26 October 2013

Africa's New Map ***

There is a new scramble for Africa. Roads, railways and pipelines are being built or envisioned into the interior of central Africa from multiple directions. Africa's geographic tragedy through the ages has been its isolation, which has been among the main causes of its poverty. Despite possessing a long coastline, Africa has relatively few natural deep-water harbors. Its great rivers are generally not navigable from the interior to the various seaboards. The Sahara Desert has acted as a barrier to human contact with the great Eurasian civilizations. Of course, electronic communications in recent decades have worked to dilute such isolation. But these new pathways may promise a further, pivotal leap in terms of connecting Africa to the outer world.

Looking at a map of Africa with these new and projected pathways highlighted, one sees two major networks into the interior -- from southern Africa and from East Africa -- and two minor ones from West Africa and from the Horn of Africa.

Three proposed routes into the interior originate in Angola alone, leading mainly toward the southern edges of the immense forest and jungle of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Angolans, flush with offshore oil wealth and feeling secure enough in their domestic control following a 25-year civil war, are a rare example on the continent of intent and capability to extend their economic reach. They are initiating these plans themselves, and Luanda will pay the Asians for their technical expertise rather than barter for it, as most other African governments would do. The goal is to extract diamonds, copper and other precious commodities, which along the southern edges of the Congo have not been properly mined or explored to their full potential.

South Africa plans a complex network of routes from the Indian Ocean northwest and north into Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, culminating, again, at southern outposts in the Congo. The South Africans are after gold, diamonds, copper and coal. In this sense, the black-dominated African National Congress has the same geopolitical imperative as the former white Afrikaner regime. Mining, which began in the late 1800s in South Africa, created the modern South African state. Indeed, the discovery of gold and diamonds and the blessing of a temperate climate with several natural deep-water harbors set South Africa on a unique geopolitical trajectory, empowering it to become the continent's economic hegemon. The present goal is to reach stranded mineral resources and create a zone of South African economic and political influence throughout southern Africa, with the potential to expand farther north into the continent later.

The envisioned transport and pipeline network along the Indian Ocean in East Africa goes from both the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts westward to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, and a spur line could run north from the Ugandan capital of Kampala to the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Ethiopia is reinforcing its rail connectivity to the Indian Ocean at Djibouti, and may eventually extend other links to South Sudan and Kenya. In the East African cases, unlike with the Angolans and South Africans, the financing, the impetus and the know-how must come from the Chinese and, to a lesser extent, the Japanese. These Asian countries have a hunger for African copper and cobalt, rare earths and other minerals from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and hydrocarbons from South Sudan.

These are not entirely new networks, given that the Chinese in the 1970s built a railway into the Copperbelt of Zambia and the southern edge of the Congo (and the Germans, British and Portuguese during colonialism built limited rail networks in their respective colonies of Tanganyika, Kenya and Angola). Now the Chinese want to build a deep-water port in Bagamoyo and the Japanese want to do likewise in Dar es Salaam: Both ports are in Tanzania, with new pathways westward into the interior of Central Africa in each case. The Kenyans have been trying to interest the Chinese in building a port and transport links from Lamu on the Kenyan coast northwestward all the way into the oil fields of South Sudan, but so far at least the Chinese have held back from making a serious commitment. Beijing is sensitive to the consequences of empowering South Sudan with a pipeline independent of Sudan, and prefers instead to ensure that Juba and Khartoum remain co-dependent and thus peaceful in their economic conduct, avoiding any additional costs for crude extraction.

*** Mackinder versus Mahan: How will the dice roll?

ISSSP Reflections No. 5, October 21, 2013
Author: Ms. Aditi Malhotra

With the government’s long awaited approval of the Mountain Strike Corps, an interesting debate within the strategic community has sprung up showcasing the Mahan-Mackinder divide in the context of India’s China Policy. The debate was initiated by Rear Admiral Raja Menon’s opinion piece in The Hindu which argued that India’s weakness on the LAC can be balanced by further strengthening its relative edge in the naval domain. Expressing his skepticism on the efficacy of the option of establishing a strike corps in handling the Chinese threat, he avers that China’s weaknesses in the Indian Ocean could be exploited by Indian Navy (IN) with the investment to the tune of Rs. 60,000 crore by strengthening its Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) interdiction capability. This stand continues to be debated by numerous other commentators and scholars. 

Menon champions the idea of establishing a strong blue-water navy to effectively choke SLOCs that would have an adverse impact on China, to an extent that these events hamper China’s moves on the LAC. It is without doubt that such a capability is of utmost importance to India. However, projection of the argument as a zero-sum game between the Army and Navy is discomforting. Prudence in decision-making would always point towards a multi-pronged strategic approach to address a security challenge as opposed to adopting a unidirectional prescription.

