16 October 2014

ISRO successfully launches IRNSS 1C navigation satellite

16 Oct, 2014

IRNSS 1C is the third of the series of seven satellites ISRO is planing to launch to put in place what is called the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System.

SRIHARIKOTA: India successfully launchedIRNSS 1C on board ISRO's PSLV C26 rocket from the spaceport here at 1.32 am today, moving a step closer to setting up the country's own navigation system on par with Global Positioning System (GPS) of the US. 

IRNSS 1C is the third of the series of seven satellites ISRO is planing to launch to put in place what is called the Indian RegionalNavigation Satellite System. 

Lifting off from the First Launch Pad here exactly at 1.32 am the rocket painted a golden brush of flames in the night sky and was a visual delight for onlookers. 

Twenty minutes after the launch, the launch vehicle successfully placed the 1,425.4 kg weighing satellite on the intended orbit. 

ISRO has aimed to launch the satellite into a sub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (sub GTO) with a 284 km perigee (nearest point to Earth) and 20,650 km apogee (farthest point to Earth) with an inclination of 17.86 degree with respect to the equatorial plane. 

"India has successfully launched IRNSS 1C. The entire ISRO team deserves congratulations", ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan said after the launch. 

He also thanked the entire team that worked behind for the successful launch. 

This was the seventh time ISRO was using an XL version of the PSLV rocket for its missions. 

The mission life of the 1,425,4 kg is 10 years. The launch of PSLV 26 carrying IRNSS 1C was actually scheduled on October 16 but the countdown was postponed following some technical reasons. 

The fully deployed IRNSS system would consist of three satellites in GEO stationary orbit and four in inclined geosynchronous orbit, about 36,000 km altitude above earth. 

The navigational system would provide two types of services -- Standard Positioning Service, which is provided to all the users and Restricted Service, which is an encrypted service provided only to the authorised users. 

The IRNSS system, which would ultimately have seven satellites and ground stations was targeted to be completed by 2015 at a total cost of Rs 1420 crores, ISRO sources said. 

The first two satellites in the series -- IRNSS 1A and IRNSS 1B were launched in July last year and April this year respectively. 

Being developed by India, IRNSS is designed to provide accurate position information service to users in the country as well as the region extending up to 1,500 km from its boundary, which is its primary service area. 

IRNSS's applications include terrestrial and marine navigation, disaster management, vehicle tracking and fleet management, navigation aide for hikers and travellers, visual and voice navigation for drivers. 

How ceasefire violations stopped then

Brig Jagbir Singh Grewal (retd)

OUR Army personnel have always shown a remarkable humane approach, more so, whenever the civil population is involved, even if it is Pakistan’s population.

In earlier times in J&K, no barbed wire fencing barricaded the India-Pak Line of Control (LoC). Lack of fencing proved quite a boon for Pakistani villagers settled across the LoC to sneak into India's side, mainly for tree or grass cutting. The trend was to venture into the Indian side, but remain just close to the LoC for such misdemeanors, and flee back when detected. Such incursions were quite a nuisance, but tree cutting could be easily detected due to the 'tak, tak' noise of the axe. A considerate, humanitarian view was adopted because the civil population was involved. According to the Standing Procedure, we would fire a warning shot close to the miscreant, warning him to move back. In case the culprit did not desist, the second shot to kill or incapacitate him was to be fired after the lapse of a few minutes. However, such an occasion hardly arose. Though at times, a stubborn culprit would enjoy an interval of a couple of hours, and re-appear to pursue his hazardous but lucrative task.

One sultry noon, an old man ventured and sat just close to the LoC for grass cutting. He had taken a shrewd decision to hide in the tall grass and simultaneously wield his sickle. The thick, green, crunchy grass was irresistible fodder. His own side of the LoC had been denuded of such grass as soon as it had erupted, as the grazers were many. It was a risky mission, but he had done his calculations. When confronted, he could just take a side roll off the cliff and roll over into his side of the LoC.

Our patrol positioned in bunkers in close proximity of the LoC noticed this to and fro swaying of the tall grass. Suspecting it to be either some animal or at worst an infiltrator, our jawan shouted, “Kaun hai”? He was just about to fire his weapon when the old man hastily stood up. He waved his sickle and shrieked in a quivering voice that he was just cutting grass. He was told to drop his sickle and come over to the bunker. He came over and pleaded for mercy and for water in the same breath. A water bottle was instantly handed over to him. After the old man had taken a large sip of water, it dawned on the patrol party that the old man was not feigning but was actually shell shocked. He divulged that he was the Numberdar's father and much more. He was apprehensive that a frantic search must be on to trace him. Soon the Pakistani post commander emerged holding a white flag and stood partially screened by a huge rock. He repeatedly screamed at the top of his voice in chaste Punjabi, “Khuda de vaaste, saada budda wapis kar diyo, sadi naukri kharab ho gayi” (for God’s sake, return our old man, our job is spoiled). This melodrama continued for some time till our post commander responded that intrusions across the LoC should be stopped. The Pakistani post commander vowed, “Kasam se, koi bhi ab LoC paar nahin karega, aur lakri ya ghas katne nahin ayega” (henceforth no one will neither cross the LoC nor indulge in tree or grass cutting).

