14 September 2017

*** Muddying the Waters of Climate Science

After dumping more than a meter of rain on Texas and Louisiana in two separate landfalls, Hurricane Harvey, now a tropical depression, is slowly dissipating. The massive amounts of rain the storm generated have caused unprecedented flooding in the region, submerging much of Houston, the fourth most populous U.S. city. As the floodwaters start to recede and the arduous recovery begins for millions of people, scientists studying Hurricane Harvey will try to determine whether and how climate change influenced its course and intensity. Analyzing the storm will take years, and drawing clear links between a single weather event — however historic — and overall climate trends may prove impossible. But whatever conclusions researchers reach, their findings will do little to influence the U.S. government's climate policy.
A Tempest in a Teapot

In early August, The New York Times released the third draft of the Climate Science Special Report, a portion of the larger National Climate Assessment. The document — a compilation of scientific information and advancements published every four years — sparked a controversy after the Times erroneously reported it had obtained the draft through a leak, an assertion it later corrected. But the contents of the report were hardly shocking, least of all for climate scientists. Drawing from recent peer-reviewed literature, the Climate Science Special Report (a fifth draft that has since been released) emphasized the increasing variability in weather patterns today and the likelihood that extremes in precipitation and temperature will become more common. It also acknowledged the lingering limitations of climate modeling, along with the challenges of attributing individual events to climate change, while at the same time detailing the developments in these fields since 2014.

* Doklam crisis: A post-mortem

Sep 12, 2017 

China sees itself as Chung-Kuo - the Middle Kingdom, the centre of the universe and the world's oldest culture and society. Even when it was at its weakest in the 19th century, it never lost sight of this utopian ideal. To the south of Tibet, across the Himalayas rests another great civilisation - India - whose dormant great power ambitions have been given an impetus by the present government. A 'clash of civilisations' was inevitable. At stake is the balance of power in South Asia. This, in my view, is the cause of the renewed friction on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and once again proves the principle that nations, in general, and neighbouring nations, in particular, remain in a state of perpetual competitive conflict primarily to assert political and economic hegemony.

India is the only country in the region that does not accept the political, economic and military hegemony of China. India directly threatens two Chinese vulnerabilities - Tibet and the strategic sea lanes of communications (SLOC) through the Indian Ocean. China perceives India as the principal instigator of the Tibetan struggle for freedom. The Tibetan government in exile functions from Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama remains the driving force for Tibetan dissent. Not only does the rapidly increasing qualitative and quantitative improvement of the Indian Navy threaten the SLOC, India's opposition to the alternate - 'one belt one road' initiative through Pakistan and Myanmar - adds insult to injury. India's strategic partnership with the USA and its expanding diplomatic/military relationship with Japan, Australia and Vietnam are also perceived as a direct threat.

India Wants a New Tank to Fight China in a Mountain War

September 12, 2017

The Indian Army is in the early planning stages for a new light tank capable of traversing the rugged conditions of India’s mountainous northern borders. A directive from the Army setting requirements for the machine comes soon after China tested its own mountain tank in Tibet.

India and China have long-running border disputes at Aksai Chin in India’s northwest and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast. In June 2017, a standoff ensued at Doklam, near Bhutan, when Chinese troops with construction machinery moved into a disputed territory to extend a road. Indian troops arrived and both sides faced off, and both withdrew in late August.

One mutual disadvantage India and China face is a paucity of railroads heading toward the frontier, although China has a terminal as far southwards as Lhasa, Tibet, some 180 miles away from Doklam. Freight trains vastly simplify the logistics of moving tanks and their supporting vehicles. Both countries are trying to fast-track rail construction closer to their borders — but share no direct rail connections between them.

In any case, main battle tanks perform poorly in mountains, which limit their room to maneuver and restrict their angles of fire, strain their engines on steep inclines while further burdening a tank army’s demanding logistical backbone.

At the same time, mountains give more places for infantry to hide from tanks, isolating them — generally speaking, tanks are at their most effective when employed en masse in open country — and then striking at weak points in their armor from above.

The picture after Doklam stand-off

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot 
September 12, 2017

Bhutan asked India for help despite the fact that Doklam was not as strategic for Thimphu as for New Delhi, whose leaders worried about the security of the “chicken neck”, a vulnerable set of plains and valleys that a part of Bhutan (including the Doklam plateau) overlooks. 

Several lessons can be drawn from the stand-off between India and China in Doklam. First, it was the first time that India deployed troops — even in the hundreds — on the Chinese border after a third party asked for help. Second, while such stand-offs have multiplied recently, it was by far the longest one — about 10 weeks — suggesting that there was much at stake on both sides and that the mechanisms of border dispute resolution were not as effective as they used to be, or not even relevant in such a case. Third, India can claim that it has forced China to withdraw by showing determination-cum-restraint, a mix that has impressed other South Asian countries which are under Chinese pressure and may turn to India for preserving their sovereignty.

