22 September 2013

US ties pegged on Indian appetite for technology

The aim of India-US dialogue is that as India rises and seeks an adaptation of existing rules, it does so in a concerted manner with the US.

Kanwal Sibal

UR ties with the US have improved remarkably. The number of dialogues that the two countries are holding — on energy, education, agriculture, health, development, science and technology, environment, trade, defence, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and high technology — far exceed those with any other country.

The objective is to build Indian sectoral capacities with US technology and know-how, a process that would help India grow and provide the US greater opportunities in an expanding Indian economy.

The US position on India’s permanent membership of the UN has evolved positively, indicating that the US is inclined to open the strategic space that India claims for itself. The US has also committed itself to promoting India’s membership of the existing four non-proliferation regimes.
The US attaches importance to bilateral dialogue on global commons — air, space, sea and cyberspace. The aim is that as India rises and seeks an adaptation of existing rules, it does so in a concerted manner with the US. Freedom of navigation and securing the sea lanes of communication are areas where the US has particular interest in partnering India, given India’s dominating position in the Indian Ocean and the steady expansion of its navy.

Cybersecurity is a matter of urgent international attention and India’s emergence as a major IT power, along with the vast expansion of its telecommunications network, makes it a partner of choice to establish new rules of the game.

India’s defence ties with the US in the last decade signify greater mutual trust. In the last few years, the US has bagged orders worth about $9 billion, but it expects a greater share of defence procurements.

India is holding numerous joint military exercises with the US, especially elaborate naval exercises in the Indian Ocean area. These convey an important strategic message in view of massive trade and energy flows through these waters.

The US has described India as a lynchpin of its rebalancing towards Asia. China’s growing muscle-flexing requires the US to strengthen its presence in Asia to give confidence to its allies who may otherwise seek accommodation with China. Because of its attributes, the US clearly sees India as a vital partner in the years ahead.

India, however, is wary of this re-balancing strategy as it doubts the capacity and inclination of the US to contain China beyond a certain point because of the huge economic and financial interdependence between the two countries.

Why some Indians are still fighting back against the country's new biometric ID system.

SEPTEMBER 19, 2013

CHENNAI, India — The Unique Identification (UID) system is one of the most enterprising social programs in India today -- and probably the most controversial. In a country that lacks a comprehensive identification system, more than 400 million mostly rural Indians have no way of authenticating who they are. This leaves them locked out of public services like banking, social benefits, and even recognition of citizenship. By providing a nationally recognized identity for every citizen and resident, the UID system, known as Aadhaar, is taking a major step forward by establishing a foundation for inclusive institutions that India's bloated bureaucracy is seriously lacking.

Supporters of the program see special use for UID as an efficient tool for the government to distribute established social services like cash transfers, subsidized food, and kerosene to poor citizens. They say that UID's technology is necessary to ensure that aid actually reaches the needy. But owing to the prevalence of the same corruption that aid workers are trying to combat, there are strong concerns over privacy and the potential for fraudulence.

The program works by assigning a 12-digit number to each of the country's 1.2 billion people. Connected to the number are a photograph and two biometric indicators: fingerprints and iris scans. The innovation of using biometric indicators helps by not only creating a truly unique identity, but because it also serves the many illiterate people who never obtained other forms of ID like the PAN Card used for taxes, or a driver's license. Since rolling out the July 2009 pilot project in the state of Uttar Pradesh, UID has enrolled over 380 million people nationwide and plans to bring that number up to 600 million by the end of 2014.

As enrollment increases, state governments intend to primarily use UID as the linchpin of India's highly expensive and suspiciously leaky social safety net system. It is intended to improve programs like the Fair Price Shops (FPS) ration card system. In this arrangement, low-income Indians have access to FPS locations in their respective districts to purchase food and goods that the government subsidizes well below market prices. Under the current system, ration cards are given to families living below the poverty line. The cards are intended to entitle these families to FPS benefits, but they can also be used (often fraudulently) as identification cards.

Apart from the likelihood that politicians themselves abuse and indulge in these corrupt activities, the FPS ration card system has a number of other problems. On one hand, many eligible families are not enrolled; on the other, there is a sea of fake cards floating around which middle-class (and even rich) families use to buy cheap goods. The bogus cards are a drain on the system and reduce the amounts of food and kerosene available for the intended recipients. FPS owners are also known to siphon off their heavily subsidized inventory to make a killing on the black market.

Once UID is introduced, Indians who visit an FPS will have to provide their UID number before collecting their allocated quota of subsidized goods. Not only will this create an accountable inventory and offer a new method for collecting secure data on the demographics and needs of the poor, the high bar of personal information required to make purchase should help to prevent the leakage that is estimated to make up as much as 35 percent of the Public Distribution System (PDS) budget. Changing this could have a profoundly positive effect on India's endemic corruption.

Critics of the UID program, however, question its legitimacy on many counts. Research conducted by New York University Professor Arun Sundararajan and University of Maryland-Baltimore Professor Ravi Bapna seems to validate the effectiveness of the UID program in targeting needy people, but stops short of saying whether it will actually reduce corruption by the significant margin that the organization behind UID, theUnique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), seems to promise.

Mullah Baradar, Taliban Deputy Commander, Released From Pakistani Prison

Associated Press
September 21, 2013

Pakistan Releases Top Afghan Taliban Prisoner

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan released its highest-ranking Afghan Taliban prisoner on Saturday in an effort to jump-start Afghanistan’s struggling peace process, Pakistani officials said, but some doubt he will make much of a difference.

