12 September 2014

Strategic networking in the Indo-Pacific

Published: September 12, 2014 01:01

Rakesh Sood

India’s ‘look-east’ policy is maturing, with diplomatic and political linkages built up with Asian forums providing the Modi government a foundation to establish overlapping non-formal networks based on strategic convergences. Outreach with Japan and Australia are the building blocks

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomatic outreach covered two established democracies of the Asia-Pacific, Japan and Australia. The outcomes reflect the geostrategic shift from the Euro-Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific and together, the two engagements provide interesting insights into Mr. Modi’s foreign policy agenda and diplomatic style.

The personal chemistry between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo¯ Abe and Mr. Modi was evident during Mr. Modi’s Japan visit. Extra time spent together in Kyoto — feeding the carp and at the tea ceremony — sent its own message and further cemented the personal rapport between the two leaders. They come from very different socio-economic backgrounds but their shared sense of “nationalism” and “destiny” has drawn them to discover strategic convergences in their respective world views.

Both believe in the “Asian century” and are convinced that Japan as a “normal state” and an economically resurgent India can, together, be a force of stability and prosperity in the region. This sentiment can nurture a potential defence relationship, which for the first time finds prominent mention in the Tokyo Declaration.

The erstwhile “strategic and global partnership” with Japan has been elevated to a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership,” but negotiators were unable to bridge differences on the civil nuclear cooperation agreement that has been on the table now for over two years. Clearly, notwithstanding personal chemistry at the top, diligent homework and deft domestic political management are necessary, in democratic societies, to change deeply ingrained mindsets.

Civil nuclear opening

From suspicion to empathy: How India and Australia became happy allies



PUBLISHED: 8 September 2014 |
The transformation of India-Australia relations in the last decade has been remarkable. We have moved rapidly from a lack of empathy to recognition that our relationship can be mutually rewarding.

A non-aligned India and an allied Australia had separate political trajectories for decades.
Australia was suspicious of a strong India dominating the Indian Ocean, while Australia was seen as an interloper in Asia, the West’s “trojan horse” there.

Australia shared western prejudices on India-Pakistan issues and opposed India on non-proliferation ones.


Australian’s PM Tony Abbott is looking to boost trade ties with India

India-Australia relations have felt the impact of changing equations in the post Cold War world, improved India-US ties, the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG exception for India for civilian nuclear cooperation, India’s Look East policy and the strategic implications for Asia of the phenomenal rise of China.

Pragmatism and enlightened self-interest have brought the two countries together.

The nuclear deal signed during prime minister Abbott’s visit to India last week has sealed the rapprochement between the two countries.

After Canada, which took the pragmatic decision to sign a bilateral nuclear deal in the interest of a broader relationship with a rising India, Australia has followed suit, but after prolonged internal political wrangling over nuclear ties with a non-NPT country.

If Australia supplies uranium to China, which is a non-democratic, territorially expansionist country with unacceptable maritime claims, and whose growing military strength and increasingly potent nuclear and missile capabilities potentially threaten western – and Australian - interests, refusing supplies to democratic India that poses no threat to Australian interests in the Pacific would make no rational geopolitical sense.

Australia has the largest uranium resources in the world, whereas India needs to import natural uranium for its nuclear power plants, creating an obvious tie from which both sides can benefit, especially as India has plans to expand its nuclear power generation in the years ahead, not least because clean energy production is necessary for environmental and climate change reasons.

This nuclear deal is doubly satisfying politically as the Japanese still resist normalisation of civilian nuclear ties with India.


Australia's Tony Abbott bids farewell to India's Narendra Modi. Pragmatism and enlightened self-interest have recently brought the two countries together.

Will President Xi Jinping’s Visit change the Contours of Sino-Indian relationship?


Vinod Anand

The coming visit of President Xi Jinping is being viewed as a visit that could define the next decade of engagement between the two Asian giants. It is generally accepted that Sino-Indian relationship could turn out to be more important than the Sino-US engagement if leadership of both the countries were to cooperate and give substance to the conception that the locus of global economy and power has shifted to Asia. Notwithstanding the fact that there is dissonance between the two countries on a number of issues both nations do share common perceptions on many of the international issues and especially so on the nature of emerging world order.

Further, the visit also needs to be seen in the backdrop of the unprecedented two summit meetings between PM Li Keqiang and Manmohan Singh last year, recent visit of Vice President Hamid Ansari to China to celebrate 60 years of Panchsheel and not to be left behind the visit of Indian Army Chief Gen. Bikram Singh to China in first week of July (after a gap of 9 Years). All these engagements were topped by Xi and Modi meeting on the sidelines of BRICS where both leaders established a good rapport. These multifarious engagements have already brought to fore the Indian concerns and have indicated the direction in which both countries want to proceed further. One thing which is certain is that no dramatic breakthroughs in the relationship should be expected.

Modi’s mantra is development and growth and that has been the basis on which he has come to power. Having had firsthand experience during his visits to China as Gujarat Chief Minister he has been thoroughly impressed by the development and economic growth of China and especially its infrastructure in terms of roads, ports, highways and some of the new cities and towns. Therefore, he is keen to conclude agreements with the visiting President regarding Chinese infrastructure companies undertaking projects in India. India is looking for infusion of China’s surplus funds in Indian infrastructure and in other avenues of investment. Though an MOU for setting up an Industrial Park has been signed by our Trade and Commerce Minister during Vice President Ansari’s visit to China, it is just a small step; Modi is looking for a framework agreement on investment by China. Modi is keen to push infrastructure development by the Chinese in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamilnadu.