Many commentators have offered varied counter-responses. Zorawar Singh highlightsthe practical problems associated with the idea of deterring China by strangling SLOCs. He states:

Beijing must value the integrity of its SLOCs enough to change its calculus on the mountains. Naval blockades are also complicated operations. The time horizon for success to the point that China would find its resource security threatened would be significantly longer than a swift and limited, continental operation whether pursued for punitive reasons or to change the Line of Actual Control… Further, China’s pursuit of new Eurasian lines of communication, both with growing energy linkages with Russia and connectivity through Central Asia, indicate a potential, declining dependence on Indian Ocean SLOCs at least for some strategic resources. Plainly put, a core interest cannot be secured by peripheral, horizontal escalation. 

Adopting a similar line of argument, Bharat Karnad points out that “sinking few Chinese warships is unlikely to “recompense” for the loss of territory along the LAC.” Another problem associated with the idea of taking a purely naval solution is the possible skepticism of the Indian government about ‘when’ and ‘at what stage’ to actually activate its naval strategy. 

India and China share a territorial problem and not particularly a naval one. It is not possible for a quick assault by the PLA to be greatly affected by the IN at the initial stages when China could occupy maximum territory. At this juncture, one can also not overlook India’s trend of strategic restraint which would have a crucial impact on the IN’s role at various stages of any war between India and China. The Indian government is also not likely to open a naval front to handle a border issue till the situation escalates unprecedentedly. It can thus be surmised, that New Delhi would exercise this option only when the conflict reaches a level where India has suffered massive losses, thereby compelling New Delhi to extend the land conflict to the naval domain. Even if the IN is given a ‘go ahead’, it would require few days to be fully prepared for action; meanwhile the PLA could have achieved its military objectives. 

Analysts such as Abhijit Singh have extended the debate further by focusing on Mahan vs. Mackinder debate. Singh effectively points out the folly inherent in both schools of thought but it would be worthwhile to dig deeper and revisit some Corbettian prescriptions that bring forth a sense of much-needed moderation and balance to the debate. The principles of maritime warfare as proffered by Julian Corbett also highlight some lacunas in the original argument. 

Pragati Archive for October, 2013

GUEST | October 25, 2013

Why should an NRI become the least relevant of all Indians? Diaspora: the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland We...

PUBLIC AFFAIRS | October 25, 2013

The UPA government should push for the EU-India FTA with the same purposiveness it displayed on the civil nuclear agreement with the US and permitting FDI in multi-brand...

ACTING PRICEY | October 25, 2013

Have we tamed the animal that is the rupee-dollar exchange rate? The arrival of a new RBI governor seems to have clicked with the markets – stocks are up to near-all-time-highs,...

BOOKS, GUEST | October 25, 2013

A review of Neville Bolt’s The Violent Image. Insurgency is as old man’s first effort at organised government in the ancient river valleys of the Near East and...

Sen. Carl Levin says no U.S. aid to Afghanistan until BSA is signed

By Bailey Cahall, Emily Schneider
October 25, 2013 

Bonus read: "Did Obama keep his drone promises?," Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland (CNN). 

Conditional aid 

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday and told him that the United States will not be able to provide any financial assistance to Afghanistan until the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the two countries is signed (Pajhwok). Levin, who is in the country for a week-long trip, added that he was struck by all of the positive changes he's seen in Afghanistan since he first started visiting about 12 years ago and that continued international aid was warranted to maintain the country's progress. 

Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, Afghanistan's defense minister, told reporters at a news conference in Berlin on Thursday that he's optimistic that the Loya Jirga (grand assembly) will approve the BSA when it meets next month (Pajhwok). The jirga will review the agreement, which will determine the size and scope of the U.S. mission post 2014, and determine whether or not it should be signed. Among the many issues they will consider is the one of jurisdiction - whether U.S. troops who remain in the country and are accused of crimes will be immune from Afghan law or not. 

Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaint Commission (IECC) announced on Thursday that it had received 313 complaints challenging the initial list of presidential and provincial council candidates, the vast majority of which had been filed by Kabul residents and disqualified candidates (Pajhwok). While the IECC did not say how it was going to address these complaints, rejected presidential candidates gave the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) 48 hours to explain why they had been disqualified from running (Pajhwok). The former candidates, who have formed a union of sorts, said their documents should be vetted by the IEC with their representatives present. They also said that if their concerns were not addressed, a "future line of action" would be announced. 

Intelligence operatives with Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security detained 21 children in Laghman province on Wednesday who were allegedly being taken to Pakistan to receive suicide attack training (Pajhwok). According to Nasrullah Nasrat, the agency's provincial spokesman, the children - aged between 7 and 12 - were picked up from various places in Nuristan province, and then moved through Laghman. 

