29 April 2019

India sent three alerts to Sri Lanka before Easter Sunday attack

Neeraj Chauhan and Sudhi Ranjan Sen 

India sent as many as three alerts to Sri Lanka, including one on the day of the Easter Sunday attack that left 321 people dead and 500 injured, according to senior intelligence officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The first alert was on April 4, and it came from investigations by Indian agencies that followed after the National Investigation Agency (NIA), in December 2018, stumbled upon the videos of National Thowheed Jama’at (NTJ) leader Maulvi Zahran Bin Hashim while probing the Islamic State (IS) Coimbatore module.

In the first alert, the agencies told Sri Lanka that, apart from churches, the Indian High Commission in Colombo could be a target. The second alert was sent a day before the attack and was even more specific than the first one in that it mentioned the possible targets, the officials said.

Hired Guns: U.S. Employs Unprecedented Number of Security Contractors in Afghanistan

by Paul D. Shinkman

The number of security contractors the military employs in Afghanistan is higher now than at any time since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in the country in 2014, Defense Department documents show.

More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts, according to the latest report released this month that the military headquarters overseeing Middle East wars compiles for Congress. The number of security contractors jumped by more than 1,000 in the three months since the last report – a spike of more than 20 percent and the biggest increase in two years.

More than 17,000 uniformed troops from NATO and partner countries are currently operating in Afghanistan in support of local forces, up from roughly 13,000 when President Donald Trump took office. Of those, roughly 8,500 are Americans. Another 5,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan for the separate mission of hunting insurgent forces like the Islamic State group and elements of the Taliban.

Key Issue Could Cost Afghanistan Billions in Foreign Aid

By Paul D. Shinkman

THE FATE OF AFGHANISTAN rests on a little-discussed human rights issue that will determine whether the war-torn nation can rebuild itself once a peace agreement is reached, a senior official overseeing reconstruction there said Wednesday.

International backers, including the U.S., will only continue to pay for rebuilding Afghanistan if a peace agreement includes securing rights for women and girls, John Sopko, the congressionally appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told a small group of reporters Wednesday.

The issue, which senior officials in the Trump administration have signaled is not a top priority, stems from the Taliban's brutal rule prior to 2001 that secured Afghanistan's enduring position as the worst place in the world for women.

Easter Day Terror in Sri Lanka: Geopolitical Implications

By Ankit Panda and Prashanth Parameswaran

The Diplomat‘s Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) and Prashanth Parameswaran (@TheAsianist) discuss the April 21, 2019, terror attacks in Sri Lanka.

Click the arrow to the right to listen. If you’re an iOS or Mac user, you can also subscribe to The Diplomat’s Asia Geopolitics podcast on iTunes here. If you use Android, you can subscribe on TuneIn here. If you like the podcast and have suggestions for content, please leave a review and rating on iTunes and TuneIn.

Sri Lanka’s Christians and Muslims Weren’t Enemies


In November 2016, Sri Lanka’s justice minister announced to Parliament that 32 locals from four families had joined the Islamic State. Given the minister’s ties to some anti-Muslim Buddhist prelates, his claim was quickly dismissed as opportunistic­—even racist. Since then, however, credible evidence has backed him up. Meanwhile, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly Easter Sunday bombings that killed around 360 people, including nearly 40 foreigners.

To be sure, the Islamic State has a reputation for taking credit for terrorist acts it had nothing to do with. Its claims must therefore be treated skeptically. At the same time, however, there is no gainsaying that Islamist terrorist groups in South Asia and elsewhere support the Islamic State’s vision for a caliphate and crave alliance with it. And these groups, in solidarity with the Islamic State, have in the past targeted Christians on Easter. One such group is Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which killed 75 people in Lahore, Pakistan, in March 2016.

What does a US-China trade deal look like?

by Dan K. Eberhart

A trade deal with China appears within reach, but it’s unknown whether it will be the signature win for the United States that President Donald Trump claims. There are reasons to think it will end up as something less.

