5 November 2013

*** The Devolution of the Seas

The Consequences of Oceanic Destruction


The old man of the sea: the fringed blenny, photographed near Japan. (Alexander Semenov / Science Photo Library)

Of all the threats looming over the planet today, one of the most alarming is the seemingly inexorable descent of the world’s oceans into ecological perdition. Over the last several decades, human activities have so altered the basic chemistry of the seas that they are now experiencing evolution in reverse: a return to the barren primeval waters of hundreds of millions of years ago.

A visitor to the oceans at the dawn of time would have found an underwater world that was mostly lifeless. Eventually, around 3.5 billion years ago, basic organisms began to emerge from the primordial ooze. This microbial soup of algae and bacteria needed little oxygen to survive. Worms, jellyfish, and toxic fireweed ruled the deep. In time, these simple organisms began to evolve into higher life forms, resulting in the wondrously rich diversity of fish, corals, whales, and other sea life one associates with the oceans today.

Yet that sea life is now in peril. Over the last 50 years -- a mere blink in geologic time -- humanity has come perilously close to reversing the almost miraculous biological abundance of the deep. Pollution, overfishing, the destruction of habitats, and climate change are emptying the oceans and enabling the lowest forms of life to regain their dominance. The oceanographer Jeremy Jackson calls it “the rise of slime”: the transformation of once complex oceanic ecosystems featuring intricate food webs with large animals into simplistic systems dominated by microbes, jellyfish, and disease. In effect, humans are eliminating the lions and tigers of the seas to make room for the cockroaches and rats.

The prospect of vanishing whales, polar bears, bluefin tuna, sea turtles, and wild coasts should be worrying enough on its own. But the disruption of entire ecosystems threatens our very survival, since it is the healthy functioning of these diverse systems that sustains life on earth. Destruction on this level will cost humans dearly in terms of food, jobs, health, and quality of life. It also violates the unspoken promise passed from one generation to the next of a better future.

Humans are eliminating the lions and tigers of the seas to make room for the cockroaches and rats.

LAYING WASTE

The oceans’ problems start with pollution, the most visible forms of which are the catastrophic spills from offshore oil and gas drilling or from tanker accidents. Yet as devastating as these events can be, especially locally, their overall contribution to marine pollution pales in comparison to the much less spectacular waste that finds its way to the seas through rivers, pipes, runoff, and the air. For example, trash -- plastic bags, bottles, cans, tiny plastic pellets used in manufacturing -- washes into coastal waters or gets discarded by ships large and small. This debris drifts out to sea, where it forms epic gyres of floating waste, such as the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which spans hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean.

SOLUTION WITH WISDOM

That the Commonwealth summit is in Sri Lanka is a problem

By Krishnan Srinivasan

Signing the Commonwealth Charter

Modern management -speak has developed the concept of a ‘wicked problem’, which is one that lacks a straightforward solution or possibly any solution at all. Politicians and diplomats should be best equipped to deal with its ambiguities and complexities. Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth heads of government meet in mid-November, has emerged as a wicked problem within international society, and it is worth reflecting on how the Commonwealth is navigating it, since international organizations can be as much a part of the problem as of the solution. Diplomatic alliances fall into one of two main types — they can either constitute a concert of nations held together by common history and strategic interests, or a holy alliance in which the bonding agent resides in shared beliefs and values. The strength of the Commonwealth, with its diversity of large and small, rich and poor states that straddle continents and embrace all the major world religions, lies in the unusual blurring of the conventional distinctions. The Commonwealth is held together by shared interests derived from historical association and the political, economic and professional ties that have grown between its members over many decades, but it claims at the same time to be an organization committed to the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Such commitments have been repeatedly stated in Commonwealth resolutions, dating back to the 1971 Singapore Declaration, and most recently renewed in a Commonwealth Charter which was adopted earlier this year.

The first in a list of 15 core values in this charter is democracy. In upholding the Commonwealth commitment to democracy, the work of the Commonwealth ministerial action group, originally set up in 1995 to address the problem of military coups, is endorsed and its mandate explicitly extended “to address promptly and effectively all instances of serious and persistent violations of Commonwealth values without fear or favour”. At first sight, the adoption of such a charter strongly suggests, after all the usual qualifications have been entered, that the Commonwealth has authenticated the image of itself as a holy alliance, albeit garbed in secular vestments. Certainly the liberal internationalists, particularly the original Anglo-Saxon white-race Commonwealth dominions, see it that way and have vigorously challenged Sri Lanka’s credentials for hosting the forthcoming Commonwealth summit, particularly after two adverse United Nations human rights council resolutions, the criticisms of the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, that Sri Lanka was “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction… with high levels of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists”, and the Sri Lankan president’s summary dismissal of the country’s chief justice, an obvious violation of two other charter principles, the separation of powers and the rule of law. Sri Lanka’s plans to dilute the constitutional provision of devolution of powers to provincial councils cause special concern on both sides of the Palk Strait, as do the trespasses of fisherfolk across the maritime boundary. The UN and Commonwealth are not perfect institutions, and the international order is stacked against the weaker nations, but it is in Sri Lanka’s own interest to recognize the Tamil minority as equal citizens to promote reconciliation and lasting peace on the island. Allowing the Tamils to administer the land, organize the police, and use Tamil as an official language in Tamil-dominated areas would go some way to heal the residual wounds of the civil war.