"Totally absurd"

Responding to a Washington Post report that said CIA documents showed coordination between the United States and Pakistan on the U.S. drone program, former Pakistani prime minster Yousuf Raza Gilani said it was "totally absurd" to suggest that his government had condoned US drone strikes inside his country (AP, Dawn, Post). Gilani, who was in office from 2008 to 2012, added that: "During my government, there was no such support given to drone strikes whatsoever." He also claimed that the permission for the strikes had been given before his tenure, a reference to former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf. 

The Future of Cooperation between the United States and Pakistan

By Sadika Hameed
Oct 25, 2013

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan has been redefined repeatedly since Pakistan’s independence in 1947. It will continue to be strained by mutual distrust, internal threats to Pakistan’s stability, Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and militants, and the U.S. role in Afghanistan beyond 2014. But there is a growing recognition that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is one of mutual necessity—“transactional” rather than “strategic.” This pragmatic recognition, along with recent developments (such as the peaceful transfer of power between elected civilian governments, the military’s declining prestige, and the political establishment’s growing willingness to engage constructively with India) and ongoing pressures (such as Pakistan’s youth bulge and energy crisis), give the United States and Pakistan a chance to focus on areas where cooperation is actually possible: civilian aid, trade relations, and support to Pakistan’s private sector. The author based these findings on interviews and rountables involving more than 220 officials and experts during a two-month field visit in Pakistan in late 2012.

Publisher CSIS/Rowman & Littlefield
ISBN 978-1-4422-2535-0 (pb); 978-1-4422-2536-7 (eBook)

Seeking a New Relationship With Pakistan

Published: October 24, 2013

After so many years of animosity between Pakistan and the United States, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Obama used their first meeting at the White House this week to begin to set the relationship on a more constructive path.

For Op-Ed, follow @nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow @andyrNYT.

Mr. Sharif, who was elected in May, is stronger politically than his predecessor, and the absence of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, and probably the most powerful man in Pakistan, was one of the most hopeful aspects of the meeting. It shows that Mr. Sharif may be making some progress asserting civilian control over a government long dominated by the military.

It was also significant that Mr. Sharif brought along the finance minister, Ishaq Dar, underscoring his focus on reviving Pakistan’s devastated economy. Of course, it is not just the emphasis on development, foreign investment and trade that impressed his American hosts. Mr. Sharif has also acknowledged that there will be no economic growth without security, and there will be no security unless Afghanistan is at peace and Pakistan’s relations with India are improved.

The issue is what he will do to advance those goals. Mr. Sharif has held separate talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India. But at a time of uncertainty — Afghanistan and India are both facing elections and American troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan — Pakistan needs to do more to improve regional stability. This should include cracking down on the Afghan Taliban, who have links to the Pakistani military and use the lawless border region to attack Afghanistan, and working with India to end cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir.

American drone strikes against insurgent targets in the border region remain a source of tension, and Mr. Sharif made the obligatory request that Mr. Obama halt them. But Pakistani officials have acquiesced to the attacks in order to deal with their own virulent Pakistani Taliban insurgency. Concerns raised by international nongovernmental groups about civilians killed by drones should cause both governments to limit the program.

The United States enlisted Pakistan as an ally in the antiterror fight after Sept. 11, 2001, and provided it with billions of dollars, mostly in military aid. But the Pakistani military has long played a double-game, accepting that money while also enabling Taliban groups; relations with Washington plummeted to their lowest point in 2011 after several incidents, including the Navy SEAL team raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Pakistan remains a dangerous country in a region with the world’s fastest-growing nuclear weapons program. Over the past decade, the distrust between the United States and Pakistan has grown so deep that the Obama administration reportedly stepped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Mr. Obama’s decision to meet with Mr. Sharif, free up $1.5 billion in aid that had been put on hold and offer assistance on energy and public works projects shows he has confidence that Mr. Sharif is committed to building a democratic state. It is in the interest of both countries that Mr. Sharif succeeds.

Why America Needs Japan More than Ever

October 25, 2013

President Barack Obama's abrupt decision to cancel his visit to Asia and skip the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, letting China's new president, Xi Jinping, dominate the proceedings, is reverberating unpleasantly in an area of the world where symbols are often more important than substance. The President's absence from the Bali summit, where seventeen nations totaling 3 billion people were represented, was interpreted by many in the Asian press as a metaphor for an America that is decreasing its presence in Asia, and ceding leadership to China.

China's leadership, of course, will seek to propagate this notion to its advantage. To be sure, the United States may be pressed for resources, our economy still hobbled by the lingering effects of the 2008 economic crisis and our military power may be stretched thin by a decade of war and fiscal pressure, but there is still an affordable and realistic path forward for bolstering Asian security. It centers around the revitalization of Japan.

