5 May 2018

Petro-Goods Under GST Is Not Going To Happen, So Why Bull***T About It?

by R Jagannathan

Faced with media and opposition pressure to bring down fuel prices by cutting petroleum taxes, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been touting the need to bring petro-products under the goods and services tax (GST)It ain’t happening. While throwing in the red herring of GST may be a good diversionary tactic, it won’t work. Both Centre and states have too much revenue at stake to allow this to happen; and if petro-goods revenues must be protected even under GST, we will have an even more complicated GST structure than we now have. So, it is best to throw talk of petro-goods under GST out of the window. Outraging over high pump prices may give talking points for out-of-work former finance ministers like P Chidambaram, but it is neither good politics not good economics (for reasons why one says this, read here).

China-India Wuhan Summit April 2018: Competing Geopolitical Perspectives

By Dr Subhash Kapila

The China-India Informal Summit between Indian PM Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan, China on April 27-28 201 8 was high on hopes and media hype. Competing geopolitical ambitions, perspectives and politic narratives of China and India cannot be subsumed in hopes only. China-India relations could emerge as a global game-changer only when Chinese President Xi Jinping seizes a Nixonian-type moment by spinning China’s India policy on its head to put China on a more accommodative and respectful mode in its policy approaches to India. China has to come up with a dramatic geopolitical outreach to India completely divorced from existing policy templates.

In Canada, a Trade War Emerges

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No matter which party is in power in Ottawa or Edmonton, Canada and Alberta will be compelled to push for more pipeline options to unlock further growth for their energy exports. British Columbia's tendency to reject pipeline projects on environmental grounds will put it on a collision course with its neighbor and the federal government. While Alberta is threatening to cut off oil and fuel shipments to British Columbia, the courts will rule on the legality of such measures.

Taliban Control of Afghan Districts Remains Unchanged Despite Increased U.S. Military Pressure

Bill Roggio and Alexandra Gutowski

The latest report by the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) indicates that the Taliban’s control of districts as of the end of Jan. 2018 remains virtually unchanged. The Taliban continue to maintain its grip on half of Afghanistan, despite U.S. military’s reinvigorated effort to force the group from its strongholds. The U.S. Department of Defense and Resolute Support (RS), NATO’s command in Afghanistan, provides the district control data to SIGAR. SIGAR’s data is dated as of Jan. 31, 2018. According to the SIGAR report, the Afghan government controls or influences 229 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts (56.3%). The Taliban controls or influences 59 districts (14.5%). The remaining 119 districts (29.2%) are contested.

Will China Replace the US Global Role?

By Xue Li and Cheng Zhangxi

Our previous article suggested that China may be committed to building a world order governed by the ancient Chinese concept of li (礼). Such an order regards propriety as the key means to conducting relationships; is based on a concentric zone structure; and is open. While this order is compatible with the current international system, the majority of the members will be China’s neighboring countries, as well as a small number of countries from other continents. By the time this order is fully established, will China have replaced the global leadership role currently held by the United States? This depends on two factors. First, does China have such a desire? Second, does China have such a capacity?

Preparing for Future Food Needs, China Tries to Shed Its Past

Zach Montague 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese leaders have struggled with an age-old problem: how to feed a growing population with a small amount of arable land. Despite the country’s agrarian beginnings and the ideological importance of the farmer in Maoist thought, nagging concerns about efficiency, food security and sustainable agricultural development have never been fully resolved. Even as China has dazzled the world with its technological progress in cutting-edge fields like artificial intelligence, renewable energy and bioengineering, to the government’s dismay, China has been slow to make similar advances in farming despite boasting the largest agricultural output in the world. An aging population of small landholders using traditional techniques is still responsible for the vast majority of farming in China, and the country has been forced to rely on large imports of foreign crops to meet its needs. But after years of contingency plans and investment in new farming technology, China now appears to be showing signs of revamping its uniquely fragmented agricultural sector.

