28 September 2018

AFGHANISTAN: Looming Crises

S. Binodkumar Singh

On September 15, 2018, thousands of Grand National Coalition of Afghanistan (GNCA) supporters closed the provincial offices of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Herat, Balkh and Kandahar Provinces after the Government and the IEC failed to positively respond to their demands. On August 10, 2018, GNCA set a 10-day deadline for a response from Government to meet their demands, including the use of a biometric system for elections, a change in the election system and a transparent poll across the country. GNCA also warned that it would close the IEC offices in Nangarhar, Kunduz, Bamiyan, Panjsher, Faryab and Jawzjan Provinces, if their demands were not met.

Further, on September 17, 2018, supporters of GNCA set up tents and closed the provincial election office in eastern Nangarhar Province, launching a sit-in protest. Later, Police arrested 16 GNCA supporters on charges of disrupting the provincial election office and removed the tents.



Almost a decade ago, one of America’s longtime experts on Afghanistan forecast a horrendous scenario if the Taliban kept gaining ground in the war: An emergency evacuation of U.S. personnel from Kabul that would make the helicopter-borne escapes from the American Embassy in South Vietnam look easy.

The prediction of Kabul’s collapse was premature—by years. The 2009 op-ed piece by Thomas Johnson, a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, predicted the rout could come as early as 2012 if U.S. strategy didn’t change. Six years later, after dramatic troop reductions, the U.S. is still holding on in Afghanistan, but the prognosis is ever more gloomy. According to some sources, President Donald Trump is said to be toggling back to his longtime default position on the war as a “total disaster:” Others doubt he ever abandoned it.

Afghanistan: Geopolitical Situation Revisited – Analysis

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Geopolitically, Afghanistan in end-2018 can best be characterised that it has certainly not turned out as United States second not so victorious Vietnam War despite Pakistan’s effort in collusion with China to forge a China-Pakistan-Russia Trilateral to adversely tilt the balance against the United States. United States continues to be firmly embedded in Afghanistan as resolved by US President Trump.

Geopolitically, what is evident is that the United States under President Trump has put Pakistan under great pressure on cessation of its destabilisation of Afghanistan through the Taliban and other terrorists groups operating from safe havens in Pakistan. United States can be expected to place economic pressures also on Pakistan and these could work in light of Pakistan’s dismal economic situation.

Trump’s Trade War With China Could Hit Energy Exports

By Keith Johnson

President Donald Trump’s trade war with China has already hurt U.S. farmers and manufacturers and now threatens a more recent export business that has been booming: energy.

On Monday, the trade war escalated dramatically, with U.S. tariffs going into effect on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. This was immediately countered by Chinese tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. exports. While earlier Chinese retaliation took aim at things such as soybeans, the latest round includes a 10 percent tariff on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, the first time Beijing has targeted U.S. energy exports.

That could be bad news for the U.S. energy patch, which has taken advantage of a decade-old fracking revolution to become a big supplier of natural gas and crude oil to countries all over the world, including China. The Chinese tariff, though smaller than the duty Beijing threatened to levy earlier this year, makes U.S. gas a bit more expensive and less competitive in the world’s second-largest LNG market.

Djibouti’s Attempts to Vanquish Dubai Ports Operator Spells Trouble for Washington

By Malik Ibrahim

Last week, Djibouti upped the stakes in its long-running dispute with DP World, Dubai’s state-owned ports authority, as the tiny east African country bids to pry one of its key shipping hubs out of Emirati hands.

At first glance, this might seem like nothing more than an emerging, ambitious state attempting to free itself from a constrictive contract. Yet in fact, the spat has major geopolitical implications, particularly for the United States. By bloodying the nose of DP World, Djibouti risks upsetting the balance of power in one of the world’s most politically sensitive regions and giving a major boost to China, at a time when the frostiness between Washington and Beijing is fueling talk of a new cold war.



President Donald Trump sanctioned a branch of China’s military and its director Thursday, marking the first time the U.S. leader has used the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which Congress passed last year. 

China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD), one of the main branches of the Chinese military, will be sanctioned under the law, as will its director Li Shangfu, for having purchased Russian military equipment from people on CAATSA’s List of Specified Persons (LSP). The LSP names people and entities believed to be part of Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors, or to work on their behalf, according to the State Department. 

EDD and Shangfu are sanctioned “for engaging in significant transactions with persons on the LSP. These transactions involved Russia’s transfer to China of Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment,” the State Department said in a statement Thursday.

