2 May 2015

Making hard choices

Harsh V. Pant
May 2 2015 

India needs to regain its lost clout in Afghanistan

Welcoming Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in India this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi underlined that “the relationship between India and Afghanistan is not just between two countries or governments. It is a timeless link of human hearts.” With that spirit Modi made it clear that India would support Afghanistan's security forces and open the Attari check-post in Punjab to Afghan trucks in order to increase trade between the two countries. Modi stated: “India will walk shoulder to shoulder with you and the Afghan people in a mission of global importance.” Ghani stated that the “shadow of terror haunts our children, women and youth, terror must be confronted and must be overcome. Terror cannot be classified into good or bad… We are determined to change regional nature of cooperation.” In addition to proclaiming India’s support for Afghanistan’s security forces, Modi announced that India is “prepared to join the successor agreement to Afghan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement” which will “re-establish one of the oldest trading routes of South Asia.”

Hastening the Asian century

May 2, 2015 

China’s economy has entered a ‘new normal’. Cooperation with India is in full swing.

Last year, China’s economic growth decreased to 7.4 per cent, and in this quarter, came down to 7 per cent. Those accustomed to China’s rapid growth over years may ask: How should one look at the slowdown in China’s economic growth?

First, China’s economy is progressing steadily. It is still one of the fastest growing among the world’s major economies. China’s economy has crossed the $10-trillion threshold and is ranked second in the world. With the base figures increased, long-term high-speed economic growth has become unrealistic.

Second, we cannot judge an economy only on the basis of its growth. We have to consider factors such as whether the overall quality and structure of the economy has improved. In the first quarter of this year, China’s industrial and income distribution structure, energy efficiency and other aspects have seen positive changes. The share of the tertiary industry improved to 51.6 per cent in the first quarter, compared to 48.2 per cent in 2014; high-tech industries grew by 11.4 per cent; new energy vehicles increased by more than 50 per cent. The difference between urban and rural incomes was 2.61 times, 0.05 times smaller than last year. Energy consumption per unit of GDP fell by 5.6 per cent. Overall, China’s economy is developing smoothly and the quality of development is improving.

On shakier ground

May 2, 2015 

It is becoming harder for Modi’s own speeches to overcome the credibility problems created by an assortment of idiocies in his party.

The Modi government is caught in a contradictory reality. With the impending passage of the GST, its legislative accomplishment this session of Parliament is impressive. There is a sense of purpose and clarity to foreign policy. Potentially game-changing architectural decisions like financial devolution and the creation of a direct benefit transfer structure are being implemented. The perception is that transactional corruption, at least, has come down. The sense of defeatism has gone. Yet it’s also true that the government has lost much political momentum.

There are three explanations for this. The government’s own story seems to be that this is a communication problem: more is being done than people say is being done. The second explanation is that its handling of the land bill was needlessly confrontational. Along with agrarian distress, it provided a flashpoint for the Opposition. The government has not handled the agrarian distress and stagnant rural wages well. The promise of a distant future transformation does nothing to relieve present anxieties: you can’t eat the future. A sensible compromise on the land bill, acknowledging the principle of consent, tightening the definition of public purpose, reintroducing a workable social impact assessment, for instance, would signal more statesmanship.

Another Russia - Between nation and empire


Russia has lost an empire and not yet found a role. Only the Russians themselves can decide what that should be, and it will take some time. The new Russia will certainly not arrive this May 9, when Vladimir Putin's Kremlin celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War. It may not emerge till May 9, 2025, or even 2045, but we should never abandon hope for that other Russia, and we must keep faith with those Russians who are working for it.

The phrase, "lost an empire and not yet found a role", was first applied to Britain, by a former United States secretary of state. The British know as well as anyone how initially uncomfortable it is to lose an empire, and how difficult to find a new role. Some would say Britain has still not got there. And, by the way, the fate of the original, heartland empire, the one that forged the four nations of these islands - England, Wales, Scotland and (now only a small part of) Ireland - into a supposedly United Kingdom, is still unresolved. That is a major theme in Britain's general election. Yet, at least, these internally complicated islands were surrounded by water, so that most of the British empire was "overseas".

Russia's, by contrast, has been a land empire, growing patch by patch over centuries. As the historian, Geoffrey Hosking, argues in his book, Russia: People and Empire, Russia's historical problem is that it has never been able to distinguish clearly enough between the nation and the empire. In fact, "the building of an empire impeded the formation of a nation". Moreover, while the British empire was slowly dissolved across more than 20 years, the Russian-Soviet empire was dismantled in little more than two years, between 1989 and 1991 - one of history's most spectacular vanishing acts.

