6 January 2019

China's dam-building rage is threatening the whole of Asia, and India has the most to lose


China is the world’s biggest dam builder, with the country boasting more dams than the rest of the world combined. China is also the world’s largest exporter of dams.

In Nepal, where China-backed communists are in power, Beijing has just succeeded in reviving a lucrative dam project, which was scrapped by the previous Nepalese government as China had won the contract without competitive bidding. The reversal of the previous government’s cancellation of the $2.5-billion Budhi-Gandaki Dam project has come after Nepal’s communist rulers implemented a transit transport agreement with China, to cut dependence on India.

China is building dams in two other countries neighbouring India — Myanmar and Pakistan — including in areas torn by ethnic separatism (northern Myanmar), and in a United Nations-designated disputed territory like the Pakistan-occupied portion of Jammu and Kashmir.

Why the US pushed the ‘India office’ out of the Pentagon


In the year 2000, Russia started re-emerging as a great military power and China became an economic giant. The United States perceived such developments as a challenge to the established world order. The US prepared a comprehensive strategy to contest great-power competitions in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Capitalizing on the local dynamics in South Asia, the US picked India as its strategic partner to contain China. The US also hoped that it would eventually pull India out of the Russian camp and hence deprive Russia of a major defense client.

In 2005, United States consented to a civil nuclear deal with India and described it a pivotal moment for the beginning of a strategic relationship between India and the US. India became a strategic ally and partner in Asia. To appease India, as an immediate reward, the US turned a blind eye to Indian proxies against Pakistan.

US: Afghan Security Strategy Is ‘Working,’ Despite Insider Attacks


A Pentagon spokesman cites a two-thirds decrease in attacks since the war’s peak eight years ago.

The Afghan security force effort to hold Taliban violence at bay is “working,” a Defense Department spokesman said Monday, amid a spate of insider attacks and violence linked to this weekend’s parliamentary elections.

Dozens of Afghans were either killed or injured in attacks on polling stations over the weekend, leading officials to extend or delay polling in several places. On Monday morning, one Resolute Support service member was killed and two were wounded in an apparent insider attack in Herat province, Pentagon officials said.

The attacks followed a campaign season in which 10 candidates were assassinated, and last week’s insider attack in Kandahar province that wounded an American brigadier general and killed an Afghan police chief seen as a pillar of local security.

The Future of Democracy in South Asia Why Citizens Must Stay Vigilant

By Paul Staniland

On November 14, a fight broke out in the Sri Lankan Parliament. When the Speaker tried to call a vote, a group of MPs heckled him and rushed the podium. A rival faction tried to push the hecklers back. Men traded punches. One brandished a knife. A lawmaker cut himself trying to steal the Speaker’s microphone and ended up in the hospital.

The chaos was the result of a constitutional crisis that erupted in October, when the country’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, tried to oust the prime minister and replace him with a former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Lawmakers and citizens protested; Sirisena dissolved Parliament, until the Supreme Court ruled this unconstitutional; and Rajapaksa, rejected by Parliament, refused to step aside. The stalemate broke only in December, when Sirisena reinstated the deposed prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the face of concerted opposition from the judiciary and a majority of Parliament. 

Does Sino-US Competition Mean a Zero Sum Game?

By Ben Lowsen

The United States’ policy on China is shifting to emphasize competition over cooperation, as described in its National Security Strategy. In response to the idea of competition, China has called on America to “discard the cold-war and zero-sum mindset.” But U.S. Vice President Mike Pence insists that “‘Competition does not always mean hostility,’ nor does it have to.” So whose definition is correct? And what does this mean for U.S.-China relations?

In English, “competition” primarily means “The act of competing, as for a profit or a prize; rivalry.” Merriam Webster cites its origin as:

Late Latin competere to seek together, from Latin, to come together, agree, be suitable, from com- + petere to go to, seek

While it certainly has an overtone of “contest,” it also has a distinct gentility: two opponents seeking to show their worthiness. It is a match bounded by certain rules, not a primordial struggle for survival.

China’s military priorities for 2019: boost training and prepare for war

Choi Chi-yuk

“Drilling soldiers and war preparations are the fundamental jobs and work focus of our military, and at no time should we allow any slack in these areas,” the PLA Daily said in its New Year’s Day editorial.

“We should be well prepared for all directions of military struggle and comprehensively improve troops’ combat response in emergencies … to ensure we can meet the challenge and win when there is a situation.”

