21 October 2015

Exercise Hand-in-Hand: Counter-terrorism Cooperation between India and China is Odd

By Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal
Date : 20 Oct , 2015

The Indian army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China participated in a joint counter-terrorism exercise at Kunming in the Yunnan province of China in the second week of October 2015. It is a good indicator of the state of geopolitics in Asia that even as the Indian army and the PLA were engaged in a joint military exercise, a trilateral India-US-Japan naval exercise, the latest in the annual Malabar series, was underway simultaneously in the Indian Ocean.

Given China’s military assertiveness on the LAC and repeated transgressions into areas that are clearly under Indian control, there appears to be no possibility of undertaking joint operations with the Chinese any time in the foreseeable future.

Mythology of Limited War

By Col Anil Athale
20 Oct , 2015

“Future conflicts are going to be short but intense wars before international pressure forces a cease fire. Both sides will try to gain maximum territory to use as a bargaining counter in subsequent negotiations.” This has been (or possibly still is) the standard preamble to all tactical exercises. Concept of limited war is not just the basis of operations oriented exercises but consciously or sub-consciously forms the basis of strategic planning.

In 21st century after a five decade long practice this has become the accepted mythology or shall one say the ‘Holy Cow’ of strategic discussions/thinking in India.

Such a major modification of theories of war ought to have been proceeded by through discussion/debate of which the author is unaware. Over time it has assumed the role of being a virtual principle of war in Indian context.

The Myth of a Liberal India

October 20, 2015

AMERICAN LEADERS visiting India are often quick to point out that both India and the United States are liberal, secular democracies. The implicit message is that the two states share something fundamental, and that this will reduce friction as their relationship deepens. However, just because India is democratic and secular does not mean that either the Indian state or Indian society share common values with the United States, despite political rhetoric to the contrary. As the American strategic relationship with India deepens, the question of what “democracy,” “secularism” and “liberalism” actually mean in India and how they differ profoundly from their meanings in an American context will become increasingly important. India’s political system is best understood as a communalist democracy, as opposed to a liberal democracy, and this distinction renders comprehensible trends and patterns of behavior in Indian politics that appear to outsiders to be antidemocratic.

Exclusive: US, Indonesia Eye New Defense Pacts For Jokowi Visit

October 20, 2015

The United States and Indonesia are set to elevate their defense relationship and deepen maritime security cooperation during the upcoming visit of Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to Washington, D.C., sources told The Diplomat ahead of the visit (See: “Exclusive: What to Expect in US-Indonesia Relations During Jokowi’s Visit“).

Jakarta and Washington have already been cooperating in the defense realm, which has been furthered within the security working group of the U.S.-Indonesia comprehensive partnership signed in 2010 under Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

But over the past year, officials from both sides have been stressing the need to elevate and expand defense cooperation (See: “US, Indonesia Looking to Boost Military Ties: Officials”). As Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi said during her address to the U.S.-Indonesia Society in Washington, D.C. last month, U.S.-Indonesia defense cooperation “should be more strategic and comprehensive” (See: “Indonesia Defends its Foreign Policy Record Under Jokowi”).

Revealed: India’s Deadly New Missile Fails Flight-Test

October 20, 2015

A test involving the long-range cruise missile Nirbhay had to be aborted and the missile destroyed midair, according to a statement issued by India’s Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) last Friday.

“Long range cruise missile Nirbhay was successfully launched today at 1150 hrs from launch complex, Chandipur, Odisha, meeting the basic mission objectives successfully. After travelling approximately mid-way, deviations were observed from its intended course. Further, flight was terminated to ensure coastal safety,” the press release states.

According to a source within India’s defense ministry quoted by the Times of India, “[t]he flight was aborted after its guidance system (manufactured by the Research Centre Imarat at Hyderabad) failed yet again. The missile had traveled a distance of 128-km but could not take the required turn at the waypoint and instead nose-dived. It was then put on the self-destruct mode. The failure analysis is underway.”

Why India Should Be Concerned About Climate Change

By Anish Mishra
October 20, 2015

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has projected that by the year 2028 India will be the world’s most populous country, with 1.45 billion people. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India is the world’s faster growing economy with GDP growth of 7.5 percent, ahead of China. As of today nearly half a billion Indians do not have full access to electricity supply and running water.

