8 May 2015

Threat of chemical weapons

Bhaswati Mukherjee
May 8 2015 

With the ISIS declaring an Islamic Caliphate, the alarming prospect of the use of WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), including chemical weapons falling into jihadi hands, could become a reality. The issue re-emerged recently with ongoing media reports about the alleged use of toxic chemicals in several barrel bomb attacks in Idlib governate between March 16 and 31, 2015. These raised troubling questions. The scenario becomes more complex because Idlib has fallen to rebel forces. On March 18 Islamist group Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed opposition groups opened a major offensive against government forces in Idlib that culminated in its capture on March 28.

According to media reports, witnesses filmed remnants of barrel bombs. Among the remnants were containers typically used for refrigerants in refrigerators and air-conditioners. Videos and photos from the aftermath of five attacks, including material shared by the Syrian Civil Defence, show containers of a size, shape, and design commonly used for refrigerants. These canisters are easy to refill with other gases and widely available in Syria.

For Saudi Arabia, thanks but no tanks

F.S Aijazudin
May 8 2015 

IF there is a name Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has heard once too often, it is that of Bruce Riedel. Riedel retired from the CIA in 2006. His wife still works there. (The CIA like subcontinental politics and the US presidency is a family business.) In July 1999, when Nawaz Sharif made his lightning visit to Washington to invoke Bill Clinton's intervention after the Kargil fiasco, the only other person allowed in the meeting at Blair House, was a note-taker — Bruce Riedel. Within three months, Nawaz Sharif heard the name again. Bruce Riedel helped broker Nawaz Sharif's escape from Attock Fort. “After Sharif's ouster in a coup by Pervez Musharraf in 1999,” Riedel recalled, “he went into exile to Saudi Arabia, an agreement negotiated by myself for the Clinton administration to forestall Nawaz's execution. The deal was arranged with the influence of Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.”

In 2011, Riedel (now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington) revealed Saudi interest in Pakistan's nuclear programme. Riedel wrote: “In October 2003, then Crown Prince Abdullah visited Pakistan for a state visit. Several experts reported after the trip that a secret agreement was concluded that would ensure Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology and a bomb if Saudi Arabia felt threatened by a third party nuclear programme in the future. Both countries, of course, denied the stories.”

Once Upon a War

May 8, 2015

How strange it is that, on April 30, the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War — resulting in the victory of a tiny Asian country over the mightiest nation on earth, the United States — should have gone practically unnoticed here. This event of staggering significance (someone had written at the time that it was akin to “a butterfly having the better of a rogue elephant in combat”) merited attention, especially because India has always empathised with the Vietnamese. Even when we badly needed American food and financial aid, the food more than the cash. Two months after becoming prime minister in 1966, Indira Gandhi went to Washington to seek it without appearing to do so. Her top advisors counselled her to tell President Lyndon Baines Johnson that India “shared America’s agony over Vietnam”. She refused. All she was prepared to say to LBJ was: “India understands your agony”.

Clash of civilisations?

May 8, 2015 

A Pakistani blogger has taken on Samuel Huntington as Muslims fight what looks like a civilisational war. Under the heading “The farce called ‘The Clash of Civilisations’”, a well-regarded Pakistani journalist says that “a lion’s share” of the foreign jihadists joining the terrorist Islamic State in Syria-Iraq “have come from Europe”, meaning it is the West killing us in the Middle East. And the reason he gives is that “Europe has failed to assimilate them”.

Since 1993, when his article was published, Huntington has been opposed by many, which is understandable. But Europe’s “failure” to “assimilate” Muslims can be debated. Even the assertion that a “lion’s share” of jihadists in Syria-Iraq have come from Europe is hard to accept. (Out of the 20,000 foreign fighters, only 4,000 are from Europe.) The country sending the highest number of warriors to the IS is Tunisia, which is shocking because that’s the only country where the Arab Spring seems to have clicked. Why connect Huntington to the failure of Europe to “assimilate” expat Muslims? Is it because Europe believes in the clash and therefore treats them shabbily?

But our blogger thinks America must be treating Muslims better because not many American jihadists have joined the IS. But if you ask any al-Qaeda loyalist, the war is against America and not so much against Europe, which is nicely persecuting its Jews these days and making them run away to Israel. I dislike the idea of a “clash” a la Huntington because I don’t want this clash, not because I think Huntington cooked up some of his theses. I find him a greatly prescient thinker and don’t want Muslims to make his thesis come true. His vision was based on realpolitik; he was no universal philosopher.

