27 May 2013

Blueprint to tackle Maoists

25 May , 2013 


Confronted with the Maoist menace, Civil Administration’s incompetence is making mountain out of a molehill by suggesting induction of the military. 

The threat posed by the Maoists to the Union cannot be compared to the LoC in Kashmir or the Northeast. On borders, there is direct support of the external players. Both, in terms of creeping invasion by Islamic fundamentalists that results in demographic changes, as well as, to infiltrate fundamentalists to equip and train the local sympathizers to subvert the Civil Administration. Couple this with the military threat posed by China and Pakistan directly. If the military dilutes its vigil on the volatile borders, Union of India will soon lose major chunks of its territory. 

The biggest threat to India today is posed by Indians and not by the Chinese or Pakistanis.

This constitutes the primary role of the army. 

The clamor by many to bring in the Army and the Air Force to resolve the Maoist threat ignores the key question: Is the threat posed gigantic enough to warrant deployment of the army? Or is the Civil Administration creating mountain out of the molehill because its level of incompetence is now beyond redemption? 

The schedule and the resources required to host the Commonwealth Games by India were well considered at the time of bidding for the games. With barely 60 days left, we are not prepared. There was no threat posed by the Maoists, the Northeast insurgents or the terrorists to disrupt the preparations. Yet the Civil Administration flounders despite a well-defined objective and demands induction of 300 military personnel. 

The same incompetence is visible in other aspects of the civil administration.

The same incompetence is visible in other aspects of the civil administration. Millions of ton of wheat procured at the taxpayer’s expense for distribution to the poor segment of society was allowed to rot in the rains. A state within the Union creates ‘counter insurgency’ school for the police without basic facilities like firing range and skilled officers to train personnel. Two courses pass out and declared ready to take on the Maoists! If the CRPF or the state police personnel remain unskilled, untrained and underequipped, and led by ‘incompetence’, causalities are bound to be high. 

There are no bad units, only bad officers! 

The security threat posed by the Maoists to the Union is relatively small compared to the externally supported insurgency and terrorism faced by the army in Kashmir and the Northeast. The known external support to the Maoists is very little, possibly because their activity is centered in the interior of India. They are more of a rag tag bunch that largely fight with weapons looted from the police armory, or are country manufactured. Due to Civil Administration’s abdication of authority, they successfully manage to loot police stations for weapons, attack jails and free inmates and run armament factories. These concessions conceded under duress amounts to dereliction of duty by the Civil Administration. 

In the military such negligence will invite immediate court martial. 

Naxalism is Here to Stay


It took them four years, but they finally managed to succeed. In 2009, I had traveled to Dandakaranya, deep inside the forests, into the heart of the Naxal movement. The spokesperson for the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, Comrade Pandu, had named Mahendra Karma as the public enemy number one for the Naxals. In 2009, they had already made several attempts on his life. When bombs and bullets had failed, they had also attacked him with bows and arrows. However, four years after Comrade Pandu’s open threat, the Naxals succeeded in gunning down Mahendra Karma, the Chhattisgarh Congress leader who was the architect of the Salwa Judum. 

According to reports, the convoy of Congress leaders and workers was targeted near Sukma in south Bastar. In a well-executed operation, they ambushed the convoy by felling a tree across the road and setting off bombs at the rear to effectively trap them. They fired indiscriminately, demanded Mahendra Karma’s surrender and then coolly gunned him down along with former MLA Udai Mudaliar. Former Union Minister Vidya Charan Shukla was hit by three bullets and was critical when reports last came in. The Naxals abducted Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee president Nand Kumar Patel and his son and later killed both of them. 

Mahendra Karma is credited with starting the Salwa Judum, which translates to Peace Mission in Gondi. This was the first retaliatory movement against the Naxals by the people. Under the Salwa Judum counter-offensive, the government armed thousands of tribal and non-tribal to take on the Naxals. The Salwa Judum is a red flag for the Naxals because it hit at their source of support – the local inhabitants. Bitter battles were fought between the Naxals and the Judum leading to the Judum being forced to live in fortified camps like virtual prisoners. Mahendra Karma who was formerly the state Home Minister, naturally became the top target of the Naxals. 

Well Established Jantana Sarkar 

During my visit I saw first-hand why the Naxals had been able to entrench themselves so well. They were effectively running the entire administration of the area. They had created the Jantana Sarkar and had eight well-defined departments – Education and Culture, Finance, Law, Defence, Agriculture, Forest Conservation, Health and Sanitation and Public Relations. They claimed they did not need a Land department because they had already carried out land reforms and there were no landless people. They were the lawmakers and the law enforcers. They held mobile courts to hear cases of all kinds and had mobile jails to punish the guilty. In 2009 they had confessed that their Jantana Sarkar was in its embryonic stage and going by reports it would be safe to assume that things have only gotten better for them over the past four years. 

Karzai's visit: New Delhi should help Kabul in all respects, except military boots on the ground

The Times of India
May 24, 2013

Afghanistan appreciates India's role in its reconstruction. That was one clear message from its president during his latest India visit. In proportion to its economy and its own needs, Hamid Karzai acknowledged India is actually the biggest contributor to Afghanistan. New Delhi has worked hard to build state capacity and improve the lives of people in Afghanistan — we have indeed not budged from our commitment to build roads and highways, power transmission lines and health centres, a dam, a parliament and an agriculture university even when our embassy there has been attacked.