The mysterious Rafale riddle

Abhijit Bhattacharyya

When analysing a subject like India's air force, it is important to rely only on facts. Thus an air force, which is one of the top five forces in the world, today has an ageing asset, with "some 500 fixed-wing operational aircraft, significantly down from the total of 850 in 2006". Printed open source information like that of the (latest) Jane's All the World's Aircraft shows that India has nine types of combat aircraft, the breakup of which gives a rather dismal scenario as on date. Of the "original total of 29 year old 70 MiG-29" (1986) only 53 are flying. The strength of 30-year-old (1985) "46 Mirage 2000H is down to 38". Also 30-year-old (1985) "165 MiG-27ML number has dwindled to 89". The 1979-inducted "125 Jaguar IS number stands at 89". The strength of "14 (original) maritime version Jaguar" (1986) too has come down to 10 after 29 years. Upgraded since 1999, the strength of MiG-21 Bis stands at 117. The other version of MiGs which has completed its golden jubilee in the IAF still flies with its 78 aircraft. The only exception fighter aircraft is 200 Sukhoi-30MKI, which has been operational for the last 13 years, from 2002. The other new (limited combat capable) flying machine is the BAE Systems manufactured Hawk Mark-132 advanced jet trainer (AJT), 66 of which, covered by the original contract, were delivered by mid-2012. Interestingly, it was only after a 21-year wait that the Indian government completed negotiations concerning the purchase of 66 BAE Systems aircraft. Delivery began in 2007. What sort of cost overrun had resulted owing to the time overrun, in turn resulting in the loss of public money and adversely affecting the IAF's operational preparedness and morale?

Dealing with Naxals: No clear cut policy or direction

01 May , 2015

It is now almost 11 years since the two underground Maoist groups the Peoples War Group and Maoist Communist Centre decided to merge together to form the current Naxal organisation. They are continuing to have sway over approximately 180 districts and six states of India on pan Indian basis. In these eleven years first the Congress lead UPA Government for a decade and now the BJP led NDA Government for last one year have been dealing with this problem with no appreciable positive results. Till date there is no clear cut policy of how to deal with Naxals meanwhile the police and paramilitary personnel are getting killed in bulk. It is time Modi government looks at this issue seriously.

In second week of April this year the Naxals carried out four daring attacks on police and paramilitary forces in Chhattisgarh state in just three days. On 11 April they ambushed a 67 strong STF force of Chhattisgarh police killing seven constables including a platoon commander. The very next day they burned 17 heavy trucks being used for mining and attacked a BSF camp in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh killing one constable. On 13 April they destroyed an anti mine vehicle in Dantewada of Chhattisgarh again of Chhattisgarh police killing five constables. In all these ambushes 13 police constables have been injured.

Seven blunders that will haunt India for posterity

01 May , 2015

History is most unforgiving. As historical mistakes cannot be undone, they have complex cascading effect on a nation’s future. Here is a saga of seven historical blunders that have changed the course of independent India’s history and cast a dark shadow over its future. These costly mistakes will continue to haunt India for generations. They have been recounted here in a chronological order with a view to highlight inadequacies of India’s decision making apparatus and leadership’s incompetence to act with vision.

1. The Kashmir Mess

There can be no better example of shooting in one’s own foot than India’s clumsy handling of the Kashmir issue. It is a saga of naivety, blinkered vision and inept leadership. Hari Singh was the reigning monarch of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. He was vacillating when tribal marauders invaded Kashmir in October 1947, duly backed by the Pakistan army. Unable to counter them, Hari Singh appealed to India for assistance and agreed to accede to India. Indian forces blunted the invasion and re-conquered vast areas.

Ending India’s Agrarian Nightmare

APRIL 30, 2015

Roughly 600 million Indians are farmers -- the majority of whom would happily give it up for another job. So why is the Congress party so determined to keep them as peasants?

In 1991, the Congress-led government of Indian Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao passed a series of groundbreaking reforms that unshackled the economy from its tight state controls, transforming it into a market-oriented, globalized giant. Those reforms unleashed India’s growth miracle and lifted millions of people out of poverty.

Today, India once again finds itself at a crossroads as its political left and right go to war over the country’s future. Hanging in the balance is the fate of its farmers and rural poor.

Although the reforms of 24 years ago liberalized the market for products and services, casting off the excesses of an industrial licensing system that required a government permit to do virtually anything associated with business or trade, they left untouched the markets for factors of production: land, labor, and capital. That led to a lopsided pattern of development that focused growth on high-tech industry and services and largely bypassed India’s large pool of unskilled labor, most of whose members were still working the land. After 10 years of a left-of-center, Congress-led government that consistently shelved reforms in favor of large entitlement-based welfare schemes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-of-center Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government is finally attempting them.

Another Damning Afghanistan Reconstruction Report

May 01, 2015

Some weeks it seems that the Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko is a broken record: repeating the same damning reports that U.S. taxpayer money is being spent poorly in Afghanistan. The most recent case is no different.

