13 July 2015

Greece and its ‘Eurogeddon’

July 13, 2015

APPeople protest during a pro Greece demonstration at the European Union office in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, July 3, 2015. A new opinion poll shows a dead heat in Greece's referendum campaign with just two days to go before Sunday's vote on whether Greeks should accept more austerity in return for bailout loans. The banner reads in Spanish: "No to the Troika, I support Greece"

Despite the European Commission’s pronouncement of a Grexit scenario having been in place, this seems unlikely. In all likelihood it will be the euro that will suffer more and possibly fall apart if Greece exits in one way or another

When Greece’s governing and also radical leftist party, Syriza, won the Greek elections on January 25, 2015, it formed a coalition with the 13-seat nationalist Anel Party the next day after falling two seats short of the 151 seats needed to form the government on its own. But ever since the formation of the government, the world has been watching the developments as it has been in negotiations with the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) —better known as the Troika.

The perils of parlay vooing: what Modi should watch out for in Central Asia

Talking in the host country's language shows you're keen to reach out. But you might end up reaching out a bit too much.

On the move in Central Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been testing his linguistic skills, tweeting and greeting in Uzbek and the Kazakh tongue. Some of his Indian audiences may not be impressed, but what of it? As he travels to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, we hope more languages will be added to the mix. Speaking in the language of the host country means you've done your homework, you're interested, you really do want to reach out.

Getting familiar

Of course, there have been times when host countries have been left feeling that the visiting dignitary reached out just a bit too much. American presidents have been particularly warm.

Why Middle Powers Matter to India

Middle powers hold the key – economically and geopolitically – to India’s growth and security.

By the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed his first year in power on May 26, he had spent an unprecedented 53 days outside India—or almost twice as many as Manmohan Singh’s 30 days overseas in his first year as prime minister in 2004-05.

Modi’s international engagements were a continuation of India’s foreign policy under the preceding Congress government. But he injected a new energy into the relationships with neighbors like Bhutan and Nepal, and major powers like China and the U.S.—which has been widely commented on. He also visited Japan and Australia, and is scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia later this year. However, his equally noteworthy engagement with these and other middle powers has been relatively unnoticed.

Political compatibility

Al-Qaeda, ISIS and India - The Emerging Threat

Jul 10, 11:59 am

New Delhi, July 10 (ANI): In the last decade or so, terrorism has evolved in unimaginable ways. There was a brief moment when everyone heaved a sigh of relief with the killing of Osama bin Laden. Most of the world thought Al-Qaeda was now history. It would be the end of global terrorism.

A little over five years after the dramatic killing of the Al-Qaeda chief, the group remains a potent threat to the world while a new far more vicious and brutal terrorist machine, the ISIS, now functions in most of the Middle East. At first ISIS, nurtured by the Saudis and Qatar, was thought to be a local Syria-Iraq territorial threat, meant to deal with the growing Iranian influence. Recent violent events have indicated that the ISIS has dramatically stepped up its campaign in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia challenging the Al-Qaeda in these regions.

India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Need for a Review

DEC 5, 2014

Reluctant Member of the Nuclear Club
Faced with the prospect of having to confront nuclear-armed China and Pakistan, with both of which it had fought wars over unresolved territorial disputes, India conducted a series of nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan, on May 11 and 13, 1998, and declared itself a state armed with nuclear weapons. Before crossing the nuclear Rubicon, India had sought but had been denied international guarantees that nuclear weapons would not be used against it. As India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the country did not violate any treaty obligations.

It is well accepted in India that nuclear weapons are political weapons and not weapons of warfighting and that their sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by India’s adversaries. This was reflected in a statement made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Parliament in May 1998: “India is now a nuclear weapon state.... We do not intend to use these weapons for aggression or for mounting threats against any country; these are weapons of self-defence, to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion.”

Indo-Pak Talks: The problem is with the Pakistani mindset

By Kanwal Sibal
10 Jul , 2015

Prime Minister Modi extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan immediately after his electoral triumph by inviting Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony and agreeing to hold foreign secretary level talks. This despite the experience of a sterile dialogue with Pakistan all these years and the mixed messages from Nawaz Sharif himself who, while expressing his desire to normalise relations with India, has been emphasising his intention to escalate the Kashmir issue politically .