But all this is in jeopardy once American troops leave next year, as the state could implode under pressure from the Taliban and Haqqani networks. Security is a critical part of state capacity. Short of putting military boots on the ground, New Delhi shouldn't be niggardly in helping in this regard. Karzai's wish list includes, reportedly, hand-me-down howitzers, helicopters and bridge-laying equipment. While it features nothing that would break New Delhi's bank, fulfilling the wish list carries the risk of offending Pakistan.

On that score, however, New Delhi can go all out to assuage Islamabad's anxieties. Once we are willing to move beyond policies designed to cut off one's own nose in order to spite one's neighbour, it ought to be abundantly clear that Afghan security is as much, or even more, in Pakistan's interest as it is in India's. If a radical Taliban seizes control of a rump of Afghanistan bordering on Pakistan it's bound to link up with the Pakistani Taliban, which is attacking the Pakistani state. Indo-Pakistani cooperation in order to stabilise Afghanistan should also be on the table. After all even Beijing worries about the issue, which came up during Prime Minister Li Keqiang's visit to India.

This entire region is going to see big and perhaps harrowing changes next year, and proactively preparing for them is preferable to a do-nothing inertia. In the nightmare scenario waves of terrorism will ripple out from Afghanistan into Pakistan and India, once the Americans leave. In our dream scenario by contrast, the heady reaffirmation of democracy by this month's Pakistan elections will be echoed in Afghanistan in 2014 — if Karzai peacefully passes on the presidency in a fair election. Dreams can come true, but not without much work and some risks.

Afghanistan's Troubled Transition

May 24, 2013

One word sums up the current preoccupation in Afghanistan: in Dari it’s “inteqal”; in English, "transition.” For both Afghans and the international community, transition remains a necessary process, healthy even, but fraught with uncertainty. 

Three pillars undergird the international transition effort in Afghanistan: security, governance and development. Following a recent NATO-sponsored trip to the country, I concluded that each pillar faces deep challenges. The security situation has seen the most gains since 2009, albeit at great cost in lives and resources. Still, significant risks remain. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission is about to execute the last tranche of a five-stage security-transition plan that intentionally transfers the hardest districts last. Seven out of the ten most violent districts sit in this final tranche. 

Perhaps in a subtle nod to the precariousness of security gains, NATO organizers sent our delegation to Regional Command-West, a relatively stable area on the border with Iran and Turkmenistan, presumably to demonstrate what success looks like. But the security situation precluded a visit to nearby Herat city, even in what was supposed to be one of the safest areas of the country. The decision not to showcase gains in recent ISAF focus areas in the southern and eastern parts of the country suggests a troubling lack of confidence. 

Due to a huge ISAF investment, the Afghan National Security Forces are growing increasingly competent at basic skills and operations planning. It is slowly becoming a modestly capable analog-era security force. Still, it faces attrition rates greater than 30 percent a year, and widespread illiteracy limits the skill levels of a majority of the force. 

This fighting season will test the mettle of the Afghan security forces. The current term is that they must be “weaned off the Ferrari,” meaning they must get used to fighting without ISAF's high-tech weapons, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and air support. Decisions about when to step in to aid Afghan units in distress, or not, will increase friction between ISAF and Afghan partners. The Afghan state will face existential risks if the ANSF do not prove up to the task. 

Politics has moved to the fore in Afghanistan as international security forces draw down. Next year's elections should feature the first successful transition of power away from President Hamid Karzai to an elected successor, the second national leader since the Taliban was ousted through American initiative after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Political scientists have long identified the transition to a second elected leader as a pivotal event in the life of fledgling democracies, as it is often the point of failure. 

No closure to India-China border flare- up

By Manoj Joshi
24 May 2013

CHINESE premier Li Keqiang's visit to New Delhi has been as enigmatic as the incident on the Depsang Plain that preceded it. He has thrown little light on that event, and, was reportedly affable, smiling and exuding warmth all through. In an article written for a newspaper, Li declared that the goal of the two neighbours ought to be "to enhance mutual trust rather than increasing mutual suspicion." Yet, it would take magic for India to forget that for nearly three weeks in April and early May, a small group of PLA soldiers camped themselves on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control that marks the border between the two countries in northern Ladakh. 

Clearly the thrust of the visit was on promoting economic relations and to show the world that all was well between the two giant Asian neighbours. The economy is an area which falls clearly within the responsibility of the Chinese prime minister. This was apparent, too, from the high powered business delegation which accompanied the Chinese premier. His remarks during the visit and the joint statement issued after the visit have made it apparent that the Chinese side is now aware of the two key issues that are bedevilling relations on the nonsecurity front- the trade imbalance and the Chinese activities in relation to the rivers that flow into India. 

According to reports, the Indian side did bluntly tell their Chinese counterparts that the Depsang incident was a pointed departure from past Chinese behaviour on the LAC and that it would take a while before trust could be rebuilt. 

But the border issue as such has been kicked down the road, apparently to be handled by the Special Representatives of the two sides. According to the joint statement, the two leaders expressed satisfaction over their work " and encouraged them to push forward the process of negotiations and seek a framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement" based on the 2005 accord on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles to resolve the border dispute. And pending that settlement, the two sides 

were enjoined to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border. The problem is that the maintenance of peace and tranquillity is the challenge and as the Depsang Plain incident revealed, it does not take much to destabilise relations between the two countries. Indeed, instead of moving ahead on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles it may be worth the while of the two countries to push ahead on the 1993 and 1996 confidence building agreements, and the more recently proposed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement. 

