15 May 2015

Nepal quake and the Gorkha bond

Gen. Ashok K. Mehta
May 15, 2015 

The India-Gorkha link of serving soldiers, ex-servicemen, thousands of Army aspirants, and impressive economic assistance all make for a pro-India constituency in Nepal that is often able to subdue the politically motivated, anti-India sentiment.

“Aaju mo to Nepal Janchhu” (today I will go to Nepal) is a vintage song I first heard in 1959 at Barpak, now the epicentre of the killer earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. In the lyric, Nepal refers to Kathmandu, the be-all and end-all of life for the village Gorkhas; as in ancient times, it still represents the exalted centre, the periphery not counting. Let me elaborate.

Following the earthquake, world attention, for the first four days, was riveted on Kathmandu, which reflected the political and constitutional lacunae that still disconnects the rural hinterland from the metropolis. Ironically, the exodus of survivors, from Kathmandu back to the mountain villages has begun because up there, “pani, hava aru khaja ramro chha”, which means water, air and grain are healthy. Had India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, not flown to flattened Barpak , he would never have heard about the famed Victoria Cross winner, Gaje Ghale. (Captain Gaje Ghale, who died, aged 81, in New Delhi in 2000, was awarded a Victoria Cross, as a Havildar (sergeant) while leading a platoon of young soldiers of the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles in Burma in May 1943.) For the Indian Army, specifically, it means much more as hundreds upon thousands of Ghales, Gurungs, Thapas and Ranas from this region regularly join its ranks with cheer. Just last month, two of India’s 38 Gorkha battalions celebrated 200 years of kinship with India having made the ultimate sacrifice for the defence of the realm.

Manoeuvres on the Syrian chessboard

May 15, 2015
Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States are unwilling to digest that the conflict in Syria, as in Yemen, advantages al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Swift advances by new rebel formations in western Syria raised the spectre once more of the collapse of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Backed to the hilt by Qatar and Turkey, the newly formed Jaish al-Fateh (The Army of Conquest) and its allies seized the crucial town of Jisr al-Shugour, southeast of Idlib (the city that they had already taken in late March). The momentum swept into Hama province and toward Damascus. The main elements in the Army of Conquest are Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra — both of whom defer to the black banner of the al-Qaeda. Renewed support for these groups from Qatar and Turkey comes largely because of the green light from Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has even suggested that it no longer frowns on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, whose hold on the exiled opposition remains. Saudi Arabia summoned the new head of the Syrian National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, for a secret meeting in Riyadh in early April. Following this meeting, Saudi Arabia’s own rebel formation – Jaish al-Islam led by Zahran Alloush — sought an entente with Ahrar al-Sham. In mid-April, Alloush — who leads the umbrella Islamic Front that operates largely in southern Syria – travelled to Turkey and met with leaders of the resurgent Ahrar al-Sham. Such connections between the proxies of Saudi Arabia as well as Qatar and Turkey and new arms deliveries from these powers have given the rebels a fillip.

Decline of American clout

Chinmaya Gharekhan
May 15 2015

A near unanimous decision by the six heads of state of the Gulf Cooperation Council not to personally attend the meeting convened by the American President is a most dramatic demonstration of the decline of American clout in a part of the West Asian region where it was the strongest. The meeting was called by the President to explain and reassure his Gulf allies about the Iran nuclear deal. The boycott is a measure of the extent of the loss of trust of the Gulf countries in the leadership and credibility of the United States. 

The American Administration has of course been aware of the widening gulf in mutual trust between the two sides but was probably not aware of its depth. It tried to assuage its erstwhile protégés' sensibilities by vocally and strongly supporting the Saudi-led intervention against the Houthi-led insurrection in Yemen. It provided crucial logistic and intelligence support and deployed powerful naval armada in the Gulf of Aden, even ordering the hugely powerful aircraft carrier USS Enterprise to those waters. Evidently, these efforts and gestures have not had the desired result. 

Modi Goes to China: What to Expect

Narendra Modi is en route to China, marking his first visit there since becoming India’s prime minister last May. Modi will begin his visit in Xi’an, where he will be greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping in an unusual break of protocol (Xi normally receives foreign leaders in Beijing, the country’s capital). After a day in Xi’an, Modi will spend Friday in Beijing before heading to Shanghai. The visit will run the gamut of issues at the top of the India-China bilateral agenda, including economic ties, strategic issues, and the contentious topic of the border disputes between the two countries.

