14 August 2017

Doka La ground report Part III: A first-person account of the tense border area

Manoj Kumar

Curiosity got my goat, nearly. After all I’m a journalist and the India-China spat on Bhutan’s turf is all over WhatsApp, so I too got sucked in. So, just for the heck, I wrote to Army Headquarters for permission, which reached me via WhatsApp. The next thing I know, I’m on a flight to Bagdogra Air Force Airport. Confident I’ll be in Doklam in no time, I hired a cab from the airport. I was through Chicken’s Neck in a jiffy, heading like an arrow to Gangtok Base.

Being the friendly sort, I struck up a conversation with the cabbie. I asked him about Nathu La and how I could get there. He called up a fellow driver friend to take me to Nathu La Pass from the base. I was beginning to feel things weren’t as bad as portrayed in the media. At 8 pm, I was booking another cab at Gangtok Base. This cabbie told me to get a valid Army pass. I told him I had permission from the headquarters in Delhi. The next day, I woke up at 6 and headed for the local Army unit. The guard at the gate stopped me. I showed him the AHQ letter. He said he couldn't help, his seniors were all out, patrolling. The guy was like ice on Everest, wouldn’t melt.

Dash to Nathu La

I had wasted four precious hours. I explained it to the cab driver Norbu Hakshi, a wily chap. He wanted a report on Buddhists on fast over issues that concerned them published in Delhi and I said OK to that. He called in a ‘border cab’ to take me to Nathu La. Border cabs can move freely. They have local passes. This cabbie’s name was Shangnu Dorje. We haggled over fare for a minute. I was desperate, so we settled on a figure and got started. Crossing the next Army barrier was easy. The ‘local pass’ did the trick. The cab took the road to Nathu La Pass. It was a pathetic excuse for a road. After about 30 km we were in a village and I told the cabbie to stop. I stepped out, started clicking pictures and talking to the villagers. But the cab driver shouted at me to come and sit in the cab. He said I was a galat-type person. I showed him my documents. He said he was taking me back to Gangtok Base.

Thank God for think tanks


In India, think tanks are not really places where thinking is done

The word “think tank” owes its origins to John F. Kennedy, who collected a gro-up of top intellectuals in White House, people like McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, John Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger and Ted Sorenson among others to give him counsel on issues from time to time. He described it as having them on tap; on the turn of the spigot, good advice was on hand. He called them his “think tank”. Kennedy described the first dinner meeting as the White House never had so much brilliance and brainpower in its dining room since Thomas Jefferson had dinner alone in it.

The US always had a tradition of academics and policy wonks flitting in and out of government for short periods. Most of these academics came from top institutions like Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford. But very few academics would trade in a tenured professorship for a White House or top administration job. Universities would give leave of absence of up to two years, after which the job was lost. Academics in America still prize a tenured professorship to even a Cabinet post. In fact, they often see a job in government as a kind of public service.

When I entered the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard as a Edward S. Mason Fellow in 1981, the Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling introduced Edward Mason to my class by saying: “When I joined the Harvard faculty, Ed Mason was already a big man. We used to hear that he would one day become secretary of state. But Ed Mason went one better. He became Dean of the School of Government!” This only underscores how much a top job in academia is prized in the US. John Kennedy himself wanted to join the Harvard faculty after completing his second term and hence, his family endowed the Institute of Politics and the Presi-dential Library to be a part of Harvard. That didn’t happen, but the School of Government was renamed the Kennedy School.

India-ASEAN partnership at 25

India-ASEAN relations have traversed a long, dynamic path interspersed with multiple achievements to reach the year 2017, when the two are celebrating 25 years of their partnership. India and ASEAN uphold each other’s centrality in shaping the evolving regional architecture. In pursuit of this objective, India’s ‘Look East’ policy had morphed into ‘Act East’ by 2014. Common concerns and aspirations bind the ASEAN countries and India at a time when Asia is in the throes of a disruptive phase that could well determine the future balance of power in the region. The two remain indispensable to the creation of new ‘rules of the game’ in Asia. This brief provides an overview of the trajectory of this crucial partnership as it has evolved over the last 25 years and underlines some of the challenges that need urgent redressal.


A deep and long history imbues India’s relationship with the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) even as India has been underscoring the grouping’s central role in shaping the regional order over the last two decades. India’s ‘Look East’ policy was initiated in 1991 by the Narasimha Rao government, and has been described as “a multi-faceted and multi-pronged approach to establish strategic links with many individual countries, evolve closer political links with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and develop strong economic bonds with the region.”[1] Under the current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the policy has been rechristened ‘Act East’, reflecting an energisation of India’s ASEAN policy.