The Afghan government has long demanded that Pakistan free Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former deputy leader who was arrested in a joint raid with the CIA in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in 2010.

The United States is also keen for the Afghan government to strike a peace deal with the Taliban before it withdraws most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But the U.S. pressured Pakistan not to release Baradar because of concerns he would return to the battlefield, officials said.

Baradar will remain in Pakistan after his release and will be provided with tight security, said Pakistani intelligence and security officials who confirmed that he was freed but did not provide details, including where he was held. He will be free to meet with anyone he chooses, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry announced earlier that Baradar would be released Saturday “to further facilitate the Afghan reconciliation process.”

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the council tasked by the Afghan government to negotiate with the Taliban, praised Baradar’s release, saying “we are very much hopeful that Mullah Baradar can play an important role in the peace process.”

Baradar, who is around 50 years old, was one of the founding members of the Taliban along with the group’s leader Mullah Omar. He served as a senior military leader and defense minister after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996.

Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who served as foreign minister when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, also hailed Bardar’s release and cautioned Pakistan not to try to control his movements now that he is free.

"They also have to allow him contact with Taliban leaders and for him to be useful for peace in Afghanistan," Muttawakil told The Associated Press.

Not everyone agreed that Baradar’s release would contribute to peace, saying his long imprisonment had robbed him of both his influence and position in the Taliban.

"This is a very, very meager step. It will not bring peace. It is just a show," said Mohammad Daoud Sultanzai, an Afghan political commentator and talk show host. "He doesn’t have an importance among the Taliban leadership, or any other leadership that would be able to deliver anything with authority."

Pakistan has released at least 33 Taliban prisoners over the last year at the Afghan government’s request in an attempt to boost peace negotiations between the insurgents and Kabul.

COMMENT : The Pakistani state on its knees

Dr Mohammad Taqi
September 19, 2013

Without setting the parameters for what exactly is the state willing to concede to the TTP in exchange for peace, the prime minister and his APC have left the door wide open for the terrorists to keep making highly perverse demands 

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed the killing of Major General Sanaullah Khan, GOC Swat Division, along with Lt-Colonel Tauseef and Lance Naik Irfan Sattar in an IED bombing in Upper Dir on Sunday. In a statement released a day after the attack, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani said that while peace must be given a chance through the political process, no one should have any misgivings that “we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms” and that “the military has the ability and the will to take the fight to the militants.” Frankly, there is little in the general’s almost decade-long track record at the helm, first as the ISI director and then as the army chief, to suggest that he would deliver on his pledge, especially with one foot out the door. General Kayani, like the politicians who signed the September 9 declaration of the All Parties Conference (APC), did not deem it necessary to even name the enemy that he intends to take the fight to.

Of late the Pakistani media is abuzz with the claims that the Pakistan army wishes to fight the Taliban while the politicians lack such resolve. The fact is that the army has been ceding territory to the jihadists of assorted varieties for about 10 years now. And wherever and whenever it has acted against the terrorists, it has done so reluctantly and after dragging its feet not for days or months but literally years. The Swat operation is often cited as a success story and also to show that the-then ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) wanted to negotiate with the TTP while the army wanted to act decisively. The reality however is that the TTP takeover of Swat happened over at least two years while the mullahs governed the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa and the army chief General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country. The PPP-ANP coalition was forced into negotiating with the TTP when the army — the only fighting force they could rely on — was gun shy when it mattered the most.

Consider the much-trumpeted Rah-e-Nijat operation in South Waziristan Agency. The operation was announced some six months before the action actually started in October 2009. Stealth and caution were both thrown to the winds. As expected, the Taliban did not stay and fight pitched battles and simply melted away into their hideouts in the neighbouring North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Orakzai Agency and Balochistan. Media fanfare surrounding the Pakistan army’s incursion into and conquest of Kotkai — the hometown of the TTP head honcho, Hakimullah Mehsud — sounded then as if the Allies had descended upon the Führerbunker. Only there was no Hakimullah there. Fast forward four years almost to the date and the TTP chief is dictating terms to a nuclear-armed state! It is indeed somewhat surprising that almost all top TTP leaders from Nek Muhammad Wazir and Baitullah Mehsud to Wali-ur-Rehman escaped alive from the Pakistan army operations. They were all killed in the much-maligned drone attacks.

The simple point is that if the Pakistan army wished to build a case against the TTP it could have done much better than the six-monthly speeches that General Kayani delivers about the internal threat being the pre-eminent danger without naming names and ever pointing a finger. Sheer incompetence, of course, cannot be conclusively excluded but it is hard to believe that with its tremendous wherewithal, including a whole division of media men and women that virtually raised hell about the PPP’s attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act and the Memogate matter, the army failed to capture and mould the narrative to fight against the TTP. There is little doubt, at least in the minds of many in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, that the army did not wish to take on the Taliban for various reasons. The three primary reasons being: a) the military establishment’s plans for the ‘endgame’ in Afghanistan; b) concerns about the domestic terrorist fallout that might not be manageable, especially in Punjab province; and c) the army’s rank and file lacking the will to fight the jihadists they have supported for decades. Additionally, when the army-friendly media machine went into overdrive to build the image of the pro-Taliban/negotiation Imran Khan, many other leaders took it as their cue to hop onto the dialogue bandwagon. 

Chinese Hackers Have Been Trying to Steal U.S. Drone Technology for Two Years, Report

By Edward Wong
September 21, 2013
New York Times

Hacking U.S. Secrets, China Pushes for Drones

BEIJING — For almost two years, hackers based in Shanghai went after one foreign defense contractor after another, at least 20 in all. Their target, according to an American cybersecurity company that monitored the attacks, was the technology behind the United States’ clear lead in military drones.

