21 December 2014

Obama signs $578 bn defence bill

Dec 21 2014 

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in Washington on Friday. AP/PTI
Sony cyber attack: Obama vows US response to N. Korea

President Barack Obama vowed to respond to a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures that he blamed on North Korea, and scolded the Hollywood studio for caving in to what he described as a foreign dictator imposing censorship in America

Obama said the cyber attack caused a lot of damage to Sony but that the company should not have let itself be intimidated into halting the public release of "The Interview," a lampoon portraying the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

President Barack Obama has signed a massive annual defence policy bill which grants $1 billion to Pakistan for the expenses made by its army in support of the US military operations in war-torn Afghanistan.

The National Defence Authorisation Act for the fiscal year 2015, signed by Obama yesterday, sets overall defence spending at $578 billion which has provision for release of Coalition Support Fund amounting to $1 billion to Pakistan.

The CSF is not a military aid but a reimbursement to Pakistan for the expenses made by the its army in support of the US military operations in Afghanistan.

Though there are conditions attached for the disbursement of the amount to Pakistan, with regard to it taking action against terrorist organisations and in particular the Haqqani network, but as usual the Defence Secretary can waive off these certification under national interest, as has consistently been the case for the past several years.

Report: ISIS has killed 100 foreigners trying to quit

Dec 21, 2014

An activist opposed to ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said he had “verified 100 executions” of foreign ISIS fighters trying to leave the jihadi group’s de facto capital. 

LONDON: The ISIS extremist group has executed 100 of its own foreign fighters who tried to flee their headquarters in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Financial Times reported on Saturday. 

An activist opposed to ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said he had "verified 100 executions" of foreign ISIS fighters trying to leave the jihadi group's de facto capital. ISIS fighters in Raqqa said the group has a military police to clamp down on foreign fighters who miss duty. Dozens of homes have been raided and many jihadis have been arrested, the FT reported. The British press reported in October that 12 Europeans wanted to return home complaining they did not end up fighting Assad's regime.

‘To defeat jihadis, Sharif and Sharif need to unite’

Bruce Reidel
Dec 21, 2014

A quarter century ago, Pakistan and America defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan from mujahideen base camps around Peshawar. 

Pakistan has a unique place in the global jihad. It is both a leading victim and a leading patron of the jihad. This week's awful massacre in Peshawar is a potentially defining moment for Pakistan's leaders; they need to make a decisive break with decades of duplicity and defeat the Frankenstein that threatens to consume them. 

A quarter century ago, Pakistan and America defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan from mujahideen base camps around Peshawar. 

The Cold War ended in Russia's defeat but we can now see the global jihad also began in the Afghan war. As early as 1992, President George H W Bush wrote to then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan was in danger of being listed as a patron state sponsor of terror because it was using the connections and tactics it had forged with the Afghan mujahideen to patronize terror in India. 

Bush warned this would come home to haunt Pakistan. Bush was right. It has become a nightmare. The terror apparatus Zia-ul Haq created has gotten out of control, murdering Benazir Bhutto, attacking the country's military headquarters, schools, mosques, funerals, churches and hotels. Sectarian violence wracks the country. 

The Pakistan army has lost thousands to the war against extremism. The Taliban chose an army school in Peshawar for a reason: they want to intimidate the army leadership to give up the fight. Chief of army staff Raheel Sharif was paid back for Operation Zarb-e-Asb, the latest and most effective army counter-terror offensive against the Pakistani Taliban. 

But the army still patronizes other jihadi terrorists like Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban, Hafiz Saeed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. These terrorists are also the offspring of the Afghan war 25 years ago; Omar was trained by the ISI in the 1980s and LeT was created to take the mujahideen war into Kashmir and India. General Sharif and his predecessors have been these jihadis' patrons for decades. Saeed has already blamed India for the Peshawar atrocity. 

Others blame Kabul. The Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and LeT are all close allies of al-Qaida. 

Both the PM and the army chief now need to make a choice. Promises are not enough, action is needed. Many will be sceptical of words for good reason. Yet, if they work together the civilian and military leadership can break decisively with all of the jihadis. 

Pakistan issues arrest warrant against TTP chief, 7 others

Dec 21, 2014

PM Nawaz Sharif vowed on Saturday to eliminate terrorism from the country following the brutal Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar.

LAHORE/KARACHI: PM Nawaz Sharif vowed on Saturday to eliminate terrorism from the country following the brutal Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar. 

After his statement, an anti-terrorism court in Karachi issued non-bailable arrest warrants against eight persons, including Pakistan Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah, for the brazen militant assault on Karachi airport in June. 

Some media reports claimed that Fazlullah could be among militants killed in Saturday's air strikes. But, sources said they were yet to confirm the killing of self-styled cleric in the strikes along with other top commanders. 

The court issued the warrants after police filed a chargesheet in the court, The Express Tribune reported. 

