1 September 2013

Drowning Stability: The Perils of Naval Nuclearization in the Indian Ocean

August 28, 2013

Iskander Rehman, Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has been awarded the Hugh G. Nott prize (third place) for Drowning Stability: The Perils of Naval Nuclearization in the Indian Ocean, published in the Fall 2012 issue of the Naval War College Review.

Drawing on the insights from his tenure as a visiting fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi from 2011 to 2012, Rehman analyzed the ongoing shift of India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities from land to sea. With India having crossed a monumental milestone in 2009 with the launch of its first nuclear powered attack submarine, it is only a matter of time, Rehman argued, before Pakistan follows suit and formally brings nuclear weapons into its fleet.

The article examined key dynamics and motivations behind the pursuit of sea-based deterrence by India and Pakistan and pointed to China as a key enabler of Pakistan’s advancement as well as a potential future military actor in the Arabian Sea. Rehman highlighted alarming trends of this nuclearization, such as doctrinal ambiguity, dual-use systems preference and brinkmanship, which may have a destabilizing effect on the Persian Gulf region and beyond.

These developments should preoccupy not just the regional actors, but also the United States Navy as it initiates its rebalance towards the Indo-Pacific region, Rehman concluded.

Should India Declare a Space Policy?

By Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
August 31, 2013 

A low-intensity debate has been taking place in India as to whether India should have a declared space policy or not. The general consensus appears to be that there is no need. But there are several arguments to make in favor of outlining a policy in the open. In today’s world, the advantages of a declared policy far outweigh the disadvantages. A declared policy calls for a clear understanding of how it should be tailored, what it should contain and what should be left out.

First, open policy statements and declared policies have remained the best means to assuage fears, build confidence and avoid ambiguities. These are important measures for building transparency and reducing tensions in regional and global contexts. Since the Asian context is characterized by growing competition and rivalry and the potential for conflict, even relative openness and transparency will go a long way in diluting the levels of regional insecurities.

A declared space policy would be an effective tool of communication for both internal and external audiences. For both audiences, it will set limits as well as open up opportunities as the number of states engaged in space exploration and utilization continue to grow. The value of communication through such an exercise, with both internal and external communities, is important. However, it is worth remembering that as a policy is prepared and articulated, while an internal audience is important, the policy will also send a message to external audiences. As such, it must be written in a manner that does not aggravate insecurities. Fail to do that, and external audiences could be left with the wrong impressions about India’s space program and policy, further raising the risk of misperception and miscommunication. How external audiences will read the policy statement and what they perceive about India’s needs, objectives and plans for the future, therefore, must be an important consideration as New Delhi readies a space policy document.

Second, India should have a clear picture of its long-term objectives and these should become guiding factors for a good space policy. The long-term objectives should consider both where India wants to be in a 25-year framework, and the perspective of outer space itself. A long-term vision should be followed by prioritization of important capabilities (political, diplomatic, military and economic) and partnerships that will help India reach its destination. This should translate into national security strategies articulated by the political leadership and then national military strategies derived from the national security strategy.

The second set of objectives will come from a debate on what sort of future India wants to achieve in space and accordingly what sort of behavior will be counter-productive to achieving those goals. Once there is clarity on these issues, India should adjust the orientation of its own space program and its priorities while working towards a favorable framework that would allow it to meet those goals. India should also steer its efforts in developing rules that would affect and curtail certain space programs and activities that may potentially be destabilizing and irresponsible. In addition to creating a framework that will protect its own interests, the political impact of this exercise is important. India should also strengthen its ability to maneuver at the global high table by prioritizing and fostering partnerships with countries that might share India’s vision in space.

Time Critical Targeting: UAVs

31 Aug , 2013

Various Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Pictured are (front to back, left to right) RQ-11A Raven, Evolution, Dragon Eye, NASA FLIC, Arcturus T-15, Skylark, Tern, RQ-2B Pioneer, and Neptune.

The obvious advantage of stand-alone UAVs for TCT is the shortened sensor-to-shooter timeline since no dissemination of information is required from sensor to shooter. In optimum conditions, it is foreseeable that TCT could be achieved in single digit minutes utilising UAVs. However, this would require that the Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) allow decentralised execution authority at the AOC level.

After achieving repeated success in targeting key terrorist leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Middle East, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have come in to the limelight. This was possible after UAVs became a part of an extremely complex air operation, the bedrock of which was seamless real-time integration of all intelligence agencies. The UAVs were only the front end. The Predator UAV has been extensively employed in a TCT role. Therefore, let us briefly look at the Predator UAV to understand the concept of TCT.

Numerous recent technological advances show great promise for a TCT mission.

The most widely used tactical UAV is the RQ-1 Predator. Designed to provide constant Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) coverage of the area of operations, it was operated as a Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) owned theatre asset. The sensor suite on the Predator includes an Electro Optical/Infra Red (EO/IR) camera, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), and a laser designator. The laser designator is employed in conjunction with the Hellfire-C missile, which gives the Predator the capability to perform time-critical targeting. Video captured by the Predator is data-linked to a Ground Control Station (GCS) where it is reviewed and disseminated through the Joint Broadcast System. The Predator has a maximum endurance in excess of 30 hours and can communicate via line-of-sight data-link. However, when loaded with sensors and armament including Hellfire missiles, its operational endurance is about six to eight hours. Its improved version, now called the Reaper, also carries Hellfire missiles or 12 LASER-guided 500 lb bombs or four 500 lb GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). Its ceiling of 50,000 feet1 is double that of the Predator’s.

Advantages of UAVs in TCT

The obvious advantage of stand-alone UAVs for TCT is the shortened sensor-to-shooter timeline since no dissemination of information is required from sensor to shooter. In optimum conditions, it is foreseeable that TCT could be achieved in single digit minutes utilising UAVs. However, this would require that the JFACC allow decentralised execution authority at the Air Operations Centre (AOC) level.