This rosy picture needs to be qualified, though, on two grounds, pertaining to Bhutan and China. Bhutan asked India for help despite the fact that Doklam was not as strategic for Thimphu as for New Delhi, whose leaders worried about the security of the “chicken neck”, a vulnerable set of plains and valleys that a part of Bhutan (including the Doklam plateau) overlooks. Under what conditions will Bhutan continue to side with India, is a key question. Beijing will use both the carrot and stick to influence the Himalayan kingdom that Chinese tourists are already visiting in large numbers. What can India offer in exchange? For security, a credible military force may be mobilised.

Strategic implications of Myanmar’s domestic politics

India has been a beneficiary of Myanmar's democratisation. However, the positive trend in their bilateral relationship can be affected by the emerging internal political developments in Myanmar.

Myanmar's current internal political dynamics and the evolving regional undercurrents have serious implications for India-Myanmar relations. Seeing from this perspective, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the country this week is an attempt to ensure that the outcome of the emerging domestic and regional forces at work do not negatively affect India's ties with Myanmar.

Since the 1990s, up until a few years ago, political tussle between the pro-democracy supporters and the authoritarian military (or the Tatmadaw) regime greatly shaped Myanmar's foreign policy choices. Myanmar's military regime grew closer towards its northern neighbour, China as it sought support from Beijing to fend off international pressure.

Even as the country transitioned into democracy in 2010 and effort to consolidate the process is ongoing, a geopolitical consequence that still weigh heavily on the country is China's overwhelming presence as a key economic and defence partner.

As the country's reforms unfold, there are new challenges with the potential of throwing the country back to the situation from where it has been trying to move away. The likelihood of the country creating a geopolitical setting where it once again look towards China in the face of growing external pressure seems to be rapidly evolving.

In recent months, Myanmar's political leadership has come under intense scrutiny over alleged human rights abuses by its military troops against the Rohingya Muslims, a minority community­ numbering about 1.1 million who are concentrated in northwestern Rakhine state.

Caution, pragmatism can prevent Doklam-like incidents in future

Sep 11, 2017 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bilateral meeting with the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the 9th BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China, September 5(PTI)

All’s well that ends where things were before.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has iterated the need for Asia’s two largest countries to ensure Doklam-like incidents do not take place again. In this he was repeating what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping agreed to at the BRICS summit in Xiamen. As was shown by the manner in which the Doklam standoff was brought to an end, New Delhi and Beijing understand that neither side will receive any real benefit in a genuine military confrontation.

There is considerable economic ballast between the two countries. But the fundamental reason that both sides prefer to keep their guns holstered is geopolitical. India may be economically smaller than China, but it is still large enough to cause Beijing serious problems, especially as China’s global footprint grows faster than its ability to project power to defend these interests.

However, the minister’s remarks also underline how the India and China relationship is driven by pragmatism, without a shred of sentiment or affection. He pointed fingers at India when it came to explaining why Doklam had happened, saying relations had been “affected and undermined” and implying it was up to New Delhi to do the repair work. Neither government may wish conflict, but neither sees any reason to shine sweetness and light on their ties.

The Indian-Chinese Conflict: Is It Really Heating Up?

September 12, 2017

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On July 24, 2017, China warned India “not to push its luck” – the latest salvo in a long-running border conflict. India wants the Chinese to stop construction of a road to the “chicken’s neck”: the Doklam plateau in the Himalayan mountain ridge between China and the Kingdom of Bhutan, India’s close ally. This narrow strip of land connects China to northeastern India. The Chinese road, if completed, could ultimately threaten India and would represent a major strategic advantage for the Chinese.

In 1890, the British Mandate ruling India and representatives of the Chinese Qing dynasty signed an agreement to partition the Tibetan and Sikkim regions, which are adjacent to the Doklam plateau region. The agreement was not sufficiently comprehensive, leaving some areas claimed by both sides.

Decades later, in 1962, after India had gained independence and with China now ruled by the Communist party, war broke out between the two sides. Although it only lasted about a month, this war was deeply engraved in the collective memories of both nations. The war broke out over a border dispute very similar to the one raising tensions today.

In 2005, China and India signed a draft agreement that included guidelines and parameters for a final agreement regarding the shared border, but the area remains unsettled.

The Doklam plateau is not the only border issue in East Asia. Other problem areas (among many) include the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, which are disputed by all their neighboring states; the Senkaku Islands, which are disputed by Japan and China; and the Amur River County on the Chinese-Russian border.

Air Forces of Pakistan, China Begin 'Shaheen VI' Exercises

September 11, 2017

The two countries held the sixth iteration of their major air force exercises, which first began in 2011. 
Last week, the Pakistan Air Force and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) began joint training exercises dubbed “Shaheen VI” in China.

The exercises began on Thursday and will run until September 27.

According to Xinhua, China’s state news agency, a spokesperson for the PLAAF noted that China had sent a wide range of aerial assets and troops, including Shenyang J-11 twin-engine multirole fighters, Xian JH-7 fighter-bombers, KJ-200 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, and surface-to-air missile crews and radar operators.