At least 37 people, including 10 terrorists, were killed after an all-night battle with militants who besieged Karachi airport's old terminal on June 8. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid had claimed responsibility for the audacious attack. The militants had also mounted another attack on a security check post outside the airport just a day after the attack, without causing anymore casualties. 

Meanwhile, Sharif welcomed the unity demonstrated by political parties following the brutal Taliban attack on Peshawar school. "Pakistan's main focus right now is to fight terrorism as we have to eliminate it from our soil," Sharif said. "It is a welcom sign that all political parties have united on one platform against terrorism," he said during a meeting with a delegation of princes from the UAE at his residence in Lahore. 

Sharif said operation Zarb-e-Azb launched by Pakistan army in northwestern tribal region in June was progressing successfully and added that no terrorist would be spared. Sharif also stressed that his government was working to expedite the delivery of justice. On Wednesday, he lifted a self-imposed moratorium on death penalty in terror-related cases, in place since 2008. 

So far two terrorists — Mohammad Aqeel alias Dr Usman and Arshad Mahmood — involved in attacks on army headquarters and and former military ruler Pervez Musharraf have been hanged. Eight more could be sent to the gallows in the next 48 hours in various prisons of Punjab.

US seeks China's help after cyberattack

Dec 21, 2014

A logo is pictured outside Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. (Reuters photo)

HONOLULU: The United States is asking China for help as it weighs potential responses to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment that the US has blamed on North Korea. 

A senior Obama administration official says the US and China have shared information about the attack and that the US has asked for China's cooperation. The official also says China agrees with the US that destructive cyberattacks violate the norms of appropriate behavior in cyberspace.

The official wasn't authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity. 

President Barack Obama is considering how to respond to the attack on Sony's networks while he vacations this week in Hawaii. 

Involving China could pose complications. China holds considerable leverage over North Korea. But Obama has pointedly accused China of carrying out cybertheft, too.

Can Pak army chief win battle against terror?

Dec 21, 2014

Despite billions of dollars in aid by US, Pak unable to fight terrorism

General Raheel Sharif has dealt well with military and political tensions so far. But the Pak army chief's real test will be how he deals with terror groups dotting the frontier regions.

In Friday, when General Raheel Sharif signed the execution warrant for Dr Usman (aka Mohammed Aqeel), he crossed an invisible line. Usman, who had led a 10man assault team which attacked the Pakistan army headquarters in 2009, taking 42 hostages and killing 14 troops, should have been executed a long time ago. He was spared because the Punjab Taliban led by Usman threatened dire revenge if he was executed. This time, the general had his way.

When Raheel Sharif ran the army training command - his last posting before he became army chief - he recast the key training course to focus on fighting internal terrorism. He is also believed to have developed training manuals for counterinsurgency operations and for building a new generation of Pakistan army to fight its greatest threat - Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, not India.

On November 27, 2013, after a delay that signaled a tussle in the decisionmaking process, Raheel Sharif was chosen army chief by Nawaz Sharif (no relation to each other) over two others.

There were questions. Until then, Raheel Sharif wasn't considered a spectacular professional. But, as Rana Banerji, one of the foremost Pakistan analysts in India says, "he has grown into his new role. He is generally considered a more straightforward soldier than his predecessor, Kayani." In November, Raheel Sharif made his first two-week sojourn in the US, an extraordinary event when the army chief was openly yielded foreign and strategic policy space. The US has always preferred to deal with the Pakistan army and this time, John Kerry, secretary of state described the army as a "unifying force".

But in the first year of his tenure, General Sharif has faced tense situations and according to observers, has acquitted himself competently. In the summer, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri were facing down the Nawaz Sharif government in the heart of Islamabad. Former DG-ISI Zaheer-ul-Islam led the voices that demanded an end to the Sharif government and an army takeover. "There is one - and only - reason we still have an elect ed government and parliament: Raheel Sharif didn't want to take over," Cyril Almeida of Dawn had written.

On his military campaign, Zarb-eAzb, the jury is still out. It had little or no political approval. Laying waste to North Waziristan with air strikes and helicopter gunships, the Pakistan army still managed to "lose" the top terrorists holed up there, while displacing more than a million Pakistanis and killing many. The Peshawar army school attack, the Taliban said, was provoked by these killings.

In September, after the summer protests, Raheel Sharif moved to establish his own stamp over the army with a reshuffle of corps commanders. He picked the next DG ISI, Rizwan Akhtar, from his own regiment. That sealed his leadership.

Addressing a defence expo in Karachi in early December, the general said terrorism was his prime target. What does that mean for India? The Pakistan army is built on the premise of India as Enemy No 1 and that is not going to change for a very long time. If the army chief can sort out the terror mess created by his predecessors, India could rise in the list of top foes. So nobody should expect any great change here.

But on Afghanistan, the general appears to comprehend the dangers ahead.

Pakistan Hangs 2 Convicted Terrorists; 398 More Headed for Gallows

First of 400 Pakistani militants hanged in wake of school massacre

Tom Hussain, McClatchy News, December 19, 2014

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan executed two convicted terrorists Friday, the first of 400 militants headed to the hangman’s noose amid a government crackdown ordered after Taliban attackers gunned down 148 children and teachers Tuesday at a school in the northern city of Peshawar.