Common concerns and aspirations, as well as similar threats, bind the ASEAN countries and India at a time when Asia is in the throes of a disruptive phase that could well determine the future balance of power in the region. As questions regarding strategic stability, regime compliance, and trade protectionism come to the fore, Asia is in need of stewards who can preserve current multilateral rules and foster new ones that undergird the liberal international order. India and the ASEAN are two actors indispensable to the creation of new ‘rules of the game’ in Asia.

Can the Doklam Dispute Be Resolved?

In recent years, U.S. and East Asian policymakers have been deeply concerned over whether territorial disputes in Asian waters might turn into full-blown conflicts. Fear of China’s advance in the East and South China Seas was the prime catalyst for former U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia. The same worry has motivated President Donald Trump to restart freedom of navigation operations near contested islands off the Philippines and Vietnam militarized by China. As a result, policymakers have overlooked equally dangerous clashes happening on land. War in Asia could well break out thousands of miles from those contested waters. Most worrying, today, Chinese and Indian troops are facing off just yards away from each other, high in the remote Himalayas, at a spot called Doklam—a reminder that great power conflict in Asia on land, too, could potentially throw the region into chaos.


Current territorial disputes in Asia resemble nineteenth-century European conflicts. These include not only those concerning well-known crisis spots such as the Korean Peninsula’s 38th parallel but obscure disagreements such as the 2008–11 clash between Cambodian and Thai armed forces over ancient Buddhist temple enclaves along the border running between northern Cambodia and northeastern Thailand.

The stand-off at Doka la?


What really happened at Dokalam? Is it a coincidence that it occurred just days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s summit meeting with Donald Trump? Or is it a consequence of India not taking part in the OBOR conference organized by China? Many theories abound, but the fact is few outside both governments know what led to the present impasse. The Indian public believes it is China that is ratcheting up the tensions. The Chinese public thinks it is India. In the new world of mass and instant communications perceptions are the truth. 

However some light is peeping out from under the shut doors of the two militaries. At the farthest tip of the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, the Chinese are building a road to an area called the Dokalam Plains. This area is claimed by both China and Bhutan. Tibetan and Bhutanese graziers have traditionally and peacefully grazed their yak and sheep herds here in the spring and summer fromas long as anybody can recall. With a road built, the Indian Army believes that artillery can be positioned at Dokolam and will seriously threaten India at its very strategic and sensitive passage to northeastern India. 

This sliver of territory is commonly known as “chickens neck” in India. It doesn’t help very much that the Chumbi Valley too appears on the map like a dagger poised not only to render asunder Sikkim and Bhutan, but also Assam and the Northeast from the rest of India. But with the given geography the overall tactical situation in the sector seemingly favoring the Indian Army, China perhaps views the Chumbi Valley salient as a hanging monkeys tail? 

Where Doklam traverses regional politics

The regional setting in which the India-China standoff at Doklam is playing out can only be ignored at our risk. Most Indian pundits are training their guns on China’s ‘bullying’ – its growing capacity to dominate the discourse regionally or bilaterally. This sort of whining is futile, since it is an unpleasant fact of history that stronger nations dominate the power play and the only way it can be mitigated is through recourse to diplomacy.

In the near term, the regional setting is decisively working to China’s advantage. This can be understood from three templates of regional politics that are currently playing out. First and foremost, the 50th anniversary meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, which concluded in the weekend in Manila, merits a close look. (Unfortunately, India lowered its representation to junior minister V. K. Singh.)

The leitmotif in Manila was, undoubtedly, that China has emerged as the new regional leader, replacing the United States. This has been in the making and is attributable to several factors, but what significantly hastened the transition is the US’ difficulty to shape the region’s agenda anymore. The ASEAN countries no longer have confidence in American leadership and commitment in Asia.

7 Pillars for Success in Afghanistan

Earl Anthony Wayne

Afghanistan has severely challenged every U.S. administration since the fall of 2001. The Trump administration is debating intensely what strategy, if any, might lead to more success than its predecessors achieved and turn around the “stalemate” on the ground in Afghanistan.

The media focus is largely on the troop numbers, tactics and costs being proposed to put the Taliban and its extremist bedfellows on the defensive and the positions of various U.S. policy makers including the president. A strategy for success, however, is much more complicated than just the issues surrounding security, vital as they are. There are at least seven pillars needed for a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan: 1) military and security tactics and capacity-building; 2) Afghanistan’s domestic politics; 3) governance and economic performance; 4) Pakistan’s role; 5) options for a non-military solution; 6) international support; and 7) an effective U.S. policy and budgetary process. To only focus on the military pillar is a formula for misunderstanding. Neglecting any of the pillars can lead the enterprise to fail.

Supporters of a continued U.S. role in Afghanistan argue that it is in the national interest to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for terrorists. They argue that success is possible with a sustained, vigorous, multi-year effort without deadlines to bolster Afghan government capacity and to generate sufficient pressures on the Taliban and others to open paths to a non-military solution. This approach, they argue, will prevent terrorists from being able to operate internationally from Afghanistan.