India’s requirements of funds are a huge 1 trillion US dollars as per its current Five Year Plan and it is hoped that China can contribute possibly 30 percent of such requirement over a period of time. But a Sino-Indian agreement for anything closer to 30 billion USD or even somewhat lesser amount in the coming visit could be a game changer. There would be some problems like the absorption capacities and many other difficulties connected with the local environment but all such issues can be overcome provided the political will is there from both sides. Recently, a country like UK offered 1 billion pounds (around 1.75 billion USD) for infrastructure development in India. Obviously, China’s capacities are much beyond this amount.

Isis sends a gruesome message but reveals little about itself


Financial Times, September 5 2014

By Ahmed Rashid

The Taliban were not very communicative but they were polite, writes Ahmed Rashid
When Osama bin Laden wanted to deliver a message to the west, he summoned a journalist or a television network. Before the attacks of September 11 2001 he even gave press conferences. He was available to the media as a physical presence. This was how he communicated. People paid attention to what he said, because he was saying it via trusted journalists.

When the head of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) wants to send a message, the movement does it differently. Social media is the new way of communicating, for businessmen and terrorists alike.

When the terrorist group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has something to say, he posts it online, using multiple social media platforms so as to make it impossible for authorities to silence him. He need not appear in person before representatives of the western press in order to convince his audience that he is real. The message itself is enough.

Killing the messenger is an ancient way for kings to assuage frustration born of defeat or a political failure. Mr Baghdidi has taken this routine to another level. In his view, journalists are not messengers who convey information to the outside world, but merely intruders, who should be imprisoned, tortured and eliminated, or – especially if they are American or British – used as political pawns.

The tragic beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff are part of this revolting new political game. Al-Qaeda briefly attempted something similar in 2001, with the beheading of Daniel Pearl. With Isis, it has become de rigueur. In this way it expects to force western governments to sit up and take notice.

In the years after 1993, I roamed around Afghanistan with the Taliban – the horrors of their day. As I did so, I learnt about their philosophy, saw how they governed and treated people, how they understood developments in geopolitics. I studied their military tactics and strategy. And I wrote books that informed others of what I had learnt. To think of those days now, when merely to show your face as a journalist in parts of Iraq or Syria is to invite a violent death, it seems like another era, another age.


By Gulshan Luthra and Air Marshal (Retired) VK Jimmy Bhatia

2014-09-07 In this exclusive interview conducted by our partner India Strategic with Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force, the COS provides an overview on how he sees the evolution of Indian Air Power in the joint context.

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC, took over as Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) from Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne on December 31, 2013.

Commissioned into the Flying Branch of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1974, the CAS has to his credit over 3,400 hors, mostly flown on different types of fighter aircraft. In an exclusive interview with India Strategic (IS) on July 31, 2014, the CAS spoke at length on the IAF’s plans to equip and train itself against the myriad challenges facing the force.

IS: Having completed six months now at the helm of one the largest and battle-tested air forces in the world, what do you reckon are the major challenges facing the Indian Air Force (IAF)? How have you planned to cope with these?

CAS: The application of aerospace power would prove to be the decisive factor in winning the short and intense wars of the future, wherein the response would need to be prompt and precise.

Towards this, IAF envisages a multi-spectrum strategic force capable of addressing the myriad challenges posed by the prevalent security environment.

One of our major challenges is to remain a contemporary aerospace power, which possesses credible capability with a strategic footprint.

The response options so desired would be afforded by our comprehensive transformation plan involving acquisitions, upgrades and efficient management of legacy systems.

Flying training is another focus area where we are systematically building up our capability; both in terms of inducting modern trainers as well as enhancing our overall capacity.

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force in his office. Credit: India Strategic

The aircrew need to be capable of handling and operating the modern platforms in multiple roles in a multi-threat environment.

Maximum impetus is also being provided in training and preparing our air-warriors to absorb the intrinsic technologies and maintenance practices therein, in the least possible time.

IS: “The IAF in metamorphic transformation” is an oft-repeated statement, which continues to emanate from different quarters, within and outside the ‘Establishment’.

Do you agree?

If yes, could you elaborate, especially with regard to its concepts and ethos?
Indian Air Force Modernization and Joint Doctrine

CAS: The on-going transformation of the IAF involves a three-pronged approach of ‘Preserve, Upgrade and Acquire.’


By Curtis Chin and Meera Kumar

Rubbish containers in India 

Whether it is tattered plastic bags washing up on India’s beaches, piles of waste on the sides of smart city streets or discarded candy wrappers along the Himalayan trekking trails, India is facing a growing scourge: mountains of garbage that can no longer simply be swept away.

Throughout India the response to the challenges of solid waste management has been woefully inadequate. Among the specific problems are non-existent recycling efforts, overburdened garbage collection and inadequate sanitation services.

The impact on public health, the harm to the environment and the many downstream costs to the economy are enormous. Because these costs are so high, finding a solution will require a concerted effort from businesses, governments and private citizens.

The problem of poor waste management is a scourge that affects not only India but is spread across all countries of Asia. Indeed, the dimension of Asia’s garbage problem was underscored by the widespread confusion caused by vast amounts of plastic debris found floating in the region’s oceans during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 earlier this year. Today, the North Pacific and Indian Oceans are ranked as the first and third -worst by volume of rubbish among the world’s oceans, according to California-based research group 5 Gyres.

A World Bank report estimates that some 3 billion urban residents today generate 1.2 kg waste per person per day, adding up to 1.3 billion tons of waste per year. By 2025, it is estimated, 4.3 billion urban residents will generate about 1.42 kg per capita per day, or 2.2 billion tons of waste per year.

