20 October 2014

Costs of ignoring hunger

Published: October 20, 2014S. 
Mahendra Dev

Ignoring hunger and malnutrition will have significant costs to any country’s development. Nutrition improvement has both intrinsic and instrumental value

One of the disappointments in the post-reform period in India has been the slow progress in the reduction of malnutrition, especially with reference to the underweight among children. In fact, the rate of change in the percentage of underweight children has been negligible in the period 1998-99 to 2005-06; the only two points of data in recent years on undernutrition from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-II and -III. In this phase, the proportion of underweight children in the age group 0-3 years declined only marginally from 47 per cent to 46 per cent.

The reduction in malnutrition among children has been very slow when compared to rapid economic growth in the post-reform period. International studies show that the rate of decline in child undernutrition tends to be around half the rate of growth of per capita GDP. As Angus Deaton and Jean Drèze have said in an article on nutrition, in India’s case, per capita GDP of about 4.2 per cent during 1990 and 2005 was expected to reduce malnutrition by about 2.1 per cent per annum or 27 per cent during this period. Compared to this, the decline in malnutrition among children was only 10 per cent.

Economic growth and nutrition
However, the 2014 Global Hunger Index report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) shows considerable improvement in India’s hunger index and in the percentage of underweight children — from 24.2 in 2005 to 17.8 in 2014 — an increase of 6.4 points. Also, out of 76 countries, India’s rank improved by around 8 points, from 63 to 55. While India is no longer in the category of “alarming” cases, its hunger status is still classified in the category of “serious”. This improvement is attributable mainly to a reduction in the percentage of underweight children, from 43.5 per cent in 2005-06 (NFHS-III) to 30.7 per cent in 2013-14 (a survey conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development with support from UNICEF). This shows a remarkable reduction of 13 percentage points in eight years during 2005-06 to 2013-14. However, the latest survey is a source of encouragement regarding the reduction in undernutrition. One has to wait for a year more for the findings of NFHS-IV.

The Valley in Digital India

Published: October 19, 2014 

Anuj Srivas

Prime Minister Modi is certainly right in prioritising Internet access and digital infrastructure but running a race without knowing the finishing line is a losing game.

Over the course of the last few weeks, the CEOs of Silicon Valley unveiled the latest frontier to be conquered in India. Products and strategies are out. What’s in is humanitarian ventures, empowering Indians and helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi implement his Digital India initiative.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, pointed out during his recent visit the similarities between the company’s ‘Internet.org’ project and Mr. Modi’s vision of boosting digital infrastructure, bringing Internet access to all citizens and providing online government services.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, who made his first trip to India a week before Mr. Zuckerberg arrived, similarly underscored the role of Microsoft and technology in spurring growth. “We are keen to partner with government and industry at large to help make this vision a reality,” the newly-appointed CEO said in a media interview.

Google has also announced that it would want to help the government accelerate its Digital India agenda. Some of the company’s initial plans involve helping millions of women get online and also building the non-English Internet base.

To be sure, there is much to be gained by incorporating Silicon Valley expertise into boosting digital infrastructure and backing that up with online government services. Providing affordable, high-quality broadband will involve overcoming years of terrible government implementation and bureaucratic inefficiency. Refusing help would not only seem arrogant, but could also be downright stupid.

And yet, there are other less obvious subtexts that must be carefully read. The most obvious question is whether technology companies are altruistic enough to work towards international development without it involving a potential pay-off. And even if Digital India and that pay-off could be intertwined, what sort of development would we see?

Modi Muscle in Foreign Policy


By Satish Chandra

Published: 20th October 2014 
On assuming office as prime minister, there was much uncertainty as to what would be the style and substance of Narendra Modi’s foreign policy. While some wagered it would be blatantly chauvinistic, others felt it was likely to be marked by diffidence. In a little over four months in office, Modi has set at rest all speculation and provided clear indications of the nature of his foreign policy and how he would conduct it.

In terms of style, Modi is his own man and will not let anyone including the external affairs ministry to set the tone or dampen his innovation. His invite to the SAARC countries and Mauritius for his swearing-in, the choice of Bhutan for his first bilateral visit, his reception of Xi Jinping in Gujarat, his packed schedule in the US bear the hallmarks of his personal touch. His unmatched communicative skills constitute an integral and valuable part of his diplomacy. This talent is especially well-suited to forging close personal ties with key players and will stand him in good stead over time. Projecting Indianness—whether by speaking in Hindi, worshipping at the Pashupatinath temple in Nepal and providing funds to build a dharamshala or maintaining his Navratra fast in the US—forms a novel element in Indian diplomacy that he has taken to a new level. As to substance, Modi’s foreign policy is informed by the overarching vision that it must be relentlessly harnessed to build a more developed, prosperous and stronger India. In the backdrop of this vision, his foreign policy appears to encompass the following elements: primacy to dealings with neighbours; cultivation of all major players to leverage their capacities to develop India; hedging against a rising China; robust protection of Indian interests; harnessing of the diaspora for furthering Indian interests.

That dealings with neighbours will enjoy a very high priority in Modi’s foreign policy was evident in the president’s address on June 9 to both houses of Parliament. He underlined that the invitation to the SAARC neighbours for Modi’s swearing-in symbolised the government’s “commitment and determination to work towards building a peaceful, stable and economically interlinked neighbourhood which is essential for the collective development and prosperity of the South Asian Region”. Modi’s choice of Bhutan for his first bilateral visit followed weeks later by his Nepal visit is evidence of the importance attached by him to India’s relations with neighbours. The latter assumes great significance as the last visit to Nepal by an Indian prime minister was way back in 1997. Visits to both countries were a resounding success due to Modi winning the hearts and minds of all those who he interacted with, the content of the cooperative initiatives undertaken, and in part due to India’s largesse by way, for instance, of the $1-billion soft credit line extended to Nepal for infrastructure and energy development as per its priorities and requirements and the `45 billion pledged to Bhutan for its 11th five-year plan.

Realignment of militants

Oct 20, 2014 | Karachi

The influence of the IS on militant groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan is a huge challenge for Al Qaeda. Analysts believe that the groups which were not happy with Al Qaeda’s operational strategies are more attracted to the IS.

