6 May 2019

Soldiers and mandarins: The bureaucracy is trying to make armed forces tribunals ineffective

By Gyan Bhushan

The Supreme Court’s order to fill up vacancies in armed forces tribunals has brought hope to many martyrs’ families, widows and disabled soldiers for they can now expect early adjudication of their cases. Created in 2009, the AFT had brought relief to many serving and retired army, navy and air force personnel. Cases that had been pending in various courts for decades were adjudicated upon. It was extremely effective with almost a record number of case disposals. But AFT members began to be reduced by end-2016 till they came down to 50 per cent. Now against the authorization for 17 judicial and 17 administrative members, there are only eight judicial and eight administrative members (two of these members are slated to retire by mid-May 2019).

In June 2017, the government notified the Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2017 in the Gazette of India. The rules, effective from June 1, amended existing ones, including the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, giving wide-ranging powers to the government regarding appointment and removal of tribunal members. The validity of these have been challenged in the Supreme Court.

The Pakistani Military’s Worst Nightmare Is Coming True


For decades, Pakistan’s powerful military has been in control of the country’s politics whether directly, as during several decades of military dictatorships, or indirectly, as during attempts by civilian leaders to reassert their authority in the 1970s, 1990s, and after 2008.

In their efforts to wrest control from the military, plenty of Pakistani politicians have been defeated and dismissed from office. So dire was their record that, at times, challenging the brass seemed like a fight not worth picking.

But all that may be changing at last.

US Military Stops Releasing Afghanistan War Information

By Robert Burns

Amid a battlefield stalemate in Afghanistan, the U.S. military has stopped releasing information often cited to measure progress in America’s longest war, calling it of little value in fighting the Taliban insurgency.

The move fits a trend of less information being released about the war in recent years, often at the insistence of the Afghan government, which had previously stopped the U.S. military from disclosing the number of Afghans killed in battle as well as overall attrition within the Afghan army.

The latest clampdown also aligns with U.S. President Donald Trump’s complaint that the United States gives away too much war information, although there is no evidence that this had any influence on the latest decision.

A government watchdog agency that monitors the U.S. war effort, now in its 18th year, said in a report to Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. military command in Kabul is no longer producing “district control data,” which shows the number of Afghan districts — and the percentage of their population — controlled by the government compared to the Taliban.

Sri Lanka bombings and the rise of ISIS in Asia

Rachel Avraham

After I reported that ISIS is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia following the destruction of the Caliphate, the Sri Lanka bombings occurred. Across Asia, ISIS is on the ascent. How should American policy makers respond? 

Last week, as Christians across the globe were celebrating Easter and Jews throughout the world were enjoying Passover, suicide bombers blew up three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Later on the same day, there were additional smaller explosions within the country. 259 people were massacred and 500 others were injured in one of the worst coordinated terror attacks in recent history. ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated terror attacks in Sri Lanka. This came after I reported, “The murderous terror group is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia.” The question remains, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to what extent does ISIS pose a threat to Asia following the Sri Lanka bombings?

Although US President Donald Trump had claimed that the War against ISIS is over due to the collapse of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, many counter-terror analysts warned that such statements were premature given that ISIS terror leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi remains free and the terror group still has the potential to wage deadly terror attacks worldwide. Furthermore, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate, many ISIS terrorists have returned to their home countries in Asia, where they are beginning to claim territory.

What the Easter Attacks in Sri Lanka Tell Us About the Islamic State

By Scott Stewart

While a jihadist attack on Easter was unsurprising, the site of the attack, Sri Lanka, was. The bombings show the Islamic State movement continues to pose a threat through its franchise groups and grassroots terrorists, but are not a useful gauge of its core organization. The jihadist threat in Sri Lanka will no longer be ignored, and future would-be attackers will face a far less permissive environment. 

The attacks against three churches and four hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21, Easter Sunday, rocked the island nation, reverberating around the globe. While the attack location — Sri Lanka — was a surprise, a holiday attack of some kind had been anticipated. In fact, Stratfor's Threat Lens team had warned clients of the elevated threat of attacks against houses of worship over Passover and Easter.

