11 December 2017

India’s strategic unicorn in Chabahar

The security dimension of Chabahar is based on a preferential approach towards Indian interests rather than one based on exclusivity by Iran

File photo of the Chabahar port. It is imperative to remember that Chabahar is an SEZ and not an exclusive project handed over to India. Photo: AP

India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, made an unscheduled stop in Tehran on her way back from Russia, weeks after India flagged off the first shipments of wheat to Afghanistan using the much anticipated Chabahar port, on Iran’s south-eastern seaboard. The port, inaugurated by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani a day after Swaraj’s visit, is marketed as a strategic home run by New Delhi. However, after more than a decade of abstraction, the very concept of “strategy” eludes this flagship undertaking.

Delhi and Tehran have maintained amicable and warm ties throughout times of challenges and global uncertainties. Chabahar has, in a strange way, become a metric to gauge how close the two countries have remained during times of crisis over Western sanctions on Iran, and India’s votes against the country at the UN under American duress. Perhaps, as a reaction, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for the first time in seven years, this June flagged Kashmir as a place where “tyrants” are oppressing Muslims, initiating one of many micro-diplomatic crises that crop up between the two countries at regular intervals.

The recent upticks in Chabahar and its access to Afghanistan, bypassing the conundrum of Pakistan that obstructs both Delhi and Kabul, is a positive and long overdue achievement. It solidifies the often contentious relations between the two countries over India’s economic commitments in Iran, which go beyond the port project. It is imperative to remember here that Chabahar is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) and not an exclusive project handed over to India, and Iran has reiterated this point multiple times. In 2016, Delhi offered to invest $20 billion in Iran, money that many highlight it doesn’t have. Compared to Beijing’s already full control of Gwadar, China has already activated a $10 billion credit line to Tehran, with another $15 billion one close to fruition. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as per Iranian officials quoted in the media, has been successful in taking large chunks of projects away from Western companies, with some estimates suggesting Beijing is now controlling double the amount of annual Iran-European Union annual trade ($10 billion, as per figures from the first half of 2017) with Tehran.

However, Chabahar has got an altogether different lease of life in the Indian discourse compared to the Iranian one. India’s access to Chabahar is predominantly seen as a counter-balance to the port of Gwadar, on the south-western coast of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, run almost entirely by China as a part of its expansive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In fact, Chabahar and Gwadar even have a sister-cities agreement, promoting trade and people-to-people ties between the ports even as New Delhi pitches the two against each other.

India’s fears stem from the possibility of a build-up of Chinese naval presence in the near future, with China committing around $60 billion in infrastructure investments in Pakistan. Some analysts believe the protection of this vast investment will lead China to increase its military footprint in the seas around South Asia. To put it in perspective, 2013 saw no Chinese naval submarines in the waters of the Indian Ocean, while this has jumped to an average of seven-eight such ships in 2017. While these movements include anti-piracy operations, it raises the question of why submarines are required to tackle glorified tugboats and modified motorboats off the African coast. These movements, of course, are now backed further by Beijing’s first overseas permanent military installation in Djibouti, where the Chinese conducted their first live-fire exercises last month. The probability of such a build-up weighs heavy on Indian strategists’ minds, and Chabahar is often seen as the ideal balancing option. The realities in India’s Chabahar thrust have been different. Beyond economic feasibility, the strategic bogey has limited functionalities as a hypothesis.

Despite both India and Iran peddling the overhyped narrative of “civilizational ties” being the bedrock of the bilateral relationship, it is, in fact, hard, unemotional economics that drives the engagement. Iran, which has a reputation of being a difficult friend and customer, sanctions or no sanctions, has also not made things easy for New Delhi and its successive governments. The trade of hydrocarbons is the largest chunk of Indo-Iranian ties, and, at the peak of American sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme, India had the hard task of balancing American pressure in order to minimize any long-term damage between the two countries as Iran pushed for financial clearances from India to the tune of nearly $6 billion in pending oil payments. Even as India informed Iran of its inability to do so, due to sanctions, the then government of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad persisted, often threatening New Delhi that it could lose stakes in projects such as Chabahar port, the Farzad B gas field and so on if it did not defy Washington.

