12 October 2016

Day after strikes, government slashes army's disability pensions

October 10, 2016  

'Instead of joining us in celebrating the strikes, the MoD has stabbed us in the back,' says a top general.
Ajai Shukla reports.

As army para-commandos slipped silently across the Line of Control on September 28 on a perilous mission to punish anti-India jihadis and their Pakistani army backers, the Government of India quietly put the finishing touches on a plan to slash disability pensions for injuries incurred in the line of duty.

On September 30, the day after India began celebrating the successful 'surgical strikes', the ministry of defence issued a letter that dramatically reduced pensions for soldiers invalided out from the army after being crippled by battle injuries, or by injuries directly attributable to hazardous military service.

It was just as well that the commandos returned without significant casualties.

If a young soldier with severe injuries -- what cold medical jargon terms '100 per cent disability' -- from that operation had been invalided out from service, he would have found his monthly pension slashed from Rs 45,200 to just Rs 27,200 -- down by Rs 18,000 a month.

The team leaders in the 'surgical strikes', majors with 10 years of service, have been hit even harder -- with pension for 100 per cent disability slashed by over Rs 70,000 a month.

Media And The Politically Negotiated Conflict – OpEd

OCTOBER 10, 2016

“It just is nothing foreign to consciousness at all that could present itself to consciousness through the mediation of phenomena different from the liking itself; to like is intrinsically to be conscious.” — Edmund Husserl

Voices all across the journalistic circles have elicited the response that the media plays a critical role in politically negotiated conflicts. Whether it is the uprising in Kashmir over Hizb-ul-Mujahidden operative Burhan Wani’s death, use of pellet guns by the forces, the K question in India Pakistan relations, the Israel Palestine conflict or the Naxalite movement in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, west Bengal and Orissa, the mediation process has been effective is some ways in establishing peace in the affected regions.

Mediation is the means by which conflict situations are addressed and catered to in order to not distort the peaceful social fabric of affected lands. Talks, dialogues, military intervention, negotiations, bilateral meetings etc are all various manifestations of mediation. One important aspect of mediation is neutrality. This is to ensure both sides of the warring factions are given a platform to present their viewpoints. The media provides this platform. Unfortunately sensationalism has overshadowed ethical journalism and hence maintaining a neutral stand and showcasing empathy for the warring factions are no longer possible. Those who take sides are branded as pseudo liberals giving rise to a fresh set of debates.

The end goal of any mediation process is conflict resolution and management. In common parlance conflict resolution is the course of action by which two or more parties engaged in a disagreement, dispute, or debate reach an agreement to resolve the issue. Historically all confidence building measures and mediation by the United Nations has failed as Pakistan continues to create havoc on the Indian soil through terrorism and proxy wars.

What the media can do?

Indus Water Treaty: Should India Turn The Tap Tight? – Analysis

By Brig Anil Gupta* 
OCTOBER 8, 2016

Ever since the Uri misadventure carried out by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists, India has put in cold storage the policy of “strategic restraint” and declared an all-out offensive against Pakistani deep state encompassing the political, diplomatic and economic offensives. In the words of Shekhar Gupta, “a new history takes shape now”. India has also displayed its resolve to use the military option by carrying out punitive surgical strikes against the terrorist launch pads across the Line of control (LoC). India has also exposed the bluff of nuclear black mail of Pakistan.

Pakistan has not only been exposed globally as an epi-centre of terror but also projected as an irresponsible nation, a “rogue state”. It has been isolated beyond redemption and is on the verge of being declared a “terror state” thus leading to its global economic isolation. As it is Pakistan is a cash-starved nation with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) bordering around 2.5% and largely dependent on the doles it receives from US and other countries ironically for fighting against terror. India, therefore, has many options of causing grave damage to Pakistan other than the ultimate military option. The review of Indus Water Treaty (IWT) is one such option but many politicians and analysts in India are raising the China bogey to deter India. But the optimists are of a contrary view and feel that China is unlikely to retaliate by stopping flow of Indus/Sutlej if India decides to tighten the Indus tap that would result in a famine like situation in Pakistan.

Pakistan is not an irrational player. We must reconsider its redlines more rationally.

