18 January 2019

Raja Mandala: Alliances and strategic autonomy

by C. Raja Mohan

Indian foreign policy debate would be less metaphysical and more pragmatic if it stops obsessing about ‘non-alignment’

Is “non-alignment” a special attribute of Indian foreign policy? Given Delhi’s continuing preoccupation with the idea of non-alignment, most visible recently at last week’s Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, you would think it is.

More than a hundred countries are members of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). They swear, at least formally, by the idea of non-alignment and show up at the triennial NAM summits. But few of them of think of non-alignment as the defining idea of their foreign policies. Even fewer believe it is worth debating on a perennial basis.

The governments in Delhi might have been the last, but they have certainly moved away from the straitjacket of non-alignment — in practice if not in theory. The rhetoric too has changed under the present government. As Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale put it in response to a question at the Raisina Dialogue, India is now “aligned”. “But the alignment is issue-based”, Gokhale said. “It is not ideological. That gives us the capacity to be flexible, gives us the capacity to maintain our decisional autonomy.”

The real butchers of Punjab

Ajai Sahni

Those who KPS Gill described as the ‘defeated rump of terrorism’ in Punjab, the disgraced and beaten dregs of the Khalistani movement, have, for decades, kept up a campaign against him and the Punjab Police, from the safe havens in Pakistan and the West. Now, nearly two years after his death, a more local variety of rabble-rousers are gathering courage to initiate a campaign of abuse against Gill. A flood of unfounded allegations, false claims of genocide, an unending whisper campaign, and demonisation grow more voluble against a background of rising radicalisation and incidents that signal an incipient resurgence of Khalistani terrorism. 

Pakistan’s army is to blame for the poverty of the country’s 208m citizens

It has for so long been a country of such unmet potential that the scale of Pakistan’s dereliction towards its people is easily forgotten. Yet on every measure of progress, Pakistanis fare atrociously. More than 20m children are deprived of school. Less than 30% of women are employed. Exports have grown at a fifth of the rate in Bangladesh and India over the past 20 years. And now the ambitions of the new government under Imran Khan, who at least acknowledges his country’s problems (see Briefing), are thwarted by a balance-of-payments crisis. If Mr Khan gets an imf bail-out, it will be Pakistan’s 22nd. The persistence of poverty and maladministration, and the instability they foster, is a disaster for the world’s sixth-most-populous country. Thanks to its nuclear weapons and plentiful religious zealots, it poses a danger for the world, too.

Afghanistan after Mattis: A revised strategy to focus on counterterrorism and the Afghan Security Forces

Michael E. O’Hanlon

The center of gravity in the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan should be modified. The focus should not be on nation-building writ large. Nor should it be on helping the Afghan government extend its control over more of the country’s territory—a desirable, but nonessential, objective. Rather, the emphasis should be squarely on making the Afghan security forces more resilient and capable. Doing so will likely keep the country’s cities and main roads in government hands, allowing the United States to preserve counterterrorism capacities in South Asia for the long haul.

This goal would be more readily achieved by keeping U.S. force totals near their current 14,000 troop level for some time to come. But it can also be attempted, with reasonable prospects, at smaller deployment figures if necessary, given President Trump’s potential interest in reducing the American military presence in Afghanistan by perhaps a quarter to half soon. To pursue these objectives, Washington should support Afghan policies like the following:

Afghanistan After Mattis: A Revised Strategy to Focus on Counterterrorism and the Afghan Security Forces

by Michael E. O’Hanlon

The center of gravity in the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan should be modified. The focus should not be on nation-building writ large. Nor should it be on helping the Afghan government extend its control over more of the country’s territory—a desirable, but nonessential, objective. Rather, the emphasis should be squarely on making the Afghan security forces more resilient and capable. Doing so will likely keep the country’s cities and main roads in government hands, allowing the United States to preserve counterterrorism capacities in South Asia for the long haul.

This goal would be more readily achieved by keeping U.S. force totals near their current 14,000 troop level for some time to come. But it can also be attempted, with reasonable prospects, at smaller deployment figures if necessary, given President Trump’s potential interest in reducing the American military presence in Afghanistan by perhaps a quarter to half soon. To pursue these objectives, Washington should support Afghan policies like the following…

Southeast Asia in 2019: Four Issues to Watch

This year promises to be another dynamic one for Southeast Asia—and hopefully for high-level U.S. engagement with the region. With elections and governance challenges in many countries, the Chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) returning to Thailand while it organizes an election and plans a coronation, the region’s trade architecture in flux, and the backdrop of growing U.S.-China strategic rivalry and trade friction, these are the key issues to watch in 2019.

