2 December 2014

China’s bid for internet influence

Rachel Chang
02 Dec 2014

The irony was lost on no one. 

China's inaugural World Internet Conference (WIC) last week in Zhejiang province had, as its slogan, "an inter-connected world shared and governed by all".

This, from a country whose landmark cyberspace achievement has been to construct the world's most elaborate and formidable firewall to block its citizens from the world. 

Worse, a joint declaration, drawn up by organisers to mark the end of the two-day conference - attended by industry players from over a hundred countries - was dropped after overseas attendees revolted.

Slipped under hotel room doors at 11pm at the end of the second day, the document prominently mentioned mutual respect for each country's sovereign control and regulation of the Internet - a controversial Chinese doctrine that many see as a fig leaf for repression and censorship.

Revisions would need to be submitted by early next morning, attendees were told. Needless to say, few were willing to be bulldozed into signing the document overnight. 
With this topper, Western media dubbed the conference a fiasco, even as the Chinese media called it a "watershed" event that marked a shift from a global cyberspace led by the United States. 

Still, as the lodestar of a philosophy of Internet governance that is growing in worldwide influence and home to a quarter of the world's Internet users and some of cyberspace's most valuable firms, China cannot be ignored.

More importantly, the holding of the conference gave notice of a change in China's modus operandi, from one of blocking out the global Internet community to engaging with it.

This shift is significant for the global Internet community, given that China's philosophy of Internet governance is gaining traction in some parts of the world.

Beijing has recently moved to centralise and coordinate its cyberspace governance. The formation of the "leading small group on cyber security and informatisation" this year headed by President Xi Jinping himself raised the sector to a top-level policy priority. 

This year also saw a fortifying of the Great Chinese Firewall - Google and Instagram, among others, were pushed out - and a crackdown on Chinese social media. Scores of netizens have been arrested for the crime of "spreading rumours"; they can now be sentenced to up to three years' jail for tweeting "false information". Users have reacted to the fraught atmosphere by fleeing Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service. 


02 December 2014

Paris is upbeat on the potential that exists to enhance India-France defence cooperation through the Make in India campaign, and on an early resolution of the various defence deals that are there in the pipeline

French Defence Minister JEAN-YVES Le DRIAN’s two-day visit to India was to meet his new Indian counterpart and also give a push to India-France defence collaborations. He spoke extensively toThe Pioneer on the road ahead. Excerpts from the interview:

Mr Minister, what is the main purpose of your two-day visit to India?

First, it is to meet my new Indian counterpart, Mr Manohar Parrikar, just two weeks after the warm meeting between President Hollande and Prime Minister Modi. France and India share a wide range of common interests. Our strategic partnership, developing since 1998, when the BJP was in power, includes defence and security. It is important for our two countries to discuss our security concerns and our respective defence policies. I firmly believe that the defence partnership between two nations, that cherish their independence, strengthens their respective strategic autonomy.

I have suggested to Mr Parrikar that we consider subjects of common interest, whether to do with international matters or defence policies, and these discussions have been extremely positive — as always between India and France — and marked by mutual trust and respect.

We have important projects before us — such as the MMRCA — but that’s not all. Through unparalleled transfers of technology and their industrial impact, our projects will contribute to the Make in India programme in the defence sector, an area in which France already possesses major expertise. My trip particularly aims to see how the French defence industry can, in mutual interest, contribute to Make in India.

Also, in this centenary year of World War I, I wished to pay tribute to Indian soldiers who fought on our soil for France’s freedom. Some 8,500 of these soldiers perished on our battlefields. We also haven’t forgotten those who fought in other theatres of war.

What are the recent developments in the defence policy of the French Government? Where does India figure in this dispensation?

Canadian woman says 'safe' after reports of IS capture

Dec 2, 2014

An image grab made on November 17, 2014 by al-Furqan Media allegedly shows members of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. (AFP photo)

OTTAWA: A Canadian woman said to have been captured by jihadists in Syria was apparently safe, according to a post on the woman's Facebook page on Monday. 

"Guys, I'm totally safe and secure," said the update on Gill Rosenberg's account. 

However, the post's authenticity could not be verified. The Canadian-Israeli dual national who had served in the Israel Defense Forces had volunteered to fight with the Kurds. 

Islamic State jihadists claimed a woman described as a "female Zionist soldier" had been captured in the embattled Syrian border town of Kobane, and some jihadists said the woman might be Rosenberg, according to US-based monitoring group SITE. 

In the post, Rosenberg said she doesn't have access to the Internet or any communications devices on the battlefield and so cannot reply regularly to emails or social media posts. 

She urged supporters to ignore the "bullshit" reports of her kidnapping. 

IS jihadists began advancing on Kobane in September, hoping to quickly seize the small town and secure its grip on a large stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border, following advances it made in Iraq. 

At one point, it looked set to overrun the town, but Kurdish Syrian fighters, backed by coalition air strikes and an influx of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces, have held back the group.

