3 January 2019

Indian foreign policy not walking Modi’s big talk

Bharat Karnad

The 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires offered Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi another international occasion to bolster his political standing at home. But while domestic audiences lapped up the Indian media coverage of his umpteenth such outing, in the world of global power politics the Indian Prime Minister lacks any real influence or standing. So Modi followed the same strategy that he has in similar circumstances in the past — trying to make India relevant by inserting the country into clashing coalitions. 

Modi met with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in a threesome to ballyhoo the prospects of the Russia–India–China group, only to turn around and join Donald Trump and Shinzo Abe in extolling the strategic virtues of Japan–America–India. By not clearly indicating which side of the authoritarian–democratic divide India sits on, Modi hopes to firm up India’s standing as the ‘balancer’ in the global correlation of forces. This would be fine if the country was up to the great power game — but it is not. 

Weaponizing water

Brahma Chellaney

Just as China has changed the status quo in the South China Sea through an island-building strategy, it is working to re-engineer cross-border flows of international rivers that originate in Tibet, which Beijing annexed in 1951.

No country will be more affected by China’s dam frenzy than India because of one telling statistic: Out of the 718 billion cubic metres of surface water that flows out of Chinese-held territory yearly, 347 billion cubic meters (or 48.3% of the total) runs directly into India. Several major Indian rivers originate in Tibet, including the Brahmaputra, the Kosi, the Sutlej and the Indus.

China already boasts more large dams than the rest of the world put together. More importantly, it has emerged as the key obstacle to building institutionalized collaboration on shared water resources in Asia.

Challenges Facing India in 2019

Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

While more has been achieved by the Modi government than many earlier governments, there are still many long-standing challenges that face India which need to be addressed in 2019. The most daunting of these may be listed as the governance deficit, ineffective policing, neglect of defence capabilities, and the existential threat posed by Pakistan and China.

Governance Deficit

Governance deficit which has plagued India for decades adversely affects the delivery of services at all levels and in all spheres and thus hobbles the country.

India : Trends to look out for in 2019

Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF
The year 2018 was generally good for India. Relations with the US, Russia, China improved. Corrective action was taken to improve ties with the neighbours. The economy suffered to an extent due to external factors like high oil prices and increase in us interest rates. Indian performance on the export front was not good. Oil prices began to soften towards the end of the year.

Economic growth was sustained despite the short-term adverse impact of GST, demonetisation. Peaceful elections were held in several parts of the country.

On the domestic front, there were some negative trends too. The relationship between the RBI and the government came under stress. In an unprecedented move, some senior judges of the Supreme Court went public with their anxieties regarding the functioning of the highest court and the status of the judiciary. The opposition parties made some electoral gains which has opened up the race to the general elections and livened up the pre-election scenario in the country. While the ruling party is likely to highlight its record on development and governance and opportunism on the part of opposition parties, the opposition would focus on the issues of lack of jobs, ill-effects of demonetisation and GST, status of minorities and health of the institutions of governance. Pre-election period is likely to see more of rhetoric which could distract attention of the nation from the serious task of development and governance.

Indo-Pacific Security Endangered by United States’ Likely Exit From Afghanistan:

Afghanistan’s geostrategic location and presence of US Forces embedded in Afghanistan provide a sheet anchor for Indo Pacific security on its Western Periphery. Indo Pacific Security template has comprehensively emerged as crucial for US security in 2018 prompting rechristening of US Pacific Command as US Indo Pacific Command.

To that end, US President Trump and the Washington policy establishment need to deliberate and come to purposeful political and military conclusions that would ensure that Afghanistan security and stability is strongly secured so that it contributes effectively to the overall security template of Indo Pacific security. US-exit from Afghanistan is not a desirable option for the United States.

The United States if it is seriously committed to the concept of Indo Pacific Security template whose forging is underway, then the United States needs to comprehensively transform Afghanistan into the ‘Frontline State of Indo Pacific Western Periphery Security’.