Elections and Governance

Indonesia and Thailand, Southeast Asia’s two largest economies and traditional leaders within ASEAN, are both set to hold elections in early 2019. In Thailand, the upcoming election will nominally return the country to civilian rule nearly five years after a coup d’état overthrew the previously-elected government. However, the timing of the much-delayed election is again uncertain, as the government just announced that the previously set date of February 24 will no longer work due to activities surrounding the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on May 4. Thai military leaders have sought to reassure the public that the election will be held no later than March and has floated March 10 and March 24 as possible dates. Regardless of the timing, the outcome of the first vote under a newly rewritten constitution does not presage a full return to democracy and civilian rule, as the military retains sweeping powers and an outsized role in shaping the next government. Indeed, a likely post-election scenario is that the elected lower house is controlled by an anti-junta coalition, while the upper house and prime minister remain in the hands of pro-junta parties. This scenario would likely lead to political gridlock and potentially spark social unrest and would diminish the ability of Thailand to return to stronger economic growth and regional leadership.

China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Gamble; Will it Bring the World to China?

China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative has the potential to be a win-win for China and for the developing countries in Africa and Eurasia that are involved, but only if it can overcome some major obstacles. Find out more – when you subscribe to World Politics Review.

China is using its influence to build a global economic network for trade and development, with itself as the driver. China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative—known as OBOR as well as the Belt and Road Initiative, and unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013—has been touted as the blueprint for this new global vision. Beijing’s aspirations are clear in its claims to want to reshape world commerce through new trade routes and transportation links. 

Yet even as China gears up to rain hundreds of billions of dollars on projects spanning Asia, Europe and Africa in the years ahead, it is far from clear what its vision is, or how it will make this plan a success. As a business-led initiative, OBOR looks like an obvious win-win for all involved. Most of the countries expected to receive Chinese investment badly need new infrastructure, but lack the financing and know-how to build it alone. And with growth slowing at home, China needs other markets for its homemade steel and cement, as well as construction contracts for its companies and workers. 

To Boost Flagging Growth, China Doubles Down on Its Least Productive Sector

Benn Steil and Benjamin Della Rocca

China’s leaders have vowed to boost flagging economic growth with greater government spending on infrastructure. Is this a wise bet?

Since 2010, China has spent roughly eight percent of GDP on infrastructure, which is way more than the four percent average of the next ten biggest spenders. This gap is unproblematic if construction is unusually productive in China, contributing more to the country’s future growth capacity than other sectors. The Chinese government’s recent record on directing investment spending is poor, however, and acknowledging the resultant bad debts would roughly halve China’s recent growth rates. In the case of construction in particular, the government seems to be getting it wrong. Here is why.

Why Haven't U.S. Exports of Manufactures Kept Pace with China's Growth?

Brad W. Setser

China is a big country, and, at least until recently, it was growing relatively fast. So it stands to reason that it should have been among the most rapidly growing markets for U.S. exports. 

The rapid growth of U.S. exports to China is the kind of thing that is often asserted in foreign policy speeches seeking to illustrate the importance of a healthy Sino-American relationship. 

And it is often sort of implied in more recent articles that highlight the impact of China's slowdown on U.S. firms.

But, well, China wasn't actually a rapidly growing market for U.S. exports of manufactures even before its recent slowdown. The emphasis here is on "exports." I intentionally am not equating the sales of U.S. firms in China with U.S. production.

Chinese Investment In US Plunges 83% Amid Simmering Trade War

Chinese investments in North America and Europe fell by 73 percent last year as a result of tightened US scrutiny of foreign takeover deals and Beijing’s restrictions on outbound investments.

Data from law firm Baker & McKenzie showed that Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into the United States have also turned negative, falling to the lowest in seven years. Chinese investments in the US fell by 83 percent, while growing by 80 percent in Canada.

Last year, Chinese companies completed just $4.8 billion in new business acquisitions and investments in the US, down 84 percent from $29 billion in 2017 and 90 percent from $46 billion in 2016.

With the $13 billion in US asset sales by Chinese companies, net Chinese investment in the United States dropped by $8 billion in 2018.

China's Muslims fear crackdown in ancient city of Xi'an

by Xiaomei Chen in Xi'an

The streets of Xi’an’s Muslim quarter are bustling. Tourists from all over China and the rest of the world throng the small stalls and restaurants for delicacies such as yangrou paomo lamb stew, roujiamolamb burgers, persimmon cakes and “smoked ice-cream” – a bowl of puffed cereal dipped in liquid nitrogen.

