27 July 2018

US Defense Bill May 'Permit' India to Purchase S-400 Missile Air Defense Systems From Russia

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The final version of the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the defense bill, will grant the Trump administration authority to waive mandatory sanctions on countries under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for purchasing Russian military equipment.

The NDAA “Provides flexibility for strategic partners and allies to move away from the use of Russian military equipment to American equipment, while ensuring that U.S. defense and security interests remain protected, through a modified waiver under [CAATSA],” the NDAA Conference Report, published on July 23, reads.

It’s too early to write off the Indo-Pacific strategy


In an age when illiberalism appears to be gaining steam all around the world, one of the biggest geopolitical challenges for Asian democracies is to how best to deal with China’s rise.

One of the answers to this conundrum is the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, which Tokyo is promoting as a strategy to maintain the international liberal order in the region.

But the much talked about idea is running into trouble as of late, as India, one of the key components of the strategy — has been displaying mixed feelings about it. Last month at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in Singapore, security experts were perplexed when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who chaired this year’s forum — made a tepid speech and even refrained from mentioning the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, which is comprised of democratic giants like the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

Containing a deadly virus: Lessons from the Nipah outbreak in India

Vinod Thomas

Health experts are rightly alarmed that the world is unprepared for the next pandemic. So, when the rare and deadly Nipah virus broke out in the southern Indian state of Kerala in May, many feared that it would spread on the scale of SARS in China or Ebola in West Africa. But the authorities and the public controlled its spread. In the end, 19 people were infected and 17 died. Key to the response was Kerala’s past investments in education and health—the state ranks 10th in GDP among Indian states and territories, but first in human development.

A Nipah infection leads to acute respiratory problems and brain inflammation. The virus—of which there is no vaccine yet—was first identified in among pig farmers in Malaysia, when it killed over 100 people in 1998. Cases now appear almost yearly in Bangladesh, and there were two previous occurrences in West Bengal, India. Its containment in Kerala was impressive because this Nipah strain was more deadly and infectious than the one in Malaysia.

Imran Khan is only a player in the circus run by Pakistan’s military

Fatima Bhutto

In the run-up to Wednesday’s elections in Pakistan, hard-pressed attempts at democracy seem to have given way to a fully-fledged circus. We have powerful, all-knowing ringmasters, caged lions, knife-throwers, trapeze artists flying from perch to perch, even cruelty to animals is included. Ours is a circus which looks to be performing its last show before it shuts down – evidenced most clearly by its last act, the clown. The political record of the former cricket star Imran Khan, who is thought to be near to victory due to the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, has long been one of opportunism and obeisance.

What’s at stake in Pakistan’s election

ON JULY 25th Pakistan will hold a general election that ought to be a historic marker for democracy. Around 106m registered voters have the chance to participate in only the second transfer of power between civilian governments in the nation’s coup-studded 71-year history. Yet it will probably be remembered for other reasons. Until just over a year ago, it seemed certain that the incumbent, pro-business Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would win a second term, boosted by their success in tackling nightmarish power-cuts. Today the polls are neck-and-neck, however. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan (pictured), a former cricketer, has surged as its rivals, civil-rights groups, and media organisations claim the country’s powerful army is tilting the field in its favour. Why are the generals interfering? 

Pakistan's Elections Won't Dilute the Military's Influence

The defining feature of Pakistani politics is the fraught relationship between the government’s elected leaders and the army
Any party in power must therefore accommodate military interests while cautiously seeking ways to expand its influence without antagonizing the generals.

It's unlikely that the military will cede its authority to the civilians no matter who wins, even as the chances of another coup have lowered.

No Matter Who Wins Pakistan’s Vote, the Nation Loses


More than 100 million Pakistanis will have the chance to cast their ballots in general elections on July 25, but the vote is already tainted by the blatant meddling of the country’s all-powerful military, with a series of assists by a partisan judiciary. This interference—by what is known locally as the establishment—ensures that whatever the results on election day, the outcome will not rid Pakistan of its chronic instability and poor civil-military relations.