Indian Mujahideen: After Yasin Bhatkal's Arrest

By N Manoharan
31 August 2013

When Yasin Bhatkal, cofounder of Indian Mujahideen (IM) was arrested on 29 August 2013 at India-Nepal border, there was more of disbelief than relief. The incredulity was because he operated with different aliases – Ahmed Siddibappa, Imran, Asif, and Shahrukh – at different places across India. He was also careful not to overly use mobile phones or emails for communication; did not stay in a particular place in India for more than a couple of weeks; even so, he preferred outskirts of towns or rural areas that are Muslim-dominated. Though wanted by counter-terrorism units of 12 states of India — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal — Yasin Bhatkal evaded them for several years.

In fact, he was lucky at least three times from being nearly caught by the police. Surprisingly, he was once arrested in Kolkatta, but was given bail because the West Bengal police did not realise that he was indeed the IM kingpin Yasin Bhatkal. Yet, Yasin has managed to successfully plant bombs in Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jaipur, Hyderabad and Varanasi. No wonder, he has been dubbed as “the ghost who bombs”. He is so hardened that his remark on bomb blasts was without any remorse: "these things (bomb blasts) happen; there is nothing new about them." The present arrest was possible only after a solid and continuous trail for over six months.

Now, the crucial question is: what is the significance of Yasin’s arrest from India’s counter-terrorism point of view? The importance of the arrest should be seen from the role and importance of Yasin to the Indian Mujahideen’s objectives and functions. He has been the terror group’s chief recruiter and bomb-maker for quite some time. He personally built a network of sleeper cells and modules in places like Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Nagpur, Pune, Hyderabad and later at Darbhanga in Bihar. These places were preferred for indoctrinating Muslim youth due to the high density of Muslim population; and, in the case of Darbhanga, its proximity to the porous Indo-Nepal border. Minus Yasin, sustenance of present modules is in big question; also new ones are bound to suffer. 

Having liaised with actors based in Pakistan, Yasin should be in a position to explain in detail the extent of Pakistan’s involvement in terror attacks in India, especially the role of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. He could help find answers to the many unanswered questions. Are the Pakistani claims that it really is not in a position to control anti-Indian militant groups based in its soil, valid? Or, is Pakistan controlling all activities, from planning to execution of terror attacks against India? Are other IM leaders – Iqbal and Riaz Bhatkal – hiding in Pakistan? If so, where are they? Who have been helping them? What are their plans for the future?

Also Yasin may have information about the various Pakistan-based militant groups that are linked to IM: their leadership, motivations, funding, recruitment, training, bases (both political and military), logistical support, their linkages with state and non-state actors in Pakistan, other internal and external networks, their modules and ‘sleeper cells’ in India, process of selection of targets, plans for future attacks, and extent of their connections with Indian terror groups such as SIMI and IM. Not to mention, the IM leader’s interrogation would throw a deep insight into the working of the IM: its leadership, organisational structure, recruitment pattern, funding sources and network, existing modules and sleeper cells, their future targets, local and external accomplices and so on.

Most importantly, Yasin Bhatkal’s case would help the Indian authorities to understand the various causes for radicalisation of Indian Muslim youth, those groups involved in radicalizing them, on how the youth graduate to indulge in terror attacks against their own people, and, in the process, how they get their lives and ambitions trapped and finally destroyed. 

Attack on Syria: Competitive Shia-Sunni Gas Pipelines Politics?

31 Aug , 2013

When combat soldiers are faced with a chemical attack, the military practice to exhale polluted air before donning a protective mask is by shouting ‘gas-gas-gas.’ By repeating the ‘G’ word many times over, it appears that USA and her allies have taken the first step: further action(s) against Assad’s Syria – justified or otherwise, are expected.

The Syria-Iran-Iraq Gas Pipeline, dubbed as the ‘Islamic Pipeline,’ is a $10 Billion project which was agreed upon by the three countries in July 2011.

While the western narrative for initiating actions against Syria is being justified as retribution for chemical attacks perpetuated by a diabolic President Assad, there is more happening ‘in’ and ‘around’ Syria than what meets the eye : control of natural gas reserves, its trade, distribution and the strategic advantages it bestows are alternative and cogent reasons meriting western military intervention? History has proved that the lure of energy resources is powerful and oil and gas bequeathed to the Islamic world has turned out more as a curse, rather than a boon for its people; Iraq, Libya and the division of Sudan are recent examples of the plunder of Middle Eastern nationhood. This energy rich region has been repeatedly crushed and mutilated with utter disregard for socio-ethnic concerns for gaining control over the oil ‘wells of power.’ The anticipated attack on Syria by an incensed ‘coalition of the willing’ portends to be the latest in this game of hardball played for gaining geo-political strategic advantage(s).

Since it is intended to provide an alternative narrative for the fast developing war-like situation, a brief background is required to be provided. Geographically located at the junction of the fuel starved European Union and energy rich Iraq and Iran, Syria, by virtue of her location alone has the potential to play a pivotal role in conduiting gas supplies to Europe. In addition, Syria now has recently struck gas off her coast, the closest to Europe from where she could now supply gas directly. Collectively, these advantages make Syria’s role pivotal and dominant in the future. At the same time, the spectre of direct supply supplemented by the gas pipeline from Iran through Syria would trip the dream of Qatar to supply gas to Europe directly. USA, a strategic partner of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and being the largest beneficiary of their oil revenues, seems willing to back her partners to knock out Syria and Iran from the energy equation. By doing so, she would concurrently stymie Russian and Chinese attempts to alter the status quo favouring the USA, western powers and the nations of the Sunni Muslim world as also favour herself and Turkey by ensuring alternative Qatari gas for their joint gas pipeline project.

