25 November 2014

Protecting biodiversity with rigour

Neha Sinha
November 25, 2014 

A PRIORITY: “Keeping biodiversity and nature protection at the centre of climate action and growth strategy is a pressing requirement.” Picture shows a tiger in the Western Ghats. Photo: Kalyan Varma

To protect biodiversity, India must take hard decisions and set thresholds for environmental regulation and pollution

The Prime Minister recently reorganised his National Council on Climate Change and called on an indigenous answer, yoga, to alter consciousness and tackle climate change. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is currently working on the National Democratic Alliance’s position on climate change, with two major United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings coming up. While some say that these recent developments have rightly raised the profile of climate change in the new government, others believe that India needs to do more, particularly in the face of a new U.S.-China agreement on mitigating climate change. 

Voluntary action on climate change in India has centered around economic decisions, such as cutting down on carbon intensity and increasing renewable sources of energy. But what is lacking in the discourse is an understanding of keeping the natural natural, or conserving biodiversity. Two important events have taken place in the past few months in the country, which are tied to climate change and the pressing issue of how we deal with it. First, the Convention on Biological Diversity, a Convention under the United Nations which seeks to regulate our use of the natural world, has reached important funding decisions. Second, a high-level committee set up to propose amendments in environmental laws in India has submitted its recommendations to the MoEF. Both developments set the tone for changing the character of growth.Biodiversity and climate change

Biodiversity and wildlife protection is often termed as a ‘co-benefit’ of mitigating climate change. Other co-benefits, usually understood as secondary to economic decision-making, are clean air, potable water, ecosystem services and a stable microclimate. Conservationists have argued that biodiversity has become a low second fiddle to climate change in international negotiations, and decisions related to biodiversity are not yet part of the ‘mainstream’ decisions related to growth, trade and carbon emissions. At the just-concluded conference of parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Pyeongchang, Korea, many stressed that biodiversity targets cannot just be ‘stand alone’ targets. “In order to move the biodiversity agenda forward, approaches and tactics must evolve. 

A case for SAARC reforms

Subramanian Swamy
November 25, 2014

SAARC, regrettably, has yet to develop into a conflict-mediating or resolving institution on multilateral and bilateral issues. While it has succeeded in evolving as a forum, it does not have the capacity to devise instruments for consultations on bilateral and multilateral political and security problems

The organisation of eight South Asian nations, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with observer nations, Myanmar, China, Iran, the European Union (EU) and the United States, to name a few, is known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It was established at the first summit in Dhaka on December 7-8, 1985. The last summit, the 17th, was held in Addu, in the Maldives, in November 2011. After a gap of three years, the 18th Summit Meeting is to be held in Nepal on November 26-27, 2014.

These eight nations of South Asia constitute 3 per cent of the world’s area, but house 21 per cent of the global population. India, significantly, constitutes 70 per cent or more of SAARC’s area and population.

Seven of them have common borders with India but not each other. All have a shared culture, ethnicity and experienced long interactive historical events including British imperialism and its consequences.

South Asian nations together also make an integrated “condominium” of common rivers, a mountain system, an ocean and a conjoint ecological system. The region’s endowment for economic production is also more or less the same.Limitations

Since India constitutes 70 per cent or more of SAARC’s area and population, and has political conflicts with all its neighbours, India has to redefine its role, from seeking reciprocity in bilateral relations, to being prepared to go the extra mile in meeting the aspirations of all other SAARC nations.

SAARC, regrettably, has yet to develop into a conflict-mediating or conflict-resolving institution both on multilateral and bilateral issues. It has succeeded however in evolving as a forum and a framework but which does not have the capacity to devise instruments and techniques for consultations on bilateral and multilateral political and security problems.

This is because the SAARC Charter mandates that decisions, at all levels in SAARC, are only of multilateral issues, and only those issues are for inclusion in the agenda in a SAARC summit meeting on the basis of unanimity. Article X(2) of the Charter, thus excludes “bilateral and contentious issues” from the ambit of SAARC deliberations.

A shortcoming in the current situation is that unlike Europe, SAARC is not an association of nearly equally sized countries. India, as stated earlier, is about 70 per cent of the size of South Asia, and the other SAARC member-nations have a common border bilaterally only with India, and not with each other. The economic and quality of life disparities among South Asian nations are also quite wide.Sri Lankan policy

During the period of 10 years since May 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was pathetically hamstrung by the sectarian, former secessionist and pro-LTTE parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for its survival in Parliament and majority.

Hence, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka was driven both bilaterally and in U.N. organisations by the hyperbole of the parties of the Dravidian Movement, in speech and dramatics, and which was bolstered by the threat of these parties to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh government. These sectarian parties thus exercised a veto over the UPA government’s Sri Lanka policy.

As a consequence, China, which is not a member of SAARC, gained a strategic advantage in Sri Lanka by moving into the policy space vacated by India. Hambantota port is an example of how China filled the vacuum when India decided, based on the DMK’s threat, to decline Sri Lanka’s offer first to India to assist building the port.

Where the challenge is scarcity, not competition

Written by Mahesh Uppal
November 25, 2014

On November 10, US President Barack Obama came out strongly in support of network neutrality, a principle that requires equal treatment of all internet traffic. He called upon — he cannot legally order — the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission to “create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” Most internet users would share Obama’s opposition to arbitrary blocking or slowing down of any content, especially if a commercial entity attempts to do so. However, it is risky for India to follow Obama’s lead on net neutrality.