But are the antagonists of Sri Lanka correct to wage their campaign of self-righteous indignation? Sri Lanka was never subject to CMAG censure, and the issue was never whether or not the Commonwealth heads of government should meet in Colombo: that decision was taken long ago in 2009 by the heads themselves, and it is clear that the damage caused by forcing a change so late in the day would outweigh any public relations benefit that might be achieved by a bravado that the Commonwealth was standing by its stated principles. The Commonwealth has faced similar dilemmas previously: there was an equally strong case for arguing that the 2007 summit of the organization should not be held at Kampala, and all the 53 Commonwealth countries, including the sanctimonious ‘old’ dominions, will be found on scrutiny to be deficient in observing many of the provisions of the charter.

Won by UPA 1, lost by UPA 2

Nov 05 2013

As they meet in Delhi this week, India's ambassadors must speak truth to power on the reversal in our international fortunes.

It was a British diplomat, Henry Wotton, who famously said at the dawn of the 17th century that "an ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of the country". The evolution of diplomacy over the last four centuries has, of course, made this dictum a lot less insightful. But Wotton remains right about one thing. Ambassadors must be honest men and women who must be truthful at home. Promoting the nation's interests abroad is but one part of an ambassador's job. Equally important is the duty to apprise the political masters at home of the developments beyond borders, and the opportunities and dangers they present to the national interest. Above all, an envoy should let the sovereign know how the nation looks from a clinical external perspective.

India's ambassadors, who are gathering in New Delhi this week for the last annual brainstorming session under the decade-long UPA rule, are in a better position than most to reflect on the undeniable reversal of India's international fortunes in the second term of the UPA government. Having created unprecedented diplomatic opportunities in the first term, the UPA has managed to squander them in the second.

To be fair, not everything that went wrong was under the control of the nation's foreign policy establishment. Although the UPA government's failures on the economic front have been the most damaging, there is enough blame to go around the Delhi durbar. Some of it must be put squarely on the timorous worldview of the ruling Congress party. And the rest must be owned by foreign policy managers.

Any review of the UPA government's foreign policy record in the second term would highlight at least three major debacles. The first was the mishandling of the nuclear liability legislation in 2010 that turned one of India's greatest diplomatic victories in the UPA's first term — ending India's prolonged atomic isolation — into a disaster. After overturning three and a half decades of international nuclear sanctions against India in the first term, the UPA enacted a piece of self-defeating legislation that prevents the participation of foreign and domestic companies in the long overdue expansion of India's nuclear power generation programme. Even India's worst enemies could not have orchestrated it better than UPA 2.

A second disaster was in the wrecking of rare diplomatic opportunities to transform relations with key neighbours, especially Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Congress's fear of looking weak vis-a-vis Pakistan has made Delhi weaker than ever before in engaging Islamabad. If Delhi missed the big moments to make advances with Pakistan in the first term, it created fresh opportunities in the second only to drop the ball at critical moments. In the second term, the UPA also embarked on a bold effort for a comprehensive overhaul of bilateral relations with Bangladesh, only to back off amidst domestic opposition.

Delhi's appeasement of every pressure group at home and the habit of looking at foreign policy through the narrow prism of the Congress party's electoral calculus — so visible in recent engagements with Dhaka and Colombo — will impose huge costs on India's foreign policy. No national government can ignore domestic politics in the conduct of foreign policy. In its reluctance to make a strong political case for its foreign policy initiatives and the inability to shepherd key domestic constituencies, the UPA government has wasted fleeting moments of diplomatic opportunity in the neighbourhood.

Bring the Fund down to earth

Nov 05 2013

Why the IMF's advice to developing countries seems to come from a remote place.

Particularly since 2008, the IMF has been providing useful service to the global economy. In its annual meetings last month, the IMF cautioned the major economies about the persistent risks, emerging challenges and weak recovery. While the IMF generally gives good advice, in some cases it is clear that there is a lack of practical experience. To illustrate, practitioners from any country would know that when faced with sudden capital movements, capital controls — and not quick attempts to erect macro prudential norms — are the only effective tools. Similarly, earlier, there was a reluctance to accept that inflation targeting was unfeasible for many countries. This late recognition of simple facts can do immense harm to the countries being advised.

The other area is forecasts, especially for developing countries, which are frequently changed and can have financial implications for markets and ratings. Illustratively, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had to contest the latest estimates made by the IMF on India's growth rate.

The IMF's annual report could shed some light on these problems. Nearly 70 per cent of the managerial staff — 332 out of a total 2,518 officials — continues to be from the developed countries. Of the 777 doctorates working at the IMF, 480 are from US institutions, 224 from Europe and 21 from Canada. No doubt, as the professional training is similar, so is the diagnosis of different problems faced by a heterogeneous set of developing countries. In most cases, neither the US academia nor such trained PhD students are familiar with the contextual terra firma of developing countries. Hence, multi-spectrum, generalised advice based on evidence gathered in advanced economies is repackaged and offered to developing countries. It is not surprising, then, that the IMF's advice to developing countries is criticised as impractical by local economists.

To ensure that the IMF's prescriptions can be realistically implemented in different economies, it might be useful to have a healthy blend of mid-career experts hired from member countries and fresh recruits from university. As such, it would be relevant to learn what percentage of the professional staff in functional and area departments of the IMF have the experience of grappling with real-life economic situations in a particular country. This could ensure improved credibility and acceptance of the IMF's recommendations.

