2 September 2016

*** From cyberwarfare to drones, the future of conflict is electronic

August 29, 2016 

We’re celebrating Digital Trends’ 10th birthday with DT10, an ongoing series that examines how tech has changed every aspect of our lives, from food to film to dating, over the past 10 years – and what’s to come in the next 10. Check out new stories every Monday here! Innovation can take many forms: Today’s computers are faster. Space travel is cheaper. Artificial intelligence is smarter than ever before. The military is … well …

While the details on Intel’s latest processors or LG’s new OLED technology remain a simple Google search away, the uniquely secretive processes of the United States military make it tough to know what’s truly cutting edge. Much of the work happens behind closed doors, and even when an innovation is made public, layers of classified details often prevent us from ever knowing the full story. We may learn about battery-powered exoskeletons for soldiers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), or real-life railguns that shoot hunks of metal at blistering speed, but the projects we don’t learn about may be even wilder.

So what has true military innovation looked like over the past decade? How are our soldiers equipped today? And what should we expect a decade from now? Are our armed forces really as advanced as Tom Clancy novels would have you believe, or is reliance on an antiquated procurement process dramatically holding it back? What would military technology look like if a company like Apple or Microsoft were in charge?

To understand it all, you’ll need to step back more than 10 years, to one fateful day in 2001, to witness the genesis of modern conflict, and the technology the military uses to fight it.

New enemy, new strategies In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, then-U.S. President George W. Bush took less than a month to declare war on Osama bin Laden’s militant Sunni Islamist organization, al-Qaida. A coordinated attack that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, 9/11 heralded a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy that would send ripples throughout our country’s armed forces for years.

Three Takeaways from Carter’s Recent Meeting with His Indian Counterpart

August 30, 2016 

A long-awaited agreement finally clears the way for logistics cooperation. Just don’t call it 'basing.’ 

Indian Minister of Defense Manohar Parrikar came to Washington on Monday for his sixth meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. Secretary Carter noted in his opening statement of their joint press conference that he has spent more time with Minister Parrikar “than with any other counterpart.” He did not qualify the statement further, and did not limit his remark to convey “any other non-NATO” counterpart or a similar formulation. For me, that gives us takeaway number one about U.S.-India defense ties: The time Carter and his counterpart, Parrikar, are investing in this venture illustrates the opportunity they perceive in a deepened strategic relationship—but also underscores the hard, time-consuming work required to find a way for the defense systems in both countries to learn to work together more seamlessly.

Carter and Parrikar both highlighted the importance of “shared values” in the defense relationship, and repeatedly referenced freedom of navigation and the fight against terrorism to illustrate those shared values. They spoke about a convergence of views, and a gradually-expanding technology partnership, that will make U.S.-India ties “a defining partnership of the twenty-first century.”

Carter developed his “handshake” metaphor for the U.S.-India relationship more fully, describing ties as “two important handshakes.” The first handshake brings together the U.S. rebalance to Asia with India’s “Act East” policy, to use the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Asia strategy. Both countries’ outstretched hands, so to speak, meet in the Indo-Pacific, where their shared point of view and common sense of conduct create an ever-larger platform for cooperation.

How Prabhu Is Transforming Indian Railways Into A Fast, Efficient And Profitable Entity

August 31, 2016

The Railways Minister is facing a herculean task. It would take years before a visible change can be seen. But Prabhu is taking these problems head on.

Anilesh S Mahajan’s cover story in Business Today’s 28 August print edition, jots down the daunting challenges Indian Railways (IR) is facing and reports how Suresh Prabhu is working on a mission mode to solve these to make the IR fast, efficient and profitable.

Consider what the report calls a herculean task for the minister:

IR is archaic with poor facilities and on-time record. It spent 92.5 paises last year to earn every rupee of revenue, leaving practically nothing to invest in new facilities or improve current ones. Then there are unions to deal with, who dislike all change, small and big. And Prabhu plans to spend Rs 8.56 lakh crore to fix all problems by 2019, assuming he remains the Railways Minister.

To push for any change is not easy given these challenges. But Prabhu is moving forward.

Business Today report lists four major problems for IR today.

First, is the glaring flaw in IR’s revenue model. In the last budget, out of the gross traffic receipts of Rs 1,67,834 crore, freight earnings contributed Rs 1,11,853 crore. Passenger fares contributed the rest. What is happening is that freight is subsidising passenger fares. This is the legacy of Prabhu’s predecessors. They didn’t touch passenger fares for years but kept raising freight fares making it uncompetitive vis-a-vis roads.