Xinhua added that Pakistan had sent an undisclosed number of JF-17 Thunder fighters and its own early warning aircraft—likely Pakistan’s Shaanxi ZDK-03 K. Eagle or Saab 200 Erieye—to the exercises.

The JF-17 Thunder (known also as the FC-1 Xiaolong) single-engine, lightweight, multi-role fighter was co-developed by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry group. The Pakistan Air Force is the only current operator of the aircraft.

The Shaheen series of exercises between the two countries, who are close partners, began in March 2011 and has since gone through five major iterations.

Last year’s exercise, Shaheen V, ran through April. Pakistan and China have increased air force coordination in joint operations in the meantime.

Former Al-Qaida Operatives Launch New Militant Group in Pakistan

Noor Zahid
September 10, 2017

FILE - A Pakistani militant holds a rocket-propelled grenade in Shawal, in Pakistan's tribal region of Waziristan, Aug. 5, 2012. Two former al-Qaida members have reportedly formed a new militant group, calling it Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan.

A new al-Qaida-inspired militant group, which has recently emerged in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi claims to act as a platform for militants who have grown disaffected with the Islamic State militant group (IS) in the country.

The group, Ansar al-Sharia Pakistan, was reportedly formed by two former al-Qaida members who had severed ties with the organization in early 2017. Since then, the group has been involved in several attacks in Karachi, according to Pakistani counterterrorism authorities.

“The Ansar al-Sharia group started killings in Karachi since the beginning of this year and claimed responsibility for killing an army officer on Faisal Highway [in Karachi],” Major General Mohammad Saeed, the head of Rangers paramilitary security force in Karachi, told local media. He added the group has been focusing attacks on “the police only.”

The group was allegedly created to operate as a platform for militants who have parted ways with IS in the country, it said in an online statement. It claimed to be active in several parts of the country.

“We give glad tidings to Muslim Ummah that a large number of Mujahideen from Karachi, Punjab and tribal areas are leaving ranks of IS and announce disassociation with [it],” the group said in an announcement through a Twitter account, adding that IS has “spread differences” and “secession instead of unity.”

The group has vowed to continue its struggle through “jihad” against “infidel and apostates.”

My 911 And The Future Of the Afghan War

September 11, 2017 

Robbin Laird is an old defense hand. Today, he’s a consultant and a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, but he served as special assistant for the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 1979-1983 and also worked on the National Security Council for two presidents. Here’s the piece he posted on his website, Second Line of Defense about his experiences on that gorgeous early fall day. Read on! The Editor.

Early on the morning of September 11th, I had an appointment in the Pentagon with a senior Pentagon official.

I got there a bit early, and parked just outside the Defense Secretary’s office.

As I was sitting in the office, the TV was showing the story of an airliner plowing into the World Trade Center.

I asked one of the folks in the office, whether they were concerned about a similar event on the Pentagon or the White House.

The person said that “we do not know if this is simply an accident.”

As an ex-New Yorker, I was sure this was not.

I went into my meeting.

Suddenly, I felt the building rock.

It felt like an accident in the ground floor area of the Pentagon.

When buses used to come into the Pentagon directly underneath, such a crash might be possible.

In the Pacific Theater, A Cold War Sequel

September 11, 2017

As the spotlight shines on the Asia-Pacific theater, Japan is putting aside one of its longest running disputes to revisit its relationship with Russia. For the last 70 years, the Kuril Islands have been a cornerstone of talks between Tokyo and Moscow, and a stumbling block to reconciliation. Russia's humiliating defeat in its 1904-05 war with Japan cost Moscow half the resource-rich Sakhalin Island, as well as the still-disputed Southern Kuril Islands. The territorial loss corked the Russian Navy in the Sea of Japan, limiting the fleet's access to the greater Pacific Ocean. After World War II, the Soviets took back not only Sakhalin, but also the Northern Kuril Islands. After more than a century of rivalry, the two nations have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to reconcile. Even now, the territorial dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from declaring a formal end to their WWII conflict.

Deeper divisions have also set in over the decades. Japan became an integral part of the U.S. alliance structure during the cold war, checking the Soviet Union's eastern-facing ambitions. As the Soviet Union began to dissolve, former Japanese foreign minister Shintaro Abe reportedly told his son, current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, that a Russo-Japanese rapprochement was his dying wish. However, only nominal trade and poor relations followed the Soviet Union's collapse, despite dozens of proposals drawn up by Russia and Japan to find a settlement for both peace and the Kuril Islands in the 1990's. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin drew up a version of such plans, but when the Japanese negotiating team made it clear no Japanese firms would do business in Russia, Yeltsin ended talks by locking his peace proposals in his briefcase.

Can North Korea Drag the US and China Into War?

SEPTEMBER 11, 2017

History offers clues about the likely course of a dangerous dynamic in east Asia.

Amid the exchange of threats between North Korea and the United States, ongoing North Korean nuclear and missile tests, and U.S. talk of “all options,” there is growing concern about the real possibility of war with North Korea. What many have not yet reckoned with is an even darker specter. Could events now cascading on the Korean Peninsula drag the U.S. and China into a great-power war?

