23 October 2013

Can America Rediscover Its Jeffersonian Foreign Policy?

October 22, 2013

Last week I discussed how the Founding Fathers might view the American debt crisis and the government shutdown. This week I thought it would be useful to consider how the founders might view foreign policy. I argued that on domestic policy they had clear principles, but unlike their ideology, those principles were never mechanistic or inflexible. For them, principles dictated that a gentleman pays his debts and does not casually increase his debts, the constitutional provision that debt is sometimes necessary notwithstanding. They feared excessive debt and abhorred nonpayment, but their principles were never completely rigid.

Whenever there is a discussion of the guidelines laid down by the founders for American foreign policy, Thomas Jefferson's admonition to avoid foreign entanglements and alliances is seen as the founding principle. That seems reasonable to me inasmuch as George Washington expressed a similar sentiment. So while there were some who favored France over Britain during the French Revolutionary Wars, the main thrust of American foreign policy was neutrality. The question is: How does this principle guide the United States now?

A Matter of Practicality

Like all good principles, Jefferson's call for avoiding foreign entanglements derived from practicality. The United States was weak. It depended heavily on exports, particularly on exports to Britain. Its navy could not guarantee the security of its sea-lanes, which were in British hands and were contested by the French. Siding with the French against the British would have wrecked the American economy and would have invited a second war with Britain. On the other hand, overcommitting to Britain would have essentially returned the United States to a British dependency.

Avoiding foreign entanglements was a good principle when there were no other attractive strategies. Nonetheless, it was Jefferson himself who engineered a major intrusion into European affairs with the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. Initially, Jefferson did not intend to purchase the entire territory. He wanted to own New Orleans, which had traded hands between Spain and France and which was the essential port for access between the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi-Ohio-Missouri river system. Jefferson sensed that Napoleon would sell New Orleans to finance his war in Europe, but he was surprised when Napoleon countered with an offer to sell all of France's North American holdings for $15 million. This would change the balance of power in North America by blocking potential British ambitions, opening the Gulf route to the Atlantic to the United States and providing the cash France needed to wage wars.

At the time, this was not a major action in the raging Napoleonic Wars. However, it was not an action consistent with the principle of avoiding entanglement. The transaction held the risk of embroiling the United States in the Napoleonic Wars, depending on how the British reacted. In fact, a decade later, after Napoleon was defeated, the British did turn on the United States, first by interfering with American shipping and then, when the Americans responded, by waging war in 1812, burning Washington and trying to seize New Orleans after the war officially ended.

Jefferson undertook actions that entangled the United States in the affairs of others and in dangers he may not have anticipated -- one of the major reasons for avoiding foreign entanglements in the first place. And he did this against his own principles.

The reason was simple: Given the events in Europe, a unique opportunity presented itself to seize the heartland of the North American continent. The opportunity would redefine the United States. It carried with it risks. But the rewards were so great that the risks had to be endured. Avoiding foreign entanglements was a principle. It was not an ideological absolute.

Jefferson realized that the United States already was involved in Europe's affairs by virtue of its existence. When the Napoleonic Wars ended, France or Britain would have held Louisiana, and the United States would have faced threats east from the Atlantic and west from the rest of the continent. Under these circumstances, it would struggle to survive. Therefore, being entangled already, Jefferson acted to minimize the danger.

This is a very different view of Jefferson's statement on avoiding foreign entanglements than has sometimes been given. As a principle, steering clear of foreign entanglements is desirable. But the decision on whether there will be an entanglement is not the United States' alone. Geographic realities and other nations' foreign policies can implicate a country in affairs it would rather avoid. Jefferson understood that the United States could not simply ignore the world. The world got a vote. But the principle that excessive entanglement should be avoided was for him a guiding principle. Given the uproar over his decision, both on constitutional and prudential grounds, not everyone agreed that Jefferson was faithful to his principle. Looking back, however, it was prudent.

The Illusion of Isolationism

The U.S. government has wrestled with this problem since World War I. The United States intervened in the war a few weeks after the Russian czar abdicated and after the Germans began fighting the neutral countries. The United States could not to lose access to the Atlantic, and if Russia withdrew from the war, then Germany could concentrate on its west. A victory there would have left Germany in control of both Russian resources and French industry. That would have created a threat to the United States. It tried to stay neutral, then was forced to make a decision of how much risk it could bear. The United States opted for war.

Isolationists in World War II argued against involvement in Europe (they were far more open to blocking the Japanese in China). But the argument rested on the assumption that Germany would be blocked by the Soviets and the French. The alliance with the Soviets and, more important, the collapse of France and the invasion of the Soviet Union, left a very different calculation. In its most extreme form, a Soviet defeat and a new Berlin-friendly government in Britain could have left the Germans vastly more powerful than the United States. And with the French, British and German fleets combined, such an alliance could have also threatened U.S. control of the Atlantic at a time when the Japanese controlled the western Pacific.

A similar problem presented itself during the Cold War. In this case, the United States did not trust the European balance of power to contain the Soviet Union. That balance of power had failed twice, leading to alliances that brought the United States into the affairs of others. The United States calculated that early entanglements were less risky than later entanglements. This calculation seemed to violate the Jeffersonian principle, but in fact, as with Louisiana, it was prudent action within the framework of the Jeffersonian principle.

NATO appeared to some to be a violation of the founders' view of a prudent foreign policy. I think this misinterprets the meaning of Jefferson's and Washington's statements. Avoiding entanglements and alliances is a principle worth considering, but not to the point of allowing it to threaten the national interest. Jefferson undertook the complex and dangerous purchase of Louisiana because he thought it carried less risk than allowing the territory to remain in European hands.

