26 December 2018

A New Chapter in India-Maldives Relations

By Vinay Kaura

India has turned the page in its relationship with the Maldives. The three-day official visit of newly-elected Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to India has allowed both the countries to open a new chapter in their bilateral ties, which had undergone a downward spiral during the last five years. Since defeating Abdulla Yameen in the Maldivian presidential elections held in September, Solih has vowed to bring his country closer to India.

Before the transition of power, the Maldives had drifted away from India’s strategic orbit as Yameen was drawing his country closer to China. He crushed all opposition to his authoritarian rule with an iron fist, either jailing or exiling his opponents. Few expected Yameen to lose the polls. Solih’s victory has understandably aroused enthusiasm among those who are in favor of strengthening democratic institutions in the Maldives, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean.

U.S. Afghan Peace Envoy Held 'Productive' Three-Day Talks In U.A.E.

The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, says he had "productive" meetings in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) this week as part of efforts to encourage negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul to end the 17-year war in the South-Asian country.

There were no breakthroughs during the three-day U.S.-brokered talks in Abu Dhabi that ended on December 19, but the discussions were seen as an important step to launch formal peace negotiations with the militant group.

"Had productive meetings in the U.A.E. with Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in Afghanistan," tweeted Khalilzad.

Trump Leaves Behind Mess for Afghans to Clean Up


Fears that U.S. President Donald Trump would decide to reverse course and withdraw troops from Afghanistan are not new. But the latest reports of dramatic plans to bring back 7,000 troops has shocked several sources I have spoken to in the U.S. and Afghan governments. The withdrawal represents nearly half of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, slashing its armed presence down to its lowest levels since 2002. The news broke a day after Trump’s decision to pull forces from Syria and hours after the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis was made public.

It is not necessarily the announcement itself that caught many by surprise, but the timing. Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in September, raising hopes that a peaceful settlement to America’s longest war was in sight. Khalilzad—a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under the George W. Bush administration—has shuttled across the region with a relentless energy since then, and a U.S. delegation concluded three days of talks with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. There has been more momentum now for talks than ever before, which Trump’s decision significantly undermines.

China’s ‘Belt and Road’ Plan in Pakistan Takes a Military Turn

By Maria Abi-Habib

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When President Trump started the new year by suspending billions of dollars of security aid to Pakistan, one theory was that it would scare the Pakistani military into cooperating better with its American allies.

The reality was that Pakistan already had a replacement sponsor lined up.

Just two weeks later, the Pakistani Air Force and Chinese officials were putting the final touches on a secret proposal to expand Pakistan’s building of Chinese military jets, weaponry and other hardware. The confidential plan, reviewed by The New York Times, would also deepen the cooperation between China and Pakistan in space, a frontier the Pentagon recently said Beijing was trying to militarize after decades of playing catch-up.

All those military projects were designated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion chain of infrastructure development programs stretching across some 70 countries, built and financed by Beijing.

Fixing Afghanistan’s Flawed Peace Process


The current strategy to achieve a political settlement in Afghanistan is failing, because it neglects key Afghan institutions, excludes ordinary citizens from the process, and rewards the Taliban’s campaign of violence. Opting for political expediency in the service of unrealistic expectations will only place the country's future in greater peril.

OXFORD – In February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban unconditional talks to negotiate a political settlement. To support the process, the United States also initiated direct talks with the Taliban, which the Taliban had been demanding. The Taliban has since responded by intensifying its campaign of violence, killing hundreds of civilians, including ten candidates in the recent parliamentary election and their supporters. The Taliban has also refused to talk to the Afghan government.

The rise and rise of Bangladesh The economy is booming. Does Sheikh Hasina deserve the credit


DHAKA -- Bangladesh defies economic and political gravity. Since its 1971 war of independence with Pakistan, the country has been known for its tragedies: wrenching poverty, natural disasters and now one of the world's biggest refugee crises, after the influx of 750,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighboring Myanmar.

Yet, with remarkably little international attention, Bangladesh has also become one of the world's economic success stories. Aided by a fast-growing manufacturing sector -- its garment industry is second only to China's -- Bangladesh's economy has averaged above 6% annual growth for nearly a decade, reaching 7.86% in the year through June.