Qods Force-linked Taliban commander leads insurgency in central Afghanistan

A Taliban commander who was targeted by the US military in an airstrike nearly a decade ago and who has links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp – Qods Force remains a key player in the insurgency in central Afghanistan. The Taliban commander, known as Mullah Mustafa, was instrumental in the Taliban’s takeover of Taiwara district in Ghor province several weeks ago. Afghan forces have retaken the district, but maintain a tenuous hold on it.

Taiwara district fell to the Taliban on July 23 after hundreds of fighters assaulted the district center and overran Afghan forces and the local militia and police forces. More than 700 Taliban fighters using “humvees and trucks stolen from Afghan forces in Helmand province” launched the assault, according to The New York Times. Out of a force of 50 Afghan commandos guarding the district, 12 were killed, more than 20 were wounded, and several more are missing. Afghan officials claimed that more than 200 Taliban fighters were killed during the fighting.

Mustafa, who The New York Times described as “a local facilitator of the Taliban,” had “played a major role in the recent offensive” to take Taiwara. He “has contacts in Iran” and “is protected by senior figures in Kabul, the capital, including those in Afghanistan’s peace council assigned to negotiate with the Taliban.”

The 2015 India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement: Identifying constraints and exploring possibilities in Cooch Behar

The border between India and Bangladesh—highly crucial to their bilateral relationship—has always been difficult to manage given, for one, its sheer length. The most important bilateral initiative between Bangladesh and India may yet be the attempt to resolve the longstanding border dispute that arose after the Partition of 1947, by means of the 2015 Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and the exchange of enclaves (chhitmahals) and adverse possessions between the two countries. Yet the question remains: How far can this agreement and exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions pave the way to resolving other unsettled border-related issues, which remain highly crucial? This paper makes an assessment of the current situation following the exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions between India and Bangladesh.


The 2015 LBA was signed on 6 June 2015 in Bangladesh.[1] The historic agreement facilitated the transfer of 111 enclaves, adding up to 17,160.63 acres, from India to Bangladesh. Conversely, India received 51 enclaves, adding up to 7,110.02 acres, which were in Bangladesh (see Annexures 1 and 2). Prior to this historic agreement, the 2011 Protocol signed between Manmohan Singh of India and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh agreed to maintain the status quo in addressing the issue of adverse possessions of land, whereby India will receive 2,777.038 acres of land (see Annexure 3) from Bangladesh and in turn transfer 2,267.682 acres of land to Bangladesh (see Annexure 4).[2] The 2011 Protocol was made in an accord with the state governments of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal but could not be implemented due to adverse political circumstances. Thus, the 2015 LBA implements the unresolved issues stemming from the un-demarcated land boundary—approximately 6.1-km long—in three sectors, viz. Daikhata-56 (West Bengal), Muhuri River–Belonia (Tripura) and Lathitila–Dumabari (Assam); exchange of enclaves; and adverse possessions, which were first addressed in the 2011 Protocol.[3] It is important to note that in the land swap, Bangladesh gained more territory than India did.

South Asia: Rising Extremism Opens Way for ISIS

Across South Asia, complex strains of extremism are opening the way for the Islamic State and destabilizing governments. From elements in the Afghan Taliban to the ascent of Hindu nationalism in India, extremists are drawing the region deeper into volatile internal and external conflicts, according to experts on religion and extremism speaking recently at the U.S. Institute of Peace. There are no quick ways to reverse the trend, they said. But steps that could slow radicalization include bolstering free speech, attacking terrorists’ financial networks and undermining the myth that a long-ago caliphate ruled over a perfect society.

The spread of the Islamic State is triggering particular concern. The extremist group is taking advantage of the “tumultuous mix” across South Asia to put down roots and attract new fighters to inflame the region, said Farid Senzai, the president of the Center for Global Policy (CGP), a research organization focused on issues in Muslim societies. CGP co-hosted the discussion at USIP.

ISIS militants and commanders are beginning to appear in Afghanistan as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria, said Scott Worden, the director of USIP’s Afghanistan and Central Asia programs. In Bangladesh, extremist ideologies are taking hold among educated youth connecting with ISIS, according to Kamran Bohkari, the director of political affairs at CGP.

After 50-Day Doklam Standoff, China’s Defense Ministry Invites Indian Media Over

By Charlotte Gao

China’s Defense Ministry tries to send a goodwill signal directly to India. 

China and India have been locked in a standoff in the Doklam area for 50 days after Indian troops stopped the Chinese Army from building a road in the area in mid-June. To break the ice, China’s Defense Ministry invited a delegation of Indian media over to the ministry for a direct dialogue on August 7. However, the meeting was not made public by the ministry on its website nor reported by Chinese local media until now.