Given that the global economy is still in a precarious position, the IMF's limited resources have to be utilised effectively. In this context, since most country data is available on the internet and video conferencing is always an option, the IMF could consider effective alternatives to substantial travel expenditure. Actually, to inspire confidence, it could benefit from a larger presence in the region under scrutiny. At present, the IMF, unlike the World Bank, mainly operates from its Washington DC headquarters and its staff pays brief visits to collect interview-based information from officials in a country. These short visits may not realistically capture the ground realities, which reflects in the superficiality of the recommendations. To effectively understand the local economy, more IMF economists could be either located in or closer to the countries they advise. The argument that a single resident representative for a group of countries is sufficient to collect local information failed the IMF during the Asian crisis of 1997-98 and the recent crisis. Therefore, spreading out in the regions with more regional offices could help the IMF collect robust inputs and provide relevant advice. It would have been a more efficient use of resources to buy office space in countries that require scrutiny. Also, the IMF could call country visits of its officials a more value-neutral "consultation", instead of the current "mission", and conduct business in a friendlier manner. A clearer indication of the work ethics and accountability norms to which IMF officials are bound, especially in the countries they advise, would also lend credibility to the institution's role in member countries.

Finally, would it be more useful if the IMF, which has access to economic ministries in all countries, identified potential areas and opportunities to kick-start growth, globally?

The writer is RBI Chair Professor of Economics, IIM Bangalore. Views are personal

Why Mars?

Nov 04 2013

ISRO should explore new frontiers, not replicate what's been done by others.

It's not always a great idea to ask questions during a countdown. More so when it's a mission to Mars by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at a time when the dominant mood in the country is one of gloom. But ask we must, given how ISRO has been one of Indian science's few success stories. Despite and because of its recent string of failures.

Indeed, one of the biggest technology priorities for ISRO should be to complete the development of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The GSLV, which has been under development for more than a decade, has held up ISRO's progress in earth science, space science and human spaceflight. Since the GSLV is not operational, ISRO is constrained to use the much less powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) to further its ambitions in space. The PSLV can launch about 3,250 kilogrammes to low Earth orbit (LEO). To put this in the context of the capability of launch vehicles, this is less than 1/25 of the largest launch vehicle, the Saturn V, which launched astronauts to the moon. Launch vehicles used for planetary missions are significantly more powerful than the PSLV. The Atlas V, which was used to launch the Curiosity rover, can deliver three to six times the mass to LEO. ISRO has taken more than 15 years to develop the GSLV. Compare this to the time taken by other organisations to develop similar launch vehicles — a startup company called SpaceX started from scratch and operationalised the Falcon 9, which can deliver about two times the mass the GSLV can to LEO, in about seven years.

A possible priority for ISRO should have been to follow up Chandrayaan-1, with which it made significant progress in planetary exploration, with a more capable lunar mission. Contrary to popular perception, Chandrayaan-1 did not fulfil its design requirements. The spacecraft did not complete its nominal (planned) mission of two years — it ended in less than a year. A majority of orbiters meet or exceed the duration of their nominal mission. From the outset, there were thermal problems that caused the spacecraft to overheat. Raising its orbit towards the end of the mission did not prevent this. There were serious problems with the navigational system, which crippled the spacecraft's capability to determine its orientation in space. ISRO also lost contact with Chandrayaan, the reason for which could not be unambiguously established. An argument can be made that ISRO should have embarked on Chandrayaan-2, to address the shortcomings of Chandrayaan-1, before embarking on Mangalyaan, which inserts additional complexities like latency — the time taken for a radio signal from Mars to travel is tens of minutes, compared to the near-instantaneous signals from the moon. And deep space communication — the distance to Mars is twice the distance between Earth and the moon.

Another possible priority for ISRO should have been to further its aspirations in human spaceflight. In 2007, it had announced India's plans to launch humans in space by 2016. Little headway has been made in that direction. China, in comparison, has launched astronauts in space and is on track for launching its own space station in the next 10 years. There is also the question of whether a human spaceflight programme is even relevant in the 21st century, which has ushered in the era of cheaper robotic exploration of planets.

Instead of focusing on other priorities, ISRO has chosen to undertake a Mars Orbiter Mission. Mangalyaan will enable the organisation to develop its capability in deep space communication, though it's unclear to what extent NASA's deep space network would help ISRO and to what extent it will develop its own capability. Also, the mission will help ISRO learn how to operate a spacecraft under latency.

The EU flexes its muscles on caste

By Arvind Sivaramakrishnan

The practices concerned are most widespread in South Asia and in South Asian diasporas. The European Parliament’s recent resolution circumvents India’s contention that caste oppression does not constitute racial discrimination.

On October 10, the 766 members of the European Parliament, who represent just over half-a-billion people in 28-member-states, passed a historic resolution recognising caste-based discrimination and discrimination based on work and descent as a violation of human rights and an obstacle to development. The resolution, which was approved by an overwhelming majority, condemns all such forms of discrimination, and notes that they affect over 260 million people in several countries. Although many countries — those affected include Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritania, Somalia, Japan, Yemen and the United Kingdom — have ruled such discrimination illegal and even unconstitutional, the relevant practices are deeply entrenched. Among diaspora communities they often take new forms, such as restricted access to political participation and “serious discrimination” in the labour market. The latter is prohibited by several instruments in international human rights law.