From mass starvation in 1974, the country has achieved near self-sufficiency in food production for its 166 million-plus population. Per capita income has risen nearly threefold since 2009, reaching $1,750 this year. And the number of people living in extreme poverty -- classified as under $1.25 per day -- has shrunk from about 19% of the population to less than 9% over the same period, according to the World Bank.

Plans for Censored Chinese Search Engine Opposed by Google Employees

By William Chalk

Hundreds of disillusioned Google employees penned an open letter to the company’s bosses demanding the abandonment of plans to launch a heavily-censored, China-specific Google search engine. Revealed in August under the leaked code name “Project Dragonfly,” the search engine would operate in accordance with the censorious Chinese Communist Party and its notorious “Great Firewall.”

Having publicly withdrawn from the Chinese market in 2010, rumors of Google’s plans for re-entry have sparked concerns over the tech giant’s shifting attitudes toward internet freedom.

At the time of its withdrawal, co-founder Sergey Brin was acknowledged as the guiding force behind decisions to stop filtering Chinese search results. Brin attributed this to growing up in the Soviet Union, making him “sensitive to the stifling of individual liberties.” Now president of Alphabet – Google’s parent company – it seems his departure has weakened the company’s dedication to an uncensored internet and with it, a healthy fear of authoritarianism.

Crackdown In Xinjiang: China And The Islamic World’s Achille Heel – Analysis

By James M. Dorsey

A disagreement between major Indonesian religious leaders and the government on how to respond to China’s crackdown on Turkic Muslims raises questions about the Islamic World’s ability to sustain its silence about what amounts to one of the most concerted assaults on the faith in recent history.

Rejecting a call on the government by the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top clerical body, to condemn the crackdown that has seen up to one million Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla insisted that the government would not interfere in the internal affairs of others.

The disagreement could take on greater significance after elections in April next year which incumbent president Joko Widodo is expected to win. Mr. Widodo’s vice-presidential running mate, Ma’ruf Amin, is the ulema’s council’s chairman. Since joining the presidential ticket, Mr. Amin has retained his council position as non-active chairman.

China: Time Of Reckoning – OpEd

By Marvin C. Ott*

(FPRI) — China has long occupied a unique place in America’s relations with the world. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, China was a commercial magnet. Chinese products—tea, porcelains, silks—were in high demand and drew American merchants to Cathay. The clipper ships that plied the Pacific tea trade became as much a part of American lore as the Pony Express. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a potent new actor entered the scene: Christian missionaries. For many American denominations, the prospect that China might be converted to Christianity became a lure more powerful than money. By the 1930s, Christian missionaries funded by American congregations had established an impressive network of schools, hospitals, and universities—along with churches—across much of China. Moreover, China’s political leaders at the time, Chiang Kai-shek and his redoubtable wife, were baptized Christians. Americans envisioned a China that would soon become an Asian version of the U.S.


IMAGINE YOU’RE A burglar. You’ve decided to tackle a high-end luxury apartment, the kind of building with multiple Picassos in the penthouse. You could spend weeks or months casing the place, studying every resident’s schedule, analyzing the locks on all the doors. You could dig through trash for hints about which units have alarms, run through every permutation of what the codes might be. Or you could also just steal the super’s keys.

According to a Justice Department indictment Thursday, that is effectively what China has done to the rest of the world since 2014. That’s when the country’s elite APT10—short for “advanced persistent threat”—hacking group decided to target not just individual companies in its long-standing efforts to steal intellectual property, but instead focus on so-called managed service providers. They’re the businesses that provide IT infrastructure like data storage or password management. Compromise MSPs, and you have a much easier path into all these clients. They're the super.

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.

Sanctions Are Just the Beginning for Iran


In an echo of the sparring between hard-liners and reformists that preceded Iran’s approval of the nuclear deal three years ago, the two Iranian political factions are again deeply at odds, this time over compliance with international financial transparency regulations. Should they be rejected, Iran would probably be left even more economically isolated than it already is.

As the government weighs the possible dire implications of opposition to the global measures, the hard-liners may in time be persuaded to support them. But it could prove difficult, as the adoption of greater financial transparency is likely to make it harder to support Iranian proxies across the Middle East.

In May, Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal triggered renewed U.S. sanctions that Washington calculates will pressure Iran into addressing its concerns about ballistic missiles and regional proxies, as part of a renegotiated nuclear deal.