Mohan Guruswamy 
9 October 16

In a recent article in a widely read web journal the well known strategist Brig.(retd.) Gurmeet Kanwal discusses nuclear options should Pakistan reach its redlines quite early in a conflict. Kanwal is an old friend and we have had and been in umpteen discussions on this subject here and abroad in very many conferences, some with Pakistani strategists also. 

Kanwal writes that Pakistan has “been particularly vocal in holding out the threat of employment of tactical nuclear warheads (TNW’s) against Indian forces. For almost three decades, India has shown immense strategic restraint despite grave provocation from Pakistan. 

However, first in Pathankot in January 2016 and then in Uri in September 2016, India’s red lines were crossed and the government was left with no option but to include calibrated military measures in its response.” 

Quite obviously because we seem to have accepted Pakistan’s declaratory policy 0f of threatening early escalation to the nuclear step, India seems to have given itself very few options of imposing costs on Pakistan. So far it has restricted itself to minor cross border raids, the latest of which Kanwal describes as “carefully calibrated military measures.” These kind of calibrated military measures have been taken several times in the past also. (See Hindu of October 9, 2016 for details of one of these in “Operation Ginger: Tit-for-tat across the Line of Control”). This particular raid by about 25 troopers, mostly para- commandos, on June 30, 2011 killed 13 Pakistan Army troopers and in retaliation for an earlier Pakistan Army’s gory deed decapitated 3 dead Pakistani soldiers and brought their heads back as trophies. The assault sites were also carefully recced by UAV’s and the Indian assault team wore night vision gear and carried special assault weapons. 

U.S. Military Says 2 Service Members Wounded in Afghanistan

October 09, 2016

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Two U.S. service members were wounded in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday when their vehicle struck a roadside mine, the military said. 

They were "conducting a normal security patrol" near the airport on the outskirts of Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar province, when "their vehicle hit the improvised explosive device," the U.S. military's spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said. 

"The individuals were evacuated from the scene of the incident to Jalalabad Airfield for treatment," he said in a statement. The incident happened early Saturday morning, he said.

According to procedure, the troops were not identified. 

The incident follows the death earlier this week of a U.S. service member, also in Nangarhar, where American military are involved in counter-terrorism operations against the Islamic State group and the Taliban.

So far seven U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press tally. 

Not their job: Turning Afghanistan’s special forces into regular troops

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff 
October 7 
Source Link

Afghan commandos from the 7th Special Operations Kandak load up aboard Mi-17s to retake the Nawa district center on Oct. 3 (Thomas Gibbons-Neff/The Washington Post)

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — It had been six hours since nearly two dozen Taliban fighters overran a district center just south of here. An Afghan army unit, backed by U.S. air power, had been rushed in almost immediately to take back the town, but it was pinned down with more than a dozen casualties.

The Afghan troops, a battalion from the embattled 215th Corps, said they needed commando support. With that, the 215th Corps’ commander, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Moune, requested an assault force from the 7th Special Operations Kandak.

“Those guys can get after it,” one U.S. Special Operations adviser said of his Afghan counterparts. “They know what they’re doing.”

But for the Afghan commandos, an overused group of nearly a dozen battalions stretched across the country, the units’ skill cuts both ways.

The Afghan army, a force with inconsistent levels of competence and with nearly unsustainable casualty numbers, is increasingly relying on the commandos as stopgap cover in a campaign it — more often than not without external support — is losing. The reliance on the commandos risks both burning out the elite force and creating a sense of complacency within the regular army, according to U.S. advisers.

“It’s a concern,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the spokesman for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan. “It’s not unique to Helmand or the 215th Corps, it happens in other corps as well to varying degrees.”

Time To Revamp Oil Refineries In Pakistan – OpEd

OCTOBER 10, 2016

I can recall the day the combustion system of my car stopped working. I towed it to the nearest workshop and came to know that the fuel filter, fuel pump and carburetor have been chocked due to accumulation of wax. The mechanic also told me that this has happened because you don’t drive car daily and the excessive wax present in petrol choked the lines etc. He also advised me to use HOBC instead of regular petrol. When I shared by experience with my other friends, they also confirmed facing similar problem. One of the findings was common that often HOBC is not available at all the outlets, even those located in the most posh areas.