Vietnam: Indian Prime Minister Modi’s Significant Visit

By Dr Subhash Kapila
01 Sep , 2016

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Vietnam is significantly well-timed strategically and politically besides reinforcing the time-honoured Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership and making-up for the lack of an Indian Prime Ministerial visit during last 15 years.

Regrettable is the fact that India’s Congress Prime Minister from 2004-14, Dr Manmohan Singh for ten long years could not find time to visit Vietnam and honour the spirit of the Vietnam-India Strategic Partnership, with which this was found. Obviously, what seems to have been in play was India then being overly sensitive to as to what would China think and read of such a visit?

Contextually, Prime Minister Modi’s visit needs to be viewed against the backdrop of The Hague International Tribunal’s recent ruling negating China’s claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea, China vehemently opposing India’s admittance in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, China vetoing the UN resolution to declare Pakistani terrorist leader Masood Azhar as an international terrorist and China’s dismissive stance on India’s objections to routing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir legally under Indian sovereignty.

Contextually again, Prime Minister Modi’s Vietnam visit on September 3rd precedes his arrival in China the next day for the G-20 Summit. The contrast is stark in that in Vietnam the Indian Prime Minister will be welcomed as a valuable and honoured friend. In China the Indian Prime Minister would be conscious of the fact that it was only few weeks before that the Chinese President had rebuffed Prime Minister Modi’s personal outreach for China’s support on the NSG issue.

Tejas Induction: A Boost to the Indian Aeronautical Technology

By Radhakrishna Rao
01 Sep , 2016

In what has been described as a shot in the arm for the Indian aeronautical technology, the fourth generation, home grown supersonic fighter, Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), that was once written off by critics, was inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) at an impressive ceremony held in Bengaluru on July 1. For the Indian aerospace industry, which had actively contributed to the development of this domestically built combat aircraft, the handing over of the two Tejas fighters to IAF, implied a growing maturity in terms of meeting the exacting needs and stringent specifications of the exercise involved in building this state of the art fighter. For the Indian Air Force (IAF), saddled with the problem of squadron depletion, the induction of Tejas marked the beginning of a process aimed at strengthening its frontline fighting formations.

For the Indian Air Force (IAF), saddled with the problem of squadron depletion, the induction of Tejas marked the beginning of a process aimed at strengthening its frontline fighting formations.

Tejas, which was taken up for development in 1980s as a replacement to the ageing Mig-21 fleet of around 250 fighters, is configured to meet the tactical needs of the IAF and help sustain its fighting punch. Indian Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has been quick to point out that Tejas is far more superior to Mig-21.

The induction of two Tejas into IAF marks a major first step towards raising the first squadron of this combat aircraft named Flying Daggers 45. “The induction of two aircraft is a big milestone for IAF. After this, things will move at a rapid pace,” stated Air Marshal Jasbir Walia, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Air Command of IAF.

** Defence Services in Decision Making: AFSPA and Beyond

By Lt Gen HPS Klair
01 Sep , 2016

A recurring view in the media holds the Army responsible for withholding repeal of AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in the North East and in J&K. A powerful former Home Minister lent credence to this narrative citing his unsuccessful endeavour given the Army’s resistance to the proposal. Without discussing the merits of the case which has received adequate coverage, this article only highlights that this debate is spurious.

The Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India as per Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules. The armed forces are seldom consulted.

The Indian Armed Forces are peripheral and underrepresented in government decision making. There are many research studies in India and abroad to substantiate this fact. They are at best a ‘virtual attached office’ of the government, an improvement from the de jure ‘attached office’ for six decades. The Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India as per Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules. The armed forces are seldom consulted. A mere joint secretary signed the directive to the military that initiated the 1962 war with China. The government decides on a course of action they deem fit with little consultation when they so desire. Constitutionally they represent the supreme authority ‘we the people’.

Therefore the armed forces have not been consulted whether it was for the ‘forward policy’ against the Chinese in 1962, the 1965 surrender at Tashkent of our territory in J & K (including the strategically significant Haji Pir Pass) or the ‘surrender’ of 93000 prisoners of war captured in 1971. The political wisdom of these historic decisions in pursuit of illusionary gains is difficult to uphold.

China's 'Little Green Boats' Have Japan on Alert

AUG 31, 2016

In early August, Japan's Coast Guard witnessed an unconventional Chinese assault on its territorial waters. According to Japanese officials I met with last week, at least 300 Chinese "fishing vessels" began incursions into the exclusive economic zone around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, disputed territory administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan as well.

Japan has seen similar probing activities for years. But in August, the Chinese escalated. There were far more boats than before, and the Chinese sent armed coast guard vessels to accompany these "fishermen."