Obama: Don't want 'militarized' police culture

Dec 2, 2014

"Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different," Obama said.

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama asked federal agencies on Monday for concrete recommendations to ensure the US isn't building a "militarized culture" within police departments, as he promoted the use of body cameras by police in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.
With protests ongoing in Ferguson and across the country, Obama spoke to reporters at the end of a White House meeting with police, civil rights activists and local leaders and acknowledged the participants told him that there have been task forces in the past and ``nothing happens.'' 

"Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure that this time is different," Obama said. 

Obama said he was upset to hear the young people in the meeting describe their experiences with police. ``It violates my belief in what America can be to hear young people feeling marginalized and distrustful even after they've done everything right." 

At least for now, Obama is staying away from Ferguson in the wake of the uproar over a grand jury's decision last week not to charge the police officer who fatally shot Brown. Violent protests and looting erupted after the decision, resulting in at least a dozen commercial buildings being destroyed, despite Obama's pleas for calm. 

In tandem with the meeting, the White House announced it wants more police to wear cameras that capture their interactions with civilians. The cameras are part of a $263 million spending package to help police departments improve their community relations. Of the total, $74 million would be used to help pay for 50,000 of the small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job, with state and local governments paying half the cost 

India’s Intelligence War in Kashmir

Mandeep Singh
November 30, 2014
The intelligence war in Jammu and Kashmir

Counter-insurgency operations rely heavily on sustained intelligence efforts since insurgents are always hidden from view and embedded with the population.

The turn-around in the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir has, to a great extent, been brought about through timely intelligence inputs. The external intelligence agency, R&AW, and the army’s intelligence acquisition arm, the I&FS Group, have contributed a wealth of information on terrorist plans, infiltration routes and timings of such attempts as well as penetrated their training camps in Pakistan.

These combined efforts have resulted in a growing number of infiltrating terrorists being intercepted on the Line of Control (LOC) itself. Personnel of the Intelligence Bureau operating at great personal risk provide high-grade intelligence on terrorist gangs and overground workers through their source network. Communications intercepts supply real-time information.

A major role is played by the army’s intelligence and surveillance units. Well-equipped with the tools of the trade, they have a large number of personnel and vehicles, and are provided with huge unaccounted funds for buying information and running agents. Very good results have been obtained by them through placing overground workers, terrorist harbourers and sympathisers under electronic surveillance. 

Information provided by them in real-time through electronic shadowing and observation has resulted in a great number of terrorist catches and eliminations. On the ground, the police’s ability to place agents within terrorist groups is unrivalled. Since they remain in close touch with the people, they’re able to generate a significant amount of intelligence.

Infantry and Rashtriya Rifles battalions deployed on the counter-insurgency grid maintain a vigil on villages in their area of responsibility (AOR) through low-level sources. Patrols keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. It could be new faces in a village, a household buying extra food, new found affluence or even extra clothes hung out to dry — all clues to terrorist presence. Painstaking and dogged pursuit by intelligence personnel has played a decisive role in the elimination of many terrorist networks.

India’s Quiet Role as a Hotbed of Terror

November 26, 2014

Six years ago, 10 Pakistani militants arrived in Mumbai by sea and laid siege to the India’s financial capital, killing over 150 people, unsettling millions and adding yet another chapter to India’s bloody tome of terrorist violence.

Thankfully, the country hasn’t faced another attack of the scale and intensity of 26/11 since 2008—but India continues to remain one of the world’s most terrorism-afflicted nations.

A study by the Institute of Economics and Peace (pdf) ranks India sixth on the Global Terrorism Index—behind only Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Syria.

The report defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”

The index analyses the direct and indirect impact of terrorism in 162 countries, including factors such as lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological effects of terrorism.

ISIS Recruit: The Return of the Prodigal Son

01 Dec , 2014

So the prodigal son, Arif Majeed, has returned home and the government finds itself on the horns of a dilemma. We know that the call of religion and probably adventure led him and three others to deserting their group of pilgrims to Iraq and joining the Islamic State. For his troubles we now know that he ended up injured during training. We, however, still don’t quite know why he came back, though one news channel did put out that he missed his mothers’ cooking and was home-sick among other possibilities. While this may be in the realms of speculation, there is every possibility that it is true, as anybody who has fought insurgents in Kashmir will tell you, a fair number get caught because they become home sick and can be either persuaded to surrender or get trapped in their attempts to visit family or friends.

Let us not forget that we are Indians first and regardless of our religious and ethnic identities or our ideological leanings we are essentially a peaceful home loving people.

Let us not forget that we are Indians first and regardless of our religious and ethnic identities or our ideological leanings we are essentially a peaceful home loving people. As George Tanham has put it in his paper, Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretive Essay, wayback in 1992 that the growth of Hinduism over several millennia with its sophisticated thoughts, wide appeal and pervasiveness enabled it to absorb and synthesize all manner of religious and cultural influences of numerous invaders to bring about a feeling of ‘Indianness’ based on a cultural identity that has evolved over 2500 years. The fact that we are a peaceable people believing in strong family ties is an aspect that we should not take lightly and despite religious radicalization of all kinds over the years it still continues to be our biggest asset. So, while we may have had Sri Lankan Hindu or Pakistani Muslim suicide bombers, we have been spared this scourge to a very large extent from within our own home grown population.