This prompted me to talk to the owners of petrol pumps being run by different oil marketing companies OMCs. All of them gave me a copybook reply, “We don’t get enough supply of HOBC from OMCs”. When I probed further the finding was most surprising that only one refinery in Pakistan, Pak Arab Refinery (PARCO) produces HOBC. I also discovered that with the induction of cars based on latest technology consumption of HOBC has increased manifold but there has not been corresponding increase in its production in the country.

I continued my search and met two more surprises: 1) the other refineries operating in Pakistan are incapable of producing HOBC and the government owned largest OMC, Pakistan State Oil Company is not keen in importing HOBC and 2) the second refinery of PARCO to be constructed at Khalifa Point, having a capacity to refine 250,000 barrel oil per day has been delayed. This should have commenced production by 2010. I also found out that even if the construction is done on ‘war footings’ at Khalifa Point refinery, it will not be possible to commence production by 2020.

The prevailing situation prompts following questions:

Ron Paul: Fifteen Years Into Afghan War, Do Americans Know The Truth? – OpEd

OCTOBER 10, 2016

Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. There weren’t any victory parades or photo-ops with Afghanistan’s post-liberation leaders. That is because the war is ongoing. In fact, 15 years after launching a war against Afghanistan’s Taliban government in retaliation for an attack by Saudi-backed al-Qaeda, the US-backed forces are steadily losing territory back to the Taliban.

What President Obama called “the good war” before took office in 2008, has become the “forgotten war” some eight years later. How many Americans know that we still have nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan? Do any Americans know that the Taliban was never defeated, but now holds more ground in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001? Do they know the Taliban overran the provincial capital of Kunduz last week for a second time in a year and they threaten several other provincial capitals?

Do Americans know that we are still wasting billions on “reconstruction” and other projects in Afghanistan that are, at best, boondoggles? According to a recent audit by the independent US government body overseeing Afghan reconstruction, half a billion dollars was wasted on a contract for a US company to maintain Afghan military vehicles. The contractor “fail[ed] to meet program objectives,” the audit found. Of course they still got paid, like thousands of others getting rich off of this failed war.

The Overworked Afghan Army Commandos Try to Make Up for the Failings of the Afghan Army

Not their job: Turning Afghanistan’s special forces into regular troops

Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Washington Post
October 7, 2016
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — It had been six hours since nearly two dozen Taliban fighters overran a district center just south of here. An Afghan Army unit, backed by U.S. air power, had been rushed in almost immediately to take back the town, but it was pinned down with more than a dozen casualties.

The Afghan troops, a battalion from the embattled 215th Corps, said they needed commando support. With that, the 215 Corps’ commander, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Moune, requested an assault force from the 7th Special Operations Kandak.
“Those guys can get after it,” one U.S. Special Operations adviser said of his Afghan counterparts. “They know what they’re doing.”

But for the Afghan commandos, an overused group of nearly a dozen battalions stretched across the country, the units’ skill cuts both ways.
The Afghan army, a force with inconsistent levels of competence and with nearly unsustainable casualty numbers, is increasingly relying on the commandos as stopgap cover in a campaign it — more often than not without external support — is losing. The reliance on the commandos risks both burning out the elite force and creating a sense of complacency within the regular army, according to U.S. advisers.
“It’s a concern,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the spokesman for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan. “It’s not unique to Helmand or the 215th Corps, it happens in other corps as well to varying degrees.”

U.S. Weighs Iran-Style Sanctions on North Korea, Risking a Rift With China

OCTOBER 6, 2016
Source Link

To stop Pyongyang's march to a nuclear arsenal, the White House is looking to target Chinese companies that bankroll Kim Jong Un’s banned weapons.

The Obama administration is heatedly debating whether to trigger harsh sanctions against North Korea that would target Chinese companies doing business with the hermit regime, in a crackdown like the one that crippled Iran’s economy, Foreign Policy has learned. 

But some White House officials worry that the tough economic penalties, which have already been approved though not deployed, would cause a serious rift with Beijing.
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Officials told FP that the approach would be similar to the sweeping secondary sanctions that were slapped on global banks handling transactions with Iran. Those sanctions are widely credited with bringing Iran’s economyto its knees in 2013 and forcing Tehran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

But a decision to go after Chinese banks and trading companies that deal with Pyongyang could rupture Washington’s relations with Beijing, which bristles at any unilateral sanctions imposed on its companies or drastic action that could cause instability in neighboring North Korea.

