24 September 2014

A misadventure on the border

WHEN I read Chinese President Xi Jinping's statement permitting Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar to transit from Nathu La and through the Chumbi Valley, my thoughts drifted to a hilarious trespass in the early 1980s. Once the Chinese Government had embarked on assimilating Tibet into the Middle Kingdom in 1950, the Chumbi Valley was firmly shuttered down to the outside world. The PLA had created a sizeable presence in the Valley and axiomatically, so did the Indian Army in near vicinity. Both sides believed that not a bird could fly undetected, across the eastern ridge of the Valley separating the two sovereign nations. However, that complacency was shattered one misty day.

It was customary in those days that the newly inducted soldiers in Sikkim would be sent on terrain familiarisation missions, within and on the flanks of their assigned segments. They were expected to attain proficiency to reach a given landmark blind-folded, so to say. As it happens at times, SOPs get ignored and in one case a group of soldiers lost orientation and could not be traced despite extensive, weeklong ground and aerial searches. Ultimately, word came from the PLA that they had foiled an attempted "intrusion" by Indian soldiers but would gladly hand them over. As may be imagined, not only did that create a diplomatic embarrassment but also severely dented the pride of the particular outfit.

The story which unfolded before a Court of Inquiry was that 20 soldiers led by a smart Captain had set out on a routine four-day patrol. As briefed, on the first day they went due North, keeping a thousand metres from the International border along the Chumbi-Sikkim crest. However, the weather changed and mist soon turned into fog so dense that no soldier in the lead was discernable to his comrade ten paces behind. By the afternoon, they had expected to reach a rock cliff-face at about 15,000 ft ASL (and indeed they did get to one) from where they were to go due West for an hour, before bedding for the night. The Captain had accordingly locked his prismatic compass pointing West but unfortunately he stumbled, had a fall and unbeknown to him, the compass got damaged.

There was no fog the next morning, so their spirits buoyed and they soon hit the track which by about 3 PM would take them to a tributary of the Teesta river. Once there, they would turn left and in an hour hit the bridge on the Teesta near a township. But, in reality, all this while they were walking due East because the locked compass was pointing West! Shortly they even hit a tributary as they had expected, so turned left and soon heard cheering and laughter. Surely, that was the Border Roads detachment at the Teesta bridge making merry? Yes, they were having a volleyball match and the patrol marched past them smartly, heading for rendezvous with vehicles to return to the base.

As the last Indian soldier went past, the referee gathered his wits, blew the whistle and gesticulating excitedly terminated the game. The volleyball ground was in fact the PLA helipad at Yatung in the Chumbi Valley. And the India troops were marching nonchalantly on the road to Lhasa!

Decoding IS power

Shia fighters from Saraya al-Salam take up positions during clashes with IS militants. —AFP

THE sudden rise of the well-armed, well-financed and media-savvy Isis militant group could not have come about unless unscrupulous companies and individuals slipped money to the group or did business with it, said the founders of a new, private research and advocacy group that will seek to expose such dealings and apply pressure to stop them. “They’ve taken great advantage of modern communications and modern financial techniques” to promote themselves, recruit followers and amass money and weapons, said Mark Wallace, a former Bush administration diplomat and lawyer heading the new organisation. “There’s been an absence of people operating to counter that.”

President Barack Obama and other world leaders are making the extremists, who have seized control of large areas of Iraq and Syria since May, a central theme of next week’s annual United Nations General Assembly.

The group, called the “Counter Extremism Project”, is modelled on United Against Nuclear Iran, the hawkish investigative and advocacy group Wallace also runs. The two not-for-profit groups share some prominent advisers, including a former Bush administration Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend and a former Obama administration diplomat Dennis Ross.


The 1950s presented many occasions to New Delhi to push for a Tibet free from Chinese control. But Prime Minister Nehru failed to rise to the occasion. As a consequence, China is now ‘up to our gates’

Spiritual leader Dalai Lama recently said that “Tibet’s problem is also India’s problem”. It’s a reminder which New Delhi would not solicit and would not want at a stage when it is warming up to China. It would not wish to antagonise Beijing by even mildly acknowledging the T issue — not after having taken the position that Tibet is part of China. Even the Dalai Lama has begun advocating greater autonomy and religious freedom to the people of Tibet within China’s sovereignty, which is in contrast to his earlier belligerence that nothing short of independence of Tibet would suffice. What is the problem that the Dalai Lama now refers to?

Perhaps he wants India to subtly pressure the Chinese into granting more freedom to Tibetans. Perhaps he wishes to draw New Delhi’s attention to the fact that, as long as thousands of Tibetans continue to live in India as refugees, and as long as hundreds of them turn out religiously to protest on the streets every time India hosts a Chinese President or Premier, it cannot consider the Tibet matter as closed. But does the Nobel laureate believe that Beijing, which does not hesitate to crack down on its own people (Tiananmen episode), or violently suppress agitations by monks (many of whom have self-immolated for the cause of free Tibet), will heed India’s advice?

Moreover, New Delhi lives in morbid fear over the prospect that the Chinese, who are all-weather friends of Pakistan, will turn around and raise the Kashmir issue as a retort to India’s concerns over Tibet. There may be no comparison between the Kashmir and the Tibet conflicts, but when it comes to sabre-rattling and rabble-rousing, historical niceties do not matter. However, while India has refrained from speaking about Tibet except as it being a part of China, Beijing has not reciprocated by categorically stating that Jammu & Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. Indeed, it has had reservations about this, which is why it issues stapled visas to residents of that State (just as it does for the people of Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as its own). China is extremely sensitive when it comes to what it considers its territory — not just that which exists in contiguity with its borders but also far into the seas — but uncaring when it absorbs disputed land (Aksai Chin). Let alone disputed territory, Beijing is cagey even on settled issues such as Sikkim. Not once has it officially acknowledged Sikkim to be part of India, though it de facto does so.