The establishment wants to root out the two parties that have dominated the political scene for the last three decades: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The PML-N, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is popular among ethnic Punjabis, who constitute about half of Pakistan’s population. The PPP­—of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and now run by her widower, former President Asif Ali Zardari—draws on its traditional support in the southern Sindh province. From the establishment’s perspective, the two parties represent entrenched dynasties that will never see eye to eye with the military on foreign policy and national security. Army generals deem both Sharif and Zardari corrupt and are instead advancing the fortunes of the star former cricketer Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

Duterte’s Efforts to Align the Philippines With China Face a Backlash

Richard Javad Heydarian

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s time in office has shown how a charismatic, populist leader can recalibrate a country’s foreign policy almost single-handedly. Under his watch, the Philippines has pursued an “independent” foreign policy, one that is less hostile to China and less dependent on the United States, the Philippines’ sole treaty ally and former colonizer. As a result, the Philippines’ relations with China have entered a new “golden age,” in Duterte’s words.

At the same time, his popularity does not give him unilateral power over the Philippines’ foreign and defense policy—at least not yet. His aggressive push to reorient Philippine foreign policy has been met with stiff resistance at home, especially from the defense establishment and pundit class, which remain wary of China. Indeed, the policymaking landscape remains highly contested, with the president constantly having to incorporate the views of other veto-wielders within the Philippine elite.

Measuring the status of Chinese military modernization


Economics remains the guiding linchpin in measuring the broad status of China’s military modernization efforts, but this effort should not be performed in isolation. If US combat commanders want to measure the strength and reach of China’s military power, they will need to assess three interlocking components of Beijing’s strategic mindset.

First, proper characterization of Beijing’s current military strategy reveals a China interested in regional power projection. Its force-modernization efforts are guiding transformation efforts into a professionalized force with technologically advanced air and naval capabilities for sustained engagements. Initially aiming to project and protect regional national interests, Beijing invariably seeks to shape the decisions of competitors, parlaying with regional actors while shaping regional security architecture favorable to itself. This objective is achieved by fielding C4ISR (command, control, communication, computing, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities.

South China Sea disputes must be resolved through arbitration that seeks mutual benefit

Parag Khanna

The 20th century, however, witnessed the succession of Japanese imperialism, decolonisation, multilateralism and cold war proxy competition, all of which have left an indelible mark on East Asia’s patterns of interaction.

The confluence of these legacies forms the complex backdrop to disputes such as the South China Sea, where pre-colonial coexistence has morphed into intricate military and legal manoeuvring to exclusively demarcate what for most of history has been shared.

Amid the current military escalations and adversarial legalism clouding the maritime domain, how can the South China Sea disputeS be settled using modern tools of statecraft while reviving the region’s ancient spirit of mutuality?

US-China Trade War Not the Only Headwind For Asia

By Anthony Fensom

The U.S.-China trade spat is not the only headwind for Asia, with analysts warning of a looming slowdown ahead for the world’s most economically dynamic region. Can Asia ride out the storm?

In the latest escalation, U.S. President Donald Trump rattled already nervous financial markets by threatening to impose tariffs on up to $500 billion worth of Chinese imports.

“We’re down a tremendous amount,” Trump said Friday in an interview with CNBC. “I’m ready to go to 500.”

“I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country,” he added. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.”

China Can't Launch a Full-Scale Military Invasion of Taiwan (Yet)

by Dave Majumdar

The Taiwanese government is claiming that the People’s Republic of China would invade the island state if the United States withdrew its support for Taipei.

However, it is dubious that Beijing has the amphibious assault capacity or capability to conduct a successful sea-based invasion of Taiwan where a forcible entry is required. Beijing could potentially get around some of those challenges, but even then a successful invasion of Taiwan by Chinese mainland forces seems dubious at best.