This may sound fairly benign compared to the shooting wars in Ukraine and Syria. But for Japan, the matter could not be more serious. Its military assesses that many of these sailors are really Chinese irregular militias, similar to the non-uniformed "little green men" that Russia has sent to eastern Ukraine to stir up separatist sentiment. Call them "little green boats."

Nonetheless, Japan has gone out of its way not to take China's bait and respond militarily. Instead, it sends its own coast guard to escort the boats and inform them of their trespassing over loudspeakers. Diplomatically, Japanese officials have taken to lodging angry, formal complaints in late night phone calls to their Chinese counterparts, a tactic usually favored by Beijing's envoys. 

There are three reasons Americans should watch the rising tensions in the East China Sea carefully. To start, President Barack Obama in 2014 said publicly the U.S. was bound by its treaty with Japan to come to Japan's aid if the Senkakus were ever attacked. In this sense, the islands have the same status as the Baltic states in the NATO alliance. Unlike the red line in Syria that Obama ended up backing away from in 2013, the U.S. would be violating a formal agreement if it did not come to the defense of the Senkaku Islands. 

Don't Be Too Sure About a Stalemated US-China Military Balance

August 29, 2016

Don't Be Too Sure About a Stalemated US-China Military Balance

There are reasons to believe that the United States will maintain a qualitative technological edge.

As discussed in last week’s column, Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich have made a significant contribution to the literature on the future military balance in the Western Pacific. As with any such analysis, however, their article offers as many questions as it does answers. We can break these quibbles down into three areas; strategic, technological, and organizational questions.

On the strategic side, Biddle and Oelrich focus their analysis on a short-range campaign aimed at establishing dominance over a particular landmass. In so doing, they underplay China’s incentive to pursue a counter-force strategy intended specifically to destroy U.S. naval capabilities. Long warship construction times, along with limited facilities, make replacement difficult-to-impossible. If the United States lost even three carriers in a war with China, its ability to project power around the world would suffer for decades. If anything, this reinforces the authors’ points about the dominance of land-based systems, which are not only more survivable, but also easier to replace than their naval counterparts. However, it also suggests that China could employ a tactical and operational calculus geared more towards enemy force reduction than the achievement of specific campaign objectives.

On the technological side, while the authors do an excellent job of projecting existing technological trends, they invariably neglect some potentially important contributors to the military balance. For example, Biddle and Oelrich devote insufficient attention to the potential for cyber-attacks against enemy information networks. While it may prove exceedingly difficult for the United States to figure out where every mobile Chinese missile launcher is hiding, it’s likely that the Chinese know where they are, and that information is subject to infiltration, disruption, and appropriation. The authors compare the protection of Chinese information networks to Iraq’s successful hiding of Scud missile launchers in the Iraq War, but the parallel doesn’t go very far; the Scud launchers were not part of an integrated system of defense in which both the center and the distributed “hands” needed good information on the location and performance of other “hands.” A concerted attack against communications networks would not necessarily be subject to range and line-of-sight considerations, and could prove devastating to an A2/AD network. Of course, an attacking force is subject to the same concerns, but this merely suggests that cyber-dominance could prove decisive in a foreseeable conflict.

US Lawmakers Want to Freeze $1.15 Billion Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

By: Joe Gould
August 30, 2016 
Source Link

WASHINGTON — Reacting to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Yemen, 64 US lawmakers are asking that a $1.15 billion US arms sale to Saudi Arabia be delayed. 

Criticism of US support for the Saudi-led campaign against Houthi militias has grown louder in recent weeks, after United Nation-brokered peace talks collapsed and the coalition airstrikes hit a school and a hospital, killing dozens of civilians. According to the UN, more than 3,700 civilians have been killed during the 18-month conflict.

In a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, the bipartisan group cited a recent Saudi airstrike that killed 10 children, and said the Saudi-led coalition’s allegedly deliberate targeting of civilian facilities “may amount to war crimes.”

“This military campaign has had a deeply troubling impact on civilians,” reads the letter, which was first reported by the magazine Foreign Policy. “Any decision to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia should be given adequate time for full deliberation by Congress.”

Spearheaded by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., the letter expressed concern the White House’s notification to Congress about the sale Aug. 8 was timed to coincide with Congress's summer recess. Congress, the letter reads, “has little time to consider the arms deal when it returns from recess within the 30 day window established by law.”

Inside the Head of an ISIS True Believer

With rare exception, active members of ISIS are notoriously shy about talking to Western reporters. The reason ISIS has invested so heavily in elaborate media and propaganda arms is that its mantra—“Hear from us, not about us”—is designed to demonstrate to fellow travelers and would-be enlisteesthat what the Crusader-Zionist press says is all lies. The higher metaphysical truth of the “Islamic State” can only be grasped by joining it or listening to what the mujahidin have to say.