Past agreements 

Besides calling on the two sides to draw down the numbers and quality of the forces on the LAC, the two sides have agreed as per article 10 of the 1996 agreement to work out a common understanding of the alignment of the Line of Actual Control. In a certain manner, the Special Representatives process superseded these agreements. But this supersession was based on the belief, at the time the SRs were appointed, that Mr Vajpayee would emerge even stronger after the 2004 general elections and be in a position to push through a border settlement. As we know that did not happen. However, the momentum of the talks took them to the 2005 Political Parameters and Guiding Principles agreement. 

China has built 5-km road crossing LAC

The Tribune
26 May 2013

India and China may have announced an end to their 20-day stand-off in Ladakh sector, but the situation has not entirely settled down judging from a recent incident when the Chinese intercepted an Indian Army patrol and prevented it from going to Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The incident took place near Finger-VIII area, also known as Siri Jap, on May 17, two days before Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi after it was announced that the stand-off resulting from a 19-km-deep Chinese intrusion had ended. It was claimed that the intruding Chinese troops had gone back to their previous positions.

While the Udhampur-based Army spokesperson refused to comment on the incident, official sources said there was a brief stand-off at the Finger-VIII area after which the Army patrol returned without proceeding to the LAC.

The sources said after the incident all patrols were stopped by the Ladakh-based 14 corps, including the one proposed to be sent in Depsang plain, where the Chinese Army had pitched tents for nearly three weeks beginning from April 15.

China has managed to construct a road up to Finger-IV area which also falls under Siri Jap area and is 5-km deep into the LAC, the sources said.

Chinese claim in their maps that this area falls under its area where as Indian Army has been claiming it to be part of Ladakh and have often cited the 1962 war when armies of both the sides fought bitter battles in this area. Major Dhan Singh Thapa was awarded Param Vir Chakra for fighting the PLA in the area. 

However, as the Indian side was trying to back its claim at the negotiating table, the Chinese Army constructed a metal-top road and claimed the area to be part of Aksai Chin area, the sources said, adding many a time, the Indian Army has used the same road to patrol the area and lay claim over it.

The Chinese intrusion in the remote Daulat Beg Oldi sector on April 15 appears to have been triggered by construction of an observation tower in Chumar division.

The Chinese side, according to the minutes of the flag meetings held as late as in the last week of March this year, had been objecting to the construction of the watch tower along the Line of Actual Control in Chumar division, 300 km from here.

After the announcement that the stand-off has been resolved, Indian security patrols in certain areas such as Rocky Knob have been curtailed, the sources said.

Chumar, a remote village on Ladakh-Himachal Pradesh border, has been an issue for Chinese which claim it to be its own territory and have been frequenting it with helicopter incursions almost every year. Last year, it dropped some of the soldiers of PLA in this region and dismantled the makeshift storage tents of the Army and ITBP.

This area is not accessible from the Chinese side whereas the Indian side has a road almost to the last point on which the Army can carry a load up to nine tonnes.

Missile Defense with Chinese Characteristics

China Brief 
May 23, 2013 

On January 27, 2013, China conducted its second mid-course missile defense interceptor test, leading to considerable speculation among Chinese and Western analysts about Beijing’s motives and intentions as well as its plans for further development of mid-course intercept technology and possible deployment of its own missile defense system. Given Beijing’s longstanding and vehement opposition to U.S. missile defense programs—which it charges damages strategic stability and undermines China’s security by raising doubts about the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent—it would seem logical that China would refrain from pursuing similar capabilities (“China Steps Up Rhetoric Against U.S. Missile Defense,” China Brief, October 19, 2012). Somewhat ironically, however, even as Chinese officials have continued to criticize the United States for conducting research on and activities related to missile defense, China has been developing its own missile defense technology. Indeed, over the past three years, Beijing has conducted two missile defense interception tests—both of which were accompanied by brief official statements—and Chinese analysts have suggested a number of potential directions for China’s missile defense program.

China’s Missile Defense Interception Tests

China conducted the first of its two missile defense interception tests on January 11, 2010. China’s official Xinhua News Service released a brief statement that provided only very limited information on the test. The statement read “On January 11, 2010, China conducted a test on ground-based midcourse missile interception technology within its territory. The test has achieved the expected objective. The test is defensive in nature and is not targeted at any country” (Xinhua, January 11, 2010). At a Foreign Ministry press conference the next day, a spokeswoman repeated the themes contained in the brief official statement that followed the test. In an attempt to distinguish it from China’s January 2007 ASAT test, the spokeswoman added that the missile defense test did not leave any debris in space or pose a threat to the safety of any orbiting spacecraft (Xinhua, January 12, 2010). Beijing’s strategic communication plan following the January 2010 missile defense interceptor test clearly represented a major improvement compared to the confusion and awkward silence that followed China’s January 2007 ASAT test, but Chinese official and unofficial statements still left many key questions unanswered [1].