A dash of stimulus helps stabilize China’s wobbly economy

David Dollar

David Dollar gives an economic update on China, unpacking the first quarter (Q1) data, explaining the government's current stimulus actions, and commenting on the ongoing U.S.-China trade negotiations. This piece originally appeared on The Hill

China was a frequent topic of discussion at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)/World Bank spring meetings held April 12-14 in Washington.

The IMF marked down the 2019 growth forecasts for every major economy except China. The forecast for the U.S. was reduced 0.2 percentage points, to 2.3 percent. China was marked up from 6.2 percent to 6.3 percent — a small change but a signal that the Chinese economy is stabilizing. 

The first quarter (Q1) data reported this week ratified this confidence: GDP growth of 6.4 percent year-on-year (y/y) was better than expected; industrial production growth in March came in at a surprisingly high 8.5 percent y/y; and retail sales in March were up 8.7 percent. 

China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Why the Price Is Too High

Fears of unsustainable indebtedness among many of the countries that are partnering in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) set the backdrop for a two-day meeting last week in Beijing. The $1 trillion initiative includes projects in transportation, energy and infrastructure in more than 70 countries across Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania such as ports, railways, oil and gas pipelines, and power grids, along with plans for new economic corridors.

Facing a slowing economy at home made worse by a trade war with the U.S., and increasingly strident opposition to the BRI from the U.S. and European countries, China’s president Xi Jinping was compelled to acknowledge the concerns that BRI is a debt trap for participating countries. He committed to creating a “debt-sustainability framework” for the initiative, compliance with international infrastructure contracting standards, and measures to curb corruption and to ensure environmental sustainability, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Xi also urged foreign and private-sector partners to contribute more funding to BRI projects. The BRI meeting saw attendance by 37 countries, but the U.S. and India were among those that did not attend.

May 4, 1919: The Making of Modern China

By Sebastian Veg

As China marks the 100th anniversary of the 1919 May Fourth demonstrations, it is certainly a challenge to write anything new about this unanimously celebrated event. May Fourth has been studied and discussed from every imaginable angle and political perspective over the last century. It is no longer the case, as it was when Chow Tse-tsung (1916-2007) published his seminal study around the time of its 40th anniversary in 1959, that scholars are divided over whether to see it as a national renaissance or a national catastrophe. Today it is indiscriminately celebrated by progressives and conservatives – with the possible exception of some die-hard Confucian fundamentalists – the Communist (CCP) and Nationalist (KMT) parties, Chinese people and foreigners. It was even briefly appropriated by advocates of independence in the 2008 presidential campaign in Taiwan. However, such unanimity is only achieved at the price of considerable ambiguity as to what is actually being commemorated.

China, U.S.: Washington Raises the Stakes in the South China Sea

Clashes between the United States and China in the contested waters of the Asia-Pacific region have ramped up in recent months, abetted by the two countries' ongoing great power competition. This is particularly apparent in the South China Sea, where Beijing continues to push for dominance. In response, Washington has begun evolving its strategies to deter China's growing presence — increasing the likelihood for direct confrontation in the region.

What Happened

As ISIS Regroups, the U.S. Is Forgetting the Lessons of Counterinsurgency—Again

Judah Grunstein 

The surprise reappearance of the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a recently recorded video seems like a throwback to the mid-2000s. The most visible difference from the video recordings Osama bin Laden used then to remind al-Qaida followers he was still alive—and persuade them he was still relevant—is that al-Baghdadi, who was last seen in 2014, is seated on the floor of what seems like a furnished living room, rather than a cave.

In other ways, too, the defeat of the Islamic State as a self-declared caliphate and its return as a transnational terrorist network would seem to put us back to where we found ourselves in 2001, after the expulsion of al-Qaida from Afghanistan.

Challenge Accepted: Why America Needs to Confront Its Adversaries in the Gray Zone

by Bob Jones

The return of great-power competition has dominated the national-security discussion in the United States since the release of the 2018 National Defense Strategy. However, little of it has been spent focusing on the previous era of great-power competition during the Cold War. Even a cursory exploration of that time-period will turn up documents that demonstrate the benefits of a better understanding of Cold War history. One example is a lecture delivered by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, to the Naval War College in December of 1958.