The good news is that no one in a position of responsibility in either the U.S. or Chinese government wants a military conflict. Everyone knows that war between the world’s two largest economies would be catastrophic. This leads many observers to conclude that war between the U.S. and China is inconceivable.

But when we say that something is inconceivable, we should remind ourselves that this is a claim about what we can conceive—not about what is possible in the world. To stretch our imaginations, we need look no further than history.

While history never repeats itself, as Mark Twain observed, it does sometimes rhyme. So we should ask: What past events resemble the current predicament posed by North Korea’s nuclear advance, and how can they provide perspective on what we are now seeing—or even clues to what may happen?

Doklam standoff: How did India, China resolve the crisis?

Two weeks on, no official word from India and China on how the Doklam standoff was resolved

New Delhi: It has been two weeks since India and China agreed to disengage after a 73-day military standoff on the Doklam plateau in Bhutan. But so far, there has been no official word from New Delhi or Beijing on how the two struck a deal to pull back from their most serious face-off in two decades—creating space for theories to mushroom.

One of these is that Chinese President Xi Jinping sacked a senior general in the People Liberation Army’s (PLA), who was thought to have been standing in the way of a resolution of the Doklam standoff—and that this led to the deal being struck.

According to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Studies think tank, “the mutual withdrawal deal” by India and China that was announced on 28 August “was clinched just after Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced the chief of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) joint staff department.”

This position, considered the most senior in the PLA and equivalent to the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, was created last year as part of Xi’s military reforms to turn the Chinese Army into a force “able to fight and win wars,” Chellaney said in an article in the Hindustan Times last week.

“The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief, General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for precipitating the standoff in the first place,” he said.

US faces the ultimate in China’s Unrestricted Warfare

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
12 Sep , 2017

After the 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the Korean peninsula on September 3, North Korea claimed it has successfully conducted hydrogen bomb test that could be fitted to ICBMs. This was the sixth and strongest nuclear test by North Korea. A second 4.1 magnitude quake was recorded minutes after the first quake at the same site. The test surprised the US as North Korea arriving at this capability so early was not expected; DPRK’s nuclear test on September 9, 2016 had a yield of 15-25 kilotons (similar to atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki during World War II) but the test on September 3 this year had a yield of 120 kilotons, as per Norway’s Norsar. There are indicators that DPRK is preparing for more missile tests. According to some analysts, DPRK at the moment does not have the capacity to launch an ICBM with nuclear warhead to strike US mainland. But the DPRK’s nuclear program is developing rapidly, it has threatened to strike Guam, and its capacity to acquire nukes to target US mainland may be faster than expected.

President Donald Trump’s dilemma is result of gross intransigence by erstwhile US administrations to the nuclear proliferation by China to North Korea and Pakistan, North Korea-Pakistan nuclear cooperation and unchecked growth of North Korea’s nuclear program knowing full well that sanctions on North Korea were not succeeding because of continued Chinese support. Thomas Reed, former US Air Force Secretary in his book ‘The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation’ pointedly states that China intentionally proliferated nuclear technology to risky regimes. In his interview with US News, Reed explained that China under Deng Xiaoping, decided to proliferate nuclear technology to communists and Muslims in the third world based on the strategy that if the West started getting nuked by Muslim terrorists or another communist country without Chinese fingerprints, it would be good for China. That is how North Korea and Pakistan became nuclear. What reinforces Chinese lies is that while China raised a host of objections to exposures in Reed’s book, all were withdrawn subsequent to discussion with Chinese scientists, as claimed by Reed.

Afghanistan: Extremism & Counter-Extremism

On August 5, 2017, Taliban militants captured the Mirzawalang village in the Sar-e Pul province after a 48-hour battle with security forces. At least 50 people—mostly civilians—died during the fighting. Afghan officials believe the Taliban and ISIS jointly coordinated the attack, but the Taliban claimed they operated alone. (Sources: Reuters, CNN, Al Jazeera)

On July 31, 2017, an ISIS suicide bomber and gunmen attacked the Iraqi embassy in Kabul, killing two Afghan employees. The following day, ISIS suicide bombers attacked a Shiite mosque in Herat, killing at least 33 and wounding another 64. The attacks came three weeks after ISIS lost its last major stronghold in Iraq to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, prompting Afghan security officials to question whether the terror group was ramping up its attacks in Afghanistan in response to its losses in Iraq. 

According to the United Nations, 3,498 Afghan civilians died in terror-related attacks in 2016. By July, more than 1,700 Afghan civilians have died in terror attacks in 2017. According to a July 2017 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to the U.S. Congress, 40 percent of Afghanistan remains under the control of the Taliban or other armed groups.


Afghanistan—officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—has a tumultuous history of uprisings against the government, guerilla warfare, and foreign occupation dating back to the 19th century. The country now faces violent insurgencies by the Taliban and ISIS. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan suffered a record number of casualties in 2015, with more than 3,500 civilians killed and almost 7,500 wounded. (Sources: CNN, New York Times)

Bin Laden used Afghanistan as a base of operations from which to build his al-Qaeda network.