The old man was given a hearty meal and 'shakarparas' by our jawans from their own tiffin boxes and sent back. Sure enough, the Pakistani post commander kept his word, for during our tenure, no foolhardy daredevil ventured into our side of the LoC. The Pakistani post commander had indeed brokered peace and no ceasefire violation occurred thereafter.


By Hari Bansh Jha

September 24, 2014 will be remembered as a day of pride for India in particular and the developing countries in general for the success achieved by the Indian space agency, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), in sending its spacecraft, Mangalayaan, into the orbit around the Mars in very first attempt.

This is a unique phenomenon as not even the Americans, Russians or the Europeans which had sent their missions into the Mars orbit in the past were able to do so. Of course, a single success is not a sufficient ground for future successes, it cannot be denied that this per se is a major achievement. Now that India became the fourth country to successfully launch the satellite to Mars, the ISRO was able to join the elite league of NASA, the European Space Agency and the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The Mangalyaan, formally referred to as Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched from the Sriharikota spaceport on the coast of the Bay of Bengal on November 5, 2013. As many as 500 Indian scientists at ISRO had to work very hard for 15 months to build the satellite. It took the ten months to the Tata’s Nano-size car like Indian satellite to travel 650 million kilometers distance from the earth to the Mars orbit. The satellite is expected to spend next six months on an elliptical orbit from a distance as close as 365 kilometers and as farther as 80,000 kilometers. During this period, it might take various images of the surface of the red planet, apart from studying its atmosphere. As per the expectation, the Indian satellite has already started dispatching the pictures from the Mars. In its upbeat mood, the ISRO has made plan to send its next follow-up satellite to the Mars between 2017 and 2020.

However, it is not for the first time that India launched its satellite in the space. It was as far back as in April 1975 that India launched its first satellite, Aryabhata, to the space. Between 1975 and 2014, India launched as many as 74 satellites to the space from different vehicles such as from ISRO and also previously from American, Russian, European launch rockets.

Most importantly, the state run ISRO satellite has proved cheapest interplanetary space mission in the world. The spacecraft mission cost $74 million only in India, which is approximately one-tenth of the amount of $671 million spent by the US space agency NASA in sending its recent Maven mission to Mars.

Rejoiced at the success, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated at ISRO’s headquarters near Banglore that India achieved something ‘near impossible.” He added, “If our national cricket team wins a tournament the whole country celebrates. What our scientists have done is far greater.”

No official reaction on this Mars Mission has come from India’s arch rival Pakistan, which does not have any significant space programme. Yet India’s initiative to reach Mars orbit is appreciated by certain quarters even in Pakistan.

Being impressed with the outcome, the American space agency NASA congratulated its Indian counterpart, ISRO on its remarkable success. The US has expressed its interest to exchange information about the red planet with India. David Alexander, Director of the US based Rice Space Institute observed that the technological capability demonstrated by India in course of its Mars mission could be important in future launching operation like the training of flight operations and mission control staff.

Al Qaeda’s India Threat

By Prakash Katoch
October 13, 2014  

Immediately post Ayman al-Zawahiri announcing establishment of an India Wing of Al Qaeda, prompt came a US media report quoting US counter-terrorism expert Bergen that there is no evidence of Al Qaeda presence in India. Interestingly, link to this news report was pasted on Twitter by a Pakistani national with the comment that other similar US experts had said not long back that there is no ISIS in Syria. Al-Zawahiri’s video broadcast was reportedly from a location close to the Af-Pak border, most likely inside Pakistan. With the hospitality extended to Osama-bin-Laden, there is no reason why al-Zawahiri would not be lodged in a ‘safer’ safe house than what Laden had. Al-Zawahiri said it had taken two years to unite various Mujahideen groups in India, while nominating Asim Umar, a Pakistani radical Al Qaeda’s South Asia head. Shaped in radicalized seminaries and madrassas of Pakistan, Asim Umar distinguished himself by facilitating Osama-bin-Laden's covert move to the safe-house in Abbotabad till Seal Team 6 killed him. Umar is tasked with Al Qaeda operations from Afghanistan to Myanmar, his mother organization HUJI having cells in Kashmir, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Al-Zawahiri had earlier warned his fighters against attacking Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups, saying Al Qaeda’s only interest in India was Kashmir. But in recent times Sikhs are being forced to flee Afghanistan and being killed in cold blood in Peshawar right under the nose of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) that came up with radical support. Not very long back Imran Khan himself was voicing support for rule of Sharia – read Islamic Caliphate, not democracy.

Recently, a report by Dean Nelson in the Telegraph said the newly formed India Wing of Al Qaeda attacked what they believed was an American aircraft carrier with the intention of taking it into custody, but instead found a Pakistan Navy frigate and suffered three killed and four captured dismally failing in the attempt, while two Pakistani navy guards were wounded. This is unlike Al Qaeda operations. Why would the India group strike a Pak frigate so poorly in Karachi when al-Zawahiri has access to the ISI directly as well as through the Haqqani Network? Besides it is known that Al Qaeda had trained its fighters with the Sea Tigers of LTTE years back and as early as 12 October 2000 had undertaken suicide bombing of US Navy’s guided missile destroyer (USS Cole) killing 17 US sailors, injuring 39 and creating a 40 feet by 60 feet gash on port side of the ship. The report emanating from Islamabad in the Telegraph was likely mere ISI propaganda, reinforced by another contradictory report two days later that the Pakistani frigate had actually been seized by Al Qaeda fighters.