The sentences against Aqeel “Doctor Usman” and Arshad Mehmood were carried out at about 9 p.m. local time, behind closed doors at the prison in the eastern city of Faisalabad where they’d been incarcerated.

Both were former soldiers convicted by court-martial. Their warrants of execution had been issued Thursday by the army chief of staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif, in a move indicative of Pakistan’s zero-tolerance response to the school massacre.

Aqeel had been captured while leading an October 2009 raid on the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi. Mehmood was involved in a December 2003 twin suicide car-bombing of the cavalcade of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler at the time.

The government instructed jail administrators Friday to execute 20 other people on death row whose clemency appeals Musharraf had turned down while he held the dual office of president.

Those hangings will take place over the weekend and early next week, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan indicated.

The Ministry of Interior said its legal advisers were examining the case records of 378 convicted terrorists with a view to expediting their death sentences.

More than 3,000 convicted terrorists are imprisoned in Pakistan and will be executed in 2015, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted a six-year moratorium on capital punishment Wednesday, which had been introduced by a previous administration.

The Pakistani Taliban vowed Friday to avenge the executions with attacks on the teenage children of army generals and politicians.

“We will avenge the death of each holy warrior by causing mourning in their homes,” it said in a statement emailed to journalists in Pakistan.

Security at the prisons was beefed up Friday after intelligence agencies warned of possible Taliban raids to free colleagues on death row.

However, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, has found himself increasingly isolated since ordering the attack on the Peshawar school.

Fazlullah is notorious for also ordering the October 2012 shooting of teenager Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel peace laureate.

Pakistan’s Old Curse


A boy in an army uniform wept on Friday in front of the Army Public School in Peshawar, which was attacked by Taliban gunmen.

LONDON — Only a week ago, the Red Mosque seemed a nearly untouchable bastion of Islamist extremism in Pakistan, a notorious seminary in central Islamabad known for producing radicalized, and sometimes heavily armed, graduates.

On Friday evening, though, the tables were turned when hundreds of angry protesters stood at the mosque gates and howled insults at the chief cleric — a sight never seen since the Taliban insurgency began in 2007.

What has changed is the mass killing of schoolchildren, at least 132 of them, slain by Pakistani Taliban gunmen in a violent cataclysm that has traumatized the country. In the months before the shocking assault on a Peshawar school on Tuesday, Pakistan’s leadership had been consumed by political war games, while the debate on militancy was dominated by bigoted and conspiracy-laden voices, like those of the clerics of the Red Mosque.
Now, united by grief, rage and political necessity, Pakistanis from across society are speaking with unusual force and clarity about the militant threat that blights their society. For the first time, religious parties and ultraconservative politicians have been forced to publicly shun the movement by name. And while demonstrations against militancy have been relatively small so far, they touched several cities in Pakistan, including a gathering of students outside the school in Peshawar.Photo
Children wearing white burial shrouds demonstrated on Friday in Lahore, Pakistan, against an attack by Taliban militants on an army-run school in Peshawar.CreditArif Ali/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Protest leaders believe that the public will support them. “This will become a protest movement against the Taliban,” one organizer, Jibran Nasir, thundered into a microphone outside the Red Mosque on Friday.

Though there is little doubt that the Peshawar massacre has galvanized Pakistani society, the question is whether it can become a real turning point for a society plagued by violent divisions, culture wars and the strategic prerogatives of a powerful military.

The Metrics of Terrorism and Instability in Pakistan

By Anthony H. Cordesman, with the assistance of Sam Khazai 
DEC 18, 2014 

Every American has to sympathize with the Pakistani people in the horror that befell them at the killings of so many school children. Every American parent can imagine the heartbreak of the Pakistani parents who suddenly lost their children for an extremist cause that offers only hatred instead of hope.

It is important, however, to put such acts of terrorism in context and to look at the patterns involved. The Burke Chair has prepared a short briefing showing how the patterns of terrorism in Pakistan compare with those in other states, and the patterns in violence and terrorism in Pakistan from 1970 to 2013, using the Global Terrorism Database that is part of the statistical annex to the US State Department Country reports on terrorism issued in April 2014.

This report is entitled The Metrics of Terrorism and Instability in Pakistan, and is available on the CSIS web site athttp://csis.org/files/publication/141218_Pakistan_Terror_Metrics.pdf.

The report shows that the school attacks are part of a sharply rising overall pattern of terrorism in Pakistan that killed and severely wounded over 7,000 people in Pakistan in 2013, and made Pakistan rank second in the world in total terrorist attacks. It also shows that the Pakistani Taliban or TTP is only one of a mix of violent terrorist groups – although many attacks cannot be attributed to a given group and the Pakistani Taliban still ranked 5th in the world in violence in 2013.