Africa’s Blue Economy Or A Global Ocean Grab By The Rich? – Analysis

By Lisa Vives

Six counties in Kenya’s coastal region have been tagged for technical training in the blue economy – what some have called “the new frontier of the African Renaissance”. The goal is to enable young people to find jobs in the maritime industry.

Kevit Desai, a Kenyan vocational training principal, says institutions of higher learning must begin to focus on developing skills, nurturing innovations and enterprise creation for this “overlooked opportunity”. He suggested a post-Blue Economy Conference workshop to create awareness and enhance community participation in this vision for the future.

Sudden U.S. troop exit from Syria would exacerbate regional instability

President Trump’s order to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria reversed recent pledges by a wide range of senior administration officials to remain there indefinitely — including one just two weeks ago by his top Syria envoy, Ambassador James Jeffrey.

The big picture: Trump’s tweet and abrupt decision have taken key allies and many in his own administration by surprise. Aside from being based on a false premise — the Islamic State, or ISIS, is down in Syria, but not out — the decision could have major implications for Syria, the Middle East and broader U.S. foreign policy.

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The effects of a U.S. withdrawal will ripple across the region. 

The Yellow Vests Are Here to Stay


Although the recent attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, has sapped some of the energy from the Yellow Vest protests, the root causes of French voters' discontent remain. At issue is not the need for reform, but rather the costs – and who should bear them.

WARSAW – The terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on December 11 came after a month in which the “Yellow Vest” protests in Paris and other cities dominated international headlines. French police have since tracked down and killed the attacker in a shootout, and an old law of politics holds that the French will now rally behind President Emmanuel Macron – at least for the time being.

That is what happened after the attacks on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015, when then-President Francois Hollande’s declining popularity was momentarily reversed. It also helps to explain how Vladimir Putin, previously an unknown entity, cemented his power in Russia following a series of bombings in 1999. Of course, in that case, investigative journalists have marshaled ample evidence to suggest that the government orchestrated the attacks to bolster its public support.

The Implications of the U.S. Withdrawal from Syria

On December 19, President Trump declared on Twitter: “We have defeated [the Islamic State group] in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The White House then confirmed that U.S. troops are leaving Syria immediately and will be completely gone within 30 days. U.S. officials said all State Department personnel would leave within 24 hours, and NGO staff working on stabilization are also reportedly being evacuated. 

Q1: Why did this happen now? 

A1: President Trump campaigned on withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria and renewed his calls to “get out of Syria” in April 2018. His national security team has consistently—and until now, successfully—persuaded him that a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake. Several officials have cautioned that a sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops would help the Islamic State group (ISG) resurrect itself. John Bolton, the national security adviser, pledged three months ago that U.S. troops would remain in Syria as long as Iran has a military presence there. 

Explaining the European Union in one line per country

Andreas Kluth

As the EU’s leaders gather today in Brussels for their last summit in 2018, I am once again reminded of a conversation I had years ago that was as amusing as it was insightful. I was in the Eurocrat ghetto of Brussels, talking to an “old EU hand,” an irreverent, pithy, and cheeky Briton. This was our game: Explain – in one line per country! – why each member state had originally joined the European club.

1950s, the six founding members: The West Germans, happy to be part of any club again, were eager to atone for invading everybody by proving what great post-nationalist Europeans they now were. The French, having recently been trounced by the Germans and (possibly worse) rescued by Yankees, and having then lost an empire, were thrilled to keep projecting global French power via a new “Europe.” (The deal was that the Germans, even with a mightier economy, would always play second fiddle to the French in diplomacy.)

Good Riddance to America’s Syria Policy


President Donald Trump’s sudden decision Wednesday to withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria has set off an all-too-predictable debate between those who believe he is abandoning the sacred mantle of U.S. global leadership and those who believe that Syria is not a vital interest and that U.S. power should be deployed elsewhere or preserved for future contingencies. Hard-line hawks such as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and neoconservatives such as Max Boot were quick to denounce Trump’s decision, along with other establishment figures (and Trump critics) such as former CIA Director John Brennan. By contrast, libertarians on the right and noninterventionists on the left have embraced the move, despite their deep aversion to Trump himself and their concerns about most of his other policies.

Trump’s Syria pullout: A quick assessment

Daniel L. Byman
“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president tweeted to explain his sudden decision to withdraw the several thousand U.S. troops stationed in Syria within 30 days. Trump’s decision has a few potential positives, but overall the decision is a poor one—made far worse by the lack of a process and preparation.