As India’s economy has grown so, too, has its trash problem, with people adopting modern lifestyles — and embracing the disposable, packaged goods — of their consumer-driven counterparts in more developed nations.
One man’s trash…

But this increasingly widespread and seemingly intractable issue could prove a gold mine if India’s political and business leaders see trash as equal parts – challenge and opportunity.

To date, the waste market industry remains at an embryonic stage in Asia, but some of the region’s savviest businesspeople are beginning to pay attention to the opportunities that near-overflowing landfills can provide. Some have already proven that managing waste and harnessing landfill by-products, including methane and other gases released by decomposing garbage, offers money-making opportunities. There are several success stories that India should take immediate note of.


India has been confronting a jihadist threat from Pakistan for decades. Expeditionary terrorism typically receives the most focus, but indigenous actors benefiting from external support are responsible for the majority of jihadist attacks in India. The Indian mujahideen (IM) network, which announced its presence to the public via media in 2007, is the latest and most well known manifestation of the indigenous Islamist militant threat. As this paper details, however, its members were active before then.

Moreover, a small number of Indian Muslims have been launching terrorist strikes—with and without Pakistani support—for more than two decades. The dynamics of Indian jihadism and the nature of India’s evolving counterterrorism response are not easy to comprehend. This is understandable given that, even among Indian security officials and analysts, a knowledge gap exists.

Discussions with issue experts and policy analysts prior to field research highlighted that three key areas regarding Indian jihadism remained opaque: the organizational nature and scale of the indigenous movement, the degree to which indigenous networks could threaten U.S. interests in India or across the wider South Asia region, and the nebulous ties between Indian jihadist networks and Pakistan-based groups. This paper addresses these and related issues and focuses on the evolution and dynamics of Indian jihadism.1 It begins by providing an overview of the evolution of the Indian jihadist movement, then explores the dynamics extant within that movement today, and concludes with an assessment of the threats posed by the movement.

The Four Phases of Indian Jihadism

Phase One

In December 1992, Hindu chauvinists demolished the Babri Masjid (Babur mosque) in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India, which had been constructed by the first Mughal Emperor of India in the 16th century. Hundreds of Muslims were killed in the communal riots that followed the mosque’s demolition. An environment of relative deprivation afflicting Indian Muslims had already created a small pool of would-be militants.2 So too did pervasive abuse by the police, which grew once Muslims started becoming involved in homegrown terrorism and contributed further to a sense of political alienation.3 The demolition of the Babri mosque thus catalyzed a response among an already radicalizing portion of the Muslim community. Believing that established leaders of the Muslim community had failed to stand against a rising threat from Hindu chauvinism, radical members took it upon themselves to fight back.

In the wake of communal riots that killed hundreds of Muslims, Dawood Ibrahim, the Muslim leader of South Asia’s largest crime syndicate known as D-Company, worked with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to engineer a lethal series of bomb blasts in Mumbai (Bombay at the time) in March 1993.4 This series of blasts remains the most deadly terrorist attack in India’s history and may have helped inspire or embolden would-be jihadists to take action. At the very least, D-Company became an important recruiting vehicle, using its logistical networks and ties to Pakistan to facilitate transit there for aspiring Indian jihadists in search of training and support.5

The link between organized criminality and Islamist militancy remained an enduring feature of the Indian jihadist movement. The Asif Raza Commando Brigade, formed by gangsters- cum-jihadists and discussed later in this section, constitutes one of the two major building blocks of that movement. The Tanzim Islahul Muslimeen (Organization for the Improvement of Muslims, or TIM) is the other.

Activists from the Gorba faction of the Jamaat Ahl-e-Hadith in Mumbai formed the TIM in the Mominpora slum in summer 1985.6

Motivated by communal riots that erupted the previous year in Bhiwandi and spread to Mumbai and Thane, these activists converged around the need for a Muslim self-defense militia and the possibility of taking revenge for Hindu nationalist violence.7 Three key figures were present at the Mominpora meetings: Jalees Ansari, Azam Ghouri, and Abdul Karim (also known as “Tunda”). (For an alphabetical reference of these and 13 other key figures in the history of Indian jihadi activities, see appendix 1.)

Afghanistan or Talibanistan?

April 2, 2014 

Afghan National Army soldiers learn to medevac casualties at Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province on Feb. 19, 2014. For many, this was the first time they had been aboard a helicopter. (U.S. Marine Corps)

Will the country see relative stability and freedom after 2014?
Col. Robert M. Cassidy

This year will see a set of key events in Afghanistan: variables of pivotal magnitude that may well determine whether it succeeds as a state or succumbs to another Taliban takeover.

If Afghanistan succeeds and endures, the struggle will have ultimately been the good war of the last 12-plus years: in terms of the justification for going to war, in the way the coalition ultimately prosecuted it, and in the context that the international community will have fulfilled a post-war moral commitment to the Afghan allies we supported and fought alongside.

The value of the political object, the morality of the war, and the perception of victory or defeat comprise the most compelling logic of the contest of wills there. There are impediments that increase the risk of failure, yet also momentum that favors success. And there is history, and the history of wars in Afghanistan does not suggest that catastrophic failure is inevitable – if the coalition continues to support Afghanistan after 2014.

The political object, and its perceived value, guide war. The value of the political object of the Afghan War – dismantling, defeating, and denying al-Qaeda sanctuary – derives from the horrific consequences of the 9/11 raids. The political object, when achieved and sustained, will prevent this from happening again. However, the perceived value of the object has diminished in the eyes of the supporting polities because of the costs and duration of this war. In other words, the political and domestic will to persevere have waned.

The Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Islamist zealots of similar cloth have endured significant disruption, displacement and dismantling of their capacity to carry on, yet their will to continue has not relented. This is because of the fanatical religious creed that animates these enemies, and because of the physical and materiel sanctuary and support they benefit from in Pakistan’s border areas. Generous funding from Saudi Arabia and other gulf states also helps. For the likes of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqanis, their mantra is ‘Islam or death.’ For Western polities, it is, ‘bring the troops home.’

Pakistani security elites believe they can counter their existential nemesis, India, by supporting the Taliban and using the Haqqanis to foment insurgency in Afghanistan. Although this notion of strategic depth is a figment of these elites’ febrile and fertile imaginations, their cost-benefit strategic calculus is not likely to change unless there is a huge shift in how the U.S. and the West confront Pakistani duplicity. In other words, in the minds of the Pakistani security leadership that decides strategy, the benefits of supporting and protracting the insurgency in Afghanistan outweigh the costs.

What Role Can India Play in Defusing Afghanistan's Election Crisis?

September 10, 2014

India’s external affairs minister is in Kabul. Can she help defuse the electoral crisis in Afghanistan? 

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Kabul on Wednesday as Afghanistan grapples with a prolonged electoral crisis that began in June. Most recently, one of the two Afghan presidential candidates involved in the run-off vote that took place on June 14, Abdullah Abdullah, declared at the last minute that he would not abide by an earlier agreement, brokered by the United States, that saw all 8 million votes cast in the run-off audited for fraud. Instead, Abdullah prematurely and unilaterally declared victory in the election — potentially polarizing his support base against that of his opponent, Ashraf Ghani. Swaraj’s trip to Kabul comes at a crucial hour and could result in important dividends for New Delhi once the current crisis is resolved.

Beyond Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s attendance at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration in May, the governments of India and Afghanistan have not interacted at a high-level since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over in New Delhi. While Swaraj is slated to meet with the outgoing Karzai government, discussing routine matters such as development assistance, Afghan reconstruction, and security cooperation, she will also convey New Delhi’s desire to see the current electoral crisis resolved via negotiation and according to the terms of the U.S.-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal.

India bears the benefit of being perceived positively almost unanimously among mainstream Afghan politicians (this, of course, doesn’t include the Taliban and other extremist groups). Both presidential candidates have a positive understanding of India’s relations with Afghanistan (as does the outgoing government). With her trip to Kabul, Swaraj makes India visible at a crucial juncture in Afghanistan’s political transition. Given her trip’s agenda, it appears unlikely that she will attempt to broker a return to the prior agreement between Ghani and Abdullah (though she will meet with them). Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for the two candidates to put aside their differences in the interest of the country. Swaraj would do well to communicate her agreement with that sentiment, at least to the Afghan press. While India can’t be a panacea for Afghanistan’s electoral troubles, it needs to ensure that it stands on the best possible footing to immediately engage Afghanistan’s next president.

By backing a return to the established agreement’s procedures, Swaraj would join a growing chorus of global voices including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and others that have called for composure and negotiation during this crisis. Abdullah’s declaration could have the disastrous effect of polarizing supporters to the extent that the fragile ethnic balance of this election collapses and inter-ethic violence breaks out along political lines. This outcome, naturally, would be a nightmare for India, which wants to see a prosperous and stable Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Insurgent Group Splits, but Don’t Count Them Out

September 10, 2014

"One thing’s for sure: the Taliban wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan are far from over. They are only moving on to their next phase."

In December 2007, an umbrella organization of jihadist militias across Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan was formed, producing a united, ferocious front that would take on the Pakistani state and kill tens of thousands of civilians, as well as thousands of soldiers and security personnel. By the spring of 2009, the group known as the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had taken over most of the country’s Pashtun belt. Two major, as well as many other smaller, Pakistan Army counterinsurgency operations pushed back the TTP, which was concentrated in the North Waziristan tribal area, as well as parts of Afghanistan. But as a terrorist force, the TTP resurged in 2011, despite the killing of its founder, Baitullah Mehsud, two years earlier.

While the TTP has experienced splintering and internal feuds in recent years, it faces its greatest threat today with the emergence of a counterumbrella force, the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan–Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), which was formed last month by a group of dissident commanders.

Though he does not head the group, the driving force behind the TTP-JA is Umar Khalid Khorasani, an Afghanistan-based Pakistani militant who had commanded TTP forces in the Mohmand tribal area in Pakistan. Umar Khalid has always been somewhat of a renegade. For example, last September, as nascent talks between the TTP—then led by Hakimullah Mehsud—and the government were rumored to be underway, Umar Khalid said that he would oppose any decision by the group to engage in talks with Islamabad.

As peace talks between the TTP, led by Maulvi Fazlullah, and the Pakistani government proceeded this year, splinter groups, such as the Ahrar ul Hind outfit, emerged and continued terror attacks in Pakistan amid a ceasefire between the TTP and Islamabad. Fazlullah, who is based in Afghanistan and is not a member of the Mehsud tribe that provided the TTP’s first two central leaders, never quite consolidated control of the organization. There has been internecine strife, with drive-by shootings taking place in the North Waziristan tribal area, where the TTP had been concentrated, ahead of the Pakistan military’s ground operations in the area that began in June.

Much, though not all, of North Waziristan has been cleansed of the TTP and allied jihadist groups, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Terror attacks in Pakistan are down significantly this year; Pakistan is on pace to have its fewest terrorism-related deaths since 2010. Some militant groups, such as the Junood al-Hafsa led by Asmatullah Muawiya, have reportedly decided to focus on Afghanistan, instead of Pakistan.

Obama Hopes That the New War Against ISIS Will Largely Remain a Proxy War

U.S. to Rely on Local Forces to Fight Islamic State

Julian E. Barnes and Siobhan Gorman

Wall Street Journal , September 11, 2014

Peshmerga fighters stand guard at Mosul Dam in Iraq last month. Reuters

WASHINGTON—A cornerstone of the expanded U.S. military campaign against Islamic State militants will be reliance on U.S.-trained local forces to confront the group head on.

But the U.S. has a poor track record of taking or keeping control in areas such as Iraq and Libya for extended periods, experiences that underscore the risks of depending on moderate rebels in Syria and state security forces in Iraq.

Relying on local forces and eschewing the use of American combat troops has become a favorite strategy of President Barack Obama as a way to reduce the risk of being dragged into a protracted foreign conflict. But some defense officials and experts say that approach also can heighten the risk of failure.

In Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and elsewhere, results have been mixed at best in U.S. efforts to push local forces to the forefront of fights against extremists. U.S. military campaigns conducted with little or no local ground support—such as those in Pakistan and Yemen—have met with some success but have lasted for years. Success, officials and experts say, is especially difficult when American troops are prohibited from serving alongside local units on the front lines or without a yearslong U.S. presence to train, advise and mentor the partner forces.

American defense officials are divided over whether it is possible to train local forces in Iraq and Syria without at least a small number of American “boots on the ground,” something that Mr. Obama has vowed to avoid. Weeks of American airstrikes in Iraq have arrested the progress of Islamic State fighters, preventing them from claiming more territory. But few military experts or officials believe Hellfire missiles and guided bombs will be enough to roll back the group’s gains.

Taking back territory in Iraq, defense officials insist, will require a push by Kurdish and other Iraqi forces. In Syria, the U.S. plans to expand efforts to train moderate rebels, who in theory could challenge both Islamic State and the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. officials acknowledge big risks with the strategy and that not all of the potential pitfalls have been addressed. In Syria, officials have repeatedly raised the problem of adequately vetting rebels to ensure the people trained and armed by the U.S. don’t join the ranks of Islamic State. In Iraq, the U.S. believes that many of the Shiite-dominated military forces have been penetrated by Iranian agents.

"You’re relying on lots of different forces who are in some cases highly unreliable and highly divided," said a U.S. official. "It’s a delicate balancing act. Unless we play it really smartly, it could really go poorly. There are real risks there."

*** New Military Campaign Extends a Legacy of War


WASHINGTON — In ordering a sustained military campaign against Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, President Obama on Wednesday night effectively set a new course for the remainder of his presidency and may have ensured that he would pass his successor a volatile and incomplete war, much as his predecessor left one for him.

It will be a significantly different kind of war — not like Iraq or Afghanistan, where many tens of thousands of American troops were still deployed when Mr. Obama took the oath nearly six years ago. And even though Mr. Obama compared it to the small-scale, sporadic strikes against isolated terrorists in places like Yemen and Somalia, it will not be exactly like those either.
Instead, the widening battle with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will be the next chapter in a grueling, generational struggle that has kept the United States at war in one form or another since that day 13 years ago on Thursday when hijacked airplanes shattered America’s sense of its own security. Waged by a president with faded public standing, the new phase will not involve many American troops on the ground, but seems certain to require a far more intense American bombing blitz than in Somalia or Yemen.Continue reading the main story Video

Play Video|1:52
ISIS’ Goals and Tactics Worldwide

Some background on goals, tactics and the potential long-term threat to the United States from the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.Video Credit By Natalia V. Osipova and Christian Roman on Publish Date September 10, 2014. Image CreditReuters

The battleground for that new phase will now extend beyond the well-known sands of Iraq into the new theater of Syria, a nation racked by more than three years of brutal civil war. After years of trying to avoid entangling the United States in another “dumb war,” as he called the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Mr. Obama is now plunging the United States into the middle of one of the world’s bloodiest, most vicious and fratricidal conflicts.

Whether he can wage this war in a more effective way, crushing a jihadist group while minimizing American casualties, could be the central national security test of his final two years in office — and the first one confronting his successor. Mr. Obama acknowledged that “it will take time to eradicate a cancer” like ISIS, but gave no estimates.


By Sarah Schoenberger
Armed with AK47s and equipped with GPS devices, modern pirates pose a serious non-traditional security threat to all seafaring nations, their people, and economies. In 2012, five crew members were killed in pirate attacks, 14 wounded, and 313 kidnapped; and the world economy lost about US$6 billion through disrupted maritime logistic chains, higher insurance premiums, and longer shipping times. While most associate piracy with hijacked ships and abandoned crews around Somalia, the area with the most pirate attacks in recent years has been the South China Sea. While the most severe attacks here occur primarily in Malaysia, 78 percent of the incidents in 2012 took place at Indonesian ports and concerned small cases of petty theft.

This analysis is based on data by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN specialized agency for maritime security. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as an illegal act of violence committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft against another ship or aircraft on the high seas; the IMO extends this definition to include “armed robbery against ships”—pirate attacks within a state’s territorial sea.

According to the IMO, piracy worldwide has risen substantially since 1994 with incident peaks of about 470 and 550 in 2000 and 2011, respectively (see Figure 1). This is primarily due to the exponential increase of global shipping in the course of globalization—leading to 80 percent of world trade being shipped across oceans today—with which opportunities for piracy increased likewise. The real number of pirate attacks are thereby even higher: An estimated two-thirds of all pirate attacks remain unreported, as shipping companies skirt the bad publicity, higher insurance premiums, and investigation delays that come with reporting incidents.

With the exception of 2007 to 2012, when piracy in East Africa experienced a sharp increase, the South China Sea has been the most piracy-prone region in the world, with up to 150 attacks per year. Why? First, about 30 percent of global maritime trade passes through the region, so opportunities for attacks are plenty. Second, the area’s geographical features foster piracy, as the island chains and small rocks constitute ideal hiding places, while the narrow passages facilitate attacks. Third, unresolved territorial issues and lack of agreed jurisdiction, particularly around the Spratley and Paracel Islands, complicate maritime enforcement and patrols and thus facilitate illegal activities at sea.

While pirate attacks in the South China Sea are spread across the entire area, the majority happen around Indonesia: Of 85 incidents with a known location in 2012, 66 occurred in Indonesia, 10 in Malaysia, 3 in the Philippines, 2 in Singapore and 4 in Vietnam. Indonesia’s geographical features and the increased efforts of Malaysia and Singapore to combat piracy in the Strait of Malacca explain the predominance in Indonesia. Here, efforts to fight piracy are weak, cooperation of corrupt port officials is high, and punishment for piracy rather light.

Why Is China Building Islands in the South China Sea?

September 10, 2014

A BBC report confirms China’s extensive land reclamation projects in the South China Sea. What does Beijing gain? 

The BBC has published a multimedia report on the scramble for control over the South China Sea, with a particular focus on the clash between China and the Philippines. In the BBC report, entitled “China’s Island Factory,” reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes describes his journey on a Filipino fishing boat to visit “new islands” created by Chinese land reclamation in the South China Sea. He then visits two Philippines outposts in the Spratlys (Pagasa Island and the Sierre Madre, a Philippine Navy vessel grounded on Second Thomas Shoal) that Manila uses to legitimize its claims.

The Philippine government has been doing its best to call attention to China’s land reclamation projects in the South China Sea, part of Manila’s attempt to win over international opinion. The Philippines calls such actions provocative, a unilateral attempt to change the status quo. Back in May, the Department of Foreign Affairsprotested the land reclamation in a statement and released before-and-after photos of the construction. At the recent ASEAN Regional Forum, Manila proposed a freeze on provocative moves in the South China Sea, including land reclamation projects. Beijing dismissed the proposal before the ARF even convened.

Traveling on a Filipino fishing boat, Wingfield-Hayes visited two previously submerged reefs that now host brand-new islands. He described the activity at Johnson South Reef as follows:

Millions of tonnes of rock and sand have been dredged up from the sea floor and pumped into the reef to form new land.

Along the new coastline I can see construction crews building a sea wall. There are cement-pumping trucks, cranes, large steel pipes, and the flash of welding torches.

According to the report, China “is building substantial new islands on five different reefs.” Wingfield-Hayes notes that no one is certain what China plans to do with the new islands. The Philippine government has expressed concerns that one, Johnson South Reef, will be the home to a new South China Sea airbase. However, it’s equally possible that China plans to install civilian populations on the new islands to bolster its sovereignty claims. China, the Philippines, and Vietnam all maintain small civilian outposts in the South China Sea as a way of legitimizing their claims (and deterring military actions by other claimants).

It’s also possible that building the “islands” is an end unto itself. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, submerged features (such as shoals) cannot be claimed by any party. The Philippines’ request for arbitration on the South China Sea disputes is in part based on this fact; Manila requested clarification as to whether or not China (or any other state) can claim submerged or partially-submerged features under UNCLOS.

China's Military Creates New Space Force

September 10, 2014

The People’s Liberation Army has reportedly established a fifth military service dedicated to aerospace operations. 

China has created a fifth branch of the People’s Liberation Army devoted to space operations, a Japanese newspaper is reporting.

Last month, Yomiuri Shimbun — one of Japan’s national papers — carried a report that said that China had recently ordered the PLA to establish an Aerospace Force. The branch, which is expected to focus on military operations in space, would be the military’s fifth branch after the PLA Ground, Air, Naval, and the Second Artillery (in charge of China’s nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles) Forces. It will be complemented by an Aerospace Office under the Central Military Commission.

The Diplomat cannot confirm the validity of the report, and it’s notable that Yomiuri Shimbun appears to have taken the original article down in the last few days (a cached version can be found here). The Pentagon also refused to comment on the article, referring The Diplomat instead to the PLA.

Still, the claim seems plausible on the face of it. As The Diplomat previously noted, while visiting a PLA Air Force Base in April of this year, Xi Jinping urged military officers “to speed up air and space integration and sharpen their offensive and defensive capabilities.” He also called for the creation of a “new type of combat unit” dedicated to this purpose.

The state media outlet, China Daily, quoted a Chinese military expert saying of Xi’s speech: “The United States has paid considerable attention and resources to the integration of capabilities in both air and space, and other powers have also moved progressively toward space militarization… Though China has stated that it sticks to the peaceful use of space, we must make sure that we have the ability to cope with others’ operations in space.”

The China Daily article also noted that China had long emphasized the need to better integrate space and air capabilities.

In addition, earlier this year the California-based security firm CrowdStrike released a report tying a PLA cyber unit, Unit 61486, to an extensive, years-long hacking campaign aimed at stealing information from satellite and aerospace companies in both the United States and Europe. “The group has been operating since at least 2007 and has been observed heavily targeting the U.S. Defense and European satellite and aerospace industries,” CrowdStrike noted in the report. U.S. military officials later confirmed they knew of the existence of the group before the report was released.

The PLA’s intent focusing on beefing up its space capabilities has also been noted in Chinese-language military writings. For example, one recent paper translated by the U.S. government noted the importance of integrating space and cyber capabilities. The study said that “cyber warfare is an act of war that utilizes space technology; it combines space technology and cyber technology and maintains and seizes the control of cyberspace.” The report added that “space will surely be the main battlefield of cyber warfare.” As defined in the report, space-based cyber warfare “ensures its own control at will while at the same time uses cyberspace to disable, weaken, disrupt, and destroy the enemy’s cyber actions or cyber installations.”

Writing China: Nicholas Lardy, ‘Markets Over Mao’

Courtesy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics

For the past 30 years, Nicholas Lardy has chronicled the immense changes in China’s economy and revealed some of the system’s biggest flaws. The problems include the banking sector’s bad loans in the late 1990s and the institutionalized exploitation of savers, via meager bank deposit rates, to finance economic growth. In his latest book, “Markets Over Mao,” the 68-year old senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington D.C., takes on China’s state-owned enterprises. His surprising conclusion: They don’t have nearly the breadth and power that China’s many critics say they do.

China Real Time recently talked with Mr. Lardy about the new book, its surprising conclusion and why he still thinks reform of state-owned firms is important. Below is an edited transcript.

You argue that China’s state-owned enterprises don’t have the power that their opponents say they do. What’s your proof?

SOEs appear to be a relatively small portion of the Chinese economy. They account for between one-third and one-quarter of GDP. But in manufacturing, SOEs only account for 20% of output. In some parts of the Chinese economy, the private sector has largely displaced state companies.

You also say the notion that China flourishes because of “state capitalism” is outmoded. Why?

State capitalism means a high degree of state ownership of production, a great deal of control over investment, a great deal of control of the banking sector and a very substantial use of industrial policy. I don’t think the term ‘state capitalism’ fits China very well because its industrial policy has been an almost complete failure.

The return on assets of state firms is plummeting. It was around 3.7% in 2013, which is less than half the cost of capital.

So how would you characterize the Chinese economy?

It’s more accurate to think of it as a market economy. The role of the state has diminished dramatically from where it was 20 to 30 years ago. When you look at the number of people employed by the state, it’s less than France as a percentage of the labor force. China’s not a pure market economy, but it’s very hard to find pure market economies these days, especially given the recent history of the financial crisis and the degree of government ownership (that resulted from actions of the U.S. and other governments to limit economic damage).

State-owned Chinese banks, though, have been characterized as ATMS for state-owned firms. Doesn’t this arrangement give Chinese SOEs a leg up over foreign and domestic competition?

Who Makes Rules On the Chessboard of the South China Sea?

Zhai Kun, Director of World Political Studies, CICIR
September 1, 2014

On the chessboard of the South China Sea, spectators have turned into players and the game is expanding. Whose rules should be followed? This represents a new focus and direction of the game over the South China Sea in 2014. After the moves, prompts and counter-moves over a half year plus, players gathered at Nay Pyi Taw, capital of Myanmar, in August, to engage in a scrimmage.

On August 9, US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed for a freeze on actions in the South China Sea at the ARF Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, an idea that had been brewing for quite some time. However, the proposal was coldly received and even opposed by participating foreign ministers. The American desire to make the rules in the South China Sea was thwarted, as none of the other parties wanted the US to make rules or to press for a Code of Conduct. After the meeting, Kerry flew to Australia and Hawaii to argue his case for a freeze, making an early preparation for the upcoming East Asia Summit in November. Twists and turns of the proposal help one understand who makes rules in the South China Sea.

Firstly, there was the embarrassment of the freeze proposal. The game in August may be summed up as simple one, two and three steps. First was Kerry’s proposal that all claimants to the South China Sea disputes should freeze provocative actions, including land reclamation and construction on disputed islands. Next was Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s “dual-track approach”, with which “China and ASEAN have already found the path for resolving the South China Sea issue, i.e. relevant disputes being addressed by countries directly concerned through friendly consultations and negotiations and in a peaceful way, and peace and stability in the South China Sea being jointly maintained by China and ASEAN countries.” And the third was the Philippines’ three-step plan to suspend activities that aggravate tensions in the short term, conclude a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) in the mid-term and finally settle sovereignty disputes peacefully. After negotiations, ASEAN Foreign Ministers did not mention a “freeze” in their joint declaration. They just noted the three-step proposal and urged that the process of negotiation on COC be sped up. It is fair to say that the US lost the game; ASEAN neither won nor lost; and China had a small victory.

Next, we’ll go into the background of the freeze proposal. Since former Secretary of State Clinton declared the South China Sea as a US national interest in 2010, the US has tried to get involved in the relevant disputes. While the Philippines and Vietnam have attempted to rope the US in, China is firmly opposed to American intervention. Mr. Lee Kuan Yew wrote last March in an article forForbes: “It is naive to believe that a strong China will accept the conventional definition of what parts of the sea around it are under its jurisdiction. This should come as no surprise, but it has been uncomfortable for some of China’s neighbors and other stakeholders, including the U.S.” A failure to materialize its desire for protracted time inevitably hurts the American reputation and undermines its strategy to rebalance towards the Asia Pacific. On July 11, in a speech at CSIS, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Fuchs summed up three types of international criticisms of US policy: that the alliance is outdated, that the US is an outsider and that American attention has been diverted elsewhere. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel also considered the recent “tough unilateral actions” of China “expansionary” and “inconsistent with international law or standards.” The US found it necessary to make rules for Chinese actions in the South China Sea so that China would not bully smaller and weaker countries without constraint, or establish its sphere of influence. Such is the background of the freeze proposal, the essence of which is to resolve South China Sea disputes under US rules. The failure of the freeze proposal means that the US attempt to restrain and regulate Chinese behavior in the South China Sea has not produced any effect.