The Battle Within Indian Army For Promotions

The Supreme Court is currently hearing a case that is likely to have serious implications for the cohesion and ethos of the Indian army. The matter pertains to the policy adopted by the Army Headquarters in 2009 for promotions of officers of the rank of Colonel, Brigadier, Major General and Lieutenant General. A group of nearly 200 serving army officers have challenged this policy, which grants disproportionate vacancies to two arms - the infantry and artillery - and so stunts the career prospects of officers from others arms and services.

In March 2015, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT), which is the departmental tribunal of the military, effectively vindicated the stance of the petitioners by holding that the army's policy violated Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right of equality of opportunity. In response to an appeal by the government, the Supreme Court has stayed the AFT's ruling, but has urged the government to expedite its submissions.

The mere fact that such a large number of officers have chosen the path of litigation underscores the salience of the issue and the simmering discontent in the army. Unless, tactfully handled the outcome of this legal battle might deeply dent the professionalism of the army.

The root of the problem stretches all the way back to the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) of 1999, which recommended reducing the average age of battalion and brigade commanders - i.e., colonels and brigadiers - to enable higher operational efficacy. The KRC was arguably barking up the wrong tree. Enhanced combat effectiveness would actually require reducing the average age of Junior Commissioned Officers, who are typically in their 40s, and at the sharp edge of combat as platoon commanders. 

The war without an end

07 May , 2015

Insurgency has been independent India’s biggest curse where national integration is concerned. Given the vastness of the land and the remoteness of some of the border states, it wasn’t very surprising that differences should arise between them and the Union, due to the various irritants related to socio-cultural frictions, economic disparities and the like. And there were always negative elements that form part of every society, power-seekers and bigots, to exploit the situation to meet their selfish ends, their sinister designs invariably aided and abetted by the country’s unfriendly neighbours.

…the Punjab Insurgency has been the only one so far to have been successfully put down by a police force.

While the government is compelled to resort to use of military power whenever things get out of hand and the police and the para military forces can no more handle the situation (which happens far too often and in most cases in our country), it calls for the armed forces to perform in a manner that isn’t in conformity with their training and inclination. Whereas in a war a soldier’s role – to kill the enemy who is invariably a foreign national – is cut out for him, the counter-insurgency operations place restrictions on him which are tantamount to reducing his role to that of an armed police man. He is at a constant disadvantage, since the ‘enemy’ is never clearly identifiable from the rest of the citizenry which cannot be harmed. And even when identified, an insurgent, being an Indian citizen, is entitled to his rights and privileges which have to be respected. Such cumbersome activity, besides sapping the morale of the troops to the grave detriment of their combat potential, erodes the respectability of the armed forces among the civilian population.

The India Media's PR Disaster in Nepal

Nepal is not happy with the way the Indian media conducted itself in the wake of the great earthquake. 

Within six hours of the earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, India sent men and materiel to aid in rescue efforts. By the next day, huge rescue teams had arrived, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi held an emergency cabinet meeting to plan India’s response. Indian media outlets were bullish about promoting New Delhi’s efforts. Nepali journalists also wrote favorably about India’s decisive response.

But just over a week later, the narrative has changed. There are murmurs of discontent in the Nepali media about India’s role in the rescue mission. Some are also upset about the conduct of the Indian media in covering the worst natural disaster to ever hit Nepal.

On Sunday, the hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia began trending on Twitter, with thousands haranguing the Indian media over perceptions that its coverage had been jingoistic and insensitive. Critics back in India are also questioning the coverage, which has centered around New Delhi’s magnanimity toward Nepal in the wake of the disaster.

I received a barrage of complaints the moment I broached the subject in Kathmandu.

“If you are helping us, then why are you hyping it?” Rajesh Joshi, a member of the municipal government in the city’s Bhaktapur neighborhood, told me. “Why do you need to bring up the name of your prime minister and your country when you’re talking about the earthquake?”

He blames the Indian government for acting selfishly in the early days of the rescue operation. “India was more concerned with rescuing its own citizens than saving Nepali lives.” Joshi lost his house in the earthquake and has been living in a tent with his family for over a week.

3 Pakistani Militant Groups Announce That They Have Merged With Pakistani Taliban

3 jihadist groups merge with Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan

Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal, May 6, 2015
Three jihadist groups, including one led by a key commander who has served as a senior leader in al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have united with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. The merger is part of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s efforts to rebuild itself, likely with the guidance of al Qaeda. The jihadist organization split in 2014 after a contentious leadership dispute that festered when the US killed the group’s former emir, Hakeemullah Mehsud, in a drone strike.

Muhammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan (TTP), announced today that three outfits led by “Commander Qari Matiur Rehman,” “Commander Qari Ehsanul Haq,” and “Commander Muhammad Shamil,” merged with the overarching Taliban group, according to a translation of a statement that was obtained by The Long War Journal. Rehman, who is “also known as Commander Abdul Samad” and has served as a senior leader in al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, leads all three groups within the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

“All three of these groups united under the leadership of the respected Commander Matiur Rehman, may God protect him, and became a part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan],” Khurasani said in a statement that was issued on Umar Media, the official website of the group. Khurasani said that the three jihadist entities “were always important groups in the jihad of Pakistan and have been since the beginning. ”
“Prior to this, these organizations worked with and cooperated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, but were not officially part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan,” he continued.

The merger is part of Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s attempt to rebuilt its shattered image in the wake of the 2014 death of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the group’s former emir. The Taliban appointed Mullah Fazlullah to lead the TTP, but multiple factions were unhappy with the choice and split, including two Mehsud factions in North and South Waziristan, and a large branch led by Omar Khalid Khorasani. But Omar Khalid Khorasani’s faction (Jamaat-ul Ahrar) and Lashkar-e-Islam joined the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan early last month as part of the effort to mend the rift between the jihadist groups. [See LWJ report, Pakistani jihadist groups, Lashkar-i-Islam merge into the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.]

The Unfinished War in Afghanistan: 2001-2014

Vishal Chandra
Price: Rs. 1495 [Download E-Book] [Buy Now]

This book makes a modest attempt to contribute to the ongoing debate on future challenges for Afghanistan as the largest ever coalition of Western forces prepares to withdraw. It seeks to examine key political developments within Afghanistan over the last one decade in response to the US-led Western military and political intervention. Perhaps, much more is still to come in a war that could aptly be termed as the last big war of the twentieth and first long war of the twenty-first century. The emerging social and political narratives are unmistakably old and echo the sentiments of the past. Though a 'New Afghanistan' has emerged in the meanwhile, it remains fundamentally an urban phenomenon. The diversity of narratives and perceptions, and failure of past political transitions to build a sustainable internal balance of power, based on changed social and political realities, have turned Afghanistan into a complex entity that defies established theoretical formulations and explanations. The evolving security and political scenario suggests that elections alone may not help bring stability and order to Afghanistan. The next dispensation in Kabul, irrespective of its composition, is most likely to be confronted with a host of old and familiar challenges to its legitimacy and survival.
About The Author

4 Sentenced to Death in Farkhunda Murder Trial

The four day trial strikes some as too short, with actual justice lacking. 

Wednesday, four men were convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Farkhunda, a 27-year old woman who was killed by a mob outside a Kabul shrine. Zain-ul Abedeen, one of the men sentenced to death, had had an existing dispute with Farkhunda over his selling amulets at the Shah-e Do-Shamshera shrine in central Kabul. Farkhunda, according to her family a long-time student of Islam, considered the good luck charms un-Islamic. According to the AP, she “regarded the amulet sellers as parasites and told women not to waste their money on them.”

The specific details of what occurred before the mob formed are murky, but several filmed Farkhunda’s assault and death on their cellphones after the amulet seller accused her of burning a Quran, a charge authorities say was spurious. The graphic videos show her surrounded, stomped, and beaten bloody, by a crowd of men. She was then run over by a car and set on fire, before being thrown in the Kabul River.

Her death and the outrage on display at her funeral — which drew hundreds and included a group of women insisting that they carry her coffin – seemed to focus global attention once again on the plight of women in Afghanistan.

Talking About a ‘Rising China’: An Analysis of Indian Official Discourse 1996- 2012

Peter Van Der Hoest

IDSA Occasional Paper No. 38

This Occasional Paper looks at the idea of China being a potential security threat as spoken about in India's official discourse that is, as written down in annual reports or governmental statements or mentioned in the speeches of Indian officials. It does not analyse India's foreign policy, the strategic environment, or offer a new perspective on the development of bilateral security relations. Instead, the aim is to identify which drivers and themes figure most prominently in New Delhi’s publicly uttered concerns over a rising China, and to see if, when and how India’s official rhetoric has changed over time. The three themes that figure largely in the discourse--the contested border, nuclear proliferation, and China’s inroads into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) are discussed in separate sections. The Occasional Paper begins with a generic analysis of the overall discourse, and discusses the specific themes identified above subsequently. This Occasional Paper does not address statements made by retired officials or servicemen or reports or articles. Although their opinions give valuable insights, they do not, strictly speaking, speak in any official capacity.

The Tibet Issue – A Troubled Neighbourhood

06 May , 2015

While Sardar Patel had warned Nehru about Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism being different from the expansionism or imperialism of Western powers and Chinese ideological expansion concealed behind racial, national or historical claims, China apparently feels her aggression is warranted because under the Tianxia (天下; “Under Heaven”) concept, Chinese perceive all territories under the sun belonging to them. Hence the ambiguity and deceit, and the ‘Doctrine of Pre-emption and Surprise’ encompassing surprise, deception and shock – plus the façade of peace homilies. That is why China has been providing tacit support to Pakistan’s anti-India jihadist groups in India; ‘Shashou Jian (Assassin’s Mace) incapacitating India from within through insurgencies and terrorism. It is also well understood that Chinese aggression of Tibet and Aksai Chin has been tempered because of the presence of minerals and natural resources like water, including possible thorium reserves.