The logic behind the continued deployment of the 2,000 or so U.S. troops in Syria was always a bit fuzzy. The administration could point to the Islamic State, Iran, or other foes or explain that the troops helped ensure the survival of America’s Kurdish ally, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who proved perhaps the best fighters against the Islamic State. Yet there was no articulated plan for the troops, and it was always unclear how this small number of troops would decisively shift the region’s military balance. Indeed, if a determined adversary decided to take U.S. forces on, they would be highly vulnerable.

Can the United States Still Promote Democracy in Asia?

Joshua Kurlantzick

During the first two years of the Trump administration, Washington has dramatically reduced its rhetorical focus on democracy promotion in Asia. For instance, President Donald Trump has mostly ignored issues of human rights and democracy when meeting with leaders of abusive regimes, like the Thai prime minister and junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha. This approach is consistent with Trump’s overall realpolitik; he usually does not raise rights issues in meetings with other authoritarian leaders, and he often seems to have more contempt for democratically elected leaders around the globe than for autocrats. 

More recently, despite extensive evidence suggesting that the armed forces of Myanmar oversaw crimes against humanity and genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, in the west of the country, the State Department did not label the atrocities as genocide, as did the United Nations in a report released in August. The State Department’s own investigation into the Rakhine crisis instead accused Myanmar only of “planned and coordinated attacks” on the Rohingya minority.

Losing on All Fronts: The Failed Trump Strategies for America's Wars

By Anthony H. Cordesman 

The flood of criticism that has followed President Trump's sudden decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria is all too justified. The President’s decision was based on a fundamentally wrong strategic assumption: ISIS is not defeated and still has a significant presence in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, even the total defeat of ISIS as an organization does not mean the defeat of the terrorist and extremist threat in Syria. Just as ISIS rose out of the ashes of Al Qaida, some new extremist movement – like Al Nusra – will be born out of the remnants of ISIS. 

As virtually all the President's most senior experienced military and civilian advisors evidently pointed out to him before his decision, ISIS is still fighting in Syria and Iraq, it may well have some 40,000 fighters left in both countries, and it has a serious presence in other countries ranging from Africa to Asia. It is far too early to claim that ISIS is defeated and rush out of Syria – particularly suddenly and in ways that make it look like the U.S. is willing to abandon its allies and strategic partners without warning.

James Mattis Is Out; What Comes Next?

By Dexter Filkins

Secretary of Defense James Mattis—as he described in his resignation letter—sees America’s role in the world as an essential bulwark against chaos.Photograph by Chip Somodevilla / Getty

The wonder, of course, is that Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who announced his resignation on Thursday, ever got the job at all.

From the beginning, Mattis and his boss, President Trump, were nearly perfect opposites. Trump, lazy and self-indulgent, appears to think, when he thinks at all, almost entirely of himself. Mattis, by contrast, is

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Agreed Rules, COP24 And Climate Change Protest

By Binoy Kampmark

“If children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we can all do together if we really wanted to.” — Greta Thunberg at COP24, Dec. 2018

The world, if it goes off in a burn, will do so courtesy of the rules – or their elastic interpretation. It was a fine show of contradiction at Katowice, and the Polish hospitality did not deter the 14,000 delegates drawn from 195 countries from bringing forth a beast of regulation to delight climate change bureaucrats for years. Everyone clapped themselves in way emetic to any bystander suspicious about what had actually been achieved. The question to ask, of course, is whether this fluffy, self-congratulatory exercise makes it past the canapés and becomes a genuine policy document.

Overestimating the EU Economy


If the EU were a soccer team, it would not lose games for lack of a game plan or due to inadequate capacity. The problem is that the team as a whole is not playing cohesively, and all of the top players are struggling individually, owing to messy problems at home.

ABU DHABI – The European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, and the OECD predict that, on average, the European Union’s economy will grow by 1.9% next year, a rate that is broadly consistent with the average of 2% expected for this year. But the picture this paints may prove to be overly optimistic, not only because the growth rate itself is likely to disappoint, but also because there is significant downward pressure on the EU’s growth potential beyond 2019 – pressure that, at present, European leaders seem unprepared to counter effectively.

Globalization 4.0 for Whom?