Other priorities outlined in the editorial included thorough planning and implementation to develop the military, fostering reform and innovation, and party building within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

China’s Malign Secrecy


In principle, China’s massive savings, infrastructure know-how, and willingness to lend could be great for developing economies. Alas, as many countries have learned the hard way, Chinese development finance often delivers a corruption-filled sugar high to the economy, followed by a nasty financial (and sometimes political) hangover.

CAMBRIDGE – Secrets may be among the most valuable assets that governments have: the Trojan Horse, the Enigma code, the Manhattan Project, and surprise attacks such as Pearl Harbor, the Six-Day War, and the Yom Kippur War are just a few of the best-known examples. But in some cases, governments’ desire for secrecy is hard to square with the national interest – and may even be among the most dangerous threats to it. The threat is even greater when the secrecy is prompted by the less-than-lofty interests of a foreign government intent on getting its way.

China’s Gulag for Muslims

By Mustafa Akyol

One of the darkest episodes of the 20th century was the gulag — the Soviet system of forced labor camps where dissidents were imprisoned in terrible conditions, often to perish. The camps were established by Lenin, expanded by Stalin and finally exposed to the world by the great Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, with his 1973 masterpiece, “The Gulag Archipelago.”

“Thin strands of human lives stretch from island to island of Archipelago,” he wrote, and “it is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold, and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides.”

Today, Russia’s gulags are long gone, as is the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that operated them. But now another dictatorship, ruled by another Communist Party, is operating a new chain of prisons that evoke memory of the gulags — more modern, more high-tech, but no less enslaving.

Economists look to US and China for risks in 2019

By Tim Boyd

A worsening of the relationship between China and the US is the most-tipped black swan-type risk for the global economy, according to leading Australian economists. 

The first quarterly survey of economists in 2019 by The Australian Financial Review shows that trade tensions between the US and China, cyber security concerns, OPEC's output discipline and a slowdown in Australian tourism are on economists' radars as potential threats to stability and growth. 

Seven economists surveyed raised China's relationship with the US as a potential risk that could have far-reaching consequences, stemming from trade tensions that erupted in 2018.

Economists say trade tensions between the US and China are a key risk for 2019. Andrew Harnik 

The New Face of Terrorism in 2019


The way Westerners think about Islamist terrorism has grown dangerously outdated. For decades, officials have focused on attacks launched by Middle Easterners. Today, however, the real threat increasingly comes from further east. In the former Soviet states and beyond, militants who once harbored mostly local grievances are turning their attention to the West. They will be the menace to watch in 2019.

The threat posed by Middle Eastern terrorists has been shrinking for some time. Even during the war against the Islamic State, Russian speakers from former Soviet countries were already committing many of the major attacks in the West. Those included relatively simple lone-wolf events, such as the 2017 truck strikes on pedestrians in New York and Stockholm—both conducted by Uzbeks—but also more complicated operations, such as the 2016 suicide bombing of Istanbul’s airport—which was allegedly organized by a Russian national—and the 2017 attack on a nightclub in the same city, led by an Uzbek.

The Eroding Balance of Terror The Decline of Deterrence

By Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr.

Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars,” the American nuclear strategist Bernard Brodie wrote in 1946. “From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them.” Brodie’s injunction summed up the grim lesson of the first five decades of the twentieth century: after two horrific world wars and the development of nuclear weapons, it was clear that the next major conflict would produce no winners—only survivors. As U.S. President John F. Kennedy put it a decade and a half later, in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis, “Even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth.” For decades, U.S. policymakers followed Brodie’s and Kennedy’s lead, putting deterrence—preventing rivals from attacking in the first place—at the center of U.S. defense strategy.

Applied effectively, deterrence discourages an adversary from pursuing an undesirable action. It works by changing the adversary’s calculation of costs, benefits, and risks. A country can, for instance, convince its opponents that an attack is so unlikely to succeed that it is not even worth the attempt: deterrence through denial. Or a country may convince its opponents that defeating it would be so costly as to be a victory in name only: deterrence through punishment. In either case, a rational adversary will decide to stay put.

Snake-Oil Economics The Bad Math Behind Trump’s Policies

By N. Gregory Mankiw

When economists write, they can decide among three possible voices to convey their message. The choice is crucial, because it affects how readers receive their work.

The first voice might be called the textbook authority. Here, economists act as ambassadors for their profession. They faithfully present the wide range of views professional economists hold, acknowledging the pros and cons of each. These authors do their best to hide their personal biases and admit that there is still plenty that economists do not know. According to this perspective, reasonable people can disagree; it is the author’s job to explain the basis for that disagreement and help readers make an informed judgment.