Simultaneous to raising Taliban in Pakistan to oust Soviets from Afghanistan, the US-Saudi-ISI nexus also raised Al Qaeda in Afghanistan for the same reason, as admitted by Hillary Clinton. It is well known that despite the show of killing Osama-bin-Laden, the US has been using Al Qaeda against Libya, Syria and Iraq, and that the ISIS itself is a creation of the US-Suadi Arabia nexus targeting Syria, Iraq and ultimate objective being Iran. Experts question the video message of al-Zawahiri; some speculating this could be on ISI instance to divert attention from an imploding Pakistan, others feeling it would not be easy for Al Qaeda to establish in India. But would SIMI and IM not be more than ready to do Al Qaeda bidding because of radical ideology and just the money? With tons of narcotic finances, when Afghan Taliban help TTP financially, why would they not fund Al Qaeda operations in India with al-Zawahiri reiterating support for Mullah Omar?

After 28 years, an Indian PM will visit Australia

14 October 2014

The news that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will address the Australian Parliament next month is a welcome sign of how far relations between Australia and India have advanced. As the Australia-India Roundtable concluded earlier this year, and as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently declared, ties between these two democracies have reached a new maturity.

It is fitting in every way that Mr Modi should speak to the Australian Parliament. He is, after all, the politician with the biggest democratic mandate in the world, given the scale of his victory in this year's Indian election. His worthwhile agenda to improve Indian governance, economic performance, science, education, development and strategic influence is in step with what Australia wants to offer India as a partner – as Indian public opinion broadly recognises, according to this poll. Hu Jintao, Shinzo Abe, and Indonesia's SBY, not to mention Barack Obama and George W Bush, have all had their moment to speak directly to Australia's elected representatives. In addition to China, Japan, Indonesia and the US, India is Australia's key Indo-Pacific partner.

And it would do no harm if Modi gave his address in Hindi. He is a brilliant orator in that language, and it would be a nice reminder to Australians that this is one of the fastest-growing languages in this country – and that the English language has no monopoly on democracy.

For all that, there is one aspect of Greg Sheridan's story breaking the news of Modi's parliamentary address that warrants correcting. The story emphasises the role of differences over nuclear issues in explaining why it has taken an outrageous 28 years for an Indian Prime Minister to get around to visiting Australia.

In recent years, Australia's now-abandoned reluctance to consider uranium exports to India may well have slowed down relations – and does help explain Manmohan Singh's failure to show up at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in 2011. But it is bending history to suggest that that Australia's condemnation of India's 1998 nuclear weapons tests was the reason Singh's predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, pulled out of a 2002 visit for an earlier CHOGM, at Coolum in Queensland.

As a diplomat in Delhi at the time, I well recall the effort on both sides that went into planning that visit, and the frustration when it was called off. There was just one reason for its 11th-hour cancellation – the violent riots in Gujarat, a state then led by Mr Modi as chief minister, and the need for Vajpayee to manage the domestic political controversy that followed.

There is a curious circularity, then, to the fact that Mr Modi will now take the journey that Vajpayee never made. But it is still very good that he is making it.

In Pakistan, 'Blasphemers' Like Me Receive Militant ‘Justice’

By Raza Rumi
October 14, 2014

Like so many others, I was recently targeted in a cold-blooded assassination for speaking out against extremism.

Pakistan has acquired a strong reputation of imprisoning a large number of men and women accused of “blasphemy.” Far from a fair trial, most of the accused are not even safe from mobs and vigilantes who assume the powers of both judge and jury. For a country that is ostensibly governed by a written constitution, this is extremely worrying. More so, when the state as an arbiter of human rights is silent, or even complicit in such human rights abuses.

The latest victim of the zealots’ ire is Mohammed Asghar, a 70-year-old man who also happens to be mentally ill. It is not surprising that there are some in Pakistan who want to see him dead. Asghar has been sentenced to death for blasphemy for various acts which, given his mental condition, he may not be aware of.

Asghar was formally sentenced to death in 2014. Despite his diagnosis in the U.K., of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, the court chose to declare that he was competent to stand trial. However, late last month, a prison guard driven by self-styled zealotry burst into Asghar’s cell, and shot him in the back. The guard fired a second shot, narrowly missing. Restrained by others, the assailant nevertheless managed to get a good kick in as Asghar was taken to the hospital. Eyewitnesses have revealed that the guard chanted, “Death to the blasphemer!” as he swung his boot at the old man.

Asghar, I am told, is on the road to physical recovery. Nonetheless, I would not rate very highly his chances of surviving. Prison officials briefed the media that Asghar would return this week to the same prison where he was lynched and almost died. Also being held in the same prison is Zaffar Bhatti, a Christian pastor who has been on trial for blasphemy since 2012, and whose life is also in danger.