For some weeks, I have been in contact via an intermediary with a man I will call Abu Jihad, trying to persuade him to talk to an American reporter. He agreed reluctantly, but as part of the deal, Abu Jihad asked that I not disclose his true identity or current role in the organization, apart from noting that it is by no means senior or even mid-level. He is both a citizen and employee of the caliphate and, importantly, lives in its de facto capital of Raqqa.

Mainly I was interested in probing the captive mind of a true believer. What does he think of his own sodality now that it is losing city after city, and township after township, across Syria and Iraq? I’ve interviewed several ISIS defectors who presented an unvarnished—perhaps selective—view of their erstwhile comrades long after saying goodbye to all that. But what motivates someone to hang in there and remain a loyal subject of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi even in these trying times?

I promised Abu Jihad to record his answers to my questions in full. Where what he says is in obvious contradiction to provable facts, I have added my own commentary in italics.

Abu Jihad: I have occupied different positions and it’s really not important what your position is during a time of war. You will see judges, scientists, doctors, nurses, all in the same trench fighting Allah’s enemy.
Watch: The Anatomy Of An ISIS Supporter

Holding the Line in Aleppo?

August 30, 2016

The image of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year old Syrian boy pulled from a damaged building in rebel-held Aleppo covered in dried blood, has captured the world’s attention. Omran Daqneesh shows us the human cost of failing to enforce red lines. A “red line” is an unequivocal threat designed to get the other side to back down. But, for President Barack Obama, they work in the reverse: every time he draws a “red line,” he backs down.

In 2012, President Obama drew a “red line” against chemical warfare in Syria.

In 2013, he backed down.

At the United Nations in 2015, President Obama drew another “red line” that threatened the use of force if chlorine weapons were used in Syria. Once again he backed down.

During the current siege of Aleppo, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, stated that it appears that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime has used chlorine weapons against a rebel-held neighborhood. The Obama Administration has responded with apress release that did not threaten any consequences. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power denounced the “horrific and continuous use of chemical weapons by Syria” without specifying whether any action would be taken against Assad.

Will Barack Obama ever enforce any of the “red lines” he has drawn against Syria’s use of chemical weapons?


AUGUST 31, 2016

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the seventh installment in our new series, “Course Correction,” which features adapted articles from the Cato Institute’s recently released book, Our Foreign Policy Choices: Rethinking America’s Global Role. The articles in this series challenge the existing bipartisan foreign policy consensus and offer a different path.

A suicide bombing in Yemen kills scores of new military recruits. Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has suffered a brain hemorrhage. Nuclear-armed North Korea tests ballistic missiles. Venezuela is in a political and economic death spiral. The civil war in Syria drags into its fifth year, and only seems to get worse. In each case, a worried world asks: “What is the United States going to do?”

U.S. policymakers have invited this response. For decades, U.S. foreign policy has followed a quixotic goal of primacy, or global hegemony. It presumes that the United States is the indispensable nation, and that every problem, in any part of the world, must be resolved by U.S. leadership or else will impact American safety.

But primacy has proved both difficult and costly. It is also frequently disconnected from American security needs.

There Is No Thirty Years' War in the Middle East

August 29, 2016 

Such explanations say more about Europe than about the Middle East.

The Thirty Years’ War started in 1618 as a conflict between various Protestant and Catholic states in the Holy Roman Empire. It brought devastation and major population loss to the heart of Europe. Many observers of today’s Middle East have found similarities with that distant past.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, for instance, contended that several analogies exist “between what’s happening in the Middle East and what happened in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War several centuries ago, namely the rising of religious identification as the principal motive for political action.”

Many public figures expressed similar opinions, including Leon Panetta (“we are looking at kind of a 30-year war”), Andrew Sullivan (“the thirty years’ war brewing in the Middle East”) and Brendan Simms, according to whom “the root of the Thirty Years War, just as with many Middle Eastern ­conflicts today, lay in religious intolerance.”

Others have analyzed how the Thirty Years’ War ended, providing a “model” that could bring peace to the Middle East. Pulitzer winner Jack Miles wrote that “the Peace of Westphalia [in 1648] re-drew parts of the map of Europe. Peace in the Middle East may yet do the same.”

Each of these approaches is part of an ongoing process of the region’s “medievalization,” or the tendency to juxtapose an allegedly medieval Middle East with the modern, secular, normative West.

The Thirty Years’ Wars had indeed little to do with “religious identification.” Catholic France, for instance, supported the intervention of Protestant Sweden, led by Gustavus Adolphus, against the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic League.