His successors stumbled into war partly over the purchase, but Jefferson was prepared to make prudent judgments. In the same way, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, realizing that avoiding foreign entanglements was impossible, tried to reduce future risk.

Louisiana, the two world wars and the Cold War shared one thing: the risks were great enough to warrant entanglement. All three could have ended in disaster for the United States. The idea that the oceans would protect the United States was illusory. If one European power dominated all of Europe, its ability to build fleets would be extraordinary. Perhaps the United States could have matched it; perhaps not. The dangers outweighed the benefits of blindly adhering to a principle.

A General Role

There is not an existential threat to the United States today. The major threat is militant Islamism, but as frightening as it is, it cannot destroy the United States. It can kill large numbers of Americans. Here the Jeffersonian principle becomes more important. There are those who say that if the United States had not supported Israel in the West Bank or India in Kashmir, then militant Islamism would have never been a threat. In other words, if we now, if not in the past, avoided foreign entanglements, then there would be no threat to the United States, and Jefferson's principles would now require disentanglement.

In my opinion the Islamist threat does not arise from any particular relationship the United States has had, nor does it arise from the celebration of the Islamic principles that Islamists hold. Rather, it arises from the general role of the United States as the leading Western country. The idea that the United States could avoid hostility by changing its policies fails to understand that like the dangers in 1800, the threat arises independent of U.S. action.

But militant Islamism does not threaten the United States existentially. Therefore, the issue is how to apply the Jeffersonian principle in this context. In my opinion, the careful application of his principle, considering all the risks and rewards, would tell us the following: It is impossible to completely defeat militant Islamists militarily, but it is possible to mitigate the threat they pose. The process of mitigation carries with it its own risks, particularly as the United States carries out operations that don't destroy militant Islamists but do weaken the geopolitical architecture of the Muslim world -- which is against the interests of the United States. Caution should be exercised that the entanglement doesn't carry risks greater than the reward.

Jefferson was always looking at the main threat. Securing sea-lanes and securing the interior river systems was of overwhelming importance. Other things could be ignored. But the real challenge of the United States is defining the emerging threat and dealing with it decisively. How much misery could have been avoided if Hitler had been destroyed in 1936? Who knew how much misery Hitler would cause in 1936? These thoughts are clear only in hindsight.

Still, the principle is the same. Jefferson wanted to avoid foreign entanglements except in cases where there was substantial benefit to American national interests. He was prepared to apply his principle differently then. The notion of avoiding foreign entanglements must therefore be seen as a principle that, like all well-developed principles, is far more complex than it appears. Foreign entanglements must be avoided when the ends are trivial or unattainable. But when we can get Louisiana, the principle of avoidance dictates involvement.

As in domestic matters, ideology is easy. Principles are difficult. They can be stated succinctly, but they must be applied with all due sophistication.

George Friedman is chairman of Stratfor. Reprinted with permission.

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Six Wars China Is Sure to Fight In the Next 50 Years

IssueNet Edition| Date : 22 Oct , 2013

On July 8, 2013, the pro-PRC Chinese-language newspaper, Wenweipo, published an article titled “中國未來50年裡必打的六場戰爭 (Six Wars China Is Sure to Fight In the Next 50 Years)”.

The anticipated six wars are all irredentist in purpose — the reclaiming of what Chinese believe to be national territories lost since Imperial China was defeated by the Brits in the Opium War of 1840-42. That defeat, in the view of Chinese nationalists, began China’s “Hundred Years of Humiliation.” (See Maria Hsia Chang,Return of the Dragon: China’s Wounded Nationalism. Westview, 2001.

Below is the English translation of the article, from a Hong Kong blog, Midnight Express 2046. (The year 2046 is an allusion to what this blog believes will be the last year of Beijing’s “One County, Two Systems” formula for ruling Hong Kong, and “the last year of brilliance of Hong Kong.”)

Midnight Express 2046 (ME2046) believes this article “is quite a good portrait of modern Chinese imperialism.” What ME2046 omits are:
the original Chinese-language article identifies the source of the article as 中新網 (ChinaNews.com).
The Chinese-language title of the article includes the word bi (), which means “must” or “necessarily” or “surely.” That is why the word “sure” in the English-language title of the article.

September 16, 2013

China is not yet a unified great power. This is a humiliation to the Chinese people, a shame to the children of the Yellow Emperor. For the sake of national unification and dignity, China has to fight six wars in the coming fifty years. Some are regional wars; the others may be total wars. No matter what is the nature, each one of them is inevitable for Chinese unification.
The 1st War: Unification of Taiwan (Year 2020 to 2025)

Though we are enjoying peace on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, we should not daydream a resolution of peaceful unification from Taiwan administration (no matter it is Chinese Nationalist Party or Democratic Progressive Party). Peaceful unification does not fit their interests while running for elections. Their stance is therefore to keep to status quo (which is favourable to the both parties, each of them can get more bargaining chips) For Taiwan, “independence” is just a mouth talk than a formal declaration, while “unification” is just an issue for negotiation than for real action. The current situation of Taiwan is the source of anxiety to China, since everyone can take the chance to bargain more from China.

China must work out a strategy to unify Taiwan within the next ten years, that is, by 2020.

