28 May 2016



India has a bicameral democracy with the PM as its executive head. Unlike in a Presidential system, he is not able to take experts in various fields as ministers in the cabinet. They have to come through the legislature route either from Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. The latter is considered a backdoor entry to the treasury bench; notorious among them was the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had the temerity to be the executive head of our country for a decade and undermined his high office, by abdicating his authority to an Indian national of a foreign origin? He, thus surrendered his Constitutional authority, solely to be in the front seat, so that the Signora can do the safe backseat driving. 

Coming to the specifics, Indian politicians have always been naive on strategic issues. Can any of those in power define what is India’s national interest? What are our strategic goals? How do we use our instruments of national power to achieve our strategic goals? Do we aspire to be a global power? If so: what is our time line? What are our interim goals to reach our ultimate strategic goals? Do we have a game plan for our food security, energy security, maritime security, environmental security, cyber security, space security, water security, demographic security; our people should not get subverted by anti-national ideologies, internal security and lastly external security? What should be our area of interest, where and how should we exercise our influence? Is it in immediate neighbourhood? Or; does it include the extended neighbourhood? Our maritime dominance should cover which areas of Indian and Pacific Oceans? Who are our adversaries? Do we have a national security doctrine? What military capacity should we empower ourselves to meet the combined might of our adversaries in two front scenario? What should be the strength of our armed forces? Having ignominious tittle of being the world’s largest importer of arms; it flies on our face when we talk of strategic autonomy. What would happen if these countries do not give us a continuous supply of arms and ammunition in war? Don’t we have to kowtow to them in crises? What happened during the peak of Kargil war; Defence Ministry officials with begging bowls in hand were scouring suppliers in Russia, Israel and South Africa for Bofors ammunition? Indeed! They are obstreperous and livid to talk of our defence preparations; saying “ We are prepared to give a befitting reply to our adversary, who dares cast their evil eyes on us”? What a rhetoric to feast the gullible? How the population in general and press in particular lap it up with unrestrained national pride and glee? The opposition, who are equally naive, would also let go the statement without any discussion; as one need to have some rudimentary knowledge on the subject to engage in a discussion? Best option is to make no statement; as someone said “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, rather than open ones mouth and remove all doubts”.

*** India’s Five Foreign Policy Goals: Great Strides, Steep Challenges

Several commentators have been left disappointed by Modi’s – and India’s – handling of international relations in the past two years. The record shows otherwise. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. Credit: PTI 

Two years ago today, Narendra Modi took the oath of office as India’s 14th prime minister. Among his first decisions as head of government – in fact, it was set in motion even before the formal start of his tenure – was an unconventional act of diplomacy: inviting eight foreign leaders of neighbouring countries to attend his inauguration. While many commentators claimed before his election that Modi would be a nationalist hardliner, a foreign affairs novice, or simplymore of the same on external affairs, the prime minister instead proved more active and (perhaps less surprisingly) more pragmatic than many had expected. In two years, Modi has displayed an instinctive understanding of power in the conduct of world affairs, and he has also benefited from being less politically hamstrung than his predecessor Manmohan Singh, with whose worldview he in fact shares much in common

A highlight of Modi’s first year was his outreach to the United States. In September 2014, Washington rolled out the red carpet for a leader it had once publicly shunned, and Modi reciprocated by inviting Barack Obama to India’s Republic Day celebrations, a first for a U.S. president. But beyond normalising and enhancing relations with the US, Modi’s international priorities were quickly made evident. Within his first year, he embarked upon state visits to India’s immediate neighbourhood, three crucial Indian Ocean island countries, important Asia-Pacific powers (China, Japan, and Australia), and eventually Western Europe. 

Emerging Flashpoints in the Himalayas

By Ambassador P Stobdan
27 May , 2016

Flashpoints in the Himalayan region are rising. The US Defence Department has expressed caution about China’s increased troops build-up along the Indian border as well as the likelihood of China establishing “additional naval logistic hubs” in Pakistan.1 From the Chinese perspective, the spectre of jihadi terrorism is spreading across Xinjiang province. The monks in Tibet continue to resist China’s military suppression. Pakistan, for its part, continues to sponsor terrorism in Kashmir with China’s tacit support. In Nepal, the vortex of the political crisis refuses to stop.

This trend of events unfolding on both sides of the Himalayas is forming an interconnected chain. The issues involved transcend rugged mountains and even well-drawn cartographic and military lines. Signs of instability on one side impacting on another are visible. One would have hardly imagined that China’s dissenters, Uighurs and Tibetans could meet on this side of the Himalayas.2

Conventional wisdom had the Indian Himalayan belt being at least peaceful. Conviction also explained that freedom of religion (Buddhism) has ensured stability on this side of the mountain range. This sadly is no longer the case. The entire belt from Tawang to Ladakh has been subject to a string of incendiary events threatening to pitchfork the region into crisis.