According to multiple Indian media outlets, a few Indian journalists have been visiting China’s Defense Ministry in Beijing and having face-to-face dialogues with high-level officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The dialogue was organized by the All China Journalist Association, a semi-governmental organization led by the Communist Party of China.

In the meeting, China’s Defense Ministry expressed some exclusive opinions that were rarely reported before. And one of the most important signals the ministry sent was that the hawkish rhetoric some Chinese state media had published does not represent China’s official position.

Based on the reports of Indian daily newspapers The Economic Times and The Times of India, China’s Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Sr. Col. Ren Guoqiang, told the Indian journalists that some views — such as “China is considering small-scale military operation to remove Indian troops” — reported by China’s hawkish government-run media (Global Times in particular) cannot represent the position of the Defense Ministry.

Iraqi Forces Prepare to Attack Last ISIS Stronghold in Iraq - Tal Afar

Islamic State fighters have reportedly begun digging trenches in the Iraqi city of Tal Afar ahead of a planned offensive by Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi military is fresh from a hard-won battle for the city of Mosul, which both Iraqi troops and supporting U.S.-led coalition spent years trying to retake.

In July 2017, Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadis declared victory over ISIS. But the militants digging in around Tal Afar are a reminder that the war on ISIS is far from over.

The campaign for Mosul was slow and painful for Baghdad. Militants marched into the city in the summer of 2014 and promptly set about fortifying both it and the surrounding countryside. Kurdish peshmerga troops moved to build their own fortifications outside the city. The result was a long standoff with Islamist militantsas the Iraqi army and Iranian-back militias slowly marched on Mosul from the south.

Iraqi army major general Najm Al Jabouri said he predicts the upcoming offensive to recapture Tal Afar will be “easy.” Al Jabouri insisted that the militants are fatigued and demoralized after their defeat in Mosul. “I don’t expect it will be a fierce battle, even though the enemy is surrounded,” he told Reuters.

Could America Really Stop a North Korean Nuclear Missile Attack?

Dave Majumdar

Would the United States be able to intercept a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched at the American homeland? The answer is probably not.

“We have as much chance of intercepting a North Korean missile as the president does of scoring a hole in one,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund told The National Interest.

“Possible, but highly unlikely.”

The U.S. national missile defense system—particularly the component designed to protect the American homeland itself—is not designed to defeat anything other than the most rudimentary of threats. Indeed, the weapon—called Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD)—has an abysmal track record.

“The flight test record of the system is 10 for 18 and these tests have occurred under scripted and controlled conditions—meaning the realism of the tests is limited,” Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association told The National Interest.

“The system has only been tested once against an ICBM class target. Twenty of the 32 interceptors deployed in Alaska are armed with an older kill vehicle that has not had a successful test since 2008. The system has never been tested against ‘complex countermeasures’ that North Korea could develop to try to fool U.S. defenses.”

How North Korea Could Start World War III

Robert Farley

North Korean military officers know all of this, and surely appreciate the exceedingly low probability that an attack would see any kind of success, either short or long-term. But we can hardly rule out that political circumstances might shift such that North Korea becomes desperate enough to launch an attack, or that it imagines itself as having “one last great opportunity.” At the very least, preparation rarely hurts.

The most intense period of fighting in Korea ended some 62 years ago, but the divide across the Peninsula remains the world’s most visible legacy of the Cold War. While the Republic of Korea (ROK) has become economically successful and democratic, North Korea has become a punchline

Nevertheless, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has continued to increase the sophistication of its ballistic missiles, has developed nuclear weapons, and maintains the world’s largest garrison state. Pyongyang has also made clear that it isn’t afraid to provoke Seoul (and Seoul’s biggest supporter, the United States) with aggressive moves such as the sinking of the corvette Cheonan, and the bombardment of South Korean islands.

The general peace on the peninsula has more or less held since the 1950s. Still, while North Korea’s power has declined substantially relative to that of South Korea, the idea that Pyongyang might come to the conclusion that war could solve its problems still worries U.S. and South Korean planners. 

US Intelligence: North Korea's ICBM Reentry Vehicles Are Likely Good Enough to Hit the Continental US

By Ankit Panda

North Korea’s reentry vehicle technology is likely where it needs it to be, but it may choose to test to longer ranges.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has assessed that North Korea’s Hwasong-14/KN20 intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch on July 28 failed to demonstrate successful atmospheric reentry, The Diplomat has learned. The same assessment, however, notes that North Korea’s ICBM reentry vehicles would likely perform adequately if flown on a normal trajectory to continental U.S. targets.

U.S. government sources with knowledge of the confidential CIA assessment released in early August note that the reentry vehicle of the Hwasong-14 ICBM launched out of Mupyong-ni on July 28 did not survive to splashdown in the Sea of Japan. The reentry vehicle likely disintegrated; the assessment cites the high lofted trajectory of the July 28 launch as the primary reason for the reentry vehicle’s failure.