In Asia

The practices concerned are most widespread in South Asia and in South Asian diasporas; the EU resolution also notes that the “overwhelming majority” of bonded labourers in South Asia are from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It states, further, that those most affected by caste discrimination are victims of multiple forms of discrimination in employment, in access to education and health care, to land, and to protection by the police and the judicial system. Nevertheless, the term preferred by the United Nations, namely discrimination based on work and descent, is wider than that of caste, which specifically relies on ideas of purity and pollution as well as a graded hierarchy with procedures for exclusion and untouchability.

By what may amount to a cruel irony, the European Parliament passed the resolution the day after the High Court in Patna acquitted all 26 convicted defendants in the case of the Laxmanpur-Bathe atrocity, in which 58 Dalits had been murdered by a 100-strong mob in 1997, in what seemed to be revenge for seeking an increase in the amount of grain they were paid monthly as wages in kind.

The case tragically exemplifies the problems. The victims knew their attackers and the survivors named them, but the police did not record the names, and then took three days to deliver the first information reports to the Chief Judicial Magistrate concerned. The investigating officer, despite substantial evidence of blood at the scene and on a boat on the Sone river, as well as 100-150 sets of footprints along the river bank, did not cross the Sone to investigate further. It took 11 years for the trial even to start, but the sessions court sentenced 16 of the accused to death and 10 to life imprisonment, only for the High Court to issue a blanket acquittal — in 2013.

Tackling new maritime challenges

By Brahma Chellaney

The international maritime order will continue to gradually but fundamentally change as new powers acquire greater economic and naval heft

Maritime challenges are being fundamentally transformed by new technological and geopolitical realities, shifting trade and energy patterns, and the rise of unconventional threats. The fact that about 50 per cent of the maritime boundaries in the world are still not demarcated, accentuates the challenges.

Water covers more than seven-tenths of the planet’s surface, and almost half the global population lives within 200 km of a coastline. It may thus surprise few that 90 per cent of the world’s trade uses maritime routes. With countless freighters, fishing boats, passenger ferries, leisure yachts, and cruise ships plying the waters, a pressing concern is maritime security — a mission tasked to national navies, coast guards, and harbour police forces.

Altering equations

The maritime order has entered a phase of evolutionary change in response to global power shifts. Maritime power equations are beginning to alter. The shifts actually symbolise the birth-pangs of a new world order. Emerging changes in trade and energy patterns promise to further alter maritime power equations. For example, energy-related equations are being transformed by a new development: the centre of gravity in the hydrocarbon world is beginning to quietly shift from the Persian Gulf to the Americas, thanks to the shale boom, hydrocarbon extraction in the South Atlantic and Canada’s Alberta Province, and other developments.

The United States, for the foreseeable future, will remain the dominant sea power, while Europe will stay a significant maritime player. Yet, the international maritime order will continue to gradually but fundamentally change as new powers acquire greater economic and naval heft.

According to a projection by the recently released Global Marine Trends 2030 report, as the global GDP doubles over the next 17 years China will come to own a quarter of the world’s merchant fleet. Several other maritime states in the Asia-Pacific, including Japan, South Korea, India, and Vietnam, are also set to significantly enlarge their maritime footprints.

Admittedly, there are real threats to maritime peace and security from the changing maritime power equations and the sharpening competition over resources and geopolitical influence. The Asia-Pacific region — with its crowded and, in some cases, contested sea lanes — is becoming the centre of global maritime competition. Maritime tensions remain high in this region due to rival sovereignty claims, resource-related competition, naval build-ups, and rising nationalism.

A lot of attention has focussed on the maritime implications of China’s rise. President Xi Jinping has championed efforts to build China into a global maritime power, saying his government will do everything possible to safeguard China’s “maritime rights and interests” and warning that “in no way will the country abandon its legitimate rights and interests.” China’s increasing emphasis on the oceans was also evident from the November 2012 report to the 18th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party that outlined the country’s maritime power strategy. It called for safeguarding China’s maritime rights and interests, including building improved capacity for exploiting marine resources, and for asserting the country’s larger rights.

India Shouldn’t Buy What Japan Is Selling

Nov 4, 2013 

(Corrects location of Westinghouse plant in 18th paragraph.)

An obsession with nuclear power makes many political elites secretive, ruthless and delusional, even as their cherished projects threaten millions of people with disaster. But the egregious examples I have in mind here aren’t Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. They are Japan and India, two countries with democratic institutions.


Pankaj Mishra is the author of "Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond," 

Last week in the south Indian city of Pondicherry, I met a friend who had managed to penetrate the security lockdown around Kudankulam, the Russian-built nuclear power station in Tamil Nadu that began partial operations late last month despite strong protests from local villagers.

Kudankulum lies only a few miles away from a coastline that was ravaged by a tsunami in 2004. Opposition to the plant intensified after another intense earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns at three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Since then, Indian police have deported the few journalists who have tried to report on the protests, sequestered entire villages and levied criminal charges against tens of thousands of locals, some of whom have been accused of sedition and “waging war on the state.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who invested much political capital in a nuclear deal with the U.S. in 2008, resorted to an Indian political ploy from the 1970s: blaming an unspecified “foreign hand” for the protests. (Never mind that the much-despised foreign hand helped build the Kudankulum plant, along with much of India’s nuclear infrastructure.)
Nuclear Mirage

Certainly, the protesters at Kudankulum have much to be worried about. In recent years, some of the crucial Russian suppliers of components to the plant have been detained in Russia and indicted for shoddy business practices. According to A. Gopalakrishnan, former chairman of India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, “equipment, components and materials of substandard quality” have already been installed in the plant. Their “deficiencies and defects are dormant today, but these very same shortcomings may cause such parts to catastrophically fail when the reactor is operated for some time.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the Fukushima plant, presents an ominous example of extraordinary negligence, denial and collaborative coverup. Long ignored by a compliant Japanese news media and complicit politicians, the evidence of Tepco’s falsehoods and ineptitude has accumulated inescapably in the more than two years since the disaster. Leaks of highly radioactive water in recent months undermine claims by the Japanese government that the situation is under control.

