23 February 2016

** Stop Writing Pakistan Blank Checks

FEBRUARY 18, 2016 

Billions of taxpayer dollars spent on development assistance have propped up the most repressive elements in Pakistani society. So it's time to alter the deal. 

On Feb. 10, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, plans to block the Barack Obama administration from financing the sale of up to eight F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan. In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Corker observed that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is “complicated and imperfect,” and that although cooperation has achieved “some of our interests,” Pakistan remains a “duplicitous partner, moving sideways rather than forward in resolving regional challenges.” Corker was particularly angered by Pakistan’s persistent support to the Haqqani faction of the Afghan Taliban.

Corker’s decision is no mere lonely move by a maverick legislator. It is a bellwether of widespread and growing frustration with Pakistan on Capitol Hill. The time has come to mend, if not end, U.S. assistance to Pakistan.

Pak-China Script in University

By RSN Singh
22 Feb , 2016

The recent anti-national sloganeering in JNU campus has shaken the collective conscience of India. This anti-national fulmination by the students of the JNU had vicious pro-Pakistan overtones in context of Kashmir. The centrality of Kashmir drove the students to the extent of wishing ‘breaking India’ into nine pieces. It may be reiterated that these students are subsidized hugely by the Indian taxpayer.

Most of these activists are on the payroll of NGOs and agencies of inimical countries. Many of the activists in JNU are no exception.

This author, asked one of the key leaders of the entire anti-national movement a basic question with regard to Kashmir rather Jammu and Kashmir, the question being – which are the broad geographical parts of the Indian held and Pak Occupied J&K? This question was asked with the qualifying pre-condition that if she, the anti-national and Kashmir activist were to answer correctly, this author would never show his face on television. It may appear to be a huge risk but this author was confident that the so-called activist would be askance at the question. This author then asked the lady activist if she had any clue about Northern Areas or Gilgit-Baltistan. She again drew a blank. She was then reminded that to one can only be an activist, if one is informed about the subject, but unfortunately this is never the case.

Need for an Indian Marine Force

By Col JK Achuthan
21 Feb , 2016

Our continued neglect of the maritime frontier and the opportunities that it provides reflects the thinking of a ‘landlocked’ power. If we create a master plan to devote one per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards building up our maritime potential over the next 15 years, we can become a manufacturing and trading power bigger than any European country. Our country is blessed with warm seas and good navigability for vessel of any size all the year round. Yet it is a challenge to investigate and determine which of these factors are holding up our maritime growth – is it inertia or lack of practical thinking; discouragement of ‘spurred’ economic activities along our seaboard or not granting ‘special’ economic development powers to our island territories; is it just lack of a ‘risk taking’ mentality or is it due to the absence of a ‘will of steel’ to become a great nation?

“When the chips are down, call in the Marines”, goes the popular motto of the American Marines. India, which claims to be an ancient maritime nation and has a long coastline of nearly 4,500 kilometres and outlying island territories to defend, does not have a Marine Force! It makes one wonder as to why we have never achieved the status of a great maritime nation despite transcending the main world trade routes. Maybe even strong past Indian rulers never grasped the strategic need to have strong trade relations with other countries and civilisations, using indigenous maritime fleets to increase national prosperity, and gain from the free flow of new ideas from across the globe.

India's Dilemma: A Maritime or Continental Power - II

By Daanish Inder Singh Gill
19 Feb , 2016

In his article ‘India needs to augment it’s Maritime power‘ , Himanil Raina hopes to counter my assertion as presented in ‘India’s dilemmas- A Maritime or Continental power?‘, where I argued in favour of greater spending directed at the Indian Army as opposed to the Navy. He accuses me of not expressing the correct facts whilst himself resolving to present no facts at all. What results is an amorphous and generally incoherent set of polemics that could be insulting, if they weren’t so vaguely infantile. In the spirit of polemics, here are a few of my thoughts on Himanil’s article-

Firstly, it appears curious that Himanil has quoted Zorawar Daulet Singh’s paper ‘Mackinder Vs Mahan’ in support of his maritime argument. This is a paper that is decidedly in support of a ‘Continent First’ approach. It even refers to the Navy’s attempts at controlling SLOCs as a ‘Mahanian Delusion’. As a matter of fact, the conclusion of the paper is subtitled ‘Taming the Mahanians for a Continental-First Geostrategy’. I have the sneaking suspicion that Himanil has not read the articles he so garrulously quotes. Why would you cite an article that negates your overall argument? Perhaps the author is willing to make a strategic blunder for a tactical win. Or maybe he just Googled it and saved some time. However, the reader can expend some of his efforts and read the paper Himanil has misquoted right here - Mackinder Vs Mahan? by Zorawar Daulet Singh

