7 December 2014

India and Bangladesh Near Resolution on Border Dispute

December 05, 2014

With a favorable political climate in India, the long-standing India-Bangladesh border dispute nears resolution. 

After years of negotiation, recent reports suggest that India is close to resolving its border dispute with Bangladesh, now that the current Indian government supports a resolution. Territorial changes in India need to be approved via constitutional amendment which explains why it would be most difficult for India to make territorial swaps with China or Pakistan without the entire Indian establishment being on board. Previous attempts at exchanging territory with Bangladesh all ran into trouble because of whichever party was in opposition in the Indian Parliament at the time.

The present agreement is known as the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) and was negotiated by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Bangladesh in 2011. The currently ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposed the agreement at the time and thus the agreement did not go through. This is the same agreement that the BJP is now supporting. The reason given for this U-turn was given by Prime Minister Modi on Sunday in a speech given in Assam, which borders Bangladesh to the north. Modi declared that his government would in fact ratify the agreement in order to improve India’s security and curb illegal immigration from Bangladesh. With all major Indian parties now in favor of a border agreement with Bangladesh, an amendment to the Indian constitution is expected to pass quickly and without much political difficulty.

Bangladesh’s border with India is an interesting and unique case of a dispute – one that cannot be compared with India’s border disputes with other countries. The nature of the Indo-Bangladeshi border makes a resolution involving a territorial swap all but necessary. Strewn along Bangladesh’s northern border with India are hundreds of enclaves. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh – Indian territory completely surrounded by Bangladesh, and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Some of these enclaves are second order enclaves. The result is an archipelago of enclaves along the Indo-Bangladeshi border.

Why India Really Likes Ashton Carter

December 4, 2014

After a week of swirling rumors, Ashton Carter, the deputy defense secretary from 2011-2013, has been all-but-announced as President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of defence.

Although Carter now needs to get confirmed, and will face particularly strong grilling on his views on US strategy in Iraq and Syria, it looks as though his confirmation will be a great deal smoother than Hagel's tortuous process: Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said “he would be a great choice,” and Levin's successor come January, John McCain, has expressed approval.

India will be watching Carter's path through Congress with particular interest. On Wednesday, the Indian news agency IANS headlined its report “India friend Ashton Carter is Obama pick.” The New York Times' South Asia bureau chiefcalled Carter “one of India's favorite US officials,” the defense journalist Ajai Shukla cheered the “superb news,” andothers were similarly effusive.

Why all the optimism?

Modi Looks East

Narendra Modi is looking eastward, and it’s a big and important story that most newspapers outside of India are missing.

This week Modi kicked off a three-day trip to India’s northeastern region, where he announced a host of development programs to boost the local economy. Also during his visit, he dedicated a power station that will export electricity to neighboring Bangladesh. Modi is pushing for greater economic ties between the two countries, and this week voiced support for a resolution to their border dispute that would include land swaps—a marked turn away from the BJP’s opposition to the plan, which was proposed by Modi’s predecessor.

As part of his “Look East” program, Modi has also made a point of reaching out to Burma. Most recently, he had a warm meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi at a recent ASEAN get-together. India is investing in a number of large-scale infrastructure projects that will bolster trade with Burma, including a project that will link Calcutta to a Burmese port.

Modi has his work cut out for him with this eastern initiative given the region’s history. Northeast India (the bits on both sides of Bangladesh, including Assam and other small states in the cut-off bit of India that borders China and Burma) and West Bengal were the hardest hit by partition and the politics of the 1950s. Before partition, Bangladesh, Burma and northeast India were all part of a single big trading area. Partition shut down relations between Bangladesh (part of Pakistan until the 1971 war) and the Indian state of West Bengal.

Furthermore, a procession of previous Congress governments had shifted investment away from Calcutta, a city founded by the British, and long a major British commercial and administrative center, to Delhi and the west. Things got worse as Burmese nationalist expelled Indian traders and settlers who had moved there in many cases long before the British Raj. Calcutta became something of a backwater, deprived of its natural trading hinterlands, and the far northeast was cut off between a hostile Pakistan, a hostile China with land claims, and a hostile, closed Burma.

Meanwhile, the region is full of “tribal” peoples who aren’t Hindu in many cases (many converts to Christianity live in this part of India), who resent Muslim immigration from impoverished Bangladesh, and who are related to the various tribal peoples in Burma and China.

But the tectonic plates are clearly shifting. Bangladesh’s secession from Pakistan, with Indian support, lowered the tensions, but hasn’t done away with them entirely. Close India-Bangladesh relations are really necessary both to revitalize the region and to allow India to develop a more effective territorial defense against Chinese claims. This appears to be primarily what Modi is working on.

U.S. Defense-Intelligence Relationship With Pakistan Slowly Improving But Problem Areas Remain

December 5, 2014

US relationship with Pakistan wary but improving

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has carried out a series of airstrikes in recent days against some of Pakistan’s most wanted militants hiding in a remote border area, the latest sign of improving relations between the two reluctant allies after years of recrimination following the 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

On Nov. 24, an American airstrike in eastern Afghanistan narrowly missed Pakistani Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah, a top target for Pakistan’s military and the leader believed to have ordered the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, a children’s rights activist who survived and won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, a U.S. official said. The official was not authorized to be quoted by name discussing the clandestine operation.

Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for the international coalition in Afghanistan, said the strike also killed three armed militants in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province.

