5 December 2014

Shifting sands and shifty friends

Chirosree Basu

The former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, with the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, November 20, 2014 

When the purpose of the book is to make India conscious of the fact that "the evolving realities in Afghanistan present India with a historic chance", and that it will lose credibility with not only the United States of America but also with ordinary Afghans if India fails to seize it, one wonders why the book should have "a lost opportunity" as part of its title. In fact, it is not clear which lost opportunity Pant is talking about.

There is one which is obvious. From 2001 to around 2009, India was at the pinnacle of the success brought by its exercise of soft power in Afghanistan. Indian presence in Afghanistan was ubiquitous - in the construction of the critical Zaranj-Delaram road in Nimruz province, in its cooperation with Afghanistan in civil aviation, media and information, rural development, education, commerce and banking, waste and water management, training of defence and civil administration professionals, the enhancement of Afghanistan's food security through wheat aid, the rehabilitation and medical treatment of children, electoral management and standardization of State services and so on. That unnerved Pakistan, which hit back by orchestrating attacks on Indian establishments in Afghanistan through its proxy warriors.

The heightened militant activity in Afghanistan led to a troop surge by the Barack Obama administration in 2009. The exit plan was announced at the same time and that changed the entire complexion of the game. India was expressly told to tone down its presence in Afghanistan that was making Pakistan act wayward and thereby difficult for the West to handle it. India may not have followed instructions to the T but its steadfast principle of not bringing in boots to preserve the investments it had made, and thereby secure its own interests, went against it. As Pant puts it, "if India was unwilling to stand up for its own interests, few saw the benefit of aligning with India."

Pant also acknowledges that Indian presence in Afghanistan got weaker with the Obama administration's deepening of its security dependence on Pakistan in the hope of achieving a semblance of success in Afghanistan. By 2010, the US had been sold the idea that a reconciliation was possible with the Taliban and by 2011, Pakistan had established itself in the role of the indispensable mediator in such reconciliation drives, much to the indignation of Afghanistan's then president, Hamid Karzai, who was trying to proceed independently on the same lines.


05 December 2014

References have been made in Kathmandu of moving towards building an ‘economic federation’ in 15 years. It is clear that, thanks to Pakistani negativism, the original vision of an ‘economic union’ has fallen by the wayside

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a full diplomatic calendar in November, participating in three multilateral summits — the East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), the G20 Summit in Brisbane and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit in Kathmandu. The East Asia Summit is integral to India’s economic and strategic agenda across its eastern shores.

It casts the Indian strategic imprint across the Asia-Pacific Region. Over the past 15 years, India has concluded a free trade agreement with the 10 members of Asean, with bilateral trade targeted to reach $100 billion soon. India has also concluded Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements with two major East Asian economic powers — Japan and South Korea. It has actively engaged Australia, which straddles the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These developments enable India to proactively deal with the assertive role of China in the

Asia-Pacific region. Participation in G20 gives India a role on the high table of global economic decision making. Our three-decade long interaction in Saarc with our South Asian neighbours has little to show, by way of economic cooperation, thanks primarily to the obstructionist policies of Pakistan. A “Group of Eminent Persons” crafted a

long-term vision for Saarc in 1998, which envisaged the establishment of a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2010, a Customs Union by 2015 and an Economic Union by 2020. The visionary, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, even advocated that the culmination of this process should be the establishment of a Saarc Monetary Union. The 2002 Saarc Summit in Kathmandu loftily proclaimed: “To give effect to the shared aspirations for a more prosperous South Asia, the leaders agreed to the vision of a phased and planed process eventually leading to a South Asian Economic Union”.

Where exactly do we stand today? After much foot-dragging, Saarc countries have concluded a Free Trade Agreement confined to goods, but excluding all services like information technology. Even this agreement has been stymied by Pakistan, which has declined to even accord India the World Trade Organisation-mandated ‘Most Favoured Nation’ treatment.

The prospect of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement like those India has fashioned in East and Southeast Asia remains bleak and the vision of an Economic Union is a constantly receding mirage. While references have been made in Kathmandu of moving towards building an “economic federation” in 15 years, it is clear that thanks to Pakistani negativism, the original vision of an Economic Union has fallen by the wayside.

The Mahatma I saw

Dec 02, 2014

Cariappa said that he had to brief the Mahatma about the battle and wanted me to accompany him. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s day of silence. He wrote on a slate, ‘I am proud of our Army. Non-violence is the weapon of the strong and not the coward.’

Einstein wrote about Mahatma Gandhi, “Gene-rations to come, it may well be, will scarce be-lieve that such a man as this one, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this Earth.” I belong to a now-vanishing generation whi-ch saw Gandhiji in flesh and blood.

As a college student in Patna, I had read D.F. Karaka’s biogra-phy of the Mahatma, Out of Dust. It brought out how the Mahatma raised us out of dust. He transformed us from being subjects of a colonial power to proud citizens of an indepen-dent country.

I once attended a public meeting of thousands addres-sed by him in Patna. After he left the venue, I saw many pick up the dust from the ground over which he had walked and apply it to their foreheads. I had just entered my teens and I felt his address had touched my soul. I was told that he received hundreds of letters regularly from all over the world and a reply was sent promptly to each. This encouraged me to write to him for his autograph. His secretary immediately replied asking me to send `10 for the Harijan Fund for his autograph. I couldn’t afford it.