For the past view months, the one thing that all discussants at any conference on internal security seem to agree on is the dangerous implications of recruitment of foreign volunteers by the Islamic State. In fact, one can go so far as to say that it appears to be an issue of political correctness and, I daresay, probably inverse snobbery for each of the speakers to point out the large number of volunteers joining up from each of their respective countries. In our context, the Army leadership as also elements of the intelligence and security community and the media have all gone to town over the waving of flags of the Islamic State in the Kashmir Valley and in Ranchi and the fact that an unknown number of volunteers have joined this Jihad.

While it is understandable for the security and intelligence establishment to over-state the dangers, since it not only helps them remain center-stage, but the fear psychosis that such news generates among the population goes a long way in ensuring that more important issues of poor governance, blatant corruption, failure of the law and order machinery and the criminal justice system can be side lined in the interest of national security. After all, waving of flags or wearing of tee-shirts with slogans or colours of any particular organization does not make them criminals bent on death and destruction. After all, we have witnessed Indo-Pakistan sports events in India where any number of Pakistani flags have been waved, or for that matter, we have seen a similar situation in England and Australia where there is no shortage of Indian origin citizens of those countries waving and cheering the Indian team. To consider such actions as akin to treason reflects an extremely bigoted mindset because those individuals have emigrated for a better life and to mistake cloying sentimentality for one’s own cultural, religious or ethnic roots as disloyalty to the country of which they are citizens is really missing the woods from the trees. In any case there is a big difference between waving a flag and picking up a gun to create mayhem and murder.

The Tragic Death of Lt. Mark Evison

November 29, 2014 

He was one of Britain’s greatest young warriors. And he was likely killed by British guns. 

The fort at Haji Alem was Lt. Mark Evison’s very own outpost of empire. Situated beside an irrigation canal and surrounded by poppy and maize fields and a scattering of baked-mud compounds in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, it looked toward the badlands of Taliban-controlled Marjah to the southwest.

Evison, brought up in the comfortable London suburb of Dulwich, where Margaret Thatcher lived after she left office, was entranced by Afghanistan. He was immediately struck by the romance of the dusty base he arrived to command in April 2009. Its only drawback, he felt, was that the walls were so high that from inside he was unable to see the beauty of the landscape.

He called it “Flashman’s Fort,” a reference to the beleaguered Afghan garrison defended by Lt. Harry Flashman, the swashbuckling cad immortalized in the satirical novels of George MacDonald Fraser. That siege took place in 1842 during the First Anglo-Afghan War, when Britain invaded Afghanistan to check the influence of Russia during the era of the Great Game. Evison, a British Army platoon commander in the Welsh Guards, was to be fighting in what amounted to the fourth.

The Union Jack flying over Camp Bastion was hauled down for the final time last month. First established in 2006, it had grown to be a vast cantonment that served as a hub for coalition forces in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand. By the time combat operations ended there in September, the Fourth Anglo-Afghan War had claimed the lives of 453 British troops, including Evison’s. Helmand was responsible for the vast majority of those deaths. In total, 952 coalition troops have been killed in the southern province alone, well over a quarter of the 3,481 coalition fatalities in Afghanistan, according to iCasualties.org. Since American forces arrived in strength in Helmand a few weeks after Evison's death, places like Sangin, Nawa and Marjah have joined Guadalcanal, Khe Sanh and Fallujah in U.S. Marine Corps lore, with more than 400 of its men perishing there.

Today, as the Taliban threatens to seize back much of the territory it lost in Helmand, quite what the West achieved in return for its 13 years of blood and treasure remains elusive. Camp Bastion and Camp Leatherneck, the adjoining U.S. Marine base, are now in the hands of the Afghan security forces. In due course, these sprawling military towns, built in the wasteland known as Dasht-e Margo, or Desert of Death, will likely be abandoned to the desert like the statue of Ozymandias—a remnant of a once-great empire that, in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, lies ruined, surrounded by nothing but “lone and level sands.”

Jama'at-ul-Ahrar: Obsessive Pursuits

Ambreen Agha,Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management 

On November 21, 2014, two Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and two others were injured in a bomb attack targeting SFs vehicle on Warsak Road in Mathra Bazaar area of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province. Ehsanullah Ehsan, the 'spokesman' of the Jama'at-ul-Ahrar (JuA, Group of the Free), a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while claiming responsibility for the attack said that the attack was revenge of one of their members who was killed in an operation by the army. He further warned, “We will continue to target the Pakistani military in the future.” 

On November 18, 2014, two Policemen were killed and another was wounded in a targeted hand grenade attack in the Shabqadar tehsil (revenue unit) of Charsadda District in KP. Ehsanullah Ehsan the 'spokesman' of TTP-JuA claimed responsibility for the attack.