For me, all of this is rather personal. In March, I was targeted in a cold-blooded assassination attempt. My views on the persecution of minorities, and opposing the interpretations of Islam by extremists, were not acceptable to the armed militias; and they used violence to try and silence me. A few assassins shot at least a dozen bullets at my car. I was lucky enough to be able to duck under the car, where I lay motionless pretending I was dead. My driver, Mustafa, was not as lucky and was brutally killed in the attack. A human life was lost and another fellow traveler in the ambushed car was seriously injured. Asghar’s plight is mine too. Beyond the threat of violence, militants receive impunity for their crimes, and the state refuses to protect their victims. I was fortunate to survive but hundreds of Pakistanis have been targeted by ideologues, who think the world has to be purified of those who are “infidels,” “blasphemers” or their “sympathizers.”

The only thing necessary for evil to succeed in the world – said a wiser person than me – is for us to remain silent. For this reason, even though I do not know Mohammed Asghar, and I may never meet him, it would be wrong for me to remain silent today.

The government of Pakistan is running scared of extremists. There is good reason – I am just one of several people whose deaths were meant to promote a skewed interpretation of Islam. In 2011, the world witnessed how Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was shot by his own guard for opposing the misuse of the blasphemy law. Other victims have been burnt alive. A Christian minister was gunned down later and another politician was hounded in the courts for having the gall to question the very questionable blasphemy laws on television! Earlier this year, a lawyer was killed for taking up the case of a bright young man languishing in jail due to allegations of blasphemy. Deaths in prisons have occurred with no accountability or punishment.

We Got Our Hands on NATO’s New Plan for Afghanistan

Joseph Trevithick Oct 14Source Link
Alliance wants to wean Kabul off foreign help in just two years

In 2015, NATO will shift its priorities in Afghanistan from fighting insurgents to advising local forces. But the alliance’s plan to provide training, logistics and oversight for Kabul’s troops could run into trouble.

The revised strategy sees international troops helping the Afghans with “eight essential functions,” rather than simply teaming up with Afghan forces in the field, according to an official NATO handbook obtained by War Is Boring.

The eight-function plan is supposed to be temporary. NATO commanders want Kabul to be able to handle security all on its own within two years.

“The Afghans no longer need much help fighting the Taliban—they can do that on their own,” U.S. Marine Corps general Joseph Dunford writes in the manual’s introduction.

But “Afghan ministries still have challenges with delivering spare parts, ammunition and other essentials” and “need help with critical tasks,” adds Dunford, who was in command of all foreign forces in the country until August.

These “critical tasks” include things like helping Afghan authorities draw up realistic budgets, recruit and train personnel and manage supplies and maintenance. NATO has been working for a year to develop this over-arching “functional” approach.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force will also try fixing Kabul’s nagging problems with corruption and human rights. The official guidebook highlights the Afghan security forces’ bad habit of committing extra-judicial killings.

But ISAF could have a hard time bringing all of these things together—and the alliance knows it. “Quite candidly … there’s been some impediments to [the development of Afghan forces], based on maybe some political decisions within their own country,” U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, the current ISAF commander, told reporters earlier in October.

Above—Afghan Special Forces train in Helmand Province. At top—Afghan army cadets parade in Kabul. ISAF photos

At the moment, the Afghan National Security Forces still rely heavily on foreign support—especially for air strikes and intel. “The general view has long been that the ANSF has a great deal of work yet to do,” notes Dr. Stephen Biddle, a fellow at the Council on Foreign relations.

NATO knows Kabul isn’t ready to step up as the majority of foreign troops head home this year—which is the whole reason for the eight-point plan in the first place.


By Shuaihua Cheng

China could ask to join TPP, but would prefer finalizing the Doha Round with the WTO.

The fact that the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, does not include China raises questions: Is the TPP meant to be an “anyone but China” club to contain the central kingdom? Will China react with competing trading blocks to escalate economic hostility against the US? What does this mean for the future of the global trade order?

While TPP could eventually help China, Beijing has deep reservations about the rules being drafted. From China’s point of view, deepening of the World Trade Organization with passage of the Doha Round is a greater priority than creating a new trade grouping.

The TPP is a mega free trade agreement, or FTA, currently under negotiation that encompasses 12 Asia Pacific countries. In 2006, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore initiated a four-way FTA, termed Pacific-4. Later, five additional countries, namely the United States, Australia, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam, joined the agreement and this led to the creation of TPP, which held its first round negotiations in Australia, March 2010. Since then, Mexico, Canada, Japan and South Korea have requested to join the TPP. Members approved participation of the first three candidates, but did not accept South Korea’s application.

The goal of TPP is to “craft a high-standard, 21st-century agreement,” as stated by theOffice of United States Trade Representative, or USTR. It is reported that TPP aims to achieve duty-free access for trade in industrial products and comprehensive liberalization in services, and entails deeper regulatory convergence among members in the areas of investment, government procurement, competition policies, technical barriers to trade, intellectual property rights enforcement, state-owned enterprises, e-commerce, labor and environment.

The allegation that the United States is building an ‘’anyone but China” club is hard to substantiate, suggested David Pilling or the Financial Times. In theory, the TPP does not prevent China from membership. As the USTR explained, if an economy is interested in joining TPP, it must send a formal request, and existing members then decide on admission by consensus.