The CIA assessment notes that based on the two observed flight tests of the Hwasong-14 to date, North Korea’s reentry vehicle technology is likely sufficiently advanced to pose no performance problem should the missile be fired at a minimum energy trajectory. The assessment of the reentry vehicle is supported by analysis of data “gathered from ground, sea, and air-based sensors” by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), one source told The Diplomat.

A ballistic missile’s reentry vehicle contains its explosive payload and must withstand immense structural and temperature pressures during its descent through the earth’s atmosphere to its intended target. These physical stresses are exceptionally severe in the case of ICBMs, which fly higher than shorter-range systems and reach speeds several multiples of the speed of sound during descent.

Lights Out for South Korea's Nuclear Export Ambitions

By Viet Phuong Nguyen

Until recently, the success story of nuclear energy was considered a national pride of South Korea, as the country was not only able to establish a strong domestic nuclear market but also compete with other countries on the export front. However, the decision by the newly-elected president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, to gradually phase out nuclear energy in South Korea has affected both the domestic and export prospects of the Korean nuclear industry. Such a policy, once implemented, will decimate South Korea’s hope for exporting nuclear technology by undermining credibility, capability, and opportunity.

For the past two decades, the nuclear power program of South Korea has become a rare bright spot in the global nuclear industry. The country’s fleet of nuclear power plants has expanded threefold, from eight units in 1989 to 24 units by 2017 with on-time, within-budget constructions of advanced technologies like the APR1400 (Advanced Power Reactor with 1400 MW electricity capacity).

South Korean companies have also searched for opportunities abroad. In 2009, South Korea won its first nuclear contract abroad when the United Arab Emirates selected the consortium led by the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) over more experienced bidders from France, the United States, and Japan to build four APR1400 units at Barakah. In the same year, the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and Daewoo scored another win for South Korea in the nuclear export market when they secured a contract to supply the first research reactor for Jordan.

Russian Information Warfare: A Reality That Needs a Response

by Bruce H. McClintock

Americans became acutely aware of Russian information warfare after the 2016 presidential election, but Russia's actions are anything but new. For more than a century, Russia has relied on disinformation, propaganda and other similar measures to achieve its objectives. For the last three decades, it has exploited its growing capabilities in cyberspace to spy on, influence and punish others.

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin practically boasted that his country's “patriots” may have led the efforts that upset the U.S. political process, and last week President Donald Trump and Putin spoke of establishing a joint cybersecurity unit — an idea the U.S. president quickly backed away from.

As Russian aggression in the cyberworld expands, the West will continue to struggle to hold Moscow accountable, in part because international law falls far short of fully defining the rules or resolving conflicts. There is much that Western nations can do to address the challenge of modern information warfare, but there is little question that Russia, by virtue of its long engagement in this arena, currently has the advantage.

Early Russian information warfare focused on traditional espionage — stealing information from adversaries. One of the first documented cases of Russian government hacking of U.S. sites to collect intelligence occurred in 1998. Putin, who took office the next year, prioritized broader information operations and institutionalized those operations within Russian policy, government organizational structure and doctrine. For instance, he approved a national security policy that explicitly described “information warfare” and the potential disruptive threat to information, telecommunications and data-storage systems.

A Perfect Storm Is Brewing in U.S. Foreign Policy

By Reva Goujon

The White House's pledge to put "America First" in its policymaking implies that the president has a responsibility to prioritize his country's problems over the rest of the world's. But making good on that promise isn't as easy as it sounds. After all, the foreign policies of great powers are crafted, not imposed.

If we can assume that every nation follows its own interests, we can also expect the executor of its foreign policy to make sense of a complex geopolitical landscape by internalizing the imperatives and constraints shaping the behavior of itself and its peers. In part this means identifying potential points of competition and collaboration, giving priority to the issues that pose a strategic threat to the republic. It also means teasing out and testing implications, determining the most critical points of stress that demand attention. Excessive ambition, whether driven by egotism or romanticism, will inevitably seep into the foreign policy realm, but it can be tamed. And the greater the power, the more tools at its disposal to form a policy designed to subtly steer its adversaries and allies toward its desired course without any party losing face.

Of course, this approach doesn't preclude conflict. A successful foreign policy, however, will anticipate, manage and even harness clashes to ensure a balance of power that is ultimately intended to preserve the might of the republic. The unique collection of foreign policy challenges facing the United States today will require a particularly deft hand to address as Washington looks to parse the unavoidable disputes from the avoidable ones, and to prepare Americans for them. But the ongoing power struggle between the ideologues and professionals on the White House's policy team seems certain to only intensify, leaving little room for strategic planning and ample room for error in some of the world's most pressing conflicts.

McMaster and Mattis Are Rare Assets—Not Deep State Liabilities

By Victor Davis Hanson

There is a larger context concerning the recent controversies among the architects of Trump’s national security team and agenda, and the criticism of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Recall first that the foreign policy of Barack Obama, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and Hillary Clinton could be best termed “provocative appeasement,” and it logically led to the present tensions around the world.