India’s Entry To Nuclear Suppliers Group

By Rakesh Kr Sinha
27 May , 2016

John Kirby, State Department Spokesman of USA, in his daily news conference of 14 May 2016 told the reporter, “I would point you back to what the president said during his visit to India in 2015, where he reaffirmed that the US view was that India meets missile technology control regime requirement and is ready for NSG membership”. This affirmation by the USA set forth a series of diplomatic activities within and outside India at various international forums.

China was first to react to the USA’s plans of admitting India into the elite company of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Chinese Spokesman said that several members of NSG shared its view that signing the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is an “important standard” for the membership of the block. Chinese establishment is apparently uneasy with the idea that a non NPT members can also become part of NSG. Some UN members like India, Pakistan, Israel and South Sudan have not signed the NPT, aimed at arresting the spread of nuclear weapons.

The raising of red flag by China cannot be brushed aside as the entry in the NSG is on consensus basis and not on majority. There are countries like Ireland and Sweden who are hard core pro-disarmament group, not very enthusiastic about any “India specific ruling” with regards to its entry into NSG. In 2008, the NSG had exempted India from the requirement of accepting International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) comprehensive safeguards and allowed India to engage in nuclear trade with NSG. Even that exemption did not come without India’s commitment to adhere to the basics of NPT, as agreed upon under India-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement.

Modi, Ashraf Ghani in Iran and killing of Mullah Mansour

By Col (Dr) Tej Kumar Tikoo (Retd.)
27 May , 2016

Use of Chahbahar Port by India and Afghanistan will enable both countries to carry out their trade without being dependent on Pakistan. It will also benefit Iran as the use of this port facility by different countries will earn it huge revenue. Secondly, as part of the agreement, India will construct a rail line from Chahbahar to Zahedan, close to the tri-junction of Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran border. This will give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, outflanking Pakistan, and in particular obviate the necessity of using Pakistani port of Gwadar. 

At the international level, very little happens by sheer coincidence, particularly when countries take decisions resulting in events having huge strategic significance. A few days back two such events took place which captured every one’s imagination. The first one was the message which the front page picture in most newspapers and social media web sites, conveyed; the heads of governments of India, Iran and Afghanistan holding each others’ hands after having signed the Chahbahar Port Development Agreement, besides others. The second was the targeted killing of Pakistan appointed and Pakistan based new chief of Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mansour. The killing, which was carried out by the American drone attack in the remote area in south west of the restive Baluchistan province of Pakistan, had Pakistan fuming at America for the latter having violated its sovereignty !

Beyond The News: Big plans in the air, not much on ground yet

May 26, 2016

The IAF’s squadron strength has dwindled to dangerously low levels, many jets are near the end of their operational lives, and the future looks uncertain.

Signing of the Rafale deal and induction of Tejas fighters will not reverse the poor state of the IAF, which has been public knowledge for a few years now.

With the French Defence Minister having made his government’s best offer, price negotiations with France for 36 Rafale fighters are in their end stages. Earlier this month, the Chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, flew in India’s indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas. This was meant to showcase the IAF’s faith in the fighter produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which is yet to earn the Final Operational Clearance (FOC). An order for 40 Tejases has been placed by the IAF and the first three fighters are planned to be inducted this year.

But the signing of the Rafale deal and induction of Tejas fighters will not reverse the poor state of the IAF, which has been public knowledge for a few years now. To counter a “two-front collusive threat”, the IAF wants 45 fighter squadrons but has been sanctioned 42 by the government. In March, the Vice Chief of the IAF lamented that they had only 33 squadrons, which were inadequate to fulfill their designated role.

How India is quietly becoming a space exploration power house

MAY 24, 2016

A string of successes by India's space program is placing the south Asian country among the world's space superpowers. 

India successfully launched a prototype space shuttle on May 23; a mini, unmanned space vehicle called the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator. The shuttle traveled to an altitude of about 40 miles above Earth's surface, short of the 62-mile barrier between Earth's atmosphere and outer space, before returning to Earth and into the Bay of Bengal. 

"In this flight, critical technologies such as autonomous navigation, guidance and control, reusable thermal-protection system, and re-entry mission management have been successfully validated," officials from the country's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), reported in an announcement Monday.