China last expressed interest in TPP was May 2013. A spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said that China “will analyze the pros and cons as well as the possibility of joining the TPP, based on careful research and according to principles of equality and mutual benefit.”

It makes economic sense for China to participate. Excluded from the TPP, Chinese firms would face discriminatory treatment in TPP markets. For example, TPP uses cumulation of origin to encourage member countries’ firms to source from within the TPP, instead of from non-members such as China, the world’s biggest producer of components.

From a systemic perspective, China would be better off taking part in setting the rules now than to accepting rules passively in the future. Some of the new trade and trade-related norms stemming from TPP will likely supersede those already existing in WTO rules stamped in 1995.

Nevertheless, China has not applied to participate yet and has two kinds of concerns:

First is its domestic stability concern. China could benefit from further liberalization in manufacturing and services, a high-standard protection and promotion of investment, even from tougher anti-corruption rules, as these issues are in line with the reform agenda of Chinese leaders. China, though, worries about the possible economic hardship resulting from quick, nationwide application of new TPP rules, which may trigger social or even political turmoil.

In Macau, China's 'One Country, Two Systems' Is a Success

October 14, 2014

3 reasons why Macau won’t see Hong Kong-like protests

As the political crisis caused by the Occupy Central movement deepens in Hong Kong, many observers (here and here) have pondered whether a similar “occupy” movement could occur in Macau. In short: no, for three main reasons.

First and foremost, the “one country, two systems” model’s effectiveness is reflected in Macau’s stellar economic performance since 2003. According to World Bank data, Macau’s GDP per capita in 2013 is over $90,000, making it the fourth richest in the world. When Macau was return to China, its GDP per capita was only about $14,000. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s GDP per capita in 2013 is about $38,000, which is a modest increase from the $27,000 it had in 1997 when it was returned to China. So there is no doubt that Macau’s economy has experienced perhaps the rapidest growth in the world for the last decade or so, largely thanks to the Chinese central government’s supportive social and economic policies. It is no exaggeration to say that Macau’s economy would not have grown had it not been for the central government’s supportive policies.

And it is not just Macau’s economy that has thrived; its higher education sector has also developed very quickly, as evidenced by the rapid rise of one of Macau’s major institutions of higher education: the University of Macau. The University of Macau ranks among the top 300 universities in the world, surpassing many universities in Hong Kong despite its very short history. Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising that most Macau residents are mostly satisfied with their lives, as indicated by the very high level of happiness among Macau residents. Of course, this does not mean there is no room for improvement in terms of economic development. High inflation and high housing prices are among the most important factors negatively influencing Macau resident’s satisfaction level. Still, Macau’s average housing prices are about 30 percent lower than those in Hong Kong.

The second major reason for Macau’s success is political stability and unity. As the last Portuguese governor of Macau, Vasco Rocha Vieira, said, the “one country, two systems” model has ensured political stability in Macau, which then created favorable social conditions for overall development. Under the “one country, two systems” model, Macau enjoys a high level of local autonomy and can make decisions freely on a wide range of policy issues. As a result, Macau people’s identification with China has been sustained at a very high level in recent years. Furthermore, trust in the Macau government, the Chinese government, and the “one country, two systems” model have all stayed at a very high level. In this regard, there is a noticeable difference between Macau and Hong Kong. In recent years, Hong Kong has been plagued by endless political divisions and empty debates, resulting in ineffective policy formulation and implementation. If the current “Occupy Central” crisis cannot be resolved quickly, Hong Kong’s future indeed will not be as bright as Macau’s.

The Myth of Japanese Remilitarization

October 15, 2014

"Japan’s defense policies are evolving to keep pace with a changing regional environment, but the idea that Tokyo will be able to threaten its neighbors is just not credible. There is no will, nor the capability to do so."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is determined to end all doubts about Japan’s international ambitions and reassert Japan’s status as a “first-tier nation.” To that end, the Abe government has adopted an aggressive domestic-policy agenda that seeks first to reenergize the Japanese economy, which will then serve as the foundation of a higher-profile international role. Abe’s confidence and focus have sparked criticism of and concern about Japan’s “remilitarization,” as well as increasing concerns that Japan and China are leading an East Asian arms race with potentially dangerous implications. The prospect of a remilitarized Japan is fantasy, as are fears about impending war in East Asia, even though the risk of miscalculation or an accidental clash is real.

Make no mistake: Abe wants to change Japan’s regional-security role. His government has passed legislation—a secrecy law, established a National Security Council—that will allow it to function better in a crisis. It has produced a National Security Strategy. It has reinterpreted the pacifist Constitution to allow the country to exercise the right of collective self-defense. It has revived discussions on the acquisition of offensive strike capabilities. Most significantly, it wants to revive pride and patriotism among the Japanese people.

But the fetters remain. Reinterpretation of the Constitution is subject to very limiting conditions. The public remains fundamentally hostile toward an activist foreign policy and profoundly suspicious of any role for the military. (Remember, Japan only has “Self-Defense Forces”; that may be linguistic legerdemain, but it is a sign of the mental hurdles the country faces before it can “remilitarize.”) A majority of Japanese oppose Abe’s Yasukuni Shrine visits than support them; opinion polls consistently show that with the exception of environmental issues, few Japanese believe their country should play a regional role, and even fewer believe it should play a global role.