CIA’s Afghan Forces Leave a Trail of Abuse and Anger

by Mujib Mashal 

The fighters hold the line in the war’s toughest spots, but officials say their brutal tactics are terrorizing the public and undermining the U.S. mission.

… At a time when the conventional Afghan military and police forces are being killed in record numbersacross the country, the regional forces overseen by the CIA have managed to hold the line against the most brutal militant groups, including the Haqqani wing of the Taliban and also Islamic State loyalists.

But the units have also operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture and killings with near impunity, in a covert campaign that some Afghan and American officials say is undermining the wider American effort to strengthen Afghan institutions.

Those abuses are actively pushing people toward the Taliban, the officials say. And with only a relatively small American troop contingent left — and that perhaps set to drop further on President Trump’s orders — the strike forces are increasingly the way that a large number of rural Afghans experience the American presence.

Balkans In 2018: Year Of Crises And Challanges – Analysis

By Balkan Insight

With new regional and international tensions, internal political quarrels, stagnating economies and worsening public services, many people in the Balkans will probably want to forget the past year as 12 wasted months.

From deepening political divisions and tensions over the general elections in Bosnia, to worsened relations between Kosovo and Serbia, and from mass protests in Serbia and Romania to the arrests of so-called “Gulenists”, sought by Turkey, the Balkans saw a good deal of turmoil and political and economic instability in 2018.

In addition to country reports looking at each country’s perspectives in 2019, which promises to be at least as interesting as this year, BIRN is offering this brief overview of the key developments in the Balkan countries in 2018.
Bosnia in 2018: Politics overshadowed by elections

The Asia-Pacific in 2019: What to Expect

By The Diplomat

Another year has come and gone, and it was a doozy. 2018 saw the much-feared U.S.-China trade war actually come to fruition; an unexpected but rapid thaw on the Korean Peninsula; crucial elections in Malaysia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; and surprisingly rapid reforms continue under Uzbekistan’s new president.

This year promises to be a busy one as well. Indonesians will vote for their next president while Australia, Thailand, and India will hold general elections that could seat new prime ministers. The People’s Republic of China will turn 70 to much fanfare, just a few months after the government studiously ignores the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The world will continue to watch if the Korean peace holds. And, over everything, the “Trump factor” will continue to drench the region in uncertainty for yet another year.

China: A Great Economic Game looms in 2019

Xi took the occasion to reassert the CPC’s rule as the only key to weathering “unimaginable” perils and dangers

Year 2019 will be a crucial year for China. Following the 1911 Revolution in China, the Manchu (Qing) dynasty disintegrated, triggering the fall of imperial rule. Eight years later, the May Fourth Movement took place in the Chinese capital; students started protesting against the nationalist government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, allowing Japan to control the territories surrendered by Germany in Shandong.

On the morning of May 4, 1919, student representatives from 13 different local universities met in Beijing and drafted five resolutions, in particular, to oppose the granting of Shandong to the Japanese and the creation of a Beijing student union. Later in the afternoon, some 3,000 students of Beijing University marched to Tiananmen Square shouting slogans such as “Struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home” or “Don’t sign the Versailles Treaty”.

U.S. sheds its blinkers on China

Brahma Chellaney

From Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, successive US presidents, as a matter of policy, aided China’s rise in the naïve hope that a more prosperous China would liberalize economically and politically. But now a fundamental shift in America’s China policy is under way, opening the path to greater Indo-US collaboration. The evolving paradigm shift, with its broad bipartisan support, is set to outlast Donald Trump’s presidency.

China, a trade cheat that has also employed non-tariff tools to punish countries as diverse as South Korea, Mongolia, Japan and the Philippines, is getting a taste of its own medicine. By scripting the Canadian arrest of the Huawei founder’s daughter, the US has shown it has more powerful non-tariff weapons. The action has rattled China’s elites: They are angry but also fearful that any one of them could meet a similar fate while travelling to the West.