Global HotSpotsPreviousNext Why the Military Campaign Against ISIS Will Fail

September 22, 2014

Thoughts on the future of the Arab world.
The Arab world is still in the mode of rejecting globalization rather than embracing it.

Not that long ago cities like Baghdad and Cairo were booming global centres of commerce and creativity.

No matter how much Washington and its allies may wish otherwise, the military campaign against ISIS will fail..

Surprisingly, this outcome is not dependent on the issue that is currently so hotly debated – whether or not there will be “boots on the ground” (and whose).
The roots of ISIS are deeply historical

To understand why, one needs to consider the dynamics and legacies of history. In the ultimate analysis, the existence of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) can be ascribed in good part to the fact that, in contrast to Western European Christianity, there was no reformation in the world of Islam.

This explains a core paradox: While Islam, in its earlier stages, was not just associated with, but was also the driver of great intellectual advances (in fields ranging from mathematics to philosophy, poetry and astronomy), the West nevertheless ended up taking its place as the originators and masters of the industrial and scientific revolutions that defined the modern era.

The key point is this: The Arab world was left way behind as the consequence of a serious lack of internal reform within the Arab world.

Many Arabs cite western imperialism as the major reason for its failure to join the modern world. Yet, looking through a wider lens at Western imperialism and the havoc that it created, it is the case that Western powers’ conquests were not limited to the Middle East, but extended throughout most of Asia.

Arguably, nowhere else were the Western powers’ conquests as destructive as in China.
China as role model

Despite the parallels in these regions’ fates, in the 21st century we are witnessing the resurgence of East and South Asia. The Chinese bitterly lament their century of humiliation, but the cure they have found lies in enterprise building, economic growth, education, innovation and investment in human capital – that is, in embracing capitalism and scientific modernity.

A LONG FRIENDSHIP - Why Vietnam made the president of India nostalgic


In the two years that he has been in office, there has never been any doubt even for a moment that Pranab Mukherjee is president for all Indians. What his state visit to Vietnam last week revealed was that just as you cannot take the Indian out of Mukherjee, it is even more impossible to take the Bengali out of the president.

The public discourse on Mukherjee in Vietnam has largely been on his protocol engagements, the agreements signed in his presence and whether his style of diplomacy in Hanoi had a hidden Chinese agenda of exploiting territorial disputes in the South China Sea. What was most striking about the visit for me, as I accompanied the president from its start to finish, was the reservoir of goodwill and respect for Bengal in Vietnam, which remains largely untapped. What Mukherjee rekindled as a Bengali president of the country was fading interest in the role of eastern India in the history of Indo-China when countries of that region where fighting anti-colonial wars that, in retrospect, changed the world in our time.

This should not surprise anyone who has recollections or understanding of those times. Most Indians may have forgotten this, but those Vietnamese who recall history still remember that Calcutta was their country’s gateway to the world during the long and difficult years of battles against the Americans. The Soviet Union was a solid backer of Vietnam’s war for national liberation and reunification, and what was Hanoi’s enduring link and connectivity to Moscow then?

PLA Asserts as Modi-Xi Jinping Talk

September 22, 2014

Even as President Xi Jinping was being hosted to a Gujarati dinner by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the bank of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, Chinese and Indian troops were once again engaged in a tense face-off at Chumar and Demchok in Ladakh. Despite the Chinese President’s message to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to back off, the stand-off continued. The intruders had to be confronted with show of force by an Indian infantry battalion. So far this year there have been an unprecedented 335 transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by the PLA.

It was no wonder then that in the press statement after his meeting with the Chinese President, PM Modi expressed ‘serious concern over repeated incidents along the border’. He pointed out that ‘clarification’ – or demarcation – of the LAC would enhance ‘efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity’. And, he sought an ‘early settlement’ of the territorial dispute. In turn, President Xi Jinping said China is determined to ‘work with India through friendly consultations to settle the boundary question at an early date,’ and to ‘maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas’ till the dispute is resolved. No Indian Prime Minister has used such strong language in a summit meeting with a Chinese President before, but given the rather aggressive border management policies of the PLA, the Chinese had it coming.

Relations between India and China have been fairly stable at the strategic level since then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s summit meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1988. Mutual economic dependence is growing rapidly. Bilateral trade is now worth US$ 65 billion and is expected to cross US$ 80 billion by 2017 – even though the balance of trade is heavily skewed in China’s favour. India and China have been cooperating in international fora like the WTO and climate change negotiations. Limited cooperation has taken place in energy security. However, China’s political, diplomatic and military aggressiveness at the tactical level is acting as a dampener for the further normalisation of the relationship.

Prolonged negotiations have been conducted at the political level to resolve the long-standing territorial and boundary dispute. The Special Representatives of the two Prime Ministers have met seventeen times. However, there has been little progress on this sensitive issue. The fragile security relationship has the potential to act as a spoiler and will ultimately determine whether the two Asian giants will clash or cooperate for mutual gains.

In recent years, China has raised the ante by way of frequent transgressions across the LAC and unprecedented cyber-attacks on Indian networks. China either denies Visas to the residents of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir or issues stapled Visas to them on the grounds that these are disputed territories.

What Does The Appointment of Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar As the New Chief of the Pakistani Intelligence Service Mean?

Salman Masood,New York Times
September 23, 2014
New Chief of Spy Unit Is Appointed in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, on Monday appointed a close ally as head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, consolidating his power at a time of sharp tension with the country’s civilian leaders and fluctuating policy toward the Taliban.