Essentially an Arab nation with 74 percent of its population being Sunni Muslims, the territory of Syria, which included what is today’s Lebanon, was mandated to France as spoils after the First World War under the Treaty of Sevres; in turn this was the outcome of a secret agreement (Sykes-Picot) brokered between Britain and France. This not only dampened Arab democratic aspirations, despite the elections of May 1919, this also flew in the face of the American led Crane Commission which was required to recommend the political future in accordance with the aspirations of the Arab people: both were thrown out of the window by Britain and France. Cutting the story of the Syrian struggle to the barest, France went on to occupy Syria in July 1920, though it took them another three years to establish full control over Syria. Later, Lebanon was carved out of Syria to provide a safe haven to Christians; the only state in the middle east where they are in majority over the Muslims.

As the world waits with bated breath for American Tomahawks to fly across the Syrian bows, it would be prudent to surmise that these are not merely being fired to punish the use of chemical weapons, but more importantly to serve a warning to Assad to scuttle his ambitious plans to supply piped gas to Europe directly.

A tangled web of diplomacy - India, Iran, US and Afghanistan

Aug 28, 2013

India's real challenge in Afghanistan is reconciling conflicting US policies on nuclear proliferation and terrorism. Our relationship with Iran may hold the key.

Representational image

As the United States winds down its role in Afghanistan, its neighbours are busy with plans to deal with the blow back and shore up their interests. India and China have taken the lead in Afghanistan's infrastructural and economic development, and Kabul has been promised military support too. However, prosperity may be denied the resource-rich Central Asian country just yet. Normalisation needs stability, which is premised upon economic development, which in turn is affected by Kabul's success against the Taliban. For all the assurances given, that may be easier said than done.

With the US retreat from Afghanistan and resources stretched thin everywhere, the most effective way of fighting the Taliban is a coalition. Not only does this share resources but it also allays suspicions of each partner. Iran and India collaborated in a limited manner after the last US withdrawal from the region; this time, Russia may be an additional partner, though Pakistan, China, and the United States have their own agenda.

As modern wars have taught us, victory for an anti-Taliban coalition has not only a military component but also lies in economic and social development. Iran offers one solution to this via its port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea. India partially developed Chabahar under a 2003 agreement, and as the only Iranian port to have access to the sea, Chabahar eases the pressure on Bandar Abbas, Iran's major port in the Straits of Hormuz. Tehran has asked India to complete developing the port and connect it to the Trans-Iranian Railway via Fahraj but the latter has been dragging its feet on the project.

Afghanistan has also been eager to see Chabahar grow, creating alternate trade routes than through the Pakistani port of Gwadar. Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan have not been smooth, and despite agreements, there have been difficulties in the trade route. While Iran has already connected the Afghan city of Zaranj to Chabahar, the Indian Army's Border Roads Organisation constructed a major road between Delaram and Zaranj in 2009, linking Chabahar to the Kandahar-Herat highway.

Chabahar would ease many problems at once - for Iran, it would allow easier access to the ocean and Tehran would be able to draw transit fees for the commodities that would pass through; land-locked Afghanistan would be given an alternative to Gwadar, a little over 100 kilometres from Chabahar; India would be able to address its balance of payments with Iran and bypass its rival, Pakistan, in accessing Afghanistan, Iran, and Central Asia; pipelines carrying oil & gas from Central Asian republics would also have a much shorter route to the sea, saving millions. Furthermore, Gwadar's location in the troubled Pakistani province of Balochistan makes Chabahar a better choice for international shipping.

Pakistan’s Energy Crisis

By Shabbir H. Kazmi.
August 31, 2013

Energy shortages are hobbling the economy and contributing to unrest. But the country has options.

Pakistan is in the midst of one of the worst energy crises in its history. This is both slowing the pace of economic activity and causing public unrest with prolonged outages of electricity and gas. Capacity utilization in some key industries has fallen to nearly 50 percent. Worst affected is the fertilizer industry, which faces interruptions to its gas supply and forced closures. Pakistan has the capacity to produce more than one million tons in exportable surplus urea, yet in 2011-12 it imported more than 1.1 million tons. This eroded the country’s foreign exchange reserves and effectively entailed the payment of millions of dollars in subsidies, being the difference between the cost of locally produced and imported urea. Pakistan urgently needs to make some strategic decisions and change the national energy mix.

Immediately after assuming power, the government of Nawaz Sharif came up with two policy decisions: pay half a trillion rupees (just under $5 billion) to energy companies and announce a new power policy. Both steps are aimed at resolving problems plaguing the companies belonging to the energy chain and bringing change to Pakistan’s energy mix to optimize the average cost of electricity generation.

Pakistan’s government paid Rs260 billion in cash to independent power plants (IPPs) to clear outstanding debt. It also issued bonds to pay off liabilities pertaining to state-owned companies such as exploration and production firms and oil and gas marketing entities. After clearing the debt of the IPPs, it was expected that they would be able to generate 1,700MW in additional electricity, attenuating the shortfall that currently exceeds 6,000MW. The situation is likely to improve over time.

According to the available data, at present installed power generation capacity in Pakistan is estimated to about 22,500MW(excluding the Karachi Energy Supply Company, more on which below), but actual power generation hovers around 15,000MW, partly because of outdated and inefficient power plants and partly because of a cash crunch, which often does not permit power plants to operate at optimum capacity because of the inability to buy the required furnace oil. This could be best understood when one looks at the available data on power plants operating in the public sector, which have an installed capacity of over 4,800MW but actual generation hovering around 1,200MW.

At present, the bulk of electricity supply comes from hydroelectric plants (6,500MW) and IPPs (6,500MW). The output of the hydro plants is dependent on water availability in the dams, and can fall to as low as 2,500MW when water levels drop drastically. And as we have seen, IPP output is limited by money problems.