The second voice is that of the nuanced advocate. In this case, economists advance a point of view while recognizing the diversity of thought among reasonable people. They use state-of-the-art theory and evidence to try to persuade the undecided and shake the faith of those who disagree. They take a stand without pretending to be omniscient. They acknowledge that their intellectual opponents have some serious arguments and respond to them calmly and without vitriol. 

How Predictable Is Donald Trump?

By Isaac Chotiner

Donald Trump will begin the third year of his Presidency amid a level of chaos that appears unprecedented, even for him. After hasty announcements (and partial walkbacks) of troop withdrawals, with markets jittery and Cabinet members departing, and with the government shut down over his request for border-wall funding, the President is reported to be especially isolated and volatile. But is Trump actually any different than he was when he began his Presidency? And how might his behavior in the next two years differ from what we have seen from him so far?

To discuss these questions, I spoke by phone with Michael Kranish, an investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and the co-author (with Marc Fisher) of “Trump Revealed,” which was published in August of 2016 and features hours of interviews with Trump.

An edited and condensed version of our conversation follows.

WP319 | The Hindu Rights Action Force and the Malaysian Indian Minority after the 2018 General Election in Malaysia

Arunajeet Kaur

The Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) came out from a series of controversial actions perceived by the Malaysian Indian community as discriminatory. The issues were topical occurrences such as the errant destruction of Hindu temples and the body-snatching cases of Tamil Hindus, thought to have been converted to Islam, as well as the state of poverty confronted by the Tamil Hindu community in Malaysia. From a protest rally in November 2007, led by mainly Malaysian Tamil lawyers, the Malaysian Indian community framed its demands in legal terms and questioned the position of not only the Malaysian Malay-Muslim majoritarian government but also the decolonising decisions of the departing British colonial authorities at the point of Independence in 1957. The 2007 event become known as the HINDRAF rally. It had an overwhelming impact internationally, in drawing attention to the plight of Malaysian Tamil Hindus. Inside Malaysia, by garnering the support of non-Malays, mainly the Chinese, to unite with the Indians, it affected the Malaysian general election in 2008, as the ruling Barisan Nasional government lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Welcome to the World’s Least Ugly Economy

Economic competition among nations is more of a beauty contest than a footrace. In reality, every economy performs under its own spotlight. By that reckoning, as the new year dawns, it’s already obvious which economy is likely to be crowned Miss World 2019.

Yes, it’s last year’s pageant winner, the still-booming U.S. economy. Despite the recent turmoil on Wall Street and problems with income inequality, debt, and policy paralysis—and the tariff war launched by President Donald Trump— most economists say the United States is far outpacing all rivals in growth and stability.

At the very least, “the U.S. keeps coming out tops in the least ugly contest,” said Adam Posen, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE). “It gets uglier all the time, but it’s still winning.

How a World Order Ends And What Comes in Its Wake

By Richard Haass

A stable world order is a rare thing. When one does arise, it tends to come after a great convulsion that creates both the conditions and the desire for something new. It requires a stable distribution of power and broad acceptance of the rules that govern the conduct of international relations. It also needs skillful statecraft, since an order is made, not born. And no matter how ripe the starting conditions or strong the initial desire, maintaining it demands creative diplomacy, functioning institutions, and effective action to adjust it when circumstances change and buttress it when challenges come.

Eventually, inevitably, even the best-managed order comes to an end. The balance of power underpinning it becomes imbalanced. The institutions supporting it fail to adapt to new conditions. Some countries fall, and others rise, the result of changing capacities, faltering wills, and growing ambitions. Those responsible for upholding the order make mistakes both in what they choose to do and in what they choose not to do.

Germany has big plans for UN Security Council seat

The decision to award the Germans a seat alongside the five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom — and nine other nonpermanent members was a clear one: 184 votes out of a possible 193. Germany took its place on January 1.

Germany is seeking to implement several plans over the next two years. At the UN General Assembly in September, Maas advocated strengthening multilateralism, which has come under pressure from, among other things, the "America First" policies of US President Donald Trump.

"The United Nations is at the heart of the multilateral system," Maas said before departing for New York earlier this year. "We are living at a time when we need more international order, more reliability, more confidence in our common rules. The United Nations is as strong, just and effective as its members make it."

Climate Change Action Cannot Ignore Social Issues


Despite a series of troubling new reports and studies, the world has yet to respond adequately to the threat posed by global warming. One reason is that policymakers have not made the connection between climate action and the social and political challenges their countries face.

PRINCETON/VIENNA – Climate scientists are sounding the alarm about global warming, but the world is not responding. In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of catastrophic risks to health, livelihoods, water supplies, and human security if global warming is not limited to 1.5° Celsius relative to the pre-industrial level, a target set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. At the moment, however, we are on track for a 3°C increase.

