation and providing all assistance to the family in dealing with their bereavement are the issues of critical importance and need to be focused on.

Off course, the martyrs’ personal effects must be properly accounted for and handed over to the kin but to worry about what happens to the torn and blood stained uniforms that they were wearing at the time of their tragic death is completely perverse and obnoxious. In fact those items should be appropriately disposed off and not sent back to the kin as it can only add to their anguish and heartbreak.

It is a well- known fact that irregular warfare, of which counter insurgency operations are a part, are extremely hazardous and tedious to conduct because it is difficult to distinguish friend and foe and the duration of the campaign can be measured in years, if not decades. There are numerous examples where even the best led troops of the highest quality have committed errors of judgment and suffered the consequences. However when such errors occur with monotonous regularity they cannot just be attributed to incompetent junior leadership, poor training and lack of combat experience or motivation. The reasons are bound to be much more complex and systemic.

The fact that the CRPF is considered a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and not a Para-Military Force (PMF) like the Assam Rifles, despite its existing orientation towards counter insurgency operations rather than just police operations…

In the present case, from media reports, it appears that the company headquarters of a column was ambushed resulting in fourteen dead, including the company commander and his second-in-command, and scores wounded. This, while conducting area domination operations similar to the one conducted in the same district in March 2014 in which sixteen personnel lost their lives and the earlier operation at Dantewada in 2010 where a company worth of troops were killed. Moreover, reportedly four thousand troops were involved in this operation and after the first engagement promptly broke contact with the Maoists and withdrew to their camp in the area. One could be forgiven for wondering as to who is dominating whom?

The fact that the CRPF is considered a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and not a Para-Military Force (PMF) like the Assam Rifles, despite its existing orientation towards counter insurgency operations rather than just police operations to maintain law and order, has allowed the IPS to occupy all DIG and above ranks of the force on deputation. This is archaic and obtuse as the senior leadership is completely disconnected from the rank and file and even worse, has little or no practical experience of counter insurgency operations and what they involve. This obviously implies that the rank and file have little respect or faith in the leadership with its consequent impact on morale and motivation.

In stark contrast the army ensures that, by and large, all commanders in formations involved in counter insurgency operations have the requisite experience from earlier tenures. Interestingly, the CRPF also follows a system in which each of their battalions has an earmarked permanent location, while their operational deployment in company penny packets may be elsewhere. Thereby the Commandant and Second in Command have only an administrative role and unit integrity and ethos is completely absent, both critical issues in counter insurgency operations.

It is time that the Modi Government carried out a comprehensive assessment of our internal security structures and put in place measures to enhance their efficacy.

It may come as a surprise but the CAPF together have over 400 battalions, equivalent of about 46 Infantry Divisons,and have a weapon and equipment profile very similar to that of the Army’s infantry battalions. In contrast the army has about half the number of infantry battalions. However, what is of real concern is that despite their organizational capabilities it the army that still continues to be at the fore-front of the counter insurgency campaign and it is the army that had to neutralize the four militants who were able to cross the fence in the Arnia Sector in Jammu while the BSF just abrogated its responsibility.

It is time that the Modi Government carried out a comprehensive assessment of our internal security structures and put in place measures to enhance their efficacy. In light of the existing situation, the feasibility of the earlier proposal by the army for permitting lateral movement of its personnel into the CAPF needs to be re-examined.


By Lt. Col. James Jay Carafano, U.S. Army retired
December 2014

The Obama administration has an affinity for the employment of special operations forces. Increased emphasis on this particular sliver of military power is almost without precedence in the modern era, and it is not good. The penchant to view special operations forces as an “easy button,” a ready substitute for conventional military forces, is utterly wrongheaded. Further, the current structure of special operations forces is an evolutionary dead end, and it is ill-suited to meet the strategic demands for American military power in the 21st century.

Our political and military leaders ought to go back to the origins of special warfare and learn what needs to be done to keep the “special” in special operations. The military needs a more expansive, holistic approach to designing and employing special operations forces in the future. Moreover, U.S. defense planners must stop thinking that austerity budgets are compatible with sustaining the kinds of special operations forces the U.S. will need in the future.