Earlier, on November 2, 2014, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the parking area, at least 500 meters from the Wagah Border with India, on the Pakistan side, killing 60 persons and injuring more than 150. One of the injured died later. Soon after the attack, three terrorist groups claimed responsibility for the attack. These included al Qaeda-affiliated anti-Shia group Jandullah, TTP’s Mahar Mehsud faction, and JuA. In order to establish its role in the attack on the Wagah border, JuA, however, went on to release three photographs of the suicide bomber involved in the attack. "Brother Hanifullah" the email sent by Ehsan to The Long War Journal read, "carried out successful martyrdom operation on murtad [a Muslim who rejects Islam] Army in Wagah Lahore." 

On September 26, 2014, two activists of an anti-Taliban peace committee were killed and another seriously injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in the Dawezai area of Pandyali tehsil in the Mohmand Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). JuA 'spokesman' Ehsan, claiming responsibility for the attack, warned that the peace committee members were targeted for fighting and spying against the 'Taliban', and that such attacks would continue on ‘pro-government paid people’ as they were the enemies of the Taliban.

The Disintegration of Rural China

NOV. 28, 2014

HONG KONG — On a trip home late last year to the rural Chinese village of my childhood, I found my brother tying a military knife under his belt as he was leaving the house. I asked why he needed a knife, and he replied, “It is not as safe here as before.”

The peaceful and idyllic village I grew up in, like many of China’s rural towns, has been brought to ruins by the breakdown of traditional social norms that followed decades of failed policies and neglect by the state. Many of my contemporary fellow villagers would prefer to go back to the old days.

Nostalgia in China may sound strange to people whose image of the country’s recent history is colored by memories of Mao’s disastrous policies, which in the years following the Communist revolution in 1949 brought economic disaster, starvation and mass death. But my generation, which came of age after the Great Famine and at the end of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1970s, missed the worst of the misery. And in typical Chinese fashion, my elders preferred not to talk about the bad days.

My childhood came at a unique moment for China. We were still living traditional village lives, having left the horrors of Mao behind, but not yet in the thick of the capitalist frenzy. Families were strong, crime was unheard of and the landscape was pristine. We didn’t mind being poor — in my third and fourth years at primary school in the early-’70s, the whole school did not have textbooks — because we didn’t know what we were missing. We lived in peaceful, tight-knit communities.

But China’s traditional social fabric has become shredded — and the disintegration is most obvious in the countryside, where families are falling apart, crime is soaring and the environment is killing people. Many villagers who were happy to have the state retreat from their private lives in recent decades are now crying for government intervention. Something has to be done to rebuild China’s languishing village life.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the communes were split up into family farms, prompting a surge of productivity and more freedom for rural residents. Peasants suddenly had the power to decide what crops to grow, how to grow them and how to sell their harvests and other products. Many farmers decided to leave the land to work in factories in the boomtowns along the southeast coast, bringing home money as well as fresh knowledge from the outside world. Many brought back much-needed skills to build their own businesses. This golden era was celebrated as the triumph of Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberation.

The period of renaissance in the countryside ended in the mid-to-late 1990s. Reckless growth of bank credit powered by the central bank’s printing press caused years of double-digit inflation that quickly eroded the incomes in the countryside and helped widen gaps between rural villages and the cities. Average monthly wages in the cities surged from a few hundred yuan two decades ago to about 4,000 yuan ($650) today, while incomes in the countryside lagged far behind.

Yemen and Djibouti on Alert for Major Terrorist Attacks

Stephen Spark
November 30, 2014
Yemen and Djibouti on terrorism alert\

An al-Shabaab militant displays a weapon near Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: PA

SOMALIA: Yemen’s Interior Ministry has ordered increased security along the country’s coastline in response to information that al-Qaeda’s Somalia-based affiliate al-Shabaab is planning to carry out attacks in the country. The Yemeni Coast Guard and the navy have been told to arrest any suspects arriving by sea.

Yemen continues to be riven by Shiite and Sunni factionalism and civil strife, which has been exploited by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to launch terror attacks.

On Monday, the US Department of State issued a travel advisory warning of “specific threats from terrorism” aimed at Western and local targets, which could include “attacks on maritime vessels in or near Djiboutian ports”. In May, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Djibouti town centre and threatened further attacks.

The warnings come as increasing numbers of illegal migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea are making their way through Djibouti to Yemen in the hope of reaching Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf of Aden has become a lucrative crossing point for human traffickers. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), “Between January and September 2014, 61,224 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa via the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This year, there have been 215 migrant deaths in the Red Sea, more than during the past three years combined.”

The governments of Somalia and Yemen recently agreed to co-operate to combat piracy, maritime crime and other security threats, and Denmark has also agreed to help Yemen tackle piracy gangs and insurgents. However, regional paper Sabahi reported Yemeni officials as warning that al-Shabaab fighters are infiltrating the migrant groups in a bid to destabilise the country further.

The IOM noted that the favourable weather conditions make this the peak season for seaborne migration from the Horn of Africa.

Terrorist Financing and the Islamic State

November 13, 2014 
A detailed look at where the group's money comes from, how the Treasury Department and its international partners are working to cut it off, and what needs to be done next. 

The following is an excerpt from Dr. Levitt's prepared remarks; download the PDF to read the full testimony, or watch video of the hearing

There is no silver bullet to disrupt ISIS financing, let alone to ultimately defeat the organization. ISIS presents a unique set of circumstances, and the Treasury Department should continue to do what it does best: assess the situation and develop new tools and techniques to deal with an evolving illicit finance threat. 

To fully combat ISIS financing, the United States and its international partners should consider the following: 

1. Continue airstrikes targeting ISIS financial hubs, including oil refineries large and small, as well as smuggling routes known to be used to move oil and other contraband. 

2. Leverage financial and other intelligence to target criminal middlemen moving ISIS oil to market, as well as those who transport, refine, or otherwise facilitate this process. This is something Treasury has already talked about, and actions should be forthcoming. Once they are, they should come in waves, not as infrequent one-off actions. 

3. Together with other governments and international bodies like MENA-FATF, help countries like Qatar and Kuwait build up their CFT capacity and hold their feet to the fire to actually implement the AML/CFT laws they have passed. Should change not be forthcoming, consider use of 311 or other tools to prevent these jurisdictions from facilitating illicit conduct and undermining legitimate financial systems. 

4. Work to isolate ISIS from the international financial system, including blocking banks located in areas of Iraq that are under ISIS control from the international financial system. 

5. Continue to press for an international consensus against the payment of ransoms to terrorist groups. 

6. As part of any air campaign, prioritize pushing ISIS back from areas it controls to deny the group the ability to profit from extortion, taxation, looting artifacts and natural resources, and other criminal activities in those areas. 

7. Over the long run, press the Iraqi government to put in place real political reforms and create a credible, trusted law enforcement body able to move into liberated areas and other areas under government control and investigate and prosecute the criminal enterprises financing ISIS or other illicit actors. 

8. Expand efforts to counter ISIS finance beyond Iraq into Syria as well.

Combating Terrorism means Combating Pakistan

01 Dec , 2014

Understanding the region from the Indus River to the Syrian-Turkish border is not always easy. Convoluted by thousands of years of history, including boasting the world’s first great power – the Persian Empire – and running through Shia and Sunni regions in what was once partly Buddhist, partly Zoroastrian, influenced strongly by the Aryan Vedic cult, intersecting with the Jewish faith, and spanning the ancient Indus and Babylonian civilizations – this region is now massively messed up instead of being at the forefront of advancing civilization through its wealth of accumulated wisdom. To add to its strategic importance, the region has strong deposits of mineral oil that have the potential to upset the world economy, but which is accompanied by acerbic and fundamental versions of aggressive Islamists that make reconciliation with the people in this region quite difficult.

…a world without Pakistan will be a much more peaceful world, and it is high time that the USA hitched its wagon to India to fight terrorism, rather than feed terrorism by riding with Pakistan.

The Western powers know that if they leave this region to itself, it is likely to fall a victim to the strongest powers in the region – a possibly resurgent Russia and irredentist China seeking world hegemony. Indeed, China ever so slowly wants to reconnect to the Middle East through its new land and sea silk routes. Those who can control the Middle East can control the Suez Canal and the trade route through the Strait of Hormuz from where 30% of the world’s seaborne-traded oil flows.

Historical Factors 

ISIS Plunders, Jihad And The Illicit Antiquities Market

Amid the mayhem of civil war, huge money is to be made from stealing and selling archeological treasures from Iraq and Syria. ISIS ambitions are fueling an already huge black market. 

PARIS — Antiquities are being pillaged at an "alarming" rate in Iraq and Syria, a part of the world where Western civilization effectively began, as the terrorist group ISIS turns to cultural trafficking as yet another way to finance its violent ambitions.

The situation has prompted UNESCO, the United Nations' culture agency, to make a new urgent proposal to fight this profitable branch of international crime, as evidence has emerged of ISIS selling stolen items through highly developed international networks.

The problem has intensified since ISIS took over the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the Nineveh province last June. That gave it access to 2,000 of the 12,000 registered archeological sites in Iraq, which the Islamist group has not hesitated to damage, destroy or pillage, indifferent to their cultural or religious worth.

"These terrorists also destroy many holy places and pick up scattered pieces," says Béatrice André-Salvini, head of the Paris Louvre's eastern antiquities department. "They stop at nothing."

Following their strictly narrow interpretations of religion, ISIS operatives won't tolerate any type of veneration of the dead, shrines, mosques or churches, and may well have burned thousands of precious documents and manuscripts. In Syria, especially in northwestern provinces, there has been an exponential rise in clandestine digging and stripping from monuments. While about 30 museums have preemptively hidden away their artefacts, many works of art have nonetheless disappeared. 