The new ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, had previously led the paramilitary Sindh Rangers based in Karachi. He will replace Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, who has led the ISI since 2012 and is scheduled to step down on Nov. 7.

The army spokesman announced the promotion of General Akhtar, who was also promoted from the rank of major general, among a reshuffle of five major military posts. But it was the appointment of the ISI chief, considered the second most powerful position in the military, that attracted the most attention.

Always shrouded in controversy, the ISI has in recent months come under particularly sharp scrutiny amid accusations of political interference and brutal tactics to control the media.

Under General Islam’s leadership, the spy agency was accused of trying to assassinate a senior journalist, Hamid Mir. And the military has been widely accused of supporting an opposition movement led by a former cricketer, Imran Khan, and a cleric, Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, that aimed to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The military has publicly rejected both accusations.

Analysts said they expected that General Akhtar, who recently led a campaign against the Taliban in Karachi, was likely to shy away from such a prominent political role — at least initially. But there is little doubt that he inherits a strained relationship with the country’s civilian leadership, which was evident from the manner of his appointment.

Though the ISI chief theoretically answers to the prime minister, the fact that General Akhtar’s promotion was announced by the military was taken as a sign of the true line of authority.

Mutual paranoia is a central factor in poor relations among the military and civilian leaders, said Talat Masood, a retired general and commentator.

“The relationship has gone through a really bad patch, with all this speculation that elements in intelligence are supportive of Imran Khan and Qadri,” he added. “I think that will subside now.”

General Sharif and Mr. Sharif — they are not related — have been at odds over the fate of Geo, the television channel where Mr. Mir was the leading anchor before being attacked in April, and over street demonstrations.

New ISI chief Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar has eye on India


Rezaul Hasan Laskar | Mail Today | New Delhi, September 23, 2014 |
ISI Director General seen with Pakistan PM Sharif.The new ISI Director General is seen with Pakistan PM Sharif.Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, the next chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), will play a key role in shaping policies for a spy agency that is traditionally perceived as anti-India, but there was a time six years ago when he was of the opinion that Pakistan "must aggressively pursue rapprochement" with India.

Akhtar, considered a close ally of Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif, was on Monday appointed to the crucial post, though he will take over in October after the retirement of incumbent ISI chief Lt Gen. Zahir-ul-Islam. He has considerable experience in countering insurgency and the Taliban from a posting in the troubled South Waziristan region bordering Afghanistan.
While he was at the US Army War College in Pennsylvania as a brigadier in 2008, Akhtar authored a strategy research project report titled 'US-Pakistan trust deficit and the war on terror', in which he advocated the need to improve relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.

"Pakistan needs to enhance its credibility by publicly identifying some of its critical strategic challenges. It must reform its governance, improve the economy, confront and eliminate Islamic extremism, and create a more tolerant society. Most important, it must aggressively pursue rapprochement with India," he wrote in the 30-page report posted on the US Army War College's website.
Akhtar, who played a key role in counterterror operations while heading the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers in the troubled southern port city of Karachi and other parts of Sindh province, further contended that the US could play a greater role in resolving the dragging Kashmir dispute. Such a step could even improve ties between Pakistan and the US, he argued.

"...The threat posed by India has served as a primary enabler for US-Pakistani relations as US involvement and support can help mediate and ensure an equitable settlement of the Kashmir issue as well as help represent Pakistani interests within the United Nations," he wrote.

Protesters and Counterprotesters at Moscow’s Big Anti-War March

Thousands of Russians marched in Moscow on Sunday in protest against the armed conflict in Ukraine in the first major anti-war rally since the start of the standoff between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels. Will Putin give peace a chance?

MOSCOW—When I first arrived at Pushkin Square about an hour before the start of a planned anti-war rally on Sunday, I thought I might have been in the wrong place. The plaza beneath the statue of Russia’s favorite poet was dominated by supporters of the separatists in eastern Ukraine, brandishing the Dixie-esque flagof Novorossiya and signs denouncing NATO, the United States, and the “fascist” government of Ukraine. The counterprotesters, evidently, got an early start.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer atSlate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Over time, however, the ranks of those attending the “March for Peace” grew to become the overwhelming majority. It was Moscow’s first major anti-war rally since March and the first since violence began in eastern Ukraine. Estimates of the crowd size varied. Organizers had hoped for a turnout of 50,000, the official police estimate was 5,000, and the AP put it at 20,000.

It was difficult to get a handle on the size of the event—a fact that seemed like it could have been intentional. A slow-moving police checkpoint complete with metal detectors and pat-downs at the entrance to the fenced-off march route created a bottleneck that kept the crowd divided. Beyond a few shouting matches and some finger pointing and shoving along the edges, I didn’t see any violence, though the police presence was massive. But it was abundantly and depressingly clear from talking to both sides of the crowd that there’s a divide not between political ideologies or geopolitical positions but between versions of reality.

One attendee, Ekaterina Alexeyeva, told me the event seemed bigger and more enthusiastic than previous marches she’d attended in the city. “Ninety-nine [point] nine percent of the people in Russia are really pro-Putin, but this gives me hope,” said Alexeyeva, who works for a distributor of American-made commercial vehicles. “I think it’s my duty to be here because it is a platform where you can just [talk] to people who understand you. In my circle, there are not that many people who share my opinion, who are against the war and what the government’s doing.”

Israeli Government EWstablishing New Agency to Coordinate and manage Country’s Cyber Defenses

Herb Keinon 
September 22, 2014 
Gov’t to establish upgraded cyber security authority 

Amid concerns of Iran’s increasingly enhanced ability to wage cyber warfare, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Sunday the upgrading of Israel’s cyber defense with the establishment of a new National Cyber Defense Authority that will protect civilian cyberspace, and not only vital security facilities.