For quite a long spell now, Japan has been the sick man of Asia. In 1991, when its stock and real estate bubble burst, the Japanese economy went from miracle to morass almost overnight. An average GDP growth rate that had been 10 percent in the 1960s and 5 percent in the 1970s, fell to approximately zero and froze at that level for twenty years. Those lost decades were accompanied by a slow-motion demographic implosion, with Japan's population both shrinking and aging simultaneously. The 2011 tsunami came as if a final blow, causing widespread destruction and massive loss of life; but it was not a final blow. For the Fukushima nuclear power station, catastrophically damaged by the tsunami, continues to spew radioactive poison, and threatens to spew more, with crippling political effects on an energy source in which Japan had invested heavily.

The picture could not have appeared to be bleaker. Yet, Japan is by no means finished. Modern democracies possess a remarkable degree of resilience and in Japan we are seeing unexpected signs of a comeback.

Some of the evidence for the comeback is visible in the shifting relationship between its domestic politics and economics. In Shinzo Abe, Japan's youngest prime minister since World War II, the country finally has a leader with the political standing to take effective action to reinvigorate the economy. The package of measures known as Abenomics -- including especially letting the Yen depreciate by 20 percent since November -- has already begun to have a positive effect on economic growth. Over the next two to three years, Japan's GDP is expected to grow by 1 or perhaps 2 percent. Those numbers may sound modest, but compared to the stagnation of recent decades they represent significant progress.

Inside the Ring: Here come the drones

The Washington Times
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

China is preparing its military to conduct warfare with offensive and defensive spying and attack drones, according to a Chinese colonel.

Sr. Col. Wu Guohui disclosed “secrets” about China’s plans for unmanned aircraft conflict last week with the state-run People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

Col. Wu, an assistant professor at China’s National Defense University and an air force special class aviator, said drones will become a “major force” in future air combat, according to the Oct. 17 report.

He stated that countering offensive and defensive unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations is becoming a new form of air warfare. The colonel said Chinese J-7 fighters recently shot down two encroaching, high-altitude reconnaissance drones flying at an altitude of about 59,000 feet. He did not elaborate.

The U.S. Air Force operates RQ-4 Global Hawk long-range reconnaissance drones that are known to be spying on China.

Chinese drone operations involve both preset flight patterns and remotely piloted drones, Col. Wu said.

“The latter mode is new, and it gives a UAV offensive and defensive capabilities, and it brings up the possibility of ‘counter-UAV combat operations’ — cutting, jamming, even implanting something to control its link,” the People's Daily said.

Preparing for drone warfare is a priority for air combat, Col. Wu said.

The report stated that Iran’s downing of a U.S. stealth RQ-170 drone in 2011 “showed clearly that Iran knows how to take over that UAV’s control link” and land the aircraft.

Some U.S. officials suspect China assisted Iran with the capture of the RQ-170.

Col. Wu said drone warfare is shifting from purely reconnaissance missions to integrated reconnaissance and attack.

Last month, Chinese state television introduced China’s “Rainbow” series of drone aircraft during a Beijing International Air Show.

China’s Rainbow series UAVs have become bigger and bigger in size, heavier and heavier in takeoff weight, and more and more complete in model and spectrum,” China’s CCTV said in a Sept. 28 report.

“In terms of application, China’s UAVs have formed a relatively complete system, developing from various reconnaissance and surveillance functions to a reconnaissance-strike integrated function.”

Shi Wen of the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, which developed the new drone, said Rainbow-3s and Rainbow 4s are equal to U.S. Predator UAVs.

The Rainbow-3A is fitted with two AR-1 anti-tank missiles.

China is building 11 bases for drones along its coastline and recently flew drones over the disputed Senkaku Islands. Japan has threatened to shoot down drones that fly over the small islets owned by Tokyo but claimed by China.


Iranian state media this week reported that Tehran supplied Russia with a copy of a U.S. military drone, and a U.S. contractor revealed to Inside the Ring that the drone was likely stolen from a U.S. supply convoy in Afghanistan last year.

According to the contractor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the deal between Afghan smugglers and Iran's Qods Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guards, took place in the summer of 2012 in Afghanistan and was worth more than $1 million.

Iran’s state-run Fars News agency reported Monday that the Iranian military supplied Russia with a copy of a U.S. ScanEagle drone that reportedly was captured and disassembled by Iran in 2012.

The ScanEagle is a small drone launched from the ground or by ship launchers that provides video images used in military operations.