During the Quit India Movement, on August 10, 1942, a procession of a few thousand students had gone to hoist the Congress flag over the Patna Secretariat. I was in the rear of the procession. British troops opened fire and seven students were killed. The procession dispersed. Virtual martial law was imposed in Patna that evening. My father was posted in Purnea at that time. Along with many students, I crossed the river in a steamer to catch a train to Purnea. We found rail-way tracks and railway stations ransacked so we decided to trek to our destinations. En route, I saw atrocities committed by British troops.

By March 1943, all was quiet. Schools and colleges reopened. Congress leaders were locked in prison. The movement seemed to have fizzled out. Despite being an ardent admirer of the Mahatma, who had called upon people to boycott the war effort, I decided to join the Army. We used to hear Subhas Chandra Bose’s radio broadcasts from Singapore and of the formation of the Indian National Army. I felt non-violence could not get us Independence. Britain’s military might had to be weakened from within. I applied for a commission in the Army, got selected and was asked to report at the Officers Training School, Belgaum.

From Patna one had to go to Belgaum via Pune, spending a whole day in Pune to catch the train connection to Belgaum. The Mahatma was then impri-soned in Aga Khan Palace, guarded by British troops. Passing the palace gates in a tonga, I offered obeisance from outside, seeking his forgiveness for joining the Army despite his call to not to do so.

Only once did I see the Mahatma from close quarters. During the first India-Pakistan War in Kashmir, on October 22, 1947, thousands of Pakistani forces comprising both tribes-men and Pakistan Army per-sonnel in civilian clothes led by Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, invaded Kashmir.

Why India must engage with ICANN


ReutersTURNING POINT: “The governance architecture that emerges after September 2015 could erode or enrich the capacity of states to regulate the flow of information online and protect the rights and security of their citizens.”

India’s Internet diplomacy has found its voice late, leaving the government with little time to get its act together before the ICANN-U.S. contract expires in September next year

Late last month, the Prime Minister’s Office chaired a meeting of the three nodal ministries — the Ministry of External Affairs, the Department of Telecommunications and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology — responsible for charting India’s line on global Internet governance, capping a welcome effort to attend to this foreign policy concern at the highest level. The PMO’s intervention has come not a moment too soon: the contract between the United States government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — which manages the Domain Name System (DNS) under U.S. oversight — expires in less than a year, leaving cyberspace up for grabs. The governance architecture that emerges after September 2015 could erode or enrich the capacity of states to regulate the flow of information online, protect the rights and security of their citizens, and develop robust Internet economies.

India’s ability to negotiate this transition has been hindered by a lack of inter-ministerial consensus and a familiar reluctance to engage civil society. Unlike other state-driven deliberations, the rules of this game are different: the U.S. has refused to cede control of ICANN to an inter-governmental agency, insisting instead on a “multi-stakeholder” body to replace its oversight. This requirement has given multinational corporations the ability to punch above their weight in international negotiations.

Countering the challenge

Managing risks, avoiding disasters


Photo: The HinduUNFORTUNATE TRUTH: “Accidents are bound to happen in the age of hazardous industry, but it is the responsibility of all sectors of society to ensure that we are prepared to cope with the aftermath.” Picture shows photographs of the people who died in the tragedy, at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal. Photo: A.M. Farqui

Expertise is often the missing piece in the disaster management puzzle

Shaken by the Bhopal gas disaster in 1984, social scientists worldwide have worked intensively on understanding the complex dynamics underlying such disasters and mobilising theoretical tools that are pragmatic, adaptive and iterative. This article summarises five key ideas that have emerged from this research.

The first idea is the vulnerability thesis, according to which environmental disasters cannot be explained just by natural trigger events, however large. They are, on the contrary, caused by the complex interactions between factors generating vulnerability, which have roots in historic social, cultural, ecological, economic and political processes, and the existence of physical hazards. Further, disasters are not departures from the normal functioning of societies. Rather, they often exemplify the norm, and exacerbate the potential of a hazardous event. Understanding the patterns in human social dynamics in any given region is therefore an important key to building effective institutions.

Some disasters are unique events — rare, unpredictable acts — for which rational responses are difficult. Others are discrete; they are results of correctable factors such as a failure of a component, limited design error, or a mistake by an operator. Yet others happen despite calculated risks being assumed, and are often understood only after analysing the cataclysmic event following its occurrence. Significantly, there is also a class of disasters which stems from the design of the system itself. Such systems are typically interactively complex, and predicting specific outcomes ahead of time is impossible due to adverse signal to noise ratios, and because the sheer range of permutations defining outcomes increases with complexity. However, even such systems can be improved by effective processes, such as continuous training, multiple redundancies, accountability, better data, hierarchical differentiation and autonomy, and crucially, nurturing cultures of reliability. Understanding the complexity characteristics of any given disaster management catchment, and devising institutional cultures to counter them, is therefore a second key to building effective institutions.