Did ISIS Attack Kobani from Turkey?


U.S. airstrikes continue, but militants from the so-called Islamic State are still attacking with a vengeance on every front. 

ISTANBUL—Islamic militants have stepped up their assault on the Syrian border town of Kobani, challenging once again the American-led efforts to help defend it from the air. 

On Saturday fighters from the so-called Islamic State launched five suicide bomb attacks and used tanks to shell Kurdish defenses on the west of the besieged town. Kurdish commanders claimed the jihadists used Turkish territory to mount one of the suicide attacks—the Turkish government has been accused of favoring the Islamic militants—but Ankara flatly denied that was the case. 

The redoubled offensive began when a suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle detonated his explosives on the main border crossing between Kobani and Turkey, says Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party. He claimed fighters from the self-styled Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, also used grain silos just inside Turkey in the assault. The militants “used to attack the town from three sides,” Khalil said. “Today, they are attacking from four sides.” 

Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobani, said the first car bomb killed two people. He said two suicide efforts to the south of the town were halted with Kurdish fighters killing the bombers before they could reach their targets inside the town. 

Sino-Israeli Economic Ties Blossoming

By Gregory Noddin Poulin
December 01, 2014
With its impressive R&D, Israel is emerging as a small but pivotal partner for China.

A convergence of commercial interests have led the People’s Republic of China and the State of Israel to develop an increasingly integrated bilateral economic partnership that is poised to flourish over the next decade. Bilateral trade has experienced a 200-fold increase since diplomatic ties were formally established in 1992, surging from $50 million to $10 billion in 2013, with plans to double that figure in the next few years; leading Gao Yanping, China’s ambassador to Israel, to enthusiastically exclaim “Our relations are shining with new luster in the new era.”

Recent economic cooperation belies the long and complex trajectory modern Sino-Israeli relations have forged. Despite Israel being the first Middle Eastern state to formally recognize the newly formed People’s Republic of China in 1950, China would take forty-two years to officially reciprocate. Throughout the 1960s and 70s China touted its political and material support for Israel’s perpetual adversary, Palestine, as the first non-Arab government to extend diplomatic relations to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964.

During this period China played a critical role in supporting the Palestinian people with humanitarian aid as well as training and arming the militant faction of the PLO. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the PLO from 1969 until his death in 2004, noted the important role China played in backing the PLO movement, claiming that China was “the biggest influence in supporting our revolution and strengthening its perseverance.” However, the implementation of economic liberalization and market reforms in China beginning in the late 1970s proved to be the impetus for enhanced Sino-Israeli relations.

As bilateral cooperation quietly grew throughout the 1980s, China formally established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992 and the two nations have since collaborated closely to cultivate economic ties. With a population of just eight million, and a labor force of less than half that at three and a half million, Israel might seem an odd partner for a behemoth like China and its 1.3 billion people. Despite the demographic dichotomies, the two nations are uniquely suited to be advantageous mercantile partners, with complementary economies. In its annual ranking of most innovative countries, Bloomberg News named Israel the world’s leading country for research and development (R&D) intensity and placed China first for manufacturing. Avi Hasson, Israel’s Chief Scientist noted the opportunity for collaboration these diverging strengths offered, “What China needs, we have to offer. We are good at innovation and technology transfer, and they can scale up manufacturing and beyond.”

Summit of Failure: How the EU Lost Russia over Ukraine


One year ago, negotations over a Ukraine association agreement with the European Union collapsed. The result has been a standoff with Russia and war in the Donbass. It was an historical failure, and one that German Chancellor Angela Merkel contributed to.

Only six meters separated German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as they sat across from each other in the festively adorned knight's hall of the former Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. In truth, though, they were worlds apart. 


Yanukovych had just spoken. In meandering sentences, he tried to explain why the European Union's Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius was more useful than it might have appeared at that moment, why it made sense to continue negotiating and how he would remain engaged in efforts towards a common future, just as he had previously been. "We need several billion euros in aid very quickly," Yanukovych said. Then the chancellor wanted to have her say. Merkel peered into the circle of the 28 leaders of EU member states who had gathered in Vilnius that evening. What followed was a sentence dripping with disapproval and cool sarcasm aimed directly at the Ukrainian president. "I feel like I'm at a wedding where the groom has suddenly issued new, last minute stipulations."

The EU and Ukraine had spent years negotiating an association agreement. They had signed letters of intent, obtained agreement from cabinets and parliaments, completed countless diplomatic visits and exchanged objections. But in the end, on the evening of Nov. 28, 2013 in the old palace in Vilnius, it became clear that it had all been a wasted effort. It was an historical earthquake.

Everyone came to realize that efforts to deepen Ukraine's ties with the EU had failed. But no one at the time was fully aware of the consequences the failure would have: that it would lead to one of the world's biggest crises since the end of the Cold War; that it would result in the redrawing of European borders; and that it would bring the Continent to the brink of war. It was the moment Europe lost Russia.