Frequent cease-fire violations on the line of control have created a background of tension that erodes the seriousness of efforts to resume political level negotiations.

How Nawaz Sharif reconciles these two contradictory strategies is unclear. Pakistan cannot say that it wants to turn a page with India while determined to read from the same well-worn text on Kashmir dating back several decades. If Nawaz Sharif as a Muslim Leaguer cannot disregard his family and party links with jihadi groups and this compels him to agitate the Kashmir issue, then Sharif the businessman, with Pakistan’s economic interests in mind, cannot move very far with India. In dealing with Pakistan we are always caught half-cock between rude reality and wishful thinking and hence the inconsistencies of our policies towards that country.

1971 War: The First Missile Attack on Karachi

By Vice Adm (Retd) GM Hiranandani
11 Jul , 2015

Vice Admiral (later Admiral) Kohli, was the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command (FOCINCWEST). In his book “We Dared”, he states:

“After Pakistan proclaimed a National Emergency on 23 November, three missile boats were placed at Okha to carry out patrols. They gained very valuable experience of the area and the waters around and in the vicinity of Okha and also proved the facilities provided at the advance base there.

“As the Fleet would be operating not far from Karachi, a demarcating line was established which neither the ships of the Fleet nor the missile boats would cross. This would prevent any unfortunate incidents of own forces engaging each other.

The Pakistani authorities had warned all merchant ships bound for Karachi not to approach the harbour to within 75 miles between sunset and dawn.

“The Pakistani authorities had warned all merchant ships bound for Karachi not to approach the harbour to within 75 miles between sunset and dawn. This meant that any unit picked up on the radar within that distance was most likely to be a Pakistani naval vessel on patrol.

Assessing the Latest India-Pakistan Prime Ministers Meeting

The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met for the first time in 2015. What did their meeting accomplish?
As planned, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met in Ufa, Russia, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit where both India and Pakistan are currently observers and slated for accession over the next year. The meeting between the leaders of the two rival South Asian states is their first since late 2014, when they met on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Kathmandu, Nepal. In August 2014, relations between the two states declined precipitously after a brief period of rapprochement immediately after Modi was elected to office in India. India called off foreign secretary-level talks after Pakistan interfaced with Kashmir-based separatists, and in the months since, other issues, including Pakistan’s treatment of anti-India terrorists and an increase in incidents along the disputed Kashmir border, have kept the bilateral cold.

China's Master Plan to Thwart American Dominance in Asia

One of China’s overriding strategic goals is to thwart the U.S. rebalance of attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region. At the twin summits of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa forum (BRICS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Ufa, Russia, President Xi Jinping presented the outlines of the triple approach that Beijing will utilize.

The first is to backstop precipitous declines in Russian power. Chinese strategic analysts cannot help but be thrilled to have the leading members of the U.S. defense establishment proclaim that Russia is now the principal threat to the United States. Combined with announced cuts in the size of the U.S. Army, this portends well for thinning out any planned increase in the U.S. presence in the Pacific, because the focus now appears to be on a pivot back to Europe in order to shore up the precarious eastern frontiers of the Euro-Atlantic world. The lifeline that China has provided to the Russian economy—not only new contracts for energy and trade deals, but also the purchase of Russian bonds by Chinese financial institutions—has allowed the Putin administration to blunt the impact of Western sanctions and allowed Moscow to continue to maintain its position in Ukraine. China also benefits from a more anti-American Russia that is important for helping to secure China’s western territory by having Moscow guard Beijing’s backyard. Putin’s early flirtations with creating a strategic partnership with the West—including the post-9/11 offer of assistance to facilitate a U.S. military presence in Central Asia—were troubling to the Chinese, who have always feared the possibility of complete American encirclement. The Ukraine crisis has permanently ruptured Russia’s ties to the West and pulled Moscow into a closer relationship with Beijing.

