29 October 2017

A World in Flux: The Atlantic Community, West Asia, Indo Pacific at Brooking India

On 27 October 2017 I attended a discussion on A World in Flux: The Atlantic Community, West Asia, Indo Pacific at Brooking India. The Panelists were Gen John R Allen, former Commander of International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the newly appointed President of Brookings Institution and Strobe Talbott, recently retired President of Brookings. The discussion was moderated by Dhruv Jaishankar adroitly. I was impressed by the plain speaking and depth of knowledge of the Ex Marine Corps General.

Discussions were on Europe, West Asia and Asia Pacific with an interesting ‘Q’ & ‘A’ session. The gist in reproduced below.


Does Altantic community Exist? As per Talbott it still exists. However it is like a see saw, sometimes up, other times down. Now it is in downswing. Earlier it was all about integration in Europe. Now it is disintegration on the avail : Catalonia in Spain, Brexit and UK out of EU, UK itself may not be united. Russia is reintegrating, expanding, using geopolitical instruments of hard power. It is influencing the minds of responsible leaders of Europe. US is particularly concerned as it is committed to 70 years old legacy in Europe. Regarding Ukraine US never changed the goal past in between. There was lot of support in NATO specially in Germany that NATO should move East. After disintegration of Soviet Russia number of countries wanted open society, democracy based on values. Earlier they were frightened. President Clinton’s policy was not to contain Russia but maintain stability and allow growth of democracy. I felt Friedman and Kaplan’s hypothesis were correct. The geopolitical compulsions would never allow Russia to have NATO right at its doorstep where he is most vulnerable.

Did Ukraine make a mistake in giving up nuclear weapons? Talbott felt that Ukraine’s refusal to let go nuclear weapons would not have stopped Russia do what it did after Sochi Olympics. Russia have lots of assets to make nuclear weapons unusable by the Ukraine Govt.

Personally I would differ. Till date no two nuclear powered nation have gone to war. Look at North Korea. Certainly it would have been a great deterrence. 


Russian economy is presently approximately half of Indian economy. Why give too much of credence to Russia?

Russia territorially is the largest state on planet. Qualitatively and quantitatively it is a great military power. It has a large number of nuclear weapons. Bad news is, Russia is going back to failed reforms of earlier Soviet Union days. It’s economy is totally reliant on hydrocarbon resources. It has no sophisticated service industry. Its manufacturing base cannot even service Russian people. President Putin is going to leave a fatal legacy to his successor.

Demography. Russian population is 75 to 80% Slovaks. They have negative growth rate in population. There is a sizeable Muslim population, mostly Sunni, who have different ethnicity, high degree of Arab negativism. This population is booming. Location of this population is also important. Sooner than later Russia will have to address this issue.

If you look at the map of Russia and try to see from where the threat is coming, the least threat would be form West. Move of Polar ice cap, Arctic are not such big issues.
Russia is actively involved in fighting in Syria. Number of ISIS fighters from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan etc are expected to go back to Russia and create problems. 

The greatest geopolitical threat to Russia is China. The eastern provinces are rich with resources and poor with people. China needs resources, land. Is hungry for these. This is recipe for big trouble for Russia. 

Middle East

There has been no external policy in Middle East which has been a total success, there have been spectacular failures. Today there is a new Cold War between Saudi led Sunni elements Vs Persian led Shia elements. Almost all problems in Middle East region would have some elements of the new Cold War.

After about 100 years of collapse of Ottoman empire and aftermath of Arab Spring the structural weaknesses in Middle East is apparent. System of governance is weak or non existent, was never put into place. The people of Middle East never chose the borders, it was always imposed by colonial powers from outside keeping their interests in the forefront. European powers did not do any better in controlling the region considering their history, culture, faith, tribe, type of governance etc. The region continued to simmer and in December 2010/early 2011 there was an uprising of youthful elements specially in dictatorial/tribal regimes. Al Qaeda quickly got into the act and justified jehadi salafis. The social media accelerated the revolts as never seen before. The European Governments failed miserably in controlling the situation. 

Today look at the region. There are civil wars going on. Syria symbolizes how bad it can be. Situations at Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Libya have stabilized.

The enormous number of refugees destabilizes Europe. The polarization of extreme right wing politics is taking place aided by highly sophisticated influence operations by Russia. The situation is likely to get worse.


Both sides may reach exhaustion. USA is friend of both sides. Qatar may be moving closer to Iran. There is a reintroduction of Turkey’s influence. The Arabs may not be very happy with that. The GCC is permanently wounded in this conflict. 