The approach combined the most unfortunate traits of carrying a twig while speaking loudly: vociferous remonstrations about human rights, occasional bombings, and drone-targeted assassinations, lots of sermonizing and faux red lines, deadlines, and step-over lines—all without either real consequences or accountability.

The result by January 2017 was that our foreign policy could be summarized as a complete inverse of the Roman general Sulla’s ancient admonition: the United States was seen by neutrals, rivals, and opponents as no worse friend, and no better enemy.

An Iranian deal was kept alive by stealthy side agreements and a blind eye to Tehran’s provocations. North Korea offered a new existential threat to the U.S. mainland. China redefined navigation in the South China Sea and assumed commercial cheating was its birthright. Syria became a genocidal wasteland. Allies like Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf States were scorned; enemies like Cuba and Iran were courted. A reset and provocative Putin (both appeased and talked down to at the same time) was now invited into the Middle East. Europe was flooded with mostly young, male Muslim “refugees.” A medieval ISIS was on its way to carve out an unhinged caliphate of sorts.

Asia-Pacific Powers Race for a Backup to GPS

By Steven Stashwick

Nations in the Asia-Pacific region are working to make GPS more robust and resilient for their navies. 

The Global Positioning System – GPS – is as ubiquitous as cell phones, guiding motorists and pedestrians the world over, ships at sea, and planes in the air. If the constellation of GPS satellites failed, or were attacked, motorists would have road maps and street signs to fall back on, but for ships you don’t have to get far offshore before guiding lights and buoys disappear. On the heels of presumed attacks on GPS by North Korea last year that forced hundreds of fishing boats back to port, Reuters recently reported on South Korea’s progress establishing navigational radio-beacons as a backup for GPS. Other countries may soon follow suit, but the U.S. military needs better alternatives to maintain its network-dependent advantages.

South Korea is working on establishing a chain of next-generation long range navigation transmitters called eLORAN that build off of World War II technology that guided ships and aircraft for decades until the 1990s when GPS’s accuracy and availability led most countries to disestablish their LORAN transmitters and infrastructure. With a range of a few hundred miles, South Korea’s eLORAN chain would only be useful in Northeast Asia. This range limitation, inadequate to reach across the expanse of the Pacific, may be part of the reason that the United States has been slow to pursue eLORAN as a viable GPS backup.

Here Are Some New Ideas for Fighting Botnets


It's a tricky problem, so solutions have to be carefully thought out.

Federal agencies face a thorny path as they try to step up the government’s fight against armies of infected computers and connected devices known as botnets, responses to a government information request reveal.

Industry, academic and think tank commenters all agreed more should be done to combat the zombie computer armies that digital ne’er-do-wells frequently hire to force adversaries offline.

Just what that effort should comprise is a more complicated question.

The government shouldn’t impose any new regulations, industry responders warn, for fear of hindering commerce or damaging government’s ability to respond nimbly to new security challenges.

On the other hand, the government also should be extremely wary of pumping up the investigatory or botnet takedown powers of law enforcement, the Center for Democracy and Technology think tank warns, out of concern for invading computer and device owners’ privacy.

“Botnet bills introduced over the last several years would have made the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act broader and vaguer and would only discourage the types of independent research that could fight botnets in its own right,” the CDT comments note.

Does the US Military Need a Space Corps?


A proposal in Congress would create the first new uniformed service in 70 years, but it faces opposition from the Pentagon.

The U.S. military hasn’t added a new uniformed service in 70 years, when the Air Force was created in the aftermath of World War II.

If Congress gets its way, that will soon change.

In a bipartisan vote last month, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would direct the Defense Department to build a new “space corps” within the Air Force. Its backers blame the Pentagon for failing to prioritize space security in recent years, a lapse that has allowed rivals like Russia and China the opportunity to catch up to U.S. superiority. The proposal’s fate now rests in the Senate, but its most powerful foe is the military itself, which says Congress should simply send more resources rather than force it to undertake a bureaucratic overhaul during a time of war.

“The military has not done a good enough job looking after space with all its other distracting priorities,” said Representative Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat who has championed the idea of a space corps along with Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama, the chairman of an armed-services subcommittee in the House. “It’s just not getting the attention it deserves.”

Here’s How the US Military Wants to Counter ISIS Drones and Roadside Bombs


Predictive algorithms, deep machine learning, directed energy, and more are all on the Pentagon’s shopping list.

It’s tough for humans to spot explosives and other signs that deadly roadside bombs may lie ahead, but the Pentagon’s lead IED-hunters think computers might be able to help, using the same kind of technology being developed to sift through hours of drone video.

Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, who leads the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Agency, is looking for ways to integrate “deep machine learning algorithms and [artificial intelligence] to increase the efficiency” of its analysts. Speaking Tuesday at a National Defense Industrial Association conference in Bethesda, Maryland, Shields said the military is looking for “the ability to train the algorithms to do things like object classification.”

He gave an example of sending a robot into a building that can look around and spot bombs or booby traps. “The ability to train the algorithms to go in — to fly in or to drive in — and to classify things like aluminum powder, dual-use components, [motion] sensors, things of that nature… so we never have to put a serviceman in harm’s way if possible,” he said.

“The IED continues to be our adversary’s strategic operational and tactical weapon of choice,” the general said. The Pentagon “and the U.S. government have to be more agile, collaborative and innovative in order to be proactive to stay in front of the enemy so they react to us instead of us reacting to them.”

First electronic warfare prototypes from Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office put to test

By: Jen Judson 

FORT BLISS, Texas – Echoing through a remote part of one of the Army’s largest U.S. training sites in the desert of the American southwest is a Top 40 song coming from an infantryman’s cracked tablet glinting in the hot sun.

The soldier has a variety of frequencies listed on the screen that his electronic warfare system has picked up. In this case, he’s found an FM radio station to demonstrate his ability to find, track and pinpoint signals, as well as decipher whether those signals are coming from friendlies, from the surrounding civilian population or from enemy forces.

An air assault unit ― the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky ― at the Network Integration Evaluation last month put the first prototypes of several of the Army Rapid Capabilities Office’s electronic warfare solutions to the test in a hot, austere environment.

The office requested the names of the systems, which have yet to become official programs, not be published.

A staff sergeant with the unit demonstrated the capability of a dismounted electronic warfare system on July 26 for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command Commander Gen. David Perkins.

Professional Disobedience: Loyalty and the Military

By Pauline Shanks Kaurin

In his article “Combat, Orders and Judgment,” Keith Nightingale observes that on D-Day in 1944, “Disobedience that day began to be a shared virtue.”[3] In one example, two junior U.S. naval officers kept their tanks on board their ships after noting the 100% failure of tank launches around them, instead continuing toward shore with their loads while looking for opportunities where the tanks were needed and could be more reliably launched. In this case, there was no communication with superiors on the matter, they just acted. In another case, U.S. Army Rangers disobeyed their given orders and engaged the Germans in a manner that resulted in opportunity for allied forces on the beach to proceed to their objectives. In both of these cases, Nightingale notes that it was decisive disobedience that created success at Normandy.[4]

How is this possible? Even the most casual observer of the military would note that obedience is a central military virtue, indispensable to the good order and discipline that characterizes the military enterprise. Samuel Huntington notes that ”loyalty and obedience are the highest military virtues.”[5] He goes on to cite naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan in the claim that obedience is the military virtue on which all the others depend, arguing a military member is judged by the promptness and efficiency in how they carry out an order, invoking the famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “For if the king’s cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes the crime of it out of us.”[6]Huntington reflects what we might think of as the common sense view of obedience, first that it is a virtue, and the virtue from which all others flow. To be a professional member of the military means to be obedient; to be disobedient is, therefore, unprofessional. However, the Nuremberg trials and events of My Lai demonstrate the concept of obedience is not that simple. Military members are expected to disobey manifestly illegal or immoral orders, so obedience cannot be an unconditional virtue. This raises several important questions: Are illegality and immorality the only circumstances in which disobedience is a demonstration of professionalism? Where is the line between orders that require obedience and those that do not? Under what circumstances is disobedience professional?

Cyber Deterrence Cannot Be One Size Fits All


The fallout of major cyber attacks and espionage campaigns increasingly shapes interactions between nations. The vulnerability of the United States to such digital intrusions will only grow as the country becomes more dependent on networked technologies, particularly the Pentagon’s weapon systems. Mere network defense is not sufficient; the United States needs a strategy to deter its adversaries from conducting digital attacks with major national security implications. The Cipher Brief’s Levi Maxey spoke with James Miller, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, who recently co-chaired a Defense Science Board report on how the Pentagon should approach cyber deterrence, about what the U.S. military’s strategy should look like.

The Cipher Brief: There has been a lot of focus lately on cyber deterrence, including from Sen. John McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee. You recently co-chaired a Defense Science Board task force on the topic. Why all of this recent interest?

James Miller: Two big reasons: the world we face today, and the even more challenging world we face tomorrow.

First, the United States has been getting hit hard in cyberspace: Iran’s distributed denial of service attack on Wall Street in 2012-2013; North Korea’s cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014; Chinese cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property that occurred over at least the last dozen years; and of course, Russia’s hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The new age of engineering and construction technology

By Jose Luis Blanco, Andrew Mullin, Kaustubh Pandya, and Mukund Sridhar

New technologies are transforming all stages of the engineering and construction process. Here’s what companies need to know about the evolving landscape.