The operation was one of a recent series along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border aimed at the group known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, according to U.S. officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name discussing the strikes. While the State Department considers that group a terrorist organization, it poses a far greater threat to Pakistan than to the United States, having killed thousands of Pakistanis.

The U.S. airstrikes are the latest indication that the U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism alliance has recovered from the serious breach it suffered after al-Qaida leader bin Laden was found hiding in Pakistan in 2011 and the U.S. launched a secret operation to kill him without telling Pakistan in advance.

While neither government fully trusts the other, the relationship has fallen back into its old equilibrium of wary cooperation, according to several American military, diplomatic and intelligence officials who declined to be quoted discussing the sensitive topic. The counterterrorism alliance is considered crucial to the future of Afghanistan and the effort to destroy al-Qaida.

As it has for years, the U.S. continues to accuse elements of the Pakistani government of secretly supporting terrorists who serve its interests in Afghanistan. But the U.S. also provides Pakistan more than $2 billion a year in military and economic aid, and the countries work closely on some counterterrorism matters.

"U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation is on the upswing after a long period of tense dysfunction," said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

"We are on a much better trajectory," said a senior Pakistani military official who was not authorized to speak by name, but was expressing what he said was a widely held view in his government.

Kenya Arrests 77 Chinese for Operating Massive Hacking Ring From Houses in Nairobi

December 5, 2014

Kenya arrests 77 Chinese in Internet hacking case

NAIROBI, Kenya — Police in Kenya are consulting technical experts to determine if 77 Chinese nationals arrested with advanced communications equipment in several houses in an upscale Nairobi neighborhood were committing espionage, an official said Thursday.

The Chinese were arrested since the weekend with equipment that Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said was capable of hacking into government servers.

“We have roped in experts to tell us if they were committing crimes of espionage,” said Ndegwa Muhoro, the head of criminal investigations for Kenya’s police. “These people seem to have been brought here specifically for a mission which we are investigating.”

The arrests began on Sunday, when computer equipment in one of the upscale houses the Chinese nationals had rented near the U.S. Embassy and U.N. headquarters caught fire, killing one person.

Police said it appeared the group was manufacturing ATM cards, and that the suspects may have been involved in money laundering and Internet fraud. The case has caught the attention of the highest levels of Kenya’s government as authorities investigate whether the group was also engaging in espionage.

The minister of foreign affairs and the minister of information communications and technology both were on hand Wednesday as police arrested 40 people. The Chinese ambassador was summoned to the foreign affairs ministry over the arrests.

The 37 suspects arrested Sunday were charged with operating an illegal radio station. Many of those arrested cannot speak English and some don’t have identification such as a passport, police detective Nicholas Kisavi said.

A woman at China’s embassy in Kenya told The Associated Press on Thursday to call back on Friday to speak with an embassy spokesman.

Fred Matiang’l, an official in Kenya’s ministry of information, communications and technology, told the Daily Nation that China has promised to send investigators to Kenya to work on the case.

The Environmental Implications of China’s New Bank

By Yuge Ma
December 05, 2014

Political wisdom will be needed to manage the environmental consequences of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. 

On October 24 this year, 21 Asian countries signed an agreement in Beijing that signaled the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), whose main backer is China. The agreement authorized $100 billion in capital for the new bank, with an initial subscribed capital of around $50 billion. But will the new bank be able to implement best practice when it comes to governance and environmental concerns?

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – Japan-led and the largest existing multilateral development bank in Asia – between now and 2020 the Asia and Pacific regions will require infrastructure investment of at least $8 trillion. As China’s Xinhua news agency commented, the existing international financial system is insufficient to meet this huge demand. This gives China ample scope to play a crucial role.

While the Western world might fear losing influence in the growing Asian market or a potential challenge to the U.S.-led international order, the AIIB raises another concern: the potential threat Chinese money might represent to established international standards of foreign aid.

In her book By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest Is Changing the World (Oxford University Press, 2014), Elizabeth Economy, senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and her colleague Michael Levi argue that the best way to understand the local implications of Chinese overseas investments is to observe how it operates at home, where neither the Chinese government nor companies pay much attention to environmental protection. Despite the fact that China had established a nationwide system of environmental impact assessment (EIA), in practice it is hamstrung by widespread data fraud, corruption, and political intervention from local officials. Only now is the Chinese government beginning to govern this chaotic field.

However, the authors have also observed some improvements in Chinese companies’ social and environmental awareness in recent years. The first is top down: in order to reduce unsustainable development, China’s leadership has been encouraging companies, especially state-owned enterprises, to engage in more corporate social responsibility-related international initiatives by launching a set of policy incentives that apply to both domestic and overseas investments.

US Rebalance to Asia – An Assessment

US President Barack Obama landed in Beijing on Monday for the APEC summit, the first of a series of summit and bilateral meetings with regional and world leaders. This visit comes at a time when a majority of Americans are despondent that the country's competitors around the world are swelling while the country's defence resources and the capacity to respond to global challenges shrink. US defence budgetary cuts to the tune of a trillion dollars for this fiscal further add to this mood. This gloom is not confined to the US alone but extends to the Asia Pacific as well where serious doubts exist about Obama’s commitment to his Doctrine of 2012 directing a strategic “pivot” or Re Balance to Asia as an important element of his grand strategy for the region.