“I believe this is the largest campaign we’ve seen that has been focused on drone technology,” said Darien Kindlund, manager of threat intelligence at the company, FireEye, based in California. “It seems to align pretty well with the focus of the Chinese government to build up their own drone technology capabilities.”

The hacking operation, conducted by a group called “Comment Crew,” was one of the most recent signs of the ambitions of China’s drone development program. The government and military are striving to put China at the forefront of drone manufacturing, for their own use and for export, and have made an all-out push to gather domestic and international technology to support the program.

Foreign Ministry officials have said China does not sanction hacking, and is itself a victim, but another American cybersecurity company has tracked members of Comment Crew to a building of the People’s Liberation Army outside Shanghai.

China is now dispatching its own drones into potential combat arenas. Every major arms manufacturer in China has a research center devoted to drones, according to Chinese and foreign military analysts. Those companies have shown off dozens of models to potential foreign buyers at international air shows.

Chinese officials this month sent a drone near disputed islands administered by Japan; debated using a weaponized drone last year to kill a criminal suspect in Myanmar; and sold homemade drones resembling the Predator, an American model, to other countries for less than a million dollars each. Meanwhile, online photographs reveal a stealth combat drone, the Lijian, or Stealth Sword, in a runway test in May.

Military analysts say China has long tried to replicate foreign drone designs. Some Chinese drones appearing at recent air shows have closely resembled foreign ones. Ian M. Easton, a military analyst at theProject 2049 Institute in Virginia, said cyberespionage was one tool in an extensive effort over years to purchase or develop drones domestically using all available technology, foreign and domestic.

Chinese engineers and officials have done reverse engineering, studied open source material and debriefed American drone experts who attend conferences and other meetings in China. “This can save them years of design work and mistakes,” Mr. Easton said.

The Chinese military has not released statistics on the size of its drone fleet, but a Taiwan Defense Ministry report said that as of mid-2011, the Chinese Air Force alone had more than 280 drone units, and analysts say the other branches have thousands, which means China’s fleet count is second only to the 7,000 or so of the United States. “The military significance of China’s move into unmanned systems is alarming,” said a 2012 report by the Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory committee.

China’s domestic security apparatus, whose $124 billion official budget this year is larger than that of the military, is also keenly interested in drones, which raises questions about the potential use of drones for surveillance and possibly even attacks inside China, including in restive areas of Xinjiang and Tibet. Drone technology conferences here are attended by both military and domestic security officials. An international conference on nonmilitary drones is scheduled to take place in Beijing from Sept. 25 to 28.

A signal moment in China’s drone use came on Sept. 9, when the navy sent a surveillance drone near the disputed Diaoyu Islands, which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus. Japanese interceptor jets scrambled to confront it. This was the first time China had ever deployed a drone over the East China Sea. The Chinese Defense Ministry said “regular drills” had taken place “at relevant areas in the East China Sea, which conform to relevant international laws and practices.”

The drone appeared to be a BZK-005, a long-range aircraft used by the Chinese Navy that made its public debut in 2006 at China’s air show in Zhuhai, said an American official.

Mr. Easton said deploying the drone near disputed waters and islands “was very much a first” for China and had caught Japanese officials off guard.

“I think this is really just the beginning of a much broader trend we’re going to see — for China to increase its ability to monitor the East China Sea and the Western Pacific, beyond the Philippines, and to increase the operational envelope of their strike capabilities,” he said.

A Chill, Ill Wind Blows Across China

By Elizabeth C. Economy
September 21, 2013

I have to give Beijing credit. When the Chinese leaders put Wang Qishan in charge of the anti-corruption effort, they knew what they were doing. Widely believed to be one of the most competent of the new leadership, he has ensured that no policy arena has as much energy behind it as his anti-corruption campaign. Other priorities such as building a social welfare net, protecting the environment, and reforming the economy are still in the familiar planning and blueprint stages. Wang, in contrast, has spearheaded campaigns against multinationals, Chinese companies, individual Chinese officials and businesspeople. Scarcely a week goes by when one corruption case or another does not make Chinese headlines.

Alongside the anti-corruption campaign, a crackdown against Chinese netizens is also in full-swing. Nominally designed to limit online rumor-mongering—people may be charged with defamation if their rumors are read by 5,000 users or forwarded more than 500 times—the crackdown has landed squarely on the shoulders of some of China’s most popular, politically outspoken businessmen bloggers: venture capitalist Wang Gongquan has been detained on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb order in public places”; Chinese-American investor Charles Xue was arrested on prostitution charges; and billionaire real estate investor Pan Shiyi has not been arrested or detained but appeared on television to say that it was important for those with large followings to “tweet responsibly.” Each of these prominent business personalities has boasted well over a million Weibo followers at one time or another.

Beijing’s strategy—while widely heralded by the official Chinese media—seems like one destined for short-term gain but long-term pain. First, by accusing and arresting people before the judicial system has been reformed, the Chinese leadership runs the risk of undermining much of the purpose of the anti-corruption campaign—restoring the legitimacy of the Communist Party. People are already suspicious about why certain officials and businesspeople are being targeted while others are not. Moreover, as attacks are levied against leading bloggers, the anti-rumor campaign begins to look like an effort not to push forward on the rule of law but rather to reintroduce fear among intellectuals and other reformers à la the Anti-Rightist Campaign of the 1950s, which targeted those whose voiced independent opinions.

Why is China Turning Against the United Nations?