A Demonstrated Need

Bad news—the U.S. entered World War II without any special operations forces worthy of the name. Good news—the U.S. was unburdened by a bureaucratic, ossified, one-size-fits-all approach to meeting the myriad and diverse demands of a global conflict.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the armed forces plunged into one of the most dynamic and exciting periods of military innovation in American history. During the course of the conflict, the U.S. dabbled in virtually every aspect of what today are described as special operations or covert warfare: psychological operations, civil affairs, advisory and training missions, and every facet of direct action and long-range reconnaissance imaginable. The diverse requirements for force structure also emerged.Credit: U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Brehl Garza

NATO: Back to basics in Eastern Europe

06 Dec 2014

Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

This year, NATO has scrambled fighter jets more than 400 times to intercept Russian planes, writes Coffey [Reuters]

Russia's recent actions in Ukraine have made many countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nervous - especially those in Eastern Europe with significant Russian minorities living inside their borders. Although it might seem inconceivable to many of those living in Washington DC, London, Paris, or Berlin, there are those in Eastern Europe that have legitimate concerns about Russia's designs on the region.

One of NATO's core values is that an attack on one is an attack against all. This commitment to collective security is explicit in Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty - the Alliance's founding document. If this commitment to collective security is ever in doubt, the Alliance would lose all credibility. This is why NATO must take concrete steps, beyond endless and verbose rhetoric, to demonstrate that Article 5 applies unconditionally to NATO members in Eastern Europe.

Inside Story: NATO alliance: Moment of truth?

Lately, Russia has been upping the ante in Eastern Europe by testing NATO's ability and resolve to react to aggression. This year, NATO has scrambled fighter jets more than 400 times to intercept Russian planes which fly close to - and on multiple occasions have illegally entered - NATO airspace.

The Perversion of Military Ideas: How Innovative Thinking is Inadvertently Destroyed

December 1, 2014

The Perversion of Military Ideas: How Innovative Thinking is Inadvertently Destroyed

Abstract: Have you ever read a military concept or doctrine publication, or an academic or professional paper about warfare or military operations, and wondered how it came to include such an ill-conceived idea? Odds are that the idea you read is a perversion of an earlier, better idea that in its original incarnation was actually quite innovative and insightful. This article explains the process by which such innovative and insightful military ideas are inadvertently oversimplified and/or distorted into intellectually questionable caricatures of their former selves.

A saying attributed to Confucius is that ‘the beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names’.[1]Assuming for a minute that this is a truism, then contemporary Western militaries aren’t particularly wise. The latest buzzword to make the ‘bingo’ list is ‘ambiguous warfare’, coined to describe Russian actions in Ukraine, which involved an ‘unconventional attack, using asymmetric tactics’ (two more buzzwords to tick off on the bingo card).[2] Forgive me if I’m oversimplifying things, but doesn’t the word ‘warfare’ itself imply that a situation might be ambiguous? Also, aren’t tactics variable, and is it not good practice to continually adapt them to maximise the odds of achieving the strategic aims that one has gone to war for in the first place? In other words, Russian tactics and strategy in Ukraine need to be understood and organisations like NATO need to figure out how to respond to them. But this doesn’t warrant the invention of yet another new buzzword.

Of course I’m not the first to complain about the proliferation of buzzwords at the cost of genuine understanding; in fact what might be dubbed ‘the buzzword problem’ has grown to the extent that complaining about it has become something of a cliché. Even such world-renowned strategists as Colin Grey have observed that ‘Americans in the 2000s went to war and by and large have remained conceptually wounded’.[3] But the wittiest summary of the buzzword problem has to be that of Justin Kelly and Ben Fitzgerald, who penned a short paper entitled ‘when a cup of coffee becomes a soy decaf mint mocha chip frappuccino’.[4] Bingo!