The main reason is that the Indian and the US broadband markets are qualitatively different. American companies Comcast and AT&T derive their near-monopoly power from their ownership and control of underground fixed infrastructure. Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, their Indian counterpart, has no such advantage. With its dominant share in fixed lines, it has barely 17 per cent of the 60 million broadband customers. Indian users can choose among nearly 10 operators in most service areas — unthinkable in most countries. Thus, Obama’s main argument — the need to prevent abuse of broadband markets by monopolies in control of fixed lines — does not apply.
In India, the challenge is scarcity, not competition, as the broadband market suffers from small size, not from dominance by any player or technology. Fixed lines constitute barely a third of India’s limited broadband connections. Roughly 90 per cent of the 251 million users of the internet access it on mobile phones. Optical fibre will, of course, play an important role when the proposed but much-delayed National Optical Fibre Network is in place. It will take years before fibre can challenge wireless for broadband access.

Wireless networks pose unique challenges for ensuring net neutrality. It is more complicated to expand their capacity to accommodate increasing amounts of data. For fixed line networks, the challenge is mainly the finance needed for upgrade. However, for wireless networks, increasing capacity requires adequate spectrum — a scarce natural resource. The right frequency bands are critical, too. For a telecom operator, acquiring spectrum is not trivial, even if it is willing to pay. In India, the government auctions the spectrum in quantities and a timeframe it decides. There is a detailed regulatory process to determine reserve prices and other features of the auction. Expanding or upgrading the predominantly narrowband wireless network is a financial, technical and regulatory challenge.

OBSTRUCTION AS POLICY- India’s foodgrain policy must be reformed

Writing on the wall - Ashok v. Desai

India was born with a chip on its shoulder: it felt that it had been hard done by, that its British rulers had kept it backward, and that it needed to cut corners to catch up with the world. Industrial countries indulged it. It was christened the first underdeveloped country. When that appellation was found derogatory, India was promoted to being the first developing country. A line of other countries followed India as they were freed by their colonizers.

When industrial countries began talks after World War II to bring down trade barriers, India claimed exception: it had been kept underdeveloped for two centuries by the British, and needed trade restrictions to catch up. Again they yielded: they gave India special and differential treatment. It could keep its arbitrary import restrictions, and enjoy the benefits of trade liberalization by other countries. It took Indians four decades to see that they were hurting themselves: the protection they gave was keeping their industries backward, and that they would never catch up with the industrial world if they continued to mollycoddle their industries. Gripped in a crisis, India made a bonfire of quantitative import restrictions in 1991.

It continued to claim a right to copy patents given by advanced countries without having to pay for them. By then, however, the advanced countries had learnt how to deal with a recalcitrant India: they promised other underdeveloped countries that they would let their textiles in without duty, and told India they would give it the same concession only if it recognized their patents. India was forced to promise it would. Murli Manohar Joshi sat on it as long as he could. But then he was forced out of his seat by the 2004 election, and slowly, reluctantly, the Congress government reintroduced product patents.

But that did not mean that India had grown up. It has been claiming special and differential treatment for its agricultural protection. It goes on raising agricultural prices to make its big farmers happy. It goes on buying foodgrains at those high prices, and then sells them at throwaway prices to those it chooses to call the poor. It gave these shady practices a fancy name: food security. And it tells other countries that it will agree to another round of trade negotiations under World Trade Organization only if they promise in advance that it can keep its Food Security whatever they all agree eventually.

Turning up the heat in Lima

Written by Lavanya Rajamani 
November 25, 2014

India, a champion of equity, has so far been vigorously opposed to an assessment process to evaluate the contributions of various parties.

This month’s climate deal between the US and China has attracted heated commentary in India. While some believe this deal will step up the pressure on India to deliver, others feel that, given the relative lack of rigour in the choice of targets, the urgency for India to make a serious contribution to the global climate regime has now decreased. Since China has chosen 2030 as its peaking year, the argument goes, India can choose a year in the 2040s or 2050s, which gives it a few decades of unbridled growth. 

Both these views miss the crux of the issue — bilateral and plurilateral deals between major emitters are unlikely to either represent the breadth of interests on the table or be ambitious, equitable and adequate. At best, these deals generate momentum in multilateral negotiations by demonstrating that major emitters and competitors can work together. At worst, they allow major emitters to signal attention and commitment while lowering the bar for themselves and others. Bilateral and plurilateral deals need to be complemented by multilateral assessments of rigour, adequacy and fairness of nations’ contributions. Or else, the world will be held hostage to the tyranny of the least common denominator that major emitters arrive at.

The multilateral climate negotiations launched in Durban, 2011, are due to conclude in Paris, 2015. The approaching Lima conference is an important stepping stone to the 2015 climate agreement. Parties will be required to arrive at the elements of the negotiating text for the 2015 agreement. While the difficult task of narrowing options will be left for 2015, the elements text will put in place the broad structure, scope and contours of the 2015 agreement. This is the moment to set and influence the agenda.

Why Modi’s Make in India will break

Nov 21, 2014

While there is no shortage of degrees, there is a dire shortage of skilled manpower in India

Lets face it, Modi is the new Obama.