The decision to establish this authority, alongside the already existing Israel National Cyber Bureau headed by Eviatar Matania, came after staff work dealing with cyber threats indicated a need for a “designated body to link the civilian and security spheres, to coordinate between leading experts in the field and lead Israel’s overall defensive activity while taking a long-term view of the increasing and developing cyber threats.”

The decision ends a year-long battle among different institutions, including the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), vying for responsibility over this sphere, which is expected to bring large budgets in its wake.

Matania is to submit a proposal for the proposed authority to the security cabinet within 60 days, and will – along with other relevant agencies – lead the establishment of the body.

Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet, where the decision was announced, that it was important for Israel to have an agency that would not only protect vital facilities and security agencies from cyber attack, but also individual citizens. He said the establishment of the agency was akin to establishing an “air force” to protect Israel’s cyberspace.

“We are in a new world,” he said. “We are preparing with new forces.”

Matania said that “dealing with the cyber threat on the national level in the coming decades constitutes a strategic challenge that all countries must deal with.”

Battle move in Israel's cyber turf war: Shin Bet loses authority over 'civilian space'

Sep. 21, 2014
Netanyahu decides to establish new government authority to protect the cyber space of bodies not under defense establishment, despite Shin Bet request to leave authority in its hands.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that a new government authority would be established to protect the "civilian space" in Israel from cyber-attacks, rejecting the recommendations of the Shin Bet security services to leave the subject in its hands. 

The decision to create an "authority for operative defense against cyber" comes after nearly a year's delay and adopts the opinion of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister's Office. In its announcement, the PMO said that Netanyahu has instructed NCB Director Eviatar Matania to take steps to establish it the new authority, which will bear complete responsibility and authority for defending the civilian space from cyber threats. The authority will operate alongside the National Cyber Bureau.

Netanyahu told Matania to bring the plan for the new authority within 60 days, for approval by the political-security cabinet. "The establishment of the new authority will be carried out in accordance with a multi-year plan and in cooperation with the relevant bodies," the PMO said in its announcement, hinting at the substantial opposition to the move from within the Shin Bet and other organizations in the defense establishment.

Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that the new authority would protect not only Israeli security organizations and critical facilities and infrastructure, a task already undertaken by the Shin Bet, but would focus on protecting civilian space, as well - in other words, the major public and private corporations.

A Sign of Things to Come: Despite Nearly 200 US Airstrikes Over the Past Month, the Iraqi Army Has Not Moved An Inch

David D. Kirkpatrick 
September 22, 2014 

Despite Airstrikes, ISIS Appears to Hold Its Ground in Iraq 

BAGHDAD — After six weeks of American airstrikes, the Iraqi government’s forces have scarcely budged Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country, in part because many critical Sunni tribes remain on the sidelines. 

Although the airstrikes appear to have stopped the extremists’ march toward Baghdad, the Islamic State is still dealing humiliating blows to the Iraq government forces. On Monday, the government acknowledged that it had lost control of the small, northern town of Sichar and lost contact with several hundred of its soldiers who had been trapped for several days at a camp north of the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja, in Anbar Province. 

By midday, there were reports that hundreds of soldiers had been killed in battle or mass executions. Ali Bedairi, a lawmaker from the governing alliance, said more than 300 soldiers had died after the loss of the base, Camp Saqlawiya, although his count could not be confirmed. 

“They did not have any food and they were starving for four days,” a soldier who said he was one of 200 who managed to escape said in a videotaped statement that he circulated online. “We drank salty water, we could not even run.” 

Sunni Iraqi men, who took up arms alongside security forces to defend the town of Dhuluiyah from the Islamic State militant group, held a position last week. CreditAhmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 

Taiwan’s Capacity to Defend Itself Against Chinese Missile Strikes

September 22, 2014 

Analysis Ian Easton with the northern Virginia-based 2049 Institute has published a very interest 77-page report entitled Able Archers: Taiwan Defense Strategy in an Age of Precision Strike. 

The report describes in some detail, using unclassified Chinese military publications as its main source, the Chinese military’s ability to strike Taiwan’s small number of military airfields and other high-priority targets using ballistic missiles, combat aircraft and other weapons systems, and the ability of the Taiwanese military to defend itself against this sort of massed attack from the mainland. 

Well researched and written. The report can be accessed here

Xi who must be obeyed

The most powerful and popular leader China has had for decades must use these assets wisely 
Sep 20th 2014

THE madness unleashed by the rule of a charismatic despot, Mao Zedong, left China so traumatised that the late chairman’s successors vowed never to let a single person hold such sway again. Deng Xiaoping, who rose to power in the late 1970s, extolled the notion of “collective leadership”. Responsibilities would be shared out among leaders by the Communist Party’s general secretary; big decisions would be made by consensus. This has sometimes been ignored: Deng himself acted the despot in times of crisis. But the collective approach helped restore stability to China after Mao’s turbulent dictatorship.

Xi Jinping, China’s current leader, is now dismantling it. He has become the most powerful Chinese ruler certainly since Deng, and possibly since Mao. Whether this is good or bad for China depends on how Mr Xi uses his power. Mao pushed China to the brink of social and economic collapse, and Deng steered it on the right economic path but squandered a chance to reform it politically. If Mr Xi used his power to reform the way power works in China, he could do his country great good. So far, the signs are mixed.

It may well be that the decision to promote Mr Xi as a single personality at the expense of the group was itself a collective one. Some in China have been hankering for a strongman; a politician who would stamp out corruption, reverse growing inequalities and make the country stand tall abroad (a task Mr Xi has been taking up with relish—see article). So have many foreign businessfolk, who want a leader who would smash the monopolies of a bloated state sector and end years of dithering over economic reforms.