Politics of infrastructure

Be ambitious at Lima

December 5, 2014

This week, the climate community gathered in Lima, Peru, for two-week-long deliberations on what to do about climate change on the heels of the US-China declaration last month. Hailed by The New York Times as a landmark agreement and denounced by environmental lobbies as window dressing, the joint declaration by the US and Chinese presidents has accomplished one of its unstated goals: that of reducing pressure on themselves and putting pressure on other countries, especially India. Thus, the conference of parties (CoP) at Lima is of considerable importance to India.
The US-China declaration says that the US will, by 2025, reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 26-28 per cent over 2005 levels, while China will peak its emissions by 2030 or before, and 20 per cent of its energy will come from non-fossil sources.

Let’s consider what the Chinese declaration implies. China’s emissions in 2011 were 10.55 gigatonnes (Gt). Over 2010 and 2011, it added 0.87 Gt annually to its already high emissions. By a conservative estimate, China’s emissions will reach about 18 to 20 Gt per year when it peaks by 2030. With a projected population of 1.39 billion in 2030, this implies emissions of 13.25 tonnes per capita, a substantial increase over its current level. So China has promised to be a considerable burden in the carbon space in future.

Now for what the US has promised. America’s emissions in 2005 were 6.9 Gt and with a population of 296 million, the per capita emissions were 23.3 tonnes. With a 28 per cent reduction in 2030, emissions will be around 5 Gt, and with its projected population of 355 million, per capita emissions will be 14 tonnes. Since the EU has promised to reduce its emission by 40 per cent by 2030, the per capita emissions of China would be more than that of the US and EU combined.

Dividend or nightmare

December 5, 2014

How many jobs must be created to realise our demographic dividend (or avoid a nightmare)? Half of India’s population is below 25. The worst-case scenario is that enough jobs are not created for the millions entering the labour force each year, and that this semi-educated mass becomes a force driving social conflict.

The reason that East Asian countries (especially China) rode the wave of the demographic dividend and dramatically reduced poverty is that they rapidly created jobs for those with education joining the labour force, as well as those leaving agriculture for better opportunities in industry and services, especially in export-oriented manufacturing.

But now that international demand has collapsed, India will have to rely to a greater extent on domestic demand to create jobs. Can the government’s “Make in India” programme lead to private industry and the service sector creating enough jobs to absorb those entering the labour force?

Fearmongers will tell you that 12 million persons are joining the labour force every year — or that one million entrants must be provided jobs every month ( that’s 30,000 new jobs a day). This myth-creating number derives from a misinterpretation of the National Sample Survey (NSS) estimate that 60 million people entered the labour force in the first half of the last decade, implying that the same number of people have been entering the labour force ever since. This is the modern version of the earlier scare that “population growth will overwhelm India’s economic growth”.

'Cyber capabilities will lead to negotiating powers'

Dec 3 2014 

The emergence of cyberspace as a new warfare zone and the growing use of social media for terrorism was the centre piece of Prof N Balakrishnan's presentation.
Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Balakrishnan argued that in future, cyber capabilities of nations will determine their negotiating powers, with cyber capability "almost attaining the status of nuclear capability".
"Cyber capabilities of nations will become points of negotiations and deterrence like the CTBT. We would soon see an International Law regarding cyberspace," said the former Associate Director of IISc, while urging the government to tackle cyber threat within the overall gamut of national security management and not as an isolated concern.
He gave reasons for his appeal. "Social media has been used to distribute attack tool kits and viruses to target enemy state networks. The information left behind for unknown recipients in cyberspace is like the trail ants leave to guide fellow members towards sources of food. This act of distributed communication is difficult to destabilise using conventional techniques," Balakrishnan said, arguing for social media monitoring while balancing privacy concerns.
A telling reference in his exposition was to social media's increasing ability to create lone wolf terrorists who like wolves in nature don't hunt alone, but seduce "virtual packs" on radical websites.
An equally serious threat the expert cited was the use of Bots, a highly sophisticated cyber crime tool which allows hackers to control many computers at one time and turn them into zombie computers, which can then be used to spread viruses, generate spam and commit online crimes like banking and financial frauds.

"Presently the trend is to keep an army of Zombies and botnets ready to attack the enemy. One botnet with 1 million hosts can bring down any corporate and about a few million would suffice to bring any nation to a grinding halt. Most nations have developed an active defence to counter offending attackers," Balakrishnan said, posing a tough question to the Centre - have you?

New U.S. Airstrikes Target Pakistan Taliban Leaders Hiding in Eastern Afghanistan

US airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan target Pakistani Taliban

Bill Roggio

The Long War Journal, December 3, 2014

The US has targeted senior leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, including the group’s emir, in three airstrikes in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar over the past nine days. Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, survived one of the airstrikes. Two of the airstrikes took place in areas where senior al Qaeda leaders have been targeted and killed over the past year.

The first reported strike targeted Fazlullah and senior leaders of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan as they were meeting in the district of Nazyan in Nangarhar on Nov. 24. Taliban commanders told The News that Fazlullah is alive, but two commanders, known as Assad Mehsud and Zarqawi, were among five leaders killed.

The second strike, which took place in Nangarhar’s Shirzad district on Dec. 1, “killed three Taliban group commanders and two fighters,” the spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar told the Associated Press. The identities of the Taliban leaders were not disclosed. A US intelligence official told The Long War Journalthat a “leadership cell of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan” was targeted in the airstrike.