Airborne and Special Forces: Reassessing Role, Tasks and Organisations

By Brig Deepak Sinha
20 Feb , 2016

The necessity for Special Forces (SF) is not in question. As I have myself written, in the context of Special Operations Forces, elsewhere “these forces can meet unorthodox security needs that conventional military organisations find difficult to accomplish, if at all.” The confusion that prevails, especially in our context, is with regard to role definition. While SF personnel see themselves as a cross between the fictional characters James Bond and Jason Bourne, reality obviously, in terms of training, capability and operational employment is vastly different. This confusion has arisen because we have not differentiated nor laid down guidelines as to what is required of our intelligence operatives, that is what those fictional characters represent, and from our SF units.

After independence and partition of India, the Indian Army drastically reduced its SOF capability…

Evolution of Air Power Thought in India

By Air Vice Marshal AK Tiwary
20 Feb , 2016

Strength reinforced by stratagem will surely do much. What, indeed, cannot be accomplished by a combination of my physical strength, Krishna’s wisdom and Arjun’s dexterity? — Bhima in the Mahabharat 

Understanding Air Power in India can be best appreciated if we review the IAF’s evolution, especially in the earlier decades and its resultant impact on the intellectual thought process on the IAF leadership, as well as the civil decision makers. The primary role of the IAF was ‘Army Co-operation’ and it was placed under the command of the C-in-C of India, invariably an Army man. Army
co-operation entailed mainly visual reconnaissance, message dropping to forward troops and providing fire support to the ground troops, if and when asked for. Dedicated fire support was provided by the RAF Squadrons most of the time. The IAF Squadrons commanded by the RAF officers also provided fire support.

The IAF’s roles remained the same during the Burma Campaign in World War II. Winning of control of air, Interdiction of enemy’s war waging potential and infrastructure, air defence of own important areas and the air transport support roles remained the exclusive preserve of the RAF and the 10th USAAF operating in India. At the peak of the Burma Campaign, the RAF and the USAAF had a combined strength of 116 Squadrons of all types. Whereas, the IAF had around 4–5 Squadrons in Burma at a time.

Northeast - Integrating the Seven Sisters

By Brig Amrit Kapur
20 Feb , 2016

The ravishingly beautiful and picturesque landmass of our country, which adorns the mantle of the northeastern states, may distance wise be even less than Chennai or Trivandrum is from New Delhi, yet it remains emotionally detached from the rest of India. The reasons are more than intriguing. The perceived distance has more to do with the mindset of the average Indian rather than the actual physical distance.

Today, one finds people from the Northeast in appreciable numbers in all parts of the country, in every walk of life to include trade, government organisations, IT, media and defence. The numbers are increasing every day

For a plethora of reasons, perceived or otherwise, peace and normalcy remain elusive. Terrorism and insurgency have yet to recede fully although life continues as if normal. Not that it is normal by any standards but whatever the ground realities, life does go on. Probably in concert with the worldwide phenomenon of rising aspirations of human beings, Human Rights and civilised societal ways have taken a front seat and their denial or absence creates upheaval and discord.

The Forgotten Mutiny That Shook The British Empire

The naval mutiny of 1946 convinced the British that their hold on the British-Indian armed forces was badly weakened. Here is the story of the famous Royal Indian Navy ‘mutiny’.

The naval mutiny of 1946 was among the hardest blows the British received during their brutal 200 year occupation of India. The unexpected revolt by more than 25,000 ratings of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) achieved what two generations of nonviolent political struggle couldn’t – it drove a stake of fear through British hearts.

The mutiny proved the British could not continue to hold on to India with the help of Indian soldiers any longer. It started in Bombay on February 18 and spread like wildfire to naval establishments countrywide, ending on the 23rd. The following day the British started packing their bags.

Without the support of the navy, over 100,000 British troops, administrators and civilians and their families were in no position to make it to Britain safely. At the very least, a large number of them would have been slaughtered. The British knew this, and they quit India post-haste.