The space vehicle launch officially entered the country into the global race to develop a low-cost, reusable space shuttle, a feat considered critical to the feasibility of future space exploration. It also marks yet another recent milestone of India's burgeoning space program, securing the south Asian country's spot among the world's space exploration superpowers.

Killing the Emir: What We Know About the Strike that Killed Mansour and What It Says About Pakistan and the Taliban

May 25, 2016

Last Friday, following another uninspiring meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, Pakistan issued a statement that more needed to be done militarily to deny Taliban military gains and bring the group back to the negotiating table. The next day, the United States announced that it had conducted a drone strike against Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, and President Obama later confirmed his death. A number of analysts and former U.S. government officials noted that the first drone strike ever in Pakistan’s Balochistan province had crossed a key threshold both in terms of location as well as the target

Soon after the strike, former U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad raised two important questions: Will Pakistan start to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan? Will this strike fragment and degrade the Taliban?

The answer to the first question of future Pakistani behavior rests in part on another that some have raised: What role — if any — did Pakistan play in the latest strike? Recent accounts remain ambiguous. If Washington managed to elicit some cooperation from Islamabad to pressure the Taliban, it could reveal some potential overlap of U.S. and Pakistani interests. If the attack was conducted without Pakistani involvement, then it suggests that despite a reduced footprint, the United States still possesses capabilities to independently disrupt organizations, coerce adversaries, and deny objectives of actors in the region. Either way, the strike against Mansour suggests a tactical achievement for the United States in Afghanistan.

Pakistan Criticizes US Drone Strike Which Killed Taliban Leader

May 25, 2016

Pakistan can’t confirm Taliban leader is dead, criticises U.S. drone strike

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s interior minister said on Tuesday he could not confirm that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been killed in a U.S. drone strike, and described Washington’s justification for the attack as “against international law”.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that Mansour had been killed in the drone strike, and the Pentagon said separately that Mansour was plotting attacks that posed “specific, imminent threats” to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that the body recovered on Pakistani soil, near the Afghan border, was charred beyond recognition, adding that DNA samples would be tested against a relative who had come forward to claim the body.

“The government of Pakistan cannot announce this without a scientific and legal basis,” Khan told a news briefing.

He did not identify the relative or say whether he or she claimed to be related to the Taliban leader or someone else.

US' Pakistan policy is hurting India-America ties The Washington consensus on supporting the Pakistan army is fundamentally flawed.


The Armed Services Committee of the United States Senate has recommended the allotment of $800 million to Pakistan by way of coalition support funds for 2016-17, but made a portion of the military aid – $300 million – contingent upon Pakistan demonstrating that it has taken action against the Haqqani network. The US accuses the Haqqanis of conducting operations against its forces in Afghanistan.

According to a statement released by the Armed Services Committee, the US-Pakistan relationship is "critically" important and there is need for "enhanced security and stability" in Pakistan’s north-west region, and along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistan is a major, non-NATO ally (MNNA) of the US.

There is a broad consensus in Washington, DC that cuts across the policy community, think-tanks and academia, that it is necessary to continue to support and strengthen the Pakistan army. The ostensible logic for this policy option that is steeped in realpolitik is summarised below:

"Pakistan is going down the tube for reasons that are well known. If it implodes, nuclear weapons will fall into Jihadi hands. Such an outcome is absolutely unacceptable to the United States. Hence, in order to ensure that nuclear warheads do not come into the possession of radical extremist elements, it is necessary to support and strengthen the Pakistan army as it is the only force for stability."

Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif with US secretary of state, John Kerry. 

Pakistan has received over $12 billion by way of coalition support funds since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the consequent NATO-ISAF operations in Afghanistan. The sale of weapons platforms like F-16 fighter aircraft is being considered by the US Congress, though now on part-payment basis and not as a free gift.

Why Israel should be concerned over Pakistan nukes

My memories of that day are still fresh as if a wound that time may never heal. It was 18 years ago that day May 28, 1998 when Pakistan generals did a terrible thing in France-sized southwestern Balochistan. Amid deafening slogans of Allahu Akbar-- the first time in world history wherein religious slogans were raised at a nuclear test site--, the world's largest Islamic military tested nuclear weapons in Balochistan against the explicit wishes of the Baloch people. That day I cried my heart out as I gulped cheap Pakistan whiskey that I used to drink like a fish in those days. To my chagrin youthful Islamists were rejoicing outside the Seaview apartments, where I lived, on the Karachi beach. These Islamists were carrying replicas of nuclear missiles that had name of three countries on them: Israel, India and the United States. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan became the world's first Islamic nuclear power. TV footage showed jubilant processions all over Pakistan, though the Baloch people of Balochistan were highly upset.