Despite the fact that 150,000 of its people remain homeless and that the nuclear disaster has cost almost $100 billion, Japan is preparing to start up a massive nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant that can produce nine tons of weapons-usable plutonium annually -- enough for 2,000 atomic bombs. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been busy vending Japan’s nuclear industry around the world, including to seismically active Turkey and India, countries that have even less institutional oversight than Japan.

In India, Abe’s path is smoothed not only by the customarily powerful stakeholders in a multibillion-dollar industry but also by the superstitious faith invested in nuclear energy in a country where a large part of the population suffers from long power outages almost every day. Pro-nuclear advocates propose nuclear energy as an answer to India’s power shortages and crippling reliance on imported oil. A new book, “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” by Princeton University physicist M.V. Ramana, takes a sober -- and sobering -- look at the fantasies and perils attached to this mirage, and finds the promise of nuclear energy empty in every way: environmental, economic and technological.

“While the Indian nuclear establishment’s arguments might provide a case for rapidly increasing the nuclear power capacity,” Ramana writes, “they do not in any way lend support to the supposition that it can increase rapidly.”

India Set to Launch Mars Mission

Launch Could Propel Nation Ahead of China and Japan in Space Race

By
Joanna Sugdenconnect
Nov. 3, 2013 

India is preparing to launch a spacecraft to Mars, a mission that if successful would propel it ahead of space rivals China and Japan. Ram Jakhu, a professor at Canada's McGill University, tells the WSJ's Deborah Kan how such programs can boost the economy and fight poverty.

NEW DELHI—On Tuesday, India's space agency will launch a spacecraft designed to boldly go where no Asian nation has gone before: Mars.

Soldiers stood guard in Sriharikota last week next to the launch vehicle to be used Tuesday when India aims to send its first spacecraft to Mars. Associated Press

The mission, if successful, would be a technological leap that would propel India ahead of space rivals China and Japan in the field of interplanetary exploration.

It will take more than 10 months for India's Mars satellite, equipped with instruments that can examine the surface of the Red Planet from above, to reach Martian orbit and begin beaming information back to Earth.

"This is a major turning point in our space program--towards exploration," said Koppillil Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, the country's civilian space agency. It will bring "technological advantage for the country."

Decades after the U.S. and Soviet Union battled for supremacy in space during the Cold War, Asian powers have embarked on their own space race—a contest with political, military and technical ramifications here on Earth.

In recent years, Japan, China and India—in cooperation with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration—have put satellites into lunar orbit. China has also put astronauts into Earth orbit and conducted spacewalks.

India spends 68 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) a year on its space program and has 20 satellites in orbit for communication and remote sensing.

Critics argue that a country where more than 350 million people live on less than $1.25 a day and where a third of the population lacks access to electricity should be focused more on terrestrial problems.

"The bread or gun argument" is real for India, said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a space-security expert at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank. "But India doesn't live in a benign neighborhood."

Ms. Rajagopalan said that while India is focused on peaceful use of outer space, "this is the background against which the Mars mission is taking place. There is a sort of arms race," especially since China in 2007 successfully tested an antisatellite missile.

In August, India launched its first dedicated military satellite for naval intelligence gathering, amid mounting concerns about the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

Boosters also point to the civilian benefits of the space program, such as improved meteorological forecasting, which prompted the government to evacuate 1 million people from areas along the southeast coast before a major cyclone last month—a move credited with saving thousands of lives.

As U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, poppy trade it spent billions fighting still flourishes

Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post
November 4, 2013

The United States is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan having lost its battle against the country’s narcotics industry, marking one of the starkest failures of the 2009 strategy the Obama administration pursued in an effort to turn around the war.

Despite a U.S. investment of nearly $7 billion since 2002 to combat it, the country’s opium market is booming, propelled by steady demand and an insurgency that has assumed an increasingly hands-on role in the trade, according to law enforcement officials and counternarcotics experts. As the war economy contracts, opium poppies, which are processed into heroin, are poised to play an ever larger role in the country’s economy and politics, undercutting two key U.S. goals: fighting corruption and weakening the link between the insurgency and the drug trade.

The Afghan army opted this spring for the first time in several years not to provide security to eradication teams in key regions, forgoing a dangerous mission that has long embittered rural Afghans who depend on the crop for their livelihoods.

Experts say that, in the end, efforts over the past decade to rein in cultivation were stymied by entrenched insecurity in much of the country, poverty, and the ambivalence — and, at times, collusion — of the country’s ruling class.

With a presidential election just months away, political will for anti-drug initiatives is weak among members of the Afghan elite, many of whom have become increasingly dependent on the proceeds of drugs as foreign funding dries up, said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan. “Money is less and less available within the licit economy,” he said. “The real danger is the weakened resistance to corruption and to involvement in a distorted political economy, which weakens your resistance to collusion with the enemy.”

As U.S. forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan — roughly 51,000 American troops are left, down from a peak of 100,000 — insurgents have fought particularly hard to reclaim lost ground in Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan’s poppy industry, U.S. military officials have said.

