3 March 2016

The Battle for Mosul Has Begun

February 29, 2016  By Kevin Baron 
ISIS is under air, ground, and cyber attack as Iraqi and coalition troops encircle the group’s final stronghold in Iraq, the Joint Chiefs chairman says. 
WASHINGTON — The battle for Mosul ultimately will be the biggest U.S. operation in Iraq since the end of the last war. That was Monday’s message from Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who said multinational forces have begun to cut off the city’s supply and communications lines, and to encircle and isolate Islamic State fighters with cyber and air and ground attacks. Some coalition forces are already going after ISIS inside Mosul, and the final thrust to retake it should be expected sooner than the distant future, Dunford said.
Carter and Dunford spoke just a few days after President Barack Obama said he directed the military to continue to “accelerate” the war against ISIS “on all fronts.”
U.S. leaders say Mosul, along with the Syrian city of Raqqa, is the heart and headquarters of ISIS. Coalition assaults on these cities, and replacing ISIS with local, vetted leaders, will break the group’s grip on Iraqi territory and end its ability to inspire or direct terrorist attacks abroad.
Rather than sending brigades of U.S. forces to reinvade Mosul, the Obama administration has deployed special operators to target ISIS leaders and dispatched thousands of advisors, who have spent months preparing Iraqi, Kurd, and other local forces to do the job. The strategy has drawn blistering criticism from seasoned diplomats, former generals, and Republican leaders and presidential candidates, who have argued that greater U.S. military intervention could have broken ISIS sooner and saved innocents.
Still, the push into Mosul will require more American forces than were involved in the recent retaking of the southern Iraqi city of Ramadi, and will be shaped by lessons from that earlier campaign. Carter said he expected Americans to provide more logistics and “bridging” forces; Dunford said U.S. and Iraqi troops are preparing logistics and resupply points for Iraqi fighters as they make their way into the city.
“The operations against Mosul have already started,” Dunford said at the Pentagon on Monday. “In other words, you know, we’re isolating Mosul, even as we speak—the same thing with Raqqa. So it is not something that will happen in the deep, deep future.”

*** Two Superpowers We Wish We Had

Our 2016 Annual Letter 
If you could have one superpower, what would it be? 
By Bill and Melinda Gates | February 22, 2016
We were asked that question recently by some high school students in Kentucky.
They also asked us about our favorite breakfast cereal (Bill: Cocoa Puffs; Melinda: Wheat Chex); what animal we would want to be (Bill: a bonobo; Melinda: a white leopard); and if we know how to dance the Whip and Nae Nae (one of us does).
The superpower question was our favorite. 
To fly. To be invisible. To travel through time. All good options. 
Trying to keep up with our foundation work and our three children’s schedules, we gave responses that will be immediately familiar to other parents. 
“More time!”
“More energy!”
When we sat down to write this year’s letter, those answers stuck with us. Sure, everyone wants more time and energy. But they mean one thing in rich countries and something else entirely when looked at through the eyes of the world’s poorest families.
Poverty is not just about a lack of money. It’s about the absence of the resources the poor need to realize their potential. Two critical ones are time and energy. 
More than one billion people today live without access to energy. No electricity to light and heat their homes, power hospitals and factories, and improve their lives in thousands of ways. 
Likewise, a lack of time creates obstacles too. It’s not simply the feeling of not having enough hours in the day. It’s the crippling effect of having to perform the backbreaking work that needs to get done when there’s no electricity. 
We are dedicating this year’s letter to talking about the opportunities we see to overcome these often overlooked challenges. We’re writing to high school students because you’re the ones who will ultimately be solving these problems. (Our interests in time and energy are separate from our foundation’s work on health and poverty. But it’s all related. Solving these problems will make it easier to save lives and make the world a more equitable place.)
More time. More energy. As superpowers go, they may not be as exciting as Superman’s ability to defy gravity. But if the world can put more of both into the hands of the poorest, we believe it will allow millions of dreams to take flight.

2016 Annual Letter 

More Energy 

by Bill 

At some point today, you’ll probably do one or all of these things: Flip a switch for light. Take fresh food from a refrigerator. Turn a dial to make your home warmer or cooler. Press a button on your laptop to go online. 

You probably won’t think twice about any of these actions, but you will actually be doing something extraordinary. You will be using a superpower—your access to energy. 

Does that sound ridiculous? 

Just imagine, for a minute, life without energy.

You don’t have a way to run a laptop, mobile phone, TV, or video games. You don’t have lights, heat, air conditioning, or even the Internet to read this letter.

About 1.3 billion people—18 percent of the world’s population—don’t need to imagine. That’s what life is like for them every day. 

You can see this fact for yourself in this photograph of Africa at night taken from space.

Africa has made extraordinary progress in recent decades. It is one of the fastest-growing regions of the world with modern cities, hundreds of millions of mobile phone users, growing Internet access, and a vibrant middle class. 

But as you can see from the areas without lights, that prosperity has not reached everyone. In fact, of the nearly one billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, 7 out of every 10 of them live in the dark, without electricity. The majority of them live in rural areas. You would see the same problem in Asia. In India alone, more than 300 million people don’t have electricity. 

If you could zoom into one of those dark areas in that photograph, you might see a scene like this one. This is a student doing her homework by candlelight. 

I’m always a little stunned when I see photographs like this. It’s been well over a century since Thomas Edison demonstrated how an incandescent light bulb could turn night into day. (I’m lucky enough to own one of his sketches of how he planned to improve his light bulb. It’s dated 1885.) And yet, there are parts of the world where people are still waiting to enjoy the benefits of his invention. 

If I could have just one wish to help the poorest people, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power our world.