Simulating war with Hezbollah, IDF looks to avoid past mistakes

September 12, 2017

After war games with mock terrorist ‘killing sprees’ in Israeli communities and a counterattack in southern Lebanon, army bringing to a close its largest drill in 19 years

After a week of beating back simulated Hezbollah raids on border communities and responding to fake rocket fire over much of Israel, the IDF went on a mock offensive in southern Lebanon, as the military’s largest exercise in nearly two decades came to a culmination on Monday, a senior IDF officer said.

Last week, the army launched its largest drill since 1998, with tens of thousands of troops drilling for a war with the Hezbollah terrorist group, which the army considers to be its main threat.

The war game was run by the head of the IDF’s Northern Corps, Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman. It included both physical actions and maneuvers by foot soldiers, land vehicles, naval vessels, helicopters and planes (including jets that reportedly broke the sound barrier over southern Lebanon), as well as computer models.

The exercised was named “Or HaDagan” after Meir Dagan, a former Mossad chief and IDF general who died last year.

In the simulation, war was sparked by a Hezbollah incursion into Israel, followed by rocket fire. “The exercise began on the defensive, with a Hezbollah initiated attack, in which it crossed the Blue Line and infiltrated [Israeli communities],” the officer said late Monday night, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There were raids on communities near the border, killing sprees in some places,” he said.


Embedded with the SDF are teams of American soldiers, about whom very little is known. The U.S. military’s presence in Syria has grown exponentially since 2014, when the first elite commandos arrived to advise the nascent SDF. Today, there are some 14 U.S. military bases on Syrian soil. The troops on the ground include personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, but the government won’t say exactly how many, where they’re located, what precisely they’re doing or how long they’ll stay. A few have died and a good deal more have been injured in combat, but like almost everything else about the U.S. presence in Syria, the number of wounded is classified. Despite the scale of the operation, the Pentagon insists on black-ops secrecy, refusing to embed reporters, and channeling all information through spokesmen in Baghdad. Turkey and Iraq have imposed a blockade on Syria that prevents most independent reporters from getting anywhere near American forces on the battlefield, and soldiers are apparently under orders not to answer questions or allow themselves to be photographed.

After being smuggled across the Tigris River into Syria by inflatable boat on June 23rd, I link up with a pair of Kurdish journalists who drive me the rest of the way to Raqqa. North of the city we pass a refugee camp for the tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting. Tents along the highway are patched together from canvas sacks, plastic tarpaulins, reed mats and animal hides. Sad scenes of wartime suffering flit past our van’s window: widows dressed in black, begging for food; a crippled man in a wheelchair, carving a ragged red carcass; a cow drinking from an open sewer. Driving into Raqqa, past ISIS graffiti on battle-mangled storefronts, the streets look like they’ve been hit by a meteor shower, pocked with craters and riddled with bullet holes. There is not one civilian to be seen out of doors.

We are cruising through a recently liberated neighborhood one morning when we spot an American convoy: three hulking armored vehicles known as MRAPs, built to withstand mine blasts. The tail vehicle is a Toyota Hilux, an escort truck driven by a couple of Kurdish soldiers. The convoy turns onto a rutted dirt road and we follow at a distance, our battered old van’s sliding door rattling the whole way. The Americans move through a trash-strewn pine grove, their 30,000-pound vehicles raising a cloud of fine dust obscuring all but their red taillights and lashing antennae.

Limited Nuclear Wars – Myth and Reality

Paul Rogers

The dramatic recent escalation of rhetoric and military posturing on the Korean peninsula has reawakened suggestions that the United States could use relatively low-yield nuclear weapons in a limited or tactical operation to neutralise North Korea. Indeed, both the idea of nuclear ‘first strike’ and their ‘flexible’ usage on and off the ‘battlefield’ are deeply rooted in historic and current NATO and UK doctrine on nuclear weapons. Given the extraordinarily militarised nature of the inter-Korean border and, increasingly, that between NATO and Russia, the potentially cataclysmic nature of any nuclear exchange must be urgently recalled and avoided at all costs.

One of the most common misunderstandings about nuclear weapons in general and Britain’s nuclear weapons in particular is that nuclear strategy is solely about deterring an opponent from attacking you by threatening that opponent with all-out destruction in response. Given the growing risk of a nuclear confrontation over North Korea it is appropriate to point out that this has never been the case. Ever since the start of the nuclear age nuclear weapons have been seen as useable weapons and appropriate in certain circumstances for fighting limited nuclear wars.