The push for possible tougher action in U.S. policy stems from growing alarm over North Korea’s bid to build more capable ballistic missiles and potent nuclear weapons, as illustrated by last month’s fifth nuclear test by Kim Jong Un’s regime — its largest to date. Some experts believe North Korea already has succeeded in building nuclear warheads that could be placed on a missile, and a series of test launches demonstrates that the North has developed medium-range missiles that could strike Japan or Guam. U.S. intelligence officials believe it is only a matter of time before Kim’s regime produces a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States.

Ban Ki-Moon Poised To Leave Behind A Climate Legacy – Analysis

By J Nastranis
OCTOBER 10, 2016

Over the past decade, Ban Ki-moon has worked ceaselessly to bring countries together to accelerate the global response to climate change. As he is fond of saying, he has visited communities on the climate frontlines, from the Arctic to the Amazon, and has witnessed how climate impacts are already devastating lives, livelihoods and prospects for a better future.

Some two months ahead of relinquishing his post as UN Secretary-General on completion of the second five-year term on December 31, he will have his efforts rewarded, allowing him to leave behind a valuable legacy.

The UN announced on October 5 that the historic Paris Agreement to address climate change would enter into force on November 4 – in the aftermath of enough countries having signed onto the landmark accord to bring it to the emissions threshold.

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Ban as the latest instruments of ratification were accepted in deposit. “What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable. Strong international support for the Paris Agreement entering into force is a testament to the urgency for action, and reflects the consensus of governments that robust global cooperation, grounded in national action, is essential to meet the climate challenge,” he added.

But he cautioned that the work of implementing the agreement still lay ahead. “Now we must move from words to deeds and put Paris into action. We need all hands on deck – every part of society must be mobilized to reduce emissions and help communities adapt to inevitable climate impacts,” Ban stressed.

Even the US military is looking at blockchain technology—to secure nuclear weapons

October 10, 2016
Blockchain technology has been slow to gain adoption in non-financial contexts, but it could turn out to have invaluable military applications. DARPA, the storied research unit of the US Department of Defense, is currently funding efforts to find out if blockchains could help secure highly sensitive data, with potential applications for everything from nuclear weapons to military satellites.
The case for using a blockchain boils down to a concept in computer security known as “information integrity.” That’s basically being able to track when a system or piece of data has been viewed or modified. DARPA’s program manager behind the blockchain effort, Timothy Booher, offers this analogy: Instead of trying to make the walls of a castle as tall as possible to prevent an intruder from getting in, it’s more important to know if anyone has been inside the castle, and what they’re doing there.
A blockchain is a decentralized, immutable ledger. Blockchains can permanently log modifications to a network or database, preventing intruders from covering their tracks. In DARPA’s case, blockchain tech could offer crucial intelligence on whether a hacker has modified something in a database, or whether they’re surveilling a particular military system.
“Whenever weapons are employed … it tends to be a place where data integrity in general is incredibly important,” Booher says. “So nuclear command and control, satellite command and control, command and control in general, [information integrity] is very important.”

Syria government keeps up Aleppo assault after UN fails on truce

BEIRUT: Syrian government forces Sunday kept up their blistering assault on rebel-held eastern Aleppo after a divided U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a truce to save the war-battered city.

Government forces and their allies were advancing street by street in the eastern sector which has been out of government hands since 2012.

"Clashes on the ground as well as fierce airstrikes went on all night and are continuing Sunday, especially in the Sheikh Said district" of eastern Aleppo, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The group said government forces took control of the Jandul crossroads in the northeast of Aleppo.

The latest advances aim to clear the way for "a crucial and decisive land offensive", said Syria's Al-Watan newspaper which is close to the government.

The army launched its assault on the besieged sector of Aleppo more than two weeks ago with the backing of Russian airstrikes, aiming to reunite the city which was Syria's economic hub before its conflict erupted in 2011.

Airstrikes and artillery fire by the government and its Russian ally killed 290 people, mostly civilians and including 57 children, since the Sept. 22 launch of operations in Aleppo, the Observatory said.