Concerning the Rumors in China

Rumors continue to swirl of a political uprising in China. We touched on them earlier this week, but we didn’t delve into them because they were unverified and, frankly, hard to believe. And while they remain unsubstantiated, it behooves us to consider exactly what has been said and why. Last Friday, online reports indicated that gunfire had been heard for roughly 40 minutes in Beijing near the Second Ring Road. The reports claimed it was a violent spasm by groups that sought to overthrow Chinese President Xi Jinping. The following day, French public radio reported it had heard rumors that former Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had allied with other disgruntled Chinese officials in an attempt to force Xi to step down. A Hong Kong tabloid went so far as to suggest that Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, might be the compromise leader next in line.

The Impact of the Iran Nuclear Agreement

by Zachary Laub


U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimpose sanctions jeopardizes the landmark arms control agreement, under which Iran dismantled much of its nuclear program and international inspectors gained extensive access to monitor its compliance. The agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has been on the rocks since Trump’s election, and the resulting climate of uncertainty spooked many large firms from doing business in Iran, thus diminishing the economic incentives that drew Iran to the agreement in the first place. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the agreement’s European signatories will now look to salvage it, it is uncertain whether they can overcome sanctions pressure from the United States.

Iran’s Restive Middle-Class Poor

by Ray Takeyh

During the last days of 2017, small demonstrations in Iran mushroomed into a nationwide movement, eventually engulfing eighty-five cities. At the time, the protests were thought to have provoked the poor working classes to revolt against economic mismanagement and financial decline. Such a turn of events would have been consequential: these workers were once seen as the last bastion of the Islamic Republic, tied to the regime by the welfare state and a sense of religious piety. The regime’s corruption and its squandering of Iran’s resources on Arab civil wars appeared to have driven away one of its last sectors of support.

Why Russia Needs Israel

By Prof. Hillel Frisch

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Why has Russia under Putin acknowledged Israel’s need to prevent the buildup of an Iranian military presence in Syria? Putin’s vision is to cement an alliance of minorities against the Sunni majority in the Middle East. Israel could be a valuable participant in making that vision a reality – but only if Moscow works to rid Syria of the Iranian presence, joins forces to topple its Islamist regime, and weans the Alawite regime in Damascus away from Tehran.

Ever since September 2015, when Russia turned the tide of the Syrian civil war in the Assad regime’s favor through strategic air power (and subsequently on the ground, where it brokered truces and withdrawals of rebels from strategic areas in Syria to the rebel stronghold in Idlib), Israel has been heavily pounding Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces.

Daily Memo: A Russian Rejection in Syria, a Mexican Proposal in the US, a Japanese Visit to India

Israeli relations with Russia have hit a snag in Syria. On July 23, Israel rejected a Russian proposal whereby Moscow would try to persuade Iran to move its forces away from the Golan Heights. This may seem counterintuitive – Israel wants Iran as far away as possible, right? At issue is not what the proposal included but what it failed to include. The deal did not provide for the removal of long-range weapons, the closure of Syria-Lebanon border crossings, or the end to the production of precision weapons and related air defenses. And so Israel said no. There’s really only so much Russia could do. It has a limited number of troops in Syria, and it needs to maintain working relations with its sometimes ally Iran. The ball is in Israel’s court, and bilateral ties may hang in the balance. Meanwhile, Israel activated its David’s Sling air defense system and fired two Patriot missiles at a Syrian plane conducting a reconnaissance mission in Israeli airspace.

What’s going to happen when Assad wins the war in Syria?


Given the unexpected pace of events in recent weeks, the end of Syria’s seven-year agony appears to be very near. It is now all but certain that Bashar al-Assad’s government will win its long war against Sunni jihadists and their foreign supporters. The focus in Syria is already turning from conflict, casualty counts, and displacement to reconciliation, resettlement, and reconstruction.

It would be hard to overstate the significance of this outcome. Apart from bringing the most tragic conflict of the post-Cold War decades to an end, the larger consequences of a peace achieved in this way – political, diplomatic, strategic – are many.