There are other, equally powerful, limits on Japan’s future defense capabilities. The first is the budget. The five-year plan put forth by Abe last year increased 2014 defense spending by 0.8 percent, and proposes annual 3 percent increases until 2018. The increases might total $9 billion if they are fully implemented—a 16 percent increase over today’s military budget. That hardly qualifies as remilitarization.

To put these proposed increases in context, Japanese defense expenditures rose just 30 percent over the past twenty-five years when adjusted for inflation. Japan actually decreased its defense spending slightly in 2013 (-0.2 percent), and since 2009, the budget has decreased 0.5 percent. China, by comparison, spent $171 billion on defense in 2013, and has averaged 7 percent increases over the past decade. South Korea spends 50 percent more on defense (per capita) than does Japan. When put in perspective, Abe’s proposed defense increases are actually restrained.

This restraint is even more pronounced when looking at the types of weapons the Japanese military is purchasing. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) is already a powerful defensive maritime force, and few analysts see the planned expansion as being a real attempt to create a blue-water navy that can project power. In October 2013, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff at the JMSDF, emphasized capabilities such as minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare, anti-piracy operations, and modernization of command and control as future key priorities. There are also substantial limitations on what Japan could purchase in the future. As Philippe De Koning and Phillip Lipscy point out,Japan’s personnel costs are so great that, “Japan's focus has shifted from acquisition to preservation, and maintenance costs have skyrocketed: at the end of the Cold War, maintenance spending was roughly 45 percent the size of procurement expenditures; it is now 150 percent.” In short, while the Japanese military is powerful, and defense of its islands is a priority, this is a far cry from being able to project power beyond its own islands.

Vietnam's Extensive Strategic Partnership with Japan

October 14, 2014

Vietnam’s relationship with Japan has an important security component that is growing and evolving.

On August 1, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced during his visit to Hanoi that Japan would provide Vietnam with six vessels to boost its capacity for maritime security. A month earlier, it was reported that Japan’s Diet was also considering giving Vietnam Overseas Development Assistance in the form of new patrol boats for its maritime enforcement agencies.

Media commentary at the time stressed the defense aspect of this development. Reuters, for example, reported that “the deal represents a notable shift in the two countries’ close diplomatic and investment ties towards defense, a move likely to irk an increasingly assertive China…” Reuters described the vessels as “navy boats.”

In fact, the six vessels consisted of two former Japanese Fishery Agency patrol boats and four used commercial fishing boats. The boats are quite small, weighing in at between 600 and 800 tons.

The six vessels are being provided under Japanese grant aid to Vietnam valued at ¥500 million ($4.86 million) that also includes lifeboats, radar and training. The deal for the six vessels was signed by Foreign Minister Kishida and Vietnam’s Minister for Planning and Investment, Bui Quang Vinh.

The boats are expected to be delivered by the end of 2014 and will be used exclusively by the Vietnam Coast Guard and Fishery Surveillance Force.

The momentary flurry of media coverage on the provision of the six patrol boats gave the impression that this was a major new step forward in defense relations. In fact, Japan and Vietnam have been steadily developing defense ties since 2011. A major step forward was taken earlier in the year. This provides the context for Japan’s provision of six patrol boats.

In March, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Truong Tan Sang elevated their eight-year old strategic partnership to an Extensive Strategic Partnership during the latter’s official state visit to Tokyo. This development was a continuation of Abe’s consistent support for defense and security ties with Vietnam.

When Prime Minister Abe was in office for the first time (2006-2007), he elevated bilateral relations with Vietnam to a formal strategic partnership with his counterpart, Nguyen Tan Dung. Japan became Vietnam’s second strategic partner after the Russian Federation.

In 2007, Japan and Vietnam agreed to establish a Joint Cooperation Committee that would meet annually at the ministerial level to review all aspects of their bilateral relations under the strategic partnership. A forty-four point agenda was adopted under seven major headings including exchanges and policy dialogues on security and defense.

Four years later, in 2011, Japan and Vietnam adopted a Plan of Action to implement the strategic partnership. This led to the opening of Defense Attaché offices in each country and the inauguration of a formal Defense Policy Dialogue.

More significantly, Japan and Vietnam agreed to a wide-ranging Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation. The MOU included: defense exchanges at ministerial, chief of staff and service chief level; naval goodwill visits; annual defense policy dialogue at the deputy defense minister level; cooperation in military aviation and air defense; and personnel training including scholarships for defense personnel to study and train in Japan.

In addition, the MOU also provided for cooperation on non-traditional security issues by the two countries’ coast guards in areas like search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. Other areas of cooperation included counterterrorism, maritime salvage, IT training, military medicine, and peacekeeping.

Myanmar’s Rohingya Apartheid

By Emanuel Stoakes
October 14, 2014

A new government strategy looks like a blueprint for additional ethnic cleansing.

Late last month, Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin announced to delegates at the UN General Assembly that a long-expected “action plan” for Rakhine state, the site of the country’s most urgent human rights crisis, was “being finalized and will soon be launched.”

The minister claimed the strategy was designed to ensure “peace, stability, harmony and development” for “all people” in the region; he urged the international community to “contribute pragmatically and objectively” to their plan so that a “durable solution” to the problems in the area could be realized.

