7 April 2013

Securing the Eagle’s Nest: Airfield and Infrastructure Security

Date : 06 Apr , 2013

Foolproof security of an operational base has been a vital prerequisite for the successful conduct of war. History of warfare reveals that neglect of this vital aspect has invariably led to disaster. What was true in the time of the Roman Legions is valid in principle even now in the era of high technology warfare involving a wide variety of forces engaged in combined and coordinated operations whether on land, at sea and in the air.

Military operations, be they on land, at sea, in the air or even in space, have to be launched from bases that provide security and sanctuary for the participating military forces, before, during and after operations. Foolproof security of an operational base has been a vital prerequisite for the successful conduct of war. History of warfare reveals that neglect of this vital aspect has invariably led to disaster. What was true in the time of the Roman Legions is valid in principle even now in the era of high technology warfare involving a wide variety of forces engaged in combined and coordinated operations whether on land, at sea and in the air.

Indian military airfields in the vicinity of international borders are vulnerable to long-range artillery or unguided rocket attack…

Unfortunately, upgrading the security of an airbase is not the most glamorous aspect of a modernisation programme and hence is generally accorded a low priority being usually addressed as an afterthought. Security of infrastructure is not associated with expensive and glamourous high technology that modern aerial weapon systems and combat aircraft are. After all, an effective access control system does not generate primetime media frenzy when compared to combat aircraft, Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft or ballistic missiles.

During conflicts in the past, airfields and associated assets were often targeted for take-over by enemy forces to deny the facilities to own forces and subsequently to be used by the enemy. The example of the invasion of the island of Crete in World War II comes to mind. German airborne forces consisting of glider-borne light infantry and paratroopers attacked and captured the airfield in Crete to deny its availability to the British forces and then used it as a bridgehead to land German troops to capture the whole of the island. Such a situation could well be faced at airfields in the island territories of India in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Denial of these assets will cut military reach considerably and if these assets were to be used by hostile forces, air, sea and amphibious operations in the island territories will be disrupted, own forces based there cut off and even efforts at evacuation compromised.

US forces in the Pacific during World War II attacked Japanese-held islands with carrier-based air power followed by amphibious assault. One of their aims was to use the islands to base strategic air assets to target the Japanese islands. At that time, it was only strategic air power that could mount attacks against the heart of Japan. However, all these examples were in the context of an all-out global war. Advances in technology have now extended the range of the entire spectrum of weapon systems such that capabilities exist to launch attacks from one’s own heartland against enemy targets worldwide. Such threats will be recognised and hopefully catered for in contingency plans for an all-out war in the future. It is safe to assume that there will be fewer restrictions on the rules of engagement, barring the major dilemma of crossing the nuclear threshold.

The man who would rule India

Ramachandra Guha, The Hindu

Like Indira Gandhi once did, Narendra Modi seeks to make his party,his govt, his administration and his country into an extn of his personality.

A journalist who recently interviewed Narendra Modi reported their conversation as follows: “Gujarat, he told me, merely has a seafront. It has no raw materials - no iron ore for steel, no coal for power and no diamond mines. Yet it has made huge strides in these fields. Imagine, he added, if we had the natural resources of an Assam, a Jharkhand and a West Bengal: I would have changed the face of India.”(The Telegraph, Jan 18, 2013).

Tall claims

This conversation (and that claim) underlines much of what Narendra Modi has sought to do these past five years - remake himself as a man who gets things done, a man who gets the economy moving. With Modi in power in New Delhi, says or suggests Modi, India will be placed smoothly on the 8% to 10% growth trajectory, bureaucrats will clear files overnight, there will be no administrative and political corruption, poverty levels will sink rapidly towards zero and - lest we forget - trains and aeroplanes shall run on time. These claims are taken at face value by his admirers, who include sundry CEOs, owner-capitalists, western ambassadors and - lest we forget - columnists in the pink papers, the white papers, and (above all) cyber-space.

Modi’s detractors - who too are very numerous, and very vocal - seek to puncture these claims in two different ways. The unreconstructed Nehruvians and Congress apologists (not always the same thing) say he will forever be marked by the pogrom against Muslims in 2002, which was enabled and orchestrated by the State government. Even if his personal culpability remains unproven, the fact that as the head of the administration he bears ultimate responsibility for the pogrom, and the further fact that he has shown no remorse whatsoever, marks Modi out as unfit to lead the country.
The secularist case against Modi always had one flaw - namely, that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was preceded in all fundamental respects by what happened in Delhi in 1984. Successive Congress governments have done nothing to bring justice to the survivors, while retaining in powerful positions (as Cabinet Ministers even) Congress MPs manifestly involved in those riots.

With every passing year, the charge that Modi is communal has lost some intensity - because with every passing year it is one more year that the Sikhs of Delhi and other North Indian cities have been denied justice. (They have now waited 28 years, the Muslims of Gujarat a mere 11). More recently, the burden of the criticism against Modi has shifted - on to his own terrain of economic development. It has been shown that the development model of Gujarat is uneven, with some districts (in the south, especially) doing very well, but the dryer parts of the State (inland Saurashtra for example) languishing. Environmental degradation is rising, and educational standards are falling, with malnutrition among children abnormally high for a State at this level of GDP per capita.

As a sociologist who treats the aggregate data of economists with scepticism, I myself do not believe that Gujarat is the best developed State in the country. Shortly after Modi was sworn in for his third full term, I travelled through Saurashtra, whose polluted and arid lands spoke of a hard grind for survival. In the towns, water, sewage, road and transport facilities were in a pathetic state; in the countryside, the scarcity of natural resources was apparent, as pastoralists walked miles and miles in search of stubble for their goats. Both hard numbers and on-the-ground soundings suggest that in terms of social and economic development, Gujarat is better than average, but not among the best. In a lifetime of travel through the States of the Union, my sense is that Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and (despite the corruption) Tamil Nadu are the three States which provide a dignified living to a decent percentage of their population.

To be sure, Modi is not solely responsible for the unbalanced development. Previous Chief Ministers did not do enough to nurture good schools and hospitals, or enough to prevent the Patels of southern Gujarat from monopolising public resources. Besides, Modi does have some clear, identifiable achievements - among them a largely corruption-free government, an active search for new investment into Gujarat, some impressive infrastructural projects, and a brave attempt to do away with power subsidies for rich farmers.