Trump deserves credit for standing up to the Chinese, whose decades of unfair trade policies and outright piracy of intellectual property warrant a tougher stance from the United States and Europe. We should applaud Trump for advancing the issue, and his feisty approach plays well with his base. The president has made some free-trade Republicans, and even some Democrats, realize that a firmer hand with Beijing is needed to protect American business interests.

But what concessions will the United States win from China if Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, can hammer out a deal when they meet next, reportedly by the end of May during Trump’s expected meeting in Japan?

China’s Blockchain Dominance: Can the U.S. Catch Up?

By all counts, China is leading the world in the use and development of blockchain technology. It has far and away filed the most patents related to blockchain in the world and some of the biggest names in the blockchain and cryptocurrency community are Chinese firms. What’s more, blockchain is also a national priority: The Chinese State Council included its development in the nation’s 13th Five-Year Plan. And last year, President Xi Jinping said China seeks to lead in innovation worldwide, citing blockchain, AI, the Internet of Things and other technologies as the driving forces.

This national focus was confirmed by Chinese executives and entrepreneurs involved in blockchain endeavors at the recently held invitation-only roundtable discussion on blockchain hosted by the Penn Wharton China Center. Two-thirds of blockchain-related patents come from Chinese firms or entities, one participant said, adding that China also holds 72% of the mining power for bitcoin. “China is very pro-blockchain technology and the government has positioned itself to dominate the blockchain space in the world.”

China’s Strengths and Weaknesses 101

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address centered on improving U.S. innovation and competitiveness. And as he noted, China’s rapid economic growth and heavy investments in science, technology, and innovation pose a serious challenge to our nation’s status as the world’s leading economy. A recent report by the Center for American Progress, “Rising to the Challenge: A Progressive Approach to China’s Innovation and Competitiveness Policies,” provides a number of reasons why the United States needs to adopt new strategies to capitalize on our nation’s historical, institutional, and structural advantages as the world’s economic powerhouse. But policymakers also need to be aware of China’s many assets and liabilities. 

Here are five of them, alongside the action the United States should take. China is making more competitive products but lacks true innovation China’s strength The technological products behind China’s tremendous growth are largely developed incrementally, often as refinements of imported pre-existing technologies. This “import/ assimilate/re-innovate” model has proven to be a successful strategy, as China courts foreign companies to move their manufacturing facilities, then coerces those companies to share their technology with the state. China’s weakness While historically conducive to growth, the “import/assimilate/re-innovate model” does not foster a climate of original innovation. For China to truly become the dominant world economy, it will have to display true technological leadership. High levels of R&D investment may be effective to that end. U.S. action This is why the United States needs to maintain its science and technology leadership through expanded R&D investments of its own. 

Understanding and Combating Russian and Chinese Influence Operations

By Carolyn Kenney, Max Bergmann

Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections has focused American attention on the long-standing and complicated subject of malign foreign influence operations. While Russia has brought this issue into the mainstream political conversation, concerns over the ability of foreign nations—particularly autocracies—to exploit the openness of America’s democracy in order to influence U.S. policy and politics are not confined to any single foreign actor. In fact, influence efforts by Iran and Persian Gulf monarchies have also drawn considerable scrutiny, as have those carried out by China.1 Yet when considering offenders’ capabilities and positions as geopolitical competitors, China and Russia stand out as the two most immediate concerns.

None too soon, US readies to combat Beijing's South China Sea aggression


The new cold war with China is on. This week, China will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) by flaunting its naval might in a parade of ships off the port of Qingdao to impress and intimidate countries from the region and around the world.

Meanwhile, the white and orange ships of the United States Coast Guard are joining the gray hulls of the U.S. Navy in the “gray zone” waters of the South China Sea. Their mission: to assist in confronting increasingly aggressive maritime activities by the PLAN.

The Coast Guard deployment is an astute Trump administration response to the military component of the global offensive China has been waging unilaterally against the United States without serious pushback from previous administrations.

The cutters will operate under the command of the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which is charged with maintaining freedom of the seas and regional peace and security in the Asia-Pacific (now known as the Indo-Pacific to include the expanding role of India).