While host China seeks to allay the fears of regional countries by organizing the APEC agenda around a “series of initiatives to nurture regional economic growth and connectivity, long-term progress in these areas will not be possible if China continues to assert unilateral claims to international waters and airspace in the South and East China seas -- and to back these claims up with the threat of force” by seeking to create “a sphere of influence that erodes the security and sovereignty of Japan and other neighbours”. There is apprehension that in East Asia, China seeks “to overturn the existing, pluralistic regional order and replace it with a Sino sphere imposed at least partly through force of arms”,1 as the US has been more occupied with developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. While those are serious issues that required immediate attention, the US must not lose sight of its long term and more serious challenge posed by a rising China in East Asia.

Strategic power plays in the Asia-Pacific region and the role of the two main players, the US and China, has emerged as one of the major drivers of international relations in the twenty first century. China’s rapid economic rise over the past two decades has “made it possible for China to increase its military capacity and ramp up its political role in the region and beyond.” While China has been at pains to insist that its rise will be peaceful, and “poses no threat to its neighbours or the existing international, political and economic order”, its rising assertiveness, more visible since 2010, is a matter of concern and compelled the US to re orient its policy towards the Asia-Pacific. In November 2011, Obama attended the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the first for a US President, signifying a major shift in US policy to protect its strategic interests in Asia. Also in November 2011, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton published an article in Foreign Policy Journal titled, ‘America’s Pacific Century,’ clearly laying out the importance America attaches to Asia-Pacific. She wrote:

Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players.

Urgent Need for Steps to Make Nathu La Route to Kailash Mansarovar Safe for Pilgrims

India and China had signed a bilateral agreement on September 18 this year providing for for conducting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim Himalayas in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

Addressing the media after the signing of the MoU in this regard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the new route offers many benefits. “It makes Kailash Mansarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial for older pilgrims. It offers a safer alternative in the rainy season, makes the pilgrimage shorter in duration and will enable a much higher number of pilgrims to go there,” he said.

However, the bad news is that whereas China may be able to do its bit to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of the route before it opens, unprepared India may still be fighting with the systemic inertia to remove vulnerabilities for ensuring a hiccup free, smooth passage to the pilgrims, tourists and traders on its side of the border.

Of course, this bad news is somewhat obscured by another good news that by now we not only know the weak links in our chain of operation and what ails our disaster management systems, but additionally, we have also been repeatedly taught the do’s and don’ts of life by none other than the disasters themselves. Every now and then, we have passed through the tides of pain and suffering which are now so intense as to drive us to action. Nathu La, through which pilgrims will be able to reach Mansarovar next year, literally means a Pass with ears that listen. We too need listening ears without which the cries of those affected will continue to haunt us! It is therefore time to act.

Ordinarily hard core pilgrims are neither deterred by dangers that they might face when it comes to pilgrimage, nor do they fear the horror stories of disaster-inflicted death, destruction and sufferings, told to them by the previous generation. This is because they value faith, devotion, penance and salvation more than they fear death. It is the duty of the government, however, to protect the pilgrims from dangers of all shades and colors. According to a report in the News from China, September 2014 Issue, a total of nearly 70,000 Indian citizens have travelled to Tibet for pilgrimage in the past decade. The number of pilgrims has shot up from a mere 400 in 2003 to 14,084 in 2013, a whopping 35 fold increase!

Nathu La is already attracting tourists because of its fascinating altitude of 4310m, Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir and the fun of a handshake with the Chinese at the border fence. Once the route is opened for pilgrimage, the elderly and the sick will also not like to be left behind regardless of high altitude problems and dangers of which they may or may not be aware at this time. They will need acclimatisation, medicare and all kinds of support even in the normal times. In the event of border skirmishes and natural calamities, they will need much more than the so called preparedness. Even then a great majority of pilgrims may not get deterred by anticipated dangers, no matter how serious, because afterall, Nathu La had already been on the old Silk Road for trade between India and China, and it, even now continues to be one of the three open trading borders.1 Moreover, if Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi could reach Bhutan via Nathu La more than half a century ago, then why not the pilgrims now? The Nathu La route may have remained closed for over four decades after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 but India’s armed forces have always been there and trade through Nathu La has already resumed as far back as 6 July 2006. Further, widening of the Gangtok- Nathu La highway is presently in progress and, en route, the tourists are already benefitting from modern amenities such as the high altitude internet cafe and ATM machines. Where is the danger to the pilgrims and why so much fuss, then?

Forget the South China Sea: Taiwan Could Be Asia's Next Big Security Nightmare

December 5, 2014

"Expect to see Beijing sabre-rattling and cross-strait tensions rising in the run-up to Taipei’s 2016 presidential elections, and don’t be surprised if that is followed by a new cross-strait crisis."

Forget the South China Sea. The results of Taiwan’s local elections last week, still reverberating in Beijing, are more likely than not to propel Taiwan’s ascension to the status of No.1 security problem in Asia over the coming two to three years.

That is one consequence of the shellacking Taiwan’s ruling KMT party took in last week’s local elections. The ruling KMT lost thirteen of twenty-two cities and counties, including the Mayoralties in Taipei (by an opposition-backed doctor) and Taichung. All told, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party took 47.5 percent of the vote to 40.7 percent garnered by the ruling KMT.