China must work out a strategy to unify Taiwan within the next ten years, that is, by 2020. By then, China will have to send an ultimatum to Taiwan, demanding the Taiwanese to choose the resolution of peaceful unification (the most preferred epilogue for the Chinese) or war (an option forced to be so) by 2025. For the purpose of unification, China has to make preparation three to five years earlier. So when the time comes, the Chinese government must act on either option, to give a final answer to the problem.

From the analysis of the current situation, Taiwan is expected to be defiant towards unification, so military action will be the only solution. This war of unification will be the first war under the sense of modern warfare since the establishment of the “New China”. This war will be a test to the development of the People’s Liberation Army in modern warfare. China may win this war easily, or it may turn out to be a difficult one. All depend on the level of intervention of the U.S. and Japan. If the U.S. and Japan play active roles in aiding Taiwan, or even make offensives into Chinese mainland, the war must become a difficult and prolonged total war. On the other hand, if the U.S. and Japan just watch and see, the Chinese army can easily defeat the Taiwanese. In this case, Taiwan can be under control within three months. Even if the U.S. and Japan step in in this stage, the war can be finished within six months.
The 2nd War: “Reconquest” of Spratly Islands (Year 2025 to 2030)

After unification of Taiwan, China will take a rest for two years. During the period of recovery, China will send the ultimatum to countries surrounding the Islands with the deadline of 2028. The countries having disputes on the sovereignty of Islands can negotiate with China on preserving their shares of investments in these Islands by giving up their territorial claims. If not, once China declares war on them, their investments and economic benefits will be taken over by China.

At this moment, the South East Asian countries are already shivering with Chinese military unification of Taiwan.

At this moment, the South East Asian countries are already shivering with Chinese military unification of Taiwan. On one hand, they will be sitting by the negotiation table, yet they are reluctant to give up their interests in the Islands. Therefore, they will be taking the wait-and-see attitude and keep delaying to make final decision. They will not decide whether to make peace or go into war until China takes any firm actions. The map below shows the situation of territorial claims over the Spratly Islands. (Map omitted)

Besides, the U.S. will not just sit and watch China “reconquesting” the Islands. In the 1stwar mentioned above, the U.S. may be too late to join the war, or simply unable to stop China from reunifying Taiwan. This should be enough to teach the U.S. a lesson not to confront too openly with China. Still, the U.S. will aid those South East Asian countries, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, under the table. Among the countries surrounding the South China Sea, only Vietnam and the Philippines dare to challenge China’s domination. Still, they will think twice before going into war with China, unless they fail on the negotiation table, and are sure they can gain military support from the U.S.

Army Equipping Strategy


The Indian capital defence budget has been growing at a meager percentile plan-on-plan over the past two decades. The tardy progress in defence modernisation, capability building and capacity enhancement is further accentuated by a defence procurement system, which is craving for increased transparency, accountability by decision makers and above all indigenisation. In such present and futuristic scenario there is a need to evolve and implement an efficient equipping strategy for the Indian Army to achieve the three-fold outcome – conserve capability, exploit the inherent stretch potential of the equipment and be seen as economically wise in defence spendings. Such a strategy will aslo need to achieve a balance between effectiveness and affordability. 

An effective equipping strategy must ensure that the force is capable of operating with the right amount, types and modern equipment to meet its mission requirements in combat, training and internal security roles.

Challenges Necessitating an Equipping Strategy

The challenges facing the Indian Army equipping have changed significantly over the past years and the ways in which we equip the force have changed even more significantly. The challenges that dictate an equipping strategy are :-
  • Modernisation and Recapitalisation. The Army constantly needs to manage obsolescence by replacing / recapitalising aging equipment to preserve equipment and also ensure future capabilities. Our equipment inventories will therefore need to be an ideal mix of new, fully modernised equipment and operationally acceptable substitutes.
  • Necessity to Adapt. With the change in the geopolitics of the region as well as global arena, coupled with the advent of advanced technologies there has been a consequent change in our tactics and doctrine. It is thus imperative to enhance equipment capabilities and shun “adhocism” requiring a unique assembly of personnel and equipment.
  • Growth and Accretions. Indian Army equipping norms have been challenged with a growth in equipping requirements for accretions and new raisings. The WETs of units/ formations have been revised atleast two to three times in the past two decades, which has shown enormous increase in the range and depth of inventory. This growth can also be measured in the increased demand for technology and the need to equip soldiers performing decisive, shaping and sustaining operations with the required survivability and lethality to operate in today’s battlefield environment. Further, with no classical “rear areas” in the present battlefield, the soldier’s individual equipment needs to provide a base level of protection and lethality. Further the requirement of accretion forces needs to be factored in to ensure there operational readiness.
  • Equipment Management and Sustenance in a Hostile Operational Environment. The protracted and prolonged engagement of the Indian Army in CI/CT operations and greater demands on LC/LAC/ border management impose greater challenges to equipment management including repair and maintenance. The increased usage of equipment has resulted in enhanced usage rates up to five or more times greater than the rates initially planned for at the time of equipment acquisition.
  • Budgetary Constraints. The emerging reduction in resource availability alongwith constant increase in operational requirements compound the Army’s challenge to equip the force. We therefore must continue to adopt new ways to conserve resources while preserving the decisive edge for combat.

Present System of Equipping Indian Army

The present system of equipping the Indian Army is based on Weapon & Equipment Table (WET) authorisations approved by the Govt for each unit/ formation. All units / formations are required to be operationally ready at all times and thus work out their holdings/ serviceability based on this mother document. The impending/ current tasking/ role has no implications on the equipment required to be held.