Pakistan’s woes have been exacerbated by its excessive reliance on thermal power plants, mainly using furnace oil. Two factors contributed to the emergence of this situation: a change in lenders from the public to private sector, and Pakistan’s failure to complete a hydroelectric project in recent decades. The last mega dam, Tarbella, was completed in the mid seventies and no other dam has been constructed since. After the signing of the Indus Water Treaty with India, Pakistan was required to complete construction of one mega-size hydroelectricity plant per decade to ensure year-round availability of low cost electricity and irrigation water.

Of Pakistan’s 6,500MW hydro capacity, the bulk is contributed by three projects: Mangla, Tarbella and Ghazi Brotha. There are nearly two dozen IPPs, but the major players are Hub Power Company, Kot Addu Power Company and Uch Power Plant. Pakistan also has three nuclear power plants, two in Punjab and one in Karachian, with aggregate capacity of over 800MW. However, the Karachi plant is at the end of its effective life and its capacity cannot be termed “dependable.”

Will Sharif Government Protect Pakistan’s Minorities?

By Kiran Nazish
August 30, 2013.

Parachinar, Pakistan – Intikhab Hussain was really looking forward to this Eid. The idea of his dad being around for Ramadan and Eid was all the 14-year-old could think about. His father had been working in Dubai for about five years and Hussain was too young to remember when his father left them to find job security in another country. At last, an Eid with Abba—the name Hussain used for his father—was approaching.

His father took Hussain to the market to shop for Iftar—the looming Ramadan meal that Muslims take in the evening to break their fast—when the blast happened right before Hussain’s eyes. His idea of the perfect Eid was shattered. His teenage smile gave way to sobs, as his dream was robbed, to be replaced with blood and carnage. Hussain’s father was killed along with 56 others in the two blasts that occurred within a span of four minutes. 

A few weeks later, and Hussain’s mother is having trouble registering her husband’s death. “The authorities do not have any protection plan,” she told The Diplomat. “What is the meaning of a protection plan for us Shias anyway?” 

She added, “If they had any interest in protecting us from radical militant groups we wouldn’t have been in so much trouble. The government people discriminate against us and speak to us like we are some criminals.”

A minority Muslim group, Shias in Parachinar have long been targeted in Pakistan. This attack was the deadliest, killing almost 60 and injuring more than 180, including many children, shopping in the main market.

Parachinar is located near the Kurram tribal Agency nation’s northern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Hussain’s town connects Pakistan to Afghanistan and the roads between mountains here have long been used as a transit route by militant groups in both countries – especially since the 1980s – to smuggle weapons back and forth. A few years ago, however, the routes were closed by the Pakistani military at the insistence of Parachinar locals. But that hasn’t stopped the use of weapons in the town. Shias here have consistently been under attack by radical Sunni militant groups, rumored to be backed by the Pakistan military and intelligence agency.

But Parachinar is not the only place where the Shia community is threatened in Pakistan. Attacks against Shias have surged nationwide over the past two years. According to a report released in July 2013 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, based on a collation of publicly available news reports, between January 2012 and June 2013 about 635 Shias were killed in at least 77 attacks across the country.

As The Independent reports, the report said that “In the past 18 months there have been over 200 incidents of sectarian violence in Pakistan. The Shia community has been the worst affected.” The report also documents attacks on Pakistan’s other religious minority groups who have suffered from the uptick in violence.

The Ahmadi Muslim sect, for example, faced 54 different attacks that led to the deaths of 22 members of that community. Christians were the third worst affected, with 11 members killed and several hundred forced to flee their homes in attacks often led by mobs. The small Hindu and Shia communities collectively mourned the deaths of three people.

Tragically, many attacks on minorities go unreported, especially in the regions of FATA, South Punjab and Interior Sind, where tribal leaders or feudal lords are able to influence police. These cases are never registered or documented, while the human rights abuses are being carried out primarily by stronger local communities with different beliefs.

Sadaqat Ahmed, a senior police officer in Peshawar, told The Diplomat that many incidents go unreported in the media due to their frequency, which causes the events to seemingly lose their significance as “news items.”

Chemical Weapons are NOT WMDs

By James R. Holmes 

You wear lots of hats as a naval officer. Daily job, watchstanding, battle stations, miscellaneous collateral duties. One hat that adorned the Naval Diplomat's not-yet-balding pate was fire marshal, in charge of preparing the ship's repair parties to combat fires, flooding, battle damage … and attacks involving chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR), weapons. I later ended up teaching CBR defense, among other things, at a naval training command in dear old Newport. Good times were had by all, I assure you. Cheery subject matter does that for a class.

One weird thing about this brand of warfare was the inconsistent vocabulary used to describe it. Various armed services, government agencies, and international bodies applied a variety of nomenclatures to unconventional arms. There was CBR, and CBRN, and NBC, you name it.

One acronym I have never cared for is "WMD," shorthand for "weapons of mass destruction." Why? The fine folks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who publish the authoritative guide to Deadly Arsenals periodically, put it best when they issued the 2005 edition. The coauthors disavowed WMD because the term, though convenient, conflates very different types of weaponry entailing very different characteristics, effects, and moral implications.

In particular, they fretted that merging chemical with biological with nuclear weapons in the public mind had distorted the debate over how to handle Saddam Hussein's unconventional arsenal. WMD implied nuclear for the untutored, demanding major military action to prevent an arms race in the Gulf region. But the suspected Iraqi mass-destruction arsenal was made up of chemical arms and perhaps biotoxins, whose properties resemble those of chemical agents. This was a threat of a lesser order. While Saddam hoped to resume his atomic quest at some point, it was a remote prospect a decade ago. Lesser instruments of war may have warranted lesser countermeasures.

More precise language, argued the Carnegie team, begets more prudent deliberations. If so, disaggregating these munitions for analytical purposes helps restore precision to debates over nonproliferation and counterproliferation. Deadly Arsenals maintains that nuclear weapons are the only true weapons of mass destruction. I agree.