The USA must have a policy soon which gives its friends in this region some hope in the community of nations. There are human factors, faith of Islam, Jihad, governance, no equal right to women, zero economic prospects, absence of leaders etc. The nations in this region cannot solve the problem themselves. There is a chance of massive radicalization of young people in the region. We have to swim upstream, identify causal factors. The issues of governance say in tribal societies, and other generational issues are complicated but must be addressed. 

Iraq. Is a complex issue. Prime Minister of Iraq wants increased federalism. The Kurd issue was explained in great details. Thanks to my paper in my blog on Kurds available at : http://strategicstudyindia.blogspot.in/2017/10/the-time-of-kurds.html I could understand the complexities.

Abadi wants to demobilize Shia groups in the North and absorb the rest. Mosul could not have been liberated without the help of Shia groups and Kurds. Iraqi army was missing in action. Now with Daesh demolished if we do not get the political outcome right very soon shooting will start again.

Independence of Kurds may take some time. Now is not the time.

US Armed forces are continuously at war since 9/11 for last 17 years in multiple theatres ain stressful conditions.

Even when Daesh is defeated physically it will spread out in small groups to different parts of the world, is a big worry. Daesh has symbiotic relations with highly sophisticated criminal gangs. It is the phase four peace. Example of Germany, Korea, Japan, Europe after second world war. For a considerable time Govt of South Korea was corrupt. Look at the powerful economy of South Korea now. It still has 28000 American soldiers there. 

You can win war but lose peace. It is the political and economic outcomes post decisive wars which are most important.


America was one and half year away from handing over responsibility of Afganistan. The training of the Afghan forces were under way. But a political decision was taken. From 1.5 lakh soldiers it came down to less than 10,000. From 835 bases it it was 12 bases. 

There was a question on changing nature of warfare. You could see it was the Marine Corps General’s turf. It was a fascinating expose. Nature and character of war – their interplay. Character is associated with technology, when nature and character of war is in synch coherent military strategy is created. How the Germans got the Blitzkrieg right by integration of capabilities of fast moving armd vehicles, radios, dive bombers, how the British decimated the Italian fleet, using old slow aircrafts swordfish, how the Japanese learned from this British attack to plan on Pearl Harbour on 7th December and how the US Navy refused to learn from the Taranto attack. Those interested in Taranto may like to read : http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/year-before-pearl-harbor-the-british-sank-enemy-battleships-18693?page=show

Russians are showing how to adapt. Their influence operations are remarkable undermining confidence of population. They are influencing the Presidential elections in USA!

Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous systems are posing difficult questions how the warfare would be fought in future. Interested people can read my blog article on fourth industrial revolution and military implications at http://strategicstudyindia.blogspot.in/2017/10/defence-implications-of-emerging.html

China has already invested $ 150 billion on research of AI. These emerging technologies are going to change the character of warfare. 

Hyper war was also discussed.

Shri Manoj Joshi of ORF asked a very interesting question. India’s 70% hydrocarbon comes from West Asia/ Middle East, we have a huge population in these areas, we have great interest here. But USA does not collaborate with us in this region. Gen Allen was remarkably candid in answering. He finds no reason why the task force in this region is headed by Pak Navy when Indian Navy has its presence for anti piracy operations.

Taking a cue I asked the General the following :

The inter command boundary between US Central command ( CENTCOM) and Pacific command(PACOM) is along Indo Pak border. We come under PACOM which is far from us, the action is here in our western neighbourhood and western sea board. Can the inter command boundary between CENTCOM and PACOM be shifted eastword so that India comes under the influence of CENTCOM.

Robert Gates as Secy Defense while addressing US Military Academy stated that US Armed Forces has been consistently correct in only one thing ; Failing to predict the nature of next war, they always prepared for the last war. Today the leaders of US Armed forces are wary of their unpreparedness to fight under intense EW environment, the Russians are way ahead, their communication networks may not work, GPS may malfunction. At the same time the present counterinsurgency and counter terrorism operations will also continue. Is there any dichotomy inpreparing for the next war. The response of Gen Allen was fascinating.

On the whole a very good discussion. I was enriched.

North Korea Crisis Presents Risk, But Also Opportunity for U.S. and China

Most discussions about the North Korea nuclear threat focus on the risk of conflict between the U.S. and North Korea. Serious as that is, an even more important issue is what the crisis will mean for the U.S. and China – the world’s most consequential relationship. Great risk and great opportunity abound.