The state, government, and people of Israel have justifiably shown concern over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, what intrigues me is the same kind of concern had never been shown in the case of Pakistan, which has more nuclear warheads --120 according to some estimates-- than many times larger neighbor India, which has 105. It will be in the interest of Israel and world Jewry to understand that Pakistani nuclear weapons are no less dangerous than what Iran may one day have. The reasons are many. Thousands of mosques in Pakistan preach the annihilation of Israel through jihad every Friday. Pakistani kids are to this day taught all kinds of nonsense about Jews; Hitler is not projected as a villain of history in Pakistan school books. Right-wing Pakistan defense analysts like Zaid Hamid, who reflects the thinking of the infamous spy service Inter Services Intelligence, openly call for threatening and beating Israel militarily. 

5 Navy Officers Sentenced to Death in Pakistan for Trying to Attack US Warship

May 25, 2016

The five officers allegedly tried to steal a Pakistani warship to attack a U.S. naval vessel. 

At least five officers of the Pakistan Navy received death sentences in a secret military trial for allegedly trying to hijack a Pakistan Navy vessel to attack a U.S. Navy refueling ship, Daily Pakistan reports.

The officers were convicted of planning and orchestrating the September 6, 2014, attack on the Karachi Naval Dockyard located at Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast. The attack was thwarted by Pakistani military personnel with purportedly two attackers killed and four arrested alive (some sources cite 10 killed, including four rogue naval officers).

The attackers allegedly attempted to hijack the F-22P Zulfiquar-class frigate Zulfiqar, the lead ship of its class, with the intention of using the ship’s missiles to attack a U.S. Navy refuel vessel in the Arabian Sea (other sources claim that the target was a U.S. aircraft carrier).

According to the father of one convict, retired Major Saeed Ahmed, his son, Sub-Lieutenant Hammad Ahmed, along with four other officers—Irfanullah, Muhammad Hammad, Arsalan Nazeer, and Hashim Naseerhas—has been convicted of the attack on the dockyard on April 12 by a Navy Tribunal, Dawn newspaper reports.

“My son told me that a naval court had awarded death penalty to him and four other officers after a secret trial,” Ahmed said. “The convicted officers informed me that the naval court concluded the trial on April 12 and promulgated the sentence on April 14.”

South China Sea Arbitration: An Analysis

By Abhishek Pratap Singh
Issue: Courtesy: IDSA | Date : 26 May , 2016

The South China Sea (SCS) dispute has become a key issue of concern for East Asian regional security. The nature of the conflict and lack of clarity on the issue owes much to the multiple overlapping claims of the concerned parties based on history, geographical proximity and principles of maritime law. China’s assertiveness has made the situation much worse and has also raised security concerns in the region. The issue is not limited to the question of maritime rights or resource control but also holds significance for regional security and cooperation, external intervention, and the application of international law.


China’s claims to the South China Sea are based on ‘historic rights’ backed by imperial maps of the Ming dynasty. As far back as 1958, China had promulgated the ‘Declaration on China’s Territorial Sea’, which listed the Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands, and Nansha Islands as belonging to China.1

Study: China's Government Fabricates About 488 Million Social Media Posts Every Year

May 22, 2016

People play at an internet cafe bar in Zhengzhou, China in 2013. 

For years, the Chinese government has been widely suspected of hiring thousands of paid commenters using fabricated accounts to argue in favor of the government on social media sites.

This presumed army of trolls is dubbed the "50 Cent Party," because of the rumored rate of pay per post – 50 cents in Chinese Yuan, or about $0.08.

But new research finds that those presumptions are inaccurate. Actually, the Chinese government's use of fabricated posts is "way more sophisticated than anybody realized," Harvard professor Gary King tells The Two-Way.

King and two other researchers, Jennifer Pan and Margaret E. Roberts, analyzed a set of leaked emails from an Internet Propaganda Office in Zhanggong, which is in southern China.

First, they found the commenters are actually government employees "who basically have one extra job to do," rather than ordinary people working for a bit of extra cash, King says. In fact, the researchers say, "no evidence exists that the authors of [50 Cent] posts are even paid extra for their work."

They estimate that the Chinese government fabricates about 488 million social media posts each year.

Assertive Engagement: An Updated U.S.-Japan Strategy for China

May 23, 2016 

Tokyo and Washington must work together.