Five Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders including the militant group’s spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid have announced their oath of allegiance to Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, self-proclaimed caliph of the militant group Islamic State. The development may encourage other militant groups and commanders to do the same particularly those who are now critically reviewing their oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar and association with Al Qaeda after the emergence of the Islamic State in the West Asia.

It appears as if the militant landscape of Pakistan is going to become more complex and threatening. As militant groups prepare to enter into another phase of ideologically and operationally transformed jihadi discourse, the implications for Pakistan’s internal security are severe.

The TTP commanders’ allegiance to the IS reflects internal rifts in the group mainly concerning leadership issues, and increasing differences among commanders in their political, ideological, tactical and operational perspectives. These internal differences have pushed these commanders towards what they perceive as an ideologically clearer and purified Islamist movement.

Surprisingly, the announcement of allegiance to the IS came from the Taliban commanders who constituted the operational core of the TTP. Many were expecting the newly established Jamaatul Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the TTP and strongly influenced by the IS, to be the first to declare an oath of allegiance to the latter. But it seems that the group is wavering between the Afghan Taliban-Al Qaeda alliance and the IS for future association.

By declaring allegiance to the IS, the Taliban commanders not only took the lead but also captured the title of Khorasan. Previously, leaders of Jamaatul Ahrar tried to tag themselves as Khorasani claiming they were the first troops of the prophesied Islamic state of Khorasan. They believe the time has come for the establishment of an Islamic state in this region comprising some parts of Central Asia, and Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For clarity in Syria’s muddy politics

Published: October 20, 2014 

Vijay Prashad
ReutersSMOKY SKIES: Kobane, some 100hundred m from the Turkish border, remains a key battleground of the war. In the picture, Turkish Kurds watch the Syrian town after an air strike.

With the West showing that when the politics is inconvenient, it will not make noises about the responsibility to protect citizens, other ideas are needed to stop the bleeding of West Asia

The United States and its allies continue to bomb northern Iraq and Syria. The purported target is the Islamic State (IS), whose territory stretches across the borders of the two countries. The Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane, a few 100 metres from the Turkish border, remains a key battleground of the current war. Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG), supported by fighters from the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), have been courageously holding the city against the superior firepower of IS fighters. U.S. aircraft have struck near Kobane, halting the advance of IS fighters temporarily. The U.S. Pentagon’s Rear Admiral James Kirby said air power is very limited and the air strikes “are not going to save” Kobane.

Turkish tanks remain on the Turkish side of the border. They refuse to allow YPG and PKK reinforcements to cross into Kobane. A town with little strategic value has nonetheless come to represent the fortitude of the Kurdish resistance against the IS on the one hand, and of Kurdish aspirations for autonomy on the other. ‘Diren Kobane’ (Save Kobane) is the slogan of Kurdish people across the region. Protests of Kurdish groups and the Turkish Left across Turkey were met with police force, whose actions killed over 30 people. Rather than come to the aid of the Kurdish fighters, the fighter jets of the Turkish air force bombed PKK positions in southeastern Turkey. In a flippant tone, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an said, “Hey world, when a terrorist organisation like IS emerges, you all speak out. But why do you not condemn PKK as a terrorist organisation?” The otherwise fruitful “Imrali Process” to end the insurgency by the PKK inside Turkey has now ended with these air strikes and Turkish intransigence on Kobane.No clear political agenda

When U.S. President Barack Obama said that there is no strategy for the U.S. fight against IS in Syria, he was correct. The U.S. has no clear political agenda. Nor does the United Nations. The appointment of Staffan de Mistura to replace the highly accomplished Lakhdar Brahimi was an indicator that the U.N. had lost faith in the political process for Syria. As one former U.N. official told me, “de Mistura has a reputation for glad-handling, not for results.”

The World Bank on India’s poverty

The World Bank on India’s poverty The World Bank says India has been the biggest contributor to poverty reduction between 2008 and 2011, but even this remarkable feat is not enough Manas Chakravarty 16 inShare 0 Comments Subscribe to: Daily Newsletter Breaking News Latest News 10:46 PM IST Coal and corruption 10:38 PM IST Govt launches National Air Quality Index 10:04 PM IST Centre clears change in names of Karnataka cities 09:10 PM IST GE profit tops views as cost cuts drive margins; shares up 08:52 PM IST Morgan Stanley profit jumps as trading activity rebounds Editor's picks Modi launches labour reforms to make doing business in India simpler TCS Q2 profit up 13.2% to Rs5,244 crore but lags estimates Tata Steel refinances international debt portfolio India reviews Ebola preparedness Danone may part ways with joint venture partner Rahul Narang Group A combination of high growth and social security programmes by both central and state governments led to poverty coming down from 41.6% of the population in 2005 to 23.6% in 2012. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint The World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report for 2014-15 on the Millennium Development Goals says India has been the biggest contributor to poverty reduction between 2008 and 2011, with around 140 million or so lifted out of absolute poverty. Unfortunately, even this remarkable feat is not enough—the report says that in 2011, India accounted for 30% of those living in extreme poverty in the world. The received wisdom has been that India is a very poor country, so it’s obvious that poverty levels here have to be high. But how poor is it? The accompanying chart, from the World Bank’s development indicators, shows that India’s gross domestic product per capita, in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms and in 2011 constant international dollars, was $5,238 in 2013. As the World Bank explains, PPP GDP is gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates. And an international dollar has the same purchasing power over GDP as the US dollar has in the US. There are all kinds of issues with PPP conversion, but let’s not go down that difficult path. Assuming the World Bank’s calculations are right, the chart shows that several countries much poorer than India have much lower levels of poverty. In other words, being poor hasn’t prevented these nations from caring for the poorest in their midst. Notice also that such countries are all across the world, including in our own neighbourhood. Both Pakistan and Nepal are much poorer than India, yet Pakistan has a much lower poverty headcount, while Nepal is just a bit higher than India’s, despite its per capita income being less than half ours. Sri Lanka, of course, has long been the gold standard for poverty reduction in the region. In 1991, when its per capita GDP was $3,442, the percentage of people living below $1.25 per day was 15%. Poverty is exacerbated by inequality. India has relatively low levels of inequality in terms of monetary measures, partly because what is measured in India is consumption inequality rather than income inequality. A new World Bank report titled Addressing Inequality in South Asia by Martin Rama, Tara Beteille, Yue Li, Pradeep K. Mitra and John Lincoln Newman has several interesting examples of what these grinding levels of poverty really mean for the poorest people. For instance, “For a typical Indian household among the top 10%, the net worth could support consumption for more than 23 years. For a typical Indian household in the bottom 10%, however, the net worth was sufficient to support consumption for less than three months.” Or, “The share of children under five who are stunted among the poorest quintile is above 50% in Bangladesh and Nepal and reaches 60% in India.” And finally, “Of 1,000 children born in India’s poorest population quintile, 82 will die within 12 months and 117 within five years.” That is quite a massacre. But things are changing. The level of education of the mother is important in determining access to health for children and inequality in access to education is less among the young. Migration and non-farm work have been big factors in mobility and the report says upward mobility among the poor is as high as in the US or Vietnam. Unfortunately, downward mobility is much higher in India. One problem is that while social spending for safety nets for the poor is meagre, a lot of subsidies, such as on cooking gas (or on fertilisers) benefit the rich the most. We also have a preference for billionaires—the report says India is an outlier in the ratio of billionaire wealth to GDP among economies at a similar level of development. A combination of high growth and social security programmes by both central and state governments led to poverty coming down from 41.6% of the population in 2005 to 23.6% in 2012. But the World Bank report says that, as the poverty headcount becomes lower, the impact of economic growth on poverty comes down. This is simply because the number of people clustered around the poverty line reduces. In other words, lowering poverty further would call for greater effort. But then, as pointed out earlier, many countries with lower per capita income have done much better in removing poverty. All we have to do is follow them. Manas Chakravarty looks at trends and issues in the financial markets. Your comments and feedback are welcome at capitalaccount@livemint.com