Xi begins 2nd term, asks PLA to be combat-ready

Chinese President Xi Jinping has begun his second five-year term ordering the country's 2.3 million-strong military, the world's largest, to be absolutely loyal to the ruling Communist Party and intensify its combat readiness by focussing on how to win wars. The once-in-a-five-year Congress of the Communist Party endorsed Xi's leadership of the party, the military and the presidency this week and approved his ideology to be written into its Constitution, elevating him on par with modern China's founder Chairman Mao Zedong and his successor Deng Xiaoping.

100 Days and Counting of Pointless Arab Self-Destruction

By Anthony Cordesman

No American can criticize Arab states without first acknowledging that the United States has made a host of mistakes of its own in dealing with nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. The fact remains, however, that the word "Arab" has come to be a synonym for disunity, dysfunctional, and self-destructive. Regardless of issuing of one ambitious "Arab" plan for new coalitions after another, the reality is failed internal leadership and development, pointless feuding between Arab states, and an inability to cooperate and coordinate when common action is most needed.

Dealing with Jihadist Returnees: A Tough Challenge

With the on­go­ing mil­i­tary set­backs the “Is­lamic State” (IS) suf­fered, the num­ber of ji­hadist for­eign fight­ers re­turn­ing to Eu­rope might fur­ther in­crease. Switzer­land, too, must be pre­pared to deal with these in­di­vid­u­als. Some clues may be gained from ex­pe­ri­ences made in France and Den­mark, two states par­tic­u­larly af­fected by this phe­nom­e­non.

What the End of ISIS Means

Stephen M. Walt

Unless you're someone who thinks beheading people is an appropriate way to advance a repressive political cause, the imminent demise of the Islamic State is welcome news. But we should be wary of a premature "Mission Accomplished" moment and be judicious in drawing lessons from an outcome that otherwise merits celebration.

Toward that end, here is a preliminary assessment of what the defeat of the Islamic State means, in the form of five questions and some provisional answers.

Challenges in Libya Complicate EU Measures to Stem Migration

By Lisa Watanabe

In recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that Italy has been paying armed groups in Libya to cease smuggling migrants into the country. Some estimate that the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Italy has reduced by half compared to the same time period last year. At the heart of the issue is a governance vacuum that allows armed groups to control the flow of migrants in and out of Libya, presenting a unique challenge for governments in North and West Africa and EU policymakers.

Russia and the West: Handling the Clash of Worldviews

By Vygaudas Usackas

I arrived in Moscow as the EU’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation exactly four years ago. At the time, relations with Russia were strained but still functioning. Our efforts to engage Moscow had not yielded much but still allowed open channels of communication. But only a few months later, our relations with Russia plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine. Since then, we have undergone a deep and acute crisis in relations. My task has been to staunchly defend the EU’s values and interests while at the same time maintaining a bridge between Europe and Russia.

Russia is Pushing to Control Cyberspace. We Should All be Worried.

Russia’s cyber-meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been accompanied by what U.S. and European experts describe as a worrisome Kremlin campaign to rewrite the rules for global cyberspace. A draft of a Russian proposal for a new “United Nations Convention on Cooperation in Combating Information Crimes” was recently shown to me by a security expert who obtained a copy. The 54-page document includes 72 proposed articles, covering collection of Internet traffic by authorities, “codes of conduct” for cyberspace and “joint investigation” of malicious activity. The language sounds bureaucratic and harmless, but experts say that if adopted, it would allow Russia to squeeze cyberspace even more.

The unseen costs of dethroning 'rocket man'


As missiles and insults fly between Washington and Pyongyang, the world seems to be teetering dangerously close to resumption of the Korean War (which, technically, never ended). There has been a lot of analysis about what that war would look like from nuclear detonations to EMPs(electromagnetic pulses), to over 8,000 artillery pieces that target over 25 million residents in Seoul (which is over half the entire country’s population).

Is America Losing Its Credibility with the Middle East?