Indonesia Is Building New Military Base in South China Sea

July 10, 2015

Indonesia is developing a plan to build a new military base in the South China Sea, according to local media reports.
On Friday, the Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian officials are preparing a plan to build a new military base somewhere in the South China Sea, which has seen an uptick in tensions over competing sovereignty claims. The report said Indonesia’s Defense Ministry and the The National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) held a meeting on Friday to discuss the potential locations for such a base.

“Our meeting today is aimed at synchronizing our ambition to guard the national interest and protect the sovereignty of our territory,” Bappenas chief Andrinof Chaniago was quoted as saying in the report.

“The findings from the team will be conveyed to President Jokowi [Joko Widodo], who will make his decision. We hope that in the near future, the plan will be realized,” he added.

A number of factors are driving Cambodia’s strategic convergence with China.

According to conventional wisdom, the international system leaves small states less room for maneuver. Cambodia is no exception. Since the kingdom won its independence from France in 1953, it had been preoccupied with protecting that independence, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity. During the Cold War, Cambodian foreign policymakers tried various approaches, from neutrality to alliances with major power(s) and, worst of all, isolationism. Yet Cambodia remained a victim of power politics, and ended up with a civil war and some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Early in the 21st century, China has emerged as a regional and global power. China’s power and influence can be felt in all corners of the globe, most evidently in continental Southeast Asia. In this context, the Cambodia-China bilateral relationship has experienced a remarkable transformation over the last decade or so. Although rooted in mistrust due to the involvement of China in Cambodia’s civil war and social strife, especially Beijing’s support for the Khmer Rouge regime, bilateral ties have noticeably consolidated and improved since 1997.

China in BRICS: A Threat to US Power?

July 11, 2015

China’s involvement in BRICS should be seen as a positive, not as a threat.
The BRICs nations convened in the Russian city of Ufa for the BRICS Summit this week to discuss cooperation on international and regional issues of common interest. The BRICS meeting was held in conjunction with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and represents the seventh formal meeting of the BRICS nations. The meetings discussed several issues of central importance to China. While China’s role in the BRICS alliance may be viewed as an attempt to build up its own power outside of U.S.-dominated institutions, we believe this perspective is simplistic.

The BRICS Summit included several outcomes, three in particular. First, China agreed to commit $41 billion to a BRICs currency reserve pool to provide liquidity to other BRICS nations in case of dollar liquidity constraints. Brazil, India and Russia will each contribute $18 billion while South Africa will chip in $5 billion. China’s vast foreign currency reserves will thus help to provide a currency pool for the BRICs nations as the dollar is expected to gain in value.

The Pacific Implications of China’s Proposed NGO Law

By Stephen Noakes and Victoria Brownlee
July 10, 2015
China’s new draft law for foreign NGOs could undermine engagement in the South Pacific.

If the aim of China’s strategy in the Pacific is to foster trust and deepen collaboration, Beijing’s proposal totoughen supervision of international development organizations could compromise its relationships with key regional partners.

Back in April, the National People’s Congress heard the second reading of the “Overseas NGO Management Law,” which NPC spokespeople identified as necessary for “safeguarding national security and maintaining social stability.” The draft law was back in the news last week, drawing criticism from a range of international human rights groups arguing that it amounted to a violation of free association and effectively shrunk the already too-small space for freedom of expression in mainland China.

Tibet's environment

In recent years, China's exploitation of Tibet's natural resources has gathered pace significantly.

Tibetans have no power to protect their own land and must watch the economic benefits of its resources flow out of their country.

Islamic State vs al-Qaeda: a rivalry that dates back to old personality clashes

Endless spats over tactics, style and aims drove Islamic State away from al-Qaeda – and the two are deadly enemies to this day.

Libya’s eastern city of Derna recently paid host to a heated battle between the Islamic State and the Mujahideen Shura Council, a group linked to al-Qaeda, whose fighters managed to drive IS out of the city altogether.

IS had taken over the city of Derna (once a jihadist stronghold against Muammar Gaddafi’s rule in the 1980s and 1990s), and implemented rules so extreme that many of its citizens rose up in an unarmed protest. After IS responded by firing on the citizens, clashes ensued between IS and the Mujahideen Shura Council, or DMSC, which forced IS to flee Derna and hide out in the Green Mountains.