For Ukraine, the failure in Vilnius resulted in disaster. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has strived to orient itself towards the EU while at the same time taking pains to ensure that those actions don't damage its relations with Moscow. The choice between West and East, which both Brussels and Moscow have forced Kiev to make, has had devastating consequences for the fragile country.

In The Golan Heights, Where Sunni, Shia And IDF Meet

Maurizio Molinari (2014-11-14) 
From the Israeli side of the border, a view of how the whole of the Middle East seems to be maneuvering. 

MOUNT AVITAL MILITARY BASE — Mount Avital is the last piece of the Golan Heights controlled by Israel before you hit al-Nusra territory in Syria. Yes, in this valley, flags with the Star of David flap in the wind just a few dozen meters away from those bearing the black jihadist symbols. 

The slopes of this mountain used to represent the quiet borders of the armistice agreed upon after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 — but they have since changed, thanks to the jihadists allied with the Islamic State (ISIS) headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The border checkpoint is close to the ruins of Quneitra where the al-Nusra Front has a logistics base and where, last spring, the Israeli military pushed out Bashar al-Assad's soldiers.

"Three hundred men came," remembers Eyal Zisser, an Arab scholar at the University of Tel Aviv, "And the [Assad] regime didn't have the strength nor the will to confront them."

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been monitoring the Syrian civil war from the 1,204-meter-high perch of their mountainside base, headed by Ofek Buchris, the brigadier general of the Bashan Division, created to deal with the consequences of the dissolution of the regime in Damascus. 

With a Tommy Gun slung around his shoulders, a kippah on his head and a mix of Arab and Anglo-Saxon humor, Buchris describes what happened in the Syrian part of Golan with interactive maps showing the changes that have taken place. "Fifteen months ago on the other side there were two Syrian divisions — the 90th and the 61st," he explains.

Iranian plans

Putin Would Risk Everything In A War With Ukraine

Martin van Creveld (2014-11-18) 

BERLIN — As German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once wrote, the aggressor is always peace-loving. He wants to take over our land, our people, our resources without firing a single shot. By this same logic, the defender is always the aggressor.

This truth has seldom been better illustrated than by events in eastern Ukraine. With the recent separatist victory in the rogue elections, the situation only worsened. The possibility of war between the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" and Kiev becomes ever more likely with each passing day.

What would that war look like? If animosities escalate and the Russian army assumes a greater role, the outcome is clear: Ukrainian forces are no match for the Russian steamroller. Russia has a six-to-one advantage in terms of the number of active troops. The disproportion is even greater with regard to weapons and equipment, particularly because many of the Ukrainian weapons were Soviet-produced and date back to the Cold War era. Any NATO or EU attempt to lend military support would be rendered more difficult by the fact that they don't use the same weapons. So joint operations could be a problem.

Should it come to the worst, NATO and the EU have only one way to prevent Russia's annexation of the Donetsk People's Republic. When it comes to conventional military technology, troop numbers and economic power, Russia can't hold a candle to NATO and the EU. But Putin's fighting forces do have some advantages over their potential enemies.

Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine: US Needs A Strategy – Analysis

By Luke Coffey and Daniel Kochis

Flag at Maidan Nezalezhnosti, main Kiev, Ukraine square. Photo by Halibutt, WIkipedia Commons. 

In November 2013, the former Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, postponed signing an Association Agreement with the European Union after receiving an ultimatum from Moscow to choose between closer ties with Europe or Russia. One year later, Yanukovych is out, a pro-Western government is in power, Russia has illegally annexed the Crimea, and the Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk are in rebellion. A fragile cease-fire remains in place, although localized fighting is an everyday occurrence. The U.S. must continue to back, and if necessary increase, targeted economic sanctions against Russian and separatist figures, offer non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainian military, and keep Russia isolated diplomatically.
Cease-fire and Frozen Conflict 

In July, when Russian-backed separatists shot down flight MH-17, killing almost 300 people, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived at a strategic decision-making point. He could have used the tragic incident as an “off-ramp” to his policy of supporting rebel groups in eastern Ukraine, or he could send in more Russian troops to help advance their cause. He chose the latter and increased the number of Russian troops operating in Ukraine to an estimated 4,000. While Russia denies ever sending forces inside Ukraine, this claim has been disputed by the U.S., NATO, and other European countries.[1]

In response, the Ukrainian government launched a major military offensive to retake control of territories from separatists. The offensive by Ukrainian forces was initially successful and retook large pieces of territory controlled by the Russian-backed separatists. The military offensive eventually stalled. With the help of Russian troops, the separatists began pushing back Ukrainian forces. Consequently, in September, the government in Kyiv agreed to a cease-fire—the so-called Minsk agreement—brokered by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Although the cease-fire officially remains in effect, localized fighting is the norm. Furthermore, as recently as November, NATO has confirmed another buildup of Russian military equipment and troops inside Ukraine.[2] The latest Russian military buildup is clearly an effort to consolidate gains in the region, and may constitute preparations for a renewed offensive.
Recent Political Developments in Ukraine 

American Nuclear Strategy: The Case for a Minimal-Deterrence Policy

December 1, 2014

"The United States’ overstocked nuclear arsenal addresses a threat that no longer exists, and instead results in elevated risks with no added value."