Amitai Etzioni

You should cringe whenever you hear that the United States is calling upon some government to do this or that, which happens very often these days. It usually means that the United States has found no way to convince, incentivize or pressure that government to do what needs to be done (from the viewpoint of the United States). Indeed, “calling upon” is often a public affairs cover-up for inaction. Thus, most recently Secretary of State Tillerson called upon the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq to “go home” now that the territorial war against the Islamic State is being won. It was unclear whether Tillerson was telling them to return to Iran or merely to their homes in Iraq. Although the militias are armed, guided and financed by Iran, the foot soldiers are Iraqi Shias. Still, the Iraqi prime minister did not even dignify the call with a courtesy demurral, something along the lines of “this is something to consider.” Instead, he stated flatly that the militias were “Iraqi patriots” and hence presumably to be venerated and maintained rather than disbanded.

Clash of Strategies: Capability Or Capacity, Today Or Tomorrow?


Army troops dismount their M2 Bradleys in a simulated assault.

As the Pentagon finishes its strategic review, the stage is set for another struggle over whether to ready for a high-end war with Russia or China or just manage the current, much lower intensity battles around the world.

In military terms it’s a choice between capability and capacity. The outcome will shape the four services modernization portfolios, the size of America’s military, and how ready our forces are to fight.

At U.N., Leaders Tell Tech Industry to Do More to Fight Terrorism


NEW YORK — British Prime Minister Theresa May called on technology firms to radically increase the speed with which they remove terrorist content from the internet after a series of terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom carried out by individuals who were radicalized online.

At a side event on Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly, the British leader said that recent terrorist attacks in Britain and beyond show how the Islamic State has used social media to spread its influence far beyond the borders of its self-described caliphate.

A Response to “Cyber Proficient Force 2015 & Beyond”: Why We Will Continue to Lose the Cyber War

by Robert Zager and John Zager

The United States is losing the cyberwar. We are losing the cyberwar because cyber defenses apply the wrong philosophy to the wrong operating environment. In order to be effective, future cyber defenses must be viewed in the context of an engagement between human adversaries.

There is strong evidence indicating the cyber intrusion of the DNC was the work of hackers working on behalf of Russian intelligence, US officials said this week.

The Problem of Distance in the Information Age

By James Waller

We live in an era of instant connection and instant communication. For instance, when news of a military incident breaks, within seconds it can be rebroadcast around the world. Within minutes commentators demand that something must be done. Yet the speed at which the news breaks means that in an era where information flow has made it is easy for a military’s higher headquarters to be kept abreast of every tactical incident, we forget that the flow of information vastly outpaces than the speed of military deployment.

Punching the Wrong Bag: The Deputy AG Enters the Crypto Wars

By Susan Landau

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave a rather remarkable speech on encryption two weeks ago. Arguing that encryption's creation of "warrant-proof" spaces is irresponsible, the deputy attorney general suggested that Silicon Valley is putting profits over public safety. On the surface, the dots in Rosenstein's statements line up. On closer inspection, however, there are large gaps in his argument from start to finish. Because the speech may herald the next salvo in the “Crypto Wars,” it is worth examining in detail.

Link – Does Army Culture Hinder our Ability to Produce Strategic Minds?

by Kelly Dunne

Professional Military Education (PME) has been a hot topic in Australian Army circles of late. As an organisation we are aiming to formalise PME to sharpen our cognitive edge, however in the past our professional development pursuits have largely been orientated towards practical training, with an unintended consequence of perhaps diluting the value of education itself.

Urban Battles May Mean Fricking Lasers, EW, Networks For Air Force


AFA: Two decades after the Marines predicted most warfare would be in urban areas, the Air Force is coming to the same conclusions. Simply put, the great majority of humans live in cities these days, and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein has added urban warfare to his list of top focus areas.

Part of the reason for increasing the emphasis on urban conflict, which isn’t something you might traditionally think of about the service that brings us fighters, bombers and satellites, is that the Air Force may not be well equipped to handle it.

The Video Game That Could Shape the Future of War


As far as video games go, Operation Overmatch is rather unremarkable. Players command military vehicles in eight-on-eight matches against the backdrop of rendered cityscapes—a common setup of games that sometimes have the added advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in development budgets. Overmatchdoes have something unique, though: its mission. The game’s developers believe it will change how the U.S. Army fights wars.

Time in War

By Phillip S Meilinger for National Defense University Press

In this article, Phillip Meilinger explores the crucial role time has played in warfare since antiquity, and how commanders and military thinkers have tried to harness it for their advantage. More specifically, Meilinger looks at 1) what notions of time matter most to military actors; 2) examples of the decisive impact time has played on the battlefield since Napoleon´s miscalculation about when battle would commence at Borodino in 1812; and 3) how the quest to ‘conquer time’ took on new vigor in warfare following the invention of the airplane.