The engineering and construction (E&C) industry is at the cusp of a new era, with technology start-ups creating new applications and tools that are changing how companies design, plan, and execute projects. By providing advanced software, construction-focused hardware, and analytics capabilities, these innovative start-ups are eliminating many of the problems that have dogged the E&C sector for decades, including difficulties compiling and sharing project information. Such improvements could not come at a better time, since construction projects are becoming increasingly complex and expensive, putting managers under greater pressure to improve costs, timelines, and efficiency.

Many E&C companies have begun incorporating new construction technologies into their daily activities, but most of their efforts have focused on software tools for digital collaboration. The reasons for this narrow focus vary, but some players hesitate to expand into any other area because they have traditionally struggled to deploy new tools at scale, limiting their impact. The modest returns they’ve seen to date make these companies reluctant to explore additional productivity-enhancing technologies, especially those requiring substantial investment. Other companies are simply unfamiliar with tools and solutions in areas beyond digital collaboration.

Cyber Threat or Cyber Threat Inflation? - Assessing the Risk to U.S. National Security

by Kenneth Mok

In response to increasing cyber intrusions, the United States government has exponentially strengthened its investment in cyber defense capabilities over the past decade. In just two years, Congress introduced over 90 bills related to cybersecurity through four different Committees and former President Obama directed five executive orders,1 supplementing his proposal to raise the fiscal year 2017 budget for cyber defense by 35% to $19 billion.2

There are two competing arguments regarding the gravity of the threat that cyber-attacks pose to the nation’s security. On one hand, cyber-attacks present a serious national security threat that can cause as much harm as conventional military attacks, warranting a robust cybersecurity policy (cyber threat theory). Alternatively, cyber-attacks present a nuisance primarily to businesses and do not pose an imminent threat to the survival of the United States, causing the U.S. to overinvest in this area (cyber threat inflation theory).

An inquiry into the plausibility of future cyber war underlies this debate. In the Journal of Strategic Studies, dozens of experts have engaged in this discussion with articles that argue whether “Cyber War Will Take Place,”3 or whether “Cyber War Will Not Take Place.”4 Examining arguments on both sides of the debate provides policymakers and practitioners a basic framework for analyzing this increasingly salient national security issue. Such analysis necessitates an acknowledgement that sophisticated cyber operations are being orchestrated by individuals and groups who do not fit the stereotypical narrative of the 400-pound hacker, as President Donald Trump once suggested.5

This New Squad of Internet Experts Will Try to Bring Order to Global Cyber Conflict

by Mike Orcutt

The Global Commission for Stability in Cyberspace, as it’s called, is looking to succeed where the United Nations has stumbled. Tasked with defining how existing international law should apply in cyberspace, a U.N. body debated the issue but reached a stalemate earlier this year, prompting calls for action outside the international body.

The need for establishing such guidelines is urgent. Governments across the globe are racing to build and use digital tools for everything from distributing propaganda to carrying out attacks that look a lot like conventional acts of war. As events like election meddling in the U.S. and Europe and recent attacks on Ukraine’s power grid show, international cyber conflict is increasingly spilling over into the physical world. But “cyberspace is not a jungle,” the new commission’s chair, Marina Kaljurand, told an audience at the Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas last month. “International law applies; the question today is how international law applies.”

The commission can only make policy recommendations, but Kaljurand, who was formerly Estonia’s foreign minister, said the fact that the group includes representatives from the private sector and academia in addition to government is an advantage compared with the all-governmental U.N., since the Internet features such a complex array of stakeholders. The commission’s largest funders are the governments of the Netherlands and Singapore, and Microsoft, which has been a leading corporate voice in the discussion of what should constitute responsible behavior for state actors in cyberspace (see “Do We Need a Digital Geneva Convention?”).

Strategy Considerations Across the Spectrum of Warfare

By Vincent Dueñas

Today, warfare is characterized by low-intensity conflicts, nuclear deterrence, and emergent cyber conflicts, yet the United States military must engage in all three while simultaneously remaining prepared for high-intensity conflicts. For the U.S., the main character of conflict post-World War II has been in limited warfare. For example, the U.S. has not committed all its resources, such as nuclear weapons, into any specific conflict because a total war with a nuclear country would obliterate entire populations. The modern era has also seen the rise of compelling and effective non-state actors who have become influential by using social media to organize and resource their activities.

As a global superpower, the United States is forced to confront the entire spectrum of conflict. The U.S. government and the American people promote a free and democratic way of life, yet attract ever-increasing hostility as a result of extensive economic and military concerns abroad. In order to protect its interests, the U.S. government may need to engage in conflict as matter of policy. As the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz noted, “war is the continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means.”[1] Where diplomatic, informational and economic solutions have been exhausted, when leveraged, warfare remains a legitimate option that will need to be clearly articulated to the American public.