20 May 2018

India’s Nepal challenge

Brahma Chellaney

Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his New Delhi visit in April 2018. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the right decision to visit Nepal, just weeks after he hosted his Nepalese counterpart, Khadga Prasad Oli, who chose India for his first foreign trip. New Delhi’s traditionally close relationship with Kathmandu is today in need of urgent repair, in part because of the Modi government’s missteps in the past couple of years and because of the election of a China-backed communist coalition in Nepal. Landlocked Nepal has lurched from one crisis to another for more than two decades. Ever since it embarked on a democratic transition, it has been in severe political flux. It is too early to say if the Oli government will be able to bring political stability. The promise of an early merger of the two main Communist parties that have formed the government has given way to protracted negotiations and public squabbling.

The Nehruvian Style of Modi’s Foreign Policy

Brahma Chellaney

In the four years that he has been in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has animated domestic politics in India and the country’s foreign policy by departing often from conventional methods and shibboleths. As he focuses on winning the next general election, the key question is whether the Modi era will mark a defining moment for India, just as Xi Jinping’s ascension to power has been for China. The answer to that question is still not clear. What is clear, however, is that Modi’s stint in office has clearly changed Indian politics and diplomacy. In domestic politics, Modi has a stronger record: He has led the Bharatiya Janata Party to a string of victories in elections in a number of states, making his party the largest political force in the country by far. Under his leadership, the traditionally urban-focused BJP has significantly expanded its base in rural areas and among the socially disadvantaged classes and spread to the country’s eastern and southern regions. His skills as a political tactician steeped in cold-eyed pragmatism have held him in good stead. Modi, however, has become increasingly polarizing. Consequently, Indian democracy today is probably as divided and polarized as US democracy.

Taliban’s 2018 Offensive Encompasses All Regions of Afghanistan

By Bill Roggio

The Taliban’s 2018 offensive, which it calls Al Khandaq Jihadi operations, has targeted Afghan government forces in nearly all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. While Afghan security forces appear to be focusing on Taliban forces in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar – the birthplace of the Taliban and its traditional strongholds – the jihadist group is effectively counterattacking in the other regions of Afghanistan. The Taliban appears to maintain the initiative throughout Afghanistan, while the Afghan military is forced to react to Taliban offensives, such as the latest incursion into Farah City. Since the beginning of Al Khandaq Jihadi operations, the Taliban has overrun five district centers in Badakhshan, Badghis, Faryab, Ghazni, and Kunduz. These provinces span the western, northern, and southern Afghanistan.

China Tries to Bring Pakistan, Afghanistan Closer

Ayaz Gul

China has proposed hosting a new round of three-way talks with Pakistan and Afghanistan this month to continue with its diplomatic push in helping the two neighboring countries improve their strained bilateral ties. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing told an unofficial conference of government representatives and experts from the three countries in Islamabad on Tuesday that Beijing had initiated the trilateral vice foreign ministers-level dialogue in 2015. He said that since then, several rounds of talks have taken place, with the mission of easing Kabul's tensions with Islamabad and promoting security, counterterrorism and economic cooperation among the three nations.

GE14 And Its Aftermath: Enter Malaysia’s New Political Order – Analysis

By Yang Razali Kassim*

Days after the political earthquake of a general election on 9 May, Anwar Ibrahim declared Malaysia “on the verge of a new golden era”. Will it be a mere change of government or a political transition to a new order? In the wake of the seismic change that was Malaysia’s 14th general election on 9 May 2018, two aftershocks are now playing out. The first, amid the euphoria of victory, sees the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition taking ground-breaking but cautious steps to put in place not just a new government but also the seeds of what could be a new political order. The second, as part of this changed landscape, sees the defeated Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition bracing for an unfamiliar and uncertain future, with its anchor party, UMNO, under threat of deregistration.