For the last 40 years, policies governing trade, capital flows, and taxation have adhered to a neoliberal model of race-to-the-bottom competition, resulting in rising inequality and political discontent. And the elites gathering in Davos next month have yet to acknowledge the need for a new approach to governing the global economy.

DAVOS – Imagine a world in which women and girls have their rights respected, climate change receives the attention it so urgently requires, and poverty has been eliminated. Never before have we had the means that we have now to make this vision a reality. In Africa, for example, I am excited to see how off-grid solar energy is expanding rapidly. In Kenya, mobile banking has significantly improved financial inclusion, particularly for poor women.

These and other technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) have the potential to boost productivity, incomes, and leisure time for workers, while also decarbonizing our economies and freeing women from the hold of unremunerated care work. But, to realize this potential, we will have to adopt an entirely new approach to globalization.

Responding to Closing Civic Space: Recent Experiences from Three Global Initiatives

The global phenomenon of closing civic space is no longer new. How best to respond to this decade-long trend as governments increasingly restrict space for civil society activities? This question is continuously debated among activists, academics and professionals in the field. 1 The restriction of civic space comes in many forms, ranging from ad hoc intimidation and harassment of civic activists to growing legal restrictions that make it dif­ficult or impossible for civil society organizations (CSOs) to receive fund­ing and carry out activities. Governments and non-governmental actors have pushed back against these restrictive measures in various ways, with varying degrees of success. This report captures some of their recent learn­ing experiences by examining in particular the approaches of cross-border initiatives that are led by civil society organizations and operate globally, in order to make this knowledge available to other initiatives struggling to reclaim spaces.

Sexual Violence As A Weapon Of War: Nobel Peace Prize 2018 – OpEd

By Irfan Khan*

Nadia Murad, a 25-year-old woman from the Yazidi-Kurdish minority in Iraq who was the victim of extreme sexual violence by the Islamic State group, has been awarded the 2018 Noble Peace Prize. Murad, after Malala Yousafzai, became the second youngest lady to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Dennis Mukwege, who is a veteran gynecologist and surgeon shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nadia Murad. Being an expert in his field, Mukwege serves humanity with full devotion such that mending peoples who are victims of rape, sexual violence subjected by the armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

On the day of International Human Rights, December 10, 2108 (the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), both Nobel Laurates gave their impressive lectures in the Oslo city Hall. They argued that sexual violence is one of the oldest and most awful of weapons in wars and conflicts. Nadia Murad now resides as a refugee in Germany where she is human rights activist, w hile, Dennis Mukwege established the Panzi hospital and foundation in Bukavu in eastern DRC.

Debating the Great Disruption


Growing inequality, accelerating globalization, and new technologies are contributing to a populist backlash that is upending the economic, political, and diplomatic norms of the last seven decades. In our special live event podcast, four leading economists offer their views on the year ahead. 

**This episode discusses themes featured in our annual magazine, The Great Disruption. Order your copy here.**


THE AMERICAN MILITARY is desperately trying to get a leg up in the field of artificial intelligence, which top officials are convinced will deliver victory in future warfare. But internal Pentagon documents and interviews with senior officials make clear that the Defense Department is reeling from being spurned by a tech giant and struggling to develop a plan that might work in a new sort of battle—for hearts and minds in Silicon Valley.

The battle began with an unexpected loss. In June, Google announced it was pulling out of a Pentagon program—the much-discussed Project Maven—that used the tech giant’s artificial intelligence software. Thousands of the company’s employees had signed a petition two months earlier calling for an end to its work on the project, an effort to create algorithms that could help intelligence analysts pick out military targets from video footage.

Inside the Pentagon, Google’s withdrawal brought a combination of frustration and distress—even anger—that has percolated ever since, according to five sources familiar with internal discussions on Maven, the military’s first big effort to utilize AI in warfare.

New Army AI is cutting through data-choked battlefields

By: Mark Pomerleau
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Army units are expected to receive electronic warfare systems in 2019 equipped with new artificial intelligence algorithms to help them more accurately understand signals within the electromagnetic spectrum.

A competition over summer 2018 put best-of-breed industry solutions to the test to better classify signals in the increasingly crowded spectrum, and the Army is now inserting these features into EW prototypes, according to a release. Select units will begin fielding these systems in August.

Can artificial intelligence help reduce burden on electronic warfare officers?

By: Mark Pomerleau