Following China’s second missile defense interception test, which was conducted in January 2013, Chinese official media carried a brief report confirming that it had taken place, but the statement provided only limited information on the results and almost no insight into China’s rationale for the development of its own missile defense technology. The report stated that China “again carried out a land-based mid-course missile interception test within its territory.” It quoted a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, who stated the test was “defensive in nature” and not targeted at any other country, and indicated the test “reached the preset goal” (Xinhua, January 28). The report also described the test as similar to the one that China successfully carried out in January 2010, but offered no further details. Other official media reports echoed the theme that the test was defensive and was not targeted at any specific country.

Another theme highlighted by some official media reports was the technical complexity of China’s missile defense tests. One Xinhua report stated that such tests demonstrate “highly complicated technologies in detecting, tracking and destroying a ballistic missile flying in the [sic] outer space.” The report described the successful anti-missile test, “together with a string of other military equipment progress,” including the sea trials of China's first aircraft carrier and the test flight of a developmental large transport aircraft, as a reflection of China’s growing military power. Specifically, it stated these developments “demonstrated the country's fast-growing ability to defend its own national security and deter any possible threats" (Xinhua, January 28). In addition, separate media reports lauded Beijing’s disclosure of the test as a sign of China’s “increasing transparency in military affairs” (Xinhua, January 28). Yet the official reports provided no insight into the strategic rationale for China’s investment in missile defense technology, the PLA’s plans for future tests or Beijing’s thinking about the potential operational deployment of missile defense systems.

Motives and Implications

Although China publicly announced both of its missile defense tests, it has not provided any official explanation of its motives for the development of missile defense technology or its plans for the deployment of missile defense capabilities. Chinese official statements thus have raised more questions than they have answered. Nonetheless, knowledgeable Chinese observers suggest there are at least three paths Beijing could follow in the future: (1) continue to refine its missile defense technology while refraining from deploying an operational system; (2) deploy a national missile defense system intended to protect the entire country, at least from a small-scale ballistic missile attack (like the current U.S. national missile defense system); or (3) deploy a small number of missile defense interceptors in a point defense role, to provide some level of protection for key strategic targets such as its ICBMs or strategic command and control facilities [2].

China’s Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

 by Brahma C

Behind the hype and hustle, any India-China summit meeting runs along familiar lines: India flags its concerns sedulously, especially over Beijing’s reluctance to clarify the line of control, the lopsided trade relationship, China’s activities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and the opaque Chinese projects on transnational rivers. The Chinese side responds with pious platitudes about friendship and cooperation that win front-page coverage in Indian press. All this is quickly forgotten until the next summit, when India goes through the same motions again.

In the intervening time, however, the trade pattern has turned more unequal, China has unveiled new dam projects on transboundary rivers and enlarged its strategic footprint in PoK, and the number of cross-frontier forays and border incidents staged by Chinese troops to pressure India has increased. This is exactly what happened between the 2010 New Delhi visit of Premier Wen Jiabao and the just-concluded trip of his successor, Li Keqiang.

Take the growing trade asymmetry. The joint statement issued at the end of Li’s visit promises “measures to address the issue of the trade imbalance.” But when Wen Jiabao came calling, China made a similar commitment to level the playing field by taking “measures to promote greater Indian exports to China with a view to reduce India’s trade deficit.”

Yet China’s trade surplus has soared since then, significantly expanding India’s current account deficit. With trade talks that began in late 2010 yielding little, there is little hope of any respite for India from China’s escalating dumping of goods.

Confident that India will continue to do little else other than file anti-dumping cases at the World Trade Organization, Beijing is systematically undermining Indian manufacturing. Moreover, it still largely imports raw materials from India and exports finished products. One new way it is seeking to perpetuate this distorted pattern is by providing debt financing through its banks to financially troubled Indian companies that agree to buy Chinese equipment or supply primary commodities.

Now consider China’s response to India’s exhortations to stem its growing strategic involvement in PoK, a disputed territory. Li, as if to mock India’s pleas, went straight from India to “all-weather” ally, Pakistan, and signed an agreement to build an economic corridor through PoK, where China is already engaged in several strategic projects. To shield these projects, Beijing has stationed its own forces in the rebellious, Shia-majority Gilgit-Baltistan, with the result that India now faces Chinese troops on both flanks of Jammu and Kashmir, one-fifth of which China has annexed.

Xi Jinping’s U.S. Visit: What It Tells Us

By Mu Chunshan
May 25, 2013 

An official announcement on May 21 revealed that Chinese President Xi Jinping will be visiting the United States in June, where he will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at a Californian retreat. The visit is a fitting end to the first round of diplomatic outreach by the new Chinese leadership. 

Qin Gang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced the itinerary for Xi’s second overseas trip since taking office. Qin said that the president would be visiting three countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico – from May 31 to June 6, and would then meet with Obama at the Annenberg Retreat in Rancho Mirage, California on June 7-8. 

The highlight of the trip is undoubtedly the Sino-U.S. summit. According to Qin, the two leaders will “have an extensive and in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations as well as international and regional issues of common interest. It is believed that this meeting is important to the long-term, sound and steady development of China-US relations as well as regional and international peace, stability and prosperity.” Qin also noted that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will visit China from May 26 to 28, to prepare for the summit. 

This news has been quite sudden, but it allows us to identify some characteristics of current Sino-US relations. 

First, it was interesting to note how little coverage of the visit there was prior to the official announcement, even in the usually well-informed international media. In fact, the summit is to be held somewhat earlier than expected. That suggests both sides were careful in their preparations and attention. 