You might be wondering, “Aren’t people just trying to stay healthy and find enough to eat? Isn’t that important too?” Yes, of course it is, and our foundation is working hard to help them. But energy makes all those things easier. It means you can run hospitals, light up schools, and use tractors to grow more food. 

Think about the history classes you’re taking. If I had to sum up history in one sentence it would be: “Life gets better—not for everyone all the time, but for most people most of the time.” And the reason is energy. For thousands of years, people burned wood for fuel. Their lives were, by and large, short and hard. But when we started using coal in the 1800s, life started getting better a lot faster. Pretty soon we had lights, refrigerators, skyscrapers, elevators, air conditioning, cars, planes, and all the other things that make up modern life, from lifesaving medicines and moon landings to fertilizer and Matt Damon movies. (The Martian was my favorite movie last year.) 

Without access to energy, the poor are stuck in the dark, denied all of these benefits and opportunities that come with power. 

So if we really want to help the world’s poorest families, we need to find a way to get them cheap, clean energy. Cheap because everyone must be able to afford it. Clean because it must not emit any carbon dioxide—which is driving climate change.

I’m sure you have read about climate change and maybe studied it in school. You might be worried about how it will affect you. The truth is, the people who will be hit the hardest are the world’s poorest. Millions of the poorest families work as farmers. Changes in weather often mean that their crops won’t grow because of too little rain or too much rain. That sinks them deeper into poverty. That’s particularly unfair because they’re the least responsible for emitting CO2, which is causing the problem in the first place.

Scientists say that to avoid these dramatic long-term changes to the climate, the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent by 2050, and eliminate them entirely by the end of the century.

When I first heard this I was surprised. Can’t we just aim to cut carbon emissions in half? I asked many scientists. But they all agreed that wouldn’t be enough. The problem is that CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for decades. Even if we halted carbon emissions tomorrow, the temperature would still rise because of the carbon that’s already been released. No, we need to get all the way down to zero. 

That’s a huge challenge. In 2015, the world emitted 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide to produce energy. This is a mind-boggling number. (It’s worth remembering, because it will come in handy. For example, someone may tell you they know how to remove 100 million tons of carbon per year. That sounds like a lot, but if you do the math—100 million divided by 36 billion—you’ll see that they’re talking about 0.3 percent of the problem. Every reduction in emissions helps, but we still have to work on the other 99.7 percent.)

How can we ever reduce a number like 36 billion tons to zero? 

Whenever I’m confronted with a big problem I turn to my favorite subject: math. It’s one subject that always came naturally to me, even in middle school when my grades weren’t that great. Math cuts out the noise and helps me distill a problem down to its basic elements. 

Climate change is an issue that has plenty of noise surrounding it. There are those who deny it is a problem at all. Others exaggerate the immediate risks. 

What I needed was an equation that would help me understand how we might get our CO2 down to zero. 

Here’s what I came up with:

That might look complicated. It’s not. 

On the right side you have the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) we put in the atmosphere. This is what we need to get to zero. It’s based on the four factors on the left side of the equation: the world’s population (P) multiplied by the services (S) used by each person; the energy (E) needed to provide each of those services; and finally, the carbon dioxide (C) produced by that energy.

As you learned in math class, any number multiplied by zero will equal zero. So if we want to get to zero CO2, then we need to get at least one of the four factors on the left to zero.

Let’s go through them, one by one, and see what we get.

The world’s population (P) is currently 7 billion and expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. No chance it’ll be zero. 

Next, services. This is everything: food, clothing, heat, houses, cars, TV, toothbrushes, Elmo dolls, Taylor Swift albums, etc. This is the number that I was saying earlier needs to go up in poor countries, so people can have lights, refrigerators, and so on. So (S) can’t be zero, either. 

Let’s take a look at (E). That’s the energy needed per service. There’s some good news here. Fuel-efficient cars, LED light bulbs, and other inventions are making it possible to use energy more efficiently.

Many people, and you may be one of them, are also changing their lifestyles to conserve energy. They’re biking and carpooling to save gas, turning down the heat a couple degrees, adding insulation to their homes. All of these efforts help cut down on energy use. 

Unfortunately, they don’t get us to zero. In fact, most scientists agree that by 2050 we’ll be using 50 percent more energy than we do today. 

So none of the first three—population, services, and energy—are getting close to zero. That leaves the final factor (C), the amount of carbon emitted per each unit of energy. 

The majority of the world’s energy, other than hydro and nuclear, is produced by fossil fuels like coal that emit an overwhelming amount of CO2. But there’s some good news here, too. New green technologies are allowing the world to produce more carbon-free energy from solar and wind power. Maybe you live near a wind farm or have seen solar panels near your school. 

It’s great that these are getting cheaper and more people are using them. We should use more of them where it makes sense, like in places where it’s especially sunny or windy. And by installing special new power lines we could make even more use of solar and wind power. 

But to stop climate change and make energy affordable for everyone, we’re also going to need some new inventions. 

Why? Solar and wind power are reliable energy sources so long as the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. But people still need dependable energy on cloudy days, at nighttime, and when the air is still. That means power companies often back up these renewable sources with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas, which emit greenhouse gases. 

It would help, of course, if we had a great system for storing solar and wind power. But right now, the best storage option is rechargeable batteries, and they are expensive. Lithium-ion batteries like the one inside your laptop are still the gold standard. If you wanted to use one to store enough electricity to run everything in your house for a week, you would need a huge battery—and it would triple your electric bill.

So we need more powerful, more economical solutions. 

In short, we need an energy miracle. 

When I say “miracle,” I don’t mean something that’s impossible. I’ve seen miracles happen before. The personal computer. The Internet. The polio vaccine. None of them happened by chance. They are the result of research and development and the human capacity to innovate. 