At the same time, the number of terrorist incidents has more than doubled each year for the last half decade, and the TTP has clearly been the key perpetrator for those cases, where responsibility was claimed or the source could be identified. The types of attack have become increasingly violent, and more and more targets have been civilians, although much of the killing has also been directed at the police, with explosives and firearms being the key weapon of choice.

Other data from sources such as the World Bank indicate that part of this terrorism has been resulted as a response to poor governance, a lack of political stability, weak rule of law, and high rates of corruption. The UN shows that little recent progress has been made in human development, and poverty levels are very high. There are serious barriers to business investment, and corruption is rated high by Transparency International as well as the World Bank.

It is clear from these numbers that Pakistani security forces need to steadily increase their focus on counterterrorism, and the level of prioritization and political effort necessary will only come about if Pakistan reduces its tensions with India and Afghanistan. It is equally clear that Pakistan needs to address some of the key causes of terror and instability, like poor governance, corruption, problems in its rule of law, and poverty, as well as counter the twisted religious and ideological message of groups like the LLT by asserting the real values of moderation and Islam.

In the Last Days of Afghanistan, Too Many Shadows of Vietnam

By Robert A. Newson 
December 17, 2014

A shadow cast by a U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment shades spent brass strewn on the ground during a joint training mission, near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 12, 2014. (Lucas Jackson/Courtesy Reuters) 

Recently, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted a screening of Rory Kennedy’s film Last Days in Vietnam. The stunning documentary, with never-before seen-footage, tells the story of courageous Americans at the U.S. embassy and on ships at sea who put their lives and their careers on the line to rescue 77,000 South Vietnamese during the fall of Saigon. These heroes did all they could as individuals to meet an American obligation to those who stand with us in our foreign wars—those who risk their lives and the lives of their families against a common enemy. The film also tells the story of an American government that came very slow and far too late to uphold this obligation. 

This film was especially poignant for me. My father was a naval supply officer aboard the USS Princeton, LPH 4, in the Vietnam War. He was off the coast of Vietnam in 1965 when I was born. During four tours to Vietnam he issued combat equipment to young Marines disembarking to fight and he stacked their lifeless bodies to the ceiling in cold storage when they were returned to the ship after they fell in combat. After twenty years of service he retired in 1975, mere months after the fall of Saigon. During this film, and not for the first time, I wondered what it must have been like for Vietnam veterans. There are similarities and differences—both are important—between Vietnam and our current fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Unlike in Vietnam, service members today have the admiration and support of the American people. Whenever we are in uniform we are greeted with heartfelt thanks by citizens of a grateful nation. Vietnam veterans were not so fortunate. Regardless of politic persuasion, historical interpretation, or eventual outcome, it should be recognized that Vietnam veterans served and suffered at the behest of our nation. The thirteen-year commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, from May 28, 2012 to November 11, 2025, provides an extended opportunity to recognize their service. 

Massacre in Pakistan

By Syed Jafar Askari
December 18, 2014

No more “good” and “bad” Taliban as Pakistan responds to a horrific slaughter at a Peshawar school. 

The shocking slaughter of 148 people, including more than 130 children, at an Army-run school on Warsak Road in Peshawar (Pakistan) on December 16 has outraged the world. The massacre – the work of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – speaks volumes of the terrorist outfit’s anger and desperation following the killing of their associates in the ongoing Pakistan military operation, known as Zarb-e-Azb.

Responding to the Pakistan Taliban’s single deadliest attack, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif was categorical: The army would continue to go after the terrorists and their facilitators until they are eradicated. In an operation that has been underway since June, the military claims to have already killed more than 1,500 Taliban fighters. Very likely, then, this week’s attack was meant as a message for the Pakistan Army.

If so, it may well backfire. After this attack, determination to defeat the militants has never been higher. Certainly, some religious political parties, their leaders, and the clerics of religious seminaries continue to oppose the operation. But the vast majority of Pakistanis are behind the effort to eliminate the terrorists.

The success of the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, a mountainous region of northwest Pakistan bordering Afghanistan, demonstrates that Pakistan is no longer a safe haven for any terrorist organization.

The army began the Zarb-e-Azb operation in June 2014, targeting hideouts following a bloody attack on Karachi Airport that ended the talks between the government and the Taliban. The effectiveness of the effort was underlined with the recent killing of a top al-Qaeda commander, Saudi-born Adnan el Shukrijumah, in South Waziristan. A drone strike has killed Uzbek militant commander Asad Mansoor Mehsud. A massive crackdown by police and ranges has meanwhile been launched in other parts of the country. Hundreds of militants have so far been killed, confirming Pakistan’s central role in the international war on terror.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan has been a haven for extremists or Islamists militants belonging to various outfits, including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jundallah, Jamaat ul Ahrar, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), and the Haqqani network. All of these radical groups follow the extreme political and religious views of Wahhabism or Deobandi fundamentalism. These groups have demonstrated their resilience, as they have been fighting the Pakistan army – the world’s sixth largest army – since 2004.