For two centuries, people have crowded into urban areas, seeking higher standards of living than prevail in the rural areas they abandoned. Nowhere is this truer than in China. In just four decades, it has risen from 17.4 percent to 55.6 percent urban, adding nearly 600 million city residents. This has been accomplished while lifting an unprecedented number of people out of poverty. 

Yet in the future, China faces tough urbanization challenges. The United Nations forecasts that another 200 million residents will be added to the cities by 2035, increasing the urban population by nearly another one-third.

Los Angeles Style Suburbs in China?

For years, western planners have sought to impose their visions of the future on China's cities (see:China Should Send the Western Planners Home). There are more recent rumblings from Britain. Writing in The Guardian, Bianca Bosker finds considerable fault with Chinese cities. In criticizing China's perceived copying of US and European models, her article conveys an impression that detached housing (called "villas in China) makes up a large part of China's suburbs, as in the United States ("Why Haven't China's Cities Learned from America's Mistakes?" with an intriguing subtitle "Faceless estates. Sprawling suburbs. Soulless financial districts ... are in vogue in China").

Having traveled widely within all but two of China's 25 largest cities, I would have to disagree. You have to look hard to find detached housing in China. This is quite unlike the case in US suburbs, as well as those of Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

In fact, the suburban areas of Chinese cities are largely high-rise and mid-rise multi-family buildings, with their attendant high densities. Detached housing has accounted for between 4 and 6 percent of new housing floor space. The actual percentage of detached units is probably smaller, since their average floor space of detached housing is greater. The type of housing in the photographs at the bottom of the article (Figures 2 through 6) is typical of China's suburbs.

Bosker also criticizes about China's "towers in the park" high-rise development, noting that "The desire to escape sardine conditions in these superblocks, where greenery often consists of sickly shrubs gasping between six-lane roads, has in turn multiplied the number of land-devouring compounds like Rancho Santa Fe." In fact, villa developments like Rancho Santa Fe, nearby Shanghai's Honquiao Airport, are very high income enclaves, and small. Rancho Santa Fe itself occupies less than 90 acres and the gross average lot size is approximately one-quarter acre (1/10 hectare), smaller than the average middle income suburban lot in the United States. No ordinary “tower in the park" resident can afford to move to the pricey villa developments.

California's High Urban Densities

Implausible as it sounds, ISIL has plundered Mao’s playbook

September 21, 2014 
There is a great deal in common between Mao’s revolutionary strategies and Abu Bakr Naji’s concept of “the management of savagery”. Mark Ralston / AFP

Islamists in the Arab world have always consciously or unconsciously attempted to replicate leftist models of revolution and insurgency, but without importing ideological content. With the rise of ISIL, this pattern is continuing in surprising and disturbing ways.

The Muslim Brotherhood has long been strikingly reminiscent of Leninist movements. They organised along cellular lines, established sister parties abroad, were cautious about violence, emphasised services to the public and grounded themselves in the urban middle classes. When the Arab left was robust, it dismissed the Brotherhood as reactionary and retrograde. But as the left has atrophied, it has developed a bizarre crush on Brotherhood parties. Some Arab leftists are attracted precisely by these structural characteristics – despite having irreconcilably opposed ideological content and values – that mirror a Leninist ideal.

Most Salafist-Jihadist groups, by contrast, have typically behaved in a manner reminiscent of ultra-left groups prominent in the 1960s and 1970s such as the Red Army Faction. Both focused on urban terrorism and attacks aimed at highly symbolic targets. They share a deep attachment to theatrical, spectacular and carefully staged political mayhem, wherein violence comes to virtually constitute an end in itself.

But now, with the rise of ISIL, a new generation of radical Islamists are evoking an entirely different historical analogue. In some crucial ways their strategic modus operandi looks strikingly similar to that of the Communist Party of China (CPC) led by Mao Zedong, in the late 1930s through to the late 1940s.

In contrast to more typical Salafist-Jihadist groups like Al Qaeda, ISIL concentrates on using both conventional military and guerrilla tactics to seize and control territory and assets in order to establish secured areas of governance.

There is a great deal in common between Mao’s revolutionary strategies and Abu Bakr Naji’s concept of “the management of savagery”, in which jihadist groups seek to frustrate and exhaust their opponents. The key idea inspiring ISIL is to first create and “manage” chaos, and then to offer a form of order, thereby imposing their control in a given area.

Having been driven out of China’s urban centres, the CPC established its first rural stronghold “Soviet” in Jiangxi in the early 1930s. The experiment was a failure, but the subsequent establishment, directly under Mao, of a second rural base headquartered in the remote city of Yan’an, proved the key to eventual victory.

In Yan’an, Mao secured a stronghold from where his forces could fan out to continually expand the areas under his control. ISIL is using essentially the same model from Raqqa, the de facto capital of its “caliphate”, to spread its tentacles further in Syria and Iraq.

ISIL is also beginning to migrate its governance model. For example, its “educational curriculum” first developed in Raqqa, is now being introduced in schools in recently acquired territories such as Mosul.

In both cases, the quest for state power was based in these remote redoubts. CPC rule in Yan’an was harsh, puritanical, uncompromising, but also highly idealistic and disciplined.

Corruption in China: The cultural divide

23 September 2014

Since Xi Jinping took over the multiple reins of leadership in China he has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on corruption.

Government officials at heights or with connections generally considered to be safe have not been spared. A notorious example is Zhou Yongkang, former chief of China's internal security, who is the first member of the Chinese Politburo Standing Committee, the highest level of leadership, to have been investigated in Communist Party history. 
The breadth and depth of the campaign has led to considerable speculation as to its larger purpose. The Economist has argued it is about purging the party of opposition to Xi. The Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Postsuggests it is an effort to shore up legitimacy among the Chinese populace, fed up with the rampant and obvious misuse of public funds.