As a member of NATO Britain retains the option of using nuclear weapons first and has the means to do so. This briefing is intended to serve as a reminder of this. It will do so by concentrating specifically on British policy, both within NATO and out-of-area, but this applies just as much to the other seven full nuclear powers and, no doubt, to North Korea as well. It applies very much to the United States in particular and its current president, Donald J Trump, who has made it clear that the United States will not allow North Korea to develop the ability to target the continental United States with nuclear weapons.
Early history

Trump and the Future of US Grand Strategy

By Jack Thompson for Center for Security Studies (CSS)
11 Sep 2017

According to Jack Thompson, US grand strategy is at a crossroads. Washington may continue to pursue internationalism, as most of the country’s conservative national security establishment would prefer. However, Donald Trump’s election and his embrace of populist conservative nationalism could mean that the US will turn its back on the liberal world order. Either way, suggests Thompson, the debates currently raging within the Trump administration will do much to determine which direction the US will eventually take, with significant consequences for the global order.

US grand strategy is at a crossroads. Will Washington continue to pursue internationalism, as most of the establishment would prefer, or does the election of Donald Trump and his embrace of populist conservative nationalism indicate that the US is about to turn its back on the liberal world order? The answer will play a significant role in determining the nature of world politics in the coming years.

US grand strategy between 1992 and 2016 was, in retrospect, remarkably consistent. Even though the foreign policy records of the post-Cold War presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – differed, sometimes dramatically, they shared fundamental assumptions about international politics and the strategy the US should pursue to maximize the safety and prosperity of its citizens.

Judging from each administration’s National Security Strategy reports – which are mandated by Congress – and other official documents, they all advocated a muscular version of liberal internationalism. This entailed the core objectives of military predominance – albeit paired with a network of security alliances and membership in international organizations – the lowering of trade barriers, and the spread of democracy. In addition, each administration viewed legal immigration as desirable economically and acceptable culturally.

Hackers Gain Direct Access To The U.S. Power Grid; ‘Resulted In Gaining Hands-On Access To Power Grid Operations – Enough Control That Hackers Could Have Induced Blackouts On American Soil At Will’ — Maybe

Hackers have gained direct access to the power grid in both the United States and Europe, according to numerous media reports on both continents. Andy Greenberg, writing in the September 6, 2017 edition of WIRED.com, warns that this latest breach of U.S. critical infrastructure is particularly worrisome, because “a series of recent hacker attacks not only compromised energy companies in the U.S. and Europe; but, also resulted in intruders gaining hands-on access to power grid operations — enough control that they could have induced blackouts on American soil — at will,” this according to a new report by the cyber security firm, Symantec. 

Symantec this week released the results of their investigation into the hacking of the U.S. and European power grids earlier this summer and found that the hacking effort was not a random, one-off event; but, was a “campaign of attacks by a group calling itself, DragonFly 2.0, which Symantec says targeted dozens of energy companies in the spring and summer of this year,” Mr. Greenberg wrote. “In more than 20 cases, Symantec says the hackers successfully gained access to the target companies’ [critical] networks. And, at a handful of U.S. power firms; and at least one company in Turkey — none of which Symantec will name — their forensic analysis found that the hackers obtained what they call operational access: control of the interfaces engineers use to send actual commands to equipment like circuit breakers, giving them the ability to stop the flow of electricity into U.S. homes and businesses,” Mr. Greenberg wrote.

“There’s a difference in being a step away from conducting sabotage and actually being in a position to conduct sabotage…..being able to flip the switch on power generation,” said Eric Chien, a Symantec security analyst. “We’re now talking about on-the-ground technical evidence this could happen in the U.S., and there’s nothing left standing in the way except the motivation of some actor out there in the world,” he added.

North Korea’s Belligerence Slaps China in the Face

North Korea’s fourth nuclear test followed by a ballistic missile launch have ominous implications—a North Korea in possession of miniaturized warheads and a delivery system.

These developments have rattled nerves and escalated tensions in Northeast Asia. The outrage over North Korea’s flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions has reverberated worldwide, yet China, North Korea’s sole ally, has refused to back tough measures that would raise the cost to Pyongyang of its behavior.

North Korea’s refusal to abide by Chinese entreaties not to launch a rocket is a remarkable display of disrespect toward Beijing. It also raises a key question: Is there a limit to China’s willingness to tolerate North Korea’s behavior?

North Korea became the only country to test a nuclear weapon in the twenty-first century when it conducted its fourth such test on January 6. On February 7, Pyongyang said it had put a satellite into space—in other words, it had conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test.

These events unfolded even as Beijing was trying to repair frayed ties with Pyongyang. Last October, in an attempt to revive strained party-to-party ties, Chinese President Xi Jinping dispatched the fifth-ranking member of the Politburo, Liu Yunshan, to Pyongyang to participate in a celebration of the Korean Workers’ Party’s seventieth anniversary. For four days, Liu publicly schmoozed with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

As recently as last December, many in Beijing were gushing about their warming ties to Pyongyang amid rumors that Kim would meet with Xi in the Chinese capital. Then came the slap in the face on January 6. Unlike with previous North Korean tests, this was the first time Beijing received no advance warning from Pyongyang.