The Multiple Facets of the Russia Problem

by Paul R. Pillar

A prudent, well-designed, realist policy toward Russia would advance U.S. interests by carefully taking into account where those interests conflict with, and where they parallel, Russian interests, and would judiciously use carrots and sticks designed to induce Russian cooperation.

Two different issues—Russian interference in the U.S. election of 2016, and overall U.S. policy toward Russia—too often have been conflated. Donald Trump’s questioning of the interference and his submission to Russian president Vladimir Putin have tainted what in other circumstances would be seen as reasonable and justified engagement with Moscow. Conversely, some observers firmly opposed to Cold War-type confrontation with Russia are so affected by the first type of conflation that they deny the reality of the interference. Both forms of distortion fail to recognize that there is nothing inconsistent, in terms of either logic or policy, in accepting the truth about the interference and its implications, while also accepting the need for constructive diplomacy with Moscow on many other matters.

Trump Is Poised to Do Irreparable Harm to World Trade


During his trip to Europe this month, U.S. President Donald Trump derided his NATO counterparts over defense spending, undermined British Prime Minister Theresa May by second-guessing her approach to Brexit, and then groveled before Russian President Vladimir Putin. A firestorm of controversy has ensued. But at least the trans-Atlantic security alliance emerged intact from Trump’s trip. That we breathe a sigh of relief at NATO’s mere survival reveals just how low the bar has sunk during the Trump era.

The Real Target of Trump's Trade War

By Matthew Bey

Rather than attempt to dismantle barriers to U.S. exports, the Trump administration is seeking to keep imports out of the United States.

European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker will strive to head off the possibility of new U.S. tariffs on vehicles and their parts by offering a trade deal when he visits the United States this week.

Because Germany has the most to lose in the current trade climate, Berlin will seek French support for a small trade deal that will solely focus on manufactured goods.

But with few prospects of a deal, the United States is only likely to pull back if Trump is subjected to domestic pressures, rather than as a result of Europe's offer.

Back Under U.S. Sanctions, Iran Looks for a Plan B

Iran's strategy to get the European Union and other economic partners to push back against unilateral U.S. sanctions will fail.

As sanctions hit Iran's economy, the country will eventually have to resume negotiations with the United States, but it will try to wait until President Donald Trump leaves office.

In the meantime, Tehran will consider restarting its nuclear program as leverage in talks with the United States to keep other more important issues off the table.

World Economic Outlook Update, July 2018

Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions

Global growth is projected to reach 3.9 percent in 2018 and 2019, in line with the forecast of the April 2018 World Economic Outlook(WEO), but the expansion is becoming less even, and risks to the outlook are mounting. The rate of expansion appears to have peaked in some major economies and growth has become less synchronized. In the United States, near-term momentum is strengthening in line with the April WEO forecast, and the US dollar has appreciated by around 5 percent in recent weeks. Growth projections have been revised down for the euro area, Japan, and the United Kingdom, reflecting negative surprises to activity in early 2018. Among emerging market and developing economies, growth prospects are also becoming more uneven, amid rising oil prices, higher yields in the United States, escalating trade tensions, and market pressures on the currencies of some economies with weaker fundamentals. Growth projections have been revised down for Argentina, Brazil, and India, while the outlook for some oil exporters has strengthened. Full Text PDF


Original story reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine, an editorially independent publication of the Simons Foundation whose mission is to enhance public understanding of science by covering research developments and trends in mathematics and the physical and life sciences.

One of the many women who, in a different world, might have won the physics prize in the intervening 55 years is Sau Lan Wu. Wu is the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an experimentalist at CERN, the laboratory near Geneva that houses the Large Hadron Collider. Wu’s name appears on more than 1,000 papers in high-energy physics, and she has contributed to a half-dozen of the most important experiments in her field over the past 50 years. She has even realized the improbable goal she set for herself as a young researcher: to make at least three major discoveries.