Why The Phrase ‘It Is What It Is’ Damages The Military Mindset

The problem with “It is what it is” is that it abdicates responsibility, shuts down creative problem solving, and concedes defeat

Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original version, which was published on “The Military Leader,” a blog by Andrew Steadman.

It’s Baghdad, 2007. I’m a company commander deploying to a contentious area during the height of the Surge. As my unit starts to shadow the unit we’re replacing, and I spend time with my counterpart and his battalion’s staff, I begin to hear a new phrase pop up, “It is what it is.”

I wouldn’t have thought much of it, but I heard that response from numerous members of the unit, and applied to all types of discussion topics. My buddies and boss picked up on it, too. I heard “It is what it is” so much that I began to think it was an approved mentality of the unit, a sanctioned mindset.

Well, my observation was validated the moment I heard the unit’s battalion commander speak. He led a handover brief with us that covered the major events and efforts of his unit’s tour, and I heard “It is what it is” more times than I can count. “The Iraqi Army unit you’re partnering with can’t show up to an operation on time, but it is what it is. … We’ve got a really small post here, so parking will be tight. It is what it is. … We took a lot of casualties in this area, so you should be prepared for that. It is what it is.”

8 December 2014

Silk roads that China seeks

08 Dec 2014
Andrew Sheng

Students of RMB internationalisation tend to forget that the globalisation of Chinese currency happened much earlier with copper coins, which were first standardised and minted in the Qin Dynasty (260 to 210 BC). My old Chinese art historian teacher used to tell me that Chinese coins and ceramic shards were the first durable global debris, easily found around the rubble sites from Sri Lankan temples to Egyptian pyramids. 

Because China was short of silver and gold, common coins were minted mostly in copper. Silver in China was used as an official storage of value as early as 1000 AD, when it was recorded that ingots weighing a tael each became official payment for taxes, but it was rarely minted as coin. Having invented paper, China was also the first to experiment with fiat or printed money. The Song Dynasty (960-1270 AD) encouraged exports in order to finance their losing war against the Huns, which the succeeding Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) also encouraged. Unfortunately, printing more paper money led to inflation.

Both dynasties encouraged trade with the West through two key channels, the land Silk Road across Central Asia to Egypt and Rome and the Maritime Silk Road via the Malacca Straits and India. Chinese exports of silk, porcelain, crafts and spices were traded for gold, silver and copper coins, as Europe had few products at that time that China wanted. This imbalance in trade, plus the need to defend against the Huns and the Ottomans, forced Europe to embark on its industrialisation path.

It was the fall of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 that cut off the land trade. This blockage spurred the Spanish to go westwards to reach China, discovering America instead in 1492. Similarly, the Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama raced to reach China via the African Cape of Good Hope in 1492. By 1453, the Ming Empire had passed its peak in outward exploration, having abandoned the Zhenghe voyages twenty years earlier. 

In the line of fire - The Indian army is fast losing its morale

Brijesh D. Jayal
December 8

Whilst all eyes have been on how the new government steers the legislative agenda during its first full parliamentary session, it is what the new defence minister has said in answers to members' questions within the first few days of the session that should have come as a bolt from the blue to the lawmakers.

Reportedly, the Indian Air Force has lost 32 aircraft in the last three years along with 13 persons (presumably all pilots) in accidents this year alone. The navy has suffered 24 major and minor mishaps between January 2011 and November 2014, including the sinking of submarine INS Sindhurakshak last year and a torpedo recovery vessel just recently. Together, these have resulted in the loss of lives of 22 officers and sailors, with four still missing.

The bad news, unfortunately, is not limited to these operational losses alone. It extends to the sensitive and vital domain of morale, reflected in the number of suicides. For the period commencing 2011, the army has lost 362 soldiers, the IAF 76 airmen and the navy 11 sailors, all to suicides. In addition, during this period, there have been 10 cases of fratricide within the army. Further statistics also point to an alarming shortage of officers in the fighting ranks of the armed forces - of lieutenant colonel and below - with the army short of 7,764, the navy 1,499 and the air force 357 officers.