Emerging from those times relatively unscathed, India has managed to keep its foot in the door to protect its interests and revived the narrative of Chabahar’s importance. However, the security dimension is based on a preferential approach towards Indian interests rather than one based on exclusivity by Tehran, making it much more of a high stakes game for New Delhi, which does not have a mature grand-strategy design around its foreign policy.

The Mullah-Military Takeover of Pakistan

By Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

A Musharraf-Saeed alliance could provide the political face of the mullah-military takeover underway in Pakistan. 

It might still be premature to read too much into former military dictator Gen (R) Pervez Musharraf talking about a political alliance with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its offshoot Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). Not because these groups are officially banned in Pakistan, but because Musharraf is a largely irrelevant political entity these days.

However, events of recent weeks suggest that the unlikely merger of the Musharraf-led “grand alliance of 23 political parties” with the Hafiz Saeed-led proscribed groups would perfectly symbolize the mullah-military takeover of Pakistan.

As the Siang river in Arunachal turns black, China is the usual suspect. But is it really to blame?

by Arunabh Saikia

The Siang river, Arunachal Pradesh’s primary water source, has turned black in the past two months, baffling residents. The Siang is the main tributary of the Brahmaputra river that connects to the Yarlung Tsangpo, as the Brahmaputra is called in Tibet, where it originates.

According to a report prepared by the state’s public health engineering department, the turbidity level of the Siang’s waters is several times higher than the permissible limit. Bimal Welly, an executive engineer in the department, said a sample he tested on November 27 showed a Nephelometric Turbidity Unit – a measure of the concentration of suspended particulates in a liquid – of 425. Permissible turbidity for potable water is 5.

The U.S. and China Need to Start Cooperating in Space

By Cody Knipfer

Outer space, once a technological “battleground” between competing Cold War superpowers, is today an increasingly vibrant area of economic activity, scientific research, and exploration. Even among peer competitors, the incentive for cooperative interaction in space, rather than adversarial competition, is strategically compelling: working together builds mutual trust and confidence, prevents misunderstandings, and enables partners to collectively support each other in achieving common goals. Pursuing cooperation today is important, given the heightened value of space to a broader number of stakeholders than was the case in decades past.

What makes the China-Russia relationship tick?

By Catherine Putz

Russia, a superpower a little past its prime, and China, a superpower ascendant, make an interesting match. Their relationship is not quite equal, Michał Lubina, an assistant professor at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, argues in his recent book, Russia and China: A Political Marriage of Convenience – Stable and Successful. But while it’s an asymmetric relationship, Lubina tells The Diplomat, it’s still a “win-win.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The subtitle of your book describes the Russia-China relationship as a political “marriage of convenience.” What does Russia bring to the marriage? What does China?

Artificial Intelligence and Chinese Power Beijing's Push for a Smart Military—and How to Respond

By Elsa B. Kania

The United States’ technological sophistication has long supported its military predominance. In the 1990s, the U.S. military started to hold an uncontested advantage over its adversaries in the technologies of information-age warfare—from stealth and precision weapons to high-tech sensors and command-and-control systems. Those technologies remain critical to its forces today.

For years, China has closely watched the United States’ progress, developing asymmetric tools—including space, cyber, and electronic capabilities—that exploit the U.S. military’s vulnerabilities. Today, however, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is pursuing innovations in many of the same emerging technologies that the U.S. military has itself prioritized. Artificial intelligence is chief among these.

How North Korea recruits its army of young hackers


SEOUL, South Korea — Teenage math whiz Ri Jong Yol was a solid candidate to join Kim Jong Un's army of elite hackers.

He had just won silver for the third year in a row at the world's premier high school mathematics championship, the International Mathematical Olympiad, which was held in Hong Kong in 2016.

But the night before he was supposed to return to North Korea with his team, the 18-year-old walked off the campus of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and defected.

Where the North Korean Crisis Meets the Iran Nuclear Deal

By Reva Goujon

By virtue of its military might, the United States has the unique ability to quickly — and credibly — place its most intractable adversaries under existential threat. Command over the world's most powerful military gives a country options, and the option of regime change can be a tempting one for Washington as it tries to work through some of its more maddening foreign policy dilemmas.