Think about it. Teaching shipboard nuclear defense always elicited gallows humor from navy students. It demanded that mariners assume a lot: if you survive the blast, and the heat, and the electromagnetic pulse, and the initial radiation, and the radioactive fallout that accumulates on exposed surfaces, then you can take certain measures to recover and fight the ship. Well, OK, then.

Biological weapons? Less mass-destructive, but more insidious. Biological agents are living organisms that have a nasty habit of spreading from host to host. They're the gift that keeps on giving. Plus, symptoms take time to manifest. Pestilence may have spread before anyone's aware an attack has occurred. Think the Black Death in medieval Europe and you get the idea. Detecting an attack, determining that it is an attack, and figuring out how to respond defies the medical expertise of crews on the scene.

Destroy Assad's Regime, or Hold Your Fire

August 30, 2013 

Syria is the moral and strategic test that U.S. President Barack Obama neither sought nor wanted. He had done his best to avert his gaze from its horrors. He, the self-styled orator, had said very little about the grief of Syria and the pain of its children. When he spoke of Syria, it often sounded as though he was speaking of Iraq -- the prism through which he saw the foreign world and its threats.

In his first term, his four principal foreign policy advisers -- the secretaries of state and defense, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- supported arming the rebellion in Syria: He overrode them. Earlier this year, he himself promised the rebels weapons that were never delivered.


History will record for Obama that it was Bashar al-Assad who dragged him into this fight. Obama had made much of the distinction between wars of choice and wars of necessity. He is said to have pondered theories of just and unjust wars. To this Syrian ordeal, he came late in the hour, after the barbarisms, after the veritable destruction of Syria’s nationhood, after the jihadis had carved out their emirates. It doesn’t matter much whether this entanglement is one of choice or of necessity. This is only partly a hand that Barack Obama was dealt. To a greater extent, he has shaped the conflict with the passivity he opted for in a standoff with a petty dictator who should have been thwarted long before.

Lawyerly Response

Obama now makes his stand the lawyerly way, on very narrow grounds -- the use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta, east of Damascus. True, the use of chemical weapons was a transgression all its own, the first since Saddam Hussein’s campaign of death and ruin in Kurdistan a quarter-century ago. But Assad had sacked and reduced to rubble ancient, proud cities. He had ignited a religious war between Sunni and Shiite Islam; he had sent vigilante squads to maim and kill across a volatile fault-line between Sunni and Alawite towns, with the transparent aim of “cleansing” whole communities. The peace and fabric of an old, settled country has been torn to shreds as its people have fled in terror into neighboring states. A million children, 740,000 of them younger than 11, the United Nations estimates, have been made refugees.

Why indict Assad on the chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta alone? One would think that the use of airpower against civilian populations would have sufficed as a trigger for military intervention. Pablo Picasso immortalized Guernica for the bombing it suffered in the Spanish Civil War. But Guernica was a small market town of 7,000 people, and it was attacked by German and Italian bombers; Aleppo, which endured the brutality of the regime’s fighter planes, is a city of more than 2 million.

An Open Letter to President Obama: Syria Is Not Our War

Aug 30, 2013

Assad has learned from history that what doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. President Obama, you need to understand that lesson too. 

Soldiers in the U.S. Air Force fire a mortar near Balad Ab, Iraq, in 2004. (U.S. Air Force, via Getty Images)

Dear Mr. President,

Let's talk about precedents. You’re thinking about doing something in Syria to punish the regime there for using chemical weapons. You say it will be a “limited, tailored” action. But we’ve done this sort of thing before many times in many countries, including Syria, and in almost every case it proved a very bad idea. 

I have been a foreign correspondent since 1980 and there has not been a single one of those 33 years when the United States did not engage in an act of war against someone, somewhere. These might be covert actions, like mining the harbors of Nicaragua, or they might be very overt ones, like the invasion of Iraq, but acts of war they were, and there are lessons to be learned from them.

For starters I’d like to suggest, if I may, a couple of general rules:

First, be very wary of the word “credibility,” and of those who tell you that yours or the country’s is on the line if you don’t go to war. Of course you want to stop the use of chemical weapons. Of course that is a red line, as you said. But credibility does not come from actions, it comes from results. And nothing you or those in your administration have talked about doing will solve that problem. The only thing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad really fears is being removed forever from power. And that is not a “limited, tailored” operation.

In the meantime, fewer than 30 percent of Americans support any military action in Syria at all, and the current tracking poll by Reuters/Ipsos shows that as the news from Syria gets worse, opposition to intervention grows greater. The British Parliament’s refusal to go along with Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to join you in military action reflects not only British opinion but world opinion. Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic blog, is exactly right when he says the people questioning your credibility are, in fact, a tiny insular inside-the-Beltway elite who’ve convinced themselves that war, for one reason or another, is more credible than peace.

Nothing could be more ironic. If war imbued a president with “credibility,” then George W. Bush would be one of the most credible presidents in the country’s history. I don’t think anyone believes that is the case.

But that brings us to the second general rule: The kind of drumbeat now heard in Washington can lead to what the French call “la logique de guerre,” by which they mean a sort of pathology that takes over politics and the press and eventually a whole people, discouraging all debate and dissension. Costs are not calculated, benefits are fabricated; the rhetoric of glory disguises the grotesque realities of combat until armed confrontation not only seems inevitable, it is inevitable. That was precisely the kind of “logic” that propelled us into Iraq in 2003, and it is precisely the kind of thinking that has to be avoided now.

Hit him hard

Aug 31st 2013

Present the proof, deliver an ultimatum and punish Bashar Assad for his use of chemical weapons

THE grim spectacle of suffering in Syria—100,000 of whose people have died in its civil war—will haunt the world for a long time. Intervention has never looked easy, yet over the past two and a half years outsiders have missed many opportunities to affect the outcome for the better. Now America and its allies have been stirred into action by President Bashar Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons to murder around 1,000 civilians—the one thing that even Barack Obama has said he would never tolerate.