The third strike, which occurred on Dec. 2 in the village of Renay-Parchao, killed “some key militants belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] Swat chapter,” Dawn reported. The strike likely took place in Nangarhar’s Lal Pur district, as the Kabul River runs through the district and makes up part of the border with Pakistan. Fazlullah originally led the Swat branch of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Pakistani military and government officials have long accused the Afghan government of supporting and giving sanctuary to the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which has declared war against the Pakistani state. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and has sheltered in areas outside of the Afghan government’s control in the mountainous provinces of Kunar and Nuristan as well as in Nangarhar.

Bilateral ties have long been rocky, but a recent defense deal marks a turning point.

By Sudha Ramachandran
December 03, 2014

A military cooperation agreement that Russia and Pakistan signed during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s recent visit to Islamabad marks an important shift in relations between those two countries. After a long history of bilateral turbulence, Russia and Pakistan appear to have initiated a new era of cooperation that is likely to be closely watched in New Delhi and Washington.
The defense cooperation agreement is the first of its kind between the two countries and has been described in Pakistan as a “milestone” in Russia-Pakistan relations. Agreeing with him, a former Indian diplomat pointed out that even a few years ago a defense pact between Moscow and Islamabad would have been “inconceivable.” Speaking with The Diplomat, he added, “It is a turning point in their relationship.”

Relations between the two countries have historically been frosty, especially during the Cold War decades. Pakistan was part of two U.S.-led military alliances and allowed its air force stations to be used by the U.S. for aerial surveillance of the Soviet Union. In return, it received substantial quantities of military hardware and other aid from Washington. Soviet-Pakistan relations plunged to new depths during the 1980s when Pakistan joined hands with the U.S. to provide funds, weapons and training to the mujahideen fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Complicating an already difficult relationship was the robust military and other support that the Soviets were extending to India.

Pakistan’s relations with Moscow improved somewhat with the end of the Cold War but differences over the Taliban kept them on opposite sides. While Islamabad backed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Russia joined hands with Iran and India in the late 1990s to support the Northern Alliance. While the two countries began reaching out to each other a decade ago, it is only over the last four or five years that significant steps towards a rapprochement began to be taken and several high-profile visits were exchanged.

Then, in June, in what was a clear sign of things to come, Russia lifted an embargo on weapons sales to Pakistan. It began negotiating the sale of Mi-35 multi-role helicopters to Islamabad. “The defense cooperation agreement will take such arms sales further,” the former diplomat observed.

The specific contents of the defense cooperation have not been made public. Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Shoigu as saying that it would have “a great practical focus and contribute to increasing combat efficiency” of the armed forces. Besides arms sales, greater naval cooperation, including port visits by Russian warships, increased military delegation visits, participation in military exercises as observers, training of military staff, counternarcotics and counterterrorism cooperation are on the anvil. The two countries could be eyeing joint defense production too. A Pakistan government press release mentions Shoigu’s appreciation of Pakistan’s defense production capabilities. “The world community not only praises but wants to do business with Pakistan now,” it quotes the Russian defense minister as saying.

U.S. and Iran Try to Pretend They Are Not Cooperating in War Against ISIS in Iraq and Syria

U.S. and Iran Both Attack ISIS, but Try Not to Look Like Allies

Tim Arango and Thomas Erdbrink

New York Times, December 4, 2014

BAGHDAD — Iranian fighter jets struck extremist targets in Iraq recently, Iranian and American officials have confirmed, in the latest display of Tehran’s new willingness to conduct military operations openly on foreign battlefields rather than covertly and through proxies.

The shift stems in part from Iran’s deepening military role in Iraq in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But it also reflects a profound change in Iran’s strategy, stepping from the shadows into a more overt use of hard power as it promotes Shiite influence around the region.

Iranian and Pentagon officials acknowledged that Iran had stepped up its military operations in Iraq last week, using 1970s-era fighter jets to bomb targets in a buffer zone that extends 25 miles into Iraq.

The new military approach highlights an unusual confluence of interests in both Iraq and Syria, where Tehran and Washington find themselves fighting the same enemy in an increasingly public fashion. While there is no direct coordination between Iran and the United States, there is a de facto nonaggression pact that neither side is eager to acknowledge.

“We are flying missions over Iraq, we coordinate with the Iraqi government as we conduct those,” Rear Adm. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. “It’s up to the Iraqi government to de-conflict that airspace.”

For months, Iran has flashed its military prowess around the region. It has offered weapons to the Lebanese Army and supported the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen who have taken over the capital, Sana, where a car bomb struck the Iranian ambassador’s residence on Wednesday.

The Ghost That Haunts the Chinese Navy: When China and Japan Went to War

December 3, 2014

The First Sino-Japanese War a century ago offers Beijing interesting lessons for the future—lessons China's military through its writings is clearly exploring. 