The Britain-based monitor, which compiles its information from sources on the ground, said 50 civilians, including nine children, have also died in rebel bombardment of government-controlled western districts.


OCTOBER 5, 2016

It’s grand strategy season in Washington, and with good reason. From War on the Rocks to Foreign Affairs to a recentspate of books, there has been a renewed argument over primacy, offshore balancing, and other contenders for the grand strategy crown. The debate is timely: The international order is in the midst of an epochal shift and a new administration will have to rethink basic organizing concepts for America’s role in the world.

Unfortunately, most of the debate has already begun to ring hollow. The default grand strategy concepts no longer capture the choices that America faces. The most important truth about grand strategy today is that the United States badly needs new options to choose from. The classic stand-off is between advocates of primacy or preeminence on the one hand, and restraint or offshore balancing on the other. There are dramatically different versions of each, and the terms can mislead as easily as they can inform. As Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth have rightly argued, for example, “primacy” can sometimes imply a straw man vision of hegemonic dominance that nobody really advocates.

The most important thing to realize about these alternatives is that neither offers an appropriate concept for dealing with the emerging security environment, which has at least three defining features. The first is a burgeoning, grievance-fueled multipolar rivalry. A number of major powers, led by China and Russia, have become dissatisfied with the U.S.-led global order. They want more of a voice and are increasingly willing to test the edges of rules and norms with aggressive behavior.

Vladimir Putin is bringing back the 1930s

By George F. Will 
October 7 

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he addresses students during his visit to the German Embassy school in Moscow on June 29. (Pool/Reuters)

Vladimir Putin’s serial humiliations of America’s bewildered secretary of state regarding Syria indicate Putin’s determination to destabilize the world. Here is an even more ominous indication of events moving his way: On just one day last week, Italian ships plucked 6,055 migrants from the Mediterranean.

What has this to do with Putin? It portends fulfillment of his aspiration for Europe’s political, social and moral disorientation.

The Financial Times reports that of the 138,000 migrants who have come by sea to Italy this year, few are from Syria. The “vast majority” are from Africa, with the largest number from Nigeria. The United Nations’ World Population Prospects says that only 10 percent of global population is in Europe, which is projected to have fewer people in 2050 than today. Just 16 percent of the world’s population is in Africa, but “more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur” there. It will have the world’s highest growth rate, and 41 percent of its people currently are under 15. Of the nine countries expected to experience half the world’s population growth by 2050, five are in Africa (Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda). Nigeria’s population, currently the world’s seventh largest, is the most rapidly growing.

Even without what is likely — population pressures producing some failed African states — a portion of Africa’s multitudes, perhaps scores of millions of migrants, might cross the Mediterranean to Europe. There, 24 percent of the people are 60 and over, and no country has a birthrate sufficient to maintain current population sizes. Who but immigrants can work and fund Europe’s welfare states for its graying publics?

Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the Mediterranean

Militias controlled by Tehran are poised to complete a land corridor that would give Iran huge power in the region

Sunni fighters training ahead of the battle to retake the city of Mosul. Photograph: Thaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

Not far from Mosul, a large military force is finalising plans for an advance that has been more than three decades in the making. The troops are Shia militiamen who have fought against the Islamic State, but they have not been given a direct role in the coming attack to free Iraq’s second city from its clutches.

Instead, while the Iraqi army attacks Mosul from the south, the militias will take up a blocking position to the west, stopping Isis forces from fleeing towards their last redoubt of Raqqa in Syria. Their absence is aimed at reassuring the Sunni Muslims of Mosul that the imminent recapture of the city is not a sectarian push against them. However, among Iraq’s Shia-dominated army the militia’s decision to remain aloof from the battle of Mosul is being seen as a rebuff.

Yet among the militias’ backers in Iran there is little concern. Since their inception, the Shia irregulars have made their name on the battlefields of Iraq, but they have always been central to Tehran’s ambitions elsewhere. By not helping to retake Mosul, the militias are free to drive one of its most coveted projects – securing an arc of influence across Iraq and Syria that would end at the Mediterranean Sea.