In its latest progress report on Afghanistan to Congress, the Pentagon warned that the 2013 poppy harvest was expected to be “considerably” bigger than 2012’s, citing warmer early-season weather, the drawdown of NATO troops and the high price for poppies.

The July report characterized the reach of counternarcotics efforts by the Afghan government and its foreign partners as “small but not insignificant.” The report noted that demand remains high, drug-smuggling networks remain resilient, and “insurgent penetration of that market is extensive and expanding.”

The UNODC is scheduled to release its yearly Afghan opium survey report next week. Experts and Western diplomats in Kabul have said they expect the report to show a dramatic expansion of cultivation from 2012, when the agency estimated that 154,000 hectares of land were used to harvest poppy.

U.S. officials say they have established a competent, well-trained Afghan counternarcotics police agency and a special drug court to discourage the trade. But the long-term sustainability of those efforts is uncertain as the West reassesses spending levels in Afghanistan after 2014, when the U.S. combat mission is due to end, and continues to shift increasing responsibility for security to the Afghans.

Haroon Rashid Sherzad, Afghanistan’s deputy counter­narcotics minister, said getting at the root causes of its drug problem would take a generation and vastly expanded regional cooperation.

Reports: Pakistan Taliban appoint interim head after Mehsud’s death


November 4, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Nov. 4 (UPI) — Asmatullah Shaheen, among the most wanted militants in Pakistan, was voted interim head of the Pakistan Taliban, replacing Hakimullah Mehsud, the group said.

Mehsud, who had headed the group locally known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was killed in a drone strike last Friday. The TTP is different from the Afghan Taliban and is believed to be linked to al-Qaida.

CNN, quoting Azam Tariq, a member of the TTP’s Shura Council or the group’s main decision-making body, reported Shaheen was voted to become the interim head as it would be days before the group picks a permanent successor to Mehsud. There had been a $5 million reward on Mehsud announced by the United States.

Mehsud became TTP leader in 2009 after the death of fellow clan member Baitullah Mehsud, who also died in a suspected U.S. drone strike.

China’s official Xinhua News Agency, citing local media, also reported Shaheen had been picked as the interim leader after differences emerged among TTP’s various ranks in picking a successor.

Xinhua said earlier reports had said Khan Syed, also known as Khalid Sajna, would succeed Mehsud but quoted a TTP spokesman from the South Waziristan chapter as denying the report and that a new head would be announced in a few days.

Asmatullah Shaheen, who also goes by the name of Asmatullah Bhittani, leads the TTP’s northwestern tribal region in South Waziristan, Xinhua said. Shaheen, who is on a list of 20 most-wanted Taliban militants in Pakistan, is also the head of a decision-making committee which will choose the new chief.

Mehsud, believed to be 34, was killed last week along with his aides in the drone strike that had targeted his vehicle and house in North Waziristan. His funeral was held Saturday at an undisclosed location, reports said.

The Chinese are anxious over the future

By Fred Hiatt
November 4, 2013

BEIJING

Traveling here last week after America’s partial government shutdown and near-default, I expected to encounter a surge of confidence in China’s inevitable, eventual emergence as the world’s greatest power. That is not what I found.

Some people here do take pleasure in the travails of democracy in the world’s greatest hectorer on the subject. Some shed crocodile tears about America’s decline and President Obama’s failure to attend a recent summit in Asia.

But whatever people’s views of America, what is striking in many cases is their uncertainty and, at times, even pessimism about China’s future.

I don’t mean the usual refrain that China, despite having overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, remains a developing country. That has long been a standard line of Chinese officialdom and has the advantage of being both true and convenient: True, because long after China’s economy overtakes America’s, people here will remain poorer on average; convenient, because it can be used to deflect calls for greater contributions to peacekeeping, confronting climate change and other global causes.

What I’m talking about is a deeper-seated anxiety about navigating the next stages of growth. In interviews and informal conversations organized for me and three other journalists by the Committee of 100, a U.S. nonprofit dedicated to U.S.-China mutual understanding, two themes emerged. “The easy part is over” was one. The second was: the next stages of economic reform will depend on political reform that the Communist Party may not be willing or able to deliver.

One result is that not only China’s billionaires but also, increasingly, the new middle class is hedging bets, thinking about obtaining foreign passports and moving money abroad. The mirthless joke is that President Xi Jinping’s inchoate slogan of “a Chinese dream” refers to getting your kids into an American university.

The challenges are well understood. People have to bribe their children’s teachers for a desk near the front of the class and bribe their bosses for a promotion. Political power has become a ticket to loot: The 50 wealthiest members of the U.S. Congress have assets of $1.6 billion, the Economist recently reported, while their 50 Chinese counterparts have amassed $95 billion.

The Communist Party pledges to weed out this corruption. But police and judges are subservient to the party, and so far the party dares not allow an independent rule of law.

Last Tuesday the sun, when visible, was an eerie orange disc behind the smog. People in Beijing and many other cities won’t let their children play outside for fear of the poisoned air, and they worry too about poisoned rivers and adulterated foods. Again, the party pledges reform. Again, it’s hard to know whether reform can succeed as long as well-connected polluters need not fear the law.

China needs to transition from a catch-up, copy-cat economy to one that innovates. But can you have unbridled innovation in a society where the media are controlled, books are censored, and bloggers, while much freer, are punished or silenced if they stray too far?