Inside 1962 War

IssueNet Edition| Date : 23 Oct , 2013

During 1962 War, India had adequate army brigades in reserve to launch a counter attack in coordination with the Air Force. The Chinese Air Force was weak in comparison and positioned far away without midair refueling capabilities. Across the border, Chinese infrastructure was fragile and the supply lines were long and vulnerable. Their appreciation was correct that in any well-planned counter attack by India, the PLA would be hard-pressed to defend itself, particularly as harsh winters were setting in. The Chinese, therefore, intelligently announced unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal from some areas.

In the last fifty years, the government did not build infrastructure in the Northeast or alternatively provide aerial wherewithal to enhance the mobility of the troops. Chinese, therefore will score goals by over running a fair amount of Indian Territory, simply bypassing major Indian defenses.

These four part videos give complete details about 1962 war and how prepared we are for such eventualities in future. 

A new power triangle

Oct 22, 2013

The relative decline of America’s military, economy and soft power has led to new possibilities for restructuring leadership. Russia, India and China have been grasping at these new horizons.

Two back-to-back diplomatic summits this week between India and Russia, followed by India and China, are manifestations of an altered world order where major non-Western actors are pooling resources and strategies. Although Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are exclusive of each other and bilateral, they play into a broader dynamic of intensifying linkages and coordination that has ushered in a world with multiple power centres.

While the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) formulation has captured attention over the last decade, a parallel “RIC” grouping comprising just Russia, India and China has existed since 1996. RIC was the first front that sparked questioning about the unipolar, US-dominated international system of the post-Cold War years. More explicitly anti-American coalitions like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) arrived after RIC had sown the seeds of a multipolar world.

At the time of its founding, RIC sounded like bravado with no concrete basis to challenge an American-dictated world. But the relative decline of the US military (exemplified by its defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan), the US economy (since the financial crisis of 2008) and US soft power (its form of governance and conduct in world affairs have lost attraction) has thrown open new possibilities for restructuring leadership and steering international affairs. Russia, India and China — each in varying degrees— have been grasping at these new horizons.

Russia, whose economic interdependence with the US and exposure to Western commercial exchanges are the least among the trio of RIC, is the most consistent critic of Washington’s foreign policy. Mr Putin articulated the case for moving on from an American-led dispensation by writing in a much-cited New York Times article that “millions around the world see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force.”

Russia’s forceful diplomacy to avert a direct American military attack on Syria has lent weight to the general sense that the US is no longer the sole arbiter of key international conflicts. Even as Russian economic growth has stumbled lately, the boldness with which

Mr Putin has emerged as a power broker and problem solver has come at the expense of a US whose own economy is in shambles.

Compared to Russia, China is economically enmeshed with the US and hence quieter in its anti-American posturing. However, China makes up for its verbal reticence in frontally attacking the US through other means, viz. aid and energy diplomacy to challenge American influence in Africa and Latin America, and a steady campaign to overthrow the hegemony of the US dollar as the global reserve currency.

Last month, the Chinese Renminbi or Yuan entered the league of the world’s 10 most traded currencies, jumping from number 35 to number nine in the standings in less than one decade. At such a dizzying speed of ascent — provided China liberalises its capital account, issues Yuan-denominated sovereign debt, and universalises trading agreements that are Yuan-based — the Renminbi could rise to number one by 2020.


Manmohan Singh’s foreign policy aides must do much more
Diplomacy: K.P. Nayar

Statesmen too, it would seem, fall in love at first sight. Not in the way regular couples do, but in a metaphorical sense. As when George W. Bush met Vladimir Putin for the first time in June 2001, he “looked the man in the eye, found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy… I was able to get a sense of his soul”.

Or when Margaret Thatcher met Mikhail Gorbachev and said: “I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business together.” Contrary to popular assumption, this remark, which helped shape the free world’s view of Gorbachev, was not made after the then British prime minister met the architect of perestroika as the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to hold that office. Thatcher recalls in her memoirs, The Downing Street Years, that she said this about Gorbachev to journalists after their very first meeting in December 1984, when Konstantin Chernenko was still the unquestioned leader of the CPSU. Gorbachev had gone to Chequers, the prime minister’s country home, at her invitation on his first ever visit to a Western capitalist country as the head of a Soviet parliamentary delegation.

Thatcher’s instant chemistry with Gorbachev may have influenced her wishful thinking then, since “as he took his leave, I hoped that I had been talking to the next Soviet leader”. But it is also a tribute to her perspicacity — indeed, that of British diplomacy even today — that her observation that evening at Chequers came true in the byzantine world of the Kremlin barely three months later when Chernenko abruptly died.

Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, could have similarly hit it off very well at their meeting in New York last month. Circumstances had been tailor-made for such good chemistry but by all accounts their first meeting was a disappointing washout. It was a world away from Singh’s maiden encounter with Pervez Musharraf in September 2004.

The Singh-Musharraf meeting was full of hope notwithstanding the prime minister’s relative lack of experience in foreign affairs at that juncture and in spite of a deep-rooted Indian trust deficit in Musharraf as the architect of Kargil. Hope was in the air because those who worked on such meetings in the prime minister’s office in 2004 had a vision. They worked tirelessly not only to realize that vision but also to put the head of government’s imprint on their vision. There was a freshness about the PMO then which has since evaporated.