SIGAR was established by Congress in 2008 to provide objective oversight of how reconstruction funds are being spent, independent of the Department of Defense, Department of State, USAID, or whichever U.S. government body was spending the money. The quarterly report released today is the 27th such report.

In the October quarterly report, SIGAR highlighted the expensive disaster that is poppy eradication in Afghanistan. Ankit Panda wrote that the time:

…Afghanistan has once again demonstrated that poppy production is not going anywhere; this time, the total area used for poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has hit an all-time high. Stemming the production of poppy in Afghanistan was a major strategic objective for international forces in Afghanistan over the last 13 years. The United States alone spent $7.6 billion on efforts to stem poppy production.

Afghanistan in India’s Regional Calculus and Pakistan’s Detrimental Impact

FEB 7 2015

Pakistani-Indian relations in the past have hardly been amicable. However, the post 9/11 landscape offered both nations an opportunity to renew their political and diplomatic ties with more positive overtones. However, this did not occur.

In the Pakistani-Indian context, the tragedies of 9/11, the fluid nature in global politics and the regional security environment acted as catalysts in further deteriorating the relationship between these two countries. India’s influence in Afghanistan has suffered under Pakistan’s successful attempts at positioning itself as the core mediator between the Taliban and the West, while at the same time instrumentalizing radical elements to maintain its strategic advantage.

In the early stages of the post 9/11 era, India’s main focus regarding Afghanistan was solely centered on the threat of an influential and heavily involved Pakistan on India. This was of particular concern to India due to the US support of Pakistan (Price 2013:3). Nonetheless, in the immediate aftermath of Operation Enduring Freedom, India had a favorable position in Afghanistan. This stemmed from the fact it had close ties to key elites of the victorious Northern Alliance. However, influence decreased over time as the United States favored Pakistan as its main node for the War on Terror (Chaudhuri 2010: 206). As such, India’s influence in Afghanistan has deteriorated under Pakistan’s strategy of positioning itself as the core mediator between the Taliban and the West. It can be argued that this strategy is being implemented while Pakistan simultaneously utilizes radical elements to maintain to strategic advantage.

Nepal: Lessons from Disaster

By Asit K. Biswas and Kris Hartley
May 01, 2015

Nepal is one of the world’s least developed countries, with a per capita GDP of $694 that lags even Mali and Burkina Faso. At 40 percent unemployment, the country is heavily reliant on citizens working overseas, whose remittances constitute nearly a third of economic activity. In 2008, the dysfunctional 240-year monarchy was finally abolished, after a violent decade of Maoist insurgence. This political turmoil weakened the effectiveness of Nepal’s national and local governments, including institutions responsible for earthquake preparedness and related issues like infrastructure and urban planning. Following last Saturday’s devastating earthquake, these institutions must now be the focus of reform in mitigating the impacts of future disasters.

In a 2014 interview, French geologist Paul Tapponnier said “the place I’m worried about now is central Nepal.” Nepal’s median age is a youthful 22.9, and more than half the population is younger than 24. A majority of Nepalese were not alive for the 1988 earthquake, which before last week had been the country’s most recent major disaster. Nepalese residents with earthquake experience are vastly more concerned about damage than those without, according to a recent study. Presumably, this difference applies to perceived needs for preparedness as well. Good infrastructure enables disaster resilience, but informed perceptions and behaviors at both the individual and government levels are also critically important.

An Earthquake Exposes Nepal’s Political Rot

APRIL 30, 2015

Nepal is in the headlines this week — for all the wrong reasons. It’s not just the April 25 magnitude 7.8 earthquake, with an epicenter located 80 miles northwest of the overcrowded urban sprawl that is Kathmandu, that devastated the country and left more than 5,500 dead. It’s also the shambolic response of the country’s leaders.

For Nepal, one of the poorestand most corrupt countries in Asia, this catastrophe has laid bare itspolitical dysfunction.

For Nepal, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Asia, this catastrophe has laid bare itspolitical dysfunction. Many of those left homeless or injured have been waiting in vain for any form of government assistance. There were no pictures of political leaders visiting stricken citizens, no words of empathy or consolation. Nepalis had to content themselves instead with TV appearances of officials like Communication Minister Minendra Rijal, who merelyacknowledged “some weaknesses in managing the relief operation.” While some foreign countries have already started supplying humanitarian assistance (albeit on a fairly limited scale), the corrupt government machinery is already reportedly seizing much of what they have brought.

China Decries New US-Japan Defense Guidelines

May 01, 2015

The biggest deliverable of Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States so far was actually cemented before Abe arrived in Washington, D.C. The new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines, which are designed to expand Japan’s ability to contribute to the alliance as well as providing for better integration between the U.S. military and Japan Self Defense Forces, were finalized during a “two-plus-two” meeting between the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers in New York.