In this case, however, time is not on our side. Every day we are releasing more and more CO2 into our atmosphere and making our climate change problem even worse. We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas—even ones that might sound a little crazy—if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century. 

New ways to make solar and wind power available to everyone around the clock could be one solution. Some of the crazier inventions I’m excited about are a possible way to use solar energy to produce fuel, much like plants use sunlight to make food for themselves, and batteries the size of swimming pools with huge storage capacity.

Many of these ideas won’t work, but that’s okay. Each dead end will teach us something useful and keep us moving forward. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” 

But to find thousands of ways that won’t work, you first need to try thousands of different ideas. That’s not happening nearly enough. 

Governments have a big role to play in sparking new advances, as they have for other scientific research. U.S. government funding was behind breakthrough cancer treatments and the moon landing. If you’re reading this online, you have the government to thank for that too. Research paid for by the U.S. government helped create the Internet.

But energy research and the transition to new energy sources takes a long time. It took four decades for oil to go from 5 percent of the world’s energy supply to 25 percent. Today, renewable energy sources like wind and solar account for less than 5 percent of the world’s energy.

So we need to get started now. I recently helped launch an effort by more than two dozen private citizens that will complement government research being done by several countries. It’s all aimed at delivering energy miracles. 

You may be wondering what you can do to help. 

First, it’s important for everyone to get educated about this energy challenge. Many young people are already actively involved in climate and energy issues and I’m sure they could use more help. Your generation is one of the most globally minded in history, adept at looking at our world’s problems beyond national borders. This will be a valuable asset as we work on global solutions in the decades ahead. 

Second, if you’re someone with some crazy-sounding ideas to solve our energy challenge, the world needs you. Study extra hard in your math and sciences. You might just have the answer.

The challenge we face is big, perhaps bigger than many people imagine. But so is the opportunity. If the world can find a source of cheap, clean energy, it will do more than halt climate change. It will transform the lives of millions of the poorest families.

I'm so optimistic about the world’s ability to make a miracle happen that I’m willing to make a prediction. Within the next 15 years—and especially if young people get involved—I expect the world will discover a clean energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.

I like to think about what an energy miracle like that would mean in a slum I once visited in Nigeria. It was home to tens of thousands of people but there was no electricity. As night fell, no lights flickered on. The only glow came from open fires lit in metal barrels, where people gathered for the evening. There was no other light for kids to study by, no easy way to run a business or power local clinics and hospitals. It was sad to think about all of the potential in this community that was going untapped. 

A cheap, clean source of energy would change everything. 

Imagine that. 

2016 Annual Letter 

More Time 

by Melinda 

I’m sure you’ve seen images like this one. I think they’re hilarious. And they remind me of how much has changed since I was a girl in Dallas in the 1970s, back when we watched Wonder Woman instead of Supergirl.

My brothers and sister and I had a lot of friends whose mothers, as we used to say, stayed home instead of working (though now I know that staying home is working—and working very hard, even though you don’t get paid for it).

The moms in our neighborhood seemed to spend most of their time in the kitchen. I’m interested in design, so I know now that their kitchens were “triangle kitchens,” with the fridge, sink, and stove laid out to make whipping up an omelet as quick and easy as possible. Kitchen design was a fad throughout the 20th century. In one demonstration, a woman baked two identical strawberry shortcakes, one in a regular kitchen and the other in a new and improved version. The process required 281 footsteps the first time around but only 41 the second. The kitchen itself made cake-baking 85 percent more efficient!

What the triangle kitchen didn’t do was challenge the idea that women were supposed to spend most of their lives in the kitchen, retracing their steps in a seemingly endless triangle.

But this is 2016, not the 1970s or the 1950s. If you’re an American, three out of four moms at your school have a job. Your father probably does at least some cooking. There’s a 35 percent chance you live with one parent (which means he or she has to do all the paid work and all the unpaid work). Maybe you split your time between two houses and four parents, or maybe both your parents are moms (or dads). The world has changed a lot.

I know from listening to my kids and their friends—and from looking at polling data about how teenagers see the future—that most girls don’t think they will be stuck with the same rules that kept their grandmothers in the home. And most boys agree with them.

I’m sorry to say this, but if you think that, you’re wrong. Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility. 

Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function. You can think of unpaid work as falling into three main categories: cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly. Who packs your lunch? Who fishes the sweaty socks out of your gym bag? Who hassles the nursing home to make sure your grandparents are getting what they need?

Now, this work has to be done by somebody. But it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not.

This holds true in every single country in the world. Globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time. But the fact is that the burden of unpaid work falls heaviest on women in poor countries, where the hours are longer and the gap between women and men is wider. In India, to take one example, women spend about 6 hours, and men spend less than 1 hour. 

Most girls in poor countries don’t have a triangle kitchen. Instead, they move in long, straight lines, back and forth, because they have to walk miles to fetch water and chop wood. The geometry of their footsteps is different, but it’s still based on the assumption that keeping the household running is their responsibility. The massive number of hours these girls spend on these tasks distorts their entire lives. It’s almost impossible for those of us lucky enough to live in rich countries to understand how unpaid work dominates the lives of hundreds of millions of women and girls.

When I visited Tanzania a couple of years ago, I spent a few days with Anna and Sanare and their six kids. Anna’s day started at 5 a.m. with lighting a fire to cook breakfast. After we cleaned up, we fetched water. Once Anna’s bucket was full it weighed 40 pounds. (The average distance women walk to get clean water in rural Africa and Asia is two miles each way. Imagine doing that with almost half your body weight on your head!) When we got back to the house I was exhausted, even though I’d carried less than Anna. But we couldn’t rest, because it was time to build the fire again for lunch. After that we went into the forest to chop wood for the next day’s fires, being careful not to get stung by scorpions. Then we went for more water, then milked the goats, then dinner. We were up past 10 at night, washing dishes in the moonlight.