Second, the fact that planning for the visit involves the U.S. National Security Advisor and his counterparts in China indicates that security is an important objective of this visit, rather than the usual focus on general political, economic and cultural issues that might be associated with a state visit. 

Third, Xi visited the U.S. in February 2012 when he was vice president. The upcoming visit is coming only just over a year later and only two months after taking office. That’s quite unprecedented in the context of bilateral relations. Former President Hu Jintao took office in March 2003, but didn’t visit the U.S. until three years later in April 2006. Jiang Zemin became president in March 1993, and made his first U.S. visit four years later, in October 1997. 

Finally, this is not a state visit. Xi and Obama will meet at the Annenberg Retreat in Rancho Mirage, California. The arrangement suggests a degree of maturity in the Sino-U.S. relations, and a chance to take the relationship to a new level. 

Xi Jinping’s visit is the climax of a wave of diplomacy that has taken place in the 100 days since the new Chinese leadership took office. 

China displays its war preparedness

The Chinese perspective of raising tensions in Ladakh is not shaped by any altruistic motives of improving its positions on the border or lay claims to new areas. It is a well-planned strategic response aimed at coercion to prevent India from improving its strategic posture in the region. 

Brig Arun Sahgal (retd) 

In 2009 the media was abuzz with revelations that China had replicated the whole of Aksai Chin and a large part of the disputed Indo-China border on a large-sized sand model equivalent to the size of six cricket fields, thousands of kilometres away in Huanyangton village near Yinchuan in the Ningxia Autonomous Region (Northern China). The fundamental question then and today remains the motivation for China to spend money and resources to replicate whole mountains, valleys and water bodies of the disputed area. This, in a sense, puts a question mark on China's peaceful intentions towards India. Satellite images show that China has replicated around 1,57,500 square kilometres on a map scale of 900x700 meters. This is about 500:1 ratio. 

What is more intriguing is the attachment of a military unit and an artillery firing range in the proximity of the terrain model. Satellite images obtained from Google-Earth suggest this to be a major facility to train PLA troops for operations in high altitude areas of the Ladakh Sector. The large scale model appears to indicate that it is not only for operational planning but also to familiarise both combat arms and combat support arms like artillery, combat engineers and communication experts with the terrain conditions prevailing in the region. The associated firing range indicates facilities for live firing to train for target engagement with various weapons systems in these high altitude conditions. 

The training is not at a platoon or company level but at the regiment (brigade) level. Today simulators and large sized electronic map boards are the preferred means for training, particularly in modern armies. What provoked China to replicate such a vast area remains unanswered. Probably China wants its troops to have a perception about the world's most tough terrain so that in case of a conflict situation with India, its troops can understand the terrain constraints and plan in realistic manner.

Pentagon’s view 

Despite increased political and economic relations over the years between China and India, tensions remain along their shared 4,057 km border, most notably over Arunachal Pradesh (which China asserts is part of Tibet, and therefore of China), and over the Aksai Chin region at the western end of the Tibetan Plateau. Both countries in 2009 stepped up efforts to assert their claims. China tried to block a $2.9 billion loan to India from the Asian Development Bank, claiming part of the loan would have been used for water projects in Arunachal Pradesh. This represented the first time China sought to influence this dispute through a multilateral institution. The then-governor of Arunachal Pradesh announced that India would deploy more troops and fighter jets to the area. An Indian newspaper reported that the number of Chinese border violations had risen from 180 in 2011 to more than 400 by September 2012.

— Excerpt from the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on Chinese military developments released this month 

Number of military exercises in Tibet up 

It needs to be noted that in recent times China has enhanced the number of military exercises in Tibet. Some of these exercises have been conducted at altitudes ranging from 4,500-5,000 meters. One such exercise conducted in 2011 included joint drills by the air and ground troops under information-based conditions in frigid high altitude areas. The troops involved included the air force, ground troops, mechanised units and a range of support entities. 

Asian Tensions and the Problem of History

The political turmoil currently roiling Northeast Asia — a region that should otherwise be basking in success right now — can often seem bewildering to outsiders. One key to understanding, however, can be found in a surprising location: a single recent photograph. 

On May 12, a journalist snapped a picture of Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, grinning from the cockpit of a fighter jet. Such politician photo-ops are neither unusual nor controversial in the West, where the worst thing they tend to provoke is eye-rolling (think of Michael Dukakis looking like Snoopy in a tank during his failed race for the presidency in 1988, or George W. Bush’s landing on an aircraft carrier in May 2003, and beaming under a banner declaring that the war in Iraq was a “Mission Accomplished”). 

Not so in Asia, at least not these days: no sooner had the photograph of Abe appeared than howls of anger erupted across China, and one of South Korea’s largest newspapers, Chosun Ilbo, excoriated him for his “never ending provocations.” 

One might have expected a picture of Japan’s leader atop military hardware to have raised a few eyebrows in the region — after all, his country is still officially pacifist. But few casual observers would have predicted just how much fury it produced, or the particular detail that sparked it. It turns out that the real outrage wasn’t Abe’s jet itself, but the marking on its side: the number 731. By unhappy coincidence, 731 also happens to have been the number of an infamous Imperial Japanese Army unit that conducted hideous chemical weapons experiments on live victims in Manchuria some 70 years ago. 