The muted reaction to these revelations from amongst our lawmakers, the political pundits or indeed the loud electronic media is symptomatic of a deeper malaise. It is difficult to fathom whether this neglect stems from the gravity of this state of affairs not being fully absorbed or our antipathy in general to matters pertaining to the armed forces and national security. Either way, the inevitable conclusion is that India does not need external enemies to defeat its armed forces; collectively, our institutions are doing that work for them pretty well.

The GM bogey

Written by Yoginder K Alagh
December 8, 2014 

The decision to disallow experimentation in genetically modified (GM) crops by various states is questionable. However, it reportedly got a fillip from the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report to review environment-related laws. Subramanian apparently contended that European countries also don’t allow field trials of GM crops. The report is, indeed, a useful document. It makes a plea, for example, for a new set of policies for compensatory afforestation. It does not, however, discuss the issue of GM crops, or the research on them. So if Subramanian did say something on the issue, it should be seen as a side comment rather than the committee’s view.

It is true that the US and China are bullish on GM crops. Europe was strictly against them. But the Lisbon Protocol was a step towards a more nuanced formulation. India has been in the middle. Its legislation on producers’ rights and environmental clearance by the empowered committee on a case-by-case basis is unique. These legislative formulations of the mid-1990s were based on expert committees, including one led by M.S. Swaminathan. But in a fast-developing field, frequent reviews are needed. Even the European position now is different from what it was then. But until further review, the existing legislation stands.

GM cotton was the target of various Gandhian and obscurantist lobbies in the 1990s. The movement against Navbharat Seeds is a good example. Sanat Mehta argued, and I supported him, that the cost of this would be high for farmers in western India and Andhra Pradesh. We created a system in which millions of farmers were criminals and the most preferred seeds were sold illegally. Navbharat seeds were sold at Rs 450 per kg; the Monsanto variety at a premium price of Rs 1,250. Legal systems that were created as safety controls were used to look into productivity, cost and other commercial issues. But isn’t the market supposed to conduct economic tests?

I am Sanskrit

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Posted: December 8

I am Sanskrit: the language of the gods. But like gods, I am now more an object over which “ignorant armies clash by night”. I carry a heavy load. I am burdened with every sin. For some, I am everything that was wrong with India. I am exclusion, obscurantism, esotericism and dead knowledge. I am burdened, by others, with the weight of redemption. I am the source of all unity and insight, all knowledge and eternal light. But for both sides, I am more an icon than an object of understanding: for one, an icon for blanket indictment, for another, an icon for obscure yearnings.

They fight over my origins. Some say I was the language of invaders, imperiously subordinating everything around it. Others cite me as the example of a whole civilisation that spread across Asia, without the force of arms. They fight over my death. Some autopsies pronounced me dead by the 18th century. They say I died of internal corrosion: a slow insidious loss of faith in the knowledge systems I represented. It was an easy fate for a language that refused to be the language of the masses. Some say I was the victim of political murder: the great empires killed me, dismantling the structures that sustained me. But in all fairness, this has to be said: I somehow felt safer under the patronage of the Mughals, or even the British, than I do at the hands of my benevolent defenders in democratic India. Some refuse to pronounce me dead. I have been put on life support. Whether this will revive me or prolong my agony, I don’t know.

Some think I am still living, though I have assumed more ghostly forms. They argue that the vernaculars did not displace me. Rather, the inner life of most vernaculars builds on my legacy. Even when they transcend me, they cannot escape my imprint. Even in opposition, I am an aesthetic reference. I don’t live as a language. I live as philology. But anyone who understands these matters will understand that philology should not be underestimated. I don’t live as philosophy. I live as liturgy. And this liturgy, even if not fully understood, defines the faith of millions. The abstract idea of India fears me. But I still remain the hidden meaning of every nook and corner of the geography of India. Not just ancient, but even India’s medieval and modern past is not fully accessible without me. I remain the substratum beneath all controversies over the past. I am the ghost that refuses to go away.