How many thousands of steps did I take that day? However many it was, Anna had to multiply that number by every day of her life. 

Why am I counting the footsteps of women around the world, like a human Fitbit?

Because you are imagining your future right now, and I want your feet to lead you wherever you’re going to find the most meaning and satisfaction.

It's not just about fairness; assigning most unpaid work to women harms everyone: men, women, boys, and girls.

The reason? Economists call it opportunity cost: the other things women could be doing if they didn’t spend so much time on mundane tasks. What amazing goals would you accomplish with an extra hour every day? Or, in the case of girls in many poor countries, an extra five or more? There are lots of ways to answer this question, but it’s obvious that many women would spend more time doing paid work, starting businesses, or otherwise contributing to the economic well-being of societies around the world. The fact that they can’t holds their families and communities back.

Girls in poorer countries might say they’d use extra time to do their homework. Housework comes first, so girls often fall behind in school. Global statistics show that it’s increasingly girls, not boys, who don’t know how to read.

Mothers might say they’d go to the doctor. In poor countries, moms are usually responsible for their kids’ health. But breastfeeding and traveling to the clinic take time, and research shows that health care is one of the first tradeoffs women make when they're too busy. 

Some women might simply read a book or take a walk or visit a friend, and I totally support that, too. Everybody’s better off when more of us are fulfilled in our daily lives.

I’m writing this because I'm optimistic. Though no country has gotten the balance perfect yet, many have narrowed the unpaid labor gap by several hours a day. America and Europe have come a long way. The Scandinavian countries have gone even further.

The world is making progress by doing three things economists call Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute: Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.

Let’s start with Reducing, because that’s the most straightforward. Rich countries have done a great job of Reducing the time it takes to do most household tasks. That’s what the triangle kitchen was all about. Americans don’t fetch water because faucets fetch it for us, instantly. We don’t spend all day on a load of laundry because the washing machine does it in a half-hour. Cooking goes much faster when you start with a gas stove instead of an ax and a tree. 

In poorer countries, though, most women still haul water, clean clothes by hand, and cook over an open flame. 

The solution is innovation, and you can help. Some of you will become engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and software developers. I invite you to take on the challenge of serving the poor with cheap, clean energy, better roads, and running water. Or maybe you can invent ingenious labor-saving technologies. Can you imagine a machine that washes clothes using no electricity and very little water? Perhaps you can improve on the mortar and pestle, the 40,000-year-old technology I see women using to grind grain into food every time I travel in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. 

But Reducing by itself isn’t enough, because it’s not just that housework takes a long time; it’s also that every culture expects women to do it. If tasks start taking less time, societies can (and do) simply assign women more tasks to fill up the time they’re deemed to have available. No matter how efficient we make housework, we won’t actually free up women’s time until we Recognize that it’s just as valuable as men’s.

This isn’t a global plot by men to oppress women. It’s more subtle than that. The division of work depends on cultural norms, and we call them norms because they seem normal—so normal that many of us don’t notice the assumptions we’re making. But your generation can notice them—and keep pointing them out until the world pays attention. 

Think about your household chores. If you’re an American girl, you probably do 2 hours of chores a week more than boys. If you’re a boy, you’re 15 percent more likely to be paid for doing your chores. And what percent of girls’ chores are inside, and what percent of boys’ are outside? Why is that?

In TV commercials you see, how often are men doing laundry, cooking, or running after kids? (The answer: 2 percent of the time.) How many of the women are advertising kitchen or cleaning products? (More than half.)

Once we see these norms, we can replace them with something better.

What do those better norms look like? How are you going to Redistribute the work it takes to live?

It’s not an easy question. 

For example, nobody supports a 50/50 split of all types of work at all times. Part of belonging to a family is cooperating, and sometimes one person is going to change a few more diapers because another is focused on a different important task. 

Furthermore, not all unpaid work is created equal. Folding laundry isn’t rewarding, unless you’re one of those obsessively neat people. (I’m not.) But caring for a child or a sick relative is deeply meaningful, and many people, Bill and me included, want to take time to concentrate on that part of life. Sharing the burdens of unpaid work also means sharing the joys.

In fact, studies show that when fathers are able to take time off from paid work when their children are born, they spend more time with their kids and doing other kinds of housework for years to come. As a result, they form a stronger bond with their partners and children. That’s one reason why I think access to paid family and medical leave is so important for families. 

In the end, the goal is to change what we think of as normal—and not thinking it’s funny or weird when a man puts on an apron, picks up his kids from school, or leaves a cute note in his son’s lunchbox.

When it comes to Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute, the story of Anna and Sanare, the couple I stayed with in Tanzania, is pretty inspiring. When they got married, Anna moved from a lush part of the country to live in Sanare’s drought-ridden area. She had a hard time adjusting to the extra work that meant. Finally, Sanare came home one day to see Anna sitting on the steps ready to leave, her bags packed and their first child, Robert, in her arms. Sanare, heartbroken, asked how he could persuade her to stay. “Fetch water,” she said, “so I can nurse our son.” And so, Recognizing the imbalance, he did. He started walking the miles to the well every day. At first the other village men made fun of him and even accused Anna of witchcraft. But when he said, “My son will be healthier because I’m doing this,” they started Redistributing the work with him. After a while, when they got sick of working so hard, they decided to build water tanks to collect rainwater near the village. Now that they’ve Reduced, no matter who goes to get water, Anna or Sanare, it’s a lot closer—and they both spend more time with Robert and their other kids.

The world can learn a lot from this couple.