If anyone were to listen to the aspirations and promises of Indian politicians during election rallies, it would appear very clear that this great democracy is still struggling with poverty and providing its people with their basic needs. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not surprisingly handed a clear mandate for economic development. As India rapidly progresses towards a bright future, its people will experience dramatic improvements in their standards of living, with millions of Indian leaping out of poverty every year. India will have a growing middle class with high aspirations, and by extension rising consumption and production.

Obama’s painful Afghanistan journey

There is no credible end game to the US president’s new plan in the region. That headache will be inherited by his successor next year

United States President Barack Obama banned all references to the Vietnam war when discussing Afghanistan, according to the late Richard Holbrooke. The latter, who died on the job in 2010 as Obama’s “AfPak” envoy, is poised to return from the grave in a moving HBO documentary, The Diplomat. Its premiere next month is one of those ironies of timing. Holbrooke made it plain that Obama’s time-limited Afghan surge could not work. US troops would be stretched too thin for too short a time to stabilise the country. The White House froze him out. Last week, Obama implicitly conceded Holbrooke’s point. US troops will now stay on in Afghanistan beyond the end of his presidency. Who knows where that will end?

Parallels with the war in Vietnam may be overdone. At its height in 1968, the US had more than half a million troops there. Obama will keep the existing 9,800 US troop level in Afghanistan for most of the next year. Just under 2,500 US soldiers have so far lost their lives there against almost 60,000 in Vietnam.

Afghanistan: Fragile But Moving Forward

By James L. Creighton
October 19, 2015

On August 22, Colonel (Retired) Richard McEvoy, a dedicated soldier and truly great American, was killed in an Improvised Explosive Devise attack near the U.S Embassy in Kabul. My first squad leader in the Army and a fellow brigade commander at the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York, Dick’s death caused me to reflect closely on the prospects for Afghanistan. After more than two years serving in Afghanistan as a brigade commander and chief planning officer at ISAF Joint Command, I have continued to be positive regarding the future of the country, but this incident made me question my convictions.

The EastWest Institute has sponsored the Afghanistan Reconnected Program for the last three years. The premise of the program is that in order to capitalize on the successes and progress made in Afghanistan over the last 14 years, Central and South Asian countries must work together to improve regional economic prosperity.

Is Obama Kicking the Can Down the Road on Afghanistan?

Hasib Danish Alikozai
October 17, 2015

Analysts have mixed assessments of President Barack Obama's announcement Thursday that American troops will remain in Afghanistan at the current level of 9,800 throughout 2016 and then be reduced to around 5,500 troops in 2017.

Some analysts suggest that the U.S. decision to maintain current troop levels in Afghanistan is basically kicking the can down the road.

Michael Kugelman, an expert on South Asia at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center, believes that Afghanistan will be handed over to the next U.S. president whoever that may be.

“It is the case of kicking the can down the road because whoever the next U.S president is will have to make big decisions about the U.S. troop commitment. He or she will need to decide whether to scale it down and bring troops home or to ramp it up and send even more,” said Kugelman.


OCT 182015

Google “Pakistan” and you’ll be flooded with images of terrorist attacks, photos of Malala or trailers of the next Homeland episode. Actually, all of the above. But there is one region of this country you can be pretty sure will not show up on the first few dozen result pages: Balochistan.

Roughly the size of Germany, it is Pakistan’s biggest and poorest province. And it’s also home to a long and bloody civil war that has been going on for decades. On one side there’s the central Pakistani government. On the other are the Baloch nationalists who have fought for independence since the year after Pakistan’s 1947 birth. They are organized in insurgent groups with names like the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Balochistan Liberation United Front. And while the government labels the Baloch as “terrorists,” the Baloch accuse the army of ethnic cleansing. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

Since the start of this forsaken conflict,

Raja-Mandala: Turning the debate to Delhi’s advantage

India needs to think with its head to exploit opportunities in the US-Pak nuclear negotiations.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

The centre of gravity of India’s foreign policy seems to rest in Pakistan. Notwithstanding the legacy of expansive internationalism and an enduring ambition to become a great power, India seems easily rattled by Pakistan. India has not been able to overcome this psychological vulnerability, despite the growing strategic separation between India and Pakistan. India’s economy is now more than seven times larger than Pakistan’s. New Delhi spends six times more than Rawalpindi on defence. This, however, has made no difference to Delhi’s political discourse

on Pakistan.