By Zachary Keck
September 21, 2013

A new survey finds that the Chinese public takes an increasingly unfavorable view of the United Nations, in sharp contrast to opinions among its neighbors.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City next week, the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project surveyed people from 39 countries on their views of the UN. Overall, the body iis popular worldwide, with outright majorities in 22 of 39 countries holding a favorable view of it.

The UN is especially popular in the Asia-Pacific. As a press release accompanying the survey results explained, “The UN receives its highest ratings from publics in the Asia-Pacific, with more than eight-in-ten in South Korea (84%), Indonesia (82%) and the Philippines (82%) looking favorably toward the international body.”

These numbers were particularly remarkable when one considers that only in three African countries did the UN receive favorability ratings in the 70 percentile range. Moreover, as the press release went on to note, “Majorities in Australia (63%) and Malaysia (60%) also see the UN in a positive light.”

Still, the UN was not universally loved in the Asia-Pacific. For example, only a slight plurality of 45 percent of Japanese view the international organization in a favorable light, compared to 40 percent who view it negatively. Support for the UN was lowest among Asian countries in Pakistan, where 20 percent have a negative view compared to 18 percent who see it in a positive light. A large majority of 61 percent of Pakistani respondents don’t have an opinion one way or the other.

But perhaps the most surprising results came from China where a plurality of 45 percent of respondents expressed an unfavorable opinion of the UN compared to 39 percent of Chinese who had a favorable view. This made China the only permanent member of the UN Security Council where less than a majority of the public had a favorable view of the UN. By way of comparison, 53 percent of Russians, 58 percent of Americans, 63 percent of French, and 64 percent of British respondents have positive feelings about the UN.

Further, the Chinese public’s views of the UN have declined sharply in recent years. Specifically, the 39 percent favorability rating was a drop of 16 percent from 2009, when 55 percent of Chinese supported the UN. This is by far the most drastic change of opinion of any public surveyed by Pew.

The obvious question is why has China soured on the UN so much in recent years? Unfortunately, the data provide little in the way of an answer, and at least two contrasting narratives seem possible.

Japan May Shoot Down Chinese Drones

By Zachary Keck
September 20, 2013

Some Friday defense links:

Japan’s Defense Ministry is studying a plan for shooting down drones that invade its airspace, according to a report by NHK World. The report comes days after Tokyo reported that an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flew near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. China later confirmed the UAV belonged to its military.

On a related note, Shawn Brimley, Ben Fitzgerald and Ely Ratner, all of the Center for a New American Security, write that the Chinese drone signifies the emergence of UAVs in Asia, which will make conflict in the region more likely. As they put it, “The introduction of indigenous drones into Asia's strategic environment — now made official by China's maiden unmanned provocation — will bring with it additional sources of instability and escalation to the fiercely contested South and East China Seas.”

Over at Real Clear Defense, James Brown (real name, we assume) profiles David Johnston, who’s expected to be named as Australia’s next Defense Minister. Brown writes that “Johnston’s first priority in office will be to fix Australia’s navy.”

Ria Novosti reports that a second missile cruiser may be joining Russia’s newly established Mediterranean Fleet. The ship would be the Varyag missile cruiser, which currently serves as the flagship of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.

The U.S. Air Force now sees speed as key to beating Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategies, according to The Air Force Times.

Following India’s Agni-V missile test last week, the U.S. is concerned that an arms race might be developing between China and India. The Hindustan Times has the story.

The Dutch Defense Ministry announced earlier this week that it had selected the F-35 fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of F-16s. However, it will only purchase 37 instead of the initially planned 85 aircraft.

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) still thinks the Joint Strike Fighter program is “one of the great national scandals,” according to DOD Buzz.

Saudi Arabia’s Proxy Wars

September 20, 2013

Saudi Arabia appears resolute: It wants Bashar al-Assad out of Damascus. The Saudis view the fighting in Syria with the same intensity that they did the civil war in Yemen that raged in the 1960s — as a conflict with wide and serious repercussions that will shape the political trajectory of the Middle East for years to come.

The Syrian war presents the Saudis with a chance to hit three birds with one stone: Iran, its rival for regional dominance, Tehran’s ally Assad, and his Hezbollah supporters. But Riyadh’s policy makers are wary. They know that once fully committed, it will be difficult to disengage. And so they are taking to heart the lessons of another regional war that flared on their border 50 years ago.

The war in Yemen that broke out in 1962 when military leaders ousted the centuries-old monarchy and declared a republic quickly turned into a quagmire that sucked in foreign powers. The Soviet Union provided the new regime with air support. British airstrikes aided the royalists and the United States offered warplanes in a symbolic show of force.

More than anything else though, the conflict became a proxy war between Saudi Arabia, which backed the deposed imam and his royalist supporters, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, who supported the new republic. Nasser’s vision of a united Arab “nation” free of Western domination and sterile monarchies resonated across the Arab world. The Saudi monarchy, wary of this republican fever on its border, decided it was not going to stand on the sidelines. The kingdom used all available means to try to check Nasser’s ambitions — but it did not send troops.

By some estimates, Egypt sent as many as 55,000 troops to Yemen, some of whom became involved in fighting well inside Saudi territory, while others were accused of using chemical weapons supplied by the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia provided money and weapons to the royalists. Yet neither side achieved its goals. Egypt’s war with Israel in 1967 led Nasser to withdraw his forces, but the Saudis were unable to turn the tide. Riyadh was eventually forced to recognize Yemen’s republican government.