That the gaffe — seen as a deliberate insult by many Chinese and South Koreans but almost certainly an accident — would trigger such furious condemnation speaks volumes about the explosive role history continues to play in Asia today, and helps explain why the region seems on the brink of not one but several conflicts. 

To grasp history’s power for disruption, consider first everything Northeast Asia has going for it. In many ways things could scarcely be better at the moment, and the region’s powers should have strong motivation not to let anything rock the boat. After all, while most of the world struggles with the Great Recession, China, despite having just weathered a delicate leadership transition, is still humming. (Yes, the latest growth figures show some softening, but not the hard landing that many analysts feared.) South Korea, meanwhile, just democratically elected a strong, pro-American president, and the country’s growth rate just hit a two-year high. 

And then there’s Japan, which, under Abe’s unexpectedly able stewardship, has shrugged off nearly two decades of decline and is suddenly on a tear. Despite the market turbulence this week, the Nikkei stock index has been hitting five-year highs, Sony has just posted its first profit since 2007, and Japanese consumers are finally buying again. 

Sure, North Korea has tried to complicate the political picture, but even Kim Jong-un’s belligerence has proved more a blessing than a curse, since his temper tantrums only underscore the need for his neighbors to work together. 

Japan should ask India to join NPT first

The Asahi Shimbun
May 25, 2013 

The Japanese government has decided to restart talks with India to reach a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement. The move is aimed at paving the way for exports of Japanese nuclear power technology to India. 

India has developed nuclear weapons without becoming a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a key international pact to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. 

Japan, on the other hand, is a country which once suffered the ravages of nuclear attacks and has avowed to pursue the cause of the elimination of nuclear weapons under the NPT. 

A nuclear cooperation agreement between Japan and India would further undermine the effectiveness and relevance of the NPT system. 

Before negotiating such a deal, Tokyo should ask New Delhi to become a party to the NPT and sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

Starting in June 2010, Japan and India held three rounds of negotiations over an agreement on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation. But the talks have been suspended since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake triggered disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. 

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is slated to visit Japan in the coming week and hold talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The two leaders are expected to announce a restart of the nuclear talks in a joint statement they will release. 

A total of 20 nuclear reactors are in operation in India, including some for military use. But most of them are small reactors made in India with domestic technology. The country is keen to import foreign technology to build large-scale nuclear power plants. 

Since Japanese nuclear technology is used in large nuclear reactors made in the United States and France, it is difficult for India to import nuclear reactors from these countries unless it strikes a nuclear deal with Japan. To remove the obstacle to their exports of nuclear technology to India, Washington and Paris have been unofficially urging Tokyo to conclude a nuclear deal with New Delhi. 

But this move raises serious concerns from the viewpoint of the NPT. 

The NPT system is designed to limit the membership of the Nuclear Club to the five original nuclear powers of the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China while requiring them to make serious efforts toward nuclear disarmament. Other countries are allowed to receive foreign nuclear technology for peaceful use in return for refraining from possessing nuclear arms. 

Supplying nuclear technology to India, which has run roughshod on the spirit of the NPT, would send out the message that countries can obtain nuclear technology even if they don’t comply with the NPT. 

What Mideast Crisis? Israelis Have Moved On

May 25, 2013 

FOR years, conventional wisdom has held that as long as Israel faces the external challenge of Arab — especially Palestinian — hostility it will never come to terms with its internal divisions. The left has sometimes used it as an argument: we must make peace with the Palestinians so that we can set our house in order — write a constitution, figure out the public role of religion. Others have viewed the threat as almost a silver lining keeping the place together: differences among Israeli Jews (religious or secular, Ashkenazic or Sephardic) are so profound, the argument goes, that if the society ever manages to turn its attention inward, it might tear itself apart. 

Back in Tel Aviv for a recent visit a year after ending my tour as Jerusalem bureau chief, I was struck by how antiquated that wisdom felt. At a fascinating and raucous wedding I attended and from numerous conversations with a range of Israelis, I came away with a very different impression. Few even talk about the Palestinians or the Arab world on their borders, despite the tumult and the renewed peace efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been visiting the region in recent days. Instead of focusing on what has long been seen as their central challenge — how to share this land with another nation — Israelis are largely ignoring it, insisting that the problem is both insoluble for now and less significant than the world thinks. We cannot fix it, many say, but we can manage it. 

The wedding took place near Ben-Gurion airport, where a set of event halls has gone up in the past seven years, including elaborate structures with a distinct Oriental décor of glistening chandeliers, mirrored place mats and sky-high ceilings with shifting digital displays. The groom’s grandparents emigrated from Yemen; the bride’s came from Eastern Europe, an example of continuing and increasing intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. 

The music was almost entirely Middle Eastern in beat, some of it in Arabic, some of it religious. The hundreds on the dance floor, many staying until dawn singing along with arms gesticulating, came from across a range of political, geographic and religious spectra — from miniskirted to ultra-Orthodox modesty. Frumpy settlers in oversize skullcaps mingled with Tel Aviv metrosexuals in severe eyewear. Some women hugged you; others declined to shake your hand. Everyone was celebrating. No one, especially the Orthodox rabbi who presided over the ceremony, mentioned that the young couple had been living together for more than three years. Some talked politics with me. No one mentioned the Palestinians. 