It gets a lot worse when it comes to Pakistan’s relations with America. Beijing’s all-weather alliance with Rawalpindi has certainly done more damage to Delhi than the episodic American embrace of Pakistan. But it is America that gets India’s goat on Pakistan.

China’s Rise to Great Power Status in Asia: Worth Going to War to Protect?

October 19, 2015

Paul Dibb recently wrote on The Strategist/The National Interest that China has long-term systemic problems which will prevent its continued rise to Asian great power status, and that as a “brittle state,” China can’t afford to go to war as the risk of failure is too great. But he ignores China’s strategic culture, its history and national identity, all of which strongly influence its policy choices in Indo–Pacific Asia today and into the future, including any decision to go to war, and which also drive its military modernization process. He then rather unconvincingly characterizes China as an isolated power absent friends.

President Xi Jinping promotes the idea of the ‘China Dream’, which is about restoring China’s traditional, and from its perspective, rightful position as the leading or dominant power in Asia. From a domestic perspective, this demands that China continues to develop and accrue comprehensive national power, but in terms of foreign policy it also demands that China resolve the issue of Taiwan as well as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea in its favor. China is deadly serious when it says that reunification of China and Taiwan must occur on Beijing’s terms, and is equally as serious when it says that the South China Sea belongs to China. From Beijing’s perspective, China’s self-declared ‘nine-dash line’ isn’t negotiable. In the same way, resolving the dispute between China and Japan over the Daioyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea in China’s favor is also a critical interest to Beijing. Those three potential flashpoints involve key allies of the U.S., and in the case of the South China Sea, raise the critical issue of freedom of navigation of the seas. Therefore, any Chinese challenge of the sort now emerging in the South China Sea can’t be ignored by Washington either.

Asia’s Winners and Losers from the $30 Trillion Trans-Pacific Partnership

October 20, 2015

“China containment,” a “U.S. pivot” to Asia or simply a free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been called many things since a deal was finally reached on October 5. For Asia, though, the TPP has created a long list of winners but also some losers, including possibly the world’s second-biggest economy, China.

Following five days of round-the-clock talks in Atlanta, negotiators from the twelve-nation grouping concluded a deal around 5 a.m. local time, when a compromise was reached on the monopoly period for next-generation drugs. Comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam, the TPP is the biggest global trade pact in two decades, encompassing 40 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP) and economic output worth nearly $30 trillion.

Having feared another failure after August’s Hawaii talks broke down, celebrations that a deal had finally been done after five years of negotiations could be heard from Washington to Wellington.

Slowing GDP Growth Doesn't Have To Spell Doom For China

October 20, 2015

It was announced Monday that the Chinese economy’s growth continued to slow in the third quarter, falling to 6.9 percent. While not as steep a decline as many economists feared, it still marks the first time China’s GDP growth has fallen below 7 percent since the financial crisis. Especially when combined with their stock market’s plummet this summer—and subsequent sudden currency devaluation—you could be forgiven for thinking that the Chinese economy was teetering on the edge. The real story is likely more one of long-term challenges than acute crisis. China is going through a long-overdue economic transition from an economy driven by heavy manufacturing and investment to one more durably oriented around consumption and services. This transition will be bumpy, particularly with China’s notoriously decentralized policy implementation structure. If handled correctly, however—or at least handled well enough—it should leave both the Chinese people and the international community better off.

Britain's Great China Debate

October 19, 2015

For the first time in ten years, a Chinese president will set foot in the U.K. on an official visit. The expectations are high for this trip, with officials on both sides anticipating the arrival of a “golden era” of bilateral relations. In a rare interview with Reuters on the eve of his departure, Chinese President Xi Jinping commended Britain’s strategic choice to become “the Western country that is most open to China.”

The opportunities that China, with an enlarging middle class and an increasing propensity for foreign investment, can offer are widely recognized within the British government. During his tour of China in September, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne unveiled plans to make China the U.K.’s second largest trading partner by 2025. Britain is sparing no expense in making the trip as full of “pomp and circumstance” as it can get. While Xi was snubbed of the opportunity to address Congress in his visit to the U.S. last month, he was offered the chance to address the British parliament — and will do so on Tuesday, alongside similarly prestigious tasks like dining with the Queen.