China’s phenomenal economic growth of the past quarter century has been both enabled and welcomed by the United States and Japan. However, with the economic influence and greatly increased military capability funded by that growth, China has developed the power and influence to assert its claims and interests at the expense of other countries in the region and beyond. A combination of historical grievances and authoritarian impulses has fueled China’s persistent and increasingly insistent campaign to expand its current territory and influence around the world. The current American and Japanese strategy of encouraging common economic and diplomatic interests with China, while maintaining military deterrence against direct aggression, is no longer adequate to protect both countries’ interests against Chinese activities such as gray-zone aggression and intellectual-property theft. The U.S.-Japan alliance needs to adopt a more active strategy of its own—“Assertive Engagement”—to protect bilateral interests, while still cooperating with China in forging common responses to common concerns, and equitable and peaceful compromises where interests conflict.

The Current Strategy 

Taiwan's New President Will Have to Play Nice with China

May 24, 2016

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s return to power signifies shifting political preferences among the general public in Taiwan, but contradictory preferences and circumstances surrounding Taiwan threaten to face the new government with a dilemma.

As demonstrated by recent polls, as well as social movements such as the Sunflower Movement, people in Taiwan display an increasing trend toward a Taiwanese identity, and a general hope for the island to move toward being a normal sovereign state, or at least retaining de facto independence from China. Obviously, Taiwanese identity is in conflict with the Chinese nationalism that dictates Taiwan should be unified by China. The failure of the Chinese Nationalist Party, also known as Kuomintang (KMT), in the last elections can be partly attributed to its China-friendly attitude, which was realized through cross-Strait integration, while the DPP is usually seen as a promoter of Taiwanese identity. However, Taiwanese people also hold certain universal goals in common, such as prosperity and well-being, which may preclude promoting Taiwanese identity in economic and military dynamics across the Strait.

Obama's Taliban Airstrikes Are Part of a Failing Strategy

May 24, 2016

Once again, Pakistan faces the ignominy of having a major terrorist group leader killed on its soil in a unilateral U.S. attack. The CIA has conducted over four hundred drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004. But Saturday’s attack, which targeted and is said to have killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Afghan Taliban leader, was unprecedented and shame-inducing for Pakistan, à la the bin Laden raid. It took place in Pakistan’s Balochistan province—an area previously off limits to U.S. combat drones. And it was conducted by the U.S. military, not the CIA. In other words, there was no attempt by the United States at providing itself deniability.

Indeed, President Barack Obama quickly hailed Mansour’s death as “an important milestone” toward bringing peace to Afghanistan. But the president, who has only seen conflict theaters emerge or worsen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen under his tenure, has little credibility on the issue of securing peace, despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize. With the exception of the Iran deal, President Obama has played a critical role in making the Middle East and South Asia a much more violent region.

The killing of Mullah Mansour is, unfortunately, more likely to extend the conflict in Afghanistan than hasten its end. To maintain its unity and momentum, the Afghan Taliban is likely to seek a consensus on a successor to Mansour (who would also probably have to be acceptable to the Pakistani military). And to consolidate control over the group, Mansour’s successor will likely have to make formidable demonstrations of violence, much like Mansour had done—bringing great bloodshed to Afghanistan.

Russian & Chinese Drones Are Designed to Counter US Stealth Aircraft

Zachary Keck

Both China and Russia appear to be building drones designed to negate America’s advantages in stealth aircraft.

Both China and Russia appear to be building unmanned aerial vehicles designed to negate America’s advantages in stealth aircraft.

Earlier this year, photos first emerged of a new High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) UAV termed the Divine Eagle that foreign observers believe is designed to detect and eliminate stealth enemy aircraft far from the Chinese mainland.

As Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer wrote back in May:

“[The Divine Eagle’s] long range anti-stealth capabilities can be used against both aircraft, like the B-2 bomber, and warships such as the DDG-1000 destroyer. Using the Divine Eagle as a picket, the Chinese air force could quickly intercept stealthy enemy aircraft, missiles and ships well before they come in range of the Mainland. Flying high, the Divine Eagle could also detect anti-ship missile trucks and air defenses on land, in preparation for offensive Chinese action.”

—-This Story Was Originally Published in The National Interest —–

Russia appears to be designing a similar system, according to Flight Global.

Is War with China Now Inevitable?

May 24, 2016 

At the very least, Obama’s inaction made it more likely. China is acting like it wants a war. It probably doesn’t, but it doesn’t want the United States to know that. China’s communist leaders know they must keep growing the economy and improving the lives of their citizens, or risk revolution and the loss of power. They also know that they are on a clock: Within the next ten years, China’s recently amended one-child policy will invert the country’s economy, forcing that one child to pay the medical and retirement costs of his two parents and four grandparents. Under these circumstances, the state will need to begin allocating additional resources toward the care of its citizens and away from its burgeoning national-security apparatus. 