As a matter of diplomatic protocol, China generally equates Indian prime ministers with Chinese premiers. As Ananth Krishnan notes in India Today, Modi’s reception in Xi’an by Xi is unique not only for the sake of the venue, but also because of this presumed change in protocol. Xi greeting Modi outside of Beijing, interestingly, draws a parallel to Modi’s unconventional decision to greet Xi in Gujarat instead of New Delhi during his September 2014 visit to India.

Modi and Xi will hold bilateral talks in Xi’an on the afternoon of May 14. On Friday, Modi will meet with China’s premier, Li Keqiang. In Beijing, Modi and Li will oversee the signing of numerous memorandums of understanding (MoUs) on economic cooperation and investment. Trade between India and China stands at around $70 billion, but the balance is largely in China’s favor. Modi and Xi, during their meetings in India last year, expressed an interest in growing their trade partnership.

Modi's social security schemes are old wine in new bottles

Mohan Guruswamy 

The government doesn't even provide a single paisa for the recently announced insurance and pension schemes but claims ownership.

A good businessman is one who will make you part with your money for a product or service and then have you believe that he gave you something worth a lot more for next to nothing. Gujaratis have business in their veins and Narendra Modi is no exception. He is, in fact, an expert in the art of selling you a ping-pong ball and making most believe it to be a football.

On the weekend, he launched three new "social security" schemes. The schemes, which include accident insurance, life insurance and a pension plan, supposedly target people from the economically deprived and the unorganised sections, who are neither covered by any form of insurance nor get any. But there is a catch. Only people who have a bank account can avail of these schemes. Out of a population of 1.2 billion, we only have 150 million with bank accounts and, of these, a good third don’t have any credit balance.

Pointing out the necessity for such schemes, Prime Minister Modi, in his address, said:

Solving the Sino-Indian Border Dispute: One Million Indians for a Road

By Nicolas Groffman
14 May , 2015

China can control its media to a great extent and should be in a position to put a lid on any populist nationalism shrieking about not giving an inch of territory away in Arunachal Pradesh. India, however, cannot muzzle its press. Its media, especially opposition media, might well try to portray any release of territory in Aksai Chin as a craven surrender to Chinese bullying, even though India has exerted no control in the area since 1962 and has no population there. Yet gradually, the obvious benefits of security on its Northern border would become apparent, as would the economic benefits of private investment in the Northeast that would follow the lifting of the Chinese threat.

on march 24, 2015, the leaders of India and China sat down to discuss the border between their countries. More than a million Indians live in the territory claimed by China while India claims an area of Chinese controlled-land which is larger than Belgium. The two countries, which together constitute a third of the world’s population and a tenth of the world’s economy, must get along. Yet their land dispute has the potential to escalate into an armed conflict (as it did in 1962) and has received too little attention from the rest of the world. It’s easy to see why. In the oceans, China competes with the navies of Japan, the United States, South Korea, and many other countries. But it is time for the world to look harder at the problem on India’s Northern borders.

The devil is not in the detail

By Pranay Kotasthane 

A report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest. Considering the speculative nature of the report, and the uncomfortable situation that it puts all the protagonists in, the report has received a lot of flak.
The objective of this post is not to vouch for or to find holes in the report but to throw some light on the consequences of this controversy, particularly from an Indian standpoint. 

India stands to gain more with the report coming out than without it. The controversy surrounding the report gives credence to what India has always maintained: the complicity of the Pakistani state with terrorists. The fact that the epicentre of the controversy is US is even better, it will make future engagements with the Pakistan military establishment tougher. 

What Pakistan Knew About the Bin Laden Raid


With a litany of unproved claims, veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revived discussion about the circumstances in which al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was discovered and killed in May 2011 in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.

Some of Hersh’s assertions in a 10,000-word London Review of Books article border on fantasy. He claims that bin Laden lived under the protection of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was given up for reward money by one of the agency’s officers, and was eventually eliminated in a U.S. raid covertly backed by Pakistan’s army commander and ISI chief.

According to Hersh, the Americans “blackmailed” Pakistan’s generals into helping them kill bin Laden but then stabbed them in the back for political reasons by denying them any credit for assisting in the raid by Navy SEALs. Instead of blaming ISI for sheltering bin Laden in Pakistan (which Hersh claims it did), he points the finger at the Obama administration for not acknowledging ISI’s role in the U.S. operation that killed the terrorist mastermind.

Pakistani Newspaper ‘Outs’ Brigadier Usman Khlalid as Former Intelligence Officer Who Helped CIA Find Osama bin Laden

May 13, 2015

Pakistani military officials have reportedly named the spy who, it is claimed, gave away the location of Osama bin Laden to the US.

The White House has consistently maintained that it found the al-Qaeda leader and carried out a secret mission to kill him in 2011 without the knowledge or assistance of the government of Pakistan.