Elected to power by a dissatisfied, disgruntled nation, sick of roadblocks and government apathy, a large portion of India has not only chosen him as their leader, but many see in him a messiah. A leader-savior with an old world charm and charisma, an Obamisk swagger, who will deliver us to the promise land of "Super Powerdom".

As India swooned over Obama, nations looking to cash in on India’s 1.2 billion market, have laid out the red carpet for Modi and some have even gone so far as to rework their earlier visa policy. Modimadness is gripping the world and NRIs are packing themselves into huge stadium, chanting "Modi, Modi, Modi", just to see their smooth talking savior in person and Modi doesn’t disappoint.

With every speech he promises change, a better future, an India propelled by her demographic dividend, that can not only compete with the rest of the world, but lead it. "Make in India", "Act East", "Shasak nahi sevak", catch phrases, close but not as good as "yes we can", still leave crowds awe struck and chanting. He is nothing short of an international super star.

Granted, it takes a certain skill set and genius to cash in on a grim situation, but its always easier to promise change and talk hope to a desperate people than to deliver it. When the US was against the ropes, Obama promised America hope, won a Noble Peace Price but then what? Did he deliver? Many, including a large chunk of the US electorate who recently handed over the Senate to the Republicans, don’t think so.

Modi talks big and talks well, but very soon he may face the Obama burden.

Recently, while addressing the Australian Parliament, Modi spoke of hope and transformation.

“Today, we have a government with a clear majority after thirty years. From the remotest village to the biggest cities, there is a new high tide of hope in India; a new energy.

It is the energy of our youth – the 800 million people below the age of 35 – eager for change, willing to work for it – because, now they believe that it is possible. That they can make it happen. It is this force of transformation that we will unleash.”

In an elegantly delivered paragraph that was met with cheers and applause, our elected messiah sidestepped the very harsh reality of India’s demographic dividend; it’s a ticking time bomb.

Yes, India is a young country and by the end of this decade, the average age of the population will be 29. In comparison, in China and America it will be 37, 48 in Japan and 45 in Western Europe. This demographic dividend means that by 2040, a quarter of the globe’s incremental increase in world working population is set to occur in India and the IMF suggests that this youth bugle can potentially produce an additional two per cent per capita GDP growth each year for two decades. So it seems that the prime minister is onto something, our demographic make up is the key to our future success.

A LIFE IN IMAGES - Rabindranath Tagore’s engagement with the camera

Malavika Karlekar 

From the 1850s onwards, photographic processes were successfully used to affirm the iconic status of celebrities. While well-composed studio shots were usual during the early years, as the camera became more mobile, on location commissioned shots, those taken by domestic photographers or by early paparazzi became more common. Thus photographic archives of significant individuals are often a mélange of formal images as well as those by admirers and amateurs. 

Quite often, some of the more interesting and possibly intriguing images are those taken perhaps unbeknownst to the subject, such as this one of Rabindranath Tagore. One of a collection of thousands of photographs of the poet that are archived and digitally available in Rabindra Bhavana at Visva-Bharati, it is part of Kshemendramohan Sen’s collection that was donated to the university. The caption — or comment — with the image is “showing his hand to a palmist; Suren Kar and Nandalal Bose and a few others are anxiously listening”. Tagore’s curiosity in what the astrologer is saying is palpable from his slightly furrowed brow and eyes that are concentrating hard on his hand being read by the palmist. So do Kar and Bose appear involved in the process.

Tagore had a distinct interest in fortune-telling: way back in 1891, in a letter that he wrote from the family estate in Sahajadpur to his wife, Mrinalini, he reported in some detail on the visit of “a major astrologer of the region” who “for the best part of the morning badgered me”. Tagore had just settled down to work, “but he rattled on so much that I could not write”. On the basis of sun and zodiacal signs, the astrologer said that though Tagore was generous with money, he “would still be accused of being a miser”. 

He was handsome, well-dressed and with a fine wife — but “was rather irascible”, would fall out with his brother and not live beyond 62 — at best 70. “It worried me a lot to hear this,” wrote Tagore, but he added in jest that his wife should not brood on this as she would have his company for at least another thirty to forty years; however, Mrinalini died in November 1902 when Tagore was 41 and she not even 30.

In the 1950s, the poet’s son, Rathindranath, started the photo archives section in Rabindra Bhavana. He needed to find an appropriate home for the many loose photographs and albums that visually mapped his father’s life. Today, the RB holdings consist of 16,943 images, the majority focussing on Rabindranath Tagore. Apart from loose photographs, there are 102 albums presented to the poet as records of his foreign trips. Over 500 file folders consist of sets of loose images while large-format photographs are located in 15 files. Of the total images, about 3,000 are duplicates, if not triplicates.

Chuck Hagel Is Out at the Pentagon


President Obama will announce the Secretary of Defense's resignation at 11:00 a.m. on Monday.

Robert Burns/AP

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will resign on Monday after just under two years on the job. According to a report by Helene Cooper at The New York Times, President Obama decided to remove Hagel after coming to the conclusion over the last several weeks that the current Defense chief was not the right person to lead the fight against ISIS.

The president's schedule has been changed and an announcement is now scheduled at the White House for 11:10 a.m. Eastern.

The implication from Hagel's critics was that he was brought in, in 2013 to lead the military drawdown in Afghanistan and manage a shrinking bureaucracy, but that the rise of this new threat in the Middle East will require a new direction at the Pentagon.