I can’t wait to see where your steps will lead you. Not necessarily in triangles. Not in straight lines, unless that’s what you want. But in any direction you choose.

2016 Annual Letter 

Get Involved 

By Bill and Melinda 

We started this year’s letter asking the question, if you could have one superpower, what would it be? 

Dreaming about whether you would want to read minds, see through walls, or have superhuman strength may sound silly, but it actually gets to the heart of what really matters in your life. 

Every day in our work at the foundation, we are inspired by the people we meet doing extraordinary things to improve the world. 

They have all tapped into a different kind of superpower that all of us possess: the power to make a difference in the lives of others. 

We’re not saying that everyone needs to dedicate their lives to the poor. Your lives are busy enough doing homework, playing sports, making friends, pursuing your dreams. But we do think that you can live a more powerful life when you dedicate some of your time and energy to something much larger than yourself. Find an issue you’re passionate about and learn more. Volunteer or, if you can, donate a little money to a cause. Whatever you do, don’t be a bystander. Get involved. You may have the opportunity to make your biggest impact when you’re older. But why not start now? 

Our own experience working together on health, development, and energy the last two decades has been one of the most rewarding parts of our lives. It has transformed who we are and continues to fuel our optimism about how much the lives of the poorest people will improve in the years ahead. 

We know it’s an experience that will change your life too. You’ll be like Clark Kent ducking away to change into his alter ego, emerging not with a pair of tights and a cape, but with superpowers you never knew you had.

India and the South China Sea Dispute

By Abhijit Singh, March 01, 2016
The South China Sea (SCS) is witnessing a dramatic rise in maritime tensions. Last week, China landed two fighter jets on Woody island – a subset of the Paracel group of islands – just days after the PLAplaced surface-to-air missiles at the same location. With a range of about 200 kilometers, the new HQ-9 missiles can target aircraft approaching China’s claimed spaces in the South China Sea. To add to regional worries, the latest satellite images of several of the Spratly Islands showed probable radar infrastructure, suggesting that the PLA may already have established full radar coverage over the SCS.

Needless to say, there has been much speculation over China’s “strategic” intentions in the South China Sea. The act of placing missiles on disputed territory has been widely interpreted as a hardening of Beijing’s maritime posture – not just on account of the direct threat the missiles pose to foreign air-operations in the South China Sea, but also because the new armament complements the PLA’s existing air warfare capability on Woody Islands.
While India isn’t party to the South China Sea dispute, four aspects of the recent developments might interest New Delhi. First, irrespective of the claims and counter-claims by the United States and China, it is clear that Beijing operates from a position of strength in the South China Sea, wherein it has physical control over critical islands in the region. China has shown the U.S. and its allies that what matters in a maritime territorial dispute is the actual ‘possession’ of the islands, and as long as the PLA exercises military control over the features, it will exploit their location to support broader territorial claims. For New Delhi, which has been concerned about the security of its trade-flows and energy interests in the South China Sea, however, Beijing’s placement of missiles points to a sober reality. As the disputed islands are militarized, it could imperil freedom of navigation, making Beijing the main arbiter of the accepted range of ‘legitimate’ operations in the South China Sea.

*** Satellite Imagery Shows Pakistan’s Khushab Reactors Are Generating Plutonium While New Reactor Is Being Built

Khushab Reactors Operational While New Construction Progresses 
David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini 
Institute for Science and International Security
February 29, 2016
Pakistan’s Khushab reactors remain in operation and continue to increase Pakistan’s inventory of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Commercial satellite imagery shows that at least three of the four reactors are in operation. The imagery also shows that construction is progressing at a new location in the southwest corner of the Khushab nuclear site. However, the ultimate purpose remains unknown. 

Read the full report here

* Europe Without The Union

01 March 2016
from STRATFOR -- this post authored by Mark Fleming-Williams
The European project was always bound to fail. Europe is a continent riven by geographic barriers. It has spent two millennia not only indulging in massive and constant internal wars, but also keeping written records of them, informing each generation of all the times their forebears were wronged. Over the centuries, great empires have risen and fallen, leaving behind distinct groups of people with different histories, languages and cultures.

Any project attempting to fuse these disparate cultures into one monolithic state over the course of just 70 years was by its very nature doomed. It would inevitably encounter insurmountable levels of nationalistic resistance, and eventually the project would stall. That is the point at which we now find ourselves.

Crises abound, and though they all have different facades, each stems from the same underlying issue: Citizens ultimately prize their national and regional identities over the supranational dream. The sovereign debt crisis and repeating Grexit scares, born of the introduction of the euro in 1999, have exposed Northern Europe's unwillingness to subsidize the south. The Brexit referendum, scheduled for June, can trace its roots to the 2004 enlargement of the European Union, and the ensuing wave of Polish migration to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, amid the ongoing immigration crisis, national leaders are appeasing their populations by bypassing European rules and re-erecting border controls to stem the flow of refugees across their territory. In all of these situations, the same factors are at work: The driving forces within Europe are national in nature, and countries will ultimately put their own interests first.

From Russia with Bullets: Moscow Gifts Kabul 10,000 AK-47s

Russia gives Afghanistan 10,000 assault rifles, but abstains from joining American efforts at peace talks.
By Catherine Putz, February 24, 2016
Wednesday, Afghanistan accepted a gift of 10,000 AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition from Russia. In recent months there has been much discussion about increased Russian engagement with Afghanistan, although Moscow’s cooperation with Washington’s initiatives–such as peace talks with the Taliban–remains seemingly out of the question.
Speaking at a ceremony to accept the weapons gift, Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar said: “This important donation is from an important friend of Afghanistan in a crucial time for Afghanistan and the region.”