One Belt, One Road, One Happy Chinese Navy


The Changbai Shan, a Chinese amphibious warfare ship that’s taken advantage of commercial ports for resupply, Jan. 26, 2015. Chinese leaders tout their trillion-dollar Belt and Road project, especially in the Indian Ocean, as a win-win commercial proposition meant to bring modern infrastructure and prosperity to an underdeveloped part of the world. In reality, Beijing’s acquisition of more than a dozen ports across the Indian Ocean is a state-directed effort to bolster Chinese political influence and extend its military reach from Indonesia to East Africa, according to a detailed new study released Tuesday.

Faced With Chinese Expansion, Kazakhstan Seeks Alternative Energy Markets

By: Farkhad Sharip

It could be assumed that the intensifying trade war between the United States and China would cause economic slowdown in China and result, in the long run, in the drastic reduction of Chinese imports of energy resources from Kazakhstan. But in his recent interview to Kazakhstani media outlets, Chinese ambassador to Astana, Zhang Hanhui, dispelled these fears. Rather, Beijing’s emissary announced that his country intends to increase imports of oil, natural gas and metals, as well as agricultural produce and raw materials from Kazakhstan. In his words, the trade war with the US will not affect in any way import volumes. He stressed the importance of the speedy implementation of the Chinese-proposed project of economic integration of states around the Altay Mountains (including Kazakhstan, China, Russia and Mongolia), as he put it, “to build a new international economic corridor” (Kursiv.kz, April 13). Such integration may arguably boost Kazakhstan’s agricultural, transport and industrial sectors. However, given Astana’s and Beijing’s substantial divergence of interests and differing export strategies, this project seems hardly feasible for the oil and gas sector.

Artificial Intelligence: China’s High-Tech Ambitions

By Sophie-Charlotte Fischer for Center for Security Studies (CSS)

China aims to become the world’s premier artificial intelligence innovation center by 2030. But does Beijing have the innovation capacity and strategy in place to achieve this goal? In this article, Sophie-Charlotte Fischer responds. She contends that while the US is still the global leader in AI, China’s ambitions should not be underestimated. Further, this is not just because of the state support behind Beijing’s plans but as Washington lacks an AI strategy of its own. This CSS Analyses in Security Policy was originally published in February 2018 by the Center for Security Studies (CSS). It is also available in German and French.

What Happens to a Cruise Missile Captured by the Russians

By Joe Pappalardo

This week the Russian ministry of defense showed pictures of what it claimed to be remains of U.S. cruise missiles used during the recent airstrikes on Syria. “They are now being examined by our experts,” said Col. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy. “The results of this work will be used to improve Russian weapons.” The debris shown is far from conclusive evidence, so we can't take Rudskoy's claim at face value. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Russians did capture significant parts of a long-range cruise missile including Tomahawks. What could its engineers do with the remains?

Who are Iran's 80,000 'Shi'ite' Fighters in Syria?

by Seth Frantzman

There are 80,000 Shi’ite militiamen in Syria, trained and recruited by Iran, so it has been claimed. Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon displayed a map Thursday at the UN, asserting that some of them were being trained several kilometers from Damascus. “They are trained to commit acts of terror in Syria and across the region,” he said. Danon’s map shows the Imam Hossein Iranian garrison on the road from Damascus to Lebanon near Dayr Qanun. The figures presented by Danon have been picked up throughout the world. Asharq al-Awsat, Sputnik, The New Arab, The Daily Star in Lebanon and others have reported on it. Eighty thousand Iranian-backed militiamen in Syria affects the entire region and is a concern for countries that oppose Iranian influence spreading. Danon calls these fighters “extremists from all over the Middle East who are members of Shi’ite militias in Syria under Iranian control.”

Can North Korea Really Give Up Its Nukes?