In spite of this victory, the DMSC’s rise hardly ends the reign of repression. It too has an extremist agenda that mandates gender segregation, restrictions on women’s rights and the establishment of sharia courts.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Prodigal U.S. Client

July 10, 2015

In a blast from the past in Afghanistan, a warlord who became a model for combining ruthless ambition and destructive methods with radical ideology, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has advised his followers to support the so-called Islamic State or ISIS in fighting against the Afghan Taliban. While some in the West might see this as one more indication of ISIS spreading its tentacles with an ever-widening reach, a better lesson flows from observing that this is another instance of ISIS being invoked by a protagonist in a local conflict with local objectives. Hekmatyar's game has always been about seeking power in Afghanistan and bashing opponents of his efforts to do so.

A further lesson comes from noting that it is the Taliban that Hekmatyar finds to be either too moderate or too inconvenient for him right now. It probably is not coincidental that this statement by Hekmatyar comes just as the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban have concluded what may be the most promising peace negotiations so far that are aimed at resolution of the long-running conflict in Afghanistan. All of these players—the government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami—are focused on struggles for power in their own country and not on transnational causes. Afghanistan is a nation in which politics and policy largely rest on ad hoc deals among various local power-holders, which are struck in ways that do not correspond to what might make sense to Westerners in terms of recognizable left-right, radical-moderate, or religious-secular dimensions. The outcome of the current multidimensional conflict in Afghanistan will depend on such deals. This ought to call into question the wisdom of calls to extend what has already been a 14-year U.S. military operation in the interests of beating back what gets portrayed as an undifferentiated set of bad guys.

In Surprise Move, Al-Shabaab Offensive in Somalia Has Captured Territory

July 11, 2015

The unexpected strength, scope and success of the 2015 al Shabaab “Ramadan Offensive” has caused the peacekeepers to withdraw from some recently captured towns. This is so peacekeepers can be made available to go find and destroy the al Shabaab groups that have made the recent attacks. To assist in this Ethiopia has sent in a brigade of 3,000 troops. Ethiopia is the only neighboring nation with troops available to immediately come in and help out. Kenya is occupied with the half million Somali refugees its hosts and the pro-terrorist Kenyans (largely ethnic Somalis). The Ethiopian reinforcements temporarily boost the peacekeeper force to 25,000 troops. This is more than the Somali Army has and the peacekeepers are more effective. But Somalia is a large and hostile place and there are still a lot of Somalis who support al Shabaab and Islamic terrorism in general. 

The success of the recent al Shabaab offensive revealed a long tolerated weakness of the peacekeeping operation. The main problem is that the peacekeepers come from many different countries (Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia) and each contingent has gotten into the habit of double checking with their own governments before agreeing to participate in an operation run by the leadership of the entire Somali peacekeeper force. For a long time no one made an issue of this because most peacekeeper operations did not require quick and unexpected changes in plans. Moreover two international organizations (the UN and the African Union/AU) are also involved. But it was obvious that the response to the recent al Shabaab offensive was slowed down by the need of peacekeeper commanders to check with their own governments before carrying out new orders from the Somali peacekeeper force commander. That has to change and it won’t be easy. 


July 9, 2015

Another “deadline” in the Iranian nuclear negotiations has come and gone. Why the delays? What are the Mullahs thinking? For that matter, what is the President thinking?

The drama of the U.S. (now P5+1) negotiations with Iran over its nuclear infrastructure has been ongoing now for more than a dozen years, if we date the inception point to 2002, when some dissidents leaked information about Iran’s nuclear weapons work. (They did not tell the U.S. Government much of anything it did not already know, but never mind.) Most of this period really had to do with pre-negotiation maneuvering and indirect pressures—like building up the sanctions regime and getting a series of UN Security Council resolutions on our part, and the Iranians rushing to master the fuel cycle on their part.The current stage of negotiations goes back only about twenty months, but it’s twenty months that seem sometimes like twenty years. That’s partly because every time we approach a deadline both sides swear up and down is real and will not be extended, it gets extended. Lucy is everywhere; no one ever gets to kick the football.