“The main achievement of issuing the new guidelines is to intensify and reinforce the deterrence and responsiveness to the complex new security environment in East Asia,” Yasuhisa Kawamura, foreign press secretary at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Diplomat on Wednesday. While Japanese officials (including Kawamura) have been careful to say that the new guidelines do not target any third country, they are widely read as a response to China’s increasing military capabilities. So what does China think of the new guidelines?

Unsurprisingly, Beijing is not a huge fan. When asked about the updated guidelines, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters that “the U.S. and Japan are responsible to ensure that their bilateral alliance does not jeopardize a third party’s interests including China’s, nor undermine peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.” Hong also questioned the value of the alliance in general: “The U.S.-Japan alliance is a bilateral arrangement forged during the Cold War period. In today’s world … the Cold War is long-gone.”

Weaponized: The "China Card" Makes Its Return to U.S. Politics

For even though China is not a prospective member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this has not stopped proponents and opponents of the deal alike from playing the “China card” when discussing the deal.

China has been “weaponized” in U.S. domestic politics. 

This is evident in the current debate over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). For even though China is not a prospective member of the TPP, an incipient trade agreement among twelve Asia-Pacific nations, this has not stopped proponents and opponents of the deal alike from playing the “China card” when discussing the deal. Not only has this tendency to weaponize China reduced the quality of debate over an important matter of public policy, but it also contributes to a growing risk that the U.S. is sleepwalking into greater confrontation with China—whether or not such confrontation is in the overall national interest.

Although the exact details of the TPP are yet to be finalized and made public, the emerging agreement’s broad purpose is to reduce barriers to free trade between twelve Asia-Pacific economies: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Others may join the pact if it becomes operative. Alongside the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership—a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and Europe—the TPP has formed a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s international economic policy. Indeed, despite governing during a time of unprecedented global economic crisis, Obama’s relatively robust defense of an open economic order stands out as a major (even if under-celebrated) foreign policy achievement.

Why is Narendra Modi going to China?

Barely eight months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India trip, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will shortly make a return visit to China. China’s intrusion into Chumar—one of its biggest incursions ever—coincided with Xi’s arrival, representing his birthday gift for Modi, who turned 64 on that day. Given that Beijing has only hardened its border stance and taken other unfriendly actions, why is Modi paying a return visit so soon after Xi’s trip?

Normally, a return visit to any country should be undertaken only after preparatory work indicates the trip could tangibly advance the bilateral relationship. Modi’s trip, however, holds little prospect for achieving a more balanced and stable relationship or making progress on resolving land and water disputes and correcting an increasingly lopsided trade relationship. Given the limited time, no real groundwork has been done to ensure that the visit yields enduring results.

Beijing has only been queering the pitch for Modi’s visit. Its reaction to Modi’s Arunachal Pradesh tour in February to open two development projects was unparalleled. Over two days, China fulminated against India, with the Indian ambassador being summarily summoned, the Chinese vice-foreign minister speaking scathingly, and the Chinese foreign ministry posting a condemnatory press release on its website.

Russian S-400 for China: Challenge for Asian Geopolitics?

Russia is ready to sell China its state-of-the-art S-400 missile system. Japan is worried by the prospect, fearing it could undermine its security amid an ongoing territorial dispute surrounding the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Russia’s business daily Vedomosti reported last November that Moscow was in the process of selling S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to China.
The news was confirmed on April 13 when Anatoly Isaikin, CEO of Russia's arms export agency Rosoboronexport, said in an interview that China hads purchased Russia's advanced air defense system, Japan's business newspaper the Nikkei, wrote in a comment on Monday.

Moscow, however, had been reluctant to deliver the system to China. It was concerned that Beijing would buy only a small number of the coveted system with the intent of disassembling it and learning how to build it.

Although Moscow and Beijing have yet to officially announce the deal, it seems almost certain that they have agreed on the sale, which Tokyo fears may upset the subtle military balance in the East China Sea.

Can the United States and China avoid A Thucydides Trap?

APR 6 2015

In 2003 I published an essay titled, “Why International Relations Theorists Should Stop Reading Thucydides.” I thought I made a pretty strong case. There was, first of all, the question of anachronism. No modern doctor would base his or her medical practice on the writings of Erasistratus, Herophilus, or Hippocrates, but for some reason International Relations scholars seem to think that whatever Thucydides wrote almost 2,500 years ago still applies today. There was also the question of accuracy. Thucydides told a pretty good tale, but much of it, and certainly the most famous parts, had a “take my word for it” kind of feel. The single most important bit—the claim that “[t]he growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable” and that the Spartans went to war with Athens “not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of the allies, as because they feared the growth of the power of the Athenians, seeing most of Hellas already subject to them”[1]— was, in fact, supported by no evidence whatsoever and contradicted by a very great deal. Thucydides admitted as much himself when he wrote, “The real cause [of war] . . . I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight”[2]. Finally, even if Thucydides still applied, and even if what he said was accurate, there was the question of takeaway. His History is so rich that anyone with any paradigmatic predilection whatsoever could mine it for aid and comfort. If IR theorists were the proverbial blind men, Thucydides would be the proverbial elephant. The Realists got to him first and prominently staked their claim, but there is a very great deal in what he wrote, I argued, that is flatly inconsistent with the Realist take.