Deep Roots

Islamist militancy in Pakistan has deep roots, that go back decades. The story of jihadists or Islamist militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan begins with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. This was the Cold War, and the U.S. government poured money into assisting the jihadists. General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s longest-serving head of state, helped the U.S. government in its fight. Pakistan supported the Afghan Mujahideen (freedom fighters) and trained jihadists to fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

Zia’s decision to get involved was a mistake, and Pakistan is still paying the price for it today as it fights those same jihadists. It was followed by another error: Pakistan’s decision to support the Taliban, a fundamentalist Pashtun political movement that emerged out of Saudi-funded madrassas as a political force in Afghanistan in 1994.

China: Lines blur between nuclear and conventional warfighting

19 December 2014

China recently tested its WU-14 hypersonic device, marking its third flight test this year. These tests have elicited analysis for their impact on Beijing's military capabilities, including their potential to break through missile defences.

Chinese mobile ICBMs, displayed for a parade marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, 2009.

They merit even closer attention, however, for what they signal about possible shifts in Chinese views on deterrence, transparency and strategic stability. 

The WU-14 flights are just the latest installment of Chinese military systems revealed to the world through tests and roll-outs. Other examples in recent memory include China's anti-satellite test (ASAT) in 2007, its ballistic missile defence (BMD) tests in 2010, 2013 and 2014, as well as its unveiling of the J-20 stealth fighter in 2010. This is not to mention its flight of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in 2013, test of the intercontinental ballistic missile DF-31A in 2014 and recent revelations regarding the DF-41. 

The level of sophistication and deployment of many of these systems remains to be seen. Still, these roll-outs indicate that China is shifting from transparency based on intent to one rooted in capabilities.

At one level, these displays allow a more accurate assessment of the systems that constitute Beijing's deterrent. At another level, they indicate that China's decades-old postures of no-first-use, de-mating and even credible minimum deterrence must be re-evaluated in accordance with the dynamism of its growing capabilities.

At first glance, Beijing's approach towards conventional and nuclear deterrence may appear distinct and static. China's conventional deterrence is based on war-fighting, counter-force, asymmetry and pre-emption. This is contrasted with its nuclear deterrence posture, which has for decades been founded on non-war-fighting, counter-value, asymmetry and no-first-use. It is often taken for granted that these two deterrence postures are isolated, with their only real point of intersection being asymmetry. Yet, there are indications that China's conventional and nuclear deterrence are far less independent and fixed than its rhetoric suggests.

This stems from at least five factors: 
China's Second Artillery has been responsible for both its conventional and nuclear missiles since the early 1990s. The potential for crossover between these two domains has only grown since that time, particularly in light of its training of personnel and advances in missile technology in recent years. 

China's conventional and nuclear command and control centres are reportedly co-located. This means that an attack, whether through advanced conventional systems or cyber-attacks, while intending to negate conventional command and control centres, could also threaten China's nuclear command and control, thus leading to escalation. 

Fixing the Senkaku/Diaoyu Problem Once and For All

By Mark E. Rosen
December 19, 2014

In fact, international law does provide an achievable solution to the China-Japan dispute. 

A year ago, China established a very large Air Defense Interception Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea to fortify its territorial claims in the vicinity of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. The United States signaled its serious concern with the action by operationally protesting the claim with the dispatch of B-52 bombers through the zone in late November 2013. On January 30, 2013, Japanese authorities reported that a Chinese frigate locked its fire control radar on a Japanese destroyer. In March 2014, a very senior Chinese security official said that the Chinese Army will not stir up war but will “fight back” at any provocation.

The author wrote extensively a year ago that an equitable and face-saving solution was possible if both countries moderated their claims in accordance with general international law and the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). That proposal was labeled as interesting, but it never seems to have been taken seriously by policymakers on either side of the dispute. All the while, policy officials and academics from the Japanese and Chinese camps have focused on the question of whose title is better, who would win if there were war, or why no solution is politically possible because of the irreconcilable positions. Others wrote about the urgent need for maritime confidence building measures (CBMs) along the lines of the US-Russia INCSEA model to prevent an incident at sea among the two contestants. There are understandable fears that a military incident could escalate into a full-fledged battle between Asia’s two military and economic heavyweights.

On the margins of the APEC Summit in November 2014, Presidents Xi Jinping and Abe finally cobbled together some dialogue and a vague agreement to establish a hotline and a maritime communication mechanism. The agreement, laced with non-binding diplo-babble, is probably the best that Beijing and Tokyo could muster given the sour state of affairs. CBMs are well and good but they are no substitute for a thoughtful strategy to solve the problem. In this particular case, the policymakers in both countries need not be creative since the long-term solution to this incendiary problem is for both countries to strictly conform their maritime claims and boundaries to UNCLOS and international law.

Why Care?