But those found guilty have not necessarily done anything different or more egregious in the last two years than they had been doing before. And it is reasonable to assume that they have not done anything vastly more corrupt than many of their peers. It is difficult to imagine that anyone at the higher levels of business or politics has made it that far without engaging in what we in Australia would consider corrupt behaviour. 

While there is no doubt that Xi's campaign is both qualitatively and quantitatively more intense than anti-corruption drives in the past, it is instructive to reflect on what corruption means in the Chinese social and cultural context.

Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong explains that relationships among people are totally different in Western and Chinese societies. In China, social relations are fundamentally based on a system of obligation and reciprocation that is quite different from societies like Australia. In Chinese society, helping others carries an inherent obligation to repay the favour, both to avoid losing face as well as for self-interest. As one worker explained, 'if one does not…spend some effort to keep up good relations…a day is bound to come when one needs to cross the same river again, but will find no bridge left'.


September 21, 2014 · 

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House. Hunting Nuclear Weapons From the Sky

One Pioneer’s Career Detecting Radiation From The Air

The 1960s produced a lot of technological innovation in the science of mass destruction. But testing nukes also required learning how to detect the telltale signs of radiation.

For survey teams flying in specially-equipped aircraft low above the Nevada desert, it was grueling and dangerous work. But what they learned not only taught us a lot about nuclear fallout, they helped establish environmental standards for both nuclear and non-nuclear power.

Jack Doyle, a former contractor who worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and provided background on the BREN Tower, spent his career developing and using remote sensing methods.

His efforts involved not just nuclear testing but also nuclear detective work.

Doyle’s first task when arriving at the Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site in 1964 was programming remote sensors for the Phoebus nuclear rocket program. The Phoebus tests alone required more than 1,000 sensors to monitor its reactor, rocket nozzle, turbopumps and other apparatuses, all of which became so radioactive when fired that a drone locomotive hauled the machine to and from the test stand.

“We invented most of the technology we used back then,” Doyle recalled to War is Boring. “You couldn’t buy any of it off the shelf. It wasn’t until the 1980s that commercial equipment of the kind we used became available.”

Doyle’s work on nuclear rocket tests pushed him into handling remote sensing out in the field. He wound up flying the friendly skies in a very cramped, atom-sniffing plane.

An Aerial Measurement System plane, a successor to the ARMS aircraft. National Nuclear Security Administration photo

The flying Geiger counter


September 22, 2014 · 

The U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), that vast agglomeration of seventeen different hush-hush agencies, is an espionage behemoth without peer anywhere on earth in terms of budget and capabilities. Fully eight of those spy agencies, plus the lion’s share of the IC’s budget, belong to the Department of Defense (DoD), making the Pentagon’s intelligence arm something special. It includes the intelligence agencies of all the armed services, but the jewel in the crown is the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s “big ears,” with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which produces amazing imagery, following close behind.

None can question the technical capabilities of DoD intelligence, but do the Pentagon’s spies actually know what they are talking about? This is an important, and too infrequently asked, question. Yet it was more or less asked this week, in a public forum, by a top military intelligence leader. The venue wasan annual Washington, DC, intelligence conference that hosts IC higher-ups while defense contractors attempt a feeding frenzy, and the speaker was Rear Admiral Paul Becker, who serves as the Director of Intelligence (J2) on the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). A career Navy intelligence officer, Becker’s job is keeping the Pentagon’s military bosses in the know on hot-button issues: it’s a firehose-drinking position, made bureaucratically complicated because JCS intelligence support comes from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is an all-source shop that has never been a top-tier IC agency, and which happens to have some serious leadership churn at present.

Admiral Becker’s comments on the state of DoD intelligence, which were rather direct, merit attention. Not surprisingly for a Navy guy, he focused on China. He correctly noted that we have no trouble collecting the “dots” of (alleged) 9/11 infamy, but can the Pentagon’s big battalions of intel folks actually derive the necessary knowledge from all those tasty SIGINT, HUMINT, and IMINT morsels? Becker observed – accurately – that DoD intelligence possesses a “data glut but an information deficit” about China, adding that “We need to understand their strategy better.” In addition, he rued the absence of top-notch intelligence analysts of the sort the IC used to possess, asking pointedly: “Where are those people for China? We need them.”

There’s a lot going on in the admiral’s comments, which hit on important points as the United States plans for possible war in East Asia – rather, one hopes, deterring one. In the first place, it’s odd that an intelligence leader would think that understanding an opponent’s strategy, much less his grand strategy, is the job of the spooks. That actually is the job of all senior officers, and such matters are taught at War Colleges – or are supposed to be. That said, Becker’s frustration is understandable, since the Naval War College, allegedly the leading light of DoD education, was just found by the Navy’s own Inspector General to be overpriced and underperforming, and some of his views should be taken in this context.

More important is his allegation that DoD intelligence types have a problem differentiating forests from trees, and here Becker is entirely accurate. A lot of dots do not a coherent picture necessarily make, particularly when intelligence analysts lack necessary knowledge – language, culture, history, time in the target country – about the problem at hand. On this charge DoD intelligence, and the whole IC, have little coherent defense, since decades of favoring diversity of experience over specialized knowledge among intelligence officers leads to exactly the situation – smart people who know a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little – that Admiral Becker lamented this week.

The most interesting, and unintentionally revealing, part of the J2’s comments came when he highlighted intelligence legends of the past, whose like cannot be found in DoD spy circles today, Becker maintained. I am generally skeptical of hoary “golden ages” in any organization, since memory plays tricks, yet here the admiral had a point. He cited Vernon Walters, a legendary Cold War semi-spy. An Army general, Walters was a polyglot who spoke several foreign languages well enough to serve as translator for presidents; Walters also served as a CIA top manager and the White House’s secret emissary to the Vatican. Yet his career was so totally unrepresentative of both DoD and the IC that he presents a fascinating one-off during the Cold War. One suspects that a gifted odd duck like Walters would not last long in today’s Army; he certainly would stand minimal chance of becoming a three-star general.