A mortal threat to Asia’s rise Posted on December 22, 2018

Brahma Chellaney

Many Asian cities will ring in the New Year with high levels of air pollution, which contributes to potentially life-shortening health problems, from heart disease to severe asthma. Seasonal cold weather impedes dispersal of pollutants in the air, and so tends to increase levels of carbon monoxide and particulates, including tiny particles that can find their way into human lungs.

Asia, given the contamination levels and large populations, is the epicenter of the global air pollution problem. City dwellers are breathing polluted air contaminated with particulates multiple times greater in concentration than the World Health Organization’s safe limit.

The air pollution problem is intimately linked to Asia’s larger crisis arising from its deteriorating natural environment. This degradation poses a potent threat to Asia’s future.

Water Wars: New Year’s Resolutions

By Nathan Swire

In a cabinet meeting on Dec. 18, the government of Japan adopted new National Defense Program Guidelines that call for the “drastic strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities.” The new guidelines adopt a “multidimensional joint defense force” strategy, based on investment in technological advancement. 

The new guidelines include the largest-ever increase in Japan’s defense budget and $240 billion over the next five years to improve weapons and defense equipment. Among the most controversial of these new weapon systems is a set of upgrades to the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s largest destroyer, the JS Izumo, to allow it to act as an aircraft carrier.

Japan plans to buy many of these new weapon systems from the United States. It has already committed to buying Aegis Ashore missile-defense systems, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and the new budget will add 105 more F-35 fighter jets to Japan’s arsenal. In total, the new budget will include $6.4 billion of spending on American military hardware, up from $3.7 billion for this year.

China's Economic Slowdown Is Inevitable

by Anthony Fensom
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Hit by a trade war and a slumping global economy, China is desperately attempting to avert a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy. Against all the odds, can Beijing pull it off?

On December 21, China’s leadership signed off on an economic roadmap for 2019 that features aggressive stimulus measures, including tax cuts and monetary easing.

Yet Beijing’s top officials are not optimistic. The statement released at the end of the three-day economic conference noted that “the external environment is complicated and severe, and the economy faces downward pressure.”

The policymakers called for a “proactive fiscal policy” including tax cuts, exceeding the around 1.3 trillion yuan ($188 billion) already authorized for this year. They also urged a “prudent” monetary policy that is “neither too tight nor too loose,” suggesting a softer stance from the central bank.

U.S.-Sino Relations at 40: How to Deal with China While Avoiding War

by Doug Bandow 

Richard Nixon famously “went to China” in 1971, ending the hostile silence between the two governments. But Jimmy Carter completed the bilateral relationship, formally recognizing the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Official relations were established on January 1, 1979.

The move was controversial, at least to conservatives who backed the Republic of China (ROC), Chiang Kai-shek’s rump state located on the island of Taiwan. The ROC matched the PRC in claiming to be the legitimate government of all China, but without the slightest chance of fulfilling that ambition. After the Nixon trip, Taipei lost not only its seat on the United Nations Security Council but also its membership in the UN. Numerous nations switched their recognition to Beijing. America’s 1979 flip left only a gaggle of smaller states behind Taiwan, many of which have since defected.​

Why China’s Belt And Road Is Off Track – Analysis

By Scott Moore*

(FPRI) — Xinjiang, in northwest China, seems in many ways like the far edge of the modern world. Spanning a vast desert ringed by high mountains, the region was remote enough to have been chosen as the site of China’s nuclear testing in the 1960s. But in ancient times, Xinjiang marked a key stage of the overland trade routes linking the Eastern and Western worlds, and the contemporary visitor will find giant superhighways snaking across the steppe—one of the more dramatic symbols of China’s intention to resurrect the ancient Silk Road.