New Masters of Revolutionary Warfare: The Islamic State Movement (2002-2016)

by Craig Whiteside


The Islamic State, despite its longevity, prolific media enterprise, and high profile, escapes easy definition by policymakers, academics, and the media. An examination of the movement using Mao’s revolutionary warfare framework, particularly his three stages of conflict, provides a more holistic view of the organization for both understanding and action. As part of an exploration, Islamic State captured documents and press releases were examined to establish the innovations and breadth of its adaptation of Maoist principles of guerilla warfare and the evolution of the theoretical influences on the doctrine from previous Salafi-militant experiences and publications. This research provides valuable insight into the return of a powerful method of insurgency as well as a glimpse into the vast pseudo-clandestine insurgency that is the Islamic State movement.

Key Words: Revolutionary Warfare; Terrorism; Iraq; Islamic State 


Two years after the fall of Iraq’s second largest city to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh), there is still an alarming dissensus concerning their nature, strategy, and goals. Is it a nihilistic terrorist group, an apocalyptic death cult, an insurgency, a terrorist army, a proto-state, or some hybrid of these? Does the group really adopt Islamic principles, or is it a Sunni neo-Ba’athist restoration movement with genocidal proclivities?[1] The confusion is not limited to academics, whose writings about the Islamic State are insightful yet rarely stray from singular research areas like ideology, economics, terrorism, religion, or regional studies. Even the US Special Forces commander tasked with countering the group in late 2014 admitted in a candid moment that he and his command did not understand “this movement.”[2]

Satellite Imagery Helps Find 72 Mass Graves of ISIS Victims in Iraq and Syria

August 31, 2016

AP documents 72 mass graves left by IS militants

HARDAN, Iraq (AP) — Peering through binoculars, the young man watched as Islamic State extremists gunned down the handcuffed men and then buried them with a waiting bulldozer. For six days he watched as IS filled one grave after another with his friends and neighbors.

The five graves arranged at the foot of Sinjar mountain hold the bodies of dozens of minority Yazidis killed in the Islamic State group’s bloody onslaught in August 2014. They are a fraction of the mass graves Islamic State extremists have scattered across Iraq and Syria.

In exclusive interviews, photos and research, The Associated Press has documented and mapped 72 of the mass graves, the most comprehensive survey so far, with many more expected to be uncovered as the Islamic State group’s territory shrinks.
In Syria, AP has obtained locations for 17 mass graves, including one with the bodies of hundreds of members of a single tribe all but exterminated when IS extremists took over their region.

For at least 16 of the Iraqi graves, most in territory too dangerous to excavate, officials do not even guess the number of dead. In others, the estimates are based on memories of traumatized survivors, Islamic State propaganda and what can be gleaned from a cursory look at the earth.

Still, even the known numbers of victims buried are staggering — from 5,200 to more than 15,000.

Why Turkey Went Into Syria

August 31, 2016

The Turkish military operation symbolizes a new phase in the Syrian Civil War. Turkey has resisted calls for “boots on the ground” since the early phases of the Syrian crisis, which eventually led Ankara to face the twin threats of the PKK’s territorial enlargement in northern Syria and growing ISIS attacks, particularly in Turkish-Syrian border regions. Thus, Ankara has been waiting for an opportune moment to wage a multifunctional operation to stem these twin threats, ensure its border security and empower its position in the Syrian crisis. These basically sum up Turkey’s evolving goals in Syria, which currently prioritize restoring highly fragile domestic security and aspire to an active role at the negotiation table for any post-conflict resettlement in Syria, rather than its initial aspirations to remove Assad and prevail in its geostrategic rivalry with Iran and Russia.

Turkey and coalition forces’ negotiations to establish a ninety-eight-by-forty-five-kilometer “safe zone” between Azaz and Jarabulus, reaching into Syria, have been on the table for a couple of years. But those have failed to bear fruit due to both shifting balances on the ground (i.e., Russian and Iranian interventionism and the United States’ retrenchment) and disagreements about who would deploy land forces, with possible political repercussions in case of casualties.

The Turkish army is known for its caution, and it is no secret that before the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey had major reservations about a cross-border operation in what the secularist establishment calls “the Middle East swamp.” In Syria, the establishment’s first preference was reconciliation with the Assad regime and its allies to avert the risk of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria, which methodically contradicted government policy. Pro-Western elements in the bureaucracy, on the other hand, seemed ready to approve a joint operation with U.S. forces whereby the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could possibly be equipped to take the lead as land forces, which would in turn require minimal Turkish involvement.

France and Germany Call to End Trade Talks

By Antonia Colibasanu 
Aug. 31, 2016 

The politics surrounding EU-U.S. free trade negotiations emphasize the divisions in the EU. 