This sets the stage for the 2016 presidential elections. President Ma Ying-jeou, whose popularity was in single digits before the elections, is finishing his second term and cannot run again. So humbled was Ma that he resigned as chair of the KMT. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), whose constitution calls for Taiwanese independence, has fuzzy positions on many key issues, but is nonetheless now well positioned for 2016.

It’s the Economy, Stupid

How ISIS Governs The Territory Its Controls in Iraq and Syria

Simon Speakman Cordall
December 5, 2014

How ISIS Governs Its Caliphate
Militant Islamist fighters waving flags, travel in vehicles as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province, June 30, 2014. Stringer/Reuters

This year has seen the map of the Middle East redrawn. The West has acquired a new public enemy number one: remorseless, faceless and vicious. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has expanded from a relatively obscure terrorist group at the start of the year, to one that wields near absolute control over anywhere between 12,000 square miles (according to the Wall Street Journal) and 35,000 square miles (according to The New Yorker) of formerly Syrian and Iraqi territory. Within the region, around 56 million people must navigate between the armies of the rival militias, warlords and national armies that are barely distinguishable from one another.

But while Western forces attempt to counter the ISIS surge with its sustained bombing strategy, little attention is paid to an unpalatable reality within the borders of the so-called new Islamic State, or caliphate. In the midst of the chaos, ISIS is deliberately and methodically establishing clear areas of definable civil governance, breathing new life into the memory of a series of caliphates that united a succession of Muslim empires until 1924.

Scott Atran, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at Oxford University, recently submitted a report to the U.S. Department of Defense and Congress on the difficulty of fighting the ideology of such a state.

“The caliphate as an idea has never gone away,” Atran says, “And now that it is here again after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, as a concrete matter of fact, it will focus the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people. The critical question is not, ‘How can we thwart or destroy the caliphate?’ because attempts to do that will likely backfire. Rather the question is, ‘How can we live with and transform the idea and reality of a caliphate – and one that will be nuclear-capable probably sooner rather than later – into something that does not threaten other peoples’ ways of life?’ That is a question for everyone, but it is not even on our political radar.”

Blood Money How ISIS Makes Bank

November 30, 2014 

Damage at an oil refinery that was targeted by what activists said were U.S. strikes near the Syrian town of Tel Abyad, October 2, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters)

A key element of U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been striking at the oil fields seized by the group to undermine its finances. But ISIS is a diversified criminal business, and oil is only one of its several revenue streams. U.S. officials ignore that fact at their own peril. 

It is true that oil is ISIS’ key source of funding right now. The terrorist group has become the world’s richest precisely because it has seized some of the world’s most profitable oil fields in Iraq and Syria. Even with those fields operating below capacity due to a lack of technology and personnel, ISIS is estimated to be producing about 44,000 barrels a day in Syria and 4,000 barrels a day in Iraq. ISIS sells crude at a discount (around $20–$35 per barrel) to either truckers or middlemen. The crude gets to refiners at around $60 per barrel, which is still under market price. Smugglers pay about $5,000 in bribes at checkpoints to move the crude oil out of ISIS controlled territory. Even selling the oil at a discount via pre-invasion smuggling routes out of Iraq, ISIS can still expect over a million dollars in revenue each day.

And ISIS’ enemies are getting richer from the trade, too: Kurdish part-time smugglers who facilitate ISIS’ oil sales can earn up to $300,000 each month. A Kurdish newspaper recently published a list of people involved with ISIS, especially its oil operations. The list includes individuals with the last names of several Kurdish ruling families; a Toyota branch in Erbil, which sells ISIS trucks; a Politburo member and military leader; and oil refineries, among others. Some of those on the list were associated with oil smuggling under Saddam Hussein. Kurdish facilitators also provide goods to ISIS, including trucks, gas cylinders (for cooking and heating), gasoline, and other necessary commodities.

Oil is not ISIS’ only source of revenue. For example, when the group needed seed capital to recruit personnel and acquire military equipment to conquer the Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq, some of it came from donors in the Gulf States, who had funded the antecedents of ISIS. More recently, ISIS funding has come from the usual terrorist businesses—smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and robberies. In one reported case, a Swedish company paid $70,000 to rescue an employee who had been taken by ISIS. And before the American journalist James Foley was beheaded, ISIS fighters demanded an exorbitant sum for his freedom, which they did not receive.

The Close Ties Between Russian Intelligence and the Belarus KGB

December 5, 2014

Belarusan espionage: Ties with Russia remain close

However, Belarusan intelligence and special services may have their own agenda separate from Russia’s, with which Lukashenka can attempt to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

On 10 November the General Prosecutor’s Office of Lithuania reported that a Vilnius court would try a Lithuanian citizen on espionage charges. The Lithuanian authorities claim that he cooperated with Belarusan security services.

As other cases from recent years prove, Belarusan intelligence is quite interested in its immediate neighbours – Poland and Lithuania. Belarusans usually seek military intelligence and generally probe opportunities to advance Belarusan economic interest in these countries.

Belarus’s EU neighbours regard Belarusan intelligence as being, more or less, on par with its Russian counterpart. However, despite close ties since Soviet times and cooperation agreements, Belarusans may have a separate agenda, as Lukashenka’s attempts to pursue a more independent foreign policy.

Inside Belarus, recent public spying cases have involved only local citizens. As either Andrej Hajdukoŭ’s or priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar’s cases show, the authorities can use espionage charges to intimidate the opposition or independent institutions.