Fars said the drone has been reverse engineered and that one of the remotely piloted aircraft was given to Moscow as a “gift.” The transfer was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

Why Karzai Doesn't Trust America

October 24, 2013

For the moment at least, Secretary of State John F. Kerry appears to have patched up the fraying relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments that just two weeks ago appeared to be at the point of rupture. Flying into Kabul on a previously unannounced visit and engaging in what the New York Times describes as “nearly 24 hours of talks and meetings” with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Kerry revived the floundering negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that will provide for a limited but long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan following the end of the NATO combat mission in December 2014.

The security pact, which must be reviewed by a loya jirga (an assembly of some 3,000 Afghan tribal elders) and then approved by parliament, could even now unravel over the still-unresolved issue of whether remaining U.S. troops will enjoy the airtight legal protections that Washington is insisting on. But if the agreement holds, it would represent a striking feat for Mr. Kerry, who is rapidly emerging as a more consequential figure than his predecessor.

It also promises to bring some stability to a wartime alliance that has long pulsed with mistrust and suspicion. The acrimony regularly leads Karzai, once seen as America’s hand-picked partner in Kabul, to denounce the Western military presence in Afghanistan as a foreign occupation. Three years ago, he accused the West of meddling in the country’s internal affairs and bizarrely threatened to join forces with the Taliban forces that NATO and his regime were supposedly united in opposing. That particular outburst caused the White House to warn that it was thinking of retracting Karzai’s invitation to meet Mr. Obama in Washington.

During another quarrel a year later, he gratuitously vowed to come to Islamabad’s aid in the event the U.S. attacked Pakistan. And his excoriations of Washington were so vehement earlier this year that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan worried that they would stoke attacks on Western troops by rogue Afghan soldiers or even presage assaults on NATO installations by Afghan army units.

The accumulating animus had gotten so bad that it threatened to derail the security-pact negotiations. Two weeks ago, Karzai gave a stinging interview to the BBC, in which he charged that the U.S.-led military effort had “caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering” and suggested that NATO combat forces were welcome to leave.

For its part, the Obama administration was signaling that it would be happy to oblige. Earlier this year, it put out word that Mr. Obama may not keep any troops at all in Afghanistan after 2014. And following the BBC interview, the Washington Post reported that:

“the White House appears increasingly willing to abandon plans for a long-term, costly partnership with Afghanistan. Despite the Pentagon’s pleas for patience, much of the rest of the administration is fed up with Karzai and sees Afghanistan as a fading priority amid far more ominous threats elsewhere in the world.”

The frustration in Washington with Karzai’s antics is more than understandable. The Afghan leader habitually uses the foreign governments propping up his regime as scapegoats for his own failings. He is consistently given to playing to his domestic constituencies in ways that strike Western countries that have sacrificed lives and resources for his government’s survival as profoundly impertinent and ungrateful. A less mercurial, erratic and distrustful figure would no doubt make for a steadier ally.

Economic Experiments and the Battle for East Asia

Why the race for dominance in East Asia is about economic strength, not military power.

After a last minute budget deal on Wednesday, Oct. 16, the United States government is back in business. Among the casualties of the 16-day shutdown, which resulted in at least $24 billion in U.S. economic losses, was a presidential trip to Southeast Asia.

Stuck in Washington in early October, media coverage, and even President Barack Obama himself, described how presidential absence from Asia benefited Beijing. Adding insult to injury, a group photo from a regional forum that Obama was supposed to have attended showed Chinese President Xi Jinping smiling front and center, while protocol banished Secretary of State John Kerry -- filling in for Obama -- to a back corner. "Obama cancels Asia trip. Is the US 'pivot' in jeopardy?" ran a headline from The Christian Science Monitor.

While China emerged victorious from this latest round of diplo-drama, the handwringing in Washington misses the point: The contest for influence in Asia will not be settled in multilateral meetings. Instead, the region will be shaped by whichever major powers have the best prospects for long-term sustainable growth.

Simply put, power costs money. As the economic heavyweight of the 20th century, the United States has had the resources to build a system of military alliances in Asia and to advance U.S. interests in democracy and free markets. But today, the region is up for grabs. Over the next four months, the United States, China, and Japan -- the world's three largest economies -- are all potentially instituting game-changing economic reforms, whose outcomes could determine who leads Asia.

China's economy could become roughly the same size as the United States in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms as early as 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). And the National Intelligence Council, the U.S. intelligence community's center for long-term analysis, has estimated that China's economy will be the world's largest in aggregate terms before 2030. Already the second largest or largest trading partner to every major country in Asia, China uses its economic leverage to garner support on issues like Taiwan while muting international criticism over continued human rights abuses. And in March, China announced its military budget would expand by 10.7 percent in 2013, continuing two decades of double-digit growth and buying increasing capability to contest disputed territories in the South and East China Seas. 