There has been a Muslim community in the capital of Shaanxi Province – at the eastern end of the old Silk Road in central China – since the seventh century. During the Tang dynasty, when the city was called Chang’an, travelling Muslim merchants and some soldiers from central and west Asia made it their home. Many married Chinese Han women, and their offspring became known as Hui, now one of China’s 56 ethnic groups.

The Muslim quarter is well-known for its range of halal and non-halal food stalls

There's No Walking Away From Islamic Jihad

by Jeff Goodson

President Trump announced in December that we are pulling out of Syria and cutting our forces in Afghanistan by half. The statements took everyone by surprise, including at the Pentagon, and generated a tsunami of commentary. Lost in most of the rhetoric was any context about the nature of the war that the U.S. is actually fighting in those countries.

There are all kinds of wars — conventional and irregular wars, direct and proxy wars, ethnic, political, economic and religious wars. The differences between them are crucial; they drive — or should drive — how we fight them. How we engage with China over Brazil, for example, or Russia over Venezuela, is very different from how we fight Islamic jihadists in Syria, Afghanistan and the Philippines.

Is Turkey Capable of Defeating ISIS in Syria?

by Doug Bandow

The Islamic State exploded in the Middle East, gaining control of large sections of Iraq and Syria. No nation was safe from its ambition to create an Islamic caliphate. But Turkey initially accommodated Daesh, even profiting from illicit oil sales. Eventually, the insurgents turned terrorist inside Turkey, forcing the Erdogan government to respond. However, Turkish forces still targeted Kurdish militias as the true threat.

With President Donald Trump apparently planning an American withdrawal from Syria, the administration suggested that Turkey take over the task of finishing off ISIS. Ankara’s response? Maybe if the United States does most of the work.

Reported the Wall Street Journal : “Turkey is asking the U.S. to provide substantial military support, including airstrikes, transport and logistics, to allow Turkish forces to assume the main responsibility for fighting Islamic State militants in Syria.” These demands, added the paper, “are so extensive that, if fully met, the American military might be deepening its involvement in Syria.”

Syria’s Kurds: The New Frontline In Confronting Iran And Turkey – Analysis

By James M. Dorsey

US President Donald J. Trump’s threat to devastate Turkey’s economy if Turkish troops attack Syrian Kurds allied with the United States in the wake of the announced withdrawal of American forces potentially serves his broader goal of letting regional forces fight for common goals like countering Iranian influence in Syria.

Mr. Trump’s threat coupled with a call on Turkey to create a 26-kilometre buffer zone to protect Turkey from a perceived Kurdish threat was designed to pre-empt a Turkish strike against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Ankara asserts is part of the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish group that has waged a low-intensity war in predominantly Kurdish south-eastern Turkey for more than three decades.

Turkey has been marshalling forces for an attack on the YPG since Mr. Trump’s announced withdrawal of US forces. It would be the third offensive against Syrian Kurds in recent years.

What Should We Learn from 40 Years of U.S. Intervention in the Middle East?

by Alireza Ahmadi

The presence of America’s vaunted military cannot necessarily shape the political orientation and structure of societies.

With the surprise announcement of the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria, and to a lesser extent, the announcement of a drawdown of 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, many interventionist critics who had tolerated Donald Trump’s ineffectual strikes against Assad and peace talks with the Taliban seem to have reached a boiling point. But even after Trump defended his position and said Iran “can do what they want there” in Syria, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton have undercut the clarity of what seemed like a presidential decree mandating a withdrawal.

From Doom to Doom: Population Explosions and Declines

By George Friedman

As population growth booms and slows, the only constant is panic.

The United States appears to be facing a possible population crisis. Statistics from the National Institutes for Health show that the U.S. birthrate has declined to the extent that it cannot sustain the current population level. Conventional wisdom suggests that countries experiencing population decline – largely industrialized nations – face serious problems. Yet in the latter half of the 20th century, we feared the threat of an exploding population. There are some subjects for which any outcome appears dangerous: a growing population because it outstrips resources and a declining population because it threatens to slow the economy. Are warnings of a new crisis valid?

As Asian Markets Open Weak Monday, TPP's the Elephant in Room, Says Expert

Adam Smith

Asian markets were edging down or flat on Monday morning, but the TPP and Brexit are the big stories to watch, says one expert.