Both the secularist case and the welfarist case against Modi have some merit - as well as some drawbacks. In my view, the real reason that Narendra Modi is unfit to be Prime Minister of India is that he is instinctively and aggressively authoritarian. Consider that line quoted in my first paragraph: “I would have changed the face of India.” Not ‘we,’ but ‘I’. In Modi’s Gujarat, there are no collaborators, no co-workers. He has a chappan inchchaati - a 56-inch chest - as he loudly boasts, and therefore all other men (if not women) in Gujarat must bow down to his power and his authority.

The Pit of Despair


In the streets of Pakistan, people have had it about up to here. For the Obama administration’s diminished goals there, maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Here is a sad, sad statistic for you: a grand total of 6 percent of Pakistanis aged 18 to 29 believe that their country is "heading in the right direction." Four years ago, the figure was 14 percent. The next generation of Pakistanis, in short, is sinking into despair. But it's not just sad, the way it would be if 94 percent of Somalis or Congolese had given up on their future. It's also extremely dangerous, because Pakistan has 185 million people, a large nuclear stockpile, and an array of violent Islamist groups who are terrorizing the country's own people and its neighbors.

There is something viscerally satisfying about the prospect of leaving Pakistan to stew in its own juices. Americans are feeling betrayed by a country they once viewed as a staunch ally in the war on terror. Even Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an extremely patient interlocutor with Pakistan's leadership class, testified in 2011 that the brutal Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban was "a veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence and added that the country would never be a "respected and prosperous nation" unless it mended its ways. And now, with America's endless military engagement in Afghanistan scheduled to draw to a close in 2014, the United States has the chance to disengage from Pakistan as well. But the truth is that we can't actually afford to indulge that impulse.

Pakistan is the example par excellence of the hopeless predicaments that Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush. My personal shorthand for these snarled knots is: "You have to, but you can't." You have to persuade Iran to end its nuclear program through blandishments and threats; you have to leave behind a government and an army that the Afghan people can believe in; you have to convince Pakistan's military and intelligence leaders that the Afghan Taliban is their enemy, not their instrument. But you can't. So you come up with a decent-sounding-if-not-terribly-persuasive plan and send it off with a prayer. This degree-of-difficulty problem is why I've always been more sympathetic to Obama than many of his critics on both the left and right.

Bush never had a vision of U.S.-Pakistan relations much beyond, "You're with us or against us." Obama has tried to do better, through a combination of development assistance, democracy support, and the intensely focused diplomacy of Richard Holbrooke, the late special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The "strategic partnership" that Holbrooke forged was supposed to demonstrate a deep and abiding commitment which would not only improve Pakistan's economic and security capacity but flatter the country's leaders into greater compliance with U.S. objectives. That didn't happen. Holbrooke hoped that U.S. aid, channeled through Pakistani institutions, would help bolster the civilian government, and improve America's standing. That didn't happen either. The relationship cratered in 2011, either because Holbrooke died in late 2010 or, more likely, because of popular fury when U.S. forces crossed into Pakistani territory to kill Osama bin Laden, and later killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border. The policy failed because it couldn't succeed.

In recent days, I've been talking with current and former administration officials who deal with the region, and several things have become clear. First, the deep freeze is over. U.S. military and intelligence officials are now meeting regularly with their opposite number. The Pakistanis have slightly opened the spigot on diplomatic visas, which they choke off at moments of pique. Bilateral working groups on the economy, security, education and defense have been meeting, and issuing soothing press releases. The United States, as one intelligence official I spoke to confirmed, has significantly slowed the pace of drone attacks; the Pakistani side has lowered the rhetoric. It does not hurt that Pakistan is preoccupied with national elections now scheduled for May 11.

It's not only temperatures that have cooled; so have expectations. The strategic partnership is history. "There's a lot of wisdom in having a more modest relationship," as one official said to me. "On things like the Haqqanis, our long-term goals don't align. It's better to recognize that they don't and work on what we have in common." In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's former ambassador to the United States (and no relation to the jihadists), suggested that the two sides admit the truth and "explore ways to structure a nonallied relationship." That's not so far from what's happening now, though no one would dare to call it that. The chastened wisdom of 2013: "We can't, so we won't."

Al Qaeda Wants Africa

Are the French in Over Their Heads in Mali?
By Aris Roussinos

Illustration by Jordan Rein

This February, after a victorious battle against Islamic insurgents in the Saharan city of Gao, the Malian army put on a tour for the assembled press. Journalists from various news outlets from around the world stood in a dusty courtyard in the heart of the city. Gao is a conservative town—the sort of place where six-month-old babies wear hijabs—and since last year, it has played host to some of the fiercest battles in an international conflict that could reach far beyond Mali’s 15 million people: the fight to prevent al Qaeda from flourishing in Africa. 

The press tour was supposed to be a victory celebration. French soldiers, who had offered military support to the Malian troops in the recent battle, stood silently at the edge of Gao’s central courtyard and watched with amusement as the Malians led reporters around the battlefield. Gendarmes swathed in ammo belts guided the journalists around the town’s courthouse, pointing out dismembered limbs and dead jihadists crumpled on the ground.

One soldier called our attention to a severed head facedown in the dust. “Is it Malian, do you think?” I asked. The gendarme kicked it over and studied the face. Dark blood dripped from its mouth. A fly crawled up its nose. “Nah, maybe Algerian or Nigerien,” the gendarme said, grinning with pride. Nearby, in the town hall, next to a body hunched in a stairwell over its machine gun, the soldiers pointed out a wide streak of blood that had burst up the wall and across the ceiling. “Suicide bomber,” they said. “Look, here’s his head.” It was more of a face than a head, though, a puzzled countenance lying wrinkled on the floor in a dusty frown, its skull sheared off by the blast. The cameramen pointedly avoided filming it. “You’d never get it on TV,” one reporter later said, “so why even bother?”

Not long before our grim tour, I had traveled to Mali to witness the aftermath of France’s intervention. I was to ride with a French military convoy from the capital of Bamako to Gao—a five-day journey across the desert. We would be the first such convoy to reach the city, where for the previous six months, al Qaeda and their local allies had taken over and created an Islamic theocracy, indoctrinating youths in jihad and enforcing Sharia law on the locals with whips and butcher’s knives. French troops had subsequently retaken the city with jets and attack helicopters, and we were bringing them food, bottled water, and generators: the full, ungainly logistics trail of a modern army digging its heels in. As we slogged through the Sahara, villagers periodically appeared from their huts to greet us as liberators, waving tricolours and shouting, “Vive la France!” and “Merci, merci!” But as one gets closer to Gao, the Islamist influence grows, and soon I would find out that not all the locals viewed their French saviors with the same fuzzy glow.