A spy with Belarusan roots

A former worker of Oro Navigacija, a Lithuanian air traffic control agency, is suspected of committing espionage against Lithuania for Belarus’s security services. He may receive up to 15 years in prison as a result. A Vilnius circuit court will hold his trial in January. At the moment the suspect’s name remains unknown.

The investigators claims that the suspect secretly photographed documents in his office, including various objects tied to Lithuania’s military and civilian infrastructure, and then proceeded to hand them to the General Staff of the Belarusan armed forces. “He gathered and passed on to Belarus information on the Lithuanian armed forces, its state enterprises, objects of strategic importance for national security in Lithuania”, stated a press release from the General Prosecutor’s Office.

The Chief of Lithuania’s Security Department Gediminas Grina noted that Russia could also use this information, because Belarus and Russia have a military alliance and share intelligence data.

Having Belarusan roots, the suspect visited Belarus a couple of times a year to see his relatives and friends. His two sons have business partners in Russia, and regularly go there on to tend to their affairs. These facts could easily become rounds for Lithuania’s own security services to become interested in him.

However, espionage scandals more often than not arise Belarus’s other neighbour – Poland. In recent years several incidents have occurred with Belarus citizens being charged with spying.

Belarus intelligence: Poland in its sights

Russian Navy Task Force Enters the Mediterranean

December 5, 2014

Russia Northern Fleet convoy enters Mediterranean Sea for naval mission
MOSCOW, December 4. /TASS/. Russia’s Northern Fleet convoy of warships and auxiliary vessels led by large submarine chaser Severomorsk has entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar, spokesman of the Northern Fleet Captain First Rank Vadim Serga told TASS on Thursday.

“Before sailing through the straits crews had joint drills and practised sailing through narrow waters amid intensive navigation,” he said, noting that “The naval convoy is preparing to fulfil tasks as part of Russian naval task force acting regularly in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Northern Fleet’s warships had drills to ensure security of civilian navigation from piracy and a terrorist threat in the Bay of Biscay, Serga said. Combat crews of amphibious assault ship Alexander Otrakovsky have drilled the use of air defense systems and radioelectronic warfare to rebuff an air attack of an imaginary enemy.

Naval sailors set out for a far voyage from Severomorsk, a base of Russian Northern Fleet in the north of the country, on November 20, already sailing more than 2.8 thousand nautical miles.

Is Enthusiasm in the Russian Military for the War in the Ukraine Waning?

Paul Richard Huard
December 5, 2014

Vladimir Putin’s Losing Streak: Russians are losing enthusiasm for the Ukraine war

At first glance, Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to have defied all the odds.

Russia is poised to mount a winter offensive against a defiant Ukraine that still struggles to supply its army, treat its wounded and repel a world military power. In November, international monitors sighted more convoys of Russian vehicles carrying soldiers, as well as unmarked T-72 and T-64 tanks, crossing from Russia into eastern Ukraine near Donetsk.

An October poll indicated the Russian president has an 88-percent approval rating. Politically, he seems unassailable.

That could be changing. As Ukraine grows more defiant and Russia’s economy suffers, more and more Russians are losing interest in Putin’s war.

At the moment, there is no apparent political rival with the ability to challenge Putin’s policies or his rule. To further consolidate his power, Putin has jailed dissenting journalists and opposition politicians.
The United States and the NATO alliance don’t want a direct confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, instead relying on sanctions and rhetoric that mostly have done little to trouble Putin or his supporters among Russia’s elite.

But now increasing economic doldrums—owing to collapsing oil prices and a devalued ruble—plus fervent Ukrainian nationalism and a Ukrainian army that prevails despite its immense problems, indicate Putin’s future might not be as rosy as his recent years.

There have even been a few scattered near-mutinies among Russian troops resisting deployment to eastern Ukraine.

“Although Putin is in a strong position now, he’s replaceable,” Graeme Auton, professor of political science at the University of Redlands and an expert on Russian energy policy, told War Is Boring. “I think he is in an increasingly tenuous position, and he is facing what is for him an unfortunate confluence of events.”

Consider the recent drop in oil prices. As Putin continues the invasion of Ukraine, OPEC dealt an economic body-blow to a nation where oil revenues comprise nearly 50 percent of the Russian budget annually—a loss of at least $100 billion according to some estimates.


In March 2011, two weeks before the Western intervention in Libya, a secret message was delivered to the National Security Agency. An intelligence unit within the U.S. military’s Africa Command needed help to hack into Libya’s cellphone networks and monitor text messages.

For the NSA, the task was easy. The agency had already obtained technical information about the cellphone carriers’ internal systems by spying on documents sent among company employees, and these details would provide the perfect blueprint to help the military break into the networks.

The NSA’s assistance in the Libya operation, however, was not an isolated case. It was part of a much larger surveillance program—global in its scope and ramifications—targeted not just at hostile countries.

According to documents contained in the archive of material provided toThe Intercept by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the NSA has spied on hundreds of companies and organizations internationally, including in countries closely allied to the United States, in an effort to find security weaknesses in cellphone technology that it can exploit for surveillance.

The documents also reveal how the NSA plans to secretly introduce new flaws into communication systems so that they can be tapped into—a controversial tactic that security experts say could be exposing the general population to criminal hackers.

Codenamed AURORAGOLD, the covert operation has monitored the content of messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with major cellphone network operators, intercepting confidential company planning papers that help the NSA hack into phone networks.