Announced in 2013, this vision, which has become known as the “Belt and Road Initiative,” has become a global sensation, with nearly a trillion dollars in proposed Chinese investment poised to build roads, railways, ports, and oil pipelines from Beijing to Berlin. Indeed, the concept is so expansive that it has become a kind of shorthand for virtually every China-funded development project worldwide. Unsurprisingly, given this catch-all quality, the Belt and Road has given rise to breathless commentary about the eclipse of the West, and especially America, by a rising China. But there are growing signs that China’s grand strategic vision is off track, with worrying implications for both East and West.

China’s Global Control of 5G Could Be a Cyber Pearl Harbor for US


WASHINGTON—China is determined to control fifth-generation wireless technology (5G) networks, posing a threat to American telecommunication firms and raising national-security concerns. To win the next-generation mobile race, the U.S. government has to act fast, an expert warns.

Cyberspace is considered the fifth strategic domain of warfare, along with land, sea, air, and space. And the Chinese are on the verge of dominating this domain. The Chinese government is heavily investing in 5G networks and significant state subsidies are part of the communist regime’s comprehensive industrial blueprint to beat competition and cement global dominance in the 5G race.

The Unpredictable, Conflicting Structure of the New Cold War

By Mie Oba

Some observers are now suggesting that the deepening confrontation between the United States and China marks the start of a new Cold War. The confrontation goes beyond trade issues to encompass security and high-tech hegemony. The antagonism between the two powers over the South China Sea is a conflict over current international norms and rules, and a choice of international maritime orders between one that is free and open based on law, and something very different. Meanwhile, the two countries are jostling for an edge in advanced technology, a new battleground in the power struggle to define the future world order. The current conflict between the U.S. and China is a struggle for the U.S., the dominant power, and China, the challenger, to expand their spheres of influence. This situation does indeed recall the divided world of the first Cold War, which finally ended about three decades ago.

My Top 10 Foreign-Policy Wish List for 2019

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I’m sure that some of you out there had a perfectly fabulous 2018. Maybe you fell in love, got married, or welcomed the birth of your first child. Perhaps you scored a big promotion at work, finished your degree, or had the foresight to sell your stock portfolio back when the Dow peaked. Or maybe you’re one of those Americans who think President Donald Trump is really making America great again, and your biggest disappointment is that the rest of us don’t recognize his very stable genius.

2018 was a fine year for me personally—among other things, my latest book got published—but I’ll still be happy to leave it in the rearview mirror. It is hard to watch the deteriorating state of the world—and yes, Virginia, political conditions are getting worse—and not be worried about where the United States (and many other countries) are headed. Of late, my biggest concern is that the pace of change and the range of new challenges is overwhelming our capacity to respond to them, a prospect that Thomas Homer-Dixon warned about nearly 20 years ago (and that I viewed with some skepticism at the time). The combination of environmental degradation, shifts in the global balance of power, revolutionary technological developments, and deteriorating political competence heralds a bleak future, and in an era when a handful of states still possess the capacity for immense destruction.

Will Great-Power Rivalries Erode the Foundations of International Cooperation in 2019?

Richard Gowan 

Economists fret about a recession. American commentators worry that President Donald J. Trump is increasingly erratic and unconstrained. Their European counterparts are bracing for a very hard Brexit indeed. Is the outlook for multilateral institutions equally bleak, or even worse?

The United Nations and other international organizations face two major strategic challenges, plus multiple subsidiary crises, over the next year. The main challenges are an intensification of competition between the U.S. and China in multilateral forums, and a rapid deterioration of the once-sturdy nuclear arms control framework. These twin threats could exacerbate many of the crises already roiling global politics, from the North Korean nuclear question to the struggle for power in the Middle East.

Venezuela’s Suicide Lessons From a Failed State

By Moisés Naím and Francisco Toro

Consider two Latin American countries. The first is one of the region’s oldest and strongest democracies. It boasts a stronger social safety net than any of its neighbors and is making progress on its promise to deliver free health care and higher education to all its citizens. It is a model of social mobility and a magnet for immigrants from across Latin America and Europe. The press is free, and the political system is open; opposing parties compete fiercely in elections and regularly alternate power peacefully. It sidestepped the wave of military juntas that mired some Latin American countries in dictatorship. Thanks to a long political alliance and deep trade and investment ties with the United States, it serves as the Latin American headquarters for a slew of multinational corporations. It has the best infrastructure in South America. It is still unmistakably a developing country, with its share of corruption, injustice, and dysfunction, but it is well ahead of other poor countries by almost any measure.