The themes touched on by Admiral Burke’s address “The U.S. Navy’s Role in General War and Conflict Short of General War” still resonate today. The geopolitical situation it describes eerily resembles our present era. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that with a few minor revisions the CNO could deliver the same address today. And while his blunt statement that the Sino-Soviet Bloc is America’s enemy might not survive in today’s political environment, his arguments are the same as those listed in the National Defense Strategy for classifying China and Russia as the United States’ primary competitors.

Bipartisan Foreign Policy Died This Weekend


Former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who died Sunday at age 87, was the man whom many conservatives had in mind when they railed against the Republican establishment. His long Senate service, from 1977 to 2013, was an affront to advocates of term limits. He was the Senate’s leading authority on foreign policy, a field despised by populists and nationalists as the province of elite sellouts. He was a leading exponent of bipartisanship and compromise, which made him a target for die-hard partisan warriors. It came as no surprise when he was ousted out of politics in 2012 by a Tea Party fanatic.

But Lugar was a considerably more interesting and consequential figure than the conservative caricature. The paucity of Republican politicians of his stature and outlook is a large part of why the American Century seems to be hastening to a premature end.

‘We Are Not Negotiating With a Gun to Our Head’


The European Union, like everybody else, is trying to come to grips with a tumultuous era for global trade, with trade wars and tariffs threatening an economic order decades in the making. Foreign Policy spoke to EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström about upcoming talks with the United States, never-ending U.S. tariff threats, and how to deal with China’s challenge to the global trading order.

Foreign Policy: I wanted to start with trade talks between the EU and the United States, where the big sticking point is agriculture. The United States insists agriculture must be part of a deal, and the EU insists it not be. Is there any chance for a change in the EU stance? And since many U.S. lawmakers say that without agreement on agriculture, it’s dead in Congress, what’s the point of the talks?

The City of Europe’s Future


Forget economic anxiety. Rotterdam is a warning that the emerging political fight across Europe really is about cultural assimilation after all.

I’ve often wondered, “Where is Europe?”

Its essence could never be found in a modern megacity—any place too particular cannot really be “Europe.” It could not be found in too ancient a city either, because truth be told very few Europeans live in ancient homes. Europe, the Europe we live in, is really a continent of suburbs, supermarkets, and business parks, the Europe of Carrefour and le Corbusier knock-offs, its concrete tower blocks hidden behind the cathedrals.

I felt it, Europe as it is, watching the Eurolines pull into Victoria Coach Station, in London, at 6:00 AM, full of bleary eyes—migrants,...

Russia and NATO: A Dialogue of Differences

Mathieu Boulègue

On 14 April, General Curtis Scaparrotti, the outgoing Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations General, deplored the broken communication process with Russia and a lack of understanding of “each other’s signals”. Immediately afterwards, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko denounced the current deadlock with NATO, claiming cooperation had been discontinued and disagreements with the Atlantic Alliance were now “even deeper than before”.

Relations between NATO and the Kremlin have reached a dangerously abrasive stage, as the existing threat-reduction arrangements and confidence-building mechanisms with Russia are not working. Russia and NATO are talking past each other and substantive dialogue is not possible under current conditions.

This relationship breakdown, however, is not due to a collapse of dialogue with Moscow - and a greater volume of dialogue will not improve relations. Instead there has long been a problem with the dialogue itself: a change in its substance is necessary.

Examining the Global Terrorism Landscape

By Bill Roggio

Editor’s note: Below is Bill Roggio’s testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism. 

Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson, and other distinguished committee members, thank you for inviting me to testify today to examine the global terror landscape.

The Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka serve as a stark reminder that our enemies are committed to their cause and are willing to go to any lengths to destroy our way of life. Nine suicide bombers, many of them well educated, including two sons of a wealthy spice tycoon, and a pregnant woman, killed more than 250 people during attacks on churches and hotels. The suicide bombers swore allegiance to Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out their heinous attacks.

The Sri Lanka bombings took place just one month after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared a victory over the Islamic State. While the Islamic State may have lost its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it is by no means defeated.