China Warns US Not to Hike Rates

October 19, 2015

Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei warned that the United States should not raise interest rates, given slow economic growth in emerging markets. Although growth is rebounding in the U.S., growth in the eurozone and in China has been remarkably slow. The dollar remains the largest reserve currency in the world, and raising interest rates would increase the cost of international loans and push up the value of the dollar with respect to other currencies, as capital flows into the U.S. searching for higher yields.

Lou’s warning highlights the fact that the U.S. is at the center of the global economy, since the dollar and dollar-based assets are widely used. The IMF issued the same warning in July of this year, stating that raising rates could slow growth, and asking that the U.S. Federal Reserve wait until 2016 to increase interest rates. World Bank Chief Economist Kaushki Basu made similar comments in September, focusing on anxieties with regard to China’s devaluation and uncertain growth outlook. The world has requested that the U.S. take into account international interests rather than focusing solely on the domestic economy in this critical monetary policy decision.

The looming military showdown in the South China Sea: Gertz

After delaying for months, the Obama administration has authorized the US Pacific Command to send warships into the disputed South China Sea, and China is threatening to confront the naval presence as part of an aggressive buildup in the region. 

USS Ronald Reagan 

However, the US military is not expected to send the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group to pass passing within 12 miles of any disputed islands that China is claiming as its territory. The carrier arrived at its new homeport of Yokosuka, Japan on Oct. 1 replacing the USS George Washington. 

Instead of a carrier group, the administration is likely to send one of its new, lightly-armed Littoral Combat Ships on what the military calls FON, for freedom of navigation, operation, in the next two weeks. 

Aircraft Carriers: Kill the F-35C?

October 19, 2015

The U.S. Navy should consider cancelling the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter in favor of new long-range strike capabilities the service actually needs, according to a new report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). 

Analyst Jerry Hendrix made the proposal in a new paper titled “Retreat from Range,” which the powerful Washington, D.C., think-tank is releasing today. He noted that since the 1950s, carrier aviation has consistently dwindled in long-range striking power, but the problem is now so acute, it threatens the relevance of the giant 100,000-ton vessels.

Hendrix writes: “If the Navy terminated its portion of the F-35 program, it could afford to purchase two squadrons of 12 Super Hornets (in addition to the two Super Hornet squadrons already present) to replace the two squadrons of 10 F-35Cs and purchase six squadrons of UCAVs [Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle] with 16 aircraft apiece (12 strikers and four tankers) and still be able to return money to the taxpayers.”

Why ISIS is Winning in Iraq

October 19, 2015 

On May 17th, as the few remaining defenders of Ramadi collapsed and withdrew back to Baghdad in the face of massive attacks by ISIS fighters, officials and observers across Iraq and the United States were asking one question: how? How did the Iraqi defenders of the city, armed and trained by the most powerful military on earth get defeated in a pitched battle against an insurgent terrorist group armed with stolen weapons?

Analysts devised a number of explanations. Many Iraqi officers and political officials blamed a lack of supporting air-strikes from the American-led coalition. Observers in the US blamed the “lack of resolve” amongst the Iraqi defenders, a charge that outraged Iraqi Army officials. Other US officials believed that the defeat was due to an equipment mismatch: the Iraqi defenders lacked the heavy firepower needed to counter the stolen American-made weapons and vehicles ISIS deployed.

The existing explanations almost exclusively focus on tangible assets such as equipment and weapons or the problems within the Iraqi army. What has so far been missing from this discussion is the impressive military skill ISIS has exhibited. This is a level of tactical skill foreign to most terrorist groups, but familiar to any conventional military officer and to Stephen Biddle, who outlined the impact that skill plays in modern warfare.

Syria Sparks Cold War Deja Vu (Op-Ed)

Oct. 19 2015 18:55

Does anyone still doubt that a new Cold War is possible? An obvious confrontation exists between Russia and the West, and it is a confrontation that defies resolution through either military action — they both hold nuclear weapons — or diplomatic channels.