That’s what happened again Tuesday, July 7, following the extension from June 30. All that follows the framework agreement from April, but in point of fact that was just an extension too, since that supposed agreement was never put in a written form that both sides attested to and signed. All we had from April was Wendy Sherman’s whiteboard, and within days after that supposed agreement there emerged accounts from Teheran, Washington, and elsewhere of what it contained and what it did not that didn’t add up to anything resembling an actual agreement. The starting point for the April affair was the November 2014 extension of the only actual agreement that has been reached so far, which dates to November 24, 2013.

Is Obama Moving Too Fast with Vietnam?

8 July 2015

Vietnam’s Communist Party chief, Nguyen Phu Trong, met with President Obama at the White House on July 7th. Trong’s visit is historic, the first to the United States by a Vietnam Communist Party chief, and a big step in a relationship that has been transformed since the end of the Vietnam War.

The Obama administration would like Trong’s visit to be seen as part of its “pivot” to Asia, the 2011 initiative to redirect America’s strategic focus to a region increasingly dominated by China. The problem with this is that without emphasis on democratic values—an integral part of the pivot according to the president himself—Trong’s Oval Office reception not a strategic gambit but another in a string of concessions to repressive governments for which Obama’s presidency is becoming known.

Since the wave of democratization in Asia in the late 20th century, America has defined its interests and alliances there in terms of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Obama himself said as much when he launched the pivot initiative in late 2011. Speaking to the Australian Parliament, the president stressed the freedom as the “essence of America’s leadership” as well as its relationships with allies in the region.

5 Most Lethal Russian Submarines

During the Cold War, the Soviet submarine program was a force to be reckoned with. The U.S.S.R.’s underwater killing machines captured the imagination of Westerners and Soviet citizens alike. Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel (adapted as a film the following year) The Hunt for Red October depicted a daring attempt by the crew of a fictitious Soviet Typhoon Class ballistic missile submarine to defect to the United States. In the tense years of confrontation between Washington and Moscow, many Americans imagined Soviet submarines lurking off the country’s coastlines. Submarines granted both superpowers the ability to unleash nuclear Armageddon from the quiet sanctuary of the ocean depths.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian submarine program fell into decline along with many other branches of the Russian military. In the past decade, however, Russian officials have undertaken efforts to modernize their armed forces. From upgrading Cold War models to meet present-day challenges, to designing completely new platforms like the Borei and YasenClass submarines, Russia is clearly determined to renew the status and capabilities of its underwater fleet.

India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Need for a Review

DEC 5, 2014 

Reluctant Member of the Nuclear Club
Faced with the prospect of having to confront nuclear-armed China and Pakistan, with both of which it had fought wars over unresolved territorial disputes, India conducted a series of nuclear tests at Pokhran, Rajasthan, on May 11 and 13, 1998, and declared itself a state armed with nuclear weapons. Before crossing the nuclear Rubicon, India had sought but had been denied international guarantees that nuclear weapons would not be used against it. As India was not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the country did not violate any treaty obligations.

It is well accepted in India that nuclear weapons are political weapons and not weapons of warfighting and that their sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by India’s adversaries. This was reflected in a statement made by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Parliament in May 1998: “India is now a nuclear weapon state.... We do not intend to use these weapons for aggression or for mounting threats against any country; these are weapons of self-defence, to ensure that India is not subjected to nuclear threats or coercion.”

America's Aircraft Carrier Challenge

The United States may operate 10 carriers, but it doesn’t do so at the same time.
Earlier this week I sat on a panel sponsored by America’s Strength, an organization associated with the Navy League, and that has argued for greater investment in the U.S. Navy. The panel was prompted by the “carrier gap” in the Middle East; in July, the USS Theodore Roosevelt will leave its posting in the Indian Ocean for repair and refurbishment. This departure will leave the Navy’s anti-ISIS operations mainly in the hands of the USS Essex amphibious group. USS Essex, a 45000 ton amphibious assault ship which carrier Harrier jump-jet fighters, cannot come close to approaching the sortie rate of a Nimitz-class nuclear carrier.