By Rodger Baker

North Korea's diplomatic outreach again raises the possibility that it is willing to use its nuclear program as a bargaining chip. With an eye toward regime survival and eventual Korean unification, Pyongyang could trade away the public face of its nuclear weapons program. Having offered such a concession, North Korea will demand a lot more than an easing of sanctions by South Korea and the United States in return.

Moscow Plans New Arctic Port to Bypass Baltics and Ukraine

By: Paul Goble

Because oil and natural gas are Russia’s largest exports (Gks.ru, accessed April 3), it is entirely understandable that Moscow’s efforts to build pipelines to the West bypassing the three Baltic States and Ukraine continue to attract a great deal of attention. But much less attention has been given to Moscow’s new efforts to develop infrastructure intended to allow it to export coal to global markets by bypassing these same countries. If these Russian plans prove successful, they will deprive Ukraine and the Baltics of the transit fees they have long depended upon. Indeed, judging from the comments of Moscow officials, the Russian government is more interested in using such new routes to apply political leverage on at least some of these countries than it is in ensuring Russia’s economic interests.

Beyond Syria and Ukraine: Wagner PMC Expands Its Operations to Africa

By: Sergey Sukhankin

The terrible defeat suffered by forces of the Wagner Group private military company (PMC) at Deir el-Zour (Syria), in early February 2018 (see EDM, February 15, 20, April 19, 23), did not lead to the demise of this increasingly famous Russian PMC. On the contrary, it may be expanding its operational area to the African interior—in particular, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan. On April 20, the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) presented satellite images demonstrating that Wagner may have established a training camp on the territory of the CAR. The images also seemed to show Russian-produced equipment (notably, the Ural-4320 off-road vehicle) that had already been spotted in the Tunisian port of Sfax, allegedly on their way to Syria (Citeam.org, April 20).

Time for a New U.S. Foreign Policy Narrative

By Ian Bremmer and Joe Kennedy III

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump told a powerful story about the United States’ role in global affairs. It was a dramatic narrative full of free-riding allies, unchecked globalization, and nuclear brinkmanship. Refugees and immigrants were cast as villains, repressive regimes like Russia and China were regarded with admiration, and human rights and democratic freedoms were pushed to the sidelines. As a candidate, Trump painted a gloomy portrait of American weakness and decline, trends that he promised to reverse.

Defending hospitals against life-threatening cyberattacks

By: Mohammad S. Jalali

Like any large company, a modern hospital has hundreds – even thousands – of workers using countless computers, smartphones and other electronic devices that are vulnerable to security breaches, data thefts and ransomware attacks. But hospitals are unlike other companies in two important ways. They keep medical records, which are among the most sensitive data about people. And many hospital electronics help keep patients alive, monitoring vital signs, administering medications, and even breathing and pumping blood for those in the most dire conditions.

The promise and peril of military applications of artificial intelligence

Michael C. Horowitz

Artificial intelligence (AI) is having a moment in the national security space. While the public may still equate the notion of artificial intelligence in the military context with the humanoid robots of the Terminatorfranchise, there has been a significant growth in discussions about the national security consequences of artificial intelligence. These discussions span academia, business, and governments, from Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s concern about the existential risk to humanity posed by artificial intelligence to Tesla founder Elon Musk’s concern that artificial intelligence could trigger World War III to Vladimir Putin’s statement that leadership in AI will be essential to global power in the 21st century.

Defense panels want the Pentagon to form a cyber reserve team to help states

By: Mark Pomerleau and Joe Gould  

The House Armed Services subcommittee wants to study the possibility of establishing cyber reserve components for each state that could also provide cyber support to civilian agencies. In a draft version of the annual defense policy bill released April 25 by the HASC subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, lawmakers requested a study on the feasibility, advisability, and necessity of a reserve cyber team for each state. As part of the study, the committee directs DoD to consider a series of tasks, including responding to major network attacks, and gauging the U.S. cyber workforce capacity for both homeland defense and national power.