Why the new plan to attribute foreign cyberattacks may not be enough

By: Justin Lynch

The Justice Department has pledged to attribute foreign cyberattacks, hacking and disinformation intended to sway American elections as part of a new policy. The hope is that by identifying the attackers it can help to avoid a repeat of the 2016 presidential campaign, when the Obama administration was largely silent on Russia’s influence operations.

But experts and government officials have raised questions about the effectiveness of the Justice Department’s new policy, released July 19.

The department said in a new report that it would consider a range of actions in the face of a foreign effort to undermine the democratic process. They might alert targets of the influence campaign. They could notify technology companies if they are being used to spread disinformation. They might just call out the influence operation in a public statement.

New leader wants Cyber Command to be more aggressive

By: Mark Pomerleau 

In his first public comments since assuming the head of U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Paul Nakasone said the Department of Defense is taking a more aggressive approach to protect the nation’s data and networks and aims to stay ahead of malicious cyber and information-related activity.

The command’s new vision, called “Achieve and Maintain Cyberspace Superiority," published in April, describes the notion of “continuous engagement” and “defending forward” to understand adversary weaknesses and impose “tactical friction and strategic costs.”

Here’s How the Russian Military Is Organizing to Develop AI


Harking back to Soviet big science, a 10-point plan calls for new organizations and focus areas, from job training to a giant new R&D campus.  The Russian Ministry of Defense is pursuing artificial intelligence with an urgency that has only grown since Vladimir Putin’s “rule the world” speech in September. But after several years of watching American and Chinese researchers accumulate breakthroughs and funding, while Russia continues to lack a relevant high-tech culture, Ministry leaders have decided that if they can’t outspend their global competitors, perhaps they can out-organize them.

The U.S. military is trying to manage foreign conflicts — not resolve them. Here’s why.

By Paul Staniland

A U.S. soldier assigned to provide security to the Army’s new 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade stands near a mine-resistant armored vehicle on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, on June 2. In the wake of the Iraq “surge” from 2006 to 2008, it looked like the United States had cracked the code for defeating insurgencies overseas: putting boots on the ground to provide services and security that win cooperation from civilians and defecting militants. This optimism has disappeared in the last decade. The successes of the surge in Iraq turned out to be tenuous, and the model largely failed from 2009 to 2011 in Afghanistan. Troops could secure villages, and development aid and governance programs might follow, but broader political forces — from factional rivalries within local governments to the interventions of external states — could easily unravel village-level gains.


Last month, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis directed the establishment of a Close Combat Lethality Task Force. The task force’s mission is to improve the “combat preparedness, lethality, survivability, and resiliency of our Nation’s ground close-combat formations.” This encompasses U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command infantry small units such as those described in this gut-wrenching story from Niger and this article from Afghanistan. These units comprise less than 4 percent of the Defense Department’s total personnel strength. Combined, the people that serve in these units can fit in the seats of any single NFL stadium. Yet, as Secretary Mattis described in the memorandum that established this task force, they “have historically accounted for almost 90 percent of our casualties.”

Darfur Highlights the Challenge of Shuttering U.N. Peacekeeping Missions

Richard Gowan

Ten years ago, stories about endemic violence in the Darfur region of Sudan often made headlines in the West. The conflict there continues sporadically but is all but forgotten today. This month, the Security Council agreed to slash the number of peacekeepers in the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, or UNAMID, by almost half, with a view to closing the mission entirely in 2020. The decision created barely a ripple beyond the council.

Nonetheless, the drawdown of UNAMID potentially marks a turning point for U.N. peacekeeping operations. As I have previously noted, the mission is one of five big blue-helmet operations in volatile countries in Africa that now represent the bulk of the organization’s peacekeeping work. The others are in the Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. All five face recurrent violence. None has a clear exit strategy. But Security Council members, notably the U.S., insist that these missions cannot continue indefinitely. So how will they end?