Israel Braces for Obama's Parting Gift to Palestinians

OCT 7, 2016 

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected last year, the White House threatened to reconsider long-standing U.S. policy to veto U.N. Security Council resolutions on Israel's presence in the West Bank. At issue was a last-minute interview in which Netanyahu said there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister. He took back that statement after the election. Nonetheless, the White House directed policymakers to draw up a set of options for how Obama could "preserve the two-state solution," according to one U.S. official privy to the process.

So far, nothing has come of Obama's threat. Indeed last month, Obama signed an agreement with Israel to extend the U.S. subsidy of its military for another ten years. In foreign policy, Obama is focused on the collapse of U.S. policy in Syria, which has become an even greater humanitarian emergency in the last month with the Russian and Iranian-led siege of Aleppo. Politically, the White House is working to elect Hillary Clinton as Obama's successor.

Yet with a little more than three months left of his presidency, Israeli officials privately say they worry Obama intends to try to level the playing field between the Palestinians and Israelis before he leaves office. The threat of a last-minute speech, executive order, or U.N. action has stirred some of Israel's friends in Washington. Last month, for example, 88 senators signed a letter to Obama urging him to restate "long-standing U.S. policy" to veto one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N.

The Obama administration has not made such a statement. This week, however, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest "strongly condemned" Israel's approval of 98 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shilo. A CBS correspondent noted that this phrasing is "usually reserved" for terrorist attacks.

What Options Does the U.S. Have After Accusing Russia of Hacks?

OCT. 8, 2016

President Obama and top officials are proceeding cautiously after formally accusing Russia of trying to meddle in the election. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Now that the White House has formally accused Russiaof meddling in the presidential election with cutting-edge cyberattacks and age-old information warfare, devising a response might seem fairly easy: unleash the government’s cyberwarriors to give the Kremlin a dose of its own malware.

Technologically, that would not be too difficult, American officials say. But as a matter of strategy and politics, formulating the right kind of counterstrike is not that straightforward.

President Obama’s options range from the mild — naming and shaming the Russians, as he did on Friday — to the more severe, like invoking for the first time a series of economic sanctions that he created by executive order after North Korea’s attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Justice Department could indict the Russians behind the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and the email accounts of prominent individuals, as it did with members of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who have beencharged with stealing industrial secrets.

Or Mr. Obama could sign a secret intelligence finding — similar to many he has issued to authorize Central Intelligence Agency efforts in Syria or drone strikes against the Islamic State — to attack and disable Russian computer servers or expose the financial dealings of President Vladimir V. Putin and his oligarch friends.Continue reading the main story

While the last option is tempting, officials say, it would carry risks with the election just a month away. Attacks on online voter registration rolls could sow chaos at polling places, and the election infrastructure has never truly been tested against a power like Russia. The system that underpins American democracy is not even listed as an element of the nation’s critical infrastructure, a list that includes movie theaters and the Jefferson Memorial, among other monuments.

Russia says U.S. actions threaten its national security

Oct 9, 2016

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a joint news conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, October 6, 2016. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday he had detected increasing U.S. hostility towards Moscow and complained about what he said was a series of aggressive U.S. steps that threatened Russia's national security.

In an interview with Russian state TV likely to worsen already poor relations with Washington, Lavrov made it clear he blamed the Obama administration for what he described as a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties.

"We have witnessed a fundamental change of circumstances when it comes to the aggressive Russophobia that now lies at the heart of U.S. policy towards Russia," Lavrov told Russian state TV's First Channel.

"It's not just a rhetorical Russophobia, but aggressive steps that really hurt our national interests and pose a threat to our security."

With relations between Moscow and Washington strained over issues from Syria to Ukraine, Lavrov reeled off a long list of Russian grievances against the United States which he said helped contribute to an atmosphere of mistrust that was in some ways more dangerous and unpredictable than the Cold War.

He complained that NATO had been steadily moving military infrastructure closer to Russia's borders and lashed out at Western sanctions imposed over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis.

From fighting to blogging: The many roles that women are playing in Syria

Encounters with Western countries continue to colour political discourses, including on gender in turbulent Syria.Image credit: 

The face of a Syrian woman in Aleppo crouching in the rubble of a bombed hospital did not garner US President Barack Obama’s public acknowledgement in the manner of child survivor Omran Daqneesh. But the issue of women in Syria’s conflict deserves attention.