German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Sunday that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the EU and the U.S. “have de facto failed.” Yesterday, French Foreign Trade Minister Matthias Fekl added that France will call for negotiations to end. The TTIP as proposed would be a vast, complex economic agreement between the world’s two largest economies. The failure of these negotiations is not surprising and confirms our prediction that the EU’s power is disintegrating. Moreover, this turn of events, underscores the division between Western and Eastern Europe.

The TTIP negotiations started in 2013. The comprehensive trade agreement between the two major global partners was meant to both enhance the EU-U.S. relationship and help the EU overcome the economic problems that emerged after the European debt crisis emerged in 2009. Considering the geographical area covered and the substance of the agreement, the TTIP would take the concept of economic integration to a new level, with a potentially huge impact on the global trade. It has been considered the EU’s most ambitious international trade project. But the EU’s integration is not fully completed. The European sovereign debt crisis created socio-economic problems that put pressure on the political elite and fostered Euroskeptic sentiment throughout the Continent.

Both France and Germany will have general elections next year, and the TTIP has become a campaign topic. The German anti-TTIP camp (various non-governmental organizations, but also the nationalist party Alternative for Germany) has announced a large protest set for Sept. 17 against both the TTIP and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). In France, National Front President Marine Le Pen has been the most outspoken politician against the agreement, calling it an “atomic bomb” for the French economy. In April, before the latest round of negotiations, she asked French President François Hollande to refuse to negotiate. As mainstream parties compete with growing Euroskeptic parties for political support, they must adapt and respond to the public. Brexit taught political parties throughout Europe that they need to listen more closely to public opinion and less to the elites. 

Metabolizing Japan, The World's Oldest Nation


-- this post authored by Reva Goujon

Getting old can be a drag, for both people and nations. As people age, they tend to become less physically active. This leads to loss of muscle mass and the gain of fat, which causes the body's metabolism - the process of converting nutrients into energy - to decrease. When the population of a nation ages, a similar effect plays out. The labor pool dwindles, fatty debts build up, and the nation's economic muscle, or labor productivity, atrophies, leading to a decrease in the nation's metabolic rate and slower growth overall.

The National Bureau of Economic Research released a study in July that examined how an aging population can impair economic growth. In analyzing the economic response to aging in the United States since 1980, the study emphasized a drop in labor productivity as the chief economic consequence of a graying society and estimated that the aging of a society can shave as much as 1.2 percent off gross domestic product growth, a considerable amount given that a 2 percent growth rate in an advanced industrial economy is a cause for celebration these days.

Demographics matter - a lot. This is a big part of why central bankers in the developed world are banging their heads against the wall trying to concoct new monetary and fiscal cocktails to stimulate growth when even crawling to 2 percent growth seems like an uphill battle. A graying society simply cannot burn off as many calories as economists, politicians and voters would like. Tackling the roots of demographic decline is no easy task, either. Population growth is considered stable at a 2.1 total fertility rate, meaning mom and dad are producing enough offspring at least to replace themselves. But a more urbanized world means a higher cost of living and tighter living quarters, leaving less physical and financial room to seat a big family around the dinner table. And as more women seek higher education and professional careers, childbearing gets put off until an age when fertility drops. Add to this picture longer life expectancy enabled by advancements in medicine and technology, and you have yourself a demographic crunch.
The Corporate Culture Makeover

Vladimir Putin and the Shiite Axis

August 30, 2016

Russia's military alliance with Iran is all about keeping Assad in power and America on its back foot, and even a short-lived partnership can do long-term damage to U.S. interests.

On Aug. 16, Russian bombers took off from Shahid Nojeh air base near the Iranian city of Hamadan reportedly to bomb Islamic State targets in Syria. The fact that the Russian air force had based planes inside Iran was not only a surprise to American diplomats -- it was news to many Iranian officials as well. While State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the Russian action may have violated a UN Security Council resolution, 20 Iranian legislators demanded a closed session of parliament to discuss why Iran had allowed foreign forces to base themselves in the country for the first time since World War II.

Against the backdrop of outrage in Tehran, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan accused Moscow of "ungentlemanly" behavior in publicizing Russia's use of the base, denied reports citing Russian officials that Moscow and Tehran had signed an agreement for Russia to use the base, and announced that Iran would no longer allow Russian bombers to fly from the airstrip. In an apparent attempt to save face, Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the Russian planes had "successfully" completed their mission and returned to Russia.