Twenty-seven years ago this month, the final Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan, where they’d been fighting a war for a decade. The communist government of Muhammad Najibullah, which they left in Kabul held out for three more years until the collapse of the Soviet Union cut off the financial inflow from Moscow, estimated at $3-4 billion annually, and the mujahedin closed in.
“Terrorism is our common enemy,” Atmar said at the handover.
Last year, hopeful beginnings to peace talks with the Taliban led to deep disappointment as the revelation of Mullah Omar’s death two years ago tossed the insurgency into a degree of internal chaos and damaged the Afghan administration’s efforts to repair relations with Pakistan. In 2016, however, the peace process is again being given a try, although most regional observers are skeptical that the planned talks will accomplish much.
Earlier this month, Zamir N. Kabulov, the Kremlin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, told Russian state media that Moscow had no interest in joining the American effort to settle peace through talks with the Taliban. “We won’t join the useless events, and we’ve already told the Americans.”
The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG)–which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States, and China–met earlier this week and made a statement expressing support for planned talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban representatives in the first week of March. The chief of the Pakistani Army, General Raheel Sharif made a one-day visit to Qatar on Monday to talk with officials there. The Taliban maintain a political office in Qatar and General Sharif’s visit is seen as laying the groundwork for further peace talks.

Pakistan rules out change in nuke policy

Sartaj Aziz concedes that the nuclear issue was one of the areas of differences between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Pakistan on Wednesday ruled out any change in its “dynamic” policy of increasing its nuclear weapons, as it dismissed the U.S.’ request in this regard, citing India’s rapid military modernisation.

A day after Secretary of State John Kerry asked Pakistan to review its policy of increasing its nuclear weapons stockpile — which currently is among the fastest growing in the world — Sartaj Aziz, foreign affairs advisor to the Prime Minister, conceded that the nuclear issue was one of the areas of differences between the U.S. and Pakistan.
“In terms of the safety and security of nuclear weapons command and control system, we have made outstanding progress. Globally, all the international agencies and the U.S. have acknowledged that Pakistan has developed a very good system for the safety for export control, and command and control system,” Mr. Aziz said during an interaction at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“But the [American] concern remains. Our nuclear capacity is a deterrent against Indian capacity. Deterrent is not a static concept. It is a dynamic concept. If your adversary goes on expanding its capacity, then you have to respond. It is not something that you can take something for granted,” he said.
“We keep insisting in our relationship that India is the independent variable in this. We are the dependent variable. So if India were to restrain and U.S. would not increase its strategic and conventional imbalance between the two countries, then our task would become easier.” Pakistan can’t even afford this strategic and conventional imbalance with India, he said.

Talks resumption
The India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks could be rescheduled soon after a Pakistan probe team visited Pathankot “in the next few days” to investigate the January 2 airbase attack, Mr. Aziz said.
The Pathankot attack left seven security personnel dead. All six terrorists, suspected to be from Pakistan, were also killed in the attack, which derailed the India-Pakistan “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue” that started following Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s meeting in Paris.

* States of disorder


As the global economy transcends borders and Isis raises its flag, could the very nature of "states" be changing?
Contemplating the black flag of Islamic State that flies over Fallujah in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria, my mind irresistibly returned to an essay in the New York Review of Books in 2008 that archly observed, “It seems more a matter of rhetoric than reality to claim that the epochal struggle of the 21st century concerns whether ‘consent’ or ‘terror’ will form the basis for legitimate governance. Does anyone truly believe that citizens throughout the world are undecided over whether they would prefer to be governed by consent or terror?”
How far we have come since those words were written. The international order that so confidently expanded the G8 to the G20, that continued the enlargement of the European Union to 28 member states, that brought about the first democratic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan despite harrowing terrorist intimidation, that increased the membership of Nato to include not only former members of the Warsaw Pact but even the Baltic states that had been part of the Soviet Union, and that created the Association of South-East Asian Nations and brought China into the World Trade Organisation is now shuddering and fragmenting.

What has transpired in this short period? The foundations of a global financial system on which international trade and development depend almost collapsed in the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression, shattering confidence in the stability of that system, and although the leading economies have largely recovered the positions that they held in 2008, there is no assurance that an unpredictable and more total collapse will not confront states whose monetary policies have little room for adjustment.
The US administration’s pivot away from engagement in the Near East and south Asia has brought forth the creation of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and its metastases elsewhere, as well as the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. For the first time since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, a member state of the United Nations has been invaded and its territory annexed in contravention of the most basic principles of the UN Charter. The Budapest Memorandum by which the territorial integrity of Ukraine was guaranteed by the US, the UK and Russia has been violated with the same insouciance that characterised the treaty violations of the 1930s. After the P5+1 group of world powers (China, France, Russia, the UK and the US; plus Germany) reached a nuclear agreement with Iran, Iran chose to violate UN Security Council resolutions forbidding the testing of long-range ballistic missiles.

MARCH 7, 2016 ISSUE The Bidding War How a young Afghan military contractor became spectacularly rich.


America’s war in Afghanistan, which is now in its fifteenth year, presents a mystery: how could so much money, power, and good will have achieved so little? Congress has appropriated almost eight hundred billion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan; a hundred and thirteen billion has gone to reconstruction, more than was spent on the Marshall Plan, in postwar Europe. General David Petraeus, a principal architect of U.S. counterinsurgency strategy, encouraged the practice of pumping money into the economy of Afghanistan, where the per-capita G.D.P. at the time of the invasion was around a hundred and twenty dollars. He believed that money had helped buy peace during his command of American forces in Iraq. “Employ money as a weapons system,” Petraeus wrote in 2008. “Money can be ‘ammunition.’ ”
The result was a war waged as much by for-profit companies as by the military. Political debate in Washington has focussed on the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan and the losses that they have sustained. To minimize casualties, the military outsourced any task that it could: maintenance, cooking and laundry, overland logistics, even security. Since 2007, there have regularly been more contractors than U.S. forces in Afghanistan; today, they outnumber them three to one.
One result has been forms of corruption so extreme that the military has, in some cases, funded its own enemy. When a House committee investigated the trucking system that supplied American forces, it found that the system had “fueled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others.” Its report concluded that “protection payments for safe passage are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban.” The system risked “undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan.”