As the city of Aleppo continues to be burned, Grozny-style, by the Putin-Assad air-striking duo, international attention turns to tiffs and verbal parleys between the US and Russia. Sharp exchanges centre on bombed humanitarian convoys and charges of “barbarism”, recently triggering aUS suspension of talks with Russia.

Syrians’ accumulating collective trauma, the result of years of proxy warfare that have claimed over 400,000 lives and displaced half the nation’s population, falls by the wayside. The international community is mostly apathetic.

But protesters, both men and women, had more than inciting sympathy in mind in 2011. “Freedom” and “dignity” were keywords of the peaceful and inclusive popular mobilisation that Syrians saw as their version of the “Arab Spring.” Five-and-a half years later, feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe’s famous query, “where are the women?” is part of a broader and more widely asked question “where are the people?”

In Syria’s popular uprising-turned-war,the Orientalist lenses that have been directed at Middle Eastern women underscore the urgency of such an inquiry.
Female human security

Women’s experiences in conflict are varied. As Nadje al-Ali and Nicola Pratt have shown, compromises to female human security in Middle Eastern wars may simultaneously spur or strengthen women’s political mobilisation.

But the biggest rejoinder to reductionism and omission in examinations of a fraying state and fractured society comes from women themselves.

Putin Creating New ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’ In Europe – OpEd

OCTOBER 10, 2016

By putting Russian missiles in Kaliningrad and conducting joint exercises with Belarusian forces, Vladimir Putin is creating a new “Cuban missile crisis,” one that threatens Europe and the world and that the Kremlin leader won’t end unless the West takes action to force him to back down, according to Andrey Sannikov.

The leader of the Belarusian opposition campaign, European Belarus, says that “the aggressive actions of Russia now can with complete justification be called ‘the Cuban missile crisis’ in Europe.” Putin has consciously escalated tensions and “one can even speak about preparations for military action,” he says (charter97.org/ru/news/2016/10/8/226350/).

There cannot be any doubt about what Putin is doing or about Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s participation in it, given that the Belarusian leader has declared that he is “prepared to throw the Belarusian army into the defense of the interests of Russia,” Sannikov says, a statement that has ominous implications in the current situation.

Sannikov argues that “European politicians must stop looking for signs of ‘a peace maker’ in the dictator Lukashenka and recognize that the territory of Belarus, thanks to Lukashenka’s regime, is completely part of Russia’s military plans.”

The situation is tense and of real concern, Sannikov says, because “all attempts of the West and above all the US to reach agreement with Putin have led only to an escalation of tension in the world. The unpunished bombing of the peaceful population in Syria by Russian aviation has led only to the further enflaming of the conflict in the Middle East.”

Russia’s Muslim Leaders Fighting Over What Kind Of Islam Is Most ‘Traditional’ – OpEd

OCTOBER 9, 2016 

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed that Moscow relies on “traditional Islam” as its first line of defense against extremism, but neither he nor any other member of his regime has defined that term, thus opening the way to conflicts among those who have different views as to just what “traditional” Islam means in the Russian context.

Fights over this definition have broken out periodically over the last 25 years, but they have intensified in the last six weeks as a result of a fetwa issued by a meeting of some but far from all Muslim leaders in Russia that defined the North Caucasian version of Sufism as traditional and all other Muslims, from radicals to reformers, as not.

That conference and its fetwa represented the effort of Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov to define the sufism of the North Caucasus “traditional Islam,” to make himself the leader of Russia’s Muslims, and to shove aside everyone else in the name of fighting Islamist extremism. 

Those in Moscow who are happy to see the Muslims of Russia fighting with each other or who appear to believe that what Kadyrov is doing will contribute to the fight against ISIS more than what his opponents can have suggested that those who reject the August fetwa are wrong to do so. (See the argument of Roman Silantyev at ng.ru/facts/2016-10-05/1_grozniy.html).

But many Muslim leaders in Russia and many commentators in the North Caucasus view things differently, seeing what Kadyrov has done as a personal power play and a step that has the unfortunate effect of dividing the Russian umma and undermining its recovery from the depradations of Soviet times.