Southeast Asia ponders what is going on in China

By Fareed Zakaria, E-mail the writer


Visiting Malaysia this week, I was expecting a volley of complaints. The country was one stop on President Obama’s planned trip to Asia this month that was canceled because of Washington’s manufactured budget crisis. “We were disappointed, but we understood the situation,” Prime Minister Najib Razak told me.

Others were less diplomatic, pointing to the cancellation as evidence of America’s dysfunctional political system and general decline. But many in Malaysia — and across Southeast Asia — told me that they were puzzling mostly about what’s happening not in Washington but rather in Beijing.

This is partly the product of power. As China has grown in importance, its neighbors have become increasingly attentive to the Middle Kingdom. In the past, the only politics they followed outside their country was in Washington. Today they feel they must also understand Beijing.

And there’s much to understand. China is in the midst of great political change. Last month, the country watched on national television as President Xi Jinping sat in on a meeting in Heibei at which senior Communist Party officials publicly engaged in “criticism and self-criticism.” It is part of the party’s “mass-line” campaign, designed to address concerns that the party is out of touch, elitist and corrupt.

The campaign also includes a strong anti-corruption drive, most visibly involving the humiliation of Bo Xilai, the former party boss of Chongqing. Many in China have worried that anti-corruption is a mechanism to eliminate political opponents. “There is so much corruption in China that whom you choose to prosecute is really a political decision,” a Beijing businessman said to me, asking to remain anonymous.

More surprisingly to many, the new leadership has begun a sweeping crackdown on dissent. Chinese media and human rights groups say that hundreds of journalists, bloggers and intellectuals have been detained since August, charged with the crime of “spreading rumors.” Recently this group has included prominent businessmen, includingWang Gongquan , one of China’s best-known billionaires, who has advocated political reform and was formally arrested on Sunday.

Last month, Chinese television aired a tape of Charles Xue, a businessmen and blogger, who confessed to his crimes and welcomed China’s new restrictions on Internet freedom. This month, Peking University fired Chinese economist Xia Yeliang , who had helped draft “Charter 08,” a pro-democracy petition that helped to win its principal author,Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize .

China scholars have noted in recent years that the Communist Party is deeply concerned about its legitimacy and grass-roots appeal. That led many to believe it would address these issues by opening up its political system, with political reforms that would accompany economic reforms. Instead, it appears that the party is choosing older, Mao-era methods of crackdowns, public confessions and purification campaigns.

Over the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party has extraordinary accomplishments to its credit. In the past decade alone, the average person’s income has close to quintupled, and the country now has the world’s second-largest economy. But perhaps because of this success, many of the challenges China faces are ones in which economics cannot be separated from politics. Addressing concerns about pollution, for example, means slowing industrial growth. Moving toward a more sustainable development model means taking money from state-owned — and politically connected — companies.

"Israel Doesn’t Need America on D-Day" A leading voice of restraint is starting to worry about Iran


"I supported [Netanyahu and Barak] on the notion that if we come to the fork in the road [on Iran], where we have to choose between very tough alternatives—the ‘bomb’ or the ‘bombing’—I’m with the prime minister, for the bombing,” former Israeli defense-intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told me on a recent evening on the porch of his home in the small town of Carmay Yosef. It was a bold statement coming from a man who in 2010 reportedly helped persuade Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak not to strike Iran.

It was not the first time I had spoken with Yadlin about Iran—we had discussed it at various intervals over two years—but it was the first time he’d agreed to let me publish an interview with him on the subject. And that was because Yadlin believes that from an operational perspective, Israel is finally approaching that fork in the road—perhaps within a year, if the newest round of diplomacy doesn't yield an acceptable deal (last week, Yadlin co-published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on “Four Possible Deals with Iran”).

The 62-year-old Yadlin is no stranger to the idea of bombing a neighboring country's nuclear program. In 1981, he was one of the eight Israeli F-16 pilots that destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor; according to accounts from senior Bush administration officials, he was also a key player in Israel’s discovery and destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. Now president of Israel's Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), he is widely considered one of the nation’s leading security authorities (according to informed sources, leaders of three major parties sought unsuccessfully to convince Yadlin to run as their candidate for defense minister in the January election).

Yadlin is a cautious figure. With silver hair and glasses, he has the air more of an economics professor than of a retired general. His catchphrase, if he has one, might be, "let’s define the variables, and I will tell you the outcome." (He recently created a mathematical equation for predicting revolutions in the Arab world.) He is careful about forecasting the future even though it was his job as the leading intelligence-gatherer and national assessor for two prime ministers and three defense ministers. But when he does, his track record is impressive. In the first interview I published with him in September 2011, he called the then-widespread predictions of Bashar Assad's imminent downfall "wishful thinking" and explained why he believed the Syrian leader would hold out for at least another few years.