Al-Qaida and The Wider Jihadist Phenomenon

Oxford Research Group
Paul Rogers

27 March 2013 -- Four months ago, the Oxford Research Group briefing analysed the status of the al-Qaida movement (Al-Qaida - The Potency of an Idea, November 2012). It argued that the assumption that the movement was in retreat should be treated with caution and that while al-Qaida was no longer a closely structured and integrated organisation, the idea was very much alive and had a potency that was not being fully recognised. Developments in the past four months support this view and make it advisable to update the analysis. Given the trend towards socio-economic marginalisation, it would be wise to assume that radical and violent social movements still have significant traction.

The Al-Qaida Context

The movement originally developed in the late 1980s among committed jihadists who had gone to the aid of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in their civil war against the Soviet occupiers. The expulsion of the Soviets and the subsequent collapse of the USSR were seen by some of the leadership as proof that a profoundly religious conviction was powerful enough to defeat a superpower. Al-Qaida then evolved into a transnational vision that superseded the more nationalist outlook of the Mujahidin and, by the late 1990s, was a transnational movement with some focus on bin Laden, Zawahiri and a small core centred once more in Afghanistan. It had become an unusual eschatologically-orientated revolutionary movement opposing the many unacceptable Middle Eastern regimes of the “near enemy”, as well as Zionism and its backer - the “far enemy” of the United States. Support was also offered to other Islamist movements, whether in Chechnya, Kashmir, the Southern Philippines or Indonesia, but the key underlying factors were a puritanical religious underpinning and a timescale measured in many decades, if not a century, since it was rooted in an outlook that went beyond this life.This is crucial in understanding the potency of the idea and makes al-Qaida a very unusual transnational revolutionary movement. Following 9/11, a vigorous and initially successful “war on terror” deteriorated into two hugely costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the latter extending into Pakistan. Both could be seen by al-Qaida supporters as proof that Islam was under attack. Over the period 2001-6, al-Qaida affiliates were active in staging attacks in many countries including Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Spain and the UK, as well as sustained violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. By the end of the decade, though, a combination of much-strengthened security measures in western states and intensive drone and Special Forces attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan had done much to degrade the al-Qaida movement. By 2010, there was a developing consensus among counter-terrorism analysts that al-Qaida was rapidly diminishing as a transnational threat.

Al-Qaida Now

This idea of a diminished movement has been undermined by recent developments in a number of countries. These were discussed in the November briefing and may be summarised and updated as follows: -

Nigeria: Boko Haram continues to constitute a major threat to the Nigerian state, and the government responds primarily with the use of force. While Boko Haram is primarily focused on the state, its offshoot, Ansaru, has a much broader transnational outlook, which is closer to the al-Qaida vision. Its recent kidnapping and killing of foreign workers has suddenly focused attention on what may be a trend towards making the whole of the Boko Haram movement more transnational. 

Mali: As was argued in the special January briefing, the intervention in Mali is leading to a new western/jihadist confrontation. There was some expectation that the French intervention would lead to a period of quiet during the hot season, with the confrontation developing later in the year, but in scarcely reported developments, French and Chadian forces have faced unexpected resistance from jihadist paramilitaries. Chadian troops lost 24 killed and around 50 wounded on a single day (22 February). Paramilitaries even infiltrated the town of Gao, there was a suicide bomb attack in Kidal and a number of harassing attacks that contrast strongly with an expectation of jihadist paramilitaries restricted to a few remote mountainous areas. France still plans to withdraw most of its forces during April, but there are serious doubts that units from several West African countries, now slowly arriving in Mali, will prove to have the capacity to enhance security. 

Afghanistan 2014: A look one year out

By Jim Marshall
April 5, 2013

Term limits preclude Hamid Karzai from seeking re-election in the Afghan presidential election slated to occur one year from today (parliamentary elections will follow in 2015). So, for the first time since 2001, Afghanistan will soon have a new chief executive along with a new parliament, a leadership transition that has immense implications for U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, yet one that has elicited little discussion in Washington. Here, policy makers and pundits chatter about talking with the Taliban and argue vociferously about the number of troops that should remain after 2014, an argument that is utterly irrelevant if the Afghan elections go badly, particularly the presidential election, and Afghanistan descends into civil war. Whether it's 8,000 or 13,600 or 20,000 or more or less, the post-2014 U.S. and NATO force will be too small to halt Afghan political and military disintegration.

The success or failure of Afghanistan's upcoming elections does not depend so much upon who is elected but rather how they are elected. Regardless of who wins, Afghans must believe the electoral process was reasonably fair and representative or the new government will be viewed as illegitimate, prompting spiraling violence and instability. Despite these existential stakes, however, the United States has shied away from publicly expressing its expectations and concerns about details of the developing Afghan electoral process. This unspoken caution springs from the circumstances surrounding Afghanistan's 2009 national elections, during which the international community roundly criticized President Karzai for presiding over an election marred by significant fraud and Karzai, in turn, accused the international community, particularly U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, of wrongfully intruding upon Afghan sovereignty by supporting opposition candidates.

Given the hour and stakes, the United States should move beyond its circumspect and cautious approach, and instead clearly signal to all candidates and parties that it will use all of its legitimate influence in pursuit of credible elections. If needed, the US should spend more than the roughly 200 million dollars earmarked for the Afghan electoral process by USAID. When totaled, even the most sweeping electoral support costs are paltry when compared to the cost variations associated with the residual troop level debate. For example, even by conservative estimates the choice of 20,000 instead of 8,000 residual U.S. forces in Afghanistan means at least 12 billion dollars in annual additional expense.

Afghans recall the flawed elections of 2009, and many or most Afghans expect no better in 2014. Not only must the electoral process itself be strengthened, somehow public perceptions of the electoral process must also improve in the short time remaining before the presidential election. It would be a tragedy if a legitimate victory by a Karzai-backed candidate were viewed as illegitimate simply because a false public perception existed that Karzai abused his powers when he hadn't. Few besides Al Qaeda and the Taliban should want such a result.