One high-profile surveillance target is the GSM Association, an influential U.K.-headquartered trade group that works closely with large U.S.-based firms including Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, and Cisco, and is currently being funded by the U.S. government to develop privacy-enhancing technologies.

Karsten Nohl, a leading cellphone security expert and cryptographer who was consulted by The Intercept about details contained in the AURORAGOLD documents, said that the broad scope of information swept up in the operation appears aimed at ensuring virtually every cellphone network in the world is NSA accessible.


“Collecting an inventory [like this] on world networks has big ramifications,” Nohl said, because it allows the NSA to track and circumvent upgrades in encryption technology used by cellphone companies to shield calls and texts from eavesdropping. Evidence that the agency has deliberately plotted to weaken the security of communication infrastructure, he added, was particularly alarming.

“Even if you love the NSA and you say you have nothing to hide, you should be against a policy that introduces security vulnerabilities,” Nohl said, “because once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it.”

NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines told The Intercept in a statement that the agency “works to identify and report on the communications of valid foreign targets” to anticipate threats to the United States and its allies.

Vines said: “NSA collects only those communications that it is authorized by law to collect in response to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence requirements—regardless of the technical means used by foreign targets, or the means by which those targets attempt to hide their communications.”
Network coverage

Two More Fallacies of Future War Adding to the ARCIC Narrativ

This post was provided by contributor Chad Pillai, an US Army strategist. The views expressed belong to the author alone and do not represent the US Army or the Department of Defense. 

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of listening to LTG H.R. McMaster brief the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) the Army’s Operating Concept (AOC) and his four fallacies of future warfare. For those not familiar with his four fallacies, they are: 

The Vampire Fallacy: Essentially this fallacy revolves around the idea that technology will save the day. Perfect situational intelligence and super weapons will make war clean and easy. 
Zero-Dark-Thirty Fallacy: This fallacy is somewhat tied to the first because intelligence that allows for the conduct of “strategic raids” where highly trained special forces can locate and neutralize threats quickly and with minimum risks. 

Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Fallacy: This fallacy states that the U.S. can fight its land wars via proxy while providing air, sea, space, and cyber domain power. Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora and the Iraqi Army’s inability to fight ISIL bear witness to this fallacy. 
RVSP Fallacy: This fallacy essential says that the U.S. can choose which conflicts it wishes to engage in and which ones if can avoid. In some cases this may be true, but in others, the U.S. may find itself dragged itself into a conflict. McMaster reiterated the line from Leon Trotsky who said, ‘you may not be interested in war but war is interested in you.’ 

LTG McMaster’s fallacies are largely accurate; however, I believe there are others that need mentioning. There are two specific fallacies I offer for consideration in light of our current security and economic environment. The two fallacies are The Arsenal of Democracy and Exquisite fallacies.

THE ARESENAL OF DEMOCRACY FALLCY. This fallacy emanates from the idea that the development of strategy should not be resource-constrained. As some say, strategies are resource informed. If tactical leaders cannot plan in an unconstrained environment, I am not sure strategists are able to get away with it. If we are serious about the ENDS-WAYS-MEANS construct, how the hell do we make the claim that our strategy is resource informed? Strategist produce deeply flawed geo-strategic plans when there are no considerations for how the MEANS are produced and paid for. For many in the U.S., this fallacy has its roots in the historic American Way of War of throwing material and personnel mass at our enemies from the Civil War to WWII. 

In WWII, FDR pronounced that the U.S. would be the ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY and Major General Albert Wedemeyer in the U.S. Army War Plans Division led this effort with the VICTORY PLAN. While the VICTORY PLAN may have identified what the nation needed to produce in order to win WWII, as a military document it lacked many of the financial and economic details needed to determine whether the nation could produce the stated requirements stated or make adjustments as global conditions changed such as the need to materially support our Allies. 

We Must Step Back From the Nuclear Precipice

By Karipbek Kuyukov
December 05, 2014

Nuclear weapons have already exacted a terrible toll. Now, more than ever, this must be remembered. 

The Cold War – and the constant fear of nuclear war – were among the darkest periods in humanity’s history. We had all hoped that those days were behind us.

But in recent months, we have seen a disturbing revival of tensions between Russia and the West. Old wounds have been re-opened. There is talk of a return to Cold War brinkmanship and even development of new nuclear weapons. The slow but steady progress made towards ending the nuclear threat is in danger of being reversed. We need to step back from this precipice.

This is why it is critical not to forget the terrible human and environmental costs of nuclear weapons – costs which Kazakhstan still suffers every day. I was born 100 kilometers from the epicenter of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site where the Soviet Union exploded more than 600 nuclear devices between 1949 and 1991. My parents and thousands of others would watch those bright and vast mushroom clouds as they filled the sky. The tests have had terrible physical consequences for the people who lived near them.

I came into this world without arms. People often ask me if I can be sure that radiation was the cause. If you had lived in my home town or region, this would not be a question.

In the place where I grew up, I saw mothers and midwives shocked at the sight of their babies. My own mother didn’t see me for three days. When she did, she was in shock for a long time. She couldn’t even speak. But I wasn’t the only one. I saw families too embarrassed to show their children to the outside world, hiding them deep inside their homes and bringing them out only briefly for fresh air and sun.

I witnessed families and whole communities decimated by radiation-related cancers. As the United Nations confirms, more than 1.5 million people in Kazakhstan have suffered the effects of Soviet nuclear weapons testing.