Even as Western strategists spill gobs of ink recalling the Great War that convulsed Europe a century ago, Chinese military thinkers are actually fixated on another anniversary. 120 years ago, Japan shocked the world with a lightning campaign that not only reduced the faltering Qing dynasty to its knees in a matter of months, but more to the point: put the pride of China’s then ascendant fleet on the bottom of the Yellow Sea.
The war was primarily fought over the Korean Peninsula and featured two sizable naval engagements: the first near the Yalu and the second near the tip of the Shandong Peninsula at Weihai, where an enormous Chinese museum has quite recently been completed to commemorate the war. The conflict ended with Japan’s conquest of the Liaodong Peninsula, but this was not permitted by the jealous European Powers, which intervened collectively in the so-called “Triple Intervention.” Tokyo had to be satisfied with China’s recognition of an independent Korea, the not insignificant prize of Taiwan, a huge indemnity paid in silver, the right to navigate the Yangtze, as well as the opening of more treaty ports to Japanese merchants. This edition of Dragon Eye will not dwell onrecent China-Japan tensions, which are presently experiencing a thaw albeit a tepid one. Instead, this brief analysis endeavors to sample a few of the innumerable Chinese military writings published during 2014 on the subject of that pivotal conflict.

Reflections on the war during this anniversary year have appeared in just about every military and quasi-military publication in China, for example a piece by the popular and rather hawkish professor-general Luo Yuan that appeared in a special September 2014 issue of 军事文摘 [Military Digest] devoted to the war. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I will concentrate exclusively on several articles that appeared in the more authoritative 中国军事科学 [China Military Science] in mid-2014. The lead article in this valuable clutch of writings is by General He Lei, director of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Military Sciences. General He’s piece does not particularly focus on Japan’s aggressive intent, though he does observe that the war was “not accidental.” Nor does he dwell on strictly political factors, but he also credits Marx with the idea that “war is the continuation of politics” and suggests that the war illustrated the corruption and decline of the Qing regime. With evident disgust, he critiques the traditional Chinese cultural and social paradigm prevailing in that period: “好铁不打钉, 好男不当兵” [Just as good iron is not used for nails, so good men should not be soldiers]. In a seeming dig at contemporary Chinese society and its rampant materialism, he implores his fellow officers: “不当和平兵” [not to become peace-time soldiers]. To further inspire his forces, he writes that China’s total military failure in the Sino-Japanese War resulted from half-hearted preparation before the conflict and also the paucity of a military doctrine that emphasized vigorous combat tactics and seizing the initiative. 

Russian vs. Ukrainian Militaries: How Do They Stack Up Against One Another Today?

  1. How Ukraine’s arsenal matches up against the Russian-backed separatists’

    Robert Beckhusen

    Reuters Blog, December 2, 2014

    On Nov. 18, several rockets fired from a separatist Grad launcher slammed into an apartment building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Toshkovka. It was another shelling in what’s become an almost daily event — as both sides in Ukraine’s civil war turn to heavier weaponry to shift the battle in their favor.

    But no soldiers were harmed in this shelling. Instead, three civilians died and four others — including two children — were wounded. It was more than four miles behind the front line, which formed after pro-Russian militants threw Ukrainian troops back during a heavy August counteroffensive.

    The separatists now control a 200-mile stretch of territory from the Black Sea to the Russian border. This includes the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, two of the three largest cities in eastern Ukraine. Still, it’s a precarious situation for the militants seeking to create a state-within-a-state.

    Ukrainian troops hold an important crossroads at the center of militant territory. They also control the Donetsk airport, an essential facility if the separatist enclave is to survive outside of Kiev’s control. Several cease-fire agreements have yet to stop the fighting.

    The war looks a lot different than it did a few months ago, however. It’s settling along a single front line, with fewer of the advances and retreats that marked this summer’s fighting.

    For the Ukrainians, more and better weapons haven’t been decisive. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Kiev inherited a military that was far too large and complex for a poor country without any clear threats. By the time Ukraine’s leaders began reforming the military structure, the 2008 economic collapse had arrived. The global crisis nearly bankrupt the army, according to a new collection of essays titled Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine.

    Now the question is whether the outnumbered but heavily armed separatists have enough weapons to push the Ukrainian army farther back — without support from a full-blown Russian invasion. If the answer is no, the result could be stalemate.

Ukraine Prime Minister: There Has Been An Accident At A Nuclear Plant In The Southeast



The Zaporizhye nuclear power plant is the largest in Europe.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said on Wednesday that there has been an accident at a nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.
"I know that an accident has occurred at the Zaporizhye NPP," Yatseniuk said, asking new energy minister Volodymyr Demchyshyn to make clear when the problem would be resolved and what steps would be taken to restore normal power supply across Ukraine.

News agency Interfax Ukraine said the problem had occurred at bloc No 3 - a 1,000-megawatt reactor - and the resulting lack of output had worsened the power crisis in the country. Interfax added that the bloc was expected to come back on stream on Dec. 5.

There are reports that the damage is minor, with no damage to the reactor. Ukraine gets about half its power from nuclear plants.

"Assuming it is indeed as minor as now appears, suggest Yatsenyuk goes on a 'how to talk about nuclear incidents without sowing panic' course," Guardian journalist Shaun Walker, who has covered the conflict in Ukraine, tweeted.

The six units of the Zaporizhia NPP.

Ukraine voted on a new government on Tuesday night.

Under President Petro Poroshenko and Yatseniuk, Kiev has cut aid to the eastern regions held by pro-Russian rebels since soon after protesters toppled Kiev's pro-Moscow president in February.
Fighting has continued despite a ceasefire agreed on Sept. 5. In the rebel stronghold of Donetsk a senior separatist figure said rival sides agreed a new local truce from 10.00 a.m. ET around the city airport.