8 Reasons Turkey Will Not Cross the Syrian Border

July 11, 2015

ANKARA - Turkey is still struggling to form a coalition government weeks after the Parliamentary elections that denied an outright majority to the ruling AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But in the meantime, another pressing question has been raised in the halls of Ankara: Will Turkey enter Syria to create a so-called "buffer zone?" The shortest answer to that question is Turkey should absolutely not take such action, but the reasons have both domestic and foreign implications.

Domestic politics: There is no government yet formed to come to such an important decision and take responsibility for it. The Justice and Development Party's (AKP) potential coalition partners, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), have clear motivations against intervening in Syria; such a move would effectively end the coalition negotiations before they begin. Because of this, some worry that Erdogan's AKP may prefer gathering support for a war before a potential early election.

International law: Military intervention in a sovereign country without a United Nations Security Council decision or an invitation from that country would be an act of invasion and violation of international law. This is not a small matter. If instead the goal is to work within a framework of international law, Turkey may try to argue such a buffer zone would qualify under the UN's "Responsibility to Protect" criteria. But in this case, evidence that will convince the world should be presented. President Erdogan's claims on the Kurds practicing ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkmens lack evidence.

What It Takes to Win: Succeeding in 21st Century Battle Network Competitions

"In many cases, disrupting, delaying, or harassing the enemy may be sufficient to achieve one’s most important military objectives."
Success in war is often measured by territory gained and enemies killed. These metrics, however, may not reflect what is really most useful in winning a conflict or military competition. In many cases, disrupting, delaying, or harassing the enemy may be sufficient to achieve one’s most important military objectives. In the short-term, the side using these approaches may be able to gain a temporary advantage toward a larger goal; in the long-term, these approaches may impose significant costs on an enemy in exchange for a relatively small investment.

For example, an air defense system can achieve the objective of reducing the number and intensity of air attacks by compelling the attacker to shift an increasing portion of its aerial effort to support missions such as jamming air defense radars or attacking air defense systems–even if the air defenses only infrequently shoot down enemy aircraft. Similarly, anti-submarine warfare forces can achieve their objective of protecting ships by disrupting enemy submarine operations and pushing them out of the fight rather than by sinking large numbers of them.

Japan’s Robot Revolution

Robots are serving customers in Japanese department stores and banks, as well as building advanced machines for the nation’s manufacturers. Has the future already arrived in Japan, or is the “robot revolution” sought by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an impossible dream?
Opening Japan’s official Robot Revolution Initiative Council on May 15, Abe called on the nation’s corporate sector to “spread the use of robotics from large-scale factories to every corner of our economy and society.”

Backed by 200 companies and universities and chaired by Mitsubishi Electric’s Tamotsu Nomakuchi, the council aims to expand robotics throughout Japanese industry, with a goal of growing sales from 600 billion yen ($4.9 billion) a year to 2.4 trillion yen by 2020.

According to the council, robot technologies “possess the potential for solving social challenges, such as resolving labor shortages, releasing people from overwork, and improving productivity in a variety of sectors, ranging from production in the manufacturing industry, to medical services and nursing care, and to agriculture, construction and infrastructure maintenance.”

Who is most likely to emerge from the next party congress as general secretary?

Every five years, the Vietnamese Communist Party holds its National Congress. Among other important policy issues, the party congress chooses the central leadership teams, to govern both the party and the country. If the 11th party congress (2011) is any guide, the new Central Committee, which will be elected by all delegates at the coming 12th party congress (to be held in 2016), will select a new general secretary (Tổng Bí Thư), a new Politburo (Bộ Chính Trị), a new Secretariat (Ban Bí Thư), and a new Central Commission of Inspection (Uỷ Ban Kiểm Tra Trung Ương).

Of particular interest is this: Who will emerge from the 12th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam as the new general secretary?

Political Context

Limits of US-Vietnam Relations Revealed in Communist Party Leader Visit

July 10, 2015

Was Vietnam’s de facto supreme leader Nguyen Phu Trong’s diplomatic tour of Washington, including a White House meeting with President Barack Obama, as monumental as reported? News headlines almost universally heralded Trong’s visit, the first ever by a Communist Party chief to the United States, as a historic milestone in deepening reconciliation and burgeoning ties between the one-time battlefield adversaries.