On Iran, Yadlin was always similarly measured. He consistently disassociated himself from the "time is just about up" chorus led by Netanyahu. As head of INSS, he has become a sort of arbiter in the Israeli public between the conflicting schools of thoughts presented by Barak (who strongly backed an Israeli strike) and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (who called it “the stupidest thing I have ever heard”), presenting a conceptual framework and various algorithms with which to objectively measure the urgency of the Iranian threat and Israel’s best options for dealing with it. Until recently, Yadlin believed that Israel had more time—more time to wait for sanctions to bite, more time for alternative measures to take their toll, and more time to hope that the Iranian regime might fall or that the U.S. might take action itself. In September 2012, as speculation about an imminent Israeli strike reached fever pitch, Yadlin told Ha'aretz's Ari Shavit of Netanyahu and Barak: "They say that time has almost run out, but I say there is still time. The decisive year is not 2012 but 2013. Maybe even early 2014."

Yadlin's assessment of the timeline for Israel’s military option has changed very little since then, and therein lies his—and Israel’s—dilemma. Like most top members of the security establishment, Yadlin believes that Israel cannot live with a nuclear Iran. But he also knows that so long as there appears to be a chance for a diplomatic solution, Israel does not have the international legitimacy to act.

“We should let [Rouhani] enjoy the benefit of the doubt, that maybe something is different,” he told me. “Maybe he is taking with him the big majority that elected him, that really wants to lift the sanctions and end the nuclear crisis. But we should not let him drag it out two years and then realize that he deceived us, and that we don’t have the military option on the table anymore.”

Russia's Faltering Energy Empire

October 16, 2013

The April discovery of a new shale formation in Western Texas is another indication that the shale-gas revolution, which is rapidly changing the way that the world gas market operates, continues to press ahead. Russia is the world’s largest gas exporter, yet some experts believe that President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s energy establishment seem to be ignoring these changes—to their possible detriment. Alexey Miller, the head of Gazprom, has downplayed the shale gas revolution as nothing more than a PR campaign.

There are cracks in the façade that suggest that Mr. Putin and the Russian energy establishment do recognize the impact of shale gas on their strategy. In July, at the 2013 Gas Exporting Countries Forum, Mr. Putin acknowledged that developments, such as shale gas, are “a serious challenge for all [gas exporting countries].”

Mr. Putin has reason to be uncomfortable. The world energy market is shifting thanks to the shale gas revolution and the expansion of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) technology. These developments increase the uncertainty of Russia’s position.

The shale gas revolution has led to a steady and continued rise in U.S. natural gas production. Experts anticipate U.S. gas production to reach between 800 and 880 billion cubic meters by 2035. By comparison, US production was just 681 bcm in 2012. Prior to the revolution, the United States had been expected to import gas from Qatar and other producers. However, domestic gas production has diminished the United States’ dependence on foreign sources, freeing up those sources for import by other consumers, including Europe.

Increased U.S. production and the subsequent decrease in imports, combined with the possibility that the United States may export LNG at spot prices, could increase the quantity of gas on the market available to Europe. The saturation of available gas may put additional momentum behind efforts to shift prices away from long-term contracts with oil-linked gas prices, favored by Russia, towards cheaper spot pricing. In 2012, pressure from European consumers to change the gas-pricing formula forced Gazprom to return $2.7 billion to customers; Gazprom set aside an additional $4.7 billion to prepare for potential retroactive rebates this year. 10 percent of Russia’s GDP comes from gas. Such a loss of profit has the potential to seriously harm Russia’s economy.

The shale gas revolution is not exclusively a North American phenomenon. Experts believe that Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania also have unconventional gas reserves. If Central and Eastern Europe develops these reserves, Russia’s more than 60 percent share of the Central and East European natural gas market may diminish.

Russia’s energy establishment is correct to argue that Russia’s conventional gas reserves are sufficient to maintain economical exports for many decades. In addition, Russia has extensive undeveloped conventional reserves in East Siberia and the Far East, which are well located to supply Asian demand. However, the majority of current hydrocarbon production in Russia comes from Soviet-era fields, whose production is declining. Experts believe that Russia may have to invest upwards of $92 billion to develop new gas fields in the east and build the necessary infrastructure.

Europe's Moments of Truth

Power is defined not only by power resources, but also by acts. For the EU in its capacity as a foreign policy power, there have been several defining moments in recent years. In each of them, Europe's leaders have shown a lack of political will to equip the EU with the necessary resources for it to become a serious foreign policy player. With the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, the EU is now approaching another of these crucial moments.

One moment of truth came in 2011 when Germany decided to abstain from UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya. The message was reinforced by Berlin's decision to pull out of NATO patrols in the Mediterranean, after the alliance had announced it would intercept vessels suspected of bringing illegal arms or mercenaries into Libya. By abstaining, Germany aligned itself with Brazil, Russia, India, and China, instead of its close allies the United States, France, and Britain.