The American president and his allies have three choices: do nothing (or at least do as little as Mr Obama has done to date); launch a sustained assault with the clear aim of removing Mr Assad and his regime; or hit the Syrian dictator more briefly but grievously, as punishment for his use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Each carries the risk of making things worse, but the last is the best option. 

No option is perfect

From the Pentagon to Britain’s parliament, plenty of realpolitikers argue that doing nothing is the only prudent course. Look at Iraq, they say: whenever America clumsily breaks a country, it ends up “owning” the problem. A strike would inevitably inflict suffering: cruise missiles are remarkably accurate, but can all too easily kill civilians. Mr Assad may retaliate, perhaps assisted by his principal allies, Iran, Russia and Hizbullah, the Lebanese Shias’ party-cum-militia, which is practised in the dark arts of international terror and which threatens Israel with 50,000 rockets and missiles. What happens if Britain’s base in Cyprus is struck by Russian-made Scud missiles? Or if intervention leads to some of the chemical weapons ending up with militants close to al-Qaeda? And why further destabilise Syria’s neighbours—Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq?

Because doing nothing carries risks that are even bigger (see article). If the West tolerates such a blatant war crime, Mr Assad will feel even freer to use chemical weapons. He had after all stepped across Mr Obama’s “red line” several times by using these weapons on a smaller scale—and found that Mr Obama and his allies blinked. An American threat, especially over WMD, must count for something: it is hard to see how Mr Obama can eat his words without the superpower losing credibility with the likes of Iran and North Korea.

And America’s cautiousness has cost lives. A year ago, this newspaper argued for military intervention: not for Western boots on the ground, but for the vigorous arming of the rebels, the creation of humanitarian corridors, the imposition of no-fly zones and, if Mr Assad ignored them, an aerial attack on his air-defence system and heavy weaponry. At the time Mr Assad’s regime was reeling, most of the rebels were relatively moderate, the death toll was less than half the current total and the conflict had yet to spill into other countries. Some of Mr Obama’s advisers also urged him to arm the rebels; distracted by his election, he rebuffed them—and now faces, as he was repeatedly warned, a much harder choice.

Barack W. Bush: Unilateral War In Syria

August 30, 2013

Barack W. Bush. Joe Cheney. Here they come. Girded for a war that the British took one look at and bailed out on before it even began. Announcing that they are prepared to go it alone. Who said that unilateralism went away with George W. Bush?

Obama said acting unilaterally was a bad thing when he campaigned for office in 2008. That was then. Obama, who has followed in Bush's footsteps on national security surveillance measures, as the Washington Post's extensive revelations about the reach of government spy agencies show today, is about to go to war again.

Vice-president Joe Biden sounds like Cheney redivivus when he declares that there is "no doubt" that Bashar al-Assad authorized the use of weapons of mass destruction. All that's missing is a reference to yellow cake or the claim that this enterprise will be a cake walk. Meanwhile, the White House is engaging in magisterial Bush-speak, invoking the defense of the homeland: "The president of the United States is elected with the duty to protect the national security interests in the United States of America," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Well, yes. But this dodges the real question, which is: Will he be protecting America's national security interests by attacking Syria? Or will he undermine them?

The strongest case for launching an attack centers on American crediblity and international norms. The shadow of the 1936 Italian invasion of Abyssinia when Mussolini employed chemical weapons and the League of Nations proved toothless looms large here. Writing in theFinancial Times, Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says that strikes against airfields and a promise to supply moderate opposition forces would be a punitive response that "sends the message that use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated and will be costly for the regime." But the Obama administration is simply asserting that it has the authority to embark on one and that Americans should trust its asseverations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As Obama put it, "we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable."

Both Democratic and Republican legislators remain skeptical. As the Los Angeles Times observes, "Lawmakers have become increasingly vocal on the need for congressional authorization of military action, and more than 160 House lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have signed letters demanding a vote in Congress." Maybe Obama can't make the case because he doesn't wholly believe it in himself. Obama himself has clearly been reluctant to embroil the United States in the Syrian conflict.

Thus his own plan for intervention seems quite limited--no no-fly-zone, no troops on the ground. It is more, you could say, about what it is not than about what it is. Which has frustrated the liberal hawks and neocons. Charles Krauthammer, for example, says that Obama is being shamed into war and needs to do more: "If Obama is planning a message-sending three-day attack, preceded by leaks telling the Syrians to move their important military assets to safety, better that he do nothing. Why run the considerable risk if nothing important is changed?"

In 2002 Obama called Iraq a "dumb war." Is this one any smarter?

6 Ways Syria 2013 Isn’t Iraq 2003

Aug. 28, 2013

A ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to deal with WMDs may sound familiar, but these two plots are vastly different

From left: former President George W. Bush and U.S. President Barack Obama attend a memorial for the victims of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 2, 2013.

An American president says a Middle Eastern country has weapons of mass destruction. He builds a “coalition of the willing” for a military strike against said country.

Sound familiar?

It could be President Barack Obama in 2013 or President George W. Bush in 2003, or so fear liberal Democrats leery of getting involved in yet another war in the Middle East.

“While the use of chemical weapons is deeply troubling and unacceptable, I believe there is no military solution to the complex Syrian crisis,” Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat who famously was the only member to vote against authorizing the war in Afghanistan, said Tuesday in a statement on her Facebook page. “Congress needs to have a full debate before the United States commits to any military force in Syria — or elsewhere.”

But Obama, who ran on a platform in 2008 of ending Bush’s wars in the Middle East, isn’t Bush, and there are important distinctions between the two scenarios. Here are six ways Syria 2013 isn’t Iraq 2003:

Regime change

Bush made no secret that his plan was to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. This time around, the Obama administration is taking pains to say that ousting Syrian strongman Bashar Assad is the last thing they want as it would only create a power vacuum the disorganized Syrian opposition isn’t ready to fill. “I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. “They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.”