Until the early 13 Century, China had no claims on Tibet which ruled half of present day China but looked to India for its most significant influence, Buddhism…

“Even during the 1962 conflict, Chinese leaders, including Mao, acknowledged that the conflict was not about the boundary or territory but about Tibet. The Chinese consistently tried to obtain reassurance from India that…India would not ‘meddle’ in Tibetan affairs…Boundary infringements by the Chinese continued. Sino-Indian border negotiations are stalemated and progress, if any, is at a snail’s pace. Thus, Tibet still remains the core issue.” —R.S Kalha, IFS (Retd.)

Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China

Authors: Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, and Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

"China represents and will remain the most significant competitor to the United States for decades to come. As such, the need for a more coherent U.S. response to increasing Chinese power is long overdue," write CFR Senior Fellow Robert D. Blackwill and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Associate Ashley J. Tellis in a new Council Special Report, Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China.

"Because the American effort to 'integrate' China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy."

The authors argue that such a strategy is designed to limit the dangers that China's geoeconomic and military power pose to U.S. national interests in Asia and globally, even as the United States and its allies maintain diplomatic and economic interactions with China.

Blackwill and Tellis recommend that Washington do the following: 
Revitalize the U.S. economy 

"Nothing would better promote the United States' strategic future and grand strategy toward China than robust economic growth…This must be the first priority of the president and Congress." 
Strengthen the U.S. military 

Watch Out, China: Japan and Australia Are Getting Closer

May 6, 2015 

Under the banner of a new special relationship, we are currently witnessing a second evolution of Japan–Australia strategic relations. Looking back, the relationship’s evolution has had two distinct phases; the first phase of evolution started in 2007 which was marked by a deeper institutionalization of bilateral cooperation focusing on non-traditional security, culminating in the historic Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in Tokyo. The non-traditional security cooperation between Australian Defense Force (ADF) and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) is best represented by the past record of the frequent humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) cooperation between ADF and JSDF units, to name a few, in responding to the 2010 flood disaster in Pakistan, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the 2013 mega-typhoon disaster in the Philippines.

Building on those initial efforts, we are witnessing the second evolution of the bilateral partnership which is characterized by new cooperation in the sphere traditional security. This second evolution is ongoing, and is driven by the following three new areas of cooperation. First, discussions about security legislation in the ruling coalition in the Japanese Diet suggest the real possibility of legally allowing the JSDF to cooperate operationally with ADF in more traditional security situations by offering logistics support for ADF units and/or assisting with the ADF’s force protection. Such unprecedented operational collaboration might happen when Japan, Australia and the US conduct joint training or missile defense operations in the waters around Japan, or where ADF vessels operating in support of US military activities in South China Sea are at risk of attacks in Japan’s neighborhood.

If the Unthinkable Occurred: America Should Stand Up to China over Taiwan

May 7, 2015 

"Nothing would be more dangerous than for Beijing to conclude that aggression would go unpunished and that the United States and a coterie of key allies do not have the will or the capacity to intervene."

In back-to-back articles published in recent weeks, Hugh White, a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, posited that China has become too powerful, and too critical a player in the global economy, for the continuation of tacit U.S. security guarantees to Taiwan, the island-nation that Beijing regards as an inalienable part of China. In White’s bleak worldview, the risks of major conflict—perhaps even nuclear war—are too enormous, and consequently, Taiwan should simply be abandoned to its “inevitable” fate. Not only is this wrong, it’s a very dangerous proposition.

I would first like to thank Professor White for his response to my article “Don’t Let China Swallow Taiwan,” which gives me an opportunity to expand upon and to refine my earlier observations on the subject. Although I have strong disagreements with his argument, his is a position that has enjoyed a modicum of traction in some circles, and as such, it is essential that it be properly countered.

To start with, Mr. White’s response to my piece hinges on a misreading of the assumptions that underlie my argument. I do not, as he claims, subscribe to the “widely held assumption” that the United States is “willing [to] go to war with China to prevent Taiwan being forcibly united with the mainland.” In fact, given the unwillingness or inability of the international community to stand up to Russia over tensions in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014, I fear that the United States and its Asian allies may not be inclined to take action to prevent the forced annexation of Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act notwithstanding. On my most optimistic days, I am agnostic on the matter. But I do maintain, however, that the international community should be willing to stand up to China and signal that commitment accordingly. Nothing would be more dangerous than for Beijing to conclude that aggression would go unpunished and that the United States and a coterie of key allies do not have the will or the capacity to intervene.