Are Xi Jinping’s demands for Communist Party loyalty a bigger threat to China than Donald Trump’s trade war?

As Chinese officials prepared a response to US President Donald Trump’s latest tariffs, they spent hundreds of hours over the past few months on another urgent task: showing their fealty to President Xi Jinping.

In a meeting room in one government ministry in Beijing, officials stacked up piles of papers across a long meeting table to prepare a submission to Xi’s ruling Communist Party. The documents, painstakingly compiled from materials detailing party-government interactions over the last five years, were designed to demonstrate that the ministry had followed the party’s instructions, according to two people involved in the process.

The exercise came as part of Xi’s bid to consolidate power in the nation of 1.4 billion people, where he is now China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. It is part of a wider campaign announced in March to revamp the government – both in Beijing and administrations in far-reaching provinces – to ensure it obeys the party’s wishes.

Less Visible Aspects of Chinese Military Modernization

By Shahryar Pasandideh

Buoyed by a rapidly growing economy and increasing defense industrial capabilities, China’s military continues to field large numbers of increasingly sophisticated and capable military equipment. Every year, photos of new ships, planes, and missiles emerge, providing analysts with important datapoints to assess Chinese military capabilities. Although the quality of analyses of material aspects of Chinese military power has been very good and continues to improve, there has been something of bias toward emphasizing new pieces of equipment over upgrades of existing equipment. This is unfortunate for it leads to an underestimation of Chinese military power and a misunderstanding of possible future trajectories.

EU and Iran agree on new payment system to skirt US sanctions

In a major snub to the United States, the European Union has decided to set up a new mechanism to enable legal trade with Iran without encountering US sanctions. 

The EU will create new payment channels to preserve oil and other business deals with Iran, Federica Mogherini, the bloc's foreign policy chief said late on Monday, in a bid to evade US punitive measures.

US President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal in May and re-imposed sanctions on the country. 

Mogherini's announcement came after a meeting with foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. 

The Saudi-Qatar Crisis Creates Collateral Damage in the Persian Gulf—and Beyond

In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump's first official visit abroad to Saudi Arabia in May 2017, long-simmering tensions among America's allies in the Persian Gulf boiled over. It all started the day after Trump left Riyadh. The Qatari news agency, QNA, reported that the country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, had given a stunning commencement speech to a graduating class of National Guard members.

In the speech, the emir fulminated against Qatar’s neighbors, accusing them of engaging in a campaign to smear Qatar in front of Trump, in an effort to make the state appear to be a supporter of terrorism. But the emir not only rejected the accusation, he flipped it on his accusers, declaring that, “The real danger is in the course taken by ‘certain governments’ that created terrorism by adopting an extremist form of Islam”—a thinly veiled effort to paint Saudi Arabia, among others, as the cause of terrorism. The quotes, which also appeared on Qatari television as scrolled text below video of the emir, went on to say that the emir defended Qatar’s unconventional foreign policy, including its ties to Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and even Israel. 

Why The West Has Failed To Destroy Russia’s Economy – OpEd

By Eric Zuesse*

Despite Barack Obama’s economic sanctions against Russia, and the plunge in oil prices that King Saud agreed to with Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry on 11 September 2014, the economic damages that the US and Sauds have aimed against a particular oil-and-gas giant, Russia, have hit mostly elsewhere — at least till now.

This has been happening while simultaneously Obama’s violent February 2014 coup overthrowing Ukraine’s democratically elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych (and the head of the ‘private CIA’ firm Stratfor calls it “the most blatant coup in history”) has caused Ukraine’s economy to plunge even further than Russia’s, and corruption in Ukraine to soar even higher than it was before America’s overthrow of that country’s final freely elected nationwide government, so that Ukraine’s economy has actually been harmed far more than Russia’s was by Obama’s coup in Ukraine and Obama’s subsequent economic sanctions against Russia (sanctions that are based on clear and demonstrable Obama lies but that continue and even get worse under Trump).

Strategic Implications Of Syrian Offensive In Idlib – Analysis

By Dr. Christopher J. Bolan*

(FPRI) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces appear poised to launch an offensive operation to retake all or portions of Syria’s last major remaining oppositionist stronghold in the Idlib province. All major players in this looming battle are posturing to shape the nature and extent of this upcoming campaign in ways that advance their particular interests. Idlib is a province located in northwestern Syria. Since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, Idlib has been the site of frequent confrontation between the Syrian Armed Forces and any number of opposition forces—whether “moderate” such as the Free Syrian Army or others linked in varying degrees to radical jihadi terrorist groups including al-Qaeda. In the summer of 2017, Idlib was one of four so-called de-escalation zones established jointly by Russia, Turkey, and Iran aimed at reducing the violence between rebel and Syrian government forces. 