Iceland Debates Whether It Hosted Nuclear Weapons – Analysis

By Lowana Veal 
OCTOBER 9, 2016

Recently released declassified documents by Washington have unleashed a debate whether the U.S. ever deployed nuclear weapons in Iceland, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its foundation in 1949

Experts are of the view that though the U.S. claims to have never deployed nuclear weapons in a country at a strategic juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, it does not mean that it had no nuclear plans for Iceland. Previous research by Valur Ingimundarson and William Arkin demonstrates that during the Cold War Iceland was considered a potential storage site.

The documents, consisting of various letters and telegrams, released by the U.S. National Security Archive (NSA), date back to November 18, 1951 – six months after the U.S. and Iceland secretly signed a defence agreement whereby the U.S. would take over the defence of Iceland.

The authorities had deemed this necessary both because of the Korean War and because Iceland has never had an army.

In the first telegram, Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson had shown U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Morris N. Hughes a London Times article quoting Senator Edwin Johnson, who said that Iceland, North Africa, and Turkey were better deployment sites for atomic weapons than the UK.

Knowing that Johnson’s thoughts would not be popular with Icelanders, Hughes recommended “official reassurance” that the U.S. had no plans to deploy nuclear weapons in Iceland.

Beyond Brexit: Future Of Spanish-British Relationship – Analysis

By Luis Simón* 
OCTOBER 9, 2016

All the media noise about the possible implications of an eventual British exit from the EU (Brexit)should not stand in the way of a much-needed reassessment of the strategic potential offered by stronger bilateral ties between Spain and the UK.

Without prejudging the significance of Brexit or its possible implications, there is a risk that the debate surrounding an eventual British departure from the EU might monopolise the perception that Spain’s political and strategic elites have of the UK. This could cause Spain to overlook or pay insufficient attention to a series of structural changes that have been unfolding in recent years at the core British foreign and defence policy. Such changes indicate a strengthening of the UK’s global engagement and potential, and are aimed at preparing it for a world characterised by the progressive displacement of the centre of economic and geopolitical gravity towards Asia, the US’s consequent strategic rebalancing towards Asia, the growing strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific sea corridor and doubts about the economic, demographic, political and strategic sustainability of Europe.

In a world in which Europe seems to be destined to count for less and the rest of the world destined to count for more, the future and the prosperity of European countries lies in their potential to project power globally, ie, beyond their immediate geographical neighbourhood. In this regard, its heritage as a global power and maritime persona mean the UK is arguably Europe’s best-prepared country to get by in a ‘non-European’ world. Thus, the bilateral relationship with the UK appears to be a highly valuable asset for Spain in the context of a much-needed rediscovery of its own maritime and global potential.

Floating Nuclear Power Plants: Are They Safe And Secure? – Analysis

By Julius Cesar I. Trajano* 
OCTOBER 8, 2016

Floating NPPs may provide alternative energy supply to energy-scarce small states, port cities, and remote islands in the region. But just like with traditional land-based NPPs, would floating NPPs also come with potential risks to nuclear safety and security?

Nuclear power generation in Asia has taken big strides with new land-based nuclear reactors currently being constructed or planned. China, for instance, now has 30 nuclear reactors in operation, another 21 under construction and 60 nuclear power plants (NPPs) that will be built over the next 10 years. Vietnam is set to commission its first NPP by 2028 while Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand have been studying the possibility of using nuclear power.

But an interesting development is the possibility of deploying floating nuclear reactors. China aims to launch a series of offshore nuclear power plants to provide electricity to remote locations, including offshore oil platforms and its man-made islands in the South China Sea. Some commentators have also suggested that Southeast Asian countries may consider using floating NPPs. Floating NPPs may provide alternative energy supply to energy-scarce small states, port cities, and remote islands in the region. But just like with traditional land-based NPPs, would floating NPPs also come with potential risks to nuclear safety and security?
Floating an Old Idea

A floating nuclear reactor is not a new idea – one is under construction at a shipyard in Saint Petersburg, Russia, which is expected to be the world’s first floating NPP. The project began in early 2000s but operation is set for 2018 in Russia’s Arctic region. China plans to build a small modular floating reactor by 2017 and it is expected to start generating electricity by 2020.