Why Russia still matters

05 Dec , 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting India in the second week of December for what will be the 15th annual summit between the two countries. He is scheduled to address, during his stay at Delhi, a joint session of Parliament, a rare honour reserved for select foreign dignitaries. His visit assumes significance at a time when Russia is no longer fashionable in the Indian discourse on international relations and strategic affairs. Ever since the advent of the Modi government, one has heard a lot about the USA, China and Japan. Modi has talked about converting the “Look East Policy” to “Act East Policy”. But the new Indian Prime Minister has not said anything substantially on Russia, India’s only “all weather friend” over the years.

…in the field of economics, while China, Japan , Australia and the United States are talking of investing scores of billions of dollars in Indian economy, India and Russia have not even able to reach the target of US $ 15 bn bilateral trade.

It may be noted that the annual India-Russia summits are held alternatively in India and Russia, thanks to the declaration of “the India Russia Strategic Partnership”, signed in October 2000. It was the brainchild of none other than Putin, who sincerely tried to restore the traditional warmth and vibrancy to the bilateral relationship that was lost during Yeltsin’s Presidency. Even from India’s viewpoint, there have been some serious issues with Russia. All this, in turn, is probably due to the relative decline of Russian power – falling demographic indicators, excessive dependence on petroleum and military products to revive the economy, and unreasonable often uncompromising Western expansion in the Russian periphery – at a time when a rising India is diversifying its global needs.

That explains why in the field of economics, while China, Japan , Australia and the United States are talking of investing scores of billions of dollars in Indian economy, India and Russia have not even able to reach the target of US $ 15 bn bilateral trade. Official statistics suggest that India-Russia bilateral trade in 2013 stood at US$ 10.01 bn, out of which India’s exports to Russia stood at US$ 3.1 bn (an increase of 1.7% over 2012) and India’s imports amounted to US$ 7 bn (showing decrease of 14% over 2012). Indian investments in Russia are estimated to be US$ 7 bn, bulk of which is in the energy sector, while Russian investments in India are estimated to be of the order of meagre US$ 3 bn, primarily in the telecommunications sector. The main problem in the economic sphere, it seems, is that two countries have not yet come to terms with the new situation where private players and organisations are dominating the economic contours and where they have to deal with each other directly without governmental interventions.

OPEC is wrong to think it can outlast U.S. on oil prices

Dec 2, 2014 

Technology is cheaper and West doesn’t use oil to fund a welfare state

OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah al-Badri
Give Saudi Arabia credit: Whoever sets oil-production policy for the desert kingdom has guts. Unfortunately, the sheiks have made what’s likely to become a sucker’s bet.

You know this part already, but the 12-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last week declined to cut production, sending Brent crude oil futures tumbling to their cheapest point since 2009. The Saudis appear to be spoiling for a fight, trying to find out exactly how cheap oil must be to force surging U.S. shale-oil production to seize up like an unlubricated engine.

Energy stocks are falling; were are the buyers?(4:26)

Energy stocks are on sale following a five-month plunge in crude oil, but so far few investors are tempted to bargain-hunt. Matt Wirz joins MoneyBeat. Photo: Getty.

“Naimi declares price war on U.S. shale oil,” a Reuters headline shouted, referring to Saudi Arabia Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi.

But there are at least three big problems with this strategy. One, North American crude isn’t as expensive to produce as it used to be. Two, there’s more than you think in the pipeline to make it even cheaper. And third, OPEC nations, including Saudi Arabia, have squandered their edge in cheap oil supplies on welfare states rulers can’t easily cut back.

In 2012, when U.S. shale burst into public consciousness, common wisdom was that it would cost at least $70 to $75 a barrel to produce. As recently as last week, saying U.S. producers could tolerate $60 oil seemed aggressive.

But data from the state of North Dakota says the average cost per barrel in America’s top oil-producing state is only $42 — to make a 10% return for rig owners. In McKenzie County, which boasts 72 of the state’s 188 oil rigs, the average production cost is just $30, the state says. Another 27 rigs are around $29.

That’s part of why oil companies aren’t cutting capital spending much — and they say they can keep production rising without spending more, by getting more out of wells they have already drilled.

A key example is mega-independent Devon Energy DVN, -2.30% , which produces about 200,000 of the 9 million-plus barrels the U.S. drills each day.

Devon wouldn’t give an interview, but said last month that it expects production to rise 20%-25% next year with little growth in capital spending. It has room to work because its pretax cash profit margins have widened by 37% in the first nine months of this year, to almost $30 per barrel of oil equivalent. More than half its 2015 production is protected by hedges if prices stay below $91 a barrel, the company says.

This trend toward efficiency will only get more pronounced, Lux Research analyst Daniel Choi suggests. Technology startups in energy exploration have raised $7 billion in the past decade, generating now-tiny companies that will use advances in seismic data collection and steam-assisted gravity drainage to lower costs even further. Companies such as Liquid Robotics and Laricina Energy are likely to get acquired before going public, but work like theirs will spread, Choi predicts.

Sheikhs v shale

The economics of oil have changed. Some businesses will go bust, but the market will be healthierDec 6th 2014 

THE official charter of OPEC states that the group’s goal is “the stabilisation of prices in international oil markets”. It has not been doing a very good job. In June the price of a barrel of oil, then almost $115, began to slide; it now stands close to $70.