Other critics reportedly questioned in overall leadership of the department, saying he "struggled to inspire confidence" and "had problems articulating his thoughts — or administration policy — in an effective manner."

His resignation is being portrayed as a mutual decision and that Hagel is not being fired. He will remain at his post until a new secretary is nominated and confirmed, which is unlikely to happen before the new Congress convenes next year.

Hagel, a former Republican Senator who served with the president on the same Foreign Relations Committee when they were both in Congress, was appointed to the post in February 2013 and expected to serve out the remained of the Obama administration.

This is a developing story and we'll continue to update this post.

Afghan Government Lifts Ban on Night Raids by Special Forces Imposed by Karzai

Rod Nordland and Taimoor Shah
November 24, 2014

Afghanistan Quietly Lifts Ban on Nighttime Raids
Night raids, like the one by United States soldiers in February 2011 in Yahya Khel, Afghanistan, are expected to resume, with Afghan National Army Special Forces units taking the lead. Credit Matt Robinson/Reuters

KABUL, Afghanistan — The government of the new Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, has quietly lifted the ban on night raids by special forces troops that his predecessor had imposed.

Afghan National Army Special Forces units are planning to resume the raids in 2015, and in some cases the raids will include members of American Special Operations units in an advisory role, according to Afghan military officials as well as officials with the American-led military coalition.

That news comes after published accounts of an order by President Obama to allow the American military to continue some limited combat operations in 2015. That order allows for the sort of air support necessary for successful night raids.

Night raids were banned for the most part in 2013 by President Hamid Karzai. Their resumption is likely to be controversial among Afghans, for whom any intrusion into private homes is considered offensive. Mindful of the bad name that night raids have, the American military has renamed them “night operations.”

American military officials have long viewed night raids as the most important tactic in their fight against Taliban insurgents, because they can catch the militant group’s leaders where they are most vulnerable. For years, the Americans ignored Mr. Karzai’s demands that the raids stop.

‘India helped us, Pakistan did not’ — Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan


When I met you in 2002, I asked if you had to choose between justice and peace, what would it be? You said peace. Twelve years later, what have been the main achievements of your tenure as President?The greatest achievement was that Afghanistan became once again the home of all Afghans. People from all corners of the country, from all thoughts and tendencies, found Afghanistan to be their home again, and all can make their way to Parliament — men, women, Mujahiddin, former Communists, everyone.

Second, the provision of education to millions of our youth, universities, colleges, schools, and the Afghans studying abroad — India is the greatest education destination for them. The freedom of the Press is another achievement. We are among the best in the world in that, even in the expansion of media. Our economy is better than earlier. The state has been rebuilt. Afghanistan in 2001 had been turned into geography only; today it has a state and a government. A lot has been achieved.

What will you say have been the setbacks, or things you wanted to do but couldn’t in the period that you had?Peace and an effective war campaign against terrorism. The things that were not entirely in our hands were not done. The war on terror was not in our hands entirely. 

It was in the hands of America and it also depended on the cooperation from Pakistan. America did not go to eliminate the sanctuaries to remove the training grounds, motivational factors and instruments of financing terror; they rather got themselves busy in raiding homes in Afghanistan and bombing Afghan villages. 

That has been a sorry state of affairs, and Pakistan did not cooperate and kept finding use for radicalism and extremism unfortunately. So where Afghans needed the help of especially America and Pakistan we did not succeed.

What would be America’s motivation? After all it came as a power that wanted to destroy the forces of Al-Qaida and others?They did help initially in 2001 liberate Afghanistan, no doubt. The Americans in their arrival in Afghanistan, for which we were grateful, did liberate it from terrorism, from that secret invasion that had crept into our country from our neighbourhood. We are immensely grateful for that. But the most important issue and one for which they came to Afghanistan, an effective campaign against terrorism, was not conducted properly... or where it should have been conducted.

"I have been during this visit emphasising heavily on strong Indian commitment to Afghanistan and on strong cooperation between India, China and Russia in Afghanistan. All three countries are also threatened by exactly the same thing as Afghanistan is threatened with: terrorism. And so is Pakistan in a big way. I hope that now there will be action based on this recognition." 

"We don't need boots on the ground, whether Indian, American or NATO. That is going to help neither India nor Afghanistan. Afghanistan can give security to its own people, its security forces should protect its citizens on their own. What we need from India and other neighbours is to train us and equip us" 

"Afghan Taliban are sons of Afghan soil and have been forced by circumstances to take up arms against their own country, but otherwise do not want to hurt their own people and Afghanistan or for that matter other countries. They should be approached, brought in and freed from the exploitation by a foreign intelligence agency of a foreign master" 

Karzai: Pakistan demanded reduced Indian presence


Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

‘Demands were made at every leadership level, it was raised throughout my tenure.’

For the first time, former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said what he has hinted at for years: that Pakistan’s leadership had demanded in bilateral meetings that India reduce its presence and aid projects in Afghanistan.

In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Karzai said the demands were made “at every leadership level, it was raised regularly and it was raised throughout my tenure.” While Mr. Karzai refused to name the leaders who made the specific requests to him when he was President, he said: “The crux of the matter is yes, the demand came from Pakistan to tell India to reduce its presence, and we said no to them.”

India has granted aid worth two billion dollars and provides civil and military training to Afghanistan, while Indian companies are involved in several reconstruction projects.