Trump’s national cyber strategy praised by experts

By: Justin Lynch 

After months of criticism for lacking a cohesive federal approach to cybersecurity, President Donald Trump’s new national cybersecurity strategy, released Sept. 20, has been largely met with praise from former government officials, business executives and political opponents.

The strategy calls for more offensive cyber attacks and attempts to bolster America’s digital defenses by creating new norms online.

On Twitter, Michael Daniel, the Obama administration cyber czar and president of the Cyber Threat Alliance, praised the plan. He cast Trump’s strategy as an evolution of U.S. policy from previous eras.

“This document shows what a national strategy can look like on an issue that truly is nonpartisan,” Daniel said. “It strikes a good balance between defensive actions and seeking to impose consequences on malicious actors. Further, it’s clear that this strategy is a reflection of a strong policy development process across administrations.”

We Do Not Know The Affects Of The "Trade War"

by Steven Hansen

I continue to be amazed at many analysts who are shoveling opinion masquerading as fact on the impact of a trade war between China and the U.S.

Many analysts are discussing impacts like:

how $200 billion of duties on both China and U.S. would affect the U.S. exporters more because the U.S. imports 4 times more goods from China than China imports from the U.S.

or loss of jobs

or effects on U.S. and China currencies (commentary is very mixed)

effects on global productivity

Socialists and Libertarians Need an Alliance Against the Establishment

By Stephen M. Walt

The United States needs a new foreign policy, but who is going to conceive, articulate, and implement it? In particular, could the emerging democratic socialists of the left, libertarians on the right, and realists in the center join forces to produce a foreign policy that would command support at home and perform effectively abroad? It’s possible, but it won’t be easy.

Over the past quarter-century, U.S. foreign policy has been in the hands of a loose alliance of liberal interventionists and hawkish neoconservatives. Both groups firmly embrace American exceptionalism, see the United States as the indispensable power that must exert active leadership all over the world, favor overwhelming military supremacy, and endorse the broad goal of spreading liberal values (democracy, human rights, rule of law, markets) to every corner of the world. They disagree somewhat about the role of international institutions (liberal interventionists see them as useful tools, neocons as potential constraints on America’s freedom of action), but that’s about it. Despite occasional disagreements on tactics and the usual jostling for position and status in Washington, this broad alliance has held firm across both Republican and Democratic presidents. And since 2016, it has also been working overtime to keep President Donald Trump from abandoning America’s position as leader of the so-called liberal world order.

America’s new Cyber Strategy and Space Force Whither future of global commons? US Sanctions on China, Russia and Iran and expanding trade war with China is creating a stronger dollar

The Trump Administration unveiled its brand new strategy for cyber space on the International day of peace declared by the United Nations in 1982. 

The Strategy provides an important insight into how the United States cyber doctrine will evolve and it has significant distinctions from cyber strategies of the previous administration. It aligns with recent American policies of tougher actions against state rivals and faith in leading the world through enhanced force projection. 

The New US Cyber strategy is relevant even for Sri Lanka as are facing a significant turbulent time in global and domestic politics, American security and trade policies seem to be not just giving direction but simultaneously unleashing a wave of disruptions in security events, financial, trade and fiscal sectors. 

Google DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis: Three truths about AI

By Nick Heath

The 2016 victory by a Google-built AI at the notoriously complex game of Go was a bold demonstration of the power of modern machine learning.

That triumphant AlphaGo system, created by AI research group Google DeepMind, confounded expectations that computers were years away from beating a human champion.

But as significant as that achievement was, DeepMind's co-founder Demis Hassabis expects it will be dwarfed by how AI will transform society in the years to come.

Hassabis spelt out his vision for the future of AI at the Economist Innovation Summit in London.

AI will save us from ourselves

What to Do When You’re Bad at Money

By Tim Herrera

It was only a few years ago I started learning how money works.

Like a lot of Americans I was very late to the game, in large part because there’s no formal system in place to teach us how to manage our money. There are tons of invisible forces working against us, and the end result is that being good or bad at money is sometimes viewed in moralistic terms or as a measure of someone’s character.