Oil Prices Continue to Define Geopolitics

Geopolitical Diary

Editor's Note: Oil prices dropped steeply Oct. 14, with crude oil futures falling 4.6 percent to $81.84 per barrel -- the biggest decrease in more than two years. Brent crude dropped by more than $4 a barrel at one stage in the day, dipping below $85 for the first time since 2010. While these are relatively substantial drops, they are just one part of a continuing trend Stratfor has been tracking over the past few months. Factors behind the slump include weak demand, a surfeit of supply and the fact that many large Middle Eastern producers are reluctant to reduce their output.

In light of today's developments, we are republishing the following diary from Oct. 2, which details the reasons behind the falling prices and how the drops could affect oil-dependent countries around the world.

The global oil benchmark, Brent crude, fell Thursday to about $92 per barrel before rebounding to finish the day at around $94 per barrel, the lowest price since mid-2012. The latest sell-off follows one of the sharpest declines in a quarter in recent years, in which the price of oil slid about 16 percent. It may be premature to forecast sustained international oil prices lower than $90 per barrel, but if the price of oil remains close to where it is now, many oil exporting countries will feel the pain after basing their budgets on previous price expectations.

Simply put, the oil market has gotten overstocked. After spending much of the year producing only around 200,000 barrels per day, Libya has seen its production jump up by about 700,000 bpd since mid-June. The United States has continued its relentless expansion of oil production, with the latest Energy Information Agency figures estimating that U.S. production has increased by about 300,000 bpd since the beginning of August, and Iraq has experienced similar gains. Russia, Angola and Nigeria have also seen marked boosts in production. While most of the recent production increases are one-offs, North America could add another 1 million to 1.5 million barrels of production by the end of next year.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.
Despite these noteworthy hikes in oil production, sluggish demand by European and Asian (particularly Chinese) consumers has proved just as important to oil prices. While China's demand will continue to grow, demand in developed countries will remain flat, as it has for a while. These factors only add to the concern that if left unchecked, oil prices per barrel in the $90-$100 range may persist for the foreseeable future.

Beset by Leadership Disputes, Infighting, and Defections, Pakistani Taliban Coalition Collapses

Discord dissolves Pakistani Taliban coalition

Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal, October 18, 2014

Ever since the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Hakeemullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in late 2013, the al Qaeda-linked group has been plagued by leadership disputes, infighting, and defections. Mullah Fazlullah, Mehsud’s successor, has proven to be incapable of holding the coalition of jihadists together.

The latest members to leave the group are its spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, and five regional emirs: Hafiz Dolat Khan from Kurram, Hafiz Saeed Khan from Arakzai, Maulana Gul Zaman from Khyber, Mufti Hassan Swati from Peshawar, and Khalid Mansoor from Hangu. Shahid announced their defection in a video (seen above) that was released online earlier this week. The Pakistani Taliban figures are now loyal to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State, which has been attempting to woo al Qaeda and Taliban leaders for months.

"I pledge allegiance to the Commander of the Faithful and the Caliph of Muslims Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Qurashi al Husayni, to obey him when we are enthusiastic and when we are halfhearted, as well as in difficulty and relief," Shahid says in the video, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal.

Shahid stresses that his pledge of allegiance (bayat) is not on behalf of the “entire movement,” nor has Mullah Fazlullah himself sworn an oath of fealty to Baghdadi. Instead, Shahid says, the oath is “pledged by myself as well as five other Pakistani Taliban emirs, who are the emirs of Orakzai, Kuram, Khaybar, Hangu, and Peshawar regions.”

Shahid goes on to claim that this is the fourth time he has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. His claim is curious, to say the least.

The video above was disseminated online on Oct. 13. But less just one week earlier, on Oct. 6, Shahid was quoted as denying that the Pakistani Taliban had sworn allegiance to Baghdadi’s group. Shahid was quoted in an account byReuters, and there is nothing in that report about Shahid or the five other Pakistani Taliban leaders switching their allegiance to Baghdadi.

On the contrary, Shahid was quoted as saying, “We are not supporting any specific group in Syria or Iraq; all groups there are noble and they are our brothers.” Shahid continued, “Mullah Omar is our head and we are following him.”

In just one week, therefore, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman went from claiming that the group was entirely loyal to Mullah Omar to announcing that he and five commanders now counted themselves among the Islamic State’s ranks.