China has to lock down its sphere of influence soon, becoming great before becoming old. It’s time for Chinese leaders to go big or go home, and they’re slowly growing desperate. The United States, for its own part, has not helped ward off the regional threat that desperation poses. Its policy of strategic patience and its prioritizing of Chinese cooperation on nuclear issues to the exclusion of local security concerns have created an almost palpable sense of growing confidence in the Chinese among nervous U.S. allies nearby. The lack of credible Freedom of Navigation operations since 2012 and the Obama administration’s failure to offer any significant resistance in the face of China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea have emboldened the Chinese to press ahead with their planned campaign to claim sovereignty over those waters. Such claims threaten the national interests of the United States and directly impinge upon the security of treaty allies and partners in the region. 

President Xi’s Land Mine of Debt Is About to Explode


China's number one export is not steel, electronics, textiles or toys—It is deflation 

A soldier stands guard in front of a huge portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the entrance to a military base in Guilin, in China’s southern Guangxi region on May 13, 2016. The slogan reads ‘Speed up the establishment of a powerful people’s Air Force and sharpen offensive and defensive capabilities.’ (Photo: GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rarely do political writers and economic ones focus on the same topic. However,President Xi Jinping’s China has become the exception. The political side of Xi’s rule has received lots of attention. To name just a bit of the media coverage: The Guardian; the Council on Foreign Relations publications, Foreign Affairs; and most recently and chillingly, The New York Review of Books (April 21) by long time China watcher Orville Schell.

Mr. Schell paints a very gloomy picture as authorities crack down on the relative freedoms Chinese citizens enjoy. Worse, the nature of the repression is arbitrary, political and often illogical. Layer after layer of civil—and now military—authority is being concentrated in President Xi’s hands. Comparisons to Mao’s cult of personality are on everyone’s lips. It’s bad. Human rights lawyers, NGO officials, writers, business executives are all being jailed. Anyone who runs afoul of Xi is at risk… and no one knows his criteria for judging afoul.

India’s Balancing Act Aims To Have Good Ties With Iran And Saudi Arabia

India wants to court both Iran and Saudi Arabia for different reasons without getting entangled in their rivalry. 

Despite being a strategic ally, Pakistan has consciously preferred Iran to Saudi Arabia to the extent of annoying the latter. 

Modi’s intention is to build a “counter-terror narrative” in diplomatic engagements with Pakistan’s close allies. 

India, Afghanistan and Iran have signed the Chabahar Agreement to operationalise the strategic port. The agreement envisions trilateral cooperation for access to the sea for Afghanistan, inter alia for Afghanistan’s trade with India.

The timing of the agreement assumes significance because of Modi’s attempts to strike a fine diplomatic balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are sworn rivals. India wants to court both Iran and Saudis for different reasons without getting entangled in their rivalry. Saudi Arabia’s ties with Pakistan and India’s links with Iran have remained two important factors affecting the India-Saudi Arabia relationship.

Why The Chabahar Treaty Is A Game Changer For India, Iran And Afghanistan

May 25, 2016, 

The Chabahar Treaty aims to create a free-trade corridor of road and rail networks from the Chabahar Port in Iran to Afghanistan. 

The treaty corridor aims to bypass Pakistan, but it will also reduce distance, time and cost for trade through the three countries. 

The Chabahar Treaty will clear the way for India to build an infrastructure network of its own in the region to counter China’s initiatives. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the trilateral Chabahar Treaty in Teheran this month, along with representatives from Iran and Afghanistan. The treaty aims to create a free-trade corridor of road and rail networks from the Chabahar Port in Iran to Afghanistan. The Chabahar Port is Iran’s only port with direct access to the ocean and will be developed by India for $500 million. In addition, India will also help develop the 500 km long Chabahar-Zahedan railway line.

The treaty corridor aims to bypass Pakistan, which formerly held the only passage available for trade from India to Iran and Afghanistan. But it will also reduce distance, time and cost for trade through the three countries. Union Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari said, “The distance between Kandla (in the Kutch district of Gujarat) and the Chabahar port is less than the distance between New Delhi and Mumbai.” He added, “Investments of more than Rs 1 lakh crore can happen [through] the Chabahar free trade zone.”

Iraqi Forces Intensify Shelling of ISIS Forces in Fallujah

May 25, 2016

Iraq forces keep up shelling of Falluja, U.N. concern mounts for civilians

Iraqi forces shelled Islamic State targets in Falluja on Tuesday, the second day of an assault to retake the militant stronghold just west of Baghdad, as international concern mounted for the security of civilians.

Residents in the city, 50 km (30 miles) from the capital, reported sporadic shelling around the city centre, but said it was less intense than on Monday.