Beyond the diplomatic niceties, however, Trong returns to Hanoi with few significant military concessions at a time of dire strategic need, including a lack of progress in fully lifting Washington’s decades-old lethal arms embargo imposed against the communist regime’s poor rights record. Obama eased the ban last year, allowing Vietnam to obtain non-lethal maritime wares that so far have done little to curb China’s rising assertiveness in the South China Sea. Analysts had expected lifting the embargo to feature prominently on the meeting agenda and may have even been announced during Trong’s high profile visit.

Did a North Korean Chemical Weapons Expert Actually Defect to Europe?

July 10, 2015

Amid media furore, there is little evidence for the defection of a North Korean chemical weapons expert.

International media have seized on claims that a North Korean chemical weapons expert recently defected to Europe, taking with him data on human experimentation. But evidence for the claims remains scant, with The Diplomat unable to corroborate key details of the initial news report
On July 2, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that a scientist, identified only by his surname Lee, had fled to Finland on June 6 via the Philippines.

According to the report, Lee brought with him 15 gigabytes of information on human experiments involving chemical agents such as sarin gas. Apparently disturbed by the tests, Lee was reportedly scheduled to present the evidence to the European Parliament later this month.

Despite this, The Diplomat has learned that no such individual is currently scheduled to testify before the legislative body.

Turkmenistan Says Russia Hasn't Paid for Gas in 2015

July 11, 2015

A few Central Asia links to start the weekend:
Kazakhstan’s Press Problem: Indian Prime Minister Modi is making his way around Central Asia–heavily covered by the overactive Indian press and less so by the almost nonexistent Central Asian media. The region sits at the very bottom of press freedom rankings, and what media exists often feels the heavy hand of the state. Casey Michel, a regular contributor here, wrote in the Moscow Times this week that “media freedom in Kazakhstan is an oxymoron.”

Since the 2011 events in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan, where authorities killed 14 protesters, “Kazakhstan’s independent media scene has shrunk from a stable, if small, coterie to one on life support. Outlet upon outlet, from newspapers to television, immediately disappeared, with authorities citing connections to foreign bogeymen.” Meanwhile, Michel notes, Kazakhstan’s PR machine has “suckered” Western policymakers, academics, and journalists of the merits of Kazakh democracy.

Thousands of Tourists Flee Tunisia After British Terror Warning

July 11, 2015

British warning of new Tunisian attack prompts tourist exodus

LONDON/TUNIS (Reuters) - Thousands of tourists rushed to leave Tunisia on Friday after Britain warned another attack was “highly likely”, two weeks after a gunman killed 38 foreign holidaymakers at a beachside hotel.

Tunisia’s ambassador suggested the warning played into the hands of militants, saying they would feed on the hopelessness that would grip the country if its tourism industry collapsed.

Thirty Britons were killed when Saif Rezgui used a Kalashnikov to gun down tourists at a beach hotel in Sousse on Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast, the biggest loss of British lives in such an incident since the July 2005 bombings in London.

“Since the attack in Sousse the intelligence and threat picture has developed considerably, leading us to the view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement.

Hammond said more work was needed to protect tourists and British tourists were instructed to leave. Tour operators put on extra flights to return some of the estimated 3,000 Britons holidaying in Tunisia.

Psychologists, the CIA, and Waterboarding: The Report

James Risen
July 11, 2015

Psychologists Shielded U.S. Torture Program, Report Finds

WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency’s health professionals repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program, but their protests were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program, according to a new report.

The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.The report, completed this month, concludes that some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies, while several prominent outside psychologists took actions that aided the C.I.A.’s interrogation program and helped protect it from growing dissent inside the agency.

Judge Orders Pentagon to Get Ready to Release Guantanamo Forced-Feeding Videos

Sam Sacks
July 11, 2015

Judge Orders Pentagon to Get Guantanamo Force-Feeding Videos Ready for Release

Pentagon video editors are on the clock now that a federal judge has ordered that several hours of “disturbing” force-feeding videos from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay are to be redacted and prepared for public release before the end of next month.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued the ruling on Friday, ordering the government to complete the redaction process that she initially ordered more than 10 months ago.