Now as then, Riyadh sees the struggle in Syria as a defining moment. As the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, it perceives an opportunity to check what it sees as Iranian plans to encircle the kingdom with hostile Shiite-dominated regimes. As the war has taken on a more sectarian character, the usually reserved foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, has described Assad’s onslaught against his own people as “genocide” and Syrian lands as being “under occupation” — a clear reference to the presence of Iranian and Hezbollah forces.

It is no secret that the Saudis are supplying elements of the Syrian opposition with weapons. They all but admitted as much when the prince said a few weeks ago that “if the international community is not willing to do anything, then they must allow Syrians to defend themselves.”

Take a Chance on Iran

President Obama would be crazy not to seize the opportunity that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has given him.

Sept. 20, 2013

Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani speaks with the media during a news conference in Tehran on June 17, 2013. President Obama should take Rouhani seriously; he might really mean what he says.

Photo by Fars News via Reuters

President Obama would be crazy not to dive deep into diplomacy with Iran, right now. Forget the standard throat-clearing bromides and water-testing toe-dips that mark the resumption of relations with suspect characters. When the world’s leaders meet at the U.N. General Assembly next week, Obama should not only shake hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani but also meet with him privately, hand him a list of a dozen issues to discuss (uranium enrichment, sanctions, regional stability, etc.), and even be prepared to announce, if possible, a time and place for negotiations to begin and a roster of the delegates to be invited.

If Rouhani is who he claims to be—an Iranian moderate who has the authority to strike a bargain on nuclear programs and economic sanctions (at least until hardliners lose patience with him)—then this is an opportunity no Western leader can pass up.

If it’s all a ruse, or if the mullahs overrule whatever deal emerges, there’s no harm in trying. In fact, if things go bad and Western leaders feel compelled to respond with tighter sanctions or military action, they could do so with greater legitimacy after having given the high road a chance.

In any case, it does little good to sit around and debate the potential truth of Rouhani’s proclamations or the nature of Iranian politics, about which any outsider’s knowledge is limited. Rouhani has put his statements on the table. No Iranian president, in the entire revolutionary period, has said anything remotely this appealing. He has appointed, in Mohammad Javad Zarif, a foreign minister whose known views are consistent with these statements. Iran’s economy is in such a tailspin that the regime—including the mullahs who are ultimately in charge—may be willing to trade some things of value for an end to the U.S.-imposed sanctions.

History provides at best rough guides for action, a smattering of precedents from which hawks and doves can pluck “lessons” to bolster their cases. I remember the fierce debates, within the U.S. government and among outside experts, over whether Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms were real or deceptive. A few decades earlier, similar arguments raged over Nikita Khrushchev’s stabs at détente. (In a mid-1964 issue of the U.S. Information Agency’s journal Problems of Communism, the noted Kremlinologist William E. Griffith railed against a few scholars who’d detected internecine conflict within the Politburo and declared that Khrushchev’s grip on power was as tight as Stalin’s had ever been. Khrushchev was ousted by hardliners just weeks after the article was published.)

On the other hand, one could point to the determined efforts by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to negotiate with Iranian leaders who spoke like reformers but whose policies were actually set, and whose hopeful rhetoric was ultimately overridden, by the mullahs.

Iranian-American relations have been gripped in a loopy psychodrama ever since 1953, when the CIA helped overthrow President Mohammad Mossadeq and install the Shah. In his 2004 book The Persian Puzzle, Kenneth Pollack invoked the old saying “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that someone’s not out to get you,” and added that, in this case, the Iranians were right: “We were out to get them.” The dread was reciprocated in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers held American diplomats hostage in the U.S. Embassy.

And yet, even through this era, there have been moments of incipient rapprochement, most notably in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks when Iran supplied the CIA with intelligence about al-Qaida. Relations gradually warmed, to the point where midlevel American and Iranian officials met for face-to-face talks about a variety of issues in Geneva. Then, in early 2002, just as relations were on the verge of warming, President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union address, branding Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “axis of evil”—at which point the Geneva talks ended and Iran stepped up its nuclear program.

We may be on the precipice of another possible breakthrough now. It’s worth testing, anyway. The doubters warn that the Iranians—perhaps Rouhani himself, perhaps the mullahs who are using him—are deceiving the world in order to buy time: The West gets strung along in endless negotiations, while in the meantime Iran continues to build a nuclear weapon.

Maybe the skeptics are right. But the bamboozling, if that’s what this gambit is, can go only so far. Obama isn’t about to mothball the aircraft carriers on patrol in the Mediterranean, nor stand down the numerous intelligence agencies monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites. In fact, the concern about “buying time” strengthens the case that Obama should put his own proposals on the table soon—in the next week or two, at the latest.

The Realist Prism: U.S. Paying the Price for Taking Brazil for Granted

20 Sep 2013, 

One of the unavoidable realities in any U.S. administration is that the president himself can only focus on 10 or so pressing foreign policy issues at any given time. Immediate crises and pressing national security threats tend to dominate that list, which has the unfortunate effect of making the top echelons of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus reactive rather than proactive. Thus, most of the attention of the Obama administration's national security team over the past several weeks has been focused on the crisis in Syria, to the detriment of matters that may be less immediately urgent right now but that will have a much more important long-term impact on America's position in the world. 

The postponement of what would have been a state visit of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to Washington next month due to fallout over revelations of U.S. spying activities—a reaction that could have been mitigated through proper and prompt attention—is a stark reminder that U.S. administrations have to be able to strike a balance between reacting to current events and laying the groundwork for the future.