But an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh alleged this week that that was part of an elaborate lie fed to the public by President Barack Obama in order to score political points.

Hersh claims in the article that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was in fact keeping bin Laden a prisoner as “leverage against al-Qaeda and the Taliban”, and was persuaded to assist in the American operation as long as he was killed and their participation kept a secret.

Locals and media gather outside the compound, pictured in May 2011, where Osama Bin Laden was reportedly killed in an operation by US Navy SealsThe allegations largely come from a single source, identified by Hersh only as “a retired senior US intelligence official”, who said the CIA was first told bin Laden’s location by a senior Pakistani spy seeking a slice of a $25 million reward.

What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden

MARCH 19, 2014 

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, I went to live and report for The New York Times in Afghanistan. I would spend most of the next 12 years there, following the overthrow of the Taliban, feeling the excitement of the freedom and prosperity that was promised in its wake and then watching the gradual dissolution of that hope. A new Constitution and two rounds of elections did not improve the lives of ordinary Afghans; the Taliban regrouped and found increasing numbers of supporters for their guerrilla actions; by 2006, as they mounted an ambitious offensive to retake southern Afghanistan and unleashed more than a hundred suicide bombers, it was clear that a deadly and determined opponent was growing in strength, not losing it. As I toured the bomb sites and battlegrounds of the Taliban resurgence, Afghans kept telling me the same thing: The organizers of the insurgency were in Pakistan, specifically in the western district of Quetta. Police investigators were finding that many of the bombers, too, were coming from Pakistan.

In December 2006, I flew to Quetta, where I met with several Pakistani reporters and a photographer. Together we found families who were grappling with the realization that their sons had blown themselves up in Afghanistan. Some were not even sure whether to believe the news, relayed in anonymous phone calls or secondhand through someone in the community. All of them were scared to say how their sons died and who recruited them, fearing trouble from members of the ISI, Pakistan’s main intelligence service.

Inside The Pakistan Army


The infiltration of the Pakistani army by Islamists or the officers' sympathies vis-à-vis Islamists are obviously not very well documented. The only conspiracy associating army officers and Islamists that has been publicly acknowledged was the one that targeted Benazir Bhutto in 1995. The "plan was radical, it included the murder of PM Benazir Bhutto, Army Chief Waheed Kakar and some generals, the goal was the establishment of a Pakistan-Afghan caliphate". One of the Islamists involved, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, was a key figure of the Pakistani Jihadi nebula, but on the army side, the most highly placed officers implicated was Major General Zaheer ul-Islam Abbasi, who, as a brigadier had been the ISI-based military attaché in New Delhi.

After the plot was discovered, Abbasi and his accomplices were arrested and condemned by a military court to several years of detention. But they were prematurely released after Musharraf took over in 1999. Qari himself spent only five months in jail in 1995 and probably retained some of his ISI contacts, as mentioned above. In her posthumously published book, Benazir Bhutto, maintained that he was involved in the attempt on her life in Karachi in October 2007. After she was killed the Musharraf regime had no other choice but to detain him. However, he was free again after three months in June 2008, not only because the ISI still "kept faith" in him, according to Owen Bennett-Jones but because he was also protected by politicians.

India’s Renewed Interest in Chabahar: Need to Stay the Course

Ashok K. Behuria, M. Mahtab Alam Rizvi

Nitin Gadkari, the Minister for Shipping and Road Transport & Highways, visited Teheran on May 6, 2015 to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) worth USD 195 million for the development of Chabahar port situated in south-eastern Iran. India went ahead with signing the MoU despite the fact that Western sanctions against Iran have not been lifted as yet.1 Gadkari pointed out that “New Delhi is interested to contribute to Iran's ports, roads, railway projects” and hoped that Indo-Iran cooperation in Chabahar can help expand bilateral economic relations. India had been offered this project of developing the Chabahar port, which is located at the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf way, back in 2003 by then Iranian President Khatami. It was intended to serve as a critical access-point to land-locked Afghanistan, and in the process bypass Pakistan which has been reluctant to provide overland transit to Indian goods passing through its territory. But the port development project could not subsequently take off in the face of American sanctions against Iran.