After Scotland, who will be next to hold a referendum on independence?

Kevin Rafferty
20 September, 2014
Kevin Rafferty says the governance problems that led the Scots to this day can be found elsewhere

A pro-independence rally in Glasgow. The Scots were privileged to have a choice. Few people anywhere get the opportunity. Photo: Kyodo

Where Scotland leads, who will be brave enough to follow? The hullabaloo of the referendum on independence is over. But tough questions remain: in a globalising world, what is the best and most efficient form of government (the two are not synonymous)?

The Scots were privileged to have a choice. Few people anywhere get the opportunity. This is not just a case of "eat your heart out, Hong Kong". The famous "velvet divorce" of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia was hammered out by political leaders; the people were not consulted or given the chance of a referendum.

Scots were particularly lucky, especially since one party to the proposed divorce, the other 59 million people in the United Kingdom, did not get to vote. Residents of Scotland are a mere 8 per cent of the population. It's a funny old world where the minority gets to choose; no wonder that Beijing wanted to vote "No" on behalf of Hong Kong.

The "no" victory in the referendum clearly isn't the end. Politicians from Westminster rushed north to promise the Scots maximum devolution if they stayed in the UK, and the defeated Alex Salmond will no doubt hold them to that promise. Scotland is a wounded country, and the question remains whether the discredited politicians on both sides will be able to heal it.

In working out these details, the people of Scotland and of the rest of the UK will not be consulted. This is one of the flaws of democracy for those fortunate enough to enjoy it: you get to vote and then you have to wait years to throw out the rascals who have ruined what you intended.

Political scientists have had a field day. If you look at the map of Europe, Scotland is only the vanguard for many possible peoples who would clamour for independence if given half a chance. The European Free Alliance counts "40 progressive nationalist, regionalist and autonomous parties throughout the European Union". The Basques, who straddle Spain and France, are disadvantaged because they have a landlocked territory hemmed in by two countries which staunchly oppose their freedom. Catalans have shown their feelings in recent marches by an estimated 1.8 million people through Barcelona.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Inside Syria

The Obama administration and an array of Arab allies have begun hitting dozens of Islamic States targets inside Syria, expanding an air campaign against what Washington sees as the most powerful Islamist militants in the world.

Capping months of tense internal deliberations, the Obama administration and an array of Arab allies launched a broad series of airstrikes against Islamic State targets inside Syria, opening a new -- and risky -- front in the expanding U.S.-led effort against the militants controlling large portions of both Syria and Iraq.

The Obama administration has been signaling for weeks that it was prepared to hammer militants inside Syria, and the campaign finally began late Monday night, Sept. 22, with what the Pentagon described as a "mix of fighter, bomber, and Tomahawk land attack missiles." In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Gen. Lloyd Austin, the head of U.S. Central Command, made the decision to launch the airstrikes earlier in the day after receiving authorization from President Barack Obama. The American strikes, launched by air and by sea, also involved armed Predator and Reaper drones.

"I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria," Kirby said. "Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time."

Obama is expected to speak about the strikes tomorrow morning at the United Nations, according to a senior U.S. official. The official said that aircraft are conducting strikes against a "litany" of Islamic State targets including command and control facilities, headquarters, and training centers. A White House official said late Monday night that the president "is being updated on the operation." 

In a major win for the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts to build a broad anti-Islamic State coalition, aircraft from several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, also took part in the strikes. An Arab diplomat familiar with the matter said the strikes were being carried out by aircraft from the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Most of the nations were flying U.S.-made F-16s. The diplomat said Qatar was flying airplanes but not actually dropping any bombs.

Significantly, no European countries took part in the strikes -- a reflection of the deep reluctance many American allies have about getting involved in Syria amid the country's brutal, years-long civil war.

Indeed, on Sept. 11, one day after Obama spoke to the nation and promised that "America will lead a broad coalition" against the Islamic State, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Turkey all announced that they wouldn't take part in any airstrikes in Syria. The administration spent the next few weeks insisting that other nations had signed onto the battle, but officials refrained from any announcement, they said to let each nation come forward on its own to describe its contribution. Then, on Monday, Sept. 22, France announced it would not join the air campaign in Syria, just four days after the country launched its first airstrikes on the Islamic State in Iraq.

The White House itself had long tried to avoid getting involved in Syria; last year, Obama said that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad would cross a "red line" and bring about a U.S. military response. Assad went ahead with just such an attack, but the administration held off on carrying out a retaliatory strike, infuriating key allies across the region. Obama himself also overruled his war cabinet and personally vetoed the idea of arming Syria's moderate rebels, a move that may have helped lead to the rise of the Islamic State, which overran northern Iraq and took large quantities of U.S.-made armaments and ammunition.

The Limits to Fighting the Islamic State

CANBERRA – There is a long history of misconceived and over-reaching foreign military intervention in the Middle East, and it is to be hoped that US President Barack Obama’s decision to wage war against the Islamic State will not prove to be another. No terrorist group more richly deserves to be destroyed outright than these marauding, genocidal jihadists. But as the US-led mission is currently conceived and described, it is not clear whether its objectives are achievable at acceptable costs in terms of time, money, and lives.

The basic problem is that the Islamic State’s territorial gains are being approached from three completely different perspectives, demanding three different types of operational responses. There is the humanitarian mission to protect civilian populations in Iraq and Syria from mass-atrocity crimes. There is the need to protect other states’ citizens from Islamic State terrorism. And there is the desire to restore states’ integrity and stability in the region.