China's Apolitical Political School of Thought

May 7, 2015 

When we think of traditional influences on Chinese political theory, Confucianism often comes to mind, because it has drawn increasing government support in the post-Mao era (including from President Xi Jinping). There is also Sunzi’s Art of War, which has been appropriated in the West for everything from business strategy to poker. Those with a bit more knowledge of Chinese history may think of Han Feizi, sometimes called the Chinese Machiavelli. However, Daoism—a school of Chinese philosophy—has also had a surprisingly high degree of political influence. Laozi, the supposed author of the Daodejing (Classic of the Way and Virtue) is the best-known Daoist. He was even cited by Ronald Reagan in his 1988 State of the Union Address. However, cognoscenti of Chinese thought know that Zhuangzi is the most profound and fascinating Daoist. His writings, known simply as theZhuangzi (莊子), might seem like an unlikely source for political inspiration, since they advocate emotional detachment from the world. Nonetheless, Zhuangzi came to be associated with anti-government peasant uprisings in ancient times, and continues to be a source of inspiration for critics of the Chinese government even today. 

Zhuangzi lived in the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.E.), an era in which the nominal monarch reigned but did not rule. Actual power was in the hands of the dukes who ruled the seven major states into which China was divided. In the absence of a strong central power, these states routinely invaded one another, and casually made and betrayed alliances. In the earlier Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.E.), a duke could sometimes temporarily enforce peace among the other states through a combination of innate military strength and shrewd diplomacy. However, this “hegemony” was intrinsically unstable, as jealousy of the hegemon eventually lead the other states to ally against him. (China’s fondness for accusing the United States of “hegemony” consciously appropriates the vocabulary of this era.) By Zhuangzi’s lifetime, the political situation was too chaotic for even a hegemon to enforce peace, and some dukes went so far as to usurp the title “king.” 

China's Ongoing Battle Against AIDS

May 07, 2015

Despite major progress over the past 20 years, China still struggles to promote AIDS education and awareness. 

This week, Michel Sidibe, the head of the UN Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is in China. While there, he and Xinhua president Cai Mingzhao promised to work together to cooperate in the fight against AIDS. In particular, Cai promised that Xinhua would help spread “positive messages” on behalf on UNAIDS, promoting the agency’s “three zeros” goal: “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.” Sidibe signed a similar memorandum with Li Congjun, Cai’s predecessor, in March 2014

The connection between China’s state-run news agency and UNAIDS is just one sign of a transformation in how the Chinese government views and responds to AIDS. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the epidemic was largely ignored by the government – misinformation was prevalent and HIV/AIDS sufferers faced serious discrimination. The epidemic was exacerbated in China due to government-supported blood drives that did not follow adequate sterilization procedures. The drives, which often offered rural residents cash for blood or plasma donations, created so-called “AIDS villages” where a large percentage of residents are HIV-positive.

China’s official government response has changed markedly in the past 15 years. In 2003, China rolled out a program called “four frees and one care” – meaning free blood tests for those living with HIV, free education for those orphaned by AIDS, and free consultations, screening tests, and antiretroviral therapy for pregnant women with HIV or AIDS. In 2011, China announced its “five expands and six strengthenings,” which included efforts to expand HIV/AIDS education, testing, and treatment while also strengthening medical safeguards and the protection of HIV patients’ rights. Today, Premier Li Keqiang speaks openly about the need to do more to fight AIDS, and Peng Liyuan, President Xi Jinping’s wife, is a World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

China's Xi Prepares to Visit Russia

Xi will seek to further cement China-Russia ties as he attends Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. 
Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Russia this week to attend celebrations marking the 70 anniversary of Victory Day (the end of the World War II in the European theater). According to China’s Foreign Ministry, Xi will visit Kazakhstan on May 7 then spend May 8-10 in Russia. He will end his trip with a state visit to Belarus from May 10-12. With this trip, Xi will have visited Russia every year since being officially named president in 2013.

Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have long had plans to attend each other’s commemoration ceremonies, a point of particular importance as many Western countries are not expected to attend either China or Russia’s events due to existing tensions. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told reporters on Monday that Xi will attend the military parade to be held in Moscow’s Red Square, lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and attend a welcome banquet.

Cheng emphasized that China and Russia “made huge sacrifice and great contribution to the victory of the WWII [sic].” Both China and Russia have also laid claim to being the true protectors of the post-war international order, accusing the West (and, in China’s case, Japan) of seeking to undermine the post-war achievements.