Mr. Karzai is in Delhi for the first time since he demitted office and is staying at Rashtrapati Bhawan as the guest of President Pranab Mukherjee where he spoke to The Hindu. He also met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and apprised him of developments in Afghanistan since the formation of the national unity government under President Ashraf Ghani.

Afghan Military Facing Rising Casualty Rates and Bolder Taliban Forces

Sudarsan Raghavan
November 23, 2014

Afghan military welcomes expanded U.S. combat role as Taliban threat intensifies

KABUL — The 18 Afghan soldiers were trapped in a mountainous outpost about 50 miles south of the capital, running out of ammunition. Taliban insurgents had surrounded them. There was only one way out: the Americans.

So the Afghans made the call, and soon Apache attack helicopters, F-16 fighter jets and Predator drones were in the sky overhead. Not a single weapon was fired by U.S. forces, but their presence was enough to send the militants running for cover. That allowed the Afghan military to send in reinforcements.

“The Americans saved the lives of my soldiers,” said their brigade commander in recounting the incident, which he said happened two weeks ago. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “They would have all died without the air support.”

The incident helps explains why Afghan military and police commanders in some of the most volatile areas of the country welcomed reports Saturday that the Obama administration plans to expand the U.S. military’s role here next year.

The decision permits American forces to carry out operations against the Taliban and other insurgents if they threaten U.S. troops. The American military would also continue to provide air support to Afghan security forces if they are attacked by the Taliban or other militant groups. The original plan was for the 9,800 remaining troops to only train and advise Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.
Afghan National army soldiers clean their weapons at their military camp in Kunduz, Afghanistan, 15 November 2014. (Jawed Ahmed/EPA)

China Building Island in South China Sea Capable of Handling Military Aircraft

John Hardy and Sean O’Conor
November 23, 2014

China building airstrip-capable island on Fiery Cross Reef

Airbus Defence and Space imagery dated 14 November 2014 shows Chinese land reclamation operations under way at Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. Multiple operating dredgers provide the ability to generate terrain rapidly. Operating from a harbour area, dredgers deliver sediment via a network of piping. (© CNES 2014, Distribution Airbus DS / Spot Image / IHS)
China is reclaiming land at Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands, according to satellite imagery
The reclamation, which started in August, is creating a land mass large enough for a 3,000 m-long airstrip

China is building an island at least 3,000 m long on Fiery Cross Reef that could be the site for its first airstrip in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

Satellite imagery of the island taken on 8 August and 14 November shows that in the past three months Chinese dredgers have created a land mass that is almost the entire length of the reef.

Fiery Cross Reef lies to the west of the main Spratly island archipelago and was previously under water; the only habitable area was a concrete platform built and maintained by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

The new island is more than 3,000 m long and between 200 and 300 m wide: large enough to construct a runway and apron. The dredgers are also creating a harbour to the east of the reef that would appear to be large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants.

The existing structure on the reef’s southwestern edge was home to a PLAN garrison and had a pier, air-defence guns, anti-frogmen defences, communications equipment, and a greenhouse. The concrete structure is currently not attached to the new island, but if previous Chinese land reclamation projects in the Spratlys are any guide, it is only a matter of time before it is joined up.

The Spratly Islands are claimed by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. All but Brunei occupy islands or have built structures on reefs and shoals to assert their claims.

The land reclamation at Fiery Cross is the fourth such project undertaken by China in the Spratly Islands in the last 12-18 months and by far the largest in scope. China has built new islands at Johnson South Reef, Cuateron Reef, and Gaven Reefs, but none are large enough to house an airstrip in their current form.

Ship tracking data from IHS Maritime shows substantial activity at the reef since May 2014. Analysts drew attention to two ships in particular: Jin Hang Jun 406 , a grab dredger that is fixed on a pontoon, and 3,086-tonne cutter suction dredgerXin Hai Tun . Both have been instrumental in dredging and cutting channels into the new harbour basin.

The Militarization of China’s Coast Guard

By Ryan D. Martinson
November 21, 2014

Plans for China’s still nascent coast guard suggest troubled times ahead in disputed waters. 

With new “China Coast Guard” ships entering service at regular intervals, it is easy to forget that the China Coast Guard as an organization does not yet exist in any complete sense. Legislation passed in March 2013 to integrate the ranks (duiwu) of four maritime law enforcement agencies into a new China Coast Guard within a re-constituted State Oceanic Administration (SOA) was a pledge of commitment rather than a plan of action. Many, many difficult decisions would have to be made, countless details to be fleshed out. That responsibility would largely fall on Meng Hongwei, the first head of the China Coast Guard, and Liu Cigui, Director of SOA and the China Coast Guard’s first political commissar.

Four months later, the State Council released a redacted version of the SOA reorganization plan (colloquially called the Sanding Fangan), a document adumbrating the planned structure of the two organizations. In some areas the Sanding Fangan was exquisitely precise: The three regional SOA offices and their China Coast Guard units would have exactly 16,296 billets. In many other respects, it was strikingly vague.

The biggest unanswered question was what kind of organization would the China Coast Guard be? The four entities brought together to form the China Coast Guard resided in different departments; they all functioned on completely different organizational structures, their personnel steeped in different cultures and trained for different missions. China Marine Surveillance (CMS) and the China Fisheries Administration were administrative organizations, largely made up of civil servants supported by other full time and contract personnel. Their legal powers were limited to imposing civil penalties. 