While the U.S. is holding tight to every Twitter post the president types about the trade battle with China and every signal of when the partial U.S. government shutdown might end, there's some big news rippling through Asia that's going unnoticed here.

It's the long-forgotten TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, that's been rolling out in since Dec. 30.

While it might take a little time to move the markets -- which were largely edging down in Asia Monday morning -- it will have big consequences, one expert based in Singapore told TheStreet on Sunday night ET.

Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia

By Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper

WASHINGTON — There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.

US steps-up counter-China measures with the Asia Resurgence Initiative Act

By Srikanth Kondapalli

The Asia Resurgence Initiative Act (ARIA) phenomenon is not new. Under the previous Obama Administration, the “pivot” and then the “re-balance strategy” precisely intended to pursue similar objectives but failed to take off, except for deployment of the US Marines at St. Darwin in Australia.

Beijing has long-term plans to replace the US as the last year’s 19th Communist Party Congress envisaged to occupy the “centre stage”.

The United States President Donald Trump’s recent signing of the bipartisan-supported bill on Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) is part of a series of measures to counter challenges emanating from China. Four decades of reform in China– ironically with the help of the US – has not led to either a democratic China as Henry Kissinger envisaged, or a co-habiting power.

The Free-Trade Paradox The Bad Politics of a Good Idea

By Alan S. Blinder

“We must always take heed that we buy no more of strangers than we sell them, for so we should impoverish ourselves and enrich them.” Those words, written in 1549 and attributed to the English diplomat Sir Thomas Smith, are one of the earliest known expressions of what came to be called “mercantilism.” Update the language, and they could easily have been tweeted by U.S. President Donald Trump, the most prominent mercantilist of today. Trump believes—or at least says—that the United States “loses” when it runs trade deficits with other countries. Many Americans seem to agree.

Yet the economists Adam Smith and David Ricardo made the definitive case against mercantilism and for free trade more than 200 years ago. Their arguments have convinced virtually every economist ever since, but they seem to have made only limited inroads with the broader public. Polls show only tenuous public support for free trade and even less understanding of its virtues.

Trump’s Strangest Trade Idea Yet

Kimberly Ann Elliott

The U.S. government is still shut down over President Donald Trump’s demand for money to build a wall on the southern border. Children, mainly from Central America, are dying in a desperate effort to cross that border and escape violence in their home countries. So how in the world did somebody in the Trump administration decide it might be a good idea to cut trade ties with some of those countries? 

Though trade officials would not confirm it, an unnamed official told McClatchy last week that the administration is considering kicking the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Nicaragua out of the U.S. trade agreement to which they are parties, along with Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. 

Artificial Intelligence: beyond the hype

George Krasadakis

Artificial Intelligence. One of the most popular technology terms of our time— and very frequently, overused or even misused.

The media loves both the success stories and ‘dystopias’ driven by Artificial Intelligence. Machines replacing human workers, AI exceeding human intelligence, robots taking control and so on.

If you look beyond this hype, you will realize that there is a real revolution happening. To understand the potential of AI, just examine the recent advances in fields like Deep Learning and their applications in domains such as Computer Vision and Natural Language Processing.

There is a massive disruption in progress — powered by a combination of technologies, enabling machines to make sense of massive volumes of data and perform cognitive functions.

How the Air Force’s new software team is proving its worth

By: Mark Pomerleau

In a downtown Boston skyscraper on the last day of 2018, empty boxes and Styrofoam laid across the floor, big screen computers awaited their users and cleaning crews put the finishing touches on a new 30,000-foot workspace that looked every bit like a new tech startup from the TV show “Silicon Valley."

The office does not include cubicles but instead has long rows of tables, big screen computers, couches, high-top tables in the middle of the floor, and small conference rooms named after planets in the Star Wars universe (Jedah, Mustafar, Scarif, Coruscant). The workspace could be the home of a burgeoning mobile app team, but in this case, the office is for the U.S. military, specifically the Air Force.

With China looming, intelligence community backs AI research

By: Justin Lynch 

The U.S. government wants to boost its artificial intelligence capabilities or risks being left behind by the private sector and China.

In the last two years, that’s meant new AI initiatives from the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the intelligence community. Now, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity is requesting information about research efforts on “cutting-edge machine learning techniques.” IARPA posted the formal request for information Dec. 4. The deadline for industry to submit information is Jan. 17.

“Of specific interest is the respondent’s knowledge of, and experience implementing, current, cutting-edge machine learning techniques,” the intelligence community’s research arm said. Respondents are required to have top secret clearances to work on the project, according to the IARPA listing.