Old Roads And New Paradigms: On The Last BRI Summit – OpEd

By Juan Martin González Cabañas*

On April 26 and 27, the summit of the Belt and Route Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, was held in Beijing. With the presence of 125 countries, which are involved to a greater or lesser extent, 37 foreign heads of state and government. More than 20 international organizations also participated as guests. The initiative is the great plan and Chinese geostrategic bet, through investments in various infrastructures, boosting to connect Asia with Europe, Africa and even Latin America and the Caribbean. 

In this last region, there are already 19 countries that are part of the initiative to some extent, in the summit were present in different levels of committees: Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Panama just to name a few. The Initiative is an attractive offer for a continent with large deficits in infrastructure and investments.

Saudi Gas Ambitions Likely To Have Geopolitical Impact – Analysis

By James M. Dorsey

A Saudi push to become a major natural gas player is as much about diversifying the kingdom’s domestic consumption and export mix as it is about taking advantage of harsh US economic sanctions against Iran designed to force a change of the Islamic republic’s policy, if not its regime.

Saudi Arabia scored an initial success with the sale of its first Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) cargo in Singapore, the trading hub for Asia and the Pacific, the world’s largest LNG market.

The sale speaks to the ambitions of Saudi Arabia’s national oil company, Aramco, that seeks to become a major gas player by partnering with producers across the globe, including in the Russian Artic, and developing its own reserves.

Aramco expects the partnerships to position it as major marketeer and trader, primarily in the spot and short-term markets.

Russia's Defense Industry Finds Itself in a Tailspin

Domestic budget limits and decreasing arms exports are set to severely impact the viability of Russian arms manufacturers. The Kremlin's efforts to promote import substitution policies are not succeeding and the defense sector is unlikely to bolster its bottom line by shifting to produce products for the domestic market. The Russian defense industry's inherent weaknesses could become self-perpetuating; the failure to find markets for Russian products will increase the costs of production and, therefore, military modernization.

Russia's defense industry is face to face with a major foe, but it's not a foreign military power. The Kremlin has been striving to modernize all branches of the Russian military, but the country's defense industry is struggling thanks to decreasing volumes of orders, difficulties in attracting high-skilled talent and limits to its technological capabilities. According to recent figures, the performance of Russia's aerospace sector is declining precipitously. In 2018, for instance, Russian aircraft and spacecraft makers produced 13.5 percent less than in 2017. And there's been no letup in 2019 either: In the first two months of the year, aerospace output plummeted 48 percent year on year.

Time to Pursue an International Cyber Treaty?

By James Carden

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Despite the chorus of recrimination directed at the current president over his alleged “coddling” of Putin’s Russia, relations between the world’s sole nuclear superpowers are at their lowest point in many decades.

The Trump administration’s record, far from confirming its critics’ fears that the president himself is in the pocket of the Kremlin, would seem to indicate precisely the opposite: during Trump’s two plus years in office the US has sent lethal arms to Ukraine; has twice attacked (in the absence of UN Security Council authorization) Russia’s ally Syria; has withdrawn from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty; has continued the policy of NATO expansion in the Balkans with the addition of Montenegro; and has continued to rattle the saber at Venezuela against the explicit objections of Russia and other UN Security Council members.

Time to sound the alarm about 5G?

By Robert Arvay

My grandmother cooked in her kitchen on a wood-burning stove until, at 92 years of age, she passed away. Wood stove technology is not as simple as some people think. We may have to learn it all over again. Here is why:

I recently read an online article about something called 5G and became aware that this innovation will potentially enable any large government, our own or our adversaries, to spy, hack, sabotage or otherwise wreak havoc on the entire world infrastructure of communication and security. This is not hyperbole. It is as real as nuclear bombs, and if not as destructive, it poses almost as deadly a threat. Indeed, the 5G cyber-war might well spark a nuclear conflagration.

The network on which cell phones operate is being upgraded. That innovation will, as they say, usher in a new age of vast potential. It can also be weaponized against us. An enemy could plunge us back into the dark ages.