Pakistani Terror Group Recruits 'Best and Brightest'

Imagine a terrorist group that recruits tens of thousands of young men from the same neighborhoods and social networks as the Pakistani military. A group whose well-educated recruits defy the idea that poverty and ignorance breed extremism. A group whose fighters include relatives of a politician, a senior Army officer and a director of Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission.

That is the disconcerting reality of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the world's most dangerous militant organizations, according to a study released today by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. The report helps explain why Pakistan has resisted international pressure to crack down on Lashkar after it killed 166 people in Mumbai — six U.S. citizens included — and came close to sparking conflict between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

The findings, which draw on 917 biographies of Lashkar fighters killed in combat, illuminate "Lashkar's integration into Pakistani society, how embedded they are," said co-author Don Rassler, the director of a research program at the center that studies primary source materials. "They have become an institution."

The three-day slaughter in 2008 drew global attention because it targeted Westerners as well as Indians and implicated Pakistan's spy agency. The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) continues to protect the masterminds, according to Western and Indian counterterror officials. U.S. prosecutors indicted an ISI major in the deaths of the Americans: He allegedly provided funds, training and direction and served as the handler of David Coleman Headley, an U.S. reconnaissance operative now serving 35 years in a federal prison.

The 56-page West Point report is titled "The Fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death." Though it refrains from policy suggestions, there are implications for U.S. counterterror strategy. Lashkar's popularity and clout defy conventional approaches to fighting extremism, said co-author Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University.

"When you have an organization that enjoys such a degree of open support, there are no options for U.S. policy other than counterintelligence, law enforcement and counter-terrorism targeting," Fair said in an interview.

Lashkar was founded in 1989 by Hafiz Saeed, its spiritual chief today, and other ideologues. The ISI deployed Lashkar as a proxy force against India, especially in the disputed Kashmir region. Although banned by Pakistan in 2002, the group still functions unmolested, the ISI provides funds, military training and arms, and ISI officers serve as handlers for Lashkar chiefs, according to Western and Indian investigations. The U.S. officially declared Laskhar a terror group in 2001.


Date : 17 Jan , 2013


The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 proved to be a boon to China and the PLAAF. Apart from a formidable enemy being neutralised, many displaced scientists, engineers and technicians from the erstwhile Soviet Union found employment in the Chinese military industrial complex. The Russian aircraft industry struggling to survive, was more than willing to sell modern aeroplanes and technology to China. And the booming Chinese economy could afford to import the best that was on offer. 

PLAAF : An Emerging Aerospace Power 

A visionary, long-term and time-bound approach to military modernisation, supported by a strong and innovative military-industrial capability has transformed the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force(PLAAF) of China, from an antiquated, derelict, poorly trained and over-sized force to a modern aerospace power with increasing proficiency to undertake its stated missions in the 21st Century. The Indian establishment, especially the Indian Air Force (IAF), needs to absorb this reality and restructure its modernisation plans. The Indian security environment is being continuously impacted by China’s rise, militarily and economically as a global power. 

The foundations of China’s long term plan for its modernisation programme were laid in 2010 and aims at major progress by 2020. By 2050 China would accomplish its strategic goal of building an ‘informatized’ (net-centric warfare enabled) armed forces capable of winning wars. Perhaps the unstated objective of the plan is to expand China’s ‘comprehensive national power’ beyond the existing regional status. China’s plan to ‘lay a solid foundation by 2010’ appears to have been achieved as demonstrated by the large-scale exercise ‘Stride-2009’ held to coincide with 50 years celebration of communist rule in China. 50,000 troops were moved from regions in the West to the East. The objective of Stride-2009 was to test the ability to move forces on a large-scale from the areas they had trained in to areas they were unfamiliar with. Another aim was to subject the massive rail, road and air infrastructure created over the years to heavy military movement pressure and examine if such pressure adversely affected civilian population. The PLAAF played an important role in this exercise. 

China is determined in developing modern military aerospace capabilities. Having generated a certain quantum of expertise in the field, including learning from the designers, technicians and scientists imported from CIS countries where they had been rendered unemployed…

In 1999, PLAAF operated over 3500 combat aircraft comprising mainly the J-6 (MiG-19 equivalent) and the J-7 (based on the MiG-21). A deal with Russia saw the induction of 100 Su-27 fighters. PLAAF also had in its inventory the H-6(Tu-16 based) bombers. China had no precision-guided munitions(PGMs) and only the Su-27 was BVR compatible. 

Modernisation of the PLAAF has been propelled by China’s astounding economic growth. The 21st century has witnessed the acquisition of 105 Su-30MKK from 2000 to 2003 and 100 upgraded Su-30MKK2 in 2004. China produced more than 200 J-11s from 2002 onwards. The PLAAF also bought a total of 126 Su-27SK/UBK in three batches. The production of the J-10 combat aircraft began in 2002 and 1200 are on order. The H-6 bombers (Tu-16 Badger) were converted into flight refuelling aircraft. In 2005, the PLAAF unveiled plans to acquire 70 Il-76 transport aircraft and 30 Il-78 tankers to significantly upgrade strategic airlift capability and offer extended range to the fighter force. The US Department of Defense has reported that Su-27 SKs are being upgraded to the multi-role Su-27 SMK status. 

The PLAAF is also organising a combat air wing for a future aircraft carrier group, possibly based on the Su-33, which is a carrier capable variant of the Su-27. Many existing fighters are being upgraded, some for night maritime strike role, permitting carriage of Russian weapons, including Kh-31A anti-radiation cruise missile and KAB-500 laser-guided munition. China is also developing special mission aircraft including the KJ-2000 AWACS based on the Il-76 platform. The Y-8 transport planes are being modified to undertake a variety of roles of Airborne Battlefield Command, AEW and intelligence gathering. PLAAF’s aim is to have a primarily fourth generation air force. JH-7/7A will be the backbone of the precision strike force with large numbers of J-10 and J-11 in the air superiority role. The interceptor role will be undertaken by the JF-17 which is under production now in China. The transport force will have Il-76, Il-78 and Y-9 aircraft. China has a variety of helicopters and other aircraft to undertake specialist missions and routine tasks. With a fast developing C4ISR and its shift to joint operations, the Chinese military will be a formidable force to reckon with even by a well prepared adversary. In this process of modernisation the PLAAF has improved exponentially, though it has yet to be tested in actual operations. 