She set an August 31 deadline to prepare eight of the 32 tapes for release.

Kessler also ordered the government to redact an additional two compilation tapes before the end of September: one tape created by the government and one by attorneys representing Abu Wa’el Dhiab (pictured above) — a former Guantanamo detainee whose legal struggle has served as the catalyst for the pending disclosures.

That puts roughly five hours of footage on track for release, pending a final appeal by the government once the redactions are completed.

Hacking of Government Computers Exposed 21.5 Million People

JULY 9, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Thursday revealed that 21.5 million people were swept up in a colossal breach of government computer systems that was far more damaging than initially thought, resulting in the theft of a vast trove of personal information, including Social Security numbers and some fingerprints.

Every person given a government background check for the last 15 years was probably affected, the Office of Personnel Management said in announcing the results of a forensic investigation of the episode, whose existence was known but not its sweeping toll.

The agency said hackers stole “sensitive information,” including addresses, health and financial history, and other private details, from 19.7 million people who had been subjected to a government background check, as well as 1.8 million others, including their spouses and friends. The theft was separate from, but related to, a breach revealed last month that compromised the personnel data of 4.2 million federal employees, officials said.

OPM hack hit potentially millions of troops, vets

July 9, 2015

Social Security numbers, family information, health records and even fingerprints of 21.5 million federal employees — including potentially millions of military personnel — were included a massive data theft last month from the Office of Personnel Management, officials acknowledged Thursday.

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta told reporters on a conference call that a second breach of her office's servers was far more damaging than the first reported breach that affected roughly 4.2 million Americans.

A defense official confirmed Thursday that records of current and former service members dating back to at least 2000 were breached.

President Obama's top cyber security assistant, Michael Daniel, who sits on the National Security Council, told reporters that the cyber threat continues to grow.

cyber security experts may like to view this

Want to become agile? Learn from your IT team

byPaul Willmott
July 2015

IT teams have spent decades adjusting to the rapid evolution of hardware and software. Here’s how to benefit from that experience.

Digital technology allows disruptive business models to emerge and expand at previously unimaginable rates. For incumbents, this unlocks a Pandora’s box of uncertainties, with no sector unaffected. Most business leaders know this. But what those disruptions actually look like and which ones businesses should take seriously—that’s a tougher nut to crack. After all, the upheaval of the media, travel, and retailing sectors looks somewhat obvious in hindsight, but it was difficult to predict in advance. And seeing around corners only becomes harder as the pace of change accelerates. That’s why agility—the ability to react quickly to threats and opportunities—is an increasingly critical capability as companies seek to become digital to the core.

How can companies become more agile? Take a look at your information-technology team. Agility has long been essential to creating usable software quickly, and chief information officers have developed a suite of agile approaches and tools to address long delivery cycles and inflexible legacy systems. Many of these approaches can be expanded well beyond the perimeters of IT and applied across an organization:

An executive’s guide to machine learning

byDorian Pyle and Cristina San Jose
June 2015
Source Link

It’s no longer the preserve of artificial-intelligence researchers and born-digital companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix. 

Machine learning is based on algorithms that can learn from data without relying on rules-based programming. It came into its own as a scientific discipline in the late 1990s as steady advances in digitization and cheap computing power enabled data scientists to stop building finished models and instead train computers to do so. The unmanageable volume and complexity of the big data that the world is now swimming in have increased the potential of machine learning—and the need for it.

In 2007 Fei-Fei Li, the head of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, gave up trying to program computers to recognize objects and began labeling the millions of raw images that a child might encounter by age three and feeding them to computers. By being shown thousands and thousands of labeled data sets with instances of, say, a cat, the machine could shape its own rules for deciding whether a particular set of digital pixels was, in fact, a cat.1 Last November, Li’s team unveiled a program that identifies the visual elements of any picture with a high degree of accuracy. IBM’s Watson machine relied on a similar self-generated scoring system among hundreds of potential answers to crush the world’s best Jeopardy! players in 2011.