“No one can leave. It’s dangerous. There are snipers everywhere along the exit routes,” one resident told Reuters by internet.

The United Nations refugees agency UNHCR said women and children died while trying to leave the city. Over 80 families had managed to escape since May 20, it said in a statement.

About 100,000 civilians are estimated to be in Falluja which, in January 2014, became the first Iraqi city to be captured by Islamic State, six months before the group declared its caliphate. The population was three times bigger before the war.

The Iraqi military said it had dislodged the militants from Garma, a village to the east, overnight. No casualties were reported by the army or the city’s main hospital. On Monday, eight civilians and three militants were killed, and 25 people wounded, 20 of them civilians, according to the hospital.


The Kurds: A Divided Future?

Joost Hiltermann

A Kurdish PKK fighter aiming his rifle at an Islamic State position, Dokuk, Iraq, December 3, 2014
The Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq are linked by a thin and fragile thread, a two-lane highway that passes camps filled with refugees from the wars ravaging these lands. The road is bisected by the Tigris, the international frontier that separates not only Syria from Iraq but also Kurds from Kurds. This was the border that first took shape one hundred years ago this week with the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France—the first of a series of negotiations aimed at dividing the former Ottoman territories of the Levant between the two European powers. And while ISIS has made its hostility to the Anglo-French map well known, it is arguably the Kurds who have been most affected by the modern state system that has emerged from it. 

Just how divided the more than 30 million Kurds continue to be was made clear to me this spring, when I crossed this border from Iraq to Syria. The crossing itself is not difficult: on the Iraqi side, an immigration officer of the Kurdish Regional Government in Erbil checks with her supervisors, fills out a form, and gives the green light. The whole procedure takes less than fifteen minutes. A small boat then ferries you across to Syria, where an employee of the newly-minted Autonomous Administration of the Syrian Kurdish region enters your information, and gives you a stamped piece of paper attesting to your right to enter. You are then free to drive westward to Qamishli, the first major Syrian Kurdish town. On neither side of the border can one find evidence that the sovereign governments in Baghdad and Damascus are exercising their authority here. 

Watch Out: How North Korea Could Secretly Make Nuclear Weapons

May 24, 2016

North Korea’s recent (disputed) claim of a successful hydrogen bomb test has observers wondering where the North Koreans are getting their hydrogen from. The hydrogen that powers thermonuclear weapons is not ordinary hydrogen gas, but its isotopes or variants deuterium and tritium.

H-bombs use a small atomic bomb to transform dry fuel such as lithium deuteride into deuterium and tritium, then squeeze them together until they fuse, forming a split-second small star. But adding just a few grams of deuterium and tritium to the core of an atomic bomb dramatically boosts its power. One need not set off a small star to ride the hydrogen boom.

This deuterium-tritium “boosting” dramatically increases the yield of fission weapons, and permits smaller weapons and better economy of fissile material. Conceived by Theodore Taylor, one of America’s most gifted weaponeers, the very existence of boosted fission technology remained classified until the early 1970s.

Tritium—possessing three particles in its nucleus versus the one in ordinary hydrogen, hence “tri”—is radioactive and fleeting. 5.5 percent of a given amount of tritium gas decays into other stuff every year. Its shelf life is bound by its half-life, which is 12.3 years. Thus nuclear-weapons complexes must constantly create tritium, to replace what’s lost to physics.

Visiting Hiroshima Changed My Mind. It Should Change Obama's Too.

May 24, 2016

As President Obama prepares to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first nuclear attack, I have begun to reflect on my own experience with these appropriately labeled Weapons of Mass Destruction.

When I was a naval flight officer on active duty in the 1960s, assigned to a patrol squadron, our crew practiced loading a dummy nuclear weapon on our aircraft several times a year so that we would know what to do if we ever had to load a real one. However, I could never find out under what circumstances we would load a real one, what would be our target or even where the nuclear weapons were.

I was amazed by how nonchalant everyone, including me, seemed to be about the issue, even though we had also gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, two months after I came into the Navy. Thus, when our squadron deployed to Japan in late 1964, I decided to visit Hiroshima to view the damage that a single nuclear weapon could actually cause to a population and a community. After my visit, I was no longer nonchalant about the power of a nuclear weapon; this was reinforced when I visited Nagasaki a year later.

Two decades later, when I had the privilege of serving in the Reagan administration, I was moved by how concerned President Reagan was about the dangers of an accidental or real nuclear war, even going so far as to propose eliminating all U.S and Russian nuclear weapons—something harshly criticized by the nuclear priesthood.