While this appeal did not fall on deaf ears, around the time of his speech revelations in the international mediathrew light on what parts of the plan might actually involve: a set of measures that risked worsening the conditions of life for thousands, while effectively recycling a policy that received heavy international condemnation when it was first proposed two years ago.

Rakhine state has been the site of several outbreaks of violence between an eponymous, largely-Buddhist ethnic group and a Muslim minority who call themselves Rohingya. A conflict between the two communities erupted in June 2012 and developed into anti-Rohingya pogroms; a second, organized bout of targeted violence occurred in October of the same year.

An investigation by Human Rights Watch determined that during these incidents, the Rohingya were subjected to crimes against humanity as a part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing led by the ethnic Rakhine community in which state agencies were heavily implicated. As a consequence of these events, hundreds died and roughly 140,000 people were displaced, the vast majority of them Rohingya.

Following the first wave of violence, the Myanmar President Thein Sein declared that the only remedy to the tensions in Rakhine state would be for the Rohingya to be sent to a third country or detained permanently in camps overseen by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). He also reiterated the government’s view that the minority were illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and not a native race of the country.

A draft of the plan referenced in the foreign minister’s speech, which has not been made public but has been seen by The Diplomat, in effect offers only a minor alteration of that heavily criticized policy. In it, the Rohingya, who were retrospectively stripped of their citizenship in a law passed by the former military dictatorship in 1982, are offered the chance to regain these rights if they submit to a “citizenship verification exercise” in which the participants have to self-identify as “Bengalis,” in accordance with the government’s position.

Those who refuse to call themselves this, or who fail to produce paperwork proving their presence in the country for generations, will be subjected to confinement in “temporary camps” and, the plan envisions, forcibly resettled overseas with the aid of the UNHCR.

The number of those condemned to this fate could potentially be enormous, as many in the community look set to refuse to comply with the verification program, while many others have lost official documentation of their family’s presence in Myanmar. Moreover, given that the UNHCR has once again ruled out any involvement in a third country transfer operation, those Rohingya denied citizenship face the prospect of being forced to stay in “temporary” camps indefinitely.

Iraq Is Still Worth Saving

October 15, 2014

"Iraq is still a country, and it is still worth saving, but it may not have much time left."

In his new book, Iraq After America: Strongmen, Sectarians, Resistance, Joel Rayburn has accomplished something remarkable. A book written before the invasion of northwestern Iraq this year by ISIL, and before the departure of Nouri al-Maliki from the prime-minister position, seems nonetheless entirely up to date—and Rayburn himself seems clairvoyant. Everything we have seen in Iraq these last several months follows logically, and now it appears almost inevitably, from his analysis.

I had hoped otherwise. Rayburn is a longstanding friend and colleague whom I got to know well during the days of the surge in 2007. He was extremely well groomed in Iraqi matters then; in the ensuing seven years, his mastery of the subject has only deepened. One lesson of this case, apart from what Rayburn teaches about Iraq, is that the U.S. military still does something right when it creates intelligence and politics expertise of this type among some of its best officers, and we need to preserve that capacity, even as the armed forces downsize.

But back to the issue at hand. For most of the last five years or so, when I listened to Colonel Rayburn describe Iraq’s severe problems, I tended to hope that he was wrong, that Iraqis would find a way, that a people and a political class that had been through such torment and suffering for years and years would not throw away such a chance to build a new and stable nation. My hopes, alas, were misplaced, and Rayburn was right.

His book does not dwell on America’s high-level political decisions—to fight the Iraq war in the first place, to do so with poor preparation for a proper stabilization effort in the early years, to surge forces and change strategy in 2007, to withdraw in 2011. Being a uniformed military officer, Rayburn clearly does not believe it his place to revisit such decisions. And that is a good thing. Enough other people have done so in their books on Iraq. Moreover, those decisions were so momentous that it is difficult for any author who addresses them to wind up saying much that is memorable about any other aspect of the subject.

Rayburn, by contrast, focuses on internal Iraqi politics since 2011. He defines three main classes of actors—Shia supremacists, Sunni chauvinists and Kurdish maximalists—who have, unfortunately, done so much in recent times to tear the country apart and leave it vulnerable to the ISIL onslaught of this past spring and summer. Nouri al-Maliki is of course a major villain, but he is hardly the only one—and the Shia groups he represents are hardly the only guilty parties in what has befallen Mesopotamia since the hopeful days of roughly 2007 through 2009.

America's Fatal Blunder in the War against ISIS

October 15, 2014

"Given the disparate motives of the various parties, it is unwise for U.S. officials to view the fight against ISIS as a stark conflict between good and evil."

U.S. and Western officials like to portray the campaign to defeat ISIS as a struggle between the civilized world and a monstrous terrorist organization. As with most wartime narratives throughout history, that portrayal greatly oversimplifies matters. The war against ISIS actually involves numerous factions, each with its own policy agenda. The American people need to grasp the extent of the complexity, lest the United States drift into an endless war with no coherent, attainable objective. Admonitions from U.S. military and political leaders that the anti-ISIS mission will be a very long one—perhaps lasting three decades or more—should sound alarm bells about the likelihood of policy drift.