The PLAAF classifies its aircraft as J for fighter, Q for ground attack, H for bomber, JH for fighter-bomber, Y for transport and JZ for reconnaissance aircraft and Z for helicopters.

Recently China unveiled its fifth generation fighter, the J-20 which represents a significant step in the evolution of the Chinese aerospace industry. The new aircraft displays stealth features and indicates a determination on China’s part to shape new military capabilities in the period ahead. China is determined in developing modern military aerospace capabilities. Having generated a certain quantum of expertise in the field, including learning from the designers, technicians and scientists imported from CIS countries where they had been rendered unemployed post the break-up of the Soviet Union, China invested significantly in the aerospace sector and the benefits are visible now. The progress has been much faster than predicted by western analysts. The phenomenal growth in its economy permits China increased investments in innovation and the result would be that by 2020 or so China will become the world’s most important centre for innovation, overtaking the US and Japan. 

The Chinese Aerospace Industry 

A short foray into the history of the growth of China’s aerospace industry would reveal the transformation achieved. Initially, the Soviet Union extended assistance to the fledgling PLAAF in the early 1950s and helped the People’s Republic in setting up its aircraft production facilities. The PLAAF pilots were trained in Soviet tactics and some took part in the Korean War against the USAF. By the late 1950s, Chinese factories were assembling, under licence, aircraft in large numbers. These were MiG-15(J-2), MiG-15bis(J-4), MiG-17(J-5 and the MiG-19(J-6). 

Chinese J-11 Multirole Fighter Aircraft 

The break in relations with the Soviet Union dealt a double blow to China. The aircraft industry nearly collapsed and a new and powerful enemy appeared on the northern flank, though the PLAAF was not involved in any border skirmishes with the Soviets. The industry, however, began to recover by 1965 and China produced its first indigenous fighter, the J-8, a mix of various Soviet designs. Development of the PLAAF was adversely affected as budget priorities were skewed in favour of missile and nuclear forces of the PLA. Exploiting the rift between the Soviet Union and China, the western nations extended considerable aid to the PLAAF in the late 1980s. Western avionics were incorporated into the J-7(MiG-21 copy), the J-8 and the A-5 ground attack fighter. Western technology also helped in development of the B-6D bomber, the HQ-2J high altitude SAM and the C-601 air-launched anti-ship missile. Support from the West ended abruptly in 1989 with the Chinese crackdown on protestors in the infamous Tianamen Square incident. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 proved to be a boon to China and the PLAAF. Apart from a formidable enemy being neutralised, many displaced scientists, engineers and technicians from the erstwhile Soviet Union found employment in the Chinese military industrial complex. The Russian aircraft industry struggling to survive, was more than willing to sell modern aeroplanes and technology to China. And the booming Chinese economy could afford to import the best that was on offer. 


By Shanta-Maree Surendran
Research Intern, IPCS 
25 Feb 2013

In February 2013, the Pakistan government handed over control of Gwadar port to China. The desolate surrounds and negligible shipping activity at Gwadar belie the port’s central role in renewed debate about intentions and implications of China’s interest in the Indian Ocean Region. Is China’s investment in Gwadar indicative of a trade and resources agenda or a military one, and are these mutually exclusive?

China's Port Policy: Plan First, Plan Ahead

China’s port policy focuses on energy and economic interests. This aligns with national objectives centring on growth and stability (China’s White Paper, 2010). Transport development and securing access to resources and trade are prioritised as part of a pragmatic and proactive approach to achieving national objectives. The method espoused and practiced by China to accomplish increased efficiency, economy and safety of transport has been a ‘plan first, plan ahead’ strategy (Zuyuan, 2008). The priorities were initially nationally focused but now also extend to international behaviour and action.

Sea lanes of communication (SLOC) are critical to China’s growth and stability. 90% of China’s foreign trade is carried by sea and over 80% of her oil imports arrive through the Malaccan Strait. A ‘plan first, plan ahead’ strategy has seen China focus on SLOC to secure access and position so as to facilitate long-term progress and protection.

China’s port policy, and the associated objectives, in itself does not present a threat. It is the tacit military dimension to the policy that ignites speculation and debate. China’s National Defence document states: ‘The state takes economic development and national defence building into simultaneous consideration’ (China’s White Paper 2010: 7). Simultaneous consideration does not necessarily equate to simultaneous action but the pairing of these two elements, in both cultural doctrine as well as official documents, suggests that observers of China’s economic-driven activity would be wise to acknowledge military development as an implicit companion. This partnership cautions wariness regarding Chinese management of Gwadar port.

Gwadar Transfer

The most oft cited reason for what brought about the transfer of Gwadar from Singapore’s PSA International Ltd to a Chinese government company is the negotiations failure between PSA and the Pakistan Navy. The stalemate, over land required for the development of the port, stalled the project and stifled commercial activity.

China had expressed prior interest in the port as an avenue to realise transport development objectives. When the PSA terms of contract expired, the Chinese government company was offered operational control. China’s investment has injected new enthusiasm into discussion of the potentials for Gwadar, and it is the port’s limitations as much as its promise that keeps the engine of this argument fuelled.

Economic Opportunities

The economic and energy benefits of access to Gwadar lie in the strategic value of its geography. Situated near the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Sea port offers China energy resource access and a trade pathway that bypasses the congested Malaccan Strait. The option of a direct land route into Western China lessens the vulnerability that comes with heavy reliance on the South East Asian sea route.


Launched March 28, 2013

Chinese companies are investing billions of dollars in pursuit of Congo's minerals. What do Congolese have to gain—and to fear—from China's rise?

Even before China's ruling party announced its “Go Out” policy in 1999 to encourage Chinese businesses to invest overseas, Chinese entrepreneurs were doing just that. Thousands immigrated to Africa. In developing countries such as the Congo, Chinese families opened import businesses, electronic shops, medicine distribution networks, restaurants. When the value of copper, cobalt and other minerals increased along with a worldwide demand for electronics in the early 2000s, dozens of small Chinese companies opened shop in Congo's Katanga province to purchase and process minerals dug by artisanal miners.