Most surprising is the way this confrontation has taken the form of Cold War-style proxy war. Even while Russian state-controlled television broadcasts endless footage of Russian aircraft bombing their targets and triumphant reports by the Syrian military, the Western press presents a very different picture: footage of scorched tanks that Russia had delivered at such trouble and expense to the beleaguered army of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

What's more, field commanders of Syria's so-called "moderate opposition" — whom Iranian soldiers, Hezbollah and government army troops are all attacking now — do not hesitate to report that they destroyed the tanks using the latest anti-tank systems from the United States.

The Republican Civil War

October 20, 2015

AFTER THE GOP lost the November 1954 midterm elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet met for a postmortem. Eisenhower asked Richard Nixon, then vice president, to explain the politics behind the defeat. “There were just too many turkeys running on the ticket,” Nixon said. Then he pulled a mechanical drummer from his pocket and released it. According to Irwin F. Gellman in his illuminating new book The President and the Apprentice, Eisenhower stared with surprise as the toy marched across the table banging its drum. The lesson of the election, Nixon said, was that “We’ve got to keep beating the drum about our achievements.”

What will the GOP bang the drum about in 2016? Just as in the early 1950s, when internal party divisions over Senator Joseph McCarthy damaged the GOP at the polls, so leading figures on the right are once again feuding with each other, as the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner recently illustrated. But no issue is roiling the party more than the Donald Trump candidacy. Charles Krauthammer, who has repeatedly pronounced Trump’s demise, said on Fox News that “This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in fifteen years. You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest cabinet America’s had in our lifetime and instead all of our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown.” But if the field is really so strong, then why is Trump able to run rings around it, with the much-ballyhooed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker retiring from the race—and begging other candidates to emulate him so that, as he put it, “the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner”—before a single primary has even been held? Rather than imploding, Trump appears to dominate.

America's Lethal F-16 Fighting Falcon: Heading for Retirement or Reboot?

October 19, 2015

For decades the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon—more popularly know as the “Viper”—has dominated the fighter market around the globe. But while the F-16 is still one of the best fourth-generation fighters money can buy, the production line is starting to slow as sales dry up. Ironically, the F-16 is not losing market share to foreign competitors, rather the venerable jet is being supplanted by Lockheed’s own F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the stealthy fifth-generation jet gears up for full-rate production.

But the F-16 still has a few years of production left—the current order backlog extends to late 2017. The order book will probably grow somewhat as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) looks set to purchase thirty more advanced F-16E/F+ Block 61 jets. Other than the UAE, Lockheed still has a chance to sell the jet in several other markets. The most immediate prospect is Indonesia—which already operates the older F-16A version of the jet.

Containing Syria's Chaos

October 20, 2015

MORE THAN two hundred thousand people have died in the Syrian civil war, and the conflict has produced mass refugee flows and internal displacement. The Islamic State controls large swaths of territory and has taken the war into Iraq, leading to thousands of deaths there. The Obama administration has responded by bombing the Islamic State and, less successfully, trying to build up various rivals to it, particularly in Iraq, but has refrained from a more massive and risky intervention that could either end the civil war altogether or embroil the United States further in a bloody and unwinnable conflict.

Given the dismal record of U.S. interventions in the Middle East, the administration’s caution is warranted. But its cautious approach also rests on the convenient assumption that the conflict will remain contained within Syria’s borders. In fact, civil wars like the one in Syria often shake the foundations of regional orders. They create massive refugee flows, spawn terrorist groups and radicalize neighboring populations. Neighboring states fear these consequences and provide arms to fighters or even intervene with their own military forces in order to secure their interests. Such interventions often worsen the bloodletting and, by changing a local conflict into a regional one, spread the conflict even further.

Building a Better System for Student Loan Debt

October 20, 2015

Student debt is pervasive. The balance in the U.S. is well over $1 trillion. And everyone seems to have it: in 2014, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 18 percent of households led by someone aged 45–54 years still had student loan debt. 9 percent of households led by those aged 55–64 years, and 4 percent of those led by someone aged 65–74 years, have student loan debt too. This is not simply a young person’s problem, and will not be short-lived.

But addressing student loans could be an effective means of jumpstarting the economy. It would begin to reverse years of slow asset accumulation, ranging from retirement savings to housing, and reinvigorate economic dynamism.