Of course, Xi’s visit to Russia will do more than look at the past — it’s designed, in Cheng’s words, “to comprehensively advance China-Russia relations.” During meetings with Putin and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Xi will discuss regional and global cooperation, particularly on China’s major diplomatic priority: the Silk Road Economic Belt. In particular, Xi will talk with Russian leaders about how to link China’s “One Belt and One Road” with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Why Are Chinese Frigates in the Black Sea?

May 07, 2015

The Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy Jiangkai II-class frigate Linyi (FFG 547) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

China’s frigates may be in the Black Sea on a mission that’s part symbolism, part marketing. 

Marking a new milestone for China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), two guided missile frigates, reportedly the Linyi and the Weifang, entered the Black Sea on Monday. USNI News broke the story, accompanying it with photographs of the Linyi passing through the Bosphorous on May 4. The pair of frigates are en route to Russia’s naval base at Novorossiysk where they will arrive on May 9 and remain until Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

The two frigates are in the Black Sea after participating with Russia in the first joint Russia-China naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. (The Linyi, as some Diplomat readers may recall, drew headlines last month after being used to evacuate Chinese and non-Chinese citizens alike from Yemen amid a Saudi-led bombing campaign there.)

The visit of the two frigates could have commercial intentions as well. A report in the Taiwan-based Want China Times last week made the case that the PLAN was using the Mediterranean exercise as an opportunity to show off the ability of its Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates for the Russian Navy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s surface ship-building capability is known to have taken a great hit.

CIA's Ex-No. 2 Says ISIS ‘Learned From Snowden’


The former deputy director of the CIA says in a new book that the NSA contractor’s disclosures allowed the forerunners of the terrorist group to evade electronic surveillance.

Edward Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence operations “played a role in the rise of ISIS.” That’s the explosive new allegation from the former deputy director of the CIA, Michael Morell, who was among the United States’ most senior intelligence officials when Snowden began providing highly classified documents to journalists in 2013.

U.S. intelligence officials have long argued that Snowden’s disclosures provided valuable insights to terrorist groups and nation-state adversaries, including China and Russia, about how the U.S. monitors communications around the world. But in his new memoir, to be published next week, Morell raises the stakes of that debate by directly implicating Snowden in the expansion of ISIS, which broke away from al Qaeda and has conquered large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. 

“Within weeks of the leaks, terrorist organizations around the world were already starting to modify their actions in light of what Snowden disclosed. Communications sources dried up, tactics were changed,” Morell writes. Among the most damaging leaks, he adds, was one that described a program that collects foreigners’ emails as they move through equipment in the United States.

Terrorist groups, including ISIS, have since shifted their communications to more “secure” platforms, are using encryption, or “are avoiding electronic communications altogether.”

“ISIS was one of those terrorist groups that learned from Snowden, and it is clear that his actions played a role in the rise of ISIS,” Morell writes.
“The damage has already been significant and will continue to grow.”

The Geopolitics of the Iran Nuclear Deal

May 7, 2015 

The United States and its partners must employ both intense pressure and intense engagement to set the terms for a new relationship with Iran.

As the United States and Iran near an historic nuclear agreement there is an intense debate about whether a deal represents capitulation to Iranian interests in the Middle East or an opportunity to help stabilize the region. If the United States and its partners learn the lessons of previous nuclear negotiations with Iran, and pursue a tightly coordinated strategy in the region, there is a potential over the next few years to ameliorate the conflict-ridden Middle East. For the deal itself is only half the challenge: the other half is to craft a geopolitical framework following the deal that constrains Iranian ambitions.

Since early 2009, President Barack Obama pursued a strategy of engagement and pressure with Iran with regards to the nuclear program, consistently offering to negotiate but also applying increasing economic and diplomatic pressure. But Iran refused to comply.

This approach failed to yield a change in Iranian behavior as long as the Iranian leadership believed that while international sanctions were a nuisance, they did not present a genuine threat. That changed with the application of tough energy and financial sanctions that, starting in 2012, took half of Iran’s oil exports off the market.

As the danger to the Islamic Republic’s survival increased the more pragmatic Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei—the final decision-maker in Tehran and a man highly skeptical of the West—gave Rouhani the space to negotiate a nuclear agreement that would obtain sanctions relief in exchange for limits on the program that Khamenei would never have accepted only two years earlier.

The Islamic State's Most Deadly Weapon of War: Water?

May 6, 2015 

As a requisite resource, water and its infrastructure are decisive targets in the self-declared Islamic State’s (IS) strategy for regional expansion in the Middle East. Although IS has not demonstrated the capacity to operate technologically intensive water infrastructure, it continues to pursue control of dams and water systems in Iraq and Syria that, if acquired and adequately maintained could partially legitimize its rule, or alternatively be exploited as a weapon. To counter this threat, the United States should prioritize the protection of major hydroelectric dams and water infrastructure in areas under or near IS occupation. It should also create viable alternatives to IS-supplied resources through increased water aid in Syria and Iraq, and support to allied infrastructure and supplies increasingly challenged by migration and water scarcity. Delaying this action poses added barriers to the coalition strategy to defeat IS because, as one Mosul resident stated, “if [IS] could only maintain services—then people would support them until the last second.”