No one doubts that forging a closer relationship between the United States and rising power Brazil makes good strategic sense. Yet the Obama administration seemingly can never find the time to devote the energy and political capital needed to get the process underway. Two years ago, I warned that "Washington's focus on current crisis management has prevented the slow, steady work needed to cultivate ties with rising global powers like India and Brazil, which still remain cautious about cementing any sort of formal partnership with the U.S."

When Obama visited Brazil in 2011, Rousseff put the president on notice: Brazilians were no longer going to be satisfied with "empty rhetoric" about partnership and would seek a more balanced relationship with the United States, a "construct of equals." Indeed, a clear subtext of her remarks at the time was that Washington could not expect Brazil to wait patiently until the United States was ready to move forward on augmenting and deepening the relationship. But Obama's visit took place in the shadow of the Libya crisis—Operation Odyssey Dawn started as the president was in Brazil—meaning that a military operation in the Middle East took up much of the attention of the president's national security team.

Recognizing that the president himself would not be able to devote a great deal of attention to laying the foundations for a closer strategic partnership with Brazil, I argued at the time that what was needed was a permanent Obama-Rousseff Commission, with a leading U.S. official—either the vice president or the secretary of state—to give it the necessary star power by conveying to the Brazilian side that Washington took this emerging relationship seriously. At minimum, the president needed to turn over the day-to-day management of relations to someone who could credibly be seen as the president's alter ego on this matter: someone who could speak with the president's voice and move the U.S. interagency process along. Without a structure to translate words into concrete policy recommendations, I wrote then, “Rousseff's warning about ‘empty rhetoric’ will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” 

The kind of forum I advocated for did not emerge. Instead of a comprehensive effort akin to the George W. Bush administration’s full-court press to improve relations with India, piecemeal efforts characterized the U.S.-Brazil relationship. The result was a relatively lackluster return visit of Rousseff to Washington in spring 2012. No real progress was made on advancing a comprehensive security and economic agenda for the hemisphere, and no solutions were found to break some of the logjams that had inhibited closer ties.

Perhaps spurred by the failure of Rousseff's return visit to meet expectations, the United States stepped up its efforts. A steady stream of senior U.S. officials made their way to Brasilia, and, after a visit by Vice President Joe Biden in June 2013, Rousseff accepted the invitation to make a state visit in October. Biden also conveyed assurances that if Brazil chose Boeing to provide its air force with F-18 jets, the U.S. Congress would not likely block the sale or the transfer of sensitive technologies—acknowledging that a Brazilian decision to choose the American company would reflect a new strategic alignment with the United States. 

Then, in September, came the revelations of U.S. spying activities in Brazil, including intercepts of presidential communications. Brazilians were enraged, and Rousseff, in advance of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, canceled the visit to Washington of the advance team that was to plan her own trip. This was a clear warning shot that Brazil was serious. But the White House was focused on the reports that the government of Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons in Syria, and because no senior official—whether the vice president, the secretary of state or the national security adviser—had the "Brazil account," there was no one in a position to defuse the crisis. Nor did the U.S. attempt to schedule a formal bilateral sideline meeting between the two presidents in St. Petersburg, which might have signaled that Washington understood Brazil's perspective. Instead, the outreach was ad hoc, with Obama attempting to smooth things out with Rousseff right before both were scheduled to attend the summit's opening banquet. But the perception from the Brazilian side was that the United States was not taking its concerns seriously.

Is Venezuela's new president headed for an untimely exit?

SEPTEMBER 19, 2013

LA VICTORIA, Venezuela — For Veronica Castillo, shopping has become a full-time job, and she blames Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Castillo, a 33-year-old homemaker in the central Venezuelan city of La Victoria, used to complete her week's grocery shopping in an hour or two. Now if she's lucky, she can find what she needs in a day or two of hitting the stores in this city of 150,000 about 50 miles from the capital, Caracas.

"I haven't been able to find milk -- fresh, powdered, or long life -- in a month," says Castillo, who has a 1-year-old son. "I spend hours in line, and I still can't find everything. And this is what our revolution has brought?"

Castillo, who reluctantly admits that she voted for Maduro in April's snap presidential election following the death of Hugo Chávez, isn't alone in her dislike for the president. According to an IVAD surveytaken between Aug. 21 and 28, more than two-thirds of those polled said the country's political situation was "unstable" and an even greater percentage was pessimistic about the economy. Soaring inflation, widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs, power outages, and rampant crime have all dented Maduro's support. According to the same survey, Maduro would trail opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski if new elections were to be scheduled.

"There is a feeling of rudderlessness and lack of control within the government," says David Smilde, a senior scholar at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Maduro, 50, has caused many of his own problems by focusing on stoking his image as Chávez's handpicked successor, rather than solving problems besetting the country, which has the world's largest oil reserves but has struggled to develop them. The former bus driver has sought to cultivate the aura of being the country's first "working-class president" with mixed results. Maduro, who once claimed that the late Chávez spoke to him in the guise of a bird, often seems to go out of his way to show that he is one of the masses. He refers to himself as a "son of Chávez" and his wife, the first lady, as the country's "first combatant."

"He is constantly going around dancing and singing, kissing babies, and acting as if there are no problems," says Caracas-based political consultant Tarek Yorde. "It gives the people the impression that he is out of touch." At a rally of the ruling party's youth on Sept. 13, Maduro accompanied a band by playing the drums, not only with his hands but by using his elbows and head as well.

He frequently misspeaks. In remarks on state television that went viral, Maduro used the Spanish word for penis (pene) in the place of bread (pan) while referring to Jesus multiplying loaves of bread to feed the masses. He constantly says that Venezuela is free of outside interference for the first time in decades, and he peppers his speeches with references to protecting the "fatherland." His constant refrain of fatherland has become a national tag line to explain away shortages of basic foodstuffs such as cornmeal, milk, cooking oil, meat, margarine, wheat flour, and coffee.