Attention should be paid to the existing stockpile of debt—and to debt issued for future education. Solutions for tackling both are simpler than you might think.

One simple method of providing relief is a tax credit, an “ETC,” for debt payments as part of employee compensation. In practice, a new hire is paid $35,000 in salary and $15,000 in student loan payments per year. The effective payment from an employer’s perspective is $35,000 (due to the offsetting tax credit), but the effective compensation to the employee would be $50,000.

Developed world shoulders less than fair burden through its climate change targets

October 19, 2015

The US has committed to only a fifth of its fair share and the EU just over a fifth in the fight against climate changethrough its new targets, a collective assessment by some of the top global NGOs working on climate change across the North-South divide has concluded.

The report also concludes that almost all developing countries including India and China have taken on more than their fair share of the burden through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

A first of its kind, brought out by the civil society groups that also at times are divided across the hemispheres just like the countries, the report assesses whether countries have taken a fair burden to keep global temperature rise below two degree Celsius by the end of the century in relation to their historical responsibilities for causing the problem and their current capacities. A summary of the report was released on Monday.

How Indian Military Acquisitions Are Changing And Why That’s A Good Thing

19 Oct, 2015

Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based journalist. He is a columnist with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta group, Moscow, and Modern Diplomacy, a Europe-based foreign affairs portal. 

The procurement mechanism of the defence sector in India finally seems to be heading in the right direction.

In 1940, legendary Indian industrialist Walchand Hirachand struck a deal with an American businessman to produce combat aircraft in India. One of the investors in the project was the Maharaja of Mysore, who agreed to invest Rs 25 lakh and also gave 700 acres of land free for the project. Just eight months later Hindustan Aircraft flight tested its first product, a trainer aircraft. And then the British pulled the plug.

Sumit K. Majumdar explains what happened. In his book India’s Late, Late Industrial Revolution: Democratizing Entrepreneurship, he says:

“The British government in Whitehall tried to scuttle the project because Indian firms were not considered capable enough to manufacture combat aircraft…..Hindustan Aircraft was taken over by the government in 1942.”

Frederick Forsythe on Spying

The spying game

Frederick Forsythe

Sir Francis Walsingham intercepted letters, eased them open with a hot razor, read, copied, resealed them and had them delivered to the unsuspecting enemy agent.

His tricks – trailing suspect arrivals, drawing up lists of those they visited, employing serving knaves to listen at door panels – could have come straight from John le Carré.

If the practice became something of a British speciality, so did writing about it and the tradition has never died.

Wilkie Collins in The Woman In White, Erskine Childers with The Riddle Of The Sands, John Buchan with his agent Richard Hannay, were all writing and enthralling more than 100 years ago.

And we pioneered great detectives such as Sherlock Holmes. Spooks and ’tecs, they became our national speciality and still are.

The Russians in Syria

Michael Kofman
October 19, 2015

Russia’s Arsenal in Syria: What Do We Know?

Russia’s campaign in Syria is about saving the Syrian regime by recapturing as much of the territory lost this spring as possible and translating those military gains into a much stronger negotiating hand. These strikes target the Army of Conquest and Free Syrian Army forces surrounding and inside the regime’s territory. A combined Russian, Iranian, and Syrian campaign with support from Hezbollah aims to destroy non-Islamic State rebels. Not since the Soviet war in Afghanistan has Moscow deployed for such an expeditionary operation, in even a limited fashion. Can Russia hope to achieve such ambitious gains with limited means? Does this application of military power truly stand a chance of changing the facts on the ground? The answers to these questions in large part depend on the array of weapons and platforms that Russia has deployed as a part of this campaign and how it is using them. By exploring Russia’s arsenal in, above, and off the shores of Syria, we can also learn a bit about Russia’s military modernization efforts.