Most U.S. military strategists agree on the potential seriousness of the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, since a military conflict could involve the U.S. in a costly shooting war with a modern armed force. The islands themselves are tiny uninhabited scraps of land that both countries now claim as sovereign territory. According to a declassified CIA report these islets were “uninhabited and unimportant” until a 1969 Japanese survey found evidence of plant bearing sedimentary rocks in the nearby waters; suggesting the presence of oil/gas in the seabed near the islands.

The leaders of both countries play to their domestic audiences and describe these barren rocks as “inherently part of Japan” (MOFA 2014) or “sacred” ground. (Beijing 1970) The truth is anything but that. These barren rocks have been uninhabited for the better part of the 70 years. The U.S. DOD thought so highly of them that they used them as an aerial target range following World War II.

US-China Military Relations: The Great Debate

December 19, 2014

Are closer U.S.-China military ties in Washington’s best interests? 

I’ve written before that U.S.-China military relations have improved markedly in the past two years, even as the overall relationship has suffered ups and downs. Not everyone is convinced this is a good thing, however. There’s a growing chorus of voices criticizing the U.S.-China military relationship, whether over security or broader strategic concerns.

One such voice of caution comes from Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), the leader of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. In an open letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Rep. Forbes expressed a “growing concern with the overall trajectory to the military-to-military relationship” between the U.S. and China. Though Forbes noted that he believes “a sustained and substantive relationship with the PRC is one of the core objectives of U.S. policy” in the Asia-Pacific region, he questioned the utility of the current approach to mil-to-mil relations. “There is no indication that more engagement has helped to shape Beijing’s actions in a positive direction consistent with U.S. objectives,” Forbes argued. “To the contrary, as we have increased our mil-to-mil engagement over the past two years, China’s actions have only turned more coercive.”

In Forbes’ opinion, the current U.S. military approach of increasing engagement with China in an attempt to forestall incidents is “flawed.” Instead, Forbes argues civilian leadership at the Pentagon should take a stronger hand in guiding U.S. military engagements with China at the strategic level. Accordingly, Forbes called for a review of the Pentagon’s current policies for mil-to-mil engagement with China.

Forbes’ letter comes amid growing concern over closer military ties between the U.S. and China. In May, General Fang Fenghui, chief of the PLA general staff, was granted a tour of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. That visit sparked concerns that the U.S. military had compromised valuable information, in violation of congressional legislation restricting mil-to-mil exchanges with China. Naysayers seem to have overlooked the fact that the invitation to Gen. Fang sparked a reciprocal response from China: Secretary Hagel became the first-ever foreign defense official allowed to tour China’s first carrier, the Liaoning. A U.S. defense official told Reuters the invitation to Hagel was “an honest, genuine effort to be open.”

Some members of Congress (including Rep. Forbes) also spoke out against China’s inclusion in the U.S.-hosted RIMPAC exercises this year, especially after the PLA sent a ship to spy on the exercises. “It is clear China is not ready to be a responsible partner and that their first trip to RIMPAC should probably be their last,” Forbes saidin a statement at the time.

China’s Property Slowdown Prompts Diversification

December 19, 2014
Chinese property developers are looking beyond real estate as they seek to shore up earnings. 

China’s real estate sector has experienced a slowdownin recent months, with average home prices falling in October and November of this year, and volatility in home prices setting in mid-year. The property downturn has caused some small property development firms to fail, and has forced larger developers to diversify their businesses to maintain profit levels.

While national average home prices have declined in the past two months, average home prices dipped in second-tier cities Nanning and Foshan in July of this year and in first-tier cities Beijing and Shanghai in August, as developers lowered home prices in a bid to buoy sales. The average home price declines currently experienced are the lowest seen since 2011. While housing starts have picked up again across first, second and third-tier cities, real estate developers have continued to diversify into other ventures in order to maintain levels of profitability.

The profit squeeze has occurred due to increased costs of funding, increasing land transaction prices, and a drop-off in demand. Property developers have attempted to shore up home prices and sales by offering discounts, which have taken many forms. Vanke, for example, offered discounts to homebuyers shopping Alibaba’s Taobao website, while Poly Real Estate offered discounts based on weight lost by homebuyers. Average discounts provided by developers amount to about ten percent.

In addition, more than thirty cities removed purchase restrictions implemented in 2010, albeit with little impact. Home purchase restrictions had prevented certain individuals from purchasing more than one home. While developer discounts have spurred some sales, lifting home purchase restrictions has not had much success.

Diversification has helped the largest companies maintain their financial performance. Dalian Wanda, which purchased AMC Cinemas in 2012 and revealed plans to build a film studio in Qingdao in 2013, expanded into the O2O (online to offline) e-commerce market this year, forming a venture with Baidu and Tencent. Wanda took the largest ownership of the new firm, with a 70 percent stake. Vanke signed off on a venture with the Carlyle Group to set up a financial platform for the sale of long-term commercial property assets. Vanke is the largest real estate developer in China, and profit margins remain healthy, at 23.8 percent, only 1.1 percentage points less than in 2013.