"But this is 65th time we agree about this. I don't rule out that there is going to be 66th time," Andrei Purgin said. Sounds of fighting abated but did not stop. Kiev said rebels renewed attacks on the airport in the evening.
Russia acknowledges supporting the separatists but denies Western charges of being a party to the armed conflict.

This post will be updated with details as they arrive.

How China Will Track—and Kill—America’s Newest Stealth Jets


A gang of advanced missiles and a bleeding-edge radar unveiled at a Chinese air show could mean big trouble for the Pentagon’s best fighters. 

Once, no magic act was complete without the magician’s revealingly dressed assistant. Her job was not merely to be sawn in half but to dominate the mostly male audience’s attention at moments when a focus on the whereabouts of the rabbit might blow the gaff. 

That was a useful lesson to bear in mind at last month’s Zhuhai air show—China’s only domestic air and defense trade show, held once every other year. 

If anything at Zhuhai was wearing fishnets and high heels, it was the Shenyang FC-31 stealth fighter, which resembles a twin-engine version of America’s newest stealth jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But the real tricks lay in Beijing’s growing family of advanced missiles and radars. 

The FC-31 prototype was hidden except when it was flying, and not much detail was available. But the display was notable for the eruptions of smoke from the engines, most likely Russian RD-93s. 

That is important, because until China builds its own fighter engines it cannot build stealth fighters without approval from Vladimir Putin’s desk. That includes the Chengdu J-10B, China’s most modern, in-production fighter, or its bootleg versions of Russia’s Sukhoi Flanker fighter family. 

China says it’s working on indigenous fighter and trainer engines, but the samples on show were exactly the same as those seen two years ago. 

What was new and important on the Chinese military’s outdoor display line at Zhuhai was a mix of mature and new technology. And by “mature” I mean the 1950s-design Xian H-6M bomber, with something suspiciously like a World War II Norden bombsight visible through the windows of the bombardier station. But the bomber was surrounded by guided weapons, some seen for the first time in public. The same went for the somewhat more modern JH-7 light bomber. 

Zhuhai was full of new missile hardware, from the 3 1/2-ton CX-1 ramjet-powered anti-ship and land-attack missile down to the QW-19 manportable air-defense system. (China’s military believes in these small air-defense missiles, both in their classic standalone form and integrated into small mobile systems.) 

Not many of those missiles were individually surprising. The CX-1 is different in small details from the Russian-Indian BrahMos but very similar in specifications. Two-stage short-range surface-to-air missiles borrow the concept invented for Russia’s KBM Tunguska and Pantsyr systems, and so on. 

What is impressive, however, is how many of the new Chinese missiles there are, and how they fit together. 

Would-Be Jihadists' Letters Home Reveal Unhappy, Mundane Life in ISIS


A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014. STRINGER/REUTERS

New letters, leaked to the French newspaper Le Figaro, have revealed that some ISIS volunteers are regretting their decision to travel to Iraq and Syria to become jihadi fighters after finding themselves stuck with the more mundane tasks involved in running the apparatus of the Islamic State.

One messages reveals that the author is unhappy with the duties he’s been given, saying: “I’m sick of it. They make me do the washing-up,” whilst another complains of the technological difficulties he has has had to face: “I’m fed up to the back teeth. My iPod no longer works out here. I have got to come home.”

Interestingly, the third letter seems to appeal for clemency from the French government, writing: “I’ve done hardly anything but hand out clothes and food. I’ve also cleaned weapons and moved the bodies of killed fighters . Winter is beginning. It’s starting to get tough.”

Iran is still the West's enemy, even if it is fighting Isil

03 Dec 2014

Video footage showing Iranian warplanes bombing Islamic State(Isil) targets in Iraq just goes to show the truth of that old Middle Eastern adage, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were helping the Taliban the make deadly roadside bombs to be used against British Army patrols in Afghanistan. And before that they were arming Shi’ite militias fighting the beleaguered British force based in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

Yet now it seems that the threat posed by the Isil has resulted in the unusual circumstance whereby Iran and the West are fighting on the same side. Well, not exactly on the same side, as I very much doubt there are any Revolutionary Guard commanders sitting in the US command headquarters at Qatar’s al-Udeid air base which is directing the air campaign against Isil.

But the al-Jazeera footage which appears to show an Iranian air force F-4 Phantom bombing the Iraqi town of Saadiya and Jalula, situated north-east of Baghdad not far from the Iranian border, suggests that Tehran has now become a tacit ally of the West in the battle to destroy Isil.

The Iranians know all about bombing Iraq, of course, having fought a brutal eight-year war with its neighbour in the 1980s when Saddam Hussein was still in power. Indeed, Iran still retains possession of the scores of Iraqi warplanes that defected to Iran in the build up to the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraqi pilots refused to follow Saddam’s orders to undertake suicidal missions against coalition fighters.

These days, though, Iran’s main concern is to prop up Iraq’s Shia-dominated government, and it is to this end that Tehran has dispatched teams of Revolutionary Guard commanders to Baghdad to assist the Iraqi government’s effort to prevent Isil seizing further tracts of territory, and to halt its advance on the Iraqi capital. There are even reports that Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds force, has now arrived in Baghdad to supervise operations.

Arab Spring Illusions Are Dead. Good.