The lesson others were taking was clear: when it comes to interventions abroad, don't count on Germany. Berlin was apparently using its new weight to forge a more independent position, following its pacifist instincts. This was a massive setback for those who hoped that Europe's key military powers would converge in their attitudes and move toward greater coordination and cooperation.

Another key moment was when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced in early May 2013 that they had agreed to hold a peace conference on Syria. This announcement confirmed what had been on display since the Syrian crisis began: that despite having an enormous interest in ending the civil war, the EU was incapable of rising above internal differences and acting in concert, diplomatically and perhaps also with other means. Diplomatic efforts on Syria are being led by Washington and Moscow; Brussels is leading only on the humanitarian front.

The EU's failure to address the Syrian civil war is only the most visible expression of a more general failure to use the ongoing Arab transformation as an opportunity to develop a new partnership with Europe's Southern neighbors.

A third defining moment was when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the end of May 2013, stood next to Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Berlin and made it clear that she was backing Beijing against the European Commission in a trade dispute over solar panels. The message was that Germany valued bilateral economic relations with China more than European unity on a key strategic question, pressing Beijing to play by the rules.

Backgrounder on Key Actors in Syrian Civil War

October 23, 2013
Key Players in Syria’s Civil War
Associated Press
October 23, 2013

BEIRUT — Here’s a list of key players in Syria’s civil war:

— PRESIDENT BASHAR ASSAD: The 48-year-old Assad has led Syria since 2000, taking over as president after the death of his father, Hafez, who ruled the country for some 30 years. Assad, who trained in London as an ophthalmologist, came to power through a twist of fate: his oldest brother Basil who had been groomed to succeed their father was killed in car crash in 1994, leaving Bashar as the next in line. He quickly showed promise as a young reformer after his father’s autocratic government, but those hopes faded before being almost forgotten entirely in the carnage of the civil war.

— AHMAD AL-JARBA: The leader of the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition. Elected to the post in July, al-Jarba hails from Syria’s northeastern province of Hassakeh and is a member of the powerful Shammar tribe that extends into neighboring Iraq. He was a little-known anti-Assad figure before Syria’s civil war though he was detained in March 2011 — days after the uprising against Assad began. It was his second arrest, following one in 1996 when he was held for two years because of anti-government activities. After his release, al-Jarba left Syria in August 2011 and became active in the opposition. He is widely viewed as being close to Saudi Arabia, and his election as coalition chief was seen as a sign that Riyadh had taken over the mantle as the rebellion’s main patron from Qatar.

— GEN. SALIM IDRIS: The commander of the coalition’s military wing, the Supreme Military Council, which brings together a collection of loosely-knit rebel brigades under the emblem of the Free Syrian Army. His group serves as the main conduit for Western military aid to moderate rebel groups, although Idris says that support has been meager and slow to arrive. The general, a former lecturer at Syria’s main military college, took up his post in December. He says he travels to rebel-held areas in Syria frequently, and also stays in touch with his officers by Skype. He defected from the Syrian military after 35 years, and is seen as a secular-minded moderate.

— JABHAT AL-NUSRA: An Islamist extremist group affiliated with al-Qaida. Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, has emerged as one of the most powerful rebel factions on the battlefield. The U.S. has designated the group a terrorist organization. Jabhat al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for many of the deadliest suicide bombings targeting regime and military facilities. The presence of Islamic extremists among the rebels is one reason the West has not equipped the Syrian opposition with sophisticated weapons, such as anti-aircraft missiles. In recent months, Jabhat al-Nusra has been eclipsed to a degree by the rising power of another al-Qaida-affiliated group — the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

— ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND THE LEVANT: Al-Qaida’s longtime affiliate in Iraq. The Islamic State has moved aggressively in recent months into Syria, and has established a major presence particularly in the north. It has not limited its efforts to fighting the government alone, but has opened fronts against more moderate rebel groups, as well as Syria’s Kurdish minority. The group also is known to cooperate with other rebel factions for specific operations. Syrian activists say the Islamic State is largely composed of foreign fighters and has shown a degree of ruthlessness beyond that of Jabhat al-Nusra.

— HEZBOLLAH: The Lebanese Shiite militant group. Hezbollah has sent its gunmen to fight alongside Assad’s forces, providing a significant boost to the government’s overstretched military. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has suggested he would do everything it takes to save Assad’s government, which has been a patron and ally of the militant group for decades. Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the conflict underlines the regional sectarian aspect of the conflict, in which an Iranian-backed Shiite axis faces off against Sunnis supported by Gulf Arabs in a proxy war extending into neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.