This columnist, who was in New York to report on that meeting, has vivid recollections of being told on the background before it started that every little detail had been worked out beforehand between J.N. Dixit and Tariq Aziz, the national security advisers respectively of India and Pakistan. To escape the prying eyes of not only journalists, but even spooks in their midst, Dixit and Aziz had met in Dubai several days earlier to finalize the minute-to-minute engagement between Singh and Musharraf.

After the summit in Roosevelt Hotel, the Pakistan International Airlines-owned watering hole in Manhattan in those days for influential Pakistanis visiting the Big Apple, one very senior adviser to the prime minister told this columnist how Singh sprang it on the rest of his delegation just before the Indian VVIP motorcade left their New York Palace Hotel that he and Musharraf would meet without any aides. Then external affairs minister, Natwar Singh, this adviser recounted with a twinkle in his eye, blurted out that “this cannot be allowed”.

Exploring the Martian methane puzzle

Published: October 23, 2013
N. Gopal Raj
APAbout 10 years ago, various research groups began to report finding methane in Mars’ atmosphere using ground-based telescopes and data from two orbiting probes. File Photo

Should India’s Mars Orbiter provide a positive result, it would revitalise the search for the gas on the Red Planet

At the beginning of next month, India’s first spacecraft for the exploration of another planet, the Mars Orbiter Mission, will blast off from Sriharikota aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).

The spacecraft will escape Earth’s clutches and head for Mars. After travelling 400 million kilometres, it will near its destination in September next year. The probe must then fire an onboard engine to put it into orbit around that planet. A key challenge that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) faces is in making sure that this engine operates as planned after remaining idle for so many months in the icy coldness of space.

If all goes well, the spacecraft will be in an elliptical orbit that takes it to within 400 km of Mars and then sends it swinging out to 80,000 km away. The five instruments it carries can then be switched on.

One such instrument is a sensor specifically tuned to detect methane, a gas that on Earth is largely produced by living organisms, such as bacteria in the stomachs of cows and other hoofed animals.

Telescope observations

About 10 years ago, various research groups began to report finding methane in Mars’ atmosphere using ground-based telescopes and data from two orbiting probes. Considerable excitement and speculation about Martian microbes inevitably ensued. However, as on Earth, methane can also be generated by geochemical processes in which hot rocks interact with water and carbon dioxide.

The telescope observations suggested that plumes of the gas were released on Mars only occasionally from certain locations. A big plume was seen in March 2003 by a team of scientists led by Michael J. Mumma of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the U.S. That plume was estimated to contain about 19,000 tonnes of methane. But by January 2006, the total amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere was only half that amount, suggesting that it was being destroyed rapidly in some fashion. If action by sunlight was the only factor breaking it down, the gas ought to have a lifetime of about 300 years or more.

However, scientists like Kevin Zahnle of the NASA Ames Research Center in the U.S. have been deeply sceptical about the existence of methane on the Red Planet. Dr. Zahnle has questioned the methodology used to detect methane in measurements made with telescopes and satellites. In a paper titled “Is there methane on Mars?” he and two colleagues also argued that variable levels of methane on that planet were physically and chemically implausible. “For methane to vary on short timescales, much else that we thought we knew about atmospheric chemistry and the Martian atmosphere would have to be badly wrong.”

Such doubts appeared justified when results from tests carried out by America’s ‘Curiosity rover,’ which came down safely in the Gale Crater on Mars last August, were published in the journal Science recently. Methane was not detected in six samples of the Martian atmosphere analysed by a sensitive instrument aboard the rover. The upper limit for methane in the atmosphere was put at 1.3 parts per billion by volume, which was far below levels estimated by satellite and telescope observations.

But Dr. Mumma remains undaunted. He had full confidence in the measurements that his group had published, he told this correspondent. Other scientists using different instruments had claimed detection of methane as well. “The Curiosity does not refute those earlier measurements if you accept a short lifetime for methane on Mars.”

‘Border incidents need quicker resolution’

Published: October 23, 2013
Ananth Krishnan

APZhou Gang: ‘What happened in April this year will rarely happen in the future.’ The India-China border at Bumla, Arunachal Pradesh.

The HinduZhou Gang. Photo: A. Roy Chowdhury

An interview with Zhou Gang, former Chinese Ambassador to India

Zhou Gang, who served as China’s Ambassador in New Delhi between 1998 and 2001, is one of the senior-most advisers to the Chinese government on relations with India. A former Ambassador to Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, the retired career diplomat today serves as Special Adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Zhou also sits on the elite Foreign Policy Advisory Group (FPAG), a select body of former diplomats that advises top leaders.

As the only member of the FPAG who specialises on India-China relations, Mr. Zhou is in the unique position of knowing how China’s new leaders, who took over in March, view the future of the relationship. In an interview with Ananth Krishnan conducted over an hour at a Beijing teahouse, Mr. Zhou answered questions about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China, which begins on Wednesday. He discussed prospects of resolving the boundary question, the future of ties under the new Chinese leadership, and why China is yet to back India’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Excerpts.

What are the expectations in Beijing ahead of this week’s visit?

This is the first time since 1954 that we have had two visits by Prime Ministers in one year. Back then, Premier Zhou Enlai travelled to India, followed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru coming to China. Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to your country in May, his first overseas visit after assuming the Prime Ministership, was of great importance, because it shows the new leadership in China values relations with India.