Chinese annual trade with Africa has blossomed to $166 billion, making it Africa's largest bilateral trading partner. The Chinese see Africa as both a place to obtain the raw materials needed to fuel its manufacturing-driven economy, and as an important emerging market in which to sell its products.

Congo is home to nearly half of the world’s cobalt reserves. And its substantial supply of copper ore tends to be high-grade. Some speculate Congo’s troubled ground may be infused with $24 trillion worth of raw minerals. Their worth is rising all the time: A decade ago, a ton of copper could fetch $1,700 on the world market. Today it’s $8,000. These lucrative minerals are what led two Chinese companies to make the largest deal in Congo’s history: Sicomines. They will partner with Congo’s government mining company to extract 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the next 25 years. At current prices, the copper alone would be worth about $54 billion––three times Congo’s entire GDP.

Sicomines might seem like just an ordinary mining deal by a couple big Chinese companies. But it isn’t. Because in exchange for the minerals, Chinese companies are spending $3 billion to build roads, hospitals and universities in Kinshasa and throughout the Congo. The barter is part of a new philosophy that combines development aid and mineral concessions in a package deal. It’s a business model the Chinese are replicating across the African continent, which happens to be the most rapidly growing market in the world. And it’s something that Western countries like the United States, which strictly separate government and private enterprise, can’t quite duplicate.

In this project, journalist Jacob Kushner looks at this new style of investing that is helping Chinese companies take an economic edge over Africa: During the past three years, China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner.

Americans tend to be weary of China’s rise in the world. We see our manufacturing jobs moving to China, its economy growing, ours struggling. We look for explanations of Chinese success––we accuse the Chinese of ‘cheating’ by subsidizing their auto industry or by ‘manipulating’ their currency, of profiting from labor abuses and the absence of democracy. We conjure images of corruption.

But what if China’s success in Africa is not fundamentally all that different from the way Europe, the United States, and other Western countries have prospered there before? What does it mean for America’s future as a world power if the Chinese have learned to profit by doing business the same way it has always been done––only they’re doing it, better?

In Congo, the stakes are high. Depending upon who you believe, China’s Congo strategy will either revolutionize the world’s poorest nation, helping it leap forward into modernity and create a new development model for all of Africa—or strip Congo of its natural wealth as did the Belgians in colonial times while Congo’s masses remain in poverty.

Jacob Kushner is a freelance journalist currently based in New York, where he is pursuing a Master’s degree in political journalism from Columbia University.

Or How Diplomats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet

Social Diplomacy
April 6, 2013 

Discussion of the political impact of social media has focused on the power of mass protests to topple governments. In fact, social media's real potential lies in supporting civil society and the public sphere -- which will produce change over years and decades, not weeks or months. 

The rapid rise in popularity of social media outlets such as Twitter have led many to argue that people around the world are connecting in unprecedented ways. Parsing the data, however, reveals that isn't true. Rather than creating new relationships, Twitter largely reinforces those that already exist.

Soon after protests erupted outside the U.S. embassy in the Egyptian capital last September, inspired by the posting on the Internet of an American-made anti-Islamic video, the embassy posted a statement saying, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” The statement appeared in two forms: a three-paragraph press release, e-mailed to various government officials and journalists, and a 123-character tweet.

The tweet made waves first. The conservative Twitter-watching website Twitchy posted it under the headline “US Embassy in Cairo chooses Sep. 11 to apologize for hurt Muslim feelings.” Republicans quickly called the embassy’s actions an example of the Obama administration’s appeasement of U.S. enemies, and the Romney campaign denounced it as “disgraceful.” The White House soon disavowed the statement, saying it “was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government.” @USEmbassyCairo deleted the tweet within hours, and, according to media reports, within weeks the senior public affairs officer on duty in Cairo that night was recalled to Washington.

The Cairo incident wasn’t the first time that a diplomat’s tweets have sparked a firestorm. Sometimes even apparently benign or accidental use of social media can lead to diplomatic discord. In February 2012, for example, the Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney, posted a tweet with a photo of his official car on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Chinese citizens expressed shock at the discovery that a prominent Western ambassador would drive a plain old Toyota Camry; the tweet threw the ubiquitous use of luxury cars by even mid-range Chinese officials into sharp relief and led to a storm of posts on Chinese bureaucratic excesses.


In a profession where inappropriate, unclear, or careless phrasing can undermine countless hours of painstaking negotiation, it might seem like a huge risk to send public messages limited to a paltry 140 characters that can go viral almost instantly. Yet today hundreds of diplomats around the world have official Twitter accounts, and the numbers are growing weekly. Diplomats are not only permitted but encouraged to tweet, especially by the U.S. government, which has touted social media engagement as a key part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft initiative.

Think Again: North Korea

MARCH 25, 2013

North Korea is a lot more dangerous than you think, but that doesn't mean that Kim Jong Un is insane.

"North Korea's not that dangerous."

Wrong. There is no threat of war on the Korean peninsula because the United States and South Korea have deterred the regime for over six decades, or so the thinking goes. And the occasional provocation from Pyongyang -- full of sound and fury -- usually ends with it blowing up in its face, signifying nothing. So why worry? Two reasons. First, North Korea has a penchant for testing new South Korean presidents. A new one was just inaugurated in February, and since 1992, the North has welcomed these five new leaders by disturbing the peace. Whether in the form of missile launches, submarine incursions, or naval clashes, these North Korean provocations were met by each newly elected South Korean president with patience rather than pique.

The difference today is that South Korea is no longer turning the other cheek. After the North blew up the South Korean navy ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors in 2010, Seoul re-wrote the rules of military engagement. It has lost patience and will respond kinetically to any provocation, which could escalate into a larger conflict. Second, North Korea crossed a major technology threshold in December, when it successfully launched a satellite into orbit. Though the satellite later malfunctioned, the North managed to put the payload into orbit with ballistic missile launch technology that is clearly designed to reach the United States.

This development appears to validate former U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates's January 2011 claim that the regime was only five years away from fielding a missile that could threaten the continental United States. To make matters worse, Pyongyang conducted a third nuclear test in February, which appears to have been more successful than the previous two. Within President Barack Obama's second term in office, North Korea could well be the third nation (after Russia and China) to field a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile targeted at the United States. Moreover, the North has sold every weapons system it has developed to the likes of Iran, Pakistan, and Syria. That's worth losing sleep over.