The Obama administration reacted to the news that an Egyptian court has dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak with hardly a murmur of protest or even comment. Considering that from the beginning of the Arab Spring protests four years ago up through the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the administration was a font of opinions, advice, and admonitions for Cairo the change was remarkable. This earned the State Department a rebuke from the editorial page of theNew York Times, which condemned the decision and urged a return to efforts to promote democracy in Egypt. But for once it is the administration, which has made so many mistakes, especially in the Middle East, that is right. The Times may be the last to know this, but the Arab Spring is over and it is necessary for everyone from left to right to admit that it is time recalibrate our expectations about Egypt and to focus on the more important fight against radical Islam rather than a futile quest for liberalization.

The protests throughout the Arab world raised hopes in the West that at last, that region was about to undergo a necessary transformation from dominance by authoritarians to one in which democracy, or at least the founding of democratic institutions, might offer the hope of a new era of freedom. The Mubarak regime was a corrupt military dictatorship that was ripe for overthrow and both liberals and neo-conservatives hoped this would lead to better things for Egypt.

But we were all wrong. Rather than leading to a chance for genuine democracy, what followed was an election that brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood. Its goals had nothing to do with liberalization, let alone accountability on the part of the government. After a year of misery that would have led, if unchecked, to a far worse dictatorship than that of Mubarak, the people of Egypt took to the streets for mass protests that dwarfed those that ended the old regime.

Backgrounder on Al-Shabaab Terror Group in Somalia

Holly Yan
December 3, 2014

What is Al-Shabaab, and what does it want?

(CNN) — The attack is harrowing: Al-Shabaab militants raid a quarry in Kenya, separating non-Muslim workers from their Muslim counterparts and executing them.

The brutal act comes just days after the Islamists ambushed a bus and sprayed bullets on those who failed to recite Quran verses.

The attacks reminded the world once again how brazen the group can be.

What does Al-Shabaab want? Here’s an explainer.

What is Al-Shabaab, and what does it want?

Militants kill 36 non-Muslims in quarry

A look inside Al-Shabaab

Islamist militant attacks in Africa

Daily CENTCOM Brief on Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

December 3, 2014
Airstrikes Hit ISIL in Syria, Iraq

From a U.S. Central Command News Release

TAMPA, Fla., Dec. 3, 2014 - U.S. military forces continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria Dec. 1 through today using fighter and bomber aircraft to conduct 14 airstrikes, U.S. Central Command officials reportedtoday.

Separately, officials said, U.S. and partner-nation military forces conducted 11 airstrikes in Iraq Dec. 1 through today using fighter, attack, and remotely-piloted aircraft against ISIL terrorists.

Airstrikes in Syria

In Syria, 14 airstrikes near Kobani destroyed an ISIL vehicle, 17 ISIL fighting positions, and an ISIL staging area. Also, those airstrikes suppressed eight other fighting positions and struck a large ISIL unit.

Airstrikes in Iraq

In Iraq, four airstrikes near Mosul destroyed five ISIL bunkers, two ISIL-occupied buildings, an ISIL vehicle, an ISIL fighting position and two heavy weapons. In addition, those airstrikes also struck a large ISIL unit and a tactical ISIL unit. Near Ramadi, two airstrikes destroyed four ISIL vehicles. Near Tal Afar, an airstrike destroyed an excavator and struck a tactical ISIL unit.

The US IS Now In An 'Awkward' Position Over Syria And Iraq

An EA-18G Growler launches from the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) in this U.S. Navy picture taken in the Arabian Gulf October 28, 2014.

Whether they're directly cooperating or just "deconflicting," the US air force is operating alongside the Syrian and the Iranian air forces over Iraq and Syria.

On Monday, an unnamed US defense official told the Huffington Post that the US was aware that the Iranian Air Force was carrying out air strikes against ISIS targets in eastern Iraq.

"We are aware of that. I wouldn't say we're necessarily concerned with it - we kind of have our eyes on it," the official told the Huffington Post. The official noted that the Iranian strikes occurred close to the Iran-Iraq border, away from where the US coalition has normally carried out airstrikes.

In Syria the US and the government of President Bashar al-Assad have reached an uncomfortable tacit alliance. Within the past week both Damascus and Washington have carried out independent air strikes against the Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital.

"What do you expect any sane person to think here? One day American airplanes and the next Bashar's, how do they not crash or shoot each other? It is simple, they call each other and say today is my turn to kill the people of Raqqa, please don't bother me, it will be yours tomorrow," a Syrian resident of Raqqa told Syrian citizen journalist Edward Dark.

Nour Fourat/REUTERS

Russia Is Using Extortion in the Arctic

Dec. 02 2014 

Russia's new Northern Command became operational on Monday, as the country's claims to an expansive share of the Arctic — and its potential economic benefits — become increasingly militarized. First Deputy Defense Minister Arkady Bakhin spoke for the government as a whole last year when he said that "we have come [to the Arctic], and we'll stay there forever. This is the beginning of a big journey."

But despite Russia's expansion and modernization of its forces in the region, it is impossible to meaningfully occupy a shrinking ice cap. Instead, this is one more expression of Russia's new strategy: asserting leverage in the modern world by being the global extortionist.