The Digital Vigilantes Who Hack Back

By Nicholas Schmidle

American companies that fall victim to data breaches want to retaliate against the culprits. But can they do so without breaking the law? Estimates suggest that ninety per cent of American companies have been hacked. Illustration by Golden Cosmos One day in the summer of 2003, Shawn Carpenter, a security analyst in New Mexico, went to Florida on a secret mission. Carpenter, then thirty-five, worked at Sandia National Laboratories, in Albuquerque, on a cybersecurity team. At the time, Sandia was managed by the defense contractor Lockheed Martin. When hundreds of computers at Lockheed Martin’s office in Orlando suddenly started crashing, Carpenter and his team got on the next flight.

Cybersecurity and the New Era of Space Activities

by David P. Fidler

Governments, critical infrastructure, and economies rely on space-dependent services—for example, the Global Positioning System (GPS)—that are vulnerable to hostile cyber operations. However, few spacefaring states and companies have paid any attention to the cybersecurity of satellites in outer space, creating a number of risks. A Tesla Roadster automobile floats through space after it was carried there by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.


Leap-Ahead Technologies: Could They Be the Army's Undoing?

By 2025, the Army sees ground troops conducting foot patrols in urban terrain with robots -- called Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport vehicles -- that carry rucksacks and other equipment. (US Army image)  Prototype 1 of the Non-Line of Sight Cannon was unveiled June 11, 2008 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The weapon was part of the Army's Future Combat Systems modernization program -- cancelled in 2009. (US Army photo/C. Todd Lopez) 



Israel is reportedly preparing for a direct military attack by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). These preparations come in light of the rising tensions between the two countries in Syria. It began in February when an Iranian drone flew into Israeli airspace and Israeli jets responded by attacking Iran’s T-4 airbase near Homs in central Syria that were shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire. The most recent incident occurred on April 9 when Israel struck the T-4 airbase again, which led to the deaths of seven members of the IRGC. In reference to the latter incident, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to the Iranian Supreme Leader, stated that Israel “should be waiting for a powerful response.” However, in order to determine how Iran might retaliate against Israel, it is important consider Iran’s military strategy throughout the broader region.

War, Business and ‘Hybrid’ Warfare: The Case of the Wagner Private Military Company (Part Two)

By: Sergey Sukhankin

On March 28, Russian media presented information that members of the Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner may have been spotted in the East Ghouta region (southwestern Syria), coordinating a “normalization of the post-war situation.” The same sources also claimed that Wagner forces are currently involved in fighting on the side of Omar al-Bashir in South Sudan (Lenta.ru, March 28). This information might have crucial meaning in ascertaining both the actual and prospective tasks performed by Wagner versus other Russian PMCs (see Part One, EDM, April 19).

Make Your Guiding Principles Useful

Early in my first tour in the Army I received a copy of an unusual document I’d never come across before. Two sides of A4, typed and headed; it was the Commanding Officer’s Command Philosophy. ‘His philosophy?’, I thought. ‘Does he think he’s Plato?’ Since then I’ve wised up. I’ve seen many more command philosophies, company directives and regimental ethoses. Some have been good enough that I’ve saved copies ready to perhaps use myself one day. The reality is that when you reach a certain level of leadership you need to communicate in writing how you want the team to work and what you want the team to value.

Demographics of the U.S. Military

by George M. Reynolds and Amanda Shendruk

Deployed around the world, the armed forces are a pillar of U.S. power and influence abroad. But many civilians are unfamiliar with their composition. How much does the military resemble U.S. society at large? Today, women represent 16 percent of the enlisted forces, and 18 percent of the officer corps. Ismael Ortega/U.S. The United States ended the draft for military service in 1973, transitioning to the all-volunteer force that exists today. At the time, the active component of the military comprised 2.2 million men and women. Now, this group comprises just under 1.29 million, or less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. population. Who are they? Where are they from? How diverse are they? Let’s dive into the demographics.