British caste system

A Glimpse Into China's Military Presence In The South China Sea

21 February 2016 from STRATFOR

Widely published satellite imagery from Feb. 14 shows the presence of new Chinese air defense systems on Woody Island in the South China Sea, highlighting continuing maritime frictions in the area. But new imagery obtained by Stratfor provides a higher-resolution view of the deployment and activities taking place across the island.
Specialists at AllSource Analysis have identified two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air launchers, as well as supporting vehicles such as an engagement radar and the Type 305B AESA acquisition radar. Chinese military personnel are also moving near the air defense batteries, and cables are connecting vehicles and equipment into a single networked system.

China's claim to most of the South China Sea is a persistent source of tension with five Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries that claim land and waters in the sea. (Vietnam contests China's claims to Woody Island, along with the rest of the Paracel Islands.) It also conflicts with the United States' notion of freedom of navigation, though it holds no position on the territorial disputes themselves. To counter China's dominance, the United States has run two active campaigns every quarter since October 2015 in which its naval vessels and aircraft deliberately pass by disputed features that are not considered to provide legitimate maritime claims under international law. China has called these moves destabilizing, and it has used U.S. operations and coalition building in the area to justify deploying defensive arms to its South China Sea possessions.

Debunking the Myths of Chinese Investment in Africa

By Jonathan Dove
February 21, 2016

China’s overseas investment has long worried Western observers. From the constant updates on the soon-to-be operational Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), to the rather more nebulous One Belt One Road initiative, China’s trade and economic influence is spreading on multiple fronts. This has fed into broader anxieties in the West, who feel that important allies and opportunities are slipping into the orbit of a regime that does not play by Western rules. Chinese investment in Africa is perhaps one of the most pertinent examples of these fears.

Coming onto the international investment scene in the early 2000s, China has committed over $90 billion in total financing to African states between 2000 and 2013. With more than a million Chinese migrants on the continent, Chinese state and private enterprise have invested in everything from mining and construction, to technology and education. However, accurate investment figures and detailed case studies of these investments are hard to come by. This has given rise to varying shades of a familiar narrative in the West – namely that the Chinese are concerned only with extracting Africa’s abundant natural resources, often at the expense of the local population.

Neighbors Concerned About China's Ambitions

by Felix Richter, Statista.com

-- this post authored by Dyfed Loesche

While China is gathering economic and political clout many neighboring states fear that it is also becoming more expansionist.

China for example is expanding its presence in the South China Sea.

It's not surprising therefore that the Philippines and Vietnam are among those countries most concerned. Both have vested interests of their own in the South China Sea claiming sovereignty over groups of islands that China considers to be in its own sphere of influence, namely the Parcels and the Spratley Islands.

Fears regarding Chinas ambitions are fueled by the construction or enhancement of runways and a military buildup in that area. Taiwan, who has a long and quarrelsome history of its own with Mainland China, now claims that the Chinese military has stationed missiles on Woody Island, which the Chinese call Yongxing. The Chinese foreign ministry criticized the media for blowing the issue out of proportions.

BBC analyst Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports that China's deployment of long-range surface-to-air missiles to the South China Sea is a clear escalation, but doesn't come as a surprise. The US-Navy sailed a missile destroyer past the Island in a show of force at the end of January. US-President Barack Obama has called for "a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas".

The South China Sea Sunnylands and cloudy waters

China’s bullying in the South China Sea must not be allowed to pay off Feb 20th 2016 | 

THAT China has lifted so many out of poverty and become so powerful so quickly is remarkable. No less remarkable is how America, the incumbent superpower, has mostly treated China’s rise less as a threat than an opportunity. However, in the South China Sea, through which about 30% of the world’s trade passes, China risks jeopardising this benign arrangement. Its behaviour there disdains international law, scares its neighbours and heightens the danger of conflict with some of them and with America itself. Recalling its own slogans about stability and peace, it should back off.

The latest provocation is the apparent installation on Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, south of Hainan, of two launch batteries for surface-to-air missiles. China has not clearly denied this dangerous military escalation, talking instead of its right to “limited and necessary self-defence facilities”. The Paracels are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. China insists that virtually all the sea belongs to it, citing historical apocrypha.

Chinese Military Spending, Ambitions Fuel Asian Arms Race, Studies Say

Feb. 21, 2016

Regional defense spending rises even as nations’ economies are tested

The rapid rise in Chinese military spending and a greater assertiveness in its territorial claims is fueling an arms race in the Asia-Pacific region even though many of the countries involved have been hit by an economic slowdown, new research reports suggest.‎

Of the 10 biggest importers of defense equipment in the past five years, six countries were in the Asia-Pacific region, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said in an annual report on arms transfers. India was the largest buyer of foreign equipment, with China in third position after Saudi Arabia, the think tank said.