Making Sense of China and India’s Low-Carbon Pathways

Ma Yuge and Joel Sandhu

China and India’s low-carbon development is crucial for global sustainability and domestic welfare. However, embedded political and economic obstacles have prevented a smooth and effective transition towards a low-carbon future in the two emerging countries. This article analyzes China and India’s energy efficiency policies as a lens into this question. We argue that the existing energy efficiency and broader low-carbon development pathways – India’s market-oriented approach and China’s target-driven paradigm – are not sufficient to address the challenges. Policymakers should reflect on and fix the shortcomings of the current pathways by paying close attention to the various forms of maneuvers of low-carbon policies in the given political and economic environments in China and India.

Policy Implications 

China needs to develop a coordinated and trustworthy energy and environment monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system that can better inform the central government about the progress in meeting energy conservation and other low-carbon targets at local levels. 

Embracing interdependence: the dynamics of China and the Middle East

By: Chaoling Feng
April 28, 2015

In 2013, China surpassed the European Union to become the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s largest trading partner, and Chinese oil imports from the region rival those of the United States. Do China’s growing interests in the Middle East imply a greater commitment to the region’s security? How can China and regional governments reinforce these ties through greater diplomatic engagement?

In a new Policy Briefing, Chaoling Feng addresses the key choices facing Chinese and Middle East policymakers. She finds that China’s continued reliance on a framework of “non-intervention” is being challenged by the region’s divisive conflicts. Indeed, China’s economic interests face mounting risks when even maintaining “neutrality” can be perceived as taking a side. Furthermore, China’s case-by-case, bilateral engagement with MENA countries has hindered efforts to develop a broader diplomatic approach to the region.

Prelude to a Japanese Revival

APRIL 28, 2015

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in Washington, the third stop on his maiden voyage to the United States since assuming office in 2012. Over the next two days, he will hold a summit with U.S. President Barack Obama on U.S.-Japanese defense and trade cooperation, attend a state dinner in his honor and address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. In his speech before Congress, Abe will reaffirm Japan's commitment to promoting peace and security in East Asia and extol the virtues of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free trade agreement that spans the Pacific Ocean Basin and pointedly excludes China.

As always with such occasions, the real work, whether on revising guidelines for U.S.-Japanese defense cooperation or negotiating the finer points of Japan's accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will take place long before Abe sits down with Obama. In this sense, his visit is largely symbolic. But this does not make it insignificant. The significance of Abe's trip, like that of the work that precedes and surrounds it, rests in what it tells us about Japan's strategy and what that strategy reveals about Japan's evolving interests and environment.

Stratfor has long argued that the post-Cold War status quo of relative introversion and economic stagnation in Japan was unsustainable. We believed that internal and external pressures ultimately would compel Japan to play a far more proactive role in regional and global affairs. And we said this process would likely entail a fundamental break with the social, political, economic and foreign policy order that has defined Japan since World War II.

Everyone Is Losing Yemen’s War

APRIL 28, 2015 

On April 26, I had the privilege of witnessing Yemen’s acting foreign minister, Riad Yassin, deliver a press conference to a rapt audience in London. From an opulent hotel in Kensington, he issued a full-throated defense of his boss, embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is exiled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after fleeing from the advancing Houthis, a Zaidi Shiite rebel group that has gradually taken over much of Yemen. The Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh — Hadi’s predecessor — Yassin stressed, are responsible for Yemen’s ills; the only solution is international backing for Hadi and his adversaries’ total defeat.

These exercises in public relations have grown all the more common since a Saudi-led coalition launched Operation Decisive Storm, a military offensive ostensibly to bolster Hadi and defeat the Houthis and their ally, former President Saleh. The key message of these speeches is always that — despite the pernicious nature of their adversaries — victory is just around the corner. Saudi Arabia’s military spokesman has cast the offensive as a historic success, even saying that the alliance achieved its goals within the first 15 minutes of the operation. Houthi leaders, meanwhile, claim that they’ve weakened Saudi Arabia tremendously, going as far as to claim that they’ll soon be on Mecca’s doorstep.