Evergrande Group diversified into grain and oil, announcing plans to invest more than 100 billion RMB ($16 billion) in commercial agricultural ventures in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang. The firm will market its food products as safe, in contrast to some products that were found to be tainted by non-food or harmful materials. Evergrande also has a 5 percent stake in China’s Huaxia Bank and launched its own bottled water brand in January of this year. Evergrande continued to experience some growth in recurring net profit in the first half of 2014.

Enhancing Nuclear Security Culture in China

October 19-22, 2014
Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom

Hui Zhang presented "Enhancing Nuclear Security Culture in China" at The 14th PIIC Beijing Seminar on International Security:Strategic Stability and Cooperation, Hangzhou, China, October 19-22, 2014.

For more information about this publication please contact the MTA Project Coordinator at 617-495-4219.

For Academic Citation:

Zhang, Hui. "Enhancing Nuclear Security Culture in China." Presentation, The 14th PIIC Beijing Seminar on International Security:Strategic Stability and Cooperation, Hangzhou, China. October 19-22, 2014.

"China’s Nuclear Modernization and Disarmament"

Dec 4-5, 2014

Author: Hui Zhang, Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom

Hui Zhang presented "China’s Nuclear Modernization and Disarmament" at The Prague Agenda 2014, Prague, Czech Republic, December 4-5, 2014.

Asia on the frontlines of natural disasters

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review 

No continent is more vulnerable to natural disasters than Asia, the world’s largest and most populous region. It has the dubious distinction of being home to some of the world’s leading natural disaster-related hot spots.

One fact confirms Asia’s status as a high humanitarian risk area: It accounts for the majority of all people killed, injured or uprooted by natural disasters globally in the past four decades. In the first half of 2014, 820 people were killed and 31 million affected in 56 disasters in Asia, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Looking a little further back and including the humanitarian impact of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippine island of Leyte last November, the estimated death toll exceeds 10,000.

Asia’s vulnerability to disasters arises from five factors: geography, geology, natural climate extremes, human-induced changes to the environment and global warming.

The most common and potent hazards in Asia are water-related: floods, cyclones and droughts, for example. Geological hazards, such as earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions, also claim lives and displace residents regularly, wreaking serious economic damage at the same time. Asia’s poor bear the brunt of the recurrent cataclysms.

People stand among debris and ruins of houses after Typhoon Haiyan pulverized the city of Tacloban.

The region’s geographical vulnerability — Asia has suffered 40% of the world’s disasters in the past decade and 80% of the disaster-related fatalities — is compounded by two factors. The continent’s high population density in low-lying areas and its vast stretches of coastline, the world’s longest, lead to increased risk. Southeast Asia, in particular, stands out for its coastline-related vulnerability: It has 3.3% of the global landmass, but more than 11% of the world’s coastline. The majority of the 600 million people in the world living in areas less than 10 meters above sea level are Asian, residing mainly in Southeast and South Asia.

Moreover, the areas of Asia experiencing high economic growth are located along coastlines, which tend to be heavily populated and constitute prime real estate. Indeed, many of Asia’s major cities, energy plants and industries are located along the coasts. The vulnerability of coastal infrastructure has emerged as an important concern.

Nuclear-power plants, for example, guzzle water. All new nuclear plants in Asia — the center of global atomic energy construction — are located along coastlines, allowing them to draw on seawater for cooling. Seaside reactors face big risks from the global-warming-induced increase in natural disasters, as was highlighted by Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, in part caused by a tsunami.

Three Top ISIS Commanders Reportedly Killed

December 19, 2014
US, Kurds Make Gains Against Islamic State Group

A member of the Kurdish forces stands in an area damaged by an improvised explosive device placed by Islamic State militants that killed several Peshmerga fighters and injured dozens late Wednesday, when they pushed towards Sinjar Mountain

U.S. officials say airstrikes in Iraq have killed three top leaders of the Islamic State group, while Kurdish fighters also reported major gains against the Sunni extremists.

Defense Department officials said Thursday the gains are hampering the militant group’s ability to command and control areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria.

Among those identified as killed were Haji Mutazz, a deputy to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi; Abd al-Basit, the Islamic State military emir in Iraq; and Radwin Talib, a mid-level official serving as the emir of Mosul.

The officials say the men were killed during airstrikes conducted between mid-November and early December.

Also Thursday, Kurdish forces said they recaptured a large amount of territory from Islamic State fighters and broke a siege on a mountain where members of the Yazidi minority group have been stranded.

Kurdistan Regional Security Council chief Masrour Barzani said in a statement that Kurdish peshmerga fighters opened a corridor to Sinjar Mountain during a two-day offensive.

Thousands of Yazidis were stranded on the mountain in September, prompting fears of a mass killing at the hands of the Islamic extremists. U.S. airstrikes and airdrops eventually freed thousands of the Yazidis. But many have again become trapped on the mountain in recent weeks.

The Kurdish statement said the peshmerga recaptured eight villages during what it called the largest and most successful Kurdish mission to date. The peshmerga offensive was backed by a heavy campaign of U.S.-led airstrikes.