Map: The world’s longest train journey now begins in China

November 21 

On Nov. 18, an 82-container freight train left the eastern Chinese industrial city of Yiwu. It was embarking on a landmark journey that is supposed to end 21 days later, in December, in Madrid. The distance the train covers — more than 6,200 miles — marks the longest route taken by a freight train, longer still than Russia's famed Trans-Siberian Railway, as the map above shows. 

Yiwu is the largest wholesale center for small consumer goods in China, making it home to a curious mix of foreign businessmen and petty traders, including a large community of Arabs. Now it's plugged into a far larger project: China's zeal to deepen the links between its booming economy and markets in Europe. 

The inauguration ceremony of China-Europe Block Train (Yiwu-Madrid) at Yiwu Railway Freight Station on Nov. 18, 2014, in Jinhua, Zhejiang province of China. (ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images) 

Why China's South China Sea Diplomacy Will Frustrate Claimants

November 21, 2014

International frustration over outcomes in the South China Sea is a fine outcome for China. 

What happens the next time people die for an island in the South China Sea? And what happens if some of those people hail from a great power?

Last weekend, the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, in conjunction with the Army War College, conducted a negotiation simulation on crisis resolution in the South China Sea. The simulation began shortly after an incident between Chinese and Filipino ships resulted in the deaths of five Indians and 95 Filipinos.

The South China Sea simulation is the third simulation developed by the Army War College. The first two, on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute and the Cyprus conflict, have become regular features at foreign policy schools around the country. The AWC regularly conducts these exercises in collaboration with several different schools across the country, as well as with students at the AWC.

Patterson engages in these simulations because they give our students the opportunity to develop negotiation, communication, and organizational skills, which will help them in whatever careers they pursue. But the course of this simulation also illuminated some of the problems associated with continuing disagreements in the SCS. This simulation consisted of seven teams (China, the Philippines, India, Japan, the United States, Vietnam, and Indonesia). Each team had an advisor, usually a government diplomatic professional (including advisors from India and Canada). I advised the Chinese team, which began the game with one serious disadvantage: everyone hated us, and we had just killed a hundred people.

Islamic State and a South Asian Caliphate

By SK Chatterji
November 23, 2014

Islamic State has its eyes on South and Southeast Asia. The threat is long-term, but should not be ignored. 

The Islamic Caliphate is no longer virtual reality; it’s a tangible experience. Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) has the basic essentials that make it a serious threat. It has territory, it has the military capability to hold on to its territory, and it has a system of governance, however demented it may be. Of course, its barely contested march has now been stalled by air strikes, the recapture of the Baiji refinery has been hailed by Iraqis as a changing of the tide, and the Peshmerga are gradually coming into their own at Kobani. Still, with the exception of Baiji, there has as yet there has been no substantial reversal of the gains that the Islamic state has made.

The caliphate’s leadership is ambitious, ruthless and singularly focused on spreading its distorted vision of political Islam. Al-Qaeda, for decades the beacon for Islamists, has taken a different approach to jihad, with a strategy that has involved widely dispersed cells that provided ideological guidance, arranged funding, training and administrative support while allowing local jihadi leaderships to marshal the men for operations. In contrast, Islamic State – which has split from al-Qaeda, creating a schism in the global jihad – raises its own forces, selects its own objectives, funds its own operations, and controls execution. While Al-Qaeda’s methods drew strength from covert operations, the operations of Islamic State are akin to a conventional battlefield.

Al-Qaeda has also not employed violence as extensively as Islamic State has done. Islamic State clearly has no reservations on that score. It has regularly posted grisly decapitation clips to the Web. It has provided captured women to its rank and file. It has proposed that the enslavement of prisoners would be within the tenets of its faith. It has stoned women to death for sex outside marriage. It has, in short, engaged in an endless litany of cruelty.

An ambitious leader like Abu Baku al-Baghdadi can hardly be expected to limit the caliphate’s geographical ambitions to parts of Syria and Iraq. An Islamic State map of the caliphate covers North Africa and extends through West Asia, south of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea to stretch across the Central Asian republics, the entire Indian sub-continent and beyond to Malaysia and Indonesia. South and Southeast Asia offer the Islamic State many choices, made more appealing by the fact that some of these countries already have their own homegrown Islamist insurgent movements and terror groups.

Although Islamic State’s ultimate aspirations are unrealistic, some of its targets in Asia are vulnerable, most notably that cradle and crucible of terrorism on the continent, Pakistan. Bordering Afghanistan, where terrorist violence is already resurgent with NATO thinning out, Pakistan is a promising base for Islamic State in South Asia. It also offers a huge bonanza that Islamist movements would willingly bleed for: nuclear weapons.

Top Republican Senator Calls House Intel Committee Report on Benghazi Terrorist Attack “Full of Crap”

Christi Parsons
November 24, 2014

GOP senator calls House panel’s Benghazi report a ‘bunch of garbage’

A top Republican on Sunday dismissed as “full of crap” a report by the GOP-led House Intelligence Committee that largely absolves the Obama administration for its handling of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that in compiling its report the committee accepted a “complete bunch of garbage” and allowed more finger-pointing within the administration about responsibility for the fatalities at the consulate.
“I’m saying the House Intelligence Committee is doing a lousy job policing their own,” Graham said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“This report puts all the blame on the State Department and absolves the intelligence community,” he said. “When the Department of Defense committees looked at it, the Department of Defense was held blameless. At the end of the day, everybody is pointing fingers to everybody else.”