The Chinese Incursion: Need to Introspect

04 Nov , 2013

Robert Kaplan in his book “The Revenge of Geography” suggests that, “India’s rivalry with China is not like the one with Pakistan: it is more abstract, less emotional, and (far more significantly) less volatile. It is a rivalry with no history behind it.” Therefore, at the highest levels we need to assess more accurately what China’s National Interests are and how and why it regards India as an impediment in its development process. Just as China expects other nations to respect its core interests and sensitivities, so should India make clear its concerns whether it pertains to refuge accorded to the Tibetan Government in exile, or India’s relations with US and/or Japan. India should convey its position emphatically on issues regarding its sensitivity to China’s military and naval presence in the countries around India, China’s relations with Pakistan pivoting on collusive military support aimed to constrain India, or India’s concern with regard to the easy availability of “Made in China” weapons and munitions to insurgents in the North-East and at the same time, India should assertively pursue its own National Interests.

A major weakness with India lies in the lack of knowledge in communication skills in Chinese language.

The recent Chinese incursion across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh is not a one off incident; neither is it going to be the last of its kind. Therefore, the incident warrants a deeper understanding on this matter of the differing perceptions of the LAC. Notwithstanding the fact that respective perceptions have not been shared or exchanged by both sides, measures to assert India’s claims need to be built-in without an overt display of belligerence. The perceived maladies in the present dispensation and possible recourse are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.

At the outset it is relevant to note that China has accorded due cognizance to the Chinese armed forces as a prominent element of national power. The Chinese White Paper on Defence released on April 16, 2013, in which China has symbiotically defined the role of the armed forces as, “It is the strategic task of China’s modernisation drive as well as a strong guarantee for China’s peaceful development to build a strong national defence and powerful armed forces which are commensurate with China’s international standing and meet the needs of its security and development interests.”

Further, in pursuit of the doctrine of fighting and winning local wars under conditions of informationalisation, the modernisation of its armed forces is being suitably tailored. At the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Headquarters, a new Department of Strategic Planning has been established as also the Department of Communications has been reorganised as Department of Informationalisation. Significantly, the Paper further states, “We will not attack unless we are attacked; but we will surely counter-attack if attacked.” These two seemingly innocuous points indicate the desire to be prepared to dominate any situation arising along its borders. Ironically, the 1962 Chinese offensive into India was deemed by them as a “self-defence counter-attack”. That the most recent White Paper on Defence reiterates the latter point should not be dismissed without due consideration.

Russia & Japan in a Historical Political and Strategic Reachout

By Dr Subhash Kapila
04-Nov-2013

Introductory Observations

Russia and Japan in a historical political and strategic reach-out held their 2+2 meeting in Tokyo of their respective Foreign Ministers

and Defence Ministers on November 2, 2013, not only to discuss political issues but also a strategic dialogue to enhance defence and

security cooperation. Russia’s political and security reach-out to Japan, as the senior and most powerful nation in North West Pacific

can be read asadding substantive contours to its Strategic Pivot to Asia Pacific. My two previous Papers on this aspect analysed the

perspectives.

Japan’s political and security reach-out to Russia needs to be viewed as a continuation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s on-going

initiatives to broad- base and widen Japan’s political and security relationships to offset its security concerns relating to China and

North Korea.

Significantly in the run-up to the Russian- Japanese 2+2 Meeting in Tokyo, the Japanese Prime Minister has had four meetings

with Russian President Putin in the last six months. Russia and Japan seem to have embarked on a process that may in its fruition generate

changes in the Asia Pacific power-balance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov remarked that “ I believe this event indicates

new stage in the relationship between Russia and Japan”. Further he added that Russian- Japanese cooperation will “promote trustful

relationships in the Asia Pacific region.

Strategic trust between Russia and Japan is assessed that it could improve Russia’s image and standing with the rest of Asia Pacific nations

strategically concerned with China’s not so benign military rise.

Major Highlights of Russia-China 2+2 Meeting in Tokyo

In the first ever meeting jointly attended by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu with

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, international security, bilateral relations and

plans to hold joint Russian-Japanese naval exercises were discussed. Japan has earlier carried out joint naval exercises with Russia,

but these were limited to search and rescue exercises. New joint naval exercises would be focused on terrorism and anti-piracy operations.

America’s Moment of Truth on Iran

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
November 04, 2013

The future of America’s standing as a great power depends on the choices it makes in dealing with Iran.

America’s Iran policy is at a crossroads. Washington can abandon its counterproductive insistence on Middle Eastern hegemony, negotiate a nuclear deal grounded in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and get serious about working with Tehran to broker a settlement to the Syrian conflict. In the process, the United States would greatly improve its ability to shape important outcomes in the region. Alternatively, America can continue on its present path, leading ultimately to strategic irrelevance in one of the world’s most vital regions – with negative implications for its standing in Asia as well.

U.S. policy is at this juncture because the costs of Washington’s post-Cold War drive to dominate the Middle East have risen perilously high. U.S. President Barack Obama’s self-inflicted debacle over his plan to attack Syria after chemical weapons were used there in August showed that America can no longer credibly threaten the effective use of force to impose its preferences in the region. While Obama still insists “all options are on the table” for Iran, the reality is that, if Washington is to deal efficaciously with the nuclear issue, it will be through diplomacy. 

In this context, October’s Geneva meeting between Iran and the P5+1 brought America’s political class to a strategic and political moment of truth. Can American elites turn away from a self-damaging quest for Middle Eastern hegemony by coming to terms with an independent regional power? Or are they so in thrall to an increasingly surreal notion of America as hegemon that, to preserve U.S. “leadership,” they will pursue a course further eviscerating its strategic position? 