The Mossad’s Secret War Against Syria’s WMD

By Ronen Bergman
September 20, 2013

The Spies Inside Damascus

On Aug. 20, 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama declared that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began shifting around or using his chemical weapons, Obama would consider that “a red line.” The implication was that such a move would lead to American intervention in Syria. Some officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry believed that Obama drew the line because he believed it would never be crossed. If that was his assumption, he made it based, in part, on assessments received from the Israeli intelligence services, which have waged a multidecade clandestine campaign to strip Assad of his deadliest weapons — and which also have emerged as the United States’ primary partners in collecting information on Middle Eastern regimes.

According to two former high-ranking military intelligence officials with whom I had spoken recently, Israeli intelligence agencies believed at the time that Assad would not use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and would keep his chemical arsenal as a bargaining chip to be traded in exchange for political asylum for himself, his loyal wife, and his close associates, if necessary. Israel was wrong.

On March 10, 2013, Israeli intelligence sources began reporting that the Syrian regime had made use of chemical weapons. A number of different and cross-checked sources produced this information. Among them: sources that eavesdropped on the Syrian army’s tactical frequencies and surveillance satellites that monitored movement out of a bunker known to protect chemical weapons.

Israel shared its findings with the United States, but Washington would not acknowledge those findings’ veracity. It was clear to the Israelis that the Americans saw those findings as a hot potato that the president was in no mood to hold. Without grasping the deep political significance of publicizing this material (or perhaps doing so intentionally to put pressure on Washington), Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, the head of the Aman, the Israeli military intelligence corps’ research division, stated clearly in an April 23 speech at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons on its citizens.

This utterance angered and embarrassed the U.S. administration. Washington stuttered for a few days and demanded clarifications from Israel. In the end, and following a report submitted to the United Nations by Britain and France, the Obama administration had to admit that the information was in fact correct. Since then, to avoid similar commotions, Aman officers are forbidden to appear in public conferences.

Either way, the intelligence coordination between Israel and the United States has not suffered, and Israel continues to share the vast amounts of information that it has about Syria with the United States. Published reports credit Israel with giving the CIA, as the Wall Street Journal put it, “intelligence from inside an elite special Syrian unit that oversees Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons” after the massive Aug. 21 sarin attack outside Damascus.

"We have a very extensive knowledge of what is happening in Syria. Our ability to collect information there is profound. Israel is the eyes and ears, sometimes exclusively, sometimes as complementary aid, to what the U.S. intelligence is able or unable to collect itself," Maj. Gen. Uri Sagi, Israel’s former chief of military intelligence, told me on Sept. 19. While the threat of an American attack on Syria — and a possible Syrian counterattack on Israel — has subsided for the moment, the Israeli-American efforts to penetrate the Assad regime continue. This is a history of those efforts.

American and Israeli spies have long been partners. “Information we collected, especially by Unit 8200 [Israel’s eavesdropping corps], has always been of the highest value to the NSA [U.S. National Security Agency] and other U.S. intelligence agencies,” Sagi noted. A top-secret memorandum, recently revealed by the Guardian, shows that the NSA passes along raw intercepts to Unit 8200. But the partnership hasn’t always produced results. Regarding the 1990-1991 Gulf War, for instance, “one must honestly admit that when it came to Iraq back then, both Americans and Israelis had very little information to share,” Sagi said.

At the time, the joint effort to spy on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction wasn’t much better.

In March 1990, North Korea’s premier visited Damascus, and the two states signed a secret deal for military and technological cooperation that centered on the supply of Scud C missiles and launchers to Syria. In early February 1991, the first consignment of some 30 missiles was shipped to the Syrian port of Latakia. The NSA, Israeli intelligence later learned, was aware that something was going on, but Washington refrained from informing Tel Aviv because the Americans feared that the Israelis would try to intercept the shipment and start yet another Middle Eastern brawl.

However, Israel had sources of its own. The Mossad — Israel’s national intelligence agency — was keeping an eye on the ship. Agents of the Mossad’s Caesarea division, who are trained to penetrate Arab countries, were waiting in Morocco for the vessel that had set sail from North Korea and had docked in a number of African ports en route to the Mediterranean Sea and Latakia. Two Mossad operatives, working undercover as tourists, successfully dove under the ship and attached a powerful transponder to it. An Israeli F-15 fighter jet was supposed to launch a missile to hone in on the beacon signal on the ship and blow the vessel to smithereens. In the end, however, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir decided to call the operation off out of a fear that it would spark a major conflagration in the Middle East due to the fact that the Gulf War was under way.

Predator Drones 'Useless' in Most Wars, Top Air Force General Says

September 19, 2013

The drones that have proved so useful at hunting al Qaeda are "useless" in nearly every other battlefield scenario, says a top Air Force general. So, for the first time, the Air Force is proposing culling the fleet of little, propeller-driven MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones in favor of stealthier, faster aircraft.

This is because the slow, low-flying drones that killed terrorists in the last decade's wars have little chance of surviving against an enemy armed with even basic air defenses. Faced with declining defense budgets, Air Force officials want to retire many of the low-tech drones.

"Predators and Reapers are useless in a contested environment," said Gen. Mike Hostage, chief of the air service's Air Combat Command, during the Air Force Association's annual conference outside of Washington.