Indonesia’s Fragile Festival of Democracy

Krithika Varagur

Jakarta, Indonesia—Democracy in Indonesia always seems to come at a high price. At least a hundred people died while keeping the polls open on Election Day last week, from causes such as heat-stroke and exhaustion. The Indonesian islands straddle the Equator and most of them are hot, at least eighty degrees, every day of the year. They are home to 264 million people and are the stage for world’s largest single-day election, which is deeply impressive in its logistics. Seven million citizens volunteered to keep the polls running last Wednesday across more than 800,000 polling stations. Ballots were distributed to the periphery via planes, canoes, and elephants. The voting booth volunteers who died have been dubbed locally as “martyrs of democracy.”

Elections in Indonesia are billed as Pesta Demokrasi, or Democracy Festival. Election Day is a national holiday and voter turnout is regularly above 70 percent. It seemed fitting that in this election’s organizational tour de force, the politician who most exemplifies technocratic competence and moderate rhetoric came out on top once again. 

Britain Can’t Afford to Keep Talking About Brexit


The recently extended Brexit delay has temporarily averted a harmful “no deal” scenario and handed Britain more time to find a consensus. But it isn’t cause for celebration. It only prolongs a paralysis in necessary economic decision-making, which is already taking its toll.

Heated disagreements about the nature of Brexit, both within the ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties, have been the sticking points at the heart of a long maelstrom in British politics. It has meant the U.K. executive, legislature, civil service, and media have all become increasingly absorbed by the Brexit process—leaving little oxygen to address the socio-economic grievances that played a role in the June 2016 referendum outcome to leave the European Union in the first place.

Demographic analyses reflect how that vote partly served as a proxy for a confluence of unchecked economic wounds, including weak wage growth, poor social mobility, and vast regional imbalances. Indeed, the poorest households and groups that were left behind by growth in Britain’s globalized financial and research centers—typically those people in rural, coastal, and post-industrial areas—generally voted in higher numbers to leave. Yet with the U.K. Parliament in a state of flux ever since and delays to Brexit, the lack of political focus threatens only to exacerbate these economic challenges.

Perceptions of American Decline

By Cameron Munter

The new style of foreign policy practiced by the Trump administration has provoked a great amount of commentary on the waning of an international order created in America's image. But this style of commentary says more about the way experts debate trends in international affairs than about the substance of foreign policy itself. For a better perspective, let’s focus on America’s role and actions in the Middle East.

America historically has had two overriding interests in the Middle East: supporting the state of Israel and ensuring the free world's oil supply. It was generally believed that the United States did this by attempting to balance the interests of others in the region. The Suez Canal crisis of 1956 allowed Washington to supplant the British and French, while the emergence of Anwar Sadat allowed them to supplant the Russians in Egypt. The Americans now presented themselves as the region’s key arbiter. Despite severe challenges from Iran in 1979 and in Iraq in 2003, this was understood to be a region where the Americans called the shots, or at least prevented anyone else from doing so. 



In France, the neon-yellow vests known as gilets jaunes are like proverbial opinions: Everyone has one, or at least every motorist does. In case of a breakdown, drivers are supposed to don these reflective garments and lay a high-visibility “warning triangle” (also provided in one’s kit de sécurité) on the road in front of their vehicles. When men and women wearing yellow vests began slowing down traffic at hundreds of ronds-points (traffic circles) throughout the countryside last November, and then massing by the thousands on Saturdays in Paris, Bordeaux, and Toulouse, it was hard to dismiss them as a bunch of radical-fringe demonstrators. They were wearing the uniform the government itself had asked good citizens to wear to make themselves visible in an emergency.

This, however, was a different kind of emergency. What set the movement off was a number of inegalitarian regulations and taxes passed at the urging of Emmanuel Macron, France’s unpopular president. There was a carbon tax (not initiated by Macron but steadily rising), a special tax on diesel (which most French cars still use), and a reduction of the speed limit to 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). Other grievances had been simmering below the surface for a long time: widening inequality, stalled economic growth, shifting demography, threatened identity.

NATO Looks to the South

By James Foggo & Mel McNulty

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization turns 70 this year. This makes it the longest military alliance in history. It also is the largest—currently comprising 29 allies, with a 30th ready to join—and the most powerful. Its contribution to maintaining peace and security throughout its 70 years is a cause for celebration, but it will be a celebration underpinned by reflection, as allied foreign ministers gather this month to discuss how effectively the alliance is responding to the challenges of today.