This may have seemed a brief hiccup in an otherwise solid alliance between Russia and Iran. But it's worth remembering that it's the romance, not the strife, that is the aberration. Never in the countries' hundreds of years of dealing with each other have they cooperated so closely. It's America's misfortune that Moscow and Tehran have just recently discovered that there is vast overlap in their interests in the Middle East -- not least, in opposing U.S. interests there.


Australia’s Gulag Archipelago

AUG. 30, 2016

SYDNEY, Australia — In Dante’s view, the unfortunate souls who dwell in purgatory may suffer excruciating pain, but the promise of their final destination is clear: paradise. Those who languish on the remote, tiny islands — Manus and Nauru — that host Australia’s offshore immigration detention centers are not so lucky.

Although a majority of the inmates have been determined to be refugees, Australia’s policy is to not allow any who arrived by boat to settle here. So the ultimate destination of these asylum seekers, who have come from as far afield as Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, is unresolved. This means they are effectively in indefinite detention for committing no crime. And this uncertainty about their fate has driven hundreds to savage despair, even self-harm and suicide.

Allegations of rape, abuse, neglect and mistreatment at these centers are now legion. The full scale of the problem has been hidden because journalists are routinely denied the expensive visas to visit the islands and have been barred from the centers themselves. Those who actually work there, including doctors and counselors as well as guards, face a possible jail term if they break confidentiality rules.

Thousands of files from Nauru — a remote island republic that is the smallest nation in the South Pacific — recently published by The Guardian documented reports of sexual assault, child abuse, suicide attempts and unraveling mental health among detainees from 2013 to 2015. They were horrifying in their details: guards slapping children, bartering for sexual favors; women raped; detainees attempting suicide and cutting themselves with sharpened pencils.

Yes, Russia's Military Is Training for a 'Mega War.' That's What Militaries Do.

August 30, 2016

The latest series of military exercises in Russia have unnerved its Western neighbors, who are concerned that Russia may be preparing for a military campaign. The Russian military is indeed preparing for war, but that does not mean the Kremlin actually plans to initiate one anytime soon. Rather, the current and pending exercises are meant to, well, exercise the troops, for all contingencies, including worst-case scenarios, but also to send a signal to potential adversaries and “disloyal” neighbors.

These countries, of course, remember vividly how less than a month after conducting the Kavkaz-2008, or Caucasus-2008, exercises in July of that year Russian armed forces marched into South Ossetia to rout Georgia as it attempted to retake its separatist province by force. Then, in spring 2014, Russia’s military-political leadership used one of the so-called surprise selective checks of its armed forces’ combat readiness to deploy the troops needed to facilitate the taking of Crimea.

No wonder each time Moscow decides to hold a major snap check or regular drill along Russia’s western or southwestern flank, such maneuvers generate concern in some of the countries located along those borders. The latest surprise check—launchedAugust 25 on territories comprising Russia’s Southern, Western and Central military districts—was no exception.

Chief of Naval Operations Richardson: US Navy is Focusing on Enemy Submarine Threat

August 30, 2016

Enemy submarines remain the single most dangerous threat to the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers and its surface fleet at large. However the service is working on improving its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities as the once-dormant Russian undersea force reemerges and China grows its fleet.

While anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles often capture the lion’s share of the attention, submarines armed with Russian-made 533mm and 650mm waking-homing torpedoes are among the only threats that can actually sink an aircraft carrier. “A torpedo properly placed under the right part of the keel is one of the few things that can actually flatout sink an aircraft carrier,” retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security told The National Interest.

The U.S. Navy’s top leadership agrees—submarines remain the single greatest threat to the carrier and the surface fleet. “That’s not new news,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told The National Interest on Aug. 25 during an interview in his office in the Pentagon. “The submarine is a very asymmetric weapon. By virtue of its continued ability to stay hidden... It’s immune from a lot of those detection systems, which is the first step in any kind of a weapon engagement—you got to detect.”


AUGUST 31, 2016

In a recent interview conducted by Aaron David Miller for Foreign Policy, Robert Malley, one of the president’s most trusted advisors on the Middle East, once again enumerated the competing priorities of U.S. Syria policy: the need to balance humanitarian concerns with the desire to “preserve state institutions” and avoid a power vacuum so that the country does not slide into total anarchy.

Over the past three years in particular, this line of argument has not only been a mainstay those supporting a carefully calibrated, limited U.S. Syria policy in line with the current administration but also by a number of commentators writing both implicitly and explicitly in defense of Damascus. In two revisionist articles published recently at War on the Rocks, an author writing under a pseudonym presents the Assad regime as ruthless, but at least secular, pluralistic and — most importantly — as the final basion of civic, central authority in a tumultuous Middle East. Whereas the indefatigable Emile Hokayem already formulated an eloquent response regarding sectarian dynamics in the Levant, there is an equally important question raised in the piece warrants answering: What’s really left of the Syrian central state?