The Role of Political Leaders

By George Friedman
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Regardless of the issue, many people seem obsessed with the question of what political leaders will do next. Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un and many others are expected to make the decisions that will determine the course our lives. It’s a comforting thought – we want someone to be in control, someone to praise or blame, someone to analyze and psychoanalyze. The world is too vast, impersonal and unknowable to face without the belief that someone – a leader or perhaps in some cases a hidden conspiracy – is causing the events that shape our lives. And politicians seeking power nurture the idea that they are uniquely qualified to guide millions or hundreds of millions to happiness. Monarchs want to rule, and we want monarchs to rule. This model of political power cushions reality but falsifies it as well.

RIP the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, 1945-2018


The Atlantic alliance, built to contain the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, began to die when the Cold War ended. What kept it alive over the last three decades has been less strategic necessity than a convergence of values — the values of the liberal postwar order. Now, the senior partner of the alliance, the United States, has lost interest in those values. The alliance was already a corpse, but Donald Trump drove the last nail into its coffin when he decided this week to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran.

Trump is wrong over Iran, but Europe can’t afford to divorce the US

Bruno Tertrais

In 2003 a US-led war in the Middle East fractured western unity and divided the European family. It was a trauma of historic proportions, a watershed in some ways comparable to the 1956 Suez crisis. With Donald Trump’s decision on Iran, we may be on the verge of another such moment. On the surface, things may not look as bad as they did in early 2003. At this point, US military action against Iran is a worst-case hypothesis – not a plan. No 180,000-strong force is being built up near Iranian territory. Nor are Europeans split into two camps. In this current crisis, and despite Brexit, Europeans look like they’re sticking together.

The Iran Deal Exposes Europe’s Weaknesses as a Global Power

Judah Grunstein

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Last week, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, German Chancellor Angela Merkel solemnly declared that from now on Europe would have to take its destinyin its own hands. It’s hard to disagree with Merkel. But that was already true the first time she expressed the sentiment in May 2017, in the aftermath of Trump’s first visit to Europe as president. In the meantime, Europe has not done anything to fundamentally address the challenge of managing trans-Atlantic relations under Trump. As a result, a week after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—it is becoming increasingly clear that Europe will be hard pressed to back up its outrage with actions to defend the agreement—and its interests. ...

The U.S. Army Could Revolutionize Long-Range Fires

In kick-starting its efforts to prepare for future high-end conflicts, late last year the U.S. Army identified six modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, the Network, Air and Missile Defense and Soldier Lethality. To support this plan, the Army stood up Cross-Functional Teams (CFTs) for each of these areas focused on speeding up the process of developing requirements and ensuring that the programs in each of these areas are achievable, affordable and effective. The bulk of the Army’s Science and Technology resources were refocused on these six priorities.

The Necessary U.S. Response to Russia’s Nuclear Doctrine

By Bradley A. Thayer

After decades of neglect, the decline of the United States’ nuclear arsenal is being addressed by the Pentagon. This is driven in large measure by the growth and modernization of the Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals. Their nuclear doctrines are salient as well. While Chinese nuclear doctrine remains deliberately opaque—which is, in itself, worrisome and a threat to strategic stability—Russian doctrine and statements from officials have emphasized the need to maintain their nuclear arsenal and evinced a willingness to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. 

Should the U.S. Break Up Amazon?


Introducing Crazy/Genius, a new podcast from The Atlantic with Derek Thompson. Eight bold questions—and eight smart answers—about how tech is changing the world. Listen and subscribe to the podcast. Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.  There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition. So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both? That’s the subject of the latest episode of Crazy/Genius, our new podcast on technology and culture.

The most important — but least discussed — consequence of Trump’s foreign policy

By David Ignatius 
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President Trump’s dismissive treatment of Europe is beginning to erode the transatlantic alliance, which for many decades has been the central pillar of U.S. national security policy. The growing European-American rift may be the most important but least discussed consequence of Trump’s foreign policy. His disruptive style is usually seen as destabilizing to distant adversaries in Pyongyang, Tehran and Beijing. But the diplomatic bombs have also been exploding here in the capital of the European Union — as well as in Paris, Berlin and London — and they appear to be causing real damage.