NATO does well what it was designed to do. Faced with a resurgent, militarily assertive, and politically unapologetic Russia, NATO has again built up its collective defense. It has deployed additional forces and equipment in a defensive line from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Five years after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its proxy war in the Donbas, NATO has reassured its eastern allies that the collective defense guarantee enshrined in Article 5 of its charter—an armed attack on one will be considered an attack on all—applies universally, regardless of geography or date of joining. Today’s challenges, however, are not confined to the east. Many allies are more concerned by the insecurity to their south. 

The Future of Work Could Bring More Inequality, Social Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- Automation, robots and globalization are rapidly changing the workplace and governments must act fast and decisively to counter the effects or face a worsening of social and economic tensions, the OECD warned.

Almost half of all jobs could be wiped out or radically altered in the next two decades due to automation, the Paris-based group said in a report on Tuesday. According to OECD Labor Director Stefano Scarpetta, the pace of change will be “startling.”

Safety nets and training systems built up over decades to protect workers are struggling to keep up with the “megatrends” changing the nature of work, the OECD said. While some workers will benefit as technology opens new markets and increases productivity, young, low-skilled, part-time and gig-economy workers are vulnerable.

Why Oil Markets Are Changing

U.S. consumers and businesses are bracing for higher oil prices in the coming summer months as demand swells. The price of a barrel of oil has been steadily rising since a low point of $42 (for WTI crude) and $50 (for Brent crude) in late December to current levels of about $66 and $73, respectively.

OPEC and major oil producers like Russia continue to attempt to maintain prices by preventing a supply glut with caps on how much they produce. However, those attempts are increasingly less effective than in earlier years, thanks to infighting within the OPEC cartel and violations of production-sharing agreements.

What’s more, Russia, too, appears likely to renege on its agreement to cut oil production. Saudi Arabia has borne the bulk of the responsibility to keep prices and production in check, but big producers like Iran, Libya and Venezuela could frustrate the best laid-out plans with covert export deals, exemptions or distress sales.

Beyond Clicks: Getting the Most out of Big Data

In the deep ocean of big data, it’s hard for companies to know what’s true or even relevant to their operations. The latest research from Hamsa Bastani, Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, can help companies navigate the waters by offering a better way to use predictive analytics. Bastani spoke with Knowledge@Wharton about her paper, “Predicting with Proxies.”

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Hamsa Bastani: A lot of companies across a variety of applications are starting to use predictive analytics to guide their decision-making. For example, in e-commerce, companies like Amazon or Expedia use customer-specific data to try to predict what sorts of products a customer might be interested in and then use that to make personalized product recommendations.

Knowledge@Wharton: This process often uses something called a proxy outcome. What’s the difference between a proxy outcome and an actual outcome? And why do firms settle for proxies?

Top Cyber Diplomat: US Needs Allies’ Help to Punish Cyberattacks


Creating a unified international response around online attacks will help “establish the legitimacy” of norms for cyberspace.

The U.S. could do a better job deterring cyberattacks if international allies were on board to punish the perpetrators, the nation’s top cyber diplomat said Tuesday.

In recent years, the U.S. and its allies have gotten less afraid of attributing cyberattacks to adversaries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, but their attempts to punish those online aggressions are far less united, according to Rob Strayer, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy.

To prevent those countries from launching attacks in the first place, the international community needs to make it clear that the costs of such actions outweigh the benefits. According to Strayer, that calculation is a lot easier when multiple countries are threatening retaliation.

Britain to allow Huawei restricted access to 5G network

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Britain will allow Huawei Technologies a restricted role in building parts of its 5G network, seeking a middle way in a bitter dispute between the United States and China over the next generation of communications technology.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, is under intense scrutiny after the United States told allies not to use its technology because of fears it could be a vehicle for Chinese spying. Huawei has categorically denied this.

Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May, met to discuss Huawei on Tuesday.

A security source told Reuters that Britain would block Huawei from all core parts of the 5G network and access to non-core parts would be restricted. A second source confirmed that. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.