In recent weeks, various countries have begun to show a renewed interest in Iran because of the hope that a conclusive dialogue between Iran and P5+1 on the nuclear issue would result in the lifting of Western sanctions on Iran later this year. And already a beeline of business houses have begun to court Tehran. With the Iranian government investing a lot in Chabahar to develop it as a transport and industrial hub, there is a great deal of enthusiasm to invest in the upcoming infrastructure around the port-city.
Welcome Push to Connect-Afghanistan-Central Asia policy

A Second Earthquake Tests Nepal’s Resilience

May 13, 2015

Last month’s earthquake in Nepal completely destroyed Bina Dangol’s two story home in Khokana, a small town just west of Kathmandu. She finally moved into a rented accommodation a couple of days ago with her parents and three sisters, after living in a tent for two weeks.

But when tremors struck Nepal once again on Tuesday, coming in at 7.4 on the moment magnitude scale, Dangol’s family were once again surrounded by death and destruction. I called up Dangol immediately after the quake, only to find her trembling with fear, barely able to speak coherently.

“How long will this keep going on?” Dangol asked when I spoke to her on Tuesday. “Where will we go now?”

Dangol is not the only one asking these questions. Tuesday’s quake has delivered a jolt to the people of Nepal, already traumatized by the worst natural disaster ever to hit the country. In Kathmandu, big cities, and small villages throughout the country, residents live in constant fear.

China is moving away from co-operation to confrontation

Right from conducting nuclear deterrence patrols in 2015 to its destructive space programme, from its back-tracking on economic commitments to its hardened positions on Sino-India border deal -- its approach with India spells Adversarial with a capital A, says Shehzad Poonawalla

There is a famous Chinese proverb which goes as follows: "A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there is no meeting of minds."

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarks upon his maiden visit to China on May 14, a country that he has visited on three earlier occasions as chief minister of Gujarat, the million 'yuan' question would be just this: What will destiny have in store, for the two most populous nations in the world, which account for more than one third of humanity? A thousand cups of wine or an awkward half-a-sentence? Will there be a common vision of mutual co-operation or an eyeball to eyeball confrontation in the decades that follow?

As far as conventional wisdom is concerned, India and China are strategic rivals, engaged in what is perceived as a zero-sum game, competing to occupy a dominant position in Asia and the world order, through geo-political maneuvering and expansion of their political and economic footprint.

Could China's trade policy be as dangerous to India as its incursions on the border?

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

Experts believe that China deliberately uses trade as part of its geo-strategic arsenal.

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi touches down in China, the talk once again has been about the potential for a resolution to the fractious border dispute, which has festered for decades now. There has been a surprising push from a few sections suggesting that there is enough impetus to push for a settlement of the dispute. The government, however, has downplayed any chances of progress on the border front, saying instead that it wants to focus on economic issues.

But could the trade battle between the two countries actually be as dangerous as the border concerns?

Trading places

India’s total trade with China was around $65 billion in 2013-'14. Of that, only $14 billion were Indian exports heading into China, leaving India with a trade deficit of $36 billion. If oil imports are included, Chinese imports are responsible for nearly half of India’s overall trade deficit. This is a great many Indian eggs in one Chinese basket.

Watch Out, America: China Launches New Submarine 'Killer'

Zachary Keck
May 13, 2015 

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy commissioned its latest anti-submarine ship, according to local media outlets.

As IHS Jane’s and others reported, citing Chinese state-media outlets, the PLAN officially commissioned its latest Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette last week. TheHuangshi was inducted into service by the PLAN Northern Fleet, the reports said.

Type 056 vessels are 60 meters long and displace 1,500 tons. They “carry one 76 mm main gun, two triple-tube torpedo launchers, and four containerised YJ-83 anti-ship missiles,” IHS Jane’s reported. The report went on to note that theHuangshi’s flight deck enables it to operate a Z-9C helicopter, although the vessel lacks a hanger and therefore its ability to operate helicopters is limited.

Although the Huangshi is the twentieth Type 056 Jiangdao-class corvette that China has commissioned, it is just the fourth of the class to be fitted with towed array and variable depth sonars. This makes it likely that the ship’s primary purpose will be to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

How Would the US Challenge China in the South China Sea?

By Prashanth Parameswaran
May 14, 2015

Yesterday, media reports surfaced about how the U.S. military was mulling using aircraft and Navy ships to directly contest Chinese territorial claims to rapidly expanding artificial islands. In an earlier piece, I considered this proposal as part of the larger case for a more robust U.S. approach in the South China Sea. But what is the logic behind this specific proposal, how would it work in practice, and what would its implications be?

The essence of this proposal is to physically challenge the legality of China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea. Many have worried that Beijing may try to suggest that its reclaimed features built on low-tide elevations are islands or rocks, since that would then allow them to generate maritime claims (a territorial sea of 12 miles, along with an exclusive economic zone and a continental shelf for an island, and a territorial sea of 12 miles for a rock).