Russian Air Platforms and Bombs

Terrorism on the Move

By: Anthony D’Amato, Columnist
Oct 19, 2015

There was a time in the not too distant past when policymakers in both parties thought that America was on the verge of defeating terrorism. Some people believed that since al-Qaeda was on the “run and bin Laden is dead,” we would soon live in a world where terrorist organizations no longer threatened our society. [i] Unfortunately, the recorded increase in global terrorist plots and the emergence of ISIS have both demonstrated how naïve some of us were just a few years ago. Today, we are not only witnessing the rise of fearsome terrorist organizations capable of causing widespread death and destruction, but we are also “witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history.” The movement of approximately 25,000 foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq makes it more difficult for governments to dismantle recently formed terrorist groups, and less likely that authorities will be able to prevent every foreign fighter from returning home and plotting against their fellow citizens. [ii] In the age of unprecedented global connectedness and mass communication, we have to formulate a strategy on disrupting foreign fighter travel in the 21st century. Policymakers can start this critical process by examining the findings of the Homeland Security Committee Task Force’s Final Report on Combating Terrorism and Foreign Fighter Travel.

When Selfies Are a Tool of Intelligence

OCTOBER 19, 2015

From commercial satellite photos to Facebook posts, tracking Russia’s military intervention in Syria has never been easier for the world’s amateur and professional spies.

As Russia has deployed troops and planes to Syria to reinforce the crumbling rule of President Bashar al-Assad, the run-up to its intervention has been documented in a near real-time basis — an almost unprecedented demonstration of the power of open source intelligence.

Moscow began its aerial campaign against Sunni rebels in Syria on Sept. 30. But more than a month earlier, evidence began surfacing online that pointed to Russia’s military buildup along Syria’s western coast.

On Aug. 22, a Turkish blog posted photographs of a Russian cargo ship that had transited the Bosphorus two days earlier. On its deck, covered by tarps, sat the unmistakable forms of Russian BTR-class armored troop carriers. A day later, a video surfaced containing what appeared to be audio fragments of Russian military commands. The video also included footage of an advanced Russian fighting vehicle, the BTR-82.

Your Official Mission Creep Timeline of the U.S. War in Syria

OCTOBER 19, 2015

Think the Obama administration isn’t getting its hands dirty in the fight against the Islamic State? The facts say otherwise.

In Washington foreign-policy circles, there is an allergy to history, especially of the recent varieties that could illuminate current policy debates. Thucydides, the Founding Fathers, Carl von Clausewitz, and Winston Churchill (and other assorted men of history) are acceptable touchstones and references for historical reflection, but the foreign-policy objectives of current or recent White House occupants are referred to far less frequently. The common reason offered is that the United States finds itself in the current situation and should focus exclusively on forging a way ahead. And, in my experience, when recent illuminating history is raised, the response one gets is: “Well, yes, OK, but what should we do now?”

How Will Australia Use Its Massive Warships?

October 20, 2015

Having acquired HMAS Canberra and her sister HMAS Adelaide, Australia is now figuring out the best way to use them.

As readers of The Diplomat know, Australia has taken major steps in the past five years to build a world class amphibious warfare capability. In 2011 the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) took possession of HMAS Choules, a formerly British landing ship. Late last year, the RAN commissioned the flat-decked amphibious assault ship HMAS Canberra, largest ship ever to serve Australia. Later this year Canberra’s sister, HMAS Adelaide, will enter service.

Lost in the various debates about whether Canberra and her sister will eventually carry the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter are the significant capabilities that the ships currently command, and how Australia can put those capabilities to greatest effect. When these ships reach final operational capability (expected in 2017) they will represent the most impressive amphibious warships in the Asia-Pacific, apart from the big amphibs of the United States Navy. The Royal Australian Navy has long played an active role in maritime management, and these two ships will grant the fleet its most effective vessels to date.

State Department Cybersecurity Has Slipped Every Year Since 2009 Despite Hacking Incidents

October 19, 2015 

AP Exclusive: Under Clinton, State’s Cybersecurity Suffered 

WASHINGTON — The State Department was among the worst agencies in the federal government at protecting its computer networks while Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary from 2009 to 2013, a situation that continued to deteriorate as John Kerry took office and Russian hackers breached the department’s email system, according to independent audits and interviews. The State Department’s compliance with federal cybersecurity standards was below average when Clinton took over but grew worse in each year of her tenure, according to an annual report card compiled by the White House based on audits by agency watchdogs. Network security continued to slip after Kerry replaced Clinton in February 2013, and remains substandard, according to the State Department inspector general.

In each year from 2011 to 2014, the State Department’s poor cybersecurity was identified by the inspector general as a “significant deficiency” that put the department’s information at risk. The latest assessment is due to be published in a few weeks. 

Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been criticized for her use of a private email server for official business while she was secretary of state. Her private email address also was the recipient of malware linked to Russia, and her server was hit with malware from China, South Korea and Germany. The FBI is investigating whether her home server was breached. 

Pot-Smoking Teen Hacker Says He Broke Into CIA Director’s Email to Free Palestine

OCTOBER 19, 2015 

Pot-Smoking Teen Hacker Says He Broke Into CIA Director’s Email to Free Palestine

A fervently pro-Palestine, pot-smoking, teenage hacker claims to have hacked the AOL email account of CIA Director John Brennan.

The hacker in question, who goes by the moniker “cracka,” is a member of the hacker collective “Crackas With Attitude,” which appears to include at least one other member, who calls himself “cubed.” Media accounts about the alleged hack have so far focused on cracka’s role, but he told Foreign Policy via Twitter that the operation was very much the work of the collective. The hackers claim to have gotten into Brennan’s email by duping Verizon into providing them with the CIA chief’s personal information, which was then used to reset his AOL password.

Cracka has claimed that he has found a copy of Brennan’s application for a security clearance. The hackers have so far posted what they claim to be a list of Brennan’s email contacts and a list of high-level government employees, along with their Social Security numbers and other personal information. That list of government employees includes Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. A Twitter account — since suspended — purporting to belong to the hacking collective posted what was described as a call log for Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines.

If you think your emails are private, think again

We continue to believe – and file lawsuits presuming – that what we write in our emails is private. Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you type up a racy email to a loved one, do you consider the details private

Most of us would probably say yes, even though such messages often end up filtered through intelligence agencies and service providers.

On the other hand, as the digital world becomes more personalised, consumers have begun to accept, appreciate and apparently request relevant connections between their online behavior and displayed advertisements.

It’s fairly commonplace now. Type camping gear into your browser, and for the next few weeks you’ll see online ads for shoes, stoves, shirts and even fashion accessories, all specially designed for camping.

But when you send an email to a family member, or when you receive an email from a friend, do you expect the same type of follow-on advertising as you do from internet searches?

Australia’s New Terrorism Test

October 19, 2015

Police accountant Curtis Cheng died from a gunshot wound to the back of his head on Friday, October 2 in Sydney’s Parramatta. It was, say authorities, an act of terrorism, carried out by 15-year-old Farhad Jabar who was soon afterwards shot by police. Once again terrorism on Australian soil is being debated. On Thursday, October 15 the government held a Countering Violent Extremism summit in response to the shooting, and subsequent arrests. Tolerance and understanding, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have their limits.

Not so long ago, the government put out a publication advising the public and community on violent extremism and radicalization. The coverage it got centered largely on one of a small number of case studies. Was this case study racist or anti-Islamic? No. The story of Karen followed a girl who got interested in “alternative music” before becoming a hardline, tree dwelling eco warrior. Then she found safer ways and means to express her concern. Alternative music? Is this the 1950s, seemed the consensus of the small number who bothered with the story at all. The well-meaning publication took an “elephant in the room” approach to Islamic extremism. In fact, the word “Muslim” showed up just once, in the last case study, and in passing.

Russian Air Force in Syria Is Taking a Breather to Assess Its Successes and Failings

Matthew Bodner
October 18, 2015

Russia Shows Early Success, New Capabilities in Syria

MOSCOW — After a week of heavy operations over Syria, Russia’s Air Force is scaling back its efforts so it can analyze its progress and identify new targets after the Ministry of Defense last week claimed to have helped the Syrian regime push back opposition forces.

Moving into the third week of Russia’s surprise aerial intervention in Syria’s four-and-a-half-year-old civil war, Moscow has not only claimed early successes, but demonstrated that efforts to modernize its military are yielding real benefits and restoring lost capabilities.

The campaign is limited, with a force of about 30 Russian fixed-wing aircraft and 20 helicopters operating out of a regime-controlled airbase outside the coastal city of Latakia. The tactics being used are a hybrid of classic-Soviet air support missions and Western-style precision air strikes.

A former member of Russia’s General Staff, retired Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky, told Defense News that “the Russian Air Force has started using Western tactics just to destroy separate targets with high-precision weapons,” but overall it is flying traditional ground-support missions.