“It’s essential that we get the balance right, ensuring that our networks are built in a way that is secure against interference from whatever source, but also are competitive,” said Britain’s finance minister, Philip Hammond.

In era of ‘defend forward,’ what does success look like?

By: Mark Pomerleau  

U.S. Cyber Command’s new operating philosophy of “defend forward” has helped clarify how the Department of Defense can protect the United States from cyberattacks, a Pentagon official said April 23.

“Defend forward” is often described as fighting the cyber battle on someone else’s turf instead of fighting at home as a way to learn what adversaries might be planning.

“The defend forward construct also helps us to articulate and clarify roles and responsibilities domestically in defense of the nation,” Burke “Ed” Wilson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said April 23 during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“The Department of Defense has a role [in defending the nation]. We were having a little bit of trouble clarifying what that role is. The defend forward construct helps us do that. We bring the capacity, unique attributes of the Department of Defense in terms of information sharing and then incident response … to be able to support DHS … FBI.”

Build A ‘Five Eyes’ For Military Tech Sharing: Greenwalt


A British Royal Navy officer briefs a “sea of uniforms” from different nations.

WASHINGTON: A new report calls for a major revamp of the rules for how the US and a handful of allies develop and share critical military technologies, one modeled on the storied Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement between Washington and a several friendly governments.

The paper, set to be released Tuesday afternoon during an event at the Atlantic Council, outlines an ambitious new policy of “harmonizing policies and practices in areas including regulating direct foreign investment, technology transfer, research and development, supply chain, and communications and information-technology infrastructure security,” to ensure that the US and allies are rowing in the same direction on sensitive new technologies, writes Bill Greenwalt, former deputy Defense undersecretary for industrial policy.

The New Revolution in Military Affairs

By Christian Brose

In 1898, a Polish banker and self-taught military expert named Jan Bloch published The Future of War, the culmination of his long obsession with the impact of modern technology on warfare. Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience how smokeless gunpowder, improved rifles, and other emerging technologies would overturn contemporary thinking about the character and conduct of war. (Bloch also got one major thing wrong: he thought the sheer carnage of modern combat would be so horrific that war would “become impossible.”)

What Bloch anticipated has come to be known as a “revolution in military affairs”—the emergence of technologies so disruptive that they overtake existing military concepts and capabilities and necessitate a rethinking of how, with what, and by whom war is waged. Such a revolution is unfolding today. Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, ubiquitous sensors, advanced manufacturing, and quantum science will transform warfare as radically as the technologies that consumed Bloch. And yet the U.S. government’s thinking about how to employ these new technologies is not keeping pace with their development.

JUST IN: DARPA, Army Teaming to Pursue New Swarming Capabilities

By Connie Lee

AUSTIN, Texas — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is moving forward with an initiative that will explore new ways to equip small units with swarming capabilities.

The concept involves outfitting about 200 to 300 soldiers with a large number of autonomous platforms that have sensors and kinetic and non-kinetic weapons, said Paul Zablocky, program manager at DARPA’s strategic technology office. Troops could potentially use these tools to counter adversaries’ anti-access, area-denial capabilities.

The effort is called the the system of systems enhanced small units program.

According to a broad agency announcement released on FedBizOpps, DARPA is looking to leverage unmanned air and ground platforms from industry.

Fourth Industrial Age or Millionth Example of Technology Worship?


The Small Wars Journal published an interesting article arguing that warfare is entering a new age of hyper-connectivity, relentless innovation and use of prototypes. The author, Peter Layton, points to the increasing use of physical-to-digital processes and how this can make small organizations more specialized. While there are some new and innovative uses of technologies such as the use of 3-D printing, drones, and possible new smart bombs, I found this author’s view of warfare rather fanciful naval gazing that overstates the role of technology.

A cursory knowledge of recent history suggests some caution. The First Gulf War was called by many analysts as the first video game war. The 90s featured many military personnel pushing what was called the Revolution in Military Affairs and the early 2000s included items like so-called 4th generation warfare. This was supposed to be so decisive that American technology would revolutionize the battlefield and get inside of the opposition’s military decision-making process.