Electronic warfare a concern for Japan: Modernization on developments in China and Russia

Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of events surrounding Crimea between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the role of Russia’s electronic warfare opened-up eyes in Japan. Similarly, with China and the Russian Federation having extremely cordial relations, then Japan seeks to modernize its electronic warfare capabilities in the event of the worst-case scenario.

According to reports, the Russian Federation immediately focused on rendering aspects of the military communications of Ukraine to be incapable. Equally, while Ukraine was fighting endless jamming processes, it was noted that detonators were also rendered ineffective based on the electronic warfare capabilities of the Russian Federation. Hence, with China also focusing on this area, then it is high time for Japan to alter strategy in order to protect the military capabilities of this nation.

What to Make of the U.K.’s New Code of Practice on Internet-of-Things Security

By Jack WatsonBeau Woods

Across the globe, the rapid pace of technology development has made it difficult to govern emerging tech effectively. Policymakers struggle with several primary issues, including knowledge of the subject matter, the potential impact on the pace of innovation, and the rapid rate of adoption. The United Kingdom’s “Secure by Design”program intends to meet these challenges, as well as take steps to position the country as “best place in the world to do digital business.” As Brexit continues, and Britain’s finance sector looks to jump ship, such a goal is as timely as it is necessary. At its core, the program will create powerful tools for policymakers, industry, consumers, retailers, and others. The final U.K. “Code of Practice” for internet-of-things security released on Oct. 14, 2018 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in conjunction with GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre offers one of the clearest policy positions articulated yet by any national government. It sets out a technically literate policy that will drive manufacturers to innovate more efficient ways to protect internet-connected consumer devices, through market and regulatory incentives.

AK-74 Assault Rifle: 5 Facts You Need to Know

by Mark Episkopos

Born into a poor peasant family amid the Bolshevik seizure of power, young Mikhail Kalashnikov aspired to become a poet. Instead, he fought as a tank commander in the Second World War and went on to design one of the most iconic firearms of the modern world: the AK-47. The first Kalashnikov rifle left a gargantuan legacy that is still unfolding to this day, but its many successors and variants are not without a footprint of their own.

The 1970s AK-74 is particularly noteworthy as the first major Kalashnikov revision, as well as the Red Army’s standard-issue rifle during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Almost five decades after its inception, here are five little-known facts about the AK-74.

1. The AK-74 continues to be circulated in staggering numbers.

The Top Conflicts to Watch in 2019: South China Sea

Of the thirty contingencies included in this year’s Preventive Priorities Survey, an armed confrontation over disputed maritime areas in the South China Sea between China and one or more Southeast Asian claimants was assessed as a top tier priority for the United States in 2019. The contingency was deemed moderately likely to occur and, if it does, of having a high impact on U.S. interests.

For decades, overlapping claims to exclusive economic zones in the South China Seahave exacerbated tensions between China and claimants in Southeast Asia: Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In recent years, China has constructed military outposts on artificial islands it has built in disputed waters, further increasing tensions in the region.
More on:

South China SeaThe United States challenges China’s assertive maritime claims by conducting freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) and increasing support for its partners in Southeast Asia. Most recently, the United States conducted a FONOP off the coast of the Paracel Island chain on January 7, 2019. The recently-passed Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) also requires the Donald J. Trump administration to develop a diplomatic strategy in the South China Sea to, alongside allies and partners, support a rules-based international system in the region.

Navy reservists power a new cyber development unit

By: Mark Pomerleau 

A new reserve cyber unit focuses on supporting the Navy cyberwarrior enterprise.

The Navy Cyber Warfare Development Group (NCWDG) Reserve unit was activated Jan. 4 at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The NCWDG provides technical research and development to create, test and deliver cyber and electronic warfare capabilities for Fleet Cyber and U.S. Cyber Command, serving as the Navy’s center for cyber warfare innovation.

The orders for the new unit started Jan. 1, the Navy said. Formerly, the unit’s personnel were operating as a NCWDG directorate within the Navy Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet reserve structure.

America at War: This Map Shows Where in the World the U.S. Military Is Combating Terrorism

by Stephanie Savell and 5W Infographics

Less than a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, U.S. troops—with support from British, Canadian, French, German and Australian forces—invaded Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban. More than 17 years later, the Global War on Terrorism initiated by President George W. Bush is truly global, with Americans actively engaged in countering terrorism in 80 nations on six continents.

This map is the most comprehensive depiction in civilian circles of U.S. military and government antiterrorist actions overseas in the past two years…