Russia Says Its Armata T-14 Tank Can Fight on Mars

September 8, 2017

Russia's new T-14 Armata is one of the most advanced tanks in the world. So advanced, in fact, that Western nations worry that older tanks like America's M-1 Abrams may be rendered obsolete.
But the T-14 is not only extraordinary, it’s interplanetary. The Armata tank can operate on Mars, according to Russian media.

“Magic Starter: Armata Engines Make It Fit for Martian Temperature” proclaimed the headline on Russia's English-language site Sputnik News. The news followed Russian media reports last month that the future MiG-41 jet fighter would be able to fly in outer space.

Lest anyone worry that Vladimir Putin is planning to invade the Angry Red Planet with his Little Green Men, it turns out the truth is more down-to-earth. Sputnik News, never shy about trumpeting the awesomeness of Russian military technology, was actually citing an article from the Russian newspaper Izvestia(the Google English-language translation is here).

The Izvestia article described new technology, developed by Russian manufacturer Renova, that allows the Armata’s diesel engine to start in temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit. The system uses supercapacitors to store a large quantity of electricity that can be used to power the tank even before the engine starts. It’s similar to that used by hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius, which use a battery-powered electric motor at low speeds and then switches to a gasoline motor as the vehicle accelerates.

“We conducted a full-scale testing of a supercapacitor for the cold start of a tank diesel engine,” Renova expert Mikhail Lifshits told Izvestia. “The car stood for several days in the cold. Its batteries have completely lost capacity. Nevertheless, using a mobile power station on a supercapacitor...we were able to run a cold motor several times in a row.”

The only way stop the North Korean nuclear threat

Our seemingly unending inability to fathom Pyongyang's true objectives, and our attendant proclivity for being taken by surprise over and over again by North Korean actions, is not just a matter of succumbing to Pyongyang's strategic deceptions, assiduous as those efforts may be.

The trouble, rather, is that even our top foreign-policy experts and our most sophisticated diplomatists are creatures of our own cultural heritage and intellectual environment. We Americans are, so to speak, children of the Enlightenment, steeped in the precepts of our highly globalized era. Which is to say: We have absolutely no common point of reference with the worldview, or moral compass, or first premises of the closed-society decision makers who control the North Korean state. Americans' first instincts are to misunderstand practically everything the North Korean state is really about. 

The DPRK is a project pulled by tides and shaped by sensibilities all but forgotten to the contemporary West. North Korea is a hereditary Asian dynasty (currently on its third Kim) — but one maintained by Marxist-Leninist police-state powers unimaginable to earlier epochs of Asian despots and supported by a recently invented and quasi-religious ideology.

And exactly what is that ideology? Along with its notorious variant of emperor worship, "Juche thought" also extols an essentially messianic — and unapologetically racialist — vision of history: one in which the long-abused Korean people finally assume their rightful place in the universe by standing up against the foreign races that have long oppressed them, at last reuniting the entire Korean peninsula under an independent socialist state (i.e., the DPRK). Although highly redacted in broadcasts aimed at foreign ears, this call for reunification of the mijnok (race), and for retribution against the enemy races or powers (starting with America and Japan), constantly reverberates within North Korea, sounded by the regime's highest authorities. 

The New Face Of War: Security In The Age Of Cyberwarfare


One of the greatest national security threats the United States faces today is the one we are least prepared for: cyberwarfare. As demonstrated by the “WannaCry” cyberattack launched on May 12, 2017, no system is invulnerable to cyberattacks. While the United States government has responded to these attacks via executive order in an attempt to improve federal cybersecurity, there is more the government can do to bolster protect governmental system framework from cyberattacks, particularly with regard to safeguarding critical systems such as those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Cybersecurity attacks are an increasing threat to federal government systems. While the May WannaCry attacks are just one instance of the rising danger of cybersecurity threats, this attack serves as a prime example of the necessity to update federal computer networks and systems.

Launched on May 12, 2017, the “WannaCry” cyberattack was a ransomware attack that affected hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide (See Figure 1). At a House hearing before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in July of 2017, cybersecurity experts from Kryptos Logic announced that the WannaCry attack, as it is now referred to, affected the systems of over 120 countries, each with one thousand or more hacking attempts, and over 190 countries with five to ten ransom attempts.


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This publication is a collaboration between the East-West Center and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI).

New rules for space warfare

An international coalition of lawyers is set to draft a manual setting out the legalities of warfare in outer space, including guidance on issues such as the legality of attacking satellites, firing lasers and what constitutes a space war crime. To find out more, Claire Apthorp spoke to lawyers working on the project from the University of Exeter’s Law School.

Space assets play an ever-greater role in the everyday life of civilians around the world. Whether using GPS satellite navigation to find your way from A to B, carrying out a transaction with a banking system that relies on satellite-based private networks, or even accessing Netflix through a satellite internet provider, secure and reliable satellite systems are behind many of the services we take for granted on a daily basis.