Institutionalizing management of water resources and systems is a realistic means for IS to expand its sources of funding and further legitimize itself among local populations. Unlike IS’s production of oil that (illegally) operates within a global market, water is a regional commodity that is largely dependent on the operation of local hydroelectric dams. For IS, these dams are “the most important strategic locations in the country,”says Shirouk al-Abayachi, a member of the Iraqi parliament and former adviser to the Ministry of Water Resources in Iraq. “They should be very well protected because they affect everything—economy, agriculture, basic human needs and security.”

In the ongoing conflict, the desire to command water is nothing new. IS’s quest to seize water infrastructure began in 2013 with the occupation of the Tabqa Dam, Syria’s largest hydroelectric dam that supplies electricity to rebel and government territories, including the city of Aleppo. Advancing toward a hydraulic state during its invasion of Fallujah, IS effectively employed surrounding dams, canals, and reservoirs as weapons—denying water to areas outside of its territory and flooding the route of the approaching Iraqi army. And in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, IS exhausted water reserves and disrupted distribution networks, forcing residents to rely on untreated water sources and leading to the spread of waterborne diseases such as Hepatitis A and typhoid.



The 1983 Cold War science fiction film, WarGames, was surely ahead of its time. In the film, engineers at NORAD missile control are unable (or unwilling) to complete a mock missile launch sequence as part of a normal drill. This finally persuades the commander of NORAD’s missile control to reinforce their roles by automation with a supercomputer, nicknamed “Joshua.” Joshua would run an innumerable number of nuclear simulations over time with the hope that it would learn from them.

Enter Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, an apathetic Seattle high school student and hacker, who, while searching computer networks for games to play, stumbles upon one that piques his interest—“Global Thermonuclear War.” Unbeknownst to Lightman, he had hacked into NORAD’s computer systems, mistakenly bypassed the computer’s game mode and, while playing as the Soviet Union, convinced NORAD that a strategic first strike by the USSR was imminent.

Fast forward three decades where retired Gen. James Cartwright, former commander of U.S. Strategic Command, the military unit tasked with overseeing nuclear weapon readiness, has recently called for U.S. ballistic missiles to be taken off their high alert status over the possibility of our nuclear stockpiles being manipulated through a cyber-attack. Gen. Cartwright’s remarks come amid growing scrutiny of U.S. military readiness to combat an aggressive cyber-attack.

More on Russian Army Units in the Eastern Ukraine

Russian Combat Brigades In Ukraine
May 6, 2015

In April Ukrainian Army officials revealed that they were tracking the Russian units operating in eastern Ukraine. At that time Ukrainian intelligence had identified portions of the Russian 15th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 8th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, 331st Airborne Regiment and the 98th Airborne Division operating inside Ukraine. It was noted that Russia moves these units in and out, rarely keeping Russian units in eastern Ukraine for more than a few months. There are some attempts to hide the fact that these Russian soldiers are Russians, but these efforts are not diligently carried out and given all the cell phone cameras around it is easier for anti-Russian civilians in rebel controlled areas to collect and pass on evidence. 

NATO intelligence analysts earlier noted that the Russians have been forced to use most of their few capable combat units to support their attempt to seize portions of eastern Ukraine. Thus the Russians have sent in about twenty percent of their combat brigades, usually the most effective (Spetsnaz and airborne) and experienced (ones recently in the Caucasus). For most of the last year parts of at least three of these brigades have been detected inside eastern Ukraine at any one time. At least fifteen combat brigades have had some of their troops in Ukraine during 2014. These brigades represent the best Russia has, as the rest of the army is crippled by inexperience and shortages of personnel and equipment. Russia is still trying to replace obsolete and worn out Cold War era weapons and equipment. 

Why Cheap Oil Is Bad News for U.S. Gas-Export Hopes

MAY 6, 2015 

Plentiful supplies of crude, fueled in part by the U.S. boom, undermine the case for shipping liquefied natural gas overseas. 

For the past year, many in the United States have been rubbing their hands at the prospect of a huge natural-gas export boom, raising hopes of a flood of cheap and clean fuel being shipped to friends in Europe and Asia. But the long-awaited gas boom has yet to materialize — and with oil prices well below last year’s highs, it might never.