* Reality Check: What It Means to Be Moderate

Reality Check 
A daily explanation of what matters and what doesn't in the world of geopolitics. 
March 1, 2016 , By George Friedman 
Can an essentially human trait describe a political stance? 

In Iran’s Feb. 26 elections, President Hassan Rouhani’s moderates were said to have defeated the extremists. Moderation is taken as obviously praiseworthy, so the real meaning of that phrase was that the the good guys beat the bad guys. But what makes Rouhani a good guy and his opponents bad guys? From the American point of view, it’s that Rouhani signed the nuclear treaty while his opponents wanted to block it. Of course that would logically mean that Americans who opposed the treaty would regard Rouhani as the bad guy and his opponents who opposed the treaty good guys. I don’t suppose that would be the case, so we are left to search for meaning.
This discussion is important in most political contexts because moderation is seen as a virtue and extremism as a vice, to paraphrase and reverse Barry Goldwater. This is a concept that crosses national and cultural lines. Moderate political parties are seen as praiseworthy and extreme ones are dangerous. To understand what is meant by moderate, we should begin by understanding what we mean by extremist. It would seem to me that the most reasonable definition of extremist is someone who wants to radically change the status quo. A moderate is someone, therefore, who defends the status quo or wants, at most, cautious change. 
If this is the definition of moderation, then moderation is simply conservatism in its original meaning. It is a defense of the regime as formed and opposed to either rapid or extreme change. But that can’t be the definition because it would leave us thinking of Nazi Party member Heinrich Himmler as a moderate. After all, he wanted to preserve the regime as it was and permit only slow and limited change if any at all. And in this game, Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler, would be regarded as an extremist and therefore not a nice fellow. I didn’t know him, so he may not have been nice, but from where I sit, if he was an extremist, he is the best defense of extremism possible.

There is the definition of the moderate as the centrist. In this model, there is a left wing and a right wing and the moderate is at the center. There are two problems with this theory. The first is the idea that there is some continuum of ideologies from left to right. The idea of left and right originated in the French Revolution. There was a tennis court where parties met, with the supporters of monarchy on the far right and the supporters of republicanism on the far left. In the center were parties that either couldn’t make up their mind or wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

The full price of nuclear deterrence

29 FEBRUARY 2016
James E. Doyle
Nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence have once again invaded the public consciousness. In the past few years, startling facts about these civilization-ending machines have come to light. They were not all mothballed when the Cold War ended. Even poor, isolated countries like North Korea can build them. Terrorists are trying to buy or steal them. They have nearly been detonated by accident many times. American nuclear missile operators were caught gambling, drinking, doing drugs, and cheating on their proficiency tests. President Putin of Russia and some of his generals and political cronies have said they would nuke America if necessary. 
Most recently we hear that our nuclear arsenal is outdated, and we need to completely replace it over the next 30 years for a price of about $1 trillion. Ironically, President Obama—who in 2009 dedicated his Administration to work toward the “peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”—has just submitted a federal budget intended to support such a comprehensive rebuilding, with planned nuclear weapons systems remaining in service until 2080.
Before supporting this plan, the American public, its Congress, and its next president should understand what they are getting into. Just as with personal financial and work/life planning, there is much to consider. Money is only part of the picture. The real objective of investments in nuclear weapons is to support an overall national security strategy that protects us from a range of threats as safely and confidently as possible. 
Decisions on modernizing our nuclear arsenal need to be made within this context and with a full appreciation of the resulting costs and risks. Here are a few of them:


MARCH 1, 2016

For much of the 46-year Cold War, many of the West’s most gifted strategists focused their talents on how to prevent the two nuclear superpowers from engaging in a war that could destroy them both — and perhaps the rest of the human race along with them. With the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the threat of nuclear Armageddon receded dramatically and the First Nuclear Age drew to a close.
The world is far different today. On the one hand, both the United States and Russia have far smaller nuclear arsenals than they did at the Cold War’s end. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. At the same time, new nuclear powers have emerged. These developments have introduced a shift from the bipolar Cold War nuclear competition, to an increasingly multipolar competition among nuclear powers and the onset of the Second Nuclear Age.
Yet this new age has not yet produced the foundational analyses that guided policymakers through the First Nuclear Age. Perhaps it is because the Second Nuclear Age appears so much more complex than the first. Or maybe it is because the Second Nuclear Age lacks the immediate existential danger posed by the Soviet Union. Or it might be that in the current age the best analytic talent has been devoted primarily to reducing the number of nuclear players (nonproliferation) and number of weapons (arms control and disarmament), rather than the consequences of such efforts falling short of success.


On January 12, the spokesman of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) announced the resignation of Brig. Gen. Eli Ben-Meiras head of the Research Division due to differences of opinion with the chief of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi. According to several prominent Israeli media channels, the dispute revolved around disagreement on the way the Research Division should be managed — along with personal differences between the two senior officers. Such a situation is extremely rare, especially since Ben-Meir was assigned to his position only a year ago — the term usually lasts three or four years.