Syria’s Revitalized Rebels Make Big Gains in Assad’s Heartland

APRIL 28, 2015 

The Syrian rebels are on a roll. Over the past four months, anti-government forces have made sweeping gains that may redraw the conflict map and shake President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The gains have come on both the war’s northern and southern fronts. On Dec. 15, the rebels took Wadi al-Dhaif, one of the country’s largest military encampments in the north. On Mar. 28, the regime lost the northern city of Idlib, only the second provincial capital to fall to the rebels. The gains continued last week, as rebel forces took the key town of Jisr al-Shugour, southeast of Idlib city, and then pushed further south to capture several villages in Hama province’s al-Ghab plain. On Monday, they seized the “Brick Factory,” one of the last remaining regime strongholds in Idlib province. The gains in the south have been equally impressive: Rebels overran the town of Busra al-Sham in the same week that they took Idlib, and managed to seize the Nassib crossing with Jordan in the following week.

The recent offensives in Idlib have been strikingly swift — thanks in large part to suicide bombers and American anti-tank TOW missiles. In most cases, regime forces have only held out for hours or a few days before retreating. The rebels have also fought with rare harmony under the banner of Jaish al-Fateh (“the Army of Conquest”), a coalition made up of mostly Islamist forces led by Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.

The Ukraine Crisis and its Impact on Transforming Russian Nationalism Landscape

APR 7 2015

The Ukrainian crisis shattered the ideological status quo in Russia, the place of so-called ‘Russian nationalists’ in the public space, and the competition between different groups claiming to represent the authentic interests of the Russian state. In this article, I discuss the three main impacts of the Ukrainian crisis on the landscape of Russian nationalism: its division in interpreting the several crises, its successes in framing the Novorossiya narrative, and its ambivalences at debating the relationship between an imperial appeal and xenophobic feelings.

Three Ukrainian Crises – Three Responses by Russian Nationalists

The first phase of the crisis in Ukraine – the Euromaidan – has created deep divisions within nationalist movements. The so-called ‘national-democrats’ expressed solidarity with Maidan, seeing it as an example of successful grassroots democratic revolution against a corrupt and authoritarian regime. This minority supported the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda movement in its struggle for ‘national liberation’. Some of them, often with neo-Nazi sympathies, still today fight on the side of the pro-Ukrainian Azov volunteers’ battalions. On the other side of the spectrum, majority movements that can be defined as statist and/or imperialist shared the Kremlin’s vision of Euromaidan as a neo-fascist coup organised with the support of the United States.

The Origins of Peace, Non-Violence, and Conflict in Ukraine

Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014, a month after the Euromaidan revolution led to President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing from Ukraine. This was followed by the launch of a separatist rebellion that targeted the eight Russophone oblasts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine. In September 2014, a tenuous ceasefire was negotiated after five months of intense fighting that claimed 5,000 civilians and as many as 10,000 Ukrainian military, separatists, and Russian soldiers dead, wounded, and missing. The very high number of combatant casualties reflects the viciousness and intensity of a relatively short war; in contrast, 600 soldiers and police officers were killed in Northern Ireland over a three-decade terrorist conflict. This is clearly not a terrorist conflict (despite Kiev’s name given to its operations as ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation]) but an insurgency; that is a conflict lying between a full-scale war and terrorism. As a result of the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the armed conflict in Ukrainian Donbas, over 921,000 people (as of 23 January 2015) have registered as internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Ukraine, and over 524,000 have sought asylum or other legal status in the Russian Federation (PACE, 2015). Nevertheless, eighty percent of Ukrainians believe Ukraine is at war with Russia, according to a December poll. International organisations and human rights bodies have systematically reported widespread human rights abuses by separatist and Russian nationalist groups, while Ukrainian forces have been criticized for indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas (Amnesty International, 2014; Council of Europe, 2014; Human Rights Watch, 2014; Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2014; United Nations, 2014).

APRIL 29, 2015

As troops prepare to move, cyber activity flares. 

Cyberwar does not take place in vacuum. When a geopolitical showdown is underway, nation states have every incentive to advance their interests using digital means.

One of the latest examples? Russia hacking Ukrainian systems.

A report out of Arlington, Va.-based cyber security firm Lookingglass reveals a cyber campaign, allegedly Russian, waged against Ukrainian targets, such as the government, law enforcement, and military. The purpose of the state-sponsored espionage has apparently been to gather intelligence on its adversary, bolstering Russian war efforts.

The researchers dubbed the campaign “Operation Armageddon” after the nom de guerre of an author (according to file metadata) of the Microsoft Word documents used in the attacks. (Misspelled “Armagedon” in the “last saved by” field.) The attackers sent the documents to victims as attachments in targeted spear phishing emails.

What Japan's Abe Should Say About World War II

May 01, 2015

“History is harsh. What’s done cannot be undone.” In a historic address to a joint session of Congress on April 29, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said these words. Indeed, Shinzo Abe knows better than anyone else how a harsh history could become a difficult barrier for today’s relationships. After 70 years, the ghost of war unfortunately still haunts people in East Asia.