State of Denial

Following the swift collapse of its forces in the Battle for Idlib last year, President Bashar al-Assad had given a much publicized speech admitting the regime’s armed forces were suffering tremendous manpower shortages and would have to withdraw from certain fronts. Newspapers had been reporting for many months before of desperate conscription and recruitment efforts around the country. By late July, Assad appeared to crumble under the cumulative weight of years of slow attrition and defection, triggering a combined Russian and Iranian intervention seeking to reverse the regime’s fortunes. By February of this year, analysts inside as well as outside government agreed — they had largely succeeded in their attempt.

Reforming Ukraine After the Revolutions

Two muckraking journalists had contempt for Ukraine’s corrupt political system. So they became politicians. 

As muckraking journalists, Nayyem and Leshchenko had contempt for Ukraine’s politicians. So they became politicians. Illustration by Paul Rogers 

When Sergii Leshchenko was at university, in Ukraine, he dreamed of working in television news. He is the son of two Soviet-trained engineers, and grew up in Kiev, where he studied journalism. He aspired to become an on-air correspondent, but his speech was mumbly and imprecise. After an unsuccessful summer internship at a local news channel, in 2000, he heard that a new online publication, Ukrayinska Pravda, was desperately looking for reporters; in recent weeks, nearly all the staff had quit, fed up with low pay and worn down by pressure from authorities. His interview took place in a cramped and sparsely furnished three-room apartment, where he was met by the site’s founder and editor-in-chief, Georgiy Gongadze, a thirty-one-year-old reporter. Gongadze regularly received threats from Ukrainian officials because of his muckraking investigations. The power was out in the apartment, so Leshchenko and Gongadze sat in darkness. After a few minutes, Gongadze told him that he could start right away.

Two weeks after Leshchenko began work, Gongadze disappeared. “I thought maybe he wandered off somewhere, went on a bender,” Leshchenko recalled recently. “He could have met a girl, gone to L’viv, or maybe Georgia.” Two months later, Gongadze’s body was found in a forest outside Kiev. He had been decapitated, his body doused in chemicals and burned. Leshchenko had never expected journalism to be a deadly profession, but now that it was it didn’t seem right to do anything else. “There was no going back,” he said.

At Ukrayinska Pravda, Leshchenko was left to work alone with Olena Pritula, the site’s co-founder and publisher. “He never raised a question of his own safety,” Pritula told me. “He just quietly and calmly showed up at work. This was akin to heroism.” Leshchenko rapidly mastered the maze of relationships among Ukraine’s oligarchs and the intricacies of its natural-gas trade. He was “rigorous to the point of being a bore,” Pritula said, and prone to a stubborn and inflexible precision that made him a trying conversationalist but a brilliant reporter. In time, he became Ukraine’s premier investigative journalist. He is now thirty-six, with a trim beard, thick black eyeglasses, and a regular uniform of slim-cut dress shirts and dark jeans.

Russia Re-Ups Its Land and Strategic Forces

August 29, 2016

The Russian military continues its long-term modernization drive, aiming to re-equip its land and strategic forces. Russian daily Lenta.ru reports on the recently declassified new armored personnel carrier for the marines, designated as BT-3F. The prototype was built on the chassis of the long-serving BMP-3 line of combat vehicles and is designed both for export and for equipping Russian units. This new carrier’s armament includes a remote-controlled weapons module, as well as a remote-controlled combat module equipped with a 7.62mm machine gun.

In addition to weapons, the new vehicle is equipped with a thermal sight with a laser rangefinder. Other potential combat modules can include heavy machine guns and automatic grenade launchers. BMP personnel carriers have been a mainstay for the Soviet and later Russian armed forces since the 1960s, with thousands supplied for export all over the world. Numerous BMP upgrades and variants continue to serve with dozens of international forces and have participated in practically all major military conflicts since the line's initial 1967 unveiling. This vehicle remains the mainstay of many land armies, and is expected to operate for decades to come.

According to Lenta.ru, the designers decided to get rid of the turret and its 100mm gun -- the weapon choice of the original BMP-3 -- in order to increase the crew capacity of the new machine, which can now transport seven to 14 people. In a 2016 interview with the magazine Moscow Defense Brief, Alexey Losev, the head of export department and planning for Tractor Plants Corp. (KTZ), said that the company took the initiative and designed the vehicle at its own expense, adding that a prototype is scheduled to appear in the Army 2016 military forum this September. According to Lozev, there is already an export potential -- Indonesia recently expressed interest in the new vehicle.