The stakes are even higher at the national level: the merchant shipping vessels that transport the vast majority of international commerce around the globe rely on accurate GPS systems, as does an increasing amount of military hardware. Soldiers, vehicles and aircraft use GPS to navigate, images captured by military satellites inform battlespace awareness at every level of the command chain, and air, land and naval weapons use GPS coordinates for targeting accuracy during combat operations.
Legal parameters

The problem with relying on these largely undefended space assets in so many ways, is that if outer space were to become a battlefield, there are no legal parameters for military uses of space, such as attacking satellites or firing weapons from space. In short, what does and does not constitute a violation of international law or a war crime?

Are 3D-Printed Guns a Threat to National Security?

In 2013, Defense Distributed uploaded computer aided design (CAD) files and made them freely available to the public. With the proper equipment and knowledge, someone could use the CAD files to create a 3D-printed gun. The government quickly ordered the files removed (under threat of severe penalties) because it determined that the files ran afoul of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which prevent people from communicating to foreign persons “technical data” about constructing certain arms. In other words, ITAR is one of the laws that makes it illegal to tell the foreign persons how to make things like an Apache helicopter. Not all arms are listed, and ITAR doesn’t restrict technical data that is merely “general scientific, mathematical, or engineering principles commonly taught in school.”

There are many manuals and documents out there that tell people how to make dangerous things. The Anarchist Cookbook is perhaps the most famous. Many people are surprised that the government lets The Anarchist Cookbook exist, but it is not the government that lets it exist—they’d probably rather it didn’t—it’s the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects communication about making dangerous things, from bombs to napalm, and it certainly protects communication on how to fix guns or even construct them from scratch. If the government is going to restrict such information it must do so narrowly and with good reason, while understanding that there is a difference between instructions for a plutonium trigger for a hydrogen bomb and CAD files for a plastic, one-shot pistol. And if the government goes too far, people should be allowed to challenge it.

Parallel Universes: ‘Beyond Snowden’ and the Two Sides of the Surveillance Debate

By Ben Wizner

When Tim Edgar told his ACLU colleagues in early 2016 that he’d be leaving the organization to join the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, our reactions ranged from mute astonishment to outright dismay. It’s not at all uncommon for ACLU lawyers to go work in government. But to join the intelligence community during the Bush administration – the same gang that had brought us warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and abusive watchlists – was really climbing into the belly of the beast.

It’s a good thing Tim was, and still is, thick-skinned enough to risk irritating former colleagues, first by charting his own path, and then by reflecting candidly on the full range of his experiences. “Beyond Snowden” is a unique and vital contribution to our ongoing debate about how best to ensure that powerful surveillance capabilities are constrained by laws and values.

Of course, I can’t pretend to be a neutral reader of a book that explores Edward Snowden’s role in setting in motion “the most significant reforms to surveillance…since those of the Church Committee in the mid-1970s,” and responds with an insider’s authority to the most common criticisms of Snowden’s actions. Chief among those is that Snowden should have pressed his concerns through internal channels, rather than sharing classified information with journalists. This particular critique has always puzzled me: internal channels may be effective when a government employee stumbles on an incidence of fraud or abuse unknown to superiors, but it’s ludicrous to suggest that there is an internal channel for complaints that a system of mass surveillance – authorized by the president, approved by the FISA court, and briefed to Congress – has been deployed in secret without the consent of the governed. Tim’s book provides another powerful rejoinder in the story of his own experience as “an authorized whistleblower for classified programs – a sort of official Snowden.” Unlike Snowden, Tim had “direct access to the officials who could have made surveillance reform a reality” – yet it was Snowden’s actions, not Tim’s years of internal advocacy, that led to widespread reforms.

The Likelihood of North Korean Cyber Attacks

Under what circumstances would it make sense for North Korea’s Kim regime to begin a war with the United States? The primary goal of any state is survival, and this is even more important for politically fragile regimes that provide immense benefit to the ruling family. An upper limit to North Korean activities is that, though it will use threats and coercive acts to pursue its larger policy goals, it will not do so at the expense of its own survival. 

There is some risk that Kim Jong-un could miscalculate when it comes to coercive acts. Shooting missiles over Guam would provoke a reaction, as would an inadvertent impact on Japanese territory of a missile intended to overfly it. But in general, behind the bluster, the Kim regime has been calculating and careful. This is the lens through which we should measure the risk of North Korea launching a cyber attack against the United States. 

North Korea is the least capable of our opponents when it comes to cyber attack. It uses cyber techniques for coercive diplomacy, for criminal activities to generate hard currency, and for disruptive actions in the South and against deployed U.S. forces. If war breaks out, the North might also consider cyber attacks against military or symbolic targets in the United States. However, short of armed conflict, disruptive actions here are unlikely. 

How disruptive a North Korean cyber attack would be depends on the victim’s weaknesses. North Korean successes depend on relatively basic techniques that exploit vulnerabilities in poorly defended systems. Though the North has used cyber attacks several times against South Korean banks and media outlets, and against Sony in the United States, none of those attacks caused physical destruction or casualties. To be fair, no cyber attack has ever caused casualties, and only three or four resulted in physical damage. North Korea, despite progress in developing its cyber-attack capabilities, does not possess the advanced skills needed to cause physical damage.