At the peak of enthusiasm over U.S. gas exports, more than 30 proposed projects jumped on the bandwagon, with grandiose visions of dispatching tankers full of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Pacific Coast to thirsty markets all around the world. Leading U.S. politicians, from President Barack Obama to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, all have touted the prospects of Washington turning its energy wealth into geopolitical coin, especially now that Europe is redoubling efforts to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. Energy Secretary Ernest Monizstill speaks of the United States surpassing Qatar as the No. 1 LNG exporter this decade.

Today, though, only five U.S. LNG export projects have gotten government approval and are under construction. Only one, Cheniere Energy’s first-out-of-the-gate facility at Sabine Pass, Louisiana, is on track to export any gas this year. In a sign of how cloudy the horizon has suddenly gotten, Cheniere has yet to make a final investment decision on an expansion of Sabine Pass — a tricky, multibillion dollar decision against oil prices that are still almost 50 percent lower than they were last summer. Moody’s Investors Service, a ratings agency, warned last month that cheap oil could well kneecap U.S. and Canadian LNG export projects still in the queue.

Why Kokang Rebels Are Giving Fits to Burma’s Military

MAY 6, 2015 - 3:03 PM 

This week Burma’s armed forces issued an ominous warning to the media: Watch what you say about the Kokang rebels.
For the past three months the military has been conducting a ferocious undeclared war against ethnic Kokang guerrillas in a remote region in northeast Burma, along the border with China. The fighting has been going on since the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Kokang separatist group, launched attacks on Feb. 9 to take back land it lost to the Burmese military in 2009.

Now military officials have declared the MNDAA to be an “unlawful association,” which makes it illegal, under current regulations, for any media organizations to report statements issued by the group. Any journalists who violate the ban could be punished with up to three years in prison.

So what are the generals so worried about? Surely the MNDAA isn’t inherently different from any of the other ethnic armed groups that are meeting this week for peace talks with Burmese officials — and no one is banning reporters from relaying statements by the representatives of those groups, who are participating in a process that is tacitly approved by the government. But there are two factors that make the Kokang issue especially sensitive.

Is the Reshoring of U.S. Manufacturing a Myth?

May 05, 2015 

There’s been a flurry of news reports suggesting that U.S. corporations are bringing overseas manufacturing back to the United States, notably from China. The reason for the reshoring: As labor costs rise in China and other emerging markets, the advantages of lower wages recede. But new research by Morris Cohen, a Wharton professor of operations and information management, and Hau L. Lee at Stanford, shows the reality is more complicated. There is actually little reshoring on a net basis in the U.S., while supply chain movements are crisscrossing more than ever. Even within the same company, one department might be outsourcing while another is reshoring. In this Knowledge@Wharton interview, Cohen outlines the key findings from of the study, “Global Supply Chain Benchmark Study: An Analysis of Sourcing and Re-structuring Decisions.”

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

Three Fundamental Questions

I’m engaged now in this very ambitious research project, a benchmarking research project with a consortium of other universities to address three fundamental questions about the sourcing of manufacturing on the global scale. We’re interested in first, what are companies doing? Where are they sourcing manufacturing? Are they changing the locations, the countries where they’re sourcing manufacturing? Years past, many went to China and low labor cost countries in Asia. And we’ve seen changes in relative labor costs. And there have been predictions that we’ll see an immense amount of reshoring. And yet, on the other hand, we see major restructuring going on.

There’s confusion as to what companies are doing.

Out of Kiev’s Hands Why Ukraine's failing Donbass region is becoming a big headache for Russia.

MAY 4, 2015

The Russian-occupied Donbass enclave in eastern Ukraine is on the verge of economic and social collapse. That grave fact casts the Russo-Ukrainian war in a different light. Normally, wars are fought over prize territory: winners gain it, losers lose it. 

In this case, the implosion of the Donbass means that whoever controls the enclave is, in fact, the loser.

In this case, the implosion of the Donbass means that whoever controls the enclave is, in fact, the loser. As the man who owns the enclave and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, Vladimir Putin is thus the loser. And both Russia and Ukraine know it.

According to United Nations data, of the 5 million people who formerly populated the enclave, nearly 2 million have left since March 2014. Since many of these refugees are educated, middle-class professionals who are unlikely ever to return to a war zone, the enclave has suffered an irreparable loss of its intellectual and human capital.

Of the 3 million who are left, about 2 million are children and pensioners — leaving 1 million working-age adults to support them, service the crumbling economy, and do the fighting. According to the National Bank of Ukraine, GDP in the Donbass has collapsed, with industrial production falling by over a third in 2014, and construction by over a half. Many bridges and rail tracks remain destroyed. Only one third of residents receive a steady wage. Large swathes of the territory suffer from gas, water, and electricity shortages. And Kiev stopped paying pensions to enclave residents in late 2014. Unsurprisingly, the decline of the Donbass has continued apace in 2015.