This near-40% plunge is thanks partly to the sluggish world economy, which is consuming less oil than markets had anticipated, and partly to OPEC itself, which has produced more than markets expected. But the main culprits are the oilmen of North Dakota and Texas. Over the past four years, as the price hovered around $110 a barrel, they have set about extracting oil from shale formations previously considered unviable. Their manic drilling—they have completed perhaps 20,000 new wells since 2010, more than ten times Saudi Arabia’s tally—has boosted America’s oil production by a third, to nearly 9m barrels a day (b/d). That is just 1m b/d short of Saudi Arabia’s output. The contest between the shalemen and the sheikhs has tipped the world from a shortage of oil to a surplus.
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Cheaper oil should act like a shot of adrenalin to global growth. A $40 price cut shifts some $1.3 trillion from producers to consumers. The typical American motorist, who spent $3,000 in 2013 at the pumps, might be $800 a year better off—equivalent to a 2% pay rise. Big importing countries such as the euro area, India, Japan and Turkey are enjoying especially big windfalls. Since this money is likely to be spent rather than stashed in a sovereign-wealth fund, global GDP should rise. The falling oil price will reduce already-low inflation still further, and so may encourage central bankers towards looser monetary policy. The Federal Reserve will put off raising interest rates for longer; the European Central Bank will act more boldly to ward off deflation by buying sovereign bonds.

There will, of course, be losers (see article). Oil-producing countries whose budgets depend on high prices are in particular trouble. The rouble tumbled this week as Russia’s prospects darkened further. Nigeria has been forced to raise interest rates and devalue the naira. Venezuela looks ever closer to defaulting on its debt. The spectre of defaults and the speed and scale of the price plunge have unnerved financial markets. But the overall economic effect of cheaper oil is clearly positive.

Just how positive will depend on how long the price stays low. That is the subject of a continuing tussle between OPEC and the shale-drillers. Several members of the cartel want it to cut its output, in the hope of pushing the price back up again. But Saudi Arabia, in particular, seems mindful of the experience of the 1970s, when a big leap in the price prompted huge investments in new fields, leading to a decade-long glut. Instead, the Saudis seem to be pushing a different tactic: let the price fall and put high-cost producers out of business. That should soon crimp supply, causing prices to rise.

Former US Navy Systems Administrator Given 2 Years in Prison for Hacking Navy Database

Aaron Boyd
December 5, 2014

System Admin Sentenced For Hacking Navy Database

A former nuclear systems administrator with the Navy was sentenced to two years in prison for his role in the 2012 hacking of the Navy’s Smart Web Move database and publicly releasing personal records of some 222,000 service members.

Team Digi7al member Nicholas Paul Knight, 27, of Chantilly, Va., was sentenced Friday after pleading ‘guilty’ in May.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) began looking into Team Digi7al in 2012 after a breach was detected in the Smart Web Move database, which stores personnel records, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personally identifiable information. Links to the information were posted publicly through the Team Digi7al Twitter account.

In 2013, while serving on the USS Harry S. Truman, Knight was caught up in a NCIS sting operation while attempting to hack into a restricted network.

Knight’s co-defendant Daniel Krueger, 20, of Dix, Ill., received a two-year prison sentence on Oct. 22.

Knight, Krueger and Team Digi7al have also been linked to cyberattacks on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and more than 50 other public and private networks.

“Computer hacking presents a significant risk to national security,” said Danny Williams, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma. “As a service member in the United States Navy, the defendant knowingly breached his oath of enlistment and became an insider threat. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to find cyber-criminals and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.”

First Operational MQ-8C FIRE SCOUT Maritime Surveillance Drones Delivered to USN

Marina Malenic
December 5, 2014

Northrop Grumman delivers first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout to USN

The MQ-8C’s autonomous landing features allow it to land on a sloped surface like that of a ship’s deck at sea. Source: Northrop Grumman
Key Points 
Northrop Grumman has delivered the first operational MQ-8C Fire Scout to the USN 
The MQ-8C has double the endurance and three times the payload capacity of the already deployed MQ-8B 

Northrop Grumman has delivered the first of a possible 70 MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopters to the US Navy (USN), the company announced on 3 December.

Based on the Bell 407 helicopter, the aircraft is a larger and more capable version of the Schweizer Aircraft 330-based MQ-8B Fire Scout. The MQ-8C has double the endurance and three times the payload capacity of the B-model, Northrop Grumman said in a statement. The C-model has a range of about 150 n miles and a payload capacity over 317 kg. It is outfitted to conduct ship-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The company is under contract to build 19 MQ-8Cs, including two test aircraft. The navy’s total planned inventory for MQ-8 Fire Scout is 70 air vehicles (which includes 61 production funded and 9 research, development, test, and evaluation funded vehicles). In addition to the 30 MQ-8Bs and 19 MQ-8Cs that have been procured to date, the programme will buy an additional 21 MQ-8C air vehicles. The MQ-8Cs first deployment is currently scheduled for 2016.

The USN conducted land-based MQ-8C flight tests in August to prepare for sea-trials. The first ship-board flight tests aboard USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) are scheduled to begin in the coming weeks. The trials will provide the navy with data to assess the system for operational use. “The test programme will run through the summer as we expect these aircraft to be ready for operations by year’s end,” George Vardoulakis, vice-president for medium-range tactical systems at Northrop Grumman, said following the land-based testing earlier this year.