Obama’s rhetoric, and that of his most enthusiastic partner so far, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has wobbled between the first two objectives and hinted at the third, creating hopes and expectations that all three will be effectively pursued. But only the humanitarian mission has any realistic chance of being delivered through the four-part strategy now on the table: air strikes against Islamic State forces; training, intelligence, and equipment for Iraqi and Kurdish military forces and Syria’s non-extremist opposition; intensified international counterterrorism efforts; and humanitarian assistance to displaced civilians.

It is obvious that Western-led military operations cannot by themselves re-establish the territorial integrity of Iraq or Syria, or restore wider regional stability. Military intervention may help to hold the line against Iraq’s further disintegration and the spread of the Islamic State cancer into countries like Jordan. But if 150,000 US troops could not stabilize Iraq in the absence of an inclusive and competent government, the limited measures on offer now simply will not suffice. And we should know by now that any Western military intervention with overtly political, rather than clearly humanitarian, objectives runs a real risk of inflaming sectarian sentiment.

Things might be different if the US and other key players could simultaneously embark on a broad regional stabilization enterprise, but there are too many competing agendas to make this realistic for the foreseeable future. The Sunni-Shia rivalry means that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries will concede no meaningful role to Iran. Nor will the West acknowledge Iran’s centrality to any multilateral process, for fear of losing negotiating leverage with respect to Iran’s nuclear program.

Be Afraid: Why America Will Never Defeat ISIS

September 22, 2014

On the eve of the Iraq War in 2003, while commanding the 101st Airborne Division, then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus repeatedly asked Rick Atkinson the rhetorical question: “Tell me how this ends.” What began as a private joke between a military commander and an embedded journalist has become a warning for the need to define clear objectives and be cognizant of unexpected outcomes before going to war. Last week, President Barack Obama attempted to provide clear strategic guidance for the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), declaring: “Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL.”

I published a column in Foreign Policy recently that highlights two troubling elements about Obama’s declared end state.

First, other Obama administration officials have offered their own end states that confuse or contradict what the president stated just eight days ago. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough stated recently: “Success looks like an ISIL that no longer threatens our friends in the region, no longer threatens the United States. An ISIL that can’t accumulate followers, or threaten Muslims in Syria, Iran, Iraq, or otherwise.” Also, Secretary of State John Kerry declared before the the Senate Foreign Relations Committee something else: “The military action ends when we have ended the capacity of ISIL to engage in broad-based terrorist activity that threatens the state of Iraq, threatens the United States, threatens the region. That’s our goal.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee that “success” included “stability in the Middle East.”

Second, the United States—and any combination of partners or allies—will never “destroy” ISIS. The evidence supporting this assertion is simple: Both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama declared that the Taliban and al-Qaeda and its affiliates would be “defeated” and “destroyed.” Meanwhile, the size and lethality of these groups has increased almost everywhere that they exist. The reason that presidents make such absolutist and totally unachievable pronouncements says more about American political culture than providing realist military campaign objectives. As I wrote in my column, a courageous president would tell the American people the truth, which is:

“The United States will attempt to diminish the threat that [ISIL] poses to U.S. personnel in the region to the greatest extent possible based upon the political will and resources that the United States and countries in the region are willing to commit.”

That is a strategy of mitigating ISIS’ threats and containing its influence within Iraq and the surrounding region. Yet, while mitigation and containment will drive the U.S. counterterrorism strategy regarding ISIS as a reality, the Obama administration (and Congress and the media) will pretend that the strategic end state is to defeat and destroy them. So when you hear the White House promise to destroy ISIS, don’t believe them, but consider why it is politically mandatory that they make such an outrageous and impossible claim.

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Monday 22 September 2014

So far the West's response to the region's humanitarian crisis has been woeful

With momentum building over military action against Isis in Iraq and Syria, almost nothing has been said about what this might mean in humanitarian terms, such as population flows and new refugees.

In just a few short weeks Isis managed uproot 600,000 people in and around the Mosul region. Inhabitants of villages like Kocho and Qiniyeh were either massacred or managed to flee to the inhospitable terrain of Mount Sinjar. In a terrible twist of fate, many of these traumatised people have exchanged certain death in Iraq for the deep uncertainties and mortal dangers of Syria.

A new wave of attacks on Isis’s roving bands of killers will surely displace thousands more local residents. It’s hard to see how aerial assaults on militants — or even the prospect of mass attacks — can have any other effect. What plans has John R Allen, the retired US general charged with overseeing the anti-Isis drive, made for those caught in this new pincer movement?

I raise these matters having recently returned from Lebanon where I witnessed the plight of some of the 1.4 million Syrian refugees now living in the country. Consider that number for a moment. Lebanon had a pre-Syrian conflict population of around 5m people. It’s seen a gargantuan influx of more than a quarter of its entire resident population, equivalent to something like 16m refugees pitching up in the UK in the space of three years. And it isn’t stopping; Lebanon is still receiving 9,000 refugees a week from Syria.

The numbers are off the scale, and Lebanon is beginning to feel the strain. Despite the incredible hospitality and kindness of thousands of Lebanese people — some hosting distant relatives from across the Syrian border, many simply helping struggling strangers in their midst — the country is under unbelievable pressure.

Ninette Kelly, head of the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, told me that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in informal settlements, and even in garages and shops. I visited a refugee settlement in the Bekaa Valley, a two-hour drive from Beirut. Here hundreds of people are huddled under plastic sheeting strung across wooden struts (these are not even tents), many living on the bare earth. They are all but exposed to the elements, contending with freezing winters and searingly hot summers. There are no kitchens, and the few toilets available are incredibly basic.