Rooftop solar: Net metering is a net benefit

May 23, 2016

One of the most exciting infrastructure developments within metropolitan America, the installation of over a million solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in recent years, represents nothing less than a breakthrough for urban sustainability — and the climate.

Prices for solar panels have fallen dramatically. Residential solar installations surged by 66 percent between 2014 and 2015 helping to ensure that solar accounted for 30 percent of all new U.S. electric generating capacity. And for that matter, recent analyses conclude that the cost of residential solar is often comparable to the average price of power on the utility grid, a threshold known as grid parity.

So, what’s not to like? Rooftop solar is a total winner, right? 

Well, not quite: The spread of rooftop solar has raised tricky issues for utilities and the public utilities commissions (PUCs) that regulate them. 

Specifically, the proliferation of rooftop solar installations is challenging the traditional utility business model by altering the relationship of household and utility—and not just by reducing electricity sales. In this respect, the solar boom has prompted significant debates in states like New York and California about the best rates and policies to ensure that state utility rules and rates provide a way for distributed solar to flourish even as utilities are rewarded for meeting customer demands. Increasingly, this ferment is leading to thoughtful dialogues aimed at devising new forms of policy and rate design that can—as in New York—encourage distributed energy resources (DERs) while allowing for distribution utilities to adapt to the new era.

Here's how the US military is beating hackers at their own game

May 24, 2016

There's an unseen world war that has been fought for years with no clear battle lines, few rules of engagement, and no end in sight.

But it's not a shooting war; not a war where combatants have been killed or wounded — at least not yet.

It's a war that pits nations against each other for dominance in cyberspace, and the United States, like other nations employing professional hackers as "cyber soldiers," sees it as a battlefield just like any other.

“It’s like an operational domain: Sea, land, air, space, and cyber," Charlie Stadtlander, chief spokesperson for US Army Cyber Command, told Tech Insider. "It’s a place where our presence exists. Cyber is a normal part of military operations and needs to be considered as such.”

Mindful of the Snowden effect, the Air Force moves closer to cyber's private sector

May 25, 2016 

The Air Force is reviving its annual information technology conference in Montgomery, Alabama, which has been dormant since 2012 due to budget constraints, and the rebranded event has a new focus on cybersecurity.

Air Force leaders are encouraging airmen and officers with all sorts of job descriptions, not just cyber professionals, to attend and build relationships with their counterparts in the private sector. The reason? So together they can defend America’s networks.

“We want to create a relationship where we are already constantly working together,” said Col. Ronald Banks, vice commandant of Air War College and director of the Air University Cyber College. "If we have to exchange business cards at the time of a catastrophe, we’re so far lost, we are hopeless."

Participants will not be conducting war games, Banks said. Instead, they'll team with civilian cybersecurity professionals who operate in the financial, tech, telecommunications, energy and retail domains. Such collaboration can be a challenge, Banks said, alluding to the hesitation some private entities feel about working too closely with the government. He cited Edward Snowden, the ex-government contractor who leaked classified information about the United States' secretive surveillance programs that leverage data gathered by major telecommunications companies.

"He highlighted the partnership that government had with certain private industries and how, when that once-secret relationship [became] public knowledge, [it] really hurt the financial bottom line of many corporations because of the perception that private industry was partnering with 'Big Brother,'" Banks said. "That doesn't always go over well with customers."

The conference will aim to foster dialogue that could help shape national network protection strategies and compel lawmakers to enacting tougher policies.

The Cyber Threat: Obama’s Diplomacy-Dominated Policy Ignores Growing Russian Danger

May 23, 2016 

Russia a top cyber adversary, but gets little attention

Russian leader Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu / AP

Cyber warfare and secret cyber intelligence-gathering operations by Russia pose a major threat to America, yet Moscow has managed to keep its activities largely secret while President Obama and his administration have failed to highlight the danger.

By contrast, two decades of aggressive Chinese military and intelligence cyber attacks that have caused serious damage to American security through the theft of government and private industry secrets have been given much more attention in both government and the private sector.

Less information has been made public about the nature and scope of Russian cyber activities, and the Obama administration has sought to avoid highlighting the threat over concerns doing so would upset its diplomacy-oriented national security strategy. The reliance on diplomatic solutions continues despite a major increase in threatening Russian activities, both cyber and conventional, including military aggression in Europe.

Moscow’s primary cyber war and spying agency is the Federal Security Service, known as FSB, that most closely resembles its Soviet predecessor agency, the KGB. The SVB foreign spy agency, along with the GRU military intelligence service, are the other two main actors behind aggressive covert and clandestine cyber warfare activities and intelligence gathering.