Critics of minimal deterrence, such as Keith Payne in a recent article in theWashington Times, accuse advocates of reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile of viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, irresponsibly following ideological perceptions at the expense of American security. These charges represent true irony; few policies are more tainted with ideology than the advocacy of an outdated nuclear strategy with an excessive, ill-maintained arsenal of weapons.

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review states: “[t]he fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons, which will continue as long as nuclear weapons exist, is to deter nuclear attack on the United States, [its] allies, and partners.” Because of the vast and indiscriminate destructive power of nuclear weapons, there is a general consensus that their sole legitimate purpose is to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction by potential enemies; and that their use in war should be initiated only as a last resort to prevent the military defeat of the nation or an ally. These weapons clearly are irrelevant to current international security challenges such as nonstate terrorist expansion in Iraq and Syria, the Ebola virus in Africa or even Russian aggression in Ukraine.

But how many nuclear weapons are necessary for an effective, reliable deterrent?

The United States currently has an arsenal of about 4,800 nuclear warheads, enough for an estimated1,400-megaton cumulative yield of destructive power. That is 87,500 times the blast power of the bomb that devastated Hiroshima and equal to the blast yield of 1,400,000,000 tons of TNT. Put another way, it would only take one tenth of the 1,400 megatons we possess to decimate the fifty most-populated cities in the United States.[1] How much deliverable nuclear explosive power and destruction does it take to deter potential enemies? Obviously, under any conceivable scenario, the United States does not need a nuclear arsenal nearly this large.

Tunisia Forms New Intelligence and Security Agency

Mona Yahia
November 30, 2014
Tunisia Strengthens Intelligence Capacity

Tunisia on Tuesday (November 20th) established the Intelligence, Security and Defence Agency under the Ministry of Defence.

Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said the move “gives more flexibility and efficiency to intelligence work”.

The intelligence apparatus, whether military or security, has been criticised since the revolution for its inability to prevent terrorist groups from carrying out attacks on Tunisian territory and then quickly fleeing.

The security establishment was aware of the great weakness after the dissolution of the state security system, and has since started to recover.

The new intelligence agency “falls within the framework of a comprehensive conception of the military system and its security”, Defence Minister Ghazi Jeribi said. “This structure will replace the General Administration of Military Security, where it will include intelligence levels of collection and analysis of information, and a third level to determine strategy.”

“We will also create co-ordination at the level of the presidency of the government for the provision of information and analysis. Combating terrorism is not only a security approach, but also a comprehensive approach,” Jeribi added.

According to Mokhtar Ben Nasser, who runs the Tunisian Centre for Global Security Studies, the new agency’s task is to develop a comprehensive security system, and collect and analyse intelligence.

“Now there is no longer a security system separate from the defence,” Ben Nasser noted. “As far as I know, another administration will be created at the level of the head of government that includes all parties and shall ensure co-ordination between the defence and interior ministries and adjust strategies similar to ones that exist abroad.”

Future War: Why Quantity Will Trump Quality

By T. X. Hammes
November 20, 2014

T. X. Hammes on why the U.S. military needs to rethink its procurement strategy in light of the shift from few and exquisite to small, many and smart.

While sounding like another errant Yogi Berra quote, this simple phrase has real meaning in modern warfare. While technology is a massive force multiplier, it is not always decisive on the battlefield. An explorer armed with a six shooter gun fighting against men with spears is still in deep trouble when there are more than six angry tribesmen. If he can add more six shooters or belt fed weapons, however, the explorer will maintain a distinct advantage. The problem arises when the number of angry tribesman exceeds the number of weapons and cartridges the explorer can afford.

Shifting to a more modern setting, the extremely capable F-22 Raptor will face the same problem should it find itself up against 10 older jets. The F-22 will simply run out of ammunition. While it still has the legs to get away, the F-22 can be tactically defeated by large numbers of cheap aircraft. Unfortunately, it was too costly to buy in sufficient numbers to overcome this deficiency.

The trend in U.S. defense spending toward ever more expensive systems began in earnest during the 1970s. Faced with overwhelming Soviet superiority in numbers, the Department of Defense decided to compensate by focusing on buying high-tech platforms. This decision led to a number of successful platforms, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighter aircraft, Abrams tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. Since then, the United States has continued to pursue cutting-edge technology that has resulted in the extremely capable F-22 and, when the testing and software development is complete, perhaps a highly capable F-35.

Unfortunately, rising costs have outstripped gains in capabilities. This in turn has severely constrained the numbers of platforms purchased. Initially, the U.S. planned to buy 750 F-22 aircraft. It ended up buying 187 operational aircraft. The B-2 suffered a similar fate. Of the planned 132 aircraft, only 21 were actually purchased.