The volume of bilateral trade between our two countries has been reduced to some extent last year, but still registered about $66 billion. India is today one of the biggest markets for Chinese companies for contracting projects. The volume of signed contracts has exceeded $60 billion. This relationship of a new type between two neighbouring countries is extremely positive for stability in our region and in the world as a whole. During the next few days, you will witness the importance Chinese leaders attach to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

If you look at China’s periphery, you are currently involved in territorial and maritime disputes in the east with Japan, in the south with more than 10 countries over the South China Sea, and in the southwest with India. Some have seen the recent disputes as reflecting a newly assertive China.

As far as the China-India border dispute is concerned, it was left over by history. Our two countries have conducted talks on the border issue starting from the 1960s. We continued in the late 1970s in different forums. I think both of us are of the view that it is important to address the border issue. The final settlement of the boundary issue will greatly promote bilateral relations.

A development index with missing links

Published: October 22, 2013
Aseem PrakashYugank Goyal

By banking heavily on a technocratic understanding of policy processes, the Raghuram Rajan committee on Central fund allocation to States fails to counter the real problems that affect equitable development

The Raghuram Rajan Committee has released its report on “Evolving a Composite Index of States,” based on which the Centre should allocate funds to the States. It recommends that “8.4% of funds will be allocated as a fixed basic allocation. Of the remaining 91.6%, /th and /th of the funds should be allocated on the basis of need and performance respectively.” Need has to be captured through constructing an index of (under) development with the help of 10 variables — monthly per capita consumption expenditure, education, health, household amenities, poverty rate, female literacy, SC-ST population, urbanisation rate, financial inclusion, and connectivity. Most crucially, the report recommends that 25 per cent of the funds should be linked to performance — recognition for effective governance and efficient use of resources. Further, the formula rewards underdeveloped States more for an improvement in the index so that these States do not to lose on allocations as they develop.

Understanding social dynamics

The report, despite advocating multidimensionality (hitherto missing in formulae governing Central assistance to the States) is still embedded in the linear and technocratic understanding of policy processes. It is assumed that input A will result in desired output B. It ignores the fact that input and output is mediated by a “black box” where the policies are captured by the entrenched social groups and in the process alter their intended objective, often beyond recognition. If the policies have to perform better, then the aim should be to understand the social dynamics governing this black box. Can the suggested framework of the report achieve this?

The report invokes two crucial concepts — “absorption capacity” and “performance.” Absorption capacity, the report mentions, is the presence of “administrative and taxation institutions to raise resources,” and better governance capacity to use the resources, and is reflected in “better law and order conditions, business-friendly tax and labour laws, an effective legal and regulatory framework, transparent and well-enforced property rights, sound monetary and fiscal frameworks, etc.” It concludes that without sufficient absorptive capacity, allocated resources will be misutilised and States will eventually fail to claim funds contingent on performance.

This causal relationship drawn between “absorption capacity” and “performance” by the report, we argue, is an erroneous understanding of democracy and the democratic state, for two specific reasons.

First, performance is not only an outcome but also a process. The failure to recognise, quantify and index the socio-political processes affecting policy outcomes results in the conversion of what ought to be process variable into an outcome variable. All the “need-based” indicators of the under development index will acquire their values on the basis of the nature of absorption capacity. Hence, States with poor absorption capacity will not only be poor performers but also hugely inept in utilising the Centre’s funds.

Yet, the report relies entirely on outcome variables and talks little of how process variables could be incorporated in the ranking. For instance, the report may capture “health” statistically, but will fail to understand how many Dalits and Muslims visit public health centres. Or for that matter, it is easy to view education through the lens of access and dropout ratio, but more difficult and yet, more important to investigate its inclusiveness and quality. The layers of processes mask the real problems at hand. And it is these layers that the report does little to identify.

Getting the IITs back on top

Published: October 22, 2013 
Philip G. Altbach

Photo: The HinduLosing vision and mission: The numerous factors that made the IITs excellent are being whittled away. The picture is of IIT Delhi. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

India’s premier institutes of technology are losing their academic edge because of unplanned expansion and excessive politics

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) figure prominently among Indian higher education institutions known outside the country. They are internationally respected for the quality of their graduates and for the quality of their teaching. The IITs may be the most selective schools in the world, with more than 500,000 students taking the entrance exams each year. Yet, the IITs have been in trouble for some time, and recent comments by Ved Prakash, the chairman of the University Grants Commission certainly do not help their cause. Mr. Prakash called the IITs “glorified engineering colleges” and argued that traditional universities should be the main beneficiaries of funding.

Standing apart

Why have the IITs been so successful over a half century? They are elite institutions — attracting top faculty members committed to the best-quality teaching and with some focus on research. The faculty knew that their students would be the cream of the crop and that meritocracy would be the hallmark of the “IIT ethos.” They were attracted not by high salaries but by an idea that top, international quality higher education in technology and engineering can succeed in India. The country needs some elite institutions if India is to compete globally. IIT governance has traditionally been less bureaucratic than in other Indian universities — academic staff have had more power to influence key decisions and politics has been generally absent from campus life. In other words, the IITs have been more like the best universities worldwide, and are unlike the mainstream Indian academic institutions. Without question, good governance is central to the success of academic institutions everywhere — and Indian universities, steeped in bureaucracy, have not been noted for effective campus governance

One of the main reasons that the IITs and, later, the Indian Institutes of Management were established was precisely because the traditional universities could not be reformed. Bureaucracy, politics, a dispersion of academic authority, and other factors prevented this. Unfortunately, the situation has not changed over the past half century. While some of the traditional universities have good quality departments and some of the colleges are outstanding, the institutions themselves seem impervious to change.