U.S. military officials Thursday credited the more than 1,300 airstrikes and a stronger Iraqi security force for having a “significant effect” on the ability of the Islamic State group to operate in Iraq. But a top commander warned the fight is far from over, adding that it might take three years or more to rout the militants.

Boko Haram: The Other Islamic State

DEC. 11, 2014

While much of the world has been focused on the rise of the Islamic State, another proto-Islamic state has been waging a campaign of terror while dreaming of a caliphate in Nigeria. Since the public execution of Boko Haram's founder in 2009 by Nigerian security forces, a hard-line militant, Abubakar Shekau, has led this makeshift army of Islamist fighters through years of escalating attacks on government personnel, religious leaders, young students, crowded mosques and marketplaces.

July 2010-April 2013:Rising ViolenceUnder Mr. Shekau, Boko Haram picks up the pace of kidnappings, suicide and car bombings, assassinations and urban assaults. Although hit-and-run guerrilla tactics are still the group’s preferred mode of attack, Boko Haram begins to operate more brazenly in the rural areas of Borno State. For those affected by the violence, concern soars about Boko Haram's ability to mount sophisticated, large-scale operations. 


Source: Data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project based on news reports


December 18, 2014 

National security officials are slowly realizing that its foes in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) look very familiar—embarrassingly so. They look an awful lot like the people in various mugshots dressed in identical, yellow, made-in-the-USA jumpsuits that were released in years past. Reports by numerous researchers revealed that ISIL’s top twenty leadership posts are almost entirely filled by former detainees held by the United States in Camp Bucca, Iraq from 2004-2009. Worse, a recent interview in The Guardianhad a long time ISIL member gleefully point out how the group was able to recruit, network, and plan activities during this time period right under the noses of their American captors. How did these fighters get back to the battlefield so quickly, in such large numbers, and upend a situation in Iraq that in 2008 seemed destined for success? A productive detention program balances national security needs with adherence to the rule of law. Our programs did neither in Iraq, to the detriment of the security situation, and simply extended the suffering of the Iraqi people. Our obsessive and dogmatic adherence to the rule of law, along with an excessive deference to individual rights at the expense of human security, has influenced a poorly thought out detention policy that has released our enemies prematurely and without an intelligent integration back into society.

Camp Bucca

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was no intention of having a place like Camp Bucca. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the subsequent emergence of a resistance movement led the Bush administration to realize that coalition forces had to be entrusted with detainment powers for the purposes of maintaining security while the new Iraqi government built legitimate legal institutions basically from the ground up. This role was authorized by the 2004 U.N. Security Resolution 1546which allowed the multinational security force to take “all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.” This was a very broad and supportive mandate that gave the multinational forces much leeway in developing security polices for the challenges developing in Iraq. Despite this incredible flexibility, the United States chose to execute a detention program that was less focused on protecting growing institutions than supporting principles of justice or security.

Leaked CIA Report “CIA Best Practices in Counterinsurgency”

December 19, 2014

Wikileaks has placed online a leaked 22-page Secret/NOFORN CIA report entitled “CIA Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High-Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool.” For those of you out there who believe that you can destroy an insurgency by killing their leaders with drone strikes or other military means, this report will make for sobering reading. The report can be accessed here.

At last, a thaw

Historic steps towards ending an anachronistic embargo Dec 17th 2014

IT HAS long been one of the great anomalies of American foreign policy. The United States normalised relations with Communist China and even with Vietnam, with which it fought a bitter war costing more than 50,000 American lives. But ties with Cuba, which long ago ceased to pose any threat to America, remained frozen in the Cold War. Maintaining the economic embargo against the communist island first imposed in 1961 was about revanchism and Congressional politics, not foreign policy.

On December 17th Barack Obama announced sweeping changes which go a long way to bring policy towards Cuba into the 21st century. The two countries will start immediate talks on restoring diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies. The president will use his executive authority to loosen the ban on travel to the island; raise the limit on remittances to ordinary Cubans and their small businesses from $500 per quarter to $2,000; and allow exports of building materials, farm equipment and telecommunications gear. Americans will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the island. The administration is also preparing to remove Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

These announcements followed 18 months of secret talks in Canada between American officials and the government of Raúl Castro, who replaced his elder brother Fidel as Cuba’s president in 2008. The talks were encouraged by Pope Francis. They culminated with a 45-minute phone call between Mr Obama and Mr Castro on December 16th.

The biggest stumbling block to any change in the embargo was the incarceration of Alan Gross, a worker for the United States Agency for International development, who was jailed in 2009 for handing out satellite-communications gear on the island. Mr Gross, who is in very poor health, was freed on December 17th (he is pictured below with his wife, Judy, after his release). Freed too, and sent to the United States, was a Cuban whom Mr Obama said was “one of our most important intelligence agents”, as well as 53 Cuban political prisoners from a list provided by the United States. In return, the United States has released three Cuban spies serving long sentences after being arrested in 2001 for snooping on exiles and American military bases in Florida