Yet in fact, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) makes it clear that such features would not be able to generate any maritime claims. Low-tide elevations are not capable of generating claims themselves per se, with the idea being that they are distinct from islands because they are inundated at high tide. Neither do “artificial islands”. According to Article 60(8) of UNCLOS, “Artificial islands, installations, and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone, or the continental shelf.”

In China, India and Pakistan Make PR Pushes

By Mu Chunshan
May 14, 2015

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon embark on his first visit to China since taking office. Not long before, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to Pakistan. Within one month, China’s top leader will meet with his counterparts from India and Pakistan – two neighbors and long-time rivals.

Before his visit to China, Modi opened an account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service, in order to directly communicate with China’s people. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, meanwhile, published an open letter describing his warm feelings for China. It seems India and Pakistan are in a public relations battle in China.

On May 4, ten days before Modi’s trip to China, the Indian embassy in China announced that Modi had opened a Chinese-language Weibo account. His first tweet began: “Ni hao Zhongguo! (Hello China!)”

Because Modi is relatively well-known in China, his Weibo account quickly became fairly popular, attracting 30,000 followers in one day. And Modi (or, more likely, cultural attaches at the Indian Embassy) seemed quite willing to post, putting up eight posts dealing with political, economic, and cultural issues in a few days. Chinese netizens also enjoyed leaving comments (with over 12,000 on Modi’s very first post alone).

New Study on Chinese Military Activities in the South China Sea

May 12, 2015

The Project 2049 Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our latest Occasional paper, “Chinese Activities in the South China Sea: Implications for the American Pivot to Asia.” In this comprehensive study, Project 2049 Research Intern Kelsey Broderick examines Chinese maneuvering in the South China Sea:

“China has put itself in a clear position of power in the South China Sea. Not only is China growing its maritime forces at a rapid pace, but it is also steadily building facilities that will support an even greater and stronger force. Because UNCLOS and the DOC have no enforcement mechanism, China is able to claim and develop contested territory with impunity, including parts of the ocean itself that fall within the nine-dashed line. And lastly, China has been able to take advantage of its economic power to ensure that ASEAN and the other Southeast Asian countries not involved in the dispute will not push back against China’s growing power and presence, and in particular, its tactic of encirclement. If China’s land reclamation efforts continue unchallenged, China can slowly take control of disputed territory in the South China Sea until it controls the sea in its entirety (a tactic referred to as "salami slicing”).“

This study analyzes the background of the South China Sea dispute and the extent to which the American pivot or rebalance has influenced China’s actions in the Sea. Following an assessment of the legal definitions found in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a look at China’s military developments, Ms. Broderick concludes with a brief discussion on how the rebalance has failed to prevent China from unilaterally changing the status quo and looks at ways the rebalance can become more effective in the future.

We hope you enjoy reading this publication, and would warmly welcome your comments and suggestions. 

As Russia-China Alignment Grows, Shared Vulnerabilities Emerge

By Richard Weitz, May 12, 2015

One of the most noteworthy aspects of the May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Moscow marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany is how much Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized their two countries’ historical and other ties. Although Russian and Chinese officials no longer profess ideological solidarity based on a shared Marxist-Leninist ideology, their statements have displayed a remarkable harmony of ideas and expression. In practice, their political systems also more closely resemble each other, exposing shared vulnerabilities.

Chinese presidents had attended Victory Day parades in 2005 and 2010, but this was the first time that members of China’s military honor guard participated in the procession. Xi’s presence was even more visible due to the fact that almost all Western leaders boycotted the ceremony this year to protest Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine’s civil war. In the absence of a major Western leadership presence, Chinese and Russian leaders and media embraced a narrative of the two countries’ wartime partnership in Asia. In an article published in the government-run Russian Gazette, Xi praised what he described as Russian-Chinese military cooperation in “the Anti-Fascist War” against Germany and Japan. While he was in Moscow, Xi also bestowed medals on Soviet veterans of the war against Japan.

The Question That Is Never Asked: What Do the Taiwanese Want?

By J. Michael Cole
May 13, 2015

Disclosure: The author is an employee of the Thinking Taiwan Foundation, a think tank launched by Tsai Ing-wen in 2012. The views expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the institutions with which he is affiliated.

With about eight months left before the presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan, in which the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is widely regarded as the favorite, political watchers are once again, after an eight-year interregnum, forecasting possible trouble in the Taiwan Strait. Fearing a return to old tensions, some analysts have been proposing creative ways to resolve the “Taiwan question” once and for all, and by so doing prevent the island-nation from dragging the U.S. into a catastrophic conflict with China. Call it appeasement or a “grand bargain,” the theory is that Taiwan is neither defensible nor worth defending, and that longstanding security guarantees should therefore be retracted and Taiwan left to fend for itself.