Russian air defenses were beaten badly by Israeli forces in Syria on video - here are its excuses


Moscow offered two explanations on Monday as to why Russian-made Pantsir S-1 missile defense system took a direct hit during an Israeli airstrike last week. "One is that it had already used up its ammunition reserve," Aytech Bizhev, the former deputy commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, said, according to RT. "The other is that it was simply turned off; it wasn't battle ready." Whatever the reason, the incident wasn't good advertizing for the Russian system. Moscow offered two explanations on Monday as to why its Russian-made Pantsir S-1 missile defense system embarrassingly took a direct hit during an Israeli airstrike last week.

Russian Analytical Digest No 219: Russia in the Middle East

By Mark N Katz and Nikolay Kozahanov for Center for Security Studies (CSS)

In this edition of the RAD, Mark N Katz first examines how President Putin’s Russia seeks to maintain good relations with multiple actors in the Middle East that consider one another as adversaries, and the limits to this policy. Nikolay Kozhanov then considers the Russia-Saudi Arabia relationship, noting that the efforts to promote better relations between the two have not as yet been derailed by various stress-tests in their relations. The two articles featured here were originally published by the Center for Security Studies (CSS) in the Russian Analytical Digest on 3 May 2018.

Violence in Gaza: “An Ugly Witch’s Brew”

Since the United States declared the opening of its new embassy in Jerusalem, violence has broken out along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, where thousands of protesters have gathered for months for what they have dubbed “The Great March of Return” [to Israel]. Earlier this week, Israeli troops fired into the crowd from across the border fence, killing at least 58 Palestinians and wounding more than 2,700. Israel has faced international backlash for its heavy-handed approach to the protests, including Turkey expelling its ambassador and a number of countries calling for an investigation of the bloodshed. However, what’s just as interesting is which voices are missing in the conversation.

Panel: U.S. Needs Non-Military Options to Handle ‘Gray Zone’ Warfare from Russia, China, Iran

By: John Grady

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) conducts routine patrols in international waters of the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands as the People’s Liberation Army-Navy [PLA(N)] guided-missile frigate Yancheng (FFG 546) sails close behind, on May 11, 2015. US Navy photo.The United States is nowhere close to deterring Russia from spreading fake news, disinformation, and propaganda through social media, or even convincing the American public that such a Kremlin campaign to drive wedges through society exists, a panel of “gray zone” warfare experts said Tuesday.

Perception and Misperception on the Korean Peninsula

By Robert Jervis and Mira Rapp-Hooper

North Korea has all but completed its quest for nuclear weapons. It has demonstrated its ability to produce boosted-fission bombs and may be able to make fusion ones, as well. It can likely miniaturize them to fit atop a missile. And it will soon be able to deliver this payload to the continental United States. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has declared his country’s nuclear deterrent complete and, despite his willingness to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump, is unlikely to give it up. Yet Washington continues to demand that Pyongyang relinquish the nuclear weapons it already has, and the Trump administration has pledged that the North Korean regime will never acquire a nuclear missile that can hit the United States. The result is a new, more dangerous phase in the U.S.–North Korean relationship: a high-stakes nuclear standoff.

Google's march to the business of war must be stopped

Lucy Suchman, Lilly Irani and Peter Asaro

‘Should Google proceed despite moral and ethical opposition by several thousand of its own employees?’ A US remotely piloted aircraft in Iraq, 2015. Project Maven uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyse the vast amount of footage shot by US drones. Should Google, a global company with intimate access to the lives of billions, use its technology to bolster one country’s military dominance? Should it use its state of the art artificial intelligence technologies, its best engineers, its cloud computing services, and the vast personal data that it collects to contribute to programs that advance the development of autonomous weapons? Should it proceed despite moral and ethical opposition by several thousand of its own employees?