The ASI is singing in the wind

Published: October 22
A. Srivathsan

PTI"Fool’s gold?": The ASI has fuelled doubts by failing to disclose in full the objectives of the excavation and the reasons for taking it up in a hurried manner. The picture is of the Raja Ram Baksh Singh fort.

With its gold quest at Unnao, the premier archaeological agency has risked its credibility and raised serious professional and procedural questions on excavations

The Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) decision to excavate Raja Ram Baksh Singh’s fort in Daundia Kheda, Uttar Pradesh, to unearth 1,000 tonnes of hidden gold has undermined the credibility of this premier institution. To excavate a site based on the “dreams” of a priest and thin geological evidence, has raised serious professional and procedural questions. The ASI, in its defence, citing Seventh and 19th century texts, has explained that the site is important. However, by failing to disclose in full the objectives of the excavation and the reasons for taking it up in a hurried manner, it has fuelled more doubts.

A serious pursuit

Discovering large amounts of gold and other precious objects is a recurring feature in archaeology. In 2009, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver objects was discovered in Straffordshire, U.K. when an amateur antiquities enthusiast, using a metal detector, hit upon gold objects buried below farmland. After he alerted the archaeologists, a well planned excavation followed. This eventually led to the discovery of 3,500 numbers of gold and silver objects. In 2012, in Gessel district in Germany, 117 gold artefacts were found wrapped in a cloth while laying a gas pipeline. This serendipitous discovery turned into an archaeologist’s treat when carefully studied. Even as recent as September, Israeli archaeologists discovered more than 30 gold coins in Jerusalem near the Temple Mount. In India too there are many instances of finding gold hoards and objects. Such discoveries either happened during a properly planned excavation or they were chanced upon which then led to a detailed investigation. There has not been an instance so far where treasure hunting was taken as the objective of committed research.

Potsherd and precious metal both have equal, evidentiary value to a professional and excavation is a serious pursuit. The central government through the ASI strictly regulates it. The State departments of archaeology, universities and branches of the ASI have to obtain permission before excavating. Every year, the ASI calls for applications for excavations; for the field season 2013-14, July 31 was the cut-off date. Interested institutions apply for permission and submit a comprehensive report of the proposal that gives an overview of the site, objectives and plan of the excavation. The standing committee of the Central Advisory Board of Archaeology (CABA), constituted to promote archaeological research, reviews the application and recommends permission. Such procedures ensure that only competent persons carry out field work, and the excavation is scientifically executed and accurately recorded.

Learn to keep your friends close

Published: October 21, 2013
Dayan Jayatilleka

The Hindu ArchivesThe Optics: If India stays away from the summit, the Sri Lankan establishment may come to believe it is better served by aligning along the Islamabad-Beijing axis, just as D.S. Senanayake (centre) sided with the West to keep Nehru at arm’s-length. A file picture of the two leaders in Colombo.

If it boycotts the CHOGM summit, New Delhi will alienate Sri Lanka and erode the progress it has made in nudging Colombo to devolve more powers to the Northern Province

Were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to stay away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit in Colombo next month, it would not only be perceived as a snub by Sri Lanka but would damage Delhi’s soft-power projection in its own environs and prove deleterious to India’s interests.

India has just scored a singular achievement in reactivating the Northern Provincial Council. That should have been sufficient for New Delhi to face down pressure from Tamil Nadu vis-à-vis attendance by its leader at CHOGM.

If it is unable to do so, it will also reduce India’s capacity to nudge Colombo forward on the delivery of devolution — the preponderant view in Sri Lanka would then be that even the riskiest move such as the holding of Northern elections and the installation of an administration critical of the State in the strategically sensitive North does not earn even so much as the attendance of the Indian Prime Minister at CHOGM. The conclusion would be that there is little to be gained by moving forward on the issue of devolution that is of significance to India. This in turn may prompt the Sri Lankan government to believe the re-establishment of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) is as far as Colombo should go and good as it is going to get.

Image perception

Then again, there is the optics of absenting oneself from an event in one’s neighbourhood which will be attended by other neighbours including one’s critics. This would reinforce a negative vision of India as a power that is deficient in good neighbourly custom and sentiment, insensitive to the hurt pride of small neighbours, but at the same time is weak enough to have its external relations shaped if not determined by sub-regional pressure.

It is unrealistic to assume that New Delhi would ignore the feelings in a State of 70 million people especially in an election season. Nevertheless, it is perfectly possible to balance those sentiments with those of a neighbouring state and the overwhelming majority of its people, by pointing to the holding of the elections in the North and the reconstitution after a quarter of a century, of that important sub-state unit in which the Tamil minority constitutes a majority.

‘Mars is part of India’s space vision’


ISROK. Radhakrishnan: ‘For the common man or student, it is a matter of pride that our country can do such a complex mission.’ The Mars Orbiter undergoing checks at the ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore.

The HinduK. Radhakrishnan. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

In a few days from now, India may take its first and longest planetary leap to circle and peer at Mars, and join a premier club habited only by Russia, the U.S. and Europe. K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), highlights the significance of the Mars Orbiter Mission and the trials of its short conception in an interview with The Hindu.

Does India need a Mars mission at all? At Rs. 450 crore, it has been criticised by some as a wasteful, rushed, "me-too" venture. Your predecessor G. Madhavan Nair has faulted it for its using the smaller PSLV launcher, for the scope of its experiments and even for the orbit around Mars, among others.