The Mattis Resignation and the U.S. FY2020 Defense Budget and Strategy Crisis

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Secretary Mattis' resignation, his resignation letter challenging to President Trump, his forced departure, and the resulting uncertainties over the future U.S. role in two ongoing wars – Iraq-Syria and Afghanistan – have been the well-deserved central focus of the U.S. national security community over the past few weeks. They may, however, be only the prelude to a much deeper crisis, and one that will have an impact on every aspect of U.S defense for at least the rest of the Trump Administration.

Secretary Mattis originally resigned effective as of February 28, 2019. This led most of the attention to his actual timing to focus on a key meeting of NATO and the uncertainties remaining after this year's Ministerial – a meeting where President Trump focused verbally on criticizing allied burden sharing but still signed a strong endorsement of the Alliance along with all the other representatives of member countries.

Firing Mattis at a Critical Point in Shaping Future Defense Spending

Trump’s 2019 Vision: Let Others Fight Our Battles


In extraordinary and apparently impromptu remarks on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump indicated that he believes it isn’t in America’s interest to be fighting in either Syria or Afghanistan, which he appears to view as local conflicts best left to regional powers.

In the case of Afghanistan, Trump all but dismissed the nearly two-decade war there as a matter for Afghan neighbors such as Russia and Pakistan to figure out, giving a historically garbled account of Moscow’s experience in Afghanistan and suggesting that the United States shouldn’t follow in the path of the former Soviet Union by draining its resources there. Referring to the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, Trump said: “Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan.”

Trump calls it 'insane' to publicly release military watchdog reports


President Trump on Wednesday told his new acting Defense secretary to stop publicly releasing watchdog reports on the U.S. military, calling the practice “insane.”

“We do these reports on our military. Some [inspector general] goes over there — who [were] mostly appointed by President Obama, but we’ll have ours too — and he goes over there and they do a report on every single thing that’s happening and they release it to the public,” Trump said.

“For these reports criticizing every single thing — and even in some cases saying good, perhaps — but for these reports, to give it out, forget about the public, given out to the enemy is insane. And I don’t want that to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary, you understand that.”

Acting SecDef Shanahan’s First Message: “China, China, China.”


PENTAGON: In his first day on the job, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahangathered civilian leaders of the military services to deliver a simple message: “China, China, China.”

Chinese missile ranges. Graphic by Center for Strategic & International Studies (click to expand)

The comments, shared with reporters Wednesday by a defense official, came as the department continues to reposition forces and refocus modernization programs to meet the rising military prowess of China and Russia — but China’s stronger economy means Beijing is pulling ahead of Moscow in upgrading its forces and hacking US defense firms and government agencies to steal innovative technologies.

Taiwan boosting cyberwar readiness to ‘strike back’

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry is seeking cyber-warfare talent to augment the military’s digital operational preparedness as it gears up to develop its capacity both to employ and defend against cyberattacks.

The ministry’s Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology has been wooing candidates holding degrees in science, engineering or other related disciplines for its cyber-warfare research and development initiatives, according to the Central News Agency.

New project employees with doctoral could command a monthly salary of up to NT$85,000 (US$2,700), an attractive remuneration package at a time when the average wage for those with degrees hovers around the NT$35,000 level.

Amid the purported cyber threats from China, Taiwan aims to boost its own ability not only to fend off such attacks, but also to strike back.

The Defense Ministry has allotted almost NT$100 million for universities to develop defense and asymmetric cyber-warfare technologies and strategies.

The Dangers of Artificial Intelligence in 2019

Michael K. Spencer

If we learned anything in 2018 it’s that algorithms and social platforms are under regulated, can easily be weaponized and that cybersecurity is an accelerating threat.

We learned that Huawei, a state sponsored technology company in China is considered a national security risk by the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany and maybe Canada and the United Kingdom.

We also learned that Google and Microsoft sell their services to the U.S. government, many times against the wishes of their own employees and best ethical judgement. The trend of putting profits over ethics and integrity is very dangerous for humanity.

Instead of thinking about the hype of AI, we need to be more skeptical about where AI could be heading us as a civilization. We are living in an era where the existential threats to our survival will be increasingly exponentiallywith our technological experiments.

The US Justice Department Is Just Getting Started Against State-Backed Hackers

By Ankit Panda

The announcement of charges against two Chinese nationals by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year in connection with various alleged computer intrusion crimes might seem like yet another salvo in the growing cold war between Beijing and Washington.