“On behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II,” Abe said, speaking in English in his speech before Congress. He also visited the National World War II Memorial before arriving on Capitol Hill. The Japanese leader, however, did not personally apologize for Japan’s atrocities toward its Asian neighbors. Since coming to power, in fact, Mr. Abe has never clearly admitted Japan’s colonial rule and invasion of Asia during World War II.

This is the most unique phenomena of the politics of memory in East Asia. It seems much easier for a Japanese leader to offer condolences to the Americans, who defeated Japan during the brutal war, but much more difficult for this leader to say an apology to his Asian neighbors, the countries that Japan invaded and occupied during the war.

Al-Shabaab’s Dangerous Evolution

In the past five years, the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab has lost most of its senior leadership, surrendered its control of southern Somalia, and seen its cash flow shrink. The group has certainly seen better times. But as the success of recent attacks in Kenya and Mogadishu indicate, the group is regaining some of its previous stature but as a fundamentally different group. Al-Shabaab is now more decentralized and has a larger geographic focus. Given regional dynamics, an inept Kenyan security response, refugee flows from Yemen, and a diminished United States presence, this new embodiment of al-Shabaab is becoming increasingly difficult to counter.

Internal shifts began in 2013. Infighting among various factions coupled with a series of catastrophic military defeats at the hands of international forces caused the group to change its structure and priorities. Al-Shabaab evolved from an organization with clear leadership to a more decentralized, diffuse organization, in part thanks to a degradation of core leadership due to U.S. drone strikes. With the shift in leadership, the organization’s goals became more ambiguous. Instead of seeking to rule Somalia, it is principally seeking to spoil the political process in Somalia and disrupt governance in East Africa. The emergent version of al-Shabaab no longer engages in traditional warfare, instead it focuses on asymmetric warfare, showing willingness to conduct audacious and horrific attacks. As it loses ground in Somalia, it has started to look to targets in Kenya, and even Tanzania. Despite the fact that al-Shabaab’s reorganization was largely reactive and unplanned, it has positioned the group well to effectively disrupt Somali politics.

Can 10 billion people live and eat well on the planet? Yes.

Heinz-Wilhelm Strubenhoff
April 28, 2015

“There are too many people on too little land” says BBC presenter David Attenborough. “Every which way you look at it, a planet of 10 billion looks like a nightmare” says Stephen Emmott. The “population explosion” is a threatening concept for many. Why should the world feed ever more people and threaten its own existence? Farmland and water are scarce, world temperatures are rising, and environmental problems of modern agriculture are a threat for world ecosystems. Are we naïve to aim for reducing poverty and eliminating hunger? WasMalthus right in his gloomy theory that population would grow at a geometric rate while thefood supply grows at an arithmetic rate?

Overpopulation is an appealing emotional concept for many. With refugees, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger broadcast onto televisions around the world every day, emotional pictures are more convincing than facts. However, population explosion is a myth. Today, we have 7.3 billion people. In 2050, we will have around 9 billion, and in 2100 the world population will possibly reach its peak with about 10-11 billion people. This implies an actual annual population increase of less than 1 percent with a tendency to fall to zero by 2100. World fertility patterns tend to change due to rising income, and that is what might facilitate that drop to zero percent growth. With rising income food consumption patterns also change. Calorie intakes of poor and rich people are surprisingly similar, but rich people consume more protein.This adds about a further 1 percent growth to food demand which means that the world will need to produce approximately two percent more food annually if today’s poor become rich. Will we be able to sustainably supply that extra two percent? The answer is most likely yes.

Protecting student data in a digital world

By Michael Chui and Jimmy Sarakatsannis

Across industries, data and advanced analytics are being used to personalize products and services, generate more impact at lower cost, and improve the user experience. Education is another field that stands to benefit from this trend: there is much evidence that data-fueled learning tools can dramatically improve student outcomes. The effective use of student data in K–12 schools—in fact, in most of the education system—is nascent, however. Schools, and in particular public schools, have limited budgets and may find it difficult to prioritize investment in data-driven tools and technologies. School systems are enormously complex, which can make it challenging to implement new programs. And the use of student data raises questions about issues such as privacy, the possibility that personal information could be accessed by or sold to unauthorized third parties, and, more broadly, the ways in which data will be collected and used both inside and outside the school system.