Reaching out to North Korea

Donald Gregg

April 1, 2013 -- President Obama's recent Middle East trip showed what good things can result from thoughtful, direct presidential involvement. The president addressed young Israelis, reassured allies in the region and brokered an Israeli apology to Turkey for a deadly raid on a flotilla attempting to take supplies to Gaza. The president should employ that same sort of diplomacy toward North Korea.

An increasingly dangerous confrontation is building between the United States and North Korea. The outrageous rhetoric pouring out of Pyongyang makes it difficult to do anything more than dismiss North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. But abandoning diplomacy would be extremely dangerous. The North Koreans are convinced that nuclear weapons are the only thing keeping them safe from a U.S. attack, and recent flights of nuclear-capable U.S. warplanes over the Korean peninsula only hardened that conviction.

As distasteful as it may seem, we need to talk directly with the North Koreans. They will not give up their nuclear weapons at this juncture, and for the United States to demand that they do so as a precondition for talks will only lead to greater tension, including the possibility of a military explosion. Would it not be better to negotiate a peace treaty? The George W. Bush administration took the position that engagement with Pyongyang would reward bad behavior, and that seems to be the approach of the Obama administration too. But though the North Koreans often sound like belligerent lunatics, there are certainly many reasons to engage, particularly on a peace treaty, an idea Kim Jong Un might well embrace.

I have been dealing with Korean issues for 40 years, since I arrived as the CIA's chief of station in Seoul. Later, from 1989 to 1993, I served as ambassador to South Korea. And time and again I saw diplomacy work where confrontation would have failed. In August 1973, U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib learned that opposition leader Kim Dae-jung had been kidnapped in Tokyo and was on a small boat about to be thrown into the sea. It was widely assumed (and later confirmed) that South Korea's intelligence service, the KCIA, was responsible. But Habib did not jump into his sedan and confront autocratic President Park Chung-hee with an accusation. Habib first wrote Park a letter, giving him time to construct a response that kept Kim alive and enabled Park to deflect responsibility for the kidnapping.

In December 1980, I witnessed close up a confrontation that failed. Kim Dae-jung had, at that point, been sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of treason. Outgoing President Jimmy Carter sent Defense Secretary Harold Brown and me to Seoul to confront South Korea's president, Chun Doo-hwan, on the matter. Our instructions were to tell him, essentially, to release Kim "or else." This approach failed utterly, and Kim was on the verge of execution. The incoming Reagan administration, led by Richard V. Allen, was astute enough to offer Chun a visit to the White House to keep Kim alive. In order to see Reagan, Chun released Kim, who went on to become South Korea's president and receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Granted, these experiences were in South Korea, a place very different from its northern neighbor. But diplomacy works around the world. We can't simply order Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear ambitions. Dialogue is needed, and Obama should reach out to those who have negotiated successfully with North Korea to help craft an approach.

Next month, South Korean President Park Geun-hye will visit Washington to meet with Obama. I was in Seoul in 1974 when a North Korean agent trying to kill her father, President Park Chung-hee, fired and missed, killing her mother instead. Still, Park Geun-hye visited Pyongyang in 2001 and met with then-President Kim Jong Il. When I congratulated her for doing so, her response was: "We must look to the future with hope, not to the past with bitterness."

How to Stop a Nuclear War

APRIL 5, 2013

What the Cuban missile crisis teaches us about facing down North Korea.

As he ponders how to respond to the military bluster of North Korea, President Obama is learning a lesson that was driven home to John F. Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis: When it comes to a possible nuclear confrontation, pre-delegating authority to the generals can be a big mistake.

According to a report this week in the Wall Street Journal, the White House has abandoned a pre-approved "playbook" calling for a show of force against North Korea in response to its nuclear saber-rattling. Instead of a series of well-orchestrated, and well-publicized, moves designed to increase the pressure on Pyongyang, the Obama administration is now reported to be looking for ways to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. White House officials are said to be upset with the Navy for publicizing the deployment of two missile-guided destroyers off South Korea -- a step that could provoke an unpredictable response from North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un.

The hints of civilian-military disagreement are reminiscent of a celebrated confrontation at the height of the Cuban missile crisis between the secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, and the chief of naval operations, Admiral George Anderson. After the president announced a naval blockade of Cuba, Anderson felt he had all the authority he needed to stop Soviet ships from crossing the "quarantine line," by force if necessary. "We know how to do this," he told McNamara, waving his well-thumbed copy of the Laws of Military Warfare. "We've been doing it ever since the days of John Paul Jones."

The confrontation climaxed with an apoplectic defense secretary telling a red-faced CNO that there would be "no shots fired without my express permission." A few months later, Anderson was dispatched into exile as U.S. ambassador to Portugal.

The episode marked a significant turning point in civilian-military relations. During the Second World War, military commanders enjoyed a huge amount of autonomy. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was ordered to "liberate Europe" -- but he did not have politicians breathing down his neck, supervising every aspect of his operations. He took history-making decisions -- such as his refusal to race the Soviet army to Berlin -- all by himself.

Despite doomsday warnings, life continues as abnormal as ever in the capital

Inside the cult of Kim
Apr 6th 2013 | PYONGYANG

IT IS hard to talk about normality in North Korea. But as its leaders each day cranked up the threats of merciless all-out war with America and South Korea, residents in and around the capital, Pyongyang, appeared to be busier preparing for the coming of spring than a coming war.

At a time of high tension on the Korean peninsula, a propaganda blitz in Pyongyang warning of something akin to a doomsday “do-or-die” battle was relentless. On March 26th people crowded around television screens to watch a newsreader in pink bark out orders from the top brass of the Korean People’s Army for field units to be ready to attack American bases and conduct “physical action” against South Korea.

As the days wore on, the threats increased to encompass nuclear war, while painted posters emerged on main streets showing rockets raining down on Washington, DC. The state news agency, KCNA, issued daily reports emphasising what is a pattern of the propaganda: that the regime’s belligerence is in response to dire threats from outside, such as the deployment of American B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 fighters as part of joint exercises by American and South Korean armed forces south of the heavily fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ). To its people, North Korea is painted as victim, not aggressor. On March 31st the regime described the country’s nuclear weapons (still few and crude) as the nation’s “life” that would never be abandoned while outside forces threatened it with nuclear attack.