Although a country’s spending power is often tied to its economic strength, buyers in the Asia-Pacific region aren’t slashing military budgets even as their economies have come under strain from falling commodity prices and lower growth in China. “The slight moderation in economic activity had little effect on regional military spending in 2015,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies, or IISS, said in a new report.

China, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia last year were among the countries to announce plans for higher military spending, the IISS said.

New Capability and Reach of PLA Navy- Strategic and Tactical Implications in South China Sea and the Indian Ocean Region

Guest Column by Commodore RS Vasan IN Retd,
Paper No. 6078 Dated 19-Feb-2016

The PLA- Navy continues to be in the news as China is determined to add to its growing maritime capability to build a blue water navy of form and substance. The addition of a new assets to the PLA on a regular basis provides a power projection capability not just within the confines of the South China Sea where it has territorial claims contested by other littorals in the region., but also in the in the Indian Ocean. The recent assertive maneuvers by the US Navy in consonance with the Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) has not been a source of comfort for China. Likewise, the efforts of Philippines to internationalise the South China Dispute by taking the case to ICJ has not endeared it to China which did not want any embarrassment.

China on its part in a process to consolidate its position , has engaged in assiduously reinforcing its claims over reefs and Islands with in the nine dash line by building artificial Islands by enormous dredging around the disputed rocks/reefs to reinforce its territorial claims. There is no surprise that these Islands today have Runways, military garrisons, communication networks and other support infrastructure to help China to mount a credible C4ISR structure using the developed Islands which will act as links and hubs. This will also extend the reach of the PLA Navy and Air force elements. It is only a matter of time before these Islands are converted in to full-fledged forward posts in South China Sea. The fact that it also declared Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) some three years ago in certain areas which were contested has only complicated the air situation and safety aspects.


FEBRUARY 22, 2016

In a recent War on the Rocks podcast, Ryan Evans interviews Basam Ridha al-Hussaini, a special representative of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, about the state of affairs in Iraq and, in particular, the Popular Mobilization Units — a collection of government-sanctioned militias that currently augment state security in Iraq. It is a short segment (after minute 20), but the back and forth offers an extraordinary glimpse into the issues that are most central to the American dilemma in Iraq.

Al-Hussaini argues very reasonably in the interview that the United States should be doing everything it can to help Iraq defeat the Islamic State before it spreads its violence around the world, as exemplified by the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. This means focusing on the goal of marshaling all efforts toward defeating the group at the expense of other concerns, such as the dangers of unregulated armed forces or Iranian influence in Iraqi affairs. If this indeed was al-Hussaini’s mission in his recent visit to Washington, then he did an excellent job in clearly expressing this viewpoint. Listen for yourself.

The Turkish Week: Caution and Ambition

By George Friedman 
Feb. 19, 2016 

George Friedman's take on the week in geopolitics. 

This week, many major developments in the ongoing crises in Europe, Russia and the Middle East all intersected in Turkey. 

History swirled around Turkey this week. The European Union summit with Turkey on managing the refugee flow from Syria was pushed back to March after terrorist explosions hit Ankara. The Turks blamed the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) for the attacks but on Feb. 19, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks, active in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq, claimed responsibility. In the wake of the bombings, the Turks warned the Russians, whose airstrikes have helped the YPG in Syria, that if such attacks continued Russia would be held responsible. The Russians responded by charging that the Turks were recruiting for the Islamic State. In the chaos of charges, counter-charges, demands and mutual recriminations, there was one constant this week: they all swirled around the Turks.

As I have argued, the Eurasian land mass is in crisis. Three of these crises are beginning to interact. The European crisis is an institutional one, as the European Union has failed to find lasting solutions to the financial and migration issues. The Russian crisis is both strategic and economic, with the loss of Ukraine posing a strategic threat to Russia and the collapse in oil prices causing a profound economic crisis. In the Middle East, the states created by the British and French after World War I are collapsing and emerging forces, like the Islamic State, are reshaping the region. Add to this the collapse of oil prices – in part due to a decrease in demand from China and its impact on regional producers – and there is no sign that the instability in the region will subside. 

The Kingdom and the Caliphate: Duel of the Islamic States

February 18, 2016 

The struggle between Saudi Arabia and the self-proclaimed Islamic State is also a contest for the soul of Wahhabism.