A government living under the constant, lurking threat of decapitation does not particularly enjoy stewing in its own paranoia over what social fissures its enemies can exploit, which allies they can turn and what chain of events could finally push the United States into action. That's why a nuclear deterrent is such an alluring prospect: What better way to kill your adversaries' fantasy of regime change than to stand with them as near-equals on a nuclear plane?

Britain and Europe’s Messy Divorce

By George Friedman

A divorce can be nasty business. In most cases, one party wants to leave and the other party wants them to stay. In some cases, one side makes threats – normally financial in nature – that would prove disastrous to both. In the worst cases, children are used as weapons to hurt the other. A divorce is a form of madness where rage dominates, and both sides are often willing to destroy everything just to keep the other from getting what they want.

The United Kingdom filed for divorce from the European Union a little over 17 months ago. The EU wants the breakup to hurt the U.K., even if it hurts the EU in the process. In fact, in its delusional madness, Brussels is saying the union won’t be hurt by the loss of Europe’s second-largest economy. The British, as the side that started the divorce, has mixed feelings on it. It swings from empathetic to vindictive.

The Economic Noose Is Tightening on North Korea and Other NK Security News

The increasing economic sanctions on North Korea have shown up in rapidly growing demands (many of them illegal) for bribes. Kim Jong Un appears to have bet everything on the ability to build a convincing nuclear threat that would eventually result in a huge financial payoff as his enemies submit to his demands and pay for peace. Apparently it is considered treason for anyone to point out that this will not work, that none of the intended extortion (the United States, South Korea and Japan) have shown any inclination to pay. In fact, all three have become more bellicose and threatening. Both South Korea and Japan are openly discussing “going nuclear” (building nuclear weapons, something both of these technological superpowers could easily do) and upgrading their armed forces in general. This annoys the last two local allies North Korea has (China and Russia) who have their own disputes with South Korea and Japan and prefer their opponents to be less well armed and aggressive.

The Problem With Building a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

The media is abuzz with speculation that one of U.S. President Donald Trump's first orders of business in office will be to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Actually doing such a thing, however, is not as easy at it may appear. A relocation would not sit well with Palestinians, who also lay claim to the holy city, nor would it be welcomed by countries such as Jordan and Egypt that have struggled to juggle friendly ties with the Palestinian territories, Israel and the United States. And no matter how well-protected the embassy itself may be, stoking ethnic and religious tension by transferring the diplomatic site to Jerusalem could bring U.S. missions and citizens in the restive region directly into the line of fire.

NATO´s Framework Nation Concept

By Rainer L Glatz and Martin Zapfe 

According to Rainer L Glatz and Martin Zapfe, NATO’s Framework Nations Concept (FNC) currently serves as a practical guideline for defense cooperation within the Alliance. But what does the FNC, with its emphasis on national sovereignty, actually mean for defense cooperation? To help provide an answer, Glatz and Zapfe here review 1) the three different FNC approaches that exist within NATO; 2) the opportunities and limits of the FNC; and 3) how the FNC’s approach to cooperation might be especially attractive to states that are not NATO members.

Within NATO, the so-called “Framework Nations Concept” is currently one of the driving paradigms of multinational defense cooperation. All nations retain full sovereignty, and no “European army” is in sight. This opens the concept to non-member states.

The African Union’s Chequered History with Military Coups

By Liesl Louw-Vaudran

In the aftermath of the intervention by the military in Zimbabwe that led to yesterday’s resignation of President Robert Mugabe, there was a strong call from Zimbabweans for the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to not get involved.

Zimbabwean newspaper mogul Trevor Ncube, for example, launched a series of tweets with the hashtag #SADCBackOffZim. Zimbabwean author and journalist Peter Godwin tweeted: ‘There is a special place in hell for anyone – SADC, Zuma, AU – that tries to get between a scorned dictator and his people. Zimbabwe has been cheated of real change before; it can’t be allowed to happen again.’

Countdown To A Bubble Burst?

by Shanmuganathan Nagasundaram

The US economy is sitting on a gigantic bubble and it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. 

Nearly a decade after Ben Bernanke, then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, announcing Quantitative Easing (QE) in 2008, we are close to the beginning of the reversal of the QE programme. The Fed under Janet Yellen has communicated along these lines and this narrative has been largely taken at face value by the markets.

The Pentagon’s new tech focus: micro-electronics, hypersonics, and cyber

By: Amber Corrin 

Defense Department leaders want to equip troops with high technology as much focus — and much money — is now going toward modernization and innovation. But against a backdrop of struggles with readiness after more than 16 years of war, can the military both prepare for war and offer leading-edge tools to fight it?

The answer has not always been “yes.” But officials are serious about changing that, focusing on research and development that fosters U.S. military dominance, according to Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

US Strategic Command wants weapons to jam adversary drones

By: Michael Peck 

ELTA North America has been awarded a contract through the Air Force for adaptive anti-drone equipment.

Under the undefinitized contract action, not to exceed $39.2 million, ELTA will provide “counter-unmanned aerial systems in support of U.S. Strategic Command joint emergent operational needs,” according to the Department of Defense contract announcement.

The detection and disruption mechanisms would cause a hostile UAS to crash or be confused and return to its base.

The Defense Policies of Italy and Poland: A Comparison

By Daniel Keohane

Much of the current discussion about European defense, no matter the format, revolves around the ‘big three’: France, Germany and the UK. However, Daniel Keohane argues that Italy and Poland deserve more attention as they are both frontline states for EU and NATO security. As a result, in this article Keohane provides an insight into Poland and Italy’s national defense policies by comparing their 1) geostrategic outlooks; 2) defense operations, capabilities and spending; and 3) positions on military cooperation through NATO and the EU.

Italy and Poland are both frontline states for EU and NATO security. They also represent the two main operational priorities for European military cooperation: defending NATO territory in Eastern Europe, and intervening to stabilize conflict-racked countries south of the EU.

The Word Cyber Now Means Everything—and Nothing At All

By James Shires and Max Smeets

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment, but what does it actually mean? Is she suggesting that companies should invest in data breach insurance? That governments should build new weapons? That police should have better decryption tools? That tech companies should write safer code, especially for critical infrastructure? That international differences in internet governance must be resolved? That individual citizens should review their online behavior? Or all of the above?

The problem is in the word cyber. At first, the word’s flexibility was a good thing—it helped raise awareness and offered an accessible gateway to discussing all kinds of security. But it has now become an obstacle to articulating credible solutions.



Why do all hackers wear hoodies? A quick Google image search for terms “hacker” or “cyber” will give you a range of abstract stock photos of men (almost never women) in hoodies, along with incoherent codes (usually Python script) in the background or foreground. Usually, these abstract stock images are accompanied by either circuit board or world map artworks, adding to the nonsensicality of the visual imagination of cyberspace. CNN asked the same question in May 2017, exploring the stereotypical representations of programmers, cybersecurity professionals, or “hacktivists” with a hoodie or occasional Guy Fawkes mask in stock photos, Hollywood movies or popular series. After all, there must be a reason why Eliott in Mr. Robot puts on his hoodie when he’s stressed out, or about to embark on a shady adventure.

Protecting secret networks means being more open about threats

By: Mark Pomerleau 

An unclassified version of the government's threat framework is allowing vendors a glimpse into adversary behaviors, allowing for better network detection, protection and response.

How can the proper solutions and mitigations be put in place without understanding threats facing networks?

That was part of the thinking behind packaging an unclassified version of a years-long review of the Department of Defense’s network for the vendor community.

DoD spent $7.4 billion on big data, AI and the cloud last year. Is that enough?

By: Amber Corrin 

Lt. Bret Andrews, assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), stands officer of the deck watch in the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Fleet Integrated Synthetic Training and Testing Facility (FIST2FAC) operated by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division Keyport, located on Ford Island, Hawaii. FIST2FAC allows Sailors to interact with artificially intelligent synthetic forces in verious settings. 

Spurred by a desire to overmatch future foes with modern technology, the Defense Department is boosting investment in core tech areas such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing. While spending in those three areas reached more than $7 billion in 2017 – a 32 percent increase over five years ago – anything short of a technological revolution could threaten the United States, according to a new report.