And that’s nonsense! Personal finance management is a concrete, learnable skill, just like driving a car or throwing a baseball. We just have to get beyond the structural and cultural roadblocks that prevent us from talking about it.

Peacekeeping Can’t Be Done on the Cheap


United Nations peacekeeping is a concrete example of multilateralism at work. It demonstrates how the global community can address some of today’s most complex and dangerous issues with a mixture of creativity and pragmatism.

Since the first blue helmets were deployed in 1948, peacekeeping has enabled the countries of the world to meet common threats to peace and security and share the burden under the U.N. flag. Over the past 70 years, more than 1 million peacekeepers—women and men, soldiers, police, and civilians from countries across the world—have responded to a vast range of conflicts, and peacekeeping itself has adapted constantly to meet these demands.

Do Aliens Exist? Blink 182 Co-Founder and Ex-Pentagon Official Are Determined to Prove We’re Not Alone

FE_UFO_01It was late July, and Teresa Tindal, a 39-year-old administrator for a consulting firm, was describing the incident that made her a believer: a round, golden object hovering in the evening sky over Tucson, Arizona. Weather balloon? No way. It could only be one thing: a UFO.

This kind of certainty had brought her—and 400 other people—to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) Symposium, the “premiere UFO event of the year,” according to its literature. They had gathered to talk about extraterrestrials, UFOs and how to avoid being abducted by an alien mothership (hint: yelling at it doesn’t work). “There are too many people that have seen things,” Christine Thisse, 44, a soft-spoken mother from Michigan, told Newsweek.

There were the typical guest speakers giving talks with titles like “Unexplained Disappearances in Rural Areas” and “Report From Mars,” in which a physicist lays out his theory that 75,000 years ago an intergalactic nuclear war wiped out a Martian civilization. And there were famous abductees, like Travis Walton, a former logger whose story of alien captivity became the 1993 movie Fire in the Sky.

Former Google CEO Predicts The Internet Will Split In Two By 2028, With One Part Led By China

by Lora Kolodny 

Eric Schmidt, who has been the CEO of Google and executive chairman of its parent company, Alphabet, predicts that within the next decade there will be two distinct internets: one led by the U.S. and the other by China.

Schmidt shared his thoughts at a private event in San Francisco on Wednesday night convened by investment firm Village Global VC. The firm enlists tech luminaries — including Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Diane Green — as limited partners, then invests their money into early-stage tech ventures.

At the event, economist Tyler Cowen asked, “What are the chances that the internet fragments over the years?” Schmidt said:

“I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.

Microsoft makes security offerings available to nation states and law enforcement

Cybersecurity is the central challenge of the digital age.

Without it, the most basic human rights like privacy cannot exist.

Every day, organisations take precious time and resources away from their core business mission to defend against and recover from cyberattacks.

They operate dozens of complex disconnected tools, yet the gaps between those tools remain and threats get through.

Their security teams struggle to keep up and skilled expertise is scarce.

Microsoft is empowering IT to unlock the security capabilities of the intelligent cloud to tip the scales in the cyber war.

Microsoft focuses on three areas: running security operations that work for customers, building enterprise-class technology, and driving partnerships for a heterogeneous world.

White House rolls out new national cyber strategy

By Derek B. Johnson 

The Trump administration released its long-awaited cyber strategy to the public on Sept. 20, promising a more aggressive willingness to deploy offensive operations against nation-states and criminal groups in the digital domain.

In a call with reporters, National Security Advisor John Bolton cited a number of high-profile cyberattacks over the past two years, such as 2017 WannaCry and NotPetya, as well as a 2018 attack that shut down much of the IT operations for the city of Atlanta, as examples of how the U.S. and other governments are under siege from both nation-states and criminal hacking groups.

Bolton confirmed press reports that President Donald Trump had officially rescinded PPD-20, an Obama-era presidential directive that laid out a complex interagency process governing offensive cyber operations, earlier this month. A new classified directive will replace it that lays out a “very different” process. While he declined to discuss specifics citing national security concerns, Bolton indicated that the Pentagon, U.S. Cyber Command and “other relevant departments” will be charged with taking the fight to malicious cyber actors in order to deter future attacks.

The Pentagon Unveils An Aggressive New Cyber Defense Plan

By Andrea Little Limbago

Over the last six months, the government has released a series of strategic documents and executive orders that have led some to conclude that the gloves are off when it comes to deploying offensive cyber capabilities.

The Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, released in an unclassified summary this week, reiterates the proactive use of offensive cyber capabilities. However, instead of viewing this as unfettered authorization to deploy these capabilities, it should be viewed as the emergence of a national security framework that acknowledges the realities of a dramatically shifting international system and technological change. Importantly, the strategy sends core signals to U.S. adversaries, allies, and the private sector.

White House Drafts Order To Probe Google, Facebook Practices

(Bloomberg) — The White House is considering a draft executive order for President Donald Trump that would instruct federal antitrust and law enforcement agencies to open probes into the practices of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc., and other social media companies.

Bloomberg News obtained a draft of the order, which a White House official said was in its early stages and hasn’t been run past other government agencies. Separately, Lindsey Walters, deputy White House press secretary, said in an emailed statement that the document isn’t the result of an official White House policy making process.

Britain launches £250m cyber‑force to wage war on terrorists

Lucy Fisher

An offensive cyber-force to combat hostile states, terrorist groups and domestic gangs will be set up by the Ministry of Defence and GCHQ, The Timesunderstands.

The £250 million unit will comprise about 2,000 digital warriors, with experts recruited from the military, security services and industry. It will quadruple the number of personnel in offensive cyber-roles and marks a step change in the nation’s ability to disrupt and destroy computer networks and internet-connected devices.

The creation of the force comes as the threat from Russia is escalating and follows successful UK cyber-attacks against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Recruits will also target criminal gangs, including people-traffickers and paedophile rings.

The force is expected to be announced soon and follows a review ordered by Gavin…

Mattis Can’t Say If Having Women In The Infantry Will Work Or Not


“Clearly, the jury is out” on whether having women serve in Marine Corps and Army infantry units makes the U.S. military more combat effective, Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday.

Mattis sounded decidedly unenthusiastic during a visit to the Virginia Military Institute when a cadet asked him about integrating women into combat arms jobs. He said the services are looking into whether it is “a strength or a weakness” to have women serving in units that engage in close combat.

“The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” Mattis said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”

“I can’t give you a good answer right now,” he added. “I’m open to it. I’ll be working with the chief of staff of the Army and the others to sort it out.”

How modern wars are changing the definition of heroism

By: James Wright 

Few challenged these salutes — although President Donald Trump famously suggested in 2015 that McCain was not a hero for being captured. While most disputed Trump’s remarks, candidate Dr. Ben Carson said, “It depends on your definition of a war hero.”

By any definition with which I am familiar, John McCain, a Vietnam War prisoner of war, was a hero. McCain deserves the honor not simply because he served. Not even just because he was captured — although he and the other Vietnam War POWs demonstrated remarkable courage and endurance and deserve the praise they have received.

But McCain was a hero because of his conduct as a pilot and as a captive. The descriptions of his captivity and the citation of his Silver Star award make this clear.

The New State Department Report on Terrorism: Rethinking the Numbers and Coverage

By Anthony H. Cordesman

The U.S. State Department issued its latest annual report on terrorism on August 19, 2018. The report updates its past estimates to cover 2017 and provides a separate Annex of Statistical Information that summarizes the global trends in terrorism. The report concludes that,

The total number of terrorist attacks worldwide in 2017 decreased by 23 percent and total deaths due to terrorist attacks decreased by 27 percent, compared to 2016. While numerous countries saw a decline in terrorist violence between 2016 and 2017, this overall trend was largely due to dramatically fewer attacks and deaths in Iraq. Twenty-four percent of all deaths in terrorist attacks in 2017 were perpetrator deaths, down from 26 percent in 2016. This statistic was historically much lower but began to increase in the 2000s, largely due to shifting tactics in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, in Iraq in the 2010s.

'Mad Dog' Defanged: How A Missing Missile Defense Report Explains Mattis' Impending Departure

Loren Thompson

On January 27, 2017, shortly after his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump directed the Pentagon to undertake a Nuclear Posture Review and a Ballistic Missile Defense Review. Trump had spoken frequently about nuclear threats during the campaign season, so he wanted to make an early start on evaluating the adequacy of both the offensive and defensive features of U.S. strategic policy.

The posture review of offensive forces -- nuclear missiles and bombers -- was completed on time in January of this year. It proved to be a status quo document, upholding precepts that had guided Washington's approach to nuclear deterrence since the Cold War. Most observers agreed it was compatible with the nuclear plans of the Obama administration.