The Moon, Mars and the Sun were part of our country’s long-term space vision as laid out by the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences. Scientifically and technologically, we cannot afford to miss such missions. We have a three-pronged space programme, of satellites, launch vehicles and scientific and planetary explorations in that order, all of which are equally important. Like the fingers on your hand, you need them all.

If you look at the overall priorities and expenditure of the Indian space programme, our thrust areas of societal applications through communication, remote-sensing and navigation satellites have all been given due consideration.

India Caves to China on Border Dispute

By Ankit Panda
October 22, 2013

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known for his soft-spoken manner and propensity for understatement. One recent example is his observation, made ahead of his visit to China this week, that “India and China have historical issues and there are areas of concern.”

Among the historical issues Singh was referring to are the three major military incidents between China and India: the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the 1967 Chola Incident, and a 1987 skirmish. In 2013, the two came close to adding a fourth to this list when a PLA platoon was found to have set up camp 30 km south of Daulat Beg Oldi, in Ladakh, near Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is perceived by India as an inextricable part of Jammu and Kashmir, and by China as a strategically vital bridge between Xinjiang and Tibet.

China and India had signed agreements in the 1990s to establish a modus vivendi on the border in the form of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC). The 1993 agreement included a statement that "No activities of either side shall overstep the line of actual control.” Since then, India has claimed that Chinese troops have conducted several hundred illegal patrols south of the LoAC every year, but because the PLA troops have always eventually withdrawn to the Chinese side of the LoAC, a major bilateral crisis has been averted.

Singh also referenced the incident from April of this year when he mentioned the “areas of concern” between India and China. India’s defeat at the hands of China in 1962 remains a painful memory for many strategic thinkers in India, and the April 2013 incident played out in a way that poured salt into old wounds.

This was particularly true given that the Indian Army has long viewed Daulat Beg Oldi, which is located at the nexus of Indian Ladakh and Uyghuristan, as a strategically important piece of territory. Therefore, when the Indo-Tibetan Border Police discovered the Chinese platoon camp there in mid-April, the Indian government perceived it as a very serious violation of the LoAC.

India attempted to avoid escalation by instructing the army to practice absolute restraint in approaching the Chinese platoon. Consequentially, no weapons were discharged and India attempted to negotiate China’s withdrawal diplomatically. Over the three weeks, however, China reportedly increased its military presence in Aksai Chin in order to intimidate Delhi.

When asked by India Today if Delhi’s response to the Chinese incursion was too timid, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid responded: "The response should not be seen as timid or robust or whether it is proportional. This (incursion) is adverse to our interests. The fact that they happen to be where we don't want them to be is established. We don't wish them to be there.”

Ultimately, despite his best diplomatic efforts, Khurshid was unable to merely “wish” the Chinese away. The Chinese platoon withdrew only when the Indian government acquiesced to Chinese demands to destroy live in bunkers in the Chumar sector. Throughout the entire incident China denied India’s charge that the PLA had camped out in “India proper” as delineated by the LoAC; it maintained that it had never crossed into Indian territory.

After the revelations, the reverberations

Published: October 23, 2013
Julian Borger

APBrazil has meanwhile made itself a rallying point for global opposition to the long reach of U.S. electronic espionage, after it emerged that the NSA had bugged President Dilma Rousseff and her aides, and targeted the country’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. File Photo

America and Britain are losing ‘soft power’ in the controversy over intelligence agencies

French outrage at the scale of NSA espionage is the latest in a series of aftershocks around the world triggered by Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. and British espionage that have shaken relations with their allies and partners.

However, in France as in other cases, distinguishing short-term embarrassment from long-term damage is complicated. Much of the backlash has been rhetorical, often from countries with well-developed electronic intelligence capabilities of their own, without immediate concrete consequences for political and economic ties.

But there are prominent exceptions to the general rule, and in many ways the knock-on effects for trade and investment relationships, in Europe and beyond, are only now beginning to make themselves felt. Long-stalled European privacy legislation has been dusted off in the wake of revelations by Snowden — a former NSA contractor now living under temporary asylum in Russia — about the bulk collection of the private phone and Internet communications of European consumers, and the targeting of EU missions in New York and Washington for surveillance.

Brazilian pivot

Brazil has meanwhile made itself a rallying point for global opposition to the long reach of U.S. electronic espionage, after it emerged that the NSA had bugged President Dilma Rousseff and her aides, and targeted the country’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. Ms Rousseff put off a trip to Washington and delivered a stinging denunciation of US surveillance from the podium of the U.N. General Assembly in New York recently.

While the economic and security fallout from the Snowden spy scandal has yet to crystallise fully, there is no little doubt that the U.S. and Britain’s soft power, their ability to build alliances on the claim of moral leadership for example, have suffered a tangible blow.

The initial European reaction to the exposure of the U.S. Prism and the British Tempora programmes was muted.

With Prism, the NSA had a window on the everyday Internet communications of millions of users of the world’s biggest email and social media service providers. The Tempora programme, meanwhile, allowed Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to tap directly into the backbone of the global Internet infrastructure, the trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables, scooping up phone and Internet data of much of the world, including millions of Europeans.

Data protection

European leaders like Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel voiced displeasure and unease, but let the matter drop. The German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, said he accepted U.S. assurances the spy programmes would not affect ordinary citizens.

In the European parliament, however, the revelations lit a slow-burning fire. After two years on the shelf, new regulations on European data protection standards have been revived that could impose multibillion-dollar fines on U.S. Internet providers if they transfer European data abroad in contravention to European law, which is far stronger on privacy than its U.S. counterpart.