Cole Bunzel

Cole Bunzel is a PhD candidate in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, where his research focuses on the history of the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia. Since late 2014 the Islamic State has declared war on Saudi Arabia and launched a series of terrorist attacks on Saudi soil intended to start an uprising. In a further attack on the Saudi kingdom, the self-declared caliphate has claimed to be the true representative of the severe form of Islam indigenous to Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism. These two very different versions of an Islamic state are at war over a shared religious heritage and territory.

Heritage and Homeland Under Siege 
The Islamic State, which draws on the teachings of the Wahhabi school of Islam, finds inspiration in the example of the first Saudi-Wahhabi state (1744–1818), which engaged in expansionary jihad and cultivated a sectarian animus toward the Shia.

The Islamic State has declared three so-called provinces in Saudi Arabia and carried out some fifteen attacks there since November 2014.



President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at a meeting with a group of civil rights leaders at the White House in Washington February 18. The idea that Obama could have stopped the bleeding or now has the capacity or obligation to put the Syrian Humpty Dumpty back together is not only wrongheaded; it ignores a number of all too inconvenient realities.

As a former Middle East negotiator and adviser to secretaries of state of both parties, I’ve seen and helped contribute to a good many mistakes and failures in U.S. Middle East policy over the years. And there’s no doubt in my mind that when the U.S. does err or transgress it adds to rather than diminishes U.S. credibility.

But we can’t and shouldn’t beat ourselves up unnecessarily, particularly since there are so many at home and abroad just waiting for the opportunity.

And nowhere is this fact more evident than in efforts to hold the Obama administration primarily responsible for the mother of all Middle East catastrophes—the Syrian civil war.

Iran Isn’t Sweating Saudi Intervention in Syria

February 19, 2016

The Saudi pledge on February 4 to contribute ground troops as part of an “accelerated” campaign in Syria was followed by similar announcements from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, along with hints that Qatar may also contribute symbolically. Small deployments of Gulf Arab forces are unlikely to significantly alter the battlefield in Syria, if they ever materialize. Could they, however, drive the complex proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Syria towards a more direct military confrontation?

The possible new Arab special operations deployments come as Iran’s hand in the conflict grows stronger, and the return on Saudi investment in Syrian opposition groups continues to disappoint. The opposition-held areas of Aleppo appear increasingly vulnerable to being retaken by the joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian assault and the Geneva peace talks appear to be going nowhere. The United States is also pressuring the Gulf States for greater participation in the fight against the Islamic State, while Turkey is willing to deepen its coordination with Saudi Arabia in Syria.

The media are misleading the public on Syria

FEBRUARY 18, 2016

New recruits trained to fight alongside opposition in Aleppo, Syria.

COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Fight or flight: America’s choice in the Middle East

Kenneth M. Pollack 
February 16, 2016 

Editors' Note: The modern Middle East has rarely been tranquil, but it has never been this bad, writes Ken Pollack. The next U.S. president is going to face a choice in the Middle East: do much more to stabilize it, or disengage from it much more. This piece was originally published in Foreign Affairs.

The modern Middle East has rarely been tranquil, but it has never been this bad. Full-blown civil wars rage in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Nascent conflicts simmer in Egypt, South Sudan, and Turkey. Various forms of spillover from these civil wars threaten the stability of Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have risen to new heights, raising the specter of a region-wide religious war. Israel and the Palestinians have experienced a resurgence of low-level violence. Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have weathered the storm so far, but even they are terrified of what is going on around them. Not since the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century has the Middle East seen so much chaos.

A Worrying Week for Russia

By Lili Bayer 
Feb. 19, 2016 

You are receiving our daily Reality Check as a limited time offer for a select group of early readers. 

A daily explanation of what matters and what doesn't in the world of geopolitics. 

Challenges in all of Russia’s important buffer zones have raised strategic questions for the Kremlin. 

It has been a difficult week for Russia’s strategists. The view from Moscow is full of new challenges arising on all of Russia’s most sensitive borders. The Kremlin faces hard questions from the south in Turkey, the Black Sea and Syria; to the west in Belarus and Ukraine; and next door in Central Asia. 