White House eliminates top cyber adviser post


The Trump administration has eliminated the White House’s top cyber policy role, jettisoning a key position created during the Obama presidency to harmonize the government's overall approach to cybersecurity policy and digital warfare. POLITICO first reported last week that John Bolton, President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, was maneuvering to cut the cyber coordinator role, in a move that many experts and former government officials criticized as a major step backward for federal cybersecurity policy. According to an email sent to National Security Council staffers Tuesday, the decision is part of an effort to “streamline authority” for the senior directors who lead most NSC teams. “The role of cyber coordinator will end,” Christine Samuelian, an aide to Bolton, wrote in the email to NSC employees, which POLITICO obtained from a former U.S. official.

Who Can Spy the Best?

By Vickie Zisman

Well, in the wake of all Facebook scandals, it’s an appropriate title, isn’t it? And the answer to the question is? – Neither; because the best spies go undetected. Social networks are a treasure trove of information – both junk and useful combined. Facebook has profited from it immensely, as I suppose has its Internet peers: Google, Twitter “and the rest”. But, what the recent scandal showed is that their profit is our loss. I will not regurgitate all the info that leaked out since FB gross misconduct surfaced, however, I would like to focus on the solutions – to combat potentially harmful criminal activity and facilitate greater business efficiency on the Net. Cyber Intelligence is a field generally wrapped in an aura of mystery and a Q style brilliance. I would like to take dispel this claim – and translate it into practical tools and applications. Namely, how you safeguard Public Safety and execute a preventive strike to potentially hostile elements lurking on the NET and various other applications. I refer to OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) tools only.

Spies Are Going After US Supply Chains, Intel Agencies Say


President Trump astounded many in Washington on Sunday by vowing to rescue ZTE, the Chinese manufacturer whose mobile phones are viewed as a security threat by the U.S. intelligence community. America’s own spies have been warning that China and other potential adversaries might seek to weaken U.S.security through the electronic goods and services it buys. “The most critical CI threats cut across these threat actors: influence operations, critical infrastructure, supply chain, and traditional as well as economic espionage. Regional actors such as Iran and North Korea, and nonstate actors such as terrorist groups, transnational criminal organizations, and hackers/hacktivists are growing in intent and capability,” William Evanina, who leads the National Counterintelligence Security Center, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. “For example, a growing set of threat actors are now capable of using cyber operations to remotely access traditional intelligence targets, as well as a broader set of U.S. targets including critical infrastructure and supply chain, often without attribution.”

Service Meant to Monitor Inmates’ Calls Could Track You, Too

By Jennifer Valentino-DeVries

Thousands of jails and prisons across the United States use a company called Securus Technologies to provide and monitor calls to inmates. But the former sheriff of Mississippi County, Mo., used a lesser-known Securus service to track people’s cellphones, including those of other officers, without court orders, according to charges filed against him in state and federal court. The service can find the whereabouts of almost any cellphone in the country within seconds. It does this by going through a system typically used by marketers and other companies to get location data from major cellphone carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, documents show.

Hacker Breaches Securus, the Company That Helps Cops Track Phones Across the US

Joseph Cox

A hacker has broken into the servers of Securus, a company that allows law enforcement to easily track nearly any phone across the country, and which a US Senator has exhorted federal authorities to investigate. The hacker has provided some of the stolen data to Motherboard, including usernames and poorly secured passwords for thousands of Securus’ law enforcement customers. Although it’s not clear how many of these customers are using Securus’s phone geolocation service, the news still signals the incredibly lax security of a company that is granting law enforcement exceptional power to surveill individuals. “Location aggregators are—from the point of view of adversarial intelligence agencies—one of the juiciest hacking targets imaginable,” Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University, told Motherboard in an online chat.

Army asks industry for enabling technologies to detect explosive chemicals at standoff ranges

By John Keller 

abnormal behaviors, chemicals, and vapors that could indicate the presence of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) at standoffdistances. Officials of the Army Contracting Command, on behalf of the Army product manager for force protection systems (PdM-FPS) at Fort Belvoir, Va., issued a sources-sought notice (W909MY-18-R-C009) earlier this month for the Countering Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (CVIED) project.