ISRAEL today offers a set of paradoxes: Jewish Israelis seem in some ways happier and more united than in the past, as if choosing not to solve their most difficult challenge has opened up a space for shalom bayit — peace at home. Yes, all those internal tensions still exist, but the shared belief that there is no solution to their biggest problem has forged an odd kind of solidarity. 

Indeed, Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive or more dynamic. Terrorism is on the wane. Yet the occupation grinds on next door with little attention to its consequences. Moreover, as the power balance has shifted from the European elite, Israel has never felt more Middle Eastern in its popular culture, music and public displays of religion. Yet it is increasingly cut off from its region, which despises it perhaps more than ever. Finally, while the secular bourgeoisie, represented by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, has forged an unexpected alliance with West Bank settlers, represented by Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi Party, aimed at reducing the political power of the ultra-Orthodox, alarm over the failure to address the Palestinian problem has grown in a surprising place — among some of the former princes of the Zionist right wing. 

Finally Talking Terror Sensibly

May 24, 2013 

In one respect at least, the reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings was commendably restrained. A number of commentators across the political spectrum have tried to put the danger in context and argued that the best way to undermine terrorism is to avoid being frightened by it. 

To be sure there were some overwrought responses by public officials. The Federal Aviation Administration established [5] a no-fly zone over the bombing site, San Francisco banned back packs [6] at crowded events, and tourists near the White House were backed off [7] an additional 40 yards. 

And a few pundits immediately began making extravagant claims about the relevance of the attacks. The New York Daily News proclaimed [8] that the Boston bombs “once again blew up the idea that any of us will ever be safe again,” and The National Journal’s Ron Fournier claimed [9] that the bombing “makes every place (and everybody) less secure.” 

Yet for pretty much the first time there has been a considerable amount of media commentary seeking to put terrorism in context—commentary that concludes, as a Doyle McManus article in the Los Angeles Times put it [10] a day after the attack, “We’re safer than we think.” 

Similar tunes were sung by Tom Friedman [11] of the New York Times, Jeff Jacoby [12] of the Boston Globe, David Rothkopf [13] writing for CNN.com, Josh Barro [14] at Bloomberg, John Cassidy [15] at the New Yorker, and Steve Chapman [16] in the Chicago Tribune, even as the Washington Post told us [17] “why terrorism is not scary” and published statistics on its rarity. Bruce Schneier, who has been making these arguments for over a decade, got 360,000 hits [18] doing so for [19]The Atlantic [19]. Even neoconservative Max Boot [20], a strong advocate of the war in Iraq as a response to 9/11, argues in the Wall Street Journal, “we must do our best to make sure that the terrorists don't achieve their objective—to terrorize us.” 

James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation noted in a radio interview [21] that “the odds of you being killed by a terrorist are less than you being hit by a meteorite.” Carafano’s odds may be a bit off, but his basic point isn’t. At present rates [22], an American’s chance of being killed by a terrorist is about one in 3.5 million per year—compared, for example, to a yearly chance of dying in an automobile crash of one in 8,200. That could change, of course, if terrorists suddenly become vastly more capable of inflicting damage—as much commentary on terrorism has predicted over the past decade. But we’re not hearing much of that anymore. 

In a 60 Minutes interview [23] a decade ago filmmaker Michael Moore noted, “The chances of any of us dying in a terrorist incident is very, very, very small.” Bob Simon, his interlocutor, responded, “No one sees the world like that.” 

The US Marine Corps in the Pivot to the Pacific

By Robbin F. Laird 
May 24, 2013 

The centerpiece of the U.S. Pivot to the Pacific, the Marines are moving forward.

Recently, Secretary Hagel underscored the centrality of the US-Japanese security treaty and the need to reinforce Japanese defense against the twin challenges from North Korea and China. In so doing, he became the first Secretary of Defense to move the USMC’s Osprey onto the strategic chessboard. 

As Hagel underscored at his press conference with the Japanese Minister of Defense: 

Earlier this month, the United States and Japan jointly announced a base consolidation plan on Okinawa. Its implementation, in concert with moving ahead on the Futenma Replacement Facility (FRF) will ensure that we maintain the right mix of capabilities on Okinawa, Guam and elsewhere in the region, as we reduce our footprint on Okinawa and strengthen this alliance for the future. 

In addition, we confirmed the deployment of a second squadron of MV-22 Ospreys to Japan, which will take place this summer and increase our capabilities in the region. 

Hagel is re-enforcing the importance of the Ospreys at a key time in the roll out of the capability by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) in the Pacific. The Ospreys are being deployed first to the USMC First Air Wing on Okinawa and then with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the only permanently forward deployed Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) in the Corps. 

The USMC is really at the center of the pivot to the Pacific. The USMC is not only redeploying in the region but enhancing its role as a rotational force as well. As Col. John Merna, the Commanding Officer of the 31st MEU put it in a recent interview with Second Line of Defense (SLD): 

In one sense, the Marines are going back to the force levels we had in the region prior to 9/11. So it is simply a restoration rather than a build up or buildout. 

But the way the force is being configured is very different. We are emphasizing building out a rotational force, notably in Australia, but elsewhere as well. 

The USMC is itself “pivoting” in the Pivot to the Pacific. USMC forces in Okinawa are moving partly to Guam and the Marines are shaping a new working relationship with the Australians in Western Australia. In fact, they are the lead force in re-shaping the U.S. presence in the Pacific over the next few years. 