"Today … I couldn't put [a Predator or Reaper] into the Strait of Hormuz without having to put airplanes there to protect it," said the four-star general. This week, the Air Force's chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, revealed that an F-22 -- the planet's most sophisticated stealth fighter -- intercepted Iranian F-4 Phantom jets that were closing in on a U.S. Predator drone over the strait last March. In November 2012, Iranian Su-25 ground attack jets fired on, and missed, an American Predator over the strait.

In 2011, the Pentagon ordered the Air Force to have enough MQ-1s and MQ-9s to fly up to 65 combat air patrols (CAPs) around the world by this year. Each CAP consists of up to four drones. Even as the service worked to make this happen, it questioned the order, saying there was no official requirement stating the military's need for what many in the air service believe are little more than flying lawn mowers.

"We're trying to convince [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] that the 65 challenge -- while made sense to the people who gave it to us when it was given, and we dutifully went after it -- is not the force structure the nation needs or can afford in an anti-access, area-denial environment," said Hostage.

"Anti-access, area-denial" is the military's term for enemies armed with advanced radars, missiles, fighter jets, and electronic warfare systems meant to keep American aircraft, missiles, and ships far from their borders.

U.S. military planners expect the Air Force's ability to "stare" at targets 24/7 using its drone fleet to be there in future conflicts, said Hostage. "But they want it in a contested environment, and we can't do it currently."

MQ-1s and MQ-9s "have limited capability" against even basic air defenses, said Hostage. "We're not talking deep over mainland China; we're talking any contested airspace. Pick the smallest, weakest country with the most minimal air force -- [it] can deal with a Predator."

To keep its ability to stare at targets, the Air Force will have to buy stealthier, faster reconnaissance planes or figure out a way to look at an enemy from beyond the reach of its defenses.

The Air Force's top spy, Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, echoed Hostage's comments, saying that after the war in Afghanistan ends, he wants the Air Force to get rid of a number of Predators and Reapers and replace them with stealthier spy planes.

"My argument would be, we can't afford to keep all of this capability, so we're going to have to bring some of it down," said Otto while discussing the 65 Predator and Reaper CAPs after a speech at the same conference.

This will free cash to invest in high-end drones and other spy gear that can be used against heavily defended targets, according to Otto.

"I think the place to take risk is in the permissive environment," said Otto of where he wants the service to spend its limited cash for buying new intelligence-gathering tools such as drones.

Once major U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ends in 2014, Otto may scale back the service's intelligence-gathering efforts -- including its drones -- from the fight against terrorism and refocus much of it on high-end threats posed by other nations. This will leave much of the service's anti-terrorism intelligence work to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and its fleet of Predators and Reapers, according to the three-star general.

This shift in intelligence resources may allow Hostage, who is in charge of the forces that fly the majority of the Air Force's drones, to be free to focus on replacing the Predators and Reapers.

Meet the Microsoft Billionaire Who's Trying to Reboot U.S. Counterterrorism

Nathan Myhrvold's a king of computer science, intellectual property, and extreme food. Can he teach Washington how to fight bad guys too?

SEPTEMBER 18, 2013

Add to Nathan Myhrvold's already eclectic résumé -- which includes ex-chief technology officer of Microsoft, co-founder of one of the world's largest patent-holding firms, and author of a $625 cookbook -- a new credit: terrorism expert.

Myhrvold, a famous autodidact, recently published a 33-page paper that he rousingly calls, "Strategic Terrorism: A Call to Action." The core of his argument is easy enough to understand, and probably true: The United States is more focused on stopping a guy who blows up an airplane and kills 300 people than on a guy who intentionally spreads smallpox and kills 300,000.

"In my estimation, the U.S. government, although well-meaning, is unable to protect us from the greatest threats we face," Myhrvold writes. "[M]odern technology can provide small groups of people with much greater lethality than ever before. We now have to worry that private parties might gain access to weapons that are as destructive as -- or possibly even more destructive than -- those held by any nation-state."

Myhrvold to Washington: National security … you're doin' it wrong.

The paper is accessible to a layman, which is what Myhrvold was when he started thinking about the strategic aspects of terrorism not long after the 9/11 attacks. He wrote the piece in his spare time -- apparently he does have some -- and it was mostly finished in 2006. Myhrvold had no intention of publishing it until recently, when he met Benjamin Wittes, the editor of the influential national security and legal site Lawfare. Wittes thought that parts of the paper accurately described the threat posed by small actors with big weapons, and he decided that Myhrvold's analysis deserved a wider audience. Lawfare published the paper in July.

Since then, the document has made the rounds. It has been discussed in military and intelligence circles. Law professors are reading it and talking about it at symposia. Members of Congress and their staffs have reviewed Myhrvold's findings. Chances are that if you ask a national security expert, he either has read the paper or will tell you he plans to right away. As these kinds of things go in wonkland, Myhrvold's paper has buzz.

And last week, Myhrvold started making the rounds too. He was in Washington meeting with senior officials in the intelligence agencies and committee members and staff on Capitol Hill. He was hesitant to tellForeign Policy, when we sat down for a chat, precisely whom he has been talking to. But he was clear that it was a large number. And they weren't all meetings that Myhrvold had set up. A lot of people in government were calling him, asking if he'd stop by to talk about the paper and how he thinks the United States could improve its security policy.

This is all profoundly strange. Not strange that Myhrvold -- who is probably best known for talking about pistachio ice cream on The Colbert Report and for an unflattering profile of his company that aired on This American Life -- would be chatting up spooks and congressional committee chiefs about his views. Washington is full of rich and important guys pushing their passion projects, and Myhrvold is a very rich and important guy.