The most urgent question for Russia is whether Turkey will move into northern Syria, and if so, how many miles Ankara would be willing to advance into Syrian territory. At Geopolitical Futures, we have outlined that despite the human tragedy of this week’s bombings in Turkey, the attacks themselves will not impact Turkey’s decision-making. Turkey’s goal is regime change in Syria, as well as preventing the rise of a contiguous powerful Kurdish entity south of the Turkish border. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the conflict Ankara has hesitated to send troops, a move that would cost Turkey significant resources and embroil the country in a quagmire. 

How The European Union Could Still Fall Apart

20 February 2016

-- this post authored by Ettore Recchi, Sciences Po

Some say the true capital of the EU is not Brussels, where the European Commission, Council and Parliament lie, but rather Frankfurt, the seat of the European Central Bank (ECB). After all, it is the ECB that has done most to overcome the severest threat to European integration. In the wake of the sovereign debt crisis, ECB president Mario Draghi's 2012 promise to do "whatever it takes" to rescue the euro is one of the most successful speeches ever made by a EU politician.

The ill-fated Paulskirche parliament, 1848. Jean Nicolas Ventadour

In Frankfurt, a short walk from the new ECB headquarters takes you to the Paulskirche. There, in 1848 an early parliament was elected by all the small sovereign states of the German-speaking world. It was an exciting moment, a forward-looking project towards a unified Germany. But the fire of enthusiasm was soon extinguished. The parliament lasted no more than a year, and in 1849 its representatives started to desert it until it was eventually disbanded.

Ukraine’s Grim Slide

Ukraine’s government was on the verge of collapse earlier today after two smaller parties quit the governing coalition in disgust following Tuesday’s failed vote to oust the unpopular Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk from office. Both Ukrainian reformers andjournalists denounced Tuesday’s flubbed no-confidence vote as a crooked ploy by oligarchs to keep their grip on the levers of power. The departure of 26 MPs of the pro-Western Samopomisch (Self-Reliance) party today, joining the 19 MPs from Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna (Fatherland) party that quit yesterday, left the remaining coalition of Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front and President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc without a majority.

Yatsenyuk, however, appears to have pulled a rabbit out of his hat,luring the Radical Party, which had quit last year, back into the coalition and thus staving off early elections.

Anticipating these events yesterday, Anders Aslund warned that this arrangement could prove unstable:

Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk might be able to lure the Radical Party back and gain support from three smaller oligarchic parties outside the coalition, but doing so would confirm that they instigated the coup and undermine their reputation among voters. The natural consequence would be that the government falls apart prompting early parliamentary elections, for which Fatherland and Self-Reliance are campaigning.

Russia in the Middle East

By: Hugo Spaulding, Jennifer Cafarella, and Genevieve Casagrande

Russia reframed the international agenda on Syria with a disingenuous ceasefire agreement. Russia and the U.S.-led International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to implement a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria in a meeting on February 11. The agreement also included the delivery of humanitarian aid to numerous critically besieged areas, which subsequently occurred. Russia demonstrated its intent to use the “cessation of hostilities” agreement to legitimize continued targeting of the opposition, including U.S-backed groups, in Aleppo Province. Russian airstrikes continued to target vital civilian infrastructure in an effort to weaken the resolve of the Syrian armed opposition and depopulate opposition-held terrain. Aid organizations accused Russia of bombing four hospitals and one school in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces on February 15 alone. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad meanwhile stated his intent to retake all of Syria “without hesitation,” showing that the regime will not adhere to the agreement to cease hostilities. Although Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin claimed that Assad’s statement was “not in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making,” his statement underscored Russia’s intent to pose as a neutral party rather than a belligerent supporting pro-regime advances against the opposition. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov nevertheless claimed that the success of the “cessation of hostilities” agreement rests on the U.S.’s willingness to “cooperate” with Russia militarily, exposing the Kremlin’s objective to force the U.S. to abandon its support for the Syrian opposition. 

Ukraine Reform Monitor: February 2016

February 19, 2016 

The biggest challenges facing Ukraine are its long-standing, systemic failures—a corrupt government and a political system dominated by big business.

The Ukraine Reform Monitor provides independent, rigorous assessments of the extent and quality of reforms in Ukraine. The Carnegie Endowment has assembled anindependent team of Ukraine-based scholars to analyze reforms in four key areas. This fourth memo covers the period from December 2015 to mid-February 2016. The monitor is supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. 

In early 2016, the administration of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko suffered a series of major setbacks that threatened a new political crisis in Ukraine. The government failed to secure the necessary support in the parliament for a decentralization reform. This in turn raised new doubts about the feasibility of the Minsk process aimed at settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the prospects for peace there. 