Could the US fight ISIS and China with the same weapons?

By Harry J. Kazianis, contributor
September 09, 2014

As President Obama struggles to find the right policy prescriptions for dealing with the growing challenge of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), other parts of the world are ripe with challenges calling for Washington's attention. In the economically dynamic Asia-Pacific region, the People's Republic of China, through a variety of tactics, is challenging Washington's military dominance. If America found itself in a conflict with Beijing while attempting to use the same military platforms and strategies to fight a foe like ISIS, it could find it is militarily ill-equipped and unready for the challenge.

At present, Washington is well-suited to the task of taking on ISIS. U.S. airpower aboard aircraft carriers or short-range strike aircraft at present can surge quickly almost unchallenged and strike targets at will throughout Iraq and even in Syria if needed. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can rapidly move into areas of surveillance interest, gather intelligence, and even strike targets largely without fear of reprisal. Even the most vilified of options, placing large amounts of "boots on the ground," if needed to stop, say, an ISIS march on Baghdad or Erbil, would be operationally possible as ISIS forces would be unable to stop an American or allied build-up. Indeed, one of the greatest military assets the United States has taken for granted since the 1991 Gulf War — being able to surge large amounts of military assets into a theater of combat operations — would be something Washington could very much count on against ISIS if the moment ever came. America could largely use the same types of assets and strategy it has relied on since the end of the Cold War — building forces in mass near a conflict zone, short range airpower, carriers based offshore, long-range strike aircraft (B-52, B-1 and even B-2 bombers) and cruise missiles to strike possible ISIS targets at will.

Unfortunately, if the United States found itself in a conflict with China, whether to honor treaty commitments to Japan or the Philippines or in some unforeseen circumstance, military assets and strategies that would prove lethal against an adversary like ISIS would be ineffective against Beijing.

China's military over the last two decades has set out to transform itself from a largely bloated and obsolete continental force that focused on countering a Soviet attack to a modern, 21st-century military working toward projecting power out into the East and South China Seas. It has focused its efforts on a strategy named by Western analysts "Anti-Access/Area-Denial" or "A2/AD." Having studied the last two decades of U.S. combat operations, China has worked to remove areas of presumed U.S. strength and in fact turn them into weaknesses. The goal of such a strategy is quite simple: keep U.S. forces out of areas where China feels it should assert its authority or has "indisputable sovereignty." This involves developing and deploying large amounts of ballistic, cruise and now hypersonic missiles, anti-submarine sonar nets, over 80,000 sea mines, ultra-quiet conventional submarines, cyber weapons and various other systems all in an effort to deny American forces the ability to mass forces in and around China's coastline and near seas. If U.S. forces like aircraft carriers were to approach a conflict zone, China could launch new "carrier-killer" missiles with a range of 1,500 kilometers. If U.S. short-range strike aircraft and fighter jets seemed ready to attack or join in the fray, Beijing could launch large follies of cruise missiles at U.S. air bases in Japan and possibly as far as Guam, striking jets on the ground. If such aircraft were to survive and attempt to attack targets on the Chinese mainland, they would face one of the world's most powerful air defense networks.


Sep. 9, 2014 

FILE - In this July 28, 2014 file photo, black smoke billows over the skyline as a fire at the oil depot for the airport rages out of control after being struck in the crossfire of warring militias battling for control of the airfield, in Tripoli, Libya. In September, 2014, as Libya crumbles into a failed state, a unique geography is emerging. The recently elected parliament is relegated to a remote eastern city in a sort of internal exile, along with the forces that support it. In the capital, Islamist-allied militias have set up their own government after capturing not only Tripoli but also Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi. All around the country, cities, towns and tribes are now choosing sides, raising fears of outright civil war. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ben Khalifa, File) 

FILE - In this Sunday, May 18, 2014 file image made from video provided by the Libyan national army via AP Television, vehicles with heavy artillery of the Tripoli joint security forces move closer to the parliament building after troops of Gen. Khalifa Hifter targeted Islamist lawmakers and officials at the parliament in Tripoli, Libya. In September, 2014, as Libya crumbles into a failed state, a unique geography is emerging. The recently elected parliament is relegated to a remote eastern city in a sort of internal exile, along with the forces that support it. In the capital, Islamist-allied militias have set up their own government after capturing not only Tripoli but also Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi. All around the country, cities, towns and tribes are now choosing sides, raising fears of outright civil war. (AP Photo/Libyan national army, File) 

FILE - In this Thursday, July 31, 2014 file handout photo provided by the Hellenic Navy, a navy special operations team inspects waters as a plume of smoke is seen over Libya's capital Tripoli. A Greek frigate was used to evacuate Greek embassy staff and others from Tripoli. In September, 2014, as Libya crumbles into a failed state, a unique geography is emerging. The recently elected parliament is relegated to a remote eastern city in a sort of internal exile, along with the forces that support it. In the capital, Islamist-allied militias have set up their own government after capturing not only Tripoli but also Libya’s second-largest city, Benghazi. All around the country, cities, towns and tribes are now choosing sides, raising fears of outright civil war. (AP Photo/Hellenic Navy, File)