A limited engagement

U.S. officials are looking at a two-day, limited strike on Syria, which would not involve any American boots on the ground — compared to the 130,000 U.S. troops Bush had already mustered on Iraq’s borders by the time he declared his intentions to the public. The purpose in Syria is to punish Assad so that he knows he cannot use chemical weapons against his own people with impunity. Striking the weapons themselves could potentially create too much collateral damage, so Syrian military sites are being selected. Whereas Bush envisioned five months in Iraq — which turned into 10 years — Obama hopes his engagement will be counted in days, not weeks.

Arab support

Most of the Arab world opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The entire Arab League except Kuwait condemned the war. And Turkey denied the U.S. use of its military bases. This time around, most of the Arab world, with the exceptions of Iraq and Lebanon, supports strikes against Assad, and Saudi Arabia and Turkey are in talks to potentially participate in the military operation.

The Arab Spring withers into winter

August 30, 2013 

Its promise has fallen short before the onslaught of the votaries of the old order and ruthless extremist forces, notes Talmiz Ahmad.

Keep U.S. Strikes in Syria Limited and Conditional

August 31, 2013

It seems likely that during the next few days, the U.S. will carry out a limited strike on Syria. So far, the only strategic rationale for that strike has been tied to the use of chemicals weapons and enforcing barriers against the use of these and other weapons of mass destruction. The Obama Administration has gone out of its way to avoid any implication that it might also tilt the balance in the Syrian civil war, restrict the growth of Iranian and Hezbollah influence, reduce the pressure on an Iraq sandwiched between Iran and Syria, and reestablish U.S. credibility with our other regional allies while helping to protect them.

There is something to be said for the politics of the Administration's narrow approach. It severely limits the U.S. commitment to the use of force, it may well deter Syrian gas and more conventional attacks on civilian populations, and it will have some effectiveness in reducing the risk of any use of chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction in the future. No ally has to publically commit to any broader form of intervention, and the U.S. can claim it is acting under a provision of the Chemical Weapons Convention and to deal with crimes against humanity to legitimize its action in international law.

The Key Issue is Not the Tactics of the Strikes but the Strategic Aftermath

The real issue, however, is what happens afterwards. A series of strikes on key Syrian facilities and command and control capabilities might alter the balance in the civil war, but the impact seems likely to be limited. There is a chance of some form of Syrian retaliation, or action by Hezbollah and other non-state actors that support Syrian and Iran.

More importantly, the civil war will go on - killing, wounding, pushing refugees out of their homes and often into neighboring states, and the Syrian economy will move further towards collapse. Sectarian and ethnic tensions will get worse and push all involved towards extremes. The risks Sunni extremists will gain advantage over the vast majority of Sunni moderates will grow. Alawites will grow more violent and extreme, and the forces behind Kurdish separatism will grow.

The morning after any U.S. strike, the world will start asking "what next?" What is the role if the U.S. is now going to be dealing with the Syrian civil war? What is the U.S. strategy for the Levant, the Gulf, and the region? The U.S. may earn some broader credibility for its strikes, although it may also face Syrian challenges in the UN over "illegal aggression," real and false claims of collateral damage and civilian deaths, and charges that its act increases regional instability and "chaos." Its critics and enemies will do everything possible to discredit U.S. action, backed by all those who oppose the use of force in the U.S. and the West, and its friends and allies will immediately start asking "what now?"

No amount of spin and victory claims can get around these issues. Nothing can stop critics from validly raising every past U.S. mistake in past interventions in the region and the world. If the Administration differs, studies, and argues internally - rather than presents a clear picture of the future - the benefits of even the most successful strikes will vanish within weeks.

No U.S. Action Can Control the End State, but Every U.S. Action Can Influence It

The Administration does face critical problems. The United States faces serious uncertainties in choosing any course of action in Syria. Nothing the U.S. does can predictably control the end state in Syria much less in any other part of the MENA region. The internal forces in these given countries will dominate the outcome in a nation that must now work out the consequences of half a century of incompetent authoritarian leadership, failed economic development, and suppression of tensions between an Arab Alawite elite, an Arab Sunni majority, a Kurdish minority, and other Christian and Druze minorities.

As is the case in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and far too many other countries in the Middle East, there is no credible possibility that the U.S. can create instant democracy on real-world level. There is a very high chance that any form of stability can only come after internal power struggles burn themselves out, a series of regime changes take place, and efforts to revive authoritarianism and efforts to take control by Islamist extremists have run their course.

The waning of American hegemony

By Flynt Leverett Hillary Mann Leverett

An illegal intervention in Syria will not only fail to sustain American hegemony in West Asia but also provide a shot in the arm for Assad’s regime

Once carried out, the Obama administration’s thoroughly telegraphed strike on Syria, ostensibly over alleged chemical weapons use there, will mark an important inflection point in the terminal decline of America’s West Asia empire. Most importantly, it will confirm that America’s political class, including President Barack Obama himself, remains unwilling to face the political risks posed by any fundamental revision of Washington’s over-20-year, deeply self-damaging drive to dominate the region.

Mr. Obama initially ran for President pledging to end the “mindset” behind the strategic blunder of America’s 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq; in his first term, he committed to ending America’s war in Afghanistan, too, and to “rebalancing” toward Asia. But Mr. Obama was never ready to spend the political capital required for thoroughgoing recasting of U.S. foreign policy; consequently, the dissipation of American power (hard and soft) evident under George W. Bush has accelerated.

Mr. Obama’s approach to Syria illustrates why. Since conflict started there two and a half years ago, Washington has had openings for a negotiated resolution. This, though, would entail power-sharing between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and oppositionists and cooperation with Russia, Iran, and China to fix a settlement. Instead, Mr. Obama doubled down on reasserting American hegemony.

Desperate moves

When unrest began in Syria in March 2011, Mr. Obama and his team were desperate to show — after the loss of pro-Western regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, and near-misses in Bahrain and Yemen — that the Arab Awakening did not just threaten authoritarian orders that subordinated their foreign policy to Washington. They wanted to show that leaders committed to foreign policy independence — like Mr. Assad — were vulnerable, too. They also calculated that Mr. Assad’s ouster would tilt the regional balance against Tehran, generating leverage to force Iran’s surrender of its right to an internationally safeguarded but indigenous nuclear fuel cycle.

Two years ago, Mr. Obama declared that Mr. Assad “must go,” eviscerating prospects for a political settlement. Mr. Obama further damaged diplomatic prospects with three U.N. Security Council resolutions effectively authorising coercive regime change in Damascus, which Russia and China vetoed. His Syria strategy rested on the surreal proposition that a staggeringly fractious “opposition,” much of which publicly aligns with al-Qaeda and is not supported by anything close to a majority of Syrians, would unseat Mr. Assad, who (according to polls and other evidence) enjoys support from at least half of Syrian society.

The Arab Spring is dying in the West Asian quagmire.

A little over two years ago, the Arab Spring swept the landscape of West Asia and North Africa with the promise of freedom, democracy, social and economic justice and, above all, dignity. In 2011, four despots who had ruled their countries, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, for several decades, were dethroned in quick succession, and free elections took place in some countries. Thus, at the end of 2011, while political and economic problems remained, there was a sense that the WANA countries would now shed their exceptional character as the last bastions of autocracy.

Today, however, the West Asian scenario is marked by: a two-year-old civil conflict in Syria in which over 100,000 people have been killed and over three million have been displaced; in Libya, competing warlords, divided on clan and tribal lines, control different enclaves; in Tunisia, the elected Islamist government is under growing domestic pressure; and in Egypt, the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi has been ousted in a military coup and former president Hosni Mubarak has been released, while Morsi and the leadership of the Brotherhood face incarceration.

The Al Qaeda and its affiliates have discovered new opportunities for penetrations into Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and recently in West and Northwest Africa as well. The promise of the Arab Spring is withering before the onslaught of the votaries of the old order and well-armed and ruthless extremist forces.

The causes of the failure of the Arab Spring are complex. The Spring had alarmed the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council who felt that their political, economic and cultural order, founded on royal prerogative, patriarchal patronage and familial and tribal loyalties, was threatened by two challenges: one, a strategic and sectarian challenge from Iran, and the other from within the regional religious and political order, the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has its moorings in the Sunni Salafi tradition, but, unlike the quietist Wahhabiya of Saudi Arabia, it is activist in orientation, with a platform and a committed cadre equipping it to seek power. Over the previous 50 years, its intellectuals, fleeing from persecution in Egypt and later Syria, had found sanctuary in a number of Gulf countries where they had influenced at least two generations of young people with programmes founded on Islam, imbued with a strong anti-West content.

The Brotherhood, and its underground affiliates in some countries, is seen as a challenge to the monopoly on religion and power of the GCC regimes.

In response, the GCC countries led by Saudi Arabia have shed their traditional quiescent, moderate and low-key approach, and are confronting these challenges head-on. It is possible that the coup in Egypt was effected at the initiative of the armed forces to save the country from polarisation and political and economic malaise due to Brotherhood misrule. Still, the GCC has welcomed the ouster of the Brotherhood and offered substantial political and economic support for the military regime. The Saudi ruler has publicly chastised the US for its dithering and has asserted that the GCC will stand with its Egyptian brothers in case Western aid is cut.

Though Saudi Arabia is confronting Iran across the Western Asia theatre, the competition is principally taking place in Syria. Iran has a long-standing strategic alliance with the (Shia) Alawite regime of Bashar Al-Assad, even as, through Syria, Iran has also nurtured the Hezbollah in Lebanon, a formidable Shiite political and military force in the region.

But, in Syria, the situation does not have a simple Saudi Arabia versus Iran dimension. The opposition militias in the country consist of a non-religious group, the Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors from the national force, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood have their own militias, till recently supported by another GCC country, Qatar, but which are anathema to the Saudis.

The third force is made up of lethal Al Qaeda affiliates, frequently in conflict with the Syrian army as well as the other two opposition forces. All the fault lines in West Asia -- religious, sectarian, ethnic, Islamist, and big power divides, are at play in Syria, leaving the nation shattered and in danger of splintering into warring enclaves.

India, along with other countries with a stake in regional stability, has every reason to be concerned. The GCC countries are India's principal energy and trade partners, a major source for investments and joint ventures, and, above all, home to over six million Indians who send to their country over $35 billion annually. India also has substantial energy and economic ties as also strategic links with Iran, particularly in respect of its interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Hence, the GCC-Iran divide and the ongoing contentions in Syria and Egypt are alarming. These competitions could escalate into a region-wide conflict, if Israel were to persist with its aggressive postures against Iran, while Iran, Russia and even China would oppose an active US role in the Syrian imbroglio. All of this will have deleterious implications for India's (and Asia's) energy and economic interests, aggravating the current economic problems.
India can counsel prudence and restraint, but for now initiatives for moderation are unlikely to have any influence. With Brotherhood elements going underground and initiating a campaign of subversion in Egypt; with Iraq and Syria imploding under sectarian violence and external machinations, and the Kurds, inspired by revanchism and pursuing a sovereign territorial unity, the stage is set for major political upheavals that could redraw borders across West Asia and victimise thousands of people in religious and sectarian conflict and ethnic cleansing.

The author is a former diplomat. His book, ‘The Islamist Challenge in West Asia’, will be published in September 2013