But it’s part of something much greater. The United States appears to be working to find a way to deter, and build an international norm against, state-backed espionage against private companies. The indictment of the Chinese nationals is part of a broader pattern being undertaken by the Trump administration, iterating on the previous administration’s softer approach that had favoured diplomacy over hitting wrongdoers with criminal charges.

On December 20, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced the criminal indictment of two individuals – Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong – who were alleged to be part of a China-based hacking group known to the information security community as APT10 – an acronym for “advanced persistent threat”, a type of cyberattack in which the attacker gains and maintains unauthorized access to a targeted network.

Air Force turns to nontraditional contracting for space technology projects

by Sandra Erwin

Capt. Benjamin Leaf, program manager of the Space Enterprise Consortium: “We are changing space acquisitions in multiple ways."

WASHINGTON — The Air Force just over a year ago formed a Space Enterprise Consortium to expedite the development and prototyping of satellites, ground systems, space sensors and other technologies that U.S. adversaries are advancing at a rapid pace.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson hailed the SpPEC as a successful business model that cuts red tape considerably compared to traditional defense contracting. The consortium so far has started 34 projects worth about $110 million and has been authorized to fund nearly $400 million in additional projects over the next four years.

“The initial ceiling for SpEC was $100 million but was increased to $500 million in order to address the emphasis and demand for other transactions agreements to support prototyping efforts,” Air Force Capt. Benjamin Leaf, the SpEC program manager, told SpaceNews in a recent interview.

Is there such a thing as too much supply chain cybersecurity?

By: Adam Stone 

The military supply chain is vast, multifaceted, and riddled with potential cyber vulnerabilities.

As a result, "there is [a] possible theft of data or proprietary information or classified information. There’s the ability through malware to sabotage activities or to destroy the confidence in the data,” said Daniel McGarvey, former director of information protection for the Air Force and a senior consultant to the federal Performance Accountability Council. “There’s the threat of putting embedded malware into a system that either takes control of or actually disables the system.”

In an increasingly digital battlefield, senior leaders, experts and analysts say supply-chain cybersecurity could be a weak point in the military’s armor. To remedy that, they urge closer oversight of contractors, and tighter coordination on cyber issues between military buyers and defense-industry suppliers.

Four big questions for cybersecurity in 2019

Justin Lynch 

In the past year, the Trump administration announced it would take more offensive hacking operations against foreign countries, the Department of Justice announcedsweeping indictments against Chinese hackers and the U.S. intelligence community reported that foreign countries continued to interfere in American elections.

So what comes next? Here are four overarching questions for the cybersecurity community in 2019:

What will the new Pentagon chief do with expanded cyber powers?

In August, the president gave the secretary of Defense the ability to conduct cyberattacks against foreign countries so long as they do not interfere with the national interest of the United States, according to four current and former White House and intelligence officials. But the resignation of Jim Mattis, the Defense secretary, means the next Pentagon chief will have a broad arsenal of cyber authorities.

The Small War That Wasn’t


The years between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks are largely thought of as a footnote to history—one eventually interrupted by Islamist terrorism, economic crisis, and genuine geopolitical competition from China and Russia. The meager legacy of Washington’s military intervention in Kosovo is a case in point: It is seen as a brief, successful, and low-stakes war, remembered as insignificant when it’s remembered at all—which it rarely is by Americans, even as the war’s 20th anniversary approaches in March.

The consensus, however, is wrong. The Kosovo war was short (just three months), but it wasn’t small. In fundamental ways, it was a turning point for international politics.

The crisis pitted military forces led by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, already infamous for his murderous actions in the Bosnian conflict, against ethnic Albanian Kosovar insurgents, who resented growing repression in the province. In March 1999, fighting intensified, Kosovo’s neighbors were flooded with refugees, and the West got involved. When Milosevic ignored demands for a negotiated solution, NATO used force. After 78 days of bombing, Serbian troops withdrew, and NATO ground troops moved in.

Adapting the Powell Doctrine to Limited Wars

The Powell Doctrine lays out criteria for using U.S. military force in international conflicts—but in recent years, the wisdom of the Powell Doctrine has been all but forgotten. Discover how an updated version of the Powell Doctrine could benefit the U.S. military—as well as the international community at large—when you subscribe to World Politics Review. 

Chastened by the failure of U.S. military might to achieve strategic success in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. observers began to re-examine the wisdom of the Powell Doctrine, a set of criteria for the use of U.S. military force abroad that sets a high and prohibitive bar for any U.S. military intervention—an especially sensitive topic since the days of the Vietnam War. The Powell Doctrine dictates that any U.S. involvement in wars should come with clear, realistic and achievable political objectives—and with strong support from the American people and a clearly defined exit strategy.