Rare as it is, this event is a good opportunity to examine one of the most intriguing anomalies among intelligence agencies in the Western world. Unlike in the United States, where the body responsible for the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — a civilian organ — the responsible official in Israel is a military officer. With recent dramatic changes in Israel’s intelligence community leadership, it will be interesting to see if there will be changes to Israel’s national assessment structure and practice.
The head of the Research Division is one of several brigadier generals in the Military Intelligence Directorate. His direct commanding officer is the head of the Intelligence Directorate, who in turn reports to the joint chief of staff (JCS). The latter reports to the minister of defense, who is part of the government under the prime minister.

However, the same head of the Research Division is also called “the national estimator” — i.e., the most senior official responsible for the national strategic assessment. He reports directly to the prime minister, minister of defense and cabinet without the need to get preliminary approval for his assessment from his superiors in the military. In this capacity, the head of the Research Division is expected to deliver an independent intelligence assessment regarding practically every geopolitical, social and economic challenge that Israel faces — now and in the future — regardless of the opinions of his direct commanders, the head of the Intelligence Directorate and the JCS.
In other words, the head of the Research Division is beholden to two masters: He is the intelligence officer of both the government and the IDF. To complicate things further, each one of these entities requires different analytic inputs. Lastly, even when the head of the Intelligence Directorate briefs the state’s leadership, he relies upon the Research Division’s assessments, all of which are approved by the division commander.

So, Are Nepal-India Ties Back on Track?

Not quite yet, but realities will prevail.
By Ankit Panda, March 02, 2016

Last week, Nepal’s prime minister, Khadga Prasad Oli,arrived in India for a six-day visit. Oli’s visit to India, as I discussed prior to his trip, was primarily intended to normalize an important bilateral relationship that had been derailed over internal social unrest stemming from its new constitution, which was promulgated last year. However, despite spending nearly a week in India and meeting with several senior officials and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two sides did not sign a joint statement, setting out a concrete agenda for the future. Indeed, it became apparent during Oli’s time in India that tensions over the constitutional crisis that gripped Nepal for months hadn’t passed.
Is Kathmandu prepared to let bygones be bygones and push ahead with its closest historical partner? Politically, Oli’s hands may be tied. As I described in The Diplomat last fall during the peak of Nepal’s constitutional crisis, the country’s new constitution exposed a rift between the political elites in Kathmandu and historically disadvantaged Madhesi and Tharu groups, who live in the country’s southern plains and have close cultural ties with India. The latter took to protesting after feeling disenfranchised by the new constitution’s provisions for proportional representation and constituency delimitation. In January, the country was pacified after the Nepalese government acquiesced to a crucial amendment that incorporated provisions being demanded by the protesting groups, with India’s backing.
Given the manner in which Nepal’s constitution was amended to satisfy the disaffected groups, who are seen as having close ties to India, many in the Kathmandu elite, close to the prime minister, feel that India inappropriately intervened in Nepal’s internal affairs. Oli, who has a reputation for being an outspoken populist, became prime minister after rallying a broad coalition of smaller political parties in Nepal. His Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) was partly thrust into power after Nepalis became disaffected with what they saw as an excessive accommodation of Indian interests in Nepal by the recently deceased former prime minister, Sushil Koirala, and the Nepali Congress party, which itself has a close historical association with the Indian National Congress across the border.

Red Teaming the Intelligence Mystery of the Al-Kibar Reactor in Syria

Red Teaming Nuclear Intelligence: The Suspected Syrian Reactor
Micah Zenko
Council on Foreign Relations, March 1, 2016
In former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden’s new memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror, he describes the case of Al Kibar, in which Israeli officials informed the United States in 2007 about a building under construction in Syria that they thought was a nuclear reactor. Hayden writes, “Then we gave the data to a red team, dedicated contrarians, and directed they come up with an alternative explanation. Build an alternative case as to why it’s not a nuclear reactor; why it’s not intended to produce plutonium for a weapon; why North Korea is not involved.” (p. 258)
For the full story of the red teaming of Al Kibar, read this excerpt from my book—based upon interviews with senior Bush administration officials—Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy.
Red teaming is not only about using a devil’s advocate to scrutinize and challenge day-to-day operations. For institutions facing a significant decision, red teaming may also be a one-time effort. We can see how a properly administrated red team can help ensure that a crucial decision is the right one by studying the following example found in recent national security decision making.
In April 2007, Israeli national security officials surprised their American counterparts by informing them about a large building under construction at Al Kibar in a valley in the eastern desert of Syria. In oneon- one briefings, the Israeli officials provided dozens of internal and external color photographs dating back to before 2003. The evidence strongly suggested that the building was a nuclear reactor, remarkably similar to the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor in Yongbyon, North Korea. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert then delivered his request to President George W. Bush: “George, I’m asking you to bomb the compound.”

The Strategic Significance of China's Woody Island Power Play

Ashley Townshend, March 1, 2016
China's recent deployments on Woody Island carry a larger strategic significance. Aside from being unmistakable signs of militarization, Beijing's actions highlight both the effectiveness of its strategic expansion into the South China Sea, and the dilemma Washington and others face in crafting a response.
Reports last week that China has sent J-11 fighter jets to Woody Island came less than ten days after satellite images revealed two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles had been deployed to the disputed island. While provocative, neither deployment is entirely unprecedented. Rather, they represent the latest in a series of incremental steps that Beijing has taken to bolster its strategic foothold in the Paracel Islands. 
Since late 2012, China has been steadily upgrading Woody Island's port facilities, radars and military infrastructure. Last year, China finished a brand new airstrip to support large-scale combat operations, and constructed hangars to service and protect forward-based aircraft. Following the U.S. Navy's first freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) in October 2015—which took place roughly 700km away in the Spratly Islands—China briefly deployed J-11 fighters to Woody Island, signaling its ability to use the outpost for aerial power projection.