The Challenge of Balancing China

An international consensus is forming about Chinese assertiveness in its relations with Asian neighbors. Whether the frequency of its gray zone coercion or the intensity of the land reclamation activities that theAsia Maritime Transparency Initiative documents so well, China is making it increasingly difficult to deny a revisionist thread in its foreign policy. Despite a growing acknowledgement around the region and in Washington that China is engaging in a clear pattern of creeping aggression, there are many barriers to states effectively balancing against China. This is a potential danger in its own right.

At the recent Asan Plenum held in Seoul—the “Davos of Korea”—Chinese friends put on display a diplomatic assertiveness commensurate with their assertiveness in disputed territories in the East and South China Seas. The Chinese reiterated the hollow claim that a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense battery in South Korea would pose a threat to China, cautioning the South Koreans against allowing its deployment. They repeated Xi Jinping’s call to end “Cold War era alliances,” and advocated the return to a multipolar Asia. And in one of my panels, they suggested that the U.S.-South Korea alliance should effectively be null and void except for the narrow purpose of defending against North Korea. That’s right, one state telling other states the type and nature of relationships that others should be allowed to have—if that’s not a sign of revisionism then I’m not sure what is, short of a Hitler-esque invasion of another country. Unfortunately, as many China watchers are all too aware, none of the rhetoric on display at the Asan Plenum was particularly new.

A Naval Base on the Horn of Africa for China?

By Ankit Panda
May 13, 2015

According to Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, “discussions are ongoing” with China for a potential military base off the coast of the small African country, located on the strategically important Horn of Africa, along the heavily trafficked Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. The naval base will likely be set up in the port city of Obock, along the northern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura.

According to Agence-France Presse, Guelleh added that China’s presence in the country would be “welcome.” If the negotiations are successful, Djibouti would become host to China’s first overseas military base. Per a February 2014 bilateral agreement, Djibouti gave the Chinese navy permission to use its naval facilities.

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, was reluctant to discuss the topic in detail, when questioned on Guelleh’s comments by a report:

We have noted the relevant report. China and Djibouti enjoy traditional friendship. Friendly cooperation between the two sides has achieved constant growth over recent years, with practical cooperation carried out in various fields. What needs to be pointed out is that regional peace and stability serves the interests of all countries and meets the aspirations shared by China, Djibouti and other countries around the world. The Chinese side is ready and obliged to make more contributions to that end.

China and South Korea's Lagging Military Ties

By Shannon Tiezzi
May 13, 2015

Despite close economic and even political ties, China-South Korea military relations are underdeveloped. 

South Korea’s army chief of staff, Kim Yo-hwan, is in Beijing this week for visits with Chinese military leaders. On Tuesday, he met with Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan. According to a brief report from Xinhua, Chang “lauded the rapid growth of China-ROK ties,” including the “sound military-to-military relations” between the two countries. Kim, meanwhile, advocated for more military exchanges and defense cooperation between Beijing and Seoul.

There’s been much discussion of the growth of Sino-Korean ties under Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye (who both came to power in early 2013). However, the general wisdom holds that South Korea and China are growing closer mostly on the economic front, while Seoul depends on its ally, the United States, for backing on security issues. This dynamic has placed South Korea in an awkward position when it comes to security issues — most notably the deployment of the missile defense system THAAD on the Korean peninsula, something Washington is eager to see and Beijing is just as eager to avoid.

No-Show at Camp David: What the Saudi King's Snub Really Means

David Andrew Weinberg
May 13, 2015 

“I’ll see you next week.” According to a senior U.S. official, that’s what Saudi Arabia’s King Salman said to Secretary of State Kerry last Thursday when Kerry visited him in Riyadh. The following day, the Saudi foreign minister apparently confirmed to Kerry that the king would indeed be coming to Washington and Maryland this week, leading the White House to announce his intention to attend. So when King Salman’s government announced on Sunday that he would, in fact, be staying home, many accurately read the news as a rebuke of U.S. diplomacy.

Make no mistake; the king’s decision should be read as a snub. Akin to the late King Abdullah’s decision to forgo Saudi Arabia’s speech at the UN General Assembly in 2013, as well as a seat on the Security Council, this is a public display of dissatisfaction. Despite claims to the contrary by both the American and Saudi governments, a Western diplomat serving in the region toldReuters, “Of course it is a snub.”