But other Republican members of Congress suggested Sunday that it’s time to leave the Benghazi debate behind. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said he thinks it’s time to “move beyond that.”

The back-and-forth followed the release Friday of the latest report about the attacks that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other embassy officials.

The House Intelligence Committee review found that the Obama administration did not intentionally mislead people about how the attacks unfolded, despite the fact that its early talking points turned out to be wrong.

No one gave an order to the U.S. military to “stand down” in their efforts to save the Americans in the consulate, as some have claimed, the report concludes.

Like previous reviews, the investigation determined that the State Department didn’t have enough security at the compound to begin with and needed CIA assistance to get the situation under control.

'Moderate' Free Syrian Army Rebels in Syria Defecting to ISIS Because of U.S. Airstrikes

Mona Mahmood
November 24, 2014

US air strikes in Syria driving anti-Assad groups to support Isis
Syrian anti-regime rebels preparing a rocket launcher in Aleppo. Several Islamic military groups are defecting to Isis in the wake of US air strikes. Photograph: Karam Almasri/Demotix/Corbis

US air strikes in Syria are encouraging anti-regime fighters to forge alliances with or even defect to Islamic State (Isis), according to a series of interviews conducted by the Guardian.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamic military groups are joining forces with Isis, which has gained control of swaths of Syria and Iraq and has beheaded six western hostages in the past few months.

Some brigades have transferred their allegiance, while others are forming tactical alliances or truces. Support among civilians also appears to be growing in some areas as a result of resentment over US-led military action.

“Isis now is like a magnet that attracts large numbers of Muslims,” said Abu Talha, who defected from the FSA a few months ago and is now in negotiations with other fighters from groups such as the al-Nusra Front to follow suit.

Assam Murad, a fighter from a 600-strong dissident FSA brigade near Homs said: “There’s no way we would fight Isis after the US military campaign against them.”

A third man, Abu Zeid, the commander of an FSA brigade near Idlib and a defector from President Bashar al-Assad’s army, said: “All the locals here wonder why the US coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight Isis when it took a few pieces of land. We were in a robust fight against Isis for confiscating our liberated areas, but now, if we are not in an alliance, we are in a truce with them.”

These and other Syrian fighters told the Guardian in interviews by phone and Skype that the US campaign is turning the attitudes of Syrian opposition groups and fighters in favour of Isis. Omar Waleed, an FSA fighter in Hama, north of Damascus, said: “I’m really scared that eventually most of the people will join Isis out of their disappointment with the US administration. Just have a look on social media websites, and you can see lots of people and leaders are turning to the side of Isis.

Kurds Planning to Break ISIS Siege of Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq

November 24, 2014

Iraqi Kurds prepare Sinjar mountain offensive

A general view shows Sinjar town which is controlled by forces loyal to the Islamic State as seen from Mount Sinjar August 13, 2014.

(Reuters) - Kurdish forces in northern Iraq are drawing up plans to break Islamic State’s siege of Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis remain stranded months after fleeing their homes.

Seeking to regain territory and repair pride in his military forces, Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, is overseeing efforts to retake the mountain, senior party members said.

Islamic State attacked the Sinjar area in August, sending thousands of Yazidis fleeing up the mountain, a craggy strip some 40 miles (65 km) long.

Hundreds of Yazidis were executed, Iraqi officials and witnesses said, by Islamic State militants who see the adherents of an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism as devil-worshippers. A senior U.N. rights official said the onslaught looked like “attempted genocide”.

Kurdish peshmerga forces have regained between 65 and 75 percent of the ground lost to Islamic State in the area since the U.S. began a campaign of air strikes in August, said Halgurd Hikmat, spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga Ministry.

But Sinjar’s awkward geography — out on a limb to the west, has made it difficult to penetrate.

"Our priority now is Sinjar," said Hikmat. "A plan will be in place within the coming days."

The strategy was to cut off an Islamic State supply route between Mosul and Syriawhich runs along the southern foot of the mountain, Hikmat said. He did not elaborate.

Controlling Sinjar would put the peshmerga on three sides of Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control in northern Iraq, and allow them to gain positions for any future offensive to retake the city and nearby areas which have been the target of Iraqi and U.S. air strikes.

"After that, we must coordinate with Baghdad and the coalition (of Western and Gulf Arab states) to get Islamic State out of Mosul," said Hikmat.

Mosul has become the focus of the government’s military efforts because of both its size and its symbolic status after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi delivered a public speech at the Grand Mosque there in July,

Baghdadi, who sees himself as ‘caliph’ of an Islamic state he has declared in parts of Iraq and Syria, told his fighters they were victorious after years of patience and holy struggle.

With US Army Gone, Taliban Reestablishing Strongholds in Areas Previously Cleared by U.S. Army

Azam Ahmed
November 23, 2014

Hour’s Drive Outside Kabul, Taliban Reign

CHARKALAH, Afghanistan — The explosion ripped through the floor of the Humvee, tearing a hole in the armored vehicle and injuring the district governor. The crack of Taliban gunfire followed.