The Future of the Dollar—and Its Role in Financial Diplomacy

The dollar’s central role in world financial markets reflects both faith in American leadership and the absence of reasonable alternatives. Currency dominance has also been a linchpin in America’s efforts to shape a global order around free markets and democracy while serving as a foundation for the sustained growth of a more integrated global economy. These roles now face rising risks. Both Republicans and Democrats question the benefits of an open and integrated economic order that seems to drain good jobs and demand repeated bailouts of bad banks and corrupt foreign governments. Meanwhile, allies and rivals alike raise doubts about the durability of U.S. leadership and the wisdom of depending so heavily on one dominant power.

Christopher Smart is a nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he focuses on the interaction of global financial markets and international economic policy.

Territorial Dispute Settlement To Open New Perspectives For Japan And Russia

Peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo would bring the countries to the new level of cooperation, Japanese Ambassador to Russia Toyohisa Kozuki told RIA Novosti.

“We are convinced that signing a peace treaty after solving the territorial problem would bring Japanese-Russian relations to a new, higher level. The Japanese government will continue efforts to get to that end goal,” the diplomat said.

According to him, Moscow and Tokyo have agreed to hold the visit of Prime Minister Abe to Russia in early 2019 with an opportunity to hold a meeting between foreign ministers before that as well as the Japanese-Russian top level meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit that will be held in Osaka in June.

Analyzing the potential outcomes of further negotiations on the disputed territories, James Brown, Associate Professor of Political Science, Temple University, Japan Campus, said that negotiations over the disputed islands appear to have entered a new phase.

How Hackers Stole $1B From Cryptocurrency Exchanges In 2018

by Davey Winder 

According to the Cryptocurrency Anti-Money Laundering Report from Ciphertrace some $927 million had been stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges in the first three quarters of 2018 alone. That total will almost certainly have hit, if not smashed straight through, the $1 billion mark by now. So, who were the hackers behind the heists and how did they get away with it?

The how remains sadly predictable throughout the year, truth be told; exploiting vulnerabilities in crypto wallet software and servers, social engineering/password compromises and insider theft. The who covers equally predictable territory with lone wolf criminal opportunists at the lower end of scale through to well-resourced nation-state actors at the other.

5 Big National Security Predictions for 2019

By James Holmes

Winston Churchill once wisecracked that the politician’s job is to predict what will happen—then explain why it didn’t. More to the point, George Orwell mocked “the unsinkable Military Expert” who keeps venturing strong predictions about martial affairs, keeps getting forecasts wrong, and keeps drawing “fat salaries” despite repeated failures as a soothsayer. Be humble when prophesying—lest the ghosts of wars past appear before you and terrify you!

In that spirit of humility, my Five National Security Predictions for 2019:

1. China keeps pushing its bounds:

China has a dream, as President Xi Jinping likes to say. More accurately, the Chinese Communist Party has a dream that it has thrust on the Chinese people. Party potentates will continue pushing toward that dream along parallel diplomatic, economic, and military tracks. Beijing has found footholds throughout the Indo-Pacific region through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI supplies regional governments with funds for infrastructure development in hopes of resurrecting the maritime and landward Silk Roads of old. Naval bases could follow, playing host to Beijing’s many surface and subsurface warships. China has whittled away at freedom of the sea in Southeast Asia, arming artificial islands, and installing surveillance gear to maintain a virtual presence throughout the South China Sea. Moreover, Beijing is taking an increasingly aggressive stance vis-à-vis U.S. Navy demonstrations on behalf of navigational rights. There is little reason to expect China to refrain from such efforts to fulfill its dream unless internal woes impose self-discipline or geopolitical rivals push back hard.