General Stanley McChrystal: ISIS is 'brilliant' as an organization

MAY 13, 2015

In his new book "Team of Teams," retired US Army General Stanley McChrystal and his co-authors lay out how to navigate through decisions when facing dynamic foes in uncertain environments.

The book draws from his experiences leading the Joint Special Operations Task Force in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq in the 2000s. 

Today, the US Military faces a perhaps even more unpredictable enemy in the form of ISIS, the terrorist group that reportedly recruits 1,000 foreigners a month.

In an interview with Business Insider, McChrystal discusses what makes ISIS unique, what it has in common other groups, and what the US can do about it. 

This interview has been lightly edited. 

Business Insider: How is ISIS different than the paramilitary groups that have come before it?

Benjamin Netanyahu's Surprising Staying Power

Aaron David Miller
May 14, 2015 

Rarely have so many Israelis, Americans, Arabs, Europeans, and just about everyone else on the planet been more annoyed, exasperated, and angry with an Israeli Prime Minister. His utter self confident image on one hand and his preternatural risk aversion on the other, leads many to conclude that he’s an empty suit, all talk, without any serious strategy to free Israel from the threats and challenges that surround it. And if there is action, it’s all pointed in the wrong direction (see settlements; intrusion into U.S. politics; Palestinian statehood, etc).

The problem is that among analysts, experts, and diplomats, there’s been a long history of underestimating Netanyahu. I remember betting my colleague Dennis Ross in the summer of 1996, shortly before Netanyahu defeated Shimon Peres, that there was no way Bibi would ever become prime minister. Madeline Albright described him as an American Newt Gingrich and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. Another diplomat compared Netanyahu’s style of governance to a drunk without direction careening from lamp post to lamp post on a dark street. And then of course there was the now famous Clinton eruption after meeting the prime minister for the first time in 1996: “Who’s the fucking superpower,” the frustrated president exclaimed to an aide.

Gamechanger: North Korea's Submarine Launched Missile Test

Bruce Klingner
May 13, 2015 

Will North Korea's recent test serve as a catalyst to help the United States and its allies focus on present day security threats rather than past differences?

On May 8, North Korea successfully conducted its first underwater ejection test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Analysts had predictedit would be several years before that would happen. Small wonder North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was jubilant. He declared the development a “time bomb attached to the backs of our enemies when the SLBMs enter a mass-production phase and are deployed in battle.”

The test was conducted on North Korea’s east coast from the launch tube of a new, 3,000 ton submarine deployed last year. Demonstrating the ability to launch a missile from underwater and have it ignite after clearing the surface is a critical stage in developing an SLBM.

The 5 Biggest Lessons from the Napoleonic Wars

Akhilesh Pillalamarri
May 14, 2015 

This year marks the bicentennial of the end of the Napoleonic Wars, after Napoleon, one of history’s greatest generals and tacticians (but only an okay grand strategist) was defeated at Waterloo on June 18, 1815, marking the end of almost two decades of continuous warfare. The Napoleonic Wars still contain many valuable military, political, and diplomatic lessons for us today because they spanned so many types of personal, political, and military situations. Here are five lessons from the Napoleonic Wars:

Never underestimate British finance.

Napoleon—and Hitler—are famously known to have met with the reversal of their fortunes through invading Russia. Yet, in both cases, the wealth and resources of the British played a major role in their downfall. Despite Britain’s comparatively small population and territorial base, it alone among European countries was able to fight Napoleon nonstop (except for the short Peace of Amiens from 1802-1803, Britain was at war with France from 1793-1815 while other states alternated between war, peace, and alliance with France).

U.S. Navy 'Fires' Back: A New Strategy to Take on Deadly Challenges

Robert A. Newson
May 13, 2015 

Naval strategy is in the news: Cooperative Strategy 21 (CS-21R) was released in April; the surface warfare community is discussing its supporting strategy, ‘Distributed Lethality;’ the Secretary of the Navy released his Navy’s Innovation Vision and the HASC Subcommittee on Seapower and Force Projection has been active with hearings and testimony from strategists.

It is clear the U.S. Navy has identified serious threats to its post-Cold War operating concepts and is altering its strategies and capabilities to adjust to adaptable future adversaries. This adjustment might be summarized in three imperatives: (1) spread out and increase the adversary’s risk, (2) embrace scalability, and (3) clarify difficult tradeoffs with strategic intent.

Spread Out and Increase the Adversary’s Risk. One of the key additions within CS-21R is the concern of anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) strategies, pursued by China, Iran, and North Korea, and others. In response, CS-21R adds an additional essential naval function, “all domain access.”

William Zinsser’s 5 tips for becoming a better writer

By Mallary Jean Tenore

He’s finding ways to remain relevant as a writer in a digital world because, as he says, he “doesn’t want to get stuck in the 20th century.” About a year ago, he decided to set up a personal website and start a weekly blog for the American Scholar. He still teaches at The New School and Columbia University‘s graduate school of journalism and spends much of his free time reading and writing in his New York City apartment.

In a recent phone interview, Zinsser talked with me about the craft and shared these five tips for journalists who want to grow as writers.

Learn to take readers on a journey

Some of Zinsser’s favorite journalists are The New Yorker’s Mark Singer, Lawrence Wright and Jane Mayer, who he taught years ago at Yale University. He’s drawn to their work, he said, because they approach writing as an act of discovery.

“All writing to me is a journey. It’s saying to the reader, ‘Come along with me; I’ll take you on a voyage,’ ” Zinsser said. “These writers do that by never losing sight of the fact that they are telling a story.”

Too often, Zinsser said, people become so preoccupied with writing well that they clutter their stories with unnecessary words that lead readers astray. Good writers make every word count, and they avoid abstractions.

The Secret Corporate Takeover

Joseph E. Stiglitz

NEW YORK – The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called “free-trade agreements”; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as “partnerships,”as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America’s “partners” are becoming increasingly resistant.

It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

Perhaps the most invidious – and most dishonest – part of such agreements concerns investor protection. Of course, investors have to be protected against the risk that rogue governments will seize their property. But that is not what these provisions are about. There have been very few expropriations in recent decades, and investors who want to protect themselves can buy insurance from the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, a World Bank affiliate (the US and other governments provide similar insurance). Nonetheless, the US is demanding such provisions in the TPP, even though many of its “partners” have property protections and judicial systems that are as good as its own.

Get Ready: China Eyes Strategic African Naval Base

Zachary Keck
May 12, 2015 

China may build a permanent naval base in a strategic African port.

On Sunday, Ismail Omar Guelleh, the president of Djibouti, told AFP that “discussions are ongoing” over Chinai building a military base in his country, adding that Beijing’s presence would be “welcome.” The country also hosts American, French and Japanese military installations.

“France's presence is old, and the Americans found that the position of Djibouti could help in the fight against terrorism in the region," Guelleh said during the interview.

“The Japanese want to protect themselves from piracy — and now the Chinese also want to protect their interests, and they are welcome," he added. The report went on to say that China would likely establish the base at Obock, Djibouti's northern port city.

When asked about the report, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying refused to deny its veracity, and in fact stopped just short of confirming it.

“We have noted the relevant report,” Hua said, before adding:

Drilling for Oil in the Arctic: An Environmental and Climate Nightmare?

Michael Levi
May 13, 2015 

On Monday, the Obama administration gave Shell conditional permission to move forward with Arctic oil drilling. The New York Times captures a common sentiment well in identifying this as a “tricky intersection of Obama’s energy and climate legacies”. The reality, though, is that this intersection isn’t nearly a fraught as many assume: decisions about offshore drilling in Alaska are indeed difficult, given the local economic and environmental stakes involved, but climate isn’t a central factor.

I’m ambivalent when it comes to federal decisions on offshore Arctic drilling. The Arctic is a special place. I saw that first hand when I visited with the Coast Guard in 2008 – a trip on which I also learned how challenging oil spill response there can be. (I also learned that a buoy tender isn’t the ideal place to spend your first night ever at sea.) Opposing offshore Arctic oil development is a reasonable position. At the same time, with the right precautions, spill risks can be substantially reduced, though inevitably not eliminated. And there’s a federalism issue (perhaps not in the legal sense but in a more basic one): it’s easy to be strident in taking positions from Washington, DC, but this is a much more intimate economic and environmental issue for Alaskans – so presumably their preferences should have some special say.


Ben FitzGerald and Katrina Timlin
May 14, 2015

The Department of Defense’s pivot to Asia has been well documented and debated, but the department is also pursuing a less discussed pivot toward commercial technology. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent visit to Silicon Valleyhighlights this growing anxiety throughout the defense community — that the commercial sector is the locus of cutting edge technology with military importance, but the department is poorly positioned to capitalize on this development. Carter’s trip demonstrates high-level interest in commercial technology within the Pentagon, as senior leaders like Carter, Deputy Secretary Bob Work and acquisitions chief Frank Kendall continue to push the organization to adapt. Big questions remain for this pivot, most notably whether or not the department will be able to undertake the necessary reforms to access the commercial technology it desires. But these are only the first order questions. Even if the department’s leadership succeeds in its pivot to commercial technology, how will the U.S. military maintain its unique warfighting advantages when using widely available technology?