In fact, the risks involved with data-driven instructional methods—and the perceptions surrounding those risks—are among the biggest challenges to helping students gain the benefits of large-scale adoption of data and analytics in schools. But we believe these challenges can be overcome. Organizations in many industries are grappling with similar concerns, and in turn they have begun to design processes and safeguards that enable the productive use of personal information while also addressing concerns about its collection and use. In important ways, schools differ from private-sector companies like retailers and banks, and even from more public-minded organizations like hospitals. Nevertheless, we believe that stakeholders across the education system—policy makers, school administrators, teachers, parents, and organizations that are responsible for collecting and protecting data—can learn from other industries that use data to improve and personalize the user experience, and that they can embrace the transparent use of data as a path to improved educational achievement for students.
How student data can improve education

Iran Flexes Its Power by Transporting Turkey to the Stone Age


Half of Turkey—44 of 81 provinces, 40 million people including those living in Istanbul and Ankara, suffered a massive power outage that lasted a solid twelve hours. It happened on Tuesday, March 31st.

It happened because Iran wanted it to happen. The blackout in Turkey was caused by a cyber hack that originated in Iran.

This cyber attack was payback, a taste of what Iran has to offer. Everything went down. Computers, airports, air traffic, traffic lights, hospitals, lights, elevators, refrigeration, water and sewage, everything simply stopped. In an instant, Turkey was transported back to the stone ages.

Attacks like this one are caused by malware inserted into computers via an email or a thumb drive that is attached to a computer that is somehow connected to the electric grid. The invading codes respond to commands and are activated by a message—often something as simple as an email. And it doesn’t even have to be an opened email. The program can be automatic or it can be controlled by an operator, it all depends on the type of hack. That’s how sophisticated these attacks can be.

There is a reluctance to announce a cyber hack. Bloomberg Business, on April 1st, cautiously wrote about the attack on Turkey, “while the source of the problem is still unknown, recent revelations that a 2008 oil pipeline explosion in Turkey was orchestrated via computer… demonstrates the increasing ability to penetrate systems.” Those who know, know.

‘Hybrid War’ and ‘Little Green Men’: How It Works, and How It Doesn’t

APR 16 2015

When Russian special forces seized Crimea at the end of February 2014, without their insignia, but with the latest military kit, it seemed as the start of a new era of warfare. Certainly, the conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated that Moscow, in a bid to square its regional ambitions with its sharply limited resources, has assiduously and effectively developed a new style of ‘guerrilla geopolitics’ which leverages its capacity for misdirection, bluff, intelligence operations, and targeted violence to maximise its opportunities. However, it is too soon to declare that this represents some transformative novelty, because Moscow’s Ukrainian adventures have not only demonstrated the power of such ‘hybrid’ or ‘non-linear’ ways of warfare, but also their distinct limitations.

The Genesis of the Idea

The essence of Russia’s tactics was precisely to try and avoid the need for shooting as much as possible, and then to try and ensure that whatever shooting took place was on the terms that suited them best. To this end, they blended the use of a range of assets, from gangster allies to media spin, in a manner that draws heavily on past political operations, not least the aktivnye meropriyatiya (‘active measures’) of Soviet times (Madeira, 2014).

Russia Wages All-Out Cyberwar Against Ukraine

April 28, 2015

Russia has hacked the White House, gained access to President Barack Obama’s emails, and even infiltrated into Pentagon’s network. So, it’s little surprise that Moscow has been waging an all-out cyberwar against Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and military. According to a new report from security firm Lookingglass, the Russian gang of hackers is extracting classified documents that can help them (and probably Moscow-backed separatists) in on-the-ground combat.

Russian hackers are using ‘lure documents’

Lookingglass CEO Chris Coleman told NPR that the attacks were persistent, but not sophisticated. The Arlington, Virginia-based cyber security firm said that it tracked malware that was in emails. Russian hackers are getting the Ukrainian military, local police, counterintelligence, and border patrol to open these malicious emails that look legit.

They use “lure documents” to entice the recipient to open the email. Lookingglass lead researcher Jason Lewis cited an MS-Word file dated January 15, 2015. The file had “not for distribution” written on it in Ukrainian. It gives an overview of the situation on the Ukraine-Russia border. Lewis says hackers stole the document from Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service, inserted the malware, and sent it to another Ukrainian security agency.
Russia started collecting combat intel in April 2014

Israel’s Army Claims Cyber Upper Hand in Technological Arms Race

By Eliyahu Berkowitz

Technology is becoming an essential part of modern warfare and, as such, the military must defend against cyber attacks just as it defends against physical threats. A successful attack against an army’s computers can cripple it, or release information the enemy can use to deadly effect. The Israeli navy, an often overlooked branch of the IDF, is on the cutting edge when it comes to technological warfare.

In an exclusive interview, The Jerusalem Post spoke to some Israeli soldiers involved in this new battlefield. The source, an officer from the navy’s Information Systems, Processes, and Computerization unit, known by its Hebrew acronym MAMTAM, stressed the importance of cyber-warfare for Israel’s defense.

“Today, all of our systems are based on computerization and databases. We have to bring things that are in the office out to sea and link the sea to the ground command room. Today, our linkage is much faster than in the past,” the source said.