The Marine Corps in the Pacific faces a myriad of challenges. They have been directed through International Agreements, spanning two different U.S. administrations, to execute force-positioning moves. This is political, but it’s not partisan. 

A Foreign Policy of Mission Creep

May 24, 2013 

In an eye-opening article [3] in these spaces a few weeks ago, James Joyner cited the words of an American general in Afghanistan who, in reciting his troops’ successes in Helmand province, noted that "Roads have been paved and markets secured, allowing commerce to grow in places like Marja, Nad Ali and Lashkar Gah . . ." 

Both the general and his troops undoubtedly performed the mission their country gave them professionally and with dedication. But the exchange still begs utterly valid questions: how, when and why did the growth of commerce in Marja, Nad Ali and Lashkar Gah become worth American lives or taxpayer dollars? And what might this portend for our potential involvement in Syria? 

Liberal internationalism, so popular in Washington over the past two decades, has transformed the traditional purpose of American foreign policy—historically understood as systematizing relations between sovereign states and attempting to influence the behavior of other countries—into the much more grandiose attempt to remake the political cultures and economic systems of states and societies thousands of miles from our shores. 

The result of this transformation of U.S. foreign-policy goals has been what Andrew Bacevich once aptly described as “endless war,” in which the U.S. military is used as an instrument for nation- and state-building in open-ended missions around the world. Consider, as outlined below, the record of some of our recent interventions, and the discrepancy in the time required to achieve their respective military and civilian objectives. 

(For simplicity’s sake, in Bosnia military objectives are defined as having been achieved upon the completion of the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords’ military annex; in Afghanistan the fall of Kabul; and in Iraq the proclamation of “mission accomplished.” Civilian objectives are defined as achieved when there is an absence of large-scale violence and a reasonably stable democratic system is in place unencumbered by international administration.) 

Iran and Hezbollah need Assad

May 25, 2013

Damascus is Iran's main ally in the Middle East, and a supply route to its other ally, the party-cum-militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon, passes through Syrian territory. This means Iran, its partners and its geopolitical enemies all have a stake in the conflict:

• Hezbollah troops are fighting for Assad, and Iran was reported to have deployed in Syria members of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards, a special wing of the Iranian military. According to some media reports, 120,000 volunteers are on standby in Iran and ready to join the fray to prevent Assad's ouster. 

• The Arab League – most of whose 22 members are Sunnite-dominated states that traditionally oppose Shiite Iran – are believed to be supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, mainly the jihadists. They would not support a plan to sideline the religious radicals in favor of liberals, many of whom are secular-minded, though they may be convinced not to interfere too much, Akhmedov believes. 

• Iran's other enemy is the United States, which, along with the EU, has been providing the Syrian rebels with everything but firearms – medicines, communication devices, armored vehicles. Openly arming Assad's enemies is "Plan B" for the West in case the upcoming negotiations fall through, says Akhmedov, but that's hardly conducive to peace talks. 

Heroes of a Forgotten War

May 27, 2013 

Though it’s all too easy to ignore, the conflict in Afghanistan continues to claim the lives of great Americans. Michael Daly on some of the soldiers we lost in May. 

Earlier this month, the whole country was touched and cheered by the video of 9-year-old Alayna Adams throwing out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay baseball game only to discover that the man behind the catcher’s mask was her father, back from a long deployment in Afghanistan.

Among the kids who will never see their father again are the six daughters and three sons of 14 American servicemen who have died this month in a faraway war that we seem to have forgotten before it even ended. They include the two young sons of Army Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson.

Alpha Team Renegade from left Tom Murach, Brandon Prescott, Frankie Phillips and Kevin Cardoza. (Via Facebook) 

Simpson was in Afghanistan on the day that two pressure cookers stuffed with fireworks and shrapnel detonated by the finish line at the Boston Marathon, and jolted the whole homeland. His wife’s stepfather had been a spectator close enough to the bombs to be shaken and Simpson emailed him, a message from a warrior who had dedicated his life to keeping us safe. 

“I wish there was something I could have done better in my job to keep this evil from happening,” Simpson wrote. 

Twelve days later, Simpson himself encountered a bomb, an IED. The 30-year-old was still alive when he reached an army hospital in Germany, thanks to experience that medics, trauma teams, and surgeons have acquired from thousands of such catastrophic causalities over a decade of war—the same hard-earned expertise that was credited with saving so many victims of the Boston bombing. He was joined in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center by his wife, Krista, the mother of their sons, 3-year-old Michael and 16-month-old Gabriel. 

But, as in Boston, even medical miracle workers can only do so much. Simpson died of his injuries on May 1. 

“He was the best dad ever,” Krista says. “When he was home he was home. He was the dad that always played dinosaurs and Legos and the husband who let me sleep in on Saturday mornings and brought me breakfast in bed.” 

Three days after Michael Simpson succumbed to his wounds, five more American soldiers were killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. A Facebook photo shows four of them, 28-year-old Staff Sgt Francis Phillips, 19-year-old Spec. Kevin Cardoza, 22-year-old Spec. Thomas Murach, and 24-year-old Spec. Brandon Prescott, standing together in front of an armored vehicle that would prove no match for an IED. Also killed was 26-year-old Lt. Brandon Landrum. Phillips left a daughter. Cardoza left two daughters. Landrum left a son and a daughter.