The proposal for resolving the nuclear issue that Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, presented in Geneva seeks answers to these questions. It operationalizes the approach advocated by Hassan Rouhani and other Iranian leaders for over a decade: greater transparency on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for recognizing its rights as a sovereign NPT signatory – especially to enrich uranium under international safeguards – and removal of sanctions. For years, the Bush and Obama administrations rejected this approach. Now Obama must at least consider it. 

The Iranian package provides greater transparency on Tehran’s nuclear activities in two crucial respects. First, it gives greater visibility on the conduct of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has reportedly offered for some months to comply voluntarily with the Additional Protocol (AP) to the NPT – which it has signed but not yet ratified and which authorizes more proactive and intrusive inspections – to encourage diplomatic progress. Tehran would ratify the AP – thereby committing to its permanent implementation – as part of a final deal

Second, the package aims to validate Iran’s declarations that its enrichment infrastructure is not meant to produce weapons-grade fissile material. Iran would stop enriching at the near-20 percent level of fissile-isotope purity needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor and cap enrichment at levels suitable for fueling power reactors. Similarly, Iran is open to capping the number of centrifuges it would install – at least for some years – at its enrichment sites in Natanz and Fordo.

Those Depressing Germans

November 3, 2013 

German officials are furious at America, and not just because of the business about Angela Merkel’s cellphone. What has them enraged now is one (long) paragraph in a U.S. Treasury report on foreign economic and currency policies. In that paragraph Treasury argues that Germany’s huge surplus on current account — a broad measure of the trade balance — is harmful, creating “a deflationary bias for the euro area, as well as for the world economy.”

The Germans angrily pronounced this argument “incomprehensible.” “There are no imbalances in Germany which require a correction of our growth-friendly economic and fiscal policy,” declared a spokesman for the nation’s finance ministry.

But Treasury was right, and the German reaction was disturbing. For one thing, it was an indicator of the continuing refusal of policy makers in Germany, in Europe more broadly and for that matter around the world to face up to the nature of our economic problems. For another, it demonstrated Germany’s unfortunate tendency to respond to any criticism of its economic policies with cries of victimization.

First, the facts. Remember the China syndrome, in which Asia’s largest economy kept running enormous trade surpluses thanks to an undervalued currency? Well, China is still running surpluses, but they have declined. Meanwhile, Germany has taken China’s place: Last year Germany, not China, ran the world’s biggest current account surplus. And measured as a share of G.D.P., Germany’s surplus was more than twice as large as China’s.

Now, it’s true that Germany has been running big surpluses for almost a decade. At first, however, these surpluses were matched by large deficits in southern Europe, financed by large inflows of German capital. Europe as a whole continued to have roughly balanced trade.

Then came the crisis, and flows of capital to Europe’s periphery collapsed. The debtor nations were forced — in part at Germany’s insistence — into harsh austerity, which eliminated their trade deficits. But something went wrong. The narrowing of trade imbalances should have been symmetric, with Germany’s surpluses shrinking along with the debtors’ deficits. Instead, however, Germany failed to make any adjustment at all; deficits in Spain, Greece and elsewhere shrank, but Germany’s surplus didn’t.

This was a very bad thing for Europe, because Germany’s failure to adjust magnified the cost of austerity. Take Spain, the biggest deficit country before the crisis. It was inevitable that Spain would face lean years as it learned to live within its means. It was not, however, inevitable that Spanish unemployment would be almost 27 percent, and youth unemployment almost 57 percent. And Germany’s immovability was an important contributor to Spain’s pain.

It has also been a bad thing for the rest of the world. It’s simply arithmetic: Since southern Europe has been forced to end its deficits while Germany hasn’t reduced its surplus, Europe as a whole is running large trade surpluses, helping to keep the world economy depressed.

German officials, as we’ve seen, respond to all of this with angry declarations that German policy has been impeccable. Sorry, but this (a) doesn’t matter and (b) isn’t true.

CIA Releases First Audio Book on Briefing the President of the U.S.

November 4, 2013

CSI Releases First Audio Book: Getting to Know the President (Second Edition)

CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence (CSI) has released its first audio book, Getting to Know the President (Second Edition). The audio book takes listeners inside the history of CIA briefings to presidential candidates and presidents-elect from 1952-2004, all through the eyes of former CIA Inspector General and Director for Intelligence John Helgerson. This second edition of Getting to Know the President updates Helgerson’s 1996 book with reflections on the transition to President George W. Bush in 2000 and the briefings provided to his Democratic challengers in 2004.

The book offers a look into the interactions of political figures and intelligence professionals across 10 presidential transitions. Helgerson relies on internal documents, public memoirs and interviews with four former presidents, several former Directors of Central Intelligence and Directors of National Intelligence. The result is a highly engaging account, providing both anecdote and analysis. 

Helgerson is candid about the CIA’s motives in offering the briefings to presidents-elect. According to Helgerson, every sitting President since Harry Truman has believed the briefings made their successors as well-informed as possible before they took office. A second goal has been to establish a solid working relationship with each new president and his advisers so that the Intelligence Community can serve him well once in office.

The audio book release is a part of CIA’s effort to make unclassified products more readily available in alternative formats to the public. Getting to Know the President is available for free download on the U.S. Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System. The print edition is also available in the Library section of CIA.gov.