Even before Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency and the more assertive nationalism that he has brought to the Kremlin, the High North was becoming something of a strategic priority. This reflects not just its potential reserves of oil and gas, but also the commercial polar shipping lanes that are being opened up by the retreat of the ice cap.

Already, the Arctic directly or indirectly accounts for 20 percent of Russia's GDP and as the economy comes under pressure from external forces, the incentive to develop new opportunities will only grow.

Now, according to some reports, the Kremlin is considering setting up a new ministry for Arctic development, following Putin's call earlier this year for "a unified center of accountability for the implementation of Arctic policy."

Moscow has long claimed large portions of the Arctic, claiming that the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges demonstrate that Russia's continental shelf extends far beyond its current 320-kilometer territorial waters. The proposed change would bring an extra 1.2 million square kilometers into Russia's grip with, according to Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi, at least 5 billion tons of new oil and gas reserves.

This all remains in question, but in 2007 the Arktika expedition both demonstratively planted a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole and claimed to have found proof of these claims.

However, the Kremlin is not just relying on scientific reports and legal claims. Instead, there is an increasingly strong military dimension to Russia's presence.

An American Talks Strategy in Moscow

I am going to visit Moscow next week. I was invited by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations to speak on strategic analysis, their term for what Stratfor calls strategic forecasting. Going to Moscow would give me pause under any circumstances. I am a product of the Cold War, and for me, at some level, Moscow is the city of the enemy. For my father, that city was Berlin. For my daughter, it was Fallujah. In every war there is an enemy and a city that embodies that enemy. I have spent too much of my life fixated on Moscow to lose the ingrained sense that it is a city of darkness and conspiracy.

My children don't have that sense of Moscow, and it is fading in me as well, like memories of old loves. It's there, but it's not there. Certainly, we are not on the verge of nuclear war, nor are we expecting Soviet divisions to pour into West Germany. But it is interesting to me that those I mentioned this trip to - people who are aware that I am constantly traveling and discussing such matters - have expressed concern for my safety. Some have asked whether I was afraid of being arrested or afraid for my life. Stratfor's security director even took a half hour of my time to remind me of the potential dangers. We both are of an age to have enjoyed the conversation mightily.

The events in Ukraine are not a surprise to us, and our readers know that we have covered them carefully. But the distance between then and now is as important as the conflict itself. There must be a sense of proportion. If I were to identify the major difference, it would be this: In the Soviet Union prior to 1980, there was an overarching ideology. Over time, people became cynical about it, but for a long time, it was either believed or feared. Today's Russia is many things, but it is not ideological. It is nationalist (what we call patriotic in other countries), it is an oligarchy, it is corrupt, it is authoritarian - but it is not a place of deeply held beliefs, or at least not a place of a single belief. The Soviet Union once thought of itself as the vanguard of humanity, giving it a strength and will that was daunting. Russia no longer has any such pretensions. It is simply another country. It makes no claims for more.

There are causes for conflict other than ideology. The United States has an interest in preventing the emergence of a new European hegemon. The Russians must maintain the buffers that sapped the strength of Napoleon and Hitler. Neither interest is frivolous, and it is difficult to imagine how both can be satisfied. Therefore, there is a divergence of interests between the United States and Russia, complicated by the European Peninsula's myriad nations. That this had to play out was inevitable. As the Europeans weakened, Russia strengthened relative to them. When Ukraine reversed its orientation from Russia to the West, Russia had to react. As Russia reacted, the United States had to react. Each side can portray the other as a monster, but neither is monstrous. Each simply behaves as it is forced to under circumstances.

Why Did Putin Turn?

PRINCETON – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy toward his country’s “near abroad” and the West has been badly misunderstood. Instead of focusing on broader geopolitical patterns – in particular, the effect of the 2007-2008 financial crisis on global politics – commentators have been turning Kremlin policy into a psychodrama that can be understood only through a deep exploration of the Russian soul. The result has been rampant misconceptions about what drove Putin’s shift from what seemed to be a modernizing, conciliatory, and even pro-Western stance to aggressive revisionism.

Two such flawed explanations for Russia’s current foreign policy have been offered. The first, proposed by Germany’s self-described Putin-Versteher (“Putin sympathizers”), is that Russian policy is a logical response to the West’s strategy of encirclement. The eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union, they contend, was an unnecessary provocation. In fact, none other than George Kennan, the originator of America’s Cold War containment strategy, opposed NATO enlargement in the 1990s on precisely these grounds.

There are obvious limits to this theory. For starters, it is based on the claim that, at the time of the Berlin Wall’s collapse and the Soviet Union’s disintegration, the West promised that there would be no NATO expansion. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, on the 25th anniversary of the Wall’s demise, accused the West of not keeping the promises it made in 1989, instead taking “advantage of Russia’s weakening” in the 1990s to claim “monopoly leadership and domination of the world,” including through NATO enlargement.

But, in reality, the West never promised not to expand NATO. In fact, in the spring of 1990, the United States presented a powerful case that a reunifying Germany could not be part of two different security systems.

A more fundamental point is that Russia in the 1990s evinced little concern about the expansion of European economic and security structures into the Soviet Union’s former satellites in Central and Eastern Europe, or even into newly independent former Soviet republics. If it had, it probably would not have taken the Kremlin nearly two decades to strike back.