Seeking cover, the Afghan police convoy sped behind a mud compound and unleashed a hail of bullets. Undeterred, the Taliban fighters edged closer. As bullets smacked around his head, an Afghan soldier in a white head scarf crouched behind a waist-high wall trading shots with the insurgents, a cigarette tucked in his lips.

“This is our daily life,” said the police chief of Tagab district, a mostly Taliban-controlled patch of Kapisa Province about an hour from Kabul, as rounds struck the compound’s edges, showering his men with dirt. “Everything is like this — you can see it with your own eyes.”

In areas like this, it is the government that operates in the shadows, following the dictates of the Taliban in order to stay alive. Afghan soldiers in Tagab district will not leave their base except for one hour each day starting at 9 a.m., when the Taliban allow them to visit the bazaar as long as the soldiers remain unarmed.

Afghan National Police driving to the scene of the ambush of the Humvee, which injured the district governor of Tagab. Credit Andrew Quilty for The New York Times

The situation in southern Kapisa Province has quietly become one of the greatest challenges of the war for the new government of President Ashraf Ghani. In the absence of international troops or their air support, the Taliban have eclipsed the legitimacy of government forces there and in several other parts of the country, in what many see as a worrying portent for the coming years.

It is trouble spots like Kapisa, and several others where insurgents have directly confronted security forces and district centers, that helped drive the American military to lobby President Obama to approve a more aggressive role in 2015 than just training and advising. The new authorization would also allow more American air support of Afghan forces, after a year of record-high casualties at the Taliban’s hands.

As they racked up more victories this year, the Taliban grew noticeably bolder.

Iraqi Forces Seek to Recapture 2 Towns in Northern Iraq Held by ISIS

November 23, 2014

Iraqi Forces Battle Islamic State in Towns North of Baghdad

BAGHDAD — Iraqi soldiers backed by Shi’ite militia and Kurdish peshmerga forces attacked two towns northeast of Baghdad held by Islamic State fighters on Sunday, trying to clear a main road linking the capital to the border with Iran.

Peshmerga and army officers said they advanced into Jalawla, 115 km (70 miles) from Baghdad, and the nearby town of Saadiya, which they have been trying to recapture from Islamic State since the radical Islamists seized them in August.

Ten soldiers, peshmerga and militia fighters were killed and 32 were wounded in Sunday’s fighting, a source at Khanaqin Hospital told Reuters. There were no immediate casualty figures for Islamic State fighters.

Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, has been trying to push back the Islamic State since it swept through mainly Sunni Muslim provinces of northern Iraq in June, meeting virtually no resistance.

Last week the army broke a months-long siege of the country’s largest refinery north of Baghdad, but Islamic State fighters continue to take territory in the western province of Anbar, which shares borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Islamic State militants have been fighting in the last two days to take full control of the Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi.

Jalawla and Saadiya are located in Diyala province which is mainly under the control of the Baghdad government forces and Kurdish peshmerga.

A senior peshmerga official said the Islamic State presence in Jalawla threatened the Kurdish-controlled towns of Kalar and Khanaqin to the north as well as nearby dams and oil fields.

Recapturing the town would also allow the road to be reopened between Baghdad and Khanaqin, close to the Iranian border, peshmerga Secretary-General Jabbar Yawar said.

While the hardline Sunni Islamic State forces have not advanced into Baghdad, they hold a ring of towns around the mainly Shi’ite capital and have claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Shi’ite districts of the city.

A car bomb in the Shi’ite town of Yousufiya, 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Baghdad, killed five people on Sunday, police and medics said.

Sunni Tribesmen in Al-Anbar Province WIll (Eventually) Get Light Arms From Pentagon to Fight ISIS, Pentagon Report

November 23, 2014

U.S. Plans to Arm Iraq’s Sunni Tribesmen With AK-47s, RPGs, Mortars

WASHINGTON — The United States plans to buy arms for Sunni tribesmen in Iraq including AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar rounds to help bolster the battle against Islamic State militants in Anbar province, according to a Pentagon document prepared for Congress.

The plan to spend $24.1 million represents a small fraction of the larger, $1.6 billion spending request to Congress focusing on training and arming Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

But the document underscored the importance the Pentagon places on the Sunni tribesmen to its overall strategy to diminish Islamic State, and cautioned Congress about the consequences of failing to assist them.

"Not arming tribal fighters will continue to leave anti-ISIL tribes reluctant to actively counter ISIL," the document said, using another acronym for the group which has seized control of large parts of Syrian and Iraq and is gaining territory in Anbar despite three months of U.S.-led air strikes.

A U.S. official said on Saturday that the document was posted this week. Click http://1.usa.gov/11nsTuN to read it.

It said all U.S. support was directed “with, by and through” Iraq’s government, suggesting any weapons would be supplied through Baghdad, in line with existing policy.

It noted Iraqi security forces were not “not particularly welcome in Anbar and other majority Sunni areas,” citing their poor combat performance and sectarian divisions.

Iraq’s army has been burdened by a legacy of sectarianism in Anbar, whose dominant Sunni population resented former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite majority government and were incensed when he ordered troops to clear a protest camp in Ramadi in December 2013.

The ensuing Sunni tribal revolt prompted the entrance of Islamic State into Falluja and Ramadi, where U.S. troops had met fierce resistance from Sunni insurgents including al Qaeda during their occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein.