3 June 2015

World's Most Important Spaceport Turns 60

June 02, 2015

Baikonur Cosmodrome has been launching rockets into space since the 1950s. 

The Baikonur Cosmodrome, which sits on the Kazakh steppe, costs Russia $115 million each year to lease. Built by the Soviets, and inherited by virtue of geography by Kazakhstan, Baikonur is one of the most important space launch facilities in the world. This week, it celebrates its 60th anniversary.

Although the decree establishing the cosmodrome was issued by the Soviet government in February 1955, the still-operating facility marks June 2 as its official anniversary. The complex was originally used as a test site for the R-7, the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Although the R-7 never saw operational use, a modification of the missile was used as the launch vehicle that delivered Sputnik, the first artificial satellite and the starting flare in the Cold War space race, into orbit in 1957.

Narendra Modi to Become First Indian PM to Visit Israel

June 02, 2015

Narendra Modi will become the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to become the first prime minister of India to visit Israel. He will travel there later this year and will discuss strategic and economic cooperation with the Israeli leadership.

The specific date of Modi’s visit remains uncertain, but, according to statements by India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, the visit will come at some time after July, after preliminary high-level bilateral diplomatic talks with the Israeli government. Swaraj served as the head of the Indo-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group from 2006 to 2009, and has long seen Israel as a “reliable partner” for India. Ahead of Modi’s visit, Swaraj will visit Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.

Modi has had somewhat of a storied personal political history with Israel, even before he became prime minister. He visited Israel as the chief minister of Gujarat, back in 2006. Back then, Modi had promised to return should he become the country’s prime minister. In 2015 — nine years later — he’s keeping that promise.

A Long Overdue Foreign Policy Course Correction by Delhi

Narendra Modi’s visit to Bangladesh should mark a turning point in Indian attention toward Bangladesh. 
As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to Bangladesh this week, there are signs of an important course correction in Delhi-Dhaka ties. For years now India’s relations with Bangladesh have been suffering as New Delhi failed to capitalize on the propitious political circumstances in Bangladesh in recent years with the coming to power of Sheikh Hasina of the Bangladesh Awami League, who has taken great political risks to restore momentum in bilateral ties since 2008.

Bureaucratic inertia and lack of political will on India’s part have prevented serious progress on outstanding bilateral issues. Bangladesh has been seeking an expeditious Indian response to its demand for the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on Bangladeshi products. There has also been little movement on the Land Boundary agreement and on a water-sharing agreement for the Teesta river, which is crucial to agricultural production in north-western Bangladesh. India failed to meaningfully reciprocate Hasina’s overtures. Meanwhile, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been using the India-Bangladesh cordiality under Hasina to criticize the government for perceived subservience to India. India-Bangladesh ties had reached their lowest ebb during the 2001–06 tenure of the BNP Government.

Delhi plans carnival on Pakistan war - Focus on 1965 conflict and outcome

Sujan Dutta 


New Delhi, June 1: The Centre has ordered the armed forces to organise a "carnival" to mark 50 years of a war with Pakistan in 1965 and is also set to re-ignite a debate on whether India lost on the negotiating table what it won on the battlefield.

From September 1 to September 23 this year, on days coinciding with the duration of the war, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have been directed to organise tableaux, exhibitions, processions, public lectures and film shows. The venues would be in the heart of the national capital, on Rajpath, Janpath and around India Gate.

The events are set to trigger public discourse on the legacy of the Congress government of the time headed by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri with Yashwant Rao Chavan as defence minister.

The government's objectives need not entirely be confined to pumping up national pride. There could be a political goal too.

Shastri has been identified with the slogan Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan - sections that are now perceived to be miffed with the Modi government because of the delay over one rank, one pension, farm distress and the land acquisition legislation. The government is unlikely to complain if the war carnival gives it an opportunity to ingratiate itself with farmers and soldiers.

A major portion of the events planned during the "carnival" are discussions on the post-war negotiations in Tashkent. Shastri died during the meetings in Tashkent.

Naga Peace Process: Gone Off Track

Wasbir HussainExecutive Director, CDPS, Guwahati, and Visiting Fellow, IPCS 

That New Delhi’s Naga peace policy has flopped has become evident with the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) calling off the 14-year ceasefire on 27 March and immediately targeting security forces, killing eight soldiers of the Assam Rifles on 3 May. There have been two other recent attacks on the Assam Rifles in Nagaland, with one in the heart of capital Kohima, where an on-duty soldier was shot dead. Earlier, on March 26, four Assam Rifles troopers were injured as armed gunmen attacked the Company Operating Base and outpost in the outskirts of Kohima. The NSCN-K is suspected to have carried out these attacks.

These incidents have broken the rather long lull in Nagaland, Northeast India’s hottest insurgency theatre until the Government of India managed to strike a ceasefire deal with the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM) in 1997 and began peace talks. Within four years of the truce with the NSCN-IM, New Delhi succeeded in having a similar ceasefire agreement with the rival NSCN-K. But unlike the movement on the peace efforts with the NSCN-IM, the NSCN-K was not invited for formal negotiations, making the Myanmar-headquartered outfit led by SS Khaplang restive.

New Taliban Offensive Is First Test for New Afghan-Pakistan Intelligence Sharing Agreement

Naila Inayat and Shirzad Ashoori
May 31, 2015

LAHORE, Pakistan — A landmark intelligence-sharing pact between traditional rivals Afghanistan and Pakistan is facing a quick and severe test as the Taliban step up their traditional spring offensive and score some early military successes in Afghanistan’s north.

The Taliban strikes in Kabul and elsewhere have some saying Pakistan’s have repeatedly frustrated American military efforts.

Proponents hail the deal as a welcome shift from the traditional mistrust between leaders in Kabul and Islamabad, who have traded accusations of supporting terrorism in each other’s territories for years.

In Burma, Migrant Crisis Inspires Little Grief, But Plenty of Denial

MAY 28, 2015 

The Burmese government is facing increasing pressure from the international community to do something about the large numbers of desperate migrants fleeing its shores. Yet the pleas of diplomats and activists seem to be falling on deaf ears — for the simple reason that Burmese officials refuse to admit that there’s any problem in the first place.

This month, fishing boats carrying thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants approached the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, while others remained stranded in waters off Thailand. All three of those countries initially refused to accept any of the migrants, instead pushing their boats back out to sea. That provoked international criticism, and on May 20, Malaysia and Indonesia announced that they would accept migrants landing on their shores (at least temporarily). International concerns intensified after the discovery of mass graves at illicit camps in Thailand and Malaysia where some migrants appear to have been held by traffickers.

Taiwan Can't Save the South China Sea

Despite its best intentions, Taiwan cannot be a major player in solving the South China Sea dispute.
As the international community digests reports that China is placing weaponson artificial islands it is building in disputed areas of the South China Sea, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has launched a new peace plan for the region.

Speaking at a meeting of lawyers, analysts and scholars held in Taipei to discuss the role of international law in Asia-Pacific integration, Ma outlined his South China Sea Peace Initiative – a plan that aims to “peacefully resolve disputes in the South China Sea.”

Given Ma’s marginalization within Taiwan, and Taiwan’s marginalization among South China Sea claimants, this was a bold attempt to establish both his own and Taiwan’s relevance. However it has next to no chance of success.

Averting a Deepening U.S.-China Rift Over the South China Sea

The ongoing dispute threatens to drive U.S.-China relations permanently in a far more adversarial, zero-sum direction and destabilize the region.
The recently announced Chinese defense white paper focusing on China’s commitment to strengthen its growing naval power, along with bellicose remarks by Chinese and American officials regarding events in the South China Sea, have deepened tensions between Washington and Beijing and set the media and punditry world afire.

Reacting to continued Chinese land reclamation efforts on several reefs in the Spratly Islands, senior U.S. officials and military officers vow to “fight tonight” if needed to defend U.S. interests across the Indo-Pacific, while referring to Chinese claims across the South China Sea as “preposterous” and Chinese land activities there as designed to “militarize” the region and to build a “great wall of sand.” In response, Chinese officials and spokespersons warn the United States against provocative actions, insist that China will not back down and reiterate their determination to “safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

It’s Official: China, South Korea Sign Free Trade Agreement

June 02, 2015

Three years after negotiations started, China and South Korea officially signed a landmark new free trade agreement. 

Three years after negotiations began, China and South Korea have officially signed a free trade agreement. Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng and South Korean Trade Minister Yoon Sang-jick inked the document on Monday in Seoul, with President Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye sending along letters expressing their support for and commitment to the deal.

The agreement was finalized over six months ago, in November 2014. On the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Beijing,Xi and Park announced that negotiations had been completed on a deal expected to eventually eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between China and South Korea. Now that it’s been officially signed, the FTA is expected to enter into force later this year, once both legislatures have approved it.

Will China's Top Shangri-La Delegate Be the Next PLA Navy Chief?

June 01, 2015

Admiral Sun Jianguo, China’s representative at the annual security forum, may well become PLA Navy commander in 2017. 

Admiral Sun Jianguo, the head of the Chinese delegation to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is very likely to become China’s next navy commander in 2017. He would be the right person with right credentials at the right time.

First, he will be the most senior admiral in the PLA Navy after Admiral Wu Shengli, the current navy commander, retires. After the retirements of Admiral Tong Shiping (former deputy director of the General Political Department and secretary of the Central Military Commission Disciplinary Inspection Commission) in October 2012 and of Admiral Liu Xiaojiang (former political commissar of the PLA Navy) in December 2014, Admiral Sun and Admiral Wu are the only two officers left who can claim the PLAN’s highest rank. Born in August 1945, Wu will turn 70 in August 2015 and will have to retire in two years.

China's Cookie-Cutter Shangri-La Speech

June 02, 2015

The Chinese representative’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue is exactly what we expected. 

On May 31, China’s representative to the Shangri-La Dialogue delivered his speech, entitled “Jointly Safeguard Peace and Build A Secure Asia-Pacific Region.” Though highly anticipated, the speech by Admiral Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the PLA General Staff, did little to break new ground, instead repeating previous statements and comments about China’s peaceful intentions and the legality of its land reclamation and construction projects in the disputed South China Sea. [And in case you missed it, The Diplomat has an analysis of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s speech on our Asia Defense blog].

China's Military Dream

June 02, 2015

The newest element in military strategy in China’s most recent defense white paper is the emphasis on cyber power. 

The release on last Tuesday of China’s Military Strategy fleshes out for the first time the vision its leadership, newly installed only two and a half years ago, has for the development and use of the country’s military power.

Earlier glimpses were provided in the military sections of the 60-point reform manifesto of November 2013, the declaration in February last year that China would do everything necessary to become a cyber power, and the second-draft National Security Law released earlier this month.

The recent document is highly noteworthy on several levels.

Smiles and Waves: What Xi Jinping Took Away From Moscow

MAY 29, 2015

The photographs of Putin and Comrade Xi sitting together at the Victory Day parade on May 9, as well as photos of Chinese soldier marching through Red Square, are the main symbolic takeaways of the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow. These are winning images for both leaders, especially for Vladimir Putin. The presence of a true world leader at a parade that was boycotted by the U.S. and its allies is an important demonstration of the fact that Russia is not internationally isolated (with all due respect to other guests, they don’t quite rise to the level of world leaders). That’s why Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were assigned best seats at the event. That’s why during his speech, Putin mentioned China’s important role in the war as well as plans for a reciprocal visit to a parade in Beijing.

China’s coming crash?

May 24

Buildings in the new Yujiapu financial district in Tianjin, northern China, on May 14. 

It’s time to worry about China. 

On any list of calamities threatening the world economy, a China crash ranks at or near the top. Just what would constitute a “crash” is murky. Already, China’s sizzling rate of economic growth has declined from 10 percent annually — the average from the late 1970s until 2011 — to 7 percent, which is still high by historical standards. The question is whether the deceleration continues and growth goes much lower. 

Robert J. Samuelson writes a weekly column on economics. View Archive

Why America Needs Boots on the Ground in Iraq

June 2, 2015
Like it or not, it's necessary...
Although Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey recentlydownplayed the importance of Ramadi, the loss of the capital of al-Anbar province casts doubt on the effectiveness of the U.S.-led coalition strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Iraqi lawmaker Dhiaa al-Assadi called the fall of Ramadi “a major catastrophe.” Domestically, former Army Vice Chief of Staff General Jack Keane, one of the architects of the 2006 surge in Iraq, lamented that “we are in fact losing this war,” while House Speaker John Boehner argues that "the president's plan isn't working. It's time for him to come up with overarching strategy to defeat the ongoing terrorist threat." Even Iran’s Quds Force commander Major GeneralQassem Soleimani accused Obama of having “not done a damn thing so far to confront [ISIS].” The impact of the loss of Ramadi was magnified by the recent recapture of Tikrit by Iraqi security forces (ISF) that was touted as a major victory and a potential turning point in the war against ISIS.

A Deadly Mistake: Don't Underestimate ISIS in Cyberspace

The nature of ISIS’s online presence is intended to do three things. Firstly, and most importantly for the longevity of its existence, it’s intended as a mechanism to attract and recruit members to its ranks. Secondly it’s a means through which ISIS aims to strike fear into the hearts of all that come across its frequently gruesome propaganda. Both objectives are well documented, but a third dimension to the ISIS presence online is emerging: their attempts to use cyberspace for offensive purposes.

By “offensive” I don’t mean delivering cyber attacks that involve some kind of kinetic impact, but rather I refer to attempts to use the cyber domain to disrupt services, damage reputations and reveal sensitive data.

To Fight Terror, Japan Must Fix Its Intelligence Apparatus

June 01, 2015

New counter-terror measures are a start, but Japan needs a more holistic approach in its fight against terrorism. 
On May 29, the Japanese government decided on a number of measures that aim to enhance its counter-terrorism efforts. A special task force on counter-terrorism headed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshhide Suga laid out the wide-ranging efforts that Japanese government will undertake.

The hallmark of these efforts is the establishment of the International Terrorism Intelligence-Gathering Unit. This special unit, to be established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), will cooperate with foreign intelligence agencies and oversee the collection and analysis of terrorism-related intelligence. Although the unit will be placed in the MOFA, its staff will consist of detailed officials from the National Police Agency (NPA) and Cabinet Intelligence Research Office (CIRO). This special unit will also assign its own staff to be posted to Japanese embassies and consulates in the areas of focus.

The ISIS Twitter census: Defining and describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter

By: J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan 
March 2015

Although much ink has been spilled on ISIS’s activity on Twitter, very basic questions about the group’s social media strategy remain unanswered. In a new analysis paper, J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan answer fundamental questions about how many Twitter users support ISIS, who and where they are, and how they participate in its highly organized online activities.

Previous analyses of ISIS’s Twitter reach have relied on limited segments of the overall ISIS social network. The small, cellular nature of that network—and the focus on particular subsets within the network such as foreign fighters—may create misleading conclusions. This information vacuum extends to discussions of how the West should respond to the group’s online campaigns.

Berger and Morgan present a demographic snapshot of ISIS supporters on Twitter by analyzing a sample of 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts. Using a sophisticated and innovative methodology, the authors map the locations, preferred languages, and the number and type of followers of these accounts.

IS conflict: Petraeus urges Iraq to use politics to win

By Jonathan Marcus
1 June 2015 

Ex-CIA Director David Petraeus has told the BBC that Islamic State militants can only be defeated through a dual military and political approach.
"Industrial-strength" extremists cannot be dealt with "just with force of arms", he said in a rare interview.

During the Iraq war, Mr Petraeus devised the strategy that saw a "surge" in US troop numbers and secured support from Sunni tribesmen against al-Qaeda.

It’s Time to Send in the Troops to Kick ISIS’s Ass


I don’t want to sound like a neocon, and troops aren’t the only answer. But enough’s enough. People need help that only we can provide. 

ISIS is truly winning. It’s that simple. And unless we change our approach, it will continue to take more land, grow in recruits, and slaughter more people, especially Muslims, on a daily basis. 

That’s not just my sentiment, but also the view of Laith Alkhouri, a NBC News counterterrorism expert and director of research and analysis for the Middle East at Flashpoint. As Alkhouri noted on my SiriusXM radio show this past Saturday, if you think ISIS is just a run-of-the-mill terrorist group that can be lumped in with al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, etc., then you have no idea what’s going on. 

“ISIS is not a terrorist group; it’s a terrorist army that is building a nation,” Alkhouri explained, adding, “They have intelligence units, surveillance drones, a secret service, and they even provide social services.” 

Carter: US to 'Fine Tune' Iraq Strategy in Light of Ramadi Debacle

by Lolita C. Baldor
May 30, 2015

SINGAPORE — U.S. military leaders are searching for ways to bolster the Iraqi forces following the Islamic State group's takeover of Ramadi earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday, highlighting the importance of training and equipping the Sunni tribal militias. It's an effort that has repeatedly failed to take hold amid sectarian tensions in Iraq.

Days after making the startlingly frank assessment that the Iraqi forces lack "the will to fight," Carter told reporters en route to Singapore with him that he called a special meeting of top military advisers and asked them to come up with options. President Barack Obama earlier this week said the U.S. and its allies must re-examine the effectiveness of US military aid in Iraq.

"One particular way that's extremely important is to involve the Sunni tribes in the fight — that means training and equipping them," Carter said. "Those are the kinds of things the team back home is looking at."

Barack Obama's Sluggish Economy

"The Obama recovery is unusually lethargic."

The U.S. economy shrank by 0.7 percent last quarter, according to Friday’s revised estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The contraction may be a temporary aberration, as it was last year. Or, it might signal the onset of a more troubling slowdown. But one thing is for sure: the Obama recovery is unusually lethargic.

Since 1960, this nation has experienced six other recessions and subsequent recoveries. At twenty-three quarters in, the current recovery has been the weakest of all seven. The other post-1960 recoveries at this point had produced average cumulative growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of just over 25 percent. The current recovery has achieved barely half that—13.29 percent. The difference in GDP growth amounts to nearly $1.9 trillion in constant 2009 dollars.

Iran’s Most Important Oil Salesman

Could this man steer Iran's oil back to the global market?

As the June 30 deadline for a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 approaches, the world is eagerly following the fortunes of political moderate figures in Tehran. Can the Cabinet of President Hassan Rouhani overcome any last-minute roadblocks put up by hardliners in either Tehran or in Washington? One member of Rouhani’s cabinet, Minister of Petroleum Bijan NamdarZangeneh, is arguably more vested than anyone else in hoping for a positive result from the talks.

The political baggage

Rebalancing Asia: Assessing US and EU Strategies

By Mercy A. Kuo and Angelica O. Tang
June 01, 2015

Insights from Steve Tsang, Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham. 
The Rebalance authors Mercy Kuo and Angie Tang regularly engage subject-matter experts, policy practitioners and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into the U.S. rebalance to Asia. This conversation with Dr. Steve Tsang – Head of School and Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Faculty of Social Science, and former director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham – is the fifth in “The Rebalance Insight Series.”

How would you assess the U.S. rebalance to Asia thus far, and how might the next U.S. president optimize the rebalance’s impact?

Water: A Global Crisis

By Peter Brabeck-Letmathe and Asit K. Biswas
June 01, 2015

The world water crisis is both severe and entirely avoidable. 

With the approach of World Environment Day, on June 5, it is worthwhile to reflect on a major crisis that is now confronting the world but receiving inadequate attention. If current trends continue, the world will face a water crisis that will be unprecedented in human history.

During the past decade, there has been extensive discussion on the adequacy of physical availability of water to meet escalating needs for various uses for an expanding global population and accelerating economic activities. However, inadequate attention has been paid to the rapid deterioration of water quality, which is further reducing a significant stock of water that can no longer be used without expensive and sophisticated treatment.

Australia's Medieval Turn

June 02, 2015

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton.

Outlaws and propaganda of the faith as tools of strategy. Is a new dark age descending on Australia? 
There is room to ask whether Australian national security policy has taken a medieval turn. There have been more than a few manifestations: draconian laws on freedom of speech and widespread surveillance; entrenched disbelief in science and lack of investment in it; an anti-terrorism policy premised on mantras about the ‘death cult’ and crude references to Islam; mandatory detention of asylum seekers; uncritical repetition of doctrines of strategic faith from the spiritual capital (Washington DC); vengeful attacks on critics; and now the plan to create “civil outlaws” of Australian citizens (allegedly) fighting for the death cult.

US Launches New Maritime Security Initiative at Shangri-La Dialogue 2015

June 02, 2015

The Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter take a "selfie" during a reception prior the opening dinner of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

This weekend, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter delivered an address at the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia’s premier security summit held annually in Singapore.

In his speech, Carter articulated the U.S. vision for a stronger regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific to address shared challenges comprising five elements: reaffirming long-standing rules and norms; strengthening regional institutions; modernizing alliances and partnerships; enhancing capacity-building; and improving connectivity. The address built on recent remarks by Carter and other U.S. defense officials on ‘the next phase’ of the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific (See: “TPP as Important As Another Aircraft Carrier: Defense Secretary”).

Is America’s Mind-set the Greatest Threat to Its Future?

June 1, 2015 

Overreacting to every perceived threat could make America's decline a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

After the Cold War, and particularly in the early part of the this century, the United States came to overestimate the extent to which its power—military power, especially—could produce strategic outcomes in its national interest. The pendulum has swung considerably in the intervening years. Respected commentators see a world in flames and fear that the United States is incapable of extinguishing them, let alone rejuvenating the liberal world order over which it has presided for the past seven decades. Perhaps the most notable aspect of those assessments is that they transcend partisan lines: consider the warnings of liberal thinkers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski andGeorge Packer; those of their conservative counterparts, including Robert Kagan and Bret Stephens; and, finally, those of more centrist observers, including Richard Haass and Mathew Burrows.

The Silence of the Bear: Deciphering Russia’s Showing at Shangri-La Dialogue

JUNE 1, 2015

Triumphant summits between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping may end with propaganda fanfare and dozens of signed documents, but multilateral meetings are where one can really measure the progress of Russia’s “pivot to Asia.” Moscow’s showing at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue hosted by IISS and the government of Singapore, the prime platform of formal and informal exchanges between the region’s top security policy-makers, is an indicative example. The quantity of Russian participants and the quality of the official presentations speak volumes about Moscow’s ability to navigate a complex security environment in a region, which the Kremlin wants to see as a new driver of economic growth to replace the hostile West.

Last year, Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov, leading a very small Russian delegation, was given a speaking slot at one of the prestigious plenary sessions. In his speech, Mr. Antonov named “the rise of fascism in Ukraine” and West-supported “color revolutions” among major threats for Asia-Pacific security. The words “South China Sea” were not mentioned. This performance received mixed reviews from Asian participants, to put it mildly.

Not Against Russia: Why the Eastern Partnership Makes Increasingly Less Sense

JUNE 1, 2015

The Riga Eastern Partnership summit is a hapless event whose only point is to divide the post-Communist Europe into Russia and “not-Russia.” On the other hand, what could be more timely than that? That’s exactly what many Eastern partners want. They’d like to split away and fence themselves off from Russia, and can cite every reason and excuse for doing so—from Abkhazia, recognized by Russia and Nauru alone, to the recently-abandoned project of Novorossiya. But as it turns out, even the weightiest of arguments—those in the 45 to 60mm caliber range—aren’t enough for these very different countries to create a genuinely united front. European diplomats have told journalists about all the difficulties they had getting even the most general documents signed at these summits: Belarus and Armenia refused to sign a joint statement that would contain the words “annexation of Crimea,” leaving it to the linguists to find a synonymous phrase. Azerbaijan didn’t show up at all: why, with all the oil riches it has, run around trying to join some partnership when its successful neighbor Turkey doesn’t even want to join the EU anymore. All of this somewhat resembles the fate of GUAM, an organization of the former Soviet republics founded with much fanfare in 2005, but which last assembled in 2008.

Gaza: Killing Gets Easier

In early May, Breaking the Silence, the organization of Israeli ex-soldiers that is by now well known for its meticulous independent accounts of IDF operations, published a report on the Israeli army’s campaign in Gaza last summer. The result of many months of recorded interviews with over sixty soldiers, including many lower- and middle-level officers, the report revealed that the large number of civilian casualties on the Palestinian side was a consequence, among other things, of military tactics and orders explicitly adopted by the IDF. 

Stop calling Russia weak

Sergey Aleksashenko 
May 28, 2015

Perhaps ironically, it became more popular to call Russia weak in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. President Obama said it, the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan supposedly said it, and European military experts said it, among others. In their Foreign Affairsarticle last month entitled “Paper Tiger Putin,” Brandon Valeriano and Ryan C. Maness flesh out this argument, opening with the assertion that: “Russian President Vladimir Putin is not as strong as he might seem.” Unfortunately, the contention that Putin is weak is wrong and dangerously underestimates his power.

Although the Russian economy has stagnated—currently accounting for only about 2 percent of world GDP, compared to almost 3.8 percent in 2008—Russia remains an essential supplier of oil and gas to Europe. And although Russia may appear militarily weak from Washington’s perspective, it is dominant in its region. I doubt that any Georgian or Ukrainian politician sees Russia’s invasions of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Crimea as indications of weakness. President Putin has instigated a bloody conflict in Eastern Ukraine that has destabilized political life in the country and slashed economic activity by 20 percent.

Higher education: Unanswered questions

Nilanjana Gupta
Jun 2 2015 

No Indian university features in global rankings of institutes. This often makes headlines but what is conveniently left unmentioned is how the Indian government invests far less than countries which have the best institutes
Market ability of youth 

Chill Out, America TV news, think-tank pundits, and politicians all want you to see threats around every corner. Don't fall for it.

MAY 29, 2015

These days, prominent experts and politicians seem determined to keep the American people in a perpetual state of trembling fear. Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations thinks “the question is not whether the world will continue to unravel but how fast and how far.” The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, told Congress last year that “[the world is] more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Someone really ought to tell the general about the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis, and a little episode known as World War II.) Not to be outdone, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger believes the United States “has not faced a more diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.” And then there’s CNN and Fox News, which seem to think that most news stories should be a variation on Fear Factor.

One could multiply alarming forecasts such as these almost endlessly. As investigative journalist David Sirota tweeted in response to a recent speech by New Jersey governor and erstwhile presidential aspirant Chris Christie, where FDR told Americans the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” today’s politicians and pundits mostly tell us to “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.”

Uzbek Activist Sentenced to 5 More Years for 'Violating Prison Rules'

June 02, 2015

Azam Farmonov has already served 9 years in jail for extortion charges, which human rights groups say were fabricated. 

After serving nine years in prison, Azam Farmonov, an Uzbek activist, was to be released at the end of April. Instead, his wife — Ozoda Yakubova — received a phone call on May 21 from a former detainee at the Nukus pretrial detention center who said Farmonov had been sentenced to an additional five years for disobeying prison rules. Farmonov was reportedly transferred back to the Jaslyk prison colony.

Farmonov’s father-in-law is Talib Yakubov, the vice president of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU). Yakubov now lives in exile in France. Farmonov had been chairman of the HRSU branch in Gulistan, Sirdarya Region. His focus was on the economic and social rights of farmers and the disabled. According to HRSU, before his arrest:

…Azam Farmonov had defended the rights of local farmers who had accused some district farming officials of extortion, corruption and failing to protect farmers’ interests. He alleged that after he started investigating the farmers’ allegations and confronted local officials with his findings, some of the farmers were pressured by local officials and police, including through physical intimidation, to withdraw their allegations against the officials and instead to accuse Azam Farmonov of exerting pressure on the farmers to implicate local officials in abuse of their positions.

Japan and the United States to Deepen Cybersecurity Cooperation

June 02, 2015

The growing threat of digital attacks moves Washington and Tokyo closer together in trying to secure cyberspace. 

Two days ago, the U.S.-Japan Cyber Defense Policy Working Group issued a joint statement pledging closer cooperation between the United States and Japan on cyber defense issues.

The working group, set up in October 2013, notes the “growing level of sophistication among malicious cyber actors, including non-state and state-sponsored actors, who are increasingly willing to demonstrate their intent and ability to do harm against information systems, critical infrastructure and services upon which our people, economies, governments, and defense forces rely.”

Israel to Hold Nationwide Civil Defense Exercise on Tuesday Including Simulating Massive Cyber Attack

May 31, 2015

Country-wide drill to prepare for massive three-front rocket attack

Israel will be briefly jolted back into last summer’s ordeal with rockets, sirens and army maneuvers beginning Sunday, as the military’s Home Front Command holds a yearly emergency drill simulating three enemies attacking the country at once.

Turning Point 15 will test the preparedness of the country to deal with a massive coordinated rocket attack on population centers across Israel, including damage to essential infrastructure, as well as a cyber attack that brings down the electrical and telephone grids.

It is expected to last five days.

On Tuesday, two rocket sirens will ring out in cities across the country — at 11:05 a.m. and 7:05 p.m. — and people will be asked to rush to bomb shelters in a test of their ability to seek cover in case of rocket attack.

3 forces shaping the university of the future

Jan 21 2015

Higher education is essential for a thriving society: it is the strongest, sturdiest ladder to increased socio-economic mobility and the locus, through research universities, of most of the major discoveries of the last two centuries.

At a time when access and affordability are more consequential than ever before, the world’s colleges and universities are facing a changed landscape. Three forces are creating possibilities and challenges that will define the future of one of humanity’s most enduring and most trusted institutions.

The influence of technology

Researchers and scholars are sharing their discoveries more quickly and more effectively thanks to the digital universe, and the possibility of reaching learners around the world through online education platforms will expand the reach of higher education as we move deeper into the 21st century.