Connectivity Wars: The Geo-economic Battlegrounds of the Future

This publication contains 23 short but detailed essays that explore how countries are exploiting global interconnectedness to achieve their geopolitical aims. Some of the topics covered include 1) the growing reliance on economic warfare as a foreign policy tool; 2) the "infrastructure competition" that exists between states; 3) the current and future status of established powers such as Germany and the US; and 4) the challenges being raised by Russia and China against the existing international order.

© 2016 European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)


The Chess Master and the Computer

by Diego Rasskin-Gutman, translated from the Spanish by Deborah Klosky

In 1985, in Hamburg, I played against thirty-two different chess computers at the same time in what is known as a simultaneous exhibition. I walked from one machine to the next, making my moves over a period of more than five hours. The four leading chess computer manufacturers had sent their top models, including eight named after me from the electronics firm Saitek.

It illustrates the state of computer chess at the time that it didn’t come as much of a surprise when I achieved a perfect 32–0 score, winning every game, although there was an uncomfortable moment. At one point I realized that I was drifting into trouble in a game against one of the “Kasparov” brand models. If this machine scored a win or even a draw, people would be quick to say that I had thrown the game to get PR for the company, so I had to intensify my efforts. Eventually I found a way to trick the machine with a sacrifice it should have refused. From the human perspective, or at least from my perspective, those were the good old days of man vs. machine chess.

The Real Lesson of the Apple-FBI Showdown: Cybersecurity Isn’t Hopeless

February 18, 2016

It may be hard to imagine but there are probably moments when Apple CEO Tim Cook and FBI Director Jim Comey probably have the same fervent wish: Would someone–anyone–please figure out how to hack into Syed Rizwan Farook’s darn iPhone. 

Both would likely take up John McAfee on his offer to decrypt the San Bernardino shooters’ phone if anyone understood how social engineering could be used to break into a dead man’s phone. 

In the short term, it would solve both their problems if a third party forensics company started selling law enforcement a tool that could access data on iPhones. I’ve written before about lawful hacking as a potential solution to the standoff between law enforcement and the tech companies. It’s a messy solution that pits U.S. companies against the government but it may be the best answer among a lot of bad ones.


FEBRUARY 22, 2016

The nation’s largest military service has found itself in search of a future as its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan wanes. For that reason, the National Commission on the Future of the Army’s report was met with anticipation, especially within the Army aviation community, where pilots have flown millions of combat flight hours in aircraft older than the men and women in the cockpits. Unfortunately, the document envisions a bleak future for Army aviation — the commission’s recommendations may be the most politically palatable, but they’re not the right choice for a combat-ready aviation force.

First, the commission pays scant attention to what will surely become a major player in the future of Army aviation — unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. Just a few years ago, UAS operators and technicians represented the largest personnel growth field in Army aviation — ironic for a function that is labeled “unmanned.” Indeed, while the Air Force’s drone fleet has encountered growing pains, the Army has embraced the mission, embedding platoons of drones in many of its attack helicopter companies. Unfortunately, the commission did more to explore counteringenemy drones than it did employing them, which is a glaring omission in a document dedicated to exploring the Army’s future.


FEBRUARY 19, 2016

Policymakers have called for more rigor in the Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) system for over three decades — at least since the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Skelton Panel of 1989, and more recently the 2010 Congressional report Another Crossroads? Professional Military Education Two Decades After the Goldwater-Nichols Act and the Skelton Panel. All of these efforts sought to “grow” more strategically minded critical thinkers.

Despite this, the record shows that holding JPME schools to rigorous standards has been extremely patchy at best. Why is this the case? The main problem is that Congress and the Department of Defense do not have a clear definition of what they mean by academic rigor. And though Congress has required the services to educate more strategically minded thinkers, and provided guidance on broad topic areas (outlined below) to support this, it has not done the same for academic rigor. Despite this, the services have claimed they are academically rigorous, and point to the joint learning objectives they established in the Officer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP). However, an examination of the stated learning objectives of the service schools indicates that the rhetoric is not matched by reality. The measures, as assessed in the levels of learning outlined below, used by the DoD and the services to establish and assess rigor within JPME are grossly inadequate. Unless this is dealt with there will be a never-ending debate over how to improve the level of rigor within the JPME system and, in turn, to help fix the problems of poor strategic decision-making that have plagued us for the last fifty or more years.