Divergent Trajectories, the Bomb, and Kashmir

11 OCTOBER 2014 

President Barack Obama talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India during their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Sept. 30, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The recent trips to the United States by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi provide ample evidence of India’s and Pakistan’s divergent trajectories. Nawaz arrived with no fanfare, a known commodity in familiar trouble back home. He delivered a lackluster speech at the U.N. General Assembly notable only for dwelling on Kashmir, which has always been a harmful issue for Pakistan. Nawaz met with Vice President Biden in New York along with a few foreign leaders (at their request), and then left for home, where he faces unrelenting political opposition.

Modi arrived in New York as an ambitious, contentious, and intriguing figure with an electoral mandate to revive India’s fortunes. He spoke proudly in Hindi, promised much with few specifics, and met with a rapturous crowd of Indian-Americans at Madison Square Garden. Then on to the White House, long meetings with President Obama, and a fancy dinner during which the guest of honor fasted.

Love him or hate him, Modi is a charismatic leader who has everyone’s attention. Pakistan has previously been led by a charismatic leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who disappointed badly. Nawaz does not need charisma – he needs to rouse himself to lead, or step aside to let his most capable Party members do their best to reverse the country’s decline. If he is incapable of both, Pakistan could find itself with another charismatic figure unable to govern effectively. One of Nawaz’s primary tormentors has withdrawn his parliamentarians rather than offering new legislative initiatives. The other calls for a revolution.

Modi offers hope to his electorate and to the Indian diaspora. Nawaz’s record does not engender hope. Modi and Obama signed off on a vision statement. Nawaz has always lacked vision. He builds motorways, but to his credit, he is doing more to improve power generation than the previous, lackluster civilian government. The U.S.-India joint statement was suffused with promises. U.S.-Pakistan relations can do without lofty promises, since the past is littered with them. It will suffice if both Pakistan and the United States can work in tandem through the difficult security dilemmas they have co-created.

Dynastic politics aren’t limited to South Asia, as is evident by the Clintons and the Bushes. But dynastic politics have had extremely punishing effects on the subcontinent, hollowing out major political parties and saddling Pakistan and India with ill-functioning governments. Democratic elections do not offer opportunities for new starts when the two primary choices are both family-run political enterprises. While Pakistan struggles with this dilemma, India enjoys the promise of renewal because one of its two national parties is not beholden to a dynastic franchise.

Modi’s government, by all appearances, is a one-man show. Other performances of this kind on the subcontinent have not ended well. Some leaders with electoral mandates fail for lack of ambition, as Nawaz is now doing. Others fail by overreaching badly enough for political rivals to recover. In Modi’s case, there will be dynamism whether he succeeds or fails.

Divergent trajectories on the subcontinent have significant ramifications for the nuclear competition and for the Kashmir dispute. As Pakistan falls increasingly behind India, it increases reliance on nuclear weapons to shore up shortcomings. This is an understandable but questionable strategy, since nuclear weapons cost money without providing usable military capability.

Not-So-Empty Talk The Danger of China's “New Type of Great-Power Relations” Slogan

OCTOBER 9, 2014

Paramilitary policemen salute as they attend a flag-raising ceremony in Nanjing, October 1, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

Ever since his February 2012 visit to Washington, Chinese President Xi Jinping has championed his vision for a “new type of great-power relations” between China and the United States. The Obama administration, in an apparent desire to avoid conflict with a rising China, seems to have embraced Xi’s formulation. In a major speech last November, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice called on both sides to “operationalize” the concept. And during a March 2014 summit with Xi, U.S. President Barack Obama declared his commitment to “continuing to strengthen and build a new model of relations.”

In uncritically signing on to the “new type of great-power relations” slogan at the Obama-Xi Sunnylands summit in June 2013, the Obama administration fell into a trap. It has what is most likely its last major chance to dig itself out when Obama visits Beijing next month for a follow-up summit. And he should make use of the opportunity. Although some U.S. officials dismiss rhetoric as insignificant and see this particular formulation as innocuous, Beijing understands things very differently. At best, U.S. acceptance of the “new type of great-power relations” concept offers ammunition for those in Beijing and beyond who promote a false narrative of the United States’ weakness and China’s inevitable rise. After all, the phrasing grants China great-power status without placing any conditions on its behavior -- behavior that has unnerved U.S. security allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific. At worst, the formulation risks setting U.S.-Chinese relations on a dangerous course: implicitly committing Washington to unilateral concessions that are anathema to vital and bipartisan U.S. foreign policy values, principles, and interests.

Already troubling, each additional invocation of a “new type of great-power relations” grows more costly. Instead of reactively parroting this Chinese formulation, Washington must proactively shape the narrative. It should explicitly articulate and champion its own positive vision for U.S.-Chinese relations, which should accord China international status conditionally -- in return for Beijing abiding by twenty-first-century international norms, behaving responsibly toward its neighbors, and contributing positively to the very international order that has enabled China’s meteoric rise.


Instead of reactively parroting the Chinese formulation, Washington must proactively shape the narrative.

The “new type of great-power relations” concept is appealing to so many policymakers and scholars in both countries because of a misplaced belief in the Thucydides Trap. This is a dangerous misconception that the rise of a new power inescapably leads to conflict with the established one.

The Chinese side has exploited this oversimplified narrative to great effect: Xi himself has warned of such confrontation as “inevitable,” and leading Chinese international relations scholars claim that it is an “iron law of power transition.” Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, echoed the sentiment at the 2012 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue when she said that the United States and China’s efforts to avoid a catastrophic war are “historically unprecedented” and that both sides need to “write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.” A year later, at the Sunnylands summit, Tom Donilon, then the U.S. national security adviser, explained that efforts to reformulate the U.S.-Chinese relationship are “rooted in the observation … that a rising power and an existing power are in some manner destined for conflict.”

China military training inadequate for winning a war: army paper

Oct 12, 2014 

Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) stand inside tanks at a drill during an organised media tour at a PLA engineering academy in Beijing July 22, 2014.

(Reuters) - Weaknesses in China's military training pose a threat to the country's ability to fight and win a war, China's official military newspaper said on Sunday.

China's military authority has sent a document to military units detailing 40 weaknesses in current training methods, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily said in a front-page story.

"These problems reflect shortcomings and weak-points in the makeup of our military fighting force. If they are not promptly dealt with, then they will certainly affect and hinder our army's ability to go to war," the paper said, citing the PLA general staff headquarters.

President Xi Jinping has been pushing to strengthen the fighting ability of China's 2.3 million-strong armed forces, the world's largest, and stepping up efforts to modernize forces that are projecting power across disputed waters in the East and South China Seas.

The country's armed forces came under fire earlier this year from serving and retired Chinese officers and state media who questioned whether the force was too corrupt to win a war.

The military newspaper said China needed to find a cure for the "peace disease" affecting its training regime to ensure the armed forces could master the ability to win a real conflict.

Military authorities identified issues for the country's army, navy and air force, including training standards and styles by commanders and military units. The problems were identified through supervision of drills, including joint exercises with foreign armed forces, the PLA Daily said.

China has developed stealth jets and has built one aircraft carrier.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

China Refutes Fresh US Accusations Of Hacking Into Private Companies

October 16 2014

A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin on May 21, 2013. Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski 

The FBI issued a warning Wednesday that hackers backed the Chinese government were targeting U.S. companies. Getty 

China has branded as “unfounded” U.S. accusations that hackers backed by the country's government are launching cyberattacks against American businesses. China and the U.S. have been waging a quiet cyberwar for years, vying for both commercial and military advantage.

A "flash" warning issued by the FBI on Wednesday had described tools and techniques used by the hackers. According to a Reuters report, the agency also said that it had recently obtained information regarding "a group of Chinese Government-affiliated cyber actors who routinely steal high-value information from U.S. commercial and government networks through cyber espionage."

The Chinese embassy in Washington urged “the U.S. side to stop this kind of unfounded accusation.” Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the embassy, quoted by the South China Morning Post, added: “I’m not aware of the investigation by the U.S. FBI... Judging from past experience, conclusions of this kind of investigations are usually lacking in provable facts and hard evidence.”

The latest incident is not the first time within the last month that the Chinese government has publicly denied U.S. allegations of hacking. In an Oct. 5 interview with CBS, FBI Director James Comey said that Chinese hackers targeted the intellectual property of U.S. companies on a daily basis, costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year.

"They're just prolific. Their strategy seems to be: 'We'll just be everywhere all the time. And there's no way they can stop us,'” Comey reportedly said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei responded: "We express strong dissatisfaction with the United States' unjustified fabrication of facts in an attempt to smear China's name and demand that the US-side cease this type of action," according to India's Economic Times

In addition, a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee published on Sept. 18 claimed that hackers backed by the Chinese government had repeatedly hacked into the computer systems of U.S. military contractors, according to the Wall Street Journal

The same Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson described the accusations as “groundless and ill-founded,” according to a report from the Xinhua news agency. He added that “China forbids any actions that may sabotage cyber security including hacking, and deals with such crime severely.”

In May of this year, Attorney General Eric Holder embarked on the U.S.'s most direct confrontation with China over its alleged cyberspying, when the Justice Department unsealed indictments against five members of China's People's Liberation Army, or PLA, for computer hacking crimes.

China’s Dangerous Game

OCT 13 2014

The country's intensifying efforts to redraw maritime borders have its neighbors, and the U.S., fearing war. But does the aggression reflect a government growing in power—or one facing a crisis of legitimacy?

Brian Stauffer

In the tranquil harbors that dot the coastline of Palawan, a sword-shaped island in the western Philippines, the ferry boats are crowded with commuters traveling back and forth between sleepy townships, and with vendors bearing fresh produce. On Sundays, they fill with people dressed up for church. From nearby berths, fishermen set out to sea for days at a time aboard their bancas, the simple, low-slung catamarans they have favored for generations.

Just inland from the shore, narrow, crowded streets thrum with the put-put of motorized rickshaws. The signs on the small shops and restaurants that line them are almost as likely to be in Korean, Vietnamese, or Chinese as in the Filipino language Tagalog.

The shore-hugging seas of this part of the world, from the southern tip of the Korean peninsula to the Indonesian archipelago, have always served as a kind of open freeway for culture, trade, and ceaseless migration. In past times, historians of the region went so far as to call the long waterway that encompasses both the East China Sea and the South China Sea the Mediterranean of East Asia. But more recently, it has begun to earn more-ominous comparisons to another part of Europe, a fragmented region that was the famous trigger for the First World War: the Balkans.

A mere 25 miles off the shore of Palawan sits the frontier of an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable struggle. Its origin lies in China’s intensifying efforts to remake the maritime borders of this region, just as surely as Russia is remaking Europe’s political map in places like Crimea and Ukraine—only here the scale is vastly larger, the players more numerous, and the complexity greater.

Moving with ever greater boldness, Beijing has begun pressing claims to ownership of more than 80 percent of the South China Sea, waters enclosed by what it calls its “nine-dash line,” a relic of the country’s early-20th-century nationalist era, when it was first sketched to indicate China’s view of its traditional prerogatives. The line has no international standing and had gone largely unremarked upon until China recently revived it. It now figures in all Chinese maps. Since 2012, it has been embossed in new passports issued to the country’s citizens.

Also known as the cow’s tongue, for the way it dangles from China’s southern coast, the line encloses a region through which roughly 40 percent of the world’s trade and a great majority of China’s imported oil passes, via the Strait of Malacca, as through the eye of a needle. An observation from the 16th century—“Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice”—still conveys the region’s maritime importance.

Residents of outposts like Palawan, which sits along the eastern edge of the nine-dash line, already feel besieged. Fishermen who enter waters that their forebears freely traversed for generations nowadays find themselves at risk in a disputed no-man’s-land. “The locals are afraid to go out to the west because there are a lot of Chinese boats—military vessels,” said Edwin Seracarpio, a 52-year-old boat owner whom I found one bright morning waiting port-side for the return of one of his crews. “The Chinese say it has always been their property.”

If China can impose its will in the South China Sea, at least five rival claimants—all much smaller, weaker Asian states—will be limited to a narrow band of the sea along their coastlines. China would gain greater security for its crucial supply lines of oil and other commodities; exclusive access to rich fishing areas and potentially vast undersea oil deposits; a much larger buffer against what it regards as U.S. naval intrusions; and, not least, the prestige and standing it has long sought, becoming in effect the Pacific’s hegemon, and positioning itself to press its decades-old demand that Taiwan come under its control. Arguably, it would achieve the greatest territorial expansion by any power since imperial Japan’s annexation of large swaths of Asia in the first half of the 20th century.

Earlier this year, a flotilla of Chinese ships, reportedly including naval vessels, steamed into waters off Vietnam’s coast to deploy an oil-exploration rig, claiming rights to the area. Above, Chinese coast-guard vessels give chase to a Vietnamese boat that had come within 10 nautical miles of the rig. (Martin Petty/Reuters)China’s expansion has long been expected. Many observers have said a new cold war, in which a rising China gradually seeks to push the U.S. military out of the western Pacific, is inevitable. Any such conflict would of course be dangerous whenever it happened, because the United States is likely to resist these efforts strenuously. But what’s surprising—and worrisome—is how the timeline for this conflict, or at least its beginning stage, has seemed to accelerate over roughly the past two years. Suddenly and aggressively, China has begun advancing its military interests throughout the region, catching its neighbors and the United States off guard.

New Wave of U.S. Airstrikes Hit ISIS-Controlled Oil Refineries and Production Facilities in Iraq and Syria

U.S. Confirms Renewed Wave of Airstrikes Against Islamic State

Julian E. Barnes

Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2014

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military announced Saturday a renewed wave of airstrikes in Syria that aim to degrade Islamic State’s ability to refine and sell oil—a major source of financing for the extremist group.

Many of the strikes, which took place Friday and Saturday, were aimed at oil production facilities and oil collection points held by the militants.One strike damaged a modular oil refinery southeast of Dayr Az Zawr, according to the U.S. Seven strikes took place east of Dhiban and were aimed at destroying crude oil collection and another modular oil refinery.

Another three strikes took place northeast of Khasham and hit another collection point. An additional strike took place east of Sharra, aimed at another modular oil refinery.

The Associated Press, citing activist groups, reported that one airstrike hit a gas distribution facility in Khasham, in oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, setting off secondary explosions and killing at least eight people.

The airstrikes are the second time the U.S. has focused a round of attacks on Islamic State’s ability to refine and sell oil.

“These airstrikes were designed to interdict ISIL financing by degrading and destroying their oil producing, collecting, storage and transportation infrastructure,” U.S. Central Command said, using a common acronym for Islamic State.

Fighter and bomber aircraft also hit Islamic State fighting positions near Kobani, which has in recent weeks been the primary focus of American air operations.

Military officials said Friday that they were receiving intelligence from Kurdish fighters to help hone the effectiveness of the strikes, which have helped to prevent Islamic State from taking over the city, primarily made up of Syrian Kurds.
The U.S. also conducted 10 strikes in Iraq. Five occurred south and west of Beiji, where Iraq’s largest oil refinery is located. The strikes were aimed at Islamic State armed vehicles, machine guns, guard shacks and a building used by the group.

The remaining five occurred west of Mosul dam. The U.S. said a Humvee and a heavy machine gun were destroyed. The strikes also damaged a building used by Islamic State militants and struck three small ground units.
One of the sites in Douma that activists say was his by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad over the weekend. Reuters

In Aftermath of War, Ukraine Trying to Quickly Make Up for Decades of Neglecting Its Military

Ukraine troops struggle with nation’s longtime neglect of military

Sergei L. Loiko and Carol J. Williams

Los Angeles Times, October 18, 2014

Militia commander Yuri Bereza and his 150 Ukrainian irregulars were closing in on pro-Moscow separatists in their last stronghold in this eastern city when Russian troops and armor thundered in out of nowhere to cut them off in the suburb of Ilovaisk.

No satellite or drone surveillance detected the sudden movement of the Russian columns. No word of the impending attack had been radioed from the border guard base the invaders had to have passed. Neither did any of the allied soldiers who were supposed to be bringing up the rear inform Bereza’s fighters that they had been cut off. In fact, the 700-strong contingent of government recruits had deserted en masse.

Caption Ukraine’s neglected army
Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
Militia fighter Asher-Jaseph Cherkassky walks in the yard of an abandoned house in the village of Peski on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine.

Caption Ukraine’s neglected army
Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
Ukraine militia deputy commander Maxim Dubovsky leads his men through Peski, the frontline village near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

Caption Ukraine
Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
Ukrainian soldiers put tape on their sleeves to identify them as comrades during battle. Defense funding has fallen sharply since Ukraine gained independence in 1991.

Caption Ukraine’s neglected army
Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
Ukrainian soldiers discuss a battle plan on the outskirts of Donetsk.

Caption Ukraine’s neglected army
Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times
Residents look at lists of missing and captured fighters in the town center of Dnipropetrovsk.

The unit’s calls to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, to say it was surrounded brought promises of a reinforcements, food and ammunition, none of which came to the rescue of the men, who survived on grass and rainwater as they braved five days of incessant sniper fire, “like game at a hunting range,” Bereza said bitterly of the battle two months ago.

Why this winter will bring a new gas crisis in Ukraine (and Europe)



Europe will face another catastrophic gas shortage this winter if the EU and its member states do not act fast to resolve a gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine. Unbeknownst to many, Russia stopped supplying gas to Ukrainian consumers this summer because of a payment dispute. While this is the latest in a long series of disagreements between Moscow and Kyiv on the terms of their gas trade, the political context this time around is more than obvious. In response to the ousting of the Moscow-friendly regime led by Viktor Yanukovych in early spring of this year, Russia cancelled the two gas price discounts it had agreed upon with Ukraine in April 2010 and December 2013 (Figure 1). This has left Ukraine over $3 billion in debt to Russia. If the current dispute is not settled soon so that gas can again flow from Russia, Ukraine could be forced to tap into gas supplies destined for Europe to prevent its own citizens from freezing this winter.

Figure 1: Russian Gas Prices for Ukraine. Source: author’s calculations based on data from the Statistics Service of Ukraine, the Ministry of Energy and Coal of Ukraine, and others.

The role of Ukraine’s gas storage in securing supply

The Ukrainian gas storage system is the most important “element” in the security of gas supply for Ukraine and for the other European countries. An analysis of Ukraine’s monthly gas balance (Figure 2) shows not only that Ukraine’s domestic production is only enough to cover gas consumption during non-peak periods i.e. during summer (May-Aug), but also that the country’s gas consumption is extremely seasonal – its consumption during winter months is roughly four to five times higher than during summer months. Therefore, to meet peak demand, Ukraine has to buy gas from Russia during the spring and summer and store it to meet demand during winter. And still this is usually not enough to satisfy peak winter demand, which is usually met with even more Russian gas imports. This year Ukraine has not been receiving gas from Russia since mid-June, thus missing half of the gas stocking period that would have been used this coming winter. Thus Ukraine is likely looking at extreme shortages of gas when temperatures fall and will be faced with a choice of either letting its own citizens freeze or tapping into the transit pipeline and consuming Russian gas destined for other European consumers. In the 2006 and 2009 gas crises, Ukraine faced the same choice and decided to tap into the transit pipelines to stay warm. This triggered Russia’s to completely cutting off gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine, a short-term solution with heavy costs for the rest of Europe.

Whether Europe will again face a gas crisis this winter depends on a few factors: (1) Ukraine’s ability to import gas from central Europe (the so-called reverse flows); (2) how much gas Ukraine has accumulated in its storage; (3) additional supplies from Russia as part of a possible interim deal mediated by the EU; and (4) Russia’s alternative pipelines to Europe that bypass Ukraine.

Figure 2: Ukraine’s Monthly Gas Balance: 2010-2012. Source: author’s calculations based on data from the Statistics Service of Ukraine, the Ministry of Energy and Coal of Ukraine, and others.

Reverse flow from Central Europe

After the disagreement with Russia over gas prices and discounts in April, Ukraine was able to import gas from both Poland and Hungary to round out its supply. However, even together with the Russian gas supplies accumulated before the disagreement, Ukraine’s gas imports were already 30-40 percent lower than in previous years.


By Brahim Saidy

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) 

For more than 30 years, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has attempted to establish a collective defense regime to protect its six members: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. This ambition was expressed through a number of initiatives, beginning with the foundation of the Peninsula Shield force in 1982 and culminating in the establishment of a Unified Military Command in 2013.

This latter decision represents an important reform and could be considered a crucial step in the evolution of the GCC towards deep regional integration, especially on the military side. A Unified Military Command can benefit from the various weapons systems in the Gulf, and create a new generation of Gulf officers, who take advantage of the broad similarities of the military systems and experiences of the GCC countries. In the light of the historical background of the GCC’s defense cooperation, this article aims to analyze the strategic opportunities that could be generated by the foundation of the unified military command and to explain the political challenges that could hamper the GCC countries’ attempt to evolve towards a real military alliance.


Following the new regional order generated by the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979 and Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Arab Gulf countries decided in 1981 to create a regional organization called the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in order to create and maintain a sense of regional integration as well as to achieve interdependence in all fields of cooperation. Although defense and security issues were not clearly mentioned in the founding treaty[1], the final communiqué issued after the first GCC summit in May 1981 affirmed the conviction of its members about the connected nature of their security and the necessity to coordinate their policies in this domain. Since then, in a series of meetings between chiefs of staff and defense ministers of the Gulf States, the GCC has proposed a wide range of agreements and useful projects to improve military cooperation and collective self-defense capabilities.

In 1982 the GCC defense ministers agreed on the creation of a two-brigade Peninsula Shield Force (PSF).[2] This move was “one of the oldest decisions in the field of military cooperation.”[3] The force, which is based in Saudi Arabia near King Khalid Military City at Hafar al Batin and commanded by a Saudi officer, currently consists of a Saudi brigade and a composite brigade made up of about 10,000 personnel contributed by other GCC member states.

Over the years, the modernization of PSF has continued developing more mechanized infantry with full fire and fighting logistics. Although its mission is not clearly publicly defined, the PSF is intended to be activated in response to threats to the territorial integrity of the GCC states and would have the authority to intervene in cases of internal unrest as well. Its performance in specific cases has demonstrated that the PSF still has limited military capabilities. The occupation of Kuwait by Iraqi forces in 1990 was the first real challenge the PSF confronted (but it was inadequate for any serious response to this aggression).[4] The second test for the PSF was the popular uprising in Bahrain in the wake of the Arab Spring. Bahrain requested the deployment of the PSF as part of the mutual engagement guaranteed by the GCC Charter to insure its integrity and territorial borders.[5] The PSF was not engaged in any direct confrontations with Bahraini civilians, and its intervention was limited to provide assistance to the Bahrain Defense Force to secure key infrastructure and installations in the country.

Presence of Iranian Troops and Equipment in Iraq Becoming Increasingly Apparent

Jeremy Binnie
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
October 16, 2014
Iranian support for Iraqi militias becomes increasingly apparent

Kurdish fighters fire a M40-type 106 mm recoilless gun from an Iranian Safir jeep near Tuz Khurmatu in Iraq on 31 August. Source: PA Photos

A man wearing Iraqi army airborne jump wings with a large-calibre rifle stands in front of an Iranian Safir jeep with a 107 mm multiple rocket launcher in a photograph posted on the Facebook page of the Iraqi Shia group Saraya Khorasani. The rifle appears to be an Iranian copy of the HS .50 with an additional carrying handle. (Saraya Khorasani)

A growing number of Iraqi militias have been seen using Iranian-made weapons in their battles against Sunni militants led by Islamic State (IS).

While many of the weapons produced by Iran are copies of arms designed in other countries, some are distinctively Iranian, including the 12.7 mm AM-50 anti-materiel rifle. Occasionally referred to as the Sayyad, the AM-50 is a copy of the Steyr HS .50, but Iranian-made versions can be identified from their different barrels and muzzle breaks.

These heavy calibre rifles appear to have been used by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq since at least 2007, but have become increasingly visible in recent months as Shia militias have been remobilised to counter the Sunni offensive that began in June.

Multiple images and videos posted on the Facebook and YouTube pages of Saraya Khorasani and Kataib Imam Ali show their fighters armed with AM-50 rifles.

Saraya Khorasani is clearly supportive of the Iranian government as it uses photographs of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni as its Facebook cover pictures. The group’s logo is also reminiscent of the ones used by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hizbullah. Photographs and videos from earlier in the year show its fighters operating in Syria, but in the more recent posts they are operating in Iraq.

Lessons Learned (So Far) From Battle for Kobani in Syria

Mark Urban
BBC News
October 16, 2014

Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

After a month of fighting, defenders of Kobane say Islamic State (IS) has been virtually driven out of the Syrian town. So what has been learned from this battle?

1. Kobane is not “strategically” important.

At least not in the classic sense of that word. It will not decide the fate of the Syrian civil war or indeed of the Pentagon-led campaign, designated Operation Inherent Resolve, against IS.

The primary importance of Kobane, a town populated by Kurds on the border with Turkey, lies in the scale of human misery that the battle and its displacement of 250,000 people has created.

This has had knock-on effects on the Kurdish relationship with Turkey, where most of those people have gone.

Turkey has been trying to push forward a peace process with its own Kurdish population following a long insurgency.

The battle has also aggravated Turkey’s relationships with its allies. In terms of a win for IS, it is in aggravating these tensions that Kobane comes closest.

A number of Kurds have been killed and 250,000 displaced

2. Both IS and the Pentagon chose to fight there for propaganda reasons.

As far as the US-led coalition is concerned, Syria comes second, for the time being at least.

General John Allen, co-ordinating the campaign, noted on Wednesday that “the emergency in Iraq right now is foremost in our thinking”.

But if that’s true, why have there been so many air strikes around the Kurdish town?

Central Command says there have been dozens this week, with 14 between Tuesday and Wednesday.

The battle has undoubtedly presented IS with a chance for a big propaganda win and, therefore, the coalition with a need to deny them that gain.

Whether or not Kobane holds out long term, the US and its allies have now used it as an opportunity to show solidarity with the Kurds and pummel their mutual enemy.

By avoiding a commitment to hold the town, and even implying that it’s likely to fall, US commanders have tried to deny any propaganda advantage.

Exaggerating the Threat and Other Mistakes the U.S. Is Making in Iraq and Syria

Stephen M. Walt
Foreign Policy
October 17, 2014

Uncle Sucker to the Rescue

In case you hadn’t noticed, the new U.S. war in Iraq is not going well. The alliance we’ve been trying to assemble to “degrade and ultimately destroy”the Islamic State (IS) is looking like a lot of other recent U.S.-led coalitions: Uncle Sucker takes the lead and does most of the work while our allies free-ride, engage in mostly symbolic military actions, or actively undermine the common effort. No wonder U.S. President Barack Obama was reluctant to get into this war, and why he keeps warning that it will take longer than the rest of his presidency.

What’s most worrisome to me is the extent to which the United States seems to be repeating many of the mistakes that helped derail our past misadventures in that part of the world. Now that we are several weeks in, here are what I see as the top five mistakes — so far — in the latest Iraq war.

Mistake No. 1: Exaggerating the Threat 

Ever since the first Gulf War, U.S. leaders have routinely exaggerated the threat that the United States faced in Iraq and/or Syria. Even though much of Iraq’s military power was destroyed in 1990 to 1991 and was never rebuilt, the Clinton administration continued to portray that country as a dangerous threat to vital U.S. interests. Hence the continuation of sanctions that may have killed as many as 500,000 Iraqis and the misguided strategy of “dual containment,” which forced the United States to keep thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia and helped convince Osama bin Laden to order the 9/11 attacks. After 9/11, of course, the Bush administration ratcheted up the threat even more in order to justify a preventive war. Aided by mendacious or gullible journalists, they convinced the American people that Saddam had active WMD programs and was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden, even though neither claim was true. 


U.S. officials from both parties have portrayed IS — which is clearly a seriousregional problem — as if it posed a direct and serious threat to the United States itself.

U.S. officials from both parties have portrayed IS — which is clearly a seriousregional problem — as if it posed a direct and serious threat to the United States itself. Yet at the same time, the public is being told that there won’t be any American “boots on the ground.” This is troubling for three reasons. First, it is a lie, because U.S. special operations units are already there and it seems more than likely that the U.S. ground presence is going to increase (though how much awaits events). Second, if IS is dangerous enough to warrant military action, why doesn’t it warrant a more serious effort? (Answer: Trying to do more could make the problem worse, and the threat isn’t serious enough to justify a major commitment of ground forces.) Third, the idea that we can fix this problem at relatively low costs is all too reminiscent of the Bush administration’s earlier claim that the occupation of Iraq would pay for itself. Obama has tried to tell the American people that this campaign will take a long time, but he hasn’t ‘fessed up to the fact that it’s likely to involve real costs too.

Why is threat inflation a problem? When we exaggerate dangers in order to sell a military, we are more likely to do the wrong thing instead of taking the time to figure out if a) action is really necessary and b) what the best course of action might be. When a great power gets spooked by some grisly beheadings and decides it just has to “do something,” the danger is that it will decide to do something unwise.

Threat inflation also conveys to others that we care more about this problem than they do. Which leads directly to Mistake No. 2.

Mistake No. 2: Squandering U.S. Leverage

A recurring problem in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has been the insistence that no problem can be solved if Uncle Sam isn’t leading the charge. By portraying IS as a direct threat to America and by rushing to attack it, however, we are telling the Iraqis, Kurds, Turks, Saudis, and everybody else that the cavalry is on the way and that they don’t need to do much themselves. No wonder we can’t get the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to be less corrupt, more inclusive, and more effective; no wonder we can’t get Turkey to focus on ISinstead of the Kurds; and no wonder we can’t get the Saudis to do more to stop the flow of money and poisonous ideas to extremist groups. Simple equation: The more Washington promises to do for them, the less our local partners will do for themselves.

A better approach would be to play hard to get. American power is still a valuable commodity, and others ought to be willing to do a lot for us to win it. Washington can indicate that it is willing — albeit reluctant — to help local actors deal with this problem, but if and only if they make a genuine, visible, and serious effort to address it too. And by “serious effort,” I don’t mean flying a few symbolic sorties.