Yet for a solipsistic society force-fed on the fear of nuclear annihilation, the few signs that the capital was on anywhere near a war footing appeared more comical than convincing—like a version of “Dad’s Army” in totalitarian drag. Buses and trams got up in camouflage looked as if they were wearing hairnets with the odd leaf stuck on. Locals chuckled when a foreigner warned facetiously that if they blended in any better, other vehicles might crash into them.

North Korea is the most highly militarised society on earth. Yet in the capital the only guns on view were wooden ones, carried by some callow-looking cadets. The heaviest concentration of soldiers was on the road from Pyongyang’s airport (no military planes visible): hundreds of conscripts, shovels in hand, were digging up a park and planting trees. Work brigades thronged the capital, busy on grass verges planting spring flowers.

In Pyongyang it was hard to escape the impression that the threats and bluster aimed at America and the South were mainly for domestic consumption. They seemed intended to present Kim Jong Un, the young dictator, as a fearless commander-in-chief. External threats justify North Korea’s paranoia and enforced isolation, whatever hardships are imposed on its people. And it provides existential drama to a nation used to mind-numbing, wall-to-wall Kim worship as entertainment.

Viewpoint: North Korea’s Gaddafi Nightmare

April 05, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on March 31, 2013.

If you want to know what’s going through the mind of the North Korean regime, go back to the murder of Muammar Gaddafi. The way the North Koreans look at it, Gaddafi gave up his nuclear bomb, and lost his head. The lesson of Saddam Hussein’s end is another cautionary tale for the North Koreans. If Saddam had held onto his weapons of mass destruction–and lots of them–the Obama Administration would have had second thoughts about invading his country. Or so I’m told by a former CIA colleague, and one of the best-informed North Korean watchers around.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, like his father and his grandfather, exists in a rococo fantasy. He truly believes that North Korea possesses an invincible military, that his generals are brilliant, that he could take Seoul in a matter of days. As a superpower, he also believes that North Korea deserves a nuclear arsenal. There can’t be any other avenue to the international respect North Korea deserves.

It’s in this context, as delusional as it may be, that it’s close to certain that Kim Jong Un has no intention of backing down in the current confrontation with the U.S. While it’s unlikely his intention is to start a war with the United States, he also doesn’t intend to give up an inch to cool things down. And superpowers don’t submit at the sound of a little saber rattling.

Classic diplomacy hasn’t worked either. The State Department recently explored the possibility of bypassing the North Korean regime hardliners, especially those inside the Kim family, and instead make some sort of deal with the rational elements in the leadership. But it proved impossible to break through the impenetrable armor of this little hermit kingdom.

China has been another fruitless avenue. Although the Chinese provide 90% of North Korea’s fuel, and nearly half of its food, there’s only so much pressure the Chinese can bring to bear on the North Koreans. Again, it goes back to North Koreans’ sense of self-interest, i.e. their survival. They believe that when push comes to shove, the Chinese (and the Russians) can’t do anything to keep the leaders of Pyongyang from losing their heads. Just as America’s sweet words whispered in Gaddafi’s ear got him nothing, Chinese promises are worthless.

To date North Korea’s threats and actions have been mostly bluster. The missiles it moved to its east coast on Thursday cannot hit American bases in Guam. It was a signal to the United States that Pyongyang won’t be intimidated. All the B-2 bombers and F-22 fighters flying along North Korea’s borders will be met with escalation.

It’s a mystery to me why Washington ever thought that dancing with the feathers of fallen dictators like Gaddafi and Saddam would leverage our influence with dictators like Kim Jong Un. Anyhow, the point now is that we’d better start looking at a way to walk this thing back rather than tightening the tourniquet.

Nothing is for certain when it comes to North Korea, but the chances are good it will shoot something up to restore its dignity–perhaps a South Korean fishing boat or another South Korean navy vessel. Let’s hope that this is the worst, or that some accident doesn’t occur. In the meantime we’d better start thinking about how we can quietly but demonstrably figure out how to help North Korea get its “respect” back.

I recognize that this would be tantamount to political hara-kiri considering the crisis, but we may want to start thinking about letting North Korea into the ‘nuclear club. Just some sort of nominal membership: a couple bombs and regular invitations to club functions. They’re about to have a functioning bomb anyhow, so why not make the most of it? The down side to this of course is that Iran would want in the club, and then Saudi Arabia, and – I don’t – Venezuela. It’s something that would have to be worked out with the North Koreans.

I know this isn’t a pretty position to be in. But it’s better than a full-on war with a delusional and paranoid young man with a chip on his shoulder.

Robert B. Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer, is TIME.com’s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.

The Millennium Development Goals Are Working


The world has made great strides in combating extreme poverty. But it’s time to set a new horizon.

At the turn of the new century, every one of the 192 member states of the United Nations committed to eight broad goals intended to radically improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, set an ambitious agenda to cut extreme poverty while also pursuing improved access to education, health services, and safe drinking water.

One thousand days from now -- Dec. 31, 2014 -- marks the end date for achieving these goals. Despite considerable skepticism when the MDGs were adopted that a broad and ambitious agenda would translate to concrete development impacts, we are on track to meet many of the targets laid out back in 2001 when the goals were finalized.

U.N. data indicate that the first goal, to halve the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day, has already been achieved. As a result, more than 600 million people have moved out of the most extreme poverty imaginable. Progress on this goal has continued in every region of the world even in the aftermath of the economic crisis.

While the next thousand days are an important last push to achieve the MDGs, we need to also focus on what will happen in 2015 and beyond. Last July, I was honored to be one of 26 people named by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to a U.N. high-level panel tasked with making recommendations to shape the post-2015 development agenda.

Our process is informed by the lessons we've learned from the MDGs -- which goals have been reached, where we have struggled to achieve equitable progress between regions, and what data and experience have shown us about the changing nature of extreme poverty.

There are goals we are unlikely to achieve by the end of 2014. We are only halfway toward meeting the goal of reducing the childhood mortality rate by two-thirds. This is an area where some regions have made more progress than others. In 2010, 82 percent of under-five child deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia -- a larger share of the global total than when the MDGs were enacted.

Maternal mortality, too, is an area where considerable regional disparities hamper progress. The MDGs targeted a three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality, and we have nearly halved the rate. But developing regions still have maternal mortality rates 15 times higher than developed regions. In 2010, an estimated 287,000 mothers died from reproductive complications worldwide.