Is this for real? Apparently, very serious authorities are concerned. The biggest internet tech companies are already accruing surveillance powers that rival those of our own government, and in all likelihood, exceed them. Worse yet, many of those companies are hostile to our nation, refusing to assist our military, while eagerly aiding the foreign dictatorships that threaten our freedoms.

This chip was demoed at Jeff Bezos’s secretive tech conference. It could be key to the future of AI.

by Will Knight

Recently, on a dazzling morning in Palm Springs, California, Vivienne Szetook to a small stage to deliver perhaps the most nerve-racking presentation of her career.

She knew the subject matter inside-out. She was to tell the audience about the chips, being developed in her lab at MIT, that promise to bring powerful artificial intelligence to a multitude of devices where power is limited, beyond the reach of the vast data centers where most AI computations take place. However, the event—and the audience—gave Sze pause.

The setting was MARS, an elite, invite-only conference where robots stroll (or fly) through a luxury resort, mingling with famous scientists and sci-fi authors. Just a few researchers are invited to give technical talks, and the sessions are meant to be both awe-inspiring and enlightening. The crowd, meanwhile, consisted of about 100 of the world’s most important researchers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. MARS is hosted by none other than Amazon’s founder and chairman, Jeff Bezos, who sat in the front row.

Doubts At The NSA: Shelving A Mass Surveillance Program – OpEd

By Binoy Kampmark

Earlier this year, Luke Murry, national security adviser for Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, revealed that the National Security Agency had been averse over the last six months to using the phone surveillance program that hoovers information from millions of US phone calls and text messages. This was hardly a comforting point; the issue spoke as much to competence as it did to any broader issue of warrantless surveillance of the good people in Freedom’s land. Vast, cumbersome, and generally self-defeating, the essence of such programs is paranoid inefficiency. Put it down to “technical issues”, suggested Murry.

The Call Details Records (CDR) program, hostile to liberties in its warrantless nature, has been a fixture of the US security landscape since 2001, when that nasty piece of legislation known as the USA PATRIOT ACT found its way onto the statue books. The program was given legal approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court pursuant to Section 215 of that dastardly piece of penmanship.

Can Courts Clear the Fog of War?


What constitutes an act of war? A military invasion, sure. Hostile acts by smaller armed formations, sure. The blowing up of a bridge by commandos or the poisoning of water, very likely. But a cyberattack? Zurich, one of the world’s leading insurers, claims that’s the case. The confectionary giant Mondelez, one of its customers, argues the opposite. This isn’t an abstract discussion: Two years ago, Mondelez was laid low by NotPetya, a computer virus unleashed by Russia against Ukrainian targets. Now the two companies are battling out the definition of war in court—and regardless of how the ruling turns out, a new fog of war is still settling over society.

NotPetya struck with devastating force in June 2017. First, the virus—subsequently traced to hackers working for Russian military intelligence—brought down virtually all of Ukraine’s government along with Ukrainian hospitals, power companies, airports, and banks. That was probably its real target. Then, however, the virus traveled on in a less predictable fashion. It crippled Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, and the global law firm DLA Piper. FedEx subsidiary TNT Express was hit, too, as was the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck and French construction company Saint-Gobain. Several of them lost hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the attack.

The Rise and Fall of an Officer Corps

By James Char

In Taiwan, June 6th, 1955, on the eleventh anniversary of the Allied landing on Normandy, one of the most decorated commanders of World War II was soon to fall from grace. As troops of the Republic of China (ROC) military got ready for a parade in Pingtung, its guest of honor, President Chiang Kai-shek, did not arrive at 0930 as scheduled. When he did show up, and having given an unusually short speech, the Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist) leader purportedly also appeared flustered. Two months later on 20th August, 1955, his Chief Military Advisor, General Sun Li-jen, (otherwise referred to as Sun Liren in hanyu pinyin) who had accompanied the Generalissimo at the parade was suddenly placed under house arrest after one of Sun’s former subordinates, Kuo Ting-liang, had admitted to working as a Communist spy under forced confession. This marked the beginning of the 33-year incarceration of one of Republic of China’s most well-known soldiers in modern Chinese history.[1]