Amidst Turmoil, Pentagon Persists On Acquisition Reform: Ellen Lord


PENTAGON: One constant in the abrupt transition from outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to his deputy, soon to be acting secretary, Patrick Shanahan? The grueling, technical, but crucial business of acquisition reform. For all their differences, Pentagon technocrats, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and even President Trump can all agree that the Defense Department needs to do a better job of buying weapons.

Yes, there will be a new defense secretary in 2019 — perhaps more than one — but with only weeks left until the 2020 budget drops and with a number of critical Pentagon reforms already well underway, civilian leaders in the building say they’re putting their heads down and simply pushing forward. Speaking to a small group of reporters just before the dramatic events that lead to Mattis’ unexpected exit at the end of the year, undersecretary for acquisition Ellen Lord said that she’s planning a top-to-bottom rewrite of the building’s byzantine acquisition rules.


FIRST ALGORITHMS FIGURED out how to decipher images. That’s why you can unlock an iPhone with your face. More recently, machine learning has become capable of generating and altering images and video.

In 2018, researchers and artists took AI-made and enhanced visuals to another level. Scroll through these examples to see how software that can make images, video, and art could power new forms of entertainment—as well as disinformation.
Fake Moves

Software developed at UC Berkeley can transfer the movements of one person, captured on video, onto another.

Pinning The OSINT To The Board

Joe Gray

Continuing the conversation about the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) collection across social media, it is worth discussing Pinterest. While it is not as verbally intimate as LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest is a board-based platform that allows users to "pin" images and links to their topical boards. Users can pin other user's pins to their boards. Organizations and people can use Pinterest as a marketing tool in terms of pinning images from their website to boards or by adding the Pin It widget to their site to allow others to do so.


Why older satellites present a cyber risk

By: Jan Kallberg 
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The most cost-effective and simplistic cyberattack in space, one with the intent to bring down a targeted satellite, is likely to use an older satellite now viewed as space junk that still has fuel and can respond to communications. Hackers could then use that satellite to ram or force targeted space assets out of orbit. The benefits for the attacker are numerous.

Consider that the life span of a satellite is as long as 30 years, and even afterward it can still orbit with enough propellant for functional communications. Space contains thousands of satellites, both active and inactive, launched by numerous organizations and countries, hosting more than 5,000 space-borne transponders communicating with Earth. Every transmission is a potential inlet for a cyberattack. Older satellites share technological similarities, providing opportunities to exploit systems for control and processing. Satellites may be based on hardware and technology from as long ago as the 1980s and are unlikely to have been upgraded after launch.

As The AI Cold War Looms, Has Time Finally Been Called On China's Spy Industry

Zak Doffman

Africa/Middle East, June 2018. The building, one of several tawny midsized structures on an industrial estate, sits a mile from the highway. Across the street, a strip of low-rent retail outlets and the rear entrance to a chain hotel. A gatehouse stands guard beside a single gap in average-height fencing. There is almost no traffic. Visitors cross from the hotel, through desert-like heat, without looking up. They hand passports and laptops through a window and wait for hosts to walk across the car park to meet them. Inside the building, there are rows of meeting rooms and offices with clusters of cubicles in between. Wall posters advocate mission and teamwork. If you didn’t know better, you’d assume this was a small software house rather than a national security collection agency.

The Army’s ‘triad of opportunity’

By: Mike Gruss 

Lt. Gen. Bruce Crawford is quick to remind his audience that the United States Army is one of the largest organizations in the world.

Crawford understands the scope because, as the service’s top uniformed IT official, any way the Army wants to take advantage of the revolution taking place in information technology must go through his office.

Crawford became the service’s chief information officer in August 2017 and since then has focused on the move to the cloud, hiring staff and protecting data.

“A lot of things that we’re looking at are aspirational, but what I will tell you is institutionally we are fundamentally in a different place than we were just 12 months ago,” he said.