An especially important factor is the need to understand the number of players in this conflict and their conflicting agendas. Washington’s attempt to assemble a broad international coalition against ISIS largely ignores that factor—which could be a fatal blunder. In addition to the United States and its European allies, there are at least five major factions involved in the turmoil afflicting Iraq and Syria.

The Radical Sunni Islamists

ISIS constitutes the core of this faction, but the organization has important allies in both Iraq and Syria. It is hardly a coincidence that ISIS has been strongest in the Sunni heartlands of both countries. Indeed, without the aid of Iraq’s Sunni tribes (especially in Anbar province), it would have been extraordinarily difficult for the insurgents to have mounted such a successful military drive—which has now reached Baghdad’s outer suburbs. Not surprisingly, most areas of Iraq that have come under ISIS control in the current offensive are the same areas that rose against the Baghdad government during the peak of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. General David Petraeus’ policy of providing generous financial aid to the Sunni tribes impelled them to put their insurgency on hold, giving Iraq an all-too-brief respite from that violence.

A similar situation exists in Syria. The core of ISIS power is in the majority Sunni regions of that country. And many of the supposedly “moderate” elements of the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad, including portions of theU.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, have turned out to be ISIS fighters—or at least sympathizers. The primary goal of ISIS and its Sunni allies is to oust the governments in both Damascus and Baghdad, or, if that goal proves elusive, to carve out a new state (the caliphate) from predominantly Sunni portions of Syria and Iraq.

The Shiite Alliance

The most determined, highly motivated adversaries of the Sunni Islamists are Shiite rulers and movements. Syria’s Assad (the leader of the Alawites, a Shiite offshoot) is the most obvious ISIS target, but so, too, are the Shiite-led regime in Baghdad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. And lurking in the background as a crucial patron is Iran’s Shiite clerical regime. At the moment, the Shiite faction’s agenda is more defensive than offensive, given the adverse power configuration that has emerged in the region. It was not long ago that Iran was on offense, aggressively trying to export its political and religious doctrine to other Islamic countries. And to some extent, Tehran still attempts to do so, especially by supporting its co-religionists in Lebanon and Bahrain. But with ISIS on the march, Shiite leaders are now devoting more attention to preserving the besieged incumbent regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. Both are crucial to Iran’s leaders. The overthrow of Assad would eliminate Tehran’s principal Middle East ally, and the defeat of the current government in Baghdad would undo all the gains achieved when the United States obligingly overthrew Iran’s principal nemesis, Saddam Hussein’s Sunni dictatorship.

Facing new oil glut, Saudis avoid 1980s mistakes to halt price slide

Oct 13, 2014 

1 OF 2. A view of the Khurais oilfield, about 160 km (99 miles) from Riyadh, June 23, 2008.

(Reuters) - Still haunted by its failed attempt to prevent a steep drop in oil prices by slashing production by almost three quarters in the 1980s, the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is determined not to make the same mistake again.

The oil glut of the 1980s, the early days of the modern crude market and a distant memory for most traders, has resurfaced recently in conversations with Saudi officials and veteran analysts who see it as the defining moment behind the kingdom's new strategy to protect medium-term market share.

While the latest 25 percent slide in oil prices to below $90 a barrel is so far modest compared with the 1980s slump that took crude from $35 to below $10, many observers see similarities in a global market that is on the brink of a pivotal turn from an era of scarcity to one of abundance.

Obama, foreign military chiefs, to thrash out Islamic State plans

Oct 14, 2014 

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province October 13, 2014.

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama will hash out a strategy to counter Islamic State on Tuesday with military leaders from some 20 countries including Turkey and Saudi Arabia amid growing pressure for the U.S.-led coalition to do more to stop the militants' advance.

Some three weeks before U.S. congressional elections viewed largely as a referendum on Obama's leadership, the president will aim to show the U.S. public and allies abroad that he is committed to a plan to "degrade" and "destroy" the group that has taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

Obama will attend a meeting led by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with foreign defense chiefs at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington at 3 p.m. EDT to discuss the coalition's work.

"It is part of ongoing efforts to build the coalition and integrate the capabilities of each country into the broader strategy," said Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

The strategy is being called into question.

Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent Obama critic, said on Sunday that "they're winning and we're not," referring to Islamic State. The United Nations said on Monday that fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province had forced up to 180,000 people to flee after Islamic State, also known as ISIS, captured the city of Hit.

"This is a long campaign. It hasn't gone badly, but it certainly hasn't gone well," said Anthony Cordesman, national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"It is very important, quite aside from trying to show Americans that he's leading, that he shows other countries he's committed," Cordesman said, adding that the defense officials from abroad were in many cases more involved in setting policy than their U.S. military counterparts.

Special Report: How Mosul fell - An Iraqi general disputes Baghdad's story

Oct 14, 2014 

1 OF 4. Civilian children stand next to a burnt vehicle during clashes between Iraqi security forces and al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, in this June 10, 2014 file photo.

(Reuters) - Lieutenant General Mahdi Gharawi knew an attack was coming.

In late May, Iraqi security forces arrested seven members of militant group Islamic State in Mosul and learned the group planned an offensive on the